Friday, February 29, 2008

HU Resolution

It's been said that you won't remember the bad beats of today in the weeks and months ahead, that your hands blur together over time in this big long session.

But there are some beats and sessions I'll never forget.

I had been playing online poker for about 8 months in 2004 when I decided to concentrate on limit hold 'em. I started out well at 2/4 and quickly moved up to 3/6.

This was in the early days of Full Tilt Poker, and I had the outer space theme selected as I sat at a shorthanded table. I bought in for $150, and the table quickly became heads-up. I was eager to take this guy on because I was brimming with confidence and wanted to try my untested one-on-one skills.

It didn't take long before I was down to the felt. As my last few chips were slipping away, I started tilting hard. I asked my opponent, "What am I doing so wrong? How are you beating me when I'm trying to play good cards? What do you have that I don't?"

He didn't have much to say. He told me he didn't have the answers.

In retrospect, it's easy to see that I was inexperienced and had no grasp of the depth of my ignorance. I knew nothing about heads-up play, and my style was so intractably tight that I didn't stand a chance. I remembered that feeling of helplessness and resolved to avoid feeling that way again.

I got that feeling again at times when playing 5/10 NL heads-up games. The bad beats piled up and I didn't understand how I could be losing to such terrible calling stations. I've learned a lot about heads-up cash game play, but I still feel lost at times against superior opponents.

Like my decision to develop shorthanded skills, I believe heads-up play to be a crucial step toward becoming a more complete poker player. Reading hands, evaluating hand ranges, bluffing, adjusting, changing gears and getting value become so important. I have to be at my best and most deceptive to perform well.

I also believe these skills are directly relevant to other forms of poker, especially because most contested hands are heads-up on the flop.

So I resolve, once again, to commit myself to study and practice of heads-up poker. I'm thinking about hiring a coach to specifically help me with heads-up play, although I'm not comfortable with shelling out the money for coaching just yet. My plan is to do what I've always done: think about the game, review hands and watch videos. I don't know how else to improve except gradually.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

QQ option

Playing QQ doesn't have to be so hard as I think it is sometimes.

I've done plenty of math and written a few posts about how to play QQ preflop and on the flop.

But I neglected to discuss a different option, which is the most obvious move of all. In many situations, it's the best move:

Just 4-bet with QQ preflop and see what happens.

Many players will fold anything but AA and KK at that point. Others will call or push with AK. Some will call or push with even JJ-99 or AQ.

With a read on your opponent, re-re-raising with QQ is often the strongest and most profitable way to go, especially if you can get away from it when it's no good and call an all-in those occasions when it is.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Response to 'Poker is About ...'

Quite a few poker players weighed in with their thoughts on the goal of poker. My favorite response came from Drizz:

I just trying to avoid sucking.

People that suck don't normally win.

That seems like great advice to me. Poker doesn't have to be narrowed down into one of three choices I listed in the previous post. Players can win simply by concentrating on playing well, although that means different things for different players.

I was glad to hear a diversity of viewpoints from players who prefer to manage risk, adapt varying styles depending on the game format or avoid tough decisions.

Others suggested their own approaches.

The largest group echoed the idea that poker is about decision-making, which is what I was trying to emphasize in the original post. The way to win the most money is to reason through the hand, analyze your opponents, identify patterns, evaluate the likely outcome and make the best choice given the facts at hand.

Plenty of winning players simply fold in tough situations or forgo small edges in exchange for a better spot. These strategies are OK, but they're not always ideal (at least in a cash game).

My underlying thought is you should always make the play that you think is best, whether it's easy or marginal. I know I'm in trouble when I dodge tough situations because I'm afraid of losing.


Recommended Reading: Are you kidding me, Full Tilt?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Poker is about ...

Which of these statements is most true?

1) Expert poker players win money because they plan ahead to avoid having to make tough decisions.

2) Poker players win money by avoiding mistakes.

3) Solid players win by making correct decisions, whether they're simple or complicated.

The first statement comes from Ed Miller, and I wrote about it previously.

The second was written by Gary Carson in December, although I didn't see the post until recently.

The third reflects my belief.

Carson says that both Miller and I are wrong:

You do not make money in poker by being smart. You make money by the other guy not being smart. You simply want to avoid mistakes.

The decisions you want to focus on are the ones with big potential payoffs and small risk, it doesn't matter whether they're easy ones are hard ones, it doesn't matter whether you make most decisions correctly. It matters that you make the important ones correctly.

I disagree. If you "simply ... avoid mistakes" rather than actively try to induce them, that's a poor way to try to win money in poker.

Avoiding mistakes suggests to me that players should be dodging a minefield of obstacles rather than creating hurdles for your opponents yourself.

I also take issue with the idea that poker players should focus on the decisions that have "big potential payoffs and small risk." Properly bankrolled players should not be concerned about how risky a play is. All they're interested in is making the play that nets them the most money in the long run.

Do you think the goal of poker is to make correct decisions, avoid mistakes or avoid tough decisions? I'd like to hear comments.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stupid Betting Tricks

I've picked up several small adjustments over the last couple of days that I've already incorporated into my game. They've all resulted in profits.

1. In heads-up games, you can start to narrow your opponent's range because you know the button is opening looser than he's calling. This topic was brought up in a Two Plus Two Magazine article titled "Responding to frequent continuation bets in heads up play."

The essence of the article can be summed up from this paragraph:

"There's a fairly easy way to think about this. When a flop comes with two or more cards above eight, you, the caller, are more likely to have hit a pair or good draw than the raiser is. When the flop comes two or more cards below eight, the raiser is more likely to have hit a pair or good draw than you are."

This general guideline makes it easy to evaluate flop textures and incorporate more check-raise bluffs and value plays.

2. CardRunners' pro CTS points out in his latest 10/20 6-max video that he's returned to 3X raises preflop rather than 3.5X on PokerStars. He says it gives him more room to fold against short stacks while also allowing a little more postflop play. It's a small thing, but I'm finding that I also like 3X raises preflop.

3. Mixing up bet sizing can be an effective way to encourage your opponents to make mistakes. I've seen pros use strange bet sizes, like $147 or $52 or whatever, but I never knew when to use those odd-looking bets.

A recent CardRunners article titled "Advancing Past Fundamental Poker: Manipulation Theory," explains the benefit of marketing your bet sizes to look like you're either trying to extract value or push your opponent out of a hand.

While each opponent will react differently to bet sizes, I find that I often benefit when my bet sizes cause my opponents to make moves they wouldn't make against a normal bet. It's amazing how quickly I've been able to pick on player reactions to varying sizes and then later take advantage of them.

Monday, February 18, 2008

MTT Preflop Bet Sizing

Tournament poker. Sigh.

It's all these donkeys fighting for the longshot chance that they'll hit it big, but few of them will ever get there. What's worse is that multi-accounters/account traders/teamers and other cheaters may be gaining an unfair edge that they wouldn't be able to exploit in cash games.

Knowing this, of course I had to throw some money at the FTOPS Main Event. I don't play many tourneys at all, but I'll take a shot every once in a while. I went out midway through the field.

Shortly before the tourney, I started reading "The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide, Tournament Edition" to get ready. I quickly learned something new that I'm sure many of you MTT specialists know already:

Raise small amounts from early position, medium amounts from middle position and larger amounts from late position preflop, according to Chris Ferguson.

"Here is the reasoning: I want to make my opponents' decisions as difficult as possible. If you make a big raise, you make your opponents' decisions easy: they can simply fold most of their hands, only playing their very biggest hands. Now, if you bluff with a big bet, you win very little most of the time, but when you get reraised, you lose big," Ferguson writes.

This reasoning makes sense to me, and it seemed to work fairly effectively for me in the FTOPS. Another selling point for this strategy is that I saw many solid players in the tournament doing the same thing, which makes me think there's something to it at least.

I haven't seen similar bet-sizing tactics from hardly any players in cash games, which makes me believe this strategy is more effective in tournaments. I'm guessing the reasoning is that your preflop raise in a tournament commits more of your stack in proportion to the blinds, meaning that you have to be more careful with your raises.

In cash games, I'm still a believer in raising a standard amount preflop, regardless of your position (except in the blinds, where I'll sometimes overbet). With 100 BB stacks, it makes more sense to raise a uniform amount because the blinds are a smaller proportion of your stack size, making them less relevant. If you're playing a short stack, perhaps there's more of a reason to vary preflop raises, but I wonder.


On a separate topic, I've been trying to figure out if there's a way to budget hands preflop. For example, should I be saying to myself, "I'm not going to lose more than half my stack with pocket Tens," and plan my hand accordingly? What about AQ or AJ, 99 or JJ?

Of course pocket Tens are worth calling 20 BB all-in preflop. But are they worth 40 BB? Or 50 BB? At some point, you don't want to be putting in half your stack with a hand that's usually either a coinflip or dominated.

I don't know what the appropriate stack sizes are though, nor do I know how to do the math to find it out. I imagine I could run equity comparisons against each stack sizes' likely pushing range, but that doesn't seem like it would be very accurate because each player is different.

Maybe this is a wasted effort though.

When I asked Kuro about it, he said pros would likely go with their hand if they think it's strong, and they might not worry so much about borderline calls against short stacks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

10/20 Third Impressions

This one-table SNG with a top-heavy first prize will be awesome:

Fuel, Lucko and myself are already signed up.


My third attempt at cracking 10/20 again fell short. Part of it was bad beats; part of it was bad play.

I lasted longer at 10/20 this time than in my previous tries, in part because I came prepared with 30+ buy-ins. I played 10/20 as my main game for all of January and the beginning of February, and I quit down five buy-ins overall. It's a small amount in the grand scheme of things, but I wanted to step down and recoup before I lost any more.

There's a clear difference in skill level between 5/10 and 10/20. I remember when I first started playing 5/10, I thought it was easier to beat than 3/6. That was not the case at all this time.

Sure you'll still occasionally find donks who will make the game good for a short time before they go bust. But in general, most of the players share a couple of common traits: they're relentlessly aggressive and they know their fundamentals. You don't see nearly as many minraisers or passive calling stations.

I could have easily won big if a few key hands had gone differently. I won't waste time recounting the beats. If anything, the coolers reassure me that I'm fully capable of beating this limit, but I may not be quite ready to handle it full-time just yet.

My worst mistake at 10/20 -- and this is a big one -- is that I had a hard time finding the fold button when I had a clue I was beaten. There's more bluffing at higher limits, so I found it easier to rationalize calling with top pair or an overpair. Sometimes I was right, but not often enough.

So until next time, I'll go back to working on shoring up leaks and rebuilding bankroll at 5/10 for a while. I want to get safely into the black for the year before taking another shot at 10/20.

I thought a little about just staying at 5/10 permanently. I could do that and be relatively happy.

But I don't think I can remain stagnant when I feel confident that I can beat the bigger game. Now back to work.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

HUCVI: One and Done

Congratulations to Matty Ebs aka NoNotReally for taking me out in the first round of the Heads-up Challenge VI. (Not sure if he has a blog to link to.)

He played an aggressive match that went three games. We finally got it all in on JJ7 flop when I held QQ and he held AK. Of course the Ace on the river screwed me. I'm going to resist posting all the bad beats from Aces falling on the river this weekend.

I almost lost the very first hand of our match when I flopped top pair with 75o on a 627 board with two diamonds. I bet the flop, got raised, and called. I check-raised the turn when a King fell, and Ebs called again. Then I went all-in on the river when an offsuit Ace dropped. I didn't like the Ace because it would give a lot of flush draws top pair, but I thought it was more likely Ebs was on some kind of draw. Since none of the draws got there, I was happy to see Ebs fold.

My early lead didn't last long. I dropped down in chips but then finally came back to win the first game on the strength of two preflop all-ins at the 30/60 level: AK vs. AQ and KT vs. K9. Amazingly, both held up.

The second match went differently. This time I took a commanding lead early when I turned the nut flush, but couldn't hold on. I tried hard to dig in, keep my lead and put the match away, but Ebs clawed back. We were pretty even in chips when I made an all-in move preflop with A6s at the 40/80 level and he called with 33. He flopped a set and it was all over.

The third match was the shortest of the series. I felt good about calling his 4-bet preflop with QQ and then checking to him on the JJx flop. I put him on a strong hand, and I was willing to go out to AA or KK if that's what he had. But if he had AK, I wanted to make sure I still had an overpair before committing my stack. He pushed all in, and I called. The river was not kind.

Ebs made some strong moves and didn't make a few of the mistakes I did (like shoving all-in preflop in hopes of antagonizing him while he was down). His main weakness that I saw was a tendency to call a little bit light.

I'll be pulling for Ebs in Round Two as he faces the winner of Mike_Maloney and Riggstad's match. Go Ebs!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Thanks BDR

I was remiss in failing to praise BuddyDank Radio for their fantastic broadcast during the Blogger Hard Money Game, the Mookie and FTOPS.

Thanks to BuddyDank, Instant Tragedy and whoever else was involved for putting on a great show.

Listening to them commentate, discuss hands and mess around made the evening a lot more fun. I especially liked it when they followed Waffles' progress as he tried to beat MiamiDon's over/under for how long he would survive in the game. Waffles beat the line of 1:08 by about three minutes.

Thanks again, and I hope you guys keep up the broadcast during blogger events..

Blogger Cash

The blogger 4/8 NL deepstack game featured monsters, coolers and bluffs. Several bloggers won money, including Weak Player, who was the big winner with a stack over $4,000 by the time he was through.

The company was great, everyone tried to bring their A games and I had a lot of fun. It gets a little tense playing for not insignificant amounts of money against people who have as good of a chance of seeing through you as you have of them. I don't get that kind of rush playing against no-name opponents.

In addition to Weak Player, Waffles, Fuel55, Bone_Daddy84, Rake Feeder, Cmitch, RecessRampage, Poker Grind and I put some money on the table.

Waffles generated the most action early on, and he did well until he got his shortstack committed preflop and then pushed his 77 into Rake Feeder's AQ on an Ace-high flop.

Weak Player won the largest pots of the night when he flopped a set of 2s against Bone Daddy's pocket Aces. He also flopped a set of Queens against a set of Eights against a non-blogger. Those pots were each worth about $2,400.

My favorite hand of the night came when Waffles and Fuel both flopped flushes, with Waffles' nut flush taking down a $1,137 pot.

Bone Daddy also hit it hard when his KK got in against AK on a K-high flop.

I made money in two medium-sized pots. One came when Poker Grind was shortstacked and pushed his flush draw on the turn into my pair of 8s. Then against Rake Feeder, I called his small blind raise with QT and flopped two pair. He bet pot, I raised, he reraised, and then he folded to my all-in bet. He said he had AQ.

I came out ahead for the night about $900 at the blogger table, and $200 overall after you deduct my stake in Waffles. Even though it didn't pay off this time, he was a worthy investment because he added a lot of life to the game. And I won anyway, so screw it.

If anyone wants me to e-mail or post other hand histories, let me know.

As the game wound down, we talked about when we can have another Blogger Hard Money Game again. A few people suggested moving the stakes to the 2.5/5 deepstack tables. Those limits will appeal to more people while still leaving plenty of room for big wins. We should do this at least once a month as long as enough people want to play.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Blogger Hard Money Game

Today is the day of the Blogger Hard Money Game during the Mookie!

I'm really hoping we get a good turnout for this thing. It's a chance for cash game players to have their day in the spotlight, and we'll also get to see some real, multi-street, deep-stacked poker.

I want to encourage all you bloggers to give it a shot. We know each other's games much better than those countless random screennames we encounter at the tables every day. It should create a fascinating dynamic with plenty of room for creative plays.

Here's the lineup so far, but any blogger should feel free to jump in when it's gametime. I have a feeling we'll have a few surprise guests:

Weak Player
The Poker Grind
RecessRampage (Probable)
Cmitch (Maybe)

Either Fuel or I will get a Yahoo chat room started for this thing. That way we can get together and descend on a cash table all at once to ensure it's filled with bloggers. My Yahoo screenname is "smizmiatch" if you want in on the chat since I don't know most of your screennames. We'll get the game started as soon as we have enough players.

Of course, you could just search for any of our names and join the table whenever you're ready.

Good luck to everyone.


One more thing: Government Gambling Pact is Classified

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dealing with QQ and JJ in raised pots

It's a tricky proposition to play JJ or QQ out of position against a preflop 3-bettor. I've been trying to figure out if it's profitable to cold call the 3 bet, then check-raise a continuation bet.

Like this:

Hero raises to $70.00 with Jd Jc
Villain reraises to $240.00
Hero calls $170.00
*** FLOP *** [8d 8s 2h]
Hero checks
Villain bets $380.00
Hero raises all-in

JJ has a 2:1 equity advantage against my opponent's estimated range, according to PokerStove.

equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 65.703% 65.27% 00.43% 74956 497.00 { JdJs }
Hand 1: 34.297% 33.86% 00.43% 38890 497.00 { 88+, ATs+, KTs+, QTs+, J9s+, T8s+, 98s, 87s, 76s, AQo+, KQo }

But is it worth betting 100 BBs in a situation where I'll either lose a big pot or win a medium-sized one?

If I'm against a hand I beat, let's assume that my opponent would fold and never pay off my all-in bet. In that case, I win an $860 pot about 75 percent of the time.

The other 25 percent of the time, I'm against a hand that beats me and I'll lose $4,000 pot unless I suck out.


(860 * .75) + (-4,000 * .9 * .25) + (4,000 * .1 * .25) = 645 - 900 + 100 = -$155

The math improves into +EV territory if we substitute QQ for JJ:

(860 * .8) + (-4000 * .89 * .2) + (4,000 * .11 * .2) = 688 - 712 + 88 = +$64

My conclusion is similar to what I discovered when I did some airplane math over the summer:

It may be profitable to go all-in with QQ in a 3-bet pot if there are no overcards on the board in some circumstances. But JJ is not a hand that's worth losing your stack over for 100 BB.

There are also other ways to play these hands. Many of these other, better options include folding.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Big Game Waffles

Any blogger event isn't complete without Waffles. So I'm buying him in to the Blogger Cash game.

There are a few good reasons for me to bankroll him.

He'll generate action, which is important because the last thing I want is to sit around with a bunch of rocks.

He'll have people gunning for him, which could work to his advantage.

He'll make the game fun and draw more people in.

And he just might win!

My only concern is that all the other players are OK with my backing him in a game I plan to play myself. Because I'm investing in one of my opponents, you could argue that I have a conflict of interest. If anyone opposes this arrangement, I'll sit out while Waffles is playing so that we're not in the game at the same time. Please let me know in comments or by e-mail at smizmiatch AT yahoo DOT com.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I don't think this is right

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding Bob Ciaffone, but his "open-book test" in this month's issue of Card Player Magazine seems wrong to me:
Let's look at a similar type of situation in no-limit hold'em. Here is an open-book test: The pot is $100 and both you and your opponent have $400 left. You have top pair and your opponent is drawing. He acts first and bets the pot ($100); what strategy should you adopt if each of you can at this point now see each other's holecards? The proper answer is found by counting the outs. If the made hand will be better than a 2-to-1 favorite with two cards to come, you can lock up the pot by moving in on the flop, as the money odds offered to the draw when a pot-size bet is made are exactly that amount. However, if the made hand is less than a 2-to-1 favorite, the better play is to see what comes on the turn. If the draw hits, you fold. If the draw misses, you move in. This is a good illustration of the scenario that the draw wants to avoid.
OK. Let's assume the drawing hand is a flush draw, which is a good example hand because it gives that player close to a one-third chance of winning the pot with two cards to come.

In that situation, the player with top pair can expect to win the $900 pot about two-thirds of the time if he pushes in on the flop and the drawing hand calls, giving the top pair player an expected value of $300.

But if the player with top pair waits until the turn, his expected value is only $180 because he'll lose the current $300 pot 20 percent of the time when the flush card hits and win the $300 pot 80 percent of the time.

He's giving up a lot of value!

It's entirely possible that I'm thinking about this problem incorrectly, and please let me know if that's the case. But it seems to me that Ciaffone believes that just because the flush draw has to call given the pot odds, the top pair hand should give the drawing hand a free card.

That just isn't right because the top pair hand will still win most of the time, and the pot will be larger.


Don't forget the Ultimate Blogger Cash Game coming up Wednesday during the Mookie. Please let Fuel or me know if you plan to play.