Monday, 9 September 2013

Nick Wealthall on the worst frustrations in poker.

Poker players have a schizophrenic relationship with their favourite pastime. Most would rather play poker than do anything else on the planet. They dream of doing it for a living, of giving up every other form of living. When they close their eyes they see playing cards not naked chicks (and if they do see naked chicks it’s usually on one of those amusing novelty decks of cards). And yet, beyond this unadulterated, unhealthy love of the game, they also hate it with a passion. It brings them frustration, disappointment, despair and envy towards others nearly every time they play. Eighty per cent of their conversation is about how poker has beaten them over the head with a shovel.

A lot of this has to do with how frustrating poker can be compared to most things in life. For example, even a winning player loses nearly half the time. There are very few other things you do in life that involve that level of sucking that you wouldn’t just stop doing.

The more poker you play, the more you realise it isn’t the big pots you lose that really get under your skin. Those may produce the mouse-breaking slams, the chair-tipping storm outs and the scrub-yourself-clean-of-failure showers (just me on that last one?), but really it’s the little frustrations that build and build that can slowly (or quickly) put you on monster tilt and make you vow to break up with poker and never to play again... for a night.

So, for the rest of this column, here are my favourite “best of the worst” frustrations in poker, presented out of love for the game and in the spirit that all of these are just part of the great challenge and infinite quest for self-control and Zen enlightenment through poker perfection (or something).

Top 5 Poker Frustrations or The ‘This Is Developing Into A Distinctly Boring Situation’ Honour Roll

1. Fool’s Flop™ or ‘Why Wouldn’t You Have That?’
After tens of hands and hours of waiting you finally have the fish at the table trapped. You’ve got him heads-up with your A-K and – oh, snap – a beautiful king on the K-T-8 flop. Now the fool wants to raise you. The idiot thinks his K-Q is actually good here, you crow internally, as you bang the money in. This is all before that crashing moment of tedium when he flips over K-T for top two and your stack slides over into his and you become the latest victim of a “Fool’s Flop”. It looked perfect but actually it was a ruddy car crash.

This is also referred to you as “Why Wouldn’t You Have That?”; the traditional frustrated vent after such a hand (feel free to insert your own expletive).

2. This Is What You Could Have Won

You’re a good poker player, right? So you don’t play results, right? Don’t indulge in any of that “after the event” thinking, do you?

Well, unless you’re actually a bot, and a bot so sophisticated you’ve also evolved the ability to read magazines about poker in your non-grinding time, I beg to differ. We’re all influenced by results, no matter how hard we try not to be.

This is the one where you get your dream flop, except you weren’t in the hand. I’m not talking about the times you fold 9-2 off-suit and it comes 9-9-2; these are the times you could have legitimately played, it was close, but you decided against. Like that time you had 8-6 suited and a predictable player opened in early position and you nearly flat-called but decided you might get re-raised behind, and you were trying to be disciplined so you folded and it came 7-5-2 and he bet his overpair. You would have called but your cards were in the muck and, when some other chump does, you can barely watch as the nine hits the turn. That was your double up… your chance at a big stack… if only.

3. “I had reads… REEEEAAADDDSSSSSSS” or “They Break Tables Mommy, Don’t They?”

Your job as a poker player is to collect information on your opponents, then use it to step on their throats and choke the chips out of them. It’s a beautiful, natural thing. And yet the authorities, The Man, are allowed to stop you mid-ownage (and ownage interruptus is a terrible thing to suffer from).

You know that horrible feeling of playing well, chipping up with great reads on everyone at the table, just waiting for the big pay off, and you see the tournament floor staff looming with the symbol of death: many clear plastic chip trays. The table is breaking and all your hard work is worthless. Doesn’t matter what you do, they’re going to drag you kicking and screaming (literally in my case… I need to mature a tad) to a new table, which will be the circle of death with endless 5-betting, range-merging and stacks big enough to suffocate Godzilla. I had reads, damn you …..reeeeaaaddddddssss.

And before you start banging on to me about how this can work the other way – that you can be on a super-tough table with a great aggressive player with a monster stack on your left and be moved to a weak table where players are looking to give you their chips – well don’t, because that never ever happens. Ever.

4. Bluffer’s Turn™

Now stay with this one as it’s an advanced playing concept. You need to be really fixated on just how frustrating and unfair poker can be at a very low level.

Bluffers Turn is the phenomenon of the dealer putting out a card that makes you bluff again because you absolutely have to when: a) your opponent is always calling because his hand is so strong, and b) with the majority of the deck you weren’t putting another chip in the pot. For extra frustration it should be a turn card that actually improves your opponent’s hand as well as simultaneously making you bluff.

So, for example, you have K-Q. You c-bet and are called on a 9-4-2 flop and an ace comes on the turn. You weren’t going to bluff again against your calling station opponent but you have to bluff the ace turn, right? It’s scary, right? You could have an ace, after all, and they have to respect that, right? Except they actually have the ace and you’re a victim of Bluffer’s Turn and are now a slightly sadder panda.

5) The 5am Min Cash, aka 'I Could Have Cured Cancer'
Our final frustration is the session where you play all night and end up tired with a tiny profit and an all-consuming feeling of “what was the point of all that?” as you drag your sad, bleeding eyes to bed.

If you play tournament poker online you’ll be painfully familiar with this on a regular basis (it also applies to cash games but without the added frustration of the big prize you could have won). You battle through hours of play, through almost an entire huge field with the tease of a huge prize if you win it all, only to lose a crucial flip and bust out just inside the money.

The promise of a $50k-plus payday has evaporated, replaced by a min-cash after 10 hours work. The sun is about to come up and, as you close your eyes, only three thoughts dominate: 1) why couldn’t it have been my “one time”; 2) why can I only see cards in front of my eyes instead of naked chicks, and 3) if I’d spent the hours I’d spent on this silly game on something worthwhile I swear I could have cured cancer.

Tags: Nick Wealthall, columnists