Sunday, July 17, 2011

List Making

I got a little side-tracked on my recent airplane trip back to home. Specifically, I spent way too much time at 35,000 feet thinking about the R is for Reading step of my RED-M method. The more I pondered, the more complex things got. Before I explain, let me give a little discourse on why making reads is so important to winning at poker.

Sklansky's Fundamental Theorem of Poker states: Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose.

The crux to this theorem is the notion of "seeing" your opponents' cards. Obviously we can't do this (unless we're cheating, of course). So we do the next best thing, which is we make educated guesses as to what range of hands our opponents might hold. This is called hand reading.  For instance, an unimaginative, tight, nittish player UTG open raises at a full ring table to 3x the BB. The CO player RR's to 10x, and it folds back to the UTG player, who makes it 30x. What hands could the UTG player reasonably be holding here? When he open raised, we could put him on a fairly strong range that consisted of, say, 99-AA and AQs+. When he 4bet, however, the range would shrink to just the super strong hands of AA, KK, and/or possibly AKs.  This is an example of an easy read. We knew our opponent's basic type and tendencies, we factored in his actions, and we arrived at a narrow range of hands that he probably holds. Knowing this range, it's then relatively easy to to estimate our own hand strength and situation relative to his range, decide on a line, and them implement it in a way that maximizes our EV. Easy peasy poker.

But things aren't usually this simple in real life. Let's say that a tricky LAG player on a rush open raises in MP, get's 3bet by the CO, and then min 4bets. What kind of hand range does he have? Or how about the loose big blind who over-calls behind an EP raiser and three cold-callers? Or the tilting TAG reg who just smooth called in the SB a LP steal raise from a TAG who seems to be on a heater? Not so peasy any more, is it?

Well, this got me thinking about some of the more important factors that go into a read. As is my normal wont, I started by making a list:
  • Do I have any notes on the opponent?
  • What are the player's statistics?
  • Can I detect any tells?
  • What kind of player is he? Tricky? ABC? Or?
  • Is he positionally aware?
  • What cards has he previously shown down?
  • What level is he playing on?
  • What is his absolute position?
  • What is/will be his relative position throughout the hand?
  • What size stack does he have?
  • What stack size do I have?
  • What stack sizes do other players in the hand have?
  • What are the table dynamics?
  • What meta-game has been taking place?
  • What is his perception of me and my hand range? 
  • What is his perception of other players in the hand?
  • Does he balance his range?
  • Does he merge his range?
  • Is he on tilt?
  • Is he on a rush?
  • Has he recently taken a beat? Given a beat?
  • Has he recently taken a cooler? Given a cooler?
  • Does he vary bet sizes with hand strength?
  • What actions has he taken thus far in the hand?
  • What kind of line do we think he's on?
  • Is he trying to build a pot? See a cheap showdown? Get us to fold?
  • What is the board texture?
  • What is the pot size?
  • Is there dead money in the pot?
  • Does he feel committed to the hand?
  • Does he think we're committed in the hand?
  • How do my actions thus far in the hand affect his range?
  • How do other players' actions in the hand affect his range?
  • Are there any blockers or elimination cards out?
  • What does combinatorics say about his range?
  • And so on...
Hoo boy, as you can see, this is complicated. Very complicated. Maybe too complicated, in fact. There has to be a better way of looking at this.

So, I stared at my list, and then I stared some more. I watched some of the dopey inflight movie and ate a little snack and reviewed a document for work. Then I stared some more at my list. I got up and walked down the length of the triple-7 a couple of times, came back, sat down, and then stared some more. I switched on my droid and listened to a Bart Hanson podcast. And then--yes, you guessed it--I stared at my list some more.

Giving a giant list like this to a newbie (or even a moderately experienced player) and telling him or her that these are the questions they need to answer to make a sound read feels, well, ridiculous. I needed a way to simplify things. Frankly, I needed a way to make this usable. So I tried categorizing the questions into logical groups, and after a lot of neuron fatigue, here's what I came up with:

  1. What are the core tendencies of the player, and can we define a general range he plays? 
  2. How are his core tendencies being affected by specific factors in this particular game? 
  3. What are his actions in this specific hand, and can this help narrow his range?
  4. Does combinatorics allow me to further reduce his hand range?

Okay, this is a little more digestible, but it still doesn't alleviate the bigger problem; namely, in the first three of these four categories, there are literally dozens of things that can and will affect the outcome. For instance, when looking at (2) How is his core tendencies (i.e., hand selection) affected by game factors, there are multiple issues to consider. What are the table dynamics? Is it a loose table and he's adjusting by tightening up further? Or is he loosening up further? What kind of meta-game things are going on? Is he setting up a big play? Is he looking to get even against another player? Is he being picked on by another player? What is his perception of how I'm playing, and what kinds of ranges is he putting me on? Is he putting me on a range? How is this affecting his actions? What about other players at the table? Is he reading them? Reading them well or poorly? Is he giving off any tells? Does his bet size indicate hand strength? Is he capable of giving off false tells? Is he balancing his range by playing some unusual hands OOP? What kinds of hands? How often? Is he on tilt? On a rush? Taken any beats recently? Given any beats? Yada, yada, yada....

As you can see this gets insanely difficult. I do like my idea of a four step approach to making a read, but all of the individual factors making up those steps are, simply, too much. What is needed is a way of prioritizing the individual questions at each step, and then dolloping them out in digestible lumps as a player becomes more and more sophisticated (i.e., moves from L1 to L2, L3, and so on in their own abilities).

Unfortunately (actually, fortunately, as I Wanted To Get Off The Damn Airplane), my flight landed and then it was off to hop on the next plane.... but that flight out was delayed by 3+ hours, so I had some more time to stare at my lists and ponder.

All-in for now...

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