Raise or Fold:  Learning (From) Poker

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

With hands like this...

Royal Flush

...coming along every couple of days, you'd think I could turn a profit, wouldn't you? (I think I won the minimum with this.)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fourth for Me

O8 Royal Flush

I've had 4 royal flushes so far in my relatively short poker career. Three of them have been online, two in no-limit hold'em and the one pictured here from this morning's game of Omaha HiLo. Obviously any big hand is easier to make in O8, but still, I thought it worth a screenshot.

Labels: ,

Canine Haiku

K9 boat

They call K9 weak,
They say "Don't play with the dog!"
I say: arf arf arf.

The flop: K99
That sound you hear is barking:
Who let the dogs out?!!

Though not broadway cards,
K9 fetches a fine straight.
What a good puppy!

When premium hands
Are scarce and your stack is short,
Fido is faithful.

K9 or deuce-four?
Head to head to the river:
I'd be Grumpy too.

[Inspired by this.]

Labels: ,

Monday, May 4, 2009

Go With Your Read

You've heard this over and over: "go with your read." As I've taken a hard look at my play, one of the things I've noticed is how often I rationalize a decision I would never make if I took my read seriously. I am now trying consciously to both formulate a read (usually a hand range, but sometimes either more or less specific) AND to both refine and respect it as the hand proceeds.

Here are two cases from last night's Crime Scene Game.

#1: I am in middle position with a relatively short stack. There is a limp in early position, I limp in with 10 J suited, it folds to small blind who calls, and the big blind checks his option. The flop is J 7 5 rainbow. The small blind and big blind check, I make a half-pot bet with top pair. The small blind calls, the big blind folds.

The small blind is one of the people who runs the CSG. He is a canny player, and he knows my betting patterns better than I'd like. The check-call tells me that something about that flop appeals to him, but I don't think he's floating my bet with air or with bottom pair. It's possible he has a straight draw, but I think the most likely scenario here is that he's got a 7, he wants to see whether something will develop for his hand, and he's also keeping an eye on me to make sure that I wasn't just making a position bet with air myself.

The turn is a 10. Now I have two pair. Small blind checks. I check behind, purely as a trapping play. I'm pretty sure I'm good here, and there are very few cards that I fear on the river. I am hoping that my opponent will see my check behind as weakness. With most other players in this game I would have bet the turn, but I feel I'll be able to extract most value this way.

Except that the river is a 7. I am now not a happy camper; this is the worst possible card for me. After some hemming and hawing, the small blind goes all in (he has me covered). Is there any hand he could possibly do this with that doesn't have me beat? Even more to the point: am I persuaded that my original read was right?

I sit there for awhile, but honestly most of that time is occupied with me making my peace with the fact that I'm beat. I am totally persuaded he has a 7. I am toast: I fold. [My opponent later told me that he thought I had a straight with 89, that he shoved because he had a 7s full of 10s on the river, thought that the overbet would look weak to me and that I would call. I am inclined to believe him.]

#2: I am in the small blind. Four limpers enter the pot ahead of me. I look at my hand and find KK (red). I make a 1.5xPot bet. I get one caller, from early position. The rest fold. The caller is an action player, who plays any two, but is especially fond of and almost always chases flush draws (he's pretty keen on straight draws too, even if they're gutshots). I've also seen him shove on a flush draw if he has the Ace or the King. The flop comes 9 5 2, two spades.

I do not want him to draw to the flush. I make a pot-sized bet, which is about a quarter of his stack. Without missing a beat he shoves it all into the middle. (I have him covered.) Now what?

Well, I'm getting 4:1 on a call, I think it's likely he's on a flush draw, maybe he's got a pair as well. But there's no way I'm laying down Kings in this spot to this player. I call. He shows a set of deuces. Amazingly, I catch one of my two outs on the turn and go set over set for the win when the river blanks.

I was wrong about his holdings, that time. But now I have been reminded that he'll limp-call a big raise with a tiny pair in the hole (In fact, this behavior is endemic to the CSG and I ran into a flopped set of 3s last night too, again when I had a big hand; on that occasion I laid down my AK top pair top kicker to an all-in reraise. Me, I'm folding those small pairs to a big raise pre-flop). But I don't regret going with my read, since I think a large percentage of the time it would have been right. I am, however, unabashedly grateful for the re-suck King.

So I still believe going with my read is a good practice, especially if I am re-evaluating and testing it on every street. There's little point in HAVING a read, after all, if you don't act upon it. Unless you are prepared to act on it, a "read" is just idle speculation, a sort of self-indulgent daydreaming. An accurate read that you base decisions upon? That, right there, is one big fundamental step towards having an edge.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cardgrrl Adopts a Dog

Every poker player has a "favorite hand"—pocket Aces.

Some players also have a favorite hand that, naturally, is of dubious value, but to which they are attached for superstitious, habitual, or sentimental reasons of one kind of another.

I've never had such a hand, and my feeble attempts to get on the bandwagon of one or another famous player's or blogger's pet hands have never brought me anything by way of satisfaction. So I have decided to arbitrarily choose a favorite hand for myself, and ~ as one is supposed to do with these things ~ play it occcasionally as if it were the nuts.

In keeping with my twisted fondness for puns, I have decided that if I'm going to adopt a pet hand, it ought to be a dog. I'm pretty sure its bark is going to be worse than its bite, and I'm going to have to teach it all its new tricks while it's still young. I will train the dog to fetch me the mobneys and flush out bluffs. If it has to occasionally roll over and play dead, well, that's okay too.

Please welcome my new familiar, the lovable, the loyal, the slightly drooly (but housebroken) faithful companion: the K9 (aka Fido). I expect the two of us to go far together.

Full Tilt screenshot with K9

Full Tilt screenshot with K9

Labels: ,

There may be something to this 2-4 business...

Pokerstars screenshot

It had to happen one day. I feel slightly ashamed. But I assume that the Master of the Deuce-Four is pleased with the progress of the postulant.

I went on to win the game.

[Nota bene: This is not an April Fools' Day joke.]

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 2, 2009

How often does this happen?

Pokerstars table

I made a big raise pre-flop, and then checked the flop.
My opponent moved all in. Tough way to lose.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Warm Cardroom on a Cold Night & A Good Bluff Gone Bad

One could be forgiven for believing that the D.C. area is not well suited to a person trying to earn a living playing poker. The fact is, really, it is far from ideal. There are a limited number of cash game venues, and little choice in stakes. The environments are hardly uniformly safe, comfortable, or pleasant. And if you want full-scale security and legitimacy, those are only to be found at least a three-hour drive away, in Atlantic City.

It is for that reason that I am very grateful for the existence of the Crime Scene Game. Its location is convenient to me. It is entirely safe, well-run, and pleasant. The stakes are at a good level for my purposes: juicy enough to be worth the time, and modest enough to ensure a steady influx of players willing to put their money at risk.

And where else are you going to find a full table of players when snow is blizzarding from the sky, while the entire region is paralyzed by a winter storm warning and in full DEFCON 5 panic shut-down? I wandered into the game at 8 pm tonight, and it didn't wind down until 4 am. (I drove slowly and carefully home on mercifully empty but unplowed roads with fluffy snow piling on top of the black ice.)

This evening's session recapitulated my classic story arc: bought in, was up half a buy-in, lost it and was back to even, and then got felted. Re-bought. Went completely card dead. Folded a lot. Folded some more. Continued to fold. Won a couple of pots. Won a few more pots. Value bet the bejesus out of the reliable calling stations. Busted the guy who never believes I have a hand. Cashed out up a buy-in and a half. (For you folks who find cash ROI statistics meaningless, I'm making 11.5BB/hr. so far in month 7.)

I did have one especially interesting moment, which happened during my period of utter card-deadness. One of the better players is an older guy of Ethiopian extraction. He's a pretty canny player, and is usually quiet and consistent. Tonight, he'd had a drink or two, and he was louder and more contentious than usual. I didn't know that alcohol was responsible for his change in demeanor (I learned this after he left), but it made it more difficult for me to know what to expect from him.

He opened the pot in mid-position for a 4xBB raise ~ average for this table. It was folded to me in the big blind, where I had 3 4 spades. Believe it or not, this was one of the more promising hands I'd seen in several hours: hey, it was suited and connected. Obviously I should have folded. But, I was frustrated and bored, and I thought I could make money if I connected with the flop, so I called.

The flop was 9 9 8, with two clubs. Missed me totally. But I thought it likely that it had missed my opponent entirely too, and I took a stab at the pot. He called, but the way he called persuaded me that he had indeed completely missed. The turn put a red Q on the board. I checked, and my adversary bet out. It was a weak bet, and I was once again convinced that this card had not helped him at all. I thought for a moment and called. My plan was to bluff and represent the flush if a club appeared on the river.

Which it did, a 5.

We were now looking at a pretty substantial pot. I led out for about half that pot and awaited my opponent's decision. He hemmed and hawed for quite awhile. He cut out chips for a call. Then he cut out chips for a raise, all the while studying me. Then he restacked them. He was sitting in the 1 seat, to the dealer's left. He nudged his cards away from himself, toward the dealer. The dealer swept the cards into the muck.

I felt myself visibly relax: he was folding, and my bluff was good.

He said: "Hey, I'm not folding!" His cards (which were still identifiable) were retrieved from the muck and returned to him. He started to think again, and someone asked for the clock.

And then he called.

I believe it's likely he saw my movement of relief and that either led directly or contributed substantially to his decision to call. I'm pretty sure he was originally intending to fold. He is not a particularly adventurous player and he called me down with Ace high on a paired and flushing board. He announced, "Lady J was playing the player, not her cards."

I didn't say anything as he dragged the pot, but later I spoke to the dealer, who had of course been sure that he was folding, which was why he mucked the cards in the first place. I couldn't tell whether or not I'd been angleshot or otherwise faded; I still don't know if I should have objected at the time.

My feeling was that I have a sufficient edge in this particular game that it's okay for them to see me get a big bluff snapped off from time to time. But I sure wouldn't have minded winning that pot either.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Coach Me, Dude!"

The following hand transpired at the Crime Scene Game last night.

The context:

I had arrived late to the game, after winning my A League tournament. I will admit to being in an expansive mood as a result of having some extra cash to bring to the table. I sat down, bought in for my usual amount (about 66BBs), and promptly lost most of it. REBUY!! I bring another 50 BBs to the table and resolve to play a tighter and more disciplined game. By the time we pick up our story, I am back to break-even.

The table is its usual loosey-goosey self, except for two easy-to-spot rocks. I have a goofball on my right who I know will play any two suited, especially if one of them is a broadway card. Most of these people have played with me before and know that I'm generally TAG, with solid value hands, but that I am also capable of firing multiple bullets with air. I rarely, however, show down junk, and my raises are usually respected. If I'm getting called, I need to be wary.

The hand:

I'm on the button at a full table. The action arrives to me with seven limpers already in the pot. Seven (no rocks)! Without looking at my hole cards, I'm already convinced that I'm going to make a big raise and hope either to take the pot right there, or to wind up heads up with decent odds for pretty much any two cards of my own. I peek at KQ suited in spades, and cheerfully pop the bet to 7xBB.

I get two callers. One is an okay player in middle position, and immediately I start to consider possible ranges for a limp-call (medium-small pair ~ set-mining, AJ, A10?). I think he thinks I'm on a pure button steal and that he's ahead of my range, which is more or less right. The goofy loose player to my right thinks for a few seconds and then announces: "This is the worst call in the history of America!"

The flop comes: 2 2 3 rainbow.

The action goes check check to me. I make a half-pot continuation bet, figuring that maybe they'll give me credit for an overpair, but that in any case a) decent player is unlikely to be trapping (not his style, and this flop will have missed his range) and b) loose guy has shown no interest.

Decent player folds. The goofster comes back over the top of me for all his chips.

I am, of course, done with this hand: check-raise FTW! "Did you really call me with A2?" I ask as I muck.

"I told you it was the worst call in the history of the country," he responded, as he flipped over a suited 2 5.

My take-away:

On some level, I genuinely admire the audacity of this speculative play. (Alas, they never seem to work for me anywhere near as often as they work for others.) From a tricky, thinking player, it would have given me great pause, and I would have had to use it to significantly modify my understanding of his or her game. Such a player, however, would probably not have check-raised all-in, but rather tried to betsize so as to induce a call.

As it is, however, I simply look forward to having this gentleman to my right for many, many games to come.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Usual Suspects

You play with the same people long enough, you pay attention, you adjust and they don't, and you ought to be able to beat them.

I think this is where I am with the Crime Scene Game. I know the regulars. I know how they play. I am rarely surprised, these days, when a hand goes to showdown: I know what I'm likely to see.

Whereas, I know that I am capable of surprising them.

I was under the gun (first to act after the big blind). I made a minimum raise. It folded around to the big blind, who tripled my bet. I smooth-called.

The flop came: Js 10c 8s.

The other player checked. I bet two thirds of the pot.
He called.

The turn was: 3c

My opponent checked. I made a half-pot bet.
He called.

The river was: 9h
My opponent led out for about a quarter of the pot.

The range I put him on, given the action and what I know of his style: a mid pocket pair (66, 77, 88, 99), AK, A10 or possibly AJ.

I raised all-in. I had my opponent well-covered, but it was effectively another pot-sized bet for all his chips.

He rolled his eyes, heaved a great sigh of frustration, and folded.

For which I was very grateful: as I dragged the rather substantial pot, I flipped over my pocket deuces.

I rarely show. I think I pissed off my opponent pretty severely by showing this particular bluff, but since I play at this venue often, I need to sow the seeds of doubt periodically. Ninety-five percent of the time when I show down, I have a great hand. When I win without showdown, I muck. Consequently, I have an extremely solid image. But they all need to know I am capable of the all-in bluff.

So that they'll pay me off BOTH when I have the nuts AND when I shove with air.

...Why yes, thank you, I do believe I'll have my cake and eat it too.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stupid Call

Sometimes I despair of myself.

It's the second-to-last hand of the evening. So far in this session I've managed to follow a typical cycle: lose a buy-in, rebuy, grind back to even, get up a couple of buy-ins.

Final step? Implode. (Feh.*)

I was right in my read on the flop, I was right on the turn too; I knew I was ahead. Yet I could have folded when my worthy opponent went all-in on the river. I could have folded and retained a meaningful profit for the night.

But noooooo, I went and made the hero call and learned the bad news: the backdoor flush had come in. (Why do other people get to go runner runner for a flush, whereas I can't ever get the one measly card I need for my flush? +grumble, mutter, kvetch+)

Actually, I give myself too much credit by styling it a hero call. It wasn't a hero call, it was an ego call. I convinced myself he was on an end-of-the-night big bluff and I wanted to pick him off. But considering how wet the board was, I had to completely polarize the hand-range I was against as either something very strong or air. The action on the flop and turn meant I was unlikely to be up against complete air. And while I was right that my opponent didn't have any of the hands that were the most probable winners on that board, I should have given more credence to the flush possibility. Maybe if I'd thought it through a little better I could have found the fold.

This looks like yet another leak to be plugged. Apparently I'm a freakin' sieve.

(*It could have been worse. I broke even for the session. But still.)

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Day 34: Veni, Vidi, Vici

Gosh, that was fun.

I played at the 2/5 table for three hours or so and walked away having almost doubled my buy-in. I made one bad decision during this session ~ calling when I knew I was beat by the tightest player on the table, although not exactly HOW I was beat ~ which cost me quite a bit.

Otherwise, I played as well as I knew how, and after suffering one truly horrendous beat I stayed patient and tough and half an hour later FELTED the guy who inflicted it upon me.

You want to hear about it?

I thought you'd never ask! :D

You may be familiar with the poker saying, "If you can't tell who the fish is at your table after twenty minutes, it's you." Well, a few hands into my session today, I had identified the minnow at our table. A middle-aged white guy, pounding beers at 11 in the morning, counting out his chips with excruciating deliberateness while making really, really bad decisions about what to do with them. And he was catching cards and winning, against all odds.

I eyed him and his stack as a hungry tiger eyes the lame baby gazelle separated from its mommy on the veldt. He was going to be lunch.

But I thought I'd never get a crack at him, because two thirds of the table were licking their chops too. We were jostling for position, trying to be the first and last to finally benefit from his inevitable largesse. There was no way this guy was leaving the table with any of his money.

And then it happened. The perfect storm. I was in the big blind with Mr. Minnow two seats to my left. It folds to him and he limps in. Two more folds and one more limp from a guy I'm calling TVP because he's wearing a TV-poker-show t-shirt. It folds to the small blind who releases. I look at my cards, and I've got Ks6s. Nothing fancy. I check my option. There is now 7xBB in the pot.

The flop comes: Jc 6h 6c.

Ding ding ding ding ding! How happy am I?!?

For once, I think it's okay to slowplay. Why? Because I'm positive that one of the two guys behind me will bet out. And, sure enough, here comes Mr. Minnow with a 3xBB bet. TVP smooth-calls. The pot is now 13xBB.

Time to make my move. I absolutely, positively do not want anyone to draw to the club flush. Mr. Minnow is such a bad player, and I've seen him draw to the flush without pot odds already more than once, I am determined that if he wants to draw, he is going to PAY. So I make a nearly pot-sized bet with a raise of 9xBB on top.

I am not surprised when Mr. Minnow calls. TVP is a sensible player and he folds. Everyone at the table but Mr. Minnow now understands that I have a six. Everyone at the table also realizes that Mr. Minnow probably does not grasp this proposition.

Turn card: Js.

I have now filled up. I check. To my surprise, Mr. Minnow checks behind. A faint alarm bell goes off. (Weak means strong with these guys, I know this.)

River card: Ac.

I check. Mr. Minnow bets out 10xBB. I ask him, "Did you draw out a flush on me?" At this point, I am praying that he has a flush, but I've got a horrible sinking feeling that he has a Jack. The pot is offering me 3:1. Did he really call my bet on the flop with a two-outer draw?

Of course you know the answer to this one. Yes. Yes he did. He led out in early position and then called a big re-raise with Jh 8s (not even AJ or KJ, not even sooooted). There was a collective murmur of astonishment around the felt when he tabled his hand. You could also hear the faint gurgling sound of six or seven sets of salivary glands going into overdrive.

I was not a happy camper. I was very annoyed at myself for giving him credit for at least having been drawing to more outs. I should have known better. Maybe I could have found a way to fold the underboat to Mr. Minnow.

I will admit that at this point I'm really hoping I get a chance to get into it with Mr. Minnow again. I want my money back, before he goes and gives it all to someone else. I watch in dismay as he gets into several consecutive hands with my tablemates and loses amounts appropriate to his very bad judgment. His stack is dwindling.

About half an hour later, I am on the button. Mr. Minnow, under the gun, limps in. There are two other limpers and then the hijack, a solid player, makes it 4xBB to go. The cut-off (on my immediate right), another decent player, folds. I have As3s. This is a weak-ass hand, and an extremely loose call, especially up against Mr. Hijack, who isn't raising with crap. But I am 100% sure that Mr. Minnow will call, and with him and me in it, the fourth player will call too. I will be getting 3:1 on my money, in position. And so they did.

I tell myself I will fold to any bet if I don't hit the flop really hard.

The flop comes: Ks 5s 4s.

Yeah, I flopped the joint; I think that counts as "hitting the flop really hard." Behind a mildly interested-looking exterior, my inner child was dancing an extravagant happy-dance and shouting "booyah!" and other less savory expletives of joy.

It immediately got even better: Mr. Minnow bet out 20xBB. It is no surprise when the other two players promptly get out. I look at the board and ask myself: "What is he betting here?"

Does he have a set?
Big slick (AK)?
A baby flush?
Some kind of insane open-ended straight or straight-flush draw?

I call.

The turn card is 8h. I watch him as it falls. There is no hesitation.

"All-in!" he announces. About 50xBB. I have him covered.

I look at the board again. As far as I can tell, I still have the nuts. I have the nuts, right? How did the eight of hearts possibly help him? Does he have a set now? What the hell is going on?

Of course I call.

I have a flash of deep chill as the last card falls: it is the King of diamonds. Can he possibly have filled up on the river? Does my luck suck THAT BAD?

For once it does not. He turns over ~ wait for it ~ the King of clubs and the 10 of spades. My nut flush is indeed good and I drag all the chips.

But let us have a moment of silence for the beauty of extreme wrongness that was his 1) leading out big with top pair, weak kicker on a monochrome board from early position with three to act behind him and b) the all-in move with top pair, middling spade flush draw, after having his first bet called. (By me, probably the second- or third-tightest player on the table.)

It is easier to spot the fish a) when there are fewer fish in the pond (i.e., it's not all fish all the time) and 2) for once, it's not you.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 24: Gone in Two

Cash game frustration.

Hand 1

I am slightly, but not severely, shortstacked for the nine-handed table. This is a crew that plays together regularly, and I'm accurately known to be tight-aggressive. Not that people make decisions based on that knowledge or anything.

I am first to act and look down at two black aces. Hey-ho! Finally something to work with. I raise to five times the big blind, thinking this is an amount that, coupled with my image and my position, will thin the field to come.

The guy to my immediate left calls. Three other people behind him call. Apparently five times the big blind from under the gun scares no one... oh no, wait, they now have "pot odds" to call. What was I thinking? (I have yet to be able to determine what raise amount will, in fact, reduce callers to only one or none with any degree of reliability at this table, as we will see.)

Flop comes Jd 10d 3h.

I lead out for 20xBB, a pot-sized bet, happy to take the hand down right there and, if not, intending to give bad odds to a flush or straight draw.

The guy to my left reraises all in. Everyone else folds back around to me. He has me covered and it's another 20xBB to call.

Ugh. This guy could have any number of hands. I am beating KK and QQ, and losing to JJ and 10 10. He could be making this move with AJ or even the flush or straight draws.

I did the equity math in my head and decided I had to call. I paid no mind to my gut, which was screaming FOLD FOLD FOLD.

Of course he had the one hand I didn't put him on, figuring that even this dude wouldn't call a big honkin' bet from me in early position with 10 J offsuit. But he did, and he flopped two pair, and he felted me.


Hand 2

About an hour later, after a rebuy and a top-up (things are just not going my way at all), I find AhKh on the button. Five limpers enter the hand in front of me, and ~ trying to learn a lesson from my previous experience ~ I raise to 10xBB this time. Surely this will induce some folding.

The big blind calls, as does a guy in middle position.

Flop comes 3s 5c 10h.

The big blind leads out 10xBB into a pot of 33xBB. Middle position guy folds.

I know this bettor. He could be leading with anything or nothing. I think there's a strong probability that my hand is good right now, and even if it isn't, I very likely have 6 outs to the winner. I also have to believe that, given my initial raise pre-flop, I have some fold equity here.

I reraise all in, an additional 31xBB to the original bet. I am called.

Turn is the ace of clubs. River is the ace of spades.

My trip aces go down in flames to... what else, the 2 and 4 of clubs.

Yes, the man called a huge raise out of position with the mighty 2-4 and took my whole stack. As he was explaining his reasoning, he said, "Well, I knew you had just wondered what raise would get people to fold, so I thought it would be fun to call with a donkey hand." He flopped an open-ended straight draw, and called a subsequent all-in bet despite not getting drawing odds.

And that was my night, right there.

I try to tell myself that I want people making these idiotic decisions, that in the long run I'll profit mightily off them.

I also tell myself that I could have folded to the all-in reraise in Hand 1, as my gut was telling me to. Hell, I suppose I could have folded to the first bet in Hand 2, since I did totally whiff the flop.

But I actually think that my choices in both cases were reasonably sound, given what I knew of the players. It didn't work out for me this time. At all.

Gah. Perhaps I just suck at teh pokerz.

Labels: ,