tonight i'll be playing in a free-roll poker tournament. there's a game every week at grandstands, in northampton ma. players there vary from only a partial understand of the game (and etiquette) right up to a few people who play and think well enough that i can't describe them, i can only hope to be able to out play them... lets just say that on a bad day, they're good poker players - on a good day i don't last long.
i've been playing poker for years. back in '97 my old business partner and i started a weekly cash game for pennies, nickels and dimes. it was a really big deal when we allowed quarters to be used. years passed and the game got interesting. i've played a lot of poker, and for a couple years i sat each week at a table where my entire paycheck slopped between the players on any given night. luckily, i was able to hold my own well enough that i typically broke even. in the long run we all did - or we stopped playing. thats really the goal, i think, for most people playing poker. the stakes need to be high enough to make winning interesting, and loosing scary - but at the end of the year you shouldn't have any winnings or losses, just a series of 50 or so games and the stories of the great plays.
like any player, i've developed my own style. i tend to play the player, rather than the cards. i do this a little too much - and when i'm playing people who don't even know what they have... lets just say that my game has room for improvement.
there are plenty of places where i could improve - reading the table pre-flop, hollywood, folding good cards when i'm beat, holding crap when no one has the stones to play me... but i think my greatest need for improvement is in a heads-up game. jus me and that one other player - short stacked or not - i tend to lose.
it sucks - it means i either lose very early, or i get second place. i've just never really gotten a good handle on a headsup game.
and i know why.
i just dont get there often enough. how many games have i played? small cash games to large tourneys, lets say "several hundred". each game has dozens of hands, so we're talking about thousands of hands played. of these, how many hands have i been in with more than 4 others at the table? oh, about 99% of them. and of these how many with 2 or more others in the pot with me? lets say 75% or so... and even then, the next hand will have fresh money and a new chance to get in someone's head. indeed, the sum total of all of my heads-up gameplay with enough "on the line" to make it interesting (thats not always cash, actually its usually points in a freeroll tourney)... well that total is likely less than 150 hands.
yeah. now i'm getting to the point. i need to play more heads-up hands with enough on the line to make the game 'real'. if i dont do this, i'll get second place a few times, but have little shot at winning a tourney outright.
lately i've been playing against johnny chan, and doing quite well. well... not really against johnny himself - but rather glu's version of him on nokia's n-gage platform running on my nokia n95. sure, thats a far cry from playing real poker. but it gives me 3 important advantages in tonight's free-roll tourney:
1. it on my phone - so i've played a lot. i play when i'm waiting for LJ at starbucks, i play when i'm sitting on the throne, i play... well just about anywhere and anytime i have 5 minutes to myself. thats a lot of hands, and every one of them is a headsup game.
2. there's something 'on the line'. sure, i'm not loosing my car or winning one, but the points i get on the n-gage arena are precious enough to me that when i get beat, i go on tilt. and the AI in the game? they play pretty well, and aggressively. yeah, there seems to be enough on the line for both me and my pocket version of chan.
3. if NOTHING else, theres a simple little "odds" meter on the bottom - and hands that i liked had poor odds, while some i'd have thrown away quickly had better odds than i thought. my intuition has been off - and i'm guessing that the odds are pretty different in a heads up game versus a full table. i've been in need of an adjustment, a mental tune-up for my hand-considering-intuition, and i've found it on the lower left corner of the screen. it's not much, just 4 little dots - but its enough to keep my perspective clean and focused.
will i win tonight? probably not (hey, lets be honest here). if i do win, will it be because of the game-playing on my phone... well, not exactly - but i do think it's an edge. i've had a chance to see lots and lots of heads up hands play out, from slop to flop, i've got a good intuitive sense of my cards and maybe, just maybe, i'll be smart enough to play my cards a bit better than my opponent tonight.