Archive for October, 2009

The Great Phil Ivey Bubble

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

In sports-betting, a bubble will occasionally materialize that presents savvy bettors with an opportunity to make some cash. In the 2007 NFL season, the New England Patriots became the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season. There’s no question that the Patriots were very good – the best in the league for sure – but over-enthusiasm for them on the betting market created an interesting opportunity. At the start of the playoffs, the New York Giants were listed at 70:1 to win the Super Bowl. Seventy to one even after they had already secured a playoff spot!

This author put a c-note on that line and enjoyed the Super Bowl of a lifetime after deciding against hedging the wager. Our resident TwoGun bet quite a great deal more than that and also neglected to hedge. Everyone knows the rest of the story: David Tyree makes the greatest catch in Super Bowl history which helps lead the Giants to a thrilling victory thereby spoiling the Patriots near-perfect season.

Right now in poker, there are some similar betting opportunities that involve fading a dominant entity. Phil Ivey’s presence at the 2009 Main Event final table has created these opportunities. What happened in the NFL in 2007 is that bettors were piling on the Patriots so much that sports-books were forced to list teams like the Giants with very long odds in order to entice action away from the Patriots. Ivey’s presence at the final table has created an identical scenario.

Take a look at the WSOP betting odds at Pinnacle Sports. You’ll see that Ivey is currently +504 (risk $100 to win $504) to win the Main Event. With roughly 5% of the chips in play, he should be a +1900 longshot to win the tournament if he were viewed as having an average skill-set. But Ivey isn’t viewed as having an average skill-set. He is viewed as having a super-human, unbeatable, best-player-in-the-world set of skills. For that reason, his odds of winning have increased all the way to +504.

While it’s true that Ivey is probably the best poker player in the world, there is way too much optimism regarding his chances of winning this tournament. Remember, the other eight players at the table aren’t total slouches. They navigated through a field of 6,494 to get to where they are and have now enjoyed four months to polish their play for the final table. The over-optimism regarding Ivey’s chances has resulted in some great value in placing a wager on others at the table.

For example, I made a bet that 21 year-old Joe Cada will win the event at odds of +1537 (which moved the line to its current listing of +1300). Cada has about 50% more chips than Ivey but was considered nearly three times less likely to win the tournament! Preposterous, I said.

The youngster Cada has been crushing poker since before he was supposed to be playing it (not unlike Ivey as a young man) and has booked a six-figure victory in an online poker tournament during the break before the Main Event final table. Cada was one of the chip leaders after day one of this tournament and essentially went wire-to-wire with a formidable stack to make this final table.

At odds of +1537, Cada was being given a 6% chance to win the tournament despite having a little more than 7% of the chips in play!. That’s the Ivey factor for you. Normally on a proposition of this nature, the vigorish taken by the sports-book would make it nearly impossible to find any shred of value, but thanks to Ivey, great players like Cada are graded at having less of a chance to win than the percentage of chips they possess.

Other players with similarly good betting value are Kevin Schaffel (who showed he’s no fluke by finishing 2nd in a WPT event in August) at +1558 and chip-leader Darvin Moon at +381. Moon has 30.2% of the chips in play but is being given just a 20.8% chance of winning the tournament at those odds.

Bubbles like this don’t come around often. At the start of last year’s NFL playoffs, the longshot team was the Arizona Cardinals at 40:1. During the Patriots bubble from the year before, no less than five teams had longer odds than that.

What a Dikshit

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

A lot of noise in the poker world was made this week when Anurag Dikshit sold off the majority of his stake in Party Gaming, the company that owns Party Poker. Dikshit said he plans on donating the proceeds of the sale to his charity, the Kusuma Trust, which helps at-risk children in India, the United Kingdom, and Gibraltar (where Party Poker is based and he lives).

Dikshit has been giving away hundreds of millions of his fortune lately. Earlier this year, he plead guilty to violating US gambling laws and agreed to a fine of $300 million. Remember, he’s not pleading guilty to violating the UIGEA here…this was a plea to gambling laws prior to the enactment of the UIGEA. Party Gaming agreed to settle with the DOJ last year for around $100 million. In other words, Dikshit, who owned 28% of Party Gaming, paid three times as much as the company itself. Nice negotiating skills, Dikshit.

Many were perplexed why Dikshit agreed to pay such a huge fine. He basically said he just wanted to get that era behind him and move on with his life. Now, he’s selling off the rest of his stake in Party Gaming to donate to charity. I’ve got two rants I have to get off my chest:

Rant #1: The media and the poker world need to stop acting like this is good for Party Poker and poker in general. This sale doesn’t matter.

Some have suggested that by selling his stake to the public, Dikshit will no longer listed as a beneficial owner/director. Since he plead guilty and technically has a criminal record in the United States, his removal from Party Gaming means Party Gaming will no longer be ‘blemished’ and can somehow re-enter the US market easier when the UIGEA repeals.

There’s a lot of if’s here. This line of logic is similar to me thinking: I’ve heard that Britney Sears does not like to use condoms and doesn’t use birth control. Therefore, I should get a vasectomy. If I get a vasectomy, I can enter Britney Spears without me worrying about a baby.

Party Gaming (and everyone else in the poker world) should count on the UIGEA being repealed about as much as I should count on sleeping with Britney Spears. There is the chance of states allowing online poker (gambling is primarily a state law in the US). If online poker came back in the US and was fully legal, it would be on a state by state basis. Nonetheless, let’s wait and let that happen first and see how the states implement it before we cheer about some random dude selling his stock shares. OK people?

Rant #2: I’m sick of Dikshit giving away all his money

A lot of people applaud billionaires when they give away all of their money to charity. I suppose it is honorable to do so. But there’s something that just doesn’t quite sit right with me. What’s the point of these billionaires going through all the hoops to create these businesses in tax shelters if they’re just going to give all that money away later?

Can one of these billionaires that gives away all their money do something different for once? Everyone feeds the children and gives money towards disease pandemics. Yes, good causes I know.

But cmon Dikshit, if you feel so guilty about all the money you made from gambling, maybe give the money to Gambler’s Anonymous and other groups that help problem gambling. Maybe track down some people that lost a lot of money on Party Poker and have one huge bad beat jackpot for them.  How about you give some of that money to the company that made you rich in the first place? Party is now 4th place in terms of poker traffic. It’s not even the #1 non-US site anymore.

Or at the very least, go on one huge coke and hooker binge. If none of this sounds appealing, why be a youngish billionaire? You’re just making the case that the government should tax those with huge windfalls (i.e. $30 million+) at 75% or whatever.

Why Tough Ring Games Are Very -EV

Friday, October 16th, 2009

When talking about EV and variance, many poker players prefer to play ring games since the variance is much lower than tournaments and they can grind out a solid profit over time. Back when I was playing poker on a professional/near-professoinal basis,  I played ring games the majority of the time, and rarely had a month where I lost money.

Times have changed though and games are much tougher than in the past. There aren’t $15-$30 fixed-limit games where players will just cold-call a raise with A7 offsuit preflop. Rake has gone up, not down. A higher percentage of players playing poker have been playing for at least few years, and the number of new players as a percentage of online players in general is much lower.

For these and other reasons, ring games have gotten tougher. But one thing to remember about ring games is that even if you are an average player at the table, the game is very -EV. The rake at a ring game is about 5% of the pot (it’s lower at higher stakes since the max rake kicks in, but these games are also shark filled). If you are an entirely neutral player, this means the game has a 5% edge. That’s slot machine type play. You need to be significantly better than the other players at the table. This means you can’t just be good, you need to be confident that everyone else is terrible.

Tournaments are a bit different. While technically the vigorish is around 9-10% for a tournament, you get many, many hands in a tournament, so the vigorish per hand played is much lower. In other words, when factoring in skill, luck, and vigorish paid, when you pay the 5% vigorish in a ring game, the skill you use to make up for that vigorish lasts that one hand only. In a tournament, you have dozens of hands where you can employ skill to overcome the 10% vigorish.

Also, in a tournament, the lottery-aspect of the tournament will continue to bring in the fish. Tournaments also offer better value for skill-neutral players. If you play a $100+$10 tournament for 2 hours, and let’s say you are exactly an average-skilled player, you are paying $10 in EV for 2 hours of entertainment. That’s still pretty cheap entertainment.

In comparison, a ring game where $2 in rake is taken on average a hand, with about 50 hands per hour and 8 players, amounts to about $12 in rake paid. That’s quite a bit more per hour going to the casino, which makes it that much harder for you to turn a profit.

What to make all of this? Well, quite frankly, if you are playing ring games a lot, and your numbers are looking bad, then it may be time and suck it up and admit they are -EV for you. They probably are for 90% or more of most players out there.  If you still want to play poker, try low buy-in tournaments. At the very least, the variance is so horrible that if you continuously wash out, you can trick yourself for years into thinking you’re a +EV player.

Big Pair in a Tournament: To Trap or Not to Trap

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

It’s an exciting feeling: you’re in a multi-table tournament and you pick up pocket Aces or pocket Kings. A player in front of you raises the pot to 3 big blinds. Now… what do you do?

In this situation, you have two choices, call or re-raise. In this article, I’m going to go over some of the things that should determine your decision. Consider the following to be something of a textual flow chart:

1. How Big is Your Stack?

A. 15 big blinds or less. With this short of a stack, I don’t think you can make much of an argument to flat-call the raise. Since your stack is so short, you’ll get called a pretty large percentage of the time when you re-raise all-in since your opponent will feel he has the pot odds to make the call. Additionally, you completely mask the strength of your hand by re-raising all-in, whereas a flat-call will look really powerful to anyone with a knack for tournaments.

B. 50 big blinds or more. With a larger stack, I like making a re-raise with your big pocket pair. When the stacks are somewhat deep, players will three-bet with a wider range of hands which means the strength of your hand will still be fairly well concealed notwithstanding your raise. An instance where a flat-call might be better than a raise is if your table is really crazy and you’re confident the pot will be re-raised by someone yet to act. However, I would want to be fairly sure this will happen before just smooth calling.

C. 20 to 45 big blinds. If your stack size falls into this range, proceed to the next step.

2. What Position Are You In?

A. Early Position. This is the most favorable scenario in which to consider just flat-calling the raise. Since someone in early position raised the pot, that’s probably going to look fairly strong to most players. By re-raising, you’re effectively announcing that you have a very big hand. After all, who is re-raising an early position raisor from early position with a marginal holding? Flat-call and hope to see something favorable to happen like a shorter stack who moves all-in thinking they might pick up an already nice sized pot before the flop.

B. Middle Position. I believe this is the trickiest position at the table to determine what to do. Proceed to the next step.

C. Late Postion/Blinds. A re-raise is a favorable move from late position or the blinds, but for different reasons. You can re-raise in late position since players typically will do so with a somewhat wider range of hands which thereby conceals your hand strength a little. In the blinds, I like a re-raise to simplify your decision-making for the remainder of the hand. Since you’re out of position, it’s a good idea to take control of the hand and get as many chips into the pot as possible to prevent having to make complicated post-flop decisions. However, a call can be an interesting play from the blinds since your hand strength is concealed incredibly well.

3. What Are Some Table Dynamics?

If you’ve made it past question #1 and question #2 and still don’t have a good idea one way or the other as to whether you should flat-call or re-raise, you’re going to have to examine some more subtle factors to make a confident decision. Here are some things to look for:

What are the stacks like behind you? If everyone yet to act has a lot of chips in front of them, it would make me inclined to re-raise. However, if there are a couple of short-stacks, a flat-call becomes more appealing. The reason is, when a short stack sees a raise and a call in front of them, they might be inclined to gamble and shove all-in with a fairly weak hand hoping both players fold. This move has additional value since the original raisor might call the all-in allowing you to shove over the top and either a.) double-up to a very big stack or b.) induce a fold leaving a ton of dead money in the pot.

What are the players like behind you? What’s your feeling on the players yet to act in the pot? Are there any crazy-aggressive players or is there anyone on tilt? If so, this would make me more likely to flat-call the raise in hopes that the crazy player traps himself by making a re-raise. Conversely, if the players behind you are tight and playing pretty straightforward, it would make me lean towards a re-raise since I’m not expecting to see any action induced from a flat-call.

Of course if you’re still not sure what to do after progressing through these questions, you can always let random chance determine your course of action. Flip a coin or let the second-hand on your timepiece determine your move!

Darvin Moon is the Genuine Article

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Anyone with an interest in poker should check out this Washington Post article on Main Event chip-leader Darvin Moon. How can you not root for this guy?! Some highlights from the article:

Moon has been playing poker semi-seriously for just a few years. He has never read a single page of a strategy book. He doesn’t play cards online, where nascent players can quickly flatten the learning curve. (Actually, Moon says he doesn’t spend any time online. Also doesn’t use a credit card.)

“I ain’t no different than you or anybody else,” he says. “My business is my business. People are driving me crazy with their questions. Their favorite one is, ‘What’d you do with your money?’ My favorite answer is, ‘What’d you do with your paycheck last week?’ “

Moon, who turns 46 at the end of October, has gone back to his job cutting pines. “I’ve gotta get up and go to work every day,” he says. “I’m not rich.”

Of the 6,494 players who entered the Main Event, Moon figures “there were 6,300 that were better than me.”

Moon says: “I really believe all eight of my opponents are better than I am. How can’t I believe that? They all have more experience than I do. I play three nights every two weeks at little tournaments.”

So Moon flew to Vegas in July (the first time he’d ever been on a commercial jet) and crushed the field with, he admits, an insanely lucky run of cards. “I got incredible cards for eight days,” he says, almost apologetically. “No matter what I did, it seemed like it worked.”

After that round of the tournament, Moon and his wife of 15 years, Wendy — a CVS pharmacy technician — came home to their old 14-by-70 trailer (three bedrooms, two baths, no children) with a $1,263,602 check

And he still lives in that trailer!!!

While the other players try to elevate their games — Shulman, for instance, just hired 1989 champion Phil Hellmuth to coach him on his final-table play — Moon has been playing with Meat and Hunk, Mama and Ducky, Joey and Bubba and the other regulars at the Elks and the American Legion and over at the fire hall in Clarysville. Soon, he’s going into hiding.

“We’re leaving Oct. 7 to go to Wyoming for three weeks of mule deer hunting,” he says. “I’ll be out there in the mountains, in a little cabin with no electric, no water. Can’t wait.”

Seriously… I love this guy. I’ve got quite a bit of money on Joe Cada to win the tournament, but screw it. I’m rooting for Moon!