Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rules of Engagement

Rules of EngagementJanuary has turned out to be another up-and-down month (like December). After that excellent first day, I’ve endured another roller coaster-type period here that has left me just about where I began. Looking back, I see I’ve fallen victim yet again to what I’ve now decided to be the one (or two) most damaging flaw(s) in my game -- my winning sessions are too short, and my losing sessions are too long. Regular readers might have noticed how I keep coming back to this issue, writing about again and again. In mid-December I performed the self-diagnosis one more time in a post called “Poker’s Sisyphean Challenge.” There I referred to Steve Zolotow’s recent CardPlayer article in which he characterized this very flaw as a “major discipline problem.”

It’s time for some sort of intervention. I’ve thought about this for a good while, finally coming up with eight “Rules of Engagement” that I’m going to try to follow here as I move forward. (Many of these concern issues previously considered at Hard-Boiled Poker -- in those cases, I have linked back to those earlier posts.) These are truly "shots in the dark." I’m very interested in hearing what folks think of these here guidelines, so please send along any criticisms or suggestions.

As you read these, keep in mind (1) I’m playing primarily low fixed limit games ($1.00/$2.00), more often than not short-handed (6-max); (2) The limits I’ve established in rules #2, #3, and #4 are what I think might work for me -- if others think these rules are worth anything, they might want to alter the number of hands or win/loss figure; (3) I generally prefer not to play more than 200-300 hands per session, so those who like to play more might also find the limits I’m setting there to be inapplicable; (4) Ace-rag (rule #6) is my problem hand -- others may have a different hand holding that serves a similar purpose; (5) I am yr average, jingle-brained sap.

Here they are:

1. One table at a time.
I rarely play more than two at a time, but even then I know I’m losing an edge. I don’t know how (or whether) Poker Tracker can easily show me my results when I play a single table vs. when I play more than one table. (Anyone know how to check this? Let me know!) I strongly suspect, though, that I’m a loser overall whenever I open that second table. Once I do, I know I am no longer bothering to record mentally a lot of the information I otherwise take in during play. Another reason for me to avoid multitabling is the fact that more often than not I’m playing short-handed games, thus increasing the likelihood I’m due to make decisions at more than one table. I know the young guns boast of playing four, six, eight, or even more tables at once, but my addled brain simply cannot keep up enough for multitabling to be positive EV for me. (See “You Have Options at Gamefisher Table!”)

2. Leave after 100 hands if not up at least 5 big bets (e.g., $10 at the $1.00/$2.00 tables).
This rule (and the next two) are probably ones that many pros wouldn’t necessarily recommend. I have read in various places how it isn’t such a good idea to give yourself a fixed goal like this, as it has the potential to influence artificially your decision-making. I have a couple of responses to that observation. The first is that I’m not setting a goal here -- I’m not trying to win a certain amount at a given table, then leave once I do. Rather, I’m suggesting to myself that since there are always dozens of other tables out there to select, why remain at this one if I am not winning? I would hope this rule would also encourage me to remain at a table where things are going well. This is another, related problem I sometimes have -- once I win a significant amount, I tend to get anxious to leave so as to be able to record that winning session. This is, of course, counterintuitive. Why am I in such a hurry to leave a table where I’m a winner? The second response is that I’m not a pro. I’m not even a great player -- just a good one whose cautious approach and bankroll management skills have helped him maintain a modest win rate. Unlike the greats, I need to set some limits in order to reverse that trend of short winning sessions and long losing sessions.

3. Leave after 50 hands if down (any).
Building on the previous rule, here. 50 hands might not seem like a large enough sample to determine whether or not I have a chance to be successful at a given table, but here I’m counting on what I think to be a slight edge I possess over many of the opponents I face, namely, the ability to read them more quickly than they can read me. In the 6-max game, 50 hands is usually more than enough time for me to discover all five of my opponents’ patterns, tendencies, level of aggression, and so forth. (I may need to allow myself a longer period if playing a full table, but I'll stick with 50 there as well for now.) It is probably enough for them to figure me out as well. Nevertheless, if it hasn’t become somewhat clear to me that I have an advantage at a given table, shouldn’t I consider moving on?

4. Leave if ever down more than 10 big bets (i.e., $20 at the $1.00/$2.00 tables).
Again, this might seem a bit hasty. One can suffer a couple of bad beats -- hands otherwise played masterfully but lost when one’s opponent sucks out -- and be down 10 big bets within the first orbit. Why do I think I should leave so quickly? Why not stick around and get back what that donkey took from me? Like all of these rules, this is one aimed at my own particular profile. I get a little rattled when something like that happens, and I tend not to play my best game when significantly down (even if undeservedly). I usually carry 25 big bets to the table (e.g., $50), so losing more than 10 means my stack has been nearly cut in half. Whether this happens in 2 hands or 49 hands, I’m thinking that I, personally, need to seek greener pastures. (See “The Long Goodbye.”)

5. Leave if less than four-handed.
I actually enjoy playing heads-up and three-handed, but the fact that I’m putting in a blind more often than not in these situations makes it less than worthwile (for me, anyway). My Poker Tracker stats confirm this conclusion. There I see (since last July) I’ve played just over 1,000 hands either heads-up or three-handed. I’ve won about a third of those hands, but my overall net is a slight loss (about -0.03 BB/hand). Predictably, I’m a winner when not posting a blind (i.e., when on the button in the three-handed situation), and a loser when I do post (0.08 BB/hand). I suppose the rake is an issue here, too. While I feel like I adjust fairly well when the table is breaking up around me, I might as well leave, too, since I’m obviously not a consistent winner in these situations.

6. Leave the moment I don’t know how to play Ace-rag.
I’ve discovered that for me Ace-rag is a pretty clear indicator of where my head is at. I’m no fan of Ace-rag, but at the 6-max tables there are frequent occasions when it is not only playable, but can be worth pushing (depending on position, opponents, recent history, etc.). However, I have to be in tune with what is going on around me in order to play Ace-rag correctly. I’m not exactly saying here that if I notice myself committing blatant errors (e.g., calling three bets preflop when out of position with A4-offsuit) that’s how I’ll know I’m having a problem. Rather, I’m talking about something less tangible -- namely my initial reaction, when, say, I have just been dealt A6 in the cutoff. Am I glad? Am I anxious? When the action gets to me, do I know what to do? If I am not sure how to proceed, it is usually because of what has happened before at the table. Whether it be my opponents, the cards, my own level of play, or a combination of all three, if previous hands have affected my nerve, causing me confusion about how to deal with Ace-rag, it is time to get up.

7. Don’t concern self with getting back to even (i.e., logging a so-called “winning session”).
Like a lot of players, if I find myself behind in a session I tend to become fairly obsessed with the idea of getting back what I’ve lost. I alluded to this phenomenon recently in another context (“Anyone Else Feeling Stuck?”). This obsession is, I believe, the primary reason why I’m seeing my losing sessions lengthen and my winning sessions cut short. If I refocus my attention toward the particular table at which I’m sitting, I just might be able to train myself to stop fretting over what I’m ultimately going to be writing down in my black book at the end of the day.

8. Avoid chat.
I generally do, but it doesn’t hurt to remind myself. All sorts of reasons why not to chat. (See “Shaddup and Play Already,” “Humble Pie,” “Canary in the Coalmine.”)

There they are. At the end of February I’ll report back how these here rules have worked out. Meanwhile, any advice, criticisms, suggested revisions, or words of warning will be much appreciated.



Blogger gadzooks64 said...

All excellent points.

However, I prefer to be all little less inclined to leave a table when down if I know that I just suffered a few bad beats, and the competition is weak enough to pay me back should I pick up a decent hand. Besides, the players on these short handed table tend to come and go rather quickly - just losing/gaining one different player can make a huge difference.

Arag is just a horrible hand. I prefer to stick to A8+ and I prefer suited. Even six handed you have to hit the flop. You rarely win a hand with A high, and can easily lose a lot of money when your kicker plays.

I am one to leave when I get up at the 1/2 tables. Usually 20-25$ and I'm gone. By then you have gotten an image that will reduce the amount of play you are going to get. It'll be hard to get any action.

GL at the tables!

1/27/2007 4:03 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Zooks! Great advice. Yr right about the table turnover & how things can change considerably w/just one new player. Also right about A-rag . . . when I say "I don't know how to play" I essentially mean I start thinking it doesn't look like the poison it usually is.

Might have to add one more rule: if Gadzooks comes to my table, leave immediately . . . !

1/28/2007 8:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Seamus - I've started reading your blog recently and am enjoying it, particularly the hand descriptions. Saw your call for help in Item 1 and figured I'd chime in... I've been using PokerTracker for about 10,000 hands now, low-limit, and it's indispensable imho. I play two tables at once, and the way I do it is have both tables along the top of the screen, and then in PT hit the *spade* icon on the right, and that'll pop a Game Time window out of PT and allow you to move it around. I move one for each table down below my two open tables, and I can see most of the table portion of each while I'm playing. I can click on those windows to get more information if necessary, or go back to the main PT window for hand replays, or session stats, but the way I do it allows me to peg every player to a type without any work.

Hope that works out for you, and good luck!


1/30/2007 2:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I would also add a rule that overrides most other rules if it is true.

If you're sitting 6-handed and your PT stats show you that you're at a table with at least 2 calling stations/dice/elephants/Taz's (I'm just using what I call the icons, I'm sure they have official poker names), you need to stay there as long as that dead money is there. You might get sucked out on, or misread when they actually do get a hand, but the fact remains that if you are a good tight player, you will over time take the money of a bad loose player. You need to try to stay there until that happens.

Caveat - I play full tables, not short, so you will probably have to change your categorization rules to apply to a short-handed situation.

And another - Over time, the better tighter (but aggressive) player will win, but sometimes that "over time" is a longer period than you think. I recently sat at the same table with a guy who over a period of 309 hands played 47% of them (at least double what would be wise for 10-handed) and he ended up UP 70 big bets.

So sometimes someone's dumb luck will outlast your patience and logic. =)


1/30/2007 2:55 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Kelly! I'm actually using the PokerAce program now in addition to PT -- it overlays stats on the tables pretty handily.

Yes, I've already noticed instances when I probably should allow myself exceptions to rules #2, #3, and #4 (e.g., the circumstance you describe occurs). Probably should have an asterisk beside all three of those rules allowing for the occasional "override" -- although if I'm gonna call an audible I probably at least need to be aware that I'm doing so (and have a good reason for it).

1/30/2007 4:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Of course then when you start setting rules that you allow yourself to break (with GOOD reason =)), then what good are the rules?

Responding to Gadzooks, I think you might be overweighting the observational powers of your fellow table-mates. If a few start to realize you're a strong player, then you can use that to your advantage and steal some hands that you earlier weren't able to. And there is so much turnover at the lower limits, that every half hour you'll have as much as half the table turn over, some of those new ones being loose-playing dead money players who don't know your image anyway, so you just beat up on them.

1/30/2007 5:26 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

"Of course then when you start setting rules that you allow yourself to break (with GOOD reason =)), then what good are the rules?"

Haha . . . very true! That could get outta hand PDQ! Will try to stick to 'em & report back.

1/30/2007 8:43 PM  

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