Thursday, April 24, 2008

Evaluating your play

There comes a time in every poker player's life when the wanderlust sets in. You grow tired of nickel and diming your friends at the kitchen table and want to explore the world of the rounders. Know thyself, caterpillar, before you spread your wings.

The number one identifier of your skill is money. It is, after all, how we keep score. Macro-consistency is everything. Marco meaning not micro. If you have a bad day, or an unprofitable week, it doesn't necessarily meaning you are a bad player. You want to play long enough to look at the big picture. Do you average a strong profit? What's you standard deviation? These are questions that can be, and need to be answered with good record keeping and a lengthy poker history.

There isn't much to learn in the short run. Wins and loses are subject to some luck day to day, but you can still assess your play by looking at how you won or loss. When I correctly read my opponent on a straight draw and bet the pot at him on the turn, I played well, regardless if he calls and catches on the river. Inversely, if I catch trips on the river against an aggressive two-pair, I know I misplayed the hand even though the poker gods were kind to me. I'd go so far to say, as your play on the turn is concerned, luck is inversely related to skill.

Before you make the jump to big money games, also look at the caliber of your normal opponents. You may be winning not only on your own merit, but also due to the lack of skill or seriousness of the rest of the table. Although this is just what you want in poker, it can be hard when gauging your play relative to Gus Hanson. Be sure to go up against more than just the same five guys to experience more styles and see if your consistent winning pattern holds up.

That's the long way of saying, if you are making money, go to the next level and make more of it. Give yourself a "raise." You can always go back to the drawing board if  it doesn't work out. Don't rush, but don't be afraid to play to your potential either.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Favorite Quotes on Poker

I present a selection of my favorite poker quotes...
"Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker." - Mike McDermott, "Rounders"

[Poker] exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great. ~Walter Matthau

Hold em is to stud what chess is to checkers. ~Johnny Moss

Cards are war, in disguise of a sport. ~Charles Lamb

Nobody is always a winner, and anybody who says he is, is either a liar or doesn't play poker. ~Amarillo Slim

Poker's a day to learn and a lifetime to master. ~Robert Williamson III

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e., everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time. ~Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, 1991

Feel free to add your favorite quotes in the comments.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The On-line Hazard.

There is one poker obstacle that is unique to on-line play—your computer. A variety of issues can come up that will make Doyle Brunson lose to a class of 5th graders, the most prominent being a bad Internet connection.

You don't have to be on dial-up to have connection worries. Many things can go wrong with wi-fi and routers and your Internet service provider that may be unavoidable. You need to take it as another way that bad luck can lose you money. On the upside, there are some things you can do to minimalize the damage.

Don't play online on someone else's wi-fi network, especially if they don't know you are doing it. They could shut it down or kick you off without warning. Don't play a game on a day there could be bad weather. You run the double risk of your connection to the web and your connection to the power dying. Generally, you can tell if something is wrong with your connection before you fire up the poker client. If your browser is moving slowly, don't risk putting money on the line. There are various websites you can visit to test your bandwidth. Do it.

If you do get kicked off your poker client, don't panic. Your Internet may still be up. Check with your browser as you restart the poker room. It has been my experience that the poker room fails to server issues more often than something on my end. You will reconnect as soon as they do, and the other players are in the same boat. Chances are no money will be lost.

Sure, I have lost a game due to connection failure, but, honestly, I've won a game from it too. When you are heads up with a player who has just timed out, don't hesitate to take their blinds. It isn't honorable, but it can't be helped. If you are aware of the online hazard, you can be sure that it won't take you as often as that runner runner flush.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bizarro Poker!

Blind Man's Bluff (also known as Indian Poker, although I'm unsure if the racial reference deals with American Indians or Indian Indians) is one of my favorite poker diversions. I call it a diversion because I can't imagine playing it consistently hand after hand. The game involves players exposing their single-card hands so that everyone knows the value of the card except for the person playing it. In this way it is the exact opposite of all other forms of poker, earning itself yet another name of my own creation—Bizarro Poker!

My own preference aside, Blind Man's Bluff is a fitting name. Bluffing is the name of the game, but instead of making your opponents believe you are strong, you need to make them believe that they are weak. They know your strength more than you do, but not relative to themselves.

It is a fun game to watch because most games are played out with the cards on the player's forehead, however, onlookers change the game by their reactions. I would argue this form of poker relies more heavily on tells than any other. If I have an ace of spades on my forehead, I'm unbeatable, but I could still be convinced to fold with good acting. Often in cases with an ace in play, players seem to come together in an effort to make the ace fold. As a general rule, if people start laughing at you, you either have a two or an ace.

The Bizarro Family of poker can be extended. You could play stud or hold'em with one or more cards visible to everyone but yourself. Experiment to find what you like best, but to me, anything more then Bizarro Highcard gets confusing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Poker is my anti-drug.

The sports scandal of the day is performance enhancing drugs. Most recently, baseball players using (and denying) human growth hormones or HGH. This is a serious offence since HGH or any steroid can raise the player's athletic ability to a level beyond anyone playing by the rules. It's unfair. It's cheating. Whether or not you consider poker a sport, poker players are not athletes. HGH isn't going to get me to the final table. However, poker isn't without its performance enhancing drugs.

Some people claim alcohol improves their game. I can see their argument. If a player knows he or she needs to be aggressive to win, but is far too conservative to ever pull the trigger, a couple drinks may loosen them up. Of course, everything in moderation. Chances are the player will have one drink too many and suddenly the decision making process as a whole has been drowned out. Friends don't let friends bet drunk.

As a recent college student, I know alcohol isn't the only drug that can by used at the poker table. Some prescription drugs like Adderall aid with focus. Many fellow students took part in the grey market of Adderall for all-night cramming sessions before the big test. Many swear it is an essensial studying tool.

For a game that is much more mental than physical, could Adderall or something similar be a performance enhancing drug? Don't take this the wrong way, I'm not recommending it. Everything has side effects and I only rely on my own brain chemistry for poker or any other activity. I bring this up to begin the conversation of whether or not blood tests for major poker tournament are needed. More money is on the line at the World Series of Poker than most sporting events, and because of this casinos take serious steps to prevent cheating. Are the players individual drug habits cheating? Let me know what you think in the comments. I don't have the answer for this one.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good cards comes to those who can't wait.

I don't know if the cosmos are messing with me, but every time I go all-in with the expectation—nay, the intension—to lose, I flop a flush, or catch a full boat, or complete the nut straight on the river. Do the poker gods find humour in misplacing my miracle hands?

Perhaps I've gotten ahead of myself. Let me start over. I've been playing a few free games around town lately with a couple friends who are easing back into poker. I used to frequent the bar game scene a lot back in college. They are fun, but not profitable. That being said, I usually do my best to stay in longer than my friends so that I don't sit around bored, waiting for them to either win or bust out. In fact, when one of us loses and have plans for the rest of the evening, the other usually loses up. "Loosening up" occasionally means going all-in with any two cards...usually more than once.

I know, you hate that guy, I hate that guy, but we've all been that guy. All-in with 3 6. All-in with 2 8. Winning everytime. It may not respect the game, but sometimes people need to be reminded that it is free poker.
The point of the story is this: when I want to leave, I can't! The poker gods give me gold time and time again. I can't help but think of what I could do with that kind of luck in a serious game, but I never get a chance to find out.

It's not just me. It has been my experience that anyone who has checked-out of the game becomes chip leader in no time. Why? The rational answer falls in line with me previous posts. Our perception focuses on the bad beats, bad luck spawns bad decisions, everyone goes on tilt, blah blah blah. Maybe. Or maybe it is my fate to win certain games. Maybe the player who wants to lose can't because he was predestined to win. The devil is in the details, and the poker gods may be in the cards.

It will probably be a cold day in hell before you find faith in poker, so until then, don't give up on skill. And I'll try not to be "that guy."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Learning From Our Nonmistakes.

Allow me to set the scene. I'm playing on-line hold'em and make it to the last four players, the final three place in the money. Throughout the game I was dealt below average cards, picking up one legitimate pot and a couple bluffs. My chip stack is about half the tournament leader. I get aces. I raise, the chip leader moves all-in (vastly over betting the pot,) and I call all-in. He (she?) has kings. By the river lose to four-of-a-kind kings.

I have conditioned myself to be more upset with bad play on my part than good play falling victim to factors out of my control (the wrath of the poker gods.) However, this hand seemed to beat the odds, as on-line hands often seem to.

Many players who try their hand in the real and virtual world cry consipacy—that on-line poker odds are unfair or rigged. I believe there are a variety of reasons for this belief. The first is that some people think the odds need to be rigged in order for the site to make money. That is completely false. The site makes money that same as casinos do, the rake. Money on the table is passed between players that the site has no stake in. Although it is possible for a player working with the site can influence the odds in their favor, but the risk of having their already very profitable business shut down is a huge deterent against this.

Another reason for the belief in odds tom foolery is that players see more unlikely hands unfolding. Such as pockets aces going up against pocket kings and losing to four-of-a-kind. I used to believe this too, but after thinking about how many more hands I see on-line per hour, I can expect both more of the ordinary and the extrodinary. We just tend to forget in ordinary, which leads me to my final point.

We all forget the uneventful hours of play and dwell on the "crazy" moments. We forget the long-shots we catch and never let go of the bad beats. We blame bad players and bad luck when we lose, and commend our skills when we win. It's not Full Tilt's or Poker Stars' or any other site's fault that I lost, just dumb luck. I take comfort in knowing that eventually the better player profits and, if anything, computers are more random than the a bad shuffle.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Design Your Own Poker Game!

Sometimes it is fun to break out of the monotony of standard games and stretch your creative muscles by customizing poker. This exercise is limited to causal play with friends, but when possible it can be a lot of fun.

The first step to making your own game is to choose the type of poker play. The most popular choices are stud games, draw games, or community card games. From there you can decide how many cards to use and how they are distributed. All that really matters is that you keep all the players on a fair, equal playing field.

The easiest way to mix-up any game is by adding wilds. This will seemingly elevate your average hand strength, but relative to the rest of the table, winning rates should stay about the same. The most popular cards to have as wilds are aces, deuces, One-Eyed Jacks, Suicidal Kings, and of course Jokers. You can also let the game play decide what cards are wild. For example, the river card could be wild or even one card could make another card wild as in Follow the Queen games. I've played games in which entire suits were made wild. but that may have been going to far.

To keep games active, I like to have multiple betting rounds. With games that the cards are slowly made available to the players, (like hold'em with the flop, turn and river) betting rounds are nicely built-in. You may design a game where this isn't the case and the entirety of the player's hand is known at the outset. If this is the case, I add betting rounds by having players roll-out their hands. If you don't know this term, it is when you arrange your cards in the order you want to reveal them to the rest of the table and bet in between reveals. As you may have guessed, there is an extra layer of strategy involved with the roll-out.

The final step is important. Name your game. You can name it after the creator or its inspiration or anything you want. If it is a popular variation, people will want to play it again and it is no fun referring to it as "that game with the thing that Bob came up last week."

If you have come up with any fun game variants of your own, leave them in the comments! I'm always up for trying new ways to play the game of poker.

Although lottery too is a way of gambling, people prefer thinking of the national lottery is a poor man's wildest dreams come true.