Doug Hull hosts today’s podcast, mining gems from The Elements of Poker one of the most legendary poker books ever written, authored by the inimitable Tommy Angelo. He explains that while the book might not teach you specific strategies for beating the game, it will make you a better poker player.
How? On the surface, the book deals with the etiquette of poker, how to be at peace at the table by developing strong mental game, and how to find balance as a full-time player.
You might call it “Poker Zen”.
The Toughest Decisions in Poker
“The toughest decisions are the ones that matter the least,” is something Hull picked up from Angelo so long ago, he began attributing it to himself before re-reading The Elements of Poker. He sources this concept to Angelo’s Element #21: The Grey Area.
Hull explains how “The Grey Area” represents the zone of decisions where choosing one action over another shows almost equal expected value. Incidentally, these are usually the hands where players tend to argue the most over which decision is best — precisely because the two decisions being compared are so close.
Hull talks about the PRO video he did (Mixed Strategies with Poker Snowie) inspired by differing line suggestions given to a Red Chipper by himself and James “SplitSuit” Sweeney, fellow Red Chip Poker co-founder and coach. They plugged the hand into Poker Snowie, a GTO-based poker analysis tool, and gave the expected value of each move on every street. They saw their disagreements were in the “Grey Area” of similar expected value.
Hull also talks about this in his Poker Workbook for Math Geeks, when he justifies making decisions based on estimations. Because decision can be so similar in expected value, estimations are totally fine for calculating poker math at the table.
The Grey Man
Hull describes Tommy Angelo as the “Grey Man” for his non-distinct, unassuming appearance. He recommends visiting Angelo’s website, where you can see a photo as proof. If Angelo sat down at the table next to you, you likely would not think he’s one of the foremost thinkers and writers in poker. This is calculated, and works extremely well in his advantage.
As a caveat, Hull invites any listeners or fans that see him at the table to come up and say hi. He’s not trying to be invisible. But Angelo, on the other hand, gets a special approach by Hull, so as to not blow his cover.
Hull does relate with Angelo on “Mum Poker”, another of Angelo’s elements concerning the best amount of information one should reveal about one’s poker playing and strategies — none. Mum poker is not about not talking, it’s about not talking about certain things, namely, poker plays, thoughts or feelings.
“If someone asks you if you like your food, answer. If someone asks you if you like your cards, don’t answer. That’s mum poker.” Angelo says in his book.
Hull says this style of poker can really unnerve other players, because they can’t get any information. He relates a non-poker story about a fender-bender where he took this strategy into real life to use Angelo’s quiet, inner peace to win a situation in life.
Being calm and professional is another aspect of a winning poker persona, whether in resolving disputes with the floor, or avoiding disputes with opponents.
Hull quotes Angelo’s Element concerning folding face-up, and how it represents one of the weakest reactions in poker. It’s based on being worried what other people think of you, and gives up the most valuable information you could give up — your exact holding.
This element is unambiguous. Fold face-down. It sends the message: I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I’m moving on without giving up any information.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean you never show cards at showdown. Hull likes to show bluffs to show people you don’t care, and you are capable of anything.
Hull talks about Angelo’s “Sixth Street” concept, as an exploit that many poker players overlook. This concept is all about the period of time between hands, after a player has dragged a pot. During this window of time, the player “lets their guard down” about the hand since the action is over. During this time, it’s possible to ask a well-timed, well-worded question to get the opponent to reveal information about the hand they may have not otherwise revealed while it was going on. This relates to the earlier point about not giving away this information under any circumstances. Most players are not disciplined as such, and can be squeezed for information once the pressure of playing the hand has subsided.
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