Heart vs. head

By Kenny Smith
I hear poker players make a common excuse for a hand that they lose and why they lost. They call a big river bet, knowing that they are behind in a hand (and I mean waaaaaaaay behind with horrendous odds), they end up losing, and then say something along the lines of, “I really didn’t want to call but ….”
Now that’s the first problem right there. They have their “buts” in the way. Those types of “buts” are some of the biggest you’ll ever see in your life. (When you say something and then say, “but,” you change everything that you said before it.)
I think poker players have a bad tendency to make betting decisions with their hearts and not with their heads. The chips that are in the middle of the pot are screaming, “Come get me if you dare,” yet in their heart they believe that they are beaten.
They are hoping and wishing that they get lucky.
The end results of these decisions usually show the losing player either buying more chips, walking away from the table mumbling to themselves about how they knew that they made a bad call, or how much they hate the game and will never set foot in the casino again.
I remember a session when I was playing $1/3 no-limit and I picked up 8h-9h in the cutoff and I found myself seeing the flop with three other opponents. The flop came Jh-10d-Qh.
The first player to act bets $50 into a pot of $64 and the next player folds. With a straight already in my hand, a redraw for a flush, and one other opponent behind me waiting to act, the last thing I want to do if he has a king in his hand is to give him the opportunity to catch the ace he needs to beat me—at least not at a cheap price.
The preflop action indicated that no one had A-K, so I’ve settled within myself that I have the best hand (folding was never an option, so whether I had the best hand or not is probably irrelevant). I decided that my best chance to win the hand along with the most chips is to move it all in right there.
My feeling in that situation is that if someone already has the nut straight, I can pay the hand off, and gladly so because at least I know that I got my chips in the middle with a made hand, along with a redraw to back it up. If he has a king and is still drawing, he’s not getting another card for a cheap price.
The player behind me folded and the initial bettor called. My opponent has pocket kings. He picks up a king on the turn to make a set, but the board doesn’t pair on the river and the pot moves my way.
The call by my opponent (even though it was what I wanted) was a bit baffling to me. He was getting a return of just over even money in a situation where he was just over a 3-to-1 underdog. Remember, there was only $64 in the pot going to the flop. He had $185 left. When our other opponents folded, the most he was going to get was the $185 from me.
I knew he was behind once he had to take time to think about calling. I had given him some good fold equity to throw his hand away, but he didn’t seem to be looking at it mathematically at the time. I don’t think he could let himself leave that much money in the pot with a pair of kings and an open-ended straight draw.
He admitted to me later, while we both took a break, that he suspected I had flopped a monster hand. He just couldn’t let the hand go. He said it was the first big hand he had seen preflop in a couple of hours, so he decided to run with it.
Emotions and poker are a toxic mix—when you let emotions start making your decisions for you versus using logic, that’s a huge leak. It’s one that can, and will, cost you an enormous amount of money over the long haul. In fact, it will ultimately make you a losing player. Your heart and emotions have absolutely no effect of what cards are going to come out of the deck because the cards don’t recognize or care what you’re feeling.
When you suspect that you are beat, especially in no-limit, the best advice is to throw the hand away. Sometimes the hands that you truly win are the ones that you muck, even when you didn’t want to. In the end, it’s called playing winning poker.
The poker strategies I typically discuss are in reference to cash games. Cash games are more of my element over tournament poker, so I do not believe that the strategies implied can be used at all times in both types of games. I have always held that tournament and live poker are two different species.