Dear reader: I wrote this in 2008.
Sometimes an even-money bet can have big consequences, so it still matters which side you pick.
Here’s a great example of that, from the $10/10/20 blinds no-limit hold’em game at Lucky Chances. The lineup − what we lovingly call The Breakfast Club because the game starts at 9:00 a.m. sharp − was playing tight and tough, as is typical for players who just showered.
Inevitably, the cards slice deep cuts into some of the stacks, which causes blood to flow, and that gets the chips moving, sometimes, depending on whose nuts get cracked.
Two hours in, no major wounds yet. The two biggest pots were in the $1000 range, and neither went to showdown.
Then came this hand. I was under the gun. I opened for $80. Only the button called. The pot was $200. The button had $2300 and I had him covered.
On the flop, I bet $200 and he called.
On the turn, I bet $500 and he called. At this point the pot was $1600 and he had $1600 left.
On the river, I checked, and he went all-in for $1600.
At this point, his range was polarized. I knew he either had me beat, or he didn’t. If I called, I would be getting 2-1 on my money which meant that if he had me beat twice as often as he didn’t, then it didn’t matter what I did. And as best as I could figure it, that was how it was this time: the EV of calling was the same as the EV of folding.
So, what to do?
That’s an easy one: move to an outer shell of parameters and weigh the decision from there.
My opponent is one who plays snug for long stretches, and then, after he plays a big all-in pot, he gets reckless for a while. It doesn’t matter if he wins the big pot or loses it. He gets spunky either way. And when the spunk comes over him, it causes the other spunk-prone players to spunk it up, and now there’s money to be made. And let’s just say for the sake of thinning the decision tree that I thought I could rely on myself to be equally steady, win or lose. After this view from the meta-game, my decision came down to this: I could call, and rev up the game, or I could fold, and the temperature would remain the same.
So I asked myself: Do I want to keep playing after this hand? And what kind of game do I feel like playing in?
Option 1: Fold, and play on in a tough-tight game. (Sometimes I very much enjoy tough-tight games.)
Option 2: Fold, and quit a tough-tight game. (Never a bad idea.)
Option 3: Call and win and play on. (No one hits and runs at the Breakfast Club.)
Option 4: Call and lose and quit.
Option 5: Call and lose and rebuy.
This turned into a tough decision. I was tanking and I almost never do that. Then I grinned inside when I realized that the reason I wasn’t able to attach to any of the options was because I was unattached to all of them. I just didn’t care which one I chose, in a poker-nirvana sort of way.
So I unconsiously kicked this decision up to the outermost meta level. Remember when I said I thought I could count on myself to stay steady if I call the river shove? Win or lose? Well, that’s not actually true. Usually I can. And usually I think I can. But sometimes I can’t maintain. And I never really know for sure which way it’s going to be. And even when I am deeply unflustered after losing a big pot, it nonetheless makes it more likely that the next big loss might knock me off balance.
I decided to let the first blood spill on someone else’s hands. I decided to wait for a definite +EV spot to play my first major. And I was kinda liking the low temp of this game, just as it was. So I folded and posted my blind.