Saturday, March 31, 2007

Craig's Poker Tip #1: 2-3 offsuit is not a very good hand

Well I played in the Hollywood Park "Sport of Kings" $200 NL HE tournament, my first tournament in awhile and busted out early, but I think there may be something instructional in my donkeyesque play so I figured I'd post about it here.

Apparently the secret is out that one of the keys to success in multi table tournaments is to play super tight early, because the table I sat down at was indeed super tight, although I expected some aggression from the looks of my opponents. In fact, most people folded pre-flop even if there was no raise in the first round. The only sort of exception was the kid directly to my left who looked like he had just stepped off the court of the Ohio State-Georgetown game, who was fairly tight but also pretty aggressive, he would come into any pot for at least 5 times the big blind, any raise he made was usually big enough to end the hand, and he called off a substantial amount of chips with QQ on a board of 8h 3s Ks 7d 8d to a player holding 8s 7s.

In any case, although I had INTENDED to play super tight myself, the table was so rocky that I decided to switch gears and get aggressive. A few sample hands (blinds are 25/25 for all hands):

I have Qs 6s on the button and Jerry Buss makes it $100. Normally I would throw this hand away but I have seen Buss play a lot and felt like I could outplay him after the flop. The flop came Qh 3c 4c. Buss bet another 100 and I called. The turn was Ts. Buss checked, I bet 300, Buss folded.

I have 99 in the SB. One player in middle position limps and I make it 125. Ohio State calls and Middle Position starts seriously sweating me. Finally he makes the call. The flop comes Ace high. I check, Ohio St checks, and MP checks. The turn is a rag and I bet out 300. Ohio St folds quickly and MP starts sweating me again. Finally after about five minutes he mucks JJ face up. "Good laydown," I say as I collect the pot. "Yeah I put you on a big ace, I was considering going all-in pre-flop" he replies.

I have 5s 7d in middle position. I limp and an early position player makes it 100 more. Feeling invincible, I call. The flop comes Kd 6d 9d. He checks and I bet out 300. He mucks JJ (no diamond) face up. "Jacks are a tough hand to play," I offer sympathetically as I rake in the chips.

All this set up my Mike Matusow blow up. Before the tournament started, I overheard an experienced tournament player suggest "sometimes in late position you should play small cards. If they hit, no one expects it, and if the flop comes all low cards, you can be pretty confident it didn't hit an early position raiser."

Why I'm incorporating new advice received 5 minutes before a tournament I don't know, but this is what was going through my mind when an early position player who hadn't played any hands raised to 150 and I was staring down at 2 3 off suit in the Cutoff. I called, and Ohio St. called behind me. The flop came 2 4 T of mixed suits. Early Position bet 150 which I was positive was a continuation bet. I called (maybe I should have raised), and Ohio St. called. The turn was a 5, and Early Position checked. I was confident I had him beat and bet 1000 (I meant to bet 600, a 500 chip and a 100 chip, but I had just made change for somebody and had an extra 500 chip which I didn't realize and threw two 500 chips in instead). Unfortunately I forgot a cardinal tournament rule which is that even if you've got a dead read on the guy in front of you, you can't act on it if you don't know what the guy behind you will do. Ohio St. Hollywooded it a bit to try to get Early Position to call, then called all-in and turned over A3 for the wheel. No A or 6 came to save me and I was crippled. I went on tilt after that and finally moved in with A4 suited vs AJ which held up to knock me out.

It seems like there are a few good lessons here:

Playing garbage cards is not so dangerous because of the pre-flop cost, but because of the cost post-flop if you can't get away from the hand.

2-3 off suit is not a strong hand (Thank you!)

No matter how good your read is on the player in front of you, if someone is behind you you can't make a move based on that read.

Don't get overconfident early in a tournament even if you take down a few pots.

Sooner or later someone who is playing tight will wake up with a big hand.

Perhaps people have others, I'd love to hear.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Passivity Pays?

I ran into a guy I used to know from New York the other day, and as often happens in such situations, I ended up in a random poker game at 3 AM. I lost $40 in the usual way, (1) I get Q6, limp, flop Q 6 3, I move all in, get called by AQ, turn is an A;(2) I get AK, someone bets, someone raises, I go all-in, get called by Td9d(!) board comes T 7 A 3 T, etc.) But what was interesting was what happened with one player, who I'll call Player "X".

Player X could have been right out of a classic sitcom. You know him, he's the guy who comes to the game saying "oh, I just learned how to play and what beats what." He's the guy who never seems to know when it's his turn to act. He's the guy who sends the cards flying whenever he tries to shuffle. And he's the guy who walks off with everyone's chips.

What was particularly interesting though, was the strategy he used to win all the chips, which was this. He never raised. Ever. Even if he had a monster and was last to act on the river, he did not raise. If he was the first to act, he would never bet. He was pretty much the classic calling station, letting everyone do the betting for him.

This had a twofold effect. First, before anyone caught on, he won massive pots by showing weakness all through the hand, then picking off huge bluffs on the river. Since he took a long time to call and then never raised, no one put him on the flopped flush or two pair or full house that he often seemed to have when someone tried to move him off the pot on the river.

Second, once everyone caught on, no one knew how to play him. Anytime he would call a bet, anyone else who was in the hand would slow down, knowing the call could mean he just had no idea where he was in the hand, or it could mean he had a monster. On one hand, three queens flopped, and the two people in against this player both made full houses, and neither of them would put in a chip, quite certain Player X had the fourth queen, even when he checked on the river. Using this "strategy" this player amassed over $100 in a 50 cent/$1 no limit game with a $20 initial buy-in.

Who says you need to be aggressive to win at No Limit?