Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Find Your Groove

(Jesus christos, alert the authorities, he's actually about to talk about poker.)

While it's impossible to really isolate any one thing I've been doing lately that has contributed to a nice extanded run at the tables, there are a few primary culprits. I've already discussed the newfound belief in the quasi-Zen poker philosophy of whatever, but the other main difference I see in my play is a little more sticky.

Despite a nice initial run, I ended up flailing around pretty futilely at my first full-time stab at playing shorthanded LHE. The frustrating part was that I'd obsessively read forums and blogs devoted to shorthanded play, watch successful players play, grind over my PokerTracker stats, and I kept coming to the conclusion that I just wasn't that far off from where I should be, according to popular wisdom. Yet I kept getting my teeth kicked in, consistently, by overaggressive monkeys that just mash the raise button, over and over and over.

Absinthe does a much better job that I ever could in his recent Suicide Pact posts of describing the particular opponent that frustrated me, and kept taking my lunch money. I'd get bashed, return to the shorthanded forums at 2+2, read many hand histories and comments, and convince myself that I couldn't just let opponents like that push me around, that I had to overcome my natural lack of uber aggression and just get in there and bash with them.

Then suddenly I'd find myself with K6o on the river, with the action on me and holding K high, after having shoved in many, many bets against an overaggressive lemur that would literally play any two cards the way he had played it, thinking "Fuck me, how do I keep ending up in uncomfortable spots like this, where I'm unhappy with any decision I make?"

Looking back, the problem wasn't so much in how I was playing, since I was subscribing to a general style of play that has proven successful for many players. The problem was that it wasn't a style I was really comfortable with, and one that I had little faith in. I could buy into it intellectually, but it was a pretty empty faith.

Lately I've had a lot of success with a more passive style in shorthanded/heads-up games. I'd go into the boring details, but, umm, they're boring. The important part is that it's a style of play that's a hybrid approach that I'm comfortable with, even if I know that theoretically I'm leaving a tiny amount of money on the table by not always taking K high to the river versus an overaggressive opponent that could be holding any two cards.

Being comfortable leads to much less frustration, which leads to fewer bad plays. While it's impossible to quantify, I can't help but think that the reduction of bad plays makes up for the EV I'm sacrificing by not capping with middle pair, crappy kicker on the flop versus your typical uber aggressive heads-up monkey.

The ultimate measuring stick of the "correct" way to play a given hand isn't always as black and white as we like to imagine. While the cold hard numbers might back a certain play, in any given hand, we're kneecapping ourselves in the long run if making that play is difficult for us, especially if the net gain is very, very marginal.

I realize that the above is heresy to the push-any-edge-no-matter-how-marginal crowd, and I understand that there's no argument I can muster to refute that line of thinking. But the more I play the more I realize that most of your +EV come from a very basic set of knowledge and skills, plus a large dose of being able to stay in the zone where you play your best. And that the zone can vary pretty widely from person to person, and includes all sorts of factors beyond whether it's mathematically +EV to raise with 77 from UTG at a full ring table.

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