Friday, June 14, 2013

The Pushing Strategy (Pushing Strategy Away)

Was reading a post this morning written for Betfair Poker by my buddy and colleague over there, Matthew “Yorkshire Pud” Pitt, regarding what he found to be a curious conclusion to Event No. 18 of the 2013 World Series of Poker, the second of the several $1,000 no-limit hold’em tourney on this summer’s calendar.

There the Pudster describes how the event which started with 2,071 players had gotten down to heads-up on Wednesday night between Taylor Paur and Roy Weiss. After playing for a while the pair went to dinner break with Paur enjoying a commanding lead with nearly 5.5 million to Weiss’s 715,000.

Looking at the PokerNews live blog (where Matthew was reporting), Paur apparently didn’t want to take the full hour for dinner, but Weiss said he wanted to and so they did.

Upon their return, Weiss shoved all in the first few hands in an effort to try to get back into contention. On the fourth hand he did manage to double up, meaning Paur had about a 2-to-1 chip lead. Then Weiss continued to shove all in hand after hand -- i.e., every single time.

Weiss eventually scored another double to take the chip lead, and then continued to open-shove every chance he could after that. Paur eventually was dealt A-9 and called to see Weiss had 6-3-offsuit. Paur won that hand to get the lead back, then on the next hand Weiss pushed with Kc8c and Paur called with Ad5d.

Both an ace and king flopped, then another ace came on the turn to give Paur trips. Paur then managed to fade a club flush draw on the river and won the event.

Kind of interesting to look back at the reporting of that endgame on the PN blog. This year PokerNews is providing hand-for-hand coverage from all final tables, and this is an instance where having the full blow-by-blow of what happened is especially interesting, I think. There you can see how out of 24 post-dinner hands, Weiss pushed all in before the flop 21 times, getting a walk twice and only one time checking his option after Paur limped from the button.

Weiss had not employed his shoving strategy during the 60-plus hands he and Paur had played against one another prior to the dinner break. They’d begun heads-up play with Paur well ahead, and during those pre-dinner hands Paur had whittled Weiss down further. Matthew speculates in his Betfair post that Weiss might have looked up Paur online, discovered his impressive tourney résumé, and thus adopted the new tactic with the thought that perhaps it was his best chance of beating Paur.

The story made me think immediately of that memorable 2008 WSOP event I covered in which Vanessa Selbst won her first bracelet, a $1,500 pot-limit Omaha tourney that ended with Selbst’s opponent, Jamie Pickering, adopting a similar strategy of raising or reraising the pot before the flop every hand, sometimes without even looking at his cards. (Read this post from long ago for details on that crazy finish.)

Paur in fact asked Weiss at one point if he was looking at his cards during his sequence of all-in pushes. That picture above (courtesy PokerNews) shows Paur’s frustration at having to deal with the fact that Weiss had effectively reduced the strategic element considerably, making their endgame much more chance-based because of his one-dimensional line of attack.

Again, Paur’s look reminds me a lot of how Selbst appeared when Pickering was playing similarly at the end of that 2008 tournament. Selbst had dominated the event all three days, leading nearly start-to-finish (including at the end of both Days 1 and 2) with a performance that provided a hard-to-refute argument for her skill at PLO. But that skill suddenly didn’t matter as much in the face of an opponent shoving (or raising/reraising pot, anyway) before the flop every single hand.

Matthew asks at the end of his Betfair post for readers to respond to Weiss’s strategy, evoking the question of whether or not it makes a “mockery” of the game or perhaps even raises ethical issues. To that I’d have to respond that while such play is clearly going to frustrate one’s opponent, it has to be regarded as acceptable, and even smart in certain contexts such as when the difference in skill level between the two players is unmistakably wide.

In other words, any problems with the strategy would have to be directed toward the tournament format and rules of play, not the player.

The situation calls to mind how Daniel Negreanu was raising the issue on Twitter yesterday of there being an unfortunate (to him) preponderance of no-limit hold’em events and not enough fixed-limit or non-HE tourneys on the WSOP schedule. I think the issues aren’t entirely unrelated.

An ending such as the one Weiss caused to happen in Event No. 18 is always going to be a possible consequence of NLHE tourneys, as the format allows for it. Such is a factor that can help make no-limit hold’em especially exciting, but also can frustrate those who seek to ensure poker (and the tourneys of the WSOP) remain primarily skill-based competitions.

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Blogger Team MiRketti said...

First off, great post and an interesting topic.

I don't think this takes any skill out of the game. This is a strategy I see in low stakes sng's all the time. The skilled players have to adjust their starting range in order to take out the all in guy.

With that much of a defecit I would have went into all in or fold mode. Once I doubled up, I wouldn't have pushed my luck like Weiss did.

6/14/2013 1:30 PM  
Blogger darrelplant said...

What is "skill"? Skill is knowing how to play a game and how to use the rules and design of the game to your best advantage, whether that's "Risk", "Settlers of Cataan", or poker.

Is it more "skillful" having an 8:1 chip advantage and using that to grind away at your opponent, who has to then trust to luck that they get better hole cards that hold up after the flop? I can't see that argument holding much water.

6/14/2013 3:15 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Good points, guys. I tried not to lean too hard on that idea of "skill" here or to equate pushing all in every hand with an utter lack of skill. Nor would I say Weiss's all-in-all-the-time tactic was an example of entirely "pushing strategy away" (as my title probably suggests), although it does represent a pretty significant simplification of one's strategy.

6/14/2013 7:22 PM  

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