Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Failed Prediction: No Limit Holdem Still #1 Worldwide

The following article was originally printed on Bill Rini's Poker Blog.

Perhaps as far back as 7 years ago, a prediction I had read by several high stakes pros was that Pot Limit Omaha would eventually overtake No Limit Holdem as the game of choice. Being that it offered an excessive amount of action, presumably what the recreational players craved, fish would be drawn to it en masse like moths to a street lamp. It’s now closing in on 2013, and PLO, which has admittedly made some modest gains in popularity, has completely failed to surpass Holdem. What happened?

First off, a disclaimer: I don’t play PLO. It’s not because I didn’t want to, or rather, because I didn’t want to want to, but because after spending my first few years educating myself in the realms of LHE and NLH, I really didn’t care to be bothered to learn what in my mind essentially amounted to a more complicated version of NLH with two wild cards. I understood the concept of how guys would overplay “Holdem hands” like aces or kings in the hole, but I really didn’t like the idea of having to completely relearn how to interpret things like bottom set or when you should dump your nut straight in a large multi-way pot on the flop because one or more players are probably free rolling you with redraws while your hand is otherwise dead to the entire rest of the deck.

Furthermore, the times I did try it, I was immediately put off by trying to remember exactly what my four hole cards were. The fact that you can only use two and must use two and that they weren’t dealt out neatly arranged by suits and ordered from deuce to ace made it really difficult for a novice player to read his own hand, and I certainly was never going to get caught dead trying to do this on my own while people were staring me down at a casino like I was some backwoods schmuck.

I like to compare it to my old job as a waiter at Applebee’s. It took my first 9 months on the job to memorize and become comfortable with the contents and ingredients of each item on the menu. Occasionally, I would attempt to make the switch to a potentially higher earning service job like the ones at the Olive Garden, but that meant another large time investment where I would have to begin again as a complete rookie, bumbling people’s orders while standing in front of an entire restaurant full of people.

So with the assumption in mind that I’m not a fish (depending on whom you ask, of course), who’s coveted business ultimately determines the success or failure of a given game, how does my own experience relate to the recreational player’s concept of what makes a game enjoyable or worthwhile? It actually shouldn’t be surprising at all. If I could sum it up in a single word, it would be “complexity”. If you were around long enough ago to witness the dawn of the free “pub tournament”, which is enormously popular in America, you would remember the days of when 90% of the players would have to be instructed on how to post their blinds and fistfights would break out because one player couldn’t understand why his top pair with a 6 kicker somehow didn’t split the pot with the guy holding a 9 kicker. After a tedious 3 years or so, most of them had a grasp of the rules and the progress of the game would progress as smoothly as is possible in an environment where people are constantly spilling drinks on their hole cards and wandering off to take a piss just before passing out in the stall.

This would be the arc of the evolution of the common fish, as I see it. Although still terrible, they did eventually learn that a weak ace shouldn’t necessarily go to the felt and that 22 normally needs to flop a set in order to continue. The last thing these folks want is a new reason for people to yell out “c’mon!” while they fumble with their cards trying to determine what they have and having to face a new round of humiliation the first time they show down the nut flush, only to go busto once they are condescendingly reminded that they only hold the single ace of the suit.

Fish might crave action, but it might not be in the flavor of what you might consider fun or rewarding. I did read an article long ago by Rolf Slotboom which strongly recommended that casinos spread PLO to keep the recs interested, being that a larger short term luck factor would lead to them having some really huge nights. There is an extreme flaw to this argument: the converse is also true. Since it is no secret that potential winrates at PLO far exceed that of Holdem, this means that the recs are confronted with some devastating losses as well. Even though it seems like the fish have a complete disregard for money, that doesn’t mean they have endless pockets and enjoy going to home to their wives and explaining how they dropped $400 on some game they don’t even understand after being gone for just 45 minutes. They still have a pain threshold that needs to expand slowly and the massive swings and difficult river decisions with seemingly big hands in PLO are frightening. Unless playing on short money, they will have to play a lot more uncomfortable turns and rivers because they aren’t offered the “easy way out” granted by the all in play of Holdem, a not-so-elegant facet of the game that made it even fun and accessible for grandma to play on New Year’s Eve because she could just push in all her chips the moment she felt herself nodding off from all the champagne and painkillers.

Lastly, the concept that is the easiest to overlook and the one I believe contributed the most to the lack off takeoff is…..it’s really freaking hard to calculate the pot! Holdem’s rise to popularity is attributable to its simplicity: any two cards can win, after all! Simple to read your cards and simple to figure the pot. PLO requires that you constantly need to recalculate what is in the pot in order to figure what size raise is allowable, and even then it isn’t so straightforward. I constantly need to remind myself of how open raising for pot in a $1/2 game is somehow $7. This leads to ridiculously complex side pots and split pots, which further leads to lengthier hands and, most assuredly, lengthier arguments over who won the hand and how the pot should be divvied up fairly. Since so few people spread this at home games and fewer still spread them in home tourneys (I have yet to hear of this occurring), this would naturally lead to fewer games online and even fewer in brick and mortar casinos.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The New Full Tilt Poker: Shallow Tables Are Back!

Greetings!

To all active and aspiring short stackers, I have great news: shallow tables are returning to FTP! These tables are 20-40BB buy in, and I am actively encouraging people to check them out. I saw the news here: http://www.fulltiltpoker.com/poker/game-types/mixed.

So what can you expect from this offering? Here are some benefits you will enjoy that aren't really available at Stars 20BB CAP tables:

1. Fish!!!!! Prior the bomb dropping on Black Friday, these were some of the fishiest games to be found anywhere. 6 max tables with two and sometimes more 50+ VPIP fish were common and would populate these games at stakes as high as $10/20!

2. 40BB regs who thought they knew short stacking. A lot of these guys were big winners, booking winrates of 4bb/100 or higher, however, many of them played very poorly vs. the short stackers. Presumably, they tolerated us just to get at the whales.

3. Larger open raise sizes. 3-3.5x was still standard play. Unlike at Stars where these raise sizes signify a big hand and little to no fold equity, guys would consistently open for this much and then fold.

4. Larger stacks + bigger open raises = the return of the devastating squeeze and dead money! This feature is huge. Basically, this was one of the most attractive attributes of short stacking and is what caused all the ruckus. The ability to do this will automatically add at least 1bb/100 to your winrate with zero improvement to your game.

5. Smaller rakeback. <--- Yes, you read that correctly. Small rakeback leads to more favorable pro to fish ratio, and whether you realize it or not, ground up fish are what have been paying for your lucrative rakeback deal this entire time. Your immediate improvement in winrate will more than compensate for what you are giving up. Even better: my prediction is that you will be facing off against an ocean of fish who are "freerolling" with their own money, anxiously looking forward to injecting their money back into the poker economy!


There are several more features to be mentioned, but I won't be doing it here. It is all available in my Short Stack Revolution strategy series, available for the low, low price of just $369 ;). Go to http://shortstackrevolution.com for details.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Personality of Online Poker Players- An Initial Inquiry

The following article was originally published in 2010 at http://fifthidea.com/personality and contains the results of a scientific study by Paul Fayngersh and Mark Kizelshteyn.  

SSH Commentary: As for the reprinting of non-original works, I was hoping to add commentary to the end of each piece.  After reading this article in its entirety, I can see that this may not be appropriate for this piece, as I am compelled to share an alarming statistic that appears at the end that calls some of the results into question, specifically anything that correlates with a player's stated winrate.  

All of the methods used are stated in the study below, so to make this brief, I will just say that the study consists of 63 total participants who responded to a series of questions on an online survey.  Here is the questionable information:

"Poker may be a game, but for such a large part of our sample (59%) that consider themselves professional of semi-professional players, poker comprises the sole or significant part of their income. In this situation a strong case can me made for classifying poker as work and not leisure. Even for the remaining self-labeled amateur players, all but two posted winning results, signifying that their poker play is profitable."

What!!???  Assuming that I was "conscientious" with my basic math abilities, that means that 24 out of 26 (92%) of the "self-described amateur" players were winners!  Translation: A mere 8% were telling the truth.  The fact that rakeback was not mentioned makes this information reek of an even larger pile of bull shit.  Certainly not scientific in scope, but from many scans of various players and player types on Pokertableratings.com over the years, I was able to glean that on PokerStars, FTP, and the Cake Network that, by all probability, your average modern internet pro does NOT have a positive winrate, but rather, makes all of his income from rakeback and bonuses.  If I am correct in my thinking, this statement would have been at least somewhat less true at the time of this publication, and yet still, the term "rakeback pro" predates 2010 by at least two years.  If we were to actually gather REAL data from poker players, I would even remain skeptical that 92% of actual pros could post winning results after 6 months of play- before OR after rakeback.  What disturbs me most is that the authors of the study just take this information without question.  I can certainly call their competence into question after reading this.

I chose to print this because I still consider it a good read, but it should be clear to all readers that anything that claims to be scientific by requesting self-administered information and/or results is drinking its own snake oil.  Because if the above is true, it is safe to assume that all of the below statements are true:

1) All photos on a dating site are up to date and accurate, and that when you meet these people in person you will always think, "wow, you look WAY better than you do in your photo!"

2) Every male under the age of 25 has at least 9 inches of penis and has scored with women in the double digits.

3) Everyone who has ever claimed that online poker is rigged ACTUALLY is the most awesomest player they know, with decades of winning experience in live arenas.  They are also very humble as well, since they always fail to mention how much they kick ass at Keno and the State Lottery.


PREFACE

This study was born out of a personal observation regarding the existence of a “poker type” – the seemingly very similar profiles of people who are drawn to the game. Discussion with friends familiar with the topic yielded consensus. Despite the fact that poker players are actually quite diverse, come from many different backgrounds, and exhibit a multitude of playing styles, there does appear to be a common thread that ties everyone together. 

We thought it would be interesting to conduct an independent and informal investigation into the personality traits of poker players. Fortunately, our survey received a good amount of respondents and we were able to synthesize some very interesting results from that data. We initially wrote a full academic paper, but decided that this would be overwhelming and/or boring to simply publish online. So what follows below is an abridged and modified summary of our research designed into a one-page website. We hope you enjoy it and would greatly appreciate any feedback, comments, or questions you may have.

ABSTRACT

This study provides a first glance at the personality type of online poker players within the framework of the Five-Factor model. Participants from two online poker forums were asked to complete a questionnaire that contained the Big Five Inventory personality assessment as well as questions pertaining to their poker gameplay. Our results indicated significantly lower scores for online poker players compared to the general population on the Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness personality traits. Additionally, interesting personality correlations with particular poker gameplay statistics (such as Win Rate, Aggression Factor, and Went to Showdown percentage) are uncovered, the most notable being lower scores on Neuroticism correlating strongly with poker success. Finally, the notion of whether one’s psychometric personality matches one’s “poker personality” – their playing style – is analyzed. Further research directions are proposed for a more comprehensive assessment. 

INTRODUCTION


Poker has long been a fixture of the American ethos and by many standards more of a national pastime than even baseball or football. With the rise of televised and online poker in the 2000s, the game has enjoyed exponential growth in the US and has spread globally. From a study of North American and Western European poker players it was estimated that 15 million people play online for real money (2.6% of the adult population), with 7 million playing at least once a month (1.4%). There are an estimated average of at least 150,000 users playing at any given time (www.pokerscout.com), and in 2010 the online poker industry is estimated to surpass over $4 billion in revenue (Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, 2009).

Even with this self-evident venerable global interest in poker, no studies have been performed regarding the personalities of poker players. Firstly, this exploration aims to simply compare poker players’ Big Five personality scores to those of the general population. Secondly, differences are investigated between various sub-segments of the online poker population. Finally, we aim to unearth whether there are specific personality correlations with various aspects of poker gameplay that measure ‘looseness,’ aggressiveness, and success.

Participants
Poker players were solicited for participation from two US-based websites. Seventy-three anonymous respondents completed the survey (70 male, 3 female). Consent was implicit due to given instructions and no compensation was offered.


Materials
Survey questions were embedded into an online questionnaire using Google Docs software. The first section of the survey contained the Big Five Inventory (John et al., 1991; John et al., 2008). The second part of the survey consisted of general questions, in which participants responded to their gender, age range, and birth order. Also, subjects were required to self-assess on a 1-5 Likert scale on the following questions: “Are you an aggressive person?” and “Are you an aggressive poker player?”

The final part of the survey dealt with details of the participants’ poker play and consisted of the following questions: “How long have you been playing Poker?” (< 6 months, 6 months – 2 years, 2-5 years, 5-9 years, 10+ years), “What stakes do you predominantly play?” (Low, Mid, High), “What type of poker player do you consider yourself?” (Amateur, Semi-professional, Professional), “Do you use online poker tracking software?” (Yes, No – though I frequently play online, No – I play predominantly live poker), and finally “What game do you predominantly play” triggered a pull-down menu of the most popular games, with participants having the option to fill one in themselves if not present on the list.


Procedure
Poker players from two US-based online poker forums were requested to take a short survey. The first forum was the TwoPlusTwo “Internet Poker” forum. TwoPlusTwo is a gaming-related multimedia publishing company that also sponsors and hosts one of the most visited poker discussion forums on the Internet. Since solicitation of any kind is prohibited on the TwoPlusTwo forums, special permission was requested and granted by the forum moderators. The second forum was the DeucesCracked “General Discussion” forum. DeucesCracked is a specialized online poker strategy, coaching, and education website.

Players who responded positively to using tracking software were then asked to open their software and retrieve specific statistics about their gameplay. Players were requested to filter their sessions for the previous six months (April 1, 2009 to October 31, 2009) and for their principal game. Statistics collected were VP$IP, PFR, AF, WTSD, BB/100, and number of hands played (seeTable 1 for definitions).

Internet surveys based on self-report questionnaires and self-selected samples have shown to be diverse with respect to socioeconomic status, geographic region, and age, are consistent with findings from traditional methods and prove to be a very reliable tool for psychological research (Gosling, Vazire, Srivastava, & John, 2004).


RESULTS


General results
The Big Five Inventory scores were compared to a large sample of US males obtained from a contemporary study on personality by Dr. David P. Schmitt (personal communication, December 28, 2009). Female respondents (N=3) and players who play predominantly live poker (N=7) were dropped from our sample. Male online poker players (N=63) scored significantly lower than the general US male population sample on Extraversion, t(62) = −5.10, p < .001, Agreeableness, t(62) = −4.74, p < .001, and Conscientiousness, t(62) = −4.40, p < .001. No significance was obtained on Neuroticism and Openness. 


There was also a stark difference between players who predominantly play “6max” games, games with a maximum of six players that are usually characterized by faster tempo and higher aggression, versus those who play “Full Ring” games, which have a maximum of ten players and are usually associated with a slower and tighter style. Full Ring players scored significantly higher on Neuroticism than 6max players, F(38,1) = 8.33, p < .01, and ranked themselves to be much less aggressive poker players F(38,1) = 7.32, p < .01.

Finally, there were some differences between players who labeled themselves as “professional” or “semi-professional” with those who described themselves as “amateur.” Professional and semi-professional players scored even lower on Extraversion than amateurs, F(62,1) = 3.55, p = .055, and Conscientiousness, F(62,1) = 5.03, p < .05, suggesting that these two scales may form the defining characteristics of professional poker players. Professionals also self-reported as being more aggressive poker players, F(62,1) = 6.36, p < .05 – though these assessments were not corroborated by actual poker statistics as defined by Aggression Factor (AF) and Went to Showdown percentage (WTSD). Unsurprisingly, professional and semi-professional players correlated with playing higher stakes, and, in the normalized NL Holdem 6max sample, a significantly higher Win Rate (BB/100) than amateurs F(20,1) = 4.52, p < .05.

Gameplay results
The gameplay results derived from participants’ online poker tracking software uncover interesting particularities. As previously hinted, the extent to which someone describes oneself as being an “aggressive player” correlated with both stakes played, r(21) = .69, p < .01 and professional level, r(21) = .56, p < .001. However, it appears that players’ concept of poker aggression actually corresponded to “looseness,” that is, how frequently they voluntarily entered the pot (VP$IP), r(21) = .46, p < .05 and their preflop raise percentage (PFR), r(21) = .57, p < .001, and not to more accurate measures of poker aggression such as Aggression Factor and Went to Showdown percentage.

Participants’ self-report scores on being an “aggressive person” correlated significantly with WTSD, r(20) = .45, p < .05 and negatively with AF, r(20) = −.46, p < .05.

The most noteworthy results of all – surely the ones poker players themselves would be most interested in – are the two [non-poker gameplay] factors that correlated significantly with success. Win rate negatively correlated with both Neuroticism, r(21) = −.45, p < .05 and a player’s age r(21) = −.49, p < .05.

DISCUSSION

Significant results on three out of five personality traits on the Five-Factor model – pronounced differences on Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness – suggest a distinct personality profile for online poker players. The results on Extraversion and Agreeableness are not surprising. Low scores on Extraversion are expected of those who engage in a solitary endeavor requiring great introspection and mental activity for many consecutive hours. Any of the friendly communication that live pokers enjoy amongst themselves is almost entirely relinquished in online poker. There may be personality differences between predominantly live and predominantly online poker players; unfortunately covering live poker players was not within the scope of this study.

The very nature of poker almost requires one to be disagreeable; duplicity and cunning are the name of the game. In a situation of finite limited resources and zero-sum gains, self-interest must come to the forefront if success is to be achieved. However, low scores on Agreeableness are unlikely a factor specific to poker itself, but rather a dynamic that may be generalized to other highly competitive and solitary endeavors (for example, chess and tennis). Bilalic, McLeod, and Gobet (2006) showed that children with lower Agreeableness were much more likely to take up chess, and also proposed males’ general lower scores on Agreeableness as one reason why boys took up chess much more commonly than girls. [Avni, Kipper, and Fox (1987) found that adult chess players are also more introverted than the general population, marking a potential particular likeness between poker and chess players.]

Disagreeable people who do not get along well with others may choose to pursue activities such as online poker rather than activities in more interpersonal settings, and/or be less likely to be called to participate in such activities by others. Also, as a general characteristic of Internet activity, engaging in online poker requires almost no need for agreeable behavior that is frequently demanded in face-to-face situations and thus would appeal more to disagreeable people.

Conscientiousness yielded the most surprising results amongst the differing personality factors. We expected poker players to be more conscientious than the general population, when in fact our results indicate that they are not only less conscientious, but that professional and semi-professional players were significantly less conscientious than amateur players.

Our initial disconnect lies in a subtle distinction: one should not confuse poker gameplay for the poker lifestyle. Poker gameplay seems like it requires traits of high conscientiousness, but the qualities of the poker lifestyle in fact exhibit the opposite. Personality tests measure perceptions of the world and how these perceptions inform decisions, not the traits necessary to perform a certain task well. It would be incorrect to expect discipline, industry, organization, and the need for achievement – traits associated with high Conscientiousness – to be prevalent in successful poker players simply because these traits may be beneficial for poker gameplay. It is more pertinent to focus on the fact that poker players have chosen a very nontraditional career and/or hobby choice, are shying away from highly structured and regulated environments, are escaping rigid work or study schedules, and examine the underlying personality dimensions which inform such decisions.

Most evident is that high conscientiousness is linked to social conformity; in fact, in early personality research the terms were sometimes used interchangeably (Leary & Hoyle, 2009). Playing poker as a hobby, and surely as a profession, would less likely appeal to highly conscientiousness individuals with the propensity to follow socially prescribed norms.
Poker success
In terms of poker play, the most revealing finding of this preliminary study are the two correlations with win rate. Firstly, win rate correlated negatively with age; younger players achieved higher win rates irrespective of poker experience. The fact that “young guns” are always threatening to take over is actually a commonly held belief in the poker world whose truth is now verified by experimental data. Poker strategy is constantly evolving and one must always stay ahead of the curve to succeed. Strategy is not only continuously changing, but the rate at which it changes has been accelerating in recent years with the explosion of online poker and associated training, coaching, and strategy websites. Moreover, there are probably several cognitive biases and maladaptive habits that are engrained in older poker players that prevent them from properly adapting to newer playing methods. The commitment and status quo biases particularly come to mind.

Secondly, win rate negatively correlated with Neuroticism; players who are less easily affected by negative emotions have significantly higher win rates! We believe this to be strongly related to the notion of “tilt,” a unique poker term referring to an angry, frustrated, or destructive mental state causing worse-than-normal, irrational play. Again, it is commonly acknowledged that “tilt control” is a crucial aspect that separates good players from bad players, and great players from merely good players. Our results are the first to verify these notions empirically – emotional control is paramount to poker success.

Aggression
Another impetus for conducting this study was to investigate whether one’s real-life aggression matches their poker gameplay aggression levels. We asked participants to rate themselves as aggressive people and aggressive poker players and then compared this with their actual poker statistics. Unsurprisingly, self-rating scores on the aggressive poker player question correlated with both professional level and stakes played, meaning that professional and high-stakes players significantly considered themselves to be more aggressive poker players. In fact, there was no correlation according to the traditional measures of poker aggression (AF and WTSD), though there was a correlation with both VP$IP and PFR, measures usually associated more with players’ ‘looseness’ and only somewhat with aggression. (VP$IP and PFR are extremely linked and always should be considered paired; in our sample their correlation was r(21) = .841, p < .001) Participants misjudged their looseness for aggression probably because the looseness statistics are significantly more salient and easier to measure heuristically.

More interestingly are the two gameplay correlations with the Aggressive Person self-report. Responses to Aggressive Person correlated with WTSD and negatively correlated with AF! Those who consider themselves so be aggressive people are significantly more likely to not fold their hand – this seems more or less logical. But why do those who consider the opposite, that they are not aggressive people, have significantly higher measures of AF? It’s an interesting result with no straightforward answer, but perhaps it suggests that people exhibit opposite behavior at the poker tables; unassuming and laid-back individuals enter a venue that facilitates aggressive activity which they can’t or don’t want to pursue in their day-to-day regular lives. These contradictory results warrant more investigation (and we would also love to hear our readers’ opinions).

Internet Use
An obvious confounder unfortunately present in this study is the fact that participants are likely to be moderate or heavy Internet users irrespective of their poker play, and of course even more so when one considers actually playing online and participating in poker discussion forums as Internet use. Landers and Lounsbury (2004) did find that heavier Internet use correlated to lower scores on Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness – similar to results obtained herein, though significant variance from the general population was not measured in their study.

Landers and Lounsbury (2004) also measured what type of Internet use participants were engaged in, following previous research that established broad categories for types of Internet use: Communication (including E-mail and Chat), Leisure (including music, role-playing, shopping), and Academic (research, online course participation). Problematically online poker does not fit comfortably in any of the established Internet use categories making it difficult to consolidate their results with ours. Poker may be a game, but for such a large part of our sample (59%) that consider themselves professional of semi-professional players, poker comprises the sole or significant part of their income. In this situation a strong case can me made for classifying poker as work and not leisure. Even for the remaining self-labeled amateur players, all but two posted winning results, signifying that their poker play is profitable. What is noteworthy is that Landers and Lounsbury (2004) indicated that subjects who primarily used the Internet for academic work purposes actually scored higher on Conscientiousness, whereas we found that professional poker players scored lower on Conscientiousness than amateur players. These facts provide some impetus for classifying both playing poker online and participation in strategy and discussion forums as wholly separate from conventional Internet use, and we believe that the categories established by Landers and Lounsbury (2004) and others are impossible to extrapolate to online poker behavior.

Another reason why Internet use alone cannot fully explain our results is that differences within our population sample signify a proclivity towards low Extraversion and Conscientiousness as a defining feature of professional poker players. Even within a sample already skewed toward low scores on both these traits, professional poker players still scored significantly lower than amateur players – regardless of how much time they actually spend playing online. Therefore Internet use may not be the only factor at play here, even if online poker players share similar personality traits with general Internet users. Also worth noting is the anecdotal evidence of many poker players who start out as live players – either playing with friends or at card rooms – who eventually switch to online play out of convenience or professional decision (the actual figures associated with this occurrence are unknown).

Conclusion
This study provides some interesting initial findings on the personality profiles of online poker players. Further research would surely benefit from a larger sample size and perhaps more granular comparisons could be explored, such as potential differences between players who predominantly play one game versus another (e.g, Holdem vs. Omaha). The role played by one’s level of Neuroticism should be explored in more depth, as it may be the single most important factor that correlates with poker success. It would also be noteworthy to determine whether the personalities of online players are congruent with live poker players – the rules of the game may be the same in both cases but the actual act of playing is quite different. Moreover, the results of live poker players will establish whether a distinct poker personality exists separate from the online players’ personalities that are congruent with other heavy Internet users.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Your Best Defense Against Leveling: The Reset Switch

As you all know, when playing against the same opponents day in and day out, a dynamic will ensue against one or more troublesome players.  Occasionally, the leveling war will become so indecipherable to onlookers that it will appear as if both players are raging donkeys.  Check raises on the turn with gutshots, river over shoves with bottom pair for value, you name it.  While these things certainly have their place in the game of poker and most specifically in heads up matches, a much simpler and, more importantly, a much more appropriate solution is to apply what I have come to call "the reset switch".  Simple and easy, the reset switch is mostly just instantly switching gears back to an ABC game and pounding your opponents into oblivion. Notice how I used the word "mostly".

You see, when a leveling war develops, the first guy to drop out is the winner.  If one party wishes to continue a leveling war without the cooperation of the other party and insists that every single hand requires massive amounts of trickery, than the resistant party is literally no longer distinguishable from a donkey.  Just ask my friend Travis.  I used to bluff constantly in our heads up matches 5 years ago and these days he won't fold bottom pair to me despite how ugly the board gets.  I now bluff him like once every 3 months or so in our home game to reinforce this image of dishonesty.  Donkeys love catching bluffs.

Back to the matter at hand.  "Oh no!" you must be thinking.  "I can't let him insta-profit on my blinds or by not defending my steals!"

Ahem... A topic to be extrapolated on more another day, to be crudely to the point: insta-profit is a bullshit poker concept.  To be clear: the math checks out on paper most certainly, but it doesn't gel with how the game is actually played, specifically with regards to the attitude and paranoia of the aggressor.  Anyone who wishes to fully take advantage of the concept of the insta-profit scenario is gradually pushing the boundaries of a careful balanced strategy.  Said aggressor is also expecting that the targeted nit will eventually make some random play back. This often results in the aggressor going broke with something stupid, like bottom pair or ace high (think of poor Travis).  But...more on that topic another day.

For now, let's focus on the second component of the reset switch, which is to not chicken out.  Stop being a pussy and forget the #3 (yes, I am skipping #2 for now) and by far most offensive bullshit poker concept, "protecting your hand".  I can't wait to extrapolate on the many flaws of this one, but I will give this tip: the desire and tendency to "protect" one's hand is the basis of virtually all hand reading.  By selectively violating this basic poker tenet, you are well on your way to becoming an expert at the game.  Here are two quick examples of how this concept can be used against you when protecting your hand causes you to become "too honest".

You are the PFR in each scenario:

You raise 6h 5h and the flop Jh Th 9h.  Someone donks into you.  You are expected to raise.

You raise Td Ts.  Flop is 5 4 2.  You are expected to bet the flop.  If you check the flop, you are also expected to bet or raise the turn.

Challenge: ask yourself why in both scenario.  Look beyond the obvious answers.  I am absolutely NOT saying that raising is wrong or even bad.

So....back to the reset switch.  The first step requires that you start dumping your crappy preflop hands and let your opponent take a few extra blinds.  This will embolden him further.  Now, for your monsters:  getting full value means that you should violate the basic principle of protecting your hand, which means that you should slowplay both your monsters AND your semi-monsters like top pair in unorthodox ways for both maximum value.  What I mean by unorthodox is that you shouldn't be pulling the trigger and letting your opponent off the hook by raising.  For instance, if someone is raising your BB 80% of the time from the SB and constantly triple barreling with nothing, there is literally no rule that says you can't just flat 77 and call him down with 20 BB.  But let me re-iterate: if the flop is KQJ two tone, calling down here with 77 is just a fish move and you are being reined back into idiot mode.  A better spot would be to take a flop like 654 and just call away.  With a basic belief in the value of protecting one's hand, your opponent is likely to put you on a draw from the flop to the river and donk off all his chips.  So as not to lose the original point, stop raising! 

Final note: straight draws and flush draws with no overcards are now crap!  Sure, they have decent implied odds to a small bet on the flop, but against a guy who just isn't going to fold, becoming aggressive with these hands is suicide, since literally none of them have enough showdown power to make a profit against a belligerent calling station.  I suggest giving up on these frequently.




  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Brandon Cantu Humiliates Himself On Camera



Wow- Even though many people criticized his seemingly crude strategy of constantly moving all in on opponents several years ago, I had actually liked it, because it took inherent advantage of fear equity, which could be especially powerful when faced with humiliation in front of television cameras broadcasting a potentially stupid decision worldwide.  But...I have no idea what strategy he does or does not employ these days, nor am I interested in it.

Admittedly, I clicked on the link to watch this video not because I wanted to hear someone whine about a second place finish worth over $100k because he was a brat and was only satisfied with a first place finish.  In fact, I am probably in the minority in believing that such feelings are justifiable, especially in such instances where said player has already made his millions.  I did it out of a simple morbid curiosity.  However, I was disgusted to see that he was complaining that his opponent was getting an advantage, that he was also receiving.  

Although perhaps somewhat better than complaining about the sort of bad luck that is also evenly distributed through the population, he was complaining about such things as his opponent getting an additional day of rest, as well some "internet kid" being able to sift through hands and discuss strategy with all of his friends.  Presumably, Cantu's objection about waiting an extra day to conclude the tournament is that he has more stamina than his opponent.  Naturally, anyone in this position would make the argument that serves their purpose the best.  Although I can't say that I fault him for doing so, he must realize that this is a business and, for all intents and purposes, a show, so the people putting on this show have a vested interest in keeping it interesting- both for audiences and not unlikely, for themselves as well.  To quote Cantu's own words, "he could barely keep his eyes open".  Yeah man....that's the match I want to watch!    

Although some people may have a legitimate complaint about people sharing online databases (an argument I won't touch right right but also disagree with) the idea that it is disdainful that people will discuss strategy with knowledgeable friends away from the table is ludicrous.  This is warfare, with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. In fact, this might be more telling about Cantu's personal life than his strategy decisions, and if this video is any way indicative about the Cantu away from the cameras, it is quite likely that he doesn't have many respectable poker friends with which he can even discuss high level strategy.  Or it is even possible that not a whole lot is known about this "internet kid" for much to be discussed.  It is something that Cantu really needs to get a grip on: if you are king of the hill, and more specifically, wish to be known as king of the hill, groups of people will necessarily collaborate on ways to knock you down and fill your spot. 

In the end, I wasn't interested in writing this to criticize Cantu, no was I doing it to scold or condescend to him.  I wanted to do it as a warning for all of you who are new professionals or aspiring ones.  I want to stress to all of you that you need to take your lumps with dignity.  If you aren't happy with certain rules, don't play in that game or setting and don't endorse their events by buying into them in the future.  Cantu is basically arguing that he didn't lose.  If you feel that you beat someone out of every single pot, this is obvious to anyone who watched you play- and in particular, to the person who got hammered and then sucked out.  If you hold your head up high and he wants to proclaim that it was his rightfully earned victory and not the byproduct of luck, well then...he is embarrassing himself!  

Final note: although it doesn't necessarily apply to this commentary, this is something I have been thinking about a lot.  You can't proudly proclaim to everyone (particularly those who object to your career path) that your job is legitimate because it is a skill game and then turn around and complain that you aren't doing well because of your poor luck.  In fact, those who complain most about always getting unlucky are probably taking too much personal credit for all the good luck they receive.  Poker is gambling...this is a fact.  A skill game most definitely, but that doesn't mean it isn't gambling.  It is ruled by many variables and most of those are outside of your control.  Just work hard to control that ones that you can.  If your opponent is getting an extra day of rest, sleep longer than him or have a healthier meal the next day.  If he talks strategy about you, talk to everyone that knows him or even offer money to loosen the lips of those who know but don't care to talk to you.  I'm not implying that you should be happy about this or take it with a smile on your face or even be comfortable with it.  But you do need to accept it.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Two Plus Two Rant on Poker in Relationships

Here is what the original poster wrote:

Hi guys,

To make a long story short, I have been playing online and live poker for a few years. I have never really been able to beat the online arena. However, I have managed to do very well in the live 2/5 games making consistent profits. I thought about doing this full time, but neverf had the courage to quit my job. Finally I took a 6 month sabbatical leave from my work and have been playing everyday for the last 4 months, playing mainly 2/5 and 5/10. 

I have a pretty good job, but in the last four months, I have managed to make roughly 50% more at poker that I would in the same time working. And I feel that my game is getting better, and I am getting better as a player, which leads me to believe that I will be able to better these results.

The problem is that my wife has an objection to me playing poker as a career, and her main argument is that gambling is against our religion. I have tried to explain to her that it is not really gambling, instead a lot of skill is needed to consistently win in the long run. 

However, she is not convinced. Can anyone help me here with some convincing reasonings that you may have come up with in the past. Also, if anyone else has had the same problem, how did you deal with it?

Thanks


I decided to put my response here because 

A)  Most people ignore what I write on 2p2
B) I would like to get some feedback from people who enjoy what I write :)

Here it goes.....

I read through a few pages, and all I can see are the common blanket descriptions of how poker is a game of skill and it can be proved, etc, etc. 

People are ignoring the religious the component of the question, and for the most part, I am going to as well, with this one comment:

It appears, for the most part, that people will use religion as a defense AFTER they formed their opinions. I would say it is a safe guess to say that the both of you shagged up before you were married, and I HIGHLY doubt she consulted the pastor about this first. Likewise, churches everywhere benefit from things like bingo and, even worse, casino nights where they skew the odds even further in their favor. They happily enjoy the windfall and then seek assurance in the bible of right-doing after the fact.

That being said.....

I believe in male/female evolutionary roles, i.e. women have an inherent need to seek a strong man that will provide them with security, etc, etc. This might invite a firestorm of sexist claims that I don't care to deal with, but most people are also of this belief. Your idea of playing poker for a living is the antithesis of this. When it comes to relationships, I don't give a hoot about the skill vs. luck argument and ESPECIALLY the day trader vs. poker pro argument, which I strongly believe has the same effect. These arguments don't work. It reminds me of a friend I had who was in seminary school. He defended his beliefs with rationale and had quoted one of his teachers who said,"telling non-Christians that the proof is in the bible is a waste of time. That argument only works on other Christians." Likewise, the skill vs. luck and daytrader arguments only work on other poker players. 

All this does nothing to cover up the fact that you have invited loads of uncertainty and anxiety into your home, and face it: it offers no perks of other jobs such as insurance, paid leave, retirement plans and all that other good stuff. 

So you know what? Having been through relationships as a poker pro and now being married for the second time, I can impart to you this wisdom which will certainly invite the firestorm:
She is right to feel this way.

You can't have your cake and eat it too. Every job has benefits and drawbacks, and this is one that you signed on for, whether you realized it or not. You can't blame her, and more importantly, you can't get rid of her, even if she were just a girlfriend and not your wife. If you want a quality woman you are going to have make a choice: get a secure job or learn to handle the destruction this will almost inevitably cause. Any woman who is completely okay with this is a lemon. NOTE: The "perfect woman" who is completely secure with the idea that you can be rolling in dough one day and sweating the mortgage a week later might be shocked to find out that you aren't comfortable with her habit of shooting heroin and sleeping with your best friends.

Not to be negative though. 

It took a long time, but I have found a way to make peace at home with this, and here are some tips:

1) Don't talk about poker with your wife- ever. It only heightens the anxiety. The only time I speak of what happened is when there was an exceptionally exciting or funny hand that happened. Beyond that, confine your solidarity attempts for your career to your poker-playing friends.

2) Don't play in the evenings and keep a normal work schedule. Don't sleep late and maintain good hygiene. Doing so heightens the respectability you seek. Not doing so is to possess the qualities of a loser and reinforces the negativity.

3) Most importantly- don't take your work home with you. When you are done with poker, you are done. No whining, moping, nothing. Act as if you came back inside from getting the mail and nothing noteworthy has disrupted your day.

Hopefully this helps, but it might be that you are already on a sinking ship. It's not her fault, and you are going to have to accept this. All you can do is maintain the true qualities of a professional, and since you can't control the deck, you need to control the effect that it has on everything else.

I wish you well, my friend.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Winning Your Local Pub Tourney

Poker player drunk at the table and staring at the ceiling.
"Can you put another rebuy on my tab, please?"


At the Golden Nugget Saloon, we hold a tourney every two weeks.  It lasts for ten sessions, with the winner of each week qualifying for a season-end final table.  The winner of the final round goes on to a grand first-level bust out in a  medium buy in live tourney at the Horseshoe Indiana casino.  These types of pub tourneys are very common in Louisville, and from what I understand, the rest of the nation as well.  The local rules may vary a lot, but if the event is sponsored by a liquor vendor, typically there will be rebuy chips handed out to those imbibing a specific drink.  As we have unlimited rebuys until there are six players remaining, the stacks get deeper and the play gets sloppier the further into the night we go.

I actually had trouble with these for a long time.  I didn't drink a whole lot and therefore wasn't likely to rebuy more than once or twice, especially given the fact that the chip you draw from the magic bag might just be green, which guarantees that you will get to see lots of hands, but if you choose to play any of them that you will be praying for a tiny pot while eight other players are duking it out for the side pot.  This was especially aggravating, being that my dopey friend Travis seemed like he was playing every pot, limping every hand, calling every bet, raking all the chips and winning or placing at least third virtually every single session.  All this while hooting and acting like a drunken asshole, with his finest moment coming when his top pair of 8's ran out a four flush and lost to a pocket pair of 4's that spiked the lucky river card. The holders of the long-shot hand were young female patrons who were so inexperienced that they were sharing a hand because they could barely read the board, let alone bluff out Sheriff Travis Rose.

That is, until Travis looked down and noticed that he was holding the 9 of hearts.  He shoved his hole cards right in their faces, slapped them down on the table, and then did a cross-armed double chop over his junk and cried out above noise of the bar, "SUCK IT!!!"  Then he turned over to their boyfriends (who are friends, mind you) and said, "Hey Eric and Chris: your girlfriends won't be home tonight because they are going to be busy at the bar, SUCKIN' IT!!!"  Everyone's draw dropped.  Though the Nugget is Ground Zero for this kind of harassment, this was the wartime equivalent of bombing a civilian village.  It's not that Travis isn't normally super-offensive or that we hold him to any kind of standard, but this was a new breed of asshole-low, even for the guy who used to regularly "salt" the rims of margaritas with the rim of his sweaty nutsack.  

Yep.....this is the hallowed loser who was taking all the virtual money off the crusty, bourbon-stained Nugget tabletop felt.

But I digress.  The point was that I should have been taking notes.  Even though he was violating all poker dogma since the publication of Hold'Em Poker, we were playing in a game that simply doesn't exist when douchebags with sunglasses and earbuds come together and start clutching a full rack of $1 chips with white knuckles.  We were playing in game where 80-proof douchebags are calling river bluffs with 4 high and folding nut straights for min-bets on the river.  Winning this battle requires not being critical of said douchebags, but rather, just being slightly less-douchey.

Here are some tips:

1) Limp...a lot

This is disgusting, I know.  But then again, why is that?  Isn't the purpose of raising so that we can win the pot multiple ways through fold equity or making the best hand?  The former ingredient doesn't exist.  If a guy thinks second pair is the nuts, blasting him with all your chips when all you have is a straight draw isn't going to change his mind.  

But there are better reasons.

First and foremost, you AREN'T stealing the blinds.  If you limp on the button and the blinds consider this to be weak, they still won't pounce on it.  Why would they try to raise you off it if they still have a chance of flopping two pair at a cheap price?  Most of these players wouldn't even try to bluff if they KNEW you likely had nothing.  And they also don't see the value in winning the small pots.  They want to win BIG pots, and you can't do that without at least flopping a draw.

Furthermore, in a normal setting, a blind steal at least allows you to narrow down their range somewhat, but these players will flat and play passively with hands you never even considered, like AK for top pair, top two pair, and even sets.  When they lead out for the minimum on the river, this isn't an invitation for you to take the pot away with a raise.  Read it for what it is- the time to squeeze out thin value with a weak top pair.

The value in the steal comes AFTER the flop.  This is when you should be picking up the pot with min-bets or taking free cards with draws and betting them off it on a later street when you miss.  

Lastly, even late in the game, you can do it with 10 big blinds or even less.  After all- shoving only allows you to get snapped off with a wide range, whereas you can win this pot with just 2 big blinds, so why the risk?  

2) Don't 3-bet unless it puts you all in or you want action

3-betting a hand like AK only works if you can hit post-flop, bet them off it post-flop, or get some info on their holding.  In a nutshell, this is a dumb move.  In fact, I think that few competitive players these days even question whether or not this should be done.  They just do it out of habit.  If 3-betting here won't put you all in, you just should call.  This will net you the most money and put you at the least risk.  The blinds tend to rise quickly in games like this, so blowing off 1/3 of your stack with no hand isn't a good idea.  

If you are still in the rebuy period, feel free to do whatever you want with it (besides fold), but realize that you will often have the ability to just check it down when you miss.  And don't get carried away with one pair hands on slippery boards.  You can just min-bet your top pair if you are up against the kind of guy who won't fold a flush draw to any bet, but will also call down anything if the price is right.  If the flush hits and they shove on you, this isn't a level.  They have it.

3) Bring lots of cash and have fun

Don't be the table dick.  No one cares how good you are away from the bar, and in fact, if they are aware of your online exploits then this is even more incentive for them to go out of their way to bust you.  Realize that being quiet and straight-faced when you win a pot just makes you look like an arrogant asshole who's shit doesn't stink.  You should be whooping it up and acting like a jolly arrogant asshole- provided that you draw the line at "suck it".  If you came out to drink, then you are just freerolling on those extra chips.  So make sure that you draw to every gutshot and that when you hit it, you properly rub in their faces that you would have "folded to a bigger bet".  Cheers!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tricky AA Hand

Here is another submission by a student.  The play is standard from pre-flop to turn, but the river action is where things get interesting, especially when we begin to consider alternate paths that this hand could have taken.


 

Player Commentary on Turn:

Opponent is a pretty solid reg.  I'm not sure what to do at this point.  I feel like if I bet I might get some value from a worse FD calling but can't really think of a Kx or Qx hand that calls the flop here.  I'm free rolling against all other Ax hands but still felt like I shouldn't bet here since I can't think of almost any hand that can call, so I check.

Short Stack Hero's Analysis:

With a reg in the BB, he can have almost any hand in a 3-way pot, but you can be reasonably certain that his cards are almost always suited and/or connected in some way.

I don't suspect he has a set or made straight yet, because this is not the kind of flop that a reg (hero) c-bet bluffs at when up against two callers. If he was already there, and especially with the size of the pot already, I suspect he check/shoves and merges his range with all his draws. More likely, he has a pair/gut shot combo, or some kind of flush draw that he doesn't feel is good enough to check shove, which incidentally is probably not enough good enough to flat the flop, in my opinion.  For the record, I don't think he has a flush draw and I would weight the option towards the former.

The turn card sucks, even though you picked up a draw. Your straight has absolutely no value, obviously. If he were to lead more than 1/2 pot, you clearly have to fold, since he would be challenging an ace or overpair to call, and holding the nut draw, your implied odds are terrible. Your nut draw blocker also significantly reduces his holdings going into the river, but as you can see, it is pretty irrelevant to the way this hand plays out.

The river overbet is a must fold and only fish, amateurs, and low-level pros would make this call. Does he have it? I think maybe like 20-25% he has the straight, and like 10-15% he has a flush, at the most. More importantly, he has a pretty good idea of what you have, so he can purposely twist your arm into making a bad call or bad fold, but he also knows you literally can never profit here. I think he has nothing a majority of the time, but he has laid you such poor odds that you are helpless.

If he were to check, I would shove, for the opposite reason. Since he would likely lead out all bluffs and made hands, a check to you is a hope for a free showdown. And even though you never have a 7 here with the unlikely exception of exactly 77 (and he knows it) he can't be certain you don't have the flush, since this would have been the optimal way to play any flush/overcard combo. You could lay him such awful odds to a chop that he can't possibly call, even if he literally never believes you.

In an alternate scenario, I would make slight overbets in favor of shoving vs. fish, ironically, because they don't read hands as well, so a shove isn't necessary. On this particular board vs a good reg, he has a stronger awareness of ranges, lines, and odds and thus is more apt to call the overbet. With the shove, however, I suspect he is more likely to shy away due to pot odds, even though you are repping the exact same thing. 


Note: When in position, I make slight overbets here 100% of the time when checked to, and I would say that it gets folds about 75%. More importantly, it is very rare that you will bet and be beat at showdown.  This is VERY profitable, use it! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

B3RTstare's Hand, Revisited

Now...time to look over our work from the previous example!

My data on villain shows that he is opening 19% from MP.  Although he might be valuing his openers slightly different than I would, here is what I came up with:

Top 18% Hold'em hand range.


Developing this range assumes that we are working with a substantial sample size of MP opens.  From a database of hands obtained through a vendor, I have 232 samples, which should put us close to where we need to be for this to be workable.  Being that villain is a 22/20.5, this seems roughly accurate.  The 19% range is actually kind of tricky, and the basis of coming up with an accurate estimate is highly dependent on how he values his mid-upper range suited connectors, which begin to take on a very subjective appeal around the 20% range.

Normally I wouldn't care so much, but the 9 dropping on the turn, in addition to flopped made flushes make this situation rather acute.  Looking back over his 232 samples of MP opens, I was fortunate enough to find a showdown one worthy example of 98s, in which there was a likely defender in the BB, meaning that we can expect villain to do this on a regular basis.

Plugging all this into Flopzilla yields this:




Villain is trailing B3RTstare just under 70% of the time.  But what happens on the turn?

Completely unfiltered, villain's equity has grown by a mere 1%, however, his turn call has eliminated all the trash from his range.  Assuming that I did this correctly by using the turn filters (close, if not precise), here is where we are now:

B3Rtstare turn Flopzilla analysis


Equities now have almost flip-flopped, with villain taking a 63:37 lead in the hand.  Let's go to the river!

B3RTstare's river card Flopzilla analysis


Facing villain 85% equity, it's time to call it quits on this hand.  There are two very important things to note here:

1) B3RT's open-ended straight flush draw provides a great blocker for reading villain's hands.  It eliminates virtually all possibilities of king-high flushes, and there seems little to no doubt in concern of flushes below a 9, given the opening range.

2) Virtually all possibilities for villain's flush potential is to the nuts!!!!  Would he turn a nut flush into a bluff or thin value shove?  Doubtful, in my opinion.  On the other hand, a very good player such as this could make great bluff shove with a top pair hand like AcQx, knowing that B3RT could really only make the hero call with the small boat.  

CONCLUSION:

Any way you cut it, this hand goes to villain, no question.

Is the case closed on this hand?  Not quite...there is still the possibility that something strange happened, like villain hanging around after the flop with 8c8x because he doesn't like folding to B3RT, coupled with the fact that he still has the slim hope of drawing to straight flush.  Or he might even be raising a different range to combat what he believes B3RT's blind defense strategy to be. 

Bottom line: I think this hand has great potential to open people's eyes to how ranges hit the flops and how using c-bet frequencies and blockers can seal the deal on reading an opponent's hand.