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!


Thuan said...

I'm not going to beat a dead horse here, but I do think you've not been as aggressive as you have been in the past. For example, in the TT hand, I would have CR the original PF raiser. He can have anything and is simply making a CB. I think you folded bc there were lots behind you, but they all checked! So they may have a weak J and will fold if you show some strength. Anyhow, it's a big pot (11 small bets), so I think it's worth going after (esp. if you've been exhibiting a tight image).

Sean said...

Yeah, while it was a borderline situation, I agree, sometimes I'll go after that pot. Usually I'll do that more if I'm running well, less if I'm not.

I think it is one of those even-EV to slightly +EV spots depending on how many are in and the board. Without the heart draw out there, I'm much more likely to go for it.

I think calling is an option too to see if a safe card comes off and then either leading out or CRing.