Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Skill #3: Embracing the risk in the game

The third skill to winning a poker tournament is embracing the risk in the game.

I would guess most Americans believe that hard work gets rewarded. So, it follows, that if you study the game of poker, work hard at getting better, you will win in the long term. In fact, you've read that poker is a game of skill and in the long run the better players win. So why not you?

Unfortunately, a poker tournament is a short moment in time. It is not a long term event. If it was, Phil Hellmuth tells us he would win every tournament.

Once you realize a poker tournament is a short-term event in your poker life, you can still have an edge against your opponents if you have better skills.

But, with all due respect, you are not that much better than the level of your opposition. My guess is that 80% of the poker players, think they are in the top 10-20% of the players at any given event. Of course, that is impossible. And even if you are in the top 20% of the players at a poker tournament, you still need to get lucky to win.

A poker tournament is a short term event, where luck plays a significant role on who wins and loses.

Think about the times when a player gets premium pocket pairs way too often, or a player who hits a set on the flop against his opponent's pocket Aces. And, if you play online poker, I know you've seen (and experienced) more than your fair share of bad beats. Did these players have better skills?

Luck plays a role in each poker tournament. Instead of hoping to get good luck, embrace the luck in the game. And learn to be the player who is feared at the table.

In his book Making the Final Table Erick Lindgren wrote:

"You want to be a great poker player? Stop thinking you're better than the randomness of the game. Embrace the randomness. Let people think you're a wild risk taker. And start taking advantage of those afraid to risk their own chips."

How do you become feared at a poker table?

Winning a WSOP or WPT title is one way. Another way is to be the player who is looking to get involved in lots of hands, and pressing the action with raises and re-raises.

Daniel Negreanu puts pressure on his opponents by playing small ball. In general, it means that he is raising pre-flop with a wide range of hands (usually small raises), and from the flop on he plays your hand. It takes a lot of skill to do what Daniel does at poker. Since poker is his life, he is going to be great at reading his opponents and using his strategy to win.

Gus Hansen is another player who gets involved in a lot of pots with a range of hands. A lot of people who watch Gus play thinks he is an aggressive, wild player who gets involved with way too many hands. Maybe so. But he wins as well.

Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I played in as many no limit poker tournaments I could find in the Bay Area for 3 months. This was before online poker. I did this to prepare for the WSOP.

I entered a $1,500 no limit event. I was aggressive. I won lots of pots. I accumulated chips. I had more than twice the number of chips as anyone at my table.

We were about three quarters of the way through the event, when the Tournament Director broke up some other tables. We had two empty seats to my left. Two players with huge chip stacks filled those chairs. I mean they had at least 4 times what I had--it was very depressing.

I looked up to see who were carrying those huge trays of chips.

One of them was Phil Ivey. The other player was Erick Lindgren.

They sat down and destroyed our table. They were aggressive, intimidating and when someone moved all-in pre-flop, it seemed like one of them would have a premium hand. Did they lose some hands? Yes, of course. But, they only lost small pots. They picked up a lot of hands uncontested, and won the big pots.

I was impressed. I knew I was not in the same league with these guys.

Erick knocked me out. I believe it was on a pure bluff.

What was their secret to accumulating chips?

They were aggressive. They were willing to enter a lot of pots. Their goal was to accumulate chips. They played to win the event not finish on the bubble.

If they were going to enter a pot. They would raise pre-flop a lot more often than call. They picked up blinds and antes over and over again. And if someone called their raise, they knew how to play their opponents from the flop on.

They put pressure on their opponents with bets, raises and re-raises. They pressed the action because they knew that they had two ways to win--their opponent would fold, or they would have the better hand.

Once or twice they pressed the action too much, and wound up losing a coin flip. But, it didn't really matter, because they had accumulated so many chips they could absorb a lost coin flip.

Their mentality was to play to win, and be the aggressor.

Embrace the Risk

When you see a player winning a poker tournament, the reality is that he/she had the skills to win but also got some luck. The better your skills, the better your results will be long term. But short term, you will need to accept that luck plays a role in winning and losing.

Embrace the risk. For example, don't think these thoughts:

"I might get knocked out with A-K, so I only call with A-K."

"I avoid suited connectors because I don't want to chase."

"I never re-raise pre-flop unless I have a big pocket pair."

Learn to come out swinging. Get involved in more pots than you have ever done before, and learn how to play your opponent's hand from the flop on. You don't need a hand to win a pot. If you know what your opponent holds, you'll never lose.

3 comments:

McTap03 said...

I agree fully and since reading your book have been adapting my style to this sort of play. The one caveat I will add is this style of play is better suited for MTT and not SNG, specifically at the low buy-in range, as everybody is willing to "embrace the risk" with just about any 2 cards instead of picking the right spots. I'm not saying that in low buy-in SNG's you have to play tight, you just need to adjust your play to your overly aggressive competition in order to win.

Mitchell said...

Yes. A SNG is a totally different game than a multi-table tournament.

geno said...

A wise poker man once told me his secret to risk taking and no-limit hold'em....

"You cannot win,
unless you're in,
So when in doubt,
just shove it all out.

Seems simple enough. Poker is a tough game for sure. Later.

~geno

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