Back to the grind: Genesis, Poker, and Crackling Aces

“Online poker seems old, but in fact is brand new.”
–Dan Mezick
Running bad. Again. After one of the worst poker weekends ever, I’m happy to say that at least I came to a realization that hopefully was worth all of the bad beats. PokerTracker shows me that this realization cost me around 5 big bets per hundred hands, which adds up quickly at $15-30 and $5-10 shorthanded. It was comforting to see that most of the losses came from missed draws and bad beats, so I can take some solace in blaming some of it on variance and the fickle poker gods.
For a long time, I’ve had the gut feeling that the biggest advantage buried in the new medium of online poker is centered in the quantity of hands that the internet player can play. It’s now possible, via multi-tabling, to approach that mythical “long run” that’s been so talked about. So all the while I was playing a single table of $15-30, my gut was nagging at me: “you’re missing out!”
Yes, the $15-30 games are good, and I’m sure I can beat them. But the variance is extremely high– the nature of hold ’em is that even the best hand is not usually more than a 70% favorite. Our (limit) poker winnings come from continously collecting small bits of positive expectation, and our bankroll represents an accumulation of the small mistakes of less disciplined players (and a little bit of luck).
I defer to Poker Primate’s Dan Mezick for a concise explanation of the differences between the “new school” of poker with it’s “old school” B&M counterpart:
“Many observers and pundits in the poker space have written about the new online poker medium. But none have spoken the obvious: online poker is a new form of poker that rewards specific adaptations to that form. Online poker games are beatable with new technical tools and new technical skills that are in fact required to play well in this new form of of the game.”
So yesterday I went back to the green pastures (fishy waters?) of $3-6, opening up 4 tables and playing ABC poker. Amidst all of the beeping and quick decision making, it felt much like the gaming days of my youth, where hours of Madden football filled summer vacation days. 4 tabling requires full attention and feels a lot like a video game… you build up a little knowledge base about each table in your head, and the quick decisions you have to make rely on combining your “rules of thumb” with your stored knowledge (hey I’m a programmer, what can I say). 80% of the decisions are no-brainers, but the few times you get three playable hands simultaneously require full focus– if all three hands go to the river, there are around 24 Big Bets on the table, so mistakes are very costly.
Anyway, I did quite well on all of my $3-6 tables, and it was nice to have a winning session after getting killed all weekend. Of course, half of my winnings disappeared in a 3 hour session at Hollywood Park, where I lost a couple big hands in a juicy $15-30 game. I lost a $500 pot on the river when my Aces were cracked by a flush (yes, I had the ace of that suit) and a $300 pot when my rivered flush got beaten by a higher flush. So instead of walking away up $650, I left down $150. I’ll take it.
The thing I didn’t like about the return to ABC poker is that it made me feel like a coward. Choosing the relatively thoughtless, robotic grind over the beautiful and courageous poker at $15-30 was not a choice I enjoyed making. But alas, I’m too conservative to put my entire savings account at risk, so I have to accept “paying my dues” at the low limits while building up the bankroll fortress. At least I’m motivated to build the bankroll fortress high enough to keep variance from climbing the walls and busting me at $15-30. But I shall return…
So that’s my new plan. $15-30 live, where the games are soft and I can be assured I’m not getting cheated, and 4 tables of $3-6 online, where I’ll grind away until I build the bank enough to multitable $15-30. Throw in a little No-Limit when the game looks good, and hopefully I’ve got a recipe for success. It’s not surprising that this (grind online, play as high as the bankroll will allow live) was my original plan way back when, and that I had to learn “the hard way” that this is the best course for me. Maybe all those hours spent in front of the Genesis will actually turn out to have made me a better online player.
$15-30 101: What I’ve learned so far
Every time you step up in limits, there’s a whole new learning curve to climb. The jump from the mid-limit games to $15-30 is pretty big, and I still have a lot to learn, but it’s been fun making the adjustment. As you might guess, the most notable difference is the amount of aggression in the bigger game. 3 bets preflop are relatively common at $15-30, and many pots end up heads up. In the smaller, loose games, you’ve got odds to call (or raise) any flush or straight draw, whereas this is usually not the case in a heads up pot in $15-30. Bluffing is common, and you’re forced to call down preflop raisers with as little as bottom pair if the board is ragged. I find most of my sessions depend on whether or not I make the correct read in heads up pot. Is the preflop raiser betting AK or AQ? Is middle pair good or does he have an overpair? Blinds must be defended (see my earlier post), and limpers punished, and “fit or fold” is pretty much out the window in these games. The rules of thumb are almost completely different in these games, and it’s going to take me a while to fully adjust to the differences of the more aggressive game. So far so good, I just wish my Aces had held up last night…
A big thank you
A huge thanks to Three Kings Halverson, who took pity on a cableless poker fan and sent a set of DVDs covering much of the poker in the last year. Not that I have time to watch them, but I can’t wait to see Gus Hansen suck out some more, as well as Fox’s coverage (I can’t wait to hear Lederer’s commentary).
Also big thanks to Iggy, who went through the administrative agony of setting up the blogger tourney on Pacific, only to have them screw it up and ruin everybody’s Sunday. I gave up a Sunday of live play (and ended up getting killed on Party) so I could play in the tourney, so like everybody else who signed up to play, I was not a happy camper. But Pacific has put $2375 in the pot to make up for their incompetence (I don’t think we really could ask for more), so I will be ready to go next Sunday. I don’t like my chances, but maybe it’s my turn: I think my highest finish in a Blogger tourney is 8th, and I’m hoping to beat that (and knock out 2-time champ Papa Otis in the process, who I believe has knocked me out of 2 of the 3 tourneys).
Now go read Dr. Mezick’s new essays on Primate Poker. He’s quickly becoming my favorite non-strategy poker writer.

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