Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Chip and a 3 legged Stool

Although I am no-where near proficient enough to be spouting poker philosophy, I couldn't resist the temptation - given my own blog and all. I have been playing poker (the online, holdem kind) for about 15 months now and although I have been winning more than I am losing, I now know enough to see I have a lot to learn.

Over the last couple months I have been forming an internal philosophy of how I play poker. I am generally a tight agressive player, but with time I realized that is not enough. I generally play tournaments, not ring games, so these ideas only apply to S&Gs and tournaments. The game is not about the cards, but rather the people we are playing with. Of course the cards matter, but in many hands and situations, they are much less important than you think. This is my first attempt to articulate the philosphy I have developed. Feel free to comment and give me feedback.

My 3 legged Stool

The three tenents of my philosophy are initiative, position and situation. Now, of course, these can be interpreted to mean just about anything, so I will try to explain how I use them.


Initiative is interesting because it can be used differently in each position and situation. When you are in the early positions, you can use initiative to represent a strong hand. Using the its harder to call than to bet philosophy, you can often steal pots with this alone. If you are in a middle or late position and someone has already taken the initiative from you, you can re-seize the initiative, with the caveat that this will only work if you are sure they are bluffing, or you have the cards to back the action. If you are in a hand where you, or someone else goes all-in, this effectively closes the door on initiative. If you are the pusher, you ensure they can't steal initiative from you (although you close a lot of other doors with that move). If they do it to you, you have to decide whether your cards beat theirs - that is all that is left.


Position is not as simple as the closer to the button, the better your position. When combined with initiative, it is often better to be in an early position so you can use that initiative to set the stage for whatever play you have in mind. Often players in late positions will try to take advantage of their positions and by using initiative in early position you can prevent that. Too often late position only gives you the ability to fold, especially with weak starters or in a game where the blinds and stacks are such that initiative wins unless someone has really good cards.


Now I have to admit that this tenet is a bit of a escape. It gives me an excuse to explain why the other two tenets didn't work. This is where you need to use your experience, and your read on the other players to know whether they have a good read on you, whether they have cards, etc. A large part of this philosophy is based on getting a reasonable read on your situation and then taking advantage of it if you can.

How and When I use it

When I am playing in a tournament, I start off playing the tradition TA (Tight Aggressive) model. I have my starting cards and if I don't hit them, I just sit out. After some amount of hands, I start to get a read on the table. It helps that I start to get recognised as a TA player. As my comfort level moves up, I will start to take advantage of a situation or two to steal the blinds. Generally this doesn't make a huge difference early on. It pays for the blinds and lets me comfortably wait for the better hands I need in case we go to showdown. All that really matters is that the opponents are sophisticated enough to actually recognise you are representing something (some low entry tournaments take a while to weed out those players).

At some point you get to the place where this works the best. In any case, you have certainly hit the point when you approach the bubble. Generally players tighten up and play more defensive when they are close to the money. At this point when the majority of players are waiting for good cards, you are able to ignore your cards and purely play your initiative and position. One advantage of this is even if players know you are doing it, they almost always have to have better cards to counter it (or more bravado).

My experience with this has shown that it reduces variance somewhat as I am less dependent purely on geteting good cards. I recently played a tournament where I noticed that out of the first 18 pots I won, I had only gone to showdown once - that is not normal, even for me. Of course the cards matter, but if you want to consistently finish in the money, you need to play more than just the cards.

I would love to hear what you think about this concept.

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