KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the month “January, 2018”

We All Make Mistakes

“We all make mistakes – especially at home.”

I found these words at the Daily Stoic, in an article about Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher who became Emperor of Rome from 161-180, then broke with tradition in selecting his incapable son as his successor rather than a proven leader.

Ironic, isn’t it?

It was Marcus Aurelius who said this:

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. … I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him.”

Marcus taught us to approach our fellow humans as kinsmen –  think of everybody as a brother, sister, cousin, etc. – to be loved and not hated, despite the flaws of being busybodies, arrogant, deceitful, envious, or unsocial.  His point is that people are flawed, flaws are part and parcel of the human condition, thus we should expend extra effort to condition ourselves not to overreact.

Poker is a competitive game involving incomplete information.  Even in games like chess where nothing is hidden, there will be mistakes.  In poker, less information leads to more mistakes.  The same is true in many other activities – investing, relationships, negotiating, weather forecasting…

We all make mistakes.  The Stoics acknowledged that, and developed their school of philosophy around forgiveness – of themselves and of others.  We cannot control others in a manner that prevents mistakes, bad attitudes, negative emotions, poor judgment or devious conduct.  We cannot expect to conduct ourselves to be mistake-free.  The Stoics reasoned that we must work at controlling how we react when these inevitable things happen all around us.  Otherwise, every one of our days is surely to be ruined.

Two millennia later, Marcus Aurelius’ words ring as true as ever.

I’m re-reading The Mental Game of Poker, by Jared Tendler, which is an excellent book.  Tendler offers strategies for letting go of mistakes – whether made by yourself or other players who end up winning despite their errors – that put us on tilt, which further blocks the brain from making correct decisions.  Among other strategies, Tendler advocates writing as a tool for working through aspect of your “mental game.”  Here I am.

I have made many mistakes.  I continue to make mistakes.  I will make many more mistakes.  Poker mistakes cost me money.  Other mistakes cost me in other ways.  I own my mistakes, and they are the experiences from which I can learn the most.  I hope I can learn, and also forgive.

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Molly’s Game

In case you haven’t been paying attention, a new poker movie is out:  Molly’s Game.  This is probably the most significant and best poker movie since Rounders.

I saw it over the weekend, after reading the memoir by the same name earlier in the week.

Based on a true story, Molly’s Game chronicles the exploits of Molly Bloom, older sister of world champion moguls skier Jeremy Bloom and herself once a member of the U.S. national ski team, through her rise, fall, rise again and fall again in creating the world’s highest stakes and most exclusive private poker games.

It isn’t necessary to have read the book first, but I’m glad I did.  Some of the characters in the movie – most notably Tobey Maguire – are Hollywood A-listers whose real identities are masked in the movie, even though the book names all of the names.

I highly recommend Molly’s Game to all my poker playing friends.  It’s a compelling story, credibly presented.  If you’re expecting the movie to be all and only about poker, you might be disappointed.  It’s about Molly Bloom (skillfully portrayed by Jessica Chastain) but there are plenty of poker scenes and other scenes about the allure and pitfalls of the game to qualify Molly’s Game as an excellent poker movie that should be watched and re-watched for a very long time.

I’m not doing a full movie review, so here are links to a review of the movie at Rob’s Vegas Poker Blog and an interview of the movie’s poker consultant by Robbie Strazinski at Card Player Lifestyle.  And the official movie trailer:

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Tilting in My Favor

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on February 24, 2017 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

I don’t like getting bluffed and hate it when the villain shows the bluff.  But that’s what happened on Monday at the Maryland Live poker room, which led to a chain reaction much like dominoes falling on each other.

I was grinding away at a $2/5 no limit hold’em cash game, with about $685 in my stack.  My cards are like the waves on a calm day at the beach, holding very little promise as over and over the fold themselves gently and invisibly into the shore.  On the horizon there appears the makings of a big one, or perhaps it’s just a mirage made worse by the sting a drop of sunscreen rolling down my forehead into one eye.  How long can I watch the waves and resist the urge to play in them?  How many hands can fold without wading at least ankle deep into the action?

With KQo, I wander to the edge of the waves to have a closer look.  The player UTG posts a $10 straddle.  This is the first domino; when it falls, the stakes for this hand rise.  Better cards, higher stakes, bigger waves.  Two players call, including a very loose, aggressive Asian player.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Jun.”  I raise to $45.  Without the straddle, I would only raise to $30 here.  If the only thing that happens is everybody folds, I’ll be happy to take the $37 in the pot (rake-free), tip the dealer and move on.  If I get called or re-raised, we’ll play poker.

The straddler calls, and Jun also calls.  Second domino.

Flop ($140):  622 rainbow.  This is a good flop for a continuation bet bluff.  As the pre-flop raiser, my range is uncapped.  I can have AA, KK, QQ, etc.  They cannot, and are much more likely to have hands like AQ, AJ, AT, suited connectors and gappers, and pocket pairs TT & under.  Without going through detailed range construction and combinatorics, I know this flop misses most of their ranges, and that I can represent a big pair with a confident continuation bet.  They both check and I bet $100, which is designed to say “Guys, I’ve got this!”  Third domino.  The straddler folds, but Jun calls. Fourth domino.

Now I think he is more likely to have any pocket pair, a pair of 6’s (A6, 76s, 65s), or two high cards.

Turn ($340):  3.  This should be a good card for me if I want to continue barreling, representing that I have a big pair.  With my image as a tight-ish, middle-aged white guy, another strong bet would look somewhat like turning a big pair face up.  But this time Jun leads out with a bet of $125.  Fifth domino.

Huh?

The size of his bet and the action of calling the flop then leading into the aggressor make no sense whatsoever.

I have a little bit of history with Jun.  The first hand I ever played with him, a few days earlier, I had 77 and the flop was 722.  Yahtzee!  I called Jun’s flop bet and checked back on the turn.  When a river K came out, he shoved all-in, and looked quite surprised when I snap-called and flipped over a full house. Since then I’ve noted him to be an action player, raising and calling a lot pre-flop (but not many re-raises), and a willingness to make big bluffs post-flop.  Despite my first impression, he isn’t a total maniac and seems wary when involved in hands with me after the initial ambush.

Back to our hand.  Jun’s bet of $125 into a pot of $340, leading into the aggressor, makes no sense.  It feels like the “post oak bluff” described by Doyle Brunson in Super System, where a small bet appears to be begging for a call, which must indicate strength, which makes the bluff successful.  What can he really have that would limp/call pre-flop, check/call the flop, and now decide to lead out?  I’m tempted to raise to around $350-375, although this would be a total naked bluff.  All I have is King-high.  And no draws.  Heck, I can’t even beat Ace-high.  I’ve seen Jun make some pretty light calls.  Players like him who bluff a lot tend to assume that other players also bluff a lot and will pay off a lot of strong value hands.  Do I really want to get into a dick measuring contest when I don’t have a good read, just a nebulous feel?

No.

So I fold.  Sixth domino.  It gets weird when a player not involved in the hand remarks that Jun flashed his cards to the player sitting between Jun and himself (which I’d seen Jun do on other occasions prior to mucking) and asks if he can see them also.  Jun denies that he flashed his cards and then somebody asks the player in between if he saw Jun’s cards – which are face down on the table but not mixed into the muck pile yet.  This puts an innocent guy on the spot.  A lot of players would tell a white lie, denying that they saw Jun’s cards, rationalizing that the player asking to see his hand is slowing down the game and has no business demanding extra information when he wasn’t involved in the action.  The white lie is “for the good of the game.”  Other players are just straightforward and honest.  “Did you see that?”  “Yes, I did.”  And that’s what happened here.  After some protest from Jun, the dealer turns over Jun’s cards for everyone at the table to see… Jack-Ten offsuit.  Seventh domino.

WTF!  My read and instincts were spot on, but Jun’s inexplicable float / smallish bet bluff on the turn somehow worked, since I had no showdown value or backup equity.

Had I raised on the turn, Jun must fold.  I would win the pot and my stack would have grown to approximately $1,000.

That’s when I tilted.  It took seven dominoes, but the last one – showing the bluff more than the bluff itself – got to me.  I wasn’t the one asking to see Jun’s hand, and didn’t want to see it.  If he bluffed me, congratulations.  Seeing it, however, put me on a tilt.  Not a full-blown demolition tilt where I’m determined to lose the rest of my chips as fast as possible, but more like a goddammit-I’m-gonna-play-more-junk-because-it-seems-to-work-for-these-other-clowns tilt.

Which leads to the very next hand.  This time, Jun raises to $20 and I’m in middle position with 5s 2s.  This is an easy fold, a tiny wave that barely makes a sound as it disappears into the sand.  So I call.  Eighth domino. There are at least 4-5 players still to act who could re-raise.

If anyone other than Jun was the raiser, I would have folded.  The button also calls as does the big blind.  Does anything good ever happen here?

Flop ($80): As 4s 8h.  Good news:  I pick up a flush draw and wheel draw.  Bad news:  I’m going to put more money in the pot with 5-high, and my flush – if it comes – would get destroyed by any other flushes.  But we’re playing poker, so let’s play.  Jun makes a continuation bet of $45.  Since I’m not on full-blown demolition tilt, I resist the urge to raise or jam here and just call and the button also calls, then the BB folds.  Jun’s range is really wide, and the button could have a better flush draw or an Ace (probably not with K as kicker, which usually would re-raise pre-flop on the button).  With the potential draws, I would expect the button to raise with any 2-pair plus hand.

Turn ($205): 9h.  Now there is a heart draw, making one of my straight outs (3h) suspect as it could give somebody else a backdoor flush as hands like Ah Qh, Ah Jh, Ah Th could be in either Jun’s or the button’s ranges.  Jun is first and checks.  With this drawy board, he would bet again with a strong value hand, or any pair + flush draw.  The action is on me.  On goddammit-tilt, with cards I would normally fold pre-flop, it’s time to make some waves again.  I bet $125.  Ninth domino.  In hindsight, I think this should have been more like $160-175 as I really don’t want any callers.

While I’m sneaking a peek at Jun to see if he signals whether he will fold, the button raises to $275.  10th domino.  Holy oversight, Batman!  After a short acting job, Jun folds.  I better assign this guy on the button a “for purposes of this blog” nickname, so from here on I’ll call him “Robin.”

Now there is $605 in the pot and it will cost me $150 to call, with an additional $200 behind.  Robin’s raise sizing begs for a call.  This – in addition to my other reads on him – tells me he isn’t on a flush draw.  Raising with a draw on the turn isn’t his style.  Despite not raising on the flop, Robin has to have a 2-pair plus type of hand and I can’t expect him to ever fold if I jam.  A9, A8, A4s, 88, 44 are all possible, along with the occasional 98.  A9 makes the most sense, improving from a call-strength hand on the flop to a raise-strength hand on the turn.  Any spade that pairs the board makes me a flush but might also make Robin a full house.  So I have seven clean flush outs.  Unless he has exactly Ah 8h, it also means he does not have a heart draw either, so all of the 3’s that make me a straight should be clean outs.  If the 3c or 3d comes, my straight will be well concealed and I’m likely to get paid on a river shove.  I don’t know if he will pay off a flush.

The math is this:  $150 to call with $605 in the pot, and $200 more behind.  My equity needs to be at least 150 / (150 + 605), or 19.9% or better to justify a call.

With 10 outs, my equity should be a little over 22%.  After the fact, putting this range into my handy-dandy Poker Cruncher app (A9, A8, A4s, 88, 44, 98), I come up with equity of 23.9%, so calling is correct.  I didn’t include 99 in his range, but he might have that too.

        

Somewhere I think there is a quote that says math is for people who are bad at poker.  I can’t find it right now, but feel like I’m playing some really bad poker.  While calling $150 more is mathematically correct, I’m not happy about this at all.  Let’s review why.  On the previous hand I lost $145 when I got bluffed.  Had I re-bluffed, which I seriously considered, I would have gained over $300.  The bluffer, Jun, was forced to show his bluff – not by me, but by another player who wasn’t even involved in the hand.  This put me on tilt.

Now I have garbage that I should fold pre-flop without a second thought, but called in the unrealistic hope that I might spring some kind of trap on Jun.  I flopped a combo draw, bluffed at the turn card only to get raised, and I’m about to put $150 more, for a total of $340 into this pot, with 5-high and a combo draw, while the target of my ire is now just a spectator.  The distance between what my stack could have been after the previous hand and what my stack is probably going to be after this hand is $800.

Why am I here?  What am I doing?  When are we going to have fun?

I call.  11th domino.

River ($755):  3s.  Holy Magic Lantern, Batman!  And cue the Heavenly Choir.  It’s like the 12th domino is spring-loaded, and snaps back to flip all the other dominoes upright again.

Now I know why I am here!  I know what I am doing.  I’m having fun, right freaking now!

I shove my last $200, and Robin says “Well if you have a flush, good for you” and calls, showing a set of 8’s.

My stack is now approx. $1150… $150 more than it would have been if I had followed my read on the previous hand, which would have led to folding this one.

As a side note (yes, I know this post is rather long), this poker room was paying high hand bonuses all month every day other than Friday’s and today (President’s Day).  Any other day and my straight flush would have brought me an additional $525 windfall.  Not bitchin’ just sayin’.

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Poker Goals for 2018

Have you set any poker goals for 2018?  If so, leave them in the comments box below.

Here are mine:

  • Win more
  • Tilt less
  • Quit playing online
  • Study persistently
  • Move up
  • Write pithier blog posts

At first glance, these seem pretty obvious, and also lacking in specificity.  Kind of like “lose weight” and “be nicer.”  Then again, almost everyone could stand to be nicer, and quite many should lose weight.

At least it’s a start.  I’ll try to elaborate, as if elaboration equals causation, propelling me towards these goals like a SpaceX rocket crossing the sky, generating wondrous admiration from those who know it’s a SpaceX rocket and frightened stares from gullible onlookers who rush to their favorite conspiracy theory laden websites to learn about this latest UFO.

Win more –> in 2017, I won at poker at an average rate of approximately 11 big blinds per hour.  For 2018, let’s up this to 13 big blinds per hour, almost a 20% increase.  There.  Now we have a goal that has a finite time frame (2018) and is easily measured as long as I keep good records.  Ever since I started my adult working life as a staff auditor with a huge CPA firm, I’ve been decent enough at keeping records.  They explained the Golden Rule of Accounting:  “If your debits don’t equal your credits, your ass sets in jail.”  It’s good to know this.

Tilt less –> I’m not sure how to measure this one, and if I achieve the first goal, who cares anyway?  I guess I’ll have to think about it some more and get back to you later… I do know this:  Tilt is vicious.  Sometimes you are the boiling frog.  In this parable, the frog placed in tepid water that is slowly brought to a boil doesn’t perceive the danger and gets cooked to death.  At the poker table, sometimes the greatest threats to emotional stability arise so gradually that you are unwilling or unable to act until it is too late.  Everything is fine, a series of events, each individually non-tilting, occur one after the other like a broken icicles, dislodged pebbles, a crack in a shelf of ice under shallow snow, and a quick wind gust that join forces to push small, then larger volumes of rumbling snow that by the time it’s recognizable as an avalanche your patience and discipline is turned upside down and sideways until, like the skier, or the boiling frog, you are dead without even knowing you were dying.

Other times, tilt is swift and sudden, as when Narcissus arrives, shows the bluff, and makes a point of rubbing salt in the wound.  Or Nemesis arrives, and soon makes a horrible snap-call only to be saved by a one- or two-outer on the river to join your chips onto his stack.

Quit playing online –> This should be easy, as 2017 ended poorly with respect to my online poker account.  Poorly as in poor, as in no money left in the account.  I don’t like re-loading, which feels like putting a wad of money into a slingshot and flinging it into a black hole from whence it will never return.  It’s ironic, actually, that I feel this way about online poker, as 2017 was my most profitable year in at least five years.  I made no deposits, but did withdraw a 4-figure sum.  It was all downhill after that (queue avalanche analogy again), so you might say I reached a good stopping point.

Now I’m working on a strategy of tricking myself into believing this is good news, a benefit of sorts, perhaps like a colon cleansing. I feel lighter already, free of the burden of constant activity in the large intestine of online poker with its meandering path designed to turn whatever it receives into a pile of shit.  Now that I’m clean, I must permanently improve my diet.  Perhaps the time not spent in the micro-stakes bowels of Ignition Poker can be redirected into…

Study persistently –> Sure, I’ll study poker for an hour every day, just like I go to the gym and work out for an hour every day.  Except I don’t.  Historically, I don’t approach these with the persistency that defines the best habits.  I want to.  I should.  Laying in bed in the mornings, awake but enjoying the warmth  of the covers, I have amazing resolve and self-control over the rest of my day.  My intentions are good.  Until I have to get up and pee, that is, and it all goes downhill after that.

Yogi Bhajan was a Pakistani born spiritual leader and entrepreneur who introduced “yoga of awareness” in the U.S. and became the spiritual director of the 3HO Foundation.  One of the yogi’s most famous quotations is:  “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.”

Following that train of spiritual thought, I should find someone to let me teach them how to become a better poker player.  [Hint, hint, volunteers please get in touch, just don’t call me Yogi.]  In the process of organizing and delivering a poker curriculum, I should expect to reap as many benefits as my student(s).  Which means that out of self-interest, I should be willing to offer poker coaching at very little charge.  Can greater persistency in my own study come from teaching?

Move up –> Molly’s Game never called, and I would have disappointed her anyway.  In 2017, I played almost exclusively small stakes, no limit Texas hold’em, at levels ranging from blinds of $1/1 to $2/5, in these proportions:

  • Blinds of $1/1 — 28%
  • Blinds of $1/2 — 33%
  • Blinds of $1/3 — 6%
  • Blinds of $2/5 — 33%

On a weighted average basis, that would be blinds of $1.33/2.78, give or take a penny.  In part, this reflects the fact that I live in a city with no casinos, so most of my action is in private home or house games, including some very friendly games I frequent regularly.  In those games, the stakes tend to be lower, whereas there is much more action available at higher stakes on trips to casinos in Maryland, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Florida, and elsewhere.  Moving up will require venturing into more hostile territory in my local scene, and playing at the grownup tables when I travel.  Perhaps a reasonable goal for 2018 would be weighted average big blinds of $4.00 by year’s end.

Write pithier blog posts –> Y’all be the judge.

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