The Math-Feel Balance
I posit the obvious point that for poker in general but no limit in particular, one needs to develop an intuitive grasp of the interaction between the odds and the human element. By this, I mean the ability to calculate pot odds, odds of winning against a range of hands, the ability to put an opponent on a narrow range based on his or her play in that and past hands and perceived current mental state, the instinct for what effect bets of various sizes will have on that opponent based on the former as well as your own current and long term table image--fold equity, implied odds, the whole lot--all at the same time and dynamically while dealing with your own emotions.
Apologies in advance, but it's an occupational deformation of mine that I have a compulsion to create clunky defined terms, so I'll call this the "Math-Feel Balance". It's not quite right since it's not really "balance" per se, one doesn't come at the expense of the other, it is more about managing the interrelationship between the two on the fly. I almost defined it as the "Math-Feel Nexus", but I didn't want to get flamed more severely than I am already asking to be.
Trying to develop the Math-Feel Balance all at once is impossible for all but the savant. Play, study, play, reflection, play, some more study and then much more play. Would that it could be mostly about digesting finely distilled poker wisdom from the writings of our betters--unfortunately, it's often more about learning each lesson yourself through repeated trial and painful error.
I believe I started the game with a flawed but not terribly so understanding of the math. Basic odds I got quickly, moving into implied odds and leveraged bets and the like came with study and application. Putting people on hand ranges comes from long iterations of play--pegging styles to how people with those styles bet and react to bets, learning how identify who was playing poorly and a table, how they were playing poorly, and doing so as quickly as possible. Generally, this is not something you'll get out of a book (one personal exception, particularly in limit poker I learned from a book that the correct circumstances for cold calling a raise were rare enough that seeing somebody do it just once at a table was a enough to launch a working hypothesis that they were a fish).
An interesting aspect of the Math-Feel Balance is aggression. For some people this is a natural phenomenon for most I think it should be a natural byproduct of the Math-Feel Balance--aggression is often the best way to translate your understanding of the odds and your reads to the best outcome.
However, it is possible to artificially inject aggression into one's game for its own sake. This is dangerous, and I think among other problems, I fell into this pretty severely. Cliché maybe, but still true: what one needs is selective aggression. That means in many dimensions: select the right player, the right moment, the right holding. I’m still working on it, but I think it's getting better, and moreover my aggression is melding into the math part that I think I've gotten pretty down pat at this point.
I continue to evolve as a player and believe that though I have come a long way, I have a long way to go. One of the reasons I love this game however is that I still see a whole lot of rungs above me.
I can't say that I'm feeling anywhere near bulletproof (what a bad sign it would be if I were), but my results have significantly improved. I have a renewed confidence in my game. I had a bad variance streak clearly extended and deepened by tilt-fueled poor play. I also fell victim to classic symptoms of Fancy Play Syndrome--this is I believe this what happens when you aren't maintaining your Math-Feel Balance, when you push one over the other rather than considering both together.
I believe that after two and half months of consistent results, I have turned the corner. Unfortunately, club poker in New York seems completely dead for the time being, with the last survivors of a dying breed being shut down. To fill the gaping void, I'm going to Foxwoods tomorrow, Vegas in July, and probably try to slip in a few AC trips when I get clearance. In the meantime, I'm going to have to make do with online play.
If this had been earlier this year, I'd be frightened for my bankroll given the disparity in results I had been showing between bricks and clicks for the half year or so preceding. I've spent the last few months retooling my online game in particular and climbing out of a hole I dug for myself in February.
At any rate, after taking stock of my game and my recent results, as well as doing some housekeeping in aggregating my bankroll accounting across sites, I determined I was ready to move up in limits again, this time to 1-2 NL (200 buy-in) full ring games--9 player on FT and 10 player on UTB. It's not that I haven't played these, and even 2-4 before, it's just that this is the first time I am tackling it with a thought out, non-RL dependent money management plan. I took a brief shot the weekend before last with ugly results, knocking myself back down to 0.5-1 as I believe I let the psychological jump cracked my discipline and upset my Mind-Feel Balance. I rebuilt over a week and a half and took another crack on Monday, with much better results, followed up last night as well (Tuesday was WWDN so I didn't play a cash game until after, and that was steam venting triple draw--went well actually). Still a work in progress, but I’m in this pool just up to the jewels, about to make the last leap into this level as my new state.
Here was a very difficult hand (for me at least) from Monday--a pot I would not have won without the aid of pokertracker/poker aces heads up.
Full Tilt Poker
No Limit Holdem Ring game
Pre-flop: (9 players) Fishiswa is MP1 with T&♠ T♣
2 folds, Fishiswa raises to $7, MP2 raises to $12, MP3 calls, 4 folds, Fishiswa calls.
[MP2s stats showed him as a 41 VPIP, 13PFR, with aggressive but not insane tendencies after the flop. Big stack indication of at least recent success. Hard to automatically credit him for a better hand here but I considered that the min raise might be bait for a reraise. The overcaller was tight solid, and I had to think he either was set mining, or had a very good drawing hand. Hard to put him on an overpair to my tens except maybe jacks. I knew this was a potentially dangerous situation with tens out of position, but still thought I had enough value to warrant the call with almost 7:1]
Flop: 9♥ 9♣ 9♦ ($39, 3 players)
[Wowsa! Takes away the under set, question is is my overpair good. Bet out? Naw, let's let them tell me something first. I’ll admit there are strong arguments for betting out here.]
Fishiswa checks, MP2 checks, MP3 checks.
[Well I am not sure what I learned here. MP2 could be slow-playing aces or have overs hoping for a free card--MP3 probably missed.]
Turn: 4♦ ($39, 3 players)
[Blank. I need find out where I am. I either have the best hand or I'm way behind.]
Fishiswa bets $39, MP2 calls, MP3 calls.
[Ruh roh. MP2 calling is consistent with a big slow play. It's also consistent with a bluff set up--which certainly is consistent with his numbers. MP3s call on the other hand is consistent with a lot of hands that beat mine and few that don't. I am done with this hand.]
River: 5♣ ($156, 3 players)
[As I said.]
MP2 bets $60
[Is it a bluff? We'll soon find out as MP3 is sure to call him.]
[Whaaa???? Uh oh. Now I have to make the decision. Would MP2 make a bluff here knowing that one of us was sure to call him? He has only bet 60 into a 156 pot--a bet that looks like it's dying to be called. This couldn't be a bluff, could it? I click on my PAD desperately looking for information. His post flop aggression as I said is strong but not maniacal. But what's this? Hmmmm. His aggression is not the same on all streets. 40% frequency on the flop, 30% on the turn, and 85% on the river. Wow! That's a pretty big number. Still can't be sure he hasn't strung me along--first, not all of those 85% were bluffs, and second, this only based on 85 hands. But all things being equal, one has to believe the river bluff is definitely a feature in this man's arsenal. How much of a feature? 60 to win 216 is a good enough price to ask the question more concretely.]
MP2 showed K♠ A♦
Fishiswa wins final pot of $276.
It got even better when MP3 started cursing into the chat box, presumably having folded his jacks.