A few months ago I checked my HEM and noticed that I was up in nearly all forms of poker up to and including 5/10. The only games that I was down in were 3/6 HU, 5/10 HU and 2/4 Full Ring. I didn’t really care about the 2/4 Full Ring since I was playing 5/10 6-Max at the time but I really didn’t like the fact that I was down so much at HU, especially since HU is often regarded as the litmus test for determining whether a player is actually good or not. So I decided to play HU for a little while to win the 5 to 10 buy-ins that I needed at each level to get back to even and in a way clear my conscience. At the time I figured that it’d take me at most a fortnight to complete my goal but right off the bat I dropped like 10 buy-ins at 5/10 and then when I dropped down to 3/6 I simply kept on losing. At this point I realised that a) I really did suck at HU and b) that this goal was going to take a lot longer than I thought, especially because no one plays you once they realise you are a reg (no matter how much you actually suck at HU – I still laugh at all the value some people must have missed off me).
Anyway, at this point I had a choice: I could keep on playing and try to complete my challenge, or I could quit. The latter option was extremely tempting since in terms of making money this challenge was quite retarded. I made much more money (heck, I actually made money) at 5/10 6-max and all I was really doing was causing myself much unneeded heartache because of an artificial goal that I had set for myself. But in the end, I decided to try and finish the challenge because I really hated the idea of giving up and admitting defeat and having these two red boxes perpetually staring at me in my HEM.
Since I was foregoing EV simply by playing HU, I decided to go all the way and treat the experience entirely as an investment. By this I mean I didn’t seek out fish to recoup my money. Instead, I sought out the best regs in an attempt to learn new things, try new things, and generally just become a better poker player. In fact, given my struggles at 10/20, I felt that I certainly could use an injection of freshness in my game and indeed a lot of people talk about how playing HU can really add to your game and make you a better 6-max player.
Well, I finally finished my challenge today and am feeling really relieved more than anything. At their lowest points I was down 13K at 3/6 and 28K at 5/10 so to gain all that back was really nice. It was an exhausting experience though and to be honest I’ll be happy if I never have to play another fully-fledged HU match ever again. But I’m definitely glad that I completed my goal and think I am a better player for it. Not by much mind you – I definitely think the benefits of HU to your 6-max game are overstated since quite simply, the two are entirely different games. It might be true that the best HU players also crush 6-max, but this is probably more of a correlative relation than a causative one.
So, what did I learn from my HU experience? Well, as I’ve said previously, I learnt to play better out of position, both in raised and in re-raised pots. I was also able to identify a few common spots where I could take some new and pretty interesting lines both as bluffs and for value. I think both these things will translate pretty directly to my 6-max play which is nice.
The thing though that I will take away most from my HU experience is not any particular line or move or anything like that. Rather it’s sort of a way of approaching the game and three matches in particular come to mind (as you can imagine, I got crushed in all three).
The first, against jungleman12, was very brief but it really taught me the power of relentless aggression; no matter what line you take or how little sense it makes, it’s still really hard for your opponent to call down third pair even if you do it over and over and over again.
The second match, versus heybude/Mirttinur, took this concept to the extreme and he was the first player I think that I’ve played who literally (and I mean literally – think defending J2o and 48o from the big blind HU) didn’t care about the strength of his hand and only played board textures instead. The first time I was demolished so badly and was in such a state of shock that I even asked him who he was after the match, fearing that he was some awesome high stakes player that I’d never heard of (turns out that he’s a 25/50 HU reg so figures). I reviewed the entire session afterwards and saw that his style was extremely exploitable but my god, if you didn’t see a few showdowns early on and know what was coming, you could easily get ridiculously run over like I did.
(A fun addendum to this match: The next day he sat with me again but this time on FTP where I have a different screenname. I had finished reviewing the session literally just one hour earlier and couldn’t believe my luck. I won about seven buy-ins in thirty minutes… To his credit though he adapted extremely quickly and I quit soon after once he seized the momentum back.)
The final match was against Phil Galfond. Yep, that’s right, OMGClayAiken. He was sitting at 5/10 on Stars and pretty obviously making a video so I decided to play him. Unfortunately, little did I know that I was about to walk into, in Phil’s words (part one of the series is now up), “the most advanced video” he’s ever made. I simply got owned. I was definitely extremely card-dead (so much so that his first note on me was that I was a nit) but his mix of aggression and variable bet-sizing completely threw me off my game. In fact after the first fifteen minutes I dead-set thought he was drunk, so erratic was his play. It was nothing like I’d seen in his videos and it was really frustrating because mostly I was just folding everywhere but then anytime I did decide to make a move he would come right back. Looking at the video now he had a hand in most of those spots but I assume he definitely also had his fair share of air (so far I’ve seen him 5-bet me with 34o and I folded A4s for example). After about half an hour into the session I remember thinking to myself “jeez, this guy really is that good… on a completely different level”. I mean, I didn’t expect him to be bad or anything obviously…just not that far apart either.
Anyway, so concludes my HU adventure. And with the end of it also comes the end of my downswing - I’m up about 40K since I made my “50K Downswing” post and dropped back down to 5/10. I have 95K online now and am looking forward to having another tilt at 10/20 again. I’m going to take it easy for the next few weeks though and take a bit of a break. For one, before taking on 10/20 again, I really want to watch a whole bunch of videos that I haven’t had time to watch and I also want to collate and review the copious (but currently typo-ridden, unorganised and unreadable) notes that I’ve taken over the years. I have a feeling that there’s a whole bunch of awesome stuff in there that has slowly filtered out of my game as time has passed. Secondly, it’s a really busy month coming up for me anyway with 4 summer clerkship interviews, 3 corresponding information nights and/or cocktail evenings, and 2 mid-semester law exams, so I think a break from poker is almost mandatory for me anyway.
Good luck at the tables guys.