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Barbara Connors

Life-Lessons We Can Take From Poker

by Barbara Connors

Be Observant. Poker players live and die by their ability to read opponents— their quirks, tendencies, patterns of behavior. In a live game, body language and tone of voice add more invaluable information. Put your opponent on the correct hands and no amount of bad luck can keep you down for long. Fail to put your opponent on the right hands, or, worse yet, don’t even try because you can’t be bothered to think about anything beyond your own two cards, and no amount of good luck will save you in the long run.

The power of observation is just as crucial in the real world. Whether the person sitting across the table from you is your boss, your customer, your enemy, or the love of your life—everybody has cards they don’t want to show. Only by reading people can you get a feeling for what those cards are. Is this a good time to approach your boss about a promotion? Is it a good time to ask the object of your affection to move in together? Will they be receptive and call your bet, or will they fold and walk away?

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by Barbara Connors

Everybody has to start somewhere. For poker players, just as for readers, the journey begins with ABC. Literally, of course in the case of readers, while aspiring poker players cut their teeth on a style of play known as ABC poker.

As the name implies, ABC poker is about building-block fundamentals. It’s poker played strictly by the book. But ABC poker can be best described by what it is not—it is not creative, it is not deceptive, it doesn’t make adjustments for your opponents’ playing styles, and it’s often not the most profitable way to play a given hand. And if all that’s not unappealing enough, because ABC poker dictates that you play by the book—following somebody else’ script— there’s little sense of personal satisfaction or accomplishment, even when you win.

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by Barbara Connors

“I had a feeling.” This seemingly innocuous phrase, usually spoken in defense of a loose call after the hand is over, ranks right up there with, “I had to make sure” and “I’ll just play a little while longer until I get back even again” as among the most costly utterances in poker. And yet what red-blooded poker player hasn’t been tempted to play a hunch now and then? Sticking to clinical, strategically-sound, mathematically correct play all the time may be the most surefire way to make money at this game, but we’re not robots. Playing hunches appeals to the frustrated artist in all of us. It’s flattering to believe that maybe we’re a little bit psychic and it’s just plain more fun.

But is it always a bad thing to play a hunch? Well, it depends. Anytime you feel yourself wanting to make some unorthodox play that you would never make otherwise, based purely on a gut feeling, the important question to ask yourself is—where did that gut feeling come from?

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Exit Strategy

By Barbara Connors

Few things can match the anticipation of sitting down in a new poker game. Every game we enter offers the chance to challenge ourselves, to test out new strategies or fine-tune old ones, and most of all, the possibility of a big win. So much thought and care goes into the start of each new poker session—where to play, when to play, what stakes, how much to buy in for— and yet a decision that is at least as important, when to leave the game, often seems to get made on a whim. Choosing when to exit a cash game can be tricky. Everyone, it seems, has a different opinion, but conventional poker wisdom holds that you should keep on playing as long as the game is good and you’re able to keep playing well. The first criterion, good playing conditions, is easy enough to identify. It’s that second requirement, confidence that you are still playing well, that gets so many players into trouble.

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Tanks, But No Tanks

by Barbara Connors

Poker is a game of decisions and some of those decisions are going to be tough. If I raise, what are the chances I’ll get called? If I call, will a player behind me raise? What is likely to happen on the next betting round? And perhaps the most important question of all—what cards does my opponent have? Is he betting with the best hand, or is he weak, or is he betting at me with complete air?

And then of course there is position, pot odds, potential outs to improve, stack size, table image, and more to consider. Given all this, it’s no wonder that poker players faced with a difficult decision will sometimes feel the need to take an extra minute. Or two. Or three, or four, or five… When a player takes an extra-long time to act on his hand, that’s known as going into the tank, or more commonly, tanking. For better or worse, tanking is becoming more common in poker games of late. Whether the player in question legitimately needs the extra time to think through a challenging decision, or is not-so-legitimately wasting everyone’s time depends entirely on the context.

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by Barbara Connors

 Poker players spend a great deal of time talking about bad beats and suckouts and the idiot who hit his two-outer on the river. So it’s easy to forget sometimes that the poker gods can give as well as take away. And one of the best poker gifts of all is known as the big blind special.

 This particular bonus comes in two parts. First you get a free walk in the big blind with marginal cards. Then the flop hits those marginal cards well enough to actually give you a big hand. After a tough session of watching your premium pairs get cracked, big aces that never hit and draws that never come in, it’s strange to finally drag a pot with 8-3 offsuit because the flop came down 3-3-8, but that’s poker for you.

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Rock Bottom

by Barbara Connors

Why do you play poker?

 The most obvious answer would be money. Most of us consider ourselves to be winning players, or we aspire to be. But if money is the only thing that keeps you coming back to the tables, that can be problematic, because until the day you finally quit poker for good, your poker winnings are always going to be at risk.

 This is related to something called the “Sisyphic condition”—a term coined by psychologist Dan Ariely. The term comes from ancient Greek myths, specifically the character Sisyphus, a proud king who was punished by the gods by being forced to push the same giant boulder up the same hill over and over again. Each time Sisyphus got near the top of the hill, the boulder would roll back down to the bottom and he would have to start all over, again and again for all eternity.

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Hero Complex

by Barbara Connors

 Everybody wants to be the hero, even in poker. And in this game, the only thing more heroic and attention-grabbing than successfully getting away with a bluff is successfully foiling one. This is what’s known as the hero call. It’s an extraordinary call made on the river, facing a large bet and holding a weak hand—maybe nothing more than ace-high—when math and common sense are telling you to fold but you go ahead and make the call anyway. And win.

 Hero calls aren’t about equity or pot odds. It’s a feel play, not a math play. Some might say a hero call is about playing your hunch, listening to the gut feeling that tells you, “He doesn’t have it.” But more than anything, to be the hero you must know your villain. A winning hero call is about having a strong and very specific read on your opponent. That means taking into account all the information you possibly can about this particular player in this particular situation.

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Permission, Denied

by Barbara Connors

Why do good, smart poker players make so many bad decisions at the table? I’m not talking about decisions where you made the wrong read, or the situation was complex and you didn’t take all the factors into account. I’m talking about a hand where you had the right read, you knew the right play—and then you went ahead did the wrong thing anyway. Knowing full well that it was against your best interest, -EV, and just plain dumb.

 The too-loose call is probably the most common of these mistakes, followed by the way-too-loose raise and the uberloose reraise. Somehow our hands keep wanting to throw chips into the middle of the table even as our minds warn us against doing so. Whether it’s calling preflop with K-J offsuit from early position, calling after the flop with a one-card straight draw, or making an “I had to make sure” call on the river, the end result is the same. You are throwing away money, and you know it. At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you play passive, let’s-get-to-a-cheap-showdown poker against opponents you should be raising, and you know perfectly well this is costing you.

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A League of Your Own

by Barbara Connors

Progress. It’s something we all strive for in life, in work, in relationships — and also at the poker table. Progress can mean many things to a poker player. It can mean mastering a new strategy, getting more accurate at reading opponents, graduating to a higher level of thinking, but for most of us progress boils down to one thing: moving up to higher limits.

 Higher-limit games are more prestigious. The opponents are smarter and tougher, and in turn we feel smarter and tougher playing against them. The challenge is greater. The potential profits are more lucrative. And just being in the higher games imparts a certain stature. If micro-stakes games are Little League and middle limits are Triple-A, high stakes games are the Major Leagues: the elite stage most players can only dream about.

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