Strategy in Action is a monthly feature recorded & written by a ‘recreational grinder’ who’s studying our training material in order to consistently beat $1/$2. Read the introduction here, or check out what happened in the last episode, Poker Notes. The video rundown is a new thing:
At $1/$2 NL, pre-flop open raises should be something like $12 +$2 per limper behind.
Like “never limp”, “don’t pay people off”, and “plan ahead”, this bet sizing rule is a rule of thumb. There are times to limp, to hero call, to act on gut instinct. Those are exceptions, not rules.
The $12 +$2 nugget of wisdom was delivered to be by Red Chip Poker coach Doug Hull during my first-ever coaching session. In the trouble hands we analyzed from our last episode, he noticed a lack of consistent open size prelop, and woefully anemic bets.
Taking stock of my game, Hull demonstrated in Flopzilla how certain ranges hit certain flops, and why I was needlessly worried that raising big would telegraph the strength of my hand or make me vulnerable in some other way. I remember leaving the coaching session with a distinct mathematical intuition that I need to be less afraid of my opponents drawing out on me, and more focused on generating value and isolating passive players with big preflop bets.
I went to the casino with a commitment to make consistently large bet sizes preflop. I probably should have expected this to introduce a little more variance in my game. I was heretofore playing fairly conservatively with a small bankroll for $1/$2 (about $2500).
But as it turns out, the greater variance in consistently bet sizing to play bigger pots was the least of my worries.
Everyone, even non-poker players, experiences life tilt from time to time. Life has a tendency to throw a lot at you all at once, and leave you scrambling to manage the chaos.
The morning before my roughly 5-hour casino round-trip was classic life tilt: Waking up with a splitting headache. Urgent work matters intruded. There were still things to take care of around the house. I remember thinking several times, “Am I really going to go play poker today?”
The problem? I thought I was doing the right thing by being stubborn and persevering through the challenges and discomfort. Like many of you, it’s really hard for me to make time to go play. I pressed on with my quixotic journey.
Whee! Down the Tilt Slide
The scene at the casino was madness, tourists (in Pennsylvania!) packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Lines for the under-maintenance bathrooms snaked out onto the casino floor. The line for most food vendor and restaurants was pushing 45 minutes. It was going to take an hour to eat.
Already titled and titling further, I continued my doomed crusade and sat down to play some $1/$2 NL. A brand new table opened and I was seated with a bunch of people who seemed to know what they were doing. My confidence has been boosted of late from the Spotting Live Poker Pros episode of the Red Chip Poker podcast, which advocates going head-on to meet the challenge of highly skilled opponents. But this was far from the soft tables I was used to, and the tilt ratchet cinched a little tighter.
The session started out well enough. On one hand the big bet sizing worked out — I raised AsQc in middle position to $15 after one limper, got called in 3 spots (limper folded). Flop is QJ7 w/two spades (I have the A of spades), I c-bet $40, get called in one spot, turn is a brick and I bet $100 (probably should have shoved?), opponent folds.
After that, I picked up pocket tens in middle/late position twice, raised big preflop into a few limpers, still got 3-4 callers, two overcards and several draws flopped, and I check/folded.
I had been making a point to be a little more careful on boards that are likely to hit other players, and TT on a KQ8 flop with two hearts did not feel as strong as it would have on J94, which would have seen me c-bet. I had kind of downshifted from c-betting 90% of the time to 70%.
I noticed that after I started opening big, other players started doing it too. At least half the table had switched from their default wimp opens of $8 to three red chips. I could see why action-hungry coach Hull would love this — as the best poker player at the table, he gets everyone to play a bigger game and put more of their stacks at risk.
It’s important to point out that this clarity of analysis is only in 20/20 hindsight. In the moment, all I could think of was, “How am I going to eat and still keep my seat, and where can I buy Advil?”
The $300 Life Tilt Lesson
Now, I’ve paid some hefty poker lesson fees before… The $300 “don’t call down three streets with a K-high flush” lesson… The $400 “always notice if the board pairs on the river” lesson… The $600 “don’t drink two bottles of wine at the table, get escorted out by security, and wake up in the corner of a low-budget motel in Atlantic City with a ticket for a tournament that started 5 hours ago” lesson.
I thought these kinds of expensive lessons were behind me. Then I paid the $300 life tilt lesson.
It’s totally embarrassing and it looks like this after I raise to $15 with AK and get called in two spots:
At this point, you are all screaming, “Fold your hand, no way you are good here with the shove! This flop is smashing his range and the min-raise is baiting you for a shove.” You might still be crying at the c-bet lead on the flop. I didn’t stop to think how pot-committed I already was, and how check/calling the flop might give me room to fold the turn.
As I pushed that stack out there, I heard those exact thoughts echoing in my head. Before any cards were flipped, I knew I had tilt-shipped the last of my stack. I was a huge dog to win this hand. In a way, I was sabotaging my own session to bypass my stubborn will to play poker when I should have stayed home. Nice move, unconscious mind! Good looking out. Next time can it cost less?
I knew I lost the second I started pushing my stack in. Now that the river had delivered no hope, I flipped top pair, top kicker, and my opponent showed a set of queens that I barely glimpsed. I was surprised he flatted pre with QQ, but it ended up being the right move to get all my money. I was up out of that chair instantly, walking to the exit. Firing the second bullet in my pocket was never a consideration. The lesson was learned.
Plan B was something I concocted when I first started Strategy in Action, but I haven’t mentioned it or needed it until this episode.
If I hadn’t embarrassed myself enough, I’m going to admit to you that I only just now saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was my Plan B all along. I ran so good and played so well I never needed the Plan B.
It’s a miracle, but somehow, over the months, I managed to avoid every spoiler, and I was able to finally catch up on this critical piece of pop culture history. Any thought of poker losses evaporated and I felt like I was 8 years old again.
I recommend having a plan B to get your entertainment value out of your poker time if it gets interrupted by life tilt and/or chip loss. Sometimes all you need is a distraction to avoid stewing in the foul odors of defeat.
On the one hand, this was kind of a downer of an episode. But let’s dump some sugar on these lemons and look at the bright side. I’m never losing $300 to life tilt again. Ensuring that will be easy.
One of the biggest new appreciations this loss has given me is for bankroll sizing. I’ve mentioned it much in the past because I am under-rolled for these stakes. But it took the loss of a buy in to appreciate the fact that I’m really taking a shot every time I play $1/$2. A few bad sessions and the bankroll goes bye-bye.
I am not shying away from taking shots. There’s an epic thread in the Red Chip Poker forums right now about, among other things, to what extent is poker “all about the money”, and the importance of taking shots regularly. I think seeing a non-reg poker player take shots is more entertaining than listening about my 25NL grind online.
At the same time, the thought is creeping in that I need to find a way to get some volume online at stakes that are kinder to my bankroll. And it’s not just the stakes — the volume is going to be super-important because…
I’ll be in Vegas for the Red Chip Poker 2nd Annual Meetup at the World Series of Poker 2016. I will be playing with coaches and other high-level players on a slim bankroll, and putting in hours in the cash games whenever I can. It essentially puts my entire bankroll at stake. This is for real.
I simply need to put in volume between now and then. I have no choice but to look into an online playing arrangement, however headache-inducing that may be. It’s the only way I’m going to get in the volume I need to hold my own in Vegas.
Volume is going to fuel my study by giving me so many more hands to analyze. I’ll continue to watch training videos to spot-correct my play as I identify leaks and trouble areas. But my plan is simple: Play lots of hands, analyze the ones I have trouble with, post the hardest ones to the forum, help others with advice, and study the trouble spots.
I’ve already been writing too long, I have a lot to work on, including figuring out how to play real money online poker in New York all over again (hit me up at @zacshaw on Twitter if you have any advice.)
See you again in May!