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.
Another day at the VFW is coming to an end, and the nightly poker game is winding down. KAREN — the hall’s sun-baked, Marlboro Gold-perfumed bartender — busses the empty pretzel bags, nut bowls, and Busch bottles from around the table. JOE and the boys decide to play one more round and then settle up. JOE, who has spent the evening going through yet another tough string of beats (surprised?), stares down at his $20 in chips — a far cry from the game’s $50 max buy-in, and an even farther cry from the $75 average stack around the table.
VFW JOE (completely “over it”): Ugh, who wants to take the rest of it? Might as well! What a night.
BUDDY (to JOE): Want to top it off before I deal?
VFW JOE: What’s the point, so I can lose that much more? We’re stopping in a minute, anyway.
As BUDDY begins tossing out the cards for the next hand, the rest of the table stays silent. By now, they’ve each mastered their own method of tuning JOE out:
JIMMY focuses on counting his chips with just his eyes;
CHUCK watches each card intently as it flies out of JOE’s hand;
RON listens to everything JOE says, he just doesn’t care;
STEVE belts out Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” in his head.
After BUDDY finishes the deal, JOE looks down from the BB and sees A♠️A♥️.
VFW JOE (internally): OF COURSE. They’re gonna fucking fold it around to me, aren’t they?
CHUCK calls the $1 BB.
RON raises it to $5.
BUDDY calls the $5.
JIMMY reraises, to $20.
JOE, sitting silently, feels his heart rate quicken as JIMMY tosses out four $5 chips. His thoughts jump to raking in a big pot, but they’re immediately sobered when he glances down and is reminded he started the hand with just $20 in front of him.
VFW JOE (internally): Un. Fucking. Believable.
VFW JOE (to the table): Well, what the hell…
JOE tosses in his $20, making sure to give his best dejected sigh (so as to look weak to the other guys).
CHUCK reraises, making it $60 to play.
With just CHUCK and JOE left in the hand, and JOE all-in, CHUCK turns over his cards and shows K♥️K♦️. JOE reveals his aces, which hold up after a board of 5-K-A-2-T. JOE rakes in the $70 pot.
Why I Am Better at Poker Than You, Reason #3
I Always Top Off My Stack.
God, even when Joe is in a perfect situation, his bad attitude and misunderstanding of the game make him capable of screwing it up.
In this case, Joe’s decision to not top off his stack cost him $30 in profit and, depending on how he would have played the hand with that full stack, possibly much more.
Don’t be VFW Joe.
Let’s start with the obvious, since it’s a reality I’ve tried to drill into your heads for weeks now: The cards have no goddamned idea whether this is your first hand or your last hand, whether you have a big stack or a small one, or whether you’ve had aces five times in a row or haven’t seen ’em since Obama left office. They have no memory, and even if they did (like in a Toy-Story-type situation) they wouldn’t care.
Since the cards don’t know what the hell is going on, and you have no ability to control or influence their order, they don’t matter.
What does matter? The only thing you can control: Your decisions.
I’ve said it almost a dozen times here at Elite Poker: The only thing that matters is your decision making. It’s the one thing that separates your results from the results of everyone else: You’re all going to get AA, 72, KQs, and 78o with the same frequency, and those hands will end up best, 2nd best, or worst the same percentage of the time. If it wasn’t for the decisions each of you makes during the game, you would all end up with the exact same results — breaking even — and there would be no point in continuing to play. If you want to be a winning player, you have to make better decisions than those of your opponents.
Joe’s decision to not top off his stack meant he entered the hand with a “potential win” amount that was much smaller than it had to be. With a $20 stack and five opponents at the table, each with well over $50, the biggest pot Joe could possibly win is $120. Had Joe topped off his stack (to $50), he could’ve potentially raked in a pot of $300.
If we look more deeply at the hand we can see that, had Joe topped off his stack, it may have played out very differently. Instead of Joe turning his $20 into a $70 pot (a $50 profit), it’s possible he could have maneuvered his way to something more. For example:
Let’s assume all the action before Joe’s would occur the exact same way, meaning it is still $20 to Joe when it gets to him in the BB.
Obviously he’s not going to fold the aces, so that leaves him with a choice between calling the $20 (leaving himself $30) and raising it (likely to an “all-in” of $50):
If Joe calls the $20…
If he opts to just call the $20, it’s conceivable that Chuck would think Joe was just making a stupid, tilty, Joe-like decision with something like TT or even 78s. Chuck might opt to make the same play (raising to $60 or more), but he might also look at the action still to come behind him and decide to simply call the $20, thinking that the only hand Ron or Buddy would continue with would be AA and that if they had anything else they’d be folding whether Chuck raised or not.
By just calling behind Joe, Chuck puts himself in a situation where the most likely action to come is that Ron and Buddy will fold, leaving Chuck in a 3-way pot with Jimmy and Joe in which he gets to act last. This is a great thought, so let’s assume Chuck goes with it.
Ron folds, but Buddy also calls the $20, making the pot $85 as we go to the flop of 5-K-A.
Since we never see exactly what Jimmy had, I’ll just tell you: It’s JJ. He made the preflop reraise because he didn’t want to just call along and then have to fold when an A, K, or Q came out on the flop, and he thought that making a big raise from the SB after a lot of early position action would make him look super strong force Chuck to fold his strong ace, large pair, or suited king, Ron to fold his AQ-AJo, and Buddy to fold the speculative hand Jimmy is sure he called with from the button.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way Jimmy wanted, as Joe, Chuck, and Buddy all came along with him, leaving him first to act in the four-way pot.
After the flop comes with the ace and the king, Jimmy is way up shit’s creek. He can continue to show strength by putting in the rest of his stack and hoping that each of the other guys folds their middle/high pairs, or he can check and, effectively, give up on the entire pot. If he shoves, Joe is obviously going to call, and it’s likely Chuck would have to, as well, since his set of kings would still look like it could very well be the strongest hand. Buddy would fold, and Joe would end up winning a pot of $175, which would be $125 of profit instead of the original $50.
If Jimmy were to opt for caution on the flop and just check away all of his strength, it’s likely Joe would check behind him to try to trap Chuck or Buddy into committing to the pot. Chuck would almost certainly have to lead at that flop with his set of kings, Buddy would fold (he has 99, by the way), Jimmy would fold, and Joe would eventually get all of his money in and double-up off of Chuck for a pot of $145, which would be $95 profit instead of the original $50.
If Joe raises the $20, to an “all-in” of $50…
On the other hand, if Joe were to just shove his aces after Jimmy’s preflop raise to $20, Chuck would almost certainly call, Ron and Buddy would probably go away, and Jimmy would be facing a $30 bet with $130 in the pot. It’s possible he’d be willing to play (which would lead to Joe taking down a $160 pot, for $110 profit instead of $50), but it’s more likely he’d just fold, leaving Chuck and Joe alone and leading to Joe winning a pot of $130, earning him $80 instead of the original $50.
If Joe was a better poker player he would top off his stack every chance he got, and this pot would have made him at least $30 more. I just outlined four possible ways the hand could have gone down if Joe had entered it with a full $50 stack, and in each of them Joe walked away with more money in his pocket.
Don’t be like Joe.
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