Saturday, November 8, 2008

In Defense of Short Stackers

In numerous poker forms strewn all across the Internet, you can find almost universal damnation of short stackers. As someone who has personally employed this strategy from time to time and very profitably as well, I would like to add my two cents here.

NOT EVERYONE PLAYS POKER WITH THE SAME GOALS IN MIND. This is perhaps the singular most important argument here. So many times you will hear the detractors saying that you can not maximize profit by playing in this fashion. Obviously, this is true and all short stackers are aware of this. But just as some people play poker just for fun and not for profit (yes, it's true), a professional is not always interested in maximizing profit. As someone who has short stacked in the past and is currently short stacking, I can tell you that minimizing variance is often much more valuable to a professional (or semi-professional) for both monetary and psychological reasons. This is no different than the guy who can beat the $5/10 NL game but chooses to play $2/4 NL because he can't not focus himself comfortably after losing $1000 or more on a single hand.

You also see the detractors saying that if you are not rolled for the game at hand you should be playing smaller. This is absolute nonsense. The stakes are only one contributing factor to your bankroll exposure. As I had pointed out in one of my previous posts on bankroll management, the amount of your buy in also determines how well rolled you are for the game at hand. $600 might not seem adequate to play at the $1/2 level if you are buying in full, but if you are buying in for $40 at a time, you are now rolled for 15 simultaneous games! It is also much easier to play more tables and earn frequent player points or rakeback bonuses. These are not only ends in themselves but also serve to reduce variance.

Specifically, I just think that most players who see themselves as being fairly competent are just shocked and appalled that someone employing a seemingly crude strategy can thwart their years of hard work. They are also failing to realize that there are almost as many different styles and skill levels of short stacking as there are “normal” approaches to a full ring game.

Most importantly, as I had stated in one of my first posts, every single professional player should have some sort of tight aggressive style that they can fall back on in times of need. Bottom line – POKER IS HARD. Just as someone who is looking to make their living as an artist should be willing to do commercial art in order to prevent starvation, a poker player should have a strong, solid technique or strategy that he can fall back on when the bottom of the floor starts caving in as he regains his focus. I see short stacking in this light for myself, personally. Right now I am trying daily to perfect my own version of this strategy so that if times ever get rough again, I have a low variance strategy that I can use to rebuild a bankroll and make a strong consistent income. Which does lead to another argument...

If it were theoretically possible for a player to make $100 per hour short stacking, would those players who are struggling to make $20 an hour still criticize this method or would they want to learn it? I don't think that any sane person would pass up $80 per hour to preserve any romantic notion of the purity of the game. Currently I am exploring the limits to this type of strategy and will be publishing the results from time to time though I will keep the strategy close to the vest.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tournament Poker- Why Two Heads Are Better Than One

Poker has traditionally been viewed as a game played in isolation. One player to a hand, goes the rule. However, now that poker is being played on the Internet, that rule is purely optional. And even if such a rule were ever put into place it would be impossible to enforce.

Has it ever occurred to you to play with a partner? While I play the role of the maverick in my cash games, particularly because I play 6 tables or more, these days I play almost all of my tournaments with my 50/50 partner, Travis, and to great success. Here is how we do it: we both qualify or buy our way into the same tournament and then discuss every critical hand over the phone while watching each others tables.

Now wait- I know what you are thinking- why would I want to split my winnings with someone else? Besides the obvious comeback that it reduces variance and essentially gives you 2 shots at a tournament where you are only granted one, here are the benefits:

2 Observers

You now have two sets of eyes watching the same set of players and can glean extra information about opponents that you might have missed on your own, as well as prior history.

2 Complimentary styles

Ideally, you would choose a partner that you not only trust but that also has different strengths and outlooks on the game. Obviously you will sometimes disagree strongly in the heat of the moment, so Travis and I created a safe word (“fungus”, in our game) that lets the other know that we are dead serious and that the partner is about to do something phenomenally dangerous and/or stupid.


Even when you have a financial interest in your partner's play, it feels completely different when HIS aces get cracked vs. when your OWN get cracked. When you are constantly getting your head stomped on it is difficult to play well. You partner can not only encourage you at these dark and painful times, he can actually step in and make decisions while you cool off. I like to call this my “relief brain.” Likewise, your partner will not get as emotionally attached to big pre-flop hands since he is not holding them and can help you make post-flop laydowns that might be emotionally difficult to make (even though quite obvious to an observer).


In a long tournament, some routine decisions become more and more difficult, particularly if your head has been getting bashed in. With two mentally active players, usually at least one of you will have the gas to make it through the late stages. Additionally, on a personal level, having someone else's money at stake makes you push harder on your own game rather than taking the “fuck it” exit strategy when things are not going your way.

Hand Discussion

Even when the hands are played and the tournament is over, you and your partner will be having long and heated arguments over the way hands were played and results were achieved. This is a good thing!

Finally, the best part- having someone to celebrate with

The life of the professional poker player is fraught with strife and peril. The losses you take create doubt in yourself and others and the wins you make breed envy and resentment. When you take down a big win with someone who has an even stake in it, you don't just believe, you KNOW that someone is finally taking the same joy away from the game that you are.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Mental Error, Part II

The other day, I was playing some $.50/1 NL 6-max and was faced with a situation that had profound implications for my game. A regular, solid player raised UTG and I flat called him on the button with 55. The flop came Qc 8c 4d. The raiser checked first and since this seemed like a flop that he might fear giving a free card on, I bet 3/4 pot behind him and he quickly called. I had almost given up on the hand but then I spiked a 5 on the turn and bet about 2/3 pot behind him, as I had put him on either TT or JJ at this point. He called again and then checked the river when a complete brick fell. There was now about $50 in the pot and I fired for $40. There was a slight hesitation before this came out in the chat box from his end:

"God, I'm the worst player ever! I can't believe I am doing this..."

He then mucked and flashed AA for the entire table to see! It goes without saying that this was the last hand I expected to see here. Seeing as he was willing to part with this initial information, I went ahead and asked why he would do that, to which he replied, "I knew I was beat."

"So what did I have then?" I replied.

"A set probably."

So given the sequence of raise, check, call, check, call, check, fold, I had to know how he could possibly have put me on the correct hand. A question he errantly obliged for me.

"You bet too fast. If you were going to bluff, you would have a least thought about it for a few seconds." Now in this regard he was mostly inaccurate, but in hindsight I had been a little too eager to get my money in the pot...presumably because I would never expect anyone to make this kind of fold. But clearly I am in error here, but my error is not the focus of this blog entry.

In his eagerness to prove how quickly he could lay down AA and prove how much smarter he was than me, he gave me an incredible insight into my own game, as well as offering me and anyone who was paying attention a method to now effectively bluff him off strong hands with a very casual betting line.

The moral of the story is thus: I now count to at least three whenever I make any decision, even if I am planning on check-folding. I should have noticed myself that I was giving this information away, particularly now that I am beginning to make a very substantial amount of my decisions based on the click tells that many people are giving away, at LEAST at the lower levels.

I guess now would also be the perfect time to add this addition to my last post about multi-tabling negative effects. A particularly strong one is that people who are playing too many tables are subconsciously giving away too much information in the timing of their bets and checks. After all, if you were playing 12 tables, how much time do you really care to put into disguising the strength of a hand that you never intended to ever play?

To wrap it up, he asked me again right before he left what I had had. Did I tell him?

Not a fucking chance.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Playing Too Many Tables

Do you consistently get the feeling that you are always doing something wrong or could be doing something better? Trust me, I get that feeling all the time but hopefully if I am able to follow my own advice, I won't be getting that feeling anymore. The question at hand is: have you been playing too many tables? Other than the obvious indicators that you have been, here are a few other ones that might seem minimal when you do them that could lead to grave errors.

1) Have you forgotten who raised the pot?

2) Have you missed seeing a third player in what you thought was a heads-up pot?

3) Have you made your standard button raise with a hand like T9s only to see that the BB was practically all in?

4) And most importantly, do you find yourself playing certain hands EXACTLY the same way every time?

I understand the theory behind playing multiple tables perfectly and believe me when I say that I have had this same argument with myself over and over again to justify doing it.


Actually, you probably aren't and I will use a direct analogy to explain why. My last job was waiting tables. In a smaller section consisting of 3-4 tables, I was usually seriously limited in how much money I could expect to make on that shift. After all, if I was working one or two more tables, I could expect to make more money, right? And that was true. But at least there, I KNEW that after reaching my load of 6 tables, my ability to serve our guests well began to decline rapidly. In what ways? Tell me if some of these sound analogous to you:

1) I could not give each guest special attention (playing the player and missing value).

2) I would forget who ordered what (missing who raised the pot or who was in the blinds).

3) I might deliver the wrong food to the wrong table (thinking you are playing AA when in fact you are holding JJ- ouch!)

At some point in time, by playing too many tables you will reach a critical limit where your ability to play even 1 correctly collapses entirely. Presumably, we are limiting ourselves to that point just before where that decline begins. But even if that were true, there are some unpredictable external events that could push you over the edge immediately. Maybe your phone rings and it is that important call that you have been waiting for. Maybe your dog just puked on the floor. Maybe your kid just woke up and began crying uncontrollably -- all while you were trying to "maximize your expectation" while playing 12-16 tables simultaneously.

Of course, we expect to make some (small) mistakes but these are the only ones we are noticing. In fact, it's almost like using selective memory. We remember the small mistakes that we spot, but will never "remember" the ones we never realized we were making. But the bottom line is that by playing too many tables, we are ultimately stunting our growth as players for some possible (and I do mean possible ) short-term gain. By playing too many tables, it is easy to get too ingrained in habits that are used to beat the average players at your chosen limit. By learning to beat consistently the best players at your limit, you are preparing your self to beat the higher limit.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Mental Error

Two days ago, while playing a little .50/$1 6-max PLH on Full Tilt I had made a huge and embarrassing mistake. Here is how the hand went down:

An under the gun player raised to $3 and the button called and I called as well in the big blind with 33. I hit gold on the flop when it came up T 7 3 rainbow. I checked and so did the raiser and the button bet out $7. I flat called him and the pre-flop raiser bailed. The next card was an off suit K and I checked it again. The button did not disappoint and went ahead and bet $10. I check raised him to $25 and he re-raised enough to effectively put me all in so I pushed the rest of the way. Surprisingly, he flipped over AA and the river bricked. With that hand out of the way, I turned my attention to my other tables. When I looked back, the player I had just "busted" typed in the chat box "??". Since that made me curious, I took a look at his stack and it was double what I had. So now I asked myself, "did he make a straight or something on the river?"

Now I was somewhat distraught so I started looking through the hand histories and guess what I found? I was never dealt 33 in the first place! I actually had 44 and totally whiffed on the flop. My first reaction was a pain at the loss of $200 I thought that I had but the feeling was quickly replaced by a feeling of embarrassment. I wanted to type back in the chat box that I had misread my hand for the set in order to salvage my ego, but even as my heart was racing, I told myself that it is far more productive to let them believe that I am a complete donkey maniac so that I could get paid off handsomely on future pots.

Since this is the type of mistake that I probably only make every 100,000 hands or so, it is important to make the best of it. Otherwise you have wasted all of your money. And who knows? Perhaps that grave mental error could actually end up netting you much more than that in your session because you were able to swallow your pride and focus on your "implied donkey odds"?

Even though this particular error is rare, in a future post I will point out some more frequent mental errors that you should watch out for more ways to prevent them. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Invisible Skills of a Poker Player, Part I: Cashing Out

As it turns out, one of the crucial skills of the modern online player is cashing out. This is something that has only come into play since the creation of the UIGEA and the more recent demise of Epassporte. Unfortunately, those of us who lost the ability to make easy withdrawals by debit card are left with fewer and fewer options to retrieve our money. The most common one available is that of a check.

As anyone who has been cashing out regularly over the last few months could tell you, their checks have arrived in as few as four days to as many as a month and a half in some rare cases. Places like Full Tilt and Cake Poker have averaged turnaround times of 1 1/2 weeks in the past but more recently about 3 weeks from process to delivery. Since most professional players are not true ballers in any sense of the word, we tend to need that money greatly as it comes in. So I feel that it is pretty safe to say that most readers can relate to the idea of constantly being broke while waiting for spurts of payouts because we have become accustomed to getting checks from our preferred site in a specific time window.

If you have been a serious player or professional for any span over the last few years, you should be accustomed by now to all manner of negative surprises. Here is a partial list of those things:

1. The passing of the UIGEA and the subsequent closing of many sites.

2. The shutdown of Neteller to American customers and the seizing of player funds.

3. The abrupt shutdown of Epassporte.

4. The bankruptcy of Red Nines.

5. The complications of instant bank transfers from Full Tilt.

6. Massive delays in check withdrawals.

7. The much publicized cheating scandals of Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet.

Each of these incidents have left us all worrying about the state and safety of our money and our ability to play poker. Although it may come as something of a surprise, leaving a certain amount of money safely off-line is also necessary for your poker playing well being. After all, since we are all playing poker to make money, keeping most of that money is necessary to maintaining a healthy bankroll and lifestyle. So how does all this tie in together? If you are not or have not been in the position of having a good portion of your net worth safely off-line, you must always prepare for the worst when it comes to the delivery of your poker winnings.

Here is how I suggest doing that:

1. Calculate exactly how much money you will need two months from now and the frequency in which you will need it.

2. Add a minimum of $500 to that amount for unexpected expenses.

3. Despite how quickly your winnings have arrived in the past, assume a 30 day delivery time*.

4. Take the amount of money you are withdrawing and how important are the things that you need that money for and give that cashout a priority score of 1-5. For each priority scoring above one, add 4 days for each priority point. Drinking money would receive a priority score of 1, whereas the mortgage bill would receive a priority of 5, for instance.

5. Now add 7 days for the check to clear plus 2 days for each $1000 increment above $1000.

6. If you have not already done so, scan the front and back of your driver's license and also a utility bill that has your address that is on file with your poker site showing. If your site requires these things, they might not always tell you up front so go ahead and ask them by e-mail or live chat if they require any documentation BEFORE you make your cashout. Otherwise, your money might get left in limbo for a long time before you figure out anything is wrong.

Now that these things are out of the way, here are a few more tips to keep in mind.

1. If you are repaying a personal loan with some of your cashout money, give your creditor the maximum timeline that you expect to receive it. Do NOT promise them the best case scenario, as you will certainly disappoint or offend someone at some point in time if the money arrives later than expected (and it will).

2. Establish overdraft protection with your financial institution and keep your savings account funded in case things do not go as planned (they won't).

In the game of poker, optimism is a fools gambit. Just remember that.

*This time frame is for American players and may or may not apply to other countries.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bankroll Theory Revisited

After giving some thought to my previous post about bankroll management, I decided that it is foolish to rail against common bankroll management theory without offering something substantial to replace it. I had mentioned briefly about not having qualms about stepping down in limits as your bankroll begins to shrink. Before I get started, I should point out that no limit hold'em is my game of choice if that has not already been made clear. I would also like to draw a comparison to a couple of well-known online professionals (can't remember who specifically) who claimed that they got by with a "small" bankroll of 30 buy-ins for their respective game.

Once again, these people simply have nothing concrete to substantiate this arbitrary number. Suppose for example that they are referring to a $1/2 game with a maximum buy-in of $200. This so-called small bankroll would be a whopping $6,000! In my 3 1/2 year span as a professional, I can probably count the times that my bankroll exceeded $6,000 on one hand and it has never exceeded $10,000 for more than a day. With this "small" bankroll I have played as high as $20/40 limit and $5/10 no limit and yet have only had 3 losing months in a 43 month span.

So without digressing, let's get back to this $6,000 bankroll. This amount is grossly overinflated because at these limits it would take some horrendous play to lose 70% or $4200 of this bankroll. While it may be mathematically possible to run this bad, I find it far more probable that the person responsible for this train wreck is either playing poorly or is just plain terrible and should go back to delivering pizzas. In any case, no one seems to offer a point where you should step down. Perhaps even more dangerously, this hazy advice does not even take into consideration that you might have a considerable amount more than your original buy-in on one table, exposing you to considerably more risk and critically dangerous decisions. After, it is one thing to get all in with KK pre-flop when you have $150 at stake, but it is probably almost always incorrect to get all in with that same hand pre-flop when you have $400 at stake.

So here is how I do it at this same hypothetical $1/2 NL game. If I were to choose to buy in for the maximum (which I rarely do these days, by the way) I would only require that I at least over $2000 (10 full buy ins). Once I drop down to $1000, I will move down to $.50/1. If I continue playing poorly or getting poor results (it is far better to assume the former) I will drop down to $.25/.50 at $500 when I have exactly 10 full buy-ins for that game, etc. If you can see a pattern here, then you will realize that I can stretch this number down to the lowest possible stakes at a given online poker site, effectively stretching my bankroll to infinity.

This method is actually far more powerful than it at first appears. This only assumes that you are buying in for exactly the maximum and does not address the fact that you can choose to buy in anywhere from 20%-100% of this amount. Therefore, I can now stretch out this "tiny" bankroll to far greater proportions by buying in short! Assuming that I wanted to take a shot at a $2/4 NL game I could do this provided that I bought in for an amount between $80 and $200 with that same $2,000 bankroll, yet chose to leave if I had increased my stack to $300+ or so.

In fact, buying in short and playing like a nit is the best way to take a shot at a game at stakes that are foreign to you or a game that you have never played before. After all, the arguments in favor of buying in for the full amount are weak at best. Most players should never buy in for that amount, being that most players don't play particularly well and are under-rolled. The argument that I hear over and over again is that if the hero flops a set, they want to be able to break their opponent. Of course that would be nice but this situation happens very infrequently in a full stack vs. full stack scenario. The real truth is that when you are shorter than everyone else at the table, they are more likely to look you up lightly and you will be getting your money in with the best of it (and very often a HUGE favorite) far more often as long as you are playing significantly tighter than your opponents.

Lastly, it is simply a poker falsehood that you must have the maximum buy-in to have every single tool available at your disposal. The truth is that if you have roughly 60%-70% of the maximum in play, you pretty much have every tool necessary to maneuver in your chosen game. Sometimes this can be even more effective than having a larger stack because YOU will have the final say in a big river bluff, provided that you are first to act. If the action has been heavy, your last bet will probably put you all in for a roughly pot sized bet and you will have no fear of respite since all of your money will be in the middle, leaving your opponent completely helpless even if he strongly suspects that you are full of shit.

Now don't get me wrong here: the moral of the story is not to play with a short bankroll. Most players could not handle it but I have found through the school of hard knocks that I can make this happen. The moral is that you should never let some mathematical formula or anecdotal evidence prevent you from taking a shot at greatness. Spend what you can afford!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Don't be a Leper- Why Pain is Necessary

In Howard C. Cutler's biopic of the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama includes a chapter about the necessity of pain as expressed through the experience of lepers. One of the symptoms of leprosy is an intense numbness of the affected areas that causes a complete lack of sensation in those body parts afflicted by this disease. The Dalai Lama explained how the lepers would then become subjected to further problems due to this numbness. What kind of problems? Some of them would sleep peacefully as rats gnawed away at their flesh, further exposing them to even more tissue loss and new infections. Some of them would engage unwittingly in self-destructive acts like reaching into an open flame to grab an object because they were immune to the heat of the flames.

In Ed Miller's site, I had recently replied to a forum response that had quoted (forgive me if this was the second-handedly misquoted) a Stoxpoker instructor who recommended being "over-rolled" for your intended game. Even though I was able to read between the lines here, I don't like this terminology as it can be very misleading. As I had stated in my response, I strongly believe that the losses should sting (yet not be devastating) and the wins should have the ability to be satisfying. If the losses don't sting, you might find yourself reaching into that open flame far too often (i.e. stacking off too much with sub-par hands) or having rats chew away at your flesh (i.e. calling too many raises with trash hands only to fold when you fail to connect).

The sensation of pain at the loss of money is meant to protect us. You have to find your own personal pain threshold that allows you to perform optimally at your chosen stakes. These are your meaningful stakes -- and that can not be overstated. So once again, to quote myself, I prefer the term "comfortably-rolled" to "over-rolled." A minor sensation of pain creates focus, an over-sensation of pain causes fear. Stay focused, not oblivious or fearful.

And since every poker situation always has an "it depends" factor, I am now going to contradict myself. There is one situation in poker where it is appropriate to be completely oblivious to pain and that is in the early stages of a rebuy tournament. A skilled person who is ready to burn through a considerable number of buy-ins during the rebuy period is at a great advantage to the nits who are trying too hard to protect their stacks. Now that is not to say that you just shove it in with any two cards -- you are still looking for an advantage but you should be playing at stakes low enough that you are completely numb to having to buy back in as many times as necessary to capitalize on your advantage.

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Ego as Currency" or "Why I Never Play Heads Up Online"

Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where the wagering of your ego is far more consequential than the money involved. What could this possibly mean? Before I get into it, I will start this with a story of a seemingly inconsequential event that happened a few years ago.

Back when I had originally set out as a professional, I used to believe that every time an opportunity came up that was +EV I should take it if it involved only a minor monetary risk. After all, that is what people like David Sklansky would approve of. However, there are a certain number of other mental attributes of your game that comprise a part of your "psychological bankroll" that must be protected at all times, just as you would protect your physical bankroll. These are attributes such as confidence, self-esteem, and general psychological well-being.

So there I was at the Golden Nugget, my favorite neighborhood bar. At this bar everyone knew me as the guy who makes a living playing poker. I was on a downswing of about $1500 or so and my bankroll was suffering, as was my confidence. I had a few drinks in me and my friend Mack had propositioned to play me in a heads-up $20 freezeout. I quickly accepted because I had viewed it as easy money since Mack was a rank amateur who perceived himself as far superior to the other rank amateurs (he was not, by the way) that he had played with in the bar's weekly freebie tournament. Since I was short on time, I had set up the game with five minute blinds, thereby increasing the luck factor greatly. Incidentally, back then I only had one aggressive gear and did not know how to handle a player heads-up who would never fold. So even though I thought (wrongly) that I could beat Mack 8 out of 10, I managed to mangle the first game and then being infused with a mild intoxication of liquor with a strong intoxication of tilt, I played a rematch with the same rules and managed to butcher that one as well.

So I hit the ATM, gave Mack his money, told him "good game", and promptly stormed out of the bar. Since I had about $800 or so in the bank and my bar tab was roughly equivalent to the amount that I had lost, the utility of that money wagered was insignificant at the time. In retrospect, I wasn't really playing for the money at all. I was just playing for the pride and a ridiculous need to feel superior to someone who felt superior to others. The end result was a continual second guessing of my abilities which would spill over into my regular game where there was real money at stake. All for a lousy $20!!

So how does this relate to my online heads up game? Since I realize that I lack the ability to beat the heads-up of players at stakes that are meaningful to me, if I were to drop down and play against opposition I am quite certain that I could beat, I would be putting my ego on the line and set myself up for a massive tilt session if things do not go my way. If tilt were contained in a vacuum, this wouldn't be such a problem except for the fact that I would probably sit back down in my normal game to try and recoup those losses- only now I would be doing so with half a brain.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bankroll Utility

Since I had not previously mentioned it, the reason I have been spending an inordinate amount of time at the Horseshoe is because I am extremely cash poor at the moment and I am sadly trying to scrape together some money to have my insurance reinstated and make rent. I do have a large cashout pending but I am finally coming to grips with the fact that I simply can not predict when these things will arrive and what sort of complications may occur. My goal is simple, yet tedious. I am trying to take $100 or so and make about $100 playing in the $2/4/4/8 game where I then hope to parlay that amount to a much greater sum in the $1/2 NL game that has a $100 minimum buy in. If I happen to double it or better at that game, I will leave and then sit down again at another table with the minimum $100 again. Thereby I will be limiting my exposure, but it will be very easy to dump my hard earned winnings in the larger game. Desperate times call for desperate (and pathetic) measures- what can I say? Since I realize that this will almost certainly be comical several months from now, I am definitely not reporting this as any kind of sob story but rather to offer a certain insight into bankroll management.

So here it goes: I managed to make my goal in the smaller game and then promptly moved into the larger game with my $100. Just a few hands in, I was dealt 44 and I limped into the pot to try and see a flop. The guy behind me raised it to $12 and two other guys called. My first instinct was to fold my 44 because from my experience the whole issue of implied odds is rather sketchy. But then I came across an X-factor and that is that even though I may be sacrificing a tiny bit of expectation (which may or may not be the case -- it is certainly debatable), the value of hitting that potential home run would mean that I could probably at least double my stack and then even if I were to dump $100 later on, I would still be able to come back tomorrow and sit in this game. Specifically, the value of calling that extra $10 was more than offset by the chance of hitting a major score. After all, at some point I was going to have to make a major hand in order to truly get rid of the training wheels. Also, having a smaller stack as a result of calling and then folding can actually be quite useful in a game where the typical raise is between 6 and 7 1/2 times the big blind. This can be very beneficial to the short stacker, as a short stacker is far more likely to double or triple his chips with a one pair hand then a larger stack, thereby adding to the total utility of the hand.

So what is utility? Utility is the unique and special value that an individual assigns to something and can vary widely according to different circumstances and situations. Now this is the actual true secret to individual bankroll management. To begin this discussion I will give an example:

Player A and Player B both have a bankroll of $5,000. Player A plays $1/2 NL and Player B plays $5/10 NL. Who has the bigger bankroll? Obviously the smaller player has a large bankroll and the larger player has a tiny bankroll. Assuming that they are both equally talented and winning players and that neither one is willing to you drop down in stakes, the smaller player would need to be catastrophically unlucky to lose his roll but the larger player could lose his entire bankroll through ordinary daily variance. Therefore, as should be clear by now, Player A's bankroll has much more utility than Player B's.

Since it is almost equally improbable that Player A would even lose $4000, it would be perfectly reasonable for him to take a shot at that same $5/10 game if it is beatable provided that he limit it to a single buy in at a time. Or even better, he could 5-table this $5/10 game as long as he quits after the first $1,000 loss. This is assuming that that $1000 is not necessary for other expenditures outside of poker. The reason? If he can string together several good sessions, he can conceivably move up in the limits to become a full time $2/4, $3/6, or higher player.

There are a ridiculous amount of caveats to this conclusion- once again they are all situation specific. Now suppose that I have run my initial $100 into $1000 in my $1/2 NL game. Everyone else at the table only has $200 except for the skilled loose-aggressive player sitting directly behind me who also has $1000. Even though I can theoretically break him with my stack, the probability of getting my entire stack in against his as a superior favorite is so low that my extra $800 has now become a liability since my positional disadvantage and awkward stack size is more likely to create difficult situations than favorable outcomes.

In the past, I have railed against the 300 big bet "theory" of bankroll management for limit games. This simply does not make sense to me and the reason is because you will not be expending 299 big bets in any game because at that point you will have violated all known bankroll limitations and will be sitting there with only a chip and a chair. Furthermore, at some point far sooner than that, you will have crossed the threshold of the minimum buy in for that game. Supposing that you do have the "required" 300 big bets, your actual bankroll for that limit might be only 50 big bets, since at that time you might be forced to move down or even worse, maybe that game is not beatable for you at all, meaning that NO bankroll is large enough. Likewise if 300 big bets is the absolute minimum for a given limit, does that mean you should pack up and leave if you lose your first hand? Of course not!

The bankroll "requirement" really is only a measuring stick for a player who would never be disciplined enough to use it. Knowing your personal psychological makeup and tendencies is the only way to establish your own limits. I have found that as long as I have at least $400 in my online account I can make thousands of dollars in any given month because I have the discipline to move up or down accordingly. I will touch on this topic more as I have found it to be an endlessly ridiculous debate that people try to quantify through mathematics and repeating book knowledge. All I have to say is, if this is the requirement for true poker success, then where are all those success stories of people who have followed this formula and used to reach the greatest heights of success?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Musings between the agonizing pacing of hands

I just got back from the Horseshoe. I played a little $1/$2 and had a paltry $23 loss. While I was playing like a complete nit, I had time to reflect on what the problems were with my 6-max game. The main things that I could focus on were that I were getting little to no action with pocket aces and constantly losing full buy-ins in with pocket kings and queens. A cursory glance at this so-called problem would reveal that I am simply overplaying my aces before the flop and my kings and queens as well! I think that I also believe that it is in my overall best interests to cold call re-raises with my aces, kings, and queens and thereby increase my post flop expectation. After all, few players at the stakes, where I reside are willing to put in that fourth bet (or call it) with anything less than pocket queens. The result? My fourth bets are generally acting like a filter that actually creates negative expectation on my most profitable hands.

Furthermore, while it is easy for most players to escape their middle pairs pre-flop, if they flop an over pair a typical player will often have a difficult time getting away from his hand, particularly because I failed to put in that last bet, now making it appear more like a bluff. After all, the players that tend to give me the most difficulty and annoy me the most are the ones who fail to tip off their big pocket pairs before the flop!

I feel that generally the correct play is highly dependent on stack sizes. If a player happened to start the hand with 60% or less of a full buy in now you can push with those good hands pre-flop if they are the ones who re-raise you.

Lastly, once again, I find myself getting stuck in the mindset of always having to bet two thirds of the pot. This is truly ironic, because the biggest strength of my game is playing to different stack sizes and finding ways to manipulate them into getting pot stuck. This effective bet sizing is precisely the reason why I have been so successful at tournaments lately. And since your typical player will probably fail to realize that the reason I am making the size bets that I am is due to all of the stack sizes involved, my selection of these bet sizes will probably take on a randomized appearance automatically.

Just for once I have to remember not to forget these things!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Consensus: no one fucking cares

Hopefully this post will be brief, and I will be able to vent about other completely uninspired poker blogs. Unless I think it will be tactically useful, I will not be offering any graphs, win rates, monthly predictions, tournament updates, etc. With my blog, I hope to create useful discussion and insight into the game that we might all use to become better player. The typical poker blogger is only chronicling his adventures and embellishing them with mundane and senseless stories of muppets, drunkenness, and bad beats. And as I state in the title, nobody fucking cares. ...

Yes, I do suppose that was brief and also helped to illustrate in a roundabout way what I intend for my own poker blog. I'll be adding my own journal entry sometime later tonight when I have more free time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Musings on the start of a legacy

I ended up playing some $2/4/4/8 limit at the Horseshoe Indiana- what some might deem the "old ladies' game." I only made a $26 profit (less if you include smokes and a sandwich) but played very well. Of the pots that I had contested, I won most all of them except for losing with top 2 and a one card king high flush. Not so bad, but here is the interesting thing: I realized that whenever I play live poker I never take the losses or bad beats seriously and always conduct myself with the utmost of class. For me at least, there is something to be said of losing to the faceless online opponent. I guess I always have this picture in my mind of some sinister foe who cackles endlessly whenever he moves me off the best hand and can practically see my cards with his endless database of Pokertracker madness.

I started taking this vision a little further when I remembered an article that I had seen somewhere recently that had a surprising list of world class pros that dealers hated dealing to. Two of the memorable names were Jennifer Harmon and David Grey. While their list of accomplishments is certainly formidable, I would never want to see myself be part of such a list. As a professional, you should treat your job as a profession and act courteous and respectful at all times. Whether you are at the top of the list or the bottom, this is how your legacy will play out. After all, how much professional respect is given to Phil Hellmuth, despite his undeniable talent?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Black swans and lurking horrors

So here in my first post-Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 rambling I want to go ahead and focus on the unknown. As poker players we are always trying to make the unknown known, whether that be by focusing on pot odds, hourly rates, or past player tendencies as we try to eliminate risk in all its forms and make things predictable. The problem with this is that we can never fully make our future known through past results. As we all know, the game is ever-evolving and yesterday's tricks will never yield the same exact results.

My current thinking has been heavily impacted by the best-selling business author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. For those of you who do not know, Mr. Taleb is a former options trader who is railing against the current view of society as being predictable both in the future or in hindsight. He focuses on what he calls black swans -- those rare events that are difficult, if not impossible to predict, and have profound impacts, but yet tend to lead to some later conclusion that they were predictable all along. He says that these are the events that truly shape history. The former paradigm was that history crawls forward, he says that it makes jumps.

In his newest book titled The Black Swan, he also mentions that despite all forms of risk management it is always black swans that ruin our plans. So as this applies to poker, we can do everything we want to to protect our bankroll, minimize our risk exposure, or calculate our hourly rates, but these things will always fail to predict our ultimate results. Here are some examples:

1. We do not put in the hours needed to achieve our expected results. This actually happened to me today. I got up fairly early (for me) and took my girlfriend to get a new tattoo with her bonus money from work. The tattoo artist said it could take as little as two hours but I was expecting more along the lines of three hours. So I went to the bookstore and read for a while, checking in periodically to see how the progress was coming. Incidentally, I did not even get home for about seven hours, only to find that my Internet connection was blown out from some unknown force.

2. You have some unknown cash emergency and need to raid your bankroll, thus inhibiting your ability to play at your highest expectation stakes.

3. Someone, knowingly or unknowingly, hacked your account and either lost a portion or all of your bankroll or dumped all of your chips to a cohort. While this was one of the original fears of online poker players, seldom do you hear this actually happening somebody. However, this actually did happen to a friend of mine several years ago. He left one of his friends behind in his apartment alone with his computer. He had about $1100 in his Party Poker account and his friend, believing that this was play money, pissed away about $900 playing $15/$30 limit hold'em.

4. The money transaction site you are using either stops excepting certain forms of payments, blocks access to certain online sites, or completely folds altogether, sometimes leaving your cash in limbo.

5. Your native government passes new laws like the UIGEA that inhibits or eliminates your opportunity to play altogether. This one took me completely by surprise even though the girl I was dating at the time who knew nothing about the industry, couldn't care less about the game of poker, and was altogether basically ignorant warned me about this happening. As a result, I failed to take the warning seriously and left my money sitting in the sites where it was parked at the time and ended up having no access to its for about four weeks longer than expected. Incidentally, this was all the money I had in the world at the time.

6. And quite possibly the most feared of all outcomes, the action in your preferred game either becomes too difficult to make significant money or the game dries up altogether.

I can certainly go on and on giving different apocalyptic scenarios for what can happen to your money or expectation, but I believe that these are some of the most commonly overlooked or underrepresented threats to your online bankroll or moneymaking capabilities.

So as I get used to using this new software, I hope to become one of the most active or prolific poker writers on the Internet. I hope I am not being too long-winded, because it will be far easier to go on waffling about different topics when I can sit here thinking and speaking about it than by typing alone. I am certainly open to different suggestions and discussion but hope to keep it rather non-confrontational, specifically because I hold very little loyalty to my own ideas or things that I say and I am willing to revise them as new information presents itself to me and I learn through my mistakes and the input of others. Hope to keep you guys reading!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's been a long time

So, I haven't posted anything in here in months, but I expect that to change pretty soon. I just purchased some new dictation software, and since my lazy as will no longer have to be sitting in front of a computer typing, I am free to spill my guts constantly about anything that comes to my mind. So I won't be saying much for the time being because this program is driving my girlfriend nuts, but check back here frequently for all the latest and greatest in the world of the small stakes hero!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Thinking of a Personal Challenge

My goal for the month of March is to win the Rake Race on Full Tilt Poker. Top prize is $2,500 and the reigning champ is naturally a limit hold'em player. He plays higher limits than I do, but I can play twice as many tables, and potentially will make the move to NL400. If I come in the top 3 (or probably even the top 7), I will apply that extra money to a brand new, custom made multi-tabling super computer, complete with dual 24-inch monitors.

That aside, I have been thinking about Chris Ferguson's personal challenge to turn $0 in $10,000. Since I don't have THAT much free time on my hands, I would like to turn $10 into $1,000 using an exclusively short-stack strategy in 1 weeks time, the last week of April.

Anyone looking to make a prop bet??

Thursday, February 28, 2008

No really, it DOESN'T depend

Right here, right now, I would like to put to rest the worst piece of "advice" that people tend to give about poker. In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, here is how it goes: A person (typically a novice) poses a poker situation and the seasoned pro answers "it depends."

The reason- you have to know the player and his tendencies.

Of course it "depends", however, what the novice is usually asking is if there is a reasonable "default" play against an unknown opponent for the given situation. After all, if they knew the player well enough to know his tendencies, they probably would not have needed to ask the question in the first place.

Like it or not, in poker there is almost always a default play. Take the following scenario for instance:

$1/2 No Limit Hold'em

You: $200
Villain: $40

Everyone folds to you on the button, and you raise to $7 with KhQh. Only the BB calls and the flop is JhTd3c. The villain bets out $4 into the $15 pot.

What you know about the opponent is fairly irrelevant here, because you ALWAYS should raise. His bet is pretty much universally weak, and your hand is always live, so putting him all in will usually make him fold, but you don't really care because his stack size guarantees that you can never make a critical mistake.

Furthermore, the smaller the stack sizes, the more the poker math supersedes the art. In fact, given a small enough stack, certain plays become always correct or always incorrect, such as this...

$1/2 No Limit Hold'em

You: $6

You are dealt KK UTG in a 6 or more handed ring game.

Your opponents tendencies mean nothing as you are probably best at this point. Folding is obviously out of the question, but if you limp, you are now giving the small blind automatic odds to call you with a single ace in his hand. Ditto if you raise the minimum, only now the BB can make the same call. Therefore you always go all in.

This argument I am making is for far more than academic discourse. Knowing default plays and tendencies of strangers is of paramount importance to successful multi-tablers. You are constantly faced with a new line up and many of your opponents will go broke quickly and will never be seen from again. And if you are playing 6 tables or more, you will rarely get specific reads on these players and must make the mathematically correct play that is relevant to the given situation.

A simple run-down of these plays is listed below:

  • Raise and re-raise big pairs
  • Bet and raise strong hands on the flop
  • Don't make big folds with top pair/good kicker or better on safe boards
  • Don't make big calls on overbets on sequential boards or 4 flush boards
  • Pay attention to the odds
  • Don't respect small and min-bets
And MOST importantly.....

NEVER, EVER, EVER fold Kings before the flop!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Top Pair from the Blinds

Here is a consistent problem that I have which I have chosen to resolve by completely ignoring it. However, there is this constant nagging feeling that I am losing value by doing so, so I am going to throw this out and see what I can reel back in.

Example: You are dealt Kd7c in the BB at a full table. There are 4 limpers and you decide to check. The flop comes out Kc5d4d.

To the amateur, this would appear to be a good hand, especially considering the backdoor flush opportunity. But herein lies the problem: whenever I bet and get called, I am up against a better K, two pair or a set. If I get raised, naturally I will fold and I have wasted a bet. If I check and call, they will hit a 3 outer, make a flush or straight, or they will catch a runner-runner disaster. If I choose to check raise (even against the button who is most likely on a steal), I was behind to begin with. And then, of course, there are the times when I do actually have the best hand, but then get bluffed out when a scare card hits.

Does anyone have this same problem? Even when I am up against a single limper, the result tends to be the same. I am simply lucky to get what is already in the pot. Since this has caused me undying agony, I have chosen the simple line of checking it and folding to any bet larger than the minimum (the min-bettor always seems to draw out too, BTW) and then bet out and try to take it if it checks around.

And before anyone says anything to this point, this is NOT a matter of perception. This is the result of 4 months of observation of full table play and pretty much any time I stray from the check-fold line (even with good reason, such as facing an overly aggressive player) I get punished for doing so.

Any one have any suggestions?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Sophomore Post

In order that I start to get this little project off the ground, I am sitting down to write with nothing really particular in mind, so pardon me if this does not come across as being very inspired. I will try to jog my memory for a bit to pull out some past nuggets....

In light of the fact that I just recently overcame one of my worst losing streaks in about a year (over 4 days, I was down $1,800, mostly from $1/2 but some added satellites and small MTT's as well), I had to remind myself of a few tips that I came up with to help yourself along when you are running bad. So here they are (all examples are from a $1/2 game with a $200 max buy-in):

1) Avoid likely coin flips for large sums of money.

Example, there is an early limper with $100 in chips. You raise AKs from middle position and every folds around to the limper who now raises all in. His most likely holdings here are exactly JJ, QQ, or AK. With KK or AA, he almost certainly would have raised less, but yet again, these are not impossible as well.

The reason to fold here is simple: you can call and expect to get your "entitled" coin-flip to protect your $8 or so while risking $92 in the process, or you can get on and find a better spot. If he is bluffing, then you can expect him to do something stupid again shortly, but losing a pot this size without even holding a pair will tax you mentally more than it could ever be worth.

2) Fold AK or AKs to a large re-raise from a big stack who is less than all-in.

There is a certain quality about AK that most novices and professionals overlook. Against a hand like QQ, it is not even a coin flop- it's 43% to win. That's not the issue though. It's 43%....but ONLY if you are seeing all 5 cards! It's a nasty 2:1 to the flop, making it not even worth a call. And let's face it, the implied odds suck. The only way you are likely to get paid is if the re-raiser has AQ, in which case you will be getting bluffed off the better hand when your ace or king fail to hit, which is a majority of the time.

3) Avoid thin value bets.

A thin value bet in NL is far different from one in limit. In limit, you might even bet A high for value against some people, but in NL it can often be betting your AK on a river K659J. Even though you believe you are probably best here, it is often better to just check it down if things aren't going your way, especially if you believe that your opponent has nothing. If he really does have nothing, then trying to squeeze a few tiny drops out of A high or a pair of 5's or 6's really means little if it will encourage them to make a bold bluff or hit you hard with a hand you never saw coming, like a straight or a rivered set of jacks.

I will add a few more later, but that should be some food for thought for now.


Thursday, February 7, 2008


I decided to start this blog for two reasons: to connect with other poker players to discuss strategy and to analyze my own game in a meaningful way. I have been playing poker for almost 5 years now, mainly online, and have been playing professionally for the last 3 years. I started off playing limit hold'em, being that that was the game of choice of my father as he was the pioneer of the family to begin playing online poker. I had success as high as $10/20 and dabbled a bit in $20/40 while failing to make a profit at that level. Getting fed up with taking bad beats, I soon took to no-limit and have stayed there pretty much exclusively since the summer of 2005. Even though I have had success at this version of the game as high as $5/10, I have never had the bankroll to explore this limit full time.

After practicing and studying this game for the better part of 3 years, I have made my temporary home at the modest level of $1/2 NL, playing anywhere from 6 to 8 games simultaneously. Although I had originally hoped to be crushing the $25/50 games by now, I have been forced to find my way slowly by managing a small bankroll and finding the appropriate playing style for myself. Originally finding this stifling and somewhat demeaning, I am finally at peace with my place in the game. Even though I have consistently broken Rule #1 of being a professional poker player (Do NOT live out of your bankroll), it has taught me the merits of a basic, tight-aggressive strategy which I can use at any point in time to center myself and avoid tilt and playing small has also humbled myself. Furthermore, I have also learned how to bear down and focus on the strong winning principles and avoid creative, fancy play that often quickly spirals down the road to ruin.

Through this blog I hope to meet both up and coming players and those wiser than myself, so feel free to follow my progress and offer up your two cents. I look forward to meeting all of you!