Friday, March 28, 2008

The Art of Folding

You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into. ~Author Unknown

An often overlooked and undervalued aspect of your game is folding. To maximize your success at full ring NLHE, you should fold a lot more often than you choose not to fold. This being the case, if you can learn to fold better than your opponents, you gain an edge. Most people see folding as completely passive. I see folding as a tactical weapon. Imagine the martial artist, you thrust at him, he nimbly steps aside, avoiding the attack. You attempt to ambush me with a check raise but I deftly parry with a fold and my stack is unharmed. Minimal effort yields maximum protection. My opponents are becoming frustrated because, like a boxer, I circle my prey, wearing them down gradually before moving in for the coup de grace. Be like a hunter patiently waiting for one’s prey.
Or like a fisherman, sitting quietly waiting for the big fish to bite.
Observe your prey. What do they do? How do they do it? Why do they do it?
What hands are they showing? Are they playing weak hands out of position?
Do they crave action on almost every hand? What are they saying?
Absorb the maximum amount of information possible. Many times, they will reveal their strategy if you are paying attention.

Focus on being in the moment and be aware of your breathing. Don’t be distracted by random thoughts whirring about. Breathe in. Watch what your opponents are doing. Breathe out. Continue observing. The urge to act, the desire to win now, rather than later, seems compelling but your will is stronger. Resist the urge to act now unless now is the right time to act. This does not mean waiting for Aces or Kings, mediocre cards may be adequate depending on your position, the actions of your opponents, and the tendencies and weaknesses you have observed them demonstrate. Although it may seem counter intuitive to go all the way over to the casino and see how many hands you can stay out of, try to embrace the concept of selective engagement. Engage your opponent when the situation favors you and by definition, it will be unfavorable to them.

Why should one fold - to deny an opponent the opportunity to win part of my stack when I am not in a position of strength. If you fold a lot, players will become “aware” when you are in a pot. This creates prime opportunities for continuation bets and semi-bluffs. It also makes small pocket pairs a lot more playable. Craft your table image as selective but deadly and watch the respect your 3-bets will acquire.

How should one fold - stoically fold your cards face down into the muck regardless whether or not someone wants to see them. Develop good habits.
Try to fold in the same manner each time so it becomes automatic.
Don’t discuss what you folded – e.g. “aw, man, I would have flopped the nuts”.
If players are talking like this, think about what the guy folded and think about what made him fold. You will gain insight into the other player’s decision making process.
If anyone asks what you folded, either ignore them or say you forgot.

When should one fold - when one is out of position and/or one does not hold a premium starting hand. When one is faced with a raise and one does not have a strong enough hand to call or re-raise. When one started with a good hand but have been outflopped/outdrawn and are now obviously beaten. The best time to fold is pre-flop or on the flop, before one has invested much in the hand.

What should one fold – most starting hands that are not pocket pairs, big or suited Aces, or big suited connectors. Don’t be discouraged, another hand will be dealt soon. There is no need to play “this” hand. Relax. Breathe. Observe your opponents.

Poker is a game of small edges. Accrue several small edges together and you have a bigger edge. The edges one accrues are cumulative and will add up over time.
Be patient. And, until next time, good luck at the tables.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bankroll Management 101

Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn't have it and thought of other things if you did. – James Baldwin.

Mr. Angelo calls it “partitioning”. Your poker bankroll is really just a sub-set of your entire bankroll. In fact, the entire distinction exists primarily only in your mind (it may also have a physical partition if you keep your poker bankroll in a poker wallet). If you can learn to partition better than others, you will be more adept at protecting your poker bankroll, and you will gain an edge.

Too many players injure their poker bankroll by not partitioning well. They spend poker money on beer, fuel, food, etc. They then, lament the inevitable episode of variance that leaves them low or out of poker money.
Food, beer, fuel, etc. are things one needs anyway and one is going to buy anyway – with or without poker money. Therefore, make sure to buy these out of your “regular” bankroll. If you must buy them from poker money, replace that poker money with regular money so that the beer, etc. ends up on the right account.

Be diligent about adding money won at poker to your poker bankroll.
Don’t squander those winnings like a drunken sailor on his first shore leave.
What if you go through an extended period of losing? You will regret having squandered those winnings. Those winnings are your tools for playing and winning more. After completing a job, would you discard the perfectly good tools that enabled you to do the job? Would you trade them for food, fuel, beer, or whatever? Don’t trade your poker bankroll (i.e. your tools) for them either.

As a poker player with a family, I think it is even more essential to keep your poker bankroll separate from your family bankroll. If I used family money to play, I would be more worried about losing and would not be able to bring my “A” game. Playing with money one is afraid to lose is playing with “scared money” and good players will notice this and take advantage of you. With a separate poker bankroll, I can play my best game and not worry about a potential loss affecting my family. Don’t get me wrong. I do not want to lose any money at all but I also know that it is certain to occur sooner or later. Be prepared by saving your winnings. That way when you suffer the occasional loss, your bankroll survives and you are able to keep playing. More importantly, your family is not affected by the loss. I went through an extended period of involuntary unemployment not long ago. However, since I maintain a separate poker bankroll, I was able to play poker the entire time with no negative impact to the family.

Playing winning poker is a long term prospect. If you treat your poker bankroll as a long term investment and “partition” well, it will grow and you will gain another edge in the long term game.

Monday, March 24, 2008

$how Me the Money - Big Pocket Pairs

The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different. ~Aldous Huxley

While the game of poker has changed over the last few years, it has also remained the same. People talk a lot about us internet guys that can learn in a few years what it used to take much longer to learn about poker. To some extent, it is true due to the volume of hands and experience one can gain on the internet. There has also been a tremendous renaissance of writing about poker from authors to bloggers to actual professionals. However, the ranking of hands, the number of cards in the deck, the number of cards one is dealt, the betting options one may exercise, the rules, etc. have remained the same. Thus, the best starting hands are the same as what they always were and the probability that they will win is still the same as it always was. Where am I going with this?

Upon careful examination of my data, I find that the hands I make the most money with are exactly the ones I would expect to make the most with.
My most profitable starting hands are (in this order):

1 A-A
2 K-K
3 Q-Q
4 J-J
5 10-10

Is anyone surprised? I am not. Each one of these starting hands considered individually has earned me more than all pairs 22 - 99 combined together. Additionally, consider this. Each one of these big pairs considered individually has earned me more than these four starting hands combined: A-Ks, A-Ko, A-Qs, and A-Qo. So, am I recommending that anyone stop playing these? Absolutely not. However, I am recommending that one should recognize these 5 pocket pairs are one’s “bread and butter”. If you are not 3-betting all of these and 4-betting the top three, you are probably not earning as much as you could be. You will not be dealt these hands very often so one should seek to maximize one’s EV with them at every opportunity. That means getting the most money into the pot as soon as possible. I like to get all in pre-flop with these hands whenever possible. Will you run into a cooler from time to time, yes, of course. But you will also put your opponents to the test and they will pay you off more often than you will be paying them off. That, my friends, is positive EV.
So, until next time, good luck at the tables.

Friday, March 21, 2008

You Might be a Predator….

Cards are war, in disguise of a sport – Charles Lamb.

During the farewell of the WPT shows, they used to say things like, “If you can’t spot the sucker at the table, you’re it”. They never say things like that anymore and it is no coincidence. You see, poker has a reputation of being predatory and that doesn’t sell well. The poker industry has made a significant effort to make the game seem less predatory and more friendly. We don’t want to frighten away potential feeder fish, we want them to feel comfortable and relaxed. We want them to think things like “any two cards can win” and “luck’s all in the cards” and “on any given day, you can play with the pros” and other such tripe.

I am not going to try to convince you poker is not a predatory endeavor because I think it is. However, what I am suggesting is that plenty of other life activities and even professions are predatory, too, and everyone seems just fine with them being that way. So, why is poker held in such a state of contempt? Doesn’t a fisherman go to the places he is most likely to catch a big fish rather than just fish in random places?
Most business endeavors are predatory. All Salesmen, certainly are. Lawyers are often compared to sharks for a reason. Heck, Life itself is a survival of the fittest contest, remember the idea of natural selection. It is a fact (and has been for a very long time) that the stronger usually prey on the weaker in any human endeavor. Better prepared lawyers usually defeat ones that are less so. Better athletes usually outperform the less gifted. Better students outscore those less intelligent or studious. So, why shouldn’t more skilled poker players usually defeat less skilled ones? Lambs do not devour lions, but Lions do devour lambs. What is the big deal? It is the natural order of things. It is Darwinian.

Do you stalk your prey by searching for the softest games?
Do you hunt your prey using table selection and position whenever possible?
Do you seek to take advantage of weaker players?
Do you seek to isolate your prey (separating him from the protection of the herd) whenever in a hand with an opponent?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you might be a predator. These are all predatory tactics.

I have read the sage advice of great players and the consensus seems to be that most of the money one makes at poker will come from weaker opponents. Embrace this concept. Live it. Try to identify your prey and play more pots with them. Identify your fellow predators and give them a little more respect.
And, remember, it’s OK, this is the natural order of things.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Using Both Hands – Muffaletas

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food" – George Bernard Shaw

Forget about these over-priced sandwich shops that serve you a huge bun with 2-3 slices of lunchmeat and a ton of lettuce for $6-7. Find yourself a local family owned sandwich shop that serves muffalettas and enjoy a serious sandwich that will stay with you and keep you from being hungry until dinner time. These bad boys are served on various types of rolls (preferably baked in house) and consist of heaping quantities of ham, Salami, mozzarella cheese, and olive salad. Different places put other stuff in there which is OK, but the essence of this thing is the combination of the meat/cheese/olive salad. I guarantee no franchise type place is going to take care of you the way a sole proprietorship family owned place will. Show up regularly and see what happens. Your sandwich will grow with each visit until the bun can barely contain the thing. Some places I go, the muffaletta is so big, I only order a half of one. Either way, whole or half, if you can hold the sandwich in one hand when you take a bite, it isn’t big enough. Find yourself one of these and give it a try. You will thank me later.

Return to the Mookie – When Pocket Aces Just Aren’t Enough

So, I register early for the Mookie and am able to get the family settled in for the night before the tournament began. I am feeling mentally sharp and planning to play conservatively for the first hour or so. I am successful in executing my strategy until approximately 9:36 (Texas time) when I am dealt pocket Aces. I am in early-middle position and dwal78 open bets. I smooth call hoping to attract some action and maybe even get someone to raise for me. Of course, no one does and dwal78 and I take a flop of 9d-Kc-10d. He checks and I move in. He calls and shows the Kd-Jd. The turn is the Qh and the river is the 7d. My Aces are cracked and re-cracked and I am out in 84th place. Maybe next time…..

Please Support the Poker Players Alliance

Stripped of ethical rationalizations and philosophical pretensions, a crime is anything that a group in power chooses to prohibit. – Freda Adler.

My Fellow Americans:

I am proud to be a card-carrying member of the Poker Players Alliance. I despise the UIGEA, its backers, and what it stands for. It is an unnecessary bureaucratic attempt to limit my liberty and pursuit of happiness. If you are an internet poker player and you have not already joined our effort in this battle, what are you waiting for? Consider the following questions:

Do you agree with the UIGEA?
Do you want it modified or stricken?
Do you believe laws get changed on their own or by themselves?

If you answered “no” to any of them, please join me in letting our elected representatives in Washington know what we want as constituents.
Membership is inexpensive and your money will go toward defending our liberty regarding playing poker on the internet.

Here is a letter I sent to my Congressional Representative recently via the PPA:

Thank you for using Poker Players Alliance Mail System

Representative Ron Paul

February 21, 2008

Dear Congressman,

I am writing as a constituent, a voter, and an avid poker player to thank you for submitting to the Federal Reserve your comment concerning the proposed Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) regulations.
I too believe the regulations as proposed are flawed in many areas, so I'm very pleased that you informed the Federal Reserve of your concerns.

I am very concerned about banks "overblocking" lawful Internet gaming, especially Internet poker. I do not believe Internet poker is unlawful nationwide. Federal case law has consistently held that the Wire Act applies only to interstate sports betting, very few states have any laws prohibiting Internet poker, and UIGEA did not change the legal status of online poker. All UIGEA did was restrict financial transactions for Internet gaming unlawful under other federal and state gaming laws.

The Department of Justice says it disagrees with the appellate court rulings on the scope of the Wire Act. However, as they have chosen to not test this assumption in any court against any Internet poker operator, their confidence in their opinion appears to be questionable.

Suffice it to say, interpreting the many relevant Internet gaming laws is difficult. In fact, as you noted in your submitted comment, the regulation authors themselves were unable to do so. Unfortunately, rather than simply requiring banks to enforce gaming that is clearly illegal, like interstate sports betting, the regulation authors decided to burden every bank, credit union, and other financial institution in the nation with this task. I believe this would force banks to overblock many legal transactions. As you noted in your comment, this certainly was not the intent of Congress.

I urge you to continue to demand that the regulation authors "undertake additional efforts to determine, on a state-by-state basis, precisely what transactions payment systems are required to block". Our financial institutions must know exactly what they are required to prevent.

I also ask you to support clarifying legislation currently in the House.
If you've not yet, please consider cosponsoring HR 2610, the Skill Game Protection Act and HR 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act. HR 2610 clarifies federal law by expressly exempting games of skill like poker from UIGEA and from the Wire Act. HR 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, regulates online poker via stringent licensing regulations for poker site operators. Both bills have rigorous safeguards against underage and compulsive gambling.

Thank you again for your support.



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sunken Treasures – Mussels

Some of you may not have gotten the news yet, but there are these little filter feeders similar to clams called mussels. They are widely available at many Italian restaurants and some seafood places. I highly recommend them to you, dear readers. There are different types but I prefer the small ones over the larger varieties. I like mine topped with a savory red sauce and served with some crusty bread for mopping up the bottom of the bowl. They are also quite delicious served in a white wine sauce (with crusty bread) but I prefer the red sauce. These are the perfect appetizer for any Italian meal as they are not going to make you feel so full you cannot enjoy your entrée. They also go well with a nice red wine (or white if you do not opt for the red sauce). The next time you are at a place you know serves fresh seafood (like all seafood, freshness is key) give the mussels a try. You’ll thank me later.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oklahoma Trip Report, Part 2

About this time, there is a really loud commotion as some players on a nearby table have hit the bad beat jackpot for about $19K. I lose some small pots and decide I need to reload (yes, for a 3rd time). Soon, after open betting and getting called in three places, I flop an OESD and 2nd nut flush draw with K-Qs.
I make my flush on the turn and get all in with another player that had flopped a set of Jacks. Can you guess what happens? The river is another 10 (there was one on the flop) and my flush takes an unpleasant boat ride. I am not tilted although the suckouts are killing me. I take a short break and walk around thinking about my play and my breathing. I evaluate my play and my competition and decide to reload for a 4th time. I play for several orbits without getting anything decent. A friendly guy from Dallas to my left had been betting 5xbb every time he had a small or middle pocket pair so after I limped my A-10s and he bet his usual 5xbb, I smooth called. The flop is Ah-7c-2h. I check planning to check raise since I had him covered. He politely accommodates me by betting and I CR him all in. Sure enough, he tables 5c-5h. I table my Ac-10c. He says, “nice hand” and prepares to reload. BUT, wait! The turn is the 9h and the river is the 10h giving me top 2 pair and him a runner-runner suck out flush. WTF?
On top of the crappy luck, it is 1:40am I am now advised it’s last call. Huh? Last call for alcohol in a casino? Is the casino closing? Is this some sort of bad joke? I really need to talk with the business people that run this place about the money they are leaving on the table. I am shocked but compose myself and call the lovely waitress. I generously tip her (for the umpteenth time) and ask her to bring me several beers. I go on, over the next 3 hours to surreptitiously sip my well concealed cup(s) of beer and re-build my stack from $60 to $300. Oddly enough, after losing repeatedly with good hands, I won all of these pots with top pair crappy kicker hands and C-bets on missed flops. Go figure. I suppose I had developed a table image of showing nothing but great hands so my bets were finally getting some respect. There were over 15 tables still going strong at 5:30am when I racked out.
Overall, I had a good time but would leave the Winstar Casino one buy in lighter than I had arrived. One thing I didn’t like was that they rake the small blind before the pot is confirmed for the flop. This made the SB often wonder what happened to their blind when it was time to complete their blind pre-flop. Even though I did not win this time, I proved to myself (again) that I can endure some bad beats without tilting, read and outplay my opponents, recover from crippling early losses, and enjoy myself in spite of getting unlucky. Moreover, following the sage advice of Tommy Angelo, I had quit well. I smiled inwardly, to myself, as I boarded the shuttle back to the motel to get some sleep.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Oklahoma Trip Report, Part 1

The weather in Dallas was a very comfortable 86 degrees and pleasant. We BBQ’d briskets and ribs most of the day but my mind kept wandering in anticipation of the serious poker we would be playing later. It seemed as though the appointed hour would never arrive. Finally, we headed north from the Colony at about 6:30 pm. I- 35 is not particularly scenic but at least the road was smooth as opposed to the pot hole ridden ride out I-10 to Louisiana.
Upon arrival at the Winstar Casino, I headed straight to the poker room.
The room is very large and nice with about 45 tables and competent dealers. They use auto shufflers. The floor staff seemed pretty good, too, since I got the chance to observe them fill in for dealers a few times (something I have not seen elsewhere). Incredibly, you must PURCHASE your beer which sucks because they charge $3.50 each. They only have 1 waitress serving cocktails but plenty serving food. Evidently, they do not want their clients to get a good buzz, which seems counter-intuitive to me.

I obtained $100 chips (max buy in is $200) and got on the list for a seat. Yes, I buy in somewhat light. This is by design since I like to use a semi-short stack strategy ala Ed Miller. I think I get more action with a short stack and it keeps my decisions relatively uncomplicated. I was seated (after waiting about 15 minutes) in the 2 seat of table 22. It was approximately 8:30pm. I observed two lovely ladies working the room. One, I recognized right away, Lady Luck. Her friend, I thought I had seen before but could not quite place her. It would not be long before Lady Luck re-acquainted me with her alluring associate, the vampiric Madame Variance.
I did not get anything worth mentioning for the first 40 minutes and folded a lot. Then, I get 5-5 in late position and limp in with 4 others. The flop is A-5-9 rainbow. In my mind, it almost couldn’t have been any better. An early player bets the pot, gets one caller and I smooth call, too. The turn is a meaningless Q. The early better bets half the pot, the caller calls again and I move in. The better folds but the caller stares at me, thinks about it, and announces call. I table my set and he turns over pocket 10s. What he thought I had, I can’t even imagine since both the Ace and the Queen beat him. The dealer burns and reveals the river – a 10. The guy hits his 2 freaking outer on the river. I had him covered so I am not out but I am very short. I consider rebuying but decide to take a shot at getting lucky with my remaining few chips. Within a hand or two, I am dealt 6-6 in the BB. The pot is limped to me so I move in for my last $20 and get one caller, a friendly Asian gentleman from the Austin area. I table my sixes, he turns over K-5offsuit, and I am a 70% favorite to win. Of course, a King comes right out on the flop, so I reload. Within a few orbits, I get A-A in the BB. The pot is limped to me so I bet the pot (to look like a steal) and to sweeten the pot because I never limp my Aces. What do you suppose happened? Everyone folds, of course. Oh well. I keep grinding. Within 3 orbits, I get A-A again. This time there is a 5xbb bet from a loose player and three callers before the action gets to me. I raise! Everyone folds but the original better. Sweet! I have isolated this guy, he has been showing some questionable hands, and he has a big stack. I am feeling good and plan to move in on the flop since my stack is now roughly equal to the pot. The flop is 8-8-5 rainbow. He checks and I move in. He insta-calls and tables 8-5offsuit. Are you kidding me? I shrug and reload for the 2nd time. I get nothing playable for a while so I focus on my breathing and watch the other players. Then I get A-Qs in late position. The pot is limped to me (again) and I bet the pot. Two guys call and we see a flop of Qh-10d-4d so I have TPTK and the nut flush draw. A tight early player bets and a very short stacked Russian guy moves in. I have him covered but I want to drive out the tight guy in EP and isolate the shorty so I re-raise all in, too. Sure enough, the EP guy folds his A-Qo face up. I table my Ad-Qd and the Russian fellow tables his Q-10o. Lame, but I have outs. I do not improve and he wins. No big deal but damn, I am running cold tonight.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Going to Play Live this Weekend

I am heading up north to Dallas for a family gathering this weekend and while I am in the vicinity, I will be crossing over into Oklahoma to play at the Winstar Casino. I have never been there but I hear they have a nice poker room. I plan to follow my usual strategy (short stack, uber-tag) for live play and hope to return to Texas with a tidy profit.
That gentleman, Ed Miller, knows what he is talking about. By buying in short, I avoid most tough decisions and protect my bankroll at the same time. I will also be employing some of the techniques I learned by reading “Elements of Poker”. I will pay attention to my breathing and hope to improve on my “quitting”. I will focus exclusively on No Limit Texas Hold’em cash games and look to grind out at least 6-8 hours on the tables. Upon my return, you may expect an obligatory trip report.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Big is Big? – Big Aces

Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth. ~Ludwig Börne

Another review of my data leads me to another post about popular starting hands, big Aces. Different people define “big” differently. I know people that think A-10 or better is a big Ace. I also know people that never saw an Ace they didn’t like. I am not one of those individuals. I think the list of truly big Aces is rather short - A-Ks, A-Ko, A-Qs, and A-Qo - that’s it.

Texas Hold’ Em is a game of domination. One wants to dominate one’s opponent and reduce his chances to win. Playing weak Aces (or Kings, etc.) is a recipe for being dominated by stronger Aces. Thus, we will eschew them while hoping our opponents continue to over play them. Remember, there is a reason why A-K and A-Q (suited or not) are included in the top 20 best starting hands and weaker Aces are not. My own data supports this conclusion. A-K and A-Q (both suited and off suit) are consistent winners but A-Jo and A-10o are not.

I play A-Js and A-10s but not because I think they are big. I play them as suited Aces and I am looking to flop a flush draw or Aces up. They can win as top pair but the pot will not be big because I will be exercising pot control.
The fact of the matter is this, A-J offsuit and other smaller non-suited Aces are not consistent long term winners. Sure, I will probably attempt to steal with them from the Hi Jack, Cut Off, or Button but they are too weak to play from early position with consistent success in full ring NLHE cash games.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hands that Consistently Lose Money

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself. - Ludwig Wittgenstein

Continuing to work on my “A” game, I am reviewing my data and looking for hands that are consistent losers. By eliminating these from my game for the most part, I am lopping off a sizable chunk of my “C” game. The net result should be an increase in my “A” game. Which hands are these wicked temptresses that lure me into handing over my hard earned cash, you ask? They are probably the same hands that entice some of you with their siren song, my dear readers, sweet seeming suited connectors like J-10s, 9-10s, 8-9s. Add in the handsome looking K-10s and the lovely Q-10s and you have a cadre of attractive starting hands that are consistent losers for me. What else might we find? Well, I mentioned in a previous post that the cute little ducklings 2-2 have also proven to be losers. Then, add in the hands that I know are troublesome and probably should not be playing anyway like A-Jo, A-10o, A-9o, A-8o and voila! There you have it.
While I will not recommend one should never play these hands, one should certainly limit their allure to the Hi-Jack, Cut Off, and Button. Even then, one should exercise caution and prudence as these hands often make a hand that is 3rd or 4th best – which is definitely negative EV.
A couple of caveats to note are:
1) suited connectors containing a 5 were more often winners than suited connectors containing a 10, and
2) big suited connectors, such as Q-Js, K-Qs, and A-Ks, are consistent winners.

I whole heartedly recommend you perform a similar exercise for yourself and see how much of your “C” game you can eliminate. Until next time, good luck at the tables.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Working on My “A” Game

The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer. ~Edward R. Murrow.

I just completed Tommy Angelo’s book, “Elements of Poker”. I enjoyed it and will be working to incorporate some of his recommendations into my game. The book primarily offers advice on how to improve one’s meta-game. How to reduce the incidences of one's “C” game and increase those of one’s “A” game. He makes a compelling case for both why and how to reduce your “C” game. He also gives some sound advice on other topics that are not the usual poker strategy stuff. Like how to improve one’s game by improving one’s folding and one’s quitting. Things that are a necessary part of every player’s game but things we rarely ever think about because they are so ubiquitous.
Imagine this - how to improve one’s game by breathing better. Yeah, that’s right, breathing. I tried his advice last night in a home game and it was right on. I was running hot and having a good time with my friends but noticed I was becoming distracted by all the table talk and other stuff going on so I started consciously thinking about my breathing. Within minutes I was back on my “A” game and re-focused. Amazing.
I definitely recommend this book as a means of identifying some improvements in your game that you probably have not ever considered.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Turning Small Change into Cash – Small Pocket Pairs

“Our aim, in philosophy, is to show the fly the way out of the fly bottle” - Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I have been looking for opportunities to get more value from my game (full ring NLHE) and decided to review how I am doing with small pairs. I will define those as 22 – 77. Why, you ask?
Well, because you are going to see an overcard to pocket 7s on the flop 92% of the time (and even more often for smaller pairs). That means you basically have to flop a set to want to continue with confidence. Let me say that again, greater than 92% of the time you see a flop with a small pocket pair, there will be overcards to your pair.

I have 82K hands in my database. (Digression: If any of my readers play online and
do not have Poker Tracker, why not? For a ridiculously low price, you can analyze and review your play. If you are at all serious about winning at online poker, you have got
to have it.) All pocket pairs but 2-2 are profitable winners but some are more profitable than others. For me, J-J and 10-10 win 68% of the time, 9-9 only wins 43% and 8-8 only 33%. Once you get to 7-7 and 6-6, the Win% is only 24%, 5-5 = 20%, 3-3 = 12% and ends at a paltry 9% for deuces. Thus, the Win% drops precipitously as we go down the list and is generally low for most small pairs.

Interestingly, for me, 6-6 is the most profitable pair lower than 10-10. No other small pair comes close (and I have flopped approximately the same percentage of sets with other small pairs so the difference is not due to flopping more sets with 6-6). I have also won more with 6-6 than I have with any of the following starting hands: A-Ks, A-Ko, A-Qs, and A-Qo. No other pair below 10-10 has won more than these hands. 4-4 and 3-3 are the next best two (in that order) and I have won more with them than I have with 5-5, 7-7, 8-8, and 9-9 combined. I have lost more with 2-2 than any other pocket pair.

If you add up all the money I have won with 2-2 all the way up to 9-9, it still does not equal what I have won with 10-10 alone (or any other higher pair).

What can we learn from this? Well, most small pairs are profitable but (usually) only if you can see the flop inexpensively and flop a set. Betting/stealing from the Hi-Jack, Cut-Off and/or button is OK, too, if you are willing to C-bet any flop that is checked to you and fold to a check raise unless you flopped a set. Cold calling bets/raises with them is only recommended if: 1) you are getting the right pot odds to set mine, or 2) you are planning to bluff/semi-bluff and steal the pot on a later street.

Remember: money saved is money earned and bets not wasted are just as valuable as bets that are won. So, until next time, good luck at the tables.