Friday, March 31, 2006

A get rich slow scheme...

I've got a ton of stuff I want to post about, but not enough time. There was one thing I wanted to share now before I lost the thought.

Jason Bonace, in his most recent article in CardPlayer College (Temper Your Expectations) published some stats on SnG ROI in the long term. Good players make approximately 10-15% of the buy-in for each one they enter. Lately I've decided to start playing some $20+2s on Stars -- this means I'll earn about $2-$3 per SnG. Not much, huh.

What I've known for a while but am only now starting to understand is that making money at poker is really about volume -- variance more than dwarfs any edge you have (well, that and the rake takes a big chunk of your edge in the first place). The only people consistently and easily making money on poker are the casinos and online sites.

Yet, I can't do volume. Mentally, I don't think I have it in me to grind long term -- really making money at poker online requires establishing a good strategy with minimal decisions and executing it again and again (and again, and again...). Physically, I can't sit at the computer and just click away all day and night -- I already do that at work. And, honestly, I think I lose a pretty sizeable edge from my game with multi-tabling -- I believe one of my weaknesses is not being able to effectively context-switch rapidly and still get results.

So there goes my dream of being a poker professional :) Now I just need to focus on enjoying the time I spend playing.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ouch take two...

Holy crap. Just like the last session of Euro, the last session to clear the bonus on Martins was just horrendous. I dropped 150 euro in less than an hour at 2/4 tables. Yes, it is not even 40 big bets, but why don't I have any big wins > 15 BB to compensate for these big losses at limit? Grrr... Tilt much?

If I had to track the cause for the loss, it'd be bad beats. I kept on getting outdrawn on the turn and the river. But... I wasn't folding to raises on the turn or river, so I definitely didn't save any bets. And tilt played a huge part. I'm thinking I still have a big leak in my limit game and it manifests itself as a string of small wins and then a huge loss. And I believe that leak is on the later streets.

The good news is I still will come out ahead with the bonus (and by my count, clearing both bonuses was good for something like $18 /hr)... But... It'd be nice to keep my stake and my bonus sometimes. At least I'm still ahead at Doyle's Room.

For now.

Addendum: I logged back on this afternoon and spend an hour to win $1 on Stars 6-max 2/4. And then I just spent another 15 minutes doing a $40 hit-n-run at the same games. Yeah, I was definitely tilted before -- but what got me back online was that I was playing without thinking, and I wanted to prove that I could be patient and play a solid game. Well, the afternoon session I was up $50, then down $50, and then got even again.

And I wasn't. Playing. Patient. Poker.

I get into these bad habits of firing at pots no matter what part I hit, no matter what position I'm in. Yes, firing a bullet or two in late position to pick up orphans is good. Firing at second pair from early position against three opponents is suicide -- what do I do if they call? Well, usually fire again. What if I do a sketchy raise in early position w/ Q8s? Fire at the flop and turn no matter what I hit. Hmmm... It's almost like my default (when I'm tired, tilted, whatever) is just to click the bet or raise button. Yes, aggression is good, but not when people show they're willing to call with a better hand. A common flaw in 6-max is difficulty letting go of a hand -- I suffer the same problem, so why do I expect others to make big reads and lay down against my bluffs or thin value bets?

I'm guessing this tendancy of over-aggression has come from HU play -- or at least, it serves me well in HU play. But calling down in 6-max is generally a recipe for disaster. At low limits I'm realizing it really is still a matter of getting good hands (or draws) and having them hold up. Forcing things does not help matters.

The second part is I've been playing enough lately that I'm working off reflexes again -- I bet that is why I did better earlier in the month when I wasn't playing much. I do much better if I take a few seconds to think things through. Thinking it out lets me make the tough turn folds where I'm not sure where I am in the hand and I'm better off saving the bets.

Argh... Limit just isn't my thing. I'm getting better and I'm really determined to not let it beat me down, but its not my thing. Big bet poker definitely suits my style better.

At least the night session I felt like I was tossing my bad cards and staying out of trouble (for 15 minutes).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Fear the Raise.

I forgot which blogger said it, but one big idea has bouncing around in my brain lately related to LHE:

"Fear the raise."
Essentially, you can tune out calls and bets much better than you can tune out raises. Raises usually tell you that the raiser has a good hand for the board -- usually two pair or better, often a flush or straight on dangerous boards. Folding is often the best option, especially at low-limit games, where the bluff-raise is uncommon.

If I had to point to any one leak during my losing limit play, that would be it. I need to fold to more raises.


Found the source (at least partially -- I believe another blogger pointed the page out initially): Izmet Fekali's Learning to Win. All of Izmet's stuff is really, really good, especially his Playing with the Fish series. A quote relating to fearing the raise:
"When raised, stop, think, reevaluate. A raise is an incoming message. ... Bets and calls are often automatic, not so with raises. When in doubt, fold."
This idea is probably most responsible for my current winning streak. It is also the first thing that goes when I am multi-tabling and tired.

Poker, butterflies, and ulcers...

During the summer of '99 I had a huge crush on a girl (lets call her Mary) on my summer league ultimate frisbee team which was all well and good until I realized that she was into me also. But the result was a pretty big shock to my system, like when you're looking in a store window at a mannequin and suddenly you realize that it's a real person and they're staring back at you. But the shock went on for weeks, and everytime I thought about Mary I'd get these huge butterflies in my stomach that bordered on an anxiety attack. It didn't help the fact that I was having difficulty clarifying my relationship with her.

About a week earlier I had injured my hamstring quite badly during a game (go to the ER and use crutches for a week badly) and was prescribed horse-sized doses of ibuprofin to keep the swelling down. Like any good college graduate, I dutifully downed my vitamin-I with my morning orange juice and throughout the day, often on an empty stomach. Well, it turned out that was a bad idea, and the combination of stomach-lining-eating pain killers and butterfly wings gave me a nice stomach-ache that lasted about a year, a.k.a. an ulcer.

The funny thing was, I knew that the anxiety that made my stomach cramp every single time I thought of Mary was completely crazy. So, like any good introvert, I tried to figure out what was causing it at fix it. But it was like a spot at the corner of my vision -- every time I tried to look at it, it'd slip away and I'd be left with thin air. Or maybe a better analogy would be my salmonella shrivelled veins when I landed in the hospital at the age of ten -- try to poke them with an IV needle and they'll just slip out of the way at the last minute. Talk about a human pin-cushion.

It seemed like there was a part of my psyche that I poked whenever I thought about Mary which immediately triggered a huge anxiety response. But whenever I actually tried to grab that piece of my mind and take a good hard look at it (or take it out back and beat it with a stick so it'd go away) I'd just be left with slippery fingers holding nothing.


So I've been on a hot streak lately -- something like 15 of the last 17 sessions following my big Garden City loss have been wins (and the two losses were PokerStars tournaments -- one Thursday WWdN blogger tournament, and a $3 rebuy where I managed to drop $36... oops). It really seems like I can do no wrong lately -- I've been having good luck and I know it.

Yet, the past few days I've felt a spot growing at the edge of my vision but I can't seem to pin it down. Granted, it's not an anxiety filled spot, but instead a spot filled with bankroll doom. I know that my play has been slowly decaying, and it is just a matter of time before variance catches up with me and kicks me in the groin.

Its funny how running badly really forces you to focus on your game but running poorly lets you focus on anything but your game. When I was at my low point early this year (which wasn't really that low, it just felt like it) I was extremely focused on squeezing out every value bet and saving bets when I was beat. Now I'm not -- I've hit a new high in my bankroll and I feel like I have enough money. That enough money feeling (TM) in poker will cause you to have less money. Usually quite rapidly.

So, I've made a conscious decision to track down that new slippery spot over the next few days and see if I can stab it, put it under the microscope, and take a good hard look at it. Riding this win streak would be really nice -- especially if I can keep up the good play that started it. The last thing I want to do is give a couple hundred back just because I've let bad habits creep back into my game. Luckily, examining my poker game is much easier for me than examining my anxieties about women.


So what happened to Mary and the ulcer?

Well, Mary ended up moving out to California about the same time I did, so we were able to see each other once or twice (including a memorable hike in Point Reyes that stretched into the night because we got a bit lost). It'd make a great story to say that I married her, but instead it is one of those stories of a friend you've lost track of.

The ulcer, on the other hand, has stuck with me pretty well. I have very fond memories of the driving trip out to CA and hiking in Yellowstone -- me living on a diet of Gatorade, Pepsid AC, and granola bars, and the ulcer being, well, a pain. Took me a year to get rid of it the first time, and it occasionally pops up but I've mostly adjusted my diet and stress to get rid of it.

One of the times it popped back up was when I started playing poker -- I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep playing poker because higher stakes ($25 tournaments, LOL) were causing me enough anxiety to trigger it again. Once I got more used to the games and stakes, it went away.

It will be back though. Good friends like ulcers always come back.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Many moons ago...

Ok, ok, more like one moon. I can't believe I let a month go by. Well, actually, I can. I've cut down on a lot of the LHE grinding because I just haven't been enjoying it and it has been hurting my body too much (which also directly correllates with me doing more actual work at... work).

Instead, I've been playing only when I feel like playing (with the exception of forcing myself a bit to clear the bonus). And, I've been pretty solidly on an upswing, earning about $500 in that month in poker alone (and $400 in the last two weeks). Some highlights of the last 50 hours of poker:

  • Cashed in the last 6 Wednesday games, including three 1st place and two 2nd place in the last five games. Just good luck building on pretty good play on my part. Up something like $300 (counting cash game wins).
  • Came out $190 winner last night in the Garden City spread-limit game ($100 buy-in). Relatively soft opposition and good luck over the two hours I played. It also avenged my $140 loss in 3/6 a few weeks ago.
  • Played about 9-10 online tourneys with $11-22 buyins, only cashing in three of them right after the bubble burst (one of them was Omaha H/L). Down about $100.
  • Played 12 short sessions of cash games online (only 7 hours total). Booked small wins in pretty much every session for $180 in profit. Everything from LHE (full table, 6-max, and HU) to NLHE to PLO to Badugi. I won't lie, I've generally been lucky (or at least not unlucky) but I also feel like I've been playing pretty focused short sessions. I have a win rate over $25/hr -- not sustainable that's for sure :)
In other words, I've been playing less and doing better -- except online tourneys. I don't know what I'm doing wrong in them -- maybe it's variance, maybe I'm too tight. Not really sure.

Mostly I've just been jonesing for live cash-game play and obviously I've been enjoying my live tourney streak (I'll see if I can keep it alive this week). My bankroll hit a new high last night ($1800) but I yanked out $120 to buy a few toys that I didn't want to use family money for. Speaking of the family, I didn't give any money to the family last month because we got a lot of tax money back and I was near the gulp point for the bankroll (< $1200).

Not sure what I'll do this month (we're doing a bit better financially and I'm realizing how much it is hurting my bankroll to suck out $200 or so every month). The 200 euro MartinsPoker bonus should help things quite a bit though so I'll probably end up putting in another payment unless I hit a really bad run. In my mind, as long as I have about $1500-$1600 I'm in good shape for the chasing bonuses at the online limits I like and the occasional casino trip for 3/6 or $100 spread-limit.

Actually, here's something important to note: for cash games, I've been doing more single-tabling of shorthanded tables. I've really found that I don't learn or play nearly as effectively if I'm on any more than one table. On one table, I see the hand develop, and I can think through my options plus get much better reads on the players. Not to mention, after the hand is over, I have a chance to go back over the hand in my head instead of dealing with other tables popping up. For my goals (playing better poker) I think less is more: less hands, shorter sessions, less tables. I've really been pleased with my LHE play lately because I'm making plays and reads that never really occurred to me before. As I feel more comfortable, I've started to two-table in some situations again (mostly to clear the Martins bonus).

Finally, I'm considering putting a little money towards a WSOP seat, but to be realistic, its a long shot and I'm not going to waste too much money. Trying to win a seat into a tourney worth 6x my bankroll is a little crazy. The experience, if I pulled it off, would be well worth it. So I'll probably budget $50 to $100 to take some shots in satellites. If I get lucky, great. If not, chalk it up as experience. What's the point of a bankroll if you can't use it to play the kind of poker you like to play?