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Long Weekend!

Is there any better feeling than getting ready to leave work on the Friday before a long weekend? Other than getting married, witnessing the birth of your children, winning the lottery, developing x-ray vision, finding out you have the ability to fly, or raking in the largest pot of your life: no!

For those of you keeping tabs, here are my plans for the weekend:

  1. Drinks and sit-n-gos! I know better than to play NL cash games with a few drinks in me but SNGs, on the other hand...

    Mr. V. will hopefully stop by this evening and walk me through some SNGs. He's actually quite good at these things and I'm always up for learning more tricks of the trade. Sit-n-gos have not treated me all that well in the past and I'm hoping to turn things around.

  2. While on the subject of poker, I'll be hitting up Titan Poker (my new all-time favourite site) for some more $50 NL fun. As my bankroll approaches the levels necessary for $100 NL, I've found myself really looking forward to my "short but sweet" nightly poker sessions. I've also noticed that my game is really starting to come together which is a great feeling. After taking so much time away from the tables earlier this year, I was a very worried that I'd never be able to play poker with any success ever again.

  3. No weekend would be complete without spending a lot of time with my wife and son. Some food, some movies, and a lot of time relaxing on the couch are in order. I plan on playing quite a few games of peek-a-boo and tickle monster with my son. I think we may also pop out to Wal-mart or something, but plans are still up in the air at this point. Who knows - we may even go a little crazy and hit the grocery store too!

  4. Sleep...I need sleep. I'm hoping my wife does me a solid and lets me sleep in one day this weekend. You'd be amazed at how much better I feel after a solid 8 hours of sleep.

  5. Finally, I'll rescue a few Little Sisters and kill off countless Splicers in the eerily beautiful underwater city of Rapture while working my way through BioShock.

I hope everyone has a great weekend! And if you're going to drink, please drink responsibly. Failing that, please don't drink and drive. Drinking and gambling, however, is perfectly acceptable - this being a theory I plan to test myself in a few hours time.

Keep reading "Long Weekend!"

Sklansky Bucks

Is poker a game of skill? Or is that an excuse we use to justify our gambling addiction? I decided to find out for myself by taking a look at my results at the 6-max $50 NL tables over the past couple months.

Since my return to the tables, I've had a moderate amount of success. I'm not quite ready to play $100 NL but I'm getting there. Before sitting down to play last night, I wanted to determine whether my current win rate was the result of luck or skill. I decided to download PokerEV - software that, amongst many other things, can determine whether you are running "hot" or "cold" - after reading about this piece of software on Lumpy's blog.

With the software installed, I let PokerEV take a look at my PokerTracker database. PokerEV crunched some number and was then ready to give me the answers I so desperately sought. Lo and behold, PokerEV let me know that I was running cold. My expected value in the hands I was playing (ie. Sklansky Bucks) far outweighed my actual returns (ie. Klopzi Bucks). In a nutshell: I was being pwned at the tables by luckboxes.

Feeling justified and righteous, I took a seat at a couple of Titan Poker's $50 NL 6-max tables and started to work on getting lucky.

My first hand, I flopped a set of kings with my cowboys and stacked a guy who wanted nothing more than to give me all his money. I gladly took it.

Five minutes later, I flopped TPTK and stacked another opponent who'd decided that he wanted his poker career to end as soon as possible. I did him a solid and, in return, he paid me in cash.

After a half hour, I felt myself getting tired (kids=exhausting) and started to play my last couple orbits of the night.

And then it happened. I picked up a good hand in the small blind in a pot with a Donkey all-in from the cutoff seat, a call by the TAG (tricky and aggressive) on the button, and a LAG sitting to my left waiting for me to make my move...

Titan Poker ($50 NL)

SB (Hero) ($65.32)
BB (Villain) ($72.53)
UTG ($39.50)
CO (Donkey) ($1.55)
BTN (TAG) ($69.33)

Hero posts small blind of $0.25
Villain posts big blind of $0.50

Hero is SB with Q♦ A♣
UTG folds
Donkey is all-in ($1.55)

(Donkey sat down with $10 a few orbits ago. It's a surprise he lasted this long. This all-in meant nothing: Donkey could be holding any two cards.)

TAG calls $1.55

(TAG on the button was a solid tricky player, based on my limited read.)

Hero calls $1.30

(Generally, I raise in this position to pick up the dead money in the pot and play heads up against an all-in Donkey. In this case, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to raise enough to commit myself to the pot with a top-pair type hand (such as AQ) against the TAG. If I were to raise to $5 and TAG called, the pot would be $11 pre-flop. Against the TAG, this pot would still be too small to make my post-flop decisions any easier. Any indecision or weakness on my part could give the TAG an excuse to push me off my hand. I'd also taken down a few pots with pre-flop raises and re-raises in the last few orbits.

I decided to keep the pot small and see the flop. I'm sure many of you would disagree with my pre-flop limp here and your concerns would be well justified. Why not simply raise a little more than $5? And what about the crazy player in the big blind? If he were to call a $5 raise pre-flop along with the button, I could have easily committed myself to the pot post-flop if I hit top pair.)

Villain raises to $6.80

(Hmmm...Villain was a LAG. He prided himself on showing bluffs and stealing pots left, right and center. I smelled a squeeze play here and decided that I would re-raise if TAG folded on the button.)

TAG folds
Hero raises to $21.55

(Against Villain's range of hands (any two cards), my AQ stood to be a big favourite. I made it $20 to go and was quite ready to add Villain's raise to my stack.)

Villain raises to $36.80

(Ouch! Villain four bet it! And yet I still wasn't convinced. I refused to accept the fact that Villain had a hand. My gut was telling me that he was bluffing and my brain...well, I'm not sure where my brain had wondered off to during this pivotal moment in the hand. The question became: what sort of hands would Villain four-bet with?

If Villain thought I'd been playing tight, Villain would probably be holding AA or KK in this spot. As I mentioned, though, Villain might have perceived me as a little LAG myself given my recent string of pre-flop raises and re-raises.

Here's the thought process I envisioned going through the Villain's head.

"I know that my raise from the big blind looked like a steal, so it's no wonder that the SB re-raised me. If SB had a great hand, he would have probably raised after the button called rather than call. I think he's weak. There's no way he's holding AA, KK, or QQ here. So how can I get the SB to lay down his hand? There's already $20 of his money in the pot and he still has $40 behind: he can definitely fold in this spot and still be happy with his decision. If I re-raise with my A3 and get SB to fold, I'll win a ton of free money and I'll get to show my hand which will put SB on tilt. Ok - I'll re-raise SB's bet and represent aces! That should do it!"

I felt so strongly that Villain was bluffing that I had only one recourse at this point...)

Hero is all-in ($42.22)

(Against players thinking with their heads, this is a terrible move. I'd most likely be up against a big pair and drawing extremely slim when called in this spot. And given that Villain only had to call an extra $5 to see the flop, I had no fold equity either.

In all honesty, I put Villain on any two cards greater than ten, a pocket pair, or a complete bluff. Given the Villain's possible range, his somewhat-crazy play, and the fact that I still felt that Villain was trying to push me off my hand with nothing, I felt that my chances weren't half-bad.)

Villain calls $5.42

(The speed at which the Villain called here, pot-committed or not, had me cursing my stupid gut-feeling. I was now at the mercy of my read and of the cards. At this point, I turned to my wife and let her know that I'd just made a huge mistake for my entire stack. She looked at my cards, the size of the pot, called me a donkey, and went back to watching Iron Chef on TV.

As the community cards were dealt, all I could do was pray for an ace or a queen to hit the flop.)

Flop: 4♠ 2♠ K♥

(Well, shit! My queen was probably worthless and Villain was probably LOL'ing his ass off holding A♠ K♠...)

Turn: 6♦

(Crap! Maybe Villain was holding 53s! Nah, probably not! Most likely he was holding AA or KK and laughing at the funny little donkey in the small blind.)

River: A♠

(The Ace on the River was about the only card I could have hoped for in that spot. I would've preferred a non-spade but you what could I do?)

Results: (in white below)
Final pot: $130.74

Hero shows Qd Ac
Villain shows Js 4c (WTF?! And he out-flopped me too!)
Donkey shows 3c Kd (No surprises here.)

This hand says a few things about how I play poker:

  1. I tend to bet big with marginal hands in situations where my opponents will fold all hands that I beat and call with all hands that have me dominated or crushed.

  2. Trusting my gut is high-variance and should not become my default play in difficult situations.

  3. I read my opponents as well as Phil Hellmuth.

  4. I put too much emphasis on what my opponents are thinking. This may be a useful process at the $400 NL tables, but not so much at the $50 NL tables.

  5. I like winning pots based on my mad skillz alone; however, it's nice to catch a lucky break from time to time. I'll remember this pot the next time I get stacked by an opponent after an unfortunate river card steals the pot from me.

  6. Any two cards can win but usually they don't...wait, does that even make sense?

  7. I really enjoy doubling up to the chorus of my opponents' cries of "rigged", "donkey", "fish", "u wanna play HU for $100", and "f u".
Honestly, there's no real lesson here other than there are times when trusting your gut is the right play: just realize that those times are few and far between. Intuitive plays are never a good substitute for sound, logical thinking.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'd better go earn myself some more Sklansky Bucks before Lady Luck realizes that my account is owing...

Keep reading "Sklansky Bucks"

Hellmuth vs. Matusow

Anyone who watched Season 3 of High Stakes Poker is already well aware of Phil Hellmuth's awful reputation as a high stakes no-limit hold'em player. Well deserved or not, Hellmuth's time for revenge was at hand in the inaugural episode of High Stakes Poker Season 4.

The hand in question takes place after the 4:00 minutes mark of the video below. Take note of how Mike Matusow takes it upon himself to rib Hellmuth.

Now watch as Hellmuth gets the last laugh...

Not only did Hellmuth win a big pot: he also collected $500 from each player at the table for having won a hand with the hammer - 72 offsuit.

Sure, Hellmuth can be dick, egotistical, cocky, arrogant...but you've got to give him credit for sticking to his guns and playing his game, night after night, tournament after tournament.

Keep reading "Hellmuth vs. Matusow"

The Balancing Act

Today I'll be discussing a topic that I've already brought up a number of times over the past couple years. The issue at hand is one of balance: finding a perfect blend of family, work, free time, and poker. Perhaps it's a little odd that I separate my free time and poker into separate entities even though I am simply a recreational poker player. It's quite possible that this is a symptom that helps explain my constant struggle to incorporate all of my different identities - husband, father, employee, friend, poker player, and video game fanatic - into one cohesive package.

As I watch my son crawl around the floor, sticking everything from toys to food to carpet lint into his mouth, I know that he has it pretty good. My son wakes up, eats, plays, and sleeps in almost equal parts each and every day. His concept of self is limited only to what he can taste, feel, hear and see. He doesn't need to worry about spending too much time performing any one activity at the expense of another: he knows when to stop and move on as soon as his internal alarm clock goes off.

My son is able to live in the moment because, for him, life is never ending. Whether or not he manages to squeeze in a few more minutes playing with the big red ball now or later makes no difference since there will always be time later. And honestly, I wouldn't want it any other way. My son deserves to live in that sphere of innocence as long as possible, never having to consider such things as consequence, responsibility, or time. There's no better feeling that watching my son play and have him look up at me and smile: it's a look that says "I'm having fun!", "I love you!", and "I know you're watching over me!" all at once.

As we get older, we go to school. Rather quickly, eating and sleeping become secondary activities that fill in the cracks between school and play time. No longer is life only about having fun. Now there's homework to do, there are friends to play with, and there's time that must be set aside to spend with family.

Once you're done with school, you get a job. Maybe you buy yourself a house and perhaps a new car too. And before you know it, the daily grind has begun. Many aspects of your life that you once had control over have now, inexplicably, come to control you each and every day. Seeing your parents, spending time with friends, maintaining a certain level of hygiene, commuting, eating, and sleeping all struggle to chip away at your once-considerable free time. You start to learn that life is all about balancing those things that are important to you with those things that must be done.

If you're lucky, you manage to handle being an adult quite well. You go to work, pay your bills, and spend enough time visiting family, spending time with a girlfriend/boyfriend, hanging out with friends, and indulging in your hobbies to maintain yourself as a well-adjusted human being. And then, if you're really lucky, you get married.

As a newlywed, things change quite drastically. Instead of spending time with your family, you must now also spend time with your spouse's family. You'll find that you're required to spend time with your spouse's friends as well as your friends. Dinner time becomes a whole "thing", cleaning becomes a necessity, and once all that's been taken care of, you finally get to spend some time with your spouse. So where's the free time? Your identity as a married person has forced you to redefine what matters most in your life and recalibrate your tried-and-true, identity-defining balance of everyday activities.

And then you reach parenthood, assuming that both you and your spouse want children and are lucky enough to have them. It's at this stage that I find myself really struggling with my day-to-day focus on different aspects of my life.

Of greatest importance to me is being a good husband to my wife and a great father to my kids. Without them, nothing else would matter. If my kids were to approach me twenty years down the line and ask me why I was never there for them or why I always seemed pre-occupied with other aspects of my life, I would be crushed knowing that I'd failed as a father.

If my wife were to ever leave me because I'd made work, poker, or video games the highest priorities in my life, I don't know what I'd do. There's an old saying that says: no one lays on their death bed wishing they'd spent more time at the office. Likewise, no amount of success at poker nor an over-abundance of great video games could ever make these things my number one priority in life. But that's not to say that I don't want and need these things in my life.

Unlike other hobbies or activies, poker complicates the equation of balance. In order to play poker well, one must play poker, read about poker, and think about poker quite a bit. Sure, you can take the casual route and simply play from time to time just for "fun". This route is not without its pitfalls though, namely the amount of money that will be lost while playing poker and the constant blows to your self-worth as you realize that you're being outplayed hand after hand.

Since I took up poker again in early July of this year, my wife has carefully monitored my playing. She doesn't look over me because she's worried that I'll neglect her or my kids. She's not even worried that I'll lose money and put us out on the street. What my wife is worried about is that I'll lose too much of my free time to poker. This was a concern that I had before taking up poker again and let her know in the hopes that she might keep an eye on me.

My wife knows that I enjoy playing video games, watching movies, and having a few drinks with friends time to time. If I've spent night after night at the tables, my wife will ask me if I'd like to go out for night with friends. Or she'll ask me about something she heard me say about a video game that I'd been playing a couple weeks ago. Or she'll ask me if there are any movies that I'd like to see.

Without my wife, who knows where poker might take me. An even scarier thought is wondering what would happen to me if I threw my balanced life equation out the window and let poker suck me in completely. Would I still be me? Would my wife still love me? How would my kids look at me? What would they think of me? How would things work out for my family? How would my kids turn out?

Many say that life as a professional poker player is tough.

I say that life as an amateur poker player isn't quite that simple either...

Keep reading "The Balancing Act"

Top 10: Tuff_Fish Moments

When we think about America's greatest heroes, many names probably come to mind. As a Canadian, my vote's not for any U.S. presidents, civil rights activists, or anyone else who may have helped make the U.S.A. the place it is today. Nope - we have tons of those types of guys and gals up here in Canada.

There is one U.S. citizen, however, that I feel raises the bar for all peoples and persons here on Earth. And who might this greatest American hero be? Tuff_Fish, that's who!

Anthony Sandstrom, aka Tuff_Fish, has been in the news recently having launched an initiative to get online poker legislation on the California ballot this year. However, it's not Tony's political savvy or legislative know-how that makes him one of the greatest poker players of all time.

Although a regular, mild-mannered guy in real life, Tony's online persona, Tuff_Fish, allowed Tony to explore the darker side of the human spirit. In a series of recordings, Tuff_Fish documented his struggles in the world of online poker. These videos showed Tuff_Fish fighting the good fight, attempting to defeat the LAGs, TAGs, calling stations, and fish of the online gambling world.

Armed with only his wits, Poker Tracker, Poker Ace, a dwindling bankroll, and the constant hum of his wife's vacuum cleaner, Tuff_Fish put his bankroll and his sanity on the line time after time.

Let's start this Top Ten list right by showing some of Tuff_Fish's better moments. It's not all doom and gloom for our hero, as these videos show.

Number 10

Tuff_Fish is so used to losing that he's caught completely unaware by his good fortune.

"I'm not sure he's got anything. He probably got the damned ace. Six, seven...eight, nine, ten. Ah shit, unless he really...unless he really, really, really, really...This is a horrible...! Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. T-...What am I thinking?! I have a straight flush! Six, seven, eight, nine, ten."

Number 9

Tuff_Fish holds himself to such a high standard that even a set (57 seconds in) gives our hero little comfort.

"There we go! Couldn't get an ace-king out here, could we? Alright. Just take it down, I guess. Jesus God-damned Christ! Finally hit the God-damned set and the fucking God-damned aces and kings are nowhere in the fucking deck! Jesus Christ!"

Number 8

Who said top pair is no good?

"Good God-damned fucking got a chance to rebuy and I get jack-ace suited. This, this, this - God-damnedest thing I ever saw! I mean, they will not go away and I cannot - cannot - catch a frickin' hand! Here - I got the frickin' ace this time! Get the hell out of my hand! I also have a backdoor flush. God damnit! I get a piddlin' little nothin' pot! Fuck!"

Click here for the video - it will open in a new window.

And now for the gloom...

Number 7

Tuff_Fish faces one of his fiercest opponents to date: PokerAce HUD.

"Get outta here! Dag-gum this stupid...I hate this ...I'm gettin' mad now!"

Click here for the video - it will open in a new window.

Number 6

They say that playing pocket Jacks can be tricky. If you're Tuff_Fish, playing JJ is damned near impossible!

"Ha ha ha ha...Jesus God-Damned Christ! Unbelievable...Un-fucking-believable!"

Click here for the video - it will open in a new window.

Number 5

Tuff_Fish finds himself holding top pair, good kicker against an opponent that has been pushing him around. As always, things don't seem to work out for our hero...

"Okay. If he's got ace ten, he's got it. What can I say? Awww...if he got the club, I'm gonna be so pissed! Oh you scum!"

Number 4

Tuff_Fish is for revenge at 00:42...

"Oh Empire! You have just screwed yourself up if you get in here. Okay, I'm going to raise that to seven-seventy-five. If he's drawin', I don't want him drawin' with the right odds...although that wouldn't really quite a...ok, but it's a s-s-stack time! He should push all the way if he wants to play. Yep, that's good...Oh God-damn! Don't you dare have a - damn! Oh for Christ's sake! Ha ha ha ha...oh boy!"

Number 3
Tuff_Fish's first foray into 10/20 NL comes to an end when Tuff_Fish decides to push hard with JJ...

"Oh God that's terrible...Oh! Jesus Christ! God-damnit...the fuckin' Hell...Son of a god-damned bitch! He had a pair of sixes and hit his god-damned six! Son of a bitch!"

Number 2
Tuff_Fish gets flushed...

"Well, he must have a better flush. Ha ha ha... Ah, Jesus goddamn Christ mother fucker! Ah, cock!"

Number 1
About 1:04 in to this video, watch as Tuff_Fish reads his opponent perfectly and then disregards said read...

"So I suppose he'll call this too...He's probably got a king; no doubt, he's got a king. Oh God...Ha ha ha...Damn oh damn. Hell, he's got a...Jesus Christ! Just put all-in, I can stand to lose two buy-ins. There you go! God bless America. Son of God-damned bitch! Son of a bitch! If I had......hmmm...Man oh man, there's another buy-in!"


If there's one lesson that Tuff_Fish gives, it's that poker is a game that should be enjoyed and not taken too seriously. After all the bad beats and all the money lost, Tuff_Fish can still laugh at his mistakes. Each and every one of us will be faced with sickening beats time and time again: if you can bounce back even half as well as Tuff_Fish, you're well on your way to becoming a real force in online poker.

Thanks for the videos Tuff_Fish! Here's hoping you get back to doing what you do best: losing to set over set and recording it all for our viewing pleasure!

Keep reading "Top 10: Tuff_Fish Moments"

Review: Internet-Poker.co.uk

Ten years ago, how many of you knew anything about poker? How about five years ago? For me, poker was a game you played around the kitchen table. Cigars, snacks and drinks were equally (or more important) than the cards we played and the penny antes we lost each hand.

And yet now, poker is a worldwide phenomenon played by everyone and his brother. And thanks to UK Poker Sites (http://www.internet-poker.co.uk/), there is no reason for not giving poker a shot.

Every poker review site worth its salt needs to give its readers three vital pieces of information:

  1. A list of US Poker Rooms that will accept U.S. players. Last year, this wasn't really a consideration; however, we live in a post UIGEA world. And until the lawmakers in the States smarten up, U.S. players need to know which sites will welcome their business with open arms.

    UK Poker Sites presents a list of 6 great poker rooms that accept U.S. players, along with deposit bonuses for new players and room reviews. This information is vital for those U.S. players looking to break into online poker.

  2. Of course, UK Poker Sites also presents a list of ten poker rooms that accept International players. Again, each room is reviewed and has its deposit bonuses listed as well.

  3. The last piece of the puzzle (already mentioned above) are Poker Site Reviews. Any site that promotes an online poker room should also be able to provide its readers with solid reviews that explain the pros and cons of each poker room.

    Each review lists the games available at a poker room, the bonuses available, poker room contact details, and the reviewer's personal feelings towards the reviewed site.
Are you looking to break into online poker? Are you looking for an easy way review your options while choosing a poker room to visit? Visit http://www.internet-poker.co.uk/ and you may just find the answers you seek.

The preceding post was a paid review for UK Poker Sites.

Keep reading "Review: Internet-Poker.co.uk"

2K one day, $2K the next...

I mentioned on Tuesday that I'd be taking a little time off from poker to enjoy a few nights of BioShock on my Xbox 360. Well, consider those nights "enjoyed". Now, it's time for a little poker.

I recently (last night) took a look at my bankroll. I'm currently half-way towards playing the $100 NL 6-max games. Unfortunately, I have some doubts that I'll hit the magic $2,000 bankroll required for those games before my next child is born. But given that I'm enjoying my poker right now, I still anticipate being knee-deep in $100 NL by Christmas.

I'm think I've found my game at the $50 NL tables which I hope translates into some better numbers. I've found myself winning a little more than I lose and I'm pretty happy with that. Decision-wise, I believe I'm doing alright at the tables. I may be a little too loose when it comes to committing my entire stack to a pot, but a little more time at the tables should help me achieve the proper balance of aggression and patience.

The other night, I was looking for ways to speed up the growth of my bankroll. Last year, InterPoker was a great source of income for me due to their great bonuses and my rakeback deal. Unfortunately, InterPoker still doesn't support Moneybookers which means they'll have to wait a little longer for my business...and I'll have to wait for the great overlay they offer to all their players. Moneybookers is the new Neteller for Canadian poker players and I'm loving their site, service, and the fact that they are widely supported by a good number of online poker rooms (except those sites on the Cryptologic network). I'm not sure if I mentioned this in an earlier post, however it appears that InterPoker is working on supporting Moneybookers. I'll keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that this happens sooner rather than later.

Rather than look for new rakeback opportunities to help increase my overlay, I decided to look into bonuses. I checked BonusWhores and the 2+2 Forums for the best bonus deals available. Unfortunately, nothing looked all that great.

Tower Gaming, part of the OnGame network, offers constant reload bonuses. However, as a NL hold'em player, these bonuses do not clear very quickly. For example, it would take me roughly 25-30 hours of playing two $50 NL 5-max tables to clear a $50 bonus. Yuck. I made more in rakeback last month playing at Titan Poker.

I then looked at the more conventional poker site choices for bonus opportunities.

Full Tilt? Average games but bonuses are slow to clear. I really need to give Full Tilt more a chance one of these days...

PokerStars? Tough games, which is odds considering everyone and their brother seems to play there, and the bonuses are few are far between. Unfortunately, FPPs are not a good enough incentive for me to suckle from the PStars teet.

PartyPoker? Great games, bonuses are tough to clear.

Ultimate Bet? Good games but their bonuses are notoriously difficult to clear. I think the clear rate for short-handed $50 NL tables is $0.10 - $0.20 per table hour.

Bodog? Doesn't accept Canadian players...

Ultimately, I decided to stick with Titan Poker. They have loads of short-handed NL tables running at all hours of the day and the games are always great!

A mere twelve hours after deciding to make Titan Poker my new site of choice, I learned that they are now offering a reload bonus: 20% up to $100 (for Bronze members). The bonus lasts for 90 days (great!), clears in $5 increments (super sweet!), and clears at a rate of 120 Titan points per $1 of bonus (yuck...). In the 40 or 50 hours I've spent at Titan Poker, I'm pretty sure I've barely cleared 500 points.

Still, free money is free money and university tuition for two kids ain't cheap!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Keep reading "2K one day, $2K the next..."

A Lesson in Blind Defense

How important is it to defend your blinds? You hear the pros talk about it, the 2+2 crowd goes on and on about it, and you'll read a poker blog or two espousing the virtues of blind defense. So...how much should you worry about it? How much of your concentration and effort at the tables should go into defending your posted bet while you sit in the big blind?

If you ask me, the answer's pretty simple.

Are you playing fixed limit hold'em? If so, then blind defense is pretty important. Losing half a big bet each time you post and fold in the big blind can quickly impact an otherwise solid performance at the tables. Depending on the speed of the game and the number of players seated at the table, the loss of 0.5 BB every orbit can quickly add up and turn a winning session into a losing session.

However, I'm not playing limit hold'em right now. In terms of no-limit hold'em, how important is blind defense? Well, it's not. Sure, you can bring up all your meta-game talk and bring up the importance of holding your own at the $5/$10 NL tables. But I'm talking about lower stakes NL hold'em. How much does it hurt me financially to give up my big blind when the button or small blind steals?

NL hold'em is a game won by winning big pots and not the most pots. Tell me: would you rather:

  • Perform ten straight blind steals from the button and get stacked on your eleventh attempt?
  • Fold to ten straight blind steals while seated in the big blind and then stacking your opponent on his/her eleventh steal attempt?

It's that reasoning that's led me to view blind steals as just part of the game. When I'm on the button, I steal the blinds all the time. So why is it that I should feel threatened when another player does the same to me? The fact is that I don't feel threatened at all. How do I come out ahead in the blind defense/blind steal battle that rages at each and every table I play?

Generally, I profit in two ways:
  1. If the guy stealing my blind is getting a little too greedy by stealing every orbit, I'll re-raise every so often to remind him that I am paying attention. I'll tend to re-raise the button with somewhat better hands than I would when re-raising the small blind's steal attempt. Why? I'll be out of position if the button calls my re-raise and in position against the small blind: against a tricky or aggressive opponent, you need a better hand to help overcome the disadvantages of being out of position.
  2. When I attempt to steal the blinds with a mediocre hand and get re-popped by either the small blind or the big blind, I'll either fold outright (if neither blind has re-raised me yet) or play cautiously after the flop (moreso if I tried to steal from the small blind).

The other night, I found myself playing at a short-handed $50 NL table at Titan Poker. In this particular game, I had a filthy blind stealer sitting directly to my right. Every time it was folded to this particular Villain in the small blind, he took the opportunity to raise and steal my big blind. The first few times, I folded my hand straight away.

When the Villain continued to steal my blind, I decided that I'd have to make a stand at some point. My plan was to re-raise the Villain's steal attempts any time I held two cards Ten or better or a pocket pair in the hopes of forcing the Villain to make a mistake by overplaying a mediocre holding.

It didn't take too long before I got to put my plan into action.

Titan Poker ($50 NL)

Hero ($49.75)
UTG ($27.60)
CO ($37.26)
BTN ($50.00)
SB (Villain) ($61.03)

Hero is BB with Q♠ J♣

UTG folds; CO folds; BTN folds; Villain raises to $1.75; Hero raises to $4.50; Villain calls $2.75;

(This was the Villain's sixth straight steal attempt. Since I'd finally picked up a playable hand, I decided to re-raise and try to take down the pot pre-flop. Villain's call surprised me a little, but I was pretty sure that I was ahead at this point in time. My plan was to bet the flop regardless of the cards that came down. By taking down this one pot, I'd recoup all the lost blinds that I'd conceded to the Villain over the past six orbits at the table.)

Flop: 3♣ Q♣ 8♦

Villain checks; Hero bets $8.00; Villain calls $8.00;

(With top pair and a solid kicker in a "blind battle" hand, I figured to be ahead. When Villain made the quick call, I figured him for a draw or top pair. Since the pot was getting large, I decided to check behind on the turn if given the opportunity in an effort to control the pot size.

If I were to make a bet on the turn, I'd end up committing myself to this pot and would have to call (or make a terrible fold) if Villain check-raised my turn bet. I wanted to avoid this type of situation if at all possible.

If Villain bet the turn, my decision to fold would be based on the turn card and how I saw it improving Villain's probable range.)

Turn: J♥

Villain checks; Hero bets $13.00; Villain calls $13.00;

(Although the J♥ completed a possible straight draw, it also gave me top two-pair. Since the Villain checked his hand, I believed that I was ahead at his point in the hand. Given the number of scare cards possible on the river, I wanted to charge the Villain for any possible draws he might be holding and commit myself to the pot to avoid being bluffed off my hand on the river.

I figured a half pot-sized bet would give Villain 3:1 odds on his call and commit me to the pot. In addition, the pot would be large enough on the river to allow me to push without arousing too much suspicion.

Villain called the $13 bet almost instantly. Given the way he'd played the hand so far, I leaned a little more towards Villain holding a flush draw than some other hand. If the river came up with a blank, I wasn't sure how much value I'd get by jamming the pot. My only hope was that the river was a blank and that the Villain felt that he could push me off the hand with a large river bluff.)

River: 4♠

Villain is all-in ($35.28); Hero is all-in ($23.75);

(River came up blank and Villain jammed. I insta-called, happy that things seemed to have gone my way in the hand.)

Results: (in white below)
Final pot: $96.50

BB shows Qs Jc
Villain shows 7c 9c

Where was the Villain's biggest mistake in that last hand? I'd say it was pre-flop. When Villain attempted a sixth straight steal of my big blind and suddenly faced a re-raise, why call with his 9♣ 7♣? The problems with playing that hand in that situation are:
  1. Villain would be out of position for the entire hand.
  2. 9♣ 7♣ plays well in multi-way pots and not heads-up.
  3. I'd manipulated the size of the pre-flop pot to ensure that my post-flop decisions would be quite easy given the nature of my hand. I was looking to hit top pair and the $10 in the pot was ideal for my QJ and terrible for the Villain's 97s.
  4. I'd been playing fairly tight and Villain should have realized that he was way behind the range of hands I might be holding.
Now, I think Villain played the rest of the hand poorly as well. But I don't understand this desire to outplay opponents that certain loose, aggressive players feel. When I play poker, I'm playing to make money. I don't care if I outplay someone or pull off some sick bluff: I just want to stack as many opponents as I can with as little effort as possible.

Anyway, after the hand, I could feel waves of tilt coming pulsating out from the Villain. Aggro players seem to tilt quite profoundly after being embarrassed by an ill-timed river bluff. The very next hand, I saw my opportunity to finish the Villain's lesson in blind stealing and blind defense.

Titan Poker ($50 NL)

Hero ($96.50)
BB ($27.60)
UTG ($21.35)
UTG+1 ($37.26)
CO ($50.00)
BTN (Villain) ($11.28)

Hero is SB with A♦ K♠

UTG+1 folds; CO folds; Villain raises to $2.00; Hero raises to $15.25; BB folds; Villain is all-in ($9.28);

(I knew that Villain was steaming. And I was pretty sure that he knew that I knew he was steaming. When I put Villain all-in pre-flop with my AK, I was almost positive that I'd get an insta-call. Villain didn't disappoint and called half a second after the big blind got out of the way.)

Flop: Q♠ K♦ 5♠

(Not looking good for Villain...)

Turn: 5♣


River: K♥


Results: (in white below)
Final pot: $25.88

Hero shows Ad Ks
Villain shows 9h Jd

As I expected, Villain had simply gone on tilt and figured that his last eleven dollars weren't worth saving.

I hope that the Villain fails to learn from his mistakes here. Most likely, he turned to his friend/wife/dog and started complaining about the lucky prick who happened to hit two-pair on one hand and then catch AK on the very next hand. If that is the case, I expect to see Villain back and stealing blinds like a mad man.

Maybe I'll find him seated to my right once again. He'll be out for revenge and I'll be waiting. I'll even let him steal my blinds over and over again...until he happens to find himself overcommitted in failed steal attempt and shipping his stack my way.

Who said learning can't be fun?

Keep reading "A Lesson in Blind Defense"

Books and BioShock

My wife's birthday weekend was a smashing success. I got to spend a lot of time just relaxing and spending time with my wife and son. I may not have played as much poker as I would on a normal weekend, but my time was well spent.

Beginning this evening, there is another distraction entering my life that may also limit the amount of time I put aside for poker. If you play video games, you'll know that BioShock, the critically acclaimed blockbuster game, was released today for the Xbox 360 and PC in North America. I've been waiting to play this game since the beginning of the year and tonight, my wait is finally over!

Video games aside, I have a book I'd like to recommend to all no-limit hold'em enthusiasts out there: Professional No-Limit Hold'em: Volume 1. This book was written by Ed Miller (author Small Stakes Hold'em, co-author of No-Limit Hold'em: Theory and Practice, and more), Matt Flynn, and Sunny Mehta and is a must-read for any poker player looking to make money by playing NL hold'em.

Professional No-Limit Hold'em has completely changed the way I look at NL hold'em. Whereas I'd grown accustomed to making hard decisions in a number of my hands while sitting at the NL tables, PNLH has shown me that poker doesn't need to be that hard.

In my mind, the book breaks no-limit hold'em into three important concepts:

  1. Planning your hand
  2. Commitment decisions and thresholds
  3. Stack to Pot Ratios (SPRs)
Although I could expand on these concepts, I really think you should buy the book and read all about these ideas yourself.

Once you've read the book (and re-read it), you should start to "see the light". You'll come to realize that many of poker's adages, such as "Don't go broke with TPTK", are far too simplistic. In fact, if you blindly follow this type of advice, you're bound to be leaving money on the table.

The biggest change that I've experienced in my poker game involves my perception of NL hold'em itself and my overriding strategy at the tables. I used to approach the game with one goal in mind: don't get stacked. My whole game was reduced to a series of moves all dedicated to protecting my stack and reducing variance as much as possible. The end result was a number of small wins and a number of small losses, with the former slightly outweighing the latter.

I now approach the game with one objective in mind and that is to make good (and easier) decisions. By planning out my hands and boldly pushing my chips into the pot when I feel that I have I an edge and am committed to the hand, I'm able to make more money. As I continue to develop my game, I expect to make better and better decisions which, I'm hoping, translates into more money for me.

Since buying Professional No-Limit Hold'em from Amazon, I have been reimbursed twenty times over for my investment. This book is really that good. And though I'd prefer that few people read this book (which would give me a huge edge at the tables), Miller, Flynn, and Mehta deserve the recognition and financial rewards that come with writing a revolutionary NL hold'em book.

Over the next couple weeks, I anticipate that I'll spend 70% of my free time playing BioShock and the remaining 30% at Titan Poker's great 6-max NL tables. In that time, I hope that each and every one of you has the chance to buy and read Professional No-Limit Hold'em. You'll be amazed at how much NL hold'em can be when you're in the groove and making good decisions.


I'll be back in a day or two to discuss one instance how I dealt with a filthy blind stealer the other night.

Keep reading "Books and BioShock"

The Fish, The LAG, and Hellmuth's Hand

Unlike limit hold'em, every single hand that you play in a no-limit texas hold'em cash game threatens to take your entire stack. That's the glass half-full look at things. As you grow more confident in your ability to balance risk vs. reward and to identify the weakest links (a.k.a. the ATMs) at your tables, no-limit hold'em provides countless hours of fun and profit.

Take, for example, our current scenario...

After a long day at the office and a busy evening, you find yourself relaxing in the warm glow of your notebook computer. You fire up Party Poker, crack the seal on your ice cold can Red Rain (a cheaper, yet just as effective, energy drink offered in bulk at your local Costco), and start looking for tables.

After spending a few minutes waiting for a seat, you find yourself sitting at a table with five other unknown players. Rather than come out gunning, you decide to play things a little slower this evening. For the first fifteen minutes, you manage to pick up a couple uncontested pots when your AK hits top two and your 88 hits a set. Not every pot can be a big pot and you find solace in the fact that it's better to win a small pot than to lose a large pot.

More important than winning a couple pots, though, is the player sitting directly to your left. In the past 30 hands, you can't recall having seen this player fold before the flop. And although he hasn't raised a single hand pre-flop, he's definitely showing a mild mean streak post-flop.

Suddenly, this "Villain" manages to get stacked when he overplays middle pair in a heads-up pot. The player to your right is the beneficiary of the Villain's chips. Although you're not a big fan of having a loose-aggressive player sitting to your left, this LAG's inability or unwillingness to raise pre-flop has given you a golden opportunity to have a winning evening.

You only hope that Villain will buy back in...ok, he's back with another $50. Oh wait - he's just lost over half his stack...but it looks like he's staying.

With your squeaky-tight image now established, you find yourself in the CO with a playable hand...

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
UTG: $48.50
UTG+1: $167.83
Hero: $50
Button: $24.49
SB: $50.90
BB: $90.75

Pre-flop: (6 players) Hero is CO with J♦ K♣
2 folds, Hero raises to $2, Villain calls, SB calls, BB folds.

(Normally, you might avoid raising K♣ J♦ from the cut-off seat with an aggressive player sitting on the button. In this case, though, you're not worried.

This Villain is not aggressive pre-flop meaning that you won't be facing a re-raise unless Villain is holding a great hand. You still need to raise with a hand that will beat Villain's probable range of holdings and K♣ J♦ definitely meets this criteria.

Though the Villain is aggressive post-flop, his bet sizes are quite often very small and tend to hover in the min-bet range. If shown aggression, Villain will ramp up his aggression to match. This puts the post-flop ball squarely in your court: if you have a good hand, you'll bet it; otherwise, you check to Villain and possibly call small bets on the flop, turn and possibly river. Against this type of player, even a King high can win its fair share of pots..

You raise and Villain calls very quickly. With the pot at $4 and the Villain having only $22 behind, you quickly make a plan for how you'll play the hand.

If you miss the flop, you'll check to the Villain and call a small bet. Although you might be ahead if Villain does bet the pot, you'd be committing yourself to the hand with a King high. Although King high could very well be ahead of Villain's range, calling off half your stack based on that assumption would be a mistake in this case.

If you hit the flop, you plan on using Villain's aggressive nature against him. You figure that a pot-sized bet (or more) might induce an ever larger re-raise on Villain's part. You are ready to go to war if you hit top pair or better.)

Flop: 3♣ J♣ T♠ ($6.5, 3 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $5, Villain raises to $10, SB folds, Hero raises to $30, Villain calls all-in $12.49.
Uncalled bets: $7.51 returned to Hero.

(With top pair on a draw heavy board, you're happy to get all your money in against a loose-aggressive Villain. Although Villain could be playing JT here, a more likely holding is top pair with a worse kicker, second pair, or a draw.)

Turn: 2♦ ($51.48, 1 player + 1 all-in - Main pot: $51.48)

(Good turn card...)

River: 5♦ ($51.48, 1 player + 1 all-in - Main pot: $51.48)

(Sweet! Both the turn and river were bricks!)

Final pot: $51.48
Hero shows Jd Kc
Villain shows Th 2s

Looking at the last hand, you wonder if you could have saved yourself some money by not jamming on the flop. After all, all you had was top pair. If you actually believe that, no-limit hold'em may not be the game for you.

You were a huge favourite against Villain's range on the flop. You made a sound plan for how you wanted to play the hand and followed through, getting your money in as a 4:1 favourite.

Although it's never fun to lose a pot, you feel much better when you realize that:
  1. Villain is still sitting at your table and playing just as poorly as ever.
  2. Villain's stack is big and juicy and is yours for the taking since no one else at the table seems all that fond of playing a big pot with the Villain.

After rebuying, you spend the next fifteen minutes studying the players at the tables. After a while, you gather that the player sitting to your right is pretty weak. He's very loose pre-flop and very passive post-flop, folding often enough that you'd consider him a fish as opposed to a calling station. In fact, your Villain is having a field day by playing a number of hands against the fish and stealing pot after pot.

And then you notice that you've been dealt a couple great cards in the small blind...

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
UTG: $91.65
CO: $58.50
Button (Fish): $89.13
Hero: $51.02
BB (Villain): $128.70

Pre-flop: (5 players) Hero is SB with A♥ K♠
2 folds, Fish calls, Hero raises to $3, Villain calls, Fish calls.

(Is there any better feeling than picking up a great hand with a fishy player to your right and a terrible LAG to your left? It takes you all of 3 seconds to raise the pot up with your AK. You decide to raise a little extra for value; both Villain and Fish call your raise.

Since both Villain and Fish have you out-chipped and with the pot already quite large pre-flop, it's decision time. Are you willing to play for your whole stack if you flop top pair? Against these players - absolutely!

What if you miss the flop? As much as you'd like to c-bet in this instance, you're unlikely to pick up the pot with a bet. However, since Villain likes to bet small and since the Fish doesn't mind folding , you figure that you could use the rope-a-dope strategy on Villain and try to win the pot with your unimproved AK as required.

Bluffing at the pot is not really an option since Villain may raise your out-of-position bet with any number of holdings, valid or not.)

Flop: A♦ J♥ 8♣ ($9, 3 players)
Hero bets $8, Villain calls, Fish folds.

(Bingo! Top pair, top kicker! It's time to start building a large pot so you make a large flop bet, hoping that Villain will raise and drive out the Fish on the button. Villain flat calls but Fish drops out of the hand pretty quickly. With most players, the flop call might scare you but not so with your Villain.

Regardless, given the board texture, Villain's range, and the pot size, you're pretty well committed to this pot. On the turn, you plan on betting enough to get pot large enough to allow for a push on the river. You'd like the pot to be larger than your stack by the time the fifth community card hits the table.)

Turn: K♣ ($25, 2 players)
Hero bets $14, Villain calls.

(With only $39 behind, you bet just over half the pot on the turn. Villain flat calls again. You could have bet a little more on this turn if you knew that Villain was going to call (and not raise) your turn bet. Having position could have helped in this regard.)

River: 5♦ ($53, 2 players)
Hero raises all-in $26.02, Villain calls.

(The pot is sitting at $53 and you only have $26 left. This is an easy push. And since you managed to build up a sizeable pot, your bet doesn't seem out of place. You figure that Villain will call with a large number of hands since he'll be getting better than 3:1 on his call.)

Final pot: $105.04
Hero shows Ah Ks
Villain shows Ac 4d

Whenever you find players willing to call large pre-flop raises with Ace-rag hands and then proceed to stack off with top pair weak kicker, thank your lucky stars and add them to your buddy list.

Now that you've got a large stack at the table, you allow yourself to start raising a few more pots. Since Villain is calling all your pre-flop raises, you've been given the opportunity to play a number of pots against an ideal opponent. Everytime you pick up a hand, Villain pays you off. And since he doesn't size his bets correctly on the flop and turn, Villain continues to give you great odds to draw to any number of hands that can win a showdown.

Although you lose a couple pots to some of the other players at the table, you manage to stay afloat for the next half-hour by picking on your favourite Villain. Although you've failed to play any big pots, you can feel that a storm's been brewing between Villain and yourself.

He's likely getting quite frustrated by the fact that he can't seem to win any sizeable pots off of you in your frequent heads-up contests. Eventually, every storm crashes, even those that take place on a 800x600 battleground over the Internet...

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
UTG: $57.55
CO (Fish): $86.21
Hero: $109.10
SB (Villain): $47.91
BB: $192.08

Pre-flop: (5 players) Hero is Button with 9♦ 9♣
UTG folds, Fish raises to $3, Hero calls, Villain calls, BB folds.

(You make a pretty standard call with your pocket nines on the button. Although you could re-raise and get the pot heads-up with the Fish, you'd really like Villain to tag along for the ride. And since the Fish doesn't raise very often, you could be playing for set value here.

However, if you happen to miss the flop, you're hoping that Villain's multiway pot aggression will either drive the Fish out of the pot or better define Fish's hand. In either case, you'd know where you stand in the hand and you'd be able to make some easy decisions)

Flop: 9♠ Q♠ K♥ ($9.5, 3 players)
Villain checks, Fish bets $5, Hero raises to $20, Villain calls, Fish raises all-in $78.21, Hero raises all-in $86.1, Villain calls all-in $24.91.
Uncalled bets: $61.19 returned to Hero.

(This is the easiest decision in poker. You flop a set on a king high board and the fishy pre-flop raiser bets into you. You also have a LAG to your left who misinterprets strength for weakness. You raise the Fish's bet and are pleasantly surprised to see Villain jam for his whole stack. You're even more surprised when Fish jams for his whole stack.

Given the board texture and your opponents, you correctly identify this situation as be chicken-tenders-delicious, pitch a tent, and insta-call!)

Turn: K♣ ($144.23, 0 player + 3 all-in - Main pot: $144.23, Sidepot 1: $76.6)

(Great card! Now you don't need to worry about someone catching their flush.)

River: 2♥ ($144.23, 0 player + 3 all-in - Main pot: $144.23, Sidepot 1: $76.6)

(Looking good...)

Final pot: $144.23
Sidepot 1: $76.60
Hero shows 9d 9c
Villain doesn't show 5s 5c
Fish doesn't show Ks 8d

Now that's a pot! It seems that Villain was fed up with your antics and that the Fish was sick of being pushed off pot after pot by Villain. In any case, you win the biggest pot of your life. After a few high-fives from your wife, you shut 'er down for the night after your table breaks up in the face of your gigantic stack.


Although you can't expect to win large pots such as those above every session, you can put yourself in a position to walk away a big winner. Through proper assessment of your opponents and table dynamics, commitment to follow through on a plan of action, and a little luck, anyone can play winning no-limit poker.

I'll be away for the next few days, celebrating my wife's birthday. I should manage to get a little time in at the tables over the next few days so I should have some more hands to discuss next week.

Have a great weekend!

Keep reading "The Fish, The LAG, and Hellmuth's Hand"

LAGs to the left of me...

Tasmanian Devil...get it?Have you ever sat down at a table determined to play a solid game? No matter what, you tell yourself, you'll avoid putting your money into the pot drawing slim to dead. And if you happen to fall victim to a little bad luck, you'll embrace your inner gamble and push aside all thoughts of full-on poker tilt.

Psychologically prepared and ready to play, you play tight for a few orbits and take note of the bad players around you. Unfortunately, the table's most active player is sitting directly to your left. Hand after hand, you find yourself getting pushed off hands, constantly re-raised pre-flop and post-flop, and generally getting owned.

You tell yourself, "I can't wait till I get a hand! I'm gonna bust this prick!"

After a few more orbits and still no hands, you raise in the CO with your KJ and fold to an all-in re-raise from your nemesis.

Tilt...starting...to...bubble up...Must...hold...on...

And then, a couple orbits later...

Party Poker

Stack sizes:
UTG: $98.86
UTG+1: $25.72
Hero: $77.26
Button (Villain): $50.30
SB: $58.70
BB: $47.50

Pre-flop: (6 players) Hero is CO with 5♦ 5♥
UTG raises to $2, UTG+1 calls, Hero calls, Villain raises to $15, 4 folds, Hero raises all-in $75.26, Villain calls all-in $35.3.
Uncalled bets: $26.96 returned to Hero.

(Villain has been re-raising every chance he gets. When UTG raises and UTG+1 calls, you call with your pocket fives, hoping that Villain may make a smaller re-raise given that there are already three players in the pot. When Villain makes a big re-raise to $15, your first thought is to fold.

Folding is safe, folding preserves your stack: folding allows you to fight another day.

Calling the re-raise would put you out of position against an aggressive opponent. And unless you hit your set, you'd have no idea where you stand in the hand. And if you'd like to call for set value, you're pot odds and implied odds just aren't there to make the call profitable.

So, folding is clearly the better choice. But wait - what about re-raising yourself. Villain is aggressive and prides himself on outplaying his opponents, if his desire to constantly show his bluffs are any indication. Since putting the Villain on a reasonable range of hands is impossible (other than the "any two card" range), you can only raise here if you think that the pot equity and fold equity being offered are sufficiently high.

If Villain was trying the squeeze play, your fold equity is quite high if you push all-in. And if Villain calls a push with a subpar hand, your pocket pair stands at least a 50% chance of winning at showdown.

With the pot sitting at $21 and with Villain holding $35 back, you decide to push all-in. At this point, you don't care whether Villain calls or not: based on your calculations, your decision to jam was +EV and that's that.

Villain mulls uncharacteristically over the decision and finally makes the call.)

Flop: A♣ J♣ 4♥ ($105.35, 2 all-in)

(All things considered, that's a pretty gross flop...)

Turn: 7♠ ($105.35, 2 all-in)

River: 6♠ ($105.35, 2 all-in)

Final pot: $105.35
Villain shows Td Th
Hero shows 5d 5h

You got a little unlucky that Villain was holding a good hand this time around. While Villain calls you a donkey and LOLs himself into a frenzy, you go over the hand in your mind. Your play seemed quite reasonable and well thought out, so you're able to hold any feelings of tilt at bay. You're not looking to rebuild your stack quickly: it's time to rebuy, re-focus, and win back the money you lost if and only if the opportunity presents itself.

A half hour later, you're holding steady and sitting with a full stack. You've managed to avoid your nemesis as best you can. Since every hand with the Villain ends up being a big pot, you're looking for a big hand to take to war.

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
Hero: $50
CO (Villain): $65.79
Button: $44
SB: $123.33
BB: $50

Pre-flop: (5 players) Hero is UTG with A♠ Q♣
Hero raises to $2, Villain raises to $4, 3 folds, Hero calls.

(AQ is a very good hand and it's even better when the table's only five-handed. You raise from the cutoff expecting, and hoping for, a raise from Villain. When Villain obliges, you smooth call. Re-raising here will tip the Villain off to the true strength of your hand since you've been playing fairly passively for the past half-hour. With the pot sitting at about $9, you plan out how you'll play the hand.

If you miss the flop, you plan on making a standard continuation bet of about $7 to $9. Any less and Villain may raise sensing weakness; any more and Villain may decide that the pot's big enough for all-in time.

If you hit top pair or better, you plan on checking to the Villain. On many hands previous, a check on an opponent's part has resulted in Villain taking a stab at the pot. Depending on the flop texture, you may check-raise the flop or rope-a-dope and let Villain bet your hand for you.)

Flop: Q♦ 7♦ 5♦ ($8.75, 2 players)
Hero checks, Villain bets $8, Hero raises to $24, Villain raises all-in $53.79, Hero calls all-in $22.
Uncalled bets: $15.79 returned to Villain.

(Good job! You've hit top pair! Unfortunately, the board has come all diamonds. According to the plan you set out earlier, you decide to check. Against a less aggressive opponent, you'd have to bet this flop to avoid giving a free card. You're almost positive that you'll see a bet from Villain here since he's definitely shown his willingness to bet into scary looking flops on a pure bluff, semi-bluff, or as a value bet.

When Villain throws out a pot-sized bet, you no longer have the option to smooth call. The flop is scary and any diamond on the turn will leave you wondering where you stand in the hand. You've already decided against folding; otherwise, what was the point of checking to the Villain and letting him take control of the hand? No, you're now 100% committed to this pot. You want to get as much money into the pot as quickly as possible so your check-raise to $24. You're not raising to take the pot away here: you're raising for value against Villain's wide range of possible hands.

Villain jams and you have no choice to call. Getting roughly 3:1 on your call, folding top pair in this spot is a huge mistake. You may have heard that you shouldn't go broke with top pair in no-limit hold'em. Trust me when I say that this adage does not apply when you're playing a huge pot to which you've clearly committed yourself and your stack.)

Turn: 2♥ ($100.75, 0 player + 2 all-in - Main pot: $100.75)

River: J♥ ($100.75, 0 player + 2 all-in - Main pot: $100.75)

Final pot: $100.75
Hero shows As Qc
Villain shows Ad Ts

Well, that hand worked out well! You got your money in as a 2 to 1 favourite and won a large pot. However, your revenge against your nemesis is not yet complete: he's still got money left. And luckily for you, the maniac is now gunning for you and everyone else at the table. You've created a chip-spewing tilt monster and it's time to cash in.

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
Hero: $95.97
Button (Villain): $22.95
SB: $126.70
BB: $49.25

Pre-flop: (4 players) Hero is UTG with Q♠ Q♥
Hero raises to $2, Villain calls, 2 folds.

(Villain has been going crazy since you doubled up through his stack about 5 minutes ago. Now that you've picked up a monster hand, it's time to jump into the ring and see if you can get Villain to overcommit himself to the pot and play for his whole stack. Villain shows restraint by not re-raising you pre-flop: looks like you may have scared him a little...or maybe he's slow-playing a hand that he feels has you beat?)

Flop: 4♥ 3♥ 8♥ ($4.75, 2 players)
Hero checks, Villain bets $5, Hero raises all-in $93.97, Villain folds.

(Once again, the flop comes one-suited - this time it's hearts! Holding the Q?, you're not afraid to check to the Villain and let him decide whether to bet or not. If he senses a trap like last time, he'll check and give you a free card. Although betting out in this spot is probably best, checking is not bad if you feel that Villain may do something crazy like push all-in with a draw, a pocket pair, or random trash. Unfortunately, the Villain decides to fold to your check-raise when you put him to a test for all his chips.)

Uncalled bets: $93.97 returned to Hero.

Final pot: $9.75

When Villain overbet the pot, you hoped he was willing to play a big pot. If Villain was playing a sound game, it might have been better to sandbag a little and make your move on the turn. But given that Villain was throwing all his chips at pot after pot, check-raising all-in wasn't that bad a play.

A few more orbits sees the table fill up as your favourite LAG continues to bleed chips. You only hope to pick up a hand that will allow you to get a share of his remaining stack...

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
UTG: $49.50
UTG+1: $130.87
CO: $48.19
Hero: $102.24
SB (Villain): $13.39
BB: $31.20

Pre-flop: (6 players) Hero is Button with Q♣ K♣
3 folds, Hero raises to $2, Villain raises all-in $13.14, BB folds, Hero calls.

(Ever since the Villain's stack reached $5, Villain has been either folding or re-raising all-in pre-flop. In the last two orbits, you've counted four pushes on his part: none of the Villain's pushes have been called. When you decide to raise KQs on the button, you're well aware that Villain will push in the SB. And you know that you'll make the call, assuming the BB doesn't do something silly and jam on you.)

Flop: 7♣ Q♠ 9♦ ($27.28, 1 player + 1 all-in - Main pot: $27.28)

Turn: 6♥ ($27.28, 1 player + 1 all-in - Main pot: $27.28)

River: 2♣ ($27.28, 1 player + 1 all-in - Main pot: $27.28)

Final pot: $27.28
Hero shows Qc Kc
Villain doesn't show 4h 4d

Having a loose-aggressive player sit to your left at a NL hold'em table can be the kiss of death for your stack if your opponent is a smart, tricky player. Overcoming aggression and position is a daunting task, made quite impossible when you're out-classed by your opposition.

But with the right Villain, opportunity, a lot of patience, and a little courage, you can turn the tides on your foe. Patience and opportunity are key to winning the battle.

And most importantly, remember what Nietzsche say about crossing swords with loose-aggressive poker players:
Whomever goes to fight LAGs should take care not to become a LAG himself

Keep reading "LAGs to the left of me..."

Money and Midnight Oil

A new week has started and I'm already exhausted. For anyone keeping track, my son has now refused to sleep soundly for well-over three weeks. Averaging roughly 3 hours of restless sleep a night, I've wondered if my poker game has taken a turn for the worse. As things stand right now, my results are dismal yet inconclusive.

When August started up, I was riding a solid winning streak at the $50 NL 6-max tables. I think that the level of commitment and effort that I was bringing to the tables and to my bathroom reading (a.k.a. "The Library") were having very positive effects on my bankroll. However, variance soon reared its ugly head, forcing my game into a slight tailspin.

Absolute Poker was my site of choice for about a week's time. With both rakeback and bonuses, my overlay was as good as could be expected in this post-UIGEA era. However, a few things bothered me about Absolute Poker:

  1. Roughly 80%+ of all NL games at 0.25/0.50 blinds and higher are jackpot tables.
  2. All 6-max NL tables are deep stack tables, allowing for buy-ins of 200 BB. Although this is a good thing for skilled players, this is not that great for someone like me on a limited bankroll (a concept that still leaves me uneasy).
  3. At the jackpot tables, Absolute takes an extra 50 cents out of every raked pot and puts it towards the Bad Beat Jackpot. It's a little hard to beat the rake plus the jackpot drop at the micro-limit tables.
Don't get me wrong: the games at Absolute are totally beatable. I just hate being limited in the number of games at my disposal due to the an over-abundance of jackpot tables that only serve to further pad an online poker room's coffers. Sure, you can talk all you like about the games being +EV when the jackpot reaches X dollars; when it comes down to it, though, trying to win the bad beat jackpot seems a lot like playing the lottery.

I pulled my money out of Absolute Poker last week and decided to re-invest in Party Poker. Party was running another reload bonus and I figured their tables were soft enough that I could earn myself a little money in addition to the overlay of a bonus. I opted to try for a $40 bonus which would take about 30 or so table hours to clear.

Starting late last Thursday evening, I deposited at Party and started playing a couple $50 NL 6-max tables. Right off the bat, I found all my pre-flop raises getting re-popped by this prick sitting to my left. Every. Single. Raise! As Mr. Maniac's stack continued to grow by 4 BBs every few hands, I planned my revenge...

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
UTG: $52.88
UTG+1: $64.61
Hero: $62.55
Button (Villain): $64.70
SB: $33.28
BB: $50

Pre-flop: (6 players) Hero is CO with 8♦ 8♥
UTG calls, UTG+1 folds, Hero raises to $2.5, Villain raises to $8, 3 folds, Hero calls.

(I wasn't worried about UTG at all in this hand. He was an average player and I knew that Villain was going to re-pop me and get the pot heads up. Rather than 3-bet my nemesis pre-flop and possibly scare him off, I decided to smooth call the raise. My plan was to check-raise all-in on the flop, no matter what third street brought us. Honestly, Villain was playing about 70% of his hands and raising so many of them pre-flop that I had no way of narrowing his range of hands.)

Flop: 3♣ 9♥ 2♦ ($17.25, 2 players)
Hero checks, Villain raises all-in $56.7, Hero calls all-in $54.55.
Uncalled bets: $2.15 returned to Villain.

(Villain beat me to the punch by pushing on the flop. I thought for about 10 seconds. Would Villain jam with solid hand here? I didn't think so. The all-in bet reeked of weakness and I decided to put my read to the test by calling Villain's huge flop overbet with my second pair. Maybe Villain had me a little steamed...?)

Turn: 5♦ ($126.35, 0 player + 2 all-in - Main pot: $126.35)

(At this point, I was really regretting that Party Poker doesn't display each players hole cards once all the money is in the pot. Needless to say, the 5♦ wasn't a scare card for me. As long as I didn't see an Ace, King, or Queen on the river, I'd be happy...)

River: K♠ ($126.35, 0 player + 2 all-in - Main pot: $126.35)

(Well...damn it! That's what happens when you try and trap your opponent by overplaying your hand in a way-ahead/way-behind situation...)

Final pot: $126.35
Hero shows 8d 8h
Villain shows Js 6s (WTF?!)

(Luckily the river wasn't a 4! When Villain's hand was finally revealed, I got a little pissed off! Who the f*ck does this guy think he is that he can bully me with trash hands like J6s?! Although I believe that sound players win money from LAG players such as Villain in the end, the amount of variance that LAGs introduce to the game is a little frightening at times.)

From that point on, the rest of my weekend at the poker tables was absolutely disastrous. Although I still have enough of a bankroll to continue grinding away at the $50 NL tables, dropping 6 buy-ins over the course of 1500 hands is not my idea of fun.

Looking over my numbers, everything seems in order:

  • Playing looser and more aggressively from the button? Check.

  • Playing tight when out of position? Check.

  • Avoiding getting all my money in drawing dead? Check.

  • Checking behind on the river with mediocre hands? Check.

  • C-betting well? Check.

  • Semi-bluffing when pot equity + fold equity = good? Most of the time.

  • Pushing opponents off pots when shown a lot of weakness? Somewhat.
On paper, everything about my game looks pretty standard...and then you take a look at some of the hands. The following two hands marked the beginning of my downfall. In each of these hands, I was targetting DONKEY and got thwarted by the Villain. Prior to these two hands, I'd managed to stack DONKEY six times for a total of $90. But you know what they say: easy come, easy go...

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
UTG: $53.02
UTG+1: $66.01
CO (DONKEY): $12
Button: $49.50
Hero: $76.71
BB (Villain): $49.50

Pre-flop: (6 players) Hero is SB with Q♦ A♣
2 folds, DONKEY (poster) checks, Button calls, Hero raises to $3.5, Villain calls, DONKEY folds, Button calls.

(I wasn't too happy about Villain cold-calling me in position. He was fairly new to the table and I had no reads. Originally, my plan was to jam the flop and put DONKEY to a decision for all his chips - a decision that he'd screwed up on six prior occasions. Villain's call scared off my mark, forcing me to play my hand out of position in a multi-way pot.)

Flop: T♦ A♥ 3♥ ($11, 3 players)
Hero bets $8, Villain calls, Button folds.

(Good flop for me! Time to make a large bet and take down the pot! Yet again, Villain proved to be a thorn in my side.)

Turn: 7♣ ($27, 2 players)
Hero checks, Villain checks.

(I didn't think Villain would call such a large flop bet with a simple flush draw, though anything was possible. I wasn't in the mood to play for my whole stack at this point in time so I checked, hoping that Villain wouldn't jam on me. When he checked behind, I leaned a little more heavily towards Villain holding a hand like Ax with a heart, a pair with a flush draw, or an unlikely naked flush draw.)

River: 4♦ ($27, 2 players)
Hero checks, Villain bets $12, Hero calls.

(Well, the flush didn't come in. As long as Villain didn't hold a raggedy two pair, I figured my hand to be good. I checked to the Villain, hoping to induce a bluff. I was prepared to call a pot-sized bet on the end. When Villain offered me greater than 3:1 on the river, I insta-called.)

Final pot: $51
Villain shows 6h 5h
Hero doesn't show Qd Ac

(Brutal! In my attempt to control the pot size, I managed to give my opponent a chance to hit his draws (flush draw and a gut-shot straight draw) cheaply. I was a little upset that Villain called my large pre-flop and flop bets with a 65s; however, I might have been able to prevent the outcome by betting or jamming on the turn.)

After playing that hand as weakly as I did, you'd think that I'd learned my lesson. Guess not...

Party Poker ($50 NL)

Stack sizes:
UTG (DONKEY): $11.25
UTG+1: $49.25
Hero: $78.99
Button (Villain): $85.54
SB: $49.50
BB: $84.53

Pre-flop: (6 players) Hero is CO with A♠ T♦
DONKEY calls, UTG+1 calls, Hero raises to $3, Villain calls, 2 folds, DONKEY calls, UTG+1 folds.

(Once again, Villain stepped in the way as I tried to isolate DONKEY and his dwindling stack.)

Flop: 4♦ 2♣ A♦ ($10.25, 3 players)
DONKEY checks, Hero bets $6, Villain calls, DONKEY raises all-in $8.25, Hero calls, Villain calls.

(Deja vu! I now had a read on Villain: he was an extremely loose, passive player. A little aggressive on the river, but otherwise a typical fishy player. I was happy that DONKEY decided to come along for the ride this time. A couple orbits past, DONKEY had managed to double up through me when I hit top pair and he held KK for the overpair. DONKEY's pre-flop raise percentage sat solidly at 0% after 100 hands so I couldn't fault my play on that hand. I was a little peeved that Villain called my flop bet yet again but was happy to see DONKEY jam. I really should have re-raised in an attempt to push Villain off his hand.)

Turn: 8♥ ($35, 2 players + 1 all-in - Main pot: $35)
Hero checks, Villain checks.

(Although I could have bet the turn, I was a little worried given that Villain and I had good-sized stacks. Since I didn't re-raise the flop, I figured that any bet of significance on the turn would commit me to the pot. If Villain held a pair, I might be able to induce the bluff on the river by playing possum yet again.)

River: 2♦ ($35, 2 players + 1 all-in - Main pot: $35)
Hero checks, Villain bets $8, Hero calls.

(When the 2♦ hit on the river, I was a little worried that Villain may have hit a flush. However, I was prepared to call a half pot-sized bet given that I'd displayed so much weakness throughout the hand. Luckily, Villain obliged me by keeping his river bet rather small...)

Final pot: $51
Villain shows 5d 8d
DONKEY doesn't show Tc Ts
Hero doesn't show As Td

(In 6-max, giving free cards is not always that bad a thing. I believe this is even more true when playing out of position and covered by your opponent. I was a little unlucky with how things turned out in this hand, but you have to take the good with the bad when playing passively. I think Villain's initial call on the flop was a little optimistic, though he managed to hit his twelve-outer (fourteen outs on the turn) and take down another big pot.)

After these two awful hands, everything went to hell in a hand-basket. Over the course of the next 1500 or so hands following, I'd was effectively stacked two or three times by awful river cards. And as for my premium hands and sets, both seemed to have left me to fend for myself.

It's ok though. After a few more sleepless nights and countless cans of Red Bull, I'll be so out of touch with reality that neither opponents nor Poker Gods will be able to make any sense of my actions on the felt. Win or lose: it's up to Lady Luck until I manage to count a few sheep.

I hear my son crying, so I'll stop here for today. If you're looking for me, I'll be asleep at the tables over at Party Poker.

Keep reading "Money and Midnight Oil"