Friday, July 27, 2007


I've been reading a good bit about this poker bot that two pros, including Phil Laak, managed to beat. Here's an article from The New York Times and a thread on 2+2. Also check out the Slashdot link, which is hilarious because of some of the ignorant comments.

If anything, this bot makes me worry less about computers taking over poker. Why? Because this bot didn't win, even though it was playing a form of poker that should be easiest for programmers to master, heads-up limit hold 'em.

In heads-up limit games, the decision tree seems to be limited, and the absence of multiway pots removes some of the complexity brought on by several new, unknown variables. I feel better about the chances that I'm up against bots online if this one, supposedly one of the best in the world, couldn't even win in a relatively simple heads-up match.

Now, I'm not saying this bot sucks at poker. This one went against solid players who were able to achieve a decent winrate over a small sample size. I'm guessing this bot could probably do well in lower-stakes heads-up limit games.

But that's a long way from the dire imagined future of an online poker world filled with tables populated by machines rather than humans.

Look, chess and checkers have pretty much been mastered by computers, in large part because those are games of absolute information, where there are no unknowns. All the pieces are on the table, and the computer can figure out with a high degree of accuracy the best move based on many future outcomes. Unlike poker, there are no hidden cards, nor is there such a thing as bluffing. I can understand how these concepts might be more difficult for computers to understand.

Bots are a problem, and they'll only get better as time goes on.

But we don't seem close to a point in time where bots can outsmart thinking players in 6-max no limit games. I just don't see it right now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How not to win

In a sick kind of way, I like reading 88 % Concentration, but we all know how this is going to end.

I don't care how good you are at poker. You simply CANNOT win in the long run unless you pay attention to bankroll management.

Apparently no one can get through to this blogger, Ed Hollis, that his strategy of buying in to the high-stakes games with most of his bankroll won't work. Even the best players in the world have some crazy swings, and that means that Hollis will continue to repeatedly go busto, over and over and over again.

You can't start out the day at 2£/5£, run up your buy-in until you can play 40/80 or higher, and then expect to survive by repeatedly doubling up. Sometimes you're going to lose, and there's no way around that. The only way to weather bad beats and inevitable mistakes is to have a cushion of money to fall back on. Without a bankroll, you're doomed to build up and bust until you have nothing left.

Hollis should stop insisting that he's not content to play anything but high limits. At this rate, he soon won't even be able to afford the lower limits.

One more note: To commenters on his blog who encourage him, you're not doing anyone any favors. It's not good for the poker economy to lose players. Unless he steps down in limits, Hollis won't be around for long.

Edit: Looks like he lost the rest of his money. I hope he takes some time off.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Beating up on calling stations

You have to love calling stations, those loose-passive donators who will pay off every made hand. Calling stations put the most money in with the worst of it, and that's where the profits come from.

But calling stations suck out. They make deceptive (and sometimes insane) plays, sometimes simply because they don't know any better. Some are clueless guppies. Others are maniac gamblers, drunks or shortstackers.

Calling stations are profitable, but they aren't always easy to play against.

I think it took me a long time to learn not to bluff them.

Stations will pay off value bets at a higher frequency than other types of players, but should I push in on any flop that hits top pair? Should I fire two or three bullets with Ace-high when I think there's a chance it might be good? Should I cold call from late position with suited connectors preflop, or raise? What if there are more players in the hand?

I'll write more about stations soon. Here's a hand example of how I believe it should work when I'm up against a someone who I know will pay me off.

The best line to use against a calling station when you have a hand is bet, bet, bet. In retrospect, I should have raised more on the flop. All-in overbets for value work great.

SB: Villain ($1,304)
BB: Hero ($2,137)
Dealt to Hero [3c, Qs]
4 folds
Villain calls $5
Hero checks.
*** Flop *** [3h, Qc, 7d]
Villain bets $10
Hero raises $30
Villain calls $20
*** Turn *** [6s]
Villain bets $90
Hero raises all in to $2,097 and is all-In.
Villain calls all-in for $1,174
Uncalled bet of $832 returned to Hero
*** River *** [Jh]
Villain shows [8s, 9d] high card Queen.
Hero shows [3c, Qs] two pairs, Queens and Threes.
Hero wins $2,606 from the main pot with two pairs, Queens and Threes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tourneys are for donkeys

I'm glad to see that a Full Tilt guy, Jerry Yang, won the WSOP Main Event. I don't know much about Yang, but I'm happy that PokerStars' relative monopoly on player sponsorships has been put to an end.

Jamie Gold wasn't a PokerStars guy, but the previous three champs -- Joseph Hachem, Greg Raymer and Chris Moneymaker -- were. It's good for the game to spread the love around. And I have a personal interest because PokerStars hates me. Go Full Tilt!

Speaking of Full Tilt, they're about to start their FTOPS V. It seems so soon since the last one, but that's OK with me. It's a fun series of tourneys that generate big prize pools and get people excited about poker.

How many times have I bitched and complained about damn donkaments that are big lotteries anyway? How much money have I wasted on tourneys that could have been saved and invested in far more profitable cash games? Even the tourney specialists out there know that you need to run good to win multi-table tourneys, and they might have to wait months or years between big scores.

Whatever though. Count me in for the FTOPS! I figure I've got as good a shot as most anyone else, and I have a hard time not taking a chance at a big score every once in a while. I mean, I'm confident I'll get to high bankroll numbers eventually in cash games, but one major tourney win would get me there a lot faster. I try not to play many tourneys because they're mostly a black hole for my money, but I can't deny the allure of giving them a go every now and then. It's good for the poker economy, at least.

I don't know how many events I'll be able to participate in because of work schedules and time zone differences, but that's perfectly OK with me. The main thing is I want to play in one of the big NL events, either the $2 million guaranteed main event or the $600,000 guaranteed two-day event.

I'll be trying to follow the tourney advice in some memorable blog posts, which I will link to here for all future reference:

Sixty Minutes
How to Beat Large Field, Low Buy-In Tournaments
Stealing & Restealing Late in Tournaments

Good luck to all the donks playing in the FTOPS! For anyone playing, IM me about swapping deals if you see my name (smizmiatch) in the lobby.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Attitude Adjustment

I don't want to jinx myself, but I've gotten back on track recently results-wise. I haven't had any big days, but I've been making incremental progress, which is how poker usually goes anyway.

The only crappy thing is that I've fallen far short of all my goals so far for this year. I wanted to get my bankroll over $100,000 and I wanted to be a regular at the $10/$20 games. Instead, my bankroll is still sufficient for $5/$10 but far from where I wanted it to be.

For now, I've had to forget about my goals, at least for the short term. I may take shots at some of the looser $10/$20 games again after I win another 10 buy-ins or so. And you know, there's still a lot of time left this year. So who knows.

There are many possible reasons for my downswing, which lasted about six weeks in May and June: tilt, taxes, poor play, wrongheaded reasoning, bad luck, burnout.

One reason that I hadn't considered until recently was that I couldn't handle winning very well. I had a hard time accepting that I was that much better than my opponents, and I started telling myself that I was getting lucky. To some extent, that was true.

I also got caught up in the big dollar figures. There would be times when I had close to $10,000 in play across four tables, which is a bit surreal. That's big cash to be tooling around with, and I didn't have the confidence or experience to consistently manage it.

So at the same time as I was starstruck with all this money flowing my way, I was sure it would start disappearing because I convinced myself I was out of my league. It's totally stupid reasoning, because I know now I can hang with most of the players at that level, but it was a psychological barrier that turned into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I had an attitude problem, and it was only a matter of time before it affected my play. In the future, I'll try to be better about accepting responsibility for my wins and losses rather than dismissing them because I was either running good or suffering beats. When I win, I'm going to try to embrace it without getting cocky or letting myself get overwhelmed.

In the meantime, I'm happy to be back concentrating on $5/$10, a game I know I can consistently beat for decent money. Poker is such a long-term game, and there's no point in getting ahead of myself. Hell, it's as likely as anything that my bad run was just another 10,000 or 20,000-hand swing that's bound to happen to all of us. The long run is very long, so I'm just going to keep playing my best on every street.

I'm pretty comfortable here ... for now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Statistically Insignificant

This thread and video are pretty funny: Weed Brownies + 200/400 NL = ??????

Here's a crazy hand:

Five players limped to me in the small blind, and I called with 95 of spades. The big blind raises to $60. Three players in front of me call, so I decide to come along too.

The flop was As 7h 8s, giving me a flush draw and a gutshot straight draw. I liked my odds, and I decided to play this large pot aggressively. There was already more than $300 in the pot.

Surprisingly, the initial raiser in the big blind checked it, as did everyone else except the button. He bet out $100. I check-raised him to $300, hoping to take it down. Unfortunately, a middle position player called and the button called.

The turn brought the 7s, making my flush but also pairing the board. There was more than $1,200 in the pot, I made my hand, and I had $600 left. I pushed all in, and I think I'm OK with it.

On one hand, against two callers of my $300 check-raise, I have to wonder what they were calling with. When the 7 pairs the board, I have to be worried.

But wouldn't a set have raised all in on the flop? And wouldn't many flush draws have folded?

I decided I couldn't just lay down my hand, especially since my pot odds would have been about 3:1 if I had checked and someone else had pushed. So I made the big bet myself.

Unfortunately, both players called, and I knew I was in trouble.

The middle position player had KT of spades for the higher flush. The button _ who had limped, cold-called a raise preflop, called a flop check-raise and called a turn all-in _ had KK on an Ace-high board. The flush took down the pot worth more than $3,000.

My play on every street is debatable, but I feel good about it. The gravitation of the big pot lured me in, and it would have been difficult to escape after having made my flush on the turn. Really, my flop check-raise should have taken it down. Anyone see this hand differently?

Thursday, July 12, 2007


When World Sports Exchange announced it would offer rakefree poker, I thought it would be a dream come true. Who could argue with a site that would refund all of your rake paid at the end of every week? It would be like driving around and never paying for gas.

At the time WSEX's rakefree promotion started, I was paying close to $2,000 a month in rake while averaging about $1,500 a month in profits. I thought if I could save even half of that rake paid, I'd see a sharp increase in my bottom line.

It didn't work. And there's one big reason: WSEX's games were pretty much unbeatable. They were filled with 2+2ers and rocks. There were almost no fish in the games I was playing, and I couldn't even break even.

Fish don't care about rake. They want to play where their friends play. They want to play multitable tournaments and sit-n-gos. They want to be able to hop into the first available seat they can find at the limit they play.

WSEX offered none of these things. Its business model was to use its rakefree poker site to attract players to its sportsbook, and I would have been happy to place some bets with them if I could have won in poker. But by becoming rakefree without an existing player base, WSEX did everything to get good players in the games and nothing for the recreational gambler.

To some extent, we get what we pay for in rake. Rake pays for marketing, promotions, store items, better software, PokerTracker support, customer service and a degree of security for our money. Without rake, the site has little incentive to do anything for the players except provide them with chips and a chair.

After a little over a year of its rakefree experiment, WSEX has scaled back to 75 percent rakeback, which is still pretty nice. But the promise of free poker will remain unrealized unless a site can generate traffic. Last time I checked, the games at that place were dead.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What if you started online poker with a bunch of beats?

Some follow-up thoughts to my last post:

My point was that an overpair with a flush draw on a coordinated, single-suited flop is often a dog heads-up against an opponent who pushes all in on the flop. I didn't mean to suggest that the overpair is always behind, but it does tend to trail the range of possible hands.

This is when hand reading, pot odds and table image become important. Many times, a call will be the correct move. But in the two hand histories I posted, I think it was fairly clear that I should have folded. The pots weren't exceedingly large and the hand ranges of my opponents were pretty narrow.


I should be posting more often, but it gets hard to write about poker when good cards seem so evasive. I've been winning one day and losing the next, which has put me close to even over the last few weeks. I can't get much action, sets don't hold up, double-ups seem to be canceled out by beats, blah, blah, blah.

I'll say this: the games are good, and I'm playing well. Results will come.

I'm reminded of a topic that Kuro and I used to talk about a couple of years ago.

We were both primarily limit hold 'em players at the time, and we were discussing when to move up and how much bankroll is needed to support each limit. The accepted wisdom at the time was that 300 big bets were required, but I've now come to believe that 500 bets should be the minimum. The reasoning for having 300 bets is that it would minimize your risk of ruin because deep downswings are not only possible, but they're actually likely in the long run.

Anyway, the question in our conversation was: "What if a new online player started their poker career on a 300 bet downswing?"

Surely there are many players out there with a lot of potential who just get crushed when they start playing, even at the low limits. They may know poker from live games but can't seem to beat internet poker because they didn't anticipate the long-term swings of the game.

Most players who start on a 300 bet downswing would simply stop playing after coming to the conclusion that they're not good enough to beat the online game. They may never realize their potential because they aren't prepared to accept that results only accurately mirror skill over tens of thousands of hands.

As Mike Caro says, the goal of poker isn't to win money. The goal of poker is to make correct decisions. If you keep making the right choices, the profits will follow in the long run. Unfortunately, the long run can be a long time coming.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Overpairs on monochrome boards

Here's the problem: You have AA or KK and raise in late position. The big blind calls. The flop comes down single suited, like 3c 6c 8c, and you have the Kc for the second nut flush draw. You bet, and the blind check-raises you all in. What's your move?

OK, maybe this is obvious. You need to fold because you're a dog in most situations, even though it's tempting to call with a big overpair and a redraw.

Against a flopped flush, you're essentially dominated because your redraw to the higher flush has only 7 outs. Against a strong draw, like the nut flush draw or a combo straight and flush draw, the KK is still way behind your opponent's range.

equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 37.624% 37.62% 00.00% 7822 0.00 { KcKh }
Hand 1: 62.376% 62.38% 00.00% 12968 0.00
{88, 66, 33, QcJc, QcTc, JcTc, Tc9c, 9c7c, 7c4c, 5c4c, AcKd,
AcKh, AcKs, AcQd, AcQh, AcQs}

Even if you had a suited AA instead of KK, your odds only improve to about 40-60. So I think a fold is still appropriate in that situation against your opponent's range.

A few hands later, I played a similar hand the same way.

I raised a few limpers with AA from the button and got called by the big blind and an UTG limper. As in the last hand, I bet the monochrome flop, and the UTG player went all in.

Again, I was behind my opponent's range, which is much tighter this time after he limps UTG.

equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 39.766% 39.07% 00.69% 6189 110.00 { AdAs }
Hand 1: 60.234% 59.54% 00.69% 9431 110.00
{ 99, 8c8d, 8d8h, 8d8s, 77-66, KdQd, KdJd, QdJd, JdTd }

For what it's worth, I called with both of these hands even though I should have folded. I won the KK hand and lost the AA hand.

What can I say? I'm still fishy at times, but at least I'm learning something. And hey, I had outs!
pokenum -h jc tc - kc kh -- 8c 3c 6c
Holdem Hi: 990 enumerated boards containing 8c 6c 3c
cards win %win lose %lose tie %tie EV
Jc Tc 677 68.38 313 31.62 0 0.00 0.684
Kc Kh 313 31.62 677 68.38 0 0.00 0.316
pokenum -h ad as - 8d 8s -- 9d 6d 7d
Holdem Hi: 990 enumerated boards containing 9d 7d 6d
cards win %win lose %lose tie %tie EV
As Ad 647 65.35 331 33.43 12 1.21 0.660
8s 8d 331 33.43 647 65.35 12 1.21 0.340