Take any poker player at the end of the month or the end of the year and ask him: “would you rather have won more or lost less in that period?”
and you will very likely get the answer “I couldn’t care either way”. After all, cash is cash and winning more or losing less equates to the same thing, doesn’t it?
But if you take this perfectly logical thinking and add another piece of accepted poker wisdom, we seem to arrive at a contradiction. We are taught to play poker aggressively: be selective with your starting hands and play them strongly. Bet and raise with them rather than calling. Being aggressive (and not passive) is the staple theme of nearly all books on poker.
So we all want to maximise our wins and minimise our losses and we agree that an aggressive style is the best. The trouble is you can’t simultaneously be going all out for profit and avoiding loss at the same time. So which is more important – trying to win money or stopping yourself losing it? Well which is it to be?
In this article I’m going to make the case for playing “defensively”.
To help explain this I’m going to borrow a tennis analogy that I recently read. Now I know a lot of sporting analogies are a steaming pile of turd but I was so taken with this one that I just had to steal it. This really does apply to poker, especially the sort of games I’ve been finding myself playing lately.
But I ought to clarify up front. Playing “defensively” is not the same thing as playing “passively” so we shouldn’t confuse the two.
Consider the tennis that you’ve been watching in the Australian Open the past couple of weeks. This type of tennis is a “winner’s” game where the match goes to the player who is able to hit the most winners: fast paced, well placed shots that their opponent can’t return.
Now the professional tennis player is so good that he can make the shot he wants to hit virtually all the time: hard or soft, deep or short, left or right, flat or with spin. Professional players aren’t troubled by the sort of thing that makes the game difficult for amateurs: bad bounces, wind, speed, stamina, skill, or an opponent’s efforts to put the ball beyond reach. The pro can get to most shots that their opponent hits and do what they want with the ball once they get to it. In fact the pros can do this so consistently that that statisticians keep track of the rare exceptions they fail to do this under the heading “unforced errors”
But the tennis the rest of us play is a “loser’s” game, with the match going to the player who hits the fewest losers. The winner just keeps the ball in pay and waits for his opponent to hit it out of the court or into the net. In other words, points in amateur tennis aren’t won; they are lost.
Now I don’t know about you, but I recognise from this description the type of tennis game that I try to play…(to be continued on Monday)