Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm Not Dead

Just a quick post to let everyone know I didn't drop off the face of the planet. We went to Karlstad over the weekend to visit my parents, and we got back about 30 minutes ago. Last night got late with lots of wine, so I'm not too energetic right now and definitely not alert enough to make a long blog post about how and why to 4-bet-bluff in no-limit hold 'em cash games.

Although I might write that post tomorrow.

Oh, and obligatory "month-in-conclusion" numbers:

Despite a really bad downswing mid-month, the rest of the month's been a big heater and I ended up about $1,200 over 24k hands. So average results are definitely good, although for my psychological health I think a more even curve would have been more suitable. Still, I'm not going to complain - the result is what counts, and the tally looks good to me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Ethical Dilemma with Poker

There was an aspect of poker that bothered me, or more succinctly put, gnawed on me. For me, it was the proverbial elephant in the room, my bad conscience and something that I most times avoided even thinking about, because I didn't particularly like where the train of thought took me. But sometimes it's good to challenge one's demons, and in this particular case, I discovered that my demon was fictional.

What troubled me is the idea that when I play poker, I don't contribute to society. That's it, in its simplest form. In the best case scenario I'm just taking money - value - that someone else has created from the system and putting it in my own pocket. That made me feel like a thief. In the worst case scenario, someone else is winning my money. That made me feel like a loser.

See, when I make money doing what I actually do for a living - creating software for set top boxes - I contribute to the GDP of Sweden and the world. When I make money playing poker, I don't contribute. This constituted a great ethical dilemma for me, because I need to feel useful. I think I made the connection that playing poker isn't useful, and if I'm not useful, I'm a leech. Therefore, playing poker makes me a leech.

But I don't think this is true anymore. Or at least sort-of not.

Why would playing poker be a worse pastime than, for instance, playing golf? Well, okay, besides the obvious reasons (one is highly stressful, the other usually relaxing, one is done sitting on your ass in front of your computer or in a smoke filled casino, the other is out exercising in Mother Nature), but looking at it from a macro economical perspective, both are activities that for the majority of people cost money and take time. Both are volontary. And both are hobbies, of sorts.

A lot of people play poker and lose money. They may not particularly want to (or even think they do) lose money, but in effect they're paying to play cards as a hobby. If this was like golf, everyone would lose money in the form of green fees, membership costs, equipment, cost of getting to and from the golf course, etc. so why should it bother me that instead of all the "fees" that people incur from playing poker just going into the game itself, some of it goes to me? In fact, most everyone who plays do it with the hope that they'll be the ones who have a good day.

I should not feel guilty about having more good days than others. I've worked hard to earn them.

The reason it's perhaps taken me more time than most others who have thought about this to reach the conclusion that it's morally OK for me to play this game and win money is because I reached the wrong conclusion the first time I thought about it and I've been a coward and mostly avoided the thought since then.

But there you have it.

Now, there is still a potential ethical problem with poker, and that is that some of the people I play against are bound to have serious gambling problems. They might be playing with money that they need to buy food for their kids, they might be playing with stolen money and they might lose it all to me. This is a far cry from the majority of my opponents (which seems to be what the republican bible-thumpers are suggesting and Barney Franks so eloquently disagrees with) but there are bound to be some of them. For this, I still feel a sting of guilt. But even if I knew who they were - and that's borderline impossible when you're playing online - I'm not sure how to do anything about it. I'm falling back on the semi-faulty thinking that "they're not going to stop playing if I'm not there" which is essentially the same thing as saying "it's okay to do it because everyone does it."

That one I still don't know how to tackle, and I'm not sure I can or, honestly, have to. Perhaps I can accept that this is a part of the game I love and I counter that part with all the other things that are so magnificent about it. Poker is like a simulation of life itself in many aspects, and perhaps the misery of a few people are a needed reminder in the microworld that not everything is OK in the macroworld, either. A mirror of life that contains only rosy pictures is a poor mirror, after all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This is apparently a poker blog

I've been feeling very energetic, lately. After two weeks of nausea, fatigue and tilt I'm now fully recovered. I sleep well at night, I come home after a productive day of work and I have energy left over to do stuff around the house and even play the occasional hand of poker!

As part of this energy, I've also been spending time thinking about what to do with this here blog and reading up on ways to improve it. I've been toying with Google Analytics and I've installed FeedBurner. This will, by the way, be the premiere feed going via FeedBurner, so that's, well... Something. I kid around that I have about 6 readers, but the number is actually close to a devout and loyal 50, which is tiny in the great cosmos of the internet, but kinda big for me. And I don't even have friends or relatives (not counting myself or my wife) who follow my blog, so that's 48 relative strangers who actually visit this site semi-regularly or has a subscription in Google Reader.

A large chunk is of course regulars from CardsChat.

A couple of other readers came over from Bill Rini's blog after I had a "guest-appearance" with an article. A total "clickthrough" of 17, which is actually quite a bit lower than I expected. I know Bill has a lot of readers, but I guess I hoped more of them would peek at the link in the blurb at the bottom. Ah, well, such is life.

And then, the biggest jump by far in Google Analytics, is the day that The Poker Grump mentioned that I had mentioned him. It's blog back-patting at its finest.

Finally, quite a few have come here looking for dirt on Betway. I wonder if I'm doomswitched yet.

So figuratively and literally, there you are. I'm humbled and thankful that you read what I write, and I hope I can continue to write stuff that you, for whatever reason, like reading. What's clear to me, however, is that I'll stick with what I know - and that appears to be writing about poker.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Taxation Madness, Part II

When I wrote about my decision to play at Betway, I gave taxation as one of the basic problems with playing at the large sites like Stars or FTP. The thing is, these sites are not based in Europe and therefore I have to pay taxes on my winnings if I play there. If I play on a site based in the EU, however, that's not the case. Now, on the surface, I'm dodging a 30% extra "rake" by playing in the EU. But it's not quite that simple.

I'm sure you've all seen Swedish guys playing at Stars. Wanna know something about 'em? They're tax evaders. No, really, they are. Yes, I'm sure. Yes, that sure.

Because there's no way they'd be playing there if they were following the letter of the law, and I know this because I very recently was informed what the letter of the law actually means. As I explained in the post I link at the top, the way Swedish tax law for poker is written (presuming it takes place outside of the EU) is that I'm taxed on my winnings but cannot deduct my losses. And it's on a per-pot basis. So if I win $10 in one hand, I get to keep $7. If I lose $10 the next hand, tough break. 50k hands of $3/$6 6-max limit hold 'em works out to owing the government about $70,000 - (almost) regardless of net result.

So when you see someone from Sweden playing $3/$6 at Poker Stars - a site based in Costa Rica, i.e. "not EU" - then you can consider it a safe bet that he isn't being entirely honest when he fills out his tax declaration.

The way this law works is pretty sickening. See, I can accept the idea of paying taxes on net poker winnings outside of the EU. It would still make a whole ton of sense for any professional Swedish poker player to stick with the European sites (Ladbrokes, Party, etc.) since the extra 30% off the winnings that he or she would have to pay for winning money at another site is difficult to offset with game selection, although I suppose plausible at the highest tiers. But as it stands now, it's not financially viable to play on a non-EU site. The term I used in my email to Skatteverket was "financial suicide," in fact, and the lady who replied didn't disagree with it.

But now that I've gotten the confirmation from Skatteverket, it's time for me to move this fight to the politicians. I'm not entirely sure how to best go about it yet. I've contacted them about this law before but without result. This time, I'll have to try a new angle. Maybe I can get Poker Stars to help me apply some pressure? This really is in their best interest as well.

I'll have to think about that.

Lori lets me know that it's dinner time, and it's smells deeeee-lish-us! Of course, that might not be dinner, that might be the blueberry cup cakes she baked. Either way, I'm in for a treat. Jealous? You should be.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bye, Bye, Betway

Yes, like Blackbird, Betway is now going Bye-Bye for me. I'm sorry, but I can't take it anymore. The software is gnawing on me and every annoying little detail adds up until frustration just gets the better of me.

  1. Not being able to top off my stack until two deals after I lost the money is annoying.
  2. So is being dealt AA when I have a stack of less than two blinds.
  3. Having the support staff tell me that I can't top off my stack until I go bust completely is not only false, but - you guessed it - annoying.
  4. Being further told by the support staff that there's no one to send a request to fix this "rule" (yes, they called it "a poker rule") in their software is annoying.
  5. Them calling it a "poker rule" is annoying.
  6. Them referring to not being able to fill up my stack between hands in casino poker as an explanation as to why they have it this way is annoying.
  7. The entire software occasionally freezing for 4-5 seconds when I open another table is annoying.
  8. ... and timing out on some other table because of that is annoying.
  9. Having about 80% success rate in even starting the software to begin with (usually hangs at "graphics loading") is annoying.
  10. The little sliders in the lobby that you're supposed to use to set the limits of the table not actually being usable - I click and drag, click and drag, but they don't move - is annoying.
  11. The "show empty tables" check boxes not necessarily working is annoying.
  12. And finally, having to spend 10 minutes even figuring out how to withdraw my money from the site, when I'm fuming and just want to get the hell off it, is annoying.
So, bye bye Betway. I'm now back at Party Poker, which, for all its faults, has software that doesn't drive me insane. Yet.

...

Tomorrow, we're driving up to Stockholm to see Mamma Mia (the musical) with my parents and sisters, which will be fun, so I'll be gone for the better part of the weekend. When I get back, I hope to share with you the stupidity and, in my opinion, hypocrisy of the Swedish Skatteverket (our IRS) that I got sent as a response to an email asking how taxation of poker winnings work.

Have a good one, everyone.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sloppy Editing

I've written about this before (on the now dormant Cardschat blog), but some things bear repeating:

When I buy an instructional book, I don’t pay money to the authors because they’re so very knowledgeable. I pay them money on the promise that the book will teach me the things they know. I mean, I didn't get Stephen Hawking's book "Cosmos" because he's so very good at cosmology. I got it because I wanted to learn more about it myself. This is an obvious point, I would think.

Let me re-state it in a way that is seemingly less-than-obvious to a lot of poker book authors:

If the book contains great information but does a poor job of explaining it, the book doesn’t deliver. Now, bad grammar or spelling doesn't necessarily mean that someone does a poor job of explaining what they mean. Bad spelling (and/or grammar) doesn’t bother me in itself, either. I’m perfectly capable of understanding what the author means when he writes “stratagy” or "stradegy." What bothers me, and I'm taking the liberty of quoting my original post from Cardschat:

When there are many typos in a published book, it’s an indication that the book hasn’t been proof-read thoroughly. And I want my books to be very thoroughly proof-read, because - as I said above - it’s not what the authors know that I pay for, it’s their ability to explain it to me. A writer of course knows exactly what he’s trying to say. When he reads something he’s just written, it’s probably going to seem crystal clear to him. But he needs other people - preferably people who aren’t already knowledgeable about the subject - to give him feedback on whether or not the explanation is satisfactory.

Certainly a book may be very good in its very first version. Perhaps an author manages to write a full 300 pages explaining the most complex ideas simply without having anyone as much as look at the manuscript before it went to print. Does it seem likely to you, though?

Let me re-state the main point: It’s not the presence of typos that’s the problem. It’s the fact that where there are typos, there generally aren’t proof-readers, and without proof-readers I feel that the the author hasn't gone through the appropriate hoops to make sure he does a good job of explaining the ideas that he’s trying to convey. A good idea would be, in the case of poker books, to let a novice poker player read the chapter that was just finished, and then have the novice explain to the author what the chapter tries to tell him. If he gets it wrong at all, re-write it. Keep this up until the point that you’re trying to get across is crystal clear.

(I was reminded of this pet-peeve of mine when I read some posts over at The Poker Grump.)


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

31

It's my birthday. I don't know exactly when it happened, but at some point in the past few years I reached the age where I wasn't counting down to my birthday. Last night, I wasn't aware that it was going to be my birthday today, and this morning I didn't open my eyes and think "ooh, birthday!"

31 is also an age that is firmly within the 30s. Being actually 30 is borderline 20s, so that was younger. I'm not sure how to feel about 31. Lori asked me if I feel 31, and while the answer is perhaps "no," I don't actually feel like any other age, either. I guess I mostly just feel like myself.

That's a good thing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nausea and fatigue - and tilt.

I felt tired and hängig (meaning "hangy" which is an excellent Swedish adjective for how I feel - shoulders slumped, uninterested and apathetic) and wrestled a little bit of a headache all of last week. I also slept very, very poorly. If the sleep deprivation was the cause or effect isn't really clear, but I figured it should be mentioned. On Sunday, the feeling of sickness escalated, and yesterday and today I simply stayed home from work, trying to get some rest. I slept for 11 hours last night, which is probably a good sign.

In other news, I've managed to hit another 17 buy-in downswing, which is pretty awesome. I take complete responsibility for the tilt-spew that is my own doing, but as with the last one, I'm also completely aware of how badly I was running. In a matter of 20 minutes, I lost with AA vs 88 preflop, kings ran into aces, AKs ran into aces, and AKo ran into kings. When I made obvious bluff-catching calls, they weren't bluffs or they got there on the river. Out of chaos comes harmony, however, and here's what I learned, or... Well, here's what I already knew, but have gotten reinforced by the universe's sick sense of humor:

If I look at the past month-and-a-half (which includes no-less than two of these bankroll devouring downswings) I'm break-even. My bankroll is where it was at the beginning of July. And if I now take a moment to ponder how many buy-ins I've lost not because of cards but because I was tilting, and then I reclaim that money, I'd actually be up. Not a huge amount, but I'd probably be up a few hundred bucks.

It's useful for me to remember that I still tilt. For awhile, I felt like I wasn't. I felt like I could just shrug off bad beats and misfortunes easily. And I can - as long as there aren't too many of them lining up in a row. So now I will go back and work on tilt again, and try to identify the causes of it. One thing I'm absolutely positive that I do is that when I'm losing money left and right, I make much looser calls, probably with the mentality that given how much money I've already lost, I'm not going to lose yet another pot because of being bluffed off of it. No, sir.

Anyway, I end this post with a reading recommendation:

The Poker Grump

This is an excellent poker blog. A good writer can make anything seem interesting, so it's hard for me to tell if Rakewell's stories are actually interesting or not. But they provide reading pleasure, so it's all good. It gives me some kind of sick masochistic joy to read about casino poker which I can't really identify. It's like... Well, you know the saying that America as compared to Europe is culturally inferior but morally superior? I won't go into a debate whether that's true or not, but I think I have this idea that Casino poker is fancier and online poker is tougher. The fancy people play in casinos. The smart people play online.

No, don't start. I already know this isn't true. I know this, because I've been to casinos, and there are a lot of words suitable for describing the people that frequent them, but "fancy" rarely comes to mind. But I think I have a tad of the "grass is greener"-emotion when it comes to playing live poker. So it's fun to read about a guy who plays in casinos and his experiences and feelings about it - especially when (or maybe exclusively because) he writes so well about it. I've read other live-poker-blogs and they usually fall pretty short. The Poker Grump doesn't.

So, go read. Now.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm a wuss.

Clearly, I'm a wuss. Why? Because I'm considering ditching my self-inflicted Betway challenge. For two good reasons. Maybe three. We'll see if I come up with a third one after I write about the two big ones.

1. I'm not a professional poker player. I'm a recreational poker player who likes making a little bit of extra money off of poker. I work full time and I have quite a few other social activities that I like to keep outside of poker. Setting a goal of playing a large volume of hands has effectively made me feel stressed whenever I'm not playing poker and the whole point with being a recreational poker player is that I'm supposed to be able to not play poker at all and not even think about it, and this has certainly not been the case in the last week. See, I'm a bit obsessive about efficiency. I get restless when just sitting about doing nothing. If I'm at an airport, I get very very bothered by not having a book to read, because I feel like hours of my life are just draining away and I'm not spending them wisely. If we're watching a TV show and there's a commercial break I start to look around the room for stuff to do. Like watering plants. Maybe tidying up a bit. Or playing with the cat. Or anything. Because even a few minutes not spent doing something means I'm wasting my life.

That's the kind of mentality my poor wife has to live with.

So, throw an artificial goal of playing "as many hands of poker as possible in the next three months" into the mix, and you have a very stressed individual. Every time I'm at home and technically have some spare time, I feel like I have to play poker. Yes, have to. Not a healthy attitude. Not a social attitude.

Not a good attitude.

And it's self-inflicted, and I knew it would be this way. I knew this, because I essentially made the same mistake last year when I was going for Supernova status at Stars. And it's dumb, dumb, dumb. Like, really dumb.

So, to sum up reason #1: The way my brain works means that taking on any task that makes my time efficiency obsession go into manic Gremlin mode is a bad idea.

2. Game selection isn't that great at Betway.

It's just that easy. I play chiefly $100NL, and some $200NL when I find good tables. And while there's no doubt that there are bad players at Betway, and I believe I have an edge on most of my opponents and can mostly avoid the ones I don't have an edge on, the truth of it is that there are better games on other sites. There are typically 6 $200NL games going, usually with 4-5 people in line, and most of them are regulars of varying skill. And even if I have an edge on a regular player, I'd rather play someone clueless.

I've yet to make a definitive decision, but I've taken a poker timeout for two days now (and I won't play tonight either because of a party that my company is throwing) and I guess I'll see how I feel about it after that. No matter what happens, I've cleared $1,000 of the deposit bonus, so there's always that boon.

I want to take this opportunity to reiterate what I've said many times before: Thank god I'm not an online pro.

That is all.

PS.
Reason #3: I don't like their software. It's not "bad" per se, it just doesn't stand up to Stars. Why can't all sites be like Stars? *cries a bitter tear*

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Published Article at BillRini.com

Bill Rini made a post yesterday offering to spread the love for potentially unknown poker bloggers by accepting articles that he could publish on his site and link back to the author. Being the shameless attention whore that I am, I put in some effort and this was the result. It touches on a topic I've written about before (in the blog post "Reaching Enough"). Right now, it's me and Tommy Angelo who have had stuff put up there. A tough act to follow, but I feel honored for even being considered. Thanks, Bill.

If you're one of my regular readers (I think we've established that there are at least four of you now), please go to Bill's site and read the article. If you're new here because of the article over there, welcome - comments are enabled and I'd be happy to hear from you.

Also, I guess this firmly cements this as a poker blog... I had some initial idea that I'd write about other stuff, but I suppose I should stick with what I know. Ah, well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Last Night's Crazy Game

Last night, a private cash game for some of the regulars of Cardschat was planned. The idea was that everyone save their PokerStars hand histories and send them to the organizer (Zachvac) so that he can compile it, and then have someone - I don't think it's been decided on who, yet - make a video commentary using a hand replayer and all hole cards shown.

I wasn't really sure I could make it originally, but there were some last minute drop-outs so I joined in for a little while. Given that that the stakes were pretty low for all of us, that it was a game where everyone at the table knew that everyone were pretty solid players, and last but not least that there would be a video made out of the resulting hands, the game was sure to be wild. I fully expected it to be.

I was not disappointed.

The pedagogical value of this video might be, ehm, questionable, but it should be amusing. Light 3-bets? I think Zach was running at 20%. Limper? Raise any-two to "punish the limper." Raiser and a cold-caller? Squeeze with any-two.

Given that I expected the game to be this way, I actually had time to device a game plan before even sitting down. I was going to play tight poker and just set a trap for the spewiness that was bound to ensue. I didn't need a monster to stack someone, but I wasn't going to get involved in trying to out-level my opponent's (on the 7th or so level of I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know...), either.

I spent a lot of the first few pots I was involved in just folding to raises and bets. If they were paying attention - and I have reason to believe that they did - I must have seemed weak-tight. Not a bad image to have in a game where people are hell-bent to bluff at every opportunity, let me tell you.

So I pick up AQo, open from the cut-off and Zach unsurprisingly 3-bets from the small blind. His range here is, to say the least, "wide." Everyone else has folded and it's a really easy call for me with 100BB effective stacks and 8 more BB to call. The flop comes 7-7-6, two-tone, and Zach leads out for $4.50 in a $6 pot. Now, I don't exactly have the monster I was looking for, but my hand is better than his average hand at this point, for sure. The only hands I expect him to check are monsters, so it's a bit of a relief that he bets.

I call, keeping the option to raise/shove any turn open. My range (if my weak-tight image actually held true) should be pretty strong here given the preflop call of a 3-bet and now calling the flop, also. The turn is an ace, the pot is $15, and Zach shoves for his remaining $17, and I snap-call. He turns over K-9, and I'm not the least bit surprised, heh. He figured it was a good card to bluff, which I suppose might be true.

I didn't stick around for very long, maybe 35 minutes or so, but it was a wild and fun game. I did make some lay-downs that I don't necessarily think were appropriate... I think a good argument for shoving 6-6 after what seems like an obvious squeeze could be made. And, uncharacteristically for this game, I opted against raising a flush draw on the flop (the horror!). But when you have four out of six people trying to push the entire table around, adopting a careful but maybe weak approach is never going to be a losing style, unless you completely overdo it.

If you had wanted to find the table at PokerStars, it would have been easy. All you had to do was bring up the $25NL 6-max tables and sort by average pot-size. Our table was at $15. Yep, the average pot-size was 60BB.

Fun game.

Will be interesting to see how the video turns out. And if I get berated for my weak-tight style.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Nights...

... carry with them this unfortunate property of being the last thing I'm consciously aware of before it's Monday morning. Now, I have it better than most people - I really like my job. But getting up in the mornings sure isn't the part about it that I enjoy.

This week has been a little "meh" in some aspects. The garden desperately needs some attention, but it seems that whenever I have the energy to give it the attention it so desperately craves, the weather gods have deemed it appropriate to let it rain. Often a lot. Then, when there's no chance in hell I'm getting out to mow the lawn (like Saturday morning, hopelessly hungover) it's nice and sunny. The afternoon approaches, and voíla! Rain.

Kein regen, bitte.

The reason I was hungover on Saturday morning was because we went over to R & J's on Friday night, for dinner and board games. There's a group of us who play a lot of board games together. In my opinion, real board games are terribly underappreciated. I mean, step away from Monopoly and Risk, people. There are many much more interesting games around. Some of my favorites include Alhambra, Thurn & Taxis and - recently - Rio Grande Games Carcassonne The Count Board Game. I helpfully include the Amazon links here in case you want to buy them immediately. Please do, I think I get a percentage somehow, although I'm not sure how that works. They require a bit more strategy than monopoly does, but they make for great fun. Especially coupled with drinking but that goes with almost all activities, and given who my readers are likely to be, I'm probably preaching to the choire.

The funniest part of the evening for me happened when we were playing a game called Alias, which is not really a board game per se, but more of a pictionary-but-with-synonyms-instead-of-drawings type game. The idea is that you have 30 seconds to try to get your partner to get as many words as possible correct on the cards you have in front of you. The word was "crawl" and the dialogue between two of our contestants went like this (and I remind you there had been drinking):

"Okay, how babies get around."
"Walking."
"No, using both hands and feet."
"Cartwheels."

... and the image of an infant cartwheeling itself around the house got stuck in my head.

As for poker, I'm running pretty hot, which is awesome. It's a bit annoying that I almost never get any action with my big hands (and when I do, it seems it's more often than not when I'm holding KK vs. AA) but today alone I've gotten it all-in on the flop with the nut flush draw four times, and got there every time. That makes for a pretty good result at the end of the day, and I'm up $1,200 this weekend. I'd play more $200NL, but the game selection at those stakes just don't compare to the $100NL tables. Usually six regulars sitting around paying rake, which just isn't for me. I think I may have an edge on some of those regulars, but the tiny edge I have there vs. sitting at a table with a couple of 45+% VPIP players at the lower stakes just doesn't compare. I don't mind grinding it a bit in situations like that. I'm going to make a point of checking the $200NL tables for fish in the future though, and try to sit at them if I can find some juicy tables.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Origo-based Win-rate Fallacy

There's a silent misconception that I see implied in poker posts here and there around the intertubes. It's very subtle, but I definitely think it's there. The reasoning goes something like this:

"I'm a 4 ptbb/100 winning player while playing 4 tables. If I try to play 8 tables instead, my win-rate will probably go down a little, but assuming it stays more than half what it is now, I'm still making more money."

Do you see the danger in that paragraph? Like I said, it's subtle. Arguably semantic. But I think it's more than just semantics.

The potential fallacy lies in the word "half." Many people argue over their win-rates as if the lower boundary of their win-rate is zero, implying that if they play half as well, they win half as much. When I put it like this, it's fairly obvious that this isn't the case; if I play half as well as I do now (make twice as many mistakes or make twice as costly ones) my win-rate isn't going to be half of what it is now. It's very likely to be negative.

So while adding another table may indeed be profitable, there's certainly nothing guaranteeing this just because you're winning at the number of tables you're playing now. I make this post to serve as a reminder to all (three) of my readers that our edge in these games is much, much smaller than we think. If we compromise that edge in one way or another, we may no longer be winning players at all.

It doesn't take much for a winning 4-tabling player to become a losing 8-tabler ("tabler?" is that a word? really? Ok.) All it may take is an extra distraction here and there, because our edge isn't that big. That's not to say that we shouldn't play more tables, it's just that we must not dismiss the effect of those extra dollars that we miss here and there. They may constitute our entire win-rate, and more.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Regarding Asshats.

The Up For Poker Blog reports that they, like many other blogs and poker related websites (including CardsChat) have been banned from Google. Apparently, one theory now circulating is that this is because Focus on the Family - from here on out known as the Asshats - have been targetting poker related sites and reporting them to Google.

This is because they're asshats.

I don't know if it's true. But even if it isn't, they're still asshats. This would just make them the crême de la crême of asshats.

By the way, visit Up For Poker if you haven't. It's a good blog. Also check out the other links to the right; I really do read all of them. And if I can, you can too.

/FP

"Bad Beat" Reflection

Barring the possibility of some odd English masochist - you know, the kind that likes to be spanked while wearing diapers and pretending to be infants - nobody particularly likes bad beats. I sure don't. But I stopped, at some point, obsessing over them which I think is a healthy sign of having moved to a better place in terms of poker thinking. When I shove into the shortstack on a rag flop with pocket tens and he calls with AQo and spikes a queen on the river, it stings just a little but not enough so that I go about and change my game plan other than noting that I should really be getting my money in light versus this guy also in the future.

However, there's a different kind of bad beat that isn't, technically, a bad beat that stings worse. It's getting all my money in with the worst hand. An example of this is yesterday when I re-raise all-in on the turn with KQ on a K-9-4-K twoflush board and he turns over 99. I feel like a sucker. That pain is much harder to deal with because while I can dismiss the first example on grounds of me obviously getting my money in with the best hand, there's a lot more room for second guessing in the next one.

But, and this is what today's post is really about, I think I'm approaching the level where I can actually feel like that hand was a bad beat of sorts, too. And it was. Perhaps not using the common definition of what a bad beat is, but in the sense that versus my opponent's range (a very loose and aggressive player who was regularly getting his whole stack in with much weaker hands than a boat) I had him crushed. It was unfortunate that he happened to have exactly the strongest part of his range. In that sense, I was unlucky. In that sense, it was a bad beat.

As I get better and better at estimating ranges for peoples' actions, I find that I get more and more comfortable with these hands happening. I think not getting my money in there would have been a mistake. His range given the action (you're going to have to take my word for it) was any flush draw, any king and of course the true monsters. Versus that range, and he would have called with all of it, I have him crushed. And much in the same way that I can let the first hand go as just another case of inevitable misfortune, so can I think about the second hand.

It's a tough threshold to pass. There are levels of being results-oriented, and the first one is relatively easy to pass ("I got all my money in with the best hand and he hit his gutshot - did I play it right?") but the second one is much more subtle and requires me to have faith in my own skills of estimating ranges and acting accordingly. It requires a different level of confidence in my play. And I think I'm getting closer.

In general, I feel my no-limit game is improving very rapidly, and the ability to be able to say "no, I did play correctly" even after getting it all in with the worst hand has removed a sizeable obstruction. I used to, consciously or subconsciously, dwell over these hands and, consciously or subconsciously, adjust how I played. I've since come to the point where I've realized that some places just aren't the right spots to look for increased win-rates and aren't worth spending time on.

In that KQ hand, it's possible that I made a mistake in pushing. If I did, it would have been a tiny mistake because all the evidence I have suggests that it was the right play. So at worst, it was a tiny mistake. At best, it was the correct play. I realize that I make bigger mistakes on a regular basis, so that hand certainly isn't where I should start fixing problems.

Students of the game of poker, and I touched on this in an earlier post, have to balance studying the game to be better with playing the game to make money and accumulate experience. I suggested that the balance for most people is likely weighted too far to the side of playing instead of studying. And since we spend so relatively little time improving away from the table, it's of the utmost importance that we spend that time wisely. On stuff that matters.

Ed Miller said, in a post on 2+2 a hundred years ago, that most people's biggest leak is that they don't know what a big leak is. He was spot on then, and it's still true today. And I think in many cases, this is reflected by people obsessing over hands where they see the other guy's hand and think "he had me crushed the whole time." This used to be true for me. I think it still might be to some extent, but I'm working on letting these hands go.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Betway $5k Challenge Update

So I signed up with - and deposited at - Betway on Friday, July 18th with the idea of trying to clear their $5k bonus in three months. It's now been two and a half weeks, and with a decent chunk of hands played, I now have some idea of just how gruesome this bonus will be to clear. At $100NL, I'm averaging just about 1 point per hand, and the total bonus clears with 150,000 points. Or, differently put, I need to play about 150k hands in three months to get there.

So far: 20k points in two and a half weeks. I'm not precisely on track, but I'm not doing awfully, either. The redeeming factor here is that I get to cash in on whatever part of the bonus I do manage to clear, so if I reach 149k points in three months, it's not a waste. The upside to my undertaking is that it gives me a chance to challenge myself with playing a higher volume of hands. The downside is that it means I have to play a higher volume of hands. This is the closest thing to a poker professional I'm ever likely to become, and as I've said time and time again - I'm grateful that I'm not actually a poker professional.

After these 20k points - which translates roughly to 20k hands - I'm still down since I started, being stuck about $600. This is after an initial spewfest of 17 buy-ins (some of which were at $200NL) so I'm actually recovering quite nicely. The best part of it, and a feeling that is somewhat new to me, is that I'm entirely confident I can beat these games. I know why I lost all that money. I know how to beat my current opponents, and I have a pretty good idea of which players on the Microgaming network I'd rather not have at my tables - and remarkably enough, I also have the common sense to leave tables where they sit and where there's a lack of fish on which to feed.

There are a couple of players I go out of my way to avoid, and among them are Ribberfors and Sandurr.. Sanderr.. Something like that. I'm not necessarily scared of them, but I think they have an edge on me so why should I play with them? It's not like there aren't bad players available. Although an argument could be made for exploiting the notes the good players must surely have on me from my first few sessions at Betway ("total spewtard", is my guess), I suspect that they might be good enough to have realized since that I'm not actually as spewy as I might have appeared. So I'd rather not go down that road.

I'm looking at an average of 2k hands per day to win this challenge, but I'm pretty confident that that's not going to be possible. I'm now comfortable playing 8-9 tables of $100NL there, but even then I just don't have an extra two hours a day to spend playing without my head exploding. My only hope is that I can try to put in a little over a thousand hands on most days and try to get some big sessions going on some weekends and maybe clear 3-4k hands in a day then. But even then, I'm going to fall a far cry short of the 150k points needed.

Realistically, I think clearing a $3k bonus would be challenge enough. I'm on track for that, and maybe, just maybe, I can step it up a notch.

In between all of this, I'm trying to be a good student of poker and actually progress my learning and not just my hands played. If I can find an extra 1BB/100 edge by studying more, then that's worth more at the end of three months than the bonus. This is a lesson everyone should learn and I think a lot of people are so blinded by the profit they "miss" by not spending their time playing that they completely overlook the profit they miss by not playing better.

Even if you regularly read this blog, I can virtually guarantee you that you'll never find a more important lesson here than that one. The investment of sacrificing a little volume in order to increase quality of play is so ridiculously profitable that you're doing yourself a huge disservice by thinking that you're "good enough" to beat the games you're playing now. Winning is not digital. You're not either a "winner" or a "loser" or a "break-even player" - there are degrees. And if you're beating the small stakes games at 2BB/100 now, there are almost certainly ways for you to improve to a level of beating them for 4BB/100. And over the course of the next few months, the time spent being a better player will most certainly pay off.

You'll not only win more money, but you'll feel better about the losing streaks because of the increased confidence. It's huge. It's not close. And you're not good enough already.

No one is.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Metagame: Betting the river in no-limit hold 'em

All streets in hold 'em have properties that make them different from the others. Preflop is a matter of setting up a range that you can profitably play versus your opponents and to start setting up the size of the pot you want to play. The flop will define 70% of your final hand and draws are still strong hands. The turn is where the bets get big. And the river is where it's all settled and semibluffs are no more; now it's only a matter of either betting for value or bluffing the other guy out.

Before I get to the meat of this post, I want to make an initial statement: Those of you who know me know that I'm not happy about settling for catch phrases or "conventional wisdom" as guidelines for how to play, and while I've had to concede many of the conventional-wisdom points that I may at one point or another have argued against, I also do occasionally run into a little golden nugget where I find myself able to go against the crowd and inch out a few extra nickles here and there. Being that I'm not exactly a genius, I often find, after doing the work, that some of these strategies and plays that I come up with are employed by very strong players already. Today, I want to bring up one of these plays that, used correctly, might boost your win-rate just a tad.

Betting mediocre hands in position on the river.

I'm not talking about situations where you have QJ and the board reads Q-T-6-2-2 and the pot is small. If you have no reason to believe your opponent is strong (and if the pot is small, there clearly has not been a lot of betting going on) you should of course bet in this situation. No, I'm talking about making a value bet in a big pot, where most people would advice you to check behind to see a showdown. Let me first explain how that works:

$100NL, 100BB stacks. It's folded to you in the cut-off and you raise to $4 with JJ. A solid regular calls in the small blind and the big blind folds. The flop comes T-9-4, twotone. Your opponent leads out with $6. His range is pretty wide here, ranging from small unimproved pocket pairs to various draws, and of course two pair and sets. Calling is an option, but there are quite a few cards that would make the turn very difficult to play (overs and cards that complete the draws) so making a "cheap" raise to, say $15, is not a bad idea, hoping to either end the hand now or at least make him define his hand a bit better. He calls.

The turn is an offsuit queen, which is a bad card for you. If he has KQ, QJ, KJ or J8 (the latter being a fairly unlikely holding for him to coldcall preflop) he just drew out. He checks, and now it may be a good idea to check yourself. Another bet will push you over the commitment threshold and you'd hate it if he checkraised you all-in since folding means that your forfeiting a lot of equity with your second pair and open-ended straight draw. So you check.

The river bricks off with a deuce. Your opponent thinks for awhile and then checks. Here is where many would check behind to get a showdown, with the thinking that he's not very likely to call with a worse hand and he's also definitely not folding a better hand. That's what conventional wisdom tells you.

Now, I often - mostly - check behind here. But there's a case to be made for occasionally betting your jacks here, and that's the case I'm making today:

If the only hands you bet on the river are very strong hands or complete bluffs, then your range is polarized. Your opponent can look at his own hand, decide if it can beat a bluff and then look at the pot odds to determine if he should call. When people have polarized ranges, playing the river is actually fairly simple. If a monster is unlikely, then by power of deduction, a bluff must be likely, and I can make a bluff-catching call on the river. Let's look at that board again, and see how many different monsters I can have:

T-9-4-Q-2.

I can have KJ. I can have 22, 44, 99, TT and QQ. I could also have KK and AA. Together, these hands (combinatorically) make up 27 hands. My opening range in the cut-off is about 25% of my hands, and it's not difficult to come up with more than 27 combinations of those hands that I might try to take it down with on this river, like 87, J8, 55-88, K7s, etc. If my opponents can fold a hand like JT to a bet, then I'm in good shape to bluff. However, a strong player will know if my range is polarized, and is actually quite likely to snap my bluff off with a hand like JT.

This is why occasionally betting with JJ (and QJ and KQ) and similar hands in this spot is good, because it makes your hand much, much harder to read. And when you're harder to read, they will more often make mistakes. Sure, sometimes they will call you with QJ and you will feel like you flushed that final bet down the drain. But this is also a meta-game strategy, meaning that if you can get away with a few more bluffs because they're no longer super-excited to snap off a river bet with fourth pair, then this will more than make up for it. Even if your hand is only 40% to win the times that your opponent calls, there's still a fairly good shot that you can make up for that in future hands if your range is wider and he's more liable to make mistakes.

Remember, your target audience for this play consists of solid regulars. These are players who take notes and who you will presumably play against often. Don't do this versus weak players (although in many of those cases you should bet entirely for value, but that's another story).

An argument against betting is that an aggressive opponent, which solid regulars tend to be, may check/raise bluff you. While this is true, there are some factors in this setting that lessens the likelyhood of that. Specifically, if he thinks your range is polarized then he must not think there are many perks to raising. You can have a monster, in which case he just got trapped, or you can have a complete bluff, which he will often beat even by just calling. Furthermore, since the pot is already big, it's protected. You and I know that it isn't (and that you will almost certainly fold if he check/raise shoves) but he doesn't know that we feel that way.

Another consideration is that when he calls and it goes to showdown, he will often note that you're value betting thin on the river. A really strong player will use this information to make check/raise bluffs a more prominent river weapon against you. This is why you should not do this often; most of the time when you bet on the river, it should be a bluff or a monster. Just occasionally, throw in a half-pot-sized bet with a hand that has showdown value but can still be considered thin.

All things in moderation.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Gottaplaymorehands

So by challenging myself to try to clear the Betway $5k bonus, I've essentially gone and done exactly what I promised myself last year I wouldn't do again: Put myself in a position where I'm committed to playing poker. Last year, it was a marathon to reach Stars Supernova, and now it's clearing a monster bonus. I don't feel great about it, but now that I've taken it on, I'm going to go the distance as best I can. The upside to the Betway bonus is that I'm getting $100 for every 3k points regardless of if I manage to finish the 150k points in three months or not. So regardless of how far I manage to get, I'll be rewarded in part, if not with the full five grand.

I haven't recovered from the initial 17 buy-in downswing yet, as you might have guessed, but I'm actually well on my way. I've made some serious adjustments to the regulars there, and I think it's paying off.

There's more to write about, but it's going to have to wait; I have an appointment with my bed and a book. Or two.