Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Future Of Tournament Poker?

I received an email recently from William Hill exhorting me to enter the satellites for the following competition:

The William Hill Poker Grand Prix is the tournament for poker enthusiasts who want to take on the very best the world of poker has to offer.

This televised tournament has a fantastic prize pool of £450,000 - of which William Hill are adding £114,000. The tournament will feature a mixture of specially invited professional players and only 8 qualifiers from the William Hill Poker Room - so you haven't got any time to waste!

There's more detail on this competition on the Blonde Poker site here.

This looks interesting for a number of reasons.

The most eye catching thing is the sweetened pot. William Hill are adding $200,000 to a (roughly) $10,000 buy-in tournament. Or put another way, almost $4000 per player.

I know this has been a bone of contention in the past in 'sponsored' tournaments.

Secondly, the players can wear any sponsored clothes and logos. This is a very generous approach when the event sponsor is adding $200,000.

So, the pros who are buying in are getting a very good deal for their money.

Additionally, the tournament is being structured with slow blinds, and the online qualification is limited to 8 of 56 players. This should mean better poker - no all-in frenzy - and probably a final table with more pros.

As a viewer, this sounds attractive to me. If I want to see diabolical poker, I can log into Party Poker any time. When I settle down with Doritos and beer to watch poker on TV, I want to not only be entertained, but educated.

The double-shootout format worked well at the British Poker Open, which was televised live on The Poker Channel. This tournament seems to build on that success.

If it goes as well as I expect it to, the Poker 425 viewing figures should be good.

I'm sure many people will be hoping this event sets a precedent.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Book Review: High-Low-Split Poker

Over the last month or so, I've been expanding my horizons beyond Hold Em into Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Lo.

After a few exploratory sessions on the low stakes tables of Full Tilt and PokerStars it became apparent to me that a fair percentage of the players were not very good. Equally, it was obvious that while I had some idea what I was doing, I was far from expert.

With this in mind, I posted on a few forums asking for advice on Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Lo reading material.

One author was recommended unanimously - Ray Zee.

Whilst Zee's book focuses primarily on limit betting, and covers both Omaha and Stud Hi/Lo, it seems to be universally recognised as the definitive work on split pot poker.

Interestingly, it was written pre-Internet boom, so has more focus on live play, and is intended for advanced players. Indeed the full, rather unwieldy, title is High-Low-Split Poker,Seven-card Stud and Omaha Eight-or-better for Advanced Players.

As a consequence of this focus, Zee's definition of a comparatively cheap game is something like $10/20 limit. Not quite the $25 buy-in pot limit PokerStars tables!

Despite being aimed at advanced players, the book is concise and well written. The advice is easy to follow, and backed up by comprehensive question/answer sections to test the readers assimilation of the concepts Zee espouses.

For a novice such as myself, there are good explanations of starting hand strength, the value of position, buying the button in Omaha, the risk of being quartered, forcing out competing hands, the risk of being trapped in a jammed pot, etc.

Beyond this, Zee puts a lot of emphasis on adapting the standard plays to match the texture of the table.

Are the opponents weak or aggressive, tight or loose? Are they good enough to recognise an advanced play, or is a subtle bluff wasted on them?

The advice is descriptive and loosely framed, rather than prescriptive and rigid. The clear assumption being that the reader has sufficient intelligence to adapt their play to match the situation.

This marks the book as targeting a more advanced audience, and is perhaps it's greatest strength. The reader is encouraged to learn to think, not spoon fed a mechanistic gaming strategy.

Never having played Stud Hi/Lo, I found this section slightly more challenging, without being confusing or offputting. Being encouraged to think about the game whetted my appetite to get involved.

After completing this section, I was compelled to venture into the micro limits on PokerStars, to get a taste of the Stud Hi/Lo action. Zee's enthusiasm for the game permeates the pages.

Overall this is a well written, informative and concise book, which covers a wide range of topics without ever overloading the reader. It has certainly helped to improve my play, and I will return to the more advanced sections in the future, as I move to higher buy-in games.

Monday, July 25, 2005

You Couldn't Make It Up

The Monday morning commuter train. Disembarking off the low level at Glasgow Central, the workbound masses pass a policeman with a sniffer dog. That's a first.

I should add that it was a solitary, middle aged policeman, with a dog that was some sort of beagle I think. In the extremely unlikely event of detecting a would-be suicide bomber, what was he going to do?

Tackle him hand-to-hand? Unleash man's best friend on him? The dog would be more likely to lick a suspect into submission, than savage him to the ground.

He won't catch many suicide bombers in Glasgow, but might have given palpitations to a few of the neds floating around with a gallus quarter ounce in their back pocket.

The Monday evening commuter train. 'We regret to announce this train will be delayed due to a trespasser on the track'.

More precisely, a would-be jumper. Perched over the Clyde on the railbridge leading from the station.

Once that became apparent, the reaction was clear. Shove him off and let us get home.

The train was only ten minutes late. As we edged slowly from the station, a disheveled forty something nutter, crouched atop the bridge wall, was arguing with a bunch of cops, who were observing him from a safe distance.

I couldn't hear what he was shouting, but presumably he wasn't oblivious to the trainload of weary commuters who were observing him. Many openly laughing as they passed.

Given his comical attire, it was hard not to laugh. Sports shorts and thick grey socks. No shoes. He looked like he'd had too much of the sun, and the tonic wine too probably.

So, anti-suicide bomber patrols in the morning, and wanna be suicide nutters in the evening.

Maybe they can do a deal.

Round up one of the former, twenty of the latter and stick them in a bunker with a few pounds of Mother of Satan. Death for the wannadies, the bomber hits the unbeliever quota to qualify for his 72 virgins, and no more train delays.

Everyone's happy. Except the commuters who need to do it all again on Tuesday.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Perfect Poker Product

Online card rooms, and the associated money transfer companies such as Neteller, hold a lot of money. Unlike most financial institutions, they do not provide any sort of guaranteed return on the deposits held.

Party Poker claims to have five million customers. If each of those customers maintains an average of just $100 in their account, that equates to half a billion dollars of cash sitting in the Party coffers. All interest earned on that money goes straight to the Party bottom line and gives no benefit to the player. On a lesser scale, the same is true of any online site.

For the casual player who does not maintain separate poker funds - cashing out when they win, depositing to play when their account runs dry - this is likely to be an insignificant issue. The loss of interest on a few dollars which rarely lies long in their account for long is likely to be trivial.

However, a substantial number of players take poker seriously enough to focus their efforts on building a bankroll. For even a moderately committed player, the bankroll could easily run to several thousand dollars. For a serious online player, tens of thousands of dollars is a realistic sum. Most of which will be deposited with poker rooms or Neteller.

Presently the only value they derive from this bankroll is the ability to make bigger bets.

A bankroll is simply a segregated sum of cash which is used to fund participation in cash games or tournaments. This bankroll will vary over time, with the intention being for the long term trend to be upwards.

The size of the bankroll dictates the level at which a player can safely play. The bigger the bankroll, the bigger the bets they can make. Higher risk allied to superior skill should, if the cards fall evenly, lead to higher rewards.

The greater the bankroll, the more confidently a player can approach a higher stakes game. Entering a high stakes game with an insufficient bankroll would expose even the finest players to the risk of going bust. Poker is a game of hot streaks and cold decks, where variance takes its toll. So a cash reserve is a must.

As the bankroll grows the player will initially derive little tangible reward for his efforts. The growing pot of cash simply serves as the foundation for a progression through the betting scales.

If the player were to frequently skim off any profits, the bankroll would fail to grow and they would find themselves stranded at the lower limits - lacking the resources to step up to a higher level.

Building a bankroll is a long term process which assumes similar characteristics to more mundane financial endeavours. Patience, commitment, restraint, are all needed to make the effort to grow the bankroll, whilst resisting the temptation to spend the profits as they accrue.

Alongside these long term traits, runs a more immediate demand - the bankroll must be swiftly accessible. Poker swings cannot be forecast, and money may be required at any time. Therefore the bankroll cannot be invested in shares, or locked away in long term deposit accounts.

The simplest way to fulfill these requirements would simply be for Neteller, or the poker rooms, to offer interest on deposits held. This would indeed be a welcome step forward.

However, paying interest on deposits does have drawbacks.

Receiving interest can incur a tax charge. In the UK a higher rate tax payer would pay 40% on any interest received.

One product which has gained popularity in recent years, and which combines the long term outlook of bankroll building, with tax efficiency and instant accessibility, is the current account mortgage, also known as an offset mortgage.

An offset mortgage uses cash reserves to reduce the interest charge on the outstanding mortgage, rather than pay interest on the cash reserve.

For example, a person with a £100,000 mortgage, who had a cash reserve of £5,000 would pay interest on only £95,000 of their mortgage. They would receive no interest payment on the cash reserve. The cash reserve is generally accessible instantly, or at very short notice.

This mechanism is both tax efficient and advantageous in interest rate terms, as mortgage rates generally tend to be higher than current account rates. The long term benefit is that the outstanding loan reduces more quickly as the cash reserve grows, thus reducing the mortgage repayment term.

Were Neteller or some other online wallet provider to offer such a product, there would be genuine benefits for participants.

Most crucially, for the average poker player, it would lock in a little value with every win, and minimise the temptation to squander any windfalls.

By tying the bankroll to a long term financial product, players would gain some extra financial benefit from every winning session, but the mechanism for delivering this benefit is such that there is no way of translating it into an immediately wasteful alternative. (Online craps anyone?)

It would also be the perfect way to defuse a million household arguments.

"Are you playing poker AGAIN!?"

"Yes darling, and thanks to poker we will own our home four years early."

Here's hoping!!

As the industry matures, more associated products will certainly be developed. There's no compelling reason why poker related financial products should not be part of this development.


N.B. For a broader overview with a US slant, see the always excellent Scurvydog.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Postman Only Rang Once

Reading Material Posted by Picasa

I've been busy on Amazon. Reviews to follow!

Dispatches From The Front

I really put the hex on Andy Black, huh?

In future, I'll keep my thoughts to myself. It's like the unwritten rule when following your football team - NEVER praise the performance of a defender or goalkeeper before the final whistle has blown, as it guarantees a blunder.

Equally when your strikers are having an off day, it's compulsory to bemoan their performance to all and sundry, as it almost assures a wonder goal.

A variation on the "they'll never hit us from th.." syndrome.

You may have noticed the blog has become somewhat content light of late.

Despite three weeks paternity leave, I have been up to my eyes in what can only be described as 'stuff'. No grand plans or schemes, just the everyday hand-to-mouth existence of looking after a new born.

Baby Div hasn't yet settled into a routine and she is keeping us up to all hours. I'm now back at work, and after a few days acclimatisation, my forehead is no longer resting on the keyboard by lunchtime.

I wouldn't change it for the world. However, it would be highly convenient to win the £66m (~$100m) National Lottery Euromillions rollover draw on Friday night.

Farewell work. Hello sleep!

Mrs Div is already back to within seven pounds of her pre-pregnancy weight. I thought this was super impressive, and was praising the benefits of breast feeding. Her response, 'It's nothing to do with breast feeding. I just haven't had time to eat.' Oops.

Poker is very much on the back burner. As is socialising of any kind. With the new football season approaching, my time allocation is going to be even more stretched.

In blog terms, this will probably mean more small posts, on very specific subjects, and occasional catch all posts to sweep up other topics.

Speaking of which, Grubby has a nifty ploy for casino bonus whoring, which I am taking advantage of presently. Who can say no to free money?

I'm reading Ray Zee's book on split pot gambling at present. It's filling in the train time nicely. Review to follow soon.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

WSOP 2005 Final Table

Watching the updates on Blonde Poker and Pauly's site, I'd heartily second the various requests for live TV coverage. Not that Pauly, Jen and Tikay are doing a bad job, just it seems so outdated, and unnecessary in this digital age.

I'm somewhat conflicted about who I want to win.

Part of me wants a well known pro to win, to reinforce the 'poker is a game of skill' argument. However, that would probably mean Mike Matusow, who isn't the perfect poker ambassador.

As a Scot, the closest I have to a hometown player is fellow celt Irishman Andy Black. He does have previous in the WSOP, finishing 14th in 1997.

So, for a combination of celtic connections, and skill, Andy Black will be getting my vote.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Welcome To My Office

Not much poker to report. Parenthood is taking priority at present.

I'm on paternity leave until the end of this week and have been incredibly fortunate with the weather. We are encountering a mini heat wave at present, and have been making the most of the sun. So this is how we have been spending our days...

Welcome To My Office Posted by Picasa

Today it was so hot my wireless network stopped working - I think the router overheated! I am lobster pink tonight, but I'd rather be pink from the sun than blue from the cold.

No doubt normality will be restored soon and we will be back indoors. The weather might hold long enough to see a very pleasant British Open at St Andrews. I hope so!

The only poker news is that I've ordered a bunch of books to read on the train to work. I'll review them as they are received and read.

I mentioned recently that I was getting into Omaha Hi-Lo, and interestingly both Felicia and Iggy have picked up on the trend away from Hold Em.

It would be good to see some non Hold Em poker on television. Split pots might be a bit too complicated to cover easily, but Omaha would be a nice progression from Hold Em. Maybe the Barry Greenstein/Simon Trumper storm in a teacup in the $10,000 WSOP event will have done it a favour by boosting awareness.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

How To Beat Islamic Terrorists

Sitting at home listening to the helicopters thudding overhead en route from Prestwick Airport to the G8 summit at Gleneagles, I was formulating a post about the ludicrousness of a bunch of anarchist mongs 'defeating global capitalism' by smashing up a Burger King and a few random cars on a Stirling council estate.

Today's events in London have made that post irrelevant. Obviously this is an al-Qaeda attack, aimed at the UK specifically and the democratic world in general.

No doubt you will all be as sickened by this as I am. You may even be wondering what you can do to beat these maniacs.

I sincerely hope the UK and our allies - let's face it we can hardly lean on any major power without the assistance of the USA - do not fall into the trap of picking a likely target - Syria or Iran probably - and bombing the crap out of them. Iraq and Afghanistan proves the pointlessness of that approach.

Instead, the best way to win this war is as follows:

If you live in the UK and were planning to take your girlfriend to a movie tonight; take her. If you were expecting to hit up your local card room with your friends; go play cards. Go to work at your normal time, using your normal transport.

Live your life and do not be afraid.

If you reside outside the UK, and have not yet booked a summer vacation, get over to the UK. Take in a London show, take a trip on the London Eye, visit Tate Modern. Get out of London and see the rest of the UK.

You can even fly to Scotland direct from the USA and take in some of that great countryside President Bush was referring to. Get to Glasgow from Chicago with American Airlines, from Philadelphia with US Airways, or fly from New York to Glasgow or Edinburgh with Continental.

Spend your dollars or euros over here and stick it right up these terrorists who try to rule by fear and intimidation. That's how to win this war.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Is It Just Me....

...or are those $3/6 6-Max tables on Party Poker a new innovation?

Reading many other people's blogs, it seems the holy grail of moving up the limits is to hit the $5/10 6-Max. I wonder if $3/6 is a useful new intermediate step?

Personally, I still haven't reached $3/6 ten handed yet. Though I have created a new Poker Tracker database purely for $3/6 and have been datamining whenever I get the chance, in preparation for making the leap.

Monday, July 04, 2005

June Summary

Slightly late - but you all know why by now - it's time for the June summary.

Were Mrs and Baby Div to have stuck to the original timetable, I might have gotten myself quite depressed whilst writing this post, as June was hardly a vintage poker month, in financial terms at least.

I started the month on a twin track strategy. Playing some $100 buy-in no limit Hold 'Em on Full Tilt, and learning the basics of Omaha Hi-Lo on Poker Stars. The Hi-Lo went fine, since most of the players seemed even less knowledgeable than me, but the Hold 'Em went pretty badly.

I made some REALLY awful plays, especially over valuing TPTK, and running into several flopped sets. I learned an expensive lesson about the cost of not folding when someone re-reraises on an apparently innocuous flop. I ended the month down around $300.

About midway through the month, I needed a break from the cash game grind. At this point the ever expanding poker boom - which has now hit Britain big style - came to my aid.

Two newspapers, The Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid, and The Metro, a free paper distributed in major cities, were both running freerolls.

The Record was sponsoring a $50,000 freeroll, known as The Scottish Open, running on a site called Bet Fred. The Metro was sponsoring a competition on PokerStars to win a seat at the WSOP main event. Both were long running tournaments with nightly qualifying heats for a tournament final.

Now, I'm no fan of The Record - referred to by many as 'The Retard' - but hey, I'm not one to turn down free cash. The Metro is a good read on the train to work, primarily because it is mostly sourced from agency articles and has no real agenda.

So, I tried both events. Sadly, the Bet Fred site has the worst poker software I've ever seen. Truly awful. Allied to a dreadful standard of play, it made for a pretty unrewarding playing experience. What made it fun was sweating my various friends who were playing alongside me. I was as keen for them to do well as me. On the very first night, my friend TeaCake made the final table, but didn't make the final.

The Metro tournament was much more fun. Way better software on Poker Stars, and better players too. Probably because a WSOP seat - rather than $50,000 in cash - is more likely to attract only genuine poker players.

The Daily Record tournament is still ongoing, so I might try again to make the final. The Metro tournament is long gone.

Additionally, I played what ranks alongside the WPBT bracelet qualifier as the most fun tournament I've participated in. Good play, good chat, and a good structure.

This was a £20 freezeout on William Hill, organised by Blonde Poker - the website of poker pro Dave 'El Blondie' Colclough.

Blonde Poker has a great forum. Very friendly and helpful. The content is very UK focused, and I'd recommend it to any UK players.

As you'd expect from a small but growing site, set up by a UK pro, the initial membership seems to have comprised some other pros, plus a large number of players I'd characterise as semi-pro i.e. they may have a 'proper job' but they also play poker at a fairly high level and many clearly know each other well.

Having just joined the forum as one of an influx of newer players, I decided to play their inaugural online tournament more as a social event than with any expectation of doing well.

Seventy seven players paying £20 each meant top ten paid out, with the winner taking home £660 (roughly $1000). The setup was superb. 2000 chips to start, and a 20 minute clock. LOTS of play. The William Hill software is also very good.

To my astonishment, deep into the tournament I found myself sitting in second place with a big stack. Then it all went horribly wrong.

Until that point I'd won every race. TT v AK. No big cards. AK v 99. Hello Mr King.

Suddenly I went into reverse and started losing those races. I ended by bubbling out in 11th.

I did make one really questionable play. Raising on the button with A7o. The SB, who I had well covered, smooth called. The flop came A high. SB checks, I bet the pot, SB raises all-in. Hmmm.

I think I actually thought about this too much. I had a suspicion that as a newbie the guy might have been trying a move on me. Equally I wondered if he thought I was making a move with a button raise and had decided to try to outplay me on the flop.

My thinking was that if he did have an A, he would probably have reraised pre-flop with anything in the AK-AJ range. So if we were looking at A-rag, there was a better than even chance my A7 was ahead. So, I called.

He had AJ. Doh!! So much for my read.

If I'd folded to the check-raise I'd have saved a lot of chips and probably made the money. Looking back I really should have tightened up and coasted into the money, but I don't play many tournaments and the adrenalin was pumping, so I kinda got carried away.

That was pretty much my last poker action before Mrs Div sprung her surprise, and I don't expect to be playing lots and lots of poker for the next few months.

Ideally I'd like to keep my eye in online. Realistically this is likely to be limited in scope, but hopefully there will still be time for a fair amount of reading. I want to expand my knowledge of poker more into Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo, and, given my results early in the month, I need to work on my No Limit Hold 'Em cash gaming too.

If I'm really lucky, I might even take a shot at a few tournaments. That is a long shot though.

So, time for a few more book purchases. As always, I welcome recommendations.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Happiest Man In The World

Comrades, for one post only, I hope you will allow me a little self indulgence.

In the past few days I have been puked on, crapped on, peed on, and I couldn't be happier. No, it's not a particularly depraved smut fest, but the joys of parenting.

Yesterday, Mrs and Baby Div came home from hospital. Both are doing great.

Today, I got to visit the local government office to register the birth of my first child.

Pink Lady Posted by Picasa

I am absolutely knackered from a combination of non-stop activity and minimal (and somewhat disrupted) sleep. Yet I am absolutely bursting with joy and pride, as are Mrs Div and the grandparents.

Baby Div was a little smaller than average at 5lbs 10oz, but she already has an adult sized personality, and appetite!

I've allowed myself a couple more photos - one of which shows how she hardly fills half of her Moses basket.

Moses Basket Posted by Picasa

It's an awful cliche, but true nonetheless, that I really do feel like the happiest man in the world right now.

Hopefully as we settle into a decent routine over the next few days, I will find time for some more poker content. I did actually have a fair amount of poker activity to report on, prior to the unexpectedly swift new arrival.

The details I have managed to retain in my sleep deprived brain should appear here in short order. I've been broadening my horizons recently, and while it has not yet been financially rewarding, it has been fun. More soon.

Finally, a heartfelt thanks for all the kind comments. Your thoughts are much appreciated.