“We have met the enemy, and he is us,” is a 35-year-old catch phrase injected by cartoonist Walt Kelly into the mouth of Pogo, a philosophical possum who lives in the Okefenokee Swamp and is the feature character of the comic strip that bore his name. People have so much reverence for Kelly that the town of Waycross, Georgia — located just north of the Okefenokee — holds an annual Pogofest each March. Although Walt Kelly is no longer living and the comic strip has passed into history, so many people love Pogo and Walt Kelly that the annual Pogofest serves as a gathering place for them all.
Like so many others, I loved Pogo for the simple yet profound truths that jumped out of its panels on a regular basis. “We have met the enemy, and he is us” is the most famous and most frequently quoted Pogoism, and it’s applicable to most every area of life and human endeavor. I don’t know whether Walt Kelly played poker or not, but that statement certainly got to the heart of the game’s psychology.
As poker players, it’s no secret that we are frequently our own worst Bola88 enemy. We do it to ourselves repeatedly, in oh so many ways. And what’s worse, we seldom realize it. We can be our own best friend, too, but we’re our own worst enemy a lot more often. In our competitive zeal, in our zest for doing battle with other players, in our compelling need to impose our will on opponents, in our psychological need to outplay them, and in our longing to be recognized by our opponents as the toughest, trickiest, and most inscrutable player at the table, we ignore the obvious: We usually beat ourselves. We are the enemy. He is us.
So, what do we do when we’re the enemy? Where do we take aim? We can’t very well shoot ourselves, or give up poker, can we? I suppose we could, but those prospects aren’t very appealing. In fact, they’re just awful choices, and if you ask me, I don’t know whether I could live with either of them.
But there is something else we can do. We can look at ourselves honestly, and if we do, we’re likely to see some flaws creeping into our game. By identifying them, we will have taken the first step toward eliminating whatever emotional and psychological demons conspire to make us our own worst enemy.
Love is in the air: It sounds like a line from a Frank Sinatra song, doesn’t it? While love is grand, it’s also a double-edged sword, and love has been the ruin of many a poker player. No, I’m not talking about some femme fatale with a come hither glance smoldering her way into your heart and into your wallet at the poker table. I’m talking about some of the hands poker players are fond of falling in love with — hands that cost money because they’re not at all what they seem to be at first glance.
I had a friend who was in love with J-9, especially if the Jdiamonds was involved. He’d call a raise cold to enter a pot with J-9, believing it was lucky for him and that he was going to win far more than his fair share whenever he was dealt those two cards. How and why did this come about? An early success imprinted those cards in his memory and led him down that particular slippery slope.
It was one of those kill-pot hands in which the stakes were doubled and he called an early bet, only to be raised, and he called the raise, too. Then, another player reraised, the betting was capped, and our hero was sitting there with the Jdiamonds 9diamonds while presumably confronting pairs of aces and/or kings, A-K, and whatever else players like to cap the betting with. The flop was J-J-9, and guess who won a huge pot? There were bets and raises galore, and at double the usual stakes, my buddy won the biggest pot of the day. It was so big that two hands later, he was still stacking his chips when he was dealt J-9 again. So, he played. He flopped the nut straight and won that pot, too. It wasn’t quite as big as the first one, but it was big enough that he was still stacking chips a few hands later.
Ever since that fateful day, which was quite early in his poker-playing career, he’s been in love with J-9. Although he’s a fairly logical guy in everyday life, he persists in clinging to a false fixed belief that a jack and a 9 are inordinately lucky for him. As a result, he continues to read magic into what is nothing more than a mediocre Texas hold’em poker hand, one best played suited from late position, and only then if there’s been no raise. If those conditions haven’t been met, it’s an unplayable hand and ought to be thrown away. But to my friend, J-9 ranks right up there in the pantheon of truly majestic Texas hold’em starting hands with pocket pairs of aces and kings.
While my friend won two enormous pots with this hand way back in his salad days, he’s probably a lifelong money loser with J-9, because he persists in playing this worthless piece of cheese as if it were a pair of aces. But he doesn’t see this. All he recalls are the times he drags a big pot with his favorite hand, and he’s sure that he’s still got his mojo working.
It doesn’t have to be J-9. You can be your own worst enemy with any favorite trash hand. On the Internet newsgroup Rec.Gambling.Poker, a pocket pair of fives carries a mystique all its own. It’s called “presto,” and how it got that name is a long story that I won’t bore you with here. The “power of presto” actually began as a joke of sorts, but quickly developed a life and a mystique of its own, because just about everyone who plays a pocket pair of fives and wins with it usually posts an item to the newsgroup regaling readers with another tale about presto’s magical power. ESPN even showed Greg Raymer, arms raised high in the air, shouting out “presto” at the final table of the 2004 World Series of Poker when he dragged a pot with a pair of fives. Greg shouted it jokingly, and the remark itself seemed to go right by the commentators and probably most of the viewing audience except those who read RGP on a regular basis, but hey, presto does have its own mystique and karma about it, and who knows how many RGPers actually believe in its power.
I’m sure J-9 and presto aren’t the only two hands poker players have fallen in love with. There are 169 different starting hands in Texas hold’em, and I suppose each and every hand, even the weakest among them, has an adherent or two. When it comes to lucky poker hands, there’s something for everyone, and it’s only human nature to reinforce our false fixed beliefs and myths by recalling the good things that happen when we play those weak hands that fascinate us.
When we recall only the good times, we conveniently forget all the times we lose money with these turkeys, and I suppose they all look pretty good when viewed retrospectively through our memory’s looking glass.
The sad, cold truth is that not every hand that some player considers lucky is going to win in disproportionate measure, and a pair of aces will beat the living daylights out of J-9 and presto the vast majority of the time, even if you happen to remember it differently. If you’ve got a favorite hand, but it’s one that’s really a dog regardless of whatever magical qualities you’ve assigned it, just look at it for what it is and play it accordingly. Your wallet will love you for it.