I don’t have the answers. I can’t give you a formula for how to play your Jacks with an Ace on the board nor can I give you the secret to reading players on Party Poker. Because the secret is that there is no secret.
Just this morning, I was getting an everything bagel at this great little local deli when I was approached by a bushy-tailed 17 year old blonde boy. He was doing missionary work for a very small branch of Mormonism and wanted to talk to me about my fears and my dreams and Truth (note the capital ‘t.’) He seemed nice enough and I had time to kill while my bagel browned, so I took a look at his guide. I was struck by this passage which I will now paraphrase to avoid any legal ramifications:
In today’s world, we now have to worry about internet pedophiles, growing differences between the rich and poor, global warming and ancient false prophets that have unfortunately survived until today. Why do these issues keep growing more and more dangerous? Read more for the simple and comforting answer.
I laughed. I feel bad about it now, but when I read that passage I laughed in the poor kid’s face (his name was Samuel according to his nametag.) I didn’t mean any harm but as a lifelong poker player and gambler, plenty of people have tried to sell me on sure-fire simple bets before. And as my number was called, I wanted to say, “Two things, Samuel: One, do you really think that it is all that much harder to be a human being today than it ever was before and Two, why does there have to be an answer?” But rather than risk a cold bagel, I nodded in false contemplation, said I would read over the guide and left Samuel to chat with the other customers. And that was no lie – I have read that thing from cover to cover three times now.
Then it dawned on me how much I had in common with Samuel. Every day, I come up with guides and different poker strategy articles that I sell to the world as truth – or Truth. Whether they are live players, Party Poker people or fledgling players trying to piece together a game of their own – I am selling them on what I think is the best way to play the game.I am a poker missionary.
Now, I’m not a Christian but I happen to love much of the Bible. A lot of it is very interesting ethical discourse and especially when translated from the Arameic, it is beautifully poetic as well. I can appreciate the Good Book without believing that it is the only way to live righteously. I think that there are some wonderful Christians in the world just as I think that there are some fantastic Muslims and Buddhists and I bet you could find some really great members of the infamous FLDS church. I also happen to believe that there are some fantastic tight poker players and some fantastic loose players.
In that sense, poker players have their own set of different religions. Some believe that you have to take it easy pre-flop and others believe in big pre-flop bets just as some people believe that the communion wafer literally becomes the body of Christ while others believe it is only a metaphoric transformation. But no matter what they do pre-flop – good poker players make money and good people of any religion are making the world a better place.
It is in this context that I bring up how to read a piece of poker strategy.
Just like life, poker is a game of imperfect information and put-up or shut-up decisions. It is unfair and violent in the short-term but in the long run, if you consistently make thoughtful decisions then you will be all right. The best anyone can do is to give you specific advice and their thinking behind that advice – the rest is PR.
So when you bust out of Party Poker and go looking for answers, remember that no one really knows where you went wrong except for you. Strategy guides can be great for understanding why you went you wrong, particularly from a mathematical point of view. And sometimes, we experts hit the nail on the head.
But sometimes we’re wrong and sometimes we’re only half-right. And sometimes you just won’t feel comfortable employing the many different styles and tricks that we suggest. And as any poker player will tell you – you have to be comfortable at the table or you’re dead. Try as I might to prove that Ace Queen is not an elite hand, if you keep making money playing it then you go ahead and go all-in. Because in the end, this question is the answer to poker: how much money are you making? Just like in life, the real answer is a question: how are you making the world a better place?
What works for Gus Hansen is not what works for Barry Greenstein: both are great players, both are millionaires many times over and both act very differently from each other at the poker table. But both also think through every move they make at the poker table from multiple perspectives. Gus has thought through how to play that 8-6 on the river before he ever raises pre-flop with it just as Barry Greenstein knows why he is folding top pair in an un-raised pot. Ghandi and Mother Theresa were of completely different faiths, yet they remain two of the best examples of religious people this world has ever offered.
So play only according to the math – only math is true in the long run. Or make all of your decisions according to your opponents – long term success is the product of continued short term success and the only way to win a hand is to beat your opponent. Or find some happy medium (that is what I would suggest but that is neither here nor there) – that is not the real issue. The best advice I could ever give you is to try a bunch of different strategies and be honest with yourself about what worked and what didn’t.
Because the belief is infinitely less important than the reality – at least, that’s my belief.