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Barbara Connors

The Mirror Crack’d

by Barbara Connors

  To play quality poker, you must get a good read on your opponents, and to read your opponents, you must be able to see them clearly. There’s the rub. Reading opponents requires objectivity, something which is frequently in short supply at the poker table. With so much at stake, with egos on the line and emotions running rampant, it’s often difficult, if not downright impossible, to keep an objective viewpoint in the middle of a poker session.

 But there’s something else that can cloud our vision, something subtle and in a way, more insidious, because we’re usually not even aware of its influence on our thinking. It’s a psychological phenomenon known as the false consensus effect. This describes our natural tendency to assume that other people around us think and feel the same way that we do.

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by Barbara Connors

Poker has always been a contentious game. After all, it involves a group of people who gather together with the express goal of taking each other’s money. So things are bound to get a bit combative from time to time. At least in theory, this is all just part of the game, in the spirit of honorable competition among our fellow players. In theory, what brings us together at the poker table is not merely avarice but a true love of the game. But all this noble theory has a tendency to fly out the window once somebody else starts taking your money.

 So it shouldn’t be surprising that poker players can occasionally feel a bit...antagonistic towards each other. In some cases, that antagonism can become seething personal hatred. The trigger for this acrimony can be any number of things—irritating table talk, a playing style that rubs you the wrong way, or in a live setting, bad personal hygiene— but more often than not it boils down to a supposedly inferior opponent who keeps getting lucky and beating you out of pots.

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by Barbara Connors

Most of us know that the ability to read your opponents is one of the most important skills any poker player can have. After all, the most clever strategizing in the world isn’t going to do you much good if it’s based on the notion that your opponent is going to respond with aggression, when in reality, he is quite conservative. Or vice versa. And so we must observe our opponents at the poker table, and then slap labels on them — this one is loose-aggressive, that one is a nit, and so on.

 These labels are important, but they are only a starting point. There are some pitfalls to watch out for when using them. For one thing, once you’ve decided to put your opponent into a particular category, it’s far too easy to get locked into that initial impression to the point of excluding, ignoring, or dismissing any new information that contradicts your early read. First impressions are often very powerful, but they’re not always correct.

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Belittle League

by Barbara Connors

No matter how skilled you are at the technical aspects of this game, none of that much matters if you can’t get an accurate read on your opponents. Your poker livelihood depends on the ability to size up the enemy, accurately gauge his level of strength, and then decide on the best plan of attack. Most of all, you want to play against opponents who are weaker than you — because if they aren’t, your efforts are pretty much doomed to fail anyway.

 But that’s precisely where so many of us run into problems. We have a very strong motive to see our opponents as weak, and so it becomes far too easy to believe they are indeed weak. All too often we look across the table at our opposition and see what we want to see. Opponents’ mistakes get blown out of proportion while any smart plays they make are either overlooked or dismissed. Or perhaps we give in to stereotypes and easy labels, in our eagerness to brand our adversaries as suckers.

Your rating: None Average: 3.5 (2 votes)

Set for Life

by Barbara Connors
The only thing better than holding a powerful hand is holding a powerful hand that’s well-concealed, so you can trap your opponents for maximum profit. That’s the beauty of flopping a set, and what makes set mining such a popular strategy.

 In essence, set mining is calling to see a flop with a smallish pair, with the intention of trying to hit a set. If the flop doesn’t give you a set, or better, the plan is to fold at the first sign of action. But as with every poker strategy, the ultimate success or failure of set mining depends on starting with the right conditions.

 The first thing you need is odds — because if you don’t have good odds to try for your set, nothing else matters. On average, you’re going to hit a set twice in every 15 tries, giving you odds of 7.5-to-1 against. Those are the odds you have to match or beat when you measure what it costs you to see the flop against what you might win. When set mining, the goal is to see the cheapest possible flop. If the game is aggressive, if pot has been raised in front of you or is likely to get raised behind you, it’s usually best to take a pass and wait for a more advantageous spot.

Your rating: None Average: 4.3 (3 votes)

The Silent Killer: Tilt

by Barbara Connors

 Tilt is an occupational hazard of being a poker player. None of us can escape it completely. The good players simply tilt less often, and less severely. Perhaps, most important of all, the best poker players continually monitor themselves for signs of tilt, which is something we should all do. Problem is, the signs of tilt aren’t always that easy to identify. Sure, we can recognize tilt when we’re bluffing off a huge stack of chips for no reason other than wanting to pulverize the guy on the other side of the table. But tilt can also be as simple and as subtle as one loose call.

 We’ve all done it. Called to see a flop with a marginal hand, bad position, lousy pot odds — or all of the above. We know we shouldn’t be in the pot, but we toss the chips in anyway. Usually this sort of thing happens when we’ve been card dead for a long time, or because we’re sick of being raised out of the pot every time we want to limp. But any way you slice it, it’s tilt.

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A Tale of Two Misters

By Barbara Connors

I have long believed that there are some striking and instructive similarities between the world of poker and the world of finance, and in that spirit I want to introduce a famous character called Mr. Market. This character was invented by the late Benjamin Graham, widely regarded as the father of value investing. In his landmark book, The Intelligent Investor, Graham uses the concept of Mr. Market to illustrate how investors should approach the wild fluctuations of the stock market. He refers to Mr. Market as an emotionally unstable business partner, with an incurable case of manic-depression. On the days when he is elated, Mr. Market offers way too much money for your business. On the days when Mr. Market is despondent, he offers far too little.

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Bound for Success

by Barbara Connors

It’s no secret that poker players can be their own worst enemies. When we’re not calling too often with borderline junk, we’re shoving out too many raises in an effort to steamroll the opposition. Or folding too frequently in the face of such raises. We stubbornly keep on playing the game even when we’re fatigued or full-out on tilt. We play in stakes that are too high for our bankrolls, against opponents who are too advanced. And through all of this, we know perfectly well that we shouldn’t be doing it.

 This is hardly unique to poker players. Every dieter who eats a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, every shopaholic who goes on another spending binge, every procrastinator who invents another excuse to postpone getting a job done understands this feeling all too well. We know the behavior is bad for us. We know it’s going to cause problems in the future. And knowing this, we do it anyway.

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The Power of Good Buy

by Barbara Connors

CORRECTION: I gave an example where you call to see a flop with A-7 suited, but you’re concerned an opponent may hold a bigger ace. I explained that if you could push that opponent out with a raise, the remaining aces would become good outs for you, and thus you would gain three more outs. Oops. Obviously if you have an ace, and your opponent has an ace, you would gain no more than two outs with that move. I had a good education so we can’t blame the school system. Mea culpa.

It’s one of the most famous axioms in poker: drawing hands play best against a large field of opponents. When you’re drawing to a big hand like a straight or a flush, you want lots of other players in the hand with you, so you’ll get paid off in case your draw hits. But in poker, where everything is situational, even the truisms are relative and this seemingly universal rule doesn’t always apply. There are times when you actually want to thin the field with a drawing hand. For example, when you have the opportunity to buy outs.

 Say you call to see a flop with A-7 of spades and the flop comes down J-8-3 with two spades. You have nine outs to the nut flush, which is pretty simple and straightforward, except that the flush is not the only draw you have going for you here. You could also hit one of the remaining three aces, which would give you top pair. Problem is, your top pair would be married to a mediocre kicker. If one of your opponents has a better ace, say ace-king or ace-queen, your three ace outs are tainted, because spiking an ace will only bring you heartache and an expensive second-best hand. But if you think a wellplaced raise can push this particular opponent out of the pot, you’re effectively buying three more outs for your hand, giving yourself a total of 12 good outs to win. But before you decide to push out that raise and buy yourself a few more outs, you need to look for certain conditions. First and foremost, you want a large pot. If the pot is still on the smallish side, those extra outs aren’t worth the price of your raise. When the prize you’re competing for is still just a piddling pile of chips, the extra equity you gain by giving yourself a few more outs is not worth the cost of putting in a raise. But when the pot is hefty because somebody raised preflop—as tends to be the case when one of your opponents holds a big ace—that’s a different story.

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Critic's Choice

by Barbara Connors

 Arguing with a fool proves there are two —Doris M. Smith

 It’s a foolish mistake that happens all the time at the poker table. First, an experienced player bets to protect his hand. Then some know-nothing bonehead calls with a piece of garbage longshot that doesn’t even remotely have the odds to call in this spot. Not that the bonehead will ever know what a terrible play he made, because his miracle card falls on the river and he drags a huge pot. But that’s not the foolish mistake. No, the foolish mistake comes a moment later, as the bonehead is stacking his chips, and the experienced player can’t resist getting up on a soapbox and giving the bonehead a stern lecture about how wrong it was for him to make that call.

 Criticizing your opponents is foolish because the repercussions are almost universally bad for your long-term profitability. What happens when you tell an opponent how badly he is playing? Generally, one of the following: A) thanks to your instruction, the bonehead learns from his mistake and begins to play better, or B) he leaves the game altogether because it’s not relaxing and fun anymore, or else C) he gets seriously ticked off at you. The first two outcomes are terrible because they ultimately deprive you of the very thing your poker survival depends upon — a weak opponent. Only the third option has the potential to maybe work in your favor if you can put the bonehead on tilt.

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