Planet Mark's Blog. Thoughts, News And Strategy For Poker Tournaments Of All Size

Thoughts And Insights From The MicroMillions

On Friday evening a rare conjunction occurred… I was feeling like a session of poker, my health was cooperating and the better half did not have any plans to get me out of my study for social reasons. I took full advantage with a big tournament session, which included some MicroMillions events as well as my more regular choices. I actually got deep in one of the events, well, 200th(ish) out of many thousands.

I usually avoid the massive fields at lower buy-ins. The main reason is that battling for hours on end only to win $40 just seems silly to me. I’m not knocking those who enjoy this kind of challenge of course – after all, someone wins the 5-figure prizes at the final table and turns their $3 or $10 into a huge prize… it’s just, well, not my thing.

Of course, while I’m playing these games I am trying to better understand the beginner type players and think about how I might explain some of the mistakes they are making to my readers. This time around it was my own tiredness which gave me the biggest new thoughts – as the evening drew on I found myself on ‘autopilot’ – slowly shifting from my ‘A’ game through B, then C!

Autopilot, Lack of Hand Reading and Giving Up My Lead

After a few solid hours of playing up to 8 tournaments I hit a lull in concentration. Instead of figuring out spots to take pots I switched to just playing my hands. Instead of identifying weak opponents and isolating them I reverted to waiting for premiums and set mining. Most important of all I stopped actively hand-reading and went into what I am now calling ‘weak-strong pattern recognition mode’. That is I compared my own hand strength with whether my opponent(s) appeared to be weak or strong and simply based my moves on that… while this might beat the worst players, it certainly was not good play.

I have been thinking about this over the weekend, and have come to the conclusion that many players – often those with considerable experience – are doing this all the time.

In terms of Levels of Thinking - they are not quite ‘level zero’ players – who only think about the strength of their own hand. Yet they are not quite ‘level one’ thinkers either. Level one thinking involves thinking about your opponents hand… and most people are only thinking about this in a ‘strong / weak’ way based on their own strength.

There might well be a couple of different degrees of ‘Zero Plus’ out there. Let me outline the process for someone who is actively reading hands first, then I’ll come back to this thought.

Good players go through a process of identifying starting hand ranges based on position, action ahead, bet sizing, the situation and the player’s history (both recent and known tendencies over time). Next they narrow this range based on the texture of the flop and action it generates, assigning likelihood to certain types of hand and eliminating others. By the time the turn and river comes you will be surprised how often good hand readers can narrow your opponent to just a few holdings… the best can make probability assignments for the different types of hand and adjust their betting to make money from this.

Compare this with my tired self – meh, he looks weak, I’ll call. Ah, he seems strong, best fold.

You can check out this article for a little more on hand-reading in poker tournaments.

Level Zero +

So, someone who is not thinking about their opponent’s hands might well be working with some other kinds of ‘rules of thumb’. This could be based on how much they are willing to call with certain strength hands, whether the flop has the danger of a flush draw (for example) or whether their opponent will do the betting for them, or whether they need to add money to the pot themselves. Here are some ideas as to what is going on in their minds...

– I have a monster and will not bet because my opponent might fold. 

- I have a monster and will pause before betting, because it looks weak and my opponent might bet more.

– There is a flush possible on the flop, and I need to bet big to avoid getting sucked out on

– My opponent is aggressive and so might be bluffing, I will call with middle pair and see what happens next. (not floating, since there is no real plan of action or thoughts on opponent's hand)

– I have several opponents, so someone will bet, I will therefore check-raise my monster.

Alright, I could go on… This is nothing brand new, however it could well sound familiar to many players not currently hand reading. Even if you are already a level 2 or even level 3 thinker then this could well be food for thought on better understanding the worst of your opponents… once you work out their ‘ zero plus rules’ for different situations then your understanding of their hand will be much clearer.

Back To The MicroMillions...

My period of autopilot probably lasted for one and a half hours, I busted some games, mini-cashed a couple and (worst of all) found that my early lead in a couple more had dwindled. This is probably my personal biggest leak, getting into a comfort zone and then not pushing on. Once everyone else catches up with your stack it only takes one bad hand to cripple you – and the chip leaders will often be moving out of sight.

I’m not complaining, it turned out to be an enjoyable and profitable evening of tournament play. It was great to get into the shoes of beginners once more and fight a good fight. By working out my own weaknesses (and admitting them in public!) I can hopefully inspire some readers to have a critical look at their own game – and hopefully move your play to the next level!

GL at the tables, Mark

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