January 18, 2009

Online Poker Update

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Urgh, overconfidence is a killer. I have now completed the 50 online $2 + 0.20 heads-up tournaments I previously mentioned. You may remember my goal was to win 70%. Well, I didn’t make it. The good news is I won more than I lost – 52%. The bad news is that with entrance fees, a win rate of 55% is required to break even. I lost $6 and so ended up with $66; a little disappointing.

It all started so badly. I’d like to think it was just variance – that the luck of the cards means that sometimes you are just going to lose. However, reading that goal-setting blog post and remembering those first few games, I think I might have been overconfident. I improved a little over time. If I played the first 25 like the second 25, then I would have made a small profit, but still a long way from the 70% goal.

Like my first posting, I think the main problem is my attitude. While playing this 50 I kept a record of whether I considered I played “well” or “badly”, together with the final result. My definition of playing badly included: not starting in an appropriate frame of mind; getting disheartened during the match; chasing pots; or bluffing too much even when the other player was betting back. Those are my main vices. Just today I played a match where after I ground the other player down for 10 minutes, I went all in on the turn with a full house and then lost on a 2-outer as they made a slightly better full house on the river! Despite still having a playable stack (around 30BB), I was tilted and busted stupidly a few hands later. That was badly played. Playing well meant I played mostly calmly the entire match, allowing a few small bad hands as long as they were non-terminal. Notably, the maths of poker did not count for much in categorisation. If both players went all in pre-flop after just a few hands (a surprisingly common experience), then it was considered well played if I was ahead at the start (the normal situation). One game defied categorisation as the other player disappeared after 2 hands and had to be blinded out. Thus there were 49 entries.

I played well 59% of the time. When playing well I won 72% of the time. When playing badly I won only 20% of the time. Even allowing a bias towards saying I played well if I won and badly if I lost, that is still a big difference. Playing badly 40% of the time is way too high. If I played well every match, as I should, then I would be close to my original goal. So the goal for the next 50 is to win 30 (60%), by playing well 80% of the time. To that end, here is my beginner’s advice (from a beginner to a beginner), which I will try to follow over the next 50:

  • Decide before starting how many matches you want to play – many times the “just one more” game was a bad loss.
  • Only play if you want to win and can play for the 30 minutes or more it can take.
  • Don’t chase pots, especially if your opponent is betting back.
  • Think about what your opponent has – remember 50% of the time they have a better pre-flop hand.
  • Start tight with small bets until you get an idea of your opponent. If they are tight don’t bluff too much when they bet back (beware even if they are loose and aggressive). However, be aware people’s style changes with stack size.
  • If you play a hand badly, don’t dwell on it, but do think about these guidelines.
  • If you lose badly, stop.

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