Sunday, September 14, 2014

"A-ha!" moment of the week...

The guest on the Thinking Poker podcast this past week was Andrew "BalugaWhale" Seidman, who is the author of the very good Easy Game series of poker books (click here to see the latest edition of the book). During the discussion, Seidman made a comment that caused me to literally stop walking (and therefore get bumped into by a guy who was walking too closely behind me at the Reagan International airport in Washington D.C. on Friday).  I didn't write down his exact words, but here's the essence of what Seidman said:

We always hear that value betting should be where you make the bulk of your money at poker. Bluffing is definitely part of your earn, but value should be the lions share. Why is this? Partly because fish tend to call more than they fold... but there's a deeper mathematical reason. When you make, say, a pot-size bet as a bluff (e.g., with pure air) on the river, the most you're going to win is what's currently in the pot. But when you make a pot-sized value bet on the river (e.g., with the nuts), you're going to win at least as much as what is currently in the pot. If your opponent comes back at you, you're going to win that additional money, too. Bluffing profit is capped at the current pot size. Value profit is capped by the effective stack size.


All-in for now...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Another Close-But-No-Cigar Tournament...

...four hours of nearly perfect poker, followed by... boneheaded call on the final table bubble (I open raised on button with AJo to 3x with 25 big blinds. Got re-shoved on by so-so player in SB who had about 15 bigs. I snap called without thinking. Arghg. He turned over KQs and flopped the nut straight)...

...followed immediately by me shoving my remaining 10 bigs with AKs. Got snap called by same player holding 44. I don't improve....

...and bubble the final table of yet another tourney....


All-in for now...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Poker Books

Got a comment on a recent post (here) about poker books I recommend to students. There's a lot to choose from, but some of my favorites are as follows (in alphabetic order):

Advanced Degree in Hold'em Swayne Weird book. Hard to read, with the author making up  his own terms for standard concepts, but this book also really made me think about poker on a deeper level. Wouldn’t be my first choice as a recommendation for  newbie, but it’s definitely on the should-read-sometime list.
Big Deal Holden Fun read. You won’t really learn how to play poker, but it’s entertaining and insightful into the life of a pro poker player.
Bigger Deal Holden Fun read, part II
Caro's Book of Poker Tells Caro Very dated, but there’s still solid golden nuggets of important read and tells in this classic.
Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker McManus You won’t learn how to play poker reading this, but it’s full of fascinating history and lore of poker. Did you know Richard Nixon financed his first congressional run via poker? Betchadidn't.
Crushing the Microstakes Blackrain A really good book for learning how to beat online games. Very good, solid fundamentals and tips. It's geared for online, however, so there's lots about HUDs and trackers and the like...
Dynamic Full Ring Poker Sweeney Another very good book, but don’t make this your first read if you're just starting . It’s really for medium/advanced players looking to improve.
Easy Game Volume I, II and Adaptations. Seidman Actually three separate books. I’d recommend the Adaptations version, as it’s the latest. Good stuff therein.
Elements of Poker Angelo Before the poker boom, this book reportedly sold for upwards of a $1,000 per copy. Dunno if true, but that's the lore. Now it’s significantly cheaper. It’s not a step-by-step learning book, but more of a collection of little pearls of wisdom by one of the best poker coaches in the world. It will make you think.
Every Hand Revealed Hansen Absolutely fascinating look into the mind of someone that everyone considers to be a crazy maniac. Guess what? He's not.
Getting Started in Hold'em Miller Anything by Miller is on my must-read list. This one is pretty basic stuff, but it's good intro material to thinking properly about poker. A little dated, but still solid.
Harrington on Hold'em Harrington The classic books on tournament poker play. Info is a bit long in the tooth, and many players today have mastered these techniques, but if you want to understand ABC poker tournament play, the 3 books in this series are how do so.
Holdem Excellence Krieger I discovered Krieger late in life, after he passed away. His writings are basic but powerful. One of those guys in the world I’d wish I’d had a chance to meet in person.
Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players Sklansky An oldie, but a classic. Lots of basics and fundamentals. Somewhat hard to read, but still worthwhile.
How to Read Hands at NLHE Miller Again, anything by Miller is gold. This one is no exception. Buy it.
Let There Be Range Cole An insanely high priced book (Amazon currently has it for $1,850. Seriously!). I picked up a copy at an estate sale for significantly less money. There are a ton of books out that now rehash this info, but Cole’s book was the first (and one of the best).
Modern Small Stakes Blackrain A follow up to Blackrain's Crushing the Microstakes book. This one is a gem, too. Blackrain is a true expert at beating online games, and you can learn a helluva lot reading his books.
Playing the Player Miller Another awesome Miller book. Very accessible and easy to understand. One of his best, imho.
Poker's 1% Miller Not a book for beginning, or even medium skilled players. This one is for advanced players who are ready to play level-3 and above poker. Very powerful stuff that is really mostly applicable to high stakes tables. It will change completely how you think about poker.
Positively Fifth Street McManus You won’t learn poker reading this, but you’ll be totally fascinated in a prurient manner reading this timeless classic. The vicarious thrill of making a final table of the Main Event with the author is alone worth the price of admission. I confess I’ve read this book 3 separate times.
Professional NLHE Vol 1 Flynn et al Awesome book (it helps to have Miller as an author). Reading this gave me a couple of serious, game-changing “a-ha!” moments, including the basis for my own creation of REDi. I keep waiting, year after year, for Vol 2 to be written. Alas, it's not even on the authors' radar screens...
Reading Poker Tells Elwood Very good stuff. I also hear his new Verbal Tells book is quite good, too, but I don't own it. Solid, fundamental stuff about tells.
Real Poker II: the Play of Hands Cooke Focused on Limit Poker, this is still a very good collection of essays by a part-time semi-pro in the Vegas circles. Cooke does a really good job describing his thought processes in hands.
Small Stakes Hold'em Miller Another Miller classic. Lots of theory, examples, and practical advice. Good book for a newbie looking to advance their game.
Small Stakes NLHE Flynn et al Very good stuff. A little disorganized, but well worth the read. It will definitely help improve your game if you are a beginner.
The Making of a Poker Player Matros You won’t really learn how to play poker reading this, but it’s another really fun read that I’ve done a couple of times.
The Poker Tournament Formula Vol 1, 2 Snyder A truly crazy, outside-the-box style of tournament poker that is not for the faint of heart. Really, really, really made me think deeply. The link here is to Vol 1, but Vol 2 is just as good.
The Theory of Poker Sklansky Don’t even think about trying to read this until you’ve mastered at least half the other books on this list. Very dense, hard to read, detailed… and powerful. The fundamental theorem of poker alone is worth the price.
Winning Poker Tourneys: One Hand at a Time: Vol 1, 2, 3 Lynch, et al Wow, wow, wow. If you want to learn serious, deepstacked tournament poker, these three books are very, very, very good.
Note there aren't any poker math books on this list. I'm still looking for a good one that I can recommend. It's also interesting how many Ed Miller books I include in my list; he's really one of the best poker authors around.

I'll add more books as they occur to me, so keep checking back....

All-in for now...

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...