Grinding and Taking a Shot

“Certain individuals come here just to make money. They grind, grind, grind in the small-stakes games, they make a living and they have no down side. But they have no gamble in them, either, so they will never know the enjoyment of the high roller, the romance of gambling.”
–Mickey Appleman

After a long week at work, its good to be back in blog lang and getting the energy to blast out a long post. For you loyal readers, I’m fighting through a cold that is threatening to put me to bed, but hopefully I can stay awake long enough to finish the post.

After sleeping in this morning, I finally got a chance to do some grinding, after an undesired 3 day break. Between working late, hanging out with Mrs. Double, and the site migration, I just couldn’t click that “log on” button. Despite being sick and not remembering how to play poker, I fired up Party after breakfast, wondering what kind of crowd would be playing on a Saturday afternoon. I found a decent $3-6 table, and proceeded to get my ass handed to me, dropping $150 in record time (20 minutes). I played too loose, and suffered some horrible beats… my 2 pair getting flushed on the river, 2 pair losing to Quad 6s, and missing a bunch of 10 out draws. Ahh it’s good to be back.

But the tide began to turn– I remembered how to play (funny how losing 25 Big bets will do that to you), and started picking up some cards and some chips. I picked up $75 profit when my nut flush hit on the turn, and I slow-played 2 aggressive players, one who hit his set of 8s on the turn, the other with a smaller flush. After donating 6 BBs to a great player who hit a set of 4s on the turn (to beat my pocket Kings), I turned the nut straight in a huge 4-way pot for a $100 profit. This brought my stack back to life, and the vultures circling over my monitor flew away to find some better prospect. I picked up KK again a few hands later, and this time they held up for a $39 profit. I left down $60 after an hour of play, but after throwing away 25 BB in the first 20 minutes, it was a moral victory.

Becoming a Grinder
It’s subtle, but I am beginning to feel myself becoming a true grinder. One of the indicators was my ability to emotionally handle the bad beats and the 25 Big Bet loss in 20 minutes. A few months ago, I would have been on tilt– not full on, play any two cards tilt, but a subtle tilt, playing hands that shouldn’t be played. I remember the drive home from my first terrible (50 BB loss) B&M session, thinking about the hands I lost with. I was pretty down, but I didn’t think the loss tilted me.”I’m untiltable,” I thought, “I played the way I always play.” And then I remembered getting outkicked by KQ after playing QTo from middle position for a raise. It dawned on me then that tilt’s most dangerous form is not a Hellmuth chair throwing fit, but rather a very subtle slide from playing poker as a game of skill to playing it as a game of chance. Any time you play a hand without firmly believing that you have a positive expectation, you are on tilt.

The grinder plays when he knows he his bets have positive expectation. One trait of the true grinder is that he will muck his hand in marginal situations (when the expectation is zero). I find myself avoiding marginal calls lately, and I think I have profited from it. For example, suppose you’ve got AhKd in the BB, and there are 4 limpers ahead of you. You check, and the flop comes Qs Js 8c. You check it around, UTG bets, and second to act raises. The third and fourth limpers call, and now it’s your turn to act.

At best, you’ve got 4 outs with the T, although you can’t like the Ts. And maybe you can add 6 more outs if you pair one of your cards, but again, if one of those cards is a spade you’re in trouble, not to mention that an A or K on the turn could give someone 2 pair or a straight. So at best you have 10 outs, so you need at least (if we assume our 10 outs don’t make someone else’s hand) 2:1 from the pot to call. The pot is laying you 6:1 here… IF we think all of our 10 outs are good. If so, it’s an easy call, but there is no way we have 10 outs– subtract all the spades from our outs (one of these guys is likely on a flush draw), and we are down to 7 outs. Ignoring straights, trips, and 2 pair hands, that gives us 5.7:1 that we get our hand on the turn. So, expectation is still positive, but barely.

The grinder will always muck this hand. Whenever we can’t confidently determine which hands make someone else a better hand than ours (the negation of outs), we probably aren’t getting the proper odds to draw. There are just too many hands out there that can beat us, so we throw away big slick without much thought with a board like that.

Joey Knish vs. Mike McD
The grinder vs. the gambler. Of course, a romantic roots for the guy who lays everything on the line. The audience sides with Mike when he tells Knish that “you see all the angles, but you don’t have the stones to play them.” But to me, Knish is the real poker player. Most likely Mike blows his stack after a couple bad sessions in Vegas, or if he does succeed, he’ll go broke a few times on the way, after some whale catches a few cards in the $100-200 game.

But there’s a middle ground. You have to be opportunistic– once you’ve got enough bankroll to take a shot, you wait for the softest “big” game you can find, and lay it on the line. Which in a sense, is what Mike does in Rounders– he beats Teddy, acquires a new bankroll and puts himself on the road back to success. Alas, we can’t imagine Mike going back to the grinding style that treated him well… he’s going to take another shot as soon as he gets to Vegas, methinks.

I had a suspicion that a lot of the young stars were those who had taken a couple shots and hit their mark. I know Chris Ferguson won a blackjack tourney before he really began his poker career, and that gave him the bank to produce a tourney victory. Daniel Rentzer parlayed a few hundred bucks on PokerStars to save up enough money to play some satellites to get into the WPT at the Bike, and he ended up taking home 2nd place. The great Howard L was a big loser in the low limit games for a couple years, and eventually scored when he played way over his bankroll in a soft $50-100 game, and caught some cards (check out this RGP post for details). But to be sure, I had to ask one of the stars…

One of my favorite all-around people in the poker world is Daniel Negreanu. He’s honest, cares about poker players, and was nice enough to reply to one of my emails. Here are Daniel’s replies to my questions:

1. How did you build up your bankroll when you first began playing?

The truth is that most of the young guys playing in the bigger buy in tournaments started out severely under bankrolled. Basically taking shots here and there. I did it several times. With a bankroll of $2200, I’d often play a tournament with a $1000 buy in! This isn’t the best way to go at all, but it worked for some.

2. Is there anything I can do to move up the ladder more quickly?
Right now (when I’m not at my 9 to 5) I’m playing 2 or 3 $3-6 games
online, or the $6-12 game at the local cardroom. I’m having excellent
luck and have been successful just playing tight, solid poker. But I’d
like to move up to the $10-20 game as soon as possible. My plan is to
build a 500 small bet BR before playing in this game– is this a decent
bankroll in your opinion?

Yup. That’s a decent bankroll in my opinion. One thing you need to understand is that you don’t need to be as careful as Sklansky/Malmuth advise. Why? Because you can step down in limits any time you want. Example: Say you have just 100 big bets t
o play with in a 10-20 game ($2000). Well that’s a short bankroll yes, but you could take “a shot”. Meaning, play the game anyway, but if you lose say, $800 step back down until you’ve recovered.

That’s how ALL the high limit players got there. If you did it Sklansky’s way, it would take 147 years!!! 🙂

There you have it. The algorithm for becoming a high limit player:
WHILE (bankroll not sufficient to take shot) {

IF (bankroll > threshold) {
IF (SHOT = success)
Move up in limit;
Exit and return to start;

Or something like that. And no, I’m not really a computer geek.

Back to the Grind
After working on finishing a secret business plan that my partner and I are looking to turn into a multi-million dollar company (I’m serious!), I hopped back on the tables for some more fun. And boy, was it fun. I returned to two table play, being a bit to worn-down from the cold to “work on my game”, which I feel is much easier to do at a single table. After an hour of play, I found myself breakeven at one table, and up a monstrous 34 big bets on the other table. Most of this came from 3 hands:

1. The first hand I played, I get AA in my BB. Amazing, of the 67 times I’ve been dealt rockets, 26 of them (39%) were in the blinds! What does this mean??? The rockets miraculously hold up even though the flop is 6 7 8 with 2 hearts, and I pull in $57 profit.
2. A monster $82 pot when the board pairs on the river, giving me my boat in the face of someone who flopped the Ace high straight. I’ve been on the other end of this one too many times, and I actually felt bad when I checkraised Mr. AK on the river. For about a second anyway.
3. After my suited connector post, big 87s came through, winning me a $67 pot. I heeded Izmet’s advice and jammed preflop, and was rewarded when the flop came J 5 6 with a single heart. The lucky 9 came on the turn, and I punished some poor guy holding a set of jacks.

So it’s 5 pm Saturday, and I’m up 25 BB for the day (after a horrible start). Yeeeeeee haw… I guess grinding can be fun when you are catching cards. Anyway, the fish should be hittin the tables soon, so if I can manage to fight off this cold, you’ll find me at the $3-6 tables…

This post is getting out of control… so much more to say, but I’m not sure if anybody can survive this many of my words without passing out. I haven’t even mentioned the BIG GAME, in which Belichek will use Jedi mind trickery to force Jake D to throw several interceptions. Patriots win this one easy. Oh yeah, and the big WPT event before that. My head may explode from too much visual stimuli… a Super Bowl and WPT championship back to back.

Poker Blog Patrol
Man, oh, man there is some great stuff out there. I think Iggy’s Pokersavvy article really raised the bar, and all the bloggers stepped up their game. It took me 2 hours to get through all of the great blogs last night… I had a lot of highlights to share, but I’m running out of steam, so I can only tell everybody to keep up the great blogging.

Saturday night on Party! What could be better? Oh yeah, check out the images at my BlogSplat plus site, if I get around to putting them up. Surely the final product will be better than Russ’s site.

And I leave you with the agony of playing THE HAMMER!

***** Hand History for Game 364847345 *****
Table Card Room Table 3689 (Real Money) — Seat 4 is the button
Total number of players : 10
buggirl posts small blind (1)
Islander posts big blind (3)
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to hdouble [ 2d, 7s ]
sharp2403 folds.
tcaldaro folds.
nordbanken raises (6) to 6
hdouble calls (6)
sammyq folds.
bossman48 raises (9) to 9
pruspapaw folds.
buggirl folds.
Islander folds.
nordbanken calls (3)
hdouble calls (3)
** Dealing Flop ** : [ 4h, 2c, 4s ]
nordbanken checks.
hdouble bets (3)
bossman48 raises (6) to 6
nordbanken calls (6)
hdouble calls (3)
** Dealing Turn ** : [ 8h ]
nordbanken checks.
hdouble checks.
bossman48 bets (6)
nordbanken calls (6)
hdouble calls (6)
** Dealing River ** : [ 9d ]
nordbanken checks.
hdouble checks.
bossman48 bets (6)
nordbanken calls (6)
hdouble folds.
** Summary **
Main Pot: $76 | Rake: $3
Board: [ 4h 2c 4s 8h 9d ]
hdouble balance $148.50, lost $21 (folded)
bossman48 balance $129, bet $27, collected $76, net +$49 [ Ks Ad ] [ a pair of fours with king kicker — Ad,Ks,9d,4h,4sKs(kicker card) ]
nordbanken balance $203, lost $27 [ Td Ah ] [ a pair of fours — Ah,Td,9d,4h,4s ]

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