Right poker read, but wrong poker decision


Here’s a hand I observed that is indicative of a common problem in poker. We were about three levels in at a one-day tournament at the Venetian. The action was folded around to the button, who raised three times the big blind. The small blind folded and the big blind shoved. Both the button and the big blind had about 50 big bets in their stacks, though the big blind had the button covered.

The button thought out loud and said he knew the big blind didn’t have anything. Now, based on my perceptions of how both were playing, I could see the button making a button raise and the big blind recognizing it and taking advantage. However, the oversized three-bet would give me serious cause for concern and would greatly narrow the hands I’d be willing to play.

Finally, the button called. The big blind turned over K-10 and the button triumphantly said, “I knew you had nothing.” Now, here’s the kicker. The button turned over 6-7. The board ran dry and the button left the table happy in his call but lamenting his bad luck.

The obvious lesson from this fiasco is you can’t call a bluff if you can’t beat a bluff. It’s simple poker that doesn’t warrant an entire article devoted to it. There’s a larger lesson, however, that this hand illustrates. That is, many players feel the need to show opponents how smart they are. They do this by attempting “hero” calls, showing their bluffs or what is perhaps most common, making the “I know what you have” crying call. I see this last one way too often. An opponent calls light when it is obvious to everyone what the winning hand is. Yet, the loser takes delight in calling his opponent’s hand correctly. For instance, a flush is on board and our loser calls a big river bet with a pair after announcing I know you have the flush. Our loser is smugly satisfied when he is proved correct while needlessly losing a big part of his stack.

I see way too many players making poor decisions while correctly calling the situation. Part of this is the overriding curiosity that has to be satisfied. We all want validation of our thought process and reasoning and folding doesn’t provide that. If you want validation, concentrate on winning. That should be the only thing that matters. Resist the urge to find out if your every move is correct. That is results-oriented and not good decision-making. Don’t lose a hand to prove you’re right. When you’re consistently making good decisions and becoming a winning player, you’ll know you’re right.

— David Apostolico is the author of You are the Variable: Play Your Best Poker, ($5.99 for Kindle). Email him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.