Saturday, August 21, 2010

Get Off the Tilt

Starting to get more into the rated Hold 'em games. I'm close to a 1900 rating now, after only playing 57 games. I had no idea that the system used for chess rankings (Elo) is the same that's used for World of Warcraft arena, and a lot of other game ladders as well as the Hold 'Em ratings.

I've been reading about strategy, and doing better understanding position and player counts, chip counts and so on. I definitely have a certain style that I like to play, and when I play very badly it's two mistakes that I'm usually making. First.. I get involved in hands very early with a high number of players (say 4 or 5), and think that I can pull of a huge win on the river card. That's a really bad idea because it's a low odds gamble, but with a big payoff if it comes in. It's just a bad play, and I'll end up being first or second out of the game - which is a huge drag on your rating.

The other mistake I make is getting on the "tilt"... which is when you start playing emotionally. Some players can be very irritating, taking a long time to call or fold. The blinds get progressively higher, and so slower players mean that there will be fewer hands before the blinds increase. Blind increases are on a timer. Sometimes I may lose a significant hand because somebody is playing some bullshit hand, and it comes in on the river (like an inside straight for example), and it beats my strategically played hand.. and that pisses me off. I may get careless and try to come back on the next hand with a stupidly played bluff when I should have simply folded, or I may focus on that one player and play hands that I shouldn't, just because he's in the hand. There's a chat channel in the game and player comments can piss people off as well, and some do it intentionally to put people off their game. You see this less in higher rated matches.

I'm getting better at recognizing when other players are tilting, and taking advantage of it. It's not easy to tell because you can't actually see the person, but you can watch how they bet.. the speed that they make decisions, etc. If they are tilting and you play faster and more aggressively (while actually backing it up with a good hand), you can put them out of the game and get a nice chip cushion.

Playing online, you can't read people like you would sitting at a table, and I think for me that's an advantage. Sitting at a table, I would be much more distracted, or even intimidated, then when I'm just playing against the cards on the table and watching the way people are playing. When you start playing against better players, it's important to see who is playing loose, who is tight and not at all kidding when they make even a small bet, and even who is looking at whose chip count and their own. Subtle things like that can make the difference when you get towards the end of the game.

I think I'm pretty good at playing the final 2, but I'm trying to expand that style with the last 3 or 4. Depending on how an opponent plays, and the number of calls, it's a good play to dump the small blind before the flop even with 4 players at the table, if your hand is not solid. Say you are small blind at 15, and it'll cost you another 15 to call the big blind - that may seem reasonable to do to see the flop. Early in the game that is fine to do. But even at a 15 to call, your so-so hand is just going to leave you with 15 less chips when you inevitably fold after the flop. Better to dump it and save the 15.

I just won my last game because I watched and understood the style of the guy I was playing against in the final 2. At one point I had a chip lead of about 100, with Ace/4. We both called and the flop came down with crap.. like 5, 8, 10 off suits.. something like that. He checks, and I come back with a 100 bet that he calls. I thought I could get him to fold by going all in on the turn (which was another crap card) - which wasn't a terrible play with the ace in any case. He goes all in also. He's got Ace/9 and the last two cards are low and his 9 beats me. I've got 125 chips to his 575 (I think it was) after that hand. That's a very very poor position to be in.

In that situation, most guys are going to call their small blinds regardless of their hand just to see the flop because it's only 50 - and odds are good that in only 1 or 2 hands they can put me out of the game. This guy, plays exactly as if we were even on chips and folds his small blind hand before the flop multiple times - not noticing that I'm inching back up in chip count to the point where I can start betting back and making more aggressive plays. A string of really nice hands for me culminates in him having ~150, and going all in pre-flop against my Ace/King. I call. He's got Queen/7. Flop is Ace - King - 8. Game is over, and I'm very proud of myself for sticking to my game plan the entire way through and not making bets on low odds/high payoff hands, or playing a bad positional game.

You can tell right away who the guy is that's going out first. Even though blinds start out at 1 and 2, it's not a good idea to play a gimmicky hand just to see a flop or pray for the river to flush, or hit the straight. A guy that is playing a lot of hands early is not going to last. It's better to sit back and just watch other players beat each other up for a while and get a feel for how they're playing.

You can really tell the difference between players in the 1500s-1600s, and the 1800+ players. In lower bracket games, you might see 5 out of 8 players call the low blind games. They figure if they've got 4/8 suited, they might be able to flush or straighten, and it only costs 2 chips to see the flop. Many of us have folded a hand like that, only to see two more 8s on the flop, or the straight come in.. or 3 more of the suit. You kick yourself for folding because you could make a lot of chips with 5 players in the game calling your small bets. I've had that influence me to play those low-odds hands and it can cost dearly. Now, when I fold I don't give a shit what the flop is, I'm just watching the other players. I don't beat myself up over what could have been.

When you're playing 1800+, you see.. fold fold fold fold fold. There is much more caution and it takes more rounds before you see the first guy out of the game. There is a chicken/egg thing that happens though. Everyone knows everyone else is not going to play a shit hand, so if you come in early with a 50 chip bet, odds are high everyone is going to fold regardless of their hand (unless it's a guaranteed winner and you've seen the flop). You can use that to bluff and pick up the blind money. Every chip is important. However, good players know that bluffing is mostly safe, and every once in a while somebody will get called on it, and all hell breaks loose. It can go to an all-in situation and somebody can be out of the game after only 2 or 3 hands. Yesterday I saw it on the first hand, from a 2k player.

Generally, you don't want to be either one of those guys because even if you win and have a nice chip advantage, the game is long and you might start off with a double chip lead, it gets whittled down by the 6 other guys at the table. A smart player that actually pulls off an early sizable chip lead is well advised to play very few hands, and just let everyone else go out and get eaten up by increasing blinds. When you get down to 3 or 4 players, that's when you get back on your normal strategy.

In doing some research on strategy, it appears there are a lot of tools players can use to aid them in online play. Many poker sites ban a lot of these aids, like ones that actually keep track of each player and each hand and compile a database on the players. I'm not going to do that. I have an odds chart that I use but it's pretty simple. It's color coded matrix that shows a number, 0-20, for each pair of cards you could have in your hand. For example, if there's 4 players left at the table and you have King/4 off suit, it'll give you a number, and the rule of thumb is that you shouldn't play a hand under a 14. That sort of thing. If you have King/Jack suited, obviously the number would be higher, exceed the threshold, and you should play.

After a while it becomes something you just can feel, and you integrate that with your feeling of how the game is flowing to decide if your going to play a hand or not.

I'm having quite a bit of fun with it, but I don't want to over-play either. If you start playing too many games in a row, I think it's too easy to get off your game plan. Elo systems vary a bit in their distribution, but based on what I know of WoW's distribution, I'd say my current 1862 rating is probably in the top 15% of the player base.. if not a bit higher. Keep in mind that I am not playing on a professional poker site, but I want to at some point. I want to get to a 2k rating, and then perhaps switch to Poker Stars and play there. It's free to play as well, and there's no real money to "buy in" - but the competition is likely to be different and I want to be more confident in my ability before I try it.

I'm not really sure how professional players make a living at it, because while the game is very nuanced, you still have to have hands worth playing. I can play a perfect game and still be the first one out because that's just how the cards fell. I've had probably 5 games where I was the first one out, and those really jack your rating, but that's just how it goes. I can't imagine that professionals playing in tournaments with hundreds of other people are able to consistently finish in the money when so much depends on dumb luck.

Online, it's different because you can play thousands of games, and a lot of the players I've seen have. That allows you to build an average result. Playing fewer games is less opportunity to have skill build your average, rather than luck doing it.

My near term goal is to improve my "average rated place". At one point I was in the high 3s, and I want to get back there. The placing is more important than winning games over the long haul, and has a bigger impact on rating.

Shouldn't I have gotten some sort of weapon after I passed 1800? lol


I played two games after writing this and came in last in both.


Steve said...

Where at you playing at? I've never played with a rating system before. Sounds fun.

I haven't played much since Vegas, but I had a hell of a time playing there and would like to get back into it. I think a rating would help me get into it more too

Tom said...

It's free and you just need a hotmail email address to play, so if you don't you can just create one and join the games.

The mechanics of playing it are pretty straight forward. Lots of fun really.

Tom said...

MSN is just to get me comfortable with playing, and then I'll probably go to I'd like to get a 2k rating first though.. so that's my goal.