Friday, April 08, 2005
Limit or no limit... that is the question!
Last week, I'd had the feeling that I hit a brick wall in the $.50/1.00 limit ring games. I was doing well in the no limit sit-n-go's, but the limit ring games just went cold on me all of a sudden. I started toying with the idea of trying the no-limit ring games again.
For those of you who have followed the last 3 months of my life via this blog, you know that I go back and forth. Limit is my thing for a while, then I plateau and have to switch back to no limit. I run hot on no limit, then all of a sudden NL is chill as the backside of a pillow, and it's back to limit I go (always with a bit of SnG goodness thrown in for good measure - I really enjoy tournaments).
Someday I will figure out two things:
1. Why I go hot and cold between limit and no-limit. There's got to be some aspect of my play that I somehow settle into that causes me to leak chips. Maybe the phenomenon occurs because when I first switch styles, I'm playing on top of my game, and as I settle in, I get lazy or somehow unfocused or introduce bad habits. I just have to figure out exactly what they are!!
2. How it can be possible that I really enjoy both styles of play. It just depends on my mood and the mojo. ("Mojo" must be my word of the week). Is it going to be unprofitable to me in the long run not to specialize in either style, but instead to regularly play them both? Should I specialize?
Well, a few days ago, I decided to give the no-limit ring games the ol' college try once again. It's been a couple months since I switched back to limit; maybe even 3 months. I was met with some success the first couple nights, and realized that - Yup, indeed - it's time for a swing back to no-limit. I'm feeling it, and it's feeling good.
I had a sort of revelation tonight while 2-tabling a couple 25NL tables on Full Tilt. Or maybe it was more of an observation of things I'd previously read or heard but never thought much about. At any rate, something clicked.
A little background - I've been picking tables with 30-40% of the players seeing the flop (preferably closer to 30 than 40). I'm not going for the super-tight tables, but at the same time I'm not actively seeking out the wild, loose/aggro tables either. A slightly loose passive table will do me just fine, thanks! (Boy, do I miss the Poker Tracker stats...)
So, as I was two-tabling last night and tonight, I realized that I can get a really quick heads-up on the possible strength of my hand based on how many cards are flashed before me. I've got my FTP card backs set to the checkered red pattern, and if I click back to a window and see a ton of red staring me in the face, I'm immediately discounting some of the strength of my non-monster hands, unless it's a primo drawing hand, in which case I'm happy to see all of the red. Somehow, it just clicked in my brain to automatically compare my hand to the number of players in the hand. This is the sort of thing that I've known, but have never been able to subconsciously consider until now. You know - the sense that my pocket tens have shrivelled up against 4 callers of a pre-flop raise that occurred ahead of me, or the sense that my JT suited is now a playable hand in late position with those same callers. I chalk it up as another thing my brain is automatically figuring out for me during each hand.
Another thing that seems so obvious, but just today really clicked and sunk in: the difference between limit and no-limit. I mean, of course I know the difference in terms of gameplay, and the ramifications of potentially risking your entire stack every single time you play a hand. But there's a subtle difference in the gameplay that I hadn't paid much attention to previously. Or, maybe it's just that I realized a tendency in my own gameplay in limit versus NL.
When playing limit, you generally have an idea of how much it will cost you to see another card. Even if you consider possible re-raises, you still have an idea of how much money you're up against. In these loose/passive fishy games, with so many people seeing flops, often times it is technically correct once you're in a pot to call a bet on the flop as well, even if the flop has missed you. Pot odds are often there to chase the draws to two overcards, or sometimes even the gutshot draws. Think about it: 6 people limp into a pot in $.50/1.00 limit. There's $3 in the pot. If you're in late position, with two overcards to the flop, even if only one person bets and nobody else calls, you're still getting pot odds to call it. Add a few callers on the flop, and how can you fold? Now, the story often changes on the turn, when the bets get expensive, because it has to be a pretty big family pot to have odds to chase the long shots. Considering that family pots are more the norm than the exception, though, at these tables, it's a chaser's paradise. If you're running hot and catching cards, you're making mad cash. If Lady Luck has shacked up elsewhere, the suckouts can be brutal.
Compare this to no-limit. Now, the last few nights, I played at the cheap tables. I wanted to feel out my game and see where I stand. (Not yet ready to risk a $50 buy-in in one sitting, though I'm being pretty silly because I have no problem sitting down at two $25 games. Somebody talk some sense into me, please!) Anyhow, even at these cheap tables, play was MUCH tighter than on the limit tables of the same buy-in. Two or three people would go to a flop; if it was four or five, the field thinned considerably after the flop. This is one less card, then, for people to catch. Strong hands are less vulnerable to the suckout than on the limit tables, it seems. Of course, part of this is due to the ability to manipulate the pot odds via choosing your bet sizes. But then again, I'm sure I'm probably sitting with a bunch of people who don't know what pot odds are. Most of the pots that get dragged at these no-limit tables are small, with the occasional bigg'un to keep the average pot size statistic at a nice healthy number.
This led me to the revelation: at these no-limit tables, I can just sit back and play my game. Wait for the cards to come to me, and be aggressive with the hands I choose to play. Funny thing is, without that element of chasing cards, I feel like I'm making good laydowns and taking nice pots with my strong hands.... the way poker SHOULD be! Sure, there are the suckouts, or the cleverly hidden hands that end up costing more than they would at a limit table (ie. the slowplayed two pair or set). But, at least for me lately, the losses on those hands have been very well offset when my strong hands pay off.
It was almost like a moment of, "Ahhhhh! A game where playing MY game is actually a GOOD thing!" I get slack from people sometimes for playing too tight. I was starting to think that myself, and decided to loosen up a bit and play some more speculative hands, hoping to rely on my post-flop skills to know when to fold 'em. What I realized while sitting at these NL tables the last few nights is that I don't need to necessarily loosen up; what I need to do is work on being a little less predictable. Don't think of it as loosening my starting hand requirements - that is too permanent of a goal, and not one that I really want to do. But if I think of it as occasionally mixing things up a bit, playing a hand I wouldn't "normally" play, or maybe raising out of character, that effectively can keep people guessing without forcing me off my game.
Another thing that seems to have clicked suddenly is the automatic analysis of my position, in addition to an automatic consideration of what my opponents are holding. "He raised preflop... last time he made a minimum raise, it was with a monster, but last time he pushed it 3xBB, it was with Ace-baby." I'm almost thinking of my opponent's hands before I think about what is in my own hand. I've started using those auto-decision boxes MUCH less. I had already been in the habit of not using them to check, but I did often use then when I planned to bet or raise. Now, I'm not making all of my decisions immediately based on my hand. Some of my decisions are being made based on what I think my opponents have, and then considering my own hand in that context. It has been quite pleasantly startling to me to be right in guessing the types of hands my opponents are holding. I'm not quite able to put a guy on two particular cards, but I'm able to sense draws and ranges of starting hands much better than I've ever been able to before. It still freaks me out when I'm right on a read.
I read something a while back about how the human brain memorizes patterns, and even though we may not consciously remember certain things, our gut instincts are often actually based on patterns our brains have seen. That's why playing zillions of poker hands is critical to a person's ability to play poker well; memorizing a book or three does not a poker great make. Maybe it's because the brain picks up on patterns that occur in hands - betting patterns, board texture patterns, etc. We subconsciously remember what happened twelve other times when we were check-raised with a three-flush onboard, and get a gut instinct to act accordingly.
Intriguing stuff, and it is absolutely fascinating to experience these sorts of "clicking" moments in poker. Sometimes it seems like I go weeks and weeks and weeks without an original thought or revelational insight into the game. Other times, it feels like my poker brain is firing on all cylinders, and growing! (Uh oh... it's that big head thing again...)
Ahhh well. I'm up $40 tonight after playing on those 25NL tables at Full Tilt. With a little luck and continued success, I'm going to have no problem booking my WPBT June Vegas trip with online poker winnings. Thanks, FTP!
Miscellaneous geek tidbit... for those of you using the web interface for Blogger/BlogSpot blogs who have suffered the gut wrenching disaster of a lovely post vanishing into thin air when Blogger goes haywire: they've implemented a new "recover post" feature. Check it out. Whenever possible (ie. when I'm at home), I like to use a program that StudioGlyphic pointed out on his blog once upon a time - w.bloggar. Very cool. But at least now we have a potentially safer posting experience when using Blogger's web site.