Monday, January 03, 2005

I tell ya!

Once I figured out how to actually play Texas hold'em (ie. the mechanics of the game), I realized fairly quickly that just knowing what makes a good starting hand and what hands beat what was not enough. The whole human side to the game is enormous, and you just can't have any success at playing poker if you ignore that part of the game. Even playing online - despite the fact that you cannot physically see your opponents, the tendencies of a person to chase a draw or to fold, to bluff at a pot or bet only with a made hand - recognizing those tendencies (or not) can quite simply either make you money or cost you money.

So I started working on being more observant of my opponents. I have a long way to go in this area. My friend Scott pointed out the other night that I shouldn't look at my cards until it is my turn to act, lest I give away some information about the strength or weakness of my hand based on my behavior in the time between the peek at my cards and my turn to play. Of course, I know this, and of course, every live game I set out to play, I tell myself I will start doing this (waiting for my turn to act before looking at my cards). I will observe my opponents as they look at THEIR cards, and wait to look at mine.

But I get lazy!! Or curious? I don't know! I hardly make it a few hands before I just go back to looking at my cards right away. I now have an instance where observing my opponent instead of looking at my cards or watching the flop might have saved me a bunch of chips, and possibly saved me a spot in the money.

Back to the aforementioned $5 re-buy no-limit hold'em tourney from last Thursday (the first one I played, against Mrs. Calling Station). I lost a lot of chips on one particular hand. The precise details of the hand escape me, but the scenario is crystal clear in my mind. It went something like this.

Down to 3 players. Mrs. CS and I have about the same amount of chips, and #3 is short stacked and not in the hand. I raise pre-flop - it was King-rag in my hand, if I remember correctly. Mrs. CS calls my raise and we see a flop. Flop comes K-9-9. I was watching the board instead of watching my opponent. Before the last card of the flop has even hit the table, she goes, "Shit!" Immediately I'm thinking, damn - was that a genuine reaction (as many n00bs I've played against tend to have) or was that the infamous tell of deception, trying to make me think that flop pissed her off and missed her completely? Had I been watching her, I probably would have known right then and there whether she was acting or not. At that point, I didn't even look up at her and bet out immediately. Might as well represent that it hit me. Knowing I'd missed the opportunity to get a read on her reaction, I had to find out where I was at. Here comes mistake number 2. She sighs audibly and calls me. Textbook reaction. So I'm thinking, "Wow, that happened just like it says in the book!" (Caro's book of tells, I'm referring to). Now - would you believe this? I literally stopped in my head and thought, "Naaaaaawwww! No way! It can't be that simple!" I think I even bet again on 4th street - either that, or I checked and she bet and I called. At any rate, I paid it off, knowing full well I was beat, tilting slightly (slightly?!? This night just about sent me over the edge). I paid it off because I had to see it with my own eyes, how that tell played out by the book. Of course, she had a 9 in her hand, and my kings were inconsequential (except to cost me a huge chunk of my stack).

Lessons learned from that hand:
1. Watch your opponents as they look at THEIR cards instead of looking at your own.
2. Watch your opponents as THEY look at the flop. The flop will still be there when you decide to look at it.
3. Believe the tells! Better to save a few bets than give away your chips, even if the laydown ends up not being the right move.

The hardest part of this series of lessons is going to be to NOT look at my cards and NOT watch the flop as it comes. I think human nature is to be drawn to the action. You know, the mystery of what's on those cards in my hand, and the excitement of seeing a flop come out. Will it make me a hand? Will I win? The anticipation! Funny - I think the words "discipline" and "patience" are going to make another appearance on this blog. Didn't I just mention them yesterday?

The irony!!

No irony at all....


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