Friday, January 27, 2006

In the depths of dispair, inspiration!

Against my better judgment, I continued to fulfill a commitment I made to myself via doubleAs and playing in a 180 chair $20 SnG knowing full well that if I did not cash, I would seriously hurt my donkey challenge.

Well, I finished 35th (out of the money). And if you asked my how I played, I would say solid. But let me say it a new way…

I played well enough to win a 1, 2 or maybe even 3 table SnG. How do I know? I just do. After spending my entire first year of poker playing mostly one table SnGs, I have a good feel for how to win those. Simple Solid play, nothing fancy, fire out at unchallenged pots from position, watch your stack size so if you have to make a move, you time it as best as you can. Simple really.

But this was 180 (20 tables) and is a very typical tournament size. And what happens is that Simple Solid gets grinded down until your Q falls to .5 and you have to get your money in pre-flop. Why is this? Well, I have been working out the details. First of all, if you can double up early through a bad player because you flopped a big hand, you can ride that to more chips. If you get AA or KK and get action (and they hold up) you can accumulate chips, but what if neither of those happens (which it wont about 75% of the time)? How does a player get his Q above 1 so that in the middle rounds he is not forced to play marginal hands and make difficult decisions for big percentages of his stack?

I’m no genius, so I go out and start researching the problem. After all, an unprecedented amount of poker information is available in seconds via the internet (as well as in books). And read I did. My conclusions? “When the tournament starts, from the moment of the first hand, it’s time to go to work”. Understanding the game and hand values make you a competent player. Playing the proper hands in position makes you a decent player. And playing competent or decent in a tournament over 10 tables, takes you to the bubble… at best. I have been doing even better than decent as I have a background in strategy games. I am able to see the big picture as if I am doing a fly-by on the tournament tables. The ability to know that the tactically correct move may be the strategically wrong move has made me money. It’s allowed me to win in bigger fields. But it’s the 180 that has forced me to rethink my levels of expertise.

So, what the difference between my skill level and someone who consistently cracks the bubble? I think the cliché is that it is poker intuition. I don’t believe in intuition in that you are not born with it. It is an amalgamation of pattern recognition, nothing more. So, assume I am correct there, what patterns do they recognize that I do not?

I believe there are 2 patterns that either I miss, or when I do recognize them, I fail to capitalize on the opportunity.

1. In the early stages of tournament, any player that is CONSISTENTLY either: weak tight post flop or a calling station MUST be taken advantage of.
2. If there is a maniac or LAG at the table, you MUST get into pots with him instead of avoiding him (which is the natural tendency).
3. You can not be one of the players described in #1 and #2.

So, from the moment the hands start, you need to TAG your players. You need to know:
a. Who folds to a big re-raise post flop?
b. Who will call you down with middle pair?
c. Who will play marginal hands from any position and try to bully their way through hands?

And you need to DEAL with each player accordingly. And above all, you need to take chips from them. There is just no other way to “chip up” and have a real shot at the tournament if you don’t. And here is the worst/difficult part. It is going to take a SIGNIFICANT amount of practice to learn the timing of doing this. The hands, the positions, when best to apply pressure to each, etc.

Then, AFTER you have all that down, you can add the final piece. You need to be able to pressure. Not arbitrarily mind you, but with razor sharp precision. I rarely fall for the underbet on the flop, but if I see any of the following, I am coming guns blazing:

1. A Turn bet that is the same size of a flop bet, especially if it was ½ pot on the flop or less.
2. A checked flop and a checked turn. I will always fire out from position here (as most would).
3. A bet from either of the blinds after the flop that is less than ½ the pot.
4. I flop a nut semi-bluff hand on the FLOP that is a nut flush draw or an OESD. I am betting this as if I have TPTK. (1/2 pot – pot size bet, depending on table dynamic and player(s) in the hand). If I am in position and not FTA (first to act) at the pot, I will sometimes call a bet, but only if I am trying to set something up or have decided that he is not going away and I’ll have to hit my draw (see LAG above).
5. This player is a stabber (what I call a player who always is trying to win uncontested pots, but withdraws from conflicts).

Now the most difficult part of “going to work”. You sometimes will not get the information you need through observation. You may need to play against this player and gauge their reactions. One of which may be that they are using this same criteria and they are trying to feel you out also. You will need to identify this and play back at them.

Sound like its impossible. It is. Well, it is right now. But that’s why we work on our game, right? After 2 years, I no longer need to discuss how to play 55 UtG. It’s just a starting hand. There are hundreds of variations. What’s important now is post-flop decisions. And many of those non-TV, anti-climactic decisions are simply taking advantage of another players tendency to give you chips if you play a certain way. Now that is “big field” poker.

1 comment:

StatikKling said...

Very insightful post. I had a mini revelation a few days ago about my game play. With what I found from within, and your post, I feel it will make me a better player. I still like to think that I'm in middle school for my poker schooling. I know I can play and I have absorbed a lot of poker knowledge, but I sometimes loose faith in myself or play really donkish poker, even when my gut says, no yells 'WTF!?!'.

Basically, I do the same crap that I did when I was in school. I listen to the teacher, then ignore the teachings. I've got to stop the cycle of knowledge abuse.