Sunday, October 03, 2004

Teaching A Young Pup Old Tricks

Sunday 14th March 2004 - Salford Casino, Manchester, UK

Pot Limit Hold Em - £10 Rebuy Tournament

I was in a darker, more sombre disposition on this night than my visit two weeks previous. I wasn’t in much of a mood to socialise with any of the other patrons, which wasn’t such problem, as I didn’t really know anyone there particularly well. I recognised a few of the characters walking around the casino, including our Teach doppelganger, which brought a smile to my face. But on the whole, I kept myself to myself. Even my clothing suggested a more elusive facet to my character, deciding to dress very smartly, jet black head to toe.

One of the reasons why I wanted to be left alone, was my mind had been bombarded with a mountain of information, which I still was having difficulty processing. I had spent most of the weekend studying how to read and act on tells, after deciding to investigate Mike Caro’s University of Poker, during a discussion on the poker forum I found the instructional videos to be very constructive, and I studied each one repeatedly until they were committed to memory. A picture, or in this case, a video, can say more than a thousand words. Mike Caro’s mannerisms reminded me of some of the best tutors who took the time to enlighten me during my informative years at school and college. His good sense of humour, with a dash of eccentricity, made it a delight to watch. The funniest part for me was when he rustled his hair up on end and said, “And if this [tell] happens, you really got to be careful!”

I had noticed whilst studying these videos, some tells that I had picked up on my previous session. Perhaps more importantly, I also identified certain tricks which had been played against me, when I first started playing live. One I remembered vividly was a hand where I had made triple 7’s. The player immediately to my left was still in the hand. As I made a reach for my chips after the river card, he made a reach for his own chips, acting as though he was going to bet. This caused me to hesitate, and I naively checked, anticipating his raise. Of course, the raise never materialised, and he checked down the hand. His smile betrayed the fact that he had outwitted me. I won the hand, but had allowed him to go to the showdown for free. This time, I was determined to remain more alert to such deception and eager to put into practice some of this newly acquired knowledge.

It proved to be a long wait. I was not seated in a good position to start with. I had randomly chosen Seat 1 - Table 3. A quarter of the table, which brought the action towards me, was hidden behind the dealer , who was sat towering over the table on a chair elevated higher than the others. It also meant that the person acting on my right was the dealer. He paid little attention to my body language, but was more focused on ensuring the game ran smoothly. So, I couldn’t practice the one move I wanted to, more than any other, which was the anticipated reach for my chips. As compensation though, I had a clear view of the digital clock used to indicate the next blind escalation. This is very useful information to have, especially if you are a tight player on a restrictive bankroll. I was dealt KJ in the very first hand, which put me in a difficult position. I’ve noticed in the past, people tend to play almost any two cards in the first dealt hand, in order to gain an early lead, and this game was no exception. By the time the decision to act had come around to me, it was a case of putting all of my stack in or folding. Still nervous and unsettled, I decided to err on the side of caution and folded. There were several people in the pot, and I came to the conclusion that at least one of them would have a pocket pair. Plus, any cards which I needed may also have been out. As it happened, I would have won the pot on the river when my Jack paired up. But I was correct in my assumption. A pair of pocket 8’s took down the pot.

An hour passed before I played a hand. The blinds were about to increase to 100/200. By being very conservative, there were still a reasonable amount of chips in front of me. I had decided that the time had come to double though, and played pocket 6’s very aggressively pre-flop. At this stage in the tournament, during the re-buy period, there is no finesse. You pick your moments and go in for the kill, hoping to get heads up or win the pot there and then. I had one caller holding face cards, but luckily he didn’t connect. A loose player at the table commented that he had folded pocket 8’s because he thought my hand was so strong.

However, during this time, I wasn’t sat there staring blankly out into space. Instead of looking at the board cards as they fell, I was more interested in the other player’s reactions to them. More often than not, I could establish what cards a person was most likely to be holding. Whether they would fold to a bet, or if they genuinely had a good hand, information was radiating from each individual, once you studied them for long enough. I wasn’t able to correctly read people all the time. But I would estimate that perhaps 60-70% of the time I guessed accurately. It certainly saved me from losing chips, if it didn’t help me win any.

Discretion is not something which comes naturally to me, and is an area which I certainly need to improve on whilst sat at the poker table. I had a difficult decision to make holding QJ suited on the button. A rookie player (this was evident from his previous hands) , had made a big raise in mid-early position. The action seemed to take forever before it finally came to me. I wasn’t really interested in the other players, but more curious as to what this guy could be raising with. The slight shake of his hand betrayed a large pair. After I had decided not to take the risk, I casually glanced across to his left, as a few players had still not made up their mind as to what they were going to do. It was only then that I noticed the player to his immediate left looking straight at me. We both held eye contact for a few seconds, and then he smiled. I had been caught trying to catch a read! I noticed on several subsequent hands, that this player overemphasised his actions, such as heavily tapping the table to check, sometimes trying to throw me off the scent with false tells. I’ve found that once you’ve been caught, it is very difficult to get a read on someone.

There was an interesting hand I played against this gentleman. I held AK in middle position. I followed an early raiser with my own all-in re-raise. My nemesis was sat on the button. We had clashed previously when I held exactly the same hand. That time he had called my raise with a pair of pocket 7’s. Even though I caught an ace on the flop, he rivered me with a third 7. This time, he was contemplating the same move. I could sense it in my bones. I really didn’t want him in the hand at all. I much preferred to either win the pot there and then, or go heads up against the original raiser. He was trying to stare me out, and had his chips ready in his hand. So I looked down at my cards and then quickly away from the table. He thought for a little while longer…… and then decided to muck them. Sure enough, the original raiser called my bet. I won the hand without even pairing up, the early position player holding QJ. Now, it could be argued that I shouldn’t have played that hand that way. But there were a few factors to consider. First, the early position raiser wasn’t aware of what I was doing. The dealer was sat in between us and was blocking his line of sight. Secondly, the button was the type of player who would typically play any pocket pair, if he felt that the other players were holding unpaired high cards. Finally, by looking away with decent cards, it may help me in the future when in a similar situation against the same person. Except the next time I might be bluffing….

I was very happy overall with how I played in this session. I didn’t enter many pots, but when I did, I won most of them, doubling up my stack size. I only lost three pots during the entire tournament, and whilst I didn’t make it to the final table, I did manage to last longer than I have ever done before. The total cost of entering the tournament was only £11. I didn’t need to re-buy at any stage, and I had sufficient chips not to justify a top-up after the two hour re-buy period. £11 per tournament is a cheap method of getting much needed practice, plus at that rate I can afford to play every weekend.

Learning how to read people has opened up my game immensely. I am by no means skilled at it at present. It is something that can only be developed with regular practice as I gain more and more experience. But the addition of being able to read tells is like the equivalent of being able to see in vibrant Technicolor, where as before I could only see endless greys.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article Sauron. I play at Salford fairly regularly so I'll look out for someone who tries to read other players (they are very rare).

I've read Caro as well but it was some time ago now. Immediately after reading it I too was scrutinising everything and trying the tricks and I'm sure it helped my game. This phase has somewhat died out though unfortunately due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, the book material is not fresh in my mind and is no longer new and intruiging to me. Secondly, I think I have just played too many tournaments that I find it difficult to maintain a strongly focused level of attention for the duration of an entire tournament.

Anyway, hope to see you some time in Salford (but remember I've read the book too so when I loosen my tie and splatter my chips, don't assume I'm a wreckless gambler).


Tom Foolery / Monkfish

4:33 pm  

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