Thursday, March 24, 2011

Introduction of a Poker Player, Part 2

Serious question time. Are you losing at this game?

Check your gut response (of course Im not!) at the door and ponder it. How much do you make? How much time does it take you to get it? How do you feel when youre done?

Keep in mind that in poker, the only reason anyone makes any money at all (and they do) is because there are hordes of people who dont realize they are losing. If they did, theyd quit.

If you run far enough, there's a $20,000 bonus at the end!
Just don't overthink it.

Poker players are notorious for not being able to assess their own skill level. Well, finally in December 2010, after pushing myself to the absolute limit for three months, I was ready to really look at my poker game in the mirror, and I did not like what I saw. I was, without a doubt, a losing player. I had plenty of justifications for it (some legitimate, some... less so), but there it was. At the end of the day, it was costing me money to play poker.

A poker friend of mine told me about someone he knew, a guy named Lorin. He claimed that Lorins shortstack class was not only useful, it was a hell of a bargain. My first thought? Fuck that.

Id already spent hundreds of dollars on poker related stuff. Holdem Manager, Table Ninja, Leak Buster, coaching time, the list goes on. (Sometime, Ill do a product review of all the crap I bought.) Any winnings I may have made were long gone to these investments. I was thoroughly convinced there were more people making money selling stuff to poker players, than their were poker players making money.

No matter which way I sliced it, I needed help. My winrate sucked, and I wasnt really improving, despite all my study. So I made a deal with myself. Id take a chunk of my quickly dwindling bankroll and spend it on Lorins training. Then, Id dedicate the rest of my roll into learning his system. If I start winning, great. If I go broke, fine. I quit.

My first impression of Lorin was that he was a professional. A good thing, too. If Im paying for a service, I'm looking for someone who takes the job seriously. A good poker player isn't necessarily a good coach.

With Lorin, it was clear he knew what he was doing. He had a clear system, a simple presentation method, and a no-nonsense attitude.

Every mentor is different, but despite my repeated begging,
Lorin refuses to teach me the secret to bitchin' abs or a date with
Helena Bonham Carter.

His repeated request was simple: If you want to make money from my system, just do everything I tell you to do. Fair enough. I figured, I paid him the money, no sense only going half way.

So off I went. I stopped playing at Pokerstars. I stopped mass-tabling. I started shoving more and calling less. I stopped playing at fishless tables. As each new video came out, I watched it like a religion and committed it to memory.

I can overlook the rest of it Judas,
but if you flat call with Q9o one more time,
we are going to have a fucking problem.

At first, it wasnt easy. I immediately hit a severe downswing where my EV line made modest gains, but my actual profit line dropped like a stone. But something was happening. My EV line was heading somewhere Im quite sure it was very confused and disoriented to be: up.

The downswing ended as they always do, and I started making money. Compared to where I was, I feel comfortable saying it was a lot of money. I moved from the .25/.50 game on Pokerstars, to the .25/.50 game on Full Tilt, and then very quickly to .50/1.00 and into 1/2. The best part was, because I was following Lorins system of table selection, the games didnt really get much harder as I moved up. There became fewer games to play (not playing fishless tables meant more and more ineligible games as I moved up), but the games were still good.

Today, just two months later, I have the bankroll to play at 2/4 (NL400) with consistency, and Im a winner in that game. Best of all, most of my profit comes from kicking ass (winning), not kissing it (rakeback).

Im still learning. Im not there yet. Right now Im transitioning from working guy to full time pro. I expect that in the future of this blog, a lot of my posts will be about how I made and am still making that transition. But I can say with certainty thats the direction Im heading, and I wouldnt be there without Lorins help.

Thanks man. I owe you one.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Introduction of a Poker Player, Part 1

I wish this was a story I could have told from the beginning. It's an interesting one, all told - one guys journey from a casual tournament player, to a fish on a heater, to a mass tabling low stakes grinder, until finally getting it together and finding myself short-stacking for high stakes, with enough money on the line to make my parents and most of my friends feel a bit nauseous just hearing about it.

When it comes down to it though, there's an underpinning of consistency, logic, and hard, hard work that - for all the highs and lows - lets me make a living doing something I love: playing poker.

(Trust me, if you want to win, you better really love poker, because there are plenty of days when poker does not love you back.)

So, like most trendy stories these days, let's go ahead and start from the middle.

In November of 2010, I had had enough. I knew I was a winning poker player, or at least, I had it in me to become one. I just wasn't working hard enough.

Contrary to popular belief, desire and hard work are
not always a guarantee for success.

Nevermind that I was already playing five hours a day, studying when I wasn't at the table, and just generally driving myself insane. I was playing .25/.50 and .50/1.00 20bb games on Pokerstars, about 20 tables at once, about 200,000 hands a month. I got coaching. I played better, faster, harder and smarter than I ever had.

The month sucked. I posted something like a -2bb/100 loss rate, kept afloat by the rakeback I had generated.

Okay, bad luck. Still getting my feet wet. It happens. So December rolled in, I started with a clean slate, moved back down to .25/.50, and hit the tables harder than ever.

An artists rendition of trying to play on
Pokerstars in December.

On December 22, I was still losing. Badly. (Okay, not that badly, about the same as before. All I knew is that I had a goal - to play full time - and unless I planned on playing roughly 37 hours a day, I was never going to make enough money to do that.) Again, the Pokerstars bonuses were the only money I made, and had to use them to offset the losses, too.

It was time. I'd played literally hundreds of thousands of hands of poker. Sample sizes were not an issue. Nor was tilt, lack of discipline, or any other excuse I could come up with.

I was a loser. Not the funny, good natured hollywood loser who gets the hot emo girl with his fumbling charm, either. The kind destined to leave his money behind on the poker table.

Something needed to change and soon, or my poker career would be busto before it even took off.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rethinking Lines for Creative Short Stack Heads Up Play

In the ever elusive quest for original material, I have been away for awhile plotting my next move.  While shooting a video for my Short Stack Revolution strategy video series, I discovered some very interesting lines that can be used to combat aggressive heads up min-raisers.  The short stack tourist reader might find the idea of creative short stack play to be shocking, but the advanced player should immediately recognize the need for taking tricky lines against such opponents because they know that even frequent 3-betting or playing fit-or-fold after the flop is the perfect recipe for getting robbed blind with minimal villain effort.

The first hand isn't truly interesting when viewed outside the realm of traditional short stack strategy.  When dealt A9s heads up and facing a min-raise, the knee jerk reaction is to shove, but that will just allow him to get away unscathed far too often for my taste.  The caveat here is that this particular villain is open-raising 90%.  However, once I make this call, I am probably never folding but I will have to let the flop texture and his betting line determine my overall strategy.  In this case, the flop makes it very easy to see how to proceed.

To the naked eye, it should appear obvious that this flop is hitting few players' ranges, but just to be clear, let's see what Flopzilla, another great program by the maker of Cardrunners EV, has to say:

After accounting for card removal, we can see that villain's range has only connected 16.3% of the time.  Even more telling is precisely how villain's range has hit.  The fact that he has bet on all streets on this board texture means that his range has become more polarized with every single bet.  Essentially, there are only 6 real categories of hands that can conceivably bet both the flop and turn:

1. Flushdraws
2. PP below TP
3. Overpairs
4. 3 of a kind
5. Full houses
6. Quads

Given the tendencies to check full houses and quads, we can discount those from the range, leaving probable villain hits now at 14.24%.  Of course, since we can estimate that he will be checking a Q as well some lower PP's and overpairs on either the flop or the turn, we know that this actual range of hits is considerably less in reality.  Given the overall board texture and the bet sizing, a call down is clearly in order.  Taking this line has more benefits than just winning the pot.  It also lets your opponents know that you are patient and fearless.  Though by habit he will most likely continue to open 90%, he will be forced to give up much more frequently after the flop, which in turn will allow us to call even lighter pre-flop and swipe away more hands with pure bluffs.

You don't need to be the Rain Man to figure this out in real time, but it certainly helps if you take a little time out of your day when you aren't playing to learn exactly how to handle some various situations.

If the first hand was largely unconvincing, this next hand is sure to raise some eyebrows.  Once again, villain is opening approximately 90%.

Though this hand is more difficult to solve with Flopzilla, I can say this with some certainty: his line looks stronger than the previous villain's.  By checking the flop and betting both the turn and the river, he is representing a hand that was either very strong on the flop or one that somehow improved on the turn but yet was willing to check call the flop, and to a far lesser degree, 2nd pair or QQ that was going for pot committing thin value on the river.  So which categories of hands were most appropriate for this play and how often are they hitting the flop?

1. Top pair:  11.9%
2. Overpair:  0.63%
3. Two Pair: 2.83%
4. Set: 0.94%

Just as important as his tendencies to miss the flop entirely are the relevancy of the turn and river cards.  Even when opening 90%, there is still no guarantee that 82, 83, and 32 are in his range.  So this leaves us with a much higher probability of bluffs than strong hands.

The fate of this hand was decided ahead of time.  As soon as I flopped a straight draw, I decided that I was never folding, simply because I was aware that this flop is rarely hitting my opponent strongly and I can combine that fact with my overall equity.  The question then becomes how to maximize my overall expectation given possible outcomes.

Notice that in no point of this hand do I want to risk getting check raised.  If I had no equity or a vulnerable hand I would surely bet, but by checking along I now have increased my overall winning percentage in addition to the ability to snap off bluffs. I would like to also note that if at any point I catch a T or Q I am calling down.

I showed this hand to one of my students who was amazed that I would try to bluff any opponent who puts in half of the effective stack on the river.  In actuality, this is precisely the point.  He is only committed to the hand if he has what he is representing, which is basically Kx+.  He also probably assumes that I know he isn't willing to fold after putting in this much money and believes that this lends credibility to his bluff.  Being that I wasn't particularly familiar with this opponent, I don't necessarily know how willing he would be to bet a weak king on the river, but it is quite likely that he is looking to check call any pairs J or worse.  In this light it now is beginning to look suspiciously like a polarized range.  Given his incredibly high opening raise percentage, I am just not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.