Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Back to Business ( II )

Another thing that should not be overlooked is ways in which you can maximize profit from your invested capital. In poker, this can be done by looking out for several things: bonuses, rakeback and advertising.

Bonuses are available from any good poker site (like the Poker Stars bonus) and provide a means of getting additional money when depositing funds to that site. Usually a poker site will credit your account with bonus dollars as a specified percentage of your deposit, and these bonus dollars are then released (either incrementally or in total) after some target amount of play has been reached. There are even helpful sites which will give you a list of all poker sites and available bonuses so you can get the maximum reward from every deposit you make.

Rakeback is the term given to the money that is reimbursed to a player from the total amount of rake that the player generates on a given site. This money comes not from the site, but from a 'rakeback affiliate', any one of which usually cater for a broad range of poker sites with different rakeback percentages. Rakeback is an essential financial aid for a pro, and there is no reason not to be receiving it.

Advertising as a means of generating revenue is only available to those people who have a webpage, or are fortunate enough to be so amazingly famous that companies will pay them to wear their merchandise/logos when they attend live tournaments/games. If (like me) you only belong to the former group, if your page has enough traffic certain sites may ask you to include a link to their site in exchange for some nominal compensation. This may not ever generate huge financial reward, but every little helps.

So if you see poker as a business, hopefully you are now a little better prepared to make the most of your chosen profession. As a poker player though, I'm sure you are already used to exploiting every possible opportunity. So may your edge be big as possible, and may the poker force be with you.....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Back to Business

The successful man is the one who finds out what is the matter with his business before his competitors do -Roy L Smith

I've been playing poker for a living over a year now, and when it's your sole source of income you quickly find you have to treat it like a business. As you probably know, a business is not a simple thing. You need not only to offer a valuable service or product, but you also need to know: your customers; how best to package/present your product/service; when and how to advertise; what other similar businesses are doing.... In short, there are lots of factors to consider. This is certainly the case for poker.

You have to know your customers. I'm sure you've all played against a certain player who you have mentally earmarked as the best person in the world to sit down at a poker table with. If you don't have a means for finding this person whenever they are playing you are sacrificing a huge financial edge. This is why having 'buddylists' and player tracking software is so important. Any money spent on sites/software which tell you the location of the best tables to play is money that could not be better spent. It is also equally wise to make a note of players who are very good so they can be avoided whenever possible.

You need to know your business. If you haven't studied, analysed, discussed and dissected the most common situations to your particular poker game, then you are merely gambling and not running a business. The only substitute for a sound theoretical understanding of the game is substantial experience - long enough that the effects of variance play no more than a marginal role in your results. Ideally, for the best results the two should be combined.

Indeed, it is often not enough to have acquired only a basic grasp of the game in the past - you should be taking regular revision sessions and learning the latest ideas and strategies. Poker is a constantly changing industry, and failing to change with it will leave your business behind. Fortunately there are now great applications for reviewing your play, and scores of sites which provide either useful poker discussion, poker training, or both.

Along with all the above, the most important thing to remember is that you also have to work hard! You can have the best business in the world, but if your employees only work part time or half-heartedly you cannot help but struggle. You need to make sure targets are met (i.e. hours per week), enough effort is given (i.e. playing without taking phonecalls etc.) and there is no counter-productive behaviour in the office (i.e. drinking at the desk, smoking weed in the toilets etc.). I truly believe that hard work can make up for almost all other shortcomings.

I guess I could say that I know running a business is hard, but I'm pretty sure that the online business of playing poker doesn't come close to the difficulties of doing business in the real world and I don't like to be presumptuous. Suffice to say that whatever business you're involved in, it is sensible to consider as much as possible in order to give your business the best chance to succeed. May your own go from strength to strength -unless of course you're one of my direct competitors! ;-)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Critical thinking in poker

The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than their minds - William Durant

Damn if this post hasn't taken far longer than I wanted! Sorry for being so slow with this, but I wanted to have several good examples and tried to make a post that will genuinely help players improve their game. I fear there will be no groundbreaking concepts in this strategy post, but hopefully it will be helpful to someone aside from myself, and with the luck the examples included will nicely illustrate what remains an important lesson: the necessity of critical thinking in big bet poker.

Critical thinking for me is about observing a certain situation or behaviour, and then deducing the cause or reasoning behind it. Sometimes this thinking can even allow you to predict with some degree of confidence what will happen in the future. Obviously in poker this ability is very useful in hand reading, but it is also highly applicable to the psychological aspect. Critical thinking can be used to help understand what your opponent is thinking... and if you can accurately do that, the battle is basically over.

Lets go with the first example and look at critical thinking for hand reading:

$2/$4 NLHE - 6 players
Seat 1: CrazyIvan24 ($400)
Seat 2: tRybek ($758.60)
Seat 3: Villain ($538.10)
at 24/8
Seat 4: Hero ($421)
Seat 5: ChildBride ($400)
Seat 6: tonybas ($638.30)
tRybek posts the small blind of $2
Villain posts the big blind of $4
The button is in seat #1
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Hero [Kd Ah]
Hero raises to $14
ChildBride folds
tonybas folds
CrazyIvan24 has 15 seconds left to act
CrazyIvan24 calls $14
tRybek calls $12
Villain calls $10

Ok, standard open UTG with AKo. I get two folds, and then a call from the button who has been trying to outplay me in position several times. Both the blinds also call. So I can assume the following here: no one is likely to have a hand like JJ+ or another AK, as the button would re-raise with this to force out the blinds, and the blinds would normally squeeze given this is a 2/4 table. I won't rule them out, but my opponents ranges (remember 2 are in the blinds) are more likely to be high cards, low pairs, connectors, and suited garbage. The button's range is more likely to also include a suited connector given the likelihood of a multiway pot.

*** FLOP *** [Kc 9c 4c]
tRybek checks
Villain checks
Hero has 15 seconds left to act
Hero bets $48
CrazyIvan24 folds
tRybek folds
Villain raises to $122
Hero has 15 seconds left to act
Hero calls $74

I hit top pair, but obviously I'm not thrilled at the monotone flop. There is almost $60 in the pot, and after two checks from the blinds, I fire with my TPTK. The button folds as he must with anything than a set or a flush, and the SB follows suit (no pun intended). Then the BB comes out with an 1.5x checkraise. Now normally I'd give this a lot of respect, but lets consider the factors.

The BB called just $10 pf with 3 players already in the pot and was closing the action, so his range is pretty darn wide. The flop is very scary, and my bet into 3 players looks like I want to take down the pot while it is small. The flop couldn't be more spread in terms of rank, so 2 pair is very unlikely. The pot is now heads up, which is always the best time to check-raise bluff. The size of the raise is interesting also: it is not very big and would not put off a flush draw or a set. It is possible he's raising with a baby flush, but the nut flush (aside from being unlikely for the BB to have) is more likely to call than raise against a single opponent. Lastly, and most importantly, I'm in position so I can safely call and re-evaluate after seeing my opponents turn action. It is mainly this final factor that convinces me to call.

*** TURN *** [Kc 9c 4c] [6h]
Villain checks

The villain checks - so much information here. I can now rule out a baby flush - my call indicates either the nuts, a draw to the nuts or a strong made hand (set, TPTK, overpair) and out of position he would bet again to protect his flush on this safe turn card. A set, already unlikely is now ruled out as he would again try to protect this oop. Two pair is still just as unlikely. My best guess at this point is that he was trying a pure bluff with air, has a badly played QQ-TT, possibly with a Club, or something like Ks Qc. So, since I am miles ahead of his most likely range, I happily shove my TPTK on this seemingly dangerous board and get the result I expect.

Hero bets $285, and is all in
Villain folds
Uncalled bet of $285 returned to Hero
Hero wins the pot ($297)

This second example gets a bit more into the psychological aspect along with hand reading...

$1/$2 NLHE - 4 players
Seat 2: IDent ($103)
Seat 4: Hero ($200)
Seat 5: royamsterdam ($200)
Seat 6: Villain ($416.15)
at 17/13
royamsterdam posts the small blind of $1
Villain posts the big blind of $2
The button is in seat #4
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Hero [Jh Kc]
IDent raises to $9
Hero calls $9
royamsterdam adds $1
royamsterdam folds
Villain raises to $32
IDent folds
Hero calls $23

I call here because I have position on the fish IDent who has been opening nearly every hand, and also I have the button so will have position on every other player. KJo is easily ahead of the fishes range, and I am happy to play it in this situation. Now, the Villain re-raises from the BB. He is a tight, thinking player and he knows as well as I that the fish is often opening light. After the fish folds, I have my first real decision. I am most likely facing a premium PP, or maybe a squeeze from AJs+, both of which obviously crush me. Given how tight he is though I realise that I can more easily push him off lots of non-nut hands, and with the right boards I can represent plenty of hands and do exactly that, so I decide to call with my probably dominated hand.

*** FLOP *** [3c 5h 9d]
Villain has 15 seconds left to act
Villain bets $31
Hero calls $31

What a perfect flop for me. My range definitely includes all PPs which just made a set here, and in addition the rainbow board means that if I smooth call here a set looks even more likely. This is a perfect board for representing against a tight player. Also, the lack of a broadway card means that any big A (suited or not) is feeling pretty awful now that it remains completely unimproved. He bets, as he would with his entire range, and after a brief pause I smooth call.

*** TURN *** [3c 5h 9d] [4s]
Villain has 15 seconds left to act
Villain checks

With the pot at nearly $135, out of position against a fairly solid opponent who smooth called a c-bet on a very ragged flop, my tight opponent is in a fix. There is no way the 4s helped him. With any unimproved Ax, he can't call any but the smallest bet. Even with a big PP, he can only hope to check call with what will more often than not turn out to be the worst hand. And so he thinks for a while before having to check.

Hero bets $72

Since I have played this hand like a set, I follow that line and decide to bet half the pot. This is a good amount for 2 reasons: 1) it looks like I want a call, and 2) it leaves me with roughly the same amount behind, so it looks like I am pot committed and hence less likely to be bluffing. Once again, my thinking has been good and I am fortunate enough to get a deserving result.

Villain has 15 seconds left to act
Villain folds
Uncalled bet of $72 returned to Hero
Hero mucks
Hero wins the pot ($134)

The next example shows an acute lack of critical thinking on my part, and my opponent reaps the rewards from my gross mistakes....

$3/$6 Deep NLHE - 5 players
Seat #1 is the dealer
Seat 1 - TRADEBYDAY ($591 in chips)
Seat 2 - Hero ($1420.50 in chips)
Seat 4 - Villain ($794.40 in chips)
at 27/24
Seat 5 - ROCKCHALK73 ($485.70 in chips)
Seat 6 - SPOOOOOKY ($1763 in chips)
Hero - Posts small blind $3
Villain - Posts big blind $6
Dealt to Hero [As 10s]
Hero - Raises $15 to $18
Villain - Calls $12

At $3/$6, ATs is a very good hand for a blind vs blind confrontation. My raise and his call in position is nothing out of the ordinary and not too much information is available from it.

*** FLOP *** [Kc Ks 7s]
Hero - Bets $18
Villain - Raises $62 to $62
Hero - Raises $136 to $154
Villain - Calls $92

With two spades on the flop I decide I very much like this flop, and make my first mistake. Since my opponent having flopped trips is so unlikely(not to mention a fullhouse), I decide that I like my hand so much I will be going to the river with it. A word to the wise: never decide such a thing. Especially don't decide it on such a dangerous board. A poker hand is dynamic, and hand decisions must be equally so.

I decide to bet small to try and elicit a bluff raise on this scary board, and my 27/24 opponent happily obliges while in position. Now I re-raise nearly $100 on top - representing a strong King - expecting all flush draws, 2 pairs and bluffs to fold pretty fast. However, I get called but instead of hearing warning bells I put my opponent on either a flush draw or 2 pair on a paired board and simply assume he's being stubborn. The pot is now around $340 and I have a nothing but a flush draw and an overcard.

*** TURN *** [Kc Ks 7s ] [Ah]
Hero - Checks
Villain - Bets $130
Hero - Calls $130

I just made top pair Ten kicker, so now I'm beating his flush draw and his 2 pairs. So I check and let him decide to bluff both of these hands. He does bet, but it is only about 1/3 of the pot. Calling here is my second mistake of the hand.

Why would he bluff such a small amount on such a scary card? There's no way he could have called the flop action with something like AQ, and I also know he doesn't have the nut flush draw, so the A does not help him. But he's still betting it, and curiously he's betting small. I should see that I'm facing at least trip Kings at this point, because he's not afraid of the Ace and he called my big re-raise on the flop after I showed huge strength. I can now see that his turn bet isn't aimed at scaring off a draw, it's aimed at getting a call from any hand or any draw. At the time though I decided however that I was 'priced in' and call with my top pair and nut flush draw.

*** RIVER *** [Kc Ks 7s Ah] [9h]
Hero - Checks
Villain - All-In $492.40
Hero - Calls $492.40

Here is my biggest monetary mistake. I check, knowing he will check behind with any Ace or hand with decent showdown value, and bluff his missed draws. There is only one real draw though - the flush - and I have the nut draw for that, taking away 2 of his outs and thus dramatically lowering the likelihood he has the same draw. He bets allin, and I ignore the fact that not only is him having a flush draw unlikely, I also discount his call on the flop where I showed such strength. I make the rookie mistake of putting him on the one possible hand I beat. So I call, and so I lose 200BB.

*** SHOW DOWN ***
Villain - Shows [7c 7d] (Full house, sevens full of kings)
Hero - Mucks
Villain Collects $1585.30 from main pot

I was surprised he raised the flop with the nuts, but this was deep $3/$6, and he saw an easy way to try and get the money in early, and then I went and finished the job for him by re-raising on the flop and then calling his allin on the river. An expensive lesson for me, but a valuable one. You must re-evaluate after every new piece of information, and more importantly you always have to look at the whole picture.

This final hand is very interesting, and again shows the use of critical thinking for gaining psychological insight and improved hand reading.

$3/$6 Deep NLHE - 5 players
Seat #6 is the dealer
Seat 6 - STATIC_NINE ($681 in chips)
Seat 1 - NEO094 ($794 in chips)
Seat 2 - ADAMDALE77 ($1131.45 in chips)
Seat 3 - Hero ($1209 in chips)
Seat 4 - Villain ($1502.30 in chips) at 25.5/20.5
NEO094 - Posts small blind $3
ADAMDALE77 - Posts big blind $6
Dealt to Hero [10h 10d]
Hero - Raises $21 to $21
Villain - Calls $21
NEO094 - Folds
ADAMDALE77 - Calls $15

With 5 players at the table I get a flat call from the villain (UTG+1) and a call from the BB in response to my UTG raise. My range for opening UTG is usually most PPs and ATs+, and my opponents are mostly fairly decent thinking players, typical of the $3/$6 level.

*** FLOP *** [5c Qh Jh]
ADAMDALE77 - Checks
Hero - Bets $48
Villain - Calls $48
ADAMDALE77 - Folds

This is a nice flop for me, as it hits half of my Ax range, and also my 3 of the PPs I would raise with UTG. I decide to put pressure on the villain by betting into him here and sandwiching him between me as the preflop raiser and an opponent who could have anything. I do this as it often lends a greater degree of 'purity' to his actions, and subsequently makes my future decisions easier. Also, it gives me the best chance of getting position for the rest of the hand if he folds. From the flop onwards I'm not really playing my hand but my opponents.

I decide to bet 3/4 pot, which I would do with a number of hands on this drawy flop including 2PTK, TPTK, a set, and occasionally an OESD. The villain flat calls, which makes me think he caught a small piece of the flop, or has a strong draw (nut flush or maybe an OESD). Since he doesn't raise, I guess that he does not yet want to commit to the pot, and likely does not have a monster as he is happy to let the BB also call. If he gets checkraised by the BB he can re-evaluate in position. The BB chooses to fold however, and we see the turn HU.

*** TURN *** [5c Qh Jh] [Ad]

The Ace is a great card for me here. Sure it gives the nuts to my opponent if they were calling with KT, but this hand is unlikely since I hold 2 Tens . It doesn't help hands like TP or 2P unless they also have top kicker, or the unlikely OESDs, and only really aids the nut flush draw. If they were in fact calling with AhXh then they just improved dramatically, but will still be wary of 2 pair or a set. As I recognise that the nuts is unlikely here, I decide to try and check-raise and put pressure on my opponent who could easily be floating with a weak hand or draw.

A slow-played monster will likely push here when check-raised, as will the (unlikely) nuts, along with AhKh. I expect that a check-raise will be called with hands like AK, QJ orAhXh and will cause all weaker hands to fold. Also, since I will essentially be bluff check-raising here I make sure I have at least some outs to make the nuts on the river.

Hero - Checks
Villain - Bets $120
Hero - Raises $282 to $282

So I check, and my opponent bets nearly 3/4 pot. He knows the Ace is a scare card, and my check after having a c-bet smooth called will often mean I am giving up on the pot. However, I check raise 1.5x and now he must consider my range. He can probably discount KTs from my range as it is a little weak for me to open UTG. A set of Qs, Js and 5s are all possible, and would all be feasibly played this way. Just as likely is AQ for top 2 pair, which would neatly fit with the action so far.

Villain - Calls $162

My opponent thinks and calls, so I can now narrow his range to AK, QJ and AhXh with a fair degree of confidence, and rule out all sets, the nuts, and AhKh. Since I have already thought about what a call will indicate, I am much more confident about the hand going to the river.

*** RIVER *** [5c Qh Jh Ad] [Qd]

Well, the river doesn't give me the nuts, and I'm completely crushed by practically all of my opponents range. Luckily, I don't look like I'm on a gutshot, and my opponent has no idea I was betting and raising with an underpair. The Q pairing the board not only lessens the chance of my opponent having a Q, but (since I was representing either a set or top 2 pair) turns what my opponent thinks is my most likely range into a full house. Knowing this and also that anyone with a full house would normally bet for value on the river, I do exactly that - being careful of course not to bet too much and risk appearing like a bully. A 2/3 pot bet seems appropriate, and also if I have completely messed up my read I'm not throwing away too much money. The result is most satisfying:

Hero - Bets $480
Villain - Folds
Hero - returned ($480) : not called

Of course, I could have gotten very lucky to win the 3 hands that I did by catching my opponents on pure bluffs. I like to think however that it was more due to focussing on the action and logically reasoning about my opponents hand and also about what they thought my hand was. Either way, if you concentrate hard during a hand, try to put your opponent on a hand and also consider what they think you may have, you cannot help but become a better player.

All the best at the tables, apologies again for going dark for so long. The next post is coming soon....