Some of my MTT philosophy

I’ve been playing poker online for about two years now, and I’ve always had a thing for MTTs. I’m sure I’m just another product of the TV poker boom, but I just like MTTs more than cash games (and SNGs are a close second). Here are a few things I’ve learned about MTTs since I started playing:

  • The goal in an MTT is to make it very, very deep into the money. Because of the top-heavy payout structure of most MTTs, it’s hardly worth while to just cash in an MTT. If I’m just playing to cash, my time is probably better spent in a SNG where I can play for less time and cash more frequently than in MTTs.
  • Variance is very high in MTTs. A good MTT player can expect to cash in 10-20% of the tourneys he plays (and this number is inversely proportional to the size of the field). This means that, even for a good player, there is an 80-90% chance that he will lose money in any given tournament. This means that a streak of 10, 15, 20 or more tournaments without cashing is not only possible, but should be expected. This means that my bankroll-to-buy-in ratio must be very high to withstand the negative variance in MTTs. I try to make sure I have at least 100 buy-ins for whatever level I’m playing.
  • My opponents determine how many levels of thinking I use; I should be thinking one level ahead of my opponent. Typically, the higher the buy-in, the more levels of thought necessary to be a winner (to an extent). In the lower buy-ins, there’s generally no point in thinking to the fourth level, or even the third. I think about my hand, I think about my opponents’ hands, and that’s it unless I have reason to believe that my opponents are trying to read my hand. A couple weekends ago, I played an MTT where I tried an elaborate check-raise bluff against an opponent who obviously had me beat. I was representing a hand that had him in bad shape, but because he was only thinking about his hand and wasn’t trying to put me on a hand, I donked off a bunch of my chips. I was thinking on the third level, but he was only thinking on the first level, so I was just wasting brain power and chips. After the hand, a more experienced player at the table said, “Nice bet, I would’ve folded to you there.” My check-raise bluff would’ve worked against this opponent because he was thinking on the second level, but my play was too fancy for a player thinking only on the first level. But the more experienced opponent was wrong, it wasn’t a nice bet because I made it against the wrong type of player.
  • Keeping records is imperative. I record every tournament I play: Buy-in, number of entrants, where I finished, how much I won, how long it took, and various notes on my play. I keep track of my overall ROI, how often I cash (ITM–In The Money percentage), and other statistics that help me see how well I’m playing. These records enable me to measure my progress, expose any leaks in my game and, most importantly, they keep me honest. The records don’t lie–if they say I’m winning, I’m winning; if they say I’m losing, I’m losing.
  • Hand Histories are a very big part of my learning process. When I go very deep in an MTT, I’ll often review the hand history the following day to see what I did well and what I could’ve done better to win. Any time I encounter a difficult hand, I save the hand history from that hand so I can look over it and get feedback from other experienced players to help me understand the hand better, so I’m more prepared for that scenario next time I see it. If I have a bad session, I’ll look at the big picture to see if there are any leaks I need to work on, or to see if maybe I was just running bad.

I’m not an MTT expert, not even close. But I have been consistently improving over the past several months and I believe these are the primary reasons.

Good weekend of poker

I had a pretty good weekend at the poker tables. Nothing incredible, but I had decent results.

I played a total of 12 tournaments–11 online and one live. I cashed in four of them and made one final table (the live tourney was a one-table tournament, so no final table points for that one). My online ROI was 140% and my live ROI was 243% for a total weekend ROI of 171%. It was nice to have a good weekend online since it had been over three weeks since I cashed in any tournaments.

All in all, I played very well this weekend and I think the results don’t reflect my performance. I made some very good plays and those plays allowed me to accumulate chips to weather some pretty bad beats. My instincts were good and I played solid, patient poker. I’m also playing very well on the bubble, and not playing to eke into the money (I busted 245 in one tournament where 243 paid when I made a good situational play and just got unlucky; I could’ve easily folded into the money).

In 12 tournaments, I lost 10 all-ins where I was at least a 75% favorite when the money went in. That’s just a rough run of luck and I was pretty fortunate to survive as many times as I did.

This was a pretty interesting hand from one of my online tournaments: We were down to 245 (of 1405) players and 243 spots paid. I had about 5K chips and the blinds were at 200/400-25 (or something like that). It was folded around to two off the button who raised it to 1200 and the CO smooth-called. Both players had stacks about like mine, but maybe a little bit deeper. Since we were on the bubble, and it was folded around to the hijack, he could have a very wide range of hands. Even a tight player will be raising a reasonable range of hands there (I’d say at least ATs+, KJ+, 77+) and a good player will be raising with a lot more hands. The smooth-call by the button smelled like AK to me, but there are a few lesser hands he could have (AQ, KQs, maybe a medium pair). It’s easy to restrict his range so much because of his stack-size. If he had a really big hand (JJ+) he would almost have to re-raise given the stack-sizes and the fact that there are still three players to act behind him. If he had a mediocre hand (AT, AJ, 55, KT, QJ), he’d almost have to fold for the same reasons. I had 99 on the button and moved in. The blinds folded, the original raiser moved in (uh oh) and the CO called (double uh oh). The original raiser had JJ and CO had AK. JJ held up and I was out.

I was pretty upset with my play after this hand but, the more I think it, the more I think it was the right play. Hijack’s JJ was a much better hand than he needed to raise there, and my read that the CO had AK was accurate. Most of the time, my all-in will isolate me against the CO getting 7-to-5 on my money as a 55% favorite.

I think the AK really misplayed his hand here. He ended up calling off his whole stack with AK, sandwiched between a raiser and a re-raiser. AK is a good hand, but it’s the kind of hand that I want to make the last move with. If he’s going to play AK in that spot (and he should), then he needs to move in to isolate against the initial raiser. If I had folded, the SB would’ve been getting about 3.4-to-1 to call. If the SB had folded, the BB would’ve been getting about 4.25-to-1 to call. Those are tempting odds for the blinds to call and get lucky. The bottom line is that he should be playing this hand for all his chips (his M is only about 8 before the hand starts) and AK is a hand best played heads-up.

EDIT: I played again tonight (Monday) and had a pretty decent night. I played three tourneys and made one final table (took third). Of course, I busted from one tourney when I got the money in as better than a 70% favorite, but that seems to be standard. My overall ROI for the night was almost exactly 100%.


Getting ready for a big tournament

In an hour, I’ll be playing in the highest buy-in tournament I’ve played yet. It’s $200+15 and there are thousands of dollars at stake. I’ve seen first place in this tournament pay as much as $150,000. Of course, I’ll need all my skill and a lot of luck to make the money, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

The best part is I’m basically free-rolling in this tournament. I won my seat for $9 earlier this week. So, if I make the money, I’ll get a minimum of $215, with an investment of $9. That’s a pretty decent ROI.

I feel pretty prepared as I’ve been playing lower-stakes tournaments this week and I’ve done pretty well in them. Of four tournaments, I made the money twice, bubbled once (finished 115 when 99 paid) and busted the first hand with KK vs. 32. In all four cases, I busted with the best hand. My last tournament, I busted with AQ vs. AT when AT flopped a straight. Anyway, I’ve been playing well and I think I can make the money today. But, even if I don’t, at least I had a shot at a ton of money for a $9 investment.

What else?

If it seems like I haven’t been doing much lately, that’s because I haven’t been doing much lately. I’ve done some reading, written some things on the guitar, written some things on paper and played a lot of basketball. We lost by 17 on Wednesday to a good team that has played together for a while. This Wednesday, I think we’ll do better, but I guess there’s no guarantee.

Work has been going well as I’ve had a lot more responsibility and I think I’ve handled it very well. Things are going very smoothly even though I’ve recently taken on the responsibility that was previously covered by two people.

That is all.


Good night for poker

Well, the tourney was tonight. There were 17 people, each of whom bought in for $50. The top 4 spots paid out: 1. $425 (50%), 2. $255 (30%), 3. $130 (~15%), 4. $40 (~5%). I finished 2nd, which was fine by me.

Here are some of the highlights (at least from my perspective):

  • First person I knocked out (pretty early on): I had pocket Aces and put in a large raise. Guy to my left declares he’s all-in. Obviously, I call. He has pocket Q’s. My A’s hold up and I move up to about second largest stack
  • First big hand: I flop bottom 2-pair and put my opponent in for about 75% of his chips. He goes all-in and I call. He has top pair with a K kicker. He catches a K on the turn and a 9 on the river for a boat to beat my 2-pair. Tough beat, but it left me with about 2/3 of chips.
  • I’d been hovering around the starting amount for a while and needed to make something happen because my stack was getting smaller and smaller. Person to my right makes a raise about half the size of my stack; I go all-in with AK. He calls with 99 and I catch a lucky K to win it.
  • Later, I’m against the guy who busted my 2-pair. I flop bottom 2-pair, he makes a reasonable bet and I push all-in. He thinks and calls. He missed his straight draw and I knocked him out.
  • We’re down to 3 guys and I’m in a situation where I could basically triple up my money. I matched a K on the flop for a K with a weak kicker. The guy to my left immediately goes all-in. The guy to my right is clearly debating a flush draw and a call. I decide I’m not calling and muck out of turn. This was a good play because I think it saved me $130. I have a feeling I would’ve been way behind to a K with a better kicker if I’d called. The flush draw ended up folding to the bettor.
  • We’re down to heads-up. I briefly held the chip lead, but am now down about $3500 to $5000. I’ve been playing ultra-aggressively calling all-in about every other hand (the blinds are $150/$300 and raising to 200/$400 in 5 minutes). I’m staying in the game by stealing blinds and otherwise playing pretty tightly. I sense weakness on my opponent (he’s Big Blind), so I move all-in with K5. He thinks for about five minutes and calls with A5. He catches A5 and beats my 5’s with a K kicker with Aces up. Game over, I’m in 2nd.

So, I guess the question is this: Would I have done anything differently, especially at the end? I think probably not. He was playing moderately aggressively and I simply wasn’t catching cards. I was moving in when I detected weakness, just waiting to detect strength when I had a superior hand, so I could move in and maybe get a call. I actually thought I had him with K5, but he just made a great call with A5. I had probably moved in on him 15 times by now and we were both ready to see some fireworks. I haven’t figured out if he outplayed me, or if I just lost. Maybe there isn’t a difference.

All that being said, I can attribute most of my success tonight to one book–Tournament Poker for Advanced Players by David Sklansky. I picked it up a week ago, finished it about an hour before the tournament and was constantly surprised by how much useful information I gained from reading it. I won’t go into details, but I can confidently say that $255 is a fantastic ROI for a $30 book purchase.

So, I’ve played three tournaments now and finished 3/8, 2/8, 2/17. I feel that’s a pretty good record, but I still haven’t got a win. Hopefully, these guys will continue playing tournaments and I’ll find some other tourneys around to play in. After tonight, I feel that poker is something I can actually be pretty good at. I also realize I have a lot to learn. I think I’m going to re-read all my poker books. I think there’s a lot of information I missed the first time through and I can now see that book-learning is a powerful weapon at the poker table.

End rambling about poker.