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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On Poker and Golf

I'm watching the final table of the WSOP (World Series of Poker) Main Event as I write this. The game is no-limit hold'em. Over $62 million in prize money was up for grabs. Nine players outlasted nearly 7000 entrants from all over the world back during the summer to make "the November Nine," aka the final table. Now two of the survivors, one German and one Czech, are playing for a WSOP bracelet and around $8.7 million. (Don't feel bad for the loser. He'll only pocket a measley $5.4 million, but he'll be a rock star in his home country.)

There's a lot you can learn about golf by watching poker. Especially this year, as the Nevada gaming commission is allowing the final table to be broadcast with only a 15-minute delay. Usually you only get to watch the highlights of the game; with this setup, you get to watch every hand. That means you get to see a lot more of the strategy.

It also gives you an appreciation for how much mental toughness the game requires. You think it's tough to deal with a few bad shots? There were three players when the final table broadcast started tonight. American Ben Lamb, who was voted Player of the Year, was in second place coming in. He lost around $50 million chips in only four hands. After all that work, after outlasting nearly 7k players, he busted out in the first four hands! Can you imagine that? In fact, the very first hand of the night, the one that did the most damage, has already made it onto YouTube:

The two players who are left have been playing for hours... and the Czech is ahead right now. One wins a huge hand, then the other slowly whittles away until he gets ahead, then it goes back the other way. The blinds and antes (for those of you who don't play, that's money you're required to put in at the start of a hand so there's something to play for) are ridiculously high. Every two hands takes over $3 million from your stack!

Now that's pressure. How can anybody deal with it?

Some don't. They "go on tilt," a phrase you may have heard before. It means they lose perspective and start making stupid plays. As a result, they compound the error and bust out even sooner.

Golfers go on tilt also. They make a bad shot and then, instead of taking their medicine and just chipping back into the fairway or taking a drop, they try to make a heroic shot that puts them in even worse trouble. It's interesting to me that a key concept in championship poker is "playing position." Tonight I have watched players fold what looked like a good hand simply because they would have to play it out of position. That's how important position is to them. The two certainly go hand-in-hand, don't they?

Position is very important in golf as well. Not just your position on the golf course (which means you need a predictable swing) but your position in the match you're playing. Sometimes a shot doesn't offer enough reward for the risk you'll have to take. You have to learn when to take the risk and when to play it safe.

But just like the poker players, there often comes a crucial point where you have to go all-in. You know that this shot can make or break your round. It doesn't happen in every round, but when it does you have to have the confidence to step up and make the shot.

And any poker player will tell you that, no matter how good you are, you've gotta have a little luck. What we often call "the rub of the green" is called "a bad beat" in poker. And every poker player has some bad beat stories. It's just part of life.

I guess the biggest thing a golfer can learn from poker is simply that life happens and you have to deal with it. When you learn that, your golf game will improve considerably. At least a ball in the hazard isn't as traumatic as losing $50 million in four hands.

And now they've been at it for nearly five hours and it's not over yet. Poker also takes a lot of endurance which I don't have tonight. I'll find out who won Wednesday morning. Fortunately I can go to bed and not lose a thing. ;-)

1 comment:

  1. In any game there will be situations packed with pressure. The key is keeping your composure, make a decision, and just go for it. Also, always keep in mind to learn from your mistakes.

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