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 , he bets pot, and one opponent calls. The turn is the and he again bets pot -- over $12 worth -- and again his opponent calls. The river is the 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.
Labels: *shots in the dark