Recently I’ve started playing online poker again, after not having played for a while. Whereas in real life I’m a PLO fan, I’ve finally succumbed to just playing Texas on-line. I can hold my own at the low-limit Omaha games, but it gets too scary too quickly as you move up the tables. In Texas there are still loads of people who seem to have learned by watching TV and think that you’re meant to go all-in every time you get a pair of sevens…
The big problem with playing Texas, of course, is that it’s dull. I generally play tight, so most of the time it’s just fold – fold – fold – fold – fold. It’s generally not worth paying more than minimal attention to the other players, as they come and go so frequently, so unless I’ve something else to do at the same time, I end up playing more games than I should, just out of boredom.
So I’ve recently started playing tournaments. You still get a lot of wild players, particularly early on as the loose players try to double up, but there’s much more to be gained from studying the other players when you’re not in the hand and taking copious notes. For the first few weeks I played fairly solidly, generally ending up at the final table (out of 35-40 starters), and about 33-50% of the time ending in the money (i.e. top 5). But generally I find myself too short at the end, and have to make a wild move just to avoid getting blinded out. The games where I’m in the money are generally because I just refuse to play any games at all, and a few players above me end up going all in and losing out in the inevitable KK v AA or AKs v QQ battles.
I knew that I needed to loosen up a bit as the tables started thinning out, but didn’t really know how, and my early attempts ended in disaster, as my average finishing position started dropping to about 15. So, based on a few recommendations, I bought the first volume of Harrington on Hold ’em and took it to Birmingham with me last week.
It convinced me that my problem isn’t that I should be playing looser, it’s that in the hands that I do decide to play I should play much more aggressively. Even with a good hand I play far too cautiously, probably in large part as I’m much more used to Omaha, where your nut flush will regularly come in third to the full house and the quads. So even when I win hands, I win much less than I should.
I need to re-read the book and work through the exercises in more detail, but armed with a few basic rules, and a general resolve to play tight but aggressive, tonight I entered my first tournament since getting back home, to see what difference it made.
I managed to double up early with a few good hands one after another, and found myself relocated to another table positioned just before the tournament leader who was playing really aggressively, and whose favourite opening bet seemed to be about 10-20 times the big blind. The few times he’d had to reveal his cards they were generally along the lines of 87o or Q4s.
I tightened up considerably, and eventually the big hand came around. I’m on the big blind at $15/$30, and the big bully raises to $600. The second highest stack, who is also playing aggressively (although not quite so recklessly) calls. Everyone else folds round to the small blind who is down to just over $500 and, seeing a chance to treble his money, calls all in. I’m holding QQ, so put in a $1200 raise. Both loose players call. The flop delivers a rainbow KK2.
The small blind is all-in, so I’m first to act. Previously, I would have been scared that at least one of the two active players, who have, after all, either put in or called substantial raises pre-flop, will be sitting on one of the other kings, and I would just have checked, and then mucked my hand when someone bet.
Now, however, even though I’m still scared, I open with a bet of $720, which is just over half my remaining chips. Both active players fold, and the small blind flips AQo for the all-in showdown. No aces arrive and I jump to over $5500 as the new table leader.
I haven’t really mastered the art of playing the role of table bully myself yet, so I continued to play tight, letting the other two loose players, who still have decent sized piles, muscle the others around and gradually take the table lead back again. Although in theory I know that it’s easier to take the money off the weaker players at an earlier stage than have to take it off the players later who have survived that far, I’m happy enough for the two loose players to pick everyone off as I figure I’ll be comfortable enough standing up to them when I do get a hand.
And sure enough, a while later, a three way fight leads to two people dropping out, and I’m left at a four-handed table before people get reshuffled. Blinds are at $50/$100, and I’m on the second biggest stack (still immediately before the big bully from previously who’s now back up to about 1.5x my stack). I’m on the small blind, and with A♣K♣, raise $600. The big blind calls, and we go heads up. The flop comes A♠ K♠ Q♦.
If my opponent happens to be holding JT I’m set to lose a lot of money, but I’m much more worried about giving him a needless free card for a straight draw if he’s holding one of those, so I bet just over half the pot. He just calls, which I read as much more of a sign of weakness than I would have previously.
The turn is 6♦, which is unlikely to help him but there are now two suits where he could conceivably be drawing to a flush. So, with the pot at $2700 I lead with $1800. Again he just calls.
The river is 5♣ which misses all possible flush or straight draws. My stack is down to under $3000, and I should probably have just gone all-in, but I wimped out and just bet $2000 of it. Again, he calls. My top two pair hold up, and I pocket over $10,000 without discovering what he was calling with. I’d like to think it was either AJ or AT, limping along with top pair and a straight draw, or Ax in spades or diamonds looking for the flush (or maybe even top pair with draws for both the straight and the flush). Whatever it was was hugely expensive, with a $5000 swing each way suddenly reducing his dominating $7500 table lead to well below average $2500.
A round or two later, having dispatched a few stragglers unsuccessfully trying to double up, I found myself with more than half the chips in the entire tournament, with two tables still playing, and managed to stay that way until the end, winning my first ever multi-table tournament.
I picked up Volume 2 in Birmingham, which promises to teach me much more about playing at short handed tables and one-on-one. If it’s even half as good as the first one, and my win tonight wasn’t a complete fluke, it should pay for itself in no time at all…