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Monday, June 14, 2004

Whooped on Stars, Fled to Saratoga
I first created a PokerStars account almost a year ago out of curiosity. But I had never deposited money there. I'd read that the tournament software was great, but that the players were very good too.

Fast forward to Greg Raymer winning the World Series of Poker. By getting 4 players to the final table of the 2004 WSOP, and backing 2 WSOP champs in a row, PokerStars is really making a name for itself. But it also seems to send a message that really great players are at PokerStars -- and since I like to win I don't really want to play against some the best competition out there. Still, I thought once the 2004 WSOP airs on ESPN, maybe PokerStars will receive a massive a influx of new players like Party Poker did after it advertised on the Word Poker Tour. Wouldn't it be great if the fishiest online poker site also had great software?

Chasing the Stars Bonus

After the WSOP PokerStars announced a "back-to-back" 25% deposit bonus. I took the bait and deposited $80.


I first went up $15 last Sunday night at their .25/.50 tables. Just getting my feet wet. But to clear the bonus, I needed to accumulate 100 (actually it may have been more, I forget) Frequent Player Points (FPPs), and in 2+ hours of .25/.50, I hadn't earned a single FPP. So then last Wednesday I sat down at the .50/$1 tables.

Sure enough, I was accumulating FPPs at .50/$1. But boy were the tables tight and aggressive! I can handle tight -- the .50/$1 tables on Paradise often get very tight. I figured I'd just play tight as well, only play really great starting cards, and clear my bonus. But the aggressiveness on Stars threw me off my game a bit. There was a pre-flop raise on most hands (which I know is good poker -- I'm just not used to having a table full of good players!) and it seemed that whenever I tried to limp in with a pair or whatever from late position it was either 3-bet or capped. There were a couple guys who were just running over the table, often raising everybody on every street and taking pots down uncontested. Plus there were only 4 .50/$1 tables, and they all seemed about the same in terms of toughness.

I give myself a little credit because I realized what was happening to me and that I needed to adapt. After losing the $15 profit I had made at 25/.50, I decided to really tighten up and just get the damn bonus cleared. But the aggressiveness put me on a minor tilt. Knowing that players would raise or 3-bet with merely decent starting hands, I started defending my better blinds too much. When I had a good hand I tried to play back at the "big dogs," reraising them when the flop hit me. I made some good aggressive plays but I also made some foolishly loose plays (that's always the danger when I try to get more aggressive), and overall my stack was going down.

Most importantly, my confidence was down. I was definitely not in control. Looking around the table and trying to find the sucker, I was starting to think that it was me. Not good.

I was down to about $65 (from my original $80) when I got Aces. Finally, I thought, just give me one big pot and I'll be back on track. Instead, somebody with a pair of 7s caught their set on the river. I actually yelled at the monitor at this point, and I usually never get that upset about a bad beat. It was obvious that I needed to take a break.

At that point I had collected 42 out the required 100 FPPs, but was down to $55 out of my original $80. I faced a tough call -- cut my losses now, or persevere and clear the $20 bonus. I was down 25 big bets, which really isn't that bad. I figured about half that loss was cold cards, and the other half was me getting caught up in the vibe of the table and raising and reraising too much. But I knew I was too emotional to make a decision, so I resolved to wait until the morning to decide whether to cash out or give it another go.

When I woke up on Thursday I decided that I just had no desire to play at those tough tables again. Maybe I could adapt and hold my own. Maybe I could turtle up and clear the bonus without much further loss. But deep down I doubted that I could beat those players and the rake. I would be risking $55 to clear $20, and I wouldn't be having any fun doing it. I eventually hope to work up to higher limits, where I know that such tight-aggressive play is the norm. But not this week. I cashed out.

Back to Paradise and Absolute

I've mainly been playing on Paradise Poker (.50/$1) and Absolute Poker (.25/.50 because their .50/$1 tables are usually 6-max). Thursday I picked up $30 at Paradise. Last night I lost $16 of that back on Paradise, then went over to Absolute Poker and won $35 at the .25/.50 tables. There seems to be something about Absolute Poker on the weekends. During the week the games at all levels frequently get very shorthanded as players leave, but this is 2 Sundays in a row now that I have just dominated the .25/.50 tables, and it seemed that some players were just giving away money. House shills perhaps?

I didn't think Absolute Poker had an affiliate program, but either I was wrong or they just recently added one. I put a little banner to the right. If you haven't tried Absolute, give it a shot. Decent software, a good sit-n-go format, easy-to-clear bonuses, and soft games.

I am actually trying to accumulate 10,000 Absolute Rewards Points. If you do that you are awarded "VIP" status and can host your own private, single-table tournaments. I think this would be an awesome way to play poker with some of my buddies who don't live nearby.

Trying to Figure Out the Ponies

My wife B and I spent the weekend in Saratoga. B's dad is a lifelong racing fan and he and his S.O. retired and bought a place up there over the winter. What a fun town Saratoga is, and only about 3 hours from Providence. Saratoga's race season hasn't started yet, so Saturday we took a little tour of the town, then engaged in some simulcast betting before having dinner at The Parting Glass, where Hair of the Dog was playing. Cool band.

While watching the simulcasts I realized how little I know about horse racing. A few years back, B had tought me the basics of how to read the racing form, and at first I thought that knowing the difference between a quinnella and an exacta made me pretty knowledgeable. But that's like saying you know how to play poker well just because you know the hand rankings, and I'm always reminded of it when B and her dad start analyzing the races. So on the way out of town we stopped at Borders and I purchased Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing. It's mind-boggling how many variables a handicapper takes into account. I'm pretty sure I'll never be a winning horseplayer, but I'm enjoying learning about the intricacies. (Just like I'll never bet serious money on craps or baccarat, but I still like knowing how to play.)

I also picked up Ashley Adams's Winning 7-Card Stud -- part of my overall goal of becoming a well-rounded poker player. Unlike betting the ponies, I think I could become pretty good at 7-Card Stud. I'll post a more detailed review once I finish the book.

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