The Importance of Making Mistakes

The Importance of Making Mistakes

Monday, 12 May 2014

Harnessing the retrospective vibe of our 100th issue, PokerWinners’ Matt Adams tells us why we should always learn from our mistakes.

Learning from past mistakes is something I think a lot of good players fail to do. Now, everyone makes mistakes. It is almost impossible that in a game like poker you will always play perfectly and get every decision, every bet size, every call and every fold right.

There are just too many variables at work to always be able to do the correct thing, especially when looking at Multi-Table Tournaments. Tournament play, in my eyes, has the most margin for error. This is because there are almost an unlimited number of scenarios you can face.

This is different to heads up cash, where stack sizes will generally always be between 100-200 big blinds. You will either be in or out of position, and you will be dealing with the same opponent every hand.

When you compare this to playing a tournament, every person’s stack size is different, there are nine different positions you can play the hand from, and nine different ones your opponent can be playing from. That is already a much larger amount of variables to take into account, and that is before you even consider what cards you have, your opponent’s tendencies depending on table position, and the flop texture.

So, like I said, there is a lot more room for error. However, there is also a lot more room to learn. Most people view their mistakes as a bad thing, which is short-sighted. Admittedly, it may be hard to see that at the time when you feel like you just made a stupid call to send you to the rail, but you can definitely use this to your advantage.

There is a famous quote by Bram Stoker who created the character of Dracula. He said:
“We learn from failure, not success.”

I think this holds a huge amount of merit. When you win a poker tournament, I find you actually learn very little. Chances are most things went your way during that tournament, and you had very little adversity to deal with.

However, when you are on the end of a deep run that doesn’t quite pan out, or when you manage to build a big stack that soon evaporates, that is when you truly learn. Granted, there will be times where your exit was not through a mistake but through something unavoidable, such as running Kings into Aces when holding forty big blinds. But that is generally not the norm.

Most exits from poker tournaments are caused by a mistake. Whether that mistake happened in your exit hand or an hour ago, there will be a mistake somewhere – and in that mistake is an opportunity to learn.

When I won GSOP Prague at the end of 2012, I did learn a little from my victory, but as I stated earlier most wins do not bring much knowledge. It was a tournament where most things went my way. I did have a very rocky start, but after that it was fairly plain sailing until the final two tables.

Every time I made a light three-, four- or five-bet it got through, every time there was a key all in I was on the right side of it, and when someone did eventually play back at me I had the goods. Now, don’t get me wrong, I played very well and my timing was spot on. Having said that, I felt I didn’t learn a huge amount from this victory.

Fast forward six months and I am playing my first WSOP Main Event. At this point, it was the biggest buy-in I had ever played. I made it to halfway through Day Three and was only about 150 people off the money when I busted, but I learnt a lot more from this experience than I did from my GSOP win, and that was due to the mistakes I made.

The clock in this event is two hours, and with a 30,000 starting stack there really is no rush. I, however, was overzealous in the early stages. After a good start, I ended up bluffing off a pretty sizeable part of my stack holding pocket Fours against an older guy who I should have just given credit to.

Despite this, I managed to re-group, and kept the bluffing to a minimum for the rest of Day One and all of Day Two. Coming into Day Three I had an above average stack, and the second biggest stack on my table. I started out strong, winning two of the first three pots, but soon realised I was creating a pretty bad image for myself and tightened up fairly significantly.

I decided to try and run another bluff, but once again found myself tucking my tail between my legs and running away as I had to table my 6-4 off on the river. This sent me back down to average, yet once again I managed to chip back up through solid play. I was at around one and a half times average when I was moved to another table.

Sitting down at my new table, I perceived it to be pretty weak based on first impressions. There were a few other big stacks, but not in front of anyone who I thought would give me a problem. It was thirty minutes until the dinner break, and with us now being down to under 1,000 players and with a brand new table and no image, I decided it would be a good idea to get aggressive.

My feelings were as follows: no-one wants to bust out half an hour before dinner! Also, we were getting close to the money, so no-one will want to get too frisky or stubborn with a nice payday in sight. I folded the first four hands, but then looked down at 8-9 off-suit in middle position. With two tight looking players in the blinds, I opened the action to 4,800 on blinds of 1,200/2,400.

It folded to the button who was probably in his forties and had glasses and a mullet. He made it 12,000 to play, and once the blinds had got out the way the action was back on me. I thought for a short while before thinking, “Screw this guy,” and slid out a bet of 19,900. Maybe I should have just folded there but I had a plan and I was intending to stick to it, foot to the floor, full out aggression.

He had around 300,000 to start the hand, while I had around 190,000. As a result, I could do him some serious damage, so figured he would just buckle to my aggression. He did not. After some deliberation, he decided to call. Now when this happened, a few things went through my mind. Aside from the obvious “Uh oh”, “Why did you not fold?”, “5-6-7 flop please”, and “Maybe this was not such a great idea…”, I also had to try and figure out what this guy could have.

I think when he just calls my four-bet we can eliminate Aces and Kings, as I think a player in his forties would opt to five-bet them more often than not. My reads could be worthless though; I had only been there for four hands (maybe another mistake), and I was just going off stereotypes and generalisations.

I did not think he would three-bet many small-medium pairs on the button, so I also discounted 2-2 to 8-8. This left me with 9-9, T-T, J-J,Q-Q and some A-Q/A-K type hands. The flop was J-5-7 rainbow which just got me in more trouble, as I had now flopped a double gutshot. I continued for 21,000, thinking this could win me the pot here and now if he has 9-9, T-T, A-K, or A-Q, but he was not going anywhere as he slid the chips in.

Cue more incessant inner monologue, accompanied by a desperate longing for a “SIX OR TEN, SIX OR TEN”. Unfortunately, the poker gods did not prevail, and the turn paired the board, bringing a second five. Maybe this was the time in the hand to give up and wave the white flag, but I had my plan and was determined to stick to it. I fired out 37,000 and once again was called.

I had already made up my mind once I bet the turn that I was firing a lot of rivers, and when the river was the potato of potatoes, the three of clubs, I sighed a deep sigh to myself (internally of course). I had missed my eight outs. Not only that, I had invested just under half my chips in this pot with nine-high, and had no idea what to do.

With around 100,000 behind, I loaded up for 67,000 and fired my fifth bullet at the pot. Sitting there like a piece of stone, I prayed he would slide his cards over the line and believe my “I have A-A” line. In my head, I was certain he couldn’t call me without pocket Jacks, maybe even laying down pocket Queens to the line I had taken.

“All in,” he announced, and my cards were in the muck before he had even put a chip in the pot. I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach by Mike Tyson; deflated was not the word. The worst thing about this hand is that, to this day, I still do not know what the guy had (he mucked). I probably will never know, but I am okay with that.

After this, I was left with just under 20 big blinds, and three-bet shoved K-Q of spades on the last hand before the dinner break. Sadly, I was unable to outrun two Nines, even after the flop came with two spades on it. Nothing wrong with my exit hand – the damage had been done well before.

Looking back on the situation, I made mistakes. Maybe not in the actual hand, as I do still think the villain had to have had pocket Jacks, and my timing was just so very very off. I think the main mistakes I made were not learning from my earlier ones on days One and Three.

I had already been caught bluffing in two pretty big pots, both when it was a pretty needless thing to do in a great structured tournament. In addition to that, I already had a very nice stack, yet went and did the same thing again – although this time I could not recover from it.

The second mistake was to make assumptions about the players at my table. Four hands and ten minutes is not enough time to decide to run a super-aggro five bullet bluff, especially on a guy you have no history with. I had no information on him other than a rough guesstimate at his age, the knowledge that his eyesight is not that great, and the fact that he has poor taste in haircuts.

I think if this tournament taught me anything, it is that firstly, you don’t need to force it, especially when you have a structure as great as the one at the WSOP Main Event. Secondly, I learnt that it is okay to wave the white flag once in a while. You do not have to empty the clip every time you decide to run a bluff; sometimes you just have to give up and leave those chips in the pot.

I will once again be playing the Main Event this year, and hoping that last year’s failures will help lead me to this year’s success.

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