*Special English Edition*
1/24/2012: Poker: A Game of Probability | An Ace in My Hand
This is probably taboo for me to share but once when I was in basic training at Ft. Sill, OK, a group of soldiers in my barracks started playing Texas hold’em. It was night-time and the drill sergeants left to sleep.
I went to the group to watch them play. I didn’t want to join because they are playing for real money.. or real candy. The soldiers there were betting fives and cough drops. Well, they pressured me to join because they threatened to call me a wuss and make fun of me in day-time if I don’t. So I joined. I had some cough drops so I used that as a buy-in. The soldiers used them as poker chips.
In the beginning, I started to lose, but I began to relearn the game. Before this time, I played it on Yahoo! but I was very bad. Yet, a strange thing happened. I was pressured to join and then to eventually to play for money. It was a late night thing. I put in $20 (I think, or is it ten?) and I began to play wisely. If I have a good hand, I would make bets. I would make fake facial expressions to help throw people off. I would look at how other players play and watch them to get intelligence. And then I started winning.
I started winning hand after hand. Of course, I didn’t win every hand, just the hands that count. After a while I got $40 in winnings. I tried to tell the soldiers that we should stop and call it a day. Not only is it prohibited, I think, in the military, and especially during basic training, but I am also taking other people’s money and I don’t want negative repercussions in the future because of that.
But the soldiers playing refused to give up. They told me they “want to get my money back” so they continued to pay more and I.. continued to win more. Throughout this whole time, I kept saying “lets cancel the game” and “I’ll give all your money back” because I was scared. We were playing on a soldier’s bunk bed using flashlights because everybody else was asleep. It is past midnight. I had about $80 to my name when a soldier suddenly ran to us and said, wild-eyed, that a drill sergeant is coming. All of us were shocked and we were all trying to put the cards away, throwing bunks and beds, and trying to run back to our areas pretending to be asleep.
I thought I was going to be caught red-handed and, for a moment, I really thought so. I realized I probably couldn’t buff pretending I was sleeping so I quickly got my folder out, some notebook papers with miscelleous writing on it, a pen, and pretended that I was writing a letter. If the drill sergeant asks, I could just say I was writing a letter to my mom.
Thanks to the shock, I got what I wanted. I convinced the soldiers to cancel the game and I returned everybody’s money back. It was a close call and it was the only time I played for real money.
I *probably* won’t play for real money again but recently, I started to play poker, too. It’s all for free though, and for imaginary chips. I feel I started to learn how to really play the game.
Sun Tzu once said that if you know yourself, you can expect to win at least half of the time. I hope, my reading this article, that you can win at least half of the time. “知彼知己，百戰不殆；不知彼而知己，一勝一負；不知彼，不知己，每戰必殆.”
One tool that helped me a lot is a poker calculator. If you are thinking about playing poker, I seriously suggest you get one. I downloaded a free calculator in my computer and I use it all the time when I play poker. Why should you get one? Because having a calculator tells you your odds of winning given the hand you have, and the situation at the table. I don’t have the time in-game to calculate every single card so I just do the basic: I calculate the two cards in my own hand. After some experience, you will learn to see the cards on the table and form a general picture.
Poker is a game of probability and, so far, the adage “go big or go home” rings true. By using the calculator and thus knowing your odds and by knowing the various possible combinations and the likelihood of them plus the possibility of winning if those cards were to happen based on the cards already set on the table, the player can truly know him or herself. Watching the World Series of Poker on YouTube is also a good way to gain some exposure.
Second, much harder and without complete infallibility, is the ability to know your opponent. It takes time to know how your opponents play so I generally play defensive for the first couple of rounds to try to scope out my enemies. Some players are aggressive and they bet every round. That means, in some of the rounds, their hands are not good, and if they win more than they proportionally should, they are buffing on some of the rounds. There are others that are just plain dumb and would go all-in just to make the game go faster. Then, two or three other players would do the same and within a short period of time, the tournament just lost three people with a huge chip leader. However, if that happens, there is still hope. That chip leader is willing to take big risks so there is a chance of big rewards if you know yourself and stay true to it by not folding when the pressure gets hard.
A player can have the perfect starting hand and still lose. That is why it is wise, generally, to bet in according to what you have. If you have a good hand, be more aggressive, if a bad hand and the stakes are too high, then fold.
If a player only bets the first round and checks the second, there is a 80% probability that their hand is not good and they are having doubts. It’s all psychology. If that’s the case, place a bet. That player will likely fold.
If the player bets very high initially, there is a 80% chance that he or she has a good hand. If you have a poor hand, then fold. You can still win, but the odds are against you.
If the player bets very high initially and continues to bet high, there is a 80% chance that he or she got something or a combo they wanted. But, if you know yourself and your cards and you believe it, you can play along (don’t raise it) and pretend to let your opponent know that you are unsure and have doubts. Then that person may try to raise it higher to get you to fold but you prove them wrong. In general, never raise or bet unless you have a good chance of getting a good set.
If the player bets high initially and then only checks afterwards, that player may be having doubts.
After a while, when the opponent thinks they know how you play, you can change your playing style a little. Start bluffing a little bit, especially when the opponent has doubts as described above. I won many rounds with a poor hand because I made my enemy think that my hand is better than his or that somehow the cards on the table just gave me a jackpot. Of course, your enemy might be thinking what you are thinking so it is all a chance. You just have to know when to take that chance and be willing to go all-in if you do.
Application to Real Life:
Like in the game of poker, take calculated risks. If you think something has a chance to be more good than bad, then take the risk, but be willing to back off if the situation changes. One difference to real life is not to lie and to be honest because God sees. If what I’m doing doesn’t turn out to be expected, is doing harm, or most likely won’t turn out the way I wanted it to, I would back down. We can trick people but we can’t trick God and He is the judge.
Some days I have good hands and other days not so good, but, I find that the days that God is in it, somehow I have an ace in my hand.