Life is like No-Limit Hold’em--It’s hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror.
What exactly does all that mean? Well, I’ll give you an example. Picture yourself playing in a no-limit hold-em cash game, and for the past three hours you have not had a single playable hand. All you’ve done is ante and fold, ante and fold...for the entire three hours you’ve been playing. Occasionally nobody raises your big blind, so you get to see a few flops for free. Nothing hits on the flop for you and it’s another fold for you.
The biggest danger here -- and it happens to all of us -- is that we start to get impatient and that nine/eight off-suit begins to look like a playable hand, in early position. This is when you need to make good decisions. You must play the long-game and consider why you’d be playing in the first place? Is it because you’re bored? Impatient? Don’t play it! The best players tough it out because they know if they lose their patience; they will lose something else -- their money!
Now you decide the cards will turn in your favor and other factors come into consideration. The game is fairly good with some very loose players as well as a few calling stations. After three hours of play you haven’t lost your patience and decide to play one more hour. After a few more folds it finally happens--a playable hand. You have Ace King of Diamonds -- a very strong starting hand. You are in the cut-off seat, which is one seat to the right of the button. This gives you a strong position throughout the hand. Three players have limped in the pot and the blind hands as well as the button still have to act. You then decide to raise for the first time all night.
The more observant players should be smart enough to fold unless they have a big hand themselves. The other players that limped in the pot are willing to gamble with you and call your bet. You raised it 5x the size of the big blind so the button, and both blind hands, fold. The flop comes King/Ten/Five with the Ten and the Five of Diamonds giving you top pair and the nut flush draw. A very big flop for you. It is checked to you and you bet about ⅔ the size of the pot. One player drops out but the other two both call. Now, a three-of-clubs comes on the turn card. It is again checked to you and you again bet ⅔ the size of the pot. One player folds and the other player calls, so your heads-up. The river card is an eight of spades and looks like a safe card. It is checked to you and you decide to bet again, but only half the size of the pot this time. The other player thinks about it for a while and then slowly moves all his chips into the pot. He has enough to cover your remaining stack and now you have to ponder the situation. This is the part where sheer terror comes in, and when it’s most crucial to make good decisions. What in the world does he have to check-raise the river when the eight hits? Does he know you must have a big hand to keep betting or is he oblivious? You’ve played with this guy for over three hours now and he is one of the loose players and calls when he should fold. He also makes the occasional bluff. Is this one of those times?
The board shows no straight or flush possible. If the flush had hit you would have won, of course. Maybe since you bet less than ⅔ the size of the pot, at the river, he thinks you are not as strong as you’ve been representing. Well, now it’s crunch time -- do you call or fold? This is what no-limit hold-em is all about. Only one playable hand in the entire session and now you have to make a big decision for the rest of your chips. So much for the boredom part of the game -- now it’s sheer terror.
You have to make a decision, everyone, especially your opponent, is waiting on you. But not just any decision -- a good and smart one. The pressure is building. You’re aware that one pair hands are vulnerable, even a pair of Aces. Now that you are in a pickle, what do you do? (Besides regret you made a river bet instead of checking it down.) Time has passed and, finally, after much thought, agony and indecision, you decide he just can’t be bluffing in this situation, and even though about half of your chips are in the pot, you say nice hand and fold. Because you were polite, your opponent decides to show you his hand. He had a ten, eight off-suit and made two pair at the river.
Was this fair? Chasing you all the way with the worst hand and then getting lucky on the last card? Unfortunately, nothing in life or poker is fair. But you have to deal with it. Both life and poker will challenge you, put you into critical-thinking situations and pressure you into making quick decisions. It’s on you to make good decisions. The great players can overcome the luck factor in the long run, but in the short run anything can and often does happen.
Life can go like this too. Most of the time it’s hours of “boredom”, whether at work or at home watching TV, and then something like COVID-19 hits! And here you are, in sheer terror! One minute you were living your boring hum-drum life and now you have to think about dealing with it in a completely different way. You have to re-assess how you are going to handle everything. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe you lost someone close to you. Maybe you have to move. You are forced to make decisions and it’s important that the decisions you make are good and smart ones. You take every opportunity and possibility into consideration and turn them into the decisions you believe are wisest. Life is not fair, and even the best laid plans can go awry. You have to learn to adjust. If you plan on living for a long time, just keep making good decisions, even while you are under duress, and you’ll come out a winner.
Poker Samadhi Guru, Four-Time World Series of Poker Champion, Poker Hall of Fame Member