Monday, July 31, 2006

Armchair psychology and Tournament poker – Part II

There are times where “poker is a struggle for the blinds/antes” and “tournaments are a struggle for survival” are in direct conflict.

Long Game, Small ball and the middle stages.

If I wish to be brilliant, then I can say three things. I always get my money in ahead, I control the size of the pot based on my hand, and I never take an action (bet, call, raise) without having a plan and an intention for which that action accomplished something.

Duh. But this is linear thinking. Since I am usually a 4-1 favorite when I get my money in ahead, and that +EV. If I do it 5 times all in, statistically I will be eliminated. Interesting. This is a concept I will return to at the end of this process, but for now, lets again visit our columbo-bot*. (*NOTE: I am not building a bot. please do not prosecute me. This is for example purposes because I think this way.)

It seems easy to calculate when you think you are ahead and avoid marginal coin flips. But its still hard to control the pot size. After all, your opponent has goals also. Before I finish that thought, let me jump again.

There are times that not playing a hand, regardless of the holding, is +EV. There are other times to play hands just with 2 live cards.

There is a tendency to believe that poker is all about fighting for pots. (that and making good decisions). BUT, there are times where it is in your best interest to fold the best hand. (this assumes you are not 100% sure you are the best hand). Why? Because like wolves, there are times you wish to “show your neck”. To let the table know you are willing to lay down (an action a bot does not take). It shows you are human and also that you are dangerous. Yeah, a big laydown does have a psychological impact on your opponent. Remember that.

How do we reconcile all of this. Well, it is not trivial. But, we make a case to our columbo-bot that we want to get our money in ahead during the long middle stages and avoid building large pots before we know where we stand in the hand. In addition to that, we have to identify EXCEPTIONS to everything we just said NOT to be unpredicatble, but rather to try and dodge the inevitable 1 in 5 times where we lose depite being a big favorite. In order to do that we must task well planned and well timed risks which allow us to build up a "defense fund". This fund is like suck-out insurance. And as we all know, you're gonna need it.

The Middle (long) Levels
a. Prey on WEAK players (blind pressure). This is where we pick up some extra money.
b. Use pressure points (but not against push monkeys) to create folding equity to avoid the use of your "defense fund". Avoid a river, avoid the 20% risk.
c. Project a tight image. Players are less likely to "test" you.
d. Use M and Q to know your place in the tournament.
e. Take risks if they will give you an opportunity to be table chip leader or to double up. Otherwise, you must survive. Being a chip leader at the table is the best "defense fund".
f. Get rid of dominated hands (KT).
g. All-ins are often NOT bluffs now.
h. You can’t limp and be perceived as tight. If you are the first to the pot, you must raise your way in. Some players will raise whenever they can be first to the pot at a big table... (see part e. then)
i. Try to avoid slow playing* for two reasons:
. Survival (you are usually 80% to win a hand you are AHEAD on)
. It continues to project the tight image, which in turn increases folding equity.


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!

Armchair psychology and Tournament poker – Preparation

I want to explore why a player can be fundamentally sound, understand the math, and still never be better than a “zero sum player”. Or stated another, more entertaining way, if I were programming a robot (with artificial intelligence) to play poker, what would I program if I wanted the robot to play NO LIMIT instead of limit? This is a LARGE topic and I do not wish to write a dissertation, so the flow of the articles may not be perfect. So be it. What do you want for nothing, rubber biscuit?

Let’s start with a solid foundation of play. With that, just assume we have all read the post “Absinthe revisited” . Sets, bigger pairs, flops that ‘hit a suited connector over the head’. These are your money winners. Dominated holdings, skill moves against push monkeys, races. These are your leaks.
Also, note from DoubleAs, As the tournament gets to the long middle stage, finding pressure points is important.
And from any good poker book and many poker forums, At the end stages, stealing and catching is paramount.
And from my post on “rules of engagement” a set of clich├ęs that help your play (such as “Don’t eat the peppered beef”).

After each chapter, except this intro, I will attempt to update the rule-set for my mythical NO LIMIT robot. Discussion and counter arguments HIGHLY encouraged...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Danger Will Robinson, Danger

I am warning you now. I have a EIGHT part post coming.

Psychology, poker, and you. Be afraid. It might make you think... and it may even (god forbid) invoke the desire to post a comment...

Expect chapter 1 in the next 48 hours...

you have been warned.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Home Game Woes

Interesting night last night. I played to cash and not to win. I sometimes do this, and I am not sure why, but I finished just inside the bubble in 4th.

There was some minor controversy when a player who came by before the game and said to blind them off until level 2 (30 minutes), was still not here at level 4 (90 minutes). Reluctantly, and after 2 phone call attempts, we picked up the chips. He walked in 10 minutes later.

When the blinds got big, and we were playing 7 handed and the UtG+1 raised it 3xBB. He is a tight player, and I was confused as to what to do with ATs. I did not want to see a flop out of position to such strength, I did not want to call, and I did not want to raise. After mulling it over, I made a tight fold. Anyone? comments?

You think THAT was bad? listen up.

we are now 6 handed and the same player does this again from the exact same position. (I realize now that he was probably attacking my blinds every other round.) Rich, on my right, thinks for a while and goes all in. I look down at AQo. I read our first raiser as pot committed and Rich with a pair so I had a race... But I did not want AQ vs. two players so I fold. Then, the UtG plyaers surprising folds and I am left with my overly-tight fold to contemplate.

At the final table, I played very carefully. Bracelet is on my right in the SB and all fold to him. He pops me to 3xBB and I fold K9s. Again, very tight. Next round, exact same thing, and I look at KJ. I KNOW he has an Ace, I just can see it. He knows I might call because he raped me last round. Instead of pushing all in, I decide to run a stop N go. I call, and when the flop comes KJx I push all in on the bluff that is now not a bluff. He decides it just isnt enough chips to fold, but then folds anyways.

Because of that hand, I squeak into the money in 4th. Then, I get all in from the BB again against a UtG all in. I put him on a middling pair, so my 9To is a race. Plus, the BB was 30% of my stack, so I feel this is an easy call. He has 33 and I feel good about the call. But no cards helped either of us and I was out.

I dont feel my concentration was up to par. I was not remembering ranges that players would play, I noticed too late someone attacking my blinds, and twice I let my opponent create the pressure point. I feel lucky to have survived on basic poker 101. "Play tight".

Thursday, July 20, 2006

because I have remiss

Because its important work that Huge Junk is doing, I respectfully suggest that you look at the HUGE Lot of Poker related autographed items being auctioned for a charitable cause!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Absinthe revisited

So if you have not read this excellent post on poker strategy (from a blogger who just won a seat into the main event) then go there now

ok, now let's start from this standpoint. This is an optimal strategy to get to the money, but often often leaves you at average or LESS chips.

A quick recap: (with apologies to Ryan, my notes in parens)

1. Sets are good, but sets on a ragged board are GOLD. (you need to see flops with pocket pairs when at all possible. Call up to a 5xBB raise).

2. Big pairs (AA/KK) well hold up 80% of the time against QQ and JJ. Yet, many players will NOT lay down QQ or JJ pre-flop. TAKE THEIR MONEY. (Just because you have not had a hand in an HOUR, does NOT mean that JJ is better than, well, JJ. TT is RIGHT OUT!)

3. A cheap flop with a suited connector may result in a huge flop for you. Especially if your opponent does not know what a re-draw is. This is pure dumb luck. (Often you will fold in EP and would have hit. C'est la vie. Pick your spots and expect dissapointment. But if you can get in for 1-2x, play a Suited connector from EP and dump it if you need to. Note: if you flop a DRAW, see #6 and #7.)

4. Kickers count more than donkeys will admit. Never play a weak kicker (TJ style). (make notes about players who play A-rag and poor kickers like KT or QT.)

5. If you are a decent player, dont be afraid of seeing cheap flops. Remember the GAP concept (and if someone raises, dont re-raise with middling cards just because Phil Gordon says so on TV. You need to outflop your opponent, you are not looing to make expensive draws!)

6. Don't play pressure poker in early levels. Playing people off of hands is HARD. Doing it early is IMPOSSIBLE. This is a great skill to have that pays off surprising little in online NLHE tournaments.

7. Races should be saved for when you have a below average stack. Say a Q of .5 or less. Take what you get. Feast of Famine. Since its ALL LUCK, save it for last. (But get those chips in PRE-FLOP with AK. Consider a stop-N-Go with a pair. Remember that heads up, he will miss the flop 60% of the time. And he may fold bottom pair to boot.)

So, what if anything, can I contribute to this. Precious little. Expect that I like to see flops from the cutoff with almost any playable hand if I can get in. I am in position to flat call a single better on the flop and then decide what to do on the turn based on my position and how tentaive he has. BUT, before you do this, see #6.

If there are alot of limpers and NO raisers, and you're in the CUTOFF, you can make a big RAISE ((3+N)xBB when N is the additional limpers) and get heads up not only with a player out of position (I assume the button folds here), but with alot of DEAD MONEY from the limpers to boot. This move, stealing from Scott Fishman here, may be the most positive EV move in poker in early levels. You are playing heads up with for a pot that is the size of 3 players.

Oh, and remember this is a tournament. Play a hit flop strong if you are willing to see a river. Unlike a cash game, getting outdrawn can be the end of the world.

And be prepared to fold the best hand.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Poker Drinking Game

columbo its the poker drinking game!
Easycure cheers!
* Easycure raises his Pacifico
DrizDrunk I need to refill
columbo win a race=drink, suckout = drink
DrizDrunk I can suckout, but I get sober if I wait for a race
Easycure Driz says something funny, spit out drink
DrizDrunk well you don't have worry about that
columbo oh yeah, min raise = DRINK
DrizDrunk Monks are better comedians then me
columbo double up = DRINK
columbo Double up on a suckout = 2 drinks
Easycure suckout at greater than 3:1 odds = shot of SoCo
DrizDrunk CJ would have to be hospitalized
columbo KK called on his all in by T6 sooooooted. That is an ALL DRINK!
* facty complies
* Easycure too
columbo recap - any caller to an all in who makes the call with 2 suited cards = all drink
Easycure anybody with a Rock avatar that calls an allin preflop without a Top 5 hand = all drink

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Home, home again...

Well, I return to you both from surgery and from Vegas where the WPBT was recently held. It was my second WPBT and I was ay table 48:

me, Alan (not gay), Garthmeister (whos accent immigrated with him from Aussieland), Lori from FullTilt, Poker Princess, Cali April, Joe Speaker, Sox Lover, and Grubby. (Later seat 10 would be filled by Amy Calistri.)

It starts simple enough. Alan drops the hammer on Speaker, who folds TT.

It was the best of tables, it was the worst of tables. Everyone of us playing like it was the final table. We saw only 1 showdown in all of level 1 and a total of 3 by the end of level two. As we danced around, other tables busted out players and built stacks. By the 3rd break, we were forced into a position of recklessness. No a single player at the table "controlled" the tables. It sealed all our fates.

The first turn card was myself and Lori. I make a MP raise with KidRock (Cowboys, baby) and she calls on the button. The flop is T46. I bet 200 and she calls. The turn is a 3 and after I bet 500 she RAISES to 2000. This is half our stacks! I go into the tank, but in the end decdie that AT or JJ is just too probable and I move all in. She mucks AT.

The first offical showdown was Sox and I. We basically check down our Q7 vs. Q6 hands on a QJT board. The SECOND straight flush of the day is announced at another table. We just had our first showdown.

In level 3 the antes start. I must admit I was not prepared for this news. We ran out of time to maneuver and had to play even marginal edges. I knocked out Alan when he put me all in. I called (reluctantly) with AT, pleased to see 44. I won the race. Maudie raplaced him on my left.

I won the last hand before the break when Speaker raised from MP and I reraised from LP with KK. He thought a long time that I might have the hammer, but in the end he folded his TT.

So after the break it was hard to tell where we were at. the blinds DOUBLED to 400/800/100 so everyone at our tables had an M of 5 or less, even though we were average stacked (8000). It became a push fest :(

Speaker goes out. Then I do something HIGHLY questionable.

I bluff UTG with the Hammer for 2000 (mistake 1 this late, but it is a WPBT after all). I get raised to 3100 all-in from the button. Because I felt I needed the chips, I FOLD?!??!?! (mistake 2)

I am now in the BB and will have to go with any hand that is reasonable. Its folded around to the Button (grubby) who raises me all in. I folede the hammer so I could take this hand and I am forced to defend with K9o. I know now that Grubby pushed into me WITHOUT noticing I had to call because i was folede around to him and he had the blinds isolated. But with the M and blinds at this point, he could have any two when its folded to the button. Turns out it was KT.

Best Cash game:
Friday night mixed 2-4 Horse at the MGM was great. Is there a better run card room than the MGM? Ask and they spread. (insert good woman joke here)

Broken promises:
The tournament was run ok, but no cash games materialized for quite some time, the staff showed disinterest, and I think Ceasar's blew a golden opportunity to get 115 who write about poker to love them. Still, they fared FAR better than the Excaliber, who's "new" poker room sucks in so many ways I had to invent a new term "Tornadoing the trailerpark". The room is run like a storm, on the whims of whichever way the wind is blowing. And its smaller. And the wheel is not fun anymore. And the rake for the wheel is now noticable. And they take no game requests. And they treated us with total indifference.

I never thought I would say this, but "oh how I long for the IP".

Kudos to everyone who helped set up this event as it is always worth while! Any problems are because we got to have the event in the first place!

Time I laughed out loud:
Speaker pays off Shane for the THRID time (with his entire stack) with his BOTTOM PAIR when Shane had a SET. Speaker looks at Shane afterwards and just starts laughing. That's the way HE rolls.

Prop Bets:
Biggestron won the best prop bet of the weekend as we snuck out to Hoffbrau house for beer and sausage and bet on participants of the Stein Holding Contest. His scientific brain picked out one of the top two finishers and I paid him off.

More Surreal moment:
Iggy almost getting beat up by a fireman in a wheelchair.

Brush with greatness:
Screw the WSOP and the ton of poker celebrities I saw there. I ate dinner with the WPBT winner, F-Train. Words of wisdom for the night revolved mostly around anal-rape jokes (thanks HBO), so I will not post a list of who was at that dinner (StaticKling, Biggestron, Sox Lover, Mrs. Columbo, Dawn Summers, and Zeem). Oops. and we waited an hour for that table to boot.

Lord Admiral:
Great meeting these guys, but I was surprised they played ZERO cash games. What happened guys?

I now know how to play -EV games such as "Let it Ride". Bobby Bracelet's explanation of why he HAD to put the $1 on the sucker longshot payoff bet each hand was "because I am going to get a royal flush". Ah.

Before leaving for the airport, we took a quick trip downtown just to see the old strip. I wonder if one of those hotels would PAY us to stay and have our tournament down there in the winter?! Boring...

Thanks to everyone who let me introduce myself to them for the ump-teenth time.