Monday, December 07, 2009

The Familiar Struggle

The Familiar StruggleHad kind of a so-so November, poker-wise, ending the month down just a touch (following an awesome October). Have been so busy of late I haven’t been able to play as often as I normally do. Usually I try to play at least a short session pretty much every day, but in November I see I only actually played 17 of 30 days. And so far in December I didn’t play at all until this past weekend, when I put in a few sessions of pot-limit Omaha.

Total hands in November amounted to just about 4,400. That’s compared to 8,100 in October. I generally fare better when playing shortish (100-200 hand) sessions, although missing days affects me negatively, I think, as I find it difficult sometimes to get my head back into the game (as the PokerShrink would say) when I’ve been away for even a short while.

I’ve written before about considering myself a “recreational” player, although perhaps a little more serious than most of that category when it comes to thinking about the game and trying to improve. Even so, I find myself often lapsing back into “Level 1” thinking at the PLO tables, especially when I haven’t been playing regularly. That is to say, I find myself thinking a lot more about my own hand than what my opponent(s) have, a bad tendency that leads to a more passive style that relies more on my catching cards than anything else.

Ian Taylor and Matthew Hilger talk about “Levels of Thinking” in their book The Poker Mindset: Essential Attitudes for Poker Success (2007). There they call the level where one is only thinking of one’s own hand “Level 0,” the level where one also considers one’s opponent’s hand “Level 1,” and so forth. The idea is the same, though, no matter how we number the levels.

I think PLO is a game where the difference between those two levels is perhaps more obviously noticeable than in, say, limit hold’em. Players who are brand new to PLO find it exceedingly difficult to put opponents on hands or hand ranges. (Hell, some find it tricky reading their own hands.) Even experienced PLO players like myself sometimes find it hard to keep thinking about opponents’ hands. And when you stop doing that, you necessarily become less effective.

'The Poker Mindset' by Ian Taylor and Matthew Hilger (1987)As Taylor and Hilger say, “most players tend to think at different levels at different times.” Various factors come into play, causing us to move up or down levels, but the one they focus on is experience. “When a player is in a familiar situation, he is more likely to think at a higher level than usual,” they explain. “However, when faced with a difficult and unfamiliar situation, the same players will just revert to the [lower level] with which they are more familiar.”

Like I say, for new players especially, PLO presents a number of unfamiliar situations that cause one to focus more on one’s own hand than worry too much about what others have. Other factors can cause such lapses, too, like fatigue or tilt or whatever. But I like that idea that familiarity leads to clearer thinking, and thus helps one think more clearly about what the opponents have.

Thus the problem I’ve been facing with my intermittent play -- when I log on after missing a couple of days, I have to refamiliarize myself with starting hand values, bet sizing, calculating equity, etc. Such is the plight of the recreational player, I think. Also of the older player whose jingle-brain stopped growing probably before some of his opponents were born.

Now let’s see if I can remember how to post this sucker.

(That picture above comes from the poster for the 1987 film The Stepfather. I just wrote a little something about that film for Film Chaw today -- check it out.)

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Blogger bastinptc said...

Good food for thought. I've been playing PLO for about a year now, and try to play nearly every day. Some days level 2 is easier, especially 6-handed; and other days one is condemned to a lot of folding. That does sum up what makes for the recreational player.

I only bother to reiterate what you have said because it has caused me to re-evaluate something that has been on my mind: Even though I play the micros, my roll continues to grow. Given that a small percentage of online players can claim such, am I a mere recreational player? (Granted, the competition may be lacking, yet my roll is such that it will be quite some time before I can comfortably move up.)

I have preferred to think of myself as a recreational player because it takes some of the "heat" off, much like, if one is so inclined, coming to terms with the notion that I am an abject sinner. Some days I don't bring my A game and it shows. Yet, I still have a desire to play as well as I can and learn a few things along the way.

Within this last point lies the process that does not require a labeled identity, regardless of how frequently one plays. Thinking otherwise is just a variation on results-oriented poker.

And if one has a bad day at PLO, there's always easy money to be had in NLHE. ;-)

12/07/2009 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

How would you compare your month to Isildur1? 10 years from now, I still won't grasp what he's done.

12/07/2009 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

1/23/2010 7:15 AM  

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