Monday, July 09, 2007

Posted by Dr Fro 9:54 PM

A while ago, I posted 5 points on why conventional wisdom on poker strategy is flawed. (Scroll down to the end of the link.) I quickly elaborated on point #5, but left you hanging on the other four. Hang no more.

Here's the deal: in limit poker, every frickin decision you make counts, but they each only count a little. There are no terrible plays. No bet, raise or call can ever have an EV > the size of the big bet, which really isn't that much. In no limit, you can lose your entire stack with one call. You can also lose it all calling down a suspected bluff that turns out to not be a bluff. While in NL there are plenty of small decisions you might make wrong, there are just a handful in a long session that truly make a difference in your results.

I think that the following big-ticket decisions are the ones that count:

- Bluffing
- Calling a bluff
- Making a big laydown

These skills are a step above the fundamental skills but a step below the highly advanced skills of (IMHO) inducing bluffs and inducing calls. I will not write to those skills, maybe Junell will.

You can raise pre-flop from the small blind with 72o every time you are in that position, and it won't make much of a difference in your success. You raise with middle pair, lay low with middle pair or take off your pants and sing "Dixie" with middle pair, and none of these decisions will have much of an effect on your poker success (though one may get you some tips).

On the other hand, let me name a few tendencies that can absolute break you:

- making a jumungous bluff and getting called
- laying down a monster when being bluffed
- calling with a huge hand to lose to an monster nutty hand

Been there? Done that?

If so, do you remember how you felt? I bet that at some point the thought crossed your mind, "Damn, I played so freaking well, slowly building my bankroll with great little moves all night long that earned me $20 here, $50 here, then BAM! I blew $500 on a stupid freaking decision. DAMN!"

Or worse, maybe you reacted by attributing all those small wins to skill but the big loss to bad luck ("I can't believe my nines full of aces lost to aces full of nines!"). Guess what, those big hands aren't just part of the game, the are the game.

I have played a crapload of poker in my life. The proverbial "long run" has occurred. I can not attribute my net winnings or losses to luck. Yet, I can point to a handful of decision (about 10 in the past 6 years) that single-handedly, materially affect my results to date. Some seemed good luck, some seemed bad luck, but they all tended to fall neatly into the three categories above.

So, stop reading those damn books that tell you that you should only play a select group of starting hands or books that say if you always make continuation bets, you will be a millionaire. This is sage advice, but it would be like me advising you that to save money, you should buy the grande rather than the venti. C'mon, that saves you 25c, but if I tell you not to get into consumer debt, my advice is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Both pieces of advice will save you money, but if you don't get the consumer debt thing right, you could grow your own coffee beans yet always be poor. (By the way, I have no consumer debt, so I treat myself to ventis. This is a true statement both literally and sticking with the metaphor.)

What else to do? Obsess over these three situations. I am not qualified to tell you how to make these decisions properly every time, but if you can realize (when faced with these decisions) that these decisions very much drive your results, you just might give them a little more attention. That alone could make a big difference. Just stop for a second and say to yourself, "Self, this is the decision that changes everything. This is 4th and 5 in the championship game. If I blow this, I lose." Recognize the importance of the decision, take your time, consider every bit of information at your disposal and make a decision. Take notes of how you are doing on these decisions. See if there is a trend. Do your bluffs get called? When considering a laydown that you end up calling, do you tend to lose? Understand that this is what separates winners from losers and ignore all the other noise.

By the way, this addresses point # 1 from the old post. I think that there is still too much focus on the science on the fundamentals of poker, particularly on the earlier streets, as that is how you make money at limit. I do not think there is enough attention paid to the very difficult decisions that have to be made in the later streets, the sort of decisions that can make or break you. This is very important in NL, but it is almost irrelevant in limit when it almost always makes sense to call on the end due to the pot odds. Bringing limit strategy (or NL strategy that is disproportionately focused on areas important to limit) to a NL game would be like showing up to a hockey match dressed for a tennis match.

I am quite open-minded to arguments on all things poker, but this is one of those things to which I have simply never heard a single good rebuttal. If you have one, I'd like to hear it. Or better, if you think I am wrong, let's play poker some day.

Straight flushes,


1 Comment(s):

Posted by Blogger Mark, at 1:03 PM, July 11, 2007  

Excellent advice.


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Random thoughts from a lawyer, an accountant, a commodities trader, an ex-Marine and a WSOP Main Event money finisher that don't know as much as they wish they did...



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