Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stick and Move

One way in which poker is a great game is that for every tactic your opponents employ, you can adjust and react.

I want to make my game more flexible and responsive to my opponents' tendencies. If I can play that way, I'll be hard to read and prepared for most potential actions.

I like making lists, so here's a list of a few player tendencies and their counters:

_ vs. a calling station: Bet for value more and bluff less.

_ vs. someone who calls most continuation bets: Don't c-bet with hands that have little value. Consider checking behind some flops with hands that have showdown value for pot control.

_ vs. a frequent 3-bettor: There are two ways to fight an aggressive preflop re-raiser. The first is to start 4-betting him, which works well as long as your opponent folds when you don't have it and calls or raises when you do. A problem with 4-betting a maniac is that sometimes he'll come over the top with an all-in, and by that point you're either close to pot committed or stuck with something like JTs.

The other response to a frequent 3-bettor is to start 3-betting him more often. I like this adjustment because it costs less than 4-betting and 3-bettors usually know enough to fold when their opponents steal the momentum.

_ vs. someone who often calls 3-bets: Don't re-raise as often, especially out of position.

_ vs. minraisers and limpers: reraise the crap out of them.

_ vs. players who continuation bet too much: start floating, raising and check-raising them with a wide variety of hands as bluffs.

_ vs. major multitablers: bluff much more often, fire two bullets, initiate check-raises, float in position and overbet for value.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Vegas: I'm in

I bought my ticket to go to Vegas for the winter blogger gathering!

I missed the summer event for the first time in a couple of years, but I'm excited to return for a weekend of check-raising cowboys, playing mixed games at Imperial Palace and lightening the pockets of fellow tourists.

I arrive Friday morning (Dec. 12) and leave Sunday morning (Dec. 14), which means I won't be able to play in Fuel's $500 single-table SNG unless he changes the time. But that's OK -- Lucko will probably win it anyway.

I'll be staying at the IP with Kuro and Sham. I hope there's a blogger tournament this time around after there wasn't one over the summer. The tournament isn't that big of a deal, but it's usually the only time that all the bloggers are in one place.

Hope to see y'all there!

CTS knows

A recent CardRunners video by CTS shows why poker training sites are so valuable. I sometimes learn more from a single training video than I would from reading an entire book.

CTS is one of the best because his thinking about the game is on a much higher level than most other pros, and he does a pretty good job of explaining his reasoning.

For example, he writes out this equation for calculating the expected value of a stone-cold bluff:

I hadn't ever seen that specific math anywhere else, and it's a practical way to analyze whether you made a profitable bluff. This reminds me of a similar example CTS gave in a previous video about calculating the EV of a semibluff, which I wrote about here.

Another strong point of this video is when CTS folds his big blind with 55 against Taylor Caby's button open raise.

He says that a call or a raise could be defensible against a weaker player, but against a strong player out of position, low pocket pairs won't flop a set often enough or get paid off often enough to turn a profit.


At the tables, I've been working hard on my heads-up game.

Heads-up hold'em is such a thrill because you play so many hands and have to work through so many difficult situations. I can see where I have an edge (or lack thereof) more clearly when playing a single opponent.

I find that there are so many situations where I need to do a better job of balancing my range:

_ I have a hard time playing paired flops with Ace-high or low pocket pair hands. I find myself often checking the flop and trying to keep the pot small with these kinds of hands that are either way ahead or way behind. But this strategy makes it more difficult to get value when I do hit these paired flops because it's harder to represent anything but a strong hand type.

_ When I fail to continuation bet, I need to mix in more check-raises for value and as bluffs in order to mask the weakness a failed c-bet usually reveals.

_ My donkbets represent a tremendously limited range because I often prefer to check-raise the flop. That tendancy fails miserably against opponents who check behind the flop and raise the turn, both with strong and weak holdings. I need to do a better job of recognizing what flop textures I need to bet out on both for value and as bluffs. I'm guessing that it's better to bet out on the most extreme flop types: either very dry or very coordinated.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Poker Morality

While talking to my sister during my vacation over the last couple of weeks, she suggested that poker is immoral. She said it's wrong for a skilled player to take advantage of an opponent who has a gambling problem.

It's a strong point that I had a hard time arguing with.

I said that my rights shouldn't be curtailed because a percentage of my opponents may have a gambling problem. My sister said she wasn't arguing for restricting individual freedoms; she was talking about an individual decision to profit from someone else's sickness.

I said that everyone playing poker knows what they're getting into. She claimed that some of my opponents don't have the ability to think rationally about their gambling decisions, and I facilitate their gambling addiction.

I said that most poker players don't have a gambling problem, and I won't let the weakness of the few ruin the game for the rest of us. She said it doesn't matter exactly how many people have a gambling problem because I'm still harming those who do.

When I brought up her arguments to another friend of mine, he made the point that my sister was essentially comparing me to a drug dealer, profiting from addicts who don't know better or can't control themselves.

How should we as poker players resolve this dilemma? Do we try to remain blissfully ignorant of our contributions to perpetuating gambling addiction? Should we rationalize the negative consequences of our actions as an inevitable outcome of the game? Can we claim that if we weren't taking our opponents' money, someone else would? Should we give a portion of our winnings to charity in an effort to offset the harm we may be doing? Can I argue that I have as much of a gambling problem as anyone, and therefore everyone is on an even playing field?

Or perhaps there's only one way to stay morally pure: quit playing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Blogger Cash: Most win, I lose

I got crushed in the $1/2 deep-stacked NL blogger cash game, but most of the players who filled two tables on Full Tilt won some money.

I was playing from a booth at a loud bar, Moe's & Joe's, in Atlanta. I think it would be fair to say that the beer helped loosen me up.

Kuro, who was sitting across from me at the bar, recounted our big confrontations. I got it in really good once (dominating top pair) and really bad once (under two pair vs. trips). We know each other's styles pretty well, which means we'll get into a few confrontations.

I donked it up and lost. So it goes. Thanks for everyone who turned out to play, and I hope everyone had fun.

What's important to me now is that I get back on my game. I've been farting around at the tables throughout my vacation, and it's starting to hurt a bit. Vacation is great, and I feel pretty relaxed despite my recent questionable play. But now I'm going to bear down and focus rather than play the loosey-goosey style that leads to me spewing too many chips.

One problem I've found in my game is that I've been trying to play with standard betting patterns depending on flop textures. Instead, I should be tailoring my plays more based on my reads in specific situations.

Back to work!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blogger Cash Game is so on

Let's play a 1/2 no-limit hold'em deep-stacked blogger cash game on Wednesday during the Mook!

We have a great lineup of solid cash and tourney players who have already shown interest: Subzero, Mike Maloney, cmitch, RecessRampage, Kuro, Bone Daddy, twoblackaces and the spritpot crew.

Either contact me around 10 p.m. EDT on Yahoo IM (smizmiatch) as we decide what table to play on, or search for my screen name on Full Tilt (also smizmiatch).

Everyone is welcome to play. Good luck!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Balancing Your Range

The key element of hand reading is putting your opponent on a range of hands and determining the best line against that range as a whole. Once you can read ranges, programs like PokerStove can help determine how your hand performs against your opponents' likely holdings.

As difficult as hand reading is, it isn't enough. You also need to think about your opponents' perception of your hand range. An article in this month's Two Plus Two Magazine put it well: "Too many people think of playing their hand against their opponent’s range, as opposed to playing their range against their opponents range."

Therefore, the challenge is to "balance your range" to create a strategy that's difficult to exploit. By playing your strong, medium and weak hands on certain flop textures in a similar manner, you attempt to disguise your actual holding while extracting the most value overall from each hand type.

For example, if you only limp-raise with AA under the gun and no other hands, your hand range is "polarized" or "unbalanced" because you can only have one hand type in this situation. That's never a good thing because it enables your opponents to play perfectly against you.

Here's the technical definition of balancing your range: to merge your range so that you're not exploitable pursuing a certain line.

Balancing your range is a fascinating and practical topic that can be applied to any hand in any situation. Because I only have a passing familiarity with its specifics, I'll leave this post with a few thought-provoking links:

Shania, balancing, and what you really need to know: In this 2+2 thread, BobboFitos argues that it is unnecessary to balance your range against people who won't adjust to your standard betting lines.

This post resounded with me because I find myself playing to my opponent's perceived individual weaknesses, even though if he knew what I was doing he could play back at me. For example, I'll always fire a continuation bet against a player who will usually fold to a continuation bet because it doesn't matter what my range is if he'll fold to my bluff at a high frequency.

As one poster put it, "You should strive infinitely to balance your game, but heavily skew your play to each specific opponent."

I also agree with the sentiment that range balancing becomes far more important against observant opponents.

I found the 2+2 link from the Poker Log blog, which outlines some examples, such as raising junk hands preflop as semibluffs, continuation betting with air and double-barrelling scare cards. The author writes, "Your range is highly polarized when you perform action X when you only have Y. This makes your game highly exploitable and probably less profitable."

Foucalt presents a couple of other examples in this post with hands like TT and AK.

I have a lot of questions that I'll be thinking about in the coming days about how to apply range balancing:

How much of my 3-betting range should be made up of non-premium hands in order to disguise my premium hands? At what point does 3-betting non-premium hands become more expensive than it's worth?

Should I play KK on Axy flops in the same manner that I would play weak Aces on the same flop?

How should my check-raising distribution look between between monsters, pairs, draws and bluffs?

How often should I fire a second or third bullet? How strong of a "real" hand do I need to fire a second or third bullet? With what hand and flop types should I check the turn and extract value on the river?

Because my perceived hand range is based on my preflop betting actions and the flop texture, how relevant is my actual hand, knowing that I'll only reach showdown a small amount of the time?

Thursday, July 03, 2008


The games are getting tougher to beat.

Winning players constantly get stronger, refining their skills and playing in the most profitable games they can find. Losing players stagnate and fail to progress.

Poker is a dynamic game with ever-changing trends, new theories and neverending lessons to learn. If you don't practice, study and evolve with the game, you'll fall behind.

That's just the way it is. Either whine nostalgic about the juicy old days, or work to survive and thrive.