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Early Steps 2: Cracking da code

Posted by Rakesh Sharma on 2012-11-19 at 12:00 AM

The first ever tourney I played was the 6K IPC R+A in Oct 2011, busting at #12, without doing a single rebuy or add-on! Quite an experience to play with some of the pros I’d only seen featured on the leaderboards hanging at CR. But I turned to tourneys only in 2012. Though disapointed in not making the Final Table, I was nonetheless happy to have come close to it.

In January, Carnival had started Tuesday night 3K tourneys, basically 1-2 table ‘home games’ attended mostly by local Goans. A no. 2 finish fetched me a princely sum of 9K! Twice in 3 weeks.

The next ‘tourney’ was the IPS 5K R+A, where I busted early. Next day, played a 2 K satellite into the Jan 2012 IPS 10K event – I quickly did a chop to earn my first real-tourney money – 5K, giving the seat away.

My fears basically revolved around losing my bankroll, earned after hard work on cash tables. My highroller blackjack pal assuaged the worry by offering to stake me if I went broke (luckily, I never had to avail of his offer)! But, perhaps that was the trigger I was waiting for.

I now decided to get serious about tourneys. Since I hardly knew people on the poker scene, I realized I had to be ‘self-taught’. As a first step, I browsed voraciously online – initially on pokerstrategy.com and then on to a range of other sites. Flipkart added to my infobase – I soon had a shelf full of poker tomes.

For turning theory into practice, the Poker Strategy $50 poker quiz came in handy. On 888, Dafa and PokerStars, I played a dozen or two tourneys daily – all freerolls and some $1 or under buy-in tourneys, trying out concepts I’d just learnt, notions of my own that I was developing and patterns I’d observed others deploy on the tables.

During these 2-300 online tourneys, it was good to see demolished a personal pet theory or a pattern I’d borrowed/refined, only to learn a basic lesson: there is no single gospel pattern of play; that each hand, each table and each stage of the tourney had its own dynamics – that no two situations are absolutely alike.

And some other key lessons: the importance of ‘position’, of keeping a sharp eye on relative stacks and of player profiling! The biggest lesson of them all was: my surname isn’t Ivey, Helmuth or Brunson – so it was okay to gasp at some of their audacious plays, but I was light years away from gaining their level of experience – their reads, analysis and player profiling that enabled them such breathtaking plays! I chose to stay away from their HHs and tourney videos (finally started watching some only after I had over a dozen FT finishes).

The freerolls and micro buy-in tourneys also helped understand and refine the actual math: the SPRs and profitability of making a call… Once I started having deep runs, other lessons came along – the power of the short stack, blind-stealing, surviving orbits and rising blind levels with simple targets in sight: maintain at least a steady 40-50 BB stack, vary styles of play on the same table – in a multi-way pot vs HeadsUp against a TAG or a LAG or a calling station or as per position/ stage of tourney (pre-ante vs post-ante) and read.

The final step to get ready for serious tourney play was to revisit my live satellite/ tournament experience and in the ongoing tourneys analyse each bad hand I played, each strong hand I failed to extract value for.

The most important analysis/ lesson: Do not be overawed by anyone, don’t play a reputation. Play the hand, the situation and the math.

A couple of examples:

[B]Ignore the rep[/B]:
In an early tourney, I found myself seated next to Samoh. Even though I had position on him, as a novice I was too awed by the ‘pro’, the APT winner, this PokerGuru team pro! I folded TT preflop to his 3 bets against my min raises or flatcalls; I folded top pair top kicker to postflop double barrel bets. Against other pros, I folded a straight, putting the other on a flush or a higher straight!

In the later tourneys, I was able to greet some of the 3/4/5 bet pros with 4/5 bets or all-ins. Other times, I was able to protect my hands and/or making their draws expensive, taking it to absurd levels of unviable math for them. I even began attacking them soon after they’d been coolered or had lost a huge coinflip!

[B]Lose the fear of busting[/B]:
At IPL1 (2012) in the15K freezeout, I made a ridiculous mistake on the first hand itself. After 2 limpers, I raised to 5x, but instead of tossing in 250, I tossed in 2050. As soon as the dealer announced my raise, I actually told the table it was a mistake, I meant only 250 etc. Vineet Bailur shoved his entire stack anticipating an insta-fold, only to find me snapcall with 88 to his AK. Though he flopped a higher pair, I rivered my set. I had a deep run in the tourney, bubbling just short of FT.

[B]Wait for a spot, Pick a massive pot[/B]:
Some tables have lunatic agressive play, involving egos instead of poker. At an early tourney, I found myself on a table with 4-5 pros, each with many ‘titles’, only to find 3/4/5-betting and all-ins at the first 25/50 level itself. Rather than get drawn into this crazed play (and thus bleed heavily), I just waited for the right spot – a big hand on the hijack position. CO pro 3-bet, Button pro flatted as did the UTG pro. My KK turned into a set on the flop, UTG and I checked, CO came up with a c-bet flatted by the Button while UTG folded. I tank-called. The CO pro seized upon this ‘weakness’ by firing a pot sized bet to my check on the Turn, to see the Button pro fold and me tank call again. The river saw the board pair up, to find me check again, only to find the pro calling me all-in. Needless to say, I swiftly complied, rather happily, to an insta muck. In another situation, on another table, I’d almost never play this hand in the same way, but on this table, it seemed the most profitable play. It also took away the pain of folding some strong hands earlier to their crazed betting.

[B]The Journey begins[/B]

Jan 2012 saw me at the IPL1 – where I finished 21/51 in 5K R+A and 11/52 in the 15K Freezeout (I shipped this event at IPL2, finished 3rd at IPL3 and shipped the 5K R+A at IPL 3!). Feb saw me at PGT 5K where I finished 18/47.

The gamechanger in end-Feb was the World Poker Pro Tour, for reasons not entirely poker-related. The story continues in the next blog post…

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Rakesh Sharma

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