Friday, November 18, 2005


He's A Great Short Stack Player

One of the things I could spend all day writing about if I wanted to bore everyone (even more) is how poorly some of the people who report on tournaments understand the game. Not all of them to be fair, but a high proportion. Too many of them give professionals far too much credit. For example, one of Pokerpages flock recently described how a pro called a reraise with 77 and then launched it all on an 8 high flop, only to be called by KK. Fair enough, happens to the best of us, and we don't know the context of preceding hands, but when the hero rivered a runner-runner straight the three words used to describe this outcome were not "a jammy suckout" but "a great save". Watch out Paul Robinson.

More to the point of this particular piece though, you often find players being praised to the skies for clinging on by their fingernails for 4 hours and finishing 7th. I suspect this is in tune with the way the writer plays tournaments him or herself. "He's a great short stack player" they will chirp about someone who spends a long time short-stacked before finally going bust. Hmm. What does Lindgren have to say ? "I'm not short-stacked very often. Usually I either have chips or I'm out".

Nonetheless, on reading the relevant parts of the book, he clearly does understand exactly how to play a short stack. If you know how to play one, you won't have one for very long ! Knowing how to play a short stack means knowing that you have to take on the situations which are equivalent to a 55% chance to double up. People who spend a long time close to the felt are passing these up. And that's costing them money. Meanwhile the Erick Lindgrens of this world are either out and making money in another game (or having a good time in the bar), or doubled up a couple of times and robbing Mr. Great Short Stack Player blind.

All the same, it's fair to say that a pro who knows how to play a short stack gets his share of the credit too. When he wins three races to move back into contention, it's a brilliant comeback that shows a lot of heart. Sometimes you want to shout at everyone, for goodness sake it's only a game of cards.


Another Book Recommendation

At times I do wonder whether I should coach here, outside the car park as it were. In for a penny though, while I do keep the odd trick up my sleeve, I'd rather come clean with any general info that might help patient readers of this blog.

And so I can strongly recommend Erick Lindgren's book (co-written with Matt Matros). It's very good. By the end, my neck was sore from agreeing with him. There wasn't a ton of stuff in there to make me think "ah-ha ! I could do that !", but definitely enough to cover the asking price. There was some excellent stuff about playing a deep stack and playing out of position. Lindgren also stresses the power of the check-call against aggressive players more strongly than most.

By now I'm sure you know that I scorn the "tournaments are all about survival" crowd. I hope that any of them who do come across this book will be stubborn enough to say "Yes, but except me, I always play the right hands so I'm really good". Lindgren demolishes the survival ethic as persuasively as I have ever seen. Check out this quote :

"The common refrain that serves as a counterargument to [Lindgren's stance] goes something like this : 'I'm a good enough player so that I don't have to put my chips in with only a marginal edge. I'll find a better spot to get my chips in later. And if I'm going to risk my tournament on one hand, I want to be confident I have the best hand. By playing this way, I can wait for all the bad players to bust, make sure I get into the money, and then worry about winning the tournament'"

Wow. Has he been lurking on Gutshot ? It's almost word for word. As he understates, if anything, "There are many, many problems with this line of thinking".

There are a few books out now that are so much better than texts from even 2 or 3 years ago it's scary. I would say that Sklansky concentrates far too much on marginal edge cases, Cloutier just waves his hands and burbles about nothing, and Hellmuth ... don't start me off on Hellmuth. There's nothing revolutionary about Lindgren's book, but it stresses the right points and assigns the right priority to each. Hopefully the same people who think they're too good to take marginal edges also think they're too good to learn anything from books.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


A Man Without A Plan

In the annals of great explosion films, it is hard to whack "Raiders Of The Lost Ark". I'm (almost) sure it was that film in which someone asked Harrison Ford "what are we going to do now ?". "I don't know," he replied, "I'm making this up as I go along".

As I mentioned below I was flipping through Matt Matros' blog and something he said only sunk in today. He said that you can't have a plan for a single tournament. Not even a tournament that lasts two weeks (it's madness I tell you). How many people who qualify will sit up half the night thinking "Let's see. I'll play fairly conservatively on the first day, and double up by the close. Then when the blinds become high I'll open up and start to steal ..." blah de blah all the way through to "and when my aggressive heads up strategy wins out I'll perform the following Ian Wright style choreographed spontaneous celebration !". OK. I could construct an equally elaborate plan to shag Madonna, it doesn't mean I can do it.

Flippancy aside, setting yourself targets for various stages of any tournament is an unnecessary distraction. Suppose you do plan to double up by a certain point. Except that you actually double up twice in half the time. What do you do, ease off because you're "ahead of schedule" ? Maybe you lose a big pot early on. Do you push extra hard to get "back on track" ? Of course not. Doing either of those, at any stage, will cost you money, compared to making the right decisions for your stack and position, right here, right now.

You can't plan how to play a tournament like that because you don't know what cards you're going to be dealt. You don't know who's going to be on your table. You don't know how everything is going to change from moment to moment. I don't know how I'm going to play until I see how the rest of them are playing. All you can do, as Greg Raymer said, is play one hand at a time, one decision at a time. Make the best decisions you can and see what happens. All this "planning" is yet another example of people making tournaments complicated for themselves, when they're really not.

So when some guy comes at you with a scimitar, what are you going to do, stage an elaborate sword fight that you've been practising for three weeks ? Or just shoot him ?

Sunday, November 13, 2005


In Between Wins

0/15 cashes so far this month - I suppose I was due a run like this. And then some, probably. But we'll see. I have tweaked the overall strategy here and there as a result. One point I omitted from the post below, is that one of the main aims of the flat-call-with-a-hand-in-position is not to let the guy off the hook when he's well behind. If, however, the chips are such that he has to call a pre-flop reraise anyway, there's less point, and you can go ahead and move in. Although there's still some merit in trying to elicit an unwise "squeeze play" from someone behind you. If you have a skim through Richard Brodie's blog, you should see why. Here, as I have said before, is a clever guy playing reasonably well, who happens to have a blind spot when it comes to game selection (or more likely is so caked up he doesn't care). Note how often he tries the squeeze play and the second guy calls to knock him out. More than once, for sure.

I also worked something else out last week which I came across elsewhere today. Basically I was on the button in a Crypto tournament with about M7 *, and it was folded around to me with QJs. I made a standard 3BB raise and the small blind, who was caked up to the eyeballs, moved in. I passed, rueing the wasted chips, the blinds went up and I busted. Even when I made the raise I had seen this guy reraise all in quite recently, but didn't want to call or fold or move in.

I now think I should have just folded. Sometimes, even online, you have a strong intuition when a late position raise is liable to be reraised. Someone in the blinds is caked up or aggressive or both. The steal reraise is another of these plays that is becoming common enough so that your decision switches from when to make the play yourself to how to combat it. How to combat it is simplicity itself. And no, you don't move in. You pick a range of hands that you're not going to put down to a reraise. With these hands you raise normally and call the reraise **. Everything else you just fold. I'm not going to tell you what the range is though, what do you want everything for nothing ;-)

Having worked all this out for myself I was a bit miffed to see Matt Matros make the same play (it's back a month or two). He correctly adds that making the call (with KJ in his case, against what turned out to be A8) shows people you can't be knocked off very easily and adds to your future stealing powers.

Apart from that, a couple of plus points coming up, I should be back on a 4 day week soon and I'll be off to St Kitts in less than two weeks, woo hoo ! I am also "taking a break" from writing poker stuff for cash and wasting my time on forums. Possibly, make that hopefully, a permanent break in each case. I might expand on why in due course. In each case, the blog is now the medium !

* M7 = 7 x (the antes and blinds)
** except if you think that player A is the likely steal reraiser, but player B wakes up. Which is (partly) why you don't move in !

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Scissors Paper Stone (2)

Now I'm going to talk about a play that's not to everyone's taste. When the pot has been raised pre-flop, no one else has called yet and you have position on the raiser, you flat call with AA-JJ/AK. This is kind of two plays in one. With AA it's a slow-play. The aim is to disguise the strength of your hand, tempt in the players behind you and extract more money from the original raiser. With QQ/JJ/AK, it's more of a case of wait and see, maintaining my positional advantage. I'm not a fan of reraising with QQ and JJ, even though some pros (Colclough) strongly recommend it. You're likely to make any worse hand fold, while any better hand is going to play. If the reraise is committal, you're giving up your positional advantage. Back to the call, finally with KK it's a bit of both.

There are downsides to this play. If you call with say QQ and the flop comes A high, you might be bluffed out by a smaller pair. You may allow a smaller pair (that would have been folded to a reraise) to make a set. I think the potential reward is good enough to take these on. Bear in mind that if you have AA (or KK when no Ace flops) it really is very hard for someone to be in front of you on the flop. They need two pair or better, and in many cases where they have outdrawn you, the flop will be dangerous (paired or all the same suit) enough for you to have a chance to get away.

Anyway, whatever you think of this play, there's no doubt that as more people play the Harrington way, it becomes better. The pre-flop raiser will make more continuation bets. When you play back, he will be less suspicious if he thinks that you think he's just following up (this he thinks you think counts for less online to be fair). Not just that though, when you call pre-flop, some clever clogs behind you might decide that it's time for a squeeze play !

The squeeze play comes in when there's a raiser and a flat caller, and a third player reraises. Player 3 figures that player 1 will be hard pressed to call with another live player in the pot, while player 2 would surely have raised if he had a big hand. Once that second figuration is wrong, the squeeze play crashes and burns. I have no doubt that the squeeze play was profitable - before it was outed ! Now I'm not so sure. Both player 1 and player 2 may be well aware of it, and adjust accordingly. I would never do this (make the squeeze play) online as a bluff, and I'd have to be very sure live.

So when a third player raises, it's all gravy when you have AA or KK. The rest you have to play by ear according to what player 1 does. If he folds, I'd definitely play QQ.

A quick word about AK, in the past I have been loath to make this play with AK as it doesn't want three-way all-in action pre-flop. And if I can reasonably go all in straight away, that's usually best. However if a normal reraise is 1/3 to 1/2 my stack, I think the call is better. One great benefit of showing this play with AK is that you'll be a lot less vulnerable to a bluff when you have QQ and it comes A high.

A quick summary of the important points : you must have position on the flop ; the relevant stacks shouldn't be so low that people will be suspicious because you didn't move in, or so high that players behind you have a chance to call for less than 5% ; and usually no one else should have called the raise yet.

You may be surprised to hear that the flat call is my default play online. What this means is that if the chips are deep (but not deep enough so people have implied odds), I don't reraise pre-flop in position ! I'm folding most hands and calling with the rest. And why not. You have a good hand, you have position, you hopefully have a weak opponent. If you can't play some flop poker here, when can you ?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Scissors Paper Stone (1)

As Pete mentioned on his blog, there comes a point where you need to adapt to what everyone else is doing, to stay one step ahead of the game. We'll worry about the bigger live tournaments later, if at all. What difference, the variance swamps your EV anyway, unless you have a $2 million bankroll, and if you did then why bother playing.

Let's consider instead the bigger online tournaments ($100 and maybe the various Sunday night specials) and maybe your Friday/Saturday night £100 live beanfests. Now, as more and more people become familiar with Harrington et al, issues like the Continuation Bet need to be addressed. IMO the important factor is not that you face more continuation bets. Not for me. I'm very loath to call a pre-flop raise without the goods *. AJ is a definite pass. I pass AQ much more often than Dan recommends I think. The difference between AQ and AK when you're calling a pre-flop raise is immense. If you flop an Ace with AK, you're only worried about 2 pair or a set. Flop a King, then also worry about Aces. With AQ though ... A high flop and you have the very likely AK to contend with. Q high and AA _or_ KK could take all your money. If people are going to make a lot of continuation bets it's not going to bother me too much because I'm rarely on the receiving end. In fact it's going to help me, but let's leave that for part 2.

The real issue is that people are much more likely to think that you are making a continuation bet. Which has two important implications. One, you should cut down on your continuation bets when you miss. In actual fact, Dan doesn't recommend making them all the time anyway, as some people seem to think. Volume 2 Part 8, "A tough player will by definition be hard to read after the flop. If he showed strength before the flop, he'll probably be taking the lead 50 to 60% of the time after the flop". Taking into account all the times you bet when you like the flop, you must be checking/folding more often than not when you don't. Which is what I do. I still bet a few misses but pretty much only when I'm heads up and when the texture of the flop is good. AK and the flop comes QTx for example, DO NOT bet this flop. Take/hope for a free card to the nuts because how can you reasonably be in front ? Only if he has AJ, that's it. Many people aren't going to pass T9 or 88 on this flop any more.

The second implication is of course that you just fire away when you like the flop, and don't be as concerned if you get raised as you might have been a year ago. If the turn looks safe you can check it and you'll surely pick up at least one more bet somewhere along the line (ironically this bet-check-bet is also a play that Dan recommends, buried deep in Volume 2). When you have a strong hand, make the play that looks least suspicious, and in this case a Continuation Bet will hardly arouse any suspicion at all. That's what they're expecting you to do.

In conclusion, I've seen at least two people on forums or blogs say "always bet the flop when you were the pre-flop raiser" this week alone. Don't do it. Take advantage of those who do, and who think that's what you're doing too.

* unless I have good implied odds, and in that case AQ/AJ are well down the list of hands to call with.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Sea Change

Here is a moderately interesting, if unsurprising, article. The most apposite quote is at the end. I don't expect the tournament circuit to become any easier either.

Rodman's book sounds quite interesting. From what I've heard it's more of a defensive method of combatting better players, probably involving a lot of aggressive play pre-flop and when drawing.

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