shipitfish: (cincinnati-kid-betting)

Usually, people spend the most time talking about hands where the situation is very close. I think this situation is a close one, but I'd appreciate comments if people think I'm overlooking something.

This is in 6 handed $200 maximum buy in $1/$2 NL HE game online. The button is a new player, having just posted his first blind this round. I sat down a few orbits before and I have only a little over $200. The button has $197, and raises to $7 when the action folds to him.

I called $7 in the SB with 9c 9h, and the big blind folded. The pot stands at $16 with a flop of 2d 3c 5s.

I bet out $9 into $16, figuring for a fold if he has overcards and a raise if he has an overpair. I'm not going all the way with this hand if he raises; I'll give him credit for TT or something and fold. He just calls. I figure he's capable of doing this with just overcards with an ace for a gutshot. He also could be slow-playing a monster, but I didn't get the sense he could have an overpair, because unless it's aces, he can't really let a card come off.

The turn is the 9s and I led $15 into $34. My hope is that now he continues to call if he just has overcards, and perhaps decides to pounce now if he does have aces or some such. Again he just calls.

At this point, I admit to being confused about his holding. He could have flopped a set, which he continues to slowplay. A4 is possibility, but it seems strange he'd slowplay that now with a two flush on board.

The river is the Qd. I led $50 into $64. At this point, if he has AQ and has been ripping with overcards and a gutshot, I figure he'll just call. I was a bit surprised when he moved all-in for $116 more. I didn't really think he'd slow-played QQ all the way down, and that was about as likely as a pure bluff with a missed straight draw — probably together they make up 5% of the time at most and cancel each other out. I decide that he either has A4, or one of the flopped sets, and decide to call, getting nearly 1-to-1.5. He actually held the stone cold, 46o.

It seems to me that I just have to get stacked here, and I'm not terribly unhappy about the play. But, I've been running badly enough that I am in that mood of questioning these sorts of situations and wanting to be really sure I didn't screw up.

I thought a bit about betting less on the river, which would have made it much easier to fold to an all-in. But I felt that there were some hands that would pay off that amount, and given that I didn't know anything about the player, he could easily have misplayed aces or a flopped set.

The other post mortem thought I had was to bet much more on the turn, something an overbet of around $40. The problem is, he might still just call with a flopped set, so the overbet doesn't actually tell me whether he has a flopped straight or not.

Did I royally screw up here, and if so, how should have I played it to lose less? Is this really a close situation, or did I just totally miss the obvious?

shipitfish: (Default)

W.D. and I decided to go to Atlantic City on Saturday 30 December 2006. I believe that it had been over two years since my last to Atlantic City. It just usually ends up that I go to Foxwoods, since I know so many people from the Boston poker world.

We were pretty frustrated to learn that the Borgata no longer has a poker room rate like the old days — at least for anyone who plays lower than $40/$80 limit. I checked in with a few staffers, and they said that they, in fact, have very little control of room rates anymore. According to a brush and two floor people, the room rates are controlled completely by the casino hosts, and they chose whether or not to make offers of rates against someone's player account.

I had been curious about what NL HE in Atlantic City had become. I heard rumors that a lot of mediocre players were beating these games regularly for large amounts of money. I quickly found out why. The players are so bad that a well-trained child could beat the game, if they had enough bankroll to survive the variance. The action is just amazing.

It's this weird scenario of the clueless leading the clueless. The “strong, sharky players” at the table are these overplay one-pair types who think they should get every dime in the pot with an overpair. They are trivial to read because they play almost no hands and they turn up their nose at players who take flops in multiway pots with oddball hands: They must be donkeys if they play hands not in Sklanksy's list. These people would probably do ok at limit, but because they get so many chips in with one pair, they are actually helpless at NL HE and don't really realize it.

But that's only 2-3 players each table. The rest of the players are just completely lost. I mean that almost literally. We had a guy at our table who had never played poker at a casino before. He was actually a pretty nice guy (which nicely offset the constant whining of the “good players” ranting about how many times they posted on 2+2 or somesuch). This older gentleman was nice and trying his best to post his blinds, stop himself from splashing the pot, and otherwise avoid breaking every last poker casino protocol. But, unlike some others at the table who just flagrantly ignored poker etiquette no matter what anyone said, he asked us to tell him when he made a mistake so he could learn.

The variance was brutal, as I kept getting nice situations to put in my stack in as somewhere between a 60%-80% favorite and losing. I won't violate my journal's “no bad beat story” rule and tell details, but I was quite sure I had positive EV enough that I need not post these hands to ask if I played them right.

The only truly questionable hand that I played was actually a hand against that kind older gentleman. To set it up, I should note that he was clearly a limit stud home game player (he noted he'd been playing for years but never in a casino), and he got easily confused about how and when to bet. He would bet (what we believed was) top pair by overbetting the pot 6-to-1 or so, and would never get called (hence the “we believed” part). When he had a reasonably strong hand — two pair or better — he'd often call down the whole way, so it was difficult to tell his true strength. W.D. lost a bunch betting two pair into his flopped flush this way; W.D. thought the fellow was drawing. I got caught by something similar, but I think maybe I didn't make a mistake given his wide range. Here's the hand:

I raised to $10 from middle position with QJs, which I'm typically doing in this game. I actually do get called by weaker Q-highs and J-highs (people will play basically any face card with a kicker above an 8 in this game for a small raise). It folded to our older friend on the button, and he just called. We saw a flop of QQ3 heads up, with two suits. I bet $20 into $23 and he just called. I figure his mostly likely holdings are a flush draw, or the case Q.

The turn was an offsuit K, and I led for $50 into $63, and he called again. Of course, he would play the entire range of 33, AQ, KQ, QJ, QT, Q9, and Q8 this way. (I actually do think he would have reraised preflop with KK.) So, I felt there was basically no way I can eliminate any of these hands unless he raised; I kept reminding myself throughout the hand to instantly fold if he raised and looked strong. Baring that, I wanted him to keep calling with a weaker Q. I knew from other hands that bets sizes around $75 or so actually caused him to pause when he had a draw, so I tried to keep him drawing if he was.

The river was an offsuit 2, and I decide ultimately to give him one of the queens I was beating, and bet $75. This assured a call from everything but the flush draw, and if he did raise, I was surely beat. He just called.

This is where things got confusing for everyone. I tabled my hand as quickly as the calling chips went into the pot, as I always do when I am last aggressor on the river. The dealer looked at my hand, and collected the pot into a pile. A second or so went buy; our friend flipped his hand, and I saw a black trey flash. Before I could see his whole hand, the dealer was shipping the pot to me. I looked up and saw three threes laying out in front board (our friend was in the five seat near the board). My hypothalamus pot scooping reflexes kicked in to collect the pot headed my just as I realized what was happening. Yet, the pot had already hit a small stack of red chips out in front of my main stack.

By the time I looked up at the dealer and opened my mouth, the whole table was in an uproar. The dealer had misawarded the pot. The 2+2-obsessed guy to my right said: just give him the pot, you know which chips are yours and which were in the pot. I actually didn't. A red chip or two definitely got confused, and I certainly recall touching some of the pot's chips as they came toward me, so I couldn't be sure that I hadn't absent-mindedly stacked them while the treys were swirling and the dealer was misreading the board.

Floor came over and didn't know what to do. I immediately conceded that the other player had won the pot, but before his hand had been properly read by the dealer, the dealer had misawarded the pot. Meanwhile, 2+2 guy yelled in my ear louder than usual, saying I should give him the money and move on. The floor guy did not, unfortunately, take control of the situation.

After another five seconds went by, I said: Look, I saw treys full of Qs. I know the pot is his. I remember the action. Let's take my chips, and reconstruct it street by street together.

We did so, going backwards from the $75 on the river, and we rebuilt the pot by putting chips from my stack in front of me and the older gentlemen to represent each bet that was made. Then, just as I finished, saying: And three whites for the blinds who folded and tossed those in, the dealer grabbed the pot and started shipping it.

I said, Wait, that's the action, now I'm owed $4 for the rake. The entire table erupted in rabble-rabble-rabble. The dealer and the floor person argued that since the rake had already been taken, I wasn't owed anything from the pot. But we've already dropped the rake, they kept saying.

I gave them two full go-rounds of: That's exactly my point. The rake was taken by the house, from the original pot. We've reconstructed every bet made, including the blinds, and therefore the pot out there that constructed from my stack is the pre-rake pot. Since every chip came from my stack, and you've already dropped $4 from the old pot, $4 in the newly reconstructed pot goes to me. Then, they finally agreed, looking more like they were appeasing than believing me. This whole damn table was a tribute to the cluelessness of the human race — me included with my distracted ill-gotten pot stacking.

Frankly, the floor shouldn't have let me take charge. I did because it seemed the only way to keep the game moving, because I'd heard the word “camera” mentioned, and I didn't want the game held while they went to see if the dealer really did misread the board, etc. I saw the treys-full distinctly after the pot was already in front of me, and was happy to just do what needed to be done to get the guy his money and get to the next hand.

It was, however, a bit humiliating to be the only one who remembered every last bet of the action, and then to be in charge of reconstructing it so I could give $155 over to a guy who had no clue what was going on. And, of course the dealer made a completely rookie mistake, and the floor guy didn't do his job, either. I sure hope the guy forgot, as he kept doing all night anyway, to tip the dealer that time.

Anyway, I still think I couldn't have played the hand differently. That's a tough thing about someone who is completely new. It's actually more challenging to read them than the “good players” because their range is so big. I was ready to fold, basically on ever street, if he raised. (Unless, of course, the dude tried a bluff, because he actually was the first person I ever saw who had every single Caro bluffing tell at once, so I surely would have known.) But given that he just called every street, how can I not lose the amount that I did?

I should note this exact same thing happened to me in the 2/5 game at Foxwoods early in 2006, where I held AT on TT5 heads-up against a player who was brand new — never having played poker at all before. That fellow actually had trouble reading the board over and over, called everyone all the way to the river and asking the dealer to read his hand for him. I mean, I've learned how to fold open trips since my previous disasters, but, in the future, should I just check them down, particularly against players this clueless? ;)


Regarding the Borgata's amenities: I like the new poker room, but I wish people would get used to the smoking ban and stop wandering in drunk with lit cigarettes like idiots. The salad place at the food court below is nowhere near as good as the fast food at Foxwoods, but also isn't bad at all.

Finally, I don't think the 2/5 game is worth it there. I sweated one for a while, the players are much better than at 1/2. It's probably somewhat beatable and has substantially less variance, but with a buy-in of only $500, you can pick up easier (and likely more) money playing the $300 buy-in 1/2 game.

The limit action is presumably pretty good still, but I didn't wander over my old $6/$12 grounds, since the NL HE games were so beatable-by-morons easy. Ted Forrest was there playing $1,000/$2,000 H.O.S.E. (Although with another semi-famous pro whose name came immediately to me when I saw his face, but whom I've now completely forgotten other than his first name begins with a “D”.) I kept taking the long route to the bathroom to gawk, including one time when they had called security to shoo rail birds away, and to set up a perimeter (why didn't they do the latter from the start?). Ted wasn't doing well, I don't think. I saw him with chips and a stack of cash on one pass and later with just cash, although it was admittedly hard to see, so I don't want to start false rumors of Forrest losing at the $1k/$2k game at the Borgata.

shipitfish: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

This is an online hand that I played very poorly. (Maybe I should post the good hands once in a while, but what's the point of talking about the right things one does? Focus on the mistakes to get better, right?) There are so many mistakes in this hand, I'm not sure which one to focus on. I will just lay them all out to you.

In a six-handed NL HE $.50/$1 game. I am in the $.50 small blind with $218, Jagsmith84 (with $42) is is in middle position, followed by BigGross ($99), followed by rotncotn ($473).

Jagsmith84 limps, BigGross min-raises, rotncotn calls, and I call with Ad Ks . I usually call with AK out of position rather than raise, as I don't want to build a big pot preflop.

The flop was Th 9d Ah. Checked to BigGross, who bets $9, and everyone calls. Perhaps I should have bet out. I know there is a heart draw out, but I don't know where, and check-raising is going to built the pot too big if aces-up are out (people on this site generally overvalue weak aces). I decided to take a turn and see if it's a safe card. Probably a mistake.

The turn was Kc with a pot of $47. Something possessed me to check-raise. I figured that if I had one bettor into me, and only callers behind, a check-raise would clear the field of draws and isolate me with a weaker two pair most of the time. I'd learn quick if something better than that was out. Again, probably a mistake.

This time, BigGross gives up, rotncotn bets $24, and I make it $60 to go. Obviously, I have to put more in there, but rotcotn is deep, I think, so I figure even a small raise will put him off most hands. He calls relatively quickly. Ok, a flush draw is his most likely holding, right? Other possibilities are AT and T9, and he want to see the river too without committing too much more. The river falls 9h, pairing the board and getting the flush draw there. I bet $50 into $167, hoping that I can get called by AT. He check raises all-in (another $97 to me), and I fold.

I probably should have led for the pot size on the turn, but given that I didn't, I should have considered seriously check-folding the river. But, I probably made more mistakes too. I figure some will say reraising from SB with AK is correct, but I really don't like that play most of the time. Any other things I did wrong? (There have got to be tons; I am really unhappy with my play here.)

shipitfish: (foxwoods-stack-2006-01)

I have talked a lot about the NL game at Foxwoods. I have gone back and forth about whether or not their NL games are run well enough to be worth playing. I once claimed that I would never play in the $1/$2 NL game again. Although I can't seem to find the post in my archives (perhaps it was said in a comment), I have also seen bizarre rebuy rules enforced at the $2/$5 game, where a floor person told me I could not top off to a $500 (maximum buy-in) stack until I was below the $200 minimum. I've since gotten around the rule by being a bit more sly about it, but as far as I know, it's still in place.

I went yesterday with two NYC Players (Dawn of I Had Outs) and Alceste) to Foxwoods. I warned them about everything I knew and felt about the NL HE games at Foxwoods, but they wanted to see the place for themselves, and I looked forward to showing what was once my home poker room to some fellow NY players.

I mostly played limit for the day, but I spent a good amount of time taking breaks and looking at what was going on at the NL HE tables. I kept a close eye on the $2/$5 tables and didn't really see any particular reason that I should be jumping to them. Sure, the games seemed generally beatable, but I didn't see anything to indicate that a good score could be made. Most of the players seemed somewhat tight, so I could imagine a strategy of trying to run over the table would be profitable, but not greatly so.

Based on my limited observations, what I believe has happened in the $2/$5 NL game is that it has become much like the $10/$20 limit games at Foxwoods. All the Foxwoods limit regulars have known for years that the $10/$20 limit HE game is the toughest game at Foxwoods. Sure, it's beatable, but it's where you run into the best players. This is because there is little reason for the small stakes gambler to jump up from the $5/$10, because with the kill it plays almost as $10/$20 in an action game. Meanwhile, the bigger gamblers go for $20/$40, because it has the draw of being the biggest regularly running limit HE game. Everyone I know who plays serious limit HE (such as [livejournal.com profile] roryk, [livejournal.com profile] reddogace, and good old F.D. who started at the $2/$4 tables with me, play almost exclusively that game when at Foxwoods).

What I see at $2/$5 is the people who have learned some things about NL HE but haven't built their bankroll up for the $5/$10 or $10/$20 game. I'm about in that category, so I'm likely to find settling in at $2/$5 players about at my skill level. So, with a huge time charge, I'm going to rate to lose in that game because I'm sitting with relatively evenly matched players; the low stakes gamblers will prefer to make ten rebuys and goof off at $1/$2 and the serious ones are going to try the $5/$10 or $10/20 blind game.

I was actually one of the first six people who were dealt the first hand ever of the $1/$2 NL game at Foxwoods, which was on Saturday 1 May 2004, as I sat in the game the first time they called (with the goal of learning more NL). Foxwoods realized the popularity of this game quickly and it grew. Their goal, however, has always been not to design a game that the regulars would like, but rather build one that would draw the maximum number of people from other parts of the casino. In other words, their goal (not surprisingly) is to maximize the number of people in the casino they could get to pay exorbitant time charges.

Now, I realized and posted a long time ago that the math of the NL game doesn't work out well. An entire buy-in leaves the table every hour, so you have to move chips early to build a stack that can be used to get people's chips before they are lost to the house. One of the tools you can use is the $40/$100 rebuy trick, whereby you pay a blind from a minimum $40 buy-in, and then rebuy to make your stack $138. This helps a little, as long as you can double up quickly.

The other system I use in this (and all capped buy-in games) is to always pay the time charge and dealer gratuities out of my pocket. This is very important, because if you waste your stack of a limited buy-in with time charges, that $10 in the first hour you pay is actually $20 of from your stack, because you can't use it for a double up. Over a few hours, you've paid $30 or $40 in time charges, and imagine how much double-up and redouble-up money you've lost! Thus, I have tipped and payed time out of chips in my pocket for years at the Foxwoods NL HE games. At times, some people at the table asked if this was allowed, and the floor people always said it was no problem.

However, sometime in the last six months, they have made yet another bad rule change. In addition to not being able to rebuy in an NL game until you are below the minimum buy-in, players at Foxwoods NL HE games can no longer pay time out of their pocket. I spoke with a floor person at length about this, and he was completely unable to come up with a good argument. At first he said they didn't want the confusion of people taking chips in and out of pockets, making it more difficult to watch if money was taken south. But, I asked him, are you still allowed to tip dealers from your pocket?, and he said yes. I therefore maintained that his argument was flawed, because if one can take a chip from the pocket to the table in that case, how is taking time the same way any different?

His next piece of sophistry was even more bizarre. He claimed that since some players might not have adequate bankroll to take time from their pocket (i.e., their case money is on the table), that players taking time payments from their pockets was a violation of table stakes rules, because the player that pays time from his pocket is gaining the advantage of keeping that amount of money in his stack. Of course, this is patently silly. The idea that one can take incidental expenses from the pocket or from the stack has been a long-standing rule in poker, and the time charge should be treated no different than any other incidental expense. In addition, how is this any different from my ability to buy into a game for the maximum while someone else can buy in only for the minimum? That gives me an advantage, of course, but that's just poker.

Both his arguments twist a long-standing permission for players and turn it strangely into a requirement. It's always been the case that if some players choose to pay their incidental expenses (time charges and gratuities) from their stack, that's a prerogative that they are granted by the “incidental expenses during a poker game may leave the table” rule. Making that prerogative into mandate is completely silly.

Foxwoods could make a consistent argument here, saying that the confusion of people going into pockets for chips is too likely to allow people to hide that they've “gone south” (a poker slang term for taking money that is in play in a game from the table). If they wished to make this argument, they would have to mandate that a player may not be possession of any Foxwoods chips except those that are on the table, and that they may not pull gratuities from their pocket under any circumstances. Even more, they could remove the (already annoying) “cash plays as chips” rule of Foxwoods, and they could even say that you can tip in cash but not chips.

But, the truth is that Foxwoods has no interest in making the rules consistent. Indeed, they have no interest in making rules that help regular players. They have no interest in making it so someone can take full advantage in a NL HE game. The truth is, they are a limit club, and they know their regulars are only going to play limit anyway. If they keep the limit players happy, they will have their regular daily client base. Meanwhile, they know that the tourists will want to find NL HE games that don't scare them. At each stakes level, they don't want the tourist intimidated by the big stack. They tolerate the players who stay and build a stack, but that's not really the clientele they want or care about. They want the games to play small to keep people buying in one-buy-in-at-a-time and losing it, all the while throwing their time right from that stack into Foxwoods coffers. They want them lose a moderate amount on the trip, and come back six months later and do it again.

In other words, they don't care about the poker community, or running games that serve that community. What they care about is their own internal competition with the blackjack pits, the craps pits, and the roulette wheels. It's well-known that the Foxwoods poker room has long been treated with contempt by dealers and floor people from other parts of the casino. They don't make as much money, and because of the requirement that all dealers throughout the casino pool all tips, everyone feels that the poker room free-rides on the huge tips received at the high-limit gambling games elsewhere in the facility.

Foxwoods is just a poorly run poker room. They are the poker monopoly of New England, and therefore have no reason to change their terrible policies. I still enjoy the place, because it has special meaning to me. My weekly bus trips there taught me how to win at poker beyond pennies on a dining room table. But, tradition can only hold one for so long when a place is run so poorly.

It's not to say that the games aren't beatable. It's not to say they aren't relaxing. I enjoy going there for the limit games from time to time, because the resort as a whole is nice and when going with a group who aren't poker players, there are opportunities for everyone to do something they enjoy. But, I think my Foxwoods days are done beyond that. I'm going to write a letter to the poker room manager and explain my reasoning, and perhaps there might be some hope of getting a reasonable response.

Anyway, thanks, Foxwoods, for helping me build my bankroll so I'm well beyond the $2/$4 limit games where I started, but I think you don't have much to offer a poker player anymore. Especially if your goal is to make up silly rules that help you only in the short run. I gave you more chances to improve than I really should have. Shame on me for actually thinking you were trying to make the place better.

shipitfish: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

[ I'm continuing to post about my Vegas trip. Much of this may be boring to those who have been to the WSoP and/or Vegas before, but it was all new to me, and it will certainly be of interest to those who've never been, and perhaps some interest to those who have. ]

W.D. and I were now headed on that Monday night back to the Wynn. The walk back wasn't too hard, but “off-strip” really does mean “far away”. The Rio to the Wynn walk in the Vegas fall or winter might be a brisk, nice walk. But, this time of year, it seemed to tax the body. Once we made it to the Wynn, I couldn't help but pop back up to the room for a shower.

This actually became a habit of mine; I was taking showers basically every time we returned to the Wynn after being outside; one of the days I took three (including my usual morning one). I suppose it's somewhat decadent to respond to this scorching anti-environmentalist monstrosity that is Vegas by wasting the precious desert water supply, but I couldn't help myself. I suppose my version of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is I took a lot of showers, abusing a limited water supply. I'm such a liberal goodie-two-shoes — ooh, I didn't recycle one time, aren't I evil? :)

Before my shower, I called down to add myself to the $1/$3 and $2/$5 NL HE lists, and was literally able to watch the names move during my shower via the LCD screen in the bathroom. As I got dressed, I was three from the top on $2/$5, and headed down.

This game was tight. People were making preflop plays; continuation bets were winning three-way pots uncontested. I started to feel like “wow, Vegas games are tough”. When my name rolled to the top of the $1/$3 list, I was ready to switch.

I joined a friendly table of about three confused tourists, one semi-pro from Reno, two annoying locals, and the rest WSoP fans/satellite winners. I was slightly nervous — not that the stakes were that high — but I was still not fully comfortable with the idea that I was in the center of the poker mecca at the most popular room. Even though there were some real ($10/$20, and $20/$40 blind) games at the adjacent tables, I felt like my small stakes game was a big challenge.

I quickly realized that the locals were highly experienced players who sat in these smaller games for the easy money. The Wynn is somewhat unique in that their NL games have no cap buy-in at any stakes. The game plays very big, and one of the locals had a wad of $5,000 sitting on the table ready to throw if he got a tourist in a bad spot.

His buddy, a dour-faced portly Lebanese man, who went only by the moniker, “the Doctor”, couldn't have been more unlike the people I call “doctor” (such as Tom Baker or Christopher Eccleston). He was sarcastic, rude, mean, nasty, and demeaning to the other players. He didn't care if he scared fish away; he knew more were on the list and was there for the duration. Even worse, his buddy with the wad thought the Doctor was the funniest guy on the planet, and, as W.D. eloquently put it, laughed like a hyena at the Doctor's lame jokes. These two, and the Doctor in particular, would figure prominently into our Vegas sessions; he was part of the Wynn's furniture.

I played reasonably tight for a while, and decided to take a flop with one of my favorite NL HE hands, 5c 3c. I was in the big blind with four other people seeing a $9 preflop raise from the UTG+1 tourist to my left.

I checked the flop of 3s 7d Kh, and we saw the turn of 5h at no charge.

The Reno semi-pro seated two to my right was on the button, and had usually bet at pots that were checked to him twice, so I went for a check-raise. Reno didn't disappoint and bet $18, and I made it $45 to go. The action seemed to fly around to him and he folded quickly. I flashed my hand toward him, in hopes to show how loose I was playing. As I moved to land it down face up on the felt (I always show one, show all without being asked), I realized that someone had called the $45 cold in between. He was one of the tourists, who, fumbling with the chips, hadn't put his chips fully forward and his call was slightly obscured. This was no excuse; I've never done this before, but perhaps the excitement of playing in Vegas had gotten the better of me and kept me off my usual observance.

I didn't want my hand to be necessarily dead; I asked the dealer if my exposed hand was dead as I landed it back face-down in front of me. (The whole movement ended up being one basic motion: lift, flash to right, see caller to left, land cards face down.) I didn't know at this point who all had seen it; I was sure the full right side (1,2,3,4 seats) had seen, but I simply didn't know if the caller had!

The dealer told me my hand was absolutely live, and I said: well, half the table's seen my hand, so I'll check it dark. The river fell 5s, and most of the people to my right gasped and started laughing a bit.

Strangely, my clandestinely calling tourist bet $150 into the pot! I had no clue what was happening! Had he seen my hand? Did he and the people around him think I'd shown Reno a bluff, and therefore my blind check induced this bet? And, why the size of the pot? If he'd seen my hand, and was making a value bet, wouldn't it be less? I guessed maybe not, since he would know I was full and would likely pay off a large value bet. I asked him if he'd seen my hand, and he shrugged.

I was actually starting to put the pieces together. Just barely, I was starting to realize that he must have me beat. But, instead, I just acted too fast. Before I was even done going through the facts, I heard myself saying all in and my whole stack was moving forward! Wait a second, I haven't thought this through, what am I doing?; the thought flashed across my brain as I heard: call and saw, through my now confusion-fogged vision the Kd 5d, and I heard, Yeah, I'd seen your hand and knew you couldn't get away from it.. What had I done?

So, this marks the largest technical mistake I've ever made, compounded by the pure silliness of a bad move. Fortunately, he didn't have many chips left behind, and I was left with about $240 of my original $600 buy-in.

It was clear I made an insane mistake (one can argue that I have to call his river bet, just in case he hadn't actually seen my holding, but going all-in is a luxury that I couldn't afford at that point). The funniest thing was that, had I not exposed my hand, I would have had to put him on a naked 5 like A5s on the river and would have been forced to call. In other words, my exposed hand actually made it possible to avoid being fully stacked, and I missed the opportunity.

I quickly decided what I had to do. The truth was that I couldn't have gotten away from the situation had I not exposed my hand. Sure, I'd made a huge error, having actually given myself an advantage exposing my hand. But, I decided to put the technical mistake in the back of my mind for later analysis (which is below), and consider the fact that I'd have paid off anyway. It was not easily discernible that he'd failed to bet out and reraise with a better two-pair on the turn, and I'd never have made that huge laydown on the river.

So, why dwell on it? It was a beat that I only had the possibility of avoiding because of the exposed hand mistake anyway (or by being a much better card-reader than I am), so I let it be and restored my stack with a $400 rebuy. I pretended like it hadn't happened and started playing again. In my next Vegas Retrospective post, I'll talk about how I evened up just one orbit later holding — you probably almost guessed it — a 5d 2d.


I've now had enough time to think about the technical mistake I mentioned above. My feeling is that there were two factors at play that caused my problem. First, there was the obvious excitement I had of playing in Vegas for the first time. My head was not completely clear; it was muddled a bit with the exuberance of playing there for the first time. I should be more careful in the future when I am a little too excited to be playing poker and calm myself down.

Second, looking back over my whole live poker career, I very rarely sit in the four and five seats; I basically only sit there when it's the only open seat or I am trying to get relative position on someone. I do, upon review, have the hardest time seeing the action from those seats. So, in the future, I need to be extra careful when in those seats that I understand the action that has happened.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

In Computer Science, there is a classic series academic papers and correspondence between two of the most famous theorists of the field called Goto Considered Harmful. “Considered Harmful” has since become a somewhat clichéd way of opening a discussion pointing out that a certain common component of a given discipline gets in the way of its clear-minded practice.

It is in this spirit that I put forward the idea that bravado — in particular, male bravado — is bad for poker. You might also call it (metaphorically) testosterone, one-up-manship, narcissistic over-confidence, or in the crass words of Mike Matusow, “Greg, I've got big cahones, you've got little, bitty cahones”. Culturally, this tendency is more male than female, and some men have a difficult time clearing their head enough to see past it.

This first came to mind today when I watched a recorded episode of Inside Poker (a low-budget poker show in syndication here in NYC on SNY), where Annie Duke was interviewed by Matt Savage. Matt asked Annie the usual annoying questions about women in poker are not “winning enough championships”. Annie — being very “on message” about the issue (having surely been asked too often about it) — pointed out that if you look at 2004 WSoP (not counting the women-only event), women made up 5% of the tournament fields, but won 10% of the events. She also added that since men generally give women less respect in the game, they get in better spots because they can trap the (95% male) opponents better.

I really believe that men in our culture have some negative psychological issues with competitiveness. Of course, a reasonable level of competitiveness is good in poker. But, so easily, that competitiveness can go overboard for many men. It's not that it is impossible that women can have the same problem, but I think that cultural conditioning has led many men to think too much in terms of winning and conquering at the expense of clear thinking.

I have experienced this a lot in my own poker life. I have invested a good deal in poker friendships with men who turn out to be a little too obsessed with money, wealth, success and other such Freudian measures of manliness. This works out ok for me when they are better players, as I am clearly not the alpha male in the situation. I then have an opportunity to learn from them. However, in those situations where it begins to seem that maybe I'm a better player than they are, things get creepy.

Some men just have this need to dominate other men. They tend to want to surround themselves with with people that they just barely outrank — perhaps just below their par. Then, they can feel challenged, but still dominate. Such men have the hardest time taking criticism or a loss, and then look for ways to embarrass, insult, needle or mistreat the other when it doesn't seem they can prove their dominance in another way. Other times, they become obsessed with showing off how “successful” they are away from the poker table.

I've ended up in more than one relationship like that. I've learned to break them off when they turn ugly, rather than forgive and forget, only to be mistreated again. Usually, the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back isn't a big one, so I wouldn't be surprised if the perception is that I have flaked rather than terminated an obvious bad relationship. I've tried to be more explicit, but it doesn't seem to help with people so obsessed with competitiveness.

Of course, being that way negatively impacts one's poker game. If you are that type of man, you are going to end up pushing away the people who can really teach you something and draw closer those that you can beat. I'm all for once in a while sitting down in a lower-stakes, ultra-soft game of strangers to help build your confidence (I actually did that recently myself, more on that later), but doing so among your circle of friends speaks to some degree of sickness.

Not only that, but you are simply not going to properly see when their are leaks in your game. This over-competitiveness exacerbates the tendency for weak players to obsessively blame luck and mentally block the idea that they could play badly. You won't hear the advice when someone points out mistakes. This is precisely why I always assume all losses in poker are my fault until I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I've done the right thing. Assuming yourself guilty until proven innocent in poker is always a good plan.

Not only that, but the best friendships are built from mutual respect and admiration. Focusing on beating your friends isn't going to keep them engaged. It's wonderful for me to know [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden, who started out (like the rest of us) as a total fish. He's now a substantially better tournament player than I ever was, and he's helping me train for the WSoP. Last week, I played W.D. in a heads-up NL HE cash game, and he beat me, somewhat easily. He's completely adjusted to my overly aggressive heads-up style and traps me for big pots with ease. I don't even know if I have the best of it anymore against him! Rather than being threatened, I think this is just great!

The bravado that so many men bring to the poker table holds them back and makes the game about their own psychology rather than the external psychological and game theoretical aspects of the game. In The Godfather, when Michael says, “It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.”, he's showing that self-delusion that keeps poker players from seeing what is really going on with their game. It is personal for so many men; it's about personal power, individual domination, and control. You need a healthy dose of those qualities to win, but you can easily overdose.

Honestly, as politically incorrect as it might be to say so, I have to wonder if this is the reason women players often seem to do better than most men. Women seem to better manage a healthy sense of those things without going overboard, and successful female players like Jennifer Harman and Annie Duke indicate that this is sometimes a contributing factor to their success. Too many men make it all about their ego. Poker players are famous for having egos too big for them, and it's often the cause of their biggest leaks. It's also part of the puzzle why it seems that so many “friendships” in the poker world are a bit of a sham, looking more like a pack of wolves than a meeting of the minds by caring and kind human beings.

Anyway, so many times at the poker table, when my id is telling me to raise it up every time, and my ego says “don't let that jock come over the top of you again”, I am grateful for my overdeveloped superego that tells me actually analyze the situation and make the right play. And, I'm even more grateful that same level of self-control helps me make some real poker friends to help me analyze the play honestly.

Ok, enough pop psychology for the day.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

Like most people of reasonable intelligence who have a disdain for the corporate world, I spent far too much time in the academic world. I have an utterly useless Master's degree in Computer Science, that I pursued only because corporate technology jobs were sucking my will to live and I couldn't think of anything else to do. During my time in graduate school, I also spent a year teaching high school. I got out of the whole experience alive, without spending years of my life writing a PhD dissertation that only five people would ever read. I sometimes consider it a narrow escape.

There are, however, certain principles of academic work that create useful lifelong habits. Frankly, the academic “skill” of pouring over mounds of seemingly useless information, condensing it into something vaguely applicable, and then going out and trying to make something of it has served me well in life, and in poker, especially. There are certain ways in which a rigorous pursuit poker success is like the academic lifestyle.

The most obvious graduate school principle that applies to poker is the need for constant yet independent study. There is rarely heavy structure in graduate programs, and so it is in poker. You can hire a coach (adviser), you can talk about hands with friends online and offline (study groups), but you are more or less on your own to learn.

But, the most interesting aspect of my years as teacher and student that have helped my poker game relates to development of “level 2” play. For those who aren't familiar with the term (or are more familiar with different phrasing), I'll digress a bit to define these so-called levels of play:

Level 1:
Knowing what hand you have (and its relative strength in given situations).
Level 2:
Knowing what hand your opponent has.
Level 3:
Knowing what hand your opponent thinks you have.
Level 4:
Knowing what hand your opponent thinks you think that he has.

Popular theories state that your best edge comes when you are thinking one level deeper than your opponent. (Personally, I think anything past level-3 is pure game theory, and it isn't worth psyching yourself out with it — if your opponent is that tough, just make the play that a rigorous game theoretical analysis suggests instead.)

I admit that I spent probably a year or two skating between levels 1 and 2. Not that I wasn't capable of deep thought, and even hitting the magical level-4 on occasion against players I knew well. However, your poker results come not from your maximal capability, but the skills you can sustain constantly for the duration of many sessions. For a long time, I spent most of my time on level-1, and my results showed it.

These days, I'm on level-2 consistently. (And, with good game selection, I rarely encounter opponents who spend most of their session on level-2, thus limiting my need for level-3.) I got there by slowly building level-1 thinking into my hypothalamus, so that it never becomes conscious enough to cloud my active mind, which remains focused on level-2. My goal, of course, is to make that level-2 thinking as solid and ingrained as my level-1 thinking has become. Lately, I've thought about how my academic experiences aid in this process.

The connection wasn't obvious at first. I put it together when listening closely to whiny rants of “good players”, complaining that games with too many “donkeys” aren't beatable because these “donkeys” play too illogically. I can't possibly put them on that hand, these “good players” lament. I always thought such statements were ludicrous: if a player has less skill in this game of skill, you should beat him in the long run, right? Of course! It's not that level-2 thinking doesn't work here, it's that you have to work (ironically) a bit harder at it.

When I'm playing against weak, level-1-struggling opponents, it's much like being a graduate student in a room full of undergraduates, or, in the most extreme cases, like standing in front of my high school students as a young Computer Science teacher. Do you remember, by the way, that excellent TA you had your freshman year, who made everything so clear? How about the terrible one who was useless in the problem sessions because everything he said was over your head? And in high school: remember that teacher that droned on Ben-Stein-style, and the one who dynamically engaged the students?

What often separates good TA's from bad ones, and good teachers from bad ones is their ability to have some level-2 thinking about their students. The best teachers reach back to the time in their lives when they didn't understand the material. Every teacher was once a student, it's just that most of them have forgotten what it was like. Wisdom and knowledge have replaced that confusion, that flawed logic, and that unclear reasoning. However, the best teachers that can revisit that spot in their past, and walk the student through the jumble into clarity.

When you are up against clueless “donks”, who are still struggling to understand when to raise or fold holding top pair, you have to get down to their level. They don't think the way you think; you've progressed beyond their level-1 thinking and have ingrained good, strong level-1 thought into your routine. But, for you to properly use your level-2 edge against them, you have to trace their flawed thought patterns. Like the teacher guiding students through murky, complicated new material, you have to set aside your own deep knowledge of the game and think like they think.

If nothing else, it will keep your game fresh. Sure, there are only so many “right ways” for you to play a flopped set on a two-tone board. You probably know and have tried them all and know the trade-offs. But, that guy across the table from you hasn't. He may still think min-raising is the right play. He might think slow-playing is correct. He might even be so confused, and not even realize the strength of his hand at all, and just call on every street!

It's your job to think like he does, not try to to graft your logic onto his play. Don't rhetorically ask What was he thinking!?! in pure disgust; instead, ask yourself that question seriously. It's your job as a good player to have a reasonable response. Indeed, if you're playing your best game, you should be able to give a dissertation on his muddled sophistry.


Hmm, maybe my narrow escape from obscure academic knowledge wasn't as clean as I thought. I'll ponder that the next time I'm writing the 20-page psychology thesis in my mind's eye entitled: Tonight's Big Fish: How he Overplays Top Pair but Only on Boards With Straight Draws.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

I have an interested lay-person's understanding of an area of social psychology known as attribution theory. I took a near-minor in Psychology in college (I left off a few courses due to laziness and over-obsession with taking all the Computer Science electives offered), so I don't have that advanced nor complicated understanding of this sub-field. However, social psychology and addiction were the two areas of psychology that interested me most. Now that I play so much poker, I'm glad I took those courses. Some of the basic principles, particularly those related to cognitive bias and attribution theory, can be applied pretty directly to poker without too deep of an understanding. (Indeed, rereading Shoonmaker's Psychology of Poker is helping me see how these social psychology principles apply to poker. He avoids technical terms to make his work accessible to those who haven't taken an introductory course in social psychology. However, if you get a working understanding of the technical terms before reading his book, you can see where he's applying the principles.)

It's actually kind of amazing how quickly and easily you can start to apply these principles to poker. The wikipedia entry that lists some common cognitive biases reads almost like a laundry list of problems we all have and witness when we play poker! I stumbled across the page doing some poker research this past weekend, and I got inspired to make a journal plan. I'm going to go through each of these cognitive biases and consider carefully how I might have each of these biases in my attitudes toward poker. I'll also consider how I can look for these cognitive biases in others to improve my edge against them. I may even be able to pull out some examples from previous posts, and consider them in light of particular cognitive biases.

Of course, by linking to the page, I've already spoiled some of the thunder. Those of you that click through will read the list and the short descriptions and begin to see quickly how they apply to poker easily. Poker is just one of those contrived, confined social settings that let these psychological concepts play out without too much complexity.

To start, I'll focus on the list available on wikipedia, since the definitions seem reasonable and are easily linkable. I hope that you'll find this series useful and educational to consider. I'll probably go slowly, interspersing these over the coming weeks with my regular types of posts, so that this doesn't become the “cognitive theory poker journal”.

And, after all, I don't want to suddenly “anchor” all of my poker thinking to cognitive bias and attribution theory. That might lead to a choice-supportive bias that I've made a good decision to focus so much on this issue. :)

shipitfish: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

It was suggested to me not long ago (offline) that the primary reason I post hand details of bad plays where I point out donkey plays is that somehow I can't handled the losses and/or variance. The implication seems to be that someone who says boy, what a donkey play I made must be deeply upset over that loss because the money means too much to them.

Of course, the money means less to rich people, particularly those who play at only lower stakes that are basically financially meaningless and cost less than a nice dinner out. I try to carefully balance the value of money. In poker, you can never focus in the value of the money during the game — down that path leads to tight-weak play. But, you also can't think of it as valueless entertainment dollars either, because in those cases, you can easily excuse your inability to play correctly with the fact that the money “just doesn't matter”.

You also have to be ready, willing, and able to admit that you're a bad player, even if being such only lasted one session or one hand. You've got to be ready to call yourself a “donkey” once in a while. As Thomas Keller wrote the first time the term “donkey” appeared in Card Player magazine:

Donkey is generally perceived as a friendly word, and few people I have run across have taken great offense at being called a donkey — whether it be for making a bad play or accidentally posting right in front of the big blind. Even I have been called a donkey at times for things I have done at the poker table, and I usually have gotten a good chuckle out of it. Lots of professionals will even refer to themselves as donkeys when they make a mistake, saying such things as, “I played that hand like a donkey”, or sometimes they just let out a good heehaw (the sound a donkey makes).

Playfully calling yourself out for a stupid action doesn't necessarily have anything to do with fear of variance or otherwise being unable to handle the losses. I agree that one should avoid playing for stakes where the losses would be too much to handle. However, there is no reason that being honest with oneself about one's game relates to playing above one's head.

I play for stakes where I can take a loss that is meaningful. While I believe somewhat in the relative nature of wealth — I know that the man with a million dollars has trouble proper valuing $100 — I try to keep in mind that even $20 is enough for anyone to be well fed for a day, and therefore it has absolute value that no one's relative wealth can ever obscure. But, since I'm playing for meaningful stakes, it also means I can win amounts each year that are meaningful as well. It's amazing to me to have a hobby that, unlike so many others that just cost (sometimes waste) money, can turn a profit. By keeping a bankroll appropriate to the stakes that I play, if I'm a winning player over the long term, I can survive whatever variance comes my way.

But, I'm careful to keep this concept — bankroll variance and serious losses — separate from my analysis of the game and mistakes in it. Sometimes people will describe a hand where they faced a draw out, and then believe that such a loss is equivalent to one where a terrible play was made that cost them just as much. Money lost as a “donkey” and money lost when playing correctly are deeply different things.

It was tough for me early in my poker career to start picking apart this distinction. One of the reasons it took me so long to figure out that I was abusing semi-bluffing was that I won so often doing it. It's hard to realize how much of a donkey you were when you walk out a winner because you got called every time you were semi-bluffing and happened to get lucky a few times in a row. This principle has an impact the other way, too. If you lose, you have to figure out whether it was your fault or merely bad luck.

One of the key truths of poker is that every player makes mistakes. It's already pretty hard for all but the best players in the world not to do so. Games like poker, where you need lots of conflicting technical information at your fingertips while simultaneously making educated guesses about your opponents' private information, can easily cause you to make awful plays. We all make plenty of them when we play poker. As Phil Ivey said on a recent Learn Poker From the Pros broadcasts: I make mistakes every time I sit down to play poker. If Ivey's sometimes a donk, how can anyone say it's wrong to admit to yourself that you might have been a donk, too?

My game got substantially better when I took “default ownership” for hands. By this, I mean I started assuming that I'd done something wrong, and forced myself to prove that what I'd done was correct. Occasionally, the proof becomes a justification for bad play. However, most of the time, if you force yourself to disprove the hypothesis that you're an (albeit temporary) donkey, you have a much better chance of being honest about your game and improving.

shipitfish: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

When I originally posted about last weekend's losses, I mentioned there were a number of hands where I clearly played badly (unlike this hand, where there is actual useful discussion to consider). This post is about a hand that I just played horribly from the flop and thereafter.

The hand started at 13:57 EST on Sunday 2006-03-12 on Ultimate Bet at a six-handed $1/$2 NL table with a $200 maximum buy-in. A player named stealerste with $100 called $2 UTG. I had $166 and received Kd Qc. I decided to make a small raise. Small raises on Ultimate Bet, because the players are often so tight-weak, generally clear the field pretty easily. My goal was to end up heads-up with stealerste. If he didn't limp-reraise, I thought, I probably would go to the flop with the better hand.

A player called fuerte with $364 in the big blind called the $3 cold, and stealerste called. We saw the flop three handed, with $16 in the pot, and I was in position. I didn't really have a good idea of what fuerte had, but felt I had stealerste beat.

The flop came 3c Kc Ad . They checked to me, and I made a feeler bet of almost the pot size ($12). This is a pretty standard and profitable play that I make as the preflop raiser with position when checked to on a board with serious draw possibilities — tight-weak players almost always bet out with top pair on boards with draw possibilities.

fuerte check-raised for the minimum. I didn't like this situation, and figured he had a reasonable ace. There is almost no point to call here. At the time, I felt that I could call and represent a flush if the draw came, but that was a stupid move against a weak player. I called, making the pot $64.

The draw got there on the turn with the 4c. fuerte made a defensive bet of $15, and I made it $40 to go, hoping to represent a flush. fuerte called rather quickly.

Now, what was the point here of making this raise? At the time, I thought it was a reasonable bluff (and maybe a semi-bluff, since I now had a second-nut flush draw of my own). But, making these sort of turn bluffs against weak players is totally pointless. I was not thinking straight, believing I could run over the table post flop in the way that I do preflop in these games. Yet, the whole reason I play these games is that the players are too tight-weak preflop and can rarely fold top pair on the flop when it hits. Representing that I hit a draw is pointless; I need the actual flush to get paid well, and bluffing is just a waste. At the time, I thought I could make some quick money bluffing, but that was just a mistake of trying to recover legitimate losses earlier that weekend too quickly. It was the very definition of tilt. No matter what lies we tell ourselves, we are all prone to it sometimes.

fuerte quickly called, and I then put him on specifically the Ac. The way he called instantly really indicated that he was drawing to beat the flush I was representing. Even weak players think twice before calling so quickly with just top pair if they aren't also drawing to beat the likely made hand.

The river came 9h and fuerte bet $40 into the $144 pot. I knew this was some sort of defensive bet with the Ac, but I had no clue what his kicker was. Looking back, I should have cut my losses right here and let his defensive bet win. But, it was too enticing — knowing that he almost surely didn't hold a made flush — that I pushed for $97 total.

What a terrible play on my part! I'm offering about 1-to-1.75 when he has already shown that he's somewhat skeptical that I made a flush. I thought at that moment that he'd play like I would — another common terrible mistake. In the moment, I believed I was making some “amazing” read on his defensive bet that he would fold.

The truth is, I couldn't eliminate a made flush on his part here, anyway. This could be a bet specifically designed to entice me to do what I'd just done — push and try to bluff him off the naked Ac when he actually held the nuts. Indeed, the way the hand played out, the street-by-street action could easily indicate something like Ac 10c! Instead, I put him on the one hand that I had a chance of bluffing and threw my chips away.

fuerte called with Ac 4d. Of course, he should have thrown away two pair there and certainly shouldn't have check-raised the flop (I deeply wish he'd bet out, of course, because I would have folded), but my play is substantially worse than his.

I have to remember I'm in these games because people do terrible stuff like this and I have a real opportunity to make big scores (and do, regularly, when playing my best game), when I don't get tilt-induced fancy play syndrome and make very stupid plays.

Those of you who think you are immune to this, no matter what stakes you play at, don't continue to fool yourselves. Despite adequate bankroll, overconfidence and that desire to end the weekend “up”, mixed with some reasonable but useless reads can get the best of the best of us.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

I read that Barry Greenstein, in his book, has the following quote from Kierkegaard:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

It's true that so many times, it's clear to everyone who considers a hand after it is done knows how it should have been played. When we disagree, they are almost always marginal decisions. In the moment, though, things aren't so straight forward and it's hard to tell the marginal decision (that's ok either way) from the one that has a clear path. We have to plod through in those moments and make the best decisions we can. The important thing is learning from those decisions for the next time you live a hand forwards. In a meta-game consideration, it too often becomes obvious after the fact that the game was too tough, or that we weren't in the best state of mind when we played, but in the moment it's hard to realize.

I had wanted to read his book anyway, but seeing this in a review of it made me consider getting to it sooner.

shipitfish: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

While I was in Boston in January, I visited a downtown poker club. It's run by a fellow who used to work at The E. Club in NYC. As I understand it, he commutes down to Boston a few times a week and has some locals who help him run it.

I discovered that folks from the old River Street crowd, such as Ken come by there occasionally. I saw none of the old group on the two nights I played there, except for [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden who joined me the second night.

The club was small, with only three tables. As is typical on weekend nights at these sorts of clubs, the one running game was short-handed on this Saturday. I arrived and they were playing $2/$4 limit mixed games, which was great fun and I was happy to play.

The local fish, a fellow named Josh, arrived a while later and immediately bought two grand in chips, hoping a big game would get started. He sat down in our little limit game, which was comprised mostly of off-duty dealers and that night's floorman. Josh got "bored" and asked for the stakes to be changed.

We agreed, after some argument between a newbie dealer and the floorman that PL is too complicated for this n00b to deal. It was settled; we would play PL mixed games, including Stud, O/8, and HE, with $1/$2 blinds. I was excited to work on my mixed game PL play. It's frankly my preferred form of poker, but something that's tough to find in the USA and online on a regular basis.

We moved blinds and small pots around for about half an hour, when the following hand came up during a stud round. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has some PL stud experience to tell me if I simply misplayed this hand. After much thought and input from [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden, I decided that I played it correctly, but I'd appreciate hearing arguments on the subject. Details of the hand are behind this link, if you are interested. )

Anyway, whether I played it right or not, I lost a quick $300+ in this hand. In a later post, I'll describe how I rebought and lost another $300 to Josh just few hands later in O/8.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

My last post discussed a terribly played hand of NL HE at a local NYC club. As I've mentioned, “bad beats” just don't get to me anymore, and I feel fine as soon as I know my money went in correctly and as a favorite. However, I feel awful when I lose a big stack or pot due to my own terrible mistake (or series of them). That's how I felt all night after playing that pot, and even into the next morning as I commuted to work.

I tried to put it out of my mind. I carried out my normal commuting ritual of listening to recorded books on my portable audio player. And, what did I come upon somewhere in Midtown, but the following quote from the Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell:

My motto in any situation is “It could be worse!” “It could be worse!” is how I meet every setback. Though, nothing all that bad has ever happened to me, every time I've ever had my heart broken, or gotten fired or watched an audience member at one of my book signings have a seizure as I stand at the podium trying not to cry, I remind myself: “It could be worse!” In my self-help universe, when things go wrong, I whisper mantras to myself; mantras like “Andersonville”, or “Texas school book depository”.

Andersonville” is a code-word for “you could be one of the prisoners of war, dying of disease and malnutrition in the worst confederate prison, so just calm down about the movie you wanted to go to being sold out”.

“Texas school book depository” means that having the delivery guy forget the guacamole isn't nearly as bad as being assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald as the blood from your head stains your wife's pink suit.

Though, ever since I went to Salem, I'm keen on “Gallows Hill”. As in, “being stuck in the Boise airport for ten hours, while getting hit on by a divorced man with ‘major financial problems’, on his way to his to his twentieth high school reunion, is irksome but not as dire as swinging by the neck on Salem's Gallows Hill”.

So, if I have gleaned anything useful from reading and day-tripping through the tribulations of the long dead, it's to count my blessings — to try and quit bellyaching — to buck up. Can't you just hear the children's song?

I began to think a lot about how worse it could be. Yes, I know I played the hand that way because my recent legitimate poker losses have left me impatiently looking for a spot to have a big winning session. I probably overplayed my hand because I thought prematurely that this was my moment. I made the classic reading mistake of putting my opponent on the one hand I could beat of many possible hands that fit the betting pattern and tells.

My bankroll sits at near a half of what it was in December, but it is still a full $3,000 more than it was a year ago at this time. I still have enough that I don't need to drop down limits. As Sarah says, “It could be worse!”

As I pondered this, the next track after the quote above started. I was treated to a song by what is probably my favorite band, They Might Be Giants. This wasn't a shuffle accident; I was playing sequentially. TMBG did music for Sarah's audio book. This was They Might Be Giants' rendition of Sarah's “It Could Be Worse!” mantra; their interpretation of the “children's song” she mentioned. (Give a listen.)

So, I'm going to keep those mantras, and this song, in my head at the poker table. I even wrote another stanza of it of my own:

You flopped trips with ten-seven,
And paid off sixes-full.
But, your stack was less than those lost accounts,
in the 80's S&L scandal.

“Gallows Hill”, and “Andersonville”, it could be ...
It could be worse!





My new mantra for bad beats and bad plays: “80's S&L scandal!”!

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

I remember the excitement that I felt when I turned to that page in my copy of Sklansky's thin introductory volume on limit HE. The chapter was entitled "Semibluff". "What's that", I thought, "sounds interesting and technical". A semibluff, I learned, was a bet made with what is likely to be the worst hand, but has the potential of becoming the best hand if certain cards fall on later streets of play. I had probably done this before before I became a student of the game, but having a technical term for it intrigued me.

All poker players, when first starting out, are in love with the idea of bluffing. The concept that you can win without actually holding the best hand is what sets poker apart from other games -- so much so that the idea of a "bluff" is a deep analogy used throughout the cultures of the industrialized West.

Hopes are dashed, though, when we learn that at the low limit games we all started with, that bluffing just isn't all that profitable. Those games are what I often call "best hand poker" -- games that go to showdown almost every hand and require that you play the best hand profitably to win. I learned this in my early college home games; there were few people I could bluff. I would wait all night for my one, single opportunity to be heads-up with my good friend and fellow poker philosopher, Mike, or with my tight-aggressive cousin, Dan. There were the only two guys I could bluff off a hand. I used to keep two dollars back apart from stack (most pots in our game were about $2 each), that I could use to make a big pot-sized bet on sixth street and push them off that big pair when I had a four-straight or four-flush showing. Drawing to bluff-outs -- boy, that was fun, even if I didn't know that was the term for it at the time.

When I started playing $2/$4 at Foxwoods, I learned quickly that bluffing was a waste of those good yellow chips. Was I really going to make someone fold for one or two $2 fox-faced chip? Usually, I'd have to make a field of five people fold for that one measly chip. It wasn't going to happen. I eradicated all bluffs from my game.

But, the semibluff! I could bluff, and still make the best hand anyway. Like anyone with a shiny new hammer, I saw every poker situation as a nail. Do I have outs if called? Yes? Well, then I bet. It's a semibluff! I get to bet a lot. Isn't this great! Well, it was great, when I got lucky and my outs came. But they rarely folded to my semibluffs. Chagrin overwhelmed me; my new toy was busted.

Then, I started playing NL HE. Here, I could semibluff big! People don't usually call big pot-sized raises on the flop, especially when that bet is all-in. My semibluffs started working. I won huge pots with suited connectors on two-tone flops. I started playing any connecting cards hoping to flop a straight draw so I could get all my chips in.

The hey-day of my semibluffs was short-lived. I was, in fact, insulted the day that [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden said "you are always pulling the same tired semibluffs". But, I took his comment to heart, more than he likely realized at the time. I looked at my play, and discovered that I had huge swings at Greg's game (the only place I was playing NL HE at the time). I was getting called on most of my semi-bluffs, and I was only profitable when I got lucky and hit those outs. I had little or no fold equity.

That's the danger of abusing the semibluff. Too often, especially in loose games, you get called by a better hand and you need to catch to win. When you do catch, your tendency is to think the play was correct when all you did was manufacturer pot odds that weren't there when you started throwing chips in with the worst of it.

Half of the word "semibluff" is "bluff"! When you make the bet, you rarely have the best hand, and you opponent must fold somewhere around half the time (depending on the situation and your number of outs, of course) for the play to be a long-term winner. Eventually, I had to make the word "semibluff" one I never actually thought about. I couldn't consider the root word itself ("bluff"), because I had become willing to think of bets with the worst hand, where my opponents were unlikely to fold, as would-be "semibluffs". Heck, I was even willing to consider bets with two outs or less as "semibluffs", even though I knew almost for sure I'd get at least one caller. That's not semibluffing; that's betting with the worst of it and hoping to get lucky!

So I quit semibluffing, and my game got better. Recently, though, I've ventured into the realm of semibluffing again. This time, though, I actually make sure I have a strong amount of fold equity against the best hand when I make the bet. I've found that, for me, the only way to safely semibluff is to ask myself, before making the bet, "What are the likely hands my opponent holds, and how many of those will he fold if I bet?" I don't make the semibluff unless he folds around 70% or more of his possible holdings.

In the next few posts I make, I'll post at least three specific hand discussions from recent NL HE games where I have attempted to truly semibluff, and talk about why I think the semibluff was a good or bad move.

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shipitfish

November 2016

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