I came for the bonus, but found a better deal

After checking my Empire Bonus account, I realized I wouldn’t be able to get the required amount of hands unless I played a couple hundred hands. The in-laws are here all of next week, and after that I’m travelling to DC for 4 days for a conference. After that is Vegas, so I needed 350 more hands to collect Empire’s $100 bonus before the expiration date. Luckily for me, my wife’s family wanted to watch The Lord of the Rings, so I figured I had at least a solid 2 hours in front of the computer. I decided that the .50/1 games would allow me to play 3 tables on autopilot, and I could get in around 150 hands in an hour.

I sat at 3 shorthanded .50/1 tables, 2 of which filled up quickly. The pace here was unbelievable. I struggled to keep up, and was losing quickly at one table, breaking even at another, and winning at the third. My goal here was just to break even, and I found myself semi-bluffing and making other ridiculously bad plays at this no-fold-em level. After about 10 minutes, I realized that the pace was just too much for me– I can’t believe there was a period where I actually thought playing 3 $2-4 tables might be more profitable than two $3-6 tables. Anyway, in my haze of checking and calling, I found that there were actually some good players at this level. A few players had over $200 on the table, and played quite well… the games seemed more or less the same as the $3-6 games, so I guess the only reason to play at the smallest tables is because of bankroll concerns. But you’ll have to win a ridiculous amount of big bets an hour to approach the profitability of the $3-6 game. Maybe they were bots.

After losing about $10 combined on all 3 tables in 20 minutes, I bailed and decided to try the $3-6 games. I forgot how good these games can be on Friday night, and restricted myself to 2 shorthanded tables. After dropping $50 bucks on both tables, I was irritated that I had just pissed away my entire bonus. But I reminded myself of the swings in the shorthanded games, and sat tight. To make matters worse, my wife’s impressionable younger brother (13) was looking on as I missed my flush and straight draws. Not only was I further exposing him to the dangerous world of hold em (I taught him the game yesterday with plastic chips), I was showing him that I was a loser. Ah well, maybe it’s for the best– if I had found this game in college, with no bankroll, I’m sure that the $3-6 games would have busted me many times. But with a little patience, the tide started to turn. I won 3 big pots heads up with a horrible player, getting me back to even. I even stole a couple pots on the river with busted draws, and started playing well. My wife’s brother made exclamations in Swedish every time a pot was pushed in my direction, and life was good.

There really is something to be said for these $3-6 games. Compared to the $5-10 games, you only need to average 1.4 big bets an hour more to achieve the same win rate. This is extremely reasonable, since there are at least 2 times as many bad players at this level. I’d say that at most there are 2 bad players at the $5-10 level on average, whereas there are probably 4 at $3-6. This makes draws nearly always playable (you will have 3 callers), and top pair is nearly always good. However, it IS Friday night, which probably doubles the number of bad players.

Bottom line:
+$122 in just over an hour (playing 2 tables simultaneously), and 220 hands closer to the bonus.

I had to compare my win rate at $3-6 to $5-10 to determine just how different the two games are:
$5-10 3.56 BB/hr 2266 hands
$3-6 1.52 BB/hr 3872 hands

However, a small percentage of these $3-6 hands were played simultaneously, and a great deal were played in my first few months of poker. The numbers point to $5-10, but I still don’t think it’s a clear cut case.

In other, perhaps more important news, I renegotiate my salary on Monday… I’m relatively sure I can get a raise of $10K, so this may decide to move up to the big boy game at $10-20 at the B&M. The time charge is just so much better than the rake, so I feel like I should make the leap out of the muck onto land, even if the players are considerably better. I wish I had some sort of equation that spits out game profitability given the number of bad players and the rake.

I leave you with one of the funnier chats I’ve been a part of on Party:

A new player sits down for his first hand, and I get TT on the button. Four players. UTG folds, I reraise. SB calls, and new player in BB raises. I cap it, hoping to get heads up with new guy. But both of them call, and the flop comes 77K rainbow. Both blinds check, and I bet to see where I’m at… I figure new guy for AK, but there are so many bad players here that I figure I’ll have to call him down if he raises me. SB folds, and new guy raises. I go into check and call mode, and he bets the rest of the way. He rakes in the pot with KK, after hitting the case king on the turn. Ouch. He then promptly leaves after the hand. What follows is are the SB’s comments (he was a horrible player, and donated over $100 to me):

THeGremlin: last time I play here
THeGremlin: this ekim
THeGremlin: did this
THeGremlin: same thing

THeGremlin: come to table
hdoubleu: ouch
THeGremlin: get KK
hdoubleu: hit and run
THeGremlin: and run
hdoubleu: 4 kings???
THeGremlin: he did it 10 times today
THeGremlin: no
hdoubleu: got a deal with party

THeGremlin: I think 4 times 4 of a kind
THeGremlin: all the rest full house
THeGremlin: he did it over and over again and again
hdoubleu: wow
THeGremlin: he won once 600$
THeGremlin: on the 10/20 table
THeGremlin did not respond in time.
THeGremlin folds.
BEAMERBIC: playing or not?

THeGremlin: won 4 of a kind K against 4 of a kind Q
THeGremlin: last time I play here

THeGremlin: this is a not an honest site…

BEAMERBIC: SDVGERHT^&K^TYYHW@$T$%U*^&(I%^U$ ing slow ass game
THeGremlin: also good thing to remember

THeGremlin: I played today on the 15/30 table
THeGremlin: had 4 of a kind 10
THeGremlin: lost 1200$
BEAMERBIC: who was the guy?
hdoubleu: ouch
hdoubleu: what did you lose to?

THeGremlin: nver seen him
THeGremlin: he had royal flush on the river

hdoubleu: wow
THeGremlin: and before that
THeGremlin: he kept raising and raising
hdoubleu: maybe he’s got the random number generator figured out

NFL Picks, 11/2

Last week: 5-2
Season: 27-13
Not a great week in the sportsbook– the linemakers have done a good job, and there aren’t many matchups I like. However, there are 4 games worth betting on, and here they are in order of confidence:

1. New England(+2.5) at Denver– Monday
Yee haw, Danny Kanell! Last week he rode my bet right into the ground, and this week I get to bet against him. I wouldn’t miss it for the world… also, the Broncs are missing two receivers (McCaffrey is one as usual), two linebackers and a tackle. The Pats have been banged up all season. Belichek will have his boys ready to go, and Shanahan has only the mighty Kanell to pilot his ship. I may go 2 units on this bet– I’m not sure why the Pats are the dogs here… I think Denver’s home record fooled the linemakers, and they didn’t take into account the fact that Kanell is -14 by himself. Ok, definitely 2 units. The money line may be a better play here– I think the pats will win by at least 3, but I’ll give up the few extra bucks and take the spread for safety’s sake… Lets go Pats!

2. Green Bay at Minnesota (-4.5)
A general rule of thumb for the past few years has been to never bet against B Favre. However, last year’s playoff game where Favre lost to Vick may have been some sort of torch passing game. Favre has been very inconsistent this year, and at times has looked just downright bad. Add to that the following report from John Clayton:
“It’s bad enough Brett Favre has to play this vital NFC North game in a dome stadium where he’s 11-20 as a regular-season starter. What makes matters worse is that he’s doing it with a hairline fracture in his right thumb.”
However, it’s not that simple– Danger Will Robinson! The Vikings rank 30th in the NFL in pass defense, so this game will probably be a shootout (the total is currently at 48.5). I’m hoping Favre’s thumb will cause a couple of picks, and Moss will have his usual big game.

3. St.Louis (-4) at San Francisco
I missed jumping on this one yesterday when the Rams were at -3, but I still think this is worth a bet. Garcia is playing hurt, and Bulger is on fire. Marshall is coming back, and should rip off a big play or 2. The Niners should have won in St. Louis on the infamous Cedric Wilson runs out the clock in the middle of the field play. But Bulger is hot now, and the Rams are looking tough. I don’t like this bet all that much, as the Rams look like an overrated team to me, but Garcia’s injury may prevent him from running the ball as much as he usually does, and that takes a lot away from the SF offense.

4. Carolina (-6.5) at Houston
Ok, this pick is going out on a limb a little bit… but Houston is playing without David Carr for the first time in their short history, and will be led by Tony Banks. Carolina came through for me last week, but obviously their offense is suspect. The under may be a better pick for this game, but I really like Carolina’s running game and their defense as well. Carolina is a very tough team, and I think they’ll run over a Houston team missing their spiritual leader.

The sportsbook bank is at 800! If I can double up by the end of the year (doubtful), I’ll have the choice of dropping it into the poker bank and moving up to the non-raked 10-20 games with a bankroll of 6K (1600 Sportsbook + 2K poker profits + 2K from salary), or rolling it over into the NBA season. I think poker is a better option, as the NBA season is continous and harder to bet. For NFL games, you have more time to research the bets, and you can see more games.

May the football gods be kind.

Why I play poker (part 2)

Since hold ’em is on hold while the in-laws are in town, I thought I’d take a stab at figuring out what draws me to poker. I’m happy to see that this journal has gotten over 100 hits (unique IP addresses) since I posted it to RGP… I’m honored and a little bit frightened that a few fellow travellers have found it interesting to check out my innermost poker thoughts. It’s a bit scary however– hopefully a few brave souls will offers some comments…Anyway, back to the purpose of this post… In The Big Deal, Anthony Holden suggests that his lifelong struggle to “beat the man” drew him to the game. He talks about his father’s struggles with money when Holden was young, and says that perhaps his desire to overcome all worries about money drew him to the game. I think there is some of that in me, but there are other reasons as well. Here are my reasons in order of importance:

1. The immediate and tangible reward for skill
I’ve always wanted a world where hard work and study are justly rewarded. Alas, it isn’t so in most arenas of life. I’m a pretty good programmer, but politics is always in the way in the business and even academic world. No matter how good a job you do, you are not directly compensated for your good work. Even if you make the best program in the world, as a young programmer, your boss will probably end up getting most of the credit anyway. The first paper that I had published was stolen by my advisor– after promising me that I would be the main author of the paper, I wrote the paper and worked with her on revision. She suggested some revisions, which I made, and sent her the paper, which she had agreed to submit to the journal for publication. I guess I picked a bad weekend to go to Vegas– when I got back, she told me that she had made a lot of revisions, and she had claimed authorship of the paper. I have heard this is a common occurrence for young graduate students. At work, when I create a program, the people above me get credit, and the annoying thing is that they actually believe they deserve credit, since they did a good job “managing” me (which amounts to describing in very general terms what the program should do).

In Poker, it is only you, your cards, and your chips. There is no boss. There is no politics. Your winnings are the result of your play, and only your play. Of course, luck is involved, but my effort at the table and my studies away from the table result directly in profit or loss. In other words, the poker world (for me), is pure. Thus far, I have used everything I’ve learned in my college probability classes (which I’d never used before) as well as a voracious appetite for reading in order to develop my game. The growth of my bankroll has been directly proportional to my poker knowledge, which satisfies me as “the way it should be.” Yes, even the perfect play is often defeated by an unlikely card, but your skill will win if you can make it to the long run (whether or not you can make it to the “long run” is another story)…

2. Poker as a replacement for sport
After playing football at a relatively high level for my entire life (since I was 8 years old), I became somewhat addicted to competition (perhaps it is adrenaline I’m addicted to). I finally retired this year, after two years of semipro ball, not completely willingly– the coach for my semipro team is a former player, and not a very good coach. It’s tough to work for a boss that you feel isn’t guiding you in the right direction, and it’s even tougher to offer your blood, sweat, and tears up to a coach who feels that how you look in uniform is more important than how you play. Although there is nothing like the feeling of all of your neurons firing to achieve one common goal, poker offers a replacement for competitive sport.

When I was trying to catch a ball on a post route, knowing that the safety was 3 yards away and if I didn’t tuck the ball immediately I would be decapitated, my reward was directly proportional to my ability to concentrate. This reward-concentration ratio also exists (to a lesser degree) in poker. If I miss a facial tick or incorrectly calculate my pot odds, my profit suffers. The key word here is intensity. If you’re not at your best on the field or at the table, most likely something bad is going to happen. When you sit down at the table, no matter how tired you are, or what kind of mood your in, if you can’t elevate yourself to an appropriate level of concentration, you are going to lose money. Although this isn’t true in the $6-12 game I play at currently, it is definitely true at higher limits. In a game where the big bet is $60, a single mistake can eliminate your profits that you fought so hard for in the last hour.

John Updike said that retirement for athletes is like a “little death.” An athlete feels the rush of adrenaline every day, feeling your muscles tense as your body obeys your brain’s almost subconscious commands. Then one day, you don’t feel this ever again. It’s tough to swallow. I’m hoping that I’m being reborn as a poker player.

3. Poker as struggle: the way life should be
Fine, poker offers a tangible reward, as well as competition and intensity. But it also places you at the feet of fate, complete with ecstasy and heartbreak. We wander through life, seeking intense experiences, but it’s tough to get them sitting behind your desk for 8 hours a day, or at the dinner table with your significant other. Enter the poker gods. The fickle poker gods can take all of your chips even if you play a hand perfectly. Or they can smile on you and give you a seat at the final table of a 200 player tournament. Knowledge is a big part of the battle, but your ability to handle the occasional bolt of lightning that coarses through you after a fish hits his two-outer on the river is also important. Life deals you many different hands… you might get a good job, or get lucky in love, but discovering these things is usually a gradual process. But the poker gods are violent– every hand is a new battle, and you face riches or ruin (to some extent) every time you take your seat at the table. Poker offers an intensity of experience that is absent from most other arenas of my life. Although this romantic view of the game may be a bit overblown, I really feel this way when thinking about my win or loss on the drive home from the casino, and the feeling is what counts. Maybe this feeling will disappear with experience, but I hope that it won’t.


I’m sure there’s more to it than three italicized items in a journal, but it’s a start. NFL picks coming tomorrow if I can manage to check out the games…

The Drought and The Maniac

Part 1: The Drought
Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the casino for two weeks while my wife’s family was visiting from Sweden, I had to make one more trip to Hollywood Park. I was hoping to get there to play a couple satellites for the $500 NL tourney… $50 satellites, and there were no rebuys in the tourney, so that sounded pretty nice to me. Unfortunately, good old LA traffic prevented that… Anyway, I immediately got a seat at the $6.12 table, and I recognized a few faces as good players. One guy who I’ve seen a few times even had a nice PokerStars jacket, so I figured he must be pretty good, since it would take a long long time to build up the Frequent Player Points to get that jacket. A couple other middle aged guys who were solid players were on my right, and I didn’t like the look of this table.

Hand after hand I threw into the muck, I wasn’t even getting anything close to playable. After about 4 boring orbits, a pretty asian woman said “$200 bucks and I haven’t won a pot yet!” I realized I hadn’t won a pot either, and checked the time– 1 hour with no pot, great. The parade of bad hands marched on, I felt like I was building a tower of muck… anyway, I finally picked up AA, and raised 2 limpers, everyone else folds. Flop is 4 6 7 rainbow, UTG leads out, next guy calls, and I raise– both call. Now I’m sure he’s got the straight draw, but I haven’t won a pot for an hour and a half so I figure I might actually be able to will all the 3s and 8s off the table… oops, turn comes an 8, of course, and UTG bets out, and I find my hand reaching for my chips and calling, disobeying direct orders from the cerebral cortex to fold. I even call the river bet, and of course he turns over K5, and I feel like slamming my head against the table. Why did I call???

The bad hands return, and I look at my watch and it’s been 2 hours and I haven’t won a pot, and I’ve played about 3 hands not including the blinds. I think this is some sort of record… finally I pick up AK suited on the button, and decide to raise it up after a few limpers come in. Flop doesn’t help, and early limper bets out and 3 or 4 people call. The mighty King appears on the turn, and I’m pretty sure that will clinch it for me unless the board pairs on the river… river brings a rag, and I finally rake my first pot. I’m $300 in and now I’ve got about $70 in front of me. I finally come to my senses and ask for a table change. This table is WAY too tough, there is one calling station here, who has actually accumulated more chips than anyone else, but besides that everyone is solid. On a Friday night, why the hell am I wasting my time with this crew when I can be playing a bunch of drunks throwing their money away?

Part 2: The maniac
The floorman tells me there are two seats available to move to, and I have my choice… I take a quick glance at both tables… the far tables looks like there are more chips there, but I recognize a couple of solid players, and the near table has a lot of unfamiliar faces and just “feels” better, so I take the near table. I sit down and post, and try to get a bead on the action there. On the first hand, a young, pudgy guy with a goatee raises pre-flop, and gets 2 or 3 callers. He reraises on the flop, and bets the rest of the way, called by both players. With an Ace on board, I figure he’s got it, but to my surprise he turns over pocket 2’s– the player in early position turns over A3o, and the other player mucks. This looks good– I am happy about my quick table selection, and I turn on the focus and prepare to win my money back.

My first hand is pocket 9s, and the pudgy guy raises from middle position after everyone folds to him. I call 3 more chips from my big blind, and we’ve got 3 players in the pot. The flop is A K 3 rainbow, and I figure I’m dead, so I check, pudgy guy bets, and the third player calls. After seeing his pocket 2 play, I am suspicious, and make the overcall with my 9s. I’m not liking this call, but I’m hoping that this guy is a maniac, and trying to buy the pot as he did with the 2s. The turn is a 7, pudge bets, call, and I call, now commited. River is a rag, and we get bet-call again, and now the pot is big enough that I’m pretty much forced to call. I wait to see what pudge turns over– J3s! I turn over my 9s, and the 3rd player mucks, and I rake a nice pot. I’m not sure if this was a good play or not, since it’s tough to overcall the 3rd player (he later told me he had pocket 6s), but it worked. I am really liking this table.

A few hands later a similar hand comes up… I raise in early position with KQo, trying to isolate pudge. It works– everyone folds to pudge, who calls, and the BB also calls. I’m not happy when the flop is A Q 7, and now I have to decide if one of these two has an ace. BB checks to me, and I take the plunge and bet my second pair. Pudge raises, and BB calls. I want to reraise, but I’m scared of the 3rd player, so I just call, hoping he’s got nothing. Turn is a rag, BB checks, I check, and pudge bets. BB calls again, and now I’m not liking my hand, but I’m pretty much committed now… river is another rag and we go bet-call-call… pudge shows Q3s! I flip my KQ, and 3rd player mucks! So my dangerous overcalls with these 2 hands have turned out for the best, and I stack my chips, climbing back to even.

I’m not sure if these beats tilted pudge, but a few hands later, he was operating in full maniac mode. He capped nearly every hand he was in, and of course everyone was anxious to reraise, so the pots were huge. I was rooting for him in every hand, because I knew those chips would be mine the cards fell true to probability… and he did take in a couple of monster pots with runner-runner flushes, and other such nonsense. I was forced to tighten up, but I wasn’t getting many hands anyway, so I just sat back and watched the action. Then this hand came about: 5 players in a pot 3 bet by pudge, a middle aged asian guy who had just sat down a couple hands ago puts the cap on. Flop is Ah Kh 8c, and maniac reraises early bettor, and the flop is also capped. The table watches in amazement, and the turn brings Jc. This time everyone checks to pudge, who bets. Asian guy raises, and the other two fold, so we’re heads up. Pudge just calls, and I can’t put either player on a hand (AK for Asian guy?). The pot now has around $144 in it, and the river brings a 6s. Pudge checks (huh?), Asian guy bets, and pudge reraises. Asian guy beats him into the pot with a reraise, and pudge immediately mucks! He won’t pay $6 more to have a shot at the $200 pot??? Amazingly, the Asian guy flips over T8h!!! I’m blown away as pudge looks away disgusted, and I mumble, “That was the best bluff I’ve ever seen,” breaking the stunned silence of the table. The Asian guy echoes Mike Sexton’s favorite quote any time a player bluffs the river on WPT “That was the only way I could have won the pot.”

The lesson to be learned here, and it’s not a new one, is twofold–
(1) if it costs you 2 or 3 bets to have a shot at winning a pot with more that 15 big bets, it’s worth it if you think the other player(s) are capable of laying down their hand in a pot that big. Of course, this works best when it’s heads up, because you only have to make the single opponent lay down his hand. However, at wild low limit games, I’ve almost NEVER seen this play work, since most players are smart enough to pay the extra big bet on the river to “make sure” they are beaten.
(2) On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got to be POSITIVE you’re beat if you are going to lay your hand down on the river. This is preached in all of the literature, but in low-limit hold ’em, since there are so many players in, you’ve got to have top pair or better to win. So one of the toughest decisions to be made is the river laydown. It will cost you a big bet if you’re wrong in calling, but more than 10 big bets if you’re wrong about folding.

Ok, enough theory… we want to see our
hero defeat the maniac, don’t we? Well, I did go up against him one more time– by then he was running out of chips, but still had a medium sized tower in front of him. I’m dealt QTc in the big blind, and 4 players call, and of course the maniac reraises. I’m happy to call, and the 4 others call, and I’m liking my hand now. The flop is 10 8 6, with one club. I bet out, and 2 players call, and maniac raises. I am happy to reraise, hoping to isolate pudge, but we get one more caller. Pudge puts the cap on, and I’m a little nervous, but still liking my hand. My heart actually starts thumping like it did whenever I contested a pot in my first $2-4 game, something I hadn’t felt in a while. Ahh, adrenaline. One of the trapped callers calls the cap (why is there always a third player tagging along???) and I’m hoping KT or AT isn’t out there. The river is a 3, and no flush or straight scares me, so I bet out. 3rd guy calls, and pudge, true to form, reraises. I just call this time, figuring a raise won’t knock out the 3rd player, and I don’t have the guts to continue the raise war with maniac. And the river– a beautiful Queen! Check raise time! Pudge bets, I raise, and 3rd player folds, and pudge actually folds! I show my QT happily, and start stacking chips, to Pudges cry of “That was a lucky river!” I shoot back, “It’s not like you haven’t sucked out on anyone.” Pudge doesn’t like this, and stands up and prepares to rip the cards in half. I see a ten as his bottom card, and he isn’t strong enough to go through the Kem plastic, so the cards just crumple and he throws them on the table. Phew, T8, and I’m glad I dodged that bullet… anyway, he’s got one chip left now, and tells the dealer to lock the seat up. The dealer shows the floorman the crumpled cards, and the floorman says “Time to go buddy.” Pudge leaves unhappily, and I am very sad to see him go. But he has brought me back up to $400, +100 in a night that began potless for 2 hours.

Ironically, after the deck is changed, the player who takes pudges seat wins with pocket Aces after an ace hits the flop. Karma?

I spend the next hour missing pudge and losing $90 on a couple missed draws and bad beats. Ah well, I’ll take my $10 win over 6 hours– TJ Cloutier wrote that whenever he climbs out of a big hole, he feels like a winner– and tonight, I feel like a winner.

PokerCharts gives me a nice little tidbit:
“STREAK: $255.00 W4 – I am on a 4 session winning streak for a total of 255.00 over 6 days.”
That $10 win was nice for the stats, I suppose. My poker winnings are now at $1700, so I’m slowly creeping towards the $4K amount I am requiring myself in order to move up to $10-20 (this is the lowest non-raked game at HP… $7 per half hour, compared to a $4 drop!!! for the $6-12 game). I’m still along way from sitting in the top section… looking back at that $700 loss at HP is tough to stomach, but hey, that’s variance for you.

Summary: I played ok, but I think I threw away about $100 on 4 or 5 hands where I knew I was beaten, and made horrible overcalls. However, I did make 2 good overcalls against the maniac. I’ll give myself a 75% for the night– of the 10 non-straightforward plays I had to make, I think I played 7 of them correctly. I know that I still have a long way to go, but I feel I’m learning every time I play. The more patterns I can see, the more lessons I will learn.
(1) Bluff reraises on the river can sometimes work in low-limit holdem if the pot is heads up and the players may fold.
(2) I made several bad overcalls. I need to be focused, and before I make an overcall, make sure that the players in the pot are the type to bet with top pair or worse, or determine if they are on a draw. This might be the biggest leak in my play.
(3) Position based starting hands requirements can be tricky at a loose-passive table. I was burned once or twice when my top pair with a decent kicker was beaten by top pair-good kicker (I remember my KTs losing to KQ). But I also took a few pots when my Ace-Middle kicker beat one or two Ace-Low kicker. I think the rule of thumb here is that with A8 or better and no one has raised at a loose passive table, you can assume you have the best kicker. However, when the top pair is a picture card, be careful of being outkicked. So you can carefully play your A9 from early position if you don’t fear a pre-flop raise, but be careful with your suited picture cards.

Ok, 2 weeks of no poker while the in-laws are here… I don’t know if I can survive!