To all 10 of you: sorry for being a Bad Bad Blogger.  I know I said posting would be infrequent, but not to this degree. The Red Sox literally took over this entire city’s life for the last couple weeks, and thus there has been no time for poker (let alone, you know, normal occupational and scholastic work).  My weekly tournaments have been cancelled, and the campus games have slowed down a bit.  Should be hitting them up again in the following weeks – those will surely prompt posts.

In the meantime, please indulge in my news aggregator as well as the blogroll – plenty of great writing that you shouldn’t miss.

Turbo Texas Usage

Couple of cancelled tournaments and a flurry of BoSox games means I haven’t gotten to much live play. I have been mucking about with Wilson’s Turbo Texas, regular and tournament editions.  If you use these programs, I’d be curious to hear how you’ve found they helped you most.  What do you do to train with them? What settings, features, etc. do you employ?  I feel like the ring game one helped me a lot early on, less so now.  The tournament one is pretty cool, but I have to really fine tune the settings to get something approaching what my games end up like.


Tonight was another no limit tournament, this time with 10 players.  1000 chips, blinds start at 5/10, double every 20.  Table was very soft, very loose-passive, calling many many things with less than a good hand.  My plan was to let some of them bounce themselves out, playing very conservatively.  I know I would get paid off when I did pick up a hand, so it was worth just waiting.

For the first many many orbits, all I did was limp with 22 and 44 and then promptly fold post-flop when I missed the set and there were plenty of players still in. Now, I’d love to hear thoughts on this play.  Blinds at 10/20, raised up to 200 by the UTG, I have AKs in middle position.  There’s already one caller, and, because of motions of other players, I know there will be 2 other callers.  I think I have two options: raise or fold.  If I’m raising, I ought to go fairly big, so how much do I want to risk here?  The UTG is a mediocre player, who wouldn’t raise with nothing under the gun and would probably do it with a middle or low pair – if so, I’m slightly behind.  The other player could have anything.  And with two other players in, I won’t be in good shape. I decided to fold because it was so early, two people did call, they went all the way to the river with no face cards, UTG showed 99 beating the other people’s random lower pairs.  Only other hand I had worth playing early was AJs, which I folded in the SB to a raise and a reraise.

I lost about half my remaining 750 later on when the blinds were up to 25/50. I played J3o from the BB, to see a QJ6 with two hearts flop.  This guy who would bet any pair or pocket pair and play many hands pre-flop bet into me; he had a big stack at this point, making me think he might not actually have that much here.  I make a small raise to isolate between and him and get that much.  The turn brings another heart.  He checks into me, I bet about 1/5 the size of the pot, and he just calls. Maybe I should have bet more here, but I would had to put much of my tournament life at stack to do that.  I make the same size bet on the river, he calls, turns over KJo.  The guy was playing a lot of crap and just calling post-flop, so most pairs post-flop had positive expectation.  I may have played this wrong, but I think he played it worse.

It’s four players when I double up with pocket 8s and knock out the shorter stack.  With AQo and KQo, I steal some blinds with my pre-flop all-ins. At this point, I have only about 750 in chips out of a total 10k and the blinds at 50-100, so these all-ins were really necessary because without a double through soon my stack would just whittle away to nothing.  I do it again UTG with AJo, get called by 10s by my pal who’s a very good player, lose the race. What I was hoping was for him to drop and for the others to call me with KJ or KQ or something – they really overvalue those hands heads-up hot-and-cold, so I try to take advantage of that.  Unfortunately, my friend actually had the hand.  He also strung together KK, QQ, AA, AK, AQ, hitting a full house with 33s, hitting his third 8 on the turn, all to run over the table and win for the night.  I, unfortunately, was bubbled out of the money.

Seriously: can I get some hands?  I end up playing like a rock because I have to and not really because of any strategy – I’m just getting complete crap, knowing that I’ll still get paid off with my good hands.  Pretty frustrating, but whatcha gonna do.

A Little No Limit

My playing has slowed down a bit as school has ramped up again. I played some Party Poker last week, and I don’t think I played all that well in part because my head wasn’t fully in it – I just wasn’t as excited about it as I normally am, and I’ve got plenty of other things going on.  So a little hiatus is in order. 

Meanwhile, my no limit ring game here on campus is getting going.  If anyone has any recommendations on a good book for these (not tournaments), please let me know.  With the sort of players I’ve run into, it seems like enough to just be patient and wait for a place to trap.  Wait for that hidden set with a pocket pair; limp with those suited aces and hit a flush they refuse to give you credit for.  Lots of calling stations, and people treating an all-in bet as a personal offense – they can’t live with the idea that someone might bluff them out of a pot.  I made one big mistake against the best player at the table (a friend of mine; most of the others were strangers) when I hit my ace on the flop with AQ; should not have even been in the hand given his raise; with a K up, he had made a set of Kings, but he could have just had AK, so with a big pre-flop raise, it wasn’t a smart play.  One thing I have trouble thinking through in no-limit is shorthanded play – we were 6 handed at the time, so AQs goes significantly up in value – but how much? 

 The other hit I took was a nice trap by me that went horribly awry.  Flop came out with J43 rainbow, and it was raised into me. I have AJo and it wasn’t raised pre-flop. I put him on KJ, maybe JT or QJ.  He wasn’t in the blinds, but it’s possible he has 43, though I highly doubt it.  I say raise, give it the appropriate moment of thought, and then commit 5/7 of my stack – approximately the size of the pot – as a raise.  My idea was to try to get him to think I was nervous and put me all-in – why wouldn’t I just have gone all-in? – even though I actually thought I had him beat   He does so and turns over QJo, bingo.  And a Q comes on the turn.  Hurray.

I also played a five-man no-limit tournament the other night.  I don’t think I played all that well, but I played decent.  Tried to bluff the unbluffable earlier on – that was bad.  When down to three, I called a minimum raise from the big blind with 67c with a stack roughly 3.5 times the size of the pot.  Flop comes 964 rainbow, with one club.  Considering his raise and the person, I put him on overcards, maybe a small pair.  It’s possible one of the overcards is a nine, but I’m doubting it. They’ve been overvaluing two face cards versus hands like A9 or K9 all night.  He bets, and my call would make my pot and my stack roughly equal.  I go all in, he shows Q9, turn comes Q, river 7.  Playing second pair in these sort of shorthanded situations is also rather tricky for me – the hand values radically change, so I’m not sure if I did the right thing here.

A Perspective on Poker Bots, Collusion, and Other Cheating

Because of my copyfighting (Wil gets it), I’m a huge fan of computer science professor and security expert Edward Felten.  He’s got an interesting post up about online poker.  Read the whole thing – here’s an excerpt:

“Most online casinos ban bots, but there is really no way to enforce such a rule. Already, many online players use electronic assistants that help them calculate odds, something that world-class players are adept at doing in their heads. Pokerbot technology will only advance, so that even if bots don’t outplay people now, they will eventually. (The claim, sometimes heard, that computers cannot understand bluffing in poker, is incorrect. Game theory can predict and explain bluffing behavior. A good pokerbot will bluff sometimes.)

By reiterating their anti-bot and anti-collusion rules, and by claiming to have mysterious enforcement mechanisms, online casinos may be able to stem the tide of cheating for a while. But eventually, bots and collusion will become the norm, and lone human players will be driven out of all but the lowest stakes games.”

The Roll Continues, Quad Aces, and a Few Mistakes

Another pretty great night on Party – the good fortune continues, up about 130 BB at .5/1 this week (after losing 12 BB at 1/2 the previous week).  Tonight featured two particularly interesting hands with Aces, which I feel like I’ve been getting more than my fair share of the time.  One hand, I capped pre-flop with Aces, 6 players, flop comes 55J with two diamonds, I bet, three callers, then I hit my Ace on the turn, and that’s when the hell broke loose, because the other pre-flop raiser had Jacks full of fives – ouch, for a 29 BB pot for me.

Here’s a trickier hand, which I might have misplayed.  I’m in the small blind with Aces, raise, get 5 callers.  Flop comes Ac, 7h, As.  I’d only really thought through playing four of a kind of a smaller variety (say sixes) – against the loose tables, I’d still jam it if there were enough players in and there were enough overcards or draws available.  Here, I figured I had no choice but to slow play – maybe I’d get some flop callers, but I figured I could pass that up in hopes of making a more profitable play on the turn.  The turn is the 5d.  Now there are no flush draws, so my only hope is that someone has a pocket overpair to the 7, or a 7 or 5, or wants to bluff, and will bet it.  From the small blind, I figure that my showing weakness on both the flop and turn, I’m begging for a bet – if I raised pre-flop, why would I be checking twice unless I didn’t have an ace? (or were slowplaying….).  Well, it gets checked around again.  The river comes a meaningless 9.  I bet, everyone folds.  I think checking the flop was definitely right (forgoing maybe, mayhbe 3 SB bets then for the opportunity to get more bets later by checking).  The turn is a little tricker.

With my thrill of success out of the way, let me discuss a few mistakes and leaks:

1.  I keep trying to slip in from too early with KJo.  When it’s loose-passive, it makes some sense to try to get in from late-early, but you really don’t want to play that from those positions against a raise. Lee Jones points this out very specifically that it is almost always wrong to play this hand from early.   I came in and got raised tonight, having to throw the hand away on the flop after calling that raise.  I also have been trying to cut back on my calls with the smaller pairs closer to the front.  Ed Miller suggests playing any pocket pair from middle in a game where only 3-5 players come in pre-flop, but even from early in a game with 6-8.  I think I took that too much to heart at first and gave away too much money.  That leak has been closed a bit, now I need to deal with the KJo one.

2.  I’m in the small blind with 99 and fail to raise with only 3 players in.  I generally would not raise with 99 from early position – only from middle or late.  From the small blind, it’s a little trickier.  I could have knocked out the big blind and isolate a little more.  And, with only 3 others in, there was a good chance I had a decent edge.  In any case, the flop comes with an A and then two lower unconnected cards. I figure, this is my only chance to represent it, or to try to charge people on the flush draw, or to extract money from people with second pair, or to get other overcards out.  So I bet and immediately get raised on my left.  I call here after the other two drop.  The flush is not made on the turn, I check, and he bets. When I called, I thought he might just be on the draw, now I think he has the ace, and I’m screwed. I drop.

This all feels very wrong.  I think it all started with not raising, and then spiralled from there.

3.  Finally, I had 78c in the big blind, free flop with 5c, Kh, Qc, and free turn 4d gives me an inside straight draw.  Given that everyone showed weakness on the flop, it’s possible no one has the higher pairs. It’s also possible I have the strongest draw. With three others in, I bet.  First of all, this wasn’t quite for value.  Second, someone might very well have a better flush draw, weakening any value in the bet.  Third, the likelihood of spiking a pair and having it pan out are still incredibly small. Fourth, there’s the possibility of a raise. Anyway, I bet, call, raise, one fold, I call, other guy calls.  River is a 5h, we fold to the turn raiser. 

If anything, I should have just check-called instead of betting. The pot wasn’t that big.

Finally Feeling Like a Winner and Being One

Tonight, I had my first experience of having cards run over me, hit the flop and hold up.  Even a bit of betting AK aggressively into weakness with either four-to-a-flush/straight or backdoor draws, spiking the A or draw and grabbing the pot.  More than doubled up on both tables at .5/1.  I love that I have now gone through thousands of hands, and, not only have I been able to identify certain weakness/question marks in my game, but I’ve actually been able to watch myself go through the cycles of bad beats, bad cards, good cards, and crazy wins a little – not a whole lot, but a little.  When I was at the Palms, it was hard for me to judge myself because I simply didn’t play enough to ride out such things (and I was making mistakes at the same time); tons of fun, first casino experiences, lots of learning, but not a lot of sense of where I was going or how much was attributable to swings.  Switching from 2/4 to .5/1 makes a big difference.  I still have plenty of  holes to fix, but at least I can pat myself on the back – I’m up at Party Poker, not even including the 200 bucks in bonuses they gave me.  (That reminds me – more bonus whoring to be done…)

I have also found that the competition on Party is far, far weaker in the evening than during the day.  Let me know what your experiences have been.  The day time, you get loose, dumb, but pretty passive – just calling stations, not a lot of aggression, and when they show you aggression, you know it means trouble.  At night, particularly tonight, you get people doing lots of preflop raising, auto-calling pre-flop raises and flop bets, and raising and reraising on the river without holding the nuts or anything remotely close to it.  I hold the nut straight, they reraise; I hold the second to nut full house (board reads 88A9A), and they have a raising fest – he might have had an 8, but why was he just calling my flop and turn bets when I held an Ace?  Why not raise?  Same thing for nines. What could he have had?  Did he hit a flush?  Did he think I would have been betting the whole way and then raising and reraising without an A or 8?

The best part was that in other situations I was hitting the flop hard with other cards on board that made it appealing for others to come along.  The last few sessions, I’ve been burning through chips calling(correctly, I’d say) with the small and middle pairs, and never hitting a set.  Tonight, I had one time where I hit the a set of sevens with AQ7 rainbow on the board.  By the river, there was a weak, very unlikely straight out there, which no one had, but boy did they have a raising fest – took down a 21 BB pot there.  On a different hand, I raised pre-flop with JJ, and I ended up heads-up but with a little extra money in from people posting when they sat down.  I hit a J, with an 8 and something like a 2 out there, rainbow.  I check, he bets, I raise, he calls.  Ace falls on the turn, I bet, he calls.  K falls on the river, no flush possible, I bet, he raises.  Would he have bet and called my raise on the flop with QT – just a three straight and one overcard?  It’s possible, but I put him on AK or AJ. Iin this case, I had to go for it, counting on another raise from him to show me that he actually had it. I raise, he calls, he had AJ. Bingo.  Then the guy swore up a storm in the chat window, cursed me to the high heavens, and it felt good.

So good.

Plugging Away at Party

I’m back in Cambridge, but not back in classes yet, so plenty of time to plug away at my last Party bonus.  But I’ve got some work to do, too, and a larger post will have to wait a little.

Suffice it to say: it’s been interesting adjusting to the a) plain dumb and loose, b) moderately dumb but mostly just passive (more like the Palms), and c) plain dumb and loose and aggressive games.  It takes all kinds folks, and apparently Party Poker has given them a place to congregate.  I didn’t quite believe everything I’d read about it, but, wow, it’s incredible to see the variety of bogus plays and suck outs, and the distance just a little tightness can go. I haven’t been winning that much, but I’ve been playing well overall – it’s certainly an easier field to combat. On the other hand, it’s been a tricky adjustment at times – there are so many people coming and going from tables, that it’s tough to get a feel for the individual players – I’ve been able to recognize the general tenor of the table, and I’ve been able to identify that guy who calls all the raises no matter what, or that guy who raised with decent hands, but not all the individual players.

Feeling Like a Loser When You’ve Won (Sorta)

For those of you who have already started reading this blog, you know that I’m a merely decent low-limit player.  From that, you might infer that I’m even less able at other games and varieties of hold ’em.

You’d be right.  Thus, a post on last friday’s 10-man no-limit tournament

What I’ve done so far:  I have read Sklansky’s Tournament Poker for Advanced Players and Cloutier and McEvoy’s Championship no-limit and pot limit book.  I’ve also practiced for many hours on Wilson’s Tournament simulator; on the ten table tournament on “tough”, I make it to the final table a large percentage of the time, but it’s not like that means anything.  A few weeks back, my friend bought me into a no-limit tournament, with like 50 people, starting with like 100 chips and blinds at 1-2, with the blinds doubling every 8 minutes – a veritable luck fest, I came in 12 or so.  I’ve played two home game tournaments of 6 people, one of which I won.

Again, not like any of that matters – it’s one thing to have a vague feel for no-limit, it’s another thing to actually play it well.  And a very vague feel I have indeed.

What really matters is that the game was me, my older bro, and then my step-bro and 7 of his 16 year old friends. Nice kids, the whole lot of them, but also plenty of dead money.  A lot of them play no-limit like limit – making minimum pre-flop raises from UTG and underbetting large pots, and then overbetting small pots.  Many of them also bluff far too frequently and in trouble spots.  It was one of those situations where, as long as you caught just some cards, you could wait for them to bluff into you, just so long as, early on, you show down some cheap bluffs to set them up.

And catch cards did I ever.  Froze up some of the weaker ones with flop raises to get my free card on the turn, letting the aggressive ones come to me when I flopped trips that turned into quads and full houses.  At one point, the blinds doubled, and one kid was about to be blinded out.  I raise in MP with pocket deuces to try to put him all in heads-up, raising something like 6 times the size of the BB, which was only about 2/9 of my stack, hoping others would drop – well, another person with few chips called, put him on overcards, and the low chips kid folds.  I hit the third deuce, check, he goes all in, and I quickly call – he had AT, hit the T on the flop.

We get down to four, the spots we’re going to pay out to.  My older brother is left – not experienced either, but he has a brain.  A super aggressive, somewhat knowledgeable player is left – apparently, he has to leave soon, so he has gone into overaggressive mode, bluffing away a ton of chips into my full house.  And then the best of my step-bros friends is left – I played with him in a no limit ring game earlier in the week, and he far and away showed he knew what he was doing. 

At some point, I pick up 66, and the super aggressive player raises big.  I know he has overcards, and not even premium ones – he’s just pushing because he knows he has to leave.  At this point, I am the chip leader, close to 2-1 on him.  Even if I doubled him up here, I’d be more than twice as much as the other two players.  I want to win the whole thing – I already have my buy-in back, and first gets 20 bucks, v. just 7.50 for second.  Taking him out now would put me up to something lik 825 v. 100 v 75 in chips.  At best, maybe he just folds here; at worst, I have a slight edge in the coin flip.  I put him all in, he calls, he shows AJo.  I win the hand.

Bold or stupid? Wait, bold and stupid.  But who was stupider? Me or him?

Better of my step-bro’s friends takes out my brother, and it’s heads up.  I don’t remember the chip count, but, call it 750-250.  If we were even players, he should win the freeze out 1/4 of the time.  But, as he proved, we’re not even players – he outplayed me, which combined with a dreadful hour’s worth of cards.

I pushed too hard to knock him out all at once, and got punished for it when he showed me Aces.  I tried to just keep hammering at him with raises, but he was holding strong, and I was not catching cards – you gotta play a lot of hands heads-up, I know – and with my chip lead I wanted to try to be aggressive against him, but my cards just weren’t enough.  When I did catch good cards, he had better cards.  I wanted to set him up with my pushes with less than premium hands, but if I never catch cards, how can I set him up?

One terrible hand for me: I have T7o, see the flop from the BB.  Flop comes with a 7 and an A, and two clubs.  I bet the pot, he thinks calls.  I’m thinking, does he have another A?  When the T falls on the turn, I think, can I set him up. He checks to me, I check back, and then another club falls on the river.  Was he just on a draw? Did I just give him a free card?  I’m hoping that he’ll see my big bet as just trying to represent the flush, and he’ll have the pair of Aces, but he’s actually got the flush.  I should have just taken the pot on the turn, or forced him to make a decision.

By now, it’s been long enough that the blinds are huge, because we’ve just been duking back and forth for awhile.  He’s now slightly outchipping me, and the combined blinds are like 1/3 of my stack.  He raises from the SB, I try to pick it up there with ATo, and he thinks and says, “I have the fourth best hand in no-limit,” and I knew it then – he’s got AK, totally dominating me, he calls, and I’m toast.  It was quite a comeback by him, because he was nearly all out at one point.

A truly humbling experience.  I knew going into it that my heads-up game is the weakest aspect of my no-limit game. In the simulations, that’s my biggest weak spot.  And I ran into a player who withstood aggression and pushed back in ways that I could not get my head around.  With a total lack of face cards in my hands, and the flops missing me by a mile, I just couldn’t deal.

I still “won”, in that I cashed, but not the way I was thinking it would turn out.

Bankroll and Other Comments

Couple of thoughtful comments below to my post.  One was from the author of Online Poker Thoughts, another cool Bostonian poker blog.  Here’re a couple responses:

First, my comment was a bit misleading re: moving up to higher limits.  I agree with both commenters about playing lower limits given my bankroll – by “eyeing” 2-4, I mean it as a later possibility, not now, and I’d like to use the bonuses to help build up to that point while I’m playing the lower limits.  Kevin’s comment also points in a similar direction.  I was playing 2-4 for casino play because I was going to the Palms to hang out with my grandfather and grandmother – which was really fun in its own right, though not the best decision for me if you solely consider  my skill and bankroll. Oh well – not nearly enough time to see family, plenty of time to play lower limits online if I want.

Second, re: river play: as I’ve discussed before, I get the basic sentiment about calling bets on the river in big pots.  Totally with you. What I’m talking about is slightly trickier situations.  For instance, smaller pots (not 16-18 bb, but more like 10-13) with some scare cards on the board – I know that’s vague, but there are a lot of distinct situations.  As I’ve said, my approach has usually been too call because of the devastating error it can be to fold in big pots, but I’d like to improve that part of my game over time.  It’s about finding the right balance.  Also: betting for value in trickier situations with scare cards.  Not talking about calling, but betting out, with the possibility of a raise from your opponent(s). 

Third, on overthinking – well, at least with the river, I have been making the calls because that is the safer play, so in that regard I’m not sure I’m otherthinking.  But I agree that, generally speaking, it’s best to not overthink situations.  What I’m trying to get at are the trickier situations, heads-up, somewhat scary boards, etc. – most of the time the right play is fairly straightforward – but what about the other X% of the time?  If I can improve on that X%, I’d like to.

Finally, re: playing to many cards – fwiw, I follow Lee Jones/Abdul Jalib (very similar) and Ed Miller’s recommendations.  Given my skill level, I do not try to figure out the unique situations borderline hands are playable.  The main adjustment I try to make is with the smaller pairs; if the table is too tight (want to play it against a bigger field if you hit the set), or too aggressive (likely to be a rise behind), I will play them less than the Ed Miller chart recommends (Ed Miller makes this point explicit outside of the chart).  Similar sort of analysis for the suited connectors – Ed Miller is less keen on those than Lee Jones is, it seems, except in looser games.   Also, as I noted before, I do follow Ed Miller’s suggestion re: hands like AJs, ATs, KJs, which many people say I should not raise with.

However, if my posts have given you the impression I play to many hands, please give me tips – I’m eager to learn and willing to listenCite some examples in my posts and let me know.

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