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Be Careful What You Wish For (by Phil Hertel)

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David Sklansky’s book “The Theory of Poker” makes the clear point that one of your objectives as a winning player is to induce errors in your opponents’ play. The fundamental theory, in my opinion, is a little clumsily worded (although in fairness it’s hard to work out a more succinct description). In part, it reads thus:

“If they [your opponents] play their hand differently than they would if they could see your cards, you gain an advantage”.

But sometimes you ought to happy with just a “stage 1 error” from your opponent rather than an error all the way to showdown if your tournament life is at stake.

Playing in the early stages of a live NLH tournament at a Hertfordshire casino, the table dynamics were – as ever – very interesting. Most pots had been limp/call-fests, so the showdowns had been both revealing and amusing. It was a “donkumental” table-full of fishermen, with one or two nittier types such as yours truly.

The hand that illustrates my headline point that you need to be very careful what you wish for, having induced the “stage 1” error from your opponent, is illustrated by the following hand.

One of the nittier players on the table had made a ‘standard’ 4.5x pre-flop raise and got the usual 3 or 4 callers behind. The flop came down a bone-dry rainbow – Ace high….

The first, most regular fisherman bets out from the small blind position. Action folds to the pre-flop raiser, who moves all-in – for he has been one of the recipients of a bad beat or two in earlier action, and was now looking for a double-up. Play folds back to the fisherman, who is now pondering what to do with his rag Ace. After a few seconds, the bad-beaten guy starts verbally encouraging a call. He’s clearly got at least a big Ace – AK as it turns out. Finally, he persuades the fish to make the call with his A5. The fish has no outs other than the 5 or runner/runner straight. Of course he hits the 5 and the rock is crushed, departing to the cash tables with groans and complaints. Whilst I felt sorry for him in one way, I couldn’t really pity him that much; after all, he got exactly what he wished for – a call from a worse hand.

I was pretty sure that the fish would have found a fold had he not been harassed into making the call, and the nit would still have been in the tournament with a few thousand more chips in his stack for his next premium hand. Instead, he got his wish, and proceeded to be outdrawn.

Reflecting on this scenario with just a single pair, I now feel that I would be happier to take a pot down with the best of it right now, rather than running any risk of getting outdrawn in return for a larger pot – if my tournament life is at stake. After all, there’s always another pot in the tournament but there’s only one life in a Freezeout.

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