The Boy in the Poker Bubble
I have not been overly enthusiastic about my play lately. Sure, I can hardly quibble with the results, but my game has become stale. It's as if I'm playing from muscle memory, the same moves showing time and time again. At the low buy-in, online MTTs, this is an acceptable strategy, an appropriate level to play basic, solid poker. But it also makes me want to slash my wrists sometimes out of sheer boredom.
So, last night, I sought to remedy that. To expand my palate, a desire which brought me to a pair of cheap qualifying tourneys. No, you don't get the results now. I will not be a slave to the inverted pyramid template of reportage, my strict avoidance of which derailed my print journalism career before it began. That and my inabiility to self-edit and love of the parenthetical phrase.
Not to mention my propensity to wander off-topic.
Now, when I say cheap, I mean CHEAP. I first tackled the Round 1 WSOP Freeroll on Stars (cost: 400 Frequent Player Points). A minute after that, I threw my hat into the $3 re-buy qualifier to the Poker Stars $350,0000 Guaranteed tourney. Maybe playing two MTTs at once isn't the greatest way to work on different styles, but it was far from boring.
To begin, I immediately re-bought, something I never do when playing the crazy $11 re-buy on Stars. In fact, this qualifier provided great practice for that tourney, and Lord knows I need it. My preferred weak/tight-style is debilitating in those re-buys, as is my limit of spending $40 on them. So I thought I'd double up my chips and take some chances.
I really wanted to work on my post-flop play. With less than sterling cards. So I used some of that doubled starting stack to limp, to call small raises, in the early levels, see if I could out-play some people for pots. Didn't work out too badly. Part of it is certainly the maniacal nature of the early levels. Chips are just a mouse-click away! Second pair is often very good. Two of a suit on the flop? You'll never get 'em off it. OESD? Forget about it.
If I had any kind of hand, I bet. Second pair from early position...fire away. If I got raised, fine, I'm out. If I just got calls, I stuck around. At showdown, I won more than my share. Enough to be the big stack at my table by the first break.
I also concentrated on maximizing my big hands. I have a tendency to over-bet my hand when it's clearly ahead if there is even the slightest draw possibility on the board. Been burned enough that those suckouts stick in my head. Which isn't really the way to go about it. At least not all the time.
For instance, I have QQ at Level 3 and raise it 6x (my raises in the first hour of re-buys are always higher than in freeze-outs because you get more callers, by and large). Three callers (see?). Flop comes ten-high with two spades. Now, normally, I bet more than half the pot here. I HAVE A BIG HAND EVERYONE! I want to take it down there, destroy opponents' pot odds, etc. That's all well and good. And it's the way to go the majority of the time. But what about showing less strength, giving JTo an invitation to (erroneously) call? Why does there HAVE to be a flush draw out there every single time two of a suit hit the board? And why do I fear the third will always fall? I think this is an area where I can pick spots to snag extra chips, based on reads of players and a little less fear.
It worked a couple times. In addition, you can STILL get paid of on your monsters by slow-playing. Again, slow-playing is not a tactic with which I'm entirely comfortable. In fact, I do it very rarely pre-flop (the major exception being when I'm short and NEED to double through with AA or KK). Post-flop, I'm a bit more amenable to slow-play because you can see what kind of cards are needed for opponents to catch up. I flopped a Broadway Straight last night and smooth called two fairly tiny bets to the river. I was heads-up by then and his river bet was a little bigger--200 or so. I contemplated how much to value raise. Then I realized, "Hey! It's a re-buy!" and pushed my stack (about T4000) into the middle. Yes, he paid me off with two pair, despite it seeming to any functioning human that he was beaten. The thing about it is, he made his second pair on the river. If I'd have bet my straight harder, he might not have been around long enough to give me satisfaction. Now, that may seem like the easiest pay in the world, and it is. The key is to recognize when I can take someone for a ride like that, instead of betting suckers out of it earlier in the hand.
I also wanted to work on defending my blinds. I do this a fair amount anyway with marginal hands (Ace-any, suited one-gappers), but I need to pay more attention to the price I'm getting. And what kind of raise I'm facing from where. My tendency to fold to even minimum raises if I'm holding garbage is a good thing the majority of the time. Can't lose anything playing that way. But can't win, either. Part of it stems from that lack of confidence I mentioned about out-playing people post-flop. That's stupid.
I got involved in a lot of pots last night from the blinds. Often, I missed and folded to bets. Sometimes, I hit, bet and won (or lost). A few times, I bluffed at the pot and took it down. Eureka! Defending my blind was definitely +EV for me last night. It forced me to knuckle down and read my opponents and far more often than not, I was right.
All in all, some good practice and some issues to work on further.
Alas, I got nothing out of my $9 (one re-buy and the add-on) and 400 FPPs but 4 hours of poker play. This despite the fact I was looking damn good in both of them for a long time.
With 50 remaining in the $350K satellite, I sat 7th in chips. Twenty-one seats were in the offing (with $154 to 22nd) and I had nearly double the guy in 21st. I was THIS close to pretty much assuring passage when I found KK on the button. An all-in from UTG (a little more than half my stack) and I could taste it. He flipped AQo and turned the ace. Brutal. There was cursing.
I went out in 40th a short time later when I over-played AQs.
A little about that hand. I raised in LP and the BB called. The BB was the big stack at the table and had been calling everything, including a pre-flop all-in by KK just a couple hands earlier. Big Stack had A9s and caught the bullet. So, I was happy he called, figuring I was in good shape. The flop missed me completely, ten-high, none of my suit. Big Stack bet out 9000, which was less than a third of the pot, so I read weakness and pushed. Talk about a connundrum. I know the guy is playing loosely and could have any two cards. And I know he's gonna call my all-in, because that's what he does. His bet, small as it was, should have let me know I was up against a made hand. Mistake on my part. Let his looseness give me false hope. He had 99 and I didn't improve.
The WSOP Round 1, well, frankly, I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about it. Not sure what I write here won't sound like whining.
Suffice to say, 9 seats advanced to the Round II on Sunday (to play for two seats to the Main Event) and I finished 10th. Suffice to say, that down to two five-handed tables, there was an overt (as in, agreed to discussion in chat) ploy by the other table to "fold around." Suffice to say I e-mailed Stars (prior to my going out, by the way) and they are looking into it. Suffice to say I don't think anything will come of it, and while their behavior compromised my chances, it didn't ruin them. Still pissed me off.
I was looking at a long Sunday of three major MTTs if I managed to qualify for those tourneys. Throw in the WPBT satellite and I woulda had the worst poker hangover of all time. Probably exacerbated by divorce papers.
Avoiding that for the time being is just another bright side to go along with the experience of playing differently than usual.