Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maximizing Earn

It should go without saying that the primary purpose of playing poker is to make the most money possible. For me that means using my time as efficiently as possible while playing.

Here are a few things I do to accomplish this at the tables:

I play the maximum amount of tables my brain permits me at all times. When I’m thinking clearly I can play 5-7 tables at a time (depending on number of players at each) with one being heads up or 3-handed. If I start having trouble keeping up with the action or if I begin to forget what has happened in a hand, I will drop a table. If two tables become heads up or 3-handed, then I need to drop at least one full table. In these cases, I will sit out at my worst table before leaving. I do this in case one of my remaining tables breaks so I’m able to sit back in without having to get back on a waiting list.

I always try to have a heads up or 3-handed game going. My win rate drops from 6 BB/100 at heads up to 3 BB/100 at 3-handed to 2 BB/100 at 4-handed to about 1 BB/100 at 5-10 handed. Incredibly, I make the same amount at one heads up table as I do at 4-5 full tables even factoring in bonuses. So regardless of how many full tables I have going, I’ll always being sitting alone at a table trying to get a new game started with the intention of sitting out or leaving one of my full tables if I get a short-handed game going.

Assuming there are enough tables going, I’m trying to game select and find tables where my earn will be highest. This can be tricky and involves some guesswork, especially playing different limits . I start with what I average given the number of players at that table and limit. So, if there is a 6 handed 15-30 game going, I’ll assume that I can make $30 per 100 hands if it’s a typical game. From there I’ll look at the players in the game and try to guess how much above or below average the players are compared to a typical 15-30 game. If it’s a really soft game I might estimate that I can make $60. There might be a 5-handed 30-60 game going at the same time that’s about an average game where I’d also guess I can make $60 per 100 hands. At this point, I’d choose the 15-30 game because I can make the same amount of money with less variance. This all assumes I need one more table to max out whatever I’m able to play that day. But once I’ve hit my max of 5-7 tables, I’m surveying the lobby as much as possible to see if a new game is starting or if an easier game has opened up. I’m estimating what my earn would be at a potential new table and comparing it with the worst earning table I have going and swapping out if necessary.

Lastly, assuming I have a choice, I try to choose the best seat possible at a table. My belief is that the best seat at the table is either immediately before or immediately after a bad player. The ideal seat being in between two bad players. Money is won by making better decisions than your opponents and you make the most decisions against the players seated to your immediate right and left. So, I want to make the most decisions possible against the people that will make the most mistakes against me.

All this is what I call the game within the game. Strangely it can be just as, if not more, important to my bottom line as how I’m playing the actual game of poker.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back to 50-100

That may be a record for the shortest amount of time taken off from a limit. My 50-100 hiatus lasted all of 3 1/2 days. I've been on quite a tear winning 598 big bets and 33K since breaking from 50-100.

I did actually play a few 50-100 hands this morning, there were a couple games I couldn't resist. I'll continue to be very selective about the 50 games I get in. There have been a lot of good games at that limit so I anticipate I'll be putting in a fair amount of hands in the upcoming weeks.

The World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) starts in a little over a month. I haven't decided exactly which events I'll be playing but at least a handful of them. I've been playing several tournaments a week since I got back from the World Series trying to stay sharp for all the big tournies I'll enter next year. So I look forward to the WCOOP, it should be a good test of my no-limit game.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Check your Ego at the Door

There is no place for an ego at a poker table. It can be argued that it's helpful away from the table but at the table it's only detrimental.

One of the biggest mistakes I see players make is playing in games with better players because they can't or don't want to admit to themselves that a game is too tough. This includes staying at tables where bad players leave and are replaced by good players. It also includes knowingly playing in tougher games to prove to themselves or others they can beat those players or that limit. I see this often with heads up players. A good player will sit with someone they can't admit is better than them and lose all of their money. Poker is about winning money, it's not about saying, "I beat so and so" or being able to say "I crushed the 300-600 game for x amount of $'s". If it is about that, poker will humble you*

*Phil Hellmuth excluded

I find I play my best poker when my ego has absolutely nothing to do with my thought process at the tables. It's at these times that poker is strictly about making decisions which will yield the highest expected return for me. This applies to in-hand decisions as well as game selection decisions. When playing, I'm constantly juggling tables, swapping better tables in and bad tables out - this is a big part of my overall success. I'm also leaving tables if there are no fish sitting at them, regardless of whether I think I'm the best player left at the table or not. In addition to avoiding better heads up players than me, I also avoid players I think I have a small to medium edge over. There are enough bad heads up players at my limits that playing even average players is not efficient use of my time or mental energy.

I find I play my worst poker when I let my ego interfere with my thought process. For example, player X has raised my big blind sixteen straight times. My ego says, "Doesn't he know who I am, I've won more money then he'll ever win." Instead of focusing on what I should be doing to counter his strategy, I'm letting my ego and emotions get the best of me. Another example, a 3rd player sits down to my immediate left when I'm playing somebody heads up. My ego says, "Why does this guy keep sitting at my heads up games, doesn't he know sitting with me in a 3-handed game is a losing proposition. And why does he always have to sit on my left?" Instead I should be refocusing my thought processes and strategy for 3-handed play. After all, someone will sit at my table eventually and there will always be somebody acting after me regardless of where they sit.

Losing your ego at a poker table is a huge obstacle out of the way. You can focus solely on playing poker and making the best decisions.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Some Relief

The poker gods are either trying to tell me something or are just having fun with me. After about the worst 30,000 hand stretch I've been through and the decision to stop playing 50-100 (see last blog entry), it's as if a switch has been turned on and I can't lose a hand.

On top of this, I final tabled the $100 rebuy on Stars finishing 9th and winning about 9 out of 10 coin-flips along the way. I'm not complaining by any stretch but couldn't this have happened sometime during the prior 30,000 hands?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dropping Down a Limit

I made the decision to stop playing 50-100 until I'm able to build my bankroll back up to 100K. I had decided earlier this week that if my Stars bankroll dropped below 60K, that I'd stop 50-100 - I had started the month with about 80K and am now down to 58K. Nearly every day this month has looked eerily similar to this:

What's frustrating (besides losing a lot of money) is that the 50-100 games aren't too much different than the 30-60 games in terms of skill level. In fact they are probably easier on a whole because I'm more selective with them. A big difference however is that I haven't been able to get many heads up and 3-handed hands in. There aren't a lot of heads up players at 50-100 and if a bad player sits, the sharks instantly swarm in and it ends up being 6-handed where my win rate is lower and variance is higher. So for my bankroll and mind's sake, 50-100 will have to wait.

This is what my dismal month has looked like to this point:

The Won$SD stat tells it all. I'm usually at about 50%.

On an unrelated note, I got to play heads up with Orel Hershiser for a while last night. He seemed like a very nice guy and a competent limit player. An observer asked him what he used to do when he was off his game and he said, "Practice, practice and I'd switch up my daily routine from time to time without changing the core components. Some of my best pitches were thrown in the bullpen. Also, I always believed I was the best." That's a champion talking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

July Update

I received my 100K VPP Bonus from Poker Stars today for playing the main event and agreeing to their T&C so I'm now at 601K as of writing this. That puts me a good 60K VPPs, or about 23 days, ahead of pace. That's a big relief and will let me relax a lot more, particularly on our trips/vacations.

This month continues to be a tough one, it's by far my worst of the year. It's been the polar opposite of last month where everything imaginable went right, running at 3 BB/100 over 50K hands. This month it feels like I've been rivered every other hand and have lost nearly every big pot I've been in (of course I haven't). But to exacerbate matters, I've run incredibly bad at 50-100. I've had quite a few days where I've ended up winning 50 big bets or so and losing two to three thousand because of 50-100. My stats look like this:

In terms of big bets this hasn't been one of my worst downswings of the year, yet at least (fingers crossed). But money-wise I think losing ~26K is the biggest. What's really amazing is that I've continued to play a good deal of heads up and 3-handed and have continued to beat those games handily. On the month, I'm at about 3 BB/100 playing 2-3 handed which is the primary reason this downswing isn't much, much worse. On the year, I'm at 6.30 BB/100 over 30K heads up hands and 3.80 BB/100 over 28K hands of 3-handed. I don't know how people who don't play short-handed do it, the downswings they go through are very likely in the 500-1000 big bet range. Even when I had my two 500 big bet downswings this year, I was playing 10-15% of my hands 2-3 handed. Now it's more like 20-25% of my total hands.

All I can do is to play through this like all the other downswings I've been through. Something I've stressed to every person I've ever helped with poker is that what separates the good players from the great players is how they play when everything goes wrong. Everybody plays like a champion when they're hit with the deck, the key it to maintain your A game when the cards inevitably turn.

I feel pretty good about my game right now although I constantly have to work at it. I've spent a lot of time this month looking at stats and some hands trying to find some areas where I can improve. I also feel like I need to refresh my brain or I forget things, it's a little bit scary. I think if I took six months off from poker, it's very possible I'd have trouble beating a 5-10 or 10-20 game. It's not like riding a bike for me, more like having a final exam that covers the whole year and having to go back to review all the things I learned that I forgot.

I need to stay sharp and focused and that's the plan for the rest of the month.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slow Start to July

It's been a tough month so far. I've been running poorly, although not exceptionally bad. I've been playing pretty terribly, probably the worst I've played in a few months. Playing so much no-limit and being in Vegas for a while took me out of the zone. Today was actually the first day this month I felt like I was thinking semi-coherently and playing a reasonably good game. It's amazing what taking just a few days off does to my game. This is something I need to keep in mind the next time I take a week off - it's better to start off slowly and drop a table and/or limit until I feel like I'm playing well. I also haven't been eating healthy and exercising regularly which detracts from my game. So, it's time to get healthy and get back in the zone - I feel like I'm pretty close to being there.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Out of the Main Event

I busted out near the end of Day 2. Strangely I don't feel too bad, I feel like I played about as well as I could have, things just didn't work out. Today I started with about 25K, ran it up to 60K, back down to 30K, back up to 55K and then down to 20K before busting when I ran TT into KK. In the ~8 hours I played today I never was dealt AA, KK, or QQ. I was dealt AK once, AQ once, and JJ once. And that pretty much sums up the day, it was spent playing marginal hands and trying to make a lot of difficult post-flop decisions.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

More Day 1

Here are some more hands as best as I remember them:

The first hand I play, maybe 3 hands in:

An early position player raises to 300 and I reraise to 1200 from late position with KK. The flop is J high with 3 spades and I have no spades. Opponent leads into me for a small amount, maybe 800 and I call. Turn is a meaningless non-spade low card. Opponent bets a big amount into me, maybe 2500 and I call thinking he's probably trying to protect a hand like AJ. The river is a 4th spade and my opponent makes a big bet of about 5K. I fold, mutter "nice river" and he shows AQ of spades for a flopped flush. I quickly change my muttering to "nice river for me" as I likely would have paid off a non spade river.

In level 2 I raise JJ from mid-position and a somewhat tight player reraises me from the small blind. The flop is QTx and he bets the pot, maybe 4K, (betting pot was his standard c-bet). I think for a while and decide I'm only in good shape against AK but as a result can't even play my hand aggressively if a J hits so I decide to fold. He shows KK.

In level 2 I raise 44 one seat off the button and a loose aggressive player on the button calls. The flop is 873 with one heart. I bet 2/3 pot and my opponent calls. I think this opponent is very capable of floating so I think he has a pretty wide range in this spot. The turn is a 7 pairing the board and I check. My opponent bets about 2/3 pot and I call. The river is an 8 of hearts, double pairing the board, which gives me 4 high. I lead out for about 4K which was was about a 1/2 pot bet. My opponent instantly raises to 8K and I fold. He shows the A9h - he had picked up a flush draw on the turn. I thought his river raise was weird and probably bad. He has a hand that can call my bet and his raise likely doesn't fold out any better hands. Also if I had really taken my time and gathered up the courage, I might have been able to muster a re-raise that could have forced him to fold. I'm fine with the way I played the hand, I just wish I took a little longer on the river to consider what hands he might have. If I'm in his shoes, I would be thinking that an 8 is very much a part of my range when I lead the river which makes it very difficult for him to raise without one. So his hand should either be an 8 or a bluff most of the time, probably weighted more towards bluffs. Why he decided to turn a hand with showdown value into a bluff, I don't know.

Late in Level 4, I'm down to 12K, still about 40 big blinds as the limits are 150-300 w/ 25 ante. I limp UTG with 9T of spades. I don't normally limp but this is something I had been doing all tournament because we were so deep - I figured I could play a lot of hands even against isolation raises. I also had been limping some big hands and was able to limp reraise TT and KK earlier in the day, one of which was shown down. Back to the hand. 3 people call after me and both blinds are in. The flop is AQ6 with two spades. The big blind, also the chip leader at the table, who appears to be a good, aggressive player leads out for about 1200 into an 1800 chip pot. I contemplate moving in but decide he probably has an Ace because he led into 4 people and is unlikely to fold given that I'm relatively short-stacked, and just took a bad beat along with losing a string of 4 hands immediately after. The turn is a J and my opponent checks. I think for a while before deciding to bet. I thought that I might have some fold equity since my hand now probably looked stronger to him after the flop call. And if I didn't get a fold, I still had 12 outs to fall back on. He unfortunately called. The turn was an offsuit K making the board AKQJ6, giving me a straight. My opponent checked, I paused about 5 seconds, and then moved in. My opponent tanked for about two minutes before finally making the call and I doubled up to about 24K. My opponent didn't show his cards but it was almost certainly an Ax hand.

My plan going into Day 2 doesn't change too much. I still have about 60 big blinds to start the day which is a lot. I don't anticipate I'll be limping any more hands but I'll still look to get involved as much as possible. If I do drop down to less than 20 big bets, then I'll be looking for spots to reraise all-in preflop. Hopefully it doesn't come to that and I'm able to build some chips. The structure is a really slow one so I should still have some good opportunities. More to follow after Day 2...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Quick Day 1 Update

I ended with 25,500 heading into day 2. Although I'm below average, I still have plenty of chips in relation to the blinds so I feel pretty good.

I was up to about 60K in chips during level 3 and then lost a bunch of small pots that brought me down to 45K or so. In the middle of level 4, I took a pretty brutal beat in a 45K chip pot that sent me down to 17K or so. From there I dropped down to 12K before doubling up to 25K and that's where I ended.

Here's the Poker News report of the hand where I lost most of my chips:

Pirone Cops an Ugly River

On a flop of {4-Hearts}{7-Clubs}{6-Diamonds} the player in the small blind led for 1,500 before Florian Manz tossed out a single 5,000-denomination chip from the big blind with the intention to raise, but he was ruled as just a call.

Play was then with Tony Pirone who popped it up to 10,000 to go. The small blind folded but Manz moved all in. Pirone shrugged and made the call.

Pirone: {3-Clubs}{5-Clubs}
Manz: {4-Spades}{6-Spades}

The turn bricked the {8-Clubs} but the poker Gods entertained us with the {6-Hearts} falling on the river to give Manz a full house to snatch victory in the pot. He survives and more than doubles to 42,000 with Pirone unlucky to be back to 18,000.

I'll try to blog in more detail tomorrow about some of the hands.

Dinner Break Day 1

I have 47K, we started with 30k. As anticipated, I have a very good starting table. I've been pretty active, playing a lot of pots, calling a lot of raises pre-flop since we are so deep relative to the blinds. My 2 biggest pots came when I flopped a set vs. top pair/top kicker and when I turned a straight with 98 on a 4567 board against two opponents who both called turn and river before mucking. Hopefully my luck continues, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on how everyone at my table is playing. Two more levels tonight, I'll update after Day 1 is over.