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!!!!