Monday, December 12, 2005

Welcome Back, Hungover Degenerate Bloggers

I would attempt to somehow craft an argument that I'm somehow better off for not having been in Vegas this weekend, as far as being well-rested and free from hangovers, but, umm, even I can't muster any pseudo enthusiasm for such a ridiculous claim. Congrats to Glyph for taking down the WPBT tournament. Nice job.

I managed to post a pretty damn good poker weekend and actually got a goodly amount of time in at the tables. In true flip-floppy fashion, most of my play was at the 10/20 and 20/60 6 max tables at Doyle'sRoom.

Yes, indeed, I have confessed on many occasions that I'm not the best shorthanded player in the world, but I started thinking about it, and reading about it, and I can't help but come to the conclusion that it's stupid to dodge it, just because I suck at it. It's pretty hard to avoid the fact that successful shorthanded play is more +EV than successful ring play, due simply to the fact that you see more hands, and have more opportunities to "succeed". If you're better than everyone else at the table, you want to play as many hands as possible, and be faced with as many difficult decisons as possible, as that's when your skill shines and is implemented.

If you see more hands, though, you'll inevitably be faced with more decisions, some of them quite difficult. So it follows that while shorthanded play will almost always be more profitable, it also requires a higher degree of skill, as you're routinely faced with hard choices and can't simply play on autopilot. The bar is actually higher shorthanded, as far as what you need up your sleeve to put it all together and play profitably.

It's that last one, ironically, that I think has been my biggest downfall in the past, as I'm really bad about multi-tasking while playing, doing any number of things in addition to playing poker. And honestly, I don't think that really matters, when you're playing 1-4 ring tables. Yes, paying close attention to players and reads is never a bad thing, and the multi-tasking obsessed likely sacrifice a little EV over the long haul, but the bulk your potential EV from ring games is pretty much exploiting the same situations, over and over and over. And by and large you can do that on auto-pilot after a certain point.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does sort of lead to the dread twins of boredom and stasis rearing their heads more frequently.

Shorthanded games, though, are pretty different beasts. Or should be, if you're playing correctly. With so many pots becoming heads up battles, reads become a lot more important, as you really do need to note if someone is a serial bluffer on the river, to the point that calling one final bet on the river with Q high is correct enough to be profitable.

It also follows that if you want to become a better poker player, you need to put yourself in a situation where you're faced with difficult decisions. If you play shorthanded, you face difficult decisions much more often. So the theory goes that you'll improve more as a poker player playing short than you will in ring games.

So that's all the good stuff. Like anything, there's also the not-good stuff, also known as bad shit.

Variance is pretty high, especially since you need to really amp up the aggression when playing short-handed. Put on your seatbelt, as it's a wild ride. You can't let the swings push you off what you know is correct play, no matter how far down (or up) you are.

You really need to have mastered the fine art of tilt control, as the perceived suckouts are more painful and occur with more frequency. One reason shorthanded play is so potentially profitable is that it attracts action junkies who aren't there to fold. A lot of your long term EV comes from exploiting that tendency and punishing people who play too many hands and play them too far. That said, players who play too many hands and play them too far are going to hit a decent amount of the time, in really frustrating ways. You're also getting more hands in per hour playing short, so the natural distribution of bad, annoying beats is also going to increase.

You also have to unlearn some lessons. Bluff check-raises suddenly become viable, as do bluff river raises on scary boards. Third pairs can become value river bets and slowplaying loses a lot of value, as people don't believe you anyway when you play fast, regardless of the board.

The biggest thing I currently struggle with (aside from avoiding the multi-tasking siren) is playing as aggressively as I know I should be. If the SB and BB are folding too often when you're on the button, you should open raise with any two cards and fire multiple later bullets, until they do something to make you stop. While I can absorb this intellectually, far too often I bail out in practice, unable to fire that turn bet, which is pretty key to the whole aggressively strategy, as far as causing the number of folds and uncontested pots you need to make such an aggressive strategy profitable.

I'm also not yet quite comfortable with my play against the obvious maniacs, as I far too often either degenerate into a mindless raising war with them or tighten up far too much, waiting for a monster to punish them with. Somewhere in there lies a middle ground I haven't yet found.

But yeah, 'tis interesting, and I'm enjoying exercising my poker brain again. There's not a whole lot of material out there specifically on shorthanded play, but you can find some decent stuff if you poker around. Mourn also just put up an nice intro guide, and PokerSweetHome also recently posted about shorthanded play, along with a collection of great links to other material on the Web.


Sparky said...

You describe it well. I'm learning about the short-handed games as well, on Titan. The maniacs are very frustrating.
Thanks for the links!

WillWonka said...

Yep, short handed is more and more seeming like the way to go. I also struggle there and have recently been working on this.

cc said...

One of the best posts I've read in quite awhile, specifically regarding confronting one's area of discomfort. I am significantly comfortable with full tables, whether I'm live or online. Being able to move (my words) from fear and frustration through competence to embracing is absolutely a terrific mentality. I thank you for your observations, and I'm going to really take this to heart.