Friday, October 29, 2004

Moving Up

I have spoken before about being a little wary of moving from the $10 SNGs to the $20 ones, even though the level of play is generally thought to be not that much better, and in theory, double the profit is likely. The $20 SNGs are something that I've had my eyes set on for a long time, for the above reasons. I'm not looking to become a millionare playing poker, but I'd like to be able to pay myself a respectable hourly rate, and a big part of that is advancing a notch or two in levels. (To date I haven't been calculating rate/hour, but I plan to start in the month of November.)

So I have been telling myself that I'm not ready to make that jump from $10 to $20... planning on waiting for the "right" time. I've tried a few $20 SNGs here and there just for fun, but never placed in any, though that really signifies nothing when the sample size is only 2 or 3. I realize this. I also realize that I once said that in order to be properly bankrolled for long term SNG success, you should have a minimum of 10x the buy-in + entry fee, and to be even more secure, 20x.

To play the $20+$2 Party SNGs I should have at least $440 in my bankroll. I do. I also know that I've been absolutely *hammering* the $10 SNGs in October... (not a great ITM this month, but my ROI has been over 25% several times, all time highs for me). I got down within $30 of my year end goal recently and should have no problems making it in the next 2 months.

Yesterday I made the jump to the $20 SNGs.

So far I've made three 6th places, and one encouraging 2nd that could have just as easily been a first had luck been on my side. You'll hear poker players, and poker bloggers, often give standard excuses for poor results, and sometimes they are accurate... I took a few bad beats in those three 6th places. Once I flopped TPTK on a Q22 board, and lost at showdown when my opponent revealed Td2d for trip deuces. The pot had been raised pre-flop. I said "T2?" in the chat box and he replied, "You wouldn't play suited cards for 100 chips?". No. No I wouldn't. Not when they are a ten and a two.

Later, trying to climb back into things, I caught wired aces, pushed my small stack in, got one caller who held T9o, and lost on the river when he made two pair. The good news is, generally speaking, the play at the $20 level appears to indeed be not that much better than at $10. There is however a feeling I get... perhaps some of it is apprehension at the thought of losing back parts of my roll twice as fast as I gained it, but I do sense some better play over all at this level. Less rookie mistakes. More patience. Trickier play. But I don't think it's really that significant. I can win here long term. I am 99% certain. Those are good odds, considering I play a game where the best starting hand is only a 75% favorite and can quite easily lose to a T9o.

We'll see how this goes. I just hope I have the patience to ride out the 7 or 8 game out-of-the-money streak that I suspect is coming to teach me a lesson. I know I can win here, but having the courage to keep dropping $22 a pop when things aren't going so great will be the test.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Hammer

For months now, I've been wanting to play a hand with 72o, also known as the best damn hand in poker, and The Hammer.

I see the humor in playing it. (Who wouldn't love beating a superior hand with a 72o?)

I see the psychological and strategic reasons for doing it. (What people think you have, should not always be what you have. Bluffing with 72o is in many ways less risky than bluffing with something like QTo. If you win a showdown with 72o, nobody at the table will be able to put you on a hand for the rest of the session or tourney. Your opponent(s) may go on tilt.)

But since I mainly am sticking to Party's $10+1 SNG's at this time, it's a tough hand to bring myself to play. Usually the risk is too great, because I'm desperately fighting the rapidly increasing blinds and trying to survive. Still, I've used The Hammer as a mental cue... when it pops up in front of me, it reminds me that in a lot of cases winning a SNG or tournament is not so much about how you play good starting hands, it's about how you play the awful ones. You're rarely going to take 1st place based on cards alone, unless the deck is pummelling you in the face with monster hands (which does happen too sometimes). When that 72o is dealt, it says to me "psst: you may not want to do it here or just yet, but you're going to have to get some chips with nothing at some point. be aware of that, k?"

Now the experienced among my readers will obviously know a) what I'm talking about, and more importantly b) what are the situations conducive to making a move with nothing. I bring this up, because I don't want to mislead someone into making a horrible play for a loss. Making something out of nothing is one of those intermediate skills that you just have to get a feel for... it's not recommended for novice or beginning players.

So I've stolen some blinds before with 72o... it's not a horrible hand to do so with actually. Usually if I try it, I've got to have decent position (on the button with only the SB and BB still to act is best), a pretty solid table image (having made standard large raises before and showing AA, KK, QQ, AKs, etc a few times is a big advantage), and I have to be aware of the still to act players' stack sizes. If they're way low, they could go all in with almost anything and beat my pitiful hand.

The point of this post however isn't about how to play smart, it's about playing really really really stupid... and gaining a lot of laughs and a ton of advantage:

***** Hand History for Game 1107714035 *****
100/200 TourneyTexasHTGameTable (NL) (Tournament 6774612) - Wed Oct 27 13:22:07 EDT 2004
Table Table 11474 (Real Money) -- Seat 1 is the button
Total number of players : 7
Seat 1: UFHoss33 (760)
Seat 2: AdamL (870)
Seat 5: TheDuker (645)
Seat 7: ME (2950)
Seat 8: cas56 (1350)
Seat 9: Vich21 (845)
Seat 10: cheburashka2 (580)

I'm sitting very nice with T2950 after grabbing some dead money with pocket Queens and busting 2 people out on one hand.

AdamL posts small blind (50)
TheDuker posts big blind (100)
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to ME [ 7s, 2d ]

The Hammer has arrived. I contemplate for just a second, and decide to run with it under the gun.

ME raises (300) to 300
cas56 raises (1350) to 1350
cas56 is all-In.
Vich21 folds.
cheburashka2 folds.
UFHoss33 folds.
AdamL folds.
TheDuker folds.

So I am raised for about half my stack. Call or Fold are the only options against a lone opponent. In theory, my 72o will win what? 30-some percent of the time? Let's have some fun.

ME calls (1050)
** Dealing Flop ** : [ 6d, 2s, Tc ]
** Dealing Turn ** : [ Qc ]
** Dealing River ** : [ 4d ]
Creating Main Pot with $2850 with cas56
** Summary **
Main Pot: 2850 |
Board: [ 6d 2s Tc Qc 4d ]
ME balance 4450, bet 1350, collected 2850, net +1500 [ 7s 2d ] [ a pair of twos -- Qc,Tc,7s,2d,2s ]
cas56 balance 0, lost 1350 [ Kd Ad ] [ high card ace -- Ad,Kd,Qc,Tc,6d ]
cas56 finished in seventh place.

Oh the humanity!

ME: hahahah
Vich21: holy shit
UFHoss33: thats havin a set of nuts there
UFHoss33: all in with 72

The truly amazing thing was the way the rest of the tournament played out: I got action on every big hand I made, and nobody even dared to raise my blinds, probably for fear of my dominating stack, and because they knew a steal attempt was risky against a tricky loose cannon. It seems conflicting, but I really felt as if when I wanted action, I was able to easily get it, and when I didn't, I was able to easily push and get opponents to fold. Part of that is having a dominating stack I am sure, but I milked my table image for all it was worth and took an easy 1st place. (just one 1st place away from my year end goal)

Monday, October 18, 2004

Three Poker Stories

1. Juvenile table humor at it's finest/worst:

PosEV: is anyone else having problems connecting?
PosEV: i go in and out every few minutes
ME: I do that with the ladies
UnforgivenII: lol
ME: drives em wild
PosEV: ha

2. Recently I discussed limping in level 1 of a SNG with a pocket pair of deuces, and today I hit the kind of hand that demonstrates the implied value of seeing a cheap flop with any low pair.

Table Table 11101 (Real Money) -- Seat 8 is the button
Total number of players : 8
Seat 3: pakeboy (848)
Seat 4: tunchum (1379)
Seat 5: ostrich1enr (1025)
Seat 6: ME (940)
Seat 7: Sjiraff (1345)
Seat 8: wesolis (628)
Seat 9: LordofRings (1050)
Seat 10: WeaselB (785)
LordofRings posts small blind (10)
WeaselB posts big blind (15)
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to ME [ 2c, 2h ]

Okay, here we go... wanna see this one cheap.

pakeboy calls (15)
tunchum folds.
ostrich1enr folds.
ME calls (15)
Sjiraff folds.
wesolis folds.
LordofRings calls (5)
WeaselB checks.
** Dealing Flop ** : [ 7s, Ad, 2s ]

I flopped a set of Two's, and I know somebody paired their Ace. Perfect! The two spades are a little scary, so I'll need to pay attention to that.

LordofRings checks.
WeaselB checks.
pakeboy bets (75)
ME raises (150) to 150
LordofRings calls (150)
WeaselB folds.
pakeboy folds.
** Dealing Turn ** : [ Ac ]

There's no better turn card I could have seen here. Now I'm putting my opponent on three Aces, but I have a VERY deceptive full house. He'll probably call anything I put out there if he has the Ace, and the flush is no longer a worry.

LordofRings checks.
ME bets (775)
ME is all-In.
LordofRings calls (775)
** Dealing River ** : [ 4s ]
Creating Main Pot with $1985 with ME
** Summary **
Main Pot: 1985 |
Board: [ 7s Ad 2s Ac 4s ]
ME balance 1985, bet 940, collected 1985, net +1045 [ 2c 2h ] [ a full house, Twos full of aces -- Ad,Ac,2c,2h,2s ]
LordofRings balance 110, lost 940 [ Tc As ] [ three of a kind, aces -- As,Ad,Ac,Tc,7s ]

3. Same tourney as the hand above and it's level 7 and heads up. I'm sitting with T4123, almost dead even against T3877. Let's call him "Tighty", because mostly he's only been playing good hands in good spots all tournament, though I have seen him start loosening up recently. I can't think of a better name, okay?

First hand heads up, I'm in the BB with QTo. Tighty pushes all in, and I agonize for a bit... I'm holding okay cards, nothing to feel real good about calling with, but I'm a little skeptical of Tighty pushing all in on the first hand heads up, especially since I've seen him playing loose in the last dozen hands or so. I probably should have folded and waited for a better spot, but for better or worse, I call. He has A6s, and wins with a flush. Damn.

At T246, I can't even cover the BB and push all in with AQo, catch an AQ3 flop and double up to T492. Long way to go.

Next hand, the blinds jump to level 8 (250/500), and I'm automatically all in on the BB with Q4o, and a pair of fours wins me the hand. Up to T984 and still looking at my opponents 7 to 1 chip lead.

Next hand, realizing that I still am going to have to get damn lucky to have a shot at this, as well as the fact that I have less than 2 BB's, I push all-in hoping that Tighty is an idiot who will let me steal his BB, and if not, I'll let the deck tell me if my 75o is worth anything or not. Tighty calls of course, I pair my 5 and miraculously double up for the third hand in a row. T1968, Tighty's lead is down to 3 to 1, and most importantly, I have some room now to play correctly.

We go back and forth stealing blinds, occasionaly showing down hands in small pots, and I am encouraged by the fact that Tighty keeps calling my BB instead of raising. Bad move Tighty. I pull back even with T3936.

I really should have just kept on the pressure and played smart, but for whatever reason decide to raise all-in with a suited A2, mainly hoping for a chance to vary my play. I had been making minimum raises and I figure Tighty might put me on something big if it looks like I'm taking a stab at the tourney here. I get called, and Tighty's K5o loses as I pair my Ace.

Sitting at T128, Tighty is put all-in when the board makes a high flush and we split the pot. Tighty gets put all-in again, doubles up, then get's busted on the next hand. It was kind of fun just watching the hands play themselves for 3 hands, knowing that I'd eventually get him.

I'm not proud of my play here, but it was easily my biggest comeback ever, going from T246 and getting the win. As they say, "a chip and a chair". Tighty was not amused and said so in the chat box.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Split Boards

I was planning to talk a bit about how I encountered a brutal series of solid SNG tables this weekend (one nearly made it to level 4 with all 10 players still alive), but I just witnessed perhaps the most ridiculous hand I've seen yet. So I'll talk about that instead.

It's early in a SNG and I get a pair of deuces near the button and limp in for the 15 chips, hoping to catch a set on the flop. The flop comes AAA, giving me the weakest full house possible, and it's entirely also possible that one of my two opponents has the case Ace. It's checked to me, suprise-suprise. So now I'm doubting the possibility that either of my opponents have a pocket pair, but one could easily be slowplaying quad Aces (as would nearly always be the correct play here). I contemplate for just a second, and fire out a 2/3-pot bet (which wasn't much at this point)... if neither has the remaining Ace, hey, I might get them to fold. Consider also that both opponents were SB and BB respectively, which means they're more likely to be playing junk or connectors, etc. If I get called, I'm almost certain to ditch the hand unless the turn is another 2, because any other card can possibly give my opponents a better full. I get called by both opponents. Bad. Looking back, this is a low percentage play with little expected value. I should have probably checked.

The turn is the case Ace, and I now hold a pair of the weakest possible kickers. SB bets, BB calls, and I fold faster than a newspaper in a tornado. The river card is a King, giving the board the nuts. SB checks, BB goes all-in, and then the SB folds. After several others and I offer exclamations, SB reveals that he had QQ (who know's if he did or not... it's a mute point) and admitted that he had "no guts". More like no brains, which we also pointed out, and I doubt that he makes this rookie mistake again anytime soon.

Going all-in, or betting big when the board has the nuts is a play that I have often made myself, for this very reason. Most of the time your opponent will call and the split will be made, but it's a zero risk play that sometimes pays off.

Possible Nut/Split Boards:

1. Any Royal Flush, duh. (AKQJT suited)
2. Any 4-of-a-kind where the fifth card is the best kicker possible. (AAAAK, KKKKA, 3333A...)
3. Any broadway straight, with no more than 2 cards of any suit. (AKQJT)

Another similar point, is against the typical low buy-in SNG players, when you have the absolute nuts on a board that a novice might mistake for a split, go all-in. Let's say the board makes 4 Tens, and a Queen, and you're holding an Ace. If you push all-in, there's the possibility that you'll get called by someone who also has an Ace kicker (again, zero risk), but you might get a novice who has paired the Queen to call thinking he has the best hand. It does happen, and I've seen it several times. You'd also be suprised how many times your all-in will get called when you have a high flush, but the board shows a broadway straight, although I'd argue that a value bet, or a check-raise if your opponent has been betting recklessly, is the best play. (And don't forget that even if your flush is Ace-high, you could be up against a straight flush, but I doubt you're going to ever lay down your flush anyway, and neither am I.)

Also, when the flop comes 3-of-a-kind, and you hold a low pair, proceed with caution. In the above example I only dumped 45 chips on the hand (15 to see the flop, and then 30 on the flop), so I can't say it was a horrible play, but under the circumstances I should have let it go. Betting the flop would make a lot more sense shorthanded, or heads-up. If you limp with a low pocket pair, you're looking for trips.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Encouraging SNG Stats

I've been meaning to dig into my SNG spreadsheet for some time now, and in particular take a look at how I'm doing now, relative to when I started playing seriously a few months ago. Now, before I started looking at this tonight, I had no real hard evidence on my progress either way, except for recently starting to see my overall ITM and ROI grinding slowly upwards. For the record, I'm sporting a modest 36.04% ITM and 6.14% ROI (based on 197 SNGs). Nothing to get excited about there, but hey, at least it's not zero, or worse.

Now to my calculations I did tonight... I decided to take a monthly look at my stats. Here's the results:

Month        ITM        ROI        

Now that's pretty encouraging stuff, and certainly reason to believe that my year-end goal is easily obtainable, provided I can quit giving back my SNG winnings in the ring games. A few other points:

1. The stats above only take into account half of this month so far, so it's possible that the October ITM and ROI may end up higher or lower than reported above. Ideally the numbers will be higher than September (as they are now) indicating progress. We'll see.

2. I can't and don't expect forward progress to be linear. It's one of those things where improvement is vast in the beginning, but quickly tapers off to small or negligible gains eventually. I'm just hoping to taper off somewhere in the 45-55% ITM range, and whatever ROI that might bring about. If other player's blogs are any indication, this is possible, but I don't expect it to be easy.

3. Thinking a bit about point #2 above, I think improvement is largely a factor of discipline at this point. I'm well on my way to learing what the right moves in the right spots are, and what the wrong moves in the wrong spots are... but having the discipline and focus to follow this knowledge is where the money is.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Weekend Update

First, a little overall status report. It seems that after playing regularly (daily) for a few months now, and keeping some basic spreadsheets, all the things I've heard about playing winning poker are being confirmed. I mean, someone says "it's all one big session", and you nod and think to yourself, "yeah that's obvious", but when you see this statement come alive through your own experiences, it takes on a whole new emphasis. I've been watching my bankroll shrink and grow over and over, and although I'm not going to become a rich man playing home games and Party's $10 SNGs, the peaks keep getting higher (as well as the valleys). It is all one big session. $106.49 from my year end goal now, which'll leave me with a nice $500 bankroll if I get there. Then what happens? The logical step is to move up to the $20 SNGs and maintain my modest ROI, but double the profit... but that's a move I'm wary of making for reasons which will likely be discussed here in due time. Plus, I have to get there first.

As for this past weekend's home game:

Most home games I've encountered are a social affair, where profit or loss is second to having a good time, and mine are no exception. Still, everyone was playing to win obviously, and it's interesting to see how people's goals for the evening play out with the hands... some people can lose a stack and still be having fun and making jokes, and other's amaze me with thier lack of class when losing or winning. Yeah, go ahead and bitch about not catching your Royal Flush as you rake the chips for the 6th hand in a row. Really.

With that said, we managed to get in one NLHE tourney, during which as fate would have it, I managed to bust out first and spent the next hour dealing. If I had to diagnose what happened, I'd have to say that I just plain pissed away a lot of my chips early, perhaps seeing too many flops or watching someone bluff often and wanting to nail them on it. I really don't know... but I also had a lot of decent starting hands (especially short handed as we were) and just couldn't hit a flop to save my life. We've made it an unofficial house rule that the last person who has been knocked out must deal until someone else goes broke and takes over... and it's also become the unofficial right of the dealer to look at (but in no way divulge) what people were holding during the hand. As dealer I watched an amazing amount of semi-bluffs and stone-colds, perhaps proving that my instinct to nail someone on a bluff was correct, but never getting the right cards on the right flops to do it.

As for the rest of the night, we played our old college dealer's choice games. I held my own in this wild card festival, but any winnings I might have been lucky enough to rake in were quickly taken back by the wild card whore on my right. Nearly every time I made a big hand, he somehow managed a bigger one, and it truly got old after a while. I've been trying to make some meaningful comparison between my online play and these crazy dealer's choice games, but I haven't come up with anything insightful, other than purpose which is rather obvious. You just don't play "Queen and What Follows, match the pot or drop on a Queen, best hand on 6th street decides whether to play out the hand or re-ante and reset" with any measure of seriousness. Yes we actually played that, and even managed a few games *ahem* without wild cards.

Overall, and as usual, I neither made nor lost any significant amount of money on the evening, quite in keeping with the purpose of simply having fun.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Excuse me for what I anticipate will be a ramble. I have a bunch of little things I want to cover.

First off, my personal longest SNG win streak finally came to an end after my 8th consecutive ITM finish. It was obviously bound to happen, and I'm just as prepared to hit the possible 8 finishes out-of-the-money streak if the poker gods deem it necessary. However, I did learn and confirm something which I really already knew: when I've been winning, I play better. It's the obvious opposite of tilt, but there's more to it than that. When I've hit a good run of online play, or am sitting "up" for the night in a home game, I'm mentally confident in my moves, yet cautious to protect recent winnings. And that is perhaps just about the perfect way to play profitable poker. Confident and protective.

As a side note, I'm 12 ITM for the last 20 $10 SNGs with 5 first place finishes, for a total of +$180. Jinx be damned, I'm feeling very confident about finishing the year in the black... only ~$130 to go. On top of that, I've scored a (yet to be delivered) "hamper" bonus, consisting of 2 shirts and a hat, from Partypoker for playing 1000 raked hands in a week back in August. I've also scored a 500 piece set of the typical ABS/"clay" chips for making a deposit on Pacificpoker... also yet to be delivered, but supposedly arriving this week. More on this later.

Another interesting thing happened to me the other night on Party, when I actually was up against a guy from my town. We chatted a bit during the game, and it appears that poker is alive and doing very well with the college kids at nearby PSU. Just last week I learned of a nightly! game on campus, and this guy tipped me off to a few possible weeklies elsewhere and we traded email addresses for future invites or whatever.

I'm looking forward to hosting a homegame this coming weekend, although I fear we'll be shorthanded as usual, and I'm not particularly interested in inviting strangers or people from work. It's tough bringing new people into an established core of 5 or so players. This group typically plays quarter/half dealer's choice, and part of me really wants to play that kind of poker again, not only because it's just a fun/friendly game, but also to test myself and see how all my recent online hold em improvements transfer over to those waters. Then again, we're all pretty into NLHE SNG style tournaments, and I feel very confident against the group right now. Truthfully, my wife worries me the most, not only because she's listened to 3 months of strategy and hand analysis from me, but also because she knows how to use that all against me. Ideally we'll have enough people to do a winner-take-all tourney or two, with the losers playing some shorthanded dealer's choice on the side.

As I said earlier, I've been playing some on Pacificpoker, and although there are a few things I don't like about the interface (the way bets are shown, lack of a 4 color deck, etc), there are some interesting game choices available. Firstly, they offer some lower stakes limit games as low as .05/.10, which would be better for a beginner or someone on a limited roll, as opposed to Party's .50/1 tables. On top of that, they have SNGs with a standard 10% rake/entry fee (i.e. $5+.50, $2.50+.25, as opposed to Party's awful $5+1), and some enticing 5-player SNGs where the top 3 get money.

These 5-player SNGs are appealing to me somewhat, because the odds of winning are essentially twice as good as in a 10 player tourney, and the odds of making the money are 3 in 5. Now, in a $10 5-player SNG like this, the third place finisher only get's back $10, thus actually losing $1 to the rake/entry, but that sure beats getting a 4th on Party and losing the whole $11. The blind structure seems a little slower as well, which typically means that luck has less of a chance of beating good play. Overall, the reward is less, but so is the variance... it seems to me that you could become a very consistent winner at these 5 player tourneys, but I'm still sticking with Party's $10 10-player affairs for the time being.

Which brings me to what I think is my last thought, which is that I've been thinking about a formula to calculate "profitability" of SNGs, based on buy-in, entry fee, number of players, prize distribution, and possibly blind structure. I'm obviously making this way more complex than necessary, but it would be kinda neat (and quite ubergeek) to have a formula to plug the particulars into, and calculate some kind of "score" which would theoretically indicate how good or bad a given tourney is to play. I guess the score would end up being a way to express risk vs reward basically: a higher score indicates less risk for better rewards, and vice versa. I'm still playing with possible formulas. Anyone have any thoughts or ideas on this?