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…

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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.

A Rubbish Night

I’m going to (try to) keep this short.  On Thursday night I had my first losing session since starting the coaching with Nick.  Didn’t feel great but it wasn’t like it was a massive hit, about $40.  Last night I made that back on two low stakes soft tables on PokerStars in a matter of 26 minutes.  That made me feel pretty good because I could start the night of tournaments back at my standard bankroll.

Unfortunately, sometimes I am utterly rubbish at taking a step back and looking what I’m doing.  I spent the first half of the night falling into the same traps that I did on Thursday, multi-tabling without proper and considered thought, and being too eager to outplay my opponents and take them on.  It all felt a bit too frantic.  The second half of the night was spent trying to get back to where I started from and failing, in fact falling further behind.  My PokerStars bankroll has been virtually crippled.  I was in profit for my William Hill account (which I discovered on Thursday that I had £30 in that I didn’t know about – better than a fiver in the pocket!) and withdrew £20, more for my own psychology than anything else.   A regular flow of cash into my bank account is definitely a positive thing.  That leaves it with the £30 balance that I started with.

Today, I’m not quite sure how, I’ve managed to arrange it such that I can play all day and all night if I want to.  It’s Saturday, which means in theory there should be lots of soft tables and money to make.  My first goal is to replenish my PokerStars bankroll back up to my standard level, which at the moment is $100.  I’m not thinking about my second yet, that would be getting ahead of myself.

The plan is to take my time and take regular breaks.  I have to make considered decisions and make sure I don’t fall into that trap again.  Right, here goes…

A solid night, but should I have bet the turn?

Tonight I was itching to get playing.  Kicked off with a small buy-in 180 player sit and go.  That one didn’t last too long.  There was one hand that pretty much killed me, which I’d like to go through to figure out if I’m right that I played it as well as I could. For context I’ll start with the hand before it.

The guy to my right had started off fairly aggressively but I hadn’t seen any of his cards.  I’d just been moved onto his table and only had stats on 9 hands, which showed he’d seen 6 of the flops including 3 raises.

He raised in second position and I just had a feeling I could squeeze him a little with my Q9s.  I’d been playing tight and I thought there was a good chance that he’d put me on a better hand than his. So I re-raise to a little less that 3x his bet, he calls. Can’t remember the flop but he checks and folds to my bet.

The very next hand he raises again under the gun, and again I re-raise, this time holding a pocket pair 10d,10s. It’s folded round to him and he calls.

Flop comes 3h, Qh, 9d.

He checks and I bet about 60% of the pot which he calls.

The turn hits another queen, Qd.  And here’s the crucial action. He checks again, fairly quickly which made me worry a little that he might be setting a trap.  I mulled it over and decided to check for several reasons;

  • If he had a queen he was trapping and I’d be put to a difficult decision when he check-raised.
  • If he didn’t have a queen he could make the same play which again would be a difficult decision.
  • By checking I thought that I could make a much better judgement as to whether or not a bet on the river was a bluff or not from the size.
  • Checking also gave him the opportunity to make a mistake by bluffing a missed river if he was holding AK, AJ, AT or a smaller pocket pair.
  • My gut had suggested that the quick check may have been a trap.
  • By checking the turn I may make him think I have a mediocre hand, so he would have to bet small enough on the river for value if he really did have me beaten.  That leaves me with chips on the table rather than nothing but virtual felt.

The river was the 8d.  He bets around 40% of the pot which was about half my remaining stack.  I thought it was unlikely that he’d hit a flush as he could only really have been holding Ad Kd or Ad Jd to do that. A straight was possible but not that likely. I thought he could have had a queen but he’d been too active to just give it to him.  I didn’t think I could fold, so I called.

I was gutted to see him turn over 8c, 8s.  He’d hit a full house on the river and left me with just over a third of my starting stack, which I never managed to recover from.  My check had allowed him to improve on the river for free.

So the question is, should I have bet the turn?  Writing it out like this has helped me to analyse it a bit more, and my conclusion is that I was probably right to check the turn and definitely right to call on the river.

I’d love to hear what anyone else thinks.

I also played a single table sit and go and despite a run of horrific cards I managed to finish second.  By rights I should have won it, I found myself with AA against Q5, just me and one guy left.  He missed the flop totally but hit a 5 on the turn and again on the river.

I played some cash too which went fairly well but I won’t go through it all.  So it was a profitable night for both cash and tournaments but it was mostly thanks to the cash games.

And oh yeah, think I’ve got to re-address golden rule #3, no multi-tabling.  I think it actually works quite well to play one cash game with a tournament.  Two screens with tables both full screen.  I’m going on the principle that I can stop cash at any time, so put 80% of my attention to the cash table and then move it to the tournament when it gets down to the meat of it.  I’ll see how it goes.

Where’s the startline?

I haven’t played much for the last month or so.  I’ve got quite a lot going on in my life right so time for poker is limited, which means that I’ve got to be at peace with the fact that this journey is likely to start pretty slow.  But maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe that’ll help me focus on how important learning from each and every session is.

The other barrier, of course, is cash.  I don’t have much to add to a dismally small stake, so I’m expecting a bit of a grind.

Wow! Really starting with a bang then.

There are lots of different things that I need to spending time thinking about in regards to how I play, all of which affect my result.  Eventually I’ll try and get around to addressing all of them.  So…

  • Frame of mind
  • Environment
  • Distractions
  • Tables I play at
  • The type of game
  • Opponents
  • Knowledge of opponents
  • Knowledge of the maths
  • Stakes played
  • How many tables
  • How much time is available
  • Multi-tasking
  • Which site is used
  • Use of tracking software (I currently use Poker Tracker 3)

One of the major things that I want to sort out is to make sure that I play the best table available.  Why play in a tough game when there’s a soft game elsewhere?  Recently, like a lot of players it would seem, I’ve been defaulting far too often for playing on PokerStars. It’s a massive site but I’m limiting myself far too much.

So I need to figure out all the networks that I want to play at, and pick the best site of each.  Of course to play you have to have a bankroll, so every site that I’m expecting to have in my armoury has to be deposited into.  Like I say, I don’t have much cash, so it’s taking winnings from one to feed the next I guess.

For now, mainly because I need to have slept, woken up and got into the frame of mind to entertain a 3 year old in the next four and a half hours, I’m going to leave it there.