Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all! This has been a great inaugural year for the Chicago Poker Club. Many thanks to all of the regular readers, commenters, and contributors!

Keep an eye open for our early January feature, the Chicago Poker Best of 2005.

Be safe, and have fun!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Derby Lane

The Chicago Poker Tour continued with a trip to Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, Florida (i.e. Tampa Bay). Florida has some interesting gambling laws, as it relates to Poker. I'm not certain of the exact rules, but there's the stipulation that no single bet can be over $2. So everyone plays $2 Poker.

Derby Lane had around 30 tables, and was spreading Hold 'em, Omaha 8b, Stud, Double Flop Hold 'em, and
possibly one other, I didn't get a good look at the list. They also were running single table tournaments for $45, with two places paying, until 4pm. After 7pm they were running multi-table tournaments, starting with a 30 player event.

I was there for a few hours, 3:00 pm until almost 7. I player Limit Hold 'em and Omaha 8 or better. I also played in a single table tournament.

When I first sat at the Hold 'em table, I had to ask a few basic questions to make sure I understood the betting. "$2 limit? Does that mean $1 pre- and post-flop, and $2 turn and river? No sir, all bets are $2. Oh. Okay. So the blinds are one and two? Nope. There's one single blind. $2." I felt like I was at the Billy Goat Tavern of Poker Rooms.

How much can I raise?

Two Dollars

How much for a water?

Two Dollars.

How about a sandwich.

Two dollars.

I got QQ in the blind on the very first hand. The flop came Q-J-10. I was immediately irritated. If I wasn't yet beaten, I soon would be. I bet my set for value, and got two callers. The turn came an Ace. It seemed fairly likely that one of my two opponents had a King, but I had to find out. I bet, one player called the other folded. Hmm... no King I guess. The river? A king.

I showed my Queens (it was a very friendly, low stakes table, and the new guy had been doing all the betting. I had to show a real hand.) My opponent showed that he had flopped two pair, jacks and tens. And we chopped the pot.

Over the next one hour and 45 minutes, I did not win (or even chop) a single hand. That includes an SnG, that I'll share the details of. I was please with my play, getting away from the second best hand many times, and not losing too much money. But I was irritated as hell about my cards and the betting structure.

I got up from the table after my first 75 minutes of losing, and signed up for the last single-table SnG of the day. (Is that redundant, or can we consider ad hoc multi-table touraments SnGs also? I think so.) I lasted about 10 hands, and was still not the first person out. It was a classic case of small starting chips, short rounds, and rapidly escalating blinds (not that I saw them). I got a good starting hand on the button and pushed. I really ran a great bluff, I thought, and got busted on the river by my lone remaining opponent who had a quite mediocre hand. I'm not sure if he was good enough to somehow read my play, or bad enough to call off most of his chips with a lousy hand. I had only seen one flop previously, so he couldn't have gotten many previous reads from me. Oh well.

The funniest thing abou the tournament were the chip denominations. They were the stadard colors, but the green was $0.0025, the black was $0.0100, and the purple was $0.0500. This was to get around Floridas silly law about the amount that can be bet per hand. Apparently it applies not only to legal tender - U.S. Dollars - but also to "tournament dollars". Negreanu!? That doesn't make sense.

Finally I played some Omaha 8 or better. I'm not an Omaha player, and would never claim to be good at it. At this point, however, I was willing to try anything, and $2 poker seemed like a cheap lesson. I've never played Omaha live, but really enjoyed the action immensely. I won a few (split) pots, but never scooped, which is what you're suppposed to be angling for, I understand. I quickly learned who were the action players, who was tight, and who only bet the nuts. I stayed away from the latter, and had a good time for a couple hours before eventually losing $50 anf heading out for the evening.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Prime-Time Poker Waning?

I read a Reuters article today entitled "Poker's Lucky Streak Seen Fading". It discussed the fact that the industry that is poker has passed it's high-water mark. Sales of poker sets (chips, cards, etc.) and other poker related paraphernalia is down from recent months and recent holiday seasons. The article posits the idea that poker is purely a "pop fad" and is on the way out.

Poker is not just a fad. I believe most of us would argue that. It's been played for many years. The exact history of Poker is often debated, but many trace it's roots to a similar game first played in the early 1800s. Unless the 200-year fashion is coming to an end, it is more than simply a fad.

I will concede the fact that much of the boom was rooted in fad. The promotion of poker sites and tournaments by way of hockey jersey is, hopefully, on the decline. The days of everybody and their brother going out to purchase a set of chips and a tabletop is likely approaching saturation, and those who haven't gotten them already are losing interest, not gaining it. The days of being able to choose from four simultaneously televised poker events are limited. Over the last several years, we have witnessed an unfathomable, and indeed ludicrous, surge in the popularity of the game...

At the same time, the movie Rounders, the advent of "pocket cams", and the success of WSOP and WPT, have opened up the game to millions of new players, many of whom will continue to play and compete casually. It has also raised the acceptance level, where it is seen as a competition and a battle of wits (accurate or not) and not just a seedy, underground gambling habit.

The surge and successive wane will both be and have been very good for the game. The game will continue to benefit from more good players created during the boom, more eager, mediocre players coming late to the party, or only minimally interested at the present time - and with both come fresh blood and fresh cash.

Yes, the internet bubble burst, but we sure do have "a lot more internet" than we did 8 years ago. We have a huge, growing market for online shopping, online bill paying, and the likes of Yahoo,, Google, and Amazon. Much like those online anchors, WPT and WSOP aren't going anywhere; they just won't see those prize pools blow up so quickly.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fighting the Winter Blahs

So it's December 19, and the thermometer read 1 this morning. One! One lousy degree. It's cold.

I played in a little 6 person game last night at a friends. Everyone there was small stakes, and risk averse, so the host suggested that three places pay out. Third place gets his money back, first and second get 50 and 33% respectively. I played poorly early on. I considered myself to be the most skilled player at the table, and tried to push too hard early. I loosened my starting hand requirements and probably was playing approximately the same starting hands that my opponents were. I thought I would outwit them with my post-flop play, but did not.

By the time we were down to four players, I was really struggling. Most of my moves were forced to be all in moves with an (unadjusted) M of about 6 or 7. I was fortunate to survive, and we were down to 3. "The money". Hooray!

I battled back until I had one of my opponents covered. The blinds weren't moving incredibly fast, so I was out of danger for a little while. The chip leader had accumulated a number of chips by being in the right place at the right time. He was a loose, passive player for the most part.

I found myself heads up with him in a big hand. Typically I would try to avoid the only player to have me covered, but with three opponents, and a nice starting hand ing the big blind, I couldn't get away from it. The flop didn't help me, but was quite ragged. My opponent bet into me, which he was capable of doing with nothing. I confidently called. The turn was no help (to either of us, as it turned out) and my oppenent showed weakness in his body language and with a check. I was sure he had nothing, and the pot was big enough, probably 40% of my stack. I pushed all in, knowing that he could conceivably call off a big chunk of chips with a mediocre holding, but would never double me up with, say, second pair.

He went into the tank. He thought and thought. The longer he thought, the more I knew he would fold.

He called.

He turned over second pair, with a terrible kicker. Regardless, it beat my ace-high, and took me out of the tournament. I could not believe he called me. I congratulated him on a great call and left the table with my entry fee refunded to me.

It's been a cold winter, not only outside, but at the table. I had one big win last month to ensure that I finish the year in the positive (unless I do something terribly stupid), but otherwise I've been a losing player for a couple months. It's time to get back to the basics - tighten up my starting hand requirements, play smart after the flop, and don't try to put a move on an opponent who can be bothered to notice. Make value bets more, and bluff less. Finally, read, read, read. It's time to review those "school" books.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Playing to the Table

I haven't had much time to play cards, or even think about poker since the big brouhaha last week. Life's just too busy right now - between work (hectic!) and planning a wedding (and a bachelor party!).

My mind does bring me back to poker regularly, despite what else I may be working on or thinking about. I got to wondering recently if truly great poker players, professional or otherwise, adapt their strategy a great deal from table to table.

Sure, I know that a good player changes speeds. If I'm agressive consistently over hours of play, my opponents will take advantage of that. When they get good hands, they'll let me do all the work, betting and raising while they reap the benefits. I also understand that a strong player reads his or her table, opponent by opponent. Maybe you start with the player to your right and the two to your left, and then expand your sphere as you feel your way around the table. But then, your underlying strategy hasn't necessarily changed, you're just adjusting to your opponents, reading their tendencies, capatalizing on their weaknesses.

My question is this - if Daniel Negreanu or Chris Ferguson sat down at my home game, would they play significantly differently than at a mid-stakes No Limit game at the Mirage? Would they be less aggressive across the board, knowing that their opponents would likely call with weaker hands, knowing that bluffs would seldom be effective, but value bets would be especially valuable? Or, would they push harder, challenging weaker players to call off all of their chips with a mediocre hand?

I guess if we assume that we're talking about great players, they adjust entirely, probably without consciously thinking about it. At least, that's what one would assume. But why, then, have players like Daniel and Chris struggled against the large fields of amateur and online opponents? Do they not adjust enough? Or are the fields just too big, giving bad luck too many opportunities to rear it's ugly head?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Greatest Illegal Pastime?

"It's just a shame that here we have an activity that is possibly America's favorite pastime, a game that perhaps more people have played than any other game or sport, and the government can say it's illegal."

- Robert Williamson III, Baltimore Sun, November 4, 2005

Friday, December 02, 2005

BUSTED: Chicago Poker Takes a Dive

Well, they went and did it. Ali Babba's tournament was raided tonight by the Cook County Sherriff's Department. They had several plain clothes officers buy-in and sit at tables. Seven minutes in, half-way through the first round, the plain clothes officers left the room, donned Sherriff's jackets, and returned with reinforcements.

They questioned the tournament organizers for about 10 minutes, and then escorted one or more them, and the prize money, out the door. The players were told that the money was being "taken as evidence" and that they would not be arrested. The players could continue playing "for fun". That went over like Mike Sexton at an underground rave. Within seconds, 22 of the 23 tables had two or less people left at them. One table successfully played a "game for fun" for about 6 minutes, and then everyone lost interest.

One of our fellow Chicago Poker Clubbers, Nostanebula had brought a tape recorder to take some interviews after the tourney. Well, the schedule had suddenly lightened up, and he interviewed one of the organizers, Dolphin13, and I, presumably for the Lord Admiral broadcast this week.

It's unfortunate, really, and it has bigger implications. I don't understand the motivation. What did anyone have to gain by this? Reportedly, there were "several" individuals who called the county and reported the game. That was purely hearsay, but I'll take it as fact for argument sake. Was this a personal vendetta? Did someone just decide that no one should have fun? Why? Why...

The implications are bigger, as I say, because now we have to wonder if the city or the county is keeping an eye on things to try to break up future events. It was the Vice Squad that broke up the game. The Vice Squad! In Cook County, home of Chicago. Certainly there was something more important (let's call it a homicide, an assault, an armed robbery?) going on in Cook County than three young men making $20/hour by hosting a card game, and taking money from poor, unsuspecting poker players!

A few dejected players discussed the state of poker in Chicago afterwards. There's rumor that home games have been broken up. Zero rake home games! What! All I can think to say, respectfully, is bite me! Honestly. That's just cruel.

One of the officers came back into the hall afterward to make sure "everything was okay" and to be sure no one was playing cash games. I chuckled and said, "no, we're just lamenting our spoiled evening". He smiled, and responsed, "hey, I'm not going to comment. How many cops do you guys think were playing in your game tonight?"

That's just it. I know for a fact that there are cops, judges, and FBI officers playing regularly in (illegal) poker games around the city. Little old ladies are playing bingo. Some bars are making a few extra nickels off of there trivia and video poker games. Regualr Joe's are making a few bucks hustling pool. The State of Illinois is selling scratch off tickets and Super Duper Sloppy Lotto tickets. Is it okay to gamble if there's money in it for the City, County, or State? Is it okay to gamble if 50% of it goes to the State, and the schmoe who invested his last $10 in SuperBall tickets has a huge negative EV (expected value/return)? Is it not okay to engage in games of skill for money? Where's the line? What's the harm?

I just don't see it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cinci Sean: "A Virtual Brouhaha"

Apparently the fellas over at Lord Admiral Card Club are keeping their eyes on us. And apparently, we're misbehaving.

A few weeks back there was a serious hubub, a katzenjammer, a brouhaha even, on the Card Clubs board. There was some discussion about the upcoming (tonight) Ali Babba tournament, and the distribution between prize money and the tournament fees. One of our Chicago Poker Club forum contributors was unhappy with the way the tournament was being publicized. The breakdown between prize money and tournament fees, she asserted, was misrepresented. She had a good argument, exactly what we're looking for here at the Chicago Poker Club, and our friends over at Ali Babba corrected the details right away.

Case closed. Justice upheld. Right? Well, not quite.

She was now unhappy with the way the breakdown was reflected. $58+$7 + a 15% rake. This is an odd way of representing the contributions, to be sure. But was it intentionally misleading? No. I don't think so. It was a long way around, it may have even made the fees sound more attractive than they are, but the information was accurate and complete...

An all-out war erupted on the board, name calling ensued. One member suggested that she would "call the authorities" on the game, and get it broken up.

Now you've gone too far.

The first comment was helpful. It was the contribution of a good Chicago Poker Club citizen. The second comment was personal, it was intended to get them to do things the right way. It was semantics, and not content.

Where I take issue is the threat to end the game. I mean, come on. Chicago-area players have a hard enough time finding a good, regular game. I've talked about the commute to the casino, and the lack of quality casino options. The charitable games are fun, but it isn't good poker. On top of that, they take a bigger cut of the buy-in at their tournaments.

Ali and his buddies offer the best game in town for poker players looking for a tournament-style game, or the experience required to become a decent poker player.

If you don't like the way they run things, by all means, don't play. Furthermore, if you believe they're being unfair, I respect your right to say so. Please do.

But please. Don't kill the Ali Babba Tournaments. The Chicago Poker Club is grateful to have them around.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Tournament Style and Philosophy

Do you have a particular overrriding philosophy when you play hold 'em tournament? How about playing poker in general, whether it be tournament or ring game, Hold' em, Stud, or Omaha?

I was listening to an interview with Steve Dannenmann on one of the many emerging poker podcasts, and he discussed his mindset, style, and philosophy that took him to the final table of the World Series of Poker. I listened, and I thought about it a great deal the last time I played poker, and it paid off.

First, Steve made a list of principles for himself. If you watched the final table, you probably saw him pull out a list. He read this aloud, "folding to a raise is only a little misstake", or something similar. The page was full of lessons for poker, if not lessons for life. Each individual statement may not have been important, but the general concept, reinforcing one's playing philosophy, sound table play, smart decisions, while at the table is probably a good idea. If you need to write it down, go for it. If you need to call your guru after every level, why not? But most importantly, formulate a sound strategy for yourself. Revisit it regularly. Stick to it while you play. It is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, to overextend yourself, and to get in big trouble.

Steve's specific philosophy comes from his life as a businessperson, and accountant specifically.Like me, Steve is an office professional first, and a poker player later. Steve advised himself similarly to the way he advises his clients. When he started the WSOP Main Event, he viewed his chip stack as 10,000 in starting capital. For each hand he got involved in, he viewed it as an investment. How many chips am I willing to invest on this hand? Am I getting a fair return on my money? Am I throwing good money after bad?

It seems like a unique, perhaps profound philosophy for playing. It isn't complicated, nor does it seem like a new discovery. Come to think of it, it's not profound at all - but it does feel like it. I've never heard anyone articulate it like that before. It's smart. Very smart. It's topical. It worked.

Your philosophy doesn't have to be the same as Steve's. It doesn't have to be rooted in business or finance. What's more important is that you have a philosophy when you sit at the table. Reinforce your playing experience, your book learning, and your real-world knowledge. Go back to your philosophy often. Are you playing true to it?

Change up your play regularly to keep you opponents on their heels, but stick to your underlying philosophy throughout, and succeed.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Poker Tour

I took a little road trip to Detroit to visit family over Thanksgiving week. It's always nice, yet stressful, to spend extended periods of time visiting family. What better way to unwind than to find a poker game or two?

As it turns out, 2/3 of my poker experience was mostly unrewarding. I enjoy playing always, but rarely reflect back on a trip as good, or fun, if it was a losing session.

I hit three casinos across three cities, three states, and two countries over the last week. I played at the Greektown Casino in Detroit, Michigan on Monday. I played at Casino Windsor, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada on Friday. And I played at the local fave, Trump Casino in Gary, Indiana on Saturday.

The first two sessions returned modest losses, though the Trump trip made up for those two prior trips, and the last couple month poker drought. It was my most successful casino trip to date.

Detroit has three casinos, not counting the casino on the Windsor side. They are MGM Grand, MotorCity Casino, and Greektown. MGM doesn't have a poker room. Of the other two, I've enjoyed Greektown more - basically just gut feel. MotorCity has odd blind structures (see MotorCity Letdown), a small room, and an odd ambience. Greektown is horribly managed, and half of the floor is smoking. Despite this, there are many more tables, and the setting is pretty cool, so I choose Greektown.

My brother and I headed there together late on Monday night, let's call it 11:00pm. We had called ahead to put our names in, and waited about 20 minutes for a seat upon arrival. The room offers a variety of games, though my brother really only has experience with NL Texas Hold'em, and is a small stakes player. We sat at the $100 max buy-in, which has $1-2 blinds. Unless you win a couple decent pots to start with, this is a difficult table to play. The players are very mediocre, but you're playing short stack poker the whole time. With $1-2 blinds, a pre-flop raise of anything less than $10 will put you up against 4 or more players post-flop. With $40 in the pot, and $60 left in front of you, there isn't a lot of room for creativity. What's more/worse, you cannot rebuy chips until you have no chips left. If you're down to $12, let's say, you cannot buy $88 in chips, you have to tip the dealer generously (i.e. your remaining chips) or take a flyer pre-flop against what's likely to be 3-4 players. I did that very thing with $15 and tripled up. I ended up leaving after 3 hours, down $29. Silly.

Friday, my buddy Steve (a.k.a. Southside Darnell) and I headed to Casino Windsor. I really liked their setup. The Casino is nice enough. The area by the poker room felt like the hallway of a big hotel, with the poker room itself seeming like a banquet hall or meeting room. The room was non-smoking, well managed, clean, and there was abundant table service. Again the table was $100 max NL hold'em. I lost my first $100 in about 25 minutes when my AQ went up against A7 and my opponent flopped two pair. I re-bought for $100, and played slowly for a couple of hours. After what felt like days of bad cards, I got AK, TT, AK, and KJ on successive hands. I raised the first three of those pre-flop, and limped in late position with the KJ. Those four hands cost me the $270 of the $260 that I accumulated over the previous couple of hours. I took my remaining $10 and lost it on 13/16 at the roulette table.

Yesterday I stopped at Trump on the way home from Detroit. I sat at a $200 max NL Hold'em table. In the first 35-40 minutes my stack was slowly shrinking. It got down to a low of about $120 before the cards start to come my way.

I raised pocket nines in late position and bet into a flop with one overcard. I got called by one opponent. Another 9 came on the turn, and I made a set. My opponent checked to me and I bet. He raised me to $150. There was a straight possible, but I just couldn't conceive that he would have played J-8 or 8-6 the way he did, calling my raise pre-flop or big bet post flop. The only other hand that could beat me was pocket 10s, again, this seemed highly unlikely. I re-reaised all-in, to $250. He called with his last $60 and showed a set of twos. I raked a huge pot.

An hour later I found Aces in the whole, and re-raised an early raiser. He re-raised all-in, and flipped over kings aftr my call. My Aces held up, and I took his remaining chips. The cards mostly went my way for the last two hours, and I avoided any major confrontations. Eventually I collected my winnings and headed home.

I've been practicing a new philosophy that I heard Steve Danneman talk about on a poker podcast. It makes good sense to me, and seems to be working. I'll share more in my next post.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Chicago Poker Club Forum Reaches 500 Posts!

Have you checked out the Chicago Poker Club Forum over at If not, you should. We have a great community going over there, with lots of insightful poker discussion.

Come join ChicagoJoe, KngKonga, BigMas621, Dolphin13, cosmicpowers, oldmangrimis, and friends in Chicago's largest online poker community.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pass the Sugar!!

I just finished watching the Main Event of the WSOP, and it will come as a surpsrise to no one that Joseph Hachem, of Melbourne, Australia won the whole durned thing. On at least one occasion our man Joe screams "Pass the sug-ah!" when turning over the nuts (though they were fairly vulnerable to a redraw). What IS that?! What did he mean? Is this his "catch phrase"? Does he say it all the time? WHAT does it mean?

Before we talk about favorite catch-phrases, I decided to do a little digging. I came up with very little, but did find reference to an old Betty Boop episode. Is it possible that Hachem is a big Boop fan? Could this possibly be where it came from?

What's your favorite poker catch phrase? Personally, I enjoy screaming "Hassan Habib"! It's fun to say. It just rolls off the tongue. This has become a battle cry for many at, and away from, the poker table. I don't know how it became popular, nor does the cry's namesake - Hassan, himself.

Do you know? What's YOUR favorite poker catch phrase?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tournament Rebuy Strategy

I played in a 96-person tournament last night, with the following logistics:

  • $50 Buy-in for 2000 chips.
  • $25 Unlimited re-buy (or add-on if you have <=2000 chips) for the first hour.
  • $50 "Bubble Buster" after one hour for 4000 chips, regardless of your current chip count.
  • Rapidly raising blinds - 25-50, 50-100, 100-200, 200-400 every 15 minutes for the first hour, then 300-600, 400-800, etc. thereafter.
As you might guess, everyone played fast and furious for the first hour. Two people at my table were all-in, all-out, and re-bought at least four times each. If you didn't get good cards, and have them hold up, you were dead in the water. Even if you finished the hour with the 2000 chips you started with and bought the 4000 additional chips, your 6000 chips gave you an "M" of 6.5 with blinds going up again in 15 minutes (i.e. 7 hands).

Oh yeah, here's an interesting wrinkle - there are twelve people, count 'em, twelve at the tables for at least the first couple of hours. What two cards are playable pre-flop against a 120% full table?

Putting aside the fact that you probably would not play in this tournament if you had options, and you might not even play in it if you did, what would be your buy-in/add-on strategy?

Chew on this...

you don't HAVE to play at all in the first hour. If someone gets knocked out and opts not to rebuy in the first hour, you can buy-in for their seat. That's IF there's a seat available. By doing this, you avoid much of the erratic behavior of the first hour, but eliminate any opportunity to take a reasonably sized stack into the second hour.

I think this gets close to the optimal solution. What if you bought in for $50, and locked up your seat. Just before the end of the hour, if you have less than 4000 chips, you take your closest to good hand (for me J-10 off was the best hand I got ALL tournament. No, I'm serious) - take your closest to good hand and push all of your chips in. Either you double up and then also buy 4000 chips, guaranteeing >8000 chips, or you get busted, and double-rebuy (you can buy 2000 chips for $25 twice - after the first re-buy you have exactly 2000 chips so you're still eligible). Then, at the end of the first hour, you buy 4000 more chips. Now you have exactly 8000 chips. Not great, or even good, but feasible.

The biggest problem with this strategy is that you have to spend $50 to buy in, $50 for your double re-buy, and $50 for your double bubble, making your minimum investment $150 to even have a shot. Consider that there are 96 entrants and 9 get paid. You really will need to finish in the top 2 or 3 to make a reasonible profit for all that investment.

Is there a better way? Assuming you would subject yourself to this, what's the best way to play it?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Live Poker Options Abound in Chicago

It wasn't long ago that finding a live poker game in and around Chicago was a challenging proposition. There are no casinos in the city, the closest poker rooms are in Gary, IN and Aurora, IL - not always easy drives. In fact, traffic in Chicago can make traveling to either of these loactions down-right prohibitive, depending on when you're jonesing for a game.

Home games are illegal, technically, and within the city limits, at least, this law has been enforced to varying degrees. There are many reports of small stakes games being busted by local law enforcement. That hardly seems polite, especially since we don't go storming into the Chicago PD to bust up their games! They're probably using your chips right now. (Please enjoy this as tongue-in-cheek. I have much respect for the officers who protect our city, some of them are personal friends.)

So, what are your Chicago Poker options?


First of all, there ARE home games in, and around, the city. They are quiet affairs, or in some cases, are held in suburbs less interested in enforcing an archaic, and frankly, silly, law. I won't report of specific games here, but there are resources to learn about them. Two examples would be on our forum: Chicago Poker Club at and Meet-Up groups Chicago Texas Hold 'Em Meetup and The Chicago Poker Meetup Group. I would like to give a shout out to the Ali Babba guys, who run a great tournament.

Additionally, Rockford Charitable Games is sailing a good ship. They have several games per week, in the name of charity, hosted all around Chicago. Visit their website to learn more about their upcoming events, including WPT and WSOP qualifiers. These are great events for beginners, as there are low limits, cheap tournaments, and many learning players.

Finally, if you plan around rush hour, the casinos are a viable option. My personal choice is Trump Casino in Gary, IN. Trump was actually just purchased by Majestic Star, the sale is finally at the first of the year. We'll have to see what changes, if any, occur. If you're in the western suburbs, Hollywood Casino is your only option. I've never been there, but I hear t'ings...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What's the Worst Online Poker Room?

This week I vote for Man, it sucks.

I checked it out because I heard that 1) the SnG tournaments were better, giving you 1500 chips to start (instead of 800 on PartyPoker), and 2) you could create your own private tournament table. The first is true, and in fairness, is far superior to other online poker sites. The second, however, is not true. There is a menu item for creating a private table, but only works for ring games, and is grayed out for tournaments. A search in PokerRoom's online help revealed assistance with private ring games, but may no mention of private tournaments.

Now having more starting chips is great, but the gameplay is really bad. First of all, you cannot see what blind level you're in, nor how soon blinds will be going up, from the table. If you have the lobby open in the background, you can go through the list of tournaments in session, find yours, and see what level you're on (i.e. Level I, II, etc.) You cannot see what that equates to, or how long until they increase.

Second, the graphics are fancy and 3D-looking, so they stand out, but the text is in a bad font and really small - white on black. That makes it very difficult to read the chat/dealer info window or more importantly, to see how many chips your opponents have. Sure, the information is there. Absolutely. My complaint is that the visual aesthetic is so poor that you need to work to look for the chip counts on a regular basis, rather than your eyes stumbling across them easily, as is the case with the others (Pacific,, Party Poker, for example).

The interface offers you the ability to rate players using a colored dot (green, green plus, green minus, yellow, yellow exclamation point, red). You can assign descriptions to these markers, but apparently those descriptions sit in a file on your local machine, not the server. I typed each of the six descriptions in, only to find them absent from my interface when playing on another machine.

Finally, my largest complaint, it is A LOT of work to actually muck your cards at the end of a hand, whether you're laying down a hand to a big bet, or after you've lost a showdown. There are global preferences that can be set to auto-muck your cards. They don't work. I set this option to yes, and went to a tournament table. I got called on a big raise on the river, and wanted to quietly muck my cards. I got the message "Do you wish to show your cards?", even though I had checked auto-muck. I was shown a single response button - "Yes". I didn't want "yes", so I waited (there wasn't a "no" button). After less than a second, my cards were shown to the table. I was card dead for the rest of the tourney, and no one ever laid down their cards to my raises. This continued to happen to me.

I tried the software on a second machine. I changed the Auto-Muck setting to off. Now I was presented with two buttons, "yes" and "no". One must check the "no" IMMEDIATELY (less than a second, seriously) or the cards are shown.

Another artifact of this failed "auto" feature is that I was asked if I wanted to show my cards at the showdown without the software having revealed the hand's winner. This may be intended to emulate live play, but has two problems - 1) I've never seen it before, and there was no explanation. Would my hand be dead if I say "no"? If I wait and my opponent shows winning cards, do I still get a chance to muck? How long does it wait before making a decision for me? Will it be the right reason. Oh... and, um, 2) This causes players to inadvertantly slow-roll their opponents all of the time. How rude.

In summary, I'm going to cash out (or go broke) soon, and take my online fun elsewhere.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Updated Chicago Poker Club Logo

Well, I've finally finished the updated Chicago Poker Club logo. And I like it. It doesn't look as good scaled down online, but I think will look pretty good on the 1000 new chips I just ordered from Mr. Poker Chips.

If you click on the logo, you can see a picture from the back of the chip, full scale. That should give you a clearer picture of the Chicago skyline.

If you look closely at the cards, you'll see that one is an Ace of "Sears Tower" and the other is a Ace of "Wrigley Building". I thought that might provide a nice little Chicago touch. Let me know if you'd like image files in order to promote our site, or for your own custom chips.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Is Jennifer Tilly the Greatest Female Poker Player in the World?

Actress-cum-poker player Jennifer Tilly just finished winning back-to-back titles. First, she won the Ladies No Limit Hold 'em Championship at the World Series of Poker. Then, she won the WPT Ladies Night III title.

Is she the best ladies player out there? She's definitely very good. She plays a lot of hands, about 50% of the hands at the WPT final table, actually. She's aggressive. And she seems to get away from hands where she's badly beaten.

There are a lot of very good female poker players out there. Kathy Liebert is playing excellent poker. Mimi Tran gets a lot of respect, and a little bit of TV time. Poker hotties Clonie Gowan and Evelyn Ng are very good, as is Annie Duke, sister to poker pro Howard Lederer.

Jennifer took town five other talented players at the WPT final table, one amateur and four accomplished pros, including my new favorite - Isabelle "No Mercy" Mercier.

Jennifer is on a role. She's the current ladies World Champion; she's the current Ladies WPT Champion. What's left?

Only Phil Laak knows for sure.

Monday, October 24, 2005

You're as Cold as Ice!

So cold. Brrr....

I can't win. I don't mean a tournament, I mean I can't win a hand. I've played five online tournaments in the last 24 hours. I should say that I've played the early minutes of five online tournaments. I also played two live tournaments last Friday night.

In the first live game I had two memorable hands. When I was at or near the chip lead, I called an all in bet on the button. The raiser had QQ and I had AA. He caught a Q on the turn and took half of my stack. Twenty minutes later I was trying to battle back and found 10-10 on the button. Somehow I got two callers to my all in - they were A-2 (what?!) and 5-5. A deuce came on flop and another on the turn, I got knocked out. In the second game it was down to three players, and I was probably tied with another player for second. I ended up all-in against the chip leader with top pair and a good kicker on a non-threatening board. The caller had second pair, but paired his kicker on the river to knock me out.

Tonight, I found AA, A-K, and A-8 on consecutive hands. Not bad! The blinds were 15-30 and I raised just to 80 the first two times. Everyone folded. The third time I made a big deal about raising only 2.5 BB, partially to talk everyone into thinking I had a monster. Again, everyone folded. Hmmm... super tight table. I played A-J aggressively four hands later, and ran into KK. Three hands after that I was super short stacked with A-K. (I know incredible cards! I was serious when I asked for bad cards.) I induced someone to raise me all-in, and gladly called. He showed Q-J. So, the first card off was a Q, and his pair held up to knock me out in tenth place!

I'm getting great starting hands. I'm playing only premium hands. I'm playing observantly, and pretty well after the flop. I'm getting killed.

I'm retired.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mouth's Mouth Gets Him in Hot Water

"I didn't throw nothing at nobody."

In case you didn't read about it back when the Main Event was being played... In case you didn't hear about it on Phil Gordon's WSOP Podcasts... In case you didn't watch this week's WSOP coverage... Mike "the Mouth" Matusow's big mouth got him in trouble... again.

This guy is almost as much fun to watch as Phil Hellmuth.

Mike was irritated with a hand, and he flipped his cards into the muck (the discard pile). His speeding cards skimmed the finger of the dealer who called over a floor person to complain. Mike explained that he was merely throwing them into the muck and that he didn't throw them at anybody.

The floor accepted Mike's answer when the rest of the table backed him up. As the floorperson left, Mike whispered something to a player to his right, and quietly dropped the "F bomb", a violation of this year's WSOP rules. The dealer eagerly called the floorperson back over, and Mike was assessed a 10 minute penalty. He needed to leave the table for 10 minutes. In defending himself, Mike dropped the bomb several more times, landing himself 40 total minutes of penalty.

Yeah Mouth!

Without giving too much away, for those of you watching the WSOP without prior knowledge of the outcome, the penalty did not seem to negatively impact Mike's finish.

Best Online Poker Room?

What do you think? Which is the best online poker room? Why?

Do you play at multiple rooms, or prefer to focus your time and cash on a single room?

I've been playing Party Poker for a long time now. I also have played at Pacific Poker, (good promotions), GamesGrid, and Fabulous Poker (back in the day). Party Poker has a full selection of games, tables are always full, they run regular promotions, and the competition is beatable. My only real complaint is that you cannot set up private tournaments (though you can set up private ring games).

What do you think?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Deal Me Bad Cards, Please!

Friday night I played in a local "home game" tournament, known as Ali Babba's Monthly Hold 'En tourney. There were close to 160 entrants - hence the quotes around "home game" - and 14 places were paid. I finished #14, and got the last money spot.

I was pleased as punch at finishing in 14th, not because I got paid - because it was a very small profit for 4 hours of work - but because of how I played my cards. Here's the thing, in 4 hours of poker I did not once get AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 10-10, 9-9, or 8-8. I never got A-K, suited or otherwise. I got A-Q once and A-J twice. What the hell did I play? I'm not sure, actually. I mostly played my blinds and some suited connectors. I played the three aforementioned hands, a pair of sevens and a pair of fives (which I lost with).

With 15 players left, I was at just under the average stack for my table, but blinds were very high in relation to stack sizes. I had to push all edges. Inevitably, I got unlucky, losing two coin flips and doubling-up two short stacks over four hands. Then, stuck in the small blind with 1 1/2 big blinds left, I was forced to go all in. The big blind caught an inside straight on the river to send me home in 14th.

Over the course of a full tournament, I didn't get dealt a single "group 1" hand, and I finished in the top 9%.

The lesson here? Root for bad cards.

Sure, it's great to see big pocket pairs and "big slick" from time to time, but it also can get you into a heap of trouble. How many times have you bit your cheek after making a big pre-flop raise with QQ or JJ and then you see an ace and a king on the flop? How about catching an ace on the flop with big slick, and then losing to two pair - aces and nines, or something equally painful?

If you don't get big starting hands, you don't overplay your starting hands. If you limp in with suited connectors, and you flop a flush or the nut straight, you know you're probably way ahead. The question is how to extract the most money without allowing your opponents to catch up. If you're four to a flush or straight, you have some choices, depending on your opponents and your position, do you want to try to take it down right away, or do you try to make a pile of cash when you eventually hit your monster?

Perhaps this is an extreme point. Sure, you'd rather get Aces and Kings every hand, and then dodge the few scary boards. But, in the absence of loads of great cards, you have to focus on digging treasures out of your garbage. Last Friday I could have been featured on the Antiques Roadshow.

Friday, October 14, 2005

World Series of Poker - Main Event

ESPN's coverage of the World Series of Poker Main Event began this past week, finally. Hoorah!

Despite my criticism of their coverage on some of their earlier broadcasts, THIS is the way WSOP coverage should be. We've got all the personalities - Jennifer Harman, Greg Raymer, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Sam Farha, Chris Moneymaker, Dan Harrington, and Rober Varkonyi. Celebrities Hudson, Toby McGuire, and Shannon Elizabeth.

We've got the commentary of Lon McEachern and Norman Chad. Which, as you already know, I enjoy tremendously.

And we've got no shortage of great hands, bad beats, and early eliminations of great poker players.

So far:

  • Daniel Negreanu gets no love on the board. Despite playing what appeared to be excellent poker, he got knocked out on the first day.
  • Jennifer Harman and Oliver Hudson (brother to Kate, and son of Goldie Hawn) lose their opening hands with made full houses. Oliver gets knocked out by Sam Farha's bigger full house (sick!) and Jennifer loses most of her chips to a straight flush on the river (so sick!)
  • Men the Master, Chris Moneymaker, Chris Ferguson, and whom else? are knocked out on Day 1
  • Phil Hellmuth shows up very late. Surprise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hold 'em Poker for Advanced Players

I just got Hold 'em Poker for Advanced Players in the mail today. I'm looking forward to improving my Limit Hold 'Em game.

Have you read it? What do you think?

(end post)

Monday, October 10, 2005

I finished 11th out of 10?

I played in a "single-table" SnG at a Rockford Charitable Games event the other night. "Single-table" is in quotes because, as some of you may already know, they seat 12 players at a SnG. The buy-ins of players 11 & 12, become the house (i.e. charity) funds.

Twelve people at one table is ridiculous. The blinds start at 25/50 and go up every 15 minutes. The blinds had doubled by the 4th hand, and by virtue of having been in the blinds, and limped in from the SB, I was already down to 9 BB by the time I found myself with QQ in late position. The table checked around to me, and I put in 4 BB. I knew this was a borderline play with 9 BB (or an M of 6, as Harrington would say), but I needed to get something going in these odd circumstances. The big blind called, and the board came 5-9-K rainbow. This is why I didn't want to commit half my stack.

The big blind, who had won two big hands already, put me all in, and then glared at me. Everything about his body language said that he didn't want a call. He was on the edge of his seat, leaning toward me. He was staring me down - hard. His cards were messily plopped on the table, not a habit that would imply he was protecting a whopper. He was the big blind, the big stack, and a bully. I called off the remainder of my chips, and he showed me a K-Jo.

I was out of the SnG in 11th place. I thought, "that seems like a record". Then I remembered, someone just went out in 12th.

Despite a couple of misstakes on my part, I felt pretty confident that I had read my opponent correctly.

My questions are these:
What was my opponent's body language telling me, that I missed?

What types of behavior do you look for at the poker table?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

WSOP Coverage Short on Poker?

This year, the World Series of Poker has recieved more television coverage than ever before. Every Tuesday evening ESPN airs two one-hour episodes back-to-back. There are 42 events in all (not including the circuit events), and about a third have their final tables on television.
Nearly 15 WSOP events televised, and I'm not satisfied.

How can that be, you ask?

The WSOP televsion coverage is short on poker.

First of all, there are 9 players at a final table. Sometimes Lon McEachern will merely mention, "Joe Blow and John Doe were eliminated in 8th and 9th place, and here are the seven players we have left..." I understand, it's only a one hour show, and the final table can take hours.

But that's just it.

The show is only an hour. Perhaps I'm spoiled by the WPT's two hours of actual poker, but why can't ESPN do that? Why don't they use the two hour time slot for a single final table. Then, they can play the other event's final table in the wee hours of the morning, left for only serious poker diehards, people with Tivos, or both...
Then, there's this horrible habit of not even showing the entire hand in which someone gets knocked out. To me, that's simply not acceptable. They'll come back from commercial break to say, "In this hand, already in progress, Dave Smith needs a heart, or he will be eliminated." If ESPN had a heart, they would at least give Dave Smith the 3 minutes of air time that his hand required, as he's eliminated from a final table at the World Series of Poker.

Perhaps the most irritating omission are the tournaments that aren't even broadcast, or worse, squeezed into another tournament's tv time slot. Johnny Chan set an all-time World Series record by winning his tenth bracelet in a Pot Limit Hold 'Em event. It was aired as an "oh yeah, by the way" moment on the broadcast for another tournament. The winningest WSOP poker player of all time, setting the record, and they can't even air the final table on its own broadcast!? I don't get that.

What they did do was air a No Limit Hold 'Em final table (won by Farzad Bonyadi) and frequently cut over to Johnny Chan's final table. Oh, did I mention that they also frequently cut over to the Ladies Event final table (won by Jennifer Tilly)? Three tournaments, one hour. Come on!

Wait. I'm not done. When they weren't busy showing the No Limit Event, the Ladies Event, and the Pot Limit final tables, they took time to show Mike Matusow, Eric Lindgren, Robert Williamson, and Ted Forrest play ping pong, air hockey, card toss, and compete in a spelling bee as part of a proposition bet.

ESPN, do us all a favor, pick a horse and ride it.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Lord Admiral - AJ Under the Gun

On Sunday, September 25, Cincinnati Sean and Brent Stacks of Card Club on Lord Admiral Radio discussed a hand situation on their weekly show. It was the evaluation of a scenario that their friends, and fellow Lord Admiralites, Headhunter Mark and Evan the Terrible faced in a single table online tournament. They asked the question, “how would you play it?”

Mark and Evan were acting as one, with four players left at the end of this tournament. They were comparatively short stacked – the short stack - with 1400 chips left. Blinds were 100/200 and Sean implied that there were $25 antes, putting $400 in the pot before the first action. That also means that it costs them $400 for every turn around the table.

They are sitting under the gun, and wake up to AJ unsuited. What should they do?

To me this is a simple decision. A no-brainer, as they say – no harm intended.

First, what is the objective? In my mind, there is no reason to ever aim to just “cash” in a one-table tournament. If this was a $10+$1 buy-in, they would need to finish in 3rd every single tournament just to stay in the money. Cash one, and lose the next, and you’re in the red. Just cashing every time isn’t realistic. Against 9 opponents, you want to win. In poker, as in investing, we usually make decisions for the long haul, not for the immediate result. Trying to win tournaments is where it’s at. Not merely making back your initial investment plus pocket change.

Armed with that in mind, our question should be “how do we win this tournament?” Well, you’re not going to limp into first; you need to accumulate chips - and fast.

Mark is a big proponent of Dan Harrington, and so am I. Harrington on Hold ‘Em Strategy for No Limit Tournaments books are maybe the best strategy books for this type of setting ever, so I’ll refer to them. The second volume is all about end game strategy. It is a fairly extensive analysis, so I won’t attempt to recap the whole thing here...

However, I will talk about a variable that Harrington (and Paul Magriel) calls ‘M’. M is the ratio of your remaining chips to the total of blinds and antes. Much like the Department of Homeland Security, Harrington labels your status into color-coded zones. With an M of less than 10, you’re in the orange. With an M less than 5, you’re in the red, the dead zone. Our friends Mark and Evan have 1400 chips, or an M of 3.5 – 1400/400. However, when you are down to a short-handed table, the blinds come along a lot faster. Where you might get 9 or 10 hands per cycle with a full table, here you only get 4. To calculate your effective M for a short handed table, divide the number of players remaining by a full table 9 (or 10 for simplicity). Mark and Evan have an effective M of just over 1.5! They’re dead! What’s more, they’ll be in the big blind next hand, and the small blind immediately thereafter. They need to move now.

A-J is an excellent hand in this position. It is a significant underdog to only four other hands AA, KK, QQ, and JJ. They have an Ace and a Jack, so AA or JJ are very unlikely. They need to push now for three reasons:

  1. The first to act advantage, also called “First in Vigorish” by Harrington, or described by the “Gap Concept”, often described in Sklansky books. Basically, it takes a better hand to call a raise, than to make a raise. Your opponent needs a very good hand to call an all-in in this situation. You could take it down without a fight. If you push less than your full stack here, there is little threat to later callers, it’s only a small raise from a small stack.

  2. You probably have the best hand. If you get called, and win, you double-up, giving you a few more chances to wield a stack that could hurt an opponent.

  3. You may have the worst hand, but only be a slight underdog. Even to a medium pocket pair you’re only a 13-10 dog. If you improve and win, you’re back in the hunt. You need to get lucky, but not that lucky.

If you don’t raise all-in, but instead make a standard raise, you’ve depleted any power of chips or first in vigorish. You need to make the best hand to win. If you see a bad flop and get out, you have no weapons left. Your next hand is the big blind. You’re last to act pre-flop, and you have no chips. You’ve lost a third of your strategy. What’s more, your hand will almost undoubtedly be worse than A-J, now you’re forced to win with a lesser hand, destroying another third of your strategy. All you have left is luck.

In this case, Mark and Evan’s opponents had two of the four hands that could really hurt them, AA and QQ. The odds of that happening? Dare I say astronomical?

Here they probably would have lost by making the best decision. But over time, the right decision will reap major benefits.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Going after the big fish!

I just finished playing two Sit 'n Go (SnG) tables on Party Poker. In the first, I finished sixth after waiting and waiting for a starting hand, or for a place to make a stand. Eventually I was forced into acting with the worst of it, and got knocked out.

The next game, I made some early moves and accumulated a few extra chips. For the entirety of the game I was somewhere between first and fourth in chips. At the end, I put Harrington's End Game strategy to good use (more on that in a future post). I ended up winning the Sit n' Go, and taking the big prize.

What strikes me most is the inconsistency in my results. I'll come in 6-8 place one game, and then win the tourney on the very next game. I do this regularly. Really, the only thing that IS consistent is my inconsistent results. The erratic play of my opponents at low levels makes it difficult to make estimates about how my opponents will react to my actions, or even to ascertain if they're watching my movements at all. Even so, the path to the cash is to go where the big fishes are. (continued...)

Some people swear by a super tight strategy in these SNGs, and they do have a strong argument. Generally it's a good idea to play these bad boys pretty tight, and then, when the crazies are gone, start playing your game. That's all well and good if you ever get cards, but some times you just don't get them. You can't simply wait to get blinded away round after round. If you do that, when you finally do get a hand, you won't have the chips to make a stand. You can push all-in with pocket Aces, but if you can't raise more than 3 or 4 big blinds, you'll somewhat regularly get more than one caller. Even AA is only a little better than 4-1 against 10-J heads up. Get in against two callers, and you may not even be favored in the hand. What about pocket 10s against K-J offsuit? Your only a 13-10 favorite. Is that what you want to rest your tournament hopes on?

In these online SNGs, and even in Brick & Mortar casinos often, the blinds start relatively large compared to the blinds. Moreso, the blinds raise so quickly that you're really in trouble if you don't find cards for awhile.

What's the answer? I say, it's a combination of playing your strategy with skill, and getting lucky from time-to-time. Sure, I know this isn't profound, you need to get occasionally lucky in well structured tournaments. But here, you need to get lucky a bunch. I don't mean that you need to suck out on your opponents, I mean you need to get playable cards.

The really important part of the strategy requires understanding how to play the game when the table gets short-handed. How many chips do you have relative to the blinds (and antes, if applicable)? How many chips do you have relative to your opponents? When you have less than 8 or 9 BBs, your choices are fold or all-in. That's it. No call, no raise 3x BB, all or nothing.

Finally, understand your objective. You aren't trying to just get into the money. You are? You shouldn't be. These games are just too erratic. If you barely cash, you're likely to lose it back in the next hand, and you'll be in the red.

You need to win more than twice your buy-in to stay ahead in these. If you buy-in for $10+1, and you win $20, you're only up $9. It costs you $11 to play another tourney, and you need to finish in the money every game just to stay ahead. If you want a profitable venture, you need to play for the win, not the cash.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fish & Chips?

Watching this year's WSOP, one thing is very, very obvious: everybody and their mother is playing hold 'em, the record turn out for the entrants this year is only matched by the ratings for these events being televised. Home games are exploding and there are officially more poker blogs and podcasts than you can shake a stick at.

It's amazing to watch the renaissance of poker unfold before our very eyes. For the experienced & skilled, there's been a lot of money on the table just waiting for you to take it from fishes like me.

It seems like we're at the point now where people are getting good; hold 'em strategies are more available, discussed & digested then they ever have been and the "easy" money isn't as easy as it used to be. So where will the new "easy" money come from?

ESPN is doing us a favor by raising the awareness of non-Texas Hold 'em poker games. Omaha in particular is familiar and comfortable in most of its rules, but very different in strategy for a Texas hold 'em player looking for a new drug.

Those that get ahead of the curve in games like Stud & Omaha are not only doing themselves a favor by becoming a more rounded poker player, but have the potential to ride the tide of the next generation of poker players paying for Omaha lessons at the table; or just a chance to take your friends for a ride in a "dealer calls it" round in your local game.

It's amazing how a fairly accomplished Texas hold 'em player can be confounded & confused that he must play "two and only two" of the cards in his hand and scream and yell that he has a straight while holding K,Q,9,5 with 2,3,4,6,J on the board, only to lose to a pair of J's made on the river. But then again, entertainment is where you find it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Booooo... Party Poker

I'm having a rough night. I've played three tournaments, and a total of five hands.

The third tourney, first hand, I pick up KK in middle position. BB is 15, I raise to 90. These tables can be so loose, and I don't want 2 or 3 opponents. I get one caller, and then someone re-raises all in.


Well, I can't get away from Kings at an internet card room tournament.I've seen too many monkeys try to steal a pot with pocket fours by over-betting the pot.

I call. The other caller - he calls. Yep. He calls. Three of us are all in. I turn over KK, the middle caller turns over AK suited, the re-raiser turns over AA.

One hand gone, two players out. One player triples up.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me...

Other times I can barely see.

I just played a single table tournament on Party Poker. Oooooh, Party Poker. (I guess the marketing is working.)

I got sick cards! I mean, really good. I was playing uber-tight for the first few rounds, and getting no cards. I won a couple small hands, and was in third place without ever "getting involved"

Then, I picked up pocket Jacks and raised. A small stack re-raised me. He was all-in, and I was really priced in to call. I was just hoping he had AK or AQ, or maybe was desperate with a middle pair. He had AK, and my JJ stood up.

The very next hand I got AA in the big blind. After a raising war, it was clear the button wasn't going to give up his hand. I pushed him all in, and he called. He, too, flipped over AK. He didn't do anything crazy to suck out, and I was now the huge stack.

For the rest of the tourney I got sick cards...

I bullied, and when people stood up to me, I showed them the best hand time-after-time. I did lose one big one. I had a full house, sevens full of sixes, and lost to four of a kind - sevens. Oops.

So, I won my $10 tourney, and made off with $50.

A few days ago, I had a session at Trump. Well, 59 minutes of a session. I had the worst luck in cards, and lost $300 in under an hour. I played 10-10, AK suited, AQ, and AJ over the course of 59 minutes. None of them held up. Not one. When I finally busted out, it was with AK of spades. I lost to a J-3 of hearts, played out of position, called without odds fours times, and made a flush on the river. I had made trip kings with the ace kicker, and donated my bankroll.

How come luck seems to be so tilted in one direction or the other? Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me, other times some guy sucks out with Jack-three!

Your typical city involved in your typical daydream. Hang it up, and see what tomorrow brings. I guess that's the only solace.

Lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it's been.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Any good Poker Quotes?

Originally this post was going to be called Norman Chad is on Fire, but that required more research than I have time to invest.

In past years of WSOP coverage, I have found Norman Chad to be rude and obnoxious. Sometimes he's arrogant, sometimes falsely self deprecating. At times he's totally out of line, other times, just plain wrong. I guess what I'm saying is, I'm beginning to like the guy.

At first I was thinking, "oh, this guy's gone." I mean with the poker boom, they could get a bigger name and more recognizable face. I don't mean Gabe Kaplan, I'm talking about a Craig Kilborn or Keith Olberman type. But Norman Chad is just getting better and better.

It was a Pot Limit Omaha tourney that completed my swing into the Norman Chad fan club. It was aired first about two weeks ago. There was a string of hilarious quotes directed at third-place finisher Ron Graham. The guy was wearing an absurd accountant visor, and really looked hilarious. Chad's final quote set me over:

"During the summer I interned for the mafia, I'm pretty sure I saw this guy in the accounting department."

It probably doesn't play in this forum, but if you've seen the episode, you know what I'm talking about.

Here's another Chad-ism:
"It's so quiet in here you can actually here Phil Hellmuth thinking to himself, 'I am the best player at this table'."

What's your favorite poker quote?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Making a Big Bluff - Flopping the Nuts

Well, I guess my cold spell is over. Actually, it was so brief that I really probably just come across as a complainer, and not a cabable poker player facing a string of bad cards. Ah, well... so be it.

LT and I headed to Trump Casino in beautiful Gary, IN. I really wish I had a picture of the "arch" that you pass under to get to the Buffington Harbor riverboats, but I don't, so this photo of Trump Casino Hotel will have to give you a feel for the glamor that is Buffington Harbor, home of Gary, IN casino riverboats. I think the hotel looks like the offspring of a Howard Johnson and a Hardees.

I finally got smart and called ahead for seating. When we arrived on the floor, two adjacent seats were waiting for LT and I at a $200 max NL hold 'em table. I sat with LT on my left, which was great. I know how he plays, and I knew that was better than having some random player immediately on my left.

Playing BAD Poker
Four hands in I got K-K in the big blind. There were one or two limpers, in addition to the button and SB, when the unraised action got to me. There was $25 in the pot, and I raised it to $20. I thought this would put me heads up, but against two players I would jam the pot on the flop, assuming no ace came. Action folded to the button who called. The SB said "I was going to fold, but if you're calling, I'll call." I actually believed him when he said this. Sure, I'd watched him play 4 hands of poker in our mutual lives, but I knew he was being honest to his emotions.
The flop came down 10-6-4 with two hearts. It was checked to me, and I bet about $50, enough to take away the pot odds to draw a flush or straight for either of the two remaining players. The button folded and the SB pushed all in. Effectively he put me all in.

Had I thought about it for more than 15 seconds, I probably would have realized that I was beat. My first instinct was "he doesn't have 10-6 or 10-4, would he have slow played a pocket pair out of postion?" In retrospect, he probably would play 4-4 or 6-6 like that. And then he'd make a set or fold to a big bet. Well, he didn't, but that would be likely, and I should have folded. I thought "maybe he has an open ended straight or four-flush". That was possible, depending on his aggression level, but I just sat down, and probably should have respected his raise.

I called, then winced when he turned over 10-4 off. That sucked. I was surprised to see those two cards, but with all the money in the pot when he was the only one left to act, perhaps it was a good gamble. Another $15 in exchange for making a great, disguised hand. It worked. But this isn't a story of making bad decisions and paying for them. Oh no. I sucked out on him. I caught a king on the river to make a set of kings and took down the $370 pot.

For the next hour I played horrendously. I thought about that hand for awhile, too long, and just generally played bad poker. I shed off all of his chips, and a good chunk of mine.

The Trump moved me to another table, as they're prone to do, and I played tight, solid poker for the next three hours.

Here are two highlights:
The Big Bluff

I played a hand in middle position with 8-10 clubs. I flopped the open-ended straight draw (OESD) - J,9,5, two suited. The BB made a decent-sized bet, and one player folded to me. I called without the pot odds, but relying on some implied odds to justify my call. The turn came another 9. The BB made a bigger bet, and I smooth called with nothing but my OESD. The turn cam another five, and the board had made two-pair, and I was just playing the board. The BB thought about it and checked to me. I was pretty sure that he had a Jack with a big kicker, and I knew I was beat. There was at least $150 in the pot though, and I couldn't win unless I bet. I thought about how I had played, and considered that I had actually been representing a nine the whole time. If I made a "value bet", he would believe I had made a full house and surrender the pot. I bet $50. He thought about it, grimaced, and said "your nine is good", while mucking the pot.

Confidently, I raked the pot. I had made another move towards becoming a decent poker player.

Flopping the Nuts
An hour later, I played my last hand of the day. I knew I was about to get up, as LT was ready to go, and I would have to "pay time" (the $7/half hour charge for the table) on the very next hand. I had a Q-10 off in middle position. I wasn't playing these cards, as I had tightened up earlier, but didn't see any harm in limping. The big blind bet made it around, and we got to see a flop with 5 players - this was certainly unusual for the table.

I closed my eyes and said to myself "Ace, King, Jack, three-suited". I opened my eyes and found Ace, King, Jack, three-suited. Holy crap! Prayer works in poker!?

An early player bet $15, I smooth called, as did two other players. The turn came 6s, putting two spades on the board. No need to get greedy, I thought, there's plenty in the pot. The first player bet $35, I raised to $100, and everyone folded. I took down the pot, racked up, cashed in, and headed back to Chicago.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Is physical attraction a mental distraction?

Let's say you're staring at a pocket pair of aces and a sweet honey at the table decides to stick with you after the opening round of bets. It's just the two of you. She's dressed scantily and even has that glitter makeup thing going around her eyes. She bats them at you. Makes an inappropriate comment that in legal circles could be construed as sexual harrassment in the workplace. What happens to you? Are you off your game? Do you let up thinking if you destroy her, she will rescind that generous offer she just proposed? Do you decide from that point forward you will be adding one more pre-game ritual to your repertoire?

Favorite ESPN Poker "Celebrity"

You know we're all watching ESPN's broadcast of the World Series of Poker, so who's your favorite player? Are you an old-school Doyle Brunson fan? Do you dig the shenanigans of Marcel Luske? Is seeing cute Annie Duke at a poker table your undoing? What about uber-geek Eric Seidel?

For me, I enjoy good theatre and who provides that more than Phil Helmuth. He maybe an overbearing ass-clown, but he makes for good television.

If I had to pull for a player though, I'd root for humble Canadian Daniel Negreanu. To me he is the David Spade of poker...he looks like a little weasel and somehow has a receding hairline at 25, but the kid has ability. You don't win as much as he does without da skillz.

So what says you?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Running Cold

I had an unbelievable August, as poker is concerned. First of all, I got to play live on 4 different occasions. That is a feat in and of itself.

There were two weekends in Atlantic City, once in Detroit, and once in Northwest Indiana.

Secondly, I won. I won the majority of my sessions. Three out of four live trips were positive, and so was every online effort, including two cashes in single-table tournaments (STTs). And when I lost, it was controlled and small.

As soon as September started, and I mean immediately - just after midnight September 1 - my trend took a turn. I began getting killed in online games. I got knocked out of the two STTs in 10th (of 10) and 9th place. Not because I was reckless, but because...

I couldn't get cards. And when I did get cards, and got my money in with the best of it, I would get sucked out on.

I made another visit to Trumps last week. I sat at two different NL tables (insignificant story as to why they move the players from one table to another). At the first table, I think I played two hands that weren't priced in, in the blinds. I really only got two playable hands, based on position - relative to the button and relative to the aggressors and bettors.

The blinds were 2-5. I got A-K on the big blind, and the button raised to $15. There were two limpers already, and the button left to act. I made it $40, and got two callers, including the original raiser. The flop came 5-A-5. This was very nice, I made two pair with the best kicker. Also, with the board paired, there were less cards for my opponents to pair. My only fear was that perhaps someone played a suited A-5, but the sandwiched caller was unlikely to flat call the $40 bet with A-5. The button may have aggressively raised with it, and called my re-reaise hoping to luck out, but I felt it unlikely. So I made a good size bet, the player to my left called, and the button doubled the bet. I called his raise and the third player called too. The turn was a blank, and I checked to the aggressor, waiting to gauge his reaction to two callers. He bet again, only a small bet, which reeked of wanting two callers. I thought about it, and decided I was beat. He could have A-J or A-Q, but he could also have pocket fives. Ace-five was also beginning to feel likely. I layed down big slick. The other player called the bet. The river was another blank, the caller checked, the bettor bet - maybe $80. The caller called. Sure enough, the button turned over A-5. He had flopped a full house! I saved my last $110, but was not happy.

Later, I got two Queens in the big blind. I had waited and waited for a big hand, and finally got it. There were already five limpers when it got to me, and I decided that I would be fine with $25 profit and avoiding a flop based on how I'd been running. I raised to $50, and got one caller. The pot was now $120. I thought the caller must have a suited Ace and gambling problem, or a middle pair and a gambling problem, or somehow figured he could trap 6 people from the button. I couldn't imagine what he'd call with. Especially since I was playing super tight, and had already committed half my stack. The flop came A-A-4. There was $120 in the pot, I only had about $60 left. Either my opponent lucked out to have one (or more) of the two remaining Aces - a distinct possibility - or I had him beat badly. I pushed my remaining chips in and he turned over A-10 suited.

I cried and cried. Well, not exactly, but I did pull my wallet out and handed over a few more dollars.

The rest of the day pretty much went like that. I probably took down two or three pots without showing my cards. Otherwise, every hand I played was the best hand pre-flop and less than the best hand post flop.

So, I'm curious, how long do these cold streaks run...?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Ace on the River

Have any readers read Barry Greenstein's Ace on the River (featured on our sidebar) yet? I'm curious as to whether or not it's good reading.

Barry is often called "the Robin Hood of Poker", as he's a very wealthy and successful poker player who donates all of his tournament winnings to charity. His widely considered an elite (top 10) player, and is a regular participant in Doyle Brunson's "Big Game".

But can he write?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Worst Beat You've Ever Taken?

I'd be curious to hear everyone's "bad beat" stories. No matter how much time passes, it seems we cling ot these more than any other stories. I cannot remember a good joke, for the life of me. I can't remember a good campfire scary story, or even my ex-girlfriend's telephone number (talk about a bad beat), but I remember losing my ass at poker.

Tell us about your bad beats here on the Chicago Poker Club blog, or head over to the Chicago Card Club Discussion Forum to share.

The Bad Beat that always comes to mind for me took place at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

I had sat down at a $1-2 NL Hold 'em table with about $200. There were about 7 or 8 players and I was playing extremely tight. After about 25 minutes, I hadn't played a hand, and look down to find Q-Q while sitting in middle position. Two players folded to the big blind bet of $2, and I raised to 5 times the BB, or $10. One late position player called, the button called, and everyone else folded. There was $33 in the pot.

The flop came 2h 4d 8s. A perfect flop, no flush draw and no real straight draw. The button was an aggressive player with a big stack, so I decided to leave the betting to him. I was first to act and I checked, the first caller checked, and the button bet $20. I check-raised him to $60 with my overpair. The sandwich player folded and the button flat called. I was sure I had him beat. There was $153 in the pot.

The turn was the Js. There were now two spades on the board, and though I didn't think my opponent would have played the way he did on a flush draw, he could have loosely played an As 4s, but I highly doubted it. I couldn't imagine what he had, but I thought pocket nines or tens were most likely. Anything else he would have raised pre-flop (like Jacks or Kings) or folded after my check-raise on the flop (like 10-J or A-K suited, wouldn't he?) If he was playing something foolish, like two unpaired spades, or a suited 9-10 or 10-J, I needed to take away his odds to draw to a flush (about 4-1 against) or inside straight (11-1 against). I bet $100. He called. The pot was $353. I had $30 left.

The river was a Kc. The first overcard. I couldn't imagine he was on the draw. At this point I was sure I was beat, and he rope-a-doped me, or he had foolishly overplayed a smaller pair (including Jacks, which would have made a set on the turn). Odds were that I was beat, but every dollar I had, save for 30, was in the pot. I wasn't going to fold, nor was he. Maybe I should have checked for the possibility of saving my last $30, but I dejectedly threw them into the pot. He called. There was $413 in the pot.

I flipped my Queens. He turned over the two of diamonds and the four of hearts. He had made the two bottom pair, after calling my pre-flop raise with one of the worst 10 starting hands in Hold 'em. He must have put me on two big cards, based on my playing style, and called me down, knowing that I was beaten the whole time.

Four of hearts, two of diamonds. $413 pot.

How about you?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

You Can't Win 'em All

Our friend Paul over at Card Clubs, host of our discussion forum was kind enough to host a Freeroll tournament over at Games Grid Poker for members of the Card Clubs community.

We had 86 players, and a great time. Paul and I went out back to back, with me finishing in 36th place. I have never played in a tournament bigger than 20 players, and now I see the challenge. I was truly card dead the whole tourney, save for the first hand. I had pocket queens, opened for a nice raise, and ended up collecting the blinds. Every pot I won after that was a complete bluff. After that, I didn't get a level 1 or 2 hand for the rest of the game!

As the blinds went up, I began to get increasingly desperate. I floated around my original chip stack size of 1500, until I couldn't really steal anymore. I tried a couple of times, and was successful about 1 in 4, a losing proposition over the long haul. Eventually I had to make a move with a small ace, and was beaten by pocket nines that mad a set on the turn. Oh well, maybe next time.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Trump Trumps Resorts

I went and did it. I played at Trump Casino in Gary, Indiana after complaining about the place and their filthy chips.

I was heading back from Detroit and passed right through Casino alley. Temptation got the better of me, and I stopped at Resorts Casino. I make it sound spur of the moment, but I actually got up at 5:30am (4:30 Chicago time) to give myself a few hours to stop, and still get back to Chicago around lunchtime for some semblance of a workday.

At 9:30 the Resorts room was dead, save for one full table. It was 9:30am, what do you expect? I could wait for a 5-10 limit game, the full table, or wait longer for a NL table to be seated. I'm a decent limit player, but not great... I would guess 5-10 typically has better players than 2-4 or 3-6, so I figured it to be a losing proposition. The no limit table was a $50 min and $200 max buy-in with $5 and $10 blinds. How is the max buy-in 20 big blinds!? That makes no sense.

So, I got back in the car and drove around the bend of Lake Michigan to Trump. 10 minutes after arrival, they seated 5 of us at the first no limit table of the day. I bought in for $200, the max, for a $2/$5 blind structure. That made a little more sense. One guy bought in for $50-80 at time, and did so 5 times in two hours before eventually leaving. Weird.

I played for three hours and had a good session. I'm still thinking about one hand in particular. I was in the cut-off (seat behind the button) with Q-Q. There had been 3 limpers, and the blinds were left to act. I raised to $25, larger than my typical raise, but only by $5 or $10.

I got 4 callers.

I raised 5x the BB; I'd been playing tight for 3 hours; I got 4 callers. So, 5 of us saw the K-8-5 flop. It got checked to me, but with four other players calling $25, someone had to have a king. Also, the button had been quiet, but called my raise so fast I thought his hand was going in with his chips. So I checked. The button checked.

The turn was another King. This might've been a great card for me, but the player to my right bet $50. There was $127 in the pot already, but I felt like the bettor might have a king. He was such a tight player I couldn't imagine he would bluff into 4 opponents. I thought about it for a full minute, then mucked. Everyone folded, and he took it down.

Did I play this hand poorly? In retrospect, I think I did. I definitely should have bet the flop. Had I done so, I may have taken it right down. If not, either the turn bettor would raise me, and I'd know where I was in the hand, or he would bet into me on the turn, and again, I would be more confident of where I stood. I took a super-tight stance, and it may have cost me the pot. What do you think? I'd be interested in your comments.

In the end, it may have been an okay thing. I ended up winning about $300, called it a morning, and went home to get some real work done.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Motor City Casino... Motor City Letdown!

Perhaps this should be a Poker Road Trip blog. I seem to be writing as much about poker in other cities as I do about poker in Chicago. Well, in fairness, there isn't any casino poker in Chicago, so what are you gonna do?

I went to the Motor City Casino in Detroit today, just for a few hours. My grandfather's in the hospital, and after a nice, long visit, my grandmother and I needed a diversion. She navigated and I drove to Motor City - for the last time.

It was a Tuesday afternoon; I was supposed to be at work, or at the least, working. I had an excuse, I figured, and I'd spend tonight catching up. But something struck me, why are the rest of these guys (and they were mostly men) here playing cards? Are they pros? I learned that they probably weren't. Do they work non-traditional business hours? Yeah, probably, I guess. But 2pm on a Tuesday?

Anyway, the gameplay was funky. First, there's no rake, but rather a $6/half hour charge for playing. I've heard of this, sure, but never experienced it. I didn't like it, at all. In part because it made me want to rush my tablemates and myself. Mostly, though, because there were a couple of very loose aggressive players at the table. I had to tighten way up, as they raised almost every hand pre-flop. That meant that there were several half hours where I didn't play a hand. That means $6, plus $5 a round, to watch poker. "Five dollars?", you ask. Yes, they had a funky blind structure. The two players left of the button each posted $2 and the dealer posted $1, for a total of $5 of forced bets. Two or three players liked to straddle when eligible, putting $9 in the pot before it got back to the straddler's all-in. ;)

I was card dead for the entire session. I saw one A-K (diamonds and clubs) and raised $10 pre-flop. A loose agressive player made it $20, and we saw the flop. Q-J-5 two hearts. He bet out $50, about the size of the pot. I believed that he could've come in with A-Q, A-J, K-10, QQ, or JJ based on watching him play for the prior hour. I simply couldn't call off my chips with two overs and a gut-shot straight draw. He had me beat, or at best had the 11 outs to beat my Ace high. The way he had been playing, all of my chips would have to be committed to this hand to see a showdown.

Other than that hand, I got zero pocket pairs, no A-K (suited or otherwise), and no A-Q. If I played Hellmuth's top ten hands, I would've played one hand and lost.

I won one hand all session. I limped in on the (second, ha!) big blind with K-3 off. I flopped two pair and it held up. Then I shed off all of my winnings and another small chunk of change before retiring.

My comment as I left the table: "Well, this isn't happening for me, gentlemen. I guess I need to go find a real job." Chuckles all around.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Chicago Poker Club Shout Out on Lord Admiral Radio!

How cool. Cincinnati Sean, co-host of Card Club on Lord Admiral Radio, gave us a shout out on their show this week. How cool is that?

You'd better start listening, if you're not already. You don't know what you're missing.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Game One: 9-to-1 Odds

Game One of the Chicago Poker Club was a success last night. I don't just say that because I won the whole dang thing, though I did, but because it was a good time for all.

We expected a turnout of 6 or 7 people, and we we were faced with a tough decision when an eleventh player showed up twenty minutes into our tournament. The first player was knocked out about 45 minutes in, and elected not to rebuy. We decided to let our newcomer buy in as though he was the guy who just got knocked out. Not a perfect system, but accommodating nonetheless.

I had a rough start. I tossed in a few too many chips early on a hand that believed myself to be ahead, until the turn. The table was extremely loose early, so protecting top pairs and other made hands was nearly impossible. Several hands later, I was dealt pocket Kings. I raised about 6 times the BB and got 4 callers! The flop came three small cards. The betting came to me after two checks, and I made a big bet, maybe the size of the pot. I got two callers! There were no straight possibilities and no flush possibilities. On the turn, a Jack of the fourth suit. Still a very safe board. I made another large bet, and got one call and one fold. I couldn't imagine what the lone caller had - a set? I believed her to be the loosest player at a very loose table. Even so, I was sure I was beat by two pair or a small set. She didn't raise a single bet. On the river I checked and she checked. She took down the pot with a set of fours.

We were less than a full rotation in and I was already the small stack. For the next 25 minutes I pushed every margin and every decent hand. I was determined to double up twice, or bust out before the re-buy period was over (after the third level of blinds).

With 5 minutes to go in the third level, I found myself with about 60% of my original stack and pocket fours. I made a big raise pre-flop, and got 3 callers. My raises didn't get as much respect at this point, based on my aggressive play over the previous 20 minutes. The flop came 2-3-3. Amazing! I had pocket fours, and had the overpair after the flop. After a bet and call before me, I pushed all in. I knew this was quite risky, but I would accomplish my objective. Either I would double up, or I would bust out and rebuy while I still could. Johnny G called to my left, and the other two players folded. John turned over a 3-x, of course. I was dead to two outs. I think that means I had about a 9% chance of catching my card on the turn or river.

The turn came... a four! The river was a blank, and I doubled up.

From here on out, I feel like I played pretty solidly. I must admit, I got better cards than I usually do, and I pushed them.

In all, the tournament went almost 6 hours, which was too long for the size of group we had. I would like to see an 11 player game finish in 4-4 1/2 hours. We didn't have the luxury of our Tournament Director Software this time, and it usually does a great job of keeping us on a solid schedule. Around 1 am there were still 4 players left. Four tired, cranky players. By 1:10 there were three remaining, and we were all happy to be in the money, but still tired and cranky. By 1:45, it was over, and I was crowned the first Chicago Poker Club champion.