When do results matter?
by Steve Paul-Ambrose
One of the first things you learn playing poker is to avoid being results oriented. This is a pretty hard lesson for most; after losing a bunch of flips, shoving into aces or busting on the bubble it's hard not to second guess yourself and let the results affect you even if you know the play was right. The results of a hand are often a terrible way to decide if you made good decisions during the hand. On the other hand, your results over thousands of tournaments are generally a good indicator of how well you played during that time span, but let's stick to individual hands. Basically I want to look at when you can use the results to judge your play and when you can't.
Let's start with an obvious one: it folds to the small blind who goes all in for 10 big blinds. You are the big blind, look down at AKs and call. Unfortunately the small blind has AA and you lose. Hopefully no one looks at that hand and says: "I shouldn't have called there, next time I have AKs in that situation I'll fold!" Now a slightly more difficult one, same scenario but you have KTo. This is much more opponent specific, there are lots of people you should call against and some you should fold against. But you've only been at the table a few orbits so you don't have much of a read. Let's assume you call and take a look at three scenarios:
1. SB has AK
2. SB has QJs
3. SB has 72o
In the first scenario, these results are essentially meaningless. Yes it was a "bad" call against his specific hand, but it's quite possible that he was shoving any two cards. AK is any two cards so when he looked at that, he shoved. If you had seen this player in this spot a number of times and he folded a lot but when he shoved and got called he had a big hand, that's useful information. Him showing AK this time is not.
The second situation is similar except in this case we made a "good" call based on his hand. But his shoving QJs doesn't really indicate anything about whether our call is good or not.
The third situation is the one where the results clearly indicate that our call is good. If he's shoving 72o there we can reasonably assume he's shoving any two cards in which case we're about a 60/40 favorite against his range and calling is clearly the right play.
How can you use this to improve your play? Instead of analyzing your play based on the hand you were up against one time, try to use the results to create a range of hands for your opponent and do your analysis based on that.
Sometimes the results will not really be helpful (the AK and QJs examples), sometimes they will do the job for you (72o). In general though they will provide at least some insight and give you a better chance to make an accurate analysis and allow you to make better decisions next time a similar situation arises.