"Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they're wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck."
--Jesse May, from "Shut Up and Deal"
This wasn't intended to be a story about a bad beat, but it contains one.
Some poker personality once said that the game of poker is about playing your opponents, not about playing your cards. I haven't been able to find the exact quote -- uh oh, there's a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I may be thinking of a line from "Tilt", which would render the use of the quote both suspect and intellectually bankrupt. Hoping that it is in fact a non-"Tilt" observation, I'm sure there's an element of truth to the saying, but because poker is still a game, you can apply all the people-reading skills you want and you'll still come up on the short end from time to time. You do have to master the luck in order to make the big score.
We're down to 22 in a Prima NL tournament. I have an average stack of T7100 or so. Top 10 cash. The same players have been here for a number of orbits, so I feel like I have good reads.
Back up a minute for a little history. The player to my right is of the type best described as "The Pest". He has min-raised my big blind almost without fail when given the opportunity. I had accumulated a stack of T12,000 and made a point of biding my time, choosing to fold my 5-highs and 4-highs and eating the 300, 400 or 600 chips rather than getting into a battle as a severe underdog to any two cards. This happens over and over again. Finally, I get my chance. AKo in the big blind. One limper to The Pest, who of course min-raises. I re-raise to 4x the blind, limper drops and The Pest pushes. I'm more than happy to call. He shows AQo. Nothing, nothing, Queen on the river. The Pest doubles up on a 3-outer, which puts me down to the T6000 level. I steal a couple blinds to get back to T7100.
Next time around the table, we're in the battle of the blinds again. The Pest min-raises yet again. I have K-7 off, and call.
The flop is K-4-3 with two spades.
The Pest autobets, in this case T1200, which is just more than the minimum. I smell the foul odor of pure weakness.
Okay, here's what I know about The Pest. He likes to min-raise my blind, and he sucked out on me despite overplaying AQo. He's made at least one other truly horrible play, bluffing with a medium pocket pair against broadway cards on a high-card flop.
And he has more chips than I do.
I have a made hand. Top pair, crap kicker, backdoor straight draw. I'm behind some hands, quite a few actually -- AA, any K with a better kicker, 44 or 33. The thing is, I just don't feel like the villain has any of those hands, because a powerhouse hand would have drawn a bigger raise preflop (I think), and a solid made hand would have drawn a bigger bet unless the villain hit a set. If he's got a set, I'm in big trouble anyway. But I don't think he's got one based on how he's played. I'm just feeling too much weakness.
Now, my options are obvious -- fold (really?), call or raise. If I fold, I survive but will have lost a significant number of chips late in the game. If I call, I give the villain a chance to draw out on me. He might be playing any ace. If I raise it'll almost need to be a push, and I should have a decent chance to pick up the pot -- I must have a uber-tight table image, seeing how often I've folded to his min-raises and the fact that the three hands I've shown down have been KK, KK and TT (win, win, loss and coincidentally the only 3 pocket pairs I received).
I am confident I have the perfect read -- this is a "holy crap!" moment for me, since I haven't developed any skills in the area of opponent reading yet -- and I have an obvious choice. I push.
The Pest uses his entire clock, and CALLS. He flips J-7 of spades.
For a fleeting instant, I get a rare feeling of satisfaction, knowing that in fact I have made a correct read. Do good players get that same rush, or does routinely being able to figure out what the bad guy holds become so common that it holds all the excitement of say, brushing your teeth really well? I'd like to know, preferably from experience.
Back to the hand. Okay, let's count his outs. Nine spades for the flush. A backdoor straight draw for the chop. Running Jacks would give him a win. Sevens are no help. I am almost 2-1 to win.
You wouldn't be reading this if he hadn't hit a spade, and the feeling of satisfaction is replaced by a howl of "f--------------ck!".
Twice to the same guy. He's rewarded with $292.00 for a sixth place finish, and I switch off the computer for an hour of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" reruns.
I guess I have not yet mastered the luck.
And yet just having that one "eureka!" moment is probably enough to keep me coming back.