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Why Do Great Mixed Players Appear to Be So Lucky?

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Nov 29, 2023

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Self-awareness is an underrated yet key skill, and in the spirit of that notion I have no qualms admitting that I’m not a natural poker talent. In order to overcome that, I attempt to gain a solid foundation in poker theory, analyze the math of various situations, think about hands away from the table, and closely observe my skillful opponents.

Whenever I have the opportunity to play with those who have greater innate poker talent my focus is always on them in an attempt to pick up whatever I can to possibly improve my own game. It’s often the case that these particular players are considered to be “luck-boxes” and that once the horseshoe falls out, the tide will turn and they give back much of their “ill-gotten” gains.

Variance is indeed massive in mixed limit games, however, if someone has been in the poker scene for a long time and always seem to be running good, we should concede that they are doing many things right. So, what are some common situations that cause great mixed players appear to be so lucky? And conversely, what are some reasons why we may consider ourselves to be unlucky?

Great players understand the power of incorporating fold equity into the equation, most of the time instinctively, but sometimes reinforced through study. They are adept at recognizing situations where they can possibly get their opponent to lay down their hand, and when the time is right will attack relentlessly when holding a possible second-best hand or on the draw.

When doing so they will then win the hand when either A) they get their opponent to fold, or B) improve upon their hand and it’s good. When Plan A fails and Plan B comes in it is usually a memorable event for the player taking the beat. It’s especially haunting for the loser the times he was the victim of a creative bluffing line that initially failed, but he ended up being shown the best hand anyway.

“He had to know I had a good hand, but of course he gets there!’

Well, unfortunately we don’t always have the good hand we are trying to represent, and those occasions make it profitable for the professional to take the lines they did when having multiple ways to win.

Strong players are also highly proficient in recognizing good snowing situations in draw games such as Badugi or Triple Draw. Snowing is patting with a busted hand and doesn’t always work, but when it does their opponent pays through the nose only to miss whatever they were drawing to, and fold the river to yet another “made hand.” And as the skilled player is stacking up those hard-earned chips he’s often reminded of the fact that he never misses, but his opponent can never seem to make a hand.

In addition, they typically play live hands and/or those containing blockers to hands he knows his opponents probably need. They will also raise for value in situations where even the cocktail waitress probably realizes they currently have the inferior holding, but astutely understand that they are the mathematical favorite to drag the pot at the end.

They also tend to be quite vicious and relentless in finding spots where they can isolate the weakest players at the table in situations where others might not. Often this results in more chips moving in their direction, which never makes anyone at the table happy.

“Oh great, I lost a few big hands to the spot at the table, and now he’s giving my chips away to the guy who never loses.”

We must also address some things that happen at the table that may cause a player to feel unlucky, but shouldn’t necessarily be chalked up to bad fortune. Many players complain about losing even when they improve, and that it seems to happen to them more often than the “lucky guy.” However, in some of these cases, it can sometimes be argued that they shouldn’t have been in the pot to begin with.

For example, perhaps in Stud High they didn’t lay down a buried pair of tens on third street against a tight early position opener with a queen up. The opener may not have queens, but against a reasonably strong opening range also containing flush draws the pair of tens will lose around 60% of the time. If they improve to two pair but end up losing to a higher two pair or a flush, they feel hexed. There’s a good chance that a pair of tens should have been folded, and a more skilled player may have dodged that particular situation altogether.

Failing to recognize trap situations in split pot games where you can easily get stuck in the middle is another common leak. Sometimes we are dealt a hand that is decent, but in the current situation may often be losing money on every round of betting.

Suppose we are playing a round of Stud Eight-or-Better where a five completes and an ace reraises. A hand such as (ADiamond Suit 4Spade Suit) 8Heart Suit is better than average but it just isn’t worth very much here since at least one of the aces is dead, we don’t have a two-flush, and the eight is front and center for everyone to see.

A skilled player may avoid the trap, while the “unlucky” one will usually end up caught in the middle between two superior hands.

The important takeaway is this; if you feel that you are constantly getting unlucky while someone else appears to walk on water, one has to keep an open mind and try and think deeply without emotion about what has occurred.

You are probably not a real life version of Schleprock with a black cloud always following you, and your opponent probably doesn’t have magical powers. It may be time to analyze your game and ask for honest feedback from poker buddies, and to also pay keen attention to what the seemingly more fortunate opponents may be doing to appear to be so lucky. If you are pleasant and social at the table and ask them privately, they might even give insights to what they were thinking. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. The certified personal trainer owned a gym in New Jersey, but has since moved to Las Vegas. He started playing the game back in 2003, and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. Learn more or just say hello with an email to haneyk612@gmail.com.