Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Having The Rocks To Play The Nuts

Catching up on my blog reading has stirred the creative juices in my brain. This is monumental when you realize that I've been at work 2 hours already and it'll be another hour and a half before the sun is up. Northern Wisconsin between the months of November and March is like living in friggin' Siberia. I though the weather sucked in Chicago!

Cold weather sucks.

But enough about the weather.

I've been playing poker now for all of 3 months. I'm still a rank NewB, but looking back, I can certainly tell I've made huge progress in learning the game, and myself.

One of the most noticeable breakthroughs has been my perspective on money. As most of you no doubt know by now, I'm certainly not a wealthy person. My love of the game certainly isn't supplemented by a fat bankroll, so I sort of took a chance and decided to invest $50, win or lose. I've managed to, thus far, build that bankroll up to the point of taking $70 out (and blowing it on a live game I sucked at... see previous posts) and I'm back up to around $210. The UB bankroll is an additional $25 investment that, for the purposes of measuring my success in Party, I will keep separate. For the record, that has fluctuated wildly, ending up at a high of $60 or so, and a low of $13. It's now back to $25.

When I first started playing I was very "protective" of my bankroll. As a result, I would never raise, and rarely would call raises for fear that my hand wasn't the best. At no point was I ever in "control" of a table, nor would I do anything to attempt to manipulate people into doing what I wanted them to do. I was the very definition of tight/passive. Indeed I was so completely protective of my bankroll in the live game I attempted that I was practically blinded away waiting for that magic "premium" hand. When it finally came in the form of pocket aces, I was blinded by the idea that I had what I perceived as the nuts. When they were cracked by a set of 8's I completely lost whatever guts I might have had.

The first hint that I might be weak with my betting was when, one day, I was getting smacked around on the table. Now, I'm a very level headed guy. Very rarely will I spin off the handle, but I finally got fed up and started attacking. I would raise aggressively with good hands. I would press the issue if I sensed weakness. I didn't play stupid, since I knew this would just enrage me more. No, I wanted to exact revenge. Those other players, they were the enemy. When I got into this mindset, I'd almost always manage to recover my losses at least.

It took a while before I realized that, when I would "tilt" I was actually starting to play more "correctly". I wouldn't tilt to the point of pre-flop raising things like Q7o, but when I did get something like AQo, I'd get aggressive.

This got me to thinking about how my game was working out. It seemed that, every time I'd play, I would initially lose a bunch, eventually get mad, and make it all back. Strange indeed. I had to figure out what I was doing, and more importantly, how to play aggressively all the time.

Bottom line is this. There is a reason why the Masters recommend a bankroll of at least 200 big bets for the level you're playing it. To put it simply, you are going to occasionally lose. This is a given. Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug. To become a successful poker player, you have to embrace this concept. You want to have a winning attitude, and you certainly want to play to win, but you also have to accept that sometimes you're going to walk away unsuccessful. If you don't have the bankroll to absorb these days, or you don't have the mindset to accept that these days are going to come, you're not a poker player. You're a victim of poker players.

And you're my best friend at the table.

Another thing I came to realize. At some point, I mentioned how much I hated pre-flop raises. At this point, though I don't particularly LOVE pre-flop raises, I understand them much better and can even use them to my advantage many times. But, why is this? I feel that part of it is because I've begun to understand both how to play position and how to interpret betting for information. I'm no longer intimidated by pre-flop raising, but I do know that, when the flop comes, I'll have an idea what the pre-flop raiser has and, more importantly, if I have anything that can combat him.

It's said that Hold'em is a game of incomplete information. This is obvious, but constantly I see people desperately trying to GET complete information. It's a Unicorn. You will NEVER have the complete story of a hand until it's over, and by then it's too late to do anything about it. The best you can hope for is to rely on the information that is presented to you, and have confidence that, in the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, your information is reliable. For every hand, you're a detective trying to solve a case. Sometimes the smoking gun is there for you to see in the form of having a monster hand, but most times the answer isn't so obvious and you have to depend on the information that your opponents won't freely give you. The physical tells are great information, but online, the only tells you get are in the bets.

I think that the lessons I learn online will be great information for playing live games. To be able to interpret opponents strengths by virtue of their bets is powerful information. To be able to incorporate reading physical tells into the game will be just that much more useful, but I feel like I really should be able to win without hearing a peep or taking my eyes off the table. I'll know more the next time I get into a live game.. Hopefully, that will be soon.


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