Live Leaks

Live Leaks

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Can't compete against the online kids and don't know why?

Dara O’Kearney explains the common mistakes made by live players.

I started going to my local casino about eight years ago. Because of my age and appearance (think middle aged guy in a business suit), most of the regulars there assumed I was a total newbie who had wandered in on his way home from work. As a result, I had to listen to all sorts of dubious advice ("Just shove pocket Twos for any amount, in any position. You're probably ahead and it's too hard to play on the flop.") That perception gradually changed as I started to have some success there: I made it to heads up on my first outing, and won the main monthly tournament three times in my first year. Word gradually filtered out that I was a decent online winner. Once it did, the topic of conversation moved on from how I could get better at live poker, to how come they couldn't win online. A less polite version of me would have pointed out that a lifetime of acquired bad habits will be exploited over a larger sample size online, by better players who can use HUDs to quickly identify said bad habits. Your intimidating staredown and table talk might work a treat in the local casino where you are feared as an aggressive opponent, but that won't deter an online player whose HUD is telling him you have a 100% continuation bet tendency, and a really high 'fold to raise of C-bet' stat from auto-raising your every C-bet. Instead, I just smiled and nodded through the inevitable rant that would follow on how online poker is rigged, and it's not really poker because they have software telling them what you do.

As a general rule (and like all generalisations, it's not universally true), live players tend to have two major typical leaks, which I will look at here. I think it is useful not only for live players to understand these (to make sure they don't fall into them), but also for online players, too (to understand the types of mistakes that live players typically make that are easy to exploit).

The first typical mistake is that live players place far too much emphasis on staying in the tournament. This is understandable when you think about it a little: unlike the online pro MTT player who might play between 10 and 20 thousand tournaments in a year, a recreational live player may only play a dozen. When he turns up for one of these, he doesn't want to bust first hand, first orbit, first hour, or even first day if he can avoid it. Even if he doesn't cash, he wants to get some value for his money by lasting a decent amount of time. If it's a multi-day tournament, and even if the bubble doesn't burst until late on Day 2, he wants to experience the feeling of accomplishment that comes from telling your friends in the bar that you're through to Day 2, and you lasted longer than some big name pro who busted early.

This is in stark contrast to the mindset of the online pro, who regards each tournament as a box that occupies valuable screen real estate, and has no emotional attachment to lingering in any one tournament – in fact, many advocate gambling in marginal spots when short to either make it worth your while continuing in the tournament, or to clear the screen space for another game. Because of this, it is very unusual for a typical live player to put all or even most of his chips into the pot early in a tournament unless they are utterly convinced they have the best hand. This means they can be pushed off pots when it's not clear to them they have the best hand, but it also means it's unwise to try to do this unless you are pretty certain they don't have the best hand.

This means that if there's four to a straight out there and you shove the river, you generally won't get called by anything less than the straight, irrespective of how likely you are to have it yourself. However, if you do the same online you will get snapped off by the better players who realize you represent nothing and go, "Really? I'm supposed to believe you have a 4 here all of a sudden? Well I don't, so I click call." Older live pros made hay from this for years, using naked aggression to push weaker players off pots, even when their lines made no sense whatsoever. Having said that, they then began to get caught when online players started playing live more and making these calls when the line represented nothing (cue the older live pros berating the younger online guys by calling them "stations"). A few years ago, a young online beast in his first or second live event ever was sadly telling me about his bustout hand at the first break. He used the words, "It was a great spot for him to be six-bet bluffing, so I seven-bet shoved thinking he could only call with the nuts. Unfortunately, he had it." I told him guys don't travel hundreds of miles to play the biggest tournament of their year only to six-bet bluff most of their stack away in level one. In fact, by the time the four-bet went in, I'd be aborting the mission, as most live players never go past three-bet bluffs (at least in the early stages).

The second mistake – and it's linked to the first – is a poor understanding of pot odds and their importance. I believe it was Elky who summed up the difference between good online players and weaker live ones when he explained this: good online players think in terms of pot odds and equity, while live players think in terms of their stack. Live players will make bad loose calls so long as it's not for a significant portion of their stack. If you overbet twice the pot on the river in Level One, they don't think, "I'm only getting 6 to 4 on the call so I need to be good 40% of the time here and I don't think I am", they think, "He could be bluffing and it's only 10% of my stack to find out, I still have lots of chips even if I'm wrong." Similarly, they will fold more often to shoves or other big bets on the basis that "It's too much of my stack to call."

While there are certain merits to passing in cases where it's marginal (you may think you're barely getting the right pot odds, so end up folding in order to maintain the utility of a deeper stack), I see guys making outrageous passes that even when they explain them it's clear it's a mistake. "I thought I was usually good but he shoved for pot on the river and it was for all or nearly all of my stack so I folded", translates to, "I folded in a spot where I needed only 33% equity and believed I had more than 50%." This mistake runs right through the tournament: later on, live players tend to play scared because they don't want to bust, particularly before the money. In essence, they play backwards poker, calling too wide and playing too many hands early on (because they have lot of chips and can therefore "afford it"), and then playing too tight later on when stacks are shallow and antes make steals imperative.

Finally, it's also important to realize a lot of players don't even know the odds or understand basic equities. Online regs are used to crunching the numbers, so they know J-Ts is 41% against A-K pre-flop, and that 2 to 1 is not sufficient odds to call the turn on a flush draw. Conversely, most live players don't even know the odds. Once you realize this, you can charge players outrageous prices to draw and still get paid. Just remember: when you do and he gets there, don't get angry. Those mistakes are what makes poker profitable in the long term.

Tags: Strategy, Dara O'Kearney