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...

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...