Here’s an example of a hand played very badly. A hand that (most probably) cost me several thousand dollars in tournament winnings, and that is currently haunting me. I write this to purge the poker demons. And to talk a little about how important it is to accept making mistakes, and to learn and move on.
Final table of a $425 buy-in tournament which started with around 80 players. 1st place is $16,000. Five players left. I’m second in chips with around 130,000, and the blinds are at 3000-6000. I’ve been playing for 12 hours. Chip leader, an obnoxious kid, has about 300,000. (I find out after the game that he’s a pretty successful online tournament player, which I wish someone would have told me before I got busted out so I could have given him more respect. At the time he just seemed aggressive and cocky to me.)
This kid badly wants to outplay me, because I’ve been in 4 pots with him and outplayed him every time. This was by his own admission, with him saying once on break, “You’ve outplayed me in every pot we’ve been in. I’m getting very disappointed with myself.” Once, earlier in the tournament, I showed him a weak shove I made on him and he went quiet, a little steamy.
I’ve played very well all day: good reads with mediocre cards, and I’d only had to get lucky in one key spot where I had to push in on a straight draw cause the pot was so freaking large. Got called and I hit the straight.
At this point in the final table, I have as my strategy to wait out one more player busting out before I begin to try to accumulate more chips. I’ve decided to not get crazy, to only make small bets unless I hit a no-brainer. The blinds are nowhere near the level where I’m forced to make tough decisions.
So, in the context of this game history, it is exceedingly obvious how badly I misplayed the following hand. In fact, it is almost unbelievable to me how badly I played this hand, and I can only say in my defense that I must have been tired. I can’t explain the fact that I had literally just been telling myself a few seconds before this to button down and play ABC poker.
on the button. The chip leader kid raises to 15,000. I call. (I know this is horrible. I don’t even know what I was thinking, to be honest, which is why my being tired is the most logical defense I have for why every single part of this hand sucks.) Flop comes:
[9c] [9s] [6d]
Kid checks to me. I check behind. I’d usually bet this board against most players but kid is savvy enough to checkraise me with a wide range of hands here. Plus he knows I’m playing smallball poker (or should have been).
Turn is a 3 of spades:
[9c] [9s] [6d] [3s]
giving me the flush draw and two overcards. Kid bets into me, 10,000 I think. Now here’s where I start getting stupid. I raise his bet 20,000 more, trying to represent the 9 and because I think he’s probably just got A high here. He raises me back minimum, another 20,000.
Now warning bells slightly went off in my mind here. Because I’m thinking he could easily have the 9, but if he did have only the 9, why wouldn’t he raise more, being afraid of the flush draw? He’s savvy enough to know this pot’s worth taking down now. The minimum raise, while it rang a few warning bells, didn’t ring enough obviously. I weakly call the 20,000, hoping I’ll hit my flush or a Queen, but feeling kind of lost.
The river is the K of spades:
[9c] [9s] [6d] [3s] [Ks]
making me the flush. Kid checks immediately to me. Again, warning bells are going off in my head. I think for about 5 seconds that I should just check. The minimum raise is still making me very wary. If he only had three nines there, he would have raised more on the turn.
But then I start thinking, why would he check on the river if he had a full house? And which full house would it be? The pot’s 140,000, definitely a betting spot with a full house if he thinks its possible I made my flush and I’d call a big bet or if I have the nine. Definitely not a checking spot, in my opinion, cause if I just have a 9, which is quite likely from my play, I’d probably just check behind him. I just don’t see why he would check with a full house.
But you see what I forgot? This kid desperately wants to outplay me. He wants to make me look stupid. I forgot that part.
Not only that, I got greedy. I wanted his money. I have a tendency to go after the chip leaders in situations when it doesn’t make logical sense. In spots where most players would hunker down with a big stack and let the small stacks go bust, I have to try to take on giants. Pure hubris. And in this case, pure stupidity. Despite my well-laid strategy of not getting involved in a big pot without a very good hand, I’m betting most of my stack on the second nut flush on a paired board.
Also, I amateurishly took into account the fact that this kid had gotten a set 3 times already in the past few rounds. He’d already taken a big chunk out of me with his set of 3’s versus my pocket Q’s. This is something that should not have entered into my decision-making process whatsoever. Runs of cards happen. But it did affect my decision-making. I just kept thinking – no way he has pocket 6’s, pocket 3’s, pocket K’s, or 9K.
I bet 50,000, and he immediately goes all-in for the rest. I immediately know I’ve made a huge, very unprofessional mistake to bet that river. I’ve only got about 30,000 left at this point. I should have just folded and stayed alive. It was obvious what he had. But I then called off the rest, knowing I was beat, but thinking it was very slimly possible he had hit a lower flush, and if there was even a slim chance I was good I had to call.
But no – he had pocket 3s and he’d hit the full house on the turn, and I was out in 5th place.
It is not easy going home after 12 hours of near-perfect play because of one stupidly played hand, one that costs you several thousand dollars that would be very important to your bankroll. That is not easy to admit to yourself. It makes you lose sleep. It makes you loathe yourself a bit, honestly. It feels as if someone has stolen a lot of meaningful money from you, and that person, it turns out, is you.
It makes you either not want to play poker for a long time, or else play continually for 24 hours, trying to make up that same amount. In the old days, I would have chosen the second route. Now I just feel angry and tired and need to lick my wounds before returning to battle.
And this is me getting 5th in the tournament, quintupling my buy-in. I can’t imagine getting bubbled out of a major tournament, spending days to make nothing. Of course, things are easier to take if you know you’ve made the right play. Or at least know you didn’t completely mangle things. I can handle beats infinitely better when I know I’m not directly responsible for losing a hand, when I know I’ve done the best I can.
The only way to get past these painful situations is to recognize that you are continually learning. No matter how good you are, you will make mistakes. (Unless you’re Phil Ivey lol) It is inevitable. You can’t let those mistakes eat you up inside or make you play worse. You have to try to get the most learning you can out of that specific situation and move on, easing the pain of the moment by realizing that the chances of that mistake happening again have been greatly diminished. (Sometimes, as I have learned, you may have to make the same mistakes multiple times before you fully absorb the learning.)
Recognizing your shortcomings and vowing to learn from them will not ease the immediate pain, but it’s all you can do. Maybe write about it, too, and describe your shortcomings honestly – this seems to help me.
It’s a form of forgiving yourself, which can be very hard for perfectionists. Poker players should remember that learning poker involves constantly testing new strategies in frequently new situations against new players. It is inevitable that mistakes will be made – you just have to try your best to get the learning from them, and to forgive yourself and mentally move on.
Oh, I just got an email telling me that the dude who knocked me out won the tournament last night. This news creates a heavy feeling in my chest. It burns.
But on the flip side, maybe there’s something to be said for all this pain. I’ll leave you with the quote from the late, great Stu Ungar: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”.