Life Shouldn't Be A Fuckin' Grind

I will never be a poker pro, but my lifetime poker ledger is positive and I think that's something to be proud of.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What Makes Someone a Great Poker Player

I've been thinking lately about how we define the "best player at the table" or someone who routinely "outplays" his opponents. I know that the classic stereo-type would be the player who pulls off the the best bluffs, always knows exactly what his opponents card are, or at least looks right into your soul and knows whether you've "got it," never loses and doesn't need cards to win (in other words, Mike McDermott from Rounders). I don't think this is realistic at all though. While being able to make good bluffs, read opponents and pick off bluffs are important skills, especially in NL games, the true way that I would define a great poker player is someone who always maximizes his value. Most poker games are of the limit variety and most decisions really come down to which move has the most value, do you make a thin value bet, or check to try to pick off a bluff? Do you check behind after the last card because you think that you're only going to get called when you're beaten, or do you go ahead and bet because you know your opponent well enough to know that he'll call with 3rd pair and your 2nd pair is good? These are the things that really separate the good players from the bad.

In a typical LHE game at the local casino, I'm not doing anything particularly impressive to "outplay" my opponents, yet I win pretty consistently and most of the time I feel that I'm the best player at the table (and I'm not really anything special at this stage of my poker career). So, what's the secret? Pure and simple, I play less hands, I play better hands and I play them better...but I still need cards to win. I know when to chase a gutshot on the flop and when to fold it, I know when to call with bottom pair b/c the pot is big enough that I'm can correctly draw to trips or two pair and I know when to fold it. I know that if I raised with AQo and several people called, and the flop came 679, I'm probably going to be checking and folding. Your average player doesn't know or think about this kind of thing (in fact, he barely even thinks about the game) and that's why the game is so beatable for a thinking player. I'll grant that there may be levels where the game isn't as simple to beat as the games I routinely play in, however I believe that even there it's mostly about maximizing your value when you win and getting away as cheaply as possible from hands that are beaten. That really is what's most important in poker.

Now, I want to talk about a couple of hands from last night's session at the casino. I played 6/12 for about 6 hours last night and left up about $220, a good night, but mostly a grind. I had a very swingy session last night and I was near the bottom of one of those swings when one of the hands I'm least proud of (maybe in my entire career) came up. I was in the BB and after having been up almost $300 at one point in the session, I was down to right around the +$100 mark. In the hand in question, 4-5 people limped and the button (an aggressive player) raised, I was feeling frustrated and decided to call the raise without looking at my cards. Everybody called and we were looking at a 7-way pot for 2 small bets before the flop. Right before the dealer put the flop out there, I went ahead and looked down at a miserable 83o (now, we can debate the tremendous odds I was getting, but I don't think there's anyway anyone in their right mind calls here if they know they've got 83o). Anyhow, the flop came something like K35, everyone checked to the button who bet and several people (including myself) called. With the pot this big, I'm now getting the correct odds to draw to trips or two pair, even though I made a miserable call pre-flop. The turn brought gin for me, another 3, again it checked around to the button and again he bet (at this point I was looking to check/raise, I think), I decided to just call (looking for overcalls) instead of raising here as I'd get more money in the pot that way (in hindsight, I probably should have raised in an effort to drive people out who were drawing to better hands than mine). The river paired the board again with another 5 and we checked it to the button again (I didn't bet out here b/c I was afraid the 5 had just beaten me and I wanted to get to showdown cheaply if possible), who again bet, I called along with a couple of others and that's the story of how I cracked Aces with 83o. Not really a hand I'm proud of, though outside of my pre-flop call I didn't play it that badly.

The other hand from last night that I want to talk about occurred against the only other decent player at the table. It was probably 5 hours or so into the session and I'd been playing with the young guy 2 to my right the whole time. He seemed pretty solid (though I remember thinking that he may have defended his blinds a little more than was optimal) and was probably at least my equal if not possibly a better player. He open-raised in MP and I found 99 in the CO, I decided to 3-bet and isolate, since I couldn't think of a better way to play the hand. The BB called 2 cold and the villain then capped, so we took a 3-way flop with 12 small bets in the pot...the flop came K52 with 2 spades and MP checked (with a disgusted look on his face), I immediately put him on something like JJ or QQ and decided to try to take the pot away with a bet, he called (throwing his chips in like he was disgusted and afraid he was beat). At this point I'm pretty sure he has QQ or JJ and the turn then brings the 9c, again he checks, I bet and this time he raises (here I'm not sure what to do, but thoughts of his hand left my head), I thought "ZOMG I have a SET!!" and I 3-bet, he then capped and now I'm scared, but have to call. When he capped I was pretty sure I was beat, and just for good measure he threw out his river bet before the card was even dealt, of course I'm never folding a set though and I went ahead and paid off his 3 Kings.

When I look back on it, I think warning bells should have been going off in my head and I should have simply called the turn check/raise. His actions (checking the flop and looking/acting disgusted with the board) were a classic example of the old strength = weakness/weakness = strength tell. He almost never check/raises that turn with a hand that I'm ahead of and I should have realized that at the time and been more careful. The way he played it, made it obvious by his turn cap that he had KKK, but really I think I should have known this when he put in that first raise and shut down then. These are the things I still need to work on. I give up value sometimes against good opponents who practically turn their cards face up (if I'm only paying enough attention to put the pieces together) and I miss value bets and against people who I know are going to pay me off (earlier in the session, a habitual bluffer capped a flop of 867 2 diamonds with me when I had JJ, then checked a T on the turn and a T on the river...I checked behind on both streets and it's now obvious to me that I missed potential bets on both street...though I can excuse myself for the turn b/c I was confused and thought he might check/raise, when the river paired the same card that came on the turn I definitely should have value bet). If I continue to work on these things I can and will progress from a good player and micro-limit superstar, to a great player who can beat higher limits.


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