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The Lessons of Bad Play

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Last weekend I put on an epic display of  bad tournament play.  Folding when I should be calling, calling when I should fold, and generally playing with a strategy that I defy anyone to figure out, because I certainly don’t know what the heck I was doing. I had not had a session like that in a while.  It felt like both my instincts and thought processes were betraying me.

It started with an early hand – 300 blinds deep – where I had KK, 3-bet pre-flop and got called by the original raiser.  It was early and I had never played against this opponent before, so I had little info to work with.  Two aces hit on a rainbow flop. I bet and got called. A third ace hit the turn. I bet and he min raised. Now this seemed odd: the raise was not enough to make me fold hands that would beat his weaker pairs, but if he had A-K, A-Q or A-J why would he want to send up a flare? Why not let me continue to bet into him? If he does not hold an ace, how does he know I don’t have one and he just sent me a gift?  I had a lot of questions and few answers.

So, hoping to get to showdown,  I checked the river, and he put out a bet for about a third of the pot. I figure that, even with three aces on the board, he has more A-x hands in his range than he does pairs that would have have made it this far. In fact, it seems that if he does not hold the case ace, he would want to get to showdown to with pretty much any large pair, wouldn’t he? I decided he must have an Ace.

[bctt tweet=”Tilt is a Quiet Demon” username=”PokerTraining”]

I folded and he showed QQ. My next mistake was to visibly show my self-disgust  People now knew I had KK, and the chorus of “no way he had an ace” descended. The Villian continued to play in odd and risky ways for the next 2 hours (I lost count of the number of all-ins). I told myself I would call him the next time I suspected he was either bluffing or over-valuing his hand. But then I found myself folding two pair to a fishy all-in on a wet board replete with flush and straight possibilities. He showed a bluff. Next, I called another aggressive player who I think is representing a flush, when of course, he has the flush. I made calls on draws when neither my equity nor my stack to pot ratio justified it. And so on, until I mercifully exited with about 50% of the field left.

So when you stink up the joint, it’s time to take stock. Here’s what I wrenched from this foggy debacle:

  • Tilt Can Be a Quiet Demon:  I did not feel on tilt after that big early fold, but clearly I was. I did not feel anger or frustration, but my mind kept drifting back to that hand. It stuck with me and impacted my later play. Tilt does not need to involve chair throwing fury to hurt your game.
  • Improvement Comes with Growing Pains: I found myself not knowing how much to rely on my instinctive reads, my analysis of hand ranges, and just old “look at the hand I have, how can I fold this?”. Sometimes in my growth as a poker player, I struggle to adapt to new approaches, and this was one of those days. Nothing felt quite right. When you try to improve your skills, you have to leave your comfort zone. That’s not always easy.
  • Bad Habits are Easy to Fall Back On: The response to the above is sometimes to grab the security blanket of old habits and go with them. Sometimes it’s easier to see that nut flush draw or open ended straight draw and just call behind, hoping to hit without considering all other options. Analysis falls to habit.
  • Unknown Players with Unusual Play – I Hate Thee: I have always struggled with the unknown player: never knowing whether this all-in shove for 10 times the pot is a ham-fisted bluff or a poor attempt at a value play. My approach has always been to limit my exposure to new players unless I have a huge hand, but I think I need to assess whether there is a better strategy.

Bad play be damned. From the ashes, the Phoenix must rise!


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Paul Gearan

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