<$BlogRSDUrl$> Poker Comic - Tales from the felt & stage
The life of a New York City stand-up comic and amateur poker player - where two worlds collide.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Knowledge without comprehension

I've been getting a good amount of responses about our home game thru the internet, but it seems like not many can commit on a regular basis. We have several new players though so I'm confident we'd be able to get a game going. This past week's game was in jeopardy with two cancellations at the last minute but fortunately, we had three come down late and were about to play a short 2-3 hour game.

As usual with my low-limit play, I ended the night down only $1 and Rob came out the big winner up $60. I enjoy playing live much more than online, but these limits are so showdown-oriented that you can play almost while on life support. It's profitable for sure, but it takes a long boring time to grind out your wins. That's the plus with online play as you can play two tables at once, both seeing twice as many hands as you would live. It's a faster profit there.

No-limit cash tables, from my recent play on PokerStars, seem like much more juicier games. The WPT and WSOP coverage made the abbreviation "NL" the most enticing to new players. They say "I can play just like the guys on TV!". Inexperienced and under-read, there are a TON of people diving into this high-risk world and filling the pockets of even the marginally good players. While limit poker is a very mechanical game, bad players don't stand to lose too much money, at least not very quickly. No-limit is another beast and solid, experienced players will break these newbies in no time.

This past weekend, I tried out the Queens game with the $100 max buy-in NL table. NL cash is my strongest game and I'm very confident in my abilities, but expected to have much stronger competition than I am accustomed to. Normally not a pessimist, but I went in to the venture willing to lose up to $200 to test out the game.

The setup there was very nice - two professional ten-handed tables, custom clay chips, kem cards, etc. There was plenty of food and drinks also for the taking. I was very impressed. Only one thing shocked me. I was one of the oldest players there! College kids and high school students comprised the biggest portion of the clientele, but there were several people even twice my age there. This was the game I was afraid of? I thought "maybe these are really smart kids and they play really well." I never judge someone's talents based on their age, so I wasn't going to take the competition lightly until their play revealed itself to me.

I played for several hours, typically playing nine-handed, with others playing 3-6 limit on the other table. Right off the bat, I see that this is not the type of game I'm used to playing at PokerStars. Usually it's pretty passive and it's rare that players bet enough to protect their hands. I'm able to play pretty loose, hit flops and try to bust opponents with a very aggressive image. This was not the case here. The game was extremely aggressive with a lot of overbetting. It was pretty common to see pots over $100.

I knew I had to play extremely tight, especially since I didn't know much about the players at the table. In didn't take me too long to realize who I was up against - very bad players for the most part. There were maybe one or two good ones though, yet was confident that I was the best by far. It was unbelieveable what hands people were playing, of course, no one even caring much about position at all. I remember seeing someone raise early with KTo, re-raised by Q9s and then both going all-in pre-flop. There were players calling huge pot x 2 bets with draws, not even to the nuts. People playing K2o, 43s, 97o, etc. Players calling pre-flop raises cold with K9o. I was appalled at the play.

With the play so loose and aggressive, I hunkered down and used my patience and discipline to my advantage. I pretty much was playing only Sklansky group one and two starting hands and almost nothing in early position. Pre-flop limpers were commonly picked off by large raises in late position, so I knew I had to be the one in the pot first, open-raise or fold. I enjoy trying to bust people playing suited connectors, but I threw almost all of them away not cold-calling with 98s. I was well aware that players were making improper raises with hands such as A9o, KTo, QTs, etc. but I wasn't going to risk a lot of chips not being sure they actually had a proper raising hand. I wanted to know I had the best of it. There was one player making HUGE bets, sometimes with nothing, sometimes with the goods to back it up. He was still part of the flock in loose play, so I was looking for him to make a move when I had a real hand. Striking fear in most minds, his play worked very effectively at times.

I used my tight image to my advantage. Showing strong hands when I won pots, I was able to take some small ones in situations like having AKo with a low flop. I'd have the best of it nine out of ten times, but was able to steal some chips when I didn't. I received several compliments at the table from others on my tight-aggressive play and was sure that everyone thought I was the class of the game.

I won my biggest pot off a time the maniac pushed all-in at the wrong time. I raised $10 early with KK and got three callers. The flop came 9-5-3 rainbow. I bet $20 second to act and the maniac pushed all-in behind me. Two players folded and I called. He turned up 98o, didn't catch anything and I took home about a $300 pot.

The odd part was that several of these "kids" actually had a good deal of knowledge of hold'em - at least they know how to talk a good game. I can almost pity players who lose tons of cash playing every flop and chasing cards to the river, but not ones like this. It's amazing to see someone that knows about the importance of position raise with 66 UTG. It's appalling to see someone that understands the relative weakness of AJo call three bets cold pre-flop with it. It's like they've read all the books, but don't incorporate much into their play. This I cannot pity.

There's a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. This game isn't about impressing your friends or poker playing comrades, it's about making money. If you want to accomplish this, you must be very disciplined and use the concepts you've read. I ended up +$125 for the night and will be going back there on a regular basis.

posted by Jordan  # 12:32 PM

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Good at poker, bad at deal-making

I've said it many times and will say it over and over again - playing poker is about making money not winning big. Adding to this logic proof, making correct plays will make you money. If you put it all together, people that make the correct plays will make money. It is such a simple concept, but many poker players don't seem to understand it. There have been many times I've seen a fairly bad beat taken by my friends at a table and they start to question their decisions.

Friend: "Jordan, should I have done something differently?"
Me: "You made the right move there raising on the turn with your set."
Friend: "I saw two suits on the board and had to make anyone pay to beat me."
Me: "And they did. You made pot odds horrible for the call."
Friend: "But I lost the hand."
Me: "He's the one that made a mistake. If you make that play all the time, you'll profit."
Friend: "There's no way I could have won that hand?"
Me: "You made the right play and got sucked out. What are you supposed to do - make the wrong play?"

These types of conversations seem to be the norm when dealing with intermediate players - ones that are well-versed on the strategies, but not high on confidence. The opposite is true with players that are doing the sucking out - the gambler types I was talking about in an earlier blog posting.

Short-term results can certainly skew a poker player's mind. Only the disciplined ones can take these outcomes with a grain of salt. You call a raised pot with an flush draw knowing you're up against top two pair, spike it on the river and take it down not thinking of the horrid play you've made. You've just taken the pot, so why worry about the call? If you're not able to see how this is a negative EV play every time you make it, regardless if you do hit it this time, you're not a good poker player period.

Winning sessions in the short-term from what I've seen probably makes a bad player and even pretty good ones very delusional about their status. They'll raise UTG with T9s into a field of solid-aggressive opponents, call a raise, bet out on the flop with second pair, make trips on the river and run down KK. The few times this actually works out will never help this player understand the error in his ways. They'll come up ahead in the session and believe they were playing very well. Little do they know that they're delaying the inevitable truth and go broke.

Most players always analyze their play after a losing session, but rarely after a winning one. Get in the habit of going over your play regardless. I consider a good session one that I make all the proper decisions even if I come home in the red. What else am I supposed to do but make good decisions, play badly?

I went to my normal Queens game last night - $100 buy-in NLH tournament, we had 7 players. It's never a tough game, but the field was particularly softer than usual and was only worried about two others at the table, the rest are a piece of cake. I like this game a lot because the starting chips are fairly high and the blinds increase pretty slowly which is definitely an advantage for a skilled player. In addition, I had an optimal seat at the table with two tight players behind me and two loose-passive players in front. UTG the first hand, I was dealt KK. I'm going to do well tonight.

I got involved in a good amount of pots early, usually not my style, but I was getting good cards. My stack was going up and down a bit, avoiding the stronger players and getting the calling stations to bleed their money to me. Unfortunately, one of these calling stations was catching lucky and built up a commanding chip lead over everyone at the table. I figure it wasn't going to last.

Two hours later, the field was reduced to five and I was slightly short-stacked, but still within the pack. Normally I don't go after Terrence being he's the only player capable of reading me well, but I managed to get in a confrontation and an interesting hand. We both were in the blinds, I had 6s8s on the SB. As usual, the game was very soft pre-flop with a lot of limping in, so instead of my normal raise-or-fold attitude, I limp in and call. I did this the round before with AA and trapped him when he raised on the BB, so I'm not expecting it again. He raises 300. I'm not going to give in to him now, maybe I can bust him with my 68s, so I call. The flop comes down 10s8c3s giving me second pair and a flush draw. Normally, I'll bet this hand right out against a weak player, but I'm not going to waste chips if I'm getting trapped, I check. Terrence bets 300. I consider this a pretty weak bet from him and he usually bets strong if he hits the flop, especially top pair or overpair with a draw on the board. I think the best he has is a small pair under 10. Now I take the lead semi-bluffing and possibly even having the best hand now, I raise 800. I know Terrence respects my raises, especially check-raises and knows I avoid him unless I've got the goods. After a minute to think, he folds. On the ride home, he said he had KsQs, so I was very happy he laid it down with two overcards and any spade having me beat.

Terrence ends up bowing out shortly after on a very bad play on his part. Having QQ, he raises and gets called by the chip leader calling station. The flop comes Axx and the chip leader bets out strong. Terrence goes all-in and is called showing a weak ace. Against a different player, this move might have worked, but when a calling station like that bets out, he'll have the goods. I'm not fond of him calling an all-in re-raise with a weak kicker, but you have to expect a play like that from him.

Soon thereafter, we were down to three players and only two spots pay. The chip leader had a commanding lead with about 20000, while a stronger player and myself were hovering around 4000. I'm very good short-handed, so I was planning on stealing some blinds from the other short stack and waiting for cards to take some money off the chip leader. At this point, the leader was in every hand and betting strong, which is a good tactic, but he's not a strong player at all, so I figured he thought he had plenty of chips to bluff at every pot. For this reason, I purposely got out of the way when the other short stack raised pre-flop.

I did get myself in a confrontation that I should have avoided against the short stack, raising on the SB with 55 and getting called. The flop came low seemingly with no help to either of us, so I bet strong, almost half my stack. He raised me all-in. At this point, I didn't like the fact of being crippled if I folded, but I had a good read that he had an overpair and was severely dogged. I fold and now my stack's at about 2000.

With the blinds at 400/800, I couldn't wait to catch cards to double up. I never like being blinded past 1/2 my stack, so I play aggressively with at least the chance of stealing the blinds. The next hand I try this with A3s and called by the chip leader with A9o. It doesn't look good for me. Amazingly, I get a flush draw on the flop and spike it on the turn. I'm back in business.

I do a lot of blind stealing on the SB after the chip leader folds and end up with a bit of an edge over the other shorter stack. Then that stack goes all-in with 33 and gets called by the leader with J5s. It's ends up being a coin flip, but what a bad call. A five hits on the flop again on the turn and I'm happy to see him go out, but wait! A three comes on the river and he doubles up.

I flop a set a few minutes later and take some more chips off of the leader. Then the shorter stack goes all-in again pre-flop with 22 and gets called by the leader with 77. Both players flop a set and then unbelievably, the leader spikes quads with another 7 on the turn. I'm in the money, but short-stacked about 4-1.

I ask if he wants to make a deal, but obviously with such a big chip lead, scoffs at the idea. He's been playing this weekly tournament and never had made the money, so I was thinking maybe he'll take his profit and run. After throwing some hands away, I raise on the button with 88 and called. The flop comes 10-7-2 mixed suits. He bets 2000 and I'm almost positive he doesn't have a ten or an overpair. I go all-in and he calls with Q7. I dodge a seven and queen and double up.

I offer a split-even deal and he says to count the chips. He's in the lead 16000-12000 or so and offers a 400-300 deal in his favor. I say that we're practically even and it should be 350-350. He doesn't budge. I know that I'll be able to take him out heads-up, but with his aggressive play now, that may take a long time and it's already 3am. Terrence is my ride and I know he needs to be up fairly early in the morning as do I. If I take the deal, I end up $80 ahead of second place and figure with these variables, although I'm a much better player than him, one mistake can lose it for me. I take the deal. I lived up to my mantra - winning money is more important than the big score.

Tonight's our 2-4 home game and should do well this week. Saturday, I'm going out to a game in Queens in the afternoon. A guy hosts 2-3 tables, either 3-6 or $100 max buy-in NLH. It sounds pretty juicy, so I'm going to take my Tuesday winnings and check it out.

No PokerStars play the past few days, but I see they're now offering cheap rebuy tournaments now. I prefer a freezeout structure, but maybe I'll give it a try.
posted by Jordan  # 1:30 PM

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The Larchmont Crapshoot Tournament

I've been talking to many area home players around the NYC area, so I've become friendly with a ton of people and now have the inside scoop on all the hosted games taking place in the area. I prefer these opportunites over casino play for two reasons:

1. The games are usually weak and very friendly. You won't find much scum playing at home games, typically these are people eager to learn more about the game and genuinely love poker.

2. The limits are low enough for my bankroll and there's no rake. Playstation's lowest game is 4/8 and their time charge is expensive. Driving to a casino is way too costly with transportation and the 3/6 tables there will increase my variance so high I wouldn't be comfortable playing on my current bankroll. Home games are typically 1/2 through 3/6 and with no rake, they're beatable.

That said, I was invited by a guy in Larchmont to play in a $50 buy-in NLH tournament he was hosting at his house. Terrence & I made the trek to Westchester with nothing better to do that night and the ride wasn't bad at all - 45 minutes. The other people there were all from the area and apparently that long of a drive is considered somewhat crazy to travel for a home game.

We arrived first and our host was pretty new to the game and sought our advice on the setup and structure of the tournament. Considering myself a very skilled player, I seek for these events to have the max available in starting chips and the blinds increasing as slowly as possible. Unfortunately, he was planning on 20 minute levels and did not have much on the chip end to satisfy eight players giving us only T3000 each to start.

I was told beforehand that several of the people coming were pretty new to the game of Hold'em and another two have been playing in a wild weekly tournament game down the road for a while. I expected loose play early, lots of limping in and not that much aggression - similar to my Queens game on Tuesday nights. Of course, I didn't know the play of anyone at the table besides Terrence, so I planned on a much more conservative style early so I could read the play of the new faces - then pounce on them.

It was an odd groups of characters that night, from young to old. It was a pretty nice table we were playing on, but it had built in racks and everyone was playing their chips out of them, of course slowing the game down considerably. I was the only one stacking my chips on the table. I like keeping a good count on my stack and where I stand at any time, plus it was faster and be more intimidating if I build a good chip lead. We drew high-card for seat position and was happy to see Terrence two seats to my left, putting me on the button or cutoff when he was in the blinds. I know he's able to throw away hands on the BB and only going to call my raises there with good hands. He knows I will be relentless heads-up against him, both knowing eachother's style and always be out of position against me. I planned on taking advantage of that situation, yet cautiously because I know he's more than capable of playing right back at me.

My strategy going in was in tact, playing conservatively early and reading the table, although not really my choice anyways since I was being dealt a multitude of horrible starting hands. Unbelievably, the play was very tight around the table and the limping in was kept at a minimum - almost every hand was open-raised by someone. This is very impressive from relative newbies. Aggression though was not too high and very little plays were made resulting in a minimal amount of showdowns. This made it a big challenge for me to properly read the opposition.

I was dealt a lot of weak aces in the early stages, usually out of position and unplayable, yet I made some late raises with the suited ones and took down some blinds in the process. With the play being so tight, I decided to loosen up a bit and make some raises like it was a short-handed game. KQs early. A9s early. KT on the cutoff. 66 in middle position. I would be able to take the blinds sometimes, but was called on occasion leaving me out of position against one player - a seemingly tight calling station. Of course, I would miss the flop completely and either folded to a flop bet or one on the turn. I couldn't afford to risk a lot of chips on an single overcard semi-bluff with the high likelyhood of being called.

The blinds went up as planned, but two hours in, no one was eliminated. This left us in a crapshoot situation. The blinds were so big in comparison to our stacks that a minimum raise would leave most of us pot-committed. The calling station though built up a good enough stack not to be in such a situation, not the person I wanted with the lead. I know I'll have to get good cards or catch lucky to pry some chips from his stack. It got to the point that there was minimal, if any, post-flop play. Players would raise all-in, either trying to steal the blinds or double up. I was dwindling down in chips, about T2200 left, when this hand came up:

I was on the BB of T800 when the button, a fairly aggressive player and loosest at the table, raised another T800 with the small blind folding to me. I peek at my cards and see AJs. I was pleased and not pleased at the same time. I like making the first raise with that hand, but hate calling with such cards. I thought for almost a full minute on my action and was almost convinced he was making a position raise and overplaying his cards. I call giving myself only T600 left. The flop comes Q-6-2 mixed suits. I check. He amazingly checks behind me. I know he has nothing. The turn is a J. I go all-in. He calls, saying he can't let me steal the pot and flips up K8s. I double up.

In retrospect, I made two incorrect plays in that hand. If I thought he was making a position raise and attempted steal, I should have went all-in at that point pre-flop and likely taken the pot right there. Since I didn't do that, my second mistake was not going all-in on the flop. I wasn't aware that I was actually ahead in the hand at that point, but I needed to make an attempt to steal the pot since I was probably going to call his likely flop bet anyways. If anyone's reading this, would you consider this all to be a proper assessment?

The entire tournament I was being dealt a whole lot of ridiculously bad starting hands - 84o, 72s, J3s, K5o, 95o, etc. I didn't have much to play with and did the best I could with the little I was getting. At this point now, we're down to 4 players right on the bubble and the blinds are big enough that a minimal raise would put me all-in. I planned on taking either the hand on the button or the next UTG and going all-in. With a short stack, I never go all-in forcibly on the BB when I have a chance of taking blinds by raising. The first hand - 63s. Nope. The next hand - A3o. All-in. The player on the button thinks for over one minute and goes all-in over the top. No one calls and he flips up QQ. All this time I thought he was going to fold, but actually just considering raising or not. No ace hits and I'm out.

The eventual winner almost an hour later was the "calling station". He was catching enough good cards throughout the tournament to call and win, so I guess there wasn't much anyone could do about it. I could have fared better if I would have picked up on the tight play earlier and become more maniacal and aggressive with my marginal hands. I'm figuring if we meet up again, the play will be different.

I haven't had much time for PokerStars recently, but played a bit over the weekend and was drawn out on a few times on big pots putting me -$30 over the period.

I'm not sure if we're going to the Queens game tonight, but I may attend the meetup.com gathering in the village otherwise. I've been meaning to go to one of them, but with the Queens game, I'd rather play the game than just talk about it.
posted by Jordan  # 11:41 AM

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Luck vs. Skill - Players vs. Gamblers

Regardless of the skill needed to play, I have always considered poker to be a form of gambling. While regular casino games like craps or roulette have a finite negative expectation, poker does not suffer from these mathematical downsides. As long as you're a better player than most at the table, poker is a positive expectation game and inevitably profitable. Of course, the rake comes into play when in a casino cardroom, but at the right limit, it is beatable.

Luck never encounters my mind when playing poker. People that believe in superstitions and say "I hope it's my lucky day" before sitting down at a table are never going to become good poker players until they release these false notions of fate. The vague state of being "lucky" can only exist on one single event at a time. Will I hit my flush draw on the river this hand? Mathematics say it will happen once every 4.5 times, but in this lone situation, it is pure chance that it will occur just this time. This is the only version of luck I believe in.

Unless you plan on playing only one hand of poker your entire life, this "luck" means absolutely nothing. In it's basic form, poker is a game of probabilities and odds. Players simply look for opportunites that the money paid off is greater than the odds of winning the hand. It's a $40 pot and a $5 call with your flush draw - that's 8-1 for a 4.5-1 call. Of course you stay in here. The key is that it doesn't matter if you get paid off now or later. As long as you make this play each and every time, you will make money. On the other hand, if the pot is offering you a 2-1 call on your flush draw, you should be folding this hand every time. Each time you call with these odds, you will lose money regardless if your hand hits RIGHT NOW.

This attitude is the difference between a poker player and a gambler. Poker players tend to approach the game with a proper long-term strategy, learning the mathematical nuances of the game and how to adjust tactics based on the opponents playing against them. Gamblers, on the other hand, usually approach the game on an extremly short-term basis looking to profit as much as possible as quickly as they can. These attitudes typically have nothing to do with the person's knowledge of the game. There are plenty of patient, studious players that play so "by the book" and so passive that they can never win. On the contrary, there are plenty of gambling types that are very well-read and knowledgable, but are too caught up with the "thrill" to play smartly.

In the past few months of playing live games with friends and home games, I've either found complete novices or big gamblers. Besides Terrence, I was never scared of being outplayed by any opponent. As most pros say, you will make more money of the mistakes of others and not the brilliance of your own play. Play tight, aggressive straight-forward poker and dominate these loose mistake-prone opponents. Of course, your variance will be higher per session due to the amount of suck outs you're likely to encounter, but still profitable in the long run.

It is absolutely amazing how these "gambler" types have no sense of logic. Some are just plain stupid and stand never to get better at the game, but others are fairly intelligent, understand the game, but fail to care about playing correctly. These players look more for the big score than making small profits incrementally. Several of these types I play with currently go down to Atlantic City and play 6/12 and above on a fairly minimal weekly job salary. They scoff at my "grinder" attitude when I talk about my 1/2 adventures online at PokerStars. They revel in the fact when they come home ahead $800+, although usually are losers and constantly broke or close to it. On the other hand, I'm able to withdraw $100+ a week on a regular basis playing these low-limit online games looking to steadily build a bankroll and move up through the ranks.

This positive expectation reality has changed my view on all forms of gambling. Before I was well-read on poker, I would go down to Atlantic City once in a while to play blackjack and craps. I had an understanding about the casino edge on all bets, playing back strategy blackjack and being a pass-line/come bet craps player, but now I see I was wasting my time with these small negative expectation games. Poker is the only "casino" game for me. Until you realize the difference, you'll never become a good poker player.
posted by Jordan  # 9:52 AM

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Friday, November 14, 2003

That's low-limit poker alright

Playing at a full-tabled ring game at lower limits can be a frustrating experience unless you understand the nature of the game. Most people end up cursing the world when their great starting hands get beaten by loose players calling two bets cold pre-flop with cards like 64s. Good players end up going on tilt, chasing with marginal hands even though they know better. It is key that you don't fall into this trap.

Last night, our hosted "Dillon" game was a lesson in low-limit hold'em. Amazingly, we had a full game going, eight-handed, although Rob was no where to be found until he walked in the door at 9pm. It would have been a kick in the ass to be no-showed by someone who lives in the house! We had four new players this week, all of which I enjoyed their company. It seems like my posting online brought us good people and they all look like they'll be joining the game regularly.

It was stereotypical low-limit poker with flops coming four ways and tons of showdowns at the river. The deck was completely running over Pete, one of the new guys. He'd play practically every pot and either would hit the flop hard or catch his winning card on the river. A very typical loose calling station that rarely was seen bluffing, but he didn't need to with the run he was on. Every time someone else had top pair, he had bottom two pair. If you had trips, he made the belly buster straight. It was "unreal" as they say. It got to the point that Pete was apologizing for the hands he had. The whole night, everyone was making jokes how this was a setup, I was dealing seconds and anytime the flop came, someone would yell out the two cards making the nuts and point to Pete.

It takes a different approach playing games like this. It becomes more of a money & odds affair and not hand domination. The type of game that Gary Carson writes about often. Someone made an early position raise - of course, there are 3 callers. I already put in $2 on the BB, what's another $2? Calling a raise on the flop with only one overcard and a backdoor draw with two players yet to act, sure! I have a good deal of experience playing these types of games online, but Terrence doesn't, so he was a bit shaky at the start. I'm very proud of him for limiting his tilt factor and adjusting, building his stack back to almost-even by the end of the night. I know he's going to be a good player the more and more he plays.

I was playing my typical no fold'em game strategy, only playing top starting hands in proper position and always dumping weak kickers. My tight table image served me well as I was also able to make a few isolation plays. I either want a draw to the nuts with a big field or position against a lone opponent and hit the flop in some way. I used my check-raise on the flop tactics with top pair hands a few times, either to make draws pay, slow down the betting and to show the new guys that a check doesn't always mean weakness. If that will buy me some free cards in the future when needed, it's worth it to me. Against the calling stations, it was strict fit-or-fold and I never even thought of semi-bluffing, especially into a field, let alone a single adversary.

Occasionally, I was able to break out some higher-level strategy, but that was usually after a strong pre-flop raise going heads-up or three ways against Terrence or Mike from Queens, one of the new guys I believed played with a keen grasp of fundamentals. I think the three of us were the only ones to ever fold to a raise on the BB. David C, a young new guy, I was very impressed with. He's pretty much a complete novice to Hold'em, but I could tell he was a smart player because he was very tight. I usually respect beginners who have a grasp on starting hand values, although they tend to play too weak.

I probably came off as a weak-tight player to the new guys, since I was always willing to fold to a bet on the flop or a raise on the turn. That image is perfectly fine with me in this type of game. My pre-flop raises typically got respect, eliminating most of the field when I needed it. I was also able to use my tactical moves on the flop when I wanted certain results and destroy pot odds for players behind me.

I profited a big $3 for the night which could have been more, but Pete sucked out on me a few times. He ended up being the big winner by a ridiculous margin, profiting almost $250. I'm positive that if he comes often enough, he'll be giving that money back and then some. I was glad to see David C come out only $9 in the hole, a small accomplishment for a disciplined beginner. Overall, I was very happy with the game, the people and the play.

Terrence and I are both probably going to Westchester tonight to play in a home game one-table NLH tournament through one of the guys I've been talking to online. He says that most are kitchen table recreational players, so they're going to be easy targets playing NL.

No Poker Stars yesterday, but still waiting for one of my withdrawals to clear. I haven't gotten a good job for months, so any money I can get my hands on is wonderful.
posted by Jordan  # 10:28 AM

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Thursday, November 13, 2003

There's always players online

Running a home poker game is a much more daunting task than many believe, although it's not too hard. Finding committed players each week is the single most time-consuming mission of them all. The actual physical running of the game is a piece of cake in comparison. It's not too difficult to buy some beer and pretzels an hour beforehand, exchange money for chips and deal the cards. Surprisingly enough, many people don't even like going through the hassle of doing even these simple things.

Getting people to actually show up for the game is the biggest dilemma. I've got a roster sheet of a nice 20-25 players from friends, collegues and local recreational players I've spoken to online. Usually a ton of people are interested in playing each and every week, but when it comes down to the day of the game, we're always at risk of it being short-handed or cancelling the game altogether. I can understand when something happens unexpectedly in your life and it is obviously more important than a home poker game. You're broke, have to work late, the wife needs attention, etc. This is all fine and dandy with me. It's the people who you'll talk to several hours before the game saying "I'm down, dude", then never show up and don't bother to even call.

I'm just ranting a little here. I'm the type of person who's always committed to events and if I say I'm going to be there, I'll be there. I guess you can't expect this type of etiquette from everyone.

We're hosting the Dillon game tonight (hence the rant) and have 6 total confirmed as of now. That's one better than last week at least. I've been getting a lot of responses from my listing on homepokergames.com and Poker Meetup, so I hope within the next few weeks, we'll always have a full 8-handed game going. Our problem has become that several of our friends are too broke to play 2/4, others find that low of a limit not even worth it. For live play, that level is perfect for me and my bankroll. This is why I enjoy playing home games, since cardrooms rarely have limits that low and even when they do, the rake is so high, it's completely unprofitable.

I've been invited to a home game tommorrow night in Larchmont. It sounds like a very profitable venture as I was told that most of the players are practically complete novices at Hold'em. It's been advertised as 2/4, but the game may be voted down to 1/2 or even a small buy-in tournament. In either case, I don't mind - either they'll be weak-tight or complete calling stations. I hope Terry is down for going since I don't have a car, but maybe I'll take the train up there. I'll see how well I do tonight and then decide if I want to spend $15 on transportation to get there and back.

Poker Stars last night for 2 hours...played .10/.25 NLH, +$14 for the short session.
posted by Jordan  # 10:00 AM

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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I'm the T.J. Cloutier of the Queens game

The main reason I don't like tournament play is that there's a much greater short-term luck factor involved - you need to catch cards, hit flops and have hands stand up at the right times. Cash games are a long-term proposition as good players will always profit over bad players on a steady and eventual basis. If the blind structure and starting chips are optimal, single-table "satellite" or "SNG" tournaments can be very profitable for solid players. They can dominate weaker opponents in NL play making it very hard for poorer players to win unless they catch lucky. It's a decided advantage, but being dealt hands like 52s and 95o all day make it very hard to do.

This was the case last night in Queens. Hands like 64s and Q2o were coming almost every shuffle. I was dealt several small pairs early, but was never in position to do much with them. I was able to limp in 2-3 times with these 44's and 66's, but the flop always brought me at least two high overcards. Occasionally, I had something like KQs or ATs but it showed up usually when I was UTG or facing an early position raise. I'm usually able to improvise a bit with marginal hands when I have position on opponents, but every time I was thinking of making a play, I ended up with too many calls or a raise in front of me. Compounding the problem, a very weak calling station was chipping up early with lucky flops, so it made it practically impossible to outplay her. She ended up forking over most of her chips by calling everyone down, but unfortunately I never had a hand to be the recipient of many of them.

My tournament style warrants tight, conservative play in the early stages until it's four-handed (only the top 2 places pay), then applying a more aggressive stance. Short-handed NL play is one of my specialties, so I aim for a lot of heads-up matches, raising in position with strong to isolate a single opponent. If not, I take my good speculative hands and try to see the flop cheap - fit or fold.

My best buddy Terrence bowed out first on a fairly bad beat. On the button, he flopped a set of 7's with an ace and two clubs showing. Four players check to him and he bets out a nice-sized 400. Everyone in the field calls. Blank on the turn and it gets checked around to him again. With the pot at 2400, he goes all-in for 2650. Three players fold and the marginal chip leader calls showing K4 clubs. The third of his suit falls on the river and Terrence is eliminated. I believe he made the right move here and obviously the draw didn't have anywhere close to the right odds to make that call. Against bad players who don't understand the concept of pot odds, this will happen.

An interesting hand came up a little later bringing the most action, including a three-way all-in call on the river. The marginal chip leader and the shortest stack both flopped a straight. Our medium-stacked calling station flopped a set of 6's. Everyone slowplayed their hands until the end. Little did the straights realize but two 3's came on the turn and river giving our calling station a full house. Big stack goes all-in, calling station and short stack calls. I was happy seeing all those chips go over to the weak player, but hoped I'd actually get good enough hands to play against her stack.

It finally got down to four players and I was surviving with about 3000 in chips (4000 starting). One of the stronger players was hitting flops and built a very big chip lead over the table, so he was now playing aggressive, raising almost every hand he was in pre-flop. I still wasn't see much, but the two other players at the table only had 5000-6000 in chips, so I didn't push it, hoping to possibly survive and back into second place unless I was dealt adequate hands. With the blinds up to 150-300, I started to attack the blinds with marginal hands. I was able to take a few or flop a good hand against the calling station and built my stack up to 5000.

The blinds go up to 200-400 and our massive chip leader is gradually bleeding us away. The only problem was that the other two players weren't going away. I was down to 3000 at this point, 2nd shortest stack. Here's the hand I lost my chance of placing on. I hope I'll never make this mistake again. I'm in the SB with K2o and it's folded to me. I call the BB, the short stack. Flop comes 6-4-2 with two spades. I need pots at this point and I know the BB player won't call a big bet with second pair or just two overcards. I bet 1000. He thinks for a few seconds and raises all-in, 1200 more to me. He's picked off a couple of steals I've tried throughout the night, so I know he's capable of making a move like this as a bluff if he senses weakness. I'm thinking he's making a semi-bluff here - he's got at least one overcard and a flush draw. I figure if this is the case, we're pretty much 50/50. I can't let 1/3 of my stack go over to the short stack when I'm just looking to survive to make 2nd place. I call and he shows me T6s of clubs. He's got the top pair on the board and the draw. I've got three outs now. Damn!

After that bad call, I'm down to 1150 in chips, looking to go all-in UTG with any above-average hand now that the blinds are 300-600. I get dealt 63o - looks like whatever hand I get next is it. The massive chip leader raises 500 UTG and I make it 675 all-in. I've got K6s which I wasn't too disappointed in since it was better than 80% of the hands I was dealt that night. Chip leader shows JJ. The overcard doesn't hit and I'm out in fourth place.

Played on Poker Stars after work at Terry's place for an hour-and-a-half showing him how easy the .10/.25 NL cash games are to beat. I've been playing these tables exclusively for the past week or so and I'm making three times more per hour than at 1/2 limit. It's amazing how little people know about fundamental poker concepts, especially in NL cash games.

--- everyone limps in and never considers position.
--- pre-flop raises are too small, usually only doubling the .25 blind.
--- no one bets enough to protect their hand.
--- people slowplay into a big field with makeable draws on the board.
--- players buy-in for only $5 or $10 and don't add chips when they're down to $0.50.

I practically run over these games and use a similar strategy as I've mentioned above. Limp in with speculative hands or raise with position to get it heads-up. With the biggest stack at the table, always betting the size of the pot when I make hands, being relently aggressive heads-up and usually having position on opponents, I end up taking a lot of pots and busting players dry.

In no way am I a maniac, but maybe I come off as one. I try to strike fear in players and let them know that it's going to be expensive to play with me. I'm able to easily use scare cards to my advantage and win a ton of small-to-moderate pots off of weakies who won't put up a fight. Occasionally, I'll end up getting trapped with a re-raise, but I'm experienced enough to know when to lay down hands and not throw money into negative expectation situations.

I may move up a level and try out a .25/.50 NL cash game since the max buy-in is double. If I see the same weak attributes, this could be twice as profitable. It sure beats playing SNG's - I like being able to win a pot and actually realize the money immediately.

The WPO final that Devilfish won is showing tonight on the WPT...maybe I'll watch the 12am replay as I nod off to sleep even though I've seen it already. Second season, where are you?!?! At least all the poker pundits like myself will get some fresh TV footage next month with the Sands tournament and Celebrity Poker Showdown.
posted by Jordan  # 11:22 AM

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

You want to play against bad players!

>I am confused. I read Ken Warren's "Winner's Guide to Texas Hold 'Em Poker"
>thoroughly before starting out on Party Poker. I very carefully and very
>strictly applied his advice and techniques, yet I am losing my ass. So far,
>I'm down $250 playing $1 & $2 limit. Is it me? Is it the book? Am I just
>on a long losing streak that will turn around eventually? It seems like
>every time I have a "sure" winning hand, I get beat by some idiot who stayed
>in with 7 2 offsuit.
>I've heard that the action is more "sane" at higher limits, but I'm afraid
>to jump up a few levels, only to continue my losing ways. Any advice?
>Thanks in advance.

--- taken from RGP today

I see posts like this pretty frequently on RGP as well as other message boards. People complain high and low about these "idiot" players who cold call two bets pre-flop, check and call heads-up with only a flush draw and make it on the river. They pose dumbfounded questions like "how can you possibly have any strategy against people who'll call you to the river with anything?" Little do they realize that there is a strategy, but you have to think on their level.

These complainers read books like Sklansky's HEFAP or TOP, understand importance of position, starting hands, semi-bluffing, whatever. While this is all valuable knowledge, it's rendered practically useless against opponents that do not have the slightest comprehension of general poker concepts. In fact, these complainers themselves don't understand the most important and pivotal concept in poker. Money goes from bad players to good players. If these opponents are that bad, you should look to play with them ALWAYS.

To compound their problems even greater, they assume that at higher levels that the play mimics the style they've been accustomed to in their reading. Why is that though? Well, lower-limit games are general unprofitable with the rake eating up a good deal of your hourly rate. No schooled pro is going to bother with those games no matter how bad the players are. Once you get up to 10/20 and beyond, a good player can actually expect to make a decent wage. Pros look for bad players, especially rich, bad players. Two suckers at a mid-to-high-limit table can make eight pros a healthy salary while nine suckers at a low-limit table can't make even one pro much at all. This is why you find better play at higher limits. Simple logic would warrant the next question "why do I want to play with people that know all the angles and are easily more experienced than me?". Until you've gained experience under your belt and are at a competitive level with any mid-limit pro, you'll end up being one of the suckers at a mid-limit table.

Oddly enough, Ken Warren's book was the first one I've ever read on poker (well, I also bought Sklansky's basic Hold'em Poker at the same time). Personally, I think it's an easy read, but he doesn't get very detailed in his explanations on the subjects he discusses. I'm the type of person who always asks "why?".

For anyone interested (that happens to stumble across my blog), here's my opinion on the best poker curriculum to follow out of the books I've had a chance to read:

Theory of Poker - David Sklansky
Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players - David Sklansky & Mason Malmuth
Winning Low-Limit Hold'em - Lee Jones
The Complete Book of Hold 'Em Poker - Gary Carson
Hold'em Excellence - Lou Krieger
More Hold'em Excellence - Lou Krieger
Super System - Doyle Brunson (only the NLH section)

Amazingly, Krieger's books don't get enough attention than they deserve. Out of all the authors on the market, I believe he is hands-down the best writer on the subject and his books are comprehensive, on-target and very easy to swallow.

On the other hand, Phil Hellmuth's "Play Poker Like The Pros" is ridiculously the most overrated book on the market now. His limit hold'em section has some of the worst play I've ever seen written and can't image how he does well in side games. The PL/NL sections of the book aren't too bad though, yet I'd take Super System in a heartbeat when it comes to learning the heavily aggressive style you see so much in NLH tournaments on TV.
posted by Jordan  # 11:54 AM

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That'll give me a couple of bucks in my pocket

It was a typical night at the Comic Strip - hanging out for three hours for five minutes of stage time. That's how this business works here in New York City. Unless you've got some major TV credits under your belt, you're stuck scrounging out as much time on stage as possible.

I may have some prospective work fixing up Johnny Lampert's website (www.johnnylampert.com). That'll give me a couple of bucks in my pocket. I never charge much for comics though. It's the type of thing I don't mind doing in my spare time for guys I've been working with for years.

The Eagles-Packers game seemed to be a yawner last night. Of course, everyone was on tilt of the Giants debacle losing to the Falcons by 20. My fantasy team won this week and Dominic (www.dominicdierkes.com) had some players break out for him in his league. Football talk always kills a nice hour hanging out at the Strip.

I missed Laurie Kilmartin's (www.kilmartin.com) set to meet up with my girlfriend. I haven't seen her in a while and I think she's probably the best female comic working the clubs today. That's right, the same gender double-standard that exists in poker does in stand-up comedy as well. Andy (www.andyvastola.com) and Moody (www.moodymccarthy.com) both had sets before I went up and I finally got their tapes to send out for a few college gigs I may have scored all three of us. That'll give me a couple of bucks in my pocket.

I spent my late night set working on some new premises. No punchlines though, just ideas. It's like having an ace flop with A7s. You might have the best hand, but you're not sure, so you bet it out to see where you stand. That's pretty much what I was doing. Fortunately, the front had a big table of college students from North Dakota, so I poked fun at them for a little bit. These late night sets are more about developing your act then trying to impress people with your "A" material - like low-limit Omaha/8 at the Trop.

No poker yesterday. I've been working at the college for registration and will be for the next few weeks, so I won't be playing much online for the time being. The Queens home game is tonight though. I hope we get at least 8 guys so I can come home a modest winner. That'll give me a couple of bucks in my pocket.
posted by Jordan  # 9:29 AM

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