Friday, October 24, 2008

Tournament Poker- Why Two Heads Are Better Than One

Poker has traditionally been viewed as a game played in isolation. One player to a hand, goes the rule. However, now that poker is being played on the Internet, that rule is purely optional. And even if such a rule were ever put into place it would be impossible to enforce.

Has it ever occurred to you to play with a partner? While I play the role of the maverick in my cash games, particularly because I play 6 tables or more, these days I play almost all of my tournaments with my 50/50 partner, Travis, and to great success. Here is how we do it: we both qualify or buy our way into the same tournament and then discuss every critical hand over the phone while watching each others tables.

Now wait- I know what you are thinking- why would I want to split my winnings with someone else? Besides the obvious comeback that it reduces variance and essentially gives you 2 shots at a tournament where you are only granted one, here are the benefits:

2 Observers

You now have two sets of eyes watching the same set of players and can glean extra information about opponents that you might have missed on your own, as well as prior history.

2 Complimentary styles

Ideally, you would choose a partner that you not only trust but that also has different strengths and outlooks on the game. Obviously you will sometimes disagree strongly in the heat of the moment, so Travis and I created a safe word (“fungus”, in our game) that lets the other know that we are dead serious and that the partner is about to do something phenomenally dangerous and/or stupid.


Even when you have a financial interest in your partner's play, it feels completely different when HIS aces get cracked vs. when your OWN get cracked. When you are constantly getting your head stomped on it is difficult to play well. You partner can not only encourage you at these dark and painful times, he can actually step in and make decisions while you cool off. I like to call this my “relief brain.” Likewise, your partner will not get as emotionally attached to big pre-flop hands since he is not holding them and can help you make post-flop laydowns that might be emotionally difficult to make (even though quite obvious to an observer).


In a long tournament, some routine decisions become more and more difficult, particularly if your head has been getting bashed in. With two mentally active players, usually at least one of you will have the gas to make it through the late stages. Additionally, on a personal level, having someone else's money at stake makes you push harder on your own game rather than taking the “fuck it” exit strategy when things are not going your way.

Hand Discussion

Even when the hands are played and the tournament is over, you and your partner will be having long and heated arguments over the way hands were played and results were achieved. This is a good thing!

Finally, the best part- having someone to celebrate with

The life of the professional poker player is fraught with strife and peril. The losses you take create doubt in yourself and others and the wins you make breed envy and resentment. When you take down a big win with someone who has an even stake in it, you don't just believe, you KNOW that someone is finally taking the same joy away from the game that you are.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Mental Error, Part II

The other day, I was playing some $.50/1 NL 6-max and was faced with a situation that had profound implications for my game. A regular, solid player raised UTG and I flat called him on the button with 55. The flop came Qc 8c 4d. The raiser checked first and since this seemed like a flop that he might fear giving a free card on, I bet 3/4 pot behind him and he quickly called. I had almost given up on the hand but then I spiked a 5 on the turn and bet about 2/3 pot behind him, as I had put him on either TT or JJ at this point. He called again and then checked the river when a complete brick fell. There was now about $50 in the pot and I fired for $40. There was a slight hesitation before this came out in the chat box from his end:

"God, I'm the worst player ever! I can't believe I am doing this..."

He then mucked and flashed AA for the entire table to see! It goes without saying that this was the last hand I expected to see here. Seeing as he was willing to part with this initial information, I went ahead and asked why he would do that, to which he replied, "I knew I was beat."

"So what did I have then?" I replied.

"A set probably."

So given the sequence of raise, check, call, check, call, check, fold, I had to know how he could possibly have put me on the correct hand. A question he errantly obliged for me.

"You bet too fast. If you were going to bluff, you would have a least thought about it for a few seconds." Now in this regard he was mostly inaccurate, but in hindsight I had been a little too eager to get my money in the pot...presumably because I would never expect anyone to make this kind of fold. But clearly I am in error here, but my error is not the focus of this blog entry.

In his eagerness to prove how quickly he could lay down AA and prove how much smarter he was than me, he gave me an incredible insight into my own game, as well as offering me and anyone who was paying attention a method to now effectively bluff him off strong hands with a very casual betting line.

The moral of the story is thus: I now count to at least three whenever I make any decision, even if I am planning on check-folding. I should have noticed myself that I was giving this information away, particularly now that I am beginning to make a very substantial amount of my decisions based on the click tells that many people are giving away, at LEAST at the lower levels.

I guess now would also be the perfect time to add this addition to my last post about multi-tabling negative effects. A particularly strong one is that people who are playing too many tables are subconsciously giving away too much information in the timing of their bets and checks. After all, if you were playing 12 tables, how much time do you really care to put into disguising the strength of a hand that you never intended to ever play?

To wrap it up, he asked me again right before he left what I had had. Did I tell him?

Not a fucking chance.