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Barbara Connors

When Knowledge Isn't Power

by  Barbara Connors

"Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals" —Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

 Imagine a poker player who possesses infinite knowledge of the game. He knows all the plays and exactly when to use them, he has memorized the odds, and he can do complex calculations in the middle of a hand without missing a beat. But for all his vast expertise, this know-it-all player can still be undone by the most ignorant poker moron if said moron is impossible to read. When you find yourself up against opponents who don’t make the logical, thoughtful plays they “should” make — calling when they should fold, betting when they should check, raising when they should call — all the poker knowledge in the world won’t help you, unless you can find a way to read them. Problem is, the very fact you know so much more about the game than they do is precisely what makes these opponents so difficult to read.

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by Barbara Connors

We all have our pet peeves about this game. One of mine happens when I’ve been getting nothing but junk hands for hours, and then I’m dealt something like 10-9 suited, or maybe a baby suited ace— something that’s just good enough to call. Full of eager anticipation at finally seeing a flop, my joy quickly turns to “Oh @#%# I have to fold again” when one of the players in front of me puts in a raise.

 In a case like this, the temptation to cold-call, that is to call for two bets when one has not yet put any money in the pot, can be very strong. I’ll confess that I have succumbed to this temptation from time to time. In this I have a lot of company, because cold-calling with inferior hands preflop is one of the most common mistakes in poker. It’s also one of the most ruinous.

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Sunken Measure

by Barbara Connors

Few things can stirs up our emotions like having money on the line. Whether it’s in the stock market or at the poker table, fear and greed inevitably cloud our decisions. So it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the basic tenets of behavioral finance also apply to poker.

 One example is a phenomenon known as the sunk cost effect. In behavioral finance, this describes our tendency to cling tenaciously to anything we’ve already put a significant amount of money into. The classic example is an investor who refuses to sell stock of a company that has gone to the dogs, for example, if its product is becoming obsolete. The desire not to recognize a loss is so powerful that he will hold onto those shares as they continue to plummet. Hoping that maybe the price will rebound and he can get his money back. Not realizing he should just forget about his initial investment. That money is gone. It’s sunk. The only thing that matters is whether or not the company is a good investment now—in its current condition and at the current price.

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by Barbara Connors

Suppose you call to see a flop with suited connectors, let’s say 8-9 of clubs. Of course something like 7c-10c-Jc would be your dream flop, though any kind of made straight or flush would be welcome. But suited connectors are generally looking to flop a draw — four to a flush, an open-ended straight draw, or the everpopular double-belly-buster. Failing that, hitting top pair on a ragged flop would be decent, or hitting trips on a flop like Q-8-8 would be even better. But on this particular occasion the flop comes down Q-9-8 giving you two pair. Bottom two pair.

 Bottom two is a funny hand. At first blush, it seems like a strong holding. And maybe it is. But that strength goes handin- hand with incredible vulnerability—made all the worse because two pair is difficult to get away from. This hand can win you a big pot, or it can make your entire stack disappear faster than you can say “counterfeited.” In his classic book, Super/System, Doyle Brunson said he’s gone broke more often with bottom two pair than with any other hand. But assuming that you aren’t facing off against too many opponents, you’re likely to be ahead on the flop. Conventional wisdom says to play bottom two pair fast on the flop, much as you would play top pair with a good kicker. One of the biggest mistakes players make with bottom two pair is to slowplay it on the flop, thinking this hand is some kind of a powerhouse. It’s not. You can’t afford to give lesser hands a free or cheap card to suck out.

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Cowboys, Interrupted

by Barbara Connors

We all know the feeling. You’re dealt a pair of pocket kings, and then the flop comes down with the one card in all the world you didn’t want to see — the ace. For this discussion, we’ll assume an uncoordinated flop where the only visible danger is that lone ace staring up at you. So now what? A moment ago, your hand was almost invincible. Then one ace crashes the party and your kings are behind to any moron with a ragged A-X. For the player with kings, that ace on the flop represents a proverbial fork in the road: You can take the safe path of folding to any significant action, or you can venture down the more challenging road of playing the hand to its conclusion-- on the assumption that your adversary doesn’t have the bullet.

 To make this choice, you must answer two questions. The first and most obvious question is, does he have the ace? To determine if your K-K is now second-best, you’ve got to use all the information at your disposal to make your best educated guess as to whether or not your opponent holds the dreaded ace. But an equally important question is, what’s at stake here? How much do you stand to win (or lose) if your educated guess turns out to be wrong?

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Barbara Connors

We’ve all heard the saying: Hindsight is 20/20—Which is just another way of saying that it’s easy to predict the future after it has already happened. Psychologists call this phenomenon the hindsight bias, also known as the I-knew-it-all-along syndrome. Whatever you call it, this bias influences us in subtle, but dangerous ways, especially at the poker table.

 For example, a crying call that’s immediately followed by an exclamation of, “I knew that’s what you had!” The details vary, but the basic story remains the same: An otherwise sane and knowledgeable poker player makes a call on the river, despite the fact he suspects his hand may be beaten. And when his opponent flips over the winning hand, our hero declares he knew all along his opponent held those exact cards. Though it’s clear he didn’t “know”—or else he never would have made the losing call in the first place.

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Reasons (Not) to Raise

by Barbara Connors

In a game where aggression reigns supreme, raising with a good hand (or even a not-so-good hand) has become almost automatic for some poker players. Whether your hand is good, bad, or indifferent, it’s always easy to think of reasons to raise: to thin the field, induce a better hand to fold, charge opponents a high price to see the next card, gain information, enhance table image, and of course, the daddy of all reasons, to get more money in the pot when you believe you are favored to win.

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Of Gaps and Chasms

by Barbara Connors 

The Gap Concept is a term coined by poker author, David Sklansky, to describe the difference in starting-hand standards between the type of hand you need to call a raise, as opposed to the type of hand you need to put in a raise yourself. This concept has become famous as a fundamental part of tournament poker strategy, but the basic idea behind it can apply to ring games as well.

 When you are the first player to raise, there is no evidence yet that anybody else at the table has a particularly strong hand. Moreover, being the first player to show aggression gives you two ways to win the pot: either by making the best hand, or by pushing your opponents out.

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The Continuing Story

by Barbara Connors

The continuation bet is one of the most powerful plays in poker, because defending against it is so difficult. Any player who is failing to defend against a continuation bet is letting his opponents run all over him. But there are two sides to every coin, and defending too often is tantamount to throwing chips out the window. When you consider that a sizable portion of continuation bets that come your way will inevitably be continuation bluffs, the ability to find that middle balance and sniff out at least some of the counterfeit c-bets is critical.

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A Fine Distinction

by Barbara Connors

Poker is a game of tough decisions. At their core, most of them can be boiled down to one cosmic proposition: Should you play it safe, or should you take a risk for the opportunity of making a greater profit? Figuring out when that extra risk is worth taking, or whether discretion is the better part of poker’s valor, is one of the great challenges of the game. A good example that illustrates this concept is the thin value bet. While technically this bet can take place on any street, generally speaking, a thin value bet is made on the river when your final hand is rather lightweight—perhaps a hand like middle pair. It’s far from the nuts, not strong enough to be bet with any real confidence, and yet it’s not completely worthless either.

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