Poker is not a Pollyanna game. I know, because I am an idealist.
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When I have planned an outdoor party down to the last drop of booze, I look at the thunderstorm forecast and say, "Well, the weather people usually get it wrong. Party on."
And when it rains, I get sad. And I get mad. And somehow I find a way to blame the weatherman. That is, because he is usually wrong, I shouldn't have felt to compelled to believe him.
See, idealism is the worst trait a poker player can have.
The grand masters of poker have long offered one of the greatest pieces of poker wisdom: Good players fall to suckouts far more often than they suck out. Why? Because good players do not usually put themselves in position to suck out and bad players do.
This is true, in large part. One thing it fails to address, however, is a growing breed of players who cling so tightly to the Suckout Maxim that they cannot accept that what should be not always is..
To wit: Pocket kings are so pretty at a shorthanded final table that my opponent's only fear is that he won't get action with them. So, he limps in from the small blind. Getting short on chips, I find A6s and jam. My opponent calls in an instant and falls into an apopleptic fit when the flop drops an ace and the turn comes as a six.
"Incredible," he said. "What a trap."
As I went on to chop the tournament with two other opponents, I couldn't help but tap the glass once: "I would've folded to a raise."
My opponent had deluded himself into seeing only that pocket kings should beat any random hand in the big blind. Then he compounded his problem by making a sick mistake that helped me win a lot of money and forced him to accept a lesser payday. In short, in poker, it's not about what should be. It is about what is.
That example doesn't fully illustrate what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the guy who holds pocket aces, raises pre-flop, gets one caller, and then sees a flop of KTT. He bets out and his opponent min-raises. So, the guy pops him back. Now, the opponent pushes in the rest of his sizable stack and our anti-hero calls with his aces -- only to lose to KT.
Anyone who read the above paragaph knew that the opponent had at least a ten in his hand. Mr. Pocket Aces probably even suspected it. However, he was so caught up in how his aces should win, that he was willing to get bounced from the tournament because he refused to accept what was actually happening. What's more, Mr. Pocket Aces will later tell his friends how some donkey played KT to a raise and how a bad beat knocked him out of the tournament. True, a donkey played KT to a raise. And true, Mr. Pocket Aces suffered a semi-bad beat on the flop. That said, it was not a bad beat that knocked him out of the tournament. The bad beat happened--in poker time--a long time before he exited the tournament. This guy is on the rail because he was caught up in the should and ignoring the is.
The telling of bad beat stories is a sickness and the burgeoning poker world is full hypochondriacs. As a poker writer of sorts, I hear more than my fair share. And, I'll admit that I even tell a few from time to time (let me tell you about my pocket aces versus Q9 for a whole helluva lot of money...). That said, the greatest service you as a poker player can do for the poker community is to never tell a bad beat story again.
Last year, I offered my poker tilt definitions. It received a good response and it got me thinking about how loosely people define bad beats. See, that's part of the real sickness. People disguise their bad beat stories in hopes that you won't recognize what you're hearing. Often times, it's not a bad beat they are describing. It's bad play. Still, they expect your sympathy.
First, let's embrace the definition of "bad beat" boiled down to its marrow by the venerable Toby Bochan of About.com:
Bad Beat: When a very strong hand that is a statistical favorite to win loses to a much weaker hand that hits a lucky draw, itâ€™s called a â€œbad beat.â€
We all know that, but we need to embrace it before we move on to the kinds of bad beat stories we hear every day. Ready?
The "Pity Me" Bad Beat Story-- Told by people who get no greater pressure in life than having people pay attention to them for the wrong reasons. Outside of poker, these people are prone to hypochondria, Munchausen by Proxy, and general whining about how rough their life is. Pocket kings cracked by deuces? Come on, how bad is my life?
The "Tell Me I'm Good" Bad Bad Story -- Told by people who are so insecure with their own play that they can't be sure it was a bad beat until four people have told them so, thus validating the story-tellers skill and making him feel better about himself. Outside of poker, these people generally have small penises or suffer from premature ejacualtion issues.
The Disguised Bad Bad Story-- Told by people who want to appear smarter than they think they are, the Disguised Bad Beat Story is often hidden under a cheesecloth of hand analysis. It begins, "Tell me what you think of this hand. See, I raised pre-flop..." and generally ends, "What do you think of my play there?" Outside of poker, these people are middle managers in mid-sized companies. They ended up in management without a great deal of fomal education and as such need people to think they are smart and keen on poker hand analysis.
The "Not Actually a" Bad Bad Story-- Told by people who tend to make mountains out of molehills. "You see that? I get pocket queens and they get cracked by big slick. Then I get big slick and lose to pocket fives. I NEVER win a race!" outside of poker, these people believe they always end up on the wrong line at the grocery store, always hit red lights intead of green, and believe they always pick up the milk that is on the verge of expiration.
The "By Way of Explanation" Bad Beat Story-- Told by people spotted no longer sitting in tournament who feel the need to explain why they are no longer in action. "You get knocked out, Jimmy?" "Oh, man, you shoulda seen this donkey I was up against..." Outside of poker, these people are the ones who use "creative differences" for the reason they are unemployed.
The "I should admit I blew it, but I'm not going to" Bad Beat Story-- Told by people who limp with big pairs, call off all their chips in level 1 with AKo, or call an all-in with the ass-end of a straight (with a flush on board) and end up losing their stacks. Outside of poker, these are the people who cheat on their wives and get pissed when they get caught, speed and can't believe they got a ticket, and don't understand what it means to look BOTH ways before crossing the street.
The "Re-Suck" Bad Beat Story--Told by people who suck out on the flop and then are amazed that it's possible the original better hand can re-suck on the turn or river. Outside of poker, these people are the people who get promotions using lies an deceit, are eventually discovered to be worthless human beings, and end up getting fired for thier worthlessness.
You can do yourself and the rest of us a favor. After losing a stack or getting knocked out of a tourrnament, don't say anything at all. If someone asks you what happened, use either two words or three words to finish the conversation:
Two word explanation-- "Bad beat."
Three word explanation-- "I'm an idiot."
Everything else is just wasted breath. Furthermore, choosing between the two-word explanation and three word explanation will actually help you decide who was actually at fault for your exit. Was it really a bad beat. Or are you an idiot?
I just scratched the surface here. Feel free to add your definitions in the comments section.