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The Hot Streak

flameThe hot streak attracts a lot of attention in performance psychology. As observers or fans, a player crushing his way to a personal best or an actual record has universal appeal; so much so that we show respect to performers whom we might despise otherwise. In baseball, when a pitcher of a visiting team throws a no-hitter, the home crowd will congratulate them with an ovation. Milestones are also treated this way. As much as we wish it was our guy doing this well, we have an inherent respect for exceptionalism and the accomplishments of peak performers.

It’s a Freaking Mystery

These peak performances are studied to death in academia. Knowing how to compete at such a high level over and over again is like the quest for the Holy Grail. Even with this attention, there is still a lot of unknowns that go into these freaky streaks. From a performer’s perspective, the ups and downs in the quality of their play can be one of the most frustrating things in their lives. A basketball player can make 16 for 20 shots from the field on one night and then go 4 for 20 the next. They might eat the same meal and repeat the same routine. Because peak performance is a complex phenomena, it means that numerous factors contribute. If it were simple, something as basic as eating chicken for your pre-game meal would be predictive of good performance. Usually, we can make clearer associations between simple things that hurt performance (like being hungover) as one negative thing can often take down an entire process of preparation. Some of these contributing factors we understand well and some of them we don’t (perhaps we actually can’t). 

In poker, luck is a contributing factor like in few other competitive games. On hot streaks, at least those of monumental quality, luck is often on your side. Recently, I saw, over the span of 15 minutes, the hottest streak I’d ever seen. In that time, our online hero played about 15 hands. With a loose aggressive style, he was difficult to predict and showed down a very wide range of hands. Across this span, he had the following monsters: Quads, 2 Nut Flushes, 3 Sets (2 on the river). There were a few other wins with average holdings sprinkled in (e.g., 2 pair). He was up to 7x his buy in. The “hot” part of his hot streak is that on 3 occasions, he made egregious errors by calling an all-in bet and being from a 5-1 or 7-1 underdog and hitting an unlikely river. On one hand, a villain, holding aces, realized our hero was feeling too lucky to fold any made hand and pushed on the flop of Q 9 2. Holding 6 2, our hero called and hit a third deuce on the river. While his maniacal play was rewarding him, his stack was not reflective of the quality of his play.

Anything is Possible

This happens in sport. Phil Humber, at one time a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, threw a perfect game (no walks, no hits, no team errors). The stars aligned and he was untouchable. While he was once projected to be a quality pitcher as a youngster, his career had not lived up to this potential. From the point of his perfect game, Humber toiled in mediocrity (at best) to the point where he struggled to find a job. The message is that anyone can do something special at anytime because the freak performances have elements beyond anyone’s control. Sure, I couldn’t throw a perfect game because I don’t have the basic fundamentals like a 90 mph fastball (or a 70 mph fastball for that matter). The best performers who compete highly over long periods of time tend to have a mastery of the controllable pieces and a strong physical skill set and do not require as much luck to have success. However, they can run hot as well. If they do, it is carnage.

Our maniac will likely never have a hotter 15 minutes of poker ever again. Many things went right – he got lucky on the river, he had monsters against other very good hands, and, in places, he got people to fold because they were weary of his action. While is winnings on the day will be paid back in due time because he required so much luck, he could savor in the moment of being invincible.

It made for an entertaining table. As a fun fact, our hero, who was a polite chap, played his last hand at the table against the player he had inflicted a bad beat upon by rivering those trip deuces. Perhaps feeling embarrassed, he made a large bet on the flop and was called. On the turn, he said “Call me” in the chat box and over-bet the pot once more. His opponent did call. Our hero then forfeited the hand by leaving the table. He gave him his bad beat money back. I guess there is honor amongst thieves.

While I don’t expect you to give refunds like this, give a story. At the table or elsewhere, when was your hottest hot streak?

Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. Learn more about his work at www.KellyDoell.com

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