Let me start off by saying that my story isn’t quite as degenerate as the title makes it sound.
For the past few years, I’ve made my living as a professional poker player. I started with a tiny bankroll and a dream and after a lot of hard work and a crazy amount of hours, I was able to do it full time.
Over my relatively short career, poker has taught me a lot of lessons.
I think the most important one however is this: some things are out of your control.
Let me explain
Poker is a game of odds and the hand isn’t decided until the very end. You can be winning the entire time up to the river (the last card dealt), but unless you can get them to fold, sometimes you’re simply going to lose. You can do everything perfectly. You can do what is 100% mathematically proven to be the best play and you can still lose.
For the majority of any given hand, the winner is undecided. Notice I said undecided, not unknown. That’s because you can be a 96% favorite with one card to go. Meaning you win this hand 96 times out of 100. But if you play poker, you’ll quickly learn that those 4 times out of 100? Yea, they happen. They feel like they happen way more than they do. And when they happen, it’s devastating. It feels like you’re being betrayed and everything you thought you knew is a lie.
Okay, I’m being melodramatic, but it does sting.
Most people who play poker hate hearing about other people’s bad-beat stories.
It’s one of those things. We all go through it. Everyone takes bad beats. It’s human nature to want to complain about them. But especially after playing millions of hands, you’ve seen almost all that there is to see and quite simply don’t want to hear about it.
Anyway, since I can’t imagine the majority of my readers are also poker players, I’ll share one of mine.
A couple of years ago I was playing in the highest buy-in tournament that ran weekly on the smaller site that I played on. It was one of the biggest tournaments that ran on the site. The week before I won this same tournament for a reasonably large sum of cash. Everything was going well and I was playing great. I managed to make the final table again (final table is the last 9 people left in the tourny), which quite frankly is a feat in of itself considering the tournament gets between 100-150 entries.
The game pressed on and I continued playing my best. Soon enough, we were down to 3 people. I look at my hand and there it is. Pocket Aces. The best hand in No-Limit Texas Holdem. Three people left. So I raise, first guy folds, and the other guy raises me all in. “Holy ****. I actually might be able to win this thing back to back weeks.”
I always go into a tournament thinking that I can win. But I never let myself truly start to believe it until I’m getting really close. Otherwise, as a poker player, you’re setting yourself up for a world of disappointment.
Anyway. I snap call. He shows Ace-King off-suit.
To give you an idea of the exact probabilities: my pocket aces had a 92% chance of winning, a 1.20% chance of tying, and a 6.80% chance of losing versus the Ace-King off-suit of my opponent.
Well, I’m sure you can guess what happened.
He had a 6.8% chance to win and that’s exactly what happened.
“Congratulations on 3rd place!”
My heart sunk. That message instantly pops up before you even realize what just happened. One moment I was on top of the world, the next moment it was over. I had lost.
It’s so funny because it all happens in the blink of an eye. You go from ecstatic to stunned. Then disbelief, denial, anger, frustration, disappointment, and a bit of sadness.
Then after about a minute, you realize you’re still in half a dozen other tournaments worth hundreds of dollars in buy-ins and you need to get your act together. No time to get carried away. Focus on playing your best poker and making the best decisions with the information you have available. That’s truly all you can do.
The other part that I think is so funny and interesting is that we both played our hands perfectly. I don’t blame him for going all-in with Ace-King off-suit. It is without a doubt exactly what he should have done. Ace-King off-suit is one of the best hands in the game. Against almost any other hand he would have been the favorite. Interestingly I had the one hand that absolutely dominates him (Pocket Kings is a clear favorite too, but even that doesn’t compare).
At the beginning of the hand, it looked like it was a classic cooler for him (a cooler is an unavoidable situation that you lose). But by the end of the hand, it was an even bigger cooler for me. Somebody was getting coolered that hand and unfortunately lady luck was not in my corner for that one.
This leads me to how you want to think about poker and decision making in general.
Be process-oriented. Not result-oriented.
If you were to analyze poker hands only after all the cards have come out, you would come to some ridiculous conclusions.
What you have to do is analyze your decisions, accounting for the lack of information available at the time. As a poker player, you need to keep re-calibrating your decisions with each additional piece of information.
Losing that hand cost me thousands of dollars in equity.
This was one of my most painful bad beats. But over my career, similar things have happened to me thousands of times.
I’ve also won my fair share of similarly undeserving victories.
Like in poker, some things in life are out of our control. Sometimes all that we can do is make the best decisions that we can with the information available and accept whatever the universe decides to do with it.
Some things are out of our control.