Lee Jones: Even if the chips went the other way

Lee Jones poker writer
Lee Jones
Posted on: January 30, 2022 21:09 PST

More wisdom ricocheted from Andrew Brokos and Carlos Welch over at thinkingpoker.net. They have a daily podcast where they go over a single hand that one of their subscribers has sent in, and this is from one of those.

A couple of days ago, there were actually two hands from a guy named Chris, in the same game, that were similar. The common denominator was that Chris likely started out with the best hand both times, but the flop flipped the tables.

On the first hand, Chris raised AK on the button and got 3-bet by the big blind. For reasons that aren’t important here, he chose to just call the 3-bet. The flop came out queen-high rags, the villain bet, and Chris folded. He told us that he thought the villain’s betting range on that flop was, “mostly AQ and QQ.” Good fold.

The next interesting hand, there was a raise from the cutoff, the button called, and Chris 3-bet in the big blind with JJ. Both players called. The flop came out king-high rags this time. Chris checked, the cutoff bet, and the button called. Chris folded. Again.

Andrew said: “I’m happy to have the opportunity to fold. I’m glad I gave myself that opportunity.” He was, of course, speaking on behalf of Chris.

That’s the key here, and Andrew focused on it: just because you started with the best hand doesn’t mean you’re entitled to win the pot. It’s called “entitlement tilt,” and I know I suffer from it. You play your A-game for long periods of time, never getting involved with marginal hands, or stepping outside your self-defined ranges.

Finally, you get a hand that is squarely within your starting range, a premium even. You put in a raise or a 3-bet, get a call or two, and then WHIFF!, the flop misses you completely. Or brings an overcard to your premium pair.

“It’s not fair…” you think. “I did everything I was supposed to. I was disciplined. These guys were way behind before the flop.” If you’re not careful, you start putting in bets and calls not because they make sense, but because you’re on entitlement tilt.

And that brings us to what Andrew’s podcast partner, Carlos Welch said. Carlos reviewed the two hands and said: “I think Chris made the right decision preflop and post-flop in both hands, so he won the hands - even though the chips went the other way. [my emphasis]” Good ol’ Carlos Welch – poker’s Will Rogers. He provides folksy humor and sayings that carry a kernel of important truth.

The kernel of truth here is that if you make the best decision possible, given what you know about the situation, then you have done the best that a poker player can do - you’ve won. It’s impossible to win every pot, even pots that you entered well ahead of the pack. You hear people say: “You can’t win by folding.” In fact, there are many times when you can’t win unless you fold. The goal is not to win every pot, every session, or every month. It’s to maximize your win over the single long session which is a lifetime of playing poker.

That “one long session” concept came from poker theory’s granddaddy, David Sklansky. He also articulated what he called, “The Fundamental Theorem of Poker” (David never understated the importance of what he was saying). That theorem says, in part:

 “[E]very time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all [your opponents’] cards, they lose.”

Well, Chris folded when he no longer had the best hand. His opponents did not get value from him with their superior hands. So they lose, and Chris wins.

Even if the chips went the other way.

Thank you, Carlos Welch, for adding a new phrase to my poker vocabulary.