KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Mistakes and Coolers

In David Sklansky’s classic book The Theory of Poker, the author introduces his Fundamental Theorem of Poker:

Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.

In his view, a mistake is any play that delivers a gain to an opponent.  It’s worth noting that this is Sklansky’s personal definition of mistake, used for purposes of his book, and deviates considerably from a standard dictionary definition (such as “an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong”).  For a poker action to be a mistake, it doesn’t matter who ultimately wins the pot; you can take an action in a poker hand that you would not have taken if you could see your opponent’s cards, then draw out a winning card on the river despite long odds.  You win the pot, but your earlier action is still a mistake.  It also doesn’t matter if other players would have made the same play, as often happens when the 2nd nut hand loses to the absolute nuts.  If you could see your opponent’s cards, you would act differently.

My previous blog post noted that We All Make Mistakes.  So it seems inevitable that the next time I play poker after writing that piece (last night), I suffered through a flood of mistakes.

I made the mistake of being passive when I should have been aggressive, calling a pre-flop raise with QQ, intending to set a trap.  I later learned the villain had TT, after a flop of Js Ts 3s (giving him a set; me an overpair and flush draw).  The 4th T came on the turn, giving him quads.  In hindsight, I might have lost more had I re-raised pre-flop; but at the time of the pre-flop action, not re-raising was a mistake.

I made calling mistakes.  Many of them.

  • In the hand noted above, I called a river bet after a K came on the last card.  Duh… calling when the villain has quads is a mistake!
  • I called turn and river bets with 88 on a board of 432-7-J.  The villain had QQ and just called my pre-flop raise.  His trap worked, whereas my earlier attempt to set a trap with QQ failed.
  • I called flop and turn bets (the latter putting me all-in) with 22 after a flop of 972.  The villain had 99 for top set, crushing my bottom set.  This is a cooler, and fortunate for me that my stack wasn’t too deep.  Under Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker, however, calling was a mistake.  If I could see the villain’s cards, I would not have called.  Ouch!
  • With KQs, I called a check-raise and river bet on a board of K64 (two clubs)-6-5.  This was late, the flop was very drawy, a scary turn card came, and the bluffing frequency around the table escalated considerably in the prior half hour.  Not this villain –> he tables A6.  Had I checked-back on the turn for pot-control, I still would make the mistake of calling a river bet, but would lose far less.
  • There was one at least one other river call mistakes, but thankfully I cannot now recall the details.

I made betting and bet-sizing mistakes.  Many of them.

  • With 77 on the button, I flopped a set on a board of 875 (rainbow), and called a flop bet along with two other callers.  The turn J created a flush draw, and everyone checked to me.  One villain called my bet.  The river K completed the flush draw.  I bet again, and the villain called with a very weak flush.  He had 62s, got to the flop when no one raised, flopped an open-ended straight draw and turned a flush draw.  In addition to the river bet mistake, I was too passive pre-flop.  Another cooler, yet still a mistake according to Sklansky’s definition.
  • I made a flush on the river (after my turn semi-bluff got one caller) and a large bet after the villain checked.  He called again, with a bigger flush than mine.  Yet another cooler / mistake.
  • Several times I made a top pair / good kicker hand on the flop, where the villains were too weak to call a bet.  I bet anyway and they all folded.  Had I been more patient, perhaps I could have gotten some value on a later street by giving them a chance to catch up.
  • Other times I was the pre-flop raiser and made continuation bets on flops that didn’t connect with my hand at all, only to be called and have to surrender later.  C-betting with air against a top pair hand is a mistake.

Of course, I didn’t know the villains’ cards in any of these hands at the time of the mistakes.  That’s the thing with the Fundamental Theorem of Poker.  We have to take actions with incomplete information.  This leads to frequent mistakes.  If we can make fewer mistakes than our opponents, we can win over the long run.  The first key to making fewer mistakes is to improve hand reading skills.  Better reads = fewer mis-reads = fewer mistakes.  The second key is to learn to mitigate the effects of tilt.  Tilt leads to anger and other negative emotions, and intense anger shuts down higher brain functions — especially decision making and self-control.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said: “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.”

Put me down for progress, with a long way to go to reach wisdom.

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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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Yikes!

A few months ago, I wrote “Hashtag: They Always Have It,” describing several hands from a poker weekend at Harrah’s New Orleans.  Hand #4 from that post asked Can I Fold KK Pre-Flop?  In that hand, the player under the gun had limped, then re-raised over the top of my raise (with KK) and two callers.  One of the callers was a short stack who was all-in for less than my raise amount, so I knew that even if I folded, I would find out if I had dodged a pair of bullets.  I did fold, and he did have AA.

Another time, a couple years ago at the Aria in Vegas, I faced a similar limp/re-raise betting line when holding KK.  That time, I didn’t fold and the villain also had KK resulting in a chopped pot.  (Whew!)

Last week I faced this dynamic again.

There were two limpers, then a raise to 6 or 7 big blinds from the cutoff seat.  He is a younger, very aggressive player who raises and re-raises pre-flop with a wide range.  I’m on the button with KK, and 3-bet to about 18 BBs.   The small blind folds but the big blind calls.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Jay.”  Jay is a very loose player who likes to see lots of flops and also looks for bluffing opportunities when he misses but the board may be scary to the other players.  The first limper folds.

Out of nowhere, the 2nd of the limpers 4-bets to 38 BBs.  Yikes!  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Moses.”  To limp, then 3-bet is one thing.  But to limp/4-bet is downright scary, as Moses should be concerned that either the initial raiser or me (having already 3-bet) might now go all-in.  Unless, of course, he isn’t concerned because that’s what he wants to happen.

Then there is his bet sizing.  Moses’ 4-bet is barely double my bet.  While the absolute size of 38 BBs is a very large amount for the pre-flop action, in relation to the pot this is curiously small.  The raise portion of his bet is 20 BBs.  Including the 18 BBs call portion of his bet, the pot already has approx. 63 BBs in it, making his raise 32% of the pot.  Anything less than a one-half pot raise is considered small.  A standard raise size would be about 50-75 BBs or even slightly more.  Is Moses inviting a call because he has AA and doesn’t want to run off his customers, no matter how transparent his hand is with this betting line?  I have blockers to both AK and KK, so it’s mathematically less likely for him to have either of these hands.

Or is he leaving himself room to fold if either the cutoff seat or I shove all-in, perhaps with AK or QQ/JJ?

The initial raiser folds, and the action is back to me.  Do I have a profile on Moses?

Moses is a middle-aged black guy (MABG) who I’ve played with only a couple times previously.  He has commented directly to me earlier this evening that every time we’ve been in a hand against each other, I’ve come out ahead.  In doing so, Moses assured me that he’s going to get even pretty soon.  I find him very entertaining – he tells a lot of meandering stories, using big words when smaller words would do just fine, that always end up with some karmic explanation of why he (or his favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles) will win.  It hasn’t been easy to pinpoint his poker play, as I’ve observed several unconventional plays, including his weird bet sizing here and some other non-standard lines that sometimes backfire badly.

On the other hand, #theyalwayshaveit is another way of using Occam’s Razor, the principle that the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions is usually correct.  In this case, Occam’s Razor says he should have AA.

The pot is now quite large, and there is still the big blind, who called my 3-bet and will have an opportunity to respond to Moses’ bet and whatever I do.

What would YOU do here?  At this point, I’ve invested 18 BBs and have about 105-110 BBs remaining in my stack.  Both Moses and the big blind player have me covered.

Leave your answer and reasoning in the comments section below (if you are reading this on Facebook and want to comment, please click through to the blog itself and comment there rather than in Facebook), and I’ll update with the rest of the story in a few days.

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PAUSE WHILE READERS POST COMMENTS…

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I decided to call.  If I shove here, that’s probably going to run off Jay, who is less likely than Moses to be trapping me with AA, although I consider that possibility too.  If Jay has AA, he’ll let us know now.  If I can make money on this pot, I want to get as much as possible from Jay in addition to Moses.  Since I’ll be last to act on the flop, perhaps I can correctly interpret the additional information provided by the flop and Jay’s & Moses’ actions.

True to form, Jay calls.  I’ve seen him make large calls like this with very speculative hands, so this doesn’t really concern me.

Flop (122 BBs):  752, rainbow.

Jay checks, then Moses bets 25 BBs.  This is a curiously small bet, barely 20% of the pot.  With two other live players, a very safe flop and bloated pot, I would expect a much larger bet with AA.  That is, if he has AA.  Which now I don’t believe he does.

I raise all-in.  It’s possible Jay has something like 88-JJ and might spazz out and call with a weaker overpair here.  It’s also possible that Moses might call with AK, given the size of the pot and his commitment so far.  If I just call here, I’ll be scared shitless if an ace comes on the turn, so I’m going to get it in now.

Jay folds.  Moses tanks for quite awhile, squirming in his seat and commenting again about my luck against him.  Now the pot has about 236 BBs in it and it will cost him another 64 BBs to call.  If his equity in this huge pot is at least 21.3% (calculated by taking the amount to call of 64 BBs, divided by the total pot size including his all [236 + 64 = 300].  64/300 = 21.3%).  Note that if he has AK here and my hand is QQ or JJ (more likely than my actual KK, as he has one of the kings), his actual equity would be 26.4% and he should call even though he only has A-high at the moment.

Moses finally calls, and turns over AK suited (hearts, not that it matters).  Only an ace will help him, and his actual equity is 14.3%.  Calling was a mistake.

Sometimes mistakes pay off anyway, but not this time.  The board bricked out and I won a big pot.

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Ending Abruptly

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a strong preference for cash game poker over tournament poker.  When asked why I don’t like tournaments, the quick answer is “because they always end abruptly.”

I find that irritating.  Last night I made it to the final table of a private tournament that started with 33 players.  Seven remain.  There is a little extra at stake, as this is the final tournament of a year-long poker league.  The league winner is determined by points that are awarded based on each player’s finishing position in each tournament.  The points leader is also among the final seven, and I’m in second place overall.  If I finish two spots higher than him in this tournament, I’ll be tied for the points lead.  Winning the points title is worth a little over $2,500 (for larger tournament entry fees + travel costs), so I’m pretty motivated to win this game-within-a-game.

He’s trying to wait me out, folding virtually every hand and now severely short stacked with only two or three big blinds remaining.  I have more chips than he does, but also less than 5 BBs.

Everyone folds to the player on my right, who is on the button.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Gary.”  He raises.  In the small blind, I have pocket aces.  Then we are all-in.

Then I’m out.  Abruptly.

Gary also is one of my best friends.  After he wins the tournament, he says “don’t be mad, I’ll buy you a beer.”

 

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Tilting From the Sidelines

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on January 25, 2017 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

It started innocently enough.

At a $2/5 game at Maryland Live! casino, I’m dealt 8h 7h on the button.  No one raises.  Suited connectors like these are an excellent value for seeing a cheap flop, especially multi-ways, especially in position.  I limp in.

So far, I’ve invested $5.

The flop is As Th 7s.  This gives me bottom pair with a very weak kicker.

After a check or two, somebody bets $20 and another player calls.  Is there really any reason to continue here?

No.  Putting more money into this pot is a losing proposition.  I don’t have any draws, other than runner-runner Hail Mary types.  The board is very drawy, I don’t have the right draws (like spades or 98), and I’m not Aaron Rodgers.  So I fold.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to myself as “Player 1.”

I’ve been trying to make more notes on my poker game, partly to force me to pay closer attention to the action (which is necessary if you want to write down the salient points) and partly to review later and analyze key hands.  While this hand is playing out, I’m tap-tap-tapping notes on my phone, which I’m holding on my lap underneath the table.

“All-in,” says the dealer.  Wha—?  Looking up at the table, I see that two players remain in the hand.  The turn and river cards have been dealt, one player has bet $200, and the other has raised all-in for about $600.

It takes a couple seconds to sink in.  Before the showdown somebody tells the dealer, “get ready to call the floor.”  The poker room is running a High Hand promotion today.  Every 20 minutes, the highest hand on any table in the room gets a $500 bonus, and each new high hand has to be verified by a floor supervisor.  I glance at the monitor and see that the current highest hand is quad-something.  It doesn’t really matter what… any quads are lower than any straight flush.  I resist the urge to puke.

The first guy calls the all-in bet and the raiser turns over his cards, and scoops the large pot with his A-high flush.

I only lost $5 on this hand, but it feels like I lost $1500.  Call it the “opportunity cost” of folding on the flop for $20.

Maintain poker face.  Looking calm, disinterested.  Don’t force the table to listen to me whine about what woulda / coulda / shoulda happened.

Feeling #$$J&##@*&>!!  Invisible TILT.  Injustice tilt.  Internal raging fire tilt.  FOMO tilt.  I-could-book-a-nice-win-and-go-see-a-movie-tilt.

 

When the cards are shuffled and cut, the order has been determined.  As often happens in poker, had the same community cards been delivered in a different order, the outcome would change.  Dramatically.

For solace, I turn to the 2nd century Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, who wrote:

  • “Begin each day by telling yourself:  Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.  But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.”

At the poker table, the other players are my “brothers” in the sense described by Aurelius, and so is the dealer.  In a different way, so are the cards.  As inanimate objects, the cards are the most ignorant of all as to what is good or evil.  The cards never show any gratitude or loyalty.

According to Aurelius, I should not be angry with my brother.  But I was.  I was really, really, really, really, very pissed off.  I still am.  This entry could be a happy-brag-blog rather than a tilt-whine-blog.  The rest of my session didn’t go well either (two lowlights:  AK v 77 on KK7 flop and AK v KK (who flatted pre-flop) on KQ5-A flop-turn.  In both cases, the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train).

What will today bring?  For one thing, today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness…

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I Played That Right, Didn’t I? (Part Two)

Part One of “I Played That Right, Didn’t I?” described a two online poker hands where I was all-in and way ahead, only to see the villains hit a 2-outer and 4-outer, respectively, to win big pots.

After reading the blog, Mrs. asked me how I could be sure the online poker room (in my case, Ignition Poker) wasn’t cheating me somehow.  Perhaps there is an algorithm that identifies you as a winning player, then intentionally [bleep]‘s you over to keep you from cashing out?  How can you know?

This led to a long discussion about variance and Sklansky bucks, among other things, to explain that these things happen in live games with real cards that I can see being shuffled with my own eyes, all of which Mrs. found quite boring.

At a live, private game Saturday night, there was a 3-way all-in on the flop.  I was just an observer in this one.  One player had pocket aces, another flopped middle set, and the 3rd guy had top pair and a good kicker.  I was sitting next to the guy with a set and told him “nice hand!”  Then another ace fell on the river.  Ouch.

Last night, at a different private game, it was me again.  This game uses the Mississippi straddle rule, allowing any player to post a live straddle of any amount, in any position.  I’ve been experimenting with straddling more frequently on the button, especially when my stack is reasonably deep.  On this hand, I started with a little over 180 BBs and posted a standard straddle.

The SB called blind, meaning he didn’t look at his cards before calling.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Rob.”  I won’t try to explain Rob’s reasons for doing this… he later referred to himself as a “fish/donkey.”  Another player in middle position raised to 7 BBs (not quite 3x the straddle amount), there was one caller, and I called with T7 off-suit.  Rob also called.

Normally I wouldn’t call 7 BBs with T7o, but part of the reason for straddling on the button is to maximize the leverage of being last to act post-flop.  If you’re going to pump up the volume by straddling, you need to stick around for the action in more marginal spots.

Flop (29 BBs):  T77.

As I was saying, when you are last and flop a monster, the effect of the straddle is there is already a larger pot, making post-flop bets also larger coupled with the positional advantage that allows you to manage the final pot size.  With this flop, that’s a good thing.

After Rob check, the pre-flop raiser now bets 9 BBs, and the next player folds.  I don’t need to raise yet.  With a full house already, I don’t have to worry about a straight or flush draw hitting, and I want to see if anyone else wants to keep playing.  I call and Rob also calls.

Turn (56 BBs):  K

Both players check.  I bet 18 BBs.  Rob takes his time, then raises all-in, a total of 52 BBs.  The pre-flop raiser folds.  I call and turn my hand over immediately, showing my full house.

Rob winces in pain, then lets out a sound like a badly wounded fish/donkey.  He turns over one card – a seven – and starts walking away from the table.  Obviously his kicker is lower than my ten, so he’s drawing dead and knows it.

River (160 BBs):  Another K.

Wait a minute!  The dealer studies the board.  I study the board.  This can’t be happening.  (“Oh it’s happening, sweetheart!”)  Rob comes back to his seat.  He never surrendered his other card to the muck pile, and turns it over to show an eight.  The king on the river gives us both the same hand, sevens full of kings.

I didn’t lose any money here, but it feels like a loss.  Having a zero percent chance of winning the pot when he went all-in, Rob quietly stacks his 80 BB portion of the pot.

How do I tell Mrs. that I want her to listen to a “bad chop story?”

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I Played That Right, Didn’t I?

Last night, on the 5th hand of an online poker session, I get the coveted pocket aces.

As a good poker blogger, I must tell you that I have 82 big blinds in my stack, and I’m in the Hijack seat.  The main villain has me covered.

When playing online, when first to raise I generally hit the ‘pot’ button to make a pot-sized raise.  This automatically adjusts my raise sizing for any limps in front of me.  This time everyone had folded already and I make my standard pot-sized raise.

The next player, in the Cutoff seat, makes a pot-sized 3-bet.  Everyone else folds.  While tempted to 4-bet, I decide just to call here to trap him (or her).

Flop (25 BBs): 8c 5d 4c.  There are two clubs, but I have the Ac and therefore not too worried about flush draws.  The Villain cannot have AcKc or AcQc.  Would he 3-bet with KcQc, KcJc or worse?  Not likely.  There are also straight draws here, but those would require him to 3-bet with a hand like 77 or 66, or even worse with A7 or A6, or 63 or 43.  Again, I can discount all of these.

Trapping still makes sense.  If Villain has any over-pair, he should bet again, probably a strong bet as he would consider the possibility that I have AcKc or AcQc.  I check.  Villain also checks.

Now I can guess that his most likely holding is AK.  Few online players will 3-bet with AQ or worse, and even fewer would check back here with pocket pairs 99-KK.

Turn (25 BBs):  Ks.  I love this card.  I make a very small bet of 4 BBs.  This is designed to look like a blocker bet, as if I have QQ, JJ or TT and want to keep the pot small.  Villain obliges by raising to 11 BBs, also very small given the pot size, not wanting to run me off.  More confirmation that he has AK.

Now it’s time to spring the trap.  I 3-bet to 32 BBs, and eight seconds later he shoves all-in.

Boom!  The cards turn over and Villain is crushed with AK.  His play on the flop and turn made this an easy read.

Oh yeah, the river is another K, and Villain scoops the pot.

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Pause for dramatic effect, primal scream, lots of swearing.

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I played that right, didn’t I?

Earlier I had listened to a poker podcast, where part of the discussion was a reminder that the goal is to play each hand correctly.  When other players suck out, I should feel happy, as it means I got it in as the favorite (in this case 95.5% favorite) and played the hand correctly.  Trying to find that level of happiness, but I gotta tell you, this isn’t the emotion I associate with the word ‘happy.’

Reload.

About an hour later, I have 22 in middle position.  Now my stack is 102 BBs.  The main villain has 100 BBs. It folds to me, so I raise to 3 BBs.  Technically, this is 1/2 of a BB less than a pot-sized raise.  Sometimes I’ll do this with low pocket pairs as a way of setting my own set-mining odds.  Admittedly, the distinction between this raise and my standard pot-sized raise ain’t worth ‘splaining.

Both blinds call.

Flop (9 BBs):  Tc 9d 2c.  I have bottom set or a very wet (i.e., drawy) board.  Both blinds check.

I click the half-pot button.  I want this bet to appear ambivalent, so a hand like QJ or J8 or a flush draw might think he (or she) has fold equity and come back over the top with a big raise.  I’d be happy to get it all-in here and take my chances with the draws.

SB calls, then BB/Villain check-raises all-in.  Thank you sir!  I snap call and SB folds.

My best hopes are realized when Villain turns over T9.  Rather than a straight draw (8 outs) or a flush draw (looks like 9 outs but actually just 7 outs as two of the clubs would give me a full house), Villain has top 2-pair and only 4 outs to improve.

I’m an 83.2% favorite when all the chips go in.  This improves to 90.9% when the Qc comes on the turn.  But the Th falls on the river, and Villain scoops the pot.

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Pause for dramatic effect, primal scream, lots of swearing.

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I played that right, didn’t I?

Still searching for that feeling of happiness when the a villain sucks out.  The math guy in me calculates that I should win both of the hands described above 79.5% of the time based on the odds at the point when we went all-in.  My bankroll would be 385 BBs larger.  And I should win neither hand just 0.75% of the time – that’s three-quarters of one percent!

My “Sklansky bucks” (after the rake) were 150 BBs with my pocket rockets, and 164 BBs with the set of deuces, for a total of 314 BBs.  (Sklansky bucks are determined by multiplying the pot times your probability of winning when an all-in & call occur with cards remaining to be dealt.  It is a theoretical value that indicates whether you are getting it in with the best of it more often than not.  Over the long run, Sklansky bucks and actual results on all-in hands will converge. In the moment, you either win or lose the whole pot, but unless one player is drawing dead, your equity is somewhere in the middle.)

Sklansky bucks calculations are for losers.  Winners never go through this exercise.

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