Sunday, July 27, 2014

Yes, I'm Alive...

...just unmotivated to post lately. Dunno why, really. I haven't been traveling much, so that's not a valid excuse. I'm also playing pretty much every day (and doing quite well), so I'm not really lacking for material. Also, Le Monsieur and I continue to poke at our training app, which has been both fun and informative. So not really sure why I'm not blogging. Guess it's just the mid-Summer doldrums messin' with my mind

As mentioned, Le Monsieur and I are slowly but surely nudging the snowball that is our training app off the start-up cliff ledge. I've been involved in small business ventures with other people in the past, and a huge factor in the success (or failure) of said ventures is the chemistry of the personalities involved. So far so good on that front with Le Monsieur. We've had a number of short but productive Skype sessions, including one this week where some significant clarity and progress was made on organizing the training material. Good stuff.
The week before last I had a big downswing that at the time felt like a punch to the gut. Over a grand lost at the tables. Ouch. I don't run HM2 or PT when I play online (due to the fact that Bovada doesn't allow for it), but the biggest losing hands I recorded in my journal that week were mostly coolers and beats, so in retrospect I don't feel too badly about the run-bad. Yes, there was definitely some poor play mixed in (plus it doesn't help that I continue to donk off money at PLO as I learn the game). Sigh. The good news is I had a very profitable run of sessions this week, and have more than recouped my losses. If the trend continues, then July will be another net positive month for this Bug. Woot.
The November Nine is set for, uh, November. A lot of unfamiliar names at the table... with one big exception: last year's November Niner: Mark Newhouse made the final table again this year. Considering the incredibly massive starting field sizes, the huge dose of run-good-luck required, and the sheer marathon nature of the event, this is an awe inspiring accomplishment. Dan Harrington last did back-to-back finals in 2003 and 2004, but Action Dan "only" had to best a combined field size of 839+2,576 = 3,415 runners those two years. Newhouse, on the other hand, had to beat a combined field size of 6,352+6,683 = 13,035, or nearly 10,000 more players than Harrington to make back-to-back tables. Wow.
The Guru has been in town for a few weeks, and we've hooked up a couple of times for lunch and general catching up. We also played one very brief (slightly) losing session of Zone poker together, plus a short (slightly) profitable session of PLO. Good to see the old goat back in the States, but alas he's jetting back across the Pacific Pond to his beach hut and family come Monday morning. He's leaving behind a cheesy short-but-good YouTube video he posted on position here. Now he just needs to buckle down and create more of these... You listening, Mark?
(Non Poker News)
I've got a non-poker project rattling around in my tiny little brain, and to help understand the scope and organize the material I've been playing around a bit with mind mapping software. I've used this kind of thing in the past with mixed results, but for  this particular project (which has hundreds of constituent pieces) it's been a real boon. I've also used it a tiny bit with the project Le Monsieur and I are fiddling with. The software is web based, free, and very easy to use. It's called Coggle, and while it's not nearly as good as some of the commercial packages, it's perfectly adequate for helping focus me on my new project. Check it out: Coggle.

All-in for now...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Death by a Thousand Cards

/crabbiness on/

Now that the WSOP is over (well, at least until November), it seems everyone and their uncle wants to report on how they busted from the series. It doesn't matter if it was the $10K Main Event or a $200 daily deepstack event-- I've read about a dozen articles and have listened to a number of podcasts about all manner of people that played in Vegas over the past month and a half, and a  majority of them are saying basically the same thing when explaining why they busted from their respective tournament: "I was card dead for hours" or "I had a great table but the cards just didn't come" or "I was blinded down by a cold deck" or "The deck was colder than a witches tit in a brass bra an IRS agent's heart."

This is all fine and good, but these descriptions all strike me as nothing more than glorified bad beat stories. Oh, look at me. I lost because the cards didn't come. Boo hoo.

Is there anything more sad/pathetic/boring than a bad beat story? My old poker coach literally used to demand a dollar whenever/if I whined about a bad beat. News flash: We all get bad beats and coolers. That's just poker, folks. You agreed to the possibility when you signed up for this silly game. Yes, in a tournament a bad beat or cooler often means your tournament life comes to an end-- but again: you knew that was a possibility going in. Quit whining about it. The cards weren't coming, so you made the mistake of waiting until you were blinded down-- and only then made a stand. And then lost. And then had to leave. And then blogged about your bad luck.

I repeat: boo hoo.

The truth for most of these folks is that they let themselves get blinded down waiting for those mythical cards to come. Maybe I'm just cranky this morning, but I really don't have patience for people who blame their tournament bust-outs on being card dead. Cards don't matter (much) in big tournaments. Phil Ivey gets coolered just as often as you do. Phil Hellmuth gets bad beaten just a much-- in fact, probably more often than you. Vanessa Selbst goes card dead just a frequently as you. Annette O. sometimes plays without even looking at her cards.

And guess what? These pros all still manage to go deep and win.

Let's repeat that hidden gem again: your cards really, truly, honestly don't matter much. Seriously.

Uh, okay Bug. What exactly does matter? If my cards don't matter, what does?

Answer: Situations.

The thing the Phils and the Vanessas (and of course the cute-as-a-button Annettes) do so much better than you or I is they wait for situations, not cards. In fact, they actively seek out situations to attack. They aren't waiting for magical cards; instead they're actively probing for weaknesses in their opponents. They're looking for situations, not cards. They're chipping up. They're slicing and dicing. They're paying attention and REDi'ing and attacking and putting their opponents on the defensive. They're doing this constantly while you and I wait for the deck to heat up. The pro's cards don't matter. Instead, what matters are the cards of their opponents. They literally are making their opponents wait for the mythical cards while they themselves build their own stack by taking advantage of situations.

Now let's repeat that gem: They are NOT waiting for cards to come. If they bust, it's because they were situation dead, not card dead.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Now back to your regular programming.

/crabbiness off/

All-in for now...

Friday, July 11, 2014

He's Doing it Again!

MemphisMojo continues his Vegas mastery with another deep run-- this time in the Main Event. Read all about it here.

As I commented on his blog, I just got home from a week-long biz-trip-from-hell. Took me two full days to get from southern Arizona to Chicago just for starters. Ugh...

...but coming home and reading about a friend deep in the Main Event has set everything right. Go Dave go!

All-in for now...
PS. Now that I'm back for a few weeks in a row (knock on wood that doesn't change) I'll hopefully begin to post more regularly. Thanks for waiting...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Preflop Starting Hand Selection - Part 2

[This is the second installment in a multi-part series on starting hand selection for the beginning level-1 player. Click here if you want to start back at the beginning...]

Open Raising: the Position Factor

In the first installment of this miniseries, I implied that for most micro- and low-stakes games, you can do quite well with your preflop hand selection if you simply follow a rote-type starting hand selection method that was based on four primary factors: 1) position; 2) upstream villain action; 3) effective stack sizes; and, 4) your two hole cards.  Since then, I've given this quite a bit more thought (primarily due to working on the ABC training app that Le Monsieur and I are developing). What I have now is a slight variation of my original statement; namely that the starting hand factors you should consider when playing solid level-1 poker are (in order): 1) Your Position; 2) Any Upstream Villain Action; 3) Any Downstream Villain Reactions; and 4) Misc. Adjusters, such as effective stack sizes, number of opponents, and the like.

I've built my starting hand selection chart by following this basic framework. In other words, I've created an opening chart that factors in only pure position; i.e., the situation where the action at the table folds to you, and you have to decide whether you should open (raise) or fold. Once we have that basic framework in mind, we can modify and tweak it based on the subsequent factors like upstream villain action, what the downstream villains then do, etc... Further, as we progress from the low-stakes games into tougher mid-stakes games, and we have to start learning and employing hand reading into our decisions (e.g,. level-2 REDi), we can further modify our starting hand selection based on villain types and tendencies, tells, and specific reads of both the upstream and downstream action. And then, as we move into even higher stakes and tough games, and therefore have to play a level-3 "what does villain think I have" approach to the game, we can dynamically adjust our starting hand selection choices in real time based on things like our own table image, the range our opponents are putting us on, meta game inputs, and factors like leveling, balancing, and frequencies.

But for now, we're starting very simply: we're at a generic table, the action has folded to us preflop and we have to decide whether to open our hand for a raise, or fold it. We'll assume an average 10-handed, low-stakes game, with 100bb effective stacks, and standard/generic villains. The primary level-1 factor in this decision is position.

But what does this mean? We've all read ad nauseam how important position is relative to the button (including herein this blog). The reasons include information, pot control, easier bluffing, etc. I won't rehash those things in depth now, but these factors are important not only postflop, but preflop as well. In other words, before the flop, position gives you more information on the actions of your opponents before you have to decide whether to enter the pot or not. Position also affords you the ability to add money to the pot or just call behind if you decide you want to play your hand. And position preflop is a key factor in your ability to steal the blinds, which is essentially a form of bluffing.

The general rule is this: you should play more hands in later position, and fewer in early position. But how many? The short glib answer is more than you think in later position, and fewer than you probably are in early. The longer answer is, well longer. Again, I won't go into too may details here, but it turns out you can calculate a) the probability that one or more of the remaining players left to act has a stronger hand than yours; and b) the expected value of any given starting hand against those remaining ranges on random flops. You can also factor in whether you'll have position on the villains after the flop, plus adjust for your ability to play post flop poker (e.g., read board texture; float bad players when in position and you miss the flop; get off second best hands when facing action; etc.).

Don't worry; I'm not going to make you do any of those things; I've already done the hard calculations. I also sanity checked my results against thinks like Sklansky's Tiers and Chen's starting formula. Finally, students of mine like e-Pal are crushing the online game using these charts.

So let's cut to the chase. Assuming you're a halfway decent postflop player, and can reasonably read board text post flop as well as your opponents' actions, here's my recommended conservative starting hand chart if/when the action folds to you preflop at a 100bb effective stack, low-stakes 10-handed Texas Holdem table (click to enlarge). (Note that it does include hands that you should limp or cold-call behind) (Note also that you should essentially never open-limp any of these hands; either raise or fold preflop is a very good general rule):

This is fairly conservative, especially in EP. But it keeps you out of trouble in EP, too. I play somewhat looser than this, but my style is a higher variance (but higher profit) LAggy approach, and frankly I'm a pretty good postflop level-2 and -3 hand reader. For new level-1 students to the game, however, the chart above is where I recommend starting.

In the next installment, I'll make adjustments to the chart to factor in upstream villain action. Stay tuned...

All-in for now...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Preflop Starting Hand Selection - Part 1

[As part of my project with Le Monsieur, I'm (slowly) writing down some of the key foundational material that will serve as the basis upon which the app quiz material will be generated. First up is the concept of preflop starting hand selection. Today's installment begins with basic level-1 hand selection decisions.]

One of the most important decisions you will make in poker is whether to play your hand preflop or not. In other words, should you fold or stay in the hand when the action gets to you?

A relatively large number of factors go into fully and correctly answering this question. These include things like your position, the effective stack sizes, the action upstream of you, the number of players left to act downstream, the types and tendencies of the other players, your own image, table dynamics, and so on. And yes, also important are what your own two cards actually are. In other words, the answer to whether you should fold or not is is that old classic answer for most things poker-related: it depends.

As it turns out, in simple low-stakes games, the strength of your two hole cards is one of the most important factors. This is because the majority of your profit at low-stakes games will come from so-called value hands that win at showdown against worse hands. Remember, there are two ways to win a poker hand: a) get a worse hand to call down to the river (i.e., value); and b) get a other (better) hands to fold before you get to showdown (i.e., bluffing). For better or worse, bluffing at the low stakes tables is generally quite difficult. This is because the level-1 poker players that populate these tables are typically unaware of factors like board texture and what the bets you make signify. In other words, these villains are not good enough to be bluffed off of a better hand. You can certainly make some profit from bluffing at these low-stakes tables, but the vast majority of your profit will come at showdown from your value hands.

As you get better and progress up into mid-stakes poker, you will actually begin to see that your own two cards begin not to matter nearly as much as other factors at the table, such as the type of opponents you're facing, their specific tendencies, and what kinds of cards they play. And when you get to tough, high-stakes games, your own cards are by far the least important decision factor when considering whether to fold or not preflop. Up in these big money games, “meta" factors like game flow, players’ states of mind, leveling, and so on will dominate the action, not the actual cards that were dealt.

For now however, in low-stakes games, we have to learn to master “showdown value” poker, which implies choosing strong preflop hands and situations in which to play. To do this properly, there are four primary factors we need to learn to consider when deciding whether the situation warrants playing our hand or not:
  1. Position. The first key factor is your position relative to the dealer button. Said simply, the later you are to act preflop, the more options you have.
  2. Upstream Action. The second key factor are the actions that have happened before it's your turn to act. We call this villain "upstream" action, and while we'll consider the basic type of villain who has entered the pot upstream of us, we will focus more on what they've actually done, including bet sizes, than why they've done it. The "why" part comes into play in the higher stakes games when we begin playing more of a level-2 and level-3 style.
  3. Effective Stack Sizes. The third key factor is the size of the upstream (and downstream) chip stacks, including yours. Shallower stacks puts a premium on big, one-pair type hands, while deeper stacks allow for more speculative hands to be played for profit.
  4. Hero's Hole Cards. The fourth and final key factor of course is the absolute strength of your own two hole cards.
Now, astute readers will notice that aside from considering the upstream action, that these factors are essentially the definition of level-1 poker. I.e., we're not really considering reads or specific ranges or lines of the the villains; instead, we're focused much more on our own situation and cards before the flop is dealt. At the low-stakes tables, this is more than adequate to be profitable for 90% of the hands you will be dealt. (The remaining 10% will be addressed later when we learn the technique of REDi and level-2 poker.)

In the next installment in this series, I'll begin to put all of these factors into context, and we'll begin the process of developing a level-1 style starting hand selection chart. Stay tuned.

All-in for now...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Sundries

Clouseau: Does yer dewg bite?
Inn Keeper: No
Clouseau: Nice Doggy
[bends down to pet a small mutt on the lobby floor- it snarls and bites him]
Clouseau: I thought you said yer dewg did not bite!
Inn Keeper: Zat eez not my dog.

A few weeks back I started working informally with a blog reader whom henceforth I shall refer to as Le Monsieur. He and I have exchanged a dozen or so emails in the past year or so on various poker subjects, but the focus always seemed to come back to the topic of learning and teaching methods. Long-time readers of this blog know I'm a little obsessed with this particular topic, especially re: ways in which a newbie to the game can/should learn from the ground up using a linear framework like levels of thought, my poker pyramid, and the three primary edge categories. I've been coaching a few online students over the past year or so, refining and tweaking these methods, and have indeed had some very good success with the likes of e-Pal (who, by the way, continues to crush the mid-stakes cash games down under). Anyway, to make a long story short, Le Monsieur approached me a while back with an idea for a training app that would be based around my teaching framework. I won't go into a lot of details here, but he has some killer ideas on short/repetitive/fast quizzing methods with immediate feedback to the student. He also has created some intriguing mock-ups for the user interface, plus has contacts in the NorCal tech arena that can possibly help steer us forward. Bottom line is I think Le Monsieur's content delivery ideas and teaching methods, coupled with my poker framework and base curriculum, could potentially turn into a killer training tool. The trick now (as usual) is to budget enough time in my already full life to work on my end of this bargain.


And speaking of my end of the bargain... as part of this week's homework assignment on Le Monsieur's app project, I've been noodling around with starting hands. One of the things that I've stumbled upon  is the concept of "bunching". It's a small esoteric thing that poker nerds like me love to discover. Let me explain: For practical purposes, playing at a six-handed (6max) NL table can be treated the same as playing at a nine-handed (full ring) table in which the first three early position seats have folded. Said another way, starting hands at a 6max table should be identical to the last four seats + blinds at a full ring table. This is traditional wisdom and actually a pretty good way to transition from full ring to 6max... except it isn't quite accurate. By virtue of the fact that the first three seats have folded, we can deduce that the quality of their mucked hands were below what they needed to play in those positions. And because people tend to play big cards more than small ones, we therefore know a few things about the remaining cards in the deck. Said another way, we know that on average there are slightly more aces, kings, queens and jacks than usual in the last six seats at a nine-handed table in which the first three seats have folded, than there are at a 6max table. No, it's not a huge difference (in fact it's very small), but it is an actual difference. In a six max game, this means we can therefore raise a teeny-tiny-itty-bitty bit lighter than we can in a nine max game where the first three players have folded to us. Cool beans.


I watched snippets of Phil Ivey winning his 10th bracelet this week at the WSOP. This particular event netted him something like $170K for first place, but the rumors  around Vegas are that he made about ten times that amount on a series of prop bets associated with him (and Negreanu) going deep and winning a bracelet this year.


I'm really intrigued with the WSOP's new $1500 "Monster Stack" NL event. If I had time in my schedule this year I would have definitely played in this new event. Nearly 8000 runners entered this inaugural year, which makes it the second largest ever non-rebuy WSOP event in history. For $1.5K you get a massive T15,000 in tournament chips. Even better, the blind structure is very slow and gradual, more akin to a $10K event than a $1.5K. I'm already budgeting to play in it next year. Woot.


In a training video I watched on an airplane a few weeks ago, tournament poker coach and trainer John "Kasino Krime" Beauprez of PLO QuickPro fame stated that there are four skills a tournament player needs to be successful in today's games:
  1. Ability to play different effective stack sizes correctly, from 10bb up to 100bb.
  2. Ability to be very aggressive preflop, including 4-betting light.
  3. Ability to stay very observant of the other players, their stacks, their tendencies, and (especially) their states of mind throughout all stages of the tournament-- and exploit that information.
  4. Have the wherewithal to join an off-table network of like-minded skilled players willing to share and work together to get better. And then participate and work on your game actively.

---Non Poker Content Below---

I had a death in the immediate family last week-- my mom. It was the punctuation point on a long and protracted illness she battled for the past two years. We all knew this day would come, but it still was a painful shock when it did. Heartbreaking, draining, surreal... I'm feeling all manner of emotions this week. I was also in a foreign country on a business trip when I got the news, which meant the added complications and frustrations of trying to get home early on an international flight on an uncooperative airline on very short notice. When I finally did manage to arrive home, I was greeted with not only sadness and grief in the family, but a ton of challenging things to help take care of. Various affairs of state, taxes, money issues, probate, death certificates, funeral service arrangements, siblings with differing ideas on how things should be handled, my devastated father, etc.. This has definitely been a very hard week for everyone. It was also a sobering reminder that life is far too short. My biggest takeaway thus far in this process is: make the most of your limited years on this spinning globe, and make the time now for those things you keep putting off for "someday" in the future. My mom did this right; she lead a full and fulfilling life; she literally told me a few weeks before she passed that she had no regrets in how she lived her life and would have done it all over the same way if given the opportunity. Can you say the same about your own life?

All-in for now...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bug's Poker Tip #41

Don't Draw to an Inside Straight-- Unless You Should

You might have heard the admonition on an old TV western, or perhaps it was spoken by your Aunt Mildred at a kitchen table penny-ante game: Don't draw to an inside straight, sonny-boy. It's a bad call. It's a damn sucker's play.

So, why do they say this? Because the odds of making your hand are pretty low, that's why. If you flop an inside straight draw on the flop, you'll only get there about 16% of the time by the river. This in turn means you need very good pot odds to make the call-- or least some damn good implied odds. In other words, this is usually a bad draw.

Except when it isn't.

Said simply: if you're getting the correct odds to chase a 4-outer like an inside straight gutter-ball draw, you should make the call. The math don't lie, friendo. Poker is all about getting your money in good, which means if you're on the right side of the pot odds, you're doing your job correctly. You're playing profitable poker. Hell, if a villain offers you the right odds to chase a razor thin 1-outer, you should make that call, too. Sure, you will miss a 1-outer something like 96% of the time, but if you're getting pot odds that are better than this, it's a good call. In fact, it's a necessary call. Not calling is a mistake.

Poker is a game of math and odds and equities. Plus EV is plus EV, even if it's a  damn inside straight draw, sonny-boy

All-in for now...