My Worst Play Ever, and Grubby Drops THE HAMMER!

“The poker player learns that sometimes both science and common sense are wrong; that the bumblebee can fly; that, perhaps, one should never trust an expert; that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by those with an academic bent.”
–David Mamet
When we last left off, I had just met Grubby and was doing my best to win as many chips as I could from the maniacal “Big Dog,” who had fired up the table so that 50% of the pots were capped preflop. After greeting Grubby, I told him to get a table change to my table as soon as possible, but apparently the floor man told him there was a wait list for this specific table. I guess the sound of chips splashing the pot could be heard all over the casino. I asked Grubs how his table was:
H: “How is it over there?”
G: “Very loose!”
H: “Well get over here if you want to see REALLY loose.”
The Big Dog was in seat 1 (I’m not sure how his gut fit between the dealer and seat 2), and an older guy immediately to his right kept 3 betting every time the maniac raised. He would 3 bet with anything… this seemed to be his strategy for playing the maniac, and any limpers to act before this duo would be punished for limping, and end up calling 2 or 3 bets to stay in the monster pot. The guy in seat two burned himself into my memory as “Mortal Nuts,” due to a hand that went down like this:
Big Dog 2 bets UTG, and the old guy 3 bets, as usual. I folded a junk
hand, and there were 2 other callers. The flop was Ac 5s 6d, and Big Dog
bets, and is raised by old guy. One caller drops, and the other caller (Seat 5 a George Costanza looking guy) 3 bets it. Big Dog calls, and this time old guy just calls. The turn is the 8s, and Big Dog checks (it was a rare hand). Old guy bets, and Costanza raises again. Big Dog folds (a very
rare occurrence) and Old Guy 3 bets. I have no clue what either of them
have, but I’m enjoying the fireworks. It’s heads up now, and Costanza raises again. Old guy immediately raises, and yells, “I have to raise you,
I’ve got the MORTAL NUTS!”
This exclamation blew me away– not only was he claming to be holding 97 after putting 6 bets in before making his straight on the turn, but where did he get that phrase? Mortal Nuts?
The river was a rag, and Costanza called, only to see Mortal Nut’s nuts– 97o. Costanza showed A4s and muttered something about a big draw. Ahh what a table.
We Three Kings
The shuffle machine set a blinding pace for the table, and before I could recover from the Mortal Nuts, I got red kings under the gun. I raised, and a couple people actually folded (there were a few who’d seen that I played about 10% of the hands), but Big Dog played the “I’ll show this tight player who’s boss” and raised it up for me. Mortal Nuts joined in, and I capped it. No need to disguise my hand here, as people would call with anything.
The flop– 3h 10h Kc. Beautiful. I bet out, making the flush draws pay, and got raised by Big Dog, and was happy to 3 bet. Several people stuck around for the turn, which was 7d. No flush yet. I bet out again, and this time everybody called. Big Dog piped up with accented exclamations, “Come on reee-ver!!!” The river was lucky 7– of hearts! The boat has arrived. I couldn’t have asked for a better card, and put on a little Hollywood “pause before you bet” to convince them I was debating betting or checking. A solid player in middle position called, and the best player at the table (a young woman with a tattoo on her hand) asked “Do you have pocket kings? I’m just gonna call with my flush.” And I could only hope Big Dog would do his job and raise it up… amazingly he folded (what was he looking for on the river?), and I showed my Kings with a tip of the hat to the lady (who am I, Doc Holliday?), raking in the monster pot.
My Worst Play Ever
Before I could stack up the chips, the dealer dealt off the deck shuffled by the machine, and I looked down to see… red kings again! The first thing that went through my mind as I raised was, “Man, this shuffle machine is great!” EVERYBODY calls (no raising after the last hand I showed down), and Mortal Nuts raises on the button, I cap and everybody calls 2 more bets. The flop is nearly identical… two diamonds this time, and a third King again! At this point I’m nearly jumping out of my seat, thinking of the odds of this happening back to back. Astronomical.
I follow the same routine, and the 5 chasers call (Big Dog went to get a hot dog, unfortunately), Mortal nuts raises and I put the cap on again, figuring this time the flush HAS to hit. No way my luck is that good. But the turn is a non-diamond (I can’t even remember the cards because of the trauma I experienced, but read on…) I bet, and this time everybody just calls.
There are now around 30 big bets in the pot ($360), and the river is the dreaded 3rd diamond. I know I’m beat here, with 5 people in the pot… they have to be drawing to something… anyway, I check from the BB, and am just waiting to see the flush, but it’s checked around, but the guy in last position bets. I think for a minute, and realize that there are 4 people behind me, and one of them could definitely check raise. With 5 people chasing from the start, somebody HAS to have the flush… right?
I muck my hand (yes, you read right), and watch in amazement as everyone folds, and the bettor doesn’t even have to show. I can’t resist, and tell the good player I had Kings again. Her eyes get wide, and says, “You FOLDED that???” I mutter, “He had the flush!” and she says, “No, he sure as hell didn’t!” My heart sinks to my stomach, and I realize that there were 30 big bets in the pot… 30:1 odds on a call, and I lay down trip kings!
$300 bucks down the drain, and I feel like I was punched in the stomach. Not because of the money, but because my brain malfunctioned and I made a play that I would NEVER make if I was thinking at all clearly. And if she hadn’t said anything, I would have went happily along, never knowing what a horrible play it was. I was so blinded by the thought that somebody MUST have hit their flush, that I completely ignored pot odds, and paid for it.
I tried to put this play out of my mind, and managed to end up +100 after 5 hours with the maniacs. Not a great haul, especially after throwing a $300 pot into the muck. The swings were big, and I took a couple bad beats with big hands, but I feel like I played pretty well except for the one hand, which was so bad it probably outweighs perfect play for the rest of the night.
Grubby drops the hammer
After 5 hours with the maniacs, and no sign of the game slowing down (Big Dog had 4 racks at this point, after losing $200 in his first 20 minutes), I gave up my seat at the great table to sit with Grubby and Grubette at the next $6-12 table over. I was introduced to the lovely Grubette, and she even produced the famous lucky chip when I asked where it was. The three of us sat at the end of the table, which was full of 30 to 40 year old guys who seemed to be decent players. Oh, and one older lady who called EVERY hand. When I sat down and she called UTG, Grubs coughed “ISOLATE, ISOLATE!” under his breath.
I mucked a ton of hands while enjoying the conversation with the two of them, and I as we rambled on about blogs and odds and such, the rest of the table turned a leery eye. I’d never played next to two players I knew (well, I felt like I knew them), and I wasn’t sure if the rest of the table was worried about collusion. This ended up costing me, as I raised UTG with JJ, and got a couple callers, including Grubette, who was on the BB. She’d been mixing up her game quite a bit, throwing in some surprising raises and taking down pots, so I had no idea what she had. The flop came A A rag, and I bet out, promising myself that I’d fold if reraised. The 2 limpers muck, and Grubette raises me. At this point I was a little worried about the collusion aspect, so I decided to call her down just to show good faith. Also, with the potential jackpot (if another Ace hit we would collect like 5 grand), it was worth a call. Sure enough, she showed A4 after no more aces hit, and the table seemed to be content.
It was about 2 AM at this point, and I was ready to pass out, but pocket Aces quickly woke me up. I’d been playing tight, so only got one caller to my early position raise… the flop was A rag rag, and I slowplayed, thinking about the jackpot (Aces full of tens beaten). When the turn came the case Ace, I sat there stunned, and made sure I didn’t mess this up– was there any jackpot possibility? Nope, I had all the aces… I bet, and he called, and the same on the river. I showed the Aces, and I didn’t even get a “nice hand” from the table, let alone any kind of high hand bonus.
At around 2:30, my eyes were about to close, when I heard Grubby getting involved in a pot in late position. He’d been playing tight, and his flop raise scared a couple limpers out, and only got one caller. He bet the whole way, even when the 4rth club hit the river. I had no clue what he had, and the caller showed T9 for the ten high flush… and Grubby turned over… THE HAMMER! He sheepishly grinned and said “I have a flush!”, and the other players at the table began to stir, leaning forward, craning their necks in disbelief. People began to mutter and laugh, and I let a “No way!” out, as Grubby’s “That’s the hammer!” was lost in the general amazement of the table. The caller said, “You nearly got me,” and smiled, and I thought about how close it was. If he had won that hand, I guess I would have had to give him a leather wallet at least.
Nothing that happened the rest of the night could top that. A fight broke out at the table next to us, and 2 players had to be kicked out of the casino. My favorite part of the whole scene was watching an old guy intently reading card player as the players dropped F-bombs and pushed each other about an inch away from him.
At 4:30 I could barely move, and told Grubs and Grubette that this was my final orbit. I was up around $120 at this point, and knew that I should leave, but I knew that this would be one of my few chances to play with the esteemed playwright and poker blogger. Of course, I lost the $120 on three hands on that final orbit, most of it when I hit my nut flush on the river, but couldn’t even see that the river card that made my hand also paired the board, giving the bettor the boat. He checkraised me, and I realized at that point that I was definitely too tired to play.
So my total take for the night: ZERO DOLLARS! After 9 hours of play, I’d thrown away my meager winnings on three sleepy, final hands. Ugh. And my horrible play with the three kings wouldn’t leave my mind for days… it pisses me off writing about it. Besides that I played pretty well, but when you lose big pots on huge mistakes, you don’t deserve to go home a winner.
Playing with Grubby and Grubette was great. They both seemed like very bright and interesting people, as well as solid poker players. I wish I could play with them every weekend. Getting to bed at 5:30 wiped me out for a couple days, but it was definitely worth it, and I definitely recommend a trip to Hawaiian Gardens if anyone is in the Long Beach area.
Whew. Thanks for reading. There were about a hundred more things I should have written about, but I figure anybody reading this has probably fallen asleep by now. I omitted a lady turning pocket Queens over preflop with no bets in front of her, saying “Unlucky”. And I left out catching a runner runner straight heads-up against the maniac with AJ. But the highlight of the night, of course, was getting to meet Grubby, and seeing the true Lord of the Hammer play it like it was meant to be played.
What is the win rate for an online pro?
I finally dug in a little bit to the mighty David Ross, the 2+2 poster who’s reported winning 60K so far (in less than a year) by playing several $5-10 6max games on Party simultaneously. David’s response to his win rate opened my eyes:
“My Pokertracker database is now over 30,000 hands. I’m winning at a rate of just over 1 BB per 100 hands. Since these last 3 weeks have been fairly typical I think that is probably an accurate win rate for me. Translate that to a live game where you see 33 hands an hour, and I’m winning at an unspectacular 1/3 BB per hour. Thank god for volume. “
1 BB per 100 hands! But since he plays 4 tables at once, this is really equivalent to nearly 4 BB ($40) an hour. 4 shorthanded tables at once??? What kind of neural net is he running? I definitely don’t have the processing speed to handle that kind of volume. I think if they plugged David into the Matrix and had him play Morpheus shorthanded, his neural processing would blow Neo out of the water.
But the good news is, if David can beat these games for 1 BB while playing 4 tables, I have to believe that I can at least get 2 BB/100 by only playing one table. Grubby has been saying all along that these games are the place to be, but when I’ve played there in the past, there just seems to be many good players there. I’ll have to make another run at it.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget your pot odds on the river…
The readers’ favorite:

Before there was poker: Card counting trip report

I was hoping to get the conclusion of the Hawaiian Gardens post up tonight, but I’m just too tired (and drunk) to write anything worthwhile. So it’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Besides, it took me forever to make that damn header graphic, isn’t that good enough?
So rather than do nothing, I thought I’d go back to the archives and find something worthwhile to post. I’m not sure if I succeeded, but I did find a post detailing my first adventure with card counting. I came to poker after a brief stint as a card counter… although counting was a blast at first, it soon became the ultimate grind. You just wait for the deck to become profitable, and hope you hit your big bets. But the time inbetween profitable deck goes on and on…
Anyway, here’s the post, which I originally posted to a blackjack forum… the date I have for the trip is 4/11/03– less than a year ago! It seems a lot longer than that.

The Card Counter’s First Vegas Trip
Arrive at the Key Largo late night after a 7 hour drive (we sat in traffic for 1.5 hours waiting for them to clear the highway after an accident). I sit down at the one 6 deck table with 3 other players, a cool black cat betting green and 2 hammered foreign guys. The female dealer is jovial, chatting up all the players. I buy in for a hundred and start counting… sit through a low positive first shoe… The second shoe shows a +5, so I split to two hands betting $25, below optimum but I’m just warming up. My chips stack up and the first shoe ends… I check the penetration of the second shoe, which the dealer puts about 3 decks into the 6. I get up and color up– a black chip! 100 bucks in 2 shoes… not a bad start.
Wake up Saturday… quick French Toast breakfast, then off to the Mirage– had an old issue of Stanford Wong’s Blackjack News, giving the odds and EV for each casino. He suggested the Mirage, so I drove over there and checked out the tables. Nothing really caught my eye there, so I wandered down the strip to find another casino. The small casinos were crowded, and most had 8 deck. Somehow I ended up at a large casino playing Single Deck– the shoes were crowded and I wanted to get some one-on-one with the dealer, so I figured the 6:5 payout on Blackjack would put the dealer advantage at about the same level as the 6 deck game. WRONG!!! When I got back I checked on this, and of course the house actually has an advantage of 1.5%!!! Which means you need a true count of +3 just to get even! And at +3 there I was, betting green chips… you never thought bad math could be so costly, did you? Needless to say I got a real subscription to this forum and the most current issue of Blackjack News. So I am prepared for my next trip, and have learned that when in doubt, pull out a napkin and do some math, it’s worth the time. Anyway, a quick summary of events while getting killed on the 6:5 single deckers:
–No trouble keeping the count, except for a couple hands with the dealer one-on-one… dealer starts talking about creatine and semi-pro football (I am an ex-player), and I have to answer, so I back off and bet the min until he’s finished. Strangely, this dealer is the only one I won anything from…
–Got my first comp card at the large casino, that was fun.
Played a couple games with a guy betting 5 black at 3rd base on a table with a $5 min. This is the best cover possible.
–Some of the streaks are nearly unbearable. I lose literally every hand (I think it was 6) in a round, on a table with a moderate positive count the whole deck. That came to about 180 bucks in a span of a few minutes.
S (my significant other) and I walk home dejected, down $600 total (S lost $200! on slots, and I am down $400). We are both frustrated, but not really sad, and try to laugh it off. I am frustrated that the counting effort has been for naught, and wonder if its worth it. Although I’m down, there is a little fire still burning, and secretly I know that it’s not over yet. Even though I understand the standard deviation, something about the outcome of single-deck effort feels wrong in my gut (this intuition would later prove to be right).
Wake up at 10 on Sunday morning. I really want to play, but I’ve lost faith and wonder if it’s better to just sit out by the pool. I have to wait until S wakes up, so I have to do something. I burn some time by taking a shower and a shave. S is still asleep… I decide I have to play, and sit down at the 6 decker for day 3.
The table is empty and the old-Elvis looking dealer unpacks the new decks. He shuffles slowly, and I am getting a bit nervous. I have skipped breakfast, thinking I can eat with S when she wakes up. I’m the only player at either of the two tables– the double deck game hasn’t opened yet, otherwise I probably would have started there. Cards come out… start with a few lows, good… one on one is great… stuff moves so fast, no time to check out which way the chips are going unless its a big swing. More lows… we’re in green chip territory. I hold my own as the shoe goes back to zero, and the shoe dwindles away as elvis is replaced by an old asian lady. I check and am up a green after the first shoe. What a relief after getting destroyed the day before. Shuffle.
Dream first hand– +4 after 1, and the dealer even busts with a 6 7 9. More lows… running count is quickly up to +3 and I’m excited for a big hand. The green chips come out and I’m winning… not every hand but almost… I hit a 9 on a 12 and 2 7s on 14. Now THIS is fun. The shoe stays high and I win about 3/4 of the hands, hitting all the doubles and 1 split. It finally ends and I breathe a sigh of exhilaration. Unfortunately, I am betting conservatively after the slaughter the day before. I’ve accumulated 6 stacks of red and 3 greens, making it a +$150 shoe. Small time, but I’m happy…
A bunch of clowns sit down during the shuffle and I take a peek at the double deck game, where one girl is sitting. I decide if the shoe is negative to jump over to the other table, which technically should be a better game anyway, since the penetration is at a horrible 2 decks at this table, and at 1 deck in the double. Another player sits down, and the count is slightly negative so I decide to color up and move over… up 150, two blacks and two greens…
I play the Double Deck for a while, with small ups and downs. I double a 10 vs. 10 and get it with 2 greens on the table, but the rest is back and forth. S shows up and smiles, I show her the chips and her smile gets bigger. At this point I’m starving, but I want to get one more big bet in before we hit the breakfast tables and head for home. Finally the true hits +4, and I get two green out (still underbetting, how stupid!). I get 19 against a 7, and am happy to go home with a big win… but of course the dealer flips a 4, my heart sinks and out comes the face, time to go home. Ah well… I cash out at +$500 for a 2 hour session, taking comfort that the 6 hour drive back will be a lot easier to stomach. So I’m +$200 overall for the trip, but with S’s slaugher on the slots we are even, not including expenses. At least I’m in a lot better place than I was the day before.
On the drive home I reflect on what I learned– the things I did right and wrong, and what areas of my game I needed to improve.
1. Counting was fine, even in face down games. Need to hold on to the count a little tighter, I lost it a couple times when one-on-one with a dealer or conversing with a PC.
2. Need to improve on deck estimation. I didn’t have that much confidence estimating half decks between 3 and 4.5 decks.
3. Need to brush up on the Catch 22 strategy indices. Found myself trying to buy time waiting for the old memory neurons to fire away.
1. Money management was my biggest weakness (besides not figuring out that a 6:5 bj payout destroys you!). Unless you have some systematic way of dividing your bankroll, the wins and losses become emotional. Since I returned, I have read BJ Attack, and Schlesinger’s idea of a “session bankroll” works nicely. With a better understanding of risk-of-ruin and where you are at in terms of session BR, I think the losses are easier to stomach.
2. Record keeping is hard, but necessary. It feels like a waste of time to document your play if you are playing solo, since you could be playing while you are documenting, but the cost is much lower than the benefit. Instead of trying to keep it all in my head, I think I’ll find some way to record stats after each 1 hour session. This should help illustrate trends, if any exist, such as what times of the day you are more likely to make errors, etc.
Well, it has been a week since the trip. I’ve read Blackjack Attack, and Schlesinger’s presentation of the theoretical side of BJ is excellent. He mixes in his personality, and stays away from true theory, resulting in a fluid presentation of strategy and money management. I have learned so much from his book that I am ashamed of the way I played on my trip. So much wasted time! Such horrible money management! Ah well, I guess I learned the hard way (and still came out with a small win, so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining!). On the flip side, I find myself more engrossed with the game, and the theoretical side of the game. I finally get to use some of those math classes I took in college, and the blackjack game I am developing in Java is fun (most of the time).
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from Schlesinger’s book is that unless you have a good sized bankroll, you should view the game as only practice. With the current state of the game rules being so bad, you really need to be able to bet in units of $25 to make it profitable. Even then your expectation is pretty small– a play all 6 deck with 4.5/6 pen gives you a score of only $23 an hour with h17, DAS, 1-12 spread. And that’s with a $10K bankroll! Wonging gives us $35 an hour here with the same rules. So being aware of your SCORE is important– and for solo play, unless you find a good game, you have to be satisfied with between $20 and $40 an hour.
As Schlesinger and others have suggested, you have to “play like a machine.” Your skills should be sharp enough that you don’t have to think about playing. Deck estimation should be precise, indices should be on the tip of your mind, and true counts should be calculated even when your significant other is talking to you.
Along the same lines, manage your money like a machine. Be aware of where you are with your bankroll at all times, and document each session.
Know which games are worth playing. Before the trip, scout out the good games and restrict yourself to those games. Don’t waste your time wandering around on the strip debating whether you should play that 6 deck with bad pen because every other table is crowded. Guess at crowd conditions and have alternatives, other tables in the same general vicinity. CBJN is indispensable for this.
All in all, I guess it was a good trip. I had fun, learned a ton (well, the trip inspired me to learn a ton at least), and came out +$200. Thanks to everyone out there for sharing their knowledge, after poring through these posts, I feel much better armed for my next Vegas trip.

After reaching double digit card counting experiences, the game began to become boring, and would only be exciting when the big money was on the table. Even then, you knew your chances were only 55%, so losses were not surprising or extremely painful. Card counting is the ultimate grind, and I don’t recommend it to anyone. If you have a HUGE bankroll, you can do pretty well, but if you’ve got that much cash, you might as well invest in something worthwhile instead.
What drew me to poker was the competition, the psychological aspect, and the endless variety of the game. Why grind away at tiny edges on the blackjack table when you can get a far greater edge by playing tight, aggressive poker?
A big thanks to my best friend D, who showed his hole cards and let me know that he was reading. We miss ya over here on the west side.
Poker Link: Caro Drops Knowledge

Grubby, Grubette, and The Big Dog

“The great gamblers, and there are not many, don’t need anything. They simply wish to prevail. And we all know how dangerous people are who don’t need anything.”
–Stephen Dunn
After a marathon, 9 hour session at Hawaiian Gardens on Friday night, I don’t even know where to begin. This night had everything– great plays, horrible plays, maniacs, fights, and best of all, an appearance by Grubby and Grubette.
The original plan was that Grubby would arrive from DC late afternoon, and we’d meet up at Hawaiian Gardens for the 6:30 Limit Tourney. But I got word that he’d missed his flight, and he wasn’t going to make it in until 9. Grubs later explained that he probably would have made it on time if he hadn’t played “a few more orbits” on Empire, trying to win one last pot. I figured I’d try to make it to the tourney anyway, since I’d been looking forward to it after a grueling week of 50 hours of writing ASP code. The application went live on time, and what better way to celebrate than winning a limit tourney?
Of course, Friday night traffic in LA had other plans for me. Hawaiian Gardens is about 30 miles south of LA, located in the nation’s poker capitol, Bell Gardens. It’s about 10 minutes from the Bicycle, and half an hour from Commerce, and the cheap rent in the area allows many pros to make a decent living preying on the fish. Anyway, it took me an hour and a half to fight through the freeway traffic, and I arrived 15 minutes after the tournament began, only to find that the waiting list was already 20 deep. I think if there is a hell, it probably looks something like the LA freeways.
Walking into HG, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people playing poker. My usual joints have around 100 tables going on the weekend, but HG must have had at least 300, and every available inch in the casino had a full table. Although physically the place wasn’t that big, the swarm of 3000 people made it the biggest cardroom I’d ever seen, and I walked around dazed by the action.
Although I was annoyed at missing the tourney, I knew I had a lot better chances of making money in the ring games– getting to the final table in a 300 limit table was difficult enough, if I could even stay awake for the entire thing… the tourney ended up going on for over 6 hours, and I was already worn out from the week. I quickly got a seat at the first $6-12 table I could find, and tried to get a read on the players. The first thing I noticed was that the drop was far more reasonable than at Hollywood Park, which has a ridiculous $5 pre-flop drop no matter how many players are in the pot. HG took $5 only if there were 6 or more callers, and less depending on the number of players.
Another difference between this table and my usual was the black box embedded in front of seat 10– a shuffle machine! This made the game considerably faster than the manually shuffled games, and the hands went by at a blinding rate. More hands = more profit, and it seemed like the machine shuffle was better than the dealer’s imperfect manual blending.
A reasonable rake, a lot more hands per hour, and plenty of fish! This was better than Party! (waiting for lightning bolt to strike…)
The table wasn’t a great one. A couple calling stations, but the players were mostly solid, and I knew it wasn’t a typical Friday night crowd when we didn’t see a flop for 3 hands. But it had potential… all it would take was one drunk, one guy who had a bad week, and this table would be fired up. I played tight, and picked up a big pot a few hands in to put me up around $40, but I didn’t see anything close to a playable hand for the next hour, and was quickly blinded back to my buy-in. I think my discipline has improved– I didn’t find it hard to fold for an hour straight, whereas before I would be tempted to take a shot with Q8o or some marginal hand out of impatience.
Then, as if sent from the poker gods, a young, slobby, round guy waddled into seat one with a sweat shirt reading, “If you can’t run with the BIG DOGS, go home!”. You could feel the atmosphere of the table changing, and the sharks sniffed blood when he raised in early position on the first hand he was dealt.
Big Dog was a true maniac. Talk about firing up a table– the guy immediately to his right would 3 bet nearly every Big Dog raise, and probably 50% of the hands were capped pre-flop, with at least 4 players seeing the flop. I was happy to be to the right of the maniacal combo, as I could punish them by capping with premium hands. The best part was, although I tightened up considerably, nobody cared… I was showing down premium hands, but the size of the pots made people lose their mind, and people continued to call my raises with junk. At one point, the Asian lady to my right told me, “You play too tight! Like a virgin you so tight!”, but my raises weren’t scaring anybody away.
As I tried to remember all my reading about “Playing against maniacs,” I got a text message informing me that Grubby was in the building. I looked around for a trail Wendy’s wrappers, but couldn’t find any… I sent a text telling Grubs I was playing 6-12 wearing a tan baseball cap. 10 minutes later, still no sign, so I hit the call button on the cell… no answer, but I turn around to see the mighty Grubby himself, in the flesh! We exchanged greetings, and I suggested he do everything he could to get to my table full of insanity. Grubs was younger than I expected– I was thinking he would be a little bit older, being an established playwright and all that. But it was great to finally put a face to all the great posts, and it was strange to think how much time I’d spent reading this person I just met.
Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of the HG trip report… you won’t want to miss:
Back to back pocket Kings against the maniac
Two Aces on board, and 2 in the hole
Grubs and Grubette take my chips

…and best of all
Grubby drops the HAMMER!
Well, it’s finally done. The Cards Speak is in the process of moving over to a friendlier and prettier environment, my very own linux server running movable type. After next week, the BlogSplat site will be taken down, and I’ll only be posting to the new site. So replace your bookmarks! The new site is here:
Poker Blog Patrol
Ignatius serves up yet another superb post before taking a well-deserved break from blogging. He points out the trade-off between writing about poker and studying the game:
“But I’ve gotten too far removed from focused studying and reading. Running sims. Replaying my hands. Building up my bankroll. I hit my year end goal in ’04, (thank you very much Steve Lipscomb!) but I seem to have caught some kind of malaise since early January. As my original poker coach once told me, breaks from poker tend to re-energize you and you come back with a renewed vigor and focus.”
I too have seen my study time fall off, and will probably go into a cave in the near future in order to fine-tune my game. I hope all the other poker bloggers can step it up while Iggy’s gone– his daily wit and insight will be sorely missed.
Chris Halverson put me on to Bloglines, an excellent web-based subscription tool that uses weblog feeds to notify you of an update. Highly recommended.
The Penguin actually turned something I said in my recent ramblings into a profit. He doubled up several times in the supersoft NL ring games on Party, which I ranked in my last post as the highest EV game in online poker. If you haven’t yet, go sit in an NL $25 or $50 ring game and watch your bankroll grow. Penguin, this link’s for you: Penguin Baseball
TFG continues to amaze me, feelin the pain after a marathon brush-busting session, Chainsaw massacre style:
“I’ll probably have to super-glue my toothbrush to the counter and rub my teeth back and forth over it, my arms are so weak. Heck, my toenails hurt.”
The Fat Guy writes code all day and still makes it out to the woods to fire up the chainsaw. I’m jealous, they don’t even have trees out here in LA…
Royal explains the rationale behind his 10,000 hand quest at .50/1:
“I agree that putting in a bunch of time at the same limits and tables, say $0.50/$1 at Party Poker, is great from a human pattern recognition standpoint. Human beings have a unique ability to do neural pattern mapping and quickly recall those patterns.”
With a background in AI, I’ve coded up plenty of neural networks, which attempt to learn patterns from the data you feed them. Royal points out that humans are far better at filtering the input– recognizing which variables have a significant effect on the outcome, whereas the computer can only use the explicit variables you feed it. For example, a typical pattern I’ve seen is for short-stacked players to bluff excessively when their stack is below a certain size. Sure, a neural net could discover this rule if you explicitly gave it some threshold value and enough data, but this would only be possible if you’ve discovered the pattern first for yourself.
This is the real reason why I now believe playing one table is important if you are looking to improve your game. Two tables interfere with your ability to see patterns, which is what makes you a better player.
Lord G is off and running in his pro poker career, crushing the online $5-10 games while building his bankroll. LG is the only poker blogger playing for a living, so it’s great to see him off to a big start.
I finally made it over to Ugarte’s Poker Grovel, a nice-looking site with multiple authors. Check out an account of the latest home game, featuring Pauly.
And thanks to Iggy for pointing out Suited Trash, the first Meta-Poker Blog in history. Liz keeps tabs on the poker blog world, and gives out a coveted asterisk to the “especially recommended” blog of the day. Hopefully I can earn one of those in the near future…

“Oh the humanity!”

“Industry executives and analysts often mistakenly talk about strategy as if it were some kind of chess match. But in chess, you have just two opponents, each with identical resources, and with luck playing a minimal role. The real world is much more like a poker game, with multiple players trying to make the best of whatever hand fortune has dealt them.”
–David Moschella

The good news is, I found myself highly ranked in a top ten list of poker bloggers. The bad news is, the king of the poker blog did not even make the list, along with many of my favorite bloggers. So, I’m not sure how I feel about the list, but I guess a little PR is probably a good thing. But in tribute to the man left out:

Sign up at Empire Poker with bonus code IGGY1! (and get $100 and a date with Iggy)

Ok, I feel better now. In all seriousness, if you haven’t yet, go read Ignatius, where you’ll find great poker content and the best set of poker news links anywhere.

Party Poker Games by EV
Since I didn’t get to play any poker tonight (I’m exhausted after finally finishing a big project at work where I was the designer, programmer, and lead tester on), I thought I’d take a stab at figuring out which games on Party offer the “best bang for your buck”, or highest expected value. I can only write about the limits I’ve played, but I’d love to hear other opinions (email me, or click on the comment link below this post).

6. NL $100: Party’s best no limit players hang around here, and although the games are still good, the players at the lower NL limits are considerably weaker. If you want to play NL, don’t waste your time here, take a step down to $50 (see below).

5. $5-10 Limit, 6 max: Grubby insists these games are Party’s most profitable, but the sharks hang out in these waters. Even the minnows can jump up and bite you in this game. The variance is huge, and without a sufficient bankroll, you will not survive. This game requires an iron will, and the unwavering belief that you WILL win, or else you’ll succumb to tilt when the fish bad beat you on the river. The best thing about these games is that if you find a table with 3 fish, then you only have to split the winnings with 2 other players, as opposed to 6 others in a full ring game. These games are full of tricky, aggressive play, and are not without psychological warfare. An excellent place to test and develop your poker skills, but if you’re looking to make money, spend a lot of time finding a fishy table.

4. $5-10 Limit: Although these tables are usually tighter than a nun’s bustier, I’ve had my highest win rate here. Unfortunately, there are usually at least 10 people on the waiting list for every table, so it takes a while just to get a seat. Although the tightness makes the pots smaller, it’s relatively easy to put players on a hand, and bluffs and semi-bluffs have a reasonable chance of success. The $5-10 games feel like “real poker” to me, where psychology and hand reading are crucial, and can win you a few extra pots per hour.

3. $3-6 Limit: Depending on the time of day, there are usually plenty of fishy games with open seats. Tight, aggressive play is rewarded here, and the bets are big enough that it’s possible (sometimes) to raise out ridiculous draws, which limits the number of bad beats you take. These are the tables you’ll usually find yours truly at… I’m afraid of cheating at the higher limits, and refuse to wait forever for a $5-10 table. A bonus is that a wide variety of players jump in these games, so each table has a different feel to it.

2. $15-30 Limit: From what I’ve seen, the $15-30 games aren’t much different than a tight $3-6 game, with the added bonus that you find plenty of players trying to throw money at you and bluff you out of a pot. If your bankroll is big enough and you aren’t afraid of the cheaters (be afraid, be very afraid… with that much money at stake and the ease of hopping on instant messenger, I believe cheating is RAMPANT in these games), you can rake it in at Party’s highest limit.

1. NL $50/$25 Ring: The true grinder’s game, the lower limit ring games on Party are full of passive pre-flop players, who are happy to go in with top pair. In many games, you will find 7 or 8 people limping in for the minimum bet. In a no-limit game, this is the grinder’s dream. Just sit and wait for the nuts or near nuts, push all your chips in, and double up when one or more players calls. The implied odds of multiway pots are through the roof if you can be pretty sure that you can get one caller to the showdown. Just think, you can play 25 hands for $1, and only have to flop a big hand (and get at least 1 caller) once to double up. Not a bad hourly rate. The downside is that this style of play is barely poker– almost no strategy, and very little risk, but it will get you the money in the long run.

The list doesn’t include tournaments… I’m still on the fence about Party tournament EV. There is lots of dead money in both SNGs and Multis, but you start off with so few chips, it’s just too much of a crapshoot. I’ve done pretty well in the 40 or so I’ve played, but my intuition is that the long term EV of Party tourneys isn’t nearly what it is in the ring games. Of course, that’s the nature of tournaments… much higher variance, and much greater potential profit.

The Bot Question
There has been a lot of talk about poker bots for a while now, and after getting a master’s in Artificial Intelligence, I’ve been intrigued by these discussions. Iggy addressed this a while back in this post, suggesting that while a bot could play good ABC poker, it would not extract the maximum profit, and would have great difficulty in reading an opponent’s hand. To me, the real question is:

If I had a year or two to program a bot, how would the bot’s win rate compare to mine in low-limit games?

Well, the simple answer is that the win rate would probably be inferior to mine, but by how much? If it was only 50% worse, then the bot is a profitable endeavor– clearly a bot can play twice as many hours as me, and is unsusceptible to tilt, fatigue, and hunger. But as you escalate in limits, psychology and hand-reading grow in importance, and the logic for the bot becomes far more complex.

The poker player should aspire to use all of his or her knowledge and skill to extract maximum profit, and this will not happen at the low limits. I’ve gotta get to the limits where HDouble beats HDouble 1.0, otherwise I might as well spend my time coding.

On to the B&M…
Can’t wait to sit down at Hawaiian Gardens casino tomorrow, after a LONG and stressful week of programming. I’m looking forward to meeting Grubby and his sister Grubbette… a $20 buy-in limit tourney, followed by heavy action in the Friday night games. You’ll only get the REAL version of what went down here– Grubby’s a playwright, so he believes in that poetic license thing.

Congrats to Pauly for winning his first SNG!

Thanks for reading, and take it one hand at a time…

Heads Up with Grubby at Burger King

“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.”
–Jesse May from Shut Up and Deal

Ahh, nothing like writing about poker while drinking Theraflu and your nose leaks uncontrollably. For you, loyal readers, I go the extra centimeter.

I signed in to Choice Poker to see if it was possible to work off 300 Hand bonus (I no longer believe in bonus whoring– I usually end up losing money on these). As usual, there was a single table going, and I sat down to check it out. A bunch of tight players (most likely props)… but who is that over in seat 3? Could it be… Grubby himself! After everyone folded to the blinds for 3 hands straight, I challenged the bad beet king to a little Heads Up action to work off the bonus. Bring it on Grubs!

I started off dominating, quickly going up 120 to 80 (on a $1-2 table) after we both bought in for 100. But the Grubster got a read on me quickly, and began to battle back. The key hand came when I slowplayed my pocket aces, and he caught a flush on the river, punishing me for 6 big bets.

This disaster began a downward slide, and he made all the right reads, and took a big lead at something like 110 – 50. They were raking away quite a bit, but at least the bonus hands were wearing down at lightning speed. I finally got a read on Grubby’s play, and fought back to even it back up at 70-70. I lost a hand or two, and realized that while I fought it out with an excellent heads-up player, the fish were happily swarming over at Party.

“I’ve got to let you go, Mr.Grubs,” and I got ready to go back to more familiar waters, but I took my last hand in the BB. Ahh, Big Slick, and Grubs raised from the big blind. I reraised, and when the flop came 2 4 4, I felt pretty sure I had the best hand. Grubs bet out, I reraised, and he just called. I figured it would be nice to go out with a bang, and the 7 on the turn didn’t worry me too much. The raise war continued, and I started to fear I was up against a pocket pair, so I just called… the river was another 4, and I called to see the Grubster turn over…

43 offsuit! Poker Gods, what did I do to deserve this? Well, at least he won the high hand bonus, collecting another $25 on the hand, leaving me $60 in the hole after getting my ass handed to me by quad 4s.

Much respect to Grubby, but I will take my revenge this weekend, on my home turf. Grubby, Grubette, and yours truly will be taking on the Hawaiian Gardens (right outside of LA) limit tourney, followed by some action in the loose ring games. Grubby’s advice: “Bring lots of money!”

Why waste time in a negative EV game when there are so many fish to fry? Well, the bonus hands were calling me, and I couldn’t resist the chance to serve up a bad-beat whopper to the stellar blogger/playwright. Veteran grinder Iggy stresses game selection, and it’s definitely something I need to work on:

“Because most winnings come from the relative difference between your skill and that of your opponents, and are not just a function of ability alone, any player – pro or not – who plays to win money, should simply table hop and find a table to their liking.”

Don’t be stubborn, hop along to greener pastures. A single extra bad player is worth at least a big bet an hour. Get your avatar ass out of the seat and hop to the next table.

The most difficult step for me in my poker development has been going beyond session-based thinking. The most valuable thing I’ve learned from Ignatius is that you absolutely cannot judge your performance or your poker skills by looking at short-term results. Yes, it’s tough to lose 25 big bets in a wild and loose game, but it’s even tougher to go back and analyze the hands that you lost with. Did you abandon your hand selection? Were you getting proper odds for your draw? Did you give a free card because you made the wrong read?

Sometimes you play perfect and you are outdrawn. In my former life as a football player, the day after a game would always be tough– your replay your mistakes in your head in slow motion all day, and you do your best to improve and avoid making the same mistake in the next game. But in sports, results usually go with performance. In poker, perfect performance often results in loss– even Aces are unlikely to win with enough players in the pot.

I keep reminding myself that in the long run, my hands will hold up, and the results will come. If I’m patient, and commit to the grind, I know that I will win.

A $100 winning session at a wild $3-6 table tonight was a nice end to the poker night, although the money came in true grinder fashion. No outstanding plays, just raking a few big pots in the 80 minute session (although I did lose a $120 pot with KK when four diamonds appeared and my king high flush was beaten by the ace of diamonds). I’m probably jinxing it, but that’s 7 winning sessions in a row. But session-based thinking is in the past, and I have made far too many mistakes during the run. A poker player never stays the same– you either get better or worse, and I’m hoping writing about poker will make me better.

Thanks WPT
I received a package from the WPT yesterday, and I was expecting to find a free entry package to the Commerce tourney, but got something nearly as good: duplicates of the $180 set of DVDs! A letter explained that many of the first set were found to be defective (they did skip excessively), and they bit the bullet and replaced them. I thought the $180 price tag was outlandish, but they gained many points for providing replacements. Especially since I left the disc with Lederer and Chip Jett playing heads-up speed hold-em on my flight back from DC to LA. But that’s a story from another time…

RDub with the Celebrity Poker Crew
If you remember from earlier posts, my buddy RDub has connections with Celebrity Poker announcer Phil Gordon, and made it down to Houston for the filming of the most recent episode. I won’t spoil it, but he’s got the inside scoop on your favorite celebrities, as well as plenty of hilarious stories about our favorite card-catching goofball. That’s right, Phil Hellmuth was there! When he’s not studying game theory or beating the hell out of the frat boys at his high-powered state university, he’ll be writing up his trip report. I’ll post it here as soon as I get my hands on it…

Chris Halverson has an excellent post detailing his start as a poker player:

“I finally came to the decision that if I wanted to actually learn how to play, I would have to pony up. I deposited $25 into UB and started playing the .25/.50 tables. I remember the first time I reached to move my mouse to click on that “Call” button. It was nerve wracking,
this was real money after all! Well, OK, it’s only a quarter, but I was still nervous. That all went away when I won my first pot. After all, this is real money!”

I find it interesting the different ways people arrive at poker. For those of you that have read Cards Speak from day 1, you’ll remember that I got to poker after a frustrating stint as a blackjack card counter. The edges were just too small, and my bankroll not big enough to make a good hourly rate on the blackjack tables. And if you think poker is a grind, try counting. In blackjack, the biggest edge you EVER get is around 5%, and you have to wait hours to see anything like that. No thank you.

Lord G also debates whether to make “the leap” to playing poker for a wage. Danger Will Robinson! Most everybody wants to “roll up the stake and go to Vegas”, but if I ever went pro, I would have to prove to myself that I had what it takes to make it. Sufficient proof? 2 BB/HR for at least 500 hours. I’ve never really aspired to play pro, but if I lost my job right now, I’d probably play at least 40 hours a week. But grinding for survival is a lot different than grinding for fun, and even if I was making a decent amount of money, I’m not sure I could handle the lifestyle.

Study these guys!
Every time I read Abdul and Izmet, I realize how pointless it is to post strategy or theory stuff here. It’s all been said. Read Abdul and Izmet. Every word. Then go back and read it again. You are not maximizing your profit until you do so. I can’t stress enough how much the concepts they discuss will help your game. And it’s free!