Shuffle Up And Deal

Thu, Sep 16, 2010

Boycie On Poker

Shuffle Up And Deal

Why Poker makes us better betters

‘Hell, boy I wouldn’t call that bet on the telephone’

A line delivered in the slow Texas drawl of the legendary poker player Amarillo Slim. It was one of a barrage of one liners that formed my introduction to the world of high stakes no limit Texas hold ‘em poker. I’d been sent to a casino on the Isle of Man to make a book on the televised final of the first ever Ladbrokes Poker Million. I knew nothing about the game but Slim, who’s ten gallon Stetson was adorned with the rattlesnake that bit him before he shot it, was a compelling tour guide and by the time the cards were being dealt for the final I was hooked.

This was before the internet poker boom so my new found passion was nurtured in the basement of a casino in London, and in cardrooms at Luton and at Reading. Like most newbies, I paid dearly for my early education.

Once I began to understand the game better though it became clear that many of the skills required to progress were the same skills needed to bet well on racing and on sports.

The first choice you make as a poker player is table selection. The fundamental decision as to whether or not to sit down in a particular game is vital. This ability to choose your event and your time is equally valuable for all punters. Bookies price everything but we need only play in those events where our own particular skill set will be best rewarded. The biggest weapon we have at our disposal is that initial decision not to ante up if we think the game is too hot, or the rake too high, or our powers of concentration not sufficient.

A positive expectation is the key to where you play and when. Once you are familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses it ought to be possible to participate only in those events where you have a positive expectation. That is, the knowledge that over the long term your play will be rewarded with profit.

Dealing with the ‘long term’ and with what poker players call ‘variance’ is another vital skill for all punters. We tend to react most strongly to our most recent experiences. We assume that a winning bet was a good bet and a losing bet was a bad one when of course the opposite might equally be true. Keeping calm under pressure, managing our expectations and our bankrolls is crucial if we’re to get the most from our betting and our play.

In poker it’s usually the good hands that get you into most trouble and get you knocked out of tournaments or calling for more chips. That’s just the way it is. What separates the winning player from the losing player though is the ability to take such setbacks with calm acceptance. The bad beat or the suck out is the last fence faller or the horse that doesn’t come out of the stalls, or the injury time equaliser against the run of play. Those are the events that we remember but it is actually our reaction to them and how we play before and after them that decides our fate in the end.

Discipline is the common denominator of all great players and all great gamblers. Patience and application will ensure that opportunities arrive but only discipline will ensure that we exploit those opportunities when they come.

Discipline is sometimes confused with conservatism but this is a mistake. Discipline can also demand extreme aggression in our betting and in the application of our strategies. We make far fewer errors when we bet with commitment. It’s the dithering bet, the half stake each way, the limping call that costs us. As Amarillo Slim puts it you need ‘intestinal fortitude’ to play the game and that means the courage to put the last of our chips into the middle of the table when we know it’s the right move.

We can learn a lot from playing poker but it differs from sports and racing betting in one crucial way. In poker we can make things happen. We can force events to bend to our will through the tactics and the strategies we employ. Backing winners is always fun but when your bet is a winner because you have forced your opponent to fold the better hand there is an added dimension to the pleasure and the satisfaction.

Chips please!

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5 Responses to “Shuffle Up And Deal”

  1. ken cambs Says:

    That old chestnut, courage, rears its ugly head, Sean.

    Courage – the ability to deal with pain, fear or danger. I can think of several life-situations I’ve experienced over the years where I suppose I’ve displayed a certain element of courage yet, for some peculiar reason, when it comes to betting I have never been able to overcome that final barrier that would enable me to put all my eggs in one basket, on one particular horse.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the slow drip, drip of losses and wondered why it is that instead of putting myself through that agonisingly drawn out inevitability I’ve somehow lacked the courage to put all my chips down on just one horse.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t, and never will, have that final ingredient essential to being a successful gambler. In the same way that I recently heard a ‘Dragon’ explain that it’s easy to be in business but if you don’t have the gift of making money then it’s never going to be a profitable exercise.

    I suppose the problem for some gamblers is that though they might possess courage in abundance it also comes with an awareness of the consequence of losing everything and it’s the latter that instils fear into the decision-making process.

    By avoiding the all or nothing bet, people like myself who prefer to spread out our pain/pleasure at least manage to retain some hope that perhaps the next small bet will turn things around. I do envy the likes of yourself and others who can hold their nerve and be bold at the right time but it’s these differences between us that make the World such an interesting place. I suppose.

    I wonder what card in the deck best describes you, Boycie?

  2. seanboyce Says:

    Hi Ken,
    I don’t see it as the courage to stick the mortgage on one bet. I would never advise that. Money management is absolutely vital in betting. I think it’s more about the courage to keep going when you’re strategy is sound, even if results are going against you. Many years ago I had a spell when betting was my only income. I would have around 4-5 bets a week on average and would often drive to the relevant course to avoid the betting tax and get the best price. All was going pretty well till one day I came up with 4 bets in one day, which was extremely unusual. To cut a long story short courtesy of a horse jumping through the wing of a fence when clear, another falling at the last flight when a distance clear of the field amongst other things all four lost. Placing the next bet – even though I knew my judgement that day was essentially sound – proved too much for me and I reduced my stake as I couldn’t hack the pressure meaning I missed out on half my next lot of winnings! I ran out of heart and the lesson has stayed with me ever since!
    That’s the kind of discipline and courage I’m talking about. It helps a lot if you have someone to talk to at a time like that to put events into perspective but for most of us it’s a lonely business. I’m good at rationalising these things but still find that winning and losing has a big emotional and psychological impact. As a result I try and avoid now big ups and downs and dramatic swings. I’d rather make small profit often then face the rollercoaster. The exception is in my ante post betting and big meeting betting where I like to fire a few shots at big big odds.

  3. ken cambs Says:

    Thanks for that, Sean. Even though it might prove difficult to teach an old dog new tricks I’m going to make a serious attempt at doing it the ‘Boycie Way’ as from next week. I’ll set my initial bank for the month and determine to have no more than five modest bets a week regardless of whether I’m in front or not. It’ll be an interesting experiment to see what the bottom line is come the end of the month. I’ll let you know how I fared.

  4. ken cambs Says:

    Your mention of the casino on the Isle of Man rekindles some very old memories, Sean.

    Each Easter, former students of my old school would make an annual pigramage to the island to play football against various local teams culminating in a match against the Isle of Man ‘international’ side.

    One particular native team consisted of players who, strangely, all bore surnames beginning with the letter ‘Q’ with the likes of Quincy, Quayle and Quattro forming the attack and so on and so forth. A unique experience.

    We stayed half-board at the best sea-front hotel in Douglas though you can appreciate how long ago it was when I reveal that the whole weekend only cost £39 and that included the boat fare from Liverpool.

    At something of a loss to do one evening we decided to visit the casino, including the WAGS though that term had not been born in those days.

    Typically, my spending money had been blown on the horses in the previous week so my attendance was purely in an observatory capacity. I was aware that the now late and great Robert Sangster was a frequent casino visitor but despite my best efforts I didn’t see anyone remotely resembling him.

    I’m possibly wrong but I seem to recall that Mr Sangster was a big player on the Poker scene and am wondering whether or not you ever sat at the table with him?

  5. Santiburi Says:

    Ken, FWIW, I once tried the really selective approach and failed miserably but Sean’s underlying premise is spot on. Find the approach that suits you and stick to it. My approach is very different to Sean’s in that I rarely have less than 3 bets per day: especially when there are 3 or more meetings. Today, like yesterday, I had 9 bets. Yesterday was an OK day but I picked up nothing today yet the approach was exactly the same.
    I like 3yo and older flat handicaps up to and including class 3, especially on the AW, and in Nurseries. I very rarely stray from these sorts of races. I watch most other types of flat race and occasionally take a view in a stakes/conditions race but it’s rare.
    I’ve always felt that a continual involvement ‘keeps my eye in’. I really don’t have the patience to bet in a more selective way.
    So, if ‘Boycie’s Way’ doesn’t work for you: don’t give up. You can win betting more regularly. EW betting is still viable and so is including the occasional multiple even though lots of pros will try to convince you that the math doesn’t work.

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