I get a lot of correspondence these days. Of course, “my mailbox” refers to the one in my computer’s mail program, not the one outside my house, where Uncle Sam seems to drop an endlessBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play. Bob's website is www.pokercoach.us
amount of advertising. The e-mail I get covers a wide range of subjects.
Some of the e-mail shows that people have misconceptions about what it is like to play in big tournaments or high-stakes games. The following one illustrates this, and also is about a subject that receives more discussion than I think it merits.
“At my weekly home game, there was a discussion about folding pocket aces preflop. The scenario was that it’s the World Series of Poker
main event, and it’s the very first hand of the tournament. Someone ahead of you goes all in and you look down to see pocket aces. What should you do? I said I’d call in a heartbeat, and so did some others. Some people said they would fold, because why gamble when you can actually play poker and build your stack without much risk? One guy even said folding pocket aces preflop in a cash game is what you should do if you and someone else are the only big stacks and he pushes you all in. Your opinion is greatly appreciated; thanks.”
Here was my answer:
“Aces are more than a 3.5-to-1 favorite over any hand, and at least a 4-to-1 favorite over any likely hand it would be facing. Anyone who thinks he can build his stack in the world championship “without much risk” and dodges these kinds of favorable odds is completely mistaken. In fact, anyone who would fold aces preflop in the world championship or any event with a similar format has a harmful mindset that will prevent him from ever winning the world championship, or even doing well in tournament poker. However, there are situations in which it is right to fold two aces before the flop. I will give you two of them, one from tournament play and one from money-game play.
“In the early ’80s, Ray Zee had a lock on winning a new car via a best all-around player award, at a point in the final event, by simply anteing himself off until he went broke. The prize money in the event was quite low by today’s standards. I heard that he actually folded two kings preflop at one point after reaching the lock position.
“This next tale, which involves money play, has been greatly exaggerated and floating around for a long time; I cannot vouch for its authenticity. A player whose marriage was in a rocky position partly as a result of gambling debts managed to have a fantastic run of luck in a money game and be up more than 50 grand. At one point, several people were all in, including a player with a large stack of chips equal to his own, before the betting reached him. He had two aces and showed them. Then, he folded, quit the game, and went home to his wife, believing his marriage was more important than mere money. However, his wife was no stranger to poker, and told him she did not want to stay married to someone who was nuts enough to fold pocket aces before the flop. They were divorced shortly thereafter.”
A common misconception about high-stakes games is that the players don’t play that much better than those in cheap games; they just have more money. This faulty view is based on seeing people putting money into the pot with light hands. When such a person gets caught, the viewer sometimes concludes that the person is simply a loose goose who does not seem to understand hand values.
In a recent Card Player column, Jim Brier described such a person in his $40-$80 hold’em game in Las Vegas. A fellow wrote to me as follows: “This sounds like many of the weaker players I see every day at the $2-$4 level. If Brier isn’t being overly condescending, I should be able to hold my own at these levels.”
It is true that a few people in the bigger games fit that description, but such a player is a rare bird. The play in $40-$80 games is very aggressive these days, so you might well see someone in there with a hand that looks like it should not have been played. But a slightly unsound, hyperaggressive player is not giving up as much as this person may think.
Higher-limit games are difficult to beat by simply playing tight preflop. There is a lot of fighting going on for the pots, and you have to be able to hold your own.
A goodly amount of the e-mail I get has to do with poker rules, a subject dear to my heart and one about which I often write. Here is a letter that brings up an interesting point:
“I have a question about a rule and etiquette in a friendly game. The rule is covered in your Robert’s Rules, I think, but should it be applied across the board? Assume that a player in a blind looked at his hand and inadvertently placed one of the cards faceup on the table. Realizing his mistake, he covered the card before more than one player saw it. What is the proper course of action? Must, or should, the player who saw the card announce it while the blind is still in the hand, as a courtesy to the table?”
The applicable rule is the well-known “Show one, show all.” Here, the card was not shown, just seen by accident.
Nevertheless, the other players in the game are supposed to have the right to know what the card was. But if you tell them, the reaction might be like this one, which was contained in the e-mail thread this guy sent me. “If I exposed my own card and you saw it, and then told the table what it was, I’d be furious and kill you.” I admit that if I am the person who sees a card in this manner, I do not tell the table what it is. Why should I provide a reason for anyone to want to kill poor old Bob? I say, “I agree that the rules state you have the right to know what the card was, but where does it say that I am required to be the one to tell you?” In other words, it is up to the curious one to get the info from the player who held the hand, not from me. The rule states, “Show one, show all.” It does not require anyone in particular to be a snitch. Let the beef be between the fumbling player and the curious one; leave me out of it.
Then, there’s the hate mail. You never know when something you write will hit a person the wrong way. Every once in a while, I get a letter full of venom. The one that I got for saying that I thought Stu Ungar
was not the greatest all-around poker player of all time was the nastiest letter I have ever received. I can’t even print any of it.
The following derogatory letter was sent because I wrote in my column about suing a pants manufacturer for putting out a faulty product. I will provide only a few of the more mild things this guy had to say. “My advice to you is to pull your head out of your backside.” “I’m sure you will find a dandy lawyer to agree with your dumb-ass idea.”
I get one of these e-mails every couple of years. I doubt whether such a person is doing well at poker. Winners are less grouchy than this. Being a Card Player columnist is fun, but there’s a downside, as can be seen here.