KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the category “Bad beats”

Variance is a Bitch

In poker, variance is a bitch.

But she’s our bitch, so try not to be mad at her.

In a cash game yesterday, I find myself in a 3-way all-in pot after the turn card.  There was $390 in the pot after the flop betting and the turn card gave me a flush draw along with an open-ended straight draw.  The action checked around to me and I shoved my last $260, hoping everyone would fold and knowing I had a lot of backup outs.  One player called with two pair, another re-shoved with the bottom end of a straight and the first player called again.  From a strictly EV (expected value) standpoint, this was a profitable play with two callers, as my final bet was 22.2% of the total pot and I have 27.4% equity in the hand.  From a math standpoint, my EV is $321 (final pot size of $1,160 x 27.4%).  The river misses, and my actual result is zero.

Later in the same game, another all-in ensues, this time heads up on the flop.  The pot is around $1,100 again and this time I’m ahead with top two pair, and the villain big combo draw.  He hits one of them right away on the turn and wins the pot.  This time my EV is $684 (final pot size of $1,100 x 62.2%).  My actual result, again, is zero.

On these two hands combined, my EV was just over $1,000.  Instead, nyet!  I buy-in again, and before too long my pocket aces are cracked by a set of sevens (by the same guy who flopped a set of eights v. my pocket jacks much earlier).  Time to go home.

Such is the nature of variance.  The actual result is always an all-or-nothing proposition.  The expected result is the average that should occur if the same scenario were to be replayed a million times.  Being a favorite doesn’t guarantee being a winner.

Over the long haul, if you are on the right side of the 60/40’s and 70/30’s more often than not, variance will be your friend, despite tormenting you often along the way.

In the short run, this was simply a day of being on the wrong side once (insofar as very large pots is concerned) and being on the right side once, but missing both sides.  Yes, the coin toss can come up heads twice in a row even though I always guess tails.

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The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect, a phrase coined by American mathematician Edward Lorenz (an early pioneer in the field of chaos theory) is a concept that states that “small causes can have larger effects.”

From Wikipedia:  “The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. The butterfly does not power or directly create the tornado, but the term is intended to imply that the flap of the butterfly’s wings can cause the tornado: in the sense that the flap of the wings is a part of the initial conditions; one set of conditions leads to a tornado while the other set of conditions doesn’t. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which cascades to large-scale alterations of events (compare: domino effect). Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different—but it’s also equally possible that the set of conditions without the butterfly flapping its wings is the set that leads to a tornado.”

It is a popular metaphor in science writing, in describing how sensitivity to some set of initial conditions can have a very large impact on some later state of things.

Last night a butterfly flapped its dainty wings at the poker table, and the resulting tornado cost me some money.

We were at a private house game.  It’s late.  The host has announced that at the end of the current orbit, he is breaking up the game and sending us all home.  Consequently, the play has loosened up in an already loose poker game, as some of the players want to be sure not to miss out on one last opportunity to smash the flop and recoup some losses or add to their gains.

I’m in the small blind, when the player on the button posts a live straddle of 4 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Chris.”  Chris is not one of those players who always straddles every time he has the button, but this time he does.  I don’t really care whether other players straddle or not; it requires some adjustments and I generally feel confident that I can make these adjustments better than most players.  (Then again, maybe not.)

Anyway, I look down at pocket kings.  There were eight players at the table and I briefly considered just calling the straddle in hopes that one of the seven players to act after me would raise.  If Chris were known to frequently make big raises from the straddle position even with random card strength, as a stealing strategy, I might have done that.  But it seems unwise to risk a cascade of callers, so I raise to 11 BBs.  In hindsight, I could and should make a larger raise and still expect a caller or two.  I don’t want to run off all of my customers with such a strong hand.  Despite Chris’ straddle, 11 BBs is a large opening raise for this game, but I’ll be first to act on all subsequent betting rounds so a multi-way field is not very desirable.

The next player, in the big blind, very quickly calls.  Given the size of my raise and the speed of his call, this indicates strength.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Jeff.”

One other player calls, and Chris also calls, which given his positional advantage post-flop and the great pot odds he is getting (7 BBs to call with 37 BBs already in the pot gives him approx. 5.3-to-1 pot odds), he can call with a very wide range.

The flop is 887.  “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” goes the voice in the back of my head, and I check.  Jeff bets 20 BBs, and consistent with my earlier thoughts when he called my pre-flop bet so quickly, I think his range is dominated by pocket pairs 99-QQ.  One player folds, but Chris calls on the button.  I call as well.  I’m not ready to put all of my chips at risk, but folding at this point would be way too nitty.  For perspective, Chris started the hand with about 95 BBs, Jeff started with around 175 BBs, and I have both of them well covered.

The turn is a 4.  I check again, hoping to keep the pot small.  Jeff bets again, this time 45 BBs.  So much for pot control. Chris pauses briefly, then takes a deep breath and goes all-in for his last 63 BBs.  I would have called Jeff’s bet, and still feel good about my read on him.  Chris, on the other hand, isn’t risking his entire stack with a drawing hand like T9, nor a middling strength hand like A7 or even 99 on this board.  He doesn’t seem afraid of either of us and has no real fold equity here.  Does he think Jeff might fold for 18 more BBs, with 212 BBs now in the pot?  Hardly.  I fold my kings, and Jeff makes a crying call, declaring that he knows he’s never good here unless he hits a 2-outer.

The minor surprise is that Chris doesn’t have an 8 in his hand, but 65, for a turned straight.  This actually gives Jeff 4 outs, as he flips over pocket queens.  Another queen or 8 would make him a full house.  The river misses, however, and Chris scoops up a nice pot.  I silently congratulate myself on sensing danger and releasing my hand, and tell Jeff and Chris what I was holding as I’m pondering the dynamic of what just happened and wondering how I might have played this differently or whether I simply lost the minimum.

After the hand is over, Chris comments about the impact of his straddle, saying that if he had not straddled, the entire hand would have gone down differently.  He might have called whatever action occurred prior to him on the button, but surely with pocket kings in the small blind I would raise enough to make it impossible for him to continue.  Not only that, but with pocket queens in the big blind, Jeff might put in a big re-raise over the top of my bet, especially if he thinks I’m just trying to steal the dead money in the pot.

Not only all of that, but Chris also notes that the only reason he straddled is because the game is about to break up, so this would be his final hand on the button and he straddled just in case he might get a good situation for leveraging his positional advantage.  15 or 30 minutes earlier he would not have straddled.

As played, I was first to act, so my raise communicated enough strength to make Jeff cautious about re-raising with six more players yet to act pre-flop.

It is tempting to describe Chris’ straddle as the flap of the butterfly’s wings that altered this hand.  But it is more subtle than that.  The initial small change in conditions that led to other changes ultimately shifting chips from Jeff’s and my stacks to Chris was the clock, and our host’s need for sleep.  Our host was the butterfly, fluttering his wings by announcing the game would end soon.

Imagine this hand without a button straddle.  There might be multiple limpers or a raise to around 6-8 BBs.  Chris would over-limp, and may or may not call a modest raise.  From the small blind with pocket kings, I’m definitely going to re-raise.  I cannot say for sure how much, as it would depend on the action in front, but it would likely be more than Chris would call with 65.

With Jeff being the big blind, last to act with pocket queens, he and I could have ended up in a pre-flop raising and re-raising war.  That would have turned out good for me.  If we didn’t get all-in pre-flop but were heads up, I would have been more likely to take a bet/bet/bet line post flop.

Alternatively, what if I had just called Chris’ straddle, as I briefly considered, hoping to trap a raiser and subsequent callers?  Another flap of the butterfly’s wings.  Then Jeff likely raises with pocket queens.  I’m not sure how much, but likely more than 11 BBs given that there would already be one caller of the straddle.  When it got back around to me, I would still re-pop it, having the effect of driving Chris out of the pot if Jeff’s raise didn’t already do that.  Again, this scenario is probably very good for me.

Damn butterfly!

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Running Bad Makes Me Mad

The best of times I’ve ever had

Are always followed by running bad;

’tis the curse of the random flop

To see equity so good suddenly drop.

 

Out of position they love to call

With hopes and prayers and mostly gall;

Yet the donkeys get the last laugh

Cutting my chip stack in half.

 

Continuation bets?  They all fail

Silently I suffer and wail;

And wait for the pendulum to swing

To recover from this awful sting.

 

Running bad, it makes me sad

No that’s not it, more like mad;

But must persevere and have more grit

Can I take much more of this shit?

 

There goes another buy-in

And it feels like I’m dyin’;

Not long ago running so good

Beating up the whole neighborhood.

 

When will I get another chance

To celebrate and dance?

Feeling like a shell of my former self

Looking for wisdom on the bookshelf.

 

Uh-oh, here we go again

I flop a big draw, villain flops gin;

The river card fills my flush

And gives him quads!  Now hush.

 

Wrenching emotional pain

In every crevice makes its gain;

Stop I say, don’t turn me into a poet!

I’m not very good and now you know it.

Middle Aged White Guy

I’m a middle aged white guy.  I don’t say that to editorialize… it’s just a fact.  White, male, age range 55-60 (this is a poker blog, so we shouldn’t try to put me on an exact age, just a range).  And very aware of my white male privilege.

Over the weekend, at a private poker game, I shoved all-in on a flop of Q84 rainbow.  What is my range?

To help answer that question, let’s back up a bit.  I started the hand with a stack of 67 BBs, having just lost a healthy chunk with a failed hero call.  The villain in that hand was totally polarized – he either had total air, or the nuts.  Once again, Hashtag: They Always Have It.  Maybe I appeared tilted now.

A couple of hands later, I raise to 5 BBs in middle position, and get four callers.

The flop is Q84 rainbow, and I bet 10 BBs.  This flop is totally dry.  If I’m value betting, I don’t need to worry about  punishing any drawing hands.

The player on my immediate left, who I’ve never played with before, raises to 25 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Ricky.”  Ricky hasn’t been at the table very long, appears to be in his mid-20’s, and works at the Apple store.  Earlier he mentioned that he’s read exactly one poker book in his life, by Daniel Negreanu.  Ricky adores Negreanu.

There is only one hand I fear Ricky having here:  AQ.  With a flopped set of 888’s or 444’s, he would call in hopes of keeping other players in the hand, as there are no threatening draws.  He just flatted pre-flop, so he doesn’t have a set of QQQ’s, or AA or KK.  None of the 2-pair hands fit either… the best of these would be Q8, which is too weak to call my pre-flop raise.  I don’t know if he would flat or 3-bet AQ pre-flop, but this game hasn’t featured much 3-betting by anyone, so I’m inclined to put AQ in his flatting range.

Other possible raising hands would be QJ, JJ or TT, or something like A8.  Or a total bluff / gutshot type of hand.  My less-than-half-pot continuation bet might be interpreted as weak, so he could be raising with a hand weaker than top pair here, which might mean he doesn’t know himself if he’s value betting or bluffing.

After everyone else folds, I come over the top, for 37 BBs more.  Ricky looks surprised and tries to talk out the situation. He mentions my pre-flop raise sizing seemed standard, my C-bet sizing, the number of other players in the hand, etc.  Now I realize he is a thinking player, or at least trying to be one.

But he neglects to note that I’m a middle-aged white guy.  Seriously, forget all of my analysis about his hand and just consider that fact.  What is my range?

Eventually, Ricky calls.  I ask if he has AQ and he says no.  I flip over KQo and he says “Oh, you’re good, I didn’t think you would have that.”

The turn is an ace, and he flips over A8s.  The Dead Man’s Hand holds up to win.  Ricky is gracious, almost apologetic in victory, as he should be having been on the wrong end of an 80/20 equity split when all the chips went in the middle.

I ask him this:  “Why would you not think I could have KQ there?  That was a textbook middle-aged white guy shove, so KQ is the very BOTTOM of my range!”  I try to smile as I say this.  When he has A8 there, I want him to call every time, even knowing that this time, my hand didn’t hold up.  There is no need to lecture or be nasty.

A couple of the players at the far end of the table are laughing at my middle-aged white guy comment.  So true, they are saying, Ricky you should know better.

Author’s note:  The title of this post should be… Revenge of the Middle Aged White Guy.  Unfortunately, poker variance intervened.  Maybe next time…

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

What is tilt anyway?

I ponder this while reflecting on an online poker session last night.  Up a small amount, I was going to close out the session and go to bed early.  But look, there’s pocket tens, let’s just play this hand.

Fast forward and the villain has pocket nines, but hits a 3rd nine on the river.  Now I’m down a small amount – can’t quit there.

The next hand I get AKs.  One caller, who also calls my C-bet then shoves on the turn with the board showing 654-7.

An orbit later, with pocket deuces, I call a pre-flop raise and float his C-bet on a flop of 753 with a flush draw.  His C-bet sizing didn’t convince me that he had much.  A deuce came on the turn giving me bottom set.  He shoves and I snap call to find out he has pocket queens.  Just like the ending of a movie I’ve seen too many times before, the river is a queen.  Burned twice by 2-outers on the river in a span of just a few minutes.

In 20 minutes after deciding to book a small win, I proceed to blast through 180 BBs, recover a little bit, and go to bed an hour after I really wanted.

Tilt can be so sudden and unexpected.  Like road rage.  Looking for understanding, I found this article: The Psychology and Biology of Road Rage, which introduced me to the term “Intermittent Explosive Disorder.”

According to Wikipedia, “Intermittent explosive disorder (sometimes abbreviated as IED) is a behavioral disorder characterized by explosive outbursts of anger and violence, often to the point of rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand (e.g., impulsive screaming triggered by relatively inconsequential events). Impulsive aggression is unpremeditated, and is defined by a disproportionate reaction to any provocation, real or perceived. Some individuals have reported affective changes prior to an outburst (e.g., tension, mood changes, energy changes, etc.).”

The psychological root of this is something called Hostile Attribution Bias, “the belief that every accidental injury  or threat is purposeful, and personal.  People with IED over-personalize every interaction, and then over-react with immediate aggression.”  This is obviously dangerous when it happens to the driver of a car on a busy highway and financially self-destructive when it happens at the poker table.

I’m not prone to road rage and my propensity to tilt isn’t severe enough to classify as a disorder.  But I do tilt, having experienced many of the types of tilt Tommy Angelo describes in his wonderful book Elements of Poker: steaming tilt, simmering tilt, too loose tilt, too tight tilt, too aggressive tilt, too passive tilt, playing too high tilt, playing too long tilt, playing too tired tilt, entitlement tilt, annoyed tilt, injustice tilt, frustration tilt, sloppy tilt, revenge tilt, underfunded tilt, overfunded tilt, shame tilt, distracted tilt, scared tilt, envy tilt, this-is-the-worst-pizza-I’ve-ever-had tilt, I-just-got-showed-a-bluff tilt, I-gotta-get-even tilt, I-only-have-so-much-time-to-lose-this-money tilt and demolition tilt.  Entitlement tilt is my biggest nemesis.  I can handle bad pizza.

On the other hand, I have some friends with tendencies much closer to Intermittent Explosive Disorder when the poker Gods deliver just a few of the 10 plagues of poker injustice upon them.  Dear friends, you know who you are!

Do you have a tilt story to share… put it in the comments section below.

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Tippy-Top of His Range

A couple nights ago, I was playing in a private poker game at a friend’s garage.  It’s a $1/2 NL game, and about an hour in, things are going reasonably well.

On this hand, the villain raised to $15 from early-middle position.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Brian.”  Brian talks a lot and likes action.  While not an overly aggressive bluffer, he likes to see a lot of flops and is more inclined to raise even with hands that aren’t super premiums, so his range here is wider than most.

Two seats to Brian’s left, I look down at AK off-suit.  Ace of diamonds, King of spades.  So my first decision is whether to re-raise or just call in position.  I could really go either way here but decide to re-raise as this should clear out a lot of mediocre hands that people at this game like to play, and better define Brian’s range if he continues.  So I make is $50.

It folds back around to Brian, who says something like “I guess I’ll see a flop with you” that suggests his hand isn’t super strong but had flop possibilities.  After the pre-flop betting, Brian has about $300 more behind and I have him very slightly covered.

Flop ($103):  Kxx ddd.  I don’t remember the cards lower than King, other than both were eight or lower, and all diamonds.  This flop gives me top pair, top kicker, and the nut flush draw with my Ace of diamonds.  I like it!

Brian goes first, and leads out with a $50 bet.

My first thought is that he also has AK, with fits perfectly with his pre-flop play and there are 6 AK combos still available.  In that case, I want to get it all-in as I’d be free rolling with my flush draw.  Since I have the Ace of diamonds and the King of diamonds is on the board, there are very few combos he can have that flopped a flush.  Would he call $50 out-of-position pre-flop with QdJd?  JdTd?  QdTd?  Anything weaker?  Two pair hands are even more unlikely.  KQ?  Perhaps he sometimes calls $50 pre with KQ suited.  Would he have called with KQ offsuit, including the Queen of diamonds (and think the Qd would be good if another diamonds hits on the turn or river)?  The other possibility is sets, which can never be fully discounted.

I decide to shove right now.  In an earlier hand with a different villain, I shoved on the flop over his smallish check-raise and he folded top pair face up.  I’ve been experimenting a little bit recently with less conventional bet sizing, and this seems like another good spot… until Brian snap calls.

Uh-oh.

He flips over exactly Qd Jd.  This is the best possible combo he can have given this flop.  The 2nd nuts, which also reduces the number of outs for me to improve.  The turn and river are not diamonds, and Brian scoops up a $700 pot.

Was shoving a mistake?

From a results oriented view, obviously yes.  Heads up against his exact hand, I have 31.7% equity.  This is not worth risking my entire stack, although calling his flop bet leaves me in no-man’s land when he fires another bet on the turn, setting up a river shove.  Would I be able to fold on either street?

But from a process oriented view, we should give Brian a range when he donk-bets $50 on the flop.  And that range has to account for his pre-flop call of $50 from out-of-position.  I’ll assign this range:  AK, KQ, QdJd, JdTd, Td9d, 9d8d, 8d7d, and middle or bottom sets.  That’s 19 combinations.  Now I would have 61.8% equity.  If we eliminate any of the suited, connecting diamonds from his range, my equity goes up.  If we eliminate any of the KQ hands, my equity goes down.  Looked at this way, shoving isn’t terrible here; it just so happened that Brian was at the tippy-top of his range.

Sigh.

Hashtag: They Always Have It

I just returned from a weekend poker trip to New Orleans.  There were eight guys on this trip, one of whom – for purposes of this blog I’ll refer to him as “Tony” – was celebrating a birthday during the weekend.

Happy Birthday Tony!

We stayed in some fancy digs in the French Quarter, and played a lot of poker at Harrah’s New Orleans casino.  On Saturday, there were a number of interesting hands, all at blinds of $1/3.  Because this poker room allows players to buy-in up to the largest stack on the table, and also lets players straddle $6 from any position, the game plays larger than most $1/3 games, and much larger than most $1/2 games.  Let’s get started.

Hand #1 – Nut Flush on a Paired Board

This was early in my day, so I didn’t have much in the way of player-specific reads.  I have Kd Js on the button, and raise to $15 over a single limper.  I started the hand with approx. $300 and the BB is the main villain and has me covered.  The SB folds, but BB raises to $30.  He could simply be putting me on a wide range trying to leverage my position on the button, and trying to re-steal, but his raise is too small if his goal is to make me fold.  He is a middle aged white guy (like me!) making a barely minimum raise, so I need to give him credit for a strong or very strong hand.  Everyone else folds, and I call.  Heads up, in position, I’m willing to call $15 more with $52 already in the pot.  

Flop ($67):  Ad Jd 2d.  All diamonds.  He checks.  I have the King of diamonds for a nut flush draw, and middle pair.  While I could bet here as a semi-bluff, I actually have some showdown value and decide to take the free card instead.  I’m not sure he will fold any Ace to a bet.  I check.  

Turn ($67):  2c.  This card pairs the board but doesn’t otherwise change anything.  He checks again.  Does have have KK or QQ and hoping to get to a cheap showdown?  In that case, perhaps I should make at least one steal attempt, but I’m not sure he would fold, especially if he has Qd Qx.  Free cards are good, right?  So I check again.

River:  ($67) 8d.  Awesome.  This completes my nut flush.  I’m anticipating another check when he fires out a bet of $45.  I should have the best hand here, and might get a crying call if he has Ax Qd or Qd Qx.  There really isn’t much else in his pre-flop 3-betting range that can make a weaker flush here, and he wouldn’t call me without either that or better.  The Ad and Jd are on the board, and I have the Kd.  Could he be as weak as Td Tc?  I can’t imagine anything else will call a raise.  If he comes back over the top of my raise, however, I need to be concerned about AA or JJ, although I would have expected either one of these to make a small be on the turn, for value, since he would have turned a full house and would want to continue building the pot.  

I raise to $110.  With very little hesitation, he declares that he’s all-in.  Dammit!  Now I pissed at myself for raising instead of just calling, although I can hear the voices of those who advocate bet/folding and raise/folding for value as superior long-term value strategies over calling whenever you have a big, but non-nut hand.  I also here the voice of one of my favorite poker podcasters saying “hashtag: they always have it” (#theyalwayshaveit).  

While trying to get emotionally unattached from my nut flush and decide if I’m a bad enough player to donate the rest of my chips, I replay the hand, try to recall any observations about this specific player and ponder his body language when he went all-in and the meaning of his very small pre-flop 3-bet.  He seemed confident, not the least bit afraid of the fact that he cannot have the Kd.  Yes, he has to have pocket aces here.

I fold, and in an act of pure kindness that I’ll exploit if given the chance, he flashes his AA for the entire table to see.

In hindsight, I think raising was a mistake on that river, as there were too few hands that would call a raise, and his pre-flop action certainly suggested AA as part of his range, with a small raise begging to be called.

Hand #2 – Does Small Turn Bet Signal Weakness?

After Hand #1, I add another $200 to my stack.  Shortly after that, I am dealt Kh Jd in middle position, and two players limp in front of me.  What is it with “jack-king-off” and me this weekend?  I felted a woman (felted her, not felt her!) for a nearly $400 pot with this holding late the previous night, and here it is again in both Hand #1 and #2.  This time, I raise to $18 and get called by the button and one of the limpers.  I started this hand with $326 and the main villain on the button has me easily covered.

Flop ($61):  Tc 9s 7c.  This is an interesting flop, very drawy, giving me a double gutshot straight draw in addition to two over cards, while also hitting a lot of pre-flop calling ranges for flush draws, flopped straights or straight draws, combo draws, sets and more.  The first guy checks.  I want to retain the initiative, and bet $35 as a semi-bluff.  Hopefully they missed this flop badly and will fold.  Or the button will fold and I’ll have position on the other guy.  The button does not cooperate, instead raising to $85, and the other guy folds leaving us heads up, with me being out-of-position

I don’t have any reads or tells on this player, as he is new at this table, a white male who appears to be in his mid-to-late 30’s.  Since he called a raise pre-flop on the button, his range can be pretty wide but would exclude 3-betting hands like AA, KK or QQ.  For now, I’ll give him credit for possibly raising with a flush or straight draw, combo draws, and strong made hands of top pair / top kicker or better.  This range is JJ-77, Ac 2c+, Kc Jc+, Qc Jc, JT, J8s, T9, T7s, 98, 97s, 87, 86s, ATo.  

(Or:  pocket pairs from 77 through JJ, Ac along with any other club, Kc along with the Qc or Jc, Qc Jc, Ace-Ten off-suit, any JT, T9, 98 or 87, and any suited J8, T7, 97 or 86.)

The overall player pool in this poker room is very loose pre-flop.  In position, a large portion will call with virtually any connecting cards (like JT, T9, 98 or 87) or suited 1- and 2-gappers (like J8, T8, 97 or 86). 

This range includes 139 different combinations of two cards, more than 10% of all possible combinations.  Even without a pair, I have 32.7% equity against his range.  With $180 already in the pot and it costing me $50 more to call, I only need 21.7% equity to call even if I’m only assured of seeing one card.  If it’s a blank and he fires out a large turn bet, I might have to bail out.  I call.

Turn ($230): Ks.  Now I have top pair, plus the double gutshot draw, and a second flush draw is now also a possibility.

I check and the button bets $50, less than 1/4 of the pot.  This is a strangely small bet.  With so many draws possible, I would expect a much larger bet from his stronger made hands – flopped straights or sets – as there would be a lot of hands I could have that would call again and he should be protecting against the draws.  If he were semi-bluffing with a flush draw, he should be betting much more here, or else just check back and take a free card.  My range is narrower than his, as I was the pre-flop raiser and less likely to be raising with the weaker connectors and gappers that he may have called with favorable position.

Against his full range, my equity is now 60.5%.  I’m beating hands like T8, 98, 88, 87, AT, JT, and have more outs against his 2-pair hands.  Smelling weakness, I check-raise all-in for $173 on top of his bet.  Now there is $503 in the pot and it costs him $173 to call.  I wish my stack were deeper, but this is still a large enough bet to make him pause and think.  

He finally makes what looks like crying call and I flip my cards over right away.  The river is another 7, putting a pair on the board.   He turns over 99, for a flopped set & rivered full house to scoop up the pot.  I must have sold him that I was representing QJ there for a turned straight and he felt like he was gambling with the call, whereas in reality all he needed was to fade a Q or 8.  

His hand was within the range I assigned to him, but right up near the top of that range.  Once again, #theyalwayshaveit.  I still think his turn bet was curiously small on such a wet board.  Maybe he’s just not a thinking poker player, and that caused a misread on my part.  Against his exact hand, my equity was 25.3% on the flop and 18.2% on the turn.

At this point of my day, I’ve been playing about 45 minutes blasted away $500.  I take a break for a few minutes, then move to another table where I buy-in for $500 more.

Hand #3 – Donk Bets on Flop Signal Weakness

The villain in this hand is an older (early 70’s?), white haired guy, somewhat the “old man coffee” (“OMC”) type — enjoying his poker game, passing time playing fairly tight and straightforwardly.  He started this hand with about $350 in chips and I cover.  After he and a couple others limp in, I raise to $20 with QQ.  Two others call, then OMC calls.  

Flop ($83):  J 9 4 rainbow.  It checks to OMC, who bets $50.  With straightforward players, this “donk bet” (betting into the pre-flop raiser) is usually a good but not great made hand.  This looks exactly like he has AJ.  With 2-pair or better, he would be more likely to try for a check-raise, with greater confidence that his hand would still be best on the turn if it checks all around.  If he does have AJ, I may be able to get his entire stack if I’m patient.  Not too quickly, I call, and the others all fold.

Turn ($183):  7c now puts two clubs on the board.  OMC bets $25, a strangely small bet, but this doesn’t change my read that I should target him having AJ (despite my misread of a small turn bet in Hand #2, it would be an example of recency bias to change my read here).  I raise to $125 by tossing out five green chips.  I hope this somehow looks bluffy. He tanks, fidgets, squirms, appears to decide to fold and then change his mind.  OMC’s as a general rule are stubborn and hate folding top pair / top kicker hands when they’ve been sitting for a long time just to get one.  He calls.

River ($333):  4s.  This is a great card for me, pairing the bottom card on the board.  If somehow he had donk bet with top two pair (J9) he’s now counterfeited.  He checks, I slide out $200 to be sure I cover his remaining ~ $150 or so.  He says “you’re going to put me all in aren’t you?”  And calls with an expression on his face that says “I know I’m beat, but I’ve gone too far in this hand to give up now.”  Without waiting for me to show first, he flips over KJ, confirming my read was almost exactly right.  My QQ is good and I drag home a large pot.

In this case, #theyalwayshaveit turned out to be good for me.  He had it, but “it” was a hand that I beat and the straightforward nature of his play enabled me to confidently play for stacks with a 1-pair hand.

Hand #4 – Can I Fold KK Pre-Flop?

After the previous hand, OMC left the table and was replaced by another older guy (late 60’s?) who was more of an “old man beer” (“OMB”) than “old man coffee.”  He was more social than the first guy, but hadn’t been playing long enough for any other reads prior to this hand.  At the start of this hand he has about $250-300 and I have him covered.

After OMB limps in under the gun and the next player folds, I look down at Kh Kd and raise to $17.  A woman calls all-in for her last $11 and there is one other call.  Then OMB re-raises to $85.  WTF?

Wait… did he limp in earlier or was he the big blind?  Just to be absolutely sure, I confirm the position of the button on the table as it is in the corner opposite my seat.  Then carefully count small blind, then big blind, then OMB.  Yes, he definitely limped then re-raised.  Dammit!  People love to do this with pocket aces.  

I ponder Dan Harrington’s seminal books on cash games, where he says no one is good enough to put an opponent on exactly AA and be right often enough to justify folding pocket kings.  Since you can re-load anytime in a cash game, his philosophy is to just take your lumps when this happens (unless playing with very deep stacks), so I consider just closing my eyes and shoving all-in.

Then I ponder Occam’s Razor, a problem solving principle that says when there are multiple explanations for an occurrence, the simplest one is usually better.  That’s a fancy way of saying #theyalwayshaveit, the simplest explanation for large bets.

And I ponder former poker coach Bill Hubbard, who constantly asked, based on what we know about a villain, “what does he have and how will he play it?”  Working backwards, how did he play it (limp / re-raise) and what does that mean he has?  #theyalwayshaveit, AA in this case.

And I ponder myself.  I have to be a good enough poker player to fold here.  But it’s a major ego destroyer.  I mean, like, c’mon, this is KKing David’s poker blog.  I’m KKing David.  I have KK here.  This pot is supposed to be mine.  After getting beat up in Hands #1 and #2, this is the kind of hand I need to get un-stuck.

This time, I win the battle with my emotions, and reluctantly make the disciplined fold.  Since one player is all-in for $11, we get to see the runout.  She has 99 and, sure enough, OMB has AA.  There are no aces, nor kings, nor nines on the board and OMB scoops up a modest pot.  

Deep breathing exercises…

Hand #5 – He Can Only Have Pocket Queens (or Quad Jacks???)

A new player has recently joined the table, two seats to my left.  The entire time I’ve been at this table, one of the other guys on this road trip has been on my immediate right.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Zach.”  Shortly after the new player arrived, Zach softly commented to me to beware of this new player, who seems to be a very strong and aggressive player, although he is drinking a beer and it’s 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon.  I notice his ability to leverage favorable position against passive players.  

In this hand, he is the main villain in the cutoff seat, with a stack around $550, which I cover.  The button straddles for $6 and three players call.  With my first AA of the day, I make it $35.  The villain tanks, counting and re-stacking his  chips in a manner that tells me he is thinking about re-raising.  Zach told me later that it took so long for this guy to act that he was ready to call the clock on him.  I just wanted to see him re-raise, but ultimately he calls $35.  The button folds, but there are two more out-of-position callers.

Flop ($150):  J high and very dry.  I don’t recall exactly the two lower cards, other than there was no flush draw nor possible made straight.  It is checked to me, and I bet $100.  The villain calls almost immediately.

His range for 3-betting pre-flop might be TT+, AQ+ absent any other reads.  This is important, as his pondering a 3-bet indicates something in the weaker part of this range or slightly weaker, and also rules out – assuming my read is correct – weaker calling hands.  While the player pool here in New Orleans is very loose pre-flop, there hasn’t been much light 3-betting pre-flop, and the straddle and callers in front of me has already push the bet-sizing above normal ranges.   He would definitely 3-bet with AA or KK, so that leaves his pre-flop calling range as 88-QQ, AJ+.  I heavily discount the TT, 99, 88, AJ part of this range as I don’t think he would take so long to decide to just call my $35 bet.  

Now he has confidently called $100 on a J-high flop.  There is no T on the board, so he cannot have two over cards with a straight draw (AK, AQ, KQ).  We can rule those hands out.  He would have to think a bit before calling with TT or any lower pocket pair, so we can rule those out also.  I’ve already ruled out AJ based on the pre-flop read, so that leaves QQ and JJ and nothing else.  If he flopped a set of Jacks here, it makes sense for him to just call and see if either of the other players wants to come along too, but they both folded.  There are six combinations of QQ and three combinations of JJ.  

Turn ($350):  A low brick arrives that really changes nothing.  I check, partly for pot control as my hand is still only one pair and I don’t want to play for stacks yet, and partly to see what he does.  He checks  back.

River ($350):  Another J.  Ugh!!!!!  I check.  At first, I hate this card, as an instinctive reaction to seeing the top card on the board pair.  What if he has AJ or KJ – even though I previously ruled these out?  

He bets $200.  Gulp!  I take a deep breath and re-play the hand and re-evaluate my reads based on the action on each street.  I have to trust my reads!  There are still six combos of QQ that he can have, but now only one combo of JJ.  #theyalwayshaveit… in this case “it” is either QQ 85.7% of the time, or JJ 14.3% of the time.  It is an unusually precise read.  Notice the contrast between this read and Hand #2 above where he could have over 130 combinations.  I’m confident that his pre-flop chip handling signaled thoughts about re-raising.  Perhaps I should check-raise all-in here, which would really be sick, but that seems very unwise.  I call and he shows QQ.  Cha-ching!

Zach later pointed out, and I agree, that his river bet there was terrible.  The villain was in a “way ahead / way behind” situation.  The weakest hand I could would beat him is KK, which will almost never fold there.  Most players with a better hand won’t think as much as I did (a flaw? or a gift?) and would just call.  And the strongest hand that he beats would be TT, which will almost never call.  If you can’t get a better hand to fold nor a weaker hand to call, and you are last to act, just check back and go to showdown.  I’m not sure if he thought he was betting for value or if he knew he was turning his QQ into a bluff, or if he even knew why he was betting on that river.

I drag home another large pot, just glad to have turned my day around.

Bliscipline

One of the best poker books ever written is Elements of Poker, by Tommy Angelo.  One of the author’s charming qualities is his invention of words, that heretofore didn’t exist, to describe things that need their own special word.  Word inventions like gobsmacked, tiltlessness, Kuzzycan, and fast rolling.  And bliscipline.

Of bliscipline, he says:  Bliscipline is when you are at the table and you are so totally in control of yourself and so totally at peace in the situation that no matter what happens next, you’ll still have plenty of resolve in reserve.

I needed some bliscipline at the Bellagio in Las Vegas a few days ago, when this hand occurred.  I was playing at a $1/3 game, had bought in for the maximum of $300 and started this hand with a somewhat short stack of approximately $170.  Having lost some pots, I was searching for my bliscipline before topping off my stack.

Villain #1 for this hand (V1) is the BB.  Villain #2 (V2) is UTG+1, and opens the action with a raise to $10.  A young Russian girl calls.  I call with 8h 7h in the Hijack seat, i.e., two seats to the right of the button.  There is another call and V1 calls from the BB.

V1 seems like somewhat of a novice player.  When he first sat down, he made a comment about “being new at this” when he didn’t understand the protocol for something (straddling? string bets? I don’t exactly recall) Then in an earlier hand, I raised to $12 with AQ from a late position, and he called from one of the blinds A6o.  On a flop of AJ6 rainbow, he led into me with a $20 bet, which I mistakenly interpreted as his having an Ace with a weak kicker.  With no history on this Villain, I called his flop, turn and river bets and now my stack is short.  He looks and acts like a tourist or conventioneer, wearing a golf shirt and being social in a way that says I’m here for entertainment, let’s play poker and drink some and yuk it up.

V2 is very aggressive post flop; on multiple hands he has tried to push people off the pot when he smells weakness.  He is not overly aggressive pre-flop, but has made several raises to $10, almost as if sweetening the pot to try to take it down later in the hand.

Flop ($50):  6h 5s 4d.  This is fantastic!  A rainbow flop that gives me the top end of the nut straight.  Rather than bliss, I feel s surge of energy and I plan how to maximize my value for this hand.

V1 checks, V2 C-bets $15, and the Russian girl calls.  I decide to call, in part because I’m hoping V1 has some reason to call here as well.  There is one fold and V1 does call.

Turn ($110):  9d.  A safe card, albeit putting 2 diamonds on the board.  Time to build this pot and set up a river shove.

V1 checks, V2 bets $20.  Methinks he might have an over pair, although his bet sizing is weak.  On the other hand, his bets when trying to push people off hands earlier has been much larger, so maybe this is his style for value bets, ie., bigger bets are bluffs and smaller bets are for value.

The Russian girl calls $20, and I raise to $55.  After my raise, I have about $90 behind.  I’m trying to find the raise size that an over pair will call, and that makes it very difficult for anyone with any value who calls this raise on the turn to be able to fold when I shove on the river.  I am definitely not trying to push anyone off this pot.  While there is a flush draw now, there aren’t many hand with two diamonds in them that would have put in $15 on that rainbow flop, just to chase a backdoor flush draw.

V1 and V2 both call, but the Russian girl folds.   Hmmm… flush draws still seem unlikely, but a possibility.  Sets (I think a set would have announced itself loudly by now)?   Over pairs?   Two pair?  Pair + Ace kicker?  V1 could have virtually anything with any value, or could not even know what he has, as he still just doesn’t seem like a very good / thinking player.  V2 still seems more likely to have an over pair than anything else.

River ($295):  6d.  This is a nightmare card for me, as it brings in not only a 3rd diamond, but also pairs the board.

V1 checks again, and while my heart surges up into my throat, V2 suddenly perks up like a race horse coming around the final turn with his ears pinned forward.  He straightens up in his chair and starts cutting out chips for betting, 3 small stacks of 5 red (i.e., $5 each) chips, then stacking them up, and eventually sliding $75 into the pot, in a manner that tells me that I just got fucked.  Or as Tommy Angelo would say, when negative fluctuation occurs, you get fluct.

Hello?  Bliscipline?  Where are you, my friend?  I’d like to find you, ’cause I could really use your help.  Right now!

My emotions go crazy.  I started this hand with $170.  Flopped the nuts.  I’m entitled to get my last $90 in on this river, and win this pot, which will give me an ending stack of $470 or so after rake and tip.

I coined my own term and acronym awhile back, for Sudden Onset Entitlement Tilt.  Or SOET.  Pronounced “SWEEEEET!”  SOET is easily confused with Bliscipline.  At its (sudden) onset, SOET seems like a prelude to bliscipline.  I just flopped the nuts (or I have pocket AAs), and I’m going to win a huge pot, and after I do that I will feel blissful.  I have many times gotten fluct while experiencing SOET, when a nightmare card arrives (i.e., I get gobsmacked!) and despite the preponderance of the evidence that my hand is no longer good, I continue to pour all my chips into the pot.  Suddenly, this looks like one of those times.

I find just enough discipline (but definitely not my friend Bliscipline) to slow down and think about it.  While in the think tank, I glare at one of my travel companions who is at the same table (for purposes of this blog post, I’ll call him “Zach”), in a way that I’m sure he will interpret as I just got fluct.  Zach confirmed to me later that my glare indeed meant I had flopped the nuts.

It is $75 to call and the pot is now $370. I’m getting 5-to-1 odds so my straight only has to be good 1 out of 6 times for this to be a correct call in a mathematical sense.  Poker players tend to do this type of math when they know they are beat, but want to justify calling anyway so they can confirm beyond any doubt the villain’s hand.  I’m about to call, as this was a back door flush so it’s not like he was chasing it from the get go.  And the highest card on the board is a 9.  Did V2 raise pre-flop with pocket 99’s or some other combination that just made a full house?  Wait a minute KKing, think this through.

What does he have and how would he play it?  I rewind the hand.  V2 open raised to $10 pre-flop. Then he C-bet $15, which was weak given the pot size.  Then he bet small again ($20) on the turn, and called my smallish raise to $55.  Was that a C-bet with total air, followed by a blocker bet when a flush draw became possible?  This actually makes some sense if he has Ad Kd or Ad Qd or Kd Qd. Maybe Ad Jd.  I suppose I can buy that story line.

His body language, however, is compelling.  When the 6d hit the board on the river, he sat up, leaned forward, looked happy, and grabbed chips like a man on a mission.  While his bet is larger in absolute terms, it is still very small in relation to this bloated pot.  He wants to be sure he gets paid, and shows no fear of 2 other players still in the hand.

Goddammit!  (TILT)  This pot was supposed to be mine. This is where my session is supposed to get untracked. (TILT TILT TILT)

This is a time that calls for discipline.  When you are beat, you are beat.  I finally fold, suffering in silence.  I’ve gotten much better in the last six months at being able to fight off the tilt and lay down hands like this.

A young Israeli guy 2 seats to my right nods in approval.  He mouths the words “he has full house” towards me.  This is fascinating, as if this other player who I don’t know, never played with before, haven’t had any table conversation with, half my age, is suddenly pulling for me to make the right decision.  It is so much easier to see what is happening with great clarity when you are not involved (financially nor emotionally) in a hand.  The young Israeli sees it.  I see it too, although it takes a couple minutes of staring and glaring before I can let go of my cards.

Then, to my surprise, V1 check-raises to $150.  All along, I had disregarded him as a threat after V2’s bet and body language, as he had checked and called every street.  Now he makes a minimum raise. WTF?

V2 quickly calls. V1 shows Ad 8d and V2 tables Kd Qd.  V1’s Ace-high flush beats V2’s K-high flush to drag in a nearly $600 pot.  V1 called the flop $15 bet with a gutshot straight draw and 2 over cards.  V2 did not have an over pair, but made a flop continuation bet with 2 over cards, then a blocker bet when a 2nd diamond arrived on the turn.

According to my Poker Cruncher app, my equity in the pot after the turn card was 81%, V1 was 19% (including his equity in the possibility of a chop if the river was a non-diamond 7), and V2 was already drawing dead.

I’m glad I found the discipline to fold.  But I’m not feeling any bliss.

I continue with my sub-$100 short stack for about an orbit and a half, trying to get my mind right again.  Then on my next button hand, I add $200, and immediately get dealt 9h 9d and call a pre-flop raise.  The flop comes Kh 9s 3h.  When the opener C-bets, I raise him and he spazzes out and shoves (AA, AK, KQ range), probably assuming I’m semi-bluffing with a flush draw.  I call, the turn and river are both hearts and my 9h makes the winning flush to take his full stack (which was under $200).

Slowly, bliss begins to return. I missed you Bliss, you are my best friend. Let’s play on…

Tippy Top

Last night I was playing in a local house game, when this happened.

A player I don’t know straddled for $4 on the button.  I thought I heard someone call him Reuben once, so for now I’ll refer to him as “Reuben.”  He’s a younger guy – maybe early 30’s – and plays fairly loose.  Tonight, he has been winning thanks to some good cards.

Effective stacks in this hand are $150.

After one caller, I raised to $14 with AKo.  In hindsight, I should have raised more, perhaps to $16 or $18, although that would not have affected the outcome.  Just pointing out that my raise was too small.

Reuben calls to defend his straddle, and the other limper also called.

Flop ($42):  As Kc 7s.

This is a great flop for me, with top 2 pair.  It is checked to me.  How much should I bet?

There is no way I’m going to slow play this or try to trap.  There is a flush draw, either player might have an Ace that could improve to a weaker 2-pair, and I’m not giving a free card to any gutshot Broadway draws.

I bet $20, just under 1/2 of the pot.

Reuben raises to $40, a minimum raise, and the other guy folds.

In a hand like this, I really don’t need to try to figure out what his full pre-flop straddle defending call range is.  Much simpler is to consider his range right now, divided into hands that are ahead of mine, and hands that are behind mine.

The only hands that are ahead are sets:  AA, KK, and 77.  If Reuben had AA or KK, he would 3-bet pre-flop.  (Even if I included these in his range, there is only one combination of each, after considering the A and K on the board and A/K in my hand.)  There are 3 combinations of 77.

I am ahead of EVERYTHING ELSE, with the exception of AK which would be a tie (and I also exclude from his range as he would 3-bet pre-flop with this as well).

I am ahead of other 2-pair hands (A7 and K7, 6 combinations of each).

I am ahead of everything else, Ax, Kx, draws…  While I don’t know how many combinations might be in his range, that he would min-raise me with on this flop, it really doesn’t matter because I know for sure I’m ahead.

So against any kind of range, I’m way ahead.

After calling his $20, the pot will be $122 and I have $103 behind.  I go all in.

Reuben calls and turns over 77, the tippy top of his range, and his set holds up.

I have to find comfort in the knowledge that I played this perfectly OK.  Can I every really fold there?  (No.)  Should I try to pot control?  (No.)  If I don’t shove right now, won’t all of the chips end up in the middle anyway, since effective stacks are only 75 BBs?  (Yes.)  Had I raised more pre-flop, might Reuben have folded his 77’s?  (No.)  Given the same set of facts, would I want to play any differently on the flop?  (Not really.)

Sometimes you just run into the top of a villain’s range.  In this case, the tippy top.  The real danger is when you let one hand like this change the way you play.

PS – a bit later, another one of the regulars walked in and joined the game.  I’ll call him “Myles.”  His arrival has nothing to do with this post, other than “Myles” told me recently that he just learned that I write this blog, and wondered why he hadn’t been mentioned in any of the posts.  Now he has.

RIP Bill Hubbard

For a few weeks last winter, I took some poker coaching from Bill “Ain’t No Limit” Hubbard.  Although I suspended the coaching at a time when there were too many concepts swirling around in my head and I needed to slow down and digest them better, he taught me a lot – an awful lot – about how to navigate through live cash games of Texas Hold’em.

Sadly, Bill passed away in May.  Even more sadly, I only learned about his passing yesterday, while searching on the TwoPlusTwo forums for something completely unrelated.  RIP Bill… may the memory of the righteous be a blessing.

Our last email exchange came in mid-April, after a bad beat in a nearly $1,400 cash game pot.  I wrote:

Bill, Link below to a cash game hand at 2/5 during WSOP Circuit stop in NC.  Villain was a very good player but also very aggressive and caught 2x in large bluffs recently.  Your thoughts???  ShareMyPair link here.

Bill replied the next morning:

This is a cooler which you cannot get away from.  She lost money overall in the hand and you won overall in the hand.  Variance had you lose this time.  No biggie.  She gambled and won this time, but loses most always.

Bill’s short reply integrates two concepts he worked hard to teach, and helped me move past this hand a little faster than I would have otherwise.

The first is variance.  Over the short run, variance can be a real bitch.  You will lose big pots that you thought you should win.  Bad beats, coolers, suck outs, etc. will occur seemingly too often.  Losing big pots is painful.  It hurts the ego, hurts the bankroll, hurts the confidence, hurts the table image, and hurts some more.  If you are going to play a lot of no limit poker, you better accept the fact that variance will be there to bitch-slap you from time to time just when you least expect it.  But over the long run, variance is your friend.  It is the reason winning players are able to win, as it is variance that keeps losing players coming back to the games.  Without variance – in this case referring to the big hands that are won by overall losing players – the good games would dry up.  More and more losing players would go gamble elsewhere, to find another source of variance (blackjack?  craps?  roulette?  horse racing?) even though they are still likely to lose in the long run.  Meanwhile, a winning player, who can get money in the pot over and over with a positive expected value, as a 51% or 65% or 90% favorite, is going to keep winning over the long run.

The second concept is reciprocality.  Bill taught reciprocality as originally described by Tommy Angelo:

Reciprocality says that when you and your opponents would do the same thing in a given situation, no money moves, and when you do something different, it does.

In the subject hand, the she-Villain called a pre-flop raise from one of the blinds with 4-3 off suit.  I would fold.  So in this given situation, I would not do the same thing as the Villain.  In the short run, she won a large pot.  That’s variance.  In the long run, she will lose much more by playing this way than she will win.  In this particular hand there was a perfect storm.  She has 4-3.  I have 5-5.  The flop is A-T-2.  She has, in reality, only two outs to make a wheel straight.  I have the same two outs to make a set. without which I would not be putting any more money into this multi-way pot.  Even after all the money goes in the middle on the turn, I still have 10 outs to win.

Reciprocality is both a very simple and a very deep concept.  You can think of this existing on every single move in a poker game.  Often the right play does not involve any reciprocality.  For a very simple example, imagine a heads-up game, where the Villain makes a large pre-flop raise and you have 3-2 off suit.  You fold, of course.  The Villain would do the same thing if the roles were reversed.  While the Villain wins this individual hand, over the long run you will break even with respect to each other as it relates to this exact situation.  Your reciprocal edge comes when you play differently from the Villains.  The biggest source of reciprocal profit, in my opinion, happens to be the simplest.  This is folding marginal hands pre-flop, especially out-of-position.  Folding troublesome hands that others would play is a huge source of profit, by enabling you to retain more of the money you win with your good hands.  Other sources of reciprocal profit come from bet sizing that is different from Villains bet sizing, well executed bluffs that Villains would not attempt, and so on.

Thanks again Bill for some excellent lessons.

Now I’m going to re-read the reciprocality section in Tommy Angelo’s classic Elements of Poker.

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