Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sometimes the Cards Play Us

Who is in control?I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I’d run especially well during the second half of July. August hasn’t gone quite as smoothly -- lots of ups & downs, although I’ve held at just around break-even for the month thus far. Not too satisfied with how it is going, though, and I’m not talking exclusively about results.

What I’m referring to is this feeling, which I seem to have been having a lot over the last couple of weeks, that I haven’t much control over whether my sessions are ending in the red or in the black. Rather, it’s all coming down to the cards. (That is what it seems like, anyhow.)

Ever get that feeling? Like yr slowly losing yr “feel” or reading ability or whatever, becoming ever more reliant on the cards and not yr other well-honed poker skills to get you where you need to be?

I know, I know -- we are always reliant on the cards to some extent. An unlucky (or lucky) river can make or break a session, especially if one plays no-limit or pot-limit games. I suppose I’ve just had a higher than usual number of sessions lately that were dominated by these kinds of hands, where it seemed like there was little I could have done differently to avoid a fate that might as well have been predetermined for me by the order of the deal.

For example, on Tuesday I sat down at a 6-handed PLO table, buying in for the $25 maximum. Had played several orbits, slipping just under $20 while noting the erratic play of WildChild, a player sitting exactly opposite the table from me. He’d been doing a lot of preflop raising with random hands, which wouldn’t be remarkable but for the fact that he didn’t seem too cognizant of the importance of position. His recklessness often continued after the flop as well, and I’d already witnessed him having found himself in a couple of especially bad spots while struggling to maintain his $15 stack.

Then came a hand where I was dealt 2s3hAdAh in the big blind. Two players limped, and WildChild raised pot to $1.35. The player to his left called the raise, the small blind folded, and I went ahead and repopped it to $5.90. As I rule, I try not to go beserk with aces in PLO -- especially from early position -- but thought here I had a chance to isolate against what was likely a much inferior hand.

One limper folded, but the next -- SandCastle -- called my reraise. Didn’t like that too much. Then WildChild reraised to $13.25, putting himself all in. The player to his left folded, and I didn’t see I had much of a choice. I pushed my entire stack in, SandCastle made the call (making the total pot about $55), and as we were on Full Tilt our hands were then flipped over.

Don’t care much for races with aces -- even single-suited (and with faint straight hopes) -- especially when up against two opponents. WildChild showed 4c2d4d2h, a perfectly silly hand for him to be holding here. Wouldn’t be so bad to be heads up versus just him. But SandCastle had 6s6h7h7d, giving me a few more cards to fade. A six flopped, as did two hearts. But no third heart came, and I was stacked.

No biggie, but it is hard to feel like yr much in control in hands like these. I suppose I’d played the hand reasonably, mathematically speaking. I’d tried to push SandCastle out but couldn’t, and in the end had used my $20 to try to win a $55 pot (a little under 2-to-1, pot odds-wise) in a hand where I had a 43% chance to win. Do that a hundred times and I should be coming out ahead, I guess.

But once we push it all in, we’re all just-a wishin’ and hopin’.

Then yesterday I sat down at a full ring game at PokerStars and again found myself in situations where it seemed utterly necessary to yield to the cards -- to abandon oneself to fickle fortune and let it determine who the winners and losers would be.

Started with the very first hand when I flopped the nut straight, then ended up paying off a short-stack who managed to turn his two pair into a boat. I battled for a while, building back up to $36.50. Then came this hand:

Like I say, sometimes it seems like the cards are playing us. Here PoorSap decided not to raise with his A-A-x-x from the blinds, which he might have considered doing (he was single-suited and also had a king), but I completely understand not wanting to do that from early position. His check-raise on the river was terrific, frankly. I’d have had a hard time checking there, worrying that the second queen on the river would’ve scared my opponent into checking behind. But he knew I would bet out, which I suppose I probably would’ve done even with jacks full.

Didn’t matter, though. None of it did. There was nothing either of us could have done to avoid that conclusion to the hand. That’s a pretty lame starter I’m holding -- 4hQs6dQh -- but I’d have probably still called a preflop raise given the fact that the button folded and I would be last to act for the rest of the way. Perhaps I might’ve bet out on the flop, but I’d imagine PoorSap might take one off with his gutshot straight draw. (Maybe not, I dunno.) In any event, once that turn card came, our fates were both sealed.

I should add one disclaimer here. When one routinely plays crap hands (like my Q-Q-x-x) or hands from out of position, one tends to end up in these “what could I do?” positions much more frequently. And I’ve probably been guilty of that a bit here lately, letting my impatience encourage me to play (and proceed with) certain hands I normally wouldn’t be as eager to push if I were thinking more clearly.

When, say, in PLO you pick up something like two nines with two other cards that aren’t providing any real straight or flush potential and you decide to play ’em, hoping to hit a set, yr asking for trouble. The flop comes J-9-2, you get stacked off by J-J-x-x, then you scratch yr head wondering “what could I do?”

The good player understands the cards didn’t “play him” there. He recognizes his own not-insignificant role in his demise, and hopefully he learns something going forward.

But then there are times when it really is out of his control.

And, in a way, that can be fun, too. Especially if he isn’t the one the cards are playing for a sap.

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Blogger Greylocks said...

I've found that when I have that feeling that I'm at the mercy of the cards, I'm almost always playing too many hands and trying too hard to win pots. Tightening up and making myself lay down vulnerable holdings when my opponents make strong moves at the pot almost always cures the problem, unless the cards really are running awful, which of course they sometimes do.

YMMV, of course.

8/14/2008 5:43 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Yes, very good point -- and definitely applicable here, I'd say.

8/14/2008 8:11 AM  

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