Does Old School Poker Wisdom Apply to PartyPoker?

“The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation.”
–Benjamin Disraeli
A belated happy holidays to everybody, and I hope the “season of giving” didn’t carry over to the poker tables. I was lucky enough to spend a California Christmas (seems like an oxymoron) with my family.
Little poker was played, although I did manage to get crushed in a heads-up limit freezeout against my sister. Most embarrassing play: showing down my Jack high after betting the entire way and watching younger sis turn over Q high. I asked her how she could call with Queen high and she gave me the infamous line, “I thought you had nothing.” Thankfully I had beaten her twice in No-Limit freezeouts earlier, so my confidence wasn’t completely blown.
I’m still getting back into the swing of things after my last Vegas trip, but my goal in today’s post is to crack open that old nugget of poker wisdom, “You’ve gotta give action to get action.”
I believe this saying is a simplified version of some ancient Doyle Brunson quote. The obvious implication in the quote is that it’s much easier to get paid off on your good hands (get action) when you’ve shown down some weaker hands (give action). Successful poker players walk the tightrope of playing tight-aggressive poker while somehow fooling their opponents into thinking that they don’t play tight. A tight-aggressive player plays few hands, but when he does he plays them hard. Opponents who are not asleep or drunk pick up on this.
There are lots of different ploys that the tight-aggressive player uses to convince his opponents that he really does give action. Mad Mike Caro advocated making a strong first impression, playing the first hand you’re dealt very strongly and making sure to show it down, even if you have to pay an extra bet or two to do so. Other poker sages advocate blasting away with 72o and proudly slamming the hand on the table at the showdown. If I’m trying to get away from my tight image, I’ll try to isolate weaker players with marginal hands (such as K8s), and make sure to show down the hand, win or lose.
But in the new world of online poker, table image seems less important than it is in the brick and mortal world. In online poker, players are constantly shifting tables, and a player frequently leaves the table as soon as we’ve got a read on him. Also, it’s a lot more difficult to connect a faceless avatar to a style of play than it is to remember that the scowling guy overplays his hands. Online poker eliminates the visual aspect of table image: since everybody looks the same, we assume (until proven otherwise) that everybody plays the same. If this is the case, is it still true in the online world that you have to “give action to get action”?
A few weeks ago, I would have said, “Yeah, ok, online players are less perceptive and table image is less important but you’ve still gotta gamble a bit if you want to get paid off.” And of course, those who gamble more will rake bigger pots when they’ve got the nuts, but really what I was wondering is how much these super-tight players really get paid off. The Party Poker $15-30 games are well known for their loose aggressive players, and I wondered just how well one could do by only playing premium preflop hands.
My wondering turned to wonder as I broke down the PokerTracker stats for all $15-30 players. I have yet to run queries on the access DB to aggregate the numbers, but the filtered data immediately caught my eye: I filtered all $15-30 players who I’ve recorded over 100 hands for, and sorted by % voluntarily put in the pot. Surprisingly, the 5 players with the lowest VPIP were all winners, with two of them being HUGE winners (11 and 24 BB/100 respectively). All of these players had a VPIP of less than 10%, which means they are basically only playing the top 17 hands of all 169 possible hands. Obviously the sample size is small, but this initial glance opened my eyes.
I’m too sleepy to run the Access queries on the PokerTracker database right now, but hopefully I’ll get around to that in the near future. If anybody else has already put together the query, please leave a comment and save me the effort.
I’ll stick to my romantic notion that you can’t be successful at poker without things like courage, heart, and a little gamble. But my gut (and this cursory investigation) suggests that all it takes is a whole lotta patience and an appetite for the grind. Of course, this is only true since the games at Party are so good during this poker boom. In games as good as these, the grinder doesn’t need game theory and conventional poker wisdom– only a little patience.
Poker Blog Patrol:
I’ve always thought that a good writer can take things that seem mundane and make them into something beautiful. Otis has recently taken poker blogging to another level in his series of Vegas trip reports. Forget hiring a band to follow me around playing my theme song. If I ever strike it big, I’m hiring Otis to turn my life into some insane myth. A tip of the cap to you sir. Be sure to check out his reports on the 2005 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure here. I’m sure they will be excellent.
It’s high time somebody poke fun at the poker bloggers, and Sloejack cracked me up with his Poker Blogger’s Guide To Online Poker. And yes, I once had an active life:
“6.1 Sidelined by HDouble
You might have had an active life before but that recurring hang nail has kept you from your dream job. That’s ok, I’ve been where you are. Since I’m the only legit writer in the bunch I invite you to come drink from my font of wisdom. Reading my stuff will make you a better poker player and soon you’ll wonder why you ever thought of doing anything else with your free time.”

There are too many new bloggers to list, but here are a couple that emailed me and I got a kick out of their sites:
GW: Second generation of new poker players who uses a wide variety of resources to learn the game: “This Poker Melting Pot is never ending. We read the books. Brunson’s Super System, Ed Miller’s, Sklansky and the like. But we also have the Poker blogs written by fellow poker players, new and old.”
New Poker Forum: Didn’t have too much time to dive in, but I did see a nice review of Super System 2 here. I’m still working on finishing my copy, so I’ll post my review in the near future…
Poker in Arrears: this guy made my day with this quote:
“Anyway, back to The Cards Speak. I printed this guys entire blog and started reading it at night. Since it was just a pile of papers instead of a book, my wife (hereinto referred to as Mrs. Button) asked what I was reading. At that moment, I didn’t know how to explain it. Was I reading some dudes journal/diary? How do I explain that? Before I even started the first word she said, “Let me guess, poker?!” I smiled, she smiled (or was that a smirk) and we both delved back into our reading. I, for one, was happy I didn’t have to explain myself, however, I then made the decision that I’m not reading some guys journal/diary, but rather partaking in this big community of people who enjoy poker like I do. There…I feel better. Rock on HDouble.”
King Six: K6 recently expressed his amazement of the fact that it’s pretty easy to get action even if you only play the nuts:
“I spent the next two hours playing O/8 and won a single pot. I saw so many horrifically bad plays that it was almost worth the “price” I had paid to sit there. It amazes me how some of the players are there literaly every single day and never seem to get better. You’d think that they would eventually notice something as simple as the people who only raise with the nuts. Yet, they never do and they just pay off the bets only to be shown the best possible hand time and time again while they shake their head and muck their hand.”
Lots more to come, but it’s way past my bedtime. Good cards.

Poker Blogger Tourney: Profiling the Bloggers

I’m beat. Didn’t get much sleep in Vegas, but had a blast. It was surreal to meet the people whose writing I’ve been reading over the last year. Much thanks to Pauly and The Poker Prof for setting up the tourney and the “meet and greet”. When I catch up on sleep I’ll write up a proper trip report, but for anyone who’s interested I thought I’d give my impressions of the bloggers I met, in the order they finished in the tourney.
1. Felicia — I’d met Fel at the WSOP, but she’s a tough player whose victory no one surprised. Too bad she hates hold ’em, her patience and aggression makes her an excellent tourney player.
3. Julie from the Blue Parrot — Julie was on my left at the final table, and I couldn’t get a read on her at all. Seemed fearless and I was very impressed by her play.
4. Foiled Coup — “Action” Coup was tighter than Dan Harrington. Anytime he was in a pot I was petrified. Played a great tourney and had a great sense of humor to go with his game.
5. Glenn — Fel’s hubby pretty much knocked me out of the tourney, and is a solid, soft-spoken player. Always thinking at the table, he was one of the few players I was afraid to get in pots with.
6. Pauly — All-around nice guy and one of the few true “hippies” I’ve met. Super tight, but got hit in the face with the deck in this tourney to amass a huge chip lead. Very friendly and outgoing, it was a pleasure to meet him.
7. HDouble — Can’t decide if he’s a jock or a geek. His NL game is pretty bad, but stole a lot of blinds in this tourney to make the final table.
8. Martin — Didn’t get to play much with Martin, but seemed like a tight and solid player. Suprisingly outlasted his buddy Otis, which I’m sure he’ll remind him of continuously for the next few months.
9. BG — Quiet and usually smirking, I could hang with the Genius any time. I didn’t get to see much of him in the tourney, but enjoyed his wry humor in the Excalibur side games. I wish I got to watch the games with him on Sunday, as he definitely knows his football.
10. Al Cant Hang — Life of the party, Al lived up to his image and beyond. Al is a walking party, and everything around him turns into a festival. In a few minutes at the craps table he had everyone at the table (including the dealers) whooping it up. Did I mention he can drink?
11. Mas — Met the “Genius of Poker” briefly, but he seemed like a laid-back guy who was always smiling. I’m glad I didn’t have to play a hand against him.
12. Otis — Very introspective and always thinking. Saw him play the hammer about 4 times with no fear in the Excalibur low limit game, and the room erupted the last time he played it, when he won a monster pot at a table next to me. Another really nice guy, I could hang out with Otis at a poker table all night.
13. Ferrari — Ferrari was on my right for most of the tourney, and played a tight, solid game. He knocked out FTrain when he turned a boat with his pocket 3s, and I tried to stay out of his way for most of the tourney.
14. Maudie — Sweet Maudie was on my left at the tourney, and came over the top of me a couple times on my steal attempts. Played excellently, but took two terrible beats and was severely crippled. I had the honor of knocking her out when I stole with 76s on the button, and she wisely defended her blind with K5o. She was crushing her table at Excalibur when I said goodbye, so I don’t feel too bad about the knockout.
15. Bob — I had the honor of teaching BG’s little bro how to play craps, which he took to immediately. Bob was a blast to hang out with, and a rambling-gambling type who I’d rather play craps with than poker.
16. -EV — Kevin nearly crippled me in the tourney when he pushed his short stack in against my early raise with KK. He flipped over AJ, and of course an Ace came on the flop. But my two outer hit on the river (thanks for the karma, Three Kings). Kev was an intense player, and hopefully I’ll get to hang with him next time.
17. Derek — Pauly’s younger bro was a laid-back guy, and always ready with a smile. I saw him take some vicious beats in the Excalibur limit game, but he never stopped grinning. A pleasure to hang out with.
18. Mrs. Can’t Hang — I had the good fortune to spend a lot of time with Eva, who was a blast to hang out with (not just because she’s beautiful). She was seated directly on my left in the tourney, and I knocked her out when my KQ outkicked her Q5 when a Queen came on the turn. Impossible to put on a hand (and therefore difficult to play against), Eva could be a scary no-limit player if she applied herself. It was refreshing to hear a female’s perspective on the poker scene, as well as some funny stories about Al. I believe her new nickname after this weekend is “EvaCanHang”.
19. G Rob — I didn’t get to play with G-Rob, but he seemed to be building up chips every time I looked over at his table at the Excal. When Otis gets famous G Rob will have a job as a bodyguard– a big dude.
21. Poker Prof — I’d met the Prof before, and he’s always a pleasure to chat with, even though we seem to switch into geekspeak within 2 minutes of the conversation. He did a great job setting everything up, and has the qualifications to be the poker blogger mastermind.
23. CJ — One of the few bloggers I had to literally look up to, super-tall CJ is a disciplined and thoughtful grinder who was killing the Excalibur game. He was slowly building his stack every time I went over to his table to say hi. Resembles Erik Seidel in height and demeanor.
24. Bad Blood — Owner of the best and worst t-shirt I’ve ever seen (wait till you see the pictures), Blood was a blast to talk with and seemed to have a good head on his shoulders.
25. Grubby — My second meeting with the Grubster was never without fun or action, and we even got to tackle the blackjack tables together (I got killed, Grubby survived). Grubs is super-introspective and deep thinking, and is probably the blogger I’m most similar to in many ways. The conversations about blogging, poker, and the future were some of the most memorable moments in Vegas, and I’m sure I’ll be making visits to the Vegas Grub Manor in the near future.
26. Linda from Poker Works — The poker blogger/dealer queen was both tough and regal, and had an excellent perspective on the poker scene after years of experience. I didn’t get to play with her, but her calm and cool attitude was refreshing and honest.
27. F Train — An intense player who I got to play some hands against. Very creative and fear-inspiring, I hated being in a pot with the New York blogger. One of the highlights of the side games was F Train’s all-in reraise with the Hammer against Eva’s KK. Beautiful. I think F Train has a bright future in poker ahead of him, and I expect him to be a major player in tournaments in the near future.
28. Daddy — A cooler, poker-blogging version of Kramer, Daddy had me cracking up the entire weekend with Lebowski quotes. Survived a mano-a-mano all-night drinking session with Iggy, which tells you something.
29. Flip Chip — A wise veteran of the poker scene, my second meeting with Flip Chip was full of intelligent conversation. Flip Chip always has an interesting take on Vegas and the poker scene, as he’s seen it grow from the start.
30. Bill Rini — Bill was grinding away the players at Excalibur, and had another rack in front of him every time I stopped by. He may have taken the honor of most hands played in Vegas by a blogger, although Otis probably gave him a run for his money. Like his blog, Bill was smart and funny, and hopefully I’ll get to meet him out in LA for some no fold ’em action.
And of course, Iggy was snoozing away in his hotel room by the time the tourney started, but my compadre and I did get to play some hands together. Somehow he always manages to keep me awake about 5 hours after I plan on going to sleep.
The thing that impressed me the most about the bloggers was their level of intelligence and friendliness. I hope we get to do it again soon.

Learning to Smell and Playing the Player Types

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
–Shunryu Suzuki
I know I shouldn’t be complaining, but in the 4 years I’ve been in Southern California, this past week was by far the coldest I can remember. After growing up in Connecticut and spending some time in Sweden, I refuse to turn on the heat in my apartment, so it makes for some cold poker playing in front of the laptop. I also get to dress like the best coach ever, Bill Belichek, with my hooded sweatshirt, and somehow it makes me feel like a better poker player.

Before I get into various ramblings, a couple quick things:
1. Last post I talked about my “poker environment”, and recommended the use of GameTime+ as a bridge between PartyPoker and PokerTracker. Thanks to recommendations from Halverson 3K and Helixx, I’ve switched over to PlayerViewNet. It’s faster and prettier than GameTime+, and I highly recommend it.
2. Stripper by Night and Iggy beat me to the punch on this one, but I’ve been a reader of Aaron Gleeman’s hugely popular baseball blog for a while now. Check out his excellent writeup of his performance in a recent PokerStars tourney. Not suprisingly, AG took down the big prize after a great comeback.
3. Rafe “Tiltboy” Furst just sent me email about a repository he’s created for changing the look and feel of the Full Tilt Poker Client. Check out his site if you’re a Full Tilt player:
“The Tiltboys have created an unofficial web site where anyone can download and upload graphical and sound modifications to the Full Tilt Poker software client:
A lot of people have modified their client installation by making new background screens, messing with the avatars and card decks, etc, but there’s no central place where people can share these. Until now that is.
Feel free to post mods for other poker sites if you like. There’s a separate folder for that.

Ok, on to the rambling…
FilmGeek’s Home Game
But who cares about the weather? I had the pleasure of being invited to a home game at FilmGeek‘s place in North Hollywood las night. Here’s the lineup:
Me &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Lance
$20 buy-in, no-limit game with .25-.50 blinds. I haven’t played live in a while, and seeing that the stakes were low, my goal was to see as many flops as I could and triple up. Of course, my cards were terrible, and my patience was shot– playing 3 shorthanded tables online has gotten me used to seeing around 250 hands per hour, and here we were seeing something like 50 hands per hour. Online poker definitely throws of the rhythm and patience required for a live game, but maybe I’m just making excuses…
Anyway, FHWRDH, StudioGlyphic and FilmGeek were playing a tight, solid game, and I was able to bluff a lot of pots early on with loose aggressive play. Lance (FWHWRDH’s coworker) was giving me some action, and eventually the other 3 bloggers started to loosen up a bit after seeing me show down so many garbage hands. My plan was working to perfection– with my loose table image, I was ready to get paid off when I finally hit my big hand.
It didn’t quite work out that way. The bloggers were smart enough to lay down their hands when I did flop big, and after Lance had doubled me up early, he punished me by turning broadway after I flopped top two pair (AQ). Rebuy! A while later, I was crushed on a 3-way all in after flopping the nut straight… Lance hit his nut straight on the turn and instantly called my all in, and StudioGlyphic came along for the ride with two pair. Rebuy!
I didn’t get much to work with after that, but there was one memorable hand. After raising it up on the big blind with JTs, I was surprised to find tight FilmGeek calling after limping in from late position. The flop was K T 8, and I smelled danger, so I checked to see what the young Jedi knight would do. He doubles the pot, and now I’m really confused. I go into the tank, and have the sneaking suspicious that my second pair is good, but nothing about this hand made sense. Why the limp? Why such a big bet? Rather than rebuying for a 3rd time, I reluctantly mucked and watched in horror as FilmGeek rolled over…
THE HAMMER! Yep, the kid had outplayed me with the Mighty 72o, stone cold bluffing his way to a nice little pot. Ye gads.
I went home the big loser at -50, and Lance had tripled up (thanks to my help) to take home $60 as the big winner. The table was hugely negative EV, but I came home with a new appreciation for the players on PartyPoker. Poker bloggers good, Party players bad. Next time I’m going to insist on a fishing trip to Hollywood Park, Commerce, or the Hustler, rather than face more rebuys.
What makes an Expert
I’ve been logging a ton of hands online, and the cards have been running good lately. After close to two years of play, I’ve seen somewhere around 100,000 hands online, and probably around 20,000 in live play. I’ve written a lot in the past about learning the patterns inherent in poker– after seeing so many hands, your brain establishes a particular pattern and rhythm to each hand, and you recognize the flow of the game.
By nature, our brains try to fit the world into patterns, and we attempt to put order to any event, even if that event is based on some random process. I remember reading some study about superstition in mice– the scientists had a button that dispensed food to the mouse, and randomized the food dispenser so that sometimes the button dispensed food, and sometimes it didn’t. After a while, the mouse decided that an intricate sequence of actions (running on the wheel, going to the corner of the cage, and doing the Travolta dance in Saturday night fever) “activated” the button, and always performed this routine before pressing the button. The mouse, in true superstitious fashion, believed that his routine “caused” the button to work, and continued to go through with it for every press of the button.
The shuffling of cards is (supposedly) a random process. However, betting patterns are not. Thus, what we learn is the sequence of actions that tell us when our actions are correct (when our hand is the best hand), and we press that raise button every time our brain recognizes a “winning” pattern of betting from our opponents. After 120,000 hands, these patterns are starting to sink in.
My point here is that I’ve begun to play a lot more by “feel” than I ever have before. I remember my first few months in the casino, I was always calling “time” to calculate pot odds, figure out what the raise from my opponent meant, and so on. The “thinking time” at the tables (virtual or real) these days for me is minimal– there aren’t many patterns that I haven’t seen. In some ways, this is a good thing, as it allows me to focus more on the little things that are happening at the table, and use those to extract some extra bets from my opponents. But I definitely miss the days when every session was a lesson in poker, and it took all of my neurons just to figure out what was going on in an individual hand.
I’m definitely far from an expert poker player, but at this point I at least understand the gap between the expert player and a good player without a lot of experience. My dad, one of the smartest people I’ve met (I’m biased, but trust me on this one), explained this gap in his area of expertise (data analysis):
“What I learned in expert system development (which I already knew) , is
that experts have quite a few “subjective” rules of thumb, and in fact often
“break” their rules. In my own areas of expertise, I knew this
was true. My answer, when people asked me why I was worth more to the
company than (say) an inexperienced but bright employee, I would reply that I
could smell the problems in the data. And that was about right–I couldn’t
explain it beforehand, and sometimes not even later, but I could feel when
something didn’t seem as expected.”

I’ve got a long way to go, but at least I’m starting to smell when things aren’t right.
Playing the Players
One way to categorize the “feel” that a good player develops as he continues playing is with the term “rules of thumb.” The patterns that we see after thousands of hands are extrapolated into some loose rule, which we understand but may not be able to explain in detail. In the middle limit games, I have many rules of thumb for playing against different types of players, and when I end up heads-up against a certain type of player, these rules are “activated” and usually guide my decisions. These rules of thumb apply primarily to heads-up situations; each additional opponent adds significant complexity to the situation, and when another player is in the pot, the rules go out the window. I thought I would try to explain some of these rules. Again, these are just my loose rules, and may not work for you at all, but they have proved to be very helpful for me. Of course, table conditions are always changing, and there is no formula for playing poker. Feedback is encouraged.
Loose Players
1. Loose Passive:
Since loose-passive players rarely reveal the strength of their hand, it’s difficult to know if our hand is best. Since loose players will play a wide range of hands preflop, we can usually assume our hand is better before the flop, and we should punish their loose limps with preflop raises (isolating the loose player if possible). If the flop doesn’t help our hand, we face a difficult situation, since we can’t narrow the range of hands our loose opponent may hold.

  • The Fish: Fishy opponents will call with nothing, so the general rule of thumb is to pound away with raises and hope our hand holds up. Often we’ll get drawn out on, but with tight preflop play, the odds that our hand is superior are high. I will usually grit my teeth and bet my hand the entire way when heads-up with a fish, even with unimproved Ace high. In the unlikely event we are raised, we know we are beaten and can fold with a clear conscience.
  • Calling Station (Neutral Passive & Slightly Loose Passive): The calling station is slightly tighter than the fish, so pounding away with reckless abandon is not usually a profitable course of action. However, I’ll bet with any pair until there are at least 2 overcards on the board, at which point I’ll slow down. In the rare event that the calling station raises, we should fold immediately—- a raise from a calling station indicates a monster hand in most situations. Since a calling station usually plays decent cards, we can narrow their range of hands somewhat-—if a card in the play zone (between 9 and Ace) hits the board, we have to be careful, since the Calling Station likes to Limp with any two cards that total 19 or higher.

2. Loose Aggressive:
Loose-aggressive players are by far the most difficult opponents to play against. Since they will bet and raise with a large range of hands, raises don’t give us much information about the strength of their hand. In addition, loose-aggressive players will often call with monster hands, and like to make “tricky” plays. Thus, it’s difficult to using the betting actions of a loose-aggressive opponent to put them on a hand. I’ll usually call this type of player down with marginal hands (such as top pair, weak kicker or second pair, top kicker), and only re-raise when I’m quite sure that my hand is pretty far ahead.

  • Skilled Loose Aggressive: The skilled loose aggressive type is a dangerous player, but throws away many bets by frequently overplaying his hand. This type of player often goes to the showdown with the worst hand too much, so I tend to call this type of player down more often with only a marginal holding. He will frequently draw out on us when he hits an overcard on fourth or fifth street, but it’s a mistake to always muck our second pair if an overcard hits on the turn or river, since the skilled loose-aggressive will often bet with nothing.

Tight Players
Since tight players usually only play solid starting hands, it’s much easier to narrow down the range of hands they may be holding than it is for loose players. General advice when facing a tight player’s raise is to muck any hand (except the premium hands) and wait for a better opportunity. Also, I am extremely careful when any face card hits the board when heads-up against a tight player, since it’s unlikely he’s holding anything but two face cards or a decent-size pair. The tight player’s only weakness is that he is susceptible to bluffs when there are no cards in the playzone (9 through Ace) on the board.

  • The Rock (Tight Passive): The rock only plays good cards, and rarely raises after the flop unless he’s got a monster. This type of player is easy to play against– if he does raise preflop, get out unless you’ve got a premium hand. If you do end up calling his raise, you have to be careful of an overpair or an Ace if a bullet hits the board. Otherwise you can bet your hand (cautiously). If a rock limps preflop, we should tighten up considerably, since the hands he will limp with are usually very strong. If a card in the play zone hits and we have second pair, I’ll usually throw out an exploratory bet to see where I am. If the rock calls, I usually go into check-call mode, fearing that he’s hit his hand.
  • Tight Aggressive: The most feared player type, the tight aggressive players should be avoided at all costs. The only time we want to tangle with this type of opponent is with a premium hand, and even then it’s scary. Facing a tight aggressive player’s raise with pocket jacks is a difficult situation to be in, and since he’s going to bet the entire way, we’re not sure where we stand. By default I’ll put a tight aggressive raiser on Ace-King or Ace-Queen, and usually grit my teeth and call him down if I have a pair and and Ace, King, or Queen hasn’t hit the board. Calling the tight Aggressive player with hands that may be dominated like AJ or KQ is a huge leak, and we’ll often be putting a lot of bets in when we’re dominated. This is the player type we want to be like, and we should avoid heads up situations with him.

Thanks for reading and good cards.