Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Drought Finally Ends at Casino AZ

After what seemed like at least 10 losing trips to Casino Arizona, I finally walked away a winner today. I made a change that may be a very profitable one in the future. I finally sat down in the 3-6 Omaha 8 or better game.

When I first showed up after work, there was a list of 7-8 players waiting for Omaha so I sat in a 3-6 Hold'em game while I waited for my name to be called. The hold'em game was more of the same old shit as I dropped a quick $50 in about 20 minutes. My second hand of the session was Jack Ten offsuit in the big blind. I flopped a ten for top pair and bet the flop and turn. I checked the river and lost to another ten with a Queen kicker.

The very next hand, I find Ace-Queen in the small blind. There is one limper and I raise. The big blind comes along and the limper calls one more. I totally miss the Jack high flop. I bet anyway and the blind calls while the preflop limper folds. I bluff the turn and the river. The blind at least thinks for a few seconds before calling the river with a pair of tens and a nine kicker. Why do I continue to try and force people to fold in this stupid game?!

Finally my name is called for the 3-6 Omaha game and I rack up what's left of my stack and hustle over. In a sign of good luck, a player on the button wants to take the open seat that I was about to take. He wants to play the button first, so I get a free hand, which I fold and then I get to switch behind the button without paying the blinds. I tend to focus on these small victories when I am losing.

The first thing I did was try to figure out a way to look at all 4 cards at once. This is more difficult than it sounds since it is especially difficult to shield your cards from the other players with 4 in your hand. I finally decided to line them up in portrait style, one on top of the other so I could peel them up all at once with my thumb.

While trying not to look like a total amateur, I reminded myself to watch all of my opponents for the cards they were turning over at showdown. At the very least it would give me an idea of their starting hand requirements. As I get faster at reading hands, I can graduate to recreating the action in my head to see if my opponents have tendencies with certain hands. This type of detailed thinking was not really necessary in this game as the players were incredibly bad.

Last night I started reading the Omaha 8 or better section in Jeff Hwang's Pot Limit Omaha Poker book. He mentioned, as many others have that you can make a lot of money in loose Omaha 8 games by just playing or drawing to the nuts. This game was a prime example.

My first clue that this was a soft game was when the player two to my left tried to raise KJ78 before the flop. I also saw hands like AQ77 and KK33. Wow!
Unfortunately my mind has not adapted to remembering all the cards in Omaha hands (I can barely recreate them for hold'em). I believe my first win was half of a small pot with a nut low. Then I won a big pot with the nut low and a Ten high flush for the high to scoop.

The player next to me was nice enough to show me his cards if I was out of the hand. He wanted some company for his misery as he kept hitting decent hands by the turn only to be decimated by the river. I will grant him that he was having some bad luck, but his major problem was that he should not have been in half of the hands to begin with. He was the ideal opponent because the only thing he would think of was his hand and whether he had any chance at a draw to a better hand. There was absolutely no thought to what the odds were to draw to these hands or the fact that even if he hit the draws, they were not to the nuts.

One of the neat things about this game is if you scoop a pot and it's over $50, the next hand is a kill pot and the stakes go up to $6-$12. It was one of these hands where I won my biggest pot, even though I split with another person.

I started with A23Qss in middle position. There was one limper and the kill pot poster before it got to me. I raised to build the pot since I figured it would at least be 4 way action with the money already in the pot. Instead there ended up being 7 players in the pot. The flop had a deuce and another low card in it. I had no high possible but a player on my right led into me. Since I was drawing to the nut low, I just call to try and bring others into the pot. Everyone calls! The turn gives me the nut low, but also puts a possible straight out there and a flush draw. The same thing happens again where I just call hoping for half the pot. Although by now, I am figuring that someone is going to quarter me for the low and I will be lucky to get my money back. The river is the third flush card. It's actually checked to me and I check it through. Everyone turns over their cards and there are a couple of straights and a non nut flush for high. Amazingly no one else has A-3 for the nut low and I win half of a monster pot. There were 6 people in the hand at the end and I was the only one with a nut low!

Right before I was going to leave, I backed into a scoop when my AQ23 hit Aces and twos for the high when no low was possible. Somehow it was checked through on the turn and river as no one tried to bluff at it. I was itching to fold, but when we turned over all the hands, I was the only one with an Ace in my hand. Someone else had Kings up, but that wasn't close to the winner.

So after a negative $50 set back at Hold'em, I left the casino up $60 for the day. That was a $110 swing in about an hour and a half. I know that a sample size of one doesn't count for much, but I really think I may have stumbled into a very profitable game for the next few sessions.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Should I Focus on Games Other Than No Limit Hold’em?

On the drive back from Las Vegas, Michele made a suggestion that maybe I should try to specialize in some of the other games besides No Limit Hold’em. We were listening to one of the poker podcasts I had on my ITouch in the car and the guests were commenting on how much harder the online No Limit games had become over the last few years. The theory is that with all the coaching sites, books, and message boards out there, that the poker IQ of the average NL Hold’em player has gone way up and it is tougher to beat the game.

I happen to think that there is still money to be made at the low stakes levels of No Limit Hold’em online, but I was a little burnt out on Hold’em and I figured that I would rededicate myself to Omaha for the next few weeks and see if that is really the answer.

As I have written about in my previous posts, I have been learning how to play Pot Limit Omaha High over the last few months. I pulled up my Omaha Poker Tracker Stats and across all levels I have been losing .32 BB/100 over 8,430 hands. That is not a very large sample size and honestly, that could turn positive in about two sessions of .50-1 PLO.

Many players claim that PLO is the game of the future. It is much more complex than Hold’em and therefore, there are very few experts at the game and most of them are playing at nosebleed stakes. According to a couple of authors that I have read, the skill difference between an expert and pretty good player in PLO is very small, because it is very rare that you get someone all in drawing dead or close to it. I disagree with this statement because I have found that I have seen players get their whole stack in the pot drawing at non nut hands, when someone else already has the nuts.

I think there is definitely a profitable niche in these games, I just have to improve enough to take advantage. Plus it has become a very popular game, so it is not hard to find 12-20 tables running of 6 max or full ring at Poker Stars or Full Tilt.

The other game I wanted to investigate was Limit Omaha Eight or Better (O8). I have heard that this game has less variance that Limit Hold’em and that a good player can clean up in these games because most people have no idea how to play split pot games. I only have 988 hands in my Poker Tracker data base for split games, but I am slightly ahead.

I have seen evidence in every game I have played over the last week, that there are some really bad O8 players. I even tried to observe the 3-6 O8 game at Casino Arizona while I was waiting for a seat to open up. I had heard that it was a bunch of old men who only played the nuts. Instead, in the hands I observed, there was a fundamental mistake made by somebody on almost every hand.

The problem with O8 is that it is not nearly as popular as Pot Limit Omaha. If I’m lucky there is one 3-6 and one 6-12 live game running at the Casino. That can make for a long wait if there are a few people in line ahead of me. Online is not much better as I have been playing the .5-1 games on Poker Stars and Full Tilt. The full ring games will have 3-4 tables running. There is not a lot of chance for game selection there. It’s even worse at the higher levels where you are lucky if there is one full ring table running at each level.

The other problem with O8 is that that it is a very slow game. The dealer has to deal 4 cards to everyone, so that takes more time. Every pot at the end is usually split so it takes longer to read the hands and separate the chips. It could really drive a guy nuts who is used to playing 3-4 tables at once online. I might have to play at very high stakes live, in order to compensate for playing ¼ as many hands as if I was playing online.

I have cracked open my books on Omaha and over the next few weeks I plan on posting some strategy for Omaha. I doubt any of it will be ground breaking stuff, but I figure if I write it down in my own words, it will help me synthesize the lessons and make me a better player. I also plan on taking at least two hands from every session and posting them on Cardrunners or Two Plus Two to get feedback from the other players.

For the next month I am going to become an Omaholic.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

I Went To The WSOP And All I Got Was This Lousy Beefstick!

Michele and I went on what I hope is now an annual trip to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. Last year I qualified through Full Tilt Poker online, but this year I was not as lucky. I figured I would give a $550 mega satellite one last chance before I give up for 2009.

We arrived in Las Vegas a little after 2:00 PM and we immediately headed to the Convention Center to check out the action. After a brief chat with a supervisor, I found out that the satellite would start at 4:00 PM. Michele and I decided that we would postpone our date night until Friday so I could play in today's tournament. We waited in line for about a 1/2 hour to register during which it was announced that the tournament start time would be pushed back until 4:30 because there were so many entries.

Eventually there were 526 runners for 26 seats. We started with 4,000 in chips and 1/2 hour levels. The first blind level was 25-50. My cards were horrendous for the first level. I think I folded the entire level. I may have tried a random blind steal and got reraised so I laid it down.

I tried a couple of other small moves in the next level that were unsuccessful as well. The third level was 100-200. I think I was down to around 3,500 in chips. I picked up 44 on the button. It was folded to me and I raised to 600. The crazy scandanavian in the big blind reraised to 1800. My first instinct was to push all in. It always looks like a steal when the button raises first in the pot. However, if my opponent had been paying attention, he should have noticed that I had not really played a hand in the last hour. I eventually pussed out and he turned over an Ace. I said, "there had better been another one of those in your hand."

I folded the next 9 hands when it was my button again. This time I called a raise from one of the more active players at the table with Q-3 offsuit. I was intending to play my position and figured he would fire at the flop and then I would take it on the turn when he checked. The problem was that the Small Blind called after me. So this makes the pot a little bigger that I want and now I have to bluff two people instead of one.

I don't remember what the flop was, but the small blind checked, the raiser bet, I called with nothing, and the small blind came along. The turn actually gave me an inside straight draw. The small blind checked again and this time the pre-flop raiser checked as well. So do I take the free card? The pot was already pretty big and I would be happy to take it down if they will let me. I fired at the pot leaving me just under 2k in chips. The small blind then pounced and announced he was all in. The other guy folded and I disgustedly mucked.

Now I really have to go into lock down mode. I only have 9 BB left. Luckily a short time later, an older hispanic fellow who could not speak english and was the worst player at the table limps in under the gun. I pick up pocket Queens and go all in. The blinds fold and the hispanic guy calls off half his stack with K-10. Luckily a King does not hit the board and I double up to nearly my starting stack.

The next level was the same 100-200 blind level but they added the 25 ante. Now my stack is getting whittled away each hand and I fold back down to 3,400. A newer player at the table raises in early position to 600. I look down at JJ and immediately ship it in. He snap calls with QQ and I go home now. An utterly distasteful performance.

I sulk back up to the room and check on Michele. She had ordered a $21 hamburger from room service and was in a half dazed meat coma on the bed. I sat down and enjoyed some free beef jerky and watched TV for an hour with her. Naturally my competitive nature would not allow me to sit still after losing $550 so I asked if it would be ok to go down and play some cash games for a while. She voiced some small concern that I might be upset, and I honestly told her that I felt OK. What I did not recognize was the onset of patience tilt.

There are many kinds of tilt. You can see a Phil Hellmuth rant where he berates another player and looks like a total ass. You can see someone take a bad beat and steam raise the next 5 hands. Patience tilt is where you are anxious to win your money back and tend to over play your hands. You are still waiting for the good ones, but once you get one, the money is probably going into the pot and you better hope that you are running good.

The Rio's poker room is right next to their sports book and pretty small for a hotel that prides itself on hosting the World Series. The smallest No Limit game they run is a $1-$3 blind game. That's a little higher than I normally play but I was not too concerned.

I decided to buy in a little short, to further encourage myself to be patient and not chase hands with silly suited connectors until I had built up a stack. The shorter buy in would force me to play premium hands and play them hard to get paid.

My very first hand, I picked up pocket queens. I was in the cutoff and I raised to $15. The button smooth called me and the big blind also came along. The flop was J-J-7. That looks pretty good. The blind checks and I bet $30. The button calls again but the blind then check raises me to $120. Ugh! My initial instinct was to fold. After all, very few guys have the balls to check raise a raiser and a caller with an under pair.

For some reason, the tilt devil on my other shoulder whispers in my ear. "Why would he check raise now? The flop is safe, any good player would check raise the turn and trap you for all your chips. Maybe he's just trying to bully the new guy? I listen the the tilt devil and push all in. The button folds. The blind takes a few seconds pondering the call before he pushes out the other $100. I knew that hesitation meant he had a Jack with a mediocre kicker. I was right as he eventually showed the J-9. The button claimed he threw away pocket Kings. He had no reason to lie, but I was a little flabbergasted that the deck had been that stacked against me in the very first hand.

I stumbled to the ATM and withdrew another buy in. Now I was playing pretty tight and a couple of new crazy players had joined the table. The young guy who had busted me had lost his stack and left the game. The new player was playing a lot of pots and making big raises preflop. It sucked having him on my left, so when a seat opened up two to his right, I jumped on it immediately. I would much rather have the maniac on my right. Plus there was a short stacked calling station on my immediate left now who would easily pay me off if I ever hit anything.

I had rebought in for $200 again, but after the seat change I put another $100 on the table so I would have the ammunition to play against the aggressive guy. I won a small pot with Ace-King after I reraised an early raiser. He made the call and I bluffed on a board of 2-3-8. So now my stack was sitting around $325.

A couple of hands later, I picked up AsKd again. I raised to $12. The player two seats to my left made it $35 and everyone else folded. My tilt devil suggested shoving all in, but I fought back that instinct. I decided to call and see what happens. The flop was Ac-Tc-6c. So I got top pair, but there is three to a flush out there. I think for a moment then check, planning to check raise. My thinking was that he will probably bet almost anything here to continue after his reraise preflop. If I am ahead, he will shut down after I raise and I won't have to play the turn and river and worry about another club coming. I did not think of it at the time, but it the flop also eliminates one of the hands he could have reraised me with as the AcKc is not possible since the Ac is on the board.

So I checked and he bet $50. I raised all in and he called immediately. He had the AdKc. The turn was another club and my stack was gone again. I knew I had overplayed the QQ hand earlier, but this one I was not so sure. I just ran poker stove and gave him a range of AA, KK, QQ, AK with the King of clubs, and AQ with the Queen of clubs. If that range is accurate then I was 59% to win the hand after the flop. If I take out his AQ hands my win rate only goes up to 60%. So I guess it wasn't terrible. I made my best poker move of the day and quit the game.

Michele was a little shocked when I told her how much I had lost, but that's the risk you take.

The next day while we were waiting at the Monte Carlo to meet my friends Rudy and Teresa for lunch, Michele and I hit the slot machines for a small profit. I then played black jack for a little while and made some small change there too.

After lunch and a quick nap, I decided to go back and conquer the Rio cash games again. This time I was bound and determined to wait for my good hands and hope to get paid when I hit them.

The game was reasonably soft and I had slowly increased my starting stack from $300 up to $425. I was a couple of hours into the session and I could feel my patience starting to wear a little thin.

A couple of the calling stations had busted and some short stacked timid players had taken their place so my chance for more profits were starting to look slim. Just about when I was ready to leave, I picked up 22 in middle position. A younger guy who had doubled up earlier when his top two pair had spiked a full house on the river against an old lady's bottom set, raised to $15. Since he was the only one at the table that had me covered, I could finally call with a small pocket pair and have the correct odds. The older man to my immediate left called as well and we had three to the flop.

One of the reasons for my frustration lately is that I had picked up a number of small pocket pairs in the last few sessions of poker and it seemed like it had been days since I had hit a set. This time the flop was good to me as it was a perfect A-7-2 rainbow. The initial raiser bet $30. I decided to slow play since the board was so harmless. I just called and the old man called behind me. The turn was a 9 which put two diamonds on the board. The raiser bet $50 this time and now I pounced and raised to a total of $150. The man on my left folded and my opponent started to think. He eventually put out the $100 to call and we went to the river. The dealer laid out another 7 giving me 2's full of 7's. My opponent checked. I'm not sure that a value bet is the best idea here. A good player is probably only going to call with something that beats me. Maybe he was fooling around with A-9 pre-flop and he hit two pair on the turn? I bet $150 and he took a little time and called again.

I showed the full house and he mucked. It was the biggest pot the table had seen since I had been there. My profit was $390 on just that hand! I folded the next couple of hands and then took a bathroom break to gather my thoughts. It was getting close to dinner time and I decided to call it a night. I racked up and went to tell Michele that I had won back half of the money I had lost the day before.

Dinner was at the Palms at Gardunos. We stuffed ourselves with cheesy Mexican goodness, but had to kill a couple of hours before the start time of the Hangover movie. The slots were not kind, but the black jack table was open only this time it was a $10 minimum bet instead of $5 like it was at the Monte Carlo. In spite of being distracted constantly by all the hot women dressed like prostitutes trying to get into the Jay-Z concert that night, I managed to win $100 to cap off my gambling for the trip.

We ended our vacation by watching the movie of the year. I don't think anything could have lived up to the hype that my friends were giving this movie, but it did it's best. I really appreciated the slide show of the bachelor party pictures at the end of the movie. Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of those pictures brought back some memories of crazy days gone by.