Live Leaks: Part 2

Live Leaks: Part 2

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Dara O'Kearney corrects some common errors.

Last month, I wrote about the two most common leaks I see recreational players make in live tournaments. This month, I will look at some other major leaks I see a lot in live tournaments, and how to exploit them.

Firstly, live players never got the memo that says raising for information isn't good practise. They still do it all the time. This tactic can be a real curveball if you're an online player without enough live experience to realise this. Online players tend to assume a raise is for one of three reasons: for value, for protection, or as a bluff. As a result, when faced with a raise live they try to assess the likelihood of it being one of the above, without considering there exists an outdated fourth possibility – that it's a raise for information with a marginal showdown hand that an online player would never raise.

Another common difference that causes misunderstandings is that many live players are unaware of the dictates of stack size. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard an online players say, "He three-bet me with a sub-15 big blind stack, so he's never folding to a four-bet.” Think again. I've also lost count of how often I've seen a live player three-bet to over half the effective stack and then fold to a four-bet. This is tied to the common leak I talked about last month: the tendency of live players to place undue emphasis on their tournament lives. Since they are so reluctant to put their own tournament life on the line without the nuts, they tend to assume that others feel the same, so when you go all in, live players are more likely to think you are nutted than online players. As a general rule, live players call all bet sizes too often up to but not including an all in. On the contrary, once you stick all your chips in, you are generally getting called by a much tighter range than is correct.

Most recreational live players don't three-bet light as often as they should, but at least they do it sometimes. However, that's as far as it goes for most of them: they simply don't have a light four- or five-bet range. Don't get suckered into thinking that a guy who travelled hundred of miles to play his biggest live tournament ever is ever four- or five-betting you with a hand light "because it's a good spot". He didn't come all that way to bust in level one all in pre with A-3s.

Live poker is social, which is nice. Players talk, a lot, which is also nice. What's even nicer is that they very often literally give the game away by talking about hands and explaining their thought processes and why they played the hand the way they did. Most live players have a fixed playbook in the sense that they will always play the same hand the same way. "I always raise big with Jacks, because I hate playing the hand.” "I just go all in pre-flop with Ace-King, 'cos I never know what to do if I don't flop an Ace or a King." This is a very good reason to leave the Beats at home! If you listen, players will just keep revealing this information, and commenting not just on how they play their own hands, but also how others do. "I knew you didn't have Jacks, because you'd have raised bigger pre-flop." Not only do most live players have a set playbook, but they tend to assume everyone else is playing from the same playbook (and if not, then they're not doing it right).

Good players who really should know better often fall into this trap too. It's rarely a good idea to talk honestly about strategy at the table: apart from any info you are giving away on your game, you're also holding up a sign that says "thinking and aware player here!". Some players even go so far as to start spouting exact ranges: "Well, I had nine big blinds, so I'd shove any Ace there." If you must do this, at least lie about it. Poker is a game of misdirection, not one where we all turn our cards face up and talk about how to play them.

Most live players place far too much emphasis on physical tells, and too little emphasis on bet sizing and timing tells. If they pick up something (or think they do) on you, they will tend to base their entire decision on this one piece of (perhaps imagined) information. If you can identify these players (and again, they often make it easy for you by talking or even boasting about it), they are prime candidates for reverse tells. If a guy announces he knew someone had something because he looked at his chips immediately after the flop, make sure you do this next time you decide to bluff him. Familiarity with all the most infamous tells is probably more useful for setting up reverse tells than picking up actual details these days (even inexperienced live players these days tend to put a lot of thought and effort into not giving too much away).

In the first Irish Open I played, I found myself at a table with an infamous maniac. True to type, he was playing every hand, three-betting at every opportunity, and continuation-betting every flop. Whenever he encountered resistance, there was a long intimidating staredown, presumably to get a physical read. Once he had this, he tended to act accordingly. I was relatively short-stacked which handcuffed my options, so I decided to basically wait for a good hand or spot to double up. Having folded for several orbits, I eventually picked up Aces in the big blind. As I three-bet him, I tried every reverse tell I could think of: knocking my chips over and immediately scrambling to re-stack them (a classic sign of weakness), refusing to meet my opponents stare for more than a second or two at a time, and the fake smile. After a staredown of several minutes, my opponent clearly decided I was weak and would fold to a four-bet shove, ignoring all the other relevant info (my stack size, the fact that it was not only my first three-bet, but the first time I had put chips into a pot voluntarily).

Then again, he did have the monster that is Jack-Seven off, so maybe the chips were always going in.

Tags: Dara O'Kearney, strategy