Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don’t Let Your Expectations Extinguish Your Profits

In my last post I talked about a bad review I received for my book of short stories about gambling entitled, “Let The Chips Fall.”  In my opinion, the bad review was prompted not because the book sucks, but because it didn’t meet the buyer’s erroneous expectations.  I then went on to explain why it’s such a great b…no, actually I explained how we can use the idea of missed expectations = dissatisfaction” equation in our playing of poker!

The first example I gave was about how one’s avatar and screen name might provide a false identity.  This is also true in live poker, and the irony here is that the VERY FIRST story in my book is about a guy who plays professional in Vegas, but acts like a tourist.  He drinks constantly from bottles of Bud (except they’re filled with water courtesy of a deal he has with the bartender), and is all dressed up in souvenir clothing.  I had him in a St. Louis Cardinals’ jacket (and a Branson, MO cap) - if it was the other way around some might have thought I was describing Dennis Phillips (and the story was published before Dennis and his cap made it big).  No matter…in the book, this character teaches our protagonist some lessons in poker and in life, explaining his dress and non-booze thusly:

"Booze ain't no good for your head when you're trying to think, son.  That's lesson number two.  Lesson number one is things ain't always what they seem to be."

Obviously expectations at the table are more than what players look like.  Or what they say and how they act.  Table talk and poker tells are notoriously misleading, and Mike Caro said it first and best - “weak means strong, strong means weak.”  But there are other misleading parts of the poker puzzle that can give you expectations that go wrong.

Take this scenario:  6-handed table, you’re in the cutoff (one from the button).  First player folds, you raise, and are called by the button.  Everyone else folds.  Flop comes rainbow blah (no face cards and three different suits), you check, and button bets a small amount (say, 1/3 to 1/2 the pot).  There are two possibilities:
  1. They have a “good” hand, and they want to encourage you to continue in the hand, thinking they have you beat.  More money in the pot means a larger win for them.
  2. They have nothing, and want to discourage you from the hand, thinking you also have nothing.  They’re willing to bet a little bit to win a little bit.

Your expectation is pretty much as described, and playing the hand from here follows your “normal” (for you) pattern.  Unless you’ve seen their play before this hand AND have made a determination as to what type of player they are (aggressive, passive, very good, very poor, etc.).  You can then better determine whether they are the type of player to make a stab at the pot regardless of what they hold, or would only bet if the flop hit/fit their hand.  You can either call or raise… or fold.  It depends on your expectations as to what they would normally do in this situation with a pair…or trips…or nothing.

Now, let’s make the bet very large, as in an overbet (say, two-to-three times the pot).  Your expectation changes.  Again, you have to know what this player is capable of.  Is he making a large bet to entice, or to get you out of the hand NOW?

That’s a helluva choice.  And unlike in the first scenario, the cost of being wrong is a whole lot more.

This is why reading your opponents and putting them on a range of hands is so vital to successful card play.  You need to understand what you opponent might be holding and why he is betting the way he is (given those cards) in order to make the best approach to the hand - raise, fold…or just call (the lesser desired option, usually).

Here’s another example, and we’ll make this one a story problem for you to respond to (as it really happened, and I’m not going to give the answer today):

Same set up as before…6-handed table, you’re in the cutoff (one from the button).  First player folds, you raise, and are called by the button.  Everyone else folds.  Flop comes…well, this time it’s Ace-Ace-Jack, with all red cards (Ace-Jack of Hearts, Ace of Diamonds).  You check.  Button makes a big bet (twice the pot).

What do you EXPECT your opponent has when you have:
  1. Ace-Nine (both spades)
  2. K-Q Hearts (potential straight, flush, and straight flush).
  3. Jack-Ten (both spades).
  4. A pair of black sevens.

Bonus question…does your expectation matter?  Why or why not?  Comment here or on my Facebook (as that seems easier for most everyone).  Next time I’ll tell you what happened…

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