I’ve been playing more live poker recently, and I’m astounded to discover the amount of philosophers there are at low-stakes live poker games. There is some deep thinking happening aroundabout these here parts.

There doesn’t seem to be any physical traits that indicate that one is in the presence of a thinker. The great modern philosophers of low-stakes poker can be of any age, any race or any gender. They may be poor or wealthy, chatty or silent, pleasant or rude. The only thing they have in common is that they philosophise and tank on every decision. I have only one question for you, oh Great Philosophers….

What the fuck are you thinking about?canstockphoto19414707

I know there’s been a lot of ranting about tanking recently, and everyone’s all about the shot-clock. I’m very much on that band wagon, because live poker is slow, too damn slow, and in danger of being really boring, not just to recreational players, but to half-competent online grinders playing even low numbers of multiple tables.

Today, I don’t want to just rant about tanking, I want to uncover these great minds. I want to work out exactly what it is they are thinking about in a donkfest where you have 150bigs from lv1 and are running against a 20 min clock. I want to know what thoughts are going through their heads.

I have made a recent point of questioning my own methods in poker first, before I start screaming “DONKEY” at anyone else, so I’m going to be as moderate as I find able (I’ve had my pills) and assume that maybe I am the one at fault here, maybe it is me who is not considering her actions carefully enough.

I am principally an online player, at a rough estimate I have played approximately 750000 hands of poker, of which 50k could be said to be live, assuming a fairly generous hph rate of 20 (45hph for online and not including hands I’ve dealt). It’s fair to say that I am more used to being forced into faster decisions than someone who predominantly plays live. Are faster decisions automatically worse?

Tick, tick, tick, tick BOOM!
Tick, tick, tick, tick BOOM!

Of course not, it’s all contextual. In the event of being a passenger on a crashing plane, I’d rather implement the snap decisions of an aeroplane pilot than the considered opinion of an investment banker. That said, I don’t want this to come across as a rant at less experienced live players, I’ve seen them tanking, and it’s not every hand, they’re invariably playing above their average online buyin, and genuinely thinking through ranges and working out what’s happening.
I applaud this when the frequency of tanking coincides with the likely frequency of tough spots, and we all know there are some. I just get confused when every action requires deep thought, it makes me wonder what I’m missing.

I played at a table with a guy this weekend who was clearly an experienced live player. He was comfortable in the environment, and from what I could see he was a good player. He was taking down a lot of pots without showdown, but it was taking him an awful long time to do it; he philosophised every move, even a pre-flop fold to no action.

I saw The Philosopher play a hand where he opened 3x utg. He didn’t open many pots from early and I pinned him on a decent hand. The second that action was on me, my 8-4os was an instant muck. I didn’t look at the raiser’s stack, I didn’t look at the stack of everyone behind me. I didn’t check back at my cards, consider my chips and then muck, I just mucked.

Am I in the wrong here? Should I be thinking about something? As soon as he’d opened I put him on a holding I had no hope for a light 3-bet against, and six players behind me. I believed there was nothing to think about, so I didn’t think, I just binned my hand. My action in this spot took less than two seconds, in the same spot, The Philosopher would have taken at least 15 to 20 seconds.

Which one of us is wasting more time? Is it him, in a literal and immediate sense, pointlessly tanking for chunks of short blind levels? Or is it me, in a more metaphorical and lifetime sense, spending time playing a game I’m not even thinking about?

Should I be thinking about 8-4od in MP facing a raise? Really?
Should I be thinking about 8-4os in MP facing a raise? Really?

He got one caller to the A-9-J flop, putting him OOP against a crazy old LAG who would see a flop with anything and call any flop bet if he made any connection. LAG would have raised pre if he had any pair.
I’d noticed these things having played less hands with LAG and spent less time thinking than The Philosopher. I’d noticed them in the time during hands where I’d instant folded absolute junk without any drama, and then done some thinking.

The old LAG outchipped The Philosopher, whose stack was only about the size of the pot. I expected an instant ship from The Philosopher, but it didn’t come, there was clearly some thinking to do first.

He was silent, immobile, and looked a bit like the T-1000 from Terminator 2 if the robots had lost the revolution and been forced to work in GAP. Nothing happened. The old LAG asked if it was on him, the dealer shook her head and pointed at The Philosopher, who nodded sagely.

His eyes weren’t on the dealer, they seemed to be on the baize, it was like his peripheral vision was working overtime, it was a bit creepy. I started to doubt my initial reads on him in this hand, I was glad I wasn’t in the hand with him. Just as people started to shift in their seats and stare at him, in that tense moment just before someone calls ‘clock’, The Philosopher announced that he was all-in, and deftly pushed his neat stack towards the dealer.

LAG snapped him off and flipped KJ, The Philosopher turned AK that held for a double up.

canstockphoto17348215No-one seemed to notice, most people were bored to tears with the hand long before the action was complete. LAG didn’t care, he was winning and losing pots all over the shop, but I thought it was a really weird tank.

I had his hand right, I correctly predicted his action, but I have no idea what The Philosopher spent over 3 minutes thinking about. Do you?

I am so baffled, I have to assume he was not actually thinking about things, he was deliberately creating some drama, attempting to make his opponent doubt himself. I tried to put myself in the place of the LAG, and I would have folded KJ there, no drama, whether it took The Philosopher two seconds or two hours to ship his chips.
As for The Philosopher’s decision, with different stack sizes, in a different tournament format, I guess that could have been a tough spot to get value from, but there, in a £35, one day, turbo donkfest, all-in on the flop is an instant no-brainer for me.

Do I have a massive leak in my live game? Or is The Philosopher just wasting blind level? A little bit of both?
I honestly don’t know.

Maybe that’s why I can’t understand the thinkers, because I’m just too dumb.

Thing is, if philosophising every poker decision is the way live poker needs to be played, then the one-day live tournament is going to come under increasing pressure to provide a structure that works to meet that need. Maybe it’s just time to admit that live environment low-stakes poker tournaments are a thing of the past, and that live poker should stick to larger buyin, multi-day events.

Why don’t we have a month long event, with entry days for the preceding six months, a 7500000 point starting stack, a 48 hour clock and everyone HAS to take 30 mins to make every decision? You know, just so we don’t miss any angles on any one hand.

CLOCK! I was 21 when this tournament started.
CLOCK! I was 21 when this tournament started.

If that last paragraph didn’t read as facetious, read it again, because it was meant to. I like one-day live tourneys. I want to pay less than £50 to try and bink a small, fishy, friendly field and wander off with £500 to spend on shoes the next day. I want a live environment to try out some new moves before I attempt them in a larger buyin field via satellite, which I get less chance to play in.

I don’t want to see low-stakes live tournaments die off because there’s too much “trying to look like the pros” and making the game too slow for the serious players, and too snoozeworthy for the recreational ones.

Even in the top fields, I’m not sure how much thinking should be allowed. The more you play, and then analyse your hands post game, the better your unconscious skill level will be. Sometimes I feel like players taking too long to think, hand after hand, is almost like them practising their game during the tournament.
You don’t see premiership footballers standing about having a think before taking shots at goal, they have to do that before the game so that they are on form when it counts.

I’m so scared it’s me. I’m terrified that there is thinking to be done that I know nothing about within a game that I claim to love. I don’t want to be the player that never thinks, but I don’t know what happens to the lower echelons of the game if we all become the player who thinks about everything, all the time.

Please, Philosophers, let me know your thoughts.

Read on PokerWinners.com