Rambling and Gambling

“Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
–James Joyce
I don’t have too much time before my favorite band hits the stage, but I thought I’d bang out a rambling post before I head out. I haven’t had much reason to write lately… I haven’t been spending too much time at the tables (work and a side project are keeping me busy), but hope to return in full force shortly. I’m actually going to be in San Francisco for a conference next week, so if anyone has any advice about good games at Lucky Chances, let me know.

  • I’ve been indecisively bouncing back and forth across games lately, and I can’t seem to find the “sweet spot” that I’m looking for. The robotic play of $3-6 is just too much of a grind after a long day of work, and like fellow gamblers, I find myself pining for games where more skillful plays are possible. I 4-tabled the $5-10 full ring games with dull results– these games are extremely tight, and even more boring. Some advice to fellow grinders: the $5-10 full rings games are the worst games on PartyPoker by far. They are populated mostly by extremely tight players (although it depends on the hour of the day), and the pots you win will be relatively small. Just click on the $5-10 window and check out the average pot size– usually around $60 (again depending on the time of day… they seem to be better around 8 pm eastern time). 6 big bets. In comparison, most of the $15-30s and $3-6s are coming it at a much juicier 7, 8, or 9 big bets, and exhibit far worse play. So avoid the $5-10 games.
    Which leaves me stuck in the middle… I am still adjusting to the bigger games, and definitely don’t have the bank to multi-table $15-30. The dollar swings in the single table $15-30 sometimes send me reeling, although in terms of big bets they aren’t too bad. The play is fast and furious, and I still have a lot to learn. A friend has been crushing these games lately, and rightly mocks me for not making the step up already. The roll is slowly building, however, and hopefully soon the bankroll fortress will be well enough equipped ot handle mighty variance. All in good time.
  • I read Phil Gordon’s “The Real Deal,” which was cowritten by Jonathan Grotenstein, who is a friend of both The Film Geek and Bill, and also is apparently a regular at Hollywood Park. The book was surprisingly good (the subtitle “Insider Tips from the co-host of Celebrity Poker Showdown” lowered my expectations). I admit that I wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t gotten for free (from the author himself!), but I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a light poker read. The book starts out by saying that it is NOT a strategy book– there are plenty of those out there. This book is about the “poker lifestyle.” Phil’s humor is present throughout the book, and there are some hilarious quotes that had me chuckling. A couple gems as illustration, from a section on “inducing tilt”:

    If you’re playing poker ‘correctly’– that is, calling or betting only when you have the right odds– you’re going to suffer more bad beats than you inflict. The theory of implied tilt odds (or ITO), however, suggests that the correct way is not always the best way. ITO relies on the notion that calling a bet when you have no mathematical business doing so, then winning the hand, will leave your stunned opponent muttering obscenities and chasing his money for the rest of the night.

    Whether it’s phrases like “Cha Ching!” and “Ai-yah!” or more physical expressions like karate chopping the table and standing up on a char, many of the Asian greats have an uncanny ability to put their opponents on tilt. Study them carefully.

    Phil Gordon rules.
  • Thanks to Halverson 3K, I’ve been slowly catching up on my poker tv. I thought Fox Sports Net’s coverage of the tourney at the Plaza was superb– a shorthanded structure for most of the way, along with the commentary of Howard L and Michael Konik made for excellent poker television. I was thoroughly impressed by both Daniel Negreanu and Ted Forrest– these guys are just on another level. Some of the reads they were making show me just how inexperienced I am at tournament poker, and I would be eaten for lunch at a table with these two. I highly recommend watching this tourney as a lesson in how to play tournament poker. I’ll take Lederer, Negreanu, and Forrest over Shana Hiatt any day. (Bonus points with the wife!)
  • Head over to the poker pub and thank Iggy for a year’s worth of excellent posts. The guy has saved me hours of digging through RGP by serving up gems on the regular for the last 12 months, not to mention great stories and good times. Hoist a Guinness for the man, and then get ready for the next Blogger/Reader tournament, which the Blogfather just announced:
    The next poker blogger and their readers tournament:
    October 21st, Thursday, at 9pm EST.
    Poker Stars

    Hot Damn! We’ve finally made it– Stars has the best interface of any site, and I’m really looking forward to this one. Maybe for once I’ll get some cards and make it to the final second table.
  • PokerTracker now has the capability of reading hand histories directly off your hard drive (Party/Empire has gotten rid of the emails, and is delivering them straight to disk). Big deal. But wait… the folks at Party have finally thrown the diligent Hand History Harvesters a bone (although most likely it was bad program design). As Ftrain (link long overdue, sorry FT!) wisely points out in this post (he beat me to it):
    While working on the patch, the PokerTracker folks discovered that Party’s new client also saves hand histories for hands a player merely observes — that is, hands for which the player is not even seated at the table.
    This means that you can collect hand histories 4 tables at a time, collecting information on 40 players every minute of the day. I’ve gotten used to having 4 tables open all the time, and my PokerTracker database is growing rapidly. More information = more profit. PokerTracker can be a bit overwhelming, but there is a rumor going around that a guide to all the features is forthcoming. Anyone not using PokerTracker is throwing away positive EV.
  • Almost time for the show. I hate politics, and the debates have got me in need of a little humor. Check out The Gourds in action by downloading a couple of videos here. Check out their bluegrass cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.” And then go sign up for EmpirePoker here and use bonus code HDOUBLE to get a 20% bonus up to $100. It’ll cure all your economic woes (no guarantees though), and I’ll even be your coach if you need one.
  • HDouble at The Movies: Groundhog Day

    “Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. “

    –William Saroyan

    cards continue to treat me well this week, and the long cold spell of terrible
    cards seems like a distant memory. However, looking back on the cold spell,
    I couldn’t help but think of one of my all-time favorite movies– Groundhog
    Day. And seeing how the last few weeks have been pretty heavy on the
    analysis, it’s time for something a little more light-hearted. That’s right–
    it’s time to extract the poker wisdom from Groundhog Day.

    On the surface, the life of the protagonist in Groundhog Day is a lot like
    the life of a pro poker player. Every day the poker pro takes his seat at the
    table and although the faces/avatars sometimes change, the game is the same.
    That’s why they call it the grind. In essence, Phil Connors (played by the
    great Bill Murray) must learn to accept the the grind in order to learn how
    to live his life. And like the characters in the movie, the cards have no memory.
    The deck does not care if you’ve lost 10 times in a row with pocket Aces, or
    if you’ve just won 4 hands in a row. All you can do is play the next hand the
    best you can, and not worry about the past or the future. This is the wisdom
    of Groundhog Day.

    Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly
    the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
    Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

    In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, Phil tries to get some sympathy
    from blue-collar Ralph, whose small town life is the same, day-in and day-out.
    As a wise poker blogger once said, good limit poker (at least the low-limit
    variety) is somewhat boring on the surface. You find a game where there are
    lots of bad players who make bets and calls when the odds are against them.
    You calculate your pot odds and throw your chips in when your hand is going
    to win more than its fair share. That’s it. Stone-cold bluffs, steal raises,
    and other glorious plays aren’t a part of the grind. And when the river starts
    flowing over you, and you lose to runner-runner yet again, it seems like there
    is nothing you can do that matters. The truth is, if you can learn to be at
    peace with yourself and confident in your play, you can accept the daily grind
    and win at a steady rate.

    Phil: There is no way this winter is *ever* going to end as long as that
    groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any way out of it. He’s
    to be stopped. And I have to stop him.

    Phil goes on tilt after he concludes there is nothing he can do to escape
    his fate. He ends up driving off a cliff and crashing and burning with Punxsutawney
    Phil on his lap. The most common type of crashing and burning for poker players
    is going up in limits after either a really good run or a really bad run. The
    player who hasn’t steeled his game with an understanding of variance and bankroll
    will too often play in a game that is over his head financially or in skill
    level. Emotion can be a dangerous thing in poker–a good run of cards can make
    your head too big, and a bad run can crush your confidence. Avoid tilt– understand
    variance, take the good with the bad, and you’ll save yourself from driving
    off a cliff.


    Phil: You wanna throw up here, or you wanna throw up in the car?
    Ralph : I think… both.

    This quote, from a drunken Ralph, captures the way I felt after I lost the
    biggest pot of my life. I broke my own rule, and managed to lose all of my
    chips with top pair in a wild pot-limit game at Hollywood Park. After limping
    in on the button with AJo (and getting raised by the big blind up to $25),
    I found myself looking at a flop of Js 6h 8h with $150 in the pot. Checked
    around to me, I fired a huge pot-size bet out, only to find myself getting
    reraised all in by the big blind. He had bluffed a lot early, and I was set
    up perfectly to make a terrible play– getting 3:1, I sadly put in the rest
    of my stack, hoping for an Ace or a Jack. He turned over Aces, and I wanted
    to throw up on the table and in the car. Needless to say, it was a long drive
    home and one of the worst plays I’ve made in recent months. However, this play
    marked the end of a month of cold cards, and perhaps my terrible play somehow
    allowed me to turn the corner and play better. But more likely it was simply

    Phil Connors: This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts
    off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Well, it used to mean something
    in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to *eat* it. You’re
    hypocrites, all of you!

    This quote goes out to the current crop of online players, who don’t seem
    to know just how good we have it. These days, a good game is delivered to you
    at 100 Megabits per second. Back in the days before internet poker, you needed
    more than just the best hand to win. The road gamblers– TJ and Doyle– had
    to drive across states just to find a game, and then occasionally had to stare
    down both barrels of a shotgun if they wanted to escape with their winnings.
    The new breed of poker player complains when their wireless connection goes
    down or a site crashes in the middle of a big multi-table tournament. I’m glad
    that poker has gone mainstream, but you can’t help miss the adventure of the "old

    Larry: Did he actually refer to himself as "the talent"?
    Chris Elliot’s mocking of Murray’s character goes out to all of the table coaches,
    aquarium tappers, and of course, Phil Hellmuth. You want players to make mistakes,
    so don’t berate them when they do. Without their mistakes, the only winner
    in poker would be the house.

    Ned: Phil? Phil Connors? Phil Connors, I thought that was you. Now don’t
    you tell me you don’t remember me ’cause I sure as heckfire remember you.
    Phil: Not a chance.
    Ned: Ned… Ryerson. "Needlenose Ned"? "Ned the Head"?
    C’mon, buddy. Case Western High. I did the whistling belly-button trick at
    the high school talent show? Bing. Ned Ryerson, got the shingles real bad senior
    year, almost didn’t graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson, I dated your sister
    Mary Pat a couple of times until you told me not to anymore? Well?
    Phil: Ned Ryerson?
    Ned: BING.
    Phil: Bing.

    Ok, it’s a bit of a stretch to include this quote as poker wisdom, but I couldn’t
    leave out my favorite exchange in the movie. This one goes out to all the railbirds
    begging for chips, both online and in the casino. The Ned Ryersons of the online
    world pop up in your chatbox, asking for $50 dollars they can "hold" for
    a while, and of course they’ll pay you back tomorrow. It doesn’t matter that
    you have no idea who they are, they’re happy to borrow your money. I once had
    the horror of watching a terrible player (who I’d seen play 90% of her hands
    in a $6-12 game) drop $1000 in the $20-40 game in about an hour. Shortly after,
    I felt a tap on my shoulder and a request to borrow $50.

    Me: "What good is $50 going to do you? That’s a big blind in the $20-40
    Ned: "Gas money?"
    Me: "Bing."

    Phil: I’ve been stabbed, shocked, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted,
    and burned.
    Rita: Oh, really?
    Phil: Every day I wake up without a scratch on me, not a dent in the fender…
    I am an immortal.

    The great poker players all have the same immortality as Phil. Almost anybody
    can win– it’s not too hard to rake in pots all night when the deck is hitting
    you in the face. The way a player loses, however, is the real test of character.
    Most of us are taught our entire life that "results are the only thing
    that counts," especially in America, where the means are far less important
    than the end. For the majority of our endeavors, bad results usually indicate
    bad performance. In poker, however, the results are not always related to performance–
    often perfect play can result in greater losses than imperfect play. The zen
    of poker is learning to separate results from performance and to strive for
    immortality– no matter how many times you die on the river, you wake up without
    a scratch on you.


    Phil Connors successfully breaks through to his true self by learning how
    to accept the grind. Good luck on making the break, in poker and life.

    Be Aggressive, B-E Aggressive

    “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”
    –William Shakespeare
    After my “rebirth” last week, I had another great week despite limited hours at the tables. A side project has limited my poker play for now, but I did spend some time at the higher limit tables online this week, continuing to learn how to deal with the increased aggression at these limits. I also managed to finish 2nd in a 43 player multi, after coming to the final table last in chips. In heads up play, I managed to get my opponent all in when he was dominated two times, only to lose both hands as a 75% favorite. That’s tournament poker.
    The higher limit tables are chock full of Loose-Aggressive players who are happy to frequently reraise with nothing, making their living off of weak-tight players who won’t go to the showdown with top pair or less. Prodigy and protege Monk pointed out that there seem to be a big difference between good loose aggressive players and bad ones. The good ones steal a lot of small pots from the weak-tights, and of course they get paid off in spades when one of their big hands actually hits. The bad ones steal at the wrong time, and continue to raise and reraise when the board makes it clear they are beaten.
    These good loose-aggressive types remind me of one of the first bits of advice I ever received from a football coach in my early Pop Warner days: “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it at full speed.” It takes a lot of heart and an even bigger bankroll to play the part of the maniac, but if done right (and with a little luck), it can be much more profitable than the typical tight-aggressive style so widely recommended.
    Evidence? I was surprised to see that of the 26 of the 39 extremely loose aggressive players in my PokerTracker database were big winners. These borderline maniacs all had over 100 hands played and voluntarily put money in the pot more than 33% of the time with an aggression factor of over 1.5. Either these guys got very lucky, or a lot of them knew what they were doing. Methinks there is method to their madness.
    The general strategy I’ve adopted against these loose aggressive players is to punish their thin preflop raises by 3-betting and narrowing the field in the process. Hands like AJo become 3-bet hands against very loose aggressive players, but after the flop, it becomes a guessing game. Sometimes your ace-high is good heads up against the loose player, but he’s going to punish you every time he has a real hand. Usually I’ll continue to push back until the turn, when the loose-aggressive player will often reveal the true strength of his hand. Your profit in these games comes from guessing correctly– your ability to make the correct read against the loose aggressive player.
    As Gary Carson says,
    “Aggressive opponents are putting a lot of money in the pot by frequent raises and reraises– but that means you’ll also be putting in a lot. The more money you have to put in the pot, the greater the risk. With a lot of raises, you’ll be faced with frequent decisions, increasing the risk that you might make a mistake.”

    The biggest help in making the correct guess is position and the presence of other players. If a non-tricky tight player is in the hand along for the ride, you can often dump your hand if the tight player raises ahead of you. Reading players and hands is the most important skill in aggressive games– calculating pot odds and tight play becomes far less important, since it’s extremely difficult to put a loose-aggressive player on a hand (because he plays such a wide range of hands preflop).
    In a discussion with an excellent player with far more experience than me, we wondered if loose-aggressive games were more profitable than loose-passive games. Iggy was always of the opinion that the loose-aggressive games were more profitable, since reading players is so highly rewarded. I argued that loose-passive games require much easier decisions, with the added benefit of allowing a good post-flop player to play many more hands (since the implied odds are much higher when pots are multiway). I think both games can be profitable, it’s simply a matter of risk preference. If you make the right reads on the big hands against loose aggressive players, you make a big score– much like robbing a major bank. The risk is extremely high, but if you crack the vault, you walk away with a huge score. Loose passive games are like embezzlement– the small holes in your opponents’ security is repeatedly exploited, with a relatively small amount of risk.
    But the best of both worlds is a combination of a couple loose-aggressive players and several loose-passive players. I had the pleasure of playing at such a table a few times this week, and I was able to blow a hole in the bank vault. Here you had the best of both worlds– several loose-passives would limp pre-flop, the loose-aggressive player would raise, and I would 3-bet. Many times, the loose-passive players would call two more bets cold, and then frequently fold to a flop or turn bet. At this point the pot was huge, and I was lucky enough to avoid running into a monster hand from the loose-aggressive players.
    Enough babbling. Thanks for reading and I hope I haven’t bored you to sleep. Good cards.

    Death and Rebirth at the Poker Table

    “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
    –Nelson Mandela
    Watching the games on the first Sunday of the NFL season, I can’t help but think back to all the time I spent on the field and how much I miss the game. After 17 years of football, this is the second season that I’ve watched the game as a fan and not a player.
    I was also reminded earlier in the week of my football days, when I lost a monster pot in the big Pot Limit game at Hollywood Park. I broke my own rule of not going broke with top pair, and a loose aggressive player slowplayed his Aces to perfection, breaking me in the process. Driving home, the feeling in my stomach was almost identical to the feeling I got when I dropped a big pass or couldn’t come up with the big play in a big game. It’s not that I hate losing so much– what I really don’t like is the feeling that I didn’t play my best.
    I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell, who writes about the way myth and archetype affects the narrative of our life. One of my favorite archetypes is the deity who is reborn after a death-like experience and subsequent journey through the underworld. In the attempt to make mythology of my life, I could only see this 6 weeks of running bad as some kind of poker death, a journey through the Hades of bad beats and bad luck. And maybe this big loss in the pot limit game represented the final trial, the last obstacle in the underworld journey before I could return to the winning world of poker.
    A couple days later, after I’d licked my wounds, Mrs. Double and I played a heads-up NL Tourney. Of course she hit a 3 outer on the river after we were both all in to knock me out, and my luck continued. After the tourney, Mrs. Double suggested we play a Party Sit-N-Go, so I logged on and fired it up. The cards were unkind early, and we found ourselves slightly shortstacked with the blinds at 50-100. In middle position with pocket 6s, a guy who had been limping with Ace-rag limped again from early position. We threw in a raise, and everyone folded back to the limper. The limper came to life and pushed all in (he had us covered easily), and we were faced with a tough decision. Leave ourselves 400 chips, enough to survive two orbits, or call and hope for the best.
    Me: “Do you think he’s got a pair?”
    Mrs. Double: “No way!”
    Me: “I think he’s got us.”
    Mrs. Double: “I want to call…”
    Me: “Alright…”
    She clicked the call button and as my luck (or unluck) continued, he did in fact have a higher pair: pocket tens. I hated being right, and watched sadly as the first card came the 6s! Joy in Mudville, but only for a second, as the second card out was the Ts. Ah well… the third card was the As, and for a moment I thought we were actually going to be on the side of lady luck. The turn was a fourth spade, and I stood up to get ready for bed. But the river was the 5th spade, putting a flush on the board. The pot was split and we survived, catching a little bit of luck after all. I sat back down, breathing a sigh of relief, and noting just how lucky we really were. It had been a while since I had gotten a break, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I hoped that this was some sort of turning point.
    We soon doubled up, catching the limper when we flopped a set. With a little bit of room to work with, we stole our way to the chip lead, and quickly demolished the table, winning the tourney easily after the 5 spades had given us new life. I went to bed hoping that the tide had turned, and maybe the cards would relent on the merciless beating they’d been administering to me on a repeated basis.
    And they did. Yes, the occasional river card did kill me, but most of my big hands held up while 4 tabling $3-6, and I ended up with a decent week. So I’m hoping that the poker underworld is behind me (for a while, anyway), and I can get back to winning.
    But then again, results don’t really matter anyway.
    Enough mythology. A couple links to share, including an excellent article from my favorite CardPlayer writer, Daniel Kimberg. Kimberg breaks down the reason for playing multiple tables:
    “Is playing multiple small tables really a good idea? Some experienced players believe it’s too difficult to play well in multiple games simultaneously. If they’re right, your win rate suffers much more than it would appear from the table above. I personally believe that many winning players, especially those who are generally able to make quick decisions in their regular game, should also be able to beat multiple games. And they should be able to realize winning rates comparable to what they earn in larger games.”
    And more Sergeant Rock, explaining the most basic requirement for beating any game:
    “The most basic thing you gotta do to beat a poker game is…
    “Play Differently Than the Other 9 Guys.”
    …and I like to call this the Delta Factor. May sound silly, or
    too elementary, but basic truths are sometimes like that.
    Suppose that you play *real well* but are in a game where
    everyone else plays EXACTLY like you do. If there were no rake,
    then everyone would break even. Since there generally IS a
    rake, then everyone would lose in such a game.”

    Of course, in most low-limit games, you do this by playing tight. This “Delta Factor” concept isn’t discussed in any 2+2 book, and seems relatively obvious. But as you go up in limits and the players start to resemble the prototypical “solid” player, you’ve got to find ways to outplay them (or better yet, stay out of their way and attack the fish). Remembering this simple rule will aslo help you find a beatable game, although if you’re playing on Party/Empire, it shouldn’t be too hard.
    A while back I promised a review of Ed Miller’s new book, “Small Stakes Hold ‘Em”, so here it is.
    In general, I’m not a fan of the 2+2 books, as I find them to be poorly written and usually full of conjectures lacking in statistical/empirical evidence. Small Stakes Hold ‘Em (SSH) is short on statistics, although it’s pretty clear that MIT grad Miller has done some simulation work in the past. SSH offers a very thorough, recipe-like explanation for how to beat loose low-limit games. His advice is excellent, and writing style much clearer than good old Sklansky and Malmuth. For those players that understand the game and are looking for a solid conceptual foundation in Hold ‘Em, Miller’s book is the best out there.
    1. Focus on pot size and Expected Value
    Throughout the book, Miller’s repeated focus on Expected Value stresses the importance of understanding gambling theory. Loose games are all about getting your money in when you’ll win more than your fair share of the pot, even though you’re an underdog the majority of the time. This concept is difficult to understand for new players.
    2. Pot equity
    A concept tied to Expected Value, Miller’s book is the first that offers a clear explanation of this difficult concept. Postflop play in loose games is dictated by Pot Equity, and I believe that understanding this concept is crucial for success in loose games.
    3. Playing aggressively with marginal hands
    Raising with middle pair is a dicey proposition, but Miller does a good job of explaining how to play marginal hands. However, I think it’s easy to take this concept too far, and I see many players throwing in raises when they’re drawing to 4 or 5 outs.
    4. Hidden Outs
    Miller’s section on hidden outs addresses a subject I’ve yet to see in any other book. In games where the pots are huge, it’s often worth hanging on to your hand and hoping that the board can save you. Knowing these situations can end up winning you lots of big bets.
    1. Lack of general theoretical concepts
    SSH is more like a manual than a teaching book. Miller tells you how to play, but is usually short on why a certain play is correct. Unlike Gary Carson’s “The Complete Book of Hold ‘Em Poker”, which offers a variety of theoretical approaches to Hold ‘Em, Miller’s scope is restricted to specific concepts of play.
    2. Ramming and Jamming
    In his section on “Protecting Draws and Buying Outs,” Miller recommends raising to knock out players when holding big draws, such as the nut flush draw. This was about the only thing I disagreed with in the book– I think that we give up a lot of Expected Value by driving away customers when we hold a big draw. With a monster draw, I think it’s a better play to go for the monster pot, keeping everyone in and raising when we’ve already suckered them into the pot. Even if you hit your ace in a big pot (and miss your flush draw), it’s unlikely your top pair will be best in a big field anyway, so I don’t like Miller’s advice here. I suppose we can look at Abdul’s simulations to get an empirical answer on this issue.
    In short, Miller’s book is a great book and I recommend it to everyone. Combined with Carson’s theoretical approach, SSH is an excellent resource for improving your play.
    Alright that’s enough for today. If you don’t have an Empire account, sign up through this link using bonus code HDOUBLE and you’ll get a 20% bonus up to $100. I may need it to survive my next bad run…

    The Play’s The Thing

    “The spirit that I have seen
    May be the devil: and the devil hath power
    To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
    Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
    As he is very potent with such spirits,
    Abuses me to damn me: I’ll have grounds
    More relative than this: the play’s the thing
    Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

    –Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
    You know I’m running bad when I have to break out the Hamlet for the introductory quote. I, too, have also seen the devil, only it took on the unpleasing shape of bad beat after bad beat. The last 6 weeks have been testing my poker mettle, and the bad run reached its apex (hopefully) with a terrible session on Friday night at Hollywood Park. At least Paul and OJ were there to witness the beats, otherwise I might think the poker gods were playing tricks on me.
    Luckily for me, I’ve never been a very results-oriented player. I think I owe that to the blackjack world. In the mind of the card-counter, every bet simply represents a coin flip where the coin is slightly in your favor. The coin falls whichever way it will, but all you can do is bet when you have a positive expectation. I remember counting cards for hours and being happy just to get a positive EV situation, where the count went sky high and I had a chance to win some money. Win or lose, at least I got a chance to play.
    And in poker, usually the odds are strongly in your favor when you put your chips in the pot. But it’s still a gamble, even if you’re a 65% favorite (I’m picking a high number just to make a point here). Over and over again, I get emails/read posts/hear from new players that go something like this: “I’m only playing premium hands but I’ve lost $xxx in my first month, what am I doing wrong (or poker is all luck), etc. etc.” Poker is a skill game in the long run, but short term results of any repeated gamble answer to variance, not skill.
    As an example, lets say I play 10 hours a week for a month, and average about 40 hands an hour. That’s 400 hands in a month. Suppose I play very tight, and end up seeing 20% of flops, because I only play premium hands. That means I’ve seen 80 flops with my premium hands. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that in each of these 80 hands, I’m a 65% favorite. What is the probability that I have a losing month? This simple model ignores the rake, but for simplicity’s sake, lets assume that the cost of the blinds is (40 orbits)*(1.5 small bets) = 60 small bets = 30 big bets. That means we must win 30 big bets just to cover the blinds, so let’s say that’s 5 pots (assuming each pot is 10 BBs, and we invest 3 BBs, then 5 pots nets us 35 BBs, give or take a few). Winning 45 hands will put us ahead for the month (since we play aggressively). Even in this dream-like example, where we always come in a 65% favorite, we will still lose at least 45 of our 80 hands 6.5% of the time. We lose at least 30 of our 80 hands 36% of the time, which means that every third month should be a break even month with our 65% favorite figure. Of course, all this stuff depends on game dependent variables such as looseness, aggressiveness, and so on. But it’s still a scary thought.
    But enough math. The point here is that although poker is a skill game, it is still gambling. The last few weeks have been a test for me. The bad beats have grown too numerous to keep track of, and my only solace has been that my performance has been (for the most part) good, and I can reluctantly lay the blame on variance. However, adjustment to the bigger game has been a bit painful, as tougher games require different strategies. Adjusting to the aggression has been difficult, especially playing hands like KQo heads-up against aggressive players. But for the most part, the 15-30 players at Hollywood Park aren’t much different than their 6-12 counterparts, just a bit more aggressive and tricky.
    Luckily, I have the wisdom of Sergeant Rock (Thanks Iggy) to help keep my focus on performance rather than results.
    “Result = Performance