Monday, April 02, 2012

What is Your Biggest Weakness as a Poker Player?

This is another interview-style question that seemed like the type I might get after my Mathematical Poker talk back on February 14. Since I haven't been playing poker recently, these questions have provided a good excuse to keep this blog alive for the past several weeks. I hope to address some other poker issues in the coming weeks, but this will probably be the last in this question-answer format unless a commenter has another question worth answering.

The one thing I think would most help my poker income would be to put more effort into game selection. I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "weakness": most players neglect game selection as much as I do, so I'm not actually particularly weak. Doing game selection has some drawbacks, especially in live poker: it is conspicuous to scout out various tables before playing, it cuts into the time you could be playing, and it annoys the floorpeople if you keep changing tables (especially at the Commerce, in my experience). Still, the effect of having a good game can overwhelm any effect of marginal improvements in my own strategy when it comes to my win rate. I state this without data; perhaps I'll find the motivation to do a bit of analysis to back up (or falsify) this idea. Drawing from my memory, however, it really does seem that some tables at a casino can be clearly seen to be better than others, I am pretty confident that selecting a good game is far more important to my winnings than any small fluctuations in my own play or adding a few extra minutes of playing to my session. In a similar vein, I have rarely tried to make stabs at higher limits, despite my belief that this can be a useful endeavor, and I've had several strong players tell me I should be playing higher stakes. I guess I just don't consider myself much of a "gambler" and I would like to keep it that way.

Historically, my approach to game selection has been as follows: spend 20 seconds scanning the room for known fish or for a table seeming to have an unusually good time. (Occasionally, it helps to play with players who are good but who are particularly skilled at making other players play badly. Rarely, it can also help to notice recognize a player I know focuses on game selection, and I can be confident that any game he is in will be a good one.) Then, when I'm in a game, I am rather aggressive about selecting against staying there. That is to say, I will ask for a table change within 5 minutes if the game is not great. (This can annoy the floorpeople and gives your opponents some information about the type of player you are.) To improve my table selection would require that I spend an extra couple of minutes watching a few hands at each potential game until I find one that is quite juicy, and there are usually one or two of these if you look hard enough. If I don't find a juicy game, I should still be able to select one that is at least pretty good.

At the table, my biggest weaknesses are probably concentration and exploiting strong players, which are related. Against weak players, I am perfectly capable of focusing and probing their weaknesses, but I tend to just model strong players as "perfect" and try to play optimally against them in a game-theory sense. This creates a sort of feedback loop of being distracted from the game if I'm up against only solid players, because I don't feel the need to concentrate on them and this creates boredom. In truth, I do think even good players are exploitable, and this becomes especially interesting once they start trying to exploit me; I tend to be a step behind the competition in such situations (not a big deal, since I think my standard game is unusually difficult to exploit in the first place). I think the problem is that finding opportunities to exploit these weaknesses seldom arise, and it takes an awful lot of patience for the effort to pay off. Perhaps other players are fooling themselves into thinking that it's more worthwhile than it truly is, but the bottom line is that most other players seem to have deeper wells of patience and concentration to draw from than I do when it comes to studying their opponents.

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