Hide your women and children, because it's World Poker Blogger Tournament time! This is the third year I have participated to some extent in the goings-on. The shenanigans started last night. I briefly met up with a bunch of the degens at the Excalibur. We then moved over to the Palms poker room. Several of us had agreed to try to get the Palms to spread a low-stakes HORSE game for us, but most of those who said they wanted to play never showed up, apparently getting lost between the two venues. I really have no idea what happened to them.
Friday, December 02, 2011
Thursday, December 01, 2011
A friend wrote me for advice on playing an unusual poker tournament. He has apparently managed to get himself invited to a game set for the casino's high rollers, who mostly play table games and slots, not poker. What's the best way to approach such a tournament, he wondered.
If I were playing a tournament against a bunch of people who didn't know much about poker, my expectation would be that they will play way too many hands, stick with them way too long, and be way too passive. I would expect them to check-call over and over and over again. Playing too many hands, and calling when either folding or raising would be better, are the primary sins of novice players. I would also expect them to have no concept of how their stack size should dictate how tight/loose they play, when they should shove, etc. Finally, if they're all on a freeroll, being given tournament entry as a gift or reward from the casino, I would expect them to place no mental or emotional value in getting anything out of it monetarily. That is, they're not going to be trying to maximize value by playing aggressively to try to take the top prize, nor are they going to nurse a short stack hoping to just survive to the money. Put another way, I would expect them to play without regard for what stage of the tournament they're in.
So how to adjust for such players? Well, the obvious thing is to pretty much abandon bluffing. They are going to be playing based on what they perceive the strength of their own hand to be, not based on an assessment of what you have, because they have no idea how to figure out your range. They probably don't even have a mental concept of what an opponent's "range" means. As a result, they can't follow the story you're trying to tell with a cleverly executed bluff.
I wrote about the fun and dangers of playing against novices here:
I would not expect most bets to induce folds. I would assume folds were going to have very low fold equity. That means that you should not bother making a bet or raise if the situation is one in which the usual goal of a bet would be more to induce a fold than to build a pot that you expect to win. That means that you'll be making fewer bets and raises than usual, but that's OK. If you're playing tighter than your average opponent, then you will usually have the better hand. Since you're going to have to win at showdown a higher fraction of the time than usual (because you're not going to get them to fold), that is just what you want.
There are also implications for your short-stack game. Usually you'll shove with any semi-decent hand if action is folded to you and you have 10 or 12 big blinds or less. I would be much more cautious about that with this group. They look down at a pair of deuces or a J-10 offsuit or a suited 4-5 and figure it's pretty, I might as well call. Again, the idea is that you can't expect to have the same amount of fold equity that such a shove usually carries. When you have to shove, it should be with the expectation that you'll get called and have to win a showdown, not that you'll be happy to just fold the field and pick up the blinds and antes. That obviously means shoving with a narrower range than would be your usual approach. It may well mean letting your stack drift down lower than you would usually allow before you find a hand that's strong enough to expect to win a showdown against the loose range with which you'll likely get called.
I think I would also mentally prepare in advance for bad beats. Rehearse how you're going to be cheerful and friendly and join your opponents in applauding their wins when their stupid play gets rewarded with the perfect river card. Mike Caro always plays with the attitude that he's rooting for the opponent to win. If that doesn't happen, he gets the pot as a consolation prize. That way, he's never disappointed either way it turns out. It's a hard mindset to get into, but one that is a harmonious environment for avoiding tilt.
One final piece of advice: I can no longer remember who wrote it (I think Steve Zolotow, but I can't be sure), but there was a column a few years ago in Card Player magazine about playing in a juicy home game. He stressed the point that one's most important goal for the first game is NOT winning any money, but getting invited back for a second and third and fourth game. You do that by being a good sport, by being likeable, by giving lots of action, chipping in generously for the food and drinks, and being a good loser. I get the impression that this tournament is one to which you are being invited at the discretion of its organizers. If so, I would make it my first priority to catch their attention as somebody that should be invited back every time because you help make the experience more enjoyable for the high rollers they're trying to woo. Laugh, learn people's names, makes friends, be the guy that nobody much minds losing to. Imagine yourself as part of the casino hospitality staff, there to help the other players have a good time so that they want to keep patronizing the establishment. In other words, take the long view, not the short view. You're trying to set the stage for being able to sheer these sheep many times, not just kill them this once.
None of this is mathematically precise poker theory, but I hope it's a useful set of broad strokes on how to approach the game.
And I missed it by a long way. It was 30 days ago, and it was just today that I realized that I've been doing this bloggery thing for five years now.