Seeing the future

July 28, 2014

It was typical low-stakes tournament at our little casino on the Isle of Man. It could have been any low-stakes tournament, anywhere, at any time. Four tables, £50 buy-in with one re-entry. Maybe the buzz was a little louder than usual because it was one of the first satellites that we’re running for the UKIPT when it comes to the Isle of Man in October.
There I was in the big blind with maybe 20k chips and there he was in the small blind with more than that. The blinds were 400-800 – lots of poker to be played. It folded around to him and he limped in. This didn’t surprise me, because, well, let me tell you a little about the small blind.

First, he liked to see flops. Lots of them. Actually, most of them. To be brutally honest, damn near all of them. Unless the preflop raising really got out of hand, he took the flop. Then he’d see how things went from there. He had all the chips because a couple of guys tried to bluff him off legitimate hands; things happen in this game. But he played pretty “honest” post-flop poker – if he didn’t have a reasonable piece of the flop (by his definition) he was done with the hand.

So anyway, he limped in and I looked down at 9-4 offsuit. Now despite having played a lot of poker in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 9-4 (or more correctly, “Niners!”) is treated as some kind of alternate pair of kings, I know better than to take the hand very seriously. Normally, I’d breathe a sigh of relief, check, and see a flop. But then I did an unusual thing: I thought.

“What happens if I raise?”

“He calls.”

“Okay, so he calls. What if he misses the flop?”

“He checks and folds.”

“That seems like a good result. What happens if he hits the flop?”

“He bets out.”

“So he bets out. I probably fold, but it’s easy to know what to do. This raising thing is starting to have a lot of appeal. Obviously there’s no guarantee it’s going to work, but I like our chances.”

(To the assembled multitude) “2000 straight.”

To nobody’s surprise (including mine), the small blind quickly called. The flop came J-J-6, which was just about perfect for me. He checked.

“Twenty-two hundred.”

Without hesitation, the small blind folded.

As I pulled in the chips, you might think I’d have been proud, smug, happy – sensations like that. But let me tell you what I felt: fear. I don’t often get those kinds of glimpses into the future – they sort of have to fall in my lap and then reach up and slap me in the face.

But I know poker players – a bunch of them – who seem to have those insights every third hand. Like good chess players, they look out into the future and have an uncanny knack for knowing how the movie is going to end. Of course, they’re wrong sometimes (with predictably disastrous results) and sometimes they’re right, but the cards don’t cooperate and Bad Things happen. But way more often than I do, they see what’s coming, and position themselves to take full advantage of it.

Stacking chips with my complete swing-and-a-miss, I thought, “Man – those cats and kittens who see the future regularly – they’ve got a big advantage over the rest of us.” It was a sobering reflection on the complexity of our game and the value of at least making the effort to peer into the crystal ball.

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Lee Jones is the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars. He first joined the company in 2003 and has been involved in the professional poker industry for over 25 years. You can read his occasional tweets at @leehjones.


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