Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On Instinct and Overthinking in Poker

I bought into the Fifty-Fifty last night, and went out 201st when 180 paid. I could have very easily folded to the money, but instead overthought a hand and called off my chips for an instant loss.

Then I won a $6 turbo without putting much thought into it at all.

A few posts back I wrote about how poker should eventually become largely instinctual. We play enough games, see enough styles, and think enough about it all that eventually we should just "feel" what to do most of the time. Note that there is a difference between playing by feel when you aren't a student of the game and doing it when you have a fair bit of experience under your belt.

The human mind is made to see patterns, and can access its vast stores of knowledge and experience quite easily if we let it. I'll trust Doyle Brunon's gut feelings at the table more than Mr. "I'm a Superstar" Internet 14-year old's book-learnin' any day.

You should know when you're beat, and TRUST that voice. You should know when that marginal hand is in trouble pre-flop vs when it offers you the chance to stack your opponent. And you should know this without having to ask for extra time.

I'm not saying this is going to happen 100% of the time. There will always be situations where you have to go in the tank. New players you haven't seen much of, holding the 2nd nuts and facing an all-in near the bubble against a variable player, wondering if you've been slow-played to the river by someone with a better kicker than you. There will always be times that require further effort. Just make sure you use the appropriate amount and don't overthink yourself into making a mistake.

Last night held some perfect examples of this. In the Fifty, I saw KJ a few times in front of me. Unlike some people, I actually like this hand. Yes it is easily dominated, but often times you find yourself up against drawing hands, AQ, AT, suited A-rag, QQ, and medium-to-small pocket pairs. KJ gives you ample opportunity to catch a fairly well-hidden straight that is great for stacking, the 2nd nut flush, and J or K with a decent kicker. The implied odds of the hand are huge. Plus, it is easy to get away from. I also had JJ in late position twice. JJ is a painful hand to play as it looks nice, but is easily beat by a pretty wide range of starting hands.

As late as a couple of months ago, I probably would have played these hands every time. Last night, I folded JJ both times pre-flop, and KJ all but once before any cards hit the felt. Why? Because I knew I would just be giving away money if I called. I didn't even have to think about it, they were getting mucked as soon as I saw the action before me. I did take the obligatory "I'm thinking about this" time to type "Damn, I have JJ" to Bayne in the girly chat though. Every time I saw a showdown on these hands, I would been crushed pre-flop. I did, however, play J9o, QTs, and other medium, easily-dominated hands throughout the night. Each time the situation was different (get in cheap, call a small raise, fire out a bet in medium-to-late position, etc.), but each time I knew that if I hit, I was walking away with more chips. At one point I got 9To in LP for the second consecutive hand and decided to call a 3x BB raise from MP. Flop came a beautiful 78J rainbow and I checked to the turn. Turn was a second 8 and I bet 1/2 the pot. The initial raiser put me all in after a few seconds thought, and I insta-called, knowing I had him beat. He flipped over A9o for his steal attempt, so that even the second 7 on the river did me no harm.

The $6 turbo was similar. I cracked aces twice - once with 23d that flopped trip threes, and one with 88 that flopped a set. Both times were the result of the AA slowplaying pre-flop so it didn't require any effort from me. It did, however, put me in a good chip position to steal and re-steal as people dropped. With 4 left and a small chip lead, I was able to abuse the table into helping me out. It was back-and-forth with 2nd place until there were 3 left and I took a commanding lead with steals and re-steals. Heads-up was a breeze, without anything more than a thought of "do I want to risk doubling him up at this point?" I cruised to the win without having to do any active thinking... it was all instinct.

Granted, these are two very different tournaments to compare, but the level of competition, but my point is that regardless of the situation, there's an aspect of "intuition" that comes into play, built off of countless hands of experience.

On the flipside, the hand that sent me to rail was a classic case of overthinking a hand. I had QJo on the button, and there was a min-raise from the highjack, cutoff calls, and I call. SB min-raises on top of that for a grand total of 3x BB and another player calls that before we all call again. I type in the girly chat to Bayne and LJ that "this flop better hit me haaaard." Flop comes TQ5 with 2 diamonds on the board (I am diamondless). It checks around to me, and I think about betting but decide there are too many people in the hand to think my TP3K is good, so I check as well. A jack comes on the turn. It checks around to the original min-raiser who puts out a small bet that I double or triple. Everyone folds to our raising friend who pushes for his remaining 7,000 and change into a pot of 5,000. I have around 3.5k left in front of me with a pot now around 12,000. My first reaction is to fold my top two pair, but instead I decide to think.

I type in the girly chat, "hmm.. pre-flop min-raise. AK? I have top 2." No help from the peanut gallery though. Good - it would have just messed me up. I request time and start pondering.

This guy has shown some donkish tenedencies, but has a decent stack. I think back to a hand earlier in the tournament when he called a push with a flush draw and inside straight draw on the turn, both Q-high. He lucked out with the pusher only having an OESD and this guy catching his inside card. Not a bad play, but he put his tournament life at risk early with what was 14 outs once or 2.29:1 against. I can't recall any other hands I've seen him win.

But here he has the nut straight with a flush draw on the board and one card to come. He has overbet the pot and it is now laying me 3.4:1 odds, and I'd have over 15k if I win, which is a ton at this point (150/300 blinds, 25 ante, 21 to go to the cash). I don't doubt he has something, but AA, KK, and even possibly AQ are still possibilities (although I discount the AQ). If he has AK, I'm beat save for 4 outs, if he has AA or KK, I'm way ahead here. The push seems too suspect to me, like he wants me to think he has AK or wants me out. So I call, because I'm playing to win.

He flips over AK and I'm done. If I'd gone with any of my initial instincts, I would have been gone from the hand and lost nothing, at best I would have taken it on the flop, at worst been alive with an M around 5, which is plenty to work with. Instead, I overthought the hand and found myself cheering on Bayne and playing a $6 turbo.

I will likely miss the Mookie tonight, as I plan to join Kat for some live play at the club. It will be a good warmup for Niagara on Friday (actually, the club has much stiffer competition than Fallsview ever will), and a nice change of pace. I bubbled the last time I played there - I will either do better this time, or go out in a blaze of glory.


lj said...

kick some ass tonight. will miss you and kat at mookie. you play at niagara falls?

Astin said...

I play there occasionally. It's the closest casino to Toronto, and the best. The poker play is often very weak-tight as well. So I'll get me some craps and poker in and be happy.

lj said...

if you and kat are going to play live, how come she's registered for the moooooooookie?

Astin said...

Because she's pulled out of live play.

slb159 said...

Nice post...I still don't have any poker software and I don't have a single comment about any opponent I ever played against.

Just go by feel and trust my reads. There are times where I can call out people's hands (not as good as Negraneu or anything like that), and I do ok by just going by "instinct", as you kept referring to it as.

Gl at the tables.