Enjoy The Moral Victories, Especially When There Are No Immoral Ones To Be Had
One of the aspects of poker I find so alluring is that there are no absolute truths to be found in the game. Virtually every question one can ask about poker can be answered with two words--"It depends". There are rules, theories, and mathematical realities that act as a guide toward profitable play, but in no instance can you pass infallible judgment and declaim "THIS is how you MUST play in this situation".
Let me give an extreme example. You're playing NL Hold-Em against 8 players, and each of you has exactly $500 in front of you. In the BB you're dealt the AK of spades. The guy under the gun raises, and each of the players in front of you calls the raise. You decide to just call as well. The flop comes the Queen, Jack, and Ten of Spades. The SB checks, you check, and the original raises says, "All-in". And the other seven players all say "Call" and shove in all of their chips. You have an unbeatable Royal Flush. What do you do?
You fold. You fold because, in this particular instance, you've found yourself playing in an Arizona biker bar with 8 members of the Outlaws and you've made the mistake of wearing your lucky "Kucinich for President" T-shirt. And you know that, if you call and win this pot, your ears will in short order be nailed to the bar. And as you value your ears at more than $4000, you are making the correct decision by folding, and then hoping that, during the furor after the hand plays out, you can make a break for the door and escape with your life.
A ludicrous example, I know, but one I hope points out that you must adapt your play depending on the circumstances. While this usually doesn't mean laying down the nuts in order to keep your aural capacity at full power, it does mean that, at times, you must deviate from your Belichekian gameplan.
Last night I played a $10 2-table SNG determined to have fun. I was going to play looser than normal, faster than normal, just spread my wings a bit and step outside my comfort zone. The first hand I'm on the button and I'm dealt AA. Well, here's a nice way to start! But how to play them? A 3x raise means nothing when the blinds are $10-15, I'm liable to end up with 7 callers. Limp, then re-raise? That appealed, but what if no one raises, which is probably 50-50? I decided what to do...and then I chickened out. What I meant to do was push all-in. First hand, first to act...shove in all my chips. Such a palpably fishy play was just the chum to throw in the water while holding rockets. But it was too much, too soon. Instead I just raised like $175, hoping I could lure one nut into the fray with something like KJ, but everyone folded, and I won a massive $25 with my huge hand.
A few hands passed, and then there was a hand where 3 players got all in after the flop came A-K-J. One guy had AK, another AJ, another AQ. An action flop that, and the guy to my right suddenly had over $3500. Which he then used against us like the Chinese Water Torture.
Every hand, and I mean EVERY hand, he would raise. Not a big raise, usually only twice the BB, but I'd guess he put money in the pot about 92% of the time. And when people played back at him he called every time, winning most pots postflop with a big bet. Pretty soon the jerk had about $4800 and was goosing up his raises a wee bit. All of which rather cramped my play-loose-and-fast intentions, as playing a hand would require me to commit about 20-25% of my chips.
And then real disaster struck--the guy on my left doubled up big, and our new chip king started overbetting the pot, often going all-in. So now I'm sandwiched between the two chip leaders, one a raisey calling station and the other a stack-shover. I had to abandon my loosey-goosey dreams and tighten up like the bigtime.
And tighten up I did. I think I lasted 110 hands, and I saw the flop 12 times. And when you figure that I called out of the blinds 5 or 6 times, and that I had AA twice, JJ once and AK once (pushed all-in, no callers) I think I saw 2 speculative flops the whole night. I waited and waited and waited for that one hand that would let me play back at these guys and girth up my own stack.
The 2nd time I had AA I was in the BB, and after both bullies (and two other) surprisingly limped I went all-in. Everyone folded except one guy who only had $500 left, and as I expected he called. He had QJ, flopped a jack, rivered a queen, and there go my brilliant plans. But the next had the Poker Gods delivered QJ unto ME, and this time I completed my open-ended straight on the river and got myself upright again.
I stole the blinds a few times to tread water, but my bookends would not allow for much creativity. When I found JJ I made my stand, and got called by a guy with K-6. Fine with me, and when the flop came rags and more rags on the turn and river I felt good, until I started collating them in my head. "A five and seven on the flop, a four on the turn, an eight on the river...". Yup, that's a straight, and I was out, in 7th place.
There wasn't much I could do this night, and I took solace in knowing that I played pretty good (except for the first time I had AA) and got my money in twice with the best of it and lost on the river. I win those two hands I'm in good shape, I lose those two hands and I'm out. I played OK, I didn't beat myself for a change. And if that's not worth money in the account, it's worth something.
I decided to play a little $.50/1, folded about 6 times, played KJ out of the BB and the flop came K-J-10. I bet, there's a raise, I call with like 3 others. The turn is another king, and now I'm praying the one guy had AQ. Another guy bets, it's raised, I just call to keep everyone around. Last card is a blank, me and the original raiser cap it on the river. Yeah, he has KJ too. A $20 pot gets split between us and I think I see a $2.28 profit. I've just about had it with this tiddly-wink limit games. Even for me they're a drag. Maybe that's what I should give up for Lent, no more $.50/1. Sounds like a great idea to me.