Poker Environment

As a programmer, I consider my “development environment” an important part of the programming process. If you’re not comfortable with the tools on your desktop, you won’t be a happy programmer.
Lately, when I haven’t been braving the variance monster of the $15-30 games, I’ve been 3 tabling the $5-10 6 max games. I thought I’d share my poker environment, as the tools I’ve recently incorporated have boosted my win rate significantly.
Thanks to 3 Kings Halverson for all the links.
You can get rid of the dealer and player avatars here.
The numbers underneath each player come from the GameTime+ application, which can be found here. GameTime+ pulls numbers from PokerTracker onto the client screen.
My 1900 x 1200 resolution comes in handy when multi-tabling.
Now sign up on Party or Empire if you haven’t already. You won’t be sorry.
Click on the image for a close up.

Sickness, Snow, and Seven Out: Vegas Trip Report

“One of the most sublime experiences we can ever have to to wake up feeling healthy after we have been sick.”
–Rabbi Harold Kushner
As far as bad beats go, it doesn’t get much worse than getting sick the day you arrive in Vegas. You get a few precious days in the gambling mecca, and you come down with a cold that wipes out your ability to calculate implied odds. Poetic injustice, if you ask me. Thankfully, the trip turned out alright, despite the minimal amount of poker that was played.
The cold pretty much destroyed all hopes of a proper trip report, so I didn’t bother taking notes. Hopefully my memory can penetrate the sleepless nights, cough syrup, and piles of phlegm and deliver you a somewhat entertaining report.
This trip to Vegas had come together beautifully: A while back, an old friend from the east coast (who goes by the nickname of Bourbon) told me he was headed to Vegas on 11/17. The same day, Iggy mentioned he was thinking about a trip for the same week. Excellent! I asked the boss if I could take Thursday and Friday off, and not only did I get them off, but got paid for them. Hard work apparently does pay off occasionally. So I was already up two days pay before the trip had even begun. Eventually, my longtime friend and Vegas companion M (see previous exploits here and here) and Mrs. Double free up their schedules and plan to make it down on Thursday.
All the pieces were in place for a great trip, and after an uneventful flight, I met Iggy in the bar to talk poker, blogging, and philosophy while downing a few beers at the bar. We got so wrapped up in the conversation that we never made it to the poker tables, deciding to save our energy for tomorrow. Oh the humanity.
Fast forward to Thursday morning, when I wake up sniffling and sneezing after a night of restless sleep. I try to convince myself that it’s a 24 hour thing, and that I’ll be fine by tomorrow, but deep down I know this cold has been a long time coming. After an afternoon of uneventful card-counting, I meet up with Iggy and we head out to the Luxor, where my tournament spreadsheet lists a $100 buy in tourney. It turns out that the tourney is $55, but we buy in anyway and sit down at a $4-8 table to wait out the hour before the tourney. I get rivered a couple times before discovering that tournament players start with 300 chips and the blinds are 10-15, increasing every 20 minutes. Ye gads. Talk about a crapshoot. Iggy and I get our tourney fee back, and immediately head over for some real poker at the Mirage.
We put our name on the list, and while wandering around the room I see a familiar face. “Henry?” he says, and sure enough, it’s none other than Rafe “Tiltboy” Furst, who somehow remembered me from our brief meeting at the WSOP. Rafe is playing in the Mirage No-Limit tourney, and invites me to the Celebrity Poker taping on Friday night. You can’t turn a tiltboy down, and he tells us that he’ll put us on the VIP list for tomorrow’s show. Sweet! (for the best trip reports ever, go check out the tiltboys site)
Iggy and I sit down at a pretty calm $10-20 table, and begin probing for tiltable players. Unfortunately, everybody is either a local rock or asleep, and we end up folding and sneezing away a few hours of boring poker. The only memorable hand was my pocket 8s on the button– 2 limpers, Iggy limps, and I call. I flop the boat, and slowplay until Iggy pairs his King on the turn. I get in a raise on the river, and resist the urge to slowroll the blogfather, dragging a nice pot.
Mrs. Double and M ring in to let us know they are a few minutes away, so we pack up (I end up down 5 bbs) and head for home base. At one point Iggy nearly falls out of my backpack after I bumped into a drunken frat boy near the blackjack table. Luckily, I kept my balance and a casino brawl was narrowly averted. It’s pretty late at this point, so after meeting up, the wife and I call it a night and leave M and Iggy in the bar. At this point, the cold is ravaging my body, and I’m feeling pretty zombie-like. At least we had celebrity poker to look forward to.
Day 2 was another uneventful day, and I did my best to see through the nyquil fog and mass quantities of phlegm to make the most of this vegas trip. Iggy and I did witness M go through a ridiculous run of bad luck at both the blackjack and craps tables, prompting the blogfather to give him the nickname “BAD LUCK SHLEPROCK,” after the little-known Flintstones character. As the dealer continued to pull 5 card 21s against Shleprock, you could almost see his tilt-meter going off the charts.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Double was absolutely killing the penny slots, racking up a couple $150 wins while Shleprock and I were getting slaughtered at the blackjack tables. I eventually joined her when the cold medicine blurred the cards, and promptly hit for $100. So much for positive EV games.
After dinner, we rounded up the crew and made our way to the Palms for some celebrity poker. We met Rafe out front, and enjoyed a few boxes of Full Tilt Poker breath mints before being escorted past the huge line of celebrity poker fans into the second row of the set. Unfortunately, we were forced to sign a waiver before the show, so I’m not sure what I can legally say about it.
What I will say is that the most famous of the celeb players was Heather Graham. Maybe it was Bad Luck Shleprock’s fault, but of course Heather picks the only seat right behind a huge pole, so she’s blocked from my vision. Rafe comments on the “seating bad beat”, and I try to handicap the players, but the nyquil prevents any calculations.
After a couple hours of horribly played poker (the celeb banter was pretty funny, as well as the commentary by Phil G and Dave Foley), the crew was itching to get back into action of some sort. We escaped out the back door, enjoying Andy Bloch’s tilt-inducing heckling of the celebs on our way out.
Unfortunately we never made it to the afterparty, but a big thanks goes to Rafe for hooking us up with the VIP treatment.
It was pretty much downhill from there. Shleprock and I continued to get mauled on the blackjack tables, and my cold got progressively worse. The one highlight was watching Iggy fight his way to 3rd in the $100 buy in tourney at the Sahara (Shleprock and I busted out simultaneously on different tables around 30th, as my trip aces went down to a flopped a set of fives). It just wasn’t my trip– of the 6 tables reserved for the tournament, I was moved THREE times in the first hour and a half. Just when I’d set up my image as a loose aggressive player, the table would break and I’d have to start from scratch. Ah well.
The wife continued to crush the penny slots the entire weekend, and ended up something like $350, booking the biggest win of all 4 of us. PosEv be damned!
I said my goodbyes to Iggy, wandering back to my room late Saturday night as cold rain poured down on us. I’d never seen it rain like that in Vegas.
But even after we left Vegas, the bad beats continued. On our way out of town, we heard reports of snow and ice on the 15 (the only freeway that connects Vegas to LA). California drivers can’t handle a little rain, so you can imagine what they do in snow and ice. 40 miles outside of Vegas, the freeway was gridlocked, and we decided to stop in at one of the State Line casinos (Buffalo Bill’s, for those who drive through there). Here we heard that the 15 was closed, and probably would be shutdown until tomorrow. The check-in line stretched about 200 yards long, and we decided to join the crowd rather than risk a 12 hour drive home.
Normally I’d be happy to stay an extra night, even at the state line, but at this point I was pretty beat. Maybe all the bad beats laid on me during the trip had passed, and I could actually win some money on this extra night.
Sure enough, I managed to quickly double up playing blackjack while Shleprock and I waited for a seat in the 2-6 spread game. We soon were called, and the game looked softer than warm butter. I won a couple hands, and eventually found the action table where the pots were up over $100 every hand.
Slightly up, and very worn down and annoyed, I decided to stir things up a bit. A guy across the table who thought he was the greatest player ever rubbed me the wrong way, and he challenged me to a heads up game. I immediately agreed, and the dealer asked the floorman if they could set it up (I’d been tipping well all night). Of course, the twit got scared and tried to back down, but the floorman saved him and said they couldn’t spread the game anyway. Ah well, it would have been fun. Thinking I had him close to tilting, I waited for the big hand.
About a minute after he’d challenged me, I see A9 on the button. He raises in late position, and I call. The flop comes A K 9 and he bets again. So I know he’s on AA, KK, or AK, but AQ is definitely possible (and would he bet out with any of these hands?). I raise, and everybody else gets out of the way. Twit calls, and the turn is an Ace. We go a few raises on the turn, and now I’m really worried about AK. Maybe I put him on tilt and he’s got KK? I slow down on the river and just call, and of course he turns over big slick.
Yes, Buffalo Bill’s has a jackpot. It’s Aces Full beaten. The jackpot was 12K.
It would have been a great ending to the trip, but of course, the qualifying jackpot hand was Aces full beaten by quads or better.
I ended up dead even for poker after a long night of getting rivered, and of course Shleprock busted out, continuing his streak of bad luck.
Thankfully, the trip home the next day took only 5 hours. The snow-covered mountains in the desert made for a beautiful drive home, and I even started to feel a little better.
Next trip… December 11th???
Thanks for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Way Ahead or Way Behind: When to Turn down Aggression

“It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever.”
–Philip Adams
Ok, so it’s been 3 weeks and there are only 2 parts to the short story. Apologies for the lack of diligence, but the 9 to 5 has been grinding me down and fiction writing takes a lot out of me. And with 4 day trip to Vegas on the horizon, I’m going to conserve my energy and get back to my bread and butter– Poker Theory. Although the number of poker bloggers in Vegas this weekend won’t be anywhere near the number who show up for the bash organized by Pauly, I look forward to playing many hands with The Blogfather and The Glyph of Studio. Hopefully I can get my act together and make it out for the December bash as well, but things are pretty hectic in HDouble land at the moment.
Way ahead or way behind
The players in the middle limit games are like low-limit players on steroids. These players have figured out that aggression pays off, and have subsequently turned their aggression knob all the way to the right, forcing you to make tough decisions on every street. There is also a lot of robbery going on in these games– the “battle for the blinds” begins with aggressive players in middle to late position raising in order to isolate or steal the big blind.
As a result, I’ve found myself in many situations where I’m either way ahead or way behind. This concept has been touched on in some of the forums (see this 2+2 thread), but I’ve yet to see an in-depth analysis of the optimal play in this type of way-ahead-or-way-behind situation.
Let’s start with some definitions:
WAY AHEAD: You are way ahead in the hand when your hand is currently far superior to your opponent’s hand, and the turn or river card is unlikely to give your opponent the winning hand. More specifically, we’ll say that you are way ahead if your opponent has 3 outs or less (note that we’re only talking about heads-up situations).
–Dominating hands like AJ vs. A9 on a board of A 2 3 (3 outs) or J 9 2 (2 outs)
–Top pair vs. an underpair like QT vs. JJ on a board of Q 7 2 (2 outs)
WAY BEHIND: You are way behind in the hand when your hand is currently far inferior to your opponent’s hand, and the turn or river card is unlikely to give you the winning hand. The converse of being way ahead, we are way behind when we have 3 or fewer outs against our opponent.
Now that we have the definitions out of the way, the concept is pretty simple. Suppose an aggressive player in late position opens with a raise, and all fold to us in the big blind. We look down at A6s, and happily call. The flop comes Ad Kh 4s rainbow, and it’s time for action.
Let’s examine our options:
1. Bet out: leading out signals to our opponent (in big flashing letters) that we have the ace. However, the standard play here is to check raise the aggressive player, since we are confident he will bet. Thus, sometimes the raiser will suspect a bluff, and either reraise or pay us all the way to the showdown depending on what type of player he is.
2. Check with the intention of raising: this is the expected play, and probably the one that’s most commonly employed in these situations.
3. Check with the intention of calling: a more cautious play, this course of action keeps the raiser in the dark about the strength of our hand.
4. Check with the intention of folding: this play should not be considered unless you have a great read on the player and are absolutely sure you are way behind. The only time that this play is a good idea is if the raiser is so weak-tight that you can be sure his bet means that he has you outkicked.
The question is, which of these options maximizes our expectation?
Obviously we want to minimize our losses when we our outkicked, and maximize our winnings in all other situations. It’s just too wimpy to fold here, so we have to figure out if we are going to check-call or check-raise on the flop. If we check-raise, we show a lot of strength, encouraging to fold when we have him beat. If he’s got us beat (has a better kicker), we’re throwing away our money.
Johnny Boom Boom, 2+2 Pooh-Bah, elaborates nicely:
“I have top pair, no kicker (for this spot, no kicker)
This guy likely has a bigger ace or KK, QQ, JJ maybe TT or whatever.
If he has those big pairs (not aces), he will bet the first two streets to try and force me out. By the river, he will be resigned to the fact I may have an ace and check behind, so I bet. (Sometimes he’ll check the turn, and when that happens you of course, bet the river. If he checks behind the flop, you start betting the turn.)
This bet confuses the opponent and he usually calls. He’ll even call some hands that beat me, fearing some kind of two pair or other. You’ll really only get raised with AA, and that rarely happens, so don’t fear it.”

I like to carve up this dilemma into 3 slices, based on the type of player we are facing:
1. Good, aggressive player: I’ll always check-call against this guy, because a good player will continue to bet heads-up until his opponent shows strength, and may lay down his hand to a check-raise. Further, he may have us outkicked.
2. Loose Raiser: you can mix up your play by check-raising on the flop against the loose raiser if you think he’ll call you down the whole way. Most of the time I prefer to check-call for fear of being dominated, but if you’re pretty sure you’re ahead you can vary your play by throwing in a raise on the flop.
3. Super aggressive players: if you’re not risk averse, you can go for a check-raise on the flop and hang on for the ride. If the maniac has KK he may cap it on the flop or turn, and you’ve got to grit your teeth and hope you’re not outkicked.
That’s pretty much it. It’s a simple concept, but it’s helped my postflop play from the blinds immensely. Note that you can apply the way-ahead-or-way-behind concept to many situations, but the key is that it only makes sense when the turn and river cards are unlikely to help your opponent. For example, if we defend our blind with JTh against a late raise, and the flop comes Js 9s 8c, our opponent most likely has at least 6 outs (he’s got overcards plus some sort of backdoor flush or straight draw). In this situation, we don’t have much of a clue how far ahead or behind we are, and I usually prefer to play it hard and see what kind of strength our opponent shows. The way-ahead-or-way-behind concept really only applies to situations where there’s domination or we flopped a pair of Aces or Kings.
Although useful when it applies, this type of situation doesn’t occur all that often. Overdosing on this idea will turn you a calling station, a worse fate than raising into the nuts. However, there are rare occasions that checking and calling will get you more money than pounding away at your opponent.
Almost Vegas time. Oh the humanity. Trip report next week.

Climbing The Limit Ladder

“Little things foreshadow what’s coming, but you may not recognize them. But then something immediate happens and you’re in another world, you jump into the unknown, have an instinctive understanding of it– you’re set free. You don’t need to ask questions and you already know the score. It seems like when that happens, it happens fast, like magic, but it’s really not like that. It isn’t like some dull boom goes off and the moment has arrived– your eyes don’t spring open and suddenly you’re very quick and sure about something. It’s more deliberate. It’s more like you’ve been working in the light of day and then you see one day that it’s getting dark early, that it doesn’t matter where you are– it won’t do any good. It’s a reflective thing. Somebody holds the mirror up, unlocks the door– something jerks it open and you’re shoved in and your head has to go into a different place.”
–Bob Dylan
Sorry for the delay on part two of the story, work was extremely busy this week and I was too tired to do much writing. I also watched the election coverage… I hate politics, but I was happy to see that the pollsters and media people were proven wrong on just about all fronts. I wasn’t happy with the result, but I didn’t care too much for either candidate. Looks like the Democrats need to reboot their party…
On the poker front, I’ve been grinding out small wins and getting comfortable in the party $15-30 games. The most difficult thing about the high limit games: deciding when to bet the turn against a single opponent with a ragged board and all you have is overcards. Usually PokerTracker is a big help here, as it will give you some idea about the opponent’s tendencies.
I was thinking about my climb up the ladder in limits, and remembered some advice I received before I started playing poker. A fellow card counter said in an email, “My only advice is some I wish I had when I was starting out. Move up in limits as fast as you can.”
Dangerous advice, of course, but if you have a conservative interpretation of “as fast as you can”, then I think this is excellent advice. As long as you’re playing within your bankroll and have a mind for the game, it doesn’t take too long to get comfortable in the game at the next higher limit. One of my favorite passages in Jesse May’s “Shut up and Deal” addresses the difference between the bigger games and the smaller games:
“The entire table can’t help but hear him say, “I’d just like to know one thing – what is the biggest difference between playing 100-200 and 10-20?” I look at him and say, “The limit – this is a different limit,” and he gives me an uncomprehending look and then smiles because he thinks I’m joking and says again, “No, really, I mean what’s the major difference in play in these games?” And I say, “The chips are different – these chips are worth more money.” And I say it completely deadpan and now he thinks I’m taking the piss out of him and he wipes the smile off his face. I see Johnny trying hard not to laugh. “You see if we were playing 10-20 we would be using red chips, but we’re not.” Everybody thinks I’m trying to make a fool out this guy, but I’m just saying the only completely honest thing that I can. But it’s not what this guy wants to hear. I want to shake him. I want to shout, “Look at me! Listen to me! There is no difference in play!!” But I don’t say that, I just repeat in a small voice, “This is a higher limit. The game is exactly the same as 10-20 but we use different chips.”
In the live game, the $6-12 game seems to be the dividing line at my local cardroom. $2-4 up to $6-12 play pretty much the same, and the game changes any higher than that. On Party/Empire, $5-10 seems to be the dividing line. So moving up to the “major leagues” from the smaller limits is a much bigger jump and requires more experience, but movement within the “minor leagues” can be more rapid.
Of course, moving up can be more expensive, and everybody plays poker for a different reason. For me, competition and mastery of the game is my goal, so moving up in limits quickly fits me well. This strategy makes for some expensive lessons, but I feel like I learned the game faster by pushing myself up in limits as soon as I could.
Enough pontificating. On to the story…
Gordon judged the goodness of a game based on a relatively simple formula. There were two types of players that made for a good game– donators and players he didn’t recognize. The donators didn’t come around much– usually they were smiling, well-dressed retirees looking for a night out with the boys, and didn’t mind trading a few stacks of chips in return for a few hours of fraternity. They’d usually show up a few times a month until they finally saw the blood in the eyes of the regulars or got tired of losing. Gordon gave the donators what they wanted: politely nodding to them on the rare occasions that they beat him with a superior hand, and turning up the corners of his mouth with a kind remark (“You got me Fred.”) when they beat the odds by catching their miracle card.
The players he didn’t recognize were a lot harder to deal with. Whenever he sat down at a table with an unfamiliar face, he spent the first 15 minutes trying to figure out what it was that drove this person to the casino. Like a detective, Gordon tried to piece together the available information to deduce what made this player tick. The clothes the player was wearing, his posture, and facial expressions usually gave him enough clues to figure out what kind of cards he played. Unlike the donators, new players were often full of suprises, and would quickly change their style based on how much money they had won or lost.
Gordon put an elbow on the table, leaning forward to size up the faces of the table. The cards slid silently across the felt into eager hands, and the old familiar rhythm of moving cards, clacking chips, and table banter eased the doubt in his throat. Two donators, one new face, and a single regular. The chip stacks told the story of the game, the blurry scoreboard that kept track of who had been lucky or good in the past couple hours.
“Good, at least now that one of my friends is here, I can have a drink without feeling guilty,” grumbled the retired businessman to his right, reaching for his wallet to buy more chips.
“Good to see you Jim… not your night?” said Gordon with real happiness and feigned interest.
“It never seems to be my night, but at least I’m outta the house,” smiled the donator.
The silver-haired man to his left rasped, “I’d rather be unlucky here than to listen to the old lady complain for the millionth time!”
“Good evening Dick. Glad to have you back,” chuckled Gordon. Dick’s mind had gone long ago, and the players never seemed to mind that the dealer had to remind him to bet or fold on every hand.
Gordon peeled off five bills from his roll, and carefully placed them on the table. When he first began playing for a living, his first buy in always made his stomach hurt. He thought about how many hours he’d worked for those bills, and what he could buy with them. But after the hundreds of times he’d left the casino with more bills than he started with, a few hundreds were just pieces of paper, his always refundable ticket into the game. He marvelled at the level of abstraction involved in poker. Money was an abstraction of labor, and you used that abstraction to purchase chips, an abstraction of money. Thinking of it this way, each of those chips you won represented the hard work of somebody out there. Of course, nobody ever thought of it this way.
The sound of chips slamming on the table surprised him, until Gordon realized that the chip runner was only delivering his chips. He felt the doubt in his stomach growing stronger, and realized it was because he let himself be surprised at the table. He chided himself for not concentrating on getting a read on the unfamiliar faces and began to focus on the game. The lineup looked pretty soft, but he’d been losing for so long that he didn’t have the luxury of letting his mind drift away from the table.
“I’m takin it uptown!” said a new face across the table as he forcefully threw chips towards the pot. The kid was pretty young, and Gordon instinctively looked at the stack of chips in front of him. At first he hadn’t noticed anything unusual, but on second glance he realized that along with the usual stacks of $5 yellow chips, two of his stacks of chips were white in color. The white chip was the biggest chip in the casino, and represented $100. Gordon’s eyes snapped back to the face of the kid, only to find a pair of eyes burning a hole through the back of his head.
“You want these chips old man? Come get em.”