Friday, June 30, 2006

The BadBlood Slows and Turns to Stone

I don’t do much traveling for the company.  Mainly, I just don’t like it.  So if I really have to, I try to make the trips worthwhile by somehow including some live poker on the itinerary.  Last year, when I had to travel to Austria, I managed to time it to coincide with Otis’ coverage of the Vienna EPT event.  That short time at the Concorde Card Casino made the whole cross-Atlantic flight worth it.

This past week, I was in the Albany/Schenectady area.  I finished my obligations early on Thursday, and my coworker Random101 and I took the 90-minute drive to Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY.  It’s very similar to Foxwoods in that there is nothing whatsoever nearby and then, bam, it’s “Hey!  A casino!”

The poker room is pretty decent.  They were spreading a bunch of low limit games like $2/$4 and $3/$6 but also had a $15/$30 going.  For no limit, they had the following types of tables, $1/$2 (100-max), $1/$2 (200-max), $2/$5 (300-max), and $5/$5 (500-max).  Random101 and I took up shop in seats 9 and 10 at the $200 max buy-in table and played for about 6 hours.

It took only that long for me to go busto.

To be fair, I didn’t bring my entire roll, but did drop slightly more than two buy-ins at the table.  I was involved in 5 major pots and lost 4 of them.  The only big pot I won was AA vs QQ and my rockets held, although not without a runner-runner flush scare on the turn.

The players were, shall we say, unsophisticated.  I’ll give you a few examples of play to showcase their talent level.  And, oh yes, you can hear about some bad beats.  Come along.

The player in the 7 seat was the loudmouth action guy.  He claimed he normally played the $500 tables but there were currently none running.  He raised it up in MP to $15 and after the 8 seat called, I did too with pocket 9’s.  The big blind came along for the ride too.  The flop was AdQh9h and loud mouth leads out for $30.  Seat 8 folds and I do what most would consider a standard play and raised it to $90.  Two hearts, a potential open-ender for JT and I wouldn’t mind taking the pot down now.  The big blind hems and haws for an eternity and then folds his obvious draw.  Loud mouth decides to just call and seat 8 folds.  The turn is the 2h and seat 8 leads out again.  But for only $30!  There’s now $270 in the pot and I’m getting 9:1 on my set.  I call, knowing he hit his flush, but praying for the board to pair.  Sadly a 4th heart fell on the river and he went all in.  I mucked and he showed Ah8h.  He flopped top pair with the nut flush draw.  If he pushes over the top of my raise to $90, he stacks me.  I don’t like his line, but it did save me my remaining chips.

Later on in the evening, an uber-donk sits down in seat 5.  I open by raising to $10 with pocket J’s.  It’s folded back to him in the big blind and he re-pops another $25.  He’d just bought in and I had no read on him but still called.  The flop was 955 and he checked.  Two things were going off in my head when he checked.  The first was that he was smartly playing a bigger overpair and would get me to bet at that flop.  The second was that he re-raised with AK, not necessarily a bad play.  Sadly, neither was true.  I glanced at his stack and he had about $120 left.  I bet $50 on the flop having a hunch that it was AK and I was good.  As soon as I bet, I KNEW I was good by his reaction.  However, that sure didn’t stop him from eventually deciding to just go all-in.  I insta-called and he showed  pocket 7’s.  Yes, that’s right, another good read and what I still feel was a good play by yours truly.  Seven on the turn.

My last hand of the night was KQ in the big blind.  I elected to check my option with about 5 limpers.  The flop was KT6 rainbow.  I checked with the check-raise in mind and got my wish when a new straightforward lady player in seat 1 bet out $6.  Uber-donk in the 5 seat called and I raised to $20.  Seat 1 folded and uber called.  I put him on either a weaker King or the Ten.  See, second pair was gold at this table, gold I say.  The turn brought a 4 and I had only $75 left in my stack.  The pot was about $56 at this point and I didn’t want him to catch his donkey two-pair or trips.  So I pushed.  I even said aloud “Maybe you’ll call.”  I figured a fold but was wrong when he slowly counted out 15 reds and dropped them in the pot.  He showed ATo and at that point, the girl in seat 1 said “I folded AT too.”  Nice.  Only 3 outs.  Good read, good play.  Ten on the river.

All in all, the trip was fun.  I left the table, not too displeased with my play.  I did make one suspect play when I pushed with pocket T’s on an AKQ7 board with 3-hearts.  I had the T of hearts, but the button gladly called with pocket 7’s.  Big mis-read there, but in the final analysis I had 14 outs.  I’ll not defend that play too greatly, but it wasn’t abhorrent.  I probably called a few too many bets on the flop and turn only to fold the river on missed draws.  I was just dying to get paid off on a made hand, but it just never came.  And paid off I would have been, trust me.

****

This trip was Random101’s first live casino poker play for him and he held up rather well.  Those in G-Vegas know him to be an extremely tight player who will capitalize on his table image at times against the right players (*cough* G-Rob *cough*).  Random101 lost his first buy-in with pocket A’s vs. QQ on a KQx flop.  His second buy-in outlasted mine though and he was able to cash out chips at the cashier.  I, on the other hand, simply got to keep my souvenir $1 chip for my collection.  For those who care, the chips are clay, most likely Paulson’s.

Random101 nearly did lose the rest of his buy-in on a zero-outer to a tollbooth operator on Route 90.

It was dark and he was giving me some cash for the tolls.  Just in case, he asked that we turn on the lights to make sure it was just $1 bills he was handing out.  Luckily we caught the stray $100 before it made its way into the hands of Joey Palooka.  That would have been funny.  Blood: two and three outers.  Random101:  zero-outers.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Arch Enemy, Close Friend

More than likely, over the years, I’ve played more poker hands with G-Rob than anyone else.  Of anyone’s game, he knows mine better than anyone, and I like to think the same is true about his.  Together, we combat on several levels, each knowing many times what the other is thinking and knowing what the other will do given a certain action.  With his style being so aggressive he can often times put pressure on me and get me to lay down winning hands.  He’s done it before and will do so again.

****

For the first few hours at the Spring Hotel, I’d not played many big pots.  In fact, I hadn’t lost a showdown and had steadily taken down pots without showing many hands with continuation bets.  Some hands hit, some did not.  Nobody really had a firm grasp on what cards I was playing.

****

I heard the dreaded words, “last orbit” with a nod to G-Rob.  It was past midnight and we’d soon be heading home.  He had (yet again) pretty much run over the table and amassed a roughly $700 stack from his initial $200 buy-in.  Me?  I was nursing a small $100+ profit, hoping to squeak out of there with a win.  With about five hands to go, from middle position, I looked down at two red Kings.

****

A tight table image will get your raises respect.  Even still, with a limper ahead of me, I felt a raise to $12 was appropriate.  G-Rob called from the big blind as did the limper.  Three to a 256 flop with two clubs.  Right smack dab in G-Rob’s range.

****

Unsurprisingly, G-Rob would assume that the flop missed me entirely.  So he bet $30 into a similar sized pot.  Limper calls.  With two clubs, I know a call is wholly inappropriate, bad poker.  I raised $75 more to $105.

Enter G-Rob.

Re-raise.

$100 more.

****

The donkey limper grew irritated.  G-Rob had played power poker against him all night, properly betting him off draws and what turned out to be eventually winning hands.  The guy was slow and slurred his speech, perhaps he was a bit intoxicated.  Or a bit dumb.  He asked G-Rob if he’d been ever slapped out of his seat.  Not that G-Rob needs my help in a fight, I still replied “Not with me sitting near him.”

Finally, the guy folded his obvious two clubs.

But what to put G-Rob on…

****

G-Rob had played AA the same way earlier in the night against Shep.  He knew I saw that, so he knows I might put him on a set because he doesn’t reraise with a high enough frequency without the goods.  If I put him on two-pair, I have more outs, but am still behind.  He also could have clubs.  I’ve seen him bet draws huge with a massive stack before, putting other people to the test and seeing them wilt.

Other possible holdings included overpairs.  But not Aces.  He reraises preflop with them from the blinds.  That I pretty much know.

****

I took off my iPod headphones and turned it off.  The table was quiet.  I had about $200 left and knew calling was folly.  Finally, not fully knowing what to put G-Rob on, I reraised all-in.  His range was simply too wide.

****

The look on his face told me I made the right decision.  But of course, given the pot, he had to call.

He had pocket Tens.  My adrenaline is still flowing, nearly an entire day later.

That was poker.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Morbid Tales

The game I insist on continuing to play is all about timing and reads.  One thing that I’ve noticed during this down swing is that my reads on other players is actually improving.  But because my timing is shot to hell, sometimes being right about your opponent’s holding doesn’t mean Bo Diddly.

Some basic reads gone right, but hands gone wrong.

Online, $200NL 6-max.  Mid position with AJ, I raise to $8 and get a single caller from the blinds.  The flop is KJJ, two diamonds.  Blind checks, and I bet $12.  Why bet?  Because of the diamonds and because nobody bets flops they hit huge right?  I get min-raised to $24.  Ok, opponent has a J, and if it’s a naked J, I have him out kicked.  I call.  Turn brings a 3rd diamond and the blind checks.  My read continues to be a naked J because if you have a full house and a flush draw hits, many players bet.  I know I would.  I bet half his stack, he smooth calls.  River is a 4th diamond.  My Ace is not a diamond.  Blind checks as do I.  He shows TJ for the win.  T of diamonds.  Right read, wrong results.

Online, $200NL 6-max.  In early position, I call a raise in a multi-way pot from the BB with 78h.  The flop is 9TJ rainbow.  I’m first to act and bet the pot, ass-end and all.  I’m raised all-in by the initial raiser.  Folded back to me, I think for a split second about KQ.  Nah.  I call.  He flips his set of T’s.  Board comes runner KQ for the split pot.  I probably should be happy to get my money back.

Online, $200NL 6-max.  I limp in late position with K9s.  The flop is all spades, T82.  A blind fires out $5, and a huge stack calls.  The player to my right pushes all-in.  Pushes, OK?  Pushes.  My read is the naked Ace of spades.  I just call.  Just call.  If you’re an early position player and see someone push and simply get called, does that not scream monster?  Does it not scream made hand?  Apparently not.  The initial bettor folds, but the big stack calls.  In the final analysis, my read was fucking perfect.  Pusher did have the naked Ace of spades.  The big stack?  Pocket Jacks with the Jack of spades.  Oh yeah, the runner, runner T’s gave him a boat.  I folded to his river bet.  You could argue the fact that I could have raised the pusher’s push.  Indeed I could have.  But if the cards were face up, how would you play the hand?

The Big Game, G-Vegas, $200NL, 8-players.  One caller of the live straddle to $4 and I raise to $16 with 88.  Button calls, so does limper.  Flop is J62.  Checked to me, I bet $25.  Button folds, limper calls.  Turn is a 9, bringing a second diamond to the board.  Limper fires out $40 and I go into the tank.  I know the player is putting me on overcards and the accompanying standard continuation bet.  Two draws just hit the board and this is the first sign of aggression from the player to my right.  The limp call and check call scream low pocket pair to me.  But which one?  6’s for a set?  I don’t think so.  7’s?  5’s?  Certainly not 8’s because I have them.  Finally I call.

But here’s the deal.  Calling was WRONG.  Raising was right.  If I’m so damn confident in my read, why do I not raise?  Because the self-doubt is creeping and growing.  River is a 7 of diamonds completing every draw known to man.  I make a crying call on the river only to be shown pocket 7’s.  Ugh.  Read is right, play is wrong, and the river is very wrong.

****

It seems as though I’m winning a bunch of small pots, but losing that one big pot we all play for during a session.  I’m on the wrong side of 1st nuts vs. 2nd nuts.  I’m on the wrong side of KK vs. AQ on a KJT flop.  Last night I played about 300 hands and after about 250 of them, I was down half a buy-in because I had lost the only big hand I was involved in.  One player was berating me, claiming me to be a horrible player and every one on Full Tilt knew it.  I agreed with him and he quieted down.  Mercifully, I made a miraculous come back to post a winning session and went to bed.

I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t been saving my hand histories over the course of the year.  So all the data from the thousands of hands of frustration is unavailable.  I rectified the situation and will be able to do some proper analysis soon as recommended by CC.  And again, thanks to the readers like Hoy and Whaaa? who offer words of encouragement.  I’ll rebound, but changing directions with as much negative inertia I have right now is difficult.

****

At least the cards can’t take away my gunzzzzzzzzz.    

Monday, June 19, 2006

Impellitteri, 1988

How’s that for an obscure title?  I predict perhaps two readers know what it means.

****

They say that you have to take your family to Disney World at least once in your life.  Well I did, and I’m done.  ‘Twas a test of endurance the likes I’ve not seen in years.  If you enjoy being on your feet for hours at a time and waiting, then Disney is the place for you.  I confess to enjoying myself immensely at the Wet ‘N Wild water park.  It would have been twice as fun if my daughter didn’t insist on crying before EVERY water slide then reluctantly admit she had fun after we hit the bottom.

My room in Orlando had no wireless access, but surprisingly had a 100baseT network cable protruding from the wall.  My 3-year old laptop didn’t have built in Ethernet and I had left my PCMCIA card home.  What to do, what to do….

I drove to Walmart, which was five minutes away from the hotel.  I took the 45-minute route there because I had no idea where I was going and managed to purchase the cheapest wireless router I could find.  Unfettered network access within my Fairly Oddparents suite was, for lack of a better word, sweet.

****

So I did get to play some during my week away.  When all was said and done, I finished down $36.

I have this to say about my poker experience in the past seven weeks.  I stink.

****

There are specific ingredients to the recipe for losing large portions of your bankroll.

  1. Adopt a more aggressive style by betting and check-raising draws on the come.

  2. Miss your draws.

  3. Have your opponent hit their draws.

  4. Slow play your 90% favorites so that your opponents catch up, pass you and then pay them off.

  5. Failing to put your opponent on inside straight draws.  Calling pot-sized bets is now de rigueur for 4-outers.

  6. Have AA cracked by 99 within the span of 10 hands at the same table.  Be sure to double up your opponent.

  7. Wash, rinse, repeat

****

This down swing has definitely put cracks in my confidence, and in that I have no doubt.  I’m both too stubborn and too ego driven to admit I can’t beat the $100NL game online.  But the stats say different.  I’m down about 10 buy-ins for the year at that level.  Strangely, I’m up at the $200NL game.  To me, that indicates one of two things:  First, the sample size is not large enough to make any accurate assessment.  I could be a winning player who’s currently showing losses through variance.  I could be a losing player whose results are indicative at one level, but is getting lucky at a higher level.  Secondly, it could mean that my play style works at one level but not at another.  But is there really that big a difference between the games at $100NL and $200NL?  I just don’t think there is.

My sample size is about equal for both levels, probably only about 7000 hands each.  I play a lot of hours, but very few table hours comparatively speaking since I’m not a very effective multi-tabler.  I know there are winning players who go through similar downswings over such a period so perhaps I shouldn’t be overly concerned.  But this is my worst losing streak of the past two and a half years since I began playing with earnest.  (Who the hell is Earnest and why would I be playing with him?)

****

At the core of my being, there lies an ever-burning ember of self-doubt that grows more intense with each passing losing session.  I’m not sure what it would take to douse it forever.  Perhaps it is my fatal flaw.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck

Got through a mild scare yesterday - after my workout my cell phone had a bunch of missed calls from the Mrs. on it.  After finally getting a hold of her, she informed me she was taking miniBlood to the ER.  Not good.  He knows better, but for some reason he decided that doing a flip on our couch was a real good idea.  It wasn’t.  According to his sister, he landed awkwardly on his head and neck.  Kids are resilient, but mini was hurting in a bad way for close to an hour.  Luckily for him, it was effectively like getting whiplash and he’ll be fine.

Obviously, other things were on my mind while hosting the weekly home game.  That’s probably why I paid G-Rob off when his Q8o cracked my KK even when I knew I was beat.

****

I’ll be on vacation starting tomorrow.  I’m making like uber-Dad and driving the family to Disney World in Florida with a pre-visit to the grandparents near Naples.  We’ll be staying at the Nickelodeon hotel, home to Timmy Turner and Jimmy Neutron.

It will be a dream come true if I get to meet Jurgen von Strangle, head enforcer of the Fairy World from Fairly Oddparents.  I’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out why.

****

I may or may not get a post up between now and when I get back.  I’m bringing some chips and cards for some Chip Challenges™ just to avoid getting rusty.  May the rest of you out there have some great luck and great cards go your way.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pause

Poker can be like a bad rash.  If you leave it unattended, it can creep into unwanted places and before you know it, drastic measures are required to keep it in check.  For me, poker is a slow, growing, consuming pastime that with an ever-increasing frequency needs to be battled back just to be held at bay.

I’ve been kind of grumpy lately and the people who know me best have noticed.  The mood swings aren’t even tied to poker results anymore.  I locked myself into a mindset where if I’m not on pace to do X or Y this year in poker, I put needless pressure on myself to get back on that pace.  If there’s one thing I’m very good at, it’s putting needless pressure on myself.

Self-assessment can be difficult.  Let me rephrase that.  Accurate self-assessment can be difficult.  I have a view of myself that may or may not be completely wrong.  Or it could be spot on.  I have no idea.  Poker skill is one of those things that is difficult for me to assess by myself.  Unfortunately, whenever other people mention what they think of my skill set, I dismiss it rather quickly.  So sometimes I think I’m good and other times I think I’m horrible.

I don’t even trust my results.  When I’m winning, it’s only because the other players are playing even more horribly, at least in my head.  It doesn’t take much to shake my confidence.  Take last week for example.  In the matter of seven days, I dropped 50% of my online bankroll.  There were pots where I got my money in good and then lost, but there were also pots where I didn’t.  I dropped down levels and the results continued in the negative direction.

Luckily, my live play has prospered.  But, frankly, so what?  My live play is against the same group of about 25 G-Vegas players at various venues.  If you can claim to be a winner against the same set of 25 guys and gals, what measure of true poker talent is that?  Not much.  Online, there are tens of thousands of opponents.  Is success there a better indicator of skill?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

One thing I do know is that there are times that I love playing the game.  But in a quest to find that sweet spot where I’m both winning and enjoying myself, I’ve been all over the map.  It’s time to just set up shop in a familiar place and hold tight for a while.

In the final analysis, what really drives me is the desire to get better.  That is unequivocally the bottom line.  Getting better.  Learning.  Becoming a better player.

So I’m going to do some things differently, but still do some of the things the same.  I’ve said it countless times as have others, but I really need to just focus on the game at hand.  Focusing means one table at a time for me.  Focusing means not playing too tired, nor too drunk.  Focusing means looking back over hand histories with a renewed interest and being willing to assess myself as honestly as possible.

The online game is simply too tantalizing.  It’s far too easy to just sit down and play when you shouldn’t.  I’m guilty of sitting down with flush bankrolls and playing just because I’m bored.  I sure wouldn’t go to a live game if I wasn’t up to the task.  The barrier to entry is so tiny online that it tends to diminish my focus on near instant basis.  It is, after all, just a video game.  Of course, it’s not really, especially when you have thousands of dollars at stake.  But it’s in the guise of a video game and that inviting face breaks down my discipline to the point where I am helpless to resist her siren song.

In the near future, I’ll be limiting my online play.  I’m restricting myself to 100 hands at a single table; after which, I’ll not play until I comb over the hand histories to see how I’ve played.  I’ll acquire data, I’ll learn, I’ll adjust, and finally, I hope to get better.  Check that.  I will get better.

Fear not, however.  I didn’t go busto and I’m still very much in the black for the year.  I’m just disappointed with how I’ve let the game take up too high a percentage of my waking thought and disappointed with letting my focus slip when I played online.  One thing I’m also very good at is being stubborn.  And I’m far too stubborn to admit defeat.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My Only Friend's A Goat

In an effort to keep my membership to the metal club of poker bloggers intact, I too can officially commemorate today’s date in history.

Al has posted the Maiden classic as is appropriate.

There are of course other metal songs with said digits in the title or lyrics.  Here are just a few:

Helloween – Escalation 666
In Flames – Episode 666
Megadeth – Go To Hell

Iggy posted the appropriate National Day of Slayer site.  I would heed their advice.

Hell Awaits.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Donkfest: Engage

Texas Holdem Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

This Online Poker Tournament is a No Limit Texas Holdem event exclusive to Bloggers.

Registration code: 4566826

Friday, June 02, 2006

Show Of Strength

There are three components to strength in no-limit poker.  The most obvious is hand strength; the other two are position and bet size.  When one is lacking, sometimes you can make up for it with one or both of the other two.  That’s why you can play such a wider range of hands in late position.

However, often times, people will advertise one component of their hand by over-compensating with another such that it becomes a tell.  In tournament poker, the button can steal the blinds with any two cards.  In this case position is strength and when combined with bet size (a nice raise), you can almost completely ignore the hand-strength component.

Last night in the G-Vegas medium game, there was a hand where this came into play and I had to trust my read.

The blinds are .50/$1.00 and for the most part, pre-flop raises have been $4 to $5 depending upon the number of limpers.  If the blinds have been straddled (i.e. TheMark), then the raises head into the $7 or $8 range.

A new player to the game raised from UTG to $11.  When the action was folded to me, I thought the bet was a bit unusual.  I looked down at my hand and found pocket Jacks.  My “blink” moment, if you will, was to put the new player on a hand like 8’s, 9’s or T’s.  So I called.  Everyone else folded and we were heads up to the flop.  At this point in the hand, I felt that UTG was compensating weak position and medium strength starting cards with a strong bet.

The flop was a good one for me, or so I thought.  It came down 844 rainbow and the UTG raiser came out firing for $15 more.  The player was not too sophisticated, but I did believe that had he flopped a boat, he would be smart enough to check it.  I took pocket 8’s off my range of hands.  Now I needed to see where I was, so I raised to $45 still believing my hand was best.

As I raised, his reaction told me all I needed to know.  Or so I thought.  At first glance, his face became slightly anguished at the raise and I thought he’d muck his hand right there.  But he didn’t.  He came over the top of me all-in.  Now what?  Online, I may have folded.  But in the live setting, I had his reaction to add to my collection of data.

I paused and reviewed.  I asked myself if he would make such a large pre-flop raise with AA or KK and decided that it just didn’t make sense.  But Queens?  Maybe Queens.  I still thought 9’s or T’s were more probable and in the end decided that even if I included Queens in my hand range analysis, by this time in the hand, I was forced to call based purely on expected value and pot odds.

I called.

UTG had tens and didn’t catch.  I turned out to be a nice pot and kept me out of the “Home Game Curse” zone.  I’m not right as often as I’d like to be, but for me, poker is most fun when I have to make a difficult decision.  In this case, it was the pre-flop raise size and his facial reaction to my raise that gave me the required information to make the right call.