Nick Wealthall gets a harsh lesson in why you shouldn’t let your ego get in the way of good judgement when playing online
Poker isn’t about how good you are. Poker’s about being better than the people you’re playing against. I recall a story Doyle Brunson told about Puggy Pearson. After Pearson won the $ 4,000 Seven-card Stud event at the 1973 World Series of Poker another player remarked that he didn’t realise Pearson was such a good Stud player. Brunson remarked, ‘He’s the eighth best Stud player in the world; trouble is, he plays against the best seven every night.’
Cash games are about game selection pure and simple: find a game in which you have an edge, play as long as possible with that edge, and watch the money roll in. The problem is that most poker players have an ego, and the temptation to tangle with good players and prove oneself against better players is almost irresistible. When a player pops up at my table with good aggressive stats, or if I know he’s a winner in my games, a little bomb detonates in my head and I’m ready to rock and roll with him at the drop of a hat.
A few nights ago I sat down for a session of mid stakes no-limit Hold’em and was reminded, quite painfully, of the perils of ego-driven decisions. I was playing three tables and the same regular player was sitting next to me on two of them – one in position, and on the other, to my right. I’d played with him before, so I knew he could be tricky and aggressive, and that he probably has about four-zillion posts on Two Plus Two. I was focused and playing well, but when he joined the tables I felt the beast slowly crawling out of its cage.
I started deliberately playing more pots with him – three-betting him preflop regularly, sometimes with a hand, sometimes without, and calling his preflop re-raises in position all riled up and ready to ‘outplay’ him postflop. The initial exchanges went well as I managed to bluff him off a couple of hands and my confidence soared. The problem with good players, however, is that they pay attention and adjust quickly. After three-betting him several times in position and making a four-bet bluff out of position, the beginning of my demise arrived.
I held 9-9 and three-bet him in position. The action passed round to him and he thought for a bit before shoving in 110 big blinds! It was a huge over-shove (I had three-bet to just 12 big blinds) that snapped me out of my poker haze. After some thought I realised what was going on – he was frustrated with all my three-betting. I’d got under his skin and forced him into an error. He was shoving because he’d ‘snapped’. I called, knowing my nines were ahead – maybe miles ahead. But to my horror his hand opened to reveal Aces.
His shove was a great move. He knew I’d think he was fighting back light and his all-in push would look weak and bluffy. He’d totally trapped me and was thinking a level ahead of me – I’d been owned and outplayed. It took me a while to realise this and sadly, it cost me several buy-ins. After 30-40 minutes I was no longer playing that well at any table and especially poorly in any pot against him.
After steadily bleeding some money to him the end came. I opened with 8-8, he re-raised me and I called. The flop came J-4-3 with two clubs. I checked, he bet and I called. The turn brought a 6. Again I checked, he bet and I called – so far so passive, though I was confident I was ahead. The river brought the Qc. I decided I could represent the flush and get him to fold a bigger pair, so I bet out. He thought and then shoved all-in over the top of my small, weak, illogical-looking bet. Of course, he could be bluff-raising me here, but I didn’t even consider the possibility, instantly mucking in pure frustration.
This last car crash of a hand was enough and I finally managed to leave his tables. Looking back the next morning I had to admit to myself that on that day, in that session, I was outplayed – he was the better player. And as a poker player, that’s the hardest thing in the world to admit.
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