<$BlogRSDUrl$> 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.

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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Monday, November 10, 2003

Romeo wasn't bullshitting for a change

>Yes, it was me there in Manhattan last week (10 days ago) playing
>$40-$80. I was in NY for a charity kickoff event at HBO headquarters
>Wednesday night. Tuesday night I snuck out to the Garden for a
>Rangers game (last half), then I had a nice dinner and some drinks,
>then poker (a little drunk) where I won $5,000 and quit.
>Unfortunately I arrived too late Tuesday to catch a show (they all
>start at 8:00 PM), and also couldn't go to one Wednesday night,
>bummer! I love NY and wanted to catch the show "Chicago."
>-Cheers, Phil

--- taken from RGP today

My Queens home game maniac has recently frequented this underground club "Playstation" for the past few weeks. The first time he went, he calls up claiming Phil Hellmuth was there playing some high-limit games. Since this is coming from someone who bluffs into a field of strong, tight players and can go through a six-pack an hour, I severely doubted this was the case. Apparently, I owe him an apology. Although the WPF was taking place up the road at Foxwoods, I failed to believe a player of his stature would be spending time at an illegal cardroom for fairly low limits in comparison to his typical side game action.

Personally, I wouldn't feel all too comfortable playing cards at a place that was not regulated, never knowing who's watching you or who's actually backing the room. Casinos are always scruntized to the last detail by the government and have too much money involved not to protect their games and players. Home games are usually at such a low limit that it would not even be profitable to scam. I'd consider possibly checking out this "playstation" sometime, but I've been told the lowest game going is 4-8 which is much too steep for my bankroll now.
posted by Jordan  # 2:38 PM

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Poker & Comedy - either way, you're usually broke

Is the title too cliche? I was consdering calling my blog "Beats & Bombs" or "Poker & Punchlines", but hey, I have no problem being a hack from time to time. Poker blogs seem to be the "in" thing now, especially with the new generation of online players who revolve their whole lives around a computer screen. Well, I'm one of them.

Online poker is a cool job for geeks. It's like all the college nerds you'll find in campus computer labs at 2am playing Quake found an entry-level position. Role-playing and a cryptic inside language to creep out girls? Sign me up! These are the same guys you'll hear giggle like grade-schoolers whenever someone mentions "big slick" or "pocket rockets".

A stand-up comic's life is not much different than a poker player's life. You make your own hours, travel frequently, struggle to pay the rent and live as cheaply as possible. Late night meals at dinky coffee shops, dealing with drunks, networking with other pros; it's primarily a bottom-feeder occupation with a huge downside and the glimmer of a big score. Poker players dream of winning the WSOP. Comics dream of a network development deal or a starring movie role. It's a million to one for either to ever happen.

The biggest difference between occupations is by far the hourly rate. Poker pros strive to achieve one big bet per hour at the tables playing countless hours into the night to accomplish this goal. Stand-up comedy must look like a "get rich quick" scheme in comparison to poker. We'll get on stage, talk for a hour and get a $250+ paycheck. That's one hell of an hourly rate! Plus there's no way for us to work and lose money like in poker. When a joke doesn't work, you don't see us taking our wallet out to give the audience refunds. Comics have one hardship though - finding work. Poker pros don't have to submit a tape of their play to cardrooms. They aren't told by the brush that there are too many leaks in their game and to come back in six months for another look. In poker, if there's a game, there's a job.

New York City's a tough place for both occupations. The comedy scene is extremely saturated and competitive. There's a lot of places to perform, but little money. Poker, on the other hand, is virtually all underground. Unless you make a two hour trip to Atlantic City or Foxwoods, there's no way to play legally. There's money to be made, but no place to make it.

I'll be constantly comparing poker to stand-up comedy in my blog as they're both integral parts of my life right now. I'm also a freelance web developer, so you can see how true it is for me that most days involve staring at a computer screen for hours. Back and forth between job listing sites, comic message boards and of course, RGP, my cable modem comes in handy. Perusing the tables at Poker Stars for the weakest competition, it's not hard to find a good game within a matter of minutes. I have a multi-tasking mind and it works very well for me.

My blog will keep all my avid fans (at least my own ego) updated with my poker and comedy careers, interesting news and articles in both fields, maybe diving back to some personal ancedotes from time to time. I'll probably have no segues or theme in any of my entries and if I haven't posted in a while, that either means I've scored a nice website contract or just too damn lazy to write anything.
posted by Jordan  # 1:47 PM

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