Lessons from an Online Pro, and when calling beats raising

I’ve been slacking. A co-worker had a party yesterday, and I saw Mystic River on Wednesday, so I haven’t played poker in two days. I’m not going to do a review here, but if you haven’t seen Mystic River, GO SEE IT! I walked out of the movie making Shakespeare comparisons, and although that may be going a bit far, I can say that it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in the last couple of years. Incredible acting (outstanding performances by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and even Kevin Bacon) great cinematography (directed by Clint Eastwood, who returns to making great movies), and a superb screenplay (I have to read the book by Lehane) make for a great movie. Check out Poor Richard’s review… I think the movie deserves the max number of stars, but the review is excellent.
I’ve been happy to see some of the other poker bloggers plunking some money into the supersoft Party $25 NL Games, and profiting from it. Pauly has a monstrous win rate of $38 per hour on these tables, and The Penguin ran up his buy-in to $183 and $110 on two $25 NL tables. So you see, reading The Cards Speak can not only be boring entertaining, it can make you money!
Learning from a true online pro
I’ve been following up on Iggy and Grubby‘s urgings to read David Ross’ 2+2 posts. Ross is a Canadian who’s been playing 40+ hours a week on Party (4 tables simultaneously) for the past 9 months, and is generous enough to share his experiences I finally got around to it yesterday, and found that Mat Sklansky (the 2+2 webmaster) provides a very-user friendly search interface, so it’s easy to get all of Ross’ posts. Oh wait, I forgot that you can either search by author OR by post title, but not by both. Since Ross has posted hundreds of things, and there are hundreds of replies to his weekly writeups, your best option is to search on “Playing online for a living week XX”, and then scroll all the way down to the first post in the thread. What fun! You’d think Malmuth and Sklansky have made enough money that they could throw us a bone and provide decent search capability, but they probably have secretaries (or sons) who do their searches for them.
Anyway, it’s worth the painful seach– Ross brings us into his living room, and documents the wild ride of playing online for a living. His bottom line so far?
“This coming week will make 9 months of playing full time. The first 3 months I won $13,950, the 2nd 3 I won $17,932 and so far for the last 3 I’m up $19,287.”
Not too shabby ($5700 a month!). The most amazing thing is that he amassed this profit with a win rate of just over 1 BB/100 hands. But when you consider that this win rate spanned across 4 simultaneous $5-10 6 max tables, you realize that it’s quite an accomplishment. I can barely handle 3 full ring games at the same time, and this guy is playing 4 shorthanded games? Maybe I need to play some Quake to speed up my synapses…
As you’d expect, the swings on 4 tables are huge– losses of over $1K in a few hours are not all that infrequent, and Mr. Ross recently went on the rush of his life: +$4400 in 19 hours of play. It shows that the two most important things in being a winner when playing for a living are (1) an adequate bankroll, and (2) an unflinching faith in your abilities as a poker player. Check out this snippet from a dejected Ross after a tough week 10:
“The experiment is all but over. Another horrible night has left me in a very bad position. The bankroll can’t withstand another week of this. I am going to have to find a real paying job very quickly or dip into long term savings. I’ve only had 3 winning days in the last 17 days. My confidence is shattered and I’m doubting everything. I keep waiting for one of those days where the deck hits me in the face instead of kicking me in the ass.”
Luckily for him (and his readers), he perservered, and if we believe him, he’s making a pretty good living. An interesting comment from week 1:
“90% of the hands can be played on auto-pilot, but the last 10%, which is where I think most of your profit comes from, requires you to be focused, not only on my own cards, but on my opponents.”
I think 90% is a little bit high, but the quote brings up a good point: you’ve got to stay focused and alert so that when you hit that 1 tricky hand in 10, you’re able to make the right play when it matters.
The most interesting thing about these 41 weeks of posts is Ross’ path through the different games. He started out playing 2 $5-10 full ring games on Paradise, and ended up playing 4 $5-10 6 max games on Party. Should we assume that his choice of game reflects the most profitable tables on Party? Maybe, but obviously Ross makes his money through VOLUME. The short run will always be volatile, but with a slight skill edge over your opponent, you’ll make money in the long run… and increasing volume gets you closer to the long run. By playing 4 tables, Ross chooses to increase his volume while sacrificing some of his skill advantage (playing 4 tables has got to bring your advantage down).
I want to go through the entire 41 weeks and see if I can get a better idea of why he chooses the $5-10 6 max. My main goal is to determine which limit/game I should play on Party if I want to build my bankroll.
Calling Rather Than Raising in Marginal Situations
Check out this excellent article by Roy Cooke in the current cardplayer. Cooke’s articles have grown on me, even though he mostly writes for the higher limit players. In this article, he debunks the “Raise or Fold, never call” myth that’s become popular lately. While tight-aggressive play is the way to go, it doesn’t mean that there are times when calling isn’t the best move.
Cooke outlines the times when calling may be better than raising:
1. When playing against loose-aggressive players– to control pot-size and diminish the odds for drawing hands
2. When playing against tricky post-flop players– you need “protection” from other players, which prevents the tricky player from making moves in heads-up situations
3. When playing against tough players– for obvious reasons
4. To collect more post-flop bets from the fish– “In situations against players behind me who respect my raises but play very badly after the flop, I will avoid raising in order to let them into the pot so that they will have the opportunity to make post-flop errors.”
This last point is an extremely good point… Izmet also advises us to lure as many people as we can into the pot if we think they might play dominated hands. You’ll make a lot more with your AK by drawing someone in with AT who may fold to a raise, but will play it for a single bet.
Cooke’s advice only applies in games where there aren’t huge multiway pots. In most low-limit games, raising won’t scare anyone away, so you want to raise with big hands, no matter what. But in games where there are frequently 3 or 4 players seeing the flop, calling can lead to far greater profit than raising in the above situations.
Home Game in Burbank
After reading about all these poker blogger home games going on (Pauly vs. Rick and BG vs. Lord G), I was happy to hear that my buddy M had slapped together a game tonight. M and I go way back, and I had fun dominating the first home game he had (the first I’d ever played in). The players didn’t know much about poker, so when we played Hold ‘Em it was kind of annoying to be directing traffic, but it gave me a chance to work on my Stud game a little bit. We even played five-card single draw, and I ended up winning $20 on the first hand after I drew Kings full of Aces on a 4 card draw. I doubt I’ll get that lucky again tonight, but it is Friday the 13th after all…
More Poker Blogs
The Daily Grinder left me a nice comment on my last post, and showed that he knows something about literature, so he’s earned a linkup and I’ll be checking his blog out daily.
And THE TURTLE had a great comment, asking whether or not it’s worthwhile to focus on poker, or if it would be more rewarding to spend time thinking and writing about something else. This question deserves its own post, but for now I’ve got a home game to go to!

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