Monday, January 05, 2009

False Start

False StartBeen watching a lot of football over the last few weeks. Saw one particular bowl game the other day, the Kentucky-East Carolina one. The Liberty Bowl, I think. A close game (won by Kentucky), and thus interesting enough to see through to the finish. Even so, I had to disagree with the color commentator when he suggested near the end that the game’s competitiveness proved that 34 bowls aren’t too many.

By that time -- late in the fourth quarter -- I had already long decided I was watching a sloppily-played football game. All apologies to Wildcat and Pirate fans, but those were two fairly middling teams going at it that day. Everything about the game was below average -- the play, the coaching, even the refs. Especially the refs, actually. Several horrific calls, some made despite lengthy consultation in the replay booth. In fact, the winning touchdown -- a returned fumble by Kentucky -- came on a play in which the refs missed the fact that the defensive tackle recovering the ball had his knee down prior to his game-winning jaunt down the sideline.

Like I say, to me the poorly-played game seemed pretty strong evidence that having 68 of 119 eligible teams playing in college football’s post-season -- well over half -- is a bit much. But that’s not the topic of today’s post.

I read somewhere once that in football the “false start” is the most frequently called penalty, causing something like 20% (or more) of the flags thrown. Offensive holding is a close second, I believe.

False starts are frustrating, of course, particularly because unlike most penalties, they are often “mental errors” that could have easily been avoided had the offender -- usually an over-eager lineman -- listened to the quarterback’s signal more closely and/or possessed the mind-body discipline to prevent himself from moving an instant before the ball was snapped.

In poker, I think the “false start” is probably a fairly frequent occurrence as well. In fact, if we really scrutinized our play and gave ourselves “penalties” for all of our missteps at the tables, I’d bet “false starts” would make up a significant percentage of our overall “yardage” lost.

Most of you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. You sit down and at the beginning of your session play in a manner -- usually less carefully -- totally unlike your usual, controlled game. Playing that way partly stems from just being excited about rejoining the game, and having some impatience about getting involved early. So you play hands you might normally have passed without a thought, make a few rash calls or raises, and before your seat is warm you’re already searching the playbook for what to call when it’s first-and-fifteen.

I wrote a post a couple of New Year’s Days ago called “Getting Off to a Good Start” in which I talked about something Barry Tanenbaum, author of Advanced Limit Hold’em Strategy, had said on a podcast regarding the importance of winning the first hand one plays in a given session. You can read the post to see the full discussion, but the gist is that Tanenbaum recommends players “Always Start Slowly,” meaning essentially to avoid marginal situations and try one’s best to win that first showdown.

Doing so has at least a couple of benefits. For one, it affects how others perceive you, giving you what Tanenbaum calls a “winning image.” By winning that first showdown, you perhaps have given others reasons to respect your bets later on, or maybe to fold to your bluffs or semi-bluffs. Secondly, it affects how you perceive yourself (I think), adding to your confidence in much the same way that initial first down encourages a football team to believe they can move the ball even further.

Tommy Angelo also makes a similar point in Elements of Poker in a section titled “Take the Blind or Post Behind?” Angelo, who plays both limit and no-limit hold’em, says he now always waits for the blind to come around in limit, and only sometimes will go ahead and post from the cutoff in no-limit. He provides a bit of mathematical analysis of the issue, then talks about how he eventually came to realize the huge difference caused by this seemingly innocuous decision.

By posting from the cutoff, Angelo found himself getting involved in hands -- often aggressively -- that he normally wouldn’t be playing if he hadn’t already committed some chips to the pot. “It’s hand number one, and already I’m inviting instability,” was Angelo’s revelation. “It’s the difference between jumping in and settling in,” he continues. “It’s the difference between being afraid and being feared.”

By waiting for the big blind -- something he now always does in LHE -- Angelo realized he reduced variance (or “fluctuation”) and thus minimized the possibility of early tilting. In other words, starting slowly helps him, like Tanenbaum, avoid false starts.

After my lengthy, sometimes-thrilling, sometimes-abusive, year-and-a-half long relationship with pot-limit Omaha, I’m finding myself starting to play more limit hold’em again, and so have been trying to get back into the LHE mindset over the last few days. Had kind of a “false start” to the year, though, when I indulged in a one-night fling with PLO on January 1. I’ll share more about that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, let’s all try to limit those flags and play a good, sound game out there. As that philosopher of the gridiron Knute Rockne once said, “build up your weaknesses until they become strong points.”

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Blogger cheer_dad said...

If only my false starts at the table had the benefit of an official blowing the play dead before it even gets started, and just giving me the token penalty instead of letting me bleed off the whole stack!

1/05/2009 2:04 PM  
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1/06/2009 4:54 AM  

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