Maniac Attack

Any serious gambler knows that the most important fundamental of success is to find a way to get the odds in their favour.  Betting against the odds is a losing proposition.  Any serious Hold Em player knows that having position on a player is a massive advantage, and being out of position is quite the opposite, biasing the odds in the opponents favour.

So why the hell did I sit for about 2 hours last night on the immediate right of a maniac?

Put simply it was that I wanted to beat him, and there was a waiting list of about 10 players.  I didn’t want to throw away the opportunity of playing against such a rare beast, and in doing so I allowed myself to stay in the worst seat at the table.

To be fair to myself I was totally owning him for a while.  I had paid enough attention to see that he had an incredibly high 3-bet and squeeze rate, especially when the original raiser was in mid to late position. They were actually higher than his open raise rate.  I hadn’t seen much of his play post flop (because it didn’t usually get far through the hand before everyone else had folded), but I knew that he was ridiculously aggressive pre-flop.  The first hand we tussled on was very marginal and debatable as to whether I should have played it.  Perhaps not, but the thing was that I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I was unknown to him and I’d seen him wildly raise (and usually win or fold without showing) against new players to the table.  I didn’t want to wait too long for a premium hand just to see him fold because he thought I was a nit.

I raised from a late position with ATo and a one early limper.  Exactly as I expected, he quickly 3 bet and it was folded back round to me.  At this point I’m certainly not planning on folding and I don’t think I can really call, because I think I’m ahead of his range and I don’t want to give him a chance to either catch, or blow me off my hand with air and position.  I think I’m better getting the chips in now to maximise my thin value.   It was always the plan to out muscle him.  So I put in a moderate 4-bet, he 5-bets quickly and I shove, with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach that I shouldn’t have got myself into this position.  He quickly calls and shows A9s.  My 10 holds and I double up, putting him back down to just over 100 big blinds and leaving me with twice his stack.

For the next few hands that I raised, even though I was opening often, he became a lot tighter and folded most of them.  After a while though he realised that I was opening pretty wide and went back to his usual antics.  I tried to balance myself between folding and continuing when he 3 bet me which tightened up my opening range.  I didn’t want to 4 bet anywhere near as wide as ATo from then on because I knew he had been hurt by our first hand and had definitely paid attention.  I also knew he was capable of betting big with a medium strength hand but he would probably be quite balanced in that spot against me, as opposed to biased towards bluffing as he was against others at the table.

I took a few moderate pots off him either hitting or outplaying him after the flop but nothing massive, basically because we both knew the other was capable of big bets with a wide range and I felt we were both looking for spots to get it in with a premium hand.

I was outdrawn on by other players a couple of times which kept my stack in check and his aggressive play brought him up to my level.  He was still 3 betting me enough to allow me to get aggressive with slightly less than premium hands and he took a chunk of my stack with QQ against my JJ.

The killer blow came when I opened in late position with T9s.  I called his 3 bet and it went 2 handed into the flop which came T72, giving me top pair with a flush draw.  I felt confident he would bet with any two cards so I checked.  He put about two thirds of the pot in and I raised to about 2.5x his bet.  He thought for a while and re-raised not much more than the minimum.

At this point I thought that it was possible that I was behind but that more often I would be ahead.  Even if I was behind I knew that I had a decent amount of equity.  He had previously seen me check raise and give up on the flop to his 3-bet on a similarly innocuous board so I thought he could push with air.  The time he took to make the shove also gave me the impression he was more likely to be bluffing or semi bluffing because of his previous tendencies.

I couldn’t take over pairs out of the equation but didn’t think it would be the case most of the time.  Top pair with a better kicker was definitely a possibility but of course I had top pair which made it less likely.  Straight draws, even gut shots, and flush draws made up a big part of his range, or even just two over cards.  I took a moment and decided to shove.  He turned over AJs for the nut flush draw.  The flush didn’t come in but that was incidental once an ace hit the turn.

I was ahead when I shoved, but not by much: according to pokerstove I was a 52.3% favourite.  With the dead money in the pot I’m sure it was the right decision.

I’m not really that unhappy with my play, despite being up over two buy-ins and leaving the table one buy-in down.  The thing that gets me, the thing that I thought about when I was falling asleep last night, was the decision to play him in that position in the first place.  After the first hand I had doubled up from him and introduced a new dynamic.  He knew that he could play in position on almost every hand and he reacted well to my changes of gear.  That made life very difficult for me.

What I should have done is look at the long game.  If I had disappeared off the table straight after that hand he might not even have remembered me next time I sat down in position on him.  I will still make it my mission to find him at a table where I get decent position on him, but I could have done that right from the beginning.  Next time I find myself in terrible position to a maniac, I’ll think a few more times before I get comfortable.

On a more positive note I really feel like I’m starting to make a breakthrough.  For a long time I’ve been confused as to how better players than me can play 4 or more tables and still manage to analyse their opponents well enough to be able to find enough spots to exploit.  I feel like I have an increasingly good knowledge of how to think about different situations, but that I haven’t applied that knowledge well enough.  Multi-tabling leaves me languishing in ignorance and missing opportunities to make notes, and playing just a single table provides the challenge of remaining focused for long periods of time without playing very many hands, which I often struggle with.  

One thing that’s helped massively is my way of analysing hands and what they mean about the players who played in them.  Using Poker Tracker 4 allows me to mark hands for analysis at a later point, which I have been doing more liberally.  The critical factor is that I’m actually going through them all now! If I can make the notes on the fly then I do, but once I’ve got a reasonable number of hands built up I will sometimes sit out or take a break and go through them all before taking my seats again.

At the beginning of the month I went through a period of seriously cold cards.  I was playing single table tournaments on PokerStars, some of the time not playing very well, most of the time finding myself on the wrong end of coolers and getting out drawn.  I’ve had nasty runs like that before, but never so many in a row without a single cash.  That’s put a dent in my bankroll but my cash winnings have put it up to a little over $200.  I started with just $28 at the beginning of August, so it’s hardly amazing, but this is all about building my bankroll in the proper way.  At least it’s going in the right direction.

The fight continues…

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Poker Outs – No More Cheat Sheets

One of the many things that I want to achieve as I strive to fulfil my poker potential, is a highly in-depth knowledge of the maths involved.  Being an online player for so long, I’ve just got used to taking advantage of my faceless avatar and stowed the odd cheat sheet or two just out of sight of my opponents.  The fact that I can, is however, a lame excuse for a lack of complete knowledge.

I decided last night to try and memorise my outs vs odds table to start me off.  To make sure we’re all on the same page, what I mean is for any particular number of outs, what are my odds of improving on the turn or river.   I decided that the number I should focus on (for ease of use) is what my odds are for improving on the river only.  This is ever so slightly better odds than on the turn because there is one less card in the deck.  I would normally err on the side of being conservative with estimates to make sure I stay on the right side of expected value, but in this case I think it’s balanced by the amount of times you’ll see both cards for the price of a call on the flop.

I’m now going to go through what I remember without looking at the chart.  No really, I’m not going to look.

OUTS
% OF HITTING
OUTS
% OF HITTING
1
2
12
25%
2
4%
13
27%
3
6%
14
29%
4
8%
15
31%
5
10%
16
34%
6
12%
17
36%
7
15%
18
39%
8
17%
19
41%
9
19%
20
43%
10
21%
21
45%
11
23%
22
47%

Yup, checking that over I’ve got it spot on.  At least as spot on as I was aiming for.  As you can see I’ve rounded everything down to whole numbers, to help make it easy to remember.

You might think that I’ve done pretty well to recall all that (if you believe me), especially when I tell you that I only spent five minutes committing the numbers to memory (it actually took less time than creating that table – come on wordpress, sort out your tables).  But it actually wasn’t at all difficult.

Once I rounded everything down I pretty soon noticed that the first 6 are simple – the chance of hitting is double the number of outs.  When it gets to 7 and up it’s just double and add one.  This continues until 16 when it becomes double plus 2 and then 18 it changes to double plus 3.

So all I actually remembered is that it is double the outs plus 0, 1, 2 or 3 with the changes being at 7, 16 and 18.  That’s why it only took five minutes.  Why on earth hadn’t I done that before?

  • 1 – 6  = double
  • 7 – 15 = double + 1
  • 16 – 17 = double + 2
  • 18 up = double + 3

I think that it’s this sort of simple mnemonic that is going to be the key to unlocking the maths behind poker for me.  Maybe it could be for you too.

Hunt The Fish

Instead of going to the pub last night like I planned, I decided to stay in and get going on building my bank roll.  I started too quick out of the blocks, making assumptions too quickly about players.  Eagerness and poker are not usually the best of bed fellows.  Luck was definitely not on my side either and before I knew it I was three buy-ins down (remembering that I only began with five).  I steadied myself, gave myself a bit of a talking to and got back to some decent play.  I was an astounding $1 in the black by the time I powered down.

A side effect of the session is that I went broke in two of my accounts and increased on the third.  This leaves me in an awkward situation, as I didn’t want to deposit into any account unless that was balanced by a withdrawal from another.  I’m starting with such a tiny bankroll (now $29 after last nights blazing glory) that I’m loathe to withdraw down too small in any one account.  So I’m stuck with one account (iPoker) unless I deposit into some others.  I think I should just bite the bullet and invest a little, otherwise I’m going to be stuck in the dark.

“The map is not the territory” ~ Alfred Korzybski, Philosopher & Scientist

Everyone who plays poker on the internet has an idea in their head as to what’s available.  Many recreational players stick to just one site – the one they happened to sign up with first.  As they get better they learn to pick the best tables from that site, the ones that they can beat.  But the trouble is that just one site is frankly not enough if you’re going to get the best from what poker has to offer on the internet.  The table selection just isn’t good enough.

On the smaller end of the scale, networks don’t offer enough of a player pool to choose from.  The Microgamming network is a good example of this, where Ladbrokes poker languishes these days; you can wait all day for a decent table if all you can see is their list of cash tables.

With larger sites like PokerStars, I believe there are actually too many players, especially at the micro stakes cash tables.  When a bad player gets hit a few times he will often disappear to another table, sparking mass table jumping from good players and bad players alike.

Bad players on smaller sites however, who don’t use any other network, feel like the don’t have anywhere to go and are more likely to stay at the same table losing until they go broke.

“If you can’t find a table you can beat, you’re not looking hard enough.” ~ Me

Table selection and player selection are crucial for cash poker players, and only checking out a small percentage of what’s on offer by sticking to one site, could be massively affecting your bottom line.  The smarter and more aware players familiarise themselves with many networks and sites.  And that’s what you should do.  Yes Kid, you.

If you have at least one account with each of the major networks, and open them all up when you start your session, you can get a proper view of what’s there. 

Good tables will occur far more frequently on large sites, simply because of the numbers, but they won’t last as long.  Find a decent table on a smaller site and you might be able to stick there all night reaping the benefits.

I have to admit that I’m not good enough at this.  So this afternoon’s task is to ensure that I’ve got as wide a view of the tables on offer as possible by making sure I’ve got an up to date account with some money in it on all the networks that I want to play on.

The Wanderer Returns

Aside

Life has somewhat overtaken poker recently.  I’ve been amazed how little it is possible to play and still remain sane.  I’ve heard it said that some people never play, but I’m far too long in the tooth to believe that sort of rubbish.

But in the last few months I’ve been so busy I’ve barely been able to open the software before I’m called back into action.  I separated from my partner a few months back and ever since I’ve been trying to balance bringing up my daughter during the day, with finding enough work in the evenings and weekends.  I landed myself a job as a roadie which covers most weekends, I’m working ad hoc for a small financial research company (handily owned by a friend) and I’m getting a few life coaching clients too.  It’s all self employed and as far removed from working for the man as makes me happy.

So life feels good, and I find myself daydreaming of the potential my future holds.  The reality is that I have lots of demands on my time at the moment, so the time I dedicate to playing poker, like anything else that I do, needs to be utilised in the best way possible.  I have been guilty in the past of putting the dream of getting back to earning my living through poker, as a priority over virtually everything other than my daughter.  Even over my own well being.  That has to change.  No one should put so many eggs in one basket, especially one that has been languishing so long in the depths of mediocrity, and in the situation, has no chance of escaping.

What’s most significant in poker terms about my change in personal life, is that although I don’t have much money as my working hours are limited, I can just about afford to get through life without skimming off the top of my bankroll.  This is new territory for me.  I want to build my bankroll and move up the levels – something I have unintentionally never allowed myself to do before.

It’s quite exciting…

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.

A Rubbish Night

I’m going to (try to) keep this short.  On Thursday night I had my first losing session since starting the coaching with Nick.  Didn’t feel great but it wasn’t like it was a massive hit, about $40.  Last night I made that back on two low stakes soft tables on PokerStars in a matter of 26 minutes.  That made me feel pretty good because I could start the night of tournaments back at my standard bankroll.

Unfortunately, sometimes I am utterly rubbish at taking a step back and looking what I’m doing.  I spent the first half of the night falling into the same traps that I did on Thursday, multi-tabling without proper and considered thought, and being too eager to outplay my opponents and take them on.  It all felt a bit too frantic.  The second half of the night was spent trying to get back to where I started from and failing, in fact falling further behind.  My PokerStars bankroll has been virtually crippled.  I was in profit for my William Hill account (which I discovered on Thursday that I had £30 in that I didn’t know about – better than a fiver in the pocket!) and withdrew £20, more for my own psychology than anything else.   A regular flow of cash into my bank account is definitely a positive thing.  That leaves it with the £30 balance that I started with.

Today, I’m not quite sure how, I’ve managed to arrange it such that I can play all day and all night if I want to.  It’s Saturday, which means in theory there should be lots of soft tables and money to make.  My first goal is to replenish my PokerStars bankroll back up to my standard level, which at the moment is $100.  I’m not thinking about my second yet, that would be getting ahead of myself.

The plan is to take my time and take regular breaks.  I have to make considered decisions and make sure I don’t fall into that trap again.  Right, here goes…