Sunday, December 31, 2006

Breakout Year

One year ago, I was preparing to move to Hawaii and start a new job. I didn't know what I should do with my poker game, although I was committed to climbing up the limit ladder. I had extra motivation because I wanted to get my bankroll over $9,000 so I could play $15/$30 limit hold em again -- a feat I had briefly achieved in November before going on a big downturn.

For the first half of the year, I bounced around from month to month and game to game, averaging about $1,500 a month. That was a decent amount, but I repeatedly got shot down any time I tried to play a limit above $10/$20. I started out at $5/$10 shorthanded, then played some full ring limit games, then tried massive multi-tabling of no limit games, then back to limit.

By the summer, I was getting frustrated with my lack of progress. I was making a profit, but mostly from rakeback, deposit bonuses and monthly blackjack bonuses. In fact, that had been the story of my poker career. I have always been a winning player after bonuses, but the $2,000 I earned in 2004 and $14,700 in 2005 came while I basically broke even at the tables.

One day when I was chatting with Vic, he told me he was still baffled over why I insisted on moving up through the ranks of limit hold em. I had always been a winner in no limit games, and that's what I decided to focus on.

The only problem was that my no limit strategy was incredibly static. I played only full-ring games and used a tight, aggressive strategy in which I waited for cards and then bet them for value or took down pots with continuation bets. That worked well for a while as I picked up the scraps of other people's money at 1/2 and 2/4 NL games on Party Poker.

Then came the turning point -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which was attached to a port security bill in the late night hours before Congress went on recess. The law itself only prohibits U.S. banking institutions from doing business with gambling sites, but its passage caused Party Poker and many other sites to shut out U.S. players.

I withdrew my bankroll immediately while I waited to see how severe the law's impact would be. That week I didn't play poker and just relaxed. This may have been one of the best decisions of my poker career.

When I returned to the tables (now at Full Tilt), I never looked back. From October to December, I averaged more than $10,000 each month and brought my total yearly winnings over $51,000.

I quickly moved up from 2/4 to 3/6 and started killing the shorthanded tables. Armed with a subscription to Cardrunners, I learned how to better apply my knowledge and really attack the tables. The money kept flowing, and it wasn't long at all before I jumped in the 5/10 NL games.

These games are very good. I know some people say that online poker has gotten more difficult since the UIGEA, but I don't see it. These 5/10 tables are filled with people who are itching to give their money away, and I was so happy to take it.

From October till now, I haven't had a bad run. Even when I go card dead it seems like I make money. Almost every day I play, I can expect to rake in at least a few hundred dollars and as much as $4,000.

How did this happen? What changed?

I believe there was no one ingredient that improved my game to the point where I can be a consistent winner at these fantastic mid-limits. It was a matter of learning to play better in 6-max ring games, becoming more aggressive in position, integrating more bluffs in all parts of my game and learning how to let go of overpairs when someone is playing back at me on a non-threatening board.

Somehow, I get plenty of action when I want it while people fold to my bluffs. I keep my game simple most of the time, but even fancy plays are often successful. On top of that, I'm one lucky bastard -- I almost feel sorry for my opponents who I rain bad beats down on.

I continue to question how this is all possible. I feel like I've improved a lot this year, but I never thought my profits would climb so rapidly once I got the bankroll to play 5/10. Part of me wonders how much of this can be attributable to a sustained run of above-average cards, and I have to think that contributes to my success. On the other hand, perhaps I make a lot of my own luck by playing solid poker that constantly puts pressure on my opponents.

Either way, this year has been a tremendous ride, and I am incredibly optimistic about 2007. There are a lot of areas I want to improve on, but there's no reason for me to think I won't be able to (eventually) beat games at 10/20 NL and higher.

If there's one idea that may have helped me more than any other, it's the concept that players prove themselves when things are tough. Anyone can win when they get great cards. Being able to lose less money with second-best hands without tilting will salvage your bankroll.

Impaired Judgment

After drinking two rum and cokes, a glass of wine, a Guinness and some English beer that I don't know the name of, I got home and turned on the computer.

I popped open a Heineken and looked for some Triple Draw and limit hold 'em games to play on PokerStars. What the hell was I thinking?

First I found a $30/$60 limit hold em game and dropped about 10 bets. Then I lost another 20 bets at a $15/$30 limit hold em game. Now, feeling quite toasty, I opened up the only Triple Draw game going above the $3/$6 level -- a $30/$60 game.

This is a game I had no business in. My triple draw knowledge is limited to the most basic concepts: try to draw to an 8 or better, play tight and let go of your hand sooner rather than later if you don't improve after the first draw. Seriously, that's all I know about the game, and I don't even feel confident in those rules of thumb.

Why am I in this game again? Oh yeah, because I'm drunk and I want some action. And Triple Draw is a lot of fun, until I realized I was out of my depth.

But even then, I didn't close the table. I set artificial goals for myself that I couldn't keep. I'd tell myself that if I got back to even, I would quit. Then I lost a little more, and I told myself I'd quit when I got close to even. After losing a little more, I came back and and got within a few bets of where I started.

I thought to myself: Why stop there? After all, it would only take one more decent-sized pot to put me near even for the entire session.

So, foolishly, I kept it up. I went up and down, up and down, but mostly down. Maybe I was running poorly. I'm sure I made some bad decisions. But how many times can my pat hands be beat by a one-card draw on the end? Quite frequently, apparently.

I did a search for "triple draw strategy" to try to figure out a few more basics of the game. All I found was this column by Howard Lederer, which didn't help at all in my inebriated state.

And yet I still didn't log off. At this point, I wanted to either hit a big score or get to a point where I wouldn't have much chance of coming back. I ignored everything I know -- I played longer than I should have, I didn't have an edge in the game, I didn't care much whether I won or lost.

What really bothers me is that it was so easy to piss away this money. It was like I wanted to let it go. The alcohol didn't create these self-destructive impulses, it simply lowered my inhibitions so they could escape.

Do I really feel like I don't deserve to win? Am I so insecure that I want to hurt myself, like a masochist who delights in experiencing pain because it's better than feeling nothing? Am I trying to sabotage myself out of some superstitious fear that if I keep winning I'll forget what it's like to lose?

Finally, I reached one of my goals. My buy-in had been reduced to mere scraps, not even worth playing anymore after losing nearly 20 bets. Hours later than I should have, far past the point where I lost impulse control, I shut down the window and went to sleep.

I lost a total of about $2,000 and my bankroll remains healthy despite this disturbing, compulsive behavior.

It's been a great year results-wise, but irrational episodes like last night's show that I've got some issues.

I'm still a fish.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Poker Odds

There are many sites that provide information about poker odds, but none provides a comprehensive single source for basic odds knowledge in Texas Hold 'Em. So here is an attempt at compiling a reference list for what I feel are the most essential probabilities. I recommend memorizing all of these because knowing them off the top of your head gives you an edge in any game.

Pot Odds

Calculating pot odds is a necessary step in determining whether you are justified in playing a hand that may be an underdog at the moment but stands a chance of improving to the best hand. Pot odds are defined as "the ratio of the current size of the pot to the bet that you must call." Put simply, you want the probability of making your hand to be higher than the percentage of money you must invest in the pot.

The best way to quickly compute pot odds is to memorize outs expressed as a ratio. I'm constantly surprised at the number of players who refuse to remember this set of numbers that can be worth so much money at the tables.

Outs | Break-Even Pot Odds with one card to come
1 | 45:1
2 | 22:1
3 | 14.3:1
4 | 10.5:1
5 | 8.2:1
6 | 6.7:1
7 | 5.6:1
8 | 4.75:1
9 | 4.1:1

Another common way to estimate your probability of making a hand is by what Phil Gordon calls "The Rule of Four" and "The Rule of Two."

I have found a quick and easy way of figuring out how often I will draw to a winning hand after the flop.
First I count my "outs," or the cards that will give me a winning hand. For example, let's say I have Tc 9d and I put my opponent on A-K ... The flop comes Ac Td 7s. My opponent is in front, of course, having flopped a pair of aces, but there are five cards -- the two remaining tens and the three nines -- that will put me in front. In other words, I have five outs.
I can calculate the approximate odds of catching one of my cards on the turn or the river by multiplying the number of outs I have by four. In this case:
5 X 4 = 20 %
According to this "Rule of Four," I have about a 20 % chance of catching a winning card on the turn or the river. The actual odds turn out to be 21.2 %, a tiny difference that is irrelevant for most purposes.
With only the river card to come, the "Rule of Four" becomes the "Rule of Two." (Meaning you multiply your outs by two instead of four)
Preflop Odds

Higher pair vs. lower pair: 4.5:1
Pair vs. two higher cards: 55 percent to 45 percent
Pair vs. two lower cards: 5:1
Pair vs. a higher and lower card: 5:2, or about 70 percent to 30 percent
Domination (AK vs. AQ): 5:2, or about 70 percent to 30 percent
Two higher cards vs. two lower cards (AQ vs. 86): 5:3, or about 60 percent to 40 percent
One higher card vs. one lower card (A5 vs. KT): About 55 percent to 45 percent

Odds of being dealt a specific hand

AA: 220:1, or 0.45 percent
Any pair: 16:1, or 5.88 percent
AK suited or offsuit: 82:1, or 1.2 percent
Suited connectors: 46.4:1, or 2.11 percent

Odds of flopping ...

A set from a pocket pair: 7.5:1, or about 12 percent
A flush draw with two suited cards: 8.1:1, or 11 percent
A pair from any two non-paired cards: 2.1:1, or about 33 percent
Two pair from any two non-paired cards, using both of your hole cards: 49:1, or 2 percent

"Phil Gordon's Little Green Book," by Phil Gordon
"Harrington on Hold 'em: Expert Strategy for No-Limit Tournaments, Volume 1: Strategic Play," by Dan Harrington
"Small Stakes Hold 'em: WinningBig with Expert Play," by Ed Miller, David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth
Bodog poker, as published by
Mike Caro University
Two Dimes

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Lessons are expensive

I haven't posted in a few days, not for lack of things to write about, but more because I had been winning. Winning is great and all, but it makes for rather bland writing.

Win, win, win. I love consistently coming out on top, and I feel like I'm playing pretty damn well. But there's no conflict, no struggle, no pain in it. Tilt stories and Waffle-esque diatribes are so much more fun!

Fortunately for you, dear reader, I got smacked. Pretty hard. Ouch.

Christmas night was my career-worst session at the tables, in which I lost more than four buy-ins in about 800 hands, mostly against HORRIBLE players. Argh! They were soooo bad, and I couldn't seem to wrestle any money away from them.

I kept picturing them, drunk on egg nog and pissed off at their families in the late-night post-Christmas hours, pissing away their money to whoever applied the most pressure against their top pair, top kicker hand. I saw them sitting at their computers, dazed, trying to keep their eyes open as they sought one more pot to get even for the holiday. Or maybe some of them were rich kids, flush with new Christmas money that they were ready to blow off at the tables.

There was a lot of cash flying around, but not much of it came my way.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: three bad beats, two lost coin-flips and a tilt all-in bet against the nuts in a pear tree.

I knew a day like this had to come eventually. My fear is that my worries may have turned into a self-fulfilling prophesy. It goes something like this:

I win a lot at the virtual tables, and each successive win feels like less of a thrill than the one before. Eventually, I lose focus and drive because the pleasure of winning is diminished as the mental bar is raised for my average per-session expectation. Lacking emotions of satisfaction from poker, I subconsciously try to lose so that I can feel good when I win again.

These ideas somewhat coincide with theories that gamblers subconsciously want to lose to punish themselves, or that "gamblers want to lose all their money so they can reach a state of despair which, at the root of it all, was provoked by a past action that the gambler has not resolved."

Is it possible that I sabotaged myself at the tables last night? That after drinking my share of beers on Christmas night, I felt guilty on some level about my repeated winnings and played a style that favored all-in bets over folds and calls over reasonably priced information bets?

Of course it's possible. Why else would I be writing about it.

In times of doubt, the correct course is to analyze what went wrong. After I went through the hand histories in PokerTracker, I found there was only one hand where I made a clear and obvious error. I did tilt on that hand. I told myself I would take a stand with top pair and my gutshot. I blew off my stack based on my tired feelings of defiance and anger rather than careful consideration of the situation at hand.

Naturally, my passive opponent who had check-raised me had a set, and my donkitude was not rewarded with a suckout.

It was time for sleep, perhaps an hour after I should have quit.

I don't believe I'm a compulsive gambler who wants to kill himself slowly by blowing through my hard-earned winnings. I admit to mild feelings of guilt because of my recent success, and because I feel sorry for some of the fish who lose and reload, lose and reload, lose and reload until the rent money is gone.

Objectively, I know these emotions are destructive. While I hope to be able to empathize with my opponents' mind-set, I should remain vigilant that I don't become like them. The solution, as always, is focus and discipline. Sometimes I feel like a surly poker monk, resigned to a life of study and devotion.

Enough of that. I made one very bad play. It won't happen again.

I did a search of the Internet for my login name, smizmiatch, and found some hand histories from 2005 in which I got stacked. I played them terribly. Enjoy!

Dem Quads, Bitch.

I can't recommend playing two pair like this.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Limit hands at the Mirage

I cashed out at the Bellagio after hitting my straight flush and then headed to the Mirage for some limit games.
"Try limit, it's fun!" say the signs at the Mirage. So I sat at a 20/40 game.
My recent strategy has been to play very tight and leave the table as soon as I get ahead. This table usually had three or four people seeing the flop with almost no bluffing.
Here is the most interesting hand:
After a rock limped in early position, I raised from the hijack with JQo. I figured there was a good probability it would fold around to the limper, but unfortunately the button 3 bet it. We both called, putting 10.5 small bets in the pot.
The flop brought undercards with a T and two spades. I hejf the Q of spades. I estimated I had about 6 outs -- 1.5 for a backdoor flush, 1.5 for a backdoor straight and three for my overcards.
We both checked and the button bet. The limper folded, and I called since the pot was offering me better than the 6.7:1 I needed.
The turn brought good news and bad news. It was the A of spades, giving me a flush draw and a gutshot draw, but that also meant I would have to call at least one more bet. I check-called the turn.
The river was a blank, and all I had was Q high. I check-folded, and the button showed AK for a turned top pair. I think I played the hand well because a bluff wouldn't have pushed the button off the hand, and folding would have been a mistake because I had odds to continue.
Later, the utg player raised, and then I looked down at a fine looking pair of Aces. I 3-bet. And the utg player was the only caller. The flop hit me hard, giving me a set of Aces! I bet and my opponent called. The turn was a King, and we both checked. A blank fell on the river, and my opponent check-called. He mucked in disgust and walked away. I like to think my check on the turn gained an extra bet from a hand like pocket TT or QQ.
In the other intresting hand of the 2-hour session, I flopped two pair when I held 42o out of the big blind on a 234 rainbow three-way flop with two suited cards. I bet it out, an EP player raised, and the small blind and I called. The turn was an offsuit Jack, and I bet out again. The EP player folded, and the small blind check-raised. I decided to call and then check-call the river. He showed down a flopped wheel, and my rags flew into the muck. Maybe I could have found a fold on the turn, but that would have been tough given the board and my opponent's hand range. There were plenty of hands I could have beaten.
I lost $91 on the session - less than 2.5 bets, and I felt good about my play. Limit is fun!
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, December 11, 2006

Vegas: Cards, steak and balls

Gambling is the oxygen of Vegas -- it's everywhere you go and it's necessary for survival.

But this trip, I didn't feel like I was gasping for air, trying to get in as much playing time as I possibly could. There are plenty of opportunities to gamble it up in any trip to Vegas, so why push it? It certainly helped that I got off to a strong start so I didn't feel pressured to put in long hours at the tables.

Of course, I always wish there were more hours in the day so that I could have gotten more play in!

I felt like it was still Friday when I got in to town Saturday morning. I had worked during the day, packed afterward, ate a good Thai dinner and watched Battlestar Galactica before getting on my plane. My connecting flight in Los Angeles got canceled, so I didn't get in to Vegas until after 9 a.m.

From there, it was straight to Caesar's to sit at a newly started 2/5 NL game. In that first short session, I flopped three flushes, got dealt KK and successfully bluffed several pots to win more than $900. That was very nice. This one guy wearing a Kauai hat made the table a lot of fun, and I even got lucky when he hit his 2 pair on the river off a starting hand of 73 vs. one of my flushes.

Afterward, I played in the blogger tournament, which Caesar's kindly hosted. Congrats to -EV for taking down the tourney, even though he busted me when I pushed my short stack in with QQ and he called with 33 and hit a set.

Sunday was filled with delicious food and donktastic low-limit poker at the Alladin, Caesar's and the Stratosphere. I'm still wondering if Daniel may have bluffed me off a decent-sized pot when I raised big preflop with Q9s in an attempt to steal all the limps on the table, and then fired a continuation bet into an A7x flop. He called, and when I check-folded the turn, he showed a 7. I don't think he had a set, but maybe A7. Or maybe nothing. :)

We ate at Commander's Palace and had dinner with Fuel55 at Binion's Steak House. It was a fulfilling meal, and it was fascinating to talk a lot of poker with Fuel. His style appears to be a little bit more aggressive than mine, and it seems to be quite successful.

At the end of dinner, Daniel broke out the deck of cards. We had been high carding to decide who would cover the bill all weekend, but Fuel didn't know what hit him. When he drew a 2 out of the deck, he was stuck with the $200 tab. That's OK though -- his Vegas vacation was very profitable.

Then we went out to Sam's Town to go bowling with an awesome subset of poker bloggers who like drinking and knocking down pins. Metsfan schooled us, and bowling turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Everyone there was really cool and fun to be around. Afterward, I was too tired to gamble effectively, so I played some 2/4 and 1/2 NL at the Stratosphere. It was terrible.

All weekend, people were telling me I looked like celebrities -- Robert Wagner (who plays Number Two in "Austin Powers) and Ted Forrest are the two I remember. I hope I am never remembered as Number Two, but I can aspire to play poker like Forrest.

Monday morning brought poker at the Bellagio, which remains the gemstone of Vegas. Its poker room was already packed at noon, and I saw Chip Reese and (I think) Eli Elezra playing in Bobby's Room. I settled in to a 2/5 table when this hand fell.

In a three-way pot, I held 87 of diamonds on a Jd Td Xc flop, so I had both a weak flush and gutshot possibility. A player who was bleeding money led out for $40, I called, and the late position player called. The turn brought another rag, and again the early position player bet out $40 again. It felt weak, so I raised to $120. The late position player called, and I didn't get the fold I wanted from the original bettor. He called, and the pot was getting big.

I didn't want to watch what the river would bring. As I looked out into space, a beautiful 9d fell, giving me a straight flush! The early position player bet $300, and I called with the rest of my chips. He turned over Q8o for a made gutshot straight on the river.

I must be living right.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Chip and an airplane seat

Finally, after six months without any vacation or travel, I'm in the Honolulu Airport ready to begin my journey to Vegas with a short layover in L.A.

I've been ready for a long time. Even if I lose (which I don't plan on), I'm pretty sure I'll have a great time. I need to fly away to someplace different.

I'm due for a break. I slacked off most of last year, but I've worked most of this year. It's been good to live and work in Hawaii, where most days are sunny and I'm surrounded by palm trees, plush mountains, the foamy surf and sweeping tradewinds. But it's time to get away for a little bit. I hate to stay in the same place for too long.

I have high expectations. I'll win some hands. I'll hoist some beers. I'll meet new and old friends. I'll eat good food. I'll laugh, I'll gamble, I'll play house games rigged against me.

I'll bust fish. I'll be confident. I'll enjoy myself. I'll stave off sleep. I'll take all their fucking money.

Then I get to go home to Atlanta, sleep late and just hang out for a while.

So yeah, I'm excited. I'm almost there -- I just need to get through this long redeye flight first, and then I'll be ready to start betting in the 8 a.m. hour tomorrow morning.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Exprimental blogging

This post is being written on my phone, which may be useful in the coming sleepless Vegas nights... Let's see how it works.

When I arrived at the patio game, I saw that the table was already populated with five regulars, a couple of fish and one new guy. They told me the game was only hold em to accommodate the new guy. I don't mind 2-10-20-20 O8, but let's just say it's not my top choice. The future looked promising.

This game plays like a million other home games across the 'verse, with most players liking to see the flop and checking to the raiser. Their stacks were very short for a 2/5 game, meaning they'd probably try to get it all in when they hit. Basically, it forced me to play their short stacked game, which is not my preference.

Immediately, I decided there would be no more limping allowed. If I was going to play a hand vs a short stacked limper, he would have to call a raise.

The chick to my right didn't approve. Tough shit.

I thought about increasing the size of my preflop raises, but I didn't see how that would help. If my opponents hit top pair, they were basically pot committed anyway.

A player named the Jet, perhaps my favorite donor, announced to the table that I was a shark. I tried to salvage my image by telling them I hadn't won since the first time I played with them, which was true.

I don't think it did much good though. I my first large-ish hand, the girl went all in for about the size of the pot, and I called with QJ top pair Queens. The Jet agonized over whether to call the $50 bet, but I paid him off when he moved in for $30 more on the river. He had hit his flush on the river, and chicky had bottom two pair. Whatever.

Somewhat surprisingly, I didn't get much action the rest of the night. It seems like many of those players are too used to the nut peddling of Omaha. I stole a few pots, only got quartered once and finished down $20 for the night.

Again I wonder: Does the tightness required of Omaha Hi/Lo kill the action during the No Limit hold em rounds? It kind of seems that way.

Fortunately, my O8 game is improving a little bit.

Let's play some mixed games in Vegas this weekend!

Also, I was thinking about getting together for bowling at Sam's Town on Sunday night. Who's in?

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Electric Goldfish

You gotta love those days when you win more than 10 percent of your bankroll in an hour and a half. Here's the best hand of the night:

Full Tilt Poker
No Limit Holdem Ring game
Blinds: $5/$10
6 players

Pre-flop: (6 players) HERO is Button with :ah :ac
UTG folds, UTG+1 raises to $35, CO folds, HERO raises to $120, SB folds, BB raises to $420, UTG+1 folds, HERO calls.

Flop: :9s :4h :as ($880, 2 players)
BB checks, HERO checks.

Turn: :ad ($880, 2 players)
BB checks, HERO is all-in $704, BB calls all-in $580.
Uncalled bets: $124 returned to HERO.

River: :4s ($2040, 0 player + 2 all-in - Main pot: $2040)

Final pot: $2040
HERO showed Ah Ac
BB showed Kh Ks

I felt like the only way to get paid off was to make my opponent think I was trying to bluff him off the pot. He called at the last second before he timed out.

So yeah ... sweet!

I mean, I rolled over those tables. Only one bluff failed, and most of my all-ins got paid off. It's pretty rare when you both get good cards and get players to call you down.

One thing I was thinking about before I logged on was how I feel like I'm on some form of tilt all the time except when I'm playing poker. There's always something that I'm either pissed off about, bored with, paranoid about or overly hyper about. On top of that, I'm short-tempered. It's amazing I'm ever able to concentrate.

The addition of a second monitor was a key to the improvement of my game. All that extra space makes multitasking a million times easier. And if I find something distracting (like chat or music), I can just turn off that app.

Anyways, I got lucky and played well. I won some more later on at a few 2/4 NL tables with absinthe.

When I finally logged off, I found I had scored my biggest single-day win ever in two short sessions -- more than four buy-ins at 5/10. Woohoo! Bring it, Vegas.

*The Electric Goldfish was the name of a few friends' band when I was in sixth or seventh grade. Their hit was a kick-ass cover of "Knockin on Heaven's door."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I can't gamble on my phone, but I like it anyway

I bought a new phone this weekend. I was trying to decide between this Blackberry Pearl and the Sidekick, but the guy in the store said the Blackberry is better for work e-mail systems.

This phone is great so far. It's sleek, handy and full of gadgets. The only feature it doesn't have is AM/FM radio, but I was less disappointed about not having that when I later found out it isn't offered on any Blackberry models.

As promised, it handles multiple e-mail accounts flawlessly. The camera is the usual low-resolution quality of most phones. Internet is decent. Texting is intuitive. I'm sure this phone pales in comparison to some higher-end models out there, but it's by far the best one I've ever owned.


Poker continues apace. I'm enjoying the 3/6 and 5/10 NL games on Full Tilt, and it's usually possible to find several loose tables. One guy even pushed in a full stack preflop with KJo vs. my KK. Amazingly, Krispy Kreme held up!

Overall, the last couple of weeks have been up and down with a general upward trend. I'm cool with that.

I was thinking earlier about the steps in my poker development that have made the biggest difference. I'll list them here:

1) Limiting my sessions to 2 hours. This improved my discipline and helped prevent tilt.

2) Abandoning a year-and-a-half long effort to climb the limit ladder, instead concentrating on No Limit Hold em, where all the money seems to be.

3) Learning more about playing shorthanded tables. Six-max is where many of the fish are.

4) Making an effort to improve my game beyond my existing education of books, the net, TV and practice. Specifically, the Cardrunners instructional videos are very valuable.

5) Improving my usage of continuation bets. Rather than pounding at my opponents every time I was checked to on the flop, I've incorporated more floating, turn bets, 2nd and 3rd bullets and bluff check-raises into my game. Most of all, I've gotten much better at learning when not to continuation bet.

6) Coming to accept that I can always play tighter preflop in shorthanded games without giving up too much value. The blinds don't hurt that much more.

The countdown is on. Three days and 23 hours from now, I'll be on a plane to Vegas.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Coming soon: Vegas baby!

I'm reading Phil Gordon's Little Blue Book, his sequel to the Little Green Book. It's educational -- this version has many more hand histories woven with Gordon's tales from the felt.

The only complaint I have so far is that Gordon gives one hand example (page 32) from a 2/5 NL table he claims he played on Full Tilt. The only problem is that as far as I know, Full Tilt has never spread a 2/5 NL game. The site has 2/4 and 3/6, as well as the recently added 2.5/5 deep stack game.

It's not that big of a deal, but it undermines the book's credibility. If you're going to make shit up, at least get your facts straight.


I played in a new home game on Wednesday on the porch of a house about 15 minutes from downtown. The format was similar to the garage game, with alternating rounds of 2/5 NLHE and 2-10-20-20 spread limit Omaha Hi/Lo.

The regulars are decent, but they're a bit too passive postflop. Even when they hold the nuts on the river, they'll often check to the raiser rather than get a little value out of their hand. That's fine with me though.

It was a surprisingly cold night, and for the first time since I moved to Hawaii nearly a year ago, I wished I was wearing long sleeves. The lone woman at the game found me a blanket, and I started dozing off near the end of the evening.

It would have been a profitable night except for that I got quartered when holding the nut low a few times. Getting quartered is terrible. I need to practice my Omaha game online, but I've had a hard time bringing myself to sit at a limit Omaha 8 table so far. Limit hi/lo games don't appeal to me -- make it pot limit or just Omaha Hi.


While watching the Hawaii football team lose against one of the few halfway-decent teams they've played this season, one of my non-poker-playing friends was complaining about the late-night poker marathon on ESPN Classic.

"Poker isn't a sport, so why is it on ESPN all the time?" he asked.

Then they showed a clip of some player saying that poker was like a war. My friend griped at that description, because he thought other sports like football and hockey are much more warlike.

I'm not so sure.

Poker is all about dominance, control, competition, greed and manipulation. Poker is a strategic game in which the player who asserts his will to the edge of positive expectation will be the biggest winner. The fastest, strongest and deepest player will win. Weak-passive players will lose.

Sounds like a fierce battle to me.


The winter blogger Vegas trip is this weekend! I don't get in until Saturday, but it will be a much-needed vacation. I've worked every day except weekends since the last time I was in Vegas in June because I needed to work holidays to build up vacation time. I lost all my previous vacation time when I quit the company to move to Santiago. After Vegas, I head back to Atlanta for a fun week including my brother's graduation and a couple of home games.

Just five days away...

My Dad, who has no idea that I ever make more than pocket change playing poker, wanted me to bring home this empty suitcase that's been sitting in my closet for months.

I told him I didn't want to lug it around during a weekend in Vegas before I fly back to Atlanta.

He said I should bring the suitcase with me anyway.

"You're going to need that suitcase to carry all the money you win!" he said.

Let's hope so!