Maybe I'll Get Lucky

Poker Luck

Poker Luck"Luck is the residue of design." -- Branch Rickey

Legend has it that baseball executive Branch Rickey could recognize talent from the window of a fast-moving train. So he was "lucky" to have talented ballplayers.  Tim McCarver once remarked that Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals was the luckiest pitcher he ever saw -- when Gibson pitched, the other team never scored any runs! And Vince Lombardi said: "The harder we work, the luckier we get."

Outside poker, good luck is often the result of deliberate planning and hard work. People get lucky because they try to get lucky. It works this way in poker too, to a large degree. But, luck in poker is different from the above sports examples. The following statement is an oversimplification, but it gives a clear picture of what I’m trying to get across...

The luckier you are at poker, the worse you play.

We all appreciate luck in poker, and wish we could bottle it and save it for future days, but in many ways luck is the enemy of a good poker player. First let’s look at luck from the perspective of the bad player. At least half the time when a bad player wins a pot, he will have gotten lucky to do it. The bad player comes from behind, sucks out when not getting pot odds, makes miracle perfect-perfect catches, spears a kicker on the river card, fills up bottom two pair against an opponent with top two pair. The bad player has a million ways to get lucky. And, like Branch Rickey said, this is by design. Bad players try to get lucky. So, it’s no surprise that bad players are generally luckier than good players.

On the other hand, good players are playing with the best of it. Sure, they still get “lucky” sometimes, like making a flush draw on the river card, but they will have been getting pot odds on that draw and will have built the pot correctly too. Good players habitually do the mathematically correct action in any given situation. It’s not “lucky” for AA to beat J9. The good player actually tries to avoid being lucky, except to the extent that it would be lucky if the flop came AJ9.

One way that I often get accused of being “lucky” is when an opponent says: “You are so lucky I threw away my hand.” Well, duh, that’s why I raised, to get you out. My luck here was again the residue of design. This is the sort of luck that good players manufacture all the time. But it’s not at all the same kind of luck that happens to the bad player. The bad player makes his own luck happen to him; the good player often makes other players give him good luck.

Another example of luck I get accused of is being in a pot with a player who drastically overbets his hand, giving me four or five extra bets. "You are so lucky he gave you all those extra bets." Again, my play of the hand was designed to extract extra bets from the type of player I was in the pot with. I will have tried to get "lucky" like this. A good player is "lucky" to extract extra bets from opponents all day and all year long. I'm lucky that people bluff into me constantly in situations where I have a no-brainer call, but this luck is the direct result of years of practice in inducing these sort of pitiful bluffs. When I check top pair on the river, and my one opponent bluff bets his busted flush draw, I think of Branch Rickey and the residue of design.

So, if you have been getting really lucky, beware. If you’ve had bad luck stomping a hole in your forehead, at least be glad you’ve probably been playing correctly.

You don’t want to get lucky yourself. You want your opponents to make luck their present to you, like a gift on a silver platter. Get lucky by having your opponent put in five bets while drawing to a double bellybuster. Don’t try it yourself.

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