Saturday, December 29, 2007


When I wanted to tilt someone attacking my play, I used to type "poker is easy" into the chat box. It gave the illusion that I didn't know what I was doing and I was just there to have a good time.

But there's also some truth to it. The games seem as beatable now as they've ever been, despite the UIGEA, the spread of poker knowledge and cries that the boom is over. As far as I can tell, the most significant difference in the online poker landscape is the consolidation trend within the industry discussed by BillRini.

Some people say the games are tougher, and maybe they are. But I don't see it, based on my experience playing hundreds of hands every day. It seems like the players per flop figures displayed in the Full Tilt lobby have never been higher.

Are the games really more difficult? Or is this a case of weaker players faulting external events for their shortcomings rather than taking personal responsibility for improving their own games?

Perhaps it's both: the games are tougher, but the strong players adapt and thrive.

"(Dan) Harrington says he returned to the felt only after he started watching poker on TV in 2003. 'I said, I remember how to play that no-limit hold'em, and I know how to play it better than they know how to play it,' he recalled. 'That's what got me out of retirement and got me playing again,'" according to a CardPlayer interview.

Taylor Caby also has seen players try to take advantage of him after he spends time away from the tables. He says in a video that opponents attempt moves on him, but he simply adjusts his strategy to counter them.

There's little doubt these guys and plenty more like them are doing just fine.

For me, the fear of tougher games held me back this year more than it should have. I lacked confidence, and I doubted whether I would still be able to kill the games once the effects of the UIGEA were felt at the tables.

I remember sitting in an airport all night long playing 2/4 games on PokerStars, just trying to grind out a profit without thinking about it. I spewed a lot of money trying to rebuild my roll on Full Tilt on autopilot. I chased bonuses instead of profits. I focused on attaining goals rather than figuring out how to reach them.

Even when I ran white hot in fall 2006, I didn't feel like I was doing anything special to deserve this kind of success.

It's time for me to acknowledge my poker competence as a necessary step toward continued improvement.

Do the fish still donate their stacks? Are the games still good? Is the poker boom going strong? Yes, yes and yes.

But my victories aren't due to circumstances. I'm not going to "blame" poker society for giving me a free ride toward earning these profits. I'm a solid player who can beat most any game I play in, and my results directly reflect the effort I've put into my improvement.

Poker is easy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Poker Boom Stats

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was signed into law Oct. 13, 2006.

Peak cash players at U.S.-facing sites on Oct. 7, 2006 (from It's Always an Off Deuce and billrini):

Party Poker: 10263
Poker Stars: 8128
iPoker: 5927
Ongame: 4804
Microgaming: 3561
Full Tilt Poker: 3334
Paradise: 2917
Crypto: 2286
UB: 2013
Pacific: 1992
Bodog: 1763
IPN: 1707
Absolute: 1241
World Poker Exchange: 635

Total: 50,571

Peak cash players at U.S.-facing sites on Dec. 27, 2007 (from

PokerStars: 20386
Full Tilt Poker: 8605
UB: 2986
Absolute: 2287
Bodog: 2013
Microgaming: 1861
Cake: 1319
Merge Gaming: 472
World Poker Exchange: 134

Total: 40,063

Total including sites listed above that have since closed to U.S. players (Party Poker, iPoker, Ongame, Microgaming, Crypto, Pacific, IPN): 73,089

Comparison of peak cash players on current top three sites (PokerStars, Full Tilt and Party Poker) before UIGEA and today:

Oct. 7, 2006: 21,725
Dec. 27, 2007: 38,435

Note: Paradise Poker joined IPN (Boss Media) in February.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

so sick for a donkey to be that bad

If you say so, dude. I thought I played it in the only way I'd get paid off in full.

2/4 NL
smizmiatch posts the small blind of $2
BB posts the big blind of $4
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to smizmiatch [Qd 9d]
1 fold
TakeUrCheese raises to $16
Button calls $16
smizmiatch calls $14
BB folds
*** FLOP *** [9s 9h 3d]
smizmiatch checks
TakeUrCheese has 15 seconds left to act
TakeUrCheese bets $42
Button folds
smizmiatch has 15 seconds left to act
smizmiatch calls $42
*** TURN *** [9s 9h 3d] [9c]
smizmiatch checks
TakeUrCheese has 15 seconds left to act
TakeUrCheese bets $70
smizmiatch has 15 seconds left to act
smizmiatch calls $70
*** RIVER *** [9s 9h 3d 9c] [3h]
smizmiatch has 15 seconds left to act
smizmiatch bets $313, and is all in
TakeUrCheese calls $313
*** SHOW DOWN ***
smizmiatch shows [Qd 9d] four of a kind, Nines
TakeUrCheese: sooooooooo sick
TakeUrCheese mucks
smizmiatch wins the pot ($899) with four of a kind, Nines
Seat 3: TakeUrCheese mucked [Jc Jd] - a full house, Nines full of Jacks
TakeUrCheese: so sick for a donkey to be that bad

Sunday, December 23, 2007

More Heads-up Basics

The quest to improve my heads-up game is slowly progressing, as I continue to make mistakes and learn from them. I've been watching videos, reading forums and practicing as I try to get better.

I wanted to write down a few points about better heads-up play while they're still fresh and I won't forget them.

Above all, it's important to remember that heads-up poker is still poker, and the same guidelines apply despite the necessary additional aggression. Solid play beats fishy play every time. Analysis and logic trumps formulaic play. Observation is essential.

I jotted down a few simple phrases on my laptop's notepad so I won't forget them as I play:

Take your time -- The pace of heads-up games is faster than other forms of poker because you see and play many more hands per hour. Smart opponents will take advantage of you if you fall into a pattern.

Read hands -- People often ask, "How do you accurately narrow hand ranges down so you can figure out how to play correctly?" That's an important question; unfortunately, it's also difficult to answer. A better approach is to attempt to make reads every time rather than fear the unknown. In my experience, there's no secret about how to make accurate reads. It's more a matter of using deductive reasoning to go step-by-step through an opponent's likely holdings, consider which of those cards are most probable, and decide on the best action given what you think you know.

Use pot control -- Strong opponents make frequent bets with a wide range of hands. There's nothing wrong with calling down a weak top pair or middle pair, or folding in a small pot when a scare card comes. Trying to take a stand at the wrong time with few outs has cost me a lot of money. Instead, it's often less costly to give a free card than to raise for information.

I'm still getting used to assigning values to various hands relative to the board. All hands go up in value compared to shorthanded or full-ring games, meaning there are times when top pair is a good hand to go broke with or slowplay. I'm not used to slowplaying top pair, but it becomes a powerful hand against a wide range.

I'm also working on my continuation bet frequency. Different opponents show varying responses, from frequent check-raises to folds to cold calls. I've run into people who will drain my stack by calling my bets down with bottom pair, while against others I've been able to catch their bluff-raises. I want to keep making strong continuation bets, but I've spewed a lot of money away when I keep making them but never seem to get any folds. The key is to play the player and adjust appropriately for the circumstances at hand.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Picking on Ed Miller

I hope Ed Miller and his co-authors can consider themselves a success based on the amount of discussion and criticism they generate, because I can't resist pointing out their flaws.

Here's another passage from "Professional No-Limit Hold 'em" that didn't seem right to me:
Many players think experts win because they make these tough decisions well. They miss the point. Good players plan ahead to avoid tough decisions, and so should you.
It would be nice if poker were so easy to play that players could simply avoid all tough decisions by planning better. But that simply isn't the case.

Yes, it's true that avoiding tough decisions by planning your hands can help improve your game. But money isn't made by dodging difficult situations. Profits come from making correct decisions, whether they're simple or complicated. If you avoid all tricky circumstances, you'll forgo countless dollars that could be made when you have an edge.

Money is made by capitalizing on good values when you see them -- not by shying away from hands because they might be too hard to play. Solid poker players evaluate the circumstances and take the best action they can to maximize earnings.

Sacrificing EV to minimize risk makes little sense to me.

Here's another link to a post critical of the authors' claims about the benefits of buying in short: The availability error and short stack strategy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Expanding games

Wow, the 3/6 and 2/4 NL games on Full Tilt have been incredibly loose over the last few weeks.

I can't explain it. Maybe it's the holiday season, the cold weather keeping people inside or the ease of making deposits. Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining. I've said this many times before: anyone who tells you the online games are filled with rocks is wrong or lying.

Now is the time to play and make the most of this opportunity. I know the games won't be this good forever.

On a separate topic, I'm impressed with a CardRunners video by CTS that I watched last night. In the vid, he plays three guys in heads-up 5/10 NL games and just demolishes them for 3.5 buy-ins over 225 hands. Sure, he runs pretty good. But he also makes ballsy plays based on reads and experience that are almost always correct.

I like the math he uses to find that a bluff he makes with an open-ended straight draw into a large pot needs to only be successful 17 percent of the time to show a profit:

What really stood out to me was his commentary on the importance of learning to play heads-up. It reminded me a lot of when I heard similar suggestions years ago about switching from full ring to shorthanded games. I struggled with 6-max games for a long time, but now they're my most consistent moneymakers.

The skills acquired from playing shorthanded directly result in higher profits, better hourly winrates and practice playing in tough situations.

I've had mixed results in heads-up cash games and backed off them entirely since I lost several buy-ins last month. I now realize I was playing too tightly preflop and I failed to properly identify and respond to my opponents weaknesses. Most actions can be countered by varying your play appropriately. I need to improve HU to bring my game to where it needs to be.

Specifically, I want to learn more about narrowing my opponents' hand ranges, correctly playing middling hands that gain value in HU situations and effectively increasing my bluffing frequency. I'm excited about the challenge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vegas never fails

Vegas rules, as always. It says something about the city that it's still a blast even when I can't seem to win anything.

The weekend was the usual whirlwind of late nights, cards, donks, Brits in town for the Hatton-Mayweather fight and cowboys ready for the annual rodeo. And of course about 100 bloggers from across the world.

"Next year, I should wear a cowboy hat," Kuro said as we got to the airport Monday morning to leave Vegas. I think it's a great idea -- bloggers could blend right in with these fishy cowboys and help relieve them of their money. It would be hilarious.

During a weekend where I couldn't win on my own, I relied on others to help mitigate my losses.

Some quick hits:

_ Kuro took down 3rd place in the WPBT Winter Classic Tourney at the Venetian in an impressive display of solid play, keen instinct and an ability to stay out of trouble. He played a great tourney and put himself in position to win. He even got it in ahead on the last hand and had the eventual winner on the ropes at one point. I'm thankful I got a piece of his action!

_ The tourney was a fantastic structure in a great poker room. Thanks to Falstaff for organizing it, and I commend the Venetian for putting on a 9+ hour tourney and listening to our requests. It really shows that a quality poker room can put on an excellent tourney, unlike our horrible experience at the Orleans over the summer.

_ I was saved $220 for my share of a delicious dinner at Prime at Bellagio when Kuro, Fuel and myself high-carded for our $660 portion of the tab. As I recall, Fuel drew a Jack, I pulled a King and Kuro got stuck with the bill when he drew a 6.

RecessRampage, Schaubs, LJ and CC also attended the dinner, but they were too chicken to gamb00l for it. They were great company nonetheless, and I had a lot of fun getting to know them.

_ I ran like shit in casino games and at the poker tables. One hand in particular put me in a tight spot, and I'm not sure if I played it correctly.

It was getting late Friday night at the 2/5 ($500 max buy-in) table at the MGM when I was dealt Q9s in the CO. The game was very good, with about two terrible players and most of the rest your typical loose-passive tourists. Preflop raises never got any respect, so I had been playing tight but jacking it up big when I did come into a pot. My thinking was that I could capitalize on my tighter play by getting more money into the middle with hands that were ahead of my opponents' range.

So after a couple of limpers (I don't recall exactly how many), I raised it to $50 with my Q9 of hearts. A loose player cold called from the button, and one of the limpers or the blinds came along as well. There was $150+ in the pot preflop.

I hit very well on a flop of Ah 9c 3h, giving me middle pair and the nut flush draw. I decided to bet as much as I could while I knew I was likely to be at least tied with almost any hand out there, so I bet $150 when it was checked around to me. That bet committed me to the pot, which is what I wanted to happen. The button called again, and the limper folded.

With about $450 in the pot and $300 left in my stack, I decided to push the turn no matter what card fell. I believed I was so far ahead of my opponent's range that I could feel comfortable with getting it all in.

The turn was the Ace of spades -- one of the worst cards I could see. But having no evidence that the button had an Ace, I followed through with my plan and pushed all in. He thought for a few seconds before calling with AJ, and the non-heart Queen on the river did me no good.

If I made a mistake in this hand, it was raising it too big preflop. I got myself committed on the flop when otherwise I could have saved some money with a smaller preflop raise. I don't know though. It leaves a bad taste.

_ Bloggers are the best. I had an awesome time chatting, drinking and playing poker with all of you. I also enjoyed the meals, toasts at the MGM, Dutch Boyd sightings in the mixed game and bowling with metsfan, April, penneriii, shane, biggestron and Kuro.

Hope to see you in the summer!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Presto not so gold when all-in preflop

Woh, AK really was ahead of his range.

FullTiltPoker Table Promenade (6 max) - $2/$4
Seat 2: RunItTrim ($447.80)
Seat 3: smizmiatch ($423)
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to smizmiatch [Kh Ah]
2 folds
RunItTrim raises to $14 from CO
smizmiatch raises to $48 from Button
2 folds
RunItTrim raises to $160
smizmiatch raises to $423, and is all in
RunItTrim calls $263
smizmiatch shows [Kh Ah]
RunItTrim shows [5d 5s]
*** FLOP *** [As Kc 7s]
*** TURN *** [As Kc 7s] [Kd]
*** RIVER *** [As Kc 7s Kd] [Qd]
smizmiatch shows a full house, Kings full of Aces
RunItTrim shows two pair, Kings and Fives
smizmiatch wins the pot ($849) with a full house, Kings full of Aces

I had a hunch he was possibly 4-betting light. A note showed he had made a several 3-bets, and his 4-bet in this hand struck me as a strange amount. The 3.3 X raise felt awkward because it was less than pot-sized but more than a normal 3 X raise.

I like shoving AK in sometimes, but I don't feel confident about it unless I have a reason to believe my hand is live or if I'm against squeeze-happy players.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Relative position

It really irks me when I see bad advice passed off as the truth, especially when it comes from a so-called "Noted Poker Authority." I'll comment on an excerpt from the pretentiously titled of "Professional No-Limit Hold 'Em: Volume One." Volume two hasn't been written yet.
Relative position means being to the right of the likely bettor, so you get to see how everyone else responds before you act. Sometimes having relative position can be more useful than having absolute position. For instance:

A player in a 9-handed $1-$2 game with a $100 capped buy-in has been going all-in every other hand for the last 20 hands. No one is standing up to him without a premium hand. He now has $268. You are first on the list to get into the game, and you will buy in for $100. You decide you should call the frequent all-in player for all your chips with ace-ten or better, and any pair of sixes or better. Two seats open up, one on his immediate right and the other on his immediate left. Which seat do you take?

Consider your worst all-in hand, ace-ten offsuit. If you sit to this person's immediate left and call all-in, any of the other players could play as well. If one of them has AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ, or AJ, you take the worst of it. However, if you sit to the immediate right of the slider, you see what everyone else does before you commit. You can limp with ace-ten offsuit, then get all-in if no one else calls him. If instead someone plays, you can fold.

With relative position, you will often get to check to the likely bettor, then see how every other opponent reacts before committing your chips. That is why, contrary to conventional wisdom, it can sometimes be better to be on the right of a very aggressive player. Most of the time, however, absolute position is more important than relative position.
First of all, relative position does not mean being to the right of the likely bettor. Relative position is your position in relation to the preflop raiser. Whether you would rather have a relative position to the right or left of the likely bettor is debatable. I would prefer to be to the left of the likely bettor in most situations.

Then the book gives a contrived example of a situation in which it would be better to be sitting to the right of the likely bettor. The argument is that you can limp or check to the raiser to see how he and the remaining players act before deciding how to proceed with your hand. Presumably, you would check-raise with stronger hands and fold weaker hands.

This reasoning may work in the example, but how often are you going to be sitting to the right of a player who goes all in every hand? How often will you cold-call out of position preflop and then check when you hit your hand? How often will you make more money from a check-raise or a limp-raise than you would have made from playing your hand straightforwardly?

The example portrays a false reality that doesn't frequently occur in actual play. It's poor strategy to sacrifice absolute position, give up control of the hand and open yourself up to re-raises unless you have a premium hand. We all know how rarely the combination of being dealt a premium hand, getting action and having it hold up happens.

I would much rather be to the left of the maniac. I could frequently reraise him for isolation, bet for value when I hit my hand, bluff him with greater accuracy and get it all in with more information than I would have out of position. The exception comes in multiway pots where you gain more information by letting the maniac bet and waiting to see how others will react.

But most pots are contested heads-up, especially in games where there's lots of raising preflop. In heads-up hands, I want to control the action and pot size, which is much more easily accomplished from the maniac's left.

Limping and checking is usually weak poker. While there are extreme circumstances where a maniac is so aggressive and predictable that you want him to your left, those scenarios are rare.