Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Hi, my name is Sean, and I am a break-even poker player.

Over 5 years, I've won about $1000 in cash games, or about $1 an hour...  That's over 1000 hours of play (not much for those online guys, I know, but still significant). 

And, since the year started, I'm down about 7 buy-ins in no-limit hold'em cash games, although luckily that is only about $300.  I should be beating local, unraked low-stakes NLHE games at a pretty decent clip, but I'm actually down overall in all the local games I play.

So, I'm dusting off the old poker blog and buckling down to start actually thinking about my poker game in addition to playing my local games.  I figure that if I really focus on fixing my leaks, my game will turn around eventually.

In NLHE cash games, I think my main leaks fall into two main areas:

  1. Playing too weak-tight.
  2. Not taking the time to read players and put them on ranges of hands, especially for large bets late in hands.
On the first, I'll admit it, I'm a tight player.  But I think I've been overly tight, and not getting into profitable situations as much as I could.  For instance, I rarely get it all-in without the best hand, but then again, I rarely get it all in since everyone knows that I usually have the goods when I make big bets.  The end result is that I have a decent number of small wins, and some small losses, and a few big losses (when I get tilty).  I would like to play a looser style to get more action and get more profitable situations.

The second thing, and probably more important (especially as I've opened up my game in the last month as pertains to the first point), is that I'm not doing a good job of reading other players late in the hand.  This translates into losing a lot of big bets with very few redraws.  For instance, the other day I put in a buy-in against a tight player with KQ on a TJJQ board.  After he called my pre-flop raise, after he called my flop bet, and after he raised my turn bet.

But I have a solution, or my goal #1:

Goal 1.  Go through a full range of hands for my opponent before I call or raise large bets on the turn or river.

The key is the range of hands.  Take the hand above -- a tight player (and also relatively passive) calls a pre-flop raise, calls a flop bet on a pretty nasty board (JJT), and then raises me on the turn.  He could have big cards or any pair pre-flop, but the flop call and turn raise knocks out pretty much any hand that is weaker than a pair of queens.  Yes, he could be bluffing or betting KQ, but the range of hands he could have is not favorable for me... at all. 

That's the kind of thinking I need to go through at the table, not just the "I'll have outs if I'm wrong" and "I have a good hand". 

The second goal follows on from the first issue I talked about and will combine with the first goal to hopefully make me some money:

Goal 2.  If in doubt, take the aggressive action.

I like this goal because it covers a lot of areas that I can improve.  Maybe it isn't concrete enough, but I'll work on that.  Basically, anytime I feel like I should raise, do it.  Any time I think it is about even odds whether I should call or raise (or fold or raise), do the raise.  While it seems silly, since I always play on the tight side, this single rule should generally put me into more profitable spots.

* * * * *

I'm going to keep posting until I feel like I get my poker game turned around.  And hopefully longer.  But just the act of writing this stuff out will force me to think through it, and so it can only be good for my game!

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