Maniac Attack

Any serious gambler knows that the most important fundamental of success is to find a way to get the odds in their favour.  Betting against the odds is a losing proposition.  Any serious Hold Em player knows that having position on a player is a massive advantage, and being out of position is quite the opposite, biasing the odds in the opponents favour.

So why the hell did I sit for about 2 hours last night on the immediate right of a maniac?

Put simply it was that I wanted to beat him, and there was a waiting list of about 10 players.  I didn’t want to throw away the opportunity of playing against such a rare beast, and in doing so I allowed myself to stay in the worst seat at the table.

To be fair to myself I was totally owning him for a while.  I had paid enough attention to see that he had an incredibly high 3-bet and squeeze rate, especially when the original raiser was in mid to late position. They were actually higher than his open raise rate.  I hadn’t seen much of his play post flop (because it didn’t usually get far through the hand before everyone else had folded), but I knew that he was ridiculously aggressive pre-flop.  The first hand we tussled on was very marginal and debatable as to whether I should have played it.  Perhaps not, but the thing was that I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I was unknown to him and I’d seen him wildly raise (and usually win or fold without showing) against new players to the table.  I didn’t want to wait too long for a premium hand just to see him fold because he thought I was a nit.

I raised from a late position with ATo and a one early limper.  Exactly as I expected, he quickly 3 bet and it was folded back round to me.  At this point I’m certainly not planning on folding and I don’t think I can really call, because I think I’m ahead of his range and I don’t want to give him a chance to either catch, or blow me off my hand with air and position.  I think I’m better getting the chips in now to maximise my thin value.   It was always the plan to out muscle him.  So I put in a moderate 4-bet, he 5-bets quickly and I shove, with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach that I shouldn’t have got myself into this position.  He quickly calls and shows A9s.  My 10 holds and I double up, putting him back down to just over 100 big blinds and leaving me with twice his stack.

For the next few hands that I raised, even though I was opening often, he became a lot tighter and folded most of them.  After a while though he realised that I was opening pretty wide and went back to his usual antics.  I tried to balance myself between folding and continuing when he 3 bet me which tightened up my opening range.  I didn’t want to 4 bet anywhere near as wide as ATo from then on because I knew he had been hurt by our first hand and had definitely paid attention.  I also knew he was capable of betting big with a medium strength hand but he would probably be quite balanced in that spot against me, as opposed to biased towards bluffing as he was against others at the table.

I took a few moderate pots off him either hitting or outplaying him after the flop but nothing massive, basically because we both knew the other was capable of big bets with a wide range and I felt we were both looking for spots to get it in with a premium hand.

I was outdrawn on by other players a couple of times which kept my stack in check and his aggressive play brought him up to my level.  He was still 3 betting me enough to allow me to get aggressive with slightly less than premium hands and he took a chunk of my stack with QQ against my JJ.

The killer blow came when I opened in late position with T9s.  I called his 3 bet and it went 2 handed into the flop which came T72, giving me top pair with a flush draw.  I felt confident he would bet with any two cards so I checked.  He put about two thirds of the pot in and I raised to about 2.5x his bet.  He thought for a while and re-raised not much more than the minimum.

At this point I thought that it was possible that I was behind but that more often I would be ahead.  Even if I was behind I knew that I had a decent amount of equity.  He had previously seen me check raise and give up on the flop to his 3-bet on a similarly innocuous board so I thought he could push with air.  The time he took to make the shove also gave me the impression he was more likely to be bluffing or semi bluffing because of his previous tendencies.

I couldn’t take over pairs out of the equation but didn’t think it would be the case most of the time.  Top pair with a better kicker was definitely a possibility but of course I had top pair which made it less likely.  Straight draws, even gut shots, and flush draws made up a big part of his range, or even just two over cards.  I took a moment and decided to shove.  He turned over AJs for the nut flush draw.  The flush didn’t come in but that was incidental once an ace hit the turn.

I was ahead when I shoved, but not by much: according to pokerstove I was a 52.3% favourite.  With the dead money in the pot I’m sure it was the right decision.

I’m not really that unhappy with my play, despite being up over two buy-ins and leaving the table one buy-in down.  The thing that gets me, the thing that I thought about when I was falling asleep last night, was the decision to play him in that position in the first place.  After the first hand I had doubled up from him and introduced a new dynamic.  He knew that he could play in position on almost every hand and he reacted well to my changes of gear.  That made life very difficult for me.

What I should have done is look at the long game.  If I had disappeared off the table straight after that hand he might not even have remembered me next time I sat down in position on him.  I will still make it my mission to find him at a table where I get decent position on him, but I could have done that right from the beginning.  Next time I find myself in terrible position to a maniac, I’ll think a few more times before I get comfortable.

On a more positive note I really feel like I’m starting to make a breakthrough.  For a long time I’ve been confused as to how better players than me can play 4 or more tables and still manage to analyse their opponents well enough to be able to find enough spots to exploit.  I feel like I have an increasingly good knowledge of how to think about different situations, but that I haven’t applied that knowledge well enough.  Multi-tabling leaves me languishing in ignorance and missing opportunities to make notes, and playing just a single table provides the challenge of remaining focused for long periods of time without playing very many hands, which I often struggle with.  

One thing that’s helped massively is my way of analysing hands and what they mean about the players who played in them.  Using Poker Tracker 4 allows me to mark hands for analysis at a later point, which I have been doing more liberally.  The critical factor is that I’m actually going through them all now! If I can make the notes on the fly then I do, but once I’ve got a reasonable number of hands built up I will sometimes sit out or take a break and go through them all before taking my seats again.

At the beginning of the month I went through a period of seriously cold cards.  I was playing single table tournaments on PokerStars, some of the time not playing very well, most of the time finding myself on the wrong end of coolers and getting out drawn.  I’ve had nasty runs like that before, but never so many in a row without a single cash.  That’s put a dent in my bankroll but my cash winnings have put it up to a little over $200.  I started with just $28 at the beginning of August, so it’s hardly amazing, but this is all about building my bankroll in the proper way.  At least it’s going in the right direction.

The fight continues…

Doing Their Betting: My Biggest Leak?

Since I last posted I’ve been making a bit of progress.   My bankroll is growing, but only slowly.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I think I might have discovered a major leak in my game.  Well, I say discovered, but I guess I always knew it was there. Well, I say always…

I find myself leaking far too many chips in situations where I’ve done the betting for my opponent when I’m behind.  That’s either where I’ve bluffed too far with air, or where I’m behind with a medium strength hand.  In far too many tournaments the significant hand in my downfall seems to be this sort of situation.

I have been aware for a long time that almost all the players who I identify as significantly better than me, are far better at knowing when to check it down and hope to see a cheap showdown.  They also seem to know when to give up a bluff.

I think I find it difficult to strike the balance between hitting value when it’s available and just staying in the pot when I’ve got a hand with showdown value.  Often I think it’s because I’m too scared to give up the lead and give my opponent an obvious opportunity to bluff me off the best hand.

So what does this say about me?  I think the main thing is that I’m not putting enough effort into properly putting a range on my opponent, and figuring out what hands of value I can beat.  Because of this I think that I’m not clearly defined enough in my own head as to whether some of my bets are for value or if they are a bluff.

I’m guilty of betting when I think I might be ahead, I don’t want to give a free card if I am, but I’m likely to only get action when I’m behind.  Stupid really.  No, that should actually read: REALLY STUPID.  Sorry for shouting, but it was directed at me, not you.  Unless you’re guilty too. 

I’ve played a few small buy-in single table tournaments to experiment with improving this aspect of my game.  I think a lot of my approach to these games is fairly sound at the level I play, but I never seem to make much from them in the long run.  I think partly that’s playing too many tables, so I’ve been playing two for these trials.  So far they seem to be going quite well, cashing in both, winning one, or even winning both.  But I’ve only had a few sessions and I need to do more.

I’m not going to be able to play for a few days, but when I get back to the virtual this has to be my major priority.

How Not To Play Heads Up

The other night I played a low buy-in single table tournament on PokerStars.  I got down to the final two and despite finding myself on the wrong side of a couple of coolers when I had him covered, it was pretty much the easiest finish to a tournament that I ever had.  My opponent was fairly predictable in general and fell into patterns of behaviour.

The worst thing that he did was to give me the advantage on nearly every single hand. Because it was heads up, the small blind was also the button, being in position after the flop.  We both chose to play around the same amount of hands from the small blind, and therefore we were folding around the same as each other.  The difference was that when he did play from small blind he would always call rather than raise giving me the option to check and see the flop.  When I was in the small blind I would always put in a minimum raise rather than call.

The result of this pattern is that when I was out of position post flop, we were playing for the minimum possible.  When I was in position, the pot had been nearly doubled.  This gave me a huge advantage and I found myself quickly adding to my stack without really having to do too much.  The maths just worked for me.