The importance of regular play part 1

About a month ago, as some of our twitter subscribers might have guessed with the many the live pokerisms I heard at table, Jack and I went to Maryland Live! For three days and put in a ton of hours playing 2/5 NL. This is coming off of my longest break from poker, so it was a lot of fun to play. I forgot how funny and amusing I can find the common tropes people say.

When I’m playing a lot, it’s easy to get annoyed every time someone will always give a big speech and take a while before making what seems like the inevitable fold. Being more happy to be in the casino allowed me to play my A mental game for the vast majority of hours logged, despite playing over 8 hours a day. When something is fun and enjoyable it’s much easier to keep a consistent level of focus throughout a session.

The downside of not playing for a few months is that I was pretty rusty - a lot more so than expected. While I felt that I was able to focus very well, that doesn’t mean I didn’t make a fair amount of technical mistakes in the process. I’ve taken several 1, 2, and 3 week breaks before and with that length of time, nothing is really lost. If anything, I often play better because I’m a lot more excited to play. But in a few months, certain skills definitely don’t come back instantly.

In this post, I wanted to detail a couple of the mistakes I made so if you take a few month break from poker, you can go into your first session armed with the knowledge of what some of your likely mistakes might be:

  1. Not being able to accurately stereotype based on a limited sample size

Two weeks back, I went through how from just one hand [add link], I was able to make a ton of assumptions about one of the players at my table. Being accurate in one’s initial reads combined with not over assuming certain tendencies is what separates that good from the great live players. Below is an example of an exploitative read where I assumed the wrong things after just a few orbits. In my defense, this mistake was made in my first hour at the table and despite the intense jet lag I felt, I was wired with excitement about playing poker.

From the second I sit down at about 1 pm on a Saturday afternoon the player to my direct left starts getting chummy with the floor that opened the table, as well as the first two dealers. He seemed to know two other players at the table by name as well and was talking about the sports bets he’s made over the last week and arguing about various things related to football and basketball (as many of you may know, I’m not the biggest sports fan and often sit very confused during the passionate sports-related discussions).

In the first three orbits with him at a new table that played 7-handed, he limp-called once or twice and 3bet three times. The first two were over the open of a short stack and 2-3 callers. The first one of these he 3bet to a large sizing and everyone folded. The second 3bet he made it 100 over an open to 20 and a few callers and snap called the short stack shove with pocket 8s. He lost the flip against K9s and kept going on about how terrible of a play the other guy made. He then bought in for another 300 and a few hands later he 3bet me after I opened 109s in MP over three limpers. He was to my direct left and I folded.

A few hands later, I pick up AQs in EP and open to 20 and he fairly quickly makes it 125, with about 400 behind. Here is where I make a classic mistake: thinking he plays the same way in non-analogous situations. In retrospect, in his mind it’s likely when he’s 3betting or shoving against a short stack open, he thinks and is probably correct that he’s really just against a loose and fishy player so he feels that he can 3bet get it in with a wider range profitably. When he 3bet me before in what was a pretty decent squeeze spot, given the previous hands combined I gave him credit that he didn’t have to have a premium there. The faulty jump I made was because he didn’t have to have a premium in the previous spot, why does he have to have one now? The problem is I think the vast majority of players are aware of their image when 3betting so frequently in such a short period of time; this is even more true from a clear reg. Every subsequent 3bet in this short period of time is likely to have a stronger range behind it. On top of this, him 3betting my open in EP is very different than my open over a few limpers in MP.

In game, I thought he had a wide 3betting and calling range here given the pocket 8s hand before. So I opted to shove one of the stronger hands that I have in my EP opening range, AQs. I got snapped off by pocket queens. I think this is the type of mistake that a lot of people make and just chalk it up to variance just saying something like, “I had AQ and he just happened to have queens. He’s a loose gambly player so what are you going to do.” But I think normally i’m good enough to lay this hand down preflop given everything I’ve observed thus far.

2) Playing too wide of a range preflop

For a 9-10 handed NLHE game, the decisions I have preflop are straightforward and automatic, with the exception of a few single digit spots every session, primarily when playing with very loose or very good players. Due to being away from the tables for so long, a lot of the closer spots that normally I would have a better intuitive sense of whether I should fold, call, raise, or 3bet, I had to think about more in depth. Besides this being a big drain on my precious mental energy, when spots seem close, I think a lot of the time I made the wrong call: to play the hand in some way, when the correct decision would have been to fold.

This first session allowed me to really empathize with all you readers who only have the chance to play poker once or twice a month: folding truly is no fun when the pace is relatively slow and you’re only going to get maximally a few hundred hands in a session. About a year ago, I would say the biggest leak in my game playing too wide of a range out of position. I thought that with my likely skill edge I’d be able to compensate for having a weaker range than optimal in spots. But certain hands it’s hard to just realize one’s equity out of position no matter how good you are, like suited connectors and suited one gappers. Since then, I feel like I’ve come a long way and now have a much tighter range in early position and a bit of a wider range in late position.

I think four or five times in this first session back I did things like call an early position raise in early position or middle position with a hand like 109s or J9s which unless the table is either incredibly juicy or I’m very deep with a few players that look interested in the hand, is just a clear fold with so many players to act behind me. Thinking about it more, this mistake is even bigger at a place like Maryland Live!. I’ve only played there about 10 times but there seems to be the highest amount of younger non-professional players that over-squeeze that I’ve ever seen at a 2/5 game (not including Vegas during the series of course). I had at least one of these types of players at all of my tables during this session. This lends itself towards being even tighter that I otherwise would play at an average low stakes no limit table.

TLDR: You DO get rusty after months away from the tables

Check out part 2 for the biggest mistake I made!