Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On Being An Illusionist

I was reading a blog post by Shamus over at http://www.hardboiledpoker.com/ about how he feels he's been running in place over the past year at the tables--a feeling I've certainly felt. While reading, I was of course relating my own experience to his and was reminded of the frustration of knowing that I can play what i think is good poker, making a minimal amount of mistakes, and still lose or just break even over a significant stretch of sessions.

I don't know Shamus personally (nor could I pick him out of a crowd), but from having read his blog for some time, I perceive him to be a methodical thinker, writer, and poker player, paying attention to many details and making only rational plays. For example, I've never found a single grammatical error in his blog. Ever. Given my take on him, when I read of his troubles, I pictured him being a disciplined, thinking player, and perhaps a little on the risk-averse end of the spectrum, never making any -EV plays and such. Possessing some of these player qualities myself, I naturally wondered of a way out of a rut like Shamus's, and an answer immediately popped out at me.

A player like Shamus, and myself at times, can easily sit at a table for over an hour and go virtually unnoticed by other players. The unnoticed player never makes terrible plays, rarely wins huge pots at showdown, doesn't enter many pots as a result of playing tight preflop, and just seems to fly under his opponents' radar. Now, players may notice that he's being a nit or a rock, and, while this could be a good thing in that the unnoticed player could then profitably switch gears by loosening up, I think there's something better. Be the player that everyone can't help but notice. Why not have a crazy image, whether it's donkish, or just extremely loose-aggressive? Why not run the show? Why not make everyone annoyed by your play and get them emotionally invested in each hand?

Last Summer I was in Biloxi on a bachelor party trip playing some 1/2NL late night when I found myself up a buy-in after having caught a few hands. It may be fundamentally bad, but after winning some chips, I tend to loosen up and start seeing flops with marginal cards. This is what I did this night. I got aggressive, and people started to notice. I made a lot of post flop moves, pushing people off of hands and pouncing on every inkling of a weakness I detected. Before long, I found myself up another buy-in, and I noticed that the table dynamics had totally changed. I had become the "table bully". When I entered a pot, all players waited to see what I would do, and usually anticipated raises, reraises, c-bets, etc. At one point I was in LP with garbage, and it was my turn to act with two limpers ahead of me, and I was about to fold after some hesitation when the first limper says, "Here he goes again, raising it up." What was soon to be a fold suddenly seemed a good spot to raise. He had created a premise from which I could deduce lots of information later in the hand.  Or I could have just been drunk.  Nonetheless, he was emotionally invested.

This became such a tool for me that night. I noticed that since I had become the table bully, everyone's moves seemed so apparent. They were all acting defensively, as if to deliver me justice for having pushed them around all night, and, as a result, the strength of their hands seemed to polarize--they were either obviously strong or obviously weak.

So after reading Shamus's post, the idea that came to me is that there's a difference in my ability to gauge the strengths of my opponents' hands when I'm running the show at the table and when I'm flying under everyone's radar. Everyone loves to trap bullies. It's irresistible. It's pure psychology. Everyone wants justice. Not only will it satisfy the player to win some of his chips back from you, but he will satisfy the mob (the other players at the table) by delivering the justice that you, the bully, deserve. It becomes you vs. the mob. And in each hand your opponent sort of represents the rest of the table that aren't involved in the hand, and he feels a responsibility to deliver justice to them by punishing you. And the mob is surely paying attention because you are running the show, so your opponent will be trying hard not to disappoint (no one wants to lose their stack when their whole table is watching, so it becomes more apparent if they are strong or not by their commitment to their hand). This makes it easier to tell what each opponent is doing because you know their motives. They're being influenced by the mob. Then you can act accordingly without them realizing that they are making your decisions for you.

So while you are running the show, you're still flying under the radar, which is exactly what you want--to be deceptive. When you're flying under the radar by just, well, flying under the radar, you're not really deceiving anyone. So sometimes I think it's a good idea to blatantly create an illusion by means of a big production at your table. Otherwise, you may just be waiting for cards your whole life only to find you've been running in place.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Final Tables (plural !!!)

Since my last post I've logged some pretty successful sessions on Full Tilt. This past weekend I final-tabled two 135-man Rush tourneys back to back. I attribute it to having tightened up a bit and running quite well. I hit sets with pocket pairs by the turn more times than I didn't, which is staggering considering a sample size of around 20-25 and that the probability of flopping a set is around 12%. I was also dealt Aces well above expected value (10+ times in less tournaments), and only had them cracked once.

Poker is quite easy when the deck is hitting you in the face like that, but I think I played well, too. I was able to get away from a lot of marginal hands that I haven't been able to get away from in the recent past, which is obviously very important early in a MTT. This is one of the handful of fundamental concepts that I had begun to stop considering before I decided to tighten my game up. Here's a short list of some others that I think have contributed to my recent success. Most of these apply to early/middle stages of MTTs:

  • Bluff less, and with good reason, and don't bluff at all in the first two or three levels. If your c-bet is called on the flop, there better be a good reason to fire a third barrel on the turn. Don't raise when in doubt. Check/fold.
  • Don't play A9-AJo in EP unless it's late or you're short stacked. I find myself not knowing where I stand with any number of callers on the flop. (Esp if an Ace comes) Plus you're out of position. It just doesnt usually turn out good.
  • Don't overvalue suited cards. Qh10h is really not as good as it looks. Top pair is too frequently 2nd best here, and a flush is a long shot. Even if two hearts come, you may find yourself committing your stack (and risking your tourney life) as a dog. Tourneys are all about surviving.
  • If you do find yourself in a sticky situation with a marginal hand, keep the pot small. Don't c-bet. I think people c-bet too much in general. Check/call if you think there's a chance you may have the best hand, and check behind if checked into. This also keeps you out of traps.
  • I think others are also aware that people c-bet too much, so bet you're strong hands, as opponents won't believe you a lot of the time. You're passing up value if you don't.
  • Pay attention to flop textures and practice determining if they hit your opponents. Use your opponents' position and bet-sizing to help you determine this. I like raising a flop with one broadway card and two low cards if c-bet into. You'll likely take it down if your opponent didn't pair the broadway card, and chances are he didn't. If you're called, however, slow way down.

I know this is some pretty basic stuff, but I think it's what I needed. Remember, though, that in the later stages, there's a point where you're playing for the win, and you have to take more chances with a shorter stack. Most of the above points apply to the early/middle stages, which are very important stages because they get you to the later stages. I think I was getting ahead of myself trying to be more aggressive all the time. There were too many times where I was raising without knowing why. Since I've stopped doing that, I've been able to better identify spots where bluffing/raising is appropriate, and my success rate with bluffing has dramatically increased. I pulled off one hell of a bluff yesterday with air. I was actually quite impressed by myself, and it wasn't even that difficult of a decision. I thought, "Who am I right now?" It felt great. And it's all a result of slowing down and thinking through things logically--not blind aggression.

Or I could just be donkin' it up. Luckbox style.

Who knows?

Gotta love poker.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Time for a Revamp

I am currently overhauling my poker game. The past couple of months haven't been that great. I'm losing big pots and winning small ones. Variance? Maybe. Leaks? Probably. As a result, I'm not only studying 2+2 posts more, but also REPLYING to them and joining in on the discussions. This has made a world of difference for me. It's easy to read something and say, "Yeah, that makes sense, I would do the same thing." However, it wasn't until I started posting my own thoughts that I realized I wasn't considering many factors that I should be considering while involved in a hand. I only thought I was. Instead, I've been playing my same old robotic style of poker that isn't as malleable as it needs to be.

Poker players are getting better. Much better. And very quickly. I've been learning that the hard way. If I want to keep up, I'll have to get better with them. The first step is knowing you have a problem.

I'll be playing in one tournament in Vegas this year, and, no, it's not the WSOP again. As I mentioned, I haven't exactly been fattening my bankroll of late, and I just can't fund another run-in with Phil. Shame, I know. Instead I'll be playing in the bobo, off-brand series, the prestigious Venetian Deepstack Extravaganza!! And I'm only going to Vegas because we have a wedding to attend there. The $340 entry fee is much more my speed right now, especially given my recent purchases (house, car). So now I have a short term goal--revamp my game over the next month and see how deep I can go in this thing on June 4th. Final table would be sweet!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trying to decide if I'll play again in 2010... Hmm. If I draw this seat again, maybe I shouldn't!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Loser's Lottery

Two and two, in my big blind
Flick of a wrist, two cards I find.
I Take a peek, see Ace and Face
The call of a raise begins the race.

Felt-felt-felt, flip-flip-flip
Dealer flips a flop of trips.
Holy shit, an Ace times three
Beautifully, it's quads for me.

Collect myself, return the glare
I partially piss my underwear.
But he knows not my pants are wet
When my steady knuckles tap out a check

He taps too, a check as well
No action yet, have I shown a tell?
Dealer knocks and mucks a burn
A Jack of Hearts hits the turn

That's two Hearts now, I check again
He waits a sec, then bets ten.
Perhaps I'll raise, bet it all
Let's see one more, I just call.

Here comes the river, and inside my chest
my fluttering heart will not rest.
She felts the card, and rather appropriately
it's another red Heart, that makes three.

Whatever the card, does not matter
my swift All-In stops the chatter.
But I soon notice, the third heart is a ten
When he quickly calls, and mutters "Gin."

A glance at his cards upon the felt
And my fluttering heart begins to melt.
It makes sense now that from the start
he's held the King and Queen of Hearts.

The ultimate nuts, what are the chances?
My shoulders sink as this guy dances.
A flop of quads? What a rush!
Suddenly crushed by a Royal Flush?!

I scratch my head, and to my dismay
my entire stack is swept away.
But that's not all, I'm still confused
Why is this group so amused?

A player turns and says to me
"Of all the cards, he caught those three,
But worry not, little shark,
This is the poker room and you're in Orange Park.

It's not what you think, this is quite a feat
The jackpot is yours for such a bad beat!"
That costly hand just turned free!
I've won the loser's lottery!

27 days till Vegas!!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Daydream Believer

Vegas in 45 days!

And I've got it all planned out... As soon as we check in at The Rio on May 29th we walk past the poker room toward our suite, suitcases in tow. Hecklers from a $10-20 NL game point and laugh, shouting obscenities at us such as "tourists!" and "guppies!" I immediately signal to my troops to halt. We exchange a confirming glance, simultaneously drop our wheeled luggage for the girls to grab and converge on the misguided. The floor respectfully starts a new table for us as they sense our aggression. We tell the hecklers to bring it and we suddenly find oursleves squared off versus these wanna-bes at our $20-40NL table. They begin to tell us they're here for the $1k event tomorrow, but we cut them off, explaining that they're the reason it's being called a donkament. We then make $500 last-longers with each of them before telling them to shut their mouths. I hear someone calling my name, so I turn around and it's Danny (Negreanu), asking me how I liked his last book.

"It was okay, Danny-boy, but I'm busy right now."

"Sweet, bro. Call me later."

I say nothing and look down at my first hand. I get 7h8h on the button, and I re-raise my main man's EP raise to let him know I have the strength. Small and Big (Douche crew) call and glare. The flop comes 5h6hAs. SB bets half the pot, BB calls, and I wink at them as I raise it 3x. One whispers in the other's ear until I snap my fingers and he stops with the look of kicked puppy. SB calls and BB folds. Turn is the 9h of course, and the idiot bets the pot. I smooth call and give my boys a confident glance. Dealer burns and turns the Ad. SB douche announces "All-in" with a grin. I scoff, tell my boys to watch this, call, and turn over the nuts. I scrape the $8k pot as the douche whines about his pocket Aces, and he and his crew scatter. We hop up, I give my boys some cash, and we head to the sportsbook.

We pull out our wads as we're glancing over the bets and two waitresses come right over. We order whiskeys. They tell us we're handsome and that they like our Georgia accents. We tell them we know and get back to our sports betting. We all make bold, risky wagers on the Braves to cover the spread cause we ain't scared. We bet $5k between the four of us. I also take the under on the length of the national anthem, being performed by Oasis. I know the bossy Brits front and back and there's no way they're letting it last longer than three and a half minutes. We finish our whiskeys and head up to our room.

Our suite looks amazing and smells even better. The Braves are on ESPN, so we turn on the game while the girls take showers. Liam and Noel crunch out a poppy, psychedelic version of the Star Spangled Banner in a whopping 2:45. Chalk up another sweet score for B. Then Chipper cranks a three-run dinger in the top of the first to put me on a super high. I feel so great I become convinced that I'm actually floating. I look to my left and I see clouds and sun. I think, man this is awesome, I've always wanted to fly. Then I hear Aimee's voice call my name, but she's supposed to be in the shower. I look to my right, confused, and it's Aimee sitting next to me, the sun on her face. "Brantly, wake up, it's the strip!" I blink my eyes a few times and turn to my left. Out the plane window and through the bright clouds I see The Luxor, and just past that I see The Excalibur and a mini-New York City approaching. I look back at Aimee, laughing at myself "Oh awesome, we're almost there."

About an hour later we pile out of our taxi-van and walk into The Rio, bags in tow. We're already having fun and giddy with excitement. I check us in and get our room keys. I pass them out, and we start looking for the elevators. We round a corner, and there it is with all its glory and appeal, the poker room. I quickly look around for a juicy table and any hecklers. I see neither, but I drop my wheeled luggage anyway, turn to Aimee with determination and ask her if she'll take it to the room while I go do some quick work. She laughs and says, "Yea, fat chance." I sigh, say okay, retrieve my wheeled tote and keep walking.  It's the real Vegas.  The one where daydreams are made, but more are crushed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dodge the Donkey Punch

73 days until Vegas!

This year I'll be playing in the first ever $1,000 buy-in WSOP event. It'll also be my first ever WSOP bracelet-tournament and my first time staying at The Rio. We got a great deal, too. Sin City is having a hard time attracting folks to its casinos right now, so the great deals are aplenty.

It turns out that The World Series of Poker isn't recession-proof either, so they'll be offering their least expensive bracelet tournament ever--a $1,000 No Re-buys/No Add-ons NLHE event. I've read a lot of complaints about this, too, saying that it's breaking the tradition of the usual $1,500 event being the first NLHE tourney each year. The "donkament," as I've heard it called, is expecting an extra large field. My guess is between four and five thousand. Last week they posted the tournament structure on wsop.com, and I was a little disappointed to see that everyone will be starting with only 3,000 in chips. I know that it's a relatively low buy-in tournament, but it'll be the most expensive tournament I've ever reached into my pocket for, so I was hoping it would be a little more deep-stacked. That gives everyone 120 big blinds at level 1 with levels lasting 60 minutes. It's not exactly a Turbo, but I'll still need to make some moves with less than premium hands to stay afloat.

Last year I played in a WSOP Circuit Event in Tunica. It was a cheap little $125 Turbo event. I remember we were nearing the end of our trip, and I was coming close to the end of my money, so I just bought into the cheapest event they had. Aimee and I were on our New Year's vacation with Paul and Ashley, and Paul and I had each originally planned on playing in the $300 (I think that was the amount) event, but neither of us had done quite as well as we'd hoped up to that point, so I played in the cheaper tourney and Paul just played in a couple satellites (to no avail).

The night before Paul took a 1-2 donkey punch combo to the teeth at the $1-3 NL table after turning $75 into $600 in about two hours. I had gone busto and was watching him for a bit because he had built a monster stack. He was on a rush and was really dominating the table like I'd seen him do before. At one point I remember he even had one of the players surreneder his iPod over to him. I think he actually had the guy hypnotized or some shit. He was on quite a roll, but I was wishing he would just call it a night and cash out as it was getting late. It would have been a huge win. I know how he felt, though. A rush like that is hard to get up and walk away from. Something takes over, and you get greedy. Just as I was becoming convinced that he might break the entire table I saw it all come crashing down in two donkalicious hands. It was like watching that clip of George Brett's pine tar incident--sickening. I don't remember all the specifics, but I think one of the hands involved some gutshot straight-chasing by a donkey puncher on the far side of the table. Some people can only take so much domination before they go on tilt and start making bad decisions. I'm sure Paul remembers just how it went down. He lost that entire stack. His teeth probably still hurt.

Anyway, there were only about 100 entrants in my turbo tourney with the final table of nine finishing in the money. I think we started with 2,500 or 3,000 chips and blinds at 25-50 with levels lasting only 40 minutes. I remember feeling pretty nervous and not very confident coming out of the gate. I wasn't in a very aggressive mood which is pretty much required for success in short-stacked tourneys. I also had a guy two seats to my right who came out making monster raises left and right, so I didn't have much room to maneuver anyway. After three or four orbits, I had seen and missed a few flops, and my stack was down to about 1,800 or so. We were at level two, 50-100, and I was two off the button when I looked down at Qs2s. Surprisingly, the super-aggressive guy folded after just one early position limper, so it was a good spot for me to get aggressive. I made it 350, and everyone folded to the big blind, who called, as did the EP limper. I had decided to be aggressive on the flop no matter what, so I was planning on a continuation bet at the very least even if I missed. A sight for sore eyes appeared on the felt, though. Dealer turned A-Q-2, rainbow. I flopped two pair. The two EP players both checked to me. I fired what I wanted to look like a standard continuation bet out of about 2/3 the pot, around 700. I didn't put much thought into it at all. It was pretty automatic. I was quite confident I had the best hand. The EP limper called and the other guy folded. Going to the turn I only had about 700-800 left in front of me. Dealer burned and turned a 5, leaving the board still not very draw heavy, but I felt that I needed to go ahead and get it all in there, so when the guy checked to me, I went all in for my last 700 or so. He went into the tank, which I took as a good sign since any hand he would have to think about was probably worse than mine. I still wanted him to fold. He did not. He said, "I'm gonna make what's probably a bad call here." He turned over A-4, top pair. I turned over my two pair which got a couple "Oohs." I looked at his cards and then back at the board. The first thing I noticed was that he had a gutshot draw, but I quickly dismissed that outcome since it was highly improbable. In fact, I was just about 3 to 1 to win after the turn. Any A, 3, 4, or 5 (12 outs) would win him the pot and send me packing, and any of the other 32 cards would double me up. Feeling pretty good about it, I watch the dealer burn and turn the river--the 3.

The guy reached into a bag of four marbles and pulled out the the only one that would win him the pot. I was done. It felt like I had just walked behind a horse and got kicked in the junk. Somehow I managed to make it up from my chair and hobble away, though.

I can't ask for much more than getting it in good. I'll take that all day. Let's just hope I'm able to bob and weave come May.