Dodging Raindrops and Staying Disciplined

I need your discipline

I need your help

I need your discipline

You know once I start I cannot stop

Discipline, NIN

After a few months of yoyo stacks I decided it was time to start taking bankroll management a bit more serious a while back.  People always talk about how serious bankroll management is, and yet nobody ever pays attention to it, really.   People consistently play outside their rolls and watch their stacks shrink to almost nothing, build back up, shrink back to nothing, rinse, repeat.  It’s a bit of human nature to want to play where the biggest rewards are offered, but it’s also a bit gambly.  Which is really somewhat contrary to the true poker mindset.  The difference between poker players and gamblers is that poker players can always tighten up their play and turn around their stats.  If they have the discipline.

And that’s the rub right there.  For the most part, I’m very undisciplined in my poker.  It’s what keeps me from being a truly good player with big winning stats.  I can’t even count the times I’ve gotten frustrated and given up my discipline, only to watch my money disappear.  Sometimes it’s quickly, others it takes a few hands.  Once in a while you even get lucky, and if you’re smart enough to realize that you’re only still playing because of luck, you can turn that around.  This is not an uncommon trait in poker, particularly in low limits.  If you’re playing buy-ins under 5$ I can guarantee you there’s at least one player at your table with the mindset “it’s only 5$ so I may as well play loose”.  There’s also at least one player who knows a bit about pot odds but still can’t resist the urge to call an unpriced flush draw, particularly if he’s got the draw to the nut.  Of course there are all the players who don’t even have a clue too.  And there are probably one or two solid players there as well.  And you, where ever you happen to fit in there.

So in the interests of actually growing and improving my bankroll and game, I have made a conscious effort to play within my roll.  There are different schools of thought on what that means, but for me it’s 100 buy ins.  Since I started this on one of my shrunken roll phases, that means I’ve been playing 1$ buy ins max.  Until I get to 200$, I’m going to stay here.  I recently downloaded a tracking sheet some guy did, it’s basically an excel spreadsheet he’s put a bunch of factors into, and I’ve been tracking my play.  I’m mostly playing single table sit n go’s at 1$ each on Absolute/UB.  I usually play at most 3 at a time, although i’ve gone as high as 4 and sometimes just play 1.  Obviously, I’m not going to get rich quick at these frequencies, but another part of playing within your roll and with discipline means knowing your limitations.  I carefully track my percentage of hands played, not because it affects the results so much as because it allows me to get a reading on if I’m playing too loose.  I’ve noticed that when I have a winning session, I’m usually in the 13-18% flops seen range.  Now, as soon as I go up beyond 4 tables (and often even at 4 tables) my percentage of played hands starts to shoot up.  I find myself sitting at 20-25% very quickly.  I’m not sure why this is, but I’m guessing it has to do with concentrating more on acting on time than on staying disciplined.  So I stay within that 4 table max rule, and as I said, I usually don’t do more than three.

The thing about sit n goes that makes them easy to beat is that they are a different game than a tournament or a cash game.  You don’t win a sitngo by playing creative poker, you win it by playing solid disciplined poker theory.  When a sit n go starts I’ll often not even see a flop until two or 3 people are gone, unless I get a monster.  Colin Moshman’s book has some excellent strategic thoughts on sit n goes, and I do recommend it for anyone who might actually want to play sng’s for profit.  In an sng, playing risky poker will seldom get you a win, and most people just plain don’t understand this.  They play it like they see on tv, calling raises with suited connectors or small pairs, overplaying big hands etc.  This makes for easy pickings if you stay within your set rules.

This also makes for high variance, which I call ‘dodging raindrops’.  In a 1$ 9 player sitngo there are lots of reaaaaalllly bad players.  Every flop, you see 3 limpers pre.  Often you’ll see someone win with a hand like 39 because “it was suited” or “it’s my favorite hand” or “it’s only a dollar”.  So you have to be very careful to avoid these donkeys, or they can end your tournament quickly.  People will always call with a K10 or a K9 if it’s suited, and 9j, q10 and ANY ace are liable to call your preflop raises.  Any pair as well.  So you have to be very careful when you see a flop.  These are all raindrops you have to dodge.  If you raise preflop with ak and get a couple callers, if an ace comes down it’s going to be hard to know where you stand.  Early in a sit n go I seldom raise with ak out of position.  Later I can play it more normally, but with 8 or 9 players and blinds at 10-20 or 15-30, you HAVE to hit in order to be comfortable post flop.  In alot of cases you aren’t going to outplay anyone, because they aren’t actually playing poker, they’re playing bingo.  You could hit two pair and have a gutshot str draw call you all the way down.  Or someone may have a pocket underpair and they call you down as well, hoping to hit their two outter to stack you.

Of course, you want these calls every single time, because they do pay in the long haul you if you price them out.  My strategy (when I’m disciplined enough to stay on it) is control the pot but make the odds wrong for a draw.  They will likely call, so putting it all in isn’t always the best way to take it down right there, and now you’ve put your tournament in the hands of luck.  And we all know what a fickle bitch she is… My tendency when I flop a big hand depends alot on position.  If I’m early, I’ll usually bet about half the pot if there are draws out there, which should price them out.  It doesn’t matter, they’ll call, but they’re calling bad and if I’m actually sticking to the plan I can fold when the draw hits.   I have no problem having only 10 or 12 big blinds in one of these, it’s easy to rebuild if you stay solid.    If I’m late position I obviously have alot more information.  If someone min bets, this is like a neon sign that they’re on a draw or have bottom pair.  I always think when I see that minbet “nothing says donk on a flush draw like a post flop minbet”.  Usually if the min-bettor is early, everyone in the pot will call.  So if I’ve hit some hand I throw a pot sized raise in right there.  9 times out of 10 everyone folds.  If someone reraises they probably have a set or two pair, so I can decide if I want to gamble or not and that depends alot on what the pot odds are vs. my remaining stack.  Occasionally someone calls.  I can usually get two free cards after that raise, so I need to decide if I think they have a hand or if they’re drawing.  If they’re drawing, I need to bet the turn, if they have a hand I need to check it down cuz there’s no way they’ll be folding now with a big hand.  Sometimes I’ll take a check call stance.

If I’m dealt a huge hand here’s where the dodging raindrops really comes into play.  A top 8 hand early in a SNG is just plain scary.  If you bet pot size preflop, everyone calls.  On AP/UB the sng’s start with 5-10 blinds, so a pot size bet is 35 or 45 chips.  This takes nobody out of the play.  Now you have absolutely no clue where your going to stand.  If you overbet you’ll get no action, and I seriously believe that smooth calling to be trappy is just asking to get beat on a low buy in sng.  So you have to be prepared to throw it away if anyone’s interested.  Here’s the real difficult thing tho…suppose you have pocket kings or aces…and the flop comes 10 8 3 rainbow.  Someone at the table is interested in the pot (before you they bet you raised they called or after you you bet they call/reraise).  Now…do they have 2 pr, a set, a draw or a hand like a10/a8?  It’s a big decision how to play at this point, and if it’s early of course you have no prior knowlege of how they play.  I generally take a ‘pot control’ stance and try and not let it get out of hand.  Of course if I flop a set, there’s a draw, and someones interested I will try and get all the chips in right there.  It may be bad poker over all, but I really am loathe to give someone a draw in a 1$ sng, especially if the flop gave me the temporary nuts.

Anyways, staying disciplined and dodging raindrops.  That’s what i’ve been doing in online poker while on the job hunt.  So far I’ve managed to increase my roll by 6x what I started with, but that’s not huge.  I’ve just got to keep with it and stay solid.

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