Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Number Crunching (1 of 4)

Number CrunchingJust got off the 6-max, $0.50/$1.00 limit hold ’em tables. Was playing one on PokerStars, the other on Full Tilt Poker. I played exactly 100 hands -- 50 on each site. Ended up ahead $4.70 on Full Tilt, and just $1.45 ahead on Stars. Was as much as $12 down on FTP, and as much as $9 or so ahead on Stars, before settling back to where I ended up -- a total of $5.15 gain for the 100 hands I played.

Is this typical? A post over on Simon’s Poker Blog a couple of months ago got me interested in this “standard deviation” business and so I’ve been diggin’ around, trying to figure out what to make of it. As Simon tells us, if you use Poker Tracker you can click on the “More Detail” button under “Session Notes” (in the ring game stats) and you’ll see your “standard deviation” neatly calculated for you. Should this number be meaningful?

Since the beginning of the year, I have played around 80,000 hands of 6-max, $0.50/$1.00 limit hold ’em. Only about half of ’em are here in my database, unfortunately, as I suffered a computer meltdown in the early summer and lost a few months’ worth of stats. Those of you who use Poker Tracker, avoid Shamus’s misfortune and backup your databases on a disc or external drive! It’s only a matter of copying a few .mdb files -- click here to read Pat’s instructions about backing up your data.

For the 36,000 or so hands (of the 6-max limit game) that I currently have in my database, I see that I currently enjoy a win rate of just over 2.5 BB/100 hands. (Here, BB = “big bets,” not big blinds, so we’re talking about $2.50/100 hands.) Now I know that rate has fluctuated between 2 and 3 during the entire run, but for the most part the rate has hung around the 2.5 mark pretty much throughout. I also know that before the crash, I had just about the same rate for the 50,000-odd hands I had in there before. (Reading around I see that 2 BB/100 hands is generally considered a decent rate for micro/low limit games, so I’m doing okay there, I suppose.)

Poker Tracker tells me my current “standard deviation” when playing this particular game at this particular limit is just a hair under 18 BB/100 hands. (That’s about where I was before the crash, also.) If understand it correctly, my “standard deviation” indicates the likelihood that I will in fact win my “average” 2.5 BB in the next 100 hands I play. (Please, if anyone knows better about any of this stuff, correct me mercilessly.)

Of course, I usually don’t earn exactly $2.50 for every 100 hands. Sometimes I earn $5.15 (like today). Sometimes I lose $12. Sometimes I win $20. Having a standard deviation of 18 BB/100 means that I will usually (but not always) land in a range anywhere from 20.5 BB up to 16.5 BB down. In other words, the number indicates the degree of “variance” I should expect when playing this particular game. In fact -- as my old statistics textbook explains -- “variance” is precisely the square of “standard deviation,” so these two terms are directly related to one another.

Now if I had literally made or lost no more than 2 or 3 BB for every 100 hands I played, my statistical deviation would have been much lower. But I didn’t. Obviously my wins and losses during those individual 100-hand segments were much greater, and thus my standard deviation is 18 BB/100. From reading around, I see that my number here isn’t necessarily that unusual. (Keep in mind I am playing 6-max games, where one tends to experience more variance than at full tables.) I could be wrong, but I’d venture to guess that my win rate (2.5 BB/100 hands) and my standard deviation (18 BB/100 hands) are both fairly typical for moderately successful players who spend most of their time at this limit.

The more hands a person has played, the more representative stats like win rates and standard deviations become. There is a lot of disagreement about how many hands constitutes a meaningful sample, but for the sake of argument I’m going to assume that my 80,000-hand sample is enough to ensure that these numbers mean something.

I thought I’d use the next three posts to “think out loud” and explain (to myself and to anyone else who is interested and who might help me) what these numbers -- my win rate, my standard deviation, the number of hands I’ve played -- might help me as I try to assess myself as a player. Here are the questions I thought I’d try to answer over the next three posts:

(1) How might I use these stats to predict how my next 100 hands (of 6-max, $0.50/$1.00 limit hold ’em) will go?

(2) How might I use these stats to determine what kind of bankroll is suitable for me to be playing this particular game at this particular limit?

(3) How might I use these stats to help decide whether or not it might be time for me to make the move (seriously, not just occasionally as I am doing now) to a higher limit game?

Before I do, though, I think I’ll head back to the tables for another hundred or two. Not sure yet what these stats are going to tell me, but I am pretty sure they ain’t gonna tell me math is more fun than poker.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Something from Nothing

Something from NothingHad one of those relatively rare low limit hands yesterday where I not only ran a successful bluff (winning a medium-sized pot), but did so from early position against multiple players. A very fortunate hand, as it turned out. I was dealt QcKs in the small blind. One player limped, then there was a raise in late position. I called, as did the big blind and limper. So four of us saw the flop come 3cTc6c.

The table checked around to the preflop raiser who bet. Knew I was behind, but I raised anyway to see if I might chase one or both of the others out (and to see what I was up against across the table). Unfortunately both called, as did the preflop raiser. The turn brought the Ts, and I bet out again, representing trips. This time two of the remaining three players called. By now I was hoping the flush would not come. When the river brought the 6d, I took a chance and bet again. The first player quickly folded, and the preflop raiser lingered a moment (wondering if his ace would play, no doubt) before folding as well.

More fortunate than skillful, really. We all likely held overcards, and the one who took the lead ended up taking the pot. As it happened, being in early position probably was preferable.

Winning a pot with the worst hand is, of course, one of the undeniable delights of poker. Doing so illustrates in miniature what is really a fundamental pleasure of the game, namely, the chance it affords for one occasionally to feel as though he or she is getting “something from nothing.” One could argue that taking any sort of profit from the table, even a single pot, gives one a taste of that highly-tempting “romance of personal liberty” Al Alvarez writes about in The Biggest Game in Town. Alvarez, of course, is speaking of those high stakes players whose entire lives are examples of being able to “survive spectacularly well outside the system.” But even the low limit punter gets to understand -- in relative terms -- the momentary joy of feeling as though one has duped the universe (for once) into letting him or her have the best of it.

Speaking of making something from nothing, I have finally decided what I am going to do with that windfall of tournament dollars I talked about winning several posts back. Having won one of those PokerStars FPP satellites to the Sunday Million (36 players, 375 FPP to play, Turbo NLH), I found myself with 215 “T$” and what I considered three options: sell the T$ for cash, take a shot at the Sunday Million, or use the funds to play smaller buy-in tourneys.

I much appreciated the feedback I received when discussing my options here a couple of weeks ago. I also posted the dilemma as a poll question over on the Card Clubs Network Forums and got some genuinely thoughtful responses there as well (for which I was grateful). In the end, I decided on the latter option -- to use the winnings to fund entries into smaller buy-in tourneys.

I seriously considered trying the big one, then realized I simply wasn’t prepared to do so. Looking over my last couple of months of play, I noticed I’m playing tourneys (MTTs & SNGs) less than once per week. Seemed reasonable to wait until I had a bit more tourney experience under my belt so as to increase my chances should I ever decide to play the Sunday Million.

I also came close simply to selling my funds to Pocket Fives. (I even put in the request, but cancelled it an hour later.) Finally I decided I liked the idea of being able to “freeroll” my way through some tourneys as a way to gain experience (and perhaps some extra cabbage, too). Have been eyeing those $25K guarantees that run every night (the $5.00+rebuy tourneys) that seem to offer a decent prize pool for the investment. Anyone have any other favorite tourneys they play (in the $5-$20 range)?

So here I am again . . . in early postion, with a fairly decent holding. Might win, might lose. Getting something from nothing, either way . . . .

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Poker Review: Casino Royale

'Casino Royale' (dir. Martin Campbell, 2006)Got a call yesterday from Vera Valmore (introduced a few posts back) who wanted to see Casino Royale. Neither of us is such a big James Bond fan, though I suspect Vera might have been at least somewhat intrigued by all of those images of a shirtless and brooding Daniel Craig wading off the coast of the Bahamas. And I knew there was supposed to be some poker in there somewhere. So we went.

About forty years ago, Casino Royale was filmed as a one-off, messily-constructed, occasionally-funny spoof starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, and a young Woody Allen. The new version takes the same Ian Fleming novel as source material, reformulating it as a new story set in the present. As the first novel in Fleming’s series (published in 1953), Casino Royale introduces the character of Bond, telling how he first became a double-0 agent and relating his first adventure. Fleming's story has Bond tangling with a character named Le Chiffre (literally, “the number”), an agent for a Russian intelligence agency called SMERSH. Guilty of having lost SMERSH funds through a failed private venture (to start a chain of brothels), Le Chiffre must try to win back the money in a high-stakes baccarat game to take place at the Casino Royale in France. (Yeah, sure.) Enter Bond, an expert player, to compete against Le Chiffre in an effort to spoil the villain’s plan to avoid being killed for his transgression.

The new film updates the story by linking Le Chiffre to an unnamed terrorist organization operating in the summer of 2006. Here he’s managed to squander over $100 million of the terrorists’ money in a failed investment scheme. (Indeed, Bond’s own heroic thwarting of an act of terrorism causes Le Chiffre’s investment to fail.) Characterized as a “mathematical genius” and expert poker player, Le Chiffre identifies a high-stakes hold ’em game in Montenegro as the place to recup his losses. (Yeah, sure.) Incidentally, the actor who plays Le Chiffre, a Dane named Mads Mikkelsen, does have a vaguely Hellmuthian purse of the lips about him. And, of course, Bond -- “the best poker player in the Service” -- will be there as well.

I’m not as versed in Bond trivia as are the fanatics, but I have seen a few of the earlier entries starring Connery and Moore. (I must admit I never bothered to catch any of the later Dalton or Brosnan flicks.) This new Casino Royale was certainly more violent than the earlier films, something Ms. Valmore did not appreciate very much. The chase scenes (there had to have been four or five lengthy ones) went well with the medium-sized popcorn I was munching on as I watched, though as I think about it today both are probably equally memorable. The new film also seemed much less witty than the earlier films. Clearly the filmmakers’ placed a premium here on action, not dialogue. Not so much of Bond’s usual verbal sparring with villainous types here, nor even that many double entendres with the ladies. No, it appears those at the helm decided early on always to “cut to the chase” whenever possible.

Perhaps as a result of this emphasis on action, the filmmakers’ handling of the poker-playing sequences betrays an obvious impatience. There are a couple of very brief scenes involving poker that appear early in the film -- one each for Le Chiffre and Bond, establishing both as successful players. The big game at Montenegro (why Montenegro?) does take up a large portion of the film’s middle section, although even there it seems whenever play gets going the film can’t wait to get away from the table. Indeed, the game is interrupted not once but twice with lengthy (and brutal) action sequences. The first has Bond killing two terrorists during a scheduled break; the second involves an assassination attempt on the hero himself (needless to say, he survives).

The hands dramatized during this scene all include the (expected) unlikely showdowns between full houses and/or quads and/or straight flushes. Just like on the teevee, every hand shown culminates with an all-in. I suppose I could complain about these things, but to do so seems like it would miss the point. Rather, the relative lack of table talk during these sequences was -- for me -- the bigger letdown here. These guys say practically nothing at the table; it's as if the scriptwriters don’t have a clue about what poker players say to each other while playing. The filmmakers really missed an opportunity during the poker scenes (1) to build suspense and (2) to invigorate the script. Can’t believe I’m saying it, but even ESPN’s wayward Tilt series did a much better job using poker to build tension and interest in its otherwise silly plot.

(One other gripe . . . where’s the casino? We only really see the private room where the big game takes place -- it could well be in any randomly-chosen five-star European hotel. Why pass up the chance to offer more sensory-stimulating delights, especially in this kind of picture?)

A lot of folks are fawning over this here “rebooting” of the Bond franchise. Michael Phillips, James Berardinelli, Peter Travers . . . they’re all sayin’ 3½ out of 4 stars. Perhaps they’re all comparing this film to the more recent entries -- and/or to faded memories of the older ones. Personally -- and not just for poker-related reasons -- I didn’t think it was all that.

Ian Fleming's 'Casino Royale' (1953)Vera wasn’t too keen on the film, either. She’d probably hate the novel even more, as the film does tend to tone down the rampant misogyny one finds there. Now that I think about it, Fleming’s novel shares a lot of similarities with lower-tier hard-boiled fiction. The hero and plot particularly remind me of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories. Aside from the international setting, Casino Royale bears many similarities to Spillane’s debut, I, the Jury (first published in 1947). Both feature hypermasculine heroes as protagonists. Both go way overboard with the graphic depiction of violence. Both have the hero fall head over heels for a woman who turns out to have double-crossed him (proving, of course, that women are evil). And both conclude with the hero confirming his “alpha-male”-status with hand-waving dismissals that the deaths of their respective femme fatales have any significance. When asked about killing his fiancée, Mike Hammer coolly replies “It was easy.” When the subject of his lover is brought up to Bond, he simply notes (in a line that does appear in the film) “The bitch is dead.”

The Cincinnati Kid it ain’t, then. (I plan to write something here about the 1965 Norman Jewison film -- the best poker movie I have ever seen -- in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps I’ll start collecting a few more of these “poker reviews” to post . . . .) All told, Casino Royale is a slightly more entertaining linkage of poker and terrorism than that put forth by certain members of Congress over the last few months. But that’s about all the film has going for it, I’m afraid. (Aside from that hunky Daniel Craig, or so some tell me . . . )

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

First Impressions; or, A Tale Told By an Idiot

First Impressions; or, A Tale Told By an IdiotA happy holiday to all. Among other things, I remain thankful that I’m still playing poker online. There was a day or two back there -- back at the beginning of October -- when I genuinely believed it was all over. Still kickin’, though, and so yesterday sat down for some o’ the usual 6-max $0.50/$1.00 limit.

Went over to Absolute Poker, where I’ve done well since accepting that $50 startup roll from PokerSourceOnline a month ago. Have already been able to cash some from there. Additionally, I’ve nearly finished clearing the $50 sign-up bonus as well (just one more $10 increment to go there), so all in all I have to say playing on the site has been rewarding.

I took my seat and waited for the blind to come around. I didn’t recognize any of the other five players -- not unusual, as there are probably only a dozen or so with whom I’ve played over there multiple times. First hand comes and I’m dealt 9s3s in the BB. Two players limp, the SB completes, and I check. The flop comes 8d8s4s and all four of us check. The turn is the Ts, giving me the flush, so I bet. Two of the remaining players call. The river I don’t like at all -- the 4c. Stubbornly I bet out, heedless of the likely possibility there’s a boat sailing around the table somewhere. One player raises and the other calls, so I have to call it down. Indeed, I’m beaten by the player who had chosen to limp in with TcTd. (The other caller had the case ten for a crummy pair.)

I lose $3.50 on the hand -- probably could’ve lost more, especially considering I was out of position. Then comes hand no. 2, and in the SB I’m dealt two more spades -- 5s4s. This time the entire table limps in -- the perfect scenario, really, for my suited connectors -- so I complete and all six of us watch the flop come down: 3hAs5c.

I am guilty at times of being overly anxious to fight for pots when first starting a session. Sometimes such willingness to gamble early works out, and I find myself up a bit without even having to showdown a hand. Other times I get knocked down a peg or three, and thus I’m working uphill from the get-go. A lot of times these first few hands seem to dictate fairly accurately how a session will go, actually. If I’m up a few bucks after the first round or two, I generally will walk away with more. If I’m down early, I sometimes get it back but often I’ll stay down until I decide to move on to greener pastures.

The phenomenon is affected, I believe, by the power of first impressions. If you sit down and donk off several big bets in a hurry, others (if they’re paying attention, which at these limits isn’t always the case) smell blood and start coming after you. If you have your wits about you -- and a bit of poker savvy -- you can take advantage when others appear to be underestimating your play. Of course, the cards usually have to cooperate as well (particularly in limit).

Anyhow, back to the hand. I’ve flopped middle pair (no kicker), an inside straight draw, and a backdoor flusher. And I’ve got five players to act behind me. Sometimes given this set of circumstances I’ll get wild and create some action, especially if I’m just sitting down at a table like this. But here I decided to be cautious and just checked. I’d probably be staying in the hand, barring multiple reraises. The next two players also checked, then NoBidder bet. The cutoff folded and the button called.

I called, of course. There was $4.00 in the pot, so I’m getting a healthy 8-to-1 to call. And I’m reasonably sure I have 6 solid outs (4 twos and 2 fives), which even if I’m only sticking around for the turn is around 7-to-1 to hit.

The turn was the 5h, giving me trips. I checked, NoBidder bet, the button called, and I check-raised. “I love getting turned,” typed an unhappy NoBidder in the chat box as he folded. (Probably had an ace -- or maybe a draw -- I thought; smart fold.) The button called. The river was the Tc, I bet another dollar, and the button called again. My trips were good, as he mucked his (very) modest 2d3d. The total pot was $10.95, with my profit being $6.95.

“Way to go betting mid pair,” NoBidder quickly typed. I paused a beat, then responded with a sarcastic “ty.” “That’s why u r an idiot,” he fired back.

Talk about first impressions. Two whole hands and at least one player has conclusively determined my status as a mental midget. Got me! Been living a lie all these years, desperately trying to conceal my handicap to all those with whom I am forced to interact on a daily basis. A nightmare, really. Imagine living every waking moment paralyzed by the agonizing fear such a truth about yourself might be suddenly, unexpectedly revealed to all. Kind of like trying to play limit poker without ever once showing down a hand.

Took me about three seconds to compose my response: “(yawn)”

NoBidder and I tangled again a couple of times over the next few rounds -- no titanic battles, though. My first impression of him -- as a whiner without much appreciation for pot odds -- turned out to be only partially correct. I ultimately decided NoBidder did have a decent idea how to play his own hands, although he repeatedly demonstrated an unthinking predilection to censure how others played theirs. Turning his attention away from me, he soon jumped on two others at our table (one of whom gamely fought back in a tediously-long chatbox clash) before he finally left.

Been a while since I’ve been called an idiot at the tables. (Not that I haven’t deserved it, mind you.) For some perverse reason, I felt compelled to document the occasion. Reminded me of the first time I ever received such a dressing-down, way way back at the penny tables playing Pot Limit Omaha. I’d somewhat recklessly chased down a flush to beat my opponent’s straight -- taking down a whopping two bucks or so -- and was truly surprised when my chips I’d won were accompanied by a wild torrent of abuse from across the table. As a relatively new player -- and brand new to the real money tables -- I felt terrible, like I’d genuinely breached some sort of poker etiquette (unknown to me) by the way I’d played the hand. Got over it, of course. (Though I wonder if all those hit by such random verbal shrapnel do.)

I realized soon enough that such moaning -- though it happens frequently enough -- ain’t necessarily typical. Nor all that meaningful, really. Kind of a rite of passage to learn to endure such heat, I guess. Not unlike something Amy Calistri brought up recently (referring to getting flamed on poker forums) in a post on her excellent blog, Aimlessly Chasing Amy. (If you haven't read her blog, check it out.)

Glad my first response to what the UIGEA’s passage meant was inaccurate as well . . . . Truth be told, first impressions have the ability to make idiots of us all.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reading Iggy Is Fundamental

Reading Iggy Is FundamentalSome days you can do no wrong. You hold quads and your opponent keeps reraising you. For example, on Sunday, I played a total of 45 minutes and scooped a nifty $33.90 ($0.50/$1.00, 6-max). Every draw seemed to hit. Top pair always held up. Big hands were invariably paid off. Even trash hands checked in the blinds seemed consistently to connect with the board in profitable ways.

Other days you can do no right. You flop a set while your opponent flops the nut straight. For example, yesterday I played about three hours total and dropped $20.15. Lost with KK when 93-offsuit made two pair on the turn. Lost with AA when T7-off filled his inside straight on the river. Every draw seemed to miss. Top pair never held up. Big hands were regularly met with table folds. And so forth.

Yesterday’s slide was softened somewhat by the news that our friend Iggy has been reborn over at PokerWorks, a site that collects about a half-dozen poker blogs, including ones by Michael Craig (author of The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King), Linda Geenen (a professional dealer at the Bellagio), and professional player Tony Guoga (“Tony G”). Iggy’s “Guinness and Poker” will continue to operate, although it appears that the serious uberpostin’ will now primarily occur at his new location, IGGY at PokerWorks. His debut post for the new site is already up, so go check it out.

Iggy played this one craftily, of course. Whereas most of us thought he was tossing his cards in the muck, he was in fact slowrolling. Still, all of those praises appearing in those many prematurely-composed eulogies over the last week-and-a-half were well-deserved. (Go back to G & P to find links to several of them, including Up For Poker’s hilarious video tribute to Ignatious -- worthy of Errol Morris.)

Iggy’s “commonplace book” style of blogging -- he mostly compiles and presents what others have written and said about poker (rather than solely document his own experiences) -- not only benefits those of us looking to learn more about the game (and/or how other folks view and interpret their existence on this mostly absurd globule), but readily provides all sorts of opportunities to connect with like-minded others. Like a lot of online players, I have no “home game” at present and so greatly appreciate being able to participate in various communities via this here interweb thingy. Iggy’s uberposts facilitate that sort of exchange of ideas -- as do others’ blogs, the forums, the podcasts, and the like.

Think I’ll stop writing for now and go read a bit. That’s the other thing Iggy’s blog has done -- encouraged us all to shut down our own little presses and read once in a while. Sure it can be enjoyable, constructive, even energizing to write about one’s own ups and downs. But it also helps to hush up now and then and listen for a change.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Shadow of a Doubt

Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 thriller 'Shadow of a Doubt'Have yet, really, to come to any decision regarding how to spend those tournament dollars.

As a stalling tactic, I jumped into another one of PokerStars’ 375 FPP satellites (36 players, turbo format) like the one I won last week. Was sitting tight for a dozen hands or so, watching as one particular player went all-in about every third hand. No one was calling him. Suddenly I had QsQc and decided to gamble. He had KQ-offsuit. Flop was 6c5cKc, but the turn and river brought no club or queen and I was out in a hurry. So in three attempts I have a second, a first, and a 31st.

Meanwhile I keep plugging along at the $0.50/$1.00 and (occasionally) $1.00/$2.00 limit tables. I did jump into a $3.00-$0.30 triple shootout on Stars earlier today, paying my entry with T$. This was, technically, another satellite to the Sunday million, with the top two spots earning entries and third place a cool $185. Not a bad situation, really -- only have to beat five players at the first table, five more at the second, then three at the third and you win big. I made it down to heads-up at the first table. I was outchipped about 2.5-to-1 when heads-up began, but liked my chances after having picked up on what appeared to be some weak play from my opponent earlier on. Alas, I went card dead, he played his chip advantage well, and I was out in second.

(Down to 211.70 tournment dollars, then.)

After the tournament was over, I began once more to go over my options here: (1) I could simply cash the tourney dollars and bank about $190; (2) I could “freeroll” my way through a few more tourneys; or (3) I could go for broke and play the Sunday million.

I know that for some such a choice amounts to a no-brainer -- not even worth fretting over. I’m genuinely torn, however. At different moments, each of the three options have seemed most attractive to me. Obviously I’m revealing something here about myself -- as a person and as a poker player. I’ve written before about how I tend to weigh various motivations to play poker. Truth be told, as much as I enjoy competing and being challenged, I’m essentially “risk averse.” Maybe I’m too used to being “short-stacked,” but I’ve never much relished situations -- at the poker table or elsewhere -- where I’m forced to hazard more than I’m willing to lose. Then again, I understand (and at least partially subscribe to) the observation Jack Straus makes in Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town, “If there’s no risk in losing, there’s no high in winning.”

It would be tempting to conclude that having such reservations at all itself constitutes an argument against playing the Sunday million. Then again, permitting the merest shadow of a doubt to prevent one from attempting something is a poor way to go. (How play a single hand of poker, then?)

Posted this here query over on the Card Clubs Network as a poll question. Curious to see what the Ante Up! nation has to say about this one. Click here to follow along.

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep focusing on the hand of the moment, and not fuss too much about the future. Or the past. Like the villainous Uncle Charlie says (in Shadow of a Doubt), “What’s the use of looking backward? What’s the use of looking ahead? Today’s the thing. That's my philosophy. Today.”

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Putting Yourself Out There

Failure: When Your Best Just Isn't Good EnoughI was thinking this week about Iggy’s announcement that he was putting Guinness and Poker on hold. (The latest.) There have been a number of poker blogs slowing down or stopping altogether since the UIGEA was signed into law. A few poker podcasts have fallen by the wayside as well, although it isn’t clear whether there is any real connection between such trends and the new legislation.

Of course, there are still some excellent podcasts from which to choose -- including Ante Up!, Rounders, and the Pocket Fives podcast. Poker Diagram is also always a fun listen (check ’em out, if you haven’t already), though they’ve gone a few weeks here without a new show. The Joe Average Poker Show and Phil Gordon’s The Poker Edge can be okay time-fillers. And I look forward to the day The Circuit returns (although I can’t imagine it will be as good without Scott Huff).

I appreciate how much energy it must take to produce a regular (e.g., weekly) podcast. I would imagine it is even more draining to try to do so without any sort of sponsorship or backing (as Henry and Zog do with PokerDiagram, or Sean and Stacks did with Card Club on Lord Admiral Radio). Most grueling, though, must be the need to “put yourself out there” show after show, opening yourself to the sort of scrutiny most of us would find unbearable.

The fact is, podcasts like Ante Up! and Poker Diagram (and Card Club, when it was around) are especially fun to listen to precisely because the hosts routinely “show their hole cards” (so to speak), letting listeners witness not just their successes at the tables, but their failures as well. (I should add that the hosts of Rounders show similar humility on occasion, too.) As we all know, it is mighty difficult for poker players to admit their own limitations -- to others or to themselves. However, hosts that do so aren’t just more interesting, they are more informative as well.

Same goes for bloggers, of course. Always more fun to report wins than losses. I’ve tried here to balance the two -- to talk about misplayed hands or flaws in my game, as well as the good hands and strengths -- although I know I’m more inclined to highlight those hands where I perform well or even admirably (and suppress those when I don’t).

To give a quick for instance, I had myself a nice little tournament victory last week and couldn’t wait to report my success on the blog. (And to keep linking to that post -- haha.) I played that particular tourney fairly well, I’d thought, and so greatly enjoyed the retelling of what happened. Then I jumped online today and in just the second hand played one of those “I can’t believe I just did that” kind of hands. Thought I’d share -- although you know I’d rather not.

I’ve actually been testing the waters at the $1.00/$2.00 6-max limit tables lately (a step up from my usual haunt), although luckily for me I warmed up today with a few dozen hands on $0.50/$1.00. For this particular hand, I was dealt KcTc in the small blind. The UTG limped, as did the player to his left, SilentSam. Then the cutoff -- FastCar24 -- raised, and the button cold-called. The big blind and I both decided to join the party, so all six of us had put in a dollar to see the following flop: 9c8h7s.

I was first to act and checked, mentally preparing to call a bet with my open-ended straight draw. If I had been up against a single opponent, I probably would’ve bet out here. But with five players to act, checking seems like the smart move.

That was the last smart move of the hand for me.

The UTG bet. Then SilentSam raised. Then FastCar24 reraised. The button folded and it was three bets to me. Bad Move #1: I called. Knowing with certainty I’d be putting in the fourth bet here, there was no reason for me not to cap it (if I were staying in). But I just called. The UTG folded, SilentSam indeed capped it, FastCar24 called, and so did I. The pot was already up to $12.50. I’d given up on my overcards being any good, knowing I was probably facing two pair, a set, or an already made-straight. So I’m hoping here to see a jack or six.

The turn was the 3d. I checked -- Bad Move #2, really, since I could have bet here, gotten some information, and got out. SilentSam also checked, and FastCar24 bet out.

How did I play this? Bad Move #3 -- I called. Again, I missed an opportunity to gain information. I also was announcing pretty clearly to the table I was on a draw, so even if it hit I wasn’t likely going to be paid off as handsomely as I’d like. As if to punish me, SilentSam (the one who had capped it on the flop) pounced with a check-raise, and FastCar24 three-bet.

What did I do? Bad Move #4 -- I called again. Don’t even try to defend me with pot odds. I know I have (at best) 8 outs here, perhaps less if somebody has JT. (If somebody does have JT -- which to be honest was what I was suspecting -- then a 6 is no good and a J only gives me half of the pot.) I know I’m putting in 4 big bets here, so essentially I’m putting in $4.00 to try to win $20.50. Sure, that’s 5-to-1, but with only 8 outs I really need at least 6-to-1 for the pot odds to be right. And, as I said, I wasn’t completely confident all 8 outs were good.

Worst of all, though, is how I’m allowing myself to get caught in the “chip sandwich” (as Harrington puts it). I called the three bets, watched SilentSam cap it and FastCar24 call, then called as well. I suppose we don’t have to describe that last call as a fifth bad move, but I was certainly throwing good money after bad.

The river was the 4c, and I finally got out. As it happened, both players had JT, and so chopped what ended up being a $30+ pot. Not only had I blown $7 on one hand, but I’d essentially announced to the table that a bona fide donkey had sat down in my seat. Hee Haw!

I kept an eye on FastCar24 -- the one who had preraised with JT (offsuit, actually). He turned out to be a pretty miserable player, doing a lot of loose raising and calling and eventually losing his entire stack. I watched him work for a short while, then near the end I had begun to write a note on him that began “Seems like an idiot . . . .” At that very moment -- I am not making this up -- he actually typed “I’m an idiot, yup.” (I had to stop and make sure I hadn’t been typing in the chat box!)

Perhaps FastCar24 will be back and will have learned a bit. Being able to acknowledge your mistakes is a good thing, I think. Never easy to put yourself out there, though.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Iggy Drops the Other Shoe

Guinness and PokerNot to be a tease, but I’m still debatin’ with myself how to spend that recent tourney windfall I told about in the last post. Thanks for the suggestions, fellas! (And anyone else with any advice, please send!) I will certainly report in the near future how exactly I’ve decided to put them T$ to use.

Speaking of being teased . . . have any of you been over on the rail at Guinness and Poker lately, wondering like me how Iggy was going to play this one?

A week ago, Iggy published a regular zen koan of a post suggesting some very big news was on the horizon. As if to confirm his status as the E.F. Hutton of poker blogs, the “Blogfather” published a mere four-word post, then stood back silently while we all scurried about trying to decipher its hidden meaning. Given Iggy’s extensive network of poker-related connections, I initially figured he’d scored some kind of inside dope regarding the future of Party Poker. (Guinness and Poker is, after all, the “Party Poker Blog.”) When I happened on the Poker Prof’s post from a couple of days before relating a story about Mirage possibly taking over the online poker giant, I thought perhaps the mystery wasn’t such a mystery. A subsequent post from Iggy about a “done deal” and an “announcement forthcoming” seemed to confirm my suspicion.

Then came today’s update. Iggy still ain’t delivering entirely ambiguity-free communication; however, the phrases “definite hiatus” and “long nap” both seem to indicate a plan to take a break from uberposting for some indefinite period.

Others are currently busy composing and publishing their extensive (and better-informed) posts marking the occasion. Just wanted to add my humble thanks here as well to Iggy for having served for so long as the sun about which the rest of the poker blogosystem could happily rotate. Have to say, Iggy’s mention of Hard-Boiled Poker a while back was a definite highlight in the young career of a poker blogger like myself. And I know he’s encouraged and inspired many others similarly along the way.

So I’ll raise a pint with everyone else and wish Iggy well for now. But (like everyone else) I’m also gonna stay tuned.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Decision Time

Decision TimeA couple of days ago I was feeling a little weary of the limit grind and so decided I’d take another shot at one of those FPP satellites into the PokerStars Sunday Million tourney. I tried a 375 FPP, 36-player Turbo No Limit Hold ’em tourney -- the ones that only award one place in the big one. Have to thank birthday boy derbywhite for turning me on to these -- I wasn’t even aware of ’em until I saw he’d written about playing in one on his blog. I had tried this particular tourney only one time before, actually -- about four weeks ago -- when I finished a gut-wrenching second. (I wrote a post about my near-miss.)

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Turbo format (where blinds increase every five minutes) because I thought they tended to value luck over skill. Go card dead for a couple of rounds and you’re in sad shape, usually. However, such tourneys do reward those who can make correct decisions -- particularly those who can pick the right time to exert pressure on their opponents. I got to play a few Turbo tourneys in those WCOOP satellites a couple of months back, and I feel as though I’m starting to get comfortable (somewhat) with the rhythm of these suckers. Playing 6-max limit games probably helps, as there I also usually can’t afford to sit around and wait for monsters and expect to stay ahead of the blinds.

Even so, I had a bit of a scare early on in this one when I ended up all in with pocket queens vs. two others, one of whom held KK. I had both covered, though not by much (about 400). Luckily a queen fell on the turn, and by Level 2 I had tripled up to 4,715 chips.

There are only 54,000 chips in play in these tourneys, meaning that just six minutes in I was already getting close to what the average stack would be at the final table. With such awareness I knew I could take it easy for the next few levels. I took a few small pots here and there, but mostly stayed in line and out of trouble.

By level 7 (just over half an hour into play) we were down to 10 players and I had 3,855 chips. Each of the two remaining tables had five players, and one player at our table had started to make it a habit to go all in with his 5,000-6,000 chips whenever it folded to him. I was in the cutoff, having been dealt AcTd, when I saw him do it again -- the third time in the last five hands, and sixth time overall. I quickly called and he turned over 2dAd. The flop brought two diamonds, but no more (and no deuce) so my hand held up.

That hand brought us to the final table, and I was up to 8,085 chips (3rd place overall). I folded the next eight hands in a row, watching three more players go out as I did. I picked up 44 and took a coin flip with a shorter stack and lost, knocking me back down to 5,160. I was still in decent shape, though -- 4th out of 6 remaining, and with blinds of 200/400 (plus a 25 ante) was in no particular hurry just yet. I won a small pot with big slick. Then a round later I was all in with KK against two smaller stacks. Both held ace-rag, and one of them rivered a straight to take the main pot. But I took the small side pot and was still doing okay with 8,446 chips.

A couple more were soon eliminated and we were down to three-handed. The chip leader had a monstrous stack of 31,991 chips, second place had 14,963, and I was the short-stack with 7,046. I would fall below 5,000 at one point, but managed to outlast the second-place player when his queens fell to the leader’s KJ.

Heads-up! Unfortunately, the chip leader now had 46,129 to my 7,871 -- nearly a 6-to-1 advantage. Damned if I’m not gonna be first of the losers again!

We took turns folding the first couple of hands. Then I bluffed him off a small pot. Then I picked up As8s, went all in, and he folded. Picked up AK and he folded from the SB before I could bet.

I noticed my opponent was playing very passively. I was dealt Jc6c and pushed all in again and again he folded. Then I was dealt 6dKh and just called from the SB. He called behind me and the flop came 9sTh4c. I put in a minimum bet of 2,000 and he folded again. We’d played 15 hands and I now had 15,121 -- not quite twice what I had when we’d started heads-up.

Then I was dealt 5s5h in the BB. He just called from the SB, and I shoved all in. He debated for a moment, then finally called me with 8hAh. I didn’t care for the flop very much -- 2hKd9h -- but the turn and river brought no heart, eight, or ace, and so my fives held up. Suddenly I was ahead with 30,442 (to his 23,558).

Three hands later he made a minimum raise from the SB and I called with 8h7s. The flop came 7c6h5d and I checked. He bet 6,000, I raised it to 16,000, he pushed and I called. He had Td6d. For the first time all tourney, I thought I might actually win this son-of-a-gun.

The turn was the 3h. So far so good. Then the river. Jc. All 54,000 chips came sliding over to my seat. I’d won.

During heads-up (19 hands total), we had only gone to showdown twice -- and I’d won both times. My opponent clearly hadn’t had a lot of experience heads-up. He never really put any pressure on me, despite having such a huge chip advantage, and basically made it possible for me to win the tourney on a single coin flip hand.

Pretty satisfying, I have to say. Hell of a lot more than finishing second again would’ve been.

Do I choose what's behind curtain #1, #2, or #3?So now I get to make a decision. Have a little more time on this one, though. (Yorkshire Pudding asked me this question in response to the earlier post.)

Technically what I won was an entry into this afternoon’s Sunday Million, but I have already unregistered as today ain’t the best day for me to play. That means I now have $215 Tournament dollars in my Stars account, which gives me three options: (1) sell my T$ for approximately $190 cash (there are several sites that’ll buy ’em); (2) pick a Sunday and take a shot at the big one; (3) consider the T$ my new “tournament bankroll” and try a few tourneys with buy-ins higher than I’d normally attempt.

Other relevant factors: $190 would be nice to pocket, but wouldn’t really boost my overall winnings by a huge percentage; the Sunday Million is a “deep stack” tourney (players start with 10,000 chips) with regular (15 minute) levels -- a format I’ve never tried (never mind the quality of competition I’d encounter there); I am not currently a regular tourney player, nor do I have loads of time to play more than a couple of tourneys a week.

Not an easy decision. But a nice one to have to make. What would you do?

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