Thursday, April 30, 2009

April in the Books

Well April turned out to be a great month despite a 15K hand break-even stretch over the last week or so. I ran extremely well for most of the month and ended up winning around 65K with bonuses. I ran at 2.3 big bets per hundred over 64K hands which brought my win rate up to almost 1.5 BB/100 over 243K hands on the year. It's been quite a year to say to the least.

Aside from running so well this month I was able to get in a lot of heads up and short-handed hands which really boosted my win rate and earnings. I played 9322 2-3 player hands and won $27K for a win rate of 5.6 BB/100. Basically what I've been doing is what I used to do as a host - I will start a new table at the limit I'm playing which enables me to get heads up and short-handed hands in. I try to be at at least one table sitting alone at all times so I can get a short-handed game started. I've always enjoyed playing heads up and short-handed, it's where all the money is at if you have an edge over your opponents.

On the VPP front, I've now earned 326K and am less than a day behind. I have a seven day Jamaica trip planned for later this month so I'm going to try to get ahead of pace again - I feel like I'm always saying this. I'm also planning on playing some World Series events in June/July - more to follow on that.

Historically May has been a great month for me, hopefully that trend continues. Good luck playing everyone.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

How I Became a Poker Player (Long)

Questions I’m often asked are, “How can you play so much poker?” or “Don’t you get sick of it?”, or “What motivates you to play?”

The answer to all of these questions is I love to play poker, it’s what I’m best able to do, and it’s what I was put on this earth to do.

I started gambling and playing games somewhere around age 6. I can still remember bowling plastic balls at plastic pins at my friend Jon Busconi’s house for nickels. After going double or nothing about 20 times in a row, I owed Jon more money then I’d ever be able to pay off. Of course it was all in good fun at that age. It was only the beginning though.

By about ten years old I started playing pool competitively in tournaments and by about age 13 or 14 I was playing for money at the pool halls. It wasn’t at all uncommon for me to win $300 or $400 when I was in high school and I vividly remember carrying around a wad of money that felt like a million dollars but in reality was probably a few hundred.

I started playing cards (mostly poker) when I was about ten years old as well, with my mother, two brothers, and sometimes family friends, neighbors, and my dad. We used to play for quarters and I always loved playing. We played the typical crazy house games like baseball, criss-cross, Indian, 5 card draw with odd cards being wild, etc., etc. I developed a love for cards and gambling from playing in these games even though my mother usually won.

At about fourteen, I was hosting poker games in my house after school. School used to end around 2:00 (when I decided to go) and my mother would be home at 5:00. I remember at least ten people would be in my house crowded around the dining room table with cards flying and money everywhere. At about 4:50 it was a mad dash to get everybody out of the house before my mother was back. She caught me one week when she noticed the vacuum wasn’t in it’s usual place in the closet. Someone had spilled something on the floor and my mother knew well that I’d never pick that vacuum up unless people were at the house and I was trying to hide something. This was typical of my mom, she once figured out I had a party at the house because a bedroom shade was pulled 6 inches higher than when she’d left the house.

I remember being sent to a psychiatrist when I was about seventeen to work with me on my “gambling problem”. He handed me a sheet and told me to check off any of the gambling related activities I had taken part in. It went something like this, sports betting…check, lottery…check, poker….check, horse racing…check, casinos…check. By the time I finished the only thing left unchecked was “investing” in the stock market - the stock market was only a matter of time though. I only met with the psychiatrist once, I refused to see him again. I didn’t see anything wrong with my gambling. In fact, throughout our session I was adamant that nothing was wrong with me and nothing was wrong with me gambling.

I played every card game imaginable mostly at a pool room called Mr. Billiards in Framingham, MA during my teenage years and into my twenties until they closed. We gambled at Gin, Cribbage, Pitch, Spades, Hearts, Chow Dai Di (Chinese Poker), and Russian Poker among other games. There were many days where I’d be waiting outside the pool room before it opened at Noon and the last one to go home at 3 in the morning. It was in these games that I really honed my skills and developed my card sense.

It was also during this time that I got serious about blackjack. I read several books on counting cards and was determined to learn how to beat the game. I used to spend endless hours dealing out cards, counting cards, and betting fictitious money while tracking everything in a notebook. I still have a picture of the desk in my dorm room in college and the only thing visible is a blackjack shoe. As many of you know I’ve had quite a few amazing blackjack adventures (and still do). None more amazing than winning about half a million dollars when I was 21 years old and then promptly losing it all back in less than two weeks betting 18K a hand (the maximum the casino would allow me to bet).

I had dropped out of college at nineteen and from that point to about twenty-five all I did was play pool and cards. I managed a pool room near Boston and played either pool or cards at least eight hours a day every day. And when I say every day, I mean every single day, 365 days a year. I wasn’t making much money at it and my life was going nowhere. It wasn’t due to lack of effort or skill, there just wasn’t money in the pool rooms. I always did well when I could find a game but towards the end the only people that wanted to play with me either were trying to cheat me in some way or wanted a handicap that made it very difficult to win.

I distinctly remember reading a book back then called Scarne on Cards. It had a section on poker and one of the first lessons he taught was poker is a combination of math and psychology. If you were to pick two subjects that most interest me and that I’m best at, it’s math and psychology. As I was reading that I remember thinking that I was destined to play poker.

For the time being though, my poker career was on hold. The reality of my life was that I was 25 years old, completely broke, in debt, living with my father, and had done nothing in life but played pool and cards. My Dad was understandably fed up with me and basically told me to get a “real” job or I was on the street. Although I hated the ultimatum at the time, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I ended up getting a job at what’s now Bank of America. Even though I hated being on a schedule and working 9-5, it taught me about discipline, hard work, and corporate life. Without it, I wouldn’t be nearly the poker player I am today and I don’t think I would have ever developed the appreciation and thankfulness for being able to do what I love to do from the comfort of my home.

It was during my time at Bank of America that online poker was born. My first experience gambling online was actually playing Gin Rummy at a site called I don’t remember how I found out about the site but I remember how incredible I thought it was that I could take my credit card and play for money with someone on the other side of the world.

I found out about poker shortly after this and as you might have guessed, that’s all I started doing. For about the first year to year and a half, I was a consistent loser. I would deposit twenty or fifty bucks and play for maybe a week or two and then bust. Sometimes I’d run my twenty bucks up to two or three hundred before busting and other times I’d lose it right away. Eventually I was lucky enough to final table a few tournaments. There weren’t huge paydays back then, in fact I remember pacing 4th in the Stars Sunday tournament and winning about 800 bucks. Nevertheless, 800 bucks was a ton of money to me especially when I was working an entire week for less than that. I started playing single player tournaments (SNGs) after the tournament scores. I started out playing $20 tournaments and gradually worked my way up to the $200 tourneys. Any free time that I had during the day was spent playing SNGs. I would stay up all night playing them and then go to work. I’d even bring my laptop and air-card to work and play on my lunch break. Before long I had paid off my debts and built up a little bankroll.

During my time playing SNGs, I was also playing limit hold-em cash games on Party Poker. I had been a pretty consistent loser playing in the ring games but one weekend I suddenly realized I could beat the games. It was the middle of a Saturday and I was lying in bed playing when it suddenly hit me that my opponents were making all these mistakes. Up to that point, I didn’t really know enough about limit hold-em to know whether what I was even doing was right or wrong. But I had been reading and studying a lot and was starting to grasp a lot of concepts. My results told me I was a losing player but I knew I was improving every day. Once I started to see people doing all these things I knew were wrong, I thought it was likely I was a winning player.

It didn’t take long for my results to confirm this, I started winning with more regularity. I had built up a bankroll of about twenty thousand and was frequently making in a day what would take me forty hours at the bank to make. At this point, I made the decision to quit work. At the time, it was a difficult and scary decision. The bank had given me order and structure in my life and I knew it would be up to me now without having the security of a job to fall back on. I also knew that I loved to play poker but up that point in my life none of my gambling forays had worked out. I moved into an apartment shortly after and began playing full-time. I was very fortunate my first year as a pro to have finished about 115th in the main event of the World Series, this netted me around 60K which more than doubled my bankroll at the time. I also won about 35K in a tournament they were running nightly at the Rio during the Series. Without that extra income, the first year could have been a lot tougher.

It has pretty much been all smooth sailing from that first year. I never really looked back or ran into any financial trouble. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs but I’ve always played well within my bankroll. I have probably been too conservative with my progression through the limits but I’d rather err on the conservative side then take any risk of going broke.

The bottom line is I’m doing what I love most and it's providing Jamena and I with more than a comfortable living. There was a time a few years ago where I was feeling guilty because playing poker doesn’t contribute much to society. I was talking to my sister and she said something that has stuck with me ever since, “Don’t ever feel guilty doing something you love.” I feel extremely fortunate to do what I love and I’ll always consider myself lucky regardless of how the cards are treating me on any given day, week, or month.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quick April Update

Several people have asked me over the past two days how the higher stakes games are going and the short answer is great. I've run exceptionally well all month. The only complaint/whine I have is that I've run terrible at 50-100 but I'm thrilled overall with how things have gone. I believe I'm on about a 1600 big bet upswing right now, I don't think I've lost more than 150 bets at any point during the upswing which is really amazing. I have been playing a hundred or two heads up hands a day which has really helped my results. With bonuses I'm on pace for about an 85K month, my second best as a professional gambler. Second only to a month last year where I won a big tournament and went on a great blackjack run.

I feel very fortunate that I didn't hit a big losing streak right when I started playing higher limits. It was entirely possible and probably would have sent me right back to 15-30.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How much is initiative worth?

My friend Barbara emailed me a question last week, “We once talked about how much in big bets the positional advantage is worth. Have you ever attempted to work out how much initiative is worth? I'm just starting to try to quantify this and am not getting very far. It obviously much factor in the opponent's fold tendencies. Thought maybe you'd done this and had some thoughts”

I don't have an answer to this question but here are some of my thoughts:

I don't think there's an easy way to quantify what initiative or the betting lead is worth. Overall it is worth "something" because it's the only way you can win pots with the worst hand– these are generally the biggest mistakes your opponent can make. Also you can cause your opponents to mistakenly fold hands where their equity share in the pot justifies a call.

A good place to see the value of initiative is to look at how hands are faring when you raise as the first player in the pot from the small blind. Then compare the results of these same hands when the situation is reversed and you’re defending from the big blind against a small blind raise. I attached a spreadsheet below that shows this, it comes with the disclaimer that it's a relatively small sample size. Something to consider when looking at this is that when the small blind raises first in, they are normally doing this with about 60% of their entire hand range whereas the big blind is defending in this situation with about 90% of their range. Because the big blind is up against a tighter hand range, you’d expect that the hands wouldn’t fare as well on a whole. However, this should be somewhat offset by the fact that big blind has position on the small blind. Also, because the big blind is defending with 90% of their hands they are immediately forfeiting the pot 10% of the time which is included in the small blind’s results- this is part of the value of initiative though.

What the spreadsheet shows is that the player raising first in from the small blind averages .16 BB/HD compared with -.14 BB/HD for the big blind defending against this raise. It’s hard to say how much of this difference is attributable to initiative because the hand ranges are different but it undoubtedly accounts for part of the difference.

A couple other thoughts:

Initiative probably isn’t as important with your marginal hands that have showdown value. In these cases it’s often better to let your opponent do the betting for you without risking extra bets. Conversely it’s very important to have the betting lead with your draws that don’t have showdown value.

Initiative isn’t necessarily as important on early streets with your best hands. In some cases it’s better to let your opponent have the betting lead early in the hand with the intention of raising one of the bigger bet streets.

Hope this helps or at least gets you started in the right direction. As I'm about to post this, I can't figure out how to attach the spreadsheet - I will email it to you.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

High Limit Roller Coaster

I decided this weekend to go all out and multi-table the higher stakes games. I'm not really sure what provoked me to do this. I'm usually very conservative, probably too conservative, when it comes to playing bigger games. So when I'm feeling ambitious like this weekend I just go with it.

It turned out to be quite a ride. At one point yesterday I was down about 10K and as of writing this I've fought my way back to even. It's been pretty frustrating because I've run exceptionally bad at 50-100 and exceptionally good at 30-60. If this was reversed, I'd very likely be ten thousand ahead right now. In terms of skill level, the two limits have played nearly identical. There are 2-3 good to very good players at each table and 1-2 average to bad players. I do feel fortunate to be up close to 10K today, I'd be pretty sick if I was down another 10K.

My plan at this point is to make 30-60 my main game and use 15-30 or 50-100 as fillers depending on how those games are. I do not plan on sitting at a 30-60 table with 5 regulars though and those tables do exist during the day. I think it's pretty pointless to play in a game where it's doubtful anybody has greater than a .5 BB/100 edge over anyone else.

I have played a ton of hands this weekend and as a result am less than one day behind in the VPP chase. By the end of the day I should be caught up (finally!). I am heading to Vegas this weekend and would like to get ahead of pace before my trip.

On a completely unrelated sports note, I was sick when I heard Garnett is out of the playoffs for the Celtics. I don't think they have any chance of beating Cleveland or the Lakers without him. In any event, I'll still be rooting for them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Playing Your Best Poker

Aside from having or acquiring poker knowledge there are several things unrelated to poker that can be done to help you play your best.

Here's a list of things I do in no particular order:

Eat right. Ideally I eat five small meals a day (it doesn't always work out this way). I try to avoid sugar and soft drinks.

Stay hydrated. If I'm playing a session, I drink about a glass of water every hour I'm playing. It helps me stay alert and concentrate.

Exercise. I try to get some form of exercise every day whether it be walking outdoors or using the eliptical machine. I believe 30 minutes is ideal and that's usually what I do.

Sleep. I try to sleep at least 8 hours every night and lately it has been about 9.

Eliminate distractions. This used to be a problem for me. I would be watching tv., making sports bets, talking to people, and even playing video games when I was playing. I do none of this anymore. I can't even begin to imagine how much those things cost me.

Listen to music. This always seems to help my frame of mind when playing and also gets me through those 4 and 5 hour sessions where I'd otherwise get bored. It also helps me concentrate and stay focused. I either listen to playlists in ITunes, AOL Radio, or Pandora.

Shut off my chat. I've always found the chat box to be detrimental and a distraction while playing. Yes, there's the occasional piece of information like ****** *****, that might lead you to believe your opponent is tilting but I'd much prefer to concentrate on how that person is playing before I draw conclusions about their emotional state. Besides, the vast majority of the chat on poker sites is, "You lucky mf fish, you *** ****", "You're the worst player I've ever seen", "You suck", etc. etc. It's an unfortunate reality that I'd rather not be a part of.

Take breaks. Any time I don't feel I'm playing my best I quit. This can be from a lack of concentration, fatigue, not thinking clearly, being upset about losing, etc. This has been one of the difficult things about having to play ~2200 hands a day. There are some days where I just don't feel right and I end up forcing myself to play because I need to put the hands in. I try to avoid doing this if it all possible though. I usually break up my sessions and take at least two breaks throughout the day. If I'm having a really bad day, I might take 3 or 4 breaks.

That's all I can think of right now.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Quick Update

I just got back from Boston and have played little poker the last 3 days. As a result I'm about 3 days behind in the VPP chase. Poker has gone extremely well in April and I'm on pace for my best month of the year. I'm pretty jet-lagged at the moment and am off to get some sleep.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nearing 200K Hands

I've now played 195,000 hands on the year or about 1.4 hands per every minute of 2009. I've narrowed the VPP gap to about 3500 (I have 261K now). So, I'm only about a day and a half behind as of writing this. However, I'm flying to Boston this weekend for Easter, Vegas in two weeks, and then Jamaica for seven days at the end of May for my birthday. So I anticipate a struggle to keep pace in the next couple months but I'll make sure I don't get too far behind.

Overall, I'm very happy with how the year has gone. I had a stretch last month where I didn't play too well but on a whole I think I've played extremely well. I attribute this to sleeping well, eating well (thank you Jamena), and taking care of myself. By taking care of myself I mean exercising, rarely drinking, and trying to get out of the house to keep myself balanced (I do occasionally leave my house, contrary to popular belief)

The past 100K hands were even better than the first 100K. I ended up winning close to 1500 big bets compared with 1020 over the first 100K. I survived my biggest downswing of the year (530 big bets) . I played a lot more 30-60, especially over the past few weeks, with a lot of success. I've run pretty poorly overall at 30-60 (See W$SD stat) but lately have run well - these things seem to always have a way of evening out over the long run. I'm still being very selective with the 30-60 games I play and that's the plan for the next month or so. If things continue to go well, then I might consider the 50-100 games but that's still a few months away.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Goodbye March

March was my toughest month to date. I had my biggest upswing (720 big bets) and biggest downswing (520 big bets) of the year. I dare say my downswing has ended, I'm about 200 big bets off the lows. I feel fortunate to have had my biggest downswing immediately after my biggest upswing, it made it a lot easier to deal with. Had it come at the end of a 20K hand break-even stretch, it might have been more difficult. I ended the month up about 600 big bets and after a few bonuses, netted about 25K. So, I'm very happy with that at least.

I don't feel like I played my A game this month though. More like my C game for the better part of it. I haven't really pinned down why I played so poorly. I did do a lot of travelling and went through a tragedy when one of my best friend's brother passed away. I'm not really sure if that threw me off track or if I've lost focus for other reasons. It has been an incredible grind. Five to six hours of poker a day is not so bad. But it's every single day. And if I miss a day or part of a day, it has to be made up. So that has taken it's toll on me I think.

I've been experimenting (as I often do) the last few days with a different style. Basically I've been playing a hyper-aggressive style, my aggression factor has jumped from about 1.5 to 2.0. I've also been playing my hands as fast as possible. This is in direct contrast to how I normally play, I intentionally take about 5 seconds for almost every decision. One big benefit I've noticed to playing faster is that I'm able to get in many more hands per hour. A drawback is that I'm prone to make more mistakes by not completely thinking out my decisions so there's a bit of a trade-off there. I do like that this combination of aggression and speed has thrown my opponents way off balance. I've noticed more folding and a reluctance to attack me. Maybe it's a function of them getting bad cards (entirely possible) but maybe not. Time will tell hopefully. I haven't really decided which style I'm going to play and that might be to my benefit . I may just mix things up and play to however I'm feeling. I'm confident both my styles are winning ones so my feelings seem like as good a randomizer as any to use for my play.

On the VPP front, I'm about 2 1/2 days behind now. I have made up a little ground but am still struggling to catch up. Hopefully by next week I can get caught up, we shall see.

Here's to a profitable April....