Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Armchair psychology and Tournament poker – Part I

Supposition #1:
Being tight is valuable but the PERCEPTION of being tight is even better.

Chapter I: the value of being VIEWED as tight, non-aggressive.

We all understand poker strategy and the concept of TAG (tight-aggressive). You play few pots, and when you do come into a hand, you have decent cards and are going to fight for the pot regardless of most flops. You are better off in position for such a strategy and is the most fundamental of successful strategies. But what of your image? Does this play into the formula? If I as an opponent, perceived a robot as programmed to be tight, what advantages would that give THE ROBOT?

If you are not viewed as tight, is this a good thing? Interestingly enough, I think most players would expect that being tight aggressive, but being viewed as loose, is a good thing. The logic is that players will always pay off your good hands and since you only play quality cards, this is a positive expectation move (+EV). I think this is a big misconception (we are talking tournament play now).

The value in being tagged as tight is very important to winning tournament strategy. The psychology of poker says, “I only want to fold when I am behind”. Assuming that 99% of us do not use the “I am a luckbox” strategy, we wish to attack when ahead and withdraw when behind… And yet, even as I type that, I hear you yelling at the screen. “Poker is about aggression and beating your opponent with any two cards!!!”. Well, take a deep breath because I agree. At least on the surface.

If I am a tight player, my bets are going to invoke thought. More thought than if another player (especailly a loose one) makes the same move. This allows me to understand my situation better because I am going to INVOKE a reaction. When you force your opponent to react, you can take control of the hand. If you are in control of the hand, you can maximize your good hands and minimize your losses when you miss a draw or overplay middle pair. Being in control of the betting is KEY in NO LIMIT.

With that being said, let’s compare it to our strategy guide recapped above. In the long middle stage of a tournament, pressure points rule. They provide a guide for a hand like the M and Q provide a guide for your current round. Based on understanding when the maximum pressure can be applied to a given pot, you can control the hand better than your opponent. That pressure needs to be respected and a tight image accomplishes this.

Now a Counter argument from loose aggressive players: “I am a chip accumulator. I come out of the gate fast and I can come at you with any two hands. You can never put me on a hand and I am to be feared!” I agree. That is correct. But it is a more instinctual approach and harder to pull off. And it comes with great risk. For what I am trying to accomplish here, I can’t take that approach. I need a risk adverse approach so I can better gauge cause and effect in my rule-set. But I do agree that it’s always good to be the chip leader at your table and finding a way to do that maximizes your ability to control betting, control pressure and control the flow of the game. I will add that rule later.

Stealing in late stages. You just know what I am going to say here. How do you get away with stealing in the late levels without a) A chip lead big enough to scare people, or b) a tight image? A loose-aggressive player had better have the chip lead by the final stage or suffer challenges at every steal attempt.

So let’s review our first rule-set for a given MTT. For right now, just the early rounds.

1. Early Levels
a. Tight, as risk far outweighs reward.
b. Built a tight IMAGE
c. Watch the table for trends and get a table profile. You need to know who is weak and who is a (push) monkey and who is a (slow playing) snake. avoid being viewed as any of these by your opponents.
d. Anyone can play a set or a big pair.
e. It’s OK to fold the winning hand; it only helps your image. (its only a small error to fold to a raise, remember?)
f. Use position to see flops. dont get caught limping from EP and other weak player mistakes.
g. All-ins are often (not always) bluffs in early rounds. Especially river all-ins after a flush card does NOT come. (broken draw bluff)

Ok, here is our first set of rules. Next I'll float a theory on Long Game vs. Small ball and add our middle level rules. In the meantime, comment!


biggestron said...

I think you have to keep changing your strategy based on how you think you are viewed (level 3 thinking, I believe - I know you think you know what I have). If people think you are loose, they are likely to call you with marginal cards (A-x rags, for instance). If they view you as tight, you are unlikely to get any action when you do catch those 12% Tier I hands that you want to bring to battle. Of course all of this is assuming that your opponents are watching you and not multitabling 5 other tournies, so it may be more correct for live than on-line play. I don't think any *one* image is correct - continually changing your image is the way to go. Ask yourself - would you rather face a tight aggressive player, a loose player, or someone who shifts between the two extremes? For me I'd take them on in that order: TAG, loose, unpredictable.

columbo (at eifco dot org) said...

you may be correct here, but I am only on part 1... I need a base to work from. A foundation of logic if you will.

Matt said...

I have to say that in any tournament I've played I've been extremely tight at early levels, and indeed have folded hands where I thought I may be slightyl ahead. My thought process is that of David "chip" reeses anecdote in the 7 stud section of supersystem. He talks about a drunk that was at his table and the they were heads up in a hand. They raised eachother till they were all in and chip had a 10-11 advantage with a straight against 2 pair. The drunk improved to a boat. Moral :Why get your money in at 10-11 when you can be patient and have this player at 4-1 like you mentioned... I don't mind getting labeled as tight either, because often if I can get heads up with a good player (or like minded depending on how you look at it) I can use that table image to take down the pot with any 2 cards.