Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Preflop Raising

An under the gun player minraises, a middle position player calls, and you're in the cutoff with 75 suited. What's your play?


Three-betting in position preflop with most reasonable hands is a standard play in shorthanded online games. Any suited connector, low pocket pair, Ax suited or high cards are worth a raise in these situations.

Often, the previous players will simply fold and you will collect your money without even having to see a flop. This is a consistent money-maker, and you should be happy to win the small pot up-front.

Other times, you'll get calls, which is also fine -- it gives you an opportunity to collect even more money with a flop continuation bet, or maybe you'll even hit your hand. Perhaps the biggest value in light preflop re-raises is that they disguise your hand well. You could have AA; you could have 98s and flop a straight. No one will ever be able to tell the difference.

My general rule of thumb is that I'll always open for a raise from any position with Axs, K8s or better, medium-strength suited connectors and up, pocket pairs and high cards. I'll re-raise or fold in position against one player, and I'll usually re-raise an early position player and a caller (or more). Suited connectors play best in position, while low pocket pairs are well-disguised in any position but often need more than one opponent to get enough implied odds against a raise.

This is quite circumstantial, though. If your read of the early position player is that he's more than likely to re-re-raise you, obviously you may simply want to call or fold. Another common situation occurs when you have one loose player raise from middle position, and you hold a hand like K9o or QTo. I feel like these hands are playable, but sometimes there's not much point in re-raising because you'll rarely make more than a one-pair hand and you don't want to get accidentally involved in a large pot.

Now, this plan works very well against bad, passive players as long as you have position. Unfortunately, there are plenty of decent players out there who will realize what you're doing and start to play back at you.

I'm reminded of this link, which originally was referenced by Dumbasses Trump All.

I find that I don't have the balls to make out of position re-re-raises against most players with marginal hands. The best outcome is that you will get a fold, but many times you'll either get a call or an all-in bet, and then you're screwed. Out of position, I try to either get in the last raise or fold. Folding is OK.

In general, I like the idea of rarely four-betting (except against donks when you have a premium hand, or in multiway pots that you want to get heads-up). It allows you to get pretty good odds relative to the pot size when holding speculative hands like low pocket pairs, and it also disguises the strength of your hand when you hold Aces or Kings. The whole point of the game is to get paid off, and the way to do that is to win big pots when your speculative hands hit and not to go bust with overpairs.

I believe the most important concept of preflop betting (and all betting, for that matter) is that it shouldn't be automatic. Everything depends on your opponents, your table image, your position, your cards, stack sizes and the previous betting action. If you don't feel like you can call a four-bet, then maybe cold calling is the best option. If you have a hand like 76s, you should probably fold against a short stack raiser because you're not getting good enough implied odds. If you know someone sees most flops, don't hesitate to make your raises very expensive with your premium hands.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Big Day

I'm pretty astounded at how well I ran today.

In three two-hour sessions, I won more than $10K for the first time -- more than double my previous best day Dec. 5, when I made a little over $4K. The most I've lost in a day was $4.1K on Jan. 27.

I capped off the day with a flopped full house at a 10/20 table full of maniacs for my biggest pot ever.

*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Gnome [ 9d 9s ]
Gnome raises to $70
Button calls $70
BB raises to $120
Gnome calls $50
Button calls $50

*** Flop *** [ 7h 7c 9c ]
BB bets $300
Gnome calls $300
Button folds.

*** Turn *** [ 2h ]
BB bets $700
Gnome raises to $3706.50, and is all in
BB calls $2586.50.

*** River *** [ 2c ]
BB shows [ As, Ah ] (two pair, Aces and Sevens)
Gnome shows [ 9d, 9s ] (a full house, Nines full of Sevens)
Gnome wins $7541 from the main pot with a full house, Nines full of Sevens


Friday, February 23, 2007

Slow Down

When Andy Beal took on the pros in a multi-million dollar heads-up match, he attached a tiny battery-operated motor in his sock. It vibrated every eight seconds. After Beal made every decision in the game, he would wait to act on his decision until the next vibration, according to Michael Craig in "The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King."

He used his ankle vibrator (insert joke here) to avoid giving off tells. A common tell is how quickly you make your decision, and he seemingly randomized his timing by waiting to take his action until he felt the buzz on his leg.

Online, the timing tell is just about the only one you can pick up, since you can't see your opponent physically sitting across from you. But it's not a reliable tell because it's easily manipulated.

Timing tells aren't the primary reason for writing this post. I've been trying to train myself to wait several seconds for other purposes.

There are two reasons behind this. The first is that if I take my time, I'm less likely to make a mistake. In big bet poker especially, one misread or poorly thought-out plan can cost you your stack. Waiting a few seconds to think before you act can clarify your thoughts, and I've changed my mind plenty of times in that time span.

The second reason is for deception purposes. Waiting to act can be construed as weakness by your opponents. Why would you take your time if you hold the nuts? I've had people make insane all-in bluffs on me before just because I took a few seconds to decide. I bet I've also gotten a few calls that I otherwise wouldn't have because my slowed-down action creates doubt in my opponent's mind.


And now for a hand of the day! Let's add Mark Vos to the short list of pros I've had the honor of busting.

This hand is an example of the non-slowplay working to perfection:

*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Gnome [3c 3h]
Mark Vos raises to $35
Gnome calls $35

*** FLOP *** [Qc 3s Qs]
Mark Vos bets $57
Gnome raises to $155
Mark Vos calls $98

*** TURN *** [Qc 3s Qs] [Js]
Mark Vos checks
Gnome bets $300
Mark Vos raises to $810, and is all in
Gnome calls $502, and is all in

*** RIVER *** [Qc 3s Qs Js] [8d]
Mark Vos shows a flush, Ace high
Gnome shows a full house, Threes full of Queens
Gnome wins the pot ($1,996)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Back in Action

The FTOPS main event was a big, fun tourney in which several bloggers represented -- brdweb, iakaris, fuel, raveen, lucko, hoyazo, cmitch and probably a few others that I'm missing. Congrats to brdweb for his 38th-place finish!

As for me, I finished about 30 outside of the money in 470-something place. This tourney had the best structure of any MTT I have ever played. Starting stacks were very deep, with 5,000 chips to play with and slow-moving blinds. The large stacks made me feel comfortable to take my time and choose my spots carefully, which is something I often fail to do when the blinds are too high in proportion to my stack.

I started off really hot. I was dealt KK twice, took down a couple of pots with flush draws, hit two pair off the blinds twice and caught two sets. At the high-point, I had somewhere around 25,000 chips.

But then I lost it when I moved in with a flush draw and an overcard vs. top pair, top kicker Tens. I feel good about that play because I had no desire to fold my way into the money. I wanted to keep building my stack, and pushing in with a coin-flip on the flop against a weak made hand is the way to do it. A fold would have been super weak.

At the same time, I was playing in the Big Game, which brought out a very tough field. Thanks to MiamiDon for organizing it.

I held the chip lead heading into the final table, but the second- and third-place stacks were directly to my left -- eventual winner Pauly (congrats!) and Fuel.

The crucial hand came against Pauly. I raised with T9s, and he called from the button. The flop came Qc-Tc-4d. My thinking went like this: Pauly cold called from the button, so it's unlikely that he has a strong Queen. The pot was already pretty large, and I felt like he would bet at the flop with any pocket pair, any flopped pair or any draw. I decided that against that kind of range, a pair of Tens wasn't half bad! Because any bet would basically pot commit him, I decided to check-raise him all in. That's exactly what happened, and Pauly turned over Kh-Qh for the best hand, which held up.

Pauly made a good play. His flat call on the flop made me think he had a low pocket pair or a weak drawing hand rather than high cards. I wonder if I out-thought myself by deciding to play a large pot in this spot. If I had bet out on the flop, it's possible I could have folded to a raise. Meh. I pushed and made (sloppy) quad twos a few hands later against 88. Then I busted with TT vs. an Ace that hit.


Here's an exerpt from a comment Hoy recently made on MiamiDon's blog. I post it here because I feel the same way he does, except in reverse. My speciality is cash games rather than tourneys:
"I still am more or less clueless in any cash game I play of any real worth. If I could really understand why, I'm sure I would have made the necessary adjustments a long time ago. ...

For me I've proven to myself that I'm a true cash game donk, and there is so much more variance in terms of one's roll anyways, so I just gave up trying after only a brief sojourn to verify that I, in fact, heehaw at the cash games."
On the other hand, I donk it up damn good in multi-table tourneys, but cash games seem to come naturally. He comments that cash games cause more variance that tourneys, which is probably true, but maybe I don't feel the swings as much because wins aren't so far apart. Even when I play well, it's so discouraging to bust out of tournaments.

Perhaps the bottom line is that we feel the swings most at the games we don't excel at, which makes perfect sense.


One of those games I don't excel at is shorthanded limit hold 'em. And yet, I continue to take shots at it every once in a while because I want a change in pace from the daily no limit cash game grind against the same freakin' players.

I read on 2+2 recently that many successful shorthanded limit players see close to 40 percent of flops! Because I view limit as being a more mathematical game, I would imagine that this degree of looseness may be close to correct. I don't know and I don't understand how to see so many flops and still be a winning player. It's that lack of comprehension that will forever keep me from being a winner in limit.

So, unless and until I learn how to play a lot better, I'm swearing off shorthanded limit hold 'em at any level above 5/10. It'll save me a lot of money.


The inability to deposit and withdraw money from poker sites remains the biggest issue in the poker world. Ever since Neteller stopped doing business with U.S. players and its assets were frozen by the feds, the games have been dropping in quality.

There's no doubt in my mind that the games will steadily get worse until new payment options gain credibility and widespread acceptance. MyWebATM and Giftcard.com are reportedly filling part of the void, but we're a long way away from the ease of transactions we experienced back in the heyday of the USS Neteller and the USS Firepay.

It's interesting to read and hear about the responses of many poker players to the bleak picture in the poker world. Many players have withdrawn their bankrolls or won't play anymore, and that may be appropriate for their situations.

But for me and many other players, those kinds of actions are decidedly -EV. Sure the games are getting tougher, the fish are busting and it's difficult to turn virtual dollars into real ones. On the other hand, nothing has really changed for the player sitting at the table. We still need to scope out the most fishy tables, find the best values, play our best game and grow our bankrolls to the best of our ability. If you're a winning player, I don't understand why the UIGEA would change your approach to the game itself.


These last couple of weeks brought a much-needed break from blogging because I felt like my posts were getting worse. I was also feeling paranoid about writing too much about how I play and about the inherent public nature of a blog.

I toyed with the idea of stopping the blog altogether, but the fact is that it makes me a better poker player. Even if I'm just rambling on about random crap (like today for example), at least I'm putting some thought and effort into reflecting on the game.

Now I plan on getting back on schedule. While the primary purpose of this space is to help me become a better poker player, I hope it's also informative, interesting and instructive for you. I realize I'll frequently fall short in this space of achieving those goals, but I'll nail it sometimes, too.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Groundhog Day

If I woke up this morning stuck in a time loop like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," I would have a little something extra that Phil Conners didn't.

My alarm would go off at the same time every repeated morning. My bruised ribs would still hurt as I rolled out of bed. My bike ride to work would be the same, and those I met would parrot the same old greetings.

But unlike in 1993 Puxatawney, I would have Internet poker.

The cards would be different because of the random number generators used by the sites. I could improve my game Groundhog Day after Groundhog Day and expose myself to countless probabilities. In a world where everything's the same, Internet poker would be a rare relief from the monotony.

Or maybe it wouldn't.

Even if the cards were different, what would it matter? My bankroll would never increase. I could never set any goals. I couldn't attach any meaning to my victories and defeats. I wouldn't tilt, nor would I rejoice when I bust a fish. The game is played hand-by-hand with memory-less cards, but they're nothing more than pictures on plastic without something to show for it. We're told not to be results-oriented, which is sound advice, yet those outcomes define the quality of our play over the long run.

Without a tomorrow to play for, I might as well get my kicks at the play money tables.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


About 10 days ago, I decided to start playing some 5/10 NL heads-up matches on Full Tilt. I figured that even though I have little experience in heads-up play, I could still slowplay a bunch of donks into giving me their stacks.

I was right. These heads-up games sometimes feel as soft as the old NL25 on Party. Good times.

The thing is, it's always nice to think you can play the players and not the cards. But often, that's less and less possible as you increase the number of players at the table. You need to have better hands -- both preflop and at showdown -- in full ring than you do in six-handed games. The same goes for the difference between six-handed and heads-up.

My strategy is simple: Play almost every hand from the button. Limp the very worst and very best hands. Raise everything else. Out of position, I'll play fewer hands but still anything that looks reasonable: Q7s and Q9o and up, and any pair. With top pair, I'll either bet the flop or control the pot size by checking and letting my opponent bluff. With stronger hands, I'll more likely slowplay. With any pair on the flop, I'll either bet out or check-raise.

I know I'm going to get bluffed plenty in these games, but I don't worry about that. I just try to make sure my bluffs are successful at a higher rate than my opponent's.

I wasn't going to post any results because they're kind of a waste of space. But I did improve from a break-even month three days ago to being up eight buy-ins.

In addition, it's really fun to beat people heads-up. Their pent-up aggression won't work.

*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $2,924 | Rake $0.50
Board: [Jd 8s As Jh 9h]
Seat 1: smizmiatch (small blind) showed [Ah Kc] and won ($2,923.50) with two pair, Aces and Jacks
Seat 2: Villain (big blind) showed [Kd Kh] and lost with two pair, Kings and Jacks

*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $2,301 | Rake $0.50
Board: [Jc 3d 2d Qs Kh]
Seat 1: smizmiatch (big blind) showed [2c Qc] and won ($2,300.50) with two pair, Queens and Twos
Seat 2: Villain (small blind) showed [Kd 7d] and lost with a pair of Kings

*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $2,228 | Rake $0.50
Board: [6d 7d Th 8h 3h]
Seat 1: Villain (big blind) mucked [Ts Js] - a pair of Tens
Seat 2: smizmiatch (small blind) showed [8c 9s] and won ($2,227.50) with a straight, Ten high

*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $2,190 | Rake $0.50
Board: [5c Kc 8c Jd 6s]
Seat 1: Villain (small blind) showed [Ac Jh] and lost with a pair of Jacks
Seat 2: smizmiatch (big blind) showed [Kh 9c] and won ($2,189.50) with a pair of Kings

I could go on all day. I've got about 20 more hands just like those. People repeatedly go bust with top pair. What's more, they're really easy to read, and they don't understand that their silly bluffs out of position are going to fail miserably. I'd almost think I'm calling too frequently, except for that my reads have been frequently correct. On the other hand, I'm sure variance will prove to be high in heads-up games, so I'll get what's coming to me soon.

Regardless, these games are a gold mine. It'll be hard to pull myself away.