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Poker Strategy With Gavin Griffin: Remove The Starbucks Cup From Your Poker Game

Griffin Explains How To Catch Mistakes Before They Happen

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Gavin GriffinI usually draw my inspiration for these columns from the live poker games I play in. However, just last week, I had a minor surgery and had to take a week off. In the meantime, it was recent pop culture that had me thinking about poker.

I’m a fan of Game of Thrones and the books by George R.R. Martin that the show is based on. I’ve read each of the main story line books twice, the Dunk & Egg novellas, and some of the other lore books that Martin has written. I’ve also seen each episode of the show before this season at least twice, and I listen to a few podcasts during each season that discuss themes and story arcs within the show.

So, maybe I understated it and fan isn’t the correct word. I’m closer to obsessed. The show runners have done an excellent job producing over 70 hours of content based in an alternate, medieval-type world. They have won multiple Emmys for production design, costuming, and myriad other categories. In my opinion, they are the best in the world at what they do.

In a recent episode, they made a careless mistake. There was a disposable coffee cup left on set in a shot that was used in the final cut of the show. Things like this happen all of the time in movies and tv shows. Continuity errors, such as an apple watch on the wrist of a reporter in a movie set in the 80s, an engine on a chariot in Spartacus, etc.

This is not a new thing in Hollywood and it’s not hard to understand how something like this could happen. Someone was putting makeup on a main character in between takes and set down their coffee cup or the director was checking the lighting and left it, and the take with the coffee cup was the best one they shot. Do you leave this one and hope nobody notices? Or do you use an inferior take without the coffee cup? Or, did nobody in the editing bay notice it because it’s in like one second of a 78-minute episode?

Hey, That's Not Supposed To Be There!There were lots of layers that could have caught this mistake and fixed it in one way or another. Ideally, as poker players, we have lots of filters to catch mistakes before they happen as well. We study hand histories to learn about our leaks and root them out before we sit down to play, we practice the math in common situations so we know it before they come up, we devise starting hand strategies based on position and game conditions. All of these things should help us to avoid major mistakes as we’re playing. Mistakes will still happen. They are unavoidable. You’ll miscount the size of a bet or the size of the pot, you’ll get bored and open a hand from an earlier position than you normally do, or you’ll make a call that seems right in the moment but looks bad on cold analysis later.

The biggest difference between the best players in poker and those that are mediocre-to-slightly-winning players is what happens after those mistakes are made. In the moment, a very good poker player has the mental strength to move past that mistake and not let it affect future decisions. Compounding one mistake by piling more of them on top of it will only lead to a downward spiral and a very bad losing session. In addition to that, the best players are able to recognize when their mental game is not up to snuff and they can quit the game or take a walk to gather themselves so they can avoid making further mistakes because of the mental state they’re in.

Then, after the session, the best players will analyze the mistakes they made in order to try to improve when a similar situation comes up. The most important mistakes to really take a look at and try to eradicate from your game are those that are common situations. In no-limit hold’em, analyzing your play from the blinds or in three-bet pots out of position are important things to look at. In pot-limit Omaha, analyzing how you play non-nut flushes. In Big O, analyzing situations where you have the nuts one way and no significant redraw to a low or better high hand. These are much more important situations than going into deep analysis over a specific outlier hand where you had a full house beaten by quads or something similar. Plugging your constant leaks is the best way to recover from mistakes in poker.

Game of Thrones has almost reached it’s end, so the show runners and writers don’t have any more runway to fix the mistakes they’ve made, trivial or otherwise. Your game is always evolving and progressing, so make sure you pick up all the coffee cups you’ve left along the way and it will evolve in a way you like.

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. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG