Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Staying Alive While Card Dead

I haven’t been playing poker much…and obviously, writing about it even less.  We’ve been extremely busy at work (Spring Break, equipment repair, new staff prep) and I’ve been trying to get over a nasty cold.  Last week, though we had some time off, who felt like playing much poker?  There was so much going on about the world, it was a little distracting, needless to say.

But I confess there was another reason I’ve been reluctant to spend much time on the virtual felt.  I am currently going through my semi-annual bout of being extremely card dead.  And while playing poker is naturally fun, winning is even more fun, and getting a constant stream of 3-8 offsuit hands is not fun.

OK, it’s not quite like that.  It’s worse.  One Sit ‘n’ Go I never got a card higher than a ten in three straight rounds, with my best hand a 10-7 offsuit.  One tournament had me with pocket rockets in the big blind, and everyone folded…and next round, pocket kings…and everyone folded…and I never saw a pair the rest of the tournament.  Stuff like that.

So, how does one pull oneself out of a funk like this?  Back in the old days I’d wait for a decent hand (or wait, and wait, and wait for a decent hand), and when I got it, I’d bump it up 3x and depending on whether I had position or not, I’d make a play for the pot.  This wasn’t terribly successful, as any player with a decent chip stack would hang around with squat just to see the flop and try to steal my raise…which they often did.  And if I was able to hit the flop with my holdings, they’d never contribute to the pot, so the play was not a worthy one.  I chalked it up to the nature of playing small stakes poker:  live with the fishes, and get eaten like one.

And then it dawned on me – as long as I’m hanging around some real donkeys, why not make a play like I’m one of them…or at least, it looks like I am?  And so began my practice of picking a decent spot, and…yup, you guessed it – ALL IN!

The play works when everyone folds, of course, and fold equity can help your through those periods when playable hands just aren’t coming your way.  And if you do get called…unless they have a monster, you stand a 50-50 (or better) chance of pulling ion the pot and lasting a bit longer.  I’m usually not a fan of coin flips, but if you restrict your hands to the top 10% or 20%, you should be 60-40 or better.

I tried this three times earlier this week, and met with success twice.  First time out there were three of us left in a 9-seat SnG, and I had already made the money but was well in third, way behind the chip leader.  After three rounds of folding, I picked up K-10 suited and pushed, was called by the second-place player who had a few more chips than I.  Why he called with 3-5 is a mystery, but I nailed him and he went out the very next hand, so while I didn’t win the tournament, I did move up in cash.

The second time was similar, except I was a distant fourth, one out of the money, and way behind after a series of meager hands.  I had played exactly 2 of 26 hands, and everyone else beat each other up, so I still had most of my starting stack except for a few blinds.  Pocket jacks became mine on the button, and after the first player limped in, I pushed.  Both blinds folded and the limper called me with A-3.  My jacks held up and he felt compelled to push all-in himself his next hand while in the big blind (with pocket fours), was called by the chip leader with A-K, and both Ace and King fell on the board, and I made the money again (didn’t last much longer than that, unfortunately). 

The third time I pushed after being card dead was another time I had made the money but languished in a distant third place thanks to a string of puny pips.  I found pocket Queens on the button and pushed only to be called by the chip leader with 8-7 suited.  Despite being a nearly 4-1 favorite, when the flop came with an A-5-6 I knew my goose would soon be cooked.  The turn brought the dreaded 9 for a straight and I headed for the rail.

Still, I had to marvel at the quick turnaround this seemingly silly play netted me.  I’d rather have some decent hands and make quality strategic moves, but failed that, it’s ALL IN for me.  For now, anyway.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Rest of the Story (Bluffing, part 2)

I’ve been gone from the “Internets” for the last couple of weeks, as the ice cream store has been open daily during Spring Break, and what a break it was – great weather, sold lots of ice cream, and never had time to play poker, let alone time to write about it.  So let’s get back on track…

In a way, selling ice cream is like playing poker.  It’s easy to make lots of money selling ice cream when the weather is nice; but when it’s cold and rainy, money is hard to come by.  In poker, it’s easy to know how to play your hand when you’re dealt a monster, but you can’t only play pocket Kings and Aces…you get your share of “rainy weather” too in the form of 8-3 offsuit.

So we bluff on occasion to keep the flow of money coming on the poker table (I haven’t figured out a way to do that in the ice cream biz – no way to bluff a milkshake, I guess).  And when we bluff, we want to be successful, and to do so, we need to be convincing about our hand.  Players fold when they think they’re beat, and the way you play and bet “tells” them they’re beat.  That’s why you raise instead of just limp – you’re sending a message about your hand – it’s “really good” (OK, grammar trolls, I know it’s supposed to be “very good,” but the dolts across from you on the virtual felt talk like that, so go with the flow, please).  When they call, see the flop of A-K-7 rainbow, and check, you bet like you own the pot (more on this in a moment).  What else could they conclude but you’ve got at least a pair of Kings, maybe Aces, hell, maybe two pair, and unless they got lucky and flopped trips, they’ll fold faster than cheap cardboard.  Story over, you win.  Simple.

When you “bet like you own the pot,” I mean a bet of half to two-thirds of the pot.  Remember, you’re telling a story, and the reality is you have nothing but air.  He might get lucky and have trips, or two pair, or even a low pair or four to a straight.  He might want to “take a flyer” and see one more card, and if he either gets lucky (again) or feels like taking a big chance, it’s doubtful any story you tell might discourage him from staying around to the end.  Especially at the lower levels, firing three blanks to bluff your way to success is risky for you, as some players will call you down if they catch ANY part of the board.  And some players like to trap.  Proceed with caution.

Last post I left you with a “story problem” (see the post below).  Two posters commented on the story (see comments), and both offer good advice.

The 80/20 rule here is similar to my thinking at first.  That is, given no prior history with the all-in player, I’ll give him credit for having what he says he has the first time unless I’m pretty sure I can beat him (I’d say 90%, not 80%).  I’d watch him carefully to see how often he “has it.”  Or claims he does, then, adjust accordingly.

And that’s the better advice given in the second comment.  One story does not a novel make, and in playing poker (especially tournament poker), you’re in it for the long haul.  You need to take time to understand your opponents.  They don’t call it a “read” for nothing – “read” other players to understand their tendencies (watch especially when you’re not involved in the hand…you can be more observant if you’re a bystander).

In making bluffs and reacting to other players, make sure that the story is consistent, believable, and told in a convincing matter.  Or I’ll blow your full house down.