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.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

The Bags Are Packed...

Off to Vegas in about 9 hours... assuming the weather on the eastern seaboard doesn't fuck me. Can't wait to play some HORPSE tomorrow night at the MGM Grand, and from there it'll be a crazy rush. Trip reports and more when I return mid-next week. GAMBOOOOOL!

Monday, December 5, 2005

How are you gentlemen?

You have no chance to survive, fold your blinds!
T-minus 4 days til Vegas!!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Quick Look in the Mirror

Looking though my PT data after tonight's session (I now do this after almost every session thanks to the sage advice of HDouble & Iggy's PokerTracker Guide... if you don't have this guide, you're missing out on extra bets every session), I saw a few things that were quite interesting. One was in PT's "Misc. Stats" tab at the bottom: I ran at nearly 8BB/100 for my first 8k hands as a serious online player, and remained well above 3BB/100 for my first 33K hands. I was in the black 11 months in a row (with significant play in each month). That's just ridiculous. A great online player will earn no better than 2 or 2.5BB/100 over the long run in limit hold'em, and when I started out I was far from great. Better lucky than good, I guess, right?

My "Career Stats" -- Look at that insane slope over the first 33k hands!!!

The confidence (some misplaced) this initial heater instilled in me has been a key to my growth as a player, but also an inhibitor. I probably took success too much for granted, and stopped learning at a decent clip after 50K hands. I got frustrated when I stopped winning as much as fast. This year, and particularly the second half of this year, I've reflected more, taken some time off, played more live, and I think really taken a step forward in terms of my poker skills and mentality. I'm playing more aggressively, meaning I'm prone to greater swings, but getting more out of the game... even when I temporarily decide that I'm not trying to move up or learn or any of that (which I've done as recently as 8 weeks ago).

Again, while looking through the PT data I realized another thing: I've played 1/3 of all the ring game hands I've ever played (online) since June 1st 2005. I've probably played more than 1/3 of my live game hands since then too. Fifty thousand hands since June 1 in cash games alone. Am I 50% more experienced than I was at the last WPBT event? I doubt it. Am I 50% more skilled? Definitely not. But there I do feel an appreciable difference. Most of the last 50K has been flatline in terms of winnings... in fact I'm only up about 180BB in online play since June 1 (2/4 through 10/20 limits), a figure that pegs me at 0.4BB/100. In fact, if you look closely right around 29K hands, you'll see back to back 200BB swings... the first one downhill and the second uphill, both within a stretch of less than 1,500 hands. That's crazy, but it happens. Any you know what? Results-based analysis won't give you anything worthwhile here or most anywhere else in poker. HDouble taught me that, but the experience of playing seriously for a year and a half has really reinforced the lesson.

...And my results (in BB) between June 1 and November 30.

The -EV that is showing up in Vegas next week is a lot more prepared to play the game well and enjoy it however things are going than the one that showed up last year. And for that I'm quite thankful.
Oh, and by the way, bags are packed for AC. Word has it AlCan'tHang might be in the area... I smell some LIVE STRADDLE bets in the not so distant future.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Prepping for Vegas: Above & Beyond

Well kids, we're just 11 days from arrival in Vegas, and already a few good "get ready" posts are beginning to crop up. Might also help to check out my post from late May just before the June WPBT event... a few of those suggestions are still valid. I can hardly wait, and as exhibit A, I'll be heading up to Atlantic City this weekend for a few days to hit the tables and get re-acclimated to live play. Oooh, I can hear it now... "-EV for 6/12, -EV lock it up."

And while its great to play some live poker to get ready for Vegas, and pump yourself up by watching the final scene of Rounders over and over again, there are probably a handful of other, more productive things you could be doing to really arm yourself for the travel ahead. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Dress appropriately. Comfortable shoes, layers of clothing, and so on. First off, its going to be mid-50s by day and mid-30s by night while WPBT is in town. That's not warm, folks. Second, many of the poker rooms are effing FREEZING. The MGM Grand's room was notoriously cold this summer, and despite long sleeves and such, I froze my ass off in there. Then there's the Excalibur poker room, where one side (nearest the bathrooms) sits right under a huge cold air vent. Don't say you weren't warned.
  • Research the games you're intending to play ahead of time, if you're planning on really attacking the poker tables (I know I am). Same goes for live tourneys. AllVegasPoker has a great site up that covers each cardroom and even provides recent reviews from people who've been there. They've also got a handy tourney schedule. Personally, 95% of the tourneys spread in Vegas are of no interest to me due to the high juice %, but I may break down and play one this time just for the hell of it. The 2+2 B&M Forum is another good resource for looking into what games are available where, and whether they're good or not.
  • For example, I'm planning on playing 1/3 donkey poker whenever "Storming the Castle, Part Deux" takes place at Excalibur, and perhaps at other times as well. I may get some spontaneous 2/4 or 3/6 gamboooooling in with other bloggers as well. But these will be diversions, not the main event. My focus will be limit hold'em from 4/8 through 10/20 or, if the games look insanely soft and people tempt me, 15/30. The 8/16 at Wynn, the 6/12 at Mirage, 5/10 at Aladdin, and kill games at MGM are all favorite targets. I'm sure I'll play a fair bit of NLHE as well, but honestly my hourly earn in that game isn't nearly as much as my rate at LHE, so I don't know why I play so much of it. Friday, I'm planning on hitting Joaquin's HORSE/Razz event at MGM Grand, Saturday we've got the tourney and the shootout, and from there I'm just going to wing it... with a rough plan in mind.
  • To the extent you need to cashout your online bankroll to play in Vegas, do so at least 3 or 4 days before traveling (if you use Firepay or IGM). The transfers take time, and as I've said before, the last thing you want to be doing the night before your flight is haggling with Tarbaj the support guy on the phone about where your three grand is and why it hasn't hit your bank account yet.
  • Research food & restaurants -- you'll be glad you did. Vegas does a few things well, and while there's still plenty of low-grade grub around, there are also some excellent restaurants worth checking out. Some are expensive, others not. The difference between a $80 meal that tastes like it should've cost $20 and a magnificent dinig experience is a little research, and I know I try to put the time in. My pick for this trip: Noodles at Bellagio. I hear great things about it, but have never been there.
  • Meh, there's more but I'm stuffed and tired. More to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Brilliant Idea of the Day... & A Celebration of 200 Posts

So I received my PokerStars tote bag today, which was a prize I'd won in the run-up to the PokerStars Blogger Tournament a short while back. Big thanks to the folks at Stars, including our very own Otis, for setting that tourney up, and for shelling out for some nice prizes for Mr. Halverson & Co.

Of course, I busted out in the first hour, so the tote bag is really all I got out of it, but upon unpacking the thing I had a brilliant idea. The tote bag is black, and about 20" long x 9" wide x 11" tall or something like that. And it would look FUCKING AWESOME stuffed with carefully arranged banded stacks of $1 bills ($100 bills would be cooler, obviously, but we here at A Fool and His Money don't have a central bank located within convenient robbing distance, so we'll have to put the $100's off for another day).

Honestly, carrying the thing into the Excal poker room a'la the SWAT team in Ocean's 11, and plunking stack after stack down at the counter for my buy-in. C'mon, you know you love the idea.

The bank would clearly think I'm insane asking for 8 grand in banded stacks of $1 bills or whatever it would take to fill the thing, but the idea has appeal. And I bet if I pestered long enough, I could get the $1's. Of course, I'd have to hold the sucker super tight as I traveled to Vegas, and the security guys at the airport might get a lil suspicious too. Hmmm.

Yeeeeaaaahhhh, Boyeeee.

200 Posts -- A very brief reflection.

I don't have anything profound to say in this, my 200th post. Heck, I didn't even realize it was my 200th until I looked at my Blogger Dashboard. So, instead of trying to concoct something meaningful, I offer a stark picture of my poker play the past 18 months, from my intial days at $0.50/$1 limit and $10 buy in NL on Paradise to my current digs in the 2/4, 3/6, 5/10, and (gasp!) even occasionally $10/20 games on Party. I'm proud of the overall trend, and the things I've learned, but if you look closely at this graph, you'll find the same thing I have: variance is tough, there's always room to improve, and you'll have to pay a price as you learn new limits.

Still, running at 1.6BB/100 over my 1st 150,000 hands, well, I'm pretty fooking happy with that!

And yeah, that 40K break-even streak at the end has sucked balls, but rakeback and the jackpot on Party have kept me moving in the right direction, and I feel better about my limit hold'em game now than I ever have, and I know I'm learning again, which is fantastic.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

20 Days and Counting...

In today's edition:
  • Preparing for Vegas: 20 Days & Counting!
  • Hand Analysis & Strategy: Final Round Betting
  • Ed Miller's New Site

Vegas, Baby!!
Well WPBT fans, we're just 20 days away from arrival in Las Vegas, and I can't effing wait. I'm so pumped up that I'm hitting Atlantic City the weekend before for a warmup run. Come on out to Borgata Dec. 1st through 4th and join me if you're in the area (warning: I likely will be playig serious poker the entire time to try & add to the bankroll and save my true gamboooling power for Vegas).

In the run up to WBPT, I am planning on running cardroom profiles for some of the venues I plan on hitting. Of course, extensive information is already available at and on 2+2's B&M Forum, but I am hoping to supplement that info with my own experiences and objectives. Maybe the accounts will benefit some folks out there in Internet-land looking to go play poker in Vegas for the first time, or who may be going back and want to try rooms they've never been to before.

Even if nary a single soul benefits from the write-ups, I know I will, as they'll serve as a sort of mental pre-game warmup of where I want to go and what I want to do. First up in this cardroom profile will be my new favorite on the Vegas strip: the MGM Grand. Look for that write-up in the next day or two.

Hand Analysis & Strategy: Final Round Betting
For those that read my home game entry a week ago, you may recall a strange draw poker game called Anaconda. The game is played with structured betting and an ante, each player beginning with 7 cards. After receiving starting hands, players bet, pass three cards to players remaining on their left, bet again, pass two cards left, bet a third time, pass one card left, and then remaining players select five of their seven cards for a final high poker hand.

Once each remaining player has his/her final 5 card hand, they spread the cards out in whatever sequential order they desire. Each player turns over their first card, followed by a round of betting, and then the second, and so on until only one card is left to be turned up. There is a tremendous amount of strategy to how a player should order his/her cards for the showdown phase, depending on whether you want to scare people off or suck them in, or perhaps one and then the other. With an AAAKK boat, you might want to show the AAA first to imply quads, or perhaps show AKAK and make it seem like you've only got two pair or perhaps kings full. Strategery.

Anyhow, the hand I posted went as follows:

4 handed Anaconda, $0.50/$1 structure, $0.10 ante.
Hero is dealt QhJh8h3h6x3x5x, and calls one $0.50 bet. Hero then passes 6x3x5x to his left and receives Kh3x7x.

Hero check/calls intending to check/raise the next street if he makes a flush. Hero passes 3x7x to his left, and receives Th2x.

Hero checks and calls another player's check-raise. We're down to 3 players now. Hero passes 2x left and receives some brick like 6c. Hero raises the check/raiser, who led out this time, and sees the late position player call two cold and the check/raiser fold.

Hero holds KhQhJhTh8h3h6c. He tosses 3h6c and orders his king high flush as follows: KhQhJhTh8h.

Heads up, its show time and hero exposes the Kh. His one opponent shows the Qd. Hero check/calls.

Hero exposes Qh, and his opponent shows the Jd. Check-call.

Hero exposes the Jh, opponent shows the Td. Check-call.

Hero exposes the Th, opponent shows 5d. Hero bets, villain raises, Hero 3-bets, Villain calls.

My reason for posting the hand was the final round betting -- I had a great conversation with a guy who played limit hold'em professionally at a very high level for a year, and I think the strategy involved cuts to the core of a lot of things we do all the time at the river in limit hold'em.
A few things are immediately relevant: my lone opponent is a thinking player, he is certainly contemplating what I am holding and what I think he is holding. This fact alone distinguishes the hand from a typical 2/4 hold'em game in a casino, where many opponents are thinking about nothing more than what they are holding and whether they want to bet, call, or fold. Second, I had shown down a straight flush the hand before... boats or better were usually needed to win in this game, and quads were shown up a number of times. Third, this was the final round of betting, and while we both knew what WE were holding, we still knew only part of what the other guy had. In this sense, the hand was more like betting on the river in limit hold'em than on the turn (where we might not know how our own hand would end up).

Showing at best four to a straight flush, and at worst four to either a king high flush or a king high straight, I had led into my opponent, who I'd been check/calling up until the end. Opponent is showing at best four to an ace high flush, and at worst either a busted draw or a queen high flush. He raises my bet, and I'm forced with a decision: should I call or raise? The pot was so immense by this point that I was getting something on the order of 11:1 on a call, so there was no way I was going to fold.

Value Betting: Sklansky Says Its Awesome

I decided to 3-bet, and here's why:

By raising instead of calling, I am risking one more bet to win one more bet, with zero folding equity (no way he is folding with the Kd left to show). He might fold a bluff and maybe once in a blue moon weak Q-high flush (with the 2d left to show or something like that), but otherwise he's calling. The advantage of folding a worse hand via my 3-bet comes in the form of metagame and image: I won't have to show my non-straight flush, and I may be able to tempt opponents to call me down when I do have a monster on a future hand. Likewise, if I am called and have to show down the KQJT8 flush and lose to a bigger flush, I may be seen as a "bluffer" and receive additional action on my big hands later on. That's benefit #1 of 3-betting.

Beyond the metagame benefit, my 3-bet is a value bet if he is holding anything but the Ad for his 5th card. I'm showing the better 4 card hand when I put the 3-bet in. There are 9 diamonds he could be showing on the end, and he's just shown me for sure he doesn't have a straight flush. All things being equal, that's a 11.1% chance he's got the Ad, making my 1:1 bet a solid value. Now, all things are *not* equal, and he'll show me the Ad a lot more often than a low diamond... how much more often is an interesting question and not one I feel capable of answering, but suffice to say it will come up more often since we've all had a chance to draw 3 times to make our hands.

If I assign the Ad a rough 4x weighted advantage over the other diamond cards, which seems fair, then I am betting 1:1 with a 56/44 advantage. That's the definition of a value bet... putting additional money in the pot with the best of it. We should never worry about the specific hand in question and how it turns out when considering final round betting in limit hold'em -- we should consider the likely range of hands we're up against, how they match up against what we're holding, and decide if we have a value proposition in additional money going into the pot. If we can conclude, that over the long run, we'll win more than we lose with a bet on the end, we should make that bet. If we put that bet in and lose, so be it, as long as the reasoning and hand-reading that led us to make the bet was sound.

Third, I am showing a bigger "draw" than my opponent. Even if my opponent has the best card possible for his hand left to show, the Ad, he may be chopping. When he is holding Ad, I have two cards I can reveal -- the 9h and the Ah, that would beat him (since both gave me a straight flush). For this reason, he will basically never cap me when I three-bet. So I truly am risking only one bet to win one bet... I will never be capped and have to reluctantly put more money into the pot (or make a terrible fold). There are some situations where we can be almost 100% sure that a raise will never be re-raised, and while I don't want to get into when they occur and when they don't, recognizing these situations is a key tool in a limit poker player's betting arsenal.

Add up the benefits from above (megatame, value, and no fear of a cap), and the decision to 3-bet is clear even if I re-evaluate and decide that there is a 52% (instead of 40%) chance that I do not have the best hand. Anaconda, like hold'em, is a game of incomplete information. We have to act based on what we do know and make reasoned judgements about what we don't. If the metagame benefit is worth 5% of a big bet in the future, and there's a 52% chance I'm beat, then really I'm looking at a 53/47 advantage on a reraise. I'll lose one bet 52% of the time, win one bet 48% of the time, and either way in the long run I figure to be 5% more likely to win another big bet in the future as a result of my seemingly reckless play.

You don't have to get down to percentages while considering final round betting, as long as you think about a few of these concepts and come up with a decision that applies them as well as possible in the moment. If you were to make a 56/44 value bet correctly (and get called) 100 times on the river, you'd come out 12 BB ahead, or .12BB per scenario. Now lets assume you get just 4 of those 56/44 value betting scenarios each 100 hands. If you get the value bet in right, that's another .48BB/100 you'll be making. That extra half big bet is serious money -- $5 per hundred hands in a 5/10 hold'em game, or $500/month for someone who plays 10K hands at that level. Thin edges are worth pushing -- and idea I'm trying to embrace more myself these days.

Last But Not Least: The NPA's New Website

I won't take the time to explain why you should do it... just do it. Go and read everything Ed Miller, the "noted poker authority" (or NPA for 2+2 short), has a new website his wife has put together, and the articles are a great source of poker knowledge. Sadly, his epic post about proper straddle-betting procedure hasn't been posted up yet, but I've got it for ya right here. Required reading for anyone who dares play low limit hold'em against me in Vegas at WPBT. LIVE SIX!!!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Stickin' it to The Man...

My last experience with EmpirePoker wasn't a happy one. I cashed out down a bunch during the depths of my January downswing, and left them a little nasty-gram in the "comment" box as I did so. Did I mention it took them about 10 full business days to credit the deposit to my account, despite the fact my bank cleared the transaction nearly a week earlier? So anyhow it was a crappy experience.

Time for -EV to strike back. I've returned to the site I'd sworn off for good to accomplish one task: whoring with style. We're not talking your garden variety hit'n'run whoring here, ladies & gents. You know, the kind where you make a decent deposit, play your usual game, finish the bonus and cash out a while later? Yeah, I'm not extending that pleasure to Empire.

Instead... I'll be rubbing my displeasure in Empire's face by depositing the absolute minimum necessary to get the full bonus, four tabling .50/1 continuously until I've cleared the required number of hands (107/1050 as of this writing), and then cashing the fuck out. Immediately. Call me a 7th grade date, cuz' I'm not giving any action.

Of course I *will* be collecting the $150 in bonus money, give or take whatever results I have at the micro-limit tables. So anyhow don't look for me in the NL or 2/4 games the next few hours, I'll be slumming it with He1ixx down at .50/1. I might even play a hand once every few orbits, ya'know, if I'm feeling frisky...

Saturday, February 5, 2005

There's a first time for everything...

This was my first ever flopped straight flush... and it netted me a grand total of $3.50. Not sure which is more amazing -- hitting the 1 in 72,193 shot on the flop, or collecting nary a single bet after doing so. Interestingly enough, I'm getting near the point at which you'd mathematically expect to hit this (50K+ hands) exactly once. On to the hand history:

Party Poker No-Limit Hold'em, $ BB (10 handed) converter
UTG ($61.5)
UTG+1 ($26.65)
UTG+2 ($27.3)
MP1 ($50)
Hero ($48)
MP3 ($97.95)
CO ($60.75)
Button ($87.73)
SB ($138.4)
BB ($54.5)

Preflop: Hero is MP2 with 5c, 4c. SB posts a blind of $0.5.
3 folds, MP1 calls $1, Hero calls $1, 4 folds, BB checks.

Flop: ($3.50) 8c, 7c, 6c (3 players)
BB checks, MP1 checks, Hero checks.

Turn: ($3.50) 5d (3 players)
BB checks, MP1 checks, Hero checks.

River: ($3.50) 3d (3 players)
BB checks, MP1 checks, Hero bets $2, BB folds, MP1 folds.

Final Pot: $5.50, won by Hero with a straight flush, four to eight.


In other news, I placed 66/151 in the Feb. 2 WPBT event on PokerStars. Disappointing finish, but I think I played ok throughout the first hour and some of the second. I was chip leader or 2nd in chips at the table for about half of the first hour, and really did find that I was following my game plan to steal often and with reckless abandon. K4 sooted was good enough for a 3BB raise in LP when it was folded to me, and that's a change from times past when I've played far too tight in tourney environments.

I did flop quad 8's at one point in the first hour... didn't get paid off too terribly well, but I did manage to extract some chips from SirFWALGman. He managed later on to get in an all-in pot with me where I had KJs and he had KTo, only to draw out & get a tie on the river. Managed to make some good reads, particularly on Spock, but forget which blogger that is... I just didn't have the discipline to follow them (called a clear set/value bet on the river when I had middle two pair).

When my shortstacked pocket 6's didn't hold up against a caller's AJo in the second hour, I was out. Congrats to THG for winning the event and a first prize of over $900! We gotta get more of these events going... its about time PartyPoker starts hosting private tourneys already dammit!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Quick Update...

Don't want to bury the post below about poker and taxes, but thought I'd post a few quick things about today's long session at the tables... I really do hope I get a discussion going on poker/taxes, though, so consider taking a moment to read Friday's post.

"BoB" has taken to playing NL$50 -- sweet! I witnessed him actually score a small win at the larger tables (since his usual game has been NL$25 in the past), but it seems like it's only a matter of time before he loses a lot of money, quickly now that he's moved up. Prior to today's NL$50 session, I have him down as posting 5 losers in a row...

In the spirit of tagging a fish and chasing him down at every opportunty, I've done that with another player that I'll call "Tex." This guy is overconfident and awful -- no attention to detail, and generally substitutes strong talk for strong performance. Reminds me of another Texan I can think of... Anyhow, I've dogged him so bad on the online tables that he now changes as soon as he sees me. The lesson? Be careful when you find these marks, as their money won't be available to you once they figure out what's going on. (Of course, you could just attack them from your accounts on other skins...)

The weekend has been decent for me poker-wise. I ran up some pretty good profits at NL$50 tables earlier today, but blew them playing a $20+2 speed tourney and a $30+3 multi on Party. Did well in the speed tourney, but got table changed so many times during the mid-limits that I literally wasn't dealt any hands for 9 minutes at one point -- three whole levels. That pretty much killed my chances of going deep into the money. I busted near the bubble when my A5o lost to Q4o when the queen combined with four diamonds on the board to make a flush... but these things are just stalling/all-in fests at the end anyhow, so I wasn't too bothered.

Came back and hit the NL$50's with a college friend of mine, and just crushed the tables for a sizeable profit. Hit a fair number of sets, and most of my big hands held up which was a nice change from some of my previous NL experiences. By way of contrast, my time in the Blogger NL$25 game tonight was a rollercoaster ride, seeing me down a buy-in at one point and up two later, only to leave the game stuck about $12.50. Well worth the entertainment! Most notable hand of the night for me:

***** Hand History for Game xxxxxxxx *****
$25 NL Hold'em - Sunday, January 30, 00:25:52 EDT 2005
Table Rolling Stars (Real Money)
Seat 9 is the button
Seat 1: badblood( $89.25 )
Seat 2: KToby16 ( $12.15 )
Seat 4: Pokeramarama ( $64.9 )
Seat 5: He1ixx ( $90.5 )
Seat 7: jcostale ( $24 )
Seat 8: Maudie ( $81.1 )
Seat 9: otis ( $35.1 )
Seat 10: Kameelah ( $26.9 )
Seat 3: -EV ( $27.75 )
Seat 6: lifes_agrind ( $31.65 )

Kameelah posts small blind [$0.25]. badblood posts big blind [$0.5].
Dealt to -EV [ 7c 2s ]

KToby16 folds, -EV raises [$3], Pokeramarama folds, He1ixx calls [$3], lifes_agrind folds, jcostale calls [$3], Maudie folds, otis folds, Kameelah folds, badblood calls [$2.5].

Flop [ 3d, 7s, 2h ]
badblood checks, -EV checks, He1ixx checks, jcostale bets [$5], badblood folds, -EV raises [$15], He1ixx raises [$25], jcostale folds, -EV is all-In. (various table chat about the incredible flop)

Turn [ 6c ]
River [ 9c ]

He1ixx shows [ 7h, 7d ] three of a kind, sevens.
-EV shows [ 7c, 2s ] two pairs, sevens and twos.
He1ixx wins $0.25 from side pot #1 with three of a kind, sevens.He1ixx wins $63.75 from the main pot with three of a kind, sevens.

I have only three words: Oh The Humanity!

Seriously, though He1ixx was just blowing us all out of the water -- well played man! I keep trying to convince this guy that he's ready to "step out of the kiddie pool" as that moronic character in "Tilt" says, and come up to 1/2 or 2/4. He took well over $150 out of the game, and Maudie had a personal best as well. It was great playing with everyone again!


Oh, and as an add-on I post for you the following hand history which just speaks for itself in terms of ridiculousness. Note that I had JUST sat down at the table and posted my blind:

***** Hand History for Game xxxxxxxx *****
$50 NL Hold'em - Sunday, January 30, 23:32:57 EDT 2005
Table Burn & Turn (Real Money)
Seat 7 is the button
Total number of players : 10
Seat 1: jhjhwk ( $45.45 )
Seat 2: Im36_24_36 ( $108.36 )
Seat 3: yooperhunt ( $145.97 )
Seat 4: JRedandH20 ( $69.05 )
Seat 5: AK47LOADED ( $55.1 )
Seat 6: siyamaks ( $39.35 )
Seat 7: BassManScott ( $29.2 )
Seat 8: CollinMellon ( $51.8 )
Seat 10: nprigo ( $86 )
Seat 9: -EV ( $50 )
CollinMellon posts small blind [$0.5].
-EV posts big blind [$1].
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to -EV [ Qs Qd ]
nprigo folds.
jhjhwk folds.
Im36_24_36 folds.
yooperhunt folds.
JRedandH20 folds.
AK47LOADED folds.
siyamaks folds.
BassManScott raises [$2].
CollinMellon calls [$1.5].
-EV: WPT here I come!!!!
-EV raises [$9].
BassManScott calls [$8].
CollinMellon folds.
** Dealing Flop ** [ Ks, 8h, 3d ]
-EV bets [$10].
BassManScott is all-In [$19.2]
-EV: crap/queens
-EV calls [$9.2]. (super crying call)
** Dealing Turn ** [ 5d ]
** Dealing River ** [ 4d ]
-EV shows [ Qs, Qd ] a pair of queens.
BassManScott doesn't show [ 3s, Ah ] a pair of threes.
-EV wins $57.4 from the main pot with a pair of queens.
-EV: no way
-EV: falls on the floor laughing, then realizes its Party NL$50 and he shouldn't be surprised.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Death & Taxes

The only things that are certain in life are death and taxes...

Whoever said this was clearly not a small-stakes poker player. For if he was, he'd surely have included bad beats in his universal rule. But I digress... this post is to talk about a topic most of us have no zeal whatsoever to delve into: paying taxes on your poker winnings. We've all got to do it, and frankly the nascent world of online poker isn't an easy one to navigate when it comes to what we owe Uncle Sam, and how we pay him.

My aim is to help, at least a little. Before you read on, however, please realize that I am *not* an expert on tax law. I am *not* an attorney, and I give absolutely no guarantee as to the suitability or accuracy of what I've written. Use this information at your own risk, and please know that it is provided "as-is." I hate writing this kind of disclaimer, but you can never be too cautious, right?

In plain English, I'm just a guy who likes to play poker, and who, after having a winning year in 2004 (notably the first year I've had any poker income whatsoever), is now trying to figure out how to be honest about it with the government. If nothing else, this post is intended to get the "marketplace of ideas" going amongst us competent and energized bloggers to really drill down what we need to do tax-wise. If I'm wrong, maybe debate that follows can help show why and get the *right* info out there... I won't be the least bit offended if you look at it this way and call me out where I've messed up.

Who Needs to Pay?
For starters, any United States taxpayer that gambled in 2004 and had even a single winning session needs to pay taxes on those winnings. Lets say you walked into a local casino, placed one $5 wager on 1:1 payout blackjack, won, pocketed the $5 in winnings, and left... you'd owe taxes on that $5 in "winnings."

Furthermore, lets say you went to that same casino, and instead placed ten $5 wagers in the same blackjack game on ten different occasions, winning only one wager and losing the other nine, for a net total of -$40. Guess what? You would still owe taxes on the single $5 "win" you had. You could claim the $45 in losses separately if you wanted to, but only if you take the itemized, rather than standard deduction. And strangely enough, if you had played all ten wagers together during the same visit on the same day, you would owe no taxes at all! Same outcome for you, but the circumstances change whether you owe or not. Confused? The simple answer is that "winning sessions equal paying taxes."

To re-emphasize the point, the trigger as far as who owes gambling taxes and who doesn't is clear: if you had one continuous gambling session that concluded with you having more money than when you began the session, you owe. This certainly isn't user-friendly, but as far as I can tell, the IRS doesn't want it to be.

The only ones who can take a simpler approach to paying taxes on their poker winnings are actual poker pros, and they face an enormous burden of proof in showing that they are in fact professionals. Suffice to say that unless your main source of income is poker, and you spend most of your time pursuing that income, you're not a pro. The link, in case you're wondering, is to a 2+2 discussion on the subject peppered with useful and not-so-useful comments and articles.

Ok, I Get It. But How to Define A Session?
I had this question myself. Do "sessions" consist of individual hands? That would suck, since I logged tens of thousands of hands in 2004. Or is a "session" an uninterrupted stint at one single table? This wouldn't be good either, considering how most poker players tend to change tables while playing the same game, either because they didn't like their initial table, or because their table broke and they wanted to continue playing. Additionally, online players like me often multi-table, meaning we're at two or more tables at the same time.

Fortunately, it looks like the law and common-sense interpretations derived from it point to a different answer -- they indicate that continuous play in a particular poker game is what constitutes a "session" for tax purposes. So playing a 10-20 hold'em "must-move" game in a B&M casino would be one session even if you played at several different tables. But playing 3-6 Omaha, cashing out, then playing 4-8 Hold'Em, then moving your chips over to 1-2 No Limit Hold'Em at the same casino would be three sessions.

From the online perspective, a "session" seems to track the same meaning we use in a B&M environment: continuous play in the same poker game. Four-tabling 2/4 Hold'Em for an hour and then signing off should be considered, for tax purposes, a single session. Please note that this is merely an educated interpretation made by's Russell Fox. He gets further into his reasoning here, stating that:

"We, thus, have a rule: a player can net his results in two (or more) different games/tables if they were the same poker game played continuously as part of the same session...

Now, what about an online player playing multiple games at the same time? Take Player E, who plays at one online site. He plays simultaneously at four different virtual tables: Tables 17 & 18 in $1/$2 Texas hold’em games and Tables 19 & 20 in $1/$2 Omaha games. E wins $10 at Table 17, loses $20 at Table 18, wins $30 at Table 19 and loses $5 at Table 20 while playing these tables simultaneously during the same one-hour period.

There are no rules created by the IRS to treat online gambling differently than gambling in a bricks & mortar cardroom. This means that we can apply the above rule. [Player] E has two sessions, a loss of $10 in hold’em and a win of $25 in Omaha.

What if a player were to keep himself logged into the online site 24 hours a day? Would he be able to say that his play over the entire year was one long session? This fails the smell test – you are not playing continuously over that year. As long as your play is continuous and in the same game it can be counted as one session even if it spans more than one calendar day. In conclusion, determining what constitutes a 'session' is not as easy one would think on first glance. The common-sense definition, though, of playing the same game continuously should stand up to IRS scrutiny."

So that pretty much settles what a "session" is.

So I Had Winning Session(s) in 2004 -- Now What?
You need to have records, but not just any records will do. Again, Russell Fox comes to the rescue:

"IRS Publication 529 (Miscellaneous Deductions) provides general guidelines:

You must keep an accurate diary or similar record of your losses and winnings. Your diary should contain at least the following information.
1. The date and type of your specific wager or wagering activity.
2. The name and address or locations of the gambling establishment.
3. The names of other persons present with you at the gambling establishment.
4. The amount(s) you won or lost.

For specific wagering transactions, you can use the following items to support your winnings and losses….Table games (twentyone, blackjack, craps, poker, baccarat, roulette, wheel of fortune, etc.): The number of the table at which you were playing….

Before we try to determine what constitutes a “session”, let’s take a brief look at documentation requirements for gamblers. You must keep a log (diary) of your results. Courts have held that the log should be a “…contemporaneous daily log”and that the records be permanent. If you are audited you have the burden of proof of showing that you have maintained good records. “[T]he taxpayer should not be allowed to avoid paying income taxes simply because he keeps incomplete records.”

The simplest method to comply is a written log. You can use a small pocket paper notepad or diary and write down the date, cardroom name, game, table number(s), time you played (e.g. 1:00pm – 3:00pm), and your result (amount of win or loss). This is the method that the IRS suggests.

Alternatively, you can use a computer system. IRS Publication 552 describes the requirements for a computerized system: “If you use a computerized system, you must be able to produce legible records of the required information. In addition to the computerized records, you must keep proof of payment, receipts, and other documents to prove the amounts shown on your tax return.” Back-up records for tournaments are your tournament receipts. For live (cash) games, though, it’s just your word. The IRS likes written records because it believes they are less likely to be forged.

The final record-keeping requirement is that the data be entered contemporaneously. While there are no specific standards for gambling expenses, similar requirements exist for other types of expenses. For example, travel expenses must be entered “…at or near the time of the expenditure.” Thus, you should enter your results in your log daily, or as quickly after playing as possible. The burden of proof of records is on you, not the IRS."

The funny thing here, is that I had no idea I needed to keep "contemporaneous" logs of my poker play. PokerTracker does the job for you when playing online, which is nice. But what about live play? Really you'd need to keep some kind of running journal, or stat sheet, or... BLOG!! Yes, you heard it right. I bet that poker blogs are, in an indirect but significant way, a means of satisfying the IRS' reporting requirements. And if you've played live in 2004, but forgotten the details, may I admonish you to look back in your own archives to see if you can find the details there. I found enough in my archives to fill out the required details over 80% of my 2004 B&M poker sessions.

My advice: digitize your handwritten or other notes on live play from 2004 in a Microsoft Word document, print it, and then save the file somewhere secure. Think of all the casino visits you had in the last year, and go back to your blog for those dates if you forget what you played, how much you won or lost, who you played with, or any of the other required bits of info. For some (ahem, AlCan'tHang) this may be a useless exercise given the amount of alcohol normally consumed on such casino ventures -- but its still worth a try.

Once you've compiled this listing, export your PokerTracker session log to Excel, trim off the sessions from years other than 2004, and then print. You'll have to go through and group your results together by hand, combining wins and losses while multitabling into consolidated groups that constitute "sessions" for tax purposes (see above).

With live and online records in hand, you're ready to crunch the numbers and pay your taxes...

Crunching the Numbers.
Take your B&M records, and total up the winning sessions. Write that number down somewhere, then repeat with your losing sessions. Next, do this process for your online play. When you're done, add the two winning numbers together, and write it on a post-it note. Same goes for the losing numbers. Now take your printouts (one B&M printout, one Excel printout), put them in a folder, and slap the post-its on top. Keep digital versions of your B&M log, and your PokerTracker databases on a CD somewhere dry and safe. You now have the operative numbers you'll need to report your poker income, along with ready-made records in case anyone starts asking questions.

Lets File, Baby!
This is where it gets kinda sticky. I'm struggling right there with ya, truth be told. It looks like us non-pros really don't have an option: we need to sum up our winning sessions from 2004, and report that number as "other income" on our 1040. Russ Fox lays it out like this:

"...winnings over the course of a year, on a session-by-session basis, are added up to determine the amount reported for federal income tax purposes. Losses for that year, again on a session-by-session basis must also be summed to determine the maximum amount that can be entered as an itemized deduction on the tax return in which the winnings are reported. The deduction of losses is limited to the amount of winnings reported in the return."

In a different article, Fox also states that:

"U.S. taxpayers... [must] report the total as income (part of ‘Other Income,’ line 21 of Form 1040.) Losses in any year may be claimed, but only up to the amount of winnings reported that year, and then only if the taxpayer elects to itemize deductions rather than taking the standard deduction."

So now you know where to put the dollar total you got when you added up your winning sessions. Far be it from me to know how this will affect how much you pay in taxes, but I do know this -- adding in your poker winnings WILL bump your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) up, and therefore *could* bump you up a tax bracket or two, depending on how much you're winning. Here's one of those rare situations where small-timers like me can breathe a sigh of relief that we're not big time online sharks.

You'll then need to go about the business of deciding whether your're going to take the standard deduction, or an itemized deduction. If you do take the standard, which I've always done, you can't report your losses. If you itemize, you can -- though you may still not be as well off as if you'd gone standard. I have no clue which I'll be better off with, and am so unqualified on this subject that I won't say any more. Any info from readers on this would be tres welcome.

Then, you pay your federal taxes. After that fun experience, you get to do it all over again for state and local taxes. And when it comes to those areas, I gotta tell ya, I'm not even going to try to feign any kind of knowledge. Crap.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Stop. Hammertime.

For you veterans of the blogger NL games, or anyone else who has taken to adding the hammer to their mix of hands for an occasional bet/raise... I'm interested in hearing what your PokerTracker data for this hand says.

Here's a hint: mine is awful -- I've got to stop screwing around with the anti-rockets. Not to say that I need to stop playing it altogether, but the numbers don't lie, and they say I'm leaking dollars with it far more than I should be. How bad, you might ask? A total of -$129.56 over the 421 times I've been dealt the blogger's favorite, or $0.36 in the red every time I've had it.

Now, 72o should show negative results for a normal player. And it should show even worse results for a crazed blogger NL participant. But the fact that this is my 4th most unprofitable hand, with a VP$IP of over 2% -- well that's just outta control.

For those wondering, only K8o, Q3o, and 98o exceed the hammer in losses according to my data. 98o seems reasonable -- it often looks good enough to play, particularly from the blinds or in shorthanded situations -- but of course it has no showdown value and seems to make many second best hands as well. Not quite sure how Q3o ended up down there, since I play it less than 0.5% of the time it's dealt to me. Other notable leaks include 65o and 87o, which rank 7th and 10th worst respectively. These need to go into the muck more often!

So anyhow, grab your "General Info" tab in PT, look up the hammer, and see for yourself what your habit is costing you these days. It might be more than you think!


P.S. - Tables went fine yesterday & well tonight. Small, decent profit at small NL tables (chasing "BoB") and the 2/4. I'm pleased to report that AA & KK are a combined 16 for 20 in recent days, a marked improvement over their performance during the slump! Tried Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo yesterday, liked it but lost a big pot to end up -$20 for the experience. I get the impression folding a lot is the optimal strategy...