Reply to Last weeks All-in Volume XXIV
Jim Pryors “how to” on Badugi was great – as far as it went. There was something missing though. Strategy. Like any poker game Badugi is simple to learn, but difficult to master. It’s pretty obvious to most players that if you don’t draw any cards, you have a Badugi and probably a relatively strong hand or you would be drawing. How you disguise this hand is more important than in Hold ‘Em. You have to do a lot more acting and feigning of weakness than you do in Hold ‘Em or in any other game. It’s all about selling your hand. I find Badugi to be very tough online but I have great success with it in live games. You can’t act online. You can’t give a bum read to another player online. Jim’s right about one important thing though. Badugi is one of the up and comers. Ther’ll be a Badugi bracelet in next year’s WSOP.
Colorado State Director
Poker Players Alliance
Are you a good poker player? A bad one? How do you know? What criteria are you using to determine your skill level? Some people say it is total profit over a given period of time. Others say it is total number of cashes compared to the number of tournaments you play. Today I want to give you some other criteria, and some points to consider to help you in your evaluation of your own playing ability.
To start with, I want to ignore money completely. Money is the final determination point for any single cash session or tournament, but it certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of judging your skill. For example, the World Series of Poker main event recently ended, and a 21 year old “pro” won it, while an unknown logger from Maryland came in second. Together they cashed for over $10,000,000. So does that mean they are the best in the business? Are they even better than you? If you judge it by money alone, they each earned more in this one tournament than many great names you know from the poker world have earned in their lifetime. Heck, the top money winner in the history of the World Series of Poker isn’t Phil Helmuth, with eleven bracelets. It is Jamie Gold, who won one Main Event that paid a record $12,000,000 for first place, and has pretty much faded from the map. Try all you want, but you’ll never convince me that Jamie Gold is a better player than me, let alone Phil Helmuth.
Another thing I tend to ignore is the actual results of any single tournament, or even a series of tournaments. The results of a tournament are determined by the cards you receive and the cards others receive, combined with what you did with those cards. The worst player you know could have a tournament where they get dealt K-K or A-A a number of times and shove each time they get them. If they win the showdowns that would occur with this, they would win the tournament without showing one ounce of actual poker skill. As the old saying goes, anybody can shove with pocket aces.
What I do after any tournament is evaluate my actual play, especially after I fail to cash. Did I call with speculative hands against known solid/tight players? Did I make that value bet on the river when it was appropriate, or did I fearfully check and not pick up the extra chips that were definitely out there waiting for me? Did I recognize when my pocket pair was beat, but call anyway and throw away chips needlessly? In other words, did I play optimally, and simply lose, or was I the biggest contributor to my loss?
If, after evaluating my play, I determine that I played correctly, then I know that the loss can be attributed to the variance in poker and not to my lack of skill. If I am lucky enough to cash in a game, then my evaluation can help me figure out if I did so because of my skillful play, or if I just plain got lucky.
For example, I played in a $25 buy in, 40-person game tonight on Poker Stars. When there were 21 people left, I held a commanding chip lead, and really felt that I was playing optimum poker. Then when I was in the big blind with 9-9, everyone folded around to the small blind, who just called. I made a raise of three times the big blind, and the small blind shoved over top. Now, if I were truly playing optimum poker at this point, I could have easily seen that I had been set up by the small blind, and folded my medium pocket pair…and held onto the chip lead. Instead, I acted quickly and called his all in. Oops, he had Q-Q.
Of course, with that call, I went from a big chip lead to the back of the pack. That would have been bad enough, but what I did on the next hand made that call pale in comparison. The very next hand, I was dealt 6-7 of diamonds in the small blind. It folded around to me, and I simply called, hoping to see a cheap flop. The big blind then shoved all in. Again, had I been playing optimum poker, I would have folded and waited for a better hand to make my move. But I was on tilt from my bad call, so I called the all in. “Screw it, I’ll go play another game” was what I was really thinking.
What happened? Well, the big blind turned over Q-Q. Yeah, I was sick of seeing that hand by that time. But, with a 6 on the flop, and another on the river, I was back with a decent chip stack, and one more player was sent packing, whining all the way about the donkey players online, and the way that the site is rigged.
From that point, I played tight solid poker, and within the next hour I rebuilt my stack to over 10,000 chips. I then played into fifth place and cashed for over $100.
So when I evaluated the above tournament, do you think I graded myself very high? Of course not. I made two back-to-back critical errors and still managed to cash. I simply got lucky. Happily lucky, but lucky all the same. I would never take the results of this particular game and use it as anything more than a lesson in what not to do. I gladly accepted the payout though. I’m not completely ignorant. (Hey, I said completely)
Another thing you should always consider when evaluating your own play is the level of competition you are playing against. Many players try to pick and choose their competition so that they don’t play against players that can beat them. Now, if you have a choice in a cash game situation, I HIGHLY recommend this decision. But if you strive to be a good tournament player, then I would suggest that you look for games against better players. The best learning experience you can have won’t come from a book or video. It will come from being outplayed by better players, if you are paying attention to what happened. Playing against good players makes me strive to play my “A” game. Playing against bad players tends to make me player a little looser and, in general, worse.
When I travel to Las Vegas, I love to go to the $1/$2 cash tables at the Venetian, because I know that there won’t be that many great players at that level. When I sit at those tables, I know for a fact that I am one of the better players there. I’m not great, by any means, but most players at that level are tourists and drunks, so there is good money to be made. But if I didn’t spend most of the rest of my time playing against really good players, there is no way that I would ever have developed the confidence in my game to even sit down at those tables.
I think the best piece of advice I ever got concerning poker, besides “play better”, is when my friend told me to start ignoring results, and instead pay attention to how I actually played. He said that if I could always say I played my best, then the results would eventually catch up. And he was right. Don’t get me wrong, I still track every dime I lose or win in poker, but that just takes a simple spreadsheet. Evaluating whether I am playing correctly takes a lot more time and effort.
Two suggestions on how to evaluate your play.
- When playing online, turn on the hand tracker, and download it. Review the hands you played, and how you played them. Then let someone you trust, and hopefully understands the game, review it too. Talk about what you did and why, and discuss your options and alternatives to improve the results.
- Also, as I suggested in a previous article, find yourself one or two other players who are solid players, and form a “mastermind” group that is focused on improving. This mastermind must include people you trust, and people that are focused on improving their own, and YOUR game. If you find that any of the members are taking, and not contributing, then they should be replaced. The same can be said for players that show the slightest hesitation of revealing any of their own secrets, for fear of hurting their results when they play against you. Every member must be completely open to discussing any and all aspects of the game. In fact, this group is a perfect place to bring the printed out hand history from your online play.
If you do these things, I promise you that that other advice, play better, will become second nature to you. And after all, that is what we should all be striving for. If we aren’t trying to improve our game, then why are we playing? Even if you are a social player, who only plays the game every few weeks, you should still want to win. Why else would you invest money into the game? If you aren’t interested in winning, you’d be better off taking yourself out to dinner. At least then you’d get a good meal out of your money.
So strive to improve, but learn to recognize what improvement entails. Focus on your actions, and not your results. If someone raises in front of you, and you shove all in with A-A, and you still lose, recognize that you did the right thing. Suck outs happen, and should be expected. If I have 2-7, and you have A-A, you will still lose occasionally. It is simple math. So don’t get upset when you do. Or maybe just try to get a little less mad. You can’t win them all, no matter how hard you try. Simply ask yourself if you did the right thing, and if you lost because of bad play or bad luck. If it is luck, and you played correctly, then congratulations, you are a poker player.
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