Party Poker ate my Tax Refund

McGrath: Are you crazy? We could all end up in the clinker for this. You can’t put a bounty on a man’s head.
Hangs up, Phone rings again
Dave ‘Killer’ Carlson: Coach, I want that hundred dollars.
Reggie Dunlop: Ya gotta earn it, Killer.
Dave ‘Killer’ Carlson: My attitude’s right.

I never thought I’d have this much fun doing my taxes. And I never thought marriage could be a money-making endeavor, but today I discovered that filing jointly gave me a return 12 times greater than if my wife and I had filed separately. So I had to kick myself after the TurboTax numbers spit out a finger-licking good slab of dough that I’ll be receiving soon. It took me 20 minutes of online research to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong, but it turns out the IRS rewards marriage heavily.
So what to do with the unexpected windfall? Be like BG and Grubby and go buy myself a shiny new laptop? Or dump half of it in the poker bankroll and climb up a rung on the poker ladder? Play a few WSOP satellites and take a Moneymakerish shot?
Nah, I’ll probably just keep grinding away at the Party $3-6 games. My streak continued last night, catching a ridiculous run of cards on one of my 3 tables to put me up 17 BB after 30 minutes. It’s sessions like these after a bad day at work when that creeping notion of “going pro” crawls up to the back of my mind. I don’t have any real desire to play for a living, but I do think that one could make a steady, livable wage from these games. ABC poker on 3 tables allows you to play over 150 hands an hour, with very little variance if the tables are passive. If you have an edge at a table, your profit is determined by the amount of hands you can play, getting you closer to the mythical “long run” in which the skilled player will always win.
The ability to grind out 150 hands per hour online has ruined me for B&M play. I was about to hop in the car and head to the B&M, when I realized that the negatives were just too great:
1. The B&M drops $5 preflop EVERY HAND, compared to a maximum rake of $3 on Party.
2. The wait for a table ranges from 30 minutes to an hour
3. The drive can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour
So in a 5 hour period at a B&M, best case scenario I play around 130 hands. Online, I can play 750 hands with a lower rake and the ability to choose from a wide variety of fishy tables. These quick computations told me I should NEVER hit the B&M if my goal is to make money. A sad conclusion, since 3 table online poker just doesn’t feel “real” to me. I guess if I can ever build the bank to play $15-30 I’ll avoid the cheaters and stick to the B&M. But until then, it’s PARTY TIME!
That said, I logged on this afternoon to test the Party waters. And I was appalled to find the tightest games I can remember at the $3-6 level. I sat at table after table, trying to find the usual table with 4 or 5 seeing the flop. But alas, the tables I found I ended up stealing the blinds from early position several times with a preflop raise. Where am I? Where are the fish?
I guess all the sharks come on early on Saturdays to get ready for the evening feast. Note to self: avoid Saturday afternoons on Party.
Carson’s Wisdom
After reading hundreds of exremely negative and annoying (although occasionally hilarious) RGP posts by Gary Carson, I never could bring myself to buy his book, despite the excellent reviews I’d heard. But I could no longer ignore the book when an online expert said it was the best hold ’em book out there. Of course, he’s right– the book contains what is probably the best all-around Hold ‘Em advice anywhere. Here’s some wisdom that I came across today:
“Game conditions dictate a theoretical perspective to take on the game.
A tight game is a struggle for the antes.
An aggressive game is a game of strategy and deception.
A passive game is a game of money flows from the bad players to the good players.
A loose game is a game of money and odds.”

Simple but powerful points. When you start connecting these theoretical perspectives with the appropriate starting standards and betting tactics, you’ve come a long way as a player.
The last perspective is the most relevant for the $3-6 games on Party: “A loose game is a game of money and odds.” What this really means that pot odds are the most important variable in loose games. Izmet echoes
Carson’s points, stressing the idea that in loose games, you win the big pots by ramming and jamming your draws.
My quick session last night confirmed this: of the 5 pots I won, 3 of them were open ended straights which I rammed and jammed to build the pot on the flop. The fish couldn’t lay down their hands, and when I hit my draws, they paid me off. I strongly believe that in loose-passive games, building the pot with your 8 out draws will win you the big pots that make for a big winning session (when you hit) or a small losing session (when you miss). Ram and jam on the flop, check-call on the turn (many times your raise on the flop will allow you to see the river for free). Warning: don’t make the mistake of betting out on the flop, allowing a raise from the player who acts after you. This will force the players behind you to call 2 bets cold and they usually will not do this. Ram and Jam only when nearly all of the fish have already committed to 1 or 2 bets, and you can be sure that they’ll pay one more extra bet to see the turn.
Besides, it’s more fun scooping that big pot when you hit one of your 8 outs and the underdog wins.
Poker Blog Patrol
Lots of great new poker blogs out there, and it’s time I finally caught up. Thanks to the linkmaster for directing traffic…
Fish With A Pole rambles through the low limits with flair, offering a good description of what it feels like to bounce back from a drought:
“But once I started catching some cards and raking a few chips in my direction that dark cloud over the poker table seemed to lift and I felt some confidence again.”
PokerFish 2.0: in addition to having a cool name (what happened to version 1.0?), PokerFish offers some advice to low-limit players:
“Don’t laugh at my low limit playing. I believe in consistent and steady growth, moving from one limit to the other after all the lessons of that limit are learned. I believe a big mistake for new players is jumping up levels too soon.”
Ironically, one of the first pieces of poker advice I ever heard was “Move up the limits as fast as you can.” I tend to agree with this, but only after you’ve established yourself as a winning player, which can take a while.
Tp’s Tidbits recounts a 3rd place finish in his home game, complete with the rookie who somehow amasses a ton of chips:
“The big surprise was that Mr. Dead Money and his friend – who was wearing sunglasses in a hilarious attempt to improve his game – had made it to the final table. And even more surprising, Mr. Dead Money was close to the chip lead.”
You gotta love it when the calling stations catch a few hands early in the tourney and end up having 5 times more chips than you going into the later round. It just goes to show how much short term luck is involved in tournaments.
Chicago Phil offers insight into the world of a big time SNG player. His “Don’t Tap on the F-ing Glass” post recounts his heroic efforts to jump in and save the fish being berated by some idiot poker “expert”. Follow CP’s example and fight the idiots who insist on tapping on the glass.
Dead Money = Al Can’t Hang, who’s Friday workday mirrors my typical Friday routine:
“Nothing but reading blogs and websites. Try and fake my way to a 2pm conference call.”
He’s also a fellow Page 2 reader, so I expect good things from Big Al. Page 2 was a good site a few months ago, with regular posts from Hunter Thompson, Bill Simmons, Gregg Easterbrook, and Ralph Wiley. Now they just have articles about Anna Kournikova. Buncha sellouts.
Bullets in the Hole: the two man team of Rod and Don take on the lowest limits at Party, and find a 40 Big Bet pot. No typo, thats four-zero.
Poker Grinder offers an excellent argument for playing at one of the smaller sites, rather than Party/Empire. I don’t agree, but the idea that the greater information gathering capabilities on a smaller site is the best argument for not playing at Party.
Good luck to the Vets
Veteran poker blogger and american idol Grubby is in Vegas this weekend. Odds are pretty good he comes back with some great stories. And better luck to Ms. Felicia, who can’t seem to catch a hand down there at the Belle.
Old time poker. Doyle Brunson. Eddie Shore?

I got a hunch, fat man

“You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch that it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you just can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about it every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.”
–Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), The Hustler
There aren’t too many things better than seeing that little jumble of pixels that represent the letter on a face card match up to that first letter, especially when it’s an “A” or a “K”. I got a little tingle each of the 3 times I was dealt pocket kings in my first 7 hands. That’s 5 times I’ve met with the cowboys in a 59 hand span (lights candle for poker gods). Yeah it was only $3-6, but when the cards are hitting you like that, you just know it’s your table. You make the laydowns, and you make the right calls. And you win.
I’ve been trying to play focused poker for the last week. 3 $3-6 tables and careful thought about as many aspects of the game as I could fit in my head. Pot odds, opponent tendencies, and how other players view me. I’m hoping my renewed focus has contributed to my winning streak, but the cards certainly haven’t hurt. Iggy‘s mantra has served me well: “You make money from other players’ mistakes.” And there are a lot of players on PartyPoker. And a lot of them are making many, many mistakes. After every session I’ve played this week, I’ve had to pinch myself after seeing what people go to the showdown with in my PokerTracker results.
Party has some new features. Fish finding has never been easier with their new “search for a player” function. But I’ll probably use it instead to find Grubby, whose $5-10 shorthanded games are more exciting than Gus Hansen’s. Talk about aggressive. But besides that I wasn’t very impressed. You’d think a site raking hundreds of thousands daily would be able to add some cooler features. How about the ability to resize tables? It’s really not that hard. I really can’t understand why some of their competitors don’t spend the money on marketing to lure some of the fish from Party. But hey, where else will you get called down with King high?
With the WSOP coming up, we can only expect more of the uninitiated to log on and start losing money rapidly. Just yesterday, while eating dinner with my wife and the bartender at her last job (who we happened to meet at the restaurant), I was invited to a weekly No Limit Tournament that the bartender hosted. After he informed me that the 5th card was called the flop, I told him I would gladly participate.
Me: “What’s the buyin?” (please say more than $50, please, please, please)
Bartender: “5 bucks.”
Me: (heart sinking) “5 bucks?”
Bartender: “We try to keep it social. I rebought 5 times last time.”
Ah well, I guess I’ll have to develop my hustling skills and try to get someone in a heads up game.
What makes a great poker player?
I had a discussion with a co-worker about what differentiates the world class poker player from the top pros. Is it card sense? An innate feel for the “flow” of the game? Or is it solely based on the ability to read other players? Doyle believes in ESP, and claims to have known with absolute certainty what an opponent held on many occassions. I ended up rambling about the World Class Player’s sense of smell… if dogs can smell fear, isn’t it likely that humans have the ability to smell the fear in their opponents? Isn’t it probably that some players have a better sense for pheromones than others? Maybe Stu Ungar just had a good nose for fear. He may not have known why he sensed weakness, but maybe at an instinctual level he sensed it.
Aside from the instinctual differences, the more poker I play, the more I believe that the winning poker player is defined by his ability to see patterns. The “feel” for the game comes from absorbing (on both a conscious and subconscious level) the connection of the board cards and the series of checks, calls, and raises. After studying a fair bit of Artificial Intelligence, my thought has been biased by humans’ natural ability to learn patterns. It’s amazing the amount of programming it takes to have a computer learn a pattern that a 3 year old could learn in minutes. Despite all of the negative talk about bots, I strongly believe that it won’t be long before a bot beat the crap out of a top human player. In most Machine Learning problems, the biggest obstacle is acquiring enough data to “teach” the bot. But with online poker, there is an almost infinite set of examples to train the bot with. The best human player has maybe 500,000 hands to learn from in a lifetime. A bot can take in 20 times that in a couple hours. Don’t believe the hype– bots will rule poker if anyone ever takes the time to put the effort into building one.
Alright I’m running out of steam here. I should be pimping all the great blogging going on out there, but instead I’m gonna finish this last beer and go to bed. I hate getting up for work.

A hundred battles

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
–Sun Tzu
No instant messenger. No music. No TV. Just me, 3 tables, and 40,000 others on the best poker site in the world. After a horrible weekend where I dropped way too many big bets in way too few hours, the $3-6 tables have been very good to me in the past two nights. Some of the fishy plays have me dumbfounded. Exhibit one:
I have JJ on the button, and raise it up after a single limper. Loose guy in BB 3 bets, and the limper folds. I just call, waiting for the Ace or the King to flop and kill my hand. Flop is Qd Td 9c and I’m lovin it. He bets out, I raise, and he 3 bets. I call, not knowing what this clown has. Turn is the 8c, and I’m holding my nuts unless he’s got KJ (no way). I gladly assist him in capping the turn, and when the river is a 6 checks and calls my bet. Can you guess what he had? Ac Kd.
Moral: Nothing like an overaggressive donkey a typical PartyPoker $3-6 player to bring you out of a run of cold cards.
Corollary: I have no idea whether to check or bet the river for value against players like this. This hand was obvious, but it’s always a mystery whether my top pair is beaten or I’m just facing a typical overaggressive component. Having notes on the player helps here.
It also helps when you get pocket aces 4 times and they hold up every single time. All of the hands that weren’t holding up on my horrible Saturday run held up all night.
I missed the intense action of the hyperaggressive $5-10 tables as I ground out the hours at $3-6, but I was able to pull off some semi-bluffs and a lot of steals. If nothing else, the shorthanded games teach you how to play in an unraised pot from late position. Aggression rules in shorthanded games– raise or lose.
One of the reasons I decided to explore the $5-10 shorthanded games was because I enjoy them more. There is much more strategy and psychology here, and a skilled player has a much higher edge against an unskilled opponent. But as a lot of poker players have pointed out, poker is about winning money. Yes, short-term results are insignificant and should be analyzed on a hand-by-hand basis, rather than in number of winning big bets. But if you are choosing a table because it is more “fun” to play, warning bells should go off in your head. I think by choosing fun over Expected Value, I angered the poker gods. Through their merciless punishment I learned my lesson: Given adequate knowledge of the game, your win rate is based largely on your ability to choose a good table.
A wise old owl reminds us what it means to be living in the Golden Age of poker:
“And poker back then was freaking HARD. The mid to high limit online games were downright TOUGH. There just weren’t many fish back then, you were typically playing against skilled, experienced players, players who thought and studied about the game. And you sure as hell better be tracking and taking notes on players. You faced alot of the same guys night after night. And trust me, you weren’t seeing 5-7 players to the flop at ANY limit back then.”
Don’t take the opportunity for granted. If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a bucket full of Party Fish under your monitor. If you stay off tilt and think critically about the game, you will crush these games. Just remember that short-term results aren’t significant (ask longtime players Felicia and Mr. Reilly. If you play your usual solid game, and put in the hours, you will win.
Ok, enough pep talk– how about something more practical? Love and Casino War has provided us with Syndirella, an excellent newsreader that makes rolling through all the poker blogs a lot easier. In addition to the newsreader, Jeremy has built a great list of poker blogs that can be imported into the newsreader. Thanks Jeremy!
Enjoy the Golden Age, and don’t forget to bring bait…