Experience. They say there’s no substitute for it.
They probably weren’t looking down at the butt-end of set-over-set.
My first reaction was to snap a photo for my readers:
My second reaction was to smile, knock the table and say, “nice hand” when the turn and river sealed my fate. People do this all the time, but I have spent the last year learning how to mean it.
My third reaction was to reach into my pocket and pull out a stack of 12 green chips. No hesitation. No tilt.
My fourth reaction was to note down the hand in as much detail as possible.
Then I sat back down to play another eight hours of poker.
Last weekend’s session was the longest session I’d ever played by far. My average session length is around 3 hours. Last weekend, I played for eight hours straight on Saturday with only a couple bathroom breaks. Then I put in a couple hours on Sunday for good measure.
The set-over-set hand stacked me for $300 towards the beginning of the session. Over the next eight hours I grinded back $119 of that loss to end the weekend down $181.
The money did not matter at all to me. It was the experience I was there for. And I walked away a rich man in that regard.
The latest revelation came, as they often do, from a Red Chip member. ChipXtractor mentioned in a forum post that he was setting time goals for his poker play, focusing on the process rather than the results.
Since I was going to the Sands to meet up with him and Fausto Valdez, and I knew they were going to be playing long sessions, I decided to pace them. I was driven to do so because I realized in an instant that time spent at the table was more important than the results. Whether I won or lost, I would be in learning mode during and after the session. I wasn’t just playing the game, I was actively studying it.
I still have my goal of building a $6,000 bankroll by November 9, 2017. Right now I am sitting at +$962 above my original $1500 live bankroll deposit, for a total of $2,462.
But I’m setting a new goal for each month: Log 8 hours of live play per month, and a minimum of 8 hours of off-table study per month.
I am also taking more in-depth notes at the table. I still use SplitSuit’s Live Poker Player’s Journal to log the most confusing hands, but now I’m also taking text notes on my phone about the overall patterns I’m observing.
I’m looking for patterns — patterns in my play as well as in the play of others. I want to destroy unprofitable patterns in my play, while identifying where the money is coming from. And I want to exploit the patterns of weakness in other players. Looking back on the notes, I really think they are going to be my ticket to profit at my next session, because I see so many areas to exploit. I am really going to lean on the Red Chip community to help me design strategies around these patterns.
Here is what I noticed:
• Early in the session, people assumed I was a bad player because I look young and inexperienced. I don’t look like the rest of the people at the table and I’m not at the casino enough to be recognized. Because of this, every preflop raise I made early on got multiple callers, even though they were large ($10-$15) compared to the raise sizing of the other players ($5-$10). Often the callers were the dealer button (playing ultimate position) or the blinds (not wanting to have them be stolen).
• Over time, as I solidified a tight-aggressive, possibly nitty image at this passive, limp-happy table, my preflop raises were respected and even feared. After the first two hours, I rarely got a call from a pre-flop raise. I noticed that if I raised in early position, I never got called, and this held true for other players. In this game, an early-position raiser was given a range of JJ+ or AK by nearly every other player at the table.
• Everyone is highly aware and even obsessed with the high hand bonus and the bad beat jackpot. Because of this, it was safe to assume every pocket pair and suited connector broadway cards were being played to hit quads and straight flushes. These bonuses encourage limpy, passive play because players almost want to go multiway to give a greater chance of someone else hitting their quads or straight flush. It really was astounding how much people were letting this affect their play.
• Players are very aware of position and if they are last to act post-flop and it’s checked to them, a bet to take down the pot is likely. Or, if the last-position player does not bet, any player with any piece of the flop or turn will likely bet when checked to them on the turn. C-betting was close to 100% if the preflop raiser was in last position postflop.
• Players were not calling most of my value bets. They were very fit-or-fold. I realized a bit too late I was c-betting too many dry flops I connect with or dominate, when these flops don’t hit their preflop flatting range. I noticed many spots I could have gotten value from a curious or crying call if I had bet the turn or river instead of the flop.
• Many players would make weird bets with strong flopped hands that could have been, but probably weren’t beat on the turn or river runout. An example would be that they would make the same bet on the turn and river and showdown a hand like two pair when the straight or flush came on the river. This was presumably to maintain fold equity if they were beat and I felt like an aggressive play might get them to fold. Also, if they had the nuts and got a whiff that another player had something, they made big, obvious raises. Bet sizing tells were rampant and I lacked the aggression to act on them.
• I made the most money by checking the flop with a strong hand and then betting turn. Presumably this was because players are position-focused and aware that I could be stealing on the turn because their flop check in position confirmed they were marginal. This would also happen if they checked flop and turn out of position, but folds were more common than calls, again, probably because they were so aware of being out of position.
• Some players were unimaginably nitty, and the other players were aware of this and trying to exploit it. The nit is probably the most common exploitable profile found in casino card rooms. For example, the player to my right for half the session played an average of two hands per hour, and it was usually from the big blind in a limped pot. His VPIP must have been a low single-digit. But when they played a hand, they seemed unaware of their nit image, but the rest of the table was very aware. I saw people calling the nit’s flop bets in hopes of spiking a straight or flush with the knowledge the nit would probably go all the way with a set, two pair, or even top pair, top kicker. Otherwise they’d fold immediately to the nit’s flop bet.
• Nobody was playing particularly loose or aggressive. Just a lot of limp-calling. Almost no 3-betting preflop or postflop. Everyone was playing like they were trying to hit the nuts or one of the jackpots. Their only other consideration seemed to be not letting another player steal a pot when they held a decent-to-strong hand that wasn’t the nuts, but I got the sense they’d always back down if enough pressure was applied.
LEARNING AT LIVE
I have never had a live session where I learned so much about the game of poker and how my opponents played, and I really chalk it up to the quality poker time I spent. In my last episode, I talked about the social aspect of poker as a big part of spending quality time in the game. And certainly, getting to hang with Fausto and ChipXtractor was a big highlight of the trip. But what I learned at this session was that playing wide-awake, hyper-aware A game is perhaps the biggest part of playing “quality poker”. From now on “A game” for me stands for “Always be learning”.
I’d been focused so much on planning ahead at the table I forgot that I need to learn what game dynamics to build plans around. If there’s one thing talking to all these pros and coaches has taught me, it’s that planning ahead is not about executing rote strategies picked up in strategy books and videos. It’s about applying that expertise to specific patterns and situations that can be exploited. So with the above notes, I feel like I’ve got a really good grasp on some of those patterns. In the following month, I’ll be able to use my 8 hours of study time to build plans around those patterns, and work on developing the expertise I need to exploit them for profit.
THE SET-OVER-SET HAND
Set-over-set is often viewed by poker players as a cooler. And I’m not entirely convinced that the one pictured above wasn’t a cooler. But when I worked through the hand I realized I made several mistakes. And while I’m not sure I could have ultimately gotten away from getting my stack in, the post-game analysis clearly shows that a better player than I might have.
I started the hand by betraying my own plan, so mistake number one was not sticking to the original plan of never limping. I thought I had identified I spot to limp 99 in middle position with two other limpers. I figured the guys in late position were the only slightly loose-aggressive players, and if a bunch of people limped, someone in late position would raise with a fairly wide range. My plan then was to re-raise and blow everyone out of the pot, and if called, setmine or hope for an all-low flop to c-bet and then give up to any further aggression.
Now, I’m not sure that original plan is particularly sound — in fact I’m pretty sure it isn’t — and one of my study goals besides getting feedback from all of you is to work this out in Flopzilla to see the mathematical reasons why.
And frankly, my true original and default plan is to open raise this to $15 as a standard move, and either call to setmine in a multiway pot or fold pre-flop if it’s a particularly big raise and I’m heads up. In retrospect, that seems like the more straightforward play.
Had I done either of those things, I might have not stacked off here. So, let’s look at what I actually did, and then hypothesize what might have happened had I tried either of the original plans. Suffice to say the lesson here is to stick to your plan!
What I actually did was limp 99 in middle position with 2 limpers behind, and the guy immediately to my left raised to $11. I put him on a strong range of TT+ or KQs+, so we’re more behind than ahead here. These types of players aren’t raising in middle position with a range much wider than that. He got one caller on the button and I called with the intention of setmining or betting out if the flop came low and dry, in which case I’d expect to get called by draws or better and raised by better. Again, I’m not sure that’s the right plan but at least I was making one. The pot was $41 going into the flop.
The flop came 2s Kc 9c, giving me the second nuts. I bet out $35 hoping to get called by AK, or any hand with a K for that matter (except KK), and called by any flush draw. I had about $250 left in my stack for an SPR of about 3.3.
The guy to my left (who had me covered) thought only briefly, then pushed out a stack of $100, overbetting the pot. The button folded and I thought way too little before shoving my stack in. (The second lesson learned — always pause and think when considering a shove, even if it seems like an auto-shove. I didn’t consider a shove, I just made it automatically because I had middle set.)
If I had paused to think, I would have asked, “Is he really making this raise with AQc? No way. He probably would just limp with that hand preflop anyway.”
I would have asked, “Is he making this raise with AK? Perhaps. But it’s an overbet. I’d expect something closer to 2/3 pot here, so he can get value from flush draws and maybe fold if I shove, indicating a set.”
I would have asked, “Is he doing this with KK? Every time.”
I would have asked, “What else can he possibly hold? AA is a possibility. But still, the overbet makes it less likely than KK. That’s about it.”
I would have asked, “Does any hand other than KK make sense given this bet?
Of course, I did not pause and go through that thought process like I should have, so I shoved, and he started shoving the microsecond my chips passed the betting line.
“Kings?”, I asked, and was immediately answered in the affirmative as he flipped up the nuts.
Now, briefly, let’s look at the two original plans, and see how they would have given me a chance to save my stack.
Had I open-raised to $15 like I would do in a standard situation with 99 in middle position with 2 limpers, Villain would have raised to something like $40, and I would probably be folding unless the pot went multiway enough to setmine. With a few exceptions, players don’t 3-bet in this game unless they have QQ, KK or AA.
Had I limp-reraised to something like $30 instead of just calling, he would likely have 4-bet me and I could easily fold.
Had I stuck to either of my original plans, I would have almost certainly gotten away from the set before I ever flopped it.
Having flopped it, could I have gotten away from it by putting him on exactly KK? Did any other hand make sense when he slipped a stack of $100 across the table? Let me know in the comments.
THE FAUSTO EFFECT
There was one other hand I wanted to share that cracked me up. It was toward the end of the session and I had moved tables to sit next to ChipXtractor. Fausto came over to talk about how he had amassed a stack of over $4,000 at $2/$5, and the thought went through my head: “Fausto is here, I’m on the button, I need to play this next hand like I have aces.” It was like his aura of aggression had dragged me in and I couldn’t resist taking a stab just for the exercise.
I probably would have chickened out with absolute garbage, but 10 9 offsuit was just enough. Two players limped and I popped it up to $10. Normally I would bet more like $15 but I guess subconsciously was hedging my bluff here. I got three callers. Probably would have gotten one or zero with a $15 bet.
The flop came A 2 7 with two hearts and it checks around to me. I look at Fausto, siphon off some of his aggro vibes, and bet $40 into a pot of of $43. The table folds, I show Fausto the 10 9, and he says, “You animal,” in his most sarcastic tone.
I’m not sure that it was the best bluff in the world. After all, I didn’t have any equity to speak of. But I figured the flush draw threat is negligible, deuce seven hits no one, and I’m only getting called by a decent ace. It certainly was the most fun I had all night.
At 2am it was time to pack it in. The next day I woke up, recorded my Strategy in Action video update at the hotel, and went back to the Sands to sit in one of four $1/$2 games that were running at 10am.
To my right was a player with $500, to his right was a player with $1,000, and to his right there was a guy sitting on $2,000. The guy with $2,000 proceeded to chip up to $2,500 by flopping six boats, among other straights and two pairs, in under two hours. I’d never seen anyone run that hot in my life. When the floor manager came over and offered to chip up his reds to greens and blacks, he waved her off because he didn’t want to miss a single hand. He was running too hot.
He seemed to be sucking all of the luck out of the air, and while the table was entertaining because of the spectacle, I kept bouncing between $250 and $350. There just wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room with so many monster stacks around. I called it a day after two hours, said goodbye to Fausto and ChipXtractor, and hit the road feeling like I had the most productive losing poker session of my life.
I had held my own for 10 hours of live poker, essentially taking a 10-hour shot playing $1/$2 with a $2,000 bankroll. I felt like I played well enough not to put myself at risk for a big loss outside of variance, and I played several hands very well, definitely at a higher level than I had played in the past. I discovered an enormous mountain of things to work on, specific patterns to study and exploit, and feel like my confidence is growing with every hour at the table.
In short, I feel like I’m starting to belong at $1/$2, that I’m not just a recreational player looking in from the outside at all the regulars. I’m more like a Trojan horse, with the outward appearance of a new, young, inexperienced amateur, but with the mind of someone who thinks about poker more often and more deeply than most of his opponents. The only gap I have to close to be a solid winner in this game is the experience gap. And there’s only one way to do that.