Thursday, June 17, 2004

Tightening Up

Well - last night was one of the first nights in a while I was able to sit down and play for a significant amount of hours. A while back I was starting to get the feeling that just like many other interests I'd picked up and gotten semi-obsessed with (pool, golf, japanese to name a few) that poker was inevitably losing it's shine.
If there's one thing I wish I could change - it would be to pick one of these interests and really pursue it to as close to the maximum of my potential as possible. I find it easy enough to devote myself to pursuits to the point of generally being 'good' at them. However it seems that I become easily satisfied with reaching this level. It doesn't help that with most things as you get better at them - that getting to the next level takes much more work than it does to just become good at something.

In any case, Wednesday night presented with the opportunity to sit down and play for 5-6 uninterrupted hours along w/a new WPT broadcast on the Travel Channel proved irresistible. Combined with the fact that I now somehow have accounts at UB, Party, Stars, Pacific, and Planet (thanks to chasing down all those blogger tournaments..) Well let's just say finding a game wasn't going to be an issue.

I decided to play some NL - both tourneys and ring games. I've been giving some thought to how I play NL.

When I started out - I know I was pretty tight - but a little too willing to get all in with good starting cards regardless of the board or situation. It was just a little too early for me to understand the value of things like position, stack size, reading the board, putting other players on a hand. I simply played my hand - and if I thought it was pretty good - I went. Probably the only move in my arsenal then - was the dreaded slow play. But I usually didn't have the patience to slow play both the flop and the turn. And I wasn't real smart about picking my spots for these plays - too often I let my opponent catch up and surprise me instead...

As I started playing more online - and with the discovery of SnGs - I began to grasp the concept of aggression. I learned the value of getting the first bet out at a flop - regardless of whether I had a piece or not. Raising the blinds from an uncalled late position became a natural thing to do. At the $5 SnG level - this type of blind aggression is surprisingly effective against the mostly passive opposition found there. This is where I learned how much fun it is to raise someone out of a pot with nothing. Again - picking spots was not my strong suit. And at times I found myself giving away chips betting blindly into calling stations or even worse the nuts...

Well - I'm going to stop here before HDouble finds out that I plagarized his excellent post on the stages of poker development.

Suffice to say that I'm beginning to bring the lessons I've learned together. My current style is very similar to the way I started. I play tight, for the most part avoiding hands like A-To and below, KJ and below, even those small to mid pairs out of position.
Which doesn't mean I never play them.
I'm also back to playing semi-defensively. I find that in MOST games there's enough aggression at a table to make this just the right style. If I notice a table going passive - I'm not averse to shifting gears, but I've found this situation very few times - and usually only when short handed (6 or less).
I can lay down top pair, even two pair, and you'll rarely see me getting busted on a draw nowadays.

Armed with a better balanced game (in my opinion) I hit the tables last night. First up - was a Stars satellite to one of the WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) NL Hold'em events. I played pretty tight until I got dealt KK. I made a pot raise and found 3 callers! Well I quadrupled up when a K came off the flop and we all went all in. I can't remember what they were holding - I think one guy had AK and another had QQ... Played pretty tight for awhile and caught a bad run of cards but soon after the add-on - I found AA. I raised it up and the BB contemplated and called. The flop can 10-7-4 rainbow. I made a pot bet - and the BB came over the top. I was pretty sure I had him - so I pushed, and he called w QT.
A T came on the turn - and I finished about 27th.
Surprisingly I wasn't too bothered by this. Where in the past I might have slammed my computer shut as I cursed the poker gods - I was able to shrug and start looking for the next game.
The next stop was a little NL ring action on Party along with a $5 multi at UB. I love these low buy-in multis. The buy in is cheap - it's still plenty fun me even though I'm only playing for $5 - and when I do well (which is becoming more often) I get 2-3 hours of entertainment out of it.
Well this tournament only lasted a little over an hour for me. The first hour saw me get dealt very few playable hands - once from the BB heads up - I flopped a straight draw with my junk. The SB annoyingly bet into me on the flop and I decided to call and go for it. When I missed and he bet the turn - I was getting ready to hit the fold button disgustedly when I thought about it. Folding was the wise course of action here - but for some reason I didn't FEEL like it. I have no really good reason or read - and yet I find myself hitting the pot raise button.
He thinks about this for a while and then FOLDS - showing me Ace high nothing.
Well after that genius play (sarcasm), nothing much happens until we get back from the break. Almost immediately after returning I get AA UTG. I want to get a few callers - so I raise the minimum 2xBB. Everyone folds to my amazement except the BB who calls.
the flop comes 9-9-2. He bets into me. I raise him the pot. He pushes all in. whoa!
But at this point being that most of my stack is in the pot - I'm obligated to call.
He shows me K-9o. Beautiful.

Even still - I'm undeterred - because some dude with QQ decides to slowplay both preflop and flop rounds against my ATs - and after I flop the flush and straight draw - I put a big bet to him on the turn which he only calls. And when I make the nut flush on the river and fire another big bet - he surprisingly calls - doubling me up. Thank you Party Poker NL ring games.

I even fire up a UB NL ring game - and go on a mini rush when players mistake me for a fish. One guy slowplayed his KK before the flop. And decided to bet into the pot even with the A on the flop. Well I wasn't playing bad kickers - I held a slowplayed AK and smooth called him. To his credit he fired on the turn too and after I called THAT bet - he checked the river and folded. But not before giving away about $20...

I have a real good day in both games - doubling up my buy in. I see a Party $9+1 satellite starting and decide to jump in. I haven't had much (well - any) success at Party multis. For some reason I never do well.
This time I catch a rush midway through the first hour. I get dealt in order - KK, AK, QQ and snag some decent pots to double up. Then I get AA - and decide to push in an effort to seem like I'm trying to bully the table. Someone bites with AJo - and I knock him out.
The very next hand I get ATo in early position. Think about tossing it - but I'm on a rush and Doyle says - "when I win a pot - I like to play the next hand". Well if that's the case what would he do after winning four pots? I raise.
I pick up 3 callers. Now I think that people are starting to target me. Shouldn't they be running for the hills???
The flop come A-T-J. Now - I'm thinking I'm good here. I only fear AA/TT/JJ/AJ/KQ. I think a pocket pair would've re-raised me and though AJ/KQ is possible - but really there's only one way to find out. So I bet it out. The first player raises, the second folds and the third player moves all-in... WTF???
Now - I'm getting ready to get the hell out of Dodge - but I've been seeing some pretty fishy raises and calls in this tourney. I mean I could EASILY have the best hand here. And I think I do. So I push. The initial bettor calls. He shows KQ for the made straight. The all in bettor shows A-Q. I'm second place with AT.
The K comes on the turn making a tie between the other 2 guys. (both have the straight) And the river comes... no help. And just like that I'm out.

Stupid call. But it was the first real mistake I'd made all session. Time to call it a night. I'm pretty sure now - the reason I do so poorly on Party? Is that I play down to the level of competition...


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

No Limit Ring Games

I signed up w/pokerstars the other night. They had a 25% deposit bonus running in honor of the WSOP final table players so I took advantage of the offer and got my money in now. Now I just have to earn a couple of hundred FPP points to get the f-ing bonus. oh well...

I played in $3 Stars multi for the hell of it - and just to get used to the interface. I don't know about the rest of you - but now that I've played at almost every major poker site - UB's interface, especially their miniview just blow everyone else away. Little things like having a convenient button for both the minimum raise AND a pot raise. But it's the miniview display that does it for me. Provides all the information you need to know in a tenth of the screen space of any other site. Surprising that the other sites haven't copied some of the conveniences of the UB miniview tables yet.

Anyway 1000+ entries at the PS tourney made it pretty interesting. I easily made the money although I didn't chip up - just kept about an average stack all throughout until the endgame - when I was a short stack.
I'm getting better at these NL tourneys - more patient, less greedy (when I have a hand I usually overbet the pot and take it down), and more apt to make big (and tough) laydowns.
I think I won about 19 total pots in the whole tournament, and my flop % outside the blinds and button (where I was loose) - was under 10%...
The difficult part to balance with such a cautious approach is to keep your aggressive edge. Well - I don't feel I lack aggression as part of my game - it's easier for me to keep it reined in than to let it loose... But we'll see.

Also I've learned some lessons about AK and AQ - two hands that troubled me greatly in NL events. I don't mind pushing with these hands in certain situations - but early to mid in a tournament - I've become reluctant to get all in preflop with these hands. Aside from playing a shortstack I think I've come to the TJ Cloutier-ish conclusion that AK is just not a hand you want to put your whole tournament on. Your a coin flip with most pocket pairs, dominated by AA and KK, and any other hand other than Ax and Kx have two live cards to crack you.

Of course down to the final 60 or so and getting blinded and anted off - so I make a move all in with 45o from the SB heads up with the BB. The BB calls w/Q5 and just like that I'm out...

Played in 2 UB multis at the same time - in one tournament - had the misfortune to lose with QQ early to a flush drawer who called pot bets on the flop and turn. Luckily I had the discipline to fold the river when his card came in. But a player who made trips with his deuces basically ended that tournament for me before I got started.

In the other tournament I did a good job of executing the same game plan that I did at PS. But I was short stacked as we neared the money and picked up AK. I pot raised to take down the blinds - but picked up a caller in the SB. The flop came J-T-x. He checked and I felt my AK was still good - so I went all in with my meager stack hoping to take the pot down. He called me with KQ. Of course the A hit the turn - and I was out.

In any case feeling better about my NL game - I decided to take many blogger's advice and fire up the Party NL ring games. I thought about playing 2 actually - but settled on a UB NL table since the UB miniview and Party Poker screen fit nicely on my computer at the same time.

Now - I have had some BAD experiences in the NL ring games last year. I almost wiped out my UB bankroll in one bad session that saw me on tilt - rebuying and losing in one vicious cycle. Since then - I've pretty much stuck to limit where I feel comfortable about my play and the risk factor (at least of busting out) is much less.

But feeling more confident and also only have a few hours left in the night I resolved to give it a shot - with the limitation that I would NOT rebuy under any circumstances.

On Party I waited for one of my mid/small pocket pairs, suited connectors or Ax suited hands to hit and bled away slowly... Then I picked up AA to a big stacks KK and doubled up after the flop when it came 3 low cards.
I went on a mini rush when some more hands came in - and built my stack up to 3x the max buy-in. Then I caught QQ in the BB. A troublesome hand at times - especially in NL (but I'll take it!). I made it 5xBB to go for the three limpers. One limper called. The flop came J-8-x with 2 clubs. Even though my hand felt pretty safe on the flop - I decided to take the pot right there with a bet that would put the limper all-in.
To my surprise - he called! With 2-9 clubs!!! WTF?? A club came on the turn - and he F-ing flushed me - and just like that I remembered what I didn't like about these stupid NL ring games!
One bad beat aside - I thought things went pretty well. I'll be spending some serious time over the next week or two at UB, Party, and PS in the NL ring games.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Busted in BlackHawk

Just got back from a long weekend over Memorial Day visiting my family. I had anticipated many hours of online poker as my dad and my brother are both converts to the church of poker (thanks to me). And while I did play some my first night and the second -I was running so bad online that the thought of playing later on in the weekend just turned my stomach.
However the 5-5 game in Central City/BlackHawk - that was a different story. I couldn't wait to hit the poker rooms there. In case you've never had the chance to gamble in Colorado - they have a $5 limit at the casinos in state. This makes the $5-$5 poker game the most action you can find. And this in turn - brings an element to the poker table that most players love - Gamblers!
So on Friday night - when my brother came back from work we headed out to the Lodge in Blackhawk - probably the biggest poker room in the area. My brother sat in the $2-$5 game - while I immediately got a seat at a $5-$5 table.

At first, my luck was pretty poor - as I flopped two pair only to get rivered by a straight in a medium size pot.
I sat back and watched as the cards came cold - and yet - there were an average of 4-5 players in every pot - and usually at least 3 people in every showdown.

The one caveat to the 5-5 game is that because there is no increase in betting at the turn and river - players who pick up a draw will almost always play it to the river. In THEIR eyes this really increases the value of suited cards, connectors, one gappers, and even two gappers...
This makes it pretty difficult to put anyone on a hand - and with so much action - the best hand preflop does not win as much of the time as you'd think.

My last few trips there were pretty crazy. The first time I came to the Lodge (last year) I walked away with $1000 profit after a nice rush of cards and a crazy loose table that saw the betting capped (at $30) quite a few times.
The second time - I dug myself a $400 hole before my hands finally started holding up and came back for a $200 profit.

Variance is unavoidable in a game like this. And while intellectually I knew that one of these trips I would more than likely get busted - I had a hard time seriously contemplating anything as mundane as losing - especially to THESE fish.
Anyway - the gameplan was pretty simple. Play tight. Play aggressive - and make the fish pay for their draws. When popped on the river and almost any possible straight or flush on the board that can beat your hand - save the $5 chip - they have it...
No check raise moves, no slow played preflop hands, and don't be scared to cap the betting with a good hand.
Anyways - I found myself $150 down in missed flops and drawn out small pots after a few hours.

No problem. I spent the next few hours bouncing up and down. Pull a nice pot when my flush draw hits and it's higher than some dude who's playing 2-3 spades. Lose one when my A-K hits an A and someone's ace-blank pairs up his kicker on the river.
Pocket JJs hold up for a small pot. Then they get cracked - not by overcards - but by two random cards that catch two pair on the river in a medium pot (that I made).
Up and down my stack went.

That's when the hand that killed me came around.

I was dealt KK in late position. My mouth watered as the bet was raised and reraised in front of me. Normally this might set me to worrying a bit - but on this table KQo was a raising hand - and AJo was a reraising hand. So KK? That's a real hand! I re-raised and unsurprisingly the betting was capped. It seemed every time we saw a 3-bet before the flop everyone at the table decided - hey - let's cap it up and gamble! Five players saw this flop.

The flop came three spades - and I was pretty unhappy since I didn't have the K spades. Surprisingly I was only faced with one bet on the flop. I called and the bet was only raised once - so I called again. On the turn came the Q clubs. No overcards - I started thinking my KK was good - so I raised this time - and was unsurprisingly reraised.

We hadn't lost anyone yet - and the river came another spade.

Now I figured I had lost this pot - and when an eager bet came up - I decided my KK was no good and mucked. Only one person called the bettor on the river. He showed 22 with the 2 of spades. The bettor showed AQ no spades...

That damn fourth spade took a $300+ pot away from me!

After this hand - I was crippled - down about $200. I stuck a hundred dollar bill under my meager stack of $5 chips and proceeded to go on tilt.

Not sure why I couldn't maintain my discipline - but I started playing any Ace suited, suited connectors - suited T8 (one of my favorite hands), JTo (don't know why I played this one). In short I started playing down to the level of my competition.
In addition, I violated my rules - as I tried to slowplay hands before the flop, attempted a checkraise on the river with quads (and was laughed at when he checked behind me), and I paid off hands even though I was all but certain they had hit their draw.

And much to my chagrin - I kept missing flops or worse yet catching pieces that in my now loose state - caused me to call down to the river w/losing hands.

By the time it neared closing (the Lodge closes at 2am), I had just a few chips left - which I threw away on one last hand - AJo that again - didn't hold up.

I went home - down $400, and thank god the room closed, because I may have thrown even more away.

But at the same time - I can't wait to get back there again. I don't think it was in the cards for me to win that night - and I certainly didn't help to minimize my losses. But I'll take that game anytime.
Next time - I just need to keep my composure. Easier said than done.

Thoughts on the WSOP 2004

Well as many have noted to me - I DID indeed put the jinx on the Devilfish. He got knocked out shortly after I posted my prediction that he'd win it all.
I've read a number of posts on the subject of the WSOP 2004 and how all the internet qualifiers have changed the optimal strategy of the game.

I like Paul Philips short but to the point reasoning about the so-called changes that big field tournament poker have brought.

"In summary: having 2500 entrants including untold hundreds of marginal-to-bad players doesn't make it any less of a skill game than it ever was, but it was already much less of a skill game on a short term basis than most seem to understand."

He also has a hilarious comment on Hellmuth's 'genius' laydown of QQ twice against AK and 77. Say what you want about Phil, though - he has no lack of confidence in his abilities. Not that I'm a fan or anything - but if confidence is an important part of a good player, well Phil's got no holes in that part of his game.

There's one thing I'd like to amend about my previous post on the new era of poker. The players who made the final table, and the eventual winner Greg "Fossilman" Raymer are GOOD players. As the Poker Nerd pointed out to me - these guys are 'pros' in their own right - just not as well known as the 'pokerati'.

I will say it seemed that Raymer had some really good luck at the final table - busting out 2 players who went all in - with inferior hands that caught the board. I believe he busted one guy out with TT vs. AA when a T came on the board...

When this thing gets on TV - when ESPN broadcasts it - I predict a huge surge in interest in poker. And perhaps the telecasts of some of the Omaha events will even bring a new crowd over to some of the other games. I'm not much on stud - but I think I would really enjoy playing Omaha 8/b.

Can poker get any bigger? I think it can...

As the end of the WSOP marks the end of a poker season, I can't say I've been extremely sucessful since I started playing this game about a year ago. But I've held my own, with some bad days and some good ones. If I were to take stock - certainly I'm a much better player than when I started.

Two things to work on this summer. More aggression in limit. I play limit poker weak tight. It's profitable with cards and some aggressive players at the table. I need to read situations when I don't hold nut hands but am still good and get in there and re-raise people when I feel I'm good.

And in no-limit, I need to learn to make laydowns - not always commit my stack to any Group 1 hand as soon as I am dealt it. To read situations and players better - and let those hands go when it doesn't feel right.

I feel an AC trip coming on. Soon...


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