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Own Your Bad Play

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Oct 16, 2013


Andrew BrokosPrologue

We were in the money in a $215 World Championship of Online Poker event. Blinds were 1,500-3,000, and the action folded to the button, who opened with a raise to 6,000. I was sure he’d have an extremely wide range for making this play, and with just 82,000 remaining in his stack, I believed I could put a lot of pressure on him with a small reraise.

Undeterred by my dismal hand, 10-2 offsuit to be specific, I reraised to 15,000. The big blind (BB) folded, and the button quickly called. Obviously that wasn’t what I wanted, but there was still hope. At least he hadn’t shoved, and the quick call suggested he didn’t even consider it, so I still didn’t put him on an especially strong hand.

The flop came KSpade Suit 7Spade Suit 2Club Suit, another glimmer of hope. I bet 16,000 into a pot of 36,375. To be honest, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to do next. I just knew that betting was better than checking, and I’d figure the rest out later.

My opponent raised to 36,000, quite a small amount relative to the pot, though it was half his stack. We were playing a game of chicken: I knew that he’d started without much of a hand, and I knew that he knew that the same was true of me. I’d be damned if I was going to blink first. Besides, if he had a king, wouldn’t he want to just call if he thought I was bluffing?

I put him all in, and he quickly called with K-5 offsuit. I didn’t get there and was left with 54,000 and the feeling that I’d been outplayed, my opponent a step ahead of me the whole time. I was right that he had a weak hand, but I was wrong to think he’d fold it to my reraise. And he adroitly induced me to bluff off the rest by playing a king in a way I didn’t expect.

Sixth Street

Your objective at the poker table should always be to make the most profitable decision that you can at any given moment. This applies to more than just decisions about how you play your cards. It applies also to what goes on inside your head and what you permit to come out of your mouth. Tommy Angelo calls this post-hand gum flapping, “sixth street.”
So many times in live games, I’ve seen players, often red-faced, start offering excuses and explanations after playing a hand badly. I commonly see three variations on this behavior, all of them problematic.

The first is self-flagellation. It’s bad enough to beat yourself up over a mistake inside of your head. Your mind ought to be fixed firmly on how you’re going to play the two cards you have now, not on what you wish you’d done with the cards you had last hand (or an hour ago, for that matter).

Worse, many players make a show of doing this out loud, as though to tell their opponents: “I know I made a mistake. I don’t usually play like that. Really I am a good player, don’t judge me based on that hand.”

Sometimes this comes in the form of berating one’s opponent. The player who just made a mistake will explain why his mistake was in fact a masterful play, foiled only by the stupidity of his opponent. The subtext he wishes to communicate to the rest of the table is the same: “Don’t think badly of my play.”

Finally, there is straight-up excuse-making. This player, again, wants to be sure you don’t think him a bad player because of what you just saw. He feels the need to give a detailed explanation of his logic so you can see that there was actually a brilliant rationale behind that seemingly bad bluff.

Adapt and Thrive

The central problem with all of these behaviors is that you shouldn’t care what your opponents think of your play. If anything, you should want them to think that you are bad.

When you make an uncharacteristically bad play, you’ve given your opponents misleading information about what to expect from you in the future. Probably you paid far too high of a price compared to the value of misleading them, but that’s neither here nor there. The price has been paid, so you might as well make the most of it.

Instead of ruining this silver lining by hastening to correct any misconceptions and provide your opponents with more accurate information about your game, devote your energy to thinking about how whatever just happened will affect your image going forward. This has the added benefit of reducing tilt by giving your mind something to mull over besides how you wish you hadn’t just done that.

There is a school of thought which says that a player caught in a bad bluff might actually be less likely to bluff again, and likewise with a bad call. In truth, it’s always a bit of a guessing game to predict how someone will change his play based on showing down such a hand. I generally find, though, that I make better guesses when the player in question is kind enough to tell me the thought process that led to that play as well as how he feels about it in retrospect.

There are some adaptations to make beyond the obvious. For example, if you showed down a bad call and so don’t expect big bluffs from your opponents in the near future, you can make some big folds, but you can also call more liberally on early streets with hands that can’t stand a lot of heat. You can either show your hand down cheaply or fold confidently if your opponent keeps betting, without fear that you were bluffed off of a winner.

If you were caught in a bluff, then in addition to not running another big bluff for a while, you might want to value bet more liberally, ideally in a way that mirrors the bluff you showed down.


At the 2,000-4,000 level, the same player opened under-the-gun (UTG) to 8,000. I was next to act and shoved 50,000 with a pair of jacks. He called with A-6 suited and doubled me up.

Then, at the 2,500-5,000 level, he opened to 10,000 from the small blind (SB). I was in the BB with a pair of sixes and put him all in for 80,000 total. He called with A-3 offsuit and nearly doubled me again.

Ultimately, those two calls netted me more than I lost on the initial bluff. Of course I was lucky to get the opportunity to make them, and I don’t mean to argue that that admittedly spazzy bluff was actually a wise investment in image-building. I am, however, glad that I didn’t publicly express my regret for risking so many chips on such a poor hand and resolve out loud not to do it again, because clearly it led my opponent to misjudge how I would play in the future. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.