My week, sans the work: Part 2 – Las Vegas

On Wednesday evening, I headed west to Las Vegas.  As it turns out, I also arrive in Las Vegas on Wednesday evening since time stands still when flying west (in the States anyway).  This demonstrates Superman’s superiority as Boeing can merely cause time to stand still, while Superman can actually cause time to go backward. (NOTE: I will not check to see if Boeing makes a jet that flies fast enough to cause time to reverse when flying west in the States.)  A couple of friends were also in Vegas and had the good fortune (read, “have gambled enough”) to get two rooms comped at different hotels for Wednesday and Thursday.  I ended up crashing in a room at the Hard Rock for free my first two days in Vegas.  Wednesday night, I slept.

Thursday, I woke up relatively early (9) and did a few hours of work.  Then I wandered over to the Wynn and had lunch at Terrace Pointe Cafe.  It was excellent and I was full, so I decided to walk over to Bellagio and get some gelato.  I didn’t have any plans for the remainder of the day, so I popped over to Planet Hollywood Casino and played some $1-$2 No Limit.  I dropped about $85 over five hours (possibly accounted for by the $90 pot I lost after being about 90% to win when the money went in) and then went back to the Hard Rock to do a little more work and then get some sleep.  The next three days would be busy ones.

Friday morning, I woke up and did a couple hours of work and then checked out of the Hard Rock and into – let me finish – the Tropicana.  Actually, I just checked my bags at “The Trop” (that’s what the townies call it, probably because it’s a dump and doesn’t really merit more than two syllables) and then walked over to the MGM Grand to meet a friend for boot camp.  The friend is a poker pro who was teaching at a three-day WPT Boot Camp that I was to audit for the weekend.  (I don’t name-drop here, but her recent tournament winnings put her on a short-list for best female tournament player, and she’s probably moving up the same list for “overall” tournament player.  Google is fun.)

Within the first two hours of the camp, I’d already identified why my poker game has been so awful recently and decided it was time to update (and, in many ways, revert) my style.  In a nutshell, it was pretty obvious that I had regressed into a weak-tight style.  It quickly became obvious I needed to LAG it up a bit and play more (but smaller) pots against my opponents.  So far, so good.

The rest of the first day was good, but not as great as the first session.  I really enjoyed the other sessions (hanging out with people who’ve written books I’ve read has to be fun), but they were mostly high-level refreshers that didn’t resonate like the first session had.  My friend and I skipped out on dinner and met up with her fiancée and some of their friends for dinner at Antonio’s at the Rio.  The lasagna was good and I was entertained both during dinner, by the conversation, and after dinner, by the meticulous accounting required to verify proper appropriation of each penny on the check (including tax and tip, of course).  After dinner, we met up with another friend and went to see the new Indiana Jones movie (which was a colossal letdown and seemed more like a prank than a long-awaited fourth installment to the series).  I then went back to The Trop to officially check in and collapse.

As I was checking in, I began to realize that they may not have reserved a non-smoking room for me.  This was going to be a problem.  I first began to suspect something was up when the receptionist said, “Ohhhhhh…  you wanted a non-smoking room?” Then, clackity-clack-clack tip-tap tap-tap-tap … thunk.  She probably suspected I requested a non-smoking room because I had submitted the following “special request” when I booked the room on Expedia:

I absolutely DO NOT WANT A SMOKING ROOM, or a room that has ever been a smoking room, or a room that is near a smoking room.

She explained that they didn’t have any more one-bed non-smoking rooms.  I explained that I didn’t care how many beds were in the room so long as it wasn’t smoking, and hadn’t ever been a … (see above).  She said she was new, so she was going to get the manager.  The manager swooped in, tapped around for a few seconds and said, “We’re going to upgrade you to a suite.”  Bummer.  Wait, what?  Okey dokey!  (That was actually all in my head.)  Aloud, I said, “Ok.” as if to communicate that we both know they owe me that much.  She then explained that Vegas hotels can’t guarantee rooms like that.  But she also gave me an insider tip:  if I want to make sure I don’t get stuck in smoking, I should book the room, then call ahead to the hotel and tell them I’m allergic to tobacco and smoke.  That’ll land me on “the security list” and I should be good to go.  I’m getting a suite, suckas!

As I approached the suite, I saw a sign: THIS IS A NO SMOKING AREA.  I took that as a good omen, but was a little leery of the slight smokey smell that surrounded it.  The suite had most likely been furnished by bargain hunters who scored a bunch of stuff from garage sales in South Florida.  Most of the room was coral, teal and wicker.  I was curious what the smoking room would’ve looked like.  (Probably something like coral drawn toward earth tones via tar stains.)  It smelled a little like smoke, and would smell that way for the duration of my stay.  I assumed this was the result of 25 years of people ignoring the sign outside my door.

On Saturday, I began the day by bumming breakfast off of the boot camp.  Then the sessions began again and, again, there was one particular session that really resonated with me.  As before, the theme was “aggression” and it became even clearer to me that I had devolved into a weak-tight player (possibly the worst kind of tournament player to be).  After the day ended, I headed straight back to my hotel room to try out my newfound LAGgy confidence in some small multi-table tournaments.  Two things were almost immediately apparent: first, this style is obviously effective; second, this style seems pretty similar to what I used to play when I was regularly playing live tournaments.  (A third epiphany also began to dawn, but wouldn’t become completely clear until Sunday: it’s too bad I blew $1K in New Orleans because I didn’t have the slightest chance at actually winning that tournament.)  I didn’t cash in either of the small tournaments I played, but I easily built a big stack and was in great position to assume the chip lead when we hit the bubble.

…Ironically, one of the topics that came up frequently in my two favorite sessions was pre-flop raise-sizing.  The number of 2.5 Big Blinds was mentioned frequently, so I decided to take a look back at my posts from a couple years ago.  Sure enough, I had written two long posts (well, long if you ignore this one) called “2.5 is the new 3!”…

Sunday began the same as Saturday, but was more of a wrap-up day.  We had a couple of general sessions, then lunch, then a winner-take-all tournament that I didn’t play (because I was freeloading).  Before the tournament, my friend was kind enough to look over my hand-history from the $1K in New Orleans.  We both had a good laugh and I felt a little embarrassed at how obviously weak my play had been.  It wasn’t awful (she occasionally found something I’d done correctly), but it was pretty bad.  It was mostly good that it was so obvious to me how bad my play had been – that meant I had actually learned something over the past couple of days.

After my friend busted from the tournament, we milled around chatting with all the other busted pros (the pros apparently weren’t so great in this one) and then headed off the strip and back to her condo to kill some time.  We chatted with some other guests she had in town and then she decided it was time to teach me to play backgammon.  I remember seeing a backgammon board at a friend’s house when I was really young, but I don’t think I ever played the game.  Anyway, the first few games were a little frustrating (probably more for her than me) and she went up 5-0 in a match to 7.  But then I won four games straight to win the match 7-5.  Of course, I’m aware that I was a total luckbox, and that she helped me make good plays and avoid horrible plays… but it’s also nice to know that she died a little inside when a total neophyte crushed her.

After the longest-odds backgammon comeback in history (or at least my history, which includes only one match), we met up with a friend and went for sushi at Sushi Roku in Ceasar’s Palace.  After my friend was mistaken for a hostess (“One for the sushi bar.”  “What?”  “One for the sushi bar.”  “What are you talking about?”  “Oh, you don’t work here?  I’m sorry.”), we were seated at the least-attended table in the joint.  After receiving my latest lesson in the art of the chopsticks, we downed our meal pretty quickly and then jumped right into discussions on morality, politics, social faux pas and the like.  We also noticed that our server hadn’t been around in quite a while.

My friend was particularly frustrated by this (we had been trying to get the check for about 20 minutes and our glasses hadn’t been refilled in a while) and decided to use me as an instrument of passive-aggressive revenge.  Because she has no soul, she decided the best way to exact revenge would be to give our server a seemingly genuine, but completely fake, compliment.  I was offered a 20-dollar freeroll if I would, with a completely straight face, tell our server how much I appreciated her attentive service.  And she had to believe I meant it.  I mulled it over for a while (I possess a soul, and so this task would be more difficult for me to execute than it was for her to imagine), but decided I was freerolling and therefore only had my dignity to lose, but 20 dollars to gain!  I began thinking back to my acting classes to see if I could remember how to find motivation and get out of my head.  Mostly, I was concerned I would begin offering up my fake compliment and bust out laughing, which would make me feel awful (yes, worse than I would feel for passive-aggressively taking a shot at our only-slightly-English-speaking server).  No motivation became apparent, so I decided to look for the right opportunity and go for it.

I decided that opportunity would present itself when our server brought the check (assuming this ever happened).  Eventually, she brought the check, set it on the table and began to make a hasty retreat.  Before she could get away, I began:

“Excuse me.  This is my first time in Las Vegas and I am just about to leave to catch my plane home.” 
“Where are you going?” 
“Back to Florida.  But I just wanted to let you know that I had a great time here this week, but your service tonight has been really exceptional and is just a great way to end the week.”
By this time, it was obvious that she was a little skeptical of my kindness.  Of course, she should’ve been since I’m sure she knew she hadn’t paid us any attention for the last couple of hours.
“So, thank you for your great service tonight.  This was a great way to end my trip.”

I was so convincing that my soulless friend felt compelled to stop snickering into her napkin (I wanted to say, “stop snickering into her serviette”, but this is America) and say, “Aw, that’s so nice of you!”  This comment finished the job and clearly convinced our server that we were indeed genuinely impressed with her service.  I was paid my blood money and we began preparations to negotiate the check.  But while we were razzing the server, our friend had sneakily paid the check (apparently, the staff was very quick to retrieve already-paid checks), so I actually made twenty dollars at dinner (and forever lost a small piece of my soul).

From there, we went back by The Trop to retrieve my bags (checking out is substantially easier than checking in) and ferry me to the airport so I could catch the red-eye.  I’m pretty sure this is my first red-eye flight, but I’m realizing that one attribute of a red-eye is that they’re difficult to remember, so it’s possible I’ve flown a few before.  In about 45 minutes, we’ll touch down in Gainesville and I’ll go home and sleep the day away.  Back to work tomorrow.

Some of my MTT philosophy

I’ve been playing poker online for about two years now, and I’ve always had a thing for MTTs. I’m sure I’m just another product of the TV poker boom, but I just like MTTs more than cash games (and SNGs are a close second). Here are a few things I’ve learned about MTTs since I started playing:

  • The goal in an MTT is to make it very, very deep into the money. Because of the top-heavy payout structure of most MTTs, it’s hardly worth while to just cash in an MTT. If I’m just playing to cash, my time is probably better spent in a SNG where I can play for less time and cash more frequently than in MTTs.
  • Variance is very high in MTTs. A good MTT player can expect to cash in 10-20% of the tourneys he plays (and this number is inversely proportional to the size of the field). This means that, even for a good player, there is an 80-90% chance that he will lose money in any given tournament. This means that a streak of 10, 15, 20 or more tournaments without cashing is not only possible, but should be expected. This means that my bankroll-to-buy-in ratio must be very high to withstand the negative variance in MTTs. I try to make sure I have at least 100 buy-ins for whatever level I’m playing.
  • My opponents determine how many levels of thinking I use; I should be thinking one level ahead of my opponent. Typically, the higher the buy-in, the more levels of thought necessary to be a winner (to an extent). In the lower buy-ins, there’s generally no point in thinking to the fourth level, or even the third. I think about my hand, I think about my opponents’ hands, and that’s it unless I have reason to believe that my opponents are trying to read my hand. A couple weekends ago, I played an MTT where I tried an elaborate check-raise bluff against an opponent who obviously had me beat. I was representing a hand that had him in bad shape, but because he was only thinking about his hand and wasn’t trying to put me on a hand, I donked off a bunch of my chips. I was thinking on the third level, but he was only thinking on the first level, so I was just wasting brain power and chips. After the hand, a more experienced player at the table said, “Nice bet, I would’ve folded to you there.” My check-raise bluff would’ve worked against this opponent because he was thinking on the second level, but my play was too fancy for a player thinking only on the first level. But the more experienced opponent was wrong, it wasn’t a nice bet because I made it against the wrong type of player.
  • Keeping records is imperative. I record every tournament I play: Buy-in, number of entrants, where I finished, how much I won, how long it took, and various notes on my play. I keep track of my overall ROI, how often I cash (ITM–In The Money percentage), and other statistics that help me see how well I’m playing. These records enable me to measure my progress, expose any leaks in my game and, most importantly, they keep me honest. The records don’t lie–if they say I’m winning, I’m winning; if they say I’m losing, I’m losing.
  • Hand Histories are a very big part of my learning process. When I go very deep in an MTT, I’ll often review the hand history the following day to see what I did well and what I could’ve done better to win. Any time I encounter a difficult hand, I save the hand history from that hand so I can look over it and get feedback from other experienced players to help me understand the hand better, so I’m more prepared for that scenario next time I see it. If I have a bad session, I’ll look at the big picture to see if there are any leaks I need to work on, or to see if maybe I was just running bad.

I’m not an MTT expert, not even close. But I have been consistently improving over the past several months and I believe these are the primary reasons.

Good weekend of poker

I had a pretty good weekend at the poker tables. Nothing incredible, but I had decent results.

I played a total of 12 tournaments–11 online and one live. I cashed in four of them and made one final table (the live tourney was a one-table tournament, so no final table points for that one). My online ROI was 140% and my live ROI was 243% for a total weekend ROI of 171%. It was nice to have a good weekend online since it had been over three weeks since I cashed in any tournaments.

All in all, I played very well this weekend and I think the results don’t reflect my performance. I made some very good plays and those plays allowed me to accumulate chips to weather some pretty bad beats. My instincts were good and I played solid, patient poker. I’m also playing very well on the bubble, and not playing to eke into the money (I busted 245 in one tournament where 243 paid when I made a good situational play and just got unlucky; I could’ve easily folded into the money).

In 12 tournaments, I lost 10 all-ins where I was at least a 75% favorite when the money went in. That’s just a rough run of luck and I was pretty fortunate to survive as many times as I did.

This was a pretty interesting hand from one of my online tournaments: We were down to 245 (of 1405) players and 243 spots paid. I had about 5K chips and the blinds were at 200/400-25 (or something like that). It was folded around to two off the button who raised it to 1200 and the CO smooth-called. Both players had stacks about like mine, but maybe a little bit deeper. Since we were on the bubble, and it was folded around to the hijack, he could have a very wide range of hands. Even a tight player will be raising a reasonable range of hands there (I’d say at least ATs+, KJ+, 77+) and a good player will be raising with a lot more hands. The smooth-call by the button smelled like AK to me, but there are a few lesser hands he could have (AQ, KQs, maybe a medium pair). It’s easy to restrict his range so much because of his stack-size. If he had a really big hand (JJ+) he would almost have to re-raise given the stack-sizes and the fact that there are still three players to act behind him. If he had a mediocre hand (AT, AJ, 55, KT, QJ), he’d almost have to fold for the same reasons. I had 99 on the button and moved in. The blinds folded, the original raiser moved in (uh oh) and the CO called (double uh oh). The original raiser had JJ and CO had AK. JJ held up and I was out.

I was pretty upset with my play after this hand but, the more I think it, the more I think it was the right play. Hijack’s JJ was a much better hand than he needed to raise there, and my read that the CO had AK was accurate. Most of the time, my all-in will isolate me against the CO getting 7-to-5 on my money as a 55% favorite.

I think the AK really misplayed his hand here. He ended up calling off his whole stack with AK, sandwiched between a raiser and a re-raiser. AK is a good hand, but it’s the kind of hand that I want to make the last move with. If he’s going to play AK in that spot (and he should), then he needs to move in to isolate against the initial raiser. If I had folded, the SB would’ve been getting about 3.4-to-1 to call. If the SB had folded, the BB would’ve been getting about 4.25-to-1 to call. Those are tempting odds for the blinds to call and get lucky. The bottom line is that he should be playing this hand for all his chips (his M is only about 8 before the hand starts) and AK is a hand best played heads-up.

EDIT: I played again tonight (Monday) and had a pretty decent night. I played three tourneys and made one final table (took third). Of course, I busted from one tourney when I got the money in as better than a 70% favorite, but that seems to be standard. My overall ROI for the night was almost exactly 100%.

Poker and diminishing returns

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but every time I start to write it I suddenly have an upswing and I chicken out. (Un)Fortunately, I’m on a post-downswing hiatus, so I have a few days to get this right. Here’s the basic idea:

The more poker I play, the more I need to take a break, regardless of how well I’m playing.

Every time I play poker, I make several investments–money, time, attention, etc. Each player only has so much of each commodity to give. I sort of envision a poker player as a combination of all these things (and others), much like racing games where the player can choose a car based on its aggregate of several different attributes–acceleration, top speed, handling, etc. I think everyone knows that if a player is in a cash game and is playing a long session, then the longer he plays past a certain point, the poorer his performance. For some players, their performance worsens after only a few hours, while other players can play their best game for many, many hours and sometimes days.

I saw a fantastic example of this on a recent episode of High Stakes Poker on GSN. Mike Matusow had been playing for several hours and was obviously becoming very fatigued. He told the table that he could feel his play slipping and he knew it was time to quit. What did the table do? They offered him $4000 to continue playing. Mike accepted the bribe (or investment, depending on one’s perspective) and proceeded to dump about $100K, most of it to Phil Laak. Mike is a very good poker player, but he ended up stuck because he continued to invest time and money when his attention had run out.

Each player has a limit to what he can invest before his results stop reflecting his actual poker ability. A good example of this would be multi-tabling cash games online. For a long time, I was 4-tabling low-limit hold ’em games. I was earning just shy of 3BB/100 hands with a sample size of something like 12,000 hands. This is considered pretty good and I figured if I could make 3BB/100 4-tabling, why not bump it to 5 tables and make more money in less time? As it turns out, I’m simply awful if I try to 5-table. I felt rushed, stressed and generally overwhelmed. My results were terrible and I quickly dropped back to 4-tabling where I went back to showing a nice profit. Some players play 8 to 12 tables simultaneously and they show a huge hourly profit. Even for those players, their BB/100 numbers take a hit as they play more tables.

I find that I typically lose the most after I’ve won a lot. A couple weeks ago, I went on a 10-day run where I cashed in 9 of 20 tournaments and made 6 final tables and had a 267% ROI (all of these tournaments had between 180 and 2,000 entrants and cost between $4 and $55). Since then, I’ve played 11 tournaments with 0 cashes and a -100% ROI. I’ve had two near cashes, but generally haven’t even been close. I was tempted to chalk this up to normal variance, but I know that’s not the problem. The problem is that I have gotten bored and I’m having trouble focusing. I’ve invested too much time and my attention span is slipping. I’ve been opening too many pots, playing marginal hands, discounting positional disadvantages and generally getting out of line. I’ve realized that I play very good tournament poker with a big stack and I’m starting to gamble too much as I try to acquire that stack early. Subsequently, my tournament results have suffered and I’ve donked off about 15% of my winnings from my 10-day streak.

So, what’s the point? The point is that, as with other forms of gambling and investing, poker is affected by the Law of Diminishing Returns. I have a very subtle leak in my game–I’m not taking time off when I start to get bored. As I look back over my records, I can see clumps of black where I had a series of nice wins; but after most of those black clumps, there is an extended red clump where I dump off my winnings through poor play. This leak has cost me several hundred dollars and will continue costing me money until I correct it. That’s why I haven’t played in a couple days and I don’t plan on playing again until a live tournament on Friday night. I need a break to allow myself to focus and play my best game.

2.5 is the new 3! (follow-up)

I’ve been using the 2.5 BB standard pre-flop raise for a few weeks now and I’ve got a good idea of its benefits and drawbacks. First, the drawbacks:

Whether I can use this raise seems highly dependant on the table climate. A table full of loose/passive opponents will call too frequently, creating multi-way pots where I’m often playing out of position. This can be frustrating because these opponents’ calling ranges are typically very wide, so I’m out of position, often playing speculative hands and I have no idea what my opponents have. Of course, I’m often making raises with suited connectors and other hands that actually play well in multi-way pots, so I get paid off in a big way when I hit my hand. That being said, I’ve found that if the table is too loose, the best thing to do is revert to a standard solid game and just play good cards against these opponents.

Because I’m opening more pots, people will play back at me more often with re-raises. Here’s an example of a couple hands:

I’m in middle position and make a 2.5 BB raise with QTs. The player to my left flat-calls (he’s been doing this a lot and he’s been doing it with junk). Everyone else folds. The flop is all under cards, I c-bet half the pot, he calls. I know he has nothing, but I also have nothing. Turn is a blank. I check, he checks. River is a Queen, giving me top pair, medium kicker. I bet, he raises, I call. He showed Q9o and I took it down.

Next hand, I made a 2.5 BB raise and everyone folded.

Next hand, I made a 2.5 BB raise with AQo. Everyone folded to the BB who moved in for about five times my initial raise. I insta-called and he showed A9s.

This player was a decent player who had been playing solid poker, but he’d seen me show down a QTs a few hands earlier, then steal the blinds the previous hand, then raise again this hand. After the hand, he told me he didn’t think I was that strong. Unfortunately, he would’ve been correct pretty often. I find myself having to fold to a lot of re-raises from astute players. The good news is it’s only costing me 2.5 BB instead of 3 BB.

Astute players in the BB will often call my raise and bet out almost any flop. I think this is a combination of them noticing I’m playing a lot of hands and the good pot-odds they’re being offered to call my pre-flop raise. This reduces my opportunities to steal, but it also increases my chances of picking off their bluffs. Over time, it becomes obvious that they’re employing a sort of stop-n-go/re-steal move, which is beatable by simply calling with good hands, raising with decent hands and sometimes raising with junk.

And now the advantages:

The biggest advantage is typically on the bubble, after the antes kick in. Even the loosest players begin to tighten up as everyone starts to try and eke into the money, and this is my queue to start raising more liberally and build my stack (even when someone calls my raise, they’ll often check/fold if they miss the flop). In this situation, the 2.5 BB raise gets fantastic odds (there is a level in PokerStars tourneys where a 2.5 BB raise is actually getting paid better than even money because of the ante) and people aren’t generally concerned with the pot-odds when they decide to play or fold.

I think the most important thing I’m learning is this: I have to be able to recognize when it’s ok to raise 2.5 BB and play a lot of hands, but I also need to recognize when that style just ain’t gonna’ fly. I have to be able to change gears depending on table conditions. Yesterday, I was playing a $50+5 tournament on Party Poker and we were just about to hit the bubble when I got moved to a new table. I had an average stack and I really needed to accumulate some chips. I forced myself to tighten up (rather than just trying to steal blinds and antes right off the bat) so I could get a feel for how my new table was playing. Turns out the table was playing fast and loose and there were two or three to the flop almost every hand. Trying to raise and take it (for 2.5 BB or any other amount) just wasn’t going to work. It was frustrating, but I had to buckle down and take what the table would give me. I tightened up, made some good plays and made it down to 37th (of 538) before I finally busted (after maybe being a little aggro with 99 on the button).

A few of the advantages are inherent in the disadvantages I listed above. For instance, people will often play back at me with junk, but I will have a hand and bust them sometimes; I just have to be able to figure out when I’m ahead, so I can call, and when I’m beat, so I can let it go. Also, people will call my pre-flop raises more often because they assume I’m raising with a lot of medium-strength hands. They’re right, except that they go too far in calling with hands like Q9, J8s, etc. If I hit the flop when they do, I’ll often get paid off well if I have them dominated. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll sometimes be playing hands that actually play well in a multi-way pot. When I raise in middle position with 87s, I don’t mind three or four people calling me because I won’t have any trouble dumping the hand if I miss the flop, but my implied odds against that many opponents are huge if I hit the flop hard.

All things considered, I still think the 2.5 BB standard raise is a very effective and useful strategy in many situations. The tricky part is to recognize when it’s a good situation for a smaller pre-flop raise and when a tighter game with larger pre-flop raise is in order.

2.5 is the new 3!

DISCLAIMER: Do not attempt to read this if you don’t care about poker. In fact, even if you care a lot about poker, this will probably bore you to tears. I’ve written all this to get my general ideas on paper so I can scrutinize them and determine whether they’re sound or silly. Try reading this drivel at your own risk.

I recently changed up to a standard 2.5 BB raise, which I’m comfortable with and which I believe saves me chips in the long-run. Why? Basically, if I raise 2.5 BB, I can play more pots for the same money, and I feel that the more pots I play with the players I usually play against, the bigger my edge will be. The 2.5 BB raise is cheaper because it saves .5 BBs every time I open a pot and because it saves me 1 BB every time I make a continuation bet (c-bet), which is almost every time against typical, non-aggro players. Here’s how:

First of all, if my table will let me steal with a 2.5 BB raise, then I’m getting more bang for my buck. I’m putting in 2.5 BB to win 1.5 BB (BB plus SB), which means my play has to work about 63% of the time to break even. If I put in 3 BB to win 1.5 BB, it has to work about 67% of the time to break even. Of course, my raise won’t win the blinds nearly that often, but that’s ok because I’ll often be raising with hands that are strong enough that I don’t mind getting called. Also, when the antes kick in, I usually don’t increase my standard raise even though the starting pot is larger. With antes, a 2.5 BB raise will usually be getting close to even money pot-odds, which means it only needs to work 50% of the time to break even. In that case, it typically will work that often. This is a separate topic, but the reason I don’t increase my raise proportionally to the starting pot size is that players don’t adjust their play to the better odds I’m offering with a small raise. Players tend to start tightening up when antes kick in because they’re trying to survive. Because they’re (usually incorrectly) tightening up and not adjusting their calling range to accommodate the better pot-odds, they’re making a mistake which can be easily exploited by making many small raises to take down the pot pre-flop.

Second, it costs me less to make my “standard” sequence of bets–raise pre-flop, then make a c-bet if it’s checked to me post-flop–which I typically hope will lead to a fold on the flop. Say I raise from the button and I make it 3 BB. The BB calls, so there are now 6.5 BB in the pot. We see the flop, he checks and I make a standard c-bet of half the pot, or 3.25 BB. So far, I have invested 6.25 BB and my only goal has probably been to win what’s out there (ie, I’m not trying to build and win a big pot, I’m just trying to take down a small pot and add to my stack). Up till now, it’s unlikely that a slightly smaller or slightly larger bet size would have affected the hand. The BB probably would’ve called 3 BB just as often as he’d call 2.5 BB or even 3.5 BB because he either likes his cards or he doesn’t. So, if the same scenario plays out, only I use 2.5 BB as my standard, then I raise to 2.5 BB, he calls it, he checks the flop, I bet 2.75 BB and I’ve invested 5.25 BB to win a small pot. In fact, I’ve invested 5.25 BB to win the initial 1.5 BB offered by the blinds (after all, the hand began as a struggle for the blinds, so unless I’m trying to build a pot, every subsequent bet I make is ultimately an attempt to win the initial pot consisting only of the blinds) whereas with a 3 BB raise, I will have invested 6.25 BB to win that same 1.5 BB. Given this perspective, a 2.5 BB raise called pre-flop and followed with a post-flop c-bet of half the pot has to work about 78% of the time to break even, but a 3 BB raise with the same sequence would need to work 81% of the time.

So, all other things being equal, reducing my standard pre-flop raise from 3 BB to 2.5 BB shows a 3-4% increase in equity both pre-flop (on the initial steal attempt) and post-flop (on the subsequent c-bet) each time I make this play. This is a substantial increase in expectation at lower cost that I believe compounds over time (ie, the course of a tournament). While I think that pure steal raises and c-bets show a negative expectation, reducing the pre-flop raise amount makes these plays less negative (in business parlance, I’m talking about cost avoidance, not cost savings).

Here’s another perspective: The whole point of a tournament is to be the last one standing, to survive longer than all the other players. There are basically two ways to accomplish this–accumulate chips when possible and conserve chips when necessary. Chip accumulation typically occurs when I have a strong hand, whereas I’m trying to conserve chips on my weaker hands. It is definitely possible to accumulate small amounts of chips with weak hands (by bluffing and taking advantage of situations), but weak hands typically lead me to try and save my chips (usually by folding). Raising to 2.5 BB allows me to save many, many chips throughout the tournament as I make small bluffs (steal attempts). Here’s an example:

Of course, it’s necessary to say that attempting to steal the blinds semi-regularly is absolutely necessary in order to make sure that I get action when I have good hands. It’s also necessary to survive and conserve chips while waiting on good hands. Any good tournament player will steal the blinds as often as he is permitted because it’s a necessary part of the game. That being said, steal attempts (I’m talking about full-on bluff-raises to take the blinds) typically show a negative expectation (my example above claims that, even with a small 2.5 BB raise, the steal attempt has to work 63% of the time to break even and it is not often that I am at a table that will let me get away with stealing two out of three times I try it) and I think it’s critical, when possible, to minimize the losses incurred by trying to steal blinds.

Say my standard raise is 3 BB and there are no antes, so my raise needs to work 67% of the time to break even on a steal attempt. Let’s say it actually works 50% of the time (very generous), so half the time I make this raise, everyone will fold, and the other half of the time someone will either call or play back at me. That means 50% of the time, I’ll increase my stack by 1.5 BB and 50% of the time I’ll decrease my stack by 3 BB. That means this play shows an expectation of (.5*1.5 – .5*3) = -.75 BB each time I try it. So, if I try to steal 100 times in a tournament under these circumstances (no antes), then I will lose 75 BB. The same calculation for a standard 2.5 BB raise yields that I will only lose 50 BB in 100 steal attempts. So, by decreasing my standard opening pre-flop raise, I can save as many as 25 BB over the course of a tournament. To take that idea one step further, if I’ve saved 25 BB over the course of a tournament and my standard pre-flop raise is 2.5 BB, then I can open 10 more pots than I could if with a 3 BB standard raise. The idea that I can play more pots (usually in position) this way is really the major determining factor in my decision to change to 2.5 BB. I’ll cover that in another post.

In my next post, I talk about my flawed assumptions and problems these ideas might have in the real world. I’ll also talk about other factors that may compensate for these problems.

Just busted out of $215 super sat to WSOP ME

Just busted out of $215 super sat to WSOP ME

Yesterday, I played a Party Poker $5 re-buy satellite to a $215 super sat to the WSOP Main Event. I just busted out of the $215 super satellite. 439 people were entered, top eight spots got a seat to the Main Event. By the first break, I had turned my 3K starting stack into over 11K through very solid play. I was mixing it up and getting my opponents to put their whole stacks at risk when they were often drawing dead or nearly dead. After the first break, I went totally card dead and didn’t win a pot for over 25 minutes. My 11K dwindled to about 4.5K and the blinds were 200/400, so I was in trouble. I caught some cards and made some good pre-flop moves to re-build my stack to over 11K. The blinds and antes went up to 300/600, so I was getting short stacked again when this hand came up.

READS: Really, the two significant reads are on the CO and BB. CO had been constantly open-raising for 5-8x the BB. BB had been regularly calling his (and everyone else’s) raises. CO and BB had been involved in many, many pots and had essentially been moving chips back and forth acrosss the table. The reason my stack dwindled to 4500 earlier was that I simply never had a chance to enter a pot. I didn’t catch any cards, CO opened almost every unopened pot and, if I was lucky enough to have it folded around to me, then BB would usually call my raise. This forced me to tighten up quite a bit.

That being said, the table would often walk to the BB on his blind (either because they didn’t want to play a maniac or because they simply didn’t have cards). Every time it had been folded to me, I had completed the SB or folded and he had yet to raise from the BB. Unfortunately, I hadn’t won any of these confrontations because he wouldn’t fold post-flop and I never connected. Lately, though, BB had been tightening up a bit (either because he was card dead–and it’s hard to imagine which cards he would deem unplayable–or because he had accumulated enough chips and he was ready to buckle down and play poker). I decided that if the table walked to us in the blinds again, I would raise his BB to 3x BB with any two cards. I needed chips and breaking even in the blinds for an orbit would buy me some time.

As for my post-flop read on BB, I noticed that he would bet small or call when he had nothing or a draw (depending on whether he was out of position or not). He would bet big or raise when he had connected with the flop. He would often call the flop and always bet the turn if checked to. I don’t think I had seen him check behind on the turn yet. He had folded once on the flop to a standard continuation bet I made after he called my pre-flop raise in middle position. This was a few orbits ago and, as I said, he seemed to be playing a little tighter since then.

Party Poker No-Limit Hold’em Tourney, Big Blind is t600 (9 handed) Hand History Converter Tool from (Format: HTML)

saw flop|saw showdown

BB (villain) (t13802)
UTG (t10614)
UTG+1 (t6872)
MP1 (t7393)
MP2 (t360)
MP3 (t240)
CO (t17261)
Button (t5670)
SB (Hero) (t10359)

Preflop: Hero is SB with Jd, 7h.
7 folds, SB (Hero) raises to t1800, BB (villain) calls t1200.

Flop: (t3600) Ts, 2d, 5c (2 players)
SB (Hero) bets t2000, villain calls t2000.

Turn: (t7600) 7s (2 players)
SB (Hero) checks, villain bets t2838, SB (Hero) raises to 6559 and is all-in , villain calls t3721.

River: (t14159) Kc (2 players)

Final Pot: t14159


villain has Ah 7c (one pair, sevens).
Hero has Jd 7h (one pair, sevens).
Outcome: villain wins t14159.

Although I busted from the tournament, I’m very pleased with how I played this hand. I think my pair of sevens is good here about 75% of the time or more. I made a good read and just got unlucky that 1) He connected with the board at the same time I did and 2) he called an all-in check-raise with second pair after I’d raised (for the first time) from the SB pre-flop, led the flop for just over 1/2 pot and then check-raised all-in on the turn.

Here are my thoughts, street by street:

Pre-flop: I covered this pretty well above. I decided to raise with any two if the table walked to our blinds. His call told me very little except maybe that he didn’t have 72o. I had been hoping that he was tightening up and I wanted to see what he’d do if I raised his BB.

Flop: I consider this a very good flop considering 1) His calling range pre-flop was very, very wide and 2) this is a very dry board. I’m hoping he called with a weak Ace, two broadway, maybe some medium suited connectors or one-gappers pre-flop and it’s very likely this flop totally missed his hand. I typically make a continuation bet of about 1/2 pot here, so I bet 2000. When I made the bet, I was obviously hoping he’d fold. I decided that if he raised I was done with the hand and if he called and I didn’t improve on the turn, I was done with the hand. Sure enough, he called.

I decided that he did not have a Ten since he was pretty aggro and would’ve likely min-raised with top pair here. Since there’s no obvious draw on board, I figure he either has a 2, 5, 34 (very unlikely) or air. I also allowed for the tiny possibililty that he had 22 or 55 and was slowplaying a set.

Turn: Viola! I made second pair on a dry board and I’m convinced second pair is good here. If he had 88+, he would’ve raised me by now. If he had a Ten, he would’ve raised the flop. If he had a 5 or 2, I’m ahead. If he called the flop with 34 (or any other “draw”), he just missed. If he had some kind of suited connectors (56, 67, 78, 89), I’m way ahead. If he has a set of twos or fives, well, then he has a set of twos or fives. If he had absolutely nothing, he likely still has absolutely nothing. I know that he’ll always bet the turn if I check to him and I know a small bet typically means he’s weak. My plan is to check-raise him all-in Unless he makes a pot-size bet, in which case I’ll have to re-evaluate.

I check, he makes a weak bet of about 1/3 pot, which is my cue to move in. My stack is a little more than 1/2 the pot and I want to get the money in now in case he has two overs or some kind of draw to two-pair or a straight. This is a value-bet and I don’t really care if he folds or calls.

Of course he insta-calls and turns over A7o and I’m drawing to three outs. That’s poker.

For grins, I gave my opponent a reasonable range of hands (for him) on the turn to see what my equity against his range of hands was. Basically, I gave him any Ace, all connectors, any two broadway and small pairs 22-66. I think I was pretty generous with this range since it includes several unlikely hands that have me crushed (AT, KT, QT, JT, T9). According to PokerStove, I had 70% equity against this range of hands:

Text results appended to pokerstove.txt

142,956 games 0.090 secs 1,588,400 games/sec

Board: Ts 2c 5c 7s

equity (%) win (%) tie (%)
Hand 1: 29.4713 % 29.47% 00.00% { 66-22, A2s+, KTs+, QTs+, JTs, T9s, 98s, 87s, 76s, 65s, 54s, 43s, 32s, A2o+, KTo+, QTo+, JTo, T9o, 98o, 87o, 76o, 65o, 54o, 43o, 32o }
Hand 2: 70.5287 % 70.53% 00.00% { J7o }

I don’t know if any poker players read this thing, but if you do and you have any thoughts on this hand, let’s hear ’em!

EDIT: The guy that busted me ended up winning one of the seats to the $10K WSOP ME. I watched a bit of the final table and I literally couldn’t believe what I saw. This was one of several “interesting” hands that I saw in the 10 minutes I observed the final table:

They were down to 9 players and 8 players win a $10K seat to the WSOP ME. There is no other prize. The only goal is to finish in the top eight. On the last hand, the short-stack called all-in UTG for about 1/4 the BB. A few players folded, two players called, another player folded, another player called, the SB completed and the BB checked. The flop came down Q92 with two clubs. Everyone checked. The turn was a Ten of spades. Everyone checked. The river was a blank. A couple players checked, a player min-bet, a player folded, two more players called. The min-bettor turned up JJ, one of the callers showed KK and won both the side- and main-pots.

Unbelievable! These people just won a $10,000 seat into the Main Event at the World Series of Poker. I’m not sure I really understood the term “dead money” until now.


Day 2 in Shreveport

Well, tonight did not go nearly as well as last night. First, I played some more $4/8 Limit Hold ’em and I lost about $75 over about three hours.

My best hand of the evening was when I flopped two pair with K7o in the BB, but the board had three diamonds. It was a four-way pot, so I checked, hoping to check-raise an aggressive player on my right. Unfortunately, the second player to act bet, the aggressive player just called and I called intending to bet out on the turn if no diamond came. Of course, a diamond came off, we all checked around, a blank came off on the river, second to act bet and everyone folded.

I only won two hands all night. First one I took down was when I had KTs on the button. Two players limped, I raised, the BB and limpers called. The flop came down pretty ugly. Everyone checked to me, I bet and took it down. Second one I took down was with TT in the SB. Everyone folded to the button who raised. I just called and the BB folded. This was a mistake as I should’ve re-raised and it was dumb to let the BB in getting 5:1 on a call. The BB could’ve come in with any two cards getting those odds. Also, a re-raise would’ve told me more about the button’s hand. The flop came down 8-high. I checked, the button bet, I check-raised and he folded.

That’s it. Those are the two hands I won. My best hand pre-flop in over three hours was TT. I also got AQ, which was beat by AK; KJ, which missed an open-ended straight draw and a K-high flush draw on the river; and… that’s all.

I’ve been working very hard on my table image and general attitude. In a “No Fold ’em Hold ’em” game, there’s no point in being intimidating or being perceived as “good”. People don’t mind you beating them out of a pot if they feel like your buddy. So, I’ve been trying to act as relaxed and nonchalant as possible while I’m playing. Not only does it make people more relaxed and less hostile when I play aggressively, but it also seems to actually keep me in a good mood.

Even though I consistently (albeit gradually) lost for over three hours, I wasn’t even phased when I left. In fact, when I cashed out, one of the girls in the cage said, “Did ya’ win?” I said, “Nah. Not tonight.” She said, “You sure don’t look like you lost!” I said, “Well, that’s poker. I can’t win every time I play.” The best part was, I understood exactly what I was saying. While we were talking, I was thinking about which of my poker accounts will reimburse this little trip. I understand that I had an edge over probably everyone that I played with tonight. The cards didn’t cooperate, but I can’t control that.

I even noticed that my attitude helped keep me from tilting during the tournament today. When dude rivered a set to beat my top two pair, I just threw my cards in the muck and said, “Nice hand, man. Well played.” I didn’t even have a hint of sarcasm in my voice (that’s pretty unusual for me). I was disappointed that I lost the hand, but I wasn’t angry or in danger of losing my cool. When my stack was destroyed by the guy that woke up with AA in the BB when I had KK, I just passed the chips over and said, “Good hand.” No big deal. I went on to gradually rebuild my stack to a decent size before going card dead. I feel like I’m making a lot of progress with the psychological aspects of my game.

Anyway, after I lost for a while at $4/8, I burned through 40 bucks at the blackjack table. There’s nothing much to report here. The dealer just took my lunch money and reinforced his statement that “Nineteen never wins.” He later added the caveat, “Well, it wins for me.” He was right.

Shreveport wrap-up

So, I ended up losing $7 at blackjack. I also lost $34 playing $4/8 over about 6 and a half hours. That works out to about -.67 BB/hour. Over such a small sample size, that number means virtually nothing. I also bled off $115 at the NL tournament at Horseshoe this morning. So, I’ll be reimbursing about $150 from my online poker accounts. I feel pretty good about that considering how bad I was running.

I’ve had a good time in Shreveport and I look forward to making another trip out here some time next year. Hopefully, I’ll make it out for a tournament or just to play some $4/8. After just playing two short sessions at $4/8, I’m confident I could sit in a bigger came with no trouble. I wasn’t the least bit impressed or intimidated by anyone I played with. For now, I’ll continue grinding it out at $1/2 online. Maybe I’ll move up to $2/4 soon.


Current Competition Compilation

Well, after the tournament a couple weeks ago, I started playing in a home game with a few of the guys that were in the tournament. Last week, I didn’t do so well. I lost 30 bucks in 3 hours (it was a 20-dollar buy-in) and just didn’t seem to be able to win a hand. So, I thought about it all week and decided upon a strategy that I thought could be used to beat this home game. It’s simple: I don’t raise before the flop (there’s simply no point in trying to drive anyone out before they see the cards in this game), I slow-play almost everything and I’ll play drawing hands only if it’s really cheap to draw. This week, I won 35 bucks, so I made back what I lost last week and then 5 bucks bonus. I only played about 6 hands in 3 hours, but that’s because I just didn’t need to play any more than that.

I’m probably going back next week and I’ll see if the strategy is legitimate or if I was just experiencing the large swings that come with a loose aggressive group of players.

Basketball: Game 6

Well, we’re now 3-3 after starting 3-0. We lost badly tonight, 51-29, or something like that. I only scored 5 points, but that’s about my share since we had 6 guys. We just couldn’t execute in offense and we got outplayed. However, I felt I played pretty well. I certainly could’ve shot better and put up some more points, but I ran Point Guard for most of the game and I did it pretty well. I was playing very aggressively because they were playing a high 2-3 zone. That meant there was a huge soft spot about 18 feet out, all the way around the arc. I felt like I was finding open men and making passes to set them up for open looks, but we simply couldn’t hit our shots. I only had one turnover and probably 3 assists, but that assist number really should’ve been higher.

The last few games, our biggest weakness has been simple offensive execution. We just didn’t put the ball through the hoop, and we had plenty of opportunities. I really hope we can get back on the winning track before the playoffs in a couple weeks. Until then, we have one more regular season game against the first team we played. I expect we’ll win, but it’s hard to say with this team. We’ve shown that we can be very inconsistent.

Time to sleep.