Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Keep it simple

I want to always remember the significant improvements I made to my game before moving up to 5/10 a year-and-a-half ago. They're simple, but they always help me play my A-game, which is harder to do than I would have thought back then.

1) Never play on autopilot.

I'm a big fan of PokerTracker and PokerAce, but I got to a point where I was overreliant on their statistics. There's no substitute for paying close attention to every street on every table, taking constant notes on your opponents and deducing your opponent's hand range. I'll always use PT and PokerAce (which are being combined in the new PokerTracker 3), but these tools are not substitutes for observation of the action.

2) Don't spew.

Yes, there are many times when I need to get in preflop with AK or commit with a drawing hand postflop. However, that never means I have to play AK and combo draws the same way every time. Sometimes my AK is against AA, and sometimes my combo draw is against the nuts.

3) Play position.

No one ever forces me to play a hand out of position. It's a choice based on the strength of my hand, and often my ability to play it postflop. What that means is that I'll usually 3-bet hands like JJ and AQ, but there are occasions when I'll just throw them away preflop and forfeit the three big blinds I spent to open the pot. These spots come up in situations where I get 3-bet and I'm out of position.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blind defense

I feel like I fold my blinds too much to steal-happy players on the button, and I'm not going to take it anymore.

In an effort to stop these over-aggressive players always try to rob my blinds, I'm going to attempt to construct a blind defense range. I'll want 55 percent equity against my opponent's range in order to neutralize his positional advantage.

One difficulty is that it's difficult to determine what an opponent who steals X percent of the time is like based on PokerTracker statistics. PT calculates Attempt to Steal percentage using raises from the cutoff or from the button when everyone else in the hand has folded before them. The problem with this calculation is that it results in a lower number than you might expect. I think that's because it takes your steal percentage out of all hands played, not just those where everyone in early positions has folded to you. I still think this exercise might be worthwhile; it's just that these steal figures won't correspond with PT's.

1. Against someone who steals with any two cards:

If I want 55 percent equity against that range, I can defend with my top 65 percent of hands:

Damn, that's a lot of hands. Any Kx and most Qxo hands, as well as 54s and up.

2. Against someone who steals 50 percent of the time:

I can defend with the top 30 percent of hands:

3. Against someone who steals 33 percent of the time:

I can defend with the top 20 percent of hands:

4. Against someone who steals 20 percent of the time:

I can defend with the top 12 percent of hands:

All data from PokerStove

Monday, April 21, 2008

Stacking off with AA: Right and Wrong

Paying off a set with an overpair can be one of the most expensive plays in poker, largely because sets are hard to read.

Here are two hands from today where I got all-in with AA, one in which I'll happily stack off and another where I screwed up royally.

Hand 1:

5/10 full ring
Hero is dealt Ac As
UTG calls $5
2 folds
Villain raises to $45
2 folds
CO calls $45
Hero raises to $180 from button
3 folds
Villain calls $135
CO folds.

Flop 7h, 8h, 2s

Villain checks.
Hero bets $355
Villain goes all-in.
Hero calls all-in.

Turn 5c

River Jh

Hero shows a pair of Aces.
Villain shows 7s, 7d for three of a kind, sevens.
Villain wins $2,151

I'm glad to get all in to someone who is willing to call off 1/5 of his stack preflop and can only win if he hits a set. Since he'll only flop a set about 1/8 of the time, I'm making immediate money any time he makes this preflop call. Even if I pay him off every time, I'll win lots of money in the long run.

This next hand should have been more avoidable.

Hand 2:

5/10 6 max
Hero is dealt Ad Ah from the button
Villain raises to $40 from UTG
1 folds.
Hero raises to $120
2 folds.
Villain calls $80

Flop Jh, 7d, 3s

Villain checks.
Hero checks. (I should have bet to give myself a way to get away from the hand. By checking behind, I'm going for a trap that commits me because I plan to raise if he bets out the turn.)

Turn Td

Villain bets $210
Hero raises $600 (I follow through with my plan. I could have tried calling here, but my fate was sealed in my mind. The only hand I beat if called is QQ)
Villain goes all-in.
Hero calls $265

River 2c

Hero a pair of Aces.
Villain shows Jd, Jc three of a kind, Jacks.
Villain wins $1,983 with three of a kind, Jacks.

What a poorly played hand on my part. Right or wrong, many players will call a 3-bet preflop with QQ-TT. I should have seen the possibility of the JJ set.

If I had bet the flop, I may have been able to fold to a check-raise. When the T came on the turn, I should have known sets made up a significant part of his range.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Failed Experiment

If I can fight and win hard-earned money playing three 5/10 tables, could I make almost as much with fewer swings playing nine softer 1/2 tables?

I tiled the nine 1/2 tables on my 24-inch monitor to find out last night.

Unfortunately, these 1/2 players kicked my ass! I lost at a faster rate than I can ever remember, dropping 10 buy-ins in just two hours. How can this be possible? I thought these games were supposed to be easier?

There's an simple answer: massive multitabling reduces my winrate so drastically that I become a huge fish. I can't read hands well when I have to make quick decisions at several tables at a time. I can't tell the difference between my opponents' bluffs and value bets when I haven't been watching them. I hit the call button way too often when there's no reasonable hand that could beat my overpair, only to be shown some kind of unreasonable junk hand that I paid off in full.

There were some atrocious bad beats mixed in there as well: set over set, rivered flush vs. my set, AK beats my AA, etc. But there's no doubt that I played extremely poorly as well, getting all in several times with hands like pocket 99 and JJ on the flop, which is rarely a good move without a solid read.

This nine-tabling experiment wasn't a wasted effort though. I learned a lot:

_ I can't handle too many tables. It turns me into a losing player. I'm sure some people can do it, but I'm not a fast enough decision maker to effectively play more than three tables, or four at the most.

_ The old saying that you revert to your novice game when playing poorly proves true once again. I found myself overplaying strong preflop hands and paying off lightly when I knew I was beaten but couldn't put my opponents on a hand.

_ Just because my opponents make -EV preflop plays doesn't always mean I should justify their actions postflop by gifting them my stack. Loose calls of preflop 3-bets with low pocket pairs and suited connectors are usually unprofitable plays in the long run, but that doesn't mean I have to call them.

_ I've wondered at times if 100 BB stacks are deep enough to fight off the pushmonkeys. I now believe they are. There's still plenty of room to maneuver with 100 BB stacks, and stacking off with top pair is usually poor poker for that many bets. I estimate that top pair is worth no more than 50 BB in most situations.

This is kind of obvious stuff. I guess I have to learn the hard way. Good thing it's only two buy-ins at 5/10, but losing so much at a lower limit tilted the hell out of me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Elements of Poker"

I have made many wrong turns in my life. And I don't mean metaphorically. I mean in my car. I'll be driving along, and my mind will be elsewhere, or I'll be talking, and I'll just drive right by the place I intended to turn. And I might not notice it for a while. I have made so many wrong turns that I am no longer miffed when it happens. Passengers are surprised by how unsurprised I am after I make a wrong turn. They'll be like, "Dude, we just lost half an hour because you're an idiot. Do the right thing here and show us a little shame!"

What am I supposed to do? Act like I'm mad at myself? For the sake of others?

The same thing happens at the poker table. Like the time I was playing in a game with $10/$20 blinds, two players limped, the small blind completed, and I checked in the big blind with 72o. The flop was A-Q-J rainbow, and everyone checked. The turn was a fourth-suit king, and everyone checked again. The river was a ten, putting an ace-high straight on board that I didn't see because I was busy ordering food from the waitress. We all checked again. They checked because we all had the nuts. I checked because I thought I had seven-high. When the last guy checked on the river, that made me first to show, and with no hope to win, I just mucked. The dealer started to split the pot three ways and that's when I noticed my mistake. The total pot was $80 which means I cost myself $20 by ordering a $10 meal. A couple of guys were snickering. Oh well. Wrong turn.
"Elements of Poker," by Tommy Angelo

Good stuff. Tommy's Poker Articles are classic.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Taxes: Screwed Again

I'm baffled by my tax bill.

Sure, I was better prepared for it this year than last. I paid quarterly estimated taxes for the first time and have the bankroll to absorb the hit. But I still got sticker shock when my accountant showed me the damage.

I estimate that I'm paying about a third of my $60,000 in 2007 gambling winnings to the IRS.



Blinders' post about bet sizing encouraged me to be more careful, especially on the flop.

It's way too easy to throw out a 2/3 or 3/4 pot-sized continuation bet rather than thinking about making a more precise amount. I subscribe to the idea that continuation bet sizes should be based on flop texture, not your hand. A coordinated board requires a bigger bet; an uncoordinated board only needs a smaller bet. I generally size my bets between 2/3 and full pot.

Making more precise bets makes perfect sense to me. You want to be accurate and studious in every action. If you aren't paying attention to how much you're betting exactly, you're more likely to get into a bad situation. Correct bet amounts encourage your opponents to make mistakes, which results in money for you.

In the big picture, paying attention to bet sizes improves my game because it forces me to think about the hand rather than simply blasting the pot.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Retiring the AK limp-raise

At all limits, you'll see people smooth calling an initial raise with AA and KK preflop and repopping 3-bettors. In aggressive games, it can be a strong play, especially when your opponents don't believe you.

I've been mixing in this play with AK at times to expand my range. Unfortunately, the times it has worked are outweighed by the times it hasn't.

Too often, I'll get in situations like this:

UTG raises to $35
Hero calls $35
Button raises to $150
UTG folds
Hero raises to $450
Button goes all-in
Hero calls.
Button shows AA
Hero shows AK

That's just a terrible outcome. The problem is that most players will only call this kind of limp-raise if they have the goods. It doesn't seem like lesser or equal hands (QQ and lower, AK, AQ) will call often enough to make this play profitable.

There are probably circumstances when I would still attempt this kind of preflop semibluff, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. Most of the time I'd rather simply 3-bet immediately. That move will save me money when I get 4-bet or smooth-called and I'm far behind.

Sure I might get 4-bet bluffed sometimes, but I don't think it'll happen often enough to compensate for the buy-ins I'll save by folding, calling or 5-betting all-in when appropriate.

For the most part, I'm putting the AK smooth call-reraise in the appendix of my playbook. I don't need to do any math to determine that I've lost more money than I've made from this move.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The strength of folding

I was drinking in a bar this weekend when one of my friends brought up that I play poker. Another guy at the table said he always loses because he's an optimist who believes his hand just has to be the best. So he almost always goes to showdown and loses his stack.

I told him something I try to tell myself:

You always want to play strongly in poker, and you never want to be weak. When your opponent has the better hand, is it stronger to pay him off or to fold? Many times the strongest play is to know when you're beat.

When I'm on any degree of tilt, the most immediate difference in my game that I see is a tendency to call potential bluffs more often. It's one of my biggest leaks. I have a hard time folding when I have a sense that I have the worst hand but my opponent's actions don't make sense. In these situations, my tendency is to call a player who could only have a ridiculous hand to beat mine rather than letting my hand go.

There's no easy fix for this flaw except to play patiently and be constantly aware of my actions. Quit spewing chips. Just fold. Save money and move on. Let the small pots go.

Here are three AA hands from tonight's play. I had to fold them, and I think I was right to do so. Anyone feel differently? Assume 100 BB stacks at a 5/10 NL game.

Hand 1:
Hero raises UTG to $30. Everyone folds except for a loose SB (75/22/.94).

Kd 9h 4s
SB checks.
Hero bets $55.
SB calls

SB checks
Hero bets $165 into $180 pot.
SB check-raises to $330
Hero folds.

Hand No. 2:
UTG limp (30/6/.5)
CO limp
Button limp
Hero raises to $80 from SB
UTG call
CO call
Button fold

5c 3h 9s
Hero bets $200
UTG calls
CO folds

Hero checks.
UTG is all in for $734 into $660 pot.
Hero folds.

Hand No. 3:
Hero raises to $30 from MP
BB calls (same player as in Hand No. 2, but about an hour has passed)

Ts 9h 8s
BB checks
Hero bets $50 into $65
BB calls

9s (Neither of my Aces is a spade)
BB bets $90 into $165
Hero folds.

Those sucked. But calling or raising may well have sucked more.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Low pockets folo

A few days ago, I wrote, "Calling 3-bets preflop with low pocket pairs is not profitable if you have to count on hitting a set to win the pot."

While making my point, I intentionally neglected the times when it is profitable to call reraises with low pocket pairs.

My favorite situation occurs when I'm against a very tight raiser from the blinds. I'm talking about players who almost never raise, and when they do from a bad position, it means AA or KK. Calling a reraise against these guys is a no-brainer because their hand range is so narrow, increasing your implied odds. If you hit, you'll stack them. If not, you can fold.

A similar circumstance occurs when you're against a huge calling station. Some of these players will pay off so liberally that you do have odds to flat call and set mine.

Another good time to call a 3-bet with a low pocket pair is when you think you can bluff postflop. In addition to the chance of hitting a set, you also have another way of winning a medium-sized pot with a bet or a raise. It's almost like a combo draw because you have some fold equity postflop, an idea a couple of commenters pointed out.

I'll never try bluffing with a low pocket pair against a calling station, but it works well on a variety of mildly coordinated flops against fit-or-fold type opponents. In general, it doesn't perform as well on completely uncoordinated or high-card flops.

One thing not to do with these low pocket pairs is 4-bet or push with them. It's almost always a disaster unless your opponent folds immediately.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

BHMGII: Return of Cash

The Blogger Hard Money game found its stride when we moved to a $0.75/1.5 deep stack table with $300 maximum buy-ins.

We got four blogger for the $2.5/5 game -- Fuel55, Percentile Doom, Fishiswa and I -- before we switched it up.

Then many others joined in, including iam23skidoo, hoyazo, twoblackaces, bayne, columbo, kajagugu, chitwood, rake feeder, pirate lawyer, astin and weak player.

I'm not sure who the big winner was overall, but I doubled up early at the 2.5/5 table when a non-blogger shoved the river into my nut flush. That was easy. I also remember seeing bayne with a decent stack later on.

The game was still going after more than five hours, at which point I had to leave after playing way too much poker today.

I enjoy having a blogger cash game because it gives players an opportunity to sit down like they would at a home game with friends, donking around and trying to take each others' chips. I hope everyone had a good time.

Fishiswa and I got into a pot in which he pulled a successful river all-in bluff against my flopped flush. I'm still kicking myself for checking the turn:

Free hand converter brought to you by CardRunners

Seat 4: Fuel55 ($1,320) -
Seat 5: locklear ($1,031.40) -
Seat 6: Fishiswa ($1,024.15) -
Seat 8: smizmiatch ($2,242.45)


locklear posts small blind $2.50
Fishiswa posts BIG blind $5
Dealt To: smizmiatch

RAISE smizmiatch ($15)
FOLD Fuel55
FOLD locklear
CALL Fishiswa ($10)


Pot: $32.5

CHECK Fishiswa
BET smizmiatch ($25) (Let's start building a pot)
CALL Fishiswa ($25)


Pot: $82.5

CHECK Fishiswa
CHECK smizmiatch (I have the nuts! I really should have bet it here, especially given the deep stacks and the need to put more money in the middle while I was sure I had the best hand. I didn't bet though, instead opting to try for a river value play. So bad.)


Pot: $82.5

BET Fishiswa ($82.50) (Great!)
RAISE smizmiatch ($165) (Minraise to get value from a broader range.)
RAISE Fishiswa ($984.15) (Wow. There was $247 in the pot, and now I needed to call about $700 more. What a disaster. Fishiswa and I had been chatting earlier, and he told me he didn't have much money in his Full Tilt account. I didn't think it likely that he would make such a large bluff with most of his FT bankroll on the line. Also, since he was in the big blind, he could have had a wide variety of full houses that got there on the river.)
FOLD smizmiatch (Can't make the call. I probably would have called if we were playing for only 100 BB stacks)
UNCALLED Fishiswa ($819.15)

Fishiswa collected $410.5 from main pot

Total pot: $412 Rake: $2

Final Board:

Seat 4: Fuel55 button didnt bet folded - Net Gain/Loss: ($0)
Seat 5: locklear small blind folded before the Flop - Net Gain/Loss: ($-2.5)
Seat 6: Fishiswa big blind collected 410.50 - Net Gain/Loss: ($205.5)

Seat 8: smizmiatch folded on the River - Net Gain/Loss: ($-205)

Free hand converter brought to you by CardRunners

Thanks to everyone for playing. Let's do it again early next month.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Blogger $2.5/5 NL Cash Game!

Let's play a blogger cash game Wednesday during the Mookie!

Sorry for the short notice, but I only recently learned I would be available Wednesday. I hope at least a few people are able to make it out.

I've changed the format from last time. The game will now be $2.5/5 NL deep stacks, which allows a lot of room for play while offering stakes that many bloggers might be used to playing at a casino. That means a $500 minimum buy-in and $1,000 maximum buy-in. I encourage everyone to turn out.

In the first Blogger Hard Money Game, Weak Player was the big winner as he accumulated a gigantic $4,000 stack. Waffles, Fuel55, Bone_Daddy84, Rake Feeder, Cmitch, RecessRampage and Poker Grind also played. I think everyone enjoyed the competition and the big pots. And a few people (myself included) liked the profits!

To join, either contact me through Yahoo! chat (smizmiatch) or search for my Full Tilt screenname (smizmiatch) and jump in.

I've wanted to make this a monthly event, but it's been tough because of my schedule. So if there's enough interest, maybe someone else can share organizing duties with me in the future.


In last night's cash game play, I had AK on a Kd5c7c flop cracked by presto after I had reraised to $100 preflop in a 5/10 game with 100 BB stacks.

When calling my raise to $100, pocket fives will have a very difficult time making money in the long run. My opponent will only hit his set about one in eight times, so he would need to get paid off eight times more than the amount he has to call to justify it. In this case, he had initially raised to $30 and had to call $70 more. He needed to earn about $560 on average.

I don't believe my opponent will get paid off enough to make that call worthwhile. With my AK, I would have to both hit one of my cards, he would have to hit his set and I would have to stay in. I could write out a lot of math about various outcomes, but I'll leave that to you if you don't believe me:

Calling 3-bets preflop with low pocket pairs is not profitable if you have to count on hitting a set to win the pot.

I knew that when my opponent called my reraise. The question was, did my opponent know he was making a poor play?

If he knew what he was doing, he probably wouldn't have made the call with a low pocket pair and I could have confidently bet my hand, knowing my opponent didn't have a set. If he didn't know what he was doing, it's much more likely he was trying to hit hard and stack me.

I could have gotten away from the hand against either type of player. But even when I pay off my opponent, he'll probably lose money in the long run calling 3-bets with low pocket pairs in hopes that he'll hit.