Friday, December 16, 2005

Limit Play: Just play my game

I've still been struggling with my limit play lately, and this post has been something I've been planning for a while, but never got around to. In fact, I played two sessions yesterday and had my best results in a long time: ~45BB over 400 hands. Not huge, but a start, and I was feeling much more comfortable at the table.

After much though, I've narrowed my major leaks in the past few weeks to the following:

  • Following the hand charts religilously. Initially, I used the hand charts to have a solid basis for my game. In fact, all along, I've been checking the hand chart to see if I should call with ATo UTG, or re-raise KQs in late position. I think I was doing a major disservice to myself. After all, I have a lot of time at the tables (especially NL) and I know the pre-flop strength of hands. No chart can capture the exact conditions at the table like I can with the help of PokerTracker. Even $1-$2 Party games can't be considered the no-fold'em hold'em games anymore (that most small stakes hold'em books are aimed at) -- I really feel like the average internet player is still getting better. So I'm tossing the hand charts, and just using my judgment -- I definitely think this is a +EV move.
  • Over aggression. Often people demonstrate they can't be bluffed and I don't listen and keep firing, including reckless bets on the river if a draw gets there. Kind of a "I can only win if I bluff, so I bet" type of thing. Instead, I should slow it down if I don't improve against a known calling station. After all, if I save myself a bet on the turn and the river, that's two bets, or my expectation for an hour of play! Saving bets is just as important as winning them. Don't get me wrong, aggression is very, very important, but not at the lower limits. Low-limit players will just call you down if they get confused (and many of them are constantly confused :) ). Being able to fire bets on all streets as a bluff is good though, especially at higher limits, and I think that is one of the reasons I picked it up (shorthanded at Stars I had a lot more success with it). In fact, ScurvyDog has a great post about the profitability of continuing a steal to the river -- it is surprising that it is profitable as long as people fold approximately 50% of the time (not to mention the ability to hit your hand). But continuing a bluff to the river at Party is just stupid.
  • Listening to my reads. I am an above average player for the limits I play. Why, then do I automatically call when someone raises me and I just have top pair? C'mon, how much do these guys really bluff? Well, a lot actually, but very little when someone else has shown strength. So why pay them off? If I think I am beat, I should consider the odds and lay it down if I don't have a draw or I suspect I am drawing dead. You know, one of my guiding rules has been "bets are cheap on later streets, so call them down if there is any chance I have the best hand". Kinda silly, isn't it? Kinda makes me a fish, doesn't it? I believe this came out of the big mistakes vs little mistakes argument, but I've taken it too far. Especially if I bet out the turn with TPTK, get raised, then call two bets even though my gut tells me I'm beat. Those two bets, like the overaggression above, are my hourly expectation -- poof! Yes, people can bluff-raise, but I can't remember seeing it at the $1-$2 tables.
You know, looking back at what I wrote, I think I can summarize the above points into one phrase:

Play my own game.

My biggest leak since I've returned to low-limit hold'em is expecting to be able to beat the game by playing roboticly without thought. Playing set pre-flop hands always in the same way. Calling to the river with top pair or better to pick off bluffs. Yes, fixed play at low limits will get money in the long run, but not much. And don't get me wrong -- I still did a lot of things right (folding when I was clearly beaten, etc) but my attitude manifested itself most in hand selection and ignoring reads when I had top pair. Those leaks, along with a run of not great cards, caused my recent plateau.

Last night it was actually quite liberating to realize that I do have control and I'm not completely at the mercy of the cards like I thought I was. For instance, I was able to make some steals in late position. If my top pair was no good and I knew it, I considered laying it down. Those laydowns define good players more than hand selection. It has been an important realization for me.

Oddly enough I also had a run of good cards, or rather, very top pair/overpair hands that got chased down. We'll see how I feel after a little more time, but I really feel like I've turned a corner in limit.

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