Thursday, August 31, 2006

The “Sweat Spot” of Tournament Strategy

Forget the original Kobayashi Naru scenario of calling an all-in with pocket Kings in the first round of the WSOP. Let’s raise the bar on our scenario…

How is it that you can play a perfect tournament, only to eventually get hit with a beat that sends you home? Believe it or not, it is closely tied to why so many online players have been dominating tournaments in the last 3 years. There is a new Axiom of poker, “In order to survive being right, you must also have your opponent covered”.

Let’s say I play perfect poker and I only get my money in the pot when I am 4-1 or better to win. Sounds great doesn’t it? But, is it really? Let’s explore shall we?

TWENTY percent of the time, my opponent is going to get that King on the river and beat me with his “3 outs twice”. And with the blinds going up, you need to invest in pots where you are 4-1 to win. And 1 out of 5 times, you need to be able to survive losing a big pot. Which means having enough chips to survive it.

Now, how do you accumulate that type of insurance stack? Unfortunately, the only was is to take risks when you are NOT a big favorite. The new breed of internet players do this. And here is the funny thing, it works because of the QUANTITY of players, not quality. If 5 people act stupid, 1 of them is sure to benefit. And if 50 of them are stupid, and you are playing smart, as they bust out to other stupid players, you are not the one accumulating the chips. The guy getting all his money in behind with middle pair and getting lucky is.

So, you play a perfect game and make the bubble as the short stack. Or simply take a “bad beat” and lose your stack at a critical time where you got your money in way ahead.

So, can you compensate for this by playing a lot more hands in early rounds? Some players do this. The “accumulate chips or go home early” strategy. In effect, moving down to their level.

Here is what separates the good from the great. Being able to extract someone’s stack while being marginally ahead and taking them along for the ride (especially on a draw). Which, ironically, SMACKS IN THE FACE the old adage that you can’t do this in tournament games where survival is at the utmost. You need to take advantage of the edges that are presented to you post-flop. This is why in the “middle rounds” of the tournament, its important to bet (whenever you are ahead) the right amount. The amount that dictates that your opponent is wrong if he calls you, yet is not large enough to scare him off. You need to bet the “sweat spot”.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The big BIG draw

I am playing in an impromtu blogger cash game ($.01/$.02) and I see a flop from the blind with 2d5d. The flop is Ad4d and something else. I dont recall, but it was not a diamond. Somehow, while I am half paying attention, Drizz gets all his money into the pot. I go into the tank and type in the chat window, "I have a big draw". I pause and decide to call what amounts to 400 Big Bets. The turn is the 3d.

Donkey's always draw... and the payout is HUGE.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It's Quiet around here for a REASON

I have not played poker in two weeks. Well, at least not MUCH. Last week, I finished 7th (outof 45) in my monthly game. This is ok, but considering my last 3 finishes, this was a welcome rebound. And, I played well. The next day, I went down to the casino. Despite being 30 minutes from one, I rarely go. Here is why.

I get on the list for the NL beginner table ($1/$2, $50 min, $100 max). TEN, yes TEN handed. I am seated to the left of the dealer. Seat two is a standard player.(more on him later). Seat three was INVISIBLE. Played ZERO hands. Seat 4&5 were weak/tight. Seat 6 was a call junkie who JUST doubled up his short stack after I sit down. I can tell he is going to exit first, despite just doubling up. Seat 7 is the token rotating seat of bad players. Seat 8 is a player who plays any two suited and looks for the flush. (more on this later). Seat 9 has a stack of about $500 in front of him. YET, he did not play a single hand past the turn then ENTIRE 2.5 hours I was there. (more on why this worked later). Seat 10 was a weak/ tight who like to see flops in position and then bet if everyone checked. Yes, that was his actual STRATEGY.

So, I watch these guys play and realize that to be profitable, that I would have to play vanilla TAG (tight aggreessive). I played TWO hands the first half hour, winning them both. The player to my left actually says,"I am not playing a hand with you. If you raise, I fold." Remeber this quote.

I also notice that the standard raise of 5xBB was NOT enough to get the "play any two flush" or other draw hands to fold. My sneaky mind comes up with a new plan.

I get JT and raise it not to 10, but to 15. I get TWO callers. The flop is JJx. I make a SMALL bet and I get a call from Mr. Short stack. The turn is a T and even my token bet folds him. I smile and realize how to just punish these guys at no risk.

With My AQ I make it $20 and get TWO callers (both the DRAW players at the far end of the table). I make a contiuation bet and they both fold. Why? They did not flop a straight or flush draw. You see, ALL FREAKING NIGHT, ever player at the table PAID these guys off when they hit. Well, all except me. I never fell for it. But the others did CONTINUOUSLY. So, they would call almost ANY preflop raise. And I could take their money 2/3 of the time. If they called the flop bet, I would just shut down.

30 minutes later, when I get KK on the BUTTON and the usual limpers are in. I make it $25 (yes, really $25) to go. The player on my left, KNOWING I play big hand and after SAYING he would not play hands with me, CALLS my $25. The others fold. When the flop comes, I immediatly bet out $75. Almost daring him to call. Nevermind I flopped a SET of Kings, I had a strategy and I was sticking to it. You see a flop with me, you pay me. He folded his...get this, 88. he called $25 cold with 88 figuring that he could break me if he flopped a set. In the meantime, I had now doubled my buy-in and left.

The bad part, took over 2 hours to do it. I only played 10 hands all night.

Last week I was in Utah and I dont play cards with my work laptop. So, that was that. Camping on the weekend and a new PC to assemble has kept me on the sideline. But, hope springs eternal and I think I may play in a local tourney tonight.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Snakes on a PLANE

Even before I could walk into the movie theater to see the most relevant movie since Tremors, I bought the T-Shirt. Now I own a total of TWO t-shirts. SOAP and the RAMONES (rip. I miss them.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

FT 25k recap

Entered with a peep sex token

1443 players

In levels 1&2 only played post flop with big hands. One was nice, flopped nut straight and he doubled me up...

Level 3, I am the chip leader

Level 4, I play 6d7d from MP and the flop is 3d8cTd. I have a gut shot and a flush draw for 11 outs (no overs). There is 1K in the POT and the other player goes all-in for another 1k. At this point I have 8.5k of my 9k left (500 invested). Do I call? No. SHOULD I call???? I got alot of opinions here, most of them yes.

I was about 40% to win the hand assuming my outs were pure. (If he was on a BIGGER flush draw, then I basically have 3 pure outs (9 if he has like AKs) and I am probably behind). If he is not on a draw, then I am 40% to win 3-1 and should call. I read him as Ad8d and therefore could not call, thus saving myself any embarrassment from responses to this post.

At the break I am 13th, my M is 47 and my Q is 2.6

I am folding alot through a card dead phase. At the 80/160 level I am 23/579 (135 pays).

Called a raise from the blind with T9o. Hit the T for top pair but its an ALL heart board. I bet pot though and he calls all-in with just the A of hearts. More chips for me.

Made a min raise with 89o and just the blinds call. Flop the ever loving nuts on a rainbow board. 567 rainbow. I make a min bet and the BB comes over the top for 1/2 his stack. I quickly go all-in remembering a trick I heard from a pro interview where he said he bet quickly before the guy had a chance to process the information. Sure enough, he calls and I am 4th out of 456 left.

Antes start

AKo raise preflop, continuation bet of 1/3 pot and he comes over the top BIG. I fold.

I watch as KK vs AA happen 3 times at my table. No hands with me though.

I get moved again. 150/300/25 and I am 28th/319

Second break. 16/230

I flop bottom pair on a AT7 board. I play WAY too passively and let 88 take it from me.

QQ 2 hands later and use my weak play indicating that if I bet I must have something
when KJx flops. I bet like I have the K and he folds.

156 left and I fold KJo pre-flop to a raise from my right.

UtG Ako (UGH)
I make a min raise of 2xBB (this was a mistake, I KNOW)
button and BB call.
flop is 334 and BB checks, I check and button OVERBETS the pot. FOLD.

Lose 2k to BB short stack when I try to steal his blind and it goes bad. He wakes up with AK.

We are at the bubble. MP short stack goes all in for 3k. Stack DIRECTLY to his right with 4k also goes all-in. I have AKo and decide to CALL. I should RAISE here, but I call. Then, the BUTTON calls.
The flop is 332. I check (with 2 all ins)
and HE BETS (as sure sign I am beat)
he flips up 66, and the two all-ins flip up QQ and AQ.
the 66 player apologized for betting after the hand. "he forgot not to".
(the ace or king did NOT fall on the turn or river).

But thanks to that hand, I am back to AVERAGE. Now, the old me would have NEVER played a hand with 2 all-ins in front of him. And I think I should not have played this one... BUT, I did have a 50/50 chance of winning 4 TIMES my investment. How can I be sorry I played the hand?

In the money. I am 49/130

Play 44 for a 2xBB raise (TOO SMALL AT THIS POINT) and get called by the BB. flop is 6QQ and I decide to bully him if he checks. When he checks, I push and he calls showing Q6. The CASE queen falls on the river to mock me.

running good?

played the FT 25k last night. 1433 players, I finished 106th. I was chip leader at one point and after the bubble, lost two hand where I was atleasdt 50/50 to double or even triple up. I'll post more on this later and how the game went in comparison to my rules-set.

but for now, I am Chore-Dad (tm) since the family is off camping. I have a week to clean the house (and throw stuff away without an arguement), repair the deck, prime my daughter's room, build a new play-set (those giant wooden ones) AND do some other minor maintenance items. I am tired. But my poker league is on Wed, so I get a break.

Interesting thing about the league. I no longer play for points (in my mind). I play for the win and ignore the fact that I should in 3 of the 6 events just fold as long as possible.

Why are I running better right now? I am not playing scared. At all. More on that when I post the Hands-of-Interest (tm).

Friday, August 04, 2006

Armchair psychology and Tournament poker – wrap up

Final Thoughts:

1. How does one control aggression so that a player can be aggressive without getting into trouble?

Well, I think that is all about POT selection, not hand selection. You need to be opportunistic and keep up appearances.

2. You must have a goal for a hand (risk reward formula). And your goal should /should not be predictable depending on your holding.

I play TT from MP (3xBB raise) and flop a set on a SAFE board. I had 3 callers from LP, BUTTON and BB. Now what? Do I BET or CHECK? Assuming that your opponents do NOT expect you would check a big hand, then you check. If they have witnessed a pattern of you checking big hands, then you must play it backwards and bet. But you make this decision not on the fact that you have a set and are second to act (this is not limit), but rather which bet will extract the most money based on psychology.

3. A table develops a profile personality which should change your play in the final stages. Once you get to the end game, each player will make a decision to play certain hands. But overall the TABLE now develops a profile. You can gain an edge by playing the opposite of the table profile. i.e. playing against the grain.

4. If I do all this and do it correctly, what can I assume about an opponent’s raises?

Well, if you have the proper image, it can be weighed against the following 4 possibles:
a. They want to Take-it-down now because hey are worried, i.e. feel unsafe.
b. They raise a Pot size bet because they are ahead, but at risk.
c. They are attempting to ‘go for your stack’. (they are WAY ahead or have a BIG draw)
d. They are making a mistake or a bluff. And you have to read which one.

When d. occurs, you should think back to this question: “Based on how *I* played the hand, does he think he is ahead or behind.” This "level 3 thinking" will let you pick off a bluff.

Well, that's my brain dump. Now I have to implement...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Armchair psychology and Tournament poker – V

"Is it safe?!" - A well known dentist (marathon man)

Get your opponents in a very uncomfortable place and take advantage of them. Isolation increases odds and reduces volitility. Position allows us to pick our situations easier. And PRESSURE, when we have someone under diress, causes REACTIVE thinking instead of strategic adjustment. And THAT is what we want. This is why concentration is so important. This is why the game gets harder as we go on. This is why players talk about the 3rd level of thinking. Its all about being able to push a psychological edge in a hand, not a 55/45 edge.

When you have a conversation with someone, and it deteriorates into an argument, its because they moved to fight/flight because the conversation is no longer comfortable (or safe) for them. Stated another way, your opponent makes his final choice on a hand at the moment he no longer feels safe. (for those of you who think this is similar to doubleas theories on pressure poker, I agree. The man is a great card player, buy his book. But I want to take it one step further.) This is not about the pressure point (which is measured by doubleas in stacks and bet size) but the psychological equivalent of that measurement in that little mental treadmill in the opponents head. Has he chosen a path at the fork yet? No, they he feels safe. Did we push him to the fork? Then he must make a fight or flight choice. If you are pounding a guy to death, he might make the choice in ADVANCE of the cards being dealt that the next time you play a hand with him, he is going to try and slap you pack. This negates to some degree the ability to apply pressure with a bet or stack size. See?

The recipical is true also. It is easier for you to "risk" when you feel in control and harder when you feel "outflanked". This is a good reason why a pro often can smack around a new player even if he is a good player. It is also the reason so many young players are winning tournaments. We call them "fearless", but a longer winded person :) might say that they never REACT, they are always instead manipulating you to where you are making the fight/flight choices and they are creating the situations. (Because the dispense with subtely and baggage and emotion and even sometimes thinking. But to every strategy is a counter, and this one has its weakness too. The will be susceptable to distractions and attracked to big pots like a moth to a fire.)

You need to feel safe. You need you opponent to be uncomfortable everytime you play a hand with them and are not sure you have a lock on the pot. After years of this, you should be able to steer their choice. And then, suddenly, you are Phil Hellmuth.
Love him or hate him, Phil know this like he knows how to breathe.

Armchair psychology and Tournament poker – IV

The dicodomy of manipulation and innocence.

Discussion of strategy to this point has tended towards being tight because its the easiest way to accomplish the following:

Look unthreatening when not in a pot, look threatening when in a pot. There are, of course, many ways to achieve this edge. And I am realizing how important it is in the greater scheme of things.

I am watching Big Brother last night and watched a master at work. He never reacted. Not in the physically detectable sense (although he had that down pat too), but in the sense that he decided a new course of action each time someone through him a curve. He did not REACT to the change so much as he made ADJUSTMENTS. He was always executing a plan, even if it was a completely new one. The goal: survive. The tactics changed from day to day. But never did he react (a giving up of control). He maintained control of the situation (long term) through adjustment and subtle maniplulative changes. I was in awe. How does one manipulate while maintaining a veil of innocence (the LACK of threat). Just amazing.

And its what people worry about deep down more than anything else. Being outplayed. They start to react, abandon their plans, or as we like to say in poker-speak, they tilt.

Actions that induce this type of reaction in our opponent, while his attempt to do the same to us are dismissed with a small action or adjustment, create a psychological advantage for us. This is feel. This is concentration and being "in the zone". This is what can push us over the top in terms of success at the table.

What is the best way to do this? read on.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

status update and part III of Columbot

Entered two 20 table MTT last night at Party. I tried to be as true to the rules I posted thusfar in this thread.

In the first game, in level two I had 88 and
** Dealing Flop ** [ 6h, Ad, 2d ]

I like this. I put my opponent on an Ace, but how strong?
I bet 2/3rd the pot and he calls. I put him on Ace/weak kicker now.

When the turn comes, I make a weak lead expecting the push. It does not come. Now I am sure he has Ax (like 3 or 4).

When the turn comes a non-diamond, I push all in expecting the fold. He called with A4o. And I have no one to blame but myself. Why? Never try to pressure players at the "dawn" levels. You need to wait until "high noon".

The second 20 table MTT went much better:
Congratulations columbo,
You have finished first.

Indeed. I could have done a better job at KNOWING exactly the pressure points, and knowing I was applying them correctly, but I still played a fine game. I played the middle levels well, taking risks only where there was a huge upside. It was rare for me to do this, and I struggled with brief depression everytime I lost chips to a risk. Yet, as painful as a couple of them were, there were times they did pay off and the chips flowed my way. The side effect (and the real secret here) was that allowed me to continue to pressure while retaining a tight image. This is priceless. I also folded KT alot when I was not FTA and raised with it when I was. I caught myself once limping FTA and hit myself with a wire brush. I slow played zero hands. I did not get a trap situation save once, and I made the most of it. At the final table, I would repeat to myself over and over again, "know how to finish". (ABC. Always Be Closing). All my SnG practice clicked in at that point, and I out-strategized the table.

So with that, I should now post part 3, the final levels
* Steal when first to fire!
* Prey on shorter stacks, careful of the larger ones
* play every hand like it could be your last!
* play against the grain. (loose table, play tight and vice versa)
* All-Ins are now PRESSURE bets and you must read the player not your cards. Level 3 thinking time.
* you can CREATE a race, but you cant show up for one. (raise with AJ = good, CALL with AJ is bad)
* IGNORE Q and M at the final table. Strategy not tactics play now.
* ALWAYS BE CLOSING. Mind on the prize. Finish like a pro.