Raise or Fold:  Learning (From) Poker

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Fold

One thing that poker teaches you, or ought to anyway, is how to fold.
Your hand has no promise, and there are no prospects for a successful steal: fold.

You’re out of position, with a modest holding: fold.

You’ve missed the flop, you have no draws, and your canny opponent has led out: fold.

You’ve raised in early position with pocket 10s, and there’s been another raise and then a shove from a tight player behind you: fold.

Your only choice at this point in the tournament is to raise or fold, and raising will put your whole stack at risk with a weak hand and no fold equity: fold.

You’ve finally realized you’re at a table with significantly more skilled players than you: fold and pick up your chips.

There’s a common saying among poker players: “No one comes to a casino to fold.” And it’s true. Most people go to a poker game to “play” ~ by which they mean to see flops and turns and rivers. To gamble. To bluff and go all in. Not to mostly fold (which, of course, is what professionals do).

No one likes to see the money they’ve invested go to someone else because they surrendered the pot. It’s no fun realizing that the river bluff isn’t going to work and that the better part of valor is to give up a failed betting line. And when faced with a massive raise, it’s a miserable feeling to be backed into a corner (is it a bluff or a monster?) and having to fold. Let’s face it: folding because you were outplayed or outdrawn… both unpleasant.

No one likes to give up. No one likes to quit. And nobody likes to fail.

My friends, I find myself facing the decision: raise or fold. I’ve played for thirteen months. I’ve looked at the numbers, I’ve done the math, and the results are pretty hard to dispute.

I am a marginally profitable player. I cannot possibly make a living playing poker unless my skills improve significantly. I’m a much better tournament player than I am a cash player, and if I could tolerate the huge variance associated with tourney play, it’s possible I could eke out a living that way. But I’m not prepared to make that experiment, it’s simply too risky for my taste.

I’m not particularly happy about this conclusion. But I’m a grown-up, and I truly believe in fiscal responsibility. I do not have, at present, the wherewithal to be a professional poker player. So it’s time to acknowledge that, make the "pro" fold, and move on. Time to generate a viable Plan B. (Got a job for me?)

I do not, however, plan to stop playing poker. It’s a hobby that makes rather than costs money. It has taught me much about myself and others. It has introduced to me to wonderful people. Poker has made incredibly positive contributions to my life, and I expect it to continue doing so. I hope to keep improving my game, and I also intend to keep writing.

I hope that those of you who have joined me for this journey will continue to come along.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

By The Numbers

Month 11 will be over in two days, and I'm only planning to play live once more before then, so the books on M11 are basically closed. My Year of Risky Business will be over soon, and I've already begun the difficult process of trying to evaluate my progress and prospects as poker player.

It would be nice if the results were clear-cut. It would be very, very convenient if I were either a roaring success or an abject failure. Alas, I am neither, and so my results require interpretation. So here, instead, are the observations (based on spreadsheet data) that I'm working from. See what you make of them.

Month 11 was my best month ever, and by a meaningful margin. This was largely due to my outrageous winnings at the Rio cash games, but I also did well in tournaments (WSOP cash and Harrah's AC nightly 2nd place) and playing cash in AC. It is very difficult to know how much weight to put on these results. The juiciness of the Rio game probably cannot be replicated outside the context of the WSOP. On the other hand, the increased experience and confidence I'm bringing to the table is undoubtedly a contributing factor in my success this month, as is simply not running like crap. Bottom line: I could live comfortably on a monthly income that was 2/3 of this month's take, and I could get by on 1/2 of it.

For the last eleven months, my tournament ROI in smaller-field (fields <200) tournaments is over 90%. With the exception of a few minor cashes, I have not done well in the bigger buy-in, big field events. On the other hand, I haven't done more than about fifteen of them (including the 4 WSOP events), so the sample size is not large. Still, the big events are bankroll-busters unless you are properly 'rolled for them, and I am not. I took my shot and didn't get there.

For me, the tournament sweet-spot is probably a buy-in somewhere around $100-200, and fields of no more than about 150. Many of the Las Vegas daily tournaments with decent structures fall into this category.

I am a losing player at 1/2(or 3) cash. This had been my gut impression, but I ran the numbers carefully and now there's no doubt about it. It's embarrassing, but true. There are some venues and circumstances where I'm ahead, but overall, NOT. Really not.

I am a winning player at 2/5 cash. I made nearly twice as much money playing 2/5 than I did playing in small-field tournaments, but I had to put a lot more money at risk to do it (almost three times as much).

I only started keeping precise data on my hours at the cash tables in Month 5, so I have to estimate winrates a bit. I would say I am losing at about -4BB an hour at 1/2(3), which ~ let's face it ~ is PATHETIC. I have definitely seen enough hands at these stakes to render these results reasonably reliable.

My results for higher stakes are significantly less meaningful, as I have logged only half as many hours at 2/5 as at 1/2(3). Currently, I estimate I'm averaging somewhere around 15BB/hr. This is probably unsustainably hot. The problem is I have no idea whether a statistically more reliable sample size would end up showing me to be a loser at 2/5 as well, which seems like a serious possibility. I just don't know.

It has become clear to me that, as I've mentioned before, I'm just NOT going to have enough concrete data to make a sound statistically-based decision any time in the near future. And yet I must begin making some decisions based on incomplete information anyway. I'm going to have to do it based on some combination of math and my gut intuition, and in keeping with my personal style and comfort zone.

Does that sound to you like any other kind of decision I've had to make a whole lot of for, say... THE LAST ELEVEN MONTHS?


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nowhere near as bad as I thought...

I was in a pretty bad funk over my online poker results as revealed by tracking software. Nobody likes to suck. But then I realized that I had not included results from my other computer. So I transferred over the hand history files and imported those too. This provided me with a total of 150K hands to look at.

The result: I am, in fact, a breakeven player online. And if I were getting rakeback, I would definitely be profiting.

While this doesn't exactly offer cause for celebratory fireworks and champagne, it is helpful in two ways. Firstly, it confirms my original estimation that overall I'm not bleeding money online. And secondly, it shows very clearly that I was a significantly winning player until my results FELL OFF A CLIFF 15K hands ago in cash games and in tournaments. And when was this?

It was February.

Okay, that's interesting.

Let's see... what happened in February? Well, gee, I went to Vegas and got my ass kicked. My results in cash games, both online and live, have been in the dumper ever since. My tournament results have been okay live, but pretty bad online.

Some of this, I'm sure, is because most of my online play is very late at night/early in the morning, when I'm not at my best. Some of it is probably down to distraction (online play is particularly vulnerable to this, as the computer offers so many potential *oooh shiny!* attention-snags). And if I were a superstitious woman... well, let's just say I could come up with a couple more "explanations."

But I'm not.

So: have I become a much worse poker player in the last three months?

This seems unlikely. I may have been playing less well because I got so badly beaten up by variance in Vegas, but I don't think I've suddenly lost all my skill. And, if anything, I think the last three months have taught me a ton about overcoming tilt. While there's been a great deal of frustration, I think I've actually come to pretty good grips with the hands I've been dealt (so to speak).

I've also noticed, in the past, that when I'm absorbing new information or ideas about the game (say, from reading a book, or having a useful conversation about strategy), my results tend to suffer for awhile as I digest them and try them out in my own game. Eventually, I process them fully, and incorporate them into my game (or not), and the temporary disturbance passes, much like a case of indigestion from an especially big meal. Usually I emerge from those episodes a better and stronger player. It's possible that is what's going on here. I may be having growing pains, and the downswing may be both contributing to the pain and fostering the growth.

The net result of my analysis is this: I've been running really bad, it's affected my play, I'm learning new things that I've yet to fully master, and I don't totally suck.

Sounds about right to me. What do you think?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why We Don't Ask Questions We Don't Want Answers To

I finally decided that I needed to get some software to track my online results and to experiment with a heads-up display on cash tables. Being a Mac user, my only option was Poker Copilot. It's nowhere near as fully-featured as PokerTracker, but it's a start.

And now I know why I stopped keeping careful tabs on my online results.


And not just a little. My cash results are abysmal, and my tournament results are little better. And this is over a 50K hand sample, so it's no statistical blip.

I think I'm showing a net profit in my non-hold'em tournaments (specifically Razz and HORSE). But I wouldn't swear to that. After all, I thought I was at least breaking even in hold'em online; if this software is to be believed, I should be so lucky. (Maybe if I were getting rakeback I'd be a breakeven player. Maybe.)

Well. Time to take a deep breath and start over with new levels of rigor, and at consistently lower stakes.

I've been told that the truth will set me free. I don't feel especially liberated at the moment, I must confess. But I promised myself that I would be ruthlessly honest in my self-assessment over the course of this experiment, and being frank about bad news is part of the deal.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Me & Sig & Roy & Lion
I arrived home this morning on the red-eye in a state of total exhaustion. Mentally, physically, emotionally: I got nuthin'. This last week in Las Vegas has put me severely to the test, and ~ honestly ~ the results are not so pretty.

Here is a quick rundown of the highlights (the good stuff):
  1. Dinner with the bloggerati. Mentioned in my previous post.

  2. Hanging out with B.W.o.P. CK very kindly spent some time talking with me about life in Vegas and also introduced me to the O8 game at the Orleans.

  3. Playing poker with Cory Zeidman. The Grump describes the scene quite well. What he doesn't mention is that Cory and I played two hands together and chopped them both. In the second hand, I had Fido (K9), and flopped trips. Plenty 'o betting with banter. Turn was an Ace, River was an Ace. Cory showed 8 9 off. He cashed out shortly after and I asked if he would very kindly let me just win one outright next time we played together. He promised he would.

  4. Playing poker with Jamie Gold. I had been sitting in the Venetian Deepstack Sunday game for about an hour and a half when an unkempt, unshaven, dirty-fingernailed Jamie sat down three seats to my left. He was perfectly pleasant to everyone, and received the constant attentions of one of the massage therapists the entire time he was at the table. I took his big blind one time, but that was it. His game was utterly unremarkable and he busted out in about another hour and a half. He seemed awfully nice, but also the very picture of a poker degenerate. A few minutes after he went broke in the tournament I heard the name "Gold" called for a new 10/20 NL table in the Salon.

  5. Being a tourist and doing touristy things. For example, I saw the Treasure Island sirens & pirates show, which is about as silly and pointless as you could possibly ask for. The Grump was seeing it for the first time too (after three years in Vegas), which gives you an idea of just how much of a can't-miss it really is. As evidenced above, I also had my picture taken in a goofy way, which is pretty much de rigueur for a tourist, right? I played mini-golf. I saw a bad lightshow at the Fremont Street Experience (it was basically an extended commercial for LG). I visited Binions, but did not see the eponymous golden nugget across the way. Oh well, gotta leave something for the next visit.

  6. Getting my hotel completely comped again. That this was a such a thrill should give you some notion of how much of a trainwreck financially the rest of my trip was.

The bad stuff:
  • Only two profitable cash sessions, and those barely.

  • Three quite expensive tournament blanks.

  • At least three really dubious decisions for a lot of money, when I should have known better.

  • A growing sense of fatalism about my lack of success. (I knew when I was all in with my KK that I was up against AA. When my all in AA went down to 33, I just shrugged and mentally kicked the penguin on the way out.)

  • A sensation of dread about my impending month in Las Vegas. I no longer know whether I'm running bad or I am bad. I do know that I took another big hit to the bankroll, and will have to spend all of May rebuilding, just as I spent all of March rebuilding from February's trip. This does not bode well for my notion of being able to survive on poker in Las Vegas.

I saw a bit of Las Vegas beyond the Strip, and was brought face-to-face with the reality that it is fundamentally a desert wasteland with a car-dependent monoculture pasted down on top of it. During June I will hope to explore a bit more, to see if there are any signs of life and creativity to be found elsewhere in the city.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Month 7: Nothing to Write Home About

I just realized that I failed to summarize Month 7. This is partially because it wasn't terribly interesting, and partially because I think I'm still a little shell-shocked from the losses of Month 6. Who wants to look at the numbers when the numbers are nothing but bad news?

Still, you can't take yourself seriously as a poker player without looking hard at your numbers. Going "la la la" and pretending that reality is other than it is… well, that's a recipe for failure both personally and professionally. So here's how Month 7 went.

It went weakly. I averaged a 10% profit on the money I put at risk, in both cash and tournaments. So I made money, but not much, and certainly not enough to be viable as a sole source of income. That's way too close to break-even.

Even harsher: I only recovered about a third of what I lost in Month 6. The only "consolation" there (and it's not much) is that I simply did nowhere near as much playing in Month 7 as I did in Month 6, and the total money I wagered with was only two-thirds what I put at risk in the previous month. It's hard to make a big recovery if you're not playing as much or for big enough stakes.

By contrast, Month 8 is off to a relatively strong start (of course this means next to nothing). In fact, this first week is the best first week I've had so far. This month will include a few days of my next trip to Las Vegas, although not the whole trip. If historical patterns (again, perfectly ridiculously small samples, but anyway) hold up, I ought to do well this time, as I seem to alternate between substantial wins and losses in Sin City. I suppose I should note that I'm actually well ahead overall on money made in Las Vegas ~ despite Month 6.

I've decided that I'm going to try an experiment for the rest of Month 8. I'm putting in place some win-capture and stop-loss rules for cash game sessions at casino-level stakes. If I am up two buy-ins, I will cash out and either quit for the day or take an hour-and-a-half break. If I go through two buy-ins, I will stop for a minimum of four hours at a casino, and for the day if I'm at home. In AC, I failed to get up from the table when I had the urge to lock up my profits while substantially ahead, and went on to regret it. I know poker is one long session, really, but one's mental condition and psychological state have a tremendous effect on how one plays (okay, maybe it's just me), and positive reinforcement (booking a healthy win) is the best way to keep me on track. Resilience is important, no question, but I do much better if I approach the table feeling less beat up.

Someday, perhaps, I'll be less vulnerable to this kind of emotional weather, but until then I might as well try everything I can to maximize the time I'm playing in a good frame of mind.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Disparate Results

I played in a deepstack tournament last night that celebrated my A League's 500th game. (I have only been around for the last couple of years, but the league has a much longer history that antedates my participation.)

This game featured a larger-than-usual buy-in. There were sixteen participants, and I finished second. As with any tournament, to make the money I needed to get luckier than I deserved a couple of times. But also, with a few minor wobbles, I played every hand as best I know how and I remained focused throughout. I came back from a short stack though a combination of good fortune, patience, and fierce selective aggression.

This is in stark contrast to my performance during the WSOP subscription series with essentially the same bunch of players. You would think that if there were a causal relationship between the size of the stakes and my likeliness to go off the rails, that that correlation would manifest itself in these bigger buy-in games as well. But, for what it's worth, I won the two previous such games that the A League has held.

Now, obviously, in both cases the sample size is small. We've had 8 WSOP-series games and 3 bigger buy-in tournaments. It's an impossibly small number from which to derive any statistically meaningful information. It could all just be coincidence and variance. But something about this pattern is nagging at me, and I'd like to see if I can figure out whether there's anything more to it than a normal distribution of results.

One other thing worth mentioning: the deepstack structures (one with antes, one without) that we use for these more expensive games really go a long way to making skill a larger component of the outcome. I was impressed last night by how long it took to thin the field. We started with 10K in chips, had 30 minute blind levels, and didn't get down to 10 players until after nearly 7 hours. This group's average skill-level has also improved dramatically in the two years I've been playing with them. The level of play compares favorably with that I've encountered in big tournaments in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

If I ever manage to succeed in a major poker tournament, it will be at least in part because of the many hours of experience I've accumulated playing against tough opponents in my homegrown poker league. I am fortunate to have been able to participate in a well-run organization with other players who are dedicated students of the game.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Atlantic City Half-Light

I'm going to have to do some hardcore self-assessment when I get home. I may also need to seriously consider finding and employing a really good coach. I don't know whether what I'm experiencing is primarily variance having its way with me, my weaknesses as a player finally showing through, or the product of a bad case of "monsters under the bed" syndrome.

I need to step back and take a cold, hard look at my play and my results. And I'd like to recruit another pair of more objective eyes to assist me in that review. Any suggestions as to who might fit the bill for that will be gratefully received. I'd also be interested in sweating an accomplished and successful player so that maybe I could get some fresh insights into the game.

Continuing as I am now is not going to result in a viable, sustainable professional career. I must improve; I must keep learning; I must do better.

[Update: I came home and filled out my spreadsheet. It turns out that I actually made some money on this trip. And if I had skipped the tournaments, I would have come home with quite a respectable profit. It helps that I did very well in my last session in AC.]

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Q & A: Why the Heck Do You Use ROI to Report Cash Results?

Faithful reader Anonymous queries in the comments to a recent results post:
I've always had trouble understanding the "Results" that you give in this blog.

I understand tournament ROI, but what the heck is cash ROI ? ROI is not a metric that I've ever seen used in cash poker and seems completely usless. I mean, if you buy in for $1000 and win $100 your ROI is 10%, but if you buy in for $500 and win $100, your ROI is 20%, but you won the same amount!

I assume you made that up as a way of giving results without actually discussing how much you won? Or am I missing something?
I started calculating and using cash game ROI for a few reasons, only a few of which may be good ones.

When I began this project, my primary objective in record-keeping was to determine if I could make a living playing poker given my starting bankroll. First: could I be profitable? Second: if so, how profitable? And third: would I be able to support myself given the small stakes and modest bankroll I began with? How would poker-playing compare to other ways I might choose to invest my money? (For example, my money is doing a heck of a lot better in my bankroll ~ right now ~ than it would be in the stock market, or indeed most typical investment vehicles!) I don't think ROI is completely useless as a metric. It gives me a general idea of how much money I have to put at risk, in the games I play, in order to achieve a certain monetary return.

It is true, as Anonymous suggests, that I wasn't particularly eager to reveal publicly the exact size of my bankroll, to always be specific about the stakes I was playing at, or to detail the absolute dollar amounts won or lost. Despite the common notion (probably derived from TV broadcasts that talk about lifetime tournament winnings) that poker players' results should somehow be public information, I prefer to keep these matters private unless I have a good reason to share them.

And, to be frank, I was also clueless about the need to keep statistics that would help me track the information that is most useful in analyzing one's cash game results across various stakes, e.g., BB/HR. (I would point out, however, that the same concern is true for tournaments as for cash games: ROI tells you NOTHING about actual profits. All I have to do is win one larger-buy-in tournament and that makes up for a whole lot of losing at lower stakes in ROI terms, if I lump them all together.)

Recently, I have begun tracking winrate statistics for my cash play, including stakes and time played per session as well as profit/loss results. If ~ after I have accumulated enough data to be worth analyzing ~ they reveal something interesting or meaningful, I may eventually write about them.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

By the Numbers (A Post Mortem)

I finally steeled myself to go look carefully at the numbers from Month 6, to figure out exactly how much of a hit I took in Las Vegas, and where and what were the biggest losses.

To my surprise, it wasn't quite as bad as I thought. Bad enough, but not apocalyptic.

Yes, Month 6 was my second losing month, and it was more than three times worse than my previous losing month (Month 3). As in Month 3, all of my net losses were in cash games. I've only had one month (Month 2) where I lost money playing tournaments, and that was last time I played MTT tourneys at the Venetian, when I didn't cash at all.

This time, playing three deepstack tournaments and a satellite, I broke even. My one little 11th place finish covered all my tourney costs. Making money on MTTs is hard, and I'm actually heartened by this analysis. My play in these games was good, and if just a couple of hands had gone the way of the odds, my results would probably have been a whole lot better.

So that means that I really bled out at the cash tables, right?

In a nutshell: yes. What happened was that I had about a ten buy-in downswing in a very short period of time. After the first day, which booked a profit, I had only one winning session, which is a pretty appalling record. One of the joys of no-limit is that a losing session can mean that you played for stacks, sometimes multiple times, and lost. And that's what happened with me. I got felted not by a slow drip-drip of attrition, but when I had all my money in the middle for large pots.

Again, at the risk of being accused of special pleading, I don't think I played terribly. I generally got my money in as good as you can hope to in a game that is ~ let's face it ~ called "gambling" for a reason: probability is not always your friend. And, as I've admitted previously, my play definitely suffered as time wore on. I take full responsibility for at least two or three buy-ins' worth of bad decisions. But had I landed on the upside of a few of the gambles I took when I was a big favorite, I could easily have come home six or seven buy-ins to the good.

So even though my profit graph has another unsightly kink in it, I do not want to stop playing for stacks as a big favorite because of these results. I am back on the horse and sitting tall in the saddle. Giddy-up!

Halfway through my year, it looks like this:

Tournament ROI: 58%
Cash ROI: 20%
Overall ROI: 21%

Bankroll growth: 33%

Not pro material yet, for sure. But I'm still learning.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Month 5 Gets Put To Bed

The books are closed on Month 5 of my poker adventure.

I'm back from six days of virtually non-stop poker playing in AC. The trip was basically a break-even proposition for me: all my rooms and food were comped, but I barely made a profit at the poker tables and I had to pay for tolls and gas to get there. (I would have shown a much more substantial profit but for two hands: one where I was all in with AA over QQ and lost, and the other where I was foolish enough to go all in against someone who I should have known was incapable of folding top pair. These two hands were both, of course, at a 1/2 table. The players suck, but I experience higher variance there because I don't dumb down enough.)

Fortunately, the trip was useful in a few non-monetary ways. I now am completely convinced about the correlation between physical exercise and success at the table. It's pretty straightforward. The days I worked out before I played, I made money. When I didn't, I didn't. That ought to be enough, right there, to get me motivated to go the gym.

I gathered some new and challenging material for my book, especially concerning my ongoing thinking on the meaning of money. I spent some time on Wednesday with a guy whose attitude toward money (and gambling in general) is worlds away from my own, and it was food for thought. Look for future posts on the topic soon.

After a night playing at The Table From Hell*, I also realized that I need to be more proactive in changing my circumstances if, for whatever reason, I'm not happy with the table I'm at. When I'm not in a casino, table selection is much harder. In AC, I'm generally playing at Harrah's, but I have good relations with the floor staff, and they are very helpful and accommodating to requests. If there's only one table at the given stakes, that's one thing, and you kind of have to just suck it up. But if you have a choice, why not exercise it? One of the edges I think I have over many players is that I genuinely find playing poker to be FUN. I need to continually find ways to keep it that way, otherwise I'll be just another grim-faced grinder without any alternatives.

*The Table From Hell comprised Chatty Asian Girl Who Knew She Was Hot But Wouldn't Shut Up EVAR And Ended Up With Everyone Hating Her, Two Sloppy Beligerent Drunks, Lagtard Luckbox, Cranky Pro, Stinky Man, Lovely Sunshiny Dealer Who Finally Lost It and assorted other characters. It was the slowest, noisiest, and most annoying table I've ever sat at. Finally, in desperation, I went to the floor and moved back to 2/5. Blessed relief.

I am going to focus intently on my writing this month. I've accumulated a lot of very valuable direct experience, and I need to spend some time digesting it and reshaping it for the book. I'm starting to feel that time is growing short for me to get this thing written, especially as I expect that I won't have much time to work on it during the WSOP. Time to crank it out!

Without further ado, my stats for Month 5. Numbers in parentheses are Month 4 for comparison purposes.

ROI on live tournaments: 261% (0%)
Obviously the wins in AC were the big factors this month.

ROI on live cash games: 7% (63%)
It seems that I alternate between having strong cash months and strong tournament months. It would be nice to be able to fire on BOTH cylinders at once.

Combined live ROI for the month: 34% (56%)

Total live tournaments ROI to-date: 92%
Total cash game ROI to-date: 257%

Current live bankroll ROI: 37%
I am now five months into my experiment and I have, cumulatively, put every dollar of my original bankroll at risk at least once. This suggests to me that 37% may start to approximate an expected rate of return on my money. If I absolutely, positively had to live on my poker income, I could. But it would be very, very difficult.

Here's another item worth noting: I have put four times as much money at risk playing cash games as I have at tournaments. Despite the swings, cash games are indisputably more profitable for me than tournaments. They are clearly the bread and butter of the professional life. On the other hand, a big score in a tournament could vastly overshadow the profits possible at the cash stakes I play. The big tournament win is obviously still worth pursuing, but on some level it is much more of a 'lottery ticket' than the regular returns of a cash game livelihood.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 120: A Royal Success

Any day you make a royal flush and get paid is a damn good day.

I had a damn good day today.

I chopped my A League tournament. And I played in the Crime Scene game for a profit, including the royal flush draw (up and down) that I flopped and then saw completed on the river. I didn't make a lot on that hand, and I forgot to take a photo, but it was still a thrill.

I also almost pulled off the bluff of the century. Instead, I got bluffed myself, but I got the bluffer to show his hand after I folded and now I know what he looks like when he's raising light, or with air — a tell I was able to use extremely effectively in a subsequent hand and which will be good, I presume, for the foreseeable future. Whatever I lost acquiring that information was well worth the cost.

The best thing about the night's play, though, was that I played without any substantial error in both the tournament and the cash game. I did what I knew was right and I didn't get punished for it, which was nice.

I don't expect to play live tomorrow, which means that today closed out Month 4 for my live-play account. I had what I consider to be a very successful month. If I could truly sustain this level of profitability month after month, I could call myself a professional poker-player, and I could live (quite modestly) on my poker income.

Which would be AWESOME.

My ROI on live tournaments for the month: 0% (would have been 78% if I hadn't played the Circuit Event)
My ROI on live cash games for the month: 63%
Combined live ROI for the month: 56%

My combined live ROI to-date: 31%
My current live bankroll (including expenses): 124%

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Day 102: I'm A Steamroller, Baby

...and I'm gonna roll all over you!

I feel like my game gets a whole lot better every time I go and play seriously in a casino. My A League had a poker marathon day today, and I played in four tournaments.


Game 1: chopped for 1st
Game 2: 2nd
Game 3: chopped for 1st
Game 4: chopped for 1st

Why all the chops? There were people impatiently waiting to play the next game, except for the last one which ran very late. I already have my qualifying win for the League end-of-quarter tournament, so while the extra money for an outright win would be nice, it's just not that big a deal, and I get goodwill points for keeping things moving along.

Now, to be candid, I did run pretty well. I got lucky when I needed to. I was NOT card dead, and I managed to hit the flop my fair share of times. I also played ~ and I do not say this lightly ~ almost entirely error-free poker. I made great calls, I made great laydowns, I made great bluffs, and I made great value bets. I played really, really well, and I was playing BY WIRE. I was in the zone: intuition and logical thinking in sync. What a great feeling!

If I can keep this up, I am going to be very, very hard to beat.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day 99: The Reckoning

Okay, just a quick note to say that I managed to do very nicely indeed in two different cash games tonight, the Capitol Hill game and the Crime Scene game.

I realize also that I failed to note any stats from the landmark end of Month Three. This is mostly because I'd forgotten to close out Month Three (which ended before my latest AC trip) ~ and I probably forgot to do that in part because, subconsciously anyway, I knew that Month 3 was going to go down in the books as my first losing month. Which it was.

Month 1 ROI: 34%
Month 2 ROI: 27%
Month 3 ROI: -13%
Month 4 is off to a good start, however, currently at: 29%

YTD ROI: 18% (including travel expenses)
YTD Live bankroll: 112% (ditto)

I have put sums totaling 65% of my bankroll into play over the course of three months. However, I have never put more than 4% of my live 'roll at risk at any one time.

Tournaments are by far my most reliable earners. My live tournament ROI is 72%, and it was solidly positive all three months. Cash games, by contrast, are much more swingy. Although my cumulative ROI for cash games is 36%, I had negative ROIs in Months 1 and 3.

This result is the opposite of most people's conventional wisdom, which is that tournament results are much more variable than those from cash games. I think my stats reflect two things: I've been running average in tournaments and like CRAP (for the most part) in ring games. Also, I've been playing tournaments seriously much longer than I've been playing cash games, and I'm probably still a better tournament player than a cash player.

I expect these two sets of numbers to even out as the year progresses; it will be interesting to see how that goes. To be fair, these are ~ statistically speaking ~ very, even ridiculously, small sample sizes to draw any conclusions from.

As for online, I cashed in a large multi-table big buy-in tournament for the absolute minimum today... but hey, I made it to the money! I am hoping and praying that this is indication of an online results turnaround. What it wasn't, though, was an example of good bankroll management, as the buy-in was not in my price range. It worked out, but it was an excessively risky proposition. (The play was, however, considerably less donkeyesque than at lower buy-ins, and that was refreshing. I am reminded that game selection is key, and that I seem to do better at higher stakes for a variety of reasons.)

I am still waiting on the acquisition of poker tracking software (HINT HINT Poker Academy Prospector beta testing team!) that will allow me to review my online results in a coherent way.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 84: Giving Back


Nothing like winning a big wad of cash to prompt a person to give a bunch of it back. The Crime Scene game hoovered a chunk of winnings out of my pocket tonight with an epic series of donkey plays and suckouts (and some bad decisions on my part too). Back to the grindstone for me!

I've started keeping an even more elaborate spreadsheet for my live games now. I'm tracking my progress by category, and for the first time I have stats on ROI (return on money actually put into play, as opposed to overall bankroll stats).

At almost two and a half months into this adventure, my ROI on live tournaments is +75% and my ROI on live cash games is +20%. Including travel-related expenses, my overall ROI for live play is +14%. (Travel is expensive!)

Is that good? I honestly have no idea what a typical small-stakes professional poker-player's ROI is. I can tell you though, if poker were my sole source of income, I'd have to have a bankroll nearly ten times as large as I do now for this rate of return to generate a genuinely livable sum. And that's if the results are scalable to higher stakes, which I very much doubt.

It will be interesting to compare these numbers to my online stats, whenever I actually manage to get a hold of them.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Words of Wisdom

I should memorize this:

One thing that you will discover as your game improves is that you will receive way more bad beats than you give out. If it were possible to play perfect poker, a bad beat would be the only way you would ever lose a show-down. Thus as a good player, you mostly get your money in while you are ahead and more and more of your losses will come from bad beats. To make matters worse, because you aren't getting it in behind very often, you almost never get to deliver a bad beat to someone else.

This gives you the impression that the game is somehow unfair to you, but in reality it's just your skill showing through.

This comes courtesy of Loki9 at the Poker Academy hand discussion forums.

To be fair, I should add that I played KK poorly yesterday and caught my 8-outer for a full house and a huge pot, thus bad-beating my opponent something fierce. It was the first bad beat I'd laid on anyone in a long time. And while I was delighted to win the money, I did have a twinge of angst knowing that I'd made a call I shouldn't have on the flop. On the other hand, it was his mistake to call my all-in shove on the river, as there was no way his two pair could have been good at that point (trips, straight, boat... he had so many ways to lose).

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 9: Some Days the Bear Eats You

I eaked out a fourth place money finish in my A League tonight. Which doesn't totally suck, but isn't anything to write home about either.

Online, I've been suffering through another protracted patch of bad beats both in tournaments and in cash games. Even multi-tabling can only dilute the pain so much. Much teeth-gritting is required to get through these stretches, which can seem to go on forever. (I can only imagine how many weeks' equivalent this would be of live play. I shudder to think, actually.) I keep reminding myself that, really, I want people to call down with a flush draw while I make pot-sized bets. Because, you know, statistically I'm gonna make out like a bandit from that. Statistically. Some day. Eventually.

Tomorrow is a live cash game bonanza. One is my usual friendly Thursday $.5/$1 game (being held on a Wednesday, this time), and the other I haven't been to yet, but I gather it's a wild, drunken, crazy-assed $1/$2 game, which gets going right about the time the friendly game ends. Which is to say at about 1 or 2 in the morning.

Perfect. I intend to go and profit mightily. There's a lot to be said for being the only sober person in the room.

Live bankroll: 99.1%
Online bankroll: 103.6%