Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thirteenths are the new first (maybe not)

I think my development as a poker player is probably fairly typical. When I started, I kept it very simple, and just played hands and spots which I recognised as very favourable. Like most inexperienced players, I was likely to make big mistakes post flop, so tight preflop play seemed the best way to avoid tricky postflop spots. When faced with a tricky postflop decision, my default strategy was when in doubt fold. This very basic approach served me well in Ireland where most recreational players equate tight with weak, and most live tourney structures are so slow you can camp out for the nuts and let some maniac bluff his stack off at you. At the time my main online game was stts where this approach is also profitable.

As I started to play outside Ireland it quickly became apparent that I needed to rethink my approach. The better more observant players you encounter in the bigger games abroad simply won't pay you off if you sit and wait for the nuts. This approach also doesn't work so well in online mtts with their faster structures and better regs who quickly gut the fish before you have the chance to flop a big hand.

As I gained experience my post flop play improved to the point where I could play a lot more hands profitably, and recognise more favourable spots. My results online and abroad improved, but not at home in Ireland. When I switched from stts to mtts online, I adjusted very quickly and opened up my game a lot with very successful results. So successful that I started to think I should play the exact same way live. Yet if anything my results deteriorated slightly.

In the last few weeks I spent a lot of my downtime thinking about this. I came to a number of conclusions:
(1) Recognising more plus Ev spots meant I was taking on more marginal spots. From the beginning, I've believed it is correct in certain situations to pass up slightly plus Ev spots if it's for a considerable amount of your stack and losing means not being able to avail of even more favourable spots likely to arise. In a fast structured online mtt, I think you pretty much have to take every plus Ev spot no matter how marginal as the structure doesn't guarantee enough big plus Ev spots, but live is different
(2) A tight image in Ireland does not curtail your action on your big hands because there's usually at least one guy at the table who thinks tight means you'll always fold anything but the nuts to a big bet
(3) It's better to make a bad fold than a bad call. In the beginning I probably folded way too much, and this had switched around to calling too much. I'm better at assessing the probability of being up against a bluff these days, but if I think it's 50/50 and I'm getting pot odds of evens on the call, I used to always call. Now I'm thinking it might be better as a general policy to always fold when it's close

With this in mind, I approached my IPC campaign determined to play a style somewhere between my old nitty one and my normal online hyperlag game.

Nice plan in theory, and the first try out lasted about 10 minutes. When I got to Galway I found the main event had been postponed for a day. Poker Stars very generously put on a 10K freeroll by way of compensation. A few minutes in, I'm in the small blind, Paul Leckey is in the big blind, except he isn't (he's away from the table). Folded to the button, a very good young English LAG who knocked me out of the Dublin UKIPT main event, who mins to 200. I find queens in the small blind and reraise to 650. He looks at me quizically before making it 1550. I now believe he has a hand: the initial min open looks like it wanted to encourage a doubting Thomas move from me with the BB away. Hoping he has jacks or tens I make it 4500. He tanks and then asks a question that I know as soon as I hear it that if I answer truthfully almost guarantees the rest of the chips go in: "Are you SlowDoke?".

After I confirm that that is indeed my Stars screen name, he shoves and I'm looking at his ace queen. I hold til the river when the ace pops out. He apologises profusely and confirms that the hand would have played very differently if the BB wasn't away, he didn't know who I was, and he hadn't recently sharkscoped me to discover I had, in his words, a sick ROI in mtts on Stars. Which was very nice of him as it at least left me feeling good as I walked away from the table.

The other upside of the early exit was I was able to play the last chance supersat that night. After a good start, I ran queens on the button into kings in the blinds, leaving me with just over one big blind. I never understand why people feel the need to get the rest in very next hand in those spots, so I folded a bunch of 7 highs until Jason Herbert opened utg, I found a pair of threes just behind, plenty to be getting on with, especially against someone as loose as Jason. He had T9s which as I remarked to James Browning in the next seat is behind but favourite (James didn't seem to believe me and ran an immediate pokerstove to confirm it). In any case my threes stayed ahead. I won a few more 50/50s, all against Jason, before the hand that got me right back into it. Folded to me in cutoff, I found Q8s, good enough to shove there. James Browning called on the button for a bit less, and big Iain called in the big blind. When the cards went over I was in much better shape than I expected. Iain had AK (37%), James 55 (31%) so I basically had a 32% chance to triple up. The flop was very encouraging: 8 high with two of my suit, and the turn and river did nothing silly so I got the triple up. From there I jogged up and down til the tickets were handed out. As I'd already qualified online (twice), I got the cash instead so was now on a total freeroll.

My main event got off to a rather surreal start as I found myself at a table of young bucks including Shaun Craig who had all qualified online. This turned out not to be a coincidence: two levels in it was announced that the random draw had been botched and wasn't random so there would be a full redraw at the break. I escaped from the table with a little less than starting stack to find myself at a new table with Paul Leckey, Eoin Olin, Noel Clarke, Rory McIlroy lookalike Cory Dean Desmond and Dan Rankin. My immediate fortunes didn't improve and before I knew what was happening I was down to 9K and having to survive a race with jacks against Noel's AQ. It was quite a shock to win one of these. I couldn't afford to be complacent though as the blinds continued to escalate and had 20 bigs when I opened AQ utg. I opened for 2.5x rather than my usual 2.1x as I'd decided I was going with the hand. Or at least I thought I had, until Dan Rankin reraised me in mid position. Dan's a good friend who knows my game very well, so my first reaction was he pretty much knows I'm almost never raise folding with 20 bbs. Dan's also too good to be overplaying anything that AQ beats or even much it's racing against, so his reraising range in this spot crushes me. So after a bit of a think, I went against my normal policy and folded the AQ. I showed hoping it would get Dan to show too (he was wisely sticking to the policy of showing nothing). After thinking about it for a second, Dan did show me kings, which was very nice of the kid.

I got through to day 2 just shy of 40K, and got off to a great start in the first 20 minutes flying up to 120k. Just as well as I went 3 or 4 hours without winning another pot. As my stack started to get critical again, I opened AKs utg, and a Canadian guy with only slightly less than me shoved in from the small blind with KJ. The first card I saw on the flop was a jack and my heart sunk until I saw it was surrounded by a queen and a ten. I then played a big pot with a local kid who was later involved in one of the funniest pots I've ever seen in my life on the TV table. This kid was hyperactive. Every time someone new came to the table he greeted them with "Are you a pro?". If you said you were, he took this as a signal that he had to play every hand you were in. By now there were quite a few self confessed pros at the table so that was a lot of hands. Anyway, I pick up a proper hand (queens) and sure enough when I open he flats just behind. Flop comes a rather welcome Q72, I lead for 75% of pot, and he flats. Every other hand we've played so far has followed the same script: I cbet, he calls, I check the turn, he bets, so I decide this is how this hand will play too. Turn's a 4, and I check call. River's a 7, which opens up the rather juicy possibility that he now has trips and will think he's good. He may also have total air but since he'd see me as weak tight based on previous history he might also decide to rep the 7. I lead out for 75% of pot again (there's too much danger he checks a marginal hand behind if I check), he instamins me, I ship for not much more, and he folds.

With 3 tables left, I got moved to a new table straight in on the big blind. I'd taken a few hits and was now back down to 60k, 12 big blinds. I sat down hoping not to have any big marginal decisions before I got to know the table, but as I was thinking that the small blind shipped in on me. I looked down at A4s, a clear call if he's shoving optimally or wider. Since he was a young foreign kid and obviously an Internet qualifier, I assumed he was and called. He had K2s (same suit) and I held.

Shortly afterwards we became the TV table. Early on I got another much needed double up. Maurice Silke opened in late position, I found ace ten on the button and since I don't buy into the popular view that Maurice is an older rock version of Martin (I actually said to Martin on the rail that his old man is wilder than he is: he was getting away with murder as the younger players were falling into the old guy old rock misconception), I know I'm ahead of his range so I reshipped my 20 bigs. He called with KQ and I held. Then the funny one. Folded to the kid who'd near doubled up my queens earlier, and he was showing all the signs of someone who wanted to impress on TV. He opened for 20k (4x), and eventual winner Nick Abou Risk three bet to 65k in the big blind. He was playing a lot of chips with the kid, I think they were probably number one and two at that point with about 600K and 400K respectively, but this was his first actual three bet. That didn't faze the kid though who immediately shovelled all in. When Nick snapped and flicked over kings, the blood seemed to drain from the kid's face and he looked anxiously at his cards. It seemed like he'd managed to get the loot in blind: I'm pretty sure he hadn't looked at his cards yet. He peeled them anxiously clearly hoping for one ace at least, shouted "ah fuck!" when it didn't materialise, turned over Q8o, and a few seconds later was heading to the rail with a bad beat story for the TV crew.

I maintained my stack between 200K and 250K thanks mainly to some timely reships until we were down to 2 tables. At that point we switched and the other table became the TV table, but I still had the same problem of being seated to the immediate right of the massive chipleader who in his own words liked to play a lot of pots. So while the reship continued to work well, the light open was a clear losing play. As often happens in these situations, you can lose half your stack doing nothing. A few rounds of card death and no good spots and I'd shrunk back down to just over 10 bigs. By now we were 6 handed, the blinds were about to hit me and also about to increase, so ace 6 suited utg seemed like plenty to be getting in with. Unfortunately I ran into AJ, the flop came jack high, and I was shaking hands with people before the river. No regrets though, right move at the wrong time, and I'd run pretty well up to that point in terms of flips, holding when I got it in good, and not running into hands when I reshipped.

That said, at the time I was pretty devastated not to have at least made the final table. Second last table exits are the worst. I at least had an interest in the final table in the form of Piggy (Dan Rankin). Dan's great run eventually ended with 6 left, but it was a tremendous performance from a great kid who has all the talent and attitude needed to go to the top in the game. First of many for Dan hopefully: he turns 21 this weekend. Also well done to everyone else who cashed, especially Dave Brady (another up and coming youngster I rate very highly) and the winner Nick. Nick's now got a very sick Hendon Mob, three results, all wins, which looks a lot more balla than mine with its preponderance of 13ths.

The atmosphere in Galway was unusually muted although I personally was very happy at the encouragement and support I got from the rail from old friends and new ones like Shaun Craig and Jono Crute. I was also getting a lot of texts from absent friends, largely because the PokerStars blog updates were so bad nobody knew what was happening. There seemed to be long gaps without any reports, and the reports focused on foreign players of less interest to most people reading the blog than local favourites. The organisers and Stars really should think about hiring locals so they don't have this deficit. As I've noted before, Danny Maxwell and the rest of the IPB bloggers have done a brilliant job on a shoestring budget at several recent events here in Ireland and it makes sense to hire them for the Irish legs. Not to get too parochial about it but it stands to reason that the main audience for an Irish leg will be Irish players, and their main interest is in the top Irish players they play with regularly. Big Iain did a number of great shows for Irish Poker Radio which again underlines the benefit of local knowledge.

On the plus side, I can confirm that while everyone else is feeling the pinch of the Celtic Tiger hangover, the Northern rock that is Mick McCluskey is taking the very uncharacteristic line of splashing around like it's 1999. He bought me not one but two drinks over the weekend, and there were wild stories of him buying drinks for others in the hotel too. It was also good to get another deepish run, and leave Galway with more cash than I arrived with, even if I've done most of it online since :)

On Monday morning I had breakfast with Paul Marrow who very kindly offered me a lift back to Dublin. Parky was in the car too providing the entertainment, so there was good craic and stories.

I think that's probably it for me live in 2010: plan for December is to grind my way out of my online downswing and recharge for a major live assault in early 2011.


great read as ever doke, agree on the quality of blogging and need for the local input

Good read, reason most ppl get 12th 13th 14th alot and not the big is soley douwn to the luck factor.

Cheers lads, agree on the luck thing. When ypou start out you think you're gonna win everything but once you settle down you realise there will always be more min cashes unless you're a run good luckbox :)

Wow, really great read!

BTW, I have only played with you shortly twice (UKIPT Dublin side event and in UKIPT Galway main) but have a lot of respect for what I've seen of your game.

Cheers Nick, very well done again. Someone asked me on the Sunday morning who I thought would win and I answered that in all honesty I couldn't see it being anyone but you.

Also blaaaah/Jason, don't be thinking I've forgotten you still owe me a dinner :p

Cheers, hopefully we meet again soon


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