In 2015 I played two very low buy-in events at the WSOP. Although I’d probably played half a million hands online prior to that, it was my first ever experience of live play. I busted out of both events and there is only one hand that I remember. There is one very specific reason why I remember it and it has nothing to do with the hand itself being of any great interest.
I was the pre-flop aggressor and we emerged heads-up on the flop. I had flopped a moderate draw. I can’t remember what it was exactly – most likely an open-ender. I immediately knew what my plan was. Assuming that I didn’t hit my draw I would 3-barrel. As the pre-flop aggressor I had an uncapped range and it would be difficult for the villain to call three streets with what was very much a capped range. I had real equity with the draw and also a ton of fold equity. Rightly or wrongly, it certainly felt like the optimum line. If I hit the draw I might prefer to check to induce, depending on circumstances. But if the draw missed I was going bang – bang – bang.
So I bet the flop, villain called after thinking for a bit and the turn blanked off. Playing online I would then have bet the turn fairly quickly and would have had no emotional engagement with the process at all. However, playing live, something funny and (for me at least) unexpected happened. I did indeed bet the turn, but felt incredibly awkward doing so. I was lying. Well semi-bluffing, of course, but to me it felt like lying. I was pretending to have a hand when I didn’t. You are not supposed to pretend you have things that you don’t and telling lies is bad. I felt like I was six years old and fibbing about having eaten the biscuits. Villain called, again after a little thought.
I missed on the river too and was left with something like 9-high. I found it incredibly hard to fire the third barrel and felt very embarrassed doing so. What if Villain called? I’d have to show that I’d been lying and the thought of that was unexpectedly awful. I was also certain I was giving off horrible tells which didn’t help my state of mind. The story has a happy ending as I did fire the third barrel and villain folded quickly.
I was puzzled. Why did I feel so awkward? After all, it’s just a card game and all I am doing is trying to find the most +EV plays. If I was betting for value I know I wouldn’t have felt anything at all. This all made very little sense to me, until I started working on Alex Fitzgerald’s forthcoming book, Exploitative Play in Live Poker.
Amongst many other fascinating observations, Alex explains, at length, why players feel like this. However, far more importantly he explains how this affects their play and, crucially, how you can exploit these extremely predictable patterns of thought and behaviour. If you play a lot of live poker, you should get this book. You will learn simple, straightforward techniques that will enable you to exploit 90% of the people you encounter in live play. Here is an extract relating to the experience described above.
Extract from Exploitative Play in Live Poker
Imagine betting as a bluff on the river. One of two things will happen. One, the opponent will fold and Hero wins a small pot. No one sees their hand. Two, the opponent calls. Now Hero loses a big pot and everyone sees their hand. What is the standard reaction to someone being caught bluffing at the poker table? Do people look on it respectfully or disdainfully? As we can see, Hero has little incentive to bluff on the river. He either wins a small pot and no one sees how clever he is, or he loses a bigger pot and everyone sees what a moron he is.
Now, think of calling if you are Hero. Here is the ultimate freeroll. If you call on the river, and you are wrong, what happens? Does anyone belittle you? No. They don’t even get to see your hand. Have you ever value-bet a really bad hand on the river and had your opponent call with worse? What was his reaction? I would guess he was angry. Why? You’re just playing the game. And it’s just a game. It’s because you exposed him for calling with a foolish hand. People call on the river because generally people only bet their best hands or worst hands on the river. If you show your best hands, they can just fold. No one cares. No one judges them. “Yeah, I was close to that,” they can say.
However, if they catch the villain bluffing, then oh boy – here comes the dopamine hit! They get to show everyone their amazing call down. All those pretty multicolored chips get pushed to their side of the table. They even get to play with them when they stack them! Everybody around them now respects them. “Nice call,” they all say to Hero. He’s flush. He’s paid. He feels good about himself. He got his hit. He got the verification he was after. He finally feels good. Until he needs another hit. Of course, this speculation on Hero is all well and good, but as W. Edwards Deming said, “without data you’re just another person with an opinion.”
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