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Friday, July 30, 2004

4 Queens in 7-Stud
B and I are headed out the door, off to enjoy opening weekend in Saratoga. We planned to leave at 4pm; I stopped working around 3pm and hopped on to Paradise Poker to kill a little time with $2 max-buy-in No Limit. That was way too boring, so I checked out the 7-Stud tables. No 1/2 tables, but there were 3 2/4 tables. I tell myself "I'll just watch."

First, I notice at least two players from the .50/1 and 1/2 tables. Second, the ante is a quarter, same as 1/2, so it doesn't cost much more to sit there and wait for good cards. So I sit down.

My first hand is rolled up Queens! I have been dealt 3-of-a-kind exactly once before at online 7-Stud. That was rolled up 8s, and they lost. I complete the bet with my QQQ and am reraised. The player who had called the initial .50 folds, and I figure the bring-in will probably fold, so why not reraise. I do and the other raiser caps it, it's just us two. 4th street brings blanks for both of us.

5th street is a Queen for me.

I'm wishing like hell I had played slower on 3rd street; too late for such thoughts now. I bet after a pause on 5th, 6th, and 7th streets. My opponent folds and I show, figuring the strong image should be good for a couple steals. Dang, I only made a $20 profit on the 4-of-a-kind! Then B gets home and, embarassed to be playing poker rather than working or packing the car, I commit some egregious poker etiquette and leave the table. Then she hops in the shower, hence this post.

OK, gotta go pack! Wish me luck at the track.

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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Rejoining the Party
I bought back into Party Poker last night, for the first time since November 2003. I've written about my dislike of Party Poker before. Basically I was profitable there for a while last year, then had a couple really bad sessions and decided I didn't want to deal with the manics and the variance anymore.

In the past few weeks I've moved up to $2/$4. The Paradise games are pretty tight and I haven't shown a profit in the couple sessions I've tried there. I'm beating the Absolute $2/$4 game, but there is only a decent game there about half the time time I check. Plus no one was at the $1/$2 Paradise 7-Stud game. So I figured maybe it was time to give Party another try. Of course fellow poker bloggers' countless recommendations for Party influenced me, most recently Degenerate's comment that "If you can play poker, Party's 2/4 is easily beatable if you have the proper bankroll," which sounds as much like a challenge as a recommendation :) Most importantly, I think I'm a better player than I was 8 months ago, in terms of both card play and tilt control.

The Party experience has changed since I was last there. The software's better, notably 1) the new-fangled lobby, 2) no hiccups (I remember the annoying "shaking screen" from months ago), 3) not really a software improvement, but I turned off the characters and it makes the graphics a lot more bearable. But the biggest change was the players. Less than 6 people were seeing some flops (!) Some hands were being won without a showdown (!!) Where were the maniacs capping preflop with 2 suited cards? This is not the Party I remember.

I'm assuming I saw more rational play because I was at $2/$4 and not .50/$1. Or maybe I just got lucky. Either way, I'll look for these somewhat-rational-but-still-very-beatable (basically loose-weak, but not crazy loose) tables in the future (and I still plan to avoid the .50/$1 "poker slots" entirely).

I picked up $78 on the evening, in the course of hopping around to 4 different tables. Here's hoping that the Party stays this much fun . . .

As always, I don't want to be results-oriented, but I just hafta share some numbers that are at an all-time high for me: My current online bankroll is now over $850. Total poker winnings: $1,252.88. Poker earnings: $458.78 ($616 since I started using PokerTracker). Happy happy.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Running Good
I've developed something of a weekly poker schedule. At least for weekdays. I don't play Mondays because 1) I figure it's the least likely night that your average Joe Fish is gonna play and 2) this way I have at least one night of the week away from poker.

I also usually don't play Tuesdays, because that's the night my weekly boardgame group meets. Sounds dorky, but they are a very fun bunch. However, last night I skipped boardgaming because yesterday afternoon I worked out for the first time in far too long, and was left feeling tired and sore.

That didn't stop me from having a very good night of poker.

At the Absolute $2/$4 tables:

4:50pm, 10 mins, up $6.50 before table broke up.
5:11pm, 20 mins, down $29
7:30pm, 40 mins, up $93.50 -- one maniac was betting, and raising and reraising if possible, every hand and every street. I was seated on his right and was able to use the Mike Caro/Gary Carson school of dealing with a maniac (like letting him help me cap it when I had QQ and flopped a boat).

Then I watched the ESPN coverage of the WSOP. Joe Awada may be the new Nicest Guy in Poker. That inspired me to play some $1/$2 7-Stud at Paradise.

9:30pm, 30 mins, up $27.50. I've made $274 at Paradise 7-Stud since reading Ashley Adams's Winning 7-Card Stud, pretty much just following the basic strategy he describes. This book stands out as gaving the biggest direct return on investment of any book in my poker library.

Headed back over to Absolute $2/$4 Hold'Em.

10:30pm, 15 mins, up $57. I got a couple lucky hands and then the table broke up.
11:48pm, 47 mins, down $25. I ran into Sloejack, instantly recognizable with his Grim Reaper image. (Which reminds me, I should put something on the right panel of this page to remind everyone that I play as "LanceyH" on most sites. I think Sloejack knew, but I identified myself as Cheap Thrills JD to be sure, and saying "I'm Cheap Thrills JD" looks pretty weird in the chatbox.)

The maniac that I won money from earlier in the day sat down with us. Turns out he had put some bad beats on Sloejack earlier in the day. He (the maniac) wasn't quite so crazy at this later table.

Both Sloejack and I had cold cards for a while, until I got the Ace of clubs in the BB and flopped a 4-flush. That turned into a straight flush on the river, but as Ciaffone notes in Middle Limt Holdem (I just looked for the quote but can't find it) straight flushes aren't usually much more profitable than flushes in Hold'em, and I actually had the ignorant end of this one, which could've been a disaster but wasn't (profit of $18.50). As Sloejack has already described, he made quad Aces a few hands later, and got a bit more action with them (profit of $25). Sloejack left up for that session; I was also up when he left, but played for another half hour or so after him and finished down. There's a lesson there.

Total profit for me on the night: $130.50. Well, actually I also played in 2 $10+1 sngs on Absolute and finished 5th both times, so my total is only $108.50. Have I mentioned that tourneys are not my thing?

One more thing about running into a fellow poker blogger: Doesn't happen to me often, largely because I don't play on Party Poker. I plan to remedy this soon, after I finish clearing my current bonus at Absolute, and give $2/$4 a try.

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Sunday, July 25, 2004

My Saturday Night
I said, "I hate people."
Wait; I do not like how that sounds.
It's not that I hate people.
It's just that I feel better when they're not around.
--Steve Owen, "A Pair of Brown Shoes."
So Mrs. Cheap Thrills is out of town for the weekend and I'm all by my lonesome. But honestly, I got out and socialized last night. I even blogged about it in my last post.

And let me be clear (in case the Steve Owen lyrics don't make the point) that I'm an introvert in exactly this sense of the word: It's not that I'm truly antisocial; it's merely that being social tires me out. I have high-twitch, low-endurance smalltalk muscles.

So tonight I've been 100% antisocial. Personal time, recovery time. And given some personal time, instead of ice cream and a movie or a cigar and a baseball game, I like a beer and some online poker.

It's been a good evening. I won $105 at Paradise $1/$2 7-Stud while watching a rerun of SNL. One guy was just giving money away at the 7-Stud table, and meanwhile I was cracking up (I always find SNL quite hilarious when I haven't seen it in several months).

Then I headed over to Absolute $2/$4 and who do I run into but my buddy Odogg. This is about the 3rd or 4th time I've run into him at AP in the last couple months. Lately we worked out that's it's easier to chat via IM (love a program called Trillian). Being the ethical guys that we are, without really discussing it, we worked out a protocol where if only one of us is in a hand we let the other know what he's holding, but only if one of us has already folded. We then critique each other's play and such. I still feel like maybe it's borderline unethical. Oh well, it's fun, and me and Odogg should be the Very Last Thing on your list of worries about online poker.

After SNL, I switched over to Sc-Fi channel, which is airing Tremors 4. Talk about guilty pleasures.

Right now I'm up a whopping $11 after 2+ hours at Absolute 2/4. I blame Tremors 4 for the fact that I am not doing better. Maybe I should go sleep soon. Sometimes I hate how blogging leads me to these sensible realizations :)

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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Hodgepodge Post
I was just perusing the blogs and got a kick out of Flipchipro's 9 excuses for a Vegas trip. It gave me a particularly big smile because this very afternoon I booked my flight for my buddy Odogg's bachelor party in Vegas. I arrive Thursday, September 16, at noon, and leave Sunday at noon. The BP trip is on top of the August 17-19 stop that Mrs. Cheap Thrills and I will be making in our favorite city. Gonna work on building that poker bankroll tonight . . .

Speaking of which, before heading out the door last night I got in about an hour of $1/$2 at Absolute last night, and booked a $25 win. I'm now in the black across all levels from .25/50 to 2/4 at Absolute. That is a good feeling.

Amidst general boozing and hanging out with friends last night, a poker game did indeed break out. Unfortunately by that point in the evening there were only 4 of us. Desperate for some poker action, but knowing we were pathetically shorthanded, we did a $1 buy-in tournament. My buddy Spaniel (real name is Daniel, don't ask about the nickname) took the win. We then tried a little pot limit Hold'Em with 1 and 2 penny blinds. It was the first time any of us had played pot limit and it was sorta interesting. Everyone was pretty tired by that point, though, so we called it quits after only a dozen or so hands. Hopefully we'll be getting back together for a real poker night later in August.

I put in an order with www.viptrades.com for 75 more poker chips today. My set came with 100 red, 100 blue, 100 green, 50 black, and 150 white. I've also got 25 custom-made chips from the wedding, which we treat as black. I've been using casino-standard chip values of red = 5 (either cents or tourney dollars), green = 25, black =100. Blue varies in casinos so I made it 50 (makes it easy to play .25/.50 limits). White in casinos is $1, but we don't usually use either pennies in money games or single dollars in tourneys, so I had previously made white equal to $2/$200. Now that we've tried pot limit with penny blinds, I'm going to make white be pennies. But I don't need 150 pennies, hence the VIP Trades order. Once it arrives my set will look like this:

50 white (I'll throw the other 100 in a drawer somewhere since I haver a 500-chip case)
100 red
100 blue
100 green
100 black (75 regular, 25 wedding chips)
25 purple (worth $5/$500)
25 yellow (worth $10/$1000)

At the very least, with this setup I'll have replaced most of the mostly-useless white chips. The purples and yellows will be helpful for coloring up the final 2 or 3 players in a tourney, which not only will make it easier for them to count their stacks, but will also free up a lot of chips for the side game that often starts up. The purples and yellows might also eventually see use if we start playing for higher real-money limits at home (I'll have $480.50 in total chips). Plus the two new colors will make my set look cooler :)

The 75 new chips cost me a whopping $12.75 plus shipping. (I have the very common suited edge metal-insert type. I know some people hate the metal insert, but I don't really mind. Remember, I'm cheap.) They were .17 each, which is 10 cents less a chip than they were when I bought my set last year. Just another benefit of the poker craze.

OK, off to play poker.

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Friday, July 23, 2004

The Ambiguity of the Chatbox
I was playing Hold'Em online the other night and got dealt pocket Aces. I raised on the first 3 betting rounds, happily got an ace on the river, and pounded it again. My lone opponent at the river called my raise, mucked, then typed "nc" into the chatbox.

At first I thought she meant "nice catch," like maybe she had me beat on the flop with a a set or 2 pair. Plus you see "nice catch" all the time in the chatbox. But it seemes a pretty absurd thing to say to someone with pocket aces.

Then I decided she meant "nice cards," but if so that's a pretty pointless thing to say. Of course pocket aces are nice cards.

On a broader level, why do I care? Well, I don't really. I'll probably never see that player again. It would have been completely unmemorable if she had complimented me or yelled at me, but instead she just made me wonder what the heck "nc" meant, and here I am still wondering.

The same thing happens with "nh" to a lesser degree, even though I know what "nh" stands for. Sometimes people use it as a backhanded compliment, implying that another player won because he or she had the right hand for that flop rather than because he or she played well. I guess my opponent could have been doing that with "nc." Other times people use "nh" with complete sarcasm, to tell another player that their hand was really crap and that they got lucky. Sometimes people actually seem to mean "hey, you played that hand really well." And of course some people just type "nh" after every hand as some kind of ritual. But most of the time you just can't tell what the heck they mean, and if I won the hand I usually type "ty" so as not be rude (sometimes I'm just rude).

The pointlessness and ubiquity of "nh" is well-known. I never use it myself. Really I don't chat much at all. I guess that's one more reason I like Paradise Poker -- it's pretty quiet, chatbox-wise. (Picture a thousand silent introverts playing poker in their underwear on a tropical beach.)

I used to like "nice play" as a more clear-cut compliment than "nh." But you don't see "np" too much. Nowadays I'll type the occasional "n1" when I lose a big confrontation with an opponent. Very infrequently I do this when someone lays a real nice trap or other fancy play. But more often I type "n1" to maintain a non-tilt image--instead of silently steaming or whining about a beat, I give a compliment, and with it the impression that I am not phased at all and will continue to play my normal A-game. It's a reminder to myself as much as anything. In these cases I'm giving the compliment for my own ulterior reasons, not because I really admire my opponent's play.

Another time I'll use the chatbox is when an opponent lays a beat on me, bad or otherwise, and then actually apologizes. This happens a lot if I've had Aces or Kings cracked and I show. My opponent will say "sorry" or some other attempt at mollifying me. To this I invariably type "no problemo" and I always mean it, though not always in the same way. Sometimes aces get cracked, and that's that, no problemo. Other times my opponent is a lucky idiot who hit a 2-outer; that too is no problemo in the long run.

These are just examples of how people often don't mean quite what they say in the chatbox, just as they often don't mean quite what they say at a live poker table. The deception's part of the fun.

In the chatbox, though, the ambiguity is compounded by the medium, and confusion often enters the mix. I have never gotten a good handle on all the cute instant-messaging terminology the kids are using these days. Online poker is one of the only forums in which I'm confronted with non-words like "lol." Some parts of it are kinda fun -- for example, when everybody says "gg" when a player leaves a tournament, I always smile, since it reminds me of the end of a Little League game where both teams line up and say "good game" about 25 times while slapping hand after hand. But a lot of the time I'm just puzzled, as with "nc."

Okay, enough rambling. Friday evening is fast approaching. Mrs Cheap Thrills is headed to NYC for the weekend for a family visit. I'm gonna hang with some friends tonight -- chance of a poker game breaking out, 30 percent -- then tomorrow it's just me and my countless online opponents. Til next time, gl all :)

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Biggest Pot Ever (for cheap cheap me)
I continued to tread water at $2/$4 Hold'em last night: Won $15 at Absolute, took a break, came back and lost $16, went over to Paradise and lost $39 over a pretty long session--them's some tight tables at Paradise. Then came back to Absolute around midnight and this hand happened:

Absolute Poker 2/4 Hold'em (9 handed) converter

Preflop: LanceyH is BB with Qh, Js.

UTG calls, 1 fold, MP1 raises, 4 folds, SB calls, LanceyH calls, UTG 3-bets, MP1 caps, SB calls, LanceyH calls, UTG calls.

Flop: (17 SB) Th, Ks, 9s (4 players)

SB checks, LanceyH bets, UTG raises, MP1 3-bets, SB folds, LanceyH caps, UTG calls, MP1 calls.

Turn: (13.50 BB) 5d (3 players)

LanceyH bets
, UTG raises $5.75 (All-In), MP1 3-bets, LanceyH caps, MP1 raises, LanceyH calls.

River: (21.93 BB) 5h (3 players, 1 all-in)

LanceyH bets
, MP1 raises, LanceyH calls.

Final Pot: 25.93 BB


LanceyH shows Qh Js (straight, king high).

UTG shows Ah Ac (two pair, aces and fives).

MP1 shows Kd Qc (two pair, kings and fives).

Outcome: LanceyH wins 25.93 BB.

Nothing that skillful about flopping the nuts, and I feel like a wuss for not reraising on the river. (At that point I no longer had the nuts, and reraising on the river without the nuts is generally not smart. I feel like a wuss anyway.) My decision to call the extra 2 bets may have been too loose, but MP1 was a maniac and his preflop raises weren't getting respect from the table. He was a moron for 3-betting with King-high.

Still, it was the biggest pot I've ever won online and certainly helps the $2/$4 ledger. I won $114.75 on the session.

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

Something Clicked
There's been a major change to my online play over the past 2-3 weeks that I haven't yet blogged about: I have been successfully playing two tables at once.

I realize that this is the way a lot of online players play, and that some players even do 3, 4, or more tables at once. I've also had fellow bloggers tell me that it helps them play better, or at least tighter. But I prior to 3 weeks ago I was never able to get the hang of it.

The first couple times I tried two-tabling--way back in May 2003--I was a real moron about it. My monitor is 17" and I keep the resolution at 800x600 --so the poker window takes up the whole screen and makes 2-tabling really confusing, with one window constantly popping up over the other when it was my turn to act. Needless to say I lost. Like I said, i was a moron. Then I had I had the big revelation that I could reconfigure the monitor to 1024x768 and --ta da!! -- see both tables at once.

But I still lost whenever I tried it (which was not that often), and I honestly don't really know why. I would win pretty consistently, but never had an overall winning session where I 2-tabled.

Then about 3 weeks ago, something clicked. I made a renewed commitment to playing tight preflop, especially from early position. (To be honest, I make this commitment with some frequency -- it's like my game gradually tends toward loosening and I need to take a wrench to it every few weeks). When I then gave 2-tabling yet another shot, I had a double-winning session. Boy is that a nice feeling! It was a little hectic, as always, but it was also very engrossing. There was no time for boredom, no temptation to open up IE and surf around. Just twice the poker, twice the decisions, twice the fun.

My play on Paradise over the last 3 weeks has been almost all 2-tabling, and I'm very much up at the .50/$1 tables. After a while I started playing one Hold'Em table and one 7-Stud table. I would focus on the Stud table, and play on autopilot at Hold'Em, and win at both.

This made me realize that I really, really need to move up in limits.

Not like I didn't know that already. Not like I haven't been talking about moving up in limits since I started this blog. Not like I haven't played at $1/$2 and $2/$4 before (although very infrequently). Not like I haven't built up the bankoll (currently around $500 in 4 different sites).

To be painfully honest, my first few forays into higher limits have not gone well. No incredibly bad sessions, no truly major damage to the bankroll, just a general lack of winning. Specifically, I had -$9.50 and -$75 sessions at 1/2 Paradise on July 9 and July 11. Also a -$53 session at Absolute 2/4 on the 18th, and -$33 session at Absolute this past Sunday. In between I had a few (less than $10) winning sessions. Sunday the cards were hitting me incredibly badly--Aces cracked, Kings cracked, AK top 2 pair loses to 55 that makes a flush, you name it. Then last night I posted a +$40 session at Absolute 2/4, which pulled me out of my funk at least enough to blog about my efforts.

Some of my problem has been I am a cheap, cheap man, and am being too easily bullied preflop. It took me a couple sessions to get used to the idea that dropping $20 at $2/$4 is no big deal and is to be expected. I think it's a funny kind of mental association: At 50/$1, dollars and big bets are the same thing. $5 is 5 big bets, and I know being down 5 big bets is no big deal. But being down $20 at 2/4 was freaking me out. For a couple sessions I just had to chant "divide by 4, divide by 4" to myself :)

I think I've gotten over my initial anxiety about flinging the chips out there. Instead, I think my main problem is that more of the players at the higher limits are genuinely more aggressive. (Remember, I play the .50/$1 tables at Paradise, some of the most passive games around.)

Here's what I think has happened with my game recently. To quote Bob Ciaffone from Middle Limit Holdem: "The way you beat a low-limit game is to only play good hands and let nature takes its course." Honestly, I think the reason I learned how to successfully 2-table is that I learned how to play very well preflop and just OK post-flop. At .50/$1 I think the competition plays much worse than me preflop and slightly worse than me post-flop (some better, some much worse), and that has been enough to make me a consistent winner. At 1/2 and 2/4 players are both tighter and not as dumb post-flop. Most importantly, they are not all as passive as I'm used to. A significant proprtion are downright aggressive. In short, my disciplined preflop game isn't enough to carry me at 1/2 and 2/4.

What's Up with $1/$2?

So I'm working on my post-flop game, but that's a big subject I'll tackle in another post. For now let me address one more point. Astute readers may be asking, "JD, you were winning at .50/$1 and have decided to move up in limits. But why jump to $2/$4? Why not stick to $1/$2?"

Good question. In answer let me give you some stats:

Thursday night, 7pm.My point is not that $1/$2 is really tight and hard to beat. I really don't think it's either of those things. But for some reason it's not nearly as popular as either $2/$4 or .50/$1. So I asks myself, why?Regardless of my little theories about what types of players play 1/2, the fact is that few players play 1/2 than 2/4, and this struck me as a bad thing. Could it be that 2/4 is easier to beat (on some sites) than 1/2?

And regardless of whether 1/2 or 2/4 is easier to beat, I must still learn to handle aggressive players. I think I'm learning how to do that, but again, that's for another post. Gonna go play some poker now and see if I can gain some insight.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ciaffone Starting Hands
I''m about a third of the way through Bob Ciaffone's Middle Limit Holdem and am enjoying it quite a bit. I'll put my full thoughts in a future post, but for now I've uploaded an Excel file that summarizes Ciaffone's recommended starting hands. Yes yes, I know that an over-preoccupation with starting hands is the sign of a beginner, that you need to be flexible depending on table conditions, etc., etc. Bottom line is I'm interested in how Ciaffone's preflop recommendations differ from other authors, and I like having the info summarized on a single page. Plus it never hurts to review the basics. So if you're interested, here's the link.

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At least a couple poker bloggers have mentioned recently that they don't like the new Blogger.com editor, so I figured I'd recommend w.bloggar, a free program that provides a Word-like interface for writing, formatting, previewing, and saving your posts locally (no more "Blogger at my uber-post"). When you want to publish the post to Blogger.com you just hit a button. The upshot is that I hardly ever have to go to the Blogger.com site. I didn't like their interface for posting 4 months ago; awful to think that it's gotten worse.

While I'm at it I'll also plug (for the second time) Bloglines, which not only lets me know when my favorite blogs have new content and thus spares me a lot of fruitless browsing, but also has a nifty feature that lets me bookmark interesting posts so I can comment or blog about them later.

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Monday, July 19, 2004

The Biggest Game in Town (and a Couple Tangents)
I finished The Biggest Game in Town a couple weeks ago, and my thoughts on it have been percolating since then, so this post is gonna be kinda long. For my short-attention-span readers, here's the quick version: On the cover of the book, a reviewer is quoted saying "probably the best book on poker ever written." I agree.

As you may know, there's a quadrilogy of sorts about the World Series of Poker. First, there's The Hand I Played: A Poker Memoir by David Spanier, in which the author described his experience playing in the (1980?) WSOP. (I haven't read this one yet.) Then there's The Biggest Game in Town, by Al Alvarez, which covers the 1981 WSOP. Then there's Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player, by Anthony Holden, in which the author plays in the 1988 WSOP, plays poker for a year, then plays again in the 1989 WSOP. And finally there is Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, which is set during the simultaneously-occurring 2000 WSOP and Ted Binion murder trial.

Given the current poker craze, there will surely be more books about the Word Series of Poker out within the year. Part of my reason for reading The Biggest Game in Town (and soon, The Hand I Played), along with the most highly-recommended how-to poker books, is so that I have a good background to weigh the coming deluge of poker books against. Let us hope that future WSOP books are even half as good as The Biggest Game in Town.

Simply put, The Biggest Game in Town does a brilliant job of capturing why poker--and poker players--are so fascinating. What's more, this book that was first published in 1983 does a better job of describing the excitement and allure of the WSOP than any of the "America's poker craze" articles I've read in the past couple years.

Nuggets of Wisdom

First off, this book has more of the greatest poker quotes all packaged together than anything I've read. Seems like every few pages there was a bit of poker wisdom that really gave you insight into the game. Some of these quotes were no doubt were known in the poker world prior to this book, but I couldn't help but wonder how many first saw print in The Biggest Game in Town and have just been repeated ad infinitum ever since. Here's a couple I just now picked out flipping through the book:
Playing poker for a living gives you a backbone. You cannot survive without that intangible quality we call heart. I don't care how bad you are or how good, you have to stand solid. Poker is a character builder--especially the bad times. The mark of a top player is not how much he wins when he is winning but how he handles his losses. --Bobby Baldwin

If they had wanted you to hold on to money, they'd have made it with handles on. --Jack Straus

It's like any other field; you have to develop yourself and your game. Poker is a skill; it's an art; it's a science. You have to improve continually and know your own weakenesses. To be successful, you must be realistic. . . There can be no self-deception. --Mickey Appleman

I'm willing to play anyone in the world for any amount. It doesn't matter who they are. Once they have a hundred or two hundred throusand dollars' worth of chips in front of them, they all look the same. They all look like dragons to me, and I want to slay them. --Jack Straus
More Like a Documentary Than Other Books

In a previous post, I compared Big Deal to Positively Fifth Street, and explained why I liked Big Deal better. While reading The Biggest Game in Town, I couldn't help but compare it to the other two books. All three books describe the drama of no-limit Hold'Em, the history of the WSOP, and the intensity surrounding the event. Keep in mind the order in which the books were written. The Biggest Game in Town describes the WSOP and the major players in it, providing non-poker players with a wonderful window into the world of professional poker. When Anthony Holden wrote Big Deal, he essentially did the same thing but added a "twist": He played in two WSOPs, and several major major tournaments in between. In Positively Fifth Street, McManus added a different twist, simultaneously chronicling his WSOP experience and the Ted Binion murder trial that was going on just down the street.

So my point is that, reading these books in reverse chronological order as I did, I felt that with each I was reading a "purer" poker chronicle (fewer "twists"). My biggest problems with Positively Fifth Street were that the murder trial seemed like it belonged in a different book, and also McManus wrote a lot about his childhood and such. I was wishing he would just focus on the WSOP, but now I see that he add those other elements at least partly because the definitive WSOP chronicle had already been written by Al Alavarez.

I really, really liked Big Deal, but it was also written from the perspective of a WSOP participant. Holden describes his experiences at the table, and a couple chapters in Big Deal even deal with him visiting a psychiatrist to try and understand why he is so obsessed with poker.

The Biggest Game in Town, however, is written from the perspective of an outsider. Alavarez doesn't play any poker at all in his book, nor does he really discuss himself in any way. He's an observer rather than a particpant, and that gives the book a very distinct tone--it's a lot more like a documentary than a memoir. For example, McManus portrays T.J. Cloutier as a poker legend--but he also described rivering him at least twice in Positively Fifth Street, and that detracts from the dramatic image of poker that he's trying to paint. Similarly, Anthony Holden provides character sketches of several poker greats, but since Holden--whose experience at the time was limited largely to home games--is traveling the poker pro circuit with these greats, it kind of detracts from the view of them as larger-than-life.

Not so with The Biggest Game in Town. Alvarez does an incredible job of capturing the psychology that drives poker greats such as Brunson and Straus without delving into his own interest in the game. Because he doesn't try to live in their world, Alvarez is better able to capture the romance of it.

That's not to knock Holden and McManus. In several ways their books are more realistic. But the fact is that countless poker players view the WSOP as the arena where legends gather and heroes are made--and the The Biggest Game in Town captures that romantic image best.

Interestingly, in Big Deal Anthony Holden mentions Alvarez several times, describing him as a good friend and a regular in his home poker game. So from Big Deal I know that, despite the "outsider" perspective of his book, Alvarez loves poker about as much as Holden; and in writing Big Deal Holden was trying to provide a different perspective than Alvarez had.

Window to the Past

Written more than 20 years ago, The Biggest Game in Town provides a picture of an interesting time for the WSOP, when it was beginning to attract national attention and draw more amateurs. It's interesting to think about the differences between then and now, what's changed and what hasn't. A few things struck me.

First, Doyle Brunson is a bad-ass. This book made that clearer than any other book I've read. I particularly liked Alvarez's account of the difficulty that Brunson had in publishing Super/System. The publishing houses refused to give him more than 10 percent, so he published it on his own and didn't make a profit on it for years. Now it's the bestselling poker book of all time.

Second, all the debates about the WSOP--"Are there too many amateurs in the event?" "Does the luck outweigh the skill?" etc.--certainly did not originate with Moneymaker and instead go back to at least 1981. I really got the impression that the only big change to the WSOP over the years has been its scale.

Third, David Sklansky has always been cocky and loved math. I mention this because Iggy just posted (July 18, 2004, alas the Blogfather has no permalinks) about an argument on the 2+2 forums about Lee Jones's Winning Low-Limit Hold'Em versus a new book by Ed Miller and co-authored by Sklansky. Across several 2+2 posts, Sklansky goes on an on about how Ed Miller graduated from MIT and is therefore an authority on all things math and otherwise. What's perfectly clear in The Biggest Game in Town (if it wasn't already clear from Sklansky's books) is that to Sklansky, poker is math: "Almost anything can be put into a mathematical model, although most people don't know that." Alvarez also notes how proud the young author is of the fact that he went to (but did not graduate from) the University of Pennsylvania (just as he is so proud of Ed Miller being an MIT man). "'Not Penn State,' he insists, 'the University of Pennsylvania. There's a major difference: The University of Pennsylvania is part of the Ivy League."

A Couple Vegas Memories

Okay, have I made myself clear enough? Fantastic book, a real must-read for the poker enthusiast. On a personal note, I liked The Biggest Game in Town because, like the other poker chronicles, it brought back some fond memories.

As I said, it's quite evident that while McManus and Holden were writing their respective WSOP chronicles they were very much aware of their predecessors. One common thread is that both authors make a point of taking a dip in the Binion's rooftop pool, largely because Al Alvarez did so back in 1981. So in The Biggest Game in Town, I finally got to read that first account.

This is interesting to me primarily because Mrs. Cheap Thrills and I stayed at Binion's back in 1999 and did indeed take a couple dips in the rooftop pool. We hadn't read any of the WSOP chronicles at that point, and in fact didn't know much about big-time poker at all -- we just thought a dip in the pool would be nice. The rooftop was hot as hell and we literally ran from the elevator doors to the water. Five years later I've found it pretty cool to read all 3 WSOP chroniclers recount their experiences with the pool: their surprise at how small and spartan it is compared to the Strip; how few people seem to even know that Binion's has a pool; the beautiful view of the mountains; the weird feeling of being above the hubbub of Freemont Street; and the wonderful cold of the water compared to the scorching-hot rooftop. So that's a nifty little experience I share with 3 great poker writers.

That particular Vegas trip stands out in my mind because it was the only time we stayed downtown. (If you love Las Vegas and have never tried staying downtown, I recommend it for a change of pace.)

We were actually there during the WSOP, albeit not the final championship event. To my frustration, I couldn't find the damn event. While B played blackjack, I wondered around the casino and found some full poker tables with some spectators, but the whole affair seemed way too small to be the WSOP. Turns out those were the satellite games. The actual events were going on upstairs, and there weren't even any signs to that effect. Amazing how low-key it all was then. When I came back to check in with B, I told her sheepishly how I couldn't find the WSOP, and the blackjack dealer said he would be on break in a couple minutes and would be happy to take us up to it. Very, very nice guy, and I don't care if it was genuine or he was just looking for a tip, the whole encounter is a perfect example of why I love Las Vegas.

Upstairs turned out to be a large ballroom with hundreds of players seated at what seemed like at least a hundred tables, but was probably less. There were very few spectators. We stood there amazed for a bit, watching all the commotion going on behind maroon velvet ropes. The friendly blackjack dealer pointed out a couple of famous players. We recognized Johnny Chan from Rounders, but were mostly cluess about the rest and just nodded happily. Then the dealer said, "Would you like to take a walk around the floor?" And we said, "Are we allowed past the rope?" And the dealer, in true Vegas fashion, said "I don't see why not." And he unhooked the rope and we strolled righ past Johnny Chan's table, and hoo-boy did we think we were cool. Ahh, memories.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

New Poker Books
Woo-hoo! My order from Overstock.com just arrived today. It consists of the following:

(By the way, I like the reviews at winningonlinepoker.com--they seem to jive with my experience so far.)

The total for the order came in at $60. I paid for it with cash from my poker bankroll--don't want to dip into the poker bankroll on a regular basis, but I figure I'll allow it for infrequent poker-related purchases.

Okay, I guess I'll have a lot to blog about once I actually read these puppies. Weight- and thickness-wise they remind me of textbooks, and having them all arrive at once makes me feel like I'm back in college at the start of a new semester . . . Advanced 7-Card Stud Theory, Applied Hold'Em Methodology, Introduction to Pot Limit, and a seminar on loose games . . .

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Fox's Live Poker Broadcast
I really enjoyed the live broadcast of the Turning Stone "American Poker Chmapionship" on Fox Sports Network last night. As Maudie notes, it solved the two main problems with the WPT and WSOP: 1) Often you know who's going to win because you've read about the tourney results elsewhere, and 2) even if you don't know who'll win beforehand, you certaily know who's going to win before the final hands is played, because you can figure it out based on the chip stacks and how much time is left in the program.

I also thought that the live broadcast really gave the viewer a better feel for what the final table is like. One of the commentators said at the beginning of the broadcast that up til now televised poker has been like a highlight show, but in this live broadcast, instead of seeing just the fumbles and touchdown passes, we would see all the 3-yard runs and shorts outs in between. I thought that was a pretty apt comparison. (It was also helped by the unseasonably cool whether we're having in the Northeast--it feels like football weather!) Watching a final table live felt pretty much like watching a slow-paced slugfest of a football game. Just as you get a feel for the rhythm of the back-and-forth struggle that type of football game, last night it was fun to try to get a feel for which player had the momentum at any given point. And folding and blind-stealing are sort of the important-but-not-glamorous parts of poker, just as run-blocking and pass-protection are the important-but-not-glamourous parts of football.

Watching all the steals that John Juanda and Phil Ivey made with the worst hand was just great. I also really liked Howard Lederer as a commentator.

It was also cool that the commentators didn't try to overly dramatize every hand as Mike Sexton and VVP always do. Instead the drama came from the players themselves--Phil Ivey's 3-hour-continuous staredown of the other players added a certain intensity.

As with a football game, I started to get a little bored late in the 3rd quarter--in this case, in the early stages of heads-up play when it didn't seem that the blinds were big enough for the contest to end anytime soon. I fired up Absolute Poker (I've got a $100 bonus to clear) and unsuccessfully tried to beat the $1/$2 game while watching the FSN event. Lost about $35--doh! Some pretty bad beats there from loose-passive types. Then I lost another $10 at the Paradise .50/$1 7-Card Stud games (double doh, since I've been owning those games lately). Once poker on TV was over I then won a $5 sit-n-go on Absolute to finish out the evening down $20. There's a lesson I thought I had already learned: playing online poker + watching TV poker = losing at online poker.

Anyway, I really enjoyed watching this first-ever live final table and I hope we will see more live poker coverage in the future.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Better Off Bald
Just sat down to watch the live poker event airing on Fox Sports Network.

Paul Phillips's hair: Oh the humanity!

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Monday, July 12, 2004

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Tilt
Normal JD: I respect an opponent's raise until he gives me reason to do otherwise.

Tilted JD: You're raising me? Well that don't scare me none, I got a pretty good hand. Just to show you I mean business I'll reraise. Oh, you want to cap it. Fine by me!

I am up $131 at the .50/$1 7-Card Stud games at Paradise since I started playing them three weeks ago; B is up $57 in just a week and a half. The term "ATM game" applies. Then last night I gave the $1/$2 game a try. It went pretty well except for a couple hands where Mr. Tilt emerged to scoff at opponents' raises while holding 2 pair, for a final loss of $30. Mr. Tilt was then beaten and thrown back in the basement.

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Sunday, July 11, 2004

601 BB/100 Hands
I sat down at the $2 max buy-in No Limit game at Paradise Poker this afternoon. I've only ever sat down at NL ring games 3 or 4 times before, and always for penny blinds. I decided to try low-limit NL this afternoon for something different, but also because I'm tired from staying up too late last night and I didn't feel I was up to "serious" play.

It was some of the worst poker I have ever seen. I've read plenty of blog posts about people playing NL really badly, but usually it involves loose maniacs going all-in with lousy hands. At least those types of gambloors are getting their thrills. Not so at the table I was at today. They were loose, but incredibly weak. The average hand saw almost everyone calling the 2-cent big blind. Seriously, I saw maybe 6 or 7 preflop raises (besides my own) in an hour. If I made a hand, I would bet the pot, and generally I'd get 2 or 3 callers, at least 2 of whom would fold when I again bet the pot on the turn. Then if the river wasn't scary I'd again bet the pot, and about half the time my opponent would call to keep me honest.

Have I mentioned before that the low-limit players are really, really passive at Paradise?

I ran my $2 up to $12.11 in under an hour (42 hands). I didn't lose a single showdown, and I was pretty amazed that I didn't get at least one suckout.

By the way, the poker world really needs a better phrase than "suckout." It's some ugly imagery when players talk about how "this guy sucked out on me," "he's a real suckout artist," etc. I guess it's no worse than "the nuts," but I'm gonna start using "rivered" instead (and when the curse-card comes on the turn, well, I'll have to think on it).

I rivered an opponent only once, when my pocket 10s caught a 10 on the river to an opponent's pocket Queens. Had that opponent actually raised preflop, I would've folded to his $1 all-in on the flop. Instead he called the BB from early position. So I called his all-in on the rag-flop and hence the rivering. A third player was also all-in on that hand with J8o and a paired 8.

I think I was raised maybe two other times, and both times I folded. It was really not that hard to catch on to what I was doing: Semi-bluff a lot and back off at the first sign of aggression. The friends I play with in home games caught on long ago, to my dismay.

Anyway, I couldn't wait to import the hands into PokerTracker to look at my win rate: 601.79 big bets per 100 hands. I have no illusions that I could do 1/100th as well in a "real" NL game, nor am I going to try anytime soon. I doubt I'll be back to the micro-NL game either, because when the game is that easy it makes me start to play worse just out of boredom. But I found the 601 figure pretty amusing. As they say in chatbox-speak, lol.

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Saturday, July 10, 2004

Fun with PokerTracker
Okay, stat time. I'll run some Paradise stats today, then do Absolute in the next week or two once I get a few hundred more hands in.

Since I started PokerTracking on May 19, I've made $194.75 at the Paradise .50/$1 tables over 1,642 hands for an average of 11.86 BB/100 hands. I play only during the evenings, at tables with players-seeing-the-flop percentages in the high 30s to low 50s. I am fairly tight, with a "voluntarily put money into the pot" percentage (VP$P) of 23.93.

Suited Connectors, Pairs, and Big Cards

Interestingly, using the PokerTracker filter to show only hands where I had suited connectors, I have lost $6.50, or an average of 10 cents each time I'm dealt them (this includes the hands where I fold them). The most profitable suited connector by far is AKs, for $17 ($4.25/hand). So far KQs (-2.71/hand) and QJs (-.19/hand) are both costing me money. The specifics are probably an artifact of sample size, but the low overall profit from suited connectors is something to think about. I'm inclined to think that non-paint suited connectors just aren't very profitable at the Paradise .50/$1 tables, but I also have to consider the possibility that I'm just not playing them well.

The filter on pairs shows mostly good news: I've won $75 with them, for an average of 74 cents a pair. Aces ($4.90/hand) and Queens ($1.94/hand) are my most profitable pairs, while Kings are slightly negative right now (-.55/hand), which again is surely due to sample size.

Here are the numbers for some other often-played hands:

AKo: .35/hand
AQs: 2.63/hand
AQo: 1.96/hand
AJs: -.44/hand
AJo: .13/hand
ATs: 3.13/hand
ATo: -.66/hand
A9s: -.25/hand
A9o: 1.50/hand
KQo: .04/hand - wow
KJo: 3.78/hand - weird
KTs: 3.79/hand - also weird
KTo: .57/hand
QJo: 2.61/hand
QTs: $2/hand
QTo: -.30/hand
JTo: 1.24/hand


Not surprisingly, 1off the button is my most profitable position, with $60.25. My next most profitable position is 4th off the button, with 49.25. I've only made $19.50 on the button, and $6.25 UTG. Showing an $18 profit from the small blind and $41 loss from the big blind (which is less than the approximately $80 I would lose if I just folded every big blind).

I've played 320 hands in in UTG and the 2 positions after it, and 534 on the button and in the 2 positions before it. I think that if anything this difference should be greater, and I should be playing even fewer hands in EP.

Number of Players in the Pot

It makes sense that the more players in the pot, the more you win, right? My numbers confirm that to a point, although there is a dip when 4 people (including me) see the pot:

2 on flop - $25.25 profit - .11/hand
3 on flop - $35.00 profit - .09/hand
4 on flop - $30.75 profit - .07/hand
5 on flop - $56.50 profit - .17/hand
6 on flop - $57.50 profit - .38/hand
7 on flop - $8.50 loss - .19/hand
8 on flop - .50 loss - .06/hand

These numbers all go up if you limit the filter to hands where I voluntarily put money into the pot. I ran those numbers, but it starts to get complicated and I didn't I glean much beyond what these numbers show. (And the 4-on-the-flop dip is still there when you limit it to hands I voluntarily put money in the pot with.)

The Profitability of Paradise

Obviously I'm pretty happy with thse numbers (I say "obviously" because I would be happy with any non-negative numbers :) I'd just like to add one thought, which i didn't want to give its own post because i don't want to sound too argumentative:

Not a week goes by that I don't see at least a couple poker bloggers proclaim "you'd have to be crazy to play anywhere else but Party/Empire." I can't argue that Party has the most players and the most fish. However, I don't particularly care for their software, frequent network problems, customer support, or sit-n-go structures. It has always struck me as unfortunate that a site with better management didn't have the foresight to advertise during the WPT; if Stars, Paradise, or UB had put out some good commercials, then they'd be the biggest site out there but they'd have good software and management, too.

My point is not to knock P/E. It's a damn fishy site, and if you enjoy playing there, more power to you. My point is that clearly many other sites have plenty of fishy players and are plenty profitable. So this post is not directed at P/E devotees, but at any players out there who are frustrated as hell with P/E. To those players: Try somewhere else! There are plenty of soft games to be found at other sites.

The Variance of Party

Specifically, I believe that the .50/$1 games ar particulary bad at Party/Empire, because of the maniacs. I plan to never play .50/$1 there again. There's just too much damn variance. Another blogger, I forget who, once called it "poker slots" and that's what it feels like to me. I was winning there for a while last summer, but I had to adapt my play to a style (only suited cards, don't push top pair very hard) that works nowehere but at P/E--and just wasn't fun.

One point in Party/Empire's favor: I think they much better game selection at unusual hours than other sites. During the day or past 1am, the games at Paradise get too tight for my tastes. As I said, I like a table with players-seeing-the-flop between about 38 and 55 percent, and a lot of games at Paradise are at 30 or below. I do love the player-per-flop stat, and its absence on Party is one more thing I don't like about the site. I admit, however, that I may be becoming overly dependent on that stat -- see Sloejack's thoughts on game selection at P/E.

I may give $1/$2 or $2/$4 at P/E a try sometime in the future. But I honestly believe that for the new player, or players like me with a smaller bankroll, the .50/$1 tables at Party are definitely not the best way to build that bankroll.

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Friday, July 09, 2004

DD Tournament Poker: No-Limit Texas Hold'Em
I was browsing Amazon the other day and the Amazon main page recommended an interesting product to me -- software called "DD Tournament Poker: No Limit Texas Hold'Em." I doubt I will be purchasing it, both because I'm not that interested in tournaments and I assume that the Wilson software is better (though 3 times the price). Still, I found the product featured on Amazon interesting for two reasons.

The first is the product description on Amazon. Specifically, the description (presumably from the back of the box) compares their software directly to free online play:
Tired of playing with cheesy players who talk to you and having to order ""virtual drinks?"" Want a modern interface that lets you decide the size of the window? DD Tournament Poker is the best choice of software that let's you have the most fun playing no limit Texas hold'em. . . . Unlike online casinos where you have to risk real money or use ""play money"" tables where the opponents don't necessarily act rationally, DD Tournament Poker lets you hone your skills against computer opponents who behave as if there is something at stake.
Their basic product pitch is geared at players who have tried online poker; I take this as just another sign of how mainstream online poker is becoming. On a more amusing level: The bit about about "players who talk to you"--oh, the horror! And I like the order-a-virtual-drink thing! Why would someone be "tired" of that particular aspect of online play?

Second, this software is a neat little link between poker and my other hobby, strategy board games. Eagle Games publishes the DD software. They made a name for themselves in the board game community a couple years ago with the publication of a board game version of Sid Meier's computer game, Civilization. Unfortunately that game takes way too long to play, but their subsquent games have improved somewhat, with their board game version of Age of Mythology being pretty good. (I'm also looking forward to their board game version of Sid Meier's Pirates!, which was my absolute favorite when I was about 11 years old.) DD Tournament Poker marks their second computer game effort.

Interestingly, in the product description on the Eagle Games website, they take a shot at the Wilson software:
If you want to practice no limit hold'em tournaments, your pickings are slim. The one relatively well known offering is expensive (over $60) and out-dated (designed originally in the mid-90s, it has very frustrating and counter-intuitive controls). The other relatively unknown offering has a DOS like interface and is also quite expensive.
I would give the benefit of the doubt to the Wilson software, but I could see how the Eagle/DD software might be better for the casual player, if only because because it's probably less intimidating, and certainly cheaper. The description of the DD features sounds pretty decent, particularly this bit:
Get advice on poker etiquette and tips for hosting your own poker tournament. Run a mini-tournament during your weekly poker night! DD Tournament poker is a full featured home version of the software used to run major tournaments like you have seen on TV. To get started, you define the tournament by specifying the buy-in amount, rebuys, add-ons, blind structure, level time limit and payout amounts. You can save tournament formats and re-use them from week to week (no need to re-enter data!) DD Tournament Poker makes running a home game mini-tournament easy and fun. In addition, the extensive documentation and FAQ are good tools to resolve rules disputes during the game and keep everyone happy. You can change the tournament settings while it is in progress--in case you need to speed things up. Enter the amount collected during the game and automatically calculate prize payouts.
Having hosted several home tourneys with newbie players, I know that they think I'm speaking Greek when I talk about stuff like blind structures, rebuys, the dead button rule, etc. I'm sure players who haven't done the basic research on how to host a tourney (try homepokertourney.com) would greatly benefit from having a computer program do some of the work for them.

In the end I guess I offer neither a recommendation to buy nor a true review; just blogging about one more by-product of the continuing poker craze, like Poker Beer and dealer buttons at Walgreens. The 50-cent word that might apply to some of these bits of pop culture is "ephemera," as in things of an ephemeral or transitory nature, not meant to last.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Absolute O
A goal I've been pursuing for a few months has been to accumulate 10,000 Absolute Rewards Points at Absolute Poker so that I can attain "VIP" status and host private single-table tournaments there.

This is hard to do when you're as a cheap as I am. I was playing cheap sit-n-gos for a while, earning no points at all, then I played a few thousands hands of .25/.50 -- where I racked up an 11.5 BB/100 hands win rate but only cleared a few hundred ARPs. AP rarely has .50/$1games that aren't 6-max, so I am currently playing $1/$2 (866 hands so far) and am at about 3,000 points.

I had discussed the private tourney thing with my good buddy Odog, and we agreed it would be a cool way to keep our regular poker game going in the online world (Odog recently moved from Boston to DC). I warned him, however, that it might take me the whole summer to get to 10,000-point VIP status.

Silly me--last week Odog became a VIP. He's been playing $2/$4 and $3/$6, and lots of it, earning points at at least 4 times my rate. Right now we're recruiting all our home-game buddies, trying to convince them to buy-in at AP for real money just so we can do a weekly, cheap-buy-in, single-table tourney and talk trash with one another. (As long as you have one person who's a VIP, they can set up the tourney and invite non-VIPs.)

Anyway, here is the official Cheap Thrills JD Congratulations and Thank You to Odog :) I am over my initial jealousy and am now looking forward to taking your $2 on a weekly basis!!

In other cool Odog news, the man is getting married and it looks like his bachelor party is going to be in Las Vegas this September! B and I already have our late-August Las vegas trip scheduled, so this means two trips to Vegas in two months for yours truly. Cheap Thrills will be entering serious trip report territory. Woo-hoo!

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Poker Motivations in Rounders
I posted recently about how I prefer ring games to tourneys. This post is partly a follow-up to those thoughts (hopefully a final one, since I feel I am beginning to beat the dead horse on this issue). However, my recent readings and thoughts on tourney frustration led to some other thoughts, and hey, that's the point of the whole blog thing. So here we go.

Several poker bloggers, myself included, have tackled the fundamental question of "why do I play poker?"

The three main answers seem to be:
  1. Profit
  2. Fun, Excitement, and the Thrill of the Gamble
  3. Competition; the Idea of Poker as Sport (the hardest part to describe, it encompasses the appeal of challenging oneself; improving one's game through competition; and striving against others to determine which player is best)
These three ideas are in very interrelated. For example, winning is both fun and profitable, and winning requires being willing to gamble, but only true competitors, serious about improving their game, win consistently.

These three themes are represented in the movie Rounders in the characters of Knish, Worm, and Mike McDermott.

Knish is the Grinder. The script basically beats you over the head with this one: "I'm not playing for the thrill of fucking victory here. I owe rent, alimony, child support. I play for money. My kids eat. I got stones enough not to chase cards, actions, or fucking pipe dreams of winning the World Series on ESPN."

Knish plays poker because for him it is a source of steady income. And Knish provides both stability and income (albeit a small one) to Mike: In the initial scene of the movie, after Mike loses $30,000 to Teddy KGB, Knish is there for support, and he helps Mike pay the bills by allowing him to drive his truck for a living. Later he boasts "I was giving you a living, Mike. Showing you the playbook I put together off my own beats."

While Mike thinks of driving Knish's truck as "humping a crappy job," it's clear that Knish did not force it on Mike. After Mike loses to KGB, Knish offers to stake him, but Mike says "I'd just throw it away." Unlike Mike's girlfriend, Knish accepts Mike as a poker player--he just believes that poker should be played a certain way: sensibly, conservatively, and for profit above all else. When it's clear to Knish that that is not why Mike is playing, he refuses to give Mike any money--"Nah, I give to ya I'm wasting it."

Worm is the Gambler. He represents the "fun and exciting" aspect of poker, although his role is not so obvious as Knish's.

This aspect of Worm's role in the movie is obscured by his cheating, which is emphasized throughout the film. Worm also talks a lot about how he'll do whatever it takes to win--"I see a mark, I take him down. . . That's the way I live." So on first viewing it seems that Worm is even more obsessed with winning than Mike is (since Mike won't cheat to win).

However, if you think about the plot of the film, Worm's cheating plays a very minor role. Sure, there's the great scene, one of my favorites in the film, where Worm gets caught bottom dealing in a room full of cops. They get beat up, and lose all the money they were trying to make to pay back Grandma and Teddy KGB.

But if Worm's such a winning (sometimes through cheating) poker player, why was he in debt to a gangster in the first place? Sure, there could be explanations outside of poker--maybe involving his briefly mentioend credit-card scam. But in a movie that's all about poker, let's assume that the explanation for Worm's debt is poker-related--that is, he was losing.

Worm as a losing player? Hmm . . . we do see Worm winning in prison, and against the frat boys in the mansion scene, and at the Chesterfield. But it's not hard to imagine Worm losing against better opponents. It would fit perfectly with Worm's character to assume that he's in debt because he was playing too much poker, for limits that were too high ("we gotta get in the bigger game"), and in too risky a manner.

Worm wins a lot, but not enough to have gotten out of debt before heading to prison. And Worm doesn't really care. He craves the action that poker provides--so much so that it becomes a destructive force in both his and Mike's lives.

If it seems like I'm painting Worm as more of a degenerate than "fun," I guess I am. Worm represents the "fun" element carried too far--but he still represents the "fun" element. How so? Because it is Worm who rekindles Mike's love of the game: "At least you're rounding again, right? You're gonna thank me for that someday."

Finally, Mike is the Competitor. Mike's realization of this is basically the point of the movie. Mike doesn't seem to care so much about the money he wins, nor does he seem to live for the "action" of it quite so much as Worm does. Mike's primary goal as a poker player is not to make money or enjoy himself--it is to be the best, period, even if that means taking big risks. In pursuit of his goal, Mike sits down with known sharks--namely, Teddy KGB and Johnny Chan (for one hand)--risks that disappoint Knish and impress Worm.

Interestingly, going back to Worm's cheating, it's pretty clear in the movie that Mike won't cheat, not because he feels cheating is wrong ("You know I have no problem with the way you help yourself"), but because he wants to prove he doesn't need to cheat to win.

Mike's desire to be the best is of course demonstarted at the end of the film with his decision to move to Las Vegas and play in the World Series of Poker. It's the World Series part that's most important. It would be one thing (and probably more realistic) if Mike just had the realization that "hey, I'm a really good poker player, and I want o move to Vegas and make aliving at it, law school be damned." But that's not what he does. He wants to play with the very best.

Mike as a Tourney Player

In ring games, you generally make money if there are players at the table who are worse than you; in tourneys, you generally don't make money unless you are among the best players in the tournament. I think of myself as a ring game player because I'd rather walk away a winner from a single table than try to beat out a out a field of hundreds for a larger prize. (Nor am I generally capable of the latter.) Of course I want to improve as a player, but I doubt I'll ever really be world-class, and I love poker anyway.

In realizing that I don't wholeheartedly share Mike's drive to take big risks and be the best, I also realized that Mike is, at heart, a tournament player. This is not say that all poker Competitors are tourney players, not hardly. I'm sure many ring game players play for the love of competition as much as for profit, just as many tourney players play largely for the profit motive. And tons of fun and "action" is to be found in both formats. However, the drive to not just be great, but to be the best and prove it, is a distinguishing characteristic of the tourney player.

So then I thought, well, if I'm not a tournament player like Mike, am I a grinder like Knish? I do try to follow Knish's advice to play smart and stick to beatable games--but in the movie, Knish represents the unexciting, un-fun side of poker. Then I got to thinking about whether I was at all like Worm, and I realized that the part of his character that I identify with most is his energetic, infectious enjoyment of the game. I identify with all 3 characters to different degrees, because all 3 represent a part of poker.

All of this still doesn't explain how Mike can spurn Petra's advances, though.

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The Crossover Appeal of Poker and Horseracing
I stumbled upon this Daily Racing Form article mostly by accident. It talks about the crossover appeal of poker and horseracing (both are games that can be beat with study and smart decision-making) and asks, "With the aforementioned crossover appeal of poker and horseracing, could handicapping tournaments also make for good TV?" My first thought: No direct confrontations between handicappers = no drama. I'm sure some smart TV exec could surprise me, though, and make handicapping somehow more "extreme."

After finishing Ainslie's Complete Guide to Throughbred Racing, I've been practicing handicapping with the June 19 Daily Racing Form I picked up last time I was at Foxwoods. Examine past performance records, pick your bet, then go to the DRF website and look up who actually won. So far it's providing concrete evidence that horses are not something I should be large sums on. I did really enjoy Ainslie's book, though, and am looking forward to wagering small sums next month in Saratoga.

And because I simply could not put up a post on horses and poker without a link to Boy Genius, here you go!

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Monday, July 05, 2004

Rounders Collector's Edition September 7
I posted about this a while back. Now DVD Answers reports that a new DVD edition of Rounders will be released September 7. Cool.

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Sunday, July 04, 2004

My posts have been a little on the serious side lately, so here's some lighter content to balance things out. As I've mentioned before, B and I got married in Las Vegas this past October. We had 50 guests, and I set up a wedding website with traditional stuff like pictures of the wedding party, links to our registry, etc., and also a mini-Vegas guide with info on all the things to see and do in that great city.

For the casino-clueless, I included a gambling primer with info on basic blackjack and video poker strategy, as well as a few very basic gambling tips such as "set a limit on how much you are willing to lose," "don't gamble it all in one session," etc. I ended with a recommendation to quit while you're ahead. This was pretty dry stuff so I tried to throw in some funny. Here's an excerpt:
Walk away a winner. . . . The casinos don't mind when people win big, because they know that most people will lose that money back to the house, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Yet few gamblers want to stop when they're on a winning streak. As Martinez writes in 24/7: "That's the thing with gambling: You're never fully satisfied. Unless you're painfully aware that you walked away from the table too late, you're bound to wonder whether you walked away too soon."

The JBISSM System

To get around this conundrum we recommend JD and B's Incredibly Sophisticated Money Management system, or JBISMM. The JBISMM system is virtually guaranteed* to help you win millions!!

*Guarantee is an attempt at humor and is not valid anywhere.

The key to JBISMM is pockets. The well-prepared gambler will have at least 5 pockets (4 from shorts/slacks, one from your Hawaiian shirt, and then there's always your socks). For the ladies, a purse is also acceptable, if it has multiple compartments for storing quarters (for machine games) and casino chips (for table games).

When the JBISMM player wins money, he will take some of that money and put in one of his pockets. The chosen pocket will thereafter be designated as "deposit only." Chips are rather cumbersome, so multiple deposit-only pockets (DOPs) may be needed. Chips are never removed from DOPs at the table, but instead only extracted at the cashier window, where said chips are exchanged for cold hard cash. For slots and video poker players, money should only be removed from DOPs in one's hotel room or at the cashier if you have won enough that it's too heavy to walk with.

Some JBISMM players follow the rule of "Up 12, Pocket 4." If, for example, such a player has won $24 at a $2 blackjack table, he will put $8 into a DOP. Any similar chant (e.g., "Up 15, pocket 5," "Up 5, pocket 1," will also work, just pick one that you like and can remember.)

The dream of every JBISMM player is to stuff all available DOPs with money and/or chips. At the end of the evening, successful JBISMM players get to experience the joy of counting up what has accumulated in DOPs. The results are often surprising, particularly for those players who tend to take the cocktail waitress up on her constant offers of free drinks, and therefore may lose track of all the various pocket deposits made in the course of an evening.
I really do like to do the pocket thing when I'm drinking and gambling in Las Vegas. Of course, it's illegal at the poker table. I had actually forgotten about the JBISMM silliness until a friend mentioned it the other day.

Also Las Vegas is has been very much on my mind lately. B just finished buying the tickets for our trip to San Francisco in late August. We're heading out on a Thursday, staying in San Fran til Monday night, then on the way back to Providence we're stopping in Las Vegas for an almost-3-day stay, leaving Thursday afternoon!! Rather than non-stop drinking and blackjack as we've done on many a Vegas trip in the past, this time we plan to do several of things we didn't manage to squeeze in during our wedding trip, and on the top of that list is PLAY MORE POKER! Ital and all caps--that's how excited I am.

We're also going to eat at Nobu (our stomachs were not up to novu sushi after all the wedding craziness) and as parrotheads we must also spend some time at the new Margaritaville Cafe in the Flamingo (it was not open yet when we were there in October). Hmmm, gonna have to get some margaritas and rum drinks there . . . I guess there'll be some drinking :)

Okay, gonna go play some poker now. My hope is that online players around the country spent the 4th of July drinking beer and eating hot dogs, and with tomorrow off are now logging on, ready to gambool it up.

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Saturday, July 03, 2004

Quick Saturday Morning Thoughts
So in my last post I went on about how I find large tourneys to be very frustrating. Upon reading blogs yesterday, I discover that Glenn (of married-to-Fleicia-Lee fame) has a post in a similar vein, and in quoting Tommy Angelo, he points out a fundamental truth about tourneys: By design, they force you to go up against the best players to get the money. Whereas in ring games, you make most of your money off the worst players at the table. This is a very interesting point that I plan to explore in a future post.

For now I'll just add that that Tommy Angelo site is great. I'd never heard of the guy before (I'm sure there are many writers and other big names in poker that I haven't heard of, post-Rounders/WPT enthusiast that I am), so thanks to Glenn for pointing him out. In the same article that Glenn quoted, in which T.A. explains his dislike of tourneys, he also has this bit of wry wisdom on keeping records:
I'm not much into keeping score at poker because I never know if the numbers should make me happy or terrified, so I try my best to ignore them altogether. . . . And what's it matter anyway? I'm either broke or I'm not. That's the only score I need to know, and I always know it. Meanwhile, why put any special emphasis on any particular results during any particular length of time? Will it guide me to good choices when it's my turn to bet? Will it help me quit when I'm playing bad?
Angelo's full thoughts on the issue are actually pretty funny, but I don't want to post the guy's entire article on my blog; follow Glenn's advice and head over to www.tommyangelo.com.

Anyway, Angelo's article got me thinking about my own ambivalence about keeping records. Despite Angelo's comments, I feel there is a point to keeping records: It's not to make sure you're winning (cause as Aneglo points oput, I probably wouldn't stop playing if I was losing), but rather too see when, where, and at what limits you win or lose. And with really detailed records, like those in PokerTracker, you can identify all kinds of leaks.

The point I take away from Angelo's comments is one that we're all familiar with: There is little to be learned from short-term results. And the danger of record-keeping is that it can get you focusing on short terms results. Double Through had a good post on this a couple weeks back:
When I was keeping proper, detailed records I would get far too hung up on my hourly rate, in a way that adversely affected my game. If it were dipping then I would get into a defensive-poker funk. If it was soaring then I would often get into the over-confident, loose frame of mind that I have mentioned before and which would cost me a ton of chips.
The same thing happened to me, and I confess, still happens to me. It's hard to log a losing session and not have it affect your confidence and thus your game. Not being so results-oriented is one of the many things I'm still working on, and I imagine I will be "working on it" for as long as I play poker.

Okay, gotta go prepare to barbeque now . . .

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Friday, July 02, 2004

The Thing about Tourneys
So last Thursday I played my first tournament in over a month and finished in the money, happily turning my $10+1 into $83. Last night I played in the same tourney, but this time I was reminded of why I had taken a month-long break from tourneys in the first place.

I finished 97th out of 539; top 45 paid. I lost when my AKo paired on the flop; my very big-stacked opponent had pocket 2s and made a full house.

For some reason that beat really, really pissed me off. I paced the house for a good ten minutes, just calming myself down. But what was I so angry at? Not my opponent: He had a huge stack and was muscling well. And in the annals of poker history--even in just my own experience--it was hardly a very bad beat. Was I angry at myself? Maybe--it's possible that I could have played the hand better, raising more preflop.

But pretty much my anger had no real direction. That's called frustration.

And that's the thing about tournaments: More often than not, tournament poker a very frustrating experience. Cause the hard cold truth about a tourney is that unless you win it, you lose it. There's different kinds of losing: Getting blinded down, getting outplayed, suffering a bad beat, making the right play at the wrong time, etc. And there's a happy kind of losing called "finishing in the money." But none of those things come close to truly winning. And since no one can win anywhere close to half of the tourneys they play in, most of the time they end in frustration.

My point is not to knock tournament poker. My point is that I think tournament poker may not really be my thing, simply because I don't like losing that often, even if the occasional money-finish makes up for the repeated strings of losses. (My tournament record so far, including sit-n-gos, is +$80 over a pretty small sample size of only 40 events. Obviously I was only break-even before that $83 win last week.)

Now, I read a lot of poker blogs, and I would approximate that fully two-thirds of the bloggers I read play tourney poker as much as -- and in many cases more than -- they play ring games. However, these poker bloggers seem to be playing mostly sit-n-gos and not multi-table events. I read these bloggers partly because I want to learn from them; if they say sit-n-gos are where the money is at, I can't doubt them.

Rather than give up on tourney poker, I think I will make a renewed effort at sit-n-gos. Part of my frustration in the mult-table event last night was the feeling that I had come so far and outlasted so many players, only to come away with nothing. When I come in 4th in a sit-n-go, I don't feel nearly as frustrated.*

Still, I've read that you're doing well if you win a sit-n-gos a fifth of the time. So losing is still very much a part of single-table tourney poker. I think that, long term, tourney poker may remain something I only dabble in.

*Why Sit-n-Gos Feel Less Frustrating

The feeling that sit-n-goes are less frustrating than multi-table tourneys is an interesting thing (and really I could broaden it to say that tourneys with smaller fields are less frustrating than tourneys with larger fields). Mrs. Cheap Thrills pointed out that I busted out about 1:40 into last night's event -- which is not a whole lot longer than the average sit-n-go on Absolute. So it's not that fewer players make an event go that much quicker.

Rather than the time commitment, I think it has more to do with how your chances of winning often start small and stay small for much longer in larger events. For example, a big thing I don't like about large tourneys is that often you play well, stay ahead of the blinds, and don't get too-short-stacked -- only to find yourself at a table with a couple guys who have enormous stacks and are not going to give much respect to any raise you make (yup, I'm still reliving last night :). This doesn't happen as much at sit-n-gos, and when it does, you have the ability to watch that big-stacked guy for the entire length of the event and figure out ways to outplay him. In a large event the players often come and go so quickly that they are more anonymous.

I took my month-long break from tourneys in part because I had decided I had gone on "tourney tilt." I was playing in Paradise's Big Buck event a lot, and getting sick of spending 2 hours playing only to run into huge stacks late in the event and finish barely in the money (for a win of only a few dollars) or on the bubble. I decided that I needed to be one of those bigger stacks. I tried to play more loosely and aggressively early on, aware that that would mean more early bust-outs but hopefully more big stacks for me. The problem was that I found the early finishes too frustrating, and couldn't really accept the idea that going all-in more often -- risking my tourney survival when I didn't have to -- was OK. Again, I'm having trouble embracing the basic idea that losing a lot is OK as long as you win big now and then.

OK, this is starting to get a little rambly. In summation: tourneys frustrating, me no likey losing, me more good at ring games, but I not totally give up on tourneys yet.

Follow-Up Post: Poker Motivations in Rounders (how I respect Mike McD but am more like Knish)

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

VVP Quote of the Week: Season 2 WPT Championship
Regarding last night's WPT championship event, it was very disappointing that none of the previous "champions" were at the championship final table. Sure this had a huge prize pool, but doesn't the WPT realize that America wants to see the players they've seen win before compete against one another? I certainly hope that they'll have another "tournament of champions" as they did for last year's Super Bowl, but just from a ratings standpoint, I think the "tournament of champions" ought to be the WPT championship event. Even Mike Sexton, when presenting the "WPT Player of the Year" award to Erick Lindgren, said something like "In my opinion this is the most prestigious award in poker," thus inadvertently slighting the championship event.

I figured I'd revive the Vince Van Patten Quote of the Week for the WPT championship. Vince's quote of the week was a line he's used before. When Richard Grijalva had K-10 and Hasan Habib had KK, the board came 9-high. Hassan bet, and Richard went all-in and lost. Mike Sexton commented that Grijalva's bluff wasn't that bad a play, and Vince quipped that
He made the right move at the wrong time.
This is basically what Lancey Howard says to The Cincinnnati Kid in the final scene of that classic film, and that's why it received "quote of the week" status.

Click here for the last VVPQotW.

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