Jesse checks in on our favorite everyman, VFW Joe, to see what he’s doing wrong this week, and what we can learn from it.
It’s an evening like any other at the VFW: Joe and the boys sit around the hard, wooden, 6-sided card table tucked in the corner of the Hall. They’re dealing cards, lighting cigars, and tossing red, white, and blue chips around in no discernible order. Across the room, the sound of those paper-thin plastic disks splashing against each other is all that can be heard, occasionally undercut by the unmistakable muffled grumbling noise of which only men over 60 are capable. Closer to the table, their conversation becomes more clear:
VFW Joe: Un-fucking-believable. How’d that river feel, Ron?
Ron is raking in a large pot, one that looks like it includes all of Joe’s chips. He remains silent, but is smiling widely. On the table we see the remains of the hand:
The seven of clubs and eight of diamonds are overturned in front of Joe, 7♣ 8♦.
A pair of Kings lie in front of Ron, K♣ K♥.
At the center of the table sit the five board cards, 7♠ 9♥ 2♥ — 8♠ — 9♦.
VFW Joe: 8 outs and you hit, OF COURSE. Every. Single. Time. I can’t catch a break.
Ron: We got the money in on the flop, Joe…
VFW Joe: Yeah, and when we got to the river you were under 20% to win!
Why I Am Better at Poker Than You, Reason #1
I Know What Matters.
VFW Joe truly thinks he took a bad beat in that hand. He thinks it was unlucky that Ron “sucked out” on him with that river 9, and he’ll move on from that hand seeing no other lesson in it than “I always get sucked out on”.
Don’t be VFW Joe.
Although there are a ton of things in this hand we could discuss (see the “Bonus Feature” section below!), today we’ll focus simply on VFW Joe’s reaction to it, for reason number one that I am better at poker than VFW Joe — and likely, you — is this: I know what matters.
One of the most common things I see in amateur players is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is and isn’t important in poker. From the actions taken in a single betting round, to the results of individual hands, to whether another player is even “good” or “bad”, their evaluations are consistently flawed and lead them down paths where they never, ever, become any better at the game.
In this hand, VFW Joe shows he has no understanding of the following fundamental truths:
1. The deal of the cards is completely random. No one on earth is receiving good cards, or bad cards, or heart flushes, or inside straights, with more frequency than you are, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to influence, or predict, what cards are going to be dealt next.
2. Poker is a game of decisions. Your job is to make the best one you can every time it’s your turn. This is the only thing in the game you can control, which means it is the only thing that matters.
Joe’s obsession with this river card, and the “bad beat” he thinks he took, are a perfect example of a player’s incorrect beliefs causing them to miss a much bigger, more important lesson.
The “incorrect belief” Joe has is that he took a bad beat. In fact, Joe put some of his money into the pot pre-flop (with the worse hand), and then put the rest in on the flop (still with the worse hand). At both points at which Joe made a decision, he chose to put more money into the pot when he had the worst of it.
Now, in and of itself, that isn’t a sin. Sometimes, it’s even a perfectly fine decision (depending on about 50 variables we won’t go into here). In this game, though, it was a mistake, and Joe’s inability to see that will mean he learns nothing from it.
In our hypothetical hand, what matters is that Joe made the decision to wager his entire stack of chips on the flop, a point at which he was far, far behind Ron’s pocket kings. The fact that the 8♠ came on the turn to give Joe the lead is completely irrelevant, as Joe was finished making decisions at that point (remember #2, above?). Continuing that logic, it is also irrelevant that the 9♦ on the river paired the board and gave Ron’s hand the win.
VFW Joe doesn’t know this, though, and neither do most players. He, and they, will see hands like this come up over and over again, and all they’ll take away from them is meaningless, trite adages like “anything can happen”. They’ll fail to realize that Joe put in all of his money with the worse hand, so what was truly “lucky” was that he spiked the 8♠ on the turn to take the lead. That was him being rewarded despite making only poor decisions. The 9♦ on the river was simply the world correcting itself: Joe “got his money in bad” and lost the hand, Ron “got his money in good” and won the hand. Everything happened as it should have.
If Joe was a better poker player — if he was me, for example — he wouldn’t waste his time bitching about his “bad beat”, he’d understand that what happened on the turn and river are just results — the cards just did what they did, and there was no way to influence or predict them — and what he was in control of, and should therefore be worried about, were his decisions. He’d sit and replay the hand, step by step, evaluating each of his and Ron’s decisions, to determine what really happened and what he could have done differently.
This lesson isn’t the only thing VFW Joe (and we) could have learned from this particular hand. See below for a breakdown of the entire deal!
Bonus Feature: A Complete Hand Breakdown
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