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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pillow Talk: Improving Your Performance on the Mattress

Welcome to Pillow Talk, the MPT's post tournament analysis series. Pillow Talk's aim is to disect and analyze various portions of a recent MPT event with the aim of stimulating conversation and enhancing performance. As this is the first in this series, this article is going to take on three topics to give an idea of the kind of items that can be considering as players attempt to raise their stacks - an analysis of one individual hand, a specific situational strategy, and an overall tournament approach.

In the early going of the tournament, Bigfus was standing on nearly double her starting stack when she tangled in a hand with rookie teammates Trouble who were sitting on just about the starting stack. The hand held several nuances as will be analyzed momentarily, but the bottom line was Bigfus was very lucky to only lose about 900 in chips rather than nearly twice that.

The hand became interesting as the turn put three hearts on the board. A keen observation of Bigfus as the heart hit the board showed clear unconcious indicators of a very strong hand as her eyes immediately darted to her opponent's stack and her foot began to bounce. Couple that with a tight player leading out for a significant bet and it was clear Bigfus was holding a flush. At this point, the rookie team of Trouble calls, but that doesn't tell much. By watching prior hands, it should be known that they could be calling very light here ("calling light" means calling with a weak hand). Further, because of their inexperience, it is difficult to guage a lot from their tells as it is unclear if they will understand the relative strength of their hand.

The river is a very interesting card because it offers so many options on how to play the hand as it pairs the board. First, let's look at the play from Trouble's point of view. At this point, though it is unlikely anyone at the mattress knew it, Trouble now has a full house. And here they make the best play they possibly could at first by checking. It is clear from both her physical tells and her bets on the turn that Bigfus has a flush and a check will almost always get her to bet. Indeed Bigfus did bet 300 in chips giving action back to Trouble. Here, however, Trouble made a rookie mistake. The pot is over 1000 in chips already and Bigfus has a strong hand that will be nearly impossible for her to fold, especially against an unpredictable opponent. The check raise amount that they made was the minimum possible, 300 more than the original bet. That gave Bigfus a calling opportunity of only 300 to win about 1500 in chips. This was a trivial call. Too trivial. WIth the pot near 1200, a reraise near to 1000 more (say 1240 total (940 more)), especially from an unpredictable opponent, would have forced Bigfus to call. So, by checkraising to only 600 total, Trouble shorted themselves from winning an addition 650 or so chips on this hand, or more than 1/4 of a starting stack.

Now, perhaps a more interesting investigation is to sit in Bigfus's seat on the river. With a strong flush and an inexperienced opponent, value betting is definitely the right play. With a pot near 400, the goal should be to bet as much as possible and still get a weak hand from an inexperienced player to call. In this case we want to avoid round numbers as they are scarier to our opponent and make the calculations easier. So, instead of the bet of 300, a slightly better bet would be something like 285 or occassionally 315.

Be that as it may, Bigfus raised 300 and was checkraised an additional 300. Given the opponent's experience level they may be way overvaluing their hand. There is no way that folding should be considered seriously here. Instead, the question that needs to be answered is whether to call or to reraise. The two biggest considerations here should be the lack of experience of our opponent and the size of Bigfus's chipstack versus's Trouble's. First, as discussed, Trouble is very inexperienced and may not very well understand the strength of their hand. Despite the river checkraise, Trouble's hand could have been a weaker flush or three Aces or even two pair. There is good reason to reraise their checkraise here for value. However, there is a further consideration that should be taken. For the most experienced players, survival in the tournament while there are weaker players still in is of utmost importance as there should still be relatively easy chips to win. In this hand, if Bigfus's stack was not significantly larger than Trouble's, then calling would be appropriate as there was one higher flush possible, and, of course, a full house or quads. However, Bigfus has twice a starting stack and twice Trouble's stack. Given this situation, despite what hindsight tells, reraising the check raise is probably the best approach. In this case, keeping the reraise at the minimum 300 again would serve two purposes - juicing the pot without scaring our opponent off if they are weak. It, however, also controls the pot and encourages our opponent, if they are really strong, to make another critical error and only mini reraise again (rather than making a large reraise which is going to give us a difficult decision and cost us a lot of chips) and not make it extraordinarily expensive to call. If that happens, then it is time to just call.

Of course, with hindsight, calling the first time would have been better than reraising based on the actual cards. However, given the situation and a consideration of the hands Trouble might have had, mini 3-betting on the river has to at least be a consideration, if not the play you make.

There comes a time in some tournaments where calling a bet or posting a blind will leave you with almost no chips - less than a small blind in many cases. It is very common for a player in this situation to, rather than just calling, to throw the additional chips into the pot because they think it is the right thing to do. This is very wrong, especially when multiple other opponents are in the pot.

First, it is important to realize that putting your extra few chips into the pot, when they are less than a big blind, is not going to get anyone to fold. It is also important to recognize that if anyone does raise, you are compelled to call once such a high percentage of your stack is in the pot. That, however, does not mean you have to put your last chip in if your opponent does not make you. There are several reasons to guard that last chip. First off, without it, you are out of the tournament. There is obviously no chance to move up in the rankings, sneak into the money, claim a cheap bounty or even win the whole thing. Your last chip is your most valuable chip as it represents your tournament life. Don't just throw it into the pot before the river because it has no friends. Only do so if you are forced to.

Another consideration is if you have multiple opponents. Let's assume you are on the button with 450 chips while the blinds are 200 400 and one loose player has limped and it is action on you with AJ. The correct play here is to call. Raising the last 50 in chips will not get anybody to fold. Indeed, it will do the opposite. The small or big blind may be considering raising, but a raise on our part, even a measly 50 chips may dissuade that action. The common action of many players when an opponent is all in is to "check it down" in order to eliminate that player. So, many players will just call if we are already all in.

However, if we are not all in, this forces a player to raise preflop or bet on a later street in order to put us all in, which is exactly what we want as it may thin the field, increasing our chances of winning the hand. And if they don't, we can check down the hand (unless it is a definite winner) and survive even if we lose the hand.
There is a final reason not to bet those last chips if you don't have to. Those final chips are worth a lot more than your other chips because they can win more than your other chips. Usually, when you have say 20 Big Blinds or more, when you get your 20th big blind (last chips) in, you are facing usually only one opponent. Meaning your 20th big blind can only win 1 additional big blind. However, when you have less than one big blind in total, you can often find a raised pot where everyone else including the blinds may fold, meaning you can win 3 times your chips while only facing 1 opponent rather than 1 time your chips. Thus, your last few chips have higher earning potential and should not just be thrown into the pot for the sake of throwing them into the pot.

When you sit down to play a poker tournament, it is essential to determine your situation as soon as possible and adopt a strategy to maximize your chances of succeeding given your situation. A tournament amongst known opponents such as the MPT makes this skill critical. Because of the familiarity of this tournament type, it is easy to do this, so if you are not doing it, you will quickly find yourself at a disadvantage against your opponents that are.

In the just completed tournament, Rowanb did this masterfully. This tournament presented an opportunity to play against inexperienced players that would likely be calling too much as well as some experienced MPT veterans which Rowanb had position on. His tactic appeared to be a nice blend of trying to play hands against the less experienced players while also trying to isolate them by raising his more experienced opponents out of hands when they attempted to limp in with weak hands. Once in a hand with the less experienced players he recognized that against this set of opponents, making hands was the way to win so for the most part he checked when he didn't have a hand and value bet when he did, with fewer than normal targetted bluffs. This was critical because opponents were calling with weak hands, making bluffing less effective and often costly, but value betting very profitable. Against inexperienced opponents that are calling too often, this simple approach is the best way to win and Rowanb played this tournament with a master stroke all the way to a well earned victory.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Statistical Notes Following MPT 2011 Event #6

Observations following the sixth event of the 2011 season,  held at the Borgata Water Club in Atlantic City on November 19, 2011.

  • The Borgata became the sixth different venue to host more than one MPT event
  • RowanB has now won both events held at the Borgata
  • The two-player team named Trouble was the 47th different player in MPT history (and the first two-person team)
  • Mr. Lucky is the 30th different player in MPT history to participate in more than one event
  • Mr. Lucky became the tenth different player to cash in more than one MPT event, and the first since Betdponies and Bigfus did so (in the first two events of the series) to cash in his first career two events
  • Baccarat King was the first player in MPT history to be eliminated on the first hand
  • Baccarat King tied the Amazon for longest career streak without cashing, which currently stands at eight events
  • RowanB ended a streak of five events out of the money, which tied to fifth longest streak of all-time
  • Bigfus ended a four tournament in the money streak, which tied the second longest streak of all-time
  • Sass' absence from the tournament ended her streak of 29 straight MPT events played
  • RowanB was the first player in MPT history to win with pocket Aces on the final hand
  • Baccarat King tied Betdponies for the most career last place finishes, being the first player eliminated first for the sixth time in his MPT career