Tourney Pandemic poker: Am I getting worse as I get better? (1 Viewer)

Taghkanic

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This is going to be a long post... Hope my experience matches up with some others, and that at least a few people will have some thoughts on the topic.

The debate:

While my live results playing online MTTs have improved dramatically during the pandemic, I am kind of concerned that the online habits and the specific game in which I have been playing may actually be making me a worse player overall. Even though my results are on a yearlong upswing, when it comes time to resume live poker I may have to shed a lot of these online tactics and habits. How does one best learn from this rather extensive, yet also narrow, online playing experience?

The background:

Like some others, I played almost exclusively live poker before the pandemic. I live in a state with no legal online games. And I tend to prefer live play anyway.

But the pandemic changed all that. I suspended my own home game, and stopped attending others’ games (and eventually virtually all private games in my area stopped). The two casinos nearest me also shut down their poker rooms. So, no more live poker for a long time.

After trying out various options online, I eventually settled into a private, nightly MTT hosted on a “free” poker platform. The app only tracks your play money results. The host handles actual cash offline, taking in deposits and paying out upon request. I carry a balance of about 15 buy-ins, cashing out excess whenever I get above that.

The main reason I chose this group was that it was hosted by someone whose live tourney I’ve played in twice a month for about six years. I never have had any doubts that he would handle the money responsibly and professionally.

Even better, the player pool almost entirely consists of people I have played with live, most of them for years. So I already have extensive profiles on the villains. I can literally picture them as they face a big decision.

There are about two dozen regulars, with about 10-15 of them joining in on typical night. There are unlimited rebuys for the first two hours, usually resulting in 15-30 buyins. Occasionally there are as many as three tables, but more usually it is either one full-ring game, or two tables of 6-8. The stakes vary depending on the night, from $30 to $100, with one night of the week running as a 6-max. (People play much tighter on the $100 night, and much looser on the $30 night. Most games are $50.)

More to come shortly on my progress, player profiles, game dynamics, and other considerations in the threads...
 

Taghkanic

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My trajectory:

Having played very little online poker before—mainly goofy free poker like Zynga many years ago—my early results were poor. I only played 1-2 times per week, sometimes taking long breaks. I was kind of amazed how much looser people played online. Neither nitting it up nor becoming more gambling was working for me.

Late last year, I decided to start playing more regularly, and to put in more earnest study of what people were doing in this game. I figured it would help me become a better online player in general (if my state ever legalizes it!). And that it would also help when I returned to the live game hosted and played by the same group of people.

The site provides a certain amount of basic player data for free, and if you play often enough you get more. In addition to my own observations, I was able to look pretty deep into people’s VPIP, 3betting, cbetting and other standard frequencies. I also just put a lot more work into my own awareness of people’s bet sizes, positional awareness, ability/willingness to bluff, preflop vs. postflop looseness, and—most importantly, I’ve found—whether they will pay you off light.

For the first couple months of this year, my results continued to be poor, but I felt I was getting a much better handle on things. I took another break due to personal time constraints, then rejoined about four months ago. In that time, my results have been on a steady upward trajectory. I have cashed out excess winnings several times, and am now playing on house money.

I now feel like I have a really good handle on how each of the regs plays, and am able to both balance/mix up my own tactics, while exploiting their weaknesses. Maybe I’ll still fall back to earth, but it feels like a real breakthrough. In my last 40 sessions, I have cashed in 24 (60%) of the games, and won top money 10 times. Players are starting to give me a wide berth. I feel really confident. But is it kind of a mirage?
 
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Taghkanic

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My player profiling:

Having thought a lot about my success since rejoining the game in earnest four months ago, I believe it is largely derived from targeting the bottom third of players, skill-wise. They help me to build a big stack early, or recover from bad beats, and then play with a lead for most of the remainder.

And avoiding tangling with the few strong players, until it can't be avoided.

There are only maybe 4 regs out of the pool of about 24 who give me much pause. I tend to avoid targeting them unless the situation is really favorable, or we have gotten into the money and there is no choice but to fight it out more traditionally.

There are another dozen or so players who are pretty straightforward and predictable. The only raise stronger hands pre, though not always taking position into account; they call a little too much; they seldom raise if they missed, or “only” made middle pair; and they bet their better made hands postflop overly-aggressively for protection.

For example, if they have AcJc on a J62 rainbow flop, they can be counted on to bet huge to protect their made hand, even though they are usually way ahead. This isn't 100% wrong on their part; I would bet my made hand as well, but not so much as to scare away the relatively few draws which exist. The exploit is thatthat they always behave the same. So unless I have a really terrific draw, or a set/overpair, I can get away from it cheaply. By the same token, when I have them beat, I can usually count on them to pay me off anyway, even though they are playing scared. (Kind of a paradox, I know.)

Then there are the absolutely terrible players. These are the ones which double, triple, or even quadruple you up early in the game—which gives you the chips toto play much more aggressively for the remainder of the tourney, a huge advantage.

These players VPIP enormously, limping well over 50%, but almost never raising preflop. A big preflop open from them almost always means they have a premium hand. Their biggest preflop opens signal a potentially vulnerable pocket pair (JJ or worse). A 3-bet pre means AA or KK, and nothing else. They will fish with all suited hands, connected or not, regardless of rank. Most connectors are also in their preflop calling range unless facing extreme aggression.

They are playing all Ax, regardless of the action, often stationing with their unimproved A to the river. If they hit an A, they are calling down even if the board is terrifying, orsomeone else is acting like they have a better made hand. If these players reraise you on the river, that is 99% the nuts—though I have come to identify a couple of these players who will bluff missed draws in that spot, and can be called with any decent bluff catcher if the board texture suggests (say) a nut flush draw which missed.

The crucial thing for me in this particular game is understanding who can be exploited most reliably—whether that is via bluffs, or by thin value bets, or in situations where I have a monster and know that they will pay me off with worse.
 
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Taghkanic

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My concerns:

While I’ve not-so-humble bragged a lot here, I am concerned that what feels like “strong” play and sharp insight on my part are in fact limited almost entirely to the specific situation. I have been able to study the same pool of regs for over a year (off and on), playing some 40,000 hands with the same group. I have been analyzing and adjusting a lot, while it seems only a few others are actively learning as the play. Moreover, my live experience with this same group has greatly augmented my online study of their habits, which tend to be sloppier than their face-to-face play.

Now, when I finally get back to sitting down in a casino at a table where I recognize no one, what really will have I learned since the last time I played live with strangers?

I won't have profiles on anyone at the table, only guesses based on how they look. Maybe I should sit back and fold everything for a bunch of orbits, and try to pick up on some hints. (Did they limp UTG, and show down trash? Did they bet a small pair huge preflop? Did they show a bluff they got through? etc.)

My own willingness to voluntarily put money into the pot preflop has ballooned in this online game, because I feel very confident of being able to navigate postflop against them. Limping or even calling a preflop open in position with really dubious hands (say, 97o) is now something I’ll do a lot, only because I know how the preflop aggressor is going to react to a wide range of board textures, and exploit their predictable cbets, or checks, or check-raises.

To some extent, I am hoping that this online experience will help me to make better profiling guesses with unknowns. If I can say after an hour or so at a table, “OK, this guy plays a lot like Benny from my online game, maybe just a little more aggressive; and that one is more like a fishier Andrew,” etc., that at least will give me something to go on if I run into a tricky spot against them.

But a big part of me says, when it’s time to go back to live poker, that may require a major reset, back to more how I played before the pandemic.
 

Legend5555

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40k hands is a lot, but not a ton in the grand scheme of things. I come from a mostly online background, with a good amount of live thrown in too. Playing millions of hands vs lots of different competition just shows you that there are buckets you can put players in. There is some variance, but in general there are certain player profiles you can use as guide for a players you have never played with.

But none of this should override good fundamentals. You can be the most observant and exploitative player in your game and crush, but if you don't have good fundamentals, you aren't going to beat the general population of players very well until you learn their tendencies.

Long story short, is all you've been doing is working on beating your group and not studying ranges and theory, then yes, it could be determinantal to your overall game.
 

swana

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Seems like you are getting a lot of value from tracking software. I wonder if your assumption that people's play online is different from how they play live is actually true... ? Perhaps the real difference is being able quantify and track play 100% accurately, which didn't line up with your previous assumptions?

Anyway your exploitative strategy seems like it could benefit you, if you are playing with the same players. You will just have to decide accurately if these players will fall back to their "normal" style of live play or if in fact they will play the same online as live but now you have a more accurate picture of how they always play.
 

Taghkanic

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40k hands is a lot, but not a ton in the grand scheme of things. I come from a mostly online background, with a good amount of live thrown in too. Playing millions of hands vs lots of different competition just shows you that there are buckets you can put players in. There is some variance, but in general there are certain player profiles you can use as guide for a players you have never played with.

But none of this should override good fundamentals. You can be the most observant and exploitative player in your game and crush, but if you don't have good fundamentals, you aren't going to beat the general population of players very well until you learn their tendencies.

Long story short, is all you've been doing is working on beating your group and not studying ranges and theory, then yes, it could be determinantal to your overall game.

Good advice. To your last point: I have thought about, read about, and listened to many podcasts/vlogs about ranges and theory. But for the past 18 months, due to the pandemic, I have played 97% of my games with one group. So my work applying that study either (a) goes back 18 months to when I was playing in a wide range of live games, or (b) has been reshaped by 40,000 hands almost exclusively with one group of a couple dozen players.

Hence the concern that the pandemic may have misshaped my game, even though my results have become quite good.

In general, I think when I return to live play, the simplest correction initially will be to play far fewer hands than online, especially out of position. And to assume that players will not continue past the flop as lightly as they seem to in this online group.

But I will likely apply some of the profile “archetypes” I’ve come to recognize in this group, at least in spots where I’m undecided and looking for a nudge in one direction or another.
 

Taghkanic

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Seems like you are getting a lot of value from tracking software. I wonder if your assumption that people's play online is different from how they play live is actually true... ? Perhaps the real difference is being able quantify and track play 100% accurately, which didn't line up with your previous assumptions?

Anyway your exploitative strategy seems like it could benefit you, if you are playing with the same players. You will just have to decide accurately if these players will fall back to their "normal" style of live play or if in fact they will play the same online as live but now you have a more accurate picture of how they always play.

I’m not using any tracking software per se, just the “free” stats that are available to everyone on the site (which are kind of like a HUD, but not exactly). Some people actually pay to get these permanently. But I get them for free for a month here and there as a bonus for regular play. I found that pretty much everyone’s stats kind of locked in within the first year, so it really isn’t worth paying $50-$100 to get constant updates.

It’s possible that I was inaccurately assessing people from the live game despite 5-6 years playing together every two weeks. But I don’t think the differences I spotted were because of a prior error.

My sense is that almost everyone in this game is less risk-averse online. And I think that is because it is (a) easier to click a button on a screen than to cut out actual chips, and (b) it’s somewhat less embarrassing to get exposed/embarrassed/owned online than it is in person.

One player whose stats truly amaze me is a guy who cashes less than anyone else. He’ll play any Ax to the river, regardless of board texture... and *never* raises any street before the river. His pre-flop raise, 3bet, and steal percentages preflop are zero. ***0%*** If he bombs the river with a huge bet, fold. Otherwise, you are almost always ahead.

There is another player in particular whose online play has really surprised me, in contrast with his live profile. He is a successful business owner who a few years ago won a long 20-week WSOP league with a competent group of players, just missing the bubble in the Main Event due to a terrible beat. Live, I have felt like he played strong ranges early, had good reads on people, and a good sense of board texture, playing mostly TAG but very capable of canny bluffs in the right spots.

Online, he is a disaster. He generally does not join the online tourney until seconds before the rebuy period ends, to play an aggro short stack strategy. (I guess he does not want to spend the time building a stack patiently when deep.) While he will sometimes get lucky and double up immediately, he is often out in less than one orbit. To be expected, I guess.

But even when he turns his late reg 18.75 BB stack quickly into 40+BB, he tends to donk this off stupidly. Once he has chips, he enters tons of pots with garbage, and will pay people off with stuff like fourth pair on the river. He particularly loves to play low connectors, one-gappers and two-gappers. These of course occasionally catch weird two pair and straights, which some of the less attentive players pay off because it seems so unlikely that he smashed some K34J6 board. But it often causes him to bust.

It might just be that this player has enough money that he does not care as much when it is online, and does not play the smart game I associate with him live. Still he does get angry and berates people in the chat when he loses. He’ll even stick around and spectate long after he’s lost just to taunt whoever busted him. So it would appear that he does have time and does care. Bizarre.

All that said... When we get back to live poker with this group, it will be pretty fascinating to observe their play in light of all the online hands we’ve now played together. I’ve probably played more hands with them 3-5 times per week during the pandemic than I did in the live tourney every two weeks for years before that... especially since online hands take so much less time.
 
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Taghkanic

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By contrast with the short-stacker above, I find it profitable (though more time-consuming) to join the game near the end of the first level. The first 10-15 minutes I like to skip, since people seem overeager to play every hand in the first couple orbits. Which could be exploitable, but I find just leads to dumb variance early on. Once people get their initial ya-yas out, things settle into more predictable patterns.

I also find in this group that with only two exceptions, most of the early registrants are among the worst players. So there is a nice opportunity to build a dominating stack in the first hour, before tables fill up. A lot of these players don’t seem to really differentiate between short-handed play and full-ring dynamics, so sitting down when there are only 3-6 people at the table early on is worth it.
 

Legend5555

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Good advice. To your last point: I have thought about, read about, and listened to many podcasts/vlogs about ranges and theory. But for the past 18 months, due to the pandemic, I have played 97% of my games with one group. So my work applying that study either (a) goes back 18 months to when I was playing in a wide range of live games, or (b) has been reshaped by 40,000 hands almost exclusively with one group of a couple dozen players.

Hence the concern that the pandemic may have misshaped my game, even though my results have become quite good.

In general, I think when I return to live play, the simplest correction initially will be to play far fewer hands than online, especially out of position. And to assume that players will not continue past the flop as lightly as they seem to in this online group.

But I will likely apply some of the profile “archetypes” I’ve come to recognize in this group, at least in spots where I’m undecided and looking for a nudge in one direction or another.
It's also not an issue of "online" vs "live." It's an issue of playing with the same group nearly exclusively vs playing against a wider pool.
 

CrazyEddie

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It sounds to me like your practice at identifying and exploiting the common mistakes made by the bad players in your private online game will leave you well-positioned to identify and exploit the common mistakes that the bad players in a casino will make.

Sure, you won’t have a HUD or hand histories, but you’ll recognize the bad players and their mistakes when you see them.

In the meantime, keep working on the fundamentals of solid play so that you can do better against solid players. But you should try to avoid them. You should try to avoid them even if you’re as good as they are. Opponent selection is a key poker skill. Select bad opponents.
 
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