Friday, July 30, 2004

Past My Sell-by Date

YTD: +$23552.45

I really thought my name was on the prize of the WCOOP PLO8b tourney.  I know I am very good at the game.  I know the field isn’t.  I am not going to play a lot of the WCOOP but this was the one that I felt supremely confident about.

I played crap.

Or rather for 4 hours I played well, except for about 3 hands where I played just as bad as you possibly can.  Crucially, I bet top and bottom pair into a big field, and kept betting it even though the warning lights were going off.  As the line goes in one of my favourite Simpson’s: “Is a flashing red light ever a good sign?”  I ignored it and effectively crippled myself.

The problem with tournaments now for me is that I almost never play them.  This year I have played less than 50, discounting sitngo’s and satellites.  I simply don’t sit down for 5 -10 hours at a stretch anymore.  I’m starting to think that mentally and physically I can’t sit down for that long.  Also, when playing cash plo8b I always have at least 100 big blinds in front of me.  My whole style of play has developed around the big implied odds of a big stack.  Of course you simply never get the same stack sizes in a tourney, especially in the later stages.  So plo8b becomes “tourney poker”.  Ho hum.

I have qualified for the PLO and I will definitely play that.  I may also play the NLHE 500, not because I like my chances – I don’t – but because if I’m going to get lucky, I may as well have the best return for my investment.  Let the poker gods be kind :-)

Thanks again folks for the comments…keep them coming.  And if you’re a newbie, check out the comments, they’re often better than the posts!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Evolutionary Cycle: PLO and PLO8b

YTD: +$25260.00
I read the other day that there is more genetic difference between chimpanzees in a pack than in the entire human race.  So although at a very basic level, we are all the same as human beings, boy, are there some differences at our level of perception.  PLO and PLO8b are very much the same at a mechanical level and to the uninitiated they look, smell and taste alike.  But again at a higher level they are radically different, to such an extent that a mediocre but a little unthinking PLO player could get creamed in a PLO8b game – as I did when I first learned the game in the School of Reading :-)  Perhaps looking at how a PLO game evolves over time, versus a PLO8b game, and importantly how a player becomes successful, will shed some light.


Stage 1: Blast Off

Everyone plays the game like NLHE.  Explosions are everywhere.  Big pots all in before the flop.  A wrap is 8 outs, once the word is discovered.  Bluffing is all but impossible except for rare grizzly (bare) ace moves.  Winning player simply play the nuts.  It’s that easy.  Incredibly some games do not move beyond this stage a la the North of England smaller PLO games.

Stage 2: Raising has been outlawed
All the loose gooses have had their fingers burnt.  Play is ultra cautious with almost no raising preflop, even with Aces (because then everyone KNOWS you have aces!)  A wrap is now 13+ outs and is understood to be ok, but better with a flush draw.  Big pots only happen when a big hand hits a big draw.  Winning players start to loosen up their game, making moves and raising with a range of strong hands and draws.  Very loose, but intelligent gamblers, can blow these rock-fests apart.  Paradoxically, good players start to see that they may have a point.  You can’t beat a rocky game by playing tighter.

Stage 3:  Equilibrium, but at a hell of a cost

Good players have realized that excellent players are putting moves on them and start to lower their standards.  Bottom trips has stopped being a pass to a raise and become a reraise.  Gambling, with skill, has become legal.  Losing players, both tight and loose, will have enough good days that the game becomes sustainable.  Unfortunately the price for a regular game is variance that shoots through the roof.

Now, for PLO8b:

Stage 1: Blast Off

Looks familiar.  Remember the gene thing :-)  PLO8b is just as bonkers in the early stages as PLO, sometimes more so, as players think any low is as good as the nut low.

Stage 2: Mug Murderers Row
The power of A2 is firmly understood.  High hands are in their place.  The penny drops on freerolls.  The game becomes one of waiting for a mug to sit down and then for the sharks to descend in a feeding frenzy.

Stage 3: IGHN

No more fish enter the pool…good players realize that there are better ways to spend their time and the game dissolves.

Because of this, there has never been a sustainable PLO8b game on the Net.

And if you are sitting down in a PL Omaha game of either type, it’s good to understand where it is in its evolution.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Lights Go Out, Walls Come Tumbling Down

YTD: +$25862.09

It’s deja vu, all over again.

The reason I stopped playing the plo on Stars was the variance was too distressing.  So in a leap of sublime logic, the games get bigger and looser so I jump in :-)  In a few hours of play I win 5k….only to then loose 6k on the way down.   The games were so loose that the 6k loss could easily have been a 6k win!  So in true gambling fashion I have “only” lost a grand.  But some secret ungambling part of my psyche keeps on reminding me that the other 5k was actually MINE, dammit.

Anyway, back to the grind…

BTW, those of you that want to see the dark side of Dan N’s moon, as per my last post, look through some of his older posts on rgp through Google.  Searching by his name as author and Annie Duke as subject can be especially rewarding.  You will find him:

1.  Sucking up to an infamous cheat, calling Doyle Brunson a “fat cheat”, then tries to back pedal out of it saying he was “looking for information”.

2.  Hassling and threatening a long-time, mostly harmless rgper, in a drunken rage, challenging him to a headsup match which he couldn’t have played as by his own admission he was skint.

3.  Having spent several sycophantic years praising Annie Duke not just as the best female, but also as one of the best poker players in the world, he then “outs” her, at first anonymously but rapidly not so, as a bad player, a bad person and someone with poor hygiene!  Incredibly, he says that he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite and wants to just tell it as it is.

Hey, the more I think of it, maybe he is a good advert for poker.  Or at least a true one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Revert to Type

YTD: + $31253.79
Apologies to my regular readers for my extended absence - work had dragged me to the US of A for a week and I have been a poker free zone except for a couple of hours today and yesterday.  Good hours though :-)
Scanning through I found a most stunning article by Dan Negreanu.  Check out his latest one and see what you think.  I don't want to comment on it directly and spoil your fun, but it did remind me of how idolised he is on the Internet, and how contrary his public, recorded, actions are to that image, self-promoted or not.  I do believe that he is probably a nice guy to have a beer with, and certainly an excellent poker player, but like a lot of people with exceptional gifts matched with exceptional egos, he believes that "I'm in the right, now what's the question?"  Anyone with a memory and knowledge of rgp over 3-5 years can see that his integrity is certainly up for question.  It's nice to see him revert to type in this article.
There are two diseases rampant on the Net - Doyle Disease and Stuey Syndrome.  Doyle Disease is the mindless idolisation of people whom you have never met and know almost nothing except Nth hand hype; Stuey Syndrome is the firm belief that you can play any cards and out think and outplay any opponent as the reincarnation of Mr S Ungar himself.  One is embarrassing, the other is costly.  You are who you are.  If you start from that, you've got a chance.
"Everywhere you go, there you are"

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Darling Buds of May

YTD: +$26615.34

Some people have commented on how well I am running since starting the blog. One of the reasons I looked to start the blog, beyond blind egotism, was that the pressure to post my results would perhaps make me more focused on how I play. With the exception of a $2k blip yesterday, this has mostly been the case. Of course, the simple day-to-day statistics hide a hell of a lot of variance. The $1k increase in the last two days has been a rollercoaster of a $6k swing. But so far my blog has been all clear blue skies and the sweet smell of success. Which is of course the smell of banknotes :-) Today I wanted to talk about a time where the skies were dark and stormy and the bitter vinegar taste of despair were my companions. Black May.

I had been rushing for most of March and April, fairly much crushing the PLO game on Stars. Going back to the maths thing, I knew from my analysis that I was rushing, and I expected there to be some kind of correction, just not one so severe and unrelenting.

Day after day losing without a glimmer of victory. Every draw missed. Eventually it became clear that I was playing with the desperation and fear of someone needing to win, and my decision making was tilting southwards. To my mind, these emotions go hand-in-hand in a bad run, especially in big bet poker. Fearful of losing again, you start to make poor decisions; desperate to actually create a winning session, you start to gamble more in spite of the nagging fear. The best part of $10k down I decided to have a harsh look at my game. I was playing marginally badly, drawing just the wrong side of the odds. Also, even though I wasn’t get the right price on these hands, 2:1 for a 7:3 draw for example, you would expect to hit them now and again. I had missed them all. On further reflection, the game itself had got tougher. Whereas before there were probably 6 fish to 3 solid players, now the ratios were probably reversed. To make things worse, all the good players were also gamblers and unfortunately, one of the problems of PLO is that good players still end up playing one another, normally with ever decreasing edges.

With all this in mind I decided to switch games to limit holdem. Unfortunately this is where I had a slight brain fart and jumped right into the Stars 30-60 game. This game can often be good, but more often is a rock fest. To make things worse, I didn’t have enough money on Stars to play the game comfortably. I went on a terrible run, getting great cards but losing with them – I was actually -$ on “even a chimp could win with them hands” like AA-QQ. The relentless losing was becoming depressing, especially as I was between jobs and this was my full time wage. Finally I switched to my old home of 10-20 Omaha on Party. I had abandoned limit Omaha before as I felt it brought out the worst in me from a tilt perspective - the games at Party were truly bonkers and the extreme suckouts seemed to frustrate me more than simple holdem ones. This time was no exception and my play rapidly disintegrated.

I was half way through the month, a vitally key month as a full time pro, and I had lost more than $20k.

To say I was at a loss is an understatement. This was by far my worse ever losing run in 8 years. The last time I had lost on this scale, it was only $10k and I was so despondent that I dropped from 30-60 Omaha to 3-6 for a couple of months. There was some light at the end of the tunnel. Aksu had been having excellent results multitabling the 15-30 holdem on Party and this encouraged me to have a final fling there. The rest, as they say, is history :-)

(I clawed back 6k in May and have been rocking and rolling ever since.)

What lessons can be learned from this? I do feel that how you handle the bad times is a critical factor of being a poker player. Anyone can handle winning, but the streets are lined with the sun-bleached bones of poker players who could not handle the downswings. Although my game deteriorated, I also KNEW it was happening so I could do something about it. I kept calm. I tried new games. My analytical nature helped as I could see when I was being unlucky (holdem), when I was being bad (Omaha) and when I was being both! (PLO). Beside the very stupid decision to jump into the 30-60 game, I am quite proud how I handled my month from hell.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Men Must be Pampered or Destroyed

YTD: +$25632.34

Thanks again to all posters and lurkers to my site. It's a real buzz seeing the feedback, especially from folks who keep on coming back. My advice is to check out the comments yourselves; I’m certainly getting a lot from them. And beside my own personal self-aggrandizement, that's what this is all about :-)

Two direct questions from old sparring partners on THM and elsewhere - Chaos and Redsimon. Chaos, I don’t keep direct track of rake except for limit holdem. And as I'm playing a lot of PLO8b (and previously PLO) a rake figure cannot be done. In limit my rake is probably in line with any ring game winning player, i.e. a lot but not quite as much as short handed. I still seem to be winning the prediction :-)

Red, I'm not playing off a huge stack by some people's standards - certainly not Aksu's :-) I have just over $35k floating around either in dollar accounts or sites and I'm mostly leaving it in them, although I am following Rolf S's secondary bankroll scheme. If P T means tournaments then truth be told, beside some SnG action, I'm mostly cash only of late. I have played less than 70 proper tournies this year, which by most online standards is tiny.

The topic for today was sparked off by a comment by Andy Ward on THM saying that cash players have to have a "...ruthless streak. Let me expand on the last one - you have to be able to take someone for everything they've got, goad them into borrowing money they don't have, and then take that as well, leaving them in the gutter, then go home, look yourself in the eye in the mirror and sleep the sleep of the just." Now Andy was exaggerating to make his point but this stereotype does exist. The Victoria Casino in London is renowned for creating the grinding pro who treats everyone as grist to his mill, treating strangers and losing players as “stars” to be mocked whilst being financially dismantled.

I can remember playing in a cash game in the Vic once, where on just sitting down in a short handed game I was check raised out of the only significant pot played in 5 minutes. Then the table charge was due and everyone sat out, talked amongst themselves and the game broke up, myself several hundred pounds lighter. It was clear that everyone else at the table knew each other and no one said a single word to me. I do not for one second believe that anything was amiss, just what a typically foolish reaction of the players there, not knowing I was the biggest fish to flop on their plates in some time, not to engage in some common, decent courtesy.

My view has always been that whilst the actions of the game should be undertaken without fear or favour, there is plenty of room for the human touch, humour, good spirit and friendliness. I try to keep the game light hearted. Many times I have told players that through their “cards spoken” that they have beat me, when they haven’t noticed it themselves, sometimes for serious money. Last year, in one of my very rare live appearances, I had a terrible run in a cash game. In a holdem pot I hit runner-runner flush to lose to a higher one. In the same game, I had the nut straight and top trips in a PLO8b hand vs bottom trips and a str8 wrap and was scooped. To be fair I had played poorly as well, but I was feeling somewhat despondent as this was a “guest” live appearance and not likely to be repeated too soon. The best part of a grand down, I had money in my pocket still, but decided enough was enough. I then went round and individually congratulated and shook the hands of the guys who had bust me, wishing them well.

The fact is that any kind of winning player, certainly in pot limit games where the pool of players and potential players is very limited, must accept that it is much better for players to “like” losing to them than to fear or dislike them. For most losing players Poker is a recreation, it must be felt to be enjoyable and they must “get something” from it. It is far more profitable, and fun for all concerned, for them to get a feeling of camaraderie and entertainment, than sly looks and “see you next time” grins.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The Wrong Move at the Right Time

YTD: +$24788.09

I thought that today we would look at a poker hand. I must state up front that I do not like the way I played the hand at all. I did think at the time that I was gambling and that my chances were fair, but not huge, especially as it was a pot limit Omaha eight-or-better (plo8b) hand where I am normally looking to play large edges. I’ve started playing plo8b again for a couple of reasons: there are games for reasonable stakes again and they seem to be lasting; it’s my best game and my edge in them over the average to good player is very large, based on my slightly biased opinion and many years of results :-) In general it is unusual for me to change games when I am running good…and I was running very good in the 15-30 Party madness, but this form has continued and then some in the plo8b games too.

In the hand in question I’m dealt the reasonable starter of Ad As 4h 3c and even better, get my favourite action with this kind of hand – a raise before me. My tactic, quite simply, is to reraise and hopefully isolate myself against an A2 kind of hand over which I am a nice favourite. Things work out a little strangely however. I end up setting allin THREE other players preflop, for a nice just under $1k pot. Let’s peak under the felt and see what monsters caused this action,

Hero: Ad As 4h 3c
Foe 1: 5c Ah 2c 6c – the original raiser, he then called off his $300 stack to repeated raises
Foe 2: Js 9c Ac 4s – after only calling $4, he then raised his whole $220 stack cold in with this.
Foe 3: Jc 8d 5d Qs - ??? after only calling $4, he then called off his $80 stack with this beast.

So having played God a little, let’s extend our powers and see who is favourite at this point….that’s right FOE 3! Counter-intuitively, I am almost exactly EV neutral – my equity is the same as the probability of my winning, yet Foe 3 has a fairly chunky 30% EV, a nice 5% improvement (yes I know that we haven’t all put in the same money but I’m simplifying here for all (my) sakes :-)

This nicely illustrates my first point, which is that plo8b should not be a big action game preflop, as it is rare to have a massive edge allin at this stage. Interestingly, if I had achieved my expected result and ended up against the hands I would expect to dominate, I would have had nearly a 7% edge, and heads-up against the a2 hand a massive 16% edge. For a transaction that only lasts 30 seconds these are good ROIs.

The flop came a satisfying:

5s Th 2h

So where are we know, EV wise?

I have suddenly shot into an incredible 56% equity position, more than 100% greater than my average chance. I am now sat back, smoking cigars and sipping Courvoisier, whilst my foes are fighting over the scraps from the table. This illustrates my second point beautifully. Plo8b is a game of massive edges, from the flop onwards. Okay I didn’t actually play it that way, but I did say at the start that my play sucked.

Oh, and if you’re interested, the ten paired the turn, the river blanked and I scooped :-)

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The River Runs Through Me

YTD: +$24237.29

I recently checked out the one of Andy Glazer’s new articles. I have very mixed views on Mr. Glazer. On the one hand he writes extremely well and that writing is informed by at the very least reasonable poker skills. This is a marked contrast to the other popular writers out there who seem barely able to tell a flush from a straight. On the other hand, his moral compass seems a little off from true North. He continually defends the indefensible in Phil H’s behaviour; he thinks Daniel N is a man of integrity; worst of all he made a massive mistake in his reporting of the WSOP 2002 Big One and simply did not change it, despite it being pointed out. This shows a lack of respect for both his readers and his work.

Anyway, the article was basically saying that poker is a card game, at a basic level, and that poker is a people game at an advanced one. This to me seems to be missing a fundamental point, that at its core, underlying both, poker is a game of mathematics. Anyone looking at some of the posts on rgp from Howard L can see that at the very top level, many of the players have an extremely strong underpinning in the maths of the game. As some of the hand examples we have looked at here, sometimes the maths situation supercedes the psychology. And clearly, you can be successful in some poker fields, such as tournaments, without any strong understanding of the maths at all – Phil H recently bet that AK offsuit was a favourite over AK suited :-) But how much better a player would he be if he stopped passing those 4 to 1 favourite situations just because he does not want to put his stack in jeopardy?

A simple use of the mathematics of poker is to use it as a barometer of your play. Were you lucky in a hand? Did the maths justify your actions? How much “extra” do the intangibles of the play have to make up for the shortfall in the equity you have? There are numerous sims that can do this for you, but it is still good to hand crank the numbers through a spreadsheet and get a feel for a situation. I am convinced that one of the factors that contributed to my improvement in playing PL games was my determination and perseverance in examining difficult situations on a regular basis in just this way.

If you wanted to sail, the cards may be the boat of your play, with people skills and psychology the rudder and sail. But where would you be without the ocean? Navigating a complex tributary, you’re not going to get far without the river. Mathematics is this undercurrent beneath our complex, people and cards game.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Not so much whether God plays dice, but how God plays dice

YTD: +$22564.69

The quote above is by Ian Stewart, the British mathematician, and I thought it really fitted what I wanted to talk about today, and poker in general. One of the beauties of writing about poker and one of the main motivators for me in doing that mostly thankless task, is that it makes you think about your own game, giving rise to revelations from the Poker Gods you may otherwise miss whilst checking, raising and putting in the semi-bluffs. Often these can come from the action of putting metaphoric pen to paper, sometimes, as in this case, from a comment or statement from another player - btw I’d really like to thank all the commentators so far...please check out the great comments and keep on posting; remember "hits make BDD happy!" :-)

The comment in question was from my dear Internet pal, Aksu. On the post about my plo8b pass he said he did not like it. In true Sklansky fashion, he didn't actually say why (I could almost see a "I will leave it to others to elaborate" tagged on the end :-) As I have a lot of respect for Aksu's play, this got me thinking. I felt my gut feel, my read of the situation, then and now was correct. But what about the math? The math is easy, and quite horrified me. I need to be at least 66% certain that I'm being 3/4d to make the pass. Let's call that 70% (how can you judge 4%!). That is a hell of a lot of certainty. Considering how long I thought about it at the time, I must have only been maybe 80% sure at best. The decision is basically irrelevant.

It struck me that many poker decisions, which we often think are reads, or gut plays, or psychology, are either underpinned or overwritten by simple mathematical necessity. Some examples are drawing on the turn in pot limit Omaha when you feel you are up against a made hand; calling an allin bet in no-limit holdem or even making a river bet in limit holdem; my hand and of course the hand I describe that Vlad played too. It seems more glamourous to go on our instincts, to have the "certainty" of "looking into the soul" of our opponent. But maybe we should also be adjusting our slide rules and calculating how God plays dice.

(I’ve now decided that what I SHOULD have done in the hand in question is toss my foe 10 pounds and at the same time muck my hand immediately, thanking him for saving me money :-)