Dear reader: In this Painless Poker excerpt, I propose an idea to the characters at the Painless Poker Clinic, and we bat it around.
“You know what?” I said. “Let’s change things up and talk about betting strategy.” I leaped up and to the chalkboard.
“At last,” Alf said, and Charlie rubbed his hands.
“Keep in mind though, our main topic is still pain reduction.” On the board I wrote:
“Tell me if any of you disagree with this statement: On every betting round of every hand, one player is last to act, and that player has an advantage.”
Charlie said, “Except that if you have a super-live maniac on your left, it can actually be an advantage on some hands to have him acting behind you.”
Several of us nodded to confirm our mutual understanding of what Charlie said.
“True,” I said. “But if you played against that same maniac every day for a hundred years, and you had your choice of sitting behind him the whole time, or in front, you would want to sit behind him, right?”
“Most assuredly,” said Alf.
“No brainer,” said Babs.
Mick let out a derogatory grunt from the couch.
“Mick?” I said.
“Your initial statement about acting last is correct,” he said. “To which I would add a big fat duh.”
I said, “And from duh it follows that if you intentionally act last on more streets than your foes, hour after hour, year after year, then you have created an advantage. Am I still correct?”
Nods. I added a word:
“Position reciprocality,” I said. “I go over this with all my clients, even the top-flight pros. I say that if they were to trim 5% off their VPIP from the blinds, there is an extremely good chance that they would experience less aggravation and therefore less tilt and therefore more A-game performance and therefore more money.”
“Trim what?” Mr. Lee said.
“Tommy’s suggestion is to play 5% fewer hands from the blinds,” said Charlie.
“Presumably the worst 5%.” I took Alf’s smirk to mean that he was aware that his remark was unnecessary but that he can’t help himself and that he expects me to accept this trait of his.
“Yes,” I replied, politely.
Mr. Lee pointed at the chalkboard. “What is R word?”
“It rhymes with you-hit-the-lottery.”
“Lucky me!” he said.
“Reciprocality is any difference between you and your opponents that matters.”
“Pretty much,” I said. “The idea is to always be looking for ways to make changes that will create differences that will cause their dollars to flow to you.”
Charlie got excited. “You could call them R-Bucks! For reciprocality bucks! R-bucks!”
“And it rhymes with Starbucks!” Babs said.
She probably didn’t know that Charlie was referring to G-bucks. I really liked Charlie’s idea. I pointed at him to silently say nice.
“Back to the 5% thing,” I said.
“I was hoping for that,” Charlie said.
“Super simple.” I put down the chalk. “The worst position is the small blind because you will never be last to act. So if you fold your small blind more than your opponents, you gain reciprocal positional advantage right there.”
“But folding pocket aces cannot create an advantage,” Alf said.
“True,” I said. “Some hands should not be folded. I’m not talking about those.”
From the couch came a voice. “When you say hands, I hope you actually mean situations.” Mick stood up.
Mick returned to seat 8 without breaking contact with his phone.
“Should not be folded according to whom?” Alf said.
“According to whomever your authorities are on such matters. When I am working with a top-tier pro,” I looked at Mick, “I assume that they are their own best authority on which hands they should and shouldn’t play in every situation.
“That said, I still think that they, like all players, could do better if they used my strategy suggestion. The benefits cannot be avoided, because there are so many.”
“What is suggestion?” said Mr. Lee.
“To fold all marginal situations from the blinds. This concept applies to the small blind always, and to the big blind on all non-blind-versus-blind hands.”
“Because blind versus blind the big blind is not positionally disadvantaged?” Charlie said.
“And how do you define marginal?” Alf said.
“Marginal is when you think it’s a close decision. It’s when you are on the cusp of your range. Marginal is when you fold and think, If that fold was wrong, it wasn’t wrong by much. And if you had called, you’d feel the same way.”
“How’d you come up with 5%?” Babs said.
“That’s my guesstimate of how many preflop decisions are marginal. One out of 20. And if my guess is wrong — ”
“It’s not wrong by much,” said a gleeful Charlie. I replied with a Brrratta tat tat drum riff on the rail.
“I do have some supporting data on this,” I said, “on the relationship between position and aggravation. I thought I spotted a pattern, going over hands with clients, so I tracked it for a while. I learned that when a client tells me a story that includes phrases such as, He had me in a tough spot, or, I had no clue what to do, that 4 out of 5 times my client was out of position. In other words, few tales of confusion are told by the player acting last.”
Charlie said, “Are you saying I should fold my blinds more often because being first to act feels bad?”
“I am. If you folded more of your borderline decisions from the blinds, your poker landscape would be less bumpy.”
Charlie sat back to ponder. “I could try that… I could lower my VPIP from the blinds by two or three hands per hundred and… you’re right, I’d have fewer tough decisions… and for all I know, some of my borderline folds would be strategically correct.”
“Maybe more than half,” I said.
“Or less,” he said.
“Goddamn gray area.”
“Actually, I’ve come to appreciate it.”
The others did not know we had referenced Elements of Poker, or care.
“I have some bad news for you though, Charlie. One of the benefits of tight blind play is a live-poker-only thing.”
“Multi-tablers need not apply?”
“Afraid not. Playing live, when you fold both blinds, it’s a chance to watch every action and tune into the financial and emotional swings of the game at the one moment when being steady and informed is the most profitable: right before your button and cutoff.”
Alf said, “And the additional tightness will narrow your ranges in your opponents’ minds, creating opportunities for larceny.”
“Alex calls that squeezer vig,” I said. “You earn the vig with the extra folding, and you cash it in later. So even for an expert whose marginal folds from the blinds would sometimes cost him a small amount of EV, he can recoup that and more in squeezer vig.”
I glanced at Mick. No objection there.
“And then there’s position reciprocality. By folding more from the blinds, you alter your first-to-act/last-to-act ratios with the entire universe. You unlevel the positional playing field, causing R-bucks,” I winked at Charlie, “to flow downhill to you.”
“Mick, earlier, you said — and I’m paraphrasing here — you said that the simplest and smartest way to make the game less painful would be for people to just play better.”
Mick looked up. “And?”
“How would you evaluate my 5% suggestion on its strategic merit alone? I think it would be an improvement in betting strategy for at least four out of five players.”
“I would agree with that.”
“That means that for those four out of five, the 5% suggestion reduces pain in the way you think best, by making them play better, right?”
“Why do you care so much about what I think?” On the word think, Mick slid his chair back and stood up so fast it almost fell. But he caught the chair, and thumped its four legs into the carpet, and went back to the couch.
I sucked air and sat down and let it out. I felt my face flush.
In, out. In, out.
The only thing I knew for sure was that I would not be the next person to speak.
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