Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why I Suck At Limit Hold'em

I snuck out of work early yesterday to play 3-6 hold'em at Casino Arizona. I finished down $127. This is probably my 6th or 7th losing session in a row playing 3-6.

Part of it is just bad luck. My second hand of the day, I turned the nut straight and got 4 bets in only to see the 6 of spades fall on the river which made the spade flush for one all in player and the full house for the player I went four bets with on the turn. I was smart enough to recognize the situation and check call the river.

After that hand, I went on a kind of tilt where you lose your patience to wait for good hands and feel compelled to bluff in spots that are impossible to win.

In no particular order here are the things I have been doing wrong.

1. Playing medium strength hands in early position. I have been limping with JTs or suited Aces in early position. I am usually hoping that everyone limps behind me to build a multiway pot. However, there are enough occasions where I am getting raised and end up putting 2 bets in preflop and having to fold on the flop when I miss. Or worse, I call 2 bets preflop and then flop a long shot draw that I have the odds to chase after checking and getting 10-1 to call. Although the flop calls are probably slightly positive EV, I am leaking too much from the preflop action.

2. Bluffing way too much. I am consistently playing high cards for a raise preflop and getting 2+ callers. I miss the flop and it's checked to me in position. I am betting too much of the time. I keep hoping for some folds but I am not getting any. I just ran a quick poker odds calculation with me holding AKo and the flop coming random undercards. Let's assume I raised preflop so there are 5.5 bets after the rake in the pot. I gave one opponent middle pair and the other top pair. So on the flop top pair is 58% to win. My overcards are 21% to win. One bet divided by 6.5 = 15.3%. From an EV point of view, my bet is still positive. Barely. This does not take into account the times I get check raised. Now it's two bets divided by 10 (assuming another .5 in rake).

I believe I have read in some books that it is better to pass up some slightly positive EV situations early in the hand to bet on the bigger ones on the turn. If I hit the Ace on the turn I go to a 76% favorite on the big bet streets.

Another common example is 4 players in the pot. I have AK and one player hits bottom pair, one has a straight draw, and the other has a flush draw. I also gave one of the players an Ace. Now I am only 12% to win on the flop. Now if I give myself a King on the turn which gives two players two different flush draws, I become a 42% favorite.

I will no longer be betting on the flop in this game unless I have something.

3. Playing too many hands. This I am not entirely sure about. The conventional wisdom says that if the game is very loose, that you should play very tight. If you hit top pair with a good kicker you may get paid off by middle pair and top pair with a lousy kicker. It seems like these premium hands come around so rarely and get cracked so often in multiplayer pots that it may make sense to play some weaker Aces and Kings and out play your opponents on the flop and turn. I have yet to find the happy medium.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Tide Finally Turns

Remember all the bad beats I was taking when I played in the live casinos? I said that variance was going to swing the other way eventually and I would hate to be at my table when it does.

I just got home for a quick trip to Vegas with my wife and I doubled my poker bankroll. I booked a win of $640 in 2.5 hours of poker!

My wife and I decided to celebrate our two year anniversary by going back to Las Vegas, the site of our wedding. Now that we have a baby, we enjoy the very simple things on vacation. The ability to sleep in or take a nap whenever we want. We can go to a movie or a nice dinner. We did all of that and Michele sent me down to the Venetian poker room at 8:00 PM.

I immediately sat down at a 1-2 No Limit table and bought in short for $100. I wanted to see a couple of rotations before I put another $100 on the table. My second hand of the night, I am in the big blind with 4c 6c. An early position player raises to $7 and three other people call behind him and I call in the big blind.

The flop is 4s-4h-As. I lead out for $20 to try and build a pot, figuring that someone probably has an Ace and I want to protect my hand from the flush draw. The original raiser calls, a couple of guys fold, and the button after some deliberation, folds and accidently shows his hand which was A-7. Ok I guess my opponent is on a flush draw.

The turn is the 6 of spades which is perfect. It gives me the full house and gives him a possible flush. I try to look a little disappointed as I check. He bets $30 and I ponder for a moment and then call.

The river was nothing and I have to figure out whether to bet or go for the check raise. I decide to get greedy and go for the check and he cooperates and bets $40. I raise the rest of my chips which is only like $11 more for him to call and he shows Js-8s. What a crappy raising hand! So I more than double up after 2 hands.

A couple of hands later, I raise in late position with pocket 10's. The same guy calls after limping under the gun. The flop is K-8-4 rainbow. He checks and I fire a continuation bet. He looks me up and down and calls. The turn is another ten, giving me three of a kind. He checks again and I make another 1/2 pot sized bet which he calls. The river is nothing and he check folds.

I won a couple more small pots off the same guy with underpairs or even Ace high. I had position on him in every hand and it really paid off. I left for a bathroom break and when I got back, a new player was cleaning out my "favorite". He got up and left and I thought my night might be a little tougher.

I maintained a steady stack for about an hour when I won the biggest pot of my poker career. The black man on my left limped in which started a rash of other limpers. The button raised to $7. I'll never understand why he would do that when he knows everyone is going to call. I had seen him raise that same amount with Queens earlier. The small blind folded and I looked down at two black Kings.

I definitely need to thin the herd so I raise to $30. Now the black guy on my left thinks for a little bit and calls, another limper calls, and the button calls. Already this pot is out of control. I have $310 behind and the pot is over $120 and I am out of position.

The flop is 8 high with two spades. I am not in the mood to fuck around and I bet $100. Now the black guy on my left goes in the tank for a little while and decides to make it $200 to go. Fuck! I would have been happy taking it down right there. One of the prefolp callers takes a long time to fold and the button makes a show of his fold and it's back to me.

Earlier I had seen this guy raise on a flush draw. If he has that, then I need to push all in. If he has a set, I am screwed although I do have the King of spades so that could come back to save me. I decide to push in my remaining $211 and he hesitates a little and then calls.

I turn over my Kings, but he exercises his option not to turn over his cards. Since he's not in a hurry to show me his hand I figure I must have him beat. But I want to know what cards I need to sweat! Turn it over dammit!

The turn is a beautiful red King and the river is a Queen. It turns out he shows me pocket Queens for the slap in the face river card for him. My three Kings are good and I rake a HUUUUUGE pot. Just over $700.

My heart was leaping out of my chest. That rush is why so many people love this game.

Now the issue was, "Should I leave this game?". I did not outplay him in this hand, I just got lucky that my Kings were higher than his pocket pair. The table was relatively soft, but I was stuck between two decent players. Also I knew that I had just doubled my bankroll and it was very tempting to just quit and say I won $600.

I played a few more hands and then got up to think about what I should do. I had literally won all this money in 90 minutes. I drove for 5 hours to Vegas mainly so I could play some poker and I felt like I was cheating myself if I didn't at least keep playing for a while.

I told myself that I would protect $500 and play with the $200. If I lost that, I would quit. I lasted about another hour, mainly folding. I even folded Ac Qd to a $20 raise preflop by the guy on my right. I knew he had 10's or Jacks because he had over raised preflop with that hand two times already. I just did not want to play my hand with so many players behind me. Turns out I would have missed the flop anyway.

After an hour of this bankroll strategy, I could not get the fear of losing my big profit out of my head and I decided to rack up and go to bed. I had maintained my stack and cashed out for $711. Subtract my initial $100 buy in and that is $611 in profit.

Just as a throw away the next day I cashed in my $15 free slot play voucher and won an additional $30. My wife did even better by hitting a $200 jackpot on the nickel slots. The VQ team could not lose!

Now I have close to $1,300 in the bankroll. It will be interesting to see if I can continue to build it by moving up to .50-$1 NL.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Winning at Golf, Losing at Poker

Last night I was out at a Christmas Party for my friend, Jason. I was alone because my wife and I did not want to pay for a babysitter for 2 nights in a row. After the party I decided to make the most of my hall pass and go play 3-6 hold'em at the Gila River.

I have been running extremely bad in live limit poker over the last few sessions. I hate to be the guy complaining about how bad everyone else plays so I won't do it here. All I can say is I have a big swing of good luck coming my way and I would not want to be my opponent at the table when it finally hits.

I thought last night might be the night as I quickly made $60 in profit when I flopped trip Queens with AQ and hit the nut flush with KQ suited. Unfortunately I did not win another hand the rest of the night.

The coup de grace was playing 8-4 in the big blind. The flop comes down perfect with 5-6-7 and two diamonds. The ancient old man on my right in the small blind leads out. He only bets when he has something and a lot of the time he won't bet a great hand because he's afraid of an even better one.

I raise trying to protect my hand because there was still a couple of other players behind me. One of them calls and the old man reraises me. I had not seen him reraise anyone in 2 hours! I don't think he was pushing a flush draw, so he either has a higher straight, a lower straight, or 3 of a kind. Since I have one of the cards needed for the higher straight, I think I am still ahead, so I raise again. Now the loose caller folds and the old man calls.

The turn is a meaningless diamond. He checks. Since I don't put him on a flush draw, I figure it's safe to bet. He just calls. The river is another diamond, putting four on the board. He checks again and I check my cards to make sure I don't have a diamond. I don't so I check behind. He turns over a pair of 7's giving him a set and I am ready to stack the chips. Wait! One of his 7's is a diamond and he wins the pot.

I finished the night down $100 and left in a really sour mood.

Today was match #3 of the golf challenge with Bill. Since PCC was hosting a tournament, we decided to check out Arizona Country Club. We also wanted to see their new clubhouse since that's all we seem to talk about at Phoenix CC. The clubhouse was as nice as expected and the golf course was very pretty as well. It's not quite in as good as shape as our course and it's not nearly as difficult. It was a pleasant change of pace, however.

I felt pretty good about my game today, but my putter was letting me down. Bill was playing awful again, but this time his putter was working and he was getting up and down from everywhere. We both shot 41 on the front nine.

This was a good example of how things were going. On the par 5 10th hole, I hit my drive into the right rough. Bill went further right with his 2 iron. Bill's next shot hit a tree solidly and went further right into a greenside bunker for a different hole. He then hit out of the bunker and it hit the roof of the snack bar and ricochets back into the right rough.

I hit 5 iron to lay up and hit a 7 iron to the middle of the green. Bill hitting his 5th shot from 180 yards goes over the flag and just off the green about 15 feet away. I miss my birdie putt and tap in for par. Bill sinks his putt from off the green for 6 and I only pick up one stroke.

I manage to build a one stroke lead going to 17. Bill was a long way from the green and hit a banana ball that went right into the front bunker. Because of the trajectory of the shot, his ball plugged into the side of the bunker. I had hit a good drive, but my swing path was a little steep on my 9 iron approach and leave it a yard short of the green. Bill leaves his first sand save attempt in the bunker. His next shot was a good one, but it trickled 8 feet by the hole.

I hit my birdie putt from off the green and left it just an inch short. I tapped in for par and waited for Bill to make another miracle putt. He did not let me down and he managed to make the putt with a 2 foot break for bogey. Now he is only two down going into 18.

I stand up on the Par 5 18th hole tee box and hit my best drive of the day. 250 yards with a slight fade. Bill hits 2 iron and it is flaring to the right again. It looks like it went out of bounds. I even said, "It's over" out loud. Bill hit a provisional which was over corrected to the left. We drive up to where Bill's first ball would have landed and once again, he lucks out and we find the ball one foot from a brick fence that kept his ball in bounds. His second lucky break is that he would have to stand on a huge drainage grate to hit the ball, so he gets a free drop away from the wall. He smacks his second shot up the fairway and now he's in good position for his approach.

I only have 240 yards left to reach the green in two. I had told Bill earlier that I was going to try and reach every par 5 in two if given the opportunity. I took the head cover off the 3 metal, but as I looked at my options with that club, none of them looked any good. If I aim at the pin, I have to clear two sets of bunkers and make the shot stop on what looks like a short amount of green. If I aim to the fat part of the green on the left, there is a large eucalyptus tree hanging over the fairway that could catch my ball.

I put the head cover back on, and take 5 iron, trying to lay up short of all the trouble. I hit a crappy shot that starts to slice low and to the right. I end up stymied behind a small pine tree. Meanwhile, Bill hit his approach to 8 feet for birdie. If he makes his putt and I make bogey he will pull out another miraculous tie.

I punch out from behind the tree to the grass just left of the green. I have kind of a tough lie for my 4th shot with the ball below my feet and I am pitching to an elevated green. I hit an ok shot and leave myself 25 feet for par.

Standing over the putt, I really wanted to make it. I did not want to try and baby something up there. I over accelerated through the ball and ran the ball 9 feet by the pin. Another horrible putt and this one may cost me the match! I said a few choice curse words and tried to compose myself. Luckily my come back putt was straight and a little up hill. I made a good stroke and somehow I willed it into the hole for bogey.

Bill still had a chance for the tie. He lined up and pulled it to the left. Bill's well of miracles had finally run dry. I had to shoot a 39 on the back to beat him in spite of how bad he played. Now the match stands 2.5 to .5 with me in the lead.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Breaking In The Man Cave

The first poker night was held at my new house last Wednesday night in the man cave. The line up was Rob, Carlo, Greg, Mike, and Devin.

The man cave is set up with my old octagon poker table and a new 32” LCD Sony TV to watch the Suns game. I ordered a couple of pizzas from Papa Johns and we were off.

I was impressed with Carlo early on. He had control of the table and was pushing players off their hands. Of course I knew that eventually it would come back and bite him in the ass which it did. However I could see how he could do well in a real tournament. He was aggressively going after pots that no one wanted. If he could learn to slow down at the right time and be a little more selective, he would be tough to beat.

I knew that I would not be playing my best poker since I was busy trying to be a good host and the game was on, which kept distracting me.

I lost my first buy in when I raised with AdQd on the button. Devin and Greg called the raise and the flop was Jc-9d-6d. They checked to me. I could have checked and I thought about it. However the pot seemed big enough that I felt like taking it down now was ok too. I bet 25 into a 45 pot. Devin folded, but Greg moved all in on me. Since I was a favorite over everything but a set, I called. Surprisingly Greg had the 7d-8d for a straight flush draw. I was not as big a favorite as I thought, but it was still 58% in my favor. I had his diamond outs covered except for two of them and currently the best hand. He hit his straight card on the turn and I did not hit a diamond so I forked out another $20.

On my second stack, I won a big pot with pocket 8’s. Robert limped in and I called with 8’s on the button. Mike folded his small blind and Carlo raised. Since Carlo had been raising a lot and I figured Robert would not call a big bet from me, I reraised all in. Carlo was a little short do I did not think smooth calling would give me the right odds to flop a set. I was willing to race and I was hoping he might call me with something like A-5. I think he had K-10 and my 8’s held up.

Carlo rebought and then crippled me later. I limped in after a couple of others with QJ suited. The flop was Q-7-3 rainbow. Carlo led out from the big blind and everyone folded to me. I thought about raising, but I figured I had the best hand and I would let Carlo bluff at it on the turn and then drop the hammer. The turn was a 10. Carlo went all in and I called. Carlo had turned two pair holding 10-3. Ugh!

That crippled me and I later went out when my A-K did not win the race.

Golf Match #2 I choke away an easy point

A week ago, Bill and I played our 2nd match in the golf bet. Once again after 9 holes I had a 3 stroke lead with a 40 on the front 9. It seemed like I played even better than I scored.

On the back nine, my golf game started to leave me. I hate that feeling of knowing that you have played great golf for 2-3 rounds and you just know the bad one is coming. I did everything I could to fight it off, but bad shots at really bad times kept happening.

The funny thing was that Bill could not get his game going either. Every time I gave him an opening he tripped over himself. On 13 I hit it in the water with my tee shot. Then Bill stepped up and did the same thing. I did him one better by then putting my pitch shot in the lake again! I took an 8 and he took a 5.

His next screw up was on 14. Since he had the honors he went first and inexplicably hit his 2 iron out onto Osborn Road and out of bounds. I was in the middle of the fairway. After Bill hit his 3rd shot from the tee, his 4th shot was also heading out of bounds towards Osborn again. I thought it was out for sure. He even hit another provisional because Bill thought it was probably OB. But he walked up to the tall pine tree on the right and there it was. I made bogey and he only made double bogey.

By 18 I had built my lead back up to 3 strokes. I hit 3 wood off the tee on the par 5 to keep it in play and to keep the fairway bunker out of play, since I can't reach it with that club. I hit a weak slice to the right that I briefly thought might bounce out of bounds. Luckily the grass was long and sticky so it did not go far. Bill was in the middle of the fairway. My second shot required me to punch out back into the fairway keeping it under a big tree. I hit a great shot and managed to advance the ball about 150 yards. Bill was still in good shape with his second and then played his 3rd onto the green.

I had 185 yards to the middle of the green. I thought about my choices. I could lay up with a 140 yard shot and take the lake out of play on the right. I still might leave myself a tough shot if I pull it left into the fairway bunker or push it too far right and get stuck behind the big pine tree. I could also hit 5 iron and just aim way left. If I hit it straight it's in the greenside bunker and all I have to do is get out and two putt for the win. I decide to play the 5 iron shot and aim left. Apparently I did not aim far enough left as I rinsed it in the lake. Fuck!

I'm still ok if I can make double bogey, Bill still has to make his long birdie putt to tie. I take my drop and the ball bounces a little forward into the longer rough. I hit my pitch shot over the lake trying to put the image of my botched pitch over the lake on 13 out of my head. The ball lands 6 feet from the pin. I am hoping to have a little bite on the shot, but because of the rough I can't get enough spin on it and it rolls past the pin and up a swail in the middle of the green.

Bill proceeds to hit his birdie putt from just outside where my ball is. His putt screams down the hill and runs 6 feet by the hole. Now all I have to do is two putt. It's not easy because it will tough to stop the ball near the hole after seeing what Bill's ball did. I hit a great putt that almost goes in. Unfortunately it still creeps 4 feet by the hole so it's not a gimme.

Bill makes his first clutch shot of the day and drains the putt for par. I hit a good putt but somehow it does not go in and I take an 8 on the last hole and Bill salvages a 1/2 point. I shot 48 on the back nine. Absolutely horrible!