behavior session

Empathy

“Running GREAT!” Dan kept mouthing. “GREAT!” He wouldn’t stop complaining. He wanted attention, and it was grating. After limp calling from UTG and folding to a cbet, he flashed me 106o. “Can’t hit a hand!” He rebought again for yet another forty big blinds. “Can’t even make top pair.” He sought soothing through nagging. Embarrassing, but I kept it to myself.  Had to.

The truth is, I don’t know Dan by that name alone, but – I guess I have a little shame about this – by the nickname Donkey Dan. It’s not my most creative, obviously, but Dan does not require a lot of thought to play (take that both ways). I pointed Dan out to Gargamel one day and from the way he reacted (utterly nonplussed), Donkey may well have been on his birth certificate. However, I don’t want to be rude. I named him that because, well, it’s pretty astonishing what he does. (When he gets there on you after set mining the turn and river, don’t get testy.)

I mumbled something to Dan. I had to fake a little sympathy for the guy; after all, I chose my seat (fruitlessly) to be next to him. He poured five short buys into the game before giving up.

I shook my head. Not your day, Don, I mean, Dan.

So much of what we do in life and poker is somewhere ambiguous on the truthiness scale. I don’t want to have to fake it, there’s more than enough of that to go around. One of my poker friends used to be called the Fish Whisperer. He has no problem gaming people. It’s not just in poker, it’s built into his personality. His utterly ridiculous, deliberately open mouthed, pandering smile makes me laugh just thinking about it. The Fish Whisperer’s ego was utterly in check while he was engaged. He was focused on his ends, not the means. A dangerous man, he who can subvert his own person to his goal, to paraphrase Dorothy Sayers. It’s taken me a long time to even approach doing that. I’d rather just change the subject or say something amusing, than try to make another man feel better.

Go home Dan: you weren’t even putting full stacks on the table.

I missed his potential, but I was also relieved.  Freed of the incessant whining, I refocused on what was left of the table, already threatening to get shorthanded: not the best game, really. With several competent players and only one pure mark left, on my left at that, I should be thinking about moving. Worse, thin, ageless DZ, subject of my reflection on the mental game, had joined us.

Gargamel had told me that when he was at the Village one night, a repulsive old whale, pokering between bean counting, slots, and prostitutes, bragged that he could splash around, because “there are no pros at this level.” DZ and I are among the few, limited by the size of the player pool, game structures and our own personal circumstances.

We grind it out, this thing we share.  That verb means something. It can’t be completely unrelated that I don’t like to change tables the way Gargamel does, that Smurf-killer always sniffing blood in the water five miles off. I spend a lot of time analyzing patterns, getting reads, setting up my own game. Every session is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end: that’s lost if I just get up to go trap some fish. The Donkey Dans may come and go: I’m an investor who does not chase the dragon, or any animal.

Perhaps DZ and I have some motivation to avoid each other, but we do tangle. In fact, he’s made some moves on me recently that only a year ago, I think, he would not have. I can tell that our history and our dynamic are in some nether world state at the moment, but until last night, I was not able to see more than the outline.

After I ruefully let go of what would have been a pretty sick spot against him, we lightly confer from across the table, our conversation lost in the general brouhaha. He implied that he was not going to fall for what I was thinking of doing. Really? What level are we on, exactly? It’s all getting a little odd. We’re not friends, and he’s not a member of the Coven.

A bit later, it folds around to me on the button, and I raise 43cc to twenty. I’ve got the table mark in the small, and DZ in the big. I like getting in pots versus the small blind, an amusing if slightly crazed erratic who is alternately willing to put money in the pot without much of reason and fold too much. DZ calling would not be a problem a year ago, but now – I just can’t tell.

The small blind flats, as predicted. DZ pauses. I see he is considering raising, and soon decides to go for it, making it an even eighty. DZ’s sizings, as I have written before, are geometrical and always a little smaller than mine.

There are exactly two things that could be going on here. One, he has value and is playing straightforwardly. That’s reasonable. DZ does not really mess around, and is a value bettor; some species of TAG, if you need a label. Two, he is isolating the fish with a modestly good hand. He knows I can be wide and does not want to share the SB with me. The reason that there is not a third, which would be recognizing a spot and taking it with complete air, is that the mark is prone to overcall, and so if I have nothing, there is little to be gained by bloating the pot. He can just take a flop in position versus the fish, if not me.

I am curious. I have played tightly or at least have been inactive while DZ has been at the table. I consider how DZ does like to iso many of his aces.  He could be, could be, unusually wide with those hands, say A8s plus here.

I look at my stack, which has drifted under the $500 max buy in. There’s not room for a normal fourbet, which is interesting. This means I could exert max pressure more reasonably. I decide to take a read.

DZ looks a little strangulated and not completely comfortable. It’s not AK, which he would be very happy with. It’s not likely to be AQ with that demeanor, and which I’ve gotten him to fold pre but also seen him snap call off a fourbet with in a similar late position formation. However, I’m thinking it’s A9s-AJ. I have the read, and I think I can make this one work.

I rip it in. The small blind’s cards fly out of his hands, and DZ looks frustrated. He moves the chips around, but within twenty seconds, I can see he is going to surrender, and that we are going to do the folding dance for a bit.

When the music’s over, he flashes an Ace and releases. I don’t show much in this particular casino, but here’s where I make my error. While the pot is being pushed to me, I turn over the three. I thought, impulsively, that it would be good for our dynamic.

DZ turns pale as a sheet. “Just lost your mind?” he chokes out. I don’t think I was wrong about his holding, but I may have been. He’s upset.

My mistake, I realized, was in misunderstanding why he flashed the Ace. Normally players flash this card to imply they are laying down a big hand, advertising their skill. That’s not, I see now, what DZ was doing: he was showing me that he was not taking a shot at me. Yes, he was signaling that he was a good player by laying down the ace, but his real message was: this is where we earn, we don’t have to scuffle. Then I showed him up.

I can’t really look at him directly the rest of the session, but from my few glances, I can see his mood has utterly soured. He is ashen. He looks tormented, and his game follows. He starts making moves in terrible spots, and compounds his problems by giving up too quickly. He’s gone from earning and happy, to having to add money on within a down. With his day’s profit, the bread a pro needs and counts to the dollar, now completely eaten, he abruptly leaves – not unlike that rough day I described last year.

As he spewed off his chips, and as I saw the real unhappiness in his face, for the first time in my life at the table, I felt badly about something I had done in poker. I’ve shown a lot of bluffs and said a lot of things at the tables. When I outplayed that silent foreigner who crashed the Red Chip game, getting him to lay down AA before I turned over the deuce, he gave me an impassioned speech before picking up all his chips and running out. Not a twitch of remorse. When I got slowrolled at the Village two years ago, I told the prick something so outlandishly rude that the dealer turned beet red (pretty amazing for a Southeast Asian) and addressed me unconsciously as if I were one of her children.  I withstood it. I’ve even lied about my holdings to friends, which I regret. But I never felt this terrible, ever.

If complaints from other players is all that binds us together, poker is nothing. The Donkey Dans don’t occupy my conscience, no matter how much they lose nor how I have to assuage them. Poker is a profoundly solitary activity. This is why it demands all sorts of social lubricants and trusses, such as poker forums and friendships, and why the best players are often true loners who can at least briefly embrace its nature for their work. The true gambler finds what true solaces he can.

Sympathy, in other words, is for wimps. It costs nothing. It’s ownerless. It’s for people who don’t really have anything at stake. It’s for virtue signalers and white liars. Empathy, on the other hand, just happens, and can’t be faked. It’s real because it belongs to you. Limon philosophizes that poker does not exist, that there is no “there there,” and insofar as what he means, he is right. But the illusion is based on reality, and every now and then, we compare them, and we are not sure which one came up short.

After DZ leaves, I take a miserable beat, losing with a set versus a guy who goes crazy preflop with the Doyle. He super Hollywoods me, faking me out of my shoes on the river to get extra value. Not a good day for the sharks.

Later on, just before quitting, I get some of it back from him. The deck has chosen him in three of the four spots we’ve been in, all big pots, so he has the lion’s share and my bread, too.  As I rack up the remaining chips, he answers a question from his friend by pointing to my broken stacks. “If he hadn’t beaten me in one hand I’d have all those,” wanting a touch of sympathy and praise from his buddy as he celebrated what looked to be a big session.

“Yes, that is how it works!” I tell him with some humorous condescension. He’s a good guy, very young, yet has stood up for his rights but also restrained himself during a rules altercation when he could have slipped into falsehood. I’ve gotten over his runhot against me. If I feel sympathy for him, it’s the rare, real kind, which requires no expression.

In fact, the session is finished, so I don’t have to fake anything. All that’s honestly leftover is a portion of my buy in, regret at showing a card, and the pride of playing well. I can’t apologize, but – here’s to the next one, DZ. You’ll be fine.

5 Comments

  1. Great post! Riveting and authentic writing. This dynamic between solid poker players is one of the most interesting in poker. Unspoken negotiations that involve massive complexity and one peculiar choice can undermine trust.

  2. I could relate how dynamics between the regs are and you nailed it pretty well. However your a bit more kind than I am. I’ll probably be the nicest and most helpful guy off the table but an edge on the table comes in many form which is what i believe, so if he reacts so much to seeing a card then I would experiment in seeing how he reacts to different spots when getting to see a card and probably look to force him to make a mistake. However, the flashing a card is a bit tricky since it means i would have to give away information.

    1. All true. We are probably headed toward playing each other much tougher now; we’ll see. However, what I can tell you is that live poker, with its familiar faces and compelling stories, has a profound social level that online cannot imitate – you might be surprised by your own feelings and reactions, even when you know what the right strategy is.

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The OOP Lexicon is a user-developed poker glossary.

Absolute Position
Being last to act (e.g. closest to the button) postflop.

Advancing Leverage
Aggressive actions intended to shift the leverage point closer to the current street.

Analog
A bluff or value hand which is a natural candidate for balancing another hand because of their shared qualities, such as AA and AK; usually helps planning range splitting and line construction.

Auto profit threshold (APT)
A bluff made with positive expectation resulting from the opponent under defending vis-a-vis bet sizing. The inverse of MDF.

Balance
Choosing to support either value bets or bluffs with their converse.

Bet
A bet is a proposition.  It’s the first offer on the pot with regard to the outcome of the game. Each player, in turn, has the opportunity to lay or change the price on the pot to the rest of the players. “The language of poker.” The bet, as opposed to the raise, is most often and most easily allied to the merged pricing construction.

Block
To remove combinations of hands from a range based on cards in your hand or on the board.

Blockers
Cards which influence our combinatorial assumptions. Ex: We face resistance on T76ss while we hold As7d. Both our cards act as blockers. Our ace of spades blocks (limits) a number of flush draws our opponent could hold, while our seven blocks a number of two pair and sets our opponent could hold. *See also Block and Unblock

Blocker Bet
A small bet made by an out-of-position player.

Board Texture
The available community cards and the set of conditions which inform its relationship to a logical range.

Bottom
The worst hands in a betting range.  Depending on context this could be the worst hand in a value bet range or the bluffing section of polarized range.

Bounded
A range descriptor indicating a range shape with a specific high or low boundary.  A range bounded high won't contain some number of the best linear hands ranked from the top down.  This is equivalent to a "capped" range.  A range bounded low won't contain some number of the worst linear hands ranked from the bottom up.  This is often useful to describe a range that doesn't include any air or very weak hands.

Capitalization
A strategic mode in which a player is attempting to deny their opponent(s) equity share of the pot through aggression. Often referred to as “denying equity” or “buying up equity”.

Capped
A range is capped when it represents little to no nutted combinations as confirmed by prior action.

Cbet
A continuation bet. A bet made by the player with initiative as a continuation of their initiative on a prior street.

Clarity
The ability to accurately range an opponent based on all available information at a decision point.  An understanding of your hands exact equity.

Closing Action
Acting last where no subsequent action is possible behind you.  For example calling a UTG raise in the BB or calling in position postflop with no players behind.

Cold Call/Cold Bet
An action is considered “cold” when it comes from a player entering into the pot has not previously put chips voluntarily in the pot. Ex: the UTG opens, the BTN 3bets. If the SB were to call or raise, it would be a cold-call or a cold-4bet.

Combinatorics
The branch of mathematics the deals with finite number sets. Used in poker in determining the amount of combinations of certain hands in a range.

Complete
When a blind that is not the biggest blind calls the amount of the biggest blind. Ex: At $2/$5, action folds around to the SB and the SB completes. Meaning they just call. The BB can complete when there is a straddle.

Condensed
A capped range that contains only middling value hands. A range without the polarized portion.

Construction
Logical advancement of combinations across streets.

Dark Side of the Deck
The large swath of hands, often off-suit, that fall outside of conventional playable recommendations. Counter-equity hands.

Dead Money
Money in the pot that is not being fought for.  A passive player creates dead money when they call a bet preflop and looking to play fit-or-fold postflop. Dead Money is often confused with the money in the pot.

Delayed Cbet
A cbet made on the turn by the preflop raiser when the flop checked through.

Delaying Leverage
Passive actions intended to maintain a likely late street leverage point, or possibly to avoid a leverage point entirely.

Deviation
A strategic break from one’s standard construction as an exploit of a particular player’s profile or construction.

Diminishing Medium Value Category
A Seidman concept in which when one’s middling value hand range is too small and transparent to our opponent and thus either that range should be shifted into the top of a polarized range or the nutted portion should be shifted into the medium value range. Ex: AQo or TT being 3bet preflop.

Downbet
A cbet that is less than the preflop raise. Ex: BTN opens to $25, we 3bet to $90 from the SB, BTN calls. On the flop we cbet $70.

Dry Board
A board texture that yields relatively few logical hands value. Often containing one medium or high card and disconnected low cards. Ex: Q53r, T622r.

Dual Mentalities
A Seidman concept in which when we decide to go postflop with a weak hand against a nutted range, we should either be looking to out flop it or steal the pot away. We base our decision against the player type we are up against and never go post with both mentalities at once.

Dynamic Board
A flop texture in which the runout is very likely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: 954tt, 742r.

Effective Stack
The smallest stack to VPIP in a given hand. Their stack decides the amount of money that can be played for or threatened before an all-in.

Effective nuts
A value hand that can be played for stacks as if it were the actual nuts.  This is a relative hand ranking based on range assumptions and opponent type.

Efficiency
A measure of how well the equity of a hand is deployed. Efficiency can also be used as a measure of what is risked vs what is gained for a given bet size.

Either/Or Philosophy
A Seidman concept in which a particular street can be a very good spot for value, meaning our opponent is never folding, or a very good spot to bluff, meaning our opponent is never calling, but that those spots cannot be concurrent.

Elasticity
Borrowed from economics, a measure of the sensitivity of a range or hand relative to the price offered.  Ranges (or hands) described as elastic will narrow, sometimes quickly, in response to increases in price.  Those described as inelastic will not.

Equity
The percent pot share of a holding or range on any given street if the hand were to go to showdown with no further betting action.

Equity Pusher
A analytic approach to the game in which a player views the correct actions only through the lens of their hands equity vs. their opponent’s range. Often this player type has a lack of understanding of overall strategy and plays their range face up with few bluffs.

Expected Value
The mathematical formula for how much a player’s action is expected to make with their hand vs. their opponent’s range. EV = ($towin * %ofwin) - ($tolose * %ofloss)

Face Up
A player is playing their range “face up” when their actions directly correspond with their desired outcome. Ex: A player bets half-pot three streets with a range that has no bluffs. A player 3bets to 7x with JJ.

False Polarization
Otherwise known as Faux-Po; a polarizing action taken with a merged range.

Felted
The result of losing your entire table stakes. All the way down to the felt.

Float
A call of a cbet with a weak holding with the likely intention of taking the pot away when the opponent shuts down. Often done by an in position preflop caller.

Formation
The convergence of positions, stack depths, and preceding actions at a given decision point.

G-Bucks
A mathematical formula developed by Phil Galfond for calculating the expected value of one’s range construction vs. an opponent’s holding.

GIGO
A computer programming term that means "garbage in, garbage out" which also applies to poker forums when a poster seeks an in-depth conversation about a hand, but fail to provide pertinent information such as stack sizes, bets sizes, table dynamics and player tendencies.

Game Theory
The applied science of combining mathematical models with logic to craft winning poker strategies.

Game Theory Optimal
A set of strategies is GTO if no player can unilaterally deviate and increase his average profit. ~ Will Tipton.  GTO does not mean best possible response, highest EV, or maximally exploitative play.

Implied Odds
Additional value likely to be accrued if you make your hand on a later street.

Initiative
Sometimes referred to as the betting lead, a common situation in which the passive player yields to the aggressive player postflop, or the last aggressor continues betting on subsequent streets.

Isolate
A bet or raise intended to force out the rest of the field in order to play heads up against a weaker opponent who has entered the pot through limping, raising, or posting the blinds.

LAG
Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

Lead
A bet made from out of position after a passive action. Often referred to as a donk bet on the flop.

Leveling
He knows that I know that he knows I know.

Leverage
A bet or raise that signals the hand will be played for stacks.  Within reason, it is accomplished by betting with a sizing that will create RSP equal to 1 on the following street.

LFI
Limp First In

Linear
A consecutive range of hands decreasing in strength from top to bottom; generally meaning value hands. Equivalent to "merged."

Lockdown Board
A board on which the nuts have often already been made.  More prevalent in PLO but sometimes useful in no-limit, for example on monotone flops and boards with available common straights e.g. JT9, T98, 987, etc.

Merge
1) A range of hands that includes both strong and medium value; 2) in reference to medium value; 3) the merged construction describes the natural representation of a wide range through a bet.

Mini Stop-N-Go
A Seidman concept, a line taken by a OOP PFR where flop is check/called and turn is lead.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
The necessary defending (calling/raising) frequency to prevent an opponent from auto-profiting.  The inverse of APT.

Natural Action
A check, bet, or raise which is exactly suited to a player's range and situation (e.g. a pfr's continuation bet on AK2r).

Nit
A player who will not put chips into the pot without a very strong and sometimes only nutted hand.

Nuts
The best possible hand.

Nuts-To-Air Ratio (NAR)
In a polarized betting line, the ratio of value to bluff.  As used by Seidman, not limited to polarization but sometimes used to label general opponent tendency of value to bluff.

OMC
Old Man Coffee. Typically an older, retired player that likes to play bingo with ATC, but will only continue with the nuts.

Open
The first voluntary action. The first action or bet to voluntarily enter the pot.

Overbet
A bet that is more than the size of the pot.

Perceived Range
Refers to the range of hands that your opponent thinks you could have in a certain playing situation. This can be interpreted and thus misinterpreted from your playing style and position at the table.

Polarized
A range consisting of very strong and very weak hands.

Post Oak Bluff
A small bluff on a late street that has little chance of winning the pot.  Generally interpreted as “gutless” in the past but now fulfilling certain functions as betting efficiencies are understood.

Positional Protection
When the strength of a range is perceived to be capped or uncapped based on which position an action is taken from.

Protected
When an action or player is perceived to have strong hands in its range.

Protection Bet
A wager which denies equity to hands which will only give action if they significantly improve; "a value bet which does not want a call."

Raise
The rejection of the offered price and the laying of a new higher price.  Raises represent a more narrow range of hands and trend towards polarization.

Range Advantage
Implementation or study tool that refers to 1) most basically, equity measurement of one range against another; 2) or also including a combination of further factors including availability of nutted hands, the nuances of the runout, and positional protection.

Range Manipulation
Deliberate line work/bet sizing made to narrow a range or keep a range wide.

Range Switch
A deliberate change in range composition made to thwart a player who is reading our range too accurately in any spot.  Reduces transparency, fights assumptions, and wins the leveling war if implemented correctly.

Ratio of Stack To Pot
RSP. The stack to pot ratio at any point in a hand, generally used post-flop as opposed to Stack to Pot Ratio.

Realization
Taking a hand to showdown and realizing its full equity.  Generally used with regard to passive actions.

Reciprocity
The mutual exchange of chips resulting from similar play and ideas.  Reciprocity is a common bi-product of group-think.  A true edge by definition cannot be reciprocal.

Relative Position
A player’s position measured against the aggressor's position.  Generally this is used going to the flop.  For example, if UTG raises and several players call behind, calling in the big blind would give you the best relative position.  You will act after seeing how the field responds to a likely continuation from the preflop aggressor.  In the same scenario calling immediately after the preflop aggressor results in the worst relative position.  You will have to act immediately after a continuation without seeing how the remaining players will respond.  Strong relative position confers an information edge.

Retention
The ability of hand to maintain equity across streets against a betting range or as part of a betting range.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)
Hands that often win small pots or lose large pots suffer from reverse implied odds.

Robustness
Popularized by Mathew Janda, a descriptor for how well a hand retains equity over streets of play.  Hands described as robust have equity that does not suffer as an opponent's range becomes stronger.  Often these hands are currently both strong and invulnerable, or have the ability to become very strong by the river, relative to the opponent's range.

Runout
Fourth and Fifth Street cards following a given flop texture.

Scale of Protection
Poker theorem which states that the more protected or strong an opponent's range is, the higher the degree of denial or retention a counter will require.

Sklansky Bucks
Dollars won (or lost) in expected value regardless of actual hand result.

Smurf
Any one of many possible poker archetypes found at low stakes games.

Squeeze
A reraise made after a player has raised and one or more players has called in-between.

Static Board
A flop texture in which the runout is unlikely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: AK7r, KK4r.

Stop-N-Go
A passive action followed by an aggressive action, out of position.  For example, a call followed by a lead on the next street.

Streets of Value
A crude shorthand measurement for how much betting a hand can tolerate and still be best at showdown more often than not.

TAG
Tight aggressive opponent type. Generally overused and misapplied.

TAG's Dilemma
The paradox created by having a top-heavy range played so aggressively that it misuses equity vis-à-vis position and holding.

The Great Range Fantasy
The common idea that we know our opponent’s range and frequencies precisely; most commonly seen in post-hoc analysis to justify microedge decisions.

Thin Value
A bet that is only slightly more likely to be called by worse than by better. Associated with the merged pricing construction and bet-fold lines.

Three Fundamentals
The most fundamental variables for decision making: position, stack size, and community cards.

Top
The best hands in a given range.

Two-Way Bet
A bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time, a simultaneous value bet and bluff line.

Upstuck
The psychological effect of feeling like you’re losing because your stack size isn’t as large as it once was during a session, even though it’s more than what you’re in the game for.

(e.g. You bought in for $100, ran it up $450, but now only have $175 in front of you.)

Unblock
A hand that has no negative card removal effects on the target range.  Bottom set, for example, unblocks top pair top kicker.

Uncapped
A range that is perceived to contain the nuts in any given line.  Capped ranges may become uncapped during transitions for example from preflop to flop, or flop to turn.

Unicorn
A turned nut straight after raising flop with a gutter.

Value Owning
Making value bets with a hand that has less than 50% equity when called.

Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP)
The frequency at which a player limps, calls, or raises preflop.

Volatile Board
A flop texture where equities will often shift on the turn and river.  See “dynamic”.

Warmer
An illusory cooler where one player makes a massive mistake equity mistake and loses his stack with a strong but second best hand; also known as a Jam Basket.

Wet Board
A board texture that allows for a lot of logical hands to continue. Often made up of medium rank connected cards. Ex: KT9tt, Tc8c6s-7c-Ac.

WIFSUWO
“Walk In, Fuck Shit Up, Walk Out” a hashtag used by instagram poker players.

Winning Player
A forum poster who offers reciprocal advice under the guise of questionable positive low stakes results. A weak player or fish, in general.

YMC
Young Man Coffee. Is very much an OMC, but younger.  They usually only continue with the nuts, often under the illusion of playing a GTO style.