Wednesday, August 05, 2009

On First Choices, Second Guesses

Your first choice is wisest to follow in the coming month.“Your first choice is wisest to follow in the coming month.”

Such was the fortune cookie I received last night. Vera Valmore and I had had a late dinner at the local sushi place where I’d enjoyed a delicious Firecracker Roll, and with the bill came the little message about trusting one’s first instincts.

My instinctive response to getting the fortune? Uncanny.

You often hear about the importance of first instincts in poker. The otherwise straightforward playing dude suddenly check-raises you big on the turn. That top pair, top kicker with which you had confidently delivered your continuation bet suddenly feels like a sure ticket to getting stacked.

Better skedaddle, you tell yourself. Surely, I’m cooked.

Then you start thinking it over, coming up with other reasons not to fold. You spot backdoor draws, and contemplate whether that’s further encouraged your opponent’s aggressive play. Or perhaps what you’re seeing is the utter lack of any draws, the dry board making it seem even more obvious he is representing a set. Why the heck wouldn’t he slowplay it, you ask yourself? Maybe I should look him up here.

Second thoughts lead to third thoughts lead to a complicated dissertation examining the viability of all possible actions. Maybe after all of that you finally return to that initial impulse to let your hand go. Maybe you don’t.

The value of that initial impression largely comes from one’s prior experience, as well as from whatever other study one has given the situation. A combination of practice and theory, you might say, that works together to inform that “gut feeling” with which your chain of reasoning started. All the subsequent fretting then becomes variations of a similar question...

Can you trust your gut?

We run into these situations frequently away from the poker tables, too, where we reach a fork in the road of life and are made to decide on a path. I’ve faced a number of such choices over the last couple of years, some of which I could see coming, others which came as surprisingly as that sudden check-raise from an otherwise pliable, playable opponent.

With each my response has usually been to go with that first instinct, which seems to have worked out okay thus far. In other words, I still have a stack with which to play.

But we can’t just shut off our minds. Second guessing equals being human. Did he really have it? (We wonder.)

Then, hopefully, we realize... there’s just one thing left to do.

Play on.

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Anonymous Shane said...

This is a great post. My biggest problem is doubting my first instincts. I play my best poker when I don't think - of course I face a big risk of making huge mistakes because of this. Double-edged sword I guess.

8/09/2009 3:12 PM  

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