Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Where the Money Comes From

I was talking to my friend Drew last night about where I thought the most money was to be made in limit poker. I highly recommended Jennifer Harmon's limit section of Super System II (which Drew had recently read), and many of these thoughts echo her sentiments.

Because limit is a game of value betting, I feel the best way to make money is to maximize your profit when you have the best hand or increase your chances by thinning the field with a more marginal hand.

Here are the three ways I told Drew that you make money in limit hold 'em poker:

1. Check-raising.

2. Bluffing.

3. Semibluffing/saving bets when you're committed to calling down anyway.

Check-raising makes you money because it's often the only way for you to protect your hand. In a multiway pot, if you check-raise the flop from early position, you can frequently drive out many drawing hands that would have paid one bet but are unwilling to pay the price of two. Additionally, check-raising is valueable when you have a strong draw, although these kinds of bets are made more for value than to thin the field. Thirdly, check-raising with a hand like second pair can often win you the pot when you bet it out again on the turn if you can get the hand heads-up after the flop.

Bluffing is difficult in limit hold em because you can't intimidate opponents with a big bet; every bet you make can only be as big as the limit you are playing at. But when you can pull off a successful bluff, it's a major coup. When you get someone to fold the better hand, you're collecting somewhere between two and 10 big bets that wouldn't belong to you if you went to showdown. Now that's value betting! Because the bet sizes in limit are regulated, it's important to think about how often your bluff will make your opponent fold. If you think your opponent will fold one out of seven times, and your bet is less than one seventh of the pot size, than you're making money if your estimates are close to accurate.

When I mention saving bets, I'm referring to Jennifer Harmon's advice of raising from late position on the turn if you think that will make your opponent check to you on the river. The cost of raising the turn and calling down is the same -- two bets (one each on the turn and river, or one on the turn and one on the river). But you can make a lot of extra money this way if you get lucky. If you hit trips or two pair on the river, you can fire again. Or, sometimes, your opponent will simply fold the turn.

Of course, these are just three tactical in-game concepts that ignore the larger places where money in limit comes from. From a macro standpoint, the money is generated by the fishiest players who add value to every pot and go too far with hands that they are unlikely to win. It also comes from players who don't know the odds and continue with hands they should have folded, or vice versa.

Also, these tactics all are secondary to the most important aspects of limit hold em: aggression and value betting. Aggression and value betting are like the guiding principles of correct play. Check-raising, bluffing and semibluffing are merely ends to those means.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Back In Action

I've been out of the online poker world for the last few days because I made a trip to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Md., over the weekend. I visited friends and saw three fun baseball games.

But I also got to teach one of my friends how to play no limit Texas hold 'em!

I always enjoy trying to bring new players into the game. I'm not sure how good I am at it, but I like to convey both the fun and the potential profitability of the game.

The first night, we didn't play for real money and just used poker chips. It was a great time. My friend who was new to the game kept talking a big game and saying things like, "You have a big hand, little lady?" to my friend Brigid. It cracked me up.

Then we played for a $5 buy-in on the second night, and the cards ran cold for the new guy. It was too bad; I wanted him to win.

Oh well. At least I won! I hope my friend plays again and continues to enjoy the game. The only problem is that he's extremely risk-averse, and he hates losing even small amounts of money. That kind of attitude won't fly in poker. You have to spend money to make money. You have to take calculated risks based on the expectation that you will come out ahead in the long run even if you lose that specific hand.

Most of all, you have to appreciate the fact that upward and downward swings play a large role in poker. It takes some time to understand just how dead the cards can be at times. Fortunately for me, I haven't run bad for quite some time now. Let's hope I don't get my due any time soon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Making the Most of It

One of the blogs I read, Sound of a Suckout, had a post a few days ago about how you could sacrifice some profit to try to minimize your variance. The author, ScurvyDog, is a winning player at $15/$30 limit hold em, and I highly recommend his blog.

Here's an excerpt from that post, titled Pioneering Days.

"... there's no law etched in stone that you must subscribe to the cult of hyper aggressive, in an attempt to maximize BB/100. I'm not talking about nut peddling, far from it, but more about situations like playing 88 from MP, A10s UTG+1, etc. Open-raising with it if everyone folds to you is +EV, especially if you back it up by playing hard and fast, even when the flop misses you, but it's also going to increase your overall variance and likely not greatly increase your BB/100. ...

There's nothing wrong with simply folding that pair of eights, despite the fact that raising with it is slightly EV in the long run, if folding it serves a larger purpose as far as your goals."

It's an interesting idea. Perhaps it could work if you could identify the most marginal situations and sacrifice tiny percentages of expected value.

But I disagree.

I believe there's only one way to play poker: tight and aggressive. You need to ram and jam; you need to play every hand to the fullest. You need to bet and raise, not call and fold.

Additionally, I don't know how possible it is to only sacrifice a small percentage of expected value by folding those pocket eights preflop. Profits often come from making the most of marginal hands. By playing them aggressively, one of a few things will happen:

1. You will win the pot by betting hard with what you believe is the best hand.

2. You will win the hand by flopping a set or a draw that pans out on the turn or river.

3. You will win the hand by bluffing.

4. You will get into a heads-up battle where you have to spend some money to see a showdown.

5. You will bet the flop and fold to a raise.

Overall, you will make money by playing those eights. Why would you sacrifice any of your potential earnings by folding a possible winning hand?

If you're afraid of the variance, you should step down to lower limits.

Poker is about making the most out of every situation through thoughtful and aggressive plays. Anything less leads down a weak and tight road, and that's a road you don't want to travel.

Friday, August 19, 2005


If you were a contestant on The Price Is Right, you could wait in your seat and hope for whoever Rod Roddy's replacement is to call your name. Then you would bid $1 and hope to advance to the main event, and maybe even the showcase showdown. But first, you would get to spin the big wheel. If you hit $1.00 exactly (a 1 in 20 chance), you would win $1,000 and get another roll of the wheel. Then if you hit $1.00 again, you would win $10,000.

Or, you could play poker.

That's what I did. I've crossed five figures for the first time, and my total poker winnings are now over $10,000 for the first time!

Maybe none of my friends will read this and I won't have to buy them beers...

I know a lot of people have made much more, but I'm pretty damn proud that I've gotten this high. A quick recap of my poker career: I started playing $25 buyin no limit hold em games online in spring 2004. I first experimented with limit last fall, and eventually I decided that limit is the future if I want to grow my bankroll and move up.

There were many false starts in my limit experience. I met with some early failure on Absolute Poker in November and December, and then some more troubles at Full Tilt in December. The final straw was a huge downswing at Ultimate Bet in January. I retreated to smaller no limit games. Then I clawed my way back and had a few more successes and failures at limit poker.

Finally though, I feel like I have a solid grasp on limit, and my winrate is steadily improving at every limit I play. My regular game is still $3/$6, but I'll play as high as $10/$20 if the game is fishy.

I'd play higher if I had a real job, but $3/$6 is fine for now. I don't want to take too many chances with my only current source of income.

I remember something Daniel told me a while ago from Phil Gordon's book. In the book, he says that once you reach your first $100,000, you should take a vacation. I'm only 1/10th of the way there, so I guess I have more poker playing to do before I get any time off!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Nugget

Our crew walked into the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas for its Sunday morning tournament on June 27, 2004.

Daniel, Old Sham and I paid our $55 entry fees to the 57-player tourney, and the cards were in the air. The first hour of the tournament was limit hold 'em. I think they did it that way so some of the people wouldn't bust out so quickly.

Even though I didn't have hardly any limit experience at the time, I was still able to catch some hands and build up a nice little advantage early on.

The no limit play started after the first break. I was wearing my now-retired red shirt and my Atlanta Braves hat. When I caught pocket aces and bet it strongly the whole way, one crazy older guy called me down. I turned over my cards, and he exploded.

"I should have known you had aces! You have an A on your hat already!" he said. He was crazy and terrible at poker, but he was fun to have at the table. He busted shortly thereafter.

Of course, as is typical of these tournaments, the blinds started going up very quickly. I had to think about making moves.

Before long, it became obvious that my only weapon was the preflop all-in. But I waited until the right moment. Then, when I was under the gun and threatened by a sizable big blind, I pushed with pocket 4s. I got one caller who had a couple of high cards (AQ or something like it), and my 4s held up.

That wasn't the only lucky thing to happen on that hand. After the hand ended, the tournament director moved me to a new table, right behind the button. I got to dodge the blind for another round!

That would buy me enough time to catch a good hand.

Not that I needed it. I pushed all-in again on the first hand I was dealt. One of the big stacks called me, and I doubled up again.

That was my plan. Just keep moving in with premium hands until I could gain enough of a foothold to see a flop. Everyone at the table caught on to my plan, but that didn't stop them from calling me repeatedly, and my cards kept holding up.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles game was on TV. The Braves had been slumping early in the season and the All Star break was quickly approaching. The Braves had to do something if they were going to keep up in the divisional race and try for a 13th straight title. The Braves came back from big deficit in the late innings, and then starter-turned-closer John Smoltz struck out former Brave Javy Lopez for the final out. The game turned around the season and the Braves never looked back.

Back at the tournament, I was moved to the final table. For the first time in hours, I had more chips than most of the other players. Before the blinds even got to me, a few people had busted out.

I couldn't believe it. I had already made the money, and now I had a shot at winning this thing. I started getting superstitious. I washed my hands carefully during every break, making sure not to get my watch wet. I tried to time my bathroom breaks so I would arrive at my seat with plenty of time.

I picked up some pots with preflop raises, and suddenly I was the big stack. I was looking down at piles and piles of yellow chips. Hundreds of them. I had about 130,000 chips, another guy was near 100,000 in chips, and a third guy was sitting with around 40,000 or so.

Then came the crucial hand: 83 suited. A crowd had gathered at the rail, and one of the women yelled, "Show us your smile!" I looked back, grinned and tipped my cap. Everyone was cheering for me, and I pushed all in on the short stack.

My reasoning was that if I was against two overcards, I was about a 5:3 dog. Against one overcard, I was in a race situation. So even with the lowly 83, I could significantly improve my chances of winning it all by knocking out a player.

He called, and his overcards held up.

After a couple more hands, I still held a narrow lead over the other two guys. The second-place opponent, an older Irishman, asked if we wanted to chop the pot.

I initially resisted the idea, preferring instead to play it out. But then I realized that I was probably outmatched, and if we split the pot three ways, everyone would still make more money than they would if they finished in second or third.

So I agreed to split it up.

I was declared the first place finisher, although the three of us all received the same $770 prize.

I had won a Vegas tournament. I was on top of the world.

I haven't felt that good since, nor have I won that much money at once in the last 14 months.

That was early in my poker career. It gave me the bankroll and confidence boost to continue playing and improving.

But that tournament is still my crowning poker achievement, and I wonder when I'll feel that good again at the poker table. Maybe when I'm playing $100/$200 limit at the Bellagio!


Monday, August 15, 2005

Gone Fishin'

I never was much of a fisher. The one time I hit it big was when I was 13 years old and went on a Boy Scout trip to the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada. In those rivers, all you had to do was lower the hook into the water with something shiny on it, and then you'd dip the rod up and down for a few minutes. If you were there at dawn or dusk, you'd catch a lot of walleye. And they tasted delicious.

I think I'm beginning to learn what real fishing is like. You wait. You try to find the part of the pond that has the most fish. Then you wait. And you move to another table. And wait.

You check your buddy list on Party Poker for some fish you've been tracking. You chase them down and try to sit at their tables.

Other times, you sit at a table and just hang out for a while. You don't post the blinds, you just sit. And then, with the help of PokerAce HUD and PokerTracker, you'll begin to see if there are any fish in the area.

You want to go fishing in a pond with table averages of more than 30 percent seeing the flop (VP$P).

Perhaps more importantly, you want to sit to the left of the big fish. Often, the table averages don't matter. What's important is that you have the fish to your right.

Rinse. Repeat. Open new tables. Wait for numbers to pop up. Wait some more. Eventually, you'll find the fish. When you find a monster fish, add him to your buddy list so you can track him down later.

And then, at last, you're ready to play. Cast your line deep and have your bait prepared.

It's time to go fishing. They won't have a chance.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Um, 1/2

Daniel and I reached a conclusion that many people have probably already decided. When bonus whoring, it's best to clear the bonus in a quick, low-risk manner.

That means playing $1/2 6-max limit poker at four tables until it's done.

I know, I know ... it's all poker, and bonus money is still poker money. Why should I change my game just because of some bonus?

I have an easy answer to that. It's poker's golden rule: Do what makes you the most money.

Through 700 hands to clear the current $100 Party Poker bonus, I made about $50 in game play (not counting the bonus). So I was up a total of $150 in just a few hours of play. That freed me up to continue working on my computer and consider whrere to invest my gambling money next.

Another consideration is rakeback. If I had rakeback at Party Poker, I would probably play my regular 3/6 limit game. That way, I would be clearing the bonus and earning higher rakeback at the same time.

Slight change of topic: I was reading the 2+2 forums to find out if it would be worthwhile to invest in the Multipoker bonus. It's $100, but the workthru is 2,000 raked hands. One 3/6 player said that over that many hands, a typical 3/6 player could expect to earn $105 in rakeback alone. So I guess I won't waste my time at Multipoker anymore unless they come up with a better deal or I'm itching to play thousands of hands of 1/2 6-max again.

Here's another thing. The players at 1/2 6-max are so angry! They get so mad every time someone has the better hand or sucks out on them. I guess it's just the nature of the beast because these players are more likely to be some of the least experienced poker players out there. And it makes me laugh sometimes. I was called a fish about a dozen times just while clearing that bonus. Whatever.

The point seems to be that these low-limit players have no tolerance for losses. They fail to understand that suckouts are a part of the game, moreso in shorthanded play than in other games. Yes, the best hand on the flop usually wins. But there are also many other hands that are worth continuing with if the odds (or bluffing) justify it.

That's poker. Get used to it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Cry for Help

I've pretty much decided that my Gigabyte GA-7DPXDW+ motherboard must be rubbish. I installed two new hard drives in a mirrored RAID yesterday, and one of them has already crashed.

Not good. Very not good.

So if anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

Here's what I need:

1) Suggestions about replacement motherboards/server workstations. I would be looking for a dual processer board that supports the AMD Athlon MP chipset. I'd also like the board to have RAID controllers, but I guess that's not necessary.

2) A computer genious who can come up with a miracle cure for my computer. Yes, the bios and drivers are all updated. Yes, this is the fourth (fourth!) hard drive to fail under this system.

3) Ideas about a complete replacement for this computer at a cheap price.

Let me know. Until then, online profits will be severely limited.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


My computer is having issues again, so once more I cannot play poker or even whore casino bonuses.

Argh! Yar!

Maybe I should look on the bright side: even though I'm wasting all of my waking hours trying to fix this damn computer, maybe I'm avoiding a terrible losing streak. Yeah, right.

I finished reading Super System II today, and I thought it was good. The best section was Jennifer Harmon's limit guidance, which I've mentioned previously. Doyle's no limit section was very similar to the original Super/System.

I also thought the Omaha 8, Omaha Hi and Triple Draw sections were well thought-out. As a novice to these games, it was helpful to learn starting hand requirements and basic strategies. I hope to play more of these games in the future!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Working for a Living

I have my first job interview tomorrow for a reporting job in South Carolina. I guess I'm glad that I'm finally getting back to work, but it's yet another signal that this easy life is going to end before long. It's been nice quitting my job, living in Santiago, traveling and playing poker for a living. I can't do it forever though. It's a fun life, but poker isn't everything.

That said, poker still rules.

Tunica was a lot of fun, even though I lost a little money. I won about $200 in limit play and lost $140 on blackjack and $360 on no limit hold em. The no limit game was almost very profitable, if not for a couple of bad beats. On both of them, I made good reads preflop and pushed all in. Unfortunately, my pocket 9s and AT didn't hold up against KJo and 87s. Oh well. I'd do it again!

The most interesting hand of the trip came at a table at the Horseshoe in a 4/8 limit hold em game. Daniel and I were sitting at the table, and he recounts some of the excellent table talk in this post.

Going into the hand, two of the players were known quantities. There was Old Sham in the small blind, who called most hands preflop and only bet postflop with a very strong hand. Then there was a guy in late position who played every hand to the river and hardly ever folded.

I had pocket queens from middle position. Early position raised, I reraised, and eventually I capped the betting at five bets. Five people saw the flop with 25 small bets in the pot.

The flop brought 457 (or something similar to that). It was three bet on the flop, and four people saw the turn with me leading the betting. There were about 19 big bets when the turn card came.

It was a 6 to put four to a straight on the board. Old Sham, the rock, bets. Early position folds and I fold, knowing that my pocket pair is either drawing dead or nearly dead. The late position calling station calls.

The river brings a 3 to put a straight on the board. Old Sham and the late position player split the pot. Old Sham had the 3 in his hand already and had made the straight on the turn.

Should I have folded?

Daniel and I did the math, and it comes out to a pretty close call. I would have been drawing to a three-way split pot with not more than six outs (as many as three 8s and three 3s). A three-way split pot of 20 big bets is 6.67. If I had six outs, I was getting about 6.7:1 on my call. And I know I was way behind and drawing to a split pot.

It's a very very close call. The pot was enormous. There was no way I could scoop the pot. But for one more bet, I think I should have seen the river. It was too large to fold. Oh well.

It was a good trip all-around though. The play was loose and passive, just like last time I was in Tunica. Sometimes, you can't make the cards do what you want though. Even then, I was almost a winner if not for those no limit hands.

Back to casino bonuses and the new Party Poker bonus!

Here's the link for the Party bonus: BONUSAUG

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tunica (take 2)

A few quick notes...

_ I made back more than half the money I lost last night in an afternoon session today. The conditions were almost as good as last night, and this time I won!

_ Tunica will be fantastic. It will probably be even more profitable than last time! Water, water everywhere, but not a drop for the fish to drink. I'm staying at the Horseshoe, which is very nice. I can only hope the play is as passive as it was a month ago.

_ I've been wanting to write a post about a rule of thumb I tell myself over and over again. Here it is: Aggression is hardly ever spewing chips. Sure, aggressive play will cost you money when you're behind. But more often than not, you're either ahead or drawing to the nuts. And sometimes, you'll win the hand on a bluff, which is a huge coup. Spewing chips is only wrong when you get yourself committed to a hand you can't win. But in the long run, aggression wins the money.

_ My journey into 10/20 land last night made clear something I've read before. The play isn't better, it's just more aggressive. You have to call down more against maniacs, and that means there are more marginal situations. But those marginal situations will add up to profits, especially against overly loose players.

Wish me luck in Tunica!

Shot Down

The best analogy for last night at the tables is to compare the games to blackjack. It was like I kept being dealt hands that added up to 11, and I kept doubling down and losing. Now imagine doing that over, and over, and over.

I found the big fish all right. I did everything right. I searched my buddy list first and found one fish playing at a 2/4 game. Normally I try to not play 2/4 because I hate losing at low limits, but I reminded myself that I should go to where the game conditions are right. Of course, it was a fishy game. Of course, I did lose about $20.

Then another fish popped up on my buddy list. He was playing 15/30. I watched the game for a few minutes, and it was fishier than the 2/4 game! There were three people at the table who saw the flop more than 60 percent of the time. I wasn't sure whether I should join a high limit like that, but I got on the waiting list. But by the time it was my turn to sit at the table, two of the fish had left. It wasn't worth the risk any more, so I didn't even play a hand.

One of those same fish then sat in a 10/20 6-max game. I had to sit next to him.

And that's when things started going downhill. Any card that could hurt me on the turn or river did. Any card that could help me never came. My reads were right, but that didn't save me. I was correct almost every time when I thought someone was bluffing, but I still couldn't beat their pair of 10s that they got on the river.

I made a couple of mistakes, but not big ones. Against some of these maniacs, I felt like I had to play back at them. One guy raised almost everything and check-raised everything else. When I caught a flush draw against him heads-up, I check-raised him on a flop semibluff. He raised me after I bet out the turn, and the river didn't bring any help. I lose.

The other mistake I can think of was when I was against a predictable player with pocket 10s. When we saw the flop heads-up and the flop came queen high, I told myself there was no way I was going to fold. This guy had already sucked out on me a couple of times and was starting to get out of line. I was right not to fold the flop, but it turns out the ace on the turn gave him top pair, and the diamond on the river gave him the nut flush.

It went on like that from there. It got worse and worse. I don't think I tilted, but I was feeling kind of dizzy near the end.

The majority of the time, the opposite would have happened. I would have made a lot of money at those tables. I would have walked away happy that I found excellent game conditions and played a solid, aggressive game. I would have been thankful when my cards hit and concessionary when they didn't. Given the same conditions again, I would have played the same and won.

In all, it was my second-worst day of poker ever. My worst came in January, when my bankroll plummetted during a terrible losing streak. That won't happen this time.

Fortunately, I'm going to Tunica again! I leave tonight for two days of gambling. What better way to make back your money than at live tables against North Mississippi fish?

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Couple of Limit Ideas

We all know that short stacks need to be punished.

Fish, also, have another thing coming, and I'm more than happy to give them a expensive poker lessons all day long at the tables.

With that in mind, I've found yet another way to make my game more aggressive. Pretty much any time there's one (and only one) limper in the pot, and I find a playable hand, I will raise!

I know this is not a new tactic, but it's fun to take it to the extreme. I like doing it with marginal yet playable hands sometimes if my read on the limper is correct. So many things can go right: you can hit the flop, you can isolate the limper, you can set yourself up to bluff later ...

Oh, you limp? I raise with 78 suited! You check the flop? I bet!

Another thing I've gotten better at is laying down hands based on my reads of players. A few months ago, I fell into the trap of almost always calling one more bet on the river. My reasoning was that I was folding too much. If I got to the river with any hand at all, I leaned toward a call.

The problem with that is that it's an automatic, thoughtless decision. Just because it's hard to put fishy players on a specific hand doesn't mean you don't have a lot of information to work with. You have all the bets from the entire hand. You know the relative strength of your opponent's hand. You know the pot size and the odds. You can figure out your opponent's likely holdings. You can calculate how often you have to win to make a call worthwhile by comparing your estimated winning chances to the pot odds.

You have plenty of facts to base a decision on, and that decision isn't always an automatic call. I should say that if you make it to the river, a showdown is often justified unless you completely miss your draw.

My favorite is when a tight, passive player check-raises the river. It's so remotely unlikely that he's bluffing in this situation that it's frequently an easy fold. I'll save that bet, thank you.