Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Game Selection, Part 2 – Motivation

“When we play, we must realize, before anything else, that we are out to make money.” – David Sklansky

Why do you play? It is a good question to ask one’s self. I play to win money from my opponents. To me, poker is about money. Losing money isn’t fun. While I accept it as an unavoidable fact of the game that sometimes, I will lose, I don’t like it. I proactively want to minimize the instances and amounts I lose. Remember, losing less is the same as winning more.

As a contrast, I used to play Magic but since there was no money involved in the outcome of the games, my approach and attitude toward the game was entirely different. Winning wasn’t even that important compared to just having a good time. If I consistently lost money at poker, I would probably quit playing (I can’t imagine the opposite – i.e. consistently winning and not having fun). I suppose there is something to be said for challenging one’s self so if winning money is not one’s top priority and one wants to knowingly play with superior opponents for the “experience”, it’s your money but please understand it is a –EV situation. However, if one wants to make money then one should be mindful of the game one is taking a seat in.

Even though poker is “just” my hobby, I take winning very seriously.
Barry Greenstein says this about being motivated to win,

“You need to convince yourself that you must win. It is easy to get lazy when you have no immediate money pressure.”

Since I do not play for my living, the only pressure on me to achieve results is self imposed. I have to “want it”. I have to be single mindedly focused on taking my opponents chips. I used to play for lots of reasons, such as:

a) It was “that” time, my family was in bed and my window of opportunity was open
b) I had some unexpected free time
c) I was working on clearing a bonus
d) for sheer entertainment/fun

Now, before playing, I ask myself, “are you capable of mustering your ass-kicking-est “A” game?” If I do not answer myself in the affirmative, then it is not a good time to play. Instead, I read or re-read some poker literature, review hand histories/stats in pokertracker, catch up on reading poker blogs, etc.
The point being, I am consciously choosing to play only when I am at my predatory, separate you from your chips, 2nd and 3rd level thinking, best.
This inherently gives me an edge over all the players that are playing for some other reason. It simultaneously serves to prevent me from playing my “C” game at all for the most part. Consider this whenever playing, many of your opponents’ number one priority is winning your chips. If your goal is anything else, you have already ceded them an advantage. Should one really expect to win consistently if one isn’t playing with a similar singularity of purpose?

I spend a fair amount of time thinking, reading, writing, and playing poker to improve my skills and I want to be paid for my work. I don’t think that is an unreasonable position to hold. To me, all money is equally green and desirable.
I try to keep my ego out of the equation. One dollar equals one dollar whether won from a pro, a blogger, or a complete novice.

So, ask yourself, do you really want to win?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Game Selection, Part 1 - Predation

I don't particularly give a shit about trying to beat moderately tough games. I'd rather stay home and jerk off. - Gary Carson

While I don’t necessarily share Mr. Carson’s sentiment exactly, I do agree with what I perceive to be the spirit of his colorful remark. If one wants to be successful at poker, one must cultivate a robust desire to maximize +EV situations. Game selection (i.e. playing with weaker opponents rather than stronger ones) is vital to identifying and creating +EV situations. Plenty of poker luminaries have written (and I agree) that the vast majority of the money one will make playing poker will come from the mistakes of one’s opponents. Therefore, to maximize one’s expected value, one ought to seek games/tables with the greatest volume of weak opponents (and conversely, avoid games with strong ones).

Barry Greenstein says, “Don’t be afraid to back down if you do not like the line up in a game. You should pass on a situation with a small advantage if you can find one with a larger advantage. You don’t need to prove you’re the best. To make money, you just need to find people who play worse than you do.”

Winning money at poker isn’t about finding the toughest game and “proving” one’s self against a group of really good opponents. That may be good for building one’s ego but it’s not a long term strategy for building a bankroll. Besides, what those players think is not the measuring stick one should use to gauge success. I want to consistently win money and increase my poker bankroll. That’s it. No where in the equation is finding real pros, tough games, etc. Now, lest anyone hasten to suggest I am overly results oriented, consider this: anyone that uses online poker software when they play (for anything other than post-game analysis of one’s own play) implicitly agrees with this philosophy because no one uses that software to find the toughest games/opponents available. Show me a game/table with weak players and I will cheerfully play with them every opportunity I get. Take me to a table of really tough pros or semi-pros and I will probably cash out immediately and go find a game I can beat. Understanding and accepting one’s own capabilities, motivation, as well as, limitations will help to identify +EV situations and avoid ones that are –EV.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thanks to My Readers

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength.
Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies with yourself. – Tecumseh Shawnee Chief

I would like to take a moment to offer a sincere THANKS to all my readers for taking the time to check out my blog, make comments about my posts, and/or add a link to my blog on their own site.
I also want to thank all the bloggers that have “pimped” my blog on their own pages – yes, I am talking to you - High on Poker, Tripjax, Sir Waffles, and DP's Wired Pairs.

It seems my somewhat “controversial” posts (e.g. short stacking) draw a lot more traffic than ones that offer less opportunity for disagreement and discussion. I enjoy the opportunity to refine my thoughts and opinions and want to encourage my readers to continue to let me know what they think even when they disagree with me. That’s all part of a healthy discussion.
So, with that said, expect me to post on another topic I think might spur some dialogue in the very near future.

Where's the Beef?

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. - J.R.R. Tolkien

Today, I'm talking about serious Burgers. Not those lame things that pass for burgers from fast food places made with meat by-products and fortified with who knows what for shelf life, a real made from ground beef (and nothing else) burger is only available at a few places these days. Furthermore, if you can hold the hamburger in one hand to eat it, it is too small. One local place that gets it right is Fuddruckers. Their meat patties are so thick you have to tell them how rare or well to cook your burger. That’s right, unlike those other places you usually go with the wafer thin patties, you have options here. They also grind their own meat and make their own buns in house. They also have a well stocked condiment bar with an array of sauces and lots of fresh (not crinkly, wilted, or old) vegetables. You can get a 1/3, ½, 2/3, or 1lb burger depending on your appetite. As an additional bonus, they use shortening for frying which gives the food a more crisp and tasty exterior than oil (kinda like your grandma used to make). Even though they are a national “chain” and not a “mom-and-pop” type of place like I usually prefer, they serve up the best hamburgers around. Lucky for you, there may even be one somewhere near your area. Now, if they only had a drive through.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blogger Tournaments on Bodog

The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity. - Ayn Rand

Opportunity is what poker is all about, so check this out. In addition to the overlay offered for $mokkee’s BoDonkey online poker tournament, Bodog is going to send some lucky blogger to the World Series of Poker in fabulous Las Vegas. That’s right, the intelligent, savvy, and well read folks over at Bodog have subjected themselves to our writing and they know a good thing when they read it. Their business acumen is surpassed only by their generosity to those of us that like to write about our poker misadventures. They've even got a prop bet pool going on which blogger will win the most money at the WSOP this year!
Be there, Tuesday evenings at 9:05pm Eastern Time for the $11.00 buy in deep stacked NLHE online poker tournament.
As always, good luck at the tables.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Confessions of a Short Stacker, Part 3 - the Conclusion

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. - Friedrich Nietzche.

Although playing short stacked is a strategy that works for me, it seems to get a lot of grief from other online players (I have never heard a live player complain about it). I, for one, do not understand what the grievance is all about. Short stacking is similar to guerilla warfare. I have fewer resources than my opponent and I need to extract maximum value from the resources I have. I think the objection to short stacking boils down to this: it is an effective strategy that is difficult to exploit.

If I have met the table minimum, then I have complied with the same rules all the other players had to follow. They elected to buy in for some amount between the table minimum and the table maximum, too. The only real downside to playing short stacked is you are limiting the amount you can win in one hand. The short stack is the effective stack. Although I amass my winnings more slowly with a short stack, my opponents have to outplay/outthink/outkick me repeatedly rather than get lucky once or twice. If I choose to spread my risk out in this manner, it is my decision, it is a perfectly legal strategy, and it should not carry with it any sort of unnecessary stigma. Playing short stacked is not angle shooting, ratholing, or cheating. There are plenty of people that really do cheat/angle shoot/rathole and our loathing and disdain should be reserved for those players.
When any player sits down at a poker table, whether online or live, he is under no obligation to stay any particular time. He might take one hand, he might take one orbit, he might stay for one hour, or he might stay for much longer. It is all up to the player himself. Some folks seem to think that if one takes a seat and wins, then he has to stay some undisclosed amount of additional time to allow the other players the opportunity to win some of their money back. This doesn’t really make sense to me. In fact, any player remaining seated and in the game may win some or all of his losses back from the table at large and the effect will be the same as if he won it back from me. Each dollar counts as one dollar no matter whom it is won from, one still equals one. If I want to stand up after winning, whether I have been seated one hand or one day, it is my choice. It doesn’t make me a ratholer or an unethical player. I do not attempt to influence how long anyone else remains at a table and I do not think anyone should try to coax or coerce me. If I want to keep playing, I will. If I do not want to keep playing, I won’t.

It is all part of learning to quit well…….not well for my opponents, well for me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Art of Quitting Well

History is Philosophy teaching by examples. – Thucydides.

Every single time anyone plays poker, without exception, there will come a point at which one quits the session. No one can play forever. Sometimes one may play for a really long session and sometimes one may play for a rather brief period. It all depends upon ones schedule, priorities, bankroll, mood, level of fatigue, and many other factors. No one but one’s self can know the best time for one to end a given session. I like to quit when I am ahead. In my mind, it is similar to owning a stock that is rising in value but will eventually peak and come back down. One can never know what the peak will be until it has passed and the price is on the way down. People that sell after booking a reasonable profit but before the peak are said to have “sold short”. It is a strategy recommended by many experts to ensure profits. Rather than wait until I have lost back my hard earned winnings, I prefer to ensure a profitable session by leaving while I am ahead, sort of like “selling short” in financial securities. Selling short and quitting while ahead are perfectly fair, legal, and reasonable strategies. Anytime after I have tripled (or better) my buy in, is always a good time to quit. Anyone that thinks it is bad form or unethical to leave while ahead probably doesn’t book as many winning sessions as they could. Why should one feel obligated to keep playing just because he is ahead for the session? Occasionally, I quit when I am behind. I do not like to do so but if I sense I am off my “A” game, then that is a good time to quit. If the table composition has changed to the extent that it becomes unfavorable to me, then that is a good time to quit. There are many different reasons for when to quit, some better than others, but all valid if one believes now is the time for one’s self to quit. No one can make that decision for you better than you can. Quitting well is an art. Think about it. Practice it. If you can learn to quit more effectively than your opponents (because they will inevitably have to quit, too) you have another edge over them.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Confessions of a Short Stacker, Part 2 – Casino Play

All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusion is called a philosopher. – Ambrose Bierce

Short Stacked
1. Adjective - Having few chips, either due to having lost many or due to having joined the table with significantly fewer chips than other players.

Hit and Run
1. Verb - To leave a table after only a brief period of play, especially when the player doing so leaves the table with more money or chips than they joined it with.

1. Noun - A player who regularly removes a portion of one's winnings from the table before leaving the game entirely.

As a point of clarification, I do buy in short stacked and I do (sometimes) hit and run but I am not a ratholer.

I know many experts recommend against buying in for less than the maximum.
However, I disagree and so does Ed Miller, a noted poker authority. If you are one of those guys that has a huge bankroll and/or gambles for entertainment without too much concern for making sure to win, then by all means, do what you want. I, on the other hand, single-mindedly play to win and increase my roll.
I currently play 1-2 NLHE but I want to keep building my roll so I can play higher stakes.
I like to buy in for $100 at most 1-2 NLHE tables (which is often above the minimum).
I am looking to play big pairs and big suited cards. Top pair, top kicker is gold in these games and a flopped set (or 2 pair) is even better. My goal is to build a pot pre-flop and then, providing it is not a situation where I am obviously beaten, I will move in on the flop. Despite playing few hands, I almost always get lots of action. Since I am small stacked, they think it won’t cost me much to play with this guy. I love it and most of my decisions are easy.
Once I build my stack to about $300-400, I change gears and play more hands. With a medium to large stack (compared to the other stacks at the table), I like to play more small pairs and try to flop sets in addition to playing big pairs and suited connectors. If I double up again, I will cash out and go get some food. Usually, by this point I have played about 4 hours and I am ready to call it a night and book the win. However, if I have only played a couple of hours and I still feel sharp after eating, I will go back, get a seat, and repeat the process. This has worked extremely well for me at all the casinos where I have played. I have amassed 40% of my entire current roll using this strategy. I know I shouldn’t be so results oriented but what can I say – it works.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Confessions of a Short Stacker, Part 1 - Online Play

Persistence is the twin sister of excellence. One is a matter of quality; the other, a matter of time. - Marabel Morgan

The best thing about online poker is the ability to play multiple tables at once.
Multi-tabling is only possible online, you can’t do it at a casino or a homegame.
I like to play between 4-6 tables at once and I always buy in short for several reasons.

A) I get more action. I probably appear to be a fish for buying short so my opponents may be hoping to play pots with me.

B) Because my stack is short, I am less threatening to potential opponents since I can’t stack them, i.e. they have me covered.

C) I am risking the minimum (20BB) and this reduces my variance. My variance is much greater online than live, so I like to do all I can to minimize my variance.

D) Short stacking makes my calculations and decisions very straightforward.

E) Prospective opponents probably think they can push me around and make me fold even when they do not have the best hand.

By buying in short, I am actively seeking opportunities to get all my chips into the pot with an opponent. That’s the whole idea.
I bet/raise pre-flop and I am usually either pushing or folding on the flop (sometimes the turn). If I push a few times without being called, it won’t be long before some opponent decides he is going to “look me up”. That opponent rarely wants to look me up a second time. Before long, my stack is near a full buy in and it is time to start over at a new table. If I buy in full at 6 tables, I have more of my online roll in play than I want to at any given point. I have tried buying in full at 6 lower stakes tables but the simple fact is I do not get nearly as much action and it takes me way more time and way more hands played to achieve the same profit. The approximate ratio of success (on average) is 4 out of 6, meaning I double up (or better) at 4 tables and lose my stack at 2 tables. Incidentally, some people think this type of strategy is not “kosher” but it is 100% within the rules and recommended by Ed Miller. Most importantly, this strategy seems to work for me. However, I am always looking for ways to improve my game so comments are welcomed.