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.