10.31.2005

Tell Your Story Walking (Part the Second)

Visualization of your goals is overrated - I mean, if you need a mental picturebook to remind yourself of where you're going, you probably shouldn't be operating any heavy machinery. Still, it's helpful to have an idea of where you want to go from where you've begun. When we decide to play a hand, we know how we want it to end - dollar signs in our eyes and a huge pile of checks sliding our way. But that's a long way off, and betwixt you and your newfound fortune is a story. The stories of some hands tell themselves. I like the one about the Well-Concealed Set On An Unthreatening Board - all you have to do is decide when to spring your trap. Other stories, though, you need to have a good idea of where the story is going before you decide to hang on. Everyone loves the tale of the The Plucky Little Suited Connector Made Good, but that's one that gets told more often than it gets lived. Usually it goes more like The Guy With The Plucky Little Suited Connector Who Flopped Middle Pair And Faced A Difficult Decision As To Whether Or Not To Pay Off The Position Raiser's Monster. Personally I prefer to play the part of The Massive Overpair That Crushed All Opposition as often as I can. Not as exciting as all of those skin-of-your-teeth river spikes, but a lot more profitable. The advantage to playing your hand like it's a story is that you instinctively know what to do when it's your turn to act, because you've seen it done on the screen and on the page a thousand times. You know exactly how the story goes and what your part in it is, and if you don't like your part, it's time to bow out. When you know you're behind, you've got to give some thought to just how believable your comeback story could be. If you were hearing your story at a party, would you call bullshit on it? Time to let it go. Sometimes a story has an unpredictable but unhappy ending. Usually these are lousy stories and you want to stay out of them, since they involve such characters as The Badly Outkicked Fish Who Spiked On The River Yet Again, That Guy Who Played J6o For Three Bets Cold And Got Lucky, and That Annoying Motherfucker Who Chased A Gutshot With No Odds And Four To The Flush On The Board (And Caught). Bad players tell bad stories, but they do have one thing in common with the stories told by the greats - you don't see the ending coming. Poker is a lot of different ways to the same end, and a student of the game should try to learn them all.

10.29.2005

If You're Ever In LA With A Few Big Bets To Spare...

Just got back from Hollywood Park, the only casino in which I've ever made money. hdouble turned me on to the 6/12 game there, a favor which I will soon have to repay by advising him of a comparable investment opportunity. Now I just have to come up with a way to retroactively get him in on the Microsoft IPO; my only options are forgery or transgressing the laws of physics.

10.27.2005

The Best Explanation Ever Of How And Why To Not Be A Wuss Postflop In Limit HE

...is here at Sound of a Suckout. ScurvyDog shames us all.

10.24.2005

Jaywalker's Row

(a.k.a. It's Friday Night - Do You Know Where Your Chips Went?) Once a week, a small, dedicated band of Los Angeles-area poker players converges on a Westwood home, a poorly air-conditioned apartment that is apparently located over a geothermal vent of some kind. Seriously, it's a wonder that the chips don't melt. Last week I got so dehydrated that I was verging on heat stroke and had to throw up in the main bathroom's blissfully cool porcelain masterpiece of a toilet. Yeah, yeah. You can laugh all you want, motherfuckers, because I did not miss a hand. In certain circles it has become de rigeur to shout out to one's fellow bloggers, give props and make cracks about their games. Let it never be said that Mr. Absinthe Serious does not know the way the wind is blowing: hdouble - our always gracious host who's undoubtedly lost money to the game just by providing it with a poorly-reimbursed supply of pizza and beer. (I'll getcha next time, I swear.) His 'big, juicy chess-club brain' lets him strike the right balance between giving action and making tough folds. Has an amazing sense of when a marginal hand is good in a multiway pot. Generous with praise for fellow players as well; it's all part of his master plan to lull everyone into a false sense of superiority, which he'll exploit when the rest of us make our climb up to the 30/60 games. I survive in hands with him only due to a simple but devastating tell I picked up on him entirely by accident. Hank, I'll give it up for $2K. Like your PokerTracker guide, it'll be worth every penny. The Poker Geek - about whom I must lay to rest a controversy that has raged since the Friday game's inception: I hereby decree that the Geek shall from this day forth be nicknamed 'Coco', and that is that. Coco's aggression makes him The Player Most Likely To Be Dominated, but his table image gives him a lot of action when he's got a big hand, and when he's got cards in front of him he'll do whatever he can to take the chips in the middle. Lest this be viewed as damning with faint praise, I'll stand up here and say that I admire Coco's game, even though I could never play it, and that in tourneys with a more forgiving blind structure I'd back him over anyone else in the game. MrsCoco - the Geek's better half, in every way possible. (Sorry, Coco, but I gotta be results-oriented for this paragraph). Pretty solid for a beginner, and with a better record than I've got. Glyphic - a rock-solid player who seems reluctant to adapt his game to the table, and therefore is subject to many, many bad beats. One of only two players in the game whose raises deserve even a modicum of respect, and I ain't sayin' who the other is. Calm and cool under pressure, he makes fantastic calls in difficult situations. Then the suckouts, they fall like the rain. Bill Rini - a dynamite position player whose unreadability and unpredictability make him a dangerous opponent. I have zero tells on him and thus have to rely entirely on betting patterns and the recall of past hands when I'm in a pot with him, which is not easy after the third beer. He's better at getting other people's money in the pot when they're a 9-to-1 dog than anyone else in the game. Unfortunately he is also better at losing pots when he's a 9-to-1 favorite than anyone else in the county. Joe Speaker - a regrettably unfrequent guest in the game whose easy smile and boisterous nature belie a shrewd mind. I haven't played with him often enough to have an opinion of his tournament game, but his stellar results (and his hilarious, beer-fueled tourney blow-by-blows) speak for themselves; his cash game, meanwhile, seems to walk the fine line between brilliance and madness. Always seems to wind up on my left. I don't like him on my left. He once taught me a great lesson about straddling when he runner-runnered a flush and dragged a big pot. Good: He didn't win it from me. Bad: He won it from someone I was staking at the time. Fhwrdh - absolutely bar none the finest dealer in the game. Haha, I funny! I'd have more comments on his game but I can't figure it out. Mostly when he's in a pot I look for a reason to fold, and being me, I usually find it. MrsHDouble - owes me about $350 in expected value. I'll have many nice things to say about her when I finally get it. Pay up, grampa! Lance - the host of the Infamous Home Game is an aggressive player who relies on others to overplay their hands and has an unshakeable faith in the poker gods. In other words, against Lance, four outs is four too many. John Kastehoovigetikanich - a relatively new and currently blogless Tilter, I am reasonably certain that his last name is not Kastehoovigetikanich, but I suck at names. His head is fuzzy. The outside, I mean, not the inside. Up until last Friday I would have described his game as inscrutable, but at long last I think I may have found a crack in it. But until I have a chance to test my theories I ain't sayin' nothin'.

10.23.2005

How I Play Tournaments

1. Limp early on with some speculative hands and suited connectors when in good position; miss flop completely; fold. Repeat until stack is reduced by half. Alternately, flop a monster draw but miss. 2. Go card dead and fold until I have 5-10BB left. Move from 'Conservation Mode' to 'Survival Mode'. 'Survival Mode' is like 'Conservation Mode' except that there is more folding since blind theft is no longer an option. 3. Receive many marginal hands and make incredibly good laydowns (pair under pair, dominated). As a consolation prize for playing weak/tight, bolster my undeserved reputation as a disciplined player. 4. Finally catch a decent hand and move all-in, invariably being called by a hand that ranges from moderately inferior to crushingly dominated. Lose to a runner-runner draw, a two- or three-outer, or flop a 17-outs-twice draw and lose. 5. Accidentally knock something over upon my graceless exit, implying that I am a sore loser when I am actually just very, very clumsy.

10.14.2005

Just Don't Call Me Late For Dinner

The calling reflex is a powerful one. Curiosity is hazardous to more than just the cat; a calling station may easily pick off bluffs but will eventually fall prey to Death By A Thousand Value Bets. I am sometimes weak on the turn - I like to save myself the tough call on the river when I can just by folding early and often - but in an online limit game, once I get to the river, if you have me crushed, you are going to get paid. I am a river calling station. You can punch me like a time clock. Or the card. I guess I'd be the time card in that little simile. There are obvious laydowns, sure - a missed draw, or a hand that was clearly no good but picked up a low pair on the turn after the flop was checked through, or a previously-best hand that's faced with heavy multiway action - but heads-up, with a hand or even ace high, there's almost no such thing as a good laydown on the river in an online limit game. Part of this is the nature of the beast: Hoyle's Rules Of Online Poker require positional bluffs with no hand, which suggests that picking off such bluffs is +EV. Part of this is just plain ol' pot odds - once your lemur self has built a reasonably-sized pot calling flop and turn bets with AK high, you've got little choice but to pay off one bet on the river. And you're good a surprising amount of the time - usually if you've lost it's to a medium pocket pair or someone who spiked a three-outer with their weaker ace. Maybe somebody with more data than I have can prove this, but against opponents with a high enough PFR% (I'm guessing 8-9% or higher) and predictable aggression factors, check-calling all the way with AK high heads-up might be +EV. I know calling the river bet is but I haven't dug that deeply into the numbers. Also I'm not smart enough to figure it out. But I digress. The truth is, I call those bets for a couple of other reasons. One is curiousity: this is a game of imperfect information, so I want as much as I can get, and yes, I'm willing to pay for it. Playing in multiway pots is easy - you just play your cards and raise for value or a free card when you can get away with it, try to drive out the draws when you've got a strong hand, maybe stab once in a while if everyone slows down at the ultimate scare card. But heads-up online you've got almost nothing but the numbers and betting patterns to go on, and for the betting patterns to make sense you've got to see their cards once in a while. Which means sometimes I'll throw in that last bet with king high. (This has had ancillary benefits: there are certain people against whom I can now comfortably bet AK-high for value, because I know they'll call me with AK-high or worse, and raise me with anything better.) I also sit and call to set up resteal opportunities and value-maximizing situations. Once your tighter opponents figure out you can't be bluffed off a marginal hand, they'll start checking the turn and giving you a chance to steal on your next action. Also, a lot of the time I want that fish tag - I want people to think I'm a moron. There's a fine line between pretending to be a broken clock and actually being that broken clock, it's true, and I'm sure my table image is often that of a donkey with an unusually tight preflop selection algorithm. But that's fine with me. I know who the good players at the table are, and I don't tangle with them unless I know I can take them down. If they don't know the same thing about me, who's ahead?

10.09.2005

Like They Say About The People Who Smoke Virginia Slims

Year-in-review posts from poker bloggers seem to be the way of things. All I know is that the last year's been a blur. I played my first serious hands of poker (as in, hands not involving a drinking game or play money) a year ago today, when I finally got my PokerRoom account funded and running. In the first couple of weeks I lost about a third of my original $500 stake. Then I read - no fucking kidding - Hellmuth's first book. I still think it's a better book for an utter novice than the Lee Jones or Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth book. Tangentially: Sklansky will tell me that I'm clearly a gambler, since I play poker. But I don't think of myself as one. Those of you who've met me may or may not have noticed that I don't join in much talk about sports teams and bets thereon, have only a mechanical interest in blackjack or craps, and yet will gladly throw myself into a shorthanded game of something at which I am clearly not an expert (triple draw, Chinese Poker, Badugi - although on its face Badugi seems to me like a game where you're mostly competing against other player's similar two-out draws and so I only sorta see the appeal). I like poker because it has far greater complexity than any of those games in which the house/player edges are readily calculable - and, beautifully, it is beatable because of that complexity rather than in spite of it. Once when I was a kid I was wandering around the Renaissance Fair near Minneapolis, and happened upon a guy who was charging for chess games. He was playing several at a time, charging I think two bucks for a game and offering something like five to one for a win and slightly-better-than-even money for a draw. I played him once and lost, played him again and - somehow - won. I don't know exactly what moves I made that would allow me to overcome an obviously ranked player - I can't have been bringing anything to the game he hadn't seen before. I have not developed into the kind of chess player, in either temperament or skill, that would justify calling myself a prodigy. I wasn't hustling the guy. And yet, fresh off my win, when I asked for another game, he said no. He wasn't interested in a bet that history said was -EV. Which is pretty much where I am at this point. This is supposed to be a time for reflection on the self, something important to any thinking poker player's progress, and an ability which I do not have in great measure. Also confession bores me a bit - that Catholic upbringing again. But here's a few pithy things I've learned this year: 1. It's neither passivity nor mania that's your chief enemy, but predictability and stasis. A shark has to keep moving. 2. Emulate successful players, but not when you're playing with them. 3. It takes table image and skill to stay alive when you're not getting good cards, but you need all three to make money. 4. Never assume you've won. Never assume you've lost. Be gracious either way. 5. When you've suffered a bad beat, don't compound your losses by giving lessons. 6. To both enjoy the game and take it seriously, you need to love it. 7. If you only think about your game once a year, your progress will never amount to much of anything.

10.08.2005

It's When You're More Than Famous

A moment from the IHG: Lkim is on the button and has raised preflop; two limpers call and see a flop of AQ4 rainbow. Both players check-call Lance's reasonably-sized flop bet. Turn is an offsuit T and Lance bets big. First limper moves all-in. Second limper moves all-in. And Lance shows us his cards. This has a startling effect on the table. First, we're surprised to see him holding a decent hand for once - AQo for top two pair. Second - and this is a table comprised of the loosest players in a game not notable for big laydowns - the verdict is unanimous: you're beat and you have to fold, even if you do have both of them covered. At best you have a second-best hand with at most four outs, at worst you're drawing dead to slowplayed pocket aces. This is the judgment of everyone at the table. Even with four live outs Lance doesn't have odds to call, even with both all-ins. Those of you who've played with Lance should be surprised by neither of the following two facts: 1. Lance called. The first limper showed KJo for the nut straight. The second showed 44 for bottom set. Lance's top two are indeed third-best. 2. River ace and LHIG. If I hadn't dealt it myself I'd have suspected a deliberate cold-deck. It was that kind of night for him. Early on I called a small raise of his with 45s and saw a flop of 677. He made a tiny flop bet and I liked my implied odds if I caught my open-ender so I called. Turn: 3. Jackpot. He bet out about half the pot and I popped him 3x his bet, hoping he had an overpair. He calls. River: 7, putting trips on the board. He checks and I swear, checking behind. He shows KK for the boat the hard way. I show my worthless straight, smashing my table image forever. Somehow I survive past the bubble and end up heads-up with Lance. He has me outchipped approximately 17 to 1 and I last all of two hands. It was a great night for me nonetheless. I flopped good hands out of the blinds in the cash game and got paid off big, and managed to lay down queens preflop when my UTG bet was faced with a raise and an all-in reraise. I walked off with a nice profit on the night... which five days later I donated to the LA Poker Bloggers Home Game, a.k.a. The Toughest Home Game On The West Coast. C'est le jeu.

10.01.2005

Okay, Maybe I Am A Shill After All

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