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?