Monday, February 20, 2006

Lice dancing

Tournament results from tonight:

9-person SNG on Full Tilt ($22) -- Raise from button with K-8. Big blind calls. Flop comes K-8-Q. BB bets, I get my money in the pot, BB calls. BB has K-Q. I'm gone.
180 on Stars ($22) -- Raise 4x BB with pocket 10s and get one caller. Flop comes 9-7-x. Caller leads out small, I get my money in the pot, He calls with 9-7. I'm gone.
45-person Turbo on Stars ($12) -- I get all my money in with pocket kings and get called by nines. I don't even look. A nine arrives on the river. I'm gone.
18-person Turbo on Stars ($16) -- I call an all-in with pocket aces. Have him slightly covered. Mr. All-in has 9-10 suited. Flop comes J-8-x. Blank on the turn. This time I look. A queen arrives on the river, leaving me with pocket change. Two hands later, I'm gone.

And that's not to mention mention the $70 pot I lost last night in a 6-max cash game when someone called my $10 preflop raise (I've got pocket kings) with J-9o and won with runner-runner flush (On a board that included 2 aces. He called both my flop and turn bets.) Or the guy who called my $15 bet (I've got pocket jacks) after a ragged flop with K-7o (no pair, no draw) and spikes a king on the turn.

Boy, do I love poker.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brain freeze

The tournament at CJ's last night should have been perfect. With 30-minute rounds, 10K in starting chips and an ante-free blind structure, there was plenty of time for patience, which I consider one of my strong suits. The structures of the live tournaments I play in around here typically turn these events into crapshoots. But CJ's set-up gratefully provided room to operate. And patient I was ... at least for awhile.

Got crappy starters for the first two rounds, largely reducing me to spectator status. Won a smallish pot with K-Jo and lost 1,200 chips right before the first break when my A-K failed to pair on the flop or turn. Scarfed down a hot dog at the break at just under 8,500.

I knew I would have to start playing even some marginal hands in the hope of getting future action when the cards warmed. Doug Poker, who I suspect was a kamikaze pilot in a previous life, gave me shit for having raised 5x the big blind preflop from EP and being disappointed that I had gotten no callers. In truth, I was pleased my A-7 had at least won some blinds and allowed me to feel the sweet sensation of raking chips into my pile.

The cards did improve slightly, allowing me to become a little more active. My table image -- rightly so -- was still tight. I won a few blinds and took down a decent-sized pot with a preflop raise and contination bet while holding pocket 3s, getting me back to just over 10K. Then this hand occurred:

With blinds at 200/400, a middle-position player opens for 1,200. I have jacks, my best hand of the night, and raise to 3,400. The player to my immediate left comes over the top all-in. Whoa. He's got me covered by a bunch. I don't know this guy, but he appears solid. He has mostly entered pots with raises and has won a fair number of pots post-flop without showing. It looks as if he's doubled his starting stack.

The original better folds and the action's on me. What do I do? What's Mr. All-In got? With blinds at only 200/400 and 7,700 chips behind, it's hardly time for me to panic. His range can't be too wide. Somewhere between A-A and A-Ko. Maybe A-Q, maybe pocket 10s, but I doubt it. My gut says A-K and I call. My gut is wrenchingly wrong. He has aces and I'm on the rail. Nice play, sir.

I'm not the math genius that good tournament players are (a fact that I need to remedy), but if one of those experts would perform the calculus for me, the answer surely must be: "Fold, asswipe, you only have jacks."

Despite my math deficit, I'll do the best I can to work it out here. There are a total of six hands in the A-A to A-Ko range. For simplicity's sake, I'll eliminate jacks, so let's call it five. I'm ahead of two of those hands (A-Ks and A-Ko) -- although not by all that much -- and way behind the other three. I have no idea whether this guy is capable of making a play, but what I fail to consider, ironically enough, is my own table image. Yes, I failed to take into account what this guy thinks I might have when he pushes. Throw the math in there and I'm a candidate for Donk of the Year.

He's got aces, obviously an easy push for him that's aimed at isolating me or winning a nice-sized pot there and then. But I don't know that. Poker is a game that must be played with both sides of the brain, a phenomenon that goes a long way in explaining why I've become a Low-Limit Junkie. But this is an instance when both sides suffered from brain freeze. It's an easy fold in virtually every circumstance and certainly a no-brainer in this one. I'm not likely to make that same mistake again.

(I did manage to finish the night with a miniscule profit after buying in slightly short in the $1/2 cash game. There were a few solid players in the game, including Diablo, who is considered the best cash-game player in The Group and whom I've never played with. I'm pleased to report that my comfort level was much higher than in previous $1/2 sessions, thanks to all the hands I've played online.

Without the proper bankroll, which I figure to be 3 buy-ins, I had to play tighter than I'd like, but I don't think I was a total rock. Others at the table might disagree. There were a couple of hands I let get away by not applying proper pressure, but I made some nice laydowns as well and benefited greatly from a couple of timely double-ups.

I do know this: I was disappointed when the game broke up just after 1 a.m. My schedule is about to get crazy, which will further reduce poker possibilities, but for the first time I'm looking forward to jumping back into the $1/2 waters. Let's hope they stay warm -- and shark-free.)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gone but not forgotten

Nothing much to report. Work, life and the Poker Jones Traveling All-Stars (the baseball team I coach) have cut into available poker hours and energy required to play well. It's been a welcome break, really. It's nice getting a full night's sleep for three or four days in a row.

That's not to say I've gone pokerless. There have been a few tournaments, some SNGs and some limited time at the NL 6-max tables. After the last few dreary-ass posts, it's nice to report that something did go reasonably well this morning.

Woke up early and jumped into an SNG, finishing 3rd after getting rivered by the chip leader. Signed up immediately for a 45-person $12 Turbo hoping to get some practice in before tonight's tournament at CJ's. Got nothing in the way of hands and decided to employ patience. Down to around 1,100, I managed to double-up with K-2 soooted from the BB.

Decent hands continued to avoid me and at 300/600/50, I found myself with just under 900 chips. I'd been waiting to push for more than two orbits when I get A-10o UTG. I get a caller and double up. Next hand, I get slick and double up again against the same unfortunate soul. I make it to the final table of 9 in fourth place with 5,690. I manage to work it up to just under 17,000 with nothing spectacular, save for pocket 10s, and then get blinded/anted off with more rags. Down to around 4,500, I double up with K-9 (king on the turn made me quads) and get knocked out 4-handed when I push with A-9 and get called by the chip leader's A-K.

A nice comeback and a good way to start the day. Just hope it foreshadows tonight's fortunes. I'll let let you know.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Eclectic slide

After a full month of solid, profitable ring-game results, the inevitable slide has occured. Nothing startling. Every bluff is picked off. Every preflop raise is called by junk that hits. Every continuation bet gets called or raised. Every mid-pocket pair runs into flops full of overcards. Every big made hand gets little or no action, regardless of whether I play them fast, slow or medium. Every big pair raised preflop get no callers, save the pocket aces that were called by 6-7 sooooted and benefited from an orgasmic flop of 4-5-8. (His smooth call post-flop and all-in for another $40 on the turn should have told me something. Blinded by the rockets' red glare, I failed to see the obvious.)

I feel as if I'm dealing with this unfortunate market correction with more equanimity than in the past (although I have looked backward in the mirror in search of a hidden "kick me" sign.) I've continued to play the game that propelled me through the good times and have been hyper-alert for any warning signs of impending tiltage. I've been playing as long as I feel I'm concentrating well and quitting when I do not, regardless of how much I've lost during the session.

The only (small) saving grace is that I've managed to turn a couple of spectacularly crappy sessions into just plain crappy. But it's a bit depressing to watch my once healthy bankroll reduced to barely one-third its former size.

Matt at The Poker Chronicles wrote awhile ago that the only real solution to a shooting slump is to keep shooting. Trust me, I'm still firing. I just need to hear swish of the nets instead of the clank of the rim right now.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

At a loss

Just can't get over what shitty luck I'm having in tournaments. Over a one-month period (32 days, to be exact), I've entered 35 tournaments and have cashed in a grand total of 5, the largest of which was $82.

Yes, there were instances in which I made chuckleheaded plays and lost, but there were plenty of other times when I played well and got knocked after getting my chips in with the best hand. Twice tonight (a $12 45-person Turbo and a $22 180, both on Stars) I watched pocket Kings go down in flames. First to pocket queens and then to tens. WTF.

The irony is I feel like -- no, I KNOW -- I've never played better. Yet I cashed more often when I had only a half-assed idea of what I was doing. Doesn't seem right.

My luck in the 180s has been especially galling. I've now entered 11. I've cashed in none. These are my finishes in those abominations:

20 ... 71 ... 143 ... 20 ... 21 ... 45 ... 27 ... 125 ... 97 ... 25 ... 24

Eighteen spots pay in the 180s. In 6 of the 11 I got within at least nine places of the money. In 4 of those 6, I got my chips in with the best hand. (Lost 1 of the 6 with the infamous misclick and the other with pocket queens vs. pocket kings.)

Tonight, I watched big stacks get big or bigger with horrific, dogshit beats. Do you have to be insanely lucky to win a 180 -- or any tournament -- for that matter? God, I hope not. My knockout by pocket 10s was not a bad beat, per se. A big stack raised with them and I called with kings with just under 3,000 chips left. But what's so insanely frustrating right now is that when I'm confronted with one of these all-in situations, I can feel the beat coming, like it's pre-freakin'-destined.

Screw variance. Screw short-term vs. long-term. When is the fucking luck going to finally swing my way?

Yeah, I know. I'm whining. But it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to. You would cry, too, if it happened to you, da, da, da, da, da, da.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Balls in the air

I am currently checking e-mails, composing this post, reading other blogs AND playing a tournament -- virtually all at the same time. Yes, I know, multi-tasking in the middle of a tournament is a mortal sin that only the most profound penance can expiate. But I've made my deal with the devil, I'm damn good and it's a $1.10 limit Omaha tournament. You got it right. It's $1.10, not $110. I have no idea what I'm doing, so I've settled on a strategy of folding some hands, calling some bets and occasionally leading out. Still working on the raising part.

And I'm on a roll, baby. Thirty-four minutes into this thing, I've won one hand and am sitting pretty, 142 out of the remaining 337 players and poised to go on the biggest rush since Tony Montana lowered his snoot into a desktop full of Bolivian Marching Powder. (Wooo-hoo! Update: I just won a 1,400-chip pot with a set of aces! Followed by 635 chips with a turned set of sixes!)

Did reread some of my previous posts tonight and cringed, realizing what a whiny donk I must sound like. My blogging skills, like my poker chops, need some work. (Lookout! A 3,600-chip pot with a set of jacks! Now in 15th place!) Working to get better at both.

A little bit of NL fun tonight. I’ve nearly kicked my Stars 180-habit in favor of $12 45-person turbos. (Blinds go up every five minutes, turning the thing into a crapshoot after about 15 seconds.) After seeing no hands that do not contain a 2 for five or six orbits, I'm down to around 1,000 chips with the blinds about to rise 50,000/100,000. I manage to nearly triple up, thanks to the antes, with A-K. I steal a few blinds, win a couple of pots and slide into the money with a smallish stack. Then, bingo. I triple up with the all-powerful 2-5o from the big blind and hang on to finish third, getting knocked out with pocket 7s vs. pocket aces. Not life-changing money, but I’ll take $70 profit for an hour’s worth of work. (Yeah, baby. Another 2,600 chips with a set of 7s. Up to 7,240, good for seventh place.)

As for all the kvetching I’ve been doing in the blog, poker really hasn’t been going too badly as of late. There have been some small, steady wins in cash games and I feel like my tournament chops are improving. My tourney buy-in total is still way north of my winnings, but that’s okay. I consider it an investment in my poker future. And one big tournament cash will more than cover those buy-ins. (Six of us have capped preflop. I’ve got aces. Flop and turn … no help. Just lost a big chunk calling with a wheel on the river vs. a flush. Wait, just got 2K back with a flopped set of queens that turned into a flush. Back to 16th after dropping to 31st.)

Enough for now. (Shit! 3,100 chips with a wheel on the river that holds up!)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

End game

The Group ran a deep-stack, re-buy tournament last night that resulted in eight hours of poker, lingering heartburn and not much else. We started with 600 chips and 1/2 blinds. First four rounds (rebuy period) ran 30 minutes and subsequent rounds ran 45 minutes. I never dipped below the rebuy threshold, took the 600-chip add-on and waited for cards. Played aggressive and chipped up a bit over the next couple of hours, sometimes with cards, sometimes without.

By the time we got consolidated to a 10-person table, I had a decent stack -- somewhere around 4K -- maybe 14 percent of the chips -- but well below the big stack. I then went into Major Tom mode for numerous orbits -- "Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do." Down to around 3,400 with blinds at 100/200, I raised from MP with A-J suited. The inscrutable Laz, sitting to my immediate left, called. Flop came Q-10-8, which gave me a mildly attractive double belly buster. I bet out another 600 and Laz pushed, sending me deep into the tank. A call leaves me 850 behind. Laz's range? As big as the great outdoors. But my guess is that flop hit him in some fashion. I ask for a count of the pot, fiddle with my chips, do some rudimentary calculations, consult the Oiuja Board and ... fold. Not much else to do. Sheeit.

My slide begins with Q-Jo from the BB. A short-stacked Frank Sumatra pushes, everyone folds and I have to call about one-third of my stack (around 780 chips) to win 1,800. I considered folding and preserving my remaining stack, but I needed chips and the pot odds were singing a Siren song I could not ignore. He has A-4o and makes a wheel on the turn. Sheeit.

Some of this might be slightly out of order, but this is my best recollection of the events leading to the train wreck that didn't quite do me in. The dangerous Diablo, to my immediate right, min-raises from the small blind and I call. The exact details are a bit fuzzy, but he pushes on a board of J-8-x -10 and I call. He flips over J-10. What do I have? Jack-ten, of course. Sheeit.

I get blinded/anted down, survive but remain on drip after winning with pocket jacks against Diablo and then push UTG with A-10. Diablo calls. What's he got? Ace-ten. Sheeit.

Blinded/anted off some more and with about 1,200 chips UTG and blinds at 200/400, I get them in the middle to Diablo's min-raise from the BB. I'm holding a powerhouse -- K-6o. But Diablo is likely to steal with just about anything and with the blinds about to hit me, I'm in desperation mode. He flips over K-2o. No 6 (and no 2) appear and, once again, it's chip-chop ham time. Sheeit.

Finally, in the small blind at 200/400 with about 1,200 behind, there are 2 all-ins in front of me. The first pusher's stack is only slightly larger than mine. The second pusher was chip leader at the start of the final table but now was around par. I've got A-Jo. Hmmmm. My all-in would put 5,400 in the middle. It's the last hand before blinds rise to 300/500/25. So I get greedy and gambooool, even though I figure I'm probably behind. I am indeed. First pusher has A-Q. Pusher No. 2 has .... A-J suited. My chances of winning have been reduced to virtually nil, especially when we hear someone has folded a jack. Thus, I'm gone after eight hours in seventh place, out of the money. Double sheeit.

In retrospect (okay, as soon as I saw their cards), I knew my push was wrong. Actually, it's a donk play, regardless. I know I'm behind and A-Jo is the kind of hand you might consider calling one all-in, but certainly not two. With the button headed my way and the blinds going up, I obviously should have waited and hoped for a little luck (and some live cards) in the next few hands.

Managing the end game, when blinds are big and stacks are likely to be small, remains a big learning curve. Yes, you need luck in that crapshoot environment, but given how slim the margins are at that point, it's quite evident how even the small mistakes are magnified greatly.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

ABC Poker

My conversion from limit to no-limit has forced me to rethink my approach to the game. I'm making progress and am growing more comfortable, but I realize that 3,000 hands is but a nanosecond in recorded poker history. Given the difficulties and nuances of NL, it will take tens if not hundreds of thousands of hands to master the skills to become a skilled (and dangerous) NL player.

Attending poker kindergarten on 6-max tables should help. Not only do I see more hands, I'm forced to make more decisions. Still, I realize that I must learn to change my mindset completely. It's not that limit can or should be played by rote. There are still plenty of decisions to made with every turn of a card in limit, but it's formulaic compared with NL. Even on days when my mental acuity was at low ebb, ABC poker was often good enough to best the donks buying in to those low-limit games.

I sat down at a .50/$1 NL game last night, checking the hand history as soon as I took my seat and saw that the biggest stack at the table had won a relatively large pot in an odd fashion. (I love the fact that Poker Stars' histories include several hands played even before you sit down.) He then won a few more good-sized pots with very nice holdings but only after trying to play cute preflop. He min-raised with A-K and turned Broadway and on the next hand limped with pocket aces. A few minutes later, this hand occurred:

POKERSTARS GAME #3833558588: HOLD'EM NO LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00) - 2006/02/01 - 23:04:27 (ET) Table 'Geisha'

Seat 1: ($171.65 in chips)
Seat 4: ($17.50 in chips)
Seat 5: HERO ($97.70 in chips)
Seat 6: ($47.65 in chips)
Seat1: posts small blind $0.50
Seat4: posts big blind $1
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Hero [Ks Kd]
Hero: raises $2 to $3
Seat 6: calls $3
Seat 1: calls $2.50
Seat 4: folds
*** FLOP *** [4s Kc Ad]
Seat 1: bets $5
Hero: calls $5
Seat 6: calls $5
*** TURN *** [4s Kc Ad] [2d]
Seat 1: checks
Hero: bets $15
Seat 6: folds
Seat 1: calls $15
*** RIVER *** [4s Kc Ad 2d] [5h]
Seat 1: bets $11
Hero: calls $11
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Seat 1: shows [As Td] (a pair of Aces)
Hero: shows [Ks Kd] (three of a kind, Kings)
Hero collected $75 from pot

Nice pot, correct? You bet. Feel good, right? Wrong. WTF was I doing just calling his river bet? Did I believe he had a 3? (Uh ... I considered the possibility.) Wait a second, asshole -- THINK! How could he possibly have a 3? Would he have bet out $5 with A-3 suited? Maybe. With top pair, weak kicker, maybe he's hoping to push me and the other guy out. Pocket 3s? I guess that's a possibility as well, but less likely than A-3.

He checks the turn and calls my $15 bet. Could he still have A-3, especially if they're diamonds? Absolutely. Pocket 3s? No freakin' way unless he is an absolute guts-hanging-out-ready-to-be-fileted-and-fried kind of fish. Despite his previous odd plays, my snap judgment said that was not the case.

The 5h comes on the river, he bets the $11, I consider for all of 2 seconds the possibility he has a 3 and just call his $11 bet. Weak, weak, weak. I win, which is all well and good. There's probably at least a 50-50 chance he folds to a reraise, even if it's only another $11. I pop him there, he's got to figure he's beat. But my short NL experience thus far has meant: You never know. IF he re-pops me, then I obviously go into the tank and attempt to sort out what kind of mess I might be in.

The fact I didn't pop him indicates how much I need to rewire my brain. I should have slowed down, replayed the story of this hand in my mind and then made the right decision, which obviously was to pop him good, probably somewhere in the $20-30 range.

Quality, experienced players can do this kind of analysis on the fly. I cannot. Thus, I need to take my time, lift myself out of that ABC limit mentality and begin to use the other 23 letters in the alphabet. It's another lesson learned, but at least this one was not expensive.