Ground Control To Major Fish

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens. “
–Jimi Hendrix
In a tribute to the poker blogger extraordinaire on hiatus, I’m off on a ramblin not-quite sober run through poker space. Just finished up another profitable session at the place where poker is a Party. I feel like doing a jig, even though I wouldn’t have any clue how to perform such a thing. After dropping a benjamin in a $5-10 shorthanded game waiting for the wife to get home, I found a couple extremely loose aggressive $3-6 tables. 3 bets and caps all around on 2 of my 3 tables. The poker gods smiled on me: 40 minutes, 45 Big Bets (I quit early so I could share the good news with y’all). I can’t quite believe the run I’ve been on, and I’ve been waiting for the shoe to drop, but the $3-6 PartyPoker players are just so terrible that maybe the shoe is up there with Major Tom for good.
Example: $96 pot, I’ve bet my KK all the way. Board is 9 8 5 8 T, and I bet the whole way and take the pot. One call on the river. What did he have? A6h. Where do they get these people?
I had a discussion with The Fat Guy, and we talked about the difference between implicit poker knowledge and explicit poker knowledge. Looking back, the beginning of my career was ruled by explicit knowledge– ABC poker by the book. I had a rigid set of starting hands that I played, and played my strong draws passively. This weak-tight phase allowed me to get a feel for the game, learning to connect the dots between the cards on the board, the bets, and the players. Putting all of those things together, I started to understand when my hand was good, and when I was beaten. But as I started to see the patterns and get a better understanding of the game, I began to understand which hands could be played profitably preflop, and when my hand was good post-flop.
Combining that explicit knowledge of pot odds and starting hands with the implicit feel for the game and knowing when I’m beat is the challenge these days. Two examples from tonight, one bad, one good. The bad: I try to steal the blinds with J8 in late position, but the BB 3 bets me. I flop top pair (8s) raise on the flop, and he 3 bets. I go in to check and call, but I FEEL a big pair, and sure enough, he shows me AA. It would have been a great laydown, and one I should have made, but I played this one a little too much “by the book”. The good: pocket 4s, 5 people see the flop, which is 2 5 6, with two diamonds. I bet out, and get called by 2 players. The river is another 2, and everyone folds to my turn bet for a 6 BB pot. Nothing special, but this is a play I wouldn’t have made (I would have checked the turn) in my “by the book” days.
I don’t know if it helps any of you guys grinding it out in your first few months of poker, but something definitely clicked for me a couple months ago. 9 months of poker seemed to be enough to hit some poker neuron in my brain, and the last couple months I’ve been really “feeling it” more often than not. The cards have helped, but when you hit that patch where you know your second pair is good, you’re rollin. When I hit that 15K hand mark, I’m not sure what happened, but my feel for the game seemed to catch up with all of that book knowledge that I’d absorbed. So stick with it, and you’ll get paid off in the end…
Poker Blog Patrol
A quick shout out to Casey at the Felt post, you’re missing out.
“Finally they saw their chance as they looked upon their cards,
And then began the hand which is still sung about by bards.
Jimmy Blake was dealt two Kings, Aces got Ol’ Flynn,
Yes, finally, they saw a hand that Casey wouldn’t win.”

I finally made it to Stinkypants2‘s blog after playing with him in Felicia’s weekly poker blogger tourney (I busted out 14th after flopping 2 pair in the BB against TP, who played hit his flush on the turn and busted me). Stinky explains why poker and family don’t mix:
“after 4 hands they decide to take a break,break lasts 30 minutes…this continued most of the night, brother busts out early, gets mad and leaves… mother, getting wasted, is next, fiance is out, she played ok, but thought she was a genius when she noticed i only played when i had good hands, so she would fold whenever i was in a pot…”
And my man Pauly played tough in Tuesday’s WPT qualifier, busting out 71st out of 322 after slowly getting blinded down. Watching from the rail, I could only hope I’d see Aces when he turned over his cards, but alas, it was not to be. But Pauly won himself another shot next week (maybe I’ll try to get in one of these), so we’ll do it all over again next week.
Good luck and make sure you feel it…

Chris and Hank’s Excellent (No-Limit) Adventure: Part II

“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”
–Denis Diderot
A No Limit Virgin Gets Some
When we left off yesterday, I’d just left fellow poker blogger Chris Halverson to fend for himself at an unusually passive table at Hollywood Park Casino. It was late Friday night, and nobody at the table wanted to raise, and I had to pinch myself to make sure we hadn’t somehow ended up at Paradise Poker. Meanwhile, the chips at the $6-12 and No-Limit tables made mountainous pyramids in the center of the table, calling out to me “come sit here!”. The $200 buy-in NL game looked especially soft, with a group of older players that I had never seen in the casino before. I’d never even seen this game spread before at HP, and I don’t know why, but my fish radar was showing lots of bright green dots. As much as I enjoyed playing with Chris, I’d already burned 50 chips on bad beats and missed draws, and this NL game was just too good to pass up.
Unfortunately I was denied by the floorman, who said that the table was full and I’d have to wait. But they soon announced a new NL $100 buy in, located right next to the $200 game. I grabbed a seat and sat down, trying to get a read on the table. I’d never played a live NL ring game before, and have limited experience on the Party NL tables. My NL game has a lot of room for improvement, and my experience is minimal… but looking at the dreary faces of the players, I was pretty confident that I wasn’t out of my league. Without any other information, I tend to assume that the younger players are better than the older guys, since I recognize most of the strong older players from previous trips to HP. This table was about half young guys, and half old guys I didn’t recognize, so I figured there was money to be made here, despite my lack of experience.
I folded a couple junk hands, and the table was pretty loose– 2 or 3 players calling $20 preflop raises (the blinds were $2 and $3). But none of the first few hands saw a showdown, so it was tough to get a read on what hands people were playing. The button came around, and I looked down at big slick offsuit, and my heart picked up the pace as I anticipated my first NL hand. A player in middle position raised it up to $15, and 2 players called, so I figured I’d flip the coin and see the flop with my position, putting the raiser on a middle pair. The flop came all rags, and the raiser bet the pot, and I sadly folded my AK, lamenting the fact that I didn’t win my first NL hand.
No time for lamentation, as I looked down at my lucky hand, 88 (my football number) one off the button. A couple players limped, and I raised it up 4 chips ($20) in an attempt to get it heads up. Normally this would be overbetting, but people had been calling $20 raises, so I was hoping for a single caller. A young, loose player to my immediate left called, and the limpers all folded– everything according to plan. But the flop came A Q 6 with 2 clubs, and I figured I was beat. I checked to him, and he surprised me by also checking. The turn was a rag, and I took a $20 shot at the pot… but he called, and we checked the river through. He surprised me by turning over Q8o, and I mucked my hand amazed at his call.
So two hands, and I was down to $40. Not a great start to my no limit career. But I knew that it only takes a few hands to make for a great night in no-limit, and I waited for my loose opponents to make a big mistake. I mucked for a while, and the table took shape as a bunch of NL calling stations with a few aggressive players mixed in. I finally saw a cheap flop with my suited Ace, and I picked up a nice draw– a four flush with bottom pair. I bet out, hoping to pick up the pot right there, but two players called. The Ace came on the turn, and I had Aces up with the flush draw, so I put out a small bet which both players called. The turn was a rag, and I pushed the rest of my stack in. Both players called, and my 2 pair were good, tripling me up to $120.
Monster in my pocket
The table began tightening up as players started to lose their money, and I picked up the mighty 93o in the Small Blind. With a baby raise up to $5, and everybody folding around to me, I threw in my dollar and hoped to flop big. When the flop came 9 3 3, bells were going off in my head… I pictured myself rolling in $5 chips like Demi Moore in Indecent proposal as the preflop raiser threw out a $5 bet. The loose player on my left called, and the turn was a King. “Please have AK, Please have AK”, but the raiser checked, and I threw out 2 chips hoping for someone to come over the top. But they both folded, and I mucked my improbable monster hand sadly as I raked in a few chips. I guess I should have waited until the river.
Living up to the Name
2 players busted out after throwing away their chips (I missed a flush draw and won a $50 pot with A2 suited somehow), and the game was in danger of breaking. The young guy to my left looked at the $200 game, which now had two open seats. I quickly grabbed one, and he took the other, and we were greeted by fishy faces and stacks of yellow chips. After a half an hour at the $100 table, I’d run my stack up to $150, and felt pretty good about my chances of doubling up to $400. I bought in, and saw some terrible overaggressive plays, and I sat tight, waiting for a hand to double up with. After a strong finish on the $100 table, I was feeling it, and my neurons were dancing with the opportunity to double up. I pick up AQ in the BB, an overaggressive player in early position throws out a $20 raise. 3 callers, and I throw in $15 more as I hear TJ’s voice: “AQ is toilet paper to a raise!”, and I resolve to throw my hand away if an Ace hits. But the flop is picture perfect, A Q rag, with no flush or straight draws. I check it, and early position bets out $50, which makes me think he’s on AK. Everyone else folds, and I call, ready to pop it on the turn. The turn is another Ace, and my heart starts pounding out the drumbeat. Slow. Slow. I check it again, and he bets out another $50, which I call. The river is a rag, and I try to figure out my best play. The guy has been playing loose, and I figure he can’t fold now, so I push all in and try to look nervous. He makes my day by calling, turning over AK as sounds of the cash register are ringing in my ears. I could get used to this no-limit stuff…
My poor opponent leaves the table mumbling, but there are still plenty of fish left. I win another monster pot with KK, dragging the young player from the $100 table along for the ride. I call a bluffer to the river with second pair, and I hit broadway on the river. He calls a big river bet, and after 45 minutes, I’ve got a rack of $5 chips and a big smile on my face. I can’t believe some of the terrible plays being made, and I realize that the reason the NL game always breaks after an hour is because everybody goes bust so quickly.
Another fish busts out, and the game is 5 handed. It’s around 1:30 AM at this point, and I’m getting tired, so I cash out– up $450. I misplayed a couple hands (getting my slowplayed AA cracked by 2 pair, and overbetting with KK preflop), but still ended way up. Since it was my first live NL ring game, I guess I can forgive myself a couple of bad plays.
Jackpot winners make the best maniacs
I checked back on Chris, whose stack seemed to have dwindled while I was getting lucky on the NL tables. I was pretty tired, and wouldn’t have minded taking off at this point, but Chris was determined to keep his perfect record of winning B&M sessions intact. Fine with me, as the $6-12 game next door was collapsing under the weight of the chips on it. I couldn’t recall seeing so many chips on a single table, and after some investigation I discovered that they’d hit the bad beat jackpot a few hours ago. For those of you that don’t play in these jackpot games, the casino offers a huge payout to the entire table if any player loses with Aces full or better. Jackpots make for some terrible poker, but they also make for extremely loose play if you happen to catch jackpot winners after they hit. I mustered my energy, courage, and remaining sobriety as I finally landed a seat in this wild game.
I hung tough there, playing tight and taking the usual amount of bad beats. But just when I thought I was going to throw away most of the nights winnings, I picked up A9s in late position. There was a raise and a bunch of calls, and I cold called, wondering if I’d end up getting proper odds to play the hand. Of course, everyone called, and the jackpot winner ended up capping it preflop, so I suppose my odds weren’t terrible (although I didn’t like paying $24 to see the flop) in the huge family pot. The flop came 9 J rag, with a single club. The maniac and the original preflop raiser ended up trapping the rest of the table for 4 bets, and I was forced to call with my second pair. The turn was another J, and miraculously, we checked it through to the river. And there it was, a bullet to finish off the night for me. The maniac bet, and I got in a raise, raking in a $300 pot with Aces and Jacks. It turned out the maniac had QQ (so he said) and the raiser had KK. Better lucky than good…
The adrenaline left my body after mucking a few hands, and I could barely make out the 4:00 on my cell phone. Chris was ready to hit the road, and saved me from losing some sleepy bets. Mr. Halverson had managed to claw his way up to a small win, staying undefeated in his B&M sessions. When the house is raking a small bet preflop every hand, and dealer tips are included, breaking even is hard to do at the $2-4 Hollywood Park tables. All was good in the poker world. I cashed out up $150, putting me at $600 for the night. The ride home in the rented PT Cruiser was tired and happy, and I slept peacefully, as Aces, Queens, and Nines danced gracefully through my dreams.
Thanks to Chris for the Scotch and a great night of poker.

Chris and Hank’s Excellent Adventure

After a scant week of poker, I anxiously awaited Chris Halverson‘s arrival on Friday, knowing that part of the package was a visit to our B&M of choice. I hadn’t played live for something like 2 months now, not counting a couple of terrible home games, so I was really looking forward to it.
Especially since the cards have been hot for me lately. I was able to sit in a loose $5-10 game late Wednesday night, and after some crazy swings (up $100, down $100) I left up $90 after only 15 minutes. Since my wife’s grandparents were visiting, the only poker I got to play were the late night sessions after everyone was asleep. Sick, tired, and often not very sober, I was happy to leave with a quick profit, although it made me feel like a “fake” poker player. I look at guys like Grubby and DavidRoss and wonder if they’ve EVER played a 15 minute session in their life. Anyway, the following night I had possibly my best run of cards ever: 20 minutes on 3 $3-6ers for a total of $240. That’s an outlandish 66 BB/100, and I was torn between “playing my rush” and going to bed on a high. Of course I took the cowardly route and went to bed, and I’ll never know if the session would have started off a monster run that made me a millionaire. The flops I got were ridiculous, and when they weren’t, I hit my big draws on the on the turn or river. My bankroll is at an all-time high and steadily growing, and losing sessions have been moved into the archive section of my memory. I’m not sure what else I can sacrifice to the Poker Gods, but if anyone has any ideas let me know.
Movie Review: Kaufman’s stride too small
No poker on Thursday night, as we said goodbye to the Grandparents and went to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, after Boy Genius and Grubby gave it rave reviews. After Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, I’m always a little wary of Kaufman’s films. I always feel tricked somehow after the movie… while I’m watching his movies, I am engrossed and interested, but on the way home I always end up scratching my head and wondering, “What was the point?” Eternal Sunshine was considerably better than Kaufman’s previous work, but still left me with the bitter taste of trickery. Carrey and Winslet were great, exhibiting the pain of love and long relationships. But in the end, Kaufman’s hero only takes a baby step towards anything heroic, and it’s not clear what love had to do with the growth of either of the two main characters.
I talked about this with Grubby after the film, and he pointed out that Kaufman’s films are generally about the search for identity. Kaufman’s heroes are the neurotic everyman, whose insecurity is the strongest force in his life. And we’re along for the ride as this hero tries to overcome his neuroses in an attempt to answer the question “Who Am I?”. True to form, the lead character in Eternal Sunshine (played brilliantly by Carrey) is no Achilles or Hamlet, and his search for identity is on a much smaller scale. It’s much harder to present the modern average Joe as heroic, and Kaufman makes a serious effort in his latest film. It’s an interesting look at the search for identity and love, but in the end falls a little short in the theme department. As a wanna-be writer of literature, I’ve always thought that good films are woven around a strong central theme. Eternal Sunshine is an excellent movie, but Kaufman’s central character doesn’t resonate thanks to the lack of a central theme. But maybe I’m just too old-fashioned.
Let the adventure begin…
So the Friday workday had me looking forward to meeting Chris and hitting the casino in the evening. Sitting on the bus on the way home, my phone rings, and the vibration sucks up the last bit of battery juice and the phone goes dead. I picture Chris driving around my apartment complex cursing me out, so I kick it up a gear and run home after hopping off the bus. I reach the parking lot relieved to find a couple of blond guys standing next to a shiny bright blue PT Cruiser. The mighty Halverson in the flesh!
The rumor that Chris only speaks in Java code proved to be false, as he and his son came inside speaking fluent English with only a tinge of Minnesota accent (think Fargo turned way way down). Chris even had gifts: a beautiful 15 year old bottle of fine Dalwhinnie Scotch, a bottle of wine, and of course, a 6 pack of Guinness bottles. We ended up polishing off the Guinness, but in a tragic turn of events, I completely forgot about the Scotch and wine and Chris left before we could even tap into them! I might be able to pull off a well-timed bluff, but apparently I have no manners! But a hearty thanks for the fine spirits Chris, and I will pay it backward eventually. (Honestly, I wasn’t trying to save it all for myself, although at this point I’m not complaining…)
We hit up a Chinese restaurant for dinner, and decided after dinner to hit up the closest B&M, Hollywood Park, rather than seeking out more famous venues (e.g. Commerce and The Bike), since they require freeway drives that can take over an hour if the traffic is bad. My wife and Chris’s son took off for Blockbuster to find a Playstation 2 or a decent movie, and Chris and I were off in the PT Cruiser to good old HP.
It had been a couple months since I’d been, and the place was pretty packed, the norm for a Friday night. I put up our initials on the 2-4 list, which was extremely long. Luckily they opened up a new table and cleared the board, and Chris and I were able to sit next to each other after about a 20 minute wait. I checked the time: 8:30, and I settled in for what would be a long night with the fish…
I hadn’t played anything lower than the $6-12 for a long time, and I looked forward to playing super loose and trying to lay some bad beats on the low limit crowd, including Mr. Halverson. Chris said that HP was much bigger than Canterbury in Minnesota, which has about 30 tables. HP must spread over 100, and there’s plenty of room to walk around.
A regular in the $6-12 game came by and tossed me a dollar chip, telling me to hit the jackpot. He must have thought I had gone broke, since he’d only seen me sit $6-12, and I started to understand why the high limit players hate to drop in limit. If you’re a regular player, everybody knows you’ve gone broke, and of course the rush isn’t nearly as great when the pots are tiny in comparison to the higher limit games.
The $2-4 game was ridiculously passive, with 7 people seeing the flop and raises occurring once in a blue moon. I completely threw away my normal, aggressive style and became somewhat of a calling station, as the game was very friendly and raises did not seem welcome. I did throw in a raise from the Big Blind on the first hand I played, and with seven people seeing the flop I was sure my pocket rockets would go down in flames, but most of the field had disappeard by the turn. Some clown ended up hitting a runner-runner flush to scoop a nice sized pot, and I was off to a great start. As a veteran of these types of beats on the .50-1 Party tables, Chris sympathized with my first bad beat of the night.
Chris got off to a better start, winning his first pot with two pair. I realized that this table would be extremely tough to beat, since raises were few, and people weren’t staying in with complete junk. The pots tended to be relatively big preflop, but small afterwords. Combine this with a $3 pre-flop drop and you’ve got a game that’s nearly impossible to beat. When the house is raking a small bet per hand no matter what the size of the pot, the players have to be pretty bad in order for the game to be beatable.
Hand of the night: I’ve got 44 in late position. I call, Chris is to my left on the button and calls. Flop is 4 K rag with two hearts. Checked to me, I bet and everybody (4 or 5 other players). The turn is the nine of hearts, and I figure I’m in trouble, but it’s checked to me. I bet and everybody calls. One of my 4s is a heart, so maybe nobody’s got it… the river puts the fourth heart on the board. I check, Chris bets, and everybody folds! I think about it for a minute, and figure Chris for the heart. I muck, and Chris flashes a King-9 for two pair, but no heart! A nice river bet by Mr. Halverson, and he won the only pot we played against each other the entire night.
As my stack slowly dwindled, the announcer continued to call players for the $100 NL game. I was surprised by this, since the only times I’ve seen the NL game run, it goes on for about an hour, the fish bust out, and then they break the game. But there were actually TWO NL games going on, and the waiting list had more than 10 people on it. Must be the WPT. I walked over to the NL games, which had a couple tough young players which I recognized from tourneys and the $6-12 game. The average age of the NL tables was probably somewhere around 30, compared to something like 50 for ring games. Eventually they started a $200 NL game, and I didn’t recognize any of the players in the game. They were older too, and the game smelled strongly of fish. I was enjoying the game with Chris, but this was an opportunity too good to pass up. Unfortunately the game was full, and the floorman said I’d have to wait.
A few minutes later they opened a $100 NL ($2 and $3) game right next to the $200 game. They had another seat, so after a couple hours of $2-4 with Chris, I figured that I could win back the $50 I’d lost with a single NL hand. Although I did recognize a couple of the players and the game didn’t appear as good as the $200 game, I figured I could get my feet wet in the smaller game, since I’d never played live NL before. The chance to escape the awful rake and make some real money was just too good to pass up, so I wished Chris luck and moved over to the $100 NL game. I can’t wait to read his trip report and see his final impression of Hollywood Park.
But you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out how my first live NL ring experience went, since I am running out of energy here (we ended up getting home at 4:30 AM on Friday). I will tell you it was a very good night, and I have to thank Chris for both a fun weekend and an excellent night of poker. Oh and of course the Scotch and the wine as well. More to come tomorrow…
Poker Blog Patrol
The mad drunken ramblings of the great Ignatius have reached new highs in the past couple weeks, as the man of guinness cranks out uber-post after uber-post. I will sorely miss the links and ramblings while Iggy is on hiatus, but I’m sure he’ll come back drunker stronger than ever.
As usual, Iggy is the first to discover a new blog, but this one is special. I’m very excited to hear the thoughts of Angelina Fekali, sister of one of the best poker theorists on the web. It looks like Izmet set her up on Movable Type, and Ange has a few entries under her belt already. She’s a $20-40 player on Paradise, and has a history of crushing the games there. Make sure you check out her homepage and the pics as well. Ummm, I wouldn’t mind sitting at her table… I’m looking forward to hearing about some of the higher limit online games, since most of us bloggers are stuck in the low limits (for now).
Grubette is back on PokerGrub, offering a new method of getting nice chips for your homegame:
“What a brilliant idea though, you can “rent” chips for free from your local neighborhood card room (“renting” here refers to getting a rack or two of the casino’s clay chips, carrying them into the bathroom with an oversized purse and dumping them in at the same time a toilet flushes to muffle the sound). Hey I paid for them. I hid the racks behind the toilet and sauntered out, no one the wiser. When I got home I considered washing the chips but then they would be much too nice (and counterfeiting could be suspected) to turn back in.”
Only she could come up with a new meaning for the term “chip dumping”. I’ll have to make another trip to Hi-G so I can watch Grubette in action and take the college kids’ money. Grubette claims that a guy there is in the CS department at UC-Irvine, which is where I got my grad degree. I may have even taught the kid, so surely he can’t be a good poker player.
Pauly is still cleaning up the NL ring games on Party, but hit some bumps after a few too many bad beats. Tuesday night P-money will attempt to parlay his $24 into a 25K seat at the WPT Bellagio championship, after winning his way into the $325 satellite with a 3rd place (of 135) finish in the super satellite last week. Picture Pauly bluff raising Gus Hansen all-in at the final table of the WPT championship. Mind-boggling, and possible. Good luck my man.
3 hours till The First Poker Journal Keeper Tournament, which Felicia has put a lot of time in to set up. Thanks Fel! Seeing as I went out FIRST last tourney, it’s not possible for me to do any worse. But the cards have been good to me lately, so I’m hoping for a big finish from yours truly tonight.
Good luck to everybody, and thanks for reading…

Artificial Intelligence and Man vs. Bot

“So, then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
–(Revelation 3:16)
Not much to report, as I’ve been hangin with the old folks this week (my wife’s grandparents are visiting from Sweden). Between that and trying to get over a cold, I haven’t spent much time on the tables.
I did get to play with an excellent Hold ‘Em Simulator, thanks to the advice of a reader (thanks D). He sent me to Poki’s Poker Academy, a poker sim developed by the Artificial Intelligence group at the University of Alberta. I played on a full Poki table, and the players seemed better than the mindless bots in Turbo Texas Hold ‘Em, as one might expect when the developers incorporate cutting-edge AI technology. It also gives the option of playing heads-up or shorthanded (5 players at the table), so it’s a great tool for everybody wanting to prepare for the insane 6-max Party tables.
I probably won’t buy it– I can’t bear playing sims since I barely have any time for real poker anymore– but I wish I could have played with it rather than putting in so many hours on TTH.
A quick AI tutorial
It’s rare when I actually make use of my high-falutin Master’s degree, but I did spend several years studying AI in grad school. For any of you wondering how they “teach” these bots, it goes something like this:
1. Compile a database containing a lot of hands and their outcomes. This is called the “training set”.
2. Have a human “label” these hands based on the outcome. A simple example is labeling them as a 1 (good play) or a 0 (bad play). We might replace the human and automatically label the hands where the player won the pot with a 1 and lost the pot with a 0.
3. Once the labelling is complete, feed the hands and their outcomes to the computer. The computer will determine the variables that most affected the outcome (e.g. Number of players in the pot), and generate an algorithm based on these variables. For example, it might find a rule that says “raise with suited connectors pre-flop when there are 6 or more players in the pot”.
4. Use the generated algorithm on another database of hands, and determine the algorithm’s performance (e.g. how much did we win using this algorithm?).
5. Tweak the algorithm until we have the best possible performance.
And that’s machine learning in a nutshell. We try to find the optimal algorithm based on a mass amount of data. Obviously, computers are better at seeing patterns in huge amounts of data, and in many cases the computer’s algorithm will far exceed any human algorithm.
Of course there are lots of tweaks– the human can intervene and give the computer hints about optimal play (e.g. introduce an element of randomness to decrease predictability). But the big question is, can all of poker be broken down into discrete variables, or is the “feel for the game” something that cannot be quantified?
On one hand, a computer can instantly “play” and learn from millions and millions of hands, whereas a human must plays 140 hands a day for 20 years to reach 1 million hands (note: Grubby may get there at this rate). On the other hand, there are so many variables that may be impossible to quantify. How do we learn that a player who is cursing in the chat box after getting a bad beat is likely to be raising with nothing?
I think that poker bots could probably do pretty well at low limit poker, and perhaps could even be a strong player at higher limits. Poki has been crushing all comers in heads up matches– see the stats here and try playing Poki online. I don’t want to believe it, but heavy doses of game theory combined with mass amounts of data may be too much for even a WCP to handle. I think the WCP would probably crush Poki in the short run, but the bot’s ability to learn and adjust would be tough to overcome. Not only can the bot remember every single hand, but they can remember every single action on every single hand, instantly compile this data, and act on it. A scary opponent.
That said, my gut tells me that Poki ain’t gonna be much of a match for Doyle, Phil, TJ, or Howard. Maybe someday we’ll see it.
So how did yours truly fare? I took on “SparBot”, Poki’s successor: a state of the art heads up bot. I managed to catch some cards and win 5 BBs in the 30 practice hands, but not without some scars along the way. It beat me up early by playing supertight aggressive poker, but I figured the bot’s strategy out after a while (it folded on the turn seemingly too much) and was able to capitalize. I don’t know how I’d fare in the long run, however. After playing heads-up, I’m reconsidering paying the cash for the bot, as it’s interesting to see what the programmers came up with as the “optimal strategy” for heads up play. SparBot loved to 3 bet pre-flop, something I rarely do but probably should start doing more. I recommend everybody out their test their heads up skills against the two bots offered in the demo (only 30 demo hands, but it was fun).
Poker Blog Patrol
Chicago Phil ruminates on going pro after dominating the SNGs over the weekend. An excellent post offering some reasons not to make the leap:
“After a while, or maybe even right away, it would become a grind, just like any other job. So I would lose my favorite hobby, AND be stuck in a job with (maybe) no future, tied to my desk all day and with no real human contact (since I play mostly online). I think the prospect of that kind of lifestyle makes the whole “dream” lose its appeal.”
Newcomer Al Can’t Hang gets my vote for rookie blogger of the month, and not just because he linked me up in his latest post. Al offers a new perspective on the game, reminding overly intellectual clowns like me that the cards sometimes look better through a Southern Comfort haze:
“It was a great weekend of poker and drinking. I don’t want to calculate the volume of SoCo consumed this weekend but I can tell you that the Philip Morris Co. won’t be going out of business anytime soon.”
Old Time Poker: AlCantHang, Eddie Shore. Don’t let his self deprecating humor fool ya, the guy is a winner in poker and in drinking contests life.
Check out Bill’s tales of hole in the wall poker joints up in Northern Cali. I thought these places only existed in old Western movies.
Lord G breaks it down in detail, giving us the numbers after a tough but winning week. He’s paying his dues before he rolls up the stake and goes to Vegas. Good luck LG, I really hope this will be your big week.
The son of Halv had a monster night playing in a Big Bear cabin. I hope his luck is with him this weekend, when we take on the fish at the low limit tables in LA. We’ll both need it… the schools of fish teem and it takes every bit of poker knowledge in your head just to keep some chips on the table.
And last but not least, go sign up for the weekly poker BLOGGER tourney at Planet Poker! Ms. Felicia has put in the time to create an excellent blind structure and minimize the rake ($1!). I guess that’s good enough for me to forgive her Malmuthian quote to start off her most recent post.
How to Fight The Empire
I leave you with an email that was forwarded to me from one of my favorite bloggers. I’m sure a lot of the other bloggers have been annoyed at the constant barrage of emails from the Empire marketing army. Here’s how once blogger dealt with it:
> — Nisha wrote:
> > Hi,
> >
> > My name is Nisha, and I am working with the Marketing team of Tradal
> > LTD.
> >
> > I visited your site and found our Empire Poker
> > link on the same. For our mutual benefit, I would like to offer you to
> > promote Empire Poker more aggressively. We can do this by placing
> > our Link and Banner at the Top most position of your Home Page.
> >
> > We would like to welcome your suggestions on this matter.
> >
> >
> > With Best Regards,
> > Nisha Mundra
> > Marketing team
> > Tradal LTD
> >
> Date: Tue, 23 Mar 2004 16:11:36 -0800 (PST)
> To: Nisha

> Dear Nisha:
> Thank you for the email. I would be happy to promote Empire Poker
> more aggressively, if in exchange you also put my banner and link on
> top of If we’re to mutually benefit, we should
> exchange banner links.
> Alternatively, I would accept 30 percent of the rake back on my play,
> which I feel I should be receiving anyway on a house account. If I’m
> to pursue recruiting new players for a rakeback for our mutual
> benefit, I’d at least like to get a rakeback on my own play. That
> would encourage me to play more and not switch to PartyPoker.
> Sincerely,
> the masked blogger

Catching the non-poker bug and the wisdom of a champ

“A man with money is no match against a man on a mission.”
–Doyle Brunson
Last night was fun: highlights include rolling over to cough up a solid phlegm bullet and trying to figure out a place to put it so I don’t have to get out of bed. Not good times. But it’s been a while since I’ve been sick, so I can’t complain. Probably the 2 hours of sleep and a fair bit of drinking in San Francisco is the cause of the current bug, but whatever it is really sucks.
Or maybe I caught something on the flight home, when the sweet young thing next to me put her two big bets right under my nose while leaning over to take a picture out the window with her cell phone camera. I almost stuck a dollar in there, but then I remembered where I was… She and her friend must have been about 20, and within 5 minutes of our conversation, one of them asked me if I had any weed I could sell them. Ye gads.
My impure thoughts must have brought me some bad karma on the tables today, as I dropped $80 after an hour and a half of play on 3 $3-6ers. For the most part I played pretty well… I had my usual number of brutal rivers, but the hands that broke me were two slowplayed hands that I capped on the river and lost. Capping and losing is very rare for me, and maybe the cold shorted a fuse in my brain that allows me to say when I’m beat.
The first beat happened when I held AKs and the flop came KK8 heads up. I checked the flop, and just called when my opponent bet the turn, hoping that the Ten on the turned helped him. He bet out on the river 4, and I raised with no flush or straight on board. Only 88 or TT (no way he has 44, K4, or K8) beats me, so I felt pretty good about my hand, even when he 3 bet me on the river. I went ahead and capped, and of course he had 88. We were both slowplaying! -6 BB on that hand.
The second killer hand was worse: I’ve got KQ, and call after 1 player limps in early position. Flop is QQ2, and this time I bet out, and limper calls. The turn is the Ace, and I’m hoping this paired him up, but he checks. I get tricky here and check also, trying to show I’m afraid of the Ace. The river is the second deuce, and he bets out, and I eventually throw in the 4rth bet (I put him on AK or a deuce, but not A2). I’m shocked when he flips over rockets for the turned boat. We were both slowplaying! -5 BB on that hand.
So those hands pretty much ruined my session, which was pretty good otherwise. “That’s poker” as they say, and I’m not sure if I could have saved the fourth bet on the river in either of those two hands.
Ah well. Luckily I pulled in $85 on a shorthanded $5-10 table while lying in bed with the laptop in the hotel earlier this week. I have a full day of poker ahead tomorrow, and it looks like Empire has replaced the huge overlay $50,000 guaranteed tourney that Grubby has been crowing about for weeks. In its place, Empire is offering 3 guaranteed seats to the WSOP.
I debated playing in the $200+15 Vegas Dreams tourney on Empire at 9 pm EST today: for every 60 entries, one seat to the WSOP is given out. I expected to see way over 100 players, but only 61 ended up entering. Tomorrow night’s Empire tourney (with the aforementioned WSOP seats as prizes) may be my first shot at getting into the big one, although my chances are slim if even the mighty Davidross hasn’t been able to win his way in after several tries. I’m guessing the field will be huge, although only 35 are currently signed up (as of Saturday 9:30 PM EST). The $18+2 qualifiers are looking mighty tempting, and I’m sure I’ll end up hawking a loogie on my keyboard after getting rivered early in one of these things. (UPDATE: the first hand I played I got rivered holding 99 when the fourth spade hit the board on the river– opponent had 86o)
I’m still on the fence about playing in the WSOP. I’m not a no-limit player, and of course I’d be dead money in the big one, but how many times in your life do you have a shot at this thing?
Book Review: Poker Wisdom of a Champion
One of the few productive things I accomplished on the trip to San Fran was finishing Doyle’s book, which has been republished with a new title to capitalize on the poker boom. It’s basically a collection of Doyle’s favorite anecdotes over the years, and offers some insight into the world of high-stakes poker. It’s a very quick and easy read, and I enjoyed Doyle’s tales, but don’t expect anything that will help you improve your game.
The three major points I took from the book were these:
–No-limit cash games take a lot of courage, and the “all-in” is a big weapon that doesn’t exist in limit. NL is all about putting your opponent to the test, and there’s no better way to do that than going all-in. The drama and display of courage in NL are pretty attractive, and I figure once I build my bankroll and get tired of the limit grind I’ll be playing mostly NL.
–You’ve got to give action to get action. A lot of NL is feeling out the other players at the table, and your table image is much more important than in limit. Too-tight players will get crushed in an NL game, because it’s so easy to put them on a hand.
–You’ve got to shift gears in NL, and Doyle stresses the idea that a gear shift must be drastic. Go from first to third, don’t bother with second. If you’re gonna loosen up, do it fast, and your opponents won’t know what hit them.
–You’ve got to have a big bank and nerves of steel to play high-stakes poker. I don’t think Doyle even mentions a pot that’s smaller than a couple thousand in the entire book.
Another thing I took from the book is the drastic difference between the online game and the live game– online, the players move in and out so fast that you really don’t have much to go on, and table image is much less important. Anonymity rules in the world of online poker, so you can play as tight as you want without worrying about what the other players think of you.
If you want some light reading and some interesting and funny poker tales, check out “Poker Wisdom of a Champion”.
Need a coach?
I spent some time this weekend review a couple friend’s hand histories in PokerTracker in a “coaching” role. I actually enjoyed it more than I thought. Hopefully my comments helped the players involved, but even if they didn’t, I found that critically analyzing their play helped me to elaborate my own tactics. So… (prepare for shill) if anybody wants to sign up for Empire, use this link and bonus code HDOUBLE and I’ll be happy to review your hand histories and offer my humble advice (in addition to the 20% bonus you receive). I’m by no means an expert, but I think I’m a decent teacher and can help a beginner get up the learning curve more quickly than they would by just reading Sklansky. If you want to switch over from Party, send me an email and the same offer holds.
Poker Blog Patrol
Check out the dynamic duo over at PokerGrub, where Grubby continues his uphill battle to accumulate enough points to play in the Empire freeroll, and an angry Grubette almost puts the smack down on a helpless fish who dropped the hammer on her:
“On the phone with Doug I said, ‘I would love to kick her freakin’ ass’ and the pit boss heard me and laughed. I’m sure it seemed funny.”
Remind me not to play the Hammer against her…
Expert Java programmer and low-limit all-star Chris Halverson is in town, and we’re planning on meeting up next weekend to terrorize the fish in Compton. Although I’m sure we’ll end up downing scotch and dodging thrown cards at Hollywood Park, I can’t help but think the time would be better spent coding up a Java bot.
Boy Genius came through for me, winning the Michigan Blogger crossover game as I predicted. I left this comment in BG’s blog before the tourney:
“It’s time for the GZA to shine. I can feel it. Prediction: domination from the boy wonder.”
Also check out Lord G’s take on the tourney.
The Poker Hermit continues his ride on the low limit roller coaster, going from tilt to solid play overnight.
Ok, I’m off to play in Empire’s WSOP Satellite qualifier. Top 4 (of 41) get an entry into tomorrow’s tourney. But first, I’ve been waiting for this for a year. In a pre-St.Patty’s day shopping trip, I saw it: A 12 PACK OF GUINNESS BOTTLES! No more carting around 6 packs from the corner store. I know somebody‘s happy.