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Rule No. 1

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Jan 03, 2018


I have some rules that I try to follow in poker. I try not to play sessions that are longer than 12 hours. I never withdraw money from an ATM or player’s bank when I run out of the money that I bring with me. I don’t play the biggest game in the room just because I think I need to be in the biggest game.

The most important one of all of the rules I try to live by is this: Don’t educate the recreational players unless they directly ask me about a hand. And I messed up last night.

I will always answer another player’s question as honestly as I can if they ask me directly. For instance, if someone asks me, “Would you have called in that spot?” I’ll tell them my honest opinion. I won’t go into depth about why I would do it, but I will answer them. What I almost always avoid doing, is explain my reasoning or tell a player how badly they were behind when they got it in or whatever other nonsense my ego is telling me I need to do to placate it. I did it last night and felt so stupid right afterwards.

We were playing Big O (five-card pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better) and I got it in on a 9-8-6 rainbow flop with A-Q-J-10-3 with two back-door flush draws vs. A-9-9-8-6, also with two back-door flush draws, one good, one not. I’m a roughly 60-40 favorite with two cards to come and this was for about 10x the pot each. The only hand that I could be in better shape with is one that has a straight already. After the board ran out 5-5, we chopped and he said, well, I was ahead on the flop. For some reason, this made me annoyed and I made some stupid comment about how the equities might look in the given situation. Then I said no more words, because that’s really stupid and the only reason I would say something like that was to make myself feel better.

Since this is ostensibly a strategy column, let’s talk a little strategy. I’m pretty happy to get this hand in against all but the tightest opponents. I’ve got a huge draw with the top wrap and second nut low draw on a rainbow board. His raise and call is really bad with his particular holding for two main reasons. First of all, he has the third nuts on the flop with no low draw. Big O is a game of redraws. If he had top set and some sort of good low draw, it would be an easy get in, but he can only win the whole low if his opponent gets counterfeited twice and he doesn’t get counterfeited at all. Second, and this is the most important one, he blocks himself two ways. He holds two of his full house outs if he’s behind right now, and he holds two blockers to his opponent having a hand that is worse than his right now. Thank God I didn’t get extremely stupid and mention the blockers.

Ok, now that we’ve passed that strategy sidebar, it’s important to think about why I would say something like this. I’ve found that there are two main reasons people want to talk strategy at the table. First, they want to sound smart. Never mind that most people end up looking worse when they share their rationale for a certain play because it shows what level they’re thinking on as a player, they are intending to sound smart. Some people would much rather have people think they’re good at poker than actually be good at poker. This is also why many people lie about their results or exaggerate their results. If you can’t be good, you might as well try to convince people to think you are. Second, and this is what I was guilty of last night, people talk strategy at the table because they want to project confidence even when they aren’t particularly confident. Talking the talk is a way of fitting in with those around you and making yourself seem smarter than you actually are. I’ve only been playing Big O for about a year. I’ve gotten much better at the game, but I still have to pull back on some tendencies from all my time playing four card hi/lo in limit games. I call with non-nut draws too often in multi-way pots, I pay off on the river too much, and I tend to overshoot my equity estimates and fold equity estimates when deciding when to get it in on the flop or call and play future streets. Because of my shortcomings as a player in this game, I decided it was a good idea to talk about a situation where I was confident I was a considerable equity favorite.

This was really dumb. The person I was playing against loves to gamble in pot-limit Omaha and Big O and we’re happy to have him in the game whenever we can. What if my comment was the one that made him walk away and not come back? What if it inspired him to learn what I was talking about? He’s certainly capable, he’s an engineer and incredibly smart. It was a stupid thing to do driven by my stupid ego. It did illustrate to me, once again, that ego has no place in poker and is probably the one thing that gets more people broke in poker than anything else, but that’s a topic for a different column. Luckily, as has often been the case in my career as a poker player, I got away with a dumb move and he kept playing for long after that, not seeming to notice or care that I said something a little out of line in my view.

I managed to make it through the rest of the night without opening my stupid mouth to comment on other such situations where some poor plays were taking place around me and it was a fun night of gambling because of that. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin 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