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Op-Ed: Some poker advice for Rafael Nadal

By Alexander Baron     Jul 10, 2012 in Entertainment
Just before Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal was signed up by PokerStars as one of its celebrity players. This is a different game from the one he is used to; here is some advice for him.
Rafael Nadal is not only one of the best tennis players in the world, he is already at 26 halfway towards becoming the greatest player of all time. The winner of no less than 11 Grand Slam titles, it was a big shock to all that he crashed out of Wimbledon in the second round this year, a tournament he has won twice, leaving Britain's Andrew Murray and Roger Federer to battle it out for the title. Next year maybe, Andy?
Raphael Nadal  2009
Rafael Nadal
Hopefully, this aberration was not due to Rafa putting in too much time at the poker table, especially late nights. A lot has been written about poker, there is nearly as much theory to the game as chess, well, not quite, but a lot all the same. The biggest game in town is No Limit Hold 'Em; of the many variations of poker, this is one of the most dangerous, primarily because of the No Limit element, but Pot Limit and even fixed limit (Limit) can be just as dangerous at times, certainly the cash games can.
With all the theory to poker, including No Limit Hold 'Em, there is a well-known saying: “Any two cards.” Sadly, it does indeed come down to this, some players will call with any two cards, raise with them or re-raise with them. Chase, chase, chase, and it is always the muppets who clean up, because No Limit Hold 'Em is a game for morons and broken hearts.
It is to be expected that Rafa will be playing a fair amount of No Limit Hold 'Em, especially in tournaments. He may even try his hand at cash games, if so he has the best qualification of all to make a small fortune at the poker table; he is starting with a large one. To date he has won over $50 million in prize money; along with endorsements, investments etc, he probably has more than that in the bank, so why does he want to play poker? That is his business, but he doesn't need to gamble, certainly not big time.
Like Dwain Chambers, Rafael Nadal has a God-given talent and has made the most of it, but that has required hard work, dedication, determination, and a great deal of nous, from training schedules to nutrition to studying the way his opponents play.
Poker, especially No Limit Hold 'Em, does not require determination, concentration studying, nerve, or any positive quality. Poker, especially No Limit Hold 'Em, rewards stupidity, but not yours. It rewards recklessness, but not yours. It ignores percentages, calculation, and fold equity. Especially yours.
Here are a few examples from recent tournaments. The screengrab above is from one held July 9. It had 2,421 runners and paid 300 places. At this point we were some way from the money, and the short stack decided to make a move. The moron with the massive stack calls with garbage. What can he beat with that hand? The problem faced by our hero was that he was up against two players. With pocket 5s if he calls a big bet and is faced with one or move overcards, what does he do? There are only two moves worth considering here: raise all-in or fold. If he beats the short stack and the other guy calls, chances are he is beat. If the other guy folds and he loses to the short stack, he is as good as scuppered. So with great reluctance he folds what would have been the winner - a set of 5s - and although he is dominated, the moron wins the hand.
The next screengrab (below) is from the same tournament, and he has some real luck, flopping the nut straight in the unraised big blind.
The next is his last hand from the tournament; this time he has jacks in the blind, they all fold around to the moron, who raises with total garbage. Pre-flop, our hero is 72% plus. After the turn he is 93% plus, but the cruelest river puts him out of the tournament in 155th place winning $1.20.
Below is another cruel river, from July 6, 2012. A pre-flop raise, a call, the muppet calls the flop with nothing. Pre-flop he is less than 34%; all-in with nothing on the flop he is less than 15%, and hits the magic ace on the river.
July 6  2012: Another cruel river.
July 6, 2012: Another cruel river.
Just to show that bad luck works both ways, sometimes, here is our hero hitting the nut flush in a late night tournament after being outflopped, but his hand was pre-flop favourite anyway.
April 18-9  2012: The nut flush  well  barring the 7-8 of spades!
April 18-9, 2012: The nut flush, well, barring the 7-8 of spades!
Is there any way a reasonably intelligent person can win consistently at poker? Yes, there are two ways. Strictly speaking, all the above examples do not involve gambling. The legal definition of a wager is risking a sum of money (or something else) on the outcome of an uncertain event. That event can be in the past, provided both parties don't know the result - for example the result of a boxing match. But, both parties must be able to lose something, potentially. All the above screengrabs are from freeroll tournaments. At the moment, Party Poker is running a special promotion; to qualify, one must earn points, mostly by playing at the cash tables, but regular players will do this anyway, so as there is no buy-in, the player can either win or not win, he cannot lose.
The screengrab immediately above is from a tournament that does not even require any sort of qualification. Typically it will have 9 or 10 thousand runners and pay 1,100 places, which means it is relatively easy to win a few cents at no risk at all. It i s doubtful in the extreme if Rafael Nadal would dream of playing such a tournament.
The other way of winning money is by playing tournaments at fixed limit or pot limit, those that have small numbers of players, or relatively so, and small buy-ins. It is best to give the cash tables a miss unless you are playing for very small stakes. The two screengrabs below are from such a tournament. Seven card stud is a game in which the element of skill is far greater than No Limit Hold 'Em, although these two wins needed a lot of luck.
There are four games which involve more skill: Stud Hi Lo; Razz; Triple Draw and Badugi. Our hero has tried the last two in micro buy-ins and freerolls, but frankly I don't like them and find them boring. My best results have been at Stud Hi Lo and Razz, although for some reason while I have had some excellent results at Pot Limit Razz, I seem always to get stuffed at limit. Well, mostly.
Rafael Nadal has signed up with PokerStars which has regular promotions; there is another one starting this week. Hopefully he will play only tournaments which (for him) have small buy-ins, and invitationals.
The last thing he needs to do is gamble, that is for the mugs who dream of riches; he has riches, he also has fame, if he can put last Wimbledon's anomaly behind him, he will be in a position to seek not simply more fame but immortality, something no intelligent, rational, sane person would ever dream of seeking at the poker table.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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