Been awhile since I've written so hopefully I'm not too rusty. I'm really looking forward to getting into some of the discussion topics that are coming up on the forum. My goal this time around is to spend a little more time reading some of the stuff that's out there to try and find new perspectives on some old topics. See if we can't keep it interesting for both old and new readers.
Just to get my feet wet, I wanted to write about something I found myself thinking about last weekend while playing the cash tables at the Casino - table selection. It's not a new topic by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, one of the quotes you'll find on my Facebook page that has been there for years has to do with table selection:
"Theres no use being the 8th most skilled player in the world if the other 7 are the guys sitting across from you at the table.
In a non-tournament situation, choosing your opponent is the difference between losing your buy-in and winning next year's mortgage" - Tilt (2005).
The reason I started thinking about table selection this time around was because I was sitting at the table with 4 Regulars. This got me thinking about the pros and cons of playing with Regulars, and how often I actually spend playing with these guys.
Let's see if we can dig a little deeper into the decision to play with Regulars...
Familiarity - They always say knowledge is power. At a table where we have plenty of insight into how the majority of players play, how could this not be a benefit? You have a deeper understanding of their ranges, their preflop/post-flop tendencies, and maybe even a tell or two.
It's important to remember that if you've spent enough time with these Regulars to pick up on their tendencies, than they have had enough time to pick up on yours.
Chatty tables are loose tables - I read once that a player who talks a lot at the table often gives off the impression that they are involved in more pots than they actually are. Possibly a psychological affect of being involved in all the conversations that are going on at the table. It's very common that on a table of Regulars, there will be constant conversation taking place.
While I subscribe to the above theory that chatty tables are often loose tables, I think it entirely depends on the individuals involved in the conversation. In my experience (and I'd love to hear about your experiences), a conversation between two Regulars leads to slow, tight poker.
If I had to come up with a theory of why a conversation between two Regulars leads to tight play, I would propose the following: While the Regulars are being polite and talkative, they both have a personal agenda of trying to out-perform the other by the end of the night. Neither want to make a mistake in front of another Regular, so they tighten up to avoid it.
Just because Regulars are chatting, doesn't mean they aren't paying attention and looking for opportunities to bust you.
A friendly game is a fun game - A game where everyone is chatting and getting a long is usually a great place to spend an evening. There are plenty of laughs to go around, and sometimes you even get to make a few friends. For your social or recreational poker player, these kinds of tables are fantastic and are exactly what you are looking for on a Friday evening.
The price of this experience? Minimum, 1 buy-in.
A parting thought before I open the floor for your ideas - the reason we call these players Regulars is because they play regularly. The one constant they all have in common is that they all still have money to play with, for better or for worse. There might just be a 1-hit wonder looking to pay for your dinner at the next table over.
The last thing about note taking I would like to discuss often gets unmentioned. Perhaps it is because the first section on note-taking is beneficial against all opponents, while this is only really useful against mediocre to good opponents. All the same, it is critical to bringing your game to the next level.
Taking Notes on Yourself
Ask yourself, how many times have you been at a table, played a hand, clicked on your opponent and written down exactly how YOU played the hand? Once in awhile? Not very often? Never?
While the recreational players probably don't take many notes, if any all, you encounter regular players every single time you play. There are regulars multi table players, SNGoers, and cash game players. These players may not be your targets of choice, but they are at the very least, unavoidable. If you are not prepared to play against the regulars, they will be looking at you as the fish of the table.
Now that we have discussed why it is important to take notes, as well as what is important to write down while taking notes, it is safe to assume that your regular opponents are doing the same thing about you.
Be honest, how many of you have taken a note about me while playing in a forum game or a Daily Challenge? Even if that note does say "Donkey" ;)
With this in mind, it is important that everytime we get involved in a significant hand with a regular opponent, we are taking note of not just how they played the hand, but how we played that hand against them.
Let us consider the previous hand history example from the last blog entry:
Now let's quickly recall the notes we took on each player:
xmagubax - Called PFR from BB w 22 - Check called half pot bet, set on 28Thh flop - Lead half pot bet on Qd turn - Lead 3/4 pot Kd river
marianet14 - r 4x bb from MP w KK behind 1 limp - Lead half pot on 28Thh vs 3 oppos - Called half pot lead on 28Thh Qd turn - Called 3/4 pot Kd river
If we assume that each player is a regular player, we can also assume that each player took the same notes about each other respectively.
Let us consider the hand from xMagubaX's perspective. While he was unlucky that marianet14 rivered the King to beat his seat of 2's, he has to be fairly happy with how he played the hand. He didn't play it perfectly, he could have exploited marianet14's overpair on the flop to get more money in. Then he could have forced a much larger bet on the turn, possibly getting all the money in before he was outdrawn.
Hypothetically, say the same situation was to arise again a week later between the same two opponents (unlikely the exact situation would happen, but similar circumstances occur all the time):
Up until this point, the hand has been played the same. Now XmagubaX recalls his notes about how he played this hand. Previously he flat called in this position to hide the strength of his set.
He knows that his opponent with KK was willing to call anyways, so it is unnecessary to flat call here. He can go ahead and raise his set of 2's, and if marianet14 has an overpair like last time, he will still get action.
XmagubaX raises [$48] marianet14 calls [$31.50]
** Dealing turn ** [ Qd ] pot is $128 XmagubaX bets [$91 and is all-in] marianet14 ?????
What we have here is a huge decision for marianet14. Does s/he want to call the 3/4 pot bet with an overpair on draw heavy board? marianet14 would have to consult their notes to make an accurate decision.
It is impossible to say whether calling or folding is the correct decision with KK in this spot without considering your opponents tendencies.
marianet14 would look at their notes and see that last time maguba had a set, he check/called the flop, and lead the turn. This time he check raised the flop. So perhaps he only had top pair this time and was trying to defend it?
marianet14 calls [$91]
Marianet14 makes the call, and ends up putting an additional $91 in the pot drawing to only 2 outs.
So we can see how by taking notes on himself, xmagubax was able to know how he played the hand last time against the opponent. With this knowledge he was able to adjust his line as to maximize profit, and put marianet14 in a difficult spot with a greater chance of making a mistake.
Had xmagubax not have taken notes on himself, he would not have known that the last time he was in this spot, his check/call on the flop lead to a smaller pot. Thus giving his opponent the chance to catch up, and eventually lead to him getting all his money in on the river as a loser, rather than getting it in on the turn as a 95% favourite.
Colour Coding: 888 offers quick tags you can use to label your opponents. I suggest ignoring the nicknames that go along with these tags as they are not often descriptive enough, or relevant enough to make them meaningful.
However using the colours to indicate a player's personality can be a huge asset in a quick pinch.
For example, I use the colour Red and the colour Purple to indicate hyper aggressive and Maniac opponents respectively. These are the types of opponents I like to sit with when choosing my Cash Tables. So when scrolling through the lobby looking for a table to sit down, I search through the table list to find players with these colour tags.
Simply deciding that you want to play some 1/2 NL tonight and choosing the first open seat you see, does yourself a disservice.
This also helps you to choose your seat at the table appropriately, as you often want aggressive players to your right and passive players to your left.
Short-Hand Text: Having quick colour codes are great, but it isn't nearly enough information to help you make proper decisions. Just knowing your opponent is aggressive, doesn't tell you how exactly he uses his aggression.
Does he bluff with empty hands? Does he bluff on the come? Does he lead bet when he hits the flop, turn or river? Does he have a wide 3 bet range? Does he bite on check-raises?
Leaving yourself little hints as to how your opponents played a particular hand builds a map that will eventually help you make very informed decisions, that you otherwise may not make.
Before we highlight what notes you can take, I want to point out a few things:
1) You can take notes on more than 1 person in a hand. Every hand offers information on every player. You should take a note on a player EVERY time you get to see their cards.
In this case we are able to make a thorough note on xmagubax and marianet14
2) You can make notes on players who don't show down their hand as well. Someone could make a note about aaronlt here without seeing my hand that I limped behind a PF raise, and folded to a continuation bet on a board of 28T.
3) Write your notes short and to the point. You need to be able to look at your note quickly during a hand, read it, understand it, and use it. You don't have time to be reading full sentences or paragraphs.
- Called PFR (pre flop raise) from BB w (with) 22 - Check called half pot bet, set on 28Thh flop - Lead half pot bet on Qd turn - Lead 3/4 pot Kd river
Here is what my note would look like for maguba on this hand. You'll notice I have:
- Broken down each action based on whatever street it was on - Defined his position on the table (big blind) - Defined what he had in his hand (22 and set) - Defined the texture of the board (heart flush draw with two hearts hh.) - Specified how much he bet when he called and lead and from what position (lead) - Defined the turn and river cards - Made each street quick and easy to reference for later.
Here is what the note would look like for his opponent:
- r 4x bb from MP w KK behind 1 limp - Lead half pot on 28Thh vs 3 oppos - Called half pot lead on 28Thh Qd turn - Called 3/4 pot Kd river
- I have defined the hand, the position, the amount raised preflop - Defined the amount bet and on what flop, against how many opponents - Defined his actions against an opponents lead bet and on what turn - Defined his actions on an opponents lead bet and on what river
All of this information helps me in two major ways for the future. First, it helps me to define the ranges of marianet14 and xmagubax in the future. If marianet raises 4x the blind from middle to late position, and continuation bets half the pot, I can make the assumption that s/he potentially has a big hand.
The second way it helps me, is to decide how I want to proceed against an opponent given what I now know about their patterns. If I am in a hand against xmagubax with top pair, and he check calls the flop and then lead bets a scary turn, there is a good chance he was slow-playing something big on the flop, and I should give up my pair.
Of course 1 hand isn't concrete evidence to make final conclusions about an opponent's patterns. However, after a couple of hands and a couple of notes, you will find that people are far more predictable than they think.
Often when discussing poker with people who don't play the game, they make the statement "wow you must be pretty good to make that much money!" Or something to that affect.
I believe knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is critical in all walks of life, not just poker. While my poker game has far too many weaknesses to fit into one blog post, I want to discuss a particular strength of mine.
Some members know how to play with relentless aggression like L67C. Others have a keen eye for mathematics and apply them quickly and accurately to their game, like Cheesies. Then there are players who have incredible bankroll management and a great poker mindset when approaching their game, like idi0.
I believe my biggest asset is my ability to put myself in the shoes of my opponent and understand how he would play the hand. This helps me to narrow the range of my opponents. It also helps to choose appropriate betting patterns to maximize wins and minimize losses. While I believe this to be in large part, a natural ability, that doesn't mean every player can't take steps to improve their ability to understand their opponents.
I firmly believe that proper note taking is understood by most, and used by very few.
Every online player has an incredible tool at their disposal. The ability to build a database based on their history of play, and study it to find weaknesses in their opponents as well as their own play. Whether you are using poker tracking software, or simply taking text-based notes, you have this available to you every time you sit down.
In a previous blog "Keeping Track of Poker Tracker," I discussed what to look for when studying your poker tracker numbers. In the next blog I will discuss what sort of notes you can take to help improve the accuracy of your decisions at the table.
Reaching the final table of a multi-table tournament can be an adrenaline rush. It can also be a source of anxiety for alot of players, especially those who are less exeprience with that situation. With each person eliminated from the final table, the money jumps can be dramatic and definitely intimidating. Here I will cover a few tips for improving your mental approach to a final table, and a few strategy adjustments you can make to set yourself up for the big pay day.
Understand the Structure
Most tournaments are top heavy. Some are extremely top heavy (the $20 3k and 5k tournaments for example). This means that the majority of the prize pool payout is distributed between first and second place, and sometimes third. The pay jumps between 4th to 1st are extremely drastic. Consequently, the rest of the money positions are relatively flat, usually the top 20 or 30 positions in the two previously mentioned games.
Being able to recognize a top heavy pay structure versus a more evenly distributed structure is critical to the approach you are going to want to take once you reach the final table.
(The two examples above are completely made-up, and the prize-pools are not equal. They are simply there to demonstrate the % increase from position to position. In the first example you can see that with each high position, there is a slight % increase. In the second example positions 4 - 9 have similar % increases, while 3rd - 1st is dramatically increased).
Adapting to the Pay Structure
Once you recognize which pay scale you're looking at, it's time to develop an approach.
In the top heavy tournaments the approach is simple - aggressive aggressive aggressive. You don't want to sit around waiting to make your hand in these types of tournaments. If you are waiting for premium top 20 starting hands before you enter a pot, you will be giving up too many blinds and putting yourself behind the 8 ball too often.
Your goal is to finish in the top 3. 4th through 9th are relatively interchangeable as the money value increase is not that dramatic.
From time to time, playing aggressive will cause you to be knocked out of the tournament earlier than you may normally would otherwise (7th-9th). However, the number of times that you will be finishing 1st-3rd as a result of your aggressive play will offset the times you bust early. And finishing 1st-3rd twice, and 7th-9th 8 times, is far more profitable than finishing 4th-6th ten times.
In an evenly distributed pay structure, it becomes slightly more difficult to formulate an exact strategy. The above mentioned aggressive approach is certainly still viable. You can trade finishing in the middle of the pack all the time for top 3 sometimes and bottom 3 the rest, but it's not necessarily better value to do that in an evenly distributed tournament.
Here I would recommend that you look at the pay structure, pick out a position that you feel you should finish (based on your chip stack, your image, and your relationship with the opponents). Play tight-aggressive until you reach that position, and then open up your style to aggressive and push for first.
You get to the final table with a chip stack of 50 000. You are currently 6th/9 players remaining.
Right away, you should automatically determine that you should finish no lower than 6th.
From there, consider your image and the relationships you have made with your opponents. Do you feel that you have a significant edge over the player who is sitting in 5th in chips? Do you have very good position on a player who you have great notes on? Taking your 6th place chip stack, and the considerations of the table, you determine that you should finish 4th.
So play tight (not passive), pick good positional spots with good hands, to make sure you keep a healthy stack. Once you are down to 4 players remaining, open your starting requirements, change gears, and play aggressively for the win.
Alternatively, perhaps you are 6th/9 players with 50 000, but the blinds are 5000/10 000. The chip leader is sitting to your left (behind you), and you have developed a very loose image which will result in your opponents calling your all-ins with a very wide range. From these factors, you may be 6th in chips, but you might determine that it is likely you will finish 7th.
If this is the case, I would probably look for the first opportunity to get my money in good (blind on blind with a high card for a chance at 60/40), and double up.
Scout the Competition
If you are feeling pressured at the final table, it is safe to assume at least some of your opponents are feeling it too. Final tables are funny, they tend to bring out the best and the worst in players. Players who are innately too tight will tighten up to the point of needing AA, KK, QQ, JJ or AK to play a hand, and players who are too loose will start calling all ins with JT and 89 in the hopes of knocking out one more player.
Take a few minutes before determing your approach to watch your opponents, and find out who is who.
Just knowing who is who isn't enough either. You need to take advantage and exploit them. That means if you have someone listed as tight, you need to raise them with a wider range than you are normally comfortable with. Also, it may mean it's time for you to make a huge laydown of JJ or QQ when one of these tight players goes all-in.
Alternatively, it means you can raise and reraise your loose players with a wider range as well, since they are likely trying to get involved with alot of medium strength hands. Use your position to your advantage against both style of players as always.
Play your Normal Game
I always get PM's and E-mails saying, "Aaron, I won a satellite, how do I win the next stage of the tournament?" or "I'm about to make the Final Table of this tournament, what should I change to win it?"
More often than not, the answer is "do nothing." For whatever reason, you have made the final table, you must be doing something right. Even if it means you caught the luckiest string of cards in your life, your opponents will know it, and you'll have a great image to get paid off for when you do make a hand. Too many people will change their style from a winning approach, because they are afraid to lose.
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