An Idiot's Guide To Poker: The nearly man

This week I was planning to write about Game Theory Optimal (GTO) and its utility on the poker tables. Problem is, I'm only on the verge of understanding it. It's about playing in a way that cannot be abused. According to one post I read in a poker forum: "In the poker world we have adopted the term GTO to describe an optimal unexploitable equilibrium strategy. It is almost universally misunderstood and misapplied in the poker world." Essentially, it boils down to likening poker to a more complex version of rock, paper, scissors. Or something. Like I said, I'm only on the verge of understanding it. 

Something else I'm only on the verge of understanding is my inability to convert decent, sometimes commanding, positions in tournaments into winning positions. Take yesterday. Yesterday I was coasting along in three tournaments. As the money bubble approached I was sitting average stacked in each. As the bubble inched closer, my chips melted away as my opponent's chips ballooned. I crept into the money in each and then almost simultaneously drifted out of each after a cartoonish series of grim flips.

Why is this? I know how to be aggressive on the bubble, to attack fellow medium stacks in position and force short stacks all-in when I have the goods. I know that it's the ideal time to pick up chips - acres of poker literature hammers the point home that decent players love the bubble, that that is where they can greatly improve their stacks. 

Perhaps I'm just not a decent player.

Or perhaps after a grubby - seemingly endless - downswing my confidence is shot. 

Or maybe, in key moments, I'm just not getting the cards. Last night this looked set to change. I'm meandering along in a couple of tournaments. In one, the bubble has just staggered by and I've got around two-thirds of the average stack. The money up top is good. In the other, the bubble looms and I'm in a bit of trouble - eleventh out of thirteen, with ten getting paid. The money up top is better than good.

I'm simultaneously dealt pocket kings on one table, pocket aces on the other. All the chips get in pre-flop against one opponent on each table and I take both down without a sweat. I'm in great shape. Right, I tell myself, this is the time to bully, to steal the considerable blinds and bolster my stack. 

I raise-fold K-10 off-suit a couple of times. I pick up pocket pairs, raise them, then get pushed off scary flops. I ghost out of both tournaments before the money gets interesting. Although I land around £250 for an evening's work, I'm far from my happy. My play, in crucial spots, needs serious work.

This morning I was stood gawping at a cash machine. "Do you require another transaction" it yelped, offering Yes or No as answers. I stared at Yes for a long time, baffled. I then stared at No for an even longer time. 

Jesus, I thought, I'm so hungover I've forgotten what yes and no mean. This was a new low. Throughout my session last night I had drunk three glasses of wine, four beers and four rum and cokes. Perhaps that's the reason for my stuttering play in crucial spots. Thank you, epiphany. I'll stop drinking so much and let you know how I get on next week. 

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