shipitfish: (Default)

It's been a long time since I've seen something even close to this — probably a few years. After a $15 preflop raise in a $1/$2 NL HE game where five people saw the flop, three stacks of $200, $250, and $450 got it all in on the flop of: 4h 8s As

Of course, it's set (4s 4h) over set (8h 8d) over set (Ac Ad). This was only the second time in my life I saw this in a hand I was dealt into. (I folded preflop in both cases.)

Then, I proceeded, for the first time in probably two years, to actually be surprised by a draw out. Board finishes: 7s 3s. Bottom set wins — the only one that can make a flush on the unpaired board.

What I do think: it's two people's stories about how online poker is “rigged”.

Seeing it made me feel good in a way. I know I've been playing poker for a very long time when I finally see situations this unlikely. I have to get to bed soon, so I don't have time to calculate the odds on flopped set over set over set yielding a win for bottom set with a four-card flush on board. I am curious how the odds compare to other unlikely random events in life. Some days, I think all of poker is just a world wide experiment in confirming that statistically unlikely events do happen at roughly the theoretically proposed frequency.

For those of you keeping score on me, this doesn't count as a bad beat story being told in my journal because I didn't have a single $1 of my own in the pot, therefore it isn't my bad beat story.

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: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

I lost about $1,000 this weekend. It's happened before; I've had other weekends like this. Just two months ago, I lost $2,500 in one weekend, actually. I lost $990 once in a single night at the old O Club. But, this recent loss has killed my desire momentarily to make my normal Sunday newbie post. :)

But, this can serve the preamble to one of the newbie posts: make sure you have adequate bankroll for the games you are playing. If I didn't have such, a $1,000 loss would be devastating. As it stands, it's a big annoyance requiring me to move money around in accounts that will take a day or two, but it's not the end of poker for me, or even a reason to drop down in stakes. I'll just take a break and push in again later this week.

I got in some bad situations (contrary to the ranty guy who beat me then berated my bad play on Full Tilt, Ad Qd on the flop of 2d 3d 5s is still a favorite, even against Ks Kd). But, I also played badly for at least $500 of the losses. I made some major mistakes I'll have to post about later, if I'm not too embarrassed by my abysmal play. (I'm not sure what to ask my coach about what to do when I look back even minutes later and see that I've done the wrong thing and what the right thing would have been. I guess I need to work on my “in the moment” reasoning.)

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)

Like every poker player, I've spent my share of time frustrated with bad beats. The definition of "bad beat", of course, varies from player to player. I've heard many people say crazy things like having AQ in HE and ending up against AK as a "bad beat", because "how was I supposed to know I was dominated?". That's not what a bad beat really is, of course. When I use the term "bad beat" at all, which I really don't use much anymore, I'd usually say that someone has to have seven outs or less in HE for it to really be that "bad" of a beat.

But, I just don't think of them as "bad beats" anymore. Given that one has to lose in poker -- and you can't play any game with an element of chance and not lose some of the time -- I'd rather it be in a so-called "bad beat" situation than any other.

There are basically two scenarios where you lose a non-trivial amount of money in poker: either you make a serious mistake, or someone else does but gets lucky anyway. The former can take two forms: (a) you think you have the best hand and/or you think your opponent is too weak to call, and you turn out to be mistaken, or (b) your opponent is deceptive enough to convince you to put money in when you have the worst of it. This is not how I want things to go. I don't want to be outplayed, and I don't want to be tricked into giving money to players who are better than me.

Given the two options -- giving money to strong players or weak players -- it's much better to give money to players who make mistakes. If someone takes your money and they are better than you, you have little chance to win it back. Only pure luck will get you money from a stronger player. If you opponent is a bad player, you can realistically visualize that he is merely holding your chips for a while, until you get him in another situation where the odds are against him but he fails to get lucky.

If you've accepted that you can't win every pot you play, it's easy to see a path of gaining a peace with "bad beats" if you frame the situation in that way. That's the first step, and it's one that I have at long-last achieved. I love games where the bad beats fly and I ship chips around to weak players. The tough spot I still see is when the fellow takes a big piece of your stack, and then gets up to leave. Yeah, I admit that "hit and run" is one part of the "bad beat" phenomenon that still can get past my new frustration-proof wall. But, I'm starting to overcome that part, too. The way I'm doing it is a viewing it as the advertising budget of my bankroll.

That's a strange choice of words, especially since most people think of "advertising budgets" in poker as "money for bluffs that get called". I'm not much for that, because I think it's usually wasted; I want all my bluffs to succeed. In most games, people pay off enough that you don't need to be caught bluffing -- not even once -- to induce adequate action.

But the guy who hits a few three-outers and walks away a winner -- that's money well spent. While we see a large turnover of opponents in most games, some people do come back. But, if they are to come back, players who are steady losers have to win some of the time. Why else would they return? It's pure Skinnerist psychology -- intermittent rewards are the most likely way to keep someone willing to introduce themselves to situations that are overall bad for their bankrolls.

Also, what's that guy going to say to his friends? He's going to say: "games at that casino/club/site are easy". He'll entice others to play at the same place. Word gets around. After all, why do we have so much money flowing into the poker economy right now? Because lots of people have heard it's easy to win at poker, and have found it's fun. Most of them won't win over the long term, but as long as they win sometimes, they'll keep coming back.

For these reasons, I urge everyone to love "bad beats": no matter when they come, and no matter when someone leaves. It's part of the economy that we all rely on, and we don't want to discourage it. Be careful to play at limits where the bad beats are for amounts of money you can tolerate without frustration, and love it when it happens.


I can't finish a treatise on "bad beats" without addressing the constant arguments I hear about whether or not one takes fewer bad beats in NL HE vs. limit HE. This is a downright silly argument. If you are in a loose game -- which are almost always profitable for a solid player -- you should be seeing lots of "bad beats". In NL HE, these bad beats should, in fact, be for your whole stack! The whole reason NL HE can be so profitable is because you can get people to bet their whole stack when they have only a few outs. It's rare that you'll find a player so bad, or a situation so special, that he'll hand you his whole stack drawing dead. NL HE isn't a better game because you can "protect your hand" and "get people to fold". The whole idea of "protecting your hand" in NL HE is about winning small pots, which you certainly do need for long term profitability. But the real wins come when you get all of your chips in with the best of it, and when you do, you want to get called by someone with only a few outs.

So, my advice to all of you who are frustrated with "bad beats": Make peace with them. When I finally did, my entire outlook on poker has changed and it has made me a more profitable player. I still have challenges ahead; namely, getting fully comfortable with the bad-beat-giver leaving the game before I want him to, and my thoughts expressed above are helping me along that road. Get used to allowing some of your bankroll to be spread around the table, as long as it is in the stacks of players who make lots of mistakes.

The beats that should frustrate and anger you are those where you have made mistakes, or have been outplayed. That frustration is healthy and can be constructively channeled into improving your game. There is, however, no constructive outcome of "bad beat" frustration. It can only serve to make you hate the game you actually love, or to make you imitate that losing Skinnerist play. I know that pain and frustration when the tenth two-outer hits the table and you've lost three buy-ins already. Let it go. Drop down limits so that it doesn't hurt as much, if that's what it takes. Learn to love the bad beats; it's where you profit comes from.

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shipitfish

November 2016

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