Saturday, 5 February 2011

Deepstack Cash

Up at sunrise again, as I have been doing for around three weeks. The only morning on which I forwent this rigour was a recent trip to The Vic in London, where I did not sleep at all, taking part as I was in an all-night session. It was more or less a break-even excursion but certainly very fun, just as it had been the last time I had done something like this the previous April.

However, I came to realise that much of my lack of success at The Vic (those which I have had have only been minor) could be directly attributed to my style of play. Put it this way: poker is about minimizing losses and maximizing profits given the situations thrown at you. Well I'm fairly good at the former: I almost enjoy folding top pair. But I end up seeing so few pots with speculative hands that I'm never very likely to, say, trump and over-confident overpair with a surpirse 3-5 suited. I end up having to rely on cold decks, but in situations where it is obvious the sort of hands I or the other player has. For instance Aces versus Kings, or flopped set versus flopped flush. Given my tendency to play nut-draw hands I am usually the beneficiary of these pots. But they come few-and-far enough between that they can hardly compensate for the huge number of small pots which I lose.

Now it's all very well telling someone they need to 'loosen up', but fear of changing your style of play is often based on the fact that the looser method has not been articulated to them. The truth is there is no single method anyway. The player has to be facilitated with the concepts which can rationalize looser play. The best concept for this, I am beginning to find, is to think of all transactions as the table as being proportions of the stacks in play. This includes pre-flop action. Those of us who have played tonnes of six-max 25NL (and not neccessarily been that successful there either) may have formed rigid expectations about what is 'right' and 'wrong' in 6-max play. For instance, opening ranges. Of course, a lot of these pre-flop decisions do take into account 'your chance of winning your opponent's stack' - that's why people are less inclined to say, call a raise with 67 suited out of position in a 100BB game.

However, at the Vic the maximum buy in is 200BB, and perhaps around a third to a half of any of the stacks at a given time will have more than this. And here enters my error. I was treating the fullring 200BB game as little more than a slighty-expanded version of six-max 100BB 25NL. So, slightly larger stacks and a few more players - no need to change my pre-flop play substantially. With this in mind, I continued my rather conservative 'raise when entering a pot, rarely call a raise especially when out of position'. The problem here is that I was not thinking about my transactions in terms of the 200BB stacks - I was thinking in an almost preset pre-flop way. A £5 raise, for instance, represents 1/40th of a buy-in. In an online 100BB 25NL game this would be the equivalent to 62.5 cents. Yet I was still thinking of it in terms of Big Blinds, so I would read this as to being the equivalent of $1.25, a five big-blind raise. And so I contined to play tightly, completely neglecting the favourable implied-odds implications. This was causing me to fold way too often and without any real justification. I was missing out on tonnes of favourable situations because I was thinking about poker in the wrong direction: pre-flop forwards rather than river back.

I'm glad I've realized this as it will probably open me up to a more flexible and intuitive approach to poker. For those curious, I essentially had a spell from May to Janaury in which I hardly played any poker. There was the occasional live tournament and a trip or two to The Vic, but none of the ambitious online MTT projects of the past - and no grinding. However, there is always space in my life for one game. In the last 9 months or so it's been alternatively scrabble, Civilization 4, my own board-game creation and at the moment poker. And I have finally reached the stage where I can play at stakes which do not affect my broader finances, the seperation of entities. My game only needs to improve. I shall do for poker what worked so succesfully for my driving - provide myself with a constant narrative of what is going on around and give the brain the information required to make the neccessary connections and make the best decisions.

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