Wednesday, December 30, 2009

09' in Review (Long)

The year started with me quitting the safety of my hosting job at Ultimate Bet and taking on the challenge of trying to make SNE on Poker Stars. I started the year primarily playing 10-20 and 15-30 with strict game selection. I was also selectively playing some 30-60 games but usually only heads up. To begin the year I really had no idea whether I’d spend the whole year at 10-20 and 15-30 or be able to progress into higher limits.

I was fortunate that 15-30 went well from the beginning and it wasn’t long before I stopped playing the 10-20 games. The 15-30 games generally play a little bit tougher than the 10-20 games but the 2-3 blind structure works in my favor. My strength has always been short-handed play and specifically play in and around the blinds so the added small blind money at 15-30 contributed to my success. Also working in my favor is that nearly half a big bet per hundred hands less is raked at that limit compared with 10-20. It’s hard to quantify the skill level difference between 10-20 and 15-30 but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s significantly less than ½ a big bet per hundred.

In April I started playing the 30-60 games with a lot more regularity and most of my hands from that point on were split between 15-30 and 30-60. There is also about a ½ big bet per hundred less that is raked between 15-30 and 30-60. I think there’s a more substantial skill level jump between 15-30 and 30-60 compared with 10-20 and 15-30 but it’s probably slightly less than ½ a big bet. My results reflect this as well, I maintained about the same post-rake win rate at these 2 levels over the course of nearly 300,000 hands at each.

I believe I started playing the 50-100 games with more regularity sometime in June or July. The 50-100 games play similar to the 30-60 games. On a whole I’d say slightly tougher than the 30-60 games but again the difference in rake likely more than compensates for the skill level difference. The big difference at 50-100 (and above) is that there are a lot fewer games going. It’s also much more difficult to play heads up at that limit since there are fewer heads up players and the tables fill almost immediately when a bad player sits. So generally I would sit for extended periods without getting a game. Eventually a poor player would sit, I would play a few hands, and then several regulars would sit. As most of you know the bulk of my winnings and win rate is due to heads up and short-handed play (see graph below broken down by # of players ) so this was a big contributing factor to my struggles at 50-100. I also ran exceptionally bad at this limit for about two months and at one point I was down about 400 big bets.

Looking back now, I far exceeded my expectations at the beginning of the year. I believe I won more money at both 15-30 and 30-60 than any other player online. I very likely played more hands than anybody at those limits too, this came from my work ethic and love for the game. The name of the game is to make money and that’s what I did from beginning to end. My focus was singular the entire year and that was to make each and every decision to the best of my ability. I minimized distractions as best as possible by staying away from chatting and getting caught up in the mind games that many players like to engage in. Many players, including some of the regulars tried to get in my head throughout the year either through the chat box, forums, or even in-game play. Although I took notice of what was going on, I never acknowledged it back through my play or any other way as that would only be to my detriment.

The most important thing looking back at 2009 is that I was constantly improving as a player. I made a lot of changes to my game throughout the year, some small and some major. I’m continually reading, watching videos, and studying my game. I also pay a lot of attention to the better players in my games. Whenever a good player sits at my table, I look at it as an opportunity to learn. I try to focus on their game and the decisions they make with the intention of getting in their heads and understanding what they’re trying to accomplish and why. There’s a lot to be learned from good players and I was able to incorporate different things from different players into my game over the course of the year.

Looking forward to 2010, it’s going to be a really busy year poker-wise. My wife and I are planning on renting a house in Vegas for the World Series and I plan on playing around 20 events. I’m also scheduled to play the PCA next week, the EPT championship in Monte Carlo, and the WCOOP main event on Stars. To be perfectly honest, my no-limit game needs a lot of work. I’m not all confident in my chances in NL tournaments given my current skill level. As a result I’m intensely committed to becoming proficient in NL next year. One of my goals is to put a lot of time in the NL cash games next year and I’d like to be a consistent winner at 5-10 by the time the year is over. I played about 50K hands of 2-4 last year and I was a very small winner over that sample so I’ve got my work cut out for me. I do have a good deal of NL tournament experience so I feel comfortable with the transition between cash games and tournaments and feel like if I can become a winner at cash games, that it will make me a lot stronger tournament player.

I know I said there’s no way I’d ever try to make SNE again but I don’t feel that way at the moment and I’m giving strong consideration to trying it again. I went through the “rakeback” calculations today – rakeback being defined as any money Poker Stars gives back either through bonus money, tournament entries, or milestone bonuses. Over the course of 2009, my rakeback amounted to 51%. With the new VPP structure changes being implemented next year that reward heads up and short-handed play and the fact that I would start the year at SNE (earning more FPPs), my rakeback would jump to almost 82%. In dollar terms, it would be an extra $67,000 or so that I’d earn if I played the same amount of hands while keeping the same short-handed to full table hands ratio. Also influencing my current state of mind is that I realized over the last month how easy it is to earn VPPs by multi-tabling lower limits. Although I don’t want to spend a lot of time 8 tabling 10-20, only a couple hours a day earns me almost 2/3 of the VPPs required to make SNE.

For now I’m going to enjoy the last couple days of the year and my time in the Bahamas. I’ll probably make a final decision on whether to pursue SNE by the end of the trip. I’ll be updating my blog from the tournament; hopefully I can make a run in it.

If anyone has questions about becoming SuperNovaElite, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. I know a lot of people are considering trying next year and I’d be happy to help if I can.

Made It!

It was a hectic finish but I reached SuperNova Elite today. This past week has been crazy. I rushed my wife to the emergency room of the hospital twice, once last night right before we were to board our flight to the Bahamas. She's feeling a lot better now, thank God. I also played close to 5,000 hands in a single day earlier this week, I earned around 7,000 VPPs that day alone - it was the most hands I've played and Vpps I've earned a single day all year.

Since my wife is feeling better, we're going to try to fly out tonight again. I'm planning on recapping the year and my thoughts on SNE, whether it was worth it or not in the next few days.

Happy New Year everyone

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December Update

I'm at 971K VPPs as of writing, still about a day ahead of pace. I'm heading to Boston on Tuesday for Christmas and then off to the Bahamas to play in the PCA. I feel like I've been saying this for a while now but I'd really like to get further ahead of pace then 1 day so I plan on playing a lot the next couple days.

December has gone very well, I've been running good and have been able to get in a lot of hands. I'm on pace for one of my best months of the year. I've been 7-9 tabling 10-20 more and more in an effort to earn Vpps quickly. I've broken about even so far at that level and have probably run above average so I feel fortunate with those results.

Happy Holidays to everyone. My next update will likely be when I make SNE.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Guarding Against Being Exploited

When I’m playing I’m always on the lookout for ways that my opponents are trying to exploit me. By looking for situations or areas where my opponents are trying to exploit me, I’m guarding against leaks in my game. If I identify one of these areas, I either make an adjustment to make myself less exploitable or look for a way to exploit them based on what they’re attempting with me.

For example, let say you’re playing heads up and notice your opponent is routinely check/raising paired boards on the flop after you’ve raised from the button. This is a common strategy and a good one because in heads up the ranges are so wide that it’s unlikely that you’ll hold a hand good enough to see a showdown on a paired board like TT4 or 992. So, what can you do to make yourself less exploitable or to exploit them? A good counter strategy is to be very liberal in calling their flop check raises and to make some outright bluff raises along with semi-bluff raises on the turn. A good way to make semi-bluff raises on the turn is to always call on the flop when you have a backdoor straight draw and/or backdoor flush draw. For example the flop is 8c 8h 5d and you hold Jc 6c. You can call the flop check-raise with the intention of raising any club turn along with any 7 and possibly even 4's and 9's depending on how wide you think your opponents flop check-raising range is. As for outright bluff raises, Aces are excellent turn cards to represent because they make up a significant part of your range and often make it incorrect for your opponent to call if you actually do hold one - some of the time you will hold one so your opponent can’t just blindly raise back or they will be spewing money the times you do.

Here’s an example of another situation that could come up. Let’s say I’ve raised UTG (first position) in a 6-handed game with 88 and maniacal big blind calls. The flop is AKT, I bet, he check-raises and I’m forced to fold. It can be frustrating to fold to an aggressive player in this spot. But, if we consider my UTG range is primarily big cards and medium and big pairs, there’s no way my opponent can exploit me by check-raise bluffing an AKT flop against my range. So even though it’s possible he’s making a successful bluff in this instance, he doesn’t know what I hold and if he were to do this every time the situation came up, it would be a hugely unprofitable play. I’m no longer frustrated and move on.

In the second example, there’s a psychological benefit to assess the situation and realize that my strategy is fine and it’s likely my opponent’s strategy that is bad. There’s a lot of value in this when playing. I can remember many times being so frustrated with what I perceived my opponents were doing to me and the fact that I couldn’t do anything back to them. The reality of situation was that often times my opponents were making incorrect plays against my range but were lucky that I continually held some of the worst hands in my range. So, it’s important to differentiate between these two situations and to always keep your overall range in my mind when trying to determine whether you’re being exploited or not.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Quick December Update

I just hit 950K Vpps and am still only about 1 day ahead of pace. I'm struggling to get hands in but have been multitabling the lower limits to earn Vpps quickly. I've run really well as of late, I'm on about a 40K upswing after starting the month down 15K for the fourth consecutive month.

I'd really like to finish early and get some no-limit practice/studying in before the PokerStars Caribbean tournament I'm registered to play in, in early January. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. Worst case, I'll play a bunch of the smaller tournaments there as a warm-up before the main event. Next year should be filled with tournaments and no-limit, I'm really looking forward to it. I'll be blogging about my plans for the year at some point when I have some more time.

Here's what December has looked like so far.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Using statistics has been a big part of my poker success and without them it would be extremely difficult to multi-table the higher limits. I know several successful players that do not use stats but they’re giving away some edge by doing so. Poker is a game of incomplete information. The more information you have, the better decisions you’re able to make. The better decisions you’re able to make, the greater your chance of winning. Statistics are exactly that, information about your opponents.

However, if this information is misinterpreted, then obviously it can be detrimental. For example, looking at small sample sizes and drawing conclusions based on them is a common mistake. If you only have 75 hands on an opponent, then it’s nearly useless to know they raise the turn 25% of the time or fold their big blind to a steal 60% of the time. Another example of misusing stats is misunderstanding the statistic itself. For example, when I used to use Poker Tracker, they lumped 3 positions into 1 (small blind, button, and cutoff) when looking at a person’s attempt to steal %. So, if a person had a 40% attempt to steal, you only knew the average of those three positions was 40% but didn’t know the specific % of each position. If you just assumed they were raising 40% from each of those positions or tried to average them out somehow, it was very likely you were drawing incorrect conclusions about their range.

If you are able to understand and interpret statistics correctly then they are of great benefit. Here are a few of the lesser known statistics I use and how I interpret them when playing. I believe I use twelve different stats when I play and all of them influence my decisions from time to time. I also make use of the pop-up box in HEM for various stats.

RFI by Position – Raise First In % by Position

This one is pretty self-explanatory but it’s one of, if not the most important stat I use because it allows me to put my opponent on a fairly narrow range of hands from the start of the hand. PFR or pre-flop raise% pales in comparison to this stat. Instead of knowing your opponent raises 23% of all his hands in a 6-handed game you can know exactly what % of their hands they are raising from each position. This can help a lot with deciding whether to 3-bet an opponent who is raising from a specific position. It’s also very useful in determining which hands to defend from the big blind. For example, there’s a big difference between an UTG raiser in a 6-handed game with an RFI of 19% vs and RFI of 25%. An RFI of 25% means it’s likely the player is raising any Ace suited from UTG. That makes a lot more hands playable against their range. It also makes hands like AT and AJ a lot more appealing to 3-bet if you’re on the button or in the small blind.

Check-Raise Turn%

This is an extremely useful stat but one that needs a large sample size before you have confidence in it. One of the most difficult decisions in limit hold-em is whether to bet the turn in position after you’ve raised pre-flop, bet the flop, and your opponent has called. I’ve found some opponents to have CRT%’s in the 20-35% range which is very high. These are the types of players you should be checking back marginal/weak holdings with showdown value like ace high and bottom pair. There are also many players, including several good ones, that have low CRT%’s, in the 5-15% range. Against these players, you can bet some of your marginal made hands for value and narrow your opponent’s range if you do get check-raised.

This statistic also allows you to better define your opponent’s flop check-raising range. Players with a very low CRT%, generally have a wider flop check-raising range. And conversely players with a high CRT%, have a narrower flop check-raising range. You’ll often find players with high CRT%’s wait until the turn with their good made hands like top pair or better. So, when a player like this check-raises the flop, I give more weight to weak hands, draws, and outright bluffs.

Here’s a river spot where I use an opponent’s CRT% to help me:

Let’s say you raise on the button with 55 and the big blind calls. The flop is KJ8, you bet and your opponent calls. He checks the turn and you check behind. He leads the river. If your opponent has a high c/r turn stat, he has a wider flop calling range – it’s likely that he’s calling with top pair and middle pair at least some of the time so folding is likely the correct action. If this same opponent had a very low c/r turn stat, then I’d expect they’d be raising middle and top pair on the flop so their range becomes a lot of bottom pair, ace high, and gut-shot straights that missed so a river call is likely correct.

Turn Continuation Bet %

I find this stat very valuable when defending from the blinds. Generally I like to put in most of action with my better hands on the flop when I’m out of position. In other words, I don’t typically wait for the turn with better hands. And generally this is correct but if you run into opponent with a high turn continuation bet%, then it’s right, at least some of the time, to wait until the turn to check-raise. I’ve found anything above 80% to be a high #. I think a typical TCB% is probably in the neighborhood of 70. It doesn’t take more than a check-raise or two to slow an opponent down. A big benefit of slowing your opponent down is that it allows you to float more flops with weak hands. For example a flop where you have an overcard with 2 backdoor draws, or 2 overcards with a backdoor draw. Those flop calls become more profitable, the more your opponent checks back the turn giving you a free card. So if you’re up against an opponent with a TCB% of 50% or lower, you can be liberal in calling flops. And if you find a player with a very low WTSD (went to showdown)% along with a low TCB%, you can float a lot of flops with the intention of betting the river when the turn is checked through.