Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Commerce Casino

I leave for L.A. on Thanksgiving Day for a trip that will include seeing the USC-Notre Dame game at the Coliseum and gambling at the Commerce Casino.

I plan to have a great time once I get there. Currently I'm counting the minutes until my flight leaves.

I'll have Thursday night and much of Friday free to play poker. I'll play either 2/5 or 5/10 NL, depending on how I feel. I know 2/5 is an easier game, but I'm thinking that playing slightly higher could help me stay focused despite the many distractions of brick-and-mortar poker.

I'm also tempted by the 9/18 limit game, which I like mostly because the chip denominations are so strange. Why not just play 10/20? Supposedly if you play with more chips, the game has more action...but whatever. Still, I appreciate the novelty of it.

Leave me a message in comments if you're in L.A. and want to meet up at the Commerce.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fishy Home Game

I played in a $20 home game sng with a few friends and some guys I met for the first time.

It was like 2004 all over again, like the poker boom had just begun.

Three of the guys wore sunglasses. Several listened to iPods. One guy wore a hoody. Everyone was Phil Ivey in their own minds.

They were pretty terrible, and I didn't know how to really feel about it. We all had a great time just hanging out and playing poker, and I like encouraging people to learn and enjoy the game. But they were also universally bad, with little indication they had the ability to improve.

We're talking about basic misconceptions about the game, and my protests to the contrary fell on deaf ears. They couldn't believe that calling all in with a naked flush draw was a bad play. They didn't understand the idea that you might want to fold bottom pair sometimes. They had every sense of entitlement for every suckout and couldn't understand why they lost when they got it in with the worst of it.

In other words, these were exactly the kind of players you'd want at your table.

It's great for the game that friends come together for social, enjoyable home games. But it's depressing to see so little potential for them to gain the insight they'd need to have a shot at becoming real players.


I eventually lost my single buy-in, going out in fifth place after several suckouts. That's alright, especially since I got my money in good 100 percent of the time. Without escalating blinds, I may have never lost.

I got to wondering what my expectation would be in that kind of game. The payouts were 150-40-20 for the top three.

How much is my $20 buy-in worth in the long run? I think has to be worth at least $40, and maybe even $60. How high can a ROI go for a single-table live sng?

Friday, November 21, 2008

StoxEV is sick

Damn, this StoxEV program is insanely useful for hand evaluation. How did I not know about it before?

Basically, StoxEV starts with the functionality of PokerStove and then allows you to make a decision tree for any hand using hand ranges, board textures and likely betting actions. Then it calculates the EV of each decision you make.

I've only been using StoxEV for three days, but I've already learned a lot. It's an incredible tool for reviewing hands after a session to determine whether you made the right play, or if there are alternate lines that may have been better.

For example, I plugged in the hand from my last post to determine how the hand might have progressed if I had called the flop. What kind of turns should I bet? What kind of hands should I call if my opponent shoves?

The program also comes in with a few example hands, like a QQ in position behind two preflop raisers and an AQ that shoves on the flop with a gutshot.

You really have to fool around with this program to comprehend its value.

Try the free download, watch the video tutorial and then play around with it. It took me a little time to get used to, but it's very much worth it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

HU20: Sucking (and resucking) it up

In this heads-up hand against an aggressive player who was 3-betting 18 percent of his hands, I made a pretty awful raise on the flop with overcards and a gutshot draw:

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

Hero (SB): $412

BB: $879.50

Pre-Flop: J Q dealt to Hero (SB)
Hero raises to $12, BB raises to $41, Hero calls $29

Flop: ($82) 7 T 8 (2 Players)
BB bets $68, Hero raises to $180, BB raises to $838.50 and is All-In, Hero calls $191 and is All-In

Upon reflection, my play is simply awful.

I'm not sure, but I think my call of his preflop reraise is OK because there are plenty of hands that I'll dominate against an opponent's wide range, and I could hit hard.

This flop is not one that I hit hard.

I'm not favored against hardly any hands that can call, and I'm not getting any better hands to fold. AA-77 is going to get it in. Overcards with flush draws are going to get it in. Many combinations of a 9 and an overcard are going to get it in. Any pair plus a draw is going to get it in. My equity against any of these hand types isn't great.

I discussed this hand with a friend who suggested that even calling this flop bet is questionable because there are few cards on the turn that I'll be happy with. What do I do if I make top pair? Can I make a move (probably not) if an Ace or a King falls, giving me an open-ended straight draw? What if I pick up a weak spade flush draw?

However, I don't think I'm good enough to fold this flop. In the future, I'm more likely to call the flop and think hard about what to do on the turn.

Turn: ($824) 9 (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

I suckout!

River: ($824) 7 (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

And villain resucks.

Results: $824 Pot ($0.50 Rake)
Hero showed J Q (a straight, Queen high) and LOST (-$412 NET)
BB showed 9 9 (a full house, Nines full of Sevens) and WON $823.50 (+$411.50 NET)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Clarity on Ranges

A new DeucesCracked series, "Hand Readers," gave me a few more ideas on how to develop ranges. The gist of it is that analytical thinking and deductive reasoning are your primary tools in narrowing down an opponent's likely holding.

This is nothing groundbreaking, but it does reinforce the thought processes you should be going through as you develop a read.

The video recommends going through six steps: identify opponent, construct preflop hand range, note actions so far, determine what action we desire given our holding, evaluate how opponent will respond to our actions, and construct a multi-street plan.

Of course I'm not ready to go through each of these steps in every hand, but they create a framework for starting with a wide preflop range and eliminating potential hands from that range as the hand progresses. The video's coaches also correctly point out that you shouldn't second-guess yourself: as the hand moves forward, an opponent's range can only get smaller.

I picture a flow chart in my mind, like the one shown in the first Dogisheads UP video. Each of an opponent's actions from preflop onward characterize his holding until you arrive at a small enough selection of hand combinations that you can use to make correct folds, calls or raises when bigger bets go in.

As for my struggles with evaluating hand ranges heads-up against loose opponents, I plan to focus more on creating accurate ranges rather than abandoning the process and trying to play based on feel.

Against an opponent who never folds to continuation bets, I know his range isn't narrowed at all by my bet on the flop. Against an opponent who will raise any top pair or draw, I can eliminate his lower-pair hands and call more often. Against an opponent who bets the river whenever it's checked to him, I can induce more bluffs or consider price-setting blocking bets.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

HU19: Ranges

Heads-up coaches differ on how to assess an opponent's hand: Most recommend putting your opposition on a range of hands, but a few suggest a more nebulous approach that's based more on feel.

A previous post created some debate on what "hand reading" means if you're not narrowing an opponent's hand range.

A recent video clearly falls on the side of developing a read by starting with a wide range of hands and deducing an opponent's likely holding based on that range. The video is DogIsHeads UP, Episode 1.

"Range-based thinking is superior to hand-to-hand thinking," Dogishead says. "A player who thinks hand-to-hand cannot achieve the overall resilience that a range-thinking player can."

This contrasts with MasterLJ's approach.

"Heads-up, you can really throw hand ranges out the window and play by feel and match conditions," he says.

MasterLJ backs up his claim with hand examples against loose opponents who float the flop with such a broad variety of hands that it's difficult to put them on any range. In these hands, MasterLJ keeps firing away on the turn and river because his opponent could have anything from air to a gutshot to a flush draw to the nuts. Most of the time, he gets a fold on the turn.

It seems obvious to me that playing against a range of hands is the best strategy when you can do so. Only when you can't eliminate many hands between the preflop round and turn should you fall back on less precise methods.

It's hard though.

In heads-up, where it's essential to consider playing most hands, there are many times when attempts at thinking about a range seem like a waste of time. I often feel more at ease playing the player rather than playing the hands. I'd certainly like to be a master hand reader, but sometimes it feels like a frustrating and impossible task.

The solution may be to use all tools at your disposal as best you can: hand ranges, match flow, flop textures, past history, instinct, aggression and deceptive plays.

"Heads-Up No-Limit Hold 'em"

While "Heads-Up No-Limit Hold 'em" by Collin Moshman lays a solid foundation for heads-up play, it feels incomplete. I learned a few new concepts, but I wish some of the chapters had lasted more than a page or two.

One chapter discusses the "Hit-to-Win Style," in which you plan to commit more chips into the pot only if you connect with the flop.

"You should usually avoid such a passive style when facing a single opponent. ... Most flops miss most hands, and those times when you 'hit' a second-best hand can significantly offset your gains when you do connect well," Moshman writes.

He nails a key point of heads-up play, but he doesn't explain the next logical step: If you can't play hit-to-win, what kinds of flops and opponents should you be bluffing? With what frequency? How do you best disguise your play when you do hit?

In another section of the book, Moshman addresses what kind of turn cards are good to fire a second barrel on. If you're bluffing, he recommends giving up more frequently when a rag falls, and continuing to bluff when an overcard hits. If you actually connected with the flop, he suggests the opposite strategy: continue betting for value when a rag turns, but tend to check behind a turn when a dangerous overcard appears. This is a quality section of the book, but it's too limited and general. I would have preferred more hand examples.

This theme runs throughout the course of the book. Other too-short sections talk about exploiting vs. optimal play, adjusting to paired flops, floating and table selection.

Meanwhile, identifying and adjusting to your opponents is ignored for the most part.

The book also falls short in that it's mostly focused on heads-up sit-and-gos rather than cash games. I wish its emphasis on sngs had been more clearly advertised.

However, I liked the hand examples, most of which were taken from Heads-Up Championships of the past featuring big-name players. Also, the advice is generally sound, which is more than I can say about many poker strategy books.

The main difficulty of "Heads-Up No-Limit Hold 'em" is that it's written like the Boy Scout Handbook for heads-up play. It speaks in helpful generalities, but it won't ensure your survival when you're stranded in the wilderness.

For that, you need coaching videos, analysis, discussion and lots of experience.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'll keep 3-betting preflop, thank you very much

I'm a big fan of reraising a wide range of hands preflop in position: my suited connectors gain value because they can win the dead money in the pot, and my premium hands are more likely to get called when my opponents know I could have low cards.

Several training sites advocate this kind of preflop strategy, but pro player Samoleus recently repeated his claim that it's inherently flawed.

"If someone raises and you have a hand like King-Jack suited on the button or 87 suited on the button, that's not a reraising hand. That's a hand that plays so much better when you have more of a stack to pot ratio," Samoleus said on the Cash Plays podcast. "The CardRunners style ... I know they teach this rampant aggression and this 3-betting with suited connectors and stuff, which I really think is such a flawed technique. ... The whole philosophy, the approach to this, is completely wrong."

While it's true that speculative hands gain value when they can see flops for cheap, Samoleus failed to explain why cold calling is a better play in this era of poker in which the blinds are likely to run a squeeze play when they see a raiser and a button caller.

Sure, cold calling would work well in passive games with very little 3-betting.

But the reality of today's games is that you're going to get squeezed frequently, and the best way to defend against the squeeze is for you to raise in the first place. Most of the time, a preflop 3-bet with suited connectors will either pick up the blinds or allow you to see a flop in position.

Samoleus sounds like he's upset at how the games have evolved rather than adjusting to them.

Other pros take a more measured, constructive approach.

In the new DeucesCracked series "Parallels," Krantz addresses a similar situation when he holds KQs from the button.

He says that you should call more and 3-bet less with hands like KQs when your opponents fold too frequently to raises.

I can infer several pieces of information from his statement:

1) 3-betting with KQs and similar hands is better when your opponents are more likely to call a raise with lesser hands. KQs has enough value postflop to call a raise rather than attempt to steal. That's probably why Leatherass called from the button with AQs in my recent hand with him.

2) Suited connectors gain value from a 3-bet in games with opponents who are likely to fold to a raise.

3) If there's a caller in the middle, a 3-bet with many different hand types makes more sense because there's more dead money in the pot.

What Samoleus should have said is that he's disenchanted with the mindless 3-betting that occurs so often these days.

He shouldn't have made the sweeping statement that this kind of 3-betting is frequently wrong and bad for the game. There are many situations where a preflop reraise is the best play with hands like KJs and suited connectors, despite how much Samoleus wishes it weren't so.

Friday, November 07, 2008

HOTD: Leatherass tries a flop bluff

Leatherass is on the Button.

Full Tilt Poker, $5/$10 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 4 Players - Hand History Converter

BB: $684.50

Hero (UTG): $1,015

BTN: $1,419

SB: $491

Pre-Flop: K 8 dealt to Hero (UTG)
Hero raises to $30, BTN calls $30, 2 folds

Flop: ($75) 4 K 3 (2 Players)
Hero bets $50, BTN raises to $160, Hero calls $110

He's pretty much representing either a set or air. I looked at his flop aggression in Holdem Manager and found that his aggression frequency on the flop is 40 percent, compared to his turn and river aggression in the 20 percent range. His raise size also seems a little bit odd: why would he raise to $160 instead of a regular 3X raise to $150? Does he think that extra $10 is going to push me off my hand, or is that what he would raise if he really did have a set?

Turn: ($395) Q (2 Players)

Hero checks, BTN checks

I would have considered check-raising if he had bet this turn.

River: ($395) 9 (2 Players)

Hero checks, BTN checks

Maybe I could have gotten some value by betting out, but I figured Leatherass was more likely to bluff the river than call a value bet.

Results: $395 Pot ($2 Rake)
Hero showed K 8 (a pair of Kings) and WON $393 (+$203 NET)
BTN showed Q A (a pair of Queens) and LOST (-$190 NET)

I was surprised to see him show up with AQ, but it makes sense. His plan was probably to bet the turn if he missed, but then he thought his Queen might be good enough to see a showdown.

On one hand, his flop raise on such a dry board will work a lot of the time. On the other hand, he wouldn't have lost the pot if he had simply 3-bet preflop.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Pimpin' links

Here are a few links for your enjoyment:

_ Cardrunners/Stoxpoker is offering free subscriptions to their training sites that accumulate through play on Full Tilt Poker. This looks like a very nice deal, and it doesn't count against rakeback. Check out the details and sign up at

_ I'm liking PokerRoad's newest podcast, All Strategy, which is hosted by Daniel Negreanu, Justin Bonomo and Scott Huff. They've only released five episodes so far, so it's not hard to catch up on what you've missed.

_ Latest scam site: Love this 2+2 thread. The more scammers get antagonized, the funnier it gets.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

All-in Preflop

The basics of evaluating hand ranges start preflop. Some of the easiest money comes from fish who don't understand what hands they should be getting all-in with preflop in full ring and six-max cash games with 100-blind stacks.

Let's start with pocket Aces. Obviously they're the best hand preflop. I'm sure there are players out there who refuse to get all-in preflop with anything but Aces, but I usually assume that even my tightest opponents will happily bet it all with Kings as well.

It's much more common to find players who will go all-in with a range of AA and KK. These premium hands make up just under 1 percent of all potential starting hands, and they crush any lesser hands. As a general guideline, I look at the 4-bet range statistic in Holdem Manager to identify players who are only rereraising with AA or KK: If their 4-bet range is less than 1 percent, I can pretty safely fold to a third raise preflop with anything less than KK.

A third tier of players are those who will commit with AA-QQ or AK preflop. I give QQ and AK roughly equal value, and when I'm against a player who I know will risk all their chips preflop with AK, I can be pretty certain their range also includes QQ. These hands account for 2.6 percent of potential starting hands, and you should be willing to go to war preflop with an identical range of hands. Otherwise, your opponent is making you fold too much and winning big preflop pots uncontested.

Finally, you have your flexible players and maniacs. These opponents can 4-bet preflop with a wider range as a resteal, or they may be going in with as little as 88 or AJ (if they suck). Against wilder players like this, you absolutely want to get all the money in with QQ or better and AK, and maybe even consider AQ or TT+ against some truly crazy opponents. However, it's rare to find fish big enough to justify widening your all-in preflop range beyond AK.

Most players know this already, but it's incredible when you see an otherwise good player going all-in preflop with QQ against the tightest nits who can't have anything but AA-KK.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rakeback is Better

PokerStars can claim that it has "the best online poker rewards program," but that's not true for most poker players.

PokerStars tiresome advertising on the Two Plus Two Pokercast is misleading because most players would rather have 27 percent of their rake deposited into their Full Tilt accounts every Friday, and most players don't play enough on a single site to rack up the 100,000 annual points needed to get the best benefits on PokerStars.

Yes, those players who do reach Supernova level on PokerStars are rewarded with bonuses, tournament entries and prizes that exceed the value of regular old rakeback. But for players like me who choose to spread their play around several sites, there's nothing better than cash in my account as a reward that's directly proportional to the amount of rake I contribute.

By comparison, Stars' reward program gives the best value to its hard-core players while shortchanging those who don't play as much. A 2+2 thread discusses this discrepancy in-depth.

The result is that I almost never play at Stars. I like Stars and I would give them more of my business, but there's simply no incentive for me to log on. I have about 1,500 points accumulated so far this year, an amount that earns me next to nothing. I guess I could splurge on a deck of cards.

I sympathize with those who don't receive rakeback on Full Tilt, but I can't understand why you would play on PokerStars regularly unless you're a high-volume player who dedicates most of your play on a single site.

UPDATE: The Two Plus Two Internet Magazine evaluates PokerStars' VIP program in the November issue.