If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.Discipline is the key to successful poker. With discipline, you have a fighting chance to make money. Without discipline it is merely a matter of time before you spew away your chips. Tilt-control. Knowing where and how you tilt -- make bad decisions for bad reasons -- and discovering where and how your opponents tilt is one of the keys to success in the game.
--Sun-tzu, The Art of War
Last night I played some NLHE at Venetian. About two hours in I hit one of those stretches where seemingly every hand I was dealt was an offsuit deuce or trey. I'm used to those stretches by now but they're easier to weather when you're up. (Everything's easier to weather when you're up.) At the time I was breaking even. I folded and folded and folded some more, looking for my spot to amass chips.
Eventually a hand developed on my small blind where three or four people limped in front of my red aces. I raised to $14 and got the desired result when only one of the limpers called. This player was what I would consider to be your standard $1-$2 NLHE tourist: married, late 30s, and far too passive to have much success in the game. He was the type of player whose preflop raising range is AK and TT+ and whose standard line after the flop is either to call or to check-call.
It was the two of us and I had to act first on a highly-coordinated flop, 5c-6s-7c. With $34 in the pot I bet $25. For the first time in more than an hour, I heard him speak. "Raise," he said. He made a minimum-raise to $50.
A few things struck me here.
* A middle-position preflop limper could easily be all over that board.
* Passive players don't raise the flop without strong hands.
* When a non-tricky player who hasn't said a word in more than an hour suddenly announces, "Raise," I usually take it as strength. Not just because he's raising, but also because of the tone and inflection of the announcement.
I peeked back at my hand. Yup, still two red aces. Flargh. I went to another one of the weapons in my arsenal and asked how much he had behind. I like to do this not only so I know how much I'm playing for but also as a body-language assessor. Simple acts like the way a person counts out and announces how many remaining chips he has can sometimes be helpful clues to how strong he is. My opponent had a confident $106 behind his $50.
One of my leaks -- one of the ways in which I make bad decisions for bad reasons -- is that in situations like this where I have been card-dead I assess a likely range of hands for my opponent. If I find one single hand in that range that I can beat I sometimes talk myself into continuing with the hand. In this spot I began to think that my opponent might be on a draw or even a pair-draw combo. As I considered that I remembered something CK reminded me about last week.
"The average $1-$2 NLHE player in Vegas plays very straightforward," she said. "You'll be able to spot the tricky players early."
This guy was not tricky. He was a straightforward player. He did not raise his draws, he called with them. He was not going to attack on coordinated boards because he was afraid of coordinated boards. For him to raise that kind of flop he would need a very strong hand. I finally pushed my red aces into the muck.
I was confident it was the right move -- even moreso when my opponent opened his hand to show 8c-9c for a flopped nut straight with a club re-draw.
You might think this was an easy fold. I had only one pair and all of the signs pointed to the fact that I was beat. But when you're stuck in a card-dead zone for an hour and finally take a strong starting hand to a heads-up flop against a much weaker opponent, sometimes it's hard to accept that you won't win the hand.
That's where the discipline comes into play. If you know your own weaknesses and your opponent's weaknesses, "you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." The chips will eventually be yours.