Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hot In The City

Zoinks. A week since my last post.

In my defence, it's hot here. Damn hot. Too hot to think, too hot to work, but not too hot to play poker - especially on a wireless laptop in the back garden.

Not that I'm complaining, I much prefer it hot than cold. It's just a major inconvenience that the super modern office I'm working in appears to have air conditioning from the dark ages.

At heart I'm definitely a shorts and t-shirt man, and wearing a shirt and smart trousers in soaring temperatures and oppressive humidity just isn't my idea of a fun day.

Still, when the route to work looks like this, it does make things marginally more bearable.

Another benefit of the heat is the comedic effect it can have on the inhibitions, and dress sense, of my fellow citizens.

The office is in a part of the city centre which is probably described by the council as a 'regeneration' area.

This is a euphemism for 'recovering dump' and what it means is a bunch of speculative build offices and luxury apartments have been thrown up in the midst of the red light zone.

Thus the character of the place changes throughout the day. As the office workers depart in the evening, the ladies of the night arrive to ply their trade.

Last week, a couple of the more mature night shift were still on duty as I arrived for work. Forty dressed as fourteen, and not pretty.

I presumed the good weather meant the punters had been out in force, keeping them occupied long into overtime hours.

As I ascended in the glass lift within the office, I was somewhat surprised to see them amble into the building and pass security unchallenged.

Yes, it was a couple of ladies from the call centre, out enjoying a cigarette in the sun before starting their shift.

Gotta love casual dress code in the call centre.

It's not so unusual as people might imagine for it to be hot in Glasgow. What feels different right now is the ferocity of the sun.

As I lazed by the Clyde at lunchtime, it felt more Greek Islands than Glasgow. Fifteen minutes was enough for the heat to become physically discomforting.

As these heatwave images show, it's not just sunburn I should have been worrying about!

Watching the office workers sprawled on the riverside grass, I was reminded of an old sci-fi classic - much underestimated in my opinion - The Day The Earth Caught Fire.

If the North Koreans were testing bombs instead of missiles I may have begun to wonder.

The riverside is amazingly tranquil. The traffic noise seems to blend into the background, and the sound of seagulls becomes more prominent.

Seagulls are horrible, scummy birds, but their distant calls do make the atmosphere more restful - evoking hints of sleepy fishing village rather than bustling urban centre.

The Glasgow riverside really is shamefully under-utilised, though a multitude of grand plans exist to make it a focal point again. Sadly they all seem to be mired amidst funding and planning issues.

It's enough to make one despair of democracy. I often muse that the country would be better off under the rule of an enlightened and benevolent dictator - such as myself.

Trust me people, it would be a fun place to live, and I guarantee the trains would run on time - and often too!

Perhaps I can fund my coup from poker winnings, since whilst not quite running as hot as the weather, I'm certainly beyond lukewarm.

I've dropped the $10 STT completely and migrated northwards to the $20 games.

Playing sets of four I'm generally managing at least two cashes. Which is okay-ish when there's a second and third, but distinctly pleasant when it's two firsts!

My last set showed two firsts, a fourth, and an early exit. The fourth should have been a cash, but for two appalling beats in quick succession, but equally, one of the firsts came courtesy of making a straight to beat two-pair so the cards seem to be running relatively true.

That said, I do fancy a little change of scene, so I might give the cash NLHE tables a shot soon.

Speaking of shots, the PokerStars World Championship Of Online Poker is back in town soon, and the schedule looks inviting - with $10m in guarantees.

September 16: Razz ($200+$15) $100,000 guaranteed
September 17: NL Hold 'em ($500+$30) $1,500,000 guaranteed
September 18: PL Omaha (rebuys) ($300+$20) $400,000 guaranteed
September 19: NL Hold 'em Match Play ($200+$15) $300,000 guaranteed
September 20: Limit Omaha High/Low ($500+$30) $300,000 guaranteed
September 21: NL Hold 'em (rebuys) ($200+$15) $1,000,000 guaranteed
September 22: Limit Hold 'em ($200+$15) $200,000 guaranteed
September 23: HORSE ($200+$15) $100,000 guaranteed
September 23: PL Hold 'em ($500+$30) $400,000 guaranteed
September 24: NL Hold 'em ($1,000+ $50) $1,000,000 guaranteed
September 25: Seven Card Stud ($300+$20) $100,000 guaranteed
September 26: PL Omaha8 ($300+$20) $200,000 guaranteed
September 27: PL Hold'em ($300+$20) $400,000 guaranteed
September 28: Seven Card Stud High/Low ($500+$30) $200,000 guaranteed
September 29: PL Omaha ($500+$30) $300,000 guaranteed
September 30: HORSE ($5,000+$200) $100,000 guaranteed
September 30: Limit Hold'em ($1,000+$50) $400,000 guaranteed
October 1: NL Hold 'em ($2,500+$100) $3,000,000 guaranteed

I did say I'd take a few shots this year, so it will soon be time to get my satellite hat on.

With my work and family commitments a lot of these events are off limits due to time and timezone constraints. Weekend tournaments are more to my taste, so if I'm feeling masochistic I could go for the initial Razz event - and the baby buy-in HORSE event certainly has appeal.

Although, who scheduled it for the same night as the Bash At The Boathouse!? Foolish PokerStars.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ten Things I Hate About Harrah's

Like most poker players who can't make it to Vegas for any part of the WSOP, I'm more than a little jealous of those who are there.

Not just for the thrill of competing for a bracelet, but for the buzz of all the side action. The total immersion in the poker culture, as documented so evocatively by the likes of Anthony Holden.

As I've said to others, the attachment felt by poker players to the WSOP is more than just financial. It has an emotional pull similar to that felt for our families, friends, or the sports teams we were brought up to support.

Just because the management are fools, we don't abandon our team. It's bigger than that. An inescapable gravitational force that draws us back no matter what.

Yet over the past few days, my WSOP envy has somewhat diminished as a succession of reports from the front have filled me with dismay at the mishandling of the entire event by Harrah's.

I'm the sort of guy who can stumble across a mediocre English 1st division game on Sky Sports - caring not a jot about the result - and within five minutes be frothing at the mouth about some diabolical tackle, or abysmal decision. I can't help getting annoyed, even when it doesn't affect me directly.

With that in mind, I've rattled off a list, in no particular order, of some of the idiocies imposed on the players (also known as paying CUSTOMERS) this year:

1. Pay the dealers properly - part 1. There have been multiple complaints about the poor quality of dealers, and the floor decisions during the event. Rumours abound of some of the tips from last year not making it to the staff, and changes to the pay calculations this year leaving employees short. If the staff are not competent and happy, the game isn't going to run smoothly.

2. Pay the dealers properly - part 2. As everyone knows, at the WSOP it's not just about the big tourneys, it's also about the cash games and STTs. Due to dealer shortages presumably caused by point 1, players are being forced to leave the Rio and play elsewhere due to huge waiting lists for side games.

3. The poker room rate - As usual, the players are getting stiffed. The rate offered to players is less than the rate some tourists are getting by just wandering in off the street.

4. The tax - UK (and some other European) players don't pay tax on poker winnings. So stop asking the players for money they don't owe from last year, and start paying out in full this year.

5. The cards - In the blue riband $50k HORSE event, which was juiced to the tune of approx $300k, Andy Bloch complained so vehemently about the poor quality of the cards that he was eventually given a penalty. The cards were marking easily, and this in various stud versions where the marking could provide a big edge.

6. The organisation - part 1. Changing the structure of an event without advance warning is a joke. Is it any surprise Harry Demetriou got so annoyed? I wouldn't expect that from a £20 game in my local cardroom.

7. The organisation - part 2. Today's event is a $1500 PLO freezout, err rebuy, err both! A new bracelet event added with just hours notice. Why? Who asked for it? Why was it agreed to? Is it all about the money?

8. It's the World Series of POKER - As pointed out on Blonde Poker, in 2001 Hold Em comprised about 40% of WSOP events, in 2006 it's more like 75%. The World Series should be about promoting poker - not exploiting those who play - by always going for the lowest common denominator.

9. Treating the players like crap - Miniscule food comps, eleven handed tables, alternate lists bigger than most regular tourneys. If the lists are too long, cap them. The smaller buy-in comps start with low chip stacks already. Stop exploiting the players by charging to run a crap shoot.

10. Show me the money - The tables are sponsored, the beer is sponsored, the TV rights are sold, the live update rights are sold, but the juice continues. There should be money ADDED - at least to the bigger buy-in events - instead the taking continues unabated.

Of course the players need to get their act together too. If they continue to let Harrah's push them around, things just won't improve.

I liked the suggestion by Julian Thew that players on the TV table could hit back by refusing to show their hole cards to the camera.

Unfortunately I couldn't locate the tourney T&Cs on the WSOP website, so I don't know if that would be a breach or not. If it's feasible, it would be a VERY effective bargaining tool. Worthy of investigation I think.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Here's a fun poker hand from the weekend action.

I've been experimenting with my style - trying to be a bit more deceptive in the early stages of SNG where there are still enough chips in relation to the blinds to allow some scope for manouevre, and there's the chance to stack opponents and get an early lead.

Traditional theory has it that a hand like 53s is worth limping in with in late position when there's a good price being obtained.

However the drawback of that is when you really hit the flop it's often pretty obvious to opponents that you could be playing that sort of hand, so TPTK is a lot easier to get away from - for some players.

There's also the risk that a savvy player in the blinds who looks down at something like AK/AQ, or a medium pair, will stick in a big raise to try to pick off the limpers.

So, opening with a raise holding baby cards in EP has two advantages.

Firstly, it's highly deceptive as to what I'm holding. It's the same raise I'd put in with AA/KK.

Secondly, AK guy might choose to smooth call - fearing a monster - meaning I get to see a relatively cheap flop, and if he sticks in a chunky reraise I can easily get away from the hand.

How I play after the flop determines whether this strategy gives me an edge or not, since more often than not I'm going to get called somewhere. On occasion it is enough to steal the blinds, which makes it an excellent bet.

As this hand illustrates, success can be rewarding, but there are pitfalls too. If I'd flopped a flush draw here, instead of a straight, I could have been in a world of pain.

My pre-flop raise let me take a free card when I needed it, and I'm pretty sure left my opponent thinking I had something like AQ or JJ. Meaning when I hit on the river it was very well disguised.

It doesn't always go so smoothly, but there are other ways to win too. This is an example where I got lucky on the river.

There are a few interesting things about this second hand.

Note the way my opponent underbets the flop and turn. He doesn't reraise me all-in when he has the chance on the turn.

At this point, it's obvious we've both misread the other - but I have a safety net that will rescue me on a lot more occasions than he expects.

The way he had bet, I figured him for a middle pair, and thought he'd put me on AK or similar. So, I thought I might be able to push him off on the turn with a decent reraise to represent a big overpair, whilst knowing I had straight and flush draws to fall back on.

As it happens, a big overpair is exactly the hand he was hoping I had, since he'd flopped a set of fours.

So, when he reraises on the turn, I'm left to call getting approx 4/1 to hit a slightly worse than 3/1 river.

His remaining small stack makes the actual implied odds more like 5/1, since it's virtually impossible for him to fold if I hit on the river.

Whereas with blinds at 15/30 I can still escape if I miss with a playable 880 chips left.

For every example where it works as planned, there are several cases where I need to fold to a chunky reraise, or hit such a horrible flop that checking and folding is the only option.

The advantage is, I can minimise the downside and maximise the upside, which should make this a winning play when I'm on my game.

A less obvious benefit is, this is one heck of a fun way to play poker!

Winning a big pot with aces or kings often gives me a feeling which is more one of relief, or righteousness, rather than exhilaration.

Often I find myself willing my opponents to fold to my turn or river bet, fearing he is going to turn over some bizarre 2-pair hand to crack my monster. There's hardly a river card I can really like.

When he folds, or calls with a lesser pair, I can breathe again, and stack the chips.

You can imagine my expression when the river appeared in the first hand above. Not only had I hit, but I knew I was getting paid!

The emotion was glee and delight, not relief. Much more rewarding, and much more fun.

Friday, July 14, 2006

It's A Funny Old Game

Some hobbies can be a welcome escape from the harsh realities of day-to-day life.

People can have fun blowing off steam by hitting the gym, going to a gig, watching a game of football, or just having a few beers with their pals.

Poker isn't quite like that. The mental strain can actually accentuate, rather than ease, the tensions of the 'real world'.

Not always though. Much as I used to do with computer games, I find when I'm 'in the zone' other worries fade away and only the game matters.

Last night was one of the bad nights. I played five SNG on Stars, finishing 97766.

A pretty abysmal showing, and while I could point to the usual array of bad beats, I made just as many mistakes as my opponents.

I wasn't actually feeling a great urge to play, but I felt obliged to get a few games in. Some PC problems have kept me otherwise engaged over the last few nights, and I wanted to rack up a few games.

Even the number of games played is indicative of my state of mind. I've been playing sets of four, but somehow I managed to simultaneously sign up for five. Not concentrating. No focus. Lazy, distracted thinking.

The most +EV thing I did all night was log out before I could commit to another set.

Tonight was a different story. For whatever reason I felt focused and ready.

The result? Success number one, I managed to register for the correct number of games. Success number two, four cashes - finishing 2131

Yeah baby. That's more like it!

The most gratifying game was the final win, not just because it put the icing on the cake, but because at one point a truly donktastic call - and subsequent suck-out - by an opponent left me with less than 2BB when we were seven handed.

Yet I clawed my way back and ultimately defeated the earlier misguided caller in heads up play.

Perhaps I should be back at the tables instead of writing this, but I'm knackered tonight, and an early morning optician appointment awaits.

Can't win at poker if I can't see the cards!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I've just read on Blonde Poker that the Final Table of the $50k HORSE event will be all No Limit Hold Em.

Seems like a missed opportunity to me. I wonder how far in advance the players knew about the set-up.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Music To Play Poker By (in Vegas)

We haven't had one of these for a while, so I thought I'd slip in a quick dedication for all those lucky bloggers who are converging on Vegas.

Hard-Fi - Living For The Weekend

A cracking track, and just perfect lyrics for the occasion. I also heard a rumour the lead singer is almost as ancient as me. Nice to know some of us oldsters can still cut it.

Got some money to spend
Living for the weekend
When it gets too much
I live for the rush
Got some money to spend
Living for the weekend

Have a great time you lucky sods.

Monday, July 03, 2006

SNG King

I think I'll stick to the baby buy-ins for a while yet, but perhaps start to feed in a few of the bigger games at the weekend when the opposition seems to be softer.
    - Me, a few days ago

I really shouldn't post these things. Last night I couldn't help myself and fired up four $20 tables simultaneously.

As I expected they were tougher than the weekend $10 tables, but no tougher than the weekday $10 tables. At least that's how it felt to me.

The proportion of multitablers who know what they are doing seems slightly higher at this level. I guess that's an inevitability.

My results comprised a 7, 5, 2 and 1, which according to PokerTracker is a 63.64% ROI.

Yeah, yeah, tiny sample size, but I just wanted to put that number on screen, since it looks so pretty.

It would have been even better if I hadn't been outplayed heads up in the 2nd place finish. Albeit, flopping top pair of queens against slow played kings isn't so easy to put down heads up.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

June Summary

I didn't get to play as much poker in June as I'd hoped for - particularly in the first half of the month.

When I did play, I stuck primarily to SNG. Alternating between No Limit Hold Em, Pot Limit Omaha, Pot Limit Omaha 8OB, and at one point I even found myself in a LIMIT Omaha game. I think I misclicked somewhere along the line.

It was a winning month, and I had fun. SNG are quite liberating, as the time commitment is fairly well defined, and the maximum win/loss is predetermined.

I played one crazy game where I got bad beat down to under 2BB by the table moron, was all in next hand, won, all in again next hand, won, and within a few minutes was monster chip leader having bubbled out the moron.

So dominant was my lead the other two players were effectively competing to fold their way to second so that by the time it was heads up, I was a 10/1 chip leader.

I lost!

The other guy simply couldn't lose a hand. It didn't matter how strong our respective starting cards were.

Yet I wasn't perturbed in the slightest - being just happy to have made the money after being so short stacked.

In a cash game a swing like that would have me climbing the walls. In a SNG it was just an interesting talking point.

Since it's now halfway through the year I want to do a quick review of my targets for the year...

Learn New Games

I'm on track for this, after devoting a fair amount of time to Stud-8OB and Omaha-8OB in the early part of the year.

During the latter part of the year I aim to have a go at 7 Card Stud and perhaps Triple Draw. I've already added 7 Card Stud For Advanced Players to my poker library, on Felicia's recommendation.

Play Live More

Woeful. I can barely recall what a chip looks like. Very disappointing, but the dual demands of work and family take precedence of course.

Move Up Limits

I've had some success here. $3/6 is now my default limit game, and I'm gearing up for a slightly higher SNG level too.

I've not been playing enough big bet cash this year to justify moving anywhere beyond the $50 and $100 tables. That may change later in the year.

Take Some Shots

Nope. Another failure. I just haven't felt able to commit the time to any form of MTT events, so trying to satellite my way into bigger events just hasn't been on my radar.

The only events I've taken a shot at have been blogger freerolls.

Meet More Bloggers

Well I managed to add Joe Speaker to the small list of bloggers I've met so far, and of course, The Tank became a temporary blogger. That was a spectacular weekend!

Again, plans are afoot to improve my performance later in the year.

Clear $6,000

Pah. If only!

After getting stuck in January, I gradually clawed my way out of the hole and I'm now back in black but way, way off the pace for making $6,000.

I'm optimistic I can improve my performance in the second half, but pessimistic about hitting my final target. Time will tell.

Overall I'm probably about a C- at present, but I can see scope for improvement in some areas at least.

Here's hoping!

Stars On Multitable

I'm liking the new PokerStars client, which is currently in beta testing.

Resizeable windows means I've been getting in a fair number of SNGs. Sets of four on my piddly 17" monitor are probably ergonomically unsound, but perfectly playable.

Four PokerStars tables on 17 inch screen

One small tip if you use PokerTracker. The auto-request of tourney results doesn't work with the beta client, so you need to log-out and log into the normal client before running the request.

Also, make sure your hand histories are saving to the usual folder.

I'd never present myself as the ultimate authority on any poker subject, but I do have a few observations on the Stars low buy-in SNG, of which I've been playing mostly $10 9-handed.

During the week I've been fairly consistent, whereas over the weekend my results are much more variable.

Tonight, for example, I kicked off a set of four in quick succession and within 15 minutes was out of three with two 8th and one 7th finishes - being dispatched by two hands where I was 3/1 favourite and one where I'd already got shortstacked and lost as a 4/6 dog.

Meanwhile, in game 4 I'd already accumulated 10,000 of the 13,500 chips in play, and we were already on the bubble. The other three opponents were quickly finished off.

I'd felt during the week that I was playing really well. Applying pressure to my opponents and taking down lots and lots of small pots to gradually chip up. Stealing and re-stealing wherever possible.

Such was my confidence, I even went so far as to recce a few of the $30 tables. For some reason there didn't seem to be any $20 STT available midweek; though I see there are tonight.

Unfortunately the players were showing up on SharkScope with a fair number of nasty finned icons accompanying their names. Discretion overcame valour, and I stuck to the $10 tables.

Trying my weekday style at the weekend, I got destroyed in the first few games. Suddenly, any pair is gold. Ace high is always worth seeing a turn card, etc.

A rapid revertion to ultra tight play, and entirely unsubtle betting, reaped me a few wins.

Instead of chipping up, it's a matter of hoarding jealously until a big hand arrives, then making a big raise and confidently expecting to get called or re-raised by A3s, A7o, 22, 98s, etc.

Another difference is the midweek games tend to drag on for a lot longer, which actually means the end-game plays like a turbo. With running antes and large blinds, the only sensible move becomes all-in or fold.

It's amazing how many players fail to adapt to this - limping, or calling raises for quarter of their stack, then folding to a bet on the flop.

For what it's worth, my current ROI according to PokerTracker is 21.21% at the $10 level. Of course this is on a very small sample size, and I've no idea if it's good/bad/indifferent.

I'm winning, so it can't be too awful? For a few days SharkScope was showing my form rating as 'hot' which was pleasingly ego stroking.

I think I'll stick to the baby buy-ins for a while yet, but perhaps start to feed in a few of the bigger games at the weekend when the opposition seems to be softer.

It's a combination of game selection, and strategy adaptation. Finding the optimum blend is the challenge for now.

Well, that and maintaining concentration and commitment. My hat goes off to the Tanks and Nerds of the world who can rattle off dozens of these at a time!

Small doses are great fun, but I wouldn't like to do it for a living.