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Lesson Learned

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Jan 25, 2012

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Andrew BrokosI was born in Baltimore, though I haven’t lived in that region for more than ten years. While visiting my mother there over the holidays, though, I had the opportunity to play at a poker room that opened in the last few years in the nearby state of West Virginia. One of my coaching students, a man to whom I’d spoken many times on Skype but never met in person, lives in Western Maryland and plays regularly at this casino. While I was home for the holidays, we arranged to meet up there in person and play the $5-$10 no-limit hold ‘em game there for a few hours. The session proved instructive for both of us, as well as for a few of the other players.

Early on, I won a big pot against a player I’ll call Don. The details aren’t important, but I got him to put more than $2000 into the pot with J-8 on an A-K-9-2 board. I had K-9 and won a big pot. I strive to practice Tommy Angelo-style, “mum poker” at the table, but Don played this hand badly enough that many of the other players were whispering and talking about him in a way that I’m sure made him self-conscious and probably caused him to try to play better.

One of the most significant hands that my student, Jeff, played, began with a tight young player who seemed to be straining the limits of his bankroll in this game limping in from early position. Jeff raised to $50 with 10Diamond Suit 10Heart Suit, and the limper called. The flop came 9Club Suit 6Club Suit 2Heart Suit, and his opponent checked and called $80. The turn was the 10Spade Suit. Jeff bet $200, his opponent raised to $700, and Jeff called only to fold to an $800 bet on an AHeart Suit river.

I lost my largest pot of the session when I raised a limper to $50 with KClub Suit 10Club Suit from one off the button. A quiet and straightforward player called in the small blind, a similar player in the big blind reraised to $150, I called, and everyone else folded.

The flop came AClub Suit 5Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit, and he bet $180. The vibe that I got from both his bet size and his demeanor was that he was not happy to see the ace, so I put him on a big pair but not aces. I called, thinking that I might hit a backdoor draw and/or represent the ace or a turned flush. The turn was the 8Diamond Suit, and he quickly bet $300. I raised to $700, but my money was barely in the pot before he announced “all-in.” I folded, and he showed red kings. “I didn’t think you had an ace,” he told me as he collected the pot.

My last big win of the session was also against Don, the victim of my K-9. There was a limper in early position, Don limped behind, another player limped, and I raised to $80 with QHeart Suit JDiamond Suit on the button. The first limper called, the second folded, and then Don reraised to $225. He’d taken a similar line in our earlier pot, when he’d showed up with J-8, so I wasn’t giving him any credit for a big hand. I just wasn’t confident that he’d give up preflop, so I called with the intention of taking it away later. The others folded, and Don and I were heads up in a big pot.

The flop came KClub Suit 7Heart Suit 3Spade Suit. He fumbled with his chips a bit, which, based on how I’d seen him play strong hands, I took as a sign of weakness, and then bet $500. I called.

The turn was the 9Diamond Suit, and he checked. This was what I expected to happen if he had nothing. Given that he felt owned after our last pot, I didn’t see him pulling the trigger on another huge multi-barrel bluff. Figuring that I wouldn’t have to bet much to make him fold a weak hand, I bet $500. He looked genuinely uncomfortable and finally made what looked like a crying call. I had about $900 behind and planned to shove any river.

The river was the 10Diamond Suit, giving me the nuts. Even though I was expecting him to fold, I didn’t see any point in betting less than all in, since even that would be barely half the pot. He looked sick and thought for a long time. Finally he looked at me and said, “I don’t know why I keep playing pots with you,” and folded.

This is the first lesson I want to talk about. I was the toughest player at the table, and Don was going out of his way to pick a fight with me out of position and without much of a hand. It cost him two large pots, but it seems he eventually came to a realization and learned a valuable lesson. I’m not likely to play again at this casino, but I think that the regulars who were so obviously whispering and laughing at his mistakes were doing themselves a disservice. Not only did they embarrass this man, but in all likelihood they encouraged him to play better. It’s possible that he’ll never come back to play with them again, or that if he does, he’ll play better.

Jeff learned the second lesson. We got dinner after wrapping up our session and discussed a few of the big pots. This is when he told me about his set of tens. It was the largest pot that he’d lost, and he was clearly upset about it. After letting him vent for a few minutes, I tried to help him focus on something more positive; focusing overly much on the negative can influence your mindset and throw you off of your game. I try to help my students acknowledge their mistakes but also give themselves credit for the things they do well and to learn from both. “What do you think was the best play you made all day?” I asked him.

He thought for a minute. “Probably folding those tens.”

“I think you’re right,” I told him. “You and I were probably the only two players at the table who could have folded that. I don’t think he had it in him to play a pot that big without the nuts, and besides, he probably doesn’t slowplay lower sets on the flop.
Everything about his body language screamed strength. If anything, you might even be able to fold the turn. You should stop feeling disappointed about that hand. Of course it was unlucky, but you played it really well, and that’s all you can do. If anything, you should feel really happy about it. Don’t think of it as losing $800, think of it as winning $800 that anyone else at the table would have lost.”

Finally, we talked about my failed bluff, and Jeff returned the favor by helping me see the big picture. “That was the only time I tried to take anyone off of a remotely good hand,” I said. “All my other bluffs were in spots where I didn’t think the guy had much anyway. I probably shouldn’t have tried it.”

Jeff shook his head. “You had him rattled. We both know that was a bad shove. If he doesn’t believe you, he can call, but shoving makes no sense. I play with him all the time, he’s usually a very solid player. You were under his skin. He had no idea what you had or what to do about it, so he just freaked out and shoved. You made a good read, and you made him play badly, he doesn’t do that often.”

He was right, of course. That didn’t necessarily make my bluff a good one, but it did give me better perspective on it. Rather than seeing only a potential mistake on my part – not recognizing when my image simply wasn’t going to let me take someone off of a pretty hand – I also saw a small victory. My opponent made a mistake, and even though I didn’t have a hand to take advantage of it this time, that’s just another kind of bad luck. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He’s a member of Poker Stars Team Online and blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.