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Story Telling

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Jul 10, 2013


Gavin GriffinThe World Series of Poker is in session right now and I spent quite a few hours there the first week. I played myriad events ranging from $5,000 no-limit to $1,000 no-limit and the 8-game mixed tournament. While I was playing those tournaments, there were all kinds of other things going on, ranging from cash games to satellites to the nightly $200 tournament. Action abounds and anywhere there is poker action, there are hand histories being relayed. Often, especially at the lower stakes, these are bad beat stories. Other times, though, they are important tools to getting better. Discussing a hand that just happened and the possible ways you could have played it differently, especially with people who you respect as poker players, can be a huge boost to your game.

One of the problems that people have when discussing hand histories is that they just don’t relay the right information. I heard someone the other day discussing a no-limit hand and they said the following: “So this guy raises and I reraise with queens and then he calls. The flop came and he checked and I bet, and he went all-in. What do you think I should have done?” If someone relayed that history to me, I would have no idea how to respond so I’m going to do my best to help you learn to do it better.

The first rule of hand histories is that it’s almost impossible to give too much information. Sure, I’ve read an online hand history where someone went into too much depth about a hand they played live. We don’t need to know how many seconds there were in between each decision unless it’s absolutely vital, and we don’t need to know the last 26 hands you played with the guy where you three-bet and he folded or he raised your blinds and won. However, short of all of that, it’s really tough to give too much information. In the above example, here’s a better way to share that hand history: “The blinds are 50-100. A guy raises from early position to 250 with a stack of 5,000. He’s been playing pretty tight, not really getting out of line, not too many showdowns, but when he does show down, his hands are reasonable. I have him covered and make it 600. My table image is a little bit spewy because I raised the super tight blinds with K-4 offsuit from the button and it went to showdown. He calls. The flop is 9-5-3 rainbow, he checks, I bet 600 and he just goes all in for 3,800 more. What do you think I should do?”

This is great, we have all the relevant information. We know what the blinds are, the effective stacks, your table image, his table image, the texture of the board and the odds you’re getting on your call. We’ve improved from being able to give zero input to being able to make a reasonable decision on how the hand could have played differently and what you should do at the sticking point in the hand. It’s very easy to assign a range to our opponent and be able to figure out what sort of a range he’s putting you on. If you can add any more information it might be a little bit of timing tells or what sort of specific hands he’s been showing down. Maybe a little information on what he looks like since that is sometimes the only info we can glean anything from if we haven’t been at the table for long.

Secondly, it’s important to not give the results of the hand ahead of time. This can bias the input your friends can give you. It honestly doesn’t matter what the results of the hand were because you don’t know the results at the time of the decision you’re making. You can’t use that information to make your decision so why should your friends, whose input you are looking for, get the option to use it? You can give the results if you want because your friends want to know or because the results of the hand were weird and make for a funny story or, honestly, because if you’re the type of guy who never gives the results of hand histories, people aren’t going to want to listen to your hand histories anymore because that’s pretty boring. My suggestion is to wait until you’ve heard all of the input you want to hear before revealing the results of the hand.

Finally, when listening to hand histories, I would suggest avoiding the old stand-by response of it depends. Of course it depends. Everything in poker is very situationally dependent. If your friends have given you enough information for you to contribute to the strategic discussion of the hand, it’s because they are interested in hearing your input and you owe it to them to do so. If you need more information, you can ask for it, but when you receive it you should process that information and give the best answer you can. You guys can continue your discussion afterwards and argue as much as you want, but it’s definitely good to give your initial reaction to how the hand plays out and then you can evolve that thought process until you come to a conclusion. You might not come to a conclusion. One person may have strong reasons for playing one hand one way and another a different way. That’s OK, poker has many different paths to success and if there were only one right way to play each poker hand, it would be incredibly boring.
I hope I’ve given you a good start on how to relay your hand histories to your friends. Remember, nobody likes hearing a bad beat story. ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG