Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Big Hands, Big Pots

One of the habits I brought with me when I moved here from the CardsChat blog was to make strategy posts: instructional posts about poker. I made a lot of those on the CC blog, because that's what the readers requested. I'm going to stop that habit, because quite frankly I don't feel up for the job. I could rehash basic principles of poker but I'd feel kinda dumb about it because what I love about poker is its complexity and beginning strategies of play are always extremely oversimplified and take away that beauty, in my opinion. They're necessary to keep from drowning in the beginning, but they're not poker.

Poker is valuebetting second pair on a really scary river because your hand reading skills deduce that your opponent is unlikely to have top pair or a flush. That extra $40 of value that you get out of that river that a lesser player wouldn't.

Poker is adjusting your bet sizing to different opponents and board textures.

Poker is exploring all the options you have to play a hand and then making the most profitable decision.

So in the future when I make strategy related posts, they're going to be personal reflections rather than instructional articles, if you will. And I'm starting today, with the concept of "big hands, big pots." I'm not 100% sure about the origin of the phrase, but I think I saw Ed Miller use it first. The idea, in case you're not familiar with it, is this:

A very strong hand should play in a way that enables it to win a big pot.

A mediocre (but "showdownable," which is now a word, thankyouverymuch) hand should try to keep the pot size down and aim for winning a small pot.

The basic reasoning behind this is pretty simple: When all the money goes in postflop, it's unlikely that AJ on a J-8-6 board is going to show a profit simply because there are few hands that any opponents are willing to get their whole stack in with that you can beat. So you try to avoid getting yourself in a situation where you have to make a decision for your whole stack with a vulnerable hand.

Conversely, a hand like 88 on the same board cannot check back the flop because you should work on building as big a pot as possible, shooting for your opponent's stack. Big hands, big pots.

So what am I getting at? I'm not crazy about this principle. I don't think it's flawed per se, I just think it falls into a very common trap of simplification: hiding the difficult part. Because poker didn't get trivial when I started thinking of "big hands, big pots." It's a good thing to think about but it doesn't make the decisions automatic. Before this catch-phrase, we used to have people answering the question "should I valuebet AK on a K-high river?" with "it depends." Then came "big hands, big pots" but "it depends" is still the answer; it's just the answer to a different question: "is AK on this K-high river a big hand?"

By introducing "big hands, big pots" we didn't eliminate the problem, we shifted it. It reminds me of linear algebra where you can change the base of calculation and hope that the answer becomes easier to calculate. Sometimes - often - that's true, but you still need to do the calculation, easier or not. A different perspective can make a decision easier but it doesn't solve it.

Because, really, whether or not AK on a K-high river is a big hand depends on the texture of the board and what you know about your opponent. It's a "big hand" if he's likely to call a big bet with a weaker hand. And while "big hands, big pots" may work for some people, it never quite did the trick for me, but now I've found a way of addressing these situations that I find easier: I ask myself the question "how many bets can I win with this hand vs. this opponent?"

Example: $200NL, I open KQo to $6 in the cut-off and only the small blind - a fairly typical regular in these games - calls. We see a flop of Q-7-7. How may bets can I win off of my opponent if my hand is best?

My best guess: Two. My opponent is not going to put in three streets of action with an underpair, and he's fairly unlikely to have coldcalled preflop with a weaker queen than mine except (maybe) QJs. And what I need to figure out is how to extract those two bets in a way that maximizes my chances of winning. Perhaps checking back the flop and seeing if he bets the turn (which increases the chance of him bluffing), or perhaps betting the flop and hoping he takes one off with a medium pair and then I can check back the turn and hope he bluffs the river or calls a value bet.

And once I have that part of it thought through, I can start to think about how I want to size a potential bet to maximize value. Perhaps the turn brings a third flushcard to the table and I have to flush my plan of checking back the turn to induce a river bluff in favor of betting the turn and checking back the river since there are now more hands he could call a second bet with that wouldn't call the same bet on the river unimproved. Etc.

And while this opponent might have "two bets" stapled to his virtual forehead, another opponent with exactly the same hand could make me think "three bets, easily, and I'm happy to get it all-in at any point" or "one, tops."

No, this perspective didn't "solve" poker, either. It can't; it only shifted the calculation. Because, in the end, it still depends.

And that's the beauty of it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sunday Warmup

First, some poker progress report:

I'm 2/2 in cashing in the Poker Stars $200 Sunday Warm-up tournament. I'd like to go deeper, but I really can't complain about the results. The main reason I'm even playing it to begin with is that it's probably the most +EV way for me to use my FPPs at Stars.

I'm also doing a lot of work on plugging leaks in my cash game. So far, I feel it's been very productive. I've been looking at hand textures and ranges, trying to improve my c-betting habits, and my postflop and preflop bet-sizing. Couple that with some very aggressive table selection, a lot of good hands, and my results between now and the last post have been very good. If I were a superstitious man I wouldn't make that comment, but fortunately I'm not.

Second, a comment on my general state of blogging:

I'm not doing it much. Frankly, it's because I haven't felt like it. I've had too much other stuff that I'd rather do, including watching movies, reading books, hanging out with friends and playing and studying poker. I haven't felt like there's anything particularly newsworthy going on in either my own poker world or the poker world in general that I want to comment on. So I haven't.

I'm not particularly interested in the fucked up courts in Kentucky that are seizing domain names of gambling sites.

The November nine? Oh yeah, I guess the WSOP final table is coming up. Uh... Exciting?

Frankly, in reading the blogs it seems that most writers are experiencing a slow news month. Or maybe they're more excited than ever and it's just my own apathy that makes me interpret it that way. Whatever the reason, I don't particularly find anything interesting enough to bother writing about so I haven't. I'm glad I scored a small cash in a tournament yesterday, though, as it gave me an excuse to write something.

Wow, what a depressing post I just put forward. I guess I better end it with something positive. How's about a picture of me playing the banjo?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I Wish I Hadn't Said That.

Yeah, so in my last post I cautiously mentioned that I've been doing great this month. I ended it with the caveat that I hope my next post wouldn't be "I wish I hadn't said that." And, well... What can I say.

I wish I hadn't said that.

My 24" widescreen monitor has arrived though, and I have a two-monitor set-up now that allows me to feel like an evil genius. I sit around going "muhahahaha!" and Lori rolls her eyes and shakes her head.

My plan as per poker for the rest of the month is to play less and study more. A lot more. In fact, I may not play many more hands this month. I have a lot of Stox videos to catch up on, and I'm going to do some serious soul searching and leak-plugging for the next 10 days. And hey, if I don't play another hand this month, I will at least end the month up about $500. That's, uh, something.

So, poker gods: Please forgive me. I promise I won't express joy next time you shine on me. I'll pretend I haven't noticed. Really, I will. We cool now? Ok, thanks.

End of month update will include the amusing-looking graph of this month, complete with a little marker that shows exactly where in the graph I made the fatal mistake of mentioning that I had been running well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Late Night Business Decision

Sunday night - or technically, Monday morning - I was suffering from a bit of insomnia. A combination of several things, I'd guess, not the least of which was the full moon. Not kidding; I generally have a bit of a tougher time sleeping those nights. Sleeping in late on Sunday probably helped, too, and a tingling of stress about the upcoming week couldn't have made it better.

So after lying in bed for 45 minutes tossing and turning, I turned on the light and picked up my book. Read a chapter. Turned off the light, tried to sleep. Didn't work. Finally just gave up and got out of bed at around midnight and turned on the computer.

On a whim - and this is how I like my purchases - I ordered a 24" flatscreen Dell monitor. My thinking was that if I have a bigger monitor, I could play six tables which a nice big size instead of just four. 50% more hands per time unit. This investment will pay for itself in no-time.

I hope.

It hasn't arrived yet, but it should later in the week or maybe next week. The decision might have been on a whim, but is not one I regret. A bigger monitor really does mean more hands per hour, and that can't be a bad thing. I used to play 8-9 tables on this old monitor, and that was simply too much for me to handle. Not only did I not have enough time to think through all my decisions, but each table was also too small for me to actually fit all the information from the HUD that I like to have up. With a bigger screen, and sticking to six tables, I should not have to compromise. I'm expecting to take a bit of a cut in the win-rate anyway (although rarely, I still make the occasional mistake at four tables that I wouldn't have had I played only one - and it's unlikely to get better if I add two more), but hardly a 33% loss.

Also, it was 30% off. $340 including delivery. Last time I shopped for a monitor, those babies cost closer to $1500, so what's not to like?

Lori had insomnia as well and wasn't quite as enthusiastic about my midnight electronics purchase, but after a little bit of negotation that ended in a compromise that I get a new monitor if we'll make sure to buy new furniture for the workroom (a deal that I'm not entirely sure has a negative for me, but I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth) I clicked "Complete Transaction" on the Dell website.

Now I'm just waitin'.

As a sidenote, I've been absolutely killing at the tables this month. Only 6k hands, but when you're making 50 cents per hand, that's still something to be pretty excited about. I'm just crossing my fingers that my next post will be a "I wish I hadn't said that" post.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I'm having difficulty finding the right vocabulary (or "verbiage," as Sarah Palin would say) for what I'm about to write. The first problem arises when I want to say that I "realized" something last week, because "realize" isn't at all the word I want to use. It wasn't new to me, it was just the first time I thought about it consciously.

And what I "realized" was that I have what I fail to find another word for than "quirk" when it comes to the money I win and lose at poker. It's not a "quirk" per se, but rather an angle that I think might be different from others'. Anyway, forgive the poor language.

So last week I "realized" that I have a "quirk" when it comes to money I play poker with. To the US players, what I'm about to say might make little sense, but bear with me: I don't think of a good night at the tables as "winning money," I think of it as "winning dollars." And for me, with the Swedish krona as my currency, dollars don't necessarily represent money, subconsciously. Rationally they do, of course. I understand fully that I can withdraw from my bankroll and spend it on stuff. I've withdrawn a decent amount over the past few years. But, and I think this goes back to my past rabid obsession with computer games, when I lose or win a buy-in (typically $200) I don't see it as money won or lost. I see it as "points."

And I check my score in Hold'em Manager.

When I have a big winning night, I'm not excited because I'm better off financially now than before, I cheer because my score just improved.

On the surface, this appears helpful, because the angle makes me focus on correct things at the table. No tilt induced by losing a lot of money because what I'm losing isn't money. Right? Except that I think I tilt just as much as I would be if I had thought about it as money, if not harder. Because I care about my score, as I would in any game.

But, and this is the real divide, it's the $ Won column in HEM that constitutes my score. Not the money in NETeller or even how much money I currently have at, say, Party Poker. No, THAT money is real money. Bonuses that I clear, in other words, don't count towards my subconscious idea of reaching a high score.

I wonder how that came to be. I don't know what the practical difference is other than that I rarely put a big pot won or lost into the context of real money (that is, mentally convert it to my own currency), although the times I do that I sometimes go "oh wow, that's actually quite a bit of money."

So yesterday I won an $808 pot. I was happy because it put my score for the night at $670. A short while later, while brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed, I multiplied the $800 by 7 (which is about the exchange rate) and realized that the size of that pot was 20% of my monthly income after taxes from my employer. It put things into perspective for me.

But only for a short while. Now I'm back to thinking about points. Good thing, too, because I'm not sure I would like to play for that much real money.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I Was Rewarded

Party Poker representatives apparently read my blog and swiftly rewarded my previous post by toggling the boom-switch. These were the hands I played (at 200NL) today after making the post:

Thanks, Party!

Party Poker

Oh, where to start...

I've had a terrible relationship with Party Poker for a long time. I love the fact that they're a big European site with lots of traffic, because it allows me to play poker without playing taxes (a plus that they share with Bet24, Ladbrokes, Betway, and many others) but without having to compromise game selection - a feature that the other sites decidedly can NOT offer. When there are only 5 games of $200NL running at Betway, and all of them have 5 of the same 6 players on them, you can be pretty sure that the games aren't that juicy as they're all filled with regulars.

And I've lamented the fact that if only they had a better client than they do, they'd be, if not great, than at least a good site. If they could fix the bugs in the software, if they could perhaps update it to something a little more modern than what seems to be a 2002 version of a poker room, then it'd be awesome. What I love the most about Poker Stars is their client software. It's fast and smooth. It doesn't frustrate me.

And now Party Poker has updated their software. My expectations were low. Very low. So while my expectations weren't hard to exceed, they did not only exceed them but I now think they're almost on par with Stars in terms of client software. And in some cases, they outdo even Stars.

They have an auto-reload feature (which for the life of me I cannot figure out why Stars doesn't have for all ring games), they have buttons for betting pot, 3/4ths pot, etc. They have table selection software that lets me browse tables based on pot size, average players per pot, and even a waiting list feature that doesn't make me want to shoot myself.

In short, their new software is great and they deserve a great big kudos for it.

I'm sure there are still kinks to be worked out (although I haven't found anything major yet). I presume their customer service is still as poor as it ever were, although I don't particularly feel like trying it out. I notice they even added the same kind of bot protection that Stars added, see screenshot below.

Anyway, I'm now excited to be playing there, in contrast to before when I felt like I had to play there but didn't really want to. Good job, Party.

I never thought I'd say that.

The text, in case you wondered, roughly translates to:

"Code Verification
Type in the characters that are displayed in the image below.
(The characters are not case sensitive)

You have 110 seconds to give the code. If you do not finish the confirmation sequence within the given time frame you will be forced to sit out the next hand.

This process helps us prevent the usage of automated gambling systems or BOTs on our software. Thank you for your cooperation."

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm alive, if not kicking

Back from Spain Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, back at work 8 hours later, and in full crunch mode. There's no energy left over to do anything but work and catch up with recorded episodes of The Daily Show, 30 Days, The Office and reruns of The West Wing.

We finally managed to clear the list of shows tonight, and now I'm moving my attention to Google Reader with 170 unread items, and a brick biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. Having recently finished a biography of Thomas Jefferson: American Sphinx, by Joseph J. Ellis.

(The above widget may or may not work when I actually publish this post, and I have no idea how the RSS readers will pick up on it)

I liked it. I was watching the HBO miniseries on John Adams before reading this book, so I had "the other perspective" somewhat in mind when I took on Jefferson, but I'm not sure I would have had to. This is not a book written to put Jefferson on a pedestal, it's a book to explain why he thought what he thought. And what he thought. And, perhaps most importantly, how he thought.

As a sidenote, I watched Sarah Palin in an interview the other day, saying that she's "a federalist" because she believes that states should have more say. Thomas Jefferson cringes in his coffin.

I just cringed in my couch.


The reason I'm now onto Napoleon is because I've been "around" him in history for awhile now (with the American revolution, the French revolusion, the Lousiana Purchase, etc.) and now I can't really contain my curiousity about the man himself. That's how history lessons should be.

Too bad I hated it in high school.