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!