Falling prey to a bully

May 10, 2009


I was so disappointed in myself this week. I’m usually very much in control of my frustrations during a game of poker, especially a long session where you know there likely will be swings one way and then another. If you start to lose it, even a little bit, you’re going to fall off that cliff in a hurry, and start making mistake after mistake that’ll snowball you right into losing your entire chip stack.

Such was the case with me this week. It’s been quite a while, too. I’m usually patient and calculating, I consider it one of my strengths. This time, though, at a certain point in a Hold ‘Em Tournament, I gave into temptation and made a few moves I never usually would with hands that didn’t deserve to be played in the first place.

Let me walk you through it, hopefully my poor decisions can help make you aware of the situation in the future and lead to better play in your own tournaments.

$50,000 online tournament with the blinds increasing every 20 hands or so (I can’t remember right now).

I actually started the tournament with quite a kill. I took down someone’s bluff with a pair of kings, and that immediately established me as the dominant chip leader at the table. From then on, I was really playing quite well. I took my time, attacked when appropriate, made a few “curious” moves to remain unpredictable to the others at the table, tossed in my fair share of hands pre-flop that I wasn’t happy with, even as the big blind many times.

Soon, the table dropped from six players down to three. I had around $185,000, the second place guy had about $100,000 and the third place girl was limping along with the remainder, about $15K. After the blinds increased for the third or fourth time, she knew she wasn’t long for the game. She went all-in on a mediocre hand, and the second-place guy powered her out. She would no longer be a factor in the hand or my story.

A few more hands later, the blinds increased again, up to $7,500 for the big. And this, my friends, is where it all fell apart. Why? Because I fell prey to a bully. And not just any bully, a computer bully. That’s right, I wasn’t even playing against real people for real money. It was just some daily messing around on my cell phone hold ‘em game, but left me with some very real and infuriating emotions.

It seemed like the player’s strategy and gameplay turned on a dime. Once content to check or call small raises, he turned from cautious to cutthroat right before my eyes, dropping huge pre-flop raises almost every hand. If I raised back in an attempt to bluff, he’d come back higher. More often than not, actually, he’d open the betting by just going all-in.

Now, this particular example probably represents the unlikely extreme of anything you’ll encounter in real life, but the lesson is sound. I constantly felt like I was giving away the pot, folding one hand after another, losing substantial chunks of my current winnings to the blinds or small bets. I felt like I was playing catch-up, which is a dangerous position to be in. It leads to desperation, and I couldn’t hold myself back from eventually calling an all-in. I was bleeding chips to the point where I had lost the chip lead almost entirely through swings of the blinds, and was clutching at straws.

To add insult to injury, I actually had the guy on the hand I called with. I had a pair of fours hidden, and the flop was 8, 8, 7. He had queen, jack. So right there I realized he’d been calling and raising on less than perfect hands. But what was I going to do, apparently the computer program was written to weed out the weak once the blinds surpassed a certain level. I proved to be a perfect victim. Anyway, the turn was a 6, and I was feeling good. Both our hands were open at this point, so the only thing left to do was wait. And wait I did, then when the river came I shook my head. Another 7. So instead of beating him two-pair to one pair, I lost to his high card since we both had the high two-pair on the table. Ridiculous. It put me out of the tournament and ruined part of my morning.

But, like most big beats, hopefully taught me something and built up my poker character. I won’t be such easy prey next time around.