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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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.

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…

Serious Hard Work

After getting very excited by the arrival of Poker Tracker 4 the other night, I didn’t actually get to use it straight away.  First off I had a slight technical issue, which incidentally would have been solved a lot quicker had I just asked myself the obvious question ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?’, and then there was some housekeeping to be done.  It took a long time to import all my data from my Poker Tracker 3 database, so much so that when I woke up in the morning I found my laptop had turned itself off with 10’s of thousands of hands still to be imported.

And then, of course, life got in the way and I didn’t manage to find an appropriate time to play any poker.  Once again I’m looking at that positively because it means I’ve been following my Golden Rules.

So long story short, tonight was the first time I could have a proper play with it.  “But wait!”, I hear my millions of dedicated twitter followers shout, “you forgot about the Nick Wealthall training!”  Ok then, I’ll get to that first.

Last night I signed up for Nick’s new monthly training program, convinced not only by his video snippets that I have been watching over the past few months, but also because the first month was free.

In all honesty I signed up for it fully believing that I would benefit from the first month and cancel before the second month, basically because it’s not cheap, but I generally am!  After my first session this evening, I think I’m in serious danger of paying him a considerable amount of money over the coming year.  That all depends on my results and my profits being enough to justify it.  I’m not going to make my mind up just yet.

Today I watched the first module video, then watched it again whilst taking notes, and watched the second module video.  The first month is entitled ‘How To Play Aggressively Pre Flop And Dominte Aggressive Players’.  I think the title speaks for itself really, doesn’t it?

So, to the poker table.  I fired up PokerStars and the Poker Tracker 4 software and decided to play a low buy-in STT (single table tournament) with a standard structure.  I took it as an experimental game, paying close attention to the techniques that Nick had been discussing.  It started very well.

It was a 9 seater table, 1500 starting stack, 10/20 for the first level.

In the first hand I was second to act with junk, so I was going to fold regardless.  The player under the gun raised, I folded as did the two players to my left.  The next player re-raised and it was folded around to the original raiser who called.  I can’t remember the flop, but that’s what the tracking software is for!  Looking now it tells me that it was a rags flop of 4d 2h 6h.  The original raiser checks and folds to the aggressor’s bet.

In the second hand I found myself with a pocket pair – 66 – and decided to raise to 80.  I would often limp in this spot hoping for a cheap flop and a third 6 to be in there.  But that’s not me anymore!  The same guy re-raises to 140 and it’s folded around to me.  At this point I’m thinking that I have no information on my opponent other than the first hand. He could easily have hit a hand bigger than mine, but my gut said he was one of those guys who likes to start out of the blocks fast. Most likely I was a small favourite to his two overcards.

I could call and hope to hit a set, but that would put me on the back foot and I’d only see that third 6 one time in every eight flops. That’s what I would often have done in the past, arguing that the implied odds were good enough for a call.  I couldn’t do that, not after the training I had just been listening to.

I could fold worrying that I was behind already or that I would be guessing too much when the flop was dealt because I didn’t know the villain’s starting hand range and I was out of position.  I didn’t want to do that either.

So the new aggressive me 4-bets to 380, representing a strong hand, especially considering I was playing out of position, and he had no knowledge of me either.  It didn’t take long for the 5-bet to come and he’d put me all in to call.  I thought for a moment and decided that the most likely hand for him to have was two overcards, leaving it at a virtual coin flip but with me just ahead.

If you look purely at the odds and assume I was right in what I thought he was holding, it’s got to be call.  However, you’ve also got to look at the fact that I would be out of the tournament on the second hand if I called and lost.  On the other hand if I fold I’m putting myself down nearly a third of my chips and leaving myself in an undesirable position early in the trounament.  That’s not me.  Not anymore.

So I call knowing that if I win I’m putting myself in a great position, and saw that I was right, he was overly aggressive with Ace Jack off suit.  Fortunately the odds stuck with me and he missed, doubling me up and giving me a dominating early chip lead.

I could have been out on the second hand but I feel like once I decided to play the hand I played it as well as I could considering the small amount of information that I had on my opponent.  Question is, should I have played 66 up front in the first place?

I went on to crush the tournament playing agressive poker, without sucking out once and I lost chips on several occasions when I had the best of it.  My only real hiccup from that point was when it was down to three players, I did drop down into last place, but not by much and I went on to win.

Until it got down to the last three and my two opponents started getting more aggressive, I felt like the table was scared of me.  I was picking up free chips all over the place, without even really attacking the blinds too much.  I lost count of how many times everyone folded to my big blind, giving me another free round.

I also ended up playing more hands than I would normally because I was finding more and more spots where I could push my opponents out without any real resistence.

Ironically I struggled a little with the Poker Tracker 4 software because everything has been moved around somewhat.  But I had enough information on my opponents from the HUD (heads up display) to help me out.  It looks like there’s so many great features on there and I can’t wait to get discover everything that it can do.  There’s lots of hard work ahead of me to study as well as to customise the tracking software to make the most of it, and then of course I’ve got to work on my bankroll.

Well, that entry certainly wasn’t supposed to take so long, but no matter, it’s Friday night and there’s still plenty of play on the tables. Now I’ve just got to decide if I want to do more experimental tournaments or grind out some cash on the fixed limit tables whilst there’s drunks and friday night fools on there.  I’ll grab a coffee to help me decide.

Poker Tracker 4 Has Arrived!!!

It feels like Christmas as a kid, that moment of anticipation before the wrapping gets ripped off a long awaited present when you already know what’s inside.  And it’s not from Auntie Judy, and it’s not another pair of socks.  This is the big one.  The games console.  The bike.  The puppy.  Oh who am I kidding, I never got presents like that.  I’d sob for my misconception of a neglected youth, but I’m just too damned excited.

Not only did I receive an email telling me that the all singing, all dancing, all new version of Poker Tracker had been released, but they also told me I could get a massive discount of 70% because I already have a licence for version 3.  Bargain!

I’ve downloaded the software but not bought the licence yet because I’m hoping (possibly quite cheekily) that they might also let me add the Omaha licence at a discounted price.  I’d like to get into Omaha but I don’t have the licence for version 3 of the software, so the discounted upgrade doesn’t include it.

It’s installing as I type.  It’s also just gone 2am, way too late for a proper game, but I can have a little play with it.  That’s okay isn’t it?  For the sake of my daughter’s morning entertainment, I’ve got to make sure I get to bed before 3am…

Where’s the startline?

I haven’t played much for the last month or so.  I’ve got quite a lot going on in my life right so time for poker is limited, which means that I’ve got to be at peace with the fact that this journey is likely to start pretty slow.  But maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe that’ll help me focus on how important learning from each and every session is.

The other barrier, of course, is cash.  I don’t have much to add to a dismally small stake, so I’m expecting a bit of a grind.

Wow! Really starting with a bang then.

There are lots of different things that I need to spending time thinking about in regards to how I play, all of which affect my result.  Eventually I’ll try and get around to addressing all of them.  So…

  • Frame of mind
  • Environment
  • Distractions
  • Tables I play at
  • The type of game
  • Opponents
  • Knowledge of opponents
  • Knowledge of the maths
  • Stakes played
  • How many tables
  • How much time is available
  • Multi-tasking
  • Which site is used
  • Use of tracking software (I currently use Poker Tracker 3)

One of the major things that I want to sort out is to make sure that I play the best table available.  Why play in a tough game when there’s a soft game elsewhere?  Recently, like a lot of players it would seem, I’ve been defaulting far too often for playing on PokerStars. It’s a massive site but I’m limiting myself far too much.

So I need to figure out all the networks that I want to play at, and pick the best site of each.  Of course to play you have to have a bankroll, so every site that I’m expecting to have in my armoury has to be deposited into.  Like I say, I don’t have much cash, so it’s taking winnings from one to feed the next I guess.

For now, mainly because I need to have slept, woken up and got into the frame of mind to entertain a 3 year old in the next four and a half hours, I’m going to leave it there.