Friday, February 29, 2008

Playing Perfect Starts with Knowing Yourself

Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.
David Sklansky's Fundamental Theorem of Poker, from The Theory of Poker.

The thing is, it really is unrealistic to expect to be able to play the same as if your opponents' cards were face up. Instead, I think I'll write...

Sean's Fundamental Theorem of Poker:
Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you were operating at full mental capacity and considered your opponent's full range of holdings (based on previous experiences, their emotional state, etc.) you lose. Likewise, any time your opponents play at impaired mental capacity (be it emotional, distraction, or genetics), play without considering your holding, or are deceived, you win.
Heck, I can't really take credit for this, I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with this idea and I probably read it somewhere anyway. There's a lot of noise in all the poker strategy out. Besides, it's a pretty crappy strategy anyway.

My point is, you can never know their cards with 100% accuracy, but you can use all the information you've ever learned to make an educated guess at their holdings and tendencies, and anything less than that is an equity leak.

Realistically, most of these larger equity deficits that make up poker profit are within your control. Maybe you don't consider how wide an opponent's range is. Maybe you raise with a hand they would never expect and get paid off in a big way. Maybe you get tired and start turtling up to protect your win, or an opponent starts gambling after a bad beat. Tilt is the prototypical equity leak, but there are many others which can often be subtle; too subtle to notice if you aren't paying attention. The more I play, the more I realize most poker profit and loss comes deviations from my (or their) A-game.


I stopped at Garden City for a few hours on Tuesday night and won $10 in 2.5 hours. Since I was down between $100 and $200 pretty much all night, I felt pretty lucky to pull out a win. But I also felt like I screwed up a few hands and generally didn't have the aggressiveness I had trained into myself a few weeks ago (although I was still playing way better than when I started 6/12).

Let's be honest, I have a bunch of leaks and periods where I'm not playing my A game. Everyone does, and if someone says they don't, they are either lying or not very self-aware. My biggest strength is probably my introversion and ability to control my emotions and monitor my own play. On the flip side, I'm not very good at considering my opponents, but this post is mostly about ME, so I'll ignore the flip side for now.

But I digress... How about a few hands from GC which were not my finest:
  • Bluffed. I'm in the SB with KK, MP raises (a pretty solid guy who showed down AQo earlier), it folds to me, and I get cute and just call. The woman to my left is pretty tight and passive and I don't mind if she enters the pot. My thought is also to avoid playing a big pot out of position with KK and three-betting will commit me to the pot. Admittedly, this is probably fancy play syndrome, but it could be argued that playing KK in this way could get me paid off well over a wide range of hands of my opponent. Anyway... The BB calls and the flop comes AA6 with no suits. I check, planning to check-raise and put pressure on the BB and see how MP responds. BB checks, MP bets, I raise, BB folds, and MP three-bets quickly. Crap, now what have I done... I take a long time (a long time) and decide he's pretty solid (I haven't seen him show down a bluff or semi-bluff in the 30 minutes I've been at the table). Plus, if I'm going to play KK slow and avoid getting committed, then I need to fold here. I definitely considered the possibility of a bluff, but getting 7:2 reverse implied I think I can fold. So, I call the flop bet and check-fold on the turn. Then I say, "I'd love it if you'd show me a bluff." and he turns over Qd3d. He got me. I don't mind the fold too much, but I think it was a bad move without more knowledge. In fact, I think the flop raise was pretty dumb. I was either way ahead or way behind, and check-raising is pretty weak. Kudos to him for three-betting on a bluff.
  • Oops... Next hand (or maybe one hand later) J7s with a few people limped in, so I come along too. Flop comes KK5, EP bets, all fold to me, and I think to myself: my K3 is good. She'll never expect me to have trips, and raising on the flop will look like I'm on tilt. FYI, EP was a tight/aggressive woman who I've played with a lot. She can read hands pretty well and is able to lay a hand down. She thinks for a while, then calls. Turn comes offsuit 7, and she leads out relatively quickly. Yeah, it is at this point I realize that I may not have the hand I thought, see my J7s, and muck sheepishly. She shows TT. No idea how I did it, but I somehow morphed my hand into another (whether it was a previous hand, something someone else showed down, or a brain fart, I don't know). If I hadn't just gotten bluffed, I probably could have taken the pot down with a bluff-raise on the turn, but not with the image at the time. I'll be honest and say that it was probably due to the bluff, but not because I was tilted. I think my mind was just distracted still.
  • An hour later... TT in SB, bunch of people call, LP raises, I call, along with everyone else (10 small bets). Flop comes J74 with two hearts. I think I may have the best hand, but betting out won't put any pressure on anyone, and I want to see what people do. I check, it all checks to the raiser, he bets, I think for a while and fold. There's still three people behind me and I have a pretty tenuous holding. Guy to my left calls, checks through the turn, then an ace hits the end and they both show down AQo. So I did have the best hand, but I don't mind my fold too much in that spot. Still...
I'm not posting these to complain about bad beats or bad luck (or even bad play). I think these hands are indicators of my tendencies which, in the right conditions, become leaks. Knowing where my game falls apart (and how to stop it) is the first step in playing more consistently and better. Again, the flip side is also identifying when other players aren't playing optimally, but not today...

Here are my main 'leaky tendencies', as I'll call them:
  • My default game is risk averse. Most likely because that's my general personality. When I get tired, or play too long, or get rattled, this is where I'll usually fall back. I need to constantly urge myself to be more aggressive.
  • If I play too much or too long, I autopilot: a tight, passive 'B' game. See above, but this is more of a condition when it happens. This tendency is why I believe my results are better when I play less.
  • When I first sit down, I play too loose-aggressive. Getting in too many pots, just not thinking too well.
  • I don't like to leave when I'm down. I do like to leave when I'm up. It should be the opposite.
  • Near the end of a session if I'm winning, I play to protect my win, not optimize earnings. I need to be willing to mix it up as much during the last hand as any other time.
  • I have a tendency toward FPS (fancy play syndrome). See KK hand above.
  • I'll often give up the strength of my hand by thinking a long time. See KK hand above. Not a bad thing, but I should plan more steps ahead to avoid the problem. Thinking before raising is ok, but not when faced with the three-bet.
  • I act too fast and recklessly when I've got limited time to play. I know, this is in direct contradiction to the point above, but sometimes I get in a mood where I just crank along without thinking enough. Take the Bay 101 6/12 session, for example.
  • Bad beats/bluffs do rattle me, even if I've got it mostly under control. See misreading hand in J7s hand.
  • I don't consider the other people in the hand enough on close decisions. Take the KK hand. Not once did I even look at him for a few seconds. That's just ridiculous. I think my reading ability is decent, but many times, I make the decision like I'm playing online poker.
Realistically, I've identified most of these before and been working on them. But it'd be good for me to keep track of all of my tendencies so that when I start slipping into my B game, I can make the appropriate corrections.


I'm playing GC tomorrow afternoon, so it is time to come up with some goals:
  1. No fancy play syndrome. Make the by-the-book plays with big hands, especially pre-flop.
  2. Aggressive, aggressive, aggressive. Find the aggression I had before. Not super aggression, but more aggression. I don't think I was that far off Tuesday night, so just bring it up a notch.
  3. In any close decision, spend five seconds looking at my opponent. Talk to them. Get a read on them. Then make a decision, count odds, etc.
Ok, that's it for now. Expect a report after tomorrow's session!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Where I am and a little 7-stud H/L

So I've been in a slow period since I had two papers due in a row which have sucked up all my spare time. They're both in now though, and I'm officially on a vacation this week, which means more poker. Except my tutoring job, which is still going strong, and making it difficult to get time in at the tables.

Saturday afternoon I had a little under two hours to play and I was only a few blocks from GC, so I was ready to play. Except when I got there, the lists for 6/12 and 3/6 were each over 30 players long. Oddly enough, there was a 4/8 7 Stud H/L game going so I figured I'd spend an hour at that. How bad can I really be at 7 card stud, right (don't answer that, it definitely isn't my best game)...

Well, the good news was that I didn't feel outplayed, although I did play one hand horribly and put in three extra big bets while drawing nearly dead (didn't see the 3-flush on his board on 5th after bricking my last two cards with As2s7s x Ax). Other than that, I felt like I was reading players pretty well and getting out of hands when I needed to, also making value bets on early streets. I also hit quad 4s late in the session. There was one really bad player, and most of the others were playing too loosely and calling down too much or chasing bad odds.

Sadly, I lost more hands than I won and ended up down $84 after about an hour. Even worse, the 4/8 Stud game has a $2 ante, $2 bring-in, and a $7 drop. Which means you are pretty much donating $1 every hand, which gets expensive even when you only play 15-20 hands an hour. I don't think it is possible to consistently turn a profit in the game, although I won't hesitate to sit again if I need to get in action while waiting for another game, simply because it was really fun! 7-stud really exercises different muscles than omaha/texas hold'em and it is a lot less boring because you have to pay attention to everyone's board.


UB has switched their bonus/rewards structure out of my favor (since I like to play at most once a week to kill time at the low limits). The bonuses are about twice as hard to earn (I've still got almost $500 in bonus money saved up) and they now have a tiered structure. At least you can exchange points for cash if you earn 500 points a month. Sadly, at my stakes, that means almost 20 hours of play, which really isn't worth it to me. Oh well.

I'll still probably play at UB when I want to screw around because I still have a bonus there.

I played some 6-max .25/.5 LHE last night though and I felt really comfortable, my game has definitely chance since I got serious about playing at GC.


I'm going to hit GC tonight after my tutoring session and I plan to play 6/12. So, I need some goals. How about:

  • Count the pot to the river. (been a goal for a while, getting better at it though, especially on the flop and turn)
  • Look for a few situations to attack weakness and bluff. This includes steal-raises in position at tight tables (unlikely to happen). Always bluff with outs though, and plan the bluff on all streets before I act (i.e. I fire once at the flop and then I'm done, or I fire at the flop, then fire again if a diamond doesn't come, etc).
  • Be thinking aggressive. The key is to avoid playing on autopilot (pretty easy when I've had a lot of time off like I have). Think through every move no matter how obvious.
  • Have fun!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

GC Last Night, a.k.a. Surrealism

What a surreal night last night was. Turns out there was this voting thing going on (which I totally forgot about, although I am registered as a permanent absentee ballot (and the ballot is currently sitting somewhere in my living room, untouched). The players seemed a bit worse than usual -- maybe the poker players that like to watch election results tend to be better players?

On paper, I took a really harsh beating.

My premium hands were AQ, AA, KQs, KK, AJs. Well, I had an AJo. AA and KK went down in flames, AQo, well, nothing going. I won with KQs and AJo. That's it for 2.5 hours of play.

I did have some medium pairs, most notably 88 which flopped top set (three-bet four ways, after a 6-way capped flop). Turn was a blank and I bet, another guy goes all-in for $6, called by one, and I try to complete (apparently you can't). Is that a tell? River comes a jack of clubs, completing the flush, and the guy (who I figured had a flush draw) checks to me. I hemmed and hawed and decided to not value bet (in hindsight, I probably should have -- everyone will bet a flush there). I roll over my set, thinking it is likely good, but the all-in guy spikes his pocket jacks on the felt. The other guy had TT. So yeah, that was a four-outer...

The table was pretty loose and passive. 5-7 way flops for one or two bets were common. Many hands were checked to the river. Blinds were only chopped maybe twice the whole night. And people were calling down to the river often.

I should mention the guy on my right who said he lost $300 in 8/16 and was playing down in 6/12. He was up a decent amount soon after he sat down, but not because he was a really good player. The whole time, all I could think about was:

After my KK got cracked (I'll relate that hand later) I was down about $130. Three hands later I was up $240. Biggest swing I've been through in a while. These lucky hands made it happen:

  • 63h on button. 5 players in including the blinds, so I limp it too. Flop comes 542 with two spades. My first thought was, it'll never hold up? Flop got capped four ways driven by a guy in EP. Turn is a n offsuit jack (safe for me) and I get a raise in on the EP guy (three players left). River is a Kx, and I've still got the nuts, both players call me. Raiser had A3o and other guy had a set.
  • 99 capped five ways pre-flop (I never raised once). Flop comes Ad8d3h. Original raiser checks, re-raiser bets to my right. I call because I've got over 22:1 (I've got the 9d). Two more players call. Turn is a Tc and I'm ready to fold. I know I'm beat, and I'm only getting maybe 12:1. Until the flop bettor goes all-in for 3 chips. That I can call -- original raiser calls too. Shockingly, the turn is a 9. It might even have been the 9d (maybe I lied about getting the right odds). Hell, I bet it. I thought I had the best hand. And I did. The original raiser had QQ, all-in guy had a decent ace, and suddenly the table was a little mad at me. I didn't mind, because I was still trying to stack chips from the last hand.
  • QTo in MP. I limp (kind of a what the hell limp). Flop comes QJ5, BB guy bets, I raise. #1, I wanted to find out if I had the best hand. #2, I wanted to get rid of some players behind me. This guy was pretty solid, didn't bluff, and shut down to aggression. So when he called, I assume I was ahead, but wasn't sure (he could easily have a better pair, but unlikely since he didn't raise. Turn was a blank, check-bet-call. River was a T, check-bet-call-show-groan. He showed a J5o. Why the hell didn't he raise me?
So, yeah, I had some luck. They also made plenty of mistakes, like the 99 hand (ran out of chips and couldn't protect his hand in a monster pot) and the QTo hand (if he raised me on the flop and bet the turn, I probably would have let it go).

Some hands I have questions about... Thuan, leave comments, and I'll give the answers and outcomes there:
  • AQo in the SB. UTG raises, four players call, and on me. What do I do? UTG was aggressive but pretty decent. I honestly considered all three options (fold, call, raise).
  • AA in late position. Two limpers, I raise, one-two callers behind me. Flop comes T66 with two hearts and I like it. I bet and get two callers (decent player to my right, who's loose and somewhat passive, and a decent guy to my left on the button who's loose and very aggressive). Turn comes Qh and it goes check, bet, slow call with hemming and hawing, raise. Crap. What do I do? FYI, the raiser (loose/passive) is pretty decent by GC standards, but I've seen him miss bets because he's not aggressive enough and he's way too loose preflop.
  • KQs in SB. UTG guy (same guy as above -- oddly enough, he wasn't raising a ton) raises, three call. What do I do? Nevermind, I know I should raise there for value, but I didn't. Wimp! Anyway, we get five to the flop (10 small bets), flop is KJ6 with one spade (my suit). I check because, well, I don't know. Should I lead into the raiser or check it to them? (one player in between us, two after him). Anyway, I check, BB checks, he bets, folds to me, and I raise to put pressure on the woman between us. He three-bets, and I call. Turn comes non-spade 9, I check, he bets. Now I go into the tank, because he's a pretty decent player and he's telling me he has AK or better. Now what do I do?
  • KK on button. 4 limpers to me and I raise. Six to the flop for two bets. The flop is Q93 with two clubs. Loose, passivish guy (same as in AA hand) leads out in EP. Two-three players behind him call, what should I do?
Looking through my notes, I think I am doing much better on value bets. As far as I can tell, I only missed one (the 88 hand when one guy was all-in -- I think it is marginal but +EV since most won't check-raise that spot). I feel like there might have been one other where every draw in the book hit the river and I didn't bet one pair. But much improved over where I was before. I remember very few cases where I was calling down to lose.

Oh, and my goals (jotted down in my notebook before I played):
  • Count the pot to the river. I'm getting pretty good at counting the pot before and after the flop, but when I'm in a hand, I'm often thinking about other things than the pot and I don't know the count on the river. C-, I can't seem to balance keeping count and reading players. Hopefully it will get better with practice. Luckily, I know my flop odds about 100% of the time and turn odds about 90% of the time.
  • Play Intelligent Aggressive. Forget the notions of loose or tight, play intelligent. Raise in position, raise to isolate, fold borderline situations against a strong raiser, etc. Post-flop, follow my reads and intuition more than books. I've played enough now where I can start moving past SSHE. Also, think through decisions more. Quick action got me in trouble last time. B. Did better this time, but I've still got a long way to go. I think I'm still a little too worried about raising pre-flop too much, which it should be the opposite -- bad raises pre-flop cost less than bad river bets or calls. I did get back into the habit of thinking longer before I act, and I think that helped. It's hard to be too 'intelligent' with your play at 6/12, especially on a good (meaning loose) table, since so many decisions are simple.

Finally, one last funny thing. There was a guy two to my right who came over from 3/6 and was really sensitive about rule violations. At one point, he went off on somebody because they folded on the turn while the guy before them was taking a lot of time to think. He also kept getting on people about folding out of turn in general -- total table captain guy. Yet he didn't play that well :)

Anyway, at one point the aggressive guy two seats to my left was talking on the phone after folding his hand. The hand ended, and the dealer flipped over the cards, and this guy on the phone reaches across the table and flips over the muck and starts seeing what cards are in there, while on the phone! The dealer then flipped the muck back over and shoos him away... I've NEVER seen anyone look throught the muck like that, and it gave table captain guy an aneurism. He was going on an on for fifteen minutes! Completely hilarious!

Oh, anyway, my total result was +$201. I'm back in the black! (at least until next time)