Thursday, February 3, 2011

The wisdom of Bob Battersby and the Daniac

Early this morning, I busted in the last level of the European Deepstack, a very painful experience for me. While rationally I'd rather win the WSOP ME or an EPT or even an Irish Open, the wrench I felt in my gut as I walked away told me that personally on an emotional level, this tournament means more to me than any other on the live calendar. I guess that's not surprising since in a sense it's where it all started for me, and I have so many happy memories and moments of drama from this tournament since I won the inaugural one. And, as Mike Lacey said to me immediately after, I still have a better record in it than anyone else.

I got off to an absolute flyer, racing up to 65K in the very early going. At that stage I was loving my table. I was opening a lot of pots, and the table seemed to adopt my 2.25x open size as the standard. I'm happiest in tournaments when everyone is playing smallball and we're all very deep, so this suited me down to the ground. My timing seemed to be immaculate: all my value bets were getting paid and all my bluffs getting through. To make things even sweeter, there was an empty seat to my left which meant two buttons for me every round.

It all changed when the empty seat was filled by a Danish guy. While they're invariably lovely people, you never want to be seated to the right of a Dane at a poker table. This particular one told me he used to crush high stakes online cash (and I believe him) before he gave it up to study, and was staked into EPTs by Gus Hansen at one point, so basically unlucky me to have one of the best and most aggro players in the room with immediate position on me.

Suddenly most of my light opens were getting 3 bet or flatted. When that happens, you basically have two choices: you can either tighten up, or you have to be prepared to start 4 betting light a lot. I'm not a fan of high variance moves like the 4 bet light at that stage of a live tournament, so I opted to tighten up. This meant a period of treading water until my first big hand against the Daniac (as I jokingly chistened him) just before the break. There were a couple of funny hands at the table in this period, none of them involving me. Pride of place went to one that started with a French guy playing reasonably solidly opening at 75/150 for 400 utg, Italian makes it 1300 two behind, Daniac flats, tightest player on the table who has no raised yet preflop 4 bets to 5k on the button. French kid folds and as the Italian tanked I was thinking god I'd hate to have queens or even kings in his spot. Italian did the whole stare for a read thing before shipping in the loot (60K), and after the Daniac folds the tight guy has aces and the Italian looks a little distraught as he turns over his cards. I can only see the top one and it looks like a 5! I'm thinking my eyes must be deceiving me here, how can he have a five in his hand when the dealer spreads the cards and I see, yeah, pocket fives. Not a hand I'd be happy getting 400 bbs in against a nit's first 4 bet but the great thing about this game is we all play it differently.

The advantage of being able to play loose early in a tournament like this is the very strong possibility someone's going to spew off like that. Greg Raymer pointed out once that while in a world where everyone is playing perfectly, tight may be theoretically right in the early stages of a deepstacked mtt, in the real world where many are playing atrociously, it's better to get in there and mix it with them before someone else has their chips. Two years ago I doubled up in level one of this tournament when I opened JTs utg and got a guy's stack after flopping a straight versus his top two. Although I ended up running deep that year, I had a bad patch in the middle when I got moved to a table with two maniacs who just ran over me and the rest of the table. In poker as in life, you learn from your mistakes, and the big lesson I took from that tournament was I needed to learn how to counteract maniacs better. These days I think I play very well against them: the most profitable of the nightly mtts I grind for me are the rebuys full of maniacs, but no matter how good you are, you're always going to be under pressure when you run into a skilled maniac with a stack and position who will readjust to anything you do rather than just bang it in with air every time, and so it proved with the Daniac.

The key to playing these players is to check more and call lighter when you have something, and be prepared to bet and raise more with total air. On this occasion I managed the second part better than the first. When I look back on this tournament, the crucial pot was one where I almost found a hero call on the river with just bottom pair but didn't. It started with the button raising, me flatting in the SB with Ah3h and the Daniac flatting in the BB. Flop came 9h5h3x, basically a great flop from me and if we were shallower I'd be trying to get it in here, but we're so deep that check calling is the better line. After the raiser bets 1400, I call as does the Daniac. The turn is a non heart ten, I check again, as does the Daniac, the other guy bets 3600, I call and the Daniac now raises to 8500. The other guy tank folds (A9 he claimed), and I called, mainly hoping to either hit the river or for the Daniac to be on a move and give up. The river pairs the five, I check, and he now bets 11500. My plan on the turn was to give up on the river to any decent sized bet if I didn't hit, but this river bet made little sense to me. Most of his value hands would be alarmed by the appearance of the five on the river (I can very easily have a five here) so I thought his range was now really polarized to bluffs and monsters. The only real monsters are flopped sets, but would a flopped set really check raise the turn, taking the risk that the button raiser just checks behind giving a free card in a three way pot? My gut was saying a large part of his range was worse missed flush draws. I agonised over the decision well into the break. There was all sorts of metagame to consider: he'd just been caught bluffing so that should make it less likely he's bluffing here. His bet size (40% of pot) was more consistent with his previous value bets than his bluffs. These two factors pushed me towards the fold in the end. Encouraged by his friends to show the bluff, he did Kh6h as I suspected. He apologised after the break saying no disrespect was intended but really there was no need for an apology: I was happy to see his hand and he played it immaculately.

At the break I had a pizza with a Dutch pro at my table. He felt the fold was fine normally because of the metagame and recent history. I don't think it's a massive mistake by any means, the Daniac needs to be bluffing about 30% of the time there for the call to be correct and I think in reality it's somewhere in that region, but I do wish I'd gone with my gut and made the call. If I had, I'd suddenly have been up to 100K, the Daniac would no longer have a stack, so I think that one decision was crucial to me not getting through day one.

Shortly after the break, the Daniac took a number of hits with badly timed bluffs and light 5 bets and one poor light call (which goes to show calling light against a maniac isn't always a winner). That hand started with me opening light to 1625 at 400/800/100 with 85s (not having played a hand in ages), Daniac flatting, and a French maniac who had joined us 3 betting from the blinds to 4250. Small reraise and I'd sometimes flat here if I was up against hopelessly bad players, but didn't fancy playing this hand for this much out of position against a skilled Daniac. He's never folding if I flat, and there is the alarming possibility he'll 5 bet shove if I do and suddenly there's 12K in the middle. So I folded and the Daniac calls. Flop came 762, Frenchy leads, Daniac flats, turn's a Q, French leads, Daniac tank flats, rivers a brick, French leads against and Daniac calls muttering that this is a bad call. It is, his eights or nines are no good against the Frenchy's Q6. Having done half his stack this way, I'm thinking he has less leeway to make loose calls and raises preflop. I've recovered up to about 60K so when it's folded to me in the cutoff and I have 43s and there are two nits in the blinds I figure it's a decent spot to open. The Daniac is relentless though and calls, as does one of the nits. Flop comes KQ5 which looks like a decent one to cbet once it's checked to me given my opponent's likely ranges here (Ax or small to medium pairs for the nit, any two for the Daniac) and their perception of mine so I fire. The Daniac flats, and my plan now is to just give up as he doesn't fold much once he's called the flop as the previous hand against the Frenchy proves. However, an ace hits the turn and this is now a great card for me to bet, so I fire again knowing he's going to find it hard to call as if he does he thinks he'll probably have to call a large river bet for most of his remaining stack. He shows a king and folds.

This proved a slightly pyrrhic victory as it reduced his stack to a reshipping one, which he was doing at regular intervals when I opened, and I never found a hand I was happy to call with (Q9s was the closest). However, I got enough through to get up to about 75k which was my high point for the tournament. By now you were losing 4-5k a round so you didn't want to be going card dead but unfortunately I did just that. This is why there's a huge difference between having 100-120K at this point in a tournament like this and having 70k. I'd drifted back to 55K when I decided it was time to use my image. A serial French button raiser did so again, I had A2 in the BB and it looked like a good spot to 3 bet light so I bumped it up to 11K. Unfortunately he jammed it back in my face so now I have 45K. That becomes 35K before I find a hand or spot. I pick up sevens in the cutoff. With an M of 7 it's a pretty standard shove. The only other reasonable option is to raise. Raise folding this shallow is not a great idea but there are some cases where it may be better than shoving, notably if you have just nits behind who will only play the same very tight range of hands as if you shove. The two blinds were nits but I still had the Daniac to worry about and I really don't want to open the door for him to reshove the likes of T8s so I did shove. That said, there is a case to be made for just opening normally with the plan to call if he does shove (and there probably are some hands in his range I'd love him to shove like Ax where x < 8) but maybe folding if one of the nits does (although this opens up the rather nasty possibility of folding the best hand if they shove AK or AQ).

As it happened, the nit in the SB groaned when he looked at his hand, and eventually reshoved. At this stage I know I'm racing at best but I wasn't. He had jacks and there was no seven from Heaven. I guess it pretty well sums up my tournament that literally the first time I stuck the loot in, I did so with a hand that would be best 91% of the time, but this was one of the other 9% of times.

Looking back on my tournament, I'm satisfied that I played well for the most part, but as I said you learn from your mistakes, by identifying them, examining why they are mistakes, and why you made them, so that hopefully you won't make them in future. The A3 hand was the crucial one and I came very very close to making the call that would have set me up. The important thing when reviewing a tournament is to focus on your decisions and your performance rather than the outcome. Some days you make the right decisions and lose: other days the wrong decisions win it for you. But the job is still to try to get as many of the decisions right. Your result in a tournament depends not only on the hands you play and how you play them but on a myriad of other events of chance that feed into what hands you play and how. In an alternative universe somewhere, a seven from Heaven comes. In another, I decide to raise fold rather than shove the sevens and live to fight another day. In another, I make the call with A3, the Daniac is crippled, and I run over the table and end the day as chipleader. In another, I respond differently to the arrival of the Dane, I start four five and six betting him light and I either slap him down or we get it in and I win and proceed to run over the table and end as chipleader (and of course in another we get in, I lose, and I'm writing a blog saying what the Hell was I thinking getting 400 bbs in with JTs). In another, the Italian doesn't go mad with the fives and double up the nit to the point where he's still around and covers me when I shove (or does but sucks out). And so on and so on. In some of these alternative universes, I go on to win the whole tournament. Does that mean I played better in those universes? No. It just means my decisions coincided with fortune. The challenge in this game when you've mastered it is to make choices between different strategies and lines all of which are plus Ev and none of which are clearly or demonstrably more plus Ev than others. If I can do that, then the Doke of this universe will ultimately make more money from poker than any alternative universe Doke.

I'll probably play a side event or two. Next week I head to Nottingham for the next leg of the UKIPT. The week after is the IPR live final, and it's looking like a very busy few months live. I've qualified for the Estrellas Malaga at the end of March and I'm planning on playing the EMOPS Lisbon just before that too. I've already qualified a few times for the Manchester UKIPT in mid March. Online's still been ticking along nicely and there are times when I think I should just give up on this live poker mullarkey as unless I bink a big one it will never be as profitable as online.

I'll leave you with a choice Bob Batterbyism. Bob was moved beside me in the latest Fitz EOM (where I didn't trouble the scorers). An amusing BSB hand developed. The button raised and the two blinds defended. The flop came jack high with two hearts and the SB led at it for pot. The lady in the BB shoved, the button reshoved, the the SB tank folded AJ. His dismay when the hands went over (KJ and a flush draw that didn't get there) was vocal and loud, and as he continued to beat himself up at it, Bob looked at me and said "It's very hard to win if you don't call". I wish I'd remembered those words when I was looking at A3s and a little voice in my head was saying "call, he's got a worse missed flush draw".


unlucky doke live tourney exits hurt a lot more than the online ones, i got knocked out the same time as you in the deepstack yesterday!!

back to the online felt with you bink big

Cheers Smidge, live certainly hurts a lot more

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