Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What Game Are You Playing

When most of us sit down and log onto our favorite online poker sites and join a Texas Hold 'em game, we pretty much know what kind of game we're about to play. The structure of the game, the rules; they're basically the same across the board.

But not everyone at the table is playing the same game.

Let's take a step back for a moment. I'm sure most of us watched with great interest ESPN's 2004 WSOP coverage of the main event. We saw some very notable, very successful players struggle with the influx of new and inexperienced players.

The coverage of Daniel Negreanu at his table showed him attempting to make plays and moves that were simply not working. Annie Duke lamented the fact that some new player called her bluff with only Ace-high on a very coordinated board showing a 4-card straight.

While each player's reaction to their bustouts was different; my question is who's really at fault? Is it the fault of the new players, oblivious to the moves the pros are making? Or is it the pro's fault for attempting these moves on players who couldn't or wouldn't recognize them?

My feelings are that it's the latter.

Because that's exactly what I seem to be doing lately online. I've been trying to make moves on boards by representing some made hands. The problem is that I'm getting called down by people holding middle pair. Who's fault is that? No question, it's mine.

And here's the problem for me. Playing straightforward poker is a bit boring. I think if we've all played enough poker, we can get a feel for what it takes to consistently win either at limit or no-limit. Sure we'll get the bad beats, catch a bad run of cards, but the basic winning strategy is within our grasps. It's very realistic for us to think we can beat some of the low limit poker games out there by simply playing ABC poker.

That brings us to the next question. Are you playing to become a better player or to make money. It sounds like these goals should fall in line with each other, but I don't think they necessarily do. If they did, then why couldn't a successful $1/$2 limit player simply play the same game at $20/$40 given a sufficient bankroll? The answer is because it's a different game populated by different players with different play styles.

Moving up in limits has been difficult for me, partly because I made an assumption that at the higher limits there would be better players. I figured I could make some moves and they'd get recognized for the hands I was representing.

Well, that didn't work. I was playing a different game. I was like the tailback who juked left, then juked right, anticipating the defender to move one way and run the other. My defender just happened to be a brick wall, unable to adjust to my feints, simply letting me run right into its unyielding stance.

I'm sure there will come a day when the limits to which I move up will be populated with players of a different caliber. I just haven't got there yet. Where do I go now? Time to regroup. Back to the friendly confines of my previous limit for a bit of bankroll building. Hopefully with time, I'll reacquire the funds to take another shot at the higher limits and make that step successfully.

But right now, it's back to playing straightforward poker. That's the game I'll be playing.

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