Thursday, January 31, 2008

Confessions of a Rock

Here at the office, whenever it becomes known that I am an avid poker player, people look at me askew and remark, “I never would have imagined you to be a gambler” – with a certain stigma being attached to the term “gambler”. Due to their lack of understanding of the game, they immediately assume I am a wild “gamb00ler” because that image – wild bluffs and big stacks of chips being exchanged foolishly is what their mental image of poker is. I see it very differently.

Good poker players are not really gamblers, but bad ones definitely are. I think good players usually get their money in with the best hand. I am not a big chaser of draws. I usually bet my OESD’s and Nut or 2nd nut flush draws and I frequently win without making my hand. If my opponent is showing a lot of strength like raising my bets or denying me the pot odds to pursue my draw, I fold it. I do not usually suck out. I am usually sucked out on because I try to get my chips in with the best of it. While there is a chance you may lose, you have waited for an opportunity to have your opponent at a disadvantage and statistically you ought to win more often than you lose. This is not possible in roulette, dice, slots, or most other forms of gambling. There is a reason there is no World Series of Roulette or Dice, etc. Poker is a game of skill that has an element of luck. Over a long period of time, a skilled poker player is more likely to win than lose. This is not true of roulette, dice, slots, etc. If winning was all due to luck, I would not enjoy poker. For me to enjoy a game, there has to be a significant element of strategic thinking and competition against other would be thinkers. Dice, slots, roulette, and so forth have no appeal to me. When it comes to gambling on games of pure chance, the pain I feel when I lose outweighs the pleasure I feel when I win. This is a psychological effect known as loss aversion. Research shows that before we risk an investment, we need to feel assured that the potential gain is twice what the possible loss might be because a loss feels twice as bad as a gain feels good. That's weird and somewhat irrational, but it's the way it is.

I suppose a lot depends on why you are playing in the first place. If you are playing poker for the “buzz” you get from the gambling itself, you will have a different perspective than mine. There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of approach but a player like this may not be able to expect to win as often as a player that seeks to minimize the gambling aspect of the game and optimize his chances of winning regularly. I deeply enjoy the strategic elements and competition but I also play because it is the only hobby I enjoy that can pay for itself and even generate additional funds. Consider this quote:

Mike Sexton, in a tribute to the late Chip Reese, in Poker Player newspaper, December 24, 2007, issue, p. 27.Years ago, I was talking to Chip about another Hall of Fame poker player that we lost too early, Stu Ungar. I asked Chip if he thought Stuey was the most talented player he had ever seen. Chip said, "Natural ability-wise, yes. Certainly he was the quickest minded guy I've ever known. Stuey's problem is that he doesn't understand the 'object of the game.' The object of the game is to accumulate wealth, improve your lifestyle, and provide for your family, and Stuey will never get it." Chip did.

I agree with Chip. Although I am no professional that actually supports my family with poker, I take the game seriously and want to build my bankroll and improve my lifestyle via poker. I am disciplined with my poker bankroll because I feel like I had to “earn” it. I consider the money I win at poker to be “earned” rather than won since I read, study, practice, and think about poker frequently in order to build my skills. I conserve my poker “earnings” even more eagerly than my regular earnings. Why - because they were more difficult to obtain, that’s why. What do I mean by that? Well, to earn at poker consistently, you have to regularly outplay your opponents. The cards themselves will even out over time so every player will end up being dealt about the same number of quality hands. You cannot depend on consistently getting better cards than your opponents, therefore, you will have to learn to win without the best hand, too. At one’s regular job, you can “phone it in” occasionally without penalty. You can show up for work, be about 25% functional and at most jobs, you will earn the same rate of pay per hour. You cannot “phone it in” at poker. If you attempt to “phone it in” you will suffer and pay for it quickly. If you expect to win with any regularity, you must be capable of summoning forth your “A” game most of the time. When you cannot muster your “A” game, you should elect not to play. If you reduce or eliminate the times you play your “B” or “C” (or worse) game, it will reduce the element of chance and its subsequent consequences to your bankroll.

Monday, January 28, 2008

How to Play A-K Profitably

A-K (whether suited or not) is a top 10 ranked hand in Texas Hold’em. The odds against getting A-Ko or A-Ks are 82 to 1. No one folds it pre-flop but many people do not seem to know why it is such a powerful hand and what one is supposed to do with it to extract maximum value from it. I have some decent players in my home game and a few prefer to limp in with A-K because they claim it rarely improves.

I do not believe this is the right way to play it unless you are in early position and planning to limp-raise with it. If you limp it, you almost have to hit it to continue after the flop because you have invited every small to middle pair to join you in the pot cheaply. Had you bet or raised pre-flop with A-K you could follow up on a flop that missed you with a continuation bet and have a reasonable chance of winning the pre-cultivated/sweetened pot right there. If you limp, you cannot C- bet with any success. If you limp it in you also invite more players to take the flop with you and that increases the probability that the flop will improve an opponent’s hand. If you are in late position and the pot is limped to you, holding A-K, I suggest a pot sized bet. You will often win the pot uncontested, right there. If not, you have cultivated a decent sized pot to pursue on the flop. I usually want to thin the field to one or two opponents. That (in my opinion) gives me the best chance for my C-bet to work if the flop misses me.

Without improving, A-K is strongest pre-flop and (somewhat less so) on the flop if you follow up with a continuation bet. By the turn and river, if you have not paired (or better) and you are getting action, you do not likely have the best hand. Why would you want to give up so much of A-K’s power by not betting/raising pre-flop? If you do not pair, your hand gets weaker on every street because it becomes more likely your opponent can beat Ace high. Here is a little comparison for you:

A-K vs. weaker Ace = 70% to win
A-K vs. weaker King = 70% to win
A-K vs. unpaired undercards = 60% to win
A-K vs. QQ – 22 = 45% to win
A-K vs. KK or AA = less than 20% to win

Thus, pre-flop you are a favorite against any non-pair, roughly a coin flip against any pair Queens or lower, and only at a significant disadvantage against the best two starting hands in hold’em. Furthermore, if you play A-K like I am recommending, you will also win 100% of the times your opponents fold either pre-flop or on the flop.

When the flop misses you (70%):
If you bet pre-flop as I recommend, even if the flop missed you completely, you must bet again. A three-quarters of the pot to a pot sized bet ought to take it down. If you are called on the flop, try to figure what your opponent is calling with. If you think he has 2nd or bottom pair, another bet may induce a fold. If checked to me on the turn, I will fire a third bet but if I am in early position, I may check the turn. If your opponent is a solid player, has called your bets pre-flop and on the flop, he will probably lead into you on the turn. If so, it is probably time for you to fold.

When the flop hits you (30%):
What you are hoping for (in the ideal case) is for one of your opponents to play a weaker Ace or King against you and then an Ace or King come on the flop. This is where the big hands are won with A-K. People like to play suited Aces (and to a lesser extent suited Kings) and you can trap them. You want a “rainbow” flop with an A or K high and the card values spread out (i.e. A-9-3 or something) to minimize the probability of a straight. If the flop is a rainbow (all different suits meaning no flush possible) and the cards are not coordinated (close in rank) then you are only worried about 2 pair or a flopped set if you have taken my advice and raised pre-flop. After a flop of this sort, your opponent is probably check-calling since he has a pair of Aces or Kings with a weak kicker - so value bet them to death. If he re-raises you, particularly on the turn, you may be up against 2 pair or better. If you are raised on the turn or river by a tight opponent, you are almost certainly beaten so be careful in that case – your opponent is telling you with his bet/raise that he can beat TPTK. I can’t tell you how many times I have called a bet/raise of this sort with my TPTK only to be shown a set.

I hope this helps to de-mystify playing A-K. Good luck at the tables.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Liquid Assets - Gumbo

By the way, have I mentioned gumbo? This cold and wet January weather is perfect for warm delicious liquid meals like gumbo. We have plenty of it here on the island but my favorite is among the least expensive. Plenty of prestigious local restaurants boast about their gumbo. I have tried them all and for such a simple thing, many places don’t get it right. They add tomatoes or too many herbs or the roux is under developed or sometimes the roux is overcooked. I think these places are trying to be too fancy. Stick to the basics for the best results. There is this little hole-in-the-wall place named Leo’s on Broadway that serves up the best pint of gumbo I know of for the ridiculously low price of $3.50. Seriously! The secret (like the secret to all good gumbo) is the roux. It has got to be dark and rich, but not burned tasting. Don’t distract from the roux with unnecessary ingredients. This guy knows what he’s doing. He’s a real Cajun. They also have their own blend of smoked sausage, boudain, and beef jerky. If you are ever in Galveston, try this place out on your way through town. Their red beans and rice is also quite good but that is another post.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Home Game(s)

Since the great State of Texas prefers for all of us Texans to take our gambling funds across the border to neighboring Louisiana or Oklahoma rather than be able to spend them here, most of the poker in Texas is of the home game variety. Home games are very different from poker games in a cardroom.

The first thing (and this is a key concept) is you have to be invited to the game. This means if you do not have any friends or if you are an “ace-hole”, it may be difficult for you to find action of this sort. Even if you find a game and manage to get invited, demonstrate that you do not have the temperament to play in a friendly game and you will not likely be invited back. Once you find a good game, you will want to be invited back so behave yourself accordingly. Don’t berate or insult other players – particularly the bad ones. They are the ones that make the games good. You want them to stay and play as long as possible. Remember, GOOD players stack bad players, but GREAT players get bad players to re-buy. Moving on - for you guys that win big early on, you cannot just hop up and take off like you could at a cardroom or casino. That would be unfriendly, damage the spirit of the game, and cause the host to not invite you back. If you need to leave early, let the host know that when you arrive. That way, it is an objective fact and not likely to be misconstrued as a form of ‘rat-holing”. We have a designated starting and ending time and winners are expected to play until the stopping point unless you run out of money sooner (losers can leave at any time since you are not taking anyone’s money off the table).

The second thing is there is no rake. Big deal, you say? Yes, it is a very big deal. Imagine you and 8 friends start playing poker and you bought in for $50.00 each - $800.00 total. By the end of the session, there is still the same $800.00 in the pot.
At a cardroom with a rake, there will be much less than the sum of all buy-ins in the pot to be split by the winners. Sklansky and others have written about this so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

Hopefully, the game organizer has cultivated a good mix of players with no less than one “maniac” for every “rock” at the table. We have a well balanced mix of about 15 players of which 9-10 show up on any given Sunday. We like to keep the mood light and fun. “Partying” is definitely encouraged. I actually allow myself to get somewhat intoxicated which is something I would never do at a real cardroom. We play strictly NLHE with blinds of .25/.50 that do not go up. We used to play tournaments but that was too restrictive on when people had to show up, when they could buy in, and how much they could buy in for. If you have a few players arrive in the middle of the tourney with money “burning a hole in their pockets”, it sucks to make them wait while the tourney concludes. We want guys to be able to “belly up” and buy in right away. Heck, I remember when I first got our group started and we struggled to get 4-5 regular guys together every Sunday. We sure have grown and now we are turning guys away for lack of seats. Get there early and lock down your seat is what I tell the would-be players. The game usually starts about Noon and we play until 7:00pm. By 3:00pm, there is always around $500 in the pot and by 6:00pm the pot is near $1,000 or more. We jokingly refer to that last hour or so as, “frenzy mode” because things get really crazy. Those that are stuck are pulling out all their tricks and stuff to try to get even or ahead. Those that are ahead are trying to take advantage of all the “donktastic” action and get more ahead. It’s great.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Philosophical Matters

The world of the happy is quite different from that of the unhappy. – Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I used to get a lot of grief from my college buddies and others for majoring in Philosophy. They all said I would end up in a crappy job or on welfare. Actually, I am doing quite well. I am not rich, mind you, but I am comfortable and happy.
The happiness part is the key, in my opinion. While having some money may help you in your search for happiness, you still cannot buy it. I know plenty of people that have a lot more money than me but most are not as happy as I am. I think studying philosophy helped me immensely. It builds character, encourages rational thought, and helps one to see other perspectives. It teaches you to think differently than most people because it teaches you to think more objectively and thoroughly than they do.

Why study philosophy when other disciplines seem to have greater applicability in the “real” world. The underlying assumption is that the most important thing one can get from a university experience is training for a particular job. I question that assumption.
The most important thing to learn from one’s university experience is HOW to think, rather than WHAT to think. This is the essence of philosophy - thinking, pure and simple. Disciplined reasoning that questions everything and pursues thoughts through to their logical conclusions. It prepares one for professions that are not just paid for what they do, but also for what they think. Philosophy isn’t training, it’s education. It’s for people that want to ask deeper questions, who could never be happy without asking why, who want to not just live, but to live well. It teaches us to think critically and consistently, to understand varying points of view, to manage effectively, and to lead.
Philosophy helps one communicate their ideas articulately and precisely, both orally and in writing. It serves to develop intellectual abilities important to life as a whole, beyond the knowledge and skills required for any particular profession. It cultivates the capacities and appetite for self expression and reflection, for exchange and debate of ideas, for life learning, and for dealing with problems for which there are no easy solutions. It prepares us to be informed citizens in a world where too many are insufficiently informed and vulnerable to deception and demagoguery. It enhances our opportunity to participate responsibly and intelligently in public life. Just imagine a truly enlightened American electorate and what we could accomplish in this country if more people asked tough questions of themselves, as well as, our nominees for high office. I will not likely live long enough to see this vision of American potential become reality but hopefully, my children will.

So, to all you readers that may be considering an education that centers around or just includes Philosophy, I whole-heartedly encourage you to try it and see what a difference it can make in your life.

Friday, January 11, 2008


My buddy in San Antonio talked me into venturing into a game I am not at all familiar with, pot limit Omaha. Playing a game for money at a disadvantage is something I usually discourage but I let myself get talked into it. So, for the last two evenings, along with a few tables of NLHE, I have also been playing a table of Omaha. Interestingly enough, I have done fairly well. It seems to me, in my overly simplistic manner, Omaha is a game of draws and making a big hand by the river. So, what do you suppose my primary strategy has been? Don’t let the villains see the river. I usually bet pot pre-flop and on the flop if I have a decent starting hand. This works well since everyone always wants to limp in. I take down plenty of pots pre-flop and some on the flop, too. This creates an image of a maniac to the table and really helps me get paid off when I do make a big hand. Overall, for Omaha, I have netted 4 buy-ins for the last two nights.

For my “bread and butter” game, I have had a good week, too. I am up 7 buy-ins. This despite the fact that my pocket Kings keep getting cracked by pocket 9s flopping a set. Normally, this would not bother me at all but in both the hands this week, the guy with the 9s HAD to know by the way I played my hand that he was up against a massive overpair. Imagine this pre-flop, four limpers and I raise 4xbb, guy with 9-9 re-raises to 12xbb and I re-raise all in. If I were him, I would fold my 9s since you would need approx 8 to 1 pot odds to set mine and I am not giving that to him. But of course, he makes the donktastic call and f’ing hits his set. Then, I also get the usual coolers like running my J-J right into Q-Q. I bet pot pre-flop after a couple of limpers and get called by 2 villains. Flop is all undercards to my Jacks and since the pot is now about half of my remaining stack, I move in. Only the guy with Q-Q calls and neither one of us improves on the turn or river so I get stacked - just another typical evening on PokerScars for our hero. Nonetheless, I am up for the week and looking forward to the weekend.

Liquid Assets - Bisque

Even though I just returned from fabulous Las Vegas, a place known for premium grub, you can only get some things from the “real deal”. What I mean by that is that as good as the food in Vegas is, and it is very good, and as wide a variety as is available, there is NO WAY that you will ever find the best gumbo or seafood bisque in Vegas. You have to be near the coast. So, back here in Galveston, the best bisque is at a well established family owned place on the famous seawall. There are actually two restaurants that share the same recipes and kitchen. One is the fancier place for taking out of town guests and the other, Casey’s, is where the locals go for a premium meal at a value price. Thursday is the day for bisque. They offer either shrimp or lobster depending on the day and both are to die for. I never cared for heavy cream whipped into my coffee but blended into well prepared lobster or shrimp stock – Yum! This steamy golden brown liquid is so rich and thick and creamy that it is sure to stick to your ribs. Now, if that isn’t enough to get your hungry on, listen to this. Their fresh gulf oysters on the half shell are not only large, but very tasty AND they always give you one more than you ordered – so half dozen is seven and a full dozen is thirteen. Then, if you are still hungry, add in a massive shrimp po-boy and you are there! Welcome to Galveston! Who wants a mass produced sandwich from one of the usual sandwich peddlers when for the same $, you can have a po-boy sandwich smothered by 25 fried shrimp, waffles fries, a cup of bisque, and fresh baked bread to boot? If any of you guys ever make onto the island or even nearby, give me a call and I will show you how it’s done.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bodonkey 2, the Sequel

I have a hypothesis that it is –EV to play when you are not on your “A” game and being one to put my money where my mouth is, I went and proved I was right. After getting the bad news that the usual Tuesday night homegame was cancelled, I immediately began looking forward to another chance to play in the Bodonkey hosted by $mokkee on Bodog. This tournament has the best overlay of any I know of. I placed in the money (barely) last time I played so I was hoping to improve on that finish. I registered early and took care of the family so I could focus on my play. My son had other ideas, though. As soon as the tourney started, he wanted attention. I can’t deny the little guy and I should have “sat out” while I handled him. But, the fates conspired against me and kept dealing me good cards. Not great cards, mind you, but solid starting hands.
Being able to multi-task is one of the perceived advantages to playing online. I disagree. It may be convenient but it in no way enhances your skill or chance to win at the table and will most likely, decrease your chance to win. So, here I am distracted and out of practice for tourney play so what do you suppose happens?
The first hand dealt to me is one I usually play fast (10-10) but I foolishly decided to play it softer and I got outdrawn. 2nd hand is K-Js a very playable hand. Nothing on the flop and a bet coming in, I have to fold. Another 10-10 appears for me within the first 5 minutes so I play this one faster and guess what? I run right into pocket A-A. WTF? Within another 5 minutes, another 10-10! Flop is K-Q-x and villains bet right into me after I opened pre-flop. I gotta fold. I get 5-5. Flop a set and turn a boat! No action! Dammit! I tried to play small ball at first and win some small pots while getting a feel for the table. That did not work well and I am down to about 2400 (from 3000) 20 minutes into the tourney.
I proceed to get A-Ko four times in the next 15 minutes and can’t get anything to hit on the flop. C-bets are getting smooth called. This is not going well but my suffering would be brief. Not long after that, I get K-Qo in the SB and raise the BB (Instant Tragedy) in an attempt to steal. IT calls and I figure he does not want me to steal his blind and is defending. I am not putting him on a hand since he did not raise. Flop is a non-threatening J-4-x rainbow. I check and he checks behind. Turn is another 4 pairing the board. I check and he checks behind. River is a K and now I have top and bottom 2 pair. I check and he bets enough to put me all in. I interpret this as a shameless attempt to steal the pot after neither one of us showed any strength. I make a donktastic call figuring him for nothing or maybe a J for a lower 2 pair. He shows his pocket J-J and I am the first one knocked out. Talk about getting your donkey on. Congrats to Instant Tragedy for knocking me out and going on to finish 2nd in the whole thing.
Good bye Bodog, it’s back to my regular cash games on “PokerScars” for the remainder of the evening. I get some decent hands and I double up with K-K. Then, I am in the BB with A-9o and it is four limpers to the flop of Ac-9d-6c. I check with the intent of check raising but no one bets. Turn is a Kh and I lead out. Two guys call and I am happy. River is Ks. I do not like it but figure my top 2 pair is good. Surprise! The 6 seat had Kc-10c and was chasing flush but hit trips to take it down. Why did I check the flop? I probably would have won the pot right there. Sometimes, I get greedy. I end the session up 1 buy in.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What About the Food?

My content has been monopolized by poker so far but I set out to talk about other things, too. So, without further ado, here is my first post about another of my personal passions – good food.

Here in Texas, the breakfast of champions is a massive breakfast burrito slathered in homemade chile (hot sauce made with pureed peppers) and washed down with hot coffee. Seriously, there is nothing better and this really sets the stage for a good day by providing a bellyful of non-fast food that will stay with you. My breakfast burrito joint of choice is a little hole-in-the-wall place on Broadway (the main road through Galveston) called Bronco Burritos, but formerly known as the Donut Shop. They almost never have donuts anymore since their burritos are the main item sold and account for 95% of their business. The place is run by the original owner’s daughter now but in the old days, the father really used to make donuts, as well as, the now famous Bronco burrito. Some folks aren’t even hungry at lunch after eating one of these for breakfast.
I recommend phoning in your order because they really draw a crowd and having to actually go inside, wait in line to order, and then having to wait for your food is a major pain in the ass. However, their burritos really are worth it. I have tried them all over. Some places are so greasy the tortilla is soaked and dripping – bad. Some places try to serve you salsa instead of chile, salsa is fine for chips but it is too “watery” for burritos. Great chile is viscous, thick, and hot. It has got to be hot. Other places forget to put the little packet of salt in your bag to go. This is a serious error. Eggs just aren’t as good without salt and this affects the overall quality of your burrito experience. This place gets it right every time. So, if you are ever in my neck of the woods down here, you really should try this place out.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Old Friends

I played in the usual Sunday afternoon homegame that is the mainstay of my poker playing life. An old friend from my college days at University of Houston stopped by and joined us for most of the session. It was darn good to see Terry and he seemed to enjoy hanging out with all of us degenerate, drunken, and downright rowdy poker players. He has to come all the way down from west Houston to the Island so he probably won’t become a “regular” but we sure hope he will join us from time to time as his schedule will permit. I had a decent day (up 2.5 buy ins) and won most of my pots with middle pairs. I was dealt several in late position and each time I would make a pot sized raise to about 8xBB after a bunch of players limped in ahead of me. I was called each time by one or more players with unpaired overcards and my hands held up each time. A few guys exclaimed (after seeing my hand at showdown), “you raised that much with 9-9?” Yes, gentlemen, that’s how I think it should be done. After all, if they had
9-9 beat, why did they limp in? In another hand, I was dealt K-K. I re-raised my buddy that opened the pot and he looked at me, thought about it, and then announced “call” tabling his 9-9. My Kings held up and I doubled through him. He had me covered 3 times over so he could afford to gamble and he said, after the hand, he thought he might be behind but he did not put me on that big of a hand since I had been raising with middle pairs, A-Jo, and A-Qo all afternoon. After I went home, I fired up the new pc and played for about an hour or so online. I ran into another old friend of mine from High School that now lives in central Texas. That is one of the great things about internet poker, you can connect and re-connect with friends despite a great deal of distance. My buddy, Travis, is an avid poker player but can’t routinely drive 3 hours to come play cards on Sunday. However, thanks to the miracle of internet poker, we got to play some cards and chat together for a while. I still find it incredible that Congress took it upon themselves to pass the UIGEA despite the clear majority of people that believe it is OK. Wake up, guys. Remember us? The voters you are supposed to be representing? I sure hope all poker players are registered to vote and actually do vote this year. We are legion and together we can make ourselves heard. By the way, just to put my money where my mouth is, I am a registered voter and a card carrying member of the Poker Players Alliance. You can bet I will be voting against any Senator or Congressman that supports the UIGEA every chance I get. Anyway, I got dealt pocket Aces twice during the session and they actually held up both times! Amazing! I used to expect them to hold up but lately, I almost expect them to get cracked. I had a good session and ended up 2 buy ins. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable Sunday of poker with friends.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Big Pocket Pairs

Why, PokerGods? Why do you torment me so? I played in our usual mid-week home game recently and I did fairly well but lost back half of my winnings by getting dealt two big pairs. Big Pocket Pairs. The kind you love to see. Big. Beautiful. Powerful.
Early in the game, I’m in the BB and I look down to see two red Kings – sweet! Everyone limps and I raise 3xBB. To my surprise, everyone calls. The flop comes down 3-3-5 rainbow. I am pretty sure none of these guys called me with a 3 or with 5-5, although you never know. So, in my usual aggressive manner, I make a pot sized continuation bet figuring my Kings were the best hand. Everyone but the UTG folds and he thinks about it and calls. I thought he was putting me on a missed A-K or A-Q since he knows me well and knows I would bet pre-flop and fire on the flop no matter what if I had those two hands. The turn is a 2 and I sense that card helped my opponent somehow. So, I think about checking but instead I lead into him again and he smooth calls. I definitely don’t like that call. The river is a 7 and I just know I am beat so I check. He checks also and tables his A-4 offsuit. Since this is a very friendly homegame, I flash him my K-K and he grins sheepishly and admits he thought I held an A-K or A-Q. I am still trying to figure out what he was thinking by calling me pre-flop with A-4o if he thinks I have A-K or A-Q. Oh well. So, I start accumulating chips again and the game moves on. A while later I look down to see A-A in the SB. The pot is limped to me and since I refuse to limp my Aces, I raise to 3xBB. I get called by two players. The flop is Qh-7h-3s. I lead out for a pot sized bet and one player folds but the button calls. Now, this guy likes to play a lot of suited and connected hands so when he calls, I put him on a flush draw. Of course, the next card is the Ah giving me a set of Aces but making his flush if I am right about what he holds. Sure enough, I lead into him since I would have had to call if I checked and he bet, and he comes over the top. I am sure I am beat at this point so I say I fold. He shows me the Kh-5h for the nuts and I show him my pocket rockets and he is amazed I could fold that hand. He and another guy talk about it for 10 minutes that they would have had to call all the way with that hand. I quietly think to myself that I used to think the same way but now, when I am on my “A” game, I can usually fold when I know I am beaten. While that thought gives me some small comfort, I would rather have won a big pot with my set of Aces instead. I go on to end the night up about 3 buy ins but I had as many as 6 buy ins earlier. Oh well. Still, on the way home, I could not help but think I won all my money with marginal hands that flopped well. I lost big with the only two premium starting hands I was dealt. Poker is so fickle.
I played some online poker last night and got stacked with K-K twice! The first time 2 “customers” call my raise and re-raise pre-flop with J-J and 9-9 respectively. Now, maybe, sort of, but not exactly do I understand the guy with J-J calling but 9-9?? Are you kidding me? I was playing short and the 9-9 guy had me covered so I completely denied him the right odds to set mine and he had to know he was up against at least one overpair. Well, in this case, the PokerGods were in a humorous mood so, of course, a
9 high flop comes right out. The guy with J-J does not improve and neither do my Kowboys so the joker that overcalled with 9-9 scoops the pot. Why PokerGods? Why? I shake it off and keep playing. I think Falstaff might have been at this table because a player with the name JHartness from Charlotte was playing and that seems like too big of a coincidence to not be him but who knows. I did not want to call him out to the table so I chilled. He stacked a guy when his A-Qo hit an Ace high flop and the other guy had a much weaker kicker. I am doing well on most of my tables and near the endpoint of my session when I get K-K again, this time UTG. I open bet, only the SB wants action and he raises. So, of course, I re-raise and he re-raises. This is where I should have dumped the hand as “the fourth raise means Aces” and I know this but I did not want to believe it. So, I re-raised and he called. Neither one of us improves, he tables his pocket Aces and my pocket Kings shrivel up and die. I have been making a concerted effort to not play while disadvantaged. What does that mean, you ask? Well, I am one of those guys that works all day, comes home to my wife and son, makes dinner and helps clean up, then once the wife and son are in bed, fires up the computer for some poker at long last – this is a often a bad idea. I am overanxious to play and have probably had several beers by this point of the evening. This is –EV. If I am able to muster my “A” game at all, it is probably only for a portion of the session. So, lately, I have been limiting my play to those times when I feel sharp enough to play the type of poker I should play rather than anytime I can find an extra hour or two. Clearly, in the last hand I described, I should have been able to fold the Kings to the 4th raise if I had been on my “A” game. Thus, I allowed myself to play past the “threshold of mental clarity”. Fickle or not, poker is one of the few activities in life that gives you such brutal and immediate feedback.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bankroll Building and Management

When I first began playing with any frequency I enjoyed a small amount of success that made me overconfident. Soon, I played in a somewhat bigger game with better players and quickly learned how little I knew. I lost about $100.00 in one evening (which seems small now, but at the time, was the most I had ever lost in one sitting). My wife had always regarded poker suspiciously but had not made much noise about my playing up until then. However, that incident prompted a serious conversation between her and me about poker and the costs of playing. We were not in a position for me to regularly pay $100 a session for “poker lessons” and she suggested poker might be too expensive of a hobby for me to pursue. I quickly compared it to golf and bowling and other activities that are lots of fun but not inexpensive. Long story short, she and I decided if I was to pursue poker as a hobby, it would be best if I start building an independent bankroll to fund my poker endeavors. I started with $50.00. That was in the late summer of 2005. I re-read my couple of poker books. I began reading about strategy and such on the net. I discovered poker blogs and stumbled upon a few of the ones I would continue to read to this day - bloggers such as Pauly, Tripjax, Jordan from High on Poker, Bill Rini, and many others. Most of all, I began to single-mindedly build my bankroll and to think of it as a bankroll. It was totally separate from any family funds, fun money, entertainment money, etc. All poker was funded from it and all winnings went back into it – period – no exceptions. It has been a little over two years and my poker bankroll is now reasonably well established. My wife is no longer concerned whether I win or not since it has no effect on the family other than the time I am away.
Now, don’t get the mistaken idea that I always win – I do not. However, I do employ some strategies to preserve my bankroll. I think I already mentioned it is ONLY for poker and nothing else. No sports betting. No blackjack. No dice, etc. It is not for travel, fuel, lodging, food, or anything but poker. I guard and protect it because I want it to continue to grow. That is the only way I will be able to play in higher stakes games is to grow my bankroll. I do not play many tournaments because the probability of winning is low compared to cash games. I never risk more than 20% of it at once so even if I lose, I am not crippled. I only need that much to go to casinos and so forth. The amount needed to play in the home games I play most often is less than 5% per session. This enables me to play aggressively with a negligible risk of ruin. In my homegame group, guys are frequently complaining about lack of funds to play poker with even though these same guys win their fair share. The problem is since they do not keep a separate bankroll, their winnings are frequently squandered on food, gas, beer, whatever. They treat the times they win like a windfall of cash that they cannot wait to spend when they should think of it as future buy-ins. I have tried to offer suggestions but unfortunately they either lack the interest or discipline to go the extra mile and keep their winnings separate from normal operating funds for the household. All you need is an additional wallet (which is what I use) or rubberband to keep your roll together as it grows. Mine has now exceeded the amount of cash I like to have laying around so I opened a bank account for it. Try this idea. It really worked for me. With a little discipline, you will be amazed at how quickly you can grow a bankroll of your own.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Bodonkey

Happy New Year! I am usually involved in a homegame on Tuesday evenings so I do not often get a chance to play in the Bodonkey but I was home on New Year’s day/evening so I decided to play my first online tourney of 2008. This tourney is hosted by Smokkee on Bodog and has a GREAT OVERLAY! Seriously! I am not a regular on Bodog so I did not even have enough $ left to enter so I had to play a cash table to win enough for the buy in. I managed to do so after playing a while but I was completely card dead for the first hour or so of the tourney. Jordan from HoP was at my table along with PokahDave, NewinNov, and others. I had eaten my cabbage and black-eyed peas so I was hoping to get lucky. However, my son wanted attention and I also had major connectivity challenges, kept losing my wireless signal, and when I finally got that going again, I had to log out and back into Bodog so it would stop automatically folding all my hands. This did not make it easy to focus on my tourney strategy. One thing I noticed right away is the Bodonkey is pretty rocky. The Mookie is much more action oriented and that pace of play was more along the lines of what I was expecting. I adapted, remained patient, and kept waiting for a playable hand. I finally get A-A in the big blind and think I will get some action now! But, guess what? They all folded to me and I won the blinds. Talk about anti-climactic. After stealing my blinds all evening, I finally get a hand and no one wants to play. Just my luck. As I am beginning to feel desperate, Yestbay and I get all in and he has A-Jo to my A-Qs. Justice prevails, my A-Q holds up, and I double through him. Later, I make a boat vs. PokahDave but he would not give me any action and I only won a small pot. I did not get many other good hands but I did manage to make the final table. At the final table, the blinds were getting high, and I found 7-7 UTG. I move in and everyone folds around to GoatRodeo who calls with A-10o. A proverbial race. He wins when he flops a 10 and rivers and Ace. I am out in 8th place but win eleven tourney bucks so I can play again when I have the opportunity. At least GoatRodeo took my chips and went on to win. All in all, I enjoyed the chance to play with the other bloggers and had a good time.

A December to Remember

After running hot at both my homegames and online in early December, enjoying a darn near “freeroll” trip to fabulous Las Vegas, having a great week of poker at various cardrooms on the strip and actually winning some $, meeting a bunch of poker bloggers live and in person, how much more memorable could December get? VERY. For starters, as soon as we returned from Las Vegas, my wife informs me she “doesn’t quite feel right”. So, she goes to see the Dr. and has a few tests run. What do you suppose we found out? How about that the Lucypher household is expecting another addition to the family? There is actually a lot more drama to this than you may imagine since inside the same week we were told first it was not going to be viable and then after much sadness, finally advised the pregnancy would be viable after all. What an emotional roller coaster ride. So, we hunkered down for the Holidays with big news and lots of good food and family.
As an old guy seeing how good things were going, I knew something bad was about to happen. Sure enough, I was right. During the holidays, someone backed into my old car. This initially seemed +EV since the car could use some new paint. The damage is minimal but the insurance company is considering totaling the vehicle due to its age and mileage. This would be a serious hardship since the vehicle is in perfect operating condition and I will not be able to obtain another decent one for anything close to what they will pay me.
I also hit a major cold streak during the holidays and lost back what I had won online earlier in the month. I had switched from NL to PL for a while to try something new. I was crushing PL Hold Em at first but by the end of the month, I had lost all the winnings back. While relaxing around the house, I took some time to reflect on 2007 and so forth. I wanted to end the year on a positive note so I finally decided it was time to upgrade the old pc (and I do mean old) so I did something I NEVER do. My poker bankroll is totally separate from any other household money and is never used for anything but poker (I will post about bankroll management in the near future.) This time I broke the rule. I used some of the money I won in Vegas to buy a new pc. To give you an idea of how big an improvement this was, I had my old pc since 2000 and it was running at 548 Mhz and 384 Meg Ram. All I run on it is the poker clients for the sites I play and ptracker/pahud. Still, after purging all other files and programs, I was near max capacity for the 10gig harddrive I had. The new pc runs at a blazing fast 1.6 Ghz and 2 Gig RAM. Yes, that is right, 548 Mhz to 1.6 Ghz and 384MEG to 2GIG RAM. What a difference! I know for you true techno-types out there, this is not particularly spectacular but for me, it is like the difference between night and day. Now that is what I call +EV.