Standard Play and Sculpting

 Recently I’ve been focusing a lot on what it means to make good poker decisions.  When we start out learning poker we are pretty much at the mercy of others telling us what is a “standard” play. We utilize other people’s knowledge to build a database of standard plays and start to try to incorporate them into our game.  A lot of times this can be a treacherous path since if you are frequenting the free or pay forums sometimes even with the best of intentions you will receive bad advice.  The best part about pay forums is that at least the people participating are a cut above the standard enthusiast and they are trying to work on their own games.  Plus you have access to the pay forum’s coaches who usually have much more experience and are rarely incorrect in their advice.  Beyond the forums paying for direct coaching is usually a good way to go because presumably a well vetted coach is going to be giving you mainly good advice.

However the question of what is “standard” is constantly changing.  Poker is evolving and frequently people will state that the way to get ahead of the pack is to be looking for places to either exploit or go beyond “standard” play.  This puts new players in a tough spot.  Should they learn standard poker or should they be trying to get ahead of the pack from the beginning? 

It is my honest opinion that what is standard is somewhat like a marble sculpture and we are constantly in a state of “almost done.”  There are places where you can chip off more to make the sculpture more complete but doing more than slightly reworking what is already there is a mistake because it is likely to do more harm than good. Mostly beginners do not have the foundation to judge whether a non-standard play is profitable which is dangerous.  To take the analogy one step further, their sculpture of a beautiful woman might end up lacking a hand or some other vital element if they decide that “doing this is different so it must be better.”

Usually in poker taking a non-standard line is actually giving up value. For example in a SNG, you might find that a certain shove is –EV but you are making it for the sake of creating an image.  That image is an intangible thing of uncertain value.  The –EV play can be immediately quantified.  Its hard to judge whether a non-standard play would be good or bad.

Overall it is my opinion that the best thing a beginning student can do is to learn the basics.  It’s not to say that they need to stay there forever but learning a proper foundation gives them the ability to be creative in a controlled way.  It allows them to say, “well I know that the standard play would be to do x… but I did y because I felt that I gained some extra advantage for later in the tournament.”  Without that proper foundation it is impossible to say whether taking the nonstandard line is a well calculated play or simply a mistake.   In my next blog I plan to follow this concept up so stay tuned.

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