Sunday, January 31, 2010

HORSE Results: 2nd

Well, I got second, but I'm pretty disappointed in how I played heads up.  HU started during the 500/1000 blinds, 1K/2K round (500 ante -- yes, I know, kind of odd).  Going into it I probably had 26K in chips to his 10K.  But, I tried to run him over and played pretty fast and he called me down in three or four hands and quickly got me down to very few chips.

I really wish I had taken a few minutes about how to play my opponent.  I think I would have realized that a slower pace would have worked better.  I still might have lost, at minimum his run would have evened up the chips, but it sucks feeling like I might have left $150 on the table.

Aside from heads-up play, I thought I did very well in the HORSE tournament.  Going into the money (top three) I had a tiny stack, maybe 4K when there was 36K in play.  Yet, I had some luck, grinded it out, and got up to a commanding chip          lead.  I really felt in good control, even in the stud levels -- it was nice.

Anyway, lesson learned -- if I get to HU in a tournament, take a minute to formulate a strategy for my opponent -- even if I have most of the chips in play.

Now, time to get back to NLHE cash games.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

HORSE pep talk

Well, after 6 HORSE tournaments, an hour of HORSE cash, and one second place to show for all that, I'm down $12.31.  Gotta love microstakes online poker as a learning tool!

Hopefully, I can make that up in equity in the tournament tomorrow.  Considering good tournament edge is about 30% ROI ($15) that is unlikely, because I doubt I'm that much better than the average players.  But at least I've given myself a fighting chance for some bigger money!

These are the main lessons I've learned for my HORSE tournament strategy:

  1. Early on, play tightly.  There is no need getting into big hands with a possible second-best hand.  Early on, everybody calls everything and anything, plus they bet a wide range of hands, so it is harder to know where you are without the nuts.  So, play tightly pre-flop/on 3rd, but play your good hands hard to build a pot.
  2. In the middle rounds (~5-10 big bets), start limping more.  Yes, really.  Most people have big enough stacks that they don't mind calling a raise with a pretty wide range, especially if they've already put in a bet.  On the other hand, if they wiff the flop (or 4th/5th) they'll often let it go to one bet.  Furthermore, they'll play passively, and you can often see a number of cards for cheap.  But, if you raise, you could commit yourself before you know it.
  3. In the later rounds (<5 big bets), start stealing a lot... play the odds!  For instance, in Razz, you can often just steal with a nice looking board card.  In stud, well timed bets when a large card hits your board can often get a fold if people played passively.  At this stage, many people are just trying to stay on, and a single raise (one big bet) can take a pot down.
  4. Play looser early in the hand, tighter later.  Trying to play a limit tournament like a NLHE tournament (always coming in for a raise and firing a CB) is a recipe for disaster in limit.  This isn't to say you can't bluff, but bluff like a ninja (with one well-placed blow) rather than like the Incredible Hulk (hulk smash!).  With a 3-5 big bet stack, as they often will be later on, you just can't risk multi-barrel bluffs because those chips are valuable to stay alive to see more hands.
  5. Don't forget to count odds.  This is limit, after all! 

Comments by Game:
  • Hold'em: The main thing I had to remember is that it is ok to limp in late position.
  • Omaha: Stealing doesn't work well here.
  • Razz: Stealing here works really well -- always look at the upcards before you muck your hand!
  • Stud: Stealing can work in late game -- harder in mid-game though. 
  • Stud8: Near the end, just play it for high -- usually you won't have enough odds for playing it for the low.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I've lost three tournaments online but I think I've identified some of my weaknesses and some basic strategy. Luckily, I lost only about $8 so far!

The first step is to know what games I'm good at and what games I'm... not good at.  

Here is my ordering of the games:

  1. HE
  2. Razz
  3. O8
  4. Stud8
  5. Stud

(although, I'm starting to wonder if my lack of late-tournament strategy for LHE is hurting me too, since it is apparently very important to be aware of the transition from Stud8 to HE)

My Big Problems:
1)  Big problem is not folding when it is clear I'm beat -- people aren't bluffing that much!  Always folding if I can't beat what they represent isn't that bad at all.  Especially in stud games with when I have 2-pair...
2)  Too loose early in hands, early in the tournament -- it gets me in bad spots later...
3)  Too aggressive early in the tourney... bluffing doesn't work!  Only raise/re-raise if I have a concrete plan of why I am doing it (usually beyond just the hope that they might fold)
4)  Too much chasing -- Count up my outs before I call!

Where I can make money (have an edge):
1)  Folding when I've got a weak two pair and there is a lot of action, or if I am drawing for half the pot.
2)  Later in the tourney, stealing antes in stud games.  One guy was raising every single time it checked to him in Razz, Stud, and Stud8 and he was picking up 80% of pots.

Stud Tips (from here, paraphrased): 
1) If I have a small two pair and an opponent has a higher pair on their board on 4th, 5th, or 6th (w/ action), fold.
2) 3-flush on fourth, fold without any backup (high cards, straight draw, etc)
3) Don't call with the second-best drawing hand.

I hope to get in one more practice tournament tomorrow at some point.   The Sunday tourney is only a $50 buy-in, but if I concentrate on it and get some of these things down, I think I can achieve a decent edge on many of the players there.


Had a cold this week, so I didn't make the Tuesday game, and tonight's game didn't run.  So no NLHE cash for me.

Sunday I have a $50 HORSE tournament, and I'm looking forward to it, but also doing my homework. 

Which means losing money in HORSE tournaments online.  I did figure some things out about my HORSE game though, and I'll post them separately.  For now, I want to wind up my thoughts from last week's Friday game since I might play a little NLHE cash on Sunday.  These are mostly from what I wrote down after I played.

* * * * *

I won a little less than half a buy-in on the night, but it kind of feels like a loss.  I do believe that I have an issue with barreling bluffing, especially in smaller games (this was a $20 NLHE game, 10c/20c blinds).  It seems like once I raise a hand, I start bluffing on multiple streets even when I hit nothing at all and my opponent is likely to have improved.  Furthermore, sometimes I know an opponent is weak, but I don't follow through with a bet that will get them off their hand.  If I'm going to bluff, commit to the bluff!

For example:

I straddle for 2BB, two callers, and the big blind raises to 15x ($3).  I have 99, and I briefly thought of raising (BB is relatively tight, but losing and he overplays hands sometimes) but called along since I had 150 BB in my stack and the other two guys were stacked also. 

Flop comes Js Ts 4s.  SB, BB, me, and LP guy all check.  I think there is a decent chance I have the best hand.  Turn Jc, check, check, and I decide that I should protect my hand and avoid getting bluffed off it.  So I bet $5 into $12.  LP calls, others fold.  I'm 99% sure he doesn't have a jack, but believe he has either a flush draw or a weak pair.  River comes a blank, and I decide to bet smallish to make sure I see a showdown and avoid him firing a big bet with a busted flush draw (which he is very capable of).  I bet $7 into $22, and he hems and haws for a long time, and eventually calls.

Take a second and think about what he has -- I'll let you know later.

What I did well in this hand was bet with a plan and read my opponent.  What I did very poorly was a clumsy bet that was essentially a bluff because it would only be called by a better hand.  If I know he's weak, why not just push?  His range on the river is any hand with a big spade, medium pair, pair of tens, and the very unlikely jack, flush or nothing (float).  Against his range, a large bet ($20ish, pretty much a push) will beat out everything but the unlikely monsters.  Smaller bets would get called by hands that beat me (have you figured out he held a 10 yet?).  Checking is also a very good option, especially since he'd be unlikely to value bet a ten in that spot, and I can bluff catch against most other things depending on my read.  Or even better, bluff-raise...

It just seems like I'm making a lot of senseless bluffy bets late in hands, and it is causing money.  Like betting on the river with nothing into a guy that had called me all the way there after raising pre-flop.  And he'd let got overcards by the turn!

Sometimes, if I feel that I'm beat, there's nothing I can do.  They'll call a bet, and bet if I check.  So just be ready to fold!

Another example:  Early on...  forget exact action, but I think I raise, bunch of callers.  Flop is two clubs.  I bet middle pair or something like that, two callers (LP of previous hand and SB).  Turn is third club.  Checks around.  River is blank.  LP thinks for a while, looks like he's considering a bet, then checks.  SB checks and I'm sure he doesn't have much.  I think, then bet $5 (about 2/3 pot, I think).  LP calls, SB mucks -- LP had two clubs.  Why bet there?  I'll only get called by a hand that beats mine and fold hands that I beat!  Just because they are weak doesn't mean I need to fire!

This weeks goals (going into the $100 NLHE game, $1/2 blinds):
1) Continue to open a lot of pots and fire CBs at them.  The game is pretty tight and a lot of money can be made by opening light in position.  But cut it down after the flop unless there's a great chance I can get them off a hand.  (hint: probably not!)
2) Range hands, every time I'm in a hand on the turn and the river.  There's lots of money to be made in value bets and bluffs, but I need to range hands to see them.  If it makes me think longer, that's ok!
3) If I bluff, make it a bigger bluff.  2/3 pot or more.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Hi, my name is Sean, and I am a break-even poker player.

Over 5 years, I've won about $1000 in cash games, or about $1 an hour...  That's over 1000 hours of play (not much for those online guys, I know, but still significant). 

And, since the year started, I'm down about 7 buy-ins in no-limit hold'em cash games, although luckily that is only about $300.  I should be beating local, unraked low-stakes NLHE games at a pretty decent clip, but I'm actually down overall in all the local games I play.

So, I'm dusting off the old poker blog and buckling down to start actually thinking about my poker game in addition to playing my local games.  I figure that if I really focus on fixing my leaks, my game will turn around eventually.

In NLHE cash games, I think my main leaks fall into two main areas:

  1. Playing too weak-tight.
  2. Not taking the time to read players and put them on ranges of hands, especially for large bets late in hands.
On the first, I'll admit it, I'm a tight player.  But I think I've been overly tight, and not getting into profitable situations as much as I could.  For instance, I rarely get it all-in without the best hand, but then again, I rarely get it all in since everyone knows that I usually have the goods when I make big bets.  The end result is that I have a decent number of small wins, and some small losses, and a few big losses (when I get tilty).  I would like to play a looser style to get more action and get more profitable situations.

The second thing, and probably more important (especially as I've opened up my game in the last month as pertains to the first point), is that I'm not doing a good job of reading other players late in the hand.  This translates into losing a lot of big bets with very few redraws.  For instance, the other day I put in a buy-in against a tight player with KQ on a TJJQ board.  After he called my pre-flop raise, after he called my flop bet, and after he raised my turn bet.

But I have a solution, or my goal #1:

Goal 1.  Go through a full range of hands for my opponent before I call or raise large bets on the turn or river.

The key is the range of hands.  Take the hand above -- a tight player (and also relatively passive) calls a pre-flop raise, calls a flop bet on a pretty nasty board (JJT), and then raises me on the turn.  He could have big cards or any pair pre-flop, but the flop call and turn raise knocks out pretty much any hand that is weaker than a pair of queens.  Yes, he could be bluffing or betting KQ, but the range of hands he could have is not favorable for me... at all. 

That's the kind of thinking I need to go through at the table, not just the "I'll have outs if I'm wrong" and "I have a good hand". 

The second goal follows on from the first issue I talked about and will combine with the first goal to hopefully make me some money:

Goal 2.  If in doubt, take the aggressive action.

I like this goal because it covers a lot of areas that I can improve.  Maybe it isn't concrete enough, but I'll work on that.  Basically, anytime I feel like I should raise, do it.  Any time I think it is about even odds whether I should call or raise (or fold or raise), do the raise.  While it seems silly, since I always play on the tight side, this single rule should generally put me into more profitable spots.

* * * * *

I'm going to keep posting until I feel like I get my poker game turned around.  And hopefully longer.  But just the act of writing this stuff out will force me to think through it, and so it can only be good for my game!