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Leaving $80 on the Table

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Jul 13, 2011

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Roy Cooke

One of the most difficult things about playing poker at a professional level is consistently maintaining a high-quality game, particularly when outside influences like health and relationship issues affect you. There is no sick pay nor paid leaves in poker. Yeah, a select ultra-talented few can play limited hours a year and still maintain a quality lifestyle. But life’s reality for most professionals is grinding out a living day in and day out, week in and week out, with months turning into years. It’s less demanding to reach a high-quality game level than to constantly maintain it.

I was a week out of minor surgery, had been on painkillers for a week, and was not playing at my best. I had just undergone a few bad sessions in a row and was questioning my determination to play when not feeling strong. But a friend was in town whom I enjoyed seeing and playing with, so I was pushing myself.

I raised under the gun with the Q♦ J♦ in a seven-handed $40-$80 limit hold’em game. The field folded to Marvin, a successful New York businessman who loves the Las Vegas action and plays both fearlessly and aggressively. He three-bet me on the button. The blinds folded and I flat-called, knowing that Marvin had a strong holding to three-bet my upfront raise. We took the flop heads up.

The flop came 10♥ 9♦ 4♥, giving me an open-ender, a backdoor-flush draw, and two overcards. I checked to Marvin, intent on check-raising. I felt that if he had a hand like A-K or A-Q, I might be able to play him off it. Marvin fired and I check-raised. He flat-called. I was unsure what Marvin held, as he often gets tricky, making lots of trap plays as well as bluffs and raise bluffs. That said, I was betting the turn no matter what came. If he held a hand like A-K, A-Q, or 7-7, I wanted to maintain the pressure on him to fold.

The turn brought the 8♥, making my straight, but placing three hearts on the board. I fired and was called. I read Marvin’s range of hands as an overpair without a heart, or two big cards containing a heart. Being fearless and aggressive, I thought Marvin would raise with an overpair with a heart, but wouldn’t without the additional value of the flush draw. And there was no way he was folding any big heart.

The river was the 4♦, pairing the board. Confident I held the best hand, I fired, and Marvin raised. I rethought my read. Was my read on the turn correct? Could he have a flush? With Marvin’s basic poker nature being so aggressive, I didn’t think there was much chance he slow-played the flush on the turn. Could he have flopped a set, slow-played the flop, flat-called the turn and made a full house? Once again, Marvin’s “full speed ahead” mentality made me think it was unlikely. An overpair made sense. It both matched Marvin’s aggressive mentality to play it that way, and would be an intelligent manner to play the hand to maximize equity from me if I held a smaller overpair or had flopped a smaller pair, both within the range Marvin would read me for. So what was my best play? Would Marvin call a reraise from me if he held an overpair? I thought he would. Obviously, based on my analysis, a reraise was in order. But instead, I flat-called! Marvin showed the A♦ A♣, and I turned over my straight. I won the pot, but I had made a fundamental error, one I never should have made, and I had left $80 of my money in Marvin’s stack.

I retraced my thoughts. I had let my self-doubts about my own current state of play talk myself out of raising. The combination of physically feeling down and not recently having done well had psychologically influenced me into not pulling the trigger on a play I read to be right. My confidence had gone astray, and the uncertainty of the situation disoriented my thinking. I knew what to do, and didn’t do it. God, I hate myself when I do that.

Knowing what to do is one thing, but doing it is what really matters. It’s a distinction some people don’t seem to get. Emotionally, fears causing internal self-doubt hold all of us back from time to time, causing us to make poor decisions. Other psychological issues often cause us not to play our best. An easy solution is not to play when we are feeling affected in any way. But first we have to recognize that we are affected, and second, there are going to be times when we are not at 100 percent but either the need to play is present or the timing to play is good, such as when a tournament is in town and the games are good.

When I sense things are not quite right within myself, but want to give playing a shot, I play tighter. I don’t necessarily mean playing fewer hands, though folding marginal situations may be generally correct if your thinking is not up to par. Rather, I mean playing the general situation tighter, not playing the game if it is marginal, not pushing yourself and sitting through a long session if you get stuck, or any other circumstances that make you unlikely to play your best. Don’t take a bad situation and make it a horrific one. Accept your current limitations, solve the source of the problem, and come back and play when you’re better prepared to play well. Take pride in being your best.

I know I wasn’t at my best when I played this hand. I’m disappointed in myself and particularly disappointed that Marvin left town with $80 that was rightfully mine. And, I know he’s very happy with that fact and has no intention of giving it back! ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas real-estate broker/salesman in 1989. Should you wish to get any information about real-estate matters — including purchase, sale, or mortgage — his office number is (702) 396-6575, and his e-mail address is RealtyAce@aol.com. His website is www.roycooke.com. You also may find him on Facebook.__