Good Game

I am forever telling my friends that one of the most important things you can do in poker is to pick the right game. Game selection is the number one thing on my list of priorities. I put this above my own mental frame of my mind and my personal health. I can feel just fine mentally and physically and still lose if I sit down in the wrong game. That is correct; I can lose when I am playing my absolute best if I am sitting in the wrong game. I have preached this Ad nauseum and yet I still see them making the same mistakes over and over.

Just last week one of my friends was discussing a section of Barry Greenstein’s book Ace on the River. Barry says something to the effect he looks at the game based on the fish that are in the game because that is where he will be winning his money. The implication being that you do not have to be the best player at the table to make money. As I was discussing the merit of Barry’s writing and the points I agreed with and providing further refinement in areas we differ it occurred to me that most people do a poor job of scouting games because they have no idea what they are looking for. My friends have no idea what game they can beat by just watching the table for a few minutes.

I began to survey the group about what they are looking for in a good game. Predominately, my friends select the game they play in by the first available seat that opens up. Sad but true. I asked a follow up question about how often they go to the card room and choose not to play because there are no good games available. The answer is never. I asked how often they choose not to play because they are not feeling good. The answer is rarely but it does happen. They are not interested in game selection and therefore they do not practice or particularly care to improve on the skill. Why should I care? First, I want everyone to improve and particularly my friends. Second, I am constantly getting calls and texts about great games and I need to hurry down to the card room. Sadly, most of these once in a lifetime games are really not that good.

My friends seem to be action junkies and they equate big pots with a good game. Just because there are big pots does not mean it is a good game. Huge pots can signal disaster for a player that is on a limited bankroll. Huge pots can mean huge swings and crushing losses. Gus Hansen and Tom Dwan make huge pots and put a lot of action into the game yet I would dare to say that is not a good game for any of us to sit down in. Phil Ivey can take his chances. The rest of us should just watch. Why are the pots huge? Ask yourself that question.

The second common mistake I see players make is that they see a weak player with a huge stack of chips and immediately think that makes a good game. You need to watch and see if those chips are even in play. Many players get ahead and immediately put a stop loss on the stack. They will often color up to high denomination chips. This is usually a sign that those chips are no longer in action. While they may have gambled to get the chips they have no intention of gambling with them. A player that seperates the chips into two distinct stacks or racks up several hundred of the chips is also setting a stop loss. Look for it, it is easy to tell if the chips are in action.

When I look for a good game I am looking for players that want to lose money. That simple. The player has sat down at the table with every intention of losing money. These are usually tourists and wealthy people playing for recreation. I like players that are deep, meaning they have deep pockets and will rebuy time and time again. A player that buys $100 every 30 minutes all night long is far superior to one with a $2000 stack in front of him. I want a player that can go on tilt and lose a huge amount of money. I want the player that loses confidence and becomes more passive. The guy that makes the crying call knowing he does not have the best hand. This is what makes a good game.

I will take a minute to explain some finer points where Barry and I differ. The presence of a great player in the game reduces the expected value of the game. I have sat in games with great players and it is absolutely most important that you identify that great player and take appropriate measures to avoid that player. I will almost always get behind the great player. If the seat is in front of the great player, I would probably pass and wait for a better opportunity no matter how many fish are in that game. The great player almost always has snuggled up right behind the big fish. I would like to snuggle up right behind the great player. Everything I am going to do is exactly what the great player would do to me if the roles were reversed.

I recently played at Soboba in a game where I was able to get a seat right behind the fish. This game was limit hold’em and I was not able to isolate the fish in the same way I would in a no limit game. I had a very good player come in and sit down a couple seats in front of the fish. I was playing a tight aggressive game with my opening range being my raising range. The fish on this night was a fairly aggressive young player with quite a lot of gamble. Because the game was a small limit the swings would be large in terms of the number of bets but relatively modest in comparison to bankroll size. I could afford to gamble at these stakes. I would raise or re-raise every time I entered the pot. The pots were generally capped before the flop if I was in the hand. The very good player was playing tight and passive limping in with all of his starting hands and playing about the top ten hands only. I quickly realized that he had a super strong hand every time he was in the pot. I knew if he missed the flop or an over card came he was folding. When he hit the flop he bet his hand. I was able to torture him. I was playing the fish really hard and making money. I was killing the very good player by simply making him fold when he was weak and getting out of the way when he was strong. I was also letting the world know he was strong and making a big show of folding huge hands to him to make sure my school of fish knew it was time to get out of the pot. The point is that the very good player would have absolutely destroyed that line up if I were not at the table. My presence turned a very profitable game into a huge loss for him. He was in bad position and I was abusing all the rules of the game. I went so far as to put the good player on a flush draw when he was check calling and I would encourage my fish to re-raise me. I was openly challenging the fish to raise it. I was just trying to make it hard on the good player and make sure he paid maximum for that flush draw. When the third diamond hit on the river I would say “up jumped the devil, I am done with my set now, I guess you guys sucked out on me”. I wanted to make sure nobody let him get an extra bet. Be aware of the great player and know how you are going to handle that great player.

A good game is one where the players all have money and want to lose it. They play loose and passive and just call you down with every losing hand. They rarely have any chips but they have a fat wallet and continue to re-buy all night long. They have no chance to win because they never raise with the best hand. The pots will tend to be smaller but you will win more than your fair share. They fold when they miss and they call with draws. They wear their emotions right out front and they are ready to fold a missed draw before I even have a chance to bet the river. This is a good game. Yes it may take me all night to make a thousand dollars in this game but there was never any risk of losing. Just a long slow steady profitable grind.

Remember, I am in there playing with my fish. Leave us alone or I will torture you. These are my own personal highly trained fish and they will do what I say. So you can’t win. Stay out of my game.

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One Response to “Good Game”

  1. Carter Howson Says:

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