Sunday, April 19, 2015

Talk, Talk, Talking on TAg, TAg, TAgging

Trying something a little different for today's post, which is a six-minute audio file on playing a tight, selective preflop strategy:

I welcome any constructive criticism on content and delivery. I know the quality isn't great (I'm still figuring out Audacity's recording software) and I need to practice my on-air speaking voice a bit-- but other than that, I would love to hear back from you folks on: a) what I can do to make this better/more useful; and b) would you want to hear more of these in the future, or is this just a distraction and/or contrivance.

Feedback is welcome...

All-in for now...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Revisiting the 3 Edges of Poker Mastery

There are three equally important keys to mastering poker

[Note: Yes, I've written on this topic before before, but a series of email exchanges with a struggling poker player who contacted me through the blog has brought this whole idea back to the front burner. Even if you remember my past posts on this subject, it still bears a second look...] 

There are three major categories of skills, or “edges,” you have to master to win at poker. Of course each of these are comprised of dozens or more sub-lessons, specific skills, and individual tactics to learn, but when viewed from 30,000 feet, poker mastery really does boil down to three, equally important categories of edge. Get these three things down, and you will crush the game. Don’t, and you won’t.

Let’s look briefly at each of the three edge categories:
  1. Off-Table Work. First is the idea that learning poker requires significant off-table preparation and work. It takes discipline. It takes effort—active effort. You cannot just sit back and passively watch a weekly World Poker Tour (WPT) television broadcast on Sunday night and then expect to win at the casino on Monday. It doesn’t work that way. Winning takes commitment and effort. If you truly want to get better—and make long-term, consistent money at the game—then you have to treat poker like you would if you were trying to get better at any other skill-based endeavor, like golf or chess. In other words: study, preparation, practice, and post-game review. No, let me re-phrase that: active study, committed preparation, disciplined practice, and focused post-game review. You won’t get better at golf by cracking a beer and watching the Masters on television; you have to go to the range, work on our swing, hit thousands of balls on the putting green, practice bunker shots, and so on. Simply watching Bubba Watson hit magically bending shots over and around trees isn’t going to somehow turn you into the next Bubba. Same for poker. Watching Phil Laak, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Gordon, or Phil Galfond on TV isn’t going to turn you into the next Phil. The majority of winning poker professionals queried say they had to put in roughly an hour of off-table work for every hour they actually played the game when they were first starting out. Many of these same pros continue that one-to-one ratio even today. They understand that their competition is doing the same, so to keep up with—and surpass—those other players requires the pros to put in the off-table work, including note and record taking, pre-game warm-ups, post-game reviews, leak-finding and plugging, adhering to proper bankroll management, targeted game selection, mental and physical preparation, and discussing and dissecting poker strategy with like-minded serious students of the game. To get better, you have to actually work at it away from the tables. ‘Nuff said.
  2. On-Table Technical Skills. The second major edge category is the ability to recognize the skill level of your opponents, and then systematically mastering all the specific tactics, techniques, and strategies of poker necessary to best those opponents at that level. In a sense, these are the on-table technical skills of the game, and they’re highly dependent on the type of opponents you play against. If for example you play small stakes live poker against relatively talentless amateurs, you still have to actually learn and employ the tactics necessary to beat those folks. If you don’t, you’re by definition just as talentless. This means understanding—and using—position. It means selecting strong starting hands— and folding all the rest. It means understanding—and utilizing—basic pot- and implied-odds, both in your calling and betting. It means focusing on extracting value at showdowns, not bluffing bad players. It means reading board texture— and then c-betting accordingly. And so on. As you progress upward in stakes and face tougher opponents, there will be a new set of skills you have to master to best those tougher opponents. Skills like hand and line reading, estimating equities and commitment, and deciding and implementing optimal EV lines becomes your secret weapons. And so on again. None of these individual skills and tactics are really rocket science to learn, and the skills themselves are readily identifiable, but you have to identify and master them, or you won’t ever master the game. ‘Nuff said on this one, too.
  3. Emotional Control. Finally, the third category of skills you have to master is related to controlling your emotions. All the off-table prep and on-table skill won’t mean a damn if you piss your profits away by going on tilt when you suffer a bad beat. Recognizing—and eliminating—tilt from your game, as well as remaining patient, focused, and Zen-like at the table, playing on those fine lines between ego-less and confident poker, playing with heart and without fear… well, these are the emotional control skills that separate the winning wheat from the chagrined chaff. I can promise you that the Phils of the world have their emotions under control better than the average player does. Bad beats don’t affect a professional player the way it does the rest of us, and this is because the pro has taken the time to understand his or her own psychological make-up, and then employ targeted strategies to keep their specific tilt monsters at bay.

The bottom line is this: winning poker requires mastery of these three very different, but highly interrelated abilities. Get all three things under control, and you will win a lot of money at this game. Don’t, and you really, truly, seriously won’t. Ever.

‘Nuff said.

All-in for now...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bug's Poker Tip #46

Tight is Right

Far, far too many beginners play far, far too many poker hands. And yes, I know why this is true--I've come to play cards, dammit, so I'm gonna play my damn cards!--but this is a major leak. Said simply, you should play only a small fraction of the hands dealt to you, especially in early position and from the blinds. Something like 5-10% in early position, increasing to somewhere around 20-25% in late position at a standard full-ring table. Everything else should be folded-- somewhere around 80-85% of the hands you see. Yes, four out of five hands or more. And yes, that's a lot of hands, and yes, it may be a little boring at first to fold far more hands than you play, but it's one of the fundamental secrets the pro's employ to making money at this game. If you play too many hands, you will leak away your profits. Drip, drip, drip.

Think of it this way, when you're deciding to play a hand dealt to you, you're essentially deciding to pick a fight and/or join one already in motion. Wouldn't you want a high-quality weapon in hand when you jump into the fray of battle? As the Guru used to preach, "don't bring a knife to a sword fight." Isn't it better to battle from the high ground, where your card strength gives you an inherent advantage over the opposition, than face an up-hill slog holding inferior cards? Remember, two new cards are coming your way in just a few ticks of the clock. Pick your battles with the strong cards, and toss all the rest.

A good technique to train yourself to play a Tight-is-Right game is to implement the so-called raise-or-fold question in your preflop decision process. You literally ask yourself on every single hand dealt to you, "Should I raise this hand in this situation?" If the answer is "no" (which it will be most of the time), you should just muck the cards and move on. I've actually done training sessions with students where they are literally not allowed to call preflop with any hand. Of course this is not a long-term strategy during normal play, as there are definitely times to call preflop in poker (such as when you're dealt a small or medium pocket pair in late position and are facing an EP open-raise and are getting the right implied odds to set-mine) but for purposes of training, this kind of "raise-or-fold" technique can be helpful-- and enlightening. I wish I had a nickle for every time a student forced to play this way said something like, "Damn, I want to play this hand! But I know I shouldn't. Sigh. Fold..."

So, ask yourself: Do you want to play your cards, or do you want to make money? Only you can answer this for yourself, but I know what my own response is-- I like the green stuff. And raking in chips turns out to be not so boring after all.

All-in for now...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Time Flies

Been crazy busy with work, travel, and about a dozen non-poker project lately, so the posts here have be, ahem, sporadic at best. The next two months are going to be similarly crammed with non-poker time sinks, but I'm going to endeavor to at least post some poker olio on a more regular basis, starting today...

  • Read a neat post by Memphis Mojo today that helped re-inspire the posting. Check it out
  • Will almost certainly miss the WSOP again this year due to work commitments. Will be in Europe and/or Hawaii for most of May and June. I hate business travel and how it basically results in me putting my life on hold..
  • Le Monsieur and I are continuing to make slow but steady progress on the training app. In fact, we've got only a few lessons left in our first level-1 training set to produce, which means we'll next be looking for help coding up the app itself. We're also going to be asking for some feedback from poker enthusiasts, which means I'll be posting here on this blog for volunteers. More details will be forthcoming, but if you're at all interested drop me a line.
  • I'm only playing about 1-2 times a week, max, and then only 30 minutes or so per session. Very little NLHE; my focus has been on PLO, which has turned from a break-even proposition to a consistently (though moderately) profitable gig. Whilst NLHE has really gotten tougher over the past few years (due to Black Friday, etc.) the low-stakes PLO games are chock-full of, well, really bad players. There's some gold in them thar PLO hills, kids.
  • Lost a quads over quads hand the other day. Seriously.
  • I've canceled my subscription to Bart Hanson's podcast. The reason has nothing to do with his technical content, which remains REALLY good, imho. The reason instead is due to the fact that I rarely if ever have time to listen to him, and I've got about five months of back logged podcasts of his to listen to. Sigh.
  • Am doing a few coaching sessions with newbie students here and there, but my travel schedule is putting a crimp on that aspect of my game, too; it's hard to commit to a student when my week-to-week travel schedule is so fluid. For instance, I just got back from Hawaii, and am leaving for Colorado early this week. The following week will find me in Illinois, then back to Colorado. Did I mention I hate biz travel?

All-in for now...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Love those a-ha moments...

Did a fun online $0.25/$0.50 6max session/lesson with a student today. We were in mid-position and opened with a pair of eights to $1.40. The action folded to an aggressive recreational player on the button who flat called. Blinds folded. Flop came out 9-2-2 rainbow. We c-bet to roughly 60% of the pot. Villain re-raised us 3x.

My student's immediate instinct was to fold, but before we did I asked what was the villain's preflop range? Remember, they just flatted an MP open raise and we're ~100bb deep. Student's answer: small- and mid-pairs and suited connectors.

So the next question was: Good, so what are you afraid the villain has here? Answer: a nine? Maybe a two? Or an over pair?

Name the deuces that are in his range? Answer: Uh, there's only one pair of deuces.

Good. Now name the nines that are in his range? Answer: There are a few combos of pairs of nines. Or he could have T-9.

And what over pairs are in his range? Answer: Uh, tens?

Really? At this aggro 6max table? Answer: No, he'd probably re-raise us with those pre.

And how many other cards in his range missed this flop? Answer: Uh, a bunch.

So what are you afraid of? Answer: Uh... uh... not much.

Based on his stats, is the villain aggressive post-flop? Answer: Uh, yes.

Does he multi-barrel? Answer: Uh, yes.

So do we have the best hand the vast majority of the time here? Answer: Yes. 

Will he bluff a lot in this situation? Answer: Yes.

So, when we have the best hand against a bluffer, what should we do? Answer: let him bluff.


So we called. Turn was a three that completed the rainbow.

So, did this improve villains hand? Answer: No!

So has anything changed? Answer: No!

Do we still have the best hand the majority of the time? Answer: Yes!

Are there any draws we should be afraid of? Answer: No!

Is the villain likely to continue bluffing? Answer: Yes!

So what-- Answer: Let's let him keep bluffing us!

We check. Villain fires another barrel. 

So should we call or raise? Answer: If we call, he'll have about a pot size bet left to bluff again with.

Do you think raising here is going to get worse hands to call? Answer: No.

Do you think he'll fold those few better hands in his range if we raise? Answer: No.

So raising accomplishes what? Answer: Nothing good!

So, what should we do? Answer: Call!

River was another blank. 

Should we--  Answer: Nothing has changed! The only way he can win is to bluff us again. We should check!

We checked, villain shoved, my student snap-called, we doubled up.

A-ha, says the student. A-HA!

All-in for now...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mr. Multi Weighs In - The Nuts

In my last blog post (here) I wrote:

In Hold’em, once all five cards are on the board, the nuts will always be three queens or higher. If you’ve figured out what you think is the best possible hand and it isn’t three queens or better, then look again because you missed something. 

This morning, Mr. Multi sent me an email with his proof of this statement. With his permission to repost that email, here's today's guest post from MM on the subject:

Here's my proof of this factoid, which I believe to be true. We have a full board and a two card hand. 

First, it should be apparent that the worst nut hand has to be at least a set. That's because you can hold a pocket pair and hit your set on the board. It's why set mining is so powerful--a single card on the board can give you a much better hand. And it's why we hope that the board pairs, because we understand how weak it may be. 

But which set is the lowest nut hand? 

Let's find a board that is as weak as possible. We need to eliminate the potential flushes, quads, full houses, and straights. Flushes are easy, there are no three cards of the same suit on the board. For quads and boats, there can be no pairs on the board. That leaves straights. 

To eliminate straights, the board needs to avoid two gaps that could be filled by a hand. The 2 and 3 are the lowest cards on this board, but a following 4, 5, or 6 would allow straight possibilities (e.g., a 532xx board could be filled with an A4 or 64 hand). The next cards then must be 7 and 8 so that there are three ranks between the board cards. Similarly, the 9, T, and J would allow straight possibilities, making the next lowest card a Q. That means a Q8732 (rainbow) board cannot have a straight, a quad, or a boat possibility, leaving only a set of queens as the nuts. 

Note that the Q8732 is the worst board for the trip queens, not necessarily the only board. It turns out there are 16 such boards, ranging from QJ762 down to our original Q8732. In every case the board contains a queen, a seven, and a two--each five ranks apart from the next to prevent straights. If you've ever heard the maxim that all straights must have a ten or a five, then this is the converse: there cannot be a straight if the board contains Q72. Or K72, K82, K83, those three cards each separated by at least five ranks. That's a total of 64 board where a set of kings or queens is the nut hand. 

Amusingly, an ace on the board assures that the worst nut hand is at least a straight. Since the ace plays both high and low, there's always a straight possibility. 

Having determined the ranges of sets as nut hands, should we concerned about remembering and using this. In short, no. We've found 64 boards where a king or queen set is the worst nut hand. There are 2,595,960 possible boards. Don't count on a set being the best hand; you're not losing much equity.

'Nuff said.

All in for now...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Some Miscellaneous Ramblings...

In my last post (here), I stated that one of the best ways to get better at poker is to write about it.  You might be wondering whether my own poker game has been suffering due to the lack of blog post appearing here-- well, yes and no. It's true that it's been over a month since I posted here, but I have in fact been writing and working on poker quite a bit in my spare time. I'm traveling like a fiend for work lately, but in my limited spare time in airports I've been working remotely with Le Monsieur on the ABC lessons. We're making slow-but-steady progress, and in fact I may have a announcement related to the project that I'll post here in a few days from now on the blog. Stay tuned.


And speaking of Le Monsieur, he was in fourth overall place with a few hundred players let in the WRGPT "glaciers" event the last time we spoke, which is absolutely awesome. Mr. Multi is also still grinding up a chip stack in the event, tripling up overnight in fact when his AK held up multi-way. Wooot!


And speaking of writing, long time readers of this blog know that I'm an Evernote evangelist. The software has really changed (mostly for the better) how I work and store information at work and at home. I've also been writing ABC lessons from within Evernote, but honestly it makes for a poor word processor. I've been a long-time Word user for any serious writing, but the formatting limitations (that they call "features") of that package has always left me wanting. Enter the program "Scrivener," which is a word-processing/publishing package that many professional fiction and non-fiction authors use. A few weeks ago, I downloaded the trial version, and after a somewhat rocky start, I bought the program and am now hooked on it as my de facto way of writing articles, books, and, yes, ABC poker lessons. Exporting to a myriad of formats after getting a document written and looking pretty is dead simple, and there are a ton of little cool features that make writing a pleasure in the software. Be warned, however, if you decide to give it ago-- the learning curve is steep.


Saw an interesting poker fact the other day that got stuck in my brain. I even bounced it off Mr. Multi, who also found it thought provoking. I am still wrapping my head around the veracity of it, but here it is for you to ponder, too:

In Hold’em, once all five cards are on the board, the nuts will always be three queens or higher. If you’ve figured out what you think is the best possible hand and it isn’t three queens or better, then look again because you missed something.

Weird if true, eh?


Gotta run.
All-in for now....