Thursday, July 18, 2013

Critical thinking about hands

Through the years, this blog has been a great outlet for me.  When I was playing regularly online, this blog served as a way to expose my frustrations as well as solicit thoughts on alternate ways of playing the same hand.  I think this blog helped me a ton back then - particularly when I was just starting out - but as I became more comfortable in whatever stakes I was playing, the imperative to push out hand histories waned.

Unfortunately, those days of online grinding have come & gone - thanks to the U.S. government (see Black Friday).  The blog took on a new role, though - allowing me to solicit advice from a field of players with a wealth of experience in the live arena.  The live arena, as near as a year and a half ago, was a new frontier for me.  In a lot of ways, it continues to be a new frontier.  While the improvements to my game are much less scientifically measurable, like playing at the live felt, I must rely on my own intuition to discern whether I am indeed improving my game.

It's very easy to say "Look at the results; is your $/hr rate improving?  Yes?  Then you're getting better as a player!"  Looking at the results tells me nothing.  I could be running really hot, I could be sucking out... any number of factors.  The reality is that I need to look at myself and give myself a non-biased, thorough evaluation.  What am I doing differently?  Is what I'm doing differently working for me?  Where am I losing money?  Why am I losing money in those spots?

One continual source of contention where I think I'm improving is the live reads / paying attention.  I feel as though I go through periods where I play poker by rote - effectively auto-piloting through sessions.  Although it ebbs & flows, I'm actively working on thinking about each hand rather than taking a linear approach.  I'm actively asking myself the what-if tree of variability, going beyond what the villain holds.  What cards are good for me on the turn?  What cards are bad for me?  What cards would be seemingly bad but are actually not (i.e. turn Ace)?  What does my opponent think about my action?

Another point of improvement with a ton of room is sitting through a 5-8 hour session and keeping myself 95% attentive.  When I fold, it's very easy to be distracted.  For example, there were 2-3 hands last night where players built up a big pot and I had no idea how the action had gone down so that each player had their stack in the middle.  Hands like those are critical attention grabbers; I need to watch for tells which I can verify at showdown because hands like those actually go to showdown and can be verified.  I've been pretty good with folding and watching, but there's still a ton of room for improvement.

I guess ultimately, here's the original goal of this post: thank you.  Thank you for the comments I've received in the past, thank you for the comments I will [hopefully] receive in the future.  The comments, private emails, etc. are what keeps me enthusiastic about the game.  Although I acknowledge I don't always take traditional lines (i.e. my c/r flop leaving me scratching my head on the turn & river), the comments give me a much wider view of what other players are thinking and doing in a similar situation.  They also spur me to think about what I'm doing to evaluate my game play.  Again, thanks for the comments!

I'm going to drop this post with 2 hand histories from last night which aren't all that interesting per se, but just kinda stuck with me, showing how bad some of the play is at the Chuck / showing how I luckboxed:

Hand 1:
KJo in CO - $250, facing a host of limpers.  I raise to $15 and get 4(!!!) callers.

Jc 7c 2d (if memory serves me, but a board similar to that) flop
Short stack open shoves for $65.
Another short stack calls for $40 (all in).
Another short stack calls for precisely $65 (all in).
I think for a few seconds.  I have to be beat here.  I can't imagine winning this sucker with KJ.  The pot is FAR too large to fold so I call my $65.
Dude to my left, another short stack, calls for $45 (all in).

Turn is a T, river a K.  By the turn and definitely river, I'm sure I'm dead.
Nope!  I scoop: Kc4c vs. Ac6c vs. Tc8d vs. ??? vs. my KJ (two pair).

It's amazing how no one ever thinks about another player being on a better flush draw... and how they can call $15 with $65 behind with hands like K4s, T8o, A6s (though in fairness, once K4s calls and ??? calls, A6s is priced and T8o is priced).  I just ran the numbers - I'm 50% to the field with A6s behind me with 37% equity.  I figured I would be further behind than that!

Hand 2:
QJ in SB - $450+, straddled for $5.  4 limpers, I complete the $5 straddle, BB folds and UTG checks his option.

6 way pot of Q J T
I check, UTG checks and UTG+1 leads for $20 (40 behind).  Folds to me and I c/r to $60.  UTG folds.
UTG+1 thinks and thinks and thinks.

Side note: The UTG, UTG+1, UTG+2 end of the table was the "gambling section."  They tied themselves up in numerous hands prior where just stupid hands would wind up winning huge pots; UTG (straddler) was sitting on $1.2k, UTG+1 was steaming from being down to $30 to up to $500 to down to $60 to start the hand, and UTG+2 was sitting on $6-700.  Regardless, UTG+1 is thinking about calling a $40 all in raise and finally mucks, face up.  He folded T9o.  WTF?  $40 to call to win $110?

Granted, much different hand from the QJ hand the other day, where I was advised against a c/r from a few of the comments, but still...  In retrospect, I'm happy for the fold; I think he's getting pretty close to proper odds to make the call (65/35), but he's just shown how willing he is to gamble it up for $400+ on prior hands that he's folding for $40?  WTF?  Sometimes, I just don't get it...


  1. Couple comments:

    Hand 1 is totally std from your perspective. My more global question is why are we still sitting at this table? With all of these short stacks I would have long ago requested a table change. It also illustrates the need to keep bets and raises on the high side. Their calling ranges are so inelastic it just doesn't matter how much you raise to.

    Hand 2-I just hate the c/r as you know. I just think you lose so much value c/r in that spot. Especially here where you effectively shut UTG out of the pot w/out a big hand. I love c/r turns a lot more than flops.

    1. As far as 1 is concerned - I have a tabled filled with gamblers. They are unfortunately not rebuying when they get light; they're letting it run down to nil and rebuying $200 at a time. It's a good table. I actually switched to this table on purpose - I just caught them all with shorties at the wrong time. You're correct about ranges; that's why I'm also a big proponent of raising big.

      Hand 2 - I know you hate the c/r; it's more of a cost saving move that I can do on the flop before the pot gets so large and I'm drawing almost dead letting them have a cheap draw that comes in. I was actually surprised in this case that he folded.

  2. Either: 1) He felt like he was already burned, thus unwilling to call when he was almost certainly behind someone; or 2) If he is just gambling he is unlikely to be computing any odds and making decisions on them.

    My thoughts, al least.

    1. I agree with 2. This is a guy who sat for 3 minutes contemplating an all in call for $100 with a diamond + gutter draw into a $600+ pot that he had hugely bloated PF. I actually got so pissed at his hesitation that I called clock on him. He had no idea why the table was so annoyed with him wasting our time in hesitating there...

    2. Other portion you are missing - you aren't gambling nearly as much as UTG --> +2 are.

      There is a Friday night game I played in the past where there was one old guy who would play like a total nit (to the point where he wouldn't put the straddle on knowing it would get triple to quintuple straddled) - and it was almost impossible for him to get action.

      This may be part of your problem here - sometimes you need to (A) gamble it up a little bit with these folks and (B) make sure they know it through select advertising. You probably get more action here and can blow him off that sort of hand on the turn if he knows you're willing to gamble at times. However, you're mileage may vary.

    3. @Tarin - Totally agree. I'll be honest: the stack sizes started to scare me a bit. I felt like we're 300BB+ deep, and they're willing to throw it all in on a top pair hand - that's a lot of variance to accept with an overpair, or a pair hand vs. a second best who's drawing 25%. I became a bit gun shy - and to start gambling it up with them meant that I'd be putting in a bunch of money with a non-TPTK+ hand given the hands I was getting. As it turned out, in playing the fold and see what I would have had game, I would have called a bunch of raises but lit money on fire as I missed nearly every flop, and it wound up going to showdown with top pair usually winning.

      I'll share a hand that stuck in my craw: I raised to $12 with 99 UTG. I got around 5 callers and saw a flop of 2 6 J. I checked to the aggro but best player of the bunch who leads $25 into the $72 pot. This is normally a spot he'd bet a bit bigger if he truly had a Jack, but given his style of uncaring play, I really didn't want to stick around to the river to see if I'm good with a middling pair. It was weak sauce on my part - I'm 85% sure I'm good with my 99 vs. his stab, but I weakly folded, fearing the turn and river bets. Being out of position vs. a guy who likes to stick in money, apply pressure when he sense weakness, and is a decent player, I just froze up. Around that time, I knew it was time to get up from this good table because a. I was getting tired and b. my play was being affected by my environment (stack sizes, player types, etc.).

      I can discredit myself on that hand, but I can credit myself with the fact that I became a fish at the table and was smart enough to realize it & get up from a potentially bad situation.


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