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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Beginning Poker for the Type A Personality

Or, A Strategy Introduction for the Ultra Competitive Individual.

One of the hardest things for me to develop through this first year of seriously playing poker was the ability to tone down the competitive side of my personality. As much as poker is a game of controlled aggression, it is equally about finesse. And every time I attempted to impose my will on a game through brute force, it usually failed. There are several reasons it wouldn't work, whether it being the general axiom that you can't bluff bad players to the hard truth that you can't will mediocre hands into great hands.

There are two worlds of poker, the tournament game and the cash game, and though both require the same general set of skills they also each require something different be brought to the table. As a lot of writers and strategists have documented previously, the aggressive player in a tournament setting can quickly accumulate a lot of chips and will generally either shoot to the top or bomb out quickly. The aggressive nature is aided in a tournament by the finite number of chips a player is provided as well as the added pressure of ever increasing blind structures. In the cash games though, more care is required by an aggressive player because there is not necessarily the pressure of losing all one's chips and being out of the game, you can always rebuy. So players that might in a tournament setting be less likely to make a stand in the face of your constant aggression may do exactly that in the cash games.

In a very general sense this is the dichotomy of poker. So how then do you tone your aggression to the game you're playing in? When I first started playing, I was obsessed with the bluff. I didn't only want to win the pots that my cards were allowing me to win, I wanted to win all the pots. And I bluffed... and bluffed... and bluffed some more. What's more, I showed my bluffs at every opportunity. Good bluffs, bad bluffs, it really didn't matter to me so long as the player knew that I had beat them. Pretty soon however, people didn't lay mediocre hands down to me. And generally that would be a good thing, except that I still hadn't toned down the bluffing. I got caught a lot and it cost me a lot of money that I didn't need to lose.

The other problem with being a beginner and bluffing is that I didn't know how to bluff correctly. Had I been playing with better players instead of more beginners like myself, I can only imagine how much money I would have lost. The thing I enjoy most about poker is the mental exercise. In poker you are attempting to weave a story for your opponent(s). This is true much more so in no limit poker than in limit poker. After a lot of experience you begin to understand more advanced concepts such as how to represent hands and when to bluff. I had a few hands on my most recent Atlantic City trip that I will recount to demonstrate.

Playing $2-5 No Limit Hold'em, Hero is in middle position with 9 10 of spades and the pot is four ways to the flop with no preflop raise. Pot size is $22.

Flop is J 10 5 rainbow. The flop is checked to late position who makes a bet of $10. Hero and one other call.

Turn is a Q, making a board of Q J 10 5 rainbow. It's checked to the late position bettor and he bets $15 into $52 pot, only Hero calls.

River is a J, making a final board of Q J 10 5 J. Hero checks and Player bets $75 into an $82 pot.

Hero calls and Player mucks, the pair of 10's was good enough to win.

If the Player had only bet about $35-40 on the River, I really don't think I would have called. It would have represented a hand much better than mine that was looking to get a call. But by betting weak on the flop, weak on the turn and then overly strong on the river, his story made no sense. His big bet on the river looks like he's trying to force any good hands out of the pot, instead of looking like a strong hand trying to induce a crying call. Alternately, had he made a stronger bet on the turn, a strong bet on the river doesn't look as suspicious. A stronger bet on the turn makes it look like he hit the Queen and is trying to price out drawing hands to the straight like mine was. Then a strong bet around $50-60 on the river makes sense given pot size and the hand he is trying to represent.

Likewise here is a bluff that I made earlier at the same table. I had developed a tight table image which is a very important factor in making a bluff. People have to believe that you play strong hands in order to lay down medium strength hands to you.

Hero is in middle position with QJ of diamonds and makes a standard raise to $20 with two limpers in front of him. He takes the flop three ways with a pot size of $72.

Flop comes down 10 8 2 rainbow. First player checks, I bet $40, and I get called by one late position player and the original checker. Pot size is now $192.

Turn is a 5, putting a flush draw on the board of 10 8 2 5. First player checks, I bet $125, and both players fold. The first player mucked J10 and the last player mucked KQ.

So why is my bluff successful, even with a player holding top pair? Because I've represented a very strong hand by making successive strong bets that make sense. Your opponent should be reading your actions and thinking, "What hand would I be holding if I were making bets like that?"

If I raised preflop and bet strong on the flop and then stronger on the turn, I'd most likely be holding an overpair. The other important factor for my success was that the player holding J10 was a good player and I knew it. A weaker player may not fold a hand that includes top pair which is something to keep in mind when surveying your opponents at a table. Try and decide what hands someone isn't capable of getting away from. Not only will that net you more money by knowing when and when not to bluff, but also can net you more money when holding a very strong hand. You may be able to bet stronger than you normally would trying to keep a player in the hand when you know you have them beat.

This is the first part in a general poker strategy discussion I'll be doing. I welcome any and all comments as usual, and will be happy to answer any questions or address anything from my perspective about poker.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Looking back...

So after my successful session at $2-5 NL, I had recouped most of my tourney buy-in and my losses from the Trop on Friday-Saturday. I got some rest and then went back to work at the Borgata tables on Monday around noon. I decided to play some $1-2 NL for this session and I got sat at a mediocre table. There wasn't a whole lot of money but there were three or four guys there that definitely were ripe for the picking given the right situation. But for most of the first few hours I just couldn't find that situation.

About two hours in I pick up Aces one off UTG and make it $12 to go. A tight-solid ex-dealer two seats to my left min raises to $25 and one of my targets at the other end of the table smooth calls. It gets back around to me and I make it $50 on top of the other raise, which elicits a reaction from the tight player. He was clearly uncomfortable with my re-raise but called and I was pretty certain he had KK or QQ. Then the other guy smooth called my re-raise. No clue what this guy has since he's commenting the whole time about how we must both have big pairs. The flop comes down 10 3 3 with two hearts and I move my remaining $150 into the pot. The ex-dealer now is very uncomfortable and starts saying he's certain he's going to need some help and now I'm sure he has Kings. He smooth calls my $150 and then the guy at the end of the table, after more commentary about how we must both have big overpairs, smooth calls also, leaving about $85 behind in his stack.

So now I've got two cards in front of me and waiting to see how two more cards play out, knowing I don't want to see a King and also having absolutely no idea what to root for with this other schmo still hanging around. I settled on two black deuces. The turn was a black five, which in my opinion, was as good as a black deuce. The ex-dealer bets 100 to put the other guy all-in, and he begrudgingly puts his last 85 in the pot. Still no clue. Dealer guy begging for help on the river... and then the river card...



He immediately turns over his Kings and the other clown pitches his cards and leaves, never to reveal what his hand was. A little shell-shocked I fall back into my seat and pull out money to rebuy as I watch this guy pull in the $900 pot. Such is poker and all, but then the guy on my right says something to the effect of, "Wow, I folded a King..."

Talk about kicking a guy while he's down.

I spent the next three hours making it all back, including making one of the better plays I've made, well... ever. I raised from early position with pocket sevens and took the flop four handed. It came down 10 8 5 with two spades. I bet $20 and got called by one of my other original targets. The turn was a deuce and I bet $40 this time and he called me again. The river was another deuce, but no spade. I was 90% certain this guy was chasing the flush and that my sevens were good. But instead of betting out again, I checked to let him bluff. And bluff at it he did, firing $100 into the $140 pot. It caught me kind of by surprise but after running through all his previous hands in my mind and given the size of his bet I called, and when he didn't react I knew I had him. He looked at me and I said, "I call," again and then he knocked the table and told me it was a good call and turned over KJ of spades.

I usually haven't thought through a hand that thoroughly and given a guy a chance to make a bad play. But most players in that situation don't bet correctly and make a vastly oversized bet instead of one that looks like a value bet. If he only bet $50 at that pot I'd almost certainly have to give him credit for having a ten or maybe even Jacks or Queens. But because he all of a sudden bets so much, it looks like he doesn't want to be called and it certainly doesn't fit the pattern of the hand. If he had such a strong hand he'd likely have been raising me on the flop or turn to find out where he was at, or make a bet to try and get a call due to pot-size on the river. It's a pretty common betting tell, and one that a lot of players don't seem to understand that they are doing.

And then the nightmare began again. I had dwindled down to around $500 in front of me and was trying to decide whether or not I was going to go up and play in the $300 tourney at 11pm in the Ballroom when I got a set cracked by a straight on the turn after getting it in on the flop. The I had two pair and a flush draw miss against a set and for the coup de grace, got my Aces cracked again against a set of nines. In case you're keeping track, that's 1 for 5 with Aces for the trip and the only win netted me exactly $8.

So I hit 11 sets, had Aces in huge pots 4 times and I booked a $250 loser for cash games for the trip. That's pretty damn impressive if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I love this game...

I'm about two and a half hours into Event #1 of the Borgata Winter Poker Open and the best hand I've seen to this point is A5 suited. Meanwhile two poker players of equine capability at the table are accumulating stack upon stack, calling all-in with A4 offsuit on an 885 board where the pot has been raised, and the original raiser has now check-raised them all-in. To sum up, frustrating. And then I got it. Pocket nines, the Hellmuth, 9s9c... and I had to pitch it when they guy in front of me made a larger than normal raise, with what turned out to be Kings. And that, readers, sums up my four and a half hour foray into Event #1. A whole lot of nothing punctuated by having to pitch the best hand I got the entire time.

I finally got knocked out in the middle of level five, about four and a half hours in and somewhere around 560th of the nearly 1400 entrants. Quite frankly, I'm just impressed that I actually made it that deep given the cards. Since the Borgata poker room was about 400 people deep, a bunch of us ended up heading over to the Trop to play some cash games later that night. I got Aces cracked for one half of my stack and Kings cracked for the other half, and there was about six hours of poker in between that which amounted to my stack vascillating between $150 and $180. So after running horrible all week up to AC and then a ridiculously card dead Friday, I packed it in for the week.

Stayed in the room and chilled out and didn't do much of anything on Saturday except try and beat this cold that's been dogging me for like a week and a half. Got up on Sunday at like 3am, felt a little better and headed down to the poker room at the Borgata where thankfully, the list had finally evaporated. I ended up giving the $2-5 NL game a shot and it ended up being the highlight of my trip. Not only did I make about $700 for the session but I got a guy on tilt for about six hours.

I have previously written about the mystical powers of TiltBoy Footloose and his magic hand of 47. Well, after the horrible week of cards and not much getting going on the $2-5 table, I look down in middle position to find 4c7c. Since I haven't played a hand in like 30 minutes, I figure I'll try and trade on my table image a bit and raise it up to $20 and get heads up with the big blind. The flop comes down 10 5 6 rainbow and it's about the best i could hope for other than flopping the nuts. The big blind has the lead and fires $20 and I smooth call. The turn is a beautiful red 3 completing my straight and he leads out again, this time for $40. I smooth call again. The river is another 10 and as soon as it hits I can see him sit up a little straighter. Now when he goes to make his bet he's much more deliberate, so I know this ten is about to get me paid off. He fires out $70 and looks over at me. I've been chatting with the guy next to me most of the time and when the guy was loading up for the river bet I whispered to him that my opponent wasn't gonna like this. He looked at me and mouthed, "4 7?" I nodded and then I put on my best semi-confused look, stared at the board for a minute, looked at my opponent again... and then I put the rest of my stack in, another $150 on top. He doesn't hesitate to call and I turn over the Footloose and the guys face is completely blank.

"7 high?"
"It's a straight." (moment of recognition as his A10 offsuit suddenly shrivels up and dies.)
"You raised with 74?" (in a slightly agitated voice)

At this point I put on my most serious face, stopped stacking all my chips and looked the man dead in the eye and said:

"It was suited."

And that my friends, is how you put someone on tilt for an entire session.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Borgata, here I come...

"Best hand I had all night was pocket deuces... and they got cracked." - Russell

The above quote was offered by the first man out of our Monday night tournament and it was a gem. As usual I came in one to two spots out of the money on both Sunday and Monday night. I think if I ever get a pair above nines I might actually have a shot at these things. But that does mean that I have been playing some pretty good poker. Other than one particular hand. And in the interest of poker discussion I'll give it a rundown for the masses. Things to keep in mind: this hand had me in the running for donkey of the week honors until someone else swept in and put themselves in the running and I was heavily drugged and sick for most of the last week. Okay, excuses made, here we go:

You are "Hero" sitting at the 10-handed final table with a stack around 450 with blinds at 4-8. The table is actually full of legitimate pros and aggressive players, not the usual push with anything clowns. You look down and believe you see KQ diamonds and from middle position you raise to 30 after one EP limper. It folds around to a guy you know to be a solid player from reputation, but you've never played together. With a stack of 360, he smooth calls after taking a moment and the rest of the table folds. Pot size is 80.

Flop is Ad 8d 5d.

Hero leads out for 40, Player takes a moment and reraises to 130, Hero instantly moves all-in, Player instantly calls.

Players turns over AhJc and I turn over KhQd... WTF?!?!?!?!

(Note to self: self, please look closer at cards next time.)

Now, even though I've made a pretty gigantic gaffe, I still like my hand here. It unfortunately bricked out, but I'm very surprised by the other player. He's putting his tournament life on the line with top pair, mediocre kicker and no diamond. He has committed about half of his stack after his reraise but it still leaves him with 200 in chips at the 4-8 level, so he would hardly be crippled by folding.

He's behind so many hands here and even in my error he's still only a 3-2 favorite after the flop. I'm definitely an aggressive player but I'm not sure even I would commit all my money to his hand. He's getting like 1.6-1 odds on his money and risking getting knocked out and he in almost no situation can be that far ahead. Basically he ran into the best hand he could have hoped with all the money in the middle and was still barely ahead. I'm curious to see some others' takes on this.

Other than that, I've been mostly getting kicked in the junk playing heads up limit poker. I'm apparently on the wrong side of two things: variance and poker karma. I've not been able to start out a single session this week on a rush, instead I've been playing out of some huge holes as my opponents have been making their runner runners and 5 outers every time or just pummelling me by hitting every draw. But I've been happy with my ability to stick with the gameplan and make it back or mostly back many of the times I've been stuck. I'm still down on the week and a shorthanded 5-max session of NL broke my back last night. Playing some 2-2, I ran my stack up $150 in the first six minutes on some aggressive play and catching some good flops. Then in back to back hands I got AA and KK cracked and was down $50.

What can you do?

I'm excited as all hell for this trip. A whole lot of the crew from around here is going up to play in the first event or at least play for the weekend at the Borgata Winter Poker Open. Also I see that a nice contingent of poker bloggers is also heading there, so I'm looking forward to meeting some of the more "esteemed" members of the community this weekend. And I mean esteemed in the loosest of moral connotations by some of the stories I've read. Perfect.

So here's to hoping I have a great story or five to tell you all when I get back, or if I get a chance, a mid-trip report live from Atlantic City.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A little cold, a little cough... a little online poker...

Well, some family matters to attend to and a head cold prevented much poker action this past week or so, but I did get in on the Sunday and Monday tournaments around here. Everything else this week was online. And... drumroll... it was a success.

I dabbled in just about everything but NL hold'em this week. I played my shorthanded O8, heads up limit hold'em and a couple stud tournies. Omaha 8 shorthanded may be my favorite game right now. I love playing 2 or 3 handed and just trying to stay clear of the less informed (read donkies) players when the table is full. I am ultra-ultra-aggressive in limit and for the most part it works, but when if I get sucked out on, it's usually a monster pot.

I dipped my toe in the waters of heads-up hold'em also, nothing very spectacular, just some .50/1, 1-2 and 2-4. I ended up about $75 all told after a bad outing earlier in the afternoon. At one point I lost four pots in a row to one guy, and he hit a gutshot straight on every one of them. That'll damage your psyche if you aren't careful. I didn't mind the swings so much, my aggressive style puts me at risk of that. It was, however, annoying as hell to get hit and run, or have the other guy take the money off the table and sit in short. Oh well.

PokerDon was also kind enough to tell me about the soft 7 stud tournies that he'd played a couple times this week. I tried once and couldn't catch any cards early and then whiffed on a monster draw to get knocked out. The second time around was much better as I went into the final table with a chip lead triple my nearest opponent, and then more than double the table when three handed. We got heads up and I had a 4-1 chip lead and got the guy all in and he rivered his huge draw, but the poker gods were nice and continued to bless me with cards and I pulled out the win a short time later.

So that pretty much makes up for my online losses in December. I haven't played live around here due to everything that's been going on, but with a week in AC coming up, I'm sure I'm going to log enough hours not to worry about it for the month. I'll be playing in event #1 in the Borgata Winter Poker Open, and will be there from Thursday to Thursday. I've seen rumors of several bloggers making the Borgata trip, so hopefully I can get a chance to meet a few of you finally at the tables.

Now onto the most pressing and overdue matter for the blog... Donkey of the Week. It's not often that a guy who comes in second in a tournament could earn this dubious, though esteemed, award. But Tyler Stoneman... this is your lucky day. First off, by forking in $40 and then deciding in hour two that you're too tired to continue playing in a tournament. So you start pushing your stack in at every opportunity to get knocked out, only the strategy backfires and you begin to accumulate chips. This alone might generally be enough to push you to the front, but since there are so many other boneheads we play with that shared your mentality, there had to be more. And more you provided, sir. With a chip stack of around 800 (and what we would find out after was a serious card rush) you began moving your stack in every time, raised or unraised pot. After five consecutive hands you revealed that you had been pushing in with AA, KK, KK, AK and 10 10. Most people hope to get heads up with AA or KK versus AK like you would have been on two of those five hands, but no, you sir have a greater strategy in mind. Tyler, why would you push in all that money with those hands, why not just reraise or try and trap?

"I've just been getting sucked out on so much lately..."

And with that Tyler, you earned yourself Donkey of the Week honors. For because you didn't take advantage of your opportunities when you had them, you came in 2nd, running into quad tens heads up and getting knocked out the next hand.

Just remember, it's all love brother, and nothing can take the place of persistence...


And to everyone else, hope the cards are treating you well. I will have a big O8 hand discussion post before the month is over, and hopefully good trip report info from the Borgata tourney.

One last thing,


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Donkey Of The Week

Due to overwhelming (local) demand, as was discussed, beginning in this January and continuing throughout the year, every Tuesday I will be naming my Donkey of the Week (DOTW). As the poker week for me runs from Tuesday-Monday, I will be handing out this very prestigious award every Tuesday for the rest of the year.

Now, as this was a very short week, the winner of the first LATOAPA DOTW had only a few short days to make his impression... but make it he did. And in a stunning upset over several worthy contenders, Don George is the first Donkey of the Week! Congrats Don!

By calling off all your 415 remaining chips (in the 8-16 blind level) on the turn with AK offsuit on a double suited (none of your suits) and straightened board after being raised on the flop and Matt moving in on the turn and taking 14 minutes in the hand overall, and then going out first in the Monday night tournament, you have passed such illustrious contenders as Bobo the Poker Playing Monkey and Jason Sevino.

This, I fear, is undoubtedly the last time your name will appear on this award, but always take heart in the fact that you were the first, and thereby the biggest... Donkey of the Week.

Way to go, Don!

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