Everything Has A Limit

Poker, economics, and personal crises, a three-for-one deal

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A week in
So, just over a week in of low-limit ($1-$2) NLHE in Vegas. 59 hours. And, after losing $240 in about 15 minutes last night, a grand total of $17 up.

What are the "key takeaways" so far?

The first is that knowing how to win in these games (in the long run) is easy; having the self-discipline to practise it is hard.

Many players sat down and were obviously capable, but two or three hours in (or four or five drinks in) they got bored and started playing many more hands than they should.

Then there are the old regulars. They are tight, have a generally fixed modus operandi (try to get into pots cheaply and then only raise with very good hands) and are probably small losers overall

Third, there are the better regulars. More aggressive, competent but not stellar. Probably small winners.

Fourth, there are the very weak tourists (daytime). Just generally weak with little knowledge of what they should do, let alone the ability to practise it. Can be very hard to put these players on a hand from their actions, but it's fairly easy to narrow their range from their attitude.

Fifth, there are the drunken loud aggressive tourists (evening). As I wrote in a Facebook post, these are dangerous players. You can win lots of money from them, but they can easily spike a hand or two, get $700 in front of them, and then play every hand aggressively. You know that they are rubbish, but the bit of luck at the beginning gives them a kind of laggy confidence. Unlike many players, I prefer to avoid playing against these guys if I have a big stack. Sure, I'm probably positive EV, but a single bad break can wipe out five or six smaller wins. I don't like that kind of volatility.

Finally, there are the good players. Exiled online pros, quality tourists. Can be enjoyable to play against and to chat with, but you won't make much cash out of them.

A second key takeaway is that it's plain to me how self-delusional it is to be in the live game. We know this from the never-ending whinings of the general live poker-playing population of how unlucky they are. I noted to myself yesterday that in three "key hands" (KK v QQ, KK v QQ, AKs v AQs) I had lost two of them. While in the gym this morning I ran some numbers through my head and reckoned that I would win all three about half the time, while I would lose two of them only about 4% of the time. Half the time (if I had won all three - the expected "norm" for many weaker players!) I would have been $500 on those three hands, while as it turned out I was $200 down.

But then I caught myself. Hold on, this could be selective memory. Let's look at the notes I have taken on key hands during the week.

I have been sitting down with 60bb ($120) as kind of a new strategy (it's my current online strategy). The reasoning behind it is that you are left with far fewer "tricky" decisions. As I gain live-play confidence and get a better grip on opponents and their habits (and build up a bankroll!), I can move up to deeper stacks.

So, most of the "key hands" have been either all in pre flop or all in on the flop.

How have they run through the week?

I didn't take notes for the first few games, but looking at my numbers and using my memory, I suspect that I had four to six "big" hands and that I won half of them. (Note, this analysis doesn't really take account of how many times you are on the good or bad side of a cooler. I shall return to that.)

16/12: Won $300 splash pot for $200. My KQ beat 86 for a $200 gain. 30% lose $100. 70% win $200. Won $200. + $90 over EV

16/12: Won $200 pot when opponent misread hand.

17/12: Lost AK v 33 in $140 pot for minus $60: 48% win $70, 52% lose $60. $30 under EV. Running total +$60 over EV
17/12: Top 2 pair on flop loses to flush draw for $210 pot. Win $110 67% of time. Lose $100 33% of time. $60 under EV for hand. Running total, level.

18/12: Won triple-through from $40 with AK. Hard to work out EV. Probably +$40. Running total $40 over EV.
18.12: KK v QQ all in pre lfop held up for $210. $40 better than EV - running total of $80 over EV

19/12: Misread board for $75 mistake. EV on that (I might still have bluffed him off!) prob -$30. Total $50 over EV
19/12: Shoved AQ on flop of A53 and lost $200 pot to A3. about $20 below EV. Total $30 over EV.
19/12: AK v 88 all in pf for $80 loses on board of K8xxx. $40 under EV. Total $10 under EV
19/12: Got lucky on cooler hand of 66 v 34 (v AA v JJ) on board of 652. 5 came on turn. About 30% I guess when everything is taken into account. $190 over EV? Running total $180 over EV

20/12: KK loses to QQ for $120 all in pre flop. About $190 under EV. Running total, $10 under EV.
20/12: KK beats QQ for $130 all in pre flop. About $50 over EV. Running total $40 over EV.
20/12: Q8s beats AA on board of Q82 for $400 pot. About $80 over EV. Running total is $120 over EV
20/12: QQ loses to T2 on T42 board for $240 pot. About $50 under EV. Running total is $70 over EV
20/12: AKs loses to AQs for $120 pot. About $190 under EV. Running total is $120 under EV.

So, although I'm running about 60bb below EV, this is not running exceptionally bad. I haven't hit a high hand or a high hand of the hour. I reckon I could have expected one of these in the week. So that's another $70 or so of "running bad". But I HAVE hit and won a splash pot, which is probably $100 ahead of EV. On so called cooler hands (AA v KK, or any hand where neither party does anything wrong, but one player is way way ahead) I'm probably a bit ahead of the game. I've ditched QQ preflop a couple of times because I was sure opponent was in the range AA KK AK (with the first two big favourites) so perhaps I have avoided the errors made by other players when I have had KK v QQ. But I think I've had fewer "no way could I have avoided that" than I've had "no way he could have avoided that" kind of hands.

Conclusion? Probably running slightly bad, but nothing exceptional. I reckon that I have made $500 worth of mistakes. That sounds bad, but in 1600 live hands, there aren't many players who make no mistakes. It's eliminating those errors that is the key to being a profitable poker player at these levels, not coming up with "brilliant" plays.

That said, I think I've made some nice plays that have increased my profit on a hand (and my EV). The most important one is not trying to push people off a hand when you think that you are well in front. If I had to name one major error of most weaker players here, it's that they overbet strong hands because they are scared of losing the pot. The result is that they win small pots and then lose big ones. It isn't how many pots you win or lose, it's the size of the pots you win or lose.

I really ought to practise better game selection, but I like playing "good" players because trying to only play bad players is a poker dead-end. You never learn stuff. Take each game as it comes and try to make the best of the material in the game, rather than calling for a seat change because a known fish is at one of the other tables.

I find the daytime games easier. Volatility is lower, ranges are narrower. The mad evening games might have a higher EV (even for me) but they also have far higher volatility. I do not enjoy adrenalin rushes, and I find the excitement and the "high" generated by big gambles that pay off less pleasant than the "lows" generated by bad beats for 200bb or more. As I become inured to the amount of cash, then I would take on the volatility with less concern.

Have I learnt anything in the week? Yes. You can begin to categorize players; see what works against them and what doesn't, predict with greater certainty what they are going to do in a given situation. It's hugely different from the online game and you can get away with stuff that would simply be slaughtered if you tried it online. Whenever I read on Facebook those live players who talk about "it's not about the odds, it's about reading their faces", I just say to myself -- bring 'em on.



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