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05/03/2005: "i tried to find the key"

before i begin to work on my treatise of "new poker theory", i wanted to take a moment to post about an email i recently received. i play a fair bit on Full Tilt, and as such i receive their promotional emails to keep me informed of upcoming events and specials. Full Tilt recently began running an email campaign that offers "Pro Lessons" from their team of esteemed players. belows is last week's email in its entirity:

Howard Lederer Presents: "Why Sunglasses and Headphones Aren't For Me"

I know this newsletter is being written for an online poker site, but I hope that
most of you still find time to play live poker. As much as I love online poker, I
would never completely give up sitting at a table and getting the chance to size up
an opponent. This week's lesson will examine why I think it is a mistake to wear
headphones or sunglasses during live play.

Poker is a game of information. You give information to your opponents, and they
give information to you. Most of that information is in the form of betting
patterns, which is why online poker is such a great form of the game. All of the
betting information is right there for you to use while playing a hand. But when you
play live, there is a small amount of additional information that is given off
through physical tells and audio cues. I am a very visual player, and am blessed
with good eyesight. I wear contacts, and with them, my vision is 20/15. I constantly
use my eyes to take in every nuance of what's going on around me at the table. If I
wore sunglasses, much of that information would be lost to me. I am confident that
the information I take in with my eyes far exceeds what I give away.

If you currently employ sunglasses when you play, I would encourage you to try
playing without them. Yeah, you look cool in them. Maybe. But, if you try playing
without them while staying committed to taking in as much visual information as
possible, you might find that not only are you doing better, the game is suddenly
more interesting as well.

I reserve special scorn for the rampant use of headphones in poker tournaments. They
slow down the action and, on the whole, I believe they hurt the people who use them.
When a player throws a single, large chip into the pot, he usually announces 'raise'
or 'call'. But all the guys at the table wearing headphones can't hear the call.
Invariably, they have to take off their headphones and ask the dealer what the bet
is. It is annoying when the action comes to a grinding halt to clarify something
that anyone without headphones already knows. Also, poker is a social game. It would
make me sad if poker someday becomes a game where nine people are sitting at a table
listening to music, and no one is talking to one another.

Also, there are some valuable things you can pick up on simply by paying attention
to the conversation around the table. You can sometimes tell when someone is over
his head just by listening to him talk. In a recent tournament, I won a very large
pot as we were nearing the last few tables because I heard someone speaking a few
minutes earlier.

It was the Bellagio $15K WPT poker tournament. The blinds were $4K-$8K and I was in
the big blind. A player who'd been playing very tight so far opened the pot from an
early position for $25K. The small blind called and I looked down at 9-9. I often
re-raise with this hand, but this seemed like a good time to just call. The flop was
8s 5s 3c. The small blind checked and with about $275K in front of me and $100K in
the pot, I continued playing cautiously and checked. The opener checked, too. The
turn was (8s 5s 3c) 6c and the small blind checked. I felt like I must have the best
hand, so I bet $50K. I was very surprised when the original opener raised all-in for
a total of $175K. The small blind folded and now I had a big $125K decision to make.
If I call and win, I have $550K and am in great shape. If I call and lose I'm in
real trouble. I didn't think he had a big hand, but it didn't seem like a very good
bluffing situation either. The board looked really dangerous. Plus, I hadn't seen
this player get out of line at all. But then I remembered a comment he had made to
his neighbor about ten minutes earlier. He had hardly played a hand for about an
hour, and said to the guy next him that his cards had been so bad, it would have
been just as well if he had stayed in his room after the last break. Remembering
that comment, I felt there was a good chance that he was frustrated. With that
factored in, I made the call. He turned over the Kd-Qd, and with a 2 on the river I
won a key hand that put me in great shape in a big tournament. If I had been
listening to music, I don't think I could have made the call.

Poker is a game of information. Sunglasses might keep some information from getting
out, but they stop more from coming in. Headphones simply give you fewer
opportunities to gain valuable information about other players. These are handicaps
I am not willing to spot my opponents.

i can understand Howard's disdain for anything that slows the game down, esp. when you are playing in a tournament and rising blinds are a major concern; despite his reasonings, i think music and sunglasses, when employed with a little thought, are actually a help, not a hinderance.

firstly, sunglasses do not have to be a stumbling block to gathering information while at the able; they can actually aid you! i wear sunglasses everytime i play, not because i think i look cool - i know i do, but that is besides the point ;-) - but because they allow me to gather information on my opponents unnoticed. when the loose/aggressive player in seat five thinks i am staring at the little hottie in seat eight, i am actually recording his every move, picking up on his mannerisms and patterns. deception adds value not subtracts. the ability to watch the action at the table without your opponents being able to gauge your attentiveness is a great tool, one that without sunglasses is impossible. sure sure, Hellmuth might want to stare into your soul, but i just want to be able to gauge people's reactions to hole cards, flops, turns, and rivers without them knowing who i am looking at.

onto the headphones issue: i agree there are a vast amount of players who are largely unware of the happenings at the table; they don't know the blinds, the bets, the place of action, etc and there are times when these people are engrossed in their own little world, listening to Styx or The Phamtom of the Opera. but, if employed with a little care and consideration, headphones, like sunglasses, can be a tool to help you gather information, deceive your opponents, and protect your tells. i began several months ago of always keeping my iPod with me at the table. i also use inner-ear headphones, which allow me to keep one out at all times. this allows me to always have a ear for the table and keeps me abreast of the dealer information i need to know. besides using headphones in such a manner, i also use the iPod mini-remote, usually clipping it to my shirt tail or belt loop, out of sight and mind under the table. the mini-remote allows me to stop and start the music at will, unbeknownst to my competitors. the headphones also keep me from being dragged into the cacophony of bad beat stories, sad tells of woe, advice on chips, cards, card protectors, etc. it is certainly more polite to seem enthralled in your music than to have to shun or ignore chatty tablemates.

while i can understand Howard's advice, i would contend that astute players could employ these items to their advantage. while it may not work for all, it certainly will work for some. plus, nothing's better than listening to some good tunes while practicing folding hundreds of hands....

good luck!


wow - no wonder i haven't posted much in the past week. i completely forgot this little experiment: i logged my first 50 hands played in the FTP 200 Point Freeroll where i placed, 10th. this was part of my investigative work on why i should change/adapt a new playing style. while logging 50 hands on FTP is time-consuming and not that unique (since Poker Stars, for example, logs them and allows you to download and install them into your Poker Tracker!), i not only logged them but also took notes on the key hands that i played. this was a good exercise b/c it now gives me a journal on why i played what i did, as well as the results. this is something you can pretty much only do online (i doubt any geek is going to try this live). be forwarned: if you try this, you will need to be a fast typer and it helps immensely to have a pre-set shorthand for repetitve items.

listed below are the first 50 hands and the notes from the ones played. if you see no notes, that means i folded.

FTP 200 Point Freeroll #576531
129 entrants

1) 10-9o
2) A-2o
3) 7-3o
4) 5-2o
5) 6-8o
6) 10-5o
7) Q-9o
8) Q-9h
9) 6-4o
10) Q-2o
12) Q-2o
13) J-9o
14) 6-2h
15) 4-2o

16) Q-10h with the BB @ 20, it was raised before me; i fold. the turn would have brought me the winner of two pair over raiser's pocket KK...just an FYI.

17) J-6o
18) 9-3c
19) 8-4o
20) A-5o

21) A-2o in SB i called BB for 25 and saw a flop 4-2-7. we all checked. the turn brought another 4 and i folded to the pot-sized 200 bet.

22) A-3o
23) A-7o

24) Q-9h in MP called the raise to 100, seeing the flop 6-8-8 w/two hearts. we checked around where the turn lays out the 5s. i called a dink bet of 50 and saw the river 3h (making my queen-high flush.) it was opened before me for 200 and i raised it to 400. all players folded, i win 975.

25) 9-4o
26) 10-7o

27) A-10s i opened for 2xBB to 100. two callers in EP & MP see the flop with me: J-9-5 rainbow. EP checks, i checked to MP who checked. turn drops a 7 - the EP bets 50, i folded. EP showed pair of 5s.

28) A-10o yes A-10o twice in a row. nice RNG. my BB is raised to 100, i call. flop is K-6-4 rainbow, i check EP who fires out 50 - i smooth call. the turn 8 and we both check; river is a 2, we both check and EP shows A-7o. i win 325.

29) 4-4. UTG goes all-in for 1050. all fold.

30) 9-2o
31) Q-6h
32) K-4d
33) 6-5o

34) 2-2 i am UTG+1, i raise 2xBB to 120, two all-ins behind me, ISYN. Q-Q vs. A-10o. QQ wins. ready for this, flop=2-K-T, turn=9, river=2. i would have had quads!!! MF'ER.

35) J-4o

36) K-7o in BB for 60 with 3 callers, i check. flop=Q-5-3 w/two spades. button bets 270. all fold.

37) 10-9o in SB for 30, i call BB. the two of us see the flop=A-K-K, we both check, turn brings a 10, i bet pot-sized 120 and the BB folds. win 120.

38) A-8o on button. call BB of 60. flop=10-2-J two diamonds. MP bets 400. all fold.

39) 4-4 jesus, hand #29 AGAIN! i am in cutoff, i raise to 120 and get 3 callers. flop=8-9-8, we check it around. turn = 4 and UTG bets 60, we all 3 call. someone trip 8s? river=3. it is checked around to me so i pot it at 780. all fold and i show my hand! win 780.

40) J-9o
41) A-5o

42) A-Qo in MP, i raise 3xBB to 240. all fold.

43) 7-7 in EP, i raise 2xBB to 160, it is re-raised behind me to 240. i call, 3 of us see the flop=A-10-3 two spades. two checks and MP bets 300. i call smooth-call 300 and we are heads up. turn=Q we both check, river=J we both check. MP shows 8-8 & i lose.

44) Q-Jo i am in BB, 3 of us to the flop=10-9-9, EP bets 100, i call and it is heads up. turn=Q. i bet pot of 480. EP goes all in for 3547. i fold. i am guessing queens no good.

45) A-9o in SB, i call BB of 80. flop=8-3-J. i fold to the min bet.

46) 4-2o
47) 9-5d

48) J-J in LP. EP goes all-in for 1050. i raise to 1225. EP shows A-4. board=K-6-6-Q-3. i win 2300.

49) 10-5o

50) J-10o i call BB=100. flop=Q-8-3 rainbow, SB bets pot of 400, i fold.

After fiftieth hand i am 28th out of 39 left. why stop @ 50 hands? b/c that is all the the FTP hand history holds. after that, it pushes them out the other end as new hands come in, making the count incorrect. nice. hey FTP, get some new programmers or something and step-up to the plate: downloadable hand histories now!

my final two hands of the tourney? 6-6, which my all-ins were called both times by K-Jo, who ended up making full houses. ISYN.

ok, back to the grind....

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