Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pressing marginal edges - cash v tournaments

I have a confession to make - I talk to myself. No, not out loud. But I always seem to have some sort of an internal conversation with myself when I am by myself. This happens most when I am either eating lunch by myself (which is fairly frequent) or when I am driving. And no, this is not my coping mechanism to get away from loneliness. At least I don't think so.

Anyways, these internal conversations usually are centered around poker (prob 7 times out of 10, my internal conversations are poker related - the other 3 are usually social/political issues like gun control, abortion, religion, environment, etc... yes, I'm a sicko).

It's actually fairly amazing how much you learn about yourself when you talk to yourself. One of these things that I've noticed about myself which might be a detriment to me being a good poker player is that I lack the "gamble" factor. Gnome recently posted this regarding what everyone's thoughts were on poker. It was very interesting to see everyone's comments and then I realized that in the end, I tend to be more about managing risks.

This post is going nowhere...

Let me try to bring this all back to the point of this post. Some of my coworkers know that I play poker. So, they classify me as the guy that likes to gamble. When Vegas comes up (like someone went to vegas or whatever), they always say, hey Alan, Vegas is totally like your place right? I think they think that I throw big money around on roulette tables and blackjack tables... Funny thing is, I hate those games. I HATE those games. I really do. Sometimes, I hang out with my buddies so I string along and play blackjack. But it sucks. I might have some fun but it's just not exciting for me to think that in the long run, it's a losing proposition. And that's what is always in the back of my head so I don't think I've ever had a session of blackjack where I thought it was actually really fun (winning or losing is inconsequential at that point). Craps is my only gambling vice (and I'm damn good at it, just ask Bayne or any of the other bloggers that lost money when I rolled in December). So how does this relate to poker?

Ok, back to poker (FINALLY). So, generally speaking, there seems to be a lot of discussions revolving around pushing marginal edges and whether those are more fit for cash games vs tournaments. The general consensus seem to be that in a cash game, you should push every marginal edge you can find because even if you lose, it's a cash game, you can buy back in and as long as those decisions are +EV, you should be happy to get your money in. If it's a coinflip, you should gladly take it if you're on the right side of the coin flip. But the devil's advocate in me started questioning this. I mean I understand the premise. In a cash game, you can always buy back in so if you think you're a 50%+ favorite, you should always be putting your money in there. But is that really true? Here are some of my thoughts.

In a cash game, the blinds never go up. That means you are under no pressure to play hands. If you so choose, you can just wait for AA or KK and just play those. So, the question is, is it really that important to find every marginal edge and push it? If you are in a tough game with very tough players, of course it is. In other words, luck/all in preflop neutralizes the skill factor to an extent. I'm not saying there's no skill in reading the right timing to do that but in general, it's easier to do that than to make decisions on subsequent streets. So, if you're sitting at a table with a bunch of pros, chances are, there aren't too many opportunities for you to get the money in with the best of it so, you might need to employ more of a high risk/high reward strategy.

But let's say you are sitting at your regular 2-4NL table, full ring in this example. There's a mix of decent players and bad players. If you happen to be in a confrontation with this bad player, do you really want to get all your money in on a coinflip? I feel like in a cash game, I actually tend to avoid 50/50 situations. It's almost at a point where it's not worth it because if I wait another 30 minutes, I could probably get my money in as a 60% or 70% favorite, or even better. In other words, what's the value of pushing those marginal edges (and I'm completely ignoring fold equity here but even ignoring that, I think this might be a valid question)?

On the flip side, in a tournament, I wonder how important it is to push marginal edges. In a tournament, the blinds keep escalating. You are dealt finite number of hands. So, within that small sample, you are only going to be dealt certain hands, certain number of times (duh). So, in that sense, even if you sense that your edge is marginal, shouldn't you be willing to get your money in there, knowing that if you do and your marginal edge holds up, you would be in much better shape? I don't really have answers here. These are the types of discussions that I actually have in my head all the time when I drive to work, or going #2, or if I'm in a boring meeting (and 95% of them are boring).

Unlike Gnome, I am not a total math guy. I don't start doing random EV calculations on certain hands when I'm bored (I think I read that he did that when he was on a flight to or from somewhere). That's just not my thing. Having said that, I do wonder if me foregoing marginal edges to look for better edges is actually costing me or benefitting me. I think the easy answer is that it's hurting me. That I should be pressing every marginal edge. But I guess the other thought is, what if a hand that has a marginal edge on the flop but a more significant edge on the turn comes up? I think the hand against Fuel in my HU match where I flopped a set of 3's is really what made me think about it (well, that and an email from lucko questioning my thought process).

I might revisit that hand in the next post but I'd love to hear some people's thoughts on whether pressing every marginal edge you can find is the way to go or if it's better to wait for a better spot. But then again, as I request this, I am thinking that maybe not many people may have made it this far...


cmitch said...

In cash games, I think you really need to push the marginal edges. I'll take getting my money in a hu pot as a 52% favorite all day long, even against players that are bad that I can get it in as a bigger favorite later. I guess I look at the bad players slightly different than you. If I get in as a favorite and he wins, then he just has a bigger stack for me to go after. In general, most bad players seem to play even worse when they have a big stack.

I do think that you are losing a lot of long term +EV if you are passing up a lot of small edge spots. Good players will start to recognize that you are only willing to get your $$ in as a 60%+ favorite and use it to their advantage. Observant players are probably less likely to give you action on your big hands if they know that you aren't someone that will push a draw. I actually think that occasionally getting in as an underdog with a flush draw or str8 draw can be long term +EV b/c your opponents will have tougher times put you on hands if they see you playing your draws like your made hands.

A case for playing conservative (nitty) in cash games can be made, but definitely applies more to full ring than 6 max.

Of course, I have some huge swings in cash games so take all of this with a grain of salt.

Klopzi said...

I'm not a "gambler" when it comes to most things in life. But when it comes to poker, I'm always willing to toss every chip into the pot if I feel that the move is +EV.

I push pre-flop against good and bad players alike if I feel that my hand and the current pot size make my move a good one against an opponent's possible range of hands. Throw in some fold equity, since there are a lot of players who are unwilling to gamble, and you have yourself a lot of chances to make +EV decisions.

The strangest about me is that I'd never pay more than $2 for a fast food hamburger but I'll gladly push $200 into the pot in an obvious 50/50 or 40/60 situation.

But there's nothing wrong with playing tight either. No one can define your style of play. It's a personal choice. If you don't like pushing all-in pre-flop with AQ against a potentially loose three-bet then so be it!

I think your numbers speak for themselves.

AnguilA said...

I do talk with myself quite a lot too, although when I'm in the car I usually start calling people to talk over the phone...about poker mostly obv.!

As for the tournament side of your question (I'm definitely still a cash game donk), there's something I have tried to explain a couple of times (I believe) which is the moment of the tournament you are in. I will gladly flip a coin when nearing the bubble for a huge pot that I'm confident enough I will ride to the final table, yet I will not (usually) look to get into an all in preflop in the first level with AK. Although maybe I will push really hard with a hand like an OESFD, which usually is only a little favorite vs an overpair. Folding equity here is of paramount importance obv.

In general I'd say that as long as your game is aggressive, you will get into some spots that are marginally +EV but which will also serve to get into other spots as a huge fav. making your game as a whole much better/difficult to read.

I will also wait for the analysis of the 33 hand, because I remember not quite understanding your reasoning behind the overbetpush in the turn.

kurokitty said...

I think cash games are more about the marginal situations. The simple answer to that is because in a cash game you don't have to worry about survival and all your chips.

My most critical thought about a few very successful tourney players that I play in cash games with is that their play is often flat, sometimes being a calling station instead of being aggressive on all streets.

In an Ed Miller kind of way, if you only play your best hands (wait for AA and KK) and win those, you'll lose an equal share of bad hands through the course of your poker career.

If you win onlythe good and lose the bad, you'll actually be a losing player because of the rake and the fact you won't always be playing optimally. Plus, players will learn to get away from your hands if you don't play in marginal situations.

Which is why you must push the marginal edge. In this sense, it's not just coinflips but other marginal situations you'd be in if everyone played with their cards face up, from using techniques in the Cardrunners offense preflop, from raising to 3-betting.

You also have to bet your marginal situations, say on the river, when there is a scare card but you might have the best hand.

C-betting is a marginal play, but you have to do it to get paid with your good hands later on. Same goes for making a loose call on the river for all your chips. One "marginal" donk play can lead to profits over the next 10,000 hands, Brian Townsend has said many times.

So to answer your NL$2/4 coinflip question, there are times that maybe you should, if only to avoid appearing like the nit at the table. You have to give action to get action.

All of these things lead to profitable cash play. You don't have to press every marginal edge, just the ones that count!

PS: I chuckle at the thought of Gnome as a math guy. lol

pokerpeaker said...

I do not like to gamble, which is funny, given that I play poker. I don't play other table games, and I don't like to bet on sports.

This might tell you how I play poker.

I prefer cash games as well.

I prefer not to push the edges. For one, I don't know if I'm a good enough reader to recognize marginal edges or good enough with the math of the game. I've been a winning player for more than two years now, but I don't know if I can operate on that high of a level.

Plus I would much rather wait it out, since it is a cash game, and look for safer, better opportunities. It's served me well so far, even if it sounds weak. I do, of course, widen my hand ranges if I'm getting raised a lot, and I can adjust to the tables. But in today's game, I usually wait for better opportunities to get my chips in.

lucko said...

"I actually tend to avoid 50/50 situations. It's almost at a point where it's not worth it because if I wait another 30 minutes, I could probably get my money in as a 60% or 70% favorite, or even better."

Why can't you do both? Taking the first spot doesn't mean you can't take the second spot. In cash games, there are no "better spots" only your current spot. Looking for a better spot is completely a tournament concept.

That said, I am rarely in a tournament situation where I feel I am good enough to pass up any edge I have. If I think its an edge, I am taking it. Not taking those spots is overrating the skill in poker tournaments imo.

Fuel55 said...

I made it to the end and still think you are a pussy.

Gnome said...

I believe in taking advantage of every edge, but there are situations when I don't do so. Mostly this is because I'm not sure whether I even have an edge.
For example, with JJ in a reraised pot preflop, there are plenty of times when I'll let the hand go because I'm either slightly ahead or way behind, even though I may have a minor EV advantage against my opponent's range. It's marginal.
I guess what I'm trying to say is I'll never pass up a definite edge or coinflip, but I'll fold without a second thought in many iffy spots.

lightning36 said...

Myself, I make most major decisions by flipping a coin ...

Actually, the texture of the players and play at the table will ofttimes dictate how I play both in tournaments and cash tables. Not that I am great at either, but playing contrary to the flow often yields a good profit.

Astin said...

Since I posted about exactly this last week, I'll spare you the long diatribe (yah right, this is ME we're talking about).

I have to agree with Lucko and cmitch on the cash game side. If your cash game is "I have AA or KK, I'm playing." then you're screwed. Everyone will know it and you'll get blinds and then raked. I sat with a guy who's game was "fold 80%, limp/minraise with premium hands, and bet with strong draws. Go all-in if re-raised, or push on the flop if just called pre." Me and the two guys next to me made minced meat out of the guy after the 4th time he did it. Every drawing hand saw a flop, every draw-heavy board was played hard, and our own premium hands were clobbering him. One guy stuck around just to punish him.

That philosophy can easily be extended to any player who only plays big favourites.

And if you lose a 2% edge? Fine, top off and play it again next time. You'll get it back.

As for tournaments - they're far more situational. If you're early in a game, would you risk your stack on a small edge? You might on the bubble, or at the final table, or against a small stack, but there are definitely times when it's more suicidal than smart.