Thursday, December 16, 2004

Aggressive Poker

I'm still flying in a nice little holding pattern in poker, grinding out nice gains at assorted levels. I couldn't follow through on my original plan to cut back on the bonus chasing in December and focus on single-tabling 5/10. I think bonus chasing is in my genes, and, more importantly, I enjoy it. I'm probably leaving money on the table in the long-run by continuing to bounce around sites, multi-tabling microlimits of 1/2 and 2/4, but I'm still hitting weekly profit goals and still having fun.

It's interesting, taking stock of your game periodically, especially when you couple that with tools like PokerTracker and blogs. It's easy to overlook one of the huge benefits of keeping a poker blog, which is, quite simply, having a record of your thoughts over time. Yes, vanity is cool, plugging into a larger community is cool, building friendships that would otherwise never exist is cool, but the real value, if you're serious about improving your game, is being able to pull back and see the evolution of your thoughts and game over time.

Tight, aggressive poker wins. There's no doubting that. But as much as we read that and underline it in our Sklansky books, it's hard to maintain it in our games. Playing tight and aggressively goes against many natural instincts, especially those of the general type of people drawn to poker to begin with. If you like to gamble you're constantly fighting the urge to play less than premium starting cards. If you excel at games of skill and logic you're constantly fighting the urge to constantly engage the maniacs and idiots at your table, eager to display your superior skills.

Compounding the frustration is even when you're a good tight, aggressive poker monkey and bide your time, 25% of the time the flop will absolutely destroy what you just thought was a premium hand that you raised it up with. Someone bets, someone raises, and you muck your hand and sit there, folding hand after hand, for another orbit or two.

Tight, aggressive poker wins. It just does. But it's a constant fight, for me at least, and I still can't say I always end up on top. That said, I can definitely chart improved results in my game with dedicated efforts to banish the conservative, weak tight mouse lurking within me. And I can pluck a few individual examples from those efforts that seem to have paid off with the most bang for the buck.

  • One thing that's helped me immensely is multi-tabling. That seems a bit counter-intuitive ay first but I think it's important, for the vast majority of us. If you're very, very patient and disciplined then you have no problem mucking non-premium after non-premium starting hand. I'm not that patient. Multi-tabling helps me curb that impatience and not get involved in pots with marginal, trouble starting hands, since you see more total hands and don't have to wait as long for a playable hand. For me, multi-tabling also streamlines the decision making process and, as a by product, play more aggressively. Do I have a hand? No. Fold and move on to the next table. Yes? Raise.

  • "Call" is a dirty word. Yes, I know, in many cases calling is correct, but by and large if you choose to play two cards and the flop improves your hand, you need to raise. If you find yourself often thinking "Well, I've got a good hand, and it's probably the best, but I really don't want to raise," then you need to re-think what starting hands your playing. If you're going to play J10d and the flop comes Qd 9s 2d and someone bets, you have to raise. Why else were you playing J10d and what else could you possibly be hoping for? If it's not a hand you feel comfortable raising you should likely fold. The margin of error you make by raising when you should fold (or folding when you should raise) is usually miniscule; the margin of error of calling when you should raise or fold is often much larger.

  • Don't fear the check-raise. Too often in the past I would slow down when a scary flush or straight card hit on the river, potentially wrecking my likely best hand up to that point. Bah. If you're not getting check-raised you're not playing aggressively enough and not getting the most value from your winning hands. Being proud of never getting check-raised is like being proud of never being hungover.

  • Don't assume you're beaten. If it's a big pot and one more bet to you on the river (and you're reasonably sure it'll just be one more bet), call. This is one of the few times that call isn't a dirty word. Remember, everyone else is reading the same Sklansky/Miller/et al books and amping up their aggression, firing away with overcards even when the board misses them. Calling one last bet on the river when you're likely beaten isn't a sucker bet. It's the correct call, as it only takes one of those big pots to slide your way to make the other nine losing calls a profitable play.

  • Don't overcomplicate things. If you have a hand, bet it. Yes, I know, slow-play monsters, blah blah blah, but it's easy to fall in love with the tricky play. It also calls attention to yourself, if anyone at the table is half-aware. You can't discount anyone holding anything at low-limit Internet poker (and calling to the river with it) and it's easy for a slow-play to bite you in the ass.

  • Play the chair, not the player. Position is very important in every form of poker. In brick and mortar poker, the person sitting in it is also very important, as far as demeanor, possible tells, etc. Not so in Internet poker. Unless you're using PokerTracker and other applications to give you real-time stats on the player (based on a sufficient number of their hands in your database), don't try to come to any conclusions as to whether they're a maniac, a calling station, etc. You don't have enough information to make that judgment. Odds are someone else will be in that seat in thirty minutes anyway. Only in very extreme cases (they obviously don't know how to play, are obviously tilting, etc.) should you alter your game based on a read of the player. Otherwise just play the chairs and focus on your own game, your own cards.

  • Don't bet when you have nothing to gain and/or a call means you're beaten. You limp in on the button with Kd 10d and three others limp in. The flop comes Ad 2c 6h. Checked to you and you check. Flop is 8c. Checked to you, you check. River is 10h. Checked to you. Do you have the best hand? Very likely. Should you bet? Hell no. If you bet, odds are everyone will fold and you'll take the pot. Which is exactly the same size pot you'll win if you check and your hand is best. You gain nothing by betting the majority of the time. If you bet and get called, odds are some passive player had an A with a weak kicker, or one of the blinds had a junk hand like 10 2 or 10 6. Someone might even be slowplaying a set. The very rare occasions that someone calls with a hand that you can beat don't occur often enough to make the bet a good play.
  • 1 comment:

    RoXxX said...

    I enjoyed your post, as a consistent tight-aggro, I can easily identify with it. You ever find the tight-aggro style tough to play in tournies? Good luck at the tables