Monday, February 21, 2005

Back On Track

So after crying about last weekend's several-hundred-dollar slide, and (at least partly correctly) blaming bad beats and variance, I took a short break from poker. I think what's important about "taking a break" like this, isn't so much a length of time away from the game, as it is a chance for a mental shift and a gaining of perspective and focus. An effective break in some cases for some people may be a week or even a month, or as little as a few hours. I was at a point where I was losing, not having fun, and finally realized that things could really only get worse. Time to stop the loss, and figure out what to do from here.

And that's what I did. My break wasn't long... but so far I have to think it has been effective. I essentially just stood back and looked at where I was and tried to honestly assess my play in the past few weeks, swallowed hard, and jumped right back in the next day. Since though, I've been thinking a lot about how to improve my bankroll and my performance, and for future reference I'd like to get my mental list out of my head:

1. I need to set better stop-loss limits and have the discipline to stick to them. One of the main reasons why SNGs have been a largely good expenditure of my poker time (though not really that profitable), is that any loss is limited to the amount of the buy-in. But with my recent obsession with 25NL, losses can (and have) spiraled out of control at times. I'm learning to sit down at a table, and if somehow I end up dropping my $25, force myself to sit out a few hands and think about why/how I lost that $25: if it's for any mental reasons (tired, pissed, drunk, whatever), I'm done. If it truly was a bad beat, and I can honestly shrug it off, I'll find another table and maybe keep playing. The point here is I need to walk away more often, at the first sign of trouble. So obvious, but so difficult.

2. I need to pay more attention to table selection. Here's an example that demonstrates my point. Last night I was sitting at a 25NL table, and up to about $85 in just under and hour. Some guy sat down with $16 two seats to my left, and just went NUTS. He was playing super-mega agressive, and as usual, I geared down and kept praying for sets to bust him with. Mostly, I folded a lot. He was pushing the entire table around... raising and scooping pot after pot... then craftily pushing and antagonizing people when he had the nuts. Finally I catch a piece of a flop, and get myself involved with this guy. He throws out $20 on the river, and I have to fold (overcards on the board, etc), and as he did several times, he shows he had nothing. I didn't lose much but some pride luckily. When I left he was up to $195 and going strong, busting anyone who was foolish enough to think that he was just an idiot. I need to hit the passive tables, and leave when conditions change. And avoid "LED_ZEP" on Party. This guy's either the luckiest dope online, or he's a fine agressive player.

3. I need to hit the fundamentals. This one has been self-evident for a while, but reading a timely post by April gave me a little kick in the head. I think I'm decent. I've certainly logged a lot of hours and hands in the past 6 months. But there's a lot of aspects of the game that I really haven't spent much time working on or thinking about. Most noteably, calculating pot odds, hand odds, and outs. Now as an almost strictly NL player, I tend to rely on generalizations and (perhaps too often) on implied odds. But hell, I even botched the odds (and had to later edit to keep from looking like a total fool) in my last post dealing with someone having a four-flush on the flop with 2 cards to come (1.9:1). What the freak? I can't even spit out the odds of such a common situation as that?

With that said, I have to save myself a little here by saying that I think I have a decent feel for the odds... I mean, I can tell you generally where things fall. But I've somewhat been missing the angle that NL (and limit... or poker in general for that matter) is about maneuvering to put your opponents on the wrong side of the odds, and always being aware of your own. I should really start looking at NL as Limit, but with the freedom to score much more than a 4 bet cap with the nuts.

4. In general: play tighter. I still don't think I've really mastered the act of gearing down when things aren't going so good. This last week I've been playing much tighter both in 25NL, and in levels 1-3 of SNGs, and it appears to be paying. I still don't think I've scored a 1st place this month in a SNG, but I've been reaching the money more often. Mostly though, playing tighter has really helped my 25NL game. The fact is, I've realized that I'm not good enough to be playing those borderline hands which require a lot of skill to play effectively. By taking less hands to the flop, I'm giving myself the edge I need to show consistent gains during most sessions. Plus, at the shorthanded tables that I play, you get a chance to play crap and mediocre starting cards in the BB once every orbit of 6 hands. Assuming there's a pre-flop raise and you fold your BB every other orbit, that's still something like every 12 hands.


It feels good to feel like I'm in a period of growth again. There's a few things that seem to have clicked in the past week, and that, coupled with luck going my way a few times, has managed to help me post a nice uptick in my bankroll that I can feel good about and hopefully build upon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bad Beats And Bad Beats

This is probably the post you can just skip and move along to somewhere more interesting on the Internet, but I need an outlet. I need to vent a little.

You hold QQ. You raise. You see a flop of J42. You bet the pot and get raised the min raise. You push. Your opponent has AJ. Turn: 2. River: J.

In a SNG, first hand dealt ITM, you hold QQ. You raise 3x BB. You get a lone caller. Flop: Q92. You bet the pot. Your opponent pushes all-in. You call. He holds: KJ. Turn: A. River. T. 3rd place. Yay.

You hold 65 of diamonds in the BB. You see a flop of 874, two spades. Someone bets $3. You raise to $9 to protect your hand. Behind you someone pushes for $28. You call. He holds T3 of spades. Turn: Spade. River: Spade.

Let's analyze this one a little, shall we? T3 guy had $.50 invested in the pot, saw a $3 bet, then a $9 raise, and shoved in $16 more on a 1 in 3 chance at a flush, of which his kicker would be a fucking TEN. I'm baffled at why in the world a T3 sooooted would even be worth 50 damn cents to begin with.

And the beats go on. I'll spare you the details.

I find myself at a point where I'm questioning making bets with the nuts, for fear of some ridiculous runner-runner suckout. No, that's not logical. And yes, I keep right on betting to protect my hand and betting for value. And the bankroll dwindles to levels I don't even want to discuss.

I know playing in NL cash games can be a high variance situation. I know that playing against morons who play T3s, and go all in on four-flushes is supposed to swing that variance my way and equate to +EV. I play tight. I avoid big confrontations (to a fault I think sometimes) unless I have the nuts or a solid read. I fold and fold waiting for flopped sets and BB-special straights, and hit the gas. And I get callers chasing crap or dominated hands. And they spike.

In NL cash games, I make mistakes, too. But it's usually a $3 bluff. Or betting into a full house with trips and not throwing on the brakes quick enough. Is it just the bad side of variance, or are there leaks I'm just not seeing? Is $25NL the wrong place for my dwindling roll?

I have no answers. In life in general, I tend to be an "ok, now what?" sort of person most of the time. I deal with the facts, fix what I can, ignore what I can't, and move on.

It's time for a break. Good luck out there.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Two $25NL Stories

1. This Cannot Happen

So there I was, sitting at 3AM at a table with a few other dudes, one admitting that he was drunk, but playing pretty solid... another who had donated $25 twice and reloaded after each time... and a guy across the table from me, who I'll simply call "lucy" (loose-y, get it?). Now, a few minutes prior to the story I'm about to tell you, the reload guy had called my $3 pre-flop raise when I held the lovely-yet-dangerous Hilton sisters, and when the flop came something like J73 rainbow, I took a stab and put the guy all-in.

(Now as an aside here, this maybe wasn't the best play, but it's one you'll see quite a bit in $25NL... people seem to love to make these kind of $18 bets into a $7 pot when they have what is probably the best hand, and when it's hidden well... like overpairs, or sets, or improbable straights. I'm kind of on the fence about a play like this really... sometimes I'll do it... and sometimes I'll just bet enough for value and to defend my hand against draws. But back to the story...)

So the guy calls himself all-in, I win the hand, and he doesn't show 97o. "Really? Calling a $3 pre-flop raise with 97o?", I type into the chat. Lucy chimes in saying, "I like the call." We discuss it a little more... calling raises with medium suited connectors I'll do sometimes against the right player... but 97o, no way. We then openly taunt reload guy as he reloads again, by saying that we're adding him to our buddy lists.

Then the hand happened. On the button I find the hammer (72o), and raise to $3 for fun and what I hope will be profit. Lucy calls, everyone else folds. Flop: K92 rainbow. Hmm... Lucy checks, I bet $3, and am slowly called. Turn: 7. Now I hold bottom two pair, but two pair none-the-less... Lucy checks, I bet $3, and Lucy calls, adding "you guy's might be adding me to your buddy lists after this hand". Then the river card, the hammer-of-the-gods, holy-fuck-I-am-going-to-nail-this-guy, this-will-be-hilarious card: another 7. Full house, sevens full of deuces: the hammer's raison d'ĂȘtre.

I bet $10, and get raised $8 more (Lucy is all-in), I call and he shows: 97o. Sevens full of nines. OMFG. The table erupts at both me and Lucy.

2. This Cannot Happen Either

Now I know all the stories about how online poker is rigged... the classic line you'll often read in the chat window after someone suffers a beat is: "only on partypoker" or "that's partypoker for you", as if nobody ever hit a runner runner with real felt and cards before. I've never seen anything to make me feel even the slightest bit skeptical. And though I know cheating must exist, I've never really felt cheated online. The classic and most likely scheme you're to encounter would be two (or more, but just 2 is most likely) persons who are on the phone or on IM while they are both sitting at the same table.

I don't have much history with collusion, other than thinking about the theory of it, and participating in implicit varieties... like when you and a friend go to a game with other strangers, and avoid playing in pots together, always respecting each other's moves. Or, like in tournament poker, when one person is all in and gets two callers: the two callers may often want to check (unless they have an unbeatable hand) through the turn and river, implicitly colluding to knock the other player out: two hands have a better chance of beating him than one. The point is, implicit collusion isn't exactly cheating... you don't even talk about it... it just happens.

Now the only thing I watch for really online, is two players from the same town, or who are chatting as if they know each other. Usually, this doesn't mean a thing... most of the time they end up trying to outdo each other and I can be waiting to scoop some $ with a monster. But the other night, I encountered two players from the same town, acting suspiciously: always dumping pots to one another... often taking a tell-tale 5-10 seconds to act when they were both in the hand, yet acting quickly when just one of them was. (Phone or IM?) They were from the same town. Then a railbird (presumably from the same town) came in... I suspect waiting for a seat at the full table.

Now here's the thing for future reference... I had no concrete proof they were cheating, but I was pretty damn sure about it (other players would voice the same opinion independently later, so that's a pretty strong argument)... so why did I continue to play? Why not sit out and watch for a bit?

Eventually, this nasty hand happened. I held JJ, raised pre-flop, and got called by one of the suspected cheaters. The flop came K94, which isn't too bad for the Jacks, and I bet. At this point, my opponent is chatting openly about the hand with the railbird, asking "what should I do?" She hasn't yet said what she holds. She calls. The turn is an ugly ace. For better or worse I bet again... she says "what should I do ? I have AK." He says, "re-raise", and she does.

Now at this point, I'm pissed already. It's obviously against the rules to talk about a hand in progress or even what someone might hold. It's certainly not acceptable to say what you hold. But in the few times I've seen someone either say thier hole cards directly, or allude to holding a particular had, they've never had it. It's a classic intimidation technique. And why would you say what you have here? She has damn-near the nuts with top two pair, if she indeed does have AK.

I end up calling, to see another Ace on the river, luckily she only has a few bucks on hand... I call, and she has AK. Me and a few other's immediately jump on her and her buddies about talking about the hand... and we get met with the usual censored replies and wonderful statements like "what a bunch of homos".

I reported all the details and apparently the three of them have had their chat disabled, were sent warning emails, and had thier accounts flagged for periodic review. I know after the flop and on 4th street (in hindsight) I played the hand poorly, but at the time, it felt very right. How would you have played a situation like that?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

January Wrap-Up

January was an interesting month for me... perhaps the most interesting since I started playing online regularly back in July or so of last year. I started the month hoping to nail the $10 sit and gos and make smart decisions with my bankroll. However, I got caught up in $25NL and even some limit (UGH.) games and managed to piss away any good that I had been doing at the SNGs. Then, in a move of stupidity or genius (I'm voting for stupidity), I managed to enter and win a $50+5 SNG, bringing my account back into sorta-okay-healthy status.

Then $25NL 6 Max started calling my name, then it started screaming it, and then I managed to hit the mark I've been striving for since I started playing online: showing a profit, meager as it was. Yes, was. $25NL is a harsh mistress, and lately it's been unkind out there. I still see a major potential for profit playing NL cash games, and indeed, I've certainly shown significant overall gains since I started.

In the end though, I'm happy to report some welcome SNG numbers for January:

ITM: 35.42%
ROI: 37.22%

Now these numbers are obviously skewed by that $50+5 win, so here they are without that, just for reference:

ITM: 34.04%
ROI: 4.17%

Not so great, but a positive ROI is a positive ROI.

Now overall, after touching the profit stage for all of about a day, I'm back down to -$146.25 from what I had originally said was my 2005 goal (showing an all-time profit). I'm suprisingly cool with this, actually. I'll get there.