Greed can be an evil thing in poker too

Feb 9, 2016 3:00 AM

The word is Greed – a selfish, almost intense desire to acquire more and more of something (money? power?) well beyond one’s needs.

For many people, it is their driving force, often leading them to take actions – such as bribery, corruption, cheating – that are deplored by others.

Greed occurs so often in every avenue of life that it might be regarded as part of human nature. The greedy person may have a rational explanation that puts a positive light on it. Perhaps he wants more money to fund charities to help others less fortunate. Perhaps he wants more power to better serve his community. But, for the most part, society looks upon greed as a negative.

Unlike so-called poker pros, the majority of us are recreational players. We enjoy the challenge and excitement, as well as the social interactions. But, no matter why you play the game, everyone wants to win as many chips (money) as possible. (The more I win, the more fun it is!)

Players are aware of the high cost to play, especially the casino’s drop for every hand dealt in cash games, or the entry fee for tournaments; but, they “see” only the potential gain. They all know, in a tournament, relatively few of the players will end up in the money. The same is true in cash games – no matter the stakes. The players are quite willing to take the risk, hoping to end up in the money. Would you call that greed?

In a cash game, most players usually start off with a reasonable goal – most likely, an unstated self-promise: “I’ll quit when I double up my buy-in for the game.” That’s a reasonable goal for the session.

Our hero is lucky from the start, and wins several pots in short order. He’s also a skilled player. He observes his opponents’ playing traits and tells. Having studied the Hold’em Algorithm he knows when to hold’em and when to fold’em. He knows all 13 reasons for raising. And, he is adept at bluffing, including the use of the Esther Bluff tactic.

Before very long, he has more than doubled his buy-in. He recalls his silent promise before he sat down at that table: “I’ll quit when I double-up my buy-in.” His racks full of chips look so beautiful! Does he get up and cash out? No way… He is playing so well. He muses: “This is my lucky day!” And, what’s more, he is so enjoying himself. It feels so good to be a big winner. Yes, winning is great fun! A big smile fills his face.

So, not to anyone’s surprise, hero decides to stay on. Why quit now? He’s sure he will win even more as the game progresses.

Shortly after, luck abandons him. His opponents are making the better hands. Twice in a row, he gets rivered after leading all the way – until the river – with big pocket pairs. Then he makes a big straight on the turn, only to get beaten, by a runner flush. Costly!

We all know poker is a game of variance – ups and downs in your good fortune. Then, he flops a set of Queens, and decides to slow-play it to build a big pot. Lo and behold, an opponent makes an inside straight on the turn. “That idiot shouldn’t have stayed in the pot,” he thinks to himself. (Shades of Phil Hellmuth!) “Oh, well, you can’t win them all,” he rationalizes. “I’m still ahead for this session.”

Unbeknown to him, he soon goes on tilt. He starts chasing – calling bets with only a few outs. I think you know the rest of the story; ultimately, he goes home – broke! As he drives home, he talks to himself: “Next time I’ll stick to my goal – and use self-discipline to be sure to quit while I’m ahead.”

Or was it greed?

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