Thursday, October 13, 2005

So what’s the difference?

League Night season 4 (season 1-3 recap) and season 4 intro.
It’s league night. The start of league #4. They are 6 sessions long, one a month. League #1 I did just ok, League #2 I won the entire thing!, League #3 I finished very poorly ALL SIX SESSIONS. That was during the time I was tearing down my game. Now, I head into League 4 and I go in with my most recent mindset. Stop trying to play so much by the books and work on honing your instincts. Well, honing is what I am doing.

The setup
The league changes slightly with each season. This time it is 8 handed tables, starting chips 110 and blinds of 1 / 2. Tables are no longer balanced. Instead every time 8 people are eliminated, the smallest table is broken up and distributed. Flawed? Yes, as at one point our table was 4 handed.

Early old guy hand
I had won a hand and picked up about 40 chips. A few hands later…
An older gentleman who was aggressive almost to the point of recklessness is playing too many hands pre-flop. When he hits the board he bets, when he misses he folds. This guy loves middle pair as much as top pair. So, he raises from EP. I call with QJs and hit TP on the flop. I call him down to the river to see two pair. He had raised from EP with J5s and hit 2 pair on the flop. This would be the ONLY hand he wins for the rest of the night. He is quickly gone. (Imagine that). But I had lost my previous gain and finished level 1 at my starting stack size.

During level 2 and 3 I was down below average. Heck, I was down below starting stack size. In the last 6 sessions, I would panic here. The blinds are 4/8 and my M is low. But it is still early so there is lots of loose money at the tables. I decide to not fall into my old patterns. I fold almost all my drawing hands, unless in late positions or in the blinds.

JJT hand
The blinds are now 5/10. I am on the button and some players limp. A LP player makes it 2X. Money was tight, so I expected the blinds may even fold. I decide to call on the button with J9o. The SB folds. The flop is JJT. It checks around to the LP player who bets 20. I call and the others fold. The turn is A and again he bets 20. The pot is now about 100 chips and I can’t afford to let it get away. I act as though I think he is on a stone cold bluff and I raise to get him off the pot. He quickly folds what I suspect is nothing. He probably put me on Ax. Good! I want players to think that.

K9 vs Kt hand
A few rotations later I pick up some hands with TP by betting aggressively and driving out the draws. This time I have K9 in LP and call a raise. The flop is KQ2 and I figure I might be best here. I raise after a bet and get called by the same guy from above. On the turn I shut down. He bets big and I fold. He says “you had a King, what was your kicker?”. I assume this means he had Kx also. Then, as I am thinking about my answer, he flashed my his T. I made good fold. Or so I assume. If he called that big flop re-raise, he was going to the showdown with KT for TP and best kicker.

4 handed
One of the concerns of the new rules is getting stuck very short. When the table dropped to 6, I felt this gave me an advantage. I pushed smaller margins and hit flops whereas other players still played as if the table was full. I did a nice job of grabbing some chips. But when we went down to FOUR handed, I told everyone to slow down. The blinds were getting big and we did not want a crap shoot. This also helped me by allowing me to play solid. A short time later, they broke the table.

Mr. Fabulous
What else can you call the guy who flops a full house, hits a 4 outer on the river to make his straight. Not once, but twice. Overall he was the luckiest player of the night. And he was the first to admit it. He saw no reason to hide the fact that this was his special night and I started calling him Mr. Fabulous (see Blues Brothers).

13 left – AQ suckers
We are down to 13 players. We are going to pay 9 places. Don’t forget this. I am played very solid. Since I am below average stack size, I am avoiding any drawing hands unless the circumstances are perfect. MP player from my earlier two paragraphs raises to enter the pot. The 2 MP players to his left both call. I fold. The button calls. The flop is QJ4. The aggressive FTA player makes a big bet of about ½ the pot. Both players on his left call and the button folds. The turn is a 6 and he bets again. Both call. The pot is got to be 1000 by now. The river pairs the 4. Now the aggressive better goes all-in with total confidence that he is going to triple up. The player to his right then thinks for a minute and calls. Now the 3rd player, he also CALLS?! WTF? They were all very close in stack size and all had avg. size stacks so there was no reason to panic. The first guy, who was pretending he had a case of fours, turns over Q7. TP. That’s it. The second guy turns over Q9. HOW DOES HE MAKE THE TURN CALL?! It was a HUGE raise and there was another player yet to act. But get this, the third guy turns over AQ for TPTK. HOW DO YOU CALL TWO ALL INS, FOR ALL THE CHIPS YOU HAVE, ON THE BUBBLE, WITH JUST TP. HOW? HOW? HOW do you do that? So he triples up and is now the clear leader. Me, I have a BIG smile on my face. Not only did two players go out, but the player who now has a large stack is DESTINED TO LOSE IT. Yup, very happy.

Semi-bluffs (KQ vs KQs)
Solid player raises UTG to 3xBB. I call from SB with KQo. The flop is AJ9. I have played few hands, and I know this guy thinks about his hands. When I see the flop, and I think about his possible holdings, I decide this is a perfect time to run a stop and go. I say “all in” and I can see it on his face. He says, “that was my move”. I know immediately what he has. Not an Ace. He can’t make the call, but is SERIOUSLY considering it. He even counts out the chips. Twice. In the end he lays down what would have been a split pot. KQ.

I semi-bluffed a total of TWO times the entire tournament to this point. Neither were called. I reserve this only for the best possible spots. I also played an open ender weakly hoping to hit and did not. I let it go to a river bet.

Mr. Fabulous strikes the final table
So we are down to 8 and Mr. Fabulous is the center of attention. Why? Because in the immortal words of Al Davis, he “just wins baby”. I had won some good hands at he last table and I was probably about 5th in stack size of the 8. So, I am not going after the big stacks, nor am I going to play marginal when 2 others are going to go out earlier. And go out they did. With marginal hands too. Busted by the big stacks.

One of them gets heads up with Mr. Fabulous who calls the all in with 2 random cards. He hits the overcard and its over for that guy.

“I’m playing for the win”
Can you believe with 6 players left, this guy was stupid enough to tell me that?! As soon as he said that, I changed gears and went into “watch mode”. I knew he would challenge small stacks with bets and in the end, and would either bust them or implode. Either way, it looked like an easy way to move from 6th to 4th or even 3rd. He managed to crush a small stack with a loose call and we are down to 3.

Masterful flush bluff
Here is my 3rd and final bluff of the night. I got stuck playing marginally decent cards that I raised with 3 players left. I was heads-up with Mr. Fabulous and I made a continuation bet which he called after looking at the board for a few seconds. It was the delay I picked up on and he either had marginal cards or he was worried about something. When the 3rd club came, I said “all in” without hesitation. He had hit the board (I did not) and was on a stone cold bluff. He folded. I laughed and said “there is no way you were going to outdraw me that time” like I had the made flush. It was an inside joke. He could not outdraw me, because he could not possibly be behind.

Star wars guy (I’m playing to win) goes up against Mr. Fabulous.
AJ for Mr. Fab and JJ for Star Wars guy. Mr. Fabulous hits the ace first card off the deck. It was over that quickly. Star Wars guy, aka “I’m playing for the win” guy, was upset. Yes, this guy outdrew him. But he really thought he was going to win it. YET, he was willing to get all his money in pre-flop. I can never understand this. Its all tactics, no strategy.

So We are heads up.
Me against Mr. Fabulous with at lesat a 4-1 chip lead. I crawl my way up to about a 3-1 chip dog and then… He raises pre-flop to 3xBB. I look down at JT and figure to be a race against anything he holds here. But best of all, I figure this a good psychological ploy. I raise all-in with the JT hand. He calls and flips over 44. PERFECT. Why? I needed to win a race against this guy so he no longer felt invulnerable. I hit a T on the flop and now we are EQUAL in chips. I tell him, “I broke the curse, now you are mortal”.

Final hand
We shuffle a few chips back and forth for 10 minutes and I have maybe 2% more than him. He raises to 2x and I call with J5. The flop is QJ4 rainbow. He bets and I raise. He calls. The warning bells go off, but the way this guy has been playing, he thinks he can’t lose. I figure I may be ahead here. There are few draws, but he has played AK and KT this way (open ended draw) all night. The turn is a blank and I bet. This time he raises. I come over the top for everything figuring he can only call with Q and a non-lousy kicker. I figure this to be a good move. Ironically, after 4 hours, habits never change. He calls me with Q2. Surprised? Not really. He had TP and even though he thought I had two pair, he called. Still, I can’t fault my decision here (can I?).

So I finish 2nd despite only have 3 hands better than TP (2 pair twice, trips once) and never having an above average stack for the ENTIRE tournament.

Conclusions (so what’s the difference?)
I played a great strategic game and I am no longer going to second guess the value in that. One can play tactically sound and not finish in the money. But from where I am sitting, few players play strategically in tournaments. So I am going to use that skill to guide my tactical decisions like I used to (when I was winning). But now, I have 6 months of new mechanics practice behind it. Strategic play has to be the strongest part of my game and explains why I do poorly in ring games. --So what? Just like table selection is important, I say game selection and strategy is important. Would I like to be a better ring player? Sure. But I have years to work on that. Right now, I want to work on improving. And it’s best to start with your strengths and let the rest follow.

Say it loud and say it proud, “My name is Columbo, and I am a tournament specialist”.

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