Monday, January 24, 2005


Let's Review

So what have we learned lately ? As I note below, in 5 out of my last 6 live tournaments (which comprise 5 £100 freezouts and a £250 rebuy, all in Luton) I have hit the rail holding some filthy cards. We can break these moves down into three categories :

1) The short stack all-in. With 12 players left, 800-1600 blinds and 10K in my stack, I went for it with 86s. The chip leader couldn't get his money in quickly enough with A2s, and I missed. This isn't a problem. I needed to double up quickly and suited connectors are better than you might think in this spot. No problem with this play.

2) The steal reraise. On two occasions, with about 20 small blinds in my stack, I have reraised a possible steal raiser with no hand, with the intention of making him fold. One opponent was good enough to fold most hands, but not AK. The other wasn't, and called with AJ. I missed both 2-1 shots. The thing about this play is you need to know when not to make it. Or in this case where not to make it - Luton. I should keep this in the locker for the medium tournaments, to be used sparingly against good players. And you if you're reading this :-). But not now I've said that. Or maybe now I will. And so on.

3) The big draw. Two hands as detailed below, Kc8c on a flop T97 with two clubs, and 65 on a flop of 643. One play was slightly +EV, and the other break even. While the previous play should only be made against specific opponents, this one should only be used when the field as a whole is fairly strong. Against good players, I'm happy to try to double up on a even money shot, or treble up @ 2-1. Against the typical Friday night field, maybe not, although there is still a plus side in terms of time, in that you either get chips or get gone. It's worth noting that neither play would have been correct with a bog-standard 8 or 9 way draw - in each case we needed a "double draw", flush + straight draw in one case, pair + straight draw in the other.

It bears repeating that it's nice to have these plays in your locker, but you need to know when not to make them. In the Luton Aquarium, maybe not, a lot of the time. It's also worth noting that in the one tournament I didn't blow the lot with a raggy hand, I finished 5th, and would have had a very good shot if the KQ had managed to beat 22. Onwards and upwards, we'll see how it goes for a month or two.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


Hands ! We Don't Need No Stinkin Hands !

It occurs to me that I have been knocked out of my last 6 live tournaments holding 53, KQ, 63, 86s, K8s and 65s. What was I thinking ? KQ ... (shakes head).

Oh well, gotta get up to get down !!

Friday, January 21, 2005


At least I wasn't up till 3 am (Part 2 and counting)

Tonight's tournament makes two weeks ago look like a marathon slog. I was eliminated on the first hand. Thank you, yes, thank you very much, you're very kind. But what an interesting hand it was !

I sit down and don't recognise anyone at all until the last three seats are filled by Barny Boatman, Joe Beevers and, on my immediate left, Frederick Richardson, Lord and Master. Now, it's a rebuy comp, so there's good news and bad news here. Joe and Barny are obviously in a position to gamble during the rebuy period, because of their sponsorship deal. I have questioned the value to sponsors in some instances but I know that Joe and Barny work very hard and I don't begrudge them it for a second. We just have to bear it in mind with the play of the hands. Erm, hand.

So anyway, I'm on the button, there are a few limpers and I call with 6h5h. Richardson raises the pot(300) from the small blind. 3 or 4 callers including Joe, and I call to close the betting. Flop comes down 643 with two spades. Aha ! Now, Richardson eyes up the pot and bets the maximum, rather forcefully. Joe calls. The others pass. This hand is simply too much to pass, even with the spades on board. There is a possibility I can make Richardson pass a medium pair or even a very aggressively played AK. Joe's unlikely to drop but I can't put him on a hand I really don't like, a set or a straight, or even two pair. Surely he would have to raise even with the straight, given the flush draw is out. And Richardson's vibes are all "I have a big hand but one I need to protect", i.e. an overpair. Let's rock then, all in. Richardson doesn't like it much but gives it the old "oh well it's a rebuy comp" and calls. Joe calls fairly quickly. Richardson KK (including Ks), Joe Ts9s.

So there you have it, and the scores on the doors once they're on their backs is KK 37%, T9s 33%, 65 30%. With the extra pre-flop money this is smack on break-even for me. Everything misses, Richardson rakes it in, Joe goes into his pocket and I go home.

Let's have a look at it from each player's POV. I'm happy with the play and I'd do it again. If there's any chance I can knock one of them out that's a big plus - I would have been 55% against KK and 62% against T9s one-on-one. If they should both have an over-pair, I'm a huge 55% to treble up. It's a possibility but would Joe just call with an over pair ? I wouldn't have thought so but in the event I'm quite surprised he just called with the hand he had. Given my correct read that neither player could have better than a pair, what actually happened was worst case and that was break even.

You can't question Richardson's play until the final call. Maybe 1200 would have been enough to bet on the flop, but pot is ok. What's interesting is that I can't put either opponent on a made hand, but there's no reason why I can't have one myself, from their POV. I'd play a straight or a set just the same, and so would most people. So they both have a nasty possibility that they're calling their money almost dead (Joe could be up against a higher flush draw). Nonetheless I think Richardson does have a call here.

Joe, well the real question is would he play the hand that way with his own money ? Interesting. I'll have to ask him if I can. He pretty much has to make the last call too, but what about 1600 on the flop, with players to act behind him ? With a ten high flush draw, for a third of his chips, and a virtual certainty that Richardson will put the rest in on a blank turn ?

But it doesn't end there ! What I find even more interesting is that there is a very high probability that my opponents would have played differently in a freezeout. But why ? At this stage of the tournament more than any, 5000 chips = £250 and that's that. The risk/reward ratio is exactly the same rebuy or freezeout. It is completely irrelevant whether, if you lose, your next buyin is made right now, tomorrow or next week. I know everyone disagrees, but it is. And this is why you are not at a disadvantage playing rebuy tournaments with one bullet (as I did today) provided you play correctly. If I had thought "well I should raise but it's the first hand and I don't want to be knocked out" and dogged this +EV situation, that would have been wrong, but the disadvantage would be self-imposed because of bad play, not because of the rebuy situation per se.

So there you have it. Just in time for the $10 rebuy on Stars. Now it's really time to gamble :-)

22/1/05 In the cold light of day. The above isn't quite the worst case scenario - Joe could have something like As5s or Ks5s, the same kind of hand I had two weeks ago. I did overlook this, but he does need 2 specific cards to have this holding. In general, I really did mean to play a little more carefully this time, but you have to play the hand you're dealt, and you can't dog these +EV situations. I will win my share, and when I do I'll have a big stack. All the same, we'll stick to Friday night £100s until I bring my game up to where I want it to be. I have 3 months to work on it before Bellagio in April.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Bursting the Bubble

I was just having a look at the Pokerstars Atlantis thingy blog. Yet again it became apparent how people clam up around the bubble in these events. It's no surprise, when so many of the field have qualified through freerolls or cheap satellites. $11,000 looks like a lot of money when you have qualified for $40 or something.

The problem is that, compared to first prize ($860K in this case, not including the ancillary benefits of being a WPT champ), $11K is nothing at all. I mean yes, it would be nice, but it's not going to change your life. Check out the guy who leaves the table saying "Aces aren't going to cost me $11,000" ! Well, they aren't, but you could be costing yourself a lot more than that. If you can't play a tournament properly, DON'T ENTER. Don't even try to qualify. If you must, accept that unless you can try to win it, you're at a huge disadvantage.

This is the spot where if you seize the day you will have a bigger edge than you could possibly have at any other stage of the tournament. Finishing 74th isn't going to change your life. Similarly around the even more lucrative "TV bubble", sneaking into 5th gets you 10 minutes in the spotlight and $150K. Win the damn thing and you'll never have to work again. By all accounts Negreanu cruised to victory in the recent Bellagio event because no one would stand up to him 9, 8, 7 handed. By the time the 7th player limped out (and where did his tight play get him ?), Negreanu had a huge chip lead and won easily.

Here's another example, from the world's second-highest ranked exponent of how not to play major poker tournaments (of course no one could ever match Paul Samuel), Pokerpages' Dr. Mark. Now, he seems like a really nice guy, so I do wish that someone would sit him down and say "Stop fucking about you are so far out of your depth. You got lucky once, you don't have a clue what you're doing and there's only one way it's going to end - you'll go stony broke". Any time you find yourself clinging on around the bubble, you are playing too high. End of story. Not only can your experienced opponents exploit your inferior game, they can exploit your fear, which is an even bigger edge. Does he really think Vinny Vinh is the only player who takes risks around the bubble ? It seems that way. But it ain't so, not for a moment.

Think about it before you sit down. And that includes sitting down for an online qualifier. Freerolls excepted, go nuts in those, especially if you're a losing player. You might as well spend your time breaking even. Before you sit down, ask yourself "can I play this tournament properly. Can I play it to maximise my expectation, without worrying about variance ?". If you can't answer Yes, don't play. I'm not discouraging people from taking a shot, I'm just saying give it your best shot or don't bother.

Friday, January 07, 2005


Luton £100 PL Freezeout - Short and Sweet

I played the £100 freeze-out in Luton tonight. That's right, tonight :-). I didn't make it to the second level. Poker being what it is though, there was still plenty of note to talk about !

I have played a few small pots in the first 20 minutes when this hand comes up. I limp in middle position with JT off. The small blind raises the pot, there are two callers before me and I call. Flop comes A34 two spades. Checked round. Turn is an offsuit 5. Small blind bets 325 into the 800 pot and it's folded around to me. Now, everything about the small blind screams weakness. He would have bet an Ace on the flop and he looks very hesitant. I'll bet he has a pocket pair. In fact, I'll bet 1000 on that. He goes in to the tank and calls :-(. River Q, he checks and I turn them over. He takes it with 99.

Tony Chapman starts miming that I should have bet strong on the river, and maybe he's right, but clearly this guy has decided on the turn that he's in front. The river hasn't changed anything, so it's very risky to try to make him change his mind. Maybe it would have worked - no one with half a brain would call a raise on the turn with a non-drawing hand and then pass the river when all draws have missed and nothing has changed, but believe it or not some players have less than half a brain, a poker brain anyway :-). Either he has made a genius read on the turn or he's a fish. I know where my money is here, but whichever it is, it's my fault for trying to bluff him, and he goes straight to the top of my ever-growing "don't bluff" list. If I hit a hand against this guy at any time in the next three months, I'll get paid.

Note that I'm not in the slightest bit embarrassed to show my hand on the end. A lot of players would have made him show first and then mucked. If I've been caught with my fingers in the till, I might as well get some advertising value out of it, especially with blinds 25-50.

So, about two hands later I limp with Kc8c, again after a limper before me. First to act I would have made a small raise (as I would with the JT). 5 players take the flop which comes 7c 9h Tc. Wow. That's a big draw for Hold-em. Checked to me, I bet 150. 99 boy raises the pot on the button. The big blind (who I've never seen before) check-reraises the pot ! Hmmm. What to do. Worst case I could be in deep shit against say T8 (or even J8) and the nut flush draw. But I have to put the BB on at least two pair and I'm fairly sure the button would just call with Ax of clubs so I don't think there's too much cause for alarm. This is marginal, and possibly slightly -EV against all possible hands, but I go for it and push all in. If I can knock T8, or any 8, out that's a huge plus. Button folds [later claiming AT], BB calls and turns over 68. In the event I'm getting about 4-3 on the play and according to my hand calculator I have 45% equity, which is more than I thought at the time. Against two pair I would have been 51%, a set 39% and T8 54% (although as I said T8 was unlikely for the BB).

In fact my equity is better than I thought at the time. The reason I was happy to make what I thought was a slightly -EV play at the time was that if I won I would be in a terrific position - chip leader with a loose image. Image is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. If you can build up a loose image in exactly the way that I have done here (by showing a bluff that failed and making a marginal big play with a draw) then you can take a lot of flops in the knowledge that if you hit, you will get paid. This is how I want to play. I want to play like Greg Raymer. I want to play like Daniel Negreanu (Championship Poker at the Plaza - Day Two is a good example, but they're all worth reading). You can't say I'm not aiming high ! If that's too high I'll settle for playing like Action Dave (no link available). I want to take some flops, especially in position, make some reads and back my judgement. Once you reach a certain level that's the only way to improve.

In days gone by, I would have passed both those hands pre-flop. I'd still be sitting there now, with 3500 chips, "like a bump on a log" as Fox would say. There are a lot of people out there playing ABC poker. They think that the people splashing around with JT and K8s are trying to get lucky. They couldn't be more wrong. When you're sitting there waiting for premium hands, you are casting your fate entirely to the whim of the cards. You need to find your hands at the right time, when someone else finds a worse hand AND they don't outdraw you AND no one else finds a bigger one. You'll do ok, you'll probably have an edge, but unless you're lucky it will take a lot of tournaments for that edge to show itself. A LOT of tournaments. What I'm trying to do is take matters into my own hands. Trust to my own judgement rather than the draw of the cards. Sometimes I'll crash out and look stupid, like tonight. So what. Quite apart from anything else I'm going to learn more and it'll be more fun. Which is more than enough in itself.

8/1/05 In the cold light of day I think I forgot to say that I missed my draw in the second hand. Although that was implicit. In the first hand, would it have been better to flat call the turn and try to take it off him on the river ? He would almost certainly check to me, and any A, 2, 6 or spade makes it that much harder for him to call. In the event, a J or a T might have enabled me to bet, get called and win which would have thrown everyone (including me, I did think he had a bigger pair than 99). One to think about next time.


On the Air

Radio Free Secrets of the Amateurs is staying on the air ! Thanks to all who gave their support below. Yar boo sucks to those who don't like it. It does help me to verbalise my thinking, and I like to give something back to the game I've taken so much from (more in enjoyment than money probably, but a fair amount of both).

So I will be updating this as regularly as I can. Trip reports will be going on here, and will be strategy and decision oriented. And so without further ado, here's a trip report.

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