Friday, November 02, 2007

Is there such a thing as a bad play in poker?

As long as you have a rational basis for your decision, can there be such a thing as a bad play in poker? A player bets, you assign a range of hands using a combination of your knowledge of the particular player and the general situation which you have probably been in many times before. Based on this knowledge, you decide on a course of action. Sometimes, it is actually the right decision and you win. Sometimes, it is the right decision and you lose. Sometimes, it is the wrong decision which turns out to lose the hand or gets you called a donkey when you win. The "good" or "bad" of a play is determined on how you act on the information you have. Yes, you can make a bad play, but you have to willfully ignore (or be unable to understand) the evidence. A play that turns out badly is not a donkey move as long as there is defensible support for the play given the information you had at the time the decision was made. Only the plays that are made without due deference to the information available can truly be considered "bad" plays. Think about that the next time someone makes what you feel is an inadequate play. Then, consider the fact that a large part of chip accumulation is dependent upon such bad play. Not only do you usually win when someone makes a decision that costs chips in addition to those in the pot, you also win when others fold, conceding the current pot, when, if the information was processed correctly, they would call or raise your bets.

I equate this to the people who complain about the blackjack player at the table who deviates from optimal play. I have seen people bitch and rave at others who stand when they should hit and hit when they should stand. Of course, this only happens when the other player would have won if the offending party had consulted their cheat sheet. You never hear them complain when the non-standard player's action caused the dealer to bust. Bad play works both ways. If you bitch when it costs you, why don't you complain when it doesn't? But that's a stupid question.

I made it to the final three tables last night at the Riverchasers event. Typical Pirate Poker was the routine as I played it tight until the blinds went up. I was able to double through with big PP and was sitting right outside the top half when I picked up TT on the button. Now, I endeavor to mask hands pre-flop as much as possible by raising pot almost every time. In one of Phil Gordon's books, he advocates changing raises based on your position with the raises getting larger as you move into later position. I have some agreement with this as long as it is coupled with stack size. If I have a big stack, I usually raise pot no matter what I am holding or where I am sitting. With about 9K and blinds at 300/600 (antes 25), I considered a raise to 1800 to be appropriate from the button as I can fold if I feel I am behind to a re-raiser.

Anyway, I have TT and raise to 1800 and it is folded to the BB who calls (1200 into a 2900 pot). The SB has almost the same stack I do and has been playing very aggressively pre-flop since I have been at the table. The flop came three low cards and the BB bet about 3300 to make the pot T7400. I pushed AI for another 4k or so and was called with AJo (3k-4k into an approximately T14600 pot). This is the poker stove version of potential outcomes (the board cards may not be exactly right but should be close enough):

Board: 3c 5h 8s

equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 74.444% 74.44% 00.00% 53064 0.00 { TT }
Hand 1: 25.556% 25.56% 00.00% 18216 0.00 { AJo }

Now, I was pissed when the Ace came and I was out just short of the bubble. Don't let my calm exterior fool ya. Inside, I am a raging torrent of beer fueled fury. Not really, but I do flip off the screen on occasion. Running the math though, the final call of my raise was right from a chip equity standpoint. I can quibble with the pre-flop play as my range is going to be pretty tight there from that position and a call against that range is going to be negative EV as well as extra dangerous when tournament life is on the line. Now, this player is one I don't recognize which means he probably doesn't know anything about me other that what he had seen in the few orbits I had been at the table (won doubling pots with big cards). Therefore, I don't know what information was used to make the initial call of the raise and the bet on the flop other than the knowledge that I had a 2/3 chance of not pairing if I had been unpaired beforehand. I think that is a rational thought process to use and if that was the basis for the decision then how can I criticize the result? I preach about making decisions easy in MTTs. The other player made a bet that committed him if I raised. I knew that when I did raise. 75% of the time, I win that hand and go on to the money and potential glory. 25% of the time, I lose and am a footnote history. I don't like that 25%.

Have fun this weekend. I'll be around.

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