Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Power Of Deception

I've been working extensively on my No Limit Hold Em cash game recently.

Previously my standard game was the $100 buy-in, but I've dropped down to allow scope for experimentation without risking too much damage to the bankroll.

My basic premise has been that my game was too predictable to be successful in the long term at higher levels.

I'm confident my LIMIT game is good for as high a level as I can realistically anticipate playing in the foreseeable future. I'm super tight in early position, loosening up closer to the button, and very aggressive. Which works just fine.

Doing a simple transfer of this game to no limit, and generally just throwing out pot-size bets when I think I'm ahead, is probably good enough to work at the very lowest limits, but it does have it's weaknesses.

Most notably it makes me vulnerable to trapping from the other decent players who are floating around.

Take for example my previous range for making a standard raise under the gun. There would be some variation dependent on the nature of the game, but anyone putting me on something like AA-TT or a big (probably suited) ace wouldn't be far from the truth.

Let's further assume the button is holding something like 8s7s. Against my range they are about 3/1 pre-flop, so seeing a flop is very worthwhile. Indeed chuck in one or two loosey goosey callers with fairly random ranges and the numbers almost demand they call.

So not only is the button getting good odds to call pre-flop, but with my range he will always have a fair idea where he is in the hand. Whereas I am pretty much committed to chucking out bets until I run into resistance.

This can leave me a bit of a sitting duck when I do get action, but don't particularly like the flop or turn.

The converse side of the coin is sometimes I could sit for ages waiting for a hand, stick in a raise, and everyone folds. It's like playing with the cards face up.

So there's potential to be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Smart opponents only call with hands with a decent chance of cracking a big pair, and when they hit the flop they can generally be pretty sure where they stand.

It's also pretty boring sitting around for ages waiting for a decent starting hand, then only managing to snare the blinds!

To combat this, I've gone almost entirely in the opposite direction by adapting my new SNG game to the cash tables. Playing lots more hands from all positions, with a much wider starting range.

It's not totally random - the J2, Q4 hands still hit the muck - but there's a much bigger chance I'll be raising with a small pocket pair, suited connectors, even one or two gappers.

The benefits of this so far have been noticeable.

Some of the more obvious are:

I'm stealing an amazing number of pots that I never expected to steal. I'm astounded how a reasonable raise can sometimes induce four or five limpers to fold.

My big hands are getting action from the strangest sources. All-in on a Q-high flop with AA v Q3. Marvellous. Of course now instead of cursing when it's all folded pre-flop to my aces, I find myself cursing the river when the rogue 3 arrives, but that's a cross I will gladly bear!

The disguise is deadly. Picture an opponent with 77 who calls a pre-flop raise to hit his set, and succeeds on a 972 flop.

Right now he is praying I have AA and not AK, so likely will only call my flop bet for fear of losing his customer, and will gladly stick it all-in on an innocuous turn 5, only to explode in chat box fury when my 86 stacks him.

"You fish! How can you raise with 86? Moron, retard...."

Well, actually I can raise 86 for this very scenario, and if I hate the flop I can check fold at a cost of a few blinds.

More subtle benefits I've spotted so far are that I actually get to see many flops a lot cheaper than previously.

With my standard raise being 3BB plus one for each limper - regardless of whether I've got bullets or 54o - I'm seeing a lot of flops cheaply when people holding middle/big pairs, or particularly AK/AQ, only call instead of reraising.

Yet the same players will open for 6BB with AK if there's no raise. So, by raising in advance, I define the size of their bet.

Another benefit which derives from tournament theory is I'm playing lots more hands against bad players. If we assume in general that at the lower limits I have an edge - as I feel I do - then playing a super tight style is limiting my opportunities to make money.

It's often said in deep tournaments that the first few rounds are where the good players make hay by milking the weak players of their chips. They see lots of flops as cheaply as possible, in the hope of hitting big and stacking weak players who can't put down overpairs, etc.

In that respect low limit cash games are a never ending tournament round 1, with shoals of bad players, fixed blinds, and what is hopefully the equivalent of an infinite stack, since any time I make a mistake or get unlucky I can immediately dip into my bankroll.

Those circumstances surely suggest I should develop a style that makes me play more hands?

Notwithstanding all these tactical or financial reasons for changing style, there's also the simple point that it's a damn sight more fun!

The swings may be greater, and I've certainly made a few howlers so far, but overall the bankroll is moving the right way and I am really enjoying it so far.

Not that I'm complacent. It's still early days in the learning experience, and I'm no Gus Hansen, but having fun and making money are two strong motivators to persevere with this approach and work on ironing out the defincencies in my game.

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