shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

I only had time to skim this academic letter by Clément Sire entitled Universal Statistical Properties of Poker Tournaments. He primarily argues various types of observed natural phenomena in Physics and Biology evolve the same was as poker tournaments, particularly those where chips are not evenly distributed.

He does seem to make some indication that various “Kill Phil” strategies (i.e., tending to go all-in on the first betting round) have certain advantages in tournaments. However, I feel that he tends to ignore the evolution of hand play and the importance of opponents folding in certain situations. He does argue that individual hand outcomes are not particularly important in tournament play, but I am not particularly swayed by his arguments. I didn't follow every last piece of his math.

BTW, it's worlds colliding for me again: one of my undergraduate professors sent me a link to this academic article formatted in LaTeX (a free software document formatting system) about poker. I wonder how many people in the poker world have enough background knowledge to comment usefully on this article. I am sort of useless in disputing his arguments, since my math modeling and analysis skills have faded so much since my undergraduate days (and I didn't do any in graduate school, really, focusing more on Theory of Computation and other symbolic math).

Oh, and I do like how they call poker tournaments a “futile activity”. I rather like the sound of that. It reminds me that things you do only to make money are ultimately futile, and I think that's how anyone who does not love poker more than most other of life's endeavors will eventually feel about poker.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

I've been reading some older 2+2 titles recently. Sklanksy and Malmuth have this wonderful way of describing things that reminds me of my graduate school texts. I suppose you have to have gone to graduate school for some science-related field to actually enjoy that dry, dense writing.

I finished Sklansky's Poker, Gaming, and Life, and half of Malmuth's Poker Essays, both of which are collections of essays written for Card Player and other magazines in the late 1980s and 1990s.

One of the general themes that amazes me is their constant discussion of “systems”. It's clear that during the period when writing these essays, their simple ideas for poker planning were new. In many of the essays, they seem forced to actively defend the idea that winning players should treat poker like an endeavor centered around an hourly win rate, which is computed based on how much of a favorite the player is to the game she's selected. On the corners of every essay, they defend the now obvious idea that concepts like “loss limits” and “quitting while ahead” are completely silly for the winning player. In those days, it seems that the idea that you should quit a game only if you aren't a favorite or if your non-poker life calls you away was novel.

I read these defenses and imagine that during the late 80s and early 90s (while I was busy winning a mere $20/week in penny-ante wild-card games and didn't even know that “real poker” even existed) must have been a time of some enlightenment in the poker world. There were people, probably even pros, walking around who believed that the “quit while you are up” strategy was somehow smart play, no matter how good the game was. I suppose these were the same people who walked around saying that Internet thing is just for computer nerds.

Of course, the interesting shred of truth in the win/loss threshold approach (and one that Sklansky and Malmuth ignore, since they are writing only to the winners) is that the system works really well for losing players. Someone who is not a favorite to the game should let the short term luck wash over them and run off with the money if they are lucky enough to get hold of some. And, likewise, when they can't get luck on their side, they are better off running from the games as quickly as they can to limit the amount that strong players can extract from them.

(As a tangent, this is why the only thing that really upsets me in poker is the hit-and-run. It's just about the only strategy a bad player can use to defeat good players — forbidding the cards to even out and allow the good player to recover against the short term luck. In essence, the “quit when your up” is the only weapon the weak player has in her arsenal against a better field.)

I can imagine, though, despite how wrong-headed the beat-the-system approach to poker seems today, that Skalansky's and Malmuth's messages were hard for people to hear. Many people chose life as professional poker players so they didn't have to think about spreadsheets and hourly rates and marketing to the right customer base (i.e., choosing games where you're a favorite). The truth is, if you want to be a pro, or even a regularly winning player, you are just a weird sort of entertainer looking for people who actually want to see your show. You're the travelling circus that has to trick people into thinking the freak show is worth paying for. You are running a business, even if (for the recreational player) only a hobby one. You have to treat it as such and let go of the fanciful notions that somehow you are getting something for nothing.

The idea of “beating the system” using some strategy — be it a win/loss stop or anything else — is a fantasy. Playing poker for a living isn't beating the system; it's actually in a pretty simplistic way of being a cog in the machine. Grinding, that verb we use to describe the profitable poker we all hate to play, is what the real pros actually do.

It's always good when clear thinkers come along and burst the delusional bubbles. And, Sklansky and Malmuth have been doing it for decades. I suppose there must be people out there still living in the bubble, believing that some system gives them the power to beat the games. If so, they should probably all go out and buy these books. :)

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

A blog, as originally conceptualized back before most people in the industrialized world had Internet access, was a regular post by someone about things they were reading online. That's why I've always called this an online journal, not a blog.

Anyway, occasionally, I act blog-ish. Today, I'm going to.

Ed Miller wrote an excellent entry on Sunday regarding his analysis of whether or not poker games are getting tougher (you can also go to the non-livejournal-syndicate version). If you haven't read this entry, I believe it's an absolute must-read. I agree with every one of his sentiments, and it basically renders pointless a number of journal entries I had under development.

I think we really don't know what will happen to online poker. Having done the low-limit multi-table thing, I believe he's right about multi-tablers being glorified “bots” that make it extremely difficult to win. I find myself that my edge is better playing only two tables right at the top of my stakes threshold, in part because I can get a nice edge against the rock multi-tablers in orphaned pots. (Frankly, massive-multi-tablers rarely notice when pots are orphaned.)

I also absolutely love the fact that he makes reference to my day-job politics. I find it wonderful that Ed Miller turns out to be someone who believes, as I do, that generally useful technical information should be free as in freedom.

shipitfish: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

I realized for the last few months, I've been making awful EV decisions. I've actually be playing just fine, more than fine. I'm winning somewhere around 3-5 big blinds / 100 hands online, and 5-7 per hour live. But, the problem was I was playing well below my bankroll in games that were just so easy that I was passing up better EV games to play in them. Wasting time in such live games is bad enough, but even after stopping that, I was still doing it online!

Anyway, so two days ago, I started trying to figure out why. Online, it started because I didn't want to fully trust the online sites while UIGEA ticked towards full implementation. After cashing out during the frenzy, I decided a few weeks later to put $200 into each site and build it up. I've labored in the pathetically $40-$60 buy-in NL HE games, playing deep stack when I could find it, and I've got about a grand on each site now.

That's not too shabby for a few months of work at 10-15 hours a week at those limits. But I've been wasting my time.

These games are filled with Level 1 players, who who are still confused about what hand opponents are actually representing when they bet (of course, at these limits, those opponents nearly always have what they are representing, too). I can play six tables at once and keep the EV the same. It's just easy and mindless. It's so easy that it makes me question my assertions that bots can't be written to beat low-stakes NL HE games the way they can beat low limit games easily. I think I was that bot that past few months.

I finally got fed up two nights ago. I decided that I'm not going to do this prefect and correct bankroll management online. I certainly won't cash out until I get to $3,000 or so per site (just in case my deposit methods stop working as I suspect they might RSN), but I'm not going to try to eek my way back through the baby stakes again, respecting some sort of 20 buy-in rule on each site as I have been. If I get screwed by the UIGEA and can't buy-in again, I'll move on and start playing live a few nights a week again.

I did technically have +EV playing these games, but in a relative sense, it wasn't. I should have been in the $200 and $400 buy-in games. My skill level is completely adequate to beat those games. There are always a few totally clueless players floating around those limits, anyway (usually the pointless hyper-aggressive types online who have never folded QQ preflop in their life). The rest are mostly the would-be “good players”, who are my favorite to play against, anyway. They are so easy to read because they rarely deviate from the obvious starting hand selection, and they have won enough times that they don't realize that they have so much more to learn. (Every 1/2 game, live and online, I've ever seen is filled with these people, but online, you can get plenty of hands per hour and lots of rake back, and I don't have to listen to their incessant whining about how good they are.)

So, I'm done with the baby stakes, probably permanently. This whole multi-table volume play is a grind that doesn't seem to earn beyond theoretical maximums anyway. Plus, at the higher limits, I can actually use more of my skills. I can stay on Level 2 pretty much constantly, and often find myself in Level 3 territory. At 1/2 NL HE online, you can actually find some Level 2 players here and there, and it allows your full range of skills to take hold. At the baby stakes, it's just “do the obvious, rinse, repeat”. (For those of you that play live mostly, it turns out that online, the players are slightly better for the given stakes because the selection factor is higher on the player pool.)

I had, frankly, somehow totally forgotten you could earn money at poker by being actually smarter than other people, rather than just not being a total idiot. Let the sea of fad NL HE players that learned the bare minimum rake up the chips at the baby limits for me; I'll stick around low-to-medium and it'll still be relatively easy pickings. Now, if I could just get back the past few months...

Anyway, my point is, you can play perfectly and still be a donkey, because you might not actually be maximizing your skills by playing too low. That's the moral here, I think. Rory pointed this out to me in a comment years ago; I'll dig it up later and post an update.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

Some suggested that it isn't a good idea to play in mixed games, arguing that Mixed games are to give each player a chance to play a game (s)he is good at. I want to play a game I am good and and not games other people are good at. Thereby increasing my EV. I think this argument is ultimately flawed, and I think most of the players in the Big Game would disagree. I am not completely sure what their arguments against it would be, but I have a few arguments against it that are likely more like to be applicable to the small-time, recreational-but-profitable player.

Fundamentally, I believe this argument that you get maximum EV only by playing your best game relies on two flawed assumptions: (a) the relative popularity and competition of specific forms of poker don't change over time, and (b) that poker games are so different that EV from one doesn't transfer to the other. Were (a) and (b) both true, one would usually be correct to select only games in which one is an expert. You'd usually reach maximum EV in such a case.

In thinking about (a), I immediately remembered a two or three page section of Jesse May's book, Shut Up and Deal. I read this pre-boom book many years ago, and it frankly is a lackluster tale of high stakes limit HE. But this one section really stood out, and it has probably influenced my desire to be good at all forms of poker as much as my history of beginning my poker career in mixed games did. (I am retelling it from memory as I don't have the book handy; forgive errors, but the gist is right.)

In a brief first person description, May describes the difference between him and the local casino's high stakes limit HE “specialist”. May points out that this fellow sits in his $50/$100 limit HE game and holds court. This fellow points out the nuances of every play, and has opponents who are just a notch or two below him on the skill pecking order. That specialist wins, most of the time, but fights to eek it out while he continues to watch his competition catch up.

The hero of the story, on the other hand, isn't afraid to go sit in the $20/$40 stud game. Sure, HE is his best game, and he's only a mediocre stud player. But, the difference between his mediocre skills and the abysmal skills of the opponents in that game makes sure he can win more than the other fellow ever could against that tough lineup in the $50/$100 HE game. Sure, they are both winning players, but who is winning more? Our hero, despite the lower stakes. Who is the better poker player? It's not even close — our hero.

Poker is not just about micro-edges. It's not just about whether or not you can bet the right amount on the river to get a value bet paid off by middle pair. Sure, you have to know how to do that to win in poker. But, that's just a small part of the picture. The macro-edges are where it matters, and the biggest macro-edge is game selection. Indeed, I'd argue that the key macro-edge is long term game selection ability.

What game the fish want to play changes over time. Do you want to be the best HE player against eight people who are only make one mistake every hour, or do you want to be an above average Stud/8 player against eight opponents who each make two mistakes every other hand? What's your best EV? The point is that if you plan to maximize your EV for your poker lifespan, you have to be able to play every single game well. You don't know — none of us do — what form of poker will sweep the world next. We've seen, maybe not in our lifetimes, but certainly in Doyle Brunson's and T.J. Cloutier's, NL HE go from being the most popular game in the world, to only played in tournaments, to the most popular game. That 30 year cycle can happen again, easily.

Think of the history of poker. At the moment, NL HE is by far the most popular game. Just four years ago, limit HE tables filled every poker room and NL HE was basically dead, except in tournaments on occasion. Go back a decade, and, especially on the east coast, Stud and Stud/8 were the games most commonly spread. Stretch back two or three decades, it was again NL HE. Two or three decades before that, it was mixed five card stud and seven card stud. Once you stretch back back to 1880, you find prominently five card draw with only a little bit of Stud. Pick any 60 year span, and you're going to find at least four different games that you'll need to be prepared to play.

Indeed, even since I started playing for serious stakes back in 2002, the poker world has changed in this regard. The books that I had to buy back then were Lee Jones followed by HEFAP. Limit HE was where the money was then. I've watched the world shift around me. Should I have never ventured and plopped down some cash — with negative EV, mind you — in that early River Street NL HE nuttiness to earn my chops in that game? If I hadn't, I surely would be walking around like the rest of the limit HE specialists desperate for a good game, fighting tight edges, and generally not finding the games as lucrative as they once were. Instead, I can make steady money with less variance because I play the much weaker competition floating around the NL HE games.

Meanwhile, the last few weeks I've been hitting that sweet O/8 game on Monday nights here in NYC — better EV than any NL HE game I could find in the same geographical area. In other words, the poker world shifts, and the money dumps happen in different places. You get the best EV when you are poised to catch it no matter where it falls.

This leads to the next point, and the refutation of (b) above. Poker skill is transferable. Read Theory of Poker. There are general principles that can be extrapolated from one game to the next. At times, you even don't see how a concept works in one game until you switch to another and see it applied there. What you learn in one game expands your mind and teaches you how to think differently about another game.

A simple example: How many HE-only players really understand the concept of a true freeroll and how dangerous it can be? This is a simple concept for the PLO, O/8 and Stud/8 player, but many HE players can't get it. But, I have, a few times folded a second-nut straight precisely because I knew that my opponent most likely held the same straight, but could very well have a freeroll against me. Sure enough, when I've seen the hands shown down due to other player's all-ins, I've seen people holding the same straight plus a gutshot or the same straight with a flush draw. This situation happens extremely rarely in HE, but if you have some PLO, O/8 or Stud/8 experience, you can learn how to detect it and avoid it.

A more complex example: I spent years playing limit HE, and got very used to the difficulty of the turn and the rising pot odds. Many people take flops and turns in limit HE, and they often hit strange two pair holdings and even sets. You often have to be prepared to fold top pair or an overpair when you've taken a turn in a big multiway pot and someone (min)-raises you and just can't be bluffing. Experienced limit HE players will recognize this situation immediately, but it's not a common one in NL/PL forms of poker.

However, I sat in NL HE games that play much like limit. Not at first, of course, because you're making a pot-sized bet. But, against extremely loose players, it doesn't matter that you are making pot-sized bets, or even larger. You get call, call, call all the way down the line. Now, when someone min-raises, you are getting these amazing pot odds, and the player who grew up on NL HE only is going to sit and think: How in the world does someone fold being offered 5-to-1?. But, the truth is, you're drawing dead or near dead (3 outs or less). So, you let it go. It is only because of my limit HE experience that I can recognize these situations and let go of hands in these spots.

Poker is about adapting to changing conditions, not only on the micro-level that we all think about daily, but also on the macro-level over a period of years. If you don't expand your poker mind, and become a bit of a Renaissance player, that EV in your “best game” can easily disappear.

The best players in the world are mixed games players. I meet a lot of poker players who are much worse than me and a lot who are much better than me. Generally, the ones who are much better play more than just one game, even if it's just two. Almost every very strong player out there has spent some time playing lots of different games. Even the amazing limit HE specialists I know like [livejournal.com profile] roryk who have resisted going to NL HE are usually branching out into other forms of limit poker at the very least.

I have many times offered up my home game as a learning game. I want to keep that feel to it. Everyone there is in constant search of good EV, they wouldn't be good poker players otherwise. Yes, it's probably not the best game to maximize your EV over the six hour period in question. However, I assure you that playing mixed games at reasonable but not high stakes against reasonably good players will be a windfall for your long term EV. And, that's what poker is about, isn't it, focusing on long term EV rather than short term results?

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

Ok, I have to come clean on something. I think that, albeit temporarily, NL HE bores me. I need a long break from it. At least a month, I think.

I think there are three factors relating to my current boredom. First, NL HE is my primary poker money-maker, and I'm using poker income for some expenses now. Therefore, NL HE has warped in my mind to “work”. And, for most people, and certainly for me, there is a slight piece of passion that leaves you when something you love becomes work.

Second, it's all most people want to play. I attend a a wonderful home game regularly with great people, but the host has given up on the idea of mixed games. We tried it, but many of the guests weren't comfortable learning new games. Of course, I'm going anyway to see everyone, but I have this odd feeling akin to that feeling you get when someone has asked you to help them move. Sure, you always help your friends move when they get a new apartment, but you do it to be helpful and to be social, but not because you can hardly wait to lift up heavy boxes and carry them on and off a U-Haul truck. I'd really want to shake this feeling, but I can't.

Third, I think that I have become somewhat rigid in my thinking about winning at NL HE. I have a set of strategies that work in most of the games I encounter. I am particularly careful about game selection, so I am usually selecting games that I can approach with the few different gears that are most comfortable for me. I lately usually book big winning sessions, or small loss sessions, still plodding along at 5-7 big blinds per hour (or hundred hands). I haven't really been experiencing much wild variance, indeed, almost none at all since I quit playing limit HE for serious stakes back in December.

But, this is clearly a recipe for disaster. Complacency and boredom are the big enemies of one's poker game. I must assiduously combat this. Here are some strategies that I'm considering, some of which I've already begun to implement:

  • When you say, Doctor, it hurts when I stand on my head!, the doctor says Then, don't stand on your head!. Simple enough: it's boring when I play NL HE and I feel I'm getting complacent about my game, so I just shouldn't play it! However, it's tough, because I keep having this thought that somehow not playing NL HE is an affront to the poker boom. In other words, that I am failing to cash in on the free fall of funds from bad players. I think that this thinking is at least somewhat wrong-headed; I can't live my life around cashing in on the boom. Positive EV isn't just about external factors, it relates to your internal approaches to the game. Yet, I struggle.
  • Find ways to enjoy NL HE again. I think attending low stakes NL HE home games is probably a good way to do this. There's basically no pressure to win because the entire session variance is more or less what I'm used to in one hand. I can relax, not feel like I have to extract every penny by absolute perfect observation and situational advantage, and just play. It will help, of course, if the rest of the attendees aren't in a hyper-poker-obsessed mood, but most of the usual crowd at the home games I attend are pretty good about this.
  • Get really into another poker game. The past two weeks, I've played a substantial amount of Stud High, and PLO/8 (and even NL O/8 — odd game), and a little bit of tournament NL HE (the last of which with amazing and statically surprising results). I strangely find that NL HE tournament poker is actually different enough that it doesn't give me entirely the same feeling as cash games do, although there is a bit of a twinge. I've never much liked tournament poker, other than the nice return on investment it can bring, but perhaps that, or some other game, should be a place to focus. Another option is bouncing around a lot in different games, but that is what I had been doing for the last two weeks and it doesn't seem to be helping. Anyone who has suggestions on where some juicy games are of the non-NL HE variety (either online or NYC), I'd be very grateful to hear about them. There is a $15/$30 limit O/8 game in NYC that I've heard about, and I'm thinking of giving a whirl, but I probably need some additional O/8 practice for lower stakes before I do.
  • Find mixed games. For those who are interested, C.H.'s game is getting going again soon, which is a $4/$8 limit mixed home game. I'm going to go there if he gets enough players. (If you are in NYC and want to play, feel free to email me for an introduction.) I've also been giving serious consideration to running a mixed home game at my place, but I am a bit concerned that it'll be difficult to find a pool of players who want to play mixed games at stakes I'd want to run. I'll probably post a poll about it later this week.

I am curious to hear from others about any “ruts of disinterest” you've had in your best game. This is my first experience of this. At the time when limit HE was my preferred game, I ended up switching to NL HE because of frustration at the high variance in limit HE, not temporary disinterest. Have you ever been playing a game profitably, successfully, and enjoyably and then gotten bored with it for a while? If so, what game was it and how did you get over your boredom? (This could also go beyond poker to things like bridge, scrabble, and chess, I would think.)

shipitfish: (l-club-stack-2006-02)

Having been at a home game recently where we tried to play NL and PL games with a cap and it just confused everyone, I was somewhat glad to see that Full Tilt Poker is now offering capped NL and PL games. Perhaps it will increase the general knowledge and understanding in the poker world about what a cap is.

I haven't totally thought through the implications of this, but I wonder if I could use this feature to play in somewhat higher games than I normally do. It seems their $1/$2 NL HE games have a $60 cap, which means I could feel quite comfortable as high as $3/$6 NL HE game with a $180 cap. I also wonder what types of players these cap games will attract. Will the real fish stay at the regular games, or will they like the idea of a cap which will allow them to overplay things like top pair and overpairs? I am really curious to find out; I guess I'll have to get bought back into Full Tilt and see what the deal is.

Finally, I am pretty sure that cap games are really important for the future of poker. Limit poker was invented, in part, because people went broke too fast playing real table-stakes NL and PL poker games. The money and interest in NL HE, for example, dried up completely in the late 1980s and by the mid-1990s, limit poker was all everyone played.

I'd hate to see this happen again as people start to go seriously broke playing NL HE. Cap games may be the way to compromise between the two so we aren't all left with limit poker as the only option for juice games in a few years. History does, sometimes, repeat itself.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

In his highly acclaimed comedy performance, Dress to Kill, Eddie Izzard points out that the Church of England has no fundamentalists, because they simply aren't that far into the religious aspects of life. He argues that the most radical of questions a C of E fundamentalist would ever come up with would be Tea and Cake, or Death, and Izzard comically points out how easy of a question Cake, or Death? would be to answer, should one of these C of E fundamentalists ever approach you.

I got a question today from a poker fundamentalist on an old blog entry. My first thought was of Izzard's comedic Cake or Death sketch. Someone sitting in a hotel, asked me, Do you suck [at poker], or lie [about your winnings]?.

So, should I take suck or lie? Izzard's point, of course, about these fundamentalists is that single-minded thinking, where the options are narrowed to two ludicrous paths, are exactly where single-minded religious focus falls into the absurd. I think this fellow has done the same.

Of course, there are many players out there, even playing at my stakes, making a hell of a lot more than I am (at least in the short term). Poker games are really juicy right now, and lots of new players have done well early, through a combination of luck and some basic skill. I believe that over time, the luck is going to even out for those players who are beating these games for more than the statically expected.

Regardless, I take every poker criticism, however ludicrous it seems on the surface, very seriously. I therefore don't want to dismiss the possibility that I suck or lie; someone has made the case, so I will attempt to figure out if he's right. Checking whether I am lying is pretty easy; I simply am not. I don't plan to prove that to Mr. Hotel with scanned images of my bank records. My readers will just have to assume that for sake of argument that I am not lying and my results are as I say they are. Why would I draw the IRS' attention by ranting about how I pay my taxes on poker winnings if I wasn't paying them in full?

So, let's dig deeper into those results to see if I suck. I generally can eek out about .7 big bets per hour (or per 100 hands) in limit (I'm frankly not that great of a limit player), and I can pull down 5-7 big binds per hour (or per 100 hands) in NL games. In the really soft games, I find that I can reach that 7 big blind level pretty frequently, and when the games are a bit tougher, I struggle to stay at the 5 level.

I have looked at years of results — online databases of hands and session records from live play — and I don't think I'm that far from the theoretical expected maximums. I do figure I could get myself to a 1.5 big bet winner in the limit games with serious work, but until NL and PL structures actually start to completely fizzle out, I'm going to hold off into putting serious work into my limit game. I probably do suck more than I should at limit, but that's been a known problem in my game for quite some time and don't think I'm likely to improve it. I had two choices: work on my limit game, or focus on NL/PL, and I've chosen the latter. I argue this isn't “sucking”, it's picking a specific area of focus and holding off improving another area that isn't all that popular at the moment, anyway. In other words, I've made a game selection decision that I'd be better off improving my NL and PL game for the moment.

Another idea I had to investigate the possible source of the comment was, instead of looking at my average results based on that session data, that I would take the numbers backwards instead. In other words, let's investigate if making around $10,000 a year fits with a reasonable amount of EV, given how often I play. Ok, so for sake of simplicity, let's figure I made exactly $10,000 and I played only $1/$2 NL and made that average of six big blinds per hour. That means that I would have played 833.33 hours in a year, or about 16 hours each week. On average, this is exactly how much I am playing. Some weeks I don't have time to play at all on the weekdays. Those days, I play about 8 hours a day each of Saturday and Sunday. On weeks when I've put in a few hours during the weekday evenings, I usually put in less on the weekends. Anyway, I have to note that I was truly amazed that the numbers, which I hadn't looked at in this “top down” way ever before, actually matched perfectly to the EV numbers I calculated using other data sets. It's not mere mathematical symmetry, because my banking records which I use to generate my tax data and that $10k number are completely separate records from the session data I used to generate the average win rate numbers.

Of course, if we do the numbers from a limit perspective (I did play some limit in 2004 and 2005), it comes out to about 18 hours a week of half $5/$10, half $10/$20 (i.e., the theoretical limit of $7.50/$15). Again, the numbers match my actual playing frequency.

Anyway, this troller has given me two options (suck or lie?), neither of which makes much sense given the data. Sure, I'm not the best player I could be. I suppose there must be players out there who have reached a pinnacle of 3 big bets per hour in limit and 12 big blinds per hour in NL. However, I may be well on my way, because my results show a steady climb (when I first started NL, I was lucky to stay even over time and I was certainly net loser in the early River Street days). Of course, my game needs work (everyone's really does), but wouldn't the first step in such work involve being honest about one's results? And if you are honest about your results, how can you suck? To really suck at poker, you have to be someone who is unwilling to be honest with yourself about your game.

I think that newcomers to poker are far too optimistic about what is possible with regard to wins. I know a lot of young kids who have had amazing runs, and they have moved up in stakes quickly. I heard about one young boy who has put together a $30,000 bankroll in the matter of just about a year (having started at $1/$2 NL), and he frequently sits in $100/$200 NL games with his whole bankroll on the table. Sure, he's winning now and may win for a while, but the odds say that a crash and burn is coming unless he gets realistic.

Meanwhile, I have friends asking me why I'm still usually playing $1/$2 NL after all these years and only occasionally taking shots at bigger games. It's true that I keep very conservative bankroll requirements (having gone broke twice, once for having inadequate bankroll and once for raiding it for other expenses). I simply don't believe I have a reasonable bankroll for bigger games. Meanwhile, I've chosen this year to take some profit from poker, so my bankroll, for most of this year, has been at static size; my winnings each month leave it steadily for other expenses.

I'm a winning player who constantly tries to get better, and that's enough for me for the moment. Maybe I'm not improving as fast as others, nor making as much as people who are playing above their bankroll, but that's ok with me. I'm pretty sure I'd have to quit my hectic job if I wanted to focus even more on poker. So, my message to my hotel-posting friend is: money isn't as important as you think it is; making the correct decisions and playing well and within your bankroll is. The money will come as a side effect over time. For my part, I'm happy to wait, as long as I play my best game every time and learn something every time I play. Occasionally, I feel a twinge of worry that the games will dry up before I have a chance to cash in at higher limits, but I really believe I'd have to go to full-time professional now to do that, and I don't want to quit my job and take that life-risk at the moment. If I miss the best part of the boom, I'll miss it. I'm thinking long term here.

I'll end with this link to an excellent Barry Tanenbaum article that I (ironically) just read before going to bed last night. His point is that there is much luck in poker that is hidden, and you could be experiencing a lot of that kind of luck and not even realize it. I think so many players, probably Mr. Hotel included, have generally good basic poker skills but also have, on top of that, gotten really lucky in this way over the last year or two. It's not that they can't overcome it and get better; it's just that their hidden luck might lead them believe that amazing results are normal. In fact, I know from experience that those amazing results are simply a cushion that will later help you survive the times when your hidden luck suddenly transforms into someone else's overt luck — every time they are in a pot with you. Don't be a fundamentalist about it; Don't assume that your better-EV-than-thou faith in The Great Sklansky and your excellent recent results actually measure how good you are. We all suck a little bit and we all are God's proverbial gift to poker a little bit. Sure, read Sklansky religiously and be proud of your results, but remember that poker isn't as simple as Cake, or Death.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

Something lately about poker chatter annoys me. I've worked hard in my game to let absolutely nothing at the table annoy me. I used to get annoyed at rule infractions, people calling plain-old “trips” a “set” and other such things that are pointless that should never impact one's emotional state. Sometimes I get overly annoyed at the way the club is running a table, but I at least have the good sense to quit the game rather than keep playing when annoyed. Ranting here is a way to vent it without putting it into the table. So, here's one of those rants.


The term “cooler” is just being abused all over the place. In other words, “cooler” is the new “nice hand, sir”. People lose money and then like to argue that there was no way they couldn't have gotten away from the situation where they lost.

Since I have a few readers who aren't assimilated deep into poker lingo, I should explain what the term “cooler” means traditionally. (I suppose this explanation will offend my friend, a lexicographer who works for the Oxford American Dictionary, but someday, he and I will actually get to work on a real dictionary of poker.) For the moment, I suppose I should refer to the mediocre (at best) dictionary we have, which is Wiesenberg's Official Dictionary of Poker. He defines cooler, and the original term it's derived from, as follows:

cold deck
(n) — A deck, presumably with preset hands in it (usually with several good hands, the best of which will go to the dealer or his confederate), surreptitiously substituted by a cheat for the deck he is supposed to be dealing. So called because, after cards are dealt for awhile, they warm a bit to the touch, while a cold deck actually feels cool. To bring in a cold deck, the thief must perform a switch. A cold deck is also known as a cooler.

A literal “cold deck” was something you actually had to fear in the old days. During the riverboat era of poker in the 1800s, for example, poker was primarily a game of “cold decks” to trick tourists. These days, encountering a crooked dealer working with a player is rare indeed, and the terms are generally used figuratively rather than literally — for situations that come up where one player was doomed to lose the maximum to another.

And, like anything in poker, people latch onto the term as way to excuse their own bad play. Most poker players will jump through hoops to find a way to blame something or someone else for mistakes they've made. The figurative use of the word “cooler” is just that — a way to say, What else could I have done? when there often could be something else done.

For example, I've heard people call it a cooler when their out-of-position opponent flops a set when they have aces and bets into them. I've heard people say having K-Q on a K-Q-T board is a cooler when their opponent has KK, QQ, TT, or AJ. I've heard people say when they have the King high flush against the Ace high flush, it's a cooler. These situations are not coolers. They are hands you can get away from if you play them correctly!

Heck, even the would-be classic HE cooler — AA vs. KK preflop — isn't really one when the money is deep. When your opponent puts in the fourth raise and you have KK, what else does he have? Is he really doing that with QQ or AK? It's pretty hard for him to have exactly the other two kings, after all.

The proverbial coolers are situations that you actually can't get away from no matter what you do. Before you go running off saying it's a cooler, take a close look at your play, ask a better player than you, and try to figure out if you could have gotten away, or at least played it slightly differently to minimize your losses.

Finally, though, for those of you who are guilty of abusing the term, don't feel too bad, as there are pros that do it too. (Examples given, but they are spoilers for some GSN's High Stakes Poker Episodes.) )

Anyway, think twice or three times before you go calling something a cooler. It probably isn't one most of the time.

Here endeth my rant; hopefully this is enough to get it out of my system and stop me from ever thinking of it again. Of course, my goal is for my opponents to think it's a cooler every single time I beat them, so I will try hard not to point out what is and isn't a cooler at the table.

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: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

One of my readers whom I know in Real Life urged me not to start posting again by making the stereotypical blog apologies for a hiatus. So, as a compromise, I'll keep it short: I apologize to my readers for my (effectively) two month disappearance.

I've learned that once-a-day isn't a sustainable post rate for me. I made it work through March, but as I had a busy April and May, I was left with the feeling of “Well, I can't possibly post every day this week, so why post at all?”. I'll try to be more realistic about what and when I can write.

Besides my non-poker life, which intruded quite a bit the last two months, I also made a big change in the last three months. I made a decision to add an additional major monthly financial expense (about $1,100 each month), and I decided to fund that major expense out of poker.

I did this for a few reasons. First, this expense was very important, and I couldn't really find an easy way to fund it from my regular work income. But, second and more importantly to my poker content readers, I wanted to experiment with having to rely on poker income for something. This is a step toward learning to be a professional in more of a full-time capacity; I have to take these steps if I'm going to be a full-time professional by February 2016.

I have to be honest, however. I have not really enjoyed the experience. Once before in my life, I converted my hobby into a career. While I wouldn't change that, because I like my current career much better than what I used to do, I do recall that my excitement, interest, and focus in the area was greatly reduced when I switched. It became “just a job”. The past few months have been a taste of reliving that experience.

With the pressure to pull in a grand a month, I've found that I can't take a lackadaisical attitude toward poker play. It needs to be scheduled, and I have to think hard about when and where to play games. This means, for example, that live (in person) play is generally a financially bad decision! The collapse of the NYC poker scene (that's a bit of a “Chicken Little exaggeration” there, but I'll write later this week on why I call it that), means that there are virtually no good public games going and the private games are either very small (enthusiasts getting together for small stakes) or very big (famous and infamous local games for very wealthy people and local pros). Plus, the overhead of playing live — be it in Atlantic City, Foxwoods, or even in NYC — is extremely high compared to the easy-to-schedule, great and quick game selection, no-tipping online games.

I also have found myself seeking and playing in games that are much below my level because of the ease (and therefore low-variance) of play. For example, sitting in three $0.50/$1 blind games can easily yield me a few hundred each evening when I win, and the losses usually aren't too terrible (in the $50-$100 range for an evening) when I lose. Since I have this specific target of “a grand a month”, this is much safer way to play than seeking the biggest games that (a) my bankroll can handle and (b) I can beat with my best play. But, playing one table like that is generally higher variance and requires more concentration, leaving me not multi-tabling. The choice quickly becomes a no-brainer: multi-tabling against the truly clueless.

I've also found that my frustration level at losses has gone up more when I am relying on the money with a deadline. I find myself annoyed by a mere $100 of loss, which is so little compared to “normal” session variance that I'm accustom to. (Indeed, it's truly nothing compared to what my limit variance used to be — I'll be writing more about NL vs. limit variance soon). When I started experience this “easy annoyance”, I became worried that it would have a negative impact my ability to play well. Any annoyance with a loss can yield problems in one's game. However, with this monthly goal-focused attitude, that annoyance actually leads me play harder. I was pleasantly surprised by my own reaction here, frankly. But, the fact that I've been playing my best game with minimal mistakes for months straight is probably the only real benefit that I'm getting from this goal.

Poker done this way can really feel a bit empty. It's like playing in a holding pattern, where I am confident I'll scrape together that thousand by the end of the month, but my bankroll will stay at about the same level and I'll just keep grinding it out at the same level. I also hate the fact that live play doesn't make economic and scheduling sense in this scenario. I've always enjoyed playing live, focusing on reads and psychology, than being a pure grinder. But, people grind for a reason: it makes easy, solid cash.

The other negative is that my focus on direct monthly profit has made me feel like journaling time is all but wasted. I enjoy writing here, but from a poker-profit point of view, it's mostly dead time. There's no question that discussing poker here has improved my game, but, if I am able to stick to my best game, there's not much more I need to learn to beat a couple of $0.50/$1 NL HE tables for a grand a month.

Just as they have at every step, these facts makes me question whether I really want to do this professionally. I have years to think about that question, and, of course, at the end of those years, the worst case scenario is that I've spent time getting really good at a life-long hobby that has interested me since childhood. Still, I have to wonder if my first instinct about working toward primarily a poker profession was right: “Do I really want to turn my beloved hobby into ‘just another job’ for the second time in my life?“

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

Work has kept me far away from poker for at least three weeks. I've certainly missed it. Catching up on everything back in the poker world reminds me so much of how crazy the people are about money.

In particular, I was quickly reminded upon reentry into the poker world of the strange group of recreational players I find in most of the online games, in many casinos, and sometimes even in the clubs of NYC. These are recreational players who usually take poker as this grand competition — the ultimate measuring stick of their manhood. They amaze me, these folks. The most intriguing aspect of their approach to the game is how they react to losses. When they lose, some of them often try hard to convince anyone who'll listen that they don't need to win. They flash their fancy watches; they say they are “rich already” and just want to “blow off some steam” playing some poker. This is often moments after saying how much they enjoy the competition and beating their fellow man in a competition of wits and psychological manipulation. They protest too much, methinks.

Of course, there's a part of me that's just another one of these recreational players. I don't want to dismiss that maybe I'm not all that different. How much of my poker play is a need for some competition? Do I discount that when I lose? How much am I like them?

I believe that these are central questions of success and self-improvement. Poker is a controlled universe that one can use to build character and reach for success. I watch these other recreational players oscillate between that desire for excellence and the pretension that they are “are gamblers who can afford it”.

I think W.D.'s attitude about this is the best. He said to me recently: I may have to come to terms with the fact I don't have the desire to make the time investment it would require to be a winning player. This was by far the healthiest recreational player attitude I've heard. So many people fight with themselves — trying to pick between admitting their game has limits (in the skill sense) and telling themselves that this is just for fun and doesn't matter. It's hard to find thinking that is clear, balanced, and honest. What I like about W.D.'s attitude is that he admits he has limitations and realizes that he may not have the time available, due to other more important commitments, to devote to the study.

You see, anyone of above average intelligence can excel at poker. But, the time investment, study and patience are too much for some people. Excuses are easier. The key, however, is to be honest and self-aware about those excuses. If you don't want to invest the time, admit that you are gambling a little bit because you don't have the time. You don't have to oscillate; just settle somewhere in the middle and admit that's where you are.


When I'm faced with the question of “should I play now that I'm too busy with other things to focus on my game?” — as I was the past few weeks — I simply don't play. It's something I thought carefully about over the past few weeks when I would think about the fact that I'd chosen not to play. I saw that I had two choices, given the constraints on my ability to focus adequately: (a) don't play or (b) play for lower stakes, so the losses I would inevitably suffer would be minimal.

I didn't chose (b) because I don't actually believe there are any stakes in the world that are meaningless. As I've said before, I believe only somewhat in the relative value of wealth. $10 may not have much meaning to middle class people, but I know that there are people for whom $10 is a large amount of money. How arrogant would it be for me to throw that money away playing $.25/$.50 limit or $0.10/$0.20 NL/PL, when I could donate it to someone whom I knew really needed it?

I don't deny that I play some for the competition and for the fun (after all, I indeed love the game of poker). However, I can never afford to play anything less than my best game — no matter what the limit. If I play poker and am not playing my best game, I am throwing away money that has a better use, no matter what the stakes. If I must feed that competitive demon at such moments, then it must be done with a game that isn't played for money (even if it makes the game “less real” — more on that later).

shipitfish: (Default)

I had to stop thinking about poker for a bit after losing that grand, and I will be posting more about total donkey plays I made last weekend. But, I want to be clear about the hand that is the subject of this post: I am pretty sure that I love this situation. I made a brief off-handed reference to it in my earlier post. The thrust of the argument against my play below is that the preflop decision leaves me an underdog (i.e., playing AQs against a likely big pair or AK), and therefore it's not worth taking a flop. Furthermore, one could argue that the flop is at best a coin flip, so why introduce so much variance for this? Before I get deep into the analysis, let me first retell the whole situation, which should be stated and considered first before extensive analysis can be at all useful.

The hand begins on 21:09 on last Saturday when readysteady, a tight-aggressive, overpair-overplayer player on Full Tilt raised UTG to $9 in a six-handed NL HE game with $1/$2 blinds. I was right next to him and decided to call with Ad Qd. I could have easily been dominated by AA, QQ, or AK, but felt that it would be reasonably easy to get away for a small raise on the flop if it came A or Q high. Meanwhile, having seen him play aces once before at this table, I felt he'd raised less preflop with AA from early position (probably only $6), trying to induce action. He'd won with those aces earlier, so it was unlikely he hadn't gained a temporary “must over-protect aces” philosophy. He had raise to $6 before from early position with hands like AJ, so I suspected here that he held a vulnerable big pair that didn't want to see a flop out-of-position — probably TT or JJ. But, maybe he did hold QQ or KK; I couldn't rule it out. AK was another possibility, of course.

There was still some chance he had AA, but I figured (at the time) that most of the time, he held a hand like AK or TT-KK as opposed AA. In fact, the real numbers were much better. He's a tight player who almost always holds one of those hands when he makes that raise. With an Ace in my hand, there are only three ways he can make AA, while he has 33 ways to make one of those other hands, so he's about 1-to-11 underdog, statistically, to hold AA after his $9 raise. Why am I so focused on AA in this post-hand analysis? I'll get to that shortly.

To continue with the hand itself: I decided to call his $9, and that I'd get away on the flop if I made merely one pair. I had $259 and he had me covered. He had overplayed one pair a number of times at this table; he fit the typical profile of someone who plays NL HE by being very tight preflop and getting all the money in on nearly any flop where he holds an overpair or top pair, strong kicker. I'd of course rather have a set-building hand against him, but a nut-flush-building hand wasn't too bad, and I'd have position for the rest of the hand, as I expected the rest of the four people to fold unless they had monster.

With $21 in the pot, we see the aforementioned 5c 2d 3d. (My original quick note about the hand had the suit of the 5 wrong, but it isn't relevant since it wasn't a diamond. :) readysteady bet out $15.

I now had him read for an overpair, or maybe a feeler bet with AK (pretty unlikely). Folding on this flop seemed like a bad move; I have too many outs against so many of his possible holdings. I could call and see if the turn hit me, or raise right away. It was highly likely that he would reraise, and I decided that, before I raised, I had to know what I'd do when he reraised. If he reraised, I had to be committed to playing for all my chips. I had limited time to make this decision, but I was sure in about 20 seconds of my one minute to act that I had to be committed.

My biggest consideration was how I'd get paid off if my outs came. I thought he might put one more pot-sized bet in if I hit the flush or the straight, but he might slow down if an overcard came. If my overcards are actually live outs, then I might make another half-pot bet from him on the turn, and when I called it or raised, he'd be done with the hand because he knows that I am not going any further without a pair that beats his (i.e., his “get all money in with overpair” rule no longer applies). Meanwhile, if one of my overcards isn't good (specifically, if he holds KK), I'm a favorite (see numbers below), but it's still tough to play a Q on the turn. I was therefore ready to commit my stack.

I raised to $40, readysteady paused for about a quarter of the allotted time (15 seconds) and reraised to $100. That pause made me even a bit more sure that he didn't have AA. I felt he'd be faster to commit chips with AA, because he doesn't have to pause to consider that I might have an overpair to his. The pause, of course, could have merely been his consideration of a set, but this was a player I'd seen commit quickly to aces once at this table. I felt he would do so again. I moved in, putting my whole remaining $250, and he thought again (this time only about 2-3 seconds) and called. He showed Kd Ks and the board completed to 5c 2d 3d Jh Kh. His set won $521.

Now, in the moment, I didn't have time for heavy math analysis. But even after the hand, I think that the questions are really these: (a) should I fold AQs preflop to an early position raiser, and (b) should I just see if my draw hits on the turn rather than getting all my money in?

As to the first question, I don't think it is reasonable to fold the hand, even against a tight online player. The typical profile of tight players in the six-handed games on Full Tilt — a profile which this fellow fit and had confirmed by his actions — is that they overplay overpairs and/or strong top pair for all their chips. My 9-to-253 implied odds are just too huge to pass up in a six handed game. The other players behind me are highly likely to fold. I'm going to see a flop heads up with position.

Of course, I may be dominated. I need a lot of help on the flop (which I got, IMO) to put any more chips in the pot. But when I do get that help, I'm going to get his whole stack. I am focused on taking stacks in NL HE; not making sure I make the absolute direct odds pre-flop EV play. This is why I decided that for me in this hand “hitting the flop” did not include merely top pair. I definitely needed two pair or better.

Two pair would be tough to play, but this fellow was likely to slow-play a set, so it'd go check-bet-call or check-bet-raise on an AQx flop should he hold a set. Either way, I would have slowed down and eventually folded two pair in that sort of situation. I might lose a bit more on the turn, but I'm only going to bet a quarter of the pot on the turn when he checks again, worrying specifically about the check-raise by that set of aces of queens. Once he check raises, I'm done — I've folded two pair many times in such a spot. So, while there are some negative implied odds for two pair against a set, I also get paid off pretty well from AK, with which he bets out rather than check-raising in that spot. (I should note that despite lots of advice out there about betting out with a set, few players do it; I didn't think readysteady was likely to.)

If I flop Broadway, I'm getting all my money in on the flop while winning. In that spot, he puts it all in with AK most of the time, and a set all the time. If I flop a flush, I almost always win but I admittedly don't make too much from him, unless he flops a set.

If I flop what I flopped, overcards, a flush draw, and a gutshot, I have to tread lightly if the flop is ten high or bigger, but in this case, with all babies, I'm in great shape.

Yes, he can wake up with AA in that spot, and I get my money in as a 36% underdog. But, going back to the hands he likely to have, given his preflop action and flop lead, he's a 1-to-11 underdog (about 8%) to have specifically AA. So, 8% of the time, I'm a 36% underdog. Another 8% of the time (when he has QQ), I'm a 44% dog. Meanwhile when he has KK (18% of the time), I'm a 51% favorite. Against the rest of the likely pairs (TT, JJ), which he holds 36% of the time, I'm about 58% favorite. I'm of course crushing AK (the extra 30%), but if his flop lead was actually a feeler bet with AK, he folds any AK when I raise.)

Anyway, I'll even set aside my read that he didn't hold AA. I'll just do the pure EV calculation that his lead bet gives us no new information (i.e., it may be an AK feeler), and that he gets all the money in with any pair (i.e., we assume no fold equity). I do the calculation by assuming I win right there when he holds AK, and that I have to face the odds with all my chips when he has any other holdings.

With these assumptions, my flop EV (when I raise on the flop, expecting him to reraise and we get it all in) is as follows:

HandProbability of HoldingEV formulaEV component
AA 8% 36% × $271 + 64% × $-250$-5
KK 18% 51% × $271 + 49% × $-250$3
QQ 8% 44% × $271 + 56% × $-250$-2
TT, JJ 36% 58% × 271 + 42% × $-250$19
AK holdings 30% $36$11
TOTAL: 100%$26
(The EV “component” field is the “percent he has it” column multiplied by the “EV formula” for that situation.)

Now, I agree that introducing $250 of variance for $26 of EV is nowhere near the best spot I can get find in these tight-weak games online. But, it's still a good spot that I'd take every day for $250! I believe in keeping a large bankroll (larger than most proposed recommendations), in part so you can take these tight marginal edges.

There are also meta-game considerations here to think about. I have chosen to play short handed NL HE tables precisely because the players there tend to be tight-weak preflop and play one pair too loosely after the flop. I play best in NL HE against tight-weak players who overplay one pair.

When playing against these players, I want to sometimes take these tight-edge gambles. I want them to know they are going to get action when they overplay one pair. More importantly, I want them to know that sometimes they won't be a huge underdog against me when I give them such action. (Indeed, I engaged readysteady in chat window discussion about the odds precisely to make sure he realized that I'd pushed an extremely tight edge.)

You see, I want readysteady (even his username exudes tight-weak play, did you notice that?) to overplay that KK every time. I want him to continue to believe that folding an overpair is impossible. I want everyone at the table to feel the same way. I want readysteady to call up his poker buddies, and tell him about the huge fish who pushed in with AQs with “only” 15 outs. I want them all to react this way, because, if I didn't have straight draw outs as well, I wouldn't have played the hand the way I did. I would have called with 2-to-1 direct odds on the flop, seen if I made the flush on the turn, and folded for a pot-sized bet if I didn't. It would have been a little mundane pot that wouldn't even have made it to my blog. But, I had at least three extra outs, and went for it. Sure, the math shows I'm risking $259 to chase $26 in EV. But, most of the time when I get the money in with him, I have a set of fives, not the nut flush draw with one (maybe two) overcards and a gutshot.

Some might argue this is a reckless way to play NL HE when I could sit and wait for more of lock. I'm going to ask my coach to read this one, but I'll probably need a lot convincing from him that I made the wrong move. I watch these tight-weak players bleed away money playing ultra tight and making themselves like textbooks. I want them to fear me at the table; to worry that they can't fold because maybe I have some big draw, not a set. I don't move in every time with AQs in that spot with every player. It felt right in this situation, with that board, against that player.

We can argue about “risk vs. volatility”. We can disagree that introducing $259 of variance into one's bankroll for $26 of EV is too much variance. (Although please consider that the limit HE player frequently puts 30 BBs at risk to win at most 2 BBs for a given evening — and that this situation is much better.) But, I think that's the most important point of this hand: varying a little bit from playing “by the book” (i.e., calling with AQs after a preflop raise, moving in with a big draw that may be at best a coin flip) builds a complicated table image that keeps your opponents guessing and forces them to respond to you.

We'll see what Bob says when I ask him to read this — if I'm full of crap, I'm happy to eat my words if he tells me to. :)

Update:Bob finally answered me on it.

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November 2016

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