Friday, October 28, 2005

Game Theory

I'm reading Matt Matros' new book, "The Making of a Poker Player," which deals with many poker ideas, including a short section on game theory. I'll probably post a review of the book when I finish it. So far I've found it to be lacking, but I won't make a final judgment until it's finished.

The crux of game theory is that you should consider how to have a solid game overall, rather than making every individual decision based on rote tactics. Game theory recommends concepts like randomly bluffing at predetermined percentages of the time based on the second-hand of your watch, or mixing up your game in order to set up future plays.

The more complicated explanation of game theory is that if you make the optimal play, you don't care whether your opponent calls or folds. That's because you're trying to make a bet based on the value of your hand that your opponent cannot counter.

Game theory predicts that there is a mathematically "optimal" move at all points in the hand, and that by learning some complicated math-based rules, you can become unbeatable.

Sure. To some extent that's true.

My complaint is that the game theorist wants a perfect answer at all times, and I have a hard time believing that there is such a thing as a grand universal theory of poker. Steven Hawking isn't going to wake up one day and present a master formula for playing like God would.

In my opinion, a lot of the same solutions that game theory recommends can also be reached by playing solid poker -- especially when it comes to reading the texture of the flop and evaluating the value of all possible hands.

The most important and useful aspect of game theory to me is that it suggests constantly mixing up and evaluating your game. Attention to exactly how you play poker, both at the table or behind a book, is how people improve their games and become better poker players. There are very few automatic answers (side note: I can think of one automatic answer. When you raise preflop in limit hold 'em and get one early position caller who checks to you on the flop, always bet). Every answer should be considered depending on the specific situation at hand, depending on many factors. Often, the correct answer is not the obvious one.

A game theory expert can tell me that the math says minimum raises in no limit hold 'em make sense. A game theory expert can tell me that preflop calling makes more sense than frequent raising (like this numbers-based article implies). Normally, I would claim you can't argue with the numbers.

But as a poker player, I am certain that bigger bets and isolation raises are more than a little important. When it comes to these kinds of minute details about the game, I believe the game theorists are absolutely wrong.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Book Review: "Ace on the River"

Limit hold 'em is about playing your hand; no limit is about playing your opponents' hands, says Barry Greenstein in his book, "Ace on the River."

Made like a coffee table book, with glossy pages and hundreds of colorful photos, "Ace on the River" reads like a life guide for a poker player. Originally written as a chapter for Doyle Brunson's "Super System 2," Greenstein's book spends a lot of time examining the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of winning poker. It's only in the last third of the book does Greenstein discuss hand analysis and specific strategies.

And perhaps that's the beauty of it. This book, although written for "advanced players," could be picked up at any chapter by anyone. You don't need to know anything about poker to learn about mental toughness, the dangers of gambling and the difficulties of balancing the greedy pursuit of money with self-fulfillment.

The abstract discussion puts readers in the right mindset to play poker thoughtfully and successfully. The strategy section offers real value when you're sitting at the poker table.

The strategies are laid out in a series of hand examples, with photo illustrations showing hole cards, chip counts and pot sizes at various stages of a no limit tournament. Greenstein encourages readers to come up with their own answer to the problem before turning the page and finding the solution.

He discusses bet sizes, the luck factor of tournaments, making bluffs and leveraging your chips. His analysis of the move-in zone (when a player is getting dangerously low on chips as the blinds are escalating) is fairly elementary, but it's always good to hear advice about tournament fundamentals repeated by a pro.

I agree with almost everything in the book, except for a few things.

_In a limit hold 'em hand example, Greenstein cold calls a button raise with A2 suited. He then proceeds to check-raise the flop when the A pairs, bet the turn and bet the river. The river bet is an important value bet even though he may be outkicked. I agree with that. I'm not sure it's such a good idea to cold call with A2 suited from the small blind. I would be more inclined to raise or fold.

_In a quiz about what kind of world views are needed to be a successful poker player, Greenstein says it's wrong to know the value of the dollar. I understand his point that money at the poker table should be viewed more as a tool to an end than an instrument for commercial purchasing power. But I believe there's a balance, that everything needs to be kept in perspective in terms of money. If you don't know the value of the dollar, that increases the likelihood that you will burn money away because it doesn't mean much to you.

_In a no limit hand example, Greenstein suggests some kind of fancy raising when he hits top pair K on the turn despite a pair of 10s on the board. Author David Sklansky took issue with this move a couple of months ago in this 2+2 Magazine article. Sklansky suggests checking the turn and calling a sizable river bet.

The main failing of "Ace on the River" is that it doesn't break much new ground. But perhaps it wasn't meant to.

The strength of this book is that it expresses ideas in a clear manner that will make almost anyone a better poker player. Its advice is especially valuable to winning players who hope not to make the same mistakes as Greenstein did.

At one point, Greenstein had just given some money to a charity that he had won from poker. Upon receiving the donation, someone remarked that Greenstein must be a rich man. Actually, Greenstein says, he was a negative millionaire at the time. Of course, it all came back.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


LEBOWSKI: Your "revolution" is over, Mr. Lebowski! Condolences! The bums lost! ... My advice is, do what your parents did! Get a job, sir! The bums will always lose -- do you hear me, Lebowski? THE BUMS WILL ALWAYS--

--The Big Lebowski

Nick and I pulled up to the border patrol station as we were re-entering the United States yesterday on our way back from Montreal.

A gray-haired, cranky border patrol agent asks for our driver's licenses and starts asking questions.

"How long were you in Canada?" he said.

"Since Thursday," I said.

"And what do you do for a living, to be able to afford this vacation," he asked.

"I'm a journalist, but I'm kind of in between jobs," I said. Nick told the guy that he was a freelance web developer.

"So you're both unemployed," the border patrol asshole said. "Where do you get money?"

"Umm ... I play Internet poker," I responded.

"You make it to the casino?" the border patrol said. "Pop the trunk. I'm going to have to search your bags."

It was funny. We were two guys traveling to Montreal for a five-day weekend to visit a friend who we knew from Germany and Chile. I guess we look like bums to the border patrol.

And yes, we did make it to the Casino de Montreal! It was a pretty nice place, but they don't have any authentic poker games. They did a very brisk business of other games though: blackjack, baccarat, slots, roulette, war. All the usuals. Just no hold 'em or stud. I tried to get into a blackjack game, but the wait was too long to be worthwhile. So eventually, I just went to the cashier's window and bought some of their chips as souveniers.

Now I'm back to my home court, with a lot of poker action to look forward to. I just put some money in my Party Poker account, and the games are as fishy as they ever were. It's so much better to play there than against the few remaining sharks at the ex-Party Poker sister sites (Empire, Eurobet, etc.) And I can open as many as 10 tables now! Yay!

You win this battle, Party Poker.

Later this week, I'm excited about playing in the new Emory game with Daniel. He said it was uber-fishy, and I love busting college kids. Maybe I'm evil?

Back to Internet poker news: PokerAce HUD is now out of beta, which means that there's a new version of it that you have to pay for. It costs $25, but I think that price is well worth it. PokerAce HUD is far better than Gametime+ and It displays opponents' hole cards at showdown. It's faster. It's very customizable to display the stats you want.

I also wanted to recommend this post from The Cards Speak poker blog: Shoulders of Giants. The posts he makes reference to are a treasure trove of poker information that you won't find in any printed book.

Good luck at the tables!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Do Your Duty

Everyone needs to get together for the common good. Justice must be done.

We all must take on our personal responsibilities so that everyone can benefit. Each of us has a duty to live up to.

We must bust the short stacks. Short stacks need to be punished for having so little money that it's not even worth it. They don't deserve to sit at the table when they're just wasting space.

Together, we can mete out these fish's doom. Put short stacks all in on marginal hands. Take a risk on a marginal hand because the consequences of losing aren't that great. They can't hurt you much. And when the short stacks do happen to win, you can always fall back on the Galaga Theory of Poker: A fish who captures your chips will give them back to you soon enough.

I'm heading to Montreal tomorrow to visit a friend and hang out over the weekend. I doubt I'll get to play any poker, but who knows!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

No Limit

I've been back in no limit land for more than a week now, working off the Poker Stars, Empire Poker and Eurobet bonuses.

No limit is fun! Limit is definitely my best game, but you can't beat the thrill of going all in on a strong draw and hitting it against multiple callers. The excitement of betting all your money on one hand can't be rivaled.

I always think of this gray-hair I overheard in Biloxi more than a year ago at the Grand. One of the players had just left a no limit game to play in a limit game, and the gray-hair said, "He prefers the structure of limit." There was an unsubtle sneer in the gray-hair's voice.

It's silly for no limit players to ridicule limit players. In my experience, limit is a more nuanced game with more profit potential. And I've found that no limit players tend to suck donkey balls at limit.

But what sticks with me about the gray-hair's statement is that the whole point of no limit is that it's so freestyle.

Because no limit often boils down to a game of traps and bluffs, starting hand values and blind stealing tends to go down in value. It's more important to consider the implied odds of an all-in bet than it is to consider the incremental value of getting every last little chip you can from a made hand (as in limit).

The best part of no limit though is that it's The Biggest Game In Town. Therefore, it has the most fish. I seriously think that some of these no limit fish will never improve their game, and many of them will be around for a long time. When the other games dry up, I know where to find some good friends!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Feeling Good

I just got back from Little Rock, Ark., where I had a good weekend at a friend's wedding. I met some cool people, and I only played poker with Erin at the airport for a few minutes before his flight left.

But I did get to play in my brother's game on Thursday. Man oh man. My brother is OK at poker, but some of his friends seriously suck. I love it.

The best hand of the night came against the guy who beat me last time we played when he called with only overcards on the flop and caught an Ace to take down the pot. This time, he wouldn't be so lucky. I had an extra incentive because this guy can be kind of obnoxious. And he likes to think he's good at poker. Which he's not.

We saw the flop heads-up, and I caught of set of 9s. The other two cards were a 6 and a 4. No flush possibility. He checked and I bet $2. He called. The turn brought a 10. He checked, I bet $3, and he said, "I'll put in five."

"What does that mean?" I asked. I wanted to know whether he was raising my bet by $5, or if he was trying to raise me $2 to $5 total. He said he wanted it to be $5 total, and I informed him that he needed to raise at least the amount of my bet.

"Fine," he said. "Let's raise it to $10 total."

"Fine," I said. "I'm all in."

"Fold," he said.

He folded so fast he didn't even realize that he could have called my all-in bet for only a couple of dollars more. I offered him the chance to pull his cards out of the muck and call the $2 more (this is a friendly game, after all), but he declined. He said he had QJ for a straight draw. I raked in a big pot.

Other fun hands came up when I had pocket 4s on a flop of 236 rainbow. I looked at the other guy in the pot, who was completely wasted.

"You don't have jack shit," I said. "I'm all in."

He took the bait and called with 75! Of course he didn't catch anything.

Another time, I called down with a pair of 7s, knowing my opponent didn't have anything.

All in all, every one of my reads was correct. And I was able to tame the fish, who would much rather just redistribute money among themselves.

Good times, good times.

I'm reading Barry Greenstein's "Ace on the River" now, which is very good so far. It's thoughtfully written, and the glossy pages really help the photos of poker rooms from around the world.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lessons from Stars

I finally cleared the PokerStars bonus, which was OK. I didn't make any money, but I was able to learn a good bit.

Perhaps one of the most important things to know for future reference is that the amount of money I deposit for the bonus simply isn't enough for me to feel comfortable at the limits I'm playing. A $600 deposit doesn't provide enough of a comfort level for me to play my best game at $5/$10 (no less $10/$20).

Secondly, bonus whoring at shorthanded games tends to be a losing proposition. I know that shorthanded games can be very profitable, but when you only have $600 to work with, the variance seems to be too high for even $3/$6 limit games. Note to self: stop playing shorthanded when working off bonuses, even if the game selection blows.

Another thing: PokerStars simply isn't as good for limit games. There's a good reason that Party Poker has the most and the best limit games. Party Poker allows passive datamining with PokerTracker, PokerStars doesn't. Party Poker has more limit players and a larger player pool. Party Poker has a Buddy List that is much easier to use than PokerStars for finding the big fish.

Finally, this experience at PokerStars has made me realize something that I should have figured out a long time ago. I've fallen into the trap of the "irrational exuberance" of the poker fad. I fooled myself into thinking that the games won't dry up too much. The problem with that way of thinking is that the games will dry up somewhat, and if I'm forced to play at a site that's not Party Poker, my profits will be additionally cut.

And what will I do if and when the games dry up? PokerStars made me realize that I'd have a much harder time dropping down in limits than I like to admit. When I only had $80 left in my Stars account, I had to drop down to .10/.25 no limit games, which I haven't played since February. Let me tell you, that was painful. The games are soft, but I barely cared whether I won or lost. The money was nearly meaningless to me. I couldn't play well because I wasn't into it.

I like to think that if I were forced to play at that level, I could do it because I'd still make money and I like poker. But I also like to think that I would quit playing rather than have that as my regular game.


Empire Bonus: PLAYOCT, 100 percent to $100, with a 10X workthru. Link.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I don't have too much to add to the discussion about the Party Poker separation from its skins, so I'll just bitch about it a little bit.

Top 10 Things That Suck About Party's Move:

1. Having my bankroll somewhere in limbo between Eurobet and Neteller.
2. Playing shorthanded games on PokerStars because they don't have an effective queing system to place players in full ring games.
3. Being unable to datamine observed hands at PokerStars.
4. No rakeback.
5. There are no mods for Stars!
6. Wil Wheaton.
7. Shitty game selection.
8. Fewer fish.
9. I think that picture of the cat sitting across the table is looking at me funny.
10. Losing money!

For some real analysis, once again I recommend ScurvyDog's blog.

Not to worry though -- Party Poker is bringing back rakeback, and it will be all good.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Party Disconnect

Party Poker and all of its skins (Empire Poker, MultiPoker, Eurobet, Intertops) were shut down most of the day on Saturday, and there were big changes when they came back online.

Party Poker had divorced itself from its skins. That means that only Party Poker players can play at Party Poker tables, and the sister sites could no longer play on Party Poker's tables. Party Poker also changed its system to put blackjack on the main screen and to allow 10-tabling. The main 2+2 thread on the situation can be read here.

So I logged on to Eurobet to see what the effect of the move was. It was drastic. The number of players had dropped from a normal of about 60,000 to 7,000 yesterday. Right now, there are only 5,300 players on Eurobet. Party Poker still has tens of thousands of players.

When I searched my fish list on Eurobet, only one name popped up.

Obviously, most all of the fish play on Party Poker. Most all of the sharks play on the Party Poker skins so they can get rakeback.

Of course, fishy games are much more important than rakeback. Rakeback is a nice few hundred dollars a month, but without fishy games, poker is much less profitable.

I withdrew all of my money from Eurobet. I deposited $600 into PokerStars to take advantage of their new 25 percent up to $150 bonus. If they created that bonus to attract people who were pissed off at the Party Poker network, their plan worked!

The outcome of all this is that I'll have to find a new site for rakeback. I hope I can find an affiliate that will give me rakeback at Party, where all of my favorite fish are still hanging out.

There's a bigger picture here, too. This move by Party Poker protects its fish by separating them from the sharks who play on the skins. The fish will last longer before busting out, and that's always good for the poker economy. Long live the fish!

Friday, October 07, 2005


I was wondering: can super tight players really make a profit? Can you win by only playing the ultra-premium hands?

The reason I got thinking about this was a 2+2 post dealing with how you should play against rocks.

This is where PokerTracker comes in handy.

From my 5/10 data, there were 16 winners and 14 losers among players with more than 100 hands and VP$IP (Voluntarily Put Money Into The Pot) of 10 or less. That would seem to suggest that you can play super tight and still make a little bit of money. The numbers were similar when I narrowed and widened the number of hands requirement.

Let's take it a step farther. There must be some point where you're simply losing money by playing too tight.

VP$IP of 5 or less: 0 players in database
6 or less: 1 losing player
7 or less: 2 losing players
8 or less: 5 losers, 3 winners
9 or less: 10 losers, 7 winners

The only conclusion of this little exercise is that you can't play too tight. You're more likely to lose than to win if you do. In my experience, you need to fall near the 15 percent to 20 percent range of hands played if you want to be a long-term winning player.

Every winning player in my database (except one) with more than 1,000 hands played had a VP$IP between 11 percent and 26 percent.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Blogger Tourney

Poker Championship

I have registered to play in the
Online Poker Blogger Championship!

This event is powered by PokerStars.

Registration code: 9570326

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Who wouldn't like to listen to poker radio shows on their computer while they're playing cards?

There are a few poker podcasts out there, although I've only listened to a couple of them.

One of them is the best-known, which is Card Club on Lord Admiral Radio. It comes out every Sunday, and I like it a lot. They usually talk about news in the poker world, respond to e-mails and talk a little strategy. They also have had book reviews, guests and analysis of how to play certain hands.

The other I've listened to is called Poker Diagram, which is a couple of crazy Brits who play a sit n go tournament. They walk the listener through the tournament as they're playing, and they also just talk about poker in general.

To listen to these radio shows, I recommend downloading iTunes here. Then you install it and run it. Then click on the "Podcasts" button on the left of the iTunes screen. Click on "Podcast Directory," and then you can search for and subscribe to the show you want to hear.

Or you can just download the shows from the Web sites that I linked to above.

Here is a list of some other results I got when I searched for "poker" in iTunes:

_VC Poker Radio
_Joe Average Poker Radio
_Route 66 Poker Podcast
_Rounders -- The Poker Show

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Tampa -- Sith Arts

I'm actually back from Tampa, and it was a fun trip. I lost a little bit, but I'm not complaining. I'll just make it back!

Some thoughts:

_I actually like the single table sit n gos at the Rock. I played three for $120 each time. The payouts were $450 for first, $300 for second and $200 for third. The blinds started at $25/$50, and the initial chip count was $1,500. Blinds went up every 10 hands. It was very Party Poker. I think it's fun to throw your chips up in the air and see who catches them. Good for the poker economy.

_Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods apparently played the $1,060 buyin sit no gos on Friday night at the Rock. I didn't find out that they were right there until just after they had left.

_A few hands were really fun. I liked catching a flush with 86s at Derby Lane, and then catching another with 96s at the Hard Rock Seminole but losing to a higher flush. At that last table at Hard Rock Seminole, I also had sets of Aces and Kings cracked, which didn't bother me. It was funny. I mean, I figure suckouts don't hurt at all when they're at $2/$2 limit.

_At one of the sit n gos, this frat guy player started arguing with another player about whether you have to say "raise" or not when when it's your turn to act and you throw a bigger chip into the pot (you do, otherwise it's just a call). Then the player questioned the dealer a little, and the dealer flipped out. "I'm in charge of this table, and I'll fucking explain the rule after the hand is over," he said. He could have gotten in trouble if the player had complained to management, but the player apologized instead.

_Only one of the three dog tracks had its poker room open (Derby Lane). I think the dog tracks rotate which poker room is open depending on which one is having races.

_I love implied odds.

_It's hard to keep track of pot size when there are eight people in the hand for multiple bets every round.

_You can have an ungodly win rate at a super fishy $2/$2 limit table. Think as high as 50 big bets per hour.

_I like XM Satellite Radio on Airtran.

_The Hard Rock Seminole has a club atmosphere at about 3 a.m. early Sunday morning. One guy was spinning around on his head.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Tampa -- My God

I almost feel sorry for these damn fish here in Tampa. They're some of the shittiest poker players I've ever seen.

Daniel, Sham and I arrived at the Hard Rock Seminole Casino at about 3 a.m. early Saturday morning. I immediately sat at a $2/$2 limit table, and I won two of my first three hands. After two hours, I was up $207 -- 50 big bets an hour.

These players are so bad. They shouldn't be allowed near a poker table. They shouldn't be allowed to play cards. They make me lose a little more faith in humanity. They're dumb gamblers who don't even know how to play the game, drink too much and are destined to lose their money to anyone who has half a clue.

There was an asshole to my left who played every hand, and a dumb woman to his left who played and raised every single pot. Then to my right, there were three guys who had never played poker before. Hello!

The funniest part was when the drunk asshole told about half the table he'd buy drinks for them, but then he promptly busted out before the cocktail waitress returned. And keep in mind, this ain't Vegas. In Tampa, you have to pay full price for your drinks. So I had to shell out $4.50 for my Bud Light, and the dumn woman had to pay $14 for her double Hennesy. I find that funny because the only reason she ordered it was to screw over the asshole.

Don't get me wrong -- it was a good time. It's true no fold em hold em. Really, I had an average of eight or nine people to see the flop. It's profitable, but these people are just terrible. Like Daniel wrote, the state law that limits bets to $2 only seems to encourage people to play more. I wouldn't be surprised to see much more gambling in Florida in the coming years.

Just don't try to bluff the fish! They sure won't fold for anything -- not when they're capping with hands like Q7o and 93o preflop.