Friday, July 21, 2006

Rocks Can't Win Anymore! (Part One)

Psychological Road-Map for Changing Your Style and Winning Again

Mike Sexton recently said something that started somewhat of a small stir in the poker world. I don't want to quote him out of context, but since the quote itself isn't really the topic of discussion today, I know he'll forgive me if I do:

"Tight players are LOSING players. Tight players can NOT win tournaments."

I was asked by several players if I disagreed with his quote. Or if I was hurt by his assertion. Surprisingly (to them), I said absolutely not, that I agreed with him 100%. The structure of today's modern tournament doesn't reward tight, cautious players. It rewards more of a maniacal personality. Thinking maniacs will always have somewhat of an advantage over non-thinking maniacs, but even the most clueless, loose-aggressive players are hitting closer to the mark these days than rocks like me.

I will provide some examples, even though I know my readers don't need them, and agree with me on this point. Look at the top of the food chain in the 5k Stud event yesterday:

1 William Lin (Denver, CO, USA) $256,620
2 Shahram "Sean" Sheikhan (Las Vegas, NV, USA) $171,080
3 Cyndy Violette (Atlantic City, NJ, USA) $102,648
4 Allen Kessler (Huntington Valley, PA, USA) $76,986
5 Miami John Cernuto (Las Vegas, NV, USA) $55,601
6 Patrick Bueno (France) $38,493
7 Lupe Munquia $29,939
8 Mike Caro (Shell Krob, MO, USA) $21,385
9 Russell Salzer AKA "The Muscle" (New York, NY, USA) $12,831
10 John Womack (Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA) $12,831
11 Brian Goddard (Huntington Beach, CA, USA)

I do not know Mr. Lin. But Sean, Cyndy, Allen, John, Mike and Brian are not known for being rocks.

I am a friend of Brian Goddard's. I don't want to sound like I'm putting him down, although it is going to seem like I am when I say this. Brian has absolutely no clue. He loves Stud. That is why we are friends. We both love Stud. But Brian is one of the most clueless players I have ever played extensively against. He will bet two pair in a Stud tournament when someone else has trips showing. He will bet a pair into three other players who have threatening boards developing (four to a flush, four to a straight, two pair, etc). He doesn't do this for deceptive purposes or to try to increase his chances of a win by getting the second and third best hands to fold (when he is fourth), he does this because he simply doesn't even look at the board cards of his opponents. He always plays his own cards only, and just lives in his own little world.

Yet look at his tournament results compared to mine

Another personal example that I can think of is Terry Myers. No.Clue. Here are some of my experiences with Terry. <----Drawing to two outs and he didn't even have a clue!

An unpublished story:  In a $500 buy-in NLHE satellite (into a 5k event), I was sat at Terry's table. In one hand, I held AQs. I raised, Terry called. The flop came down Qxx. I went all-in, Terry called with virtually no hesitation whatsoever. He held AK. King on the river and that is all she wrote. That's Terry!

I have never seen anything like it. Just lost in the wilderness. Deer in headlights. But look at his stats!

(I am providing these examples as over-the-top, outlandish results in order to make a point. I have absolutely no doubt that both Brian and Terry, along with me, are losing tournament players in the long-term. The above is just meant to shock, not to prove that loose, clueless players are big winners in today's tournament world.)

I remember a couple of years ago at the WPBT inaugural event, Max and I were trying to give some helpful hints to some of the players at our table. This is usually a no-no in tournaments, a no-no in my personal book and a bad idea altogether. But it was a fun, low buy-in event, in which the players had put up money to get to play with the "pros," so once Max started in with the advice, I tried to be helpful as well.

The two tightest players I encountered were CJ and Steve Hall. Let's look at what has happened to both of them since that time.

CJ is now called "The Luckbox" because he has loosened up his tourney game, and played lots of low buy-in SNG's in order to learn to play more hands shorthanded and to learn to take chances. He has since become a force in the tournament world and can keep up with today's environment.

Steve, for all I know, is still a rock. He is still taking pics of the pros in big events, and is not a pro poker player anymore.

I do not highlight these two rocks in order to put either of them down. I like both men, and have nothing but respect for them. The only reason I bring them up is because I'm always using myself as the example of the rock who can't hang, and I want to make it clear that there are many of us in that same boat.

So what will happen to those of us who cannot compete anymore? It's really easy to say "change your style," but it's something completely different to actually do it in practice.

Ray Zee wrote an excellent article about the stages of a poker player many years ago. It addressed progressing from one stage to the next, in what is probably close to a typical player progression.

In my own play, I skipped stage one. I have been around the poker world a long time, and the first lesson I ever learned before stepping into a poker room was to play tight. To fold, fold, fold. I learned that lesson well. Too well.

But my own experience isn't the point here (although it is definitely helping me write the article). The point is that a player goes from loose and completely undisciplined with no discernment whatsoever, to the next stage, stage two:

"This stage of a player's evolution is the tight stage. Most of those that are going to go forward to become eventual winning players will enter this form."

And this is what we are going to focus on today. The tight, unimaginative player who cannot get out of the tight, rockish rut, and finds himself unable to compete anymore. He can't win in today's tournaments, he can't win at any cash games which require a player to actually play more than 9% of the hands he is dealt. He can scratch by in a low ante Stud game. He can break even or make a little dough in a capped NLHE game. He can survive in low LHE. He can nut peddle in PLO8 online. But he is handicapped by his own inability to loosen up and to read players, hands and situations well. He is a rock who will not be moved. And he is falling farther and faster behind every day!

Next:  "Okay, I get it.  But what can I do to change???"