Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Bad Beat" Reflection

Barring the possibility of some odd English masochist - you know, the kind that likes to be spanked while wearing diapers and pretending to be infants - nobody particularly likes bad beats. I sure don't. But I stopped, at some point, obsessing over them which I think is a healthy sign of having moved to a better place in terms of poker thinking. When I shove into the shortstack on a rag flop with pocket tens and he calls with AQo and spikes a queen on the river, it stings just a little but not enough so that I go about and change my game plan other than noting that I should really be getting my money in light versus this guy also in the future.

However, there's a different kind of bad beat that isn't, technically, a bad beat that stings worse. It's getting all my money in with the worst hand. An example of this is yesterday when I re-raise all-in on the turn with KQ on a K-9-4-K twoflush board and he turns over 99. I feel like a sucker. That pain is much harder to deal with because while I can dismiss the first example on grounds of me obviously getting my money in with the best hand, there's a lot more room for second guessing in the next one.

But, and this is what today's post is really about, I think I'm approaching the level where I can actually feel like that hand was a bad beat of sorts, too. And it was. Perhaps not using the common definition of what a bad beat is, but in the sense that versus my opponent's range (a very loose and aggressive player who was regularly getting his whole stack in with much weaker hands than a boat) I had him crushed. It was unfortunate that he happened to have exactly the strongest part of his range. In that sense, I was unlucky. In that sense, it was a bad beat.

As I get better and better at estimating ranges for peoples' actions, I find that I get more and more comfortable with these hands happening. I think not getting my money in there would have been a mistake. His range given the action (you're going to have to take my word for it) was any flush draw, any king and of course the true monsters. Versus that range, and he would have called with all of it, I have him crushed. And much in the same way that I can let the first hand go as just another case of inevitable misfortune, so can I think about the second hand.

It's a tough threshold to pass. There are levels of being results-oriented, and the first one is relatively easy to pass ("I got all my money in with the best hand and he hit his gutshot - did I play it right?") but the second one is much more subtle and requires me to have faith in my own skills of estimating ranges and acting accordingly. It requires a different level of confidence in my play. And I think I'm getting closer.

In general, I feel my no-limit game is improving very rapidly, and the ability to be able to say "no, I did play correctly" even after getting it all in with the worst hand has removed a sizeable obstruction. I used to, consciously or subconsciously, dwell over these hands and, consciously or subconsciously, adjust how I played. I've since come to the point where I've realized that some places just aren't the right spots to look for increased win-rates and aren't worth spending time on.

In that KQ hand, it's possible that I made a mistake in pushing. If I did, it would have been a tiny mistake because all the evidence I have suggests that it was the right play. So at worst, it was a tiny mistake. At best, it was the correct play. I realize that I make bigger mistakes on a regular basis, so that hand certainly isn't where I should start fixing problems.

Students of the game of poker, and I touched on this in an earlier post, have to balance studying the game to be better with playing the game to make money and accumulate experience. I suggested that the balance for most people is likely weighted too far to the side of playing instead of studying. And since we spend so relatively little time improving away from the table, it's of the utmost importance that we spend that time wisely. On stuff that matters.

Ed Miller said, in a post on 2+2 a hundred years ago, that most people's biggest leak is that they don't know what a big leak is. He was spot on then, and it's still true today. And I think in many cases, this is reflected by people obsessing over hands where they see the other guy's hand and think "he had me crushed the whole time." This used to be true for me. I think it still might be to some extent, but I'm working on letting these hands go.

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