Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Trying Video

I've not been a faithful writer in this blog which is frustrating to me.  I get a lot of ideas, but then it seems that I'm not near a keyboard and then I don't set aside the time I need to compose numerous entries - whatever.

Anyway, my wife is a fan of several Vlogs and has been encouraging me to Vlog about poker rather then blog.  We put the first effort up last night.  Here it is for your perusal:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weekend Update

I've got several tournaments I need to summarize, but the Cliff's Notes are - won a single table, bubble, bubble.  The last one, I have no one to blame but myself, I played a big pot with the only other person at the table who could really hurt me.  I'm typically pretty aggressive in tournaments as that style is appropriate for the structures of the tournaments I play.  However, there are times when aggression just isn't called for and I need to do a better job of recognizing those situations.

Friday, October 23, 2009

C'mon - We've All Done It

Let's talk for a moment about the bane of the poker player's existence, that's right, let's address the dreaded suckout.  Is there anything poker players hate worse then being on the wrong end of a suckout?  You know that feeling, the turn card has been flipped up, you're still ahead and you only have to dodge two or three cards on the river.  The blend of satisfaction and terror as the last card starts to turn and the punch in the stomach felling that arises when that last card is one of your opponent's magic bullets.

I'm not going to write - at least not right now - about dealing with being a suckout victim.  It happens, we learn to deal with it, next hand.  No, what I want to write about is a much deeper, darker thing, that being the fact that we're all suckout artists at one time or another.  I think it's time to bring our hidden sucking out shame to the surface.  Let's take pride and ownership of our suckouts.  I mean, as it says in this post's title, we've all done it.

I will relate a story of a recent suckout I performed.  Now to be truly discussion worthy, a suckout has to have something more then just your average, "he had Aces, I had Kings, and flopped a set" tone to it.  I mean, there's no doubt that's a suckout, but it's what you'd call your garden variety suckout.  I want to tell the story of a suckout of a much more spectacular magnitude.

The setting is the last hand of the third level of a typical daily NLH tournament on the strip.  The significance of the last hand on the third level is that it is the last hand where a player can bust and then reenter the tournament.  When I am in such a situation and my stack has dropped below starting, I will from time to time, shove with any two cards, the idea being that I'm better off reentering and getting a full stack then being down below starting.  Of course, from time to time, you can catch a weird hand and double up.  So, we're at that point in the tournament, I'm in an early position spot and I've gotten a little short and decide it's time for the ATC shove.  For the record, the two cards in question were a red king and a red 7 (offsuit of course, or if you prefer, double suited).  Things quickly fold around to the blinds, and I'm starting to think I'll just be picking those up when the small blind (has me way covered) can barely get the word "call" out of his mouth fast enough.  He's so eager that he actually flips his cards (the two red aces) up before the big blind has a chance to complete her act of calling which she was going to do.  The dealer stops things and the SB grabs his aces back.  The big blind (who only has about 3.5 BB total including what she posted) says something like, "no I was going to call anyway", and sticks it all in.  She flips over AQ of spades.  So the hands are: AdAh, AQs and Kh7d.  Just in case you're curious had this been on ESPN where they put the percentage chance of winning on the screen, the AA is 76%, the AQ is 13% and the mighty K7 is 11%.  I'm not worried though.  Flop comes with a K and two rags.  Hey, that's pretty cool, I actually have outs now.  Then the turn comes another K.  Wow, that's really cool although I do have one more A out there to dodge.  The river of course comes a K because that's how I roll yo.  So yeah, I sucked out and I sucked out huge.

Alright, seriously I don't revel in that.  And I wouldn't want to be the holder of the AA because I know how that feels, but you know it just happens.  We've all been on both sides of the coin and it just isn't something you can get too wound up about it.  The post script is that after riding the wave of that hand to a pretty healthy stack, I knocked out the same player on a much more conventional AQ v KJ situation.  He just looked at me and said something like, "it figures."

So the next time someone sucks out on me maybe the best way to get past that punched in the gut feeling will be for me to remember that I too will do my fair share of sucking out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Can't Win Them All - Shouldn't Try

Some players have a mission to try to figure out how to win every pot in which they are involved. That mind-set is a losing proposition.

Angel Largay, No Limit Texas Hold'Em: A Complete Course, p.178

Boy do I wish someone had told me that when I first started playing poker. I would have saved a lot of money, assuming of course that I would have listened, so maybe not.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm pretty competitive. As a matter of fact, one of the things that first attracted me to poker was the chance to compete at something that didn't require athletic skill (I am, shall we say, challenged in that area). Now being competitive, when I get involved in something I want to win! So naturally, when I started playing, if I was in a hand, I was always looking for a way to win it. You know, like raising in position with second pair after a nitty calling station leads into you on an A high flop. Needless to say that strategy was not successful. Thank goodness I was playing limit back then or I'd be broke by now.

I really appreciate this concept as I have started to play no limit. See flops, and then hit em hard or get out. There's no need to try and win every hand, and if you do, you'll surely go broke.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Random Skill

The skill in poker has to do with understanding the nature of random events and being able to devise winning strategies in an environment run by random processes.

That quote is from a strategy column by Tony Guerrera that appeared in the July 20, 2009 edition of Poker Player Newspaper. Check out the full column here. I think the rest of the column other than the above quote has a good general observation about elements of strategy necessary for playing against tough opponents, but when I read the quote above I really thought that totally crystallized what it means to be a good poker player.

Understanding the Nature of Random Events - This is probably one of the most difficult things to do as a poker player. It is ingrained in our brains through non-poker activities that doing the "right" thing, making a "correct" choice should lead to a positive result. Poker turns that on its ear because there really is no direct correlation between making good decisions and getting good immediate results. How can this be though? Aren't we 'entitled" to be rewarded for our good decisions? Not as poker players and the reason is - randomness. All we can hope to do as poker players is make decisions that will lead to a good result most of the time. A fair amount of the time too the edge that you are going to have is something like 60/40, so even though it will work out most of the time the times that the result will be good aren't that much more frequent than the times that the results will be bad. So that's the first hurdle you have to overcome in understanding randomness; realizing that you'll do the right thing and lose - a lot.

So surely after you've come to grips with that fact you understand randomness right? I mean, I've come to grips with the fact that I can make the right decision and frequently lose, that's enough isn't it? Oh no my friend, mon ami, mi amigo - you're just getting started. Why, because the true nature of randomness lies not in the fact that in the long run, result A will occur X% of the time and result B will occur 100-X% of the time. That's really just understanding probability. To understand randomness, you have to understand that every time a card flips over the unlikely result has a non-zero chance of occurring and it doesn't what matter one bit what happened the last 3, 10, 100 or 10,000 times - when that card flips over there's absolutely no reason why the unlikely result cannot occur again. In other words, no matter how big your edge, you haven't won the hand until all the cards are flipped over.

Now as my poker playing has progressed I've gotten better at understanding the nature of random events, but I'm still not all the way there. I'm going to keep working on it though - that and, of ocurse the whole "devising winning strategies" part of poker skill.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Biggest Pot Ever (So Far)

If I haven't spelled it out in here before, while I've been playing poker for several years it's only been within the last year that I've started playing no-limit.  Before then I was all limit hold em.  It's no big secret that the two games are very different.  One clear difference is that mistakes are highly magnified in no-limit.  When I first started playing no-limit then, I blew through several buyins pretty quickly.  After a while, I decided that tournaments, with their capped exposure, were a much better way for me to get experience with big bet poker.

It's been close to a year that I have been playing mostly tournaments, and being more comfortable with the game, I've started to stick my toe in the cash game pool.  The results have been mixed to this point, usually small wins or small losses, with the occasional donktastic blow-off of a buy in.  The worst of those was when I sat down in a session and my very first hand I flopped two pair from the big blind in a limped pot.  Unfortunately for me, I flopped bottom two pair and my opponent flopped top and bottom pair (the board was 8 4 2 and he limped in from early position with 82 offsuit).  I was smart enough to get right up from teh table and walk away - my first one hand session.  But that's really a story for another day.

One difference between limit and no-limit in my opinion is that in limit you really need to get in and push small edges.  It's not that I think always pushing small edges in no-limit is bad, but it can certainly lead to some huge swings and I need a lower variance style at the moment.  So recently, I sat down to a cash game at the Mirage.  I started out very tight, mostly watching and observing players.  There was one highly aggressive player who played in many many pots.  I watched him show down some pretty marginal hands after betting them very aggressively.  I knew that if I could pick up a premium hand against him, he'd pay me off.  While I was waiting, another player sat town, he also bet pretty aggressively, but didn't seem as wild as the first villain.

On to the hand in question.  My stack was sitting at around $220, and both villains had me covered.  Villain 1 (the wilder player) was under the gun and limped.  Villain 2 raised to $17 which was pretty standard and something he'd do with a wide range of hands.  I looked down at a couple of pocket jacks.  Now I know that Jacks get a bad wrap sometimes, but I've always been a fan.  Besides that, I knew that I was ahead of V1 and more than likely ahead of V2 with position and a tight table image.  I three bet to $45 and only the two villains called.  The flop came a beautiful J 7 4 with the 7 and 4 of clubs - bingo!  Not a lot of strategy from this point forward, both Villains checked to me, I bet 2/3 the pot and then Villain 1 check-raises me all-in.  Villain 2 calls all in for less, and for me, I believe the expression is "fist pump, snap call".  The look on V1s face when I called was priceless.  He'd used his big stack (which fluctuated up and down quite a bit) to move people off hands since I sat down and the fact that he got called by two players clearly didn't sit well with him.  I mentioned to the dealer that I'd like some red cards please and flipped over my jacks.  The dealer obligingly put up the 7 of hearts on the turn giving me the second nuts.  The river club was entirely inconsequential although Villain 2 did hit the nut flush for the side pot.  Villain 1 called for a reload and I spent the next hand stacking chips.

So patience is always important in poker, but one thing I've definitely come to appreciate is that it is a premium in the big bet game, especially when your opponents will go too far with marginal holdings.  That one hand made my entire session, just the way that the hand from the other session broke my entire session.  It's just not necessary to jump hard on a small edge, not when you can wait for a big one and get paid.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tourney Results Report #2

Today's post is brought to you by the word ... frustration.

I headed out this morning for the TI with the intention to play in both their 11 am and 2 pm tournaments.  There were good turnouts for both with 31 entries in the morning event and 49 in the afternoon.  In the morning I played pretty aggressively during the first three levels when stacks were still pretty deep.  One interesting hand (after I had chipped up a bit) was when from big blind I called a 4x raise from the player in the cutoff with 89 of hearts.  The small blind had also called.  The flop was J9x with no hearts.    I checked, the villain bet about half the pot, the small blind folded and I called.  My intention was to check the turn and ether fold if an A or K fell and the villain bet or check raise if the turn bricked.  Obviously I would have been perfectly happy had villain checked behind on the turn.  The turn did indeed brick, I checked, villain bet about half the pot again, but he didn't look happy about it, so I followed through with my plan and raised enough to put V all in.  V tanked for quite a bit and then finally called.  I was surprised when he rolled over pocket Kings.  Looking back, I don't know that my read was really all that off, I think Villain actually did feel weaker then his hand warranted.  In any case, I overcame that setback and kept chipping up nicely.  Unfortunately, I hit a bad stretch getting to the final table which included aces getting cracked and the loss of several races and ended up out in 6th place with 4 places getting paid.

The afternoon tournament was pretty brutal.  I doubled up early and never looked back.  I really took advantage of my stack size.  After the first six levels I had increased my starting stack by over 7x and was at 9x the starting stack when we got down to the final table.  I was either first or second in chips with close to three times the average chip stack.  Unfortunately, I also was at 8 big blinds at that point in the tournament structure.  I might have been able to fold my way to the money, but I got to that point by playing aggressively, and I wasn't going to stop now.  Once again, races were lost and before I knew it I was down to two and a half blinds.  I shoved the first ace I saw, and unfortunately someone else had a better ace.  After the turn in that hand I actually had 21 outs to chop the pot to go with my meager three that give me the win so literally half the deck keeps me around, but it was not to be.  This time I was out in 9th with 6 places getting paid.

Maybe I need to rethink my strategy for the end game phases of these fast tournaments. 

A Strange Slowroll

So last Friday, I played in a tournament at my neighborhood casino. They offer extra chips if you sign up at least an hour before the tournament starts which I always take advantage of. Typically that leads to me having some time to kill and more often than not that means grabbing a seat at a 2-4 LHE table for a bit. Now 2-4 LHE is not a money making venture, it's strictly for entertainment purposes. Fortunately, there are typically frequent sources of entertainment at the average 2-4 table. One such source was present the other night.

In this situation, the entertainer was either UTG or in the big blind. Four or five players saw the flop. The flop came with a 3 low and two hearts. Entertainer bets, everyone calls. Turn brings the third heart. Entertainer bets, one call, the button player raises. Both players call. The river is a second 3. Entertainer bets, and gets two calls. The entertainer makes a little speech something like, "well, let's see what we have here" and turns over one card, the three of hearts. He then just stands there and the other two players do nothing. Maybe 10 or 15 seconds go by and the dealer says something like "I need to see two cards for you to win." Entertainer then slowly turns over the 8 of hearts for a small flush, everyone else mucks their cards.

One thing I've been trying to do is get a little more chatty at the table. There are several reasons for this. First, I think it makes things more fun if there is chatter going back and forth. Now while my goal is to be a long term profitable poker player, this is really a hobby for me and if I'm going to invest time in a hobby then dang it I want it to be fun. In addition, I think if you're generally friendly to people at the table that can pay off in the long term. Mike Caro talks a lot about wanting to be the person at the table that people don't mind losing to. Finally, I think if you get people talking, then you'll get more information from them, and more information equals power. So yeah, I'm working on nurturing my inner Negreanu. Entertainer had just presented me with a good opportunity to do so.

I turned and looked at him and said, "you realized you just slowrolled yourself." He had kind of a puzzled look on his face but then smiled and said, "well I'm just not paying attention to what I"ve got." My response, "OK, just so long as we don't have to call security to break up an argument between you and yourself."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tourney Time #1

Last night I headed down the street to play in the Friday night NL bounty tournament at Aliante Station. The hotel started this tournament about two months ago and it has in my opinion helped provide at least one good night of action at what is a nice, but otherwise not too active room. They also recently added to the starting stack and adjusted the levels a bit so that for most of the first two hours there is a good amount of play. Even if you just keep pace with the blinds through the first three levels then by level four you'l still have 13-14 big blinds. That's not deep by any means, but I think that's above average for tournaments at that level of cost. They also added a level in at the fifth level and I think one more. This was my first time playing under the new structure and I liked it a lot.

I did fairly well at the start of the tournament although I lost a fair amount of chips in one hand where I had second pair and a player in front of me with a weak top pair (board was AJ727, I had J10 OTB and he had A5) check called the flop and the turn and then led all in for about 1/4 the pot when the board paired on the river. Interesting thing about that hand was that there was a second V in till the turn that I was far more focused on. I had him read pretty well as I have seen him play before and knew he would not be checking with an A. I had him so well read and knew I could fold him on the turn, but didn't think enough about the second V and what his range could have been. Looking back, I still bet the turn no matter what even though that means I can't get away on the river as there was a flush draw on the flop which the second V would have played the same way. That took me back down below my starting stack about ten minutes from the break and the end of the re-entry period. Right before the break I busted when an OE straight draw missed. Rebuy (reentry) time.

After the break I took my new chipstack and built it up nicely through a combination of good hands and aggressive play. I built it up enough that I was able to lost three decent sized pots One of those hands I lost a race after raising w/suited face cards and lost a race to the all in V's pocket 9s. One hand, I called a shortstack (3bb) shove when I was in the bb with an A5 and a shot at a bounty if I win the hand. I think that's a pretty clear call for any A, but unfortunately V in that hand had AQ. The other was a hand where I raised a small pp, flopped a gut shot, c-bet the flop, checked the turn behind and folded to V's river bet. V was an older gentleman who had definitely struck me as TP. He said after his river bet that he flopped a set, and I believe him. Told him he let me off cheap and considered my TP read on him confirmed. That hand still left me between 10 and 15k in chips so I still had some room to work.

Unfortunately, after that I got pretty card dead, and didn't find a way to chip that up to much more than 20k before the final table and when the blinds went to 1 and 2k I was pretty close to shove or fold territory. I lost one more hand where I was in the bb wK3 in a hand with a UTG limper who I also read as TP (less passive then the other player as I know he had taken some shots at flops with smaller pieces) and the small blind. The flop came K66, I lead for about 2/3 the pot and got raised by the UTG. It was hard to put him on a 6, but not too hard to see him with a K that outkicked me or possibly a limp reraise before the flop with AA or KK, so I had to let that one go. Unfortunately, that left me with only 8bb and in definite shove or fold territory. I folded around till I got to middle position and looked down at A6d. Not the best hand to stake your tournament life on, but with the blinds coming up it's time to choose between the lesser of two evils, so I shoved my 8 bb. The same gentleman right on my left sighed, thought for a few minutes and said "I have to call", so I thought me might have something in the range of pocket 7s through jacks. Turns out it was kings though and when I couldn't catch an A or enough diamonds I was done. I collected enough bounties that I got back 3/4 of my two buyins though, so it could have been worse.

Overall I was pretty happy with how I played. I'm really starting to notice that I'm able to pick out different strategies that will work better against different players based on how they are playing. I'm developing more skill at reading people, putting them on hands and detecting weakness. Most importantly, there wasn't one hand that I look back on and say, wow, I wish I had played that differently. It wasn't a profitable night, but it was a good poker playing night. If I keep up with the latter, then the former will take care of itself.

A Plan is Hatched

Here's the thing - it's so easy to start a blog - you go to a site, click a few links and wala' U R a blogger. I think because it's so easy to start a blog many people - myself included - find themselves jumping in to blogging without a plan. Much like deciding to play a hand of no limit hold 'em, failure to have a plan for how to play the hand out can lead to a situation where you have no idea where you are at in the hand blog.

So I did that, I jumped in to blogging here without much of a plan and then I cast about not entirely sure what to blog about beyond of course the fact that I wanted to blog about poker. I think I've got it now though. A lot of the poker blogs I read seem to center around the playing exploits of the author and I was shying away from that because I don't get to play as much as some of they do. I primarily play a couple of times a week, usually Friday evenings and Sunday afternoon or evening, usually that's tournament play. Occasionally I get a couple of hours in during the week, but that's the exception. So I guess I had some concern that I don't play enough to generate enough content posting on that basis. But hey, even if I just get in one post a week I'm doing more content then I am now. So anyway, I plan on getting in at least one post a week even just briefly discussing what happens when I go play. I also realized ('duh) that I can basically send myself notes using twitter (follow me on twitter) and I can use those to remind myself of interesting stories that will hopefully be the source for even more posts. To the extent I'll get those I'll put them up during the week and then lo and behold there should actually be some regular content here. With that in mind, I'll get this posted and then start working on a post about last night's tournament.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shuffle Up for a Good Cause

I don't usually play on Saturdays because that's my agreed upon family day with my wife during the weekend. Yesterday was an exception however as there was a charitable tournament taking place in connection with a group that I belong to, so my wife and I headed out to play in the afternoon. It was a smallish event with only a couple of dozen players most of whom were from our group. We raised some money for a good cause, but I have some vision that this could end up being a much larger event on the scale of Jen Harmaon's event for the SPCA or Howard Lederer's event for the boys and girls club that I played in earlier this year, as will be seen below we have some people with good poker contacts in our group and I hope we look at ways to take advantage of that (again, all for a good cause).

I don't know if it's come through in prior posts, but I have not, as of late, been running very well. Card dead is a term I'm very familiar with. Now in addition, I've thrown my fair share of dumb plays in the mix, so don't think I'm trying to lay poor results off solely on luck, but objectively I haven't been getting a ton of help from the cards of late. I don't know if it was karmic because we were playing for the benefit of others, but boy did I hit a run of hot cards yesterday like you wouldn't believe. Over the course of the tournament I hit several straights, sets, a couple of flushes and was able to rely primarily on the strength of my cards rather than wily moves. I chipped up substantially early and was able to just ride that wave, play position and went to the final table as one of two substantially big stacks. I took a couple of pots off the other big stack and was able to get to the final two without ever having to be at risk for all my chips.

So I mentioned that there were people in our group with good poker contacts, and one of them invited their friend Jack McClelland to come out and support our cause. Sure enough, when it got down to heads up it was Jack and I. It was kind of weird going heads up against a guy I've seen running big WPT events on tv, and I was lucky enough to have something like a 5-1 chip lead when we were down to heads up. I did double him up once, but was able to just keep chopping wood and get that back. Then it came down to a hand where I had A6 on the button, raised preflop and he called. The flop came 644 and Jack put all his chips in. Given the chip disparity I can't ever fold there and in the end he had two overs. I faded his six outs on the turn and the river and it was all over.

It was a really good event for me, not just because we raised money for charity and I ended up with a ncie profit for the day, but because I really needed the confidence boost. Today I'm going to take the day off from playing and take it easy. It's a football and snacks day!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Poker Zen

I had a good session last night. It was not good in terms of monetary results, I played in a tournament and didn't cash, then I played a couple of hours of NL and ended up down about $20, so I was down $75 for the night. It was fantastic though in terms of my mental state. I was able to be very "present" throughout the night. I felt like I always knew exactly where I was in hands and I acted accordingly. When things didn't go my way, I didn't get mad or frustrated, I just acted accordingly and moved on to the next hand. Perhaps it was the result of listening to an interview with Tommy Angelo earlier in the day, but I was definitely getting my poker zen on. It was a good feeling, and if I can stay in that mode more at the table I know that will be a big step towards becoming a better player.

edited because when this originally posted only half of the second topic discussion got put up

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Curbing the Beast

Oh poker blog, how I have neglected you. The crazy thing is that I've actually had good ideas for posting lately but now I can only remember a couple of them. I need to get stuff down somewhere when it pops in my head so I don't forget.

I read a lot of poker books. I think the way that I got started on those was the idea that if you read and study hard enough, the answers will come to you and you will be a "good" player. As I've read and learned the game more, I've come to the conclusion that there is a limit to how far books can take you. They provide good foundation, and can stimulate thought, but I just don't believe that truly artistic poker is found in a book. By the way, I don't consider this a particularly shocking revelation or insight on my part, it's just part of the evolution of anything, but I digress.

One book that I've never read, but in which I've had some interest is Your Worst Poker Enemy. I don't think this is a huge spoiler, but your worst poker enemy is - you. It's a book basically about how mentally you can mess yourself up greatly at the table. I had a horrible experience getting beat around by my worst poker enemy a few weeks ago. It strangely enough came playing some 3-6 limit poker with my wife in what should have been a fun relaxing and low stress environment. Unfortunately, I had one of those nights where I just couldn't win a hand. It started with a couple of bad beats, but then I started getting angry. How dare these people play their junk and catch against me!! Although I was trying to restrain my outward behavior, my wife said I wasn't very successful.

I've thought a lot about that night since then. Before that night I recognized on an intellectual level the importance of not getting emotional at the table, but I think you really have to go through the experience to internalize the dangers of getting overly emotional.

I'm no psychologist, but it sure seems like the key to controlling those feelings is to keep one's ego in check. Not only does the ego bang its caveman club around and unleash those icky emotions, but it also blocks out logic and reason. I think you can basically be in one of two states at the table, either emotional or logical, we all know which one is more profitable. Your ego is the beast that comes and swallows up all your profits at the table I think.

The good news is that since that night, I've had great success in taming my beast. It's true I've not been put to the test the same way I was that night, but I decided to focus on the fact that I'm getting to play a game. I can tell you that I've been genuinely happier at the table this way, even when I haven't been winning. I wanted to make sure I memorialized this here so that I could from time to time get a reminder about taming my beast.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An A-Ha Moment

Let's start with the hand that led to the "A-Ha"ing. As usual, the scene is a small buy in no limit hold em tournament. I am under the gun +1 with KQ and raise to 4x the big blind after the UTG player limps. The only caller is the player on my immediate left, so I will have to play the hand post flop out of position. I haven't noticed anything remarkable about this player with the exception of the fact that he has taken down several (3 or 4) pots lately by making bets when in position and checked to post flop. I don't recall seeing him check behind a lot in those situations which leads me to the conclusion that he is likely aware of making post flop steal plays if he senses weakness. The other observation I have of this player is that he's likely pretty loose preflop as he is playing a lot of hands.

On to the hand at issue, the flop comes Q 10 2 with a flush draw. I bet the pot and he calls. At this point I figure him for either a Q (almost certainly a weaker Q than mine as I think he would likely raise AQ), or a flush or broadway draw. The turn is a blank, and I again bet the pot and get a call. Draws are still possible, but for this player I was weighted more towards a weaker Q. The river is a J that does not complete the flush draw. Based on my read, this card is very likely to have helped his hand. Given that, I decide to check. V now goes all in which is a little more than 1/2 the size of the pot.

I'm now getting almost 3/1 on a call, calling and losing leaves me with some chips, but really in "chip and a chair" territory, so calling and losing is really bad for me. I tanked for a while and then finally called. The other player kind of quietly said two pair and turned over QJ for two pair.

While I was in the tank, I thought through V's possible holdings. I thought a straight was highly unlikely since hitting a straight would have meant a gutshot and I really think he would have folded the turn on a straight draw. I pretty much narrowed his range down to two pair or a bluff.

The thing is that my evaluation of him was that he was far more likely to have 2 pair there then the bluff. Sure I'd seen him make some bets before when other people showed weakness, but this was pretty different to go all in. I had him read really well, so why did I end up losing that hand.

I think I've identified a couple of reasons for this. First, I'm just not trusting my read enough. I'm letting the math and abstract statistics dictate my decisions to the exclusion of reads at the table. That's not good and I have to progress to the point of giving myself permission to play my "feels" in situations like this. Might it deviate from what the math might otherwise call for, sure, but judgment about people is too big a part of this game to just rely on the math. The other thing is that I think there's a part of my psychology that is super resistant to having a "move" put on me. At some point there in my tanking on this hand, and I think at an unconscious level, I decided that it was better to call when I would likely lose and at least know for sure I was not bluffed then to fold and leave the possibility of being bluffed out there. That kind of pride is just going to get too expensive, I need to let that go.

Trust your reads, if your read says fold, do it, and if someone just ran a bluff on you then well, they played well, it's OK.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Poker is a Cruel Mistress No Doubt

I've not blogged here in almost two weeks partly because I'm not entirely sure yet what I want this blog to be about, but when I got home from playing in the tournament at my local poker room last night, I knew there had to be an entry about what a bitch of a game the pokers can be.

Last night felt like it was going to be a very successful night. I caught solid hands early on that let me chip up without having to do too much stealing. I did run into a rough hand where I raised from early with a smallish pair, sixes to be exact. A later player with not much more chips than my initial raise amount went all in and I called. Turned out I was in a pair over pair situation and the results of the hand conformed to statistical expectation. I felt OK though as I still had enough to stick around. One note about that hand was that I made a larger than usual raise from UTG with my sixes. My opponent in the hand made some comments that let me know that my raise amount had given him the idea that I probably had a smaller pair and his eights were good. Thinking about it he was right, the idea of making a larger raise from early position to discourage callers is just a huge tell and one that I should not be repeating. Ironically, a couple of orbits later I looked down at sixes in early position again and made a normal raise. Got called by the same player and won a large pot off of him (flopping a set and filling up the river helped with that for sure).

That large pot got me on a bit of a roll and by the time we were down to the last ten (there were 33 entries including alternates to begin with) I was either second or first in chips. The other big stack was on the opposite end of the table and I couldn't figure his stack precisely. I was paying by big stack aggressively, but not recklessly and was feeling pretty good. Unfortunately, the hammer was about to fall.

It was folded to me in middle position and I had a pair of nines. I raised to three times the blind, got a couple of folds, and then an older gentlemen went all in with about twice my original bet. He'd been going all in several times in the last few hands and I read him as shoving with any cards that he would play, so I wasn't particularly concerned with his bet. Then a younger kid to the old guys left went all in behind him for much less. His stack was so small that I couldn't really factor him in, I made the call and flipped up my nines. Old guy flips up his hand, AQ. OK, this is pretty a pretty good situation for me, even if he draws out on me, I'm still sitting with some good chips and oh by the way, I'm favored against AQ. Then the younger kid turns up kings. Ouch, well at least I'm in the running for the side pot and maybe I'll catch a nine and take it all.

There's always that moment of anticipation when there is all in action preflop and the dealer gets ready to turn the first three cards. He started to put them out and when he flipped over the door card I saw a Queen. Things got worse as the rest of the flop spread and revealed another Queen and an irrelevant card. Well, know I'd really like to see a 9 on the turn, and the dealer obliged by putting out a third ... king. Well great, now I'm drawing dead. As it turns, the river was an A meaning that AQ would take the side pot with his underboat and the short stacked kid would take the main pot. Well, I'm still above average with my stack size, in fact I'm pretty sure I'm still second in chips. Shake it off.

A short while later, (blinds had gone up) I'm in the big blind. The same kid from the last hand limps and then the player on his right goes all in for just under 2x the big blind. The other big stack has the button and he calls the all in. I look down at the A4 of spades. This is a tricky spot. On the one hand this is a hand that isn't likely to hold up unless it makes a flush or a straight. I'm also concerned because the only player at the table who can knock me out is in the pot and will have position on me. While I'm thinking, the kid who limped puts in the chips for a call out of turn. OK, that removes another of my concerns that he might limp and then reraise. He started out the hand with probably around 5 big blinds, so I can't really put him on a strong hand. Plus I'm getting damn near 8-1 on a call and if I whiff the flop I'm not committed.

The flop came giving me the nut flush draw and a gutshot straight draw (12 outs) any of which I'm sure wins me the hand. I also think against three opponents I'm now close to if not a favorite to win the hand, so I push all in. The kid calls and the big stack goes in the tank and folds. The preflop all in player flipped over a couple of random face cards (no spade) and the kid turns over Ad Kh? What?! The kid had around five bb at the start of the hand and he limps with AK? The kid dodges all my outs and now I'm in trouble. A couple of hands later, there's two preflop all ins, I'm on the button with AK and I call all in. Turns out one of the all ins was Kings, I can't catch an ace, I'm done along with one other short stack and immediately, the five players left cut up the money.

Umm - that just sucked, and I'll be honest I was pretty hot right afterwards. Thinking about it afterwards, I really could not think of a different way to play those hands although I think the suited ace hand could be subject to some debate. In the end though, the fact that it was going to be a massive pot coupled with the fact that I could see the flop relatively cheaply and was getting great odds meant I had to call preflop. Once the flop comes as it does, I'm committed and I have to stay in.

So in other words, I think I played very good poker last night. Regardless though, I walked away with zilch. That's the way the game goes, I don't have to enjoy it, but I do have to be prepared to deal with it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Poker Ethics

I had two distinct situations arise in a tournament the other night that brought to mind the issue of ethics in poker.

The first happens during a break in a tournament while the green chips are being colored up. I happen to have quite a few greens, in fact I have a full stack of 20 (t500) plus a couple of odd chips. The dealer counted down my stack to make sure it was actually 20 and a moment later he tossed two t1000 chips to me. I processed for a second because sometimes when they are coloring up they will get some larger denomination chips from you to round up to larger chip amounts, but I realized all he had taken were my greens. I said something like, "I think you gave me too much dude" and showed him the two t1000s. He quickly realized the error took those back and gave me a single t500. There were a couple of other players there and one of them said something indicating appreciation that I would bring that to the dealer's attention myself.

The second incident happened once we had lost a couple of players at the final table. I opened the pot all in with KJ offsuit and got one caller. I was happy to see him roll over K9 of diamonds. I was even happier when the flop came A72 with no diamonds. The turn was another 7 and as the dealer gets ready to put out the river, I'm just thinking "no 9". I got my wish as the river was a non 9. I saw my opponent deflate a bit and listened to the dealer reading the board, "7s with an AK and the jack will play." As the dealer got ready to push me the pot I took a closer look at the board and realized the river was another 2, leaving the board to read A7272. Two pair with an ace kicker on the board. Not only does my jack not play, neither does my king and neither do either of my opponents cards, we're playing the board. I tried to keep my voice as even as possible while telling the dealer that we we're both playing the board. The dealer looked for a second and then realized wha happened and corrected himself. I think my opposnent was the last to realize it. The dealer chopped it up and the lady sitting on my right said "wow you're really honest!"

I appreciate the compliment, but I think it's kind of unwarranted. First, I'm pretty sure that the dealer would have caught the situation even without my pointing it out before the pot got pushed. More importantly though me pointing out the situation to the dealer is in my own best interests. Every player has an interest in protecting the integrity of the game and that interest is way more important than the results of any individual hand.

I think by and large people who take poker even moderately seriously recognize this fact and as a result the game becomes a little self policing, not unlike the golfer who calls a penalty on himself. By me making sure that the results of a hand comport with the way the cards played out, all I'm doing is keeping the game healthy, and in the long run that's good for me.

It's interesting especially in light of some of the national exposure the game got recently on the "Celebrity Apprentice" with Joan River's diatribes about poker players and her implications, if not outright statements, that poker players are basically a sleazy bunch. Quite the contrary, I think as a rule, poker players are people of high integrity. I wonder how many people realize the extent to which money is borrowed, repaid and what not, simply on handshakes. Sure there are some bad apples, but as a rule, I think most players are good people.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Worlds Colliding - But Gently

I would imagine that just about anyone reading this blog has wandered over from where I post on the boards. I've had a couple of interesting experiences relating to my posting there. I made some posts about my "local room" the one I live closest to. They have been open about 8 months and quite frankly they've had some struggles getting games going. I'm trying to bang the drum a little on the AVP boards just to get the word out and see if I can get the room active.

Anyway, last weekend, I walked in there to play and the floor pointed me out to one of the dealers. He walked up and introduced himself and asked if I was the one who posted about the room on AVP. I said yes and he thanked me and said it was a nice post. We chatted a bit about some of the board goings on and then it was time for me to play. During the week, I popped into a room near the office and the floor there (who knows I post on AVP) also commented on my post and offered me some thoughts on the situation. Finally, last night I went back into the local room and the room manager greeted me and thanked me for trying to spread the word about the room.

It was kind of wierd for me to have my online activity intersect with the real world like that. It was a nice reminder that the things going out here do reach some people.

Alright, I'm getting food ready for a BBQ later (smoking some tomatos to go in a black bean dish). Perhaps some actual poker content later.

Friday, July 10, 2009

If I were a twitterer I'd tweet something like: "tired of people hitting 2 outers on me to knock me out of tournaments".

Thursday, July 9, 2009


So I've been thinking lately about the evolution of a poker player. It was probably sparked by seeing a t-shirt at the Rio last week with the above image on it. I think it's generally true that as people grow as players they pass through these types of stages. It reminded me of something I studied once when discussing the process of learning a new skill. The theory was that when learning a new skill one passes through four stages.

First is unconscious incompetence. In other words, you're bad - but you're so bad, you have no clue that you're bad. To me, these are the fish. These are the people who don't see anything wrong with playing J2 suited or playing Arag because, aces are good.

If the fish progress they move from being unconsciously incompetent, to being consciously competent. I think this equates pretty closely to donkeys. They're still bad, but they're starting to pick up the ability to recognize their badness. I think the first step of this progression is tightening up preflop. There is a better idea of hand strength, but play after the flop is not so good. Mistakes are still a plenty by these folks, but there is more recognition of the mistakes and if the right effort is made, the donkey will climb to the next rung of the ladder.

Conscious competence. I think this is represented in the above graphic by the man. Someone at this stage has probably devoted some energy to the game away from the game itself. There's some good theoretical understanding and when presented with a hand to analyze they can probably offer a reasonable discussion. The conscious competent's play will be solid and they can work through problems at the table, although it may take more time then they feel comfortable with. Of course, the conscious competent aspires to reach the last level.

Unconscious competence. You've seen these people. They just have an uncanny sense of where they are at when they are in a hand. They can read opponents well and it all seems to come so easy to them. These are clearly the sharks. When they are making a decision in a game they take as long as they want to, not as long as they need.

I think that relatively recently I've transitioned from donkey to man. Unfortuneately I find myself slipping back into donkeydom from time to time. I've had a couple of situations recently where I obviously reverted back to total Level 1 thinking and the results showed it. I think one cure to that is to focus more on "visual thinking" when playing. In other words, I need to force myself to talk through a hand in my mind before I make a decision. I feel pretty good that if I do that then I can make good decisions that are reasoned and not just impulsive. So that's what I'm going to do in my effort to continue evolving.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Brush With Poker Celebrity

So the highlight of the pokercation (aside from playing a lot of small buy in tournaments) was playing in the Suzie & Howard Lederer charity tournament at the Golden Nugget last Wednesday. It was an interesting experience as I had both Annie Duke and 2007 Main Event winner Jerry Yang at my table along with a couple of other people who were obviously experienced and skilled tournament players. I was pretty close to being in the situation of not being able to spot the sucker at the table (which means you are the sucker), but I think there may have been one other person who edged me out.

It was a situation where the only way I was going to go far was if I ran unbelievably well, and unfortunately I did anything but. I did make it through the first hour and the rebuy period which was a bit of an accomplishment, but I simply couldn't catch any kinds of cards. I had one pocket pair - 5s which ended up being my bustout hand, and I only recall one ace - we'll get to that in the minute. It was fun playing next to Annie (I was on her immediate left) - I got into a couple of hands with her and ended up with absolutely no idea where I was. I had asked her right before the break if she would mind taking a picture with my wife who is a fan and she said sure, but then hustled off on the break talking to some other folks. Once I busted out though, she brought up getting a picture and took a couple of moments to pose with my wife which was nice. She even graciously commented to my wife that I just couldn't get any cards which was true. I tried to make a couple of position plays, but the two guys on my left were tough and were willing to call me down pretty light. I don't know if I'm that easy to read or if they just had me figured for a newbie that was likely to be making a move.

So the highlight of the event was definitely the pot I took off of Jerry Yang. I limped in early position with the A9 of diamonds (I had pretty much adjusted my preflop strategy to limping and seeing whether I could hit the board). A couple others limped as did Mr. Yang from the cutoff. The flop was K high with two diamonds, so I decided to check and raise any bet all in (no one was terribly deep). The bet came from Jerry Yang and I followed through with my strategy. He tanked for a while and then finally made the call saying it was a donation. I said I was probably the one donating and flipped over my hand expecting to need an A or a diamond to win. I was surprised when he turned over Q6 of diamonds for a lower flush draw. The turn brought the A of hearts and I had the 2007 Main Event Winner drawing dead. The guy on my left - who was a very tough player from Ireland looked at me and said, "so I see you have a bit of tricky in you as well" (we had been talking earlier about how you had to be tricky in order to win) and that was definitely a good feeling. I feel like I outplayed the guy because there was just no way he figured me for being able to do that with a flush draw.

The rest of the pokercation was good. I learned some lessons (i.e. I completely butchered some things and realize now how bad I screwed up) and netted one outright tournament win. Details to come on some of the lessons in the future.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Poker Vacation Day 2

The plan for the day was to hit the gym in the morning, have lunch with some friends and then catch the afternoon tournament at the TI.

Once I was done at the gym, I had an hour or so before it was time to meet my friends. We were eating at the Orleans, so I played a little 2-4 while I waited and won my buy-in for the TI tournament, so the freeroll was on. After lunch, I made my way over to TI and got signed in jsut a few minutes before the tournament started.

There was a very good turnout, 57 entrants. I have to say that the TI seems to do a great job with the daily low buy-in tournaments. They run them four times a day, the structure (considering what kind of event it is) is good and when I have been by, the turnouts have always been good.

The first few levels were a rollercoaster for me, mostly because I kept catching hands either in the blinds or in early position that warranted a raise, but left me playing out of position after the flop without really kitting the flop hard (overcards to a good pp or missing on AK). So, I was up, I was down, I was up, I was down. Ended up the third level with only a few chips over starting stack.

I've gotten the feeling that in these low buy-in events that the first couple of levels after the first break tend to be very significant. People can't reenter the tournament after busting out anymore, the blinds have gotten up to the point where if you haven't chipped up then you are playing 10 or fewer blinds deep. I was lucky yesterday as I hit a couple of hands that allowed me to pick off other short players and build my stack up to 1.5 to 2 times the average. From there I was able to pick spots and (pretty easily) get to the final table. I had a pretty good stack by this point and was able to make a couple good position plays to keep myself ahead of the blinds. GOt down to three handed with the second biggest stack, but the spread between the big stack and the third stack was less than three big blinds, but everything was really fluid. Also, even though I was second, I still only had six big blinds, so the game was definitely in the shove fest category. I shoved with K10 offsuit from the button and got looked up by the big blind who had an ace. He had me covered and I was out in third. I was pretty happy with how I played the middle part of the tournament.

Today is Golden Nugget day. We got a room for the night, I will play in their 11am tournament and also a charity event there this evening. If I'm available around 2pm, I'm going to hit up the weekly poker discussion group across the street at Binion's jsut to check it out.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Poker Vacation

No, I'm not taking a vacation from poker. Rather I'm taking a vacation this week from work so that I can play a lot of poker.

Started out nice and easy today with the noon offering at Santa Fe Station. I live nearby, and wanted to be home relatively early since I'm going out with my wife tonight. There were something like 23 or 24 entrants - two full tables with a handful of alternates who all got seats. Things went ok early on, although right before the first break lost a good chunk of chips that left me just above the starting stack. I got pretty aggressive after the break, but couldn't really get a sizable stack built up. Ended up the last person out before the final table. The hand I busted on, I could have played better and survived, but I think I was kind of in "go big or go home" mode so, that's fine. There's a lot more poker to come this week.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tournament Report

Last night I played the Friday night tournament at Aliante Station. There were 21 entrants which led to a prize pool of around $950, the plan was to pay 3 places. I had a couple of steal attempts that went awry early on, missed a couple of flops, and I was down to less than half the starting stack. Spent the rest of the time during the first break building it back to just over starting stack size by the time we took a break. After the break, one of the calling stations busted out and steals got a lot easier. I built up to over 10,000 in chips (starting was t4500), and I don't think I ever had to see a turn card. When they consolidated the two tables into one I was slightly over average when I had my one big hand of the night.

I was UTG +1 and had two black aces. UTG limped, I raised to 3x the big blind, folded to the big blind who shoved, UTG thought a long time before folding, I called and the other guy had AK of diamonds. He flopped a gutshot straight draw, but couldn't catch and I was the big stack.

We played down to four people and agreed to pay fourth place their entry back. I wasn't the big stack anymore. The new big stack had one two big pots in a row from the same player to bust him in fifth. The first was pretty standard, soon to be bigstack had pocket 10s that she reraised all in against the soon to be fifth place's AK suited. He called and the tens held up. The second hand (very next hand) soon to be fifth open shoves and bigstack is the only one who calls. Fifth had pocket Ks, but big had pocket 9s and flopped a 9. Fifth was out and Big now had a commanding lead four handed. It was ironic because when we were ten handed, Big limp reraised all in one hand which led me to think she had either aces or kings (I was sitting next to Big's husband and he told me he thought the same). She got called by the person who actually had aces and she again had, pocket 9s. Big flopped a 9 that time too.

Once we were four handed, I lost some chips calling shoves from the short stack. The first hand was literally one of those any two cards type of calls because I was in the big blind and short only had two big blinds in her stack when she shoved. Short had two face cards and I had 78 or 89 off. I actually flopped an open ended straight draw, but couldn't catch and short doubled. A while later, short shoves from the button again and this time I have a pair (5s) so I call. There were a few other times she shoved and I folded, but when she shoved for about half of what I had I called with A10. Short had 89 and I caught the A on the flop leaving her needing runner runner which didn't come. We were down to 3. I was in second, only about 3,000 behind Bigstack and had third place covered about 3/1.

The next hand, I had KJ of spades, open raised and the Short stack reraised all in. I called and he flipped over A hearts 4 diamonds. I flopped a jack, but the flop was all hearts and the fourth one came on the turn leaving the two shorter stacks about even. We all compared chip stacks at this point and the other short player proposed a three way chop. I agreed (of course) but told the big stack it was up to her. She got both of our counts and said she was ok with the three way chop, so that's what we did. She had both of the other players covered by a fair amount, but the blinds are so big at that point and one hand can change everything quick, so I think that made sense.

I think deals in these type of tournaments once it's down to three or four players make a lot of sense because the high blinds make everyone's chip stacks pretty volatile. Unless one person really has the rest of the players dominated, things are really coin flippy at that point. That beign said, I do hope sometime that I can get down to just two. I think I'll propose that we chop something like ninety percent of the money and play heads up for the rest. I do want to actually get some experience at heads up play.

Thinking back on last night it was a good example of how in these tournaments you do not have to be a slave to luck. I wasn't unusually lucky last night. I lost most of my "flips" at the late stage of the tournament and I only had one really big hand. However, I was able to identify some weak players that I felt likely would fold to aggression and reacted appropriately. Doing that put me in a position where I could very easily have gone to the final two players with the chip lead.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Yes, just what the world needs - another poker blog. Well, I'm hear anyway, so let's do the obligatory intro post.

I live in Las Vegas and started playing poker about 2-3 years ago. For a long time I strictly paid limit hold em cash games. Recently however, I made the decision to focus almost exclusively on tournaments. What do you know, it turns out I really enjoy playing tournaments.

I decided to start this blog to write about my journeys through the poker world. As of late, I've started to seriously consider the potential to make a substantial part of my living at the game. At the moment I have a day job which is both intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding, but I just don't have the same passion in my heart for those endeavors that I can muster for playing poker. I don't think I'll get to the point where I completely stop working the day job, but I do think that within me lies the basic skill for poker to be more of a vocation than a hobby. We'll see where that leads.