Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oh, god.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

The picture has nothing to do with anything I'm about to write. I just think it's funny.

--

I really suck at blogging these days, and it's because I'm still trying to piece together my life after going back to working (almost) full time. Slowly but surely I'm getting more and more stuff done during the hours I'm not at work and not asleep, and soon I hope "blogging" will have high enough priority to be put back into the regular circulation. Until then I'm afraid you're just going to have to live with these sparse updates. My apologies.

--

My weight loss really isn't going well. I've lost maybe 2 pounds so far which is a far cry from my target line. Still, I'm eating healthily, I'm getting a decent amount of exercise for the first time in a long while - I've picked up playing squash, and try to do it twice a week, plus I walk or ride my bike to and from work - and I'm generally feeling pretty good about my health. It's not like I'm morbidly obese or anything like that, either, so the weight loss isn't an urgent matter, but I'd still like to step it up a notch. The very first thing to do to get back on the ball is to quit eating these late night snacks. I just can't sleep when I'm hungry, and so I end up in deciding between sleep and diet. And when you're already short on hours in the day to do all the things you want to do, you - or I - go with sleep. I'm now trying to arrange for BETTER snacks since it appears impossible for me to do away with them altogether. Wish me luck on that.

--

Speaking of diet and health, I feel I should make a few follow-up comments on the whole vegetarian thingy: What I'm first and foremost giving up is mammals, because I believe they have the largest capacity to suffer and so cutting mammals from my diet should therefore be the most bang for the buck in terms of reducing the amount of animal suffering caused on my behalf. That said, since it's suffering I wish to reduce, I probably will give up chicken and fish eventually. But not yet. I have to start somewhere and this seemed like a good place.

Now, to be even more specific, what I'm giving up is factory farmed meat. I see no reason at this point, however, to give up wild game. I mean, I'm attempting to reduce suffering and one might say "yeah, like getting shot is a nice experience for the deer" but, see, I challenge you to come up with a nicer way for the deer to die. Arguably Bambi doesn't get to live a full life because some hunter came in his (her? I was never sure) way and ended it prematurely, but I don't believe eating wild game makes me a hypocrit. Not that I eat a lot of it, but it's one of those things I won't say no to on principle.

--

I guess I have to write something poker-related, too. Well, I'm playing more than I have in quite awhile. I've decided that with my life the way it is right now I simply don't have the luxury to play when I'm feeling my best, because I'm never feeling my best at any time in the day when I also have time to play poker. So it stands between "playing when I'm a bit tired" and "not playing at all" and while the former makes my win-rate take a hit, the latter makes it theoretically impossible to win any money at all. So I've taken up playing for about an hour after getting Bennie asleep at night, and it's working out alright. Games are pretty good at Party at that time, and my results are more than pleasing. Since August 1st (which is also when I moved back up to 2/4 and 3/6), I'm averaging almost exactly 50c/hand, which is pretty cool.

--

I'm going to try to make the next blog a strategy post. Hopefully out before December.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On A Whim

... I've decided that I want to try to stop eating meat. That's quite the transition for someone who's been a die-hard carnivore since he was old enough to grunt and pound his chest, but I think it's the right thing to do. This decision, strangely enough, is completely disconnected with my weight-loss target. This, as far as I'm concerned, is a moral issue.

I'm not sure I can manage quitting cold turkey (or any kind of turkey, really), but I'll feel better about myself if I can at least cut back seriously on the amount of mammals I eat.

I'm going to miss bacon. :(

Have a good vegetarian recipe? Ship it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

11 weeks until christmas


Okay, enough's enough. Here are the facts: About three years ago, I decided that I needed to lose weight, and went from 85kg to 68k (or from 190 lbs to 150 lbs, to my American readers). I was very happy with the change. I looked a lot better and I felt great. I wasn't overweight at all when I was younger, that change came about when I got a job and a car. I drove the car to work, I ate at the restaurant nearby where I worked and I could afford a lot of good foods and drinks. Add that to the near non-existant exercise I was getting, and you had a slowly cumulative problem. But in 2005, I decided to change that and get back to the shape I was when I first moved to Linköping.

But now, of course, I've been back on the same track I was for most of my 20s, and I've put on half the weight that I once managed to lose. The only difference between now and then is that now I know that I can do it, and so I'm setting an aggressive target for myself: This weight will be gone by christmas. That's about 2 lbs per week that I'm aiming at losing, and I know I can do it. It's just a matter of attitude and discipline. My biggest problem will be, as last time, the fact that it's really really difficult for me to sleep on an empty stomach, which means that I will either have to eat my dinner late, or I need to have a snack shortly before bed. But since I know this going in, I just have to adjust my Calorie intake for the rest of the day to make up for the snack I inevitably will need.

What's going to suck is cutting back on beer. Then again, since I'm all about counting Calories, I mostly just have to make sure I get enough exercise to allow myself the occasional alcohol splurge.


Mmm, beer.

--

Also, I've had quite a few people ask me what the hell is up with me not blogging. And my answer to all of them is the same: I haven't been playing poker, so I've had essentially nothing to blog about. However, to ease the minds of those that worry (or whatever the correct word would be) that I've given up on poker: No, this is decidely not the case. I've been thinking about poker a lot. I just haven't actually played it.

Now why is that?

It's not for lack of interest, I can assure you. The problem, if you can call it that, is that during my brief stint as a professional I developed the habit of never, ever, playing when I wasn't feeling my best. If I can't honestly feel like I'm sitting down when my mind is at its sharpest, I just don't sit. This is a really great habit for a professional poker player to have, but very few bother with it because, well, I guess because they think they're good enough to beat the games when they're tired and distracted. Looking at long-term results of many of these players, though, they appear to hover around break-even and presumably live off of rakeback and bonuses. Whatever floats your boat.

But I'm not like that. Especially not now when the financial burden of my upkeep isn't placed on my poker game. I'm now in it to play the best poker I can, to learn the most, not to eek out every dollar I can on a monthly basis. Last month, I played less than 2,500 hands in total. This month will probably yield a higher volume than that, but if I go past 10k hands, I'd be surprised. I'm now a low-volume player, aiming for quality rather than quantity. The habit of not playing when not feeling my best is now so deeply rooted that I can't even wrap my head around the idea of sitting down to play at a time like... Like this. It's 7:30 pm on Sunday night, I've had a long weekend, and I'm tired. There's no way I'm opening up a few tables to play. I wouldn't enjoy it. I couldn't.

If it seems odd to you that I've developed this habit so quickly - over the course of only a few months - I think you've missed out on the experience of playing only when you're feeling your best. The best way I can explain the feeling is to compare it to reading. I love reading. I read as much and as often as I can. But with all this reading I've also developed a fairly good idea of what constitutes good writing and what doesn't, and though I love reading I'd rather not read at all rather than endure bad writing.

If that makes sense.

So, I miss playing poker. I hope I'll get a chance to play again soon. But it's not out of principle that I'm not sitting down to play this very moment, it's because I simply can't bring myself to do it. That's how deliciously effective the positive feedback loop of only playing at my best has proven. If you haven't experienced it yourself, I hope you will.

--

Even my sister Camilla complained that I hadn't blogged. When even my family (who I talk to on a very regular basis) finds it odd that I'm not writing here, I guess it really is time to do something about it. She helpfully suggested that if I can't think of anything else to write about, I should write something about her. I guess this paragraph was sort of about her, so it should count.

--

I just got back from Karlstad (where Camilla and my parents and my grandma lives) because we had a small family party for Benjamin. Being the heathens we are, we of course opted out of a baptism - if he wants to get a baptism, he can have it when he's old enough to choose it for himself - but still felt we wanted some kind of party for him. So we're had a family get-together yesterday in Karlstad, and we're throwing a small party for some friends here in Linköping this coming Saturday. So far, the loot has been bountiful: A small table and a chair, a small rocking horse and a small slide for his room, plus some smaller toys and a song book with traditional children's songs.



The food we had was awesome. Poor Benjamin, the object of celebration, couldn't have any of it since he's not old enough to eat anything but breast milk, porridge and squished up veggies. Sweet irony.

--

Regarding the weight, I'll be posting updates here. If someone's stalker-level curious about exactly what I'm doing to lose weight I suppose I could post something about that, too, but you're going to have to expliticly ask me about it in that case.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

1314

1,314. That's how many hands I've played this month. In total.

--

As I wound down my "pro" poker career in August and went back to the office on September 1st, I fully intended to keep playing part time, much as I had done before April. However, I think I underestimated how much energy it takes working full time (well, 80%) in combination with having a 5-month old baby to take care of, even when there's two of us. I'm not used to playing in the evenings when I'm tired and I learned during my short term as a professional player not to play when I'm not feeling my best. Thus, I've only played 1314 hands, or almost precisely 5 hours, this month. Don't get me wrong, I'm not intending to shelf poker, not at all. I'm just making weak excuses for why I've played so little in September, and that in turn will hopefully explain why I've not posted anything here for almost a month.

--

I've been busy with another poker-related project though, and that is auditioning for being a Stoxpoker coach. They requested their members to send in sample videos and I quickly decided it wasn' t for me. But after being scolded by Taylor for not signing up, I decided to give it a try and went way in over my head with a "sample" video that was more a long and fairly complicated way of explaining what to think of when deciding how to size your 3-bets. I spent probably around 8 hours on trying to find a good (read: pedagogical) way of explaining what I meant before I decided that it wouldn't work. I didn't want to base a sample video on loose assumptions and I didn't have the time necessary to go not only prove my assumptions but also come up with a format for presenting the material that made it useful to people who didn't already know it. So I gave up.

Then I decided that, fuck it, I can't just give up. Surely I can come up with something to base a sample video on. I could've just recorded four tables and done live commentary but I decided against it mostly because I felt that others can fill that niche better than I can and if I make a sample video I should really make something along the lines of the videos that I'd feel comfortable making. So I ended up with a video called "You Can Do Better" which is a 25-minute long classroom-style video trying to talk some sense into people who for one reason or another have decided what their win-rate is and are now playing for volume, not for winnings. There's a lot of them around, and quite a few of the readers of this blog are guilty of it. I submitted the video a week ago and haven't heard back from them yet. If they decide to turn me down (I'd be a little disappointed but not totally surprised if they do) I'll post the link to the uploaded video here on the blog. I'm not super-happy with the way it turned out - I understand that that's a common reaction to making your first video - but I'm OK with it. I'll let you know how that works out.

--

Back at work, it took me a couple of weeks to get settled in and up to speed with what's happened while I was gone. There was some major software architecture restructuring going on right around when I left and now that's fully implemented, which makes it a little confusing for someone who wasn't there for the implementation and doesn't know quite how it works. But now I'm back in the game and I'm happy to report that I caused an awesome new bug yesterday that copmletely crashed the system.

It's good to be back.

--

Benjamin's taken his first step towards talking. He's now advanced from going "aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh" to making a "maow-maow-maow-maow-maow" noise because he figured out that it sounded different if he opened and closed his mouth while going "aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh".

Sunday, August 23, 2009

leet winnings and losings


I took this screenshot early in the month but forgot to post it. This is leet poker, folks. Check money lost at 1/2 and check money won total for the month. Mmmmm.

(click image for full-size and if you don't get what the joke is, it's not going to be made funny by me explaining it)


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Advice on Playing Poker Professionally

This year so far: contains one 30+ BI downswing, two 20BI ones and one around 15 BIs.

Right around the time that my computer started hanging (resolved now; one of my memory sticks was failing) I was getting ready to blog a little about what it's like to play poker for a living and (on demand) to try to share any worthwhile tips on what it takes to "make it." Despite being delayed for five days, here goes:

I'm an optimist. I tend to think happy thoughts a lot. I tend to not worry about the future too much and I tend to try to make the best of the "now" instead of the "then." This is true for almost every aspect of my life, with the important exception of money. I'm raised to be careful with money - not cheap or greedy, but to be sure not to overextend myself, not to get myself in unnecessary debt and to have a decent budget. For a natural optimist like myself, this takes some practise in practise. Fortunately, I have a wife who's a natural born pessimist and she helps me carry it out.

I tell you this, because I think that financial pessimism is a sound trait to have. And it's especially sound if you're thinking about starting your own business - including playing poker for a living. Now, I have a feeling that the majority demographic of my readership (there's actually hundreds of you, which I find both encouraging and a little intimidating) to which my advice on playing poker professionally may be of interest is going to be young. Probably early twenties. To some extent, being super careful with money when you're 22 is not going to be entirely necessary. You probably haven't settled in with any really expensive habits yet - like a house or a car or a family - and for some, living with your parents may still be an option if all else fails. If you belong to this group and think that I'm being ridiculously uptight about the money part, then you have the right to ignore it and I wouldn't blame you for it.

But I didn't have that option. I needed to be able to cash out a certain amount every month to cover expenses, and not pulling that off wasn't a real option for me. If you're young and without any major expenses and can make it on very little every month, then there's not even a real need to consider yourself a poker professional. Just look at it as something you do for a little extra cash. Or maybe a lot of extra cash. But if you're planning to actually make a long term living out of it, I'm guessing you wouldn't want to settle for earning $20k/year because seriously, there are better jobs to have for that kind of money unless you despise contact with other humans and/or want to get away with working only 1-2 hours per day. So if you're looking to build a future around playing poker professionally, here's my advice:

Win-rate pessimism

Look at your win-rate for the past 6 months. Slice it in half and ask yourself if you can live off of that. And not only live off of it, but also that it's sufficient to put some of it away for savings, and some of it for "vacation." As in, taking time off from poker for an extended period of time - 3+ weeks, perhaps - without going bankrupt. But why slice your win-rate in half? Because you're not as good as you think you are. Look: If you're considering playing for a living, you've probably made a bunch of money at poker. And, like it or not, there's a statistically very high probability that you've been running hotter than average (if you're going to refer me to your EV-graph, save it - that's a tiny part of how well you run) because if you had been running cold, I guarantee you that you wouldn't be thinking about going pro. See what I mean? People who are considering going pro are compromised of people who are good players and at worst running average, and of people who are not as good as they think they are and are running hot. The average "hotness" of the to-be poker pro is above expectation. So slice your win-rate when you do the numbers.


Volume pessimism

Next, consider how much you're actually going to be playing. I set a goal of playing 75k hands/month and didn't reach it once. Now, to be fair, it's not because I couldn't. It's because I didn't want to. And therein, I guess, also lies an important lesson: Consider the fact that you're often going to be faced with options that are going to seem a lot more appealing than poker. So if you want to be really pessimistic (and I've already told you why I think that's a good idea) also slice your expected monthly volume. I've heard people claim that they can just make up for lost volume later if they want to do something more fun today and while that may work in principle, I must then ask you to slice your expected win-rate even further. If you're playing casually today and winning, say, 3bb/100 then I can almost guarantee you that your win-rate would be lower if you tried playing a marathon session. Tilt and fatigue are costly companions. Better then to cut your expected volume, probably trim at least 25% off of it.


"How Much You Need" pessimism

Third, see if your expected monthly earnings will be at least twice what you need to cover your expenses. Now you may be thinking that I've already asked you to slice your win-rate in half and your volume to 3/4ths of what you may expect and this is still supposed to cover twice your monthly cash-outs? The reasons for needing to average more than your monthly nut is partially so that you have padding. If you have two average month followed by a cold spell, you'll still be able to support yourself. The other reason is so that you can, in time, move up in stakes. There's more money to be had at the higher stakes but if your projected earnings just about covers your expenses, you'll never get there.


Savings

Next step is to have a bunch of money saved up. And no, your bankroll doesn't count as a savings account. The reason you should have money saved up is in case tragedy strikes. Injury may cause you to be hospitalized for quite some time. And if that should happen, heaven forbid, or something else that prevents you from playing, it would be very unfortunate if you had to live out of your bankroll because when things return to normal you'd be out of a job because you wouldn't have a bankroll to sustain you. This is a huge point and one that I think most young people miss. I remember what it was like to be 23 and invincible. But now we have 6+ months of expenses saved up, and in principle even that may be on the short side - however, I knew all along that I wouldn't have to last longer than 5 months so it was a safe gamble. If you have no backup, this is something you seriously need to consider. Yeah, severe injury is a long shot, but it's not something you should be willing to gamble on.

--

But if, after cutting your win-rate in half and your volume by some, you'll still win more than twice what you need to sustain yourself, and you have a very healthy savings account (net - pay off any debts you have first, please) then it looks like you're in good financial shape for playing poker for a living long-term.

I'm such a kill-joy.

Now, if you're younger, without any real expenses, still living with (or have the option of moving back to) your parents, then by all means, play poker as your primary income without any of the above safety nets, that's fine. But keep in mind that you should try to acquire the safety nets as you go. Cash out more than you need every month to try to build a savings account. Work on your game and make sure you stay ahead of the curve. And, for god's sake, don't forget to have fun, not only while playing but to reserve time for doing something completely non-pokery.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Overbetshovedonk

This is a word I've used a couple of times in writing notes on opponents lately. It means exactly what it says: Someone who openshoves out of position, and the bet he made is an overbet (i.e. bigger than the pot).

--

In other news, my "experiment" as an online poker pro is nearing its end. For those of you who may not have been around to read my original announcement, I think a brief digression with the backstory is in order:

I've played poker online for 4 years now. I've been very clear and consistent about having no intentions whatsoever of doing it for a living, despite my moderate success at the tables. Therefore, it came as quite a shock to many of my online acquaintances when I announced that I'd be doing it for a living, an announcement that unfortunately was made on April 1st, leading most to believe it was a joke. But of course, it wasn't (although I had to make a new post on April 2nd repeating that it indeed wasn't to satisfy some people) and even though this may seem like me changing my mind about playing poker full-time, it really wasn't.

The thing that made poker as a job temporarily attractive was a combination of three factors:

1. My wife and I were about to have a baby,
2. the company I work for was doing poorly and were lowering salaries to counter the financial trouble, and
3. Swedish summer is best enjoyed outside of the office.

So, in I killed three birds with one stone: By staying home and replacing my salary with poker earnings I got to spend lots of time with the baby, I got to enjoy the weather (although it's been rainier than I had hoped for) and my boss got to save the expense of having to pay my salary. However, this was never intended to be a permanent solution. I'm going back to work on September 1st, as was my original deal with my employer. I get 5 months off, they get to save 5 months worth of salary and everybody wins.

So here I am, with three weeks left on my professional poker career and I'm sorry to say I've been slacking. My original ambition was to play 75k hands per month, and not once did I reach that goal. That's alright, though, because if you look at my list of reasons for why I wanted to play poker for a living this summer, "making money" was not on it. I just needed to make enough to get by (or, more precisely, replace my normal salary), and that I have. Not by a long shot, but by enough of a shot that I can happily call this experiment a success.

Yes, I've been referring to it as an experiment, and that's the secret fourth reason for me doing it: I wanted to know what it was like to support yourself playing poker online. I've been adamant about not wanting to do it fulltime for all these years but, as is the case with almost every poker player I'd assume, the question has been lying dormant in the back of my head: What if I did? Would I make it? Would the pressure be too much? Would I hate having to do it for several hours a day, emphasis on "having to?"

The answers, now that I'm closing up shop, are these:

Yes, no, sort of.

I made it, by almost anyone's definition. I would have had to play more if I had the ambition of climbing the stakes while playing for a living and not just making enough to cash out and have some padding for the downswings, but my bankroll is bigger now than it was at the end of March and I've cashed out enough to cover the loss of salary, so yes: I made it.

The pressure wasn't too much. I started out with a large:ish downswing (which admittedly wasn't fun) but recovered quickly and after that I felt just fine the whole time despite running horribly at times.

And I wouldn't say I've hated it, but there have certainly been times where I've felt bored, understimulated, and at best indifferent about playing. Checking my daily tally and seeing that I've played 2,200 hands out of the 3,000 I've had as a goal has usually resulted in a groan and wishing I was done with it already. Playing poker isn't exciting for me. Although I have reason to believe that if you're excited when you play poker, you're probably not doing it right anyway.

--

So three more weeks, and I'm starting to close up shop, like I said. Part of what's happening now is that I'm (perhaps a bit prematurely) lowering my daily volume of hands played. Lori thinks I deserve a vacation of sorts and my vacation means playing 1-2 hours a day instead of 3-4. Works for me. I've also moved back up to $2/$4 NL and am now playing 4-5 tables instead of 10. I want to make good decisions and I've felt lately like I haven't been playing at my full potential when I'm trying to navigate 10 tables simultaneously. I'd like to think I can crush the game but it's difficult to crush the game when you occasionally make serious mistakes because you're confused about the action so far in the hand, or miss to check the stack size of the guy you're about to raise or fold an overpair to a river shove versus a guy who shouldn't get that kind of credit. The mistakes are rare, but they're also upsetting because I don't have to make them. I would, at this time in my life, rather have a slightly lower hourly and a higher win-rate. Why? Because I'm essentially no longer playing for money. Now, I want to improve and get better at the game itself, something which I don't think 10-tabling is very conducive to.

And playing 4 tables is fun, in a way that 10-tabling wasn't. I get to consider meta-game and current table dynamics in a way that would otherwise elude me. I get to take a few extra seconds with my difficult decisions and get them right a lot more often. I can even, if I have to, play without having to ignore everything around me, like Lori asking me what I want for dinner and when. It's more relaxing, and a lot more enjoyable.

Three more weeks, and then I'm going back to work. Now THAT I'm excited about. I've occasionally visited the office to see how everyone's doing but it's going to be fun to be back full-steam. I'll still play poker after I return, but now I get a chance to let my bankroll grow properly and hopefully move up in stakes again gradually. After all the experience I've accumulated this summer I feel I have a decent shot at playing higher stakes and being a solid winner. Hopefully that comment won't jinx it and come back and bite me in the ass.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

When Your Opponent Adjusts

I don't know at exactly what stakes you'll start playing opponents that you not only know from before but that also are good enough to adjust to your particular playing style, but I know that the $1/$2 tables at Party have a fair share of them. And when that happens, you have a problem: you're being exploited. What should you do about it?

I can't say for sure that this is universally true, but it at least seems to me that you have two - and only two - ways to counter-adjust: the offensive or the defensive way. I was originally going to call them the "aggressive" and the "tight" way of adjusting, but decided that that wasn't entirely correct for all situations I could think of. However, no situation I could come up with when I was out for a walk earlier failed to be solved by adjusting defensively and/or offensively. The two examples I thought the most about during the stroll were these:

The guy on your left starts 3-betting your blind steals
A huge part of playing winning poker is aggressively stealing the blinds in late position. My average for the button is somewhere around 55%, but for certain opponents it's 100%. However, it happens once in awhile that one of these opponents - that on average fold their blinds very, very often indeed - realize that I'm relentlessly opening any-two when I have the button and they post a blind, so they adjust. If they're good, their preferred way of adjusting is to start 3-betting me when I open on the button and for quite a few rounds they'll get away with it before I start to notice. Once I notice that they've broken character and are now exploiting my very wide opening range, how should I counter-adjust?

Coaching videos and many forum posters will say "start 4-betting him light." I disagree that this is the complete answer to the question, however, because if it is you're just trading one exploitable tendency for another one that is much more expensive. I'll explain what I mean by that by way of explaining what I think is the better adjustment:

1. Tighten up your stealing range. If you up until this point raised 100% of your buttons, his 3-bets will be massively profitable. If you instead only open 30% of your hands, you've taken away the very tendency he's exploiting. What you miss is 70% of the chances to steal the blinds, but he's already denying you that. Exactly how tight of an opening range you should go with (30% was just an example) is outside the scope of this post. This, however, is by far the most important re-adjustment you can make, and this is the defensive one.

2. Open up your 4-betting range. This is not the same as 4-betting "light." This is widening the range with which you're willing to get it in. Because - and this is why I think 4-betting light is a bad "complete" strategy to deal with wide 3-bettors - when you 4-bet you leave your opponent with the "last bet." He can 5-bet bluff but you can't 6-bet bluff. At the point when he shoves you're down to calling or folding and that means forfeiting all the equity that your bluff-range has. But if instead of 4-betting with trash you 4-bet hands like 99 and JJ (and maybe AQs) with the intention of getting it in, you've opened up your 4-betting range by a lot - and with a range that beats his 3-betting range - without opening yourself up for another exploitment. This is the offensive adjustment.

I think what most people intuitively dislike about these adjustments is that they don't help right now. The guy just 3-bet you and you have jack-nine offsuit. You think it's very likely that he's bluffing. And changing your ranges for the future won't help you at all in this particular deal, but that's what it means to adjust your ranges. And I think adjusting your ranges is a much better way to deal with exploitative opponents than to offer them more rope with which to hang you.

My opponent has started raising the flop a lot
I c-bet very often. In fact, I probably c-bet too much, if anything. And it happens, quite often, that one of my more observant opponents decide to start raising virtually any flop and for awhile that's going to be profitable. After I pick up on it, I'm going to counter-adjust though and my counter-adjustment will, again, be two-fold:

1. I will start to c-bet less frequently, and I will make my c-betting range more polarized. That way, when he raises me, my hand will be either strong or very weak and I will either be perfectly happy to fold or have no intention of folding. This puts a serious dent in his adjusted strategy. This is the defensive first measure.

2. I will start to 3-bet the flop more liberally (picking somewhat equally from both ends of my now polarized range). This is the offensive second measure.

What I can't do - or shouldn't, at least - is start 3-betting the flop right this instant just because he check-raised me again. Not if my hand is not in the polarized range that I want it to be. This is similar to the idea of not necessarily 4-betting light preflop from above, because you don't want to be in a position where you have to fold a marginal hand because your opponent shoves over your 3-bet.

--

To sum up, I think people think too much about how to deal with this particular hand when what they should be doing is adjusting their own ranges and not let one specific deal bother them. Yeah, you just lost $6 on a blind steal to someone who most likely is bluffing. No sweat - just adjust your range for the next round and you'll be the exploitor, not the exploitee. Sadly, you won't get the immediate satisfaction that 4-betting and watching him fold brings you (then again, nor will you have to do the figurative walk-of-shame that is folding to a shove). But poker isn't a game about immediate satisfaction.

--

That last sentence is probably the truest thing I've ever written about this game. I wonder what word should be used to describe poker satisfaction? Extramediate? Supermediate? Eonmediate? Everediate.

Or maybe EV-ediate.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Anthropic Principle

Some of the most awesome - and I'm using that word literally - moments in my life have been when I've come across and understood an idea that has made me go "ahhhh! That makes so much sense! How cool is THAT!" Today, I present you with one of the ideas that made me feel giddy like that the first time I came across it (and still, to some extent, does): The Anthropic Principle.

Life as we know it - and this is a key way of phrasing it - depends on a whole lot of things being true. It depends on having plenty of carbon and water (and a whole slew of other elements) available, it depends on our planet being just the right distance from the sun (too close and we burn up, too far away and everything is a frozen wasteland), it depends on our planet being roughly the size it is lest the gravity is too overwhelming to make moving around difficult, or so light that our atmosphere wouldn't stick around. It's also dependent on water being at its heaviest at 4 degrees celsius or our lakes would freeze from the bottom up. We likely have the gigantic Jupiter to thank for not having more comets and other Big Objects that hurl through space crashing into us and wiping us out. Our planet's iron core creates a magnetic field that is believed to stave off the worst of cosmic radiation that had otherwise wiped us out. It's a stroke of luck too, of course, that DNA is just the kind of molecule that replicates itself with very high fidelity but not too high so that we can mutate often enough for natural selection to actually pull off the amazing feat of producing Life As We Know It. And let's not forget that conditions on our planet 4 billion years ago had to be just right in order for the first self-replicating molecule to appear at all.

Our Cosmic Goldilock's List of Requirements could be made very, very long and could be made to include the basic properties of our solar system (for instance the fact that the Sun is a "young" star is what gives us the heavier elements of which we are composed; it takes a star made out of exploding earlier stars to achieve that) and even the very constants of the universe, including the speed of light, the strength of the known forces (Electromagnetic, Gravitational, Strong and Weak respectively). In short, it all seems very delicately calibrated to create life on planet earth and eventually humans. One explanation for this happy coincidence is to invoke a deity (or deities, depending on your preference), and that's understandable - it's a bit ridiculous to expect everything to match our needs so intimately just by sheer coincidence. But, to me, thereal answer is not just a more powerful explanation of the circumstances but also beautiful in its simplicity:

We're here to marvel at just how perfectly the universe in general and our world in particular fits us specifically because if it hadn't, we wouldn't have been. We couldn't have been here to grudgingly complain about how poorly the world suits us because we wouldn't be in a world that suits us poorly. We're like a puddle of water gasping in awe over how amazingly well the hole we reside in fits us when in reality it's the hole that dictates our shape.

In a universe or a world that was very different from the one we're in or on now, it's likely that there wouldn't be life at all. But if there were and that life evolved intelligence and science, they, too, would marvel at how incredible and unlikely it was that they should wake up in a universe that happened to fit them so well in everything from how atoms (or their corresponding basic particles; who knows how the laws of physics would work where they would live) were constructed all the way up to how lucky they were to live on a planet that was 2000 degrees in the day because without the massive heat they wouldn't survive.

That, in a nutshell, is the anthropic principle. You can read more about it on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle

Thursday, July 23, 2009

PokerNewsDaily

I was interviewed by PokerNewsDaily.com and wasn't entirely prepared for the interview to be published as quickly as it was. Because of that, the top post of my blog for when many of the PND readers arrived was one about automatic-fire farts.

I apologize for that.

--

On second thought, no I don't.

--

As a random treat, here's a picture that Debi and Joe took of me and Ben in our Vegas hotel room. Yeah, this is a post filler. So sue me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hyphens

As I was playing the piano, I could hear Lori going "oh, my!" in the kitchen. At first, I was happy because I assumed that it was some kind of way of showing how much she admired my piano-playing (maybe, for instance, it was my near-seemless transition from "As Time Goes By" to "Wonderful World" that had evoked such an exclamation of enchantment), but then I went into the room and asked what was that about and she explained that it was because of something Benjamin had just done.

She called it "automatic fire farting."

There's a hyphen missing from that phrase, and my mind put it between the last two words, whereas the messenger's intention was between the first two words. This caused some discussion on what my interpretation of the words would mean, and we agreed that it would be when you can set your farts on fire without using a lighter or a match.

--

You're welcome.

How To Win At Online Poker

I haven't been writing much on the game of poker itself lately - more trip reports and the like - but have had some thoughts that I think are share-worthy. Here goes:

You're not as good as you think you are.

This is true for virtually every poker player in the world. Very likely all of them. The reason I bring this up is because of a post I saw recently in a forum that said, and I paraphrase but it's pretty close: "I'm a 10bb/100 winner for the whole year, but this last month has been just sick and I can't seem to win!" I have bad news for you, buddy. Unless your win-rate is 10bb/100 AFTER the sick downswing, you're not a 10bb/100 winner for this year. You can't disregard downswings when you look at your win-rate, unless you also disregard hot streaks - and no one does that.

I think it's a fair guess to say that most people lie about their win-rates. Not just to others, but to themselves, too. They think it makes sense to look at the best part of the year and assume that to be their expectation, and then wonder why they keep running so bad.

My tip: Stop worrying about your win-rate. Unless it's negative, it doesn't tell you much that you can use anyway (and if it's negative the implication may be that you should stop playing poker altogether), and there are plenty of things poker-related for you to occupy your mind with that doesn't have to do with win-rates. And stop comparing you win-rate to that of other players; what good can come of that? If you want a pastime with bragging rights, take up golf and compare handicaps or high jump and compare personal bests, but comparing win-rates is like comparing... See, I don't even have a good analogy for it, that's how dumb and useless it is. And it's dumb especially because some people may have low win-rates over a huge number of tables, while others have a very high one playing 1-2 tables only. Why is the comparison interesting? We already know that we give up a little expectation with every table we open.

Which sorta brings me to my next point:

I'm not the best player I know.

I discussed this with Debi in Vegas at some point, and while it hurts my ego a little to admit it, I don't think I'm the best cash game player at CardsChat. Some of you reading this will go "duh!" and that's fair enough, but I haven't gotten to the point yet:

I don't think I'm the best player at CardsChat, but from what I gather, I may be the most consistent cash game winner. Curious, isn't it? And I'm obviously not looking at win-rates here (although if you talk about consistency they may have some merit) but just long term consistent results. Most people, and some of them quite possibly better players than I am, just don't seem to be able to "stay" at 200NL, and I've never left once I got there. So what's the difference?

My guess? Tilt.

Not just angry-spewing-chips-because-someone-sucked-out-on-you tilt, but what Tommy Angelo would define as tilt: Not playing your A-game. Like playing for 7 hours in a row, without a real break. Playing too many tables when you start losing focus and not close a few of them because your ego and pride tells you that you can still win. And lot of this is caused by chasing bonuses and rakeback when your objective should be to win the other guy's money.

The focus on "volume" is so very misplaced. Yeah, you need to put in a certain amount of time every month to make whatever amount it is you've decided you need to make, but volume is the means, not the goal. Once you make it your goal, you're on the path to self-destruction, and it starts by chasing bonuses and things like supernova-status. Because all of a sudden, you distance yourself from your goal of winning money - and you probably already know that you make the most money when you're alert, playing a sensible number of tables and taking real breaks at least every two hours - and instead sit and "grind" until you can't keep your eyes open anymore.

(I wish there was some way of filtering for winnings as a function of how long into the session the player is. My bet is that looking at such a graph would be a wake-up call to many online grinders. On second thought, perhaps I shouldn't wish for such a functionality; it's in my best interest to keep the other regulars tired and desperate.)

Seriously, play your A-game. If you can't play your A-game, don't play. If you're "only 3,000 hands away from making platinum star" and you need to finish that today and you're tired, then shrug and go "aww, I guess I won't be making platinum star this month" instead of desperately trying to get the volume in when you're not in shape to play.

If you tell yourself that you're good enough to beat 200NL while playing your B-game, you're most likely kidding yourself. The 200NL tables at most sites (at least all of them that I've played) are full of people who play for a living, and while your B-game may theoretically beat their A-games, you're not playing a zero-sum game. Over the 250k+ hands I've played at 200NL, I've paid about 5.8bb/100 in rake. So you have to beat your tables by more than that to show a profit at all. I wonder if people understand that. What I'm saying is that it's not enough for you to be better than your opponents, you have to be a lot better, otherwise you won't be a winner - you'll just be the guy who loses the least. Grats, you.

So yeah, while I'm pretty sure there are people at CardsChat whose A-games are better than my A-game, I think I'm the guy who spends the most time actually playing my A-game. Or there are CC members who've won a lot more than I have and just shut up about it - that's quite possible, but is beside the point. I'm not writing this to impress or upstage anyone, but I'm trying to point out that being awesome* isn't enough - you actually have to play awesome just about every second you spend at the table. Playing "ok" won't cut it.

--

On Monday, before lunch, I had played more hands of poker than in my entire stay in Vegas.

--

It's good to be home.






* And I know awesome when I see it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas

If Otis Redding is dead, who's making all the elevators?

--

Yeah, who needs Twitter.

Anyhoo, it's my last day in Vegas, as we're flying out tomorrow morning. I can't wait to get home. I'm not looking forward to the 24-hour trip, but... I can't wait to get home.

I decided, sort of on a whim, to switch hotels from the Monte Carlo to The Palazzo, and this place is in a whole other league. My room is insanely cool, the view is all-but breathtaking and quiet which the room at Monte Carlo most certainly was not. Besides the very loud music from the pool and being able to hear any and everyone moving in the corridor outside, I could have participated in the conversations being held in the room next door. And that was a suite.

Being 30 floors higher up, in a very well insulated room that I could imagine living out of for a long time, makes enough of a difference that the $5 extra per night I'm paying for it seems ridiculous.

Seems ridiculous? It is ridiculous. I'm kicking myself for not switching here earlier, but what is done is done.

--

Speaking of ridiculous, here's irony for you: I'm stuck over four buy-ins at the live games here, but I'm up $100 on slots. What the hell? Maybe I suck at live poker. Or maybe, which I at least would like to think, I just haven't gotten much in the way of hands. And that's a stark reminder of something that bothers me with live poker: Being a nit is bo-ho-hooooring. Should I play a wilder game for fun despite it being -EV? No, I'd just hate myself for it. So I sit there and fold and fold and fold and hope that if I once in a blue moon hit a hand - and I'd settle for something like pocket tens - that I'll win more than just the blinds and/or not lose a big pot.

Being a 10-tabling nit is not so bad, though, because even if I'm folding 100 hands in a row, that's 10 minutes of folding. Not three hours.

--

I can't wait to get home. Did I mention that?

--

It's been great fun to hang out with all the CardsChat people, though, not the least Debi who's been kind enough to let me hang out with her for the past few days. She got me hooked on slots, which I'm not sure I should be thankful for, but she's been great to hang out with and hopefully we'll get to meet soon again. Perhaps not too soon; I don't think I'll be travelling anywhere on an airplane for the next 6 months. Or I hope I'm not. I can't wait to get home. I'm sure I must have said something to that effect already.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yay, Books!

Why, in car commercials, must we know that it's a "professional driver on a closed circuit?" It has a "don't try this at home" ring to it, which seems strange to me since nothing the driver does appears to be reckless or even unusual. Are they warning me not to drive on a country side road with beautiful scenery?

--

Today, we took a cab over to the Boulevard Mall, because we happened to know that there was a Barnes and Noble in the vicinity. And boy, do I like American book stores. Not that we don't have book stores in Sweden, of course, but I just happen to read mostly books in English - and Swedish retailers naturally tend to specialize in books in... Swedish. The books available in English usually occupy only one shelf (if even that) and many of the books I want aren't translated. My common way of solving this is by ordering books from Amazon, but there's something quite a bit more exhilirating about walking around in a book store and picking out stuff for myself.

I went there looking for two books: "The Lucifer Effect" by Philip Zimbardo (see this post for reference) and Daniel Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea." I ended up, while browsing, also picking up:

  • Dennett's "Consciousness Explained"
  • Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" and
  • "Pale Blue Dot"
  • Terry Pratchett's "The Color of Magic" and
  • "Light Fantastic" and
  • "Equal Rites," also known as his first three Discworld novels. I've read a few of the books from his Discworld series (and quite a few of his other books) including, as it were, "The Color of Magic" but I wanted to start over and move through the whole series. The man is a genius.
  • Simon R. Green's "Swords of Heaven" which is some kind of fantasy book, that Lori's friend Pat recommended. It's apparently a whole series of books and this was, if I understood the backside brief correctly, the first three in the series combined in one cover.
So 10 books total. I'm pretty pleased with myself.

--

I have a few more days here in Vegas before returning home and Lori and I decided that she'd go to the Twin Cities and visit her parents for a few days before we return home. Because of the kind of tickets we have with KLM, she has to come back to Vegas before we get on the flight home, despite the first leg of our return ticket stopping in the Twin Cities. So she'll leave MSP airport on Wednesday afternoon, land in Vegas, and then go from Vegas back to the Twin Cities on Thursday. Makes perfect sense, thinks KLM. They flat out refused our suggestion that she just board there instead of here, despite how it would obviously be cost saving to them (not to mention us) but because of unfortunate circumstances there was no better way of solving it. Grrrr.

--

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a big pile of books awaiting my attention. I'll start with "Cosmos" I think.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Really Happened

As my last post was just a few paragraphs trying to give a brief account of my short run at the 2009 WSOP Main Event, I figure I owe a more complete telling of the story, so here goes:

I arrived at the Rio Monday morning, probably around 10:30. I was a bit nervous, a bit anxious, and while I hadn't had any breakfast (except a bite out of a blueberry thing that Lori got me from Starbucks that I thought was way too sweet for my taste), I wasn't really hungry. Nervousness and anxiety tends to make it difficult for me to eat and I'm sure some if not most of you can relate to that. So while there was plenty of foods in the Party Poker hospitality suite, I wasn't in the mood for it. I chewed down a banana and drank water. Had some crackers. More water. Waited for the clock to strike 11, which is when we were supposed to get our table and seat assignments.

Sometime during the water drinking and waiting, I heard one of the Party Poker representatives hang up a phone and mutter "shit!" to herself. "That doesn't sound good," I interjected and she shot me a slightly stressed out smile and mumbled something about how it was probably not a biggie. As it turned out, that "shit" was more ominous than I thought at the time because, as you should be aware of by now, the Main Event's last day was sold out and the Party Poker players weren't in it. But of this I was blissfully - or, well, nervously and anxiously I should say - unaware at the time.

But as the clock not only strikes 11 but passes it, I start hearing conversations about how we're still waiting for more information because apparently there's a "situation." I ask if it's alright if I can go to the bathroom quickly or if I need to be here right this minute to be informed about the "situation" and am told that no, that's fine, there won't be anything happening for quite awhile. I realize that those words were uttered as a reassurance, but to me they were anything but. The fact that cards would start being dealt in less than 40 minutes combined with how I didn't have a seat assignment yet didn't make it feel alright that I could just take off for awhile and not worry about missing anything.

I could make this story several pages long, but I won't. Suffice it to say that what had apparently happened was that Party's players were preregistered and were guaranteed seats but somehow Harrah's had sold our seats to other players, so we didn't get to start playing until after the first break. A lot of those of us who were supposed to start playing at noon were bitching at the Party Poker crew about how fucked up this was, but I wasn't one of them. I've been around for long enough to know when bitching has zero effect, and this was definitely one of those times. Better to save my energy for things that I could affect, like my mental state and making sure I was prepared to play. I was unhappy about missing the first level because the first level was the time we would be playing 300 blinds deep which, as I've mentioned before, was huge for a cash game player; lots of wiggle room and creative four-street play.

So I finally get my table and seat (table 39, seat 6) at 2:20 and sit down and start folding hands. I've been card dead before, but being card dead in live poker and card dead online are two different beasts. I went through the first level winning only a single hand and it played out weirdly enough to warrant recounting:

I'm second to act preflop and find pocket aces. Awesome. And then I make the classic beginner's mistake of forgetting about the one-chip rule and toss in a $500 chip without declaring "raise" which means that it's a call. Fortunately I was fast enough to realize my mistake and not go "oh crap, no I meant to raise" because then I'd not only put in the minimum but also let everyone else know I had a hand. So I openlimped aces. Not a great start, but then again, I'd seen some aggressive play at the table (raising limpers, etc.) so it probably wasn't a disastrous mistake to make - I was still miffed that I forgot about it though.

It's folded to the button, an elderly gentleman who was very loose postflop and who liked to bluff when checked to, but didn't do a lot of raising, who also limped. Small blind folds and the big blind - asian woman in her 30s or early 40s - checks her option. Effective stack is more than 100 blinds deep. The flop comes Td8d4c and it's checked to me. I bet 400 into the 700 pot, and the button calls and the asian lady checkraises to 1300. Hrm. I had seen her involved in only one pot, and then she had been very nervous in getting money in with bottom set so this set off an internal alarm in me. I called - considering how vastly underrepresented my hands was, I definitely couldn't fold - and the elderly gentleman called as well.

Turn was the jack of hearts which was a bad card for me. 97 just filled up, and two pair became a real possibility now. The lady checked to me and I had to decide if she was trapping or if I should bet for value/to protect. That's when I remembered that the older guy had previously done some betting when checked to and I figured that I could perhaps kill two birds with one stone by checking; it might encourage him to bluff and if she then checkraised again I would feel pretty good about just folding. If he bet and she folded, I would checkraise to extract value from his draws (and fold to a 3-bet) and then check the river if called. Sure, I run the risk of giving free cards to lots of different hands but I glanced at the gentleman and he sure looked like he was preparing to bet.

Indeed, he did bet. Asian lady called. I now figure that she had an aggressively played flushdraw or maybe a combodraw of some kind (T9 or so) and so I just called which I don't think is correct but I was feeling terribly confused by the whole thing. This was my second worst decision in the hand, and sadly the preflop mistake wasn't #1. The river came an ace (not of diamonds), which gave me top set (and a very likely candidate for having the best hand since only the straight beats me) and she checks to me. I don't think either of them have KQ unless she has specifically KdQd so anyone filling a straight on the river to beat me seemed unlikely. Should I bet or hope to check/raise the field? I think there's a good chance that the older guy will bet when checked to and I think she will not be folding much when he does. So I check, which I now consider my biggest mistake and watch as the older guy checks behind. Why was this the worst mistake of the hand? Because it would take balls of solid brass for him to try to bluff two people on an A-high river with air, and there was very little air left even in a very wide range. I sheepishly turn over AA, for rivered top set.

Quite a few eyebrows were raised at that point and I felt kinda dumb but figured, as the results-oriented kinda guy that I am, that the pot I ended up dragging was probably about as much as I could realistically have hoped to win anyway. And all of this because I managed to forget about the one-chip-rule. Not a mistake I'm likely to make again.

After that, like I said, I didn't win any more pots in that level. I was involved in a few other hands, the most notable of which was when I opened 8c7c in the cutoff and Josh Arieh calls in the small blind. Flop comes Kc-Tc-4h and he leads out for 2/3rds pot. I consider raising but decide that with all the folding I've been doing he's unlikely to fire a second barrel on a naked bluff if I call the flop, and if he checks the turn I can probably represent something big enough to get him to fold when bluffing when checked to.

The turn is the 6s, which gives me a few more outs to the nuts and Josh bets again, again sizing his bet to about 3/4ths pot. Now I think his range has narrowed considerably and is more polarized. Again I consider raising but I had also seen him make some relatively loose calldowns with weak top pairs when raised and if he has a monster, I wouldn't want to forfeit my 12-out equity if he 3bets so I call again after thinking a bit. The river is an offsuit ace and he bets half pot. I think one last time about raising (I think I could represent quite a few hands) but then I remember that I'm new at this and chances are I would be horrible at disguising the fact that I'm bluffing and that a failed bluff would leave me with less than 13k in chips and that trying to out-aggro the aggressive player with a small stack is not ideal at this point. So I fold.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one horribly played AA and a calling-station way to play a draw; that's the guy you've been rooting for the in the main event. Sad, isn't it?

--

Then I went back to mostly folding again. Josh was very active in stealing, 3-betting and squeezing and with my dwindling stack that didn't leave me a lot of options in terms of getting creative with trash - which was all I was dealt. I won three hands in the third level of play (my second level since I missed the first one) and all of them small. I open kings and everyone folds - of course they do; I hadn't opened a single hand in that level up until that point - and I open AQo and take it down on the flop with a continuation bet, and one more hand like that. My stack was down to about 20k when we went on dinner break. My fan club - the CardsChat people who had been railing me - had left for the party at Nick's suite, and I was alone in an ocean of people. I sat down and talked a little with some fellow Swedes in the Party Poker room but couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't having fun, that I'd rather be somewhere else.

--

Came back to the fourth level of play and it was more of the same. I got no cards, and when I did get something just strong enough to open, I was 3-bet and had to fold. Now, no one likes to listen to a whiner, let alone read a longwinded whine, so I'll stop here and just say that from this point on, I don't believe I made any more mistakes. Not that it helped; with a stack this short you have to get it in over and over again and hope that you double up. I didn't; I stole the blinds a couple of times before I ran 99 into AA and that was that.

--

Something interesting did happen in the fourth level though, and it's this: It turned out that five of the players around the table were high stakes online pros and had played each other, in some cases extensively. They had a little chat about it, "really? what's your screenname?" and after that the dynamic of the table shifted dramatically. They were outlevelling each other left and right; valuebetting AJo on a K-J-4-5-9 four-flush river without a flush in position (and being called by the ten-high flush), value-betting tiny on a scary river card and calling a river checkraise because they thought that they-knew-that-he-knew-that-they-knew-that-he-knew that they could be bluffing etc. It was hilarious. Or would have been, if I didn't have that drowning feeling.

--

All-in-all, I was about 30 minutes away from day 2 when I busted but I have no regrets about not trying desperately to fold my way into day 2. Because seriously, what am I going to do in day 2 with an 8 blind stack? My decision to double up or go home was trivial, I thought, and I'd play it the same today if I had the chance.

--

One of my better moments at the WSOP was meeting Pauly. Now, I've read his blog for a few years - although I'll be brutally honest and admit that sometimes I've been skimming through it - and while I'm usually pretty good at estimating what kind of a person someone is based on what they write, I was a little off when it came to the good doctor. I thought him a person with a good sense of humor but understandably cynical after his tours around the poker circuit, and wasn't sure what to expect when confronted by a reader who held out a hand to shake. I assumed he wouldn't just ignore me and walk off, but I also didn't expect him to be anywhere near as cordial and nice as he actually was. He not only shook my hand but stopped and talked to me, asked questions about how I was doing in the tournament, what the deal with party poker was (admittedly could have been his journalistic duty, but still) and even told me that if I wanted to, he could try to track my standings on his blog if I just let him know how I was doing here and there.

Now, don't get the wrong idea. I'm not easily star-struck and this isn't me telling you how cool it was to meet my lifelong idol. But I'm not used to meeting someone who is THIS easy to talk to when he's clearly busy doing his job. And for all the poker so-called celebrities that were roaming the corridors, the Iveys and the Hellmuths and the Matusows and what have you, I think my conversation with Pauly outranks them all on the "hey, this is really cool" scale.

--

And I must not forget Shamus, who Pauly was nice enough to direct me to, and who - for reasons I'm not sure I can discern - apparently reads my blog. I've been reading his blog as well for years and he was there reporting for PokerNews and getting to say hi to him was also cool. The world suddenly felt a lot smaller; two people just went from "virtual-and-unreachable" to "real." There's a value in that that can't quite be measured. As a sidenote, I'm not sure if Shamus had drawn the short straw or if he had pissed some WSOP official off, but the poor guy sat all by himself in a corner. I hope he didn't mind me interrupting him by coming over to introduce myself, but he certainly seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised to meet genuinely nice people but the world of poker generally speaking doesn't create a lot of friends, so while I'm happy to have my cynicism cracking a bit I hope I'm forgiven to have expected less.

--

I'm not sure what the rest of our Vegas experience will look like, but our options with a soon-12-week-old baby are pretty limited. Two friends are flying in and one of the CardsChat people is still in town, so I'm sure some socializing will be in order and probably another visit to the Rio on Friday to see what's going on there but as to whether or not I'll be playing any more poker, well... We'll see. Maybe to see if I can turn some other virtual stranger into a real person.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Busto (but not sad)

Yeah, this is going to disappoint those of you who were rooting for me, but I'm out.

I won three hands in the first two levels. I think I saw a grand total of 15 flops of almost four levels of play, and did not have any luck stealing preflop, either. I don't know what my image was like, but I don't think "nit" is quite harsh enough. Aso, I've either severely underestimated the average skill level of a day 1 main event entrant, or I drew a really tough table. At least five of the players at my table were high stakes online players (0ne of whom were Josh Arieh, who also had the chip lead for awhile, and he was 3 to my left).

So my stack was blinded down to about 15k, when I ran a bluff with 97s in the hijack versus the guy on my immediate left but while he looked unhappy about continuing versus the local nit, he flopped top pair with AJo and I lost about half my stack. After that, it was push/fold mode and it lasted a little while into the last level of the day when I started out 3bet-shoving the first two hands (AA and AKo respectively) without getting action and then going mostly card dead again until I 3-bet-shoved 77 on the button versus a loose cut-off opener, took it down, went card-dead, and then open-shoved 99 in the cut-off and button calls with aces - and I'm busto.

But here's the dirty little secret:

I don't enjoy tournaments. And I don't particularly enjoy live poker. So when, during the dinner break, I go to the bathroom and am sitting on the can, I think to myself: "what am I doing here?"

[Did I mention I started push/folding after the dinner break?]

See, tournament poker feels like drowning to me. It's like being chained up inside a tank that's slowly filling up with water. If you get really lucky and manage to double up, the water level will become half of what it was before, but it's still rising and it's only a matter of time until it's unnervingly close to your nose. I don't think I can explain it in any better way.

Now I have some reading to do and some water to drink; I'll try to write a more comprehensive summary tomorrow.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Complication

As of the dinner break, Fredrik was down to 20K (they started with 30K). They haven't yet finished the next level, so I don't know much more. Gotta try to get a crabby boy to sleep.

--

The players have returned to the tables after a 20-minute break, but I haven't received any update from Fredrik. Hope it's going well! I'm soon heading over to the MGM for the CardsChat party, but perhaps I can keep updating from there.

--

I hope Fredrik doesn't mind how I'm updating his blog. Don't get me wrong, he told me to do so, I just hope he doesn't mind the WAY I'm doing it.

It's interesting to read about the possible riot going on over at the Rio, heh. The following blog, which I gather Fredrik follows very closely, has some details (and he even mentions talking to Fredrik, if you look at the 12:20 update -- meta-cross-blogging!): Tao of Poker.

--

SMS from Fredrik 14:24, during the day's first break in play:

"Finally got my table. Missed the first level but at least I get to play. Will report in later; play starts in 5 minutes."

--

From the WSOP website:

"Mon, 06 Jul 2009 12:13:13
It's Official - We're at Capacity
From the laptop of a Harrahs official: "The Main Event registration is officially closed. All seats available on Day1D have been sold. Final entrant numbers and prize pool information will be available late this evening after all reconciliation has been completed." Biggest. Day 1. Ever."

Sounds better. Haven't heard more from Fredrik. Hope that means he's seated and playing!

--

Hey, this is Lori, relaying an SMS I got from Fredrik:

"There's a 'situation'. Sold out and Party is on reserve. We're still playing but may not start 12. Waiting for others to bust and open seats."

I call shenanigans. If they go in only after someone else has busted, they'll technically be at a disadvantage. Why aren't the people who have registered recently (or are registering right now -- I read on the WSOP website that the registration lines were really long this morning) on reserve instead? Oh well. I'll keep editing here to let you know about any further SMS's.

Showtime

I've packed cough drops, ibuprofen, noise-cancelling headphones, iPod, phone and wallet. Left to do: Brush my teeth and receive a good-luck kiss from Lori (and maybe a good luck smile from Benjamin), then I'm out.

Reminders to self:

1. Play well. You know how to do this. With 300BB starting stacks, you have a huge edge over most of the other entrants. Don't be afraid to leverage it.

2. It's worse to play weak-tight and inevitably bust near the bubble than play well and bust early.

3. Have fun and remember that you're not the only one in the room doing this for the first time.

--

Alright, I'm off. Rawr.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day Before Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 10am, I'll take the shuttle out to the Rio, having breakfast there courtesy of Party Poker, some coffee, load up on water and then go take my seat at noon. I'm a little jittery, and while I'm sure my hands will display some shaking early on that early nervousness should really settle after a few hands.

Note to self: Bring ibuprofen. If I for some reason get a headache, I'll kick myself over and over if I forget to bring something that can fix it.

After last night's dinner with Debi, Joe, Joe's coworker Sam and Sam's wife Nancy, they drove us downtown and we parked on top of Binion's. Fremont Street is nowadays roofed with one giant TV-screen and they had special shows running on the 4th of July theme. It was very cool. You can find some pictures and Debi's running trip report here: http://www.cardschat.com/f4/las-vegas-2009-trip-report-155822/

--

On a different note, it seems that there's some weird stuff going on with the number of levels played every day. For those not familiar with poker tournament structures, I'll just briefly explain the basics first before going into the details:

Everybody starts with 30,000 in chips, and the blinds start at 50 (small blind) and 100 (big blind). Differently put, everyone starts with 300 big blinds. Now and then players get eliminated, but their chips are now in the hands of other people, so the average remaining stack of chips will grow from 30,000 as players get knocked out. In order for the tournament to ever finish, it's necessary to raise the blinds progressively so that we don't end up in a situation where someone has so many chips in relation to the blinds that they can fold for three days straight. The blinds are raises (usually doubled, but sometimes slightly less) every two hours, and every two-hour slot with a certain blind size is called a "level."

Before the tournament started, it was stated that ever day 1 (of which there are four, and I play on the fourth - day 1d) would play five levels. Right before day 1a started, this was changed to just 4 levels. Uh, okay. Making last minute changes is at their discretion.

But now that day 1a and day 1b has been played, they're now playing day 1c with FIVE levels, which is one more than the first two days. In effect, there's a bigger risk for players playing today to get eliminated after only one day of play than the first two days.

On the surface, this may look incredibly unfair but in reality it probably doesn't matter because I assume that tomorrow (day 1d) will ALSO play five levels, and since they're playing two separate day 2s, and day 1a and day 1b will play against each other on day 2, it doesn't matter much - it just means that day 2a will be longer than day 2b.

For me, however, these news suck. They mean that I won't be back early enough to meet up with the CardsChatters who are having a party on Monday; yesterday I thought I'd be done playing at 10:30, now it's more like 1a.m. Not much I can do about it, I guess. Except maybe go bust early.

My plan for today was to try to relax, maybe get some hours of live poker played and meet up with the CC:ers coming into town today (which is the majority of them). I went down to the poker room but unfortunately there wasn't any no-limit game going so I headed back upstairs to do some relaxing instead. If I don't get to play anymore before tomorrow it's not a big deal; I feel about as prepared as I can be.

I'll try to make a final post before leaving for the Rio tomorrow and let you know how I'm feeling about it all, but in case I don't - wish me luck.

Today, I saw the Rio

We went to the Rio today with Debi and Joe to check out the WSOP and see what it was like. When there, we met up briefly with CardsChat members Pifan and Jamile, and Jamile was nice enough to give us a ride back to the hotel. Jamile's from Hawaii and his posts at CardsChat tends to make that pretty clear. I had pictured him to look like Rob Schneider's character "Ula" in 50 First Dates, but not quite.

Some observations about today:

Benjamin, 11 weeks old, was not allowed into any of the playing areas because they had a 21-year-old age limit. I assume this is according to law, but it still feels a bit dumb not to be able to bring an infant in a BabyBjörn into the tournament area (or many of the other areas) and it makes Lori's cheering me on during play all but impossible.

--

Party Poker had a pretty cool room set up for their players. They served drinks and food, had couches, full-body massage chairs, a Nintendo Wee and the staff was very nice. I don't know exactly how many have qualified for the series through Party Poker, but I think I overheard them saying that they had 20 people starting yesterday and 6 had been eliminated. If that's the case I'm guessing that there may be around 100 players total from PP.

--

When first arriving at the Rio, I felt a little intimidated by the whole thing. So many players, so many tables, so much pressure. That anxiety has now started to lift a bit and I'm approaching more of a lust to play. I keep reminding myself that I have nothing to lose and if I'm knocked out on Day 1, I'm in good company and shouldn't worry about it.

--

A rough estimate when walking around in the Amazon Room is that about 90% of the players seem to try to look as tough as possible. A lot of tough guys, or at least a lot of guys trying to look tough. Maybe it's their way of trying to look like pros. Who knows. I don't think that will be me on Monday; I don't look very tough and I don't think I particularly want to try that sort of posturing either. Joe put it nicely in pointing out that perhaps instead of looking like the toughest player at the table, I can just be the toughest player at the table instead.

It's really hard to gauge how good of a player I am compared to most of the other entrants, but the way I figure, someone beating 200NL for a healthy amount while 10-tabling has to at least have an edge over the field, if not even a pretty big edge. I'm a humble guy, but if I try to honestly assess my skill, I think I'll have gotten a tough draw if I get more than one player at the table who I feel has a big edge on me.

--

I can't do chip tricks. I don't know if this is something I have to know how to do, but it seemed to me like a lot of the players must have practised. The whole room has a constant chip-handling background noise to it. Joe compared it to crickets, which is pretty close to the truth.

--

Beat: While having some lunch in the Party Poker Hospitality Suite, I managed to break the (plastic) fork while cutting up a steak, and in the same motion managed to cut my left index finger.

--

I think that about sums up my day. Debi, Joe, a coworker of Joe's and his wife and me are going to some Italian place tonight. Lori took a raincheck; her lack of sleep last night (Benji was active) finally caught up with her when we got back to the hotel from the Rio. I'm not super-energetic myself but I need to eat and I think I'll have a good time. Meeting them downstairs in five minutes so I think I'll just wrap it up here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Las Vegas - July 3rd

This will be a brief post, because Debi and Joe are on their way over to visit us.

Yesterday, I headed downstairs to play the 1/2 no-limit game spread in the casino and got a seat immediately which was nice. The primary reason for playing was to get some experience in chip and card handling. Secondarily came fun. Third and least came profit. Fortunately for me, I got all three. The game was, I've understood, extremely atypical for a live 1/2 game. It wasn't a "tough" game by my standards (if the same players sat down at Party 1/2, you'd have to pry my mouse out of my cold, dead hands to get me to leave that table). However, it was probably one of the toughest 1/2 games going yesterday in Vegas. Half of the table were Party Poker players, and quite probably more. It happened more than once that a preflop raise took the pot down uncontested, and it was even folded to my big blind once in the hour that I sat there.

Other than that, we've spent most of the time in the hotel room recovering from jetlag and making sure specifically Benjamin recovers from jetlag. He's having a little bit of trouble with it: since he's tired, he can't eat properly. And since he's hungry, he wakes up often to eat, but falls asleep before he's finished. Vicious cycle, but I hope we've broken it now.

Tonight, dinner with Debi and Joe. Possibly a few drinks. More on that tomorrow, perhaps even with a picture or two.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Las Vegas, July 2nd

First off, the trip went very well. I mean, I've had trips that were a lot smoother and more comfortable than this, but considering the 11-week-old we brought with us, I'd say it went extraordinarily well. Bennie was a trooper. Mostly a sleeping trooper, but that's fine with us.

A few random observations about the flights:

1. On the Linköping-Amsterdam flight, they gave us a separate seat belt for Benjamin that he had to wear, and an extra (presumably small) life vest. On the other two flights, these things were not only not given to us but the mere idea of a seat belt for a baby seemed ludicrous to the stewardess. I don't know what to make of that.

2. A BabyBjörn is a lifesaver for travelling with babies. Unless he was very hungry, he'd just doze off pretty much as soon as he was strapped into it. He slept for the majority of the trip, when not flirting with the flight crew and neighboring ladies. And some neighboring men. For some irrational reason, it's slightly more eyebrow-raising when it's a bearded guy in his 40s that goes "awwwww" when he sees a baby, and I don't think that's fair to paternal bearded guys in their 40s.

3. I didn't sleep much at all the night to Wednesday. The Swedish phrase "Travel Fever" has never applied to me before, or at least not for a very long time, since I've spent so much time on intercontinental flights all over but before this trip I was actually nervous. Nervous about the tournament, nervous about travelling with Benjamin and nervous about being too tired from not being able to sleep because I was so nervous. But when we got to the hotel, one out of the three of us was completely rested and his internal clock told him it was morning. It was not me or Lori. Damn you, BabyBjörn.

Also, we were checked into a (the?) Monaco Suite at the hotel. And because of that, I need to apologize to Party Poker for accusing them of sticking a 100% profit margin on booking the hotel using Party Points. However, I feel little of the blame for the misunderstanding is on me given that I directly asked them if they were booking a suite and they didn't answer. I also asked the same question of the Monte Carlo Hotel staff and they answered "no." So my assumption that the price was ridiculous made sense. Now is no time to be results-oriented in other words.

--

This morning, local time, we - or more correctly, Lori - woke up because the room next door had an alarm that went off at 6 a.m. At 6:10, it was still going strong and it was at that point that Lori poked me and asked me if I could hear it, too. After being poked (and woken) I could. After that I tried calling the front desk to have them send someone up to turn it off, but I sat for 10 minutes listening to modern classics waiting for someone to pick up the phone at the front desk. After that I gave up, got up, got dressed and headed down to ask someone about it directly. They'd send someone up they said. Fine. I head back up for another 20 minutes of "BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP" before someone turned it off. Sleeping before it was off was not an option. And by now, hunger had reared its ugly head and told me that if I could forget about any attempts to take a nap before eating something. So we got dressed and headed down to try to find the breakfast buffet, which apparently was not included with the room and cost $25 for the two of us. That's alright. Good buffet.

Here, I want to make a brief digression and talk about how Las Vegas buildings are designed. This was first discovered by us at the airport, when we noticed that at any point at the airport where people could conceivably be believed to stand still for more than 10 seconds, there were slot machines. By the baggage claim. By the restaurants. Outside the bathrooms (hey, maybe you're waiting for your husband while he's taking a dump - why not push a few quarters in?). And there is an area of slot machines between the front desk of the hotel and the elevators. And, which we found this morning, in order to get to the breakfast buffet you have to walk through the entire casino. And it's a big casino.

From a functional point of view, this is bad design. Hotel guests would of course like to get to the elevators and quickly as possible and to the breakfast buffet as quickly as possible. But the hotel has no qualms about giving you as many chances as humanly possible to gamble on your way there. In fact, the casino is oblong; it follows you as you walk to the buffet. A more space efficient way to cram that many slot machines in would have been a square casino (or ideally a circular one, but that comes with other architectural problems) but they're not interested in having many slot machines for the sake of having many slot machines. They want you to PASS many slot machines. The only way they could have made this more blatantly obvious would have been to build a square casino and make us zig-sag through it in order to get to the buffet. I would not be in the slightest surprised to find such a design somewhere in Vegas. The same principal can be found in IKEA storehouses. And the same idea is behind the common practise of putting the candy bars by the cash registers in warehouses. It just feels slightly more cynical when it's slot machines, but it's only a matter of degrees not absolutes.

--

My first day of play is now set: I'll be playing on Monday, and (hopefully) on Wednesday and then (hopefully) again on Friday. The "hopefullies" are there because I don't know if I'll be eliminated before that. Cross your fingers. I was informed of this when I went to the Party Poker conference room here and was handed my complimentary backpack, t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt and hooded shirt. Lori got a pink hooded shirt. We were also invited to a pool party they're throwing across the street tonight, and we'll try to make it there - could be fun.

Next up on our agenda is going to the closest convenience store we can find and by some stuff that we chose not to pack, notably diapers. I'll also try to finish unpacking so we can get the suitcases off the floor. Normally when staying in hotels I live out of the suitcase and never bother with the drawers and closets but because there's three of us and because we'll be here for 16 nights, I figure it worth the trouble. It's also incentive to make our entire stay here be in the Monaco Suite instead of changing to a normal room when Party's no longer paying. It costs us a bit extra but this is a pretty nice room. I'd have preferred a better view but you can't have everything.

--

I wonder how tired I'll be tonight. On a scale from 1-10, I'm hoping for an 8. Worst case scenario is that I'll be a zombie during the day and jetlag kicks in and I'll be awake and alert when it's bedtime. Hoping for the best.

--

Tomorrow, Debi (Dakota@Cardschat) and her husband Joe will arrive in Vegas and we'll get to meet them again - we met them last year in London. They're awfully nice people and we're both looking forward to seeing them again. Debi's excited to meet us too, she says, but she was also nice enough to point out that we were second on her list of priorities - at the top for her was meeting Benjamin. After less than three months he's already stealing the show. Spoiled little brat.

--

I've been wondering what is considered appropriate when it comes to meeting "celebrities" in this small world of poker that I'm currently living in. If I see Pauly at the Rio, should I go up and say hi and tell him that I'm a fan of his blog? Or am I one of about a thousand handshakes that day that he'd rather not have to go through? Who knows. I'll have to wing it. Maybe if I bring him a beer.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

World Series of Poker

For my upcoming trip to Las Vegas, I've promised a bunch of people that I'd keep them updated on how I'm doing while I'm there. Chances are I'll be knocked out early on (after all, most people are), but perhaps there will be time for a few posts of interest nonetheless. The majority of the people who have requested that I'll keep them posted are not poker players, or at least not very experienced poker players, so to kick things off I'd like to set a few things straight.

(Hi immediate family, hi Zenterio people, hi Facebook acquaintances, hi everyone else who might drop in!)

First of all, the World Series of Poker is, as the name implies, a series of tournaments, not just one tournament, and the one I'll be playing in is actually event #57 of the series, and is called the "Main Event." It's a $10,000 buy-in, no-limit hold'em tournament and usually has around 6,000 entrants. The entry to the tournament, plus a week's worth of hotel and $1,000 to get to and from Las Vegas was something I won in a small tournament at Party Poker, which cost me $5 to enter and which has to be, by any standard, a really good deal for me.

Secondly, and I'm bringing this up since there has been some confusion about this when I'm telling people about it, a tournament where a lot of people enter means that there's a lot of tables full of people playing at the same time. It is NOT the case that only the winner of each table goes on to keep playing. It doesn't work that way at all, but rather what they do is to make sure to keep the tables as full as possible at all times. Since every table has 10 seats (or 9? I forget) and there can be as many as 3,000 people playing at the same time, this means that there can be up to 300 tables full of players in a very large room. As the tournament progresses and people get eliminated (by losing all their chips) seats will become vacant at the tables. Once enough seats are vacant, some tables will simply be split up and the people playing at them will be assigned new seats among the ones that are empty. In other words, we're not playing until someone is the only one left at a table, but until there's only one table left, if you see the difference.

[Curiously, once there's only one table left, the tournament will take a 3-month break and will resume again in November. This was something they started doing last year and I believe the reason for it is that they want time to get a whole bunch of media coverage and sell really expensive advertisements for it. Last year it may not have worked out so well for them (the final table was played only days after the US presidential election and so the expected media frenzy over the poker world championships was underwhelming), but perhaps they'll be redeemed this year. In the very unlikely event that I'll be playing at the final table, in other words, I'll have to go back to Vegas again in November.]

Third, it's not a "winner-takes-all" tournament. If 6,000 people enter - as was the case last year - they start the payouts at around position 600. So if I'm among the first 5,400 people to get knocked out, I win nothing. And if I'm knocked just after the "bubble" bursts (the point in the tournament where people start getting paid) I'll win around $20,000. The payouts increase gradually (and slowly, at first) up to first place which last year paid about nine million dollars.

Fourth, and this is the main point which I think people may misunderstand about poker in general and tournaments specifically, this tournament is predominantly about luck. I don't care what you've heard before or seen in "Rounders" or any other place, the fact of the matter is that the outcome of a tournament is not going to even remotely accurately reflect skill. I'm not pointing this out to safe-guard myself from being teased about not being good enough if I get knocked out early, but because I don't want people to get strange ideas about what it means to win money in a tournament. On the other hand, I also really don't want you to think that I'm claiming that poker is a game where only lucky people win because that's not true either. Poker is a skill game as surely as any other game of skill you can come up with, but the edge that a skilled player has over a bad player is very small compared to how the cards fall. Over a long period of time, skill will completely negate the random deals of cards and only the skilled players will make money - but one tournament is anything but a long period of time. A couple of thousand tournaments and we can start talking.

To help me explain this I'll use two "games" that are analogous to poker in their different ways: Bridge and betting on horses.

Bridge is a good analogy because the deal of the cards is random. However, no one (in their right mind) would claim that bridge isn't a game of skill. The way bridge tournaments has taken the luck out of the cards is by dealing the same hands to different teams and matching their relative score. So a team that plays a "bad" hand really well still gets rewarded for it and can go on to win a bridge tournament even if they haven't "won" a single deal. This is most certainly not the case in poker; a poker player can play every hand he's dealt perfectly and still get knocked out early and not win anything.

Betting on horses is also a good analogy for poker, but in a different way, because it helps explain how "luck" can be successful in the short term but skill will prevail in the long term. If a skilled professional sports bettor (horses, football, whatever he's betting on) places a bet, he's not expecting to win it most of the time. In fact, the vast majority of bets he places will be losing bets, but he's looking at the odds not the chance of winning: If he thinks a horse will win 25% of the time, but is getting 8:1 odds, he's going to bet a fairly sizeable chunk of money on that horse. Sure, three times out of four he's going to lose the money that he bets. But one quarter of the time, he'll get 8 times his money back which makes him a huge winner in the long term.

And so it is with online poker tournaments. The world's best player (I'm not going to speculate as to who that is except to say that it's decidedly not me) is almost certainly not going to win the World Series of Poker Main Event. In fact, he's probably more likely than not to not even get paid at all. But the times that he (or she, in fairness) DOES get paid, that payday is going to make up for the many losses he has to put up with between wins. That's how poker tournaments work.

--

And my point in all this, especially the last part about luck and skill, is that I don't want anyone to get their hopes up. There's perhaps 6,000 people entering, which is a lot of people to hope for to get knocked out before I do. And if the world's best player is more likely than not to be knocked out of the tournament without winning anything at all, the same clearly goes for me. That said, I'll still do my best to have fun and let you know - via this blog - how things are going. I'll try to make a point of making a post every night from the hotel room but I'll hope you forgive me if I miss some nights.

So bookmark this: http://fredrikpaulsson.blogspot.com/ (or subscribe to the RSS feed) and you'll see how I'm doing and what's going on. I'm hoping to get some pictures up, too. I must remember to pack the camera.

Comments are enabled and you're welcome to write and show your undying support for your hero - me.

Jao jao jao,
Fredrik