Disclaimer: This article discusses gambling and poker in a positive light. If you are someone that does not approve of this type of leisure activity this article will not be for you.
That moment when something clicks, when you just understand it, the effect can change you forever in that moment. Everyone has these moments in their life, from studying as a child and understanding a mathematical problem that you were having difficulty with for weeks. To seeing an alternative perspective to a game, where learning it can be easy and that moment when something clicks and you see it on a higher level, that emotion is what I will be talking about.
I started playing poker back in the winter of 2017. I had recently moved in with my girlfriend and was looking for a hobby to get me out of the house once a week and to meet some new people. She suggested that I look at University societies and she found that her alumnus had a poker society and suggested I go along as I had been playing a little bit on Poker Stars. The friendly banter, the competition and the rush of winning or making a bluff were invigorating. I didn’t really know how to play poker, but I was having fun and knew the basics. I knew that a flush beat a straight and so on, but I didn’t understand anything, that higher level players where doing. After several months of playing at various universities and making some amazing friends, I had found myself on Easter break.
I started spending some of my winnings on playing in larger but still small tournaments at a local casino in London called Aspers. My main reason for choosing this casino over any of the others was due to the fact that you would get entered into two tournaments for the price of one. Being someone that was more interested in getting better than winning it seemed like a no-brainer and I ended up going along a few times a month and played in a larger tournament due to getting lucky.
Since then I have been playing on and off. I would have liked to have played more but it is what it is. However, recently I have been fortunate enough to have been taken under the wing of a good friend who happens to be a really good poker player. He’s been able to watch me play at small cash games and then ask me questions. I write down notes when I win a hand and also when I lose. He’s then able to pick apart my thought process and ask questions that I was not asking myself.
Over the last week, I had been playing poker with him mostly with cash, with a small tournament to break it up and going to a local comedy club in Birmingham. Before this week I had assumed I was around the same level as most of the people playing £1/£1 (that’s the price to play the blinds). Nothing special but I knew slightly more than the basics and I had been mostly a profitable player.
I think this is arguably one of the greatest feelings, that moment when you go from saying you understand, or you know how it works but haven't quite been able to put it into practice. That moment when everything makes total sense.
One of my biggest flaws or leaks in poker was my bet sizing. The core concept of this is doing one of several things:
1. Bet sizing depending on the player
2. Sizing regarding the pot
3. Winning the most when I'm winning (before the cards are flipped over)
4. Losing the least amount when I lose (before the cards are flipped over)
This is a very basic way of looking at it, but this was my biggest problem when playing cash in poker. I would play everyone the same way, I was commonly betting pretty much the same way almost every time. I was losing a lot and winning a lot, or losing nothing but then winning nothing.
Towards the end of the week, I had started changing my betting. I knew a lot of the time when I was ahead or behind. However, a skill I got significantly better at was forcing people into spots which made them uncomfortable due to my sizing. This was something I had never done before, I had experienced it but not made someone else feel like this unless I had the best hand possible, not with top pair when I knew my opponent has a weak hand.
Not only did I get better at bet sizing, but due to this, I was able to start reading players hands better, understanding their ranges, my perceived range and my table image improved leaps and bounds. I was getting involved in pots that were above £400 which I made happen. I knew I was winning and was not only playing the player but playing my cards and my money better.
The hand that changed me
It was the last night and I want to run you thought one of my best played hands of that week which also happened to be a bluff, now it’s not an amazing bluff but due to several factors it was. Before anyone that knows poker chimes in, this is a bluff I would have only run vs this player and due to my table image of showing the best hand each time. So with that out of the way, let's get into it:
The blinds are £1/£1 everyone is deep stacked and has more than £500 in front of them.
I looked down at Ace Queen off (not an amazing hand but worth opening up with).
I’m the first player (UTG) and I raise to £10 (this is larger than most £1/£1 games and was playing more like £1/£2).
We get 3 callers and to a flop of 337 rainbow (none of the suits match).
It gets checked to me and I bet £25 (could have sized it up here, I still think I could have played it better).
Only one caller, this player has been shown to get away from his hands and didn’t like it when I bet big.
Turn is a Jack of clubs (this brings in a flush draw and I have the ace of clubs as a blocker).
I bet £55.
He thinks about this for a few minutes and decides to call, this player looks visibly unhappy and seems that he really doesn’t like that it's against me.
The river is a 5 of hearts, it’s a complete blank and we have nothing. For him to call we must be losing. So to win this pot, I decided to bet big and go ¾ pot. I bet £150 into a pot of £201.
He looks like he is in visible pain and I have a feeling that he has a jack to have made that turn call, he might have also had 10s or 9s and there are loads of other combinations of hands in his range. After a few minutes, he decides to fold. I slowly put my cards into the muck, look a little sad about not getting called and tell him “good fold” which puts a small smile on his face.
Now to the average half decent player, this is not an amazing hand and is something that a lot of players have done. Now a semi draws would have made this much better, but after talking with my mentor he agreed that the river bet is what made this my eureka moment. That I was not the same player that started at the beginning of the week. At the beginning of the week would have checked the flop, turn and river and would have lost the hand or folded to a bet. Which in some respect is not incorrect.
However, it’s understanding the spot I was in, I knew the only way to win was to bet as we had no showdown value. Betting big on the river, pretty much willing to lose a huge pot, not long before we agreed to leave was risky but I put myself in that spot. I could have checked the flop let someone else bet and fold £10, it's not much to lose, but that was a pot I built, that I knew what I was doing.
Well, now I understand poker is more complex than I first thought. I have started to learn what type of player I will become. My mentor has a style of play that works for me, but I also do things that he doesn’t; mainly, speech play which at my level is somewhat irrelevant, but what’s a bit of fun over a few hours and I like talking!
This moment has showed me that I have a lot to learn. Texas hold’ en is easy enough to compile the rules onto a two-sided playing card. However, while the basics are easy, the complexity and depth to this game feels almost limitless.
Learning a skill, this is what I learned over this weekend. That skill was to be able to read my opponent, bet in accordance, put them to the test and play them more than my hand. Telling a story that makes sense and being able to bluff as if I had the nuts.
I'll leave you with this, “A man with money is no match against a man on a mission.” (Doyle Brunson)