Whether you’re grinding PL Omaha on Party Poker or day trading on the Dow (and if that should be the case for you, my deepest condolences) the people who lose everything are never the beginners – it’s the guy who thinks he knows that hits the gutter.

After all, beginners are usually too scared to go broke and experts are either too smart or too rich to lose everything.

It’s the middle man that gets himself in trouble.

This guy I’ve been tutoring in poker is sure he’s better than me now. Absolutely positively 100% sure that once acquainted with the rules of the specific variant, he’ll always be better than me.

In fact, he says he’s basically as good as anyone in the world at poker, and furthermore, that once you get to a certain understanding of the cards then everyone is basically the same level. That is, unless people get reckless and ego-driven like he says I do.

He says in the long term its simple, the best cards win.

Let’s call him Clinton, my pupil who knows more than me. Clinton’s discovery is as simple as it is profound; get the correct value for your cards. See, Clinton thinks that a poker game is ultimately a process of applying mathematical value to your cards and sequestering all actions to those which fit inside those same models.

For example, I was watching Clinton play a hand on Party Poker. Clinton is playing $1/ $2 Limit Hold’em, is on the small blind and has 97 off-suit. The dealer (who has been a very aggressive player) raises after the table folds around to him and I say,

“Raise.”

Clinton scoffs and says,

“You are too much of a gambler, he’s going to call or raise that no matter what and we only have 9 high.
We are the small blind though, se we’ll call.”

Flop comes 9 Q Q rainbow giving the small blind, Clinton two-pair. I say,

“Check.”

Clinton scoffs again and bets, the other guy calls.

“I have the best hand now”

Turn comes the 7 of Diamonds and Clinton has the dubious 3-pair. He checks. The other guy checks. River comes a 4 and both players check. Clinton shows his three pair and the other guy mucks. Clinton smiles,

“See.”

“Yeah I saw. Here’s what I saw:

First of all, you are somewhat correct in saying that the point of poker is to get value for your cards; the whole truth is that the point is to make as much money as possible, not just the correct value (which limits you.) But you now see poker as a game of cards and that’s not what it is. Poker is a game of lives, of humans making choices, reacting to emotions and circumstance. Back to the hand:

Even if he’s going to call your pre-flop re-raise (which is never ever a given and a smart limit poker player is a player who errs on the side of aggression) that’s fine, you are telling him that you have a good hand (and since he was an aggressive player raising from the button, we’re already suspicious of his cards) so that if an Ace or King hits the flop, you can make a continuation bet and sell a really strong hand. Or as in your case, flop a reasonable hand and then trap.

You should’ve checked on the flop for two reasons: both to trap and to avoid a trap. If you check on the flop (when the bet value is still the big blind rather than the double value it will become on the turn and river) thinking that you are trapping then you put the onus on the pre-flop raiser. Looking at his player profile and trajectory in the hand, you can put him on nothing pretty safely but still expect a bet. He bets, you raise. If he calls, then you’ve already got more value in the pot now then you ended up winning the way you played.
 
If he calls or raises, then you head to the turn and immediately bet out. This again, puts the pressure on him and if he’s got a real hand (which he didn’t) then he’s going to raise you on the turn and then you can fold saving yourself from a big loss.

Truly, the difference between decent poker players and good poker players is that decent players know how to play their cards, good players know how to play their opponents’.”

Clinton smiled and said,

“Yes yes, all very true. Except you forget one thing, to play the hand your way would have left me open to re-raises and you even offered a way to fold the same hand in which we already know I had the best cards. Why would I want to implement a strategy where I am creating a situation to incorrectly fold? This would not be the way to play intelligently over the long haul.”

“There’s some truth to that – although it’s always a whole lot easier to come up with strategy after you know for sure you’ve got the winning hand.

“I guess I would put it like this: you are never playing poker in a vacuum. Everything you do at the table, some one sees. And even if you lose a hand where you have been intelligently testing a player with selective aggression, you can bet that at least one person at the table saw you as a lunatic. Then, in a totally different hand, when you do have a monster you’ll be able to get more money out of players who think that you are likely to be pulling some shenanigans.”

Clinton shook his head,

“That’s just not what I see. I see 52 cards, I see math and I see value.”

“Then my friend, you don’t see poker.”

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