Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Old dogs and young chimps

I played the Eastern Open, in theory at least. I didn't play very well: maybe playing online at the table isn't such a good idea (I was two tabling on my Iphone), and my exit wasn't my finest hour. I squeezed with AQs from the small blind after nearly half the table limped, which is fine, but when the original limper perked up and reraised, I should have gone with my first instinct and just mucked. I almost did a few times but talked myself into the call eventually on the grounds that it was less than 10% of my stack to call and the suitedness meant there were a lot of flops I could semi bluff at. I got one such flop: KJx with two of my suit gave me many draws to the nuts (any diamond, any ten) and after my opponent followed through with a chunky cbet, I stuck the lot in. Unfortunately he had top set and none of my outs arrived.

I'd arrived a little late and by the time I got there, my buddy Mick Mccloskey had already lost half his starting stack. Nevertheless, I swapped my usual 10% with him, patting myself on the back about how charitable I was to old dogs. Of course, within a couple of hours I'd managed to donk the lot off, while Mick had not only recovered but he ended up on the final table. Unfortunately the old dog took a most horrible dogging to exit in eighth, but nevertheless another great result for Mick after he also final tabled the Western Open (and got dogged there too).

I'd won a tournament on Merge the night before giving me another Triple Crown sweat, but on this occasion the third win eluded me.

One thing that always interests me at live Irish tournaments is to hear players talking about the game, to hear how they view it, and how they judge and rate other players. One thing that usually strikes me in Ireland is how much the average poker punter focuses on flashy moves and big bluffs. They seem to feel this is the very essence of the game. My view is that while they are part of the game, they are a relatively minor part. If I were to use an analogy from another sport, I'd say it would be like if football fans only rated players by how likely they were to score from the half way line. Yes, it's awesome to watch when it happens, but it doesn't happen often enough to be much of a factor in long term success. If a player was obsessed with scoring from the half way line to the point that it's all he did (take pot shots from there), would football fans applaud his va va voom and regard him as the best? Doubtful. More likely they'd berate him for eschewing more sensible plus Ev options like passing the ball, or dribbling closer to goal before shooting. That's because football fans understand that the game is mainly about winning: not how. Poker players should really get this too: after all the purpose of poker is to win money. Yet somehow long term results are not necessarily seen as an indication of merit. If I had to dispense one piece of advice to the average Irish poker player, it would be to stop trying to score from the halfway line. Make the simple pass.

Over the week, I watched the World Snooker championships on and off. I've always been fascinated by Ronnie O'Sullivan, a man blessed with great natural gifts and cursed by psychological doubts and turmoils. He was clearly a lot happier in Sheffield this year, and that was being attributed to a sports psychiatrist he is working with. In a BBC interview, the psychiatrist described how MRI scanning technology has identified how different parts of the brain can "think" conflicting things at the same time. One part can think "I want cake" while another part thinks "No I don't: I need to lose weight". He described the rational part as "the human" and the more primal part as "the chimp". He suggested that to be successful, sportsmen had to learn to put their chimp in a box. I think this is a very apt description. It seems to me that the poker players who are the most consistently successful are the ones who learn to control their chimp, while the ones who aren't are the ones who let the chimp lose the run of himself.

On Sunday night I watched one of the lads I stake with Jason, Colin "hammo" Hammond, win the Ipoker 25K. Colin has tremendous raw talent, but also tremendous control. When it got short handed, the chipleader was automatically three betting every time he opened. Colin kept his composure. He four bet, got five bet, and still kept his composure, ignoring the impulse of his inner chimp to fling his chips all in. He waited in the long grass. When he got headsup, his opponent was clearly one who was quite happy to let the chimp call the plays. He was maniacally aggressive. Players read that aggression is the key to poker, but it really isn't. Controlled aggression is vital, but there's no easier strategy to counter in poker than mindless undiscriminating aggression. Because all you really have to do is wait til you have it, then watch your opponent spaz. And so it happened: the first time Colin 4 bet headsup, the chimp decided to 5 bet spaz shove A3o.



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