Monday, July 28, 2008

Regarding Religion

I spoke on the phone with my mom today, and the topic of religion came up. Having been very active in the church when I was a teenager, she hasn't really gotten how I could have lost faith somewhere along the line. She's not a jesus freak by any means, she's at most spiritual with a slant towards christianity. Still, she can't get how I can "not believe" since she feels that that must make the world a terrible place to live in, if you don't believe someone or something is watching over you.

Having given this a lot of thought, I had a reply ready for her, and I mean to share that reply with you, now:

Religion is a crutch for many. It's something to lean on, take comfort in, when you're feeling sad or scared or alone. To many, it seems to be a comforting thought that although they're going through a lot of pain right now, it's not for naught; there's a meaning behind it. And everything's going to be OK, because God watches over you.

Before I return to what my own view of that particular stance is, I want to make something else abundantly clear: I can't believe for a second that any of the religions I've heard of (which includes quite a few) can be anything but completely man-made. I am also completely sick of evangelicals referencing parts of the old testament (but conveniently ignoring others). They think the 10 commandments should be mandatory in US courtrooms and schools, and happily reference that God certainly don't want gays to marry. They're not quite as keen to quote passages about stoning people left and right. Or any of the other very numerous atrocities listed in the old testament.

Having said that, I want to return to the crutch of religion: It doesn't apply to me. The idea that I should take comfort in God at times when everything goes to hell in life is so foreign that while my mom can't understand how I manage without it, I can't fathom how she manages with it.


If while riding my bike tomorrow I get run over by a car and become an invalid who will spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair and have Lori change my diapers, I can tell you right now that the idea that "it's all a part of god's plan" would be the complete opposite of a comfort. If Lori falls ill with some vicious disease, I can guarantee you that it would make me feel worse, not better, to think that the Lord is watching over us. And there are two reasons why:

I take solace in randomness of things. Because randomness, unlike a divine being, does not play favorites. Randomness isn't prejudiced or bigoted or mean. If something random happens, like me falling down the stairs and breaking my arm, then I don't have to wonder if there's some divine purpose behind it. If very many bad things happen to me, I don't have to wonder if I'm cursed. Imagine how painful that must be! Not only believing in a supreme Maker, but actually fear, when everything else in life is already kicking you in the nuts, that you may have fallen out of grace with God? No, this is not comfort.

The second reason I wouldn't feel better about God watching over me is because I'm not comfortable letting go of the reigns of my own life. If bad things might happen to me, I'd much rather be at the rudder myself. I want to take responsibility for my own actions, and I gladly accept that random bad things - that I could have done nothing about - may happen to me. But if I work really hard towards something and have it snatched away at the last minute, I do not want to have to wonder what I had done to "deserve it."

Religion obviously works as a comfort for millions - billions, they say, although I doubt their way of measuring it - of people, but it's simply not for me. When the shit hits the fan, I'd much much rather think that it was nothing but a bit of bad luck, the great variance of life, than to think that my life has to be shit for some grander purpose in which I have no say.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What a week.

Scandinavian homes, for unsurprising reasons, don't typically install airconditioning. The unsurprising reason is that we don't normally get temperatures that warrant having indoors cooling. This is why, when it's the end of July and we get those few days where the temperature reaches 33 celsius (90+ for the Americans - I think), I don't function very well.

On top of that, my computer has not been functioning very well, either, although I doubt that has to do with the temperature. Rather, it was starting to act up and took more and more time to boot up. I decided to format the hard drive and re-install XP, which was easier said than done since the license key for WinXP I had apparently did not match the CD that I had. And when I re-installed with the correct CD, I had apparently screwed up the RAID configuration for my hard drives which gave me a weird looking STOP 0x07 error, which I didn't actually understand was a configuration error, so I was this close to just saying "fuck it," buy a new computer - this time a nice, quiet laptop - and throw this big heavy hunk of metal away, but inspiration hit me, I decided to try one last thing (after trying about 20 different things for a grand total of 15 hours of work) and it worked.

So I still have my old boring computer, but at least I saved a thousand bucks or so on not having to buy a new one. And it works, bless its little heart.

Between the temperature and the computer driving me mad, I've also encountered my first substantial downswing at no-limit. It's been four months in the making, and boy, was it worth the wait. Through a combination of temperature tilt, new-site-with-an-unfamiliar-interface tilt and how-the-hell-can-I-run-so-bad tilt, I've managed to lose 17 buy-ins, which is quite a feat. These 17 buy-ins include the usual bad beats, of course, although in an unusually large dose, but I take solace in the fact that I know I haven't been playing my best, either.This used to be something that made me feel worse, not better, about a downswing, but that's changed. I'm not sure when or where, but at some point I realized that if I can show that some of the money I've lost in a downswing was my own fault, then I feel more in control of what happens to me, which is way way way better than thinking that 17 buy-in downswings are something that can happen anytime.

There's always a way to win more, lose less and play better. This is true for everyone, and it's doubly true for me.

So while I'm licking my wounds (and moving down to $100NL), I'm still happy that I get a chance to improve. Poker is a very humbling game, and after my four months of virtually non-stop upwards pointing graphs, I needed the bitch slap.

Thanks, poker.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I play a lot more poker now than I used to, and I'm playing for gradually larger and larger sums of money. That is, I win larger and larger sums of money. Not enough to buy a mansion and retire, mind you, but enough so that it's approaching a level where it might change my life style a bit, in terms of what I - or rather, we - can afford. It used to be extra spending cash here and there, now we're looking at what will probably become essentially a third income.

This brings with it a problem for me if I continue playing at PokerStars, and it's the fact that technically, I'm supposed to pay taxes for my winnings there. I say "technically" not as an indication that I think it's something I'd want to dodge, but only "technically" because the law is very confusing on this point. The law states, in essence, three things:

1. I must pay taxes on income from poker outside of the European Union.
2. I must pay taxes on all winnings that are bigger than 100 SEK (~$15)
3. I'm not allowed to deduct money I've lost.

#1 is only slightly confusing. There's no gray area when it comes to PokerStars, since that's registered on Costa Rica which in no way, shape or form can be considered the EU. It's trickier with certain other poker sites that have their headquarters in one country and their servers in another. Where exactly am I "playing poker" in that case?

#2 is a bit "huh?" Does that mean that I only pay taxes on the pots that get larger than $15? So if I play a gazillion hands of small stakes hold 'em where no pots reach a size larger than $15, I can make a fortune and still be tax excempt? It seems weird. But of course, nowhere near as weird as..

#3. This is so fucked up. Instead of telling you exactly what the outcome was, let me suggest that you try an experiment on your own: Imagine that you play 100k hands in a year. Furthermore, let's say that the average pot is $20. This is pretty standard for a $3/$6 limit hold 'em game, for instance. Finally, let's say that you break even over these 100k hands. If you win one hand out of every six (at a 6-max game) and the average size of the pots that you win is $20, then you've won ~17k hands, for roughly $20 each. Or differently put, the sum of all the pots you've won is a third of a million dollars.

After a break-even year like this, you would be owing the Swedish goverment a hundred grand.

See a problem, there?

Anyway, this will most likely be settled in some kind of ground breaking court decision within the near future since there's quite a few Swedes who rely heavily on poker for income, and I know that at least some of them play on non-Euro sites. However, and this is the point I'm belatedly coming to, I don't particularly fancy the prospect of being the martyr for that trial.

In other words, it's not worth it for me to be playing at non-European sites, so I won't. And thus avoid all the fuss and potential problems.

It was with this in mind that I went looking for a new site to join. A bit on a whim - I tend to do things on a whim - I settled on Betway, which is a part of the Microgaming (formerly Prima) network. I downloaded the client, set up my account and...

... couldn't log in. I could log in to their website just fine. But not to the poker client. Which is odd. I'm very good with computers. I'm a senior software engineer. I'm a programmer. I'm good with passwords and keyboards. When I consistently fail to log in, it's usually not the case that I "had caps-lock on" or some other weird mistake. No, the problem was with their software - although they surely wouldn't admit to it being a "problem" - and it's a suckiness on a grand scale.

I mean, I've been pissed off about software bugs before. But this pisses me off just a little bit extra.

They don't allow special characters in the password. That's right, !"#¤%&/()=?`''¨^ etc. are not allowed. Since I'm a believer in high password strength passwords, it pisses me off a bit that it seems my password has to be limited to something with only alpha-numerical characters. Of course, this was not my immediate thought when I couldn't log in so I emailed support. Betway support, in turn, are either not aware of this problem or they didn't think that I'd be so stupid to make a password that has weird characters in it, because they didn't mention this to me. I had to figure it out on my own. "Figuring it out on my own" included Lori creating an account at Betway and logging on, which worked, and that in turn made me start questioning what the difference between her account creation and mine was. Clearly it wasn't a network problem since we're on the same network.

... so I tried a new password without the special characters. This time it worked. I asked Betway if this was the case, and only then did they say "yes, try a password with only letters and numbers." To make matters worse, the non-alpha-numeric password works fine on their website, just not in the client. I gather that there's a possibility that it's actually MicroGaming that sucks, and not Betway, but since I'm a customer of Betway's, I reserve the right to direct my frustration at them.

As you can see, Betway and I did not get off to a good start. Which is perhaps why the other problems I experience at their site irks me so much more than they perhaps should. And this is what irks me the most:

I can't top off my stack until the next hand. This has the following consequence:

$200NL, I'm dealt AQo in the small blind. $199 in my stack since I put in $1 blind. It's folded to the button, who opens to $8. I 3-bet him to $25 and he shoves a full stack. At this point, I have a fairly routine fold to me, but my stack is now down to $175. And here's the crux: There is no way for me to start the next hand with $200. I will have to play the button with less than a full stack.

At Stars, I can fill up before I make the fold. The money won't show up in my stack until after the hand is over, of course, but this way I can always make sure I start the next hand with a full stack. Quite a few times at Betway, I've been forced to start a hand with even less than half a stack (usually the result of making a big laydown on the turn or the river). On one notable occasion, I was dealt AA the next hand, got it all-in vs. KK and am therefore in effect $100 poorer than I ought to have been. Perhaps you can see why this upsets me.

And it's such a small thing to fix.

Asking Betway support about it, they explain to me that I need to leave the table and sit down again to fill up my stack. Of course, this isn't true at all. So not only did Betway and I not get off to a good start, but we're not really improving our relationship either.

Still, I'll give it a real shot. I'm trying for the $5k initial deposit bonus, which is quite a monster, and looks like it'll require me to play more than 100k hands in 3 months to clear. This is not impossible, but in between working full time, enjoying the summer and spending time with wife and friends, it's going to be tough. I'll see how far I get.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nobody Likes Cats, part II

I've said it before, and now I'll say it again: Nobody likes cats.

After the last post, we've taken horny young Ada back to the vet, told them to do it right this time and came back and picked up a very noticeably (and, though I'm ashamed to say it, humorously) post-op wobbly Ada. At that point, she had been indoors for a week and a half, and now we were going to keep her in for another week while her stitches heal up.

This presents some problems. One of these problems is that the other cat, Galileo, doesn't precisely feel that he should be punished because Ada can't behave. Lori and I feel the same way. So basically, we're doormen for him now, and run to open the cat door whenever he feels he wants to go outside since we can't leave the cat door open permanently lest Ada run out, too. In theory, this is not a problem. We have a small house and it's not a big deal to go and let him out when he wants out. Besides, he usually stays out for long stretches so it's not a matter of running back and forth every 10 minutes.

However, there are other problems associated with it. One of those is that Galileo is a very loud and noisy cat. Obnoxious, some would say. I would say. When he wants out, or food, or is bored, he'll let you know about it. Some cats have very faint voices, this one has the volume - and often, the sound - of a seagull. I bring this up, because while it's OK to go and open the cat door in the day, it's not quite as OK to run and open the cat door at night. Firstly because we like the cats to be home at night, secondly because the effort involved in moving to the cat door and opening it is at the very least quadrupled when it requires that I wake up first. Or at least before I reach the somewhat slippery and steep stairway.

So what do you do when it's the middle of the night and Galileo decides that he's bored and wants to go outside? Well, letting him out is one option. It's a somewhat unfortunate option because it not only means that we have to go downstairs to resolve the sitaution, but it also means - at least in my mind - that we're encouraging him. We're rewarding this behavior. By not letting him out, I reason, he might learn that it's futile to make all this noise in the middle of the night and be quiet.

Our policy of not giving in to his keeping-us-awake blackmailing has stood firmly for three years, and for three years we have seen no improvements. Yet, we persist. As does he.

Usually, we lock him up in the room with the closets. I don't have a good name for this room, but it's a small room with closets. So I call it the room with the closets. Besides closets, it also has a litter box and a bowl of water, and this makes it an ideal room to put Galileo in when he's being obnoxious. However, Saturday morning at 3am when he was going at it had some other complications associated with it, namely the fact that we now only had one litter box in the house. We usually have two, but not this morning - I had put one of them out in the car port over night to clear some odor from it.

One litter box, two cats. If we lock one cat up, one of them will not have access to a litter box, and we know what happens then (oh yes, we know). Locking them both up in there could have been an option in the past, but now they fight as soon as they're close to each other, so that wasn't going to happen, either. A split second decision was needed. We could go out to the carport and fetch the other litter box, or we could let Galileo out. Just this once.

The second option was deemed to be the path of least resistance. Let him out, and we can go back to wonderful, blissful sleep. Stumble down the stairs, unlock cat door, push annoying cat out, lock cat door, wobble up the stairs, fall into bed, sleep comfortably for another 5 hours.



No, this is decidely not how things turned out. I must remind you again that we have a cat door that we can set four ways, as in, we can set it to only let cats out, only let cats in, or let them both and out, or being completely locked. We essentially never lock it completely, since we don't want to let the cats out and now have them be able to get back in. So when letting Galileo out, we set it to "in-only." The same thing, of course, on Saturday morning.

You wonder what happened? So did I, when I woke up at 5am to strange noises coming from downstairs. I stumbled out of bed, down the stairs, and...

It's a freakin' magpie. A MAGPIE. They've brought birds - usually dead, or close to dead, birds - into the house before, but they were of the small variety. A magpie is not that small of a bird. I mean, it's no raven, but it's decidely crow-sized. It's in fact so big that I'm still in awe as to how the hell Galileo managed to get it and himself through the cat door at the same time.

And it was alive. And, understandably, upset. In fact, it was not only alive, it seemed fine as it flew around downstairs, while chased but not one, but two cats. Oh yes, they don't get along at all usually, but now suddenly they're Mickey and Mallory.


I'll save you the story of us desperately trying to get the bird out of the house. Suffice it to say that no real damage was done to the interior of the house, or to its inhabitants, or even the bird. The magpie got out fine, after a (long) while of having pecked desperately at the closed window in the kitchen and completely ignored the wide open one that was two feet to its left. Since neither Lori nor I wanted to pick it up and carry it over to the open window (or out the door) we went with the coward's option of shoving it towards freedrom with a long object, in this case a broom. This is more difficult than you might think since the bird was not in any mood to be shoved and, unlike land based animals, had the option of moving in all three dimensions to return to where it had previously been shoved from. But alas, finally it flew away on its own and sat on a roof top down the road, so we gather it got out okay. Although, before it got out, it was very clearly panting. I've never heard a bird panting before. Still, we think asthmathic bird is OK.

I still can't believe Galileo got the bird in, though.

I'm going to have to make a follow up post with pictures of Galileo, the cat door and perhaps superimpose a magpie on top of it to give you an idea how small of a margin he had to work with.

Nobody likes cats.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tiffany Michelle and the WSOP

I've been following the bigger poker blogs during the WSOP to keep up with the drama. I don't exactly know why, because I don't really care that much about tournament poker. I guess it's decent entertainment value for me in reading about poker when the writing is done by talented people. Like Pauly. Or Shamus.

I don't spend my days endlessly refreshing the PokerNews website for live updates, though, nor do I check the rankings or results. I'm in it for the anecdotes and funny sideline stories. But still, one thing that hasn't escaped me is the hype going on (or that went on, technically) around Tiffany Michelle, who was knocked out in 17th place. A lot of people were rooting for her, were rooting for a woman to win the WSOP, or at least for her to be among the November Nine, to sit at the televised final table.

Someone else who didn't miss this commotion was The Poker Grump. He writes about how it's odd that everyone is excited about a woman going deep (pardon the expression) - that Tiffany Michelle is the "last woman standing" - but little attention is given to, as he puts it, the "last black standing." He suggests that there's no good reason why we should care at all about the sex or race of a poker player. He's right.

I do, however, think the defining characteristic for the media frenzy around Tiffany Michelle is based more on the fact that she's a good looking woman, and not just "a woman." I understand that there are female poker players who might be excited for her without caring how she looks, and I understand there may be feminists who'd love to see a woman win "a boy's game," but the primary reason the cameras are pointed at Tiffany Michelle isn't her lack of a Y-chromosome, it's because she looks good on camera. And it's important to keep the cause-and-effect in check here, because I think people are excited about her because they hear about her, rather than the other way around. News outlets dictate what we care about.

But there was a reason to be excited about Tiffany Michelle, and that is that, frankly, it could have given poker another "boom." A pretty girl making the final table of the WSOP Main Event? That's something that might even be headline news on the big networks. And why? Because she looks good on camera. I know it's superficial and shallow, I know it's sleazy and sexist, but it's real. She would very effectively draw attention - the good kind - to poker, quite possibly causing a large new influx of players. Another poker boom. And hey, if she's more than just pretty - smart and a good card player to boot - we hit a jackpot.

So while I agree with The Poker Grump on the overall moral of poker not being about your gender or the tone of your skin, this doesn't preclude me from being just a little disappointed that she didn't do better. Because the final table will now probably get less media attention than it would have had she still been in it, and that's unfortunate.

Ah, well. Maybe next year Ben Affleck will win it. That ought to attract some attention.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bet/folding versus check/calling

Getting better at poker is often - mostly - a slow and gradual process. Some steps are small and some are big. I was recently reminded of one of my big steps; a very "aha!" moment I had: When I realized why sometimes bet/folding the river was better than check/calling.

On the surface, it's counterintuitive. Let's say that I can either put in $20 myself on the river, but fold if my opponent raises, or I can check and call $20 if he bets. "Either way," I told myself, "I've put in $20, but in the second case I get to see a showdown. How could the first option possibly be better?"

It can be, and it often is. It all comes down to ranges. I expertly made a little illustration to help, well, illustrate the point (click on it to see a larger version):

The bar represents, from left to right, our opponent's range. The farther to the right, the stronger his hand. On a A64-K-J board, for instance, QT (the nuts) would be all the way to the right, and 75 would be all the way to the left. The nuts vs. absolute trash. Let's keep the A64-K-J example and run with it for awhile. And let's give ourselves A-K.

The colors represent what the player is likely to do and the respective outcome for us. In the first bar, we bet out. If we ignore our opponent's trash in the beginning, we see that there's a pretty wide green bar in the middle. That green is the range that he's willing to call with that we beat. It includes hands like AQ, perhaps KJ and probably other top-pair type hands. Farther to the right, we have the red hands - the ones that beat us. This consists of sets and straights. He will most likely raise any hand that beats us.

If you notice the small red part in the beginning, it's because I'm allowing for my opponent to sometimes bluff raise us, and for all intents and purposes, we can say that he will do that with the very worst of his hands. Maybe 5-7, that missed its open-ended straight draw, will take a stab on the river.

Here's what to take home from this illustration: The green parts are where we make a bet. The red parts are where we lose a bet. The idea is to maximize the size of GREEN minus RED.

... and that brings us to the second bar, where we instead of betting out decide to check and call. This time, our opponent's bluffs (at the very left of his range) will be called and are therefore no longer red; they're green. We make money when he bluffs. But then comes an alarmingly long stretch of black; black meaning that we didn't make anything. He just checked behind and we won the pot with the best hand. Most players are careful on the river; they don't want to risk more money with a marginal hand. They might call to see if you're bluffing or just to see if their hand was good enough, but if they could choose, they'd prefer not to put money in. That's where the black stretch comes from.

Then there's some green stretch farther to the right; his stronger hands that you can still beat. Ace-jack comes to mind. And of course, all the way to the right are the same monsters as in the first bar, that he will surely bet for value when you check to him. Again, they're red, and again, you lost $20 to them.

But, and here's the whole point, note how much bigger the GREEN minus RED is in the top bar.

This is why bet/folding is such a powerful weapon. It forces opponents to pay to see a showdown when they'd rather not, and it's a hugely profitable strategy as long as this particular player isn't prone to bluffing too much - thus making the red stretch on the left bigger - compared to how much he's calling - thus shrinking his green stretch in the middle.

Like I said, this was one of my greatest "aha!"-moments.


... had created her own blog. I thought it worth mentioning. If you're a stalker looking to find out even more about me, then reading her blog is probably a good way to puzzle more pieces together.

Sunday Warm-up

I think I've played a grand total of two tournaments this year. The first was a $10 buy-in CardsChat event that I ended up taking first place in, and the second was yesterday's Sunday Million Warm-up for $215 on Stars. I played it on a whim, really. Given that they doubled every guarantee this week, I figured I could invest the 13.5k frequent player points needed to buy-in to the tournament and see how it worked out.

It worked out pretty well; I ended up in 230th place for $964.26.

Is this how you get hooked on tournament poker? You make a decent score once and then you spend every Sunday night sleepless from there on, trying to repeat that one night where the cards were decent?

I worry.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bluffing with weak hands

ChuckTs made a post on the private Stoxpoker forums a few days back where he asked about bluffing for stacks with an ace-high type hand and if this was a good time to try it. This is what the hand looked like (I hope he doesn't mind me writing about it here):

Poker Stars, $0.50/$1 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 7 Players - Hand History Converter

UTG+1: $99.20
MP: $101.50
CO: $132.55
BTN: $138.35
SB: $99
Hero (BB): $149.95
UTG: $122.10

Pre-Flop: A 8 dealt to Hero (BB)
5 folds, SB raises to $4, Hero calls $3

Flop: ($8) T T 9 (2 Players)
SB bets $6, Hero calls $6

Turn: ($20) 2 (2 Players)
SB bets $12, Hero raises to $27, SB calls $15

River: ($74) 5 (2 Players)
SB checks, Hero bets $63

Now, my reply in the thread got no responses. I'm going to guess it was for one of three reasons:

  1. Nobody understood what I tried to say.
  2. I'm completely wrong and everybody wants to save me the embarrassment by ignoring the post.
  3. I'm so completely right that no more posts are needed.

Which is it? Well, who knows. But #3 seems unlikely, so instead of just reposting my reply I'll try to rephrase it a bit and make the logic a bit easier to follow. I'm also going to use a much simpler example to illustrate the reasoning. In fact, I'm going to invent a game just for this purpose.

The game works like this: Both players ante up (let's say $.50 for an initial pot of $1), and then both players draw a card from their own 13-card (deuce to ace) deck. Since they have individual decks, both players can have the same card. Once the deal is done, the person starting (let's call him the "button") can either bet or check. If the button bets, his opponent may fold. If the button bets and his opponent calls, they go to showdown. If the button checks, they go to showdown. Whoever has the highest card will take the money in the pot. No raising is allowed.

So in an example deal, your opponent draws a trey, you - with the blind - draw a card, you bet and he will almost certainly fold. The only card he can beat is if you drew a deuce and bluffed, so he doesn't stand much of a chance of winning. Easy, right?

So how should you attack this game? Clearly you should always bet your aces. They're the nuts and you can't lose. Which other cards should you bet? There's a game theory optimal answer to that, but instead of taking the long way to get there, let's instead stipulate that our opponent will only call a bet with a nine or better. Which hands should you bet?

Clearly you should bet your aces. There's no question about betting the nuts.

But should you bet your eights?

No, most certainly not! You stand nothing to gain from this. Any better hand will call, and any worse hand will fold. When you have the best hand, you will win the exact same amount of money as if you had checked, but half the time you will instead lose an extra bet instead of saving it.

Should you bet a deuce? Yes!

It comes down to this: Your opponent will fold more than half of his possible hands when you bet, so regardless of what you have, you will take the pot a little more than half of the times that you bet. A deuce can never win, so if you check it you've lost. If you bet it, more than 50% of the time he will fold and you will win back your blind. If you check it, you will always lose. The key here is that you gain from making this bet because he will fold the winning hand more than half the time and you're about even money on the bet.

You shouldn't bet the best of your bad hands, but you should bet the worst of your bad hands. This is because the value of the bluff comes from your opponent folding the best hand. This doesn't happen if you bet an eight, but it can certainly happen if you bet the deuce.

Now we return to the original hand, and hopefully you can see that the same reasoning applies. Here, Chuck has an ace-high hand. We can separate his opponent's hands into these three categories:

1. Busted draws,
2. Trips-or-better,
3. Mediocre hands who floated the turn.

Since he's getting about even money on the river bet (a little better, but play along) he needs his opponent to fold a better hand about half the time. His opponent is probably never folding trips-or-better. He's certainly folding his busted draws, but we could already beat the busted draws. And he would fold his mediocre hands if he's somewhat tight.

We can beat each hand in group #1 (the busted draws). So for Chuck's bluff to be profitable, we need group #3 (mediocre hands) to be bigger than group #2 (monsters). It's a somewhat simple exercise with PokerStove to find out if this is the case. But what I tried to explain in the original thread, and that which is the point of this post, is that if our hand had been weaker - say 87o - then a river bet would have gone from probably -EV, to definitely +EV, because suddenly we no longer beat a busted draw! Instead of needing just group #3 to be bigger than group #2, we make money if the total sum of both group #1 and #3 is greater than his monsters.

So, perhaps counterintuitively, betting A8 is a losing play, but betting 87 isn't. Weird, huh.

Did I make sense this time? I hope so. Comment, please.


Oh, and an addendum: Playing limit, this is a lesson that is learned pretty early on. Against everyone but the worst of calling stations (who might show down king-high) good limit players will check this river every time. Raising the turn and then checking the river with a mediocre hand (but one that has some chance of winning) is sometimes called a "free showdown play" and is pretty common in limit.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bot Prevention on Stars?

The Poker Grump just posted about a new feature on Stars. Apparently he was asked, mid-game, to type in a specified word (also known as a "captcha"). Check out the screenshot on his blog.

From what little I can gather from the screenshot, it seems to me that game flow isn't interrupted to wait for people to type it in, and you have 100 seconds time before something (what?) will happen.

I think this is pretty cool. It's a tiny, tiny nuisance but goes a very long way in dealing with the risk of bots. Thumbs up, Stars.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Recommendation: The Selfish Gene

Besides poker and the occasional out-of-my-real-life anecdote, I was also planning to write about some of the better books I come upon. I’m an avid reader, and like most avid readers I have the kind of enthusiasm about books that expresses itself by encouraging others to read them, too. And isn’t this just a great venue for encouraging it?

I kick off this series with The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and a few words about him, first of all:

My first encounter with Dawkins was in an interview on the Colbert Report (a show that, most unfortunately, we do not get in Sweden), where he talked about his book The God Delusion - a book that I may well write more about on a later date. Watching the show, I appreciated his dry humor and his wit, and decided that I'd go get that book he was talking about. And I did.

And I became a fan of sorts. I really liked his style of writing. So I decided that I'd like to read more of what he has written, and he had kept mentioning his first book, The Selfish Gene, when he referred to various evolutionary evidence in The God Delusion. "So," I thought to myself, "maybe I should read that."

A word on evolution: Now, I tried to read Darwin's own book a few years back, but was, sadly, bored out of my mind. It's a brick, and it's dense, and it's not precisely written for its entertainment value. I'm not questioning that it's fascinating if you're already in a state of mind to be fascinated by the historical and scientific importance that this book has. But I wasn't, and I'm not sure I will be. I don't mind taking the road more travelled, sometimes. So when I was visiting my in-laws in Minnesota over easter and ran around in various bookstores (as I tend to do when I'm in the US), I noticed The Selfish Gene on a shelf and saw that it was
  1. less of a brick than Darwin's "Origin of Species" and
  2. likely more entertaining and therefore possibly more educational and worthwhile to read.
Also, my 8th grade knowledge of evolution could use a freshening-up. So I put it in the pile of books I was going to take with me home.

By now, I'm sure you've figured out that it - The Selfish Gene - is a book about evolution. Specifically, it addresses the central point of the evolutionary mechanism: The gene. It's not the species (as Darwin assumed) that is subject to natural selection, it's the gene. Some genes multiply and survive well, some multiply and survive poorly. We, the species, are "merely" carriers of a bunch of genes, and it's through us that they survive.

It's difficult to read this kind of material in one sitting. So despite being fascinated and curious, it took quite some time to get through it. I had to pause pretty often and turn to Lori and say "did you know that..." or "hah! guess what it says here!" or "hey, this is kinda cool." The book is not what you'd call light reading, but it is a very, very interesting read.

In terms of non-fiction work, this book is top-notch. I can't recommend it enough.

Monday, July 7, 2008


There's a software called PokerEV, which has as its basic functionality that it imports all hands from PokerTracker, finds the spots where I am all-in, and then finds out what my expected value for that situation is and compare it to the actual outcome. For instance, let's say that it finds a situation where me and this other guy is all-in preflop, and I have kings and he has queens. If I unsurprisingly win, I will score his entire stack. In PokerEV, it will show that I got a little bit lucky on that hand, since my real winnings are higher than my theoretical outcome. Of course, the idea is to create an average over many hands.

Differently put, it tells you if you're being lucky or unlucky in all-in situations. Do you seem to lose every coin flip with AK vs. pocket pairs? Etc. It's really only useful for no-limit, and even there its usefulness is questionable.

I've used it twice.

Both times was after I knew for a fact that I had been unlucky in all-in pots, and wanted a machine, a program, to tell me what I already knew, because that way I'll feel better about myself. Today was such a day. I had to download it again since I uninstalled it last time. I couldn't remember why. But I plugged my hands in and I almost wanted to post my graph here on this blog for sympathy.

... but then I remembered that I don't do that. And then I uninstalled PokerEV again, and made this post instead. And I think that was better, for all of us. And now I think I remember why I uninstalled it last time.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Nobody Likes Cats

Another week comes to an end. We've had a bit of ups and downs this week, where the largest down has been Ada - one of our two cats - deciding to not come home. She took off early Tuesday morning when I let her out, which was odd because she's typically the one who's home in the mornings. Our other cat - Galileo - likes to get out early to hunt mice. Ada likes to sleep. Is this indicative of our society in general? Hrm.

Anyway, this morning was different. This time, she was pushing at the cat door even before I got down there. We have the kind that you can lock to different settings: "only out," "both in and out," "only in," and "locked." So at 7pm each night, we set it too "only in" and wait for the cats to come home if they aren't already. Tuesday morning, I set it to "in and out" and off she went. She didn't come home that night, which we didn't react much to since she's often out late. Of course, it was a bit weird that she took off so early and stayed out for so long, but we didn't think too much about it when we went to bed.

But then she wasn't home when we got up in the morning, which we did frown upon. It's happened before (twice) that she's been gone for more than a day, so we shrugged it off - but with a bit more worry, this time - and went to work. Came home, no Ada. Galileo sleeping in the couch. Odd.

Wednesday night passed and no girl cat. Now we started to worry for real, but I decided she probably just had one of her horny weeks. "She'll be home when she's hungrier than horny" I told Lori. She didn't necessarily buy it, because she's a natural worrier, but at least she nodded.

Thursday came and went, and still no sign of Ada. Now we started to worry even more. A few things were still in favor of her being OK and just out hoping to get laid, namely

  1. that she was desperate to get out on Tuesday morning (suggesting that something was up, potentially her hormones) and
  2. that no one had called and said that they had found a dead cat. She has a tattoo with an ID number in her left ear.

Admittedly, reason #2 isn't conclusive in any way since there's no guarantee that she would have been reported or brought in if she had been in, say, a car accident. But it at least increases the chance of her being okay a little bit since some non-zero percent of the time that she would have been in an accident, the person behind the wheel would have had the decency to take her to the vet.

Once you start thinking about accidents, the mind starts racing about everything else that could have gone wrong. There's house construction going on a little ways away from here. What if she had snuck into one of the houses when the door was open and the builders locked up and didn't notice that there was a cat in there? And so on.

[Visions of a cute, tiny starving cat. If that cat is just being horny, though, I'll be SOO pissed off.]

So Friday morning, still no sign of Ada. The last time she took off like this, she was gone for four days before coming home and binged on dry food (you'd be amazed how wildly such a small cat can feast on a meal). It hadn't been four days yet, but our optimism were dropping fast. Friday night, Lori went to bed early but I was up for a little while longer. I decided that I wanted to do something, so I told Lori I'd go for a bike ride around the neighborhood and see if I could find her. Admittedly a long shot, but I was awake and had nothing better to do. And a long shot is better than no shot.

I was out for maybe five minutes before I see a cat in front of me on the bike path. I slow down and get closer. It moved sort of like Ada, and was the right size, but alas, not her. I slumped a bit and continued my route, which I figured would take me about 15 minutes total. As I was closing the loop, I see another cat on a parking lot. I almost missed it, actually, but I saw movement in the corner of my eye. I get off my bike and move carefully towards the new cat. It was dark, and difficult to see, but as I got closer it was very clearly Ada.

And she was apparently happy to see me, because she perked up when she saw me and then sort of skipped over to me. So I took her home, woke Lori up, and...

[Well, let me make something clear. Ada has been spayed. That doesn't mean only that she's unable to get pregnant, it also means that she shouldn't have any ovaries left and therefore that she shouldn't get the wild hormones that drives her to run around the neighborhood for days on end looking for willing male cats.]

... and after sighing happily and being grateful that our beloved cat was okay, we decided that before that damn cat gets let out again, she's getting the REST of her ovaries and uterus removed! GODDAMMIT! So now she doesn't get let out which means that we're keeping our bedroom door closed out of fear that she'll retaliate this grave unjustice of not being let out by peeing in our bed. It's happened before.

So, to sum up:

Down: Ada running off.
Up: Ada coming home.

Down: Playing 9 tables of $100NL tables while drunk. Dropping four buy-ins.
Up: Playing 9 tables of $100NL tables the next day while sober and winning back the same amount I lost.

Down: Fear of Tommy Angelo accidentally happening upon this blog and seeing that I play the certifiably worst of my C-game (drunk and tired) for hours on end only a few days after praising his book.
Up: If he actually happens to read my blog, that'd be pretty cool. If he leaves me a comment and lets me know about it, I promise I won't play drunk for five hours again.

Down: Failing to attend a bachelor party for a good friend because of a misunderstanding and double booking.
Up: Hanging out with other friends and learning that they're expecting a baby! Big congratulations to L and S!

That about sums it up.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Reaching Enough

In my years of playing poker - let's face it, they're not that many - I've flirted with the idea of getting rich from this game. Going pro. Making it big. High roller. Living the dream. My romance with this idea is a lot more passionate when I'm running hot than when I'm in a downswing.

Fortunately for me, I run into downswings now and again which make me rethink my stance of leaving a well paid job that I enjoy in favor of sitting alone at home in front of my computer screen for hours every day. I say fortunately, because barring the natural high that comes from running hotter than the sun, I rationally realize that being an online poker pro isn't for me. I crave company, and diversity and coffee breaks with coworkers.

So what do I do with poker? I'm pretty good at it. Not astonishingly so, in any way, but I do okay. I beat limit hold 'em up to $2/$4 online pretty comfortably, and I do okay at $3/$6. I ran into problems at $5/$10 last year and, as much as it hurts to say it, I'm probably not good enough to beat those games at this time. Playing no-limit, I've so far not reached stakes where I didn't feel like I could easily beat it, but then again, no-limit is an easier game to beat. How high will I go?

It's at this point in my train of thought that my mind typically starts racing with the idea of making it big. I mean, I'm beating $100NL today. In a couple of months, I'll move up to $200NL. Practise playing regulars, study some more... Then $400NL, and perhaps in a year I'll play $5/$10 NL, and...

Where does it stop? Does it stop? I've been thinking about that a lot.

Someone else has thought about it, too, and put it in terms of the Peter Principle:

The Peter Principle stipulates that in a sufficiently hierarchial organization, an employee will be promoted to his level of incompetence. The idea being that if you're good at your job, you will be promoted. Sooner or later, you'll be promoted to a job that you're not good at, at which point you will no longer be promoted and simply stay put in a position where you're not useful. My buddy Irexes has reworked the Peter Principle somewhat into what he calls the Irexes Principle, and states that poker players will move up in stakes until they start losing money. Some of these players will see that they're not good enough to beat the stakes they're at and move down again and try to work their way back up. Some other players will stubbornly refuse to move down because they're "a $400NL player" so it eats at their pride to step down to $200NL or $100NL. Some players yet again will lose a large chunk of their bankroll and then do the absolute worst: Move up in order to quickly win it back.

I knew what Irexes posted to be true before I read it, but his thread brought it to the frontlines of my conscious thinking. Shortly after reading his post on the matter, I accidentally stumbled upon a thread on 2+2 (I say accidentally, because I very rarely read those forums and this just happened to be on the front page) that is connected. To save you the time of having to click the link, I'll give you the cliffnotes:

  1. First poster asks the general 2+2 population (at micro stakes no-limit) what changed them into a winning player.
  2. After a little while, someone makes a response that on the surface seems kind of dickish, "Just fwiw most people here are not winning players."
  3. Someone else asks why he thinks there aren't many winning players there.

... and the reply is worthwhile. From the post:

I would say that somewhere around 3-4% of all people who post on this board are winning players, if by "winning" I mean able to sustain a winrate of 5ptbb/100 over a sample of more than 100k hands at any given limit. Actually its probably less than that.

Its does seem otherwise, but think about it - why would someone who is crushing 50nl need to post hands at all? Obviously there are those who come back to help out which is great, and there are the semi-ok regulars who post decent advice. But as far as people who are actually good players, most have long since moved up (and most who do subsequently hit the wall at 100/200nl).

This is the Peter (or Irexes) principle in different cloaking; "People don't play for very long at limits they beat."

And it strikes me as a damn shame. A lot of poker talent is wasted because of an urge to win more with the ironic effect of winning less. The idea of wasting my own poker talent has occupied my mind a lot, as I said, and now I'm approaching what can perhaps be called a conclusion - or at least a formula of sorts.

Some stipulations:
  • I do not want to go pro or make my primary living off of poker.
  • I have a limited amount of time to spend on this hobby.
  • I want to win money.
  • I want to have fun.
The order of priority in this list is not really important, because they're all mandatory. I look at these four items, and then consider this (obvious?) fact: Playing winning poker is a skill that requires constant honing and practise. The lower the stakes, the lesser the need for study. For the sake of argument, let's make up some numbers.

With the current levels of difficulty in beating the online games as compared to my own current skill level, it will take me...

... 1 hour a week of playing to maintain a decent win-rate at $10NL.

... 2 hours a week of playing and 1 hour of studying a week to maintain a decent win-rate at $25NL.

... 4 hours a week of playing and 2 hours of studying a week at $50NL.

... etc.

The investment of time needed per level I move up is not necessarily linearly proportional to the stakes I play; it's quite possible that the investment of time needed to double the stakes is much less than a factor of two. But regardless of what the factor is, it's higher than 1. So higher stakes means more time.

This idea has been bouncing around in my mind for a few weeks now. It means that there's an answer to where my "enough" lies. Where I belong. I have a place in the poker hierarchy based on how much time I'm willing to invest and how smart I am and how much I already know. I may not be able to perfectly calculate this place, but just because I can't calculate it doesn't mean that it's not there.

And I can make some estimation or guess as to where this place might be. I can guess that it's pretty close to where I am now; I only have a precious few hours per week to spend on poker. I might be able to eventually move up comfortably to $200NL but I doubt I'll go much higher than that without being able to put in 15+ hours a week.

Will I feel good about reaching enough? Will I experience inner peace and be content? Or will I feel stuck and rooted and start to think of poker as just a grind? I really don't know.

What I do know is that I'll never reach the upper echelons. It hurts my pride a bit to admit this, because I want to be cool and tough and play big stakes and post about it so people can go "oooh, he's the man." I want to make thousand dollar soulread calls with king high and make a million dollars at heads-up poker. But it's not going to happen. Pride be damned.

So instead of putting in the huge amounts of time required to (maybe) become a poker millionaire, I choose to spend my time differently. The awesome part of it is that by posting about it here, I'm essentially saying "hey, it's not for a lack of skill that I'm not crushing $1k/$2k, it's because I'm busy." And so my pride and ego is preserved after all.

Ahhh, bliss.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

LiTHe Blås and Me, Revisited

So it seems a reporter found us on a square when we were playing in Lüneburg, Germany, on Thursday.

Babelfish translates it to:
Are considered to Sweden as reserved humans. The fact that they in addition, correctly good tendency can spread proved yesterday a blowing chapel from the country of the moose: " Linköpings Tekniska Högskolas Blåscorps" (in a general manner: Blowing corps of the technical universities Linköping) played at the place at the sand directly before the building industrie and of the Chamber of Commerce. There it had is invited, which operates also its outer narrow astronomy there. Sweden offered a multicolored and dragging along show with blowing music versions for example from " Dschingis Khan" and daring dance inserts in failed costumes. Approximately 150 Lüneburger whipped enthusiastically also.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tommy Angelo

It feels almost redundant to write a tribute to Tommy Angelo's masterful Elements of Poker, given how many others have already raised it to the skies. Still, I feel compelled to do this as soon as I've, y'know, finished the book. I don't know if it says more about me or the book that I'm willing to praise it before I've finished it; maybe it's just that good - or maybe I'm just that enthusiastic.

Or maybe it's both.

But now that you know how enthusiastic I am, you can imagine my joy when I noticed that my poker-pun-philosophy prophet of the last few years has started his blog. It makes me very happy.