Sunday, September 28, 2008

Building Blocks

I've picked up some strategic gems from a couple of recent shows. I'll put them down here in hopes that they stick.

Cash Plays: Limit Hold'em with Death Donkey

1) Death Donkey mentions that when the pot is larger, the purpose of your value bets is more to protect the pot. When the pot is smaller, the purpose of your value bets is more to get paid by a worse hand.

2) In limit hold'em, Death Donkey discusses his style of never 4-betting/capping when out of position against an in-position 3-bettor. The reason is that he'll extract that extra small bet on the flop anyway when his opponent continuation bets, and his check-raise on the flop represents a wider range than a 4-bet preflop would.

In position, Death Donkey goes ahead and 4-bets his premium hands preflop.

He says something like, "If you could choose to only play large pots in position and smaller pots out of position, you'd make a lot of money."

Spaceman in a Cowboy Hat: Episode 4

1) The theme of this heads-up NL powerpoint video is that you should try to see how much you can get away with as you adjust to your opponents.

If your opponent will fold as much out of the BB to a minraise as he does to a 3X raise, you risk less to make the same amount with the minraise. If your opponent doesn't distinguish between a 5X and 3X raise preflop, it makes sense to raise bigger with premium hands for value and smaller with lesser hands. Of course, many opponents will catch on if you do this all the time, so you have to pick your spots.

2) The purpose of making larger than 3X 3bets preflop is to reduce your opponent's implied odds. You can raise bigger -- to 10 or 11 BB preflop -- against someone who calls 3bets too frequently, while raising smaller -- like 3X/9BB preflop -- against someone who folds to 3bets too much.


On an unrelated note, I have to mention the shenanigans in PokerStars Triple Draw games.

PokerStars has changed the rules of the game without previously informing the players.

Read the 2+2 thread, Ed Miller's take on it and Random Shuffle's reaction.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Top Podcasts

I bought a cheap Sansa mp3 player exclusively to listen to poker podcasts in my car as I drive to work. There's some high-quality content out there that I really like.

2+2 Pokercast: This is one of the most engaging poker podcasts, with lots of news, strategy and interviews with top players. When I listen to these guys, I get up to date on the latest events, tournament action, trends and funny forum posts.

Ante Up Magazine Podcast: The Ante Up crew is one of the oldest poker shows out there. The show's hosts, Chris Cosenza and Scott Long, recently branched out on their own to publish the Ante Up Magazine, which they're distributing in card rooms across Florida. They also started print magazine subscriptions, which I plan to support.

Cash Plays: Host Bart Hanson talks cash game strategy and interviews some of the top live and online pros. He gets a lot of perspectives and discusses ways to improve your game.

Those are the three I listen to on a regular basis, but I saw that High on Poker also suggested PokerRoad Radio.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Phil Ivey

“What’s the point of life if you don’t gamble?” -- Phil Ivey

That's my favorite Ivey quote, taken from this old Michael Craig post. Ivey is the consummate gambler. He's never out of the action and focuses on whatever bet he has going.

Then last week, Ivey owned Mike Matusow in the Million Dollar Cash Game. I noticed the article because it was linked to by Poker From the Rail's One Angry Monkey.

Ivey got Matusow to lay down the second nut flush on the river with a large bluff -- from $10,000 to $47,000. Matusow was still getting great pot odds, but it seems like Ivey got in his head. Pretty awesome.

Monday, September 22, 2008

HU15: Done

Screw heads-up poker.

I'm going back to my regular 6-max and full ring 5/10 NL games after failing to get close to becoming a winning heads-up player.

I certainly don't like admitting that I'm a HU fish, but it's the truth. It's a big relief returning to the games I know and feeling like I have a positive expectation in any game I sit in.

So what went wrong with my heads-up efforts? Why couldn't I break through?

As far as I can tell, my biggest problems were that I had a hard time evaluating hand strengths against wide ranges, and that I didn't have a good sense of the pacing of the game. That led me to time my bluffs poorly and call too lightly.

Now that I've decided to return to my regular games, I'm pretty happy. I'm letting myself listen to music again as I play, and I'm fine playing four tables, compared to the two I limited myself to HU.

In all, my heads-up challenge cost me about $11,000, according to my records. That's not nearly so bad as I perceived it to be, but it still leaves me with some work to do. At my high point, I was up about $4,000, and it's been all downhill since then.

I hope I don't sound too negative about this experience because I learned a lot about the game and I took a chance in a format that had great profit potential. I won't swear off heads-up entirely, but I don't intend to play HU much now.

A few footnotes:

_ Heads-up play does have incredible profit potential for those who are good at it. My opponents owned me and repeatedly got me to put my money in bad. My only problem is that I wasn't good at it.

_ These HU efforts strengthened my overall game. I steal much more, my 6-max and full ring VPIP has increased several points, I'm more confident playing out of position and I'm better postflop.

_ I have a lot of respect for players who are able to master HU, or any form of poker for that matter. It's not easy, and even a concentrated effort won't necessarily pay off.

Friday, September 19, 2008

HU14: No Worries

Video watched: Spaceman in a Cowboy Hat ep. 2

I always have to laugh at myself when I complain about losing one day, and then I feel like a balla the next. It's irrational and results oriented to think that way -- especially when the only thing that's changed is a couple of lucky hands -- but even so, I feel like things are starting to click.

A few broad ideas that are making sense to me:

_ Because I'm playing so many more small and mid-sized pots heads-up, it's important that I win more of those hands rather than go for big all-ins all the time. This is true in full ring and 6-max as well, but it's especially true heads-up. The swings are greater HU, but they seem more incremental, rather than winning or losing one big hand per 100 (or whatever).

_ When I started to make good money in full ring and 6-max games, I realized just how important position was and I became supertight out of position. After thousands and thousands of hands, folding out of position was routine. But heads-up, playing so nitty out of position doesn't fly. I'm coming to appreciate that I can't simply refuse to play out of position, and there are many spots where I can aggro my way into gaining the initiative. Instead of fearing being out of position, I can embrace it when the situation is right.

_ It's more important to play my range against my opponent's range, rather than worry about pot control. Previously, I was routinely checking behind dry flops for pot control, with the logic that I could extract value on later streets when I had the best hand and perhaps hit on the turn when I didn't. Now I realize that if my Ax hand on a 722 flop crushes my opponent's range, many times I'm going to want to bet.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

HUJ13: Losing

This effort to get good at heads-up poker is starting to discourage me a bit. I feel like I'm improving daily, but the results aren't there.

It's been more than two months since I've been playing heads-up almost exclusively, and I have little to show for it. I'm not down too much overall, but the lack of wins makes the grind difficult.

This quest to improve at heads-up was predicated on a few ideas: heads-up poker can be very profitable if I get good at it, I needed to get better at postflop play, I wanted a new challenge and I didn't want to grow content playing 5/10 full ring and 6 max all the time.

I still believe those thoughts are valid, but there's a real possibility that I'll never master heads-up poker to the extent that I'll make more money at it than I was in my previous games.

However, as long as I'm continuing to figure the game out and my bankroll is intact, I'm not going to give up. I'll need more evidence before I can determine that I'm not going to make it as a heads-up player.

For now, I still believe I can beat these games the same way learned to beat sngs, limit hold'em up to 15/30 and no limit hold'em up to 5/10. Those games will be waiting for me if I decide my heads-up quest is futile.

Everyone reaches their level of incompetence at some point, but I don't think I'm there yet, and I have room to grow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

HUJ12: Out of position, out of power

Video watched: Spaceman in a Cowbow Hat, ep. 1

I've noticed that I've been calling too much out of position postflop. In general, I want to be raising or folding when I don't have the button. That will somewhat help neutralize the positional advantage of the button, especially if I do a good job of balancing my bluffs and value bets.

Calling out of position defines my hand too clearly and puts me in a sticky spot as the hand develops.

This next hand is one where I misplayed it and got lucky on the river:

Full Tilt Poker, $2/$4 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 2 Players - Hand History Converter

SB: $400

Hero (BB): $505.50

Pre-Flop: 9 8 dealt to Hero (BB)
SB raises to $12, Hero raises to $40, SB calls $28

Flop: ($80) 7 4 6 (2 Players)
Hero bets $55, SB raises to $146, Hero calls $91

Turn: ($372) K (2 Players)
Hero bets $319.50 and is All-In, SB calls $214 and is All-In

River: ($800) 5 (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Results: $800 Pot ($0.50 Rake)
SB showed 6 7 (two pair, Sevens and Sixes) and LOST (-$400 NET)
Hero showed 9 8 (a straight, Nine high) and WON $799.50 (+$399.50 NET)

I ran this hand by my coach, and he suggested reraising the flop if I thought I had any fold equity, or simply folding my eight outs. Makes sense to me, although I'll have to work on folding my eight- or nine-out draws on the flop when appropriate.

Monday, September 15, 2008

HUJ11: Working on adaptation

One of the skills I'm focusing on is how to better adapt to my opponents. Every heads-up player is different, and it's entirely possible that a fishy player's style could beat a solid player if the solid player fails to adjust.

There are so many variables, and the challenge is to read hands, predict your opponents' next moves, develop counterstrategies and expose leaks. Inducing mistakes and recognizing them ain't easy, but it's damn profitable.

Here's an unrelated hand where I'm glad I didn't raise the turn when I turned the straight and had the nut flush redraw:

Full Tilt Poker, $2/$4 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 2 Players - Hand History Converter

BB: $813

Hero (SB): $460

Pre-Flop: A T dealt to Hero (SB)
Hero raises to $12, BB calls $8

Flop: ($24) Q 3 J (2 Players)

BB checks, Hero bets $16, BB calls $16

Turn: ($56) K (2 Players)
BB bets $46, Hero calls $46

River: ($148) 8 (2 Players)
BB bets $125, Hero calls $125

Results: $398 Pot ($0.50 Rake)
BB showed 7 T (a flush, Queen high) and WON $397.50 (+$198.50 NET)
Hero mucked A T (a straight, Ace high) and LOST (-$199 NET)

The donkbet on the turn set off alarm bells, but it also seemed suspicious because most flushes or flush draws would check-raise the flop. Maybe I could have found a fold on the river, but I like my play.

The most important point of this hand is that there was no value in raising the turn. Most worse hands would fold, and all better hands would call.

Video watched: pr1nnyraiding ep. 8

I finally finished this series. It was a strong introduction to a general strategy against various player types. Its downside was that it didn't go far into deeper concepts, but I know other series will.

My plan for now is to keep watching videos and improving, mostly at the 2/4 level. It's kind of hard to find weak players at limits 5/10 and above, so I know I need to be better prepared before I take on many of the solid regulars.

I also intend to start taking a closer look at hand histories, which is something I haven't been doing as much since playing heads-up because so many decisions are circumstantial. But that's no excuse not to review and analyze my play.

It's football season? Bet!

I ran pretty good in my five sports bets this weekend. I feel lucky to go 3-2, and another bet that would have been a loser didn't process correctly.

Here's the rundown:

USC (-11.5) vs. OhioSt: Win. Ohio St. sucks, and if they win the Big 10 it will only go to show how pathetic that conference is.

SMU (+36.5) vs. Texas Tech: Win. Call me a sports betting fish, but I see value in some of these huge lines. Won this one by a half point.

NorthTexas (+42) vs. LSU: Win.

Georgia (-7.5) vs. S. Carolina: Lose. The half point screwed me in a 14-7 game. Whatever.

Auburn (-10) vs. Miss. St.: Lose. Maybe this was the best 3-2 game in history, but it was still a shitty game.

USC-Ohio St, Over 44.5: Tie. Somehow this bet didn't register, and I would have lost because USC only won 35-3 and couldn't score that last TD. Weeeee.

Friday, September 12, 2008

HUJ10: Getting coached

I got a poker coach, and it was completely worth it.

Thanks to DeucesCracked for setting me up with cowpig, whose grasp of the heads-up game humbled me. With a coach sweating me as I played, I felt like I could take on anyone.

I wanted to sit at a couple of $5/10 tables for my coaching session, but the action was a bit slow and I couldn't find any good games. But after a few minutes, I settled in for two $2/4 tables against an aggressive player who 3-bet and fired two bullets way too much.

I wish I could retain all the lessons I picked up, but it will take time and practice for these details to sink in.

I'll recount a few of them in hopes that they stick:

On a dry A5x flop, I check-raised with a set of 5s and went for a second check-raise on the turn or river. Unfortunately, my opponent didn't bite with his A3o. I missed a little value, but perhaps the value is made up for in those times when I can check-raise and get paid off.

There were also many times when I was told I needed to slowplay more. Previously, there were many hands that I would slowplay on the flop but show my true intentions on the turn. The problem with this strategy is that it makes my strong hand pretty transparent and misses out on value from hands that might bet into me or call a bet on the river.

Too often, I sacrifice value because I feel like I need to protect my hand, but that doesn't make sense when I'm up against a fairly narrow range that can hit on the river. I shouldn't fear the flush draw so much, and I should be more nimble in my re-evaluation of my hand strength on successive streets.

A final point is that exploitative strategies can have far more value than so-called optimal strategies. By that I mean that if you find a clear pattern in your opponent's game, it makes so much more sense to take advantage of it than trying to otherwise balance your range. For example, against a player who folds to 4-bets too frequently, I should 4-bet with weaker hands while cold-calling with premium hands.

Too often, I miss value because I've trained myself to make my bluffs and value bets look alike all the time.

I picked up many other tips too, and I feel like my profitability has instantly jumped a few BB/100. As my coach said, this kind of instruction will rapidly boost my learning curve, making it so I gain knowledge in a couple of hours that would otherwise take me thousands of hands and lots of thought to acquire.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HUJ9: One-table wonder

I usually single-table heads-up games so that I can get a feel for the flow of the match and look closely for exploitable situations. Heads-up requires more attention that six-max or full ring games, and I lose more value than I gain from multitabling.

One common-sense trick that I've started using is opening up my opponents' other tables as I play them on a single table.

On the other tables, I can see how my opponent is doing. If he has a tough decision on his other table, I can bluff more easily because he's less likely to play back. If he recently suffered a bad beat on another table, he may be more likely to be tilting.

This kind of information results in easy money. Give it a try because it can pay off immediately.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

HUJ8: Postflop play

A lot of the money in hold'em cash games is made postflop, which is how it should be. Everything can change with the turn of a card or two, and later streets are also when the big bets go in. It's also appropriate that it's not easy to play postflop.

I remember before I played in my lone WSOP event, a $1,500 six-max tourney last year, my plan was to see some flops and "outplay my opponents postflop."

In retrospect, it's pretty funny that I uttered that phrase because I was probably a below-average player postflop. Instead, I tried to play preflop pots and in position to give myself an edge. But that edge didn't mean I knew how to handle relative hand strengths on various flop textures.

I'm getting a better idea of postflop play. That's one area where this heads-up challenge is vastly improving my game.

I'm working on recognizing the difference between top pair and second pair, between inducing a bluff and betting for value, between continuation betting on a paired flop and checking behind, between pot control and fastplays. Each hand is circumstantial, but I'm getting a better handle on how I should be thinking.

For example, on a dry flop, it's less likely that either you or your opponent hit a piece of it. At the same time, it's more likely that a player who hit a piece of the flop is going to see a showdown. So it becomes easier to bluff against a non-thinking opponent who will fold to pressure, and it becomes more difficult to bluff opponents who know the strength of Ace-high on a 722 flop.

Then I have to ask myself: if I have A6 on a 722 flop, do I want to continuation bet because my hand figures to be best and I'm happy to take it down? Or do I check behind and either bet or call the turn? What would I do with K6 in that situation? What would I do with 77? The idea that I should bet-bet-bet has gotten me in big trouble in the past.

Video: pr1nnyraiding ep. 7

As a more typical "sweat" type video, I felt more entertained by it but less educated than by previous episodes of the series. There were certainly a few nuggets that I want to remember:

_ Against an opponent who 3-bets frequently, his general cold-calling range can be something like 78-QT and low pockets.

_ Unconnected, unsuited hands with 9s in them _ K9, Q9 and J9 _ don't fare too well when cold-calling out of position. Just folding is usually better.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

HUJ7: Normalizing

This brutal run continued Friday and Saturday, but I seem to be pulling out of it a little today. What's important is that I'm learning and steadily improving.

There have been many times during previous downswings where I felt like I wasn't getting anything out of it, that I'm just wasting my time and money feeding the variance monster. But because heads-up is such a nuanced game, it takes a while to catch on.

To list a few things I've been changing: value betting, starting hands, 3-betting ranges and exercising pot control.

Above all, I'm realizing that heads-up poker is still poker, and it follows most of the general rules of thumb of the game: You can't win every day, even worse players can run good for thousands of hands, you usually need a big hand to win a big pot, and you can't push too hard. I'm also trying to learn patience and not just shove it in when I turn a crappy two-pair.

Videos: pr1nnyraiding eps. 5 and 6.

These vids discuss playing against TAGs and LAGs, two common player types in HU games. Lots of good information about playing scare cards, opening up your range, inducing bluffs, adjusting bet sizes downward.

I also liked the brief talk about the Yeti theorem, which as I understand it says that the third bet on a dry flop is usually a bluff. Of course, if you're playing against an opponent who knows that the third bet is usually a bluff, that opponent may put in that bet for value. Yay, leveling.

Friday, September 05, 2008

HUJ6: No play

Took a day off.

Videos: pr1nnyraiding ep. 3 and ep. 4.

These videos dealt with adjusting to loose-passive and weak-tight players.

Some of the tips against loose-passives: value bet more and bluff less, make smaller bluffs, continuation bet second pair at times.

Against weak-tights: Bluff more often because they're going to showdown less, fire two bullets, look for scarecards to bluff on the river, 3-bet more preflop.

These DeucesCracked videos are educational. I've noticed I get loose-passives and weak-tight players confused sometimes, and that can get expensive when I'm trying to bluff the hell out of opponents who won't fold.

I'm looking forward to the next videos, which deal with adjusting for TAGs and LAGs. I'm sure they will get into more about evaluating hand ranges, balancing your range and analyzing flop textures. I need to improve at those skills.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

HUJ5: Turn betting

I've gotten myself into some cool situations recently with my turn bet-sizing.

The idea is that if you want to get your opponent all-in, it makes sense to size your turn bet at an amount that will leave one pot-sized bet left for the river. This often results in strange-looking, small turnbets that your opponents feel obliged to call (or raise). Then they either have to fold the river or make an atrocious call.

Here's an example where my small turnbet induced my opponent to raise all-in with top pair:

Full Tilt Poker, $2/$4 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 2 Players - Hand History Converter

SB: $1,029.50

Hero (BB): $440

Pre-Flop: 6 8 dealt to Hero (BB)
SB raises to $12, Hero raises to $40, SB calls $28

Flop: ($80) 4 7 5 (2 Players)
Hero bets $60, SB calls $60

Turn: ($200) Q (2 Players)
Hero bets $90, SB raises to $929.50 and is All-In, Hero calls $250 and is All-In

River: ($880) 3 (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Results: $880 Pot ($0.50 Rake)
SB showed 8 Q (a pair of Queens) and LOST (-$440 NET)
Hero showed 6 8 (a flush, Queen high) and WON $879.50 (+$439.50 NET)


I had a -5 buy-in session at 2/4 yesterday, which blew.

I want to review a few of my losing all-in hands, especially since I got it in bad several times:

Hand 1: I call a 3bet from the button with QJo and call a continuation bet on an AT7 flop. Then when I hit a J on the turn, I raised and got it in with my pair and gutshot. I was up against AJ. In retrospect, this is horrible poker (got it in with a 9 percent shot), but I was thinking at the time that I could get my opponent off AK or AQ.

Hand 2: K3 vs. 44 that peeled a K53 flop and turned his set. Standardish.

Hand 3: T9 vs. Q5s. Weird hand where I check-raised the turn with top pair and got it in good, but he rivered a Queen.

Hand 4: AK vs. K8s. I got him in with a naked flush draw on the flop, which of course he hits.

Hand 5: T8s vs. 44. I had 15 outs on the turn and got it in vs. a flopped set.

Hand 6: 76o vs. A6s. I hit my straight and he hit his flush on the turn, and I called down.

Hand 7: AQ vs. 99. I flopped top pair on a drawy flop, check-raised and got it in against a set of 9s.

Hand 8: 67s vs. QTo. I fired a second bullet when I turned a flush draw and got it all-in vs. a turned two pair.

Hand 9: 99 vs. TT, all-in preflop.

I made lots of turn mistakes especially. I don't know what to say except for that I need to be more careful, and I'm probably overestimating my fold equity.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

HUJ4: Dropping up

The difference in skill between 2/4 heads-up opponents and 5/10 opponents is truly amazing. I mean, some of these guys blow through their buy-ins at incredible speeds.

I was stubborn to insist on playing 5/10 for the last few weeks. Although I survived, I didn't thrive. But with bigger game selection and enormous fish at 2/4, I feel like it's far easier to pick my opponents' pockets like it's my job.

Of course I want to move up to higher limits because I anticipate bigger profits as long as I can keep winning. I like taking the easier money at lower levels, but I fear stagnation and complacency. I can't stand still for too long or else I may fall behind. You can see many poker players who keep playing the same full ring games or same tournaments, never branching out. That's no way to excel.

For example, I'd rather be a 2ptbb/100 winner at 10/20 ($80/100) than an 8 ptbb/100 at 2/4 ($64/100).

That said, money is money, and I'm not going to concern myself with playing too-high limits right now. What's important is that I keep building my skills and my bankroll so that I'm prepared when the time comes to move up again.

Video watched: pr1nnyraiding ep. 2: This video discusses playing against shortstackers in heads-up games. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but it's a good reinforcement of the idea that one-dimensional players typically follow the "weak bet=strong hand" and "overbet=weak hand" mentality, making them easy to read.

I was a bit enlightened to hear Krantz and WiltOnTilt talk about not being afraid to play shortstackers just because they tend to hit-and-run. If they suck at poker, what should I care if they try to hit and run?

Monday, September 01, 2008

HUJ3: Reining it in

When I posted yesterday, I was playing way too aggressively preflop. I went over the edge with 3-bets and check-raises to the point where I lost control pot size and got committed too lightly for my tastes.

Once that happens, you know you're in big trouble.

Part of the problem was that I got caught up in 3-betting all of my suited and offsuit broadway hands, which won me some small pots but got me involved in large ones where I was dominated.

Fortunately, I had stepped down to the 2/4 and 3/6 games beforehand (rather than 5/10), but it was still kind of brutal when I got into raising wars with maniacs and lost.

I posted this link yesterday, but I'll post it again today: WiltOnTilt has responded to my question about the differences between playing a fluid and polarized preflop range. Basically, he says that it's a matter of style, and you need to be aware of how your preflop play influences your postflop hand ranges. Fascinating stuff.

I've since regrouped after I remembered some fundamental truths of NLH, and probably poker in general: Patience is a virtue. Pot control allows you to moderate winnings and losses. There's no need to go for the long ball all the time when a bloop single will do. The small battles add up, and they help you win the big ones later.

I booked a couple of winning sessions last night that helped me get back on track, although I was still down for the day.

Video watched: pr1nnyraiding: Episode One.

This video was exactly what I needed. It outlines the basics of heads-up play in a simple way that helped reinforce to me that tight(ish) play is perfectly acceptable, even when you're playing 40 percent of your hands (as in heads-up games).

The vid goes over starting hand ranges in position and out of position, touches on the goals of postflop play and reviews various opponent types. I can't wait to learn more.