Being able to handle those curve balls

May 16, 2017 3:00 AM


You never know whence words of wisdom applicable to the game of poker will emanate. Reading the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, I came upon a column about Jewish Youth baseball players. The following are the words of a 12-year-old sixth-grader, devoted to the sport of baseball. Daniel has been his team’s pitcher for the past seven years, competing in a Sunday afternoon baseball league for youngsters.

“Sometimes, when you get nervous, the ball goes off course,” he said.

His goal is to become a better baseball pitcher – more skilled – so his team can win more often. This story got me to thinking. It occurred to me Daniel’s thought-provoking statement and his goal could very well apply to the game of poker. Just as in playing baseball, as poker players we are competing against others – our opponents.

Of course, our ultimate goal is to win lots of chips – the more, the merrier. To accomplish this, we strive to become better players – more skilled in many ways. And, we often are faced with a “curve ball” that (figuratively) “goes off course” when an opponent catches the card he needs to beat us on the river.

I vividly recall a recent hand in low-limit hold’em at my favorite casino: Starting with pocket Jacks, I caught a set on the flop, and then made quad Jacks on the turn. Wow! I was already counting “my” chips. It was a huge pot. But, then the poker gods threw me a sweeping curve when my opponent, with just two outs on the river, caught the Ace of spades, giving him a royal straight flush. To add insult to injury, the hand did not qualify for the Bad Beat Jackpot because one of his holecards was not part of his straight flush.

Needless to say, that hand affected me emotionally – like the young baseball player who gets nervous. Losing his “cool” is bound to effect his playing in a very negative way; so it is for us while playing poker. Some call it “going on tilt.”

Getting rivered is not uncommon in the game of poker. So, one very important skill we need to acquire is the ability to contain our emotions. Never, ever go on tilt!

It is important to avoid getting “nervous” – possibly going on tilt! Then you are bound to make poor decisions, costing you even more chips – perhaps, until you go broke. That would be a disaster!

Probably the wisest action in such a situation is to get away from that game; leave that table at least for a short time – 10 to 15 minutes. A brisk walk outside of the casino could be “just what the doctor ordered.” Breathe the fresh air. Breathe deeply as you ponder over that hand.

Ask yourself: “Did I make any mistakes? Should I have played it differently? Considering the strength of my opponent’s hand, I could never have forced him to fold along the way; he was in all the way. Satisfy yourself that there was no way you could have avoided that Bad Beat on the river!

Realize that getting rivered on a Bad Beat is just one of those things bound to happen now and then. It was beyond your control. Think to yourself: “Perhaps, I should have scrutinized the board more carefully, and avoided another bet on the river. But, who would have ever put him on an open-ended straight flush draw on the river? Even so, he had only two outs – a huge longshot. But, with odds well over 20-to-1 against him, a longshot sometimes does win. That’s poker.”

Now, calmed down – no longer “nervous” – you are ready to resume the game. Go back to your table and start anew. After all, you know you are the most skilled player at that table. And a 12-year old baseball player made me think of this.