20/05/2011

Decide to Play Great Poker: Excerpt 1

Annie Duke

Decide to Play Great Poker
Decide to Play Great Poker

Decide to Play Great Poker by me and John Vorhaus is finally almost here. It was two years in the writing and I am so proud of this book. You can read a small excerpt from the book below and you can preorder the book on Amazon here.

Before getting to the first excerpt (I will be posting at least one more), a bit about the approach of the book. It is a different take on the game of poker, approaching from a decision making point of view. The goal of the book is to get the reader to really start playing purposeful, goal oriented poker, problem solving situations, understanding deeply all the factors that good play in a hand depend on. As an example, much of the book is dedicated to post flop play but in a way which really gets the reader to understand how small changes in a situation can drastically change how a hand is played. So the first type of hand tackled in the post flop section of the book is a set. The book looks at what you do when you flop a set of 9′s (a big hand, almost certainly the best hand in hold’em). It starts with a situation where you flop a set of 9′s, you are heads up, you are last to act, you were the preflop raiser and the board isn’t scary, like As9h3d. Once that situation is covered, the preflop raise is changed to your opponent. Then we put you out of position and make you the preflop raiser. Then we make the other guy the raiser. Then we add more people to the table and go through those scenarios again. Then we start all over at heads up but change the board to something scary, like AsTc9c. The book applies this method to a variety of hand categories, like big hands, big draws, small draws, one pair, etc. We methodically dissect what the best players in the world mean when they answer your question about how they play a hand with, “It depends.” This book tells you what it depends on.

So, without further ado, the excerpt. This particular excerpt is about why your primary goal at the tables is to reduce uncertainty.


Your Primary Goal is to Reduce Uncertainty

Reducing uncertainty makes all our decisions easier by completing the information picture. Of course, there are two other ways to make your decisions easier. One, you can opt out of the decision-making process entirely by folding. If you fold, you have no more decisions to make during the hand. Two, you can also opt out of the decision-making process by putting all your chips in the pot. Once you’re all-in, you have no more decisions to make. We’ll discuss the all-in play later and when and how to apply that tool. For now, just recognize that of all the tools at your disposal, the all-in tool is something of a blunt instrument. You’ll want to use it sparingly.

So our main goal is to try to reduce our uncertainty and make our decisions easier. At the same time, we also have a secondary goal: to make our opponents’ decisions in relation to us harder. If poker is a decision-making problem and if you can make better decisions than your opponents, you’ll end up with all the money.

How do you make better decisions than your opponents? Not just by being smarter than they are (though presumably you are), but also by making your decisions easy and their decisions tough. How important is this? Is crucial important enough? Because if you think about one given hand of hold ’em, in Vegas let’s say, where four raises per betting round are allowed, that makes five possible decision points on each betting round and four rounds of betting per hand. That sounds like 20 chances for you to make a slightly better decision than your opponents. Trust me, even if you’re only a slightly better decision-maker than your opponents, you’ll end up winning all the money in the world if you have 20 chances per hand to leverage that small decision-making edge. And if you become a much better decision maker than your opponents? The mind boggles.

Viewed through a certain filter, poker is a bidding war. I set a price and you set a price back to me, then I set a price back to you, and every time we have this little pricing war where we each put bids out there, we give ourselves an opportunity to make a good decision or a poor one. Every time we can force our opponents into a bad decision, we win. I want to repeat that, because it’s fundamental to what this book is about.

EVERY TIME WE CAN FORCE OUR OPPONENTS INTO A BAD DECISION, WE WIN

Notice that nowhere in this discussion have I said that making money is the goal. Why isn’t it? Simple. Making money is not the goal. Money, in this game, is just the fallout from good goal-setting and decision-making. You end up with all the money through your good decisions. Money is merely our score keeper. You could just as well be playing for matchsticks or marbles or dandelion fluff.

It might seem to be a trivial distinction, but it’s not and here’s why: If you set your goal as making money, you tend to play poorly when you’re losing, because you’re focusing mainly on outcomes. However, if you set your goal as being a good decision-maker, it won’t matter whether you’re winning or losing, because all that matters—all that matters—is the quality of your decisions, not the outcomes of those decisions.

Look, you’ll sometimes lose when you get all your money in with pocket aces against your opponent’s pocket fives. You’ll get drawn out on about 18% of the time. But here’s the thing: You won’t care. Why not? Because you made a good decision to get your money in with the best hand and your opponent made a bad decision to call. You won the decision war. So what if the outcome didn’t fall your way? In the long run, it will. And the long run is the only thing that any serious poker player cares about.

Bad beats? Who cares about bad beats? Let me tell you, if I never took a bad beat, I’d be playing in some really terrible games. I want bad beats. I adore bad beats. Every time someone puts a bad beat on me, it means they got their money into the pot with the worst of it. Folks, that’s a bad decision—just the sort of decisions you want your opponents to be making. Bad beats make me happy. Bad beats mean I’m in a good game, that I’ve chosen well. Hooray for bad beats!

So before you go any further in this book, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Are you prepared to make great decisions and ignore bad outcomes? If you are, you’re ready to take your game to the next level. You’re ready to focus on information and decisions and let the rest of the noise just float away. If you think you’re ready for that, then here we go, because here comes the dealer to toss us some cards …