Archive for December, 2009

Game Selection

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

It is not how good you are at poker that determines how much you make, it is how much better you are than the people you play with, so finding poor players to play against is almost as important as being a good player.

The process of locating the most profitable of the currently available tables/tournaments starts with choosing the right poker network. There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a poker network, but the two most important factors, which dwarf the other ones, are traffic and ease of the competition. Find out which networks have enough traffic in the type of game you play, so that you don’t have to spend a lot of time waiting for players to play with, then choose the one with the softest competition.

For example, Titan Poker has a lot of traffic, but not always the easiest competition. Pacific Poker has incredibly easy competition, but not always much traffic. One site with a very nice blend of somewhat easy competition coupled with a lot of traffic is Party Poker.

If there is a huge difference in traffic, and just a small difference in softness, between some of the alternatives, it might be better to go with the one with the highest traffic. But usually softness rules the land.

Something many players forget is that the ease of competition also changes during the day. At peak traffic hours the competition is easier than at the lowest traffic hours. This is due to the fact that many sharks don’t have jobs or schools to go to, and tend to play whenever they feel like it. Many of them wake up very late and go to bed very late. Fish on the other hand, live their 9 to 5 lives and only have time to play in the evening. This mass entry of fish in the evening drives the traffic upwards. Since the number of sharks don’t increase by as high of a percentage in the evening, this results in a better fish to shark-ratio which means easier games. Weekend afternoons are typically soft too for the same reason.

Be aware that poker is played all around that world, so networks dominated by Europeans will have different peak hours than “American” networks. You can check out how the traffic on your preferred poker network developed the last 24 hours on Poker Scout.

When you have chosen the network and time of the day, you have to choose which table/tournament to join on this network. For cash-games, you have to look at the statistics in the lobby. Bad players are typically loose, so tables showing a high average percentage of people seeing the flop are typically easier to beat. Be aware, though, that the fewer people there are around the table, the more hands you should play. So a table with say 9 players with a 30% figure, has worse players than a table of say 6 players with the same figure.

Not all networks show this figure in the lobby. On these sites you have to open some or all of the tables and see for yourself which table seems most desirable. There are other statistics in the lobby of course, but they aren’t as useful in finding games as the “percentage of players seeing the flop” statistic.

Many think big pot-sizes, which are also shown in the lobby, are a sign of poor players because poor players often call when they should have folded, and this may be the case. But poor players also often call/check when they should have bet/raised. That being said, big pots are more often than not a sign of poor players, it is just a much less reliable sign than flop-percentages.

When you have joined a table, but later find out that it is not soft, or it became harder due to poor players leaving and better players joining, then Run Forrest, Run! to another table.

Tournaments are trickier to game-select because there are no statistics in the lobby to look at, and once the tournament starts, you are stuck with whatever players are in it. There are, however, statistics elsewhere for Single-Table Tournaments. On a site called Sharkscope you can type in the ID number of the tournament you consider joining, and it will show how well/poorly the players who have already joined the tournament have done it in previous STTs. Be aware that some poker networks don’t allow you to use Sharkscope.

Vegas Trip Report – Part I

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

My full time job sent me to Vegas for a few days for the annual team meeting. They chose to have it at the Red Rock since they are a part of the Station Casino network who is a new customer of ours. The Red Rock is about 12 miles from the strip, but from the hotel room, you could still see the strip (and the mountains) as though it’s not too far away. For being off the strip, it’s really quite an incredible hotel – the bathtubs are probably 3 feet deep and you could easily drown if you don’t electrocute yourself from the remote control for the TV right over the tub first.

Anyway, I arrived Monday before the work functions began specifically to play poker. Being that it was an off strip hotel, I figured it would be pretty much all locals playing. My first impression was that it was about half locals, and half business people there with some time to kill. There was some sort of dentist convention going on there which was perfect because lots of dentists apparently like poker and have money spend. Anyway, my first session went fairly well. Without having any memorable hands, I wound won $57 without any major confrontations in about 2 and half hours or so – not enough to quit my day job.

My work obligations then began and I was tied up until later that evening. I managed to get another hour and forty five minutes in and made $114 without any trouble. I recall hitting trips and getting some premium pairs but not getting paid as much as I would like. I was probably up more, but lost a few showdowns with the second best hand.

The next day I only had about an hour to play and was essentially card dead. Being the nit that I am, I only lost $36. I probably called a raise or two and limped a few times and missed. I think I raised once and pretty much just took it down. It seems these players play way too many hands. Even the locals. I love live poker, I seem to make most of my money with just preflop selection and using position.

The next day I didn’t really have any time to play until night. I was thinking of actually calling it a night, but I thought since I’m here, I may as well play. It turned out to be a wise decision. I sat down, hit trips, got paid. Was card dead for a while, raised a bunch preflop, kept getting called and kept taking it down with C-bets. Then I was dealt 88 in a raised pot. I call. Flop was 885. Well, that’s nice, how can I extract now. The raiser puts out a C-bet. I’m trying to conceal my excitement. I try to make as few movements as possible since when I have the stone cold nuts I sometimes shake. I think for a few seconds and call. Turn was a Q. The raiser doubles his bet, I call. River comes some other rag, I try to put out a smooth $50 bet, but apparently it wasn’t as smooth as I wanted and he folded. I think he pretty much would have folded to any bet though. I still made a decent amount from that hand. I ended up flipping over the 88 because with quads you automatically get into a freeroll tournament. Well, it turns out that tournament was on Sunday which I couldn’t play anyway. I asked if I could give it away to the guy who I just beat, but unfortunately they wouldn’t let me. Oh well.

The guy sitting to my left and I got to talking a bit. He was one of the many dentists out there, only he seemed to be fairly competent. I guess he used to play online quite a bit, but his wife made him stop when he would play tournaments until three in the morning and ignore her. He said after his online winnings paid for their $40,000 wedding and then some, she made him give it (for the most part) up. I guess he took down some Full Tilt $10,000 guaranteed tournament among many other smaller wins. Anyway, it sucked to be on his right, but by me being pretty nice to him, and him not having too much live experience, I think he avoided some confrontations with me when he probably could have taken me to the cleaners.

After winning a few more small hands, they made an announcement to the dealers to “please keep all the players at the table, someone may have won the bad beat jackpot.” After that, the entire poker room started applauding. At the Station’s Casinos they have a bad beat jackpot that starts out at $150,000 and requires four sixes (I think) to be beaten by a straight flush. The loser of the hand gets $45,000 and the winner gets $30,000. Everyone else at any of the Station’s Casinos poker rooms gets to split the remaining money. So I had to fill out a form along with all of the other poker players. Each player ended up with $327 for just being there. Not bad. The play obviously started loosening up after that, but I was exhausted and decided to call it a night. I ended up winning $546 in just under an hour and half that. One of my coworkers was contemplating playing, but he ended up chickening out and was he ever pissed when I told him how I did.

After that my work obligations were over and I got a room at Treasure Island (TI). The rooms weren’t as nice as the Red Rock, but they were perfectly adequate and really, all I was doing in the room was sleeping, showering and checking the occasional email. Being that it was a weekday afternoon, there were no cash games going on at TI so I walked on over to Harrah’s. I played there for a couple of hours and was just completely card dead and lost $60.

That night, my boss took me and a few cowokers out to some fancy steak house down at MGM called Craftsteak. It was pretty good, but for the money – even though I wasn’t paying, I guess I expected a bit more. We got there by taking the Monorail. What a complete waste. From TI it was probably a mile walk just to get to the monorail. Then it’s $5 each person and for five of us, that’s twenty five bucks. We could have taken a cab in less time and for less money. I felt really bad for my boss, just as we were getting in, he started feeling sick, and he ended up not eating a thing. Needless to say, we took a cab back, and I played my $10 in free slot play and turned it into $20 on the video poker machine after hitting a couple of full houses and quads then went to sleep.

The next day, there was still no cash games going on at TI so I went to Imperial palace, none there either, so I went back to Harrah’s for another beating. The table was about half cowboys (there was the big rodeo show going on) and half locals. I swear, I have never gotten so many second best hand losses in my life or had my cbets get raised and my legit bets get folded. For example, in a 77726 board, I’d have pocket 8′s and lose to pocket 9′s, that sort of thing. I started getting on monkey tilt a little bit. The last straw was when I had Kd Qd in a raised pot with me calling on the button. I had about $80 going in. Flop was Ad Td rag. Well, there’s a royal flush draw where the royal pays I think like a $5000 bonus. It checked to me, I bet like $30 and the raiser pushes. I have no choice but to call especially if I hit my royal. He tables AK like it’s the nuts and I whiff the next to streets and walk out down $400 I then went back to the hotel and took a nap.

I woke up, grabbed dinner at the Jewish-type deli at TI where I can highly recommend the barley bean soup. The tuna salad sandwich wasn’t too bad either. Then I entered the TI $125 bounty tournament. More about that experience in the next installment of my Vegas trip report!



Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

People who are new to poker tend to think that reads are about putting the opponent on a particular hand (say a king, which made a pair on the board, and a small kicker), but figuring out what hand the opponent has is very difficult. If you try to put somebody on a particular hand and act accordingly, chances are you will guess wrong and pay the price.

What you should do when an opponent makes a (non-fold) move preflop, is you put him on a range of hands based on the situation and what you know about this player from previous hands. Then you make the move that works best against that range. It would of course have been a lot better if you could pin-point the exact hand he has, but you can’t and so this is the best practical option.

The next move he makes in the hand will help you eliminate some of the holdings from his initial range. This continues for every move he makes. Only very rarely do you get to eliminate so many hands from his hand-range that you are pretty sure that he has a particular hand.

Of course, sometimes unexpected stuff happens in a hand and you have to revaluate the hand-ranges you put him on in previous streets, but this is a good approach to putting people on hands.

Reads are not limited to putting people on hands, it is also about figuring out what type of players you are dealing with. Just like the correct move on your part depends on what hand your opponent has, it also depends on how the opponent would play that hand. In other words, the range you’ll assign a tight player who raises preflop will be a lot smaller than the range you’ll assign a loose player who raises preflop.

I believe this is an opportunity where most profitable poker players could improve their game even further. They might be good at putting people on hand-ranges and figuring out their style of play, but actually using that information to optimize their game is an even further challenge.

The easiest adaptation you need to make is loosening/tightening your preflop hand-range depending on how loose and how aggressive the players at your table are. If you are facing a raise preflop, you will naturally need a stronger hand to stay in the hand if the raiser only raises with good hands. This becomes especially important if there are one or more short-stacked players at the table; you do not want to raise with a marginal hand and face a difficult decision whether or not to call a short-stack’s all-in.

If it folds to you preflop and there are mostly loose players behind you, you need a good hand to raise because you can’t expect to steal the blinds often enough to make raising with a mediocre hand profitable.

These are obvious situations that most profitable players know how to handle, but here is one situation they may not handle well:

It is folded to you, and the players behind you are largely loose and very passive. Many would say you would have to tighten your hand-range in this situation because you won’t be able to steal the blinds often. But what they are forgetting is that since the players would only re-raise with premium hands, they’ll probably just call if they decide to play the hand.

This is great for you in several ways.

1) Since they are loose, there are probably many hands in their hand-range which are so weak that you stand to make more money from them calling with those hands than folding.
2) Since they are so passive, they rarely force you to fold by making a re-raise when they have a strong hand. So you get 3 free cards (the flop) when you have the weakest hand.
3) The rare times they re-raise, you know they have a great hand, and can fold with a sigh of relief that you only lost your raise when you could have lost a lot more if you hadn’t known what you were up against. For this reason, I would much rather meet a loose player who would only re-raise with premium hands, than a loose player who would never re-raise.

When it is folded to you preflop, you should generally be tighter the looser the opponents behind you are, and tighter the more aggressive they are. But a lot of good players (and poor players too of course) ignore or don’t fully take into account the aggression-factor, while everybody and their grandma know to adapt to the loose-factor.

Cada to Capitol Hill

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Apparently, WSOP Champ Joe Cada is heading to Capitol Hill today to meet with law-makers on a trip organized by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).

Before getting into this, let me first say I’m a big Joe Cada fan. I played with him in a preliminary event in last year’s WSOP, followed him on the Main Event leaderboard from the time he arose to day one chip-leader all the way to his victory, bet handsomely on him and interviewed him before the final table. I like the guy a lot and am reluctant to say anything critical about him, but I don’t think I can hold my tongue on this one.

Is he really the face the PPA wants to put in front of Congress? Keep in mind that a big reason the UIGEA got support was a result of it being promoted as a way to protect minors from underage online gambling. Minors like Cada who were playing online long before they should have been according to the law. In Cada’s case, it obviously worked out. He bought himself a house with his online winnings at age 19.

But does putting a baby-faced 22 year old on Capitol Hill as the “Face of Poker” send the right message to law-makers? It seems like a questionable move on the part of the PPA. Just because you won the Main Event does not mean you are automatically therefore a good ambassador to the game of poker. Cada’s persona is fine for Letterman appearances and interviews on ESPN’s SportsCenter, but is he really fit for Capitol Hill? He might be the first to tell you that he’s not. He admitted himself in that article that he’s “still trying to get used to all of this.” Yea, I’ll bet! A year ago he was a college-dropout grinding online poker with his friends who weren’t old enough to buy alcohol. Now he’s meeting with Congressmen and Senators!

In all likelihood, Cada will do fine in this mostly unimportant visit to Washington, but it does make you question the PPA leadership for just grabbing the latest guy to run hot in a tournament and make him the “Face of Poker” rather than sticking with proven ambassadors like Greg Raymer, Annie Duke and Howard Lederer who are probably far more fit to be mingling with politicians on behalf of the game. Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe Cada’s youthfulness will work in poker’s favor. After all, he’s going to stand out bigtime in a room full of Washington lawmakers and lobbyists.