Saturday, August 22, 2009

Curbing the Beast

Oh poker blog, how I have neglected you. The crazy thing is that I've actually had good ideas for posting lately but now I can only remember a couple of them. I need to get stuff down somewhere when it pops in my head so I don't forget.

I read a lot of poker books. I think the way that I got started on those was the idea that if you read and study hard enough, the answers will come to you and you will be a "good" player. As I've read and learned the game more, I've come to the conclusion that there is a limit to how far books can take you. They provide good foundation, and can stimulate thought, but I just don't believe that truly artistic poker is found in a book. By the way, I don't consider this a particularly shocking revelation or insight on my part, it's just part of the evolution of anything, but I digress.

One book that I've never read, but in which I've had some interest is Your Worst Poker Enemy. I don't think this is a huge spoiler, but your worst poker enemy is - you. It's a book basically about how mentally you can mess yourself up greatly at the table. I had a horrible experience getting beat around by my worst poker enemy a few weeks ago. It strangely enough came playing some 3-6 limit poker with my wife in what should have been a fun relaxing and low stress environment. Unfortunately, I had one of those nights where I just couldn't win a hand. It started with a couple of bad beats, but then I started getting angry. How dare these people play their junk and catch against me!! Although I was trying to restrain my outward behavior, my wife said I wasn't very successful.

I've thought a lot about that night since then. Before that night I recognized on an intellectual level the importance of not getting emotional at the table, but I think you really have to go through the experience to internalize the dangers of getting overly emotional.

I'm no psychologist, but it sure seems like the key to controlling those feelings is to keep one's ego in check. Not only does the ego bang its caveman club around and unleash those icky emotions, but it also blocks out logic and reason. I think you can basically be in one of two states at the table, either emotional or logical, we all know which one is more profitable. Your ego is the beast that comes and swallows up all your profits at the table I think.

The good news is that since that night, I've had great success in taming my beast. It's true I've not been put to the test the same way I was that night, but I decided to focus on the fact that I'm getting to play a game. I can tell you that I've been genuinely happier at the table this way, even when I haven't been winning. I wanted to make sure I memorialized this here so that I could from time to time get a reminder about taming my beast.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An A-Ha Moment

Let's start with the hand that led to the "A-Ha"ing. As usual, the scene is a small buy in no limit hold em tournament. I am under the gun +1 with KQ and raise to 4x the big blind after the UTG player limps. The only caller is the player on my immediate left, so I will have to play the hand post flop out of position. I haven't noticed anything remarkable about this player with the exception of the fact that he has taken down several (3 or 4) pots lately by making bets when in position and checked to post flop. I don't recall seeing him check behind a lot in those situations which leads me to the conclusion that he is likely aware of making post flop steal plays if he senses weakness. The other observation I have of this player is that he's likely pretty loose preflop as he is playing a lot of hands.

On to the hand at issue, the flop comes Q 10 2 with a flush draw. I bet the pot and he calls. At this point I figure him for either a Q (almost certainly a weaker Q than mine as I think he would likely raise AQ), or a flush or broadway draw. The turn is a blank, and I again bet the pot and get a call. Draws are still possible, but for this player I was weighted more towards a weaker Q. The river is a J that does not complete the flush draw. Based on my read, this card is very likely to have helped his hand. Given that, I decide to check. V now goes all in which is a little more than 1/2 the size of the pot.

I'm now getting almost 3/1 on a call, calling and losing leaves me with some chips, but really in "chip and a chair" territory, so calling and losing is really bad for me. I tanked for a while and then finally called. The other player kind of quietly said two pair and turned over QJ for two pair.

While I was in the tank, I thought through V's possible holdings. I thought a straight was highly unlikely since hitting a straight would have meant a gutshot and I really think he would have folded the turn on a straight draw. I pretty much narrowed his range down to two pair or a bluff.

The thing is that my evaluation of him was that he was far more likely to have 2 pair there then the bluff. Sure I'd seen him make some bets before when other people showed weakness, but this was pretty different to go all in. I had him read really well, so why did I end up losing that hand.

I think I've identified a couple of reasons for this. First, I'm just not trusting my read enough. I'm letting the math and abstract statistics dictate my decisions to the exclusion of reads at the table. That's not good and I have to progress to the point of giving myself permission to play my "feels" in situations like this. Might it deviate from what the math might otherwise call for, sure, but judgment about people is too big a part of this game to just rely on the math. The other thing is that I think there's a part of my psychology that is super resistant to having a "move" put on me. At some point there in my tanking on this hand, and I think at an unconscious level, I decided that it was better to call when I would likely lose and at least know for sure I was not bluffed then to fold and leave the possibility of being bluffed out there. That kind of pride is just going to get too expensive, I need to let that go.

Trust your reads, if your read says fold, do it, and if someone just ran a bluff on you then well, they played well, it's OK.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Poker is a Cruel Mistress No Doubt

I've not blogged here in almost two weeks partly because I'm not entirely sure yet what I want this blog to be about, but when I got home from playing in the tournament at my local poker room last night, I knew there had to be an entry about what a bitch of a game the pokers can be.

Last night felt like it was going to be a very successful night. I caught solid hands early on that let me chip up without having to do too much stealing. I did run into a rough hand where I raised from early with a smallish pair, sixes to be exact. A later player with not much more chips than my initial raise amount went all in and I called. Turned out I was in a pair over pair situation and the results of the hand conformed to statistical expectation. I felt OK though as I still had enough to stick around. One note about that hand was that I made a larger than usual raise from UTG with my sixes. My opponent in the hand made some comments that let me know that my raise amount had given him the idea that I probably had a smaller pair and his eights were good. Thinking about it he was right, the idea of making a larger raise from early position to discourage callers is just a huge tell and one that I should not be repeating. Ironically, a couple of orbits later I looked down at sixes in early position again and made a normal raise. Got called by the same player and won a large pot off of him (flopping a set and filling up the river helped with that for sure).

That large pot got me on a bit of a roll and by the time we were down to the last ten (there were 33 entries including alternates to begin with) I was either second or first in chips. The other big stack was on the opposite end of the table and I couldn't figure his stack precisely. I was paying by big stack aggressively, but not recklessly and was feeling pretty good. Unfortunately, the hammer was about to fall.

It was folded to me in middle position and I had a pair of nines. I raised to three times the blind, got a couple of folds, and then an older gentlemen went all in with about twice my original bet. He'd been going all in several times in the last few hands and I read him as shoving with any cards that he would play, so I wasn't particularly concerned with his bet. Then a younger kid to the old guys left went all in behind him for much less. His stack was so small that I couldn't really factor him in, I made the call and flipped up my nines. Old guy flips up his hand, AQ. OK, this is pretty a pretty good situation for me, even if he draws out on me, I'm still sitting with some good chips and oh by the way, I'm favored against AQ. Then the younger kid turns up kings. Ouch, well at least I'm in the running for the side pot and maybe I'll catch a nine and take it all.

There's always that moment of anticipation when there is all in action preflop and the dealer gets ready to turn the first three cards. He started to put them out and when he flipped over the door card I saw a Queen. Things got worse as the rest of the flop spread and revealed another Queen and an irrelevant card. Well, know I'd really like to see a 9 on the turn, and the dealer obliged by putting out a third ... king. Well great, now I'm drawing dead. As it turns, the river was an A meaning that AQ would take the side pot with his underboat and the short stacked kid would take the main pot. Well, I'm still above average with my stack size, in fact I'm pretty sure I'm still second in chips. Shake it off.

A short while later, (blinds had gone up) I'm in the big blind. The same kid from the last hand limps and then the player on his right goes all in for just under 2x the big blind. The other big stack has the button and he calls the all in. I look down at the A4 of spades. This is a tricky spot. On the one hand this is a hand that isn't likely to hold up unless it makes a flush or a straight. I'm also concerned because the only player at the table who can knock me out is in the pot and will have position on me. While I'm thinking, the kid who limped puts in the chips for a call out of turn. OK, that removes another of my concerns that he might limp and then reraise. He started out the hand with probably around 5 big blinds, so I can't really put him on a strong hand. Plus I'm getting damn near 8-1 on a call and if I whiff the flop I'm not committed.

The flop came giving me the nut flush draw and a gutshot straight draw (12 outs) any of which I'm sure wins me the hand. I also think against three opponents I'm now close to if not a favorite to win the hand, so I push all in. The kid calls and the big stack goes in the tank and folds. The preflop all in player flipped over a couple of random face cards (no spade) and the kid turns over Ad Kh? What?! The kid had around five bb at the start of the hand and he limps with AK? The kid dodges all my outs and now I'm in trouble. A couple of hands later, there's two preflop all ins, I'm on the button with AK and I call all in. Turns out one of the all ins was Kings, I can't catch an ace, I'm done along with one other short stack and immediately, the five players left cut up the money.

Umm - that just sucked, and I'll be honest I was pretty hot right afterwards. Thinking about it afterwards, I really could not think of a different way to play those hands although I think the suited ace hand could be subject to some debate. In the end though, the fact that it was going to be a massive pot coupled with the fact that I could see the flop relatively cheaply and was getting great odds meant I had to call preflop. Once the flop comes as it does, I'm committed and I have to stay in.

So in other words, I think I played very good poker last night. Regardless though, I walked away with zilch. That's the way the game goes, I don't have to enjoy it, but I do have to be prepared to deal with it.