Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two (in my humble opinion, not so great) Books

As we're often wont to do, my wife and I went out for a Saturday lunch yesterday, and then dropped by our favorite used bookstore in town on the way home. Then, as I'm often wont to do once inside said used bookstore, I made a path to the cards and gambling section. Usually, it's the same old tired stock on the shelves awaiting me there. Lots of copies of Poker for Dummies and Rules According to Hoyle and of course Hellmuth's "Play Poker Like the Pros" book (there, because most people evidently realize what crap the book is, and then try to recoup their investment by selling it back to the bookstore, in my humble opinion, that is... but I digress). More often than not, there's nothing new or that I don't already have on my own bookshelf...

..but yesterday was different. Two books not on my list* were sitting right there at eye-level, calling to me with glossy covers and slick titles:

A quick skim in the aisle of the store through both books looked promising, so I added them to my stack and headed to find my wife and the cash register. Hey, how wrong can you go for a couple bucks a book? Answer: somewhat wrong. Let me explain.

I brought the books home and then went through both with a somewhat more critical eye. Vorhaus' book, while seemingly chock-full of good material, is, well, kinda hard to read. In fact, it's really hard to read. He tries way to hard to be cute. I hate cute. Especially forced, look!-ain't-I-cute writing in what would otherwise be a good book. Vorhaus seems to be the master of this style of too-cute writing. Looking at the About the Author blurb at the back of the book, I now see that he's also written "The Comic Toolbox" and "Creativity Rules!" which might just explain the overabundance of cute in this book. Now, don't get me wrong; the book seems to have useful information in it, and I will read it, eventually, probably cover-to-cover, but I'll have to be in just the right frame of mind to do so. A little cute goes a long way with this bug.

But I'll take cute over inaccurate any day....

...which brings me to the second book I brought home. Matt Lessinger is a well-known player and online poker writer. I've enjoyed his blog postings in Cardplayer for years, so I was looking forward to reading this book about a somewhat unusual poker book topic (In my experience, there really aren't any other poker books purely on the topic bluffing on the marketplace. Weird.)

Anyway, I got home and anxiously opened the book and began skimming it-- and came to a screeching halt on the very first page of Chapter One, in which Lessinger writes that the Number #1 "Bluffing Proverb" to remember is:

"There are only two ways to win a pot: You can show down the best hand, or bluff with the worst one."

While the first part of this sentence is correct (i.e., there are indeed only two ways to win, one of which is you can show down the best hand), the second half of the sentence is wrong. You can indeed bluff with a worst hand and win a pot, but you can also win a pot by betting with the best hand and having your opponent fold. In fact, I've written about this any number of times before herein this blog (e.g., here, here, and here). The actual truism is there are two ways to win a pot: a) showdown the best hand; and b) have the other hands fold. That's it. Bluffing might be a way to achieve the second method, but it's not exclusively the second way to win a poker hand.

Now you might think I'm being overly hard on Lessinger. If the reader squints a little, then the Proverb is kind of close to truth, right? Well, maybe, but this kind of thing really bugs me. If you purport to be an expert on a subject matter, and people pay good money to you to have access to your expertise, and then on the very first page of the first chapter of your book you state something factually inaccurate and misleading (and actually do so in an emphatic, this-is-gospel fashion (he literally states that the reader needs to "understand," "remember", and "appreciate" this Bluffing Proverb)), there's a problem. A serious problem. Not only is the material factually incorrect, but it instantly casts a pall over anything else the author states in subsequent pages. Words matter. And if you're writing expert non-fiction how-to books like Lessinger's, you better damn well fact check and get someone to proofread the book before publishing it. This is sloppy writing, folks, and there's no excuse for it.

Thankfully, this Book of Bluffs only cost me a couple of bucks. New, it retails for $14, and if page one is any indication, it's not worth anywhere near that amount money. In my humble opinion, that is.

All-in for now...
*I keep a list of all the poker books I own on SimpleNote, where it's easily accessible to me via my smartphone when I'm wonting away in used bookstores. Simplenote is exactly what it sounds like: simple text notes, and it's perfect for lists and other info you need access to quickly, such as "Do I already own this book?" or "What's that damn combination to the locker at the fitness club."  As I've mentioned before, I use Evernote for the vast majority of my note taking and information gathering, but I also use SimpleNote for, uh, simple notes.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bug's Poker Tip #43

Look For a Reason To Fold Out of Position
(and Look For a Reason to Play In Position)

When deciding whether to play a hand preflop or not, one of the key things you should consider is whether you'll be out of position (OOP) or in position (IP) after the flop is dealt.  Said simply, you should strive to play very few hands OOP. There really is no excuse to play marginal hands when you'll be the first to act postflop. When in doubt in EP or in the blinds, just fold. Your bankroll will thank you.

But just as importantly, you should try to play a lot of hands IP. Probably more than you think you should, in fact. Position is a big deal, and it offsets a significant amount of pot inequity. As Dave Tuchman said on a recent Bart Hanson podcast: "I'm always looking for a reason to fold out of position. But I'm also looking for any excuse to play in position."

Poker is a game of maximizing the effect of small edges, and getting to act after your opponent does affords you a very significant edge over said opponent. Don't fight an uphill battle when you don't have to. Just fold OOP... and try to play IP.

In other words, spend time looking for those reasons....

All-in for now...

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Number One Secret to Winning Poker

Yes, there is a secret to winning at poker.

I'm serious.

If you want to truly master poker, you have to learn to do the following: Identify and exploit the tendencies and mistakes of your opponents.

Winning poker is not about playing LAG poker. It's not about playing TAG poker, either. It's not about 3-betting light, or barreling the turn, or bet-folding the river. It's not any specific technical thing. Instead, it's completely about "It Depends" followed by "Exploitation."

It depends on what traits your opponents have and the mistakes they tend to make. This in turn will dictate how you should be playing against them. Maybe it means you should play LAggy. Maybe TAggy. Or maybe you should try for a seat change to move to their left. Maybe you should be 3-betting light, or barelling the turn, or bet-folding the river against them. Whatever. The point is you need to figure out how a villain plays, and then adjust in such a way that you can exploit his or her traits and tendencies.

A simple example: You're up against an opponent who loves to steal from late position. He raises pretty much every single time the action folds to him on the button or cutoff seat. Then if called, he follows up with a c-bet almost 100% of the time. If he gets push back, he generally gives up.

If you're in the blinds facing this guy, your first job is to identify this mistake. Well, "mistake" is actually too strong of a word. In fact, this player might actually be playing perfectly if he's recognized that the players to his left are weak-tight, and will fold too often to steals and/or continuation bets on the flop. I.e., he's identified and then is exploiting the tendencies/mistakes of the players to his left.

Okay, what should you do when this guy raises your blind? A simple adjustment might be to simply call with any two cards, then check-raise his c-bet on the flop. Or if you're uncomfortable about calling with any two, then just loosen up a bit more than you normally would, but force yourself to check-raise any missed flop. Said another way, find a way to exploit this villain's tendency of stealing light from late position.

Poker is about adjustment. It's about identifying what your opponents are doing, right or wrong. And then capitalizing on these traits. Said simply, Poker is all about "It Depends" followed by "Exploitation."

This my friends is the one true secret to poker.

All-in for now...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Close, but no cigar...

Got a wild hair yesterday and jumped into a large field pot limit Omaha tournament. Good patient play on my part, little bluffing except at the money bubble, careful picking of spots, selective aggression, etc... All-in-all, it took about six hours to make the final table...

...and then the wheels came off.

The good news is I was the chip leader by a factor of two over the next largest stack going into the final nine. The bad news is my internet connection decided that was the perfect time to crap out on me. I was dead in the water for about thirty minutes in total. My wife asked me later where I learned all those four letter words...

... Long painful story writ short: I reconnected in time to see myself blind out in fourth place. Talk about frustrating!  ARHGHGHGHGHG!

Very, very frustrating to come that close to what would have been my biggest online tournament win ever. Fourth place money wasn't bad, but first.... sigh.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda....

All-in for now...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Sundries

The poker bookshelf in my leaky abode. [Click to enlarge]

Had some family emergencies crop up this weekend that caused my trip to the Arizona State Poker Championship to get canceled. Mother-in-law took a tumble and seriously hurt her back, and my Dad had emergency car issues he needed help with. While it's nice living in the same town as these parents, they're all getting up there in age and it seems like the frequency of them needing help from us is increasing.  Sigh. Gonna have to plan a Vegas trip to play in some tourneys to make up for missing this big tourney-- assuming no more last minute emergencies.


Listened to a Thinking Poker podcast this week and the guest was Tony Dunst... and I was kind of surprised at my reaction listening to him speak. I've been a fan of his commentary in the televised WPT events on TV, and while the jacket and tie shtick is a bit silly, I've always thought of him as an otherwise regular guy. Bzzzt. Bottom line is Dunst comes off as a self-important douche in the interview. He reminds me of one of the junior engineers I used to work with who had the world all figured out-- and of course it revolved around him. My opinion of Dunst definitely dropped a few notches after listening to his theories on life. No, nothing he said is particularly horrible... he just comes off as pretty shallow and self-centered. Sad.


Had a good week online. Lots of lucrative $100NL Zone poker to pad the 'roll, plenty of profitable $400NL 6max to keep me sharp, and some donations back to the poker gods in $100 PLO to keep me humble. Gonna let it all ride until the end of the month and then make a nice little withdraw if things continue as they are going. Woot.

Played in my monthly bar tournament and bubbled the damn final table again for the third time in a row. It's cheap and a fun group of guys, so I'll keep playing in it, but the blind structure definitely favors luck over skill, especially after the first hour of play. I got down to 17 big blinds and woke up to AKs. Two limps in front of me by relatively weak players. I bump it to 4x and both yahoos call. Flop is A-Q-3 rainbow. Check-check-I jam and get insta-called by both. First guy turns over QQ for middle set. Second guy turns over AA for top set.... and my TPTK is third best and fails to improve. Whatchagonnado?


While I was away on a recent biz trip, my bride took it upon herself to clean my home office space and get all my books sorted and stacked on bookshelves. She didn't sort the poker books, but she at least got them all into one bookshelf. I just counted this morning: 247 of the crazy things. Most of them bought second hand at used bookstores. Some great, some good, some bad, some truly terrible. And yes, I've read almost every single one. Really.

Non Poker News Follows...

Getting some great thunderstorms this summer, with lots of desert-nourishing rain coming down in bucketfuls every other afternoon. Bad news is I have a crazy intermittent leak in the house that only shows up every fourth rainfall or so. Manifests itself as damp carpeting in one of the rooms. I've spent hours chasing this down but no dice. Argh. Gonna spend another afternoon today poking around some more in the nooks and crannies of the structure looking for the pathway for this agua into the casa.

All-in for now...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bug's Poker Tip #42

Value Bet the River

Something many new players do wrong is check back their value hands on the river. I'm not entirely sure why they do this, but it probably has to do with an irrational fear that they are re-opening the betting and might get pushed off the pot by the shove of a villain holding a worse hand. These newbies are content to see a showdown and win the pot at its current size. They don't seem to care about the extra value that a river bet provides. Don't be one of these people!

The simple truth is that at mid-stakes and below, most villains do their bluffing on the flop and turn. River bets tend to be real; if a standard villain makes a big bet or shove on the river, he usually has the goods. Or at least thinks he does. What this means is that his bet will give you a near perfect read-- i.e., if villain re-raises you, you're probably toast and need to fold. If he doesn't, then the extra bet means extra profit. This is the essence of so-called thin-value "bet-folding" the river, and it's a bread-and-butter play for professional poker players.

The key here of course is having the ability to fold when re-raised.

Let's repeat that for clarity: thin-value bet the river as much as you can, but only if you are capable of folding when anyone less than a bluffing maniac re-raises you.

Said simply, you have to learn not to be afraid of betting thinly on the river for value--and also have the discipline to fold to a re-raise. Many amateur players struggle with this idea because they just want to see the cards turned up. They say things like, "the pot is big enough." By doing so, they are also saying that they are scared of being bluffed off what could be the winning hand.

If you can come to terms with the fact that people bluff very rarely on the river, then you will start to see your overall game improve drastically-- and your profits go up accordingly.

All-in for now...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bankroll Builder - Interesting Hand

Here's an interesting hand from a bankroll building session I had recently with a student:

We're playing in a full ring $100NL cash game online. Effective stack sizes are relatively deep at 200bb. We are playing pretty snug, and in fact for the last few orbits we haven't played a single hand. There's a lot of good, solid play at this table, with light 3betting in position and lots of aggression by the bad guys. There's really only one moderately fishy player, who is on our right, but he's playing pretty tight so we're not even able to get involved with him much. The table is bad (hard) enough that we've decided that we're going to wait for the big blind to come around and then we're going to leave this table in search of softer action elsewhere.

The action folds to us in the HiJack seat. We've got QsTh and we open-raise to $3. We get called by the CO and Button. The blinds fold.

Flop comes down A-5-3 rainbow.

We C-bet to $6.75, obviously representing an Ace in our range. First villain folds, but second villain, who is a TAGgy, relatively good L2 player 3bets us to $23. What's our play?

Short answer is a 4bet to $65, but we will fold to a 5bet re-shove.

At these levels, if villain had a set, he'd probably let us fire again on the turn before making his move; i.e., try to get us a little more pot committed before raising it up. Instead, he's repping an ace, but we can assume it's not a very strong one, and it's probable he'll fold to aggression by us. Here's why:

Reads (preflop): We can rule out AA, KK, AK from his range. Why? Because he would have most likely reraised us preflop. Same is true probably for TT-JJ. We hold a Q and T, so it's less likely he has QQ, TT, AQ or AT (though it's possible). Hands like A9o and lower are probably getting re-raised by villain preflop to squeeze us out, or, more likely, just folded. He might be cold calling with a suited AJs and below. All pairs nine and below are in his range, as are some of the weaker broadways and suited connectors. Worse case, call it something like:

Note that this range is significantly ahead of us on the A-5-3 rainbow board. If we were playing L2 poker, we'd realize this and just fold. But because our opponents are solid L2 players, we're having to play L3 poker. What this means in practice is that we can represent a big hand that will be hard for the villain to continue against unless he has a monster. Remember, he's a solid L2 player, putting us on a preflop range, which probably looks something like this to him (again, worst case):

When we 4-bet him on the A-5-3 board, he has to put us on either monsters, big aces, or air, and given our image at the table, it has to be weighted toward the former end of things, not the latter. And given that we're 200bb deep, our re-raise puts a ton of pressure on a large part of villains range, especially all those weak aces. Unless he's crazy (and we have no reason to believe he is) he really can't continue against us unless he's smashed this flop, which as we said is a relatively small part of his range.

For those of you interested in the results (which is a bad practice to get into), Villain tanked down and then folded to us. We did leave the table when the big blind came around, and we ended up finding a nice soft $50NL table with lots of L1 players.

Poker is all about adapting to the skills and abilities of your opponents. If you're at a tough table, the villains are putting you on ranges and lines, just like you're doing to them. The key is recognizing this fact, and then using it to your advantage. Step it up one level of thought above them. Read, Estimate, Decide, and Implement.  And then ship it.

All-in for now...