Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I'm still alive.

The break was good. I had a few days to myself and then had family in town and got to do a lot of the "touristy" things that I don't generally do--went and saw "O," took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, ate at a few swanky restaurants, etc, etc.

I pretty much stayed away from poker most of the time. I played a few hours last Wednesday and played a couple hours this past Sunday night but that's it since the 18th. I'm not sure a single poker thought went through my head while family was visiting.

But, I've been thinking about poker more over the last couple days and I'm excited to get back into it. It's good to be looking forward to poker again, especially with the tournament arriving. Tournaments seem to make the live games that much livelier, and it should be good for my bottom line to be ready and willing to put in a lot of focused, motivated hours at the tables.

My "work" starts up again in earnest tomorrow, for what should be a very busy three weeks or so. Here's hoping it's profitable as well.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

So after the up-and-down first week of November I was a little annoyed. Then there was the second week which ended up being my best week ever and so things were looking better again. This week started off nicely as well, but then something strange happened.

I got home from playing Thursday night (okay, technically Friday morning, especially since the sun was already up), having had another great day (er, night; #8 in a row) and all I could think about was how when I got up on Friday, I would sit right back down at the computer and play another few hours online before playing live. Usually that fact doesn't bother me--in fact I kind of enjoy the prospect of jumping right back into the action. But it was different this time. I really did not feel like playing; I wasn't looking forward to it at all. I went to bed that night (ahem, day) with much the same apprehension I used to have as a school kid going to bed on a Sunday night facing another full week of school.

Yeah, that bad.

I know, I know, my life is so rough, having to wake up whenever I want and play a card game for a living. But still, that's how I felt, and I got up and played like I should on Friday and not surprisingly I had my first bad session in about a week and a half. I was making poor call-downs, bad folds, and missing raises and value-bets left and right.

Since I have family coming into town for Thanksgiving, I figured I'd play my normal week until Sunday and then take a week off, but now I think I'm going to have to just go on vacation early. I've just been drowning in poker recently. Some people can play 50 hours a week; I cannot. I've been averaging 30/week for a while now and that's been too much.

So maybe I'll play again this weekend, but I'm not counting on it. At the very least, come Monday I'll be off until at least Saturday. So it might be a week or more before I post again.

I thought I'd leave with a hand, but none were all that interesting this past week despite my super-hot run. So I'll post one just because it represented a first for me:

Three-handed live 80/160. I'm on the button with 44. I raise. The SB three-bets, BB folds, I call. The SB is a very solid player whose three-betting standards are probably relatively loose here considering it's three-handed, but figure any pocket-pair bigger than mine, any decently-sized ace, and probably any two suited broadway cards.

Flop (2 players, 7 SB): A Q 5, rainbow. SB bets. I call.

Turn (2 players, 9 SB): (A Q 5) 4, two diamonds now. SB bets. I raise. SB three-bets. I four-bet intending to fold to a five-bet.

I mean, really, how often does one four-bet fully intending to fold to a five-bet?

Anyways, I'll still be around to talk about my donkerific hand, but otherwise everyone have a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A few odds and ends:

** While playing NL at the Wynn a few nights ago I sat next to a guy who said he was in charge of the new Caesar's Palace poker room opening in December, sometime around the 20th. Since I hadn't heard anything about what types of games they'll be spreading, I asked him for specifics.

Apparently the room is going to be actually two rooms, one a 31-table cash game room and the other a 33-table tournament room (please excuse my numbers if they're off by +-1; I'm going by memory).

The tournament room is going to spread three tournaments a day, every day, at noon, 7pm and midnight. The noon and midnight tournaments will be $85 plus $50 rebuys and the 7pm tournies will be $220 with $100 rebuys (once again, the numbers are from my sometimes imperfect memory).

The cash games they're looking to spread are 2/5 ($100-500 buy-in), 5/10 ($500 min) and 10/25 ($1500 min) NL, and for limit 3/6, 6/12, 10/20 and 20/40 "and up." Sounds to me like they're competing directly with the Mirage for limit players.

Comps will be just like the MGM or Wynn--$1/hour.

I'm sure at first the room will be packed, but I'm curious to see how it will fare once the initial excitement wears off. It'll be interesting to see just how many of these large poker rooms Las Vegas can support.

I'm especially curious to see if they can really get regular 10/25NL games or 20/40 or higher limit games going. Seeing the MGM and Wynn do so poorly in that regard, I'm doubtful.

** Speaking of the Mirage, I swung by there Saturday night after leaving the Bellagio. Talk about a night-and-day difference. Admittedly it was 3am, but the Bellagio's casino floor was still pretty packed while the Mirage's was practically a ghost-town.

I went right to the poker room where I was cashing in my Mirage chips. The poker room was still doing okay, but once again the 40/80 game broke pretty early, right before I'd gotten there according to the floor.

It was sad. Much like going to an ex's house to pick up things, I was entering this familiar place that was now foreign territory. I got what I came for, felt sorry for the state of things, and left, perhaps with a bit of a tear in my eye. Okay I didn't date the place--I only played poker there--but I did play there every other night for over two months. I think I can feel a little bad for "breaking up" with it.

** And, finally, I have a confession to make. I am a limit Omaha/8 fish. There I said it. I had another disasterous run at the game and can no longer hide behind variance, bad luck, whatever. I'm a full-fledged fish, flopping around on dry ground for anyone and everyone to make a meal of.

Oh there are reasons, ones that are correctible. For example, I always do well for about an hour then start doing badly. What happens is that I can start out playing well but eventually I get tired of playing the patient Omaha game (sit around and wait for the nuts) and start trying to play it like hold 'em. You know, raise with slightly less than uber-premium hands, call with something that can make a strong-but-not-the-nuts type hand. And it's all downhill from there. Omaha isn't hold 'em (and limit isn't pot-limit), and I should stop pretending there's much skill beyond waiting for premium draws and pushing them.

So from here on out, if I sit at an Omaha table I'm on a strict one hour time-limit. That's it, no more. I can still play it in mix games for obvious reasons, but no more four or five hour sessions for me. I just can't play a game that seems to have so little imagination involved. Or maybe I'm just not 'getting it' at the level other people do.

Either way, I'm done with donating my holdem winnings at the O8 table.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bellagio 80/160. UTG limps, MP1 limps, MP2 limps, CO limps, Button limps, I complete in the SB with QdJd, button checks.

Flop (7 players, 7 SB): Td 9h 6d. I bet. 1 fold. MP1 raises. 1 fold. CO calls, button calls. I three-bet. MP1 calls, CO calls all-in. Button four-bets. I cap. MP1 calls. Button calls.

Turn (3 players + 1 all-in, 9.5 BB + 3 BB side pot): (Td 9h 6d) Tc. I check. MP1 checks. Button bets. I call. MP1 calls.

River (3 players + 1 all-in, 9.5BB + 6 BB side pot): (Td 9h 6d Tc) Ts. I bet.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ok, a few hands this post. And not one of them limit hold em.

First, a trio of NL AA hands. The first two are almost the same exact hand. I've never really been in that position before, and then it happens twice in a day.

Hand #1:

2/4 NL on Ultimate Bet. I have $356, BB has me covered. Three limpers and I'm in the SB with AA. I raise to $20. BB raises to $40. Everyone else folds. I go all-in.

Hand #2:

2/5 NL at the Wynn. I have about $520, SB has me covered. Four limpers and I'm on the button with AA. I raise to $25. SB raises to $65. Everyone else folds. I go all-in.

Hand #3:

2/4 NL on UB. SB has $310, I have him covered. I have AA UTG. It's been a fairly aggressive game, so I limp. The table spoils my plan of limp-reraising when there's one other limper, the SB completes and the BB checks.

Flop (4 players, $16): K 6 2, rainbow. SB bets $16. BB folds. I raise to $40. Other limper folds, SB quickly calls.

Turn (2 players, $93): (K 6 2) Q, completing the rainbow. SB checks. I bet $60. SB check-raises all in for $266 total. I fold.

Hand #4:

2/5 NL at the Wynn. MP has $800, I have him covered. UTG limps, I limp UTG+1 with 8d7d. This has been a fairly unaggressive game preflop, obviously. MP limps, a few others.

Flop (6 players, $29): Ad Tc 9d. Checks to me. I bet $20. MP raises to $60. Everyone else folds. Now normally, people like to pump OESD+FD on the flop, assuming they're over 50% to hit one or the other and they have fold equity so if their opponent doesn't fold, they've still got a great shot of winning the pot.

I couldn't do that here, though, for one reason: there was no doubt in my mind that MP had either two pair or a set, and there was also no doubt that he wouldn't fold one of those hands. So I had zero fold equity. The only non-pair hand he would possibly play that way was Qd Jd which just totally destroys me, so my best bet was I was about 50/50, with the latter hand making me as bad as a 75/25 dog.

So I called. Since he can't fold, I can get a nice value-bet should I hit.

Turn (2 players, $147): (Ad Tc 9d) Ks. Check, check. Wha?

River (2 players, $147): (Ad Tc 9d Ks) 6d. Dammit, couldn't you have been any other 6? I bet $100. He called, and mucked after I showed down, saying he had A9 and that he was afraid I had AK, which is why he checked the turn. Any substantial bet on the turn and I would have had to fold there.

I also played in the 10/20 mix game at the Wynn. They had quite a lineup of games tonight, including Crazy Pineapple 8-or-better. Yes, a split pot crazy pineapple game. The first hand I didn't even know it was hi-lo, until my opponent rolled over his utter crap and the dealer gave him half the pot despite my protests. Then it was explained to me. Whoops.

To further my donk image, I check-raised the river in Razz when I made what I thought was a 6-perfect low, but what turned out to be an 86 low. My opponent thankfully had an 87, but wasn't too pleased when I called out "six!" then turned over my hand and quickly amended, "err....uh...ok 86." Lesson: always double check one's hole cards on the river.

So anyways, for more donkilicious action, hand #5 (this actually happened before the above two donkey hands):

10/20 2-7 TD at the Wynn. Six-handed.

UTG folds. UTG+1 raises. MP folds. I three-bet in the CO with 234TJ. Button folds, SB folds, BB calls, UTG+1 calls. As bad as I am, the BB seems to have no clue at all. On the previous hand he limped UTG, it was raised, he called then took four cards. His cold-call didn't mean anything to me.

BB takes 2, UTG+1 takes 1. I think and remember that a J is a favorite with one draw over anyone drawing a card (someone who read Daniel Negreanu's 2-7 section in Super System 2 told me that a J is a slight favorite over someone drawing one). So that means I'm a favorite to be a favorite, right? Not to mention that I can represent a real strong hand. So I stand pat. Heh...anyone laughing yet?

They both check. I bet. I figure if either of them make a hand, they'll CR me and I can probably call and draw two. Otherwise, they missed and I'm still good. They both call and I figure I'm still good. This time, they each draw one.

Once again, I'm stuck with the same logic. I'm a favorite to be a favorite. I should stand pat and simply fold if one of them comes up betting. So once again I stood pat. (Have I mentioned I have no clue how to play this game?)

Check, check, I bet. Call, call. Yeesh. Once again, they each draw one. At this point I knew my right play was to stand pat, fold if bet to and check behind if it's checked to me. So that's what I did.

BB kind of shakes his head, UTG+1 turns over K-perfect and my J-high takes the pot.

"I could beat that TWICE and I broke it!"

"Same here!"


Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Although, looking back I think I might have inadvertently actually played the hand kinda well. But obviously I have no clue whatsoever, so perhaps someone who knows something (anything, really) about 2-7 TD can give me an opinion.

All I know is that my lesson from that hand is the same as the one I've learned over and over again: position is critically important in triple-draw. I'm not sure I've played another game where it's so important, although I guess some people would argue for NL hold 'em.

All told, it was a fun night. At some point, I should just go a whole week playing anything and everything except limit holdem and see how I do.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The first week in November has been a roller-coaster ride. Up-down-up-down, pretty severely in each direction. The end net result was a small win for the week which is smaller than any one of my individual wins for the week (or losses, in absolute terms).

Considering some of the brutal stretches I had during the week, I guess I can't complain too much--I still won, right?--but it'd still be nice to receive a little more confirmation from the all-important bottom line that moving up in limits was the right choice. I mean, if I can't earn any more money playing 80/160 live and 30/60 oniline than I could playing 30/60 live and 15/30 online, why should I deal with the stress and higher variance? Admittedly, I still have a long way to go before I should even attempt to estimate what my profitability is at this level, but early returns point to a pretty similar earn-rate.

Which all (kind-of) leads into the main topic for this post: utility of money. I have a proposition:

Poker players have the smallest utility for each dollar earned of any profession.

Okay, perhaps that applies to all gamblers, but let's stick to poker since that's all I can semi-intelligently write about.

Let's compare someone who plays poker for a living to someone who holds a more "typical" job. I'll throw a nice round number out there for earnings. Let's say $100,000 a year. So perhaps this guy with the "typical" job is a lawyer.

The lawyer who makes $100,000 a year brings in a little over $8000/month. Since he works at an actual firm 40 (or, ahem, 80) hours a week, he gets his regular paycheck for the same amount every couple of weeks to do with as he pleases. He can save up for a downpayment on a house, one for a car, save up for retirement and budget for all the normal expenses based on that paycheck. There are no surprises; the paycheck will be there every week.

Assuming he doesn't totally screw up his work, he can expect to make that much money year in and year out, heck even get regular raises! Next year his income might be $108,000, and in five years maybe he's all the way up to $150,000. Because of this knowledge he has about his future earnings, once he does have enough money to make that downpayment on a house he can go right ahead and buy that house with its accompanying monthly mortgage payment of $2000-3000 a month. He can even lease that fancy BMW for $400-500 a month. Put away $W into retirment, $X into other long-term investments/savings, $Y into food/clothing/etc and $Z into entertainment, and there's his paycheck all chopped up and accounted for.

The poker player who makes $100,000 is in an entirely different financial world, however. First, what does it mean to be a poker player who makes a specific dollar amount per year? Is that how much he's made in the last year? Averaged for the last five years? What? A poker player can't tell you how much he expects to make in a given time frame any more than a trader can tell you how much he expects to make in the stock market.

All this is to say that even if the poker player made $100,000 in the last year, it certainly doesn't mean he'll make that much this year. It could be more, heck a lot more, but it could be less, yes, even a lot less. But let's assume he can maintain that pace. What does his $8000/month get him?

First, he has to maintain a bankroll, which should be quite large for someone whose goal is to earn six figures on the year, especially for limit players, and especially for live players. So all that money that would be going towards that downpayment on a house or on a car is instead sitting around in various accounts (or casino chips) as the most basic tool of his trade.

The poker player will have dry runs. Sometimes for a week or two, but sometimes for much longer. I remember reading an article on Jennifer Harman where she said her longest losing streak was six months. On the far other end of the poker-playing spectrum, I just had a losing month in September, my second since poker became my main source of income in June, 2004. I also had one essentially break-even month. What these examples show is that in addition to a bankroll, the poker player needs to maintain a healthy living-expenses account that he can withdraw from those weeks or months where he simply isn't getting a paycheck from his bankroll.

So he sure as heck can't budget for all the 8000 theoretical dollars he expects to make in any given month and simply chop it all up the same way our lawyer friend can. If the poker player lives that close to the wire, he'll simply guarntee himself of having to either delve into his bankroll, perhaps drawing it down perilously low, or having to withdraw from long-term savings and investments. Neither option is particularly attractive, as both sources are vital to one's wellbeing--one for current profitability and the other for eventually being able to, say, retire. I don't want to be grinding out my weekly meds bill at the 4/8 table when I'm 80.

And if the poker player wants to, say, get a raise, then he has to sock even more away into his bankroll so he can properly play the higher limits. And it isn't a linear growth--bigger limits bring with them better players and a smaller edge which means higher variance. If I want to increase my limits by 50%, I'd sure as heck want to increase my bankroll by at least 75%, or maybe even double it (note: if you're going from 4/8 to 6/12, this probably doesn't apply to you--a 50-60% increase should be sufficient).

The poker player also has more threats to his long-term prospects. As is common knowledge, poker is booming right now, perhaps bubbling. Like all crazes, it will die down, and with its wane in popularity will come tougher games and less profitability for everyone. The guy making $100,000 this year and $150,000 next year might be making $50,000 five years from now (or looking for one of those "typical" jobs).

Suffice to say, even if he does save enough above and beyond his bankroll to put in a nice downpayment on a house or car, he certainly shouldn't be locking himself into the same high payment that our lawyer friend can. Do you really want to be making monthly $3000 mortage payments when you're only pulling in $4000 a month in a few years? The end result is that the utility of the poker player's money is not only lower, but drastically lower. Perhaps by as much as 50% or more, although putting a number on it is like playing pin the tail on the donkey.

Personally, because of the all the future uncertainty inherent in poker, I feel the utility of the money I earn is nearly zero. I am a fairly cautious and frugal person as it is, in large part from how I was raised, so perhaps I'm more extreme than most, but I keep my monthly expenses to a (relative) bare minimum. I rent a one-bedroom apartment, drive a Sentra, spend almost nothing on clothing, eat as many comped meals as I can, and in general am watchful over just about every dollar I spend. I'm living just like I was when I was a graduate student living on a meager graduate student stipend.

I live this way in part because of my nature, but also because I don't feel like I can live like someone who earns much more than that. Yes I could drive a nicer car, live in a fancier place, have clothes that actually cost me money and eat at fancier restaurants, but with the large bankroll I feel I have to maintain respective to the limits I play and the completely uncertain future inherent in earning money from poker, I'm hoarding most of my earnings because I can never be sure--have I just been running well? Can I really make $X every single month? So the bottom line is that although I get added financial security, I'm really getting very little additional enjoyment out of my earnings.

Anyways, those were just a few thoughts for those aspiring pros.

And, as if this post weren't long enough, I think I'll end it by posting a hand. In my wild yo-yo-like ride of the past week, the hand that I found most debateable seems on the surface to be rather boring (no massive pots or huge bluffs here) but I felt that my play on every street but one is wide-open debateable. I certainly don't know the best way to play it.

My very first hand at the table. Live 80/160. I'm in the BB with KTo. I've watched the table for a few hands and I recognize a tough spot or two, but for the most part the lineup seems rather weak--too loose and rather passive, at least for an 80 game.

UTG+1 open raises, and the next two players both cold-call. It folds around to me. I call.

Flop (4 players, 8.5 SB): Q 9 7, rainbow. I check, UTG+1 bets, UTG+2 calls, MP calls, I call.

Turn (4 players, 6.25 BB): (Q 9 7) K, completing the rainbow. I check, it checks around.

River (4 players, 6.25 BB): (Q 9 7 K) Q. I check, it checks around.

See, what'd I say? Boring. But I think there's a little more to it than first meets the eye. And to be honest, it's decisions in more common hands like these that make the difference between winning and losing, not between folding, calling, or raising with a mediocre hand in 30BB pots.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It's now November, and I just spent the ritualistic few minutes closing out the "October" section of my poker spreadsheet and firing up "November," the entire time thinking, "Didn't I just do this?"

October was a blur. I was running good and settled into a pattern. I'd play most days, winning the vast majority of the time, and so I didn't spend much time smelling the roses, so to speak. I had my nose to the proverbial grindstone and next thing I noticed the month was over. One day I was preparing the "October" section of the spreadsheet and seemingly the next I was closing it out.

Time flies when you're running good.

Since the end of October also represented the end of my third full month out here in Vegas, baby, Vegas, I think I'll finally stop and smell the roses for a second. Yes, it's time for a quarterly update. Or something.

For those who haven't dug through the archives, I moved out here to Vegas from Austin, TX in July. And, yes, the move pretty much took the entire month. I was finally out here for good on July 28, with the plan of playing limit holdem, 15/30 online and 30/60 and 40/80 live, games I'd been playing regularly for three or four months already.

Those games went so well that in late September I moved up to 80/160 live, while also taking shots at 20/40 and 30/60 online (heck, even 40/80 one night). And that's pretty much where I currently stand. As usual, I have no real desire to move up again for the time being (although I'd play live 100/200 should the opportunity present itself), but I can imagine myself reaching the six month mark and pushing ahead once again. Time will tell. If I do move up, of course, that will have to be mostly online since limit holdem games above 80/160 are scarce here in Vegas. To play higher, I'd have to be willing to play mix games, and that's just not my cup of tea yet. But I'm working on it.

Quitting one's job and making a move away from all one's friends to play poker for a living is quite a life-changing event, to say the least, but so far I'm quite happy. I miss everyone, of course, but I'm enjoying life. I'm enjoying the freedom, the fact that I actually look forward to going to work every day, and yes, of course I'm enjoying the money (not that I really spend anything).

I had what's turning out to be my twice-annual bad run (about 40 days of break-even play, which has happened like clockwork every six months so far), but I survived and ended up having my best month ever in October.

The focus of my play has shifted dramatically since making the move. Through June, my online hours to live hours ratio was about 2.4:1. Since July, that ratio has flip-flopped almost completely, making it nearly 2.3:1 in favor of live play. That's not because live play is more profitable--indeed, online play this year has been 50% more profitable per hour than live play--but rather I simply prefer to play live. If I sit there and lose $3000 in a live session, I'll still have enjoyed myself more than if I sit there and lose, say, $800 in an online session; heck maybe more than if I win, say, $200 online. I really don't know why that's the case, it just is.

October also marked the 18th month I've spent playing poker seriously for profit. It's funny; I've spent nearly that entire time feeling like the new, inexperienced kid. But compared to lots of guys, I'm now a seasoned veteran!

All told, this year has gone completely unexpected. I'd like to forecast what might happen in the future, but if ten months ago you told me I'd be living in Vegas playing 80/160, I'd have called you nuts.

So the first three months have come and gone in a flash. I can only imagine what I'll be doing when I sit down to write my six-month recap. I can only hope it doesn't involve the phrases "4/8" or "looking for a job." My fingers are crossed.