Posts Tagged ‘coach’s corner’

ImageGrowing up as an athlete it was beaten into my brain that mental errors are inexcusable. If the sick feeling of screwing up wasn’t enough there was the inevitable browbeating quick to follow. No one ever wanted to be “put in the corner” so to speak; it was embarrassing and counter productive from a learning standpoint. I did, however, take something away from those encounters… even the best make mistakes.

When I decided to create Coach’s Corner, I wanted to keep with the spirit of singling out inexcusable mistakes; less the public humiliation of course. The first subject I chose to tackle is easily the most common mistake among competent players; playing on auto pilot. Whether it’s a marathon session, problems off the table, tilt, or simply being stuck, everyone can think back to a hand, or series of hands where they weren’t totally engaged in the action or decision-making process. This disengagement from the game leads to playing in a predictable manner with an absence of forward thinking, ultimately making us an easy opponent to target. Moreover, when we’re restricted to making decisions street by street we get led down a disastrous path that could have been avoided by executing a well formulated plan. In my own personal experience, I often fall victim to auto pilot when I’m stuck or when sessions run long (not surprisingly these go hand in hand). Session length plays a big role in my game; I’m generally driving the action, which equates to having to make a lot of critical decisions. In order to stay engaged and continually make crisp, calculated choices, it becomes important that I recognize when my brain has checked out. In my bonus pack I have selected five hands, three of which exemplify mistakes I made playing on auto pilot; the final two will demonstrate the deep thought process of our  A+ game.

Hand #1: Snowball Effect

I won’t overdo the detail of this hand, as our mistake is quite clear. A strong case can be made for squeezing preflop, and to be honest had I been fully engaged in the game it’s the option I would have been most likely to take. However, putting in a large three-bet here, out of position is a very high variance play and will require high level play on all future streets. In a vacuum calling is the correct play, and what I would recommend to anyone I was coaching. The flop is a clear check/fold situation. When we call we rarely have the best hand and have no idea which, if any, of our outs are live. Case in point, we were floating ourselves dead in this hand. Biggest point of emphasis is if when we improve we still do not have a hand strong enough to play for max value then folding is the correct choice.

Hand #2: Winning Isn’t Everything

One of the biggest mistakes made while in cruise control is overlooking obvious details. In hand two we see a raise from under the gun by a 60bb stack. Now let me take this opportunity to be clear, in a cash game I consider players with less than a buy in to be short stacked. This is obviously exaggerated as true short stacks are closer to the 40bb or less range. However, we must consider our style; we play large pots applying max pressure forcing multiple decisions. Shorter stacks take that leverage away from us. More to the point, in this case where we hold a small pair we’re calling merely to set mine. Given stack sizes we’re barely getting the proper price, assuming we stack him when we flop a set. Since our opponent is also tight, it’s much more likely he’ll get let off the hook when he misses with AK, has an over card flop when holding JJ, QQ, KK, or worst case set over set us. All these, very apparent, details are forgotten when our mind wanders elsewhere and we instinctually flick in a call. Afterall we are already invested a big blind, and we have a very playable hand. To most this hand becomes an afterthought, just another instance where we make a set and don’t get paid. But the astute realize, that despite winning this pot, we made a clear negative EV call.

Hand #3: Deer In Headlights

This image is a close depiction as to how I must have looked upon facing such an awkward flop bet in a scenario that I hadn’t anticipated. Had my head been in the game I would have realized two things: my stack is too awkward to flat preflop, and this old man has been getting out of line. Folding is fine as is three-betting and playing for stacks, at least at the $5/$10 level. At lower stakes I would suspect that no matter how out of line it appeared this man has been getting, it’s more likely that he’s just catching a solid run of cards, since people play true to their tendencies at $1/$2 NL. Ok fine, everyone makes small mistakes, at least we have position and a strong holding to compensate. Unfortunately, once we’ve mentally checked out it’s tough to reel it back in. The flop is an easy shove. We made a questionable call preflop, but now our hand has as much value as we could ever expect. We hold an ace so it’s less likely he has aces, his bet is quite large so I give him less credit for a set, and if we are unfortunate enough to have run into KK we have some equity. Sure it’s a gamble to shove, but we’ve put ourselves in an awkward spot and it’s certainly the most profitable play at this point (he can easily make a bad call with AK or JJ, as well as draws or KQ)… So I call. I imagine this is what it feels like as the deer realizes a car is bearing down on it. Since it becomes clear that we have either a queen or a draw, our opponent checking the turn leaves us in a position where now we are no longer playing our hand for max value, but instead to lose the minimum when beaten. We can’t really shove for value now as we’ve defined our hand and will likely only be called by better. Also, when we are being checked to it’s often one of two scenarios, a full house or a hand he’s given up on. Since we’re never paying when AK makes broadway, I elect to make at least one good decision in this hand and check behind. Much like an act of God keeping the deer from becoming another victim, the deck saves us with a rivered queen. Unfortunately, we will rarely make any money on this card. It now becomes easy for our opponent to fold ace high, JJ, KK or AA as well as busted draws. Tens full and eights full may make a crying call, but that’s our only glimmer of hope. Of course the old man shows a monster draw that I would have never given him credit for, which had he hit the ace I would have paid off. If nothing else this hand demonstrates just how thin the line is between playing as a high level pro and a breakeven amateur. The devil hides in the detail.

Hand #4: Fight or Flight

Very rarely will we encounter a blind vs. blind battle at the $1/$2 level; in raked games it’s both profitable and good etiquette to chop. However, once we get to the mid stakes we start paying time, in which chopping is now foolish. In this particular hand we have a dream scenario: heads up with a hand that flops well, in position against a decent player who is going to generally try too hard against us. The reason I consider his trying too hard as relevant is it will naturally take him out of his comfort zone, leading to a potential large mistake. Hence why we do not three-bet him, too often he’s going to try to play above the rim and find the courage to four-bet. Since our hand flops well we elect to call with the intent to take it away on favorable flop textures. The 10-6-3 rainbow flop is about as dry as it gets so we should suspect our opponent to hold no pair a large portion of the time. Of course we anticipated his continuation bet, and since we are playing our A+ game we are going to take this pot away with a raise. We have a draw to the nuts as well as a backdoor flush draw, should our flop plan falter we will have ample opportunity to take this pot away as the board texture changes. Unfortunately, we turn one of the worst cards in the deck, and are facing heavy aggression as our opponent retakes control. Since his bet/call range on the flop is mostly middling/top pairs, 54, and strong Ace highs (AJ-AK) this card will often strengthen his hand, it’s also a great card for him to bluff, assuming he had any intention of doing so. Since our stack-to-pot ratio is awkward we can really only shove (likely into a hand or strong combo draw) or fold. We correctly tuck our tail, lick our wounds, and move on.

Hand #5: Driving The Bus

When fully engaged in the game each play we make will be backed by a well formulated plan. Here we are dealt a premium hand out of position. Most of the time our hand strength alone would dictate a three bet, but against an opponent who has such a tight opening range we are much better served flatting. Our plan will be to keep the pot small preflop and either flop the best hand (we assume anytime we make a pair it will likely be best) or use our image of having a wide flatting range to take the pot away on bad flop textures for our opponent’s perceived range (pairs and AQ, AK). Here we have an unexpected caller from the big blind. Despite the flop (10, 7, 3 rainbow) being quite dry, we can take the lead with what is sometimes the best hand or otherwise a hand that has over card equity. Since we expect the big blind to fold every time he has nothing, and some of the time when he has only one pair (based on the pressure of potentially being raised by the player yet to act) we’re putting the big blind and original raiser in a spot where they must have a hand to continue. The preflop raiser’s call tells us one of two things: he either has one pair that we likely have outs against (assuming it’s not AA), or he has specifically top set of tens that he is slow playing. Either scenario is fine for us as we’ll slow down on turn cards that don’t improve our actual hand or our perceived range (what we are representing: set of 3’s, 7’s or T’s, 98 straight draw, or just a ten).

Turn: The turn is actually a monster card for both our real hand and our perceived range, however, it also improves our opponent when he has JJ. Since JJ and TT are only small  portions of his holdings, coupled with his likelihood to misplay both of those hands as well as QQ, KK, AA, and AT, we elect to bet again. The obvious question is why not check in a spot where we are clearly beaten? Two reasons: First we can’t win the pot if we check. In other words he’s never folding when we check, moreover he’s rarely checking behind. The second reason to bet is we are able to set our own price. Against an opponent that I thought was incapable of ever folding one pair, or an opponent who I thought would often check behind/bet too small, I would elect to check. However, this specific opponent will be very likely to make a bet large enough that we can’t call profitably. Since the jack strengthens our representation of JT, sets and 98 I believe our fold equity greatly increases against naked one pair hands.

River: The one thing I can say about aggression is that it is often rewarded. Once he calls the turn it’s clear that if we make a hand we are certainly getting paid. It’s crucial we earn the maximum when we hit such a long shot. If our range assessment is accurate we know that most of our opponent’s hands are sets. That being said this becomes a perfect spot to go for an over bet. Of course check/raising is an option, but he’ll almost always check down KK and AA (where he may call some % of the time)  as well as bet and fold to our raise a lot of the time, yielding us a lower profit than if we had just dictated the price. Analyzing the hand after the fact we see that our opponent makes numerous mistakes, the largest being never attempting to push us off our equity share of the pot. If he puts in a raise on the flop or turn we are forced to surrender. Instead, he allows the board texture to continually deteriorate; even upon rivering a card that improves him, he faces a huge bet and ultimately loses the pot. Here in lies the biggest problem with bluff catching, far too often when pots swell and there is a river bet,  it’s no longer a bluff we are up against.

It’s very easy to lose sight of the big picture while playing a game for a living. But, this isn’t tiddlywinks. We’re playing for real money; cold hard cash, often in excess amounts that most people wouldn’t dream of risking. When signing up for this lifestyle, this career, it becomes our duty to give our undivided attention to the game; that is if we hope to succeed. Eliminate the mental mistakes and results will surely follow.

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