KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Zone Poker

Sorry I haven’t been blogging much lately.  Playing a ton of “Zone Poker” on Bovada – mostly at $0.10 – 0.25 no limit Hold’em, which is the highest level at which Zone Poker is available.

Note:  Zone Poker is Bovada’s version of Full Tilt’s “Rush Poker,” where you get a FOLD NOW button and upon clicking it you are moved immediately to a new table with new players and another hand begins.  No boredom watching others play before getting into another hand.

Here is my results update:

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,805)

Month-to-date online results:  + $272

Better, but still a ways to go!

Zone Poker is quite interesting.  The speed is amazing, with probably 200+ hands per hour.  Combined with the anonymity of Bovada’s general format, it takes that aspect to its ultimate level.  Not only are the other players anonymous, but you aren’t playing with the same Seat 1, Seat 2, etc. on each hand.  Instead, a new and random group of anonymous players sits together for exactly one hand, then disburses.  Player tracking is impossible, other than paying attention to a few in the player pool who have accumulated very large stack and are recognizable by their stack sizes (albeit this also changes quickly).

So what is the best way to play?

Is bluffing ever a good idea?

How do you develop a meaningful range for each opponent?

How do you interpret their actions?

Are bet sizing or timing tells useful at all?

Will it help me become a better player at live games (especially cash games)?

Is it addictive?

Maybe time and reflection will yield some insights…

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Daily Debacle – What Not to Play

One of my daughter’s favorite TV shows is TLC’s “What Not to Wear.”  In this makeover reality show, participants are nominated by friends (?), co-workers or relatives to participate in a fashion makeover, but only after being thoroughly humiliated for their bad taste in clothing.

The poker equivalent would be my very own “What Not to Play.”  Let me explain…

Bovada online poker recently introduced “Zone Poker,” a super-fast paced game of No Limit Hold’em.  When you hit the fold button, you are immediately moved to a new table and another hand begins.  A copycat of Full Tilt’s “Rush Poker,” this format increases the number of hands played per hour by a factor of at least 3-4x.

Because you can fold and move to another table right away, it is much easier to simply fold in sticky situations or coin flips and wait for more favorable betting situation.  And because Bovada poker is 100% anonymous, there is no player tracking or stats possible.  On occasion you can recognize a few other players based on their stack sizes – typically those with very large stacks.  Otherwise, you don’t really know if the players at your table include any of the players from the previous hand, or not.

After playing with this for a couple of weeks, I’ve reached a few basic conclusions.  (Alright, some of you might have reached these same or even smarter conclusions much faster… I don’t care!)

Note that virtually all of the play in Zone Poker is at the 6-max tables, and currently Zone Poker is only available at the micro stakes, but it will be introduced at higher levels eventually.

First of all, there is no meta-game to play.  Being caught in a bluff is not likely to get you paid off in a later hand.  Players cannot recall if you are loose or tight, or always check-raise with good draws when out of position.  Staking out a certain image in order to capitalize on it later in the session is a waste of time (“WOT”).

Bluffing works some of the time but not all the time.  If getting caught in too many bluffs causes you to tilt, just don’t.  Some of the big stacks do try to run over the table, but that style has not worked for me.

Position is critical.  Playing speculative hands from the blinds – typically justified based on pot-odds, being “priced in” to the hand or not having to worry about a raise from additional players still to act pre-flop, is a tremendous spew of chips.  (See this prior post for more on playing speculative hands OOP.)  By speculative hands, I mean those where a “good” flop results in a draw more often than a made hand.  For example, suited connectors, suited one-gappers and suited aces frequently (about 10-11% of the time) lead to a flush draw.  Other connectors and gappers often lead to straight draws – more often a gutshot than an open-ender.  So now you are out of position, not sure what the other guys have or plan to do, and have to decide between leading out, check-raising, check-calling or check-folding.  I’ve noticed a lot of check-raise all-in bets getting called when the pre-flop aggressor has top pair or an over-pair, and even the best draws are going to miss most of the time.

Too much variance for me to play these aggressively, too spewy to play these passively.

Also not to play are the weaker unpaired Broadway cards, especially out of position.  JTs, KT, KJ, QTs can get in a lot of bad spots against overpairs or higher kickers.  Against an under-the-gun raiser, I might even fold KQ on the button.  I want to know where I stand, and these hands make it really tough.

3-betting pre-flop is fine with the biggest hands, but no one is tracking your 3-bet percentage.  Again, no meta game advantage to be gained.  I’ve quit 3-betting a lot of hands, such as AK and also cut way back on 3-betting to protect my blinds against button open-raises.  (Side note here:  Annie Duke wrote an excellent poker strategy book called “Decide to Play Great Poker.”  She says many players worry too much about defending their blinds.  I’m not sure the exact quote but basically she says Let the Dick Measurers Measure Dicks!  Yikes, that’s one tough lady!)  In Zone Poker you don’t have the same guy on your right constantly attacking your blinds, so there is nothing gained by sending a message.  If you think you have the best hand, bet.  Otherwise, move on to another table.

By 3-betting less, the stack-to-pot ratio is larger and so are the implied odds.  I have less invested in the hand, so I can fold on a sticky flop situation without feeling like I’m making a big write-off.  For hands that need good implied odds, such as set-mining with medium pocket pairs, this helps.  Of course, I’ll still open-raise with many of these in an unopened pot, but rarely 3-bet.

Calling from good position with speculative hands is OK some of the time, but generally should be limited to the button and multi-way pots.  I’ll over limp with suited connectors on the button, and sometimes call a raise if there is already one caller.  Otherwise, what the hell am I doing in the hand with 97s when I can start another hand in less than 5 seconds?  And God forbid, what am I going to do if the pre-flop raiser checks on a flop like Q-7-3 and I have 9-7s?  Seems like every time that happens and I bet, the guy has flopped top set and is trapping.  Since folding pre-flop on the button is FREE, let’s take advantage.

The end result of all this is a style of very tight / aggressive ABC poker.  Play good cards, especially when there is no prior action, play big hands aggressively, stay out of trouble.  Tricky, trappy play rarely makes sense, other than a basic check-raise when out of position against a pre-flop aggressor.

Paradoxically, many of the players in this game – remember this is only at the micro-stakes for now – are the most dis-believing of your straightforward play.  A little while ago, I called a pre-flop raiser in position with 66 and hit a set on the flop.  I called on the flop then raised all-in on the turn noting there were 2 suited cards on the board.  Sensing a flush draw, the villain called with top pair (Q’s) and a 9 for his kicker.  Really.  Q-9s calls an all-in turn bet on a Q-high board.

Easy game.  (or perhaps not as the remainder of this post wlll illustrate all too well…)

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,958)

Month-to-date online results:  + $119

Daily Debacle – Straddle Battles

I just returned from a road trip that included a stop at the Hollywood Park Casino at Charles Town Races, in Charles Town, WV.  It was my first time there, although I’ve been on several trips to the Mardi Gras Casino in Charleston, WV.

(Yes, the great State of West Virginia has a city named “Charleston” and another city named “Charles Town.”  What were they thinking, other than Charles was in charge back when cities were named.  But I digress…)

Hollywood Park is just over 1 hour outside of Washington DC, and much larger and glitzier than Mardi Gras.  And the poker games are bigger and tougher, with many good players from the DC area.

I played $2/5 NL hold’em, and there were frequent straddles from the under-the-gun (UTG) position.  Apparently they only allow straddles from UTG as there were no button straddles or straddles from any other position.  There is no limit on the straddle amount.

(For the uninitiated, a “straddle” is essentially a third blind bet, equal to 2x the big blind [or more], posted by the UTG player before looking at his cards.  In exchange for this, said player acts last in the pre-flop betting rather than first.  The straddle counts as a bet, so the minimum to see the flop goes up, and frequently the first pre-flop raise is also larger to account for the larger total of the blinds.)

After awhile, I was playing with a fairly short stack and extremely tight.  Too tight, actually (another post to come about that).  On one hand, the big stack in seat 3 posted a $10 straddle, seat 6 raised to $30, and I am in seat 7 holding 6c 6s.  I really should call here to try to hit a set.  But my stack is between $200 – 250.  I know the “rule of 10” says you should not go “set-mining” unless it is possible to win at least 10x the amount you have to call.  I have less than that, a function of my own refusal to put some more $$ on the table after seeing my starting stack dwindle.  Had there been no straddle here, the opening raise probably would have been $20 or $25 and I would be more likely to call.

This was surely the nittiest fold I made the whole session.  But I folded.  I’m likely to miss the flop, see multiple overcards, and have to fold then.  There goes another $30 out of an already too small stack.  Plus, there are still 6 players left to act (the game is 10-handed) and a re-raise would force me to fold without seeing the flop.

Two other players call, including the straddler.

The flop was Jh 6h 9h.  I would have flopped a set of 6’s on a monochrome board.  All players check and the turn is the 9c.  Full house for me, had I stayed!

Inside I’m crying.  Why me?  Why can’t I play with more confidence?  Why don’t I have a bigger bankroll, so I can mix it up more without fear?  Why didn’t my earlier medium pocket pairs fill up?  Why am I here (i.e., on this planet Earth)?  Why am I thinking such existentialist thoughts at a poker game?  Why do the bigger stacks keep winning and not me?

Everybody checks again.  The river is a blank – does not pair the board nor is it another heart.  The straddler now bets $55 and everybody folds.  He shows Ah Qh for a flopped nut flush, then throws his cards into the muck in disgust that he never got any action trying to slow play his big hand.

To quote from B.B. King’s famous song,

I’m gonna go some place else
And cry these tears all by myself
I ain’t got nothing left to lose
Don’t look now ‘cos I’ve got the blues

A little later, a new player (“Carl”)  joins the table, in seat 9 (i.e., two seats to my left).  His first time UTG he posts a $20 straddle and makes it clear that he likes posting “crazy straddles.”  He straddles every time the opportunity comes (and generally plays a crazy / unpredictable / large bet / garbage cards / I’m here to gamble — win or lose style of poker.  Eventually his straddles increase to $50 and then to $75.  He clearly does not care about the money or traditional poker strategies.

Meanwhile, my stack gets back over $300, then down again and now I’m at $180.  On my small blind hand, Crazy Carl posts a $75 straddle.  Everybody folds to me and I have Ah 2h.  Against a random hand, which is all I can assign to Carl since he hasn’t even looked at his cards, I am a 57.4% favorite.  Good, but not great.  Still, I like my chances, it’s very late and I’m running out of patience.  I shove.

Another guide here would be the “Sklansky-Chubukov Rankings.”  [See http://www.pokerstrategy.com/strategy/sss/1097/1/ for more information about the theory involved here.]  Developed by noted poker strategist/author David Sklansky and UC Berkeley game theorist Victor Chubukov, the rankings show the maximum bet that would show a profit over time from the small blind v. the big blind.  In other words, you can always shove and have a positive expected value if your stack is lower than the S-C number the corresponds to your starting cards.  After doing the necessary math, the S-C number says I can shove profitably with $545 or less in my stack.  My shove is mathematically justified.

The big blind quickly folds and Crazy Carl quickly calls, turning over a pair of 3’s.  Already a bit unlucky for me as I’m behind and one of my cards is lower than his pair.  Pocket 3’s is still slightly weaker than A-2s against a random hand, but stronger heads up.  According to one chart for heads-up play, A-2s is at the 24th percentile of strength and 3-3 is at the 35th percentile.  Both of us have top 40% hands.  Heads up, he is now a 65% favorite.

The flop is Th 7d 7h.  I pick up a flush draw, and any Ace also wins for me.  The turn is an off-suit 6, then the river completes my flush.  Such a beautiful shape, a heart with its red color and luscious curves.  I’m feeling the love already.

But wait a minute!!!  It’s the 3 of hearts, and while that makes a flush for me, it also makes a full house for Crazy Carl.  WTF?  How is it that a straddler gets to make a full house after being stupid enough to make a $75 blind bet?

I’m busted now, it’s nearly 3:00 a.m.  I stumble back to my hotel room, sleep (if you can call it that) for about 4 hours, then start the 5.5 hour drive home.  Tired, poor and pissed off.

More questions.  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why didn’t I call with pocket 6’s?  Why didn’t I fold to a $75 blind straddle?  Why do I love this game so much?  Why do I hate this game so much?

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,945)

Month-to-date online results:  + $133

Daily Debacle – Poker After Dark

Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately.  Running so bad, I don’t know where to start.  River suck-outs, missed draws, villains hitting draws, failed bluffs, villains executing bluffs, folding then watching my dream card appear on the next street, bad hero calls, mini-tilt, full-raging TILT, all of the above and more.

The last few weeks have been maddening.

I also noticed my live cash game results were fairly good this year, whereas my online cash game results totally suck.  Why is that?

Then I played in a live cash game about a week ago – the impromptu kind that starts after a few players bust out of a tournament – for $0.25 / 0.50 NL hold’em.  Everything went right for a change, and I won $140 in less than an hour, breaking up the game when I stacked off two other players at once on the last hand.  (Note:  the other players played terribly in this game, but I’ll take the win no matter how it happens.)

So I was thinking about the differences between live v. online cash game play.  More bluffing online, for sure (myself included).  Also I seem to be able to make bigger laydowns live.  Something about seeing the villain’s face helps me accept the fact that I’m beat – or maybe I just don’t want to see him gloat when he scoops up a huge pot.  Also I seem to pay off fewer times when a villain hits a draw (especially flushes).

Then a few nights ago I was watching some “Poker After Dark” re-runs on YouTube.  Notice what happens starting at the 22 minute mark.

Ilari Sahamies raises pre-flop with As 9s and gets three callers.  The flop is 6h 5c 9h. Howard Lederer is holding Jh 8h and check-raises all-in over Sahamie’s continuation bet (he actually has top pair / top kicker) with a combo draw and Phil Ivey still live in the hand.  Lederer’s shove is more than 2x the pot size.  He has a flush draw (9 outs), a gutshot straight draw (3 more outs) and an overcard to Sahamies’ top pair (3 more outs).

After Ivey folds, the graphic shows Lederer as a 54% favorite to win the hand.  But at the moment, he’s behind, with only J-high.

Does he want a call?  Does he want a fold?  Is he indifferent here?

Sahamies folds, and Lederer wins a respectable pot for a net gain of 17 big blinds.

Of course the problem with combo draws like this is that chasing is expensive, especially out of position as Lederer is here.  For the turn card only, the odds about about 2.3-to-1 against Lederer improving.  It would cost him 9 BB’s to call and find out.  If he misses and checks again on the turn, he probably faces another barrel from Sahamies, AND makes it easier for his villain to read his hand as a draw, thus he can deny Lederer any implied odds by folding if a 3rd heart or a 7 appears on the river, followed by an aggressive bet by Lederer.

Getting it all in on the flop gives Lederer the best chance of winning.  He puts so much pressure on Ivey (who also has top pair and a gutshot draw) and Sahamies (“it’s only one pair!) that he wins the pot right away.  Even if he gets called, he’s still a slight favorite, making this a win-win play and avoiding a potentially very tough decision on the turn.

I’ve been too timid in these situations, especially in my online play, and especially when out of position.

Bad, very bad.  Let’s see if I can fix that.  The short-term variance might be a bit larger, but the long-term results should pay off.

Year-to-date online results:  (- $2,067)

Month-to-date online results:  + $11

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