Monday, May 30, 2005

Home field advantage and being a teenager

Again, if you are not reading doubleas blog at then you are missing out on what it means to be a poker teen vs. a poker adult. On a similar note, I have been frustrated that I had not been doing well in larger tournaments. So last night, even though the field was only 16, I experimented with a long game strategy. I would play long game strategy in rounds 1-4, then try to use pressure points (the term doubleas uses to describe what Harrington calls an inflection point) in later rounds. I used the ½ pot bet more sparingly too.

A brief digression. There is strategy and there is tactics. Know the difference. In a cash game, there is little long term strategy. You think you have the best hand, so you play it. In a tournament, there is a long term strategy that MUST influence your tactics. Such as situations that you would clearly fold AK pre-flop. If you have never folded AK pre-flop, then you’re just looking to get lucky. And now back to our program.

Anyway, I think I took another step towards poker young adult last night. I’ve been drinking the kool-aid, but now I added a packet of jello. It is all starting to gel for me. (seemed witty in the shower). I came in with a plan that called for staying away from decision hands in rounds 1-4. If you want to read an entire book on this strategy, read TJ Cloutiers book on tournament hold ‘em. He doesn’t do a great job in justifying in this post poker boom why A9 is the most dangerous hand in poker unless you understand why he is saying it. No matter what the flop on this hand (with the exception of a flop with both an Ace and a 9), you are in decision territory. Right between Jack and Shit. And if your villain raises, Jack leaves town. Get it? So, I played the same starting cards I always do, but in levels 1-4 I was looking to continue hands only where I could be confident I was ahead. AK on an Ace flop. 67 on a flop of 679. Although the latter one could have been dangerous, no one played the dreaded 85o. If you understand the logic of doing this in rounds 1-4, then you can follow TJ when he says that “I only need to finish the level with more chips than I started the level with”. Do you see why now? I do. It’s because you can’t really lose chips this way. It is a great way to “tiptoe through the landmines” as they say. If you are going to Vegas for the big tournaments, remember that. Better yet, buy his book and read it on the plane.

When we reached level 5, I got bumped to the other table. I was doing great at the table I was at with plenty of chips. But this table was different. These guys where playing much faster and much looser. Again, let me digress. Do you as a player really understand the value of “changing gears”? Some players will tell you it’s about deception. I now understand that this is just not the case. I can play deceptive without changing gears. No, that is not it. The value in changing gears is forcing your opponent to change how he is playing against you. If he has only one way of playing, you have a huge advantage. Ok, back to the game. I went to the loose table and I had to tighten up. I was bleeding as I just could not seem to put a hand together. When the tables merged, I had only 400 chips (we started with 300). But I was alive. For the entire night now, I had hit the following hands:

2 pair twice (once on the river, I was already ahead), in level 1 no less.
Trips : zero
Straight: zero
Winning flush : zero
Losing flush : once, King High.
Oh, and if include hands where I folded, but went to showdown, I could add a straight where you only needed an 8 to complete it.

I could have been very frustrated. I could have “reverse tilted” (when you start playing loose because you feel like you’re being shut out of the action) and started panicking. But instead, I just watched and got a feel for what everyone was doing. The others were not changing gears at all and I started to memorize where my spots would be. Then I started taking them. When I knew I could get into a favorable position and I had something, I would make a move. If everyone let me have it, I knew I was going to do it again. A close call was when I bet big on KQo with just the blinds to act. I knew that the gut on my left did not like to call big raises pre-flop against me (since I am a tighter player). But the BB might. I had done this to him twice and he was a loose player, so I half expected a call every time. One time we saw a flop of ATX and I went all in with my KQo. I figured he would fold anything but TP. I was pretty sure he did not have an Ace, so I thought this was a great move. He called and I thought I was dead, but he had Qx. I figured he would not even make the call with A-low kicker! So I doubled up. Ironically, this hand frustrated a player that was not even in the hand, and I made a mental note of it. Next time (same player) I had QQ and he had a marginal hand and he doubled me up again with a loose call. I was right to go after this guy’s blinds. I had changed gears into fast position, aggressively attacking blinds. I was forcing him to make decisions that he did not have to make in earlier rounds.

The guy on my right was a different story. He thought he was the best player at the table. He had been doing well, but he was growing more boisterous. This is an important thing to notice. (Noticing signs are so important. The player on my left was making a comment each time he bet. Suddenly, he limps without a comment. This told me to get the hell out. When another player raised, I knew the reraise was coming before he could grab his chips. He took the hand with AA). Me, I try to play each hand in some sort of similar fashion. Scott commented on my predictability, but he missed the underlying concept. Yes, I am always coming in for 3xBB and non-garbage cards. But I’ll make the same bet with KK that I will with 45s. I think that more than makes up for it. Plus, it sometimes gives me an advantage after the flop. If I was going to Vegas this week for the big show, I would first re-watch King of Comedy with Dinero. I would then set up a mock poker table and practice betting each hand the same way with the same hand motions (See Harrington) and all the while making up patter and imagining other players. I would make sure I could look at AA the same way I could look at 45s. Sound stupid? Could it possibly be more embarrassing then getting knocked?

I changed gears again. I started playing and acting slow. I would put much more thought into each decision. And it was driving players batty. Especially the guy on my right. He would even make comments about my decisions while I was thinking. Stating that the decisions were obvious and other things about time. Time. He kept mentioning time. He was bored! I wanted him to label me in his mind as weak/tight, so I would anguish over decisions like folding a straight draw to a big bet. He was hopefully now thinking that he was going to push me out of pots. He is in another pot for a flop and folds after the flop. He still seems antsy. Now I get AQ and I limp in with 5 players. When the Q high flop comes, I make a weak bet and he raises. I go all-in. This was a pressure point. And I had control. Out of reverse tilt frustration, he calls with bottom pair and pays me off and knocks himself out. The one nice thing about home field advantage is that when it gets late, you’re still not in a hurry to get home.

With 3 players left, the player on my right makes a big raise. I have A9s and the button, but I know that the player on my left is in trouble. He is on a short stack now and it would be very difficult for him to take second unless one of the other two of us completely forget final table strategy. i.e. Pick on the short stacks. So I make a STRATEGIC fold. I would have folded AKs there also. Can you see why? You may say that it seems silly, but I go on to win the entire tournament. You need to be able to put tactics aside and see the big strategic picture sometimes. That’s why tournaments are so amazingly interesting.

Looking back over the entire evening, I am still concerned about how long I waited to change gears. I was really struggling at table 2 when everyone way playing so loose. I know I need to play counter to them and tighten up, but combine that with not getting any decent cards and I just bled off chips. What other defense is there in the middle rounds without a big stack? Sure I could re-raise with decent cards, but I never saw any. I could even reraise with non-decent cards, except I observed that they were calling those raises even if they were behind. I played decent hands strong, but had to blow the escape hatch as I could not get to the pressure point I wanted in a single hand.

End of the night stats:
Two pair : 3 (did not need the second pair on two of them)
Trips : zero
Straight : zero
Winning flush: zero
Dealt the hammer: zero (bummer) but I did get 83 and 93 a lot.

I won without getting great cards. I did have KK once, but no one called my pre-flop bet. Then again, they did not call my A5 or 99 either. I had QQ once also, and won a big pot against AQ. Other than that, I played what I was dealt. I went from the short stack with 8 left, to being the sole survivor. Without a single hand better than two pair. I hope I am nearing commencement.

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