Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Artichoke Joe's Bounty is Off

Due to canine medical concerns I've been unable to play much the last few days. Therefore I'm going to Artichoke Joe's, since driving 25 miles to San Jose is this traffic really isn't the right decision. If you see me feel free to say hello, but I'm not gonna give you $100.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boxes Are Good

Someone on two plus two pointed out something breathtakingly obvious to me the other day that for some reason had simply never dawned on me before. Most casinos have some sort of account or safe deposit box system. The Oaks has a weird sort of debit account system (where you basically have a bank account with the casino and can deposit or withdraw chips and cash as you see fit), and Garden City and Bay 101 both have sets of boxes that you can rent for basically free (I think a $100 refundable deposit for both). Obviously these systems have big benefits for responsible winning players. I can have access to pretty large sums of chips and cash without having to walk around with thousands of dollars physically on my person. This is great, both for safety and idiot proofing reasons (believe it or not I have on two occasions forgotten to bring money to the casino. I'm trying to think of a good analogy here, but it escapes me. Perhaps like forgetting your clubs when you go to the driving range). But the reverse had never occurred to me.

Most things that are good for good players are bad for bad players. Missing a full orbit of play and paying a $3 lobby charge is bad for a good player, but good for a bad one. The good player should have made money and actually paid $3, while the bad player actually saved money against his expectation for the round. Fast dealers are good for good players and bad for bad players. Short handed games are generally good for good players and bad for bad ones. The ability to change tables is good for good players (who use it effectively) and bad for bad ones (who do it haphazardly and end up paying more than their fair share of the blinds). And here is my point:

Safe deposit boxes are bad for bad players, and for the exact same reason doubly good for good players. Safe deposit boxes give good players access to large sums of cash. They also provide this access for bad players, allowing them, in a fit of tilt, to spew off truly enormous sums of cash. If a bad player runs extremely well for several weeks or even months and does not have a box, most of the cash will leave the casino and never come back. But if he does have a box, it's much easier for him to keep nearly all the cash in his bankroll, hidden from his spouse, as a ticking time bomb, waiting for the day he goes on tilt, gets hugely stuck, and plays for 36 hours straight. I'm specifically referring to the legend that an Oaks regular played 15/30 and 30/60 alternately for over a day and a half, losing a total of 17 racks between the two games. Could he really have brought 10-15 thousand dollars with him to The Oaks that day? Doubtful. Could he borrow that kind of money? Almost impossible. He probably couldn't even get it out of his bank account. So how exactly then did he disperse 17 racks of chips back into The Oaks mid-limit economy? It's so obvious now....

The Problem With Flush Draws

First of all, a little update on how things are going. I officially broke out of my downswing a week ago by winning a little over two racks in the Oaks 30 game. This put me at 3.5 months of break even poker. The next day I won about 6 racks in the Bay 20 and was happy as a clam. On the next 3 days in a row I suffered 4 figure losses and am now just about back to break even for 3.7 months. Yesterday I did win about a rack in the Bay 20 game, so things aren't all bad. I think I've regained some confidence and am successfully reverting to a more "tight is right" preflop strategy, not because I'm 100% convinced that I'm making losing preflop plays, but because while those plays might show a small positive expectation, most of the time I make them I get into really tricky spots that end up putting me on tilt after I screw them up. As an example a fish open raised and somebody cold-called, and I called two on the button with King Ten suited. This is very marginal. If I play like a God post-flop (which against these guys isn't that much of a stretch) I probably stand to show a small profit. But when the second guy limps in with aces, I flop a flush and the 4th spade hits on the river to give him the lock down nuts, I tend to tilt a little. So for now, tight is right.

Now for some actual content. A fundamental problem exists in mid-stakes limit hold 'em games when you flop a strong flush draw, and that is the following:

1. If 3 or more opponents call bets, you are making (large amounts of) expectational money.
2. If 2 or fewer opponents call bets, you actually have a chance at taking the pot down unimproved.

Part 1 is pretty easy to understand. With a strong flush draw, such as Ace Queen with one other broad way on board (to give you some chance of making an ace-high straight), even when up against top pair, a straight draw, and black aces, you have about 39% equity. With weaker flush draws your equity against your opponent's ranges is worse (mostly because some non-zero percentage of the time you are drawing virtually dead against a higher flush draw), and of course if someone flopped a set you're in worse shape (as they have immediately killed one of your outs and have a pretty fat re-draw to fill up if you hit on the turn), but the long and short of it is that a flush draw has somewhere between 30 and 40 percent equity on the flop. If two people call your bet, you're probably making a little bit of money. If 3 or 4 people call, you're making more. And if 6 or 7 people call, you're printing the stuff.

Part 2 is also easy to understand. Given that you have a flush draw, it's pretty difficult for other opponents to have draws (obviously this depends on board texture and your opponent's preflop ranges), and therefore once there are more than 1 or 2 of them it becomes pretty likely that somebody is going to show down their hand against you. Now if you actually have ace-high sometimes this is ok, but with weaker flush draws void of showdown value this is a pretty serious problem that leads to rampant triple-barreling with jack high.

The problem then is how to balance these two contradictory goals. On the one hand, you'd like many people to call your bets. For example, if you know to a moral certainty that a hand is going to showdown and all you have is a weak flush draw with 33% equity, you'd prefer that 3 opponents call a single bet (netting you .08 bets of profit) than that only 2 call a pair of bets (netting you zero bets of profit, as you had 33% equity but 33% of the bets that went in came from your stack). But you can never know to a moral certainty that a hand will go to showdown. I have seen some preposterous turn and river folds in the games that I play. 4 people go for a cap on the flop, then one check/folds the turn closing the action getting 12 to 1, and the other two mysteriously muck the river, inevitably mumbling something about a straight draw and refusing to chuck $40 into a $600 pot. So then, what do you do? As usual the answer is "it depends". I don't claim to have all the answers, but here are some things I think about.

1. How many opponents are left? Once you get above 5 people calling bets you're basically in the right to shovel bets in hand over foot. But with 4 or 5 sometimes it's tricky, and with 2 or 3 you might want to play passively against incredibly showdown opponents. Which leads to....

2. Are any of your opponents very show-down oriented? For example if I'm in a hand with another two plus twoer who has little history with me but respects my game, he will probably call me down a little light because he will be a little scared of getting outplayed. I used to call Pete down super light, but have fixed most of that leak (he still outplays me all the time, but I'm just no longer frightened by the concept). Tough show-down bound opponents suggest passiveness. Fit or fold tag-fish who can be blown off pairs, on the other hand, demand raises.

3. Location, location, location! What is your position relative to the preflop aggressor? What is your likely position against the source of the likely turn bet, both if you hit your flush and if you don't? How many players have already called the flop bet, how many more are left to act, and are those players likely to call two cold with bottom pair? It's important to remember here that you're really not trying to protect your hand or clean up any outs. Unless you can get everybody to fold, you're gonna need to hit to win, and folding out a guy with one pair usually isn't that critical (since somebody else usually has a pair that rates exactly as well against your no-pair).

4. Would you take a free card? One thing that's important to note is that playing flush draws passively in position often results in getting an extra raise in on the turn the 20% of the time you hit right there. If someone bets out from the small blind, two opponents call, and you just call with a flush draw on the button (most of the time I'd raise here, but I'm playing devil's advocate), you'll often have the turn action go bet/call/call when it gets to you on the turn even if you do complete your flush. If you raise, however, you might be able to take a free card on the turn. On the other hand, a few bad things can happen. The initial raiser could 3-bet, knocking out the other two players, and then lead into you on the turn anyway. All of a sudden you've put 2 more big bets into the pot as a substantial underdog (something like 2:1) when you could have gotten to the next street for just 1, with potentially even more padding from the players caught in between.

5. Overall strategy concerns also often come up. Being known as a player who fast-plays draws has advantages. Specifically, if you play a set of 5s the same was as the jack high flush draw, your set of fives is going to start getting looked up by ace high, which is obviously awesome.

So what are you actually supposed to do? After writing this post I've realized that I play my flush draws pretty passively a good portion of the time when I'm not the preflop aggressor, mainly because I've seen time and again that it is a truly herculean task to get ALL of my opponents to fold without showing down their hands. I think I need to look for more spots to put in raises with flush draws, not only to attempt to win more pots, but also to fit in with point 5 above and make myself harder to play against.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Musical Chairs

Seat selection. I've talked about it a few times before, and in general I think most people who read this blog understand my point of view and either agree, disagree, or don't really care because they don't play much poker. That's all well and good, as this post isn't really about seat selection in the classical sense. Typically the way a player is presented with a seat selection question is very simple. His game is full, somebody leaves, and he has the choice of moving to the new seat if he wants. Now of course sometimes it's a bit more complicated, as with a Zeus Seat decision, but in general your seat selection problems are binary, or at the very worst true/false/maybe. In one specific situation, however, choosing a seat becomes drastically more complicated.

The Oaks 30/60 game is pre-scheduled twice a week. By pre-scheduled, I simply mean that it will be started at a set time, with names called from a sign-up list that is available one week in advance. Specifically on Tuesdays and Fridays at 1pm the board calls down the names from the sign up sheet, and the first ten players to respond get seats. If there is enough interest (which has been seldom of late), a second game is started, but in general if you don't get a seat in the first game you're SOL. Since the game is pre-scheduled and everyone starts at the same time, it is common for the same 10 players to fill the seats for 3 or more hours, without a single person picking up. If you think about it this should be pretty obvious, but it kind of shocked me the first few times I played.

So how does this all play out? In some pre-scheduled games (such as Bay 101 80/160 mandatory straddle day, or at Ocean's in San Diego), you can sign up on the board and lock up a specific seat. Not so at the Oaks. If you're in the top ten names you are allowed to physically lock up a seat upon your arrival at the casino. This can be done with all manner of casino paraphernalia, the most common of which tends to be chips or card protectors. However, some people use napkins, slips of paper with their names on them, or random other items from their pockets such as car keys or a cell phone. I often end up using my headphones. Remember that the game is called down at exactly 1pm, at which time there are typically 7 or 8 people sitting at the table (those who were in the top ten) and 3-5 others lurking around wondering if they are going to get one of the remaining seats. My seat selection problem occurs 5 to 10 minutes before this, and it is without a doubt one of the most complex situations I face in my average day. Here's how it goes down.

Upon my arrival at the Oaks around 12:40 or so (assuming there was no traffic) I check the list for the 30/60 game and note who's in the top 10. I try to remember this as best I can, but of course this is tough to do. Ideally I could remember the first 15 names in order, but that's just not gonna happen. I walk over to table 15 (the game is always spread there) and check out the scene. Usually at this point there will be two people sitting at the table chatting (sometimes there are three, and other timers just one talking to himself), and my goal is to decipher the following bits of information:

1. Which players have locked up which seats.
2. Which players are actually in the building.

There are three other major pieces of information that I must consider before I select my seat from the 6-7 seats that are likely still available.

3. Certain players like certain seats. Mrs. Davis, for example, always sits in seat 4. Sitting there would be blasphemy. Dave F prefers seat 1, but taking it from him would be fine.

4. Certain players may base their choice (or even change it) based on where I sit. The universal consensus seems to be that having me on your left is bad, as I raise way too much.

5. The Oaks has 10 handed tables, and seats 2,3,8 and 9 are far more comfortable than any other seats at the table. It's not even close.

An example is in order. I walk up to the game and see a chip in seat 2, a scrap of paper in seat 4, another chip in seat 5, some car keys and a jacket in seat 7, and another chip in seat 9. On my way in I saw Mrs. Davis and Dave F, and I can see Abbey's wife in the pan game. Ben is talking to a floor man, and Steven and Charles are in the 15/30 game. The low ball game is going, and Jack, Ray, and Paul are all playing in it. I try to ask my brain if Steven and Charles are in the top ten, and it responds with a very fuzzy "no". I haven't seen Stan or Marty, and I ask my brain if it saw either of them on the list. It responds "yes" in a general sense and I assume that one of them has locked up the 5 (they like 5 and 6). Mrs. Davis must be locked in the 4, and it's pretty safe to assume Abbey is in the 9, as it's his favorite seat, and while I haven't seen him his wife is in the pan game. This presents a problem with the 10 seat as Abbey is likely to actually take chips out of your stack to either play or tip a waitress/busser. Last time he and I went red/black 3 hands in a row, but he quit down love 3 (go black). The next thing I try to figure out is who is likely to fill in the remaining seats. Are any of the lowball guys on the list? "No" my brain responds. OK, is Nick here? What about EBX? Shit, EBX is definitely in the 7, that's his jacket. OK, so Stan, Marty, and EBX have the 5,6,and 7 locked. Those guys are tight so I don't want the 8, even though it's my favorite seat at the table, and as usual Mrs. Davis has the best seat. Nice hand Mrs. D, nice hand. Well, it's down to this....who's in the 2 seat? If it's Dave F my decision is to take the 1, even though it's my least favorite seat at the table. Wait, what's that? 2 is locked up for Ben? Yikes. Now what do I do? I guess I'll sit between Ben and Mrs. D, because at least I'll have the 3 and that's on the comfy list. So I lock up my seat and 10 seconds later Ben walks over, picks up his chip, and moves it to the 6, which I had penciled in for Marty or Stan but wasn't actually locked up (I didn't take it just kind of out of common courtesy). Now I'm in a conundrum, as there are 3 open seats all to my immediate right and I have a sense that they are are going to be filled by good players, as my brain is telling me that the lurkers/people on the list that aren't seated are pretty good. I contemplate a move but more often than not opt for a trip to the bathroom and a hands off approach. Once again the seat selection problem has defeated me.

The game is called down and Dave F and Jose (where the fuck did Jose come from? He's not on the list....he wasn't here 5 minutes ago. What's going on?) fill the 1 and 2, with Stan showing up a bit perturbed that Ben stole is 6 seat and sitting in the 10. We draw for the button and away we go. Nobody moves for 3 hours, and I invariably sit there wishing I had a better seat, yet unsure of exactly which seat that would be. I resolve to be happy that I'm on a corner and order some lunch, and can't help but think there must be a better way.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Flopping of Sets and the Problem of the Lifetime Heater

Back in high school my friends and I would play NFL Blitz all the time, and my buddy "Asian Seth" (at the time he was just Seth, but the group added a Jewish Seth after they went to college, and hence the distinction had to be made) would always cry out "Just call the interception play!" whenever somebody was down 52 - 48 or something with less than a minute left. Sometimes when you're playing limit hold'em, it's really that easy. Just flop a set and go from there.

There are several basic ways to flop a set in limit hold 'em. You've got the "I'm the preflop raiser and I just flopped top set sweet merciful jeebus please let them all have a pair" flopping of a set. This is probably the least exciting way of flopping a set, and would be the equivalent of taking your own girlfriend home with you from a bar. Yes, it's a good result, but honestly about what you were hoping for anyway with a pair of kings. If the pot is huge (or girlfriend is incredibly hot), flopping this type of set obviously becomes more fun, but in all honesty you feel entitled. Your previous good decisions led you to this point, and it's not surprising that the best hand held up or that your girlfriend didn't leave with somebody else. Then you've got your "I limped in with this little pair and nobody raised, the pot is kind of tiny I guess I should just fold the flop no wait I flopped yahtzee quickly whom can I check raise" flopping of a set. This set of 4s or some such is like going to a bar with your buddies on a guys night out, yet somehow ending up with the hottest girl in the room. As a tight and monogamous player, this second case is pretty rare for me, but still fun nonetheless. The third basic way to flop a set is the "holy cow this pot is humongous I wonder if my tens are even any good yahoo I have the nuts let's put in 15 bets each" flopping of a set. Your session, hell, your week, results are dominated by your ability to flop sets in these situations. Every so often you find yourself in a 20 bet pot preflop not knowing where you stand, sort of like thinking the girl across the room just made eye contact but being cautiously aware that your buddy next to you is 4 inches taller and better dressed. She could have just been looking at him. Then boom, out of the blue she walks over and talks to you, completely ignoring your friend. Sometimes it ends in disaster. With 5 opponents chasing you (or the girl) victory is far from assured. But more often than not, despite the way it feels, starting out with that kind of edge results in you taking home the chips.

A quick bit of math on flopping a set; it's hard. Very hard. On average you receive one pocket pair every 17 hands you get dealt, and of those you flop a set once every 8.5 times you see a flop. So assuming you see every single flop where you have a pocket pair (not unreasonable for many players, but far from optimal strategy), you should flop a set once every 4-5 hours of live play. Last week at Bay 101 I saw a man take his big blind, flop top set of 6s and drag the pot with top full house, flop kings full in the small blind, then flop middle set of nines on the button, all in a 3-hand 7 minute period during which he won approximately 2 racks of chips. This guy flopped 14 hours worth of sets in 7 minutes! Imagine the possibilities to run good that exist in this weird mathematical space. On top of all this, hand range estimation makes it very hard to give your opponent credit for a set. On a flop of Q72 when you are holding kings, there are 12 possible ways your opponent could hold AQ (3 remaining queens times 4 remaining aces), but only 9 total ways he could have flopped a set (3 pairs of queens, 3 pairs of 7s, and 3 pairs of 2s). In short, even if his range is AQ and the sets, you're a 4:3 favorite to currently have the best hand. Folding is out of the question!

Last Friday I rolled up to The Oaks just before the 1pm kickoff of the 30/60 game, but sadly was 13th on the list and therefore not guaranteed a seat (you can sign up for this game 7 days in advance, so ever being outside of the top 10 is just a failure at life on my part). So I took a 15/30 seat, played 2 orbits at a shortish table (it always gets short when they are calling down the 30) in about 15 minutes, flopped two sets, won $350, then took my seat in the 30/60 since 4 other players failed to show up. Right now it occurs to me that I cannot recall even sitting in that game, let alone dragging 12 big bets worth of profit in 15 minutes. The reason? I flopped a couple of sets, bet the ba-jesus out of them, and my opponents mucked the river quietly instead of executing the donk of death with some ridiculous runner runner straight. The set is a deadly weapon, the power of which cannot be under-estimated.

I sat in the 30/60 game for a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes, which was probably about an hour and a half too long. The lineup, while certainly not full of experts, was about as bad as I've ever seen it. Basically the regular game is usually built from a group of about 20 or so regulars, and the bottom 5 or so players simply were not there. The resident alpha lag? Nope. The loose passive Persian guys? Nope. What about the maniac? In the low ball game. In this game I also had the good fortune to flop two sets (one with queens on a Q73 board and one with kings where I actually flopped a boat on the KJJ board), but in both hands both of my opponents simply folded the flop. Not even $30 did I collect. In short, I left the bar with the girl, but didn't get invited upstairs. So I did something I've never done at The Oaks before; I moved down to the 15/30 game. An old friend of mine (Batman) from college was in the game, and it actually looked pretty decent. The combination of having someone to bullshit with and figuring to be almost as big of an absolute winner with about half the variance was all I needed. Not getting paid off with my sets was just the cherry on top.

Batman and I were catching up and playing in some ridiculous pots, with me mostly treading water and him steadily winning, then losing, then winning again. His fortunes turned back for the best when I sweated him for a hand in a humongous pot. 5 or 6 players limped in and the player in the cutoff raised. Batman called two cold on the button next in, usually a no-no but with a pot of this magnitude brewing completely acceptable with a wide range of crappy hands. I folded an utter cheeseball in the small blind and quickly leaned over for sweat patrol duties. He peeled back his cards and revealed to me a pair of 5s, just as the last few limpers were slinging their now good money after bad into the pot. Just as he put his cards back down the dealer placed the three cards face up on the board and BANG, right there in the window was a beautiful 5 of spades (when the dealer spreads the flop (s)he typically puts all three cards face up in a pile and spreads them. The first one you can see, on top of the pile of 3, is the window card). I don't remember the details of the pot, just that Batman did not opt for an expert slow play and STILL managed to get in a raise on the turn and collect calls in a couple of spots, eventually dragging a pot well in excess of 600 American Dollars. And there was much rejoicing, followed by the suggestion that he and I move down one more notch to 6/12 and have a few beers (15/30 is a fairly casual affair for me, but it's the biggest game he plays regularly).

He was called first and took his seat at table 17, while I waited a few more minutes to get called to the table right next to our 15/30 game. I sat down with a preposterous sum of money for the game (something in the $1200 range) and asked the chip runner to change my first two racks of yellow to hundred dollar chips and leave me with a rack of gray ($2 chips, the currency of this play money game I was about to engage in). I asked the dealer if I had to post and got some quizzical looks (in some casinos you don't have to post into smaller games) and a "Yes sir", so I dutifully placed $6 in the pot in the cutoff position, flopped Q65 and happened to be holding 65, raised immediately on the flop and still had 2 or 3 callers on the river at which point my hand was good. Up nearly a rack already, I managed to ask the floor woman to put me up for a change to Batman's table so the real business at hand (finishing the keg of Hefeweizen) could begin before flopping top pair top kicker and taking down another small pot. I got called to Batman's table and ambled over with two racks of gray chips, wishing I'd bought more than one rack to start so I could set about building a chip tower for the ages.

For 2 hours Batman and I dualed at the 6/12 table, him in the 9 seat and me in the 10, 3-betting him mercilessly. First with pocket twos, with which I flopped the aforementioned "not sure where you stand" set and raked him over the coals for several bets (it should be noted that somehow the big blind capped this pot with A7s, the flop was seven high, and the fact that I know what she had is a good indication that she paid quite a bit to see my hand). Again, this time with a real hand, that produced the aforementioned "I was supposed to win this pot anyway" set of queens. Again, with AJ (that one lost), and again with KQ (sweet victory). Soon thereafter I flopped another set of deuces, this time in a very, very multiway, and upon dragging it was up over two racks in the game and something like $700 for the day. It was time to go home, as the hour was late and Danielle and I were due for a match of Wii Mariokart, but on the way home I got to thinking a bit about the "Lifetime Heater" problem and how it is exacerbated by the flopping of sets.

In many disciplines I believe it is possibly to go on (or be on) what I can only describe as a "Lifetime Heater." In live limit hold 'em, this is particularly true, and Pete and I have had several discussion about it. We've even nick-named one opponent "Lifetime Heater Guy", since as far as we can tell he isn't very good yet always, always, always cashes out 5+ racks of chips. Online experts (trader, stox) claim that variations of up to 3 big bets per 100 hands played can be seen in back to back 50,000 hand sample. Personally I find this almost impossible to believe for a few reasons. First of all, it's hard to believe that the game you're playing in won't change over the course of 100,000 hands. Second of all, anybody who has the discipline to play 100,000 hands probably has the discipline to change his game, probably for good but possibly for worse. So I guess I believe such a drastic change can occur, but don't buy that you can pin said difference 100% on running good or bad. Nonetheless, even if you use a much smaller figure, say, 10,000 hands, it is possible to see an opponent run strikingly good or bad for a strikingly long amount of time in live limit hold 'em. Even at 40 hands per hour, in a 40 hour work week you would only play 1600 hands, and therefore it would take two months to play even 10,000 hands yourself. If you then filtered out only the hands you played with a random regular, it could take literally years to play 10,000 hands with him. Therefore, the lifetime heater is possible. Why though? Because he always flops a freakin' set, that's why.

The owner of a Lifetime Heater cannot be a truly awful player; if he were, even truly epic run good wouldn't be enough to overcome the constant tsunami of negative expectation he was swimming around it. More often than not he is at least somewhat aggressive, which allows him to win sizable pots with his big holdings, and he is a bit too loose, allowing his run good to bloom fully. I have seen several opponents that I believe to be on Lifetime Heaters (at least from my perspective....I guess there are two forms of Lifetime Heater. An absolute Lifetime Heater, which is where a player just wins inexplicably for his entire limit hold 'em career, and a POV Lifetime Heater, which is where I observe a player win inexplicably every time I play with him), and they seem to fit this description. One thing they all definitely have in common is that they cold-call too much with pocket pairs, probably because from their point of view flopping a set is super easy because they do it every single time I'm in a pot. This is just like that guy you know who made a fortune in real estate despite being seemingly functionally retarded. Every time he bought something it went up, he randomly sold at the right times, and nothing horrendous happened to any of his buildings, and all of a sudden he's retired to some beach house in La Jolla and you're wondering why your home is worth $200,000 less than you paid for it. From his point of view, real estate is easy, and everyone who doesn't make a fortune in it is either lazy or stupid. From your point of view, he's just a lucky son of a bitch. Only one of you is right. Lifetime Heater. This is just like the guy who graduated with a CS degree 3 years before the crash and sold out his stock options at just the right moment and then somehow joined a start up that didn't go bust and for some reason now makes $200,000 a year and has his house completely paid for despite really not knowing anything more than you do. Lifetime Heater. In short, this is the New England Patriots.

Now before all you Boston people get your panties in a bunch, let me explain. The Patriots fit most of my requirements for being on a POV Lifetime Heater (that is to say that from my POV as an adult football fan, which started in the year 2000, they have won at a mathematically unexplainable rate). First of all, they are good. As I explained, at a bare minimum you have to not suck in order to run well enough to get on either type of Lifetime Heater. And the Pats, even I must admit, are good. But I tonight's game against the Bills really sums up one smooth, fluid, idiotic play why I believe they are on a Lifetime Heater. Two minutes and six seconds left, and they are down by 5 points. They elect to kick the ball off, which to me is just inexplicable. Why would they do this? Even with all three timeouts you really need to go onside kick here. Because they are on a lifetime heater and always win in these situations. Just like the guy who cold-calls you first in with pocket threes then flops J73 against your queens like it's his job, the Patriots have unreasonable (and incorrect) expectations about the probability that they will be able to execute a comeback from such dire circumstances. The Bills player received the ball 6 yards deep in the end zone and (gasp) did the right thing by electing to bring the ball out of the end zone. You see, had he just taken a knee, the Pats would have been able to keep an extra clock stoppage (the two minute warning) in their pockets. By running it out, even if a few yards of field position were lost, they were traded for an entire Patriots time out or, better yet, 40 seconds of clock. But then what did he do? He fumbled the ball, something that happens on kick off returns like literally once a season for the average team, Tom Brady threw his second touchdown of the game (and the last 45 seconds) and somehow the Pats are 1-0. Sure, sure, sure, in this case the opponent made a mistake and the Pats were just fortunate enough to be there. But that's all part of it. Lifetime Heater. Tuck rule? Lifetime Heater. Vinitieri makes every single one of those field goals? Lifetime Heater. Illegally taping opposing teams' signals and not getting caught for years? Lifetime Heater.

"But wait!" I hear you saying. "The Pats lost Tom Brady for the season last year, went 11-5, and still missed the playoffs! That has to be unlucky!" Ah, and there is the last component of the Lifetime Heater, taking high-visibility, seemingly horrendous beats that in actuality don't cost you that much. Guys on Lifetime Heaters who have flopped dozens more sets than they should have in the last 100 hours of live play don't have a clue just how lucky they've gotten. Their brains can, however, comprehend that their opponent just flopped a pair and runner-runnered a gut shot straight to steal an 8 big bet pot away from their aces, and think this must be the most unfair turn of events the Gods of Poker have let unfold in weeks. Yet this very event likely occurred with me as the victim sometime within the last 2 hours, and I didn't say a word. The Chiefs missed the playoffs at 11-5 just 4 years ago. In that same year, the Steelers lost their starting quarterback for the entire season and yet somehow won the Superbowl. So are these events truly rare? Or do they just seem rare because they had never happened to the Patriots before? I'm no expert, but my opinion is clear and concise. Lifetime Heater.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Coming of Age of a Showdown Monkey

I've recently decided that I need to put more work into my game, looking for leaks and trying to determine if I've picked up any bad habits over the last few months. It's common in poker for running bad to lead to playing bad, for several reasons. The most obvious is that when you lose, you're upset, and when you're upset, you might make bad decisions. Another, more subtle, reason is that if you are always losing that means that you're seeing your opponents show up with hands in the top of their ranges a disproportionate amount of the time. This could systematically cause you to change the way you play by making you miss value bets, or worse, assume that they can't always have start making some bad call downs. In an effort to investigate if I've fallen pray to the last possibility, I posted a thread series on two plus two to get some honest feedback on my play. Here then are the hands.

Part 1 - I call 14 times then river a straight
Part 2 - I somehow showdown K2o
Part 3 - I call down meekly with jacks
Part 4 - I make an ace-high call down
Part 5 - I try to win a ginormous pot with one pair

The general consensus on the forum was that these hands ranged from OK to terrible, with most falling decidedly in between. I'm left in a conundrum. I used to fold more, and I used to win. Even if I believe that folding less is correct, if I am unable to apply such a strategy correctly, would it not be better to going back to folding too much? Or was I just getting lucky when I folded too much? Questions, questions, questions....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Double Oh Strikes Again

These days I wake up and drive 30 minutes to the casino wondering how specifically it is that I will be punished. The poker gods have a seemingly endless array of weapons in their arsenal with which to smite me, and today they chose to deploy the one simply known as "double oh." This player is a regular in the Bay 101 games, and as usual with players of his caliber (that is to say, poor), he always finds a way to take my chips. Be it by drawing almost dead and getting there, receiving the perfect asshole card from the dealer to get me to go off for an extra 2 bets, or simply raising the turn drawing dead against a third player while I hold the nut flush draw, Double Oh will always find a way to wreck my day.

Today is the first day of the NFL season, and as I drove south to Bay 101 clad in my #43 jersey, I cut a deal with myself. If at any point I was up two racks, I would pick up my chips, and if I was up one rack after lunch I'd also call it a day. Protecting wins like this is silly, but when you've run as bad as I have for as long as I have, you make deals with yourself to try to book wins and not spend evenings wondering why you're failing. Last night, for example, I did the opposite. After booking an $800 win at the Oaks I opted to play 3/6 online and lost over $300 in something like 400 hands. I still won $500 for the day, but I felt really shitty about it. Today would be different.

The morning came and went without much really happening, aside from undertheinfluence and Gordan the Prop winning 6 and 5 racks respectively by generally playing quite a bit too loose for my tastes and spiking everything in site. undertheinfluence spiked a runner runner full house...twice. Gordan made running flushes twice, each time declaring "I flopped a pair!" to which I responded "You know, he's right, it's in the prop hand book. You flop a pair you can't fold, even if it does go four bets". Anyway, 12:30 found me ordering a grilled chicken salad and stuck something like $200. I was up for a table change and promptly went on a heater of sorts, raising my own big blind with KJo (against only the small blind and a poster who opted not to raise) and betting the whole way on the jack high board, then getting my QQ to hold up in a 4 way 3 bet pot. I also may have taken down another small pot with something akin to a pair. So now Cissy says "A R C, you want 39" and I peer over at the table to see which player left. As I suspected, the vacant seat used to contain one WTK, who has made his way off to the 10-200 spread game. Now normally I'd still take the change, since there were a few decent to good players at my table (mtndrew, lol Asian Pro, and ML, the 40/80 regular), but due to my recent rush of cards, the recent delivery of my salad, and the fact that I had $1490 in front of me for a .98 rack win, I opted to stay, eat my salad, attempt to win one more pot, then pick up. I was even under the gun, which means that moving didn't even cost free hands. This act of laziness was all that it took for the poker gods to deploy the double oh. I posted my big blind while politely declining the seat at table 39, and....

mtndrew raised from early position and I pre-peek my cards to find the mighty 82 of spades. I prepare to fold, but since my seat selection is top notch as usual the button and small blind both call two bets cold, moving me into "any two suited" territory. I sling in 4 chips and pray for trips.

Q99 with two spades

OK, I suppose I can work with this. The sb checks and so do I. mtndrew bets, the button calls and the SB raises. I call two cold and basically turn my hand faceup, which is fine because I have to hit to win anyway, and mtndrew calls, along with the button. I spike and 8 on the turn and call one more bet, but miss my 11 outs on the river in the $440 pot and watch the SBs Q7 (suited mind you, soooooted) drag the pot after the button called his bet. OK, no biggie, missed a flush draw, so what.

The next orbit the player on my right open limps under the gun with his chips already racked to leave. I limp along with A9 of diamonds (I don't limp along in this spot very often, but this is one of the hands I do it with) and double 0h unleashes a raise. The bb (button from the last hand) and the UTG limper (SB from the last hand) both call and I call. We see the flop of:

JT6 with two diamonds

Yahoo, time to shovel chips into the pot and lose! BB donks, UTG raises, I 3-bet because what the hell my hand has over 33% equity and double oh could conceivable fold a better ace to give me two outs sometimes. But no, double oh caps it, the BB tank calls, UTG calls, and I call. We now have a 4 handed pot with 12 big bets in it. The turn is a brick, putting up another flush draw, and the BB checks. UTG now donks and makes a speech, at which point I assign the probability of him having either JT or a set of sixes at .997. The pot is huge, though, so I call. Double Oh, being a horrible hand reader, raises. The big blind tank folds this time around, and somehow UTG does not 3-bet. I call and fold the river J, which UTG donks again. Double Oh finally gets the hint and calls, and UTG tables JT for the stone cold nuts. OK, fine, missed another flush draw in a $720 pot. No big deal.

For a moment something actually does go right. mtndrew picks up his chips (he plays on his lunch break and never sticks around for much more than an hour), ML is called for the 40 (he was second up when I refused the change) and lol Asian pro also decides he's had enough (an unexpected bonus). My opponent list is now winner-free as far as I can tell, and I take the chance to move to double 0h's immediate left, wanting to look him in the eyes as he pummels me mercilessly.

Not 10 minutes later I open KQo under the gun at what is about a 7 handed table. It folds all the way to double oh, who calls in the big blind. The flop is AK8 with two clubs and he check/raises me in rhythm. I call only, planning to call him down and expecting to lose. This is another example of me playing snake bit. The call down is correct, but I'm already emotionally preparing to lose the hand, so when he checks the turn 9 I am confused and don't know what to do. Somehow I decide to check, which in retrospect isn't awful but is probably a small mistake. Double O begins to make a speech about how he missed his bet and fires a bet into the pot just after the river T comes out, making the board AK8-9-T. I hem and haw and say "This is a bad call, QJ got there" while putting 8 chips into the pot. He says "Yes it is" and rolls QJ. The tilt monkey appears.

I am spared any pain in my BB, most likely because the poker gods know it is best to let me sit and stew in the juices of what just happened. My KQ lost to QJ with a King on the board. That one card makes me an 85% favorite. Yet somehow, I lost. In the small blind however, they go for the death blow. A crazy asian lag (CAL) opens, and a horrible asian female dealer (HAFD), alls two cold next in because that's what horrible players do. double oh calls two cold on the button and I 3-bet because I have Aces, and the big blind calls. CAL caps it and they both call. 20 small bet pot and I have the nuts. The flop is:

K72 with a flush draw

The only concern, of course, is that someone who capped it might have kings. I check, the BB checks, and CAL...checks. I probably actually cringe at the table, but HAFD doesn't notice and bets anyway. Double Oh calls, I raise, and the BB and CAL both fold (pretty good fold of QQ on CAL's part I think). HAFD and double oh both call, and the turn Jack scares me a little (once again, I'm just trying to figure out how I'm going to lose this pot). I bet anyway, she calls, and double oh mis-clicks and folds. Wow, 15 big bets in the pot and I'm winning. She either has a flush draw or pair of kings, likely with a queen kicker. The river of course pairs the king, and I check sadly. I guess a bet/fold is the right play here, by my read is that she either has the nuts and will raise or missed a flush draw and my only chance of getting a bet is to induce a bluff. She bets and rolls KQ after I call.

6 hands later double oh straddles under the gun, as is his custom when he gets short on chips (often) and wants to put them all in preflop. I 3-bet him next in with AJ suited, and he caps it without looking. I call, we're heads up, and he flips over 53o. A player at the end of the table comments that he folded 53 off, to which I respond "Well then it's coming for, one pair of 5s for our friend double oh here please". The board runs out 886-7-5 and he drags the pot. All told, on the 5 hands, I had about $750 (1/4th of the $440 pot, 1/6th of the $720, 85% of the $160, something like 2/3rds of $500, depending on double oh's cards, and 2/3rds of $190) and I collected exactly zero dollars. Hurray for me.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How It Is That I Run

From time to time (or about half the time) I play a little 15/30 at The Oaks waiting for the 30/60 game to go. Last week, in about 2 hours, I accomplished the following feats of skill.

Some idiot opens, another limps, and I 3-bet 88. The table fish caps it out of the small blind, they both call, I call, and we see the flop 4 ways for 16 bets.

754 all clubs

The fish leads, the idiot raises, the other folds, I 3-bet, the fish calls and the idiot folds (which is just amazingly awful almost regardless of the two cards in his hands. So long as they are not blank napkins he needs to call here getting 24:1 closing the action).

6c, putting, yes Virginia, 4 to a straight flush on the board. I do not, however, have the 8 of clubs. Why would I? I bet, and the fish calls.


The fish thinks for a moment and executes the donk of death. I call because he is prone to extreme fits of spazziness. He rolls old reliable, 64 soooooted (in diamonds), for the baby full house and the win. A few hands later.

I see flop of Q84 with K8 from the small blind. The same fish is the only caller of my flop bet (we saw it only 4 ways I believe) and the board runs out with a queen and an ace. Note that on the final board of Q84-Q-A my kicker (a KING!) no longer plays. After betting the turn and getting called, and checking to river to see my opponent check, I declare "chop it up" before he can even roll his 87o, which he limped with under the gun.

A bit later and after a seat change, it folds all the way around to me in the CO and I elect to raise with the black kings because I read somewhere that they represent a solid holding. I am promptly 3-bet by a nit in the small blind (for those who might not know, a nit is a very tight player. He is nit-picky about the cards with which he'll throw chips into the pot) and 4-bet by a monstrously bad lag in the big blind. As an aside, rumor has it that this very lag played for 36 hours straight about 2 weeks ago, switching back and forth from the 15 to the 30 quite a few times. Rumor also has it that he dropped 17 racks between the two games, and that is the reason he no longer plays 30/60 and relegates himself to spewing in the 15. Anyway...I call with the kings and away we go.


The nit checks and the lag bets. I raise and the nit 3-bets. I cringe. The fact that I hold the King of spades makes it a lot harder for him to have a big flush draw. Really all he, being a nit, can have, is AQ of spades, and even that is unlikely. I pencil him in for aces but figure getting to showdown is a requiement.


The nit checks. The lag and I are visibly confused, but he declares "well I guess I have to bet". At this point I commit a fatal sin, whereby I assume that no person on the planet could possibly play aces this badly. I raise, and the nit calls two in rhythm like he knew he was going to have to. The lag calls (he almost certainly has JJ-KK at this point, although honestly I wouldn't put AT past him) and we head down the river.


They both check and I think long and hard before checking it back. I'm not even winning here very often, and a lot of hands that I beat (the flush draws...the lag could have a few more of them) can't even call a bet. A Mexican standoff ensues, as it's the nit's turn to open his cards, but again since he's a nit he doesn't really want to do so. The lag then opens his QQ and for a moment I am elated. I roll my kings, only to see the nit produce pocket aces 2 seconds later. I stare in awe at the remains of the clusterfuck that is this hand, with 16 big bets, a ten high paired board, and 3 beautiful big pairs strewn across the table, and can only shake my head and wonder when exactly I'll be allowed to win again.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Just Because I Can

I'm posting an entry from inside an airplane, some 30 odd thousand feet off the ground. Virgin America now offers Wifi for $12.95, and I strongly suggest it. I was also able to play something like 1300 hands of 3/6 on full tilt and won about $75. Plus rake back, I've paid for half the flight. Go me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Abilities United Aquathon

Every September since 2005 I have dug my Speedo out of the closet and jumped back in the pool to support the Abilities United (formerly CAR) Aquathon. I swim for the Oracle Dolphins team, and have yet to hurt myself, although this year is looking grim. The event is coming up soon (September 12th at San Jose State), and I am in full training mode. This year I made it about 49.5 weeks without getting in the pool, and the rust is almost visible. I once was a fairly respectable swimmer, topping out at 2:16 in the 200 yard breaststroke. No more, however.

The money raised supports Abilities United's programs, which you can read more about here. If, after reading about the charity, you'd like to support us, you can do so on my page. Donations of all sizes are accepted and appreciated.

And now, for a little bit of poker content. Sort of. I went back into my spreadsheet and tallied my results for July and August.

July: ~$500 win
August: ~$200 win

So for those of you that have been hearing me complain about "losing" continually, I've been slightly exaggerating. I haven't been losing. Just not "winning".

And Now, a Guest Auther

Hank is awesome. A while back I used to see him everyday, and to be honest there wasn't a single situation we couldn't make light of. Then he decided to blow up his entire house in true NorCal remodel fashion, and school let out and his Mr. Mom duties became even more substantial. Now he's back in action, but I've been playing at the Oaks instead of Bay 101 and still don't manage to see him much. This email, however, warmed my heart. The text has been slightly changed to protect the truly innocent.

From: Hank
To: Jesse, Pete, The CEO, and Sweat-Master J
Subject: Epic

It's Friday and tourney week has created some great games, but it seems like a Friday night in 2004. The game is nuts, especially preflop. Cold calls abound, random limp three bets reign, the blinds always come along, large multi-way pots obviously are the norm.

WTK 2.0 has crashed and WTK 1.0 has been reloaded, but somehow lacks the turn c/r module.

The lineup: Seats 1 thru 9

Random Unknown Donkey
Tom B
Tagish Unknown Guy
Stuart (older italian looking lag tourney player)

Some good, some bad, and some ugly.

WTK has been raising preflop every 2nd or 3rd hand, from any position with a little as 63s. Stuart can open raise 64o utg, regularly three bet a single raiser with God knows what, and 3 barrels constantly. Not long ago he bought his third rack, ran it up to 2K and is back down to about $300. Vernon actually has several stacks and only started with his first $200 buy-in. Louie and the Tagish Guy are stuck and can hardly take any more of the insanity. They are playing very loose in the blinds, even for three bets. Michael is winning and playing nitty. Tom B is Tom B.

Louie has the button

Michael limps, Vernon limps, WTK raises, I call 78d, Random Unknown Donkey finds a fold, and everyone else calls to Stuarts BB who pops it, called to WTK who caps and everyone calls. For those of you following along at home that's 32 small bets.

Hey, this beauty plays well multi-way.

OK, hand ranges? Yeah, right. All the aggression came from the random players so nothing there. Michael can't have trash or small suited connectors but I can't rule out medium or small pairs since the last 100 pots have been 6+ way. WTK's cap means nothing. Louie doesn't have QQ+ or I guess AK. Unknown Taggish Guy thinks he's tricky and could. That's all I got.

A93r with one diamond.

Astute readers will noticed I flopped TWO backdoor draws. Of course someone else could have bigger diamonds giving me only one back door draw, but I can't let that little detail sidetrack me, can I? I also wonder who is more likely to call with just a backdoor diamond draw, the good players, or the bad players. Some good players don't really understand the math fully or just wouldn't do it so I conclude it's the bad players, not that this really helps me as I don't know who has what, but it flashed thru my mind on the flop.

It's checked to WTK who bets, (WTF?, raising just crossed my mind), I call hoping to get by on one bet but knowing I can go 2, and everyone called to the Louie on the button who raises. Tagish Guy now check three bets and everyone calls to WTK who calls, and I look left and Tom B is calling, but Louie gives away nothing. If they both call it looks like there will be 56 small bets and I have to call 2 more. If Louie caps there will be 64 and I will pay 3. ZOMG am I really going to do this? Could putting in 4 bets with 8 high possibly be correct? I call, as does the field. 56 small bets, hence forth known as 28 big bets, but the rest of the world knows it as $1120. That's more money than some American make in a month, and more than some in the world make in a year, but I'm a conservative and don't care about that. But I digress, again.

The turn is a FIVE, and completes the rainbow. So sweet. I now have 4 pristine outs. If some other idiot is in there with 78 I will kill him and take his money. I can call a bet, maybe a few. I'm expecting Taggish Guy to bet, and fearing WTK could raise (maybe I should have considered this before I got to this street) but everyone checks, I check, and it continues to Louie who bets, Taggish Guy calls, Stuart Calls, Michael and Vernon fold, WTK ...... Calls, I make the easiest call of my life getting 32:1 and almost closing the action, Tom B of course calls too.

So I'm guessing there is no drama or I wouldn't be telling this tale. The turn is a.....

SIX, a glorious, black, three humps with a thorn, six of clubs. I cannot fricken believe this. What have I done?!? I've taken two napkins and turned them into the stone cold nuts. I glance around, no one is looking at me, Louie is looking at Taggish Guy for his action and the checking starts, what's my play if it's checked to me, do I suddenly for the first time in the hand do something and donk or do I check raise the field? Can I possibly?

They will never see it coming. Of course I go for the glory.

And the fricken nit checked. My visions of another rack going into the pot are crushed. I'm somehow devastated while winning a 33 big bet pot.

(three seconds later) OK, I'm fine now, the pain is gone.

Stuart flips over some hand with an ace in it and before anymore hands are exposed I say "you guys are not gonna believe this" and turn my hand over. All hell breaks loose on 6th street. There are spectators I hadn't noticed. Everyone thinks I'm nuts. Louie is shooting daggers at me (on about 8th street he said he had a set of 9's). I break training and tell Louie the math was right. He grabs the A93 still on the felt and says "This was the flop" and later says "the math was right?" WTK backs me up, "it may have been".

Vernon says "it must be nice to be you" I reply "yes, in many ways"

The chatter continues, I have nothing to say, and just stack chips

For a long time.

By the time I'm done, Louie is gone. He really couldn't take it anymore.