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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...

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