Monday, June 13, 2005

What to think about while playing

I've been pretty absent minded lately in ring games. I have been alternating back and forth between small stakes No Limit Hold'em and small stakes Limit Hold'em, and also between live and online.

Thoughts on Limit Hold'em play
When switching from No Limit to Limit, I frequently find that I miss value bets on the river since I'm still in the mode of checking "good but not great" hands on the river in No Limit. I've got to stop missing these bets, especially againist non-tricky opponents.

There is a corollary to that scenario where you reach the river with the probable best hand, and you have 2 opponents. Based on the way the hand was played, only 1 of the opponents is likely to have made his/her draw. If that opponent only has enough chips for 1 bet (this can often be the case with poor players - good players usually have plenty of ammo), it is still okay to value bet on the river in any position unless you highly suspect you are beat. If that opponent is already all in, it is definitely correct to value bet on the river even if you are only likely to win the side pot.
Againist particularly poor players, you will often find that neither opponent had a draw and both were calling with some type of weak pair. It seems to me to be correct to bet in that scenario unless you are more than 67% sure the river has made your opponent's hand. (e.g. if there were 2 types of draws, and only one came in - particularly if a backdoor draw made it). I think less than 2/3 is the right ratio since you will likely win 2 bets if you are right, and lose only 1 if you are wrong (this is only true if you are sure the 2nd opponent is not capable of bluff raising you on the river which in my observation of live small stakes 6/12 play is quite rare, although much more common in online play). If you pay attention you will be able to figure out if your opponents will only chase with a draw, or if they will often chase weak pairs. If an opponent plays with weak pairs, it is also important to note what type of hands he/she shows down.

There can be several categories of weak pairs (on the river):
1. An unimproved overpair on a either a very coordinated board or a hand which has had excessive action on the flop and/or turn. (usually you detect this if your opponent raised or reraised preflop, was still aggressive on the flop, but seemed to switch into a check-calling mode on the turn or river; note AK unimproved is often played the same way, but given the right conditions AK unimproved may also pay off one more bet on the river - typically heads up)
2. An unimproved big pair such as KK or QQ that pays off all the way when an A flops or turns (again, typical rookie opponent shows a lot of aggression before the A shows up, and then goes into check calling mode - good players will naturally keeping betting until they are raised unless perhaps a large number of opponents called preflop)
3. An unimproved mid pair that will call all the way when the board has 1 or more overcards. (typcially either limps or raises preflop, and then calls all the way when the overcards come)
4. Top pair with a weak kicker. (usually either a player in the blinds or a player who plays any suited cards)
5. An underpair, like 22->55, calling all the way heads up. (This kind of thing happens an amazing amount of the time in heads up situations)
6. A weak pair 2->7 with an overcard (especially A) kicker (usually a poor player who plays any A or any K and sometimes any Q, or a player who plays any suited A or K and even any suited Q or J, or a player in the blinds or a player who posted.)
7. Any pair on the board with any kicker. (most often a poor player playing from the blinds or posting, or a poor player that plays any suited cards)

It is important to always remember the size of your opponents' stacks, or at least double check their stack size at some point during the hand (the earlier the better). This is useful when figuring what implied odds you are giving or taking on the flop and turn (very true in no limit, but also true in limit if any of your opponents have short stacks), and also in the earlier discussion regarding value betting on the river vs possible made hands.

By the way, I suppose that many of these guidelines are more relevant to live play compared to multitabling online because it requires acquiring a fairly substantial amount of info on your opponents characteristics. In live play, you should have the time to pay close attention to all of your opponents.

Pay attention to which players are capable of bluffing and which players ~never~ bluff!

It doesn't matter what your opponent ACTUALLY has
In general, you can't always guess exactly what your opponent has. However, if you pay enough attention, you should be able to determine a range of hands that he/she has. At each point in time that you need to make a decision, you have to consider what that range of hands is for each opponent still involved in the hand. The most extreme (although in many ways the simplest) scenario of this is the all in preflop situation in a No Limit tournament.
If you have the ability to correctly narrow down your opponents range of hands where your hand can beat the weighted average (Baysian analysis) of your opponent's likely hands, you should be giving action. However, don't get upset if your opponent turns up a hand that beats you. Over the long run, you will get the best of it.

The key seems to be determining the range of hands that your opponent will call with on the river. There are opponents that will call with 9 high if they think the pot will be chopped.

For example, in my earlier listing of the types of weak pairs, you will encounter poor players that will be involved at the river with ~all~ of those types of pairs. It is definitely correct to value bet on the river in a limit game against such an opponent even when the river completes one or more draws (unless you pick up a tell) and your opponent checks to you.

Another scenario I have recently been erring in is when playing against a fairly loose, but non-tricky opponent at small stakes limit hold'em where:
- I have only A high on the turn, but it is probably the best hand
- we are heads up
- my opponent will call on the flop w any draw as weak as a gutshot or 2 non-A overcards
I think in that situation I have to bet the turn, so long as I can be reasonably certain he will not check raise bluff or semibluff. Far too often I have been checking behind my opponent even if I have no draw.

Finally, I'm still occasionally making the mistake of showing a losing hand at the showdown when it is unnecessary. It is not the worst mistake in the world, but there is no need to give out free info.

One other thing I want to make a note on is that of game selection. If you are given a choice between two tables (live games), always check out which table looks softer. Anytime you are in a less than ideal game (let's say 2 or less very bad players and 2 or more good or very good players), you must keep your eyes open for a better game. Consider asking the floorman for a table change if any of the other tables at the same limit look better, or take an available seat at a softer game (regardless of the limits), or add you name to the board for a different limit.
Given the right time of day, there will often be situations when the majority of the players at the terrible play very poorly, so it is ridiculous to sit in a tough game when there are easier ones to be had. There will be times when you can drop down multiple limits and still be able to have a better hourly rate than the game you are currently in. Do not be too proud to step down in limits.

I know that I have been very hung up on fixing mistakes (leaks), so I think I shall start keeping statistics - namely the number of mistakes per time period (number of hands?) and the category of mistake. I will keep rolling averages so that I can see if I am improving or not.

Short term goal
I highly desire to improve the number of times I can correctly determine when I can bet a medium strength hand into poor players on the river that will pay off with a worse hand.

An update on my other goal of playing 10 consecutive hours at low limits without making any mistakes: I have yet to exceed 5 session hours without a mistake. It is harder than I thought to maintain my full concentration.

1 comment:

TRES CEE said...

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