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John Bartus: Blog

You Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em – Life lessons in spades (hearts, clubs, and diamonds, too)

Posted on November 26, 2013 with 0 comments

I have devoted more than a few hours of time over the past several years learning the game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. I consider myself an above-average player (yeah, who doesn’t?). I have put in the time learning the game from myriad books written by poker pros with names like Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson. I have observed the pros in tournament play. I have learned a lot about reading people through my years of experience in advertising, publishing, music, and politics. I have played in cash games and tournaments from here to Las Vegas. And I may have played my last hand ever of Texas Hold ‘Em.

On trips to Las Vegas, I have done relatively well in poker play, making money in cash games and making final tables in tournaments at Binion’s and the Bellagio. My most recent trip started with a good day in a cash game at Caesar’s Palace. Then, the poker world I knew turned upside down over four hands in two days – four hands of the Apocalypse that left me reeling over how bad things can happen to good poker players.

The first apocalyptic hand of the trip ended my participation in a tournament at Binion’s one otherwise fine afternoon. I was “blessed” with pocket Queens (a pair of Queens as my hole cards). I raised the pre-flop bet and was then raised all-in by a guy who had been playing very loose. I called his all-in bet and was relieved to see when he turned over his Jack-Ten unsuited. My relief turned to sheer disappointment as the flop came down Jack-Deuce-Jack. There were no other Queens forthcoming, and my tournament day was over. Stuff happens. I shook hands and planned my next tournament.

Fast-forward 24 hours to the next tournament at Binion’s. The game is going very well, and I have made the final table. One of five players remaining, I had one of the top two chip stacks and was cruising right along. I felt good, especially when I was raised all-in while holding pocket Kings. Cowboys. I called the bet from the guy with a chip stack half my size. He turned over a pair of Sixes. As the flop came out King-Deuce-Ace, I was fully expecting my three-of-a-kind to prevail. Unfortunately, when the turn and river cards both came out as sixes, my full house did not prevail over his four-of-a-kind. Half of my chip stack disappeared quicker than you can say Bad Beat.

I was still in the tournament, however, and I was still very much alive. I played on, won a couple more hands, and things were turning around when I was again raised all-in while holding a pair of Aces. Pocket Rockets! The best pre-flop hand! I called, and was almost excited when my opponent turned over his 8-9 off suit. The nascent excitement turned into a nauseous disgust as the flop came out – and I am not making this up – 8-9-9. Another tournament day had ended, and no Binion’s championship was there for me.

Like a punch-drunk MMA fighter who just doesn’t know when not to get back in the octagon, I searched out a cash game later that night to “turn my luck around.” I ended up doing a lot more folding than holding, as the cards just wouldn’t come. I was about to cash in my chips when I got a decent hand – pocket Tens. I raised pre-flop, and the only person I got to call was the big blind. The flop comes out 9-2-4 unsuited. The Tens still look good. Thinking my opponent has a high card or perhaps a decent pair, I place a protection bet and expected either a raise or a fold. Just a call comes. The turn card comes up a 2. I bet again and get called again – not raised. The river card is a 7. There are no straight or flush possibilities on the board. I am holding two pair, Tens and Deuces. I bet, get called, and then get beaten by my opponent’s Deuce-7 off-suit hole cards – the worst starting hand in Texas Hold ‘Em.

For the record, I would not have changed my play on any of these four hands. But this unfortunate turn of events started me thinking about poker and life. Most of the things I have done in my life bring something of value to others, whether it’s playing music that uplifts a person’s spirits, helping local businesses get recognition through advertising and promotion, or volunteer work through Rotary and the Chamber. Each of these is rewarding for all parties concerned – true win-win scenarios. To be an ultimate winner at Texas Hold ‘Em Poker means that everyone else has to lose.

Why should I devote more of my life to this?