Sunday, September 28, 2008


Yup, it's raining. Yup, we're playing lotsa board games.

Notable moments include me eating a sausage that we bought in the store that looked good. While I'm chewing on it, I read, on the package, "Cocinar completamente antes de su consumo." My Spanish skills being somewhat questionable, I reach for the dictionary and look up "cocinar."

Turns out it means, which I guessed but wasn't sure, "cook."

The other words I could figure out without looking them up. "Completamente" presumably means "finish," and "ante" means "before." Consumo, of course, being consume, or eat.

So... Finish cooking before you eat it.

I read this as I chew on what I now realize is a raw sausage. Not only that, but a cheap raw sausage. With an explicit warning that it should be cooked before eaten.

So I go and pour myself a deciliter shot of whisky.

I'm still fine.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Off I Go, Again

In about an hour, I'll be back out travelling. This time, though, it's just a private vacation - spending a week in my parents' house in Spain. Me, Lori and two of our best friends. It's going to be great, I think, even though the weather forecast of course shows rain and thunder for the upcoming week. Thanks, Weather Gods.

Fortunately, all four of us are board game geeks, so the idea of being "stuck" in a house in Spain with the rain pouring down isn't as dreadful as some others might have found it. Not that I wouldn't have preferred sun - don't get me wrong - it's just that we're not as dependent on it for a good time as some others may be.

But of course something had to go wrong the last minute. As we pack up the cats this morning to take them to the cat hotel for a week (oh boy do they ever love being locked up in a cage for a week - not to mention the SAME cage; there's no sibling love between this particular brother and sister), we find that Ada has a wound on her chest. So quickly off to the vet with her, they say that she needs to get stitched up and probably needs antibiotics which makes the whole thing with the cat hotel quite a bit more difficult.

Fortunately, our friend Maria is the nicest person in the world and offered to go to our house once a day for the next week and feed the cats and make sure that the wound doesn't get infected. So the cats got a free pass from the cat hotel (or "prison" as I'm sure they think of it as) this time, and it all ends up for the best. Except maybe for Maria who needs to go to our place once a day.

I've played some poker since I got back, and I've run horribly. Completely awful. I won't bore you with the details other than to say that it would be nice if I could ever get some action with AA/KK preflop, and if I could perhaps avoid being dealt JJ and QQ at the same time as someone else gets AA and KK. Oh, and perhaps it would also be nice if I could win QQ vs. AK at least once.

I said I wouldn't bore you with the details. Sorry about that; I should have kept the lid closed on that particular Pandora's Box.

But never mind poker and downswings! Spain! Rioja Wine! Sun! ... or rain. Or whatever. It'll be good to relax and get my mind somewhat off of work for a week, although I'll be bringing my cell phone with me, and I expect to take some calls from the office.

I leave you with this, my greatest musical hero of all time - Tom Waits. Words are superfluous. He blows me away. The music is a bit tough to digest for some people, but... Oh, brother. Tom Waits. I don't know what else to say.

Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Waits:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Da, Comrade

Got back from Kiev Thursday night, exhausted. It had been a very long week with days consisting of what my boss jokingly calls "working halftime," meaning 12+ hour days. The results were good, though, and by any measurement the trip was a success. So I'm tired but happy, I guess you could say.

Oh, and we found hats that we absolutely needed to buy. Here's a picture from the office we sat in while there. Apparently it's a "sauna hat" which makes absolutely no sense to me because I can't figure out why you'd want to wear a hat in a sauna. Nevertheless, there it is - red star, and everything. In the back is my coworker, who also got a hat. The ukranians must have thought we were, well, special people. I guess that's not entirely untrue.

So now I'm home for four days before a much-needed vacation of one week in Spain, and we're leaving Tuesday. Full speed at work for two days, try to take care of the poor, neglected garden during the weekend, be social with friends and desperately try to play some poker in between. Oh, and hang out with Lori.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Next stop: Kiev

I've been more quiet than usual the past two weeks, and that's chiefly due to being busy at work. It sort of culminates with my upcoming visit to Ukranian capital Kiev tomorrow, and I'll be there until Thursday.

Having never been there before, I'm not entirely sure what to expect. I checked it out on Wikipedia and the city itself looks pretty enough. 2.6 million citizens. I'm not at all sure how much time I'll get to spend on things that are not work, but I bet there are things to do in Kiev - even if you only stay for four days. I've gotten the idea that they're big on tourists - or they'd like to be - so I'm sure it'll be hospitable enough.

That's really all the update I have for you right now.

Oh, and maybe a poker half-month update: "Only" 8k hands played this month, but a good win-rate now that I'm only playing 4 tables makes for a decent profit. I say "only" because it's less than I have played in the preceeding months, but it's at the level that suits me. We'll see if I make any real marathon sessions this month, but I'm happy getting a few hundred hands in here and there. Of course, I noticed that Party Poker has a $500 redeposit bonus that requires surprisingly little effort to clear (and they'll let you clear it $100 at a time) so I'm probably going to go for that, and that might require me to play a bit more than my lazy self would actually like. We'll see about that.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 Years Ago

7 years ago, on this day - at about this time - I was in the air between Newark airport, New York/New Jersey and Dulles Airport, Washington DC.

I wasn't supposed to be. I was actually supposed to have reached my destination the day before, but weather conditions over Washington made the flight delayed and finally cancelled, so me and my coworker had to get a hotel in New Jersey for the night and book ourselves on the first flight out of there. Because of all the problems at the airport that afternoon, we hadn't had a chance to eat anything. The last meal I had had was the airplane breakfast before landing in Newark, and we didn't get any more food that day.

We got up very early on the 11th to catch the first flight out. The hotel hadn't started serving breakfast yet, that's how early it was. Get in the cab, drive to airport, get on board and head for Dulles. I made the devastating mistake of thinking that now our little travel problem was over. As we were taxing out on the runway, we saw the New York City skyline in the distance. A skyline that was very shortly about to change dramatically.

We landed in Dulles at about 8:15, if my memory serves. Our connecting flight was supposed to leave at 8:45, and was the smallest airplane I've ever been in. 12 seats, I think it was. Maybe 16. Felt more like a small bus than an airplane. Only me, my coworker and one other guy on it.

The pilot turned around - not like there was a point in using the speaker system - and said "uh. Looks like we'll be a bit delayed."

"Ok" we thought. Not like it mattered a lot, we were still on our way.

A couple of more minutes pass, and then he turns around again and explains that we're going to have to leave the airplane "because of the events in New York." We didn't know anything about any events in New York. But I'm not one to argue with pilots onboard an airplane, so I got my carry-on and we walked off the plane and back into the terminal. Once there, we did what any good little Swede would do - sat and waited by the gate.

But we were hungry. Remember, we hadn't eaten for near 24 hours now. Very hungry.

So after a bit of waiting I decide to do something about it, so I get up and ask the lady at the gate if she thinks the plane will be leaving shortly. She chuckled at the notion of the flight taking off soon, which I thought was a bad sign. After the chuckle she informed us that we had no need worry; we had PLENTY of time to get something to eat.

At this point, we hadn't really started to wonder what had happened in New York. I don't know if I figured much of anything, but I think I had some vague notion of there perhaps being a traffic control problem or something of the sort. Maybe a connecting flight that was delayed that we had to wait for. I didn't know, and I didn't particularly care - my mind was in a must-get-food state.

So we stroll on down the hallway, find a place that sells hamburgers. There was a TV in there and a big crowd watching it, and while standing in line we try to figure out what they're watching. There was smoke coming out of the WTC. "A bomb?" I asked my coworker. "Uh. I dunno." Then they show the footage of an airplane flying into it and my first instinct wasn't terrorist attack, it was "airplane malfunction" or "pilot falling asleep" or any number of things. Terrorists didn't really factor in. I didn't even know what to do with the information.

As we finally get our food, however, it's apparent that it was a terrorist attack. By now, everyone's jumpy. Terrorists are targetting airplanes, and we're sitting at one of America's most prominent airports, near the country's capital. A crowd suddenly panics and starts stampeding past us where we sit, apparently running away from something down the hall. "Fight-or-flight" instinct kicks in, and we figure that we don't know what they're running from, but they have more information than we do so we should perhaps start legging it as well. The people around us come to the same conclusion, and now I've witnessed first-hand how the dynamics of a crowd panicking works.

I didn't run, though. For better or worse (mostly worse) I'm equipped with a very powerful "food first" mechanism. At this point, I hadn't eaten for 24 hours, and even though I didn't know what they were running from, I was not just leaving my food here. I carefully packed everything up - fries in one pocket, coke in the other, carry-on in one hand, hamburger in the other - and made my way away from whatever it was I was supposed to make my way away from.

Turns out, it was just a secure door that hadn't shut properly. When such doors don't close, they usually inform the people around them about it by starting to beep after 20-30 seconds. Some lady had interpretted the beeping as a warning signal for a bomb about to go off, I guess, and started screaming and running. People around her didn't know why, but panicked as well. Eventually, the crowd wasn't just the lady - it was 500 people. It got sorted out, though.

Like I said, people were jumpy.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, but shortly after this episode we were evacuated to the main terminal. We were informed that we wouldn't be getting our checked luggage back at this point, because basically the entire airport was shut down. We were asked - via the speaker system - to leave the airport. That, my friends, was harder than it may sound. The line to the taxi booth was at least 400 deep. The only buses around were greyhound buses and I didn't particularly know which one to get on in order to get closer to Lynchburg, Virginia.

So we just sat down and leaned up against the wall outside the airport. I had very little energy and absolutely no ideas. I figured we might as well wait it out for awhile and see if things calmed down a bit and maybe we could ask someone for help on how to procede.

It took awhile - I'm going to guess about 2-3 hours - before the emergency evacuation plan for the airport kicked into gear. Then buses came to shuttle us away from the airport and into evacuation centers, basically emptied warehouses and such, where they had set-up some phone booths, a small coffee-and-snacks kiosk and a 24" TV where we could follow the news.

Tired, still hungry, and desoriented, we still managed to get a few necessary things done: Call our families and coworkers back home and let them know we were okay (the last thing they heard from us was "we're flying out tomorrow morning from Newark Airport", so it's a good bet they were going to be worried). We also discussed our options for getting to where we were going. Maybe rent a car and drive; it was only a few hours away. Maybe try to find a bus. Train? Do they have trains? We didn't know.

As we stand in line to the phone booths, the gentleman in front of us did something many Americans do, but Swedes basically don't: He turned around and talked to us. Just general pleasantries. Where were we going, etc.

Now, and this is the real kicker of the story: He was from Lynchburg Virginia. He was originally planning on going to Chicago on business but as it was clear that he wasn't going to reach his destination he was going to call some buddies from his office and ask them to come up and get him in Washington DC. He asked if we wanted a ride.

How's that for long odds.

The chance of not only being at the same place after evacuating 20,000 people from Dulles Airport, but being behind him in line, AND the topic of "where are you going" actually coming up. He called his friends, asked them to rent a minivan instead of just taking a regular car, and 4 hours later we were on our way, by car, to our destination.

Long odds, indeed.

Finally, very belatedly, we arrived at the Hilton in Lynchburg and checked in. We exchanged addresses with the guy who we had to thank for getting us there, and thanked him again and again for his kindness. I really don't know what we would have done if he hadn't helped us out.

Some terrible things happened on that day, and I was, if not smack in the middle of it, at least in fairly close proximity. The thought that I very likely got to the airport and checked in at about the same time as the hijackers has certainly crossed my mind. That I was lucky not to be on one of the planes they decided to take has crossed my mind many times.

But they didn't, and I was instead fortunate enough to witness how America turned from one of its most devastating moments into one of its finest weeks. The solidarity and compassion that bound everyone in America, and in large parts around the world, that week is something I won't soon forget. Things that just the day before had seemed like big problems were suddenly realized to be minor details.

The ugly truth of the terrorist attacks was very powerfully outshined by the finest traits in human nature just the minutes after it happened. I will never forget that.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Don't slowroll.

I can get annoyed with a lot of things, but the only thing that really makes me angry is when people in a position of power use it to knowingly and "just because I can" screw others over. Kicking on someone who's down, stepping on ants, etc.

And so, the one thing that really, really gets to me at a poker table is when someone slowrolls the nuts on the river. I can take virtually any berating that gets thrown at me for "playing bad" and I can - mostly always - handle being beaten by a two outer. But I tilt so very hard when someone slowrolls. Not because I lost the hand - that in itself is no worse than just a regular bad beat - but because they're knowingly and willfully being assholes about it.

The hand in itself was nothing spectacular. A bad loose/aggressive player who can make river laydowns called two barrels in position from me on a 4-7-9-K board and when the river came with a K, I shoved for about a pot sized bet and he pauses for awhile. Says "Thanks!"

... doesn't call...

"lol" he says.

... doesn't call, almost times out.

Calls with one second on the clock and - by now I had guessed it, as have you, of course - KK.

Me, I had a busted draw - JT - and was banking on him folding a better draw or a smaller pair to my shove (which I think is justified thinking based on the history between us), but that's neither here nor there. He could have had ace-high and called and I would still have been beaten. I realized when I shoved that I had a very good shot at losing my stack.

But slowrolling is so despicable. It's the cop who gives you a ticket when both you and he knows you weren't speeding, but he doesn't like the way you look and knows you're screwed either way. It's the teacher who gives you a worse grade on a paper because you don't particularly like each other. It's the popular guys in high school who pick on the inseceure kid with a broken home.

It represents the absolute worst trait I know in humans. And I hate it.

I called him on it. I don't swear or type in profanities in the chat box, but what I said was "seriously, slowrolling is so incredibly rude. Don't do it."

"why not? lol, loser."

The conversation ended there. And that short exchange confirmed that it wasn't just a mistake. He wasn't excited about getting quads and just being busy trying to take a screenshot or calling his wife over to come see or anything like that. He was just intentionally trying to be a prick.

And I tilted so hard. I was fuming. My heart was pounding hard and I could feel my head getting warm. I didn't leave the table until he was bust. I didn't get to bust him, and I didn't get to take much of his money, but - and this is rare for me - I took pleasure in every pot he lost. A good argument could probably be made for not continuing to play when I was tilting, but I knew I was tilting. So I tightened up. And I willingly lost a bit of win-rate just to sit there and see him lose his money. I believe the term is "opportunity cost."


Anyway, I've had a rough couple of days at poker, but have managed to win enough pots without going to showdown (picking spots to bluff is so extremely much easier when I'm playing four tables that it's not even funny) to scrape by with a break-even result for the past few days. So no complaints, really.

Besides losing some faith in humanity.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don't Settle.

Regarding win-rates, I've heard that 1-2ptbb/100 at $.50/$1 no-limit and up is a very strong result over the long run. I agree, it is. Any win-rate above 0ptbb/100 is of course good.

But don't settle on 1-2pt/bb. Don't fall in the trap of thinking that just because you've achieved that win-rate over the past 50k hands that your focus should be on logging more hands and not working on your game. Thinking that you're "good enough" at poker is probably the best way to ensure that you soon won't be.

You think 5ptbb/100 longterm isn't achievable at the games you play? Do you table select? Do you actively leave tables that have less than two bad players sitting at them? Do you notice when your table becomes a tagfest of regulars?

And do you make mistakes? Small mistakes add up in an alarming rate in this game of ours. Do you adjust your opening raise size depending on the stacks of the people who are left to act? Do you sometimes accidently 3-bet someone and only after the fact notice that he only has 30BB left and is committed?

Do you make a standard call and notice too late - or not at all - that your opponent is the nittiest player ever?

Do you take extensive notes on players? Even on hands that you're not involved in? Do you notice when the weak player gets up and a strong player sits in? Do you know who the weakest players are at all the tables you're playing?

Do you know who the strong players are at all the tables you're playing, or do you just assume you can beat them all?

Do you know what range a specific opponent 3-bets with, not just with what frequency?

And, pertaining to specifically multitabling, do you ever time out on a table? Like, ever?

You can get better. And as I've stated in the past, win-rates aren't origo-based and linear. The implication in that post was that your win-rate may well drop by quite a bit more than half if you double the number of tables you play. But the flipside of the coin is that you may well increase your win-rate by more than a factor of two if you pay fewer tables.

I've scaled back down to playing only four tables, and while I can't speak for you, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I'm making more than twice as much as I was when I was playing 8-9 tables. Table selection is difficult when I'm playing 8 tables because I have so few spare seconds to look for the fish. Note taking is extremely cumbersome. And always noticing immediately when someone leaves and someone else sits down is borderline impossible.

Don't be content with a 1.5ptbb/100 win-rate. The $100NL and $200NL games can be beaten for much more than that, of this I'm certain. And active table selection - and de-selection - is the biggest key by far in achieving a monster win-rate.

Don't settle.

Monday, September 1, 2008

4-bet bluffing in no-limit hold 'em

I did sort of promise this post, so here it is. It's inspired by a recent thread on CC, and a lot of what I'm saying here is what I said there, but I feel I can perhaps expand on a few points.

What Jagsti asked is "when, why and how" one 4-bet bluffs, and also with what hands. I think this is a pretty good starting point for the reasoning, so I'll use a similar format, albeit in a different order:

The obvious answer is that it's extra money in our bankroll. 4-bet bluffing is often profitable in a vacuum against aggressive regulars in the online games; just by occasionally 4-bet bluffing we can show an immediate profit. As an added benefit we also add some deception and make sure that our opponents can't squarely put us on QQ or better when we 4-bet preflop, thus allowing us to get more action on our big hands. Trust me, if your opponent shoves after you 4-bet and you fold, you can be certain that he just made a note on you. You should probably make a note back saying that he has seen you do this and avoid making your next 4-bet against him a bluff.

Here, I'm itching to actually answer the "when" first because a lot of what I want to say about "how" depends on the "when," but I think there's pedagogical value in doing this in reverse so I'll try it. When I 4-bet bluff preflop, I do it with hands that I can't profitably call the 3-bet with, and I do it to an amount that lets me get away from the hand if my opponent shoves.

The second part of that sentence is key. I need to be able to raise a large enough amount that my opponent doesn't just call because he's in position with good pot odds, but a small enough amount that I don't get pot odds myself to call a shove with any-two. A min-4-bet, in other words, is out of the question. A 4-bet that puts considerably more than a third of my stack in is also a bad idea.

After doing some simulations and a tiny bit of math, it seems that 4-betting to about a third of my stack (or rather, the effective stack) does the trick and is about as high as I can go without being committed. Perhaps needless to say, I use the same raise size with my big hands as well. This brings us very quickly into the "when."

Now, since I want to 4-bet with (at most) a third of my stack, I need my opponent's 3-bet to be small enough that my 4-bet allows this without being a pesky min-raise. If my opponent 3-bets to 25BB (with 100BB stacks), for instance, 4-bet bluffing is not an option for me. But the standard open-raise is typically between 3 and 4 big blinds, and the standard 3-bet for most regulars in the games I play seems to be between 12 and 15 big blinds. A 4-bet to 35 big blinds, then, achieves what I want to achieve, and is what I aim for in these cases.

It's imperative, then, that the effective stacks are at least 100BB. Otherwise, I'll have put in more than a third of my stack and will be very close to break-even on calling with any two cards when/if my opponent shoves, which I certainly don't want.

Furthermore, the whole point in 4-bet bluffing is that we think there's a decent chance that our opponents will fold whatever they have, so we want some history between us that shows that he's capable of 3-betting light. If you use stats, the "3bet preflop" number should typically show at least 7% for me to start considering 4-bet bluffing, and it's of course also a given that our opponent must be "smart" enough to fold the worst part of his hands when we bluff. Don't bluff a calling station - and definitely not preflop.

I also said that I want to do it with hands that I can't profitably call the 3-bet with, which adds to the when; I'm more often out of position than in position when I 4-bet bluff. In position I can often take a flop and play a big pot in position with some of my weaker hands, albeit certainly not all of them.

With what hands?
I'll cut to the chase: I (almost always) 4-bet these hands before the flop: QQ, KK, AA, AKo and AKs. Out of position, I also 4-bet all suited connectors from 76s up to JTs. In position, I 4-bet bluff with JTo.

It might seem like I'm being predictable if I always use the same hands, but I don't think that that's true. The way the combinations of these hands work out, I will "have it" about 75% of the time when I 4-bet. That's decidedly enough not to make shoving over the top immediately profitable for my opponents, and it's also enough that I still add a little bit of profit. So why have I picked these precise hands?

Because I want to be able to make the decision to 4-bet bluff automatic. I have two reasons for this:

First, it frees up time in my decision making when I'm multi-tabling (which I typically always am). A few seconds saved on making a decision on one table means a few more seconds to make a better decision on another table. This is pretty important and why I'm a big fan of having default ranges on reflex. That doesn't mean that I can't adjust, but some decisions I really just prefer to have made for me.

Secondly, it takes away the risk that I'm overdoing it. I think a lot of aggressive regulars seriously overdo the LAG style of their play and simply go nuts too often. They might "know" that they should be bluffing with a certain small frequency, but simply guessing how often they've been doing it lately is borderline impossible. By using a set of pre-determined ranges, I know for a fact that I'm bluffing with a frequency that I've decided on. No guessing. No 4-betting because I'm tilting.

So I pick JTo when I'm in position and suited connectors when I'm out of position, and you may already have guessed why, but it's simply because these are hands that I typically can't play profitably when I get 3-bet. In position, I can opt to call with JTs on the button when the small blind 3-bets. But I can't play that hand out of position for 14 big blinds with effective stacks of 100BB. And I typically can't play JTo profitably even in position when I get 3-bet.

An argument could perhaps be made to pick the weakest part of my range instead of these hands that are sort of in the middle. But I don't think it matters that much since these hands were all going in the muck otherwise anyway. There is an upside to choosing hands that are no better than J-high though, and that is that in the rare cases when the other person cold-calls the 4-bet (a move that I seriously question is legitimate for any hand but AA, and probably not even then), I don't have to be in the sticky situation of flopping nothing and wondering if I'm best.

This is not a hugely important point, but it matters at least a little bit, because if I see a flop with the bluffing part of my range and my opponent open-shoves out of position, I don't want to have a difficult decision to make. Of course, sometimes this is going to happen anyway. I might flop top pair with JT, but that's a much better situation to be in than to flop nothing with A7o and be worried that I might be laying down the best hand with ace-high. Since you're bound to ask, yes, I've had opponents stop-and-go a 4-bet on me with KQs unimproved and similar from the SB. Fortunately I wasn't bluffing at the times that this has happened, so I didn't make the mistake of folding, but I mention it as a reason for why I'm unhappy 4-bet bluffing with hands that have some chance of being the best hand. "Typically don't bluff with the best hand" is a valuable lesson I learned while grinding limit hold 'em, and it applies here, too.

So: 4-bet bluff because it adds profit and deception, do it in a way that lets you get away from your hand if your opponent shoves, do it versus opponents that you have reason to believe are 3-betting light often, do it with hands that you can't otherwise profitably continue with and do it with a range of hands that you've decided on before you are even dealt the cards.

And do it because, frankly, big bluffs are fun.