A Few Pitfalls in Thought

SavagePenguin

SavagePenguin

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I've seen a few common mental pitfalls in poker and thought I'd comment a bit on them.
A Few Pitfalls in Thought

Being results oriented - Just because you lost doesn't mean it was a bad for that situation. Likewise, just because you won doesn't mean it was a good move for the situation. You cannot see the opposition's hole cards, so you can only base your moves on the known factors (reads, M, payout proximity, various aspects of position, your hand strength, etc.), so you can only go by what the likeliest outcome is based on known information.
For example, if everyone is deep stacked and a tight player raises UTG, and then a tight player in middle position re-raises, muck your J/J. Sometimes they'll both stack with their A/K's and so you would have been a whopping 67% favorite to triple up, but so what? You can't be expected to know what cards they have, so it was a good fold against what (at least) one of them was likely to have had.
So to sum it up, a good play is defined as one that will be most likely have the best outcome over the long run in similar situations, not one that just so happened to earn you chips in that hand.

Extrapolating short term results - Just because you are on a winning streak doesn't mean you are a winning player. Poker is swingy. A lot of players are quick to pat themselves on the back when they win (because the moves they thought were correct paid off) but then they curse their rotten cold spell when they start to lose.

The nature of the game is "limited knowledge of what's going on with bad plays showing a profit a decent percentage of the time." This means that everybody has winning and losing streaks regardless of their skill level Do not overestimate your poker prowess if you are on a winning streak, and do not beat yourself up if you're on a downswing, because you can make the right moves consistently and still have a long string of losses due to variance.

By no means am I advocating not examining your game if you are a consistent loser. By all means look at your game and try to find logical areas to improve. But be aware that if you’re mad because you never win a coin flip for stacks in the middle stages of a tournament your big problem is that you shouldn’t be taking such risks at that stage of the game, not bad luck.

Taking it personally - As I just stated, the nature of the game is swingy. Bad hands lose to good hands often. If you shove with A/K and get called by T/Qs, he's going to beat you nearly 40% of the time.
That means, for every ten times that happens you lose 4 of those times. That’s almost half. Throw in a little variance and you’re going to lose there a whole lot before you get a win.

I heard a story about a statistician at a college who likes to start the semester by having groups of students make up the results of 500 coin flips (I think I heard it on NPR). Once they do that, he has them flip a coin 500 times and record the results. They do not label the papers. Then he looks at the papers and is almost always able to differentiate the made-up results from the actual results. He is able to do this with such accuracy because random results are swingy. When people make up the results they tend even things out to stay truer to 50/50 results, but when you actually do it you'll flip tails seven times in a row, then heads, then tales another three times, etc. Random results are swingy. That's their nature. So statistically you are *supposed* to lose with A/A half a dozen times in a row on occasion. When I started poker, I had a had a 12 in a row suck streak where I lost 11/12 A/A hands, and the one I did win was when it was folded to me in the big blind. It was a blow to my spirit/ego/confidence.
When your hand loses to an inferior one try not fret it. You are supposed to lose a good percentage of the time. It is completely fair that you lose, and it's completely fair to lose with a superior hand many times in a row. That randomness is the nature of the game.

But it doesn't seem to ever go your way? That is because if you are a good player you will get sucked out on more than you suck out on people. That is the nature of the game as well. If you are a good player will get your money in as an underdog far a less often, so your opportunities to suck out on people are far less than their opportunities to suck out on you.

Something else to consider: Every time you win a hand you are essentially sucking out.
A lot of people do not consider that when you win a hand you are getting more chips than you deserve. Let’s say you are the short stack with 1,500 chips. The blinds are 100/200 and you shove with A/Ko on the button. The BB with 20,000 chips calls with 4/6s. (What an idiot, right? No, not really.) Neither of you hits and you take the 3,100 pot. Most people don’t think anything about their win, because this was what “should” have happened. They take their 3,100 chips and don’t think twice about the results.
You were only 58.84% to win that hand. So if the results were fair, you would have only received 1,830 chips (58.84% of the 3,100 pot, plus another 6 for the times you split). You taking the entire pot there deprived the villain of the 1,269 in equity that he had in that pot. So he is getting an “unfair” return for his investment.
(I’d like to note that you average a 330 chip profit in that situation when he calls, and the pot was 300 when you shoved.)
Now, I put “unfair” in quotes because over time it all balances out. The more this situation happens the closer he comes to winning 40.72% of the time. So in the long run, he gets his 40.72% of all those pots he played. (But the times he wins he gets cussed at.)

Big fish in a small pond - Let’s say you are a successful $.10 & $.25 tournament player. You are at a level where a large percentage of the players have a poor understanding of the game. They don't understand position let alone the gap concept, they make stupid bluffs, they take unnecessary risks with their big stacks, they stack light, etc. It's not very difficult to be a winning player at these levels, and because people play so poorly you can get away with a lot more, stacking off lighter, stacking with one pair, etc. and still make a profit.
If you try to move up to $2 games the pool of fish that will stack off with their wild draws and bluffs will decrease and the people who don't respect an early position raise or a re-raise will decrease. Basically, play becomes more sophisticated. If you move up to $5 games there are even fewer fish. I'm not saying they're geniuses by any means, but they are far from the blind monkeys throwing chips around that you see in the lowest of the micro limit games and freerolls.
This is why you post the buy-in when you post a hand history in the analysis section. Plays that work in the lowest levels are suicide when you try them against players who have a clue about what's going on.
Because of this, getting advice on hands for play money and freerolls (especially early hands in freerolls) is tricky. When you play against people who think about hands you have to play different. On Facebook poker I wait until I have A/J+ and then shove because people call with any Ace or connectors or whatever.
So what does this mean? This means that as you move up you meet tougher and tougher players and you have to modify your play accordingly. Things that once worked will no longer work. +EV plays at one level may end up being bad habits at a higher level, so keep learning. Keep adapting your game as you face new environments.

Hands are about situations, not cards and moves – Let’s say I talk about min-raising from UTG at an aggressive table with A/A. That is a far cry from getting A/A in middle position, and min-raising after a couple people have already entered the pot ahead of you. In my case, I’m looking to get 3-bet. In the latter case, you’re making a move that’ll make a small pot with a lot of callers which is pretty much the worst situation you can be in with A/A.
That is, min-raising with A/A is *not* the important part. The important part is that I had a powerful hand and was in a situation where I was likely to get 3-bet, which gives me the power/choice to call or re-raise a likely aggressor, so I’m trying to get a big pot against only one or two players. In the second example, it’s just setting up a call-fest with all sorts of drawing hands.
Similar moves (like min-raising with A/A) mean different things in different situations. It’s all about your goal and the expected results for your move given all the information available (including your hand, all aspects of positions, player images, etc.). It is not just your hand in relationship to just your move.
I guess another way to word it is that a move has value according to the big picture, not according to just a few factors (like how much you bet with a big hand).


The value of hidden monsters – I have a friend who told me that he likes to play 7/2 on occasion because if it hits nobody can put him on it. I could never convince him that it was a bad play. He eventually quit playing poker online because he lost too much money.
When you play junk like that you run into a variety of obstacles. First and foremost, you rarely hit a big hand. Top pair has a lousy kicker, and you still have to worry about over-pairs, and over-cards on later streets and stuff. It’s just a dangerous situation to be in.
Secondly, if you hit a big hand you will rarely get paid off. Any hand that gives you a monster will mostly likely totally miss everybody else. So the times you do hit you don’t get paid off.
Some people can play a lot of junk and make it work. You have to be very very good to do it successfully, *and* you have to play against people who are smart enough to understand what’s going on because you can’t accurately predict the actions of the ignorant. You can’t read or bluff a player who makes whimsical plays because they do not have consistent (or logical) reactions to the situations presented to them.


How do I play J/J?
The old joke is, "There are three ways to play J/J... and all of them are wrong."
Play it just about the same way you play T/T. Nobody complains about T/T.
T/T doesn't have the pretty picture so it's easier to let go of.


Poker is rigged!
Nobody can prove otherwise if you want to believe that.
The fact is, tens of thousands of players use tracking software, recording billions of hands, and cards show up as often as they should. Humans are designed to see patterns and anomies, so when randomness generates the illusion of a pattern we pick it up, and when something weird happens we make note of it. It is common to see these weird things and assume that they are proof of foul play.
The thing is there are many thousands of ways for weird things to happen in each hand of poker. When one of those thousands of “10,000-to-1-against” things happens we pick up on it because your brain was designed to pick up on oddities. These are to be expected, and not necessarily indicative of foul play.
Yes there are cheaters online. People multi-account, collude, use bots, and use hand history software to gain unfair insight into their opponents play. But this doesn’t make the game unwinnable. A villain pretty much has to be a smart/winning player to make proper use of the illegally obtained hand histories. Collusion is fairly obvious to spot and several CC’ers have been contacted by the poker sites and had money returned because the site’s automated software caught the colluders and returned money to the effected players. And as far as multi-accounters go, if the accounts aren’t playing together their advantage is that they might have a history on you while you won’t have their hand history matched to their alternate account. And if they are playing together the advantage would be that he could collude with himself and he’d know an extra 3.84% of the deck that was out-of-play because the other account had it (which will only benefit him in rare situations).
To put it bluntly, if you put some serious time into reading poker books and improving your game, and following proper bankroll management without tilting you are going to be a winning micro-stakes poker player. If you can’t do win at the micro stakes it is not because the games are rigged; it is because you are doing something wrong.

Having the best hand is over rated.
You buy into a single table S&G for $10+$1.
1st pays $45
2nd pays $27
3rd pays $18
Total prize pool = $90
4 players are left (you are on the bubble)
Chip stacks are about even (average 3,375), and the blinds aren’t huge.

Player 1 folds.
Player 2 folds.
Player 3 accidently exposes 7h 8h and shoves
You look down and see that you have Ac Ks.

What do you do? You insta-shove, right?

Here’s where ICM (Independent Chip Model) comes into play.
Basically, each chip you have is worth something in relationship to the prize pool.
With 4 of you left and similar stacks, you are all playing with about 1/4th of the $90 prize pool, or about $22.50 in expected payout. (Note that this is not profit. Winnings and profit are different, as you paid $11 to play.)

When the SB shoves he’s putting you in a decision for your tournament life.
If you call and win you are guaranteed a $7 profit ($18 - $11), and have about 6,750 chips (half the chips in play!). Winning = $7 + 6,750 chips.
If you call and lose you lose your $11 buy-in for an $11 loss.

To fully understand the value of winning, we need to know what the value of having half the chips in play is,

If we run this situation through an ICM calculator, 6,750 chips are worth about 38.3% of the prize pool, or a payout of $34.50. Thanks to your win (or loss) the two villains at the table with half your stack, are now playing with about 30.8% of the prize pool, or and expected payout of $27.75 each. (Does that seem weird to you? If you think the chip leader has a bigger expected return than 38.3% to 30.8%, remember that if you double up either of the other two, you are basically switching places with them, and if the other two go all in against each other you’re at an even chip stack with the survivor. So if half the time you coin flip with someone for stacks, and half the time they coin flip against each other for stacks, you’ll end up with ¾ of the chips 25% of the time, ¼ of the chips 25% of the time, and ½ the chips 50% the time, so ¾ of the time you’ll eventually have an equal stack or worse. Having half the chips in play isn’t a god-like advantage my any means.)

A $34.50 average payout for winning the hand sounds nice huh?

Of course, Ac Ks only beats 7h 8h 58% of the time. 42% of the time you lose $11.

58% of the time a call has an expected tournament payout of $34.50.
100% of the time folding here keeps you at an expected tournament payout of $22.50.

58% of $34.50 for the call is an average payout of $20.00.
100% of $22.50 for the times you fold is an average payout $22.50.

So the most profitable move? Fold your two over cards and make an extra $2.50 on average.
(I also recommend grumbling to yourself, but not telling anybody what you folded because a lot of other players are going to call you a fool.)

$2.50 is 22.7% of your buy-in, so plays like this can make quite a difference in your long-term ROI (Return On Investment).

But in the above example, how can I know if he has 7h 8h if he doesn’t show?

That hand was an example to make things simpler. Poker is about putting your opponents on ranges of hands, not actual hands.

If you have Ac Ks and you know that the villain will shove with any pocket pair, and any two Broadway cards, then you will win 58% of the time as well.
If your opponent is only going to shove with A/Q+ and J/J+, then you know you are about 50% to win so the fold is easier.
If he shoves any Ace, any Broadway, and any pair you’re 63% to win ($21.83 average return, which is still less than $22.50)

(I'd like to note that ICM does *not* take into account a players skill or the bullying advantage that having a big stack may have. It basically assumes everyone plays the same, and calculates their chances of winning accordingly.)
 
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bazerk

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Nice post/thread SavagePenguin >>> Congrats on 5K+! :icon_thum

Really like the 'being results oriented' mentioned as a pitfall...IMHO, if a peep focuses on being process oriented, results tend to follow.
 
tenbob

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Superb post SP. Congrats on the milestone.
 
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Tangerine 53

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Great post SP and a very good synopsis of ICM! Like others I can't overestimate the point you make about not being results oriented.
 
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budebuzz

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Great post! I posted something about up and down swings and the people who replied acted like they never heard of anything like that or ever had that happen unless it was bad poker playing........ Maybe it was the way I worded it but nice post.
 
the lab man

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Well thought out post, Extremely well written and easy to understand.Great, Great Post SP.. Congrats
 
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Pokertron3000

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Very nice post and worth reading a few times if not every day:D
 
Arjonius

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Lots of good food for thought. One pitfall I'd add, although it's part of some that you noted, is ego. It has almost certainly cost every poker player some amount of money at some time. The challenge is to keep the amount to a minimum.
 
Weregoat

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Excellent post. I'll go over this one a couple more times.
 
salim271

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Nice post, I liked the ICM stuff, especially how you used AKo as an example against something that most would consider a 'weak' hand. If it isn't profitable to call in that spot on the bubble with AKo it probably never is, 87s isnt even something I consider in my opponent's range on the bubble.
 
SavagePenguin

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If it isn't profitable to call in that spot on the bubble with AKo it probably never is...

Well, people shove with A/x a lot there, in which case you are a big favorite and calling is a good move.
If you are a good bully with a big chip stack then there is an increased advantage to having chips, or if your opposition is better than you you may be off going with a coin flip as well.
I just wanted to show a scenario where people often think they're in a lot better shape than they actually are.
The fact that there was a 27% difference in ROI is what I found interesting after doing the math.
 
kidkvno1

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Great Post SP, congrats on your 5 K post..
 
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Good post. Just kind of a dumb question but how would you determine if a player is good or not. If we say that a bad player can have a good string of cards resulting in several wins and a good player can have a long run of bad cards resulting in losses to bad players how do you tell the difference? Just a history of winning over a period of several years?
 
Poof

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I don't know how I have missed this.
Very nice post SP and congrats on the 5k!
 
KyleJRM

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Good post. Just kind of a dumb question but how would you determine if a player is good or not. If we say that a bad player can have a good string of cards resulting in several wins and a good player can have a long run of bad cards resulting in losses to bad players how do you tell the difference? Just a history of winning over a period of several years?

The general rule of thumb is that you should show a profit over 10,000 hands at any given level to be considered a winning player at that level. Honestly, 10k is too small imo, but it's a start.
 
SavagePenguin

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I would say that if you are not a winner at $.01/$.02 ($2NL), $.02/$.05 ($5NL), or $.05/$.10 ($10NL) over 10,000 hands you are not a winning player. People play bad enough at these levels that variance is minimal.

The higher you go the less your skill advantage, which means that variance will play a bigger factor, which means you need more hands so your skill (or lack of) has more time to manifest itself.
 
SavagePenguin

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A better hand isn't necessarily a better hand

Thought I'd [rehash some of a post I did and put it in this thread.

The discussion was about getting it all in pre flop with T/T vs two people who each had A/A, and then overcoming the odds and winning the pot.

Here's the thing people don't always realize: Going all-in-pre-flop against two people with A/A is better than going AIPF against only one person with A/A.

In fact, it's nearly 3% better against two pairs of Aces than one against one pair. With all of the Aces in play if you suck out and make a set they cannot hit an over-set to beat you.

And to make it weirder, if you had a "worse" hand like 8/8 you have an even bigger chance of winning because straights & sets that help you give them do not give them draws to straights.

Even stranger, a hand like 7/8s which seems substantially weaker actually gives you a much better chance at winning.

T/T wins 19.06% against A/A
T/T wins 21.72% against A/A & A/A
8/8 wins 22.31% against A/A & A/A
7/8s wins 24.85% against A/A & A/A
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You win 5.8% more times with 7/8s vs A/A & A/A than when you have T/T vs one player with A/A. That is a lot.
To put that into perspective, a raise of 5.8% from 19.06% is increasing the times you win by about 33%!
 
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bhood1776

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Something else to consider: Every time you win a hand you are essentially sucking out.
A lot of people do not consider that when you win a hand you are getting more chips than you deserve. Let’s say you are the short stack with 1,500 chips. The blinds are 100/200 and you shove with A/Ko on the button. The BB with 20,000 chips calls with 4/6s. (What an idiot, right? No, not really.) Neither of you hits and you take the 3,100 pot. Most people don’t think anything about their win, because this was what “should” have happened. They take their 3,100 chips and don’t think twice about the results.

You were only 58.84% to win that hand. So if the results were fair, you would have only received 1,830 chips (58.84% of the 3,100 pot, plus another 6 for the times you split). You taking the entire pot there deprived the villain of the 1,269 in equity that he had in that pot. So he is getting an “unfair” return for his investment.
(I’d like to note that you average a 330 chip profit in that situation when he calls, and the pot was 300 when you shoved.)
Now, I put “unfair” in quotes because over time it all balances out. The more this situation happens the closer he comes to winning 40.72% of the time. So in the long run, he gets his 40.72% of all those pots he played. (But the times he wins he gets cussed at.)

I get the point your are trying to make here but this is wrong IMO because it changes the rules of the game. His equity was 41% to WIN the hand. Once he loses his equity drops to zero, therefore he was not deprived of anything.
 
SavagePenguin

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I get the point your are trying to make here but this is wrong IMO because it changes the rules of the game. His equity was 41% to WIN the hand. Once he loses his equity drops to zero, therefore he was not deprived of anything.

No, you obviously do not get my point as it had nothing to do with changing the rules to pay out according to what equity they had in the hand.

When decisions were made A/Ko had 58.84% equity in the pot and the results will *never* give him a percentage of the pot that matches his equity. He will either win a lot more or a lot less. Over time this averages a 58.84% win, but in the short term it is never equal to 58.84%.

My point is:
A/Ko will either win or lose substantially more than the equity it had in the pot.

If the guy with A/Ko loses he feels angry/ripped-off/betrayed.

When things go his way and A/Ko wins, the guy doesn't consider that he won 3,100 when he only had 1,830 in equity. To him, he was supposed to win because his hand was better. But in a sense he is sucking out because he is winning a lot more than his expected long-term return.

Another way to put it:
When your equity goes from 58.84% to 0% because you lose at showdown you feel like it is unfair.
When your equity goes from 58.84% to 100% because you win at showdown you do not feel that it was unfair.
 
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bhood1776

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OK I get what you are saying now, thank you for the reply, I understand it better now.
 
PattyR

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how i missed this post is beyond me. great post SP! lotta solid advice in hurrr.

article of the month imo
 
SavagePenguin

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bazerk said:
Nice post/thread SavagePenguin >>> Congrats on 5K+!
tenbob said:
Superb post SP. Congrats on the milestone.
Tangerine 53 said:
Great post SP and a very good synopsis of ICM! Like others I can't overestimate the point you make about not being results oriented.
budebuzz said:
Great post!
the lab man said:
Well thought out post, Extremely well written and easy to understand.Great, Great Post SP.. Congrats
Mr McCluskey said:
Very nice post and worth reading a few times if not every day
Arjonius said:
Lots of good food for thought.
Wheregoat said:
Excellent post. I'll go over this one a couple more times.
salim271 said:
Nice post, I liked the ICM stuff, especially how you used AKo as an example against something that most would consider a 'weak' hand.
TPC said:
Great post SP!!! Congrats on the 5k!!!
kidkvno1 said:
Great Post SP, congrats on your 5 K post..
kidnik said:
Good post.
PooffyFooffy said:
I don't know how I have missed this.
Very nice post SP and congrats on the 5k!
how i missed this post is beyond me. great post SP! lotta solid advice in hurrr.

article of the month imo.

Thanks for the entirely positive feedback, everybody. And almost none of it was post count spam. ;)

I'd been saving bits and pieces of that for awhile to put together something a bit more organized/comprehensive. It was going to be a couple posts but when post 5,000 came up I decided that I needed to do something so I merged my notes into this post.
 
DawgBones

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Very nice 5,000th! Congrats on that and the April thread of the Month Award. Well deserved.:)
 
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