There I was, hanging out online with some poker buddies, when the conversation turned to one particular player in our regular games—somebody who wasn’t in this group. We’ll call this player BigBoy34. One of our group had gotten into a very big no-limit hold’em pot with BigBoy34. Our hero had put in a big 3-bet preflop, which BigBoy34 called. The flop came 9h-8h-6h. Our hero had pocket aces; reassuringly for him, the ace of hearts was one of his cards. He shoved for about a pot-sized bet.
BigBoy34 folded, showing trey-deuce offsuit.
There were the usual comments of disbelief and shock. Then one of our group members said, “BigBoy34 won a massive pot last week with 32o—got the money in on a KK5 flop, board came ace-four, giving him a wheel.”
A bunch of people put crying and sad emoji comments on that post.
Now, I appreciate and respect my fellow members of the hand history group, but I think they missed three important points with those reactions.
ONE—DO YOU NOT WANT HIM TO DO THAT?
If you are in a poker game and see somebody put a lot of their chips into the pot with 32o on a K-K-5 flop, what do you think? You think, “I’m in a very good poker game,” right? I’ve never understood it, but it seems some players want their opponents to play well. In fact, I’ve had some conversations with one of our members—a super bright, thoughtful guy—who said he actually prefers playing against better players. His point was it forces him to think more, and allows him to make deep, subtle plays that would be lost on weaker opposition. Such plays against bad opponents would be counterproductive and cost my friend chips.
He is heartily welcome to such competition. I think I’m in the majority of poker players in that I like opponents who will make big mistakes, allowing me to win money with a minimum of effort, and not have to stretch my brain to the breaking point.
Somebody who gets piles of chips in on a K-K-5 board with trey-deuce is welcome in my game.
TWO—SUCH BAD PLAYS MUST BE SUCCESSFUL SOMETIMES
Suppose every time an all-in happens in a poker game, the player with the most equity wins the pot. Poker as we know it would die overnight. If weaker players never won, the game would cease to interest them. Or they’d have to search for opponents who were at the same level. Indeed, it is the very opportunity for bad plays to succeed, and good ones to fail, that keeps poker vibrant and interesting.
If BigBoy34 never gets there with his trey-deuce offsuit, he’ll either quit the game or start playing better. Fortunately, just often enough—at least for him—that egregious play rewards him with a gimongous pot, and keeps him jumping into the fray with the worst hand imaginable.
THREE—POKER, LIKE LIFE, DOESN’T OWE YOU ANYTHING
This is the big one, and it reaches well beyond the edges of the felt. When “thoughtful” poker players get together, there can be an unspoken agreement that it’s “us” against “them.” The thinking, book-reading, video-watching, solver-running players against the great unwashed masses. A belief that a just universe will always reward the former group with victory and profit.
That’s not how it works.
The universe doesn’t care. The good players will lose on some days, weeks, and months, even as the bad players seem indestructible during that period. Great lines will be rewarded with one-out beats and horrific missteps will benefit from a two-outer. And that’s nothing. You can be the most cautious person, and still trip over and break your ankle.
When you get your kings in preflop against queens, you’re promised one thing: a five-card runout. Everything else is governed by a universe that is distinctly disinterested in who wins.
There are aspects of life we are forced to accept, in exchange for waking up each day and breathing. The longer you live, the more you begin to realize that even the waking up and breathing part is not guaranteed, much less anything that happens after.
When you sit down to play poker, or you’re discussing poker hands with friends, leave your sense of entitlement behind. Be grateful that you did, indeed, wake up breathing this morning, and are playing a card game.
Enjoy the ride.
Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.