Tuesday, March 8, 2011

#Winning: No...seriously. I really am.

Last weekend I moved my family of five (+2 large dogs) to a new house while I worked a sixty hour work week. I was rewarded with the nastiest case of strep throat I can remember having as an adult. With a chaotic new home of unpacked boxes and grumpy family, my buddy told me I hit Charlie Sheen status when I won the Venetian noon daily (102 entrant live MTT; $150 buy-in NLHE freeze-out) this past Thursday. Hey, Thursday is poker day!

Now that I am feeling better, my big move is over, and the frenzy of new patients at work is slowing down, I am finally getting my bearings together and resurfacing.

I write this as I am flying to Orlando to attend a conference hosted by National Healing. I don’t particularly enjoy traveling, but today I welcome the dead time as I have not had a chance for much introspection.

Since things have mellowed for me I am calmer and more relaxed than I have felt in a while. I have been seeing things in my life as much more positive. Although lately I have been thin on time and have played few tourneys, I have had solid results. I have cashed in more than a third of my entries, one being a POY ranked Deep Stack event 2 weeks ago and ,again, yesterday getting my first win at the Venetian noon daily.

In addition to having a better attitude, I credit my results to regularly playing the $2.20 - 180 entrant poker star NLHE MTT tourney. Although I still have shitty online results, I clearly perform better live when I am playing more online.

Yesterday was an adventurous day for me, as it was the first time I was ever in the position of being an overwhelming chip leader live (so much so that a chop was not ever mentioned). 10 handed at the final table I started out as chip leader with more than ¼ of the chips in play. With 5 players left and 765,000 chips in play I had well over 400,000. When I was heads up I had 700,000 and my opponent had 65,000. I took out 8 of my 9 opponents.

I don’t think I ever appreciated how ridiculously easy it is to play big stack poker. I bet and raised at a very high frequency basically pillaging the table at will. Winning the final table was virtually a cake walk…which I must admit took some of the fun out of it (really I’m not complaining). The tournament lasted about 9 hours (12:00 pm - 9:00 pm) without a dinner break. The first place prize was close to 4k.

It is worth looking back at the day and examining what allowed me to jockey myself into such a dominating position. Although I played well I have played better in the past.

I arrived around 20 minutes late for the tournament. My table draw was fairly soft, a few regular locals but more tourists than usual. I cannot over emphasize how important the table draw is to my success. Who is at the table and where they are located is critical. I want the tighter players to my left and the looser aggros (LAG) to my right. I can bet frequently into tighter players on my left and they will usually fold. When they don’t go away, or they fight back I can escape. Having an LAG to my left limits how often I can gear into a looser range as I will be three-bet more frequently and be put to a tough decision with a marginal holding. With an LAG to my right I now have the ability to pick and choose the pots I play against them and will usually do more flat calling. In general, the tighter the table the easier it is.

I was fortunate not to run into many loose aggros. Although I am getting much better at playing an LAG style, clearly I need a lot more work at playing LAG opponents. Playing well against opponents who adopt this style, in my opinion, makes for a superior poker player. LAG vs LAG is a battle of marginal hands. It is critical to be good at this in tournaments as there is simply not enough time to wait for monsters to pay you off. Winning these skirmishes requires a lot of post-flop play strength, bet pattern recognition, high level meta-thinking, and even being able to read more subtle tells. I am not sure that my ability to note detail or my attention span is strong enough to compete at some of the highest levels (at least yet), but I do think I can improve upon them significantly.

My very first hand in level 1 was a disappointing monster in where I flopped a nut straight but got no action. The first few levels I would say I got involved with 20-30% of the pots and won the majority, slowly doubling my stack from 7,500 to 15,000 by level 3-4.

A key hand that frightened my opponents occurred not long after the table was in a momentum of showing me resistance.I had been check raised a couple of times I was c-betting post-flop with air.

Notable Hand #1; level 3; 100-200 blinds.

I am in the BB with 10-7 off. I have a 14k stack.

Everyone folds to button, who is a 65+ male that is a little steamy after being cut down to 4,000 chips from a recent bad beat. He limps. SB completes and I check.

Flop A-10-10. Pot: 600

Almost every flop I have fired a slightly more than half pot bet out, regardless of what I have had. It is rare that I slow play. I almost never do it. The more I think about it, when I check raise these days I am almost always bluffing. Since my betting frequency is high, I have a lot of call equity and im looking to get paid off well.

SB checks
I lead out with 400.
Button calls and a SB folds.
Turn is a blank. Pot: 1400

At this point I believe he has a weak Ace (ie AJ or worse) or a smaller pocket pair. He would have likely raised preflop if it was stronger. Im not much worried about him having a better 10 as it is very unlikely, and if he has it, oh well, bad luck for me. Mostly I imagine he just doesn’t believe that I have anything based on my previous play.

River is a blank. There are no straights or flushes. Only possibility that he has me beat is that he is slow playing a small set that gave him a boat or he has a bigger 10. I still feel it is much more likely he has a small pair or a weak ace and thinks Im full of shit. I cease the opportunity to get value from my hand and bet 1200.
He calls quickly.

I show my 10. At that point he just stared at the board, much like someone stares in the refrigerator as if they looked long enough something good will suddenly materialize from thin air.

He mucks and I never know what he had for sure. The true value was not the pot but the fear instilled in the rest of the table as now I should have them guessing a bit more. This is a strong psychological edge that needs to be used with wider ranged aggression.

At about level 6 or so I was moved to a new table with about 20k in chips, a healthy above average stack. I was the chip leader at my previous table but get no such fortune here. The table is much younger and the stacks are much bigger. To my right I have a solid tight player and to my left I have a strong LAG opponent. Although I was able to make a few moves and keep my head above water, the LAG player to my left smacked me around a bit with hefty 3-bets that forced me to fold my marginal opens.

It was time for me to shift gears to tight aggressive, which interestingly has been difficult to do lately. I have been trying so hard to avoid the nitty, sit and wait for the nuts, that I forget the importance of having adaptable gears when the environment changes. I locked down my range and stagnated until I was moved to a new table.

At the new table around level 9 or 10 I was below average with about 18k. The table had some huge stacks and I remained in lock-down. Although I had hit a few good flops the best pre-flop hands I had all day at this point were 88 and AQ. The big hole cards never came and I was forced to loosen up and open raise in late position with broadway cards and weak Aces. Having a nitty image, in a field that was getting tighter, worked well as the majority of my raises went uncontended. The stack directly to my left was the tourney chip leader, and he was clearly playing too tight and folded to me a number of times. I was able to build a stack slowly up to about 30k doing this.

My big break came when UTG+1 , who has me well covered, raised 2.5x and I was on the button with pocket 4s and flat called. Although ideally I'm looking for a set, the blinds are big enough that I am not getting the odds to win 9x my chips back (as you will flop a set about 1/9 times). I negotiated the call as I imagined there were other ways win without a set. My strategy depended on the board. Post flop I will either be dominated or way ahead...so I plan to tread lightly, but firmly.

1. If the board has broadway cards and he was to lead out I fold.
2. If the board has broadway cards and he checks I bet, if I meet resistance I am done with the hand
3. If the board has small cards and he checks I bet
4. If the board has small cards and he bets I raise. If the raise doesn’t stop him I have to stop myself.

My decisions were pretty easy when I flopped a set that I didn’t need. The board was 10-4-2 rainbow and he led out with a huge over bet. Now I was praying that he had a big pocket pair. I counted out the chips needed to call his raise and used a little theatrics to suggest that If I am going to call I will just have to pot commit myself now. I reluctantly go all in and he snap calls with AK. Love it. I hold and now have a very healthy stack over 70k. A set made in a late level is usually gold.

At this point I simply slid back into a loose aggressive gear and easily picked up 2-3 blinds per orbit on average, took a couple of decent size post-flop pots, and took out a short stack with AQs. I finally hit some big hole hand like AA and QQ but got zero additional value, as I got no preflop action.I met serious resistance less than a third of the time.

I had close to 200,000 chips when I started the final table. I stayed very aggressive open raising atleast 30% pre-flop 2.5x. The few times my opponents shoved back it wasnt a big deal folding a marginal hand. They began opening their shove range so much that I was able to call with medium pairs and Aces down to 10. I got my chips in good every time and stacked people with hands like AQ, AJ, 99, 77. When it was heads up it was all-in every hand and A3 ended it.

In addition to things going well (ie not getting unlucky) I think my biggest improvement was my ability to change gears more fluidly.

I'll be at it again next Thursday afternoon and hope I can pull off another deep run.

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