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.


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


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.