Friday, December 25, 2009

2009 Year in Review

I didn't win much money in 2009. I made a little bit, but only a little. It was my worst year of poker in terms of profits since my rookie year of online play in 2004.

What went wrong? How did I go from winning so much in each of the last three years to barely making a profit this year?

There's no single answer to this question, but here are a few plausible explanations:

1. The games have gotten tougher. There are still plenty of fish around, but overall, everyone is improving their games. Even the fish are more likely to be aggressive than loose-passive, which was more common in the years immediately after the boom.

2. My efforts to improve have sacrificed short-term profits for long-term gain. Over the last 18 months, I've changed a lot of things about my game. I played heads-up for a while, tried to become more of a LAG, forced myself to make more postflop decisions and dropped down in stakes to 2/4. It's essential that I continue to learn new things and incorporate them into my game, but those efforts don't always pay off immediately.

3. I played poorly. My efforts to reduce spew were replaced by leaks that led me to pay off too often. As I loosened up my game, I wasn't as comfortable playing aggressively because I was playing a weaker range of hands. I lost my ambition to keep moving up in stakes, which cut into my motivation.

4. I switched to shorthanded NL exclusively, cutting the one or two full ring tables I previously played. There are just too many shortstacks in full ring games, and game selection becomes tedious.

5. Full Tilt stopped allowing data mining of observed hands. Data mining observed hands wasn't something that I abused by leaving the client running when I wasn't playing, but it definitely helped me decide what tables to sit at because I could wait 10 or 20 hands to get an idea for how they were playing.

I'm comforted a little bit to know that I was unlucky this year, according to the Showdown Equity Calculator, which figures out street-by-street equities and compares them to results. SECT showed that I ran about 40 buy-ins below expectation this year. I guess that makes up for my good fortune in previous years.

For 2010, I need to do better. I need to pay off fewer value bets, play fewer hands out of position and refocus on game selection.

Good luck to you all in the new year!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

WPBT09 Recap, part 3

After settling in to Vegas, I had a free day on Friday.

First, I hit the Neon Boneyard in downtown. It was cool to see all the old signs that once made up the Vegas skyline. They're grouped in two lots along Las Vegas Boulevard, their faded bling representing fenced-in memories.

Then it was time to get out of town.

I drove up to Red Rock Casino to get more of the local gambling flavor. To be sure, the players there weren't tourists, but that doesn't mean they were much better at poker. The lineup looked like avatars from Party Poker: a gentleman in a black suit with a hat, two dudes wearing baseball caps, one guy bundled up in a jacket and knit hat.

The game was fun, with stupid arguments breaking out sporadically. The table got into it over whether the game should be 2/5 or 3/5 NL, which the floor had ruled could only be spread from Monday to Thursday. They weren't just discussing a difference of $1 though -- the 3/5 game had a $1,500 cap and a mandatory straddle.

Another point of contention was the college football bowl system. I want to see the top eight teams go at it in a playoff, but one guy wouldn't hear it. In his view, it had to be a 12-team playoff or nothing, with four teams getting a bye and the conference championships abolished. He erupted his point and then wouldn't hear any further debate. Right on, dude.

I fetched a rack when I was ugt+1, but I kept it on my lap so that everyone wouldn't know I was leaving after this round unless they had seen me return to the table with the rack. I picked up 22 utg and thought about simply folding it and getting out of there, but that didn't make sense. You play for the chance to make a big hand, and if you pass up too many opportunities you can't win.

Short story: I raised to $15, got a few callers, flopped a set, called the BB's bet on the flop, raised the turn when a flush draw appeared and snapcalled a shove. I think the board was 942J. The BB said he had a monster draw on the turn and didn't see the point of calling (rather than shoving) even though he knew I wouldn't fold. Love the logic. He was pissed off when he learned I was leaving, but I had the rack right there. I was leaving after that hand no matter what.

From there, I still had time to drive through Red Rock Canyon.

Tiny spots of rain and snow fell from the sky, a new sight for me in the normally dry Nevada landscape. It was definitely worth visiting Red Rock Canyon, and I'd like to return to hike on the trails. As it was, I stopped at a few lookouts and drove along winding roads before exiting onto a highway leading back toward the Strip.

Then I hit the Hard Rock Casino, which spread two tables of 1/2 NL and PLO mixed games for us bloggers. They even pitched in free food. Thanks Dan for setting it up! I had a good time.

From there, it was on for drinks at the MGM and the Imperial Palace, followed by the WPBT tourney on Saturday and additional hanging out Saturday night.

As I was drinking, I seemed to recall that some blogger had bought Patrick Swayze a drink at the IP Hooker Bar last year. Did that happen? I asked Iggy, who probably thought I was out of my mind. But I wasn't crazy. I had this memory somehow.

After fiddling with my phone's Web browser for a few minutes, I found that I had been remembering Derek's post about buying a drink for a guy at the end of the bar who looked like Swayze. As it turns out, that guy (who "looks more like Gilligan after a 3 hour tour") was Iggy himself. I had fallen for it. To be honest, I don't know how you can mistake a midget for either Gilligan or Swayze.

I'll end the trip report here, although not for lack of content. There are a few dozen more bloggers who I had good times with who I haven't mentioned in these recaps, and I want y'all to know you made it a lot of fun. Hope to see everyone next year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WPBT09 Recap, part 2

I arrived at the Imperial Palace on Thursday morning, but I didn't make it to the check-in counter for a little while longer. The Hooker Bar and shots of SoCo were in the way.

I met up with Alcanthang, Pauly, Derek, JoeSpeaker and StB during my first stop at the bar. There's nothing surprising about how long it took for me to start drinking. Luggage in hand, I took four shots of SoCo and drank a beer before even checking in. It went down smooth.

I eventually did check in before returning to the bar for more drinking and socializing. I remember talking to F-Train, RecessRampage, ButchHoward, Penner and an ever-growing accumulation of other kick-ass personalities who my blurry memory fails to recall at the moment. It's hilarious to me how vivid some of the Vegas recaps from those first few hours are, before the drinks impaired happy recollections.

I remember heading to the roulette table at some point, and true to my word, I set a stop loss. I booked a $115 win and never got back to roulette again. Later I headed with to the Venetian with the Penner bros, where we ate dinner and played poker. I got 10 hours of sleep that first night in preparation for significantly less sleep during the rest of the trip.

The Hooker Bar is the perfect central location for everyone to hang out. In this sixth year of the annual Winter Gathering, I realized how few new faces there were. Almost everyone had been on a blogger trip before. I don't see many new poker blogs being written. I hope new bloggers come along, and I welcome them, but I don't think they will. Most of us are products of the Moneymaker era, and the poker and blogging boom is our bond.

I hope it lasts for many years to come. I had a great time as always.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WPBT09 Recap, part 1

To Poker Gnome,
You may have been luckier on this day, but it likely won't last. To help you be as lucky as me, I offer the essential guide.
Good Luck,
The Luckbox
--Note written on inside page of "Luck: The Essential Guide," which Luckbox awarded me as his bounty from WPBT tourney

Everything had to go right to make a run at the World Poker Blogger Tour Winter '09 tournament. Most everything did fall into place, allowing Team Roach to win the Luckbox Last Longer Challenge and me to finish in fifth place overall.

Image from RecessRampage. Thanks!

And that's just the tournament. The remainder of the annual blogger weekend was a blast as well.

But let's start with the tourney:

Eighty-six bloggers registered for the $100 buy-in tourney at Caesar's, with most of them participating in the last longer challenge. The challenge cost $10 per person, and included $2,000 added by PokerStars, thanks to UpForPoker. Thanks guys!

My last longer team consisted of Bayne, RecessRampage and myself. We called ourselves "Team Roach" due to Bayne's incredible survival skills that we hoped would serve us all well.

My starting table looked pretty brutal, and it lived up to that image by eventually putting four players at the final table. The table included F-Train, TheRooster, Smokkee, CracknAces, AlCantHang, Chilly and others.

I could have gone out near the beginning when Rooster limped, F-Train limped and I limped with 87s. The flop came 872, and Rooster open shoved. F-Train called. I thought for just a moment for dishing my top two. I didn't think it was good against two all-ins in a limped pot, and I was right. Rooster turned over KK, and F-Train tabled 22 for the flopped set.

I was shortstacked for a long time before finally doubling up with the hammer. Again, this is just one of those things that goes right in a blogger tournament: You're looking for a hand to go with, and you find 72. Push! I don't remember who called me or what he had, but I was glad to see the 2 fall.

Everyone got so shortstacked for so long, but they were still playing pretty tight. Because a shove could pick up so much dead money in the middle, survival was a matter of picking your spots and trying to steal the blinds and antes. I later broke Lightning36 with Q7 when he shoved and pot odds dictated a call. He brought me my first bounty, a University of Illinois hat.

The goods piled up when I knocked out ButchHoward, whose bounty was a very cool shot glass with the words "WPBT 09" imprinted on it. Then came my knockout of the Luckbox himself and gained the book of luck. Later, I was fortunate to pair my 32, which I had shoved into Change100's KQ.

At the final table, the blinds were reset so that the average stack was 20BBs -- a nice accommodation by Caesars to get more play when it counted. This adjustment essentially added two levels to the tourney, knocking us down from the 4,000/8,000/2,000 level to the 1,500/3,000/400 level. I was at my high chip count for the tournament thus far, at about 120,000.

Early on, I raised to 9k with AT and got a call from eventual champion Astin, who I had covered. The flop came down 986, and I continuation bet 20,000 into the ~30,000 pot with my overpair and gutshot draw. Astin shoved for 11k more with 76s, and his pair held up. That was a big hit to my stack.

A little later, Astin nailed me again. This time, I had enough chips to raise without shoving with K2o from the button. Astin called from the blind. We checked it down until the river, when the board read J87QT with a flush possible on the turn. On the river, I bet 40k as a bluff with my airball hand, and Astin raised me 50k more. Of course I folded, and I was essentially crippled. He said he had T8s.

Astin did a great job of recounting the hand in his recap: "It was easily my favourite hand of the tournament," he writes.

But the fun wasn't over yet. I still got to tilt Alcanthang, who had a ton of chips before I shoved J3 into his AJ. I hit a 3, diminished his stack and pissed him off. Sorry man!

That's OK though -- he got some of my chips back on my bust-out hand when I shoved J4 into Al's 55 and someone else's AK (I think). Al hit a 5 on the flop, and presto was gold!

Along the way, I got tremendously lucky to hit the cards I needed. I was fortunate to have two shoves in front of me at my opening table, to win flips, to hit my rags when all-in, and to have two strong teammates on Team Roach so that we could take down the last longer trophy and cash.

That's the nature of tourneys and Vegas gambling. I'm glad it was my turn to hit for $512 in 5th place money, $120 for my share of the last longer prop, and $500 on top from PokerStars!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On the way to Vegas

I'm going to mix it up a little on this four-day trip to Vegas for the annual blogger gathering.

Most importantly, I'm not going to lose my ass playing roulette. I'll play, but I'm setting a stop loss. And I certainly won't spew off most of my cash as soon as I arrive, like I did last time.

I want to play more craps. I'll visit the locals casinos. I'll travel off-strip. I'll read by the pool. I'll eat at In-N-Out Burger. I'm thinking about seeing the neon graveyard.

I'll drink with other drunk poker bloggers. I'll win money playing poker. I'll eat good food and laugh with friends.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Solution to Shortstacking Problem

Let's start with a few statements that reflect majority opinion:

1. No one likes shortstackers except shortstackers themselves.

2. Shortstackers are a problem for the game of poker because they reduce it to a preflop shove-or-fold game. They prevent postflop play.

3. Shortstackers harm deepstackers because they force them to play a 20 big blind game. When one player has 100bb and the other has 20bb, the effective stacks are 20bb. It's unfair that shortstackers can dictate effective stack sizes because deepstackers can't reciprocate.

4. Shortstackers generate plenty of rake for poker sites, but they may be bad for the game's longterm growth because they drive mainstream players away by making some tables unplayable.

5. Shortstacking is within the rules of the game.

My idea is to raise the minimum buy-in slightly, from 20bb to 30bb.

Increasing the minimum buy-in by 10bb isn't so dramatic that it will ruin shortstackers, but it deepens stack sizes enough that preflop decisions take a little more thought, and maybe there's even room for some play on the flop.

Full Tilt already has capped tables that limit possible losses to 30bb per hand, and this change in policy would simply create the possibility for the same shortstacking dynamic at standard 100bb buy-in tables.

I like the existing "deep" tables, which require a minimum buy-in of 50bb and maximum buy-in of 200bb. Some players have suggested making these deep tables the standard across the board, but I don't think that's realistic from the business perspective of the poker sites.

A 30bb minimum buy-in seems like a reasonable compromise. Yes, it is changing how the game is played. But that happens all the time in games, from instant replay to stricter rules on how a defender can tackle a quarterback.

Shortstackers are a problem, and a 30bb buy-in is one way it could be solved.

Friday, December 04, 2009


The relevance of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" to poker has been discussed at length, and I want to add my experience.

A primary theme of the book is that fortunate timing and 10,000 hours of experience in a field is often what it takes to become successful.

I often think about how I may not have ever become a profitable poker player if it weren't for lucky timing. I was lucky to be caught up in the poker boom created by hole cameras on the World Poker Tour and Chris Moneymaker; I was lucky to have friends who played in $5 buy-in home games; I was lucky to play poker in a time when frequent reload bonuses made it easy for a losing player to still turn a profit; I was lucky Neteller was still around at the time so that I could easily take advantage of those bonuses; I was lucky those good times lasted long enough for me to get the experience I needed to survive on my own.

I haven't reached 10,000 hours of poker playing time yet. I figure I've averaged about 2 hours of poker practice a day since I started playing online in spring 2004, meaning I still have seven or eight years to go before I reach that point.

But the practice I did get while clearing those bonuses in my first couple of years playing online is what gave me the time I needed to read, study, write, watch videos, listen to podcasts and think about poker enough to gain a proficiency in this great game. I'm forever thankful to have been caught up in poker during its largest expansion, which gave me the opportunity to reach my poker potential.