Playing against God: Lessons from The Blackjack Table

“Patience, and shuffle the cards.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Spent the last couple of days recovering my strength, and I’m feeling much
better after a couple nights of good sleep. Haven’t been able to get much poker
in, as I spent the last two evenings painfully trying to set up my wireless
router at home (and still haven’t succeeded). But I was able to get a nice
1 hour session in, finally back to my winning ways with a $114. I was rivered
badly a couple times, but the combination of players being overaggressive with
top pair and the fish calling to the showdown with second pair made it a very
profitable session.

I’ve climbed up the learning curve, and new knowledge comes very slowly these
days. As The Penguin once said, “If it’s boring, you’re doing it right.” My game feels
cleaner and tighter, and I find myself not making the careless calls that cut
into my win rate a few months ago. I still have plenty to learn, but the questions
now are more centered on difficult reads (is he raising with AK or a big pair?)
rather than wondering if I have the pot odds to call with overcards. The grind
is more of a grind these days, but at least now I can focus on fine-tuning
my game, taking it beyond ABC poker.

8 Lessons

Before poker, there was blackjack. I spent a few months learning how to count
cards before figuring out that the odds in Hold ‘Em were much better than at
the Blackjack table. Besides not having a big enough bankroll for blackjack,
I was living in the Poker capital of the world, while the nearest blackjack
table was 2 hours away. Card counting was a blast at first– there was action
every hand, and if you weren’t fully concentrating, you were losing money.
It was challenging to follow the count, talk to the dealers, and try to get
the right amount of chips out on every bet. But once you had the counting part
down cold, it became the ultimate grind.

If you think poker is a grind, imagine betting the minimum for hours, and
then finally, when the scales are slightly tipped in your favor, you put out
5 units, 5 times the amount you’ve been betting forever. Your advantage against
the house on this make or break hand is a measly 5%– think a medium pair against
Aces. If you lose a couple of these big hands in a row, your hour of patient
waiting has been a waste.

Monk once described card counting in mythic terms: "It’s like playing against
God." You’re sitting there, alone in your struggle against the house. There’s
no room for friendly banter, no guessing what another player has, just you
and the odds. As slight percentage edges dance through your head, your fate
is solely dependent on the arrangement of cards in the shoe. The dealer is
only the hand of God, doling out your punishment or reward for your diligent

11 Lessons from the Blackjack Table

So in remembrance of my card counting days, here are 11 quick lessons that
I picked up on the blackjack tables that can help your poker game.

1. Gambling is about odds. Every single bet revolves around pot odds and implied
odds. If you aren’t sure that the odds are in your favor, save your money for
a better bet.

2. Odds and probability can often be counterintuitive. What seems like the
most logical play may not always be the optimal gamble. The best example of
this is splitting 8s in blackjack. Should you split if the dealer is showing
a 9, ten, or ace? The answer is counterintuitive. The analogy is having the
second best hand in a big multiway pot. Should you raise even though you are
positive you don’t have the best hand? It takes a deep understanding of odds
and probability to grasp these concepts.

3. Any long term gambler must work out his relationship with Risk. The optimal
play is often the most risky, and we must accept a lot of risk if we are going
to push our small edges. In the long run, this strategy will win more money,
but if we go broke before we get to the mythical long run, the strategy has
cost us a lot of money. Splitting 8s against a ten may be optimal strategy,
but our edge is so thin that we may choose to avoid these situations to protect
our bankroll. Drawing to a flush with 2 players in the pot may offer a positive
expectation, but we have to accept more risk to gain that edge.

4. Blackjack is a game of small edges. When your edge is small, you have to
be prepared (i.e. have a sufficient bankroll) to lose a lot of coin flips in
a row. Even when your odds are great, you’ll still lose 3 out of 10 times,
so get used to it.

5. Our goal is to get to the long run. We are advantage players– percentage
players– the more bets we can make with our small edge, the more profit we
make. Anything that allows us to increase our number of bets without sacrificing
our edge is a good thing. Thus, in blackjack, we play as many hands as we can
when the deck is positive– we don’t want other players stealing our good cards.
In online poker, we play as many tables as we can without sacrificing our edge.

6. Table image is more important than you think. Card counters sacrifice a
lot of money in order to provide themselves with "cover" from the pit bosses.
Confusing the house with a non-optimal bet can go a long way towards hiding
your hidden blackjack expertise. A beer in your hand while your check raising
will often get you an extra call, depending on the way your opponents perceive
you. Deception is part of profit– make your opponents pay for their prejudice.

7. I hate to say it, but there are very few hard and fast rules to blackjack
or poker (in other words, "it depends"). In blackjack, the optimal play changes
based on the current count. In poker, the texture of the game and the behaviour
of your opponents are just two of the variables that the optimal play depends
on. "Rules of thumb" can guide your play, but the extra big bet comes from
your ability to sift through all the variables and determine the optimal play.

8-10. When you can’t think of lesson 8, 9, or 10, bluff.

11. Always double down on 11. Always split aces, unless you have the chance
to cap pre-flop with them.

Thanks for reading, may your flushes be royal…

Start me up

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest.
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

–Alexander Pope
Beat. Not as in bad beat, as in exhausted. Mentally tired. My blog output has been way down recently, and hopefully it’s just because work has sucked the energy out of me for the last week or so. When I whined about how tired I am at the end of the workday today, my co-worker commented that it’s because we have no “mental downtime” over the entire day– between meetings, application development, and all the rest, it makes for a mentally tiring 9 hours or so.
Add to that an hour a day (minimum) of 3 table poker and some blogging (not to mention the alcohol), and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. Alarm bells have been going off in my head when I realized last week that I hadn’t worked out seriously in around 2 months. For someone who never broke a steady diet of workouts for most of my life, I’m not used to not having the energy or motivation to work out. Part of it is that I’ve accepted my death as an athlete, but another part is that I’m just wearing myself down and don’t have the energy required for a decent workout.
The realization of how beat I was came at the end of a long session yesterday. The early afternoon saw me fighting to break even on 3 $3-6 tables, which seemed a lot tighter and tougher than they had been in a long time. I’ve noticed that I’ve been tightening up considerably, and I’ve stopped playing marginal hands in early position. I think it’s because the games have toughened up, but maybe my tired mind is just imagining things. In any case, after a few hours toiling away just to break even after several suckouts, I decided to change the pace and hit the $5-10 tables. The players were just as bad as the $3-6 crowd, but I managed to quickly lose my buy in on one table, after some bad luck and a couple vicious suckouts. My AA lost to KJ when he turned his 3rd king (maybe he’s related to Halverson). My trip 3s (two on the board) lost to a guy who had flopped a set of 2s. My unlikely two pair, Kings and eights in the BB, lost to a flopped set of sevens. And my Jacks and nines on the BB went down in flames to a guy who caught his gutshot on the turn. A couple bad beats and some bad luck put me out around $170 on those hands, so I was relegated to the doghouse and not the penthouse, which would have been my destiny if I had just won 3 of those 4 hands.
Enough whining. I clawed my way back into the fray, spurred on by the luck brought by Paulsburbon, who correctly observed that our opponents strategy was better for video poker than hold em. I agreed, and complained that the video poker strategy had been kicking my ass all day, but finally my cards held up and I raked in a couple pots. Not enough though. I ended the day down $300, although my win rate (loss rate?) was only -4 bb/100. That’s poker, as they say. I would like to blame it all on the cards, but the string of beats had their effect on me. Raises lost their meaning on the video poker tables, since no one would fold any draw, but I found myself overcompensating and becoming the weak-tight player that I love to play against. Grubby, between Wendy’s burgers and getting sucked out on in the Empire 50K guaranteed tourney, gave me a well-deserved chastising after I let a fish take a pot away from me because I didn’t bet my AJ. I’ll take the easy way out and blame it on fatigue.
The bad beats and bad play were somewhat annoying, but the most frustrating thing was that my mind just felt sluggish after a long week. I realized last night that I need to do something to regain some mental energy, or else I’m going to burn out pretty soon. One thing I’m going to try to do is cut back my work hours to a more reasonable amount. I don’t like to leave things unfinished, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Maybe I’ll make more of an effort to get some workouts in too, we’ll see. I’m open to suggestions…
The Year in Review from THE Online Pro
This week’s post from my favorite pro is a must read. DR wraps up the one year journey of an online pro with a superb post, rewarding his faithful readers with a summary of his online career, and a review of the trials and tribulations he faced during the year. One of the most interesting parts of the post to me was to see how far he’s come since starting out in January of 2002. In a little over 2 years, he’s gone from a newbie to someone to be feared in any ring game. Obviously he’s a sharp guy, but I believe there are 3 things that make David the winner that he is, ranked in order of importance:
1. An unflinching belief that he is better than the other players at the table
2. A natural ability to pay attention and keep track of multiple complex events
3. Extreme emotional fortitude — the ability to continue to play your best game despite high stress levels.
While I believe that DR is plenty good at other things, it is these 3 things that separate him from the crowd, and what makes him his money.
Another thing that I’ve enjoyed seeing along DR’s journey is that he continues to learn every week. The weekly posts provided him with an arena to discuss hands, and all of the replies helped him to think critically about his game. This is sort of the proof that “blogging pays off,” although blogging is not quite the same as posting hands to the 2+2 forum. But you get the point.
Recently my learning has slowed down, as I climb further up the learning curve. I’ve read Izmet and Abdul so many times that I mumble their wisdom in my sleep, and I’ve become a bit lazy in my quest for poker knowledge. Tutoring my friend Monk has made me realize that I’m not spending enough time analyzing my own game, and the main reason is that I’m barely finding enough time to play and write about poker, which I much prefer to the hard work of reviewing my own hand histories. Again, I’ll take the easy way out and blame it on fatigue.
Alright, time to get some rest. Hopefully I can get back to some quality content in the next post, entitled, “Poker lessons from the Blackjack world”. There aren’t that many things that carry over from blackjack to poker, but in my brief stint as a positive EV blackjack player, I did learn a few valuable lessons that have helped my poker game. Thanks for reading and see ya next time…

The Water’s Fine

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”

–Billy Shakespeare
Apologies for the dearth of posts, but between work and configuring the laptop yours truly has been out of action for a couple of days. There’s nothing like a short and sweet winning session to remind you how fun it is to swim with the fish at good old PartyPoker. The laptop arrived yesterday, and of course I spent all night setting everything up, including moving all of my PokerTracker data to the new machine. Don’t go fishing without it. Pat at PokerTracker is not only a great programmer, delivering a quality product to us growing sharks, but he provides excellent customer support, even when idiot computer programmers accidently overwrite their database, wiping out their registration information. If you haven’t bought PokerTracker yet, you’re losing money– you can make the cost back in a couple short sessions.
After a terrible weekend, the few hours I’ve put in this week have been excellent. Aside from better cards, the main difference in the upswing has been my drop back to 3 tables from my attempt to 4-table it. On the advice of a wise veteran, I realized that my ability to read players takes a big hit by adding that fourth table. Even if I could make 2 BBs/100 on that table, I feel like the marginal difference is far too great, since my reading skills take a huge hit with the extra table. I was glad to see that Jason at Poker Odyssey came to the same conclusion, along with DoubleAs, whose comment hit the nail on the head:
“My goal is to make enough money to play in bigger games with better players, which I consider fun (a lot more so than playing with bad players at the quarter tables). I’ve moved up a couple times to see that just because I can afford to be those tables, doesn’t mean that I’m good enough to sit there. My point is that grinding out more money per hour does nothing for you in the long run, because to make money at the bigger tables, you have to be talented enough. Getting good should be the priority, because being good will allow you to play the bigger tables, not a big wallet.”
Of course, it’s easy to say this after a couple nice 3-table sessions. Nice = 166 hands at 19 BB/100. But speaking of bigger games, I took a rare leap into the 10/20 shorthanded game thanks to the keen eyes of the mighty Lord Geznikor, who was busy swooping over a fishy $3-6 table and having his pick of the today’s catch. I sit down and catch a couple myself, but the big tuna quickly busts. With hawk-like precision, LG spots the fish at a $10-20 shorthanded game, and swoops over to the table to try to capitalize in deeper waters. After the fish puts a couple vicious beats on LG, sucking out like he was drinking one of those McDonald’s milkshakes, I decide that the open seat is just too good to pass up. I lose a couple hands, and then get dealt this beauty:
Party Poker 10/20 Hold’em (6 max, 6 handed) converter
Preflop: HDouble is BB with 8d, 8c.
UTG calls, MP raises, CO (TheBigTuna) calls, Button folds, SB folds, HDouble calls, UTG 3-bets, MP calls, CO (TheBigTuna) calls, HDouble calls.
Flop: (12.50 SB) Qh, Qc, 8h: (4 players)
HDouble checks, UTG checks, MP bets, TheBigTuna calls, HDouble calls, UTG calls.
Turn: (8.25 BB) 6d (4 players)
HDouble checks, UTG bets, MP folds, TheBigTuna calls, HDouble raises, UTG 3-bets, TheBigTuna calls, HDouble caps, UTG calls, TheBigTuna calls.
River: (20.25 BB) Kd (3 players)
HDouble bets, UTG calls, TheBigTuna calls.
Final Pot: 23.25 BB
Main Pot: 23.25 BB, between TheBigTuna, HDouble and UTG. > Pot won by HDouble (23.25 BB).
HDouble shows 8d 8c (full house, eights full of queens).
UTG shows Ad As (two pair, aces and queens).
TheBigTuna shows Tc Th (two pair, queens and tens).
Outcome: HDouble wins 23.25 BB.
Ahhh, it doesn’t get much better than that. I owe LG a nice dinner, but I’m afraid by the time I meet up with him he’ll be a high roller in Vegas. Check out his account here.
I also played a little bit of $5-10 full ring, which I hadn’t done in months… a couple months back, when Party was only hitting 30K a night, I did very well at these games. The games were so tight that it was easy to put players on hands, and the few fish that did make it to the table contributed a nice profit to the tight players there. I gave up on these games because it takes 10 minutes to get a seat, and you can’t choose a table since every one is full. I was surprised to see that the $5-10 on Monday night played much like the $3-6s, much looser and softer than they had been a few months back. I ended up getting sucked out on 4 times in the first 3 orbits, but eventually caught some hands that held up to get back to even. In the golden age of poker, I guess it’s safe to conclude that every game has softened up, no matter what limit. You could probably call this the “trickle up” theory, and write an article about it in Cardplayer, but you’d have to win a major tourney and get your face on TV before that was possible.
Getting over the hump
Future star Monk, who I claim to be “tutoring” ran his bankroll way up on the $1-2 tables, and quickly jumped to $2-4 passed his first major test as a player. He got a run of bad cards, and was promptly massacred, resulting in a demotion back to $1-2. He’s been thinking critically about the game, and studying his Izmet diligently, and he’s returned to his winning ways. He finally (after about a week) grasped why marginal hands such as KJ and QJ are dangerous from early position. He’s stopped cold calling with marginal hands, and is beginning to use his ability to read people to win a big pot every so often. I think the first major step in any player’s career is going through that first bad run of cards, and finally experience the swings that force us to play games that our bankroll can handle. After a couple months of solid play and catching a couple rushes, I remember thinking that I was good enough to beat the $15-30 game, and it was only a matter of time before I could take my couple grand and there’d be no looking back. But one Thanksgiving day I had my ass handed to me, and I could only take comfort in the word VARIANCE. Understanding that you can’t just will your way to 2 big bets an hour is a hard and necessary lesson to learn. No matter how smart or good you are, you’re going to hit some bad runs. If you aren’t prepared for these swings, you’ll never be a winning player.
Tutoring the brilliant Monk has also forced me to pore over a slew of hand histories. This has really helped my game, transforming the implicit knowledge of when to bet, raise, or fold into explicit knowledge. Seeing a questionable call, like drawing to a gutshot with two overcards in a small pot makes me calculate when exactly you CAN call with a hand like this. Some of the conclusions surprised me a bit, but luckily Izmet is there to explain why such marginal plays will often turn you a nice profit. Study your hand histories, folks, it’s like doing your homework.
Poker Blog Patrol
Occasionally I’ll get an email from a reader, who encourages me to keep writing these drivelicious posts and makes me feel that I’m doing some poker good by broadcasting my thoughts across the triple-dub. I recently got one from John H, who not only claims to enjoy my blog, but actually chastised me for my lack of postage lately! I view this as the highest of compliments, and I recommend everybody to go read John’s “why play poker post,” for gems like these:
“The richness of life is sitting at the table. So is the despair and sorrow. Concentrated juice, that’s what poker is. Intense and exhilarating, but too much also, too sweet, too thick, too much. But everything else seems so watered down by comparison.”
I’ve had the pleasure of watching The Poker Blogfather on an incredible run, winning 2 of his last 3 multi table tourneys, and placing fifth in the third. He’s too humble to say it, but the guy just does not make mistakes in tourneys. I’ve stocked my fridge with Guinness in the hope of increased reading skills, but so far it’s only made typing more difficult.
No one has bigger swings than G-rub, who tells a woeful tale of being viciously sucked out on at the $5-10 short tables. And this after he was consistently cashing at the $30 Sit-N-Gos, pulling way ahead of me in our $1K challenge (we make $1K in a week and then try to double up at a $15-30). Although I love competition, I have to say I’m a bit relieved that I actually get a chance to write a blog post rather than playing all night to catch up to him.
Pauly does his best Hunter Thompson impression, and has a wild week listening to Phish, losing to Fish, and finally beating the Fish.
The $1-2 games have hooked up Halv 2K up to the juvenation machine. No more no fold ’em for Chris, he’s moved into the realm of real poker, where people actually fold hands and aggression is mandatory for winning players. Look for Halverson to turn up the aggression and put that P4 processor for a brain to work in the next couple weeks. I predict a so-so week for Chris, followed by an extended rush that will bump him up where he belongs, the fishy $2-4 game. The turning point? Winning with the hammer.
A long overdue link goes out to Casino Gosain, who has one of the coolest poker blogger names in the universe. Much respect to anyone who has the courage to have a child, let alone someone who makes it out to a $5-10 game on the night of the birth of their son.
“Answer, “I believe I did.” He called me (the other three people in the pot folded after they had already put in one bet) and called my bet on the river to lose to my Aces full of 7s. That helped my table image tremendously. I got home and my wife went into labor one hour later (she got home from work at the same time I got home – working until one hour before labor!).
Tuesday night, the night my son was born, I’m home alone and I know that once he and my wife are home my time out is limited – so I grab a buddy and we head to Harrah’s East.”

Wow. I don’t think there are any babies in my near future, but I always picture myself going off on some Dostoevskyan rant upon becoming a father, and catatonically mumbling advice for the rest of my poor child’s life. Probably something about checking the river unless you’re pretty sure you have the best hand.
Lastly, no poker content but plenty of debauchery from Big Pimp Daddy Alcan, who forces a Jesse Ventura lookalike to fold after he raises him all in and applies the notorius Alcan Death Grip:
“I grabbed the man’s shoulder and in my best “I’m a bad-ass biker” attitude, informed the knuckle-dragger that I was the husband and it might be in his best interest to back off.
Luckily, I still have full mobility and was able to enjoy the rest of my vacation.”

Somebody stop me! The laptop generates so much heat I’m sweating, and even my most loyal readers are screaming, “enough already!”. Keep learning and good luck out there.

Analysis of a Cold Rush

“Chips are floating your way in loose games (if you play goot), you just can’t see it because of the variance muddying the waters.”
–Izmet Fekali
So this is why you need a 300 big bets in your bankroll. It was the weekend of the runner-runner on Party, and my lungs are still full of water after repeatedly drowning in the river. You’d think playing 4 tables would take the edge off of the losses, but wins were few and far between on this awful weekend.
There’s nothing like a losing streak to force you to sit down with Poker Tracker and see what’s going wrong. In a late-night conversation with Chris, who was also getting kicked in the teeth this weekend, I told him that the best remedy for a losing session is an in-depth review of your play (with alcohol coming in a close second). Bill echoed this sentiment in a recent post. Going over our play helps us answer the question, “Was it my play, or were the poker gods unkind?”
So let’s take a walk through the numbers, shall we?
One good thing about playing 4 tables during a losing streak is that I tightened up, seeing the flop 24% of the time, which is a bit lower than my usual rate of 29% (note that I try to play on loose-passive tables, so I can play more hands). Part of this is due to my lack of good starting hands, but I did end up dropping marginal hands such as KTo and QTo from middle position. Although I feel my win rate drops slightly by adding the 4rth table, since it’s ABC poker at $3-6, I don’t think I’m giving up too much.
The other important numbers were pretty much the same, with the aggression slightly turned down, which reflects the fact that I was missing most flops. The most glaring difference is that my big card preflop hands were completely missing the flop. This is reflected in the difference in showdown percentages:
My baseline rate of winning without a showdown after a preflop raise is 31%, but this stat was 41% during the cold rush. A smaller percentage of my big hands were getting paid off, mainly because big aces like AK and AQ were missing the flop and getting called down. The other big difference was that I won at the showdown in hands where I raised preflop 13% less than my baseline rate. This shows that I was sucked out on more than usual, which seems like the norm during a big losing streak.
The individual hand stats confirm this:
The big aces, AK suited or unsuited, and AQ suited or unsuited (dubbed Mrs. Slick by the infamous Monk) went down in flames. 30 hands, for a whopping win rate of -22 BB. I tend to play these hands aggressively against ragged flops, and ended up getting caught by loose calls from the BB who ended up hitting one of their middle cards on the flop.
QQ was good for -3 BBs over 6 hands.
KQs was good for -10 BBs over 6 hands thanks to two bad beats.
The list goes on and on. Reviewing the numbers shows me that I misplayed plenty of hands, but the mistakes were relatively few, while the bad beats were many. So when I dive back in tonight, I’ll be able to play my usual aggressive game without (too much) fear of getting sucked out on. All we can do is get our money in when we have the best hand, right?
The final tally: -7.4 BB/100 over 1370 hands for the worst run I can remember in a long time.
It’s not much fun to write about getting your ass kicked, so I’ll end on a good note. I am a little disappointed that I didn’t have the balls to push the hand below harder, but if this isn’t a ringing endorsement for Empire, I don’t know what is (thanks to Grubby for the converter):
Party Poker 3/6 Hold’em (10 handed) converter
Preflop: hdouble is Button with Kd, Kc.
UTG folds, UTG+1 folds, UTG+2 calls, MP1 folds, MP2 folds, MP3 folds, CO raises, hdouble 3-bets, SB folds, BB (ImNotReallyOnTilt) caps, UTG+2 calls, CO calls, hdouble calls.
Flop: (16.33 SB) Ah Kh 5h (4 players)
ImNotReallyOnTilt bets, UTG+2 calls, CO raises, hdouble 3-bets, ImNotReallyOnTilt caps, UTG+2 calls, CO calls, hdouble calls.
Turn: (16.16 BB) 8s (4 players)
ImNotReallyOnTilt bets, UTG+2 calls, CO calls, hdouble calls.
River: (20.16 BB) 5d (4 players)
ImNotReallyOnTilt bets, UTG+2 calls, CO calls, hdouble raises, ImNotReallyOnTilt 3-bets, UTG+2 folds, CO folds, hdouble calls.
Final Pot: 28.16 BB
Main Pot: 28.16 BB, between ImNotReallyOnTilt and hdouble. > Pot won by hdouble (28.16 BB).
ImNotReallyOnTilt shows 6h Qd (one pair, fives).
hdouble shows Kd Kc (full house, kings full of fives).
Outcome: hdouble wins 28.16 BB.

The Dude Abides: More Lebowski Wisdom

Since I got so many comments about the wisdom of The Dude, tonight’s post picks up where we last left off. For you loyal readers, I give you more from Walter, The Dude, and yes, Jesus.
The Dude On Swimming With the Fish
We’ll start it off with a contribution from Chris H.:
Walter: Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!
Chris says: This is when some yahoo sucks out on you all night long and you mark them separately only to track them down on subsequent nights and take all their money.
I’m going to add that what usually happens when you track some lucky fish down and go after him is that some other shark at the table ends up catching you blindsided during your effort to hook the fish. Like Walter, we end up on the wrong end of the crowbar, watching our monster pot be pushed to the unknown 3rd party as we stare sadly at our fish.
Walter Sobchak: Am I wrong?
The Dude: No…
Walter Sobchak: Am I wrong?
The Dude: You’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole!

This one goes out to the jerks that insist on check-raising the fish at a friendly table. This doesn’t really apply to online games, because it’s much harder to “embarrass” people with a well-timed sandbag, but in live play a check-raise can destroy a live player’s mood. Too many times I’ve seen it– some drunk old guy enjoying himself, playing every hand, just giving away his chips to the rest of the table. Then some expert slowplays a set and punishes the guy, pissing him off and embarassing him at the showdown. The laughter ends, the smile turns into a frown, and all of the sudden the fish tightens up or leaves the table. Don’t be an asshole to the folks who are having fun donating to your bankroll.
The Stranger: I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself.
This quote from the mysterious stranger explains the popularity of hold ’em: the weak players stick around because no single hand is that much of an underdog. As hold ’em players, we have to understand that the reason the fish always come back is because any two cards really CAN win. Pocket Aces only win 35% of the time against 8 random hands. Part of the thrill for the gamb00lers is cracking those Aces, feeling the rush of the underdog victory on the river. The grinder knows that in the long run, the rockets will hold up, and the fish will give all of his money away. Hold ’em “perpetuates itself” because the fish win enough on occasion so that the game still attracts them, and the grinders who play the odds will get their fair share in the long run. Realize that bad beats are the reason that you can make money in the long run. Poker ain’t chess.
The Dude: Fortunately, I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug, uh, regimen to keep my mind, you know, uh, limber.
There’s a lot of different opinions about drinking at the table. Coming from the card-counting world, blackjack players say that drinking provides more “cover” than any act, and that a drink goes a long way towards confusing the pit bosses. Of course, it’s pretty hard to division to 2 decimals after 6 free drinks, but it never stopped me from trying. I’m not going to get into the whole table image discussion, but in a friendly game, a beer can go a long way towards disguising your shark-like nature. Without a drink, I look like a calculating math student (I never got any points for looking friendly). With a beer in hand, the jovial player across from me may get curious and pay me off on the river to see what I have. For other drugs, you’ll have to consult an expert.
The Dude: We’re screwed now! We don’t get shit! They’re going to kill her! We’re fucked Walter!
Walter Sobchak: Nothing is fucked Dude. C’mon, you’re being very un-Dude.

This quote would have done me well when I was starting out: don’t get all worked up over one horrible session. As long as you’re not putting your whole bankroll on the table, you’ll bounce back. One of my worst days ever was a marathon session on Thanksgiving, where I went on tilt after a slew of bad beats. I lost about half my bankroll because I lost focus and got desperate. I took a few days off, and went on a 2 month run where I left nearly every session a winner. The Dude loses his cool because he loses his perspective. You will have bad sessions, just like you have great sessions. Keep your cool– a bad session is just a bump in the single long session that is your poker career.
Walter Sobchak: You have no frame of reference, Donny. You’re like a child who walks into the middle of a movie…
Back when I was starting out, I’d sit down at a wild table and play my usual tight-aggressive game without getting a read on the table before I played my first hand. I’d raise with my JJ, only to find it capped with 8 players in by the time it got back to me. Don’t wander into a loose-aggressive game without knowing what you’re getting into. It’s important to get a feel for the texture of the game at a given table before you jump in and get crushed on your first hand. Let the blinds go round and play tight for an orbit until you get a read on your opponents.
Dude: We’re talking about unchecked aggression, here!
The Dude’s quote echoes the elder Bush, and recalls a theory that beginners often fail to fully understand: the “raise or fold” axiom that many pros advocate. While this tactic is the only way to succeed in tight games, it is the worst possible way to play in a loose-passive game. I remember one of my first $6-12 sessions where I dropped 30 big bets at a no-fold ’em game at Hollywood Park. Showdown after showdown I was shown some ridiculous hand, and I left cursing my luck. But after reflecting on the way I played, I realized that tight-aggressive doesn’t work when you’re playing against an 8-headed fish. I read up on Morton’s Theorem and understood the adjustments required to play in a no fold ’em game. Sometimes you need to check your aggression, and check the best hand against a school full of fish.
Jesus Quintana: What’s this day of rest shit? What’s this bullshit? I don’t fuckin’ care! It don’t matter to Jesus. But you’re not foolin’ me, man. You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don’t fool Jesus. This bush league psyche-out stuff. Laughable, man – ha ha! I was gonna fuck you in the ass Saturday. I fuck you in the ass next Wednesday instead. Wooo! You got a date Wednesday, baby!
One of my favorite things to see is two players going at it in chat after one of them lays a vicious beat on the other. It seems to always lead to a heads-up challenge, with the suckout artist always saying: “Go set up a table, I’m there (followed by a stream of profanity).” One of the players always ends up saying “I’ll only play if it’s a $1K freezeout or higher.” Yeah, like the low limit fish is going to agree to that. Bush league psyche-out stuff. Laughable.
The Dude On Tournaments
Jackie Treehorn: “I deal in publishing. Entertainment. Political advocacy.”
Jackie Treehorn’s justification of the porn industry strangely mirrors the way poker is presented to the mainstream. This quote goes out to
Cardplayer magazine and the “poker media.” The American public is obsessed with celebrity, and the poker media does their best to make celebrities of the winners. The tournament winners are presented as brilliant and respectable superstars, when in reality most of them are not the best role models. Although there are plenty of stand-up superstars, my gut tells me the guys that are really cleaning up aren’t gonna appear in CardPlayer anytime soon (with the exception of Paul.
Jesus Quintana: Let me tell you something, pendejo. You pull any of your crazy shit with us, you flash a piece out on the lanes, I’ll take it away from you, stick it up your ass and pull the fucking trigger ’til it goes “click.”
One of the best quotes in the movie, from the most over-the-top character, goes out to the idiots who refuse to “check down” the best hand against an all-in player in the late stages of the tourney. Too many times I’ve seen a 3-way pot at the final table, where one player is all-in, and the other two end up heads-up for the side pot on the turn. They fail to understand that checking the best hand is their best play here, unless they have a monster. What can happen when the heads-up players don’t check it down is that the best hand is folded, and the all-in player ends up winning the main pot. If it’s checked down, the all-in player is busted, and the other two players have bumped themselves up one notch in the money. If I’m ever in a heads-up situation like this and I get bluff raised all-in, I’ll be reciting this quote in my head.
Walter Sobchak: You have got to buck up, man. You cannot drag this negative energy in to the tournament!
The Dude: Fuck the tournament… Fuck YOU, Walter!
Walter Sobchak: Fuck the tournament? Alright, I can see you don’t want to be consoled here, Dude. Come on Donny, let’s go get us a lane.

200+ player tournaments last forever. When you sit down for one of these things, you’re in for the long haul. Don’t buy into a tourney on impulse, unless you want to throw your money away. If you’re gonna play a big tourney, be prepared for 5 hours of uninterrupted play, and make sure you have some reading material. All it takes is one mistake and you’re gone, so be ready for a long, grueling battle.
Walter Sobchak: Is this your homework, Larry? Is this your homework, Larry?
The Dude: Look, man…
Walter Sobchak: Dude, please? Is this your homework, Larry?
The Dude: Just ask him about the car.
Walter Sobchak: Is this yours, Larry? Is this your homework, Larry?
The Dude: Is that your car out front?
Walter Sobchak: Is this your homework, Larry?
The Dude: We know it’s his fucking homework! Where’s the fucking money, you little brat?

This one goes out to the worst play in online poker– the infamous disconnect. Party is finally going to disable this in Multis, but even at $3-6, I’ll see some clown time out on the river after I check-raise them, and then they’re immediately back when the next hand is dealt. It’s one big bet, suck it up. If you see somebody type “Where’s the fucking money, you little brat?” in the chat after an obvious plug-pulling, you’ll know who it is.
Thanks for reading… now go meditate on the wisdom of the Dude. I’m closing the book on The Dude with the movie’s closing quote, and the promise that the winner of this year’s WSOP winner will be an unknown Dude. Anybody wanna bet?
“The Stranger: The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.”