Friday, December 30, 2005

Master of my domain, err... library.

HighOnPoker just made the best analogy:

"Blogs are like literary masturbation."
Blogs are mostly just to please the writer -- I'm the first to admit that. There's a reason I haven't worked to publicize this blog by posting on forums, shilling it in comments on other blogs, etc. This blog is mostly for myself, and I enjoy the writing of it. Part of me also wants others to read it, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to work at getting lots of readers.

I think there is just too much writing out there now that the electronic revolution allows everyone to publish, and most of it is just noise (this blog included). Poker, in particular, has had billions of words written about it. My friend Rob wrote a scathing article that really brings poker articles into focus. As harsh as he was, it is completely true -- most poker articles just rehash the same stuff. Ultimately, the stuff written here is really only important to me, since similar stuff is written billions of other places.

I've also been hesitant to get involved with the poker blogosphere in general -- honestly, reading blogs, commenting, chatting, and playing poker with bloggers takes a lot of time, and I've already been wasting too much time lately. In a sense, I've been laying low, seeing if anybody discovers this blog on their own (the short answer: no).

I still am undecided if I want to start spreading the word or not. While having readers and interaction with others is nice, I've been hearing about a lot of other bloggers shutting down temporarily or permanently, because the time commitment is too much. I definitely don't want to feel like writing is a chore, like so many other things in my life right now.

So, for now, I'm going to just keep doing what I'm doing... literary masturbation. Don't tell my wife!

PS My spellchecker informed me that masturbation has a 'u' in it, not an 'e' (HighOnPoker made the same mistake). Yet another example of people being able to do something they can't spell.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The joys of LHE...

In my last post I mentioned how well I was doing. Well, last night I erased a lot of those winnings with two hours of 6-max 1/2 on Stars while I was trying to burn off the bonus. I lost about $70, up from my low point of $-100, but it wasn't all due to the cards. Same old, same old...

I'm learning though. I caught myself doing a strange thing tonight (when I made $20 back and finished off the bonus):

10 player table, I'm UTG w/ KQs. Relatively tight table but not super tight (~30% VPIP). I come in for a raise like usual, and it folds to the SB who three-bets. BB gets out, and I call. Flop was Q72, nothing to my suit, and he leads out, I raise, and he three-bets. I call, and call his turn and river bet. I'm sure you know what he had: AA.

Notice that I played the hand 'aggressively' (you know, because that's how you play limit, tight and aggressive). Notably, raising first in narrows the field to help my KQ (an argument could be made for limping KQs in that situation) but that was my strategy. The flop raise clarified his hand (and mine). But... Pay attention to this... I played the hand in the way that lost the most money.

When I hit top pair, second kicker on a non-scary board, I have two tacts against someone who has represented a huge hand pre-flop:

  1. Plan to go to the river because my hand is too big to fold and hope to hit one of my 5 outs if I am against the aces he's representing. This means call down unless my hand improves, including the flop, and only lose the minimum (2.5 BB). The disadvantage is, if I have him beat and he has Ax he could hit an ace along the way or draw out in another fashion. He wouldn't have many outs if I had him though, and it is also worth pointing out I might pick up some bets if he continued firing with a hand I beat like JJ or TT (those holdings are less likely in this situation though). An interesting thing to note is this is the approach many fish would take (loose-passive) -- and they would lose the minimum or win a big pot if they were up against AA and cracked it.
  2. Raise the flop to clarify the hand and see if he three-bets (essentially ruling out AK). This is obviously what I did and my usual move when I want to get a better read. When he three-bets, calling the third bet is pretty much mandatory even though I now put him on AA (or possibly KK or AQ). The odds are definitely there to hit my 9:1 shot (12 small bets in the pot). But... If I don't improve on the turn, I no longer have odds to chase (7.5 BB in the pot), and I should fold to his bet. Plus, if I call the turn, I should call the river, and my reverse implied odds are pretty poor. If I fold on the turn, this will cost me one less BB than calling him down, but reduces the chance of catching him bluffing and I see one less card. In addition, it sets me up to extract more money if I do have him beat (and he three-bet preflop with AK, JJ, or TT).
Seems pretty obvious when laid out like that. So, then, why did I raise him on the flop yet still call him down, essentially putting in one more big bet? This hand, I believe, demonstrates why I've been losing money (or rather not earning a lot of money) at limit play. I am being aggressive which gets more money in the pot when I am ahead and clarifies hands, but then I'm not folding when information shows me I am beat. That, coupled with overplaying of small pairs and second or third pair, causes me to put a lot of money into the pot when I don't have the best hand.

[Edit] After we finished our movie last night I logged onto FCP last night to play some .25/.5 heads up. I promptly gave back all my winnings, losing $20 over about an hour. Essentially three guys sat down, took $6-8 from my stack, then left. The first two I think I could have won some money back if they hadn't hit and run -- the third guy had a good mix of bluffing, tightness, and mixing up his play that I'm not sure I can beat in the long run. Oh well.

One thing I've noticed in these heads-up matches is that I tend to get down about 10 BB early, but usually I can battle back and figure them out. Last night, I wasn't able to do that since they pulled hit and runs. Furthermore, the real question is why do I get down 10 BB almost everytime I play? I must be leaking or playing too loose or something.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Yay, more charts!

Bunch of poker odds and ends I want to talk about. I haven't updated lately because of holiday business (not to be a grinch, but I'm pretty sick of Christmas) and I decided to spend my free time watching the fifth season of the Sopranos and actually playing poker instead of writing about it.

First, why don't I start with the Artichoke Joe's tourney a week ago. Not really much to report -- I played quite tight, got very few premium hands, but won my critical short-stacked all-ins to make it to about 18th place out of 96ish. The blinds move up very fast in that tourney including some shocking jumps between levels where the ante tripled and the blinds doubled. Surprisingly, Wade, Thuan and I all made it to the final two tables but we busted out one after another in the high teens. With all the money was at the final table, we were pretty forlorn as we looked back at the tourney on our way out. Probably not a tourney I'll play a lot because there isn't a lot of play for the money you put in.

On the topic of tourneys, yesterday at noon FCP had a $30+3 tourney where the top 3 got seats into the 36 player qualifier to the protege contest final table. Wasn't really considering playing it until I saw that there were only 25 people signed up for it. After all, value of the package is $50Kish, value of the final table seat is $5Kish, value in the 36 player tourney is about $140, so it was like $500 was added to the tourney. So, I played, was pleasantly surprised at the relatively low quality of play, and managed to get 4th for a bankroll boost but no seat. Damn, I really wanted a seat. Maybe I'll try it again next week before it starts getting more popular. Making it to the final table of the Protege contest is a bit of a long shot anyway, but sometimes it is fun to try.

Its funny, but I was going through my PokerDominator stats today and I realized that I only played 5 tournaments over the past month! Seriously, that's only the AJs tourney, FCP yesterday, two Wednesday games, and one Stars $10+1. No wonder I'm starting to feel burned out on ring games. But online, the tourneys just don't burn off the bonuses, so I'm better off playing the ring games money wise. Although... my results have been pretty good in tournaments in the past few months, so maybe they would be a profitable thing to do. Since my kids (and wife) get up late over the break, maybe I'll enter one or two large tourneys this week and see if I can hit a decent sum of money. Along those lines, here is a chart of my tourney results over the past six months:

and my ring game results over the same period:

I've earned about the same amount in both tournament and ring play (with 204 hours in ring play vs 149 hours in tourney play) but there is a lot more variance in the tournament play. In fact, 75% of my profit came from that one good run (including the 180 player SnG). No wonder tourneys frustrate people. What's not shown is the bonuses I've earned -- I haven't tallied it up, but I'm sure I've cleared at least $500 in bonuses over the same period (edit: I've got $~520 recorded), meaning my poker playing has yielded about $2,000 over the last six months -- not too shabby...

As I mentioned, lately I've been a bit burned out on full-table ring games. Waiting around for good hands or draws makes you feel pretty powerless. Did I mention the waiting? So, I decided to try something new and I've been playing heads-up hold'em on FCP. The bonus (effectively 50% rakeback) makes it quite profitable and I've yet to have a losing session after four-five hours. Granted, I'm not making a lot and it is a small sample size, but I still feel like I'm pretty good at the game. I may take my 100 big bets at 0.5/1 and see how far I can go with it, moving up whenever I have 100 BB or more. Dangerous, yes, but worth the experience I expect. I've definitely learned a lot about focusing on beating a single opponent and exploiting weaknesses.

Problem is, I still have about $45 to clear at Stars and $190 to clear on Eurobet, and I just can't seem to motivate myself to two-table 1/2 or 2/4. Stars I may try to do the shorthanded limit since the double points thing is in effect until the end of the month and that should take care of it quickly. But Eurobet will be a grind, and the swings really hurt at 2/4. Honestly, most of it is mental -- I just have to convince myself to play.

I tend to have periods where I'm a bit, ahem, fragile. Basically, I'm more worried about protecting my earnings than increasing my hourly rate. Now, logically I know this is stupid and I should do what it takes to maximize my winnings while playing within my bankroll (generally, that would be two-tabling 2/4). But my recent plateau has felt a lot like a losing streak, and it has been nice to book some consecutive wins even if they aren't huge. Although... Sometimes I wonder if my earn rate is higher at short-handed tables even if I drop down a few levels.

And, on top of it all, I'm just getting a bit burned out. I probably ought to take a few days off and just play when and what I want to play. After all, if I'm not comfortable playing a game, that will definitely hurt my EV anyway. Once January hits I'll start grinding again to earn the family some bonus money.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another fork...

I've decided to change my poker focus once again. To be honest, LHE has not been treating me very nice and it definitely isn't my best game. In fact, check out my earnings over the last month on the right. This represents 60 hours of poker, probably 40 of that being limit play. The variance sucks, and I think I'll have a much better earn rate at something else.

You know that big run I had on Thursday? Well, I gave it all back and was down $90 before I caught some cards and got $30 back. My cards weren't great and they definitely weren't holding up, but going back to the old post, I was still overplaying unpaired cards and small pairs, plus I had one case where I paid off a flush draw big time. I expect I could have avoided losing $30-$40 of the $60 that I dropped. Oh well.

So, I've decided to switch back to NL for a little while, primarily on Stars or possibly on FCP. The bonus earn rate is low (maybe $2/hr) but I have a much bigger edge at 6-max NL than two tables of limit. I'm not going to abandon limit -- I'll also start up a $200 bonus on Eurobet and two-table $2-$4 to clear it. That's about 20 hours of play, but it expires after 90 days so I can always do it in small chunks if I like. And, of course, if Party has another bonus, I can do limit or NL there to clear it within the week.

Wade, Thuan, and I are heading to Artichoke Joe's tomorrow night for the Sunday rebuy tournament -- unlimited rebuys, but I'm going play relatively tight and only allow myself one rebuy -- so my maximum buy-in should be $150. Yes, that's more than 10% of my bankroll, but I figure its a one-time thing until my bankroll gets larger. I'm really looking forward to it.

In preparation I played a 45 player $10+1 SNG on Stars and took 4th. I didn't suffer any bad beats or cold decks until we were in the money, so I'll be the first to say I was pretty lucky. Probably the hand of the tourney (other than flopping a set and doubling up early after his straight and flush draw bricked out) was with 7 players left right after we got in the money. I had about 2400 after posting the 800 big blind. Button doubled the big blind, and I pushed with 23 of diamonds. My thinking at the time was the huge pot odds (~1600 from blinds and antes + his 2400 = a little less than 2:1) I was getting, and I knew my short stack would get no respect for an all-in raise later. Well, the flop gave me a gutshot straight flush draw, and the turn gave me a straight leaving him drawing dead with A9o. I think he was a little suprised, but I believe I made the right move. Actually, in hindsight, I was probably about even with odds vs pot odds if he didn't have a pair, but the value from almost tripling up was worth it. After that, I didn't get too many hands but stole enough to get fourth when my A5s on the button ran into pocket rockets in the small blind.

It was definitely nice to get back to NLHE and tournaments. It was also nice to have an easy tournament with no bad beats knocking me out :) After tomorrow night I might take a few days off (or play triple-draw or something) and get back to NLHE next week -- I'm actually kinda excited!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Limit Play: Just play my game

I've still been struggling with my limit play lately, and this post has been something I've been planning for a while, but never got around to. In fact, I played two sessions yesterday and had my best results in a long time: ~45BB over 400 hands. Not huge, but a start, and I was feeling much more comfortable at the table.

After much though, I've narrowed my major leaks in the past few weeks to the following:

  • Following the hand charts religilously. Initially, I used the hand charts to have a solid basis for my game. In fact, all along, I've been checking the hand chart to see if I should call with ATo UTG, or re-raise KQs in late position. I think I was doing a major disservice to myself. After all, I have a lot of time at the tables (especially NL) and I know the pre-flop strength of hands. No chart can capture the exact conditions at the table like I can with the help of PokerTracker. Even $1-$2 Party games can't be considered the no-fold'em hold'em games anymore (that most small stakes hold'em books are aimed at) -- I really feel like the average internet player is still getting better. So I'm tossing the hand charts, and just using my judgment -- I definitely think this is a +EV move.
  • Over aggression. Often people demonstrate they can't be bluffed and I don't listen and keep firing, including reckless bets on the river if a draw gets there. Kind of a "I can only win if I bluff, so I bet" type of thing. Instead, I should slow it down if I don't improve against a known calling station. After all, if I save myself a bet on the turn and the river, that's two bets, or my expectation for an hour of play! Saving bets is just as important as winning them. Don't get me wrong, aggression is very, very important, but not at the lower limits. Low-limit players will just call you down if they get confused (and many of them are constantly confused :) ). Being able to fire bets on all streets as a bluff is good though, especially at higher limits, and I think that is one of the reasons I picked it up (shorthanded at Stars I had a lot more success with it). In fact, ScurvyDog has a great post about the profitability of continuing a steal to the river -- it is surprising that it is profitable as long as people fold approximately 50% of the time (not to mention the ability to hit your hand). But continuing a bluff to the river at Party is just stupid.
  • Listening to my reads. I am an above average player for the limits I play. Why, then do I automatically call when someone raises me and I just have top pair? C'mon, how much do these guys really bluff? Well, a lot actually, but very little when someone else has shown strength. So why pay them off? If I think I am beat, I should consider the odds and lay it down if I don't have a draw or I suspect I am drawing dead. You know, one of my guiding rules has been "bets are cheap on later streets, so call them down if there is any chance I have the best hand". Kinda silly, isn't it? Kinda makes me a fish, doesn't it? I believe this came out of the big mistakes vs little mistakes argument, but I've taken it too far. Especially if I bet out the turn with TPTK, get raised, then call two bets even though my gut tells me I'm beat. Those two bets, like the overaggression above, are my hourly expectation -- poof! Yes, people can bluff-raise, but I can't remember seeing it at the $1-$2 tables.
You know, looking back at what I wrote, I think I can summarize the above points into one phrase:

Play my own game.

My biggest leak since I've returned to low-limit hold'em is expecting to be able to beat the game by playing roboticly without thought. Playing set pre-flop hands always in the same way. Calling to the river with top pair or better to pick off bluffs. Yes, fixed play at low limits will get money in the long run, but not much. And don't get me wrong -- I still did a lot of things right (folding when I was clearly beaten, etc) but my attitude manifested itself most in hand selection and ignoring reads when I had top pair. Those leaks, along with a run of not great cards, caused my recent plateau.

Last night it was actually quite liberating to realize that I do have control and I'm not completely at the mercy of the cards like I thought I was. For instance, I was able to make some steals in late position. If my top pair was no good and I knew it, I considered laying it down. Those laydowns define good players more than hand selection. It has been an important realization for me.

Oddly enough I also had a run of good cards, or rather, very top pair/overpair hands that got chased down. We'll see how I feel after a little more time, but I really feel like I've turned a corner in limit.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bay 101: Misery, Misery Everywhere!

So Wade and I went down to Bay 101 last night and I finally got to play in a cardroom. I played $2-$4 about 3.5 hours, started out up $20-$30, went down to -$80 about 2.5 hours in, but ended up -$13 thanks to some big pairs and a set that actually held up. Considering making up the sixty bucks at the end of the night, I feel like it was a win (my stop-loss was $120 -- if I lost that, I was leaving).

I ended up getting there around 7 pm and got our names on the board -- I was at a table within 15 minutes. Sadly, Wade arrived 10 minutes later than that and had to wait much longer to get a seat in $3-$6. The game was very, very loose with big hands being cracked all the time (just like online). Unlike online though, it was relatively passive game (rarely did people raise preflop, or raise a bet after the flop). We had a wide variety of players -- notables include:

  • The red-faced drunk guy on my immediate left who was hemorrhaging money and very tilted. In fact, he was dropping the f-bomb left and right and abusing the dealers under his breath whenever he lost a pot he 'should' have won. Which was pretty much every pot. Then, after rebuying for $20 about 4 times, it was obvious he ran out of money and didn't want to leave so he nursed his last $15 by tightening up, taking smoke breaks, and working for about an hour to switch tables.
  • The old guy sitting to the left of the dealer who was relatively solid but tended to chase draws and never raised pre-flop. He also showed a general tendancy to get out of my way when I bet. I figured out the not raising part on my one attempt to bluff: four players in (blinds, old guy UTG, and me w/ 97c in late position) and flop came JQQ rainbow (one club). Blinds both checked quickly, so I took at a shot at it and the old guy called. He checked dark and I fired again on the turn -- call, another dark check for the river. I fired again, thinking it likely he was on a draw (he often folded on the river). He picked up his cards with the "I'm gonna fold grip", then tossed $4 in like it was a crying call... He flipped over... KK? What? He also had a friend a few seats down who was relatively poor and called too much.
  • Young loudmouth to the left of the old guy -- the table was quite quiet but this guy made a habit of telling everyone about everything -- like why he folded, or how lucky he was to hit a straight with 23o, 23s, and 62s, or that he got AA and KK. Honestly, the guy was obviously young and happy to be playing, but he clearly annoyed some people (not as much as the drunk guy though).
  • A few statues that said, very, very little and just wallowed in the misery of $2-$4.
  • A middle-aged Italian guy who had wraparound mirror shades and was trying to be very intimidating. He was the only guy who raised and re-raised it seemed, but it was clear he was quite new because kept showing down questionable hands after capping the flop (a pair of sixes, second pair, with a 10 kicker?). 94o that he rivered into two pair? But, he took down a number of big pots and was definitely ahead on the night.
  • A young college guy (probably barely 21 or had a fake ID) with shades. Likely he played online a lot and occasionally live. He seemed to know what he was doing, although he made some amateur moves like getting a little heated about a perceived inference that he didn't know what he was doing, or on one river where a third club hit a paired board he told the guy to his left: "I don't think you have two clubs -- I bet." Yeah, like I was suprised he had a full house.
  • A parade of other guys that came through, bought in short, won a few hands, but ultimately got down to the felt.
All in all, the experience was definitely worth the $13. By the end I felt much more comfortable being there, buying in, etc. Don't get me wrong -- it was obvious I never played at a card room before and was rather nervous (I generally felt like an idiot when I bought in and cashed out). But an important thing for me was to demonstrate to myself that I can beat the game (well, maybe not with $4 coming out of every pot) and that I won't suddenly lose all my money if I go.

Lets see, a few other things. Most of the dealers were competent but pretty boring -- with the exception of the second dealer, the only woman, who responded to my constant smile (nerves, I think) and started a conversation with me. Honestly, though, she was the only dealer that tried to lighten the oppressive, miserable feeling that hovered over the table the whole time. I saw her on the way out and told her that she was the best dealer (I could help but be reminded of Linda at Poker Works). I almost went back and gave her a couple more bucks, but I held back in case she thought I was stalking her :) Probably should have though. It was only after I sat through the other dealers that I realized how nice it is to have someone who is happy.

About the misery. Ultimately, even with the joys of pulling pots, most people were downright miserable. Honestly, a big part of it was that nobody was friends with anyone else, most people were stuck (a factor of the huge rake), and everybody was trying to win (i.e. not there to simply gamble). Big difference from the Wednesday games. Poker is an odd game in that people go out of their way to sit around and NOT have fun the majority of the time. It really isn't that fun because most people lose money and their attitude permeates the table. Just looking around the table, I can only think of one or two people who won a decent amount on the session (the gregarious young guy was the main one I can think of) and the rest were pretty big losers.

I don't think I could ever play at a place like Bay 101 every day -- be a horrible way to live my life. But Wade and I talked about going back maybe once a month, getting at the same $3-$6 table, and livening it up a bit. I think an Artichoke Joe's tourney is in our future too, maybe this Sunday.

With the slower rate of hands, I really got an idea where my leaks are. I'm doing a separate post for that so I can get my ideas in order. So, it really was a worthwhile trip.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What the...

Tried to install Multi Table Helper (I'll try to get a link when I can)... Anyway, it decided to install the .NET framework (yippee! -- I love it when a little program requires a huge package to work) and took forever. I was excited when the little progress bar got to the end of the box -- until another window popped up with a new progress bar and the caption:

"The installation is taking longer than expected..."
Brilliant, Microsoft, freakin' brilliant. What a reassuring message to give me warm fuzzy feelings when I install your software on my computer.

In related news, my home machine is running out of room on the main drive. I was cleaning stuff off last night (you know, old poker rooms that I don't visit any more) and after some digging, I realized that 2.5 GB of the 8 GB drive was filled with Windows system restore information with no obvious way to control or remove it.

Thanks again, Microsoft. First you create an OS that needs constant patches, then you create an auto-update system that fixes the bugs but fills up our harddrives with more data than Windows is supposed to take up.

Friday, December 09, 2005

That sucked...

Just finished off the bonus at Pacific Poker and came out 38c ahead after $51 in bonuses... Yes, the players are very weak, but I couldn't take their money (I played mostly 6-max 1/2).

Honestly, I'm just glad it is over right now. Seemed to take all sorts of beats and wasn't playing that well. With everyone so loose you have to watch helplessly as 4 people call your top pair down and invariably hit something. Schooling of the fishes at its greatest. Plus the software is generally slow and disconnects a lot.

One of the reasons I think I did so poorly was playing shorthanded with a nasty rake structure (I payed out $60+ in rake while I was there). Even with a bonus, I'm not sure it would be profitable to play there unless you were up at a higher limit and you had a fast enough computer to run another site at the same time. Maybe I'll visit again, but not anytime soon :)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Limit Poker


I've definitely been experiencing a lot more variance since I've switched to limit and moved up to 1/2. I've been swinging up and down $50-$100 quite rapidly and I'm really not used to it since my emotions have been going along for the ride. I think my wins have been pretty consistent up to now because I play a NL game that reduces variance and the lower limits are much easier and more passive.

It's funny how quickly poker can make you think you are the best player in the world and then slam you to the ground with a siberian piledriver. For instance, I played 4 brief sessions (~2 hours) of 2-7 triple-draw on UB. I was averaging about $30/hr and not finding the games that difficult, until last night. I logged on, trying to pick up $3 to pass the $1300 mark in my BR again, and SLAM! Dropped 40 BB in about an hour. Granted, that was only about $20 :)

The point is, poker quickly reminded me that I'd just been on the positive variance swing and I still had a lot to learn about a new game for me. My experience last night will probably teach me more about good triple-draw play than the previous four sessions combined. Like, for instance, make sure your draw is live.


I wanted to elaborate more on where I think my weaknesses are in limit hold'em and what I should do to improve it. I think this would be a good thing to look at before I play each night -- kind of a cheat sheet if I start running bad.

  1. Overplaying two large unpaired cards (sometimes an underpair).
    • Give up on continuation bets into 2 or more opponents. Just costs me money. Check-fold if I miss and I can't represent anything on the board.
    • Keep making continuation bets against a single opponent or possibly two if I can represent and ace and I have position.
  2. Paying off when I get drawn out on.
    • Not my worst flaw, but I think I still get check-raised a little too much on the river when my top pair doesn't improve. Especially in position, don't bet unless no draws hit and I think they have a second best hand.
  3. Playing a bit too tight on the flop.
    • I think I should take a card off in situations where I make one low pair if my five outs are clean and/or I have back-door draws. Essentially, I'm looking at 1 SB for a possible payoff of 4-6 SB on the turn and river. There's a reason I get nervous when people call the flop when I have top pair -- their draws are usually live.
    • Also, dropping in a raise on the flop will often clarify hands and get dead-money in the pot. Essentially, if I'm going to call anyway, it is worth that small amount more to find out where I am and avoid hard turn decisions.
  4. Chasing past the turn too often.
    • While taking a card off on the flop is good (#3), taking a card off on the turn is bad unless I have a solid draw to the nuts with correct odds. Even worse, I'll usually have to pay off a bet on the river if I have anything, so the reverse implied odds are poor. I think I've been doing this a lot -- making a weak call on the turn and forcing myself to drop two BB in a sticky situation
  5. Bluffing too often and too long (especially blind vs blind).
    • My other big leak -- not check-folding on the turn when my bluff doesn't work and I have improper odds to call to the river. This usually happens when it is blind vs blind -- I try to represent top pair, but they call me down with second or third pair. I'm better off cutting my losses.

Luck and Poker

I'm realizing now that there are many, many important aspects of a LHE poker strategy, all the way from hand selection (which is pretty easy to master) to flop, turn and river play. Sadly, while I believe my pre-flop play is quite strong, I've been giving up a lot of money with poor post-flop play.

Additionally, I'm really seeing the importance of saving bets vs gaining bets. The past few weeks I've actually had some brief periods of running really bad -- bad beats, poor starting cards, second best hands, etc. Its been quite an experience to actually realize that sometimes, there is nothing I can do to avoid taking a loss, no matter how good I play. The important thing is to minimize that loss, which so far, I'm not very good at.

Poker is bad beats and lucky draws. In fact, most hands you'll have a 30%+ chance of not winning even with the best hand on the flop, and when people always call to the river, you'll feel powerless as your hand goes down in flames. The problem is not online sites messing with random number generators but the psychology of the players. Most things in life, if you go in with the best of it, you'll have 95%+ chance of coming out with what you want. Poker happens to hit that sweet spot where things come out badly at a frequency that people find very hard to deal with. I think that says a lot about the human mind.

Now if only I could get my emotions to come to terms with my reason...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Playing in the Shallow End

Pacific Poker 6-max LHE is still kickin' my bum. Played two sessions today, almost four hours, and came out down a bit over a buck. Honestly, I feel like I was fortunate to end up that way...

Let me just say they are generally horrible players -- it is amazing the number of times I folded third pair to heavy action and found out it would have held up to the river. And the number of times my aces got cracked (2 out of 4). But, I don't want to have to put 'BB' in the title of this post, so I'll cut my whining off there.

Quite honestly, this is what I should expect with a no-fold'em game. Yes, there's lots of money to be made, but your good hands will never hold up nearly as much as you expect them to. In fact, top pair or an overpair on the flop will probably only be good 30-40% of the time by the river if 3-4 players are in against you. Honestly, the probabilities hold up like they should, but the outcome just generally makes people suicidal.

I've still got about $300 to wager to clear the bonus (and at this point, I'm ~$40 down so I'll come out slightly ahead if I break even from here on out). But, I'm not sure it is worth playing 1/2 LHE anymore on the site because the swings suck and I don't need that stress. Instead, I think I should finish up with NLHE where I should be able to protect my hands better. It will also allow people to outdraw me a bit more effectively :) Long-handed hold'em is not a bad idea either.

If anything, this has been a good education for me on playing with loose players (they are surprisingly aggressive too -- they'll represent an A with their 44 on the river with 5 overcards on the board and me betting the whole way). These are the lessons I've taken away:

  1. Missing the flop is bad, even if you have overcards. Very rarely will you be able to chase them out by betting it down, and they'll happily show their pair of 2s on the river to take the pot. Continuation bets can be useful, but slow it down on the turn. This was a major leak for my first few sessions -- on Stars you can usually get it down to one player and possibly force them out, no way on Pacific.
  2. Top pair will rarely hold up. Just a reality of 4 players calling the flop bet, one of them is bound to hit on the turn or get enough to chase the river draw.
  3. Lots of variance. You'd think that a huge edge of a good player would help reduce variance, but it actually makes it worse because you play fewer hands and don't get lucky as much.
  4. It is worth calling the river bet (maybe even the turn) even if you don't improve. I've seen a lot of desperate river bluffs or bluff-raises. You'll pretty much always have odds to call, sometimes even an overcall.
  5. Aggressiveness is good, but only if you believe you have the best hand. Otherwise, there is little chance of making a better hand fold.
I learned a lot about my leaks:
  1. Two high cards are my kryptonite. I was too aggressive with overcards when I miss the flop. Less continuation bets unless I have only 1 opponent (maybe 2). Less follow-up bets when I have nothing on the turn and I bet the flop... Less river bets when I still have nothing but try to steal the pot...
  2. I usually pay off draws that beat me (many times I had the right read when they drew out on the turn, but couldn't lay it down because of the bluffing factor at low limits).
  3. Still working on valuations of hands at 6-max.
Anyway, that covers it. I should probably edit this when I'm less tired.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I, Poker Bot

My friend Wade forwarded a link about poker bots (which chained to another article). I've been brewing a post about bots for a while since my background in AI should make my opinion worth something (maybe 1.5 BB on a 1c/2c table).

I've been hearing rumbling about bots for quite a while from a number of sources. Of course the media is notorious for exaggerating the frequency of use and danger of poker bots. There is merit for some of what they are saying because online poker sites aren't really going to be releasing a lot of stats on how many robots they believe are in use. But, media articles generally are not written by industry insiders.

For instance, in the articles above, they mention 'poker pros' being involved in the scheme -- most people probably think of Doyle B. or Daniel N. when people say poker pros, but I doubt anyone that good would bother working on something that could tarnish their reputation. Overall, though, I don't think the bots out there are good enough to really hurt anyone's bottom line if you are intelligent about table selection (I'm not going to deny that bots are currently playing). In fact, a table full of bots would just look like a bad game, so why get involved?

At a Wednesday game I host about 6 months ago, one of the guys (not a regular) said he and some of his friends were working on a poker bot. You know, remote desktop, the whole deal. I don't know where that went (I don't remember his name) but I've definitely heard from people trying to do it.

Based on my experience, I don't think that bots are really worth the time and effort involved. These are my reasons:

  1. Bots really only work at low limits. High limit players are much trickier and I would expect it would be difficult to get really non-rigid play from a bot. Loki and Poki are obviously the first real successes and, oddly enough, Daphne Koller, one of the first researchers in the field ten years ago, is just down the hall from me. If I remember things correctly, it takes a decent amount of hands (thousands) to pick up on patterns. This is a reality that cuts across AI, actually -- usually humans can pick up on patterns with an order of magnitude fewer samples than any machine learning algorithm. Actually, my dream is to change that, but that's another post.
  2. The cost vs reward is too low. Realistically, a bots BB/hr could probably be around 5 at low limits (equivalent to a good human). But that will drop off as the quality of opponents increase. On the other hand, to get a good bot going, it is going to take lots and lots of hours of customization (even if you base it off existing software) and very few people are qualified to pull it off. Furthermore, you might make better money just by playing poker instead of programming :)
  3. Bots are easily spotted. Fitting with #2, trust me, throw a bot into a game at 10/20 online and it is not going to do very well. Not only that, I expect that human players will pick up on a bot pretty quick -- probably more from patterns and timing than anything else. Not to say all that stuff can't be programmed in, but again, cost vs reward. Furthermore, there is a really easy test to check for a bot: ask it a question in chat such as "What's your favorite sports team?" or "What's your favorite hand?". Trust me -- no bot will pass that sort of test (which is actually a true Turing test). The only way around it is to have the bot operator signaled when relevant chat comes through, but that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? And its dirt cheap to implement at online sites -- just have a support person dedicated to querying suspected bots.
  4. Risk vs reward is low. Obviously, getting caught will cost you money because your account will be frozen. Furthermore, expect a black book to exist made up of these people and more stringent screening in the future. Since you can't make big bucks anyway (I guess $100 an hour is reasonable, but difficult) tightening up in the online sites will really put pressure on these guys. The only good thing for the bot guys is they are pretty safe from governmental intervention since poker technically isn't legal anyway. That's one of the many reasons I would love to see a state legalize poker.
So, really, my point here is that, yes, bots are out there, and yes, more will be created and their AI will continue to improve, but don't expect them to fill up the $2/$4 tables at Party anytime soon. Furthermore, the online sites will want to protect their huge rake income and keep bots in check. Maybe I should get hired as a consultant to feret out bots -- I'm sure I could pull down a lot of money for that :)

Additionally, as players we can help prevent their infiltration of the online game just by getting active in chat and reporting any suspicions to support.

Another thing that will be an issue in the near future is the blend between bots and stat trackers like Poker Tracker. In fact, about 6 months ago I downloaded a program that gave me advice (raise, fold, etc.) as it was grabbing info from hand histories. I'm not sure if it is allowed anymore (and I can't remember the name of it) but this is definitely a gray area which will become more of an issue. As it is, sometimes when I'm two-tabling 1/2 running PT and GT+ I start to feel like a bot myself (and a bad one at that).

Friday, November 25, 2005

BB: Stupid Limit...

Just got ripped a new one two-tabling Stars 1/2. Just steady series of second best hands and not many premium hands (especially AK) until two hands in a row ripped $35 away from me, ending up -$60 overall (my 30BB stop-loss, coincidentally).

The first hand I lost $20 on -- EP (solid player) raise, I three-bet w/ AhKh, BB (fish) cold calls, raiser calls. Flop 9h 4h Qs, EP bets, I raise, BB cold calls, EP three-bets, I call, BB calls. That's where I should have put EP on AA, KK, AQ, maybe KQ, or QQ. Turn is 4d, BB bets, EP raises, and I cold called both raises on the draw. This is where I had my best chance of minimizing my losses on this hand. If I'm going to raise on the flop with the draw, I need to use the information I get, and seriously consider that EP has QQ and I'm drawing dead. The result -- hit the flush on the river, I raise and cap it (another chance to save a bet, at least), and lose. Pot was $55ish.

I can't really complain -- much of my loss was due to calling the raise cold on the turn when I could be drawing thin. Yes, I had good odds ($25.50 in the pot) but the paired board should have let me know my draw may not be completely live, making the odds about even, and I save money. Other than that decision, I can't criticize my play of the hand too much. My flop raise was a play to get a free card and gain information, my raise on the river is a value raise (sadly, the re-raise was just silly).

Next hand on the same table, I pick up AA in the cutoff and raise a few limpers. SB cold calls (fishy BB from previous hand) and BB three-bets. Limpers fold, I cap, SB cold calls both and BB calls. Flop all low cards (3s 7d 5d), BB and I get into a raising war and SB calls the whole way. I wasn't worried about the BB (figured he had a high pocket pair) but I wanted to get the SB out because he might have hit the board. Turn is 5c, SB leads out, BB and I call him down (river was 4s). SB had K5h and wins $37 pot. Tilt, here I come.

Again, don't regret much except maybe I could have gotten away on the turn when the SB led out -- a good chance he had a 5 or even a straight but I have a hard time giving these crazies credit.

Obviously, I have a lot to learn. One of my first lessons has been that limit really, really, leaves you helpless to the cards and variance. At least in NL you have a chance of stealing small pots -- in these games you really need to hit the flop.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

BB: Stupid Cowboys...

Yeah, I know, I know. Nobody likes to read about bad beats -- I usually tune people out as soon as they open their mouth.

But I don't like to think about them either.

So, I'm going to use the blog as catharsis and write my frustrations out so I can forget they happened. I do this with a lot of things -- chores, psychology papers, birthdates -- if it is on paper or in the computer I can let it leave my brain. To be nice, I'll use BB: to denote bad beat posts...

So, without further delay:

Three bad beats with pocket kings playing 1/2 on Stars:

  1. Guy has KQo and rivers the fourth flush card (I have a set) -$16
  2. Guy has JJ and rivers the jack -$40 (multiway pot)
  3. Guy has... QQ, I have quad kings:
    *** TURN *** [Kh Jc 8d] [Kd]
    Sting11165: checks
    Sl1mCracker: bets $2
    Sting11165 has timed out while being disconnected
    Sting11165 is being treated as all-in
    *** RIVER *** [Kh Jc 8d Kd] [Jh]
    *** SHOW DOWN ***
    Sl1mCracker: shows [Qc Qd] (two pair, Kings and Queens)
    Sting11165: shows [Ks Kc] (four of a kind, Kings)
    Sting11165 collected $8.25 from pot
    LOL. I had check-raised him but my click didn't go through -- lost at least $2 and maybe $6+ on it... And I rarely have disconnects, especially on stars. Tilting by a disconnection, priceless...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Gotta love Llama Spanking...

Got bored of my MP3s (mostly old 90's songs -- never thought I'd ever say that phrase) and switched to Winamp's SHOUTcast streams for my at work listening pleasure. Gotta love the fact that I just spent an hour listening to contemporary classical and now I've switched over to JPop (Japanese pop music for those of you not in the know).

Not sure what I'll try next -- deathrock really isn't my style, but apparently there are some Haitian stations and I've got a little celtic in me...

And now back to your regularly scheduled poker talk show.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Just trying to learn...

Editor's note: this post is the result of three days of editing so I apologize for any time inconsistencies.

I changed the name of this blog -- I'll explain the decision near the end. This entry has been a long time coming, so let me start with a quote. To set the scene, this occurred about a week ago at the dealer's choice cash game after a Saturday tourney. I was taking a bit of time on many of my decisions and one of the guys got a little impatient and said something like "This isn't the world series of poker you know". My reply was:

"I'm just trying to learn how to be a better poker player."

Lately I've been trying to figure out my overall goal for poker. Originally I started playing because I thought I would be good at it, I liked the competition, and I needed a hobby away from my family for my sanity. Now, about a year, 600+ hours, and $1300+ later, it is time to rethink things. Poker is a huge time suck, can be very frustrating when things aren't going well, and I'm not making a bundle of money. So why am I doing it? Should I find another hobby that exercises my mind and body in a different way?

Obviously, I'm not giving up poker anytime soon. In fact, I hope to play the rest of my life at least occasionally because it is one of those hobbies which you can pretty much do until you die or lose your mind (I don't expect I'll be too concerned about poker if that happens). But, as my bankroll grows, I'm going to need to make some decisions about bankroll, limits, and time that really need a solid foundation.

Before I go much further I think I should lay out some recent background (more than anything, this entry is meant to let me organize my thoughts and give me something to go back and focus on).


My party results are pretty much representative of my limit results (actually, they are slightly worse than I've done at UB) so I'll just list my PP stats:

6h 50m 2-tabling at 50c/1 limit
+$62.75 (with a $100 bonus) ~$9/hr tables, 8.0 BB/100, $20+/hr w/ bonus
814 hands, 19% VPIP, 7% PFR, 3.33 AF
Total Rake: $21.25

Of course, 800 hands is way too small to get anything statistically meaningful, but the stats are about what I expect. Overall, I'd say I had a slightly better than average cards (only one session really crapped on me) and not too many outdraws. More importantly, I was playing a solid tight-aggressive/aggressive game and felt very comfortable at the tables. My bankroll is such that I can easily support 1/2 or even 2/4, and based on my experiences, I am ready to move up. The things I think I do right:
  1. Tight. Easy to do when you use a hand chart like that in Small Stakes Hold'Em
  2. Aggressive. Generally bet whenever you think you ar in the lead, and they pay you off well at low limits.
  3. Decent Reads. Many times I made decisions based on a read (and PokerTracker) that made me some money.
But, I still have a lot of leaks to work on (none of which should prevent me from moving up):
  1. Overaggressive at times. Often I bet top pair out of position even on the river. Many times I could save some money by check-calling and avoiding the raise.
  2. Too attached to big pairs. A problem for everyone, but I need to be more willing to give up JJ or QQ without a fight if an A or K lands and there is action.
In my mind, I could easily be profitable at 1/2, maybe $5-$10/hr. Two tabling is pretty rough on me on any site other than UB and UB may not be the best for lots of limit play (last night there were only 4 full 1/2 tables going). Why is it rough on me? Well, I've been at a computer most of my life and I've acquired a variety of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) as a result. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in bad shape, but committing myself to playing 20 hours of two-tabling in addition to my grad work without multiple monitors would be more clicks and typing than I should do.

Aside: I threw in the rake number above to illustrate just how nasty Party's 10% rake for the first $5 in the pot is. It easily accounts for 2-3 BB/100, which makes most players into losers at that limit. On the plus side is their high bonus clear rate at the low limits (almost $15 an hour -- awesome).

Update: Tried two-tabling Stars 1/2 today -- did pretty well making $33 over 40 minutes (hit two big sets though -- luck was on my side) and felt comfortable once I got over the shock of how much money was flying around. It seems like (at least during the afternoon) the players are tighter pre-flop compared to Party, but don't play too well after the flop. I think I'll move up for sure now.

I won't go into much detail, but lately I've been making a decent amount from tournaments when I get a chance to play them. I still think I'm being a bit tight during crunch time (I've gotten a lot of 2nds and 3rds, especially in live play, but very few firsts) but overall I think I am playing ok. Ultimately, though, most of my bankroll has come from ring games.


It's no secret that a grad student supporting a family of four in the bay area is not going to be living richly. In fact, we have a pretty steady burn rate (difficult to estimate but I think it is $500-600 a month) and we are almost though our savings. So it would be a huge advantage to be able to use poker as a second job (that I do for fun) and help support the family with it. Here are some numbers:

Taking into consideration bonuses, I've come out ahead by $1400 over the past four months (this does include the $400 from the stars tourney) and I've been steadily climbing limits. I've been running good though, so $1000 is a good estimate to start with. So, I've made about $250 a month (with previous months at a faster rate) and averaged about 4.42/hr (5.53/hr in ring games since 10/1/05 not counting bonuses). I've been averaging about 60 hours a month for the past 3 months.

So, lets say I commit to giving $100 a month to the family -- it seems pretty decent while still small, amounting to over a grand for the year. I don't think that would hurt me too much because I'd still come out ahead in the long run, but I've been running good lately. The sad thing is, I was seriously thinking about this a few days ago, and I got a sick feeling about losing bankroll if I hit a slow streak... I'm realizing I have some psychological hang-ups about steadily increasing my bankroll (which is one of the reasons I'm at lower limits than my bankroll can theoretically be able to support).

In summary, I'd really like to give as much as I can to my family without hurting my bankroll and keeping the growth going. $100 a month will slow down the disappearance of our savings, but not stop it. FYI, I'm not concerned long term, because my wife or I could easily get a real job or we could borrow money to make ends meet until school is over. Ultimately, once we both graduate, we'll have quite a bit of earning power.

CONCLUSION AND "What's my (blog) name?":

If you ask any poker player what their goal in poker is, you'll ultimately get a lot of different opinions. Some do it purely for the money (CardPlayer has a lot of writers that believe this). Some do it purely for the fame and prestige (I'd say 80% of the recognizable 'TV pros' fall into this category). For instance, my friend Brian has said a few times that his goal is to get one big hit (a big tourney win) and then be set the rest of his life. Some people do it to become the best -- a king of the hill, if you will. Finally, a lot of people do it for social reasons -- home games across the country are filled with those kinds of players.

But, what motivates me? Well, like everyone, I have numerous reasons, but here are my main ones:
  1. Challenge. Face it -- I'm the type of guy that likes to be the best at whatever I do, and I love the competition of poker.
  2. Social reasons. A hobby that gets me out of the house, 'nough said.
  3. The money. I've never really worried about money too much, but I do like earning it.
  4. Fame. Everyone wants to win the WSOP, but I realize it is a pipe dream (where's that expression come from -- marijuana?).
#1 and #2 are really the big ones -- the rest don't matter so much, although with my recent family funding issues, #3 is moving up. You see, I was thinking about it (and talking it over with my wife) and if I can come up with an extra $200 a month from poker, it would go a long way to decreasing our burn rate (read: lengthening the time before we need to get a job or borrow money). At first, I wasn't wild about hurting my bankroll even for the cause of putting food on the table (some parent I am, huh...). Mostly, I'm afraid if I am expected to contribute, my poker game will go to hell and I'll start hating table hours (killing reasons #1 and #2 above). Then, I had an epiphany: I can be a bonus whore for my family!

You figure I put in at least 40 hours a month anyway, and there is no reason I can't average $5/hr of bonuses (Bonus Whores is a great resource for this, BTW). There is really no reason to play without a bonus nowadays. But, $5 * 40 = $200... bam, family supported by doing nothing more than I'm already doing. And, my wife won't complain as much about the long poker hours if I help buy christmas presents with the money... Yes, I do have the condition that I reserve the right to hold back the bonus money if I hit a major bad stretch, but I don't think that will happen with my experience and the quality of the players at the low limits. Obviously, profits from poker play will go to build my bankroll.

I'm still not going to consider myself a poker professional (I prefer the term poker UNprofessional, hence the new blog name). Being a professional means a lot of things I'm not. Instead, I'm letting the poker sites support my family as I chase my hobby (and flushes, lots and lots of flushes).

So, that's it, when I have more time I'll post another set of goals for the next month.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Returning to the limit hold'em homeland...

Posts are going to be sporadic because, given a choice between posting on this blog and playing poker, I usually chose to play poker. I actually have a lot of ideas I want to get down, but blogging is pretty low priority for me.

Anyway, after burning the bonus on Eurobet I decided to start burning off some of my $400 bonus on UltimateBet. UB is awesome that the bonuses never expire and are released as you earn them (a few cents at a time if necessary) but the rate per hour is pretty low. So, I decided to focus on limit hold'em again for a little while because I feel like I am weaker than I should be.

Before I get into LHE, I should say that I decided to spend a little poker money and get some new cards: four COPAG decks, including two four-color decks (playing a four-color deck online is MANDATORY, btw). I'm psyched to play with a four-color deck in live play... Anyway, I also bit the bullet and spent $55 on PokerTracker. I've been holding of on PT because of the proportion of my bankroll it would require, but now that I'm pretty secure in my bankroll and I wanted to do more limit, I decided it was time.

So, armed with UB, PT, and GameTime+ I can set up a two-tabling system on my 800x600 monitor that requires minimal effort. Doing this on UB is especially nice since GT+, when you open the hand history window, will automatically download up to 200 of the previous hands on the table even if you weren't sitting down. Amazingly powerful -- just open two tables that look good, open the history window (with PT and GT+ on) and within a minute or two you'll have stats on everyone at the table. With mini-view, I can set up two tables to be constantly visible with the GameTime+ HUDs -- so all I need to do is click my moves. While the GT+ overlay doesn't work with tournaments, the auto-download option does work, which is useful for scouting new tables in MTTs.

PT and GT+ works well with PartyPoker too (grabbing histories even if you aren't sitting but just watching a table) but the constant switching between windows can be very disorienting. Haven't tried it on many other sites, but definitely worth a buy. I can't point to any cases where it saved (or earned) me money yet, but I guarantee it will pay for itself in the analysis of my play alone.

Of course, the important thing is not my set up, but how I've been doing in my LHE play. Honestly, I feel like I've been playing suprisingly well. I started out at 25c/50c and have moved up to 50c/$1. Honestly, I feel like I could easily beat 1/2 and 2/4 but I'm holding back a bit to see how things go. I've also started the IGMPAY bonus over on Party and it is amazing how soft those games are. Sadly, the rake sucks (10% of a pot, OMG). If I wasn't making over $10/hr in bonus alone I'm not sure if it would be worth playing there. My numbers are solid (up $93 over a bit over 8 hours, mostly long-hand with about 15 minutes of shorthanded limit).

In the interest of full-disclosure I think I have been an the positive side of variance, but honestly I've been suprising myself with some of the reads and plays I have made and I feel like I'm learning a ton. I had been feeling like I was on a plateau for NLHE, but I definitely feel like I'm making huge leaps in LHE ability. This is good -- because the first time I play ring in a casino it will likely be limit, and I want to feel comfortable.

So, in summary, I've moved to limit hold'em for a little while and am on a hot streak. My bankroll is at an all-time high (over $1,250) even after buying a few things. The only thing I need now is time to play :)

But, we'll see how I feel when I hit a negative variance slide -- that will be the true test. My near term goal is to move up another limit or two and still feel like I am comfortably beating the limit. I think it is very possible (and my BR would support it) but I don't want to rush myself.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Cuteness Timeline

Parents almost always have our minds on our kids. Father have an easier time distracting ourselves (*cough* *cough* poker *cough*) but generally kids, at least when they are small, take over your life. So, I suppose it is suitable that I write about my kids occasionally, so here goes.

My theory is that kids start out as really cute and with you constantly, to really annoying and with you a lot, to really annoying but MIA. Currently, my daughter Emma is making the first transition and my son Schuyler is solidly in the second stage (don't get me wrong, he has his moments and I love him, but dammit this post is about my daughter).

So, first the cute. To the right is my 26 month old daughter:

Everybody thinks their own kids are cute -- that's what prevents humans from eating our young (a common occurance among scorpions, according to Schuyler's library book). Let me submit to the jury that Emma is cute:

Exhibit A: Lately I've been drilling Emma on the two most important questions she will be asked. Two months ago, it went like this:

Dad: "What is your name?"
Emma: "Emma!"
D: "How old are you?"
E: "Emma!"

Last month it switched to this:

D: "How old are you?"
E: "Two old!" (holding up two fingers)
D: "What is your name?"
E: "Two old!" (fingers again)
D: "Emma, what is your name?"
E: "Twooo ooold!" (clearly pleased with herself)
D: "Emma, your name is Emma. Say 'Emma'!"
E: "Emma!"
D: "What is your name, Emma?"
E: "Two old!"
D: (gives up and eats daughter)

Then I got smart:

D: "How old are you?"
E: "Two old!"
D: "How old is Mommy?"
E: "Too old!"
D: (clearly pleased with himself)

I'm sure I'll need to take that down if my wife ever reads this blog again...

Exhibit B: This morning found me in my usual place in front of the computer and Emma was sitting on my lap watching Barney. The following conversation took place:

D: (hugs Emma)
E: "No!"
D: "Can't Daddy have a hug?"
E: "No!"
D: (goes back to working on the computer)
E: (hugs me) "One hug!"
D: "Oh, thank you Emma!"
E: (lets go and sits up, waits 5 seconds, then goes in for another hug) "Two hugs!"

(who says TV doesn't teach kids how to count!)

Exhibit C: An hour later I was upstairs getting dressed and putting some laundry away, and Emma got entranced by the full length mirror we have on our door. With my awesome memory (such an advantage at the poker table), I forget her exact words, but she was saying a random sentence she had said earlier -- for the purposes of this exhibit, I'll just assume it was "I like cream cheese". Anyway...

I wasn't really paying attention but I noticed her talking to herself in the mirror. It went something like this: "I like cream cheese!" (putting on her best cute face, tilting her head to the side and smiling). "ha ha ha ha!". A few seconds later: "I like cream cheese... Ha ha ha ha!" (with the same cute smile and head tilt). Who said girls don't fall in love with their own reflections early. What's even funnier is that she was at it for about 5 minutes, saying it over and over, then she toddled over to see what I was doing, and went back for 5 minutes more of her little self-affirmation exercise.

Exhibit D: Ten minutes after the mirror episode, I was trying to get Emma ready to go to the sitter. She had put her socks on, and I had her bring over her sneakers, but I needed to rearrange one of her socks as she was sitting on her lap.

D: (removes sock) "Here, we need to put this on better."
E: "Emma do it."
D: "No, we need to get going. Daddy do it."
E: "Emma do it!" (grabs sock)
D: "No, really, Emma. We're going to be late. Let me do it."
E: "Emma DO IT!"
D: "Ok, Emma can't go to Billy's house (sitters son) unless Daddy does it."
E: (not falling for Jedi mind trick) "EMMA DO IT!"

Anyway, that continued for like three minutes, but I eventually convinced her to let me do it (she never gets them on right, and if I jam her little size 4 1/2's into a size 4 shoe with a sock in the wrong place she'll be in pain).

So, there you have it -- evidence that Emma is in the middle of the transition from "I want to eat you up you are so cute" to "I want to eat you because you're annoying and I am hungry".

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Halloween Gonad Abuse

Two strange things happened Saturday night at Wade's place:

1. Came back from the dead. After losing a pot I was left with 800 in chips, or exactly the big blind which was going to hit me in two hands. Tossed it in with a K8o and won against 2 other hands by hitting a second 8 on the river (AK and KQ I believe, an A and 8 on the flop). Later pushed with 99 against two players who checked it down to the end (T4o and 22 I believe) and it held up. And later had KK hold up against Ax and was above average, ending up with 2nd place. I've always been jealous of people when they come back from the dead... now I've done it :) There's something liberating about knowing you just have to purely gamble and hope.

2. Witnessed the worst beat I've ever seen with both hands in pre-flop. I probably have some details wrong, but I'll try to set it up. Rob B. to my left limps (or raises, can't remember), Christian raises, and Edwin pushes in. Rob B. shows me his pair of 8s and asks me if he should stay in -- I tell him I can't say either way. He thinks a little longer and folds (and then I tell him it was a good fold with the action behind him since he was in for so little and had a large stack). Christian insta-calls and shows 99 (Edwin has a reputation for getting money in with the worst hand). Edwin shows... 88. It is at this point that Rob B. reveals he folded the other two 8s. Ripples of conversation cycle around the table as people say things like "ouch" and "wow". Flop comes something like 95J and people like me start saying "drawing dead". Turn 6, and everybody is convinced the hand is over, but Larry says "He's got a 7 still..." and Bam: river is 7. Christian has clearly been kicked in the testicles and looks sick (and continues to for quite a while -- I'm sure he's still thinking about it).

Getting out the handy poker calculator shows that Edwin had 4.2% equity assuming his suits were different than Christian and a paltry 2% equity if the suits were the same (I can't remember what they were). About as bad a situation you can get into preflop, even AK vs AA has a little better than 5% chance of winning. But, even with a 50 to 1 shot, you've got to figure that it'll happen occasionally given how many hands we see, especially on the internet. Still, it sucks to no end when it happens to you (and it is amusing when it happens to someone else). Yay poker!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Poker Dominated... Crap.

Well, PokerDominator, my favorite session tracking web site, has been down for the last few days, and I didn't think much about it -- just wrote my sessions down with the intention of entering them when it came back up. Well, it finally came back up this morning -- without the last month of stats. Argh... This past month has been my biggest and I'm pretty sad that I lost that information (not to mention I'm not completely sure what my balances are -- based on what I can figure out, I should be at about $1,145 -- and I'll reconstruct the rest as well as I can).

Needless to say, I have some digging through other records to try to recover sessions. Really, it isn't that important (it isn't like I lost any money, I just can't look at my pretty graphs anymore).

Friday, November 04, 2005

$50 NL (err, PL) update

Played an hour and a half of $50 NL today. Actually, it took me 45 minutes to realize I was at a pot-limit table. My style of play tends to very rarely use overbets, so I just didn't notice (should have been a little suspicious when people kept betting things like $2.25 though). Honestly, that probably means I am missing some moves in my NL games -- the ability to overbet should add something to strategy.

Anyway, had a good run of cards and steady earning, coming out ahead by $22. I hit some huge hands (a set at least three times, two of which turned into quads). In all cases I didn't really get a lot of action. Although the time I flopped kings full of tens with KK in the hole my lone opponent had AT in the hole -- if I had made a standard continuation bet on the flop he probably would have gotten all-in. Instead, I turned quads and he slowed down after making a min-bet so I only made $6 from him. Maybe I should be leading out with a standard continuation bet when I hit a huge hand like that -- usually I don't because I figure that flop left only 3 good cards for him to hold.

My main mistake was as follows: I raised with KQo on the button, small-blind re-raises (from $2 to $5 total). I called, hit a queen on the flop. At this point, I figured I was either way ahead or way behind, but since he only had $14 left I decided to check after him. He bets pot on turn, and I put him in without thinking about it. Honestly, the best play would be to lay it down pre-flop. He could have me in trouble in so many ways, and the only time I feel secure is if I flop trips or two pair (unlikely). With a bigger stack, calling would become better, but when he is short-stacked I'm better off avoiding the risk. Anyway, that burned $17 of profit.

The good news is I should only have about 90 minutes left of bonus-whoring -- hopefully I can finish it up tonight. Then, I get my $100 -- whoopee! Of course, I'm only about $3 ahead after 18.5 hours of play -- ouch. But I am learning how to play against tighter, smarter opponents at least.

Later: I finished off the bonus finally tonight, coming out about $5 ahead after 80 minutes of work. Man, players are pretty good at the ex-party skins -- most of the money I made was from big bluffs, not value bets. Difficult to keep those guys in a hand. But, I really felt like I learned a lot about aggression and selling a bluff. I probably also got lucky not to run into a call in some of my big hands, but it worked out.

Monday, October 31, 2005

State of the Poker

Like George W., I think I should periodically make a post that sums up the status of my endeavours, in this case, poker. Hopefully it will help me get out some of the many concepts floating around in my head to make room for something more useful (like FHL stats).

I'm going to start with tournaments first because, well, I've been doing better in them lately :)

Last week alone I came out over $500 ahead in tournaments -- pretty amazing considering I still feel like I'm not very good at tournament play. Basically, I consider myself still a bit too tight, especially near the money. At Darren's place Friday night (surrounded by LOTS of art) I really shut it down once we neared the bubble and let Rob O. control the table. The result was a solid money finish (chopping 2nd/3rd with Larry) but honestly I had the chiplead (or close to it) when we were 5-handed and by letting Rob O. go at it I let him have first place. This is pretty common in my tournament play and I need to decide:

  1. How much EV I give up.
  2. How to get more aggressive without making 'donkey' moves.
Looking back over the past month or two, I'm getting to the money pretty well (or to the bubble) but I have no first place finishes. That's usually a sign of tightening up too much, but how much should I loosen up?

Ring Games:
Hidden by my tournament success over the last week has been a pretty big slide in ring games. In fact, until yesterday, I had lost about $100 in ring games on the week, including a $60 loss at $25 NLHE and $15 donated to the Stanford players in kings and littles (I love it, I hate it, I love it, I hate it).

Eurobet has been generally kicking my ass and making it difficult to come out in the positive. Yes, the competition is quite good, and I've really been noticing holes in my 6-max NL game. Worse than that, I classically play worse near the end of a bonus, which is what I'm coming up on now (about 7 hours left by my count). I did move up to $50 6-max NL for a slightly better bonus clear rate, and won about a buy-in yesterday. Mainly, I need to keep identifying my leaks and plugging them, and this competition is a good way to do it. Honestly though, I could probably make a better hourly rate at Party or Stars without any bonuses...

Bankroll: ~$1,050
My bankroll is the healthiest it ever has been thanks to tournament wins last week -- in fact, I'm pretty secure in the fact that I've made my first grand at poker (since the figure I've designated as my bankroll does not include giving the $150 seed money back to my family and $200 of the Stars 3rd place money).

Near Goals (the next week or two):
  • Finish out whoring on Eurobet
  • Start polishing my limit game again on UB (taking advantage of bonuses and mini-view)
  • Acquire another reload bonus at Party or Euro
Medium Goals (the next month or two):
  • Get my bankroll solidly above $1,000 ($1,200 would be good, $1,500 would be great)
  • Focus on my LHE game a bit
  • Play my first tourney in a casino (need BR of $1,200 to feel comfortable dropping the $100)
Far Goals (over the next year):
Geesh. I haven't thought this far ahead, and I think this will be a topic of a future entry. What do I want to accomplish in poker? Be famous? Cool, but not really. Earn money to support my family? We are definitely seeing our savings decline, but I'm not sure this is realistic for me. Become a better poker player? Definitely. But how?

I've got to be honest, I feel really fortunate to be doing so well this past few months. Six months ago I had $150 in the bankroll and was dropping 1/5th of it every week at Brian's game. It was right around early June when I won a $20 tourney at Brian's and shifted from SnGs to NL ring games and since then I've had a number of hot streaks (and a few bad sessions). Furthermore, every single time I've had a horrible session I can trace it back to my play, not the cards. The moral is that success at low-stakes poker is determined more by your play than your luck.

But, I feel like I'm starting to plateau a bit in ring games. Once I get out of the soft $25 Party and Stars games, I'm finding that the other players make many fewer mistakes, and without that added profit my mistakes make the difference between profit and loss. I am starting to get a handle on it, but I've still been making some idiotic plays to donk away my profits.

Tournaments, on the other hand, still feel pretty soft to me. And I've been making fewer bonehead plays (but, losing a little aggression too) which is helping my results lately (along with loads of luck).

Saturday, October 29, 2005

My Hockey Addiction

Holy crap. Finally got some time to watch hockey tonight and I was amazed how much faster the game seems (maybe its just been the year off). It seems like the players can get a lot more speed moving into the offensive zone and it really amps up the action.

It also helps that in the hour I watched the Sharks were down 0-1, then 0-2, but were able to score two goals to force overtime. After the 5 minute overtime I got the pleasure of seeing the Shark's first shootout win of the year. Very exciting, definitely appreciate the changes they've made in the game. It was always so disappointing before when the game ended in a tie -- kind of a let down. Yeah, maybe it polutes the 'purity' of the game and increases the variance, but you gotta figure that the better team is still going to come out ahead on average.

Yeah, did I mention that I have two addictions? The first one is obviously poker. The second one is fantasy hockey. I've got two teams and I obsess about each of them (even though neither of them is that good and I don't have much of a chance in the long-term in either league).

A while ago I saw a website about the signs of problem gambling and it was: preoccupation, check... betting more frequently... check... chasing losses... check... procrastinating work to think about poker... check... hmmm. Honestly, the only thing that separates me from a problem gambler is that I don't lose enough. That's the nice thing about poker -- you can disguise an addiction with a steady income.

And, sadly, it is much the same with fantasy hockey. Two years ago (you know, before the players and NHL decided to suspend games in a sport that was already losing fans faster than a Walmart in Florida) I sunk a lot of time into one fantasy team, so I was a little concerned about how much time I would spend this year. You know, like how much poker would I get to play? Well, turns out poker didn't lose out too much, and I don't spend too much time on fantasy hockey.

Most notably, so far I've spent a lot less time watching games, so tonight was a real treat to see a half-hour of hockey. It doesn't help that the Sharks seem to always play on poker nights. But who needs to watch -- FHL is mostly stats anyway :)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Big Win

(this is excerpted from a post I made on the forums)

Last night I tried one of the new 180 player SnG ($20+2) on Stars and got third (good for $428).

I had a short stack the whole time until the money and squeaked in, but was the big stack going to the final table. At the final table I lost some, hit a few big hands and got the big stack again, but three-handed just couldn't pull it out. Thanks to Brian for talking me through it on the phone and Rob for watching.

The sad part is, even though this is a huge win for me, I've been pretty disappointed all morning (it doesn't help that I was up late last night and didn't sleep too well -- some dreams about playing this poker tournament making me miss a flight somewhere to see a hockey game... Smile ). I know you're all thinking: you made $400 -- buy a keg and celebrate!

To be completely honest I was a luckbox for most of the tourney, definitely made my share of mistakes, and should feel very fortunate to get 3rd and 20x my buy-in. I rarely play $20 tourneys online (this is the second multi, and the other 4 are one-table SnGs) so its even more fortunate I made the big score in a higher buy-in. But I'm still dissappointed -- I hate leaving that money on the table ($1k for first).

Anyway, I'll get over it Rolling Eyes

I can only imagine how Cloutier, Farha, Williams, or Dannenmann (who?) feel. Not only leaving millions on the table, but missing out on a bracelet? Such is poker. I'm sure Brian was feeling much the same after narrowly missing that PCA seat.

It was definitely a huge learning experience though -- and next time -- watch out!

FYI, these $20+2 tourneys are pretty soft (wild players though) and only run through the end of the week from 6 pm to 10 pm I think.

Bad Runs

(this is excerpted from a post I made on the forums)


Bad runs are just a part of poker -- I'm sure Brian can echo that. But...

In my experience, extended bad runs are always more than just the cards not breaking even. The secret to getting out of a bad run is to figure out where your leaks are.

Keep in mind I'm talking about an extended bad run of at least two week. Also, keep in mind that I've only experienced the low limits. I've been playing almost daily for about a year, and every single time I've had a bad run I can trace it to a change in my play. Usually I start by getting unlucky a few times and then change my play to try to compensate. Or, I'll get lucky for a period of time and my play will diverge without me noticing it.

There can be a lot of factors that extend a few bad sessions into a bad run with the biggest one your psychology. Losing even a few sessions can make you change your play to adjust (usually tightening up, but it depends on the person). These adjustments can actually result in worse results, making you try something else to get some wins, etc. Furthermore, make sure you consider factors outside poker -- lack of sleep, stress, and family stuff all makes me play MUCH worse.

SnGs, especially, require a good balance of tightness and aggression at the different phases of the tournament. Oddly enough, as people get better at poker they tighten up and get their money in better -- for SnGs, this can backfire if you aren't being loose enough late in the game. Kind of like as you get better the worse you do Smile Often the new players who don't realize you should call an all-in w/ A4o have less fear and more aggression than someone who's been playing a long time. The result if you aren't aggressive enough (and loose when appropriate) is a lot of frustrating bubble finishes and a lot of bad beats.

What I'm trying to say is, dropping 30-40 buy-ins at $10 SnGs is a lot -- more than just bad luck. I guarantee that analyzing your play will let you move back up successfully. If you don't already, track your finishes with something like Poker Dominator. If it is SnGs, figuring out where you usually exit is a good place to start. For instance, if you usually are out 3rd, 4th, or 5th, you probably need to steal more and be more aggressive on the bubble. It may lower your cashes a little, but it will increase your overall wins as you get more 1st and 2nds.

Another tried and true trick (other than taking a break, which you did) is to change the game or stakes. When I started out Party's 5/1 SnGs were my bread and butter, but I could never really move up to the 10/1s successfully. I've since realized that I wasn't loose and aggressive enough once the blinds went up. After 5-6 losing 5/1s, I decided to try some micro limit NL on PokerStars, and I found I could make a lot more money with a lot less risk (the 6-max $10 NL can be beat easily for $3-$5/hr if you just play solid, which coincidently will lose you a lot of money at SnGs). A lot of it depends on the person and your natural temperament. But definitely track your results so you can find your best game.

Finally, if swings bother you and you want to build a bankroll, I encourage you to get rake-back or deposit bonuses. It helps you recover from some of the negative effects of rake.

Hope this helps -- playing good poker is a constant battle. IMHO the average low-stakes internet player has gotten a lot better this past year as the poker boom slows down. That means we also need to improve to keep an edge.

My Focus: NL Cash Games

(This is excerpted from a post I made on the forums. It gives my current motivation for playing NL Cash games and some observations.)

Lately my specialty has been short-handed NL cash games (typically $25 buy-in although I'm in the middle of moving up to $50 games). I've played Stars, Party, Eurobet (used to be Party, now its a bunch of bonus whores), PokerRoom, and UltimateBet (not yet, but I just got my account).
Currently this is my main bankroll building activity (along with bonus whoring) and I'm working hard on my NL game in the mean time.

I generally six-max NL because:

  1. Less time -- with small children it is difficult to find chunks of times for SnGs let alone multis
  2. Less variance (at the stakes I play at at least)
  3. Suits my natural playing style (weak-tight... Confused )
  4. 6-max vs full table because I find it more interesting (less nut-peddling)
I think most of the money made at this level is when the lead changes (essentially, someone hits a draw -- usually a hidden one). IMO you can't make too much from stealing PF (people are a bit loose) or big bluffs (people can't get away from hands). Stealing post flop can be pretty effective with semibluffs though, but it only gets you small pots.

I've been especially working on playing to get those lead changes and loosening up my preflop standards a bit. For instance, I would much rather call a raise pre-flop with a unsuited connector (or even something like 74o) than see a flop with a bunch of limpers and a weak ace (like A6o).

Oh, BTW, these are my feelings on the $25 games at each site ranks from easiest to hardest:
  • PokerStars: Generally loose passive but they'll call you down with top pair. Easy to make money with very little risk (they don't bet enough). Can often get them to call an all-in with a 100 BB stack when they only have top pair, top kicker.
  • PartyPoker: Lots of money to be made, but LOTS of variance. Not only will they call you down w/ top pair, they'll re-raise you with bottom pair. Difficult to read the players.
  • Eurobet: Since the split w/ party there are a lot more bonus whores on there. Players are generally tighter, but it is easier to bluff them, especially when the flop comes out.
  • PokerRoom: Been a while since I played there, but similar to Eurobet. The only site I've lost money on (the bonus made up for it though).
I just got the full $200 bonus at Ultimatebet and I'm thinking of two-tabling some limit tables there. My limit game is ok, but I usually stay away from it because I don't have a good setup for multi-tabling. With mini-view I think I could practically play two or three limit tables.


Hello and welcome to my blog.

First, a little about me. I'm a 7th(!) year PhD student at Stanford in Computer Science married with two children (ages 2 and 7). Poker is my main hobby right now, and I've been playing seriously for about a year (maybe a year and a half if you consider play money). I also host a weekly game on Wednesdays.

Second, a little about the blog. I'm writing this blog for myself and ultimately this is a place to put my poker notes and observations. Originally I started a journal on paper logging my results, but quickly found online methods much more useful. The downside of online records is I lose the ability to put down comments, observations, notes, etc. That's what this is for -- I'm going to put down my rants, observations, lessons, and everything else in an electronic (and searchable!) way.

Third, I can't guarantee that I'll only put poker stuff down here. Obviously, I'm not going to be airing my family's deepest, darkest secrets (my wife would kill me) but I may vent a little bit about my life outside poker. Deal with it :)

Finally, it is inevitable that some of the players in my local games read this, and it is also inevitable that I will discuss their play. On one hand, if I play with you on a regular basis, knowing how I think will aid you in beating me. On the other hand, I am not going to sugarcoat it if I think you made a donkey play. If I post something not flattering I'll leave names out (or make up names) in an attempt to hide the truth but I'm sure some of you may recognize yourself.

That's it, lets get the show on the road.