Monday, January 19, 2015

Want to get better at poker? Write about it.

"Learn as much by writing as by reading." - Lord John Acton


Long ago, one of the best things I ever did for my poker game was start this blog. Writing about poker means thinking about poker, which in turn means learning-- which means improving. Other players that I know who have taken up similar habits of blogging about poker, or even just writing down hands and situations and analyzing what they did right and wrong, have similarly benefited from the process. Writing about poker helps your win rate.

Lots of poker coaches feel the same way. They encourage their students to keep records, write down key hands, and, yes, blog. Recently, poker author and coach Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams posted on his blog about the benefits of blogging. He wrote: "It doesn't even matter if anybody is reading [what you write] or not. I had literally zero people reading this blog for the first three years. It didn't matter..."

There's an old adage that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. I personally learned this years ago in college when I took a night job teaching calculus at a local community college. I thought I knew math before I started that job-- and boy, was I mistaken. Yes, I could solve problems, but no, I couldn't not explain the how or the why very well. The good news is that by the time that first semester was over I easily had increased my knowledge of calculus by more than 100%, and I did so by learning how to explain to others. I literally became an expert by teaching.

I think it was Albert Einstein who famously said, "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother." Whenever I post to this blog, I essentially put on my "explaining hat" and imagine that I'm teaching an imaginary reader something. If I can coherently articulate a concept or idea in writing so that a generic reader can understand it, then by definition I also get it. Which means my game has gotten better.

Way up at the top of this very web page, right underneath the title "PokerBug" are the words Docendo Disco, Scribendo Cogito -- Ship It. The Latin part of this phrase translates to "I learn by teaching, I think by writing."

I'll leave it to the reader to figure out the "Ship It" part. :-)

All-in for now...
-Bug

Monday, January 5, 2015

Bug's Poker Tip #45

Accept Variance


This might just be the hardest concept for poker beginners to understand. Or accept. Hell, I know plenty of experienced players who have trouble accepting it. I've blogged about Variance off-and-on over the years, but it still bears repeating: just because you are a good player does not mean you will win at this game-- at least not over the short term.  Poker may be skilled based, but only over the long run. The Guru used to teach to his class--quite emphatically--that poker is 100% skill-based, but what he meant was it was skill-based over the lifetime of a player. Whether we like it or not, Lady Luck plays a significant role over the course of a session, a week, a month. You can be smart enough to get all your money in preflop with aces against deuces over and over, but luck is going to determine if your Rockets hold up or not against the Ducks. Over time, Aces will win a significant fraction of the time, but on a hand-by-hand basis there are no guarantees. 

It is important to understand that just because you are currently winning at poker, it does not mean you are actually playing well. Conversely, losing does not necessarily mean you are playing poorly, either. Variance can greatly skew your short term results. You have to evaluate all your hands--both winning and losing--to determine if you're making good decisions. And that's all you can do. The results don't really matter. Why? Because of Variance, my friend. Accept it.

All-in for now...
-Bug

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Guest Post - Poker Books

Today's guest post is brought to you by Jason F. over at www.YourHandSucks.com. Take it away, Jason!

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As 2014 has come to an end so does a fantastic year of poker. While we were flipping chips at the tables a lot of new awesome poker books hit the shelves this year. 


But the real question arises - what poker books sold the most in 2014?

It's a bit surprising to see that a lot of oldies still make the list. And one might wonder how Colson Whitehead's book can make number two.

Anyway, here is the top 10 best selling books of 2014 (click to enlarge):



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Thanks, Jason. What surprises me the most about this list is:
  • Colson Whitehead's book is at number two. It must be because it's more of a "literary" book than a true poker book, and major entities like the NY Times reviewed it when it came out. I own a copy, but still haven't managed to finish the book myself. Some day....
  • Mike Caro's book of tells is still selling so well after (literally) decades.
  • Moorman's book kind of came out of nowhere this year. I don't own a copy, but might consider picking one up now...
  • The Dummies books. They're actually not bad (I own both), but I'm surprised they sell so well with that name. Or maybe that's why they sell. Still, it's weird.
All-in for now...
-Bug

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Coming Year


New Years Resolutions for 2015 look surprisingly similar to previous years, but with some twists and turns and tweaks thrown in along the way:
  1. ABC Training App. The highest priority poker resolution for the coming year is definitely this one. It has taken Le Monsieur and me a little more than six months to get the basic lesson template, syllabus, and overall plan in place, and then of course create the first twelve or so lessons. I honestly believe we have a really solid foundation in place, with some innovative and useful instructional material written-- but there's a lot more to do. A whole lot. In the coming year, my resolutions on this front are to continue meeting with Le Monsieur and cranking out lessons, with a goal of generating at least three lessons per month. I also resolve to work with Le Monsieur to prototype the app itself, test it on some willing participants, and then... well, I'm not really sure what comes next. Stay tuned!
  2. The Blog. As usual, I'm going to try to post on average 1x or more per week. This coming year looks pretty horrible in terms of biz travel, which always has a negative effect on both the quantity and quality of posts-- but I'm still going to give the 'ole college try. Posting helps my game, period. Ergo, I resolve that I will continue to post as much as possible. 
  3. WSOP 2015. I missed last year's WSOP due to work, and there's no guarantee a big conflict won't happen again... but I really, really want to play again in the circus in Vegas that is the WSOP. I'm kind of intrigued by the $565 Colossus event they're planning this year, but of course the $1K Seniors holds special appeal, too, as does the $1500 Monster Stack event. Ergo, I hereby resolve to enter at least one event this coming year. 
  4. Leak Plugging. I feel like I'm playing pretty sound poker, but there is always room for improvement. I hereby resolve that I'm going to keep better and more regular records of my play (maybe here on the blog) and see what, if anything, I can improve upon. 
  5. SnG and MTTs. As practice for the WSOP, I need to find windows in my schedule to get in MTT and SnG seat time. Ergo, I resolve to play at least 2 MTTs and 4 SnGs every month. 
  6. Fitness. All I can say is: Ugh. I have to do something drastic on this front. My biggest issue is excess body mass, which stems from two key things: diet and exercise. Not very earth shattering, is it? Nope, but this isn't really rocket science. Our bodies are nothing more than energy processing devices. The engineer in me tends to think of the human form in terms of free body diagrams. Energy can't be created or destroyed, so what goes in the mouth that isn't used up by the body for basal metabolism needs, either comes out in the form of useful work performed or as waste, and what's left over gets stored away as fat. It's an energy balance thing, and of course there are lots of variables (e.g., efficiency of the body, types of calories consumed, etc.) but... well, like I said, it's not rocket science. I hereby resolve to eat better and exercise more. I might also dedicate a couple of off-topic blog posts in the coming year to just how I'm going to tackle this gorilla.
  7. Poker Training Materials. I always *want* to watch videos, but the honest reality after a few years of including this on my resolution list is that I just don't watch them regularly enough. Podcasts, on the other hand, I am almost always able to find time for (usually on lunch-time walks at work). Poker books also remain a staple on my education front, but the truth is I'm using them lately more as reference materials for the ABC App than I am as true learning media. Therefore I resolve to keep up the podcasts on a regular basis, and fit in whatever else I feel like as time allows. 
  8. Perfect Practice. With time so short, I often find myself multi-tasking when playing online. Email, surfing, researching, even writing blog posts, often occurs in parallel with play time. Not good. I think the key is to shorten my play sessions, and then close all windows on the machine and just focus on playing. Again, I don't have any major leaks in my game-- except perhaps this one. Ergo, I resolve to shorten play sessions, and to focus better when playing. 
  9. PLO. I'm still really enjoying the process of learning to master Omaha, and while I'm now a modest winning player the small stakes, there is a ton of room for improvement. Ergo, I resolve to study the game more diligently, including some posts on the topic herein this blog. 
  10. Have Fun. My perennial favorite resolution is this one. I enjoy poker, still, and as long as I continue to enjoy the madness, I will continue it. When it ceases to be fun, I won't play. That's my resolution: have fun while the getting is good. 
Hope you all have a fun and profitable 2015.
All-in for now...
-Bug

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Grading the Year


Well, we're coming up on the end of another long, challenging, and rewarding year. As usual, about this time last year, I listed my top-10 poker-related resolutions for 2014 (click here to read that post). And as usual, here's a look back on how I did on the ten:

  1. ABC Poker Training. While I didn't get nearly as far with the training program as I had planned, the whole project took on a quantum step-up in vitality when Le Monsieur joined the party. I'd been poking at the idea of a training program for sometime, researching, writing, pondering... hell, I even registered a domain name for the ill-defined project. But the whole thing was missing action traction; I was making progress, just not forward progress. Enter Le Monsieur. There's something very motivating about having a partner in crime for this type of endeavor, and we've gotten into a fairly regular weekly cadence of pushing this beast forward, lesson-by-lesson. In addition to just plain motivation, Le Monsieur brought in a very clear vision for the project (short/focused lessons; app-based; lots of real-time quizzing; etc..) that has greatly helped get the project headed in the right direction. Plus it's just plain fun working with a partner on this. Ergo, the grade for this resolution is: A+.
  2. The Blog. Meh. My work and home life have been entirely too crazy this past year. At work, I was given an extra full-time job midway through the year, and frankly it's kicked my butt. Long, long, long hours, lots of extra travel, and challenging personalities to deal with have all conspired to take time away from poker things like this blog. Ergo, I've really slacked off posting, only writing an average of 1x every 1.5 weeks. Grade: C+.
  3. WSOP 2014. The aforementioned work thing totally scuttled plans for Vegas. I also didn't get to attend my backup major live tourney (AZ State Championship) because of travel. Grade: F. (On a side note, WSOP 2014 was a success, but just not in the way I envisioned. Fellow poker blogger and all-around-good-guy Dave "MemphisMojo" Smith made a super deep run, taking third place in the Seniors Event for a cool $280K. Sweating him online during the final table almost made up for me not attending/playing in person myself. Almost.)
  4. Plug da Leaks. I had two key leaks I wanted to work on this year: Impatience and BRM. I did great on the former, and so-so on the latter. Grade: B-.
  5. SnG and MTT. I've played a few MTTs and SnGs every month, and did relatively well. Didn't really improve, per se, but I did get in some reasonable quality seat time. Grade: B-.
  6. Fitness. Had a horrible year on this front. I (honestly) blame the new/extra job at work, but I also (honestly) know it's in my control to, uh, control. I literally put on 10 extra pounds since taking on the new job in Mach. My sleep quality is crap, I'm exercising at half the frequency I was last year, my diet sucks, etc. The only (semi) bright spots are a) I started playing some racquetball with co-workers (including Mr. Multi) which has helped somewhat; and b) I've dusted off the bicycle and have started riding into work 1x per week. Otherwise, this resolution was a total fail. Grade: F-.
  7. Poker Videos, Podcasts, and Books. Didn't watch hardly any videos; did listen to lots of podcasts; read a couple of poker books. Grade: B.
  8. Perfect Practice. Prior to March, when I took on the extra job, I was doing really well on this front. After March-- eh, not so much. Grade: C.
  9. PLO. I've actually been playing almost as much PLO as Hold'em the past few months, and I feel my game has definitely gotten better as a result. I'm now technically a profitable player at $10PLO and am breaking even at $25PLO. The variance is pretty crazy in this game, but there is real money to be made for someone willing to put in the hours of study and practice. It almost feels like the olden days of NLHE, when the fish outnumbered the experts. It's fun, profitable, and I'm definitely improving. Grade: B+.
  10. Have Fun On/Off the Felt. I still enjoy playing, studying, reading, talking, and watching poker. A lot. I also really am enjoying the process of the training app development with Le Monsieur. Time has been my one true enemy, and occasionally I've felt pressured when working on poker stuff like the app, instead of enjoying the journey, but for the most part, I think I did well on this one. Grade: A-.

Stay tuned for poker resolutions for the upcoming 2015 year...
All-in for now...
-Bug

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Test of Wills


A number of recent psychology studies and university research has shown that we humans literally wake up each morning with a finite amount of willpower. As the day progresses, we tap into that limited reserve whilst doing things like choosing a salad at lunch instead of a Big Mac, or forcing ourselves to walk instead of surfing the Internet on our breaks. If we marshal our willpower reserves properly, we can make it through the day unscathed and without lapsing into bad behavior. But if we use up all that reserve before the day is done, we run out of the mental fortitude to resist temptations. We're tired and worn out at the end of a long day, towing the line and doing the boss' bidding, and when we get home it's incredibly hard to scrape the bottom of the willpower bucket to find the strength to a) forgo the Twinkies in the refrigerator; and/or b) go to the gym instead. Unless and until you get in a long-term habit of a) not buying those Twinkies at the store in the first place; and/or b) hitting the gym earlier in the day before your willpower runs out, you're going to be stuck in temptation hell. And you will succumb. It's a matter of Science.

So what does this have to do with poker? A lot. We all know that feeling of sitting down to play, full of good, stoic intentions. We're going to fold all those small pocket pairs and shiny-bright suited connectors in early position! We're going to adhere to the Gap Concept in late position! We're going to concentrate! We're going to put our opponents on ranges! We're going to raise, not call! We're not going chase with draws unless we get the right odds! Oh, and we're not going to let bad beats and coolers affect our play! We have the willpower, dammit!

This is all fine and dandy, but we all also know that feeling late in a session, when we're tired and just had our Aces cracked for the third time, of saying to ourselves, "Fuck it, I don't care. I'm going to play this QJo!. I know I'm facing a raise and cold call, and I know I'm going to be OOP! But I just don't care!" And then we're mad at ourselves later, and we vow never to do that again.

Well, as Robin Williams said to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, "It's not your fault, son." Sitting down at the poker table, you only brought a limited amount of willpower to start the session-- and then you ran out. There was a definitive time to quit, but you didn't, so what came afterward was almost preordained.

The good news is that the same Science that shows we have a finite amount of willpower also has proven that our willpower can be improved and increased. In fact, your willpower reserve is a lot like a muscle-- you can exercise it and improve it and bulk it up. It takes time to do so, but it can actually be done. You simply push your boundaries each day a little bit. You resist that Twinkie in the 'frig for fifteen extra minutes before succumbing. Then the next night, you push that delay to 30 minutes. And so on. Pretty soon you're not eating Twinkies in the evening.

You can also learn to quit or avoid bad situations altogether, so that they don't tax your willpower reserves in the first place. This is tougher to do at the poker tables, as the very nature of sitting down at the felt to play is one of agreeing to test our wills against others. He who makes the least mistakes, wins, right? But you can learn to recognize when your psyche is starting to scrape the bottom of the endurance well-- and you have to have enough willpower remaining in that well to stand up and walk away. Sounds easy, right? Sure, it's just a matter of will.

Seriously, try to remember that it's not your fault, son. When you've run out of emotional reserves, you've run out. Period. The secret is a) bulking up those reserves; and, b) minimize how much we tap into those reserves in the first place.

Happy good willpower hunting.

All-in for now...
-Bug


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bug's Poker Tip #44

Position is Good For You


Playing in position is a lot like drinking water. Or eating vegetables. Or taking a daily multi-vitamin. Even if you don't know why doing so is good for you, it is in fact still good for you. Even if you don't consciously recognize that you are obtaining valuable information when in position, and that doing so in fact is helping you make better decisions, you still are obtaining that information and making better decisions. Even if you don't actively appreciate that playing in position helps you control the pot size, it still does, regardless. And even if you don't recognize that having position makes bluffing easier, it still does. Position is good for you, whether you realize it or not.

Playing in position helps a body stack grow, so eat those vegetables!

All-in for now...
-Bug