Thursday, August 30, 2007


Book Report

Professional No-Limit Hold-Em Vol. 1 (Flynn/Mehta/Miller)

I really liked this book. A lot. They framework they set up here is totally in tune with the way I like to think about poker. In brief, you try to set up the right kind of pre-flop pot size for your hand. Of course in the past I was aware that you don't want to put more than 5% of your stack in pre-flop with suited connectors, that's fairly obvious. What I didn't realise was how bad it is to put in exactly 3-5% of your stack with a "big pair" hand, meaning a hand that's most likely going to flop top pair or an overpair without too much prospect of further improvement. Routinely raising to 3 BBs with these hands is just asking for trouble with a certain stack size, which is around 100 BB - coincidentally the stack size that you would commonly buy in for in a NL cash game, and often your starting stack for at least some part of the early stages of big buy-in tournaments.

So I've been playing some rinky-dink NL cash games ($100 buyin on Full Tilt) and I have never felt so comfortable with this kind of stack. I've also made $400, which is of course almost irrelevant over the small sample size but it does pay for the book :-). Of course the book is aimed at cash games but I am sure that this approach will help me a lot in bigger live tournaments, like the one in Luton I botched so terribly this month. Just one more point, Pete B didn't seem to like the book at all on his blog, so I welcome any comment from him, either here or when I catch up with him at the weekend.

Sit 'n Go Strategy (Moshman)

There's nothing earth-shatteringly new in this one, it's just one of those books that gave me a sore neck from agreeing with it (with occasional differences regarding flop play which may just be stylistic). It's by far the best exposition of short-stack play I've read, and of course that can be applied to MTTs just as well as single tables. There are a few points in there that I've made on this blog (playing the micro-stack, not raising into short-stacked big blinds) and now seen in print for the first time. He could have gone a bit further with it, but in the event I'm glad he didn't. This is already #11 on the bestselling list of poker books on Amazon [1] and every player who gets clued up by this book is going to be one less weak-passive spot to exploit, albeit I'm not spending much time playing SNGs now.

Your Worst Poker Enemy (Schoonmaker)

Readable and provided a couple of useful snippets, like pre-identifying the things that annoy you so that you can be more self-aware when it's happening. Triggers, that's the word. My own tend to be slow play (I mean physically slow, not checking the nuts) and table coaches FWIW. Worth reading but not a "must have".

What strikes me from the first two books is really the quality of the better books that are out there now. For sure there's a lot of dross as well, but the best ones are just so good compared to the works of, say, Cloutier and Hellmuth that it's embarrassing. Even Harrington (currently #s 1, 5 and 6 on Amazon) I think is left behind in terms of big-stack play (PNLHE 1) and short-stack play (SNGS). I personally think that cash games and SNGs will continue to toughen up as they have been over the last year or two, whereas MTTs won't. If anything I think a lot of the play in MTTs is even worse than it was in 2005 (possibly excepting special cases like the bigger Stars tournaments). Both the promise of the potential big win and the buzz when it happens keep bad players in the game longer. Donkaments they certainly are, and anyone who is happy to celebrate that fact should still be LOL-ing all the way to the bank for a while yet.

[1] I expect this is measured by sales over a short recent period rather than total cumulative sales, but even so.

Update : The Paper muses on a similar theme here. Via Hugo's blog roundup at Pokerverdict.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Survivor Bias And Result-Oriented Thinking (2)

OK, Part 2 of this lesson is drawn from the threads on 2+2 regarding the $3000 NL final at the WSOP. This is the one that was made 10-handed because Hellmuth was short-stacked the night before. In protest at this decision, I have not illegally downloaded this episode. That'll show them. However, I might do so later just to check the details. Not to watch it, because apparently Phil is doing his whole routine for the 99th time, and if anything Beth Shak sounds even more annoying than he is. Anyway, here's a comment from the 2+2 thread, about the first hand of the broadcast :

"Hellmuth is short stack with 123k, 10 handed, blinds 10/20/3aPhil in HJ opens with K6o to 50kBTN shoves.Phil folds getting > 3.3:1 and holds on to the remaining 73k.Then talks about how internet players won't understand why the play is correct and says 'see how right I was to fold the K' when he gets deals AA like the next hand."

Now, correct me if that's not how it happened. But if it is, well, raise/fold when you have M2 in front of you is so bad I don't even know where to start. It's really and truly horrible, both in terms of the hand itself and how exploitable this is for future hands. I will give Phil credit for making one accurate statement, which is that internet players won't understand why the play is correct. QFT Phil, QFMFT. And then, hey presto, he picks up Aces soon after and that makes the previous play correct. Do I need to continue ?

Moving on, another poster reports "(Paraphrasing) he made a comment after Hellmuth layed down another hand and kept stroking himself for still being alive, he [another player] said "you've done all that but you still only have 200k in chips." . Someone else confirmed : "Ya he said something like "You've had (or won) with pocket aces all in 2x and you still only have 200k."

Once again, both themes are reinforcing each other here. Firstly, the fact that Phil is "still alive" is in itself virtually no evidence that his previous play was correct. That would seem to be more related to the fact that he picked up Aces twice. More insidiously in this case, if Phil hadn't still been "alive", he wouldn't still be there to justify his previous play anyway. That's the survivor bias. When these two factors work together, they can completely overwhelm rational analysis.

In conclusion, be very, very careful about interpreting plays in the context of what happened later in the tournament. There may be occasional, specific cases where it is correct to pass up small edges (if only marginally correct) because you really do believe that you'll pick up a bigger edge later, but frankly these are few and far between IMO. Don't let anyone trick you into thinking that a flawed decision was in fact correct because "they're still alive" or "they won the tournament", and doubly so when if they weren't alive/hadn't won the tournament you wouldn't even be hearing them tell you. More importantly, don't trick yourself.


Selection Bias And Result-Oriented Thinking (1)

A couple of recent thread on 2+2 have started me thinking on these ever-popular topics. The first one combines the two themes quite nicely

A new breed of fish are on the way if this guy keeps teaching !

Unfortuately the video has been taken off YouTube "by the user". Presumably out of embarrassment. What happened was, he was in a two-table Sit and Go, limped with Q9, saw the flop 3-handed which was KTx, checked around, the turn came a Jack, and the original UTG limper pushed all-in. Now this was a teaching video with the hero expaining his thought process. It is a shame that it's not up any more because you'll just have to take my word for it that from a starting point of "Well I don't think he has AQ because he didn't raise pre-flop", the hero managed to find and justify a fold. Comments proceeded along the predctable path of ZOMG what a donk, with the most apposite comment IMO being "OH MOTHER [censored] FFS JUST [censored] CALL YOU ASSHAT". Quite.

Then someone, who obviously knows the guy who made the video, rode over the horizon to his defence :

"One thing about Full Tilt though is that the outdraws are completely outrageous there, so I can't really blame him ... He did after all win that tournament"

later following up with

"The reason I am holding judgement here is that MartyS showed us a video where he won 2 MTT tournaments on Party side by side - not just final table, but FIRST place, both of them!!"

O RLY. Selection bias much ? I'm going to throw a question out in the dark here. Did he show you any videos where he folded the second nuts "to wait for a better spot", and then lost a coin flip 3 hands later ? Or got blinded off and finished third ? Did he show you any videos where he finished 158th in 2 MTT tournaments on Party side by side ? I'm going to guess No here. But does that mean those things never happened ? How many teaching videos didn't make the cut ?

The rationale of "and I went on to win the tournament" in justification of a play is an old favourite on the forums. Of course, on a moment's thought, it's bollocks. Winning a tournament does not imply that you played every hand correctly. When you combine this with the post facto selection bias of someone picking a tournament or two out of probably hundreds available to him to make into a teaching video, it really is beyond ridiculous.

Finally, to a lesser extent, this is something you have to watch out for on PokerXFactor and the like. Most people just don't bother uploading a tournament in which they finished 77th. Why would they ? So sometimes you have to be careful, even with the better players. Make sure you check how many coin-flips, or even underdog hands, they actually won, before unconditionally adopting their style. In the end, you just have to use your own judgement about individual hands, and results be damned. Tune in later for Part 2, which features the ever-controversial Phil Hellmuth !

Friday, August 10, 2007


How Good's Your D Game ?

... because mine sucks ass. I didn't feel too bad on leaving the house for Luton today, not massively up for it but still OK, and even half an hour on the M25 (three miles) didn't discourage me too much, but as soon as I lost a pot (AK v AA on a K high flop where I actually got off fairly cheaply) I just didn't want to be there, and from that point on I really played quite horribly. I couldn't put anyone on a hand, I was betting for no reason, and on two occasions my entire thinking process was "Er ... fuck this, all in". The first time I had JT vs QJ vs As9s on a board of Ts9c8s. Fortunately QJ was the short stack and my hand "held up" for the 4k sidepot. I use quotation marks because he was in fact 51-49 for the side. I won a couple of medium pots with a set on an all-spade flop (no one called my flop raise) and KK (somehow my opponent passed QQ on a ten high turn with only 1.5 x the pot left in front of him). Then I drained back to 4K again and butchered the rest drawing dead on the turn in an unraised pot. Smooth.

It was actually embarrassing to play so badly in front of a couple of players I know (Kevin O'Leary and Simon Trumper), although screw all the rest of the eggs :-). And I'm sorry to the guys who swapped %s with me and whoever stuck £20 on me (between them) on Betfair. Apart from that, live and learn. If I can't buy in to a tournament on the day, there's really no point me playing unless I can be sure I'm going to be motivated to play. This is a big factor with live poker, especially tournaments. How good your A game is really isn't as important as how good your D game is. Lucky for me that I can just log on and play online whenever I feel good about it, especially in SNGs. It also beggars belief how much money I have won in tournaments, especially live tournaments, when I'm basically hopeless at reading peoples' hands. LOL donkaments indeed.

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