Self Analysis with Jeff Kimber
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
By Jeff Kimber
How many times do you hear a guy in the casino or in the chat box online complain about how his opponent played a hand so badly? “How can he call there?” he moans. “Well played, mate,” he adds sarcastically, while muttering under his breath, or swearing loudly at his laptop.
The stark reality, though, is that when players are looking for the root of the problems in their game, in 90% of cases, they should start a lot closer to home.
Of course, it’s much easier to blame someone else and carry on blissfully unaware of your own failings, but if you really want to improve at the game, you’re going to have to get used to doing some pretty frank self-analysis.
Take the example of Scottish golfer Richie Ramsay. Two years ago, he won €250,000 for third place in a World Golf Championship event, and having been the first Brit in almost a hundred years to win the US Amateur, he looked ready to make a big breakthrough.
His form after that windfall was patchy at best, however, and after missing five cuts in six this year, he decided to do something almost unheard of in professional golf – he took a month off to re-evaluate his game. He sought advice from world number one Rory McIlroy and spent his time away from the game, getting fitter, upgrading his practice routine and generally forcing himself to become more “professional”, to try and break his mediocre run.
He returned to the game in late August and finished first, second and sixth in his first three events back for almost €600,000 and he looks a different player.
The best way for poker players to follow Ramsay’s route to being the best they can be is to get back to basics, dropping down levels to a smaller game until they can honestly say they’ve beaten it, and embrace the changes they need to make before they can look themselves in the mirror and say they’ve done everything they can do to become a winner.
Having done this myself around 18 months ago, after a sustained downswing in my pot limit Omaha cash games, I know that emerging from the other side a much more successful and profitable player gives an enormous amount of satisfaction and achievement, with the added bonus of allowing you to genuinely chastise someone for playing bad, should you choose, in the knowledge that it was definitely their fault and not yours.
For online players, the first thing to do is to buy some tracking software, such as Hold Em Manager, and learn how to use it properly by using the online tutorials. You’ll find HEM extremely useful in your future cash sessions – to help make decisions on opponents as you build up your database of hands on them, working out where their leaks are and who are the big winners (to avoid) and losers (to sit with) – but for self-analysis purposes, it’s our own statistics we’re most interested in.
The basic stats you’ll find are VPIP (how often you voluntarily put chips in the pot), PFR (pre-flop raise) and 3Bet% (how often you three-bet pre-flop). There are literally hundreds of stats HEM will give you to analyse, but start with these three before adding in others, such as 4Bet%, Aggression Factor, C-bet%, Fold to C-bet% etc, etc.
Just as there is no definitive best way to play poker, because it’s an unsolved game, there are no rights and wrongs in terms of which stats you should be looking to attain. If you watch Poker After Dark’s PLO Cash Game week, some of the biggest winning PLO players in the world are in the line-up, and while players like Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan seem to be in every pot, the likes of Patrik Antonius and Jared ‘Harrington10’ Bleznick play a lot tighter.
As a guide, though, I would aim for a VPIP of 25 with a PFR of half of your VPIP and a 3bet% of between five and eight, at least to begin with. Tom Dwan’s figures will be nothing like as tight as that, but with all the players I’ve mentored (and in my own game), I’ve found the majority play too many hands and bring a lot of the “bad luck” on themselves in hands they should never be involved in.
It’s also a lot easier to expand a tight/solid game that has good basics than it is to reign in an overly laggy game that is out of control, so start off with a “tight is right” attitude and work from there.
I found the easiest way to cut down my VPIP was to start every hand with the attitude that I was looking for a reason to fold, rather than play each hand I was dealt. So where previously, if I’d been dealt A?K?J?5?, I’d have looked at that hand and thought, “Three broadway cards, a suited ace, I’ll play it!” Now I think: “That five is a dangler and three clubs is no good, I’m folding.” It’s amazing how quickly you realise how many ugly, non-premium hands you’ve been playing, and cutting down your VPIP also allows you to play more tables, as you’re folding 75% of the hands dealt rather than 50%.
Position is hugely important in PLO, much more so than in hold’em, in my opinion, as the best hand changes so much more often down the streets in the four-card variant, so while our VPIP may average out at around 25%, it could be close to double that on the button, reducing rapidly the further out of position we get, all the way to the small blind, where we really hate putting any money into the pot at all.
Similarly, our three-betting should be done much more in position than out, with thought given to mixing up play and certainly getting out of the habit of just three-betting aces by opening our range while also sometimes not reraising with aces at all. Of course, it takes a long time to build up a database of enough hands to get useful statistics, but HEM can import all the old hands you’ve played previously and tell you the stats you have been playing with, which will give a good idea of how drastic the action required needs to be.
The more you use HEM, the more you will get out of it, with reports, positional stats, win-rates at each game, stats on who you win or lose most against, even which time of day or the week you win most at, and using all this analysis can only improve your chances of being a winner.
One stat I urge players to stay away from placing much emphasis on, however, is the all-in EV line, which shows how much equity you have in a hand when all-in. So if two players get £100 each all-in pre-flop and it’s a genuine 50-50 coin flip, the player who wins the £200 pot will be running £100 over EV and the player who loses £100 under EV, as each had an equity of £100 in the pot.
When the hands are as simplistic as that, the player who loses the pot can genuinely say he’s “running bad” and below expectation. But poker’s rarely that simple.
If a player makes a bet with a gutshot straight draw and is faced with a big raise by someone who has definitely got the made nuts, he probably has around a 15% chance of winning the hand.
So if I bet a T-9-8 flop with just K-Q-x-x, hoping to hit a gutshot jack, and a solid player pots it, obviously holding J-Q, if I call and hope to hit my seven-to-one shot, I could claim to be unlucky and I would be under EV if I miss. If I fold, I will not be running under EV, and, having invested money in the pot, would be losing in the session without running bad, but obviously folding here is a much better play than calling all-in.
More seriously, a lot of players use the fact they are below EV to mask their own failings and leaks, blaming bad luck rather than bad play and lazily not working on improving.
Reviewing sessions is another key part of improving your play, and getting into the habit of watching replays of hands, especially losing hands, is another must-do to become the best player you can. Improving players can do a lot worse than watch their 10 or 20 worst losing hands from yesterday’s session and learning from mistakes before commencing play each day.
Being lazy is natural to poker players, especially when there weren’t so many good players around and it was much easier to win in games without making much effort. Today it’s a very different game.