Tuesday, August 26, 2008

POKER DRIVEL: A Rant and a Lesson

I'll start with the rant, just to get it out of the way...

I had one of the most frustrating runs of poker in my entire life last Saturday. I attended a "friends and family" tournament at my cousin's house. Everyone there who knew me well would've put heavy odds on me to win the game at the outset. Sure, 24 people bought in, but most of them were VERY casual players and were drinking heavily from the start. Even better, many of the rest were regular "home gamers" who thought they knew far more than they did and were eager to get all their chips in the pot with a mediocre top pair.

Four hands in, my first opportunity... I look down at Kings from the Big Blind. Under the Gun (first to bet pre-flop) raises 10x the BB. He loves his hand, which means it's probably an ishy-to-decent Pocket Pair or a medium-to-strong Ace. Unless he's stupid lucky, it's not better than Queens. The pot was 75 with the blinds before his raise to 500. He's got 4,500 behind. I have 4,950. It's folded around to me. I push. I know, I know, PUSH??? But I made the decision consciously using the following logic:

1) I know he's going to call. These guys never lay down their raised hand to a reraise. Many of these home gamers have some absurd, ego-driven notion that they can't be pushed off a hand. He has to call. Otherwise he's being a wussy. Heh.

2) For the first 6 levels, we've got unlimited rebuys, after which there's an add-on. If he has Aces or gets lucky some other way, another $20 and I'm right back in it.

3) I want to establish an aggressive, in-your-face table image early - win or lose. I can leverage this later to incresse the value of my smooth calls and value bets.

He calls of course. He's got Sevens. Here comes the flop...


I kid you not. I should have taken the hint and left, but no... I told myself every time these fools get lucky, it works in my favor as it reaffirms their bad behavior and makes them ripe for the picking - assuming they ever STOP getting lucky.

That hand was the beginning of a very long night. The next hand I played, probably 45 minutes later, I flopped a straight on a rainbow board. Of course, the other guy flopped a higher straight. They were pushing each other around with mediocre hands... But every time they played me, they had the absolute nuts.

Card dead, card dead, card dead... Used the button to steal a couple blinds against the weak-tight players to my left. Lost AQ to 7T, AK to A2, Aces to KQc. Basically I was destined to lose every hand I got myself into... Play it slow, play it hard, didn't matter... They called no matter what the odds and they hit ALL NIGHT LONG.

Finally the rebuys ended. I added on, giving myself around 8.5k chips against a table average of about 10k. Most people did not add on. Didn't make much sense to me either.

Card dead, card dead, card dead... Finally I got 9s from one behind the button and decided to push them sorta hard to see where I stood. The blinds were 300 / 600 and I raised to 2400, about a third of my stack by that point. Big Blind called.

Flop comes...


He's all-in. I call. He has Jacks.

To my discredit, I was less than polite while dumping my chips to the middle of the table. I wasn't violent or yelling, just unceremoniously shoving stacks of chips into a big mess in the center of the table. I was about as frustrated as I've ever been at a poker table.


I tell you that not as some whining bad beat story, but to make a point... Sessions like this happen. Sometimes you're not allowed to win. Sometimes you get Qs twice, find yourself against As both times - then when you get As against Qs, the other guy draws out on you. It just happens, and it happens in streaks.

It's absolutely normal to be frustrated. Luck can be the stupidest thing in the whole wide world. But through it all, remember that short term results don't ultimately matter. If you insist on playing good poker no matter how bad it's going at the moment, if you stay consistent through all the ups and downs, good things will happen in the end...

At the least you've developed a maturity worth having. At the most, you've learned one of the most important skills to becoming a great poker player.

Friday, August 22, 2008

POKER DRIVEL: Reading Materials

Let me start by saying I have never read a full book on poker. I've spent a lifetime observing that I do not learn well from others, I'm the type who needs to see something for myself in order for the knowledge to sink in - otherwise the information slides off my brain like butter off a hotplate. When it comes time to talk about the differences between educational and practical experience, I'll be the first one to jump on the life experience bandwagon and proclaim loudly it's the only method that works for me.

But... Things are changing somewhat...

I still can't sit and read a book on poker. Best case I see something that I wanna try a few pages into it and can't focus anymore until I hit a table and give it a go. Worst case, I get frustrated and bored and question why I ever started playing the damn game in the first place. But, more and more lately, I find quick-hit materials like blogs (Shameless Self Promotion card in play) are becoming a useful tool in my arsenal - a silver bullet, if you will, to load into my weapon of first-hand experience.

I've mentioned it a couple of times already, but it does bear repeating... One blog in specific I find extraordinarily meaty without a lot of grissle is Noted Poker Authority by Ed Miller. I can tell just by measuring his articles against my table experience the guy's sharp - and if there's one thing I absolutely MUST have to learn something from someone is respect for the teacher.

To that end, I've been scouring the internet for poker blogs and bookmarking the ones that work for me. I keep the list small, which is easy because most of them are crap, and I read every new article in each of my bookmarked blogs every day. Then, if I found a strategy or two that I want to test drive, I test it (them) out at the tables later that day.

You all are probably already doing this, but it's a relatively new approach for me... So I thought I'd share it with any of you who think that reading about poker is a waste of time. I generally agree with you, but I think, if you give this approach a chance, you'll find it a productive addition to your game.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


(This is a mini-post meant to complement and extend previous "POKER DRIVEL" articles...)

Here's something that I've used and Ed Miller suggests on Noted Poker Authority:

When you're playing against mediocre (or worse) opponents, you might find minimum bets work as well as half-pot for the purposes of feelers and controlling the hand. Many players don't pay enough attention to the size of the bet, only responding to the fact that you bet something.

Min bets can also work well as part of a "min-bet-raise" strategy. When you're playing with someone who seems to have a passion for raising when he (thinks he) senses weakness, a minimum bet can sometimes trigger his "raise reflex" better than a check. Many beginning players use the check-raise mechanic, but it's likely he's not seen as many people min-bet-raising. It can be a slightly more advanced lure for a slightly more advanced fish.

Even against advanced players, I'll sometimes throw minimum bets into the mix to change up my patterns and keep them on their toes - usually when I've hit a big hand and want to entice action or gradually build the pot and there's little on the board to threaten my strength. (Usually, as discussed before, I use half-pot bets for this purpose.)

POKER DRIVEL: Control The Hand

This is just an extension of the "POKER DRIVEL: Feeler Bets" post, but it does present another example of how to use small(ish) bets that I think can benefit many beginning and midrange players.

Another use of the half-pot bet post-flop is to take and keep control of the hand, especially when you're on a solid draw you would really like to see through to the end. Say you flop four to a strong flush or an open ended straight draw. If you're out of position, a half-pot bet serves three purposes:

1) It puts the screws to the people acting after you, forcing them to put up or shut up. It's entirely possible they didn't hit anything and will fold to this bet without a fight.

2) It discourages a raise unless they've hit something remarkable.

3) It builds the pot a little bit in case you do hit a big hand.

(BEWARE) A good player can turn this tactic around on you and let you bet into them when they've hit something big. Watch out when doing this against solid aggressive players.

The end result? They're likely to lay it down if they haven't hit anything - or simply call rather than raise - whereas, if you'd checked, they were VERY likely to bet and force you to lay down your draw.

Watch carefully how they respond to your post-flop bet. I find this moment to be telling against many players. I can usually tell whether they were calling reluctantly, hoping their hand is good enough, or drawing me in. Even if you don't hit your hand on the turn, this might be a good time to fire a larger bet if they look like they're also on a draw or don't have a lot of confidence in their hand.

Using this tactic successfully requires some practice and no small amount of caution... If you do it wrong, or against the wrong players, you might find you're outplaying yourself in the end. If you're consistently being reraised, stop using this tactic - then use the same betting pattern when you've flopped a made hand.

Try it out and see if you can make it work for you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Las Vegas in Autumn

A good friend (points across the hall to Bastin, http://bastinptc.blogspot.com) sparked in me the idea to take a couple of days for a Vegas trip this Autumn. Sadly, he was forced to withdraw from these plans, so they would have fallen apart... But I happened to mention them to some friends of mine from World of Warcraft and the event took on a life of its own.

I've been running around in search of the best hotel rates (which I booked last night at the Stratosphere) and flight times that work for everyone. It's been exciting, harried, frustrating, but now I'm to the worst part... Waiting. Everything's in the books, so it's just a matter of waiting for 9/27 to roll around... Ugh. I hate this part.

Excuse my relative absence for a little while longer, if you will. My mind is too full of plans and stress and upcoming tasks for me to focus at the moment. Maybe after tonight's Poker Academy invitational tournament I'll be fit to write another Poker Drivel post.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Poker is not my friend right now...

I generally refuse to discuss bad beats (unless you happen to catch me on one of my alternate personalities), so I won't go into detail... But poker and I are not friends at the moment. More poker thoughts and advice later, but for now I'm going to have a pity party for myself.

Please excuse me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


From my perspective, this is one of the most important aspects of one's poker game, especially when you find yourself out of position. Here's how it works and what to watch out for...

It's $1/$2 NL and you've got $200 in front of you. The rest of the table (10 handed) ranges from $60 to $400. So far the play is fairly loose-aggressive across the board, fairly typical.

You're dealt AQc, two off the button. Two of the usual suspects limp in, the rest fold, and it's around to you. This is a solid hand and you've got decent position, so you raise to $15. (The pot before your bet is $7, so you picked $15 to isolate against loose players without overbetting the pot too much.) The button calls, blinds fold, one of the two limpers calls, and we're ready for a flop:

2s 7c 8d

The limper checks to you. You look at the board. Could well be a blank flop, but you wouldn't put it past the button to be playing something silly like A7 or J8. He's been raising from the button all night and clearly loves having position. If you check to him, there's a 95% chance he'll bet at it whether or not he's got anything. You need more information than that - and nothing buys information like money.

The pot is an even $50, so you decide a half-pot bet of $25 is the way to go... Once again, you want to be aggressive enough to get the information you're looking for without putting too much into the pot. Too small of a bet and their call won't tell you anything. Too large of a bet and you're risking too much without a made hand.

The button calls. The limper folds. At this point, because the button's not a complete idiot, you can guess he's got one of three things: a halway decent draw (like 9T), a semi-made hand (middle pair, weak top pair, etc), or he's hit something big and is giving you just enough rope to hang yourself.

Now for the turn:

(2s 7c 8d) Jc

The plot thickens. One of the potential straight draws hit. If the button was playing something like J8, like you thought he might be, that's two pair and takes away some of your outs. On the other hand, there are two clubs on the board now and you've got a draw to the nut flush.

The pot is $100. You bet $40 to keep the pressure on without investing too much of your stack. You've invested $80 of your $200 now. The button has you covered.

After some thought, he calls. Don't read too much into the hesitation, just go on the information you've garnered from the bets. It's becoming less and less likely he's got a semi-made hand. It's getting a little expensive for that now. Maybe he's still on a draw. If he has a straight, a set, or two pair, it's extremely risky of him to simply call you here and risk the flush coming out... Especially since he's been aggressive all night, you would suspect he would take the opportunity to raise you and try to take the pot now.

But, regardless, it's time for the river:

(2s 7c 8d Jc) 2c

There's your nut flush. The hand is probably yours, but keep your eyes open. The paired board means he could have hit something bigger here - if he was willing to risk the flush draw with his set or two pair.

You weigh your options. The pot is $180 and you've got $120 left. Any reasonable bet and you're committed. But... Maybe shoving still isn't the best option. If he's missed the lower end of the straight draw or something else silly, he might be coaxed into a mistake by a smaller bet... If he's got you, there's not a ton you can do about that, but you really think he would have bet on the turn with anything that could beat you now.

You bet $60 into the $180 pot. It's a fairly small bet, so he might call it with something questionable (like trip 2s) or even shove because he thinks your river bet shows weakness. At the very least, he's unlikely to lay it down for $60 more.

He shoves. You'd already predetermined your call.

He shows 8Tc. He'd flopped a questionable top pair, turned the flush draw, and rivered a weaker flush. You double up. (If you hadn't had the guts to put a bet out on the flop, he would have bet the pair and you would have had to lay it down with insufficient information.)


Okay, I hear you saying it in your head... It's easy to set up a fictional hand and knock down an imaginary opponent. Yes, that's true, but you'd be surprised how often situations like that occur. You could have hit a higher pair or any number of better hands... But the important thing is, you had the courage to put some chips out there, wisely, to fish for information.

Yeah, you say, but that's an easy strategy to defeat... All he had to do was reraise me and I'd have to bail, giving him those chips for free because I bet without a hand.

Well, yes, that does happen... But that brings us to the second part of the "Feeler Bet" strategy. When you hit something big, put out a feeler bet. It helps to build the pot and DOESN'T give them much information - because you use this bet to control pot size (more on that at a later date), feel for information, AND to entice a raise.

For example:


Same situation... Except this time you've got 6s6h two off the button and raise to $15 just like you did before.

For the sake of the argument, we'll say it's the button who calls you again. He's steaming a little bit over how you "caught that flush" on him earlier (see: POKER DRIVEL: Play for Yourself) and wants to catch a hand to take "his" money back.

Flop is Ks 4c 6d.

You bet $25.

He's "not going to let you chase him down again", so he goes all-in with his remaining $110 with KhJs.

You kick his butt, take his money, and send him packing.

He acted on semi-reasonable information. He saw you do that earlier when the flop hadn't hit you... And you used the art of the feeler bet combo to misdirect and defeat your opponent.


One last thing as I wrap up... As you know, events unfolding exactly as I've written them above is rare. Often you'll take the pot with your post-flop bet, given it's a fairly blank flop and fairly likely no one hit anything worth calling. Sometimes you'll get reraised and you'll have to bite the bullet and lay it down. But if you utilize this strategy correctly, it should do well for you in the long run.

Try it out and see for yourself.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

POKER DRIVEL: Play For Yourself

Especially on Poker Academy, I see a lot of people who are honestly trying to get better at poker. They're humble (good), they generally play tight (good), and they're self-conscious about how the other players at the table view them (bad, bad, bad)...

"I better be careful not to get caught playing 2-3 offsuit. God forbid they think I'm a fish."

I went through that phase also. I cared more about whether I had built a solid table image and gained the respect of the other players than I cared about winning. I realize now that I was playing right into the hands of the more wily players at the table and hamstringing my own poker game.

The desire to play the game well is admirable. To my thinking, there's no reason to play poker at all if you're not striving to play well and improve as you go. BUT... The last thing you should do is define the quality of your play by the feedback you get from your opponents around the table.

Why? Let me count the ways...
  1. The most vocal players out there, the ones who most like to critique the play of others, tend to be mediocre players. It's the schoolyard bully complex. They're berating the play of others in order to feel like they know what they're doing. They're artificially padding their own confidence by convincing themselves they're surrounded by donks.
  2. The other players around the table want to take away your money (or PAX). It's only natural for them to be disappointed when you take theirs instead. Most players take this in stride, as a natural occurrence of the game, but many are less mature and will attack your poker game like a petulant child. It's often not based on any kind of logic. They're just sore losers.
  3. The third type of attack is far more sinister and dangerous than the first two... Some truly decent, wily poker players use these tactics to manipulate you. They take advantage of your lack of confidence to shake you and get you off your game. It's cheap and sleazy, but it's remarkably effective against players who are vulnerable... Remember that poker is a predatory game where lying and manipulation are not only accepted but encouraged and rewarded.

Allowing any of these people in your head is a bad thing. You're trying to improve your game through a natural, honest interchange of actions and responses... But poker is no place for such an approach. It opens you up to a whole lot of bogus input that will not only hurt your performance at the current game but could also foster bad habits down the road.

Instead, pay attention to the game its self. Remember what worked and what didn't. Remember how people reacted with the chips, not with their mouths. Measure the quality of your game by the long-term results. If you're making money (or PAX) playing poker, you're doing better than the vast majority of the people who're trying to tell you how to play.

If you MUST seek validation from other people, I suggest two methods...

  1. Read the advice of the pros. I'm not a big fan of picking up a bunch of books and trying to emulate the play of any given poker player, but reading their input, trying their tricks, and measuring their advice against results can be a good way to improve your game. I especially like Ed Miller's Noted Poker Authority site for powerful tidbits and "meat" advice without all the fluff and filler of the "how to" poker books. (http://www.notedpokerauthority.com/)
  2. Pick a player or two around the table whose appears solid and successful. If you can, talk to that person away from the table, preferably after you're no longer playing against them. Ask them honestly how your play comes across. It's likely they'll say you're too timid - it's the nature of your personality and why this blog post is for you. But they might have some other practical tidbits for you as well... (Besides, we're already working on the timid part by not letting other players get under your skin!)

Remember this... If you've got other players at the table steaming about something you did, and you took down the pot, that's a good thing. When they're saying "what a stupid play" or "how could you raise with that" and rolling their eyes, as long as you're scooping in the chips, you should be taking it as a compliment. You got the better of them.

So long as you're truly working toward a better poker game and never allow yourself to fall in love with gambling or getting lucky at the poker table, walk with pride. Ultimately you should play the game for yourself - not for the approval of anyone else.

The Voices In My Head Say Hello

The voices in my head tell me that people from Poker Academy, and perhaps elsewhere, would be more likely to read my poker blog if it contained at least some poker content and not just these dry, stream-of-consciousness musings to which I am prone.

So here goes...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vini Vidi Vici

We made our way into the Rocky Mountains on Saturday to Black Hawk, Colorado, for a little bit of happy gambling... I use the term "gambling" because Steph and I were going up not for poker but for some simple together time, playing video poker and laughing at the ups and downs, just generally treating the losses as an entertainment expenditure.

Unfortunately, on this occassion more than any other, the ups were so scarce as to be nearly non-existent and no one was laughing. We fed the machines and they devoured our offerings like wild dogs. You could almost hear the growls as they competed with one another for our bounty. I could absolutely hear the ringing of the till as the money moguls snapped up our income and gave basically nothing in return... Sure, this is the end result nearly every time, but this particular time it felt especially cruel and empty.

We burned through all of the money we had taken for gambling and were standing outside, preparing to go to the car. But I had this nagging feeling. I wasn't done yet. Something was pissing me off about this entire situation and I just *had* to give them one more chance to make it right... At least let us make back some small portion of our losses and provide some sense of emotional victory.

Stupid? Yeah, absolutely. And it shouldn't have worked. It certainly shouldn't have worked so well... But more on that in a minute.

A pattern of addicted gambling? Close, but no. I don't mind losing, but I hate feeling raped... I just wanted to have *some* success, hopefully some fun at the same time, and walk away... I wasn't going to throw all of my resources at it. I wasn't even going to risk enough to cause any particular amount of pain, but I was gonna stretch the budget just a tiny bit more in the efforts of salvaging some small victory from a basically wasted day.

So I pull my personal funds (our earmarked sum for discretionary spending every month, noting that Saturday was the 2nd) from my wallet and I plug it (yes, all of it) into a slot machine that had been drawing my eye all day: Pompeii something.

Spin. Spin. Spin. Spin. Absolutely nothing. Another run of "all take and no give" from the gambling gods, until... "Spin.... Vini! Vidi! Vici!" I hit some bonus mode that gave 10 free spins and a relatively modest payout... Except for the "x5" multiplier that also came up, converting modest to "worth walking away with". Then, on the very first free spin, another "Vini! Vidi! Vici!"... This time I'd hit 4 (as opposed to 3) of the "scatters" and been granted 15 more free spins.

So I sit back and let the machine do its thing... Cranking through 25 free spins, even the small wins are worth hitting, since I'm not paying per spin anymore - but I'm actually hitting some really decent stuff here. Some quiet spins, but several $20, $50, and higher hits. I can't stop my embarrassed, "wow this was stupid and it's probably ultimately bad for me that it's working so well" laughter. But hey, now we're having fun. I'm doing a little dance in the seat as people gather around to find out why the machine's going so crazy.

Finally the machine calms down and a screen pops up telling us to hit "service" for a casino representative. Apparently they have to sign off on all wins deemed to be a "jackpot". So we wait.

When all the paperwork is done and we're walking to the car (you better believe I'm gonna take the win and walk), I have but one thing to say.

"Vini Vidi Vici"

Friday, August 1, 2008

Curse of the Blank Page

Getting a new blog started is always a pain in the arse. If creativity were a superhero, "blank page" would be the villain. Stephen King's solution, which you can read for yourself in his book On Writing, if you wish, is just to start writing something... anything... and let the practice of writing flow into something that matters. I'll give you a minute to mull that over and realize that none of this has mattered - at least not yet. But I'm getting warmed up.

I've been playing more regularly on Poker Academy again, which some of you may have already noticed. I've realized part of the problem with my poker burnout and possibly some causal portion of the precipitous crash I experienced pre- and post-Vegas in February is due to a focus shift. For several years, when I was doing consistently well, I was strolling along, enjoying the journey, content to become a premier poker player "some day". I enjoyed some success, got a lot of hands under my belt, dominated my fair share of games... And somewhere along the line I changed.

About the four year mark on my serious poker playing venture, I started falling in love with the success and the pride and income that went along with that success. I started really *feeling* like a great player, like the flaws I did have were overcome by my strengths, and my focus shifted toward the goal rather than the journey. That worked fine for awhile, when things were still going reasonably well, but a long run of really horrible luck sent me into a spiral from which my poker game nearly did not recover.

On the other side, I am trying to force myself to focus on the journey again - trying to retrain some of the bad habits I'd gotten into as a result of laziness. It's hard as hell to do, but I think I'm having some success.

To that end, my friends, I plan to dedicate more of my time from here forward to the better games on Poker Academy... Primarily the Invitational Series. There's no money to be had and I believe I'm already fairly well respected by the PAO core, so there's little for me to achieve except putting more hands in, working on my weaknesses, and improving my game against some of PA's best.

So, here's to you all, those I plan to be stealing PAX from in liberal fashion. May you put up a worthy fight, but ultimately fail in the end...

I'll see y'all at the tables.

bastin has inspired me...

... that rat bastard. His blog is likely to be more interesting if you want to go see it:


If you're sticking around here, I'll try to get new content up on a regular basis, but no promises...

Now I gotta go sit in the corner and think of something interesting to say.