Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dead cards and aggro thoughts

ricoM placed an undistinguished 35th in a field of 65 in last night Wheaties tournament. As has been the norm for my tournament games over the past couple of weeks, I had a frustrating combo of dead cards (in the sense of either unsuited/unconnected low cards or a face card with a lousy kicker. Think unsuited A6, Q3, 2 5, etc.) and/or hands that I couldn't capitalize on for much of the short hour I played. I had a run of Big Slick something like three times in a row, and in none of those hands was I able to make money... either being out-bet or maybe outbluffed at the flop, or, in the last case, having the hand in the Big Blind with everyone folding to me.

"Card dead" is something you hear a lot at the tables or read in the blogs, but it's sometimes - in my opinion - used too much as an excuse. Most starting hands in Hold 'Em poker are bad hands, it's the nature of the game. So, you need to learn patience, you need to throw away a lot of hands, you need to capitalize on each and every hand when you do get good cards. When the opportunity presents - which is usually much less than you would like - you need to take a stab at stealing blinds and or flops with whatever you hold.

So easy to write about. So hard to do.

Anyway, I was over reading that Wild, Wild Woman's blog, seeing how she had updated it after being the first knocked out last night. Now, going out first is like being badly beaten (in the poker, not the physical, sense, although to us aficionados of the game there's often little difference), and Maudie had the bad luck to have both inflicted upon her last evening. But you're going to get bad beats... and you're occasionally going to be knocked out of a tournament first.

I'm not sure I would have played a pair of 8s that aggressively pre-flop, but I'm not Maudie, I wasn't there, I don't know how much her original raise was for, I don't have the benefit of the table feel from the earlier hands she played out... etc. etc. etc. as the King of Siam would say. Whether right or wrong, you'll see if you read the play-by-play that Maudie had the winning hand right up til The Very End. Famous last words, "I had the winning hand till the very end," right up there with, "but they were soooooted."

I might have played it exactly the same. In fact, knowing me, I probably would have. Wilson's Turbo keeps on sadly informing me that I bet way too many hands way too aggressively, which makes me smile, even when I'm losing. If you knew me - or had watched me play even a year ago - you'd probably smile at that too. I'm one of the most tentative guys you could meet. I tend to hesitate and rethink everything, and hate making any sort of commitment unless I'm certain of the outcome. That trait carried over - as most personality quirks do - to my poker game. It's not a good quirk to have for poker; in long sessions other players start to notice that 1) they can bluff you out by playing the table or 2) when they can't bluff you out, it's because you're holding the nutz and it's time to fold.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that if I were to get any better as a poker player, I was going to have to start rewiring my instincts - counter-programming, if you will, kind of like the therapy you go through to mitigate phobias... and no, I won't tell you how I know about that.

So, I fired up Wilson's, and doggedly, or maybe Bearedly, started to make it instinctual not to limp (except in certain circumstances), not to min. raise (ditto), but to play hard and play aggressively.

The treatment worked a little too well, Doctor. All I wanted was a lil slap-n'tickle with the wifie, not a permanent coat rack.

So, I first had to go back and reteach myself to only get aggresive with premium hands; not every Ace and something that shows up. And I think I've got that down pretty well now. But I still got a problem with "too aggressive." Hand #61 last night is a case in point...

We're at 50/100 Blinds, about 10 mins. before the break. I have 1875 chips, which isn't great but not the time for sirens to be going off either. I get unsuited AJ at UTG+1. Now, here's one of those "open for debate" things right from the git-go. I just call. Maybe I should have raised. Maybe not. A serious raise would have been at least a $300 commitment. Someone re-raising at that means a good pair, Big Slick, or something else I probably don't want to face with my AJ, and I have 5 other players to get through. I don't wanna spend $300 to find out my hand is probably no good. This thinking is almost laughable considering how I'd play the rest of the hand. On the other hand... but there's always another hand in poker.

So, the SB calls and the BB checks. Everyone else is gone. Flop is 6d 3s Ah, giving me high pair and a good kicker of course. I want to capitalize, so I min bet $150. BB goes away, SB calls, which should have been a warning to me. But I figured he's the short stack, he's got an Ace with a lousy kicker, or some small pair that he's hoping to hit trips with. Foolish me.

Turn is 2c, which (I think) unless the guy has gone nutso and has been playing 5 4 shouldn't be a danger to me. But, consider my little bets, he legitimately could have been playing anything without much cost. He could have 5 and 4, or an Ace and deuce, now giving him two pair, or a pair of 2s and now he's tripped. So my next move is pure testosterone-infused drug-addled agggressive for no reason known on God's Green Earth Bull Goose Crazy. Repeat after me, Class. "One does not go all-in with high pair." Why? Because if you're called; you're almost certain dead, as I was.

In my defense, when he checked at the Turn my fevered mind decided with a brain-dead certainty that he was playing the Ace with a bad kicker, and I could either force him out or collect his remaining $880 if he felt optimistic. But I could have done many things: I could have checked after he checked and see what the River brought. I could have bet a few hundred to see how he felt about that. I did none of those things. I went all-in instead.

He called my all-in. He had a pair of 3s, and had hit his set at the flop. I was left with 745 in chips. I'd go out three hands later.

Sid, Wilson's little monotone adviser in the Cowboy Hat would have intoned, "You went all-in with high pair. You should have just bet."

Indeed. In the calm of hindsight it's pretty easy to see that if I wanted to be aggressive, the time was pre-flop, not at the Turn. A heavy raise might have made him rethink the playability of those 3s. If not, that would have given me pause, andthe Ace pair and Jack kicker at the flop maybe not looking as invulnerable as it did. In any case, I could have finished that hand probably bloodied, but with more than 745 chips.

Repeat 100 times: Tight but not too tight. Aggressive but not too aggressive. Or at least, aggressive at the appropriate opportunity. All-in as a scapel, not as a bludgeon.

Next week.

1 comment:

Maudie said...

Nice analysis, Fred.

Now - regarding my eights (and this is just between you and me, 'k?, 'cuz I don't want the world knowing my strategy):

I have a general rule of thumb regarding low pocket pairs - if the pot is raised before it gets to me, generally I will call, micro pairs like deuces and treys, however, I'll muck to a raise (unless implied odds and/or my stack size indicate it might be worth it to see the flop and hope I hit a set). Once the flop hits, it's decision time.

If the pot is limped to me, I might raise to either thin the blinds out and/or see how any opponent(s) respond - but then again, I'll usually just call in order to see the flop as cheaply as possible (but then again, again, if the table texture tends to be consistently passive, I might throw a big raise in to shake things up and see how they respond).

If I'm UTG - I will generally raise (position plays a big role in this decision, of course) - if I'm called or re-raised, then I have a lot of information to act on, more than I would if I'd just limped.

Last night, I'd gone head to head with Nickerson in all 3 hands. The first one - even though the flop missed me by a mile and there was a potential set (2 queens came out) staring at me, I stabbed at the pot with a continuation bet and got it. The second one, well, actually, Nickerson saved me some chips by pushing there. He could have gotten more out of me with a small re-raise, which I probably would have called (being sooooted) and if no ace or king came on the flop, push his hand there (which I might've called had a couple of clubs appeared, too). The third hand, frankly, when he pushed again, I thought he was dicking with me and I made a tilty call.

I look at what my advantages are. What am I expecting from my hand - for instance, there's a time (albeit rarely) to raise with Ace-rag but most times I'm going to muck it because most times I'm going to be dominated by a bigger ace if I'm called or, worse yet, re-raised.

However - all that aside, my general strategy is to play as selectively aggressive as I can get away with - I will rarely, if ever, min-raise unless it's to my advantage to do so and if I sense weakness I will do my best to exploit it.

OK, wow, - didn't intend to turn this into a treatise on tounament strategy. Sorry.