Saturday, June 11, 2005

Inflection Points

I've definitely scaled back on the online play significantly after withdrawing the majority of my online funds, but I left a little in there to satisfy the cravings and such. Perhaps too little, as what was there is now gone thanks to a couple of legitimately bad beats and a few legitimately bad plays at Party's 25NL tables. Largely typical hands... I won't bore you with details. On a nice note, I did nab my first ever royal flush for good profit last week.

It's weird coming home from work or whenever and not sitting down and killing two or more hours at the tables, but largely I'm getting used to the idea. For about a year now, I've been consumed by the game... who can say how much time they think about a particular subject during a given time period? All I know is that I've spent a lot of time at work, in the car, in the shower... thinking about the game, and now that I'm playing very little, I think that the time I spend contemplating things might surprisingly take on new emphasis and bear significant results.

I've been thinking *a lot* about the latest buzz of "inflection points" which I first recently read about thanks to DoubleAs, PokerNerd, and others. There was a mild epiphany of sorts when I dug into the idea. Mostly, I realized that a lot of the mechanical moves that players make (myself certainly included), are made because a player read a book, or read something on the Internet that told them to do so. You read about a concept, like raising pre-flop with good starting hands like AQ, it makes sense to you, and you go out and try to apply it and expect to use it to rake some pots... and you very well may, but blindly following what seems like good advice can also lead to serious leaks.

The symptom that I've noticed in myself recently, lies in taking this seemingly good advice from various sources (like the extremely generic example above of pre-flop raising with AQ) and using it to justify plays that are made with no clear purpose other than to do what almost everyone says you should. You've got to raise that AQ pre-flop to get a handle on your opponents' strength... push out the J8o's that can flop two pair and lucky straights... and hope to play it right from there. That sounds good on paper, at least, and a lot of the time that may actually be the correct play, depending on the situation.

The other angle I'm taking a long time to get at, is that you really need to think about pressure/inflection points to better understand why you're betting and raising and when. The best example I can come up with is the AQ... if you raise it pre-flop, and your image isn't that of a loose cannon, then it's certainly going to be one of the hands that your opponent(s) may put you on. Then you see a seemingly good flop of AT2 rainbow... if you bet here, against reasonable opponents, the most likely outcomes are either 1) you win a small pot right here when your opponents fold, or 2) you get called/raised and may very well be beat right here by AK, AT, TT, 22 or get beat by a lot of other hands on the turn or the river that make two-pair, broadway straights, who knows what... against your top-pair-strong-kicker. And we didn't even talk about flush possibilities.

But if we back up to the pre-flop and flop action... depending on the number of players in the hand (and if this is tournament play, the stack sizes and blinds), perhaps limping/checking/calling is a better way to prolong the inflection point of the hand until you have more information, and may net a safer and larger pot. So you limp/call from the SB and you and the BB see the AT2 flop... you check, and your opponent checks behind you. The turn brings a harmless 9, and now you decide to bet out. Odds are, that your opponent is unlikely to put you on what you actually have. He or she is likely to think you're trying to pick up the pot based on their flop check, or that you may have paired the Ten or 9, or even that you're betting on a straight or flush draw. What's more, by seeing the turn card so cheaply, you've prolonged the inflection point until you have obtained more information, namely, the turn card. At this point, you may get a call/raise out of your opponent if they paired, if they have a draw, or even if they suspect a bluff. If you get called, then the inflection point has likely been postponed until the river (where you gain more information). Depending on what the river card may be (wouldn't an Ace be nice?) you can either back down or hit the gas. Sometimes you'll get beat, and you'll think you should have raised pre-flop or bet the flop... but by playing the hand the way I described above in the right situation against the right opponent you're giving yourself as much information as possible by seeing all 5 board cards, as well as your opponent's actions on every street. And more information equals easier/better/more profitable decisions.

Conventional thinking has always told me to play a hand like that for a raise pre-flop, and then bet out on a flop like the one above... but what happens when you are called or raised? Pretty soon you're caught investing 20% of your stack on top-pair-strong-kicker on the turn, and who knows how much more on the river. Can you fold a hand like that? Against a lot of specific opponents that I play or have played against, my answer tends to be "no", and that can be costly. Outplaying opponents is about gaining information street after street and playing your hand based on that information, especially early in a tournament where you're usually less concerned about winning chips as you are about not losing them. Save the risky plays for later.

By seeing all streets and prolonging the pressure/inflection point of a hand, you're giving your opponent more opportunities to make mistakes. Against opponents who are paying attention, playing just one hand this way to showdown can lead to a wonderful cautiousness later when they get involved with you. Your check does not mean it's okay to go ahead and bet, and your bet may very well mean that they should fold.

I know there's probably a lot I'm missing about this inflection point theory, and I also realize that I'm probably lumping a few other concepts under the same heading above which really aren't specifically about inflection points (like keeping pots small early in tournaments, managing table image, and being deceptive). Dan Harrington's new book is said to have some good in-depth coverage of the subject, which I look forward to reading later this summer.

In short, I think I've found a key area to really work on, and that is having a reason for every move I make, as well as thinking ahead in a hand at least one street. It sounds so terribly novice to admit that I've realized that up until recently my game was largely a matter of reaction: see your cards, do something... see the flop, do something. And far too often that "something" was a mechanical move devoid of much thought or true purpose.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Summer Break

For a variety of reasons, I'm going to be taking (at least) June off from poker, at least of the online variety. I'll still be playing in the local league games and possibly a few other places offline.

Partly, I'm stepping away for a while because I just need a break. Poker is one hell of a hard way to make easy money, and recent waves of bad beats and a fair share of bad plays on my part have taken a modest toll. It's getting tiring spending all this energy and time and not achieving the level of results that I think *should* be there, but isn't. Coming up on a year, and I feel like 10 times the poker player I used to be, yet 1/10 of the player I need to be.

I've got a few big certification tests coming up that I need to devote time towards, as well as a few tables to build, and the online poker time was the obvious thing to cut. Then there's always gardens to tend and vacations to take and beer to drink. It's summer, that's what you do... not sit inside in the glow of the monitor cursing some "but they were suited" moron.

Hopefully I can work in a few good posts based off the league play in the next month or two. Good luck out there!