We all know about bad beats. But why exactly are they so difficult to endure? Perhaps the answer lies in our “expectation.”
The Zen-Buddhist will tell you that expectations produce a negative effect. For instance, he separates happiness from pleasure. He describes happiness as something that comes from within. And that if you rely on or expect pleasure in order for you to be happy during the day, then some days you will be happy and some days you will not be. If you look inside yourself for happiness, you will be happy each day. It doesn’t mean that you don’t still enjoy the pleasures on the days that are filled with them, but on the days when pleasurable things don’t happen, you are still happy. You are not expecting pleasure to come at all times to make you happy. Notice that while the pleasurable thing actually happening can produce a positive effect, the expectation of it can only produce a negative.
It seems to reason that in poker, if we can get rid of the expectation, even to some degree, then we can get rid of some of the frustrations and correlating “tilt” that is produced from bad beats. It will not stop the bad beats themselves, but it can stop you from emotionally calling a raise from the big blind with 48o on the hand that follows a bad beat, or stop you from pushing all your chips in with QT when it is not the correct play. It can stop you from breaking your mouse or berating a dealer who has done nothing wrong. And it can help you to feel less frustrated.
For example, you are at the final table of a multi table tournament; 8 players are left. Someone raises and you look down and see AK. You analyze the situation and decide to push all-in. Your opponent calls. More than half your stack is in the pot. If you win the hand, you will be chip leader. If you lose, you will be the smallest stack remaining. Do you expect to win this hand with your AK? If I told you that you lost the hand, would you lose your emotional control? Or would you be able to put it aside and move on to the next hand and make the best decision possible for that hand? Or would it depend on whether you considered it a bad beat or a bad call by your opponent? Is there anything positive to gain (aside from the knowledge of what your opponent may call with) by knowing your opponent’s hole cards, and whether or not you should have expected to win that hand?
Without knowing your opponent’s hole cards, you most likely you wouldn’t go crazy and although you may be somewhat disappointed, you would focus on the next hand and try to play it properly in order to give yourself the best chance to win the tournament. After all, why be upset, your opponent may have beaten you with AA or KK; you never saw the hand, so you don’t know. And AK is at best a coin flip against any pair. While you wouldn’t have been surprised if you had found out you won, you are also not surprised to find out you lost. You really didn’t have much expectation one way or the other when you got called.
But in the real world of poker, instead of simply finding out if you won or lost, there is always drama. Let’s say your opponent flips over AQ. Now your expectations are high. You see chips coming your way. You watch the board flop K44, a perfect flop, and your expectations soar to the potential first place prize money! Then the turn is a Ten, and the river a Jack, giving your opponent a straight. You are devastated, and your expectations of winning have caused this negative effect. Perhaps you are the type to break your mouse, or to berate the dealer in a live game or the other player. Or maybe you keep it inside you and later on start an argument with your girlfriend over something stupid. And more importantly in a poker-sense, you play the next few hands quite irrationally and blow any chance to get back into the tournament.
So how can we accomplish our goal of not expecting at the poker table? Surely there are things we can do to lower our expectation without spending years as a Buddhist monk. The first thought is to not look at our opponent’s cards or the cards on the board after the action is complete. This is easier to do on the internet than it is in live games by simply covering the screen. But there are problems associated with this. One negative is that we miss out on some information as to what our opponent is willing to call with. Another is that there is a certain expectation with a given hand even without seeing our opponent’s cards. Certainly, if we hold AA we are expecting to win. Thirdly, it is really just an artificial way to get around the problem and not very practical. Nonetheless, for people who are really struggling with tilt or frustration issues, I would suggest trying out this method next time you are all-in with a hand like AK. It can be sort of a training exercise that will help you to ease your expectations.
So what else can we do? We can start with education. Educate yourself on the odds. Look over some odds charts
or play around with an odds calculator.
Most of us overestimate our chances of winning a hand. Especially non-paired holdings. We tend to think that a non-paired favorite should lose only rarely, while the truth is that a non-paired favorite is never that big a favorite and we should feel fortunate if it does indeed win. As for a pair over pair or a pair over two under-cards, these are heavy favorites, but we also put unreasonable expectations on them. We expect them to win every time, and that’s far too great of an expectation.
Educate yourself on how to apply the odds to a reasonable expectation. Most people don’t realize that if we go in as a 70% favorite two hands in a row, we are going to lose one of those hands more than half the time. Compare the odds to something you are familiar with in the non-poker-world. For example, I often apply odds to baseball stats since I grew up with baseball. Let’s say a guy has been bullying the table near bubble time and goes all-in on my big blind. I have AK and decide to take a stand and call and hope to double up. He shows 97o. I’m happy I made the call, because the bubble money lost if I lose means little to me, and a double through puts me in good position to make a run at winning the tournament. Yet, I know he has about a 35% chance to beat me. I know that taking 65% the better of things will mean a lot of money to me in the long run, but his 35% chance to win this hand basically corresponds to the chances of a batting champion getting a base hit. And those guys get a lot of hits. So I don’t have unrealistic expectations at winning this pot. My decision time in the hand is over. Either I will win and be faced with a new situation next hand, or I will lose and find another game or something else to do.
That brings us to another point that can help; putting things in perspective. What does it really mean if you lose? What does it mean if the other guy sucks out on the river? Is your life going to change greatly whether you win or lose this pot? Aren’t you still going to get up in the morning and go to work either way? Win or lose the hand, not much is changing in our life because of it. This perspective helps to alleviate the fears that go along with over-expectation.
So the real question is, is there really any benefit at all to our expectation of winning a particular hand after all the action is complete? It seems that these “expectations” can only produce negative effects. Above and beyond the ideas discussed, there certainly are ways for you to lessen the negative effects of expectation, but perhaps each individual is best to figure out those ways for him/herself.
Well, those are my ideas on bad beats at the moment. If anybody reads this, all comments/questions are welcomed.
Enjoy your day!