Having an A+ C+ Game

To all of our readers in the States, Happy Thanksgiving! One theme throughout the blog is using mental energy efficiently. Most of that discussion has been within the context of playing one’s A game. Let’s take a second and dive into what it really means to play one’s A game.

To me, the A game is a state where one observes the most they could observe, makes the best decisions they could make given the info they have, and has the least non-strategic mental influence as possible (AKA, no tilt). Notice how I didn’t say reading really well, making good decisions, and having little tilt. For some people, this wouldn’t really be strong enough to describe their A game. For others, it’s simply not in the realm of possibility to do all of these things well. What is important in determining whether one is playing their A game is whether they are doing all of these things to the best of their ability.

By definition, playing one’s A game is unsustainable throughout a session and is difficult to achieve at any point in a session. Improving one’s A game and the ability to play one’s A game for longer periods of time is essential to becoming a better poker player. However, very few players will always be able to play their A game, mostly for practical reasons. For example, being able to play one’s A game 4 hours a day is extremely rare and impressive. However, for the professional, working 4 hours a day isn’t enough volume to make a living. For a skilled amateur, 4 hours may be enough 90% of the time, but what if they decide to play a tournament and make a deep run. My point is that everyone who plays poker seriously is going to have to accept that they won’t always be on their A game.

So how’s your C+ game? A few years ago, mine was terrible. During college, when I didn’t have regular access to live cash, I would generally play marathon sessions when I got to a casino. For some reason, it was extremely common for me to get up early in a session and lose in the twilight hours. I didn’t give it much thought, not realizing how differently I was playing when I was tired vs when I had just started. I now realize that this was mostly due to the deterioration of my mental game. I was letting my emotions a desires override my strategic decision making. I certainly wasn’t making great reads either, but that isn’t what really cost me.

The way I addressed this problem has a lot to do with how I envision my C+ game. My first step had to be improving my mental game since that was really costing me money. Using steps similar to what can be found in Jared Tendler’s “The Mental Game of Poker”, I was able to recognize at the table when my emotional state was tempting me to make a different decision than what I knew was correct. Admittedly, I had a less nuanced and structured approach to this than I do now having read Tendler’s book. Still, I saw immediate improvements. Next, I made a few decisions on when to have marathon sessions, and when to call it quits. I still use these as a baseline for these types of decisions.

I decided that I wouldn’t continue playing my C+ game (AKA pick up and leave) if I didn’t have a good read on at least one bad player in the game or I didn’t have reads on the majority of the table. Basically, this was an acknowledgment that I wouldn’t be able to make reads at the rate or quality that I do playing my A game. While I don’t need reads to have an edge, they make a session much more profitable. Since I play so often with reads, I generally would rather spend my time doing something else rather than playing my C+ game readless. These decisions contribute to my overall wellbeing as a poker player.

Let me recap what I’ve written so far in terms of how I’m composing my C+ game in terms of garnering information and mental game. When I’m playing my C+ game, my goal is to reserve mental energy for potentially tough decisions. I’m paying attention to the game, but I allow myself to tune out whenever I need to. I also am generally listening to music and allow myself to check my phone more regularly. The reason for all of these concessions is that I want to stay in the game and I’m allowing myself to rest.

So clearly, the thing I am letting go of the most is trying to gain reads on my opponents. Mental game and strategy are the key components in terms of making good decisions with the information one already has. In essence, I’ve decided that I have enough information (including my default strategy and understanding of the game), and I just want to save as much energy as possible for decision making. In terms of mental game, I’m sacrificing focus in order to conserve energy for decision making, in this case, not letting myself succumb to tilt factors.

Now I wish I could say that my C+ game was making fewer reads but playing perfectly otherwise. However, that isn’t totally true. I do have one strategic change that I make when playing my C+ game. In close spots, I always take the lower variance line. Preflop, this means I cut out the bottom of my range. Postflop, I’ll lean towards folding in close bluff-catching spots (probably a good idea always in these games). That doesn’t mean I’m always playing passively. Sometimes, I think semibluffing with draws is actually lower variance than playing passively.

The reason to default to lower variance in these spots is to hedge against the potential for bad decisions. I never try and make a bad decision, no matter how well I’m trying to play. It’s essential to always make the best decision you can. While that’s how I feel overall, when I’m playing my C+ game, I’m acknowledging that I’m not guaranteed to make the best possible decision that I could make. Choosing a lower variance line in close spots is accepting that possibility and planning for it.

The last point I want to emphasize is that playing your C+ game should be a conscious decision. That doesn’t just mean that you are aware that you aren’t playing your best: it means acknowledging that you need to conserve mental energy and having a plan to do so. Having a great C+ game will allow you to play longer sessions profitably. For the professional, it is essential in terms of maintaining happiness at the table while putting in the necessary hours.

As always, feel free to message me with any questions at jack@justhandspoker.com.