Saturday was one of those nice winter days in Seattle. To be clear, that means it was about 50 degrees, partially sunny, not too windy and the ground was only a little wet. But since this was a rare day, my brother and I decided to play nine holes of with a buddy of ours.
I played pretty well all said. But after 5 holes, I was playing great, I had a birdie and two pars and was 1 over total. Then the wheels came off. I hit a nice drive on 6, but pushed my pitching wedge to the right and into the bunker. When I got up there, I saw it had buried in the sand.
I followed that up with double bogeys on 7 and 8. I managed to par 9 for a 42, which was still a good 9-hole score for me.
After the round our buddy, who is a scratch golfer and played division 1 golf in college, tells me I played pretty well. I said thanks, and then I said but if that ball hadn’t buried in the sand on 6 I could have had a great day, and then started to tell him how things went wrong from there. He looked at me and said “play better”.
I was thinking about this little exchange later and it reminded me a lot of a poker player walking up and telling me a bad beat story. I usually don’t care and just brush them off. I could of talked about the 7-iron I hit straight at the pin on number 2. It landed 3 feet short of the hole and backed up to 6 feet. I rolled that putt in for birdie, but I didn’t.
I also realized that I didn’t complain about the 9-iron I pushed to the right on hole 4. But that was because it bounced to a nice spot beside the green and I got up and down for par. I made the same bad swing twice and only wanted to discuss the bad result.
I think that last point is the most relevant to poker bad beat stories. People tend to want to talk about the things were the variance goes against them. And they often start with the bad luck part of the story and then sometimes move on to the what do you think of my play part of the story.
I think that generally, it is very good to talk to your friends and other players that are better than you about poker. But I think it is equally important to talk about the decisions and not the results. It is hard to remember that close call you made that caught a bluff. You stack up the chips, pat yourself on the back, pump up your ego a bit, and move on. But if that same decision is a loser, you will want to ask your friends about it and rehash it.
The reality is that you will always lose some pots and you will always win some pots. But you are only evaluating a part of your game that ends poorly, you are missing lots of important stuff. There are the things that worked well (the 7-iron). You can focus on those and try to repeat or expand that part of your game. Then there are the things that you did poorly that still got a good result (the par on 4). Often those are the exact same decisions that you talk about you lose those pots.
Remember, when thinking about poker, all of the decisions matter. Anywhere you can incrementally improve the decision making process will incrementally improve the bottom line.