Today I’m taking a look at a Fifty50 t200 bubble spot that is significantly impacted by whether or not hero has a covering stack. Here is the hand we’ll be dealing with.

Assuming the SB is being appropriately wide (NASH range here is 71% for SB), we can call profitably with around 35%. As you adjust to what you feel a particular villain’s SB range may be vs. you here this number can decrease or increase, as with any ICM spot. Note that if we were to call and lose we’re only covering by 480 chips, or 2.4BB.

What’s interesting is that if the stacks for this spot were reversed, meaning if the SB had our stack and we now had the SBs stack, so the setup looked more like this, our profitable call range is severely impacted assuming the villain isn’t the type to shove significantly wider when they cover. If the villain remained shoving 71% our profitable call range becomes 20%. Pretty interesting.

However, if the villain is the type to take into account they can shove wide when he has a cushion against our calls, and recognizes that by having us covered here he can basically shove any two cards than our call range is still marginally tighter than facing 71% in the previous stack setup. If we face an any two card shove in this setup we can profitably call around 33%.

There’s a lot of fluff work here, but it demonstrates something you must be mindful of during the course of a SNG. Stacks matter significantly. How well your EV can weather shoving and losing or calling and losing is very impactful on your shove and call ranges, and they fluctuate greatly based on several variations of similar factors.

When shoving, how large is the cushion you’ll have left behind if you are called by their estimated range. When calling are you covering the shove or are you covered, and by what margins? Will you be in a position to attempt a resurrection of your stack should the cards not be in your favor when the river is flipped up? Is there a severely short stack that will alter this entire dynamic and force you to fold had stack setups been slightly more evenly distributed?

More important than knowing the specific ranges in any one spot vs. any particular %range is being able to gauge spots through a developed understanding of how spots are impacted by various dynamics you’ll encounter. Being capable of identifying those dynamics as you’re facing them will serve you developing your game faster than being caught up in any one spot’s direct ICM.

In the Fifty50s there exists an interesting dynamic for re-shoving in middle position when facing an earlier position all-in. It’s far more detrimental to our EV if we are covered vs. when we are covering, more than in a standard payout format. This is due to the buy-in back payout for cashing in a Fifty50.

The difference varies based on range%, of course, but mostly in terms of wider re-shoving when you comfortably cover the original shove stack. This means you’ll have enough chips left over if you lost vs. the original shove that you wouldn’t be crippled in attempting a comeback.

When covered for ~10BB at t120 seven handed it’s almost exclusively JJ+, AKs to re-shove. This range goes tighter still, closer to KK+, if there is a shove and then a re-shove before the action gets to you; again, range% for both players will play a vital role in the actual resulting +EV range.

As stack depth increases things change. For instance if under the gun covers you and you’re deepish, his range will most likely be quite tighter (if he’s a semi competent regular) your re-shove will be QQ+.

However, if under the gun covers you, and you’re deepish, and another player, especially a less competent one, shoves before the action gets to you, whom you cover, his range may be erratic enough to warrant a wider re-shoving range than had you faced only the UTG shove.

This is because a less competent player can and will often show up with wider instances of midpairs and more dominated, seemingly strong, Ax broadway hands. In instances such as this, large parts of your range increase in value thanks to the dead money your big AK and TT+ hands will have overall.

Similar occurs if an UTG shove you cover is re-shoved on by a competent player who covers you, although your AKo will generally become negative EV due to his range generally including fewer of the weaker pairs a less competent player may show up with.

Afford thought time when learning new skills or when sharpening existing skills that are disappearing from your play when you’re not in the zone/on your A game. Rather than play the table load you’re accustomed to, use sessions when you’re not feeling as sharp to drop your table count and consciously work on the weakest parts of your game. The parts of your game that may think need the most work may also be adjusted when dropping table count, as you may notice spots you were failing to consider alternative, more profitable lines for. You should always be working to improve the aspects of your game that will afford you the biggest boost in profitability, and these will tend to mistakes you’re making most often as they will pile up the fastest and cost you the most due to sheer volume of their occurrence.

When you drop tables you also afford yourself the ability to increase your bottom line by noting players you’re playing with regularly. Unless you’re doing a solid database review of opponents you’re encountering countless times per day you’re missing important information about their play patterns and frequencies. Use a decreased table load to take note of how they’re playing portions of their ranges and jot notes in your poker client relative to the patterns you’re seeing. Are they taking lines slightly different vs. you than some other players? Do they squeeze unknowns regularly? These are things that are easy to miss when playing full table loads and neglecting database reviews.

Note any obvious lapses in judgement or attention you experience with decreased table load. Odds are if they’re happening with fewer tables, they’re happening even more with a higher table count. If you notice yourself missing continuation bets or snap folding on boards without considering possible alternatives/reads that may be relevant to the situation and lead to a more lucrative option, odds are you’re just phoning in the session. These are mental game leaks. You need to take note of any external factors going on that may have contributed to their occurrence. What were your thoughts truly focused on or what were you dedicating your focus toward outside of poker that lead to disregarding thinking about poker in with any degree of skill.

Separate Time

17 Mar

Poker players are subject to:
-unavoidable variance: in card distribution; percentage outcomes; game type popularity; economic fluctuations; laws;
-avoidable variance: game selection; mood; distractions; playing longer than their focus allows; auto pilot.

Unavoidable variances are just that, but avoidable variances need to be identified so they can be worked on and improved so their likelihood of occurrence is decreased over time.

However, dealing with such problems requires a careful balance in the now, otherwise the problems run the possibility of overwhelming the time away from the tables and perpetuating an uneasiness that can be carried into all waking moments to the point that not only will the issues remain unresolved for the next session of poker but can overflow into polluting segments of time otherwise unintended to include poker related thoughts; your downtime.

These time segments are required to ensure a refreshed approach to the game upon return, but if instead of developing approaches to resolve the issues encountered in past sessions one chooses simply to dwell on their having occurred, that person is choosing to create a state of mind in which they are constantly reliving the past, and choosing to do so for a negative past experience.

That person would benefit from accepting what happened has happened, cannot be changed from having happened, and while that specific segment of time has passed unfavorably, an important lesson was afforded them. By choosing to accept it has happened and identify that it’s no longer happening to them now, that they are in fact entering a completely new segment of time that no longer includes or needs to be concerned with what happened during their last session of poker, they can in a sense let go of the negativity attached to that session and enjoy the moment in which they now exist. By doing so they are making a conscious choice not to poison their downtime with the negativity accumulated during their last poker session.

Instead, a predetermined time should be set aside for reflecting on and finding solutions to the past issues. A moment of solitude that offers a clear mind to be used for insight into the problem while affording enough time between when it occurred and enough time between the start of the next session, to identify factors of what may have went wrong in the last session:
-poor play; details of the poor play; specifics of what was failing to happen on their part; statistics they were failing to absorb or were ignoring or unable to extrapolate plays based on their relevance; failing to accept they were operating on autopilot and, if unable to tune focus, would be best served to come back later when feeling properly engaged by poker again.

By consciously agreeing that you will not allow yourself to dwell on the negative play patterns of the last session until your predetermined time, a time that has a gap between both the experience of the negative session and between the next session you intend to play, but will instead use only the time allotted for reflection on those concerns, you free yourself to exist only in the moments as they unfold instead of becoming beholden to past mistakes every waking moment.

Praise for their intelligence may undermine a child’s motivation and performance. This Columbia University study found that “six studies demonstrated that praise for intelligence had more negative consequences for students’ achievement motivation than praise for effort.”

Praising an individual’s seemingly base intelligence rather than how hard they try appears to trigger the need for that individual to continue and prove they are in fact intelligent. To do this the individual will strive to achieve praise by obtaining high grades. While on the surface this sounds positive, the paper indicates “that children who hold performance goals are likely to sacrifice potentially valuable learning opportunities if these opportunities hold the risk of making errors and do not ensure immediate good performance”.

In essence the paper tells us that by being repeatedly held on a pedestal of natural intelligence in youth, we may develop habits of avoiding challenges. It demonstrates that not only can this happen when faced with learning material one suddenly finds they’re not picking up so easily, but also that by linking a positive outcome result with the idea of high intelligence we may then reinforce a link between negative outcome result with low intelligence.

This may explain some of my struggle with recurring entitlement tilt and the way it manifests itself into my ongoing approach to poker and other projects. Frequently I fail to assign positive results at the poker table to the hard work I’ve been putting in off the tables, despite it frequently being the case.

Slowly the idea that it’s the hard work I’ve put toward improving as a player dissipates and it begins to feel like a natural gift that can be called upon at will every time I sit down. Quickly my foundation is rocked by the reality that I have to continue the hard work to maintain levels of understanding I’m attempting to master. Somehow this realization overwhelms my subconscious and I allow bad habits to creep back into frame.

This recurring scenario has been my toughest mental game issue to grapple with. I continue to strive toward decreasing its rate of occurrence by spotting the signs and being honest about when I don’t have what it takes to be the player or the reviewer I need to be to make it count, when I’m reverting to the need to prove myself through immediate results.

It’s quite paradoxical. I’m quoting knowledge that difficult task avoidance is the issue, yet admitting it’s a part of my current process for improvement. However, by acknowledging the issue as real, and identifying its negative consequences to my long game, I’m opening up to the opportunity of improving one of the most costly negative elements of my game. Not all improvements that propel you forward will be related directly to the task at hand. Sometimes the problem the needs worked on is you.

No, Know

18 Feb

Knowing the ICM for your format and all of the important spots you encounter most often is undoubtedly valuable, but without extrapolating from that knowledge what they mean in the context of where you immediately find yourself within a current stack setup and in relation to the opponents that have those stacks, it won’t be enough to propel you far enough ahead in your journey to become great at poker.

To excel you must not only reason whether a shove, call, or reshove is good in the context of Nash ICM for the spot as it’s presented, but you must then consider where the villain’s shove range is in relation to what a Nash shove would be for the spot, and then whether the edge presented to you based on that villain’s range is enough to warrant the affect it will have on your future stack size should you win or lose the particular hand.

Whether or not you’re correct in the immediate hand is unimportant (you may run into the top of villain’s range, or not have as deep an understanding of that villain as you may have thought), but by having made a conscious effort to extrapolate all of the details immediately available to you you’re forcing yourself to think clearer about the game. In a game that so requires such rigorous in-depth understanding to truly succeed long-term, it’s a vital step on the path to increasing profitability.

There’s not much you could do or say to faze me.

Poker on the other hand is more than capable. It feels tyrannical at times, the game’s ability to shake my foundation. It’s my own failings, of course. Weaknesses in my mental game. I’ve come a long way in the short amount of time I’ve spent being honest with myself about the negatives in my approach to poker, but I’m finding mental game setbacks harder to recover from than strategy learning setbacks.

It’s entitlement tilt, which is interesting because I identify clearly that my success of late has derived from the work I’ve put in. Or, perhaps equally as important, haven’t put in. I’ve been relatively adept at knowing when I don’t have it in me to play skillfully as of late. This recognition affords me the time to recover from whatever the underlying issues are.

Sometimes it’s as simple as a clear base mental game issue I can work through in a matter of minutes by being honest about what’s holding me back. Fear of moving up? Where does the fear stem from? Is it reasonable, or am I boxing myself in? Jared’s Mental Game of Poker is fantastic for working out such base problems.

Sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes you don’t recognize there’s even about to be an issue until you’ve gone through it. Then you have to think back through your day to see if you can figure out where the problem may have stemmed from. It may not be so obvious at first, but through continued reflection it will often come to you. It may be a combination of small things that may not even seem like a problem at first, but after some reflection may reveal some hint as to how it may have negatively affected your play.

Therefore there are benefits to be gained from these mental game leaks. When they do occur you have twofold opportunity for improvement. Once you’ve been through the problem you can choose to be honest that it happened, due to what reasons, and use it as a learning experience. To improve upon the mental leak triggers themselves is to improve holes in your personal approach to not only poker, but often many events you may face in life. You’re choosing to improve as a person.

Further, the reflection process will reveal where you’re currently weakest in your strategy. With honest recall effort and possibly running some entire hand histories from the day you can zero in on key mistakes you made, and often you will notice spots you thought you were playing far better than you actually were. By having played your C-game you unwittingly identify parts of your game you haven’t developed to the level of unconscious competence, but just as likely during review you’ll identify parts of your game you have been playing with a level of unconscious incompetence — making plays that were bad and you didn’t even realize it.

By having had the negative experience you get the chance to clue into improvements you may have otherwise not noticed during regular review sessions. The immediate unfolding turmoil after such an event may at times seem more than you can handle, but the quicker you can solidify your ability to think clearly back through the events to discover the gems to improve as a person and a player the quicker you’ll be that better person and player.

When I previously addressed Nash Equilibrium Poker I mentioned that if two players play perfect Nash against each other that neither has an edge, but that Nash would still be optimal as long as neither is deviating from the prescribed Nash strategy for the payout structure and current stack dynamics.

What’s important to note is that opponents generally do not play perfect Nash equilibrium poker. This means you can make deviations to gain an edge when you’re familiar with how their strategy deviates from what Nash equilibrium strategy would be according to an ICM calculator.

Whether we play poker online or in a casino setting, the goal remains the same: to win money. There are entertainment factors at play for some, but the majority who decide to participate in the game of poker are interested in leaving the table with more than they sat down with.

For a cash game this is simple, we profit when we make calls with pot odds greater than the odds against making our hand. Once you have a grasp on the underlying factors behind these calculation doing them in your head relatively quickly becomes routine.

However, in SNG poker these calculations are quite complex. Tournament chips do not equate to a direct dollar value as they are only a tool within the context of the tournament. Once you put down your buy-in to play a SNG the value of your stack begins to fluctuate not only when you play hands, but when other tournament participants play hands also. This is where tournament chip equity models come in to play, for instance Independent Chip Modeling.

Once familiar with ICM we can begin to delve into equilibrium strategies that arise within the various payout structures of SNGs. Due to their game theory applications these equilibrium strategies are called NASH equilibrium after John Forbes Nash Jr., who the movie A Beautiful Mind portrays the life of.

Developing knowledge of NASH equilibrium poker is without doubt a valuable step toward becoming a better poker player. However, NASH equilibrium poker itself is not an optimal poker strategy unless your opponent is also playing a perfectly NASH equilibrium strategy against you.

Should this be the case, neither opponent has a natural edge over the other. In the event that either opponent strays from the NASH equilibrium while the other continues to correctly apply it, the straying opponent will experience a negative expectation in that spot. This is regardless of if the opponent wins or loses the particular hand; if the event were to occur ad nauseam, over time it would amass a loss.

Despite (very) mediocre 2013 poker results, I’d still peg it as one of my poker success stories. I was able to grow as a person, both on and off the virtual felt, and earn money online along the way. Mistakes were made that prevented me from achieving my overarching poker goals and challenges for the year, but growth starts when you can see room for improvement.

Too late into the year I realized the position I had cornered myself into. The yearly VPP deadline on PokerStars fast approaching left little time to do any real reflecting in the moment. Instead, I had to go forward accepting the reality of my situation and do what was required to ensure I reached my next milestone bonus.

This meant a solid two months of mass multi tabling poker with little room for meaningful away from table review or off table player analysis. In short, it meant playing a lot of sub par poker to accumulate the points I needed in the short window of time I had available. To miss it meant sacrificing a significant portion of bonus money available to me under the terms of PokerStars annual VIP program.

Equipped with this knowledge I set to work on my task. It took grinding up a bankroll from 200 buy-ins at $7 Fifty50s to having over 200 buy-ins for $15 Fifty50s near the start of December. My goal at the start of the year had been 300k total VPPs, but I was settling for struggling to finish reaching the 200k milestone instead. I succeeded in the task and have had the past couple weeks to reflect on the year. The following are some of my many fail points throughout 2013.

After setting the initial goal in January 2013 of 300k VPP for the year I had middling success during the first 1.5 months of the year. Finally in February I had moved up to the $15 Fifty50 level and vowed to work hard at improving. My volume remained consistent from the start of the year through the middle of March and I was finally finding some success within the format. I was able to take some money out of the games and had a comfortable bankroll, but then things took a turn for the lazy. I became complacent over the mediocre results I had experienced. I took some time off.

During that time I returned to browsing 2+2 and following the yearlong goal threads various users had created. This induced jealousy. I wasn’t having the results I’d like to and some of these guys were smashing results and amassing VPPs, but rather than getting back to continuing to work hard within my format and back to putting in hours at the tables I instead decided to play copycat and try their format.

I’d tried this 6 Max Hyper Turbo format in the past with no success. While having developed my game to the point of limited success in the Fifty50 format it was a format I’d been working on since Double or Nothings (DoNs) had been removed from PokerStars in 2011. Before that I had been playing the DoNs on Stars since they had begun offering them, around 2008 if my memory serves correctly. Both DoNs and Fifty50s ended before there was any short-handed or heads-up play. 6 max SNGs would subject me to both and the blinds increased much faster than I was used to.

Poor Adjustment
Making the move may not have been completely the incorrect choice, but not weighing all considerations related to the decision before finalizing it certainly was. Going in headstrong, not seeking out advice from those who I knew already playing the format successfully, failing to accept I was in over my head, failing to make the correct choice and move back to Fifty50s and approach the Hypers in my spare time instead. The overconfidence I was experiencing from the very limited success I had built up in the $15 Fifty50 level blinded me to making a proper adjustment in the 6 Max Hyper Turbo had my ability to adjust even allowed it.

Having failed to amass consistent early success in the new format, rather than realizing I had continued growth potential in Fifty50s, I instead fell off completely with the solid work ethic I had implemented for the first quarter of the year. I felt that if I couldn’t transition into the format properly it must be because the profitability of online poker as a whole was severely diminishing and if I wasn’t good enough to make the transition than the limited success I had found in Fifty50s was no longer enough; even though it had been the cause of my overconfidence just a few weeks prior. I couldn’t get better on my own terms and my ego prevented me from seeking outside sources for improvement. Poker was nearing its end with me.

Rather than focusing on what had gone right during the year up to that point and identifiyng factors that had added to ensuring that success I chose instead to take the hit mentally and dwell on what had gone wrong. I began dreading my uncertain future. Despite so much going my way for so long and having so many things in life to look forward to I chose instead to let the uncertainty envelop me.

Fearing the Future
A healthy outlook toward possible future problems is probably a beneficial ability, but when that sense changes to fear of possibilities it can be paralyzing for progress. Seeing monsters around every corner and not thinking logically about how problems are solvable lead me to throwing myself blindly into poker for even longer hours, still without trying to properly identify leaks within my current skill set.

Failing to allow myself as many comforts unrelated and away from poker. Any free time off the tables was mostly dedicated to poorly structured review which wasn’t added much value to on table results, and certainly no value to my life as a whole. I completely lost sight of what I had started doing this for in the first place. I lost my love for the game.

Point of Change
Eventually I realized the mess I had made of a year with fantastic potential for gains. Rather than continuing to trudge along the path of despair I embarked on doing what was necessary to salvage what I could of my points chase, which lead to my reaching 200k VPPs. It wasn’t 300k, but it was perhaps more meaningful in the end. I had become more present, cognizant, and honest about what bothers me, what I expect from myself, and what’s needed of me to deliver on those expectations. These personal developments show promise in allowing me to develop my skill within poker beyond being solely a points grinder.

My goals for 2014 are not yet concrete. I’m first going to develop a long exposure look at my game as a whole and see where I can piece together some major improvements on my own with my new-found perspectives. The volume of the past two months has made it glaringly obvious I have more spots to improve upon than aspects of my game that are solid. This is a promising premise to start 2014 on.