Saturday, February 11, 2006

Soaring to New Heights or Sinking to New Lows? Hopefully neither

"Icarus, my son, I charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt them."

Playing in a 10-handed game this afternoon on Full Tilt, I found less money on the entire table than contained in a single pot in the games I'd been playing regularly just 10 days ago. Like Icarus, I flew far too high for my own good, and came crashing down as a result. The results, while damaging, offer me a different fate than the young Greek who drowned at sea. I stopped playing before the damage was too severe, and have taken time off to re-evaluate my circumstances and priorities. That said, things are definitely very different for me following my run-in with 10/20 6-max on Party, and there is no question that the loss I took will limit my options at least for a short while.

Yeah, I know it's fruity, but it's the only decent pic of Icarus in action I could find.

After reaching a new all-time high in bankroll just two weeks before, I managed to take a bad run at Borgata and lose a few hundred, make most of it back at Party, and then blow through just about 1/3 of my bankroll in a gut-wrenching three and a half day streak online. I don't even want to think of what that will look like if I graph it. Again and again, I found myself throwing my tattered PartyPoker hat across the room in disgust after a three- or four-outer at the river against a guy calling the whole way with no hand against my monster. I felt like I'd been singled out by the poker gods, the site administrators, or some higher power and subjected to an unfathomably awful beating. The pain from these suckouts went right down to my DNA, as Iggy put it in his own horror tale recently. The opposition was horrible throughout, but my patience, luck, and financing was worse. Playing above your 'roll when running extremely badly is not a good plan. Learn from me folks, just don't do it.

I've always prided myself on being more conservative, thoughtful, and prepared than my opposition. That's the edge for me in limit hold'em. Always has been. I got to where I am (or was in late January) by constantly playing the odds and targeting weak opponents in an evnironment where the swings caused by extreme short-term luck didn't matter much. I stayed with my core game of playing tight and aggressive poker, against opponents known to be clowns (data-mining, buddy-listing, etc.), but I failed to maintain that last part in late 2005 and early 2006. I stepped into bigger games because I saw rampant bad play and plenty of money to be won, and while I stand by my ability to tear these games wide open for consistent winnings, I now know that I had better be better bankrolled and more focused mentally in order to truly capitalize. I got into a spot where the swings caused by extreme short-term luck (and there is PLENTY of it in limit hold'em, particularly 6-max) did matter, and matter a great deal.

I was numb immediately following the final moments of my run in the 10/20 games. I reacted the best way I think I could -- I cashed every remaining dime I had out, and took a week off. I came back slowly, playing with the $110 or so I still had sitting around on Full Tilt. Despite feeling like the "doomswitch" had followed me over to FT from Party (my initial session was atrocious), I've regained my footing, and more importantly, I believe I'm beginning to arrive at a new sense of purpose in terms of my poker play. Poker had, in some ways, become an end in and of itself by late January of this year, as I'd focused on growing my bankroll in order to play larger games -- meaning no cashouts even when I was winning. I've always wanted to play higher, but never at the expense of losing some nice side income or my sanity. I crossed that line without even really noticing it, and in so doing risked both.

I say I believe this turn of events and small amount of time off has helped me begin to arrive at a new sense of purpose because I'm not sure that I've really nailed it all down or put as much thought into the matter as necessary. What I do know is that I am absolutely committed to playing smaller games, fewer tables, and ensuring that I do two things regularly: have fun while playing, and try to cash out a portion of whatever money I'm fortunate enough to win from time to time. Earning a dividend of sorts from this poker hobby has always helped me carry an air of confidence about my play, and equally importantly, this side income has helped me do all kinds of things to make my life better.

Playing at the highest level I could afford, or maybe sometimes higher, is not fun -- at least not when things aren't breaking your way, and *particularly* when opponents playing very poorly are reaping fantastic results right in front of your eyes (here's looking at YOU, vpt9654 on Party). Playing at limits well below the level I can afford, on the other hand, leads to aimless, boring play and unimportant results financially.

Just as Daedalus said to Icarus, the key is to fly somewhere in the middle, away from the the hot sun above and the wretched muck below. That's really the point of this post: play in games where you can use all your skills and advantages and not worry too much about the effects of luck.

As for me, well I've still got a solid poker bankroll, and I've been having a lot of fun playing the one-of-a-kind HORSE Sit & Go tourneys (heads-up and 8-handed), as well as small NLHE games on Full Tilt.

The games are really soft, I'm keeping the stakes extremely low while I sort out what my game plan is going forward, and most importantly I'm feeling confident again about the direction of my game. I highly recommend taking a trip over to Full Tilt for any of you looking to recharge your game and try some new games, or just find softer versions of the ones you're already playing. Heck, shoot me a comment and we can arrange to play heads HORSE some time. I'll play anyone for $10.

I don't know if I'll decide to head back into the 2/4, 3/6, and 5/10 limit hold'em games on Party, or whether I'll move off in a new direction (Drizz's account of PLO8 on Stars has me salivating, and I sort of have the NLHE bug right now too. Heck, I may "start over" and play 1-2 5max and 6max staritng with a small bankroll (maybe $1K) and try to build from there. Time will tell.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hiatus over, sorta...

Haven't had much to say the last few weeks, thus the dearth of posts. At one point I started up a trip report from my recent venture to AC, but then I realized that Helixx, Pauly, Beck, and AlCantHang had already said basically all there was to say. Add on top of that the fact that I had a rare weekend where no session saw me in the black, and, well, I just didn't feel all too celebratory upon my return. I found myself saying "maldito rio" far more often than I'd ever like to, that's for sure.

As in the past, I did truly enjoy eating at Noodles of the World (locations in Shanghai, Bangkok, Tokyo, and CLEVELAND) with Al & Co. I enjoyed seeing Helixx win a bundle at 3/6 too -- a much needed confidence boost for a guy who could easily beat the 6/12 game if he decided to do so. Plus, he had a smokin' hot lady sitting on his left the whole time, so his table was +EV in more than one way. Come to think of it, I've never played poker against so many beautiful women as I did that weekend. Got one of them broke twice too in the 1-2 NL game, and didn't feel the least bit bad about it.

Looking ahead, I've got a lot of poker in my schedule. Maybe too much, hard to say. For those in the area, I'll be back at Borgata Feb. 19-21. My first night will be free, thanks to the substantial comps I racked up last trip. I highly recommend the following comp whoring strategy to anyone who plays at Borgata: go to the cage & buy a rack of red, sign up for 10/20 plus whatever game you actually want to play, sit for an orbit, get up and leave for your new game. Then, when you get your other table (1-2NL, 3/6, whatever), DO NOT swipe in. Say you forgot your card or something. You'll earn comp dollars the whole time at the 10/20 rate, which I believe is $2/hr. This adds up, and paid for all my food last trip with a lot of money left on my card. As the Guiness guys say, "BRILLIANT!"

I'll be staying with a whole host of poker degenerates during my Feb. Borgata trip... some of whom will likely be playing 40/80 or higher. Pros. Watching these guys get drunk while destroying a 1-2NL table is truly a spectacle. I know F-Train has seen it, and been on the receiving end of their awful/aggressive/luckbox laden play. At least this time I got rooms at Borgata at the poker rate (I've been shut out the last few trips and stayed in Absecon instead). If you'll be out around AC at the same time, let me know.

Following the AC trip, I'm off to Vegas March 3-5 for a friend's bachelor party. Staying at the Flamingo, which isn't really very exciting, but the group going is great and I know we'll find ways to create some great memories. I'm even looking into trying to do a private poker tourney for us at the Imperial Palace. Those guys were great for the WPBT event, and I gather they'll be accomodating if I ask. Again, if you'll be out there at the same time, get at me and we can meet up for some straddle bets & hammer droppings. Equally importantly, if you have good bachelor party recommendations for Vegas (e.g. specific places to go, etc.) LET ME KNOW. Thanks!!

In other poker news, serious players absolutely must be tuned into what's going on at Party right now. They just got done running a VIP reward program where players were offered a lump sum of cash in exchange for earning a certain number of Player's Club points during a two week span. They've followed this up with a VIP20TO100 bonus offer (1 week to clear, 10x, $500 needed to max it out) and a drawing for 1,000 players to double that bonus. Word has it they're overhauling their Player's Club points store in February, with some decent gear finally available for purchase (most estimates from the folks on 2+2 have an iPod priced at about 50,000 points)

These things are all good and well, but to the careful observer they really spell one thing: the absolute end of rakeback. These offers are not cheap for Party, and they are all designed as an incentive system that should do enough to keep most (but certainly not all) players happy enough to leave for the other poker sites with much better management, graphics, games, and support (like Full Tilt or Stars). Now if only Party had the kind of game selection Full Tilt has (mmm, HORSE tourneys, razz ring games!), or the support system from Stars. Anyhow, if you have rakeback right now on Party, do not expect it to last. Of course once Party slams that door shut, many have argued that the other sites will inevitably follow. I'm not sure I agree, but time will tell.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Last year's goals, this year's goals, and good ol' Atlantic City!

Last things first: I'll be in Atlantic City Jan 20-22 with some friends gambooling it up (at Borgata, as usual) during the 2006 WPT Borgata Winter Open. While unlikely, it is possible I'll even be back up in AC the following weekend as well to hang during the main event.

While I will probably not be entering any of the $500 events (backers, anyone?), I may take a shot at one or two of the smaller-buy daily events or satellites depending on how things are going in the cash games. I'm really bummed that I can't stay for the $500 limit hold'em event on Monday the 23rd. Yes, I'm a masochist. I heart limit hold'em. Word has it AlCan'tHang, Helixx, Dr. Pauly, The Blogfather, and a few others might be at Borgata around the same time. East coast folks, no excuse not to come join the party!! Hit me with a comment or find me on the #WPBT IRC channel for details.

2005 Observations...
I'm not much for ceremony or year-end reflection purely for the sake thereof, but it did occur to me this evening that it might be a good time to go check my post from last January about the "state of my game" and see what it looked like a year on. Without going into it too deeply, I documented the initial steps I'd taken in 2004 to start the transition from a 100% casual micro-limit player with a $50 bankroll to serious small stakes amateur. I then had this to say about the year ahead:

"It is the next steps, moving from .50/1 to the small stakes games (2/4, 3/6, 4/8) that takes many more hours and more subtle learning. And I'm in the middle of that longer process right now. I'm not sure if I ever will (or will ever want to) make the third leap up into the medium stakes games (6/12, 10/20, 15/30). Time will tell..."

Well, in one sense I've made it through one part of the course I mapped out, and in another I've gone even further into the waters of 10/20 and above. I honestly never would've expected this to happen, and at least one of the things that helped make it happen was pure longshot luck (the jackpot). Whereas 2004 was a year of firsts, 2005 was a year of applying what I knew and refining my game while plowing through the small stakes games.

Significant parts of that second year process were not necessarily fun or immediately rewarding, but extremely worthwhile nonetheless. Learning to take the pain of my first large downswing, to play four or even five tables at once, to respect variance and plan for it, and to relentlessly value bet regardless of the short term results -- those were not easy things to do, and I'm still learning in each area. Learning to play live with confidence and full enjoyment was another thing I really picked up in 2005, thanks in large part to the WPBT events, and a certain 72 hour bender in AC with Pinky, Helixx, and SirAlCanHang. Hell, that trip was probably the hilight of the year in terms of sheer entertainment.

I won't recap anything else because recaps are boring, other than to say I am truly satisfied about one thing from my poker play in 2005: I demonstrated that I can beat the 2/4 game without breaking a sweat. That was what I set out to do and I did it in convincing fashion -- over 65,000 hands at that level and a very respectable 1.5BB/100 winrate. Anything that came on top of that was just icing on the cake. Whatever happens at the higher limits, I always want to have this competency to hang my hat on, plus a basic ability to play 1/2 NL games and both beat them and enjoy them. I figure I'll always be able to get something meaningful out of poker as long as I've always got those two tools in my arsenal.

Of course, I went well beyond 2/4 hold'em. I hit limits as high as 15/30 and games as far and wide as razz, crazy pineapple, and stud/8, and the HORSE combo for the first time (Full Tilt, you guys rule for hosting the HORSE Tourneys!!). And I won't be at all surprised to look back in 12 months and be able to say the same sort of things yet again. For those who approach poker as an adventure rather than a profession, there are truly an almost unlimited number of new opportunities, and of course with a little luck and persistence, the chance to try even higher stakes games.

But its those higher stakes games that concern me somewhat. Like Icarus flying higher and higher, I see so many poker players rise through the small stakes ranks only to blow it all when they reach a level they can't beat. Read the 2+2 forums if you want some evidence of this -- plenty is available. Hang out at PokerStars or FullTiltPoker and just wait a few minutes... someone is almost always coming by the tables in observer chat asking for a loan of $50 after going bust. I'm sure a few in the blogger community know of players who have run into this trap.

While it might not seem like much, I believe one of the greatest challenges I (like many other recreational players/bloggers) will face in the year ahead is the consequences of my success. Thus far, I've largely maintained discipline. I've been playing games where even a fantastic session man mean only $75 or so in profit -- the equivalent of a nice pair of jeans or a night of partying hard at the bars. But what happens when I find myself in games where suddenly we're talking about the equivalent of a nice television or a few car payments are at stake.

Not that I'm not bankrolled for these games (I am), or skilled enough to beat them (have you *SEEN* the level of play in Party's 5/10 and 10/20 games?!?!?!) -- its more a question of holding to the same rules and principles that got me here, while really buckling down and doing the little things right (recordkeeping, table selection, tax preparation, datamining). In a longwinded way, I guess I'm saying that in some senses the stakes are higher and that means a lot more than just the denomination of the chips in play.

For those that have been through this stretch, I'm really interested in your advice and thoughts (ahem DoubleAs, HDouble, Iggy, FTrain...). With that in mind, I leave you with the following excellent New Year's resolution from the 2+2 Internet Magazine:

My goal is to make money. It is not
... to impress my opponents.
... to survive the hand.
... to make sure my opponents don't bluff.
... to decrease my variance.

My goal is to make money. It is not
... to find out "where I'm at" during the hand.
... to accumulate a big stack or cover the table.
... to play in higher stakes games.
... to finish the session ahead.

My goal is to make money. It is not
... to deceive my opponents.
... to improve my PokerTracker statistics.
... to say at showdown that I started with a better hand.
... to create a table image I like.

My goal is to make money. It is not
... to cause my opponents to make mistakes.
... to win pots.
... to increase the chance of getting paid off
... to improve my ITM percentage.

My goal is to make money. It is not
... to end my downswing.
... to punish players who irritate me.
... to generate less rake than I receive from bonuses.
... to educate my opponents.

**Of course, I'd add another goal: to straddle bet and suckout as if it the results were never in question; or in other words, have fun every now and then by deviating from the grind and just soaking up the social side of the game. All focus and no GAMBOOOOL make -EV a dull boy, ya know. **

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Ok, I'm not dead... just being lazy lately. I'll be back with some real content, I promise. Just wanted to drop in and say that a guy called me down with the second nut low tonight in a 10/20 HOLD'EM game. Now *that's* balls, my friends.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

-EV's Tourney Challenge

I've got 5 days with not a whole lot scheduled. I'll end up going out for New Year's Eve and doing a few other things, but on the whole I've got a lot of gree time coming up. One thing I plan to do with this time is play a few multi-table tournaments -- something I haven't done much in the past few months but have taken up a little more lately.

Here's the deal. I tend to lose concentration a bit when I play larger tournaments. I'll even start opening a few side game tables of .50/1 Omaha hi/low or something strange like that just to kill time between folding hands. My performance in the tourneys often suffers as a result. Back about a year ago, I regularly played the $2 R&A tourney on Paradise and discussed hands and other things like that with a guy on the West Coast who was also playing. We didn't collude, but the conversations did help me keep my game sharp and my mind focused. That tournament regularly drew over 1000 participants, and I final tabled probably 20% of the time I played the thing. Weak competition? Yes. Solid results nonetheless? Absolutely.

My challenge to those of you in the blogging community is this: if anyone is planning on playing several MTT's in the next few days, or in particular several on the same day, let me know as I'd like to try and hit the same/get some feedback on plays while the tourneys are going. Depending on circumstances, I'll consider prop bets, or swapping half-stakes in some of the events if that's of interest. I just want to spice things up a little from my normal four-tabling cash game existence, and felt this was a good time to do so. Beyond breaking my normal routine, I think this approach has some learning potential, too, which can't hurt. And if those two reasons (breaking monotony and learning some new things) aren't enough, how 'bout this: the experience should make for some good blogging.

A few pertinent details: 1.) I won't play any tourneys that cost more than $50 unless there's a SERIOUSLY compelling reason to do so. 2.) I will play on any of the major sites (Party, Full Tilt, Stars, the X-Party Network, UB). 3.) I won't do prop bets or stake swaps with anyone who I haven't met in person before. 4.) I'll play limit hold'em (by far my best game), NLHE (meh, I'm not awful...), O/8 (I'm a proven luckbox), Razz, and HORSE. I will not play PLO (I'm a horrible fish), Stud hi or Stud/8 (no interest), or any of the more exotic games. 5.) I will play satellites to larger events in some cases. 6.) I may plunk down Sunday or Monday and play something like 20 tournaments just for the hell of it. So volume isn't a big deal.

So, who's with me?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Touched by The Luckbox?

So I played a few small buy-in SnGs last night just to get back in the flow of things (yes, I know, trip report is on the way...), and decided at the last minute to enter a $5+1 Omaha hi/lo MTT on Party. I'm subpar at O/8, but enjoy playing it as a change-up from hold'em. Anyhow, the thing started just after midnight, and featured 543 entrants. I was down to less than half my intial starting stack within the first hour after a few bad plays where I took the second nut low to the river and a flush to the end on a paired board. Oops.

Anyhow, long story short, I turned things around, found one or two very fortunate hands/river cards, and ended up finishing third. I probably could've finished 2nd if we hadn't agreed to a chip % chop once it was down to 5. Since I never have much luck in MTTs, I can say only this: my fortune must have been due to my recent brush with THE LUCKBOX. Yeah, you know who.

Anyhow, cashing $294 (my cut of the deal we made) on a $6 entry was pretty effing sweet. The downside? The tourney took nearly SIX HOURS to complete. Oy.

Back From Vegas

Phew... what a trip. Back, safe, and sound. Exhausted. Will... write... more... later.

Anyone who has photos of the WPBT event, hit me with a comment or e-mail. I know a few folks were taking shots of the final table and last two tables.