Friday, December 23, 2005

Never Mind Maneuvers...

...always go straight at 'em.

- Lord Nelson

I've been reading and re-reading the brilliant historical fiction Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian (the basis for the movie, "Master and Commander") for the last year or two now. In the series, in nearly every book, Jack Aubrey regales his table guests with the two occasions on which Lord Nelson is alleged to have spoken to him directly, once asking him to pass the salt, and once uttering "Never mind maneuvers, always go straight at 'em", something which Lord Nelson has long been credited with actually having said.

Why it's taken so long for this concept to bridge the gap from the quarterdeck of a frigate to the micro-limit tables on PokerStars in my mind, I do not know. This is why I'm down here in the .05/.10 shorthanded trenches: to plug the leaks. And lately, man the pumps, and gain back some ground, which I'm successfully doing.

I long ago realized that you just can't be cute with the rookies, drunks, and outright donkeys, but until a week or two ago, I think I was still missing the point:


It doesn't matter if you hold a Jack on a JJ3 flop. They will call.
It doesn't matter if you smooth call through, chasing a flush, and it obviously hits you on the river. They will call. Often their entire stack. They may even raise.

The caveat here is taking the 10-20 hands it usually takes to generally assess each player's mood/style/etc at the table. I've started getting a lot better at locating the chumps, and identifying the tighties just waiting on the nuts to bet. I've also started seeing a lot of repeat opponents, and here you can really get a line on them. There are quite a few players out there who fall somewhere in the middle though too... they're not idiots, but they're just not savvy enough to notice in a single session that when your money goes in big on the river, you have it.

Sure there are times when you need to be tricky, you need to slowplay, and often those tricks and checks work well against the morons too, but quite often I'm finding that this micro-limit arena is about putting the money in when you have the likely best hand. So blatantly obvious, until it hits home with a new-found significance.

A good friend of mine exposed me to the phrase and concept of a "recurring epiphany" a while back, and lately, poker (and life) has been filled with a lot of these "ah-ha" moments for me: re-realizing something I've known all along. Sometimes you learn it the first time... sometimes you learn it again and again.

So jam it, jammer... all the maneuvers and tactics mean little if you don't get your money in with the best hand. Have a nice holiday!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Just Awful

It's been that kind of month. UGH. Not a true "bad beat" really, but luck certainly doesn't get any worse than that. And I thought my recent run of sets under sets was bad.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

SCP Fall League Championship Freeroll

So last night my league held it's final tourney of the season, for a winner take all prize and the "Grand Champion" title. We play cheapy 3 hour tournaments, with usually less than 10 players... informal, but fun.

Ok so I'm coming into this second in points, which means that the point leader starts with T1000, and myself with T755, and the rest of the league behind me. Not good, but not bad either considering I really got unlucky and played pretty bad for most of the season. Still, I'm liking my chances, considering that probably only 8 or less people are going to show up to play: 6 did. I can beat 6 people.

The early going I played well, sticking hard to my strategy of not losing chips rather than trying to win them. One big key to me feeling at home in tournaments lately is the old adage: raise or fold. As someone who's been seeing a lot of low-stakes cash game action lately, where my style is to rarely have the lead in a hand, it's taken me a while to realize I need to change gears in a tournament format. Pressure = win. So I raise a lot pre-flop with hands that I normally talk myself into devaluing: A9, KJ, etc. You get reraised, you evaluate the situation and probably fold. You get called, you play the hand out however you deem best after the flop.

I scoop a bunch of chips with AJs: I raise 3x preflop, get one caller. Flop AAx. He checks, I check. Turn: x. He bets, I raise to gain information. Does he have a boat? Does he have me outkicked with the case ace? Do I have him outkicked? He calls. River: x. He checks, and with all the info I have, I push. He folds, showing an Ace.

We get down to 4 handed, with 3 of us about even and one short stack, who really isn't desperately short yet. A long time passes here with no big hands for anyone, meaning blind stealing becomes critical as the blinds are creeping way up. I either break even on blinds, or manage to gain slightly.

Then probably the hand of the night:

I hold KJo in the BB, with 2 calls in front. I check and see an AKJ rainbow flop. The small blind to my right (short stack) moves all in. I think for a bit, considering that he probably wouldn't move all in here with the straight, although a higher two pair is possible. Then again, this guy loves to raise pre flop, so if he had AK or AJ, I'd say there would be about a 90% chance or higher he would have raised, especially with so much to gain from the limp in front, and my BB behind. He doesn't have the straight, he doesn't have a better two pair, and it's very unlikely as well that he's got a set here. I have a clear call, and do so, hoping that the action behind me will be a call or fold only and we can check it down if a call. He calls.

Turn is a blank, and I'm first to act. The all-in player is acting very worried, with not the least hint of confidence in his hand. I'm almost positive I have him beat at this point, and with a monster main pot, and a dry side pot, I decide to move all in to protect my hand. The guy behind me has got to be on the broadway draw. I have him covered, and he calls. The all in player flips A5, and the other flips (I believe) KQ or AQ, either way, one pair and the draw. Now it turns out there's a ton of cards I need to dodge on the river, 4 tens, 3 fives, 2 queens, 1 or 2 aces, and the other 3 matching cards to whatever the turn was which would pair the board. River is a J, and I knock out two players, having a better than 2 to 1 chip lead on, of all people, my wife.

I'll leave out the commentary about playing heads-up poker with the human you know better than any other, but I like my position. We spar it out for a while, trading chips and rarely seeing a flop, let alone a turn, river, or showdown. My strategy here is to keep the chip lead, and try and outplay her on or after the flop where I think my reads will have the best effect. I absolutely don't want to end up all-in preflop and see who gets lucky.

I end up taking a stab though when I have almost a 3 to 1 lead on her and she pushes from the SB. I hold 33, and debate it for a while, 90% certain that she doesn't have a pair from her actions. She wants me to fold. I call knowing full well that I'm only a slight favorite to win the hand, and her JTo hits a Jack on the flop. Damn.

I end up making a great laydown on a flop with Q6 when I read strength feigned as weakness. The flop was Q53 or somesuch and she made a weak bet after I noticed one of those split second looks on her face... just a stare at the flop for a little too long. I min raise for information, and I get it when she moves all in. I fold showing top pair and telling her I know she has something good, and she shows the two pair, and I'm feeling really good now, but unhappy with her now having the about 3 to 1 lead. I'm playing good poker and making good reads.

Unfortunately, the blinds are up and I'm in critical need of a double up, and I have to abandon all hope of outplaying her on the flop. My chips are moving in preflop or not at all. I steal a couple of blinds with heads-up monsters like AK and QQ, then lose them back when she raises against garbage like 42 and 63.

The final hand I hold A2, push, get confidently called by AQ, and I'm done.

The exact situation I didn't want to be in happened, and I'm disappointed. I haven't felt this disappointed after a tournament, since I hit 3rd place in a live three-tabler walking away with barely my buy-in back and watching 1st place walk away 2 hands later with over $500, due to a stupid prize structure and ridiculously short levels.

Still, I don't think I can really play much better than I played, but feeling like you played very well and made good reads and decisions and lost, has a bittersweet effect: you can walk away knowing you succeeded in playing your best poker, but it makes the loss a lot more dissapointing than simply playing poorly and losing.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I Wanna Tell You About Texas Hold 'em and the Bad Beat

So I have this pretty little graph in my spreadsheet showing my online bankroll over time... it's fun to watch go up and down, yet trend upwards: a visual aid to prove to myself that I can in fact, play this game.

Recently, I've been on a major slide that I fear will take months to regain. Not the "screw it I'm gonna go zero out my roll on the highest buy-in sit and go that I can find" kind of slide, but when you see over 1/3 of your roll get raped in a week, that's a little unsettling.

Perhaps this is all some form of punishment for breaking my bankroll/stakes rules (20 buyins min per level) and toying with .10/.25 before I had built myself to the $500 I wanted to have. Still, it's the same game, and I'm long past the days where I'm going to blow up and burn the whole bank on some double or nothing bid to get back to even if a session goes bad. The following hands should prove that there are still donks at every level, as well as illustrated the capping off of one awful week of play.

AA. Of course a bad beat story starts with "I had rockets". I play it the way I always do, meaning HARD, juicing the bet preflop to 6x the BB with all the limpers. One caller. Flop: KQJ, a little scary, but not against this opponent who's been a complete calling station. I bet the pot. He calls. Turn: what should be a harmless 5, ends up making him two pair with, yes, king f^#$ing five offsuit. I go broke. Who plays K5o against a big raise? Who calls my bets even when they make kings and fives here? I could be jamming the pot preflop just as much, if not more with KK or QQ, and maybe even with JJ which would have all flopped sets. Anyway.

Sit out 2 hands. Game still beatable. Tilt check. OK. Rebuy.

66. Cute little set making hand. A couple limps followed by mine. Small min raise preflop to my left. I call. Flop: K64 rainbow: LOVELY!. I check. Raiser bets pot. I call. Turn: 4, giving me a damn nice boat. I check. Raiser bets pot, and I call. River: Ace. Now I'm thinking this guy may have AK, because that would fit with his betting pattern and style that I've been watching for over an hour, which means he might be really ripe for the picking thinking that he just made the best two pair, and I've just been calling with... who knows. He bets big, I raise, he reraises, and I have so little left I don't even need to think about the call. He, much out of character, min raised KK preflop. Set over set, turning into boat over boat.

Stoned. Immaculate.

It's time for a manditory one week break from the online poker realm. Not so much because I'm playing bad, but more because I'm going to start playing bad if this continues. Man would that $300 first place freeroll prize tonight compensate though...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Recently Heard

I really need to learn how to start writing about poker again. Down here in grindsville, there just doesn't seem to be much to say.

Live play has been good lately, and I finally am starting to feel like I'm coming out of my tournament funk of the last few months. I'd definitely say that there's a strong relationship between the amount of daily cash game play, and my lack of tournament success. On the whole, I think I differentiate between the two well enough, but it's only those few hands that you misplay that will kill your tournament results... you've got to be in tournament mode on every hand. I also think that all the live play lately has really started to sink in... I'm making a lot of good reads, and finding it easier to be able to socialize and have a good time, while secretly still paying more attention than it might appear.

A couple recently overheard gems:

* With quads on the board, kickers don't matter, it's a split pot!

* I'd rather have unsuited cards, that way I have a chance at two flushes!