Monday, January 01, 2007

Getting Off to a Good Start

Sat down earlier today for a short session on Bodog. First hand of the new year ($1.00/$2.00 limit, 6-max) goes like this: I get a pair of threes in the big blind. Three players call, the SB folds, I check. Flop comes TdAs3d. I bet and all three players stick around. Turn is the Tc. I bet again, and again all three players call. I’m doubting the ten is out there -- more likely a bunch of draws. River brings the 2d, completing somebody’s flush draw, probably. I bet once more. One player raises, the other two fold, I reraise, he calls. He turns over Jd5d for second-best. I scoop $27.25 after rake ($17.25 net on hand).

Decent start to the year, eh? Ended up netting around $55 (27.5 BB) for a hour’s worth of play (half 6-max, half full ring). (Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy such a win rate for the rest of ’07!) That first hand was fortunate, of course. The fact that it was followed by such a successful session made me think of something Barry Tanenbaum said when he appeared on Keep Flopping Aces a couple of months ago (during the 10/26/06 show) when asked about the importance of getting off to a good start.

Near the start of that show’s third segment, co-host Lou Krieger asked Tanenbaum why he thought it was important whenever he sits down at a new game to try to win the first hand that he plays. Tanenbaum responded by saying he had a “philosophy” which he called “Always Start Slowly.” As he explained, “starting slowly” means not necessarily getting involved right away in those “marginal situations” he normally explores as part of his usual game. Don’t post the blind right away, he advises; rather wait an orbit and observe the other players. (Here Tanenbaum answers a question I pondered over in an earlier post.) Then, once you begin play initially adopt a conservative approach, continuing to observe and gather information about other players’ tendencies as you do.

According to Tanenbaum, another reason to try your best to win that first hand is to create a “winning” image that will subsequently help you in later hands. If you have a winning image, you will more likely succeed when later trying to represent a hand, to bluff off an opponent, to isolate an opponent, to get a free card, and so forth. Tanenbaum here essentially describes what I experienced today. Truth be told, that first hand really played itself -- any moron could’ve won with that sweet draw, probably netting exactly the same profit as I did. Nevertheless, after winning that first big pot the table essentially deferred to me from that point forward any time I showed aggression or even interest in a hand. I won a few more medium pots, but also lost smaller pots when better hands refused to raise me. For example, on a later hand I raised preflop with AK and had two callers. The flop was three baby cards (663 or something), I bet and one player called. The turn was another baby card (a seven, I believe), but put three spades on the board. We both checked. The river was a deuce, we both checked again, and he took the pot with a pair of tens. I’m certain my “winning image” (deserved or not) encouraged caution in my opponent, probably saving me at least one big bet.

I like Tanenbaum’s advice about trying to win the first hand. I haven’t checked my records, but intuitively I believe that my better sessions usually begin with a win (even a modest one), while my less successful sessions begin with a loss. I’ve said before how much I like Tanenbaum’s teachings for limit hold ’em. If you’re a limit player, go listen to that 10/26/06 episode of Keep Flopping Aces (lots of great advice in there -- here are Part I, Part II, and Part III), check out Tanenbaum’s website, and look up some of his archived CardPlayer columns. You’ll be glad you did.

I’ll add a couple of other observations to this “getting off to a good start” idea. For one, I don’t think Tanenbaum is saying necessarily that when sitting down for a new session you absolutely have to win the first hand you play. You do depend on the cards somewhat in limit hold ’em, and can’t always control the outcome of a hand with your betting (the way you might in NL). You could sit there and wait three orbits until you get dealt a pair of queens, then push hard only to be forced to pay off an opponent who with ace-rag spiked an ace on the river. Such things cannot be helped, really. Rather, I think Tanenbaum is essentially telling us not to push “marginal situations” (like, say, flopping middle pair) as aggressively so as to avoid making your first big showdown a hand that (1) you lose, and (2) creates the impression that you’re a “loser” who thinks middle pair is the cat’s pajamas.

The other benefit to getting off to a good start (that Tanenbaum doesn’t explicitly talk about in the interview, though he does imply) is the way it helps your confidence. I don’t know about you, but every time I start a new session I experience a small bit of apprehension about how it is going to go. It’s always nice to receive that initial verification that yes, indeed, I do know how to play this game (somewhat) and can even be successful at it. Perhaps the best players never suffer from such minor insecurities, but for those of us who do even a small, early victory can go a long way.

Anyhow, here’s hoping all of you get off to a good start here in 2007.



Blogger derbywhite said...

Nice job Shamus

Hope it continues :-)

1/01/2007 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Rule Of Poker said...

I don’t know why but I find I have my largest wins when I am down for a while when I first start. No bad beats just lots of missed flops to start. Then if I go on a run I am more likely to keep it. If I win right away sometimes I feel over confident in my win and play to loose. Also if I end up losing in the end I am much angrier then if I just lose my buy in having never been up. Anyway have a ….


1/02/2007 12:30 AM  

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