Saturday, September 18, 2010

Texas Hold'em: To Be Great - Learn

I'm the kind of guy who has to eventually be great at something if I'm ever going to pick it up to start with.  I've always been this way.  It's no fun to be bad at things, so I will only pick something up if I think I have a chance to be great.  By "great," I mean being among the best (not necessarily THE best).

I started playing Texas Holdem about 3 years ago and at that time, I was just playing to hang out with the guys and have some fun.  I didn't know how much I would love it though.  In keeping with wanting to be among the best at things, I'm very competitive by nature.  That's just part of wanting to be great at things.

Anyways - poker.  I do want to be great at poker.  I still remember the first No Limit Hold'em "tournament" that I won.  There were 18 players at 2 tables.   I made the final table and eventually won.  I took a picture of all of the chips and I still have that picture.  That was it for me.  I beat some really good Holdem players that night and I wanted to win more.

Since that night, I've spent a lot of time playing poker and even more time studying poker (especially No Limit Texas Hold'em).  I realized very early that if I ever wanted to be great, I needed to seriously LEARN to play like great players.  To learn to be a really great poker player, I do all of the following things farely regularly.

1.  I play 3 live poker games every week.

2.  I watch poker almost every time it's on TV.  If I can't see it "live," I always record it to watch later.

3.  I search the internet for other poker blogs to learn about how others play and think about poker.

4.  I search the internet for poker educational sites.  There are lots of them out there that are really good.

5.  I study the guys that I play with and I pay close attention to the way they create success at the table.

6.  I spend time weekly reflecting on my own game.  I tend to be brutally honest with my own game play.

7.  I play online weekly at  Playing several hundred hands per week keeps me on my game and improves my Friday Night Poker games.

8.  I even have a Texas Hold'em app on my Blackberry.

Texas Hold'em is like everything else when it comes to being great.  You have to learn the trade (so to speak), and there is a lot to learn:  The basic rules, winning hand hierarchy, basic and advanced strategies, statistical odds, and more.  This will take a lot of time, but if you really love doing anything, it's worth it.

Texas Hold'em: It Helps to Hit Good Cards

OK, so I said I was going to leave stupid at home last night when I went to play poker, and I did.  Looking back on the night, I can't remember one stupid move (on my part).  I was back to making calculated plays, at times even reminding myself not to play stupid.  There were 9 people there last night, whereas usually we have 8.  So, the card "rotation" was changed slightly.  We also used 2 new decks.  I'm not necessarily saying that these 2 factors had anything significant to do with the outcome of the games because we had winners in all 3 games.  I'm just pointing out that we had some (minor) changes last night.

What I am saying is that sometimes even if you avoid playing stupid, you still need to get good cards at least some of the time.  You need good cards in your hand with matching good cards on the board (at least sometimes).  Last night, I got junk hole cards in what seemed like 80% of my hands.  In statistics there is a term called "mode".  This is the thing that happens most frequently - not an average - just the thing that happens more often that anything else.  Well unbelievably, my "mode" cards were 2-7 off.  I got that ugly combination 4 times in the 2nd game and 3 times in the 1st game.  I also got 2-7 suited twice.  Ordinarily that wouldn't necessarily be such a big deal because that kind of stuff happens.  However, on top of getting 2 7 nine times, I also got just about every junk card combination you can think of.  8-2, 9-2, 9-3, 8-3, 6-3, and on and on and on.

An undisciplined player might get tired of folding and just start playing those cards.  Believe me, it was tempting, but then what?  Those are the worst statistical starting hands in poker.  You could get lucky from time to time, but more often than not, you're just going to lose.  I played patiently, folding one hand after another.  And, I played frustrated, which like I've said before, is part of the formula to losing.  I would occasionally get some decent starting hands:  Q-J off, J-J, 9-10 suited, A-7 suited.  Those never worked out for me though.  It just wasn't my night.  In Texas Hold'em, even the best players (and I am not one of those guys yet) need to get cards to at least build some momentum.

So, I got off the short-lived losing streak in game 3 with a win, but it wasn't very significant to me.  Only 5 of us stayed for the final game, so I only had to deal with 4 other players instead of 8.  I started hitting cards with a smaller card rotation and 1 of the guys had more than a few beers in games 1 and 2, so getting his chips wasn't the hardest thing I've ever had to do.  It was a win, but it wasn't a good win.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Friday Night Poker: 2 of Me

In the last couple of weeks, I've been 2 players.

One of me has been patient, calculated, and in a zone.  The other just plays stupid!  Tomorrow, I plan on leaving stupid at home.  The stupid player has been distracted and unable to recognize the habits of my opponents.  The stupid me makes bets with reckless abandon and without regard to what I know my opponents will do as a result.

So, I plan on taking the patient, calculated version of me to Friday Night Poker.  That person understands the other players at the table.  I'm going to understand that one guy will make huge bets with absolutely nothing and another guy's going to bet his top pair every time.  A couple of guys are going to "know" I have them beat, but call me anyways.  One guy is going to play complete wild-ass poker.  Nobody will be able to predict him and another guy is going to bet huge on huge hands and then warn you not to call.  Another guy will play it fairly straight, but throw in a bluff here and there, but if you call and raise, he might just fold.  And finally, one really good player is going to make you make decisions for lots of your chips.  Build him up and then God help you because nobody else will be able to.

But me?  I'm just going to recognize my opponents and play accordingly.  I might play aggressive at times and tight at others.  I might have a hand, but then again, maybe not.  Maybe those are pocket Jacks, but you never really know - maybe it's Aces or maybe it's just KQ off.  There's a couple of guys that I won't be losing to tomorrow and there's a couple of guys that will give me a run for my money.  I show up to play with those guys.

I had all week to think about tomorrow.  I've been extremely distracted lately, but tomorrow - I'm bring the one of me that doesn't play stupid.  If I lose tomorrow, it's because the other guys brought their A games.  I look forward to a table full of A games.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Worst Strategy in Poker

Last night's strategy in Friday Night Football was LOSING.  I don't recommend it.  I want to be the first to tell you that winning is way better than losing.  The game though just didn't seem serious or real.  The host player wasn't there.  We couldn't figure out how to work the Texas Holdem computer program.  Guys weren't very serious during game play.  4 players showed up late.  Once the game finally got going good, I just played unfocused and stupid.  I lost that game with a full house and was beaten by a bigger full house - figures.

In game 2, we lost 2 players.  I ended up having to deal for both dealers (we use 2 dealers to speed up the game), and I tried not to let that be a distraction, but it just was.  I played OK in that game, but I went out in 3rd place - no money, but lots of stupid play.

Game 3 - not even worth talking about really, except that my rule of understanding the other players at the table didn't really get used.  I played as if a couple of the guys wouldn't call all of my bets.  I had pocket 8's, but one of the guys said he thought I had pocket K's (and there was another K on the flop), so I played my supposed set.  I made a couple of huge bets and he called.  By then, I was totally pot-committed (which is a term that I hate because it can be trouble), so I went all-in.  Guess what?  He called.  His 2 pair beat my pocket 8's.  I deserved to lose, but I was shocked that he made that call.  I'm not sure if that was just a very gutsy call or a potential mis-play, but either way, he got me.

Where was my head last night?  If you see it, please return it.

Lesson:  Losing is the Worst Strategy in Poker

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Texas Holdem: Sick Winning Streak

In the last few months, I've been winning - period.  I'm winnng on-line.  I'm winning in Friday Night Poker.  I'm winning when I'm not interested in the game.  I'm winning when I'm badly distracted.  I'm winning when I get bad to medium hands.  And last night, I won when I couldn't miss.  I got 2nd, 1st, 1st last night.  My hands last night were so lucky that I was embarrarssed to keep winning.  I even folded what would have turned out to be great hands, including a full house.  The thing about getting cards though is that you have to play them right.  I wrote a while back about not mis-playing hands: 

Well, I can only think of maybe 1 or 2 hands that I mis-played last night.  Most of my moves last night were on purpose, meaning that even when I made questionable calls, it was for a reason.  For example, I played a couple of hands all the way to the river and made small raises and straight calls and lost the hands because I didn't even have a pair.  That was sort of my way of mixing up so the other guys don't "figure me out" like they used to all the time.  There's a guy that I play with that I swear sometimes he can see my cards before I do.  In recognition of this, I have to try to keep him guessing.

I had a couple of other winning hands that I might have folded in the past.  In one of them, I hit the straight on the river.  I wasn't chasing the river.  The bets made just weren't big enough to get me off my hand and I hit.  The river card was the 3rd club on the board and my opponent made a big bet THAT I DIDN'T BELIEVE.  So, I went with my gut and made the successful call.  In another hand, I had A J suited and the board paired 7's and some other small cards.  It was checks on the flop and checks on the turn (keeping me in the hand) and then my opponent bet the river.  I quickly calculated the odds of what I thought he had and found that the odds were against him, so I made the call and won.  He also had an Ace in his hand with a smaller kicker.

I know the way I've been winning lately has to be frustrating for the guys I play with.  I would be frustrated if I was them.  Then again, frustration is a weakness in poker because it brings a loss of focus, but it's hard to avoid sometimes.  Right now, I'm questioning my poker ability because this kind of winning makes me wonder how much of my success is pure luck.  I'm happy to have it on my side for as long as possible, but in the bigger picture, luck isn't why I want to win.  I'm going to be re-evaluating my actual skills over the next week.  Some of the guys I play with are too good for me to hope for luck each time I set down.  I want to be good enough to play with anyone.  I'm not there yet and that's going to be my focus.

This has been a sick streak though.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lessons From Poker Boredom

I played 2 no-money full tilt poker tournaments in the last 2 days.  I got 6th place out of 90 players last night and 11th tonight.  11th sucks, but the 6th was OK.  In both of these tournaments, I was completely bored and uninterested.  I have no idea how I made it to the final table last night and I don't know why I lasted to #11 tonight.  If someone would have just played their B game early on, I probably would been gone.

I play these free tournaments during the week just so I can get some practice and see a bunch of poker hands.  In doing this, I've made 18 final tables in the last 6 or so months.  I know, I know - there's no money at stake in these games.  I understand the implications of playing for cash.  I do that weekly too.  These are just for practice.

Anyways, in the last 2 nights, I played bored and uninterested for an average finish of 8.5 out of 90 (basically the top 10%).  Reading players in these free, on-line poker tournaments is pretty interesting.  If you're paying just a little attention, you can figure a lot out about your opponents.  Chasers are the easiest to find.  2 clubs on the board, turn card is a heart - shut down.  Top pair, huge bet.  Check the flop, check the turn, hit your card on the river - bet.  Hit your flush on the flop (while holding 9-3 of hearts) and then check to the river.  Really man?  Listen, I'm not one of those jerks that's going to talk trash to you for playing your game.  Believe me, plenty of others will though.  You just won't be too hard to beat.  That's all.

The psychology of poker is my favorite part of the game and online poker can be great for picking up a players betting habits.  Play several hundred or several thousand hands just to pick up on these habits and then use that understanding when you're playing in your home game.  How about that - poker boredom can be educational too.