Defining The Opportunity And Reacting On Your Gut Instinct

published on 03/15/10 at 10:51 am

Defining The Opportunity And Reacting On Your Gut Instinct

What is gut instinct? We are blessed to be alive at this age of technological breakthroughs which, used properly, can help reveal a lot of secrets and answer many questions. However, there is no computer program or medical instrumentation – not even a mathematical equation that can be used as a measurement or reader for one’s gut instinct. With all that said, there are those of us that swear by it.

One’’s gut instinct is a very powerful tool, but before one can utilize it properly one must first be in a position to do several things. First of all, one needs to identify it. All too often we witness some of the stupidest plays one can make, only to have them followed by a comment, ““I was following my gut”.”

How do I define this? As a lame excuse to justify one’s stupidity. Secondly, one must define it. My definition of “”gut instinct”” is that it is nothing more than a subconscious tell. We all have the ability to read to some degree, assuming we have embraced this gift and can clearly define what it is we are reading. In some cases though, we will subconsciously pick up on a tell that has not registered in our conscious mind. We will then experience a ““feeling” that we should take a particular action, without being able to clearly define the reasoning. For those of us that are “tuned in” a subconscious tell is no different than a conscious tell. The only real difference is our trust in acting upon it.

This is clearly not something that will be accomplished overnight. It take a very keen eye and many decades of play at a table to develop the necessary trust that one requires to be sure of the accuracy of the subconscious information that is being processed and presented. How and when will this occur? Probably when you least expect it. You may be on a lousy hand and in equally lousy position…………then it happens. You know you are ahead but you just can’t justify it. Everything inside you is telling you to proceed with the hand, yet you have no logical information that you can clearly place your hands on. What do you do?

At the WSOP main event, I found myself in just this predicament. It was half way through day two where I had been struggling all day at the same table as the short stack. Cards weren’’t coming and time was running out. A player had just been knocked out and one of the players from the adjoining table was send over to fill the void.

As he approached the table, I could clearly see that he was short stacked to me. However, that wasn’’t any where near as impressive as the scared look he had on his face. I was very pleased to see all this as I had now identified someone I could pick on, given the opportunity. The players at the table that possessed the largest stacks did not even wait for him to sit down. They started riding him right away with such comments as “”you wasting your time sitting down at this table with that small stack”.” Another player informed him that the last seven players to get knocked out at this table were all seated in that same particular chair and offered his condolences. This of course did not help his demeanor any.

The dealer began to deal the first hand and I found myself on the BB with 7-8. The next four players all folded and the action came around to the new player. He thought about it for a minute and, very nervously, put a raise in of 4X the BB. His bet aggravated me as it appeared that he was making a play for my BB with nothing. After all the “riding” he gotten, he decided he was going to make his presence at the table known regardless of his small stack (I also assumed that since all the large stacks at the table had already folded this did not hurt a bit in his decision). I decided at that point that I would immediately place a pot sized raise as soon as the action came back around to me and take the pot down. A couple of more folds later the action made its way to the button that called the raise.

This was the last thing I wanted to hear. The player on the button was a very solid player that had definitely earned my respect throughout the day. When he took a stab at the pot, he won it. Whenever he got chased down and showed a hand, he had the nuts. A very solid player with a good read on the remaining table. He and I had not tangled thus far. He had managed to stay out of my way, and I, out of his.

Several questions began to run through my mind. Did the button get the same read I did? If so is he is making the call with better position and has every intention of betting or raising after the flop, regardless of the flop. The reason he would not re-raise if he got the same read was obvious to me. The previous raise was large enough to cause me to fold and without any knowledge of what action I was going to take, he found himself squeezed between a raise and the blinds and was being cautious. This was one train of thought. The other of course being that he actually had a solid hand and would have made the call regardless of the “”read”.” Even in this instance he was playing conservative enough not to have re-raised with two players to go.

The small blind folded and the action was to me. Everything inside me told me to play the hand aggressively; however, I chose to muck it. The flop revealed 6-7-8, which would have given me top two pair. The new player bet out and was raised by the button, he then called. The board turned an 8, which would have bettered my hand to a full house. The new player bet, the button raised. He was met by a re-raise followed by a call. The river revealed a 10. The new player bet out once again and was met by an All-In raise from the button. The new player called and turned over his hand to reveal a 4-5 off suite that he had initially bluffed at the pot with pre-flop. The Button exposed his hand, showing the nut straight J-9 off suite.

I was sick to my stomach knowing that I did not follow my gut instinct and missed out on the one hand that would have turned my tournament around. The more I analyzed the hand, the sicker I became. I obviously, had no idea that I would turn a full when I was contemplating a raise pre-flop. However, my read on the table was correct. The new player was taking a stab at the blinds with 4-5 off suite. The conservative player on the button also made this read and decided to call (he would have re-raised in this position if there weren’’t two players left to act). Had I raised pre-flop, as my gut had told me to do, there is no doubt I would have taken down the pot. In the event I did get called (highly unlikely) the way the hand played out I would have easily doubled or tripled up on the hand.

I have shared this story with many colleagues that are upper tier players. Their initial reaction is that if after two days at a major tournament this is the only hand I questioned myself on, I am very fortunate as I, most likely, played brilliantly. The truth of the matter is, this is the only hand I questioned. Unfortunately, the chips that would have been won from this hand would have carried me deep into the money so this was an expensive hand and a difficult one to forget.

In large tournaments one cannot expect to get many opportunities on any given day to accumulate chips. When you have a good read on the table and have defined the opportunity, follow your “”Gut Instinct”.” Stop playing cards and start playing poker for a change.

John “The Greek” Leontakianakos is a professional poker player with 27 years of experience.

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