Thursday, January 31, 2008

Strategy for when you're down and out.

There is only one thing to do when you have a chip stack less than twice the blinds. You go all-in pre-flop. Poker has very few strategies that are good regardless of table aggression, tournament timing, and an array of other variables, but this strategy is always good. Mostly because you have no choice.

The best plan is to not allow yourself to get in this position, but it happens to the best of us. Whether you have lost a huge pot leaving your stack on life-support, or you haven't seen anything but a 72 off for the last half of the tournament, it's the seventh hour now and you must decide to make your stand before the blinds hit you again. It is a common mistake of newbies to wait for a great hand even now, but chances are it won't come. And if the big blind hits and you don't, you are forced to go all-in on the small blind for only half as much a return on your investment.

If you are reading this, you probably already know that much. This is how I usually try to hang on to my tournament life: Assuming I have at least five hands to see before the big blind hits, I will wait for any ace, pocket pair, suited connector, or any two cards both above an eight. In the unfortunate event I see none of these, I go all-in blind on the big blind. Might as well let the table know you aren't looking at your cards so you get as many callers as possible, because at this point, you want a miracle. Miracles don't double you up, they quadruple you up, which is good because even if you do double up, you are still on the cutting block.

I don't like leaving my fate up to the poker gods, but sometimes it is all you can do. That is why it is important to play strong and take risks earlier in the game when you have the chips to intimidate your opponents. A chip in a chair requires a lot of luck. A stack and a chair is when you can really play.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hardware Pick of January: The Stress Ball

This month's hardware pick is considerably cheaper than last month's iPod Touch. It's a stress ball.

I know what you're thinking, it's almost the end of January and at the last minute I'm giving you a stress ball because I couldn't think of a more useful hardware pick. And you'd be right. Nevertheless, the stress ball can be a valuable addition to every poker player's utility belt. It's main purpose: tilt control. When you flop the high straight with no flush draw out there and someone calls your all-in with two pair, causing you to lose on the river to a full house (and yes, it happened to me yesterday) don't get mad, don't get even...get a stress ball.Although I'm making no guarantees that you won't still fume for a while, results may vary after all, but a little ball to squeeze out the tension can make you feel a lot better. It can also make your opponent feel better now that you are inflicting violence on the ball and not on him.

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it. Besides, it can double as a card guard.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Poker: Sport or Game?

I've been wondering to myself whether or not poker should be called a sport. I can see both sides of the argument, but I'll leave it up to you. This is what I have so far:

Why poker might be a sport...

  • It airs often on ESPN, ESPN2 and other sports-centric channels.

  • It is a competition.

  • It is important to be in good condition to play poker well. (i.e. eating well/getting enough sleep.)

  • There is a (small) movement working towards making poker an Olympic event.

  • It has set rules of play.

  • The best players are offered endorsements.

Why poker might just be a game...

  • It is not athletic.

  • Luck is a contributing factor to winning.

  • It is often aired on Bravo and other non-sports centric channels.

CardA few other thoughts: I believe luck is a contributing factor to many sports. Bowling and golf are much less athletic than football or hockey, does that make those less of a sport? A golfer is more of a sportsman than an athlete. Are poker players sportsmen? Does a driver of a NASCAR need any athletic ability?

What do you think? Post in the comments your opinions and I'll update this post as we come to a decision.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pineapple Deluxe

Pineapple is similar to Texas Hold'em in that you are dealt hole cards to be used with community cards to make the best five card hand. The only difference is that with Texas Hold'em you get two hole cards, with pineapple you get three.

So is Pineapple just where Texas and Omaha meet? Not exactly, with Omaha you are dealt four hole cards with the requirement that two must be used in your hand. With Texas Hold'em and Pineapple, there is no such requirement.

The "deluxe" of Pineapple Deluxe is that the final community card, the river, is wild and makes the three other cards of the same value wild. The extra hole card inherent to Pineapple allows for better than average Hold'em hands. The four wild cards, one of which everyone has, makes any hand less than a full house a likely loser. If you play this abomination of poker, don't feel confident without four (or better yet five) of a kind or a straight flush.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Website Pick of January: CardsChat


The best way to stay motivated, learn and grow in life is to be part of a community. The same is true for sports, the same is true for poker. Interacting with like-minded people makes your passion more fulfilling and legitimate. You don't have to play solo. There is CardsChat.

Before I go on with my website pick this month I will say this: The more interaction you have with your friends, of course, the better. I recommend that you go out and play cards socially and find people you can relate to in the real world. That being said the Internet provides a path to meet more people more quickly from around the world to share your hobby/profession/habit. That's when CardsChat is your best bet. is a forum/message board for and about poker. It is a great place to go for advice, empathy, or just to chat about your favorite game. It acts as a soundboard for ideas and an avenue to find more places to play--even freerolls.

It is a great place, but not the only place. Google "poker forum" and CardsChat is the third site to come up out of dozens. So why post there? I have tried many forums, and like a few, but CardsChat stands out for a number of reasons. First, I am a graphic designer and the site just looks better. Other sites are overloaded with ads, look like they were built ten years ago, and barely have what can be called any structure or organization. Second, it has great moderators and better yet, doesn't seem to need much moderation. Which leads into the most important reason--the community itself. Many posters know their stuff but don't act like the poker elitists of other sites. Everyone has something to learn and something to teach. There are many beginners and many advanced players on CardsChat and amazingly, they all get along. Of the other forums I use, I would say this is the only one for beginners and experts alike. There is something for everyone here.

If you are serious about becoming a better poker player, don't go solo. Make some friends, find a mentor, and try out CardsChat.

Disclaimer: This has been an unpaid message by a real CardsChat member.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Find Your Poker Theme

notesMy iPod is an emotion outlet for me. At the tables, music can bring me to the light or turn me to the dark side. When my luck is down, I turn up the blues. When I'm on a roll, it's "Eye of the Tiger" time. I listen to music to calm me, pump me up, or bring my mind out of the game just enough to avoid tilt, bankruptcy, and bloodshed.

Tunes are not always a welcome distraction. Short-handed, I take the head phones off just for the high-frequency of decision making. This is when your mind needs to be in the game to catch every tell and analyze every move. But for the long game, your brain needs a break. Use music to unwind from time to time. Practicing this will keep you sane and save your heightened focus for when you need it most.

When it is most important to unwind is after the inevitable bad beat. For me, nothing extinguishes my burning rage like a little Bob Marley, but find what is right for you.

Alternatively, the right playlist can strengthen your resolve and restore the will to play aggressive once more! The strength of music is that is provides the theme to different playing styles--prompting you to mix up your play, which is essential.

Note: I will be posting the songs I use most at the poker table at a later time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Poker Gods giveth, the Poker Gods taketh away

No one can deny that luck is an important factor in every player's success from day to day. A daily player who assessed his profits for the year, can accurately chalk up his winnings to skill, but the guy who wins the World Series of Poker, although skillful to some degree, had a very lucky day.

Oh can we live with this? We must accept that we are not masters of our own fate. We have to look at our bad beats and know that it everything happens for a reason. Winning that hand was not part of the Poker Gods master plan. When your full house loses to a straight flush on the river, take comfort in the fact that you were predestined to lose. What the Poker Gods giveth, they taketh away.

I use the allusion of a higher power governing gambling so that I can sleep at night after that two-outer hits against me, but I know that deep down, they are a fair Poker Gods. I may never get as lucky as some yahoos I play against, but that is because I don't put myself in a position to need to hit my only out. But I do occasionally have luck on my side, and I know that I don't dwell on my good fortune as long as I obsess on the bad. It is human nature, and it is what makes us always feel like the underdog.

So I put my faith in the Gods and accept their judgment. For I am but a man, and cannot alter the river's course.

The Economist on Poker

I don't usually waste a blog post on a link, but I really like the Economist's article on the state of poker. It details poker's transformation from a edgy American tradition of the few, to the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today.

EconomistPoker is getting younger, cleverer, duller and much, much richer

The Economist on poker.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Playing Big Slick

Ace KingI often hear complaints about often people lose big pots with AK. These cases are not always straight bad luck, truth is big slick is probably the most misplayed hand in poker.

First off, it is not a calling hand. AK is premium and should be played as such. I understand that if you have lost with it in the past you don't want to commit a lot of chips to it in the present, but calling pre-flop with big slick is a big mistake. When you bet or raise you have two ways to win, your opponent may fold, or you may end up with the better hand in a showdown. Calling or checking only ever gives you one avenue of winning. This is true for all hands, but with AK you have the added bonus of rarely being behind pre-flop.

The hand will hit the flop 33% of the time. By the river it will improve 50% of the time. The same is true for any two un-paired cards, but the strength in AK is that if both players hit, chances are the AK will win. If neither player hits, the AK will surely win.

The likely hands that will stay with you if you play correct pre-flop strategy will be mid to high pocket pairs and, best case scenario, the dominated AQ or AJ. If you are against poker pairs they are unlikely to improve which not only means that if you hit you will be stronger, but also as more community cards are shown they are more easily bluffed. Long story short, you should continue betting the flop turn and river regardless if you improve.

Now, the other mistake people make with big slick is that they think it is too premium. It is a drawing hand and any time you are raised you have to be prepared to fold. I didn't say fold, but be prepared to fold. This depends on the circumstances of the hand. AK is extremely beatable once the community cards start rolling out.

What about pockets aces and pocket kings? Well, we can't live our life in fear of these hands. If you are raised after your big pre-flop raise, the possibility of AK being behind should be explored. Luckily, if your opponent is ever going to show a tell, it will probably be here, so stay aware.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hell's Cold Day on MySpace/Facebook

Hey poker people, I've made a profile for this blog on MySpace. Why? I don't know why...yet. But if you use MySpace, friend me.


In addition, if you are a Facebook user, I have created a related group.

Hell's Cold Day in your Facebook

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Be true to yourself

Beginners can fall victim to self deception if they are not careful. I've seen it a few times now. Some new player has a good game and automatically chalks it all up to skill, regardless of how much luck was involved. Let's face it, luck is always involved. But we're only human, and we want to feel good about ourselves, and we want to be in control of our own fate. Unless we lose, then it's just dumb luck.

Poker players like to brag after a win too, I'm guilty of it. The more you try to convince other people of how good you are, you convince yourself. The problem here is that the next time you sit down to play, you are over confident and reckless. You may not pay attention to tells or see things that aren't there. You may rush to decisions, after all, why think it out? "I already know what to do, I'm awesome at this game!"

Hopefully this all doesn't apply to you, but it is good for us all to be aware.

Another factor affecting novice players is that they treat their winnings as profit. One would buy-in to a $20 game and cash out at $50. They might braggingly say (and therefore think) that they made $50. But they didn't. They made $30. Similarly, they easily forget their losses.

As players mature they eventually figure this out or go broke. The best way I know to maintain self-honestly is be keeping records of everything. You should make an Excel sheet recording every win and loss with dollar amounts and time spent playing. You could also use software like Poker Tracker or an on-line tracker like I know it is tempting to not record that tournament you signed-up for and only lasted 2 minutes because your first hand was those pocket rockets that got busted. It's a bad beat. It hurts your stats. But you would have recorded it if it was the other way around.

Don't cheat at the tables and don't cheat yourself. You'll become a better player for it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Celebrity Poker Showdown: Superhero Edition

I'm not feeling like delving into poker strategy or anything like that today, so here is a light hearted look into how some of our childhood heroes might play the game we love.

Imagine a table of superheros getting together after a night on patrol and unwinding with a friendly game of poker. Being heroes, they would probably do the ethical thing and not use their powers to cheat. That is pretty boring for my purposes, so I'm going to forget that. I will also dismiss some popular heroes whose powers just don't translate well to poker. Green Lantern may be good in a fight, but at the tables he'd need a green deck to do any tricks. And Wolverine is only good for cutting the deck.

sp.jpgLets start off with Spiderman. Most of his powers don't apply well to cards, but perhaps his "spidey-sense" would warn him when to get out of a hand. Usually this ability is related to physical danger, but financial danger could be close enough.

s.jpgSuperman has a lot of things going for him. Like the Flash, he thinks much faster than you and me, allowing ample time to come to the best decision. He could hear your heart beat to tell if you are lying or, of course, he could simply look at your cards. With x-ray vision he doesn't only know what the other players have, but also the cards yet to come within in the deck.

x3.jpgProfessor Xavier from the X-Men can use his mental abilities to make his opponents forget how to use their powers, or read their thoughts, or force them to fold.

b.jpgBatman has no powers, but he probably knows how to count cards. In the comics he is the "worlds greatest detective" and could see a tell from a mile away. He would do his best to neutralize the major threats at the table by switching the deck with lead-lined cards and fitting his cowl with Magneto's helmet. In addition, his utility belt has an odds calculator and Doyle Brunson's Super System 2 in it.

h.jpgThe incredible Hulk would


w.jpgWonder Woman has a magic lasso that forces whoever it touches to tell the truth. In some games that gets you disqualified, all the better for her.

And the winner is...Professor Charles Xavier. His power over the mind trumps all else. The only way he could loose is if either Batman finds a way to block his thoughts and out-plays Xavier straight up, or if the Hulk kills everyone in the room.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ron Paul is Poker's Candidate

If you want on-line poker legal again, if that is your issue, then vote for Ron Paul.

Personally, I don't think anyone should vote on just one issue. There are much more important things going on in the world then whether or not you can gamble freely. How you think the future President of the United States will handle the war in Iraq, or the economy, or education for instance, is more important. They are bigger issues. That being said, I still like Ron Paul.

This is a poker blog, I'll stay on subject. Ron Paul was a big supporter of the Poker Player's Alliance as a Texas congressman, and the only of the presidential candidates to personally meet with many poker pros in support of their cause. This means more to me than just that Paul supports poker, he supports of our freedoms in general. If you are unsure of Ron Paul, the next best bet for the cause is a democrat. Any of them, but in particular Obama or Richardson. I really like Richardson because I feel he has the best aspects of Obama and McCain and few of their faults. To read more about the candidate's position on internet gaming refer to The Presidential Candidate Scorecard.
Ron Paul

Since Richardson and Paul will probably miss their party's presidential bid, I will probably have to settle for Obama (my third choice, not bad.) For now, the primary's are the time to vote for who you really believe in, so get out their and vote.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cheating was the case, and they blamed me.

exclamation.gifI've been accused of cheating once in my life, and even I was almost convinced. Allow me to set the scenario.

I'm playing hold'em at a ten person table at a local bar. I was traveling with a friend of mine who was dealt pocket aces twice in a row. That happens sometimes, but it raised suspicion in one conspiracy theorist at the table. She noted that I was dealing one of those hands and my friend dealt the second. No one else at the table seemed to care.

The immediately following hand I was dealt pocket aces. The hand after that I was surprised to see the aces again. That was four times in a row AA were the hole cards for myself and my buddy combined, and every-time the aces won the hand in a showdown. We weren't cheating, but we were beating the odds incredibly. It was awkward handling the table from that point on, and the girl who complained about the first two came out and accused us after the second two hands. Before she actively lobbied for us to be kicked out of the venue, someone else at the table pointed out she herself dealt the last hand in question.

In a way I felt flatted that she thought I was such skilled a mechanic. The lesson I learned here is that although you should always be aware of suspicious behavior, a streak of luck alone may be just a streak of luck.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Not All Pros Are Created Equal

Poker ProAre you a poker pro? Do you know one? I'm not asking if you know Phil Ivey or Howard Lederer. In my opinion, those guys are extremely successful poker professionals, but you really don't have to be that good to go "pro."

In the purest sense of the word, a professional of profession X is someone who makes a living by doing X. Whether X is poker or hockey or sculpting or sales, the definition applies. So if you can get by with a lifestyle that only costs $100 a week, and you make that much a week at the tables, you are a poker pro. If your lifestyle requires you to provide for a family and pay a high-interest mortgage and you make $300 a week at the tables, you are not a poker pro.

A lot of people claim to be semi-pro players. What does that mean? To me it means that you make enough through poker to pay for at least some aspect of your life. Using my college experience as an example, I could pay rent with my winnings, but needed another source of income for food and entertainment.

By thinking of poker professionals from a monetary standpoint rather than an assessment of pure skill it keeps things in perspective. Practice to never assume anyone is better than you before you sit across from them. Skill will show itself in the statistics.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Poker Prediction for '08: Legal Again

This time of year many blogs have year-in-review posts. I'm going to pass on that trend in that Hell's Cold Day hasn't been around long enough to comment on '07. However, I will take this opportunity to look to the future and voice one prediction for 2008.

On-line gambling, at least as it pertains to poker, will become perfectly legal. I'm saying the legislation that hurt the on-line poker scene, which I previously blogged about, will be overturned. I'm also saying that on-line poker will be explicitly stated as legal and formally taxed. When this happens I expect US based poker rooms to gain market share over those abroad. I expect sites like and to win out over and other overseas sites. FullTilt and PokerStars will continue to thrive if they keep the television pros' endorsement.

This will be a good thing, despite taxation. For one, we will no longer be out-laws. The sites will also face the same regulations of major US casino's. As it is now, if PokerStars decided to cancel my account and not allow me to withdraw my bankroll, I have no one to turn to. The courts and the Better Business Bureau aren't going to assist me with a currently illegal activity.

Why do I think this will happen? The poker community has been lobbying very actively this past year and from what I've heard, most congressmen are on board. This all started with pork-barrel legislation (well if not started, at least escalated) which is increasingly frowned upon by the public. Top all that off with the substantial financial swing this would bring to our national debit and economy—legalizing on-line gambling would get us out of the looming payout to the European Union and open up a new tax avenue­—I say the time is now.

You gottta admit, it is at least more likely than legalizing marijuana when they are all but outlawing nicotine these days. Mark my words, on-line players, this will be the year that you will be brought back into the fold.