My favorite poker quote ever

Monday, May 12, 2008 6:39 | Filled in poker

This pretty much sums up my feelings about poker in general and my struggles in particular:

“I’ve worked very, very hard at being less of an idiot more of the time”  Andy Black

The context was him saying that when he is on his game, he is a very good player.  He accumulates chips very well and finds himself playing on a very high level until something terrible happens and he makes a very bad decision and donks off his stack.  I feel much the same way about my tourney play.  I can play very good poker from time to time.  I have a great intuitive grasp of people’s range and the merits of specific situations, which often allows me to amass chips.  However, I have a tendency to make one or two spectacular blunders which erase all of that in a flash.  This is the terrible beauty of no-limit, you always have that chance to implode.  I often take it.

I think part of it is psychology.  In limit, I am a collector of information.  I get lots of information on the other player and I accumulate a plan on how to play against him.  I make thin calldowns because of the added value of seeing his cards and placing another puzzle piece in the grid.  Over time, I tend to do better and better against players that I have seen a lot, because I figure out what they like to do and what they handle poorly and I give them more of one and less of the other.  This collection and synthesis of information is my greatest strength.  Accumulating this information in no limit is much more difficult.  Hands don’t show down nearly as often and when someone makes an odd play, you are especially unlikely to see the cards.  Combine this with the fact that there are two excellent results you can have when facing a big bet in no limit.  You can correctly make the call with a weak hand and be rewarded with a huge pot and a feeling of complete satisfaction and mastery when you sniff out the bluff and rake the chips or you can fold correctly to a big overbet from a strong hand.  The problem is that the calldown provides complete satisfaction and a pile of chips.  The fold offers no consolation.  You have fewer chips than when you started the hand and you have some seed of doubt, no matter how likely you think it was that the other guy had the goods, you never really know.  You now have to adjust to playing a smaller stack and you have some confidence sapped by self-doubt.  The poker forums are full of posts asking “Good fold?” because even days later, you still wonder if the other guy “put a move” on you.  The immense satisfaction associated with the great call and the nagging doubts associated with the laydown really push you into calls in the marginal situations and I know that is the source of my most spectacular blowups.

The other problem is that the profile of the guy who makes the big bluff is varied.  Poor players make big bluffs because they are poor players.  They do not accurately assess ranges and relative hand strengths and they figure their only chance to win the pot is to make the big bet and winning pots is the key to poker, so bombs away.  Watch any freeroll and you will see this concept in action time and time again.  People stack off with no pair no draw all day long.  Unfortunately, if this was the only time you saw these moves, it would be much easier.  Unfortunately good players also make big bluffs.  In their case, they are looking at your range, your betting pattern and the board and trying to take pots away where they feel that you can rarely call.  This is the situation where I get in trouble most often.  I know that I have presented the other guy with a good reason to believe that I am weak and now I’m convinced that he would bet anything because I invited it.  If I think it would be a good spot for a bluff, I usually can convince myself that he must be on the bluff.  Unfortunately, a good spot to bluff is also a good spot to have the nuts and it is much less pleasant to call the latter.

I had a small piece of two great tourney players yesterday and I spent some of the evening on the rail watching them play and chatting in IRC with them.  There are a few people that when I talk poker to them I just feel like we are on the same wavelength a lot of the time.  Yankees31 is one of those guys.  I have a tiny piece of his FTOPS action and I was watching the first event he played.  He had a pretty good table where he was raising and stealing like a madman pre-flop.  He wound up showing a really weak blind steal and from then on he was facing a lot of three bets preflop.  This wasn’t really cramping his style too much and we were talking about what he had set-up perfectly.  His loose image was resulting in a ton of over-the-top moves from the guys on his left and we were just waiting for him to catch a big hand where he could double through.  He had been in the money for some time and was about triple his buy-in at that point.  A double was likely to take him into the big money.  Soon enough, the set-up paid off perfectly.  He raised from the Cut-off with Queens or Jacks and the Button came over him with Ace rag.  The three bet left the Button stuck to the pot and he had to call Yankee’s shove.  The carefully designed set-up played out perfectly and the 70% favorite became a 84% favorite by the turn.  Of course, the Ace fell on the river and Yankees was out and my dreams of a bazillion dollar payday were deferred a day or two.

I couldn’t play tourneys for a living.  You play great, you set everything up just right and the best you can hope for is an 80% favorite.  Plenty of time you are a 70% or even a 60% favorite.  Although it is great to get your money in good like that, the fact is that you are going to lose some of those.  If you get it in with one of each of those great situations, you will bust 64% of the time on one of them.  Even three pair over pairs are just a coinflip to win three of them.  Every really big win I’ve ever watched has had several big suckouts.  When Taz won the million, he won like three pair under pair battles.  When Matthew won the FTP 750k, he won a massive pot that should have knocked him out with T8 all-in preflop against AA.  Now both of those guys made their own luck and they played well in a million spots besides the suckouts, but they also needed a suckout or three to get it done.

I’m gearing up mentally to head out to Vegas and do some suckouts of my own.  WSOP Event #2 is 19 days away and my mind is filled with thoughts of tourney poker.

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