Movin on Up

“The room fills with smoke
And I’m already broke
And the dealer keeps on joking
As he takes my last token”

–“Casino Queen”, Wilco
I’m not sure how this post is going to come out, but it’s definitely a first for yours truly– two muscle relaxers, a shot of whiskey, and a Heineken… at 30,000 feet. That’s right, I’m riding a Pocket Rockets (American Airlines) 777 to Stockholm, with a stopover in old London town on the way. With the laptop battery at 40%, I’m devoting my precious computer time to blogging rather than practicing my shorthanded game on Turbo Texas Hold ‘Em.
On the advice of my best friend (Monk, for those loyal readers), I’ve moved up to the $5-10 6 max games on Party. I’ve been hemming and hawing for a while now, trying to decide if I wanted to put the entire bank on the line and take a shot at single tabling $15-30, or if there was some other option available. The problem is that the $5-10 full ring games are pretty tight, and what’s worse, the tables are always full, so there’s a long waiting list. I wouldn’t mind waiting a couple minutes, but table selection becomes impossible. Players on the wait list can’t be choosers, and with so many fish in the Party waters, waiting for a table is negative EV.
So I’ve gone ahead and moved up to 2 $5-10 6 max tables, for better or worse. I must confess, this is the only game at Party that shows red numbers in POkerTracker. I haven’t played that many hands, but I’ve thrown away a lot of money by incorrectly adjusting my style for the shorthanded game. In the past, I’ve been overaggressive, and probably a little too loose preflop, resulting in too many losing sessions.
But that’s the past. I spent the week trying to bone up my game, and sat down for my first session on Tuesday night. After winning a monster pot on a flush the first hand, I proceeded to drop around 30 big bets after a few suckouts and a few ill-timed bluffs. Growing pains, let’s hope.
The good news is that for the first time in a while, I felt uncomfortable at the virtual table. I didn’t feel like the worst player at each of my two tables, but I knew I wasn’t anywhere close to being the best. My competitive nature and desire to learn doesn’t like this feeling, and I found myself poring over the shorthanded forum on twoplustwo, as well as rereading Abdul’s RGP posts on shorthanded play.
The morning after that losing session, I was woken up by a page from work (yes, I was on call last month, but I’m on vacation now so they can shove those pages up their collective arses). After solving the problem, I sat down for 15 minutes and pulled in 20 big bets. At 7 AM LA time. Ahh, the wonders of online poker.
It felt good to win, but more importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed the session. I’m sure all of you know how much of a grind low limit poker can become, and the shorthanded tables really put the gamble (and excitement) back in poker. I found myself anxiously awaiting the showdown, not knowing if my top pair – weak kicker would hold up. In the $3-6 games, it was rare that I didn’t know if my hand was good when I was showing it down. I explained this feeling to Monk, and he made an excellent point:
“That’s what these guys feel on every hand. For most people, poker is still gambling.”
So for the first time in a while, I felt that old poker bug. Anxiously awaiting the next session, waking up in the middle of the night and thinking, “I wonder what the games are like now…” before falling asleep.
One of the main reasons I decided to face the tougher $5-10 games (I truly believe the $15-30 are much softer than the $5-10s) is that I know my shorthanded game needs work. I love to learn, and I think the pursuit of learning has been one of the most enjoyable endeavors in my life (yeah, I went to a liberal arts school). The shorthanded games are “new” for me, and provide me with an opportunity to master a new game. I’m sure that this is the reason I find myself wanting to play more.
So at the moment, I’m still a big loser shorthanded. But that’ll change. I may not have confidence in my shorthanded game, but I have plenty of confidence in my ability to learn… so I believe it’s just a matter of time. Let’s just hope the cards are kind while I’m climbing the learning curve.
Monk and I are planning to hit the Stockholm casino as many times as possible. The dollar is so bad right now that I’ll have to have a good night just to break even, but hey, it’s vacation.
The stewardesses are coming around with dinner, and my battery is dying. And I think the alcohol and muscle relaxant combo is kicking in. Does this make me a member in some sort of pathetic, mile-high blogging club?
Thanks for reading and stay focused…

Fortune Smiles and A Slick Sim

“Every man is the architect of his own fortune.”
It sure feels good to wake up after a big win. You grind, grind, grind, and always there is one player filling his 5 racks after catching cards all night, while you sit there with your 2 big bets per hour. And then finally, your hands hold up for once, and it’s you bringing your tower of chips to the cashier with a big smile, and that smile just keeps on goin until the next day.
After 7 hours, I racked out at $580 in the always-insane $6-12 game at Hollywood Park, one of my biggest wins to date. I had plenty of good hands cracked, but I managed to flop big with most of my AKs and AQs, and won most of my money from players trying to suck out with second pair. The table was so good that people were calling to the showdown with third pair on a consistent basis.
Bad beat of the night: loose guy raises Under the gun, I find KK on the button and 3 bet. He bets on the ragged flop of J 9 7 rainbow, and I raise. He calls, and the turn is the harmless looking 6. He checkraises me, and I have no idea what he has, and just call… river is a rag, and he shows me T8 suited for the straight.
Yeah, yeah, another bad beat story. But there’s actually a reason for sharing this one– I found myself clueless as to what to do on the river when a relatively harmless looking card fell. Most of the time (when I wasn’t drawing), I was pretty sure my hand was good, but since people were calling with second and third pair, I never knew if the river had given them two pair. I took the risk-averse strategy on most occasions, and ended up checking for fear of a raise. I gave up about 6 or 7 big bets on the river by playing scared, and I’m still not sure for most of these situations if betting was the best play.
Example: raise from middle position, I call on the BB with pocket tens. Ragged flop, and I bet all the way to the river, and get called by the original raiser, who is a fishy loose aggressive player. The river is a Jack, and I think I’m probably still good, but I check, he checks and he looks at his cards for a minute before mucking them. I caught a peek at the bottom card, and it looked like a 9, so I’m guessing pocket 9s.
I think the value bet on the river against a calling stations who could be holding almost any two cards is one of the few tough decisions to make in a loose-passive game. It pretty much comes down to the question:
Is the probability that your opponent is beat and will still call one more bet greater than the probability that they caught something on the river?
I think in most cases the bet is correct, but I’m not sure. I would appreciate any comments…
The low-limit no-limit $100 buy in games were rocking as usual, and I had previously thought I would stick to these games for live play, as my intuition told me they were more profitable. However, I rethought it on the way to the casino, and wasn’t so sure.
In the $6-12 game, the caliber of players is several notches below the $100 NL game, if you can get a seat at one of the better tables. Since we make money off the mistakes of our opponents, I tried to figure out how much the mistakes in $6-12 cost the players versus the cost of a mistake in the no limit game. I find that in the no-limit game, people make pretty good decisions preflop, and then can’t release their hand if they hit any piece of the flop. In the limit game, people are making huge mistakes preflop, but then correctly calling after the flop since the pot is usually big enough to justify a call if they catch anything (such as bottom pair).
The NL game is also considerably tighter, and usually ends up with 2 or 3 players by the turn. In the limit game, it’s common to have 4 or 5 people seeing the turn, so there are usually a greater number of people making mistakes. And of course you can play more hands in the limit game, since you almost always have odds to play any draw, and no one can bet you out of the pot.
None of this is new to anyone, but in the end I decided that I’d rather face a greater number of players making many small mistakes than a small number of players making a few big mistakes. So I stuck to limit, although I was ready to move if I couldn’t find a good table. Fortunately, I found a great table and my cards held up.
Check out Lou Krieger’s article in CardPlayer for a much better discussion of the limit vs. no-limit debate:
Decisions and Leverage in Limit Hold’em.
“The recent surge in poker’s popularity has produced one possible compromise in game structure: the introduction of no-limit games with a fixed buy-in. These games, in which there’s a cap on the amount a player can buy in for — a typical game features blinds of $1-$2, with a maximum buy-in of either $100 or $200 — provide no-limit decision-making and the ability to protect one’s hand with a big bet. But because of the cap on the buy-in, they also mitigate the catastrophic nature of a single bad decision. While some players derisively refer to these games as big-bet poker with training wheels, the game structure straddles a middle ground between limit hold’em and real big-bet games.”
How big is big slick?
Although I feel I’ve settled into the grind, accepting the tight-aggressive style and collecting a couple big bets an hour, I find that the learning epiphanies that were so frequent in earlier days are long gone. As I’ve said before, learning new things is harder to come by, and comes in smaller increments. So in order to take my game to the next level, I’m trying ask harder questions. Questions that go beyond intuition and odds, and require heavy duty simulation to answer.
Enter Turbo Texas Hold ‘Em. On Friday I read an interesting tidbit from the archives of the writer whose advice for loose games is unparallelled: the mighty Izmet Fekali.
“Of course, this is not the best example of reverse implied odds, as you might lose a lot postflop when a scare card hits and you cannot know whether your opponent’s bet is a bluff or not. But I’m sure you understand the logic. A better example would be a hand like AKo which will usually win more than it’s fair share against many opponents preflop and therefore MUST raise for immediate profit.”
A little bell went off in my head as I remembered reading simulations that say AKo does terrible against many opponents. I even managed to remember where I’d read it:
Player’s Guide: A New Guide to the Starting Hands in Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Although the study design may be a bit suspect, the most interesting thing I took from this article was the conclusion that AKo does very poorly in big multiway pots. Its mean rank among all hands if 6 players go to the river is 40th (of 169), meaning that in family pots in a no-fold ’em game, AKo isn’t too far from toilet paper. Take the simulation for what it’s worth– a preflop raise followed by an Ace on the flop isn’t likely to have 6 players on the river, even in LA. But the point is that the simulation contradicted the words of the mighty Izmet, which meant I had to fumble around with my own simulations to see what I could find.
The Simulation
The question I really wanted to answer is whether or not we should raise with AKo in a family pot, or if it’s more profitable to call. However, the simulations aren’t quite that flexible, so I settled for an analysis of three separate profiles (keep in mind that the deck was stacked so that AKo is the only hand played):
Profile 1: Pure Aggression (PA)– always raise. No matter what the action before him, PA always raises
Profile 2: Call Raises (CR)– Raise if opening or pot has not been raised, otherwise call
Profile 3: Calling Station (CS)– always call, never raise
I ran each profile on 3 different table types, using the pre-packaged lineups included in TTH:
Table 1: Loose Aggressive
Table 2: Average Passive
Table 3: Regular Low Limit
The sim was run for 2 million hands for each table, playing $10-20 hold ’em with a typical 10% rake.
Hypotheses: I expected that on the loose aggressive table, PA and CR would have the highest win rate, since every raise punishes people limping or raising with marginal hands. I figured CR would end up slightly ahead since capping with big slick would run into big pairs enough times that it would make PA slightly less profitable. Similarly, PA should do well on the average passive table, punishing limpers with raises, but losing a bit of equity perhaps by 3 betting against solid raises. On the low limit table, I figured CR would probably triumph, although if the “Player’s Guide” simulation was right, then CS might come out with the highest win rate.
In each cell, the win rate in percentage is followed by the net $ won per hand.

Call Raises Calling
Loose Agg 48.1%  $6.44 48.1%  $6.49 57.4%  $4.75
Avg. Passive 56.8%  $4.67 56.9%  $4.73 56.9%  $4.74
Typical LL 57.4%  $4.75 57.3%  $4.73 57.3%  $4.69

Discussion: Surprisingly, there wasn’t much difference between the win rates, except on the loose aggressive tables. I have to think about these results some more, but they were somewhat surprising. Not surprisingly, pure aggression can lead to a slightly higher win rate, but comes with higher variance.
Poker Blog Patrol
Well, I think The Blogfather has posted his longest post ever. It took me 3 sittings to read all the way through (including the links), and my head hurts. There is some great stuff in there, but it’s cutting into my poker play… The guy’s been collecting poker wisdom for 6 years, I picture him digging through a box of 100 gig hard drives with labels like “POKER 1998-2000” before presenting us with these gems. Iggy is taking a break from blogging, so I hope someone else will tell me which 2+2 and RGP posts to read while my “filter” is busy killing the games.
The Poker Prof and Flipchipro had the honor of interviewing one of my favorite poker writers, Tom McEvoy, this week. Check out their interview, and after that, take a peek at the 2004 WSOP photo gallery. Here’s how Tommy Mac got his start:
“I started playing professionally in 1978, the best thing that ever happened to me was getting fired from my job that year and that gave me the opportunity to pursue poker full time. I spent about 6 months flying back and forth and during one 5-10 game I made over 1,000 dollars, well, this is over three times what I was making at my accounting job and more then the President of the company made (he made about 50,000 a year).”
I’ve been meaning to link up to No Limit Poker Club since I met Mike, the owner of the site, at the Horseshoe during the WSOP. Mike lives and works in Vegas, and gives us an insider’s view of low-limit hold ’em on the strip:
“First of all, this poker room is not crowded with fish. I had clowns! sitting next to me. Get it? Clowns instead of fish at the Circus Circus casino? Can I get a rim shot?”
I also have to thank Grubby and Chris for guiding me to the free money from blackjack bonuses before the sites were attacked by bonus hunters. Although the bonuses are still there for the taking, they have gotten harder to find. I encourage all of you low-limit players trying to build your bankroll to head over to Poker Grub for the best bonuses on the net.
Oh, that reminds me, I have to throw in my two cents about the whole ALLIN Magazine debacle. I’m not sure what’s going on over there, but I knew that the first issue would get a lot of publicity and would expose people to our little blog community, so I was happy to spend a few hours writing up an article for them. I won’t drag you through the details, but some of the editor’s suggested changes were difficult to swallow. All in all (no pun intended), it was a good experience, but there were plenty of tilt-inducing moments about the whole thing. I enjoyed Iggy’s take:
“I’m not going to besmirch ALLIN Magazine after they were kind enough to allow an excellent six page spread about the poker blog scene, written by Hank. But there are plenty of folks complaining on RGP about them….people have requested rate cards to no avail and most people haven’t even received their first issue. For the record, the magazine was riddled with typos. In the real world, that I work in, you would be terminated with prejudice for even one, much less a dozen.
Hell, they called PokerGrub = PokerGrab. Oh the humanity. Hire an editor and a REAL art director, guys!”

I can’t tell you how annoying this was. Sadly, one of my strongest suits is spelling, and this typo definitely wasn’t mine. I suspect the editor thought I had made a spelling error, and took it upon himself to set it right. Ah well, at least I was able to get something in the first issue… any bets on the odds that a second issue makes it to publication?
I have to congratulate my man T for his win in the Party Poker Million Satellite. T is a $15-30 player who has been living in bad beat city for the past couple of weeks, and was down to 10 chips early on after he flopped trip queens on a Q T x board, and someone called his all in on the turn with KJ to river the straight. In true “chip and a chair” fashion, he came back to win the satellite. T’s moral: “There’s always hope.”
A little pot limit anyone?
I’m off to Sweden for 2 weeks on Friday, so it’s hiatus time for The Cards Speak. I haven’t had a vacation since last summer, so I’m really looking forward to getting away from work for a while. I’m also excited to reunite with Monk, who I haven’t seen for a year. We’ll be making a trip or two to the Stockholm casino, to terrorize some Swedish fish (rimshot). I’ll be hanging with the wife’s family, so who knows, you may even see the first post from the other side of the pond.
Thanks for reading, enjoy the grind…

A recipe for poker success

“While one should always study the method of a great artist, one should never imitate his manner. The manner of an artist is essentially individual, the method of an artist is absolutely universal. The first is personality, which no one should copy; the second is perfection, which all should aim at.”
–Oscar Wilde
Well I haven’t posted for six days– I’m not getting lazy, I just haven’t had much to say. I’ve entered the limit grind, where everything that happens seems to have happened before, and your greatest weapon is patience rather than technical skill. I have to lead off today’s post with a great comic from The Poker Hermit… take note of the subtleties of the drawing, it’s really well done:

He sure plays a mean pinball
I’ve been dabbling in the $15-30s. The blackjack bonus whoring is done, and I have been (over) anxious to test my mettle in the bigger games, and couldn’t resist sitting down a few times, hoping the poker gods wouldn’t cast down too many suckouts.
To make a long story short, I had 5 very nice hit and run sessions, the best of ended in a $400 profit after 31 hands. The worst? Well, the old tilt monster reared its subtle head and I found myself dropping my entire buy in ($750) after ramming and jamming my flush and straight draw in a monster pot. Neither hit, and my play became very fishy before I knew it. The good news is that I threw a rope around the tilt monster and managed to win $500 back playing solid poker at 3 $5-10 tables simultaneously. So my overall win rate at $15-30 over this period ended up being 1.3 BB/100, although I’m still kicking myself over so many wasted big bets playing way below my ability.
The little foray into tilt-world showed me that my bankroll is not quite ready to play with the big boys. I’m confident that my game is ready, but it’s still hard for me to stomach losing $200 on a single hand. To combat this, I’ve opened a poker-only bank account, which should help me attach a definite number to my bankroll (I’ve been keeping track of my sessions, but haven’t felt the need to create a separate account up until now).
The biggest difference between $3-6 and $15-30 is the aggression. Of course the games are somewhat tighter, but the major difference is the amount of 3-betting and capping that goes on at $15-30. I rarely see $3-6 players 3 betting with just top pair, but during my experiment (remember I only played 110 hands) on the $15-30 tables, I saw this several times. The pots you end up winning tend to be larger, but the same goes for the pots you lose. In other words, more variance.
So I’m struggling to build the bankroll through grinding, but I feel strongly that I can beat these games. I guess it’s just a test of discipline until I feel I have enough big bets in the bank to make the leap. I’d like to play 3 $5-10s, but the wait lists are so long and the games are so tight that I feel my win rate at $3-6 is probably in the same ballpark, and of course the variance is much lower in these games.
Poker and Personality
Thanks to Felicia for pointing out this excellent article about the role of personality in poker: Is There an Optimal Poker Personality Profile?. Make sure to check out all the PrimatePoker links, as the site offers a rare combination of humor and wisdom.
I was happy to discover that the author believes that my personality type (INTJ) is the “optimal” personality for poker. The main point is that introverts have more of a natural tendency for self-examination and self-criticism than extroverts, and this tendency makes them better at poker. While I agree with this to some extent, I think that there are factors other than personality that are far more important to the success of a poker player. Clearly there is some overlap– but we’ll discuss that later.
Here is my crack at a recipe of mental ingredients for the successful poker player (in no particular order):

  • Ability to absorb and recognize patterns: My understanding of “talent” or “card sense” in poker is the ability to categorize the current hand based on the tens of thousands of hands stored in memory. When a player has a “feeling” he is beat, where does this feeling come from? I think that all of the inputs– the time it took for another player to call, the texture of the board, the pattern of bets and raises– combine to create a general impression that the player recognizes from a previous hand. The hand isn’t exactly the same as the one we played before, but somewhere in our subconscious we recognize the pattern. Many have argued that all learning takes place by analogy, and our subconscious mind is trying to find something in memory similar to the current activity. Since this happens at a subconscious level, it seems to me that it is in some sense a “natural” ability– our pattern recognition and categorization is something our brain does without us really being aware of it. The conscious element of the hand is also significant (what are my pot odds? what hand did this guy show down last time?), but the “feeling” you get is a subconscious prodding from your brain that says “wait, I’ve seen this before!” This is the only ingredient in the list that cannot be learned.
  • Concentration: This one is kind of obvious, but poker concentration is a little like baseball or golf, in that you have to be able to turn it on at the few moments you need it, and then put it on cruise control for the rest of the time. When you’re in a hand its on, taking in everything from the flaring of an opponents nostrils to the number of bets in the pot. There are so many things to take in that it takes a zen-like calmness and unfocused concentration that absorbs everything at the table. When you’re not in a hand, you’re able to passively follow the developments of a table, seeing that a player just finished his second jack and coke, or taking note of a player who’s lost two pots in a row. There has been a lot written about the Zen and the Tao of poker, and I think the effortless concentration suggested in these indescribable words has been mastered by all successful players.
  • An understanding of probability: You don’t have to be able to compute binomial coefficients on the fly, but understanding probability and odds is necessary to cushion the blows rained down upon the player by the poker gods. One of the most difficult things for me about poker is the idea that a perfectly played hand, from preflop to river, still has a significant chance of losing. Rarely is any hand greater than an 80% favorite, and we jump at the chance to get all our money in the pot in that situation. But one out of five times we will lose this bet, and if we can’t accept this, then we should go play chess. The harshness of variance is what makes the game so great– any two cards really CAN win, and the serious player learns to accept a bad beat with a wry smile. If the favorite always won, I don’t think there would be too many professional players, or poker players at all for that matter.
  • A thirst for improvement: If you don’t get better, you get worse. It’s easy to convince yourself when you’re running bad that it’s the cards’ fault. You know you’re a winning player, so it must be the cards. Without the desire to improve your game, the motivation to analyze your play disappears. It’s no fun thinking about that time when you bet the river, knowing you were going to get check-raised the second your fingers separated from the chips. Yeah, he sucked out on you, but you wasted two big bets on that river bet. The successful poker player is always haunted by her mistakes, win or lose.
  • Discipline: This overlaps with concentration and a thirst for improvement, but it’s so easy to fall into playing marginal hands when something throws you off your game. A disciplined player avoids those subtle-tilt rationalizations like “it’s only one more bet and I think I can get 11:1 if I hit” even though there are only 3 players in the pot. It takes extreme discipline to think carefully about every hand in a long session, adjusting to new players or sudden changes in player behavior.
  • Courage: I’ve written a lot about believing in yourself and your abilities before, and I think that the courage to put your money on the line and “go for it” is underrated in poker. I see a lot of very smart players stuck in a weak-tight shell, playing very conservative and risk-averse poker. While playing over your bankroll is never a good idea, being afraid to cap the betting when you think you’ve got an edge is what it takes to be a great player. There’s plenty of money to be made if you sit and wait for the nuts, but this won’t work at the higher limits, and besides, you’re leaving a ton of chips on the table. Have faith in your instincts– grit your teeth and throw your chips in when you think your hand is best… it’s a lot more fun that way, win or lose.

I’m sure I left out plenty, but the above qualities are the most important to being successful in poker, based on my (limited) experience. Is there a certain personality type that encourages these qualities? It’s possible, but I’m sure if you looked across the spectrum of poker greats, you’d find a lot of different personalities.
Thanks for reading– may variance be kind.

A Fish By Any Other Name Smells The Same

“Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck — but, most of all, endurance.”
–James Baldwin
Well, I’m beat. Between poker and work, I can barely keep my eyes open. Shoot, I’m 27 years young and when I get home from work it ain’t Miller time, it’s siesta time. I don’t know how all y’all with kids out there do it. It’s probably the lack of exercise… I remember being tired in my old football days, but it was a good kinda tired, not an old-worn-down man tired.
But enough whining, I just wanted to warn you that the following ramblings may not be my finest writing…
A Fish is A Fish
I was intrigued by a comment I received for my last post, which suggested my several references to “the fish” suggested that I may be a bit too proud for my own good, and that this overestimation of my own abilities would cause “many more lost dollars flee your bank account”. I don’t mind the suggestion that I may be too proud, but having my bankroll sprouting a couple legs and leaving my account is going a bit too far.
First off, I want to clarify that when I use the term “fish”, I’m only trying to convey the image of a player who is not playing to maximize his expected value. I suppose I could use the term “gambler” or “non-EV maximizer,” but I feel that “fish” provides a standard and more colorful image than these terms.
Secondly, I don’t think that I’m a great player. I do think that for a player with one year of poker experience, I’ve learned a lot faster than the “average” player. I also believe that if I continue to play and think and write poker, I will be a great player. But there’s always someone more talented than you. No matter how good you are, you can always find someone who has more natural ability at something than you do. But I don’t play poker to be the most talented player in the world, I play to be the best player I can be. And so far, I think I’ve accomplished that.
If you don’t believe you can outplay the opponent who is betting into you, you will lose money to him. Relativism aside, if you don’t believe you can make the correct play at that moment against that player, he will probably beat you. Confidence at the tables has a huge impact on the number of big bets you make per hour, and if you don’t think you’re one of the best players at the table, you shouldn’t be there (unless your motivation is something other than to win money, which is fine… then stay at the table and match wits against those with more skill than you). Doubt and failure, if unchecked, will create a self-fulfilling prophecy and cause you to lose.
But that’s just me– I play to win. For me, I get a lot more enjoyment out of knowing I played the hand correctly than from getting lucky and winning money. I don’t care about the bottom line (or I try not to anyway), I care about making the correct play based on odds, my read of other players, and the flow of the game. For example, last night I caught a 4-outer to fill up on the river, after a guy with a flopped flush slowplayed me when I flopped 2 pair. I’m still kicking myself, despite winning $100 on the hand. I’m more proud of getting all my money in with Aces preflop, even though my opponent caught his 3rd king on the flop and the hand cost me $200.
I played one of these hands well, and one of them terribly. The results, in these particular cases, do not correspond with the “goodness” of the choices I made. But that’s poker, and if you don’t believe that in the long run your correct choices will make you money and your incorrect choices will lose you money, then you’re just a gambler. Which is fine, but then we’re not really playing the same game.
There are plenty of people at the casino who sit down expecting to lose their buy in, and are willing to cough up 20 big bets to gamble it up, ignoring odds and probability and just enjoying the whole gamble of it. I think this is a good attitude towards gambling, but it’s not the way I think about poker. The majority of low limit players at my usual haunt would think it ridiculous to read a book about poker strategy and even more ridiculous to call yourself a “student of the game”. But I enjoy studying, so that’s the way I approach poker.
I defer to The Mighty Izmet Fekali to explain the way I feel about people who take different kinds of joy from the poker table:
“Examine your motives for playing. Some people play for money, some for fun, some for the excitement, some for the punishment. These are all valid reasons to play poker. Respect the losers, they have their own reasons for playing. They are usually getting what they need from the game. It’s OK to be a loser if that is what you need (I’m not speaking with tongue-in-cheek here, this is a fact. Self punishment is the underlying reason for most weird behavior in life). If so, be a loser in moderation.”
And I think here is the key to no-limit poker. Know thyself, and know thy opponent– if we understand our opponent’s motivation for playing, it will help us to understand his raises and calls much better. For example, last weekend’s no limit game featured a young guy who was clearly there to gamble– he wanted to go home broke, or with a wad of Franklins in his pocket. This meant that if he had some chips in front of him, he was gonna be in there gambling with you with anything, no matter how much you raised… he didn’t care much about odds or the size of raises– if he thought that he had any chance of catching the winning card on the river, he’d be in that pot. And I have a lotta respect for the guy. He played without fear, and busted me a couple times, and of course I doubled up on him several times. I don’t mean disrespect when I say he was a fish, I’m just saying that he was there to gamble.
Thanks to all of the commenters who assured me that my writing didn’t paint me as a know-it-all poker snob who berates others at the table. Anyone who’s played with me knows that it’s this type of player I go after, while I usually end up laughing it up with the gamblers and other assorted fish.
You’re all talk
I played my longest session ever this weekend, 11 hours straight without a break at Hollywood Park. My cards were not spectacular, and aside from a few mistakes, I thought I played pretty well, and at the end of the day found myself up 12 big bets after 11 hours at $6-12. Not a spectacular win rate, but with the draconian rake and poor cards, I was happy to come out ahead. The results would have been considerably better if I had won the $300 pot I built with AKd, when two diamonds flopped and a guy who ended up showing AA was happy to ram and jam along with me. We trapped 3 players between us, but the third diamond never came, and the monster pot was not to be mine.
That Belmont gallop was the best horse race I’ve ever seen, even if my horse (Hard Rock) completely died down the stretch.
I’ve decided (for now) to play only No-Limit at the B&M and stick to multi-tabling limit online. This will allow me to build my bankroll online, and the live NL games are much more enjoyable and probably ultimately more profitable than the heavily raked limit games (although a guy who played only premium hands took 1K off of my $6-12 table after he flopped top pair nearly every hand he played). I’m rereading Texas Dolly’s ultra-aggressive no-limit advice, but probably the best gem regarding no-limit came from the blogfather himself:
“Most of the money I make in No-Limit comes from beating top pair.”
I added, “or from beating somebody’s slow-played overpair.” The underlying advice here is to be careful with your top pair and overpairs, and learn when to lay them down. I’m still working on it…
I wore my new sunglasses at the toughest of the three tables I played (I quickly moved after the fish busted out), and didn’t feel too bad about it (I hate the image it creates). I think it inspired a few players to try to bluff me, and ended up winning me a couple big bets.
Anyway, when I sat down to play on Empire last night something felt different. Somehow it seemed easier to feel when I was beaten, and the game seemed clearer to me. The only thing I could think of was when I was learning to play guitar– I’d have these marathon sessions that would leave my fingers destroyed from playing all day. A couple days later, the chord changes would come easier, and it was like my brain had somehow absorbed far more from the single long session than several short sessions. In other words, I had a great (but short) run at 3 $3-6 tables, and felt like my game had improved.
Of course, I proceeded to blow away a chunk of that profit fooling around at a NL $25 table full of bloggers (read Pauly’s writeup here), but at least the money went to a good cause.
Poker Blog Patrol
I’ve been trying to keep up with all the great writing up there, but it’s getting tough. I can’t say enough about my fellow bloggers, and there is just too much good stuff to link, so I won’t even try.
The only thing this tired boy can offer is links to some of the newer blogs, in case you haven’t seen them yet…
Poboy is an up and coming low limit player coming off a bad run. Poboy shows his wisdom piping in on the “is party fixed?” debate:
“BB and I have a running debate about whether Party is fixed. I argue that it is not. My rationale is, why does PP care who wins and who loses, they are making so much money on the rake it’s ridiculous. And second, making a RNG is not trivial, but making a card-dealing algorithm that favors certain players or “creates action” is a much tougher problem. Considering how terrible there software and production environment is, I can’t imagine them having the resources to build such an engine.”
J9o is a new blogger who’s trying to build up a stash for his 30th bday in Vegas. Make sure you check out his link to Shana Hiatt’s earlier work, if you are interested in her artistic endeavors.
FHWRDH is another LA up and comer with a nice-looking site. Hopefully I’ll get to sit at his table someday:
“this week, my goal is to read and study the limit hold’em chapter of brunson’s super system (thanks for the bday present, facty) written by bobby baldwin. in preperation for vegas next month, i’m going to commerce casino with lkim from work on saturday. my first casino game. i felt like i shouldn’t even set foot in a casino poker room without reading this. i know – nerd.”
And finally, I’ve been reading The Poker Chronicles for a while now, and thoroughly enjoy the tales of a true professional gambler. Check out his recent Atlantic City trip reports, which includes one of my favorite fish stories:
“The turn and river missed him and my pair of 3s won a $700 pot. Of course everyone at the table went crazy. The kid asked me how I could call that much with bottom pair and I told him that I saw his hand. The entire table couldn’t stop laughing. The kid accused me of cheating, but since it is his responsibility to cover his own hand I just laughed it off. He was very upset, but he got over it and I would have bet that he would be much more careful about exposing his hand in the future, but that bet would have been a loser since one hour later I could see some of his hands again.”
Thanks for reading, sometimes it’s good to add a little hubris to your diet…

Fighting through the grind

“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”
–Leonardo da Vinci
Well I don’t have any coherent ideas for a centrally-themed post, so I guess I’ll just ramble. Lots of stuff on my mind, mostly thoughts inspired by Jesse May’s “Shut up and Deal”, which I finished reading this morning.
Shut up and Deal
Jesse May’s cynical, rambling, and inspirational story of his years playing poker for a living is arguably the best poker book out there, although Anthony Holden’s “Big Deal” remains my favorite. Jesse takes us through the ups and downs of playing $50-100 and up all over the world, and shows how tough the life of a pro poker player can be. May quotes Dylan several times in the book, and his words ramble on without a central theme, but somehow convey some central “truth” in Dylan-like fashion.
The central “truth” that Jesse ends up at is that the key to long term success in poker is not mastering poker strategy and tactics, but accepting the slings and arrows of fate. It’s easy to talk about standard deviation and variance and big bets per hour, but what are you gonna do when your Aces get cracked three times in a row at $50-100, and you’re stuck five grand? You’ve got more skill than the guy who rivered his inside straight, you know all the outs, the odds, but you just lost five grand. Figuring out how to accept that is the hard part of poker.
“Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick of poker is mastering the luck. That’s philosophy. Understanding luck is philosophy, and there are some people who aren’t ever going to fade it. That’s what sets poker apart. And that’s what keeps everyone coming back for more.”
Limit vs. No Limit
I’ve been thinking about the No Limit game and the WSOP and WPT and the poker explosion, and have found myself at the low-limit NL games at the B&M a few times over the past weeks. No doubt about it, these games are great. So great that I ended up dropping $600 at the $100 buy in NL game at Hollywood Park, after playing perfectly for 6 hours. The game was so fishy that Nemo sat down at my table and took my money, after I managed to get all-in preflop for $200 with AA. Of course, Nemo had KK and flopped a King. I was playing my middle pairs aggressively, making tough bets and calls where I was always a big favorite, but too many times the river would give somebody their flush or straight or whatever hand they didn’t have odds to draw to. I remember betting my pocket 6s hard with two overcards on board, and checking the river when a King hit. “Show me AK!” I said to the fish as he bet out, and he happily did. “Would you have called if I went all in on the flop?” I asked, knowing the answer: “With AK? Of course!” said the fish, and I’m pretty sure he would have.
But that’s poker. There was a lot of money to be made at that table, and it wasn’t too hard to get somebody all in when you were a 70% favorite. But the poker gods were unkind, and I began to think the optimal strategy in that game was to just wait for the nuts and double up. You could do that probably once or twice an hour if you were lucky, and the variance would be a lot less. But that’s coward poker, leaving money on the table like that. If I’m there, I’m gonna push my edges, push them so hard that I end up drowning in the fish tank if the cards aren’t kind.
In limit poker, you have to make radical adjustments to your play when you’re playing against a school of fish. The same goes for NL. I don’t have the experience yet to know what these adjustments are, but I think I’m starting to get the idea. I’m not quite sure where I stand on NL– the highest limit NL game at HP is $200, so Limit is where the real money’s at. I’m not sure where I stand on NL, but I want to learn the game.
You get better or worse, you never stay the same
Part of the reason for this NL excursion was because I’ve been feeling a little stagnant grinding away at $3-6. I briefly considered learning Omaha as a way to improve my limit game, but Hold ‘Em is the game for now and the future (tv rules), and a wise sage helped me see the poker scene more clearly. My results at $3-6 have been consistently good, but I’ve been itching to move up in limits or just try SOMETHING to challenge my dormant brain. I’ve dabbled in $15-30 (the games are so good but the variance is through the roof) and played in a few multis (my tourney game is slowly improving) to get a break from the grind. I cashed in 16th out of 164 in a $10 turbo pacific multi when my TT went down to A9… I thought it was a great call, but the poker gods mocked me by giving my opponent a wheel on the river. Hopefully I can wait out the higher-limit itches until I have a sufficient bankroll, or maybe I’ll start taking shots at the super loose $15-30 live game at Hollywood Park. But I’m not prepared to lose a grand on a few suckouts, so hopefully my patience holds up.
My protege, Monk, on the other hand, finally has been learning at a superhuman pace. I took great pride in watching him destroy two $1-2 tables the other night, and his bankroll has been growing steadily. It was great to see that my “teaching” had finally paid off, and he made a lot of plays that I considered questionable, but he usually ended up being correct– he explained that the 1-2 tables have a different breed of fish, and some of the plays he was making used his knowledge of his opponents. At this point I don’t think I have much left to teach him, although every time you jump in limits the learning process starts over.
I’ve also taken up some of the blackjack bonuses offered on Grubby’s site (it just shows you how much I want to move up to $15-30). Although I somehow felt like my dignity had gone out the window, I have to admit it was mesmerizing watching the computer fly through 5000 hands on autoplay. Someday I’ll have a big enough bankroll that I won’t have to stoop to such bonus whoring, but for now the free money is too good to pass up.
And I felt a bit silly buying my first pair of poker sunglasses, but I’m tired of getting caught staring at someone’s eyes when they are checking their hole cards. We’ll see if I can actually bring myself to put them on at the table.
I’m too tired to do a full poker blog patrol, but I did want to point to long time RGP poster Dave L’s RGP posts about going pro. I know I miss the weekly DavidRoss updates, so check out Dave L’s conservative approach to playing poker for a living.
Have a good weekend everybody– don’t leave chips on the table.