Monday, December 17, 2012

Casino Play

If you walk into a casino and start playing blackjack note that your opponent is the Casino Organization. Unlike poker, there's no need to worry about how other players are playing, they will not affect your play. Your only concerns are the cards, dice, board, or screen in front of you. You live and die by the house.

Casinos offer a variety that poker cannot offer. There are only so many ways to reveal community cards, after all. Here we have everything from card games like blackjack to dice games like craps to little spinning ball games like roulette--each with their own odds and betting structures. A well-played game of 21 allows you close odds at doubling your money; a single number wager at roulette offers a much higher return at a much higher risk.

Your first trip to a casino can be a thrilling experience, but it is also intimidating. My advice to you is to look up buy-in costs beforehand, build up a bankroll that you can afford to lose and is sufficient enough to be at least an average stack at the table. Walk in with nothing to prove and play smart. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the games at OnlineCasinos,
which provide all the gambling fun without that pesky human interaction. Actually the online experience can be exactly like the brick and mortar casino experience with games like video poker and slots. If that’s your thing, you might be better off gambling the gas money you would have spent in travel.

You have to spend money to make money, but you also have to spend money to have fun. Hopefully you'll achieve both of these goals, but if not, priority number one is entertainment. You're bound to find a game to like. Let them know Grundy sent you...and watch as their eyes glaze over in confusion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hell's Cold 5th Anniversary

It was four years ago that I began my textual journey into the underbelly of the game we call poker. Thank you all for reading and joining the conversation. I have met a lot of funny, talented and insightful poker people along the way. You know who you are.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Play money is no way to learn.

I know free poker sounds like a good idea, but it's not.

Let's say you know how to play cards, but you want to improve your game before you put any of your hard earned cash to risk on online poker sites. It's a great idea, in theory, but playing without spending will certainly make your game worse. The yahoos in play money rooms will see every bet and raise randomly with any cards if they haven't already gone all-in preflop. Bluffing is impossible, so improving is impossible. Not everyone at the table may go in with the intensions of making a mockery of poker, but everyone will start eventually just to keep up...including, probably, you.

Let's say you never heard of texas hold'em before and want to learn the rules. Playing for free can't hurt then, right? Wrong! You want to learn how to play, ask a friend to teach you. With absolutely no incentive to win you are not learning poker, you are picking up bad habits. These will stick with you for a long time. Learning right first is learning right best.

Let's say you are a hold'em expert and you want to pick up omaha. You know how free poker works and are confident you can avoid the insanity. That may well be, but I still wouldn't risk play money games. Switching back and forth from from cash poker and free poker is very confusing. You might forget who you are playing with.

If you want to learn how to play poker: make the investment. It doesn't take much. .05/.10 cent blinds is how I started out. I was with college students who had to make five bucks last the whole week, so they valued their coins. You just have to find the sweet spot to keep out most maniacs. If you prefer tournament play, I recommend $10 buy-ins with no rebuys for solid learning. $5 is okay, but you get plenty online that don't take five dollars seriously.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Poker Friendly Macs

There was a time when if you wanted to play a computer game, you had to run Microsoft. This was true for all the gaming acronyms, everything from RPGs, to FPSs. It was even true for something as simple as Minesweeper. Macintosh ran Oregon Trail. That was about the extent of its gaming library. Thankfully, Steve Jobs was one who would follow the money, and there is a lot of money in gaming.

Gaming on Macs has become just a full-featured experience as on a PC. This is relevant to us as poker players because in the most basic sense, we are gamers. We are the most invested gamers—high-stakes gamers. I am only willing to play on a system that I can count on. When screens freeze and connections break it costs me my pride, sanity, and good old-fashioned money. On-line, I can only bluff as well as the software allows. Apple raised its game, so now I raise on a Mac.

Searching “poker” in the Mac App Store returns 55 results. Some apps are graphically rich card playing simulations, some are learning tools, some are odds calculators, and some are unique concepts I don’t quite know how to classify—and the App Store is just the tip of the iceberg. Apple’s public persona shies away from apps that are seen by some as vices, so gambling games are out. Luckily, there are plenty of big name sites that offer Mac software for real money play. I recommend taking them out for a trial run with “play money” before committing to a deposit, but I have yet to have trouble on my Mac.

Macs are no longer the minority machines in the gaming world. Even Apple’s touch interface, iOS, is seeing more innovation than the average PC today. Speaking of iOS, poker a growing scene on the iPad and iPhone. Getting into the Apple ecosystem by playing on a Mac seems like a no brainer. Oh, “and one more thing” the ability to share your screen to an Apple TV via AirPlay lets you play cards on television. You’ll feel like Daniel Negreanu. Only on the couch. Probably without pants.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fellowship of the Chip

Women have this foreign ability to chat with their girlfriends (usually over the phone) and stay updated on weekly happenings. I can’t relate. Guys need to have a reason to be brought together. This is why I think playing a weekly poker game with friends is the best social outlet in the world. For men, it becomes the needed reason. For women, it provides a chance to interact with their brutish counterparts in a very real and open way. It is a fine balance of camaraderie and competition. Unfortunately, it isn’t great for improving your game.

The problem is that playing with the same friends becomes a rut. You know how to best play them, but forget how to best play in general. You stop stop thinking. Bets and folds become reflex.

Breaking up the amigos is not a favorable option, but you can breath new life into the game by inviting an outsider. Have some players invite a friend outside the collective fellowship to play. Fresh blood is exciting and adds to your network of potential new friends. Oh, and fresh blood means fresh money. You were probably getting tired of passing around the same c-note anyhow.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Extended Tilt Breaks Your Game. Fix It.

On question/answer site Quora, the question "What is the best way to overcome extended tilt?" was posed. Good question. Here are the answers: (mine's at the bottom)

Kevin Ko says:

The short answer is you just need to develop the discipline to move on from the emotional residue of a previous hand. You can't change past events, the best you can do is learn from them and move on. Most people still suffer from feeling tilty during the same session but it's rare for this to carry on throughout a wider period of time. This may be the sign of weak emotional control.

A more thorough, long answer involves a deep understanding of what tilt really is, the dangers of tilt, and having the sensibility to understand how it affects your career if you're a long-term playing professional.

Subtle Tilt - Being even mildly distracted from playing your absolute A game. These factors can be external or internal. E.g. You're bored and want to start playing looser than your typical range, a player at your table starts talking trash and makes you want to "target" him in particular, or recent losses have made your upset and you don't think clearly throughout your subsequent hands.

Monkey Tilt - Full-blown monkey tilt is that sort of tilt where you simply blow up and start open-shoving hands, playing without any modicum of thought or logic, and are just intent on burning money in a hopeless attempt at making some money back. In traditional media, this is depicted as the guy who keeps chasing losses and ends up losing his house.

In most cases, subtle tilt is the precursor to monkey tilt, although for the most emotionally undisciplined, entering monkey tilt phase can happen instantly. The key then is to limit subtle tilt, which in itself is still dangerous. What's nice though is that if you limit your subtle tilting, you won't tilt that much overall and throughout your sessions. Performing at your A-game at all times is a subject for a different time, but it involves extreme focus, emotional stability (and maintaining it), and the clear headed-ness to reason that tilting from a hand is both irrational because your tilt won't change the result of the hand, and detrimental because all it means is that for the next x amount of hands, you will be in a phase of subtle tilt or monkey tilt.

The reason why subtle tilt is dangerous is because while the effects and detrimental results are negligible at first, they add up over the course of "the long run". Due to subtle tilt, you played hands awkwardly, your bet sizing was less than optimal, you played "fun" hands, you tried to chase a quick win before the end of your session, you didn't quit in time, etc. you end up losing quite a bit in these marginal losses, but consider that most online professionals play hundreds of thousands to even millions of hands per year.

Without going into specific dollar amounts, in one of my nascent years as a professional player, I estimated my losses from subtle tilt, mostly due to not quitting early enough (as part of a stop-loss I used to mitigate tilt effects), to be about 20% of the amount I actually won that year. With poker being so hard already at higher levels, a 20% edge by simply making positive emotional and mental adjustments internally is an absolute gold mine.

Nelson Denoon weights in:

The root cause of any sort of tilting at the poker table is an inability to embrace the moment as it is, that is, regretting what may have happened a minute or more ago or worrying about what is going to happen an minute or more from now.

To overcome tilt, one must cultivate the ability to fully accept what is. To not do so is counterproductive since, no matter how much emotional discharge you apply to this moment, this moment still is.

So if you lose a huge pot that you really wanted to win and you lose it because some guy you dislike caught a one outer on the river, it will hurt. If you embrace the pain and the fact that he is raking in what you wish were your chips and that you are at that moment irreversibly (since the suchness of the moment is indisputable), then your tendency to latch on to regret or ride the wave of worry will subside. Moreover, even if it is understandable and logical, your self-hatred will not get the best of you.

Moreover, although this may be sinister, an effective way to induce tilt behavior in an opponent is to underscore, through words or gestures, that opponent's past hands, thereby often triggering regret and worry about the future in him, that is, inducing tilt in your opponent.

I think:

Timon and Pumbaa said it best: hakuna matata.

I don't think this is something you can ever fix completely, some people are just more prone to tilt than others. However, here are two quick tips.

1. Live and play in the present. Take the raw information of the past with you, but only if you can let the emotions of the past go. If a guy made a statistically bad move chasing to the river, count on him doing it again and you'll profit off him more often then he will profit off you. Don't dwell on each invidiual loss, think about the big picture.

2. Don't take things personal. A bad beat isn't a personal attack.

3. Keep in mind that sometimes you are the one who gets lucky too. We tend to remember the times we are screwed over and forget the times we were touched by the poker gods.

4. After a long run of bad beats, EVERYONE goes on tilt to some degree. Just quit playing for a while in this case. Start fresh a day, week, or month later--whatever works for you.

Anyone else use Quora? This is how I roll. Comment below and I'll check out your answers.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's All Odds

I came across this article about how we should think about all things in terms of odds, not just gambling. The premise is that very few things in life are certain, so we should consider our probability in being correct rather than assuming absolute knowledge or ignorance. The writer make a great case why we should think of these probabiliies as odds rather than the traditional percentages.

Here is a great refresher on odds from the article:

Let’s have a quick refresher on what “odds” are. We all know what a probability is (or at least, we’re familiar with the term!). Odds can be seen as ratios of probabilities. Just as we use P(A) for the “probability of A,” we may talk about O(A), the “odds of A” (where A is some apparently sensible proposition).

In terms of probabilities, O(A) = P(A)/P(~A). So for example, if there is a 66% probability of rain tomorrow, then O(rain) = 0.66/(1-0.66), or more easily 66:33, which finally reduces to 2:1 (usually read “two to one in favour”). The “:” is basically just a division sign, so O(rain) can be stated as “2 to 1” or as simply “2.” Although odds can be expressed as ratios of probabilities, they are best understood on their own terms altogether. In this case, “odds of 2 to 1 in favour of rain tomorrow” means something like “days like this are followed by twice as many rainy days as non-rainy days, to the best of my knowledge.”

Odds are even more familiar from the racetrack, where a bookie might give “10 to 1 on Longshot, to win.” What this means is that if the bookie is selling stakes for $5 each, then a single $5 stake will get you (10+1)*$5 = $55 if you win (i.e., a gain of $50 plus your $5 stake back), while a loss will simply lose you your $5 stake. (Of course, in order to make money, the bookie must think that the realodds on Longshot are even longer than 10 to 1.)

Obviously, this all applies to cards, but also life in general. Check out Rationally Speaking for more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Choosing the Right Virtual Table

All the poker books point out the value of choosing a profitable (or "hot") table. I totally agree, but it will get your night off to a slow start. It takes some time to play spectator in order to see the skill and aggression levels of your potential opponents. That's what's nice about on-line table selection, I have some tips to speed up the process.

Before you start playing, most poker sites have a display of available tables. Each table often includes stats such as the number of seats available, how many seats are taken, the number of players on the waiting list, the stakes and the average pot size. Average pot size is very important and one stat that you can't immediately gain by visiting a table in a casino.

You should, by now, know thyself. If you play your best game shorthanded, stay at the tables with a max. player limit--usually six. If you're best heads-up, there are table for that too. On-line is great for options. Are you a tournament player who usually either goes out first or wins it all? Then you are probably aggressive enough to be suited for a "turbo" game where the blinds raise quickly. If you like to wait for the really good hands, stay as far from turbo as possible. Some sites even have games with extended blind levels, those may be more your speed.

Another factor for aggression is average pot size. For easy money, an aggressive player should steal the blinds of the table with the smallest pot sizes relative to their blinds. A tight player should sit at the table with the highest pot sizes so that when you do get your hand, you can win big. This strategy probably won't be the most fun for either player type, but it will be the most profitable.

The time of day can also be a factor. I have found that European players are overall a different skill level as US players and through the magic of time zones they play when we sleep. I'm not saying which countries host the most skilled...but I have my theories.

Keep in mind, that just because the table stats say one thing, doesn't mean that will hold true forever. Don't base future play on that early information. A aggressive table can quickly turn tight in the event that the bully loses his chips and is replaced. I'm just saying...test the waters before you jump in.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bid Poker

I've always liked bid poker for the new strategy element it brings to the game. The game starts with an ante followed by the deal--five cards down to each player. Players review their hands and the dealer reveals one card in the center of the table. The player left of the dealer has the option of placing a bid on the card or passing. Action moves to left with each subsequent player either raising the bid or passing. Once all but one player has passed, that player pays his bid to the pot and takes the won card. He then discards to keep his card count at five. The same process continues until every player has had the first shot at an auctioned card. Finally we have the traditional poker hand of bet/raise/fold/showdown.

The pots can get large if players pay top dollar in the bidding process. The advantage is if you start off with trash, you can pass on the bidding, fold, and only lose your ante. I don't generally recommend bluffing in this game since hands have the potential of being very strong come the showdown. It is important to pay attention to what your opponents are bidding on and know whether to get out of their way and stop them from making their hand.

There may be a time when you should outbid an opponent for a card you don't need just to stop them from having a monster. For example, you have a strong full house--three aces and two tens, and your opponent has already bought a king and is bidding on another king. At this point you know the last king probably made him trips or a full house, which your hand trumps, but this new king would give him four-of-a-kind. This is when the game can get nasty since both you and your opponent are willing to spend a small fortune bidding on the card. There is a lot to think about, but in a different way then most poker variations, and that's why I like bid poker.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tell Study: The Shakes

Tells are the little ticks people have that leak information; the more we can identify, the more we can both hide and exploit that all-important info. I will break them down right here, one by one.

The first tell to which I’ve turned my attention are shaky hands. It is a common misconception that shaky hands are a sign of fear. Players do the fear math and assume Mr. Shaky has a weak hand. Therefore, any bet is a bluff.
The opposite is likely true. Players never make the decision to bluff when scared. True, they may become scared if they believe you may call their bluff, but that is after it has been made. The shaking hands were likely noticed as the chips were moved into the table. As a rule, shaking means strong, not weak.

You have probably heard this before, I know I have. Many poker books speculate that shaking is the sign of a monster hand. While this is a much sounder assumption than fear, I have a bit more to add.

I’ll go ahead and admit, this tell affects me. Like most tells, it is a subconscious occurrence. Unlike many, it isn’t one that can be easily controlled once identified. Imagine getting a stubborn case of hiccups at the table, it just kinda has to run its course. Because of this, I’ve played very close attention to when it happens. The good news? I don’t give away as much information as I thought.

My hands shake when I have the most at risk. It happens when I have a significant portion of my chips on the line, whether I have the nuts or I am bluffing my ass off. Further analysis shows:

  • I am usually the aggressor

  • The temperature is usually cold

  • The risk is a function of relative chip stack and completely independent of whether or not the chips represent hundreds of dollars or nothing at all

  • Early Parkinson's may be setting in (but I hope not)

My opponents already know when I'm risking most my chips and am playing aggressive, so if that is all that can be summized from my wavering paws, my net information loss is zero. It is important for you to keep in mind that while you may perceive something as a tell, it may mean nothing. Inversely, it is important that I keep in mind that while I have found causes for my "tell," they may not be the only causes.

I recognize that I have tells. We all do. As soon as I recognize and understand mine, I'll be sure that you and my other possible opponents will be the last to know. If you have had any noteworthy experiences with tells, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Games of Skill & Chance

To me, poker is a perfect blend of skill and chance. And although I may not sing this song when my aces are cracked, chance is good. Chance makes the game accessible. A complete newbie has a chance to beat a seasoned pro in the short run. This is good for the newbie obviously, but also good for the pro as it draws in a new player to the game for him to teach the hard lessons.

What games can compare to the skill/luck ratio of poker? Well there are games like tic-tac-toe, checkers and chess on one end of the spectrum. These are all skill based and at varying levels of difficulty. The flaw in not involving chance is that each aforementioned game can be won with a predetermined best move in every situation. We all should know how to play tic-tac-toe to either a win or a draw by now. Checkers and chess are the same only at a much more complex level–as proven by computers ability to overcome the best of us.

The other side of the spectrum? Keno is devoid of skill and a good example of how chance can quickly go too far. (Despite what Bizarro Grundy might have to say.)

So if poker is a middle ground, what other games can compare? Well, there are other card games of course...bridge, canasta, gin rummy to name a few. I am not too experienced in most of these, but without the opportunity to bluff it takes away some of the psychological element that I love so much. Of course you can bluff in "BS," but that game lacks the gentlemanly quality.

Backgammon is a popular gateway game into poker. The introduction of dice bring chance to an otherwise skillful game. Stratego is another favorite of mine. It involves neither cards nor dice, but the mystery of the placement of your opponents pieces allow for lucky guesses at times. Man, I miss that game.

What else? Are there any other games that achieve the balance of skill and chance?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Poker Can Make The Government Money

Do you...

(a) think the government should not be in so much debt, but don't really feel like paying more taxes to cover the IOUs?


(b) play poker and want to enjoy the game legally from the comfort of your own home.

Then you should pass this letter on to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (found here because...

(a) you'll sit back and watch a bunch of degenerate gamblers pay a vice tax to help get the country back on track.


(b) it will let the government know that you want to enjoy the game legally from the comfort of your own home.

Here is a sample letter provided by the Poker Player's Alliance.

"Dear Honorable Joint Select Committee Members,

Please support HR 2366 -- raise revenue without raising taxes

As a voter and tax payer, I am writing to ask that you please consider H.R. 2366, the Online Poker Act of 2011, during your deficit reduction discussions. This bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), will provide much needed federal and state revenue without raising taxes. It will also bring American companies into the Internet poker market, creating thousands of new jobs that we so desperately need. It will provide for strong consumer protections and age verification requirements as well.

Former Homeland Security Advisor Tom Ridge supports federal licensing of online poker because it addresses control and accountability of cash flows. Additionally, WiredSafety, the world's largest Internet safety group, concluded that "combining a thoughtful regulatory scheme with education, technology tools, and support appears to be the most effective means of handling the realities and risks" of online poker. This groundbreaking study can be found at U.S.-based horse race wagering sites have proven that online betting sites can successfully implement these important protections. The game of poker deserves no less.

This bill does not authorize video poker or any other house-banked casino-style game. Rather, it provides for sensible regulation of the game of online poker -- the electronic version of the game families across America play at the kitchen table -- and is limited to this person-to-person game of skill.

Every federal dollar wasted on efforts to stop American adults from playing online poker is another dollar added to the federal deficit. Quite frankly, there's simply no reason for the deficit reduction super committee to ignore HR 2366.

Thank you for your consideration,

Add your name here"