All about your self-control at the poker table

Jul 9, 2013 3:00 AM

Willpower requires self-control. It is essential at the poker table.

According to psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, in his recent book, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” self-control is “the most coveted human virtue. Whatever we seek – from happiness to good health to financial security – we won’t reach our goals without first learning to harness self-control.”

Applied to poker: You came to play! That’s why you drove all the way to the casino this evening, braving the horrendous freeway traffic. But, in your zeal to get into action, it’s important to maintain self-control. Otherwise you are liable to play too many hands and chase too often.

You have read – and re-read – Epstein’s Hold’em Algorithm book. You can almost quote some of the key concepts in the book, including the Starting-Hand Criteria, and the Hold’em Caveat.

The first hand dealt to you doesn’t quite add up to the numerical criteria required for starting-hands in late position. Although you are tempted to call to see the flop, you know better.

You decide to wait for the next hand. Good! As you watch the game being played out, you realize it would have cost you. Good self-control.

Four more hands are dealt; easy folds. Not even close to meeting the Hold’em Algorithm starting-hand criteria. Meanwhile you observe how your opponents play. Who are the tight players; the loose ones; the aggressive players? Good information for future use.

Finally, after waiting patiently for six hands, you are dealt a decent starting hand, K-J offsuit. In a middle position, you pay to see the flop: a Jack and two smaller cards, rainbow. You have top pair on the board!

It’s checked to you. Holding top pair, you open the betting; three callers. You figure you have the best hand – so far. But the turn is a red Ace. That you didn’t like. You know many of your opponents play Any-Ace. Your J-J probably is second-best. That can be costly.

The Big Blind comes out betting. You know she is a tight player. Almost certainly, she has at least a pair of Aces. Nevertheless, you decide to call to see the river. Indeed, you are fully aware you are chasing for the rainbow behind the dark cloud.

The river is a blank. This time you fold to her bet. Another player does call. She scoops the pot with two-pair, Aces and 9s. You berate yourself for calling on the turn. Insufficient willpower! Lack of self-control cost you a big bet. Well, it could have been worse. What if you had called her bet on the river?

Then again…

As the game progresses, you feel you have folded more than your fair share of holecards. Now, in a middle position, you are dealt A-hearts, 7-diamonds offsuit. It’s folded to you.

Sure, it’s not a good starting hand but it almost satisfies the Hold’em Algorithm starting-hand criteria. Besides, you are anxious to get involved! The opponent to your left raises your bet. A conservative player, he probably has a big pair or premium drawing hand. Only the Button calls.

You are well aware your call would violate the Hold’em Caveat for marginal drawing hands (a multi-way pot with no raises), but you just have to stay to see the flop. The flop brings 9d, 7d, 2h. You check your middle-pair to the raiser, who promptly makes the bet. The Button folds.

Now it’s up to you. Acting quickly, without fully considering all the facts and evidence, you call the bet. Chasing. As you do so, you realize it was a stupid bet. You had no reason to believe your opponent was bluffing. And there are so many hands that easily beat your pair of 7s.

If you had paused to consider, with just two outs – the other two 7s – you should have folded. After losing this hand, you get up from the table to take a break. “Why did I play that hand?” you ask yourself.

My question to you: Where was your self-discipline – your willpower?

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