Saturday, December 30, 2006


The Customer Is Always Right

When it comes to keeping the punters happy in live poker, it's a long road for me, but I'm moving in the right direction. I have a tremendous aversion to idiots who won't shut up and I really have to bite my tongue at the table quite a lot. If I can learn from anyone it's Dr Channing who is the master when it comes to keeping the donators donating. Well, apparently there is someone called Fred who is the master of the universe at this in the Vic, but Neil's right up there. Over a recent curry he was telling us how it didn't bother him at all that one individual in the Vic was obnoxious even by Vic standards because "he pays my rent every month". Winners, he said, have a responsibility to behave but losers can do and say whatever they like.

That's the attitude I try to take into live poker but, especially when I'm tired, I slip back into bad habits. One particular irritant in tournaments is the people who complain about playing short-handed. "We're paying the blinds more often" they will moan. When one guy took this line last night I cracked and asked him "Who are we paying them to ?". "What ?". "We're paying the blinds more, right, well who are we paying them to ?". "Oh, er, well, whoever". "So we're paying the blinds more to each other. That's bad". At least that made him shut up, but 0/10 for me there. Losers are entitled to whinge about everything if it takes their mind off being losers and it's my job to let them get on with it. And again at the final table, I snapped at a guy who played out of turn for about the third time to "pay attention" and he went right into one. He certainly over-reacted but I still shouldn't have said anything. I apologised to him about 5 minutes later and he accepted it, but it really doesn't pay to antagonise anyone in a tournament ; they are liable to call you down and/or raise your blind more out of childish spite and that's something I don't want.

Childish is the key word here. For example, any comment about slow play will likely as not make the target play even slower, however much it is to his own disadvantage. The way the blinds shoot up at Caesar's, you'd think a short stack would want to play some hands before they double again, but you (and I) would think a lot of things that other people don't. In a tournament it's not as important to make sure the guy comes back tomorrow as it is in a cash game, but it's still important to keep him happy and let him burble on about irrelevancies. As Douglas Adams said, if humans stopped chattering inanely they might be forced to think instead, and no one wants that. Least of all me :-)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

I picked up Michael Atherton's book on Gambling at the airport. Why not, it was a long flight. And while stretches of the book were a bit dry and historical/political, there was enough in it to justify the price. The cricket match-fixing section was interesting, and of course there was a poker chapter. Atherton makes his way to the Vic for the London EPT (2005) with the intention of mooching around and picking up background for the book, only for John Duthie and someone from Pokerstars to say "So, do you want to play then ?". Knowing what a freeroll is, he says why not.

Now, Atherton maybe a complete beginner at poker, but he's far from being an idiot. He was at Cambridge University. The year below me, in fact [1]. So when he is drawn in day 2, he realises that he now has 24 1/2 hours to prepare for this instead of just 1/2, and he does the rounds asking people for advice. Various gnarly pros (Channing, Tann, Flood, Kennedy etc.) tell him to lock it up and play tight. When "The Gentleman" tells him "I'm aggressive. Definitely aggressive. All the best players are.", Atherton says to himself "Why, then, are all the aggressive players telling me to play conservatively ?".

Good question mate. That is a very good question. Having asked it, unfortunately Atherton is unable to come up with the answer, although who can blame him it's basically the first time he's ever played the game. But this is the whole point. Someone who has never played before has no chance playing tight. If, however, he plays aggressively he will have some chance. A very small chance, but a chance nonetheless. The best advice anyone could have given him would have been this, IMO :

"You have one advantage over these guys and one advantage only. You don't care about being knocked out. There's no shame in it, it's not your money, you don't even have to worry about your sponsors - it's a one off deal and they're clearly happy to write the money off. Whenever you can, threaten your opponent with elimination. Play chicken with him. Because he fears busting out more than you do. A lot more".

Funnily enough, that new-found poker legend Snyder gives this advice towards the end of his book, and this is most definitely advice that I have never seen before for new players :

"If you have ambitions to compete with the best, is to start out playing a high-risk game and only slowly incorporate more conservative play as you gain the table experience to tell the difference between real danger and just fear".

At the moment I'm going to call that advice intriguing rather than correct, but it's something to think about. I'm not sure I'd say that to someone trying to make a go of the game off a moderate bankroll. But it would have definitely been better advice for Michael Atherton playing a one-off with someone else's money, I'm 100% sure of that.

And with that I'm going to kick off the fun here with the Venetian's noon tournament. Stay tuned, although updates are more likely to be every 2 or 3 days than daily.

[1] That's not something I've gone out of my way to make known but fuck it, what do I care.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Hasta La Vista Sklansky

So, I thought I would spin up three cheap tournaments this afternoon. I reckoned that Arnie's "Formula" probably wouldn't work online but I would play them as if they were live tournaments, for practice. So I start ducking and diving, laying down a few bluffs that I normally wouldn't, and so on. And how do you like these bananas :

Party $50, 5th/100 for $350. I busted with one of my own tried and tested allin bluffs, the steal reraise with 64s. Unfortunately the button had 99.

Pokerstars $20, 12th/835 for $110. This was Titmus' fault. Chip leader with 14 left. Within 10 minutes of idle conversation with the arch-bok, I had been raised off two pots and knocked out with KK against AQs.

Full Tilt $24, 2nd/450 for $1680. Kerching. I ground the guy down heads up and when he smashed it all in with me looking at AKs I thought it was a winner. Unfortunately he had 22 and it "held up". Then I started having connection problems and tried to end it quickly one way or the other. Successfully.

All in all though, $2000 and I wouldn't even have played them if it wasn't for the book (cost : $30 including postage). It's fair to say that I did suck out a few times, of course, and I had forgotten quite how badly people play at this level, but basically Arnie rules. With his early doors formula and my short stack stylings, we could be onto something. Hasta la vista, Sklansky. There's a new Governor now.


Break Out Of The Mould

It's always strange how an issue seems to pop up in two or three places simultaneously. A kind of synchronicity. No doubt this is just a perceptual trick the brain plays on itself, but anyway. Yesterday I was commenting on Pete B's blog, under the post titled 'Equity'. I was basically agreeing with Pete that the "reverse chip equity" factor in poker tournaments is usually overstated by its adherents. Then just now I was having a flick through Arnold Snyder's website when I read this :

Reverse Chip Value Theory for Poker Tournaments : Good Math, Bad Logic.

Ooh, and this one :

The Implied Discount: New Insights Into Optimal Poker Tournament Strategy.

The first one is pretty long, and I admit I skimmed bits of it, but if you're interested it's worth taking the time. I don't agree with everything Snyder says but, on balance, I think he has much the best of this and is more or less right. I have criticised Sklansky's "good bet today or better bet tomorrow" example in TPFAP before (god knows where, I used to get around). Similarly even at the very start I thought that Malmuth's tournament advice in Gambling Theory And Other Topics, which he based entirely on reverse chip theory, was dodgy. Now I reckon it's horrible, and potentially very costly.

I might as well round up what I was going to say about the Snyder book as a whole. "Break Out Of The Mould" is one of the chapter titles BTW. Another example of synchronicity, I was just talking to Frode about this on IM, although seeing as I brought up the subject it's not all that spooky. Frode said -

"What I find fascinating about a lot of these books is that they all seem to give you a recipe of how to play the world series. While most people really need a way to beat the 100 rebuy in the Sportsman or the 300 freezeout during the festivals."

Spot on, and this is what Snyder gives you in the book. In fact, he clearly states "If you try to use these strategies in a $10K tournament, you're on your own". This is all designed to work in the daily tournaments you find in Caesar's, The Orleans, The Venetain, etc., and similar all around the world. Even Luton and Gutshot :-). On reflection, I think there's a great deal of merit to many of his ideas and I will be trying them out on my trip.

On the downside, while his heart is in the right place regarding short stack play, the execution does lack a little. In fact, he recommends calling all-in from any position with some very weak hands when under 10BBs, which is flat-out wrong. He under-estimates the effect of position on short-stack play, particularly the number of players still to act. To digress slightly, as a general principle, if you would move in on the button with 10 BBs with a particular set of hands, you should move in with the same set of hands with four players behind you and 5 BBs (if it is passed to you in each case). It's the stack size multiplied by the number of players behind you that determines how many hands you move in with. Almost every strategy I have read fails to realise this, with the exception of Sklansky's in the No-Limit Theory And Practice book. Seeing as you're here, the best stuff is in this blog :-).

I was concerned that maybe a sizeable proportion of players were already onto this stuff, but perhaps I read too much from the small sample of intelligent bloggers that I actually keep up with. No doubt there are hundreds of goons out there blogging away about how they finally found AK and some donk raiser knocked them out with 97s. It's just that if I ever do stumble across one, he doesn't make the cut onto my Favourites list.

For a while I thought that the best days of live tournaments were behind us. Just imagine playing 10 or 15 years ago knowing what we know today. Arglglglglglgl. However, it's very hard to just read this stuff and do it. Most of us, myself included, have to assimilate it through experience over a long period of time. We can't all be Brandi Hawbaker [1], with 7 tournaments behind us, blithely planning how to spend the third million that we'll make from our $12K WPT bankroll. Now sadly reduced to $43, a toaster and some Bebe tops, whatever they are. I can't wait to get out there and do it (poker that is ... no that's worse, I'll just shut up) on this trip, but I must remember that it won't happen overnight, and that bitch goddess variance rules over all in the short term !

[1] Thank Christ

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Warming Up

Popped into the Vic last night for a pre-trip warm-up. With 17 players for £100 each it was basically a two-table Sit and Go. I finished 6th (3 paid) but I think it was a worthwhile exercise. I was deliberately trying to play more aggressively, make position raises and follow them up with continuation bets. Twice early on I was raised on the flop and had to swallow, fairly sure I was up against top pair. Although given that I had the square root of fuck all and the raises were all in it didn't really matter what they had :-). That took me down to 1800 (from 3K start) but I doubled back up on a 60/40.

After that it went well, I worked it up to 7K without having to show a hand, and without picking up or hitting anything big. I know this kind of play can work well until the bomb drops, but there weren't any situations where I could have lost more than a pre-flop raise and a flop bet. Unfortunately then I had a bit of brain freeze and called too quickly with QJ on a flop of Q32 to be shown 22. If I had thought some more I would still have called, but it's the procedure that counts. Then I busted when I moved in on the button (with QT) short-stacked and as I turned to my left the SB's chips were already in the pot (with AQ). If I had had a look first I might have saved myself.

Not to worry though, I think the aggressive play was a help and I'll try it some more. I have fallen into a habit of not continuation betting when I miss online, I still think that's right because they will call you with all sorts and there's no problem getting paid off with top pair. Live though, it's worth trying some more moves. Anyway I had a drink with Dr Channing and JQ afterwards and, according to Neil's sound advice, I think it is probably worth easing off online for a few days before I leave, just to be fresh when I start out in the US.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Sitting And Going

I think it's a good time for me to take a road trip ; I've had almost five months on the grind and it's been a success so far definitely, comfortably averaging $5K a month. I have managed to play through a couple of $1500 downswings on Full Tilt SNGs this month, and have come out the other side nicely with a good run this week. 27% rakeback no messing straight in your account helps too. Some of the plays people make are just stomach-churningly bad.

I have two or three players noted as starting to call me down a bit thin ; these are invariably high-volume, winning players although it's nice to note that their ROIs aren't as good as mine so far. When I say "a bit thin" though, it's not like they're calling me with anything ; just stuff like KQ/A7 four handed when you don't usually see someone call with that sort of thing on the bubble. This morning though I was called down so bizarrely that my possible explanations are 60% a total fucking idiot and 40% wrong button. The geezer called me with 54 off from the small blind. Without going into details, just let me assure you that there were no possible mitigating factors for making even a slightly loose call. I hadn't even been raising all that much ;-). It's always nice to know that there are some complete goons out there, or at least people pressing the wrong button.

I'm not sure if I have enough data gathered to back up my suspicion that the games are better value in the morning than the evening. In the evening I seem to find more players tossing around with limps and minimum raises. Almost without exception, when you look these guys up they're solid losers, but it interferes with what I'm trying to do in various annoying ways. Not least because when I find a big pair, it makes it much more difficult to get on. People behind me have to worry about the limper and why I have raised the limper, instead of "oh this guy's raised AGAIN Ace Ten I call". Any thoughts on this from people who have logged a few hours are welcome.

In any case once I'm on the road I may start playing a couple of $200s a day just to keep my eye in, but it will mainly be live MTTs and I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Now Is All That Matters

I know I should really finish a book before reviewing it but as the whole point of this post is living in the moment and doing what's right for now, I'm going to do it now. I was particularly keen to get my hands on the Chen/Ankenman book so I sent off to Conjelco in the US. That has arrived this morning, together with Snyder's Poker Tournament Formula in a spirit of "oh, while I'm there".

I will take some time to digest Chen/Ankenman, but Snyder's book has immediately caught my eye with its basic premise. I quote as follows, precising where necessary :

"Let's say that [premium starting hands JJ, AK, AQs] are the only hands I'll play ... I will be playing only one hand out of thirty ... [that is] one hand per hour ... In a fast tournament, a starting hand strategy this tight would be suicidal. Since [the time taken to blind you off if you never played a hand] is under 2.5 hours, I'd be resting my entire tournament outcome on only two to three hands of play".

This is wrongly assuming that our starting hand range remains constant while the blinds increase. Of course, it doesn't. The Bellagio $500 tournament, for example, has a "blind off time" as he calls it of 2.58 hours. You start with 2000 chips and the first level is 25-50. Adopting such a starting range for the first level would be tight, but hardly "suicidal". Consider my current daily fare, the turbo SNGs. In actual fact, JJ/AK/AQs is pretty close to my playing range for at least the first 10 minutes, maybe with the odd small pair or suited Ace for a cheap flop. This isn't "suicidal", or in any way a problem, because I soon adjust once the blinds start to bite. I like to play as tightly as that early doors because this is a rare case where I can look forward to a bigger edge later on.

I have that edge because I know how to play a short stack and many opponents don't. I can tell you from experience that this is also the case in live, small buy-in US tournaments. Many players will blind themselves off, call all-in with a medium hand after missing better opportunities to raise first with virtually anything, fold the big blind to short all-ins when they have to call, and so on. It's not the case at all, as Snyder says, that "There is not much you can do in an MTT this fast to increase your chances of winning". He's basically saying that you have to play faster early on because you don't have an edge when the blinds are high, and that just ain't so, Joe.

To summarise, there's no need IMO to start speeding when the blinds are low just because they're going to be high quite soon. Deal with that when it happens. Play each hand on its own merits [1] and let everything else sort itself out. People do over-complicate tournament poker. I still hope to divine some useful titbits from the book but if he's basing it all on this flawed initial premise, I'm not that hopeful. All the same, the website has a nice, up-to-date comparison of the various tournament structures in Vegas, which I didn't know about. That's probably worth the $20 on its own. But you lucky people are getting it for free. Don't say I never give you anything.

[1] Of course, by "merits" I mean hand strength, stack size, position, action to date, and all the other factors that comprise the entire situation.

Friday, December 08, 2006


The Grind vs The Buzz

I was having a flick through Bluescouse's blog. If you're not familiar with it, this is the impending train wreck poker blog to end all impending train wreck poker blogs. This guy could be the best NL player in the world at the top of his game, but the way he approaches it, the only questions are when is he going broke and how badly (that is how much is he going to borrow to try to get out of it).

It's a shame because he's very honest about it all, deals with comments well and doesn't seem like a bad guy. There are some good comments in there too, needless to say many of them taking opposite sides in terms of the grind vs the buzz. One of them articulated (very well) something I have thought about vaguely before, so I'll take the liberty of reproducing it here :

"I think you need help and that you need to speak to people who can do that for you. I play poker because I love it. The money (up or down and always a figure I can afford) is simply a byproduct of that fun. You play for the up and down (and in figures you cannot afford) and poker is simply a byproduct of that up and down. "

This is where I'm coming from. I enjoy making the decisions. I'm not a complete robot, I can still get frustrated at bad beats and give it some "Ha Ha" after sticking it to some rock when he finally finds his Aces. I'm happy to play whatever stakes. It wouldn't kill me to drop down if I had to, because I'd have the challenge of building back up. Whereas what I found on forums, particularly over the last year or two, was that a lot of people just couldn't motivate themselves to play unless they could get excited about the amount of money at stake. Unfortunately, over time they become more desensitized to the stakes they're playing, and have to move up and up to keep the buzz. And if they haven't got a decent roll then inevitably they end up on the satellite trail, chasing the big score forever and ever.

The funny thing is that I would find the endless cycle of losing satellites, then a win and a losing tournament, demotivating and frustrating. It's kind of the opposite for me. This is all simply observation, I mean whatever floats your boat, but you have to look at it both ways. Some commenters on bluescouse take the line "you have to grind because you can't take the swings". If I did respond I would take the opposite line that you have to swing because you can't take the grind. In the end of course the game will sort everyone out. Including bluescouse himself. I ought to look away when the train hits the buffers, but part of me cannot resist.

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