Sunday, February 19, 2006


Game Selection Uber Alles

Today I played a $280 satellite online, I fancied a change and naturally there was a 50% overlay in guaranteed seats, I wouldn't have played otherwise ! 40 minutes in I had doubled up by winning 3 or 4 pots and I was looking good. From that point everything went wrong. Every time I raised I missed the flop ; every time I followed up with a bet I walked into a raise. I'd have one stab with A8, get called, check down and lose to A9. One of those days. I outdrew KK with 66 only to have it all happen again. Somehow I still managed to make the last two tables, until I was finally put out of my misery by running into AA.

The player on my immediate left was giving me particular grief. He made me put down 3 or 4 hands, and on the two occasions I stood up to him I was again forced to fold and came up against the KK with 66. The problem with poker in situations like this is that it is extremely difficult to know if you've played badly or were just unlucky. Was he picking up that I was betting and folding too much ? Or did the deck just smack him in the face ? We'll never know.

Perhaps the downside of seeking out the weaker games is that when I step into a stronger one, suddenly everything seems off whack. I should probably ease off the Sit and Goes a week or two before my next trip away and try to play some bigger stack tournaments online. What disturbs me most is that the Occam's Razor simplest explanation for all this is that I suck, and I can only make money against people who suck more than me.

Fortunately those people aren't in short supply at the moment.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the player on your left was "on to you". He's an experienced player. He's seen players of your type before, and knows what your strategy is.

Do you have a counter-strategy?

In ring games, I don't need to be the best player at the table. I can be the third-best player at the table and still make money. However, I'm only going to make money if I can identify and pigeon-hole my opponents, even if one of the pigeon-holes reads "this guy is too good for me - steer clear of battles with him"

In tournaments, these choices are taken away from you. Part of the meta-skills of playing ring games (seat selection, game selection, stopping when you get tired, moving tables when your opponents are too good, and so on) are ripped from under your feet when you choose to play tournaments.

But, even if I am in a 15-30 ring game, I can categorize players and I have a rough idea how they will act, and adopt my best counter-strategy. Since you tend to meet the same regulars again and again (even on the busier sites) regular play is a valuable weapon.

Let's suppose you come up against this guy more than a few times. Do you have a counter-strategy if the same thing happens next time? Or, indeed, do you have a default counter-strategy if there seem to be a large number of players who are playing like this?

Shifting levels is difficult if you don't have a lot of experience of playing at the new level. When I go back to 50ยข-$1 (which I hardly ever do, but suppose I am practising some six-handed, or whatever) then it doesn't take me more than a few minutes to get inside the general default mindset of the 50c-$1 player, and react accordingly. This is because I have played many many tens of thousands of 50c-$1 hands.

What's the default in the case of the player on your left in a tournament of this size? Are the cards hitting him in the face, or has he got you sussed? You seem to imply that there is no way of knowing. But, really, you have to assume a default. From the way you played him, your "default" appears to be that the cards were hitting him in the face. If you are confident that this default is correct, then you did nothing wrong. If you are saying to yourself "I don't know", then you have a problem.

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