Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Good Beat Because I'm Stupid

I got a mysterious check in the mail from the Hawaii Tax Department on Friday giving me a refund of more than $4,000 on my taxes. I didn't get my hopes up -- surely this was a mistake. The same kind of mistake happened to a family member a few years ago.

The funny thing is that I was the one who made the error, not the tax department! I had miscalculated my state income taxes by more than $4,000. I thought I owed $7,300, but instead I owed a lot less.

I re-checked my math against a letter the state tax department sent me, and indeed I had made two significant mistakes. I like to think I'm good at math, but I guess I'd make a pretty damn shitty accountant.

So I'm a dumbass, but I'm very happy about it! Obviously, this won't happen next year now that I have a tax accountant. And I still ended up paying about $18,000 in federal and state income taxes this year, which is nothing to laugh at.

But getting that money back is a good beat. I'm thankful the tax department caught my mistakes because I know I never would have. Now I have the pleasure of spending this money on my estimated quarterly taxes, which are already way overdue.


I'd like to thank all the people who leave comments on this blog. Your insight makes me a better poker player, and I appreciate it that you care enough to say something. It makes me feel like this blog is worthwhile.

Here's a list of this month's commenters. Thanks, and keep 'em coming!

Phish Hooks
Poker Cats
Miami Don

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

WSOP: What went wrong

I rarely wear sunglasses or listen to music when playing live poker. But if there's any place for it, I decided that place was the World Series of Poker, where players would be looking at my eye movements and I would need to stay focused.

I didn't care if I looked like some fanboy online player. I thought I could gain a small advantage because I might be harder to read.

Using that same reasoning, I also brought my black leather notebook (courtesy of Kuro) so I could take notes on people, just like I do on the Internet. I feel like I'm pretty good at reading people, but sometimes my memory sucks. So what if my opponents didn't like me taking notes on them.

Everything worked well at first. I got some respect. I started building up my stack. Eventually, I would reach a high-water mark over 18,000 chips.

But I failed to consider how the table was responding to this image I had created.

After the second hour, I fired two bullets after raising preflop and finally got my opponent to fold. I don't remember what I had exactly -- I think it was two high cards that didn't connect with the board.

I got out my notebook to write down something like: "6 seat folded to second bullet on low-card board."

He saw me taking the note and made some remark about how I was writing down my bluff. He was absolutely right. I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything.

It wasn't long after that when I sucked out to win that huge pot with KJ vs. JJ on a J88KK board. That's still awesome.

At that point, I should have realized the table dynamic had changed. I noticed that people weren't very friendly with me, and they were playing back at me more often.

I should have changed gears and tightened up for a few hours. Instead, I thought, "Wow, I have a stack now! I need to keep running over this table until someone tries to stop me."

From then on, only one of my steal attempts was successful. Every pot I tried to win ended up contested. I got card dead and couldn't make a hand. No one would fold to me, which would have been great if I actually had some cards. Instead, I bled off chips until I had to push all-in with A5.

I don't think it was wrong to use the notebook, sunglasses and mp3 player, but I wish I had realized sooner how quickly it made my opponents label me a donk. I guess I proved them right.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Trying to take down a big limped pot

At a 9-handed 2/4 table on PokerStars, every single player limps. The action is on me in the big blind with AK.

I raise it to $40, a large raise designed to take down the pot right there. I figure most everyone will fold, and if they don't, they'll likely cave to my continuation bet on most flops.

A middle position player calls. The pot is now about $108.

The flop comes Ah 6s 8h. I bet out $85. The middle position player raises $95 more to $180 -- slightly more than a minraise. I have about $235 left, and my opponent has me covered. Calling isn't much of an option in this hand. I believe I need to decide right now whether to push all in or fold.

I figure my opponent has to assume I have a big Ace, unless he thought I was trying to steal the pot preflop. If he knows I likely have a big Ace, then he would only raise with hands that can beat me, including a set of 6s, set of 8s or a big combo draw. Unless, of course, he knows I can't simply call this bet unless I'm convinced I'm winning. In which case, if he is bluffing or has a weaker Ace, he could safely fold if I moved all in.

It's a tricky spot, and my opponent has me by the balls. The only way I think I can come out ahead in this situation is if I have an indication of what my opponent holds. But all I know is that he limped preflop, cold called my raise, and then raised my flop bet after an Ace fell. My read is that he seems like an average player who doesn't get out of line too much but certainly could put in a raise like this with anything from AJ to the nuts.

What should I do in this situation?

Now let's consider a different scenario. This time, the preflop action was the same except for that I held 95o instead of AK. In fact, I actually did hold 95o in this hand and flopped a gutshot straight draw. I made the continuation bet on the Ace-high flop and again had a decision to make.

If I'm trying to represent AK or even AA, I could go all in, and my opponent couldn't call except with his very best hands.

This hand was interesting because it didn't matter much what cards I actually held in the hand. I knew my opponent could only call an all-in bet with a set or a monster draw, but whether I held AK or 95, I was probably behind either way.

Maybe I'm making too much out of this hand, and it's an easy fold regardless of whether I had nothing or top pair.

What would you do?

Here's the hand history:

*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to smizmiatch [9s 5c] in the big blind
8 players limp
smizmiatch: raises $36 to $40
5 folds
Villain calls $36
2 folds
*** FLOP *** [8s Ah 6h]
smizmiatch: bets $85
Villain raises $95 to $180
smizmiatch: folds
Villain collected $275 from pot
Villain doesn't show hand

Friday, June 22, 2007

Break over

Well, that time off from poker felt good. I hadn't played in four days, which isn't that long, but it was enough time for me to get my head on straight and feel refreshed when I came back to the tables tonight, where I won nearly two buy-ins.

I thought a lot about what went wrong in the last few weeks. The primary problem was that I got bad cards and lost a lot of pots in which I was favored. But there several issues with my game that don't show up in hand histories or PokerTracker stats.

This bad run started with my $22,000 income tax bill, created and paid for almost entirely from my bankroll. Then I started pressing way too hard as I put in long sessions and woke up early in the morning to put in more hours. During that time, I was still winning, but all that play wore on me.

From there, I ran into Perfect Donkey and then suffered a ton of beats. I started every session with a good attitude, but it was never long before I was yelling at the computer screen over some horrible suckout.

Everyone has a breaking point, and I reached mine last Sunday, when I played heads-up games and called $500 turn bets with nothing but a flush draw and river all-ins with dominated top pair hands like QT. It was ugly. If there's any silver lining, it was that I could no longer blame anyone buy myself for the losses.

A few weeks ago, I complained to a photographer friend of mine about the downturn. He doesn't know much about poker, but he loves to hear about it, and I like talking about it.

"What are you learning from these losses?" he asked.

"Nothing," I told him, "Except how to deal with them."

That wasn't the right answer. I should have been learning when to quit.

With any luck, I'll now go on an insanely good run like I did the last time I took a few days off.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Break Time

The last thing I want to do when running bad is take a break.

But it's the right thing to do. Even though I still feel like I'm playing well, I'm too easily tilted right now.

I like to think I've gotten better at handling downswings, but it's hard to lose 20 5/10 buyins over six weeks, most of them due to bad beats that I won't recount here. Before this, I had never lost more than 10 buy-ins in a row in no limit play.

Once again, I'm thankful for the cushion of my bankroll.

Bleh. Stupid poker.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Where does all this money come from?

Sitting in late position in a 1/3 NL game at Caesar's Palace, I picked up 56s and was up against a raise from a skinny college kid. I read him for a strong hand that he wouldn't be able to get away from.

The flop came 66x. He bet. I raised all in. Knowing he was beat, the kid said, "Well, I have to call." He turned over KK and I raked in a $500 pot (he had a halfstack).

Then my name was called for the 2/5 game a couple of tables away. After a couple of hours, a pot was limped about six ways to me in the big blind. I had TT, and I bumped it up to $60. Everyone folded, including the European dude who mucked, saying, "That's just an insane raise. I don't know why people make such obvious raises preflop with middle pocket pairs."

Without showing my cards, I told him different opponents might interpret such a raise in different ways. But I knew that was my queue to get up from that table. It wasn't as profitable anymore.

In the first hand, I called with suited connectors knowing that I had implied odds to get paid off on an all-in bet if I hit hard. At the second table, I got a clear signal that my opponents were watching my game and may start to play back at me.

Whether evaluating a hand or choosing a seat, the most important factors are judging your hand, your skills, your position, your image compared to your opponents'. Put simply, you need an edge.

It isn't enough to play marginally better than the other donks at your table. When you're sitting at a table full of formulaic Internet players, it doesn't matter too much if you can make a move at a pot every hour or two. Among moderately competent opposition, profits will tend to be smaller because their leaks aren't as obvious.

No, you don't want to be at tables like that.

Most of the money doesn't come from tight, average players. The money comes from the maniacs, the crazies, the calling stations, the limpers, the chronic folders, the fish who can't ever lay down QQ or the monkey who never raises his Aces because he's afraid he won't get action.

Profits come from fools who rarely attempt to steal from the button, who let people in for cheap with minimum raises. They come from suicidal bluffs and hopeless crying calls. They come from weak players who raise preflop less than 5 percent of the time or call too many bets cold.

Winning at poker isn't a matter of outplaying everyone else at your table. Instead it's about finding the biggest idiot you can, sitting directly to his left and making high percentage plays such as consistent value bets.

Where does all this money come from? It isn't from being the best player at the table, nor from gambling above your bankroll at higher limits.

The easy money in poker is held by those most willing to give it away. Pick on them to be a winner.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Vegas: I miss it already

As usual, Vegas did not disappoint.

My trip got off to a rough start after I missed my plane flight out of Honolulu to Vegas. Even though I arrived at the Honolulu airport 50 minutes early, which is usually plenty of time, ATA airlines wouldn't let me on the freaking plane. They told me my only option was to try to fly standby on the same flight the next day, but that really wasn't much of a possibility in my mind. I had a tournament to catch.

After dealing with the idiots at ATA and getting some friendly advice from customer service at Hawaiian Airlines, I came up with a solution that involved a one-way ticket to L.A. followed by a commuter flight on Southwest Airlines to Vegas. It worked perfectly, but put me about $850 in the hole before I even arrived in the desert.

I got there about three hours before my WSOP event started, so it was all good.

After the WSOP event, I headed over to the Venetian to meet up with Fuel, Iakaris and Kuro to eat dinner at Tao. It was good, and I was ready to sleep afterward.

I won't go into every detail of the trip, but here are some highlights:

_ Mixed games with the bloggers were awesome! The first mixed game was 3/6 H.O.R.S.E. at the MGM, which was a lot of fun. Players in the game included Faltstaff, Metsfan, MeanHappyGuy, Gadzooks, Columbo and a few others that I'm a little vague on. I blame the alcohol.

Then we got an even crazier mixed game going Sunday night at the Imperial Palace. I have to give them a lot of credit -- they let us play any game we wanted. So we decided on razz, triple draw, stud8, five-card draw, badugi, Omaha8 and whatever else we could think of. We also used a rock (which plays as a mandatory live straddle UTG) and screwed around.

_ The cash games were OK, but not as juicy as I remembered. Maybe it was because of all the players in town for the WSOP, maybe it was an effect of the uncapped buy-ins at most 2/5 games, or maybe fish (god forbid) are learning how to play. That's not to say the games weren't good; it's just that it seemed like the proportion of fish was smaller than I remembered.

I was struck by how many of the live players seemed to personify the avatars I see at online sites. These are the real faces of the players I compete against nightly on the Internet.

There's the crazy European who doesn't play optimally but has a method to his madness. There's the fat L.A. asshole who thinks every pot is a dick-swinging contest. There's the old guy who limp-calls with JJ UTG and busts me when he flops a set. There's the sunglasses dude who thinks he can outplay anyone postflop after straddling from late position.

It's good to put faces with avatars.

_ Table games were fun. I learned how to play Pai Gow Poker, which isn't exactly a game of skill but it served its purpose as a way to drink, play and pass the time. I also won a little bit on roulette by doubling my bets every spin I lost until I came out ahead. I started at $25 and never had to bet more than $100. I bet on black every time, and I walked away a $100 winner after a few minutes.

House games are ridiculous, unprofitable entertainment. They're a silly way to spend money, but I guess that didn't stop me.

_ Live play is good for the soul. During these slower paced games, I got to thinking about where my profits come from, which is the topic for another day.

Vegas didn't let me down. It's always the same strange, dirty, exciting, neon-filled city I remember. And a big part of Vegas' charm comes from the old friends I got to hang out with and the new ones I met for the first time. I hope to see everyone there again in December!

Here are links to other bloggers I met who weren't previously mentioned in this post. Check them out:

Grubby and Grubette
Dr. Pauly
Iron Girl
Weak Player
Bad Blood

Saturday, June 09, 2007

WSOP: Building a stack and dropping like flies

This is a good beat story:

I raised with KJs from middle position, and only the big blind called. The flop came J88. The big blind checked, and I saw no reason to think he had an eight or a higher J, so I fired a continuation bet. The big blind called.

The turn brought a King, giving me top two pair. The big blind checked again, and I didn't think he would have played trip eights like that. Many players would, but my read on the blind was that he didn't have an eight.

So I bet.

Of course, this is when the big blind check-raised me all in for a couple of thousand more chips. I had him covered and would be down to about 2,000 chips if I called and lost. Even though it seemed obvious he had the eight, I didn't believe it. I called.

He turned over JJ, for a flopped full house!

A quick King on the river made me a better full house to bust him, and my stack soared to 18,000 chips!

I had accomplished my initial goal -- I had six times my original 3,000 chip buy-in, and I was now in a position to use my big stack to make some real progress. I could play poker, rather than wait for the blinds to force me into push-or-fold situations.

Before that big hand, I had built up to about 10,000 chips through several hands. My AA held up against QJ that flopped an open-ended straight draw and missed on the turn and river after we got it in on a KTx flop. I also won a smaller pot by busting a short stack with TT that made a set vs. AK.

At some point, my stack had dwindled to around 2,500 chips when I called a limper from the small blind with T7o. The flop came 98x, and it got checked around. The turn brought a 6 to complete my straight. I checked it to the first player, who bet. The button raised, and I re-raised all in with the nuts. They both called. The both showed two pair that got there on the turn -- one with 86, and another with 6x (I don't remember what the other card was). That was nice.

The starting field of around 1,450 players dropped off very quickly. By the 150/300/25 level, there were fewer than 400 players left. The top 126 paid.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get much going. I got a short stack all in three times, and he won each of those hands. In the final one, I had a set of 8s against his rivered straight. I still had about 11,000 chips left though.

I wasn't getting any cards at all, and I went into steal mode. I knew my stack wouldn't stay at a reasonable level by just folding around until I was back in short-stacked territory. I don't think the general idea of stealing a lot was bad, but perhaps I grew a bit impatient.

Any time I raised, the big-stacked blinds would call. The flop always missed me horribly, usually with crappy coordinated low cards that I felt I would have a hard time bluffing, since the blinds had demonstrated a willingness to call a flop bet and try to steal on the turn. That would have been OK if I ever made at least a pair. Instead, I found myself repeatedly check-folding.

Eventually, I was the short stack at the table and had to push. My first push with something like K8s got everyone to fold. But it didn't take long for me to get desperate again. I open raised all-in with A5o from the cutoff, and one of the blinds had QQ. That was the end of my WSOP, somewhere between 300th and 400th place.

I played well early, but I think I tried to make too many moves in the mid-game with no cards to back them up. I'm left with the feeling that I spewed away my stack, although the alternative was to have it blinded away. Congrats to hoyazo for his cash and 107th place finish!

I had a fun time in my first WSOP. Now I'm going back to my comfort zone at the cash tables. They look very profitable.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Shuffle up and deal!

Cards are about to fly. They say the event is sold out with about 2000 players.

My starting table looks decent. This is awesome.

The chess master on the plane ride over said he had a good feeling about my chances. I think he's right.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Counting the minutes

It's a funny picture. Full thread.


I'm so ready for Vegas. I feel like I can't lose.

If I bust out of WSOP Event No. 12 early, I'll feel terrible for a little while, but then I'll have more time to chill out and play cash games.

If I go farther, I'll at least have accomplished something.

If I win, I don't know what I'll do! I'm sure I'll manage.

It'll be a really fun event. Shorthanded games are pretty rare in casinos, and I'll have an edge because of all my online practice.

Aggression will be very important because the blinds will come around so fast. I'm OK with that. I wouldn't mind winding up at a table of tight players who I can run over early. But a table of LAGs would suit me fine too because it would give me more opportunities to double. Whatever.

If I wind up at the same table as this guy, I'll have to be sure to bust him so I can add to my small collection of pros I've stacked.

I was also reading about Brian Townsend's heads-up PLO match with Sammy Farha in Bobby's Room. It sounds like one hell of a match. I know PLO is Farha's game, but I still wouldn't want to be in his place.

OK ... Eight hours of work to go, and then I'll be on the redeye to Vegas!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

WSOP, that's where I want to be

Finally, my first World Series of Poker approaches.

I have three impatient days of work before I fly out Wednesday night and arrive in Vegas on Thursday morning. WSOP Event No. 12, $1,500 shorthanded NL, will begin about five hours later.

I'm ready to go. I want to win. I'm going to play strong poker.

All I need is a plan.

Because the blinds will increase fairly quickly, I'm going to look for opportunities to double up before the tournament turns into a pushfest. Sure, everyone is going to want to double. But perhaps I'll have a better chance of doing so if I have go in with a specific strategy.

Here's my idea:

Even though we'll start with 3,000 chips, those stacks aren't deep enough to last far beyond the second or third hour (blinds double every hour, from 25/50 to 50/100 to 100/200). I'll have to be aggressive if I want to build up.

But how can I be aggressive without risking a high percentage of my stack preflop on hands that might not turn out to be good once the flop comes?

I'm considering mixing up my play a good deal. With strongish hands like AK, AQ and middle pocket pairs, I'll be more likely to smooth call raises preflop and try to outplay my opponents postflop. With stronger and weaker hands, I'll be more inclined to raise preflop.

After the flop, I'm going to be a bit more cautious with my continuation bets. I'll make continuation bets less often than usual because I want to only use them when they have a high chance of succeeding. I don't think I can afford to throw chips at every pot just in hopes of buying it with nothing.

Especially with drawing hands in position, I see no reason not to apply pressure with semibluffs in order to elicit folds or to hit on later streets.

Overall, I'm going to concentrate on postflop play and operate under the assumption that many of my opponents are familiar with push-or-fold tactics frequently seen in the midgame of online turbo sit-n-gos.

If my opponents think they'll be able to play tight for the first two blind levels and then go into push mode once the blinds reach 100/200, they'll be giving up some chips to me early on. Then, when they start to get desperate, hopefully I won't be because I will have accumulated a larger stack already.

That said, I'm well aware that I can't force good things to happen without some quality starting hands and a little luck. But perhaps this strategy will put me in a better position to go beyond the third hour.

Let me know if these ideas sound stupid, and wish me luck! See you in Vegas.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Screw you, May

Well, May sucked. I'm glad it's over. I lost about $12,000, but at least it wasn't worse.

I've been looking through my hand histories to figure out how I can improve. Am I playing poorly, or should I expect to have losing months on a more regular basis than previously?

These hand histories are pretty sick. Those two hands -- my biggest pots of the month -- against Perfect Donkey represented a nearly $20,000 swing. If I had won even one of those two hands, that's a $10,000 swing. My feelings about that game haven't changed. I would play it the same way if I had to do it over again.

My next biggest loss came when someone called my all-in with a naked flush draw and hit. After that came my failed bluff into a set with AK. Then I ran two pair into a set when I was tilting, ran top pair into a set, semibluffed all-in vs. a turned flush and didn't make it on the river, pushed two pair into a turned gutshot straight and lost an all-in confrontation between my flush draw against my opponent's straight draw.

If there's any common theme, it's that bad beats perpetuated themselves by putting me into a desperate mindset. I pushed so hard to try to take down pots that I dug myself into a deeper hole.

The interesting thing to me is that there weren't many absolutes in any of these hands. Given the circumstances, my reads and the board texture, most of these plays can be justified. These losing plays weren't necessarily wrong, but some of them weren't optimal.

My biggest leak doesn't show up in the hand histories. That leak is that I often played while my judgment was impaired by tilt, alcohol or pride.

This is a game of small edges, and my advantage goes way up when I'm playing with a clear head. I'll work on that.

I feel good though. I won about $3,000 tonight, and I cheered myself up earlier by reveling in others' pain over at the Beats, Brags and Variance forum on 2+2.

Up next: Vegas baby!