Just Happily Plodding Along

By Roy Cooke

I’m a plodder. Unkind people would call me a nit! I’m with that. When I was young, recognition played a much greater role in my poker motivations. But I’m 57 now, and somewhere around 30,000-40,000 poker hours ago, recognition lost its luster. 

I still relish the intellectual challenge in a big way, but I would no longer play poker if I lost. I play to add to my quality of life, financially and enjoyment-wise. It’s an aspect many players, even numerous very good ones, seem to completely miss. Being a plodder makes the gambling lifestyle much less thrilling and much more of a grind. But it also removes much of pokers stresses. If you have a thrill-seeking mentality, plodding is not for you. The thrills that drive you will be actualized playing tournaments, playing high, maybe even too high for your bankroll and swinging wildly. 

Many players appear driven by an impulse to gamble, and they gamble as high as possible. They want to be “king of the mountain.” They‘re “turned on” by the thrills, the recognition, others perception of their wealth and fame. In some cases it’s real, a few people do attain wealth and fame playing poker, but in most cases it’s forge. Behind the scenes, many of poker’s “big names” haven’t the ability to beat the level they’re playing and are broke. Many are way beyond broke and buried in debt at a level they‘ll never recapture. The good news for poker is that the game offers an abundant amount of excuses for those looking to dismiss their results. 

The problem with poker thrill-seeking is that that nature of player seldom passes the “test of time.” The roller coaster swings of playing high-stakes low-edge poker create a lifestyle of emotional stresses and strains that tend to wear down all but the very mentally toughest. These swings, both mental and financial, intrude on their sleep, influence our health, encourage drug and alcohol use, and ultimately affect their cognitive skills. Over time, these stresses erode their poker skills. 

Some can afford the swings both mentally and financially. They have available money to swing wildly, either from possessing money or from other sources like backing or borrowing. If you’re tempted to play that way and have the money, ask yourself some questions. Will this aggressive technique make your life a happy one? Do you really have what it takes to be “king of the mountain?” And even if you are that lucky one (and it’s doubtful you are), if you create the mental toughness to actualize all this, creating that mental toughness may make you an unhappy person. 

Plodding is a different way of life. You play in games with a wide edge over your opponents; the limits you play are easily within your bankroll; and the swings don’t seriously mess up your mind, your life, your relationships, and your financial stability. It’s not sexy. You’re not going to win any yearly “most money won records,” but at the end of a long era, you’re likely to be ahead more net money than the majority of the “thrill seekers.” 

Much is written about poker strategies, what hands to play in what position, under what circumstances, how much bankroll you need etc.But little is written on how to be a good gambler. And in the large scope of your life, it’s the most important thing. 

Poker has a dark side; it swallows most who commit to its environment. They get caught up, in the game, in the illusion of easy money, the desire to “get even,” and all the false impressions the gaming industry is so enthusiastic to portray. Poker is different, and managing your poker life is going to be a challenge that your past experiences are unlikely to have prepared you for. Your choices are going to be significant in determining your success at the tables and the happiness level of your life. 

Like most things in life, that answer is situationally dependent. It’s great to fantasize about the way you’d like to be or how you’d like things to be, but life’s decisions need to be real. As Clint Eastwood once stated, “A man has to know his limitations.”What are yours? How do you handle stress? Can you quit big losers, or do you have to play until you’re falling asleep at the table? If you step up to a higher limit do you have to go broke at that limit before steeping back down so you don’t feel like you gave up or don’t want others to perceive you’re broke? If you can’t handle any of those issues psychologically, conservative is the way to go! You’ll greatly lessen your propensity to crash and burn! 

Conversely, if you’re not going to be happy until you’ve fulfilled your fantasies or at least exhausted yourself trying, then you should go for it. I’ve known some who made it. That said, poker has given birth to a massive graveyard of psychologically battered victims who have exhausted themselves trying. 

At age 57, I’m real happy I’ve been a plodder. I’ve mostly done what I want to do in life, and poker has made other aspects of my life very enjoyable. I’ve traveled, own a successful Real Estate business, managed an online poker site and have many great relationships that have shaped my life. Living around poker has been a very positive thing in my life. 

That said, I see that poker has been a negative factor in many others’ lives. They lived to play, didn’t meet their expectations, crashed and burned without creating other alternatives in life. They trapped themselves in a lifestyle they ended up hating, and it showed in their demeanor, and affected their relationships. Most importantly, it showed greatly in their overall happiness. 

Decide whether you want to live to play or play to live. Each has its upsides and downfalls. But consider your choices, incorporate your strengths and weaknesses, be true to yourself in your thinking. Above all, be real. 

And whatever your choice, do it with heart and do your best. No matter what your decision; it’s not going to be easy! 






Projecting Yourself

By Roy Cooke

"Don’t be deceived by appearances, men and things are not what they seem"……William Booth. 

Image is something you can deceptively project. That variation of deception is widespread and overused, particularly around the gambling world. Reason being, we don’t want people to know the truth. It’s frequently in our self-interest to deceive, though not nearly as often as we think and utilize. 

Deception takes many forms. Sometimes it’s done with purposely misleading half-truths. Other times we deceive with blunt lies. We can also deceive with purposeful unstated actions meant to mislead. You see all these methods and more at the poker table!

Of course, this is all understood upfront in poker. We all know we are there to compete and that deception is expected as a normal part of the game. That said, much of what I see in players’ attempts to deceive is transparent, though the perpetrator rarely thinks so. And, more importantly, if you’re looking to deceive opponents, letting them know you’re trying to be deceptive defeats most, if not all, of your purpose. 

That said, certain opponents are easy to deceive. Either naturally naïve, or out of their element at the poker table, they read the situation as it is projected. Many simply want to believe untruths, being delusional or in denial. They are psychologically biased to believe anyone uttering the line they want to believe. And there are plenty around the poker table wiling to reinforce their misbeliefs. Much of the negative image of poker emanates from that hustle. 

But there are other methods of deception, classier, and just as effective tactics that are better for the game. All poker players understand upfront that we’re all are there to capture each other’s money. But, over time, the game is better served when the game is comfortable for socially-oriented players. 

In most games, at least until you get into the middle limits, most players’ errors are calling when they should fold. This tends to limit the effectiveness of tactics in which you want your opponents to fold when they should call. Additionally, it’s much easier to steer people in the direction they wish to go, so in such games you should project an image that makes people want to call even more. 

People tend to call people more when they think the others are luck-oriented, friendly, and unpredictable. That being the case, when in social call-prone games, steer the conversations towards luck, but be lighthearted about it. Keep the game as friendly as possible, avoid whining, and never project anger. Of course, we all know that poker is a game of skill, and we’re there to win. But we don’t want to project that image. I often see poker pros, headphones on, or playing with their phones, never saying a social word, and just sitting like a log ever-patiently waiting for a hand. They’re playing “dead solid” and obviously projecting it to everyone but the completely unaware. And they’re costing themselves action and equity when they finally pick up the hand they’re awaiting. 

Projecting unpredictability is a different animal. Some accomplish this by making off-the-wall plays early in a session and then adjusting to optimum play. While this works, there is a cost to it, the equity-loss-cost of the suboptimal plays. Theorists argue that the cost can be easily made up in the extra action received on subsequent calls. And they’re often right. But sometimes there is an even better way, one that provides greater overall equity. You can create an image of unpredictability by playing in an unpredictable manner, but without using negative-equity plays to project that image. Instead, unearth positive-equity situations to randomize your play. 

You can achieve this by making lots of raises for free cards, raising and trapping with draws, making positive-equity semi-bluff plays, making +EV bluffs and playfully showing them, and by playing all marginal +EV hands/situations and fashioning impressionable behaviors to draw attention to them. Once you have sown the seeds of doubt into an opponent’s mind that is psychologically predispositioned to gamble, he’s commonly coming!

Many players try to tilt their opponents. They belittle, insult and ridicule them trying to cause errors. There is no question this is often effective over the short-term. That said, it usually creates an unpleasant atmosphere that drives away the recreational players. Taken as a whole, “needling to tilt” is an overall loser. Poker is a long-run game and you need to treat it that way!

And then there’s the alternate game texture, when your opponents fold too much. In this game, you want to portray yourself as serious, nitty and unimaginative. You’ll do better over time grinding them down with blind-robs, bluffs and trap plays than you will trying to induce them to call you when it’s not in their psychological disposition to do so! Played correctly, this texture of game often has better EV than those games with loose calling stations. 

There are many subtle tricks to manipulate your opponents’ thinking. Most are situationally dependent, based on your desired result and your opponents’ texture. For example, you might want to instill in your opponent(s) that you are on tilt after you have just taken a beat and then picked up a big mitt. How you should undertakeundertake this schemescheme depends on your opponents’ awareness level.With some you can just state that you’re on tilt or say “Steam Raise” and achieve the desired result. But often people will see through such statements and recognize that you’re just trying to manipulate them. With perceptive opponents a more subtle approach is needed such as putting more emphasis on your raise, obviously indicating you’re upset, but not being too obvious. 

At the poker table, or in life for that matter, you often see people who think they are being perceived as they are projecting. But unknown to them, their manner transparently shows, and the errors they producing produce are their own. In short, don’t underestimate your opponents and be so obvious that you are being read correctly. The right balance requires a truthful read of your opponents. 

manner Additionally, I think it’s important to separate your poker persona from your life persona. As I stated earlier, deception in poker is all understood upfront and generally accepted. But when you train your mind to operate in a manipulative and deceptive manner, your brain often works in that mode in non-poker situations. You need to mindfully differentiate the two, otherwise you’ll find yourself not the person you desire to be in life. 

But, when you sit down at a game ask yourself “What image will work best?” “How can I best project that image to these specific opponents keeping in mind their awareness and judgment levels?”And most importantly, “How can I best exploit that image?” 

If you get good at that, you’re going to stack a horde of chips!






Calculating the Risk

By Roy Cooke

Good players understand the importance of obtaining value from their hands. But few have enough conceptual proficiency to understand how assumptions of risks affect the value equation. Any risks you assume need to be calculated into the EV equation. Fail to do that, and you’ll repeatedly miscalculate.

I was up early on a Saturday morning and meandered down to The Bellagio for a little $40-80 limit hold’em. The game was ablaze, with many players lingering from the night before. Vahe, a local high quality pro, raised UTG +1 and was called by three tourists behind him. In the LB I glanced down to the 7h7s and flipped in the extra $60. The BB called, and we took the flop six-handed for $80 each, $480 in the pot.

I flopped bottom set, As-Jc-7d, and contemplated my best play with my main focus on Vahe, the pre-flop raiser. While this flop hit much of his range, I believed Vahe wouldn’t bet any hand that wasn’t solid into this large and call-prone field. And while I was ecstatic that the board was rainbow, it also held many gutshot draws, and I didn’t want to risk giving a free card. Additionally, anyone turning a flush draw would generate a big overlay that would reduce my equity. I fired, and the BB folded. 

I was delighted when Vahe raised. It furnished the prospect of thinning the field or at least costing my opponents more to draw. Since the pot was big, increasing my probability of winning added significant value and devalued winning additional bets. One tourist called, and the rest folded back to me. I three-bet, understanding that Vahe might have AA or JJ. He flatted, and Mr. Tourist called. The turn came the Th, continuing the rainbow board. 

I bet, Vahe called and while the tourist was deliberating I thought through how the hand had developed so far. I read a huge portion of Vahe’s hand range to be AK or AQ feeling that he wouldn’t flat the turn with two pair or a set on a board possessing a large three-straight. His upfront pre-flop and flop raise signified a strong pre-flop holding that hit the flop. I contemplated how to play the river should a king or a queen come while taking Vahe’s tendencies into account.

Vahe’s great at getting value out of his hands; he just doesn’t ever seem to miss value. If he has any weakness there, it’s betting too light. Knowing that, I discerned he would bet the river if either a king or a queen hit, the queen making him top two pair. He’d bet the queen because he’s the sort that couldn’t live with himself if he missed a bet should I hold two pair. In the mist of my contemplations Mr. Tourist called and the dealer turned the Qh. I detested that card.

Now, I couldn’t beat AK, but knew that Vahe would wager whether he held AK or AQ. I knuckled, knowing that, if I bet and he held AK, I would get raised, but if he held AQ he would still bet. 

Let’s evaluate the plausible scenarios: If he had AK and bet, Mr. Tourist might raise and I could get away from my hand with no river cost. If Mr. Tourist folded, I would call and lose one bet, one less bet than if I bet, got raised and paid off. If I folded to a river raise, I would assume the negative EV of the risk of being played off the winning hand. 

If Vahe had AQ and bet, once again I would get away from my hand if Mr. Tourist raised, but would call and win the pot if Mr. Tourist folded. If Mr. Tourist flatted, I’d overcall and should my hand be good, possibly pick up an extra bet in that scenario. But if Mt. Tourist held a superior holding, then I’d lose the same amount as if I bet and folded without assuming the risk of being outplayed. 

If I led, I’d be subject to potential raises, some of which might be bluffs. Vahe, being a good reader would know that a king is a small portion of my range. So betting would risk being raise-bluffed or losing two bets with my set, should I pay off. Additionally, while I would think river raise-bluffs would be a small portion of his river-raising range, Mr. Tourist might also take a shot.

I knuckled, and Vahe fired. Mr. Tourist mucked, and I called, knowing I was an underdog.I instantly felt better when Vahe announced “I can’t beat a set.” Then I knew he held AQ and my set was good. I flipped my three sevens over, and he showed me AQ. I cheerfully stacked the chips!

The hand speaks to analyzing how a hand plays and strategizing how to obtain the best equity. You do this, not just by quantifying how to get the most bets into the pot, but by analyzing what play generates the highest level of EV by calculating the EV of ALL scenarios, including ALL assumptions of risks.

I often see players, even some very good ones, make plays that have little or no upside, but have a meaningful downside. In most situations their play made no difference, but when it does matter, they have needlessly cost themselves equity. 

So think about how your hand plays against the ranges of your opponent(s). Weigh any risks you’re assuming and make your best educated guess about how it affects the situation. 

Poker is a risk vs. reward analytical game; quantify it as such! And let the chips come your way!