04/25/2006 11:00PM

Second-guessing is your first mistake


King of clubs, queen of clubs. That's the hand that caused me some grief in a recent tournament, when I misplayed it badly to cost myself a big chip lead.

Of course, we are supposed to learn from our mistakes and not make them again, but in poker there will be plenty of instances where you find out that the same starting hand may best be played the way you thought you misplayed it a few days ago.

In the first instance, I was sitting with $2,250 in chips in a $100 buy-in, single-table tourney, with four players left and payoffs going to the top three. I was sitting to the left of the big blind and was first to bet, so I did, raising to $300, or three times the big blind.

With $2,500 in chips, the button re-raised another $300, the little blind folded, and the big blind called, as I did, building the pot to $1,850, pre-flop.

The flop came K-d, 10-s, J-c, leaving me with top pair and a Q kicker, plus a straight draw and a runner-runner flush draw, including a remote royal flush draw, not a bad hand to proceed.

So, after the big blind checked, I bet $900, about half the existing pot, and was raised all-in by the button.

The big blind folded, but if I did the same, I would be throwing away a good hand with some outs in the face of a potential $5,400 pot. But I also would be retaining $750 in chips, which would have been enough to take a second or third shot at the money, with about the same number of chips as one of the remaining players.

If I called, I sensed that I would be looking at a made straight, or set of 10's, or perhaps a pocket A-K, which would dominate my K-Q. There seemed to be no realistic chance that I would be looking at a relatively modest A-J in the hole, or A-10, or even Q-8.

It didn't make sense that someone would raise me pre-flop and raise me again after the flop with the second- or third-best pair, or a straight draw, not when so many dangerous cards were on the table and I already had declared strength, twice.

Mathematically, it could be argued that I was almost pot-committed, but I decided to play it safe and fold. The button showed me 9-9 to rub it in, and if truth be told, the wound did cut deeper, emotionally.

Going on tilt - overbetting hands after a bad play or tough beat - is somewhat against my personality, having been toughened through years of nose defeats and erratic stewards' decisions at the track. But sometimes, I can second-guess myself after badly misreading a race and have to regroup to get my head on straight. I am finding that I may need to do the same when I badly misread a poker hand.

In one hand later the same day, I threw away K-K in a limit tourney when there were four spades on the board and I had none. While this was prudent on some level, it also was a weak-minded decision that probably invited more aggressive plays by opponents later in the tourney. A few days later, I called a $400 bet instead of raised with two pair on the turn, only to let an inferior pocket-pair draw into trips. Ugly stuff, but not the last of it by any means.

Then, as if the poker gods had been setting all this up to teach me a lesson, I was dealt, you guessed it - king of clubs, queen of clubs.

This time, there were six players at the table, and I was second to act pre- flop and led out with another $300 bet that was called by the button and the big blind. Already I could hear the Twilight Zone theme music in my head, followed by whistling X-Files music when the flop came: K-s, J-h, 10-c, eerily close to the same flop I saw in my last go round with king of clubs, queen of clubs.

Of course, there was instant recall to the way I played the hand that started my mental slide. Taking a few moments to think things through, I reasoned that my $900 bet still was the right play, so I made a similar bet that equaled half the pot and was not shocked when the button raised me all-in.

This time, I decided to call even though I believed once again that the button would turn over a made straight, which he did, taking me out of the tourney.

Strange as it may seem, I did not lose my focus from this second reversal. Strange as it may seem, while losing the tournament, I instantly regained one important, irreplaceable thing: Confidence - confidence in my ability to read the situation at hand.

Some decisions simply turn out bad, and you have to have the fortitude to live with them. In this game, it is crucial to realize that some mistakes are not mistakes at all. They're just losses, nothing more. At the bottom line, all of us risk much bigger penalties in poker, in horse racing, and in life, when we second-guess ourselves into mind-numbing stupidity.

Steve Davidowitz is the author of the handicapping book "Betting Thoroughbreds" and plays as StevenLD on various Internet poker sites.