Sunday, January 29, 2006

Playing Backwards

I'm writing this with half an hour until the FCP Protege Seat 1 semi starts. I'm very excited about competing but I don't have high hopes -- 25% chance of getting a jersey, 2.5% chance of winning (assuming I am equally as good as the other players). Yeah, I want the seat and I'm going to fight for it, but I have to be realistic -- even getting this far it is a long-shot. I've also made a conscious decision to NOT settle for a jersey and shoot for first place (unless I am in really bad shape when it comes time to eliminate 11th place).

Poker, in general, has been mediocre. January will be my first down month (about $80) since July. Granted, I made over $275 from Martins Poker bonuses (more if you count the ones I haven't finished yet there and at Eurobet). But, my last session at 6-max LHE I dropped 40BB -- ouch. It sucks to end up losing money after 30 hours of online limit play at $2/4 and less.

I was playing with my stats a bit to see if there was one area I was doing well in this month, and aside from HU LHE play and my live limit play nothing really stands out as something I excel at. I'm considering shifting back to more NL but it is so hard to clear bonuses.

I could blame variance, but I feel like I haven't been playing as well. Honestly, I feel like I've been succombing to fancy play syndrome (I'd give a link but I forgot who coined the phrase). In fact, I've been finding myself playing backwards. For instance, I'll bet to the river on a bluff but slow down when I hit top pair and try to get in check-raises. Or, in NL, I won't lead out with top pair decent kicker for... well... I don't know why. Ultimately, especially for limit, backwards play costs a lot of money because you don't get value for your good hands and you're pumping money into the pot with your really bad hands. Furthermore, I think I'm getting a loose table image causing bluffs to be that much less effective.

I think my backwards FPS is a result of tilt, so I need to retool my limit game yet again and go back to fundamentals. Lately, though, I haven't felt like it, so I've been burning some of my party points and playing a little crazy. Kind of fun, but probably not helping my fundamentals either.

Anyway, I should do the final prep for the tourney.

Update: Out 20th of 39. I was with the chip leaders for a while (got some great cards and flops) but I managed to bluff off a lot of money in bad situations.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Random Updates...

FCP Protege

First of all, I managed to squeak into the Seat 1 Semi-final for the FCP Protege contest. I got pretty lucky at least once, but I'm still pretty proud of myself. Managing to qualify while playing at home with the kids up is a pretty big deal :)

The way it breaks down is I'll play a 40 player tourney at 11 am PST on Sunday the 29th with the first place player getting the first seat at the protege final table. I'm not sure of the value of being at the final table (at least $4K in tournament entry equity, a trip to play it, possibly other perks). So I've got maybe $100 in equity -- really just being in the running for the big competition is priceless (1:400 chance!). The experience of being the Protege would be so cool -- I was telling my wife about it (she wasn't as excited because me winning would mean more travel and her getting stuck with the kids). She summed it up best when she said "... really it is just for you". Yeah, she's right. It is for me, damn it. Whatever, the chance of winning is slim, but at least I have that hope -- that is worth a lot to me.

There's also a pretty cool consolation prize -- an FCP hockey jersey with my username on it for the top 10. I've been debating if I should adjust my strategy to increase the chance of getting a jersey -- I don't think so. I think, since the trip is so cool, I should just go for broke and aim for #1.

Poker Reality

It is increasingly being pounded into my head that poker is great as a passtime, but it sucks if you do it for a living. The swings are so rough and it really is difficult to pull out a good winning rate after you leave the kiddy tables (which is $25 NL or .5/1 online). I've been putting in a decent number of hours trying to burn bonuses (which amounts to maybe 10-15 /wk with the family and such) and it is wearing on me. Obviously, I'll still keep doing it since we need the money (which I'm easily clearing from bonuses even though my bankroll has been stagnant). I don't think I'll be working towards a pro poker career though. I'm really realizing I have some major (personality) shortcomings for poker and I'm not sure if I can get past that ceiling that the limitations impose. More on that later...

At this point though, I think I should slowly work towards poker being a hobby I do 5-10 hours a week (or less). As long as I enjoy it, I'll keep doing it.

Another thing I'm trying to focus on is letting the losses and wins not get to me so much. I've gotten a lot better in this respect but I can still feel the tilt creeping in after a few losing sessions.

The Big Tourney

So Brian is organizing a satellite to the $2K Shooting Star event again this year with a $250 buy-in. While it's a huge chunk of my bankroll (something like 17%) I've decided to do it -- mostly, I think I'll regret it more if I don't. One of my goals back when I had a tiny bankroll was just to have the money to play things like this.

Assuming he can find a location for it, it's a great tourney to play with big stacks and long rounds. Last year I played it (as a stand-in for someone who couldn't make it) and got third. This year there should be a little money for second, plus all players get between 1-5% of the winner. I'm not expecting a lot from myself, but I will use it as a learning experience. The $2k event itself is awesome -- limited to 200 players, each table gets a 'star' (semi-well-known pro) with a $1000 bounty on their head. Last year a lot of the big name pros backed out, but Rob played it and we came down and watched a little bit. He even played at Dan Harrington's table before he busted.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Over the past few sessions (in which I won $50 at Euro, lost $50 at Euro, and won $50 at Martins) I've identified a few more leaks -- most of which can be linked to NL play.

The first leak, and probably the biggest, is attempting to represent a big hand from the blinds. An example:

Hand #1: I'm in the small blind w/ T3s, three limpers, I complete, and the big blind checks his option. Flop comes 443, no suits. I check, big blind bets out, folds to me, and I check-raise attempting to represent a 4. He calls, I fire on the turn and river after blanks appear to fall (J and 9 I think) and he pops me on the river, so I obviously fold.
I think I got this move in NL, and its not serving me well. Yes, I can easily represent trip 4s in that situation, and people will probably believe me... but they won't fold. Especially a looser site like Eurobet, most likely they'll be confused by the read they are getting and call me down to the river with any pair and two high cards on the flop.

The move necessitates betting the turn and river which is horrendous from an EV perspective. Lets say there are 3 big bets in the pot after the pre-flop action. If my hand is good, I'll win those bets and the turn check-raise, or 4 bets if I put in 2 bets (cr flop, bet turn). It is unlikely that someone will believe me 50% of the time and fold the turn. Secondly, I will only get called by hands that beat me, so I'm really just throwing money away. I'm better off just not doing the move unless conditions are just right: I'm up against minimal opposition and I have a draw to go with my hand.

In NL though, this move can be very powerful, especially if I am in the big blind. Many decent players would be hard-pressed to call a check-raise on a board like that without at least an overpair.

Another thing I've been trying to do is put in the turn bet if I'm willing to call a bet on the river:
Hand #2: Eurobet. UTG limper, I limp in MP, SB folds, and BB checks. Flop is KJ7 (two of some suit, I think). Checks to me, I bet (the bet is almost mandatory for the chance of everyone folding). BB folds, UTG calls. Turn is offsuit 4, check-check. River is offsuit 2, UTG bets, and I call because I can beat a bluff or busted draw (which I've essentially induced). He shows A7o to win.
In those situations (HU, he hasn't shown any strength) I generally am willing to put in another bet to see if my hand is good (but if he bets into me on the turn, I'm gone). So I usually check the turn and call a bet on the river -- which happens often since the move induces bluffs. In fact, Matt Lessinger in Book of Bluffs says this is one of the rare times where UTG should always bluff since I acted so weak.

Instead, I should put in the bet on the turn, but not put in any more money (fold to a turn raise, check-fold the river). Betting charges worst hands to draw and folds better hands (pocket pairs and a pair of jacks or sevens may fold). But it still costs me the same thing -- obviously a win-win situation (excluding a little bit of EV from inducing the river bluff).

This is another one I got from NL. With a weak hand like third pair, I'll bet the flop in last position to see if I can get everyone to fold. Then I'll check the turn to keep the pot small and induce a bluff, then call a bet on the river if it is small enough and made by a bluffer. Sometimes I'll even do the same thing with TP with a weak kicker. In NL, it is a great way to see the showdown for a cheap price without getting into too much trouble. In limit it is a recipe for trouble.

Another adjustment I've made is calling down with top pair decent kicker (usually in position). Mostly I do this in situations where it was heads-up at the flop and he could easily be bluffing (i.e. blind steals). I've already proved that I can't easily fold a flopped top pair in limit, so if I don't have much of a read, I'll just call the bets to the river if I don't improve. My thinking is this: if they have me beat, I'm saving the big bet it would cost to raise the flop and figure that out (since I'm not going to fold anyway). If they are bluffing then they can bet my hand for me -- they still have bad odds to draw, and their desperation bets (a leak I've been plugging) will just go in my pocket.

Unlike the other two leaks, calling down with top pair will kill you in NL. In fact, I love people that will call to the river with a single pair in NL -- they'll make you a lot of money. But in limit, it can be very profitable.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how different the approaches to NL and limit are -- and much of my losses in limit are linked to NL techniques.

Anyway, I'm a little burned on the grinding, plus there is a lot of TV on the next two nights (yes, 24 is back!). So I think I'm going to take a few days off from limit and if I do play, do a little NL to blow some steam.

By my count, I have about 8 hours left of grinding on Eurobet and 5 hours on MartinsPoker. Plus, 2.5 hours on William Hill (I'm planning on getting an account there before the end of the month for the ~$50 for 5 table hours thing), so that's 15 hours of limit I'd like to play by the end of the month to release $500 in bonuses (of course, only William Hill is time critical). So I need to average an hour a day from here on out -- that's a lot of grinding for me!

Friday, January 13, 2006

I'm a loser, baby...

Still feel like I'm beating a dead horse but darn it this horse needs a good beating.

Had another losing session, this time at a new place, MartinsPoker (see ScurvyDog's post about Martinspoker for a great description of their awesome bonuses). Granted, I only lost a little over 2 BB two-tabling 1/2 and 2/4 (euros) for an hour. But it is still a loss, and I made two big errors on the 2/4 table:

Hand #1: I had QQ and three-bet, only the raiser called (I had position). Flop J9x, he bets, I raise, he calls. Turn K. He bets, I call. River blank, bet, call. He had QTo.
My play was great until the turn -- when he bets into me, I have to know I'm a major underdog. In fact, remember thinking at the time: "Crap, he's got a king". I threw in those bets because I felt I had to... THAT IS A LEAK! What could he possibly bet into me with there? At minimum, he needs top pair kings, but he could have a lot of things -- they all have me beat though after the strength I showed in the hand so far. So, just muck the turn and save the two bets.

My absolute biggest leak is calling down the turn and river when I get outdrawn. I have no doubts about this. Usually I'm holding a single pair with no real way of improving (TP or better) but I really can't pay that off. The way I play those sort of hands (very fast) makes people reveal the strength of their hand -- I need to use that to my advantage. Instead, I've been tilting and throwing in the bets without thinking about it. Bad Sean.
Hand #2: I limp w/ ATs in EP, two more limpers, and a guy in late positions bumps it. Only the three limpers call. Flop J9x, checks around. Turn 8. I bet my open-ender, fold, fold, original raiser raises. River blank and I check fold.
A bunch of issues with this hand. First, I limped early position with ATs -- not a horrible play (especially since an EP limper will cause a bunch more limpers at these levels). But... With my difficulties playing marginal hands out of position, I probably should have sat the hand out. Not a big mistake though, just a little one.

Betting out on the turn was a big mistake. The board was pretty coordinated and one of the two limpers could easily have been holding a monster and missed the check-raise on the flop. Second, there were three other players WITH POSITION ON ME. Third, betting out means I'll be tempted to burn another bet on the river if/when I miss my draw. So I'm killing my odds (which were marginally in favor of drawing to the straight).

At the time, I was 90% sure he had JJ, and 99% sure I was beat. One of those reads where I just knew with the way he hadn't made a continuation bet in position on the flop. I suppose he may have had a gutshot draw, but I showed a reasonable amount of strength leading out into three players, so even though the other two folded it didn't seem like a good time for him to pull a move. He had me beat. A better tactic would be to check-call with my draw and avoid a sticky river situation.

In summary, the leaks are:
  1. Calling down with a single pair when I get (obviously) outdrawn.
  2. Bluffing too much out of position.
I think I may have a single solution that will help me immensely:
  • Take 5 extra seconds on the turn or river to think through my options before I act.
If I don't give myself a chance to break my bad habits, I'm going to continue being a losing player.

Yeah, I said it, I'm a losing player at $2/$4 LHE online.

I'm pretty convinced of that now, even though I've been playing, reading, thinking, and breathing poker for a solid year now. As good as I think I am, limit hold'em is not my strength. I don't think it fits with my personality and playing style that well. Avoiding LHE is not an option since I want to keep a steady stream of bonuses coming in to help our finances and 2/4 is the quickest way to clear most bonuses.

I still have over 300BB so I'm not going to drop down. Instead, I'm going to keep working hard, take my lumps, and become a winning player through sheer effort. I may not be a winner, but I don't think I'm a huge loser. I've also been playing harder sites lately, so that should help my development a lot (it'd be difficult to identify and plug leaks on Party, for instance). I've got thoughts on other ways to improve my game, but I absolutely need to plug the two leaks above before I move on.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Missing the flop out of position

So I was doing my morning ritual before sitting down at work and I noticed a lever on my chair marked "Tilt". Damn. I wish I knew that was there -- that explains a lot. And to make matters worse, there is a lever right next to it marked "Up/Down". C'mon man, I play poker in that chair!

(there's another lever marked "Back" but that's a little less funny)

Anyway, 2/4 over at Eurobet is really teaching me some lessons. Over the past three sessions (four hours of two-tabling) I've lost 40 BB. Before that I pretty much broke even (well, lost a little). A 40 BB downswing doesn't seem like a big deal (in fact, most people would probably say they are quite common). But the thing is, I know that at least half of that is from mistakes I've made. So I'm not feeling really good about my game right now. That, coupled with the fact I've lost $160 and 10% of my bankroll, is something I'm definitely not used to. So, I'm going to take a few days off from LHE.

Looking at PokerTracker, I still feel that I'm losing a lot of money being the aggressor with the worst hand on the turn and river. Often this is coupled with being out of position -- I think I'm trying to force a fold by betting my second best hands down, a sure situation for losing money at 2/4.

One symptom is that my showdown win % is quite low (45% I believe?) and the hands I've lost the most money with are AQ, AT, 99, etc. I e-mailed my friends Rob and Brian with a hypothetical situation (having AK out of position on a QJ3 flop) and they both responded with good advice. They both said to bet the flop no matter what (because it builds a pot and should reduce the field). Rob said "probably check/fold or RARELY make a read based check/call the turn and/or river" which is not what I've been doing. Brian, in two long e-mails discussing play in position and out of position (which I have yet to fully digest) basically said a similar thing with a lot more details and situational considerations. A few nuggets from Brian's e-mail:

"It's MUCH harder to win pots out of position, remember that. Not
just a little bit harder, a LOT harder."

"The biggest mistake to avoid is betting the river without the best
hand. You should be winning the VAST majority of your showdowns. A
solid way to find a leak is to see how many showdowns you are losing."

"You can save the most bets OUT of position on the river. The converse
is you can MAXIMIZE the most bets on the river IN POSITION. For
instance, I've even bet very marginal situations in position on the
river because it's clear my opponent is weaker than what I have based
on his play."

"And yes, you'll be dumping unpaired, weak drawing boards out of
position FAR more than in position. Keeping and taking the lead is
priority #1 in limit hold'em. The funny thing is, priority #2 is
knowing when to let it go."

Let me illustrate my problem with a few hands (going from memory because I don't have the hand histories here):

Hand #1. I raise UTG+1 w/ AKs. Cold called by one in late position, blind calls. Flop is T93 two of another suit. I bet, LP calls. Turn Q, bet, call. River blank, I bet, he calls, and shows KT to take down the pot.

Hand #2. I raise UTG w/ AQs. Cold called by the button, both blinds fold. Flop is J92, no real suits. I bet and he calls. Turn is a 5. I bet again, he calls. River is blank. Check-check. He wins w/ AKo.

Hand #3. One EP limper (by far the loosest guy on the table, somewhat aggressive), SB completes, and I raise KQs from BB. Flop is A92 (two of a suit, not mine). Check, I bet, call, SB folds. Turn T, I bet, call. River 4 (still no suits). I bet, he calls. I win, he mucks.

Hand #4. I raise from EP w/ 99, one cold caller (MP), BB calls. Flop KQ3, no suits, check, I bet, MP calls, BB folds. Turn blank, I bet, he calls. River blank, I bet, he calls and wins w/ QJ.

My point with listing these hands is not the details of how I played each hand but the general play at 2/4 and how my play interacts with the other players. Hands 1, 2, & 4 show my favorite way to lose money -- firing the whole way at a pot when my good pre-flop hand misses. Hands 1, 3, & 4 demonstrate bad cold calls by my opponents with me going in with the best hand. Hands 2 and 3 show my opponents calling me down with position with just unpaired high cards -- on Hand 3, I was shocked that I won -- what did he call with, KJ?

The big take-home point here is that 2/4 players are bad. That seems like a good thing, but not when I play my hands this way. Yes, they are much tighter than lower limits, but post-flop they make a lot of mistakes. They call turn and river bets with no pair and bad drawing odds or call you down with second pair. This should be a good thing, right? Not when I'm betting with a worse hand.

Put another way, why push my worst possible situations (out of position with a hand that missed the flop) when 2/4 players will make many mistakes over time and call me down when I have a hand? Good question. I think it all goes back to my patience, or lack there-of. Yes, it hurts to constantly miss the flop, but I've got to wait until I have an edge. This means that I occasionally will be bluffed off a pot and it will be frustrating. On the other hand, 80-90% of the time they'll have the goods, and putting in 2BB to win 3-4 BB 80% of the time isn't good odds. By the turn, I've seen 6/7 of my final hand but only put in about 1/3 of the money to see the showdown -- I need to make more decisions based on the strength of that 6 card hand, not my 2 card starting hand.

The past few sessions, once I get down early, I start to feel like I really don't know how to play poker. This has to be tilt, but a different emotion than I've dealt with before. I 'know with my mind' that I shouldn't chase or bet down hands that miss the flop, but I don't 'know it with my poker mind'. This next week or two I need to retrain my 'poker mind' how to save bets in LHE. Hopefully that will turn my results around, but I need to remember that I may not see immediate wins. I think I'm ok with that.

So, this means a new cheat sheet (a new and improved more specific one):
  1. Don't call a turn bet or raise unless I have at least two pair or odds to draw.
  2. Don't bet a hand I raised pre-flop that didn't improve by the turn unless I have both (a) a strong read (b) one opponent.
There's a hell of a lot more I can put down on the cheat sheet, but I'm going to keep it simple to avoid confusing myself. #1 may seem to be too tight, but 2/4 players aren't that tricky and bluff-raises are very rare. I made it two-pair in that situation because usually I'll have bet top pair up to that point and a bet into me or a raise means more than TPTK.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Artichoke Joe's 3/6

Wednesday night I went to AJs with Thuan and had a really good night at the tables, netting $134 over 3 hours of 3/6. It was quite a feeling to go to the cashier with 2 1/2 racks of chips.

AJs is a lot better than Bay 101 because the lowest limit they spread is 3/6 and the $4 they take out of the pot includes a $1 drop for the jackpot, so in a sense you are getting some of that back. That, along with no 2/4 tables (resulting in worse play at 3/6) and a warmer ambiance makes it more enjoyable.

To be completely honest, I played like a chunk of granite but had one of those nights where the few flops I did see hit me hard and I was rarely outdrawn. I flopped the nut flush twice, flopped the nut full-house once, hit two pair two-three times, and nobody was able to catch up even though I was slowplaying like mad (well, the times I had the nuts at least). Basically a night where a monkey could have made lots of money. I know that I actually could have pulled out more profit with a few well-timed bluffs (I attempted zero bluffs the whole night) and a few cases of slowplaying too much.

Oh well, I'm still happy with a solid win, and I'm that much happier to go back there once a month. My live limit game is still quite rough. I'm honestly still a bit overwhelmed with everything going on and give out a lot of information. I never realized it, but playing so much online causes you to ignore live tells since you are not used to having that extra information. Eventually I'll want to move up to a higher limit, but before that happens I need more table time.

The funniest thing is when I was unlocking my bike last night in the dark, I looked up and recognized a guy that had been sitting across the felt from me for most of the night sitting in an office maybe five doors down from mine. Crazy. He had looked a little familiar but I would never have guessed he worked in the same building as me. If I didn't have the fishbowl effect of looking from outside in after dark, I probably would have never realized it. I'm going to see if I can track him down and introduce myself -- maybe he is interested in the Wednesday night games.

In other news, it looks like I've finally convinced Wade and Thuan to try a few new sites (they use Party and UB respectively). I'm really pushing PokerStars on them -- you can definitely feel the online poker world shifting over to Stars with the way they treat their customers. In fact, both Stars and UB keep a large player base without offering large bonuses -- a true testament to the quality of the software, customer service, and rake structure. I believe Stars will pass Party very soon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dirty Laundry

Bunch of things I've been meaning to get written down.

Soap residual

First, our three-year-old washer put a bad beat on us. Last week it started leaving soap in the load and we tracked it down to the drum not spinning up during the rinse. So, my wife and I figured it was a belt or something like that and had a guy from Sears come and look at it. Well, it turns out the washer lacks belts because it is direct drive (duh -- says it right on the control panel) and the guy charged us $115 to tell us we needed to buy a new washer. Apparently when one part of the main drive goes, the whole thing needs to be replaced for about $300 (we paid $400 for the thing). Or, to put it another way, our washer is totaled.

Now, I know this isn't that interesting, but I realized that the washer repair industry probably is in a state of decline. Essentially, washers used to cost a lot more vs. the cost of a repair guy's time and gas. Now, with washers cheaper but more complex, the repair guys have so much overhead it isn't worth fixing unless it is a minor problem or a very expensive washer. Oh well.

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting it...

A few days ago I dumped 16 BB at 2/4 on Eurobet. I was two-tabling for over two and a half hours and pretty much stuck the whole time. Now, normally this isn't a big deal (just normal variance) but in this case I know I played like crap and screwed a number of things up. What is amazing to me is, given the effort I've put into plugging my leaks, I still haven't fixed them. The old "what the hell was I thinking" right after I play a hand.

My solution is to periodically write out a 'cheat sheet' listing the leaks I am working on. I'm going to keep a copy near my computer so I can review it before I play (because usually I dump the most money and make the most mistakes right after I sit down).

So, here is my first cheat sheet:

  1. If I think I'm beat, stop, compute odds, then decide whether I should call down.
  2. Avoid playing pots out of position without a strong hand.
  3. Stealing is not +EV in a loose game (most of the time).
Actually, maybe I'll add one more point which encompasses the more specific things above:
Preflop and flop mistakes are generally less costly than turn and river mistakes.
What I'm finding is that I'm a shade on the tight side pre-flop, but then I loosen up a lot once I've put money in. This encompasses being over aggressive and bluffing too much on later streets and calling down too much when I think I have the worst hand on the turn and river. I'm pretty sure this is common -- first you learn to tighten up, then you learn to be aggressive, then you learn when to be aggressive and when to let the hand go. Kind of a "I've waited this long to play a hand, so I'm going to play it damn it!" thing. Hand selection only gets you so far -- most of the money is won and lost on the turn and the river and that is where I will focus my effort.

Each of the specifics I put above are symptoms of the overall problem. I keep calling down and losing two big bets when someone raises me on the turn and I know I am beat. I keep getting stuck out of position with a marginal hand that I try to blow through people or call down hoping my hand is good. I attempt a steal, then try to make my non-existent hand a winner through aggression. The end result is I usually have an edge early in the hand, but put too many bets in when I've lost that edge late in the hand. Arguably, limit is most profitable the other way around -- where you are early matters less than your hand when most of the money goes in on later streets. I knew that principle for NL, but I'm realizing that it applies to limit too.

Honestly, I think I am too tight pre-flop. Ideally, I'd like to start loosening my hand selection, but I have to firm up my turn and river play before I can comfortably play more hands. Its funny, I'm just realizing how poor I am at limit play.

I still have a lot of limit to play to earn a bunch of bonuses, so it is worth really putting in the time and effort to fix my fundamental leaks.