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… And So One Chapter Ends. Tuesday 20 February 2007 @ 13:51

One year ago last week, I posted that I hope to be a [full-time] professional poker player ten years from now. I was beginning a ten year plan to become a pro. Theoretically, I have nine years left. But, while I didn't journal much about my thought processes this past year about becoming a full-time pro, I have been thinking a great deal about it.

I spent a good piece of my poker time last year preparing for what became the experiment I conducted for the last month and a half to consider what it's like being a full-time pro. I decided last week to end the experiment. External (i.e., financial) factors indicate that it went well, and it's actually pretty clear to me that if I wanted to, in ten years, I could be a full-time professional poker player. I noted earlier this month that if I were to do it now, I think I'd have to take a substantially reduced salary, but it's likely with constant work on my game over the next nine years, I could get to the point where I'd have a full-time job.

I'm usually the type of person that if I can do something that I had a mind to do at one point, I just do it. In other words, I don't reconsider a plan very often; I'm better at executing those I already have it. But, this is a good case for reconsidering.

I do know that I will probably keep full-time poker in my back pocket as a backup in case for any reason I can't continue the work that I currently do. However, I have now let go of the plans to make it full-time.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be making a series of posts detailing all the reasons that led me to this decision. roryk is well known for urging me and others to never ever consider becoming a pro; perhaps my posts will help those considering it. Surely, this series of posts will make Rory happy.

I still haven't decided yet what I'll do regarding continuing the part-time professional play that I've been engaged in for the last few years. I admit that I've gotten used to being able to pay some expenses with ease from my poker business. I'm fortunate that I don't have to decide that quickly. I've more than doubled my bankroll in the last month and a half, and I could easily spend the next eight months not playing at all, pulling some expenses from it, and still not have to drop down in stakes if I do start playing part-time again at any point.

What I do know is that I'm done with the plan to become a full-time pro, and that I may be winding down my work as part-time pro as well. I look forward to exploring my reasons here in the next few weeks.

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F.J.'s Other Place in Dallas Monday 19 February 2007 @ 16:49

[ swolfe recently complained that I hadn't finished my Texas trip posts. So, four months late, I pick up continuing story of my Dallas poker week. I wrote previous posts about Monday night and Tuesday, Club 1 and Tuesday, Club 2. Here's the post about Tuesday, Club 3. ]

After leaving the gimmicky club that I previously described, we headed to what I considered the best club we visited that week. It was run by the same fellow (F.J.) who ran the club we'd visited Monday night, but in a different location.

Steve indicated a few reasons that some club owners run in multiple locations. First, it keeps the clubs small and irregular, which helps avoid busts. A club that runs eight hours every single night is much more likely to get busted than one that is only open twice a week. Second, there are a lot of luck-oriented players around the Dallas poker scene. If they are running bad at a particular club, they won't go there anymore, but are willing to come to another.

Indeed, there wasn't a lot of overlap in clientele at this new club. It was bigger than F.J.'s other single-table place; there were two full tables going when we arrived. We got a seat on the back table by the windows.

The game was extremely loose, with two or three calling stations taking almost any hand they played to the river if they hit anything. A few aggressive players were in the game; Steve pointed one out to me as a fellow who'd done well in some WSoP satellite events, but was actually a pretty horrible player. Steve said something like a big chunk of my bankroll is from that guy. I started calling him “Bankroll Builder” in my head at that point.

As it turned out, however, my largest confrontation was with someone Steve identified as one of the better players at the table. This fellow had raised UTG to $25 — relatively standard in this $2/$5 game — and gotten a small reraise the aggressive Bankroll Builder, and a cold call in between. In the small blind, I found AA. I didn't really want to play this hand out of position on the flop with much money behind, so I made it $300 to go, hoping to get reraised for my last $200 somehow. I felt I was basically announcing my hand to the field, but thought the aggressive reraiser might have a hand like QQ and go with it, and if the strong UTG player had KK, he might not be able to fold it — giving me QQ instead.

After a short speech about how he has to have the best hand, this “good” player went all in, and Bankroll Builder went into the tank, and eventually folded what he says was a pair — frankly I think it was just 88 or something. I called immediately found myself up against AKo.

Business was quickly offered. This was a tough spot for me. Of course, the odds don't change if you run six full boards from the whole remaining deck, but I'm not really used to playing $1,000+ pots. I told the fellow I'd do any sort of business he decided — he could name what he wanted. I am used to leaving it all up to luck once the decisions are made, so this seemed to be a way to do that.

He wanted to run it twice, and then asked: two boards or two turn/rivers?. I told him it was up to him again. I just wanted the whole moment over with. He decided on two full boards, which he felt gave him the best chance (probably true), and I was glad to see the first board left me “freerolling”. The second board came with four spades, and that gave his Ks a flush, and the As was sadly the only ace not in play.

I, of course, wish I'd refused business, but besides wanting to leave it up to someone else what happened after I made the actual poker decisions, I also didn't want to hurt the morays of the Dallas poker scene, either. We did chop up the reraise and the cold-call, so it wasn't a loss against the rake, but I still felt like I made a bad decision and that I should have, for example, offered two turn/rivers instead of two full boards.

That was basically the only major hand I played, although I got paid off with turned trips by one of the calling stations, and I played a big draw meekly and won (and was admonished by Steve and a friend of his, a strong player who was dealing for the evening for not potting it all the way to the river). But, as for the poker, those were the only notable occurrences.

I really liked the club. Like the others in Dallas, the space was wide and open. The dealers were friendly but not distracting; the staff was attentive. The whole story at these places was service — it's so different than the abysmal places here in NYC. Heck, these places were even nicer and more accommodating to players than some casinos I've visited.

Steve wasn't a fan of the plaid-ish felt at this place, as it was admittedly a bit too textured and certainly not great to look at. But, given that I was only playing there for a night, I found it to be rather nice.

Finally, the thing I can't stop talking about these places is how nice the players are. There was virtually no dealer abuse. The bankroll builder guy was a bit rude at one point, and but F. J. pulled him aside quite quickly and got him back on track. I suppose I might be able to stand playing poker for a lot longer in an environment like this. I admit to some biases about the so-called “red states”, being the east-coast hyper-liberal that I am, but as long as I avoided discussing politics, I found the whole environment incredibly friendly.

As we left, F.J. even came by and shook my hand and asked if I was enjoying my visit to Dallas. I can't imagine any owner of a NYC club even noticing that a new player had come and wanting to make them feel welcome. Club owners around here could certainly learn a lot from these guys.

Steve dropped me back at my hotel, and I was glad to have had a small winning session, but was still down a lot for the trip. I wished I could have spent more time at F.J.'s club, as I felt that game was the softest and easiest for me to beat of the ones we'd seen. F.J.'s other club was running the next night, so I'd get one more visit there to finish up the Dallas nights. For the weekend, it was off to a nearby casino!

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No More Cheap Stuff, Nor Much Easy Money Sunday 18 February 2007 @ 22:58

Cake Poker realized that all of things available for purchase in their Cake Store were too cheap. Hard-core players just earned those gold coins too fast. I was playing on there so much, that under the old prices, I would have earned an 80GB iPod every three weeks! Glad I got two of them before they doubled the cost. :)

Still, it will take a lot longer than six weeks to get my next one. I am not playing on their as much as I was. The Neteller thing really thinned out the player base. I would still declare Cake Poker's NL HE games the easiest to beat on the Internet right now, but that's all becoming relative.

Cashouts have gotten really slow. I have had a cashout pending for a week and a half and they have yet to even process it. Plus, you can't buy fedex shipping for the cashouts anymore. Their answer when I email them is: Checks will be received 15-20 days from the date requested. Most of that time seems to be waiting for them to even process the check request in their system, not the time it takes after they've sent it off to Chexx.

I've decided to pull most of my online bankrolls out at this point. I'm going to be writing more about my plan to substantially reduce the amount of poker I play soon, but I might as well start moving the money out at this point.

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Sklansky's Mercy of Luck Saturday 17 February 2007 @ 22:23

In this very brief essay in Poker, Gaming, and Life, Sklansky argues:

Few people realize how much even expert players are the mercy of luck in the short run. One of the most dramatic ways to show this is by [pointing out that] no one could beat a draw game if they were never dealt a pat straight or better. [...] Without these occasional super hands being dealt to them, even the expert players could at best hope to break even.

For those who have never played draw, consider this to be roughly the same as never flopping a set or better in HE.

This is amazing to consider. If you “run bad”, you just cannot win. Luck is mandatory.

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Silly Systems Monday 12 February 2007 @ 10:03

I've been reading some older 2+2 titles recently. Sklanksy and Malmuth have this wonderful way of describing things that reminds me of my graduate school texts. I suppose you have to have gone to graduate school for some science-related field to actually enjoy that dry, dense writing.

I finished Sklansky's Poker, Gaming, and Life, and half of Malmuth's Poker Essays, both of which are collections of essays written for Card Player and other magazines in the late 1980s and 1990s.

One of the general themes that amazes me is their constant discussion of “systems”. It's clear that during the period when writing these essays, their simple ideas for poker planning were new. In many of the essays, they seem forced to actively defend the idea that winning players should treat poker like an endeavor centered around an hourly win rate, which is computed based on how much of a favorite the player is to the game she's selected. On the corners of every essay, they defend the now obvious idea that concepts like “loss limits” and “quitting while ahead” are completely silly for the winning player. In those days, it seems that the idea that you should quit a game only if you aren't a favorite or if your non-poker life calls you away was novel.

I read these defenses and imagine that during the late 80s and early 90s (while I was busy winning a mere $20/week in penny-ante wild-card games and didn't even know that “real poker” even existed) must have been a time of some enlightenment in the poker world. There were people, probably even pros, walking around who believed that the “quit while you are up” strategy was somehow smart play, no matter how good the game was. I suppose these were the same people who walked around saying that Internet thing is just for computer nerds.

Of course, the interesting shred of truth in the win/loss threshold approach (and one that Sklansky and Malmuth ignore, since they are writing only to the winners) is that the system works really well for losing players. Someone who is not a favorite to the game should let the short term luck wash over them and run off with the money if they are lucky enough to get hold of some. And, likewise, when they can't get luck on their side, they are better off running from the games as quickly as they can to limit the amount that strong players can extract from them.

(As a tangent, this is why the only thing that really upsets me in poker is the hit-and-run. It's just about the only strategy a bad player can use to defeat good players — forbidding the cards to even out and allow the good player to recover against the short term luck. In essence, the “quit when your up” is the only weapon the weak player has in her arsenal against a better field.)

I can imagine, though, despite how wrong-headed the beat-the-system approach to poker seems today, that Skalansky's and Malmuth's messages were hard for people to hear. Many people chose life as professional poker players so they didn't have to think about spreadsheets and hourly rates and marketing to the right customer base (i.e., choosing games where you're a favorite). The truth is, if you want to be a pro, or even a regularly winning player, you are just a weird sort of entertainer looking for people who actually want to see your show. You're the travelling circus that has to trick people into thinking the freak show is worth paying for. You are running a business, even if (for the recreational player) only a hobby one. You have to treat it as such and let go of the fanciful notions that somehow you are getting something for nothing.

The idea of “beating the system” using some strategy — be it a win/loss stop or anything else — is a fantasy. Playing poker for a living isn't beating the system; it's actually in a pretty simplistic way of being a cog in the machine. Grinding, that verb we use to describe the profitable poker we all hate to play, is what the real pros actually do.

It's always good when clear thinkers come along and burst the delusional bubbles. And, Sklansky and Malmuth have been doing it for decades. I suppose there must be people out there still living in the bubble, believing that some system gives them the power to beat the games. If so, they should probably all go out and buy these books. :)

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Ok, Just Tell Me “Don't Fold” and I'll Move On Sunday 11 February 2007 @ 23:23

Here's another one of these. I am only even considering I made a mistake because the player in question was extremely tight.

In a $1/$2 NL HE $200 Max online, 10 players, the hijack seat limps, cutoff raises all-in for $8.50. I reraise to $25-to-go (having started the hand with $250) from the SB with Ks Kh. An Ultra-Tight player in the BB (who has me covered) smooth-calls and the limper folds. I have Ultra-Tight on QQ or AA, maybe AKs, but he probably folds even the latter 90% of the time in that spot.

The flop is Ad Kc Qd. I check with the intention of raising, since I know he probably flopped a set. He bets $20, I raise to $100, and he goes all in and I call immediately, expecting to either see a set of queens or of aces. It's aces.

I should never, ever consider just betting out and being done with the hand if he stays in the pot, right? I should try to get the money in, right?

Man, playing poker this many hours yields set-over-set too often. :)

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Chexx's Checks Check Out Just Fine Tuesday 6 February 2007 @ 17:18

As many know, I have preferred — since the quick withdraw of Firepay after UIGEA — the paper check cashout method from online poker sites. I have used this method many times. I even used it sometimes while I still had Firepay for larger amounts, particularly in the old days of Pokerroom when the would fedex you a check at no charge if it was over $2,000.

I've seen the sites change what check processor they use many times. It appears that the last one operating is Chexx, Inc., a clearinghouse third-party check processor. I've noticed that sites that once used a different processor are now sending me checks via Chexx; I've received numerous Chexx's checks (don't subvocalize that phrase; it just sounds confusing) from various sites over the past two weeks.

davebreal referred recently to his concerns about Chexx, Inc. Worries about Chexx were initially raised on the 2+2 Internet poker forum. As near as I can tell, that whole thread is a bunch of fear mongering interspersed with an occasional intelligent person pointing out how the banking system actually works. Please, don't panic.

I admit I was a little concerned, too. But then I got Chexx's checks in my own hands and did some research. There are two things that generally matter when depositing any check (I'll get to specific UIGEA worries later): (a) does the account in question have sufficient funds, and (b) is the issuing bank reliable and known to pay their drafts. Nothing else really matters. Admittedly, (b) becomes quite complicated for USA citizens because it is often difficult here when the issuing bank is not in the USA. (Many of the checks I've gotten from various poker payment processors have been Canadian, and I've had many problems at some banks about that.)

The good news is that the Chexx's checks are drawn off a bank in the USA. According to the routing number, Chexx is using a bank called the US Bank, which has 2,472 branches in the mid-west and elsewhere. I don't think we therefore have to worry about the bank itself. Is this bank really going to default on its drafts and run off with the money?

The only problem, then, would be that Chexx's account doesn't have sufficient funds. This, too, seems pretty unlikely. Chexx is a somewhat well-established third-party check distributor, including check processing for many mundane, non-UIGEA-impacted businesses such as consumer product rebates. Even once UIGEA becomes a problem for them, they aren't going to jeopardize their larger business by bouncing checks for any customer — be they an online gambling company or not.

Given that this is an established company with multiple vertical markets, don't you think that they are going to do a careful pull-out? Don't you think they'll inform their customers (the poker sites) when the end date is? Don't you think they'll honor all checks issued before said pull-out? Rumors have gone around that the end might be 1 February. Others have said 1 March. But, we're going to know, and not via rumors. Chexx will tell the poker sites and the poker sites will tell the players, surely with at least 24 hours of warning if not more. Then they'll honor all checks issued up until that point, and they'll refer us to ePassporte or something.

So, you might ask, why is that people are reporting problems, such as tellers refusing to accept the checks from Chexx? Well, this is a problem I know a great deal about. I have been doing online poker check cashouts for almost three years now, and I can tell you first hand that tellers, and even most bankers, are utterly clueless about how even the national banking system works, let alone the international one does. They see a check that doesn't look like all the others they see every day, and they freak. They don't know how to handle it. They see a Canadian return address, and then don't bother to look up the routing number and see if it is a USA routing number. They tell you they don't take Canadian checks, or try to tell you have to pay some exorbitant fee to get it processed, or some other bullshit. Most people (to use a pithy phrase from our world) are clueless donks.

In a comment in davebreal's journal, I mentioned that so-called boutique banks are the best answer. My bank (whom I won't name publicly but if anyone is interested in them email me privately and I'll tell you about them) requires that you keep $2,500 active in your account (at only 1.5% interest), or pay $15/month for the privilege to have an account. Sure, it ain't cheap to keep the account open, but I get serious service for the cost. I have a personal banker assigned to my account who knows me and understands my business. I've explained to her that I do business with a number of companies in Canada and elsewhere, and they use these payment processing services. She's researched each one to make sure the checks are good when I start doing business with a new company or service. She figures out the best way to process the check (either as a standard ACH deposit or as a foreign check claim from Canada), and I get the money deposited. She even puts it through as “cash”, so that I don't have to wait for the amount to clear the other side.

My point here: the people freaking out haven't done their homework, and they are relying on the clueless employees of large, overly corporate banks to tell them how things work. Yes, there are going to UIEGA problems. Sometime in the next 153 days, US Bank will decide that they can no longer accept Chexx's transactions from their gaming customers. Perhaps before that, Chexx will have already voluntarily left the poker site payment business. We'll all find out some date when we can't request checks anymore. The existing checks we have will clear; we'll just have trouble getting the new ones out. We'll have to switch to ePassporte or some other crazy thing for a while. But, I'm sure they'll be some way to get the money out almost right up to the day compliance with UIGEA is mandatory (which is 10 July 2007, BTW).

That said, I definitely think slowly reducing your active online bankrolls to the bare minimum is a good idea. The last cashout right up against 10 July will be tough. But, we have a lot of days to go. Remember that these banks and check processors are run by people — regular old human beings like you and me. People procrastinate. People try to get their papers into the professor just under the deadline. People try to renew their license the day before it expires. Particularly when there is a lot of money involved, people will be slow to implement new measures for new legislation.

The challenge is following carefully the changes and anticipating when you have to switch tactics (just like in poker :). I have a feeling that check cashout has legs for another 60 days or so, then we'll have to switch to ePassporte, which will probably have about 50 days of life, and then it's over. That's my rough estimate based on gut instinct and how things played out with Firepay and the other sites that withdrew from the USA.

However it works out, note that arrests appear to be the only way to lock money up. Neteller and the other sportsbook case are the only examples that I know of where USA players funds have been seized. Even my experience with the Pokerstars instant cutoff from Firepay worked out; Pokerstars dutifully sent me a check upon request right after Firepay disappeared. I suppose that if we see arrest made of any US Bank or Chexx employees, we should assume the worst. Therefore, although I flirted with it for a while, I'm going ultimately to pass on the panicking. I hope you will too.

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A Month (or more) as a Full-Time Pro Monday 5 February 2007 @ 13:03

I mentioned recently that my lack of entries in January was caused in part by an experiment I was conducting. The experiment actually continues, as I decided to extend it, but I will give a brief report for the standings right now.

The crux of the experiment was to see if I could make enough money to keep my current lifestyle should I play poker professionally full-time rather than merely part-time. An analysis I did last year, showed that playing only 16 hours a week, I was earning at a rate of around $10-$14/hour. Obviously, in my non-poker life, I make more than that, so this part-time job couldn't replace my full-time one at this rate.

So, I began to think about how I could increase the earn rate substantially. One thought was to move up in stakes from my usual $1/$2 and $2/$5 NL/PL (or $5/$10 and $10/$20 limit) to something much bigger. This is a dangerous move, especially if I were to play full-time hours, because I have no history (other than a few short sessions) in bigger games, even if I am adequately bankrolled.

I decided to do some more poker reading and thinking about the game. I looked for a few leaks. But, as I started my month of full-time hours, I still found myself winning around $12/hour in the $1/$2 NL HE games I was playing. It's clear to me that against reasonably strong opponents (i.e., the type who don't often stack off with one pair, and can read situations reasonably well), that's about the best I'm going to get.

So, it leaves two basic choices: move up in stakes, or find better games. I'd eliminated the former, so I was left with the latter.

I had done the first 14 days of the month playing the usual online sites. But, Full Tilt had been inundated with the Party Poker refugee sharks, and the games that were awesome in December ($1/$2, $200 max NL HE 6-max) had become, by mid-January, a constant battle to take money from the occasional weak player. Even Ultimate Bet, the once tight-weak-but-overplay-one-pair paradise has increased in its occurrence of multi-tabling pros. Other than the heads up games there — an extremely high variance form of poker — there wasn't much dead money to collect.

This brought me to around the 14th of January. I thought about focusing to live play. But, the costs are heavy. I could rent a cars (I've vowed to never use Greyhound again) to visit AC regularly, but I couldn't get away from work that easily. (I have a lot going on at my other job right now, too.) The NYC clubs are profitable, but nowhere near as good at the AC games. They are also hyper-aggressive, which leads to more variance.

So, I decided I had to become a online poker game selection specialist. I bought into every site I ever heard of. I sweated games. I found out when and where the really horrible players show up. And, my results improved. From the 14th to the 31st, I earned $79/hour multi-tabling $1/$2 ($200 max), $.5/$1 ($100 max), and occasionally $2/$4 ($400 max) NL HE. Plus, I made an additional $1,850 in online bonuses and promotions. These are results one could live on.

Of course, I don't think these will be typical by any means. I don't seem to have gotten amazingly lucky, it's really that I have found fields with opponents whose knowledge of the game is so abysmal that they cannot help but lose large amounts of money. Such fields are a rare find, and online poker moves and changes so fast (especially given the financial unraveling occurring in the USA), that there is absolutely no certainty that any good games will be available in just a few months.

However, my live sessions in Atlantic City and other casinos show that it's likely that I could probably earn a reasonable living as a full-time pro. Let's assume my results are highly anomalous (one month can't really show you a long term thing), and that if my game selection skills stay excellent, I'll earn somewhere at the halfway point between my historical results and these recent ones. That's certainly being optimistic, but it gives a good “best case” scenario of full-time pro life. If this estimate is accurate, I'd make my hourly rate somewhere $35-$45/hour. That's $75,000 to $90,000 each year, assuming normal work weeks and two weeks of vacation. That's completely without other benefits, of course.

However, even in the best case, when online poker ends, I'd doubt I'll be able to make much more than $50,000 or so a year at it unless my skill improves substantially or the games stay as easy as they are. (I think the latter is highly unlikely, and the former would be a substantial investment on my part). Even if the games stay good, much of the great EV comes from the multi-tabling and fast dealing online. Even $50k/year might be optimistic for live play unless I get much better and move way up in stakes.

I suppose I'm not giving too much about my personal finances away when I say that $50,000/year without benefits and only two weeks of vacation/sick days is not really close to my current lifestyle.

That said, I'm thinking of continuing with the experiment a while longer. I'm curious to see how long I can keep up the win rate. While it leads to very little free time between the two full-time jobs, I'd like to have a go for one more month and see how it works out. I'll keep you all posted, but it'll be sporadic.

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Detecting Set Over Set Saturday 3 February 2007 @ 18:04

I'm a big believer that NL HE players should sometimes be able to lay down sets in full ring games when set-over-set is a strong possibility. But, having been known for seeing monsters under the bed, I figured I should ask.

NL HE $200-buy-in $1/$2 blinds online: Limped pot with five players including big blind. I have $225, Unknown Player has just joined and bought in for $200 and has the big blind. I limp in cutoff with 4s 4c.

Flop is Kh Th 4d. I lead $5 into $9.80 when it is checked to me., I am check-raised to $25 by the Unknown Player. I make it $50 to go. At the time, I was really thinking about getting away from the hand if he came back over the top. He did, for all his chips, and I eventually called, thinking that I didn't know the player that well and sometimes players go crazy with top two. I figured he'd have raised preflop almost all the time with KK so his range is only KT and TT (most players where I play don't semi-bluff with the nut flush draw, but I guess I could throw specifically Ah Qh to the mix). Also, the average player (which I have to declare him since he just joined) will sometimes raise from the big blind with TT, so that contributes a little bit to the odds he has that in the big blind. The statistics I could compute in the 15 seconds I had (no time bank on this site) seemed to indicate that even if he is twice as less likely to make the play with KT/Ah Qh than he is with TT, I should probably call for roughly 1.5-to-1. Of course, he had TT, or I wouldn't be telling this story.

I can't really take a turn from his check-raise due to the heart draw, so I think the reraise was right most of the time. Maybe I should have reraised more on the flop, in which case it would have been an auto-call due to odds. His over-the-top for all his chips made it possible for me to fold, but I just couldn't do it. Should have I?

My game selection has gotten so good that I basically never get stacked anymore drawing this thin, so I'm hyper-aware when I do and want to be sure I did it right.

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Where Am I? Monday 29 January 2007 @ 21:14

I should have posted about this sooner, but as an experiment, I am seeing what it's like to be a poker pro for a month (maybe more) to see what it's like. So, I'm effectively working two jobs at the moment — my regular one and “poker pro”. One thing I've discovered about being a poker pro is that there is absolutely no time for journal entries (other than in your win/loss journal). That's in part because I've got two, rather than one, full time job going.

I have been doing some poker reading — old school 2+2 titles. I have some interesting quotes I want to post soon, but it requires the book, and the laptop in front of me while playing eight tables. It's hard enough typing this much with all these windows popping up (it helps to have Emacs on one computer and the poker on the other. :)

I'm looking forward to making a big long post about my “month as a pro”. It will probably be boring to those of you that are already pros, but might be of interest to the rest.

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Gonna Have My Cake / Gonna Eat It Too / Make No Mistake. Saturday 27 January 2007 @ 19:30

I have disappeared from my journal because I've been coming home from work every day and immediately launching the Cake Poker client and playing until I can't keep my eyes open anymore. I've put in approximately 6-8 hours each weekday and 12 hours each weekend day in playing on this site. I'm earning around $64/hour muli-tabling mostly $1/$2, $200 max, and occasionally $2/$4, $400 max NL HE.

This site is completely amazing. The closest game I can compare it to is what you find in the $1/$2 NL HE games in Atlantic City. These games can be beaten by the clueless. Indeed, the would-be other “sharks” on the site are actually very weak players who simply hold money for me and one or two other strong players to get.

I think there are a few factors that make this site so amazing:

  • The Sports Book Players: Cake poker has a skin arrangement with with an online sports betting site. Most of the players (based on chat comments) are actually coming through the sports betting site, not Cake Poker. These players are truly horrible, and have virtually no textbook knowledge of the game and minimal playing experience. They don't even know what hands particular bets represent, let alone figuring out if the other players hold the represented hand or are bluffing.

  • Lack of Poker Tracker Support: A lot of otherwise strong online poker players are not that smart. I once knew someone who has been a losing player for years who told me there was no reason to play on a site that didn't support Poker Tracker. He said this during the hey days of Pacific, when the limit games there were the best ever seen on teh Internets. Pacific then was much like Cake is today. This fellow, who was struggling to do well at limit games, would only play on the shark infested waters of Party and elsewhere, losing steadily, while I was cleaning up on Pacific. At the time, I was probably only a little better at limit HE than he was, but I was a consistent winner and he was a consistent loser, because of his stupid Poker-Tracker-only game selection criteria.

    Of course I'm annoyed that my hand histories aren't imported and I have no heads-up display on the players. Thing is, I started playing online poker before Poker Tracker and like systems were even available. I know how to beat the game without it. Anyway, the opposition on Cake Poker is so bad, even someone who is completely spoiled with the Poker Tracker crutch should be able to beat the games with ease. These players are horrendous; a trained monkey should be able to at least break even in these games.

    Frankly, I am heavily rooting for Poker Tracker to not support this site. Once that happens, many sharks will give it a try. I recall that six months after HandGrabber came along and made PT work for Pacific, the games started to decline. Now, Pacific is nothing special — just another crappy software poker site.

    I am so amazed at the near-exact parallels between Pacific and Cake Poker: another gambling site sending players over (888 and Sports Book), bad software, no Poker Tracker support. In poker, you have to live where the fish live, even if it puts you out of your comfort zone.

  • Completely readable, loose passive players: This is key here. They slow-play when they shouldn't, and min-raise with monsters. They just call down with any top pair, but let you manipulate the pot size. They stack off every time with any two-pair or better holding. You basically have to be a moron to get a lot of chips in the pot bad against them, since they are trivial to read.

  • Profitable Promotions: They have this “gold card” thing where you collect cards from their vault. They are used for a number of their promotions. The most interesting one is the weekly “GC 500”. There's a lot of luck involved, but if you play every day for five hours or more, odds are you are going to win an average of $250 in the thing a week.

You may note that this post was originally friends only. I didn't initially want to tell the whole Internets about the fish pond. These days, it doesn't matter as much.

Anyway, I might not be posting a lot, as I want to suck down this money before it runs dry!

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My Worlds Collide Again Tuesday 23 January 2007 @ 12:51

As my regular readers know, I am actually only a part-time poker player. I have a day job in the Open Source and Free Software field.

Anyway, I just noticed that Sunday night, my worlds collided again, as they do on occasion. Robert Boyd announced that the Pokerspot source code has been released.

Those who weren't around for the extreme early days of online poker (when all we had was PlanetPoker, where I refused to play; I didn't start playing myself until Pokerroom came along and made a client that ran on GNU/Linux). Back in those days, Robert Boyd, along with his brother (the now ESPN.famous Dutch Boyd) called PokerSpot. Their site failed due to payment processors going bankrupt, leading to cashflow problems, panic, and a scenario akin to a bank collapse.

There's more history than that, and some people claim Robert and Dutch stole money. What really happened is their business failed, like so many others, and they couldn't pay their creditors, which included in part the “bankroll investors” in their site. This doesn't upset me much, and wouldn't even if I'd lost money myself, because there are serious risks in putting your money into anything (including your mattress — after all, the currency could always suffer mass-inflation now that the gold standard only exists in history books). Of the risky places to put your money, poker sites have always been one of the most dangerous.

That aside, I'm glad that Robert did the right thing with the source code, even if it is only marginally useful. Companies that fail should always do this with their software. Otherwise, it sits and bit-rots on hard drives in warehouses. I'd like to see someone use the software to study the code base to look for errors and mistakes that could have caused games to be run incorrectly. It would be a useful service to the industry and of historical interest in considering the questions of how likely it was that software problems caused any incorrect game play in the early days of online poker.

However, we have another hoop to jump through before that can happen. Those of you that know something about Open Source and Free Software will notice that Robert did not actually DTRT here, because he failed to put a proper license notice on the software indicating what license it is under. I've written to Robert and explained this to him and encouraged him to put the GPL on it. Update: Robert decided to license the software under a GPL-compatible license (a modified BSD) and has updated the SVN repository with the licensing information.

(My clueful readers will note that since the server code clearly includes Poker Source, that it would be a GPL violation for Robert to release the rest of the server software under a GPL-incompatible license. You'd of course be right, but it's much better if we get clarity from Robert on the front end on his own accord. Ok, everyone, now you know how boring my day job is and why I don't keep a journal about it. :)

I should, since I'm talking about Open Source and Free Software online poker, put in a strong plug, as always, for my great friends over at Mekensleep who are the authors of Pok3d. I haven't played their site yet because it's a 3D only client and I don't have a machine to run it on (I use only laptops and extremely old server hardware in my personal life), although they're working on a mundane 2D client like we're used to on other sites. Of course, I can't buy in now either because I live in the USA. But, I encourage my non-USA readers with 3D-capable hardware to give it a go!

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Collapse of the Online Poker Economy? Just Read the Guide's Cover. Friday 19 January 2007 @ 15:04

Excellently insightful as always, Ed Miller posted an excellent piece on the Neteller situation and the danger that has always been inherent with online poker that many don't see. I recall distinctly when I started playing on Pokerroom in 2001, and then again Pacific a year or so later, that it was extremely important for me to be playing not on my preexisting bankroll, but with a new bankroll won on that site. I still try to follow this rule, whereby I attempt to cashout my initial investment as quickly as possible. In this way, I can view any collapse or inability to pay as merely wasted time, not wasted bankroll.

I've modified that somewhat since buying in became difficult; I'm keeping more in online poker accounts than I used to, due to fear that I can't buy in again if it falls. That is probably a mistake, because the trustworthiness of online balances is actually most in question. Miller's right that an online version of the proverbial 1929 “run on the bank” could cause a serious collapse due to cashflow problems.

The most important thing for all of us to do — particularly those of us that receive a serious portion of our real income from online poker — is, in the words of Douglas Adams: Don't Panic. Keep playing your usual games. Do your usual cashouts. We all know we'll see a steady slowdown in the action, and eventually the games will move towards empty as the USA players disappear. But, online poker isn't changing much outside the USA. I hope my non-USA friends can comment, but I bet the feeling outside the USA is these silly USAmericans, always with their morality-oriented legislation. We'll keep doing what we're doing and forget them and their idiot president. If that's the sentiment, which I hope it is, that's the right one. The USA is an important market, but it's not the center of the universe.

I expect I have lots of online poker in my immediate future, and lots of live poker in my medium-term future, which just can't get the EV pumping the way my current online work can. But, I'm happy to let the online scene wind down gracefully around me, and then make my decisions based on what the post-UIGEA and post-Neteller-arrests world looks like. I hope everyone else will do the same. Keep your heads cool; let's all put our chips in, take a flop, and see how this hand plays out.

Update: I forgot to put this link into the slashdot story on the Neteller arrests. Like all slashdot, there are a very few excellent comments and lots of useless ones. Here's a particularly interesting one from a former Neteller employee.

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Am I Permitted an “I Told You So”? Thursday 18 January 2007 @ 15:17

I've never liked nor used Neteller. It was mostly because I thought it was wrong to have to give an SSN just to do an online payment, but I also thought there was something funky about their post-UIGEA position. At that time, I became convinced that the safest cashout method was paper check, at least while we wait out our (as of today) last 172 days of USA online poker.

There were some arrests of Neteller officials on non-UIGEA (money laundering) charges, and then without warning (other than the omen of the arrests themselves), Neteller service has been suspended for USA users! At least Firepay gave us some time to process final cashouts, even if Pokerstars refused to let you use it.

But, I don't have any time to gloat that I saw Neteller's position as particularly dangerous post-UIGEA (nor is gloating a good thing to do in general, of course). The important item that needs my attention is that most of my opponents use Neteller. I suspect there's going to be an en-masse chip dump (for people who respond with the whole thing is rigged anyway, I'll just ‘play these chips off’ or see if I can double them up), followed by a mass exodus over the next week.

So, for the next 5-10 days, I've got many hours of online poker ahead of me trying to get the last of the money in play from players here in the USA. I was certainly wrong in thinking that we'd get the majority of the remaining days of UIGEA implementation. I figured about 90 days before, we'd start to see a gradual slowdown approaching a crawl of USA players as banks started to roll out implementations. As it turns out, I was off by about 82 days.

Good luck, USA online players. The clock is really ticking now.

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The Craziest NL HE Hand I've Ever Seen Thursday 18 January 2007 @ 02:46

It's been a long time since I've seen something even close to this — probably a few years. After a $15 preflop raise in a $1/$2 NL HE game where five people saw the flop, three stacks of $200, $250, and $450 got it all in on the flop of: 4h 8s As

Of course, it's set (4s 4h) over set (8h 8d) over set (Ac Ad). This was only the second time in my life I saw this in a hand I was dealt into. (I folded preflop in both cases.)

Then, I proceeded, for the first time in probably two years, to actually be surprised by a draw out. Board finishes: 7s 3s. Bottom set wins — the only one that can make a flush on the unpaired board.

What I do think: it's two people's stories about how online poker is “rigged”.

Seeing it made me feel good in a way. I know I've been playing poker for a very long time when I finally see situations this unlikely. I have to get to bed soon, so I don't have time to calculate the odds on flopped set over set over set yielding a win for bottom set with a four-card flush on board. I am curious how the odds compare to other unlikely random events in life. Some days, I think all of poker is just a world wide experiment in confirming that statistically unlikely events do happen at roughly the theoretically proposed frequency.

For those of you keeping score on me, this doesn't count as a bad beat story being told in my journal because I didn't have a single $1 of my own in the pot, therefore it isn't my bad beat story.

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… And You Said It Was -EV to Avoid Neteller? Tuesday 16 January 2007 @ 16:08

(To be bloggy again,) I'd like to point people to Lou Kreiger's coverage of former indictments of Neteller officials for money laundering (an earlier post on the same topic, and (update) actual news story).

Yes, it's former executives/directors and this isn't really an UIGEA issue per se, but it indicates some desire by the USA Attorney's offices to continue enforcing existing legislation, getting closer and closer to poker itself. (Previous actions have been against online sports book executives.)

You all keep acting like I think the sky is falling when I say online poker is doomed and it will lead to a crash of the poker economy, but the evidence is all around us. I feel like Dumbledore trying to tell everyone Voldemort is back. :)

I should note to those of you who read my journal not logged into LJ that I have begun making a few “friends only” post. They likely will become public at a later date, but will remain locked for some period. If you want to be on my friends list and have just created an account, please comment on this post to tell me so.

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Sometimes a Piece of Cake is a Piece of Cake Sunday 14 January 2007 @ 23:18

I originally made this post friends-only because I wasn't ready to give this full information to the big wide world, because I wanted to cash in for a while first.

But, I have to say that Cake Poker has the best games on the Internet I have seen since the old limit days on Pacific Poker back in 2002-2004.

There are people bluffing off their stack into complicated boards against fields for four. There are people being whipsawed holding QTo, getting a quarter of their (full) stack in before the flop against two obvious big pairs, and then stacking off when they hit a top pair with T to two people.

Just as I was writing this have some woman call me to the river on 44973 when I held TT and she had 59. The stories go on and on, and this is 1/2!

It's been years since I've seen games this good on the Internet. This is the kind of action you can normally only find at a casino. I've got four tables of this going, though!

Of course, the software is crap. Of course, Poker Tracker isn't supported. But you don't need it. And it's not just the lower limits, either. I sweated the bigger games (up to 5/10 NL) and there is amazing action. Not as good as the lower limits of course, but I'd call the 5/10 tables tables on Cake Poker good if they were 1/2 tables on other sites!

I find it somewhat amazing that these terrible sites end up getting some of the worst players. Where are they marketing to make this happen?

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Who Still Takes USA Players? Friday 12 January 2007 @ 12:58

In the interest of making my affiliate links on the side of my journal useful, rather than merely annoying advertising (despite the fact that I get free money if you sign up using the links on my journal, I still encourage you all to use something like privoxy to block them. :), I'd like to make that list on the side include all the places I know that accept players from the USA.

Strangely, I'm having trouble determining which of the smaller sites still take them. For example, I can't seem to find definitive information on whether or not Doyle's Room and the larger Tribeca network is still taking USA players. There are conflicting news reports in Google. Does anyone know for sure (i.e., is a USA player still playing on Doyle's Room)?

I just discovered today, that Cake Poker, a small startup site, is accepting USA players as well.

Does anyone know of others? The only ones I know about are those on the side, plus Pokerstars. I've left off Pokerstars from my list, mainly because I don't encourage USA players to go there after the fiasco they pulled on Firepay customers. Yes, I know some of my fellow poker LJ'ers make their livings on PokerStars; YMMV. :)

BTW, 178 days to go for USA players. :)

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Considering Close Situations Tuesday 9 January 2007 @ 11:50

Usually, people spend the most time talking about hands where the situation is very close. I think this situation is a close one, but I'd appreciate comments if people think I'm overlooking something.

This is in 6 handed $200 maximum buy in $1/$2 NL HE game online. The button is a new player, having just posted his first blind this round. I sat down a few orbits before and I have only a little over $200. The button has $197, and raises to $7 when the action folds to him.

I called $7 in the SB with 9c 9h, and the big blind folded. The pot stands at $16 with a flop of 2d 3c 5s.

I bet out $9 into $16, figuring for a fold if he has overcards and a raise if he has an overpair. I'm not going all the way with this hand if he raises; I'll give him credit for TT or something and fold. He just calls. I figure he's capable of doing this with just overcards with an ace for a gutshot. He also could be slow-playing a monster, but I didn't get the sense he could have an overpair, because unless it's aces, he can't really let a card come off.

The turn is the 9s and I led $15 into $34. My hope is that now he continues to call if he just has overcards, and perhaps decides to pounce now if he does have aces or some such. Again he just calls.

At this point, I admit to being confused about his holding. He could have flopped a set, which he continues to slowplay. A4 is possibility, but it seems strange he'd slowplay that now with a two flush on board.

The river is the Qd. I led $50 into $64. At this point, if he has AQ and has been ripping with overcards and a gutshot, I figure he'll just call. I was a bit surprised when he moved all-in for $116 more. I didn't really think he'd slow-played QQ all the way down, and that was about as likely as a pure bluff with a missed straight draw — probably together they make up 5% of the time at most and cancel each other out. I decide that he either has A4, or one of the flopped sets, and decide to call, getting nearly 1-to-1.5. He actually held the stone cold, 46o.

It seems to me that I just have to get stacked here, and I'm not terribly unhappy about the play. But, I've been running badly enough that I am in that mood of questioning these sorts of situations and wanting to be really sure I didn't screw up.

I thought a bit about betting less on the river, which would have made it much easier to fold to an all-in. But I felt that there were some hands that would pay off that amount, and given that I didn't know anything about the player, he could easily have misplayed aces or a flopped set.

The other post mortem thought I had was to bet much more on the turn, something an overbet of around $40. The problem is, he might still just call with a flopped set, so the overbet doesn't actually tell me whether he has a flopped straight or not.

Did I royally screw up here, and if so, how should have I played it to lose less? Is this really a close situation, or did I just totally miss the obvious?

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Ed Miller Made Me A Blog for the Day Monday 8 January 2007 @ 16:31

A blog, as originally conceptualized back before most people in the industrialized world had Internet access, was a regular post by someone about things they were reading online. That's why I've always called this an online journal, not a blog.

Anyway, occasionally, I act blog-ish. Today, I'm going to.

Ed Miller wrote an excellent entry on Sunday regarding his analysis of whether or not poker games are getting tougher (you can also go to the non-livejournal-syndicate version). If you haven't read this entry, I believe it's an absolute must-read. I agree with every one of his sentiments, and it basically renders pointless a number of journal entries I had under development.

I think we really don't know what will happen to online poker. Having done the low-limit multi-table thing, I believe he's right about multi-tablers being glorified “bots” that make it extremely difficult to win. I find myself that my edge is better playing only two tables right at the top of my stakes threshold, in part because I can get a nice edge against the rock multi-tablers in orphaned pots. (Frankly, massive-multi-tablers rarely notice when pots are orphaned.)

I also absolutely love the fact that he makes reference to my day-job politics. I find it wonderful that Ed Miller turns out to be someone who believes, as I do, that generally useful technical information should be free as in freedom.

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Good Players Are More Often In Statistically Surprising Situations Friday 5 January 2007 @ 14:48

I've been playing pretty well the last week or so; nearly all NL HE. I've been very happy with my play, and somewhat happy with the results. I've gotten very good at manipulating the pot size so that people get all their money in when I have flopped a very good hand. I haven't been all-in with the worst of it in the last 20-30 all-in situations I've been in. Yet, I didn't win them all, of course, and I find this quote calming when it goes the wrong way:

If you are an excellent player, people are going to draw out on you a lot more than you're going to draw out on them because they're simply going to have the worst hand against you a lot more times than you have the worst hand against them.
&mdash Bobby Baldwin

Added to this, I also note that if you're a pretty good player, you're going to be particular good at tricking your opponents to take the worst of it, and thus adding to the times your hand can be outdrawn. The nice thing about NL HE against limit HE is that you almost always can set up these situations in the former where your opponent is mathematically incorrect in calling/raising you. Often in limit HE, you get the “I'm correct in betting and he's correct in calling” situation.

I also noticed no one has started keeping a running tally of how many days remain until banks must comply with the UIGEA. I am enough of a long-time net.citizen to recall when Internet countdown sites were still the rage, and I thought about adding a retro one to my journal, but for the moment, I'll just note that the final day of free Internet poker banking appears to be Wednesday 10 July 2007. Only 185 days to go. Here's a Perl one liner to tell you how many days to go:

perl -e 'use Date::Manip; print Delta_Format(DateCalc("today", DateCalc("13 October 2006", "+ 270 days")), 0, "%dt\n");'
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First Borgata Visit In Years Thursday 4 January 2007 @ 15:49

W.D. and I decided to go to Atlantic City on Saturday 30 December 2006. I believe that it had been over two years since my last to Atlantic City. It just usually ends up that I go to Foxwoods, since I know so many people from the Boston poker world.

We were pretty frustrated to learn that the Borgata no longer has a poker room rate like the old days — at least for anyone who plays lower than $40/$80 limit. I checked in with a few staffers, and they said that they, in fact, have very little control of room rates anymore. According to a brush and two floor people, the room rates are controlled completely by the casino hosts, and they chose whether or not to make offers of rates against someone's player account.

I had been curious about what NL HE in Atlantic City had become. I heard rumors that a lot of mediocre players were beating these games regularly for large amounts of money. I quickly found out why. The players are so bad that a well-trained child could beat the game, if they had enough bankroll to survive the variance. The action is just amazing.

It's this weird scenario of the clueless leading the clueless. The “strong, sharky players” at the table are these overplay one-pair types who think they should get every dime in the pot with an overpair. They are trivial to read because they play almost no hands and they turn up their nose at players who take flops in multiway pots with oddball hands: They must be donkeys if they play hands not in Sklanksy's list. These people would probably do ok at limit, but because they get so many chips in with one pair, they are actually helpless at NL HE and don't really realize it.

But that's only 2-3 players each table. The rest of the players are just completely lost. I mean that almost literally. We had a guy at our table who had never played poker at a casino before. He was actually a pretty nice guy (which nicely offset the constant whining of the “good players” ranting about how many times they posted on 2+2 or somesuch). This older gentleman was nice and trying his best to post his blinds, stop himself from splashing the pot, and otherwise avoid breaking every last poker casino protocol. But, unlike some others at the table who just flagrantly ignored poker etiquette no matter what anyone said, he asked us to tell him when he made a mistake so he could learn.

The variance was brutal, as I kept getting nice situations to put in my stack in as somewhere between a 60%-80% favorite and losing. I won't violate my journal's “no bad beat story” rule and tell details, but I was quite sure I had positive EV enough that I need not post these hands to ask if I played them right.

The only truly questionable hand that I played was actually a hand against that kind older gentleman. To set it up, I should note that he was clearly a limit stud home game player (he noted he'd been playing for years but never in a casino), and he got easily confused about how and when to bet. He would bet (what we believed was) top pair by overbetting the pot 6-to-1 or so, and would never get called (hence the “we believed” part). When he had a reasonably strong hand — two pair or better — he'd often call down the whole way, so it was difficult to tell his true strength. W.D. lost a bunch betting two pair into his flopped flush this way; W.D. thought the fellow was drawing. I got caught by something similar, but I think maybe I didn't make a mistake given his wide range. Here's the hand:

I raised to $10 from middle position with QJs, which I'm typically doing in this game. I actually do get called by weaker Q-highs and J-highs (people will play basically any face card with a kicker above an 8 in this game for a small raise). It folded to our older friend on the button, and he just called. We saw a flop of QQ3 heads up, with two suits. I bet $20 into $23 and he just called. I figure his mostly likely holdings are a flush draw, or the case Q.

The turn was an offsuit K, and I led for $50 into $63, and he called again. Of course, he would play the entire range of 33, AQ, KQ, QJ, QT, Q9, and Q8 this way. (I actually do think he would have reraised preflop with KK.) So, I felt there was basically no way I can eliminate any of these hands unless he raised; I kept reminding myself throughout the hand to instantly fold if he raised and looked strong. Baring that, I wanted him to keep calling with a weaker Q. I knew from other hands that bets sizes around $75 or so actually caused him to pause when he had a draw, so I tried to keep him drawing if he was.

The river was an offsuit 2, and I decide ultimately to give him one of the queens I was beating, and bet $75. This assured a call from everything but the flush draw, and if he did raise, I was surely beat. He just called.

This is where things got confusing for everyone. I tabled my hand as quickly as the calling chips went into the pot, as I always do when I am last aggressor on the river. The dealer looked at my hand, and collected the pot into a pile. A second or so went buy; our friend flipped his hand, and I saw a black trey flash. Before I could see his whole hand, the dealer was shipping the pot to me. I looked up and saw three threes laying out in front board (our friend was in the five seat near the board). My hypothalamus pot scooping reflexes kicked in to collect the pot headed my just as I realized what was happening. Yet, the pot had already hit a small stack of red chips out in front of my main stack.

By the time I looked up at the dealer and opened my mouth, the whole table was in an uproar. The dealer had misawarded the pot. The 2+2-obsessed guy to my right said: just give him the pot, you know which chips are yours and which were in the pot. I actually didn't. A red chip or two definitely got confused, and I certainly recall touching some of the pot's chips as they came toward me, so I couldn't be sure that I hadn't absent-mindedly stacked them while the treys were swirling and the dealer was misreading the board.

Floor came over and didn't know what to do. I immediately conceded that the other player had won the pot, but before his hand had been properly read by the dealer, the dealer had misawarded the pot. Meanwhile, 2+2 guy yelled in my ear louder than usual, saying I should give him the money and move on. The floor guy did not, unfortunately, take control of the situation.

After another five seconds went by, I said: Look, I saw treys full of Qs. I know the pot is his. I remember the action. Let's take my chips, and reconstruct it street by street together.

We did so, going backwards from the $75 on the river, and we rebuilt the pot by putting chips from my stack in front of me and the older gentlemen to represent each bet that was made. Then, just as I finished, saying: And three whites for the blinds who folded and tossed those in, the dealer grabbed the pot and started shipping it.

I said, Wait, that's the action, now I'm owed $4 for the rake. The entire table erupted in rabble-rabble-rabble. The dealer and the floor person argued that since the rake had already been taken, I wasn't owed anything from the pot. But we've already dropped the rake, they kept saying.

I gave them two full go-rounds of: That's exactly my point. The rake was taken by the house, from the original pot. We've reconstructed every bet made, including the blinds, and therefore the pot out there that constructed from my stack is the pre-rake pot. Since every chip came from my stack, and you've already dropped $4 from the old pot, $4 in the newly reconstructed pot goes to me. Then, they finally agreed, looking more like they were appeasing than believing me. This whole damn table was a tribute to the cluelessness of the human race — me included with my distracted ill-gotten pot stacking.

Frankly, the floor shouldn't have let me take charge. I did because it seemed the only way to keep the game moving, because I'd heard the word “camera” mentioned, and I didn't want the game held while they went to see if the dealer really did misread the board, etc. I saw the treys-full distinctly after the pot was already in front of me, and was happy to just do what needed to be done to get the guy his money and get to the next hand.

It was, however, a bit humiliating to be the only one who remembered every last bet of the action, and then to be in charge of reconstructing it so I could give $155 over to a guy who had no clue what was going on. And, of course the dealer made a completely rookie mistake, and the floor guy didn't do his job, either. I sure hope the guy forgot, as he kept doing all night anyway, to tip the dealer that time.

Anyway, I still think I couldn't have played the hand differently. That's a tough thing about someone who is completely new. It's actually more challenging to read them than the “good players” because their range is so big. I was ready to fold, basically on ever street, if he raised. (Unless, of course, the dude tried a bluff, because he actually was the first person I ever saw who had every single Caro bluffing tell at once, so I surely would have known.) But given that he just called every street, how can I not lose the amount that I did?

I should note this exact same thing happened to me in the 2/5 game at Foxwoods early in 2006, where I held AT on TT5 heads-up against a player who was brand new — never having played poker at all before. That fellow actually had trouble reading the board over and over, called everyone all the way to the river and asking the dealer to read his hand for him. I mean, I've learned how to fold open trips since my previous disasters, but, in the future, should I just check them down, particularly against players this clueless? ;)

Regarding the Borgata's amenities: I like the new poker room, but I wish people would get used to the smoking ban and stop wandering in drunk with lit cigarettes like idiots. The salad place at the food court below is nowhere near as good as the fast food at Foxwoods, but also isn't bad at all.

Finally, I don't think the 2/5 game is worth it there. I sweated one for a while, the players are much better than at 1/2. It's probably somewhat beatable and has substantially less variance, but with a buy-in of only $500, you can pick up easier (and likely more) money playing the $300 buy-in 1/2 game.

The limit action is presumably pretty good still, but I didn't wander over my old $6/$12 grounds, since the NL HE games were so beatable-by-morons easy. Ted Forrest was there playing $1,000/$2,000 H.O.S.E. (Although with another semi-famous pro whose name came immediately to me when I saw his face, but whom I've now completely forgotten other than his first name begins with a “D”.) I kept taking the long route to the bathroom to gawk, including one time when they had called security to shoo rail birds away, and to set up a perimeter (why didn't they do the latter from the start?). Ted wasn't doing well, I don't think. I saw him with chips and a stack of cash on one pass and later with just cash, although it was admittedly hard to see, so I don't want to start false rumors of Forrest losing at the $1k/$2k game at the Borgata.

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Freeroll or Medal? Wednesday 3 January 2007 @ 15:16

Full Tilt Poker, one of the few remaining sites permitting players from the USA, has held its “Iron Man“ Promotion for quite some time. If you earn N “Full Tilt Points” for Y consecutive days, you get to play in a freeroll. The greater your values of N and Y, the greater the prize pool of the freeroll you get to play. (There are four levels of freeroll.)

This year, they've introduced another option for Iron Man points. Instead of entering the freeroll each month, you can opt for an award of additional “Iron Man Medals”, which can then be cashed in for things at this Iron Man Store, which you have to look into to realize it's not the same as the standard Full Tilt Store.

You earn some medals, regardless, by a formula based on how many times you repeat this silly Iron Man status. This new decision just allows you to forgo freerolls to get some bonus medals. I'm likely to earn tons of medals the usual way this year because I'm planning to play almost exclusively online for most of the year, and Full Tilt is, of course, one of only three sites I can play on as a player living under the totalitarian regime of the USA.

The question that comes up is whether, at the end of the month, should I take my spot in the freerolls, or should I forgo the freerolls and cash them into medal points?

This is all somewhat of a pointless exercise, since the real EV is in the playing that earns the points, not the bonuses from the points, but being a poker player I can't help but calculate the EV of every decision that presents itself.

There are only three things of actual value in the Iron Man store: (a) extra 5,000 Full Tilt Points (more on why this has value below), (b) $535 tourney entry fees and (c) $216 tourney entry fees.

Let's take the last two first. Since (b) and (c) cost roughly 3,000 and 1,000 medals (respectively), and since you only get a spare 25-100 from forgoing the freerolls, it seems to me it's better to take the freerolls. The prize pools are between $10,000-$30,000, and the competition is probably softer than in the actual $216/$535 tourneys. I theorize this because the people who regularly buy into such middle-limit tourneys are much better tournament players than I, whereas any idiotic, cash-game donkey can get into the freeroll just by playing a lot. Therefore, I think the monthly freeroll is better EV than exchanging that entry for a tenth of $216 tourney entry ticket.

Now, what about (a), the 5,000 Full Tilt points? Well, the main Full Tilt store has a single item that I'd bother to buy with my points: A large screen Plasma TV. It costs 400,000 points. I recently calculated I'll probably reach that amount sometime early next year anyway via my usual Full Tilt Poker play. Therefore, it probably isn't worth it to waste the medal points to get me closer to that, because I'll probably get enough points for the TV eventually anyway, and I just had to buy a new CRT TV to replace a broken old one, so I am no hurry.

Thus, I can't see a reason that I'd want to stop playing the freerolls (in which I've yet to win a dime, of course). There is substantial EV in them; I'm a favorite against the field of random qualifying players, and the top prizes are usually in the thousands. Definitely worth the time to play them.

I know that at least one person who reads this journal (hello there, jellymillion :) has played enough in the past to earn these Iron Man thingies. Therefore, I ask, have I missed something? Is there some reason I should do it differently?

Finally, I have to say that these incentive and promotion programs are unnecessarily complicated. Like rebate forms, they are designed to make it difficult to figure out what they mean so that people are less likely to take advantage of them. I have a hard time believing the Iron Man thing actually draws more people to the site. Why not do away with the program entirely and give an across-the-board rake reduction to all players?

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Couldn't Be More True Tuesday 2 January 2007 @ 10:47

Last year, a well-meaning relative bought me Phil Gordon's page-a-day poker calendar, that had exactly one good bit of non-obvious advice for the whole year, which I posted back in August. I came in to work this morning and turned the last page of the calendar, which was left over the long weekend. I found a wonderful quote for the weekend of December 30/31, 2006. I suppose ripping off the pages all year was worth it to find this wonderful quote at the end. I probably didn't read anything more true about poker for the entirety of 2006:

It's hard work. Gambling. Playing poker. Don't let anyone tell you different. Think about what it's like sitting at the poker table with people whose only goal is to cut your throat, take your money, and leave you out back talking to yourself about what went wrong inside. That probably sounds harsh. But that's the way it is at the poker table. If you don't believe me, then you're the lamb that's going off to the slaughter.
&mdash Stu Ungar

More people than ever now play poker “for fun”. Of course it's an enjoyable activity; I don't think any of us would have gotten into it in the first place if it wasn't. But, it's a predatory game in general, and NL HE in particular is the most predatory of all known poker games. I haven't gone all the way to thinking that you need the full-blown killer instinct to win at poker, but to play well, you have to be somewhat jaded about the predatory reality.

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Spot the (Many) Mistakes Saturday 30 December 2006 @ 08:48

This is an online hand that I played very poorly. (Maybe I should post the good hands once in a while, but what's the point of talking about the right things one does? Focus on the mistakes to get better, right?) There are so many mistakes in this hand, I'm not sure which one to focus on. I will just lay them all out to you.

In a six-handed NL HE $.50/$1 game. I am in the $.50 small blind with $218, Jagsmith84 (with $42) is is in middle position, followed by BigGross ($99), followed by rotncotn ($473).

Jagsmith84 limps, BigGross min-raises, rotncotn calls, and I call with Ad Ks . I usually call with AK out of position rather than raise, as I don't want to build a big pot preflop.

The flop was Th 9d Ah. Checked to BigGross, who bets $9, and everyone calls. Perhaps I should have bet out. I know there is a heart draw out, but I don't know where, and check-raising is going to built the pot too big if aces-up are out (people on this site generally overvalue weak aces). I decided to take a turn and see if it's a safe card. Probably a mistake.

The turn was Kc with a pot of $47. Something possessed me to check-raise. I figured that if I had one bettor into me, and only callers behind, a check-raise would clear the field of draws and isolate me with a weaker two pair most of the time. I'd learn quick if something better than that was out. Again, probably a mistake.

This time, BigGross gives up, rotncotn bets $24, and I make it $60 to go. Obviously, I have to put more in there, but rotcotn is deep, I think, so I figure even a small raise will put him off most hands. He calls relatively quickly. Ok, a flush draw is his most likely holding, right? Other possibilities are AT and T9, and he want to see the river too without committing too much more. The river falls 9h, pairing the board and getting the flush draw there. I bet $50 into $167, hoping that I can get called by AT. He check raises all-in (another $97 to me), and I fold.

I probably should have led for the pot size on the turn, but given that I didn't, I should have considered seriously check-folding the river. But, I probably made more mistakes too. I figure some will say reraising from SB with AK is correct, but I really don't like that play most of the time. Any other things I did wrong? (There have got to be tons; I am really unhappy with my play here.)

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