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Greener Pastures

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Mar 30, 2016


Gavin GriffinRecently I was playing in a $5-$5 no-limit hold’em cash game and we were having a pretty good conversation. All of us were sharing some information about what games we play in and what we think about each of the games. I was the only one who had really played limit hold’em and we talked about that for a while. I noticed that one of the players in the game kept looking over at the $5-$10 game that was a pretty juicy game, but not that much better than the one we were in. Someone commented, “You really look like you’re jonesing to play in that game.” The player confessed, “Yeah, I really want to be in that game.” After a little longer and more glances at the game, someone asked why the player wasn’t happy with the game we were in. This was the reply: “I’m used to playing in bigger games and I don’t play my best when I’m in a game this small.” I was taken aback. I think this player is definitely a winning player in the $5-$5 game and would certainly be a winner in the $5-$10 game they were pining over, but there isn’t a spectacular difference in stakes. This $5-$5 game had well over $10,000 on the table and it’s very easy to win or lose $2,000 in a night. Not exactly small stakes, to say the least. So why can’t this game hold this player’s interest?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say, with certainty, that the stakes I’m playing (as long as they are within my bankroll) have no effect on the decisions I’m making and the effort I put in. I’ve played in a $3-$6 game and played my best and I’ve played at the highest cash game levels at my best. Why is it that I can concentrate fully at whatever level I’m playing and some others can’t? I think there are a few major reasons. First are my competitiveness and how much I hate losing. I have always been quite competitive, starting with my years as a baseball player. I was all-state honorable mention in Illinois as a 5’8” 130-pound kid playing catcher, so my competitiveness and dedication to the game had to make up for a considerable lack of size and power, something you often need as a catcher.

I love to play games and I love to win at games. I don’t see the point in playing a game (and let’s all remember that poker is a game) if you’re not going to give it your best effort and try your best to be a winning player in that game. Now, in poker, that doesn’t necessarily mean winning every hand, just being a winning player. It turns out that poker is a very long game, it lasts a lifetime in fact, and whoever is profitable at the end of that lifetime is a winning player.

The second characteristic that I think helps me to play my best at all levels I’m playing is my desire to improve. I am not complacent with my skill level at any time and, as a result of that, I’m always looking for little things that might make my game better. How can I do that if I don’t take every game I’m playing in seriously? After each hand I play, I analyze what I could have done differently and if doing things differently would have been optimal. For instance, last night, I opened for a raise to $20 in $5-$5 no-limit hold’em with 6-6 from middle position. I got called by the small and big blinds. The flop came J-6-3 rainbow and the small blind led out for $35. I called because this player tends to lead the flop with relatively strong hands, but not the very top of his range. The turn was the ADiamond Suit, putting two diamonds out there. He led again for $75. I made it $265 and he folded. I thought that since he was still leading at the ace on the turn, he had to have a big hand since he’s a pretty careful player. I forgot to take into account the fact that my image was pretty tight and the range that he can continue with after I call flop and raise turn is pretty much limited to A-J, J-J (very unlikely because he didn’t reraise pre), and 3-3. I obviously crush this range, but perhaps my idea of his flop and turn leading range is off. Perhaps he will continue to lead at the ace with a hand like K-J, Q-J, or even 9-9 trying to get me to fold a jack. I learned something new about this specific player and perhaps, without the near constant evaluation of each hand I play, I wouldn’t have that information for the next time I play against him.

Finally, I think that all of the things I’ve been through over the past couple years that I’ve written about in this column have really strengthened my resolve to continue to play my best no matter what else is going on around me. This is the mark of a true winner in poker, to be able to continue to focus and play your best even in negative circumstances. It’s easy to play your best when things are breaking your way and everything in your life is going well. When that’s not the case, it’s much more difficult and those who can continue to play their best in the face of adversity, both on and off the felt, are the ones who will thrive in this game. ♠

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