Sunday, December 30, 2007

TV Poker

jamieweb.jpgI've played with a lot of novice card players who seem to have an...accelerated perception of texas hold'em. I blame television.

The invention of those little cameras that show each player's hole cards transformed poker into a very popular spectator sport. Ever since, the World Series and many World Poker Tour events have over-run cable TV. Other channels banked on the viewership with celebrity poker shows and the like. This is good in that it brings many more new players to the game, but bad in that the it gives a false sense of gameplay.

In reality not every hand is exciting. The network edits a days worth of poker playing into an hour long highlight reel and presents it as a hand-by-hand game. Watching people fold is not good TV for the causal viewer, I know that, but I think some brave channel out there in TV land should give the audience more credit.

I believe at this point the market is ready for realtime gameplay on television. Those of us who have put in the hours to know the game would rather see how the professionals really play.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Poker Beginnings, Part IV: Taking It Easy

The start of the home game came control of the stakes, and more importantly for me control of the players. My friends from the dorm days were always welcome, along with the guys I hit it off with traveling the "Athens Poker Circuit." My roommates at the time were also welcome...mostly because that was out of my control. My roommates did welcome the chance to play more live poker as a substitute to Party Poker and Intertops sports betting.

For the first time in a while it was more important to me to play casually with people I like, rather than to play competitively with strangers. We stuck with Texas Hold'em as the game of choice with relatively low-stakes and unlimited re-buys. One of my friends made it a practice to use the unlimited re-buys to its fullest until he had all of our original stacks, or, more often, he was completely broke.

NPPLConcurrently with our weekly home games, my friends and I started playing at the newly formed Athens' Chapter of the National Pub Poker League. It was a free game that played every night at different bars. Although not profitable, it was a good outlet to be competitive within my group to see who could make it farthest in a large field. Funny enough, the very first time I played I finished first of about 15 tables. The NPPL kept track of points which kept our interest for a while.

It was hard to make it to the final table on a regular basis with the NPPL. It takes some luck to make it through a field that big when the players have nothing substantial at risk, but I had some luck. My favorite memory is a throwback to the game mentioned in the out-of-towner's post. It was myself; an opponent of mine who I butted-heads with and I had not seen since playing in Watkinsville; and my friend, who with myself put said game out of business, at the final table. The three of us had overcome a field of over a hundred to get here, and it wasn't until we were the last three in the game that I realized who I was playing against.
It had been a long time and he had shaved his beard and was wearing a hoodie, but once he took it off I recognized him. It is my favorite memory mostly because after he eliminated my friend, I took him out to win the tournament. I never saw him again, but it was nice closure to the out-of-towners that thought they were so good.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays from Hell's Cold Day

Happy and Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/other!

I will be taking a break from posting for the holiday's but will be back before the New Year. Hope you all have (or had) a happy holiday and spend some time away from the tables and with family.

Also, if you are enjoying reading this blog, take a second to post some good cheer by posting in the comments section.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Making deals, a retrospective

DealsIt is common practice for some final tables to alter the tournament payouts after all players know they are in the money. For example, at the weekly game for which I used to deal, the payouts were 5o% of the kitty to the winner, 30% to second, and 20% to third. This payout structure was the rule everyone agreed to when they put up their money. However, many times the last three players opted to split the money pool evenly between the three of them. The game usually ran late and everyone, including the staff, wanted to go home; and the chip stacks of the players were usually close enough for no one to have a clear advantage. I understand the reason, but as a rule I am against final table deal making.

I feel that a deal is often the brainchild of the player's lack of confidence to win. A player would rather take the 33% cut than risk only 20%. That being said, when I'm playing with someone who suggests a deal, I take it as a sign of weakness, and continue the game to win.

The last real reason I had to deal was as follows: My friend and I got into a new game at someone's home who we weren't familiar with. The game was a $20 buy-in tournament with one re-buy, neither my friend nor I rebought but most everyone else did. We both made it to the final three. I had a very good night, proud of my stack just over twice as much as the other two guys who were about equal to each other. I fold a hand that my friend and the other player move all-in on. As it turned out, this hand hurt me more than either of them.

There was some confusion with the final burn card, and the dependent river card could have won it or lost it for either of them. I, of course, took the side of my friend, but I also knew that the owner of the house and all the regular players there in the adjoining room would take the opposing viewpoint. As the room was getting heated, I offered the deal. I was confident with my playing enough so that I would beat whoever ended up winning the hand in question, but the possibility of the fight becoming physical and the chance of us both being kicked out without any winnings at all was looming. We split three ways.

I didn't realize I was still mad about this until now as I write it. In fact it may well be the reason I am now adverse to deal making. But the story ended well enough with us both well in the green and off to another game across town.

We didn't ever play at that particular venue again.

Monday, December 17, 2007


It is always a good thing to amass chips. When an opportunity arises to bluff a pot, I say take it...usually. If you are a beginner it is important to know that decisions are not black and white.

In tournament play, there is a sort of sliding scale to consider as the game progresses. You may have heard that in the World Series of Poker, the first day is about survival—meaning you should keep the super-aggressive play under control until the tournament matures. The idea is that the risk of getting knocked out at low blinds is not worth it unless you have the nuts or an awesome read. On the second day you can start working on your chip stack to put yourself in the position to win.

In single-table-tournament play the same strategy applys—only smaller. I find that most on-line tables under $50 buy-ins are inhabited by weak players, and many high-stakes table are as well. Often, I will make it to the last four players even if I only play a hand or two...or none! Granted only the last three are in the money, but that is only one more player to knock out and your strategy should change short-handed anyway.

It is because of these experiences that I try my hardest to not commit to a pot early on in the game. In a young tournament I tend to not rasie as much with my AK pre-flop, or call a large bet with a mediocre hand against an unknown opponent, and I never over-bet the pot. I survive, let the fish eat each other, then make my move. Typically they will be on tilt by then anyway.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Website Pick of December: SharkScope

My pick this month is for the internet poker player who wants to know who he's up against.

The guy (or girl for all you know) across the digital table from you has gone all-in. It is too early in the tournament for you to know if he/she is a good player or just a wild gambler. What if you could get a little more information? That's where SharkScope comes in.

SharkScope is a search able on-line database of all the players from PokerStars, FullTilt, PartyPoker and other sites. It lists their average stakes, their return-on-investment, how many games they have played, and overall profitability. If the player you look up has a profit of say, -$2,000, there is even a cute fish icon next to their name.

Look yourself up to see how it works. You get five free searches a day, then you have to pay. Personally, I've only been getting a game in here and there lately, so free has worked for me. This "background check" is extremely valuable if you are a single-table tournament player as the stats reflect those games.

Safe bets aside, gambling is good as long as the stakes are not high. This is why people love lottery and online poker.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The importance of money management

Cash MoneyMoney management is an essential part of any successful gambler's life. Before I made rules for my gambling behavior, it was too easy to convince myself that bad decisions were good ones. If I bet $10 on red in roulette and lost, I might think to raise my bet to $20 next, then $40 pending another loss. Betting red has nearly a 50/50 chance of winning, so under this betting scheme I am assured to win eventually. It is a good idea until you run of out money by risking $640 to win back your original $10.

Poker is different in that skill is a larger factor, but it is gambling just like roulette, or craps or the stock market. It is because poker is a game of skill that makes managing your money here far more important than with roulette—in which you are truly a victim of fate. Money management keeps you from going broke after a streak of bad luck.

Personally, I only have at risk 10% of my bankroll at any point in time. If my bankroll is $50 I only play $5 games until I have raised my stash to $100. From there I'll play $10 games, then $20 if my bankroll reaches $200. If I start to lose and fall back $150, I start playing cheaper games again. This can be hard to do. After all, I feel I am a good enough player to profit from $20 buy-ins, but I know if I stray from the rules I've set for myself I could end up at zero­—or worse, in debt.

Chris "Jesus" Ferguson said he has turned $1 into $10,000 by a similar method; he actually played with only 5% of his bankroll. I know it would take us much longer than it took him to accomplish, but no goal is too high if you find a method that works for you and stay true to it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The slightly useful skill of tell misdirection

Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers for the film Casino Royale, but lets face it, if you haven't seen it yet, you're not going to.

Let's catch you up to speed to the scene in question: Bond, James Bond steals the wrong villain's girl and finds himself in an ultra-high-stakes hold'em game with Felix Lighter and a guy who cries blood. All things being equal, Bond is the best card player in the room, just as he is with everything else. Not everything is equal, however, as he is attacked by African crime lords and poisoned at the table. Bond prevails on both counts.

This movie draws from the popularity of hold'em in today's culture and highlights it as the premiere casino game of skill. Which makes us look even better when we are able to profit from it. Bond explains the importance of tells to his espionage entourage and points out the major tell of his main competitor at the table. Bond is betrayed and the tell comes to the attention of said competitor who uses it to his advantage. He purposely uses the tell, which Bond had determined signaled a bluff, when he had a monster hand. Bond called him and was knocked out of the game.

As an aside, Bond nearly lives out the morbid fantasy of stabbing the culprit with a butter knife, but thinks better of it, obtains the cash for a re-buy and eventually wins the tournament. Predictable.

The lesson here is to attend games with spys in the audience who can steal information to provide you the win...just kidding. The lesson here is this: the safest way to play poker is to be devoid of tells—the perfect poker face. However, there is something to be said for the misdirection of poker tells. If you can purposely repeat an action that you know you wouldn't normally for the small bluffs that you are willing to be called on, you can also use it for a big, made hand and be misread as a bluff.

Disclaimer: I recommend this only while playing opponents at or below your own skill level, pros will mostly likely see through you.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Joker's Wild

Dark Knight Poster A quick post about the upcoming sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight.The Joker, a character based on the playing card (there, that's my poker tie-in,) is my favorite fictional character of all time. He is the perfect antithesis to Batman. Batman is serious, moral and sane; Joker is never serious, immoral and insane. Below are links to the viral marketing campaign for the movie, fun stuff.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hardware Pick of December: iPod Touch

Poker is not my only interest, I'm a three- or four-dimensional guy after all. I also have an affinity towards technology. So my worlds will collide twice a month as I offer you my hardware pick of the month and my software pick of the month--technology as it can be used for poker.

My hardware pick for December is Apple's new iPod Touch (aka the phoneless iPhone.) It the best device I've ever owned outside of my computer. It is ideal for listening to tunes at the table, valuable for most of us since I rarely sit at a live game without someone with headphones in their ears. But where the touch really stands out is its video playback. You call watch last year's World Series of Poker (available for download on iTunes) on the go with clarity that rivals LCD TVs...only smaller.

The Touch also has a full web browser to check your email, read this blog or play games like Scenario Poker as seen below. I've easily hacked mine to add functionality such as Google Maps, a ToDo List and Notes application I use to jot down blog ideas or player observations, an instant messenger, a Nintendo emulator, an ebook reader and the Blackjack game also seen below. You can even watch that guy's chip tricks on YouTube.

iPod Screenshot

While it is new, the Touch has the added bonus of taking other players' attention away from the game at hand--it's cool just to look at. And you won't be distracted by your life, because, unlike the iPhone, no one will call you. If you think this is a disadvantage, most of what I've written is also true for the iPhone, so you are in luck. Although if you want a wide variety of music for the mood swings that accompany your chip stack, you might want the 32G only the iPod Touch can give you. If you want to pick one up, you can here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Poker is a lot like gunslinging.

One of my all time favorite film characters is Doc Holiday from the movie Tombstone, played by Val Kilmer. Tombstone is not a movie about poker like Rounders or Shade or Lucky You, but Holiday's one-liners about poker are priceless.

The film follows the Earp brothers' ill-fated venture into the casino business. Along the way they meet up with Doc Holiday and war against a gang of cowboys leading to the fight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, AZ. I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone who has not seen it. That being said, go out and see it. It is easily in my top three favorite westerns, along with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Unforgiven.

Doc Holiday

Doc Holiday in particular is a fascinating character. He is portrayed as both the best gun slinger and the best card player in the west. In a shot out I imagine the most important quality to have, even more than marksmanship, is an almost reckless lack of fear to loss of life. Wyatt is described as perfectly calm under fire, and the same can be said for Holiday. We all know the risk involved with gambling. Although we may not fear for our lives, we do fear bankruptcy.

It is a fear I don't want to completely shed. When playing with money you need for food or rent the fear is perfectly healthy. It is your mind telling you that you should not put that money at risk. On the other hand, after you put money aside that you can afford to lose if the game turns sour, you must play without fear of saying "all-in!" If you can't then you should listen to the words of the wise Doc Holiday.

"Maybe poker's just not your game."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

US gets "sued" over blocking Internet gaming!

I want you!Ever hear of the Safe Port Act? It's legislation that upgrades port security, which was of course passed by our government because no one would re-elect a politician who votes for a bill that is pro-terrorism. This is being brought up in a poker blog because pork barrel legislation sunk in the completely unrelated Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act--which is why many poker sites no longer accept US players.

You all may have known this, it happened in October 2006.

The fallout is being seen more recently. Antigua claims that the act puts the U.S. in violation of its commitments under the General Agreement on Trades and Services by unfairly prohibiting foreign Internet gaming operators from accessing the U.S. market. The European Union, with Antigua and others, is claiming over $100 billion in damages by this violation.

The US now must pay out the money that could lower taxes, feed the hungry, help with education or health care or even the war if it has too. The only other option would be for the US to honor the agreement with the World Trade Organization and allow Internet gaming again--even tax it for a profit.

Sounds like a tough financial decision...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A cautionary tale...

In case you aren't waiting for me to tell you how to play poker, let me interject with a quick cautionary tale before you go down the wrong path.

My poker network from college all migrated to on-line play at about the same time. We all deposited between 50 to 100 dollars and were on our way to poker stardom. There was the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly among us.

The Good were conservative to a fault, but made money. After a week of ups and downs they profited maybe $25. After two, about $75. The Bad just weren't at the skill level to profit on-line. After a week, those who hadn't lost all their original investment, cashed out what they had left and returned to the proverbial drawing board. The real tragedy is what happened to the Ugly. The best of us, myself included, played our best game at low to mid level stakes, and won. We won a lot. After near constant play during week one, some of us had accounts over a thousand dollars. But in week two we were over-confident and punch-drunk with our earnings, landing us in high-stakes games and playing looser than before. I was lucky enough to stop myself just before I fell below my original $50. All of us lost our brief fortunes.

The Party was Over
The party was over

The problem was in how we viewed the stakes. With Internet gambling you never see the chips and never hold the cash—it's all digital. As broke college students we would have never dreamed of sitting at a $5/$10 cash game or entering a $250 tournament, but on-line we didn't see the money as real or useful for anything but poker. It was just credits, like tokens at the arcade.

The lesson here isn't to never play high stakes games. If you are a good enough player and have built a bankroll to afford it, then go for it. The lesson here is to never disconnect with the money in your account. Keep it real by cashing out some profit after a good week. Not only cash out, but spend it. Reward yourself for good play, you deserve it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Welcome happy shiny poker people!

Hello and welcome to my newest venture into gaming journalism! You may know me from...okay, so you don't know me. I have no other ventures into gaming journalism. I do however game and journal so I think we're good.

If you are still reading, you probably like poker. You also may have read a poker book or two and subscribe to Bluff or All In or Card Player or Deal or Poker Pro or Casino Player or get the idea. These magazines offer insight into a poker pro's life and how to win the World Series of Poker. I'm not a poker pro and I don't have the 10,000 dollars entry fee to put up. Poker is my hobby, not my career. If that is true for you, bookmark this blog.

We are going to have fun, and pad our wallets while we do it.