Saturday, June 16, 2012

Away again

Just over 24 hours from now, I'll be flying to Albuquerque for a few days with Cardgrrl and her sister, who lives there. Will be back at the grind by next weekend, though.

Poker gems, #457

Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Bluff magazine, June, 2012, page 71.



When aspiring pros find out that being a poker pro mostly involves folding hands and waiting for the right spot, they get bored. Sometimes it seems like you are folding hands all night long, and when you do get a hand, you end up folding the flop. And on a rough streak this can happen for a week straight. When an aspiring pro discovers that playing poker correctly really isn't that much fun and it isn't the fascinating creative experience he thought it would be, the bloom is off the rose. Playing poker for a living is a ton of work, and sometimes you work hard all week for a paycheck that has a negative number written on it.

After a few years as a pro, you may start to wonder when the big baller lifestyle is going to kick in. You'll get impatient for your time on TV at a big featured table, your time on the podium being awarded a bracelet, your big sponsorship dollars. And they may never come. There are great players who have never done any of these things. They just grind away, making good money, paying the mortgage, paying a ton of taxes, and folding hands. Are you sure that's what you want?

This article is really the long way to ask a simple question. Do you really want to play poker seriously, or do you want to play poker the same way I wanted to be an astronaut when I was 9?

Rio session

Tonight was the first time I've made it over to the Rio since the WSOP began. I've been negligent.


Even during the Series, when I play there my usual choice is the poker room, not the convention center. One reason for that is that I get comps and Total Rewards points in the poker room, but not in the Pavilion Room. More importantly, though, is that I really hate playing in the Pavilion environment. There are tons of people milling around, it's freezing cold, the competing overhead announcements are deafening and distracting, etc. If there are poker tables in hell, I imagine the surroundings are about as unconducive to relaxed, thoughtful poker as the Pavilion Room. But I had reason to think that several people I'd like to connect with socially would be hanging around, and I wanted it to be easy for them to find me, so I sucked it up and played in the big hall.

Here are the hands I played.

(Hint: #7 is the interesting one, if you want to skip ahead to the good part.)

Hand #1

On the fourth hand I was dealt, I was in the cutoff seat with K-Q offsuit. There were a few limpers, so I raised to $13. Three callers. Flop A-10-J. Well, now, isn't THAT pretty? They all checked to me. I bet. They all folded, the last one while telling me, "You must have an ace." Good guess, but no.

Hand #2

AA. I raised, one caller. Some ragged flop, and my c-bet won it.

Hand #3

I had the Mighty Deuce-Four of Crubs in the big blind and called a raise to $8. Flop was 7-8-9 with two more crubs. I called a small c-bet from the raiser, as did one middle-position player. Turn was 3c. Ding! My plan for a check-raise was foiled when action checked around. River was an offsuit ace, I think. I bet about 2/3 pot and got called by the middle guy, original raiser folded. Deuce-Four wins. LDO.

Hand #4

On the button, I joined nearly a tableful of limpers with 5d-8d. The big blind was a tricky, aggressive player. He raised to $18. This looked to me like an attempt to pick up the pot without a fight, and was something he would likely do with any two cards. I decided that a limp-call here would look most like a small pair hunting for sets, and with position and a solid table image, there was a good chance I could torture him with hard decisions, and likely steal the pot. The flop was something raggedy, probably missing him, but it paired my 5. Odds were good that I now had the best hand, so when he checked to me, I read it as him giving up, bet, and won.

Hand #5

KK. Raised, won the blinds. Apparently I had instilled some fear into the hearts of my opponents. Which I don't mind one little bit.

Hand #6

This was the hand immediately after the last one--KK twice in a row! The table bully (he loved big pre-flop raises and reraises) raised to $18. If I reraised, it would be my first three-bet, which he would definitely notice, and he'd either fold or be able to narrow my range down so far that it would be very unlikely that he'd make a big mistake for a lot of money as the hand progressed. (This was especially true given what the immediately preceding hand had revealed about my image.) So, deviating from my usual play, I decided to just call him. I thought this would be a good spot for a one-big-pair call-down. I.e., as long as I didn't scare him off with aggression, I expected him to keep firing whether he improved or not, and I would just let him, since I was severely under-representing my hand. It was a risky way to play it, but I wanted to take a chance on bleeding him maximally. (As a side benefit, if an ace flopped and he looked as though he liked that, I could let it go with minimal damage.)

It didn't work out that way. The flop was 664. I was greatly surprised when he checked. I thought that would look to him like about as safe a flop to c-bet as he could ask for. I was a little puzzled, and decided to change course from passive to active and see what he did. I bet $25. He called. This made me think that he probably had a pocket pair higher than the board but below my kings, and he might keep paying out.

Turn: another 4. He checked. I bet $40. He called.

River: 2. (Oh to have the Mighty Deuce-Four now! It would give me the SuperFullHouse, fours full of both sixes and deuces!) He checked again, which allayed my small lingering fear that he had flopped trips or a boat and was trapping. I tried to guess the biggest amount that he would call with just a medium overpair, with him hoping that I was firing with just a big ace on this double-paired board. I settled on $50. He thought for maybe ten seconds, then called. He chortled when he saw the kings, and said, "That's very good." He mucked without showing.

My best guess is that I had pegged his hand correctly (something between 7s and 10s; with jacks or queens he would have led out on the flop, I believe), and my sneaky pre-flop call got me pretty close to squeezing as many chips out of him as he would ever have parted with. Hilarity ensued, in the form of him picking up his remaining chips and leaving without another word. This was the same guy I had beaten with Deuce-Four, and I guess he had had just about enough of me.

It appeared that now I had the table both scared and confused.

As Mr. Burns is fond of saying, "Excellent!"




Hand #7

This is the one that I think is the most interesting. The player on my right was a late 20s Asian male with a big stack. He was quiet and solid, aggressive, but not wildly so. In fact, I pegged him as the most dangerous player at the table, which is why I didn't do a seat change to one of my usual preferred spots when I could; I wanted him exactly where he was, to my immediate right.

His aggression was manifested by boldly playing for pots when any opponent showed weakness. If there was an orphan pot, he was the one most likely to go for it. He was smart and selective about his aggression. I had misread him several times already when I wasn't involved--thinking he was bluffing when he had the goods and vice-versa.

This hand was the only one in which we tangled for more than $10 or so.

I had A-K offsuit in late position, so raised to $13. A few limpers ran away, and he was the only one who stuck around for the flop. It was A-10-4 rainbow. He checked, I bet $20, he called.

Turn: 8. He checked. I checked.

This is not my usual play. In fact, it is exactly this deviation from my usual pound-pound-pound technique that, I think, is the interesting point. This guy was way too smart to pay off three streets with any hand that could not beat my top pair/top kicker. As soon as the flop hit, I knew that two streets of value was the most I could get from him, and even that was being optimistic.

So once he called the flop, my choices were (A) bet the turn and let the river go check-check, on the theory that he would only call a river bet with hands that beat me. Or (B), be more tricky about it, check the turn, and go for the value on the river.

The latter plan had this great advantage: He had never seen me take the betting lead, then relinquish it by checking. It had not happened even once in this session so far. He was plenty smart and attentive enough to recognize that a check on the turn from me was not how I had been playing. I thought that he would read it as weakness, and take a stab at the pot on the river. He would put me on something like K-Q that had whiffed, or a pocket pair that did not like seeing the ace flop.

The range of hands he could have with which he would bet the river after a check behind on the turn was far wider than the range with which he would call a bet from me on either the turn or river. It included all of his bluffing range plus a good chunk of his value-betting range. E.g., he could easily bet hands like J-T, Q-T, and K-T thinking he was best after I slowed down on the turn, but would never call a second bet from me with such a modest holding.

For that reason, I checked behind on fourth street. My primary purpose was deception--to induce either a bluff or what he would mistakenly view as a value bet on fifth street. It was a line that was tailor-made for this specific opponent's previously demonstrated tendencies, designed to get one more street of value from him with his nothing and one-pair hands than he would otherwise give me.

Therefore, when the river came a harmless-looking deuce, my decision was already pre-made to call when he did what was expected of him and bet $40.

Sadly, though, he had gotten lucky on me. He turned over 8-8 for the turned set.

I lost about $75 on the hand, but I actually felt really good about it. If you take all of the hands with which he would have taken the exact same line (limp-call, check-call, check, and bet), I think I beat far more of them at showdown than I lose to. Despite having lost, I think I played it as well as I possibly could have, given who I was up against.

As it turned out, my attempt to be deceptive worked out in my favor in a completely unexpected way: It saved me money by keeping the pot smaller, and prevented me from having to make a difficult decision if he had check-raised me on the turn.

More hands

I then won a little flurry of small pots that coincidentally got me back to within a couple of bucks of where I had been before that AK/88 hand. As it turned out, that one hand was the only one of the entire session that I lost after having put in any more money than the amount of the $3 big blind. After Hand #6, I had entertained a glimmer of hope that I might complete a whole session never losing a single pot to which I had contributed more than the big blind, which would be truly remarkable. I didn't quite pull it off, but I came awfully close.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Yeah, I am one bad mofo at these free games!



That's two winner-take-all tournaments I've notched up in two days.

Where's my bracelet?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Winner take all? That would be me.



Shamus is now doing occasional home games on Stars. I took this one.

Ya gotta build that play-money bankroll with small events like this if you're gonna survive in this game long-term.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Can't possibly be true

An alert reader tipped me off to this piece of so-called poker journalism from PokerNews reporting the WSOP:



I don't know if the blogger just made a simple error, or if this is a damnable lie intended to tarnish the good reputation of the Mighty Deuce-Four, but it is obviously not actually possible to bust out of a tournament while holding that hand.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The secret

I've had a mini streak of run-good lately. Upon entering my numbers for this evening's session at Binion's, I noticed that my results for June so far show me winning at the completely ridiculous and totally unsustainable rate of $138/hour.


I chatted with Cardgrrl when I got home, and she asked me to what I could attribute the upswing. I thought a second and replied, "Good cards and bad opponents."

By Jove, I may have just stumbled upon the great secret of winning poker.

An unsolicited advertisement (no poker content)

About ten years ago, while I was still living in Minnesota, there came a time when I needed to hook both a Mac and a PC to my home cable internet connection. I needed a router. I kind of randomly chose one made by Belkin. I was having a devil of a time getting everything to work together correctly. (There are, by actual count, 14 billion menus and submenus in the Windows operating system just for connectivity.) Putting my male ego aside, I finally called Belkin's customer service line for assistance. The guy on the other end was wonderful. Of course he had a prepared algorithm he was working from, but it was also clear that he understood what each step did, and could improvise as needed. He was smart, friendly, and infinitely patient. It took nearly an hour on the phone to diagnose and fix the problems, but then it was done, and the router never gave a speck of trouble thereafter.


That experience was so good that I made this one of my life's pre-made decisions: If something I need is made by both Belkin and other companies, I'll buy the Belkin.* I now have half a dozen Belkin doodads, and they have all performed flawlessly. None of them has died yet, despite years of constant use.

(Let us pause to reflect on the awesome power of one experience with a company's customer service department. If good, it can win brand loyalty for life, as Belkin did with me. If negative, it can engender a foul, "never again" blood oath, the bitterness of which lingers even beyond the grave. Either way, the experience gets shared with countless friends and/or blog readers. Yet many companies seem to try to keep customer service cheap by making it so intolerably unusable that nobody really bothers with it. Penny wise, pound foolish.)

My new computer is great, but it presented me with a niggling little problem: The USB ports are near the back, instead of near the front, as on my old computer. As you can see below, this means that I couldn't push it all the way back to the wall, because the USB cable ran into the speaker. (This photo makes it look like I could just use one of the other USB ports, but the depth is such that they all cause the same problem.)


I thought, "I wish somebody made a right-angle USB connector." Which was immediately followed by, "Hey, maybe somebody does." Google quickly told me that not only do such things exist, but that one of them is made by Belkin!

Amazon.com to the rescue, and yesterday the clever little gizmo showed up in my mailbox:


It has two separate axes of rotation, so you can make it fit just about anywhere. It feels amazingly sturdy for something so flexible.

And for about $8, the problem is solved:


(OK, to be honest, the problem is not quite solved. This Dell has its power cord sticking straight out the back, which limits how close to the wall I can get it. But I found another company that makes a right-angle adapter for that issue, and I expect it to arrive tomorrow. Then life will be perfect again.)



* I have one exception: I had my Adesso keyboard before the Belkin experience, and I love it so much, and so fear that they won't have the same model still available when this ten-year-old one finally dies, that five years ago I bought a replacement, and have it stashed in the closet for when that sad day comes. Belkin makes fine keyboards, I'm sure, but they can take my Adesso when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.