Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Table Conduct

In a small attempt to periodically update this space with something other than infrequent (and probably rather boring) bankroll or tournament updates -- and maybe more importantly to move beyond the plateau to some sort of growth -- I'm going to attempt to throw up a few things on more general strategy and thinking. Below is the first of these posts.

Somewhere along the line I picked up a little quote that should be every players guide to conducting themselves appropriately at the table:
Win with grace, lose with dignity, and never ever tell a sucker what he's doing wrong.
Let's examine the three parts of this.

Win with grace

Winning with grace is probably the easiest to achieve of the three parts for most players. We win a hand or a tournament or a race situation... We're pleased... We're in a good mood. Typically people with such a mood are naturally gracious to those around them. We may shrug our shoulders to our losing opponent, or offer some condolence if we won via a bad beat or even-money situation. The hand-shake is frequently seen as a way to soothe egos and establish that we, the winner, aren't somehow gloating over our (perceived) dominance of the other player.

Being a gracious winner is really the only way to be a respected winner, and achieving that status in other player's minds is simply put, good business for future encounters at the table. (And often just as importantly, away from the table.)

Personally, I think I do pretty well with this. By nature, I am an empathetic person, and tend to be quite cordial when I'm in a good mood - when hands are holding up - when I'm making good decisions - when the game is running as it is "supposed" to run.

But there are still paths available to slipping from being a gracious winner. Perhaps a (losing) opponent will insult your play. Sometimes, prior history with an opponent may incline you to gloat or insult. The "there, moron, take that" sentiment can be quite strong. This kind of gloating behavior belies an attitude that is completely counter-productive in poker: it's as if you are seeking out confrontation to prove your mastery, when the more appropriate approach often is to avoid confrontation... to tip-toe around it... to stop when your opponent "goes"... to zig when they zag. Simply put: It reveals that your ego is involved.

Poker is definitely not the game for someone who derives pleasure in adding insult to injury.

Lose with dignity

Yeah, this is the tough one. The second-bests keep coming in an unbroken chain. The 9 and 4 and 2 outers cripple us. Every raise we make is hijacked from behind with a re-raise. 80/20 situations feel like races, and races feel like domination.

I don't need to say much about why players struggle with losing in a dignified manner - every player knows these emotions all too well. Some will whine and complain - some will hurl insults and passive-aggressive remarks.

Personally, I can be horrible in this arena. I'm a naturally animated person (which is obviously a formidable handicap as a poker player). A coolly-intended statement can take on the feel of an exclamation when you're inclined to be so animated. Often there is a disconnect between how I actually feel about a beat or a loss, and how what happens after is displayed or perceived by others. I may be "okay" with the result, but something said intended as a tension-relieving joke may be seen as bitterness. An innocently-begun postmortem may end up looking like whining or anything else other players don't want to hear.

Perhaps the best I've ever done was leaving the room entirely after a particularly bad beat. While this may not be necessary, and may in itself be somewhat of a surrender of your dignity (the little baby can't take it so he runs off to cry), it's far superior to a lot of other things that can happen after a loss. Ideally, and most appropriately for players who share my problems detailed above, silence may be the best option.

So why be dignified when losing? Simply put: people like watching train wrecks. We all secretly love seeing others in distressed situations. We take delight in seeing a player lose his cool, if for no other reason than he might rebuy and fuel the game with tilt. He's not thinking clearly and coolly, he's putting blood in the water and chips in the pot. In a game where skill can take a painfully long time to dominate luck, perhaps the only real domination we can accomplish in the short-term is to get another player frustrated and off his game.

And here's the point: the more a player tends to become an undignified loser, the more others at the table want to see him lose. Your ego is on your sleeve and good players will recognize this as the sign of a target.
You will be seen as a likely source of profit. They'll take shots against you they might not take if you were more respected, seek out your weaknesses, and then pick them apart, while they likely leave other, quieter, players alone.

(Side note: don't even think that you can get more action by acting like an ass. I've yet to see a player who can pull this off to the desired effect.)

Never ever tell a sucker what he's doing wrong

As a long-time player, I've "been around the block" I think. I've seen and played in a lot of different games, and one of the worst things that can happen to a game (and it always does if the game goes on long enough) is that the dead-money players which fuel the game and give us a profit will inevitably leave. Hopefully they leave broke, but for one reason or another, they always leave.

Why would you encourage them to do so? Telling someone what they are doing wrong is not only the sure sign of someone with an ego that needs propping up, it's a sure way to discourage a poor player from continuing to be a poor player. He might leave, or he might correct his errors, but either way, the driving force of the game has left the table. Poor players not only directly fuel the game, but they indirectly often run good players that you might normally struggle to beat, right into your monster hands. Simply, they encourage and drive action.

The most common form of this error occurs when a poor player plays poorly and is rewarded for his efforts. The loser's superiority has not manifested itself in the end result of the hand, and he will feel the need to exert this superiority in some other way. Thus, he tells the sucker what he's doing wrong.

Perhaps the most glaring form of this error is missing the fact that different people play poker for widely-varying reasons, and for some of them, it is purely for fun. Now, if you are ultimately going to profit from their fun, and they are going to have a good time, what does pointing out their poor play accomplish? Likely feeling insulted... perhaps even beginning to feel like an "outsider" at the table, they are not likely to be enjoying the experience, and when they leave or alter their play, you're no longer profiting: everyone has lost exactly what they came to the game for.

In conclusion

Analogous to "Win with grace, lose with dignity, and never ever tell a sucker what he's doing wrong", is the similarly-minded quote "Never complain, never explain." By never complaining and never explaining at the table, you're likely to be a gracious winner and a dignified loser. I have to assume that these things will aid your game, if the majority of other technical aspects of play are in place and you feel that you are at a plateau.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nice Multi Win

Still alive, still grinding away...

After a few bankroll decimations -- the good kind I suppose -- to pay for various things in my life since my last long-ago update here, I'm back hitting the online tables with regularity. Micro limits... bankroll building...

Despite a growing FTP balance which I should be using to take more shots at satellites, I generally avoid tournaments most of the time. As a poker player, you work hard (and often to little effect) to maintain some kind of sanity and emotional balance... and well, I probably don't have to tell you how a string of time-sucking tournaments that end in bad beats or coolers can upset that balance. But still, I don't think I've ever been in a MTT online where I wasn't in awe of the amount of dead money. (I did satellite into the Sunday Million once a few months ago with FTPs and didn't cash.)

So Full Tilt has added these new "Knockout" tourneys, where most of the buy-in goes into a traditional prize pool, with some reserved for each player: Knock someone out, and you win their bounty. Tonight I finished in first place in a 90 player, $3+.30, winning $72, and KOing 10 players for an extra $5 (.50 a-piece).

My play was good, and I ran good. I busted 5 of the 9 players at the final table, all desperate short stacks, and overcame a 2:1 deficit heads-up in a several level battle. Now, I can't really comment on the effect of the bounties on how people play... I didn't observe any situations where .50 is going to influence your decisions, but perhaps less-rational players might. What those little bonuses do accomplish is to help offset the buy-in of the tournament, even if you don't cash. At the above noted structure, busting as few as 3 other players is going to get you nearly half of the total buy-in back. In effect, the bounties "flatten" out the prize structure- typically in a 90 player tourney, 9 players will cash (10%), where in a knockout tournament I'd guess somewhere around 25-40% will get at least something back for their efforts. Take a horrible beat on the bubble, and chances are you may still have made money or broken even.

Of course, if you bust out early yourself, you probably still are down the whole buy-in, but in general playing knockout tournaments vs traditional tournaments should lower your bankroll fluctuations, and help offset some amount of variance.

Good luck out there.