For those that don't know me, I was a regular poster in the LHE forums and was a DC coach for LHE (mostly HU) several years ago. I took a break from DC and poker in general to concentrate on work, but I've recently been playing some live NLHE at my local casino. (Even though I was primarily a LHE player, I regularly played some live NLHE as a change of pace in the past.)
Anyway, I thought I would try to give back to DC some by posting a few threads on what I consider to be some key ideas in live play. I would consider myself a good, winning live player, but do not consider myself to be "great" or "the best" by any means. So if you disagree with any of my assertions or reasoning, I strongly encourage you to challenge it!
You might think there is not much to game selection in live poker. After all, you probably have a particular limit that you are comfortable playing at (and, hopefully, adequately bankrolled for!). You go to the casino, get on the list for that game, and then you sit down when your name is called. Game selected. But actually, there are two key ways you can choose what game you play.
First, you have the option of requesting a table change. I personally think it is a bit ridiculous to do this all the time, but I definitely encourage you to walk around the games at your limit as you wait to be seated or between hands after you are seated. Look to see if there is one or more really juicy games where someone is sitting with a lot of chips and playing really poorly (either very loose passive or very loose aggressive). You can often spot such a player after observing 2 or 3 hands at the table. When you see such a player, go to the floor and request a table change. When a seat opens up at that table and they accommodate your request, be sure to tip them and thank them.
The second aspect of game selection is choosing what size stack you want to play. Hopefully, at some time, you will reach a point where you can truthfully self-assess yourself as one of the strongest players at the table in terms of postflop play. (This is absolutely a reachable goal, but it is also important not to delude yourself if you aren't quite there yet.) In that case, you'll probably end up wanting to cover the table most of the time. But the decision is not so simple.
First, you can always add more money to the table, but you can't take money off the table. For that reason, if you are unsure when you sit down how much you want to play for, it's a good idea to buy in for a relatively short stack and then to add to your stack after watching the table play for an orbit if conditions look suitable. When I top off, I usually wait until I get my button, as there's much less value in being deep out of position, so I'll generally wait a few hands if I decide I want to add more chips but I am in, or approaching, my blinds.
When do you want to consider playing a short stack? First, short stack play is easier than deeper stack play. If you are still in the learning process or moving up to a new limit with an unfamiliar player pool, there is nothing wrong with playing a short stack. We play poker to maximize our EV, not to satiate our ego, right? If you feel you are still developing and have some leaks, I recommend playing a shorter stack when the table seems tougher (possibly as you wait for a table change), while playing a deeper stack when the table seems softer, giving you the chance to practice your deep stack play with minimal chances for serious damage to your bankroll.
Second, sometimes you have a very loose aggressive, perhaps maniacal player to your left with a very big stack. If you aren't ready for big swings (either psychologically or for bankroll reasons), you may want to avoid matching his stack. Instead, try to buy-in for an appropriate "reshipping" stack size. For example, there is a maniac to your left in a 1/2 game with a stack of $800 in front of him. You brought $500 to play tonight and can't reload beyond that. The maniac is making it $25 to go preflop with about 80% of his hands. Consider buying in for $200. Your plan is to limp your premium hands and then jam all-in after the maniac raises and several players call his bet (which is always what happens in this situation). For example, you wait two orbits without playing a hand before you see 8 8 UTG. You limp for $2, the maniac makes it $25 to go, two players call, and the SB makes it $75 to go. You fold, realizing the SB must have a monster (even though his sizing is pretty ridiculous). However, had everyone just called, you would have jammed all-in. The next orbit you pick up A Q in the HJ. Three players limp in front of you, and you overlimp. The button makes it $25 to go, one of the blinds and two of the limpers call, and you jam all-in. Everyone quickly folds except the last limper, an old nit who sighs and says, "I had a hand that could have cracked your rockets" while flashing T T before tossing it into the muck.
Third, when you are deciding whether to cover the table, consider who the biggest stacks are. If they are on your left, be wary of matching them because you will be at a major positional disadvantage, the significance of which increases exponentially the deeper you get. Be especially wary if they are good, aggressive players with some hand-reading skills. This is somewhat unlikely at the 1/2 level, but more common at the 2/5 and 5/10 level (or whatever the highest game is that your casino spreads). Imagine a casino where there are just two regular sharks, both of whom like to always cover the fish and who are equally skilled technically. If one of them always buys in for a huge amount to cover the table (including the other shark if he is there), while the second only covers the first if he has position on him, guess who's going to win more money in the long run?
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