Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Analogy, maybe...

The great poker players don't need good hands to win. All this came up in an argument - er, discussion - I had with my friend Jeremy the other day. Apparently I was playing too conservatively.

"I'm just not going to play 10-6 offsuit," I said, "and I haven't been getting anything better." (10-6 offsuit means a 10 and a 6 that are different suits. It's an okay-ish hand.)

Then, when I finally got "Big Slick" (an Ace and a King), I lost to the lunatic who decided to play 4-5 and hit the straight. (A straight is 5 cards in a row, so if an Ace, 2 and 3 came up, having a 4 and 5 would give him a straight.)

"What in the world is he doing playing 4-5 anyway?" I asked.

Poker players tend to gravitate to one of two poles - intuition or analytical. The intuitive players will play 2-7 offsuit (which is considered the worst hand in poker, because you won't get a straight that includes both 2 and 7, you likely won't hit a flush, which is all cards of the same suit, and the 7 then is the lowest possible card you can get without the possibility of a straight) simply because they "feel" it. They rely on past glory stories as proof that it is a good strategy.

The analytical players only play cards that are really good. Pairs or face cards. And if the table is big enough, there will have to be two face cards in a hand before the analytical players will play it. When there is a raise, the analytical player will calculate the odds that their hand is good (or could become good if they hit the right cards), and will only call the raise if the percentage they have to pay at least matches the percentage that their hand is good.

So, there are intuitive players and analytical players... and then there's me. Being a more mathematically oriented person, I always start playing analytically. I play only the good hands, stay in only if I have a reasonable hope of winning the hand, and very rarely bluff.

But, then... the pot will reach a certain size, and I'll have a good hand, and while I know that there are better hands out there, I just can't fold a good hand. So I stick around and lose everything. (Just for the record, I don't play for real money, so losing everything is not the end of the world.)

This loss could easily be credited to a lapse in strategy. But, I've always seen it as something else - a lapse in discipline. I really believe that the analytical method is the more practical, guaranteed strategy. But, sometimes I get bored or impatient of waiting for the monster hand. And as a result, I lose discipline.

So, what can we learn from all this? I think life is about discipline. There are too many misalignments in my life between what I know and believe, and what I do. A valuable exercise would be to make a list of core values in your life (things that you believe in your head/heart), then write out the ways they manifest themselves. I think it would be very eye-opening.

Well, that's all my thoughts for today.

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