Taking One For The Junk

I didn't get much play in over the long Thanksgiving weekend, so I was looking forward to getting back to the game with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. Unfortunately it seems everybody else was too. I played for about half an hour and caught a staggering number of second-best hands, a run that momentarily made me reconsider my "no big laydowns" policy. It was a greatest hits collection of lousy beats and nigh-unavoidable losses, featuring notable songs like: Sorry, Sir, Your TPTK Is No Good Against My Overpair My Set Is Bigger Than Your Set The Rivered Straight Against The Rivered Flush In A Heads-Up Unraised Pot (Ain't That A Shame) Baby, You Know Your Overpair Can't Beat My Bottom Two My Ducks Cracked Your Kings (Quack Quack, Motherfucker) The Top And Middle Pair Vs. Top Two Blues When Top Two Pair Met Runner-Runner Flush Too Bad Your Top Two Got Counterfeited On The River (But You Almost Had Me) and, of course, the speed metal anthem My Non-Nut Gutshot Draw Crushes Your Two Pair Forget -BB/hr; this was a session in which losses could reasonably be expressed in big bets per minute. I choose to look at it as paying dues for Vegas.


The Joy Of Sets

Ah, the mighty set. Does anything compare to the feeling we get when the dealer spreads the flop and shows us exactly what we were hoping for when we limped in and then called a raise? Apart from those rare occasions where we flop Broadway or limp with a suited ace and make the nut flush right off the bat (which is usually only of limited profitability anyway), the set is poker's greatest thrill. It is also, in my honest (if disposable) opinion, one of the most commonly misplayed. Most of the books will tell you that big hands play themselves. The hell with that. The goal of poker is to make as much money as possible, and the set could always stand to make more. But even the maniacs tend to revert to tried-and-true slowplay when they make the hand that's supposed to pay them back for all the action they've given the table. See if you can remember the last time you were surprised when you bet an overpair on the turn, got checkraised despite the paucity of draws, check-called the river and saw your opponent turn up a set. It's old hat. You knew it was coming. My friends, the traditional slowplay of the set has jumped the shark. It does not extract maximum value. I think there's a better way, and I offer it here for your approval. Laying The Groundwork To get full value for a set, you've got to be recognized as someone who will be aggressive with a marginal hand - but in most online games today you should be doing that anyway. Blind defense is one of the best ways to establish this image. Whether it's a raised or unraised pot, I will nearly always checkraise the flop with top pair no kicker (or, if the pot's shorthanded, even middle pair). This often falls into the category of bluffing with the best hand, especially on a paintless flop, and reverse implied odds be damned - if I can get it heads-up, I'll play out of position against someone with a six-outer all day. (I do keep track of players who will bet-call the flop with an overpair, hoping to raise my lead on the turn.) I lose a few bets this way when I'm beat or drawn out on but probably make up for it when the turn blanks and a lone opponent folds overcards (or calls a turn bet and then misses on the river). (N.B.: I don't know whether this is true or not, but a willingness to play a marginal hand strongly out of the blinds seems to make it more likely that your blinds will be attacked, not less - maybe because the promise of action makes the button's Q7o seem that much stronger. I do know that it's one of the cheapest and most effective forms of advertising, much cheaper than trying to run a bluff through the aggressive-passive players who go from flop maniacs to turn and river calling stations.) You can do similar things from middle position, though usually it requires that you lead out with QJo at a jack-high flop and be willing to threebet the preflop raiser's raise - since they're as likely to be doing it with AK or AQ as AJ. Though this means sometimes putting in an extra small bet or two when you're behind, it does add some definition to your hand and, since it will often eliminate a straggler with middle pair, also helps you suss out the draws, which can save you two big bets on the turn. Clobberin' Time Here's where the hard work pays off. The players against whom you'll get the best value for your set are the ones who are a bit loose overall but don't do much value-raising preflop. A raise from such a player usually indicates a strong hand, preferably a high pocket pair - the stronger their hand is, the better off you are. If I've flopped a set out of the blinds, and I think my opponent likely has an overpair or TPTK, I'll do exactly what I always do when I flop a hand he can beat - I'll checkraise. If I'm in middle position, I'll lead and let the raiser raise, then call. This will a) convince my opponent that I've got a hand I'm willing to play, and probably one he can beat; and b) charge a good price to any drawing hands, whose owners won't know that their edge is much thinner than usual this time around. If one or two players drop out, so much the better. The fishy calling stations will stick around no matter what, and - this is key, here - the fewer the players in the pot, the stronger your opponent will perceive his hand to be. Turnin' Tricks What you do next depends on your opponent's action. If my presumptive-overpair threebets the flop, I like to sit back and imagine myself splashing around in a fountain of dollar bills. He thinks he has the best hand. Let him keep thinking it, because he will almost always follow up with a turn bet, which you can promptly checkraise. There are many opponents who still won't give you credit for a big hand here because you played it so strongly on the flop - by playing your monster like a marginal hand, you've put yourself in position to capitalize on your opponent's perceptions. Yes, if your opponent threebets you on the turn you have to consider the possibility of set-over-set; I usually consider it for a length of time measurable in nanoseconds before deciding whether to cap the turn or go for a river checkraise. Note that the turn card is almost irrelevant. That's because if it's small, your opponent still has an overpair, and if it's a paint, it either helped his hand or probably didn't help yours. The appearance of an ace might cost you a bet or two if your opponent puts you on top or middle pair with an ace kicker; on the other hand, it might make top two for your opponent and get you still more action. A board pair might slow him down, but if it pairs the top card, you might get to cap the turn and river with your boat against his top trips. Countin' Chips As the saying goes, if you flop a set and lose, and you didn't lose a whole lot of money, you didn't play it right. The way I'm describing here will indeed lose you more money when your set goes down in flames. But it's those little extra bets you chisel out of your opponents that really make your bottom line. Discounting the blinds, the traditional flop check-call, turn check-raise, river bet line earns you 3.5BB from a lone opponent. Once you factor in the blinds, you're getting 4.25BB, which barely even compensates you for the odds you take to flop the set in an unraised pot in the first place. The method I've described (though, granted, it depends on certain conditions) ekes at least an extra BB out of the process. This math is fast and loose and ignores the times you'll actually get a pocket pair that wins on its own, but: You're 16:1 to get a pocket pair before the flop. If you're playing in a very fast online game, you might see four pocket pairs in an hour; you'll flop a set about once every two hours. That means an extra .5BB/hr. Multiply that by the 2.9 billion hours you spend playing poker every month, and that makes you John Fucking Rockefeller. When that happens, send cash. I'm running bad.


Hustlered, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bad Beat

Murderer's Row taking a week off, hdouble suggested we make a trip out to the Hustler casino, which I'd never been to. It certainly has the nicest bathrooms of any LA-area card barn; I had several opportunities to inspect the facilities because the Hustler also appears to have the dirtiest chips (though the $2 greens at HP are up there). I'm not remotely germophobic but after sliding chips around the table for half an hour I'd get all Howard Hughes and need to spend some quality time with a sink. My 6/12 table was loose but passive early on, with the exception of the mouthy maniac in the nine seat. The first time we mixed it up, I limped with KQs, he raised from the button, three of us called. Flop came Q32, two hearts (I had clubs). I checkraised his flop bet and he started trash-talking me, trying to get a read, but I went stonefaced. "Someone's been watching too much TV," he said, and called. Turn was a K. I bet and he insta-called, getting his chips out for a river-call as well (he liked to cut off bettors by moving for his chips). River blanked and I bet. "Ace-king," he said. "King-queen," I responded, flipping my cards up. Then the dealer started pushing the pot toward him. I was stunned for a moment, then barked out "That's my pot!" a couple of times; it took three other people down at my end of the table waking up to bring the dealer to attention. For the next couple of hours the nine seat wanted to make me his bitch. He wanted to steal my blinds and kept calling me a geek and a nerd. Trouble was he kept screwing up and raising when it was my small blind instead, just giving me a lot of easy folds. The one time I called him, I had KdJd; flop came ATx with one diamond. I checked, he bet, I called because he didn't do the little hand-stutter he usually did when he'd hit a flop. Turn was a jack and I figured I was good, so I check-called the turn and river. "Got an ace?" I asked. "No ace," he said. I flipped up my cards and raked in the pot. He muttered some presumably unpleasant things and I just kept smiling. Hard to get under someone's skin when they're stacking your chips, buddy. He went on to do things like inadvertently saving me a bet when he rivered a three-outer against my two pair in a three-way pot, announcing his hand and flipping up his cards before my action came around. Ah, Hustler Casino, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: 1. I flopped two sets during the night. Both lost, one to a new maniac's flopped straight (capped flop, I check-called turn and river), and one in this lovely fashion: The new table maniac raised (which he would do with Q3o), five callers, I look down in and find QQ in my small blind. I like my hand but I'll be out of position and any overcard will kill me so I just call, hoping I can narrow down the field with a flop or turn raise. Flop comes KQ8 with two hearts. The new maniac bets out, and the solid player to his left raises, so when it gets to me I threebet. The maniac caps. Four players see the turn, which is an offsuit ace and makes me swear because this is the kind of game where people loves them some jack-ten. The maniac checks (?!) and it's checked around to me; I figure nobody is folding and I still might have the best hand, so I bet. The maniac checkraises; the solid player calls two cold and I can NOT figure out what is going on. I'm less scared of the maniac than of the solid player because he strikes me as solid enough to go for an overcall. I'm sitting there in the tank and the maniac starts needling me about needing a heart. He thinks I'm on a draw! I think maybe he has AK and thinks he is good, and the pot is way too big to fold anyway - I have many outs to a boat even though I don't know if all of them are live. River is an offsuit jack. Great. T3o has me crushed. The maniac leads, which just confuses me even more. I'm convinced he didn't hit a straight on the turn. The solid player calls. I think I am a lunatic to be considering the overcall here but I know I'm either alive or dead so at least I'm not paying for a chop. I sigh and throw in the chips for a crying call. Nobody has a straight. The solid player has AhQh, for second pair and the nut flush draw on the flop, two pair on the turn. The maniac has the other two aces for the turned one-outer. I have a sudden desire to drag him off into a corner to interrogate him, because if I could discover the source of his luck and bottle it I wouldn't need to play poker. He caught a few runner-runner straights with trash and was the subject of much mockery from players who under normal circumstances wouldn't have grounds to mock much of anything. 2. I had two draws come in the whole night. One was a straight and I got paid off for a few bets heads-up. The other came in after a flop of T92, one diamond (I had KdJd and had limped along with everyone on the button). On the flop it was checked to me and I figured my image was good enough to be betting with a gutshot and overcards. Three callers, which wasn't encouraging. Turn was 6d; now I've got the second-nut flush draw and many more presumptive outs. Checked to me and I bet; one caller, then the guy on my right checkraises. I am annoyed but cannot lay it down. River is Qd. Guy on my right bets, I raise, the guy who's been calling all along threebets, the guy on my right calls all-in, I have little choice but to pay off one bet with the second nut flush. He shows Ad4d. Guy on my right swears and shows 66 for the turned set. I get caught up in the spirit and flip my cards over. The general consensus at the table is that nut flush guy doesn't really deserve the pot, which irks him enough that he posts his blinds and then leaves when it's his button. Apparently I have gone from zero to hero in the eyes of my tablemates. 3. Aberrations in card frequency: I had a deuce in my hand more times than not. This did allow me to play the Hammer in a very crafty and advanced fashion. Instead of raising from the button I just limped along with a few tight-passive players. Flop came JJ9 with two diamonds. I bet the flop and got two callers. Turn was a third diamond, I bet, everyone dropped, I showed my cards and said "Come on, people." The guy on my right observed that I had a flush draw with 2d. Yes, sir, I was betting my weakest-possible-runner-runner flush draw. I called it the Hammer but nobody seemed to know what the fuck I was talking about. Well, now they know. 4. Despite relatively lousy cards and my knack for losing largeass pots, I still left up 20BB for the night because people would happily pay off second-pair value bets. Combined with an upturn in my online fortunes, this has made me much more relaxed about the bankroll-bruising I'll undoubtedly be taking due to the WPBT madness, what with castle-stormings and way too many opportunities to shout "live six!" At least I'm bracing myself for the blow. I've always heard that that's what makes it hurt more, but I'll take wide-eyed preparedness any day. Here's to junk-kicking in all its glorious variations!


Four Easy Pieces

(NB: Please, if you would, look at the second-most-recent post as well. I'm trying to get a headcount, take the pulse of the limited corner of the poker-blogging community that this humble blog reaches.) Don't let the last hand get to you. We all know that particular bit of poker wisdom - don't go on tilt. The cards have no memory, no sense of justice, the cards don't care and neither should you. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results, or however that bit of mutual-fund boilerplate goes. I say this is all well and good, but doesn't go nearly far enough. Preflop percentages are totally irrelevant when you get to the flop. If you played QQ fast in position and got four callers, a flop of 6d9d2c looks pretty ok. But when everybody calls you on the flop and the ace of diamonds comes out on the turn you are probably well and truly fucked. Your preflop odds no longer matter; the bets you have invested in the pot no longer matter; the number of outs your opponents had on the flop no longer matter. I'm not saying I wouldn't bet if it was checked around to me here (though I'd probably want Qd to do it, because I am a wuss and would rather be drawing to maybe 5-9 outs instead of, oh, zero to one); not buckling when scare cards come is the price of aggression. But every betting round requires you to evaluate a new situation. When it's your action, you have to make your decision based on the relative strength of your hand and the tendencies of your opponents, and while this decision requires you to incorporate information about action on previous betting rounds, it does not depend on them. Despite all the admonitions about only playing poker when you're playing poker, I often find that I play a little better when I'm multitabling or otherwise slightly distracted, because it's easier to look at every round with fresh eyes. A hand doesn't stand on its own - it's four little games all its own, and you've got to play all of them as well as you can. Mistakes cannot be corrected, but they can be compounded - you can't let a bad flop call prevent you from making a good call on the turn if you've picked up a decent draw. When we're learning poker, we tend to think in generalized concepts, little tips and rules of thumb that keep us from going broke while we learn how to play the game. Aggression is good, but aggression for aggression's sake is transparent to all but the weakest players. The oft-repeated canard about not drawing to an inside straight ignores the all-too frequent situations where it's a profitable opportunity. Poker is a zero-sum game in theory as well as in practice; in order to learn something new you have to be willing to forget something old, even during a hand. It's an increasingly complex holistic process that only ends when you play the last hand you'll ever play. So here is my wish for you: play many hands, learn much, and play better against everyone but me. I'm sure you wish me the same.

Utils Versus Cash

Hypothetical situation: Let's say you have a backer with pretty deep resources. Said backer is willing to bankroll you for LHE at the limit of your choosing. You're expected to play to the best of your ability, win or lose. But there is a small catch: instead of receiving a portion of your winnings, you get a flat rate of .5BB/hr. You can only play one table at a time. What's the absolute minimum limit at which you'd consider taking the deal? And would you rather play it online or live? I have a reason for asking this question, but I'm not absolutely sure what it is yet. That's where y'all come in.

You Don't Know What You're Missing

I was all set to post this dramatic blow-by-blow of my triumphant return to online tourneys, but then I got all my money in preflop with KK against the table maniac. He had AA. Flop was no help, turn was no help, river was no help. He was the kind of maniac who taunted other players for "poor play". I had every reason to want to see him dead in a ditch just on general principle, and still I didn't instacall with my kings when he massively over-raised. I figure I can get away from AK, maybe JJ against him there - he's not particularly bright and I know I can get my money in better than a slightly weighted coinflip. Apparently I can also get it in a lot worse. The annoying part is he wouldn't have even had me covered except that a few hands before I'd called an all-in from a dumbass UTG limp-reraiser. He limped, I popped it fairly big with QQ (and I was playing very few hands), he went all-in for about 3x my raise (still not even 1/4 of my chips), I called, he showed... A6o. Nice hand, sir, nice hand. Sorry about all those times you were dropped on your head. Oh, look, you hit your ace! Good for you.


Soapbox Time

Only one political post a year, I swear. I think. I used to be a Target shopper. They treat their employees better than Wal-Mart does, they have more responsible policies regarding community involvement/investment. But not anymore. Target is allowing its pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, a.k.a. Plan B, if they object on religious grounds. I freely admit that I'm heading straight for the nuclear option here, but here's how it is: if you or someone you know is the victim of rape, and you want the option, apparently you're better off looking for it somewhere else. Their weak-ass rationale is that they are thereby complying with the equal opportunity employment provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which they say requires them to accomodate their employee's religious beliefs. Sorry, kids, but that won't wash: 1. Target only applies this policy to Plan B. Nothing else. What if my religion prohibits the dispensation of antibiotics on the Flying Spaghetti Monster's Day Of Just Dealing With Whatever You've Got Going On? The "accomodation" discriminates against other employees and against Target's customers, Q.E.Fucking.D. 2.The act itself says it's not illegal to hire people "on the basis of his religion, sex, or national origin in those certain instances where religion, sex, or national origin is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise." Having no religious beliefs that preclude the dispensation of legally prescribed medication would seem to be a pretty reasonably necessary qualification for running a pharmacy. If you tell your employer that you won't work on Saturdays/Sundays/Fridays after sundown/The Feast Of Maximum Occupancy, that's a situation that requires an accomodation. Telling your employer that in certain cases you have a moral objection to doing your job, that's a situation that requires you look for a new line of work. I swear this country gets crazier even when it seems to be getting better. If you need me I'll be over in the corner, murmuring "eppur si muove" to myself over and over again.



Friday night: Make stupid moves in tourney. Get short and push with 77, get one too many callers. Actually just the one would have been enough. It was still early on, but not too early for Lance to call with J5s and make a boat. Make dynamite plays in the cash game after donking off a buy-in (it never hurts when anyone else has me outkicked, but when it's Lance...), doubling through ephro when I flop a set of 8's to his TPTK, and building my stack to close to $300 by checkraising the hell out of the pot every time I flop two pair (this being the call-and-buy game, it happens a lot). Then the hand where I get all the Geek's money in on a two-outer happens. It's near the end of his monster post. I can't really talk about it except to say that when the Geek offered me a dollar to round out my stack at the end of the night it was pretty much the fucking definition of adding insult to injury. Last hand of the night: I limp with 37s. (Okay, I limp and buy a card, but I drew to the Hammer so it wasn't much help.) Flop is K75, two spades. Pair, flush draw, backdoor dumbass straight draw. When it's checked to me in late position, I bet somewhere in the vicinity of the pot ($15), hdouble checkraises the pot. I couldn't see him having hit that flop hard enough to be that far ahead of me - at worst he could have picked up a pocket pair when he bought a card preflop and flopped a set, but he didn't start with one, or else he'd have raised. I put him on either two pair or a semibluff - he has very little money left behind so I have odds to call against either. Which I do. We get the rest of the money in on the turn (offsuit J) and he flips up QsTs, which doesn't surprise me nearly as much as 3s7s appears to surprise him. (He later says that he thinks only a true maniac can call the checkraise there with less than two pair. I've never thought of myself as a maniac, but I guess I'll wear it as a badge of honor, because if you can get called a maniac during a round of Columbine, then sir, you are a fucking. maniac.) Anyway. I have the best hand but hdouble has 19 outs (any ace, queen, ten, nine, or spade), meaning my edge is pretty thin. The river is paint (uh-oh), a jack (yay!), black (urp)... a spade (fuck!). Pot is not mine. IGHN. Saturday morning: I sit at PokerRoom 10/20. Second orbit I pick up QQ in the big blind. It's folded to the button who likes to steal and overplay whatever he hits on the flop. He raises; I flat call to take a flop. Flop J52, I check, he checks behind. Curiouser and curiouser. Turn x, I bet, he raises, I call. River T, I check, he bets, I call, he shows JJ for flopped top set. I think I lost about the minimum possible there, but that doesn't make it any more fun. A few hands later: I pick up 88 in EP and raise; my nemesis from the previous hand is in the big blind and calls. Flop is queen high with two clubs; he checks, I bet, he calls. Turn is an 8, but also a club. He checks, I bet, he raises, I think he's probably overplaying top pair so I threebet, he caps, I swear and call. River is blank and I do not boat; he bets, I call. He shows Ac7c. Overpair v. set, set v. flush. Promising start. Yeah. So here's the junk-kicking: TT in MP2, I raise two limpers, blinds fold, limpers call. Flop T86 rainbow. Top set has not been kind to me lately so I am playing the shit out of this one. It's checked to me, I bet, UTG limper raises, other limper folds, I call planning to raise the turn. Turn is rainbow-completing ace; UTG bets, I raise, he threebets, I cap. River is another ace; he bets, I raise, he threebets, I call and begin looking around the room for something sturdy enough to anchor the noose. He shows ATo. I ask my wife, "I look awfully calm for a guy who just lost over $400 in three hands, don't you think?" At least my poker face is getting a good workout. Sunday's WPBT Six-Gun Shootout: I missed last Sunday's and may as well not have shown up for this one. Early on I call F-Train's position raise from my big blind, holding JJ. Flop comes Q82 with two spades. I check, he bets, I pop it to 3x, putting about a third of my chips into the pot. He moves all-in. I think I am ahead but can't call. He shows 9sTs for the big ol' semi-bluff. Two orbits later I would have had enough information to call his move there, but I haven't played in many blogger events and it takes me a while to get to know players. A few hands later I go halfway broke in a limped pot when I can't let go of 88 after the board pairs tens on the turn. (Tens = the only overcard.) From there it's only a matter of time. I fold rag after rag, moving all-in with AJo and T9o and getting no callers; when the blinds are about to move up (I still have an M of 6 but not for much longer) I shove in earlyish position with KTo and get called by the healthy stack in the blinds, holding KQo. QJx flop is about the second-best I could hope for; turn is a K, river is a blank and IGHN. Well, I am home. It's a pretty long walk in my head, though.


Your Regularly Scheduled Beast-Feeding

Some housecleaning here: The secret to winning hdouble's home game tourney is, apparently, declaring victory in advance. (Sorry, guys: I'm declaring victory from now until the end of 2006.) Also getting a dynamite run of cards. Helps when your early-position raise with the Hammer turns trips against Joe Speaker's AKo (he flopped an ace). Picking up kings and queens at the right time doesn't hurt either. I was thinking it was another bubblish finish for me when I found cowboys at the final table and Jon Kastehoovegetikanich had popped it up with tens. Figures I finally bust some players when we stop issuing bounty chips. I got lucky and outdrew hdouble's weak ace with Q5s when threehanded, putting him on the rail and me heads-up with newcomer change100. She had me outchipped by about 2:1, but the blinds were huge by that point - I had maybe 7BB or so. I'm on the button for the first hand and peek down at... K fucking K, baby. (change100: now you know!) I raise to 3xBB, she calls. The flop is ragged but two-suited and she checks to me. I'm committed to the hand and figure I might as well shove, not wanting a backdoor draw to come in or an ace to hit the board. My stack is about a pot-size bet anyway. She (probably wisely) folds. The next hand she returns the favor, popping me to 3xBB. I look down at... 2 fucking 7o, baby. I think I've hit my quota for Hammer suckouts on the night and hence surrender my blind. Suddenly we're about dead even in chips. Third hand, it's my button. I have 58o. I think about raising but my rock-paper-scissors sensor is telling me I'll get re-popped so I just call. She checks and we see a flop of 67J rainbow. She checks again; I think about betting my OESD but would rather see a free card, because she could easily have a piece of that flop. Turn is a 4 and I have the nuts. I'm trying to figure out how to get value out of it when change100 moves all-in. Uh, I call? She had 47 for a turned two pair and didn't boat on the river. And thus endeth my dry spell on Murderer's Row. I promptly donked off a good portion of my win in hdouble's Most Unfortunately Named HE/Pineapple Variant Ever. As I'm not the originator of the game I won't reveal the name, but suffice it to say that it's an appropriate moniker for a game that makes you want to kill others, then yourself. It's been a good (if wild) week for me poker-wise. I dipped my toe in at 10/20 and nearly doubled my buy-ins on two separate occasions. If it weren't for some particularly loathsome beats I'd be up in the low four figures this week. To wit(Those of you uninterested in hand histories (oral histories, as I am lazy) can stop reading now.): One limper behind, I raise with JJ in the CO, BB calls, limper calls. Flop: J44. I swear and figure I'm not going to win a sou on this hand (I'm right, but for the wrong reasons). BB bets, limper calls, I call. Turn is a rag, BB bets again, limper calls, I raise, BB calls, limper reraises, I cap, BB folds his presumptive flush draw, limper calls. River 4, limper bets, I raise, he threebets, I call. He turns over 24s for the one-outer. And here's the biggest pot I've ever lost, around $300: It's a loose 10/20 table. UTG raiser gets three callers; I am BB with 99. Heads-up against this UTG raiser normally I'd reraise here but there's no chance to limit the field and 99 doesn't like a whole bunch of opponents. I call. Flop: 9d4c5s. Top set is ok by me. SB checks, I check, UTG bets (with, I suspect, ace high), MP1 folds, MP2 calls, SB calls, I call. Turn: 7h. Not my favorite card but I don't think anyone has 86 or 36 in this pot so I want to play it strong. SB checks, I check, UTG bets again, MP2 calls, SB folds, I raise, UTG folds (ha!) MP2 calls. River: 6s. Ugh. Yeah, there's four to the straight on the board, but I have a pretty solid read on MP2 and that read is that he is a moron. He could easily be calling me with ATo. So I value-bet my top set here. I let out a mental "Ship it!" when he just calls... and then turns over 88 for the rivered gutshot. Dude. YOU HAVE TWO OF THE EIGHTS. If you hit the straight, how do you not raise there? All for now. I'm currently working on an uber-essay about Steven Wright and poker. I have a theory. That's all I'm saying for now.


Special To Whoever Introduced The "Flush" To Poker

You, good sir or madam, are an asshole. And you have cost me so much money.


Infection Points (With No L)

I'm a limit player. There, I said it. Feels good to get that off my chest. I play limit poker. I'm not great at no-limit and probably won't be unless I devote a lot of time to unlearning what I've picked up over the last year (and though I still consider myself a poker novice, I learn really fast and unlearn at the proverbial snail's pace). I enjoy the occasional no-limit or pot-limit game, as a challenge - it's easier to stay interested in a live game if it's no- or pot-limit, because attention must be paid on so many levels. But ultimately when it comes to taking money away from the table, limit is and probably always will be my best choice. In limit play you don't have to think so much about inflection points - there's only so much pressure that can be applied, especially in a typical hyper-aggressive online game where most pots are heads-up after the flop. When maximum pressure is the norm, it's simply not possible to be abnormally aggressive. Turn checkraises will be called down by ace high with great frequency, not least by me. The only royal flush I've hit in recent memory was called down by unimproved A9o. It's the reality of the limit games I'm playing in now: bad habits are inculcated as a necessary defense against aggression. Since the betting patterns dictated by position and preflop action have become almost enshrined in ritual, the only significant action happens when a semi-bluffer's draw comes in or someone overplays an overpair/TPTK against two pair or a set, and there's little variation in those betting lines anyway. The fact that there is almost no possibility of forcing your opponent to lay down a hand means that inflection points, as a concept, don't really apply. In certain rare instances a river three-bet bluff at the ultimate scare card - four to a suit on the board, mostly - can take the pot, but making that play without a flush is a substantial risk. I dutifully read Harrington's books, and liked them quite a lot, but there isn't much in there that's useful to my limit cash game. (I can credit Action Dan with loosening my NL tourney game - how do you like them apples?) No-limit offers players the opportunity to make much bigger mistakes than in limit, true, but it also rewards those mistakes commensurately. This is why I've become such a fan of the Hollywood Park 6/12 game - it's got the implied odds of NL combined with the limited exposure of limit. Harrington's (and other people's) talk about inflection points has got me thinking about mathematics once again, in a very tentative and admittedly abstract way. Inflection points are the points at which a function, when graphed, changes concavity. Not necessarily where it changes direction - just the point where the rate of change moves from positive to negative or vice versa. They are points at which there is a change in momentum. I'm thinking about this more right now because I'm suspecting that my game may be at an inflection point. Diminishing returns is the name of the game at the moment. I've been on a significant plateau for a couple of months now - feast or famine at the tables, most often famine with the occasional feast to make up for it. I've made small adjustments to my game from time to time - tinkering mainly with positional aggressiveness and preflop selection - but I can't see the problem. My momentum is gone, and it's hard to evaluate your play without significant results one way or another. Yes, there's the agonizing hand-by-hand micro level, but since I've tried to open up my game to play better in more marginal situations... well, I've been in many more marginal situations, where the line between correct play and donkishness is awfully fine. Most likely it's a combination of factors. Defending the blinds (not because they're "mine") can be very lucrative, but obviously voluntarily playing weaker hands out of position leads to higher variance, and I haven't been hitting flops well enough to make up for it. Playing against a smaller field of players (PokerRoom 5/10 for the most part) means that serious opponents have plenty of hands on me, and my attempts to mix up my game and be deceptive have gone awry too often. And, of course, there's the problem of ego - as in, I haven't figured out exactly where my ego fits into things. I find myself fluctuating between a state of zen-like grace and a sense of entitlement, something that's never happened before. Too results-oriented? Maybe. I had a dynamite first year as a poker player, and was obviously due a smackdown or three. And one of the perils of thinking too much is that you do too little. You can talk yourself into or out of anything, given enough time. I'm talking to myself a lot these days; I'm just not sure what I'm saying. Anyone care to interpret for me?


For Those Of You Who've Been Wondering Exactly What The Hell The Name's All About

Nice Wired article on a researcher with a passion for the much-maligned liquer known as absinthe. No, I've never had any. The nickname is an old BBS handle of mine (as in, pre-web BBSes). I chose it because, you know, it sounded cool to an iconoclastic college sophomore. Mildly hallucinogenic, a strong drink with a century's worth of taboo-based mystique. Hell, it still sounds cool.