Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Deepstack poker musings, Part 1

The more I study poker away from the tables, and the more time I spend playing deepstack NLHE or PLHE cash games, both live and online, the more I recognize that it is this form of poker that appeals to me the most. And in part because I like this type of game so much, I find that I am more consistent at playing my A-game in these games as compared to other poker games. Not only that, it's simply more profitable for me than if I am slogging away at turbo SnG challenges or capped games with restricted buyins of 100 BBs where you will also regularly find skilled short-stackers playing with 20 or 40 BBs and will often have a high rake to contend with.

So, to sum up three key reasons why deepstack cash games are now my primary focus:

1) Poker is a game of mistakes. Deepstack poker provides me with more opportunities to exploit my opponents' mistakes for larger profits. I'd rather my opponent overplay a vulnerable hand for 400 BBs than 100 BBs! (As always, game selection is crucial.)

2) I play my A-Game more consistently in these games (expanding my concentration in tournament play to match my cash game play is something I am constantly working on)

3) Deepstack games reduce the frequency and utility of "push and pray" preflop poker that lesser-skilled opponents can use to blunt my postflop skill advantage by bloating the pot size preflop. They can't take away my implied odds so easily when the stacks are deep.

How did I come to this epiphany? In part, I guess you could say I'm a purist at heart, or maybe even something of an intellectual snob. I'm very analytical by nature -- all lawyers are -- and as I experimented and gained experience in playing various forms of poker, especially the ubiquitous 100 BB NLHE games played everywhere these days from online poker sites to local casinos, I began to realize that poker was much more interesting when the stack sizes were large enough to allow for pot-sized bets on all 3 betting streets postflop without all the money going in. In other words, a skilled player has much more scope to maneuver and play postflop with a wide range of hands. Position takes on increased importance. Bluffing becomes a bigger part of the game. I get to make better, more informed decisions once I've seen 60% of the board. And so on.

From now on, I'm going to try and develop my skills and put up crooked numbers on the positive side of the ledger in these games.

I'll end this inaugural post by touching on a few nuggets of wisdom I've been mulling over from the end of this book (for a review that mirrors my own opinions about the text, go here) as the authors interview one of the best cash game players you've likely never heard of, Bobby Hoff.

Hoff bluntly talks about two significant and exploitable leaks that many players exhibit in deepstack games (200+ BBs). On these common mistakes, he goes on to say that:

"Calling re-raises too much. If I raise with AK and I get re-raised, and I think the re-raise is legitimate, I don't even think about it. When I say I don't even think about it, I mean seriously I don't even think if I am throwing a good hand away. I just put it right in the muck, like this. That's how fast I put it in there."

It's fair to say that Hoff is very sensitive about avoiding sticky situations wherever possible. He doesn't get wedded to a hand.

"Not paying enough attention to trouble hands before the flop. Two big unsuited cards. I really like limping in with these hands or making very small raises.

... I would rather have 63s in early position to call a re-raise than AQ or KJ. If I have a six and a trey, it's hard for me to get in a real bind. If I have a king and a jack, and I make a pair, it's really hard to play, it's a really hard spot to be in. You don't want to make one pair because it's hard to make one pair and make any money.

Look at it this way. Think of a couple of hands where you make a raise in early position and you get a caller. In the first hand you have six-trey offsuit and in the second you have king-jack. Now in both hands the flop comes king-seven-deuce, three suits. You bet out on the flop.

Now look at the six-trey hand first. When they fold you take the pot. When they call, you know you're beat. You're done with the hand.

Now look what happens when you hold king-jack. When they fold, you win the pot like before. But when they call, what did they call you with? Maybe it was AK, KQ, 77 or 22. Those hands are bad news. You're hoping they called with KT, K9, or K8, but most guys who can play a lick don't call with those hands before the flop. Maybe they called with nine-eight suited and don't want to throw away middle pair just yet.

The point is, you don't know. You're out of position, and you don't know what's going on, and that's a bad way to try and make some money."

This struck me with uncommon force. Hoff speaks powerfully and simply about these and many other aspects of deepstack play in this interview, and I'll discuss more of these issues in subsequent posts.


Gnome said...

I look forward to hearing more. Deepstack poker is where it's at.

Riggstad said...

This is good stuff..

Deepstack poker usually gives the better player a huge edge over other deepstacks. Ranges can widen a bit, and it can be harder to read your opponents.

I also look forward to hearing more

Lucypher said...

Shrike, thanks for the link. Don't you think the deep stack tables will have a higher shark to fish ratio? I think most of the players that prefer deep stacks are well skilled (e.g. Gnome, Fuel, etc.).

Gnome said...

You might think the deepstacked games would be filled with more skilled players, but I'm not sure that's the case. I've seen lots of loose players in deep online games recently.

Shrike said...

I will address that point in depth in a future post. Short answer: no, I don't think the ratio is unfavourable. And even so, you can still find your opportunities against weaker players. Game selection is a huge part of profitable poker.