Focus Part I
This is simple information. This is not a treatise. I have no real skill.
When I spoke with Easy about his online play, I was surprised to learn he played only one table at a time. “Damn Easy, as good as you play, you should play more tables and you’ll make more money.” He responded that he felt his strength was concentrating on one table at a time. He then told me he actively sought out players who were multi-tabling and sat down with them at the short-handed games. By playing opponents whose attention was divided in a fast-paced game, he felt as though he could make better decisions than the other players. I can’t argue with the results. He is not a full-time player, but he is making a nice side income while I am struggling in the online game to turn a consistent profit.
After speaking with Easy, I thought about my game. What do I do well in? The home game is my strength. I don’t think I have any magic picking up physical tells nor do I play at a table full of newbies. This is an established, three year game with players who have read a poker book or two and play a good bit online. As we have played together so long, we have been clued into each other’s patterns and quirks. Even with all the familiarity and the generally level of equal play, I win at the weekly tournament. I feel I am able to do so through patience and recognition of betting tells. The online game has helped my live game as the sheer number of hands I have seen have enabled me to recognize bets that are made because of the situation rather than the player’s hand. Raising for a free card? Seen it a thousand times this month. Re-raise. Betting out on a busted draw? Old hat. Raise. Making a weirdly small bet into an incredibly scary board? You got the nuts and want me to re-raise. Call as long as the odds dictate.
We all fall into patterns that betray our hands. In a lot of games, that does not matter. Playing online, you rarely see the same players on a consistent basis unless you are playing the higher limits or playing at the smaller sites. In a weekly game with a bunch of friends, it can be deadly. Easy bet as though he was playing limit. Therefore, he was often giving the correct odds to callers and was getting turned and rivered and sent home early until he adjusted. As soon as I recognized this pattern, I figured out that his bets could represent anything from middle pair to a draw. Playing bottom pair in a short-handed LHE game is reasonable. Playing it for slightly more than the minimum bet in NLHE is asking for trouble. As soon as he picked up a premium hand, his bets increased and I knew I was in trouble unless I had a monster. Easy lost focus in that he forgot what game he was playing and how he should bet. In NLHE, you have to bet to shut out draws that can beat you. That way, when you do get beat, you can be assured you made the right play and will get that money back next time..
The first lesson of focus is to look into your actions. If one always does the same thing every time in a situation where it will be recognized, there is going to be bankroll trouble eventually. Make sure to vary your bets unless you always raise the same amount pre-flop no matter your hand. If you do not want to vary your bets, be sure to let everyone know that a 3x raise can mean AA UTG or QT on the button. You can usually do this by showing your hand at showdown. Hopefully you’ll hear comments like, “I thought you would have raised more with AA” or “I can’t believe you raised 3x with that crap and drew out a straight on me.” Of course, I have informed the table I will be raising every time I have the hammer and now they all live in fear when I have raised and a couple of 7s hit the board. “Wes, that is a stupid hand to play,” protest the folders. “You are correct,” I respond, “But now you got no idea what is in my hand next time I raise.”
Post-flop, contemplate your bets for a minute before reflexively throwing in a continuation bet. Think about what the others will think based on the size of your bet or non-bet. Do you always check when you hit a set and then re-raise? If so, you will probably not be able to do that too many times before those re-raises won’t get called. Do not focus on the size of the present pot. Remember, poker is a lifelong game with one big pot with a + or – in front of it. As soon as you feel a player has discovered a pattern in your play, throw them a curve. Believe me, it’s fun to watch them flounder.
In the online game, you will probably not be remembered tomorrow unless you are exceptionally bad or good. That does not mean there is no value in changing up your play. There are certain plays that are made by knowledgeable players that may reveal the strength of their cards. With two hearts on the board, a late position player raises. When the spade hits on the turn, everyone checks to the raiser who clicks his check button as fast as he can. Think you have an idea of what he has? Of course you do. He has raised for a free card hoping to catch a flush. Now, he can win a few bets if he hits it on the river or he can fold if he doesn’t after receiving two free shots at drawing out. If you are paying attention to the board, the next time it happens, re-raise the raiser. If a blank comes on the turn, see if he will call another bet that he is not getting the odds to call. Remember, you will get sucked out on on occasion. That is alright. Encourage the monkeys. I hear it catches up with them in the long run.
When you need that free card for your straight or flush draw, make the raising play. It works often enough to do it almost every time. If someone re-raises you though, be sure to pay attention if they show down a hand. It may be apparent they saw what you were trying to do if they show a middle pair they were trying to protect from your draw. Make a note of this player as they may know what they are doing. Then, when you flop two pair into a two-suit board, you can raise with at least one opponent maybe thinking you are looking for a gift. It may net you an extra bet or two today which will hopefully translate into a nice nest-egg tomorrow.
Focusing on one’s self is not always fun. It requires acknowledgment that we are not perfect, or sometimes even very good poker players. IF you get enjoyment from playing, independent of results, do not worry about how other’s may perceive you. If baby needs a new pair of shoes, though, you had better be sure that others are perceiving you at least partially incorrect.
Part III to come . . . maybe