Friday, September 12, 2008

Evolution and other stuff I pretend to understand

One of the things I like about being a poker player is you are a work in progress. Players change and evolve, they get exposed to other players good and bad, and adjust accordingly. I believe most good players are not taught, either by a book or a teacher, but they evolve out of the environment they play in. They see what works, what doesn't. When I started playing in the Fitz, there was a core of maybe a dozen winning players. Every final table featured at least 2 of their number, along with 6 or 7 random donkeys. The good (or effective) players tended to remain the same: the donkeys rotated endlessly, and you rarely saw the same donkey on a final table more than once every blue moon.
I say effective because from a purely technical point of view a lot of the winning players were not very good. They often didn't really understand pot odds, or the Gap concept, or M's or Q's, or know the percentages of one hand beating another (for example, a common Fitz fallacy is that something like KQ is 50/50 against AJ), and heir bets often made no sense in terms of what could or couldn't call them. But they didn't really need to know these things to be effective in their environment: they had developed a playbook and an instinctive sense of what worked in that specific poker microclimate. They learned by observation and example and trial and error.
The first inkling I got of these players limitations came when I start playing the EOM tournaments. The winning players would all be there, having at some point during the month won a ticket as part of a prize for placing high in a nightly tournament. And right from the start, one by one, they'd be weeded out early to the point that by the dinner break they'd often all be gone. Faced with a higher standard of competition, and a slower deeper stacked structure, they could no longer get by on blind aggression and the moves that worked for them night in night out like shoving over an early position raiser with Ace 10 were now coming unstuck because the early position raiser was more likely to have a dominating hand than a dominated one. Yet take some of the "good" players who perform effectively on the bigger stage into the furnace of the fast blind short stack nightly tournaments and I'd lay money they'd find it hard to match the winning Fitz players in that particular minefield.
I'm evolving myself as a tournament player all the time. I thought a lot about one hand I played on the second last table of Tuesday's tournament in the Fitz. I didn't mention it in my report because at the time it seemed quite insignificant but actually as an example of how my thinking has shifted recently (since Vegas I think) it much more pertinent than any of the "big" hands I did outline.
The hand occurred when I had just doubled up to have an effective stack for the first time in the crapshoot portion of the tournament. I had 15K for 15 big blinds. I raised in the hijack seat with K10o, a move that I remained convinced is plus EV based on the tightness of my opponents still to act, their perception of me, and the stack sizes involved. A very tight old lady on the button shoved for just under 9K. Getting well over 2 to 1 on the call my first thought was it was an easy call based on pot odds, but after a dwell, I folded. My reason was that if I called I was (on average) 65% likely to lose and be down to 6.5K, hopelessly short. I could pass and maintain a playable stack of 12 BBs. The fold would make absolutely no sense in a cash game, or a rebuy tournament, but I'm convinced that in this specific instance it was more important to take the 100% likelihood of a playable stack of 12 BBs than the 35% chance of a 35 BB stack.
Tonight I played a couple of online sats I'd qualified for. No joy in the GUKPT one, but I got headsup in the IWF one. Unfortunately I lost the headsup battle, pushing the nut flush draw into a flopped flush and missing for 99% of the chips. Still, I got over $900 for coming second which was a result considering how miserably shortstacked I was for most of the final table. Again, I was happy with my patience and I think I waited just about as long as I possibly could each time to give myself the best chance of doubling up. My short stack play used to be so lousy that I used to joke that whenever I had one I should sub in the brother (and he said the same thing in reverse about occasions when he ended up bigstacked).
Plan for the weekend is Scalps in the Fitz tomorrow, the charity thing in the Fitz Saturday, and Red Cow Sunday.



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