Burn the Books!

Burn the Books!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Staying ahead of trends is important for profitable play says Vanessa Selbst.

The poker world has changed dramatically in recent years – more training sites, forums and technologies are becoming available and they are frequented by a wider array of people who are getting better and better at the game. It’s getting tougher every day to be an elite player and to remain an elite player. The ones who stay at the top are those who constantly think about the changing landscape and the trends of the time and theorise, either by themselves or with friends, about the best ways to stay ahead of those trends. The players I find the easiest to beat are the ones who take obvious lines that “the book” tells them to take (what we refer to as “ABC” poker), because once we all know what the book says to do, they may as well be playing “face up”.

One example of this involves a debate I had with an elite player about a hand that caused my bustout from the European Poker Tour event in Barcelona in 2011. I was in the money already and had a healthy chip stack and raised the button with K-Jo. A player in the SB three-bet me, and I called to take a flop. My friend thought it was a terrible call with K-J, and one that he said he would never make. I thought he was stuck in the past – sure, the book says not to call re-raises with K-J because it’s a hand that’s often dominated by premiums, but my take was different. Everything my friend said was spot on in 2008 or 2009, but in 2011, players were re-raising me from the blinds with all sorts of crappy hands (and rightly so, as I was stealing their blinds very often). They also don’t give me a lot of credit post-flop so I’m likely to get paid off when I hit. Because of those two factors, I felt that K-J dominated enough of my opponent’s range and that if the flop came king or jack-high, I would get a lot of chips. Of course, the risk is he actually does have a huge hand and I lose a lot of my stack, but I am happy to take that risk to put myself in the position to win the whole tournament. Ultimately, I lost because my opponent’s K-T made a flush and I decided to turn my pair into a bluff at the wrong time, but that part of the story is neither here nor there. If the flop had come king-high I probably would have stacked my opponent and been chipleader of the tournament in the money.

One of the facets of live large-field, multi-table tournaments that differentiates them from online tournaments or cash games is the lack of statistics available on one’s play. Basically, it would take a very long time for people to play enough hands with anyone for them to ever figure out that person’s particular style. So why not take advantage of that and consistently take “exploitable” lines that exploit the tendencies of others? If I see a bet size that people fold to all the time, I’m going to make that bet size to make my opponents fold time and time and time again. But once that bet size becomes popular as a bluff (because eventually the trend catches up and people catch on), I now decide that I’m going to take that for value almost every time. So staying ahead of the trends of poker is incredibly profitable for me because I can magnify the utility of the lines by taking them “exploitably” often (because my opponents constantly change so I’m not actually being exploited). Being stuck in the past may still be an OK way to play – after all – good solid, ABC poker will always be profitable – but the opportunity cost of not staying ahead is one that I’d rather not pay.

Tags: Vanessa Selbst, strategy