Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bodoggin' It

Could anyone possibly be influenced to do anything by an ad like this?Mentioned last post I’d been playing some over on Bodog. Just opened the account this month. Probably never would have if I hadn’t been blocked from other sites post-UIGEA. Went through Poker Source Online to sign up and now have some poker books headed my way as soon as I play the requisite hands. Bodog also kicked in 10% of the deposit right away, which is fine by me. So the experiment begins.

I’d always been a bit leery of Bodog, mostly because of the way Bodog pushes the “image” thing a bit harder than most. Sure, all sites target that younger male demographic, but Bodog always struck me as trying just a bit too hard. I remember back in January CardPlayer had one of those advertisement-slash-features on Bodog’s owner and CEO, Calvin Ayre, identifying Ayre as “poker’s lifestyle architect.” The article (by ex-Circuit host Scott Huff) breathlessly described the “adrenaline charged world of the Bodog Entertainment Group,” lauding Ayre as a “true renaissance man” out there “living the Bodog lifestyle.” What the hell is this, I thought. Not looking for a lifestyle, really. Just want to play some cards.

Then there were the ads, all promoting this tough-guy, “We Don’t Believe in Fear” folderol that must appeal to somebody somewhere. The faux-Jay-Z-ish “New American Dream” campaign (“They Gave Me Their Money, Their Dignity, and Some Bling . . . This Pimped Out Ride Was an Added Bonus”). The varietes of “poker predators” prowling around the poker “jungle” (the Ringer, the Wildcard, and, of course, the most envied of the lot, the Founder). The Freudian directive to “play hard.” The silly self-censoring (“No Bullsh#!t”). And so forth.

Speaking of advertising, I’m not so sure Bodog doesn’t believe in fear. Check out these two, nearly identical ads that have recently appeared in CardPlayer. Notice any difference?

Before and AfterBodog recently announced their plan to to censor themselves right out of the American advertising landscape, actually.
(See Falstaff's Poker Works article.) They’re not going to block U.S. customers, apparently.
But they are no longer going to solicit them, either.

Can’t say I’ll miss the ads, which always struck me as more than a little adolescent. For me, the stories and ads together together formed this impression of Bodog being a goofy, not entirely well-adjusted teenaged boy. Sort of like that dude who sat in the back row during study hall. Must’ve flunked a grade somewhere along the way, ’cause he was older than everyone else. Maturity-wise, though, he was still a step or two behind. Dressed and acted tough, but was mostly harmless, and in fact turned out to be kind of a jokester once you got to know him. Could easily be talked into all sorts of transgressive behaviors. Tell him to hide the chalk and erasers, he’d do it. Thumbtacks in the teacher’s seat? He’s your man. Plant a centerfold on the rolled up map of the world at the front of the class? Bodog’ll do it. He doesn’t believe in fear . . . . (At least that what he’s always saying.)

How does the site play? Well, I’ve only logged a few hundred hands so far, but I’ll go ahead and say the interface is terrific -- best layout and feel of any of the sites except for Poker Stars, in my opinion. Not crazy about the multitable view, but I’ve only been playing one at a time here as of late so that’s not so much of an issue for me at present. I’m also not at all happy with the way Bodog handles hand histories. Unlike every other site on which I’ve ever played, Bodog does not save them to a file on the hard drive. That means I cannot import the hands into Poker Tracker (or use Poker Ace, which I’m currently trying out) unless I do some additional monkey business with the CPU. I could install yet another program -- something called “Dogwatch” -- which apparently doesn’t function unless I also install Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0. Too much extra hassle for me . . . I’ll just have to fly without a net when I play on Bodog, I think.

Have tried a couple of low buy-in SNGs. They have some novel payout structures for these -- e.g., a 10-player $3.50+$0.30 SNG that pays $26.95 to the top spot, with second and third each getting $3.85; a 10-player $4.00+$0.40 SNG that spreads out cashes among the top five spots ($12, $10, $8, $6, and $4). Tried the latter variety and cashed both times I played (a second and a fourth). Don’t know if I like those structures better or not, but they are different.

We’ll see if Bodog bails on us Yanks here in the new year or sticks it out. Meanwhile, I’ll continue with this experiment. Speaking of experiments, I’ve taken a woman’s name as my screen name on Bodog -- probably an unconscious response to all that “lifestyle” applesauce. None of those predators has tried to hit on me yet. Maybe once I’ve uploaded a photo . . . .

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jumping in the (Full) Ring

Jumping in the (Full) RingHave been playing full ring games lately, as opposed to my usual 6-max. Started doing so in last couple of weeks, mainly because I’m now playing $1.00/$2.00 and thus desirous to lessen my variance as I acclimate myself to the larger pots. So far so good. While I can get wild now and then, I do believe my “natural” character as a player is to be conservative, so I don’t have a problem folding and being patient.

Indeed, I used to play full ring exclusively, then got locked into the 6-max world after having some success. Going back to ten-handed games has caused me to observe important differences between full ring and 6-max. As you probably noticed earlier in the week when you saw that cousin whom you haven’t seen since last Christmas, differences become more conspicuous whenever we’ve been away for a while. At the beginning of Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea (1938), the narrator, Roquentin, talks about why he’s decided to start the journal that forms the novel’s narrative. He figures if he writes down his day-to-day activities, he’ll have a better grasp of the changes that occur in his life. Otherwise, “a crowd of small metamorphoses accumulate in me without my noticing it, and then, one fine day, a veritable revolution takes place.” Not unlike what I’m experiencing going back to the full ring game -- it’s like a “revolution” or “overthrow” has taken place, with all sorts of crazy changes standing out to me in glaring ways. Lemme mention three of them here:

(1) When ten-handed, players play, for the most part, much much tighter than in the 6-max game.

Obvious, I know. I’ve mentioned before here how Small Stakes Hold ’em doesn’t really offer much specific advice for short-handed games. There are a few references here and there to how hand values change in heads-up or short-handed situations, and during the discussion of preflop play there is that one footnote that says “For a short-handed game, assume that your game is ten-handed and that the first few players have folded.” That’s about it, though. I have always taken that footnote to mean that when it comes to Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth’s recommendations regarding preflop hand selection, one can essentially omit “early position” altogether (the first three seats to the left of the blinds), and consider the six seats as follows: SB, BB, MP1 (UTG), MP2 (UTG+1), LP1 (the cutoff), and LP2 (the button). May not be what the authors are intending, but that’s what the footnote seems to imply. Of course when it comes to actual play, you cannot really “assume that your game is ten-handed” when sitting at the 6-max tables. If you restrict yourself to Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth’s preflop hand selection criteria when playing the 6-max games, you probably won’t be playing enough hands to survive the blinds’ relentlessly eating away at your stack.

When I first picked up SSHE some time ago, I went through all of the recommendations for preflop hand selections and took some time to calculate how many hands a person would likely be playing if he or she followed the recommendations to the letter. For each seat at the table, I took into account what the trio was recommending as far as whether or not to play a hand given the preceding action, then I figured out the likelihood of being dealt each hand (e.g., 6/1326 for a pair, 12/1326 for a non-suited non-pair, 4/1326 for a suited non-pair), the likelihood of there being a raise or reraise in front, and so forth. In the end, I found that playing the SSHE hands as instructed would mean playing something like 23% of the hands you were dealt. If you drop out the first, second, third, and fourth position seats and get down to a 6-max table, SSHE is still telling us to play around 27% of the hands.

(That’s after my somewhat-tedious-but-by-no-means-infallible calculations. If anyone knows of more precise numbers along these lines, by all means send ’em on.)

In practice, though, one really has to play more than 27% of the hands in 6-max limit games to get by -- particularly since you’re paying a blind 33% of the time! So I make the obvious declaration here: people tend play more hands in 6-max, and fewer in full ring. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to tighten up in the full ring game (not always, anyhow). But it does mean that I have to understand most of the other players are likely playing a tighter game, and thus are more likely to have the goods should they go deep into a hand with me.

(2) When ten-handed, players tend not to raise preflop with marginal hands from early or middle position.

One of the very first things I noticed when I started playing 6-max games was how some players kept preflop raising with hands like A7-offsuit, then pushing with them regardless of what came on the board. Other players would preraise with any Broadway card. Kind of thing that previously never even occurred to me to do, to be honest. Some used this strategy to good effect, especially if they were agile playing after the flop (getting away cheaply from their obvious losers, craftily disguising their winners, etc.).

In the full ring game, such craziness is less likely to occur. There are steal attempts from late position, to be sure, but if someone preraises UTG in the full ring game, he or she usually has something close to a premium hand, if not an actual monster.

(3) When ten-handed, players tend not to reraise preflop (from any position) without a premium hand.

Something else I’ve noticed a lot in the 6-max game is how often players reraise (from any position, really) in order to isolate the raiser. Very often the player who does this is holding a small or middle pair, or even just J9 or QT or the like. It isn’t such a crazy play in the 6-max game, really, since getting heads-up is easier to accomplish when you only have one or two other players to discourage from calling your three-bet. QT wants to play AJ heads-up -- he’s 40% to win, if he can. 55 wants to play AK heads-up -- he becomes a favorite (55% to win), if he can.

However, since the isolation tactic is less likely to succeed when you’ve got a half dozen players left to act, you are less likely to see preflop reraises from folks who aren’t pretty sure they’ve got the advantage when they put in the three-bet. I had a hand today where I was in fourth (early middle) position and was dealt JdJs. It folded to me and I raised, then the player to my immediate left (also in middle position) reraised. Everyone folded and I called. The flop came Ad5h4c and I led out with a bet, hoping my opponent didn’t like that ace. He immediately raised me. I thought for a bit (eight seconds, to be precise -- I was playing on Bodog where the hand histories record the exact second each action occurs), then folded.

I realized as I let the hand go that I probably would’ve pushed back had we been playing short-handed. There I would’ve figured it more likely than not my opponent also held a pocket pair, with the odds being in my favor that it would be less than my jacks. However here in the full ring game I felt about 80% sure that my opponent either had a big ace, KK, or QQ. I could’ve been wrong, of course (we’ll never know) -- if anyone thinks I could have been, do let me know why. In any event, here was a clear example of me playing a hand differently because it was ten-handed as opposed to 6-max.

I could probably add a few more items to my list here, including the fact that bluffing seems to me to be much more significant (and useful) in the 6-max limit game than in full ring games. But I probably need to gather some more experience before making any more fancy declarations about how to play poker.

In fact, to prove to all that I shouldn’t be pretending to give advice about poker, I offer as evidence the following chat transcript from a game I played about a month ago. I’ve changed the names, but otherwise everything is exactly as it happened. (I’ve highlighted the more interesting moments in bold.) The only action you need to follow occurs in the first hand; for the rest just read the highlighted chat. You’ll notice I only contribute a single line to the proceedings, and even that wasn’t original, but lifted from some advice delivered to me by my friend Yorkshire Pudding (in his comment to an earlier post). Thanks, Yorkie! Enjoy!

POKERSTARS GAME #----------: HOLD'EM LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00)
Table ‘Hammett’ 6-max Seat #5 is the button
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus ($34.05 in chips)
Seat 2: nickandnora ($1.80 in chips)
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain ($20.70 in chips)
Seat 5: CasperGutman ($13.15 in chips)
Seat 6: blackmask ($12.80 in chips)
blackmask: posts small blind $0.25
Short-Stacked Shamus: posts big blind $0.50
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Short-Stacked Shamus [Kd Qh]
nickandnora: calls $0.50
Leggett-Dain: folds
CasperGutman: calls $0.50
blackmask: folds
Short-Stacked Shamus: raises $0.50 to $1
nickandnora: calls $0.50
CasperGutman: calls $0.50
*** FLOP *** [6d Ts 8h]
Short-Stacked Shamus: checks
nickandnora: checks
CasperGutman: bets $0.50
Short-Stacked Shamus: calls $0.50

nickandnora: calls $0.50
*** TURN *** [6d Ts 8h] [Jh]
Short-Stacked Shamus: checks

nickandnora: checks
CasperGutman: bets $1
Short-Stacked Shamus: calls $1
nickandnora: calls $0.30 and is all-in
*** RIVER *** [6d Ts 8h Jh] [9s]
Short-Stacked Shamus: bets $1
CasperGutman: calls $1

*** SHOW DOWN ***
Short-Stacked Shamus: shows [Kd Qh] (a straight, Nine to King)
CasperGutman: mucks hand
CasperGutman said, "lmfaoi"
CasperGutman said, "lmfao"

Short-Stacked Shamus collected $3.25 from side pot
nickandnora: mucks hand
Short-Stacked Shamus collected $5.40 from main pot
CasperGutman said, "what is wrong with u"
CasperGutman said, "????"
CasperGutman said, "moron"

*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $9.05 Main pot $5.40. Side pot $3.25. | Rake $0.40
Board [6d Ts 8h Jh 9s]
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus (big blind) showed [Kd Qh] and won ($8.65) with a straight, Nine to King
Seat 2: nickandnora mucked [9h Ad]
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 5: CasperGutman (button) mucked [Jd 8c]
Seat 6: blackmask (small blind) folded before Flop

POKERSTARS GAME #----------: HOLD'EM LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00)
Table ‘Hammett’ 6-max Seat #6 is the button
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus ($39.20 in chips)
Seat 2: nickandnora ($15 in chips)
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain ($20.70 in chips)
Seat 5: CasperGutman ($9.65 in chips)
Seat 6: blackmask ($12.55 in chips)
Short-Stacked Shamus: posts small blind $0.25
nickandnora: posts big blind $0.50
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Short-Stacked Shamus [8s 9d]
Leggett-Dain: folds
CasperGutman said, "terrible play idiot"
CasperGutman: raises $0.50 to $1
blackmask: folds
CasperGutman said, "terrible"
Short-Stacked Shamus: folds
nickandnora: calls $0.50
*** FLOP *** [3d 5c 9c]
nickandnora: checks
CasperGutman said, "terrilbe"
CasperGutman: bets $0.50
nickandnora: folds
CasperGutman said, "just terrible"
CasperGutman collected $2.15 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $2.25 | Rake $0.10
Board [3d 5c 9c]
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus (small blind) folded before Flop
Seat 2: nickandnora (big blind) folded on the Flop
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 5: CasperGutman collected ($2.15)
Seat 6: blackmask (button) folded before Flop (didn't bet)

POKERSTARS GAME #----------: HOLD'EM LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00)
Table ‘Hammett’ 6-max Seat #1 is the button
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus ($38.95 in chips)
Seat 2: nickandnora ($14 in chips)
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain ($20.70 in chips)
Seat 5: CasperGutman ($10.80 in chips)
Seat 6: blackmask ($12.55 in chips)
nickandnora: posts small blind $0.25
Leggett-Dain: posts big blind $0.50
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Short-Stacked Shamus [2h Td]
CasperGutman: folds
blackmask: folds
Short-Stacked Shamus said, "hang on i can play worse"
Short-Stacked Shamus: folds
nickandnora: folds
Leggett-Dain collected $0.50 from pot
Leggett-Dain: doesn't show hand
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $0.50 | Rake $0
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus (button) folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 2: nickandnora (small blind) folded before Flop
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain (big blind) collected ($0.50)
Seat 5: CasperGutman folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 6: blackmask folded before Flop (didn't bet)

POKERSTARS GAME #----------: HOLD'EM LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00)
Table ‘Hammett’ 6-max Seat #2 is the button
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus ($38.95 in chips)
Seat 2: nickandnora ($13.75 in chips)
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain ($20.95 in chips)
Seat 6: blackmask ($12.55 in chips)
Leggett-Dain: posts small blind $0.25
CasperGutman: is sitting out
blackmask: posts big blind $0.50
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Short-Stacked Shamus [5s Jc]
CasperGutman leaves the table
Short-Stacked Shamus: folds
nickandnora: folds
Leggett-Dain: folds
blackmask collected $0.50 from pot
blackmask: doesn't show hand
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $0.50 | Rake $0
Seat 1: Short-Stacked Shamus folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 2: nickandnora (button) folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 3: Leggett-Dain (small blind) folded before Flop
Seat 6: blackmask (big blind) collected ($0.50)

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Circuit 2.0

CardPlayer's 'The Circuit' is back on the airThe holidays are swiftly coming to a close. I’ve noticed a few folks starting to get back to their blogs. The combined effects of heavy doses of tryptophan & spiked egg nog have apparently finally begun to recede. Most seem to be gravitating toward “year end review/new year resolution”-type posts. Dunno if I’ll bother with either of those. For some good year-end reviews of what happened in the poker world in 2006, go to the Poker Prof.’s blog and/or Pauly’s always-worthwhile Tao of Poker. Poker News has also been working its way through a month-by-month recap. As far as resolutions go, I got nothin’ other than to try to keep having fun (and making a few berries here and there) playing our favorite game.

After a few days away from the tables, I logged onto Full Tilt today and found professional player (and new co-host of The Circuit) David Singer sitting at a $1.00/$2.00 limit table. Easy to tell which one was Singer. Besides the custom avatar, he was also the only one with over $20,000. (Your guess is as good as mine as to why he thought he needed to bring so much.) I jumped on the waiting list, thinking perhaps I’d get to experience a little of that “mixing it up” I wrote about last post, but unfortunately Singer left before I’d made it to the top of the list.

Ended up watching several of the hands, and saw Singer chatting it up in a very friendly way with the rest of the table. He seems like a nice enough fellow. Not sure, really, how good of a fit he is for The Circuit, though. The new crew -- which includes Singer, Konan Luce, and Rich Belsky -- made its debut a couple of weeks ago at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic. Singer is the lone pro of the trio, and while he’s certainly knowledgable and even demonstrates a dry sense of humor now and then, his understated monotone probably makes it difficult for most listeners to remain attentive. Of the amateurs, Belsky seemed fairly comfortable and did a fair job during the shows asking guests about particular hands. Luce seemed mostly out of his element, however. I don’t think the group necessarily deserves all of the negativity spewing on the Circuit forum (over at CardPlayer), but they do have a lot of room to improve, I think.

The Circuit is fairly unique among all of the podcasts in its on-the-spot coverage of the major tournaments. (Have yet to check out The Tournament Trail over on Hold ’em Radio.) I’m pulling for the new hosts to figure out how to make the show work. I mentioned something before about how the new hosts -- whoever they turned out to be -- were going to have Shana Hiatt-esque shoes to fill thanks to the high mark set by Scott Huff, Gavin Smith, and Joe Sebok. (Posted that observation over on the Circuit forums and here’s what Circuit intern, forum moderator, and funny guy Justin “Shronk” came up with in response.)

Think I’ll go take a look that DVD of The Cincinnati Kid I found in my stocking Monday morning. Probably looking at a review here in the not-too-distant future.

Welcome back, all!

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mixing it Up

Another example, like the dancing baby or the Brandi Hawbaker saga, of an internet 'meme' (click to learn more).Finally got a chance to hear this week’s Beyond the Table. Missed the live show on Wednesday night, but the podcast version is available here. Favorite moments: (1) Tom hollerin’ “Shamus, get yr ass in here!” (gotta figure a way to sample that somehow); (2) Karridy likening me to a boss having called in a wayward employee (friggin’ hilarious); (3) Dan recognizing the oddity of the trio spending a portion of this week’s show reading a transcript of last week’s show, and wondering if someone might transcribe them reading the transcription (we’d all probably vanish into some sort of self-reflexive, M.C. Escheresque vortex if anyone dared try that, I think). Anyhow, fun stuff -- go check ’em out, if you haven’t already.

The show -- along with some other events this week -- got me thinking about how poker uniquely enables truly meaningful interaction between pros and amateurs. I mentioned before how Beyond the Table brings us dialogue between a professional player (Tom) and two amateurs (Karridy and Dan). A number of other poker podcasts (e.g., Bluff Poker Radio, The Circuit, Joe Average Poker Radio, Keep Flopping Aces, Rounders, The Poker Edge) feature a similar dynamic. These shows work best (or, I should say, are most interesting to me, the amateur player listening in) when there is some genuine communication occurring between the amateur and the pro. (Not always the case, actually, on some of these.)

Sure, I’m as curious as the next sap to hear the pros describe their lives and gossip about the circuit scene. And it can be useful sometimes to hear them share their theories and strategies. However, when the pro then gives sincere attention to the amateur’s situation -- asking questions about his or her life and/or play -- that’s when someone like me becomes genuinely engaged. That’s when I not only become more likely to profit from whatever wisdom about poker (or other things) the pro might be imparting, but I get to feel as though I’m participating -- in a meaningful way -- in a wider community. Poker is great for many reasons, but the way the game provides a means to community-building is one of its truly special qualities.

I remember when I first started playing poker. I’d hop online and play hands for pennies, then go watch the WSOP or WPT on the tube and think about how the rules of the game were the same, only the stakes were different. I used to think of poker as being like golf in this respect -- what I’m watching is the same damn game, only it’s being played at a different level (and thus not really the same damn game, but resembling it in a number of ways). Amateur golfers follow the same rules and try to employ the same strategies as do the pros. They even sometimes get to play the same courses, maybe even start from the same tees. And certainly, whatever level at which they’re playing, they get to experience a lot of the same highs and lows the game produces.

There are differences, though. Golf tournaments may begin with a “Pro-Am” event early in the week, but such exhibitions don’t count for much, really. (Not for the pros, anyhow.) By contrast, every major poker tournament involves amateurs competing against pros. At this year’s WSOP Main Event, for example, it was estimated that of the 8,773 entrants only a thousand or so could be reasonably described as “professional” poker players. I’d estimate there were probably more than that, but certainly well over half the field were amateurs, meaning that every starting table likely featured a mix of pros and wannabes. And the same is true for just about every major circuit event -- there are amateur players at every stop who pony up the entry fee and give it a go. Why? Because they can.

The fact is, pros and amateurs play poker together all the time -- online and live. (Probably one way to define who belongs to which group, actually -- the pros are the winners and the amateurs the losers.) I’ve never had the experience, but I know some who have played over at the Bellagio and had pros come around and sit in at their low limit (3/6 or 4/8, I don’t remember) game for an orbit or two. Kind of a public service, I suppose. A true thrill for the amateurs, as you might imagine. There’s Negreanu’s “protégé,” the Full Tilt pros chatting with customers and playing low limit tourneys, other sites inviting amateurs to knock out pros for bounties, and so forth. Chris Cosenza on Ante Up! told about seeing Kathy Liebert warming up for the WPT Foxwoods main event (where she final tabled) by playing in the 1-2 NL games -- and having a hell of a time. Not at all unusual, really. For fun or for profit, pros and amateurs mix it up on a regular basis.

Which brings me to the other reason why I was thinking this week about pros and amateurs mixing it up -- the whole Brandi Hawbaker saga that started on the 2+2 Forums exactly one week ago and has since swiftly mushroomed into one of those internet “memes” like the dancing baby or Mahir Çağrı. Hawbaker got some attention back in October by finishing 35th at the WPT Festa Al Lago main event (after being an early chip leader) -- her first significant cash on the circuit. We heard her interviewed on Pocket Fives and saw her picture leading off the CardPlayer Photo Gallery in the 11/28/06 issue. Then last Saturday (12/13/06) she started a thread on 2+2 (in the “News, Views, and Gossip” section) with a lengthy post describing her dealings with “Captain” Tom Franklin, a professional player since the early 70s who holds one WSOP bracelet and has earned over two million dollars in tourneys. Hawbaker’s post describes Franklin’s offer to serve as a mentor/protector for her as she began her career, then goes on to accuse Franklin of a number of offenses ranging from simple lying to stealing a large portion of her (modest) bankroll to attempted sexual assault. At the moment, the thread has over 130,000 views and 4,500 replies. Here’s the thread, and here’s a summary version. Go read if you’re interested (and/or, like most of us, something of a voyeur). If not, just consider it a low rent, Glitter-Gulch version of Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill.

What really happened between the amateur and the pro? Who knows. What’s clear is the interaction was not at all positive, and perhaps an unfortunate by-product of the ease with which members of both groups enjoy mostly unrestrained access to one another. Generally speaking, such access is a good thing, I think. As I said, us amateurs benefit greatly from the pros occasionally taking an interest in us -- not just in terms of improving our play, but simply being able to connect meaningfully with the mostly wonderful community that is “the poker world.” Hopefully poker’s continued growth (or other factors, like the UIGEA) won’t make positive interactions -- like the one I had this week -- harder to come by.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Amateur

Warning! Stupid Poker Alert!Played a $5.00+$0.50 MTT today on Stars and bubbled. Well, technically I went out around 110th (of 660 or so), and 90 places paid. But I was sitting pretty with close to 10,000 chips in Level 8 -- around 35th of the remaining players -- when I managed to donk off the whole bleeding stack in a short, severe sequence of blunders, all committed in the same hand.

Now I could describe my mostly solid play for the first 118 hands of the tournament. I could talk about the hand where I laid down AK-suited preflop to an all-in, suspecting he had aces (he did). Or I could describe the hand where I turned a set and managed to lure second pair to follow me to the river, then pay me off 4,000 chips’ worth. Or I could even narrate the hand where I was in the big blind w/56-offsuit, flopped bottom pair, then correctly raised the SB who’d bet the turn w/44.

But no, I’m gonna describe this here embarrassing nightmare of a hand instead. I figure this one includes at least a couple of lessons that might be of use to somebody (maybe even me). To give a little context, I had 8,900 chips, at the time the third-biggest stack at the table. The blinds were 200/400 (with a 25 chip ante), so stealing had become worthwhile. On the previous hand I had been in middle position where I’d been dealt a pair of eights. I would’ve open-raised the hand, but the fellow with 20,000 chips sitting to my right beat me to it with a preraise to 1,200. I let my eights go, although calling might not have been a bad move.

That brings us to the next hand -- the fatal hand. I was dealt ThAc, and when it folded to me (still in middle position) I raised to 1,300. That might well be interpreted as the first error of the hand. I might’ve been partly influenced by the missed opportunity of the previous hand. Still, while the preraise here might have been sketchy, I’ll defend it by referring to the table dynamic. I had developed a somewhat tight image, so I thought my raise would be respected. I also thought the players left to act -- mostly short stacks -- would likely fold since we were getting close to bubble time.

However, the player to my immediate left -- the only one left who had me covered (with 13,004 chips) -- called me. “Trouble,” I actually said out loud (no lie), as the rest of the table folded. I was already mentally letting go of the hand when the flop came KcQcAs.

The pot was 3,425. I had 7,600 chips remaining and my opponent 11,704. The action was on me. I checked and my opponent made a tiny bet of 800 which I then check-raised to 3,600. Without hesitating, he went all-in. Facing what had by now suddenly become nearly 4-to-1 odds to call, I put in my last 4,000 chips. Our cards were turned over.

What do you think he had? What do you think I think he had? (This is the truly embarrassing part.) I actually thought he might have KQ and that somehow I would get him to fold if he thought I had AK, AQ, or a big set. Terrible, terrible logic. Think about it. What hands would he have called my preflop raise with that he could possibly fold to me here? Ace-rag, perhaps. A middle or lower pair. KT, QT, etc. That’s right . . . every hand he would fold would be a hand I had dominated. Conversely, every hand with which he’d call (or raise) my check-raise with would have to be a hand where I was dominated (e.g., AK, AQ, AJ, KK, KQ, QQ, JT). Sort of thing pegs me pretty obviously as an amateur, no?

As it turned out, he had probably the least threatening of all of these possibilities -- the AdJh. With two cards to come, I still had ten outs to tie or win (the case ace, the three kings, the three queens, and the three jacks). Come on, paint! But the turn was a deuce and the river a seven, and I was done.

If we forgive the reckless steal attempt preflop, there are still at least three more errors I made in this hand (quite a lot for a hand where the action ended before the turn!). Number one, my check on the flop meant I’d missed an opportunity to find out if he liked the flop or not. Number two, my crazy check-raise essentially screamed I did not want a call (perhaps someone might play the same way here with AA, KK, QQ, AK, or KQ; nevertheless, my opponent wasn’t deterred from correctly putting me to the test with his all-in). And number three, I put my tourney life on the line by calling off my remaining chips.

Perhaps somebody might defend me in there somewhere, but I know I didn’t have to go out on this hand. I’m capable of folding after a failed steal attempt. I’m even capable of keeping pots small and check-calling my way to a manageable loss. But I didn’t, and thus screwed myself right outta there.

Hopefully my decision not to edit my tournament experience in a way that covers over my flaws will benefit you somehow, dear reader. Avoid Shamus’s shame! Don’t needlessly put your chips at risk! For now, though, let’s cheer ourselves up with a video (coincidentally, titled “Amateur”) demonstrating how to edit oneself more flatteringly:

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Unaffiliated

Would make an excellent Xmas giftThanks, everybody, for all of the terrific feedback to the last post. Much appreciated. One can see pretty readily from the comments some of the other reasons (beyond simple self-promotion) folks keep poker blogs. And big thanks, too, to Karridy and Dan (of Beyond the Table) for stopping by. (How cool is that?) Check out their show, if you haven’t already. Fun, provocative stuff.

Amid all of this “What Am I Doing Here” applesauce, I made a decision recently to stop trying to operate as an affiliate to poker sites. Not that big of a deal, in the grand scheme of things. But since this issue is perhaps of interest to some, I thought I’d talk about why.

I looked into the affiliate programs shortly after starting the blog last spring, and like a lot of other poker bloggers decided to go ahead and see if, perhaps, doing so might generate a little extra cabbage. Besides, the banners and flashing ads seemed to pretty up the place real nice. Made it look more like some of the other poker blogs I’d been perusing, in fact. So why not?

I signed up for several and dutifully followed the instructions for adding the banners and links. Whenever I happened to mention one of the sites in a post, I’d conscientiously add my personal little “a href” linking to the site. I started receiving regular emails from the sites telling me how much I’d made each month ($0.00). PartyPoker even sent a nifty black baseball cap, identifying me as one of the team.

Anyhow, after fussing over this for several months I’ve decided to leave the affiliate table. A couple of reasons pushed me to make the decision. One is that (for me, anyway) trying to squeeze out an extra buck or two this way just doesn’t seem worth the trouble. There are those who have certainly made significant $$$ this way (especially the large, corporate-owned sites that generate a lot of volume for the poker sites), but most of us are simply providing advertising for little or nothing in return.

The fact is, anyone coming around to read Hard-Boiled Poker is probably already playing poker online. Many have made this observation, of course -- Bill Rini wrote about it over a year ago in a well-argued post on his blog. Iggy (a.k.a. “Bonus Code IGGY”), probably the most prolific and successful (private) affiliate ever, also echoed this point when he appeared on the now-defunct Card Club on Lord Admiral Radio podcast back in late July. There host Cincinnati Sean referred to Iggy’s success in this area and asked him if he had any suggestions for those wishing to get in on the fun. Iggy’s main advice to us wannabes was for us not to get our hopes up. “Think about it,” Iggy explained. “Who reads poker blogs who isn’t playing on PartyPoker . . . ? There’s not a whole lot of money in it . . . [for] humble little poker blogs.” That’s the truth Ruth.

The other, more significant reason that I’ve chosen to drop out of the affiliate game is that it seems fairly clear that UIGEA makes affiliate programs illegal for us Yanks. As Amy Calistri pointed out a few weeks ago, “Affilates are totally screwed as they may be the only ones the new law can actually reach out and touch.” Amy refers here to part (c) of section 5365 (“Civil remedies”) of the UIGEA -- the part that talks about how federal agents can force ISPs to block access not only to online gambling sites, but to sites that link to online gambling sites. ISPs will be responsible for “the removal of, or disabling access to, an online site violating section 5363 [i.e., an online gambling site], or a hypertext link to an online site violating such section.” (I also thought out loud about this possibility in a post back in October.)

In his commentary on the UIGEA, professor of law I. Nelson Rose explains how American affiliates “can be easily grabbed,” should the feds desire to do so. “This [jurisdiction] includes sites that don’t directly take bets, but do refer visitors to gaming sites,” argues Rose. “If the affiliate is paid for those referrals by receiving a share of the money wagered or lost, it would not be difficult to charge the affiliate with violating this law, under the theory of aiding and abetting. Being a knowing accomplice and sharing in the proceeds of a crime make the aider and abettor guilty of the crime itself. The federal government could also charge the affiliate with conspiracy to violate this new Act.”

Incidentally, what are the poker sites saying about their affiliate programs’ legal status? I read an interesting post over on Shelly’s Hella Hold ’em blog where she had written Full Tilt Poker to inquire about the legality of its affiliate program. Click here to read FTP’s response to her question, and Shelly’s thoughtful reflection on why FTP is being more than a little disingenuous. Inspired by Shelly, I thought I’d write my sites to get my own explanations. Never heard back from Party (no surprise there -- they’ve never once responded to any of my emails). FTP sent me the identical “We are not in a position to answer specific legal questions” letter they sent Shelly. PokerStars was likewise timid in their response, stating simply that “we cannot offer any legal advice per your own particular situation.” To each site I sent a note asking to cancel my affiliate account.

Notice I haven’t said anything about “my integrity as a blogger” affecting me here. Can't say I suffer any significant ethical crises when it comes to hawking sites or selling ads. Tend to agree with DuggleBogey on this one (see his post about the subject). Since it is paid for, I’ll continue running that ad up in the right corner for Interpoker, a site on which I once played (and which I enjoyed) but from which I am now banned (as are all U.S. players). In fact, the way the law is written I can continue to post links to Interpoker since it is not “an online site violating section 5363.” (Thus I can advertise only for poker sites on which I cannot play! Ironic, yes? And/or moronic.) The same logic would apply to posting ads for PartyPoker, although given their crummy support I am frankly no longer inclined to do so. (By the way, did anybody else hear JohnnyBax railing about Party on The Circuit the other day?) So I’ll keep selling ads -- if asked -- but only for products I can actually recommend. I suppose my mercenary tendencies only extend so far . . . .

Which reminds me. Anyone want to buy a PartyPoker baseball cap? 100% cotton! Adjustable sizing! Like new, I tell ya . . . !

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Who Wants to Write About Poker?

What are you not working on when you work on the blog?I finally stopped grabbing poker podcasts manually and got myself a copy of Juice to search for, find, and download new episodes for me. I have ten different shows currently loaded into this sucker. Here are the shows I try to catch (the links are to the RSS feeds of each): Ante Up!, Beyond the Table, Bluff Poker Radio, The Circuit, The Joe Average Poker Show, Keep Flopping Aces, Poker Diagram, The Poker Edge, Pocket Fives, and Rounders. (Yes, The Circuit has returned, though as a shadow of its former self.)

A new addition to the list is Beyond the Table, another of the many shows produced live on Hold ’em Radio and then made available as podcasts. I’ve listened to the last four or five episodes of the weekly show and have liked what I’ve heard. The show has three hosts: Tom Schneider, a professional high-stakes poker player and author of Oops, I Won Too Much Money, Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table (recently reviewed in CardPlayer); Karridy Askenasy, a computer programmer and amateur player who created and manages something called True Texas Poker with T.J. Cloutier; and Dan Michalski, a freelance journalist and amateur player who runs the popular poker blog, Pokerati.

'Beyond the Table' on Hold 'em RadioThe trio have good chemistry and are always engaging. As some other podcasts have demonstrated, the professional-amateur dynamic works well, particularly when (as happens with Beyond the Table) we not only have the amateurs taking an interest in the pro’s life as a player, but the pro taking an interest in the amateurs’ activities as well. Tom does a great job asking questions of Karridy and Dan about their games (and lives), which keeps the show interesting and fun.

Near the conclusion of last week’s show (12/13/06), there occurred a provocative exchange between Tom and Karridy regarding the phenomenon of poker blogs. Dan was not present for last week’s show -- like a lot of bloggers, he was at the WPBT in Vegas. Karridy mentioned how much they missed Dan since he is such a “wealth of knowledge” about poker, as demonstrated by the fact that Pokerati is “renowned throughout the blogosphere as just being really information rich.” Karridy then made an observation about poker bloggers that led to a brief dialogue about the subject. I thought I’d share what Karridy and Tom said, then make a few brief observations of my own regarding some of the assumptions made during the exchange.

Karridy: “If you sit around and write about poker ten times more than you play it . . . I think it’s kind of hard to walk the walk when you’re talking that much talk.”

Tom: “Yeah . . . . It’s interesting . . . this whole blogging thing is just really, it blows my mind, because . . . I don’t know where these guys get the time. They must type like crazy, though . . . and . . . why would you blog so much instead of doing a lot? You know, I mean if you have a chance to play poker or write about it, I mean, to me, it’s not even a toss-up, you know? It’s not even a question.”

Karridy: “Right. Well, I think it plays, it plays to people’s -- and I’m not gonna say this in Dan’s case, because Dan . . . is a journalist, he was a former editor of All-In Magazine, I mean this is Dan [we’re] talking [about] -- but some of these guys, I gotta think, that, you know, they’re probably well-spoken, they have, maybe, a unique insight to the game, somehow, some way, and this kind of plays to their vanity in the fact that if they can get some readers and utilize their computer skills that they can be a little bigger than they might be in the poker world otherwise.”

Tom: “Yeah, I guess maybe that’s it. I don’t know . . . . You know, it’s interesting, too, though, the whole blogging thing is big. If you watch these political shows -- I don’t know if you ever watch any shows related to politics -- but they mention bloggers all the time. They say ‘the bloggers this’ and ‘the bloggers that’ and it’s incredible how that has become a major source of news . . . .” [Tom then spends a minute or so speculating whether it could be an “age thing” -- that like happens with anything mediated by technology, older generations are less quick to adapt.]

Karridy: “And I wanna say that my opinion I expressed just a few moments ago, it sounded pretty harsh. That was in response to the overabundance of bloggers -- not just in poker -- I think there’s a lot of celebrity bloggers . . . Hollywood . . . you know, kind of paparazzi-style bloggers like Perez Hilton, who’s super famous for that. They’re all across a number of mediums and industries and I think it attracts a certain kind of individual, but at the same time, as Tom pointed out, you know, they can also provide a tremendously valuable service, and I think Dan is one of those people. And long before Dan and I were friends . . . I visited his blog daily . . . and I still do.”

Tom: “Did you really . . . ? Why did you do that?”

Karridy: “Because the information I couldn’t get anywhere else. He has . . . it seemed like he just . . . he knew everything that was going on, and if I wanted to get a quick information fix, and I didn’t want to, you know, scan the headlines, go to CardPlayer, then go to Bluff, then go to All-In and try to find this info that I wanted, I knew that Dan would be a great aggregate source of the really good info. And that’s what I wanted. It was all about immediate gratification, and he provided that . . . .”

Tom: “Huh. That’s interesting.” [Tom proceeds to admit he doesn’t really use the computer very much, anyway, and the pair change the subject.]

An intriguing exchange, I thought. I see three main assumptions about poker blogs being advanced here. I’ll list ’em and respond to each:

(1) Poker blogs are similar to “vanity press” publications, primarily serving to stroke the ego of those who (perhaps) aren’t necessarily deserving of such attention.

Karridy’s opening comment implies that a lot of poker bloggers are chiefly self-promoters, presenting the most flattering versions of themselves in order to solicit positive feedback and attention. He may be correct in some cases -- just a month ago I wrote about how much easier it is to report wins than losses on one’s blog, and how it is hard, sometimes, to resist the urge to make oneself out to be a better player (or more interesting person) when openly chronicling one’s experiences as a poker player on one’s blog. However, almost none of the blogs I regularly read seem to work this way. Most of my favorite bloggers appear much more humble and realistic about themselves than Karridy's comment suggests. To be fair, his observation might be intended to refer more directly to “wannabe” poker news blogs that imitate (or, often, plagiarize) other, successful blogs/sites like Pokerati, Poker News, IGGY at PokerWorks, Poker Prof.’s Poker Blog, and Tao of Poker. (His later reference to Perez Hilton suggests as much.) In any event, as those of us who regularly read other varieties of poker blogs can attest, there are all sorts of other motivations for poker bloggers than simple narcissism.

(2) There is a “zero sum” correlation between writing on one’s poker blog and playing poker -- that is, time spent writing on the poker blog is always time that could have been spent playing poker.

This idea is Tom’s main contribution to the discussion. He wonders why anyone would want to write about poker rather than play it. Of course, one needs only look to the title of Tom’s show -- “Beyond the Table” -- to answer his question. Those of us who spend time writing such blogs clearly have an interest in taking a break from the table and reflecting on what happened there -- or on other aspects of our lives. (The fact that Tom himself penned an autobiographical book about his experiences in business and in poker shows that he, too, possesses this urge to stop and reflect.) The fact is, such “billable hours” mentality does not always apply to non-professional players. The time I spend writing on the blog is not necessarily time I could have spent playing poker.

(3) Poker blogs have become primary sources of information, rivalling other examples of blogs significantly affecting the exchange of news and ideas in other areas of our culture (e.g., politics and entertainment).

I suspect this assumption to be accurate as well. In fact, it may well be the case that many poker blogs and websites are -- generally speaking -- even more reliable sources of information than are publications like CardPlayer, Bluff, All-In, and the like, particularly if one pays attention to how the “news” these publications provide is significantly shaped by the various corporate entities that provide their significant advertising revenue. (Here’s an old post where I complain about CardPlayer’s non-subtle evolultion into a weekly Full Tilt Poker promo.) Of course, this assumption also excludes all non-news poker blogs (such as the one you are reading) from the discussion. Do our attempts at editorializing about such things also qualify as worthwhile contributions to the conversation?

I think so. If anyone reads them, that is . . . .

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Minding my M's and Q's

Don't forget your M & Q!Got a tourney puzzler for y’all. Been goofin’ around w/those tourney dollars I won awhile back -- have yet, really, to try anything big. (Kind of nice always to be freerollin’ this way.) Still feel too much of a tourney novice to take any big risks, though. And as a novice, I humbly solicit yr sage advice, dear reader . . . .

Here’s the skinny: Level 9 of a $3.00+$0.30 NLH MTT on Stars. 957 entrants, and the bubble just burst about five minutes ago. About 130 players left. Blinds are 300/600, with a 50-chip ante.

After a rocky start, I’ve played fairly well for most of the two-plus hours of the tourney. I managed to donk off over a third of my 1,500-chip starting stack in the first two hands, but then patiently picked my spots and built back up. At the time I was moved to the current table, I had around 6,000 chips, but I was able to work that up over 10,000 primarily by picking on a couple of passive players who weren’t protecting their blinds. By the time we reached the hand in question, I had 9,711 chips, just a hair below the average chip stack for the tourney (9,832). The average stack at my table was just over 10,000, and there were exactly four players with more chips than me and four with fewer chips.

Pulling out my Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume II: The Endgame, I see that my “M” here is only a little over 7. That puts me in Harrington’s “Orange Zone,” where, according to Action Dan, I am mostly (but not entirely) reduced to all-in (“first-in vigorish”) moves. My “Q” (the ratio of my chips to the average stack) is almost 1. According to Harrington, your “M” is more important than your “Q” (“M” is the “strong force” while “Q” is the “weak force”). I usually don’t pay that much attention to my “Q” number, though I do generally pay heed to how my chip stack compares to the average stack at my particular table. Incidentally, Harrington doesn’t appear to specify what exactly constitutes a low “Q” number, though I imagine anything below 1 would qualify. (If anyone has any Q-tips, send ’em on, please!)

Anyhow, back to the hand. Given my stack size and the overall situation, I’m starting to get a bit anxious but am by no means desperate. For this hand, I’m in the small blind where I get dealt QdQc. I watched as a player in middle position -- SuperTrooper, with 9,304 chips (just a few hundred less than me) -- min. raised to 1,200. The table folded around to me.

Question 1: What do you do here?

I contemplated the all-in move here. With SuperTrooper’s raise, that would’ve netted me a nice pot (2,800) if he (and the big blind) both folded. I thought for a moment then decided a larger-than-average raise should accomplish the same purpose while also (perhaps) giving me options down the road. So I raised it to 5,400 (just over half my stack). Here’s my thought process: (1) He might have AA or KK; if so I’m cooked. However, if he doesn’t, the only correct call would be with AK (in which case I’m in a coin-flip situation). (2) He might think by my oversized bet I have less than QQ, and thus might well call me with something worse than AA, KK, or AK. (3) If there’s no ace on the flop, I’m probably gonna push.

SuperTrooper called. The flop came Jd7sKd.

Question 2: What do you do here?

What did I say? I'm probably going to push if no ace came? Is that what I want to do? When the flop came this way -- and I noticed our stack sizes relative to the pot -- I hesitated. The pot was 11,850. I now had 4,311, and SuperTrooper 3,854. Neither of us was going to give up this pot, I was certain. I quickly realized that pushing here was probably going to get a call no matter what SuperTrooper had. (In fact, as it turned out, my preflop play hadn’t really allowed myself that many options down the road.) I checked. I did have a couple of immature rationalizations in mind for checking (e.g., “If he pushes, he’s weak!”), but to be perfectly honest I was just buying time. SuperTrooper predictably put his remaining chips into the pot.

Question 3: What do you do here?

I called, of course. I had essentially committed myself to the pot with my preflop raise -- as had SuperTrooper, really -- so it was probably destiny that we were getting it all in at this point of the hand.

What did he have? Ad9d.

Shamus furrows his brow, obviously distressed. I had one of the diamonds, so I had to sweat the eight that were left (plus the other three aces, of course). The CardPlayer odds calculator says I’m 56.77% to win here. Still, given how the hand went, this was about as good as I could’ve hoped, really. (Looking back, the only other, better possibility for me -- that would be probable -- would be for him to have had tens or nines or something.)

Alas, the 6d came on the turn and I was all but toast. I lasted three more hands with my remaining chips (528), then quickly bowed out of the tourney with a cool $4.59 for my efforts.

My first response was frustration over the fact that my opponent had called my largish preflop raise (9x the big blind, 4.5x his own min. raise) with crummy ace-nine suited. (I didn’t fault his postflop play at all.) But the more I thought about it, the more I began to question my own play here. Did I really have to be in that situation? How would you have handled this one? If I had been less aggressive preflop, could I have escaped the hand with, say, half my stack (or more) intact?

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Poker's Sisyphean Challenge

'Sisyphus' by photographer Gerald Bybee (click image to visit his website)I recall a few months back sitting at an online table -- my usual game/limit, one of my usual sites -- and facing an opponent whom I’d probably had at least two dozen sessions with before. He’s a smart, selectively-aggressive player who certainly has a clue what he’s doing. We’d never really chatted previously, but I knew, being the decent player he was, he likely remembered me & how I play. We were sitting next to each other (he was on my left), and so had a few blind-vs.-blind battles punctuating each orbit. He was getting the best of it on that day, as I recall. (This was before the early summer CPU meltdown I’ve mentioned before, or I’d call up the exact session from Poker Tracker.)

Anyhow, after fifty or sixty hands I see in the chat window he has asked me a question. Addressing me by my screen name, he’s asked me “How’s it going today?” In truth, I was down a bit, but responded with a noncommittal “up and down.” “Same here,” he replied, and we went back to the game.

The last two weeks really have been up and down for me -- and I ain’t just talking. Have had a number of sessions here lately where I start out losing, then slowly work my way back even, then perhaps get ahead a bit, then fall back, and so forth. Looking at my overall totals for the past two weeks, I’m actually up a few bucks, but the ride has been rocky. Here’s a graph of my results from 11/29 to 12/12:

Shamus's results from 11-29-06 to 12-12-06A lot of hands (over 6,000) -- more than I usually play. Generated the graph in Poker Tracker, by the way. Just highlighted the days in question (in “Session Notes”), then chose the “Game Notes” tab and clicked on the “g” button to see the graph. (I went back over and thickened the red line so as to make it easier to see.)

Looking at the graph reminds me of Sisyphus, the man who in Greek mythology was condemned to roll a rock up a hill in Hades repeatedly throughout eternity for having betrayed Zeus. In The Odyssey, Homer describes Odysseus witnessing Sisyphus performing his punishment during his hero’s visit to the underworld in Book XI: “Leaning with both arms braced and legs driving, / he heaved [the boulder] toward a height, and almost over, / but then a Power spun him round and sent / the cruel boulder bounding again to the plain. / Whereon the man bent down again to toil, / dripping sweat, and the dust rose overhead” (Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, XI.670-75).

The moment when Sisyphus “bent down again to toil” -- when he looks back down the hill and sees the boulder at its base, knowing he’s going to have to go back down and try again -- that’s the moment that most intrigues Albert Camus in his short essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” “It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me,” writes Camus. “I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.”

For Camus, Sisyphus’s existence is absurd, but utterly meaningful -- and that’s what makes him like the rest of us. We make meaning out of our existence, even though doing so does not make our lives less absurd. “His fate belongs to him,” explains Camus. “His rock is his thing.”

Looking at this graph of the last two weeks or so also made me think about what it means to play while ahead versus what it means to play while behind. When ahead, I don’t necessarily play with a specific goal in mind -- that is, I don’t decide on a particular amount that I hope to win and therefore usually just play until I’m satisfied with what I’ve won or desire to do something else. When behind, however, I always have a specfic goal -- to get back to even. I will play longer sessions in order to reach that goal. This tendency is obviously a flaw in my game. In a recent column for CardPlayer, Steve Zolotow offered the following advice: “Look at your five biggest wins and five biggest losses. If you played significantly more hours during those losses than you did during your wins, you have a major discipline problem. If you perform this simple exercise and change your negative pattern, it will be the most important thing you can do to improve your bottom line.”

The fact is, I don’t always reach that goal of getting “back to quits,” and thus am guilty of precisely the error Zolotow has identified here. Looking in Poker Tracker at particular tables and the length of time I played at each (i.e., not necessarily sessions), I see that during my five biggest losses I played about twice as long as I did during my five biggest wins. I’ve written about this issue before, in fact, where -- borrowing Chandler's title -- I referred to the problem as "the long goodbye." Definitely an issue worth considering.

Here’s the rub, though. That’s my rock down there. And my rock is my thing. I have to push it back up the hill. That’s what I do. Absurd, I know. Is it possible that poker makes more sense -- is more meaningful -- to a person when he or she is behind (and trying to win back what has been lost) than when ahead?

I don’t have the answer. Just thought I’d give you something to roll around in your head.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Poker Review: California Split

'California Split' (1974), directed by Robert AltmanDirector Robert Altman passed away just three weeks ago at the age of 81, leaving behind an impressive (if erratic) oeuvre of forty-plus feature films. His best films were mostly made during the “indie wave” of the seventies -- M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), and the justly-heralded Nashville (1975) -- although later, ambitious works like The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993), Gosford Park (2001) are also considerable achievements. My favorite Altman film -- perhaps predictably -- is his curious, hardly-faithful adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1973). (A lot of Chandler fans hate the film, but I think Altman did a terrific job pinning down the detective’s existential angst.)

Also from this period comes California Split (1974), a film that focuses particularly on the west coast gambling scene, circa mid-seventies. Having recently posted about Casino Royale, I thought I’d start offering occasional responses to certain poker-related movies here (and eventually collect ’em as a subcategory of “The Rumble”).

Several scenes in California Split should be engaging for poker players, but the opening, ten-minute sequence at the California Club will probably prove the most fascinating. Here we witness the first meeting of our two main characters -- Bill Denny (George Segal) and Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould).

The scene does a terrific job illustrating the process for signing up for tables, the method of play (e.g., there are no dealers; rather, the players take turns dealing), and the overall atmosphere. It is the middle of the day, and the club is filled with weathered-looking players. According to the DVD commentary, extras (in this scene and elsewhere in the film) were largely culled from Synanon, a drug rehab organization-slash-therapeutic community based in Santa Monica. This factor -- along with the uncanny reconstruction of a noisy poker club (the entire club was created on a set) -- helps create an almost documentary-like feel to the scene.

We join Denny, Waters, and six other colorful types around a small octagonal table for a game of low draw poker. They aren’t actually playing California high/low split, but strictly lowball (ace-to-five). The table talk -- mostly unscripted, according to the commentary -- is very authentic-sounding. A portly woman with thick glasses expresses dismay as the table folds to her good hand. “Is everybody out?” she whines. “You mean I’ve got a goddamned six and everybody’s out?” There’s a semi-humorous slowroll, deftly executed by Waters. Then the game gets broken up after one player, convinced he has been cheated during a hand that Waters wins while Denny deals, loses his cool and starts throwing punches. The floorman comes over, the players all gather their chips, and life goes on.

Soon we realize the film is more about gambling in general than poker in particular. The pair reunite at a local bar and several drinks later are making bets over who can recall the names of all seven dwarfs. Then they are at the track. Then a boxing match, wagering on the match as well as fights in the stands. Then a private poker game. Waters (later on) actually plays pick-up basketball with much younger players for money. And so forth.

Waters is clearly a lifer when it comes to gambling, fully committed to the lifestyle. On the other hand, Denny has a “straight” job as a writer for a magazine from which he repeatedly has to escape in order to satisfy his compulsion to gamble. Denny clearly has an undeniable desire to compete, though even early on we catch meaningful glimpses of him -- for instance, midday at yet another poker table, surrounded by women twenty years his senior -- wordlessly wondering why he keeps it up.

George Segal and Amarillo Slim in 'California Split'Waters disappears for awhile, and (perhaps not coincidentally) Denny experiences a brutal losing streak. Threats from his bookmaker increase his discomfort. Having hit rock bottom, he formulates a last, desperate plan to gather whatever funds he has left and head to the casinos in Reno. Waters surprisingly returns to join him, and the film culminates with the pair taking this seemingly quixotic journey. The final sequence begins ominously when Denny joins a high-stakes stud game only to discover Amarillo Slim (playing himself) sitting to his left.

Ultimately California Split provides an interesting meditation on the different ways gambling makes our lives meaningful. The style and structure of the film closely resembles that of other Altman films of the same era (particularly The Long Goodbye and Nashville). Like those films, California Split features an episodic narrative that places greater emphasis on character than plot.

The film also demonstrates several techniques one expects to find in an Altman film -- the constantly moving camera, the use of filters to give a “washed-out” look to colors, the noisy soundtrack with multiple voices speaking at once (facilitated by the innovative use of eight-channel audio). Both of these elements -- structure and style -- tend to turn off some viewers who dislike the challenge such non-conventional means of cinematic storytelling presents. These elements fit well, however, with this kind of story, well-emphasizing the existential “it’s-all-one-long-game” theme the film explores.

Several reasons, then, why I think California Split should prove interesting to poker players. Well worth the two-hour break from the tables.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Check Your Filters Regularly

Checking your filters regularly can save you money!Cadmunkey’s comment on my last post sent me back to Poker Tracker to try to discover if, indeed, I was needlessly losing money from the blinds -- as I certainly felt as though I were doing during that brief session I had discussed there. I haven’t gotten nearly the use out of Poker Tracker I could, I know. But thanks to the Cadmeister I have now learned a little bit about how to use filters when viewing my stats.

Cadmunkey knows about this one, but for those who don’t, there’s a terrific post over on the 2+2 Forums from a frequent contributor named Pokey that explains how to use Poker Tracker to analyze a number of issues regarding your game (e.g., how well you’re playing pocket pairs, how well you do heads-up, how good is your preflop aggression, etc.). Pokey’s post was primarily written with full ring, NLH games in mind -- although he says later on in the thread that the advice is “table neutral” (meaning it can also mostly apply to shorthanded games). And in fact a lot of what he says appears to apply to interpreting limit game stats as well.

Pokey includes the following instruction about how to judge your efforts “defending the blinds”:
Click on “Turn Filter Off,” and then click on “Filters...” again. Under “Blind Status” click on “Either Blind.” Now under “Vol. Put $ In Pot” click on “Put Money In.” This shows you if you're bleeding money out of the blinds. A “BB/Hand” of about -0.375 would indicate that you were no better off putting money into the pot than if you had folded. If your “BB/Hand” is larger than that, then you typically win back some of your blind money when you put money into the pot from the blinds. That’s all you can really hope for.
It took me a moment to figure out where Pokey comes up with the “-0.375 BB/hand” figure as a guideline here -- and why he uses that as number against which to compare how you’d have done if you’d simply folded every blind hand. An uncomplicated problem, really, except for slow-witted types like myself. If you were to fold every small blind hand, you’d lose 0.25 BB every time. (Remember, “BB” here means “big bet” -- not “big blind.”) If you were to fold every big blind hand, you’d lose 0.5 BB each time. Pokey is simply referring here to the average loss per hand -- 0.375 BB -- if you made it a habit of folding every blind hand.

Pokey goes on to talk about how to judge that specific situation where you’re defending against a steal attempt, but let’s stop here and see how I’m doing in hands where I’ve voluntarily put money in from the blinds.

I mentioned a few posts back that while I’ve played over 80,000 hands of $0.50/$1.00 6-max limit hold ’em this year, I lost a healthy chunk of data back in early summer thanks to a computer meltdown. I still have 41,447 hands of 6-max LHE to examine, though (these include just under a thousand hands of $1/$2 hands, also). Following Pokey’s directions regarding using the filters, here’s what I’ve found . . . .

Overall, I’m making money when I voluntarily put money in the pot (VP$IP) from the blinds. I’ve done it 6,092 times (out of 15,984 total SB and BB hands), and in those hands I’m making 0.8 BB/hand. From the small blind in particular, I’m making 0.09 BB/hand; from the BB, I’m making 0.7 BB/hand. Those are hands where I’m voluntarily putting money in, of course. Overall, I’m a loser from both blinds (like everyone is, I imagine), dropping an average of 0.10 BB/hand from all of my blind hands.

According to what Pokey is saying, then, I’m doing considerably better here than I would be if I were simply folding every blind hand -- indeed, over 1 BB/hand! Perhaps my selection criteria for entering hands from the blinds hasn’t been so bad after all. I suspect there may well be a big difference here between short-handed and full-table games -- one is more likely to be in a heads-up situation (and thus have a better chance of success) when playing a blind hand in the 6-max game, so perhaps one should be making more on average in those hands than the full-table player makes.

For funsies I looked at how I’ve been playing the dreaded “Brunson” hand I complained about last post. I was surprised, actually, by what I found. I’ve been dealt ten-deuce suited a total of 19 times in the small blind (out of 4,241 total small blind hands). Out of those 19 times, I’ve VP$IP on 14 occasions, and have lost 0.13 BB/hand when I did. I’ve been dealt the unsuited version of the dreaded Brunson a total of 62 times in the small blind, and I went ahead and chucked money in the pot to play it 19 times. In fact, I’ve been a winner overall in these hands -- making 0.16 BB/hand. This figure is skewed a bit, though, as most of the money was won on a single hand versus a particularly donkified opponent (who called me down on a ten-high board with nada). Overall I’ve lost exactly 20 cents in the 24 hands I’ve voluntarily played the Brunson out of the small blind.

Incidentally, when not in the blinds, I’ve been dealt 10-2 suited 89 times, and only VP$IP twice! (I won a couple of bucks total doing so.) When not in the blinds, I’ve been dealt 10-2 unsuited 224 times . . . and never VP$IP even once! All told, I’ve been dealt ten-deuce 482 times (in 41,447 hands), or about once every 86 hands -- a tiny bit less than one would statistically expect.

Okay, then . . . going back to Pokey’s post, here’s what he says to do to check how well you’re defending your blinds against steal attempts:
If you click on “Filters...” again and go under “Steal Attempted Against Your Blind” and click on “Steal Attempted.” After you click “OK” you'll now see how you did when you chose to defend against a blind steal. Again, the magic number is for your “BB/Hand” to be bigger than -0.375; that means you're making back some of your blinds when you try to defend against a steal. If either of these numbers is lower than -0.375, you’d lose less money by always folding rather than doing what you're doing.
Looking at only those hands where a steal has been attempted against my blinds (2,435 hands in all), my BB/hand is -0.25 BB/hand. So, according to Pokey, I’m doing okay here as well -- at least better than I would be if I were folding to every steal attempt.

So I suppose Texas Dolly’s hand hasn’t been such a burden for me after all. Nor have I been unnecessarily bleeding from the blinds, as far as I can tell. Read Pokey’s post and go check your own filters. How are you doing defending your blinds?

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Brunson Burner

Texas Dolly with his most famous starting handIs there a starting hand that is so bad -- or to which you have such an aversion to playing -- that even, say, 11-to-1 odds isn’t enough for you to play it?

Had a mostly benign session of limit (6-max, $0.50/$1.00) yesterday where the following statistical anomaly took place: within the first 46 hands I was dealt the “Brunson” -- ten-deuce -- five times. In terms of percentages, one can expect to be dealt any particular combination of two non-paired cards around once every 83 hands. That means I was getting T2 about ten times more often than I should have.

Now I like Brunson, but I hate the Brunson. An autofold for me, most of the time. Problem was, four of the five times I got the hand, I was in the blinds. And this was an especially passive table -- very few preflop raises, a lot of family pots. So I kept seeing flops with my crummy T2. And then folding.

The one time I was dealt the hand in the cutoff, I folded preflop. Three times I was in the SB, and each time there were 2 or 3 limpers already in when the action came to me. So, getting either 7-to-1 or 9-to-1 on my money (barring a raise from the BB, which never happened), I completed the bet. The fifth time I was dealt T2 in the BB and faced a raise with two callers, so again I had 7-to-1 to complete. And did.

So I ended up seeing four flops with this crummy hand, connected with none, and got out (a few quarters lighter, overall). Played about thirty more hands after that and was dealt T2 again. And again in the small blind! This time the entire table had limped in, so I was looking at 11-to-1 to call. Surely if I played the hand all those times before with worse odds, I should play it here. Right?

Wrong. I folded, motivated more by emotion than reason. I was simply tired of chucking away quarters on this same lousy holding. (And no, the flop didn’t come TT2, as one might expect.) Besides, it was starting to dawn on me that I had to be making an error here. Repeatedly. And one should never let making an error once (or four times . . . or hundreds of times, as I probably have) endorse making it again.

I went looking for instruction in Small Stakes Hold ’em. Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth there make the general recommendation to “avoid marginal hands, especially off-suit ones, in early position.” And while their preflop recommendations are fairly liberal when it comes to the small blind, they never recommend playing garbage like the Brunson unless there has been no raise and only if it is suited. Not too much in the way of specific advice here, but generally speaking the trio is not advocating autocalling from the SB with any old unsuited crap.

Barry Tanenbaum (whom I lauded last post) has an old CardPlayer column that particularly addresses this situation in detail. With two or three callers (instructs Tanenbaum), only complete the half-bet “with pairs, any two suited, and all one- and two-gappers.” In other words, forget about trying to turn the Brunson into gold here. With four or more callers, “complete with all but your worst hands.” Again, sounds to me like Tanenbaum is telling me to stop trying to follow Texas Dolly’s path to riches by playing his hand from the SB in limit games this way.

(Of course, you do end up seeing flops in unraised pots from the BB with such hands. In another helpful article, Tanenbaum talks a bit about playing “trash hands” from the blinds post-flop.)

What constitues “your worst hands” is up to the individual player. For me, ten-deuce fits squarely into that category, and I’m going to try to be much less willing to let attractive pot odds sway me into playing such limited-potential hands from the SB in the future.

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