I’m back in the ring, my game uneven, my life emptied out.  I feel, contradictorily, both dead to much of the world while pathetically in need of good news. I overcheck my emails, listen for texts, and even wonder if the postal box might have something of interest. As life works, it does (or seems to): A handwritten envelope and letter fills me with dread and interest. It turns out to be an unusually attentive Seventh Day Adventist looking for converts in such a strange way I’m not sure it’s even old fashioned. A replacement for knocking on the door, from perhaps a very committed, polite but shy missionary.

On the felt, I take my initial losses and wins emotionally. A big win at 5/10 seems to make months of profound troubles evaporate, ridiculously. Immediate runbad the next day in the short stack retardo game and I am thinking about my resume. This is no way to play or perform, but so it goes: we have to start from somewhere. Wins (and certainly not losses) are no substitute for a balanced, smart life. What I need from myself for poker, if not everything else, is to be is in Game Shape. A lot to ask of myself right now, admittedly.

To accomplish this at a similar, if less dramatic juncture, I once created the Mental Game Quiz. I can’t even tell myself to take a look at it I’m so unenthused and unwilling. At time, however, I couldn’t have been more excited. Because the members of the Coven (like every human being an every poker player) were so prone to suffering from the swings, I designed (in faux scientific fashion but with real enough work, review, and duplication) a series of questions that score one’s state of mind, provide the red or green light for a session, predict results and reinforce good behaviors. I hit pay dirt too quickly, however, and because of this, the project got forgotten: I discovered my major game prep leaks by working with it before I ever finalized it into a product, ran with the results, and never fully passed it on to anyone. My mental game became asteroid, rare earth metals solid.

Among the realizations the Quiz gave me, one has relevance not only to my game right now, but for a distant relation I am currently lending a hand to. Since the quiz is about the physical and mental shape we want to be in for the performance that is poker, it’s perfect for someone who does not take the game very seriously but is beginning to wonder why she can’t string together two wins in a row. During the trial runs of the Quiz, I learned that it was not enough to simply be feeling good the day of the session or to just hit the games because it’s on the calendar. Poker is not a nine to five job. Preparation and clear thinking today, it turns out, have a great deal to do with healthy behavior the day before. For this reason, while I was peeling the creamy top off the games at an absurd clip, I did not allow myself to play even the day after having one drink. The correlation was that clear… yet I can’t remember being that scrupulous in six, oh wait, maybe even ten months. Yikes.

There are no coincidences, and despite my injunction, two 1776 rye Manhattans found their way onto my bill (didn’t sub for the well bourbon but you get what you pay for) last night with a friend last night. Just materialized in front of me while we we laughed. Poof. As the two of us close out La Fete d’Insignifiance, a theme emerges, a provoking thought which I’ve never had: we never asked for what we are. Seems so juvenile, but if Kundera can take it seriously, maybe there is some light in this odd crack for me, something that isn’t intoxication and is not a replacement.

My cousin suffers from her need for drink in many ways; naturally she is not alone in this. As Baudelaire so correctly stated, we all should go through life intoxicated, the question is by what.  To get into her own Game Shape, she must give up alcohol, just as I must give up cigarettes. Her addiction, strong in our family and too common to be noticed in our dank corner of God’s Green Earth, crawling with an unusually high number of effective troublemakers and ineffective dogooders, is obviously bad and needs no explanation from a poker point of view; cigarettes, however, in case you don’t know, while relieving, tire you out and may keep you from long sessions, among other complications. We’ll both have to find substitutes or our results will suffer for the worse.

In my weakened state, all the beats they give me wear me out just as much as the tobacco, however. Last week, the repulsive Sommelier helped complete an interesting pattern that used to depress me quite a bit: I have now lost all ten of the largest pots I have ever played. What’s great and not unhappy at all is that I played the hand against the Sommelier as well as I am capable of. (My time off was not wasted, poker wise, as I thought, read the forums and articles dutifully, watched the videos, and played online. I’m a different player in some ways, already.)

It was a three bet pot, but because of the straddle making it 5/10/20 and my standard but perhaps comparatively large 3 bet sizing, it was as big as a standard four bet pot in the Village’s 5/10 game. I size large for several reasons. The main one is that with players very sticky, I need to avoid multiway action, especially with the button behind. I have a wide three bet range and don’t want calls about sixty percent of the time. I also like to disguise the strength of my hands and be able to make large raises with premiums that can get committed and paid in a loose game, aggressive game where you are going to get outplayed if you bring a knife to the gunfight. That the Sommelier cold flatted me out the blinds just shows how stationy some players are. Also, the original raiser had made his sizing a tad bigger as well – I wanted to annoy him, unfairly, for this. He’s an expert, and played it well- but no good deed should go unpunished.

Mission mostly accomplished: the tourney pro in the straddle lets it go, and the dangerous original raiser, who is not afraid to tasteflat and play poker from any spot, gives up as well. (in truth this LAG is probably dead afraid of the Sommelier’s ridiculous cold call and is not as attuned to that whiner’s spewage as I am.) I study the Sommelier’s repulsive, bulbous, alcoholic’s nose and reptilian Irish eyes, buried in toxic folds of delicate, aging, red-blue skin while the dealer arranges the pot and prepares for the fateful three cards. Poker for the Sommelier is the sadism and masochism he needs away from his slippery career: he is much like a politician who deals out punishment all day and then needs it in return from his mistress in a dark act of sexual conscience and rebalancing. (He has dealt me more S than M, running hot in all recent pots of note.) Here, he shows contempt and defiance. He swirls his giant glass (even more bulbous) of prize red (whatever it is, he knows his drinks and spares no expense, I feel respect for this unwillingness to substitute, in between the waves of my simultaneous loathing and appreciation of him): the Sommelier is giving me mixed signals. I have no clear idea as to his hand strength for the moment.

In fact, the ferocity of his cold call and his willingness to brawl for any pot make him who he is. His frequencies are not nitty in the least and slowplay is in his (mostly four letter) vocabulary. Traditionally, cold calls like this are either very strong, very stupid, or indicative of a meekly played middle pair with stacks to play for. When the board comes down 987cc, it’s a great flop for his position in theory- but not exactly in practice. While AK is not in his range, as he would four bet it, and yes, his hand looks like a connection with this board, either as an overpair or as a deadly set, from a traditional point of view. However, the truth is that Sommelier is not a folder, period, and could be as weak as Ax suited. He will hold on to TPNK for three streets and own your bluffing ass… or hand over his own. Pain, he likes and needs to receive and give. Whatever you think of him, he’s got the heart and commitment to the game in his own lugubrious way.

Nevertheless, this situation is not a cbet. Because I hold the Ace of clubs, he won’t be check raising me on a draw as often, and will be check raising me sometimes with hands I could still suck out against. Because I am not a monkey cbettor, my range is protected, as I can and will check AA and friends here. So I want to realize equity or pick up a club, or if I somehow have him in trouble – say KQ – I want to get to showdown if possible. I check behind; it’s the right play.

The red queen on the turn is a miracle to see. If he has tens or jacks, I will both win and be paid. If he has AK, he will lead at it quite often: perfect. I can maybe avoid paying off his sets, depending on his behavior. When he donks into the queen for an overly large bet, looking for maximum pressure, I decide to go with it. He doesn’t give off any set or nut energy or any tell that he is strong. In fact, I get the distinct idea he is betting for something other than value. He gives me his usual mangy lone wolf staredown.Staredown

I rip in the AQ, expecting to get tank called or see a fold without showdown. This session might finally be going somewhere. The table is changing as the daylight shift departs. This is timely.

The Sommelier takes a count. We’re not that deep compared to the rest of the table, as both of us have been struggling and have not topped past 150 bbs. With some regret, he sticks in a call. (Demons don’t fold much, for the record.) I’m a little confused as to what would be have exactly this way.

The turn is a strange card, a ten, but I still hope to be good, and fast roll TPTK. I don’t know where I stand.

It takes the Sommelier a few seconds of moving his head from left to right to left while reading the board. He ends his hesitation by announcing “Straight!” flipping up KJ. His entire mood brightens. The table is a little uneasy: poker players may enjoy a little schadenfreude but here at 5/10 they are more congenial and somewhat orbit the golden rule. The Sommelier laughs and talks, but I can’t hear a word he says. I watch him stacks up his chips rapidly but one at a time, his claws alternating like an insect feeding itself and masticating on high speed time lapse videography.

I leave. I don’t need the Quiz, I decide. I’ll send it to Cuz, and she can do what she will with it. I don’t have the energy to help her or really anyone, beyond basic courtesies, because, for the first time in my life, I absolutely need to take care of myself. Lists and goals may sound good, but I think I know what I need, something even simpler: health. I fell off the train of potential happiness one year ago, and need to go back to bone basics. I can’t go back in time, but I can switch in some new life for the old, vanished one. I can swap in a slightly new model for this broken body and tired mind. I can’t make the Sommelier fold a gutter, but I can find the energy to duel again.

If hell is other people, choosing poker is loving punishment a little too much. I’m stuck with this nine-handed jury and the heavy eyes of my demon judges for now. I can’t change this. I have no other useful (hmm) talents or abilities or leads or job opportunities. What I can do, is trade in some bad habits for good ones and ease my time here. I realize I don’t want to be out of position anymore, and that is what my error was, underneath it all and all the stupid changes and tradeoffs I’ve made.

Substitutions are never The Answer, but they are a start.


  1. Your luck has changed. You are now trading the Sklansky bucks for USD at a fantastic exchange rate. All problems solved.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

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

He knows that I know that he knows I know.

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.

Limp First In

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.

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).

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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."

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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

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.

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”.

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.

“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.

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.