Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Missing the flop out of position

So I was doing my morning ritual before sitting down at work and I noticed a lever on my chair marked "Tilt". Damn. I wish I knew that was there -- that explains a lot. And to make matters worse, there is a lever right next to it marked "Up/Down". C'mon man, I play poker in that chair!

(there's another lever marked "Back" but that's a little less funny)

Anyway, 2/4 over at Eurobet is really teaching me some lessons. Over the past three sessions (four hours of two-tabling) I've lost 40 BB. Before that I pretty much broke even (well, lost a little). A 40 BB downswing doesn't seem like a big deal (in fact, most people would probably say they are quite common). But the thing is, I know that at least half of that is from mistakes I've made. So I'm not feeling really good about my game right now. That, coupled with the fact I've lost $160 and 10% of my bankroll, is something I'm definitely not used to. So, I'm going to take a few days off from LHE.

Looking at PokerTracker, I still feel that I'm losing a lot of money being the aggressor with the worst hand on the turn and river. Often this is coupled with being out of position -- I think I'm trying to force a fold by betting my second best hands down, a sure situation for losing money at 2/4.

One symptom is that my showdown win % is quite low (45% I believe?) and the hands I've lost the most money with are AQ, AT, 99, etc. I e-mailed my friends Rob and Brian with a hypothetical situation (having AK out of position on a QJ3 flop) and they both responded with good advice. They both said to bet the flop no matter what (because it builds a pot and should reduce the field). Rob said "probably check/fold or RARELY make a read based check/call the turn and/or river" which is not what I've been doing. Brian, in two long e-mails discussing play in position and out of position (which I have yet to fully digest) basically said a similar thing with a lot more details and situational considerations. A few nuggets from Brian's e-mail:

"It's MUCH harder to win pots out of position, remember that. Not
just a little bit harder, a LOT harder."

"The biggest mistake to avoid is betting the river without the best
hand. You should be winning the VAST majority of your showdowns. A
solid way to find a leak is to see how many showdowns you are losing."

"You can save the most bets OUT of position on the river. The converse
is you can MAXIMIZE the most bets on the river IN POSITION. For
instance, I've even bet very marginal situations in position on the
river because it's clear my opponent is weaker than what I have based
on his play."

"And yes, you'll be dumping unpaired, weak drawing boards out of
position FAR more than in position. Keeping and taking the lead is
priority #1 in limit hold'em. The funny thing is, priority #2 is
knowing when to let it go."

Let me illustrate my problem with a few hands (going from memory because I don't have the hand histories here):

Hand #1. I raise UTG+1 w/ AKs. Cold called by one in late position, blind calls. Flop is T93 two of another suit. I bet, LP calls. Turn Q, bet, call. River blank, I bet, he calls, and shows KT to take down the pot.

Hand #2. I raise UTG w/ AQs. Cold called by the button, both blinds fold. Flop is J92, no real suits. I bet and he calls. Turn is a 5. I bet again, he calls. River is blank. Check-check. He wins w/ AKo.

Hand #3. One EP limper (by far the loosest guy on the table, somewhat aggressive), SB completes, and I raise KQs from BB. Flop is A92 (two of a suit, not mine). Check, I bet, call, SB folds. Turn T, I bet, call. River 4 (still no suits). I bet, he calls. I win, he mucks.

Hand #4. I raise from EP w/ 99, one cold caller (MP), BB calls. Flop KQ3, no suits, check, I bet, MP calls, BB folds. Turn blank, I bet, he calls. River blank, I bet, he calls and wins w/ QJ.

My point with listing these hands is not the details of how I played each hand but the general play at 2/4 and how my play interacts with the other players. Hands 1, 2, & 4 show my favorite way to lose money -- firing the whole way at a pot when my good pre-flop hand misses. Hands 1, 3, & 4 demonstrate bad cold calls by my opponents with me going in with the best hand. Hands 2 and 3 show my opponents calling me down with position with just unpaired high cards -- on Hand 3, I was shocked that I won -- what did he call with, KJ?

The big take-home point here is that 2/4 players are bad. That seems like a good thing, but not when I play my hands this way. Yes, they are much tighter than lower limits, but post-flop they make a lot of mistakes. They call turn and river bets with no pair and bad drawing odds or call you down with second pair. This should be a good thing, right? Not when I'm betting with a worse hand.

Put another way, why push my worst possible situations (out of position with a hand that missed the flop) when 2/4 players will make many mistakes over time and call me down when I have a hand? Good question. I think it all goes back to my patience, or lack there-of. Yes, it hurts to constantly miss the flop, but I've got to wait until I have an edge. This means that I occasionally will be bluffed off a pot and it will be frustrating. On the other hand, 80-90% of the time they'll have the goods, and putting in 2BB to win 3-4 BB 80% of the time isn't good odds. By the turn, I've seen 6/7 of my final hand but only put in about 1/3 of the money to see the showdown -- I need to make more decisions based on the strength of that 6 card hand, not my 2 card starting hand.

The past few sessions, once I get down early, I start to feel like I really don't know how to play poker. This has to be tilt, but a different emotion than I've dealt with before. I 'know with my mind' that I shouldn't chase or bet down hands that miss the flop, but I don't 'know it with my poker mind'. This next week or two I need to retrain my 'poker mind' how to save bets in LHE. Hopefully that will turn my results around, but I need to remember that I may not see immediate wins. I think I'm ok with that.

So, this means a new cheat sheet (a new and improved more specific one):
  1. Don't call a turn bet or raise unless I have at least two pair or odds to draw.
  2. Don't bet a hand I raised pre-flop that didn't improve by the turn unless I have both (a) a strong read (b) one opponent.
There's a hell of a lot more I can put down on the cheat sheet, but I'm going to keep it simple to avoid confusing myself. #1 may seem to be too tight, but 2/4 players aren't that tricky and bluff-raises are very rare. I made it two-pair in that situation because usually I'll have bet top pair up to that point and a bet into me or a raise means more than TPTK.

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