Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stake Segregation

The other night I had a poker-related realization that came to me in the same way that most such insights have come to me lately: while lying in bed at 2am. Fortunately, this timing essentially forced me to write down my thoughts in the form of a message to Lorin, lest I forget by morning. The gist of my message was that I've been treating the $25 games that I've been playing too much like the $5 and $10 games, which has created two problems. First, because I've been integrating the bigger games into my lower-stakes grind sessions, I've brought the lower-stakes mindset, which is more or less ABC poker, to the bigger table where it isn't always enough to win. Second, the disparity between the $25 games and, say, the $5 games has a negative effect on my ability to focus on the latter; if I've lost a bigger game, knowing that it will take 5 wins at the $5 level to recoup that single $25 loss makes for impatient and distracted play, and completely disrupts the rhythm of a good session.
The solution that I put forward for myself was to segregate the $25 games into an entirely different session, separate from the lower stakes grinding that I do on my own time and my own dime. The text of my message to Lorin, as well as his reply, can be read here at his blog, The Short Stack Hero.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not Sure If I Can Do This Anymore [LC]

The time-wasting streak continues, as I book my 4th losing-or-breaking-even session. At this point I think I'm losing the confidence that is necessary to playing a good HU game. I've noticed a pattern forming; I start a session, and win or lose a little, and the little suck-outs that occur hand-to-hand in poker start to irritate me perhaps a little more quickly than usual. Maybe I lose more than a couple flips in a row, and it costs me a match that I was leading initially. Then it happens; something not only unlikely but absolutely incomprehensible occurs, and it costs me yet another match. Now I'm right back where I was, dead even after 2 or 3 hours of play. My confidence is even more bruised, because now I expect to lose flips and I don't even really expect to win when I know I'm getting my money in good. Just the last couple hours have included my AK losing to A9, A9 losing to 98, KQ losing to K9, each of them pre-flop all-ins, and each of them costing me the chip lead or the match itself.
And then there are hands like this one...
...which just don't make any sense. And I think those get me the most; when I lose as an overwhelming favorite it sucks. But when I lose as an overwhelming favorite when my opponent played his hand in a way that can only be described as inexplicable (as well as foolish; I'm not talking about being outplayed), it's worse. And I'm aware that opponents who stack off 30-50 BBs deep with Q3s preflop, or with middle-pair-no-kicker on the flop, are the ones that I want to be playing against. But lately I'm playing against them and I'm still not winning, and I'm not exactly sure why or how to fix it. I'm not trying to blame my shitty results this week entirely on bad luck. I've made mistakes too. But it's hard to figure out exactly what they are, because it even when I feel that I'm playing a totally solid game, it doesn't seem to make a difference.
Anyway, I don't really know what to do. Obviously taking a day off wasn't enough, but I'm wondering if any amount of time is really going to make a difference.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stake, Stakes, and Tilt

I am very pleased to announce that I have received my first stake. While engaging in a conversation regarding my previous post with my longtime poker mentor Lorin Yelle, Lorin brought up the subject of moving up, and generously offered me a $320 stake to take a shot at the $25 HU SNGs. He pointed out that reliance on one's bankroll for living expenses stunts ones poker growth, and I really appreciate the chance he's given me to develop my game without risking the rent. My most recent cashout of $900 halfway through this month left my roll at about $1,050; plenty of buy-ins for the $5 and $10 stakes I usually play, but not nearly enough to move to the next level.
Initial results were encouraging; after three days of play I ended the week with 6 wins and 3 losses, for a total profit of $63.75. On Sunday, however, I reversed this trend, scoring 3 wins and 6 losses. Which brings me to my next thought, on the stakes-tilt connection...

I've had two horrible sessions in the last two days, which can be attributed in part to a (very) shitty run of luck, and partly to the tilt that resulted from this bad run, but also partly to moving further up into the regions of the $25 HU SNG. Part of what added to the 'horribleness' of these sessions was the same thing that contributed to an excellent session on Friday ($160 in 4 hours); the magnified stakes. I realized this more clearly after reading an excellent article in this month's online 2+2 Magazine, Mental Disintegration in Limit Hold 'em by Carl Sampson.
Carl summed up the disorientation I was feeling from moving up in stakes, describing a player moving from $3-$6 to $10-$20 limit games:

Suddenly you have experienced losses that are far higher than anything that you have ever been used to. The players are constantly aggressive and you feel like a fool in how you are being pushed around. You lose 30BB which is $600 in the space of an hour. That would have been 150BB in your old $2-$4 game. It shouldn’t make a difference but it will even if it is only slight.

All in all Mr. Sampson wrote a very insightful and interesting article, and I encourage you to check it out. The reason I mention it is because it made me realize more fully that I wasn't looking at my bad sessions in the proper perspective. Of my $97 loss on Sunday, $86 of it was essentially the result of only 3 losses (plus the lost fees from the other 6 games), though I felt like I had really screwed up in a serious, fundamental way, because I hadn't booked a loss that big before. Put in perspective, Sunday's loss added up to probably 5 or 6 buy-ins (2 $25s and 2-3 $10s), not the 10 buy-ins that it felt like. I have begun to realize, in other words, that moving up means more than just playing bigger; it is going to require a shift in perspective from a bankroll standpoint, as well as a full re-examination of my game and that of my opponents from a skill and strategy standpoint. Which brings me to my next thought.
Another aspect of moving up, separate from the scale of wins and losses, that is unsettling is the way one is forced to reevaluate their game -- and their leaks. On the site that I play at, traffic at the $25 level is fairly slow at most times, and most of the players that actually sit in these lobbies are seasoned regulars with fairly impressive records. For the most part I have managed to steer clear of these grinders, but I (accidentally) sat with one yesterday, and of course I got crushed. I believe in retrospect that I was intimidated by this guy's record as well as the higher stake, and as a result I committed a cardinal sin: I played scared poker. I had fallen back into a more passive style of play that one can get away with more easily at lower buy-in games, but which is an invitation to exploitation to a competent, aggressive player. My opponent's relentless aggression quickly reduced me to a 3:1 chip disadvantage, and in a poorly-timed attempt to adjust to this onslaught I ended up limp/shoving A3s with a reasonable number of BBs behind, and found myself dominated by his A9o. I realized after the match that I would not have limp/shoved such a weak ace against a similarly aggressive player at my usual stake; it was the intimidation factor of a higher stake and superior competition that clouded my judgement and made me react in a way that can only be called desperate, rather than thinking clearly through each move and, just as importantly, thinking ahead and setting up future moves.
In conclusion, I decided to take a day off from playing to enjoy some time with the lady and center myself, which I think has been tremendously helpful already in allowing me to examine my errors of the weekend and, hopefully, to cleanse myself of the sticky, foul-smelling residue of tilt and failure. Let's hope I've prepared myself sufficiently for things to improve tomorrow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Passing Up Small Edges in HU

The question of whether it is appropriate to pass on a slightly EV+ gamble in a HU match is one that presents itself again and again, under many circumstances. Here is an example:

Example A: 7 minutes into a normal speed HU SNG. Blinds are 15/30, effective stacks of 1200, and your opponent has been loose/aggressive to the point of recklessness. You believe you have a significant skill advantage in the match.
Action: You pick up 77 on the button, raise to 75, and your opponent shoves for 1200. You believe his shoving range here includes any ace, KTs+, KTo+, QJs, and any pair.

Should you call? I don't. Even though Pokerstove puts my 77 at 56.164% against this pushing range, I don't like the idea of flipping for stacks this early/deep against an opponent that I'm confident I can outplay, even if I'll be the one left with 600 remaining chips if I lose. It's only a matter of time before a reckless opponent like this will overplay their hand or simply bluff off their stack to me, and I'd prefer to wait for that to happen rather than call and hope I'm 2:1 against his ace-small.

There are many other considerations which can affect this decision, however. Let's make a partial list:

Opponent Skill Level/Perceived Edge - The other day I found myself in almost this exact situation against an aggressive/perceptive/skilled player in a $25 SNG. I raised 77 OTB and he came over the top for ~20 BBs; I snap-called, despite the fact that I figured his range to be more narrow than that outlined above. He showed AKs, and I won the race. I called here because, unlike the situation in Example A, I was not confident that I had a significant skill edge over my opponent, and was therefore satisfied with taking what small edge I might have in the hand.

Stack Size/Structure - Part of the reason I pass in Example A is because, after folding, I still have at least 38BBs behind with which to continue the fight; plenty to take advantage of whatever skill edge I have over my opponent, especially in a normal game. But what if the blinds are a bit higher? What if the match is a turbo, or a super-turbo? If I'm the shorter stack at 50/100, I've already brought myself down to 950 after making my 2.5BB raise, in which case I'm not folding to the wide range in Example A. And what if the blinds are 20/40, but will be 50/100 in 4 minutes (super-turbo style)? Part of the logic behind folding in example A is saving your ammunition for a better spot; if your ammo is more severely depleted, and you may not have time to wait, then that logic breaks down.

In an attempt to represent this with numbers, I calculated the EV of calling a 3bet-shove after a 2.5BB raise as a 55/45 favorite with effective stacks of 1200 at 3 blind levels: 15/30, 25/50, and 50/100. The resulting equations look like this:

At 15/30: .55(1275) + .45(-1125) = 701.25 - 506.25 = 195
At 25/50: .55(1325) + .45(-1075)= 728.75 - 483.75 = 245
At 50/100: .55(1450) + .45(-950) = 797.50 - 427.50 = 370

When you represent the EV of this call as a percentage of what your remaining stack would be if you folded to the shove, you get 17.3% at 15/30, 22.7% t 25.50, and a whopping 38.9% of your remaining stack at 50/100. These numbers make very clear that while a fold is reasonable early on, it is unconscionable in a high blind situation.

Metagame Considerations* - Are you likely to play more matches against this opponent in the future? On the site I play at primarily, there is a pool of regulars at the HU tables, and there are frequent random opponents who I see once or twice and never again. If you opponent is not a HU regular, and is just looking to double his buy-in "for a quick buck"*, not only is he probably playing rather poorly but will often stop playing altogether if he gets what he wants (and sometimes even if he doesn't). Against this type of player it is probably best to fold, and press your advantage in a better spot. But against a more regular HU player, metagame considerations come into play in marginal spots like this. What is your history with this opponent, and how does he perceive you? If you fold 77 to an all-in 3bet, you're obviously folding most of your raising range; over time, this may lead your opponent to (correctly) conclude that he can 3bet all-in very wide with a high probability of success. Or has he already concluded that, and adjusted accordingly? Indeed, against a less perceptive, LAG opponent, a fold/show of 77 might make a strong impression of you as weak-tight, which may profitably (for you) encourages him to widen his 3bet shoving range, and more generally to keep up the reckless aggression that you seek to exploit. On the other hand, even if you tighten up your opponent's range just a bit, and conclude that you are now on the losing side of a 55/45 flip, making the slightly EV- call might be worthwhile if you anticipate future/regular matches against the same person and believe that doing so will surprise/confuse/deceive your opponent, convey a particular image, provide you with information, or be otherwise significant for metagame reasons.

I'm going to leave this topic open, and encourage/hope for some comments & feedback. I don't have any definitive answer as to when a marginal fold becomes a call or vice versa (when are there ever definitive answers in poker, anyway...), but what I hoped to accomplish with this post was to illuminate a few of the factors that must be considered when you're faced with very slight EV+ gambles in HU. This post really just scratches the surface, so perhaps we can revisit this subject again in the future. For some more learned writing on the subject, check out the chapter 'You're Broke - You're Done' on page 19 of David Sklansky's Tournament Poker for Advanced Players. Comments!

* Thanks to Lorin Yelle for his insights on this topic.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

February Results

February was a big month for several reasons. First, I went on a pretty significant rush early on, as is clear on the graph below. This gave me a boost of confidence, but also of motivation to really focus on my game. Second, I bought Collin Moshman's book Heads-Up No-Limit Hold 'Em, which confirmed to me that I had been on the right track to a winning style of HU play, but which also built upon and deepened my understanding of the logic behind my more or less intuitive play to that point. Third, and most obvious, my average and total profit, as well as my average ROI, improved significantly this month.

February 2010
Total games: 673
HU games: 652
Total profit: $1,190
HU profit: $1,134
Hourly Rate*: $7.85

Heads Up SNG Results

Total SNG Results

*Based on records kept from 2/10-2/28.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

January Results

January got the heads-up ball rolling, and the unsteadiness of my initial results is apparent. For two weeks in the middle of the month I hardly played at all, as I had several good friends from back home (Western MA) visiting me in Chicago, so most of these results reflect play towards the end of the month. I also played a number of 6-man turbos, which added significantly to my earnings from HU games.

January 2010
Total games: 314
HU games: 292
Total profit: $389
HU profit: $318

Heads Up SNG Results

Total SNG Results


My name is Drew. After graduating from college last spring and moving to the city of Chicago last fall, I have struggled to support myself in the harsh economic climate of a city with 11% unemployment. Though I managed to secure part-time employment as a barista in November, my first two months of rent were paid out of my poker bankroll, thanks both to a summers worth of home games and to a few fortuitous cashes in online tournaments. As time has passed my online poker profit has continued to play a role in my financial survival, paying the rent again this month, and for the first time has surpassed my relatively meager earnings at my part-time, minimum-wage job at the coffee shop. This blog is intended to serve as a personal journal of my now-only-semi-recreational poker play, its role in my life, and the ways in which I can improve.
A few words about the development of my poker hobby [LC]*... My interest in the game first began to grow in December of 2008, as my friends and I found poker to be a fun and inexpensive way to spend an evening together. After my brother, himself a player, gave me Winning Low Limit Hold 'Em for Christmas, the obsession was born. I first deposited money on Pokerstars in January of '09, playing mostly micro-stakes full ring games and being lucky to break even. My first taste of success was playing .50/$1 LHE, but poor bankroll management busted me before long. I deposited $50 on Cake Poker, running it up and back down throughout the summer playing full ring NLHE micros, until my September move to Chicago. At this point I began to take my play a bit more seriously, and was able to grind out a very slight and relatively financially insignificant sum playing NL20. However, after a few final table finishes in low-stakes tournaments gave me a taste of financial success in the game, I gradually began to give more consideration to how I could "find my niche" as a steadily profitable player. Through these months my play has shifted focus from full ring to 6-max micro-stakes games, from cash games to tournaments, and in early January finally settled upon a poker format that I have found most profitable: heads-up sit 'n goes. I decided to give these a casual try after reading the Heads-Up section of Harrington on Hold 'Em Vol. II, and to my surprise found myself to be fairly competent playing one-on-one. After discovering that Sharkscope.com could allow me to game select and avoid the real sharks, my profitability became more and more steady. My next post will include my most recent results from the months of January and February as a jumping off point.