Friday, May 30, 2008

Pineapple Maze King

I shattered the previous pineapple maze record today, finishing it in a mere five minutes and regaining my place at the top of the leaderboard.

My run sliced the previous high-mark of 10 minutes in half, and it should last for quite some time. I had slipped to second place after my previous record of 12 minutes set a month ago failed to hold up for long.

It surprised me how easy it was to regain my place as the champion. I'm not a fast runner, but I was able to put down a strong time because I knew the maze so well now that I've been through it six times.

Beating the pineapple maze is a somewhat trivial accomplishment, but it's not much different from winning a poker tournament, race or video game. It's pretty rare to be the best at anything.

After the flop

Postflop play is where a lot of the money is made in poker. Not coincidentally, it isn't easy to learn.

This isn't a post where I'm going to try to write out my thoughts on how to play postflop, because I don't really know how to play postflop. All I do is try to reason through every previous action of my opponents, set a loose hand range and try to make the most of my equity. If I have an edge or pot odds, I'll bet and raise. If not, I'll fold or evaluate my implied odds.

I wish there were a good book on postflop play for no limit hold 'em. But I wonder if there are too many variables to really develop a framework. So much of postflop play seems to occur on a hand-by-hand basis.

Here's what I know:

_ The key to postflop play is establishing accurate hand ranges.

_ Hand reading online is a an important and acquired skill.

_ Playing out of position postflop is extremely difficult for me.

_ If you don't know where you stand, folding isn't a bad option.

_ Preflop betting patterns go a long way toward narrowing opponents' hand ranges.

_ Solid, straightforward poker wins money.

I'd really like to hear comments from anyone who knows a way to improve hand reading skills beyond experience and deductive reason. Any help is appreciated.


I will attempt to reclaim my rightful place as Pineapple Maze champion today. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Plotting Vengeance

My reign as Pineapple Maze Champion has come to a quick end.

When Kuro and I visited the pineapple maze at Dole Plantation yesterday, we saw that some dude named Jason Bernard had taken over first place, bumping me down to second. He completed the maze in 10 minutes; my previous record set less than a month ago had been 12 minutes.

This aggression will not stand.

I'll be back at the pineapple maze to regain my throne. It may take several tries, but I will fight hard to set a new record with a single-digit time.

Look out, Jason Bernard.


During Kuro's Memorial Day visit, I was reminded of a few pieces of classic poker advice he's given me over the years:

You don't need cards: I have this text message saved on my phone, nearly three years after it was sent. It reminds me to try to play the players more than the cards.

Don't push it: There's no reason to play too often or overplay hands.

Cally cally don't fly in Vegas: Calling down is seldom the best line to take in a hand.

Was it ever in doubt?: Of course I win, fish.


Sometimes I feel like a dense idiot for playing poker when I know I can't bring my best game.

I woke up on Memorial Day imagining all the vacationing drunkards sitting down at the online tables. I thought money would materialize in my lap, even though I was still half asleep and cranky.

How many times do I have to learn that it's better to not play at all than to play poorly? I incorrectly tell myself I can fight through it, but I find that it's difficult to elevate my play to its top form by willpower alone.

Of course I lost money (although there were a couple of coolers). I would have needed a suckout to come out ahead in my tired state.

I'd like to think I'm catching on to this trend of bad results flowing from playing while sleepy, but it's hard to remember not to play when all I want to do is play.

Friday, May 23, 2008

UB and Absolute Cheating, and more PokerTracker

Superusers and Silence: How UltimateBet let players get cheated for millions. Check it out.


One cool feature of PokerTracker3 is its ability to generate custom reports based on a variety of statistics.

So far there are five custom reports posted in the PokerTrack repository: Flopped Sets, Big Cards Hit Flop, Pocket Pair Hit Flop, Player Performance Summary and Hands Report-Game Notes Replacement.

The Hands Report is the most practical tool because it allows you to easily review your best and worst hands -- something I had immediately noticed was missing from the new PT3.

The other stats are less useful but more fun, especially Hit Flop With Pair because you can see whether you're connecting with the flop as much as you should on average.

Over 142,527 hands in this database, here's what my Hit Flop With Pair stats look like.

Hand One In
AA 8.7
KK 7.3
QQ 9.0
JJ 6.3
TT 6.4
99 7.8
88 9.8
77 7.5
66 8.2
55 8.2
44 7.5
33 7.9
22 6.6

You flop at least a set one in 8.5 times on average, so you can see that 10 out of 13 pocket pairs are hitting more often than they should for me. I run so good.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

PokerTracker3 Impressions

I've been a fan of PokerTracker for a long time because it gives me an edge I wouldn't have otherwise. The ability to analyze my opponents' tendencies as I play has won me countless pots and increased my understanding of the game.

This update to PokerTracker, called PokerTracker3, has been a long time coming. The previous interface had become outdated, while the heads-up display's layout took way too much effort to modify.

The new version of PokerTracker accomplishes its main goals:

1. Hand histories are instantly and easily uploaded, and their data are quickly reflected in the new, integrated heads-up display. PT and PokerAce Hud are now part of the same program.

2. There are countless new statistics to play with, especially details about 3-betting and 4-betting that were unavailable in the previous version. There are also options to compile custom reports based on a wide variety of players, filters and statistics.

3. Graphs showing BB/hands, money/hands, money won with showdown/hands and money won without showdown/hands are available with only one or two clicks.

The Hud and customizable realtime stat display are the most important features, and these work well. I love the interface and all the options.

That said, this new version of PokerTracker needs some improvements. It's still a work in progress, and don't expect this initial commercial release to be without flaws.

I've encountered frequent errors when attempting to display stats for table averages, something that should be fairly simple. I know this will be corrected in an update very soon, based on responses on the PT forums.

There's no option to instantly toggle between overall and per-session stats directly from the poker client screen, a feature that I understand is available in Holdem Manager. I read somewhere that this functionality would also be added later. Even PT's developers acknowledge that HM currently has more features (PT3 costs $90; HM costs $80).

I was also a bit disappointed that there's no "Game Notes" tab in PT3, which I previously used after each session to review how I played my winningest and losingest hands of the day. It's more cumbersome to review individual hands in the new version, although again PT's programmers say they'll correct this shortfall soon.

The TableTracker feature promises to use your database to show stats on players at all tables that you currently have open for an additional monthly fee. This feature doesn't work yet, and I don't think I'll pay for it. I already have SpadeEye for that.

Overall, PokerTracker3 shows a distinct improvement over the old version, with easier hand importation, quicker statistical displays and countless options for analysis. However, it still has some flaws that need to be improved over the next few weeks in order to bring it up to speed.

Fortunately, I have confidence in PT's designers, who have always provided exceptional customer support over the years. They work with the poker community to constantly upgrade their product, and they pay attention to individual difficulties in using the software when problems arise.

Monday, May 19, 2008

FTOPS ME: 146th place finish

The Full Tilt Online Poker Series Main Event is a tournament I always try to turn out for. It's filled with donkeys and has a huge first place payout. I'd love to hit it big someday.

Instead, I'll settle for 146th place out of 4,750 players, for a decent $1,900 payout. I'll take it. The real money is at the final two tables, so I feel OK about busting when I did rather than creeping along for a slightly higher prize. You have to play for the real money.

The story of this tournament for me was success -- and eventual failure -- with AK.

Over 398 hands played, I was dealt AK 11 times, and I won with it all but once, on my bustout hand. Three times when I was called with AK, I flopped an Ace or a King. Once I didn't, on my last hand.

The other impression I'm left with from this tournament is the absolute importance of stealing and restealing, even with mediocre hands. I believe I simply won't get enough good cards in most tournaments to be able to wait for a premium hand. I need to constantly seek out situations where I can force opponents to fold, giving me chips without having to see a flop.

Those steals worked well until I overshoved with 66 with an M of about 7 and got called by QQ for my biggest loss of the tourney.

Other than all those AK hands, it seems like I didn't get dealt many decent cards. I had AQ four times, AJ twice and KK twice (neither of which won me many chips). My next-best hand was TT, which I folded three times preflop (and would have lost all three times).

There's not much more to say. You have to steal to stay alive, and I felt like I did a good job to accumulate enough chips through steals to build my stack for when those AK hands doubled me up.

Thanks to my backers and railbirds: Kuro, Fuel, RecessRampage, Pirate Lawyer and cmitch.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New PokerTracker and 3bet stats

PokerTracker3 made its commercial release Thursday after many months of development.

I played a lot of hands today to test it out, and I'll write a more complete review soon. The most obvious improvements are an integrated heads-up display (formerly PokerAce HUD), faster hand history uploading and a wide variety of statistics.

Two of the most important stats are 3-bet percentage and fold to 3-bet percentage, which were not available in the previous version of PT. The availability of this information may gradually change the online poker landscape.

Here's why:

If an opponent raises to $35 from the button in a 5/10 NL game, you can now tell how often a resteal from the blinds needs to be successful to show a profit. A reraise to $120 from the BB shows an immediate profit if your opponent folds to your 3-bet more than 70 percent of the time (.70*$50>.3*$110).

Now we can make these resteal raises liberally with a wide range of cards if an opponent's stats show that he folds to 3-bets too often. Against one player tonight, I even made this kind of move with 73s because I was so sure he would fold:

Free hand converter brought to you by CardRunners

Seat 1: smizmiatch ($1,000) -
Seat 2: migs2 ($1,142) -
Seat 3: utreg ($1,127)
Seat 4: PekingTokyo ($1,015)
Seat 5: HMM_SURE ($340)
Seat 6: XJUSTRUNX ($1,189) -


smizmiatch posts small blind $5
migs2 posts BIG blind $10
Dealt To: smizmiatch

FOLD utreg
FOLD PekingTokyo
RAISE smizmiatch ($120)
FOLD migs2
UNCALLED smizmiatch ($85)
MUCK smizmiatch

smizmiatch collected $80 from main pot

Total pot: $80 Rake: $0

I know these 3-betting statistics have been available for a while via Holdem Manager, but I have no experience with that software. I'll have to give it a try soon.

An observant opponent will catch on to what you're doing and eventually play back at you, so you have to be on top of the action and not get too far out of line. But some players, especially major multitablers, are on autopilot. They might fold 20 times before they realize they're being robbed blind.

By stealing more often and getting more aggressive, the new PT enabled me to move closer to the ever-elusive loose-aggressive style. I ran 20/17 in one session and 25/23 in another, compared to my 2008 average at 6-max games of 16/13.

Because more people will start to take advantage of these tactics, the games will continue to get tougher. Strong players will have to be ready to adjust. The defense against a player who 3-bets frequently is to call and 4-bet more often.

Here's a screenshot of my new PT layout on Full Tilt:

I list my stats on three lines:
AF/3bet %/Attempt to steal %
Fold to continuation bet %/Fold to 3bet %/Fold BB to steal %

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is paying off a flopped set always right when you give your opponent a bad price?

I don't know if this statement is true or not:

When your opponent makes a play that you know to be unprofitable in the long run, you can feel justified in paying him off.

This situation comes up frequently against loose players who call three-bets lightly with low pocket pairs. They're hoping to hit a set and get paid off, even though they don't have the immediate odds to do so, and their implied odds are questionable.

I'm confident that calling a three-bet is usually wrong preflop when you have a low pocket pair. It's only made right when you're highly confident your opponent will gift you his stack when you do hit, and you have to pay less than 1/8 of your stack to see the flop because you'll only hit your set 1/8 of the time.

For example:

5/10 6-max with 100BB effective stacks

Loose fish calls $35 from CO
Hero raises to $120 from Button with AA
UTG folds
Loose fish calls.
Pot is $255

458 twotone

Should you always stack off here, knowing that your opponent may have called a $85 three-bet preflop with a low pocket pair? He needs to expect an average profit of roughly $680 ($85*8) for this call to be correct. It's unlikely he'll get paid off enough to make that kind of profit, no matter how you cut it.

I don't know the correct answer. Should you:

a) Get all in on the flop every time I hold a premium hand, knowing that your opponent will lose money in the long run by making these kinds of expensive preflop calls. If he's willing to make a mistake like this, I want to encourage him to do so. It's not like I'm going to have AA or KK in this spot every time I three-bet, which means I'll fold a broad range of lesser hands on the flop, thus reducing my opponent's implied odds.

b) Fold sometimes when your opponent shows unexpected aggression on a flop that was unlikely to hit anything except for a set. After all, stacking off would justify his implied odds, which makes his preflop call almost right.

Is there an absolute answer? Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Staying on target

Woohoo! I'm on vacation this week, and I have few plans except to relax, run errands and play poker.

I already played a lot over the weekend, with results in line with expectations. I won on Friday and Sunday, and I lost on Saturday.

The reason I lost on Saturday is obvious to me: I played too much and noticed a decline in my focus, but I kept playing. I should have stopped when I realized that I wasn't as sharp. Gaining awareness of when I'm not playing as well as I should be is something I've been working on for as long as I've been playing poker, and it's not easy. There have been many times when I wasn't able to tell the difference between my A game and my C game.

I picture a graph, with the X axis being the hours I've played and the Y axis being my level of play. In the first hour and a half that I play in a session, I usually can make accurate reads and hold the confidence to act on them -- this is my A game. In the next 30 minutes to an hour, I start to decline into my B game. After that, I tend to run on autopilot, shying away from big pots and falling back on experience rather than analytical thinking, which is my C game.

The graph would look something like this:

It's difficult to attempt assigning winrates to each of my game levels, but I can tell you that my A game is unquestionably profitable, and my C game is borderline depending on game conditions at the 5/10 6-max level.

I intend to play many hands this week to the best of my ability. The way to do that is to break up my sessions into 1.5-2 hour blocks so that I stay fresh, rather than never leaving the computer even to relieve yourself. Sick.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Genie in a bottle

If you could magically acquire one poker skill, what would it be?

John Vorhaus asks the question in this month's Cardplayer.

Would you rather have the ability to reraise bluff on the river, exercise a laser-sharp memory, make plays, be fearless, read hands, manipulate table image or always know the odds?

Vorhaus doesn't answer the question, but I know which of the choices I would pick.

I'd want to be a master hand reader. Of all those skills, pinpoint hand reading would result in the most extreme profits. It would be like being a superuser on Absolute Poker.

Who needs courage if you can consistently narrow your opponent's range to a handful of possible cards? Why worry about your bluffing frequency when you can always force your opponents to fold their weak, transparent hands? What good is memory when you know what your opponent has? Why bother with higher-level math when a basic knowledge of pot odds will do?

Superior hand reading is more important than any of these individual skills. You don't need fancy plays when your opponents' cards are obvious.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Staying uncommitted

It feels good to be playing my "A" game.

My results have been OK but not great as donkeys get it in bad and suckout repeatedly. What's gratifying is that I haven't been making many major mistakes for my stack when drawing slim. I know this probably means I'm getting bluffed sometimes, but I've also caught my fair share of big bluffs.

One of the reasons I haven't been going broke as much with overpairs or top pair is the guideline in "Professional No-Limit Hold 'em" that you're close to being committed after putting in more than 1/3 of your stack. By paying attention to how much I've invested and how much my remaining stack is, I've been able to slow down before the pot gets too large to resist. It has given me more confidence 4-betting when I feel I can take down a 9BB to 16BB pot preflop without feeling bad when I have to fold after getting 5-bet or called. And sometimes, I'll flop a decent draw and go with it in these large pots.

This train of thought got me thinking about adjustments in aggressive games. If most pots are being 3-bet preflop, how can you see a flop with drawing hands when you don't have implied odds? For example, if I raise from the cutoff with 76s and get 3-bet from the button, I can't really profitably call very often with 100BB or smaller stacks. I could 4-bet as a semibluff at times, but folding is usually the best choice.

Some would argue for limping or minraising more often in these kinds of games, and there's probably some merit to that, but it's not my style at all. If I'm going to open a pot, I'm coming in for a 3X+ raise.

Your options are limited when 3-bet out of position. I'm going to raise or fold almost every time unless I want to mix it up by smooth calling with AA-JJ.

In position, I'll be more likely to see a flop or reraise. But the reason for seeing a flop isn't necessarily to flop huge. In addition to draws and some pair hands, I also have to bluff a bit against highly aggressive opponents. This kind of situation comes up after raising something like 76s or Q9s from the button.

It isn't always comfortable to play medium-sized pots with these weakish hands, but there's not a good way around it except to try to outplay your opponents postflop. I wonder how often folding preflop may be the better play, even in position.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pineapple Maze Champion!

I set the new record for the fastest time posted in the pineapple maze at Dole Plantation on Oahu!

I completed the maze in 12 minutes, beating the previous best time by a minute. Flags fly forever.

The maze attendant puts my name in the top spot on the all-time leaderboard.

It took me four tries over two years to conquer the maze, which was the "World's Largest Maze" in the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records. This time, victory was mine.

The goal of the maze is to reach each of eight checkpoints hidden throughout the shrubbery. At each of these checkpoints, you have to stencil a figure onto a scorecard to prove you were there. Your card is timestamped at the beginning and end of the maze to verify authenticity.

I knew going in that a top-five time would win me a free poster of the maze, which I wanted to hang in the office. It also came with a claim to fame.

The first two times I tried the maze, I walked and just wanted to complete it. It took me more than an hour each of those times. The third time through, I ran through and was in good shape until one of the checkpoints stumped me for about 20 minutes, putting my final time at about 40 minutes -- far short of what I needed to get my poster.

This time, I took on the maze again with some of my girlfriend's relatives who are vacationing here. I copied a rough map approximating where each of the checkpoints is located, information that's provided before you enter. The map didn't tell me exactly where the checkpoints were, but it would help me if I missed any station so I wouldn't have to backtrack much.

Lane, a 12-year-old in the family visiting us, teamed up with me and we were off, running as fast as we could and taking down the checkpoints in order.

Everything fell into place perfectly. I found the stations quickly and efficiently. Even when I missed one, I realized it immediately and retraced my steps to discover the checkpoint.

After stenciling in the last one, I knew I had a top-five time (I needed to beat 17 minutes). I busted through some of the bushes rather than following the path as I sought an exit as quickly as possible. Out of breath, I crossed the finish line, had my scorecard timestamped and found out I was the winner.

My record and my name will remain on the leaderboard until five people knock me off with faster times -- something I hope never happens.

Friday, May 02, 2008


There's no doubt that check-raising is fun.

It puts pressure on your opponents and can signal a broad range of hands. It can be used to build a pot or end it immediately. It can be used as a bluff or with the nuts. It can be a draw or an overpair.

With so many options and potential outcomes, you have to wonder: What exactly am I trying to accomplish with this check-raise again? Do I want a call or a fold? Is it for value or a bluff?

Spritpot wrote a couple of recent posts on the check-raise, in which he argued that the check-raise is often a bad play. If your opponent folds to your check-raise, that means he usually had a worse hand and you missed out on some value. If he raises or calls, he probably has the best hand and position. In these cases, it's often better to bet out rather than risk a potentially awkward situation later.

For example, I'm reminded of a hand I played skidoo's house over Christmas. In a multway limped pot, I completed from the small blind with A4o. I flopped top pair on an Axx board. It checked around to skidoo, who bet in position. I check-raised and took down the pot. While my check-raise "worked," I may have been able to get more money in with the best hand if I had bet out instead. I could have taken down the pot just as easily with any two cards in that spot.

"If you ARE going to check-raise, should it be done as a bluff or for value (?)," he asks. "I think there the answer is pretty obvious, it has to be both to balance your range."

There's a lot more discussion in those posts about when check-raises may be appropriate and when they're overvalued, so give them a look. I don't think there are many absolutes about when a check-raise is better than betting out.

I'm convinced that check-raising is a powerful move, if only because you don't have many weapons out of position. You can either bet or check-raise (calling and folding can't really be called "weapons"). The check-raise is the riskier move because it costs more, but it's also more likely to get your opponent to fold or gain accurate information about where you stand in the hand.

Absent many solid answers, I'd like to make a few more points:

_ Bets don't always have to be clearly defined as being for value or a bluff. They can be a mixture of both. That said, you should know what you hope to accomplish -- gain information, get a fold, stack your opponent, set up a turn push -- with the check-raise rather than using the move arbitrarily.

_ Check-raising or donkbetting at some point in the hand is almost always better than calling down three streets. Simply calling down out of position allows your opponent to accurately value bet and bluff. Throwing in a check-raise is more likely to end the hand while you're still ahead, although it turns your hand into a bluff with all but strong holdings with which you want to see a showdown.

_ A lot of posters in this thread seem to think Taylor Caby's flop check-raise "for value" with 2nd pair is a poor move, but it worked for him when he tripped up on the river. The discussion is very interesting, and I'll have to spend more time going through the whole thread.