Mixing It Up

Eventually I managed to get the Everest Poker software to install.  I wanted to get an account for two reasons, firstly I wanted to help break a few patterns that I’ve fallen into by constantly playing on PokerStars, and secondly to get the Holdem Manager software through their ‘get it free’ deal.  I’ve got to get to 1,000 points to release the licence, but I’m not sure how generous or otherwise they are with the points.  It being a new account also means there’s the sign-up bonus to sweeten the deal.

I’ve played a few hands of micro no limit just to start to get used to the software and get it configured with Poker Tracker 4.  Everything feels a lot slower than PokerStars, which is probably a good thing.  I’m not too enamoured by the user interface.  The lobby seems sufficiently functional but the usability at the tables isn’t going to win any awards and is going to take a bit of getting used to.

To mix things up further I’m finally getting back to playing live.  A mate has got a poker night going on this evening at a local bar.  I think there might be some turbo sit and go’s but could just be cash, a mix of pot limit and no limit.  It depends how many people go I guess. It should be good, and of course, I’ll let you know how it goes.

How Not To Play Heads Up

The other night I played a low buy-in single table tournament on PokerStars.  I got down to the final two and despite finding myself on the wrong side of a couple of coolers when I had him covered, it was pretty much the easiest finish to a tournament that I ever had.  My opponent was fairly predictable in general and fell into patterns of behaviour.

The worst thing that he did was to give me the advantage on nearly every single hand. Because it was heads up, the small blind was also the button, being in position after the flop.  We both chose to play around the same amount of hands from the small blind, and therefore we were folding around the same as each other.  The difference was that when he did play from small blind he would always call rather than raise giving me the option to check and see the flop.  When I was in the small blind I would always put in a minimum raise rather than call.

The result of this pattern is that when I was out of position post flop, we were playing for the minimum possible.  When I was in position, the pot had been nearly doubled.  This gave me a huge advantage and I found myself quickly adding to my stack without really having to do too much.  The maths just worked for me.

WordPress.com

I’m starting to get a bit annoyed with WordPress. It’s so restrictive in terms of styles and editing the page. I chose to use it because I’d already tried Blogger and got annoyed with stuff automatically changing all over the place, and wordpress.com over the .org counterpart helps to bring in some traffic. It also seems to be pretty good at filtering out the spam so it never goes live.

When I set out I was mainly interested in getting writing and figured that I could just sort out the aesthetics later.  But now every time I try to do anything mildly different I seem to find another thing that wordpress.com doesn’t let you do.  It’s like learning a new retarded language.  If I want to just bump stuff around the page a bit I know how to do that normally, but this just deletes so much attempted coding.

Getting Holdem Manager Free With Everest Poker. Maybe.

At the moment things are clearly not going to plan, so I think I need to shake things up a bit. One of the ways of doing that is to force myself out of the rut of playing almost exclusively on PokerStars.  It occurred to me that if that’s the way I was going I should check out the ‘get it free’ options for Holdem Manager and start grinding that out of the equation. Everyone seems to rate it higher than Poker Tracker, but then Poker Tracker 4 hasn’t been out that long and is a massive improvement on version 3.

So I go to the Holdem Manager website and look at the list of sites that I can play at to get it free.  The only one that I don’t already have an account with is Everest Poker, so that’s the only choice.  For those of you who aren’t aware you can sign up with various sites through their links.  Once you’ve accrued a certain number of points you get the licence for the Holdem Manager software for free, rather than the $99 that they charge for the main version.

You know how first impressions are supposed to last?  Well Everest Poker has started pretty damn badly in that respect.  The software just refuses to install on my machine whatever I do, so I referred to the help pages.  Included on there as  a list of what information I should send to customer support, including all sorts of stuff like ISP, other software running, firewall etc.  I then sent off a request for help with all of those questions answered and detailing the various changes I had tried.

This morning I wake up to an email that basically says ‘We’re sorry you’re having troubles, could you please answer these questions before we send it to the technical team to help.’ And guess which list of questions that I had already answered was pasted in below. Brilliant.

No Limit Vs Fixed Limit Hold ‘Em: Where’s My Head At?

Hmmm, yeah, good question.  Where is my head at?  Life’s got kinda stressful recently and I haven’t really had the time to do everything that I need to.  Finances are really not going well in life in general (it doesn’t help when your car gets trashed and you get screwed over by those lovely insurance folks) and that has put a lot of pressure on getting results at the poker table.  The end result is that I’m really not doing what I know that I should.  If I have time for anything poker related I feel like that has to be playing to try and pick my bankroll back up from the floor, so I end up playing instead of analysing.

I’m now in the situation that I’ve gone from having a small but consistent trickle of cash finding it’s way into my bank account, to scrapping around a tiny bankroll and not really getting anywhere with the methods that I’m using, and having no money finding it’s way home.  I know really I should deposit, but I think I might just be too stubborn.  I hate putting money into poker accounts, it feels so dirty.

So here I am making no profit at the tables whilst prioritising that over spending time studying and analysing what I do.  I joined the Nick Wealthall training programme a month ago, and I wasn’t too sure about continuing on to the second month because of the cost.  It’s a monthly fee of $47 and I got a free month’s trial.  I said to myself that so long as it paid for itself I would continue to pay for it.  To be honest though, even if I’d had a really lean month and only made the $47 in that first month with nothing else I probably would have convinced myself that it was justified.  I’m a contradiction, I know.

The second month’s materials are about to be released, and my bank account is about to be billed.  I’ve already convinced myself to continue, even though I’ve actually made a loss this month.  As I keep reminding myself though, I am in profit playing no limit, it’s fixed limit that’s killed me.

I do have faith in the training.  What I’ve learnt so far includes concepts that make total sense but I’ve never come across before.  It’s all based around no-limit games.  I’ve got plenty of no limit experience in terms of tournaments, but I think quite oddly, I’m really not that used to playing no limit cash tables.  I’ve got a lot to learn.  Unfortunately knowing that hasn’t seemed to be enough to get me to prioritise studying.  Nor have I spent enough time configuring Poker Tracker 4, so I’ve not always had the statistics that I need to hand.

The consistency of my wins prior to this month has always been propped up by my results at fixed limit, which at the moment I’m really struggling with.  I think that I’ve ended up changing the way I play but can’t quite pin down how to change it back.  I either need to focus on getting that back or embrace the change, and frankly I need a bit of a shake up.

Embracing the change means really concentrating on getting good at no limit cash tables.  I am starting to find my feet and I often realise the mistakes I make.  The next step is not making them.

Tournament Structures: Why Turbo Poker Tournaments Are A Lottery

It’s common knowledge amongst anyone who knows anything about tournament poker, that a tournament’s structure massively affects the balance between skill and luck involved in the game.  The ‘slower’ the tournament structure is, the more the skill of each player has a chance to prevail against the natural luck involved in the game, and of course the reverse is also true.

To illustrate the point let’s have a quick look at two extreme examples, starting with the fastest.  There are tournaments on some online sites that are entirely based on luck, where each player starts with just a few chips, so few that all players are forced by the antes to go all in on the first hand.  There is absolutely no skill that any player can employ, a true lottery where the world’s greatest players would have no advantage over the world’s worst.

At the other end of the spectrum there are the world’s biggest and best tournaments, where players start with large stacks and the blinds increase slowly.  For example the World Series Of Poker main event structure provides each player with a starting stack of 30,000 chips and an initial level of 50/100, with blind levels increasing every 2 hours. You can see that this is a very ‘slow’ tournament structure allowing for as much skill as possible within the game. Luck can never be eliminated, nor should it be, but it’s tournaments like these that really allow the cream to rise to the top.

This is not a new concept to me, but I have to admit that I haven’t been paying enough attention to the structure of the tournaments that I enter.  I made a decision some time ago to generally avoid ‘Turbo’ tournaments because too much luck is involved in comparison to skill.  However I really got thinking more on the subject when recently I started playing on the iPoker network again, more specifically with William Hill.  There are Sit & Go tournaments offered across the whole network with jackpot prizes increasing weekly for winning a number of tournaments in a row.  They demonstrate the significance of the luck factor in tournaments that ramp the blinds up quickly.

Name Buy-in Entrants Wins Jackpot Consolation** Current Total***
Dirty Dozen $2+0.40 12 4 $2,000 None $2,000
Maui $5+1 10 5 $15,000 + $6,000* $200  $15,000
Craze $10+2 18 4 $50,000 None  $50,000
Rio $20+3.50 6 6 $30,000 + $10,000* $300  $130,000
Fort Knox $50+9 6 6 $50,000 + $20,000* $750  $172,500

*Jackpot prize increases by this amount after one week of not being won, and then by “incremental” amounts, whatever that means!
**Consolation prize is awarded for the same number of consecutive 1st or 2nd finishes.
*** Current total at time of posting according to the William Hill website.

Notice that the fees attached to each of the buy-ins is up to 20% compared to the usual 10%, which is what pays for the jackpot prizes.

At first glance the jackpots look almost too good to be true.  It’s clearly not going to be easy to win any of them, but a good player attacking them consistently should have a good chance, and the rewards if you manage are large.

Well even though I’m not privy to all the numbers, I can guarantee you that they work out in favour of the house. Looking at the Maui Sit & Go as an example, each buy-in includes $0.50 towards the jackpot prize of $15,000. So for the house to be even they can tolerate one jackpot winner per 30,000 buy-ins, or one string of 5 wins in a row for a single player every 3,000 tournaments. That’s what they can tolerate, but I have no doubt that a profit is made. Part of that I’m sure is simply from keeping players on the network by supplying such promotions. You also have to remember that I’ve not included the consolation prizes that they need to pay out.

Personally I still find these numbers fairly appealing. Could I get 5 wins in a row on a tournament at that buy-in? I’m fairly confident that given some time and commitment I probably could. So why am I not spending all my poker time playing these tournaments to hit the jackpot?

The answer is simple, the tournament structure. To be honest I think it’s a little deceptive. It’s not ‘turbo’ exactly and it’s not classified as such, but it can also be considered to be pretty fast. 10 players start with 1,000 chips each, with the first level blinds at 10/20 as seen below, so that’s a starting stack of 50 big blinds. That doesn’t really appear to be too fast, but then you look at the later levels.

William Hill Sit & Go Maui Jackpot Tournament Structure iPoker Network

iPoker ‘Maui’ Sit & Go Jackpot Tournament Structure

So let’s say no-one is eliminated in the first 22 minutes. The average chip stack would of course still be 1,000 chips, and the the blinds would now be 30/60, that’s an average of less than 18 big blinds. That does start to look quite quick, but still not totally terrible.

Let’s eliminate 3 people across that fourth level and the next. After that we’re at 7 players, average stack of 1,428 and going into the 100/200 level. Suddenly we’re at an average stack of just 7 big blinds each. Players are forced to draw a line in the sand and shove their remaining stacks where in other tournaments they would not. Not only is there not enough time to wait for a good ‘spot’, the game becomes far too reliant on guessing, often with no options but to fold or shove, and with very little information on what your opponent is holding.

It is the significant size of the luck element that the iPoker network force into these Sit & Go jackpot tournaments, that allows them to have such large jackpots.  From their point of view the greater the amount of luck involved, the easier it is for them to predict the number of winners across a large selection of tournaments.

So what’s the moral of the story?  If you want to become a successful tournament player it is imperative that you pay close attention to tournament structures.  Merely choosing not to play in tournaments that have been classified by the house as turbo, is not enough analysis.

I also want to stress that I am not saying that you shouldn’t play in any turbo style tournaments.  Some people like that sort of structure and choose to play super aggressive from the start.  This usually ends up in one of two outcomes, either holding a large dominating stack, or being eliminated early on before too much time has been committed. There’s nothing wrong with playing in turbo tournaments, but you must understand what you are buying in for and adapt your play accordingly.  Waiting for good cards is turbo suicide.

There are three elements that affect the speed of a tournament:

  • Size of starting stacks
  • Time between each level increase
  • The amount the blinds and antes raise with each increase

Make sure that you pay attention to each of these elements and notice the average stack size in terms of number of big blinds, as the tournaments you play in progress.

Despite everything I’ve said in this post, I’m still somewhat tempted by the prizes on offer from the Sit & Go jackpot  tournaments, particularly those with weekly increasing totals, but I don’t believe that constantly playing them is the right way to approach them.

One element that should also be considered is that when I have played in them I often feel like it’s somewhat easier to get inside the heads of my opponents.  Players can often be categorised more easily than with other tournaments.  Some players who play them regularly seem to attack them hard when they don’t have any wins under their belt, willing to gamble to put themselves in a position where they are then closer to hitting the jackpot with a more considered approach for subsequent tournaments.  If you identify who these people are and also keep a track of the tournaments that have not long finished, you can often have a big advantage over them.

As a general rule of thumb though, I’m going to be sticking to slower tournaments with particular reference to larger starting stacks.  I have found that there are many large tournaments, with several thousand entrants, that appear to have a good structure.  When I’ve run deep in them I have found that the ratio between the average stack and the blinds becomes too small, meaning that most players left are put in a position where they have very little room to outplay their larger stacked opponents, and luck becomes a greater factor in those later stages.  That’s really not something that you want when you’ve got an average stack, committed several hours to the tournament, and the money is still some way from getting interesting.

Looking at PokerStars as an example, which I am playing on most at the moment, there are many tournaments with exactly the same structure in terms of blinds, but differing in starting stacks, with either 1,500 or 3,000 chips in front of you to start.

It can seem that the difference of 1,500 between these two figures is pretty small when you compare them to the size of stacks in the later stages of a tournament.  But you have to remember that all chips stay on the tables.  So if you start tournament A with an average of 3,000 chips compared to the identical tournament B with 1,500 chips, the average stack will always be double that of tournament B, however far you look down the line, not just 1,500 more.

Pressure Kills My Poker Game

After a rubbish night on Friday, I set myself up to set things straight on Saturday.  So far, that hasn’t happened.  Playing a mixture of cash and tournaments I made another loss.  That’s three sessions in a row, a very undesired record equalling tally.  Once again everything felt a bit too rushed.  I think I was too eager to get back on terms.

I think the main thing that is going wrong for me at the moment is the influence of my personal life on poker.  Don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with all that, but suffice it to say that along with a large proportion of society right now, we’re pretty strapped for cash, and poker winnings often make a big difference to us.  That pressure is killing my poker game.  The loses that I’ve made recently are only eroding previous profit, but considering what I’ve just said, I’d have to think pretty hard if that wasn’t the case.

This evening I played only tournaments, going pretty deep in a low buy-in, large tournament (2000+ entrants) and ended up being frustrated with an 82nd place finish.  In terms of finishing position I don’t think that’s too bad, but considering the prize and the time committed, I can’t say that I was exactly thrilled.  I played in six tournaments and cashed in three, leaving myself a few quid in profit.

Whilst it was only a dent in eroding the loses of the weekend, in terms of the time committed there is a silver lining.  I had quite a few mundane tasks to complete which I managed to get done whilst the tournaments were in the early stages, and then got more involved with them once it got nearer the money.  There’s no way I would play like that with a cash game, but with tournaments I think it’s more justifiable.  I still felt that I made enough decent moves based largely on the statistics I had for each player, thanks to the Poker Tracker 4 HUD.

So overall a profitable but not overly successful evening.  The fight continues…