Defining Moments

Brian Alspach

Poker Digest Vol. 3, No. 6, March 10 - 23, 2000

Bib Ladder and I had been talking for a while over two cups of coffee when he suddenly changed the topic saying, ``You know, professor, in the last few days I have experienced two defining moments, as I call them, and I would like to tell you about them.''

Of course, I said, ``Go ahead'' since the old rascal is full of valuable insights.

``I was playing,'' he began, ``in a limit hold'em tournament the other night and found I was holding pocket kings in this particular hand. The player two to the left of the big blind raised and I reraised. The intervening players folded, he called and we were heads up.

The flop came A-K-6 in different suits. He bet and I decided to call because I was fairly certain he held an ace with a big kicker; perhaps even a king. The turn brought an eight. He, again,bet; I raised. He thought, and thought some more, and decided to fold, but as he did so, he showed me his hand. He was holding a suited A-Q.

As he showed me his hand he also betrayed something else in his demeanor. Now people show you their cards for a variety of reasons. You might guess he was advertising his willingness to lay down a pretty good hand, but you would be wrong in this case. Instead, he betrayed the desire to see my hand in order to assess whether or not he had made a good fold. He hoped I would return his `gentlemanly' action by showing my hand.

This was a defining moment in my relationship with that player. By that, I mean it created a situation which neither of us would forget, although he doesn't know I will not forget, and could influence future actions. I now knew he was unsure of the validity of my hand and by not showing him my hand, which is what I decided to do, he was left with doubt in his mind. This meant he likely would be inclined to call me next time we got in a similar situation. And that's precisely what happened.

At the final table we met again and I made certain I avoided trying to push him out of hand. Eventually, he went all in against me, when I had a strong hand, and was eliminated from the tournament. His elimination was partially set up by the earlier defining moment.''

``Alright, Bib, I see what you are getting at. It is just a matter of observing other people.''

``Just a matter of observing other people!'' he snorted. ``There are people playing this game who observe nothing beyond their own hands. You have to watch constantly, because defining moments appear out of the blue and if you are not watching, you can miss them entirely. Also, the defining moment may be a revelation to you, whereas, it is essentially unnoticed by the other person. Let me give you an example of the latter.

Last week I was playing in a ring game and in this particular hand I was the big blind. Three seats to my left was a player who plays too many hands, defends weak holdings and tries to buy too many pots. I have played with him five or six times. He calls the big blind; two other players call; the small blind folds; and I look at my hand finding a lousy hand so I did not raise. The flop was 3-7-7. I checked since it helped me absolutely zilch.

Well, true to his typical form, the player three seats to my left fires a bet. The other two callers fold leaving me the last hope of the good guys. I decide to raise on a straight bluff. He does not even hesitate to muck his cards. Internally I was flabbergasted. It was so out of character with his normal play. Sure, he undoubtedly had a weak hand, but the manner in which he mucked his cards suggested to me that his image of me is that I am so tight I must have had a big hand. For me it was a defining moment in our poker relationship, but I don't think he will remember it past the end of the game. It certainly will affect the way I play him in the future.''

``Interesting,'' I replied.

Bib continued, ``So, professor, watch for these defining moments in your poker relationships. They can be very helpful. Be aware they have variable lifetimes. The first example I gave you above from tournament play is something which was mostly useful for the tournament. I doubt it will extend into ring games in which I run into the same player. On the other hand, the image of me possessed by the player who folded to my check-raise is a long-term feature. I shall try to help strengthen his image by attempting to show him strong hands when I beat him. Ah, yes, defining moments is an interesting topic.

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