Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Don't Spew

After one week of three-tabling 10/20 limit as my main game, I'm doing alright. My results aren't spectacular, but I have made a small profit.

More importantly, I feel like I'm playing pretty well. I'm not making many mistakes, I'm catching a few bluffs and I'm learning to fold when I know with a high degree of certainty that I'm beat.

One thing that I've always struggled with is balancing aggression with reason. When I first got into limit poker and PokerTracker, I quickly learned that I wasn't playing aggressively enough. That was easy enough to remedy -- razu!

Then, after several stints of experimenting with shorthanded play, the mantra of aggression became even more important. You need to hammer at your opponents with your made hands, while also bluffing at a frequency high enough to steal pots when you can.

But at some point, the aggression is too much. Eventually, you're just throwing money away with little expectation of winning either by having the best hand or by everyone else folding. At that point, the aggressive play is no better than the loose-passive fish who goes to showdown with any hand that has a chance of winning. The calling stations just soak up that fruitless aggression.

So there's a balance to be struck. But how do you know what that balance is?

There are a few rules of thumb that I try to obey:

1) If you have raised preflop from late position, and you miss the flop but it's checked to you, go ahead and bet most of the time if you have a reasonable hope that you can get the pot heads-up or win it outright. At best, everyone will fold. At worst, you'll get re-raised, sending a strong signal that your hand isn't best.

2) If your bet on the flop narrows the field to one other opponent, strongly consider betting again on the turn if you think there's a chance your bluff will work.

3) If it's bet out in front of you in a raised pot and all you hold are overcards, strongly consider folding if the pot is still small. Reading this 2+2 post convinced me that it's OK to fold in that situation. If all you have are overcards with no draws, then you have six outs at best to improve to a top-pair hand. You're only getting about 6.7:1 odds to make a hand that might not be good, so the pot has to contain at least seven bets in it if you want to consider calling or raising. If you do stay in and have no secondary draw, calling is the right play -- not raising.

4) If a passive player bets in front of you, or if you're check-raised by a passive player, don't feel bad about folding top-pair hands.

5) If you're check-raised on the turn, fold most of the time unless you have a strong hand or a good read on your opponent. A check-raise on the turn is a trap far more often than it is a bluff.

6) When check-raised on the river, fold almost always. A check-raise on the river is only a bluff about 1 percent or 2 percent of the time.

7) Avoid raising wars on the turn and river unless you have a very strong holding. It's easy to get carried away with your best hands, but that hidden set or gutshot straight will become very expensive if you keep reraising. The fish are trying to tell you that they hit their hand.

There was an old 2+2 post from Ed Miller (I can't find it right now) where he said that many players' biggest leak is that they fold too much in large pots.

That's good advice, but it's an overgeneralization. You're not trying to avoid folding too much; you're trying to make the best move considering the odds. Folding at exactly the right frequency is the ideal.

I was leaking money because I was calling down too much. Now I have a note on my computer that says, "Don't be afraid to fold." This doesn't mean I will play weak-tight, but I am trying to make the best possible play -- the one that makes me the most money or loses the least.

1 comment:

PokerSweetHome said...

Good post and good advice, especially at shorthanded. Everybody knows what to do with crap hands, and everybody knows what to do with the nuts. It's all those marginal in-between hands that define winnners and losers.