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What You Didn't Know You Knew About Poker


SickCall has been a valued member of the Grinderschool Community since March of 2008. During that time, Ray has gone from 10 NL to 100 NL and continues to help out everyone willing to listen. We here at appreciate SickCall's work; we look forward to more contributions and expect great things to come.

I can never figure out what they have. I just don't get it. I am running so horrible I think I am just going to give up. How can it be anything but dumb luck? I suck at poker!

These are some examples of parts of posts I have read recently that got me thinking: Just how much do I really know about poker? What I found out was, every one of the posters probably knew more about poker than they were giving themselves credit for.

Hand reading seems to be a favorite concept that many poker players, myself included, have had difficult time learning. Let's look at a familiar example: You have KK pre-flop, bet and get 1 caller. Flop is Ts-5s-2h. You bet and your opponent calls. Turn is the Jc and again you bet and your opponent calls. River is the 7s and your opponent shoves his whole stack in. S**T (insert your own profanity here) the flush just got there and you fold. Re-read that last sentence, you just did hand reading. Not in depth but it is a start.

You finally forget about that hand, after fuming about it for 15-20 minutes and then this situation arises: You hold AhKh and open for a raise. You get one caller. Again you get the very same flop as before, Ts-5s-2h. Anything can happen with online poker, right? He could have a flush draw or a T or 5 in his hand so, again you bet and again he calls. Turn is again the Jc, deja vu. You bet again, and again your opponent calls. Can you guess the river card? It is not the 7s but the 7h, making the board Ts-5s-2h-Jc-7h. You make one final desperate bet but still your opponent calls. Lo and behold he turns over 3d-3c. Now the tirade really begins and you type into chat: "WTF, how could you call with that all the way? Just keep calling like that buddy; I'll have all your chips in the end. F***ing moron!! Damn the donks on this site." Well, I hope you don't really type things like that in chat, but I'm sure we have all thought them.

But congratulations are in order. Congratulations? How can that be!! It is because you have thought about the hand in the 3rd level. You knew your hand (level 1), then you made an attempt at putting your opponent on a range of hands (he could have a flush draw or a T or 5 in his hand--level 2) and finally you attempted to represent a big over-pair hand but he called anyway (level 3--what does my opponent think I have?).

So what went wrong? You were trying to think at a higher level than your opponent was. Yes, you really are that good. He wasn't even thinking to level 2 but was only thinking level 1. He had a pair and that would be good enough to stay in all the way. You couldn't represent anything because he was not thinking that far advanced. I bet you didn't know you were capable of thinking about hand ranges to this advanced level, or at least may not have thought about it. Against this player you just need to think to level 2 then bet your good hands for value. You can't bluff him.

What you are thinking about is how to get even with this horrible player. Or how you worked for 5 hours to get up a few dollars and now you are down for the session. Thoughts that cannot help you play your best game, but you continue to fume until you get AsQs, maybe they are luckier than that AhKh hands from before. You open raise and get called by, you guessed it, your nemesis for this session. The flop is Ac-9d-2s. Great, you have top pair and a good kicker. You bet and he calls. I hope he has those pocket 3's again, it'll teach him. Turn is the Jc, you bet, he calls. River, the Qd and you bet. Villain calls again and turns over AhKh. You fist pump and type in chat, I knew I'd get my money back from you. It was just a matter of time. You can't win calling with 33 and chasing flushes all the time.

Your heart is pounding, you mind is whirling, you need to breathe deep and settle down. What you have done is sucked out on your opponent. Looks a bit like how he won the first hand against you, doesn't it. And by the way, he was ahead the whole way in hand number 2. In this hand, you were on the lucky end of variance. You got to the river as about a 93% dog but came out a winner. This is a start on understanding what variance is and how to cope with it. You can start by not typing **** in chat any more.

So now you know you can think on level 3, hopefully ready to learn and about variance a bit better so what else? Well, everyone wants to 'get it'. Students say they don't 'get it' and instructors have said the students sometimes just don't 'get it'. What is 'it'? In my opinion it is an unachievable ending that every one is working towards. It is the accumulation of knowing every concept in poker and how to properly apply them at all the correct times. The problem that arises, the concepts don't always stay static. There is always someone who is looking to improve on a concept or maybe even start a new one. So you have to stay in a learning mode. . . forever. While you are learning, you will get closer to 'getting it'. Just remember, you'll never get there but you can get closer, with study and hard work.

I hope somewhere in this article you may have learned a little about what you didn't know you knew about poker but if you want to find out more, ask yourself what do I know about some of the following concepts: position (do you really understand its power), value betting (are you getting that extra bet in on the river), implied odds (are you overestimating them), reverse implied odds, pot control (do you use this enough), semi-bluffing (how strong is it), board texture (how often have you lost a hand by not realizing the hidden straight), stack sizes (when do they come into play), the donk bet (what it might mean from different opponents), 3 betting, 4 betting and many others.

Make yourself a list of these concepts and ask yourself how much do you know about them. You may know more than you think, unless you have a big ego, and then you may know less. Just be honest with yourself. Find a concept that you have trouble with, go to the video clouds here at Grinderschool and click on that subject. Find any lecture about the subject, watch them, then follow with the "sweat videos" on the subject and see it used in action. Finally, there is always the player's best friend, Google. The information is out there; read it then if you still have more questions ask them in a forum. Just do it one concept at a time. Then the next time you play, see how many times that concept is/or could be used in real time.

I did this for semi-bluffing then while I was playing I continued to play as I always have but would wonder if this would be a good situation to semi-bluff. For a bit of added safety, I tried to semi-bluff but I did it when I had a good hand. If that doesn't make any sense let me try to explain: I flopped a set but the board texture was such that it looked like a nice spot to semi-bluff if I held 2 different cards. So I just pretended I had those cards and played the hand as if I did. I got to see how players would react to a semi-bluff while having a strong hand that I wanted to get money into the pot with anyway. Sometimes the semi-bluff would have worked and others no but I got to experience working with it. It is a concept that I know I need more work on.

I hope this might help those who think they just suck at poker and realize they may know more than they think or give them a push toward wanting to learn. If it helps one player then it has been worth putting this together.

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