January 13, 2006

HOME GAMES

ike so many poker players, i started playing in home games. i can fondly remember sitting around the table at my parents' house years ago, debating whether the big bet in limit hold'em came after the flop or after the turn (anybody else remember that or other ridiculous debates we had?) at some point, i started playing in casinos and card clubs. the first time was at the reno hilton, where kingsley and i sat down at a $3-$6 limit hold'em game for a lengthy session of about 45 minutes :). regardless that i now understand that such a short session is absolutely no indication of poker-playing ability and regardless that i had no f'ing idea what i was doing, i won about $75 and declared myself an expert :). later that year i went to vegas for the first (real) time and playing $2-$6 spread limit hold'em at aladdin, getting to spin the wheel when i hit quad 9's. i also played at a few other places that trip, when i formulated my now laughable theory that by playing only two hole cards 9 or above, i was a dominating force at the miniscule-limit table. anyhow, along the way came books, vegas trips, and short stints to bay101 while in college. i would play occasionally, in home games and casinos, slowly improving but not really knowing it. and then everything changed on one semi-drunk night at the monte carlo in las vegas. think this pseudo-story might be be known by now, but i came back from Club Rain at around 2am still buzzed and immediately bought in for $200 at a 1-2 no limit table. it was my first time playing no-limit in a casino and i probably would have been terrified if i wasn't drunk. i remember seeing a multi-way flop with A4, flopping middle pair, and coming over the top of some guy. he showed me top pair and folded. i mucked my cards but someone else at the table asked to see them. the dealer flipped the cards over and everyone's eyes perked up. i'll never forget that hand. long story short, at the end of about a 9am session, i had somehow stumbled my way to all of the chips at the table, stopping play because there were no other players, winning a hefty amount that still stuns me today considering how bad i was. so what's the point. the point is that since then, i stopped playing in home games. for many different reasons, i just don't play in them anymore. if i could find a high buy-in home game to regularly play in (maybe one bill or more), i probably would. but i just don't. and it's odd, because when i DO play in home games now, i almost always lose. as an improving poker player, i should always ask myself why losing happens to me? am i playing poorly? am i under-betting? over-betting? playing poorly after the flop? am i not changing gears? the end result is to figure out: why in the past two years have i lost in almost all 6 or 7 home games i've played in, while i have a total profit of about 200x my home game losses in that time playing in casinos? it's not exactly a question that consumes me considering the financials, but strange? i think so. this question comes to me after losing a monstrous $10 buy-in in a home game last night. i would be willing to chalk it up to bad luck based on the hands last night, but that is of course a terrible mistake in all cases as a poker player. yes, perhaps some hands were bad luck, but that doesn't cover other nameless hands in which i may have lost or gained chips. instead i've come up with some hypotheses: NOT ADJUSTING TO HOME GAME PLAYERS: at a home game last night, i saw a hand where the button limped. the small blind raised to 3x the big blind. the big blind folded. the button thought, then called. flop came QJT. small blind bet about the pot. button called. turn came 2. small blind checked. button bet about half the pot. small blind moved all-in immediately for about the pot. button immediately called. i was expecting to see a set from the small blind and two pair from the button. TT and QJ. pretty believable. small blind flipped over TT, as expected. button flipped over Q5. Q5 offsuit. now, not making any judgements on the play of the hand, i think that's illustrative of the lack of laying down hands in common home games. i mean, the buy-in is $10. people are willing to call with a lot. lesson: re-read doyle's super system section on calling stations. MAKING BAD PRE-FLOP DECISIONS: this is something that i think i've corrected but was doing for a while. i consider myself to be a better pre-flop than post-flop player, yet i inexplicably give up this part of my game when playing in a home game. calling out of position. calling when i feel like i'm an underdog. limping with trash. when the buy-in gets small, i tend to want to gamble and try to out-play everyone. the problem, of course, relates to the first point that it's hard to out-play anyone that can't lay a hand down; you just need to show them a good hand. lesson: you need to think one level beyond your opponent, not more than that. and, stick to the things that make you successful. NOT ADJUSTING TO PLAYERS QUICKLY ENOUGH: i like to play long sessions at casinos. sessions where i can sit and watch players for an hour plus play a lot of hands dealt by fast dealers. in no limit this is most profitable because in a long session you can wait, analyze the players, and trap them with huge hands when they arrive. home games however are generally much shorter with less hands dealt. instead of waiting to understand if my reads are strong, perhaps i should move on them more quickly and just trust myself. it's a hard thing to do, i guess. i also need to work on these skills more and pay more attention. serious flaw in my game. lesson: make better reads and trust myself more. PLAYING STYLE: while i feel like i have a reasonable ability to change gears for a player at my level, my basic playing style is still tight-aggressive. i don't feel like this playing style transfers well to a short-handed home game with few hands. i need to become better at changing gears when appropriate and playing looser when needed. this is something that still needs work. lesson: work on changing gears. the good news is that these are all correctable. the bad news is that i don't intend on playing a lot more home games, for the same reasons that i haven't been playing a lot of home games in the recent past. i do think it's important to think through these things though. they should help me in my overall game. i hope. tags: ,

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