<$BlogRSDUrl$> 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.

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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