Sunday, March 27, 2011

Calling Stations

A friend of mine was talking to me about playing poker the other day and one thing he asked me about was whether it was hard to focus on all the different people at the table at once.  I explained that one way to deal with that situation is to start with classifying people into different categories of players which gives you a general understanding of the way they might be playing.

Of course everyone is familiar with many different styles of play, but one thing that I think is really helpful in making the best use of that knowledge is to try and understand the why behind people's decisions to play a certain style.  This video looks at what is going on inside the head of a particular style of player - the calling station:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tunnel Vision

One thing you hear poker players talking about quite a bit is how a player needs to have a plan for hands that they will be playing.  I don't disagree at all with the notion that you need to have a plan for how you're going to play out a hand, but there is definitely a risk in getting too locked in to ones plan and ignoring additional information that comes to light ...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Worlds Colliding

I think it's fairly common knowledge at least on the forums I participate in that I am a lawyer in my day job.  One of the thing that has always struck me a bit about poker is that there seems to be a pretty good overlap between people in the legal field and poker players.  I had an experience this week that caused me to think about what is behind that overlap:

By the way, be sure to watch to the end for a special look behind the scenes of shooting these videos!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Butterfly Effect

One of the cool things about poker is how over the course of a game different events flow and combine together to lead to future events transpiring.  It's a reminder of the limited number of things we can control when we're playing.  This video gives one example:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Embracing Variance

The other day I posted about this hand in the VPN strategy forums.  I was kind of up in the air about whether the hand merited a post as it seemed like a pretty clear decision to me after thinking through the situation at the table.  So I was wondering why it was that I decided to post the hand.  Eventually I decided that the hand had some broader implications which led to the notes forming the basis of what I’ve written here.

I had kind of a troubled feeling as I was thinking through my move.  Not that I was trying to decide what the best play was, I think I knew that pretty quick.  What it was though was a sense that even though I knew what I was going to do, that this was not going to end well.  And I think what that sense was at some level was an understanding that a lot of the value of my play came from making it against players who were probably more aware of things than these people likely were.

It should have just taken down the pot right there.  The first “villain” obviously had the concept of playing aggressively pre-flop, but should also understand that he has to tighten up when calling a shove.  As wide as he was opening, I should fold out a huge part of his range.

The second villain was almost 20bb deep and should need a monster to call off that much, and odds were that if she had a monster she would have just re-raised herself.

Now even though those are a lot of the benefits of shoving in my spot, and those benefits work best against more aware players, I am not saying the shove is –EV against less aware players.  I’m pretty confident that when you factor in the fold equity and the equity 88 has against the calling ranges a shove is +EV. When you factor in the bounties, the extra utility from having a much bigger stack the times I win and the fact that I’m still in decent shape if I’m called and lose I’m sure that shoving here is far and away the most profitable play.

Now against less aware players (particularly the ones who won’t fold as much as they probably should) while I’m sure the play is +EV it is definitely higher variance.  You’ll get called by a lot more hands that you’re ahead of, but flipping with, against those kind of players, and the odd J10 or KQ hand will end up costing you a big pot.

I think it’s helpful to understand the nature of what was going on in this hand on a couple of levels.  First, I think it’s sort of illustrative of the difference between “play bad” and “run bad”.  If we accept for the sake of discussion that +EV play equals “good play”, then as I said above, I know that shoving all in was the most +EV play.  Therefore, I played good.  Now I (marginally) ran bad because although I got all the money in slightly ahead, I ended up losing the hand.

The other thing that is helpful to me is to understand how and why, in these particular dynamics, the play was higher variance then it could have been otherwise.  I think that understanding, coupled with the confidence that the play is +EV makes it easier to embrace the nature of the variance and really easier to make the play without worrying about whether you’re just going to end up on the wrong side of variance this go-round.  If you can, in fact, just give variance a big ol’ hug and look for those spots that, while marginal, are still +EV you’ll be able to press those thin edges more.

That’s one of the things the best players do, they can press those razor thin edges, over and over and know how to walk the line between extracting value from those edges and taking unwarranted risks.  They are also able to acknowledge when that effort to extract value goes awry that sometimes it is just due to the fact that the play is supposed to achieve an adverse result a certain amount of the time.

So,  I think what I really learned from this hand was how to feel comfortable making a +EV move, even though there was that little voice in my head saying, “you know there’s a good chance this will not end well.”  It was a risk, but a worthwhile risk, and the next time I’m in the same situation, I’ll pull the trigger again.