Monday, April 2, 2012

Everyone Plays Correctly

An interesting non-poker quote I read the other day:

"Everyone is correct... at least in terms of their own idea of what is 'correct.' People do things for reasons, even if you don't understand the logic of those reasons."

Think about that for a minute and then apply it to poker. When someone does something at a poker table, they're doing so for a reason. It may be a bad reason, but they're doing it for a reason that make sense to them. They play any two suited cards because they think that they might get lucky and hit a flush. They play weak hands out of position because the cards look strong to them. They call out of the blinds a lot because they're defending "their" blinds. Our opponents may make plays that you and I believe are wrong or bad, but these things are still based on "valid" reasons in those same peoples' minds.

You might wonder why this matters a whit. People play poorly, while thinking they're not. Why should you care?

You should care because this helps you better understand--and capitalize on--the mistakes of your opponents. Said another way, you have to actively work to take advantage of the mistakes of your opponents. And this starts with noticing those mistakes and interpreting them. Here's an example:

Jumping Joe raises before the flop from UTG in a full ring game. You and most of the rest of the table folds, but Joe gets called by Tight Tony on the button. The flop is 3♠-8♠-K, and Joe fires out again. Again he gets called. The board pairs with the 3, and Joe fires again and gets called. The river is the A.  Joe bets again and gets called by Tony, who turns over a pair of red Tens. Joe folds J♠-T♠ face up into the muck pile.

We may disagree with Joe's actions, but everything he did in this hand made sense to him. He open raised JTs from EP in a full-ring table. Why? Is it his favorite hand? Does he think JT is stronger than it actually is? Is he balancing his range with big suited connectors? Does he think he should play the same hands in EP as LP?

Joe also bet hard on the flop and turn with a non-nut draw. Why? Did he think he could bully the tight player off his hand? Or maybe he wanted to build the pot in case he hit? Then he fired a big bluff on the river with a scare card when he missed his draw. Again why? He didn't seem to care what his opponent's range was, or did he? He also seemed to think that folding a missed draw-turned-bluff face up would serve a purpose. What is that purpose? To show he's capable of playing suited cheese from EP? Or to mislead them? Or??

Similarly, Tight Tony didn't fold his pair of Tens on the flop, turn, or river. He did this in spite of getting bet into on three streets of action from an EP raiser with overcards and a paired board. Why didn't Tony fold? Did he think Joe was a bluffy person by nature? Can't Tony read board texture? Is he positionally aware? Did he really think his TT was good here? Why did he call down such a large fraction of his stack? And so on...

Your job as someone not involved in this hand is to pay attention to Joe and Tony's actions. Further, you have to not just see what they did, but to figure out why they did it. In fact, the why is more important than the what.

Once you've figured out the why, you can use this information to your advantage in future tangles with these two villains. You can exploit their tendencies and actions because you've gotten into their minds. You begin to understand what their so-called reasons are for doing what they're doing. And you can profit from this knowledge.

Too many players (this Bug included) often lose interest and/or focus in a hand after we've folded. We don't put the remaining opponents still involved in the hand on ranges. We don't try to guess what the remaining players are going to do. We don't try to figure out why someone is betting, or calling, or raising.

And in doing so, we're passing up a potential gold mine of information.

Remember, everyone plays correctly according to their own definition of correct. We can likely agree that Jumping Joe made some mistakes in this hand, but he probably didn't think so, and that's because he has his own point of view of what's right and wrong. Tight Tony also made mistakes. But they both had reasons for doing what they did. You just have to figure out what those reasons are.

All-in for now...
PS. It turns out that my $398 Federal tax refund check is not going to be sufficient to purchase Full Tilt Poker. Drat. Maybe I'll see how much additional spare change is hiding beneath the sofa cushions...

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