01/03/2005

They made me an offer I couldn't refuse

Ashley Alterman 'The Poker Cynic'

In my new incarnation as media whore, I have succumbed to the lure of self promotion. It starts with a couple of printed articles, and will no doubt end badly, as I shamelessly allow myself to be convinced that I have something to say.

I got a call yesterday, and was asked if I wanted to film a couple of episodes in a series called Poker Godfathers. The idea is to go round and visit someone who plays tournaments on line for fun, and play a tournament with them. This way they are supposed to benefit from the "Godfathers" advice on how to play. On the plus side, it wasn't my money we were playing with.On the down side, it may look like I'm the amateur in the scenario. Being a poker player is similar to being a member of the Magic Circle. The cloak of secrecy surrounding the profession forced me to make numerous errors in my play, and to reveal very little of any real use to my poker playing hosts.Thats my story, and I'm sticking to it.

The programme was fun to make, and gave me the opportunity to take a step back and examine my game more closely than usual.One of the difficuties of tournament play, is trying to improve ones game, when it is never clear in the short term what the correct strategic approach is. When playing in the cash game, good play is rewarded more often than not by immediate results. When playing in a tournament the situation is almost the reverse.Most of the times one plays a tournament, one expects to lose.This is true for all players from the very top downwards.The only way to change this is by playing tournaments with very small fields, like a one table sit and go.With sit and go's, one can expect a regular success rate if played well, perhaps as high as a 50% strike rate.With multi table tournaments, especially with the huge fields of some online tournaments, getting in the money can be a very infrequent occurence.

To maximise ones chances of success I believe you need to think about the tournaments more creatively. Putting your money in with the best hand is essential when playing the cash game, unless you are bluffing someone out of a pot.It seems logical and obvious, and most people start off assuming this is also true in tournaments. However, there are other more improtant criteria one needs to be aware of when playing comps. Time and size of field are both significant factors which have very little comparative significance in the cash game.

The pressure of antes and rising blinds, means that your stack is always diminishing in value. So doing nothing is moving backwards (at an alarming pace online). The size of the field gives you an indication of your chance of getting a result, and should inform how you play.

The problem is, that winning strategy is counter intuitive.It doesnt become apparent just because you continue to play competitions.The good news is, that there are lots of different approaches that work. So you are not trying to find "The Answer", you can adapt your own style, and make it successful.

You need to take a long view, and keeping records of the tournaments you play will at least show you exactly how you are doing.But more importantly you need to examine your own strategy.Deconstruct what you are doing, and you may well find it is clear your plan is not working.Some players for example find that on the few occassions they get near the money, they have very few chips and have to rely on doubling up again and again to stay in play.This is not because they are unlucky, it is usually due to incorrect tactics. Others are always getting outdrawn by poor players, and failing to see the bigger picture.

You need to be clear on what you are trying to achieve, and you need a plan of action to make it happen. If you are just waiting for good hands, your successes will be few and far between.

At first it appears that the longer you last in a tournament, and the higher you place, the better you have done.But even this can be misleading.The idea is not to last longer, it is to win more.Better to come first once than tenth ten times.This often means going out early, which alot of players try hard to avoid. So when you spot maniacs throwing their chips away and making an early departure, don't be too quick to judge them all together. Some indeed are maniacs throwing their money away, but some will be adopting an aggressive strategy which cannot be judged on results in the short term.

The worst mistake you can make is, assuming you know what you are doing,even when your results prove otherwise .If you're not doing well in tournaments (making a significant profit), you need to change your approach, or switch to the cash game.Most people don't perform well in both cash and tournaments because the style required is so different, so don't assume because you can do one, that the other will be easy.

So take a step back from your own game and examine it.Do you often have a huge stack of chips?Are you often to be found on the leaderboard during a tournament?Do you usually go out losing a big pot in the process? If the answer to all these is no, it's time to change your approach.If the answer is yes to all three, you can sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

Any damage caused to your bankroll as a result of my article is the price you pay for listening to other people.If you really want to succeed, you are going to have to discover your own winning strategy

Good luck, and stay out of my pots!

Ashley