Monday, February 15, 2010

The Sound of Failing Miserably

New and creative ways to lose pots:

1/2 NLHE

Pot #1: Limp in from the SB with 5,5 (4 other limpers already). BB raises to $15. UTG calls, UTG+1 calls, other 2 callers call and I call. 6 players. Flop is K,5,2 rainbow - pretty ideal for my hand because I think anyone with a king will want to end the pot on the flop. As I'm first to act, however, I don't want to risk it being checked around if no one has a king and then have someone pick up a draw on the turn. I bet $37 into the $90 pot, figuring any king will call or better yet, raise. I have $77 behind after this bet. UTG+1 calls and everyone else folds. No way he has AA or KK because he would have re-raised the $15 preflop at a minimum. Turn is an A, still no flush draw. I forget the exact action here but it all goes in for both of us and he has me covered. I have a set, he has 3.4 off...wheel straight. River bricks and I'm felted. In retrospect I made his odds but I never suspected that he could be playing 3,4 and calling the $15 UTG+2. If I bet 80 and leave myself $33 behind I probably fail to extract any value in the event that someone does have a king and being that he was a gambling sort, I'm pretty sure he calls open-ended and hits to felt me anyway.

Pot #2: I have K,10 off. I'm again in SB in a limped pot with 2 other players, including the Brazilian guy to my immediate left. Flop is K,x,x rainbow. I lead the flop for $8 into $6. He calls, other player folds. Turn is an 8. I lead the pot for $15 into $22. He calls. River is a 4. I lead the pot for $25 and he calls and flips over 8,4 of diamonds. I'm flabbergasted and as he rakes in the pot I do what I never do, which is question his play. I ask him why he called the flop. His answer? I had a diamond draw. He had 3 diamonds to the flush, that is.

Pot #3: I have A,6 and again in a 3 way limped pot, this time in position. Flop comes A,Q,x. Other 2 players check to me, I bet $10. One girl calls other player folds. Turn is a brick. She checks. I bet something like $22. She calls. River is an 8. Before acting, she checks her hole cards, then checks. I check behind because of her peek and she has Q,8, rivered 2 pair.

Pot #4: UTG raises to $10 preflop, I call from mid-position with 10,10, someone else calls and the guy from the BB shoves for 42, initial raiser folds, I call, other caller folds. He has J,10. Guy to my right immediately says "I folded a 10" at which point I know I'm f'd. I am already only hoping for a 4 card flush to get on board because I know he's going to hit a J and any straight I can make, he makes one better (except if J,Q,K,A hits the board).

J on the flop, no flush draw, drawing dead.

Good times, good times.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hit and Run

A quick hand in which I was recently involved:

1/2 Cash game, with a definitive end time. Ten minutes prior to the end of the game I have KQ and open to $11 from position. I get called from one of the blinds, who has me covered. We are the two biggest stacks at the table. Flop comes Q,8,x and he checks to me and I continue for $15, fully expecting to take the pot right then and there. He surprisingly calls. Turn is a jack (2nd heart on board) and he again checks and I again bet, now $25. This time he raises me to $75 and I instantly call. River is another J. His action and he looks down at his stack and shoves out three stacks of red, $300.

I tank and mull my position.

Some additional tidbits about my opponent:

-He is quite drunk.
-He has, not five hands previously, felted a player when he made a river call of an all-in with top pair, 3 kicker on a paired board that had both straight and flush possibilities.
-He is a pretty well-off guy.

If I call and am wrong, I take a $110 loss on the night. If I call and win, I take a $700 win from the game. If I fold, I take a $200 win from the game.

What do I do? What would you do?

Monday, January 25, 2010


From Malcolm Gladwell, who retells an experiment documented in a book by Kahneman and Tversky:

"...a group of people were told to imagine that they had $300. They were then given a choice between (a) receiving another $100 or (b) tossing a coin, where if they won they got $200 and if they lost they got nothing." (Note: by nothing, he means nothing additional. They don't lose any money by losing the coin flip, they just don't get any more than their $300.)

He continues:

"Most of us, it turns out, prefer (a) to (b). But then Kahneman and Tversky did a second experiment. They told people to imagine that they had $500 and then asked them if the would rather (c) give up $100 or (d) toss a coin and pay $200 if they lost and nothing at all if they won. Most of us now prefer (d) to (c)."

Why this example? I think it relates pretty well with a lot of the poker play I've witnessed in the past year or so. How many times have you seen people willing to gamble their entire stack from behind on some ugly draw and chalk a loss up to the cards but those same players missing a value bet when playing from in front. The rationale is that they are always just happy to take down a pot and win one, never minding that the win was modest.

It's a vital flaw in thinking, in my opinion, and one that can ultimately separate winning from losing long-term.

Get back to the choices above (a-d). Which side of each choice did you fall on? Think about why.

As Gladwell (and I assume Kahneman and Tversky) points out, "What is interesting about those four choices is that, from a probabilistic standpoint, they are identical. Nonetheless, we have strong preferences among them. Why? Because we're more willing to gamble when it comes to losses, but are risk averse when it comes to our gains."

It sounds familiar, no?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Heads Up - Twice As Nice

So after two months, one snapped humerus bone, three hours of surgery and four loser's bracket victories, I finally found myself as one of the last two left in a yearly heads-up tournament. Having come through the loser's bracket, I now had to defeat my opponent twice heads up as this was a double elimination tourney. A dubious prospect, since this was a guy who had rather handily dispatched his opponents thus far, a guy I knew to be unafraid of making moves with any two cards and with an uncanny skill for reading his opponents' hands. Plus, the guy had had his arm broken in an ill-fated arm wrestling match during the day the tournament was originally supposed to conclude. Fate should reward that kind of suffering, no?

Well, fate might, but I won't.

Starting even in chips but at a disadvantage strategically since my opponent could play as loose as he wanted to with a match in hand, things didn't quite get started as I hoped. I made some raises, forced a few continuation bets in and folded, folded, folded when I didn't connect and was re-popped. I've detailed before that one of the things I like best about heads up is playing each and every hand, the action aspect of it all. What's not so fun is a succession of god-awful hands like 2,8 where your raise is called, a deuce flops and your c-bet is tripled. Not exactly the kind of sweet action I enjoy.

Fold, fold, fold.

Pretty soon, I was down to about 1000 chips (5000 in play) and in serious chip envy. You know, the kind where your lone big chip has about five friends, where each and every smaller denomination chip has left town and made the deficit seem insurmountable from sheer stack size alone. That's where I was.

Well, heads up is its own beast, layered with skin ready for discard. All it takes to adjust is to slide out of one mode and into another. Add that to the chipleader's inevitable desire, once ahead, to never double up his opponent and give him life and aggression is often well rewarded. I began firing at pots with pot-committing raises and saw the glances at the few chips I had behind. My opponent ceded the small pots, not willing to commit the chips to get me back in it all at once. In fairness, he probably had garbage hands, like most are. But while he was conceding blinds and small pots, I was listening to the most delightful sound of new chips clacking on top of old. Slowly, I rebuilt. Five hundred more. Seven-fifty. Soon enough, my double up to 2000 was complete, albeit done in a grinding fashion.

And patience was finally rewarded. After a pre-flop raise into me, I peeked at JJ and pushed. My opponent made a crippling call with K,J and I seized control of the match and a few hands later, it was over. We were even.

As we began the second match, I felt that the pressure had shifted the other way. No one wants to lose two in a row, especially a confident, competitive player. This match was therefore less aggressive, more cautious on both sides, as we both now had the opportunity to win the whole thing. Small swings on either side of level were the norm in the early going, as pots hovered around 10% of the overall chip count (500). And then, cautious as things had been, it exploded.

In my favor.

And again, it was a monster for me. KK. My opponent raised preflop (25/50) to 150. I re-raised to 450, he called. Flop came Q high, all diamonds. He shoved, I called. Neither of us had a diamond. He had QJ. I held up and he had a scant 600 chips. It was that quick. Again, a few hands later the match ended, when I drew out a flush against his all in.

A long time coming, and it felt good.

More poker coming this weekend, I'll keep you updated.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Big River/Bonanza/No Need To Worry

For those of you who are savvy to the songs of the man in black, you're already onto the theme of this post - cash, cash, cash.

I've been long overdue on a post as a couple of personal matters have occupied all of my time the past five or so weeks. I've managed to squeak in a few local tournament sessions however, as well as the long-awaited conclusion to August's heads-up tournament (see a previous post from August about the ugly delay in this one.) And despite the inactivity, my game hasn't suffered too much, exactly the opposite in fact, as I managed to work some modest cashes through some tough local fields.

Backtrack a bit and I was playing in my regular monthly rebuy tournament. It happened to be the same night as the Marquez/Mayweather fight and there was enough interest among the 30 or so players to order it up, so we had that going and I was half-distracted during the early stages until it became evident that Mayweather had Marquez dominated. So back to the cards and I got a little momentum going, but needed to really chip up if I wanted to make some noise, the quick blind structure and levels make rebuys almost useless after a certain point. So when I failed to connect on a draw and gave away my stack and had to rebuy for 1500 chips at 200/400, I didn't expect much. Even less did I expect to go on a tear the way I did. Pocket pairs held up, draws got there, bluffs were respected and as we consolidated to the final table I was one of the top three stacks.

While the timing of that run was much-needed, as always when it cooled off, it cooled quickly and I scrambled to make moves. In the next few levels I ran 88 into AA and doubled up a short stack, then folded a flopped top pair again to AA where I could have been felted. Later, I folded a 66 into a bad flop but then a couple hands later moved in with that same holding and one of the two overs my opponent held spiked on the river and I was out for a min cash. Cash #1.

So, even though it was five hours deep into the night, I moved right over to another table and played my delayed semifinal match in the heads up tourney. Winner hit the cash, loser was bubble boy. I had been ahead about 3500 to 1500 in chips when the break occurred but that quickly flip-flopped and I found myself on the short end of that margin. Slowly I ground my way back within 600 chips (2800-2200) when I looked at JJ. I raised, he re-raised all in with AK and I called. It held and I finished him off shortly thereafter when I drew a 3 outer, when all in blind. On to the finals, time/date still to be determined, but I was in the cash, my second of the night. Cash #2.

Flash-forward two weeks later and another home tournament, again a rebuy affair. Bigger buy in and rebuys but a smaller field and fewer places cashing. I arrive late, fold a bunch of garbage hands until about the end of the second level, attempt an ill-advised triple up with a mediocre holding and rebuy. Again, however, I go on a bit of a hot hand tear and take advantage. I three-bet preflop and get two other guys to shove behind me. The initial raiser folds and I shove with AA. Shortstack turns over A10 and big stack turns over QQ. I hold and rake a big pot and am on my way. Shortly thereafter, AK flops a K, a big stack reraises all in over the top of me and I call. He flips J,4 suited with a pair plus the flush draw but I ice the draws and bust him. Now I have a giant stack and I start raising everything in sight and smaller stacks topple quickly. Queens were good to me as I twice hit top pair and got it in for the win against small stacks. Then I made a fairly loose call of an all in with Q10 suited and my opponent showed his 8,9 sheepishly. We got down to heads up shortly after I made a bad read of a nicely disguised AA when I again flopped top pair and doubled up a good player. A bit of bad luck kept me from perhaps winning when I checked my option with 5,7 and the flop came J, 5, 5. We both checked the flop and a J came on the turn and we again both checked. The river was a blank and I don't remember the exact way it went in, suffice it to say it all did and my opponent turned over a J to best me. Oh well. Another good cash, #3.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to play at all since but it looks as if my other stuff has been straightened out and I'll be back in the mix, both on the tables and here documenting it, beginning right away. Thanks for reading and I'll keep you in the loop, as I'll fill in the details of the conclusion to the heads up tournament.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Question Is How Fast, Pt. 2

Continued from previous post...(road trip theme being abandoned)

So I have just doubled my short stack and my table has broken. I'm not too upset with this, as that table had begun to eyeball my stack and take shots at me.

My new table, however, is a dream. Three ultra tight older guys, check. One insane old guy who will play and continue any hand at full speed and never slow down if he misses a flop. A couple of guys in their thirties and forties who play straightforward. One girl with a healthy stack who seems to be mixing it up pretty well. And one guy who loses a huge pot as I settle in when his top two gets shoved upon by crazy old guy's flush draw (which was for crazy old guy's whole stack, not insubstantial) who I get an immediate suspicion had been the table boss prior to that hand. He now is on a shorter stack than I and I watch him closely, as we are going to make similar plays with our short stacks.

I feel okay about it and my first hand is AcJc and I sweep the blinds with a preflop raise. Bingo, hope this continues.

It doesn't.

Neither the cards nor the plays got there for me. It was really frustrating watching the play at this table and then having to peek down at J,3 off and fold. As I got shorter and shorter, I just wanted anything that would give me a shot because I really felt as if I could make a run if I could even get a semblance of a normals stack.

Limp, limp, limp, limp to me in the small blind, ready to shove. 8,4 off. Muck.


I wonder if I should shove anyway but such thoughts are nixed when a multi-way limped pot (about 4 or 5 players) that I can't enter gets shown down and the crazy old guy has pocket kings. Pocket kings.

Finally, under the gun (literally and figuratively) I get 9,9 and in it goes. I get looked up by crazy old guy who has A,8 off. Here we go.

'No ace, no ace, no ace,' I think.

Ace on the flop. I mentally check out about 95%.

'Nine on the turn. Nine, nine, nine, NINE,' I think.

Ace on the turn. I mentally check out the remaining 5%.

I stand.

Four on the river.

I walk away. I get about 10 feet from the table when the girl calls over to me. "Where are you going?"

I walk back over. She points at the board. "You made a flush."

Holy shit. It's true. I hit runner, runner (including his third ace) and provided one of the dumbest displays ever. I didn't do anything out of line, I was just that donkey who didn't even bother to consider the board or the options.

So back to it, after an apology to the table. The old guy doesn't even seem to have noticed, as I really didn't dent his stack too badly.

Unfortunately, I can't capitalize on this gift. I am ice cold and can't enter any pots. I get short stacked and shove. Everyone folds. Over and over and over. Four hours I play my short stack like this. Four hours I have zero pocket pairs, perhaps punishment for my inattentiveness with my nines.

Finally, I get it in again with a caller. The BB looks me up with AK off to my Qd9d. He looks slightly ill at my holding, one of the worst ones for his hand to be ahead of.

I flop a queen in the window!

But there's an ace underneath! An ace on the turn (deja vu?) I scan for diamonds--not this time. I need a queen. Two outer. Two outer. Two outer.

Out. Two hundredth.

(or so. top 70 got paid)

My assessment of my play? Too tight, mostly. Too aggressive with middle pairs. I think I did a good job managing my short stack in particular. I got it in against the right players, the ones who would fold when I didn't have it, and the ones who would call if I did. I tried not to let it get down to 10 BBs, preferring to move with about 13 or so to keep the gamblers at bay. I had a good feel for people at my tables and, while my starting hands limited my action, felt like I had a decent read on how people were playing. It was a good experience, good to get a big tournament feel, one I haven't had in a long time. If things go well in the next couple weeks, I might hop to Borgata to see about their WPT event coming up.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Question Is How Fast

I've never been a speeder. Owe it to my first automobile being a late 80s Chevy Sprint, aptly named since it could go dart forward about fifty yards, only to hit a max velocity that could get swallowed up by a John Deere special. That was followed by an '85 Chevy Impala, a lumbering workhorse that caused criminals to duck for cover when I rolled by due to its resemblance to the plainclothes detective car of choice during the period. Once I sold that one, I've been without a four-wheeled mode of transportation for a number of years. Speeding has not been much of a worry.

But maybe it should be. In my poker play, at least. Fire up the engines, I'm taking you for a ride through the $550 Mega Stack at Foxwoods.

"Metaphor's the worst/Are you being driven or do you drive?" -"Art Class", Superchunk.

My day began alongside 644 other dead-eyed hopefuls, including 2002 WSOP champ Robert Varkonyi and his wife Olga. The structure was why I chose to play this particular tournament, having not played anything but small rebuy tournaments for a good while. 20k in chips to start, 50 minute levels, including 75/100 and 100/200 followed by the elusive 100/200 with 25 ante. Just a good structure that allowed for a ton of action and plenty of patient play, something I pride myself on. I determined that it was not going to be a sprint and settled in, knowing that some people wouldn't, that they would get addicted to the big action they have seen/heard/read about and spew chips in efforts to be uber-aggressive. All done while elaborating on the intricacies of poker in a sonorous Massachusetts/Boston/New England accent that never gets old for me because I can picture each pontificator as Cliff Claven. "It's a little known fact..."

Sure enough, about 20 minutes in, the first player busted from the table next to me when his two pair ran into quads. 30 minutes left in the 25/50 level seems like a must-shove with two pair, no? See ya. Not ten minutes later, another yahoo from the same table made a flush on a paired board and guess what? He shoved into quads...against the same player! This guy was now up to over 60k in chips and had his table shaking their heads. "It's a little known fact that a flush is no good on a paired board," the Claven next to me puts out for the table to absorb.

Meanwhile I was having a pretty good level myself, opening pots and hitting flops. Even caught a couple wired pairs and by the first break had chipped up to about 22,500. While not avoiding big pots, I was determined to keep myself out of any kind of crippling danger. Just no need at this early stage, particularly with at least four players that I could target at my table.

"Do not pass me/Just to slow down/I have precision auto." -"Precision Auto" Superchunk

Feeling pretty good about myself, I get a little overeager with some raises and give back my chips from the previous levels and then some but don't panic. And sure enough the predictable guy next to me pays me off when his hand gets into my nut draw but I manage to back into two pair when my flush misses and he makes a terrible call. Good to go, I'm right where I need to be, though my starting hands have begun to cool.

Then things go awry. I flop top pair on a ragged board against a call station in the big blind and decide to make some ground. It's exactly the situation I have been waiting for and he's more than happy to oblige, calling me on the flop and on fourth street. I realize on fifth street that I must have missed a yield sign a ways back and pull up with a check and he checks behind and turns over a full house, made on the turn. I could only laugh, and the low hum of table antennae dipped to a brief silence as we all stared at him and his monster. Checked the river? God bless him.

So I'm a little below my starting stack now but still in fine shape with regard to the blinds. Except that I pick up pocket 8s and my raise is called by the same guy. Nine high flop misses me and he leads and I raise, hoping to take it down right then. Only he calls. We both check the turn and the river and he flops over pocket aces. Again, I can only laugh as this guy fails to even attempt to extract any value while playing from way ahead. Unfortunately, I can't hear my own laughter over his stacking of my chips, as I have now put myself into a semi-short stack situation and need to get on the road to Healthysville asap. Checking the map I see that it's a long way there, approximately 150/300 miles away and getting further. A short time after I check and it's already 200/400 and I've obviously gone down the wrong road.

Luckily, there are shortcuts. I pull a quick U-turn in the big blind when the small blind apologizes for having to raise the unopened pot but apparently doesn't see my 18 wheeler of KK about to run him down. More folding for a good while longer leads me back to the same spot and I need a GPS before I have to make a blind turn. Not quite blind but I decide that Exit J8 suited in the hi-jack in an unopened pot might be my only hope for a cup of coffee and a shot of energy. The big blind looks me up and Holy Johnny Chan, I flop the nut straight, 7,9,10. He checks, I decide to continue since I'm so short there is no point on letting anything get there if he has some sort of KQ hand. He check-Seidels me all in and I of course call. He has 7,9 for two pair and I fade his boat and double. The table, sensing my imminent dominance or demise, is at this moment broken.