Jim’s All-In Poker Vol XII: Is it a sport?

One of the most frequent arguments poker players get into with non-poker players is the age old disagreement over whether poker is a game of skill or luck.  People that haven’t played games other than the old standby of 5-card draw or 7-card baseball on the kitchen table for quarters with their friends certainly don’t think it is a game of skill.  Same for people who think poker is the same as blackjack and Let It Ride.

Another way they frame the argument is to argue whether it is a sport or simply gambling. Gloating poker player

My side of the argument is to take aspects of all four and combine them in to one.  All anyone has to do is look at the final table of the World Series of Poker to see that my opinion has a strong possibility of being correct.  On the one hand, you have Phil Ivey at the table, already a winner of two bracelets this year.  You couldn’t convince me that he gets to the final table time after time by just gambling and relying on luck.

On the other side you have Darvin Moon, making his first final table in the biggest tournament of all, and he’s the chip leader to boot.  You would have to figure that someone with his limited experience probably had a few more lucky breaks fall his way during the course of the tournament.

Don’t get me wrong, both players certainly had to have a little gamble in them, as well as some lucky hands along the way, to get this far in the tournament.  I won’t deny that in the slightest.  But I will say that when you look at all of the tournaments played in this year’s WSOP, familiar names tend to pop up in the top 20 of every tournament, This would lend most clear thinking people to believe that these players certainly play consistently better than most.

Follow the Queen Seven Card Stud pokerSo if poker is a game of skill, with a little luck and gamble thrown in, how is it possible for me or you to determine whether something we did was the right or wrong thing to do?  If you call someone’s all in late in a sit-n-go with 7-8 suited were you seriously playing the correct game, or were you just calling and praying the flop was low?  If you truly thought it out, and determined that the pot was giving you the correct odds compared to the odds of you hitting your draw, then most would agree that you did the right thing.  Meanwhile, if you called thinking any two cards have the ability to hit and maybe you can suck out a win with your calls, then most would probably agree that you didn’t.

A perfect example happened last night.  One player looked down at his hand at A-Q, and then at his chip stack and realized that he needed some chips in a bad way, and made a giant raise.  Another player looked down at his hand, saw 2-3 off-suit, and made the call anyway. When the flop came with two more 3’s, the whole table was in shock.  In the end, the call turned out to be profitable, but I don’t believe any person with decent experience in the game would ever admit that it was the right call.

In the end, the only advice I can give you on the subject is:  Focus on the play and not the results.  The A-Q above was the best hand, and was certainly strong enough to justify moving all in with semi-short stack.  So the player should walk away from the table knowing he did the right thing, regardless of the fact that he lost the hand and got knocked out of a tournament to a player that was willing to call a large bet with any two cards.   If both players focus on the results, they’d be hard pressed to prove that what they did was incorrect.

So with the rule of focusing on the correct play, and not the results of the action, here is a breakdown of a hand I was involved with just this past Sunday at the local lodge’s monthly game.

Poker ChipsHalfway through the tournament I had made a bad call and was sitting on only 15,000 chips.  The leader’s of the tournament were stacking over 40,000 chips, with blinds at 500/1000, so I was looking for any hand worthy of an all-in double up before the lunch break.  If I hit one, I’d be in good shape for the rest of the day.  If I missed, then I was done and headed home.  Everyone folded to the button, who just limped in.  The small blind also called, and I then looked down to Q-3 of spades.  If I raised preflop, It was highly likely that I would pick up the two limper’s chips, or I could play it out and try to get all my chips in by the river so I could double up.  Needing chips more than I needed to stick around unnecessarily for spaghetti, I chose to try and hit the flop and get my chips into the middle.

I will note right here that the button player is one of the best players I sit down with on a regular basis.  He has won the monthly tournament we were playing several times, and was also the club’s year end championship previously.  I have absolutely nothing bad to say about his game, and do not find any fault in what he did during this hand.  With that, I will continue.

The river came Qs-7h-2h, giving me top pair.  I noticed the button do something that I had noted him doing before when he bluffed, and then he bet out 3000.  Again, if I raised now, knowing now in my heart that he was bluffing, he would have folded and I would have only picked up the blinds and his bet.  Since I wanted them all, I decided to limp, and then shove on the turn, especially if it contained a 2nd pair (or another Q), or even the 4th spade for my flush draw.

Then sure enough, the flop was the 6 of spades.  Bingo, I was ready to roll.  I was first to act, but knowing the other player would bet most anything at this point, I check.  True to form, he tossed 7000 chips out onto the table.  I thought for a second, and shoved all in for my remaining 12000 chips.   I did this knowing that he was now pot committed, and would call me with any draw.  He thought about it for a very long time, and finally decided that he simply couldn’t fold for 5000 more chips, when he had already committed 10,000 into a now 27,000 chip pot.

Once he called, I turned over my top pair/4 to the flush hand, and he turned over 5-6 offsuit.  He had hit the 6 for a pair.  I’d have to believe that he probably would have folded had he not hit this pair.  I wasn’t to concerned though, because even with his pair he had 4 outs to win the hand.  There were two more 6’s, and two 5’s that could help him.  The 5 of spades was mine, as it would complete my straight.  This means I was over a 90% favorite to win the hand.

So the chips were pulled into the middle, and the dealer dealt the river.  And wouldn’t you know it, another 6.  He had hit his 4-outer, 8% draw, and I was out of the tournament.  The look on his face was priceless, and I’d have to bet the one on mine was even more so.

Poker HandI can tell you, in all the games I’ve played in poker, most players would have blown a fuse at this point.  I had a different reaction.  I stood, shook his hand, and joked about the results.  There was no reason to get angry, because I got exactly what I wanted on the hand.  I played it perfectly and to the best of my ability, and got him to put 15,000 chips into a pot as a 9-1 underdog.  You just can’t get any better results than that.  If I had it to do over again, I’d play it exactly the same, and will continue to do so in the future.  The right thing to do is always the right thing to do, regardless of the results.

And that is the lesson for this week.  Focus on the action, not the results.  I want a 9-1 underdog to call my all-in bet every time. I want the call, but I also understand that there is still an 8% chance that I will lose the hand.  If it had been a cash game, I would simply reload and continue to play, because I know that getting all my chips in as a 92% favorite will pay a lot of bills if it is called every time.  If you focus only on the results, you will miss the important things that go towards improving your game.  By focusing on acting properly, and just accepting the results, you will be much better off.

Submitted 8/14/09

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