Sawxwoods & My Place in the Poker Universe.

So I’m back from Foxwoods.  There are a couple of new things about Foxwoods these days.  One is that it the entire facility will soon be taken over by MGM/Mirage.  Sometime in the middle of May, Foxwoods will become known as the “MGM Grand at Foxwoods.”  I can only presume that this takeover is considered legal because the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe (all three of them!) will retain ownership of the place after management (not ownership) changes hands.  I am not sure what, if anything, will change from the point of view of Foxwoods’ customers.  I’m guessing that the thriving poker operation will remain exactly the same.

The other new addition at Foxwoods is a sports bar.  Other than the ballsy inclusion of a tote board (with odds posted for “informational purposes only,” of course), the defining characteristic of the Stadium, as it is called, is the section of it known as the “Rivalry Bar.”  The Rivalry Bar is a barroom split sharply down the middle, with its two halves distinguished by color scheme.  The right side of the bar is painted blue and white, with the Yankees’ retired numbers prominently on display in neat little white circles on the wall.  The left side of the bar is painted red and white, with the Red Sox’ retired numbers similarly displayed.  My Mets, shockingly, were deemed unworthy of inclusion in this motif.  The Rivalry Bar has been pretty quiet throughout my stay, but it will undoubtedly play host to much douchey drunken posturing once the Yankees and Red Sox renew their ancient hostilities.

It’s not hard to imagine how some marketing genius came up with the idea for the Rivalry Bar.  The stretch of Interstate 95 that separates Boston and Foxwoods is roughly equal in length to the stretch of Interstate 95 that I’ve been wearing out over the past two weeks.  Foxwoods is situated at the geographical midpoint between what are arguably America’s two most baseball-crazed cities, and at the epicenter of what is certainly the fiercest rivalry in Major League Baseball.

But this symmetry is not reflected in the general allegiance of the Foxwoods clientele.  The reality is that Foxwoods is an outpost of Red Sox Nation.  Boston Red Sox fans and their clothing are everywhere up here, but nary a Yankees (or Mets or Jets or Giants, for that matter) hat or jacket is on display.  The ubiquity of Red Sox clothing is so overwhelming that it feels like it was secretly coordinated; I have yet to sit at a poker table without the quota of at least one Red Sox article being met.  There are probably a few reasons for this vast imbalance. 

One is Atlantic City’s presence a few hours south of New York.  While New York sports fans have gambling options to both the north and south, New Englanders have only Foxwoods and neighboring Mohegan Sun to satisfy their degenerate urges.  The poker tables are thus dominated by men uttering pokerisms in New England’s peculiar dialect; there are lots of “shit caahds,” flushes in “hahts,” and “chawped pots” going on.  Another obvious reason that Red Sox (and notably, the Pats, Bruins and Celtics not so much) stuff is worn proudly at Foxwoods is that the Red Sox are baseball’s reigning champs.  Happy fans wear their teams’ colors, disgruntled fans generally do not.

But my theory is that the main reason for all the Sawx gear is that New Englanders feel a sense of civic pride about the Red Sox that is just not matched by New Yorkers.  Boston, at heart, is a small town.  Boston’s suburbs, in many cases, seem to be insular communities with a lot of long term residents.  These are people who grew up with and are very proud of their Red Sox.  Also, the long drought that preceded the Red Sox’ 2004 championship has not been forgotten, and the result seems to be a continuous, four-year outpouring of affection for the team now that it is finally producing after nearly a century of futility.  Incidentally, one might think that fans who have endured an epic century-long struggle would present themselves as humble winners, but Red Sox fans, while they are certainly proud of their newfound glory, are also generally quite obnoxious.   Either way, New England is currently identifying with its baseball team in a way that New York has not for a couple of generations, and that is why there is such an alarming, overwhelming number of people are wearing Red Sox clothing at Foxwoods nowadays.  I’m seeing that “B” insignia in my sleep after two weeks up there.          

And now let’s talk about poker.  I haven’t talked in detail about my poker playing a whole lot recently.  This is partially because my accumulated experience leaves me feeling fascinated by fewer and fewer of the individual hands I’ve played (I’m not bored with poker, just less fascinated by scenarios I’ve seen before).  Even in the analysis that is about to follow, I don’t imagine that I will get too specific about the situations I’m discussing.  But feel free to ask for illustrations if you’re curious and I’ll provide them.  

About a year ago I wrote a blog entry which reflected on a drought I was then enduring.  In it, I surmised that I was still playing pretty well but experiencing bad luck.  I then made the mistake of calling attention to that blog entry on a poker message board and was promptly taken to task by a pokernerd for not being honest with myself about my deficiencies.  The pokernerd’s lecture was entirely unnecessary–no one ruminates more about his weaknesses and deficiencies than I do.  Still, that experience makes me hesitant to write what I’m about to, but I am quite convinced of the accuracy of what I’m about to say, so I’m saying it anyway. 

The fundamentals of tournament No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em are now second nature to me.  I’m by no means an ultra elite player, and I still have much to learn, especially in postflop play, but I’ve gotten very good, maybe even scary good.  My game is way more advanced than it was only a year ago, and it is light years ahead of where it was two years ago.  It is fair to say that I’m an expert at playing the game now. 

Tournament No Limit Hold ‘Em is a wonderfully complex game.  Every single hand presents the possibility of an entire flow chart/maze-like group of decisions to be considered.  And part of the beauty of the game is that there is no single “right” way to play; countless strategies and counter-strategies can be effective.  There are, however, certain objectively wrong ways to play.  What I mean by this is that certain moves–especially in preflop action–are always mistakes, and have been proven as such through mathematical analysis.  Many of these mistakes are commonplace, and I witness them from my opponents all the time.  These particular mistakes once plagued me but now have been completely excised from my game.  I am happy to declare that I am through making simple mistakes, It’s been a long time since I gave away my chips that way.  This was not always the case, of course.  This blog–especially some of the earliest entries–is rife with hand analyses that I now find utterly embarrassing.  Do NOT search the archives of this blog looking for awesome hand histories, some of it is really ugly.  Many of the hands that I have proudly discussed in this space feature hideous basic mistakes on my part.  No more.

So if the tenets of basic preflop play in all tournament situations are now hardwired into my DNA while many of my opponents are unable of accomplishing the same, where does that leave me?  In a pretty good place.

I’ve now played tournament poker, at all stake levels, with everyone, from bumbling first-timers to the most respected players on the circuit.  This may come across as haughty or arrogant, but I’m generally unimpressed.  In my early professional days, the presence of an opponent of even moderate renown at my table was enough to intimidate me and make me all fumbly with my chips.  It took entirely too long, but I’m now way past the point where anyone scares me.  I’ve seen too much, I know too much, and I’ve won too much.  Until proven otherwise, I now assume that I’m the boss of my table.  I honestly cannot remember the last time I sat at a table that featured three players who I felt were better than me.  

On a related note, I’ve come to the realization that success on the live tournament circuit is often achieved through nothing more than simple, solid, unspectacular play.  So many players make such frequent rudimentary errors that merely avoiding such errors while occasionally capitalizing on them when others make them is enough to make a decent disciplined player a big winner.  Some of the biggest, baddest tournament players alive are not really higher-level thinkers.  They’re just experts at exploiting fish, and there is a vast abundance of fish in the live tournament world. 

So now that I’ve proclaimed myself a mistake-free poker expert and intimated that I’m a better player than many of the world’s best, I must be practically printing money right?  Alas, It’s not that simple.

First of all, there’s variance.  Presuming that I do in fact have an edge over almost all of my opponents, it’s still only a very slight edge.  I work on very small margins in this business.  One of the crazy things about poker is that sitting down at a table with inferior opponents is only part of the battle.  An actual opportunity to outwit those players and take some of their chips might only surface once (or less) in a long session.  In fact, it is perfectly normal for such an opportunity to never present itself.  And, when the opportunity does arise, the inferior opponent still might get lucky and completely foil the entire operation.  Frustrating, to say the least (handling frustration is another poker necessity, but that’s another topic).   

Second, I’ve begun to make a curious new type of error.  Poker is a dynamic game, and becoming more knowledgeable about it creates problems when evaluating unknown opponents.  Lately, I’ve found myself making poor reads because I am overestimating my opponents.  That is, I am frequently screwing up because I am ascribing a level of sophistication to certain players that they are incapable of.  This can be a critical error. 

As I said earlier, certain precepts of the game have become second nature knowledge of mine.  Because these precepts are so thoroughly drilled into my head, I tend to assume that others are also well versed in them.  Big mistake.  So, for instance, when an unknown opponent makes a play that I would never make without pocket queens, kings or aces, I find myself putting that opponent on pocket queens, kings or aces, then find myself in a state of shock when that opponent shows up with A-9 offsuit.  In many instances, my level of expertise has actually hindered my ability to evaluate my opponents.  I often play better poker against stronger players than I do against amateurs.  It’s just not as easy for me to crawl inside an amateur’s head.  The ability to read poor inexperienced players is a big reason why some merely decent players continually do very well in tournaments.   

So what does all of that mean for me?  Well, it should be obvious from my lack of “gooo me!” posts in recent days that I didn’t do much at Foxwoods this time around.  I survived by logging a million hours of sit ‘n go’s and quietly cashing in the $1000 event.  I failed in both of my attempts to satellite into the main event (I still need a backer, dammit).  At no time did I feel outplayed, but I did make a couple of silly errors attributable to senseless aggression.  And for good measure I tacked on a couple of other errors of the aforementioned “falsely assume the opponent is not a donkey” variety.  By doing this, I suffered the stinging embarrassment of losing some big pots to some crappy Foxwoods regulars.  My money will surely be recycled in the form of more Red Sox caps.

9 thoughts on “Sawxwoods & My Place in the Poker Universe.

  1. great post, very accurate and insightful conclusions,

    i dont want to speak for David, but imo rudimentary errors would be moves that(no matter what style u play) are going to give you a negative EV in the long run. this is an interesting subject bec there r so many plays that may appear to be “errors” by other players but actually are not “errors” bec of the style of play that player uses and what he/she is trying to accomplish. sometimes certain players want to project an image of being super loose or even just a donk in order to trick the competition — i will note that i dont know any good players that actually try and play “bad” to sculpt a donk image. usually this “donk image” is created by the confusion and/or understimation that good players cause when making “out of the box” plays that appear “donkish/bad” to a low level thinking player, like raising 57 suited utg @ a full table during the first level of a deepstacked event or calling a 3 way all in with 10 J suited when its for less than 15% of your stack. I could go as far as to argue that certain single mathematically -ev plays are correct at certain times because of the position it puts me in if i win the hand as compared to if i lose the hand, and/or the image it gives me when someone decides to call me bec im a “donk” or “super loose” when the pot is much more valuable during future hands

    this subject is so key to mtt play and relates to a lot of things i have been thinking about recently. i think its almost impossible to define rudimentary errors without taking the style of play into considerastion especially for advanced players. i used to watch people make plays that i thought were bad and now i know for sure they are not. there are plays that i think are bad(or wouldnt occur to me today) that i hopefully will accept and have in my arsenal in the near future.

  2. Monro is right that creating an image and then exploiting that image is an underrated aspect of tournament play.

    An example of a rudimentary error that I see all the time would be something like this:

    early in a sit ‘n go, everyone has around 2000 chips. blinds are 50-100. you have no reads on anyone. you’re sitting in middle position with 55 and the player UTG 1 raises to 300. this is a clear fold, but many players call the 300 in that spot. it’s a very common error. even if you were sitting on the button with 55 and the player in the cutoff made the same openraise, absent any reads, i’d say 55 is a push/fold, not a call.

    this is the kind of preflop error i’m talking about. i am always surprised at how willing players are to invest large percentages of their stacks with hands that they don’t intend to play through to the river.

  3. Zeit — your example of a rudimentary error makes me laugh. I remember just a few years ago (as you said, you’re light years better of a player now) when I asked you about a poker situation where I folded a pocket pair, and you said to me something like “always call preflop with a pocket pair, because if you hit a set you’ll clean up”. To be fair, this advice might have been given even before you turned pro. And this advice shaped my game for a while.

    But I’m learning, and I wouldn’t make that call with 55 anymore.

    Although apparently I’m not learning enough, because I have no idea what EV is that Monro mentions.

    In any case, my suggestion is to stop assuming that us donkeys are not donkeys, and instead just whoop the donkeys and win big money!

  4. I don’t play many MTT, but there are certain things I see sometimes in SNG that make me scratch my head. I can’t think of any atm but they are there.

  5. Good post David. I know one example of ‘overestimating’ your opponents was during that Act 2 that we played, when you took a little while to call that guy that went all-in on you on an Ace high flop after calling your preflop raise. I’m sure maybe you thought he had AK or AQ….possibly even a set. But alas, you gave him too much credit as he sadly turned over KJ for complete air when you called him. Ditto with that other guy that re-raised you w/ nothing but a (inside?) straight draw. Now I know how you win all these tournaments….people LOVE to donk off all their chips to you on complete bluffs!!! 😛 Thanks again for offering that ride home. I ended up making back a few bucks playing 1/2 that night. Too bad we couldn’t get into the 10k. I was able to get a picture w/ Phil Ivey on day 1 of the 10k though, and got him to sign my Cardplayer w/ him on the cover (I’m such a dork). Gordon busted on day 2 when his QQ got cracked by 66 (6 on flop), and Vinny unfortunately bubbled when his AK went up against JJ. Brutal game that we play eh? One of these days hopefully I won’t get ‘shit caahds’ when it counts and I’ll score myself a Sugar D level win. 🙂

  6. By the way, Dan Harrington is on the same page as me–pg. 118 of his new cash game book, to be precise–about ABC poker being winning poker. The book arrived after I posted this blog entry, and as I read through it, I said “hmm, this sounds familiar” then realized that he and I had written virtually the same thing.

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