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.