Friday, May 04, 2007

"Is This Standard?" (1 of 3)

Is This Standard?Okay, back to business. I’ve been reading Barney Frank’s “Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act of 2007” that he introduced last week and have some thoughts about it. Let me just say my first response ain’t terribly enthusiastic. Am going to continue to think about that for a bit, though, and instead offer here something different -- a bona fide “shot in the dark” concerning how we think about and discuss poker strategy. In particular, I want to talk about the extent to which we gravitate toward assertions about whether or not a given play is “standard” or correct (e.g., mathematically, in terms of game theory, relative to common practices, etc.).

The question of whether or not something is “standard” dominates our lives, really. When we try to give meaning to what we’ve experienced or observed, we instinctively gauge distance from the “norm” or “expectation,” then assess. A woman on a cell phone loudly relating details of her sex life so a busload of passengers can hear is not “standard.” A poker tournament being suddenly halted with the chip leaders awarded the prizes is not “standard.” These things happen and we respond first by noting their uniqueness, then thinking further about what it all means. In most cases, the bizarre deviation from the expected reinforces our sense of what is normal or what should occur -- that is, our “standards.”

A couple of factors motivated me to think about this idea in relation to poker strategy. One was hearing David Sklansky interviewed over on Alan Schoonmaker’s new Hold ’em Radio podcast, Poker Psychology. (He appears on the 4/17/07 episode.) Sklansky there discussed a brief, provocative article he’d written for the April issue of Two Plus Two Magazine titled “It Doesn’t Always Depend.” In the article, Sklansky presents a very specific example of a no limit HE hand where, in his estimation, there really is only one “logical ‘default’ play” to be followed. I’m not going to run through the hand in detail -- you can read the article yourself -- but for Sklansky it is a “basic” hand for which “there should be no dispute” about how it should be played.

Dispute did follow, however. (The article spawned more than one thread, including this one that presently includes over 220 replies.) Even though Sklansky expresses some surprise in the interview at all of the debate his article caused, his opening lines show that he was aware some -- in fact, many -- would probably object to his thesis: “The typical player doesn’t want to believe it. But usually there really is a best way to play a hand. Even in no limit hold ’em. Many hate that notion because it means that most hands can be reduced to a sort of logic problem, and average players don’t like to deal with that.”

So that got me thinking a little bit about “standard” play. The other factor that spurred this here train of thought comes from my having played a lot of pot limit Omaha lately. It’s been almost two months now since I essentially switched over to PLO from the limit hold ’em ring games. Am creeping towards the 10,000-hand mark for that period -- will probably reach it tomorrow or the day after. Most of those hands have been at the $25 max tables (0.10/0.25 blinds). I continue to run very well, with my win rate far exceeding my best ever at limit HE. (Will give a report of sorts soon.)

Since I’ve been playing PLO, I’ve also been reading (and once in a while participating in) the Omaha threads over on Two Plus Two these last few weeks. I’ve noticed a common theme that seems to come up in almost every halfway serious conversation about Omaha hands. Whenever someone posts a hand for analysis, among the responses one frequently sees someone saying whether or not this or that play was “standard.” For example, in this thread the original poster asks about a PLO25 hand where he holds KKxx. The flop is 4hJdKd, he bets pot, and one opponent calls. The turn is the 2c and he again bets pot -- over $12 worth -- and again his opponent calls. The river is the 9c and his opponent goes all-in. “Did I play this correctly?” the OP essentially asks, and the first respondent says yes, “you played the hand perfectly fine and standard.” Another one later down the page also says “Flop and turn are completely standard.”

I’m also seeing a lot of instances where the original poster asks whether or not a given play is standard. Just scanning the recent active threads in the Omaha High forum, one finds the following subject lines: “Are These Standard?”; “AA 3 handed - is this standard? awful?”; “Standard bluffcatcher?”; “Standard?”; “standard?”; “3/6 PL This is standard right?”; “plo 50 standard?”; “10-25 PLO Standard?”; and so forth.

Now when I was playing 6-max limit HE, I also frequently read the Limit Texas Hold ’em: Small Stakes Shorthanded forum on Two Plus Two. And I’m not remembering references to “standard” play coming up quite so frequently there (although they certainly did now and then). So from this anecdotal evidence I’m going to go ahead and float a hypothesis: Omaha High players more frequently consider certain plays “standard” than do players who play other forms of poker.

I’m going to consider this idea further in the next two posts. Since it is just a hypothesis -- that is, I haven’t proven anything yet -- I’m going to spend one post trying to marshal some evidence to support the theory. I’m looking at threads in various Two Plus Two forms and the frequency with which posters make reference to “standard” play. Will present those findings in the next post.

Then, in a third post, I’m going to try to articulate why I think Omaha high players are more apt to value “standard” play than are Texas hold ’em players. If Sklansky’s article had been about a PLO hand, not a NL hold ’em hand -- that is to say, if he had been arguing for a “standard” way to play a particular PLO hand -- I can’t believe he’d have met with as much objection.

Meanwhile, check out Sklansky’s article if you haven’t already, and if you have any thoughts about the idea of “standard” play (in HE or PLO), let me hear ’em.



Blogger MacAnthony said...

I again have fallen a bit behind in some of my blog reading and haven't read parts 2 & 3 yet (I will get to them tonight though) but I will add what I can to this and see if I am anywhere close to your line of thinking as well.

As someone who spent a lot of time playing poker over the last year, I noticed that omaha players tend to look for standard situations to play more than holdem players do. I think this boils down to how they players look at situations. HE players tend to look for specifics and it's harder to have something standard to fit so many specifics, but omaha players look for scenario situations. What I mean by that is they tend to worry less about what the two cards you have to the non-nut flush draw, just that you have a non-nut flush draw.

Scenarios mean way more in omaha than they do just cause it's way to easy to have an overpair, gutshot, non-nut flush draw and backdoor draw to the nut flush. It's way to hard to think of the specifics there. You need to simplify that up. You also typically know where you stand as far as if you have the best hand but you know you have to get your money in based on your outs. I have been in so many situations of not having so much as a pair but knowing I need to get my money in cause I have more than 20 outs remaining in the deck and am a favorite. That aspect of the game does not come up in holdem.

I do notice the tendency to look for standard plays in holdem more and more now too though. I think this is good for players to recognize what is the most optimal play to make (I say most since I think there are a lot of "depends" moves) as long as they realize that they need to change it up. If everyone played optimally, the only winner would be the house. Just like Lindgren said "In holdem poker, sometimes we vary our play" and I think it's important to know what you are varying it from.

5/09/2007 12:47 AM  

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