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Poker Journal #7 – January 22, 2005

January 22nd, 2005 No comments

The past week has blasted by me in record time, and it feels like this is the first time I’ve had to actually sit down and reflect on what’s happened. I’ve played poker every night except Monday this week, and I think I’ve played squash every night as well. That’s a good thing, those are both important things that I really want to continue improving, and the only way to effectively improve is to keep practicing. On another positive note, I’ve had first place finishes at least three of the four times I’ve played this week, so I must be doing some things right (and had some luck swinging my way).
Last night I managed to squeeze in time for one game of poker over at my friend Brad’s house, and I want to write about the hand that led me to the final heads up play. I didn’t really play this hand as I had planned. Graham had already put in his big blind, and it was up to me whether I was going to meet his bet. I looked down at my cards and saw 10-5, both clubs. Definitely not a very strong hand, but, in heads up play, your opponent isn’t usually holding much better. I had decided that I was going to call Graham’s initial blind bet, and raise the pot 300 in order to try and get a read on what he was holding. I chose 300 because I figured that it left him with enough money to call my bet and then get out if he didn’t connect with the flop. I didn’t want to make a really large bet, such that his only option would be either to push all in, or fold – I really wanted to see the flop, without him shoving all his chips towards the center of the table.
So far so good. Graham thought for a couple of seconds, and what do you know, he shoves all his chips into the center. Now, at this point, I should have respected the fact that I had made a raise to get a read on Graham, and he was sending me a pretty strong one. His all-in reraise pushed the amount to call to around 700. I had more than enough chips to call and see what he had, and so I did exactly that, but I really should have been playing smarter. My initial bet had two goals:

  1. Ideally, take him out of the pot right there, and steal the blinds.
  2. Graham’s a smart player, and doesn’t play with rags. If he didn’t have anything, I was hoping he’d fold his cards, and let me take the blinds. Again, I wasn’t holding a lot, but by the same token, I didn’t think he was either.

  3. If Graham didn’t fold right then, at least get some kind of idea for what he’s holding.

After Graham reraised, I basically totally disregarded my intial purpose for betting, and called him. Granted, I didn’t really think he had much, but the likelihood of him holding at least one face card was pretty good at this point. When he flipped over his cards, I was staring at A-K. Pretty gruesome. Fortunately, my luck held out, and I hit a 10 on the flop, and neither of us connected with the rest of the cards dealt on the board. Lucky, yes, but next time, I want to make more of a concerted effort to avoid these kind of risky plays.
In retrospect, I think my bet was probably the right amount. It was enough that it represented a respectful portion of Graham’s chips, but not so much that it made him pot committed if he didn’t hit anything on the flop. Additionally, if I had only bet 200, I think it would have been too little, and given him too much incentive to call, thus negating the first purpose of my bet.
I guess the thing I want to work on the most in my game right now is heads up play. There’s really no way to do this save for stopping myself from splitting every pot I end up vying for in order to maximize the odds of coming out at the end with a profit from playing. Heads up play is tricky, and the only way to improve at it is to keep doing it. Hopefully by next weekend, I’ll have a few more experiences gained from doing exactly that, and we’ll see what needs to be tweaked.

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Poker Journal #6 – January 16, 2005

January 16th, 2005 No comments

After a couple of slow nights, I’ve had a couple of really good nights. First off, I’ve noticed that my style of play is very aggressive. This is a good thing, provided I’m playing a tight game. When I have a good hand, aggressive play is a good thing. It means that I’ll get a lot of money in the pot when I’ve got the best of it, and maximize the amount of money that I’m pulling in.b
However, this is certainly a bad thing when I’m playing loosely. To be a good aggressive player, you need to be tight. That is to say, you need to make sure that you play only good hands, and respect your position at the table.
Given that, here are some things I’d like to work on in the future:

  • Tighten up my hand selection
  • Yah, yah, I already mentioned this. This is my number one problem right now. When I’m drawing decent hands, I’m playing well. But, in order to minimize the amount of money that I’m losing, I need to avoid getting myself sucked in to playing hands that aren’t premium. Actually, premium isn’t the right word, but I really need to make sure I’m playing hands that are good, relative to my position, and that I’m getting out the instant they don’t connect with the board.

    This means I don’t really want to be playing anything lower than cards like 9-8s, 8-8, Q-10s, or A-J when I’m under the gun. If I have middle position, I don’t want to play anything worse than 5-5, K-10, or J-8s. In the late positions, I can get away with playing weaker hands, but should still be mucking things like 9-5, 10-4, J-7s, and K-9.

  • Quit falling into the trap of playing A-x.
  • This is really just an extension of the last point. Ace is a good card, and this hand isn’t the worst thing to get when I’m playing short-handed, but it’s just way too easy to get sucked in with it. For example, consider a starting hand of A-9 (offsuit). If the flop comes up K-9-2, I have a pair, but one that is easily dominated by a higher pocket pair, or a pair of kings (quite likely in a game with many players). Maybe I think to myself that I can draw to an ace, and win the hand with top pair. But that’s a weak hand to be drawing to (and consequently, wasting more money if my opponents are good), and if I’m up against a hand like A-K, my hand is dominated, and I’m drawing dead. If the flop comes up with something like A-2-6, I have the top pair, but my kicker is really weak, and I can’t bet with enough confidence. It’s better to muck hands like these straight off the bat if I don’t have position, or, if on the button, to play them and get rid of them as soon as I don’t hit something like two pair off the flop. If it helps, try to think of the ace as a king, and try to imagine what I’m hoping to flop that would allow me to bet with confidence. Does my position allow for that? Go from there.

  • Try to avoid bluffing as much as possible
  • Bluffing just doesn’t seem to be the weapon that I once thought it was. Unless I have position and can sense a lot of weakness from everyone else, bluffing is a great way to lose a lot of chips, and really isn’t worth it. Semi-bluff now and then, and for the rest of the time, just play smart poker, value-betting when I have what is likely the top hand, and getting out without losing too much money the rest of the time.

So those are the three main goals for the next couple of weeks: Tighten up hand selection, don’t fall into the A-x trap, and bluff less.
In related news, I bought a book called Poker – The Real Deal, written by Phil Gordon. I’ve seen Phil Gordon play a couple of times on the World Poker Tournament, and I like his style. The book is well written, reads easily, and offers good advice. You can probably find most of this stuff strewn throughout the internet, but I don’t care to take the time to track it all down. Phil also mentions a lot of other good poker books, and what you can expect to gain from each of them – I find this sort of thing really helpful when I want to expand my knowledge in a certain area, and it’s nice to get recommendations from someone that obviously knows what he’s talking about. If anyone is looking for a good place to start, I’d recommend this book.

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Poker Journal #5 – January 11, 2005

January 11th, 2005 No comments

This is actually the fifth poker journal I’ve written, but I haven’t yet posted the other three that I wrote in the interim. Those will come up sometime soon.
In the meanwhile, I’ve noticed that I’m starting to play both a little too cautiously. Actually, the problem isn’t that I’m playing too cautiously, it’s that I’m having great difficulty getting good reads on players. I’m not exactly sure what the best means to improve this is, other than to attend some other poker games, and possibly some tournaments, and try and see other players in action, which will hopefully give me more insight into how other players operate.
Practicing with Graham, I was able to get an accurate read on the hand he was playing a little over fifty percent of the time. This isn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too great either. I’d like to be able to bump that up to about seventy-five percent.
One of the things that I really need to concentrate on is watching how other players are betting based on the size of their stacks. Generally speaking, I think that the more chips someone has sitting in front of them, the more likely they are to play loosely, and thus the more likely they are to be bluffing. This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s something I need to watch for and try to get a read on. The next time I go out to play, I have the following goals set out for myself:

  • Every time someone raises before the flop, make a mental note of it, and try to place them on a certain hand. If the hand goes to showdown, see what it was that they had, and make a note of that.
  • Keep a count of how many times each player goes to a showdown.
  • At least once, call a bet that I think I’m likely to lose on, just so that I can see what the opponent is betting against me with. Don’t worry about the money that it’ll cost.

Nothing too big here this time, just some general rules to follow to try and get my game on the track that I want it. Hopefully observing these things will help me figure out.
I’ll update this journal on Thursday after my game.

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Poker Jounral #1 – November 11th, 2004

December 23rd, 2004 No comments

This is the first journal I wrote after playing poker. I’ve had to remove the names of people, so that they don’t realize which piece of information pertains to them, but thems are the breaks.

  • One player in particular is very impatient, and prefers to check or call when not holding anything. He’ll throw money at the pot pre-flop solely to push people out of it. He will also call the big blind just to see the flop, regardless of what he’s holding. Very easy to suck him into a hand by raising twice to three times the pot.
  • In retrospect, reading back over this journal, it would seem that he’s making correct plays, but he’s actually not. I’ll elaborate on the reasons why in another journal. Being impatient makes for a loose player. The general rule is that whenever you’re playing someone loose (they’ll play with worse hands, and are more likely to call a bet), you need to tighten up. The best way to take down a loose player is to wait until you’ve got a good hand, and then milk them for all they’re worth. Try to put bluffs past players like this is generally a bad idea, as they will blindly call.

  • Another player will play with lots of poor hands, and will play with suited cards right to the river, calling most bets. He prefers check when not holding anything, though will rarely check-raise. The odds of that happening are pretty low, and likely not worth the risk. He’ll call a high bet without holding too much in his hand, and finds the prospect of taking someone out when they go all-in almost irresistable. He too will call the big blind just to see the flop, and is likewise easy to suck in to a hand.
  • Another player that will call most bets. Generally speaking, if this guy is raising, he’s probably got something decent. Trying to bluff him isn’t likely to work for the same reason as above, and so taking him down with a decent hand is the way to go. The most important thing to realize about players like this is that when a flush draw hits the board, caution is the best approach. Because of his tendency to hang on to suited cards, it’s not a good idea to raise the pot holding something like top pair.

  • Between the two above players, usually only one of them can be pulled into the pot with an all-in bet
  • This is actually an incorrect play on their part, generally speaking. If they both feel that they have a decent hand, they should likely both be going all-in – the pot odds are better.

  • The third player in our group often wastes away his chips, raising at the wrong spot, then folding his hand when either re-raised or being raised post-flop when he didn’t get the draw he was looking for.
  • When raising, I need to start including calculations for implied odds
  • More on this later

  • Not many people in our group are raising pre-flop, and I think this is causing more people to win on the draw. By raising pre-flop, I knocked a lot of potentially strong hands out, and was able to protect my decent hands more often.

Okay. Those are the notes I’ve got written down here from my first poker journal. The first thing I’m going to do is explain some of the terminology here.

  • Flop
  • We play no-limit Texas Hold ‘em. In this game, everyone is dealt two cards, face down. Then there’s a round of betting. After everyone has called (met) the bet or folded, three cards are dealt to the table, and these are the community cards. This is called the flop. There is another round of betting after the flop, then a fourth card dealt, another round of betting, a fifth card dealt, and then a final round of betting. The community cards can be used by everyone to make the best hand possible. The idea of the game is to try and get a feel for your opponent, and figure out if he’s got something better than you do.

  • Small blind/Big blind
  • The small and big blinds are mandatory bets that are made to the two positions immediately left of the dealer. At the beginning of our games the small blind is a five dollar chip, and the big blind is a ten dollar chip. As play continues, the blinds increase in amount.

  • Raising pre/post-flop
  • Raising pre-flop means raising before you’ve seen any of the community cards. This is typically done for a couple of reasons. The first reason is to bluff and try to win the pot right there (if everyone folds rather than call your bet, you win the pot). The second reason is to protect a good hand. If you’ve been dealt two aces, you’ve got a great hand. However, if you don’t raise, you’ll likely be playing against everyone else at the table. Let’s say you’ve got six other people that call the big blind and are playing this hand. The more people you have, the more likely someone is to make a better hand than you are. Two aces is the best starting hand, but there’s not a lot more you can draw from the community cards to make them better. As a result, you want to protect this hand from being out-drawn, and you do that by betting pre-flop. This is done to get people with hands that are likely to beat you on the draw (a seven and a two of the same suit, or something like that) to fold.

To finish off, I’ll talk a bit about odds and implied-odds. Poker has many aspects to it, but odds calcuation is a big one. Whenever you make a bet, you should be thinking in your head, “If I made this bet a hundred times in a row, would I come out on top more often than not?” This is what statistician’s call expected value. It can be summed up with the long drawn out example below:
BEWARE, there lies math below!
Let’s say that a lottery ticket costs me one dollar to buy. Furthermore, on that lottery ticket, I will win three dollars 70% of the time, and win no money the other 30% of the time. So, that can be broken down to this: 70% of the time, I win two dollars (three, minus the cost of the ticket), and 30% of the time, I will lose a dollar (the cost of the ticket). The expected value on this lottery ticket is computed as follows:
0.30 times -1 + 0.70 times 2 = -0.30 + 1.40 = 1.10
That’s a lot of numbers for people that hate math, but basically what this equation shows is that everytime I buy one of these lottery tickets, I can expect, on average to get back $1.10. So, if I bought ten of these tickets, and averaged out my wins and losses, I would be getting back $11.00 on my investment. And so on. Clearly, these lottery tickets are a good way to go.
Okay, now that we’ve got a grip on what expected value is, you can see that poker is very much like that, only a little more open to chance. Let’s say I’m playing poker, and there are 16 cards left in the deck that could be dealt that will guarantee that I win the hand. There’s one card left to be dealt, so at this point I have seen six cards out of the deck (The two in my hand, plus the four that have been dealt). The odds that I will be dealt one of the cards in that deck and win the hand are:
16 / 46 = Roughly 1/3 = 0.3
This can be confusing because you would think that I haven’t factored into the equation that my opponents may be holding the cards I’m counting as letting me win the hand. However, because all of the cards are randomly dealt in a deck, we deal with this by including the cards our opponents are holding in our denominator. That’s why we’re dividing 16 / 46. If we knew for a fact that one opponent was holding none of the 16 cards we needed to win, the denominator would actually be 44, and our odds would be slightly better at 16 / 44. The odds of 16 / 46 basically can be thought of like this: “If I were to choose any one face down card (be it from my opponent’s hand, or the top of the deck), there is a 16 / 46 chance that it will be one of the cards I need to win”
So we’ve figured out that our odds of winning this hand are about 0.3. The next step we need to do is determine how much money we are expected to win on average if we make a given bet. Let’s say that the pot has 8 dollars in it, and it will cost me 1 dollar if I want to play. Should I make this bet? The easy way to figure this out is to determine if the percentage likelihood of you winning is greater than the percentage of your bet relative to the pot. So, is 0.3 greater than 1 / 8? Yes. 1 / 8 equals 0.125. This means that on average, if you make this bet, you will win more money than you would lose. That’s basically how you determine whether or not you should make a given bet.
Math section over
This of course doesn’t take into account the chance of you knowing what your opponents are holding, them knowing what you’re holding, and about a billion other factors, but it’s the basis for good poker playing.
Anyhow, likely that was boring and totally unhelpful, but it provides me my basis of comparison. Next week I’ll go into why some of the plays that I was mentioning above (about the various players in our group) weren’t good, and further elaboration on strategy, or at least what I’ve developed so far.
If anyone has questions, or wants clarifications, please post them, or just go read an actual poker strategy site, there’s about a hojillion of them out there.

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