Monday, December 31, 2007

D-Fence!! (stomp, stomp) D-Fence!!

Forgive me cards, for I am going to reveal all. I have spent some time reflecting this holiday season (that's what having time does for you), and I have come to some interesting conclusions about NLHE poker. I figured out not only why I am better at tournaments, but also how I play from a strategic stand-point. Turns out it's a tad more than the "just hanging around" that I claim whenever I make the final table.

I play defensive poker. There, I said it. In a world of aggression, I play defense. I am no longer ashamed. (Was I ever?)

In the cash world, hard aggression makes soft money pay a brutal price. Although I am not soft money, my strategy often makes me a marginal cash game winner. Its in the tournament world where this strategy really shines. And here is why.

Its all about how you look at a pot. It's about the 3 D's: Dancing, deference, and decimation.

When you begin a hand, its dancing. The dance is simple in NLHE. One of 3 states exist:

1. Stacks are normal and levels are normal. We dance based on position and opportunity... and so does everyone else. 78 suited sounds great, but when you land a draw against AJ who hits a Top Pair, then what? And what does he do? Pots are usually smaller than the so called implied odds. Your hope here, is that you find yourself "Dancing with a donkey". One of you is going to overplay this hand and either win a small pot or risk a big one.

2. Your stack is short. You are a big club, swinging wildly in the dark. Think your hand might hold? Think that no one wants to risk 25%-33% of there stack to prove you wrong? Move in. Simple.

3. Your stack is large. Don't fall into the trap of getting the big stack by getting wreckless and lucky and then be unable to slow down, thinking yourself invincible. The larger the field, the more donks who accumulate chips, just to ship them back to players who actually know how to read a flop later in the tournament.

Simple stuff. NLHE is a simple game at heart. I think that's why everyone got caught up in the bandwagon. Its just not that hard to become competent.

The second D.
Next is deception for most people, but not me. I am about deference. Is this a hand I need to escape from before I commit too many chips? and when do I escape? Do I EVER decide to call a 3/4 pot bet with a gut shot? not me. Just not my way. I am ready to defer if I am behind. Plain and simple. Once I a while I need to be deceptive just to avoid being a predic-a-bot, but that is about it. Does folding when behind cost me a lot of money? Surprising, no. I would in a cash game, but rarely in a tournament.

Finally, its decimation. Are you ahead? If so, weight the amount of chips you would expect this hand to win. Then, go for that many chips. This has also hurt me many times, as I fail to expect a bad call and thus dont jam a pot. I instead expect the other player has a threshold of pain attached to a hand. This is not the case as much as I expect. It costs me money, BUT, it makes me more consistent. And that is worth alot to me.

So there it is. A year's worth of work summed up into a strategem. Just one problem with this... It causes a painful dichotomy. I cash, but never win it all. Am I content with that?

No. I have experimented alot this month and noticed some new patterns and thought of some new ideas. I think its time to start thinking serious on level 3.

Based on what he has put me on, and based on what I put him on, can I manipulate the situation so that in the rare instances that I am behind and stick around, am I in a position to scare the other player? I have much work to do in 2008.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's that time of year again...

The time when we reveal ourselves to others. At parties, we are full of the holiday spirt(s). At family gatherings, we feel safe and regard everything said and done as immune from the outside world. Even in the blogs, I read uncharacteristic personal insights into the worlds I only peek at through table chat.

It seems strange and foreign to me just the same, that I am going to follow suit. Some of the walls I typically keep erected to create a barrier, which I insist will protect my professional career and image from being associated with anything negative that can come back to work against me in some unlikely scenario, are crumbling.

I have been in executive IT management for 13 years now. I was laid off 5 years ago, 6 months after 9-11. I went on to rebuild my career to new heights and success. I thought 2007 would be my most successful year ever. Then my company was sold. 9 months later, just before Christmas, I was laid off. Again. I am in a much better position this time, having been through this before. I had money saved for such an emergency, I had more contacts than 5 years ago, and had another successful management stint, even bigger than the last, under my belt.

But this time, I expect change. A Change in location seems probable and this means leaving this cold and economically miserable state for unfamiliar territory, uprooting my family in the hopes of an improved standard of living. It's strange and eerie, knowing this in advance. I watched my final NFL home game with a mixture of fervor and thoughtfulness, trying to memorize the sounds, the smells and the sights of the stadium and its denizens. We even splurged on beer and peanuts, ignoring our budget to seal the maximum amounts of memory of this last game in our brains.

I meet with my friends and do the usual fun activities, but in the back of my mind is the nagging feeling that I'll shortly be saying goodbye. Then feeling stupid because the assertion is premature.

I am 'counting my blessings' as they say. But strangely, although I have so much time, I am playing no more poker than I did when I was working.

I noticed a BIG leak in my game last night. Something in retrospect I am not sure I would have noticed under different circumstances. And its an unusual leak, not the typical mistake in how you play a hand type leak. When I am ahead, I rarely make wreckless bets after the turn card. If I am playing deep stack and I make 2 pair on the turn and I think I am ahead, I will still bet 3/4 of the pot or pot. But I never "go for the stack", figuring the other player will fold if I do. I am afraid of letting the prey escape. Funny that I should see that now...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

That's what they want to give me.
Psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, Psychotherapy
that's what they want to give meeeeeeee

After my return from the WPBT, I have played awful poker. I have been pushing lame draws, seeing flops out of position, and been generally impatient. If there is one attribute that a NLHE tournament requires, its patience. As a matter of opinion, I think that if the field is 100 or less, patience is more important than even post-flop play. I went out in level 1 of the BBT2 freeroll and knew I was "out of sync".

In the last month, I was laid off from my job. I should be more upset, but quite frankly I did not like our new corporate overlords. My company was acquired and I went from top dog to dog house in 3 months. So when they pushed me out the door 5 months early, I scarcely shed a tear. But despite the fact that I have a year's savings in the bank, I don't like the idea of being out of work. I am very good at what I do. Extremely good (better than I am at poker for sure). But I still need to find a company that appreciates and needs IT leadership. Not an easy task. and not a quick task. This situation colors my world at the moment. Not so much because of the search itself, but rather the distinct possibility of a family move. I like in a highly undesirable city as it is, so a logical person would say this could only be a move up. They're right. But, it is still a big deal. Moving away to another city where you know no one, regardless of the improvement, is a subject of much stress.

So, I've been a tad psycho lately. Not literally, mind you, but figuratively. I have not been myself. When I need to center myself in life, I do menial labor. Clean the house, chores, etc. When I need to center myself in poker, I play a $20 SnG. When I cash (which I almost always do), I regain my composure.

Now its 4 days on thinking of nothing but family functions, holiday celebrations, and fun. I can go back to worrying on Wed. And before I play poker next week, expect to see me playing a $20 SnG...

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Big Game and the last BBT2 event

Its the Sunday night Big Game to cap off the BBT2. It's a 5 table MTT and at the first break, we are only down to 4 tables. Second break, 3 tables. I am playing extremely well, making excellent decisions and maneuvering well. As time progresses, and we go down to 2 tables, I am still above avg. With 15 left, I am briefly the chip leader by 100 chips at 25k. Maudie doubles up to 40k....

I am folding too much...

There are 10 left. I briefly well BELOW average and took the blinds to get just above avg. We are 5 handed, and Maudie is two to my left. On both sides are players who also have about $25k which is avg only. Blinds are 500/1000/250 and I want to accumulate chips in this bubble period (pays only 5 places).

Maudie raises UtG to 3500. Now, for some reason I cant fathom, I know what here range is with that bet and I put her on A9-AJ. Folds around to my in the SB and I have A9s. Now, I dont think this is a great hand by any stretch of the imagination, butI believe that at the bubble, the big stack would never call off 50% of their chips with AJ. So, I push all-in, knowing there is no way she can call. She is too solid of a player for that.

But she does... with the AJ. I am floored. (and I am out!). It was either an incredible read or a bad call with great timing. Maybe both. I have got to hand it to Maudie here. I had only shown down KK, AK, and 77 at this table. If I am in her shoes, and I raise UtG with AJ and someone pushes for $21k (not a short stack!) and I can fold for $3.5k and REMAIN the big stack in the tournament OR I can call, expecitng to race for half my stack, I am folding. And easy fold.

Yet did she somehow know I was capable of this? Did *I* even know I was capable of this?

If this was not the last shot at a BBT2 seat, where only first mattered... or maybe we were closer to the bubble? Hard to say.

Someone comment here and tell me I was insane to attempt this. I would never have tried this in riverchasers, but this was the Big Game! Am I trying to be too tricky?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Mookie (Play for first)

Well, with two BBT2 events left, and me without a seat, I wanted to win this, not cash. So when I built my stack up to 6k (about 1k above avg) and I flopped top two, I expected to win a pot. But the pot got huge when RaisingCayne could not figure out where his FOLD button was. Instead, he accidently calls with nothing but a flush draw... If I win this 2-1 favorite race, I am second in chips and make a run at the seat. Instead the 3s drops like a brick out of a robot's ass on fourth and IGHN.

I have only my longshot riverchasers and the BIG game on sunday left... and no $69 tokens left. Better get to work...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Houdini and the Technicolor dream coat (aka my WPBT trip report - Part 2)

My draw for starting table was challenging to say the least. BG to my left, Fuel on my direct right. The Fuel lay-downs first…

If there is one thing I am known for in NL, its being an escape artist. I always seem to know when I am behind. It’s a strange skill, and often gets me into trouble in larger tournament fields as I am reluctant to gamble. If I have A8 and I know the other player has a pair 99-KK, I will almost always fold, even if I have ¼ of my stack in there.

In this case, I had missed a few flops and this time flopped a flush draw. I had position on Fuel, but he bet out and I called. The turn did not bring my flush, but added an OESD. But Fuel correctly put me on the draw and pushed all in. Although I had him covered, losing this pot if I called would all but eliminate me. Not only that, I figured out that he had figured out that I was drawing, so it wasn’t a bluff (I don’t think it was at least). Reluctantly, I folded.

Then I FINALLY flop top pair. I have AQ, but the board if AKJ and there are 2 other players (Fuel and tworags). I bet out, two rags raises and Fuel re-raises all-in. I am done with the hand. It was set over set and Fuel was crippled.

It’s the First break, I have a measly 2300 in chips (of a starting 6000). The end is near.
I waited patiently but really had no chips to maneuver. I had to pick up a big hand. It was folded around to maigrey on the button and she raises half my piddly stack. I wake up with KK and when I push, she is force to call. I double up to about 4400.

Despite my previous luck, maigrey continues to attack my blinds from the button. I notice that if it’s folded around, she is raising with what I suspect is close to ATC. Now, I make a VERY tight fold with A6s just to make sure I am right. I KNOW my blinds look weak now and I am prepared. A couple of rotations later, she moves all in for about 1200 and I insta-call with A8s. I luck out as she flips over A3 and I am now just short of starting stack size at 5900.

I win a couple of hands, lose 1 and I am around 9k. I had an interesting question from BG. “So, do you watch how each of us plays online and build a catalog of it in your brain?” “Yeah”, I reply. “Although I never really played with you. But I also catalog how you play live and take that back with me also.” I wasn’t really thinking about BG when I said it though, I was thinking of Jordan. Having watched him play live, I have a much better appreciation for what he does online.

It’s the Second break and I am going to have to move all-in next hand. I will be the UtG player with 9k and the blinds are 1k-2k. There is no way I can lose 3k in blinds now. But just as I return from break, Falstaff gets moved and now I AM the Big Blind. Change100 moves all in on my BB and I fold it, despite expecting to have to call. Next hand, I move all-in with my SB, everyone folds, and it’s close to a wash. But I still desperately need chips.

Time passes. This is the dream part of the night. I start to make a small run, but honestly can’t remember a single hand. I think I may have busted someone during this time, maybe not. I think I both won a big hand and lost a big hand to Jordan. I picked up some other chips, but I can’t recall any details.

Suddenly it’s getting time for me to leave for my red-eye plane back to Detroit. I had Lions/Cowboys Tickets and thus had booked the 10pm flight back, expecting to be done by now!

After some time, Jen finally says she can’t wait any longer. She leaves for the airport wishing me luck. Oh, and by the way. In the coolest and classiest move of the night, Grubby throws me a comp room card in case I have to miss my plane and get stuck in Vegas. Now how cool is that?! Very. The WPBT is a special group of people and don’t you all forget it! Appreciate it while we got it!

I do miss my plane, but I manage to swing a later departure (1am) by paying $210 in change fees and increased fares. But I bought myself 3 hours. AS I AM ON THE PHONE FINALIZING THIS, I get dealt AQs under the gun. Because I can’t concentrate on a hand like this from here and on the phone, I simply pitch it. Two players get all in and I would not have won the hand. Nice break. I am Houdini in the Dream-Coat.

21 left, I run to each table to see stack sizes because talk begins of paying 20 places. Since there is no agreement, I end up moving all-in. Maybe here is where I busted change100? Not sure, but I did make it to 20 left.

With 2 tables left, I begin to steal while avoiding conflict. My numerous “Mondays at the Hoy” has trained me well for this stage. Again, time passes in my dream-coat and I remember no particular hand. Just a feeling of dodging and waving like a running back going off-tackle, looking for the hole…

Somewhere, at the other table, I hear an Asian Jew shakes someone’s hand and depart. I bust a short stack Biggestron who had lost a lot of chips already in the hand where I folded AQ Utg.
Suddenly, Table collapse! I am 1 of 3 short stacks at the final table. Instant Tragedy and Pokercats are the other 2. Otis’ stack is enormous. But I made the FREAKING FINAL TABLE when I had 2300 in chips! Blinders came by to congratulate me on getting there, as did a couple of others including Weak Player. That was cool.

We take a short break. I put the dream-coat back on.

I am looking for a place to get chips. I have to take a race. I think I did. I won if I did.
6 left, I have done what I do best to this point, avoiding elimination. Now I look for my spots.
I have a very particular, exact and successful strategy for this stage of the game. With 6 left, assuming I am not short on chips, I am looking to avoid big pots. I am waiting for players to make mistakes. I don’t care if I am in the hand or not, but often a player will get all-in with marginal or race hands here. I want to wait until a couple of players go out and then make my run to the top. NO CONNECTORS at this point.

NO deals for the Rooster. We try to make a deal with 6 left, but Rooster would have none of it. I suck out on Grubby and then he sucks out on Caldwell. Eventually, after some time, Grubby goes out 5th.

5 left and Time to execute strategy #2. After taking a big hand off Rooster and Rooster bluffing off a big stack to pokercats, I am the big stack. It’s time to watch the pieces fall into place. Just like I planned. Just sit back and let it happen…

But they don’t. I am aware of the dream-coat now, only its one of those twilight feelings like when you wake up during surgery. I watch as Rooster (twice), Pokercats (twice), Otis (twice) and Caldwell all got their stacks all-in while covered and won a race to live on. This is not the result I was looking for. My dream-coat peels away and I wake up. I feel a need to push the issue (after all, I have a plane to catch). I lose a big chunk of my stack when I decide to fold A8. It’s folded around to the SB. Blinds are 5k/10k. I open raise Rooster’s BB to 60k. He comes over the top all-in. I know he has a pair. I am guessing it’s better than 88. So, if I call, I am a dog. Despite the pot size, odds, and a flight, I fold.

I eventually finish 5th anyway when I run my 55 into pokercats 77. I am very late for my plane and I stand up very quickly, rattle off a goodbye to anyone who would listen, and run VERY quickly to the director to get paid. (My apollgies to everyone!) I run to the check out table. First the card, then the ID, then paid in chips to exchange, then money. RUN!

The race to the airport starts at a LONG cab line. I run to the front of the line and declare, “I have to catch a flight and I just finished a tournament, can I jump the line?”
The security guard says, “what time”?
“1 am”, I say.
“No way you'll makeit”, he replies.
“I have to try!”

They let me jump in a cab and I tip a $10. The cab driver races to the airport. I throw him a $20 and grab my bags. It’s 12:07am. The terminal check-in is empty. “Hello!”, I yell hoping for some help. After a few minutes, a NW rep appears and explains that I am out of luck. It’s here that I will spare you my begging and pleading for anything so I can at least try to make the gate. In the end I must have looked pathetic enough. I had a stand-by ticket for 7am. I could go to the gate and try to get on my flight. I RAN.

And I ran, I ran all night and day… I practically dove through security. I am standing in line for the tram, drenched in sweat. When it stops, I then make a run to the gate. They had JUST begun boarding, checked my in and begged for a glass of water and thenI walked on the plane. I collapsed in my seat shortly thereafter. I think I slept. If not, then I don’t know what.

All that, so I could watch the Lions miss a short field goal and ruin the perfect upset. But I had a great time with my fake poker friends, took 5th in a tournament field of really good players, and lived to tell the tale. I only wish I had won a waffles commemorative coaster.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Houdini and the Technicolor dream coat (aka my WPBT trip report - Part 1)

There is so much to write, I hardly know where to begin. I had decided to take this trip on the tail end of a business trip to California (the HQ of my company). Our large meeting on Thursday was scheduled to end in the early afternoon and I was planning on flying to Las Vegas right after it concluded. This turned out to be a moot point, as my company and I parted ways before I got on the plane. I was a VP at a 200 million dollar company, which was acquired earlier in the year. And as often happens with such acquisitions, there is some downsizing. The new company never really had a place for me, and thus I completed the transitions with the professionalism and hard work that made me a VP in the first place. Nevertheless, I was a bit shocked to find out as the timing was a surprise. But since certain events can not be undone (such as a big suckout), we just need to roll with it and move on. I headed to the airport a bit early.

A short digression. You can no longer beat the rake in San Jose! They went to a three blind structure at both Bay and the Garden. The 1-2NL at the Garden is 1 on the button, 2 in the SB and 3 in the BB. THREE? It’s 1-2! Then, of the $6 in blinds, the rake is ALWAYS $5. So, if you raise it up and everyone folds, you win a dollar. I played for 3 hours, won a ton of hands, and left up $2. Forget it.

When I arrived in Las Vegas, I decided I would keep a low profile. I am not a gambler anyway, so after having a simple lunch I went back to my room to await the arrival of Mrs. Columbo. When she arrived, I hooked up my personal laptop, and sold every single piece of stock I had in my previous company. I felt only slightly better.

We walked to the IP for the exercise and before meeting up with everyone at the Geisha Bar, stopped at Trader Vics. I am a big tikiphile and wanted to see the new place. I was unimpressed as my basement is more authentic. But I did enjoy a signature drink or two. Then, off to the IP for the meet-up. I think I enjoyed this meet-up more than any other in the past. I knew some faces, and finally got to meet some of the other bloggers with whom I play with every week. I had never met GCox in person, and we talked about our similar re-raise style. I meant Buddy and Tragedy, the radio duo from the Mookie tournaments. I even got reacquainted with some faces I had forgotten, like Astin. I drank beers and watched bloggers play Pai-Gow until I could stay up no longer. We stumbled back to the Monte Carlo.

Friday was a great day. We slept in, had a nice burger lunch, and just sort of killed time that afternoon. Biggestron was playing over at the Venetian, so we decided to wander over. Said hello to the fellow bloggers and then played some NL (about an hour). Afterwards, Biggestron, Penerii, Double Dave, Mrs. Columbo and myself headed over to Hoffbrau House for dinner. I love this German beer hall. I had a great meal and 2 liters of beer. Now I was ready for mixed games at MGM!

When we arrived there were already 2 full tables of 2-6 mixed firmly entrenched with bloggers. I went to the floor manager and said if they started a third, we would keep it full. And the MGM complied. What a great card room. It’s just plain fun donking off money in Crazy Pineapple or Razz. But after the 1 seat gets up and leaves, who sits down on my right but Dutch Boyd. He played at the table with us for about an hour and engaged in conversation (he is an ex-blogger). I watched intently whenever he was in a razz hand and picked up some interesting patterns. For Example, if he did not brick on fourth, he would bet fourth, and see what players went away. He did this even if he did not have the best hand showing. On fifth, he almost always bet if he had bet fourth. He ended up losing a big hand to Garth when he correctly deduced he was ahead on 5th and kept betting and raising. Garth picked up the mircale perfect hole card on seventh and took down the biggest razz hand of the night.

Saturday was the big day. We slept it, had lunch to make sure we did not repeat past mistakes that involved tournaments (open bars and empty stomachs), and headed off to the Venetian 2 hours early....

End part 1: Next, THE TOURNAMENT! (and how this post got its name)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Doomed to a life of second best?

So once again I did what I do bset. Put myself in a position to win, but come up short. I finihsed SECOND in the Hoy last night and despite being the MONEY LEADER FOR THE YEAR, have yet to WIN a blogger tourney. Can you believe it?

There were 4 turning points. The first was when my TP kings ran into pocket aces and sucked out to keep me in the tourney. Noted.

The second was when there were 9 left (pays eight), I folded not one but two premium hands to standard 3xBB raises, just because they were not top 10 hands. And I folded QQ to a Ace flop when he made a bet. No fight at all. I played for the money first, then for the win. This is my MO.

The third was when I went from 8th to second simply by not comitting myself to a hand.

The fourth was entering heads-up with 29k in chips vs. 130k in chips. My strategy was to claw my way to about 40k and then double up to even the match. This took me about 30 minutes and out of frustration he pushed 44 into my AA.

And with those 4 scenarios, I am heads-up with equal stacks for all the marbles...

For about 45 minutes we danced back and forth. We both knew it was going to be a big hand that made the difference...

The escalation started when I picked up AhQh. He bet it, I raised it and he re-raised it. I really thought he could have JJ here based on his previous play with 44. But worse, I look down and I have 20k invested, which is now 25% of my stack. Based on what he pushed with to date, I have to put him on a big hand. Yet, I just cant get away and when the money goes in, I look to see KK. All that work, just to shove AQ sooooted into KK and lose the match when the Ace does not fall.

So, you could say I was lucky to be there at all.
You could look at the mega-comeback from a 3-1 chip deficit...

But you could also look at folding big hands on the bubble and getting my money in after an hour with AQs.

At least I can look at my track record and take something away that is positive... right?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

back in the saddle

After a week off for family vacation, and a week of week online finishes, I sat down at my WSOP satallite league game on Friday and played well. I went into month 5 (of 10) the points leader, and took 4th last night. That means that the WORST I could be right now is 2nd place. (the player right behind me was in the final 3, and needed to finish 2nd to pass me). Either way, I am well on my way to a $1500 seat.

This is a big deal for me, as I stated a LONG time ago that I would never pay full price for a WSOP entry. Why? Here is my logic: If I am not good enough to win a seat or satellite, then I am not good enough to play in the event.

Next week is the WPBT Blogger gathering, and attendence is HIGH! 120 people at least. Awesome. I will continue my tradition of dinner on Friday at the Hoffbrau house (across from Hard Rock). Anyone else interested?!

I am flying home late Sat after the tourney though, to make it back for the Lions / Cowboys game. After watching the Lions today, however, 6-10 looks possible.