I’ll never make that mistake again…

Where to begin… So much has happened since the last time I posted… There are so many things to talk about. 

I started writing this before the world shut down. At that point I wanted to talk about mistakes. I wanted to talk about how mistakes affect us, and how we learn from them, specifically speaking about poker. With the current state of the world, I feel like it’s actually the perfect piece to come back to you with.  

Let me start by saying mistakes are important. I’ll say that again, MISTAKES ARE IMPORTANT! Where would we be if everyone went about their day always making the right choices? Our world would be pretty boring if you asked me… 

Some of the greatest discoveries of our time were discovered by mistake! Did you know that during the 1800’s ether and nitrous oxide were both widely abused by people attending “Laughing Parties”? When the laughter died down, someone pointed out the substance could help mask pain, and Voila! Anesthesia was born! 

When it comes to poker, it’s important to know that mistakes are important here too. Often when sitting into a poker tournament, you’re seated with 7, 8, and even as many as 9 other players at the table. Most, if not all of which you don’t know. You’ve never met them before. You know absolutely nothing about them. Most importantly, you have no clue how they play. In most cases I suggest patience. Sitting back and being observant, trying to glean as much information as you can as early as you can. There are situations that seem to be unavoidable however. You’re Dealt Ac Ah on the button and another player has already raised into you. These are situations that most players dream of. When the flop reveals 9c 10c Jd, and the player leads out, what do you do? The turn is the Ace of Spades… Now what do you do when he bets into you again? And then what when the river is the Kc and they’re still betting… 

You’ll notice that I’m not instructing you on the right play’s here… The truth is I don’t know the answer. There are many decisions that could lead you in the right direction, but there are also many decisions that could lead you in the wrong direction. My suggest for this scenario is to accept your lumps and learn from them. Take the information and use it.  

On the very first hand of my very first World Series of Poker Main Event, I was faced with one of these situations. I had just barely eked my ways into the top 10% of the World Series of Poker Main Event Mega Satellite, earning my way into my very first World Series of Poker Main Events! I was on cloud nine! This was all new territory for me. Climbing the stairs to the Binion’s Horseshoe event hall, passing some of the world’s most legendary poker players on my way, I was a nervous wreck. Barely able to sign my name on the TV disclaimer, and nearly tripping on the extension cords taped to the ground in front of the door, I finally made it to my assigned seat. 

I realize I’m assigned the seat directly to the right of the dealer… The worst possible seat for me. When you’re a big guy, you need a little extra space, and corner seats are generally the best… But next to the dealer… Zero space to move… Unfortunately, though, once you have your seat, it’s yours… There’s not a whole lot of complaining you can do about it. One thing that is nice is that when you’re in that seat, the World Series of Poker always starts the dealer button there. So, I’ll have nearly an entire orbit to gage the mood of the table! 

I arrived at my seat a good 10-15 minutes early, which is important to me, I like to get settled in. I like to talk to the dealer a bit, and maybe try getting to know a player or 2 that may have shown up early as well. Just something to calm the nerves a bit. To this day, I still get first hand jitters, regardless of the tournament. 21 years in this game and I still get nervous… This day however, talking to the dealer wasn’t helpful. I’d already had 3 cups of coffee, and a full breakfast, I was ready to go… nervous or not, I was ready. That 10 minutes flew by. The next thing I knew, the Tournament Director was yelling, “Tournament dealers, shuffle up and deal!”  

The cards were dealt. The first person to act, took his time… and lined up a raise. Then the second person folded, as did the next. Then the next person lined up a 3-bet followed by 2 more folds. I look down at my cards: Ac Ah. I figure, its early, no reason to get super excited, and decide to slow play, maybe catch one of them getting out of line. I call. Then things get crazy. The small blind calls as well. The big blind folds… back to the original raiser, who the announces: All In!  

To set this up. The blinds are 25/25 so with the small blind and big blind the pot starts the hand with 50 chips. The first to act raised to 125. Now we’re at 175 chips. The next raiser makes it 400. And with my call as well as the small blinds call the pots up to 1375 chips. During this year our starting stacks were only 10k. So, this is a substantial pot already. So, when the original raiser goes all in, ON THE FIRST HAND, what do you do!? I mean, I have Aces! I’m supposed to call this! I have the best starting hand in poker! This is when my gut starts churning… Something is not right. Then the next player says call… Oh man, triple up here I come. Now it’s my turn… I sit and think for a bit, going over all the scenarios. What if I lose this pot…? Can I accept a one and done? After all the work of the day before to get here… Can I really be in this situation… The gut starts talking to me…. Aces in the first hand, with 2 players all in preflop… I’m supposed to call… I’m supposed to win this pot… Then my nerves take over… Nope, it’s not worth it. If I call and lose this pot, I’ll never forgive myself. So, I verbalize: Fold. I couldn’t get my hands to work, so I had to verbalize it. I asked the dealer to hold mine aside, so that I could show them after the hand. And to my surprise he did. Then the small blind then folds as well. 

The hands are turned over. The first player shows Qc Qd and the second player shows Kh Ks. A part of me died in that moment. Did I make a huge mistake for folding? In the initial moment of information. I 100% made a mistake. My guts and my nerves were going crazy. I stood up and tried taking a deep breath… then the flop came out Jc 10h Qs.  

The emotions changed… They went from dread to relief in the blink of an eye. The flopped set of Queens… Oh man! Dodged a bullet there. 

The turn however is a Kc… Oh man… Another emotional roller coaster…. First, to worst, to first… I’ve now got a straight. Why did I fold… why didn’t I have the guts to just call… Pulling my hair out… I drop back into my chair… 

The river… Jd… A Jack of Diamonds…. The winning hand is Kings full of Jacks. I don’t exactly know how to describe my emotions in the moment. I went from being the biggest fool, to being the smartest poker player alive, to being the laughing stock of poker… to finally determining I’d made the correct fold. Talk about a roller coaster… I was flabbergasted…  

After the pushed the chips to the winning player, I asked the dealer to reveal my cards. When the players at the table saw my Aces, several of the shook their heads… “How did you fold there…?? Why would you ever fold there?? I mean, great fold! But you should never be folding there.” And to be fair, they’re absolutely correct. It is a mistake to fold there. Today 

Today, I can’t make that fold… My brain has too much poker history and information stored in it. But that day, I made that fold. It was a mistake, but I got lucky that it wasn’t a costly mistake. Making that mistake saved my tournament. It saved my day. It allowed me to settle down. It allowed me to continue playing poker.  

Remember when I said mistakes are important? This was an example of an important mistake in my poker history. I learned a few things from that series of moments. First, even if I would have made the “right decision” and called there, the outcome would have been bad. Secondly, trust your gut, TRUST YOUR GUT. I can’t explain it, I really don’t think anyone can. Finally, it’s ok to makes mistakes… sometimes those mistakes have positive outcomes.  

In closing, Mistakes are important. We all make them. If you can learn from them, do so. Use that information. It will help you on your journey.  

I’m back, and I’m going to try being more diligent in posting more. I hope this last year has helped you get grounded; I hope you’ve utilized it to improve yourself! I know it’s been a rough road for me, but I’m in a better place than I’ve been in a long time… 

May many pots be pushed your way, and remember, I’ll never claim to make you a better poker player… I only hope I can help you see poker in a different way!