Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Do you play cards or do you play poker?

The other day, Mrs Recess was telling me about a discussion she had with her coworkers. When I told her about how I lost $600 on Saturday (she's unbelievably understanding and unrattled with the amounts I lose), she mentioned that that's what she hates about poker... the fact that you can be a better player and yet lose. And she went on to tell me that there was just too much luck element and that one of her coworkers agreed by saying that a construction worker can't just strap on a helmet and pads and compete in football... I then proceeded to tell her about Kurt Warner but I guess that's an entirely different story (you know, the bagging groceries to arena league to Superbowl MVP). But anyways, I thought that was an interesting discussion. In other words, how much of poker is really a skill game and how much of it is just luck?

My favorite quote from the great movie, Rounders: "Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the world series every year? What are they, the five luckiest guys in Vegas?" Well, back then, maybe only about 5 guys played in the WSOP... ok, I kid but that statement speaks volumes about poker. For a casual poker player/viewer, it may seem that it's the most random people that they see on tv winning tournaments. It seems that for every Gus Hansen or Daniel Negreanu on WPT, there's a math teacher, construction worker, former police officer, grad student, etc. And on the WSOP on ESPN, Robert Varkonyi, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joseph Hachem!? I mean who are these guys? Only in the geekiest of the poker circuits do people know about Raymer and even though Hachem is also hell of a player, nobody has ever heard of these guys. So, I think it appears that it's almost like a lottery. And yet, if you pay attention, I don't think it's any coincidence that guys like John Juanda, Daniel Negreanu, Gus Hansen, etc are finding success at WPT and if you look at Cardplayer Player of the Year standings, towards the end, you end up seeing a bunch of familiar names (still sick is the fact that Men "the Master" Nguyen has won 5 times) on that list. So, what does this all mean?

I told her that a very popular idea in poker is that if we all played the exact same amount of time and were dealt the exact same number of hands, over the course, we will all get dealt the same cards. In other words, statistics already determine how many times we're supposed to see pocket aces or 2-7 off, if we were all dealt a million hands. So, does that mean that in the long run, we're all just trading money with each other? I think even the most naive poker player would agree that that's not true. So, then, in order to profit, you have to find yourself on the better side of chance more often than not and also, you have to profit even when you're not getting the cards that should be your "fair share" of the deal. If you just play your cards, then you will eventually just be trading money. That's why you can't always just play your cards and instead, you have to play the person. It's such a cliche, and yet so true...

FullTiltPoker Game #2226965070: Table Courage - $2/$4 - No Limit Hold'em - 22:18:37 ET - 2007/04/16
Seat 1: Iridium ($412)
Seat 2: Dallas20 ($587.90)
Seat 3: idgaf61 ($327.45)
Seat 4: hedodave ($140)
Seat 5: RecessRampage ($367)
Seat 6: NMDynasty ($378.50)
Seat 7: therivercatcher ($388.60)
Seat 8: nsewell4 ($400)
Seat 9: mektin ($404)
NMDynasty posts the small blind of $2
therivercatcher posts the big blind of $4
The button is in seat #5
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to RecessRampage [9h Th]
EP calls $4
RecessRampage calls $4 <-- call from the button (I sometimes raise here and sometimes, I don't. I felt that my hand was interesting enough to see a flop cheaply.
SB calls $2 <-- the player on the SB usually has my number. Fairly aggressive.
BB checks
*** FLOP *** [Qs 8h 8c]
SB bets $12 <-- as predicted, on a flop that looks like it didn't hit anyone, he bets out
BB folds
EP folds
RecessRampage calls $12 <--- why call? No, I wasn't really going for the gut shot straight draw, even though if I hit, that's fine too. I just felt that he's getting out of line and he could make a play but I was also worried that if I raise, it would look funny and he might pop me back.
*** TURN *** [Qs 8h 8c] [4c]
SB bets $25 <-- smallish bet... from this particular player, based on past history, I knew this was a weak bet, not a "call me" bet
RecessRampage raises to $75 <-- I think I set it up perfectly. Now's a good time to end this hand.
SB folds
Uncalled bet of $50 returned to RecessRampage
RecessRampage mucks
RecessRampage wins the pot ($87)

The call on the flop was actually a perfect set up. Poker is always about telling a story. I didn't raise from the button and I am fairly aggressive preflop when I have decent holdings. So, without me raising preflop, what would the villain in the SB put me on? On a flop of Q-8-8, if he bets and I raise, would he put me on an 8? It would seem unlikely considering that there's no flush draw out there. If I had a Q, what type of hands would I play with a Q that is limp worthy but not raise worthy? Q-10? QJ? There would be enough questions in the villain's mind and he's a decent enough player that I could see him popping me back if I raised on the flop to really see how good my hand is. At that point, I would have a hard time calling with my 10 high. However, by smooth calling, I just felt him uncomfortable. Maybe I limped with QJ, or worse, with a hand like 7-8 or 8-9 and hit the flop hard and trying to slow play. Because I had the position, he would have to guess and act before me and I could react to what he does. When a harmless 4 came, I knew it would be a good time to put in a raise and take down the pot that was clearly rightfully mine.

FullTiltPoker Game #2227013785: Table Courage - $2/$4 - No Limit Hold'em - 22:30:43 ET - 2007/04/16

*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to RecessRampage [Jd Js]
UTG folds
RecessRampage raises to $14 <-- from early position, normal pot sized bet
2 players fold
Villain raises to $48 from MP <-- pretty good player that will make this type of raise with AK, AA, KK and also not so obvious hands like suited connectors
CO and button fold
Both blinds fold
RecessRampage calls $34 <-- I felt that the raise was a little big if the villain actually held aces or kings... so I was sensing AK or one of his steal moves with suited connectors
*** FLOP *** [9d 9h 7c]
RecessRampage checks <-- I hate being out of position! If I bet, he would surely raise... so I wanted to give him the initiative and see what he does with it
Villain bets $76
RecessRampage has 15 seconds left to act
RecessRampage raises to $180 <-- I didn't check to give up this hand. I wanted to know if he really had what he represented (aces or kings) or if he was trying to make a play on me
Villain folds <-- AK?
Uncalled bet of $104 returned to RecessRampage
RecessRampage mucks
RecessRampage wins the pot ($251)

In both instances, the hands didn't get to showdown. And it's quite possible that in both instances, I could have had the best hand (2nd one, I clearly did). But there are opponents that will test you and you have to test them back. If you just play your cards, you're not gonna win enough to make it worth your while. Read the opponents, know your opponents, and play the players. Now play some poker!


Fuel55 said...

Good advice as long as you aren't playing $1/2NL or a blogger tourney!

Sia said...

Great analysis on the 9/10 hand, especially with respect to your post flop call (and the reasoning behind not raising). That's the difference between playing poker and playing cards.

I'm guessing you're right on the Villain having A/K in the second hand. He could have also been on low pockets and simply unwilling to ride them after your raise (he had to have known that he might be up against high pocket pair at that point).

Nice work.

Also nice rounders quote. Although I must concede that my favorite line is different from yours:

"You know what always cheers me up? Rolled up aces over kings."