Thursday, January 31, 2008

Specialty Tools

It's easy to get away with limiting your arsenal to its strengths in very beatable games.

Small leaks like folding the blinds too often, check-folding too much and a failure to change gears don't cost very much when you can get a lot of value from your strong hands. Of course, big leaks like playing out of position frequently, cold calling too many raises and playing too many hands will cost you in any game regardless of the limit.

I've been using a few moves more often: check-raising instead of continuation betting on the flop, limp-raising, adjusting to constant preflop raisers and effectively using squeeze plays. Each of these moves is risky and can lead to Fancy Play Syndrome, but they add deception to your game against thinking players.

Check-raising instead of continuation betting on the flop: If your opponents always expect a continuation bet after you raise preflop, they'll be able to exploit you by floating, bluffing or reraising. Fortunately, these aggressive players are also the same kind of opponents who will usually bet when checked to. So instead of always continuation betting, a check-raise will put these donks back in line. It's safer to use the check-raise continuation bet when you actually have a made hand, but it's also pretty effective as a bluff.

A variation of this play works really well in 3-bet pots when out of position. For example, let's say the button raises, the small blind calls, you squeeze from the big blind and only the button calls. This puts about 30 BB in the pot preflop. If you have a solid hand on the flop, you may win some extra bets by choosing to check-raise all-in instead of making a continuation bet.

Limp-raising: I only like this play when you can cold call a previous player's raise and then 4-bet when you expect someone behind you to run a squeeze play. I much prefer limp-raising in a raised pot than open limp-raising, which is something I never do because I never open limp into any pot. It's most effective to use this move with AA, KK and AK in an aggressive game with lots of resteals.

RecessRampage posted an example of this play in Hand 2 of a recent post.

Adjusting to constant preflop raisers: This gets a bit more difficult because you need to know your opponents hand ranges well and be willing to gamble. If aggressive players with high PFR stats are always 3-betting you, you'll need to loosen your 4-betting standards.

By their nature, 4-bets can be expensive when made with less-than-premium hands, but there's just no other way to counter someone who constantly gets you to fold your open raises. Sometimes you can cold call/float your opponents' 3-bets, but out of position I believe that most of the time you want to make your move preflop. I'm still working on properly adjusting because I'm not entirely comfortable with investing so many bets with mediocre holdings.

Effectively using squeeze plays: Squeeze plays are a necessary defense against opponents who insist on raising their button and loose players who just want to see a flop. Unfortunately, squeeze plays are also one of my biggest leaks because they lead to large pots out of position with medium-strength hands. My interim solution is to use squeeze plays more sparingly in order to increase their success rates.

I unsure of what kind of qualities make a good squeezing hand though. I prefer to squeeze with suited connectors more than high cards (think KQ or AT) because they're well-disguised and unlikely to be dominated. On the other hand, squeezing with suited connectors cuts into their implied odds, which is never good. The other option is to just call from the big blind because of the generous odds you'll be getting of around 3:1.

Here's my ranking of squeeze-worthy hands:

JTs>76s>A3s>KQo. I'm not sure if this is correct though.


Here's an updated lineup of players who have said they'll likely play in the Ultimate Blogger Grudge Match:

The Poker Grind
RecessRampage (Probable)
Cmitch (Maybe)

Let Fuel or me know if you want to play! Or of course you could just sit in once the game starts Wednesday night.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ultimate Blogger Grudge Match

Put your money where your mouth is at the Ultimate Blogger Grudge Match, a full ring 4/8 NL deep-stack cash game on Full Tilt Poker.

The game will take place next Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 11:30 p.m. Eastern (8:30 p.m. Pacific), while the Mookie is still going.

This will be an exciting, fun, fast-paced cash game with real money on the line. The minimum buy-in is $800 with a $1,600 maximum. With nine players at the table, we could have a lot of money on the table once the game gets rocking.

We've all seen how poorly blonkeys play in tourneys. Now let's find out who can fight through the beats to become the cash game king.

Several playas have already shown interest in the game:


Top 10 reasons to play in the Ultimate Blogger Grudge Match

10. Finally, a limit where people will respect your raises (yeah, right)
9. Bloggers are fish.
8. Infinite rebuys!
7. The Hammer
6. It doesn't take much to cash out big.
5. Tournaments are for donkeys.
4. No shortstackers.
3. Easy money (just look at the hand histories)
2. I can't fold top pair.
1. Money won from busting bloggers is worth much more than face value.

The table we'll be playing at will be decided later.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Absolute Outcry

The Absolute Poker cheating scandal is awful.

It's bad for U.S. legalization prospects, for those who got cheated and for the reputation of the online game among the general public. (See Lou Krieger's recent and previous posts for more information.)

I'm all for boycotting Absolute Poker, and it pisses me off that people who should know better are still playing there.

Why would anyone ever consider playing at a site where there was so much evidence of cheating by high-ranking officials within the company who used multiple handles to win major tournaments? Why would you feel like your money is safe in a site that got a slap on the wrist by its shady regulatory body, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission? How can poker players be at all confident that this won't happen again?

People vote with their pocketbooks. Players still at Absolute are sending a message that they condone cheating. They won't get any sympathy from me if they lose all their money. Come on. This is probably the worst scandal in online poker's history, and Absolute hasn't to my knowledge shown a dropoff in players.

That said, I don't think a formal blog-organized boycott to generate media coverage and spark regulation will have the desired results.

Bringing broad attention to the matter (think ESPN and the TV news magazine shows) is more likely to result in calls for stricter government bans against online poker than in regulation. When people fearful of gambling hear about cheating, they won't be inclined to support legitimizing our game. It will only strengthen their resolve against it.

So please make an individual choice to never play at Absolute Poker ever again. A widespread outrage built on personal responsibility, ethics and education will get better results than calling attention to Internet poker's black eye.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Straight draw vs. flush draw semibluff fest

This hand has really stuck with me because I can't figure out whether I misplayed it.

My opponent was bluffing, but my rebluff failed. I feel like there should have been some way to get him off his hand.

I was sitting in a 6-max 10/20 NL game when I found T9o from the button. I raised to $70.

Only a LAG with 37/25 stats from the big blind called. My impression of him was that he played too many hands, but he wasn't necessarily a calling station. I believed he could take a hint when he was beaten and would bet many of my made hands for me.

The flop came down Jc 8c 3d, giving me an open-ended straight draw with a club flush draw on the board. I had no clubs.

My plan was to continuation bet my draw against this donk. If he had nothing, he would fold. If he had top pair or a draw, he would check-raise. I didn't think any other hand types were likely.

Of course he check-raised my $110 flop bet to $340.

So then I figured a draw was the most likely hand he had, and top pair would probably fold to a reraise. My action seemed clear at the time: jack it up to $1,000 in hopes of forcing him to fold. I truly felt confident that he would fold most top pair hands, and either fold or reraise his draws.

Unfortunately, he pushed all in. I made sure I had pot odds before making the call getting about 4:1 with two cards to come. It was academic. I had to call.

My opponent flipped over Qc9c for a flush draw and a gutshot draw.

How could I be so right and so wrong at the same time? Somehow I had put him on the kind of hand he actually had, but I was still behind the whole way. The final club on the river to complete his flush was irrelevant because Queen-high would have taken it down anyway.

I've reviewed this hand about a dozen times now and I'm still not sure if I played it incorrectly. I might have made the same moves even if I knew what he had because I thought I could get him to fold. I think he would have folded top pair to my reraise, although I'm uncertain how much of his range was top pair and how much was a draw.

Was I doomed from the start? What if I had called the flop check-raise and waited until the turn?

In that case, there would have been $830 in the pot, and I would have had $1,580 behind. If my opponent had followed through on the turn, he probably would have been committed even if I pushed all in. (For example, if he had bet $700 on the turn and then I had raised all in, that would have made the pot about $3,100 with him only having to call $900 more. With about 15 outs, I don't think he would/should have laid it down.)

If he had checked on the turn, he probably would have check-raised all in with his strong draw. A fold seems unlikely.

I guess I could have checked behind on the flop, but I like to continuation bet when there's a good chance I can take down the pot right then and I have decent equity.

I sure did get myself in a bad spot. I'm just worried that I won't know how to escape next time. Ideas?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Poker Mindset

"The Poker Mindset," by Ian Taylor and Matthew Hilger, outlines an approach for poker players to take once they have a good idea of the game's strategy. The book goes beyond gametime tactics to examine the mental skill set that top players possess: emotional control, making correct decisions, balancing poker with real life, and managing a bankroll.

This book is practical, readable and doesn't contain any incorrect information that I could find. It's like a users manual for how to approach the game. Many of the concepts are familiar, but they're more clearly defined and explained within the text. I won't dwell on the specifics except for a couple of ideas I particularly liked.

The book talks about how a poker player is more at war with himself than with his opponents at the table.

You are your own worst enemy. If you know how to adjust to game conditions and respond to your opponents maneuvers, the primary obstacle to beating the game is overcoming your own tendencies that may lead you astray. These tendencies include poor self-control, a failure to execute even when you know what's right, complacency and lack of observation.

It reminds me of how my mom used to tell me not to worry about what other people were doing, and to only be concerned with myself.

At the table, I play better when I'm concentrating on making the best play in each situation rather than fearing the worst.

The book also calls attention to a couple of tilty flaws I have where I'll sometimes play shorter sessions to "secure my win" and longer sessions when trying to get even. Obviously chasing isn't a good idea, nor is leaving a profitable table just because I'm ahead. I've rededicated myself to a two-hour-per-session time limit so I can stay fresh and better detach myself from the money involved.

Everyone tilts sometimes, and anyone who says he doesn't is either lying to you or lying to himself. "The Poker Mindset" helps identify mental errors and suggests ways to counter them. I recommend it as an essential book for any studious poker player.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Quick links

I like Howard Lederer's response to a question about how he plays against a tough field: The Phil Ivey Effect


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Universal Truths

Dabbling in 10/20 is great because it seems easier to see how mistakes translate directly into dollars.

Nothing is terribly different about 10/20 except for that the players are generally more aggressive, and there are times when I'll inadvertently end up at a table full of winning players. That's never a good thing.

So I wanted to list some simple observations that I'll try to keep in mind during these games:

_ Every type of player can be responded to. Against players who steal often, I must increase my resteal frequency. Against a maniac, I have to reduce my calling, raising and showdown standards.

_ When I see someone in the big blind who folds his blind more than 85 percent of the time, it's profitable to steal raise from the button every time.

_ If I tell myself I can try to play tight to reduce risks, then I should know I'm already on tilt and stop playing.

_ At a tight table, I have to play looser, both to generate action and steal the blinds. At a loose table, I need to play my cards very literally.

_ Calling down on three streets from out of position is seldom a strong play.

_ At a table full of winning players, it's difficult to make money. Game selection is crucial.

_ Poker is a game of many decisions. I should not worry so much about my opponents' decisions and instead concentrate on minimizing my own mistakes.

_ It takes a winning attitude to be a winner. I need to do better about staying away when I'm not feeling great or distracted.

_ I play better when drinking a Coke.

_ My winrate goes down when I open up too many tables.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Don't go bust with one pair

I hate losing with high pocket pairs.

It's great when they hold up against a bluff or underpair. But it sucks to lose lots of bets when my opponent gets his money in good against my transparent holding.

Then there are also times when it's difficult to tell whether getting busted was due to bad play or if it's a setup hand.

Free hand converter brought to you by CardRunners

Seat 2: josh3336 ($2,086) This guy is a regular who completely pwns me
Seat 5: smizmiatch ($1,015) -


cnorgl posts small blind $5
smizmiatch posts BIG blind $10
Dealt To: smizmiatch

3 folds
RAISE josh3336 ($35) from cutoff
1 fold
CALL cnorgl ($30) from SB
RAISE smizmiatch ($150) from BB
CALL josh3336 ($115)
FOLD cnorgl


Pot: $335

CHECK smizmiatch My line in these situations is to continuation bet on flops with an Ace or King in hopes of getting a fold right there, but slow down in hopes of inducing extra bets from hands that I beat like AK, JJ, any flush draw or any straight draw. I believe I'm ahead most of the time but I still give myself room to fold.
BET josh3336 ($200)
CALL smizmiatch ($200)


Pot: $735

CHECK smizmiatch
BET josh3336 ($410) This is a pretty strong bet.
RAISE smizmiatch ($665) But I can't get away on such a nondescript flop that helped my hand on the turn.
CALL josh3336 ($255)


Pot: $2065



josh3336 collected $2062 from main pot with two pair, Aces and Twos

I'd like to think this is a cooler, but maybe I could have folded on the turn when josh3336 fired a second bullet. His cold call of my 3bet preflop really screwed me.

Here's another one:

Free hand converter brought to you by CardRunners

Seat 1: uglystyles ($621.75)
Seat 2: CheckingAccount ($639)
Seat 3: nyinc ($1,226.15) -
Seat 4: smizmiatch ($585) -
Seat 5: WallyWattz1 ($634) -
Seat 6: chunjung ($243.65)


smizmiatch posts small blind $3
WallyWattz1 posts BIG blind $6
Dealt To: smizmiatch

1 RAISE uglystyles ($21)
1 FOLD CALL nyinc ($21)
RAISE smizmiatch ($100)
1 FOLD from BB
FOLD uglystyles
CALL nyinc ($79)


Pot: $227

BET smizmiatch ($165) I have to think I'm ahead, right?
RAISE nyinc ($486) I guess he could have a set, but it seemed more likely at the time he had overcards with a flush draw or some other kind of draw. I certainly didn't expect him to show up with an overpair after cold calling two bets
CALL smizmiatch ($320)
UNCALLED nyinc ($1)


Pot: $1197


Pot: $1197



nyinc collected $1194 from main pot with two pair, Queens and Eights

I don't know. I guess I should just fold and move on. Losing money with overpairs to the board like this feels like a big leak.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Hand Reading 101

Hand reading is one of the most important skills in poker, but I don't know of any formal methodology for going about it.

I wing it, doing the best I can based on experience, reasoning and process of elimination.

It would be useful to develop a system, like a kind of mental checklist, to think through hands before making a decision.

The most common way to read hands is to put together what you know about the hand and compare whether your opponent's betting pattern matches what he's trying to represent.

You combine the pieces of the puzzle, and you can eliminate holdings from your opponent's range when pieces don't fit. For example, if you're in a hand with a limper who you know would raise preflop with any Ace in his hand, you can effectively bluff on most Ace-high flops no matter what you hold.

This approach works fairly well, but it's most helpful in determining what your opponent doesn't have than what he does.

This kind of thought process led me to make an enormous blunder the other night when I raised an UTG limper from UTG+1 with KK. Everyone folded except for the limper. The flop came down Axx, all clubs. The limper check-raised me, and I went all-in (I held the King of clubs for the nut flush draw). I reasoned that I knew my opponent didn't have the Ace and I had a good draw, so maybe I could push him off the hand. This logic was terribly flawed, as I saw when he turned over T9s for the flopped flush and I didn't improve. I was clearly beaten but bet my hand too hard because I correctly determined that he didn't hold an Ace.

I have a couple of ideas for other ways to narrow hand ranges to complement deductive reasoning:

1) Think of a hand as a flow chart or a series of If/Then situations. If my opponent doesn't have top pair, what other hands could he be check raising with? I want to come up with a decision-making tree for hands like this:

If opponent can't have top pair, then he has either

a) A strong draw.
b) The flopped flush.
c) A set.
d) Nothing.

To pinpoint exactly what action to take, you would need to assign probabilities for each potential outcome and mentally estimate the EV of raising, folding or calling.

It doesn't have to be that complicated though. In my previous example, it's pretty easy to see that just because my opponent didn't have Aces, he wasn't necessary bluffing. Given the action and the other possibilities, it seems highly unlikely in retrospect that he would have anything but a hand with strong equity against my KK.

2) Divide hands into groups and consider the appropriate action to take against each category.

There are basically four types of hands your opponent can hold on the flop:

a) Made hands.
b) Drawing hands.
c) Combination draw hands.
d) Air.

The likelihood of each type depends heavily on the flop complexion. Coordinated flops take equity away from made hands. Static flops favor made hands because there are fewer possibilities for draws that steal equity from top pair, for example.

I'm not sure where air hands fall, perhaps because they're situation dependent.

Only after your opponent's hand is sufficiently transparent based on your read can you evaluate your chances of winning and take the appropriate action.

I'd like to be able to tie these kinds of thought processes into some kind of "universal theory of hand reading," but that's probably not possible.

Instead, I try to remind myself to think through as many of these possibilities as I can in each hand I play. If I go step-by-step, put my opponent on a range and don't act too quickly, I can make correct decisions more often.

And that's the goal of the game: to make the right choice given the information at hand.

I know none of this is new, but attempting to quantify hand reading may lead to new ideas for better ways of narrowing ranges.

I'd like to hear other ideas for other methods of hand reading in comments.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Swingy Session/Brag

KK vs. AA. Sucks.

Win a stack with pair of J. He was a true maniac. Top pair was way ahead of his range.

Win a stack with pair of T
. Another maniac.

KK goes down to JJ. Standard.

Total over 602 hands: +$250

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Chip Reese

From My 50 Most Memorable Hands, by Doyle Brunson.

My Achilles heel in poker has always been Chip Reese. I know Chip is a great player but it seems he wins 80 or 90 percent of the pots I play against him. no player in my lifetime has ever intimidated me except Chip. I'm not really superstitious, but I've done everything I know to do against him. I've varied my game to where I know it is impossible for him to get a read on how I'm playing.

This was one of the first hands I remember playing against him when he first came to Las Vegas from Dartmouth College. We were playing no-limit hold 'em and Chip and I were left alone. I held the Ad Jd in a raised pot.

The flop was 9d 7h 2s.

I checked and Chip checked. The next card was the Qd giving me the nut-flush draw. I checked. Chip bet and I thought he was weak so I raised. He called and the river was the 3s.

I moved in and he called me. It was a very big pot for the game we were playing and he turned over the 5d 2d. He had called me with two deuces!

He made the call because he put me on a busted flush draw and figured I had nothing. I asked him later what he would have done if a diamond had come, which would have given him a flush but me a bigger one. he told me he would have thrown his hand away. How do you handle that?

That was thirty years ago and I'm still trying to find the answer.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Goals 08

Broadly speaking, setting poker goals for yourself can be good, but they should never be monetary targets. There are three important reasons why:
1. You have limited power to achieve monetary goals.
2. Conclusions are difficult to draw when you miss a monetary target.
3. Monetary targets detract from your true goal (making correct decisions).
--The Poker Mindset, by Ian Taylor and Matthew Hilger

I'm pumped about the new year in poker. I feel great about my game, and there will be many opportunities to make money.

I fell short of my broad goals that I set for 2007: I wanted to play 10/20 NL regularly, get my bankroll to $100,000 and keep moving up. None of those things happened.

On the plus side, I made a little more money than last year, I improved my game in countless ways and I'm once again testing the waters at 10/20 this month.

I have a few goals for skills I want to work on in 2008.

1) Improve my bluffing frequency. I know I am unintentionally passing up opportunities to make +EV bluffs. I need to find ways to recognize these spots and have the balls to execute. So far, when I've been looking for places to bluff, I've been getting my money in badly with one pair or Ace-high.

2) Blog regularly. There's a correlation between writing about poker and playing well. Thinking about the game and expressing concepts betters my game.

3) Work on my heads-up game. I'm convinced HU play encourages creative thinking and forces you to widen your arsenal of moves that can later be applied at 6-max or full ring tables.

4) Stop bloody spewing so much. When I'm methodical, I win. When I'm reckless and needlessly aggressive, I lose.

5) Find ways to play my best game. It's easy to say that you should always play your best game, but accomplishing that aim is a bit more difficult. There are times when I feel like I'm on top of my game and then I make a stupid, inexplicable error. I want to be able to recognize when I'm not playing well before I make mistakes. I need to think about ways to do this.



Ed Miller may have completely lost it. I look forward to his next posts about the merits of getting in with the worst of it, the hidden value of going broke and the importance of playing on tilt.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Go Dawgs!

Georgia 41, Hawaii 10