Thursday, October 14, 2010

Musings on Table Selection

(This is a work in progress)

In the small world of Heads Up No Limit Hold’Em there exists to main philosophies of thoughts regarding game selection. On one side is the bum hunter, who will play only the biggest fish and deny everyone else. Then there is the reg hunter, who spends most of his time hunting down his own kind and exploiting them. The difference between these two are not so great. They both specialize in taking down a certain type of opponent, and are both pretty good at what they do.

There is a certain stigma around a bum hunter that seems to make those who are different from him very angry. In the world of regular online poker players, bum hunters will always be considered at the bottom of the food chain. The bum hunter is considered a disgrace to the “purists” of the game who would much prefer we seek that we merely make the game as complex as possible. In the middle of the hierarchy is the hybrid will take all comers type reg. These are generally guys who will play just about anyone, as long as they don’t have too much action from fish. They mainly play other regulars because they’re bored, and are willing to engage in reg on reg battles in order to increase volume, and because they hear that the only way to get better is to play better players. This maxim is true, but only partly. I know players who have played hundreds of thousands of hands of heads up and have actually gotten worse. Riddle me that! The maxim is only true if has this corollary: We must not just play against others, but learn from those experiences. I think this is the biggest flaw in the common reg-battler. He puts in his 4 tabling 4 hours a day 6 days a week. But he never sees any progress, in fact he gets worse! The difference between him and his more profitable brethren are that they study the game away from the tables. They are constantly analyzing new traits through review and coming up with counterstrategies before there opponent even makes them. They are building up skillsets in spots where there opponents don’t ever think of until its too late. This is the realization that struck me the other day, that even though I was playing a bunch of regs I wasn’t becoming jungle man. Instead I was getting worse. And then I remembered the moment when I was going over a match vs. fearless dragon. He made a very strange turn raise and I marked it for review later. When I went over the hand later I found something amazing. My opponent had taken this incredible line that I had never even thought of before, that was just genius. However, I never would have truly understood if I had never marked it. It would be gone into the caverns of my database, never to be heard of again. But I saw it and understood it and pretty soon I started to apply it. How many of these hands have I missed? How many more would I miss in the future?
So this is the main purpose of reg on reg battling for the profit minded grinder. To get enough information from it in order to develop the maximum as a player, study and learn from that information, and then take it back into his main games. So for this purpose, reg on reg battling is good for the grinder. However, when taken too far, this can ultimately be destructive of the grinder.

Since the edges are generally smaller, there is much higher variance and standard deviation. Therefore tilt becomes a lot more prevalent. When playing 2-4 tables against an opponent things can add up quickly. It is much more difficult to quantify an edge when playing against a reg as well. There have been certain players where I felt I had a huge edge against them, but ended up breaking even over decent size samples because they outplayed in spots that I did not understand. Because the variance is so high, it is also very difficult to analyze the results because there are so many different types of variance. It comes down to the factors of not only who is a better player, but who is a better x tabler, who is better at controlling tilt, who is better at quitting, who is better at assessing information in a short amount of time. It requires skill sets that the average player has not developed yet. So being a reg hunter is great so long as you have a huge bankroll, are willing to work hard and study your opponents a ton, embrace the huge swings and undefinable edges. You could very easily be a huge dog and think you have a sizable edge. The upside of all of this is that if you become very good at this type of poker, you have a decent chance of becoming what we all would love to be, a legendary player of great skill both revered and feared by his opponents. We all want to be Phil Ivey. However, what many people fail to understand is just how good we have to run in order to actually reach those nosebleed stakes. Lets say you start at 200nl and you decide, fuck it from now I’m a reg hunter and I’m going to focus on that in order to become the best I possibly can. You are willing to put in as much work as possible in order to realize your dreams. With your hard work and experience you start out absolutely crushing the 200nl HU regs for a real winrate of 10bb/100 (impossible to know but for arguments sake). Because of your high winrate your variance is fairly low relative to others. However, as you move up your winrate will continue to drop if you stick to just playing regulars. Now you will start running into players who are just better than you. You may be able to beat them through some analysis and hard work, but your winrate has dropped siginificantly as well. By the time you are at 5-10, you are probably winning at best at a winrate of 5bb/100 if youre still grinding regulars, and you standard deviation will be high. If you take a look at the possible variance with these lower winrates, some sick things can happen. You will need a massive roll to sustain the swings, but your bankroll will be growing slower. For example, if youre moving up from 5-10 to 10-20 at a winrate of 5bb/100 (assuming 4 tabling) you will need to make 10,000bb in order to have a sufficient roll to move up. This means you will have to play 200k hands against other regs in order for you to be able to move up if you use strict BRM. If you use a more dynamic BRM system you can probably cut down the total hands needed, but the main point is that it will take a very long time if you win at close to your true win-rate. Of course this will not happen all of the time. There is a very real possibility that you will run terribly and run at only 0bb/100 for 100k hands. You experience massive swings and your confidence will be constantly shaken constantly. Even with constant analysis and work on your game, you will still be unsure. Is it really worth it? Do you even enjoy poker anymore? Can you handle the financial stress of high volume, low income poker for months? You will need much larger reserve funds in order to do this really well. On the other side of the coin, maybe you run very well at 10bb/100 for 100k hands. Now you have a false sense of confidence and decide to move up much sooner. A sense of hubris overtakes you and soon you don’t feel you need the hard work that made you successful in the first place. Your inflated ego leads you to take on tougher and tougher opponents at higher stakes. Your ego has set the bar high, and now you will have a hard time backing down. You will no longer be able to be honest with yourself when evaluating your edges. This can set you up for massive failure at the higher stakes you go. Of course it is possible to overcome all of these things by lots of mindful decisions and hard work. But unless you truly have an iron will, you will have to run damn well in order to reach the top. But what if you don’t make it? Can you afford the likely possibility of complete failure and bustoness? Some of us can, some of us can’t. A good example is a friend and coach of mine, MasterLJ. MasterLJ crushed the midstakes for years despite running in the 100s of buyins below expectation. He decided that he wanted to become one of the high stakes ballers, to “make it”. Unfortunately for him, things did not go well. It is tough to evaluate his edge in the games now, but when playing against some of the best in the world, such as urnotindanger2 and jungleman12, it is hard to say. These 2 probably had an edge on LJ, but of course LJ was no fish and crushed other players as well in true winrate. But variance him in all the little ways that it can, players who never fold to 3-bets folding when he had aces, endless coolers, not flopping well, losing allins, and countless other permutations of pain. The point is, he had a small winrate at best as an aggregate, and ran poorly over a decent sample. His bankroll was insufficient to deal with the swings, and was decimated. His confidence and dreams were shattered, and his views on poker totally changed. This is a fairly common scenario that we all can face, and will face with smaller winrates. And lets not just think about the initial jump, but this can happen at any point. Had he ran well, and the move up stuck, at some point, he would have gone through a similar experience at higher stakes. The point is, when engage

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