New Poker Forum

Haven’t had much time to write, but I have been working on something that I think everybody out there will like:
Online Poker Forums at Full Tilt Poker
I may be a bit optimistic, but I’m hoping that this forum will bring back some of the great posts in RGP’s days of yore.
Hopefully I’ll get some time to post about my weekend in Vegas soon.

All in at the OK Corral

“All is flux, nothing stays still.”
A week after the poker blogger gathering and 2005 World Series of Poker opening, I’m still recovering. I wish I could say I was resting up from a 72 hour party, but the truth is, I’ve been fighting off the flu all week and trying to coax my immune system into battle.
As StudioGlyphic pointed out, I always seem to get sick in Vegas. Unfortunately, it’s not just Vegas: I always seem to get sick on any type of vacation, as whenever I get a chance to relax, my immune system lets its guard down and I end up spending the vacation fighting off the flu. The second day in Vegas I felt it coming on, and spent most of the weekend in Zombie mode. I wish I could say I felt like a 21st century Doc Holliday, but I was a lot closer to Tutankhamen’s mummy.
Which is a shame since there were so many great people I met and I wish I could have been more coherent to enjoy their company a little more. I guess there’s always a next time.
In lieu of a real trip report, which I don’t have the energy or memory to do justice to, I give you my trip highlights and lowlights:


  • Watching LA blogger domination in the Aladdin tourney, as longtime bud M shed his “Bad Luck Shleprock” name in his 3rd place finish and Bill Rini took the trophy home for Team LA
  • Clubbing with an Ex World Champion
  • Watching Iggy simultaneously tilt both the Plaza Dealer and The Fat Guy in the $1-2 NL Game
  • This was also the table where I learned that young Ignatious could be a real prick when he wants to be. For some reason, the man went on an insult tear and ended up tilting the dealer, of all people. Suffice to say, I didn’t get it AT ALL, and it made me uncomfortable, and that’s a tough thing to do. I’m chalking it up to too much grog (either on his part, or my part for my uber-sensitivity), but I never want to sit through that kind of thing again.

  • Rivering 2 pair on a flush board and losing to Otis in the Sherwood Forest Game
  • Driving off a cliff-like curb with Grubby in an attempt to find a parking spot
  • Making mental flashcards with Grubby to remember who’s who among new bloggers


  • Getting Sick
  • Not getting to play a WSOP event– I was excited for Friday’s event, but upon looking back, maybe it’s for the best. I ended up sick the next day so it wouldn’t have been much fun. I may sneak in one of the remaining events, it just seems like too much fun to miss out on.
  • Poorly played on all streets– One of the first hands I played in the blogger tourney was one of my worst played hands ever. I flopped top pair-weak kicker in the Big Blind and correctly put Otis on a draw, bet out half the pot and got called by the superb writer of trip reports. I inexplicably give him a free card, and the flush doesn’t hit on the river, but the straight does. He throws in his last chip and I think there’s a reasonable chance he’s missed his flush draw, and I’m getting about 3:1 on my call, so I call. But it turns out that the chip was a 1K chip and not a 500 chip, so when he shows the straight I’m appalled to learn that I just blew 1/3rd of my stack. Luckily I was able to play great poker to work my way back up to 4K and then lose most of my money with the following hand: AQ vs T9 (Obie) and T8 (Drizz in the BB). The blinds had forced everybody to gamble, and I got my money in as a 65% favorite, so I’m happy with that. Thanks to CJ for setting it up.
  • Getting stonewalled by the line at Club Pure– I’ll let FHWRDH tell this one…
  • Not spinning the wheel after playing at the Excalibur (my first time missing the spin)
  • Paying $6 for the Plaza buffet, watching them take the last of the breakfast food away at 11:59, and snagging a biscuit as the chef did his best to wheel the breakfast cart away from a sick and tilted man. Worst $6 biscuit I’ve ever had.

I’m off to nurse my cold with some green tea and a little bit of sweat. Specifically, sweating the final table play of Full Tilt Poker lead programmer Perry Friedman, who is playing some ridiculously good poker, at least according to Poker Wire and Crime Dog McGrupp. He may be a bit strange, but that man can play:

Perry Friedman has little “faces” drawn on his two hands, so he can talk to them (and they can talk to the hole cams) while he plays. Apparently, one of the hands is “evil,” while the other is “good.” It’ll be interesting to see which hand gives him better advice at the final table.

And some guy named “Seidel” is playing pretty well at the final table too.
Man I wish I was in Vegas.

World Series of Poker Fever

Back from a rough Vegas trip, I’m still recovering from the flu, but I wanted to post a few World Series of Poker links for those of trying to keep up. The $1500 No Limit event on Friday was sold out, so I was unable to play. I may find my way into another event in the near future…
Trip report coming this weekend if I can shake this cold.
Best WSOP Chip Counts:
Up to the minute chip counts.
Best WSOP Final Table Writeups:
Old friend Jay Greenspan covers the stories behind the final table.
Best WSOP podcast:
Phil Gordon shows off his impressive interview skills with all the big names.
Best WSOP photos:
Flipchipro knows a little something about poker and photography.
Best Play by Play:
The Tao takes on a “real” journalism gig.
Best Jesse May Related Links:
Jesse May rules.
Best Non WSOP-related e-book:
Sorry, had to.
Trip report soon to come.


“Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you is determinism; the way you play it is free will.”
–Jawaharlal Nehru
It’s almost that time. Time for the biggest poker tournament in the history of the game. And also time for the second gathering of the strange breed of folks called “poker bloggers”. I’m excited to participate in both.
After a long internal struggle of whether or not I wanted to put my dead money in the prize pool for the first event of this year’s WSOP, I finally gave in to the call of the bracelet, and sent in my registration. After a couple of excellent sessions in the Party $15-30, I had won enough for a semi-guilt free buy in. Although I rarely play tourneys, I have played and read enough to play a tight aggressive strategy reasonably well. I played well in the LA Poker classic, and felt like I could compete with the few pros I sat with during the tournament. In the end, I decided that one shot at a bracelet was worth the experience, even though I don’t like my chances against 2000 of the world’s best.
Even after 18 years of football experience, I always got very nervous the night before the first game of every season. The nerves went away as the season went on, but I was always on edge for the opener. 5 days away from the tourney, I’m feeling like the season opener is upon me. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in 2 years, a feeling I miss and thought I’d never get back. I can see how people get hooked on these tourneys… Although I lack experience, I feel focused and ready to play the best game I can on Friday.
Of course, the afterparty with the bloggers on Friday will be the icing on the cake (assuming I’m not miraculously still in the hunt for a bracelet).
Game Theory
I’m not sure why, but over the past two weeks, in books and conversations I keep stumbling upon the role of Game Theory in poker. Although I never got into it as deeply as I would have liked, I did study a fair bit of game theory in my academic career. So when I come across poker related game theory, my eyes/ears perk up.
Game theory is the study of how people interact and make decisions, and usually involves a mathematical model that simplifies the real-world interaction and decision-making process among the people involved. The key assumption required for these models to “work” is that the actors in the game are Rational: people make decisions that are in their best interest, and their best interest involves the end goal of “winning” the game.
Whether or not an individual poker player is rational is a completely different topic, and I’m not going to touch that one.
My main interest in poker game theory is introducing non-optimal (in terms of odds) plays in order to confuse opponents, thereby creating greater future returns.
Assume we have a table full of bots that play tournament poker. Assume that these bots play “by the book,” and raise when the odds are in their favor, and fold otherwise. The bots never bluff, and have no knowledge of their opponent bots strategy.
This game would be extremely boring to watch– most of the hands would be decided before the flop, but for those that weren’t, they would involve primarily pair vs. pair or AK vs. pair all-ins (much like a real game).
Now imagine you sit down at the table. What is your optimal strategy? It’s pretty clear that you would just min-raise the bots to death preflop, folding when you’re called or raised. You’d be able to steal plenty of blinds, and wait for a double up when holding a big pair. Your advantage is huge since you can narrow down your opponents’ possible hands down to a very small range.
Now suppose another game theorist sits down at the table with you. Your old optimal strategy goes down the toilet, and the complexity of the game increases tremendously. Your opponent knows that you will be min-raising with trash hands, and when he has position on you, it’s very difficult for you to combat his re-raises. The game becomes a struggle between you and the game theorist for the blinds of the bots.
How best to combat the game theorist’s re-raises? If you only raise him when you are fairly certain your hands are stronger than his (your hand is much better than a random hand), you will be giving up too much money to his raises. The answer is choosing a percentage of re-raises that will allow you maximize your expectation. If your opponent continues to re-raise you, the optimal bluffing frequency in this case is probably somewhere just under 50% (you’d have to take into account the probability that the bots have a hand).
Note that this model looks something like a table full of weak-tight players with two hyperaggressive players battling it out. The point of this simplistic model is not to advocate a particular playing style, but to stress the importance of adding some randomized plays that “keep the other players honest” and keep them guessing as well.
For the most part, everyone at the table has the same knowledge of poker odds. Most players say that tells are hard to come by among expert players. This means that the difference between good players lies in their abillity to confuse and deceive their opponents. The only way to avoid pattern-izing your deception is to use randomization, so that you don’t even know what move you will make before you make it.
For example, if you never limp with big pairs, observant opponents will pick up on this and have no fear of raising your limps. One way to randomize your play is to say that 17% of the time, I’m going to limp with a pair (the “sub-optimal” play) and 83% of the time I’m going to raise. This is enough to put the fear of our opponents, so now we need a way to randomly make this play with our big pairs. The simple way is to limp when both cards are red, and raise otherwise. I’ll leave the math to the reader.
Of course, your opponents have to be paying pretty close attention to your play for any of these plays to work. But at the highest levels, you can bet they will be.
For most of the games I play, deception has little value, since most of my opponents aren’t paying close enough attention to remember I play I made 20 minutes ago. But it’s fun to think about anyway.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you at the World Series.

The Poker Wisdom of The Matrix

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”
–George Lois
Although I haven’t been playing much in the past couple of weeks, I did take a few shots at WSOP qualifiers, most notably a $300 buy in tourney that a faithful reader told me about (thanks Sloanny). The tourney was at the top floor of a nearby hotel (the legality of it was unclear), and probably had the worst players I have ever (or will ever) see relative to the prize pool. With rebuys, the prize pool ended up being $30K, with the top prize being a seat at the WSOP main event.
So this was my one shot at the Main Event, and I couldn’t ask for better odds. The field looked to be about 75% full of terrible players, making this tournaments where I’d guess that I actually was somewhat of a favorite.
I’ll spare you the details, but basically I stole a lot of blinds and built my stack only to go all in with QQ on a flop of J 9 4 against a maniac, who called with 33. Somehow I knew the 3rd 3 was coming (I’ve lost to this hand the last 3 times I’ve faced it when I’ve been all in with an overpair), and sure enough, it came on the turn, much to the screaming maniac’s delight. So much for the WSOP.
In general bad beats like this don’t bother me too much, as long as I played as well as I could. But lately the beats have been adding up, and I feel like I’ve forgotten what it feels like to walk out a big winner. So to remind myself what it feels like to beat the odds, I am turning to Neo, Morpheus, and the rest of the Matrix crew for some poker wisdom from those who got tired of the grind…

The Poker Wisdom of the Matrix
Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
This one goes out to all of the players trying to go beyond the grind and do something more at the poker table than just value bet their premium hands. Morpheus’ lecture foreshadows what could be the future of online poker: a collection of bots and grinders playing systematic poker against a handful of opponents who have to use courage, wits, and creativity to beat them.
In the battle of the romantic Mike McD against the pragmatic Joey Knish, everyone roots for romance. Grinding out high percentage hands and folding marginal hands is a proven formula for success. But the great players who make the big scores are willing to take seemingly absurd risks when they feel they can beat their opponent, and these players represent the “cream of the crop”. Moneymaker’s monster bluff against Farha in the 2003 WSOP was an example of courage and creativity triumphing over percentage play, and illustrated the beauty of poker: a well-timed and executed bluff will always beat a pure percentage play.
Of course, I’m not arguing that mathematical analysis shouldn’t be applied to the way you play your hands. Just as Neo learns to work within the matrix, the creative and courageous poker player must also know the numbers on every hand. But the difference between the stereotypical grinder and the romantic uber-poker-player is creativity and courage.
Agent Smith: It seems that you’ve been living two lives. One life, you’re Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you… help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias “Neo” and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.
This quote, from one of my favorite all-time movie characters, goes out to all the poker bloggers out there who have a job. I remember when I was first playing, I would come home from the bureacracy and frustration of work and sit down to the strange world of online poker (or occasionally the even stranger world of Hollywood Park). At the tables, there is some semblance of order. You play well, you win (usually). There are 52 cards, and you can figure out the odds of making your hand and your opponent making his. The closed world of gambling theory and poker concepts was comforting after the confusing and often absurd corporate world.
I think one of the reasons for the popularity of online poker is that it provides hope for everybody out there… not the hope of making a quick buck (although I’m sure that’s part of it), but the hope of someday making the big score after putting in the time and effort to become expert in poker.
Agent Smith: I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.
This one goes out to all the grinders who know what it’s like to run bad. There are few things more frustrating than being repeatedly rivered by a school of fish who chase you down hand after hand. You watch them stacking up monster pots after their two outer came in against all odds, and can’t help but think, “What a game!”. If you aren’t careful, the implied odds being offered to you are like the voice of the Siren, and you begin to play trash like 97 offsuit because you think you can limp in for one bet. But by the time it’s back to you, it’s been three-bet and now you’re forced to call with your trash. At this point you wonder how the gills on your neck got there, and how you ended up investing 4 big bets with your 97o in this huge multi-way pot.
If you can’t make peace with the gambling theory involved in loose games, you’ll wind up like Mr. Smith– facing the long call on the river with the taste of stink in your mouth.
Morpheus: You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.
Morpheus’ advice to Neo is excellent advice for the aspiring player. Fear, doubt, and disbelief are the symptoms of a player who is results-oriented. With a proper understanding of variance, a player is freed from the frustration of bad beats and bad runs. Understanding of gambling theory and the ebb and flow of bankroll is like armor against results-oriented thinking. Once you’re playing in games within your bankroll and understand variance, you can let it all go and free your mind.
Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

Neo’s awakening is similar to the poker player’s leap from weak-tight to tight-aggressive. I’ve seen it in my own game and lately in the play of some friends– instead of thinking that a bet or raise means that an opponent has the nuts, the player opens their eyes and works backwards to determine that the opponent’s betting pattern doesn’t make sense. When the lightbulb goes off and all the pieces come together, they surprisingly announce “Raise” with confidence, and usually rake the pot after their opponent mucks on the river.
The opening of the eyes allows the player to see a wider range of events at the table, and connect them to the psychology and tendencies of their opponents. At this stage, their aggression increases and they now “see” when to make tough laydowns and difficult value bets on the river. At first it hurts, and the player makes a lot of mistakes in judgment, but over time these mistakes are reduced and they have a huge advantage over their opponents. Weak-tight players become targets for well-timed bluffs and value bets, and gamboolers will have to pay through the nose to hit their draws.
Poker is a lot of fun when you open your eyes.
Before I sign off, I have to thank everybody’s who’s supported The Poker Tracker Guide. All of the feedback I’ve gotten has made all of the hard work that went into it worthwhile. Hopefully it’s worth more than a few big bets to all of you Poker Tracker fiends out there.
I also should point out the new offering from Tiltboy extraordinaire Phil Gordon:
Final Table Poker DVD
I haven’t seen it myself, but I have inside information that this DVD is groundbreaking in terms of getting into the mind of a world-class player. Rumor has it the heads-up match between Phil and Chris Ferguson got very competitive.
Thanks for reading and good cards.