Search This Blog

Friday, December 24, 2010

Back to the blog

It's been a while since I updated this blog. Six months to be exact. So what have I been up to at the poker tables during that time? Well, the usual - bouncing around, trying different things. I did get sick of Rush poker, both cash games and tournies. I found that poker in the Rush format just became robotic and boring because you couldn't really get to know your opponents in the same way. I decided to give Limit Holdem a try for a while, so I did some reading, played some micro stakes, and it nearly caused me to slit my own throat. I was playing .10-.20 LHE and just got slaughtered. No matter how much I read about the game and thought I had a good handle on it in theory, I just couldn't figure it out in practice. There are only so many times you can lose to someone calling a raise with J7o, a bet on the flop and turn with 3rd pair, and then rivering two-pair, before you just want to jump off a building.

So then I decided I would go back to good old fashioned non-Rush cash NLHE, starting back at .02-.05 to get back in the swing of things. But after a few thousand hands I just couldn't keep it up. I have come to the conclusion that trying to make money grinding micro stakes NLHE is a lost cause if you don't have the time (or multi-tabling skills) to play a high enough volume.

And that brings me up to the present. What am I playing now? I've gone back to my first love, and my most reliable source of profit: the turbo MTT SnGs on Stars. Mostly the $1.10 45's with some $2.20 180's thrown in. Doing well, too. I play somewhere between 15 and 20 of these per week and over the past couple of weeks I've grown my Stars backroll from ~$180 to ~$215.

So now I'm going to set some new goals for myself with these tournies, but I'm going to focus on general bankroll goals as opposed to specific skill goals.

Goal 1: Play $1.10's and $2.20's until my Stars roll reaches $300.
Goal 2: Move up to the $3.25 45's
Goal 3: Finally start making some money playing poker!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My first real score!

It finally happened. I've been playing micro stakes online poker for 4 years and before this my biggest score was taking down a $3.25, 45-turbo SnG for ~$40. That was pretty exciting. But a couple of nights ago I eclipsed that excitement when I took down a $4.40, 135-man Rush SnG for a score of close to $140. What a rush!

I definitely had to get lucky to win, needing a suckout in the middle stages to stay alive along with a string of coinflips that went my way. But it also validates that maybe I do have some skill at this game. It may take a lot of luck to win a tourney, but you also can't win one without some skill and good decision making. I do feel like I played well overall, and was very happy with how successfully I was able to focus on accumulating chips and not think about holding on to my stack. I didn't even glance at the tourney info until we were down to about the top 23, close to the bubble.

Add that score to the handful of other cashes I've had in these 135-man rush tournies and I'd say I've found my new stomping ground. Onwards and upwards!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Another goal for Grade 2

While I continue with my Rush game development I've discovered another type of tourney that I really enjoy, but it has also highlighted a glaring weakness in my MTT game. It's a weakness that wasn't as evident in the 45-turbos because those are smaller MTTs that don't go through all the ebbs and flows and stages of larger MTTs.

The tourney I've discovered is the $4.40, 135-man Rush SnG on Tilt. I absolutely love them. Because of the structure, the size, and the fact that they are Rush tournies, these particular tournies have a real MTT feel about them. The major advantage of these over regular tournies is that you can cycle through crap hands much more quickly so you can really play a good amount of poker within the structure of the tourney. And the fact that it only takes an hour and a half from start to finish is great for someone like me with limited time to play poker. These SnGs are the closest thing I can get to playing a large-field MTT within my time constraints, and they are actually enjoyable to play.

So anyway, what I've come to realize about my MTT game is that I have a good feel for the early stages, and a good grasp of shortstack play, but where I really struggle is in the mid-late stages particularly when I have a healthy stack. The last thing I want to do is bust out before the bubble when I'm sitting with a top 5 or top 10 stack, so I tend to become very cautious against stacks that can hurt me. The result is that I miss out on value when I have decent hands and fail to take advantage of opportunities to potentially accumulate chips. In a fast-structured tourney, this can have a disastrous effect one's success - a healthy stack can quickly become a shortstack. So although I've gotten off to great starts several times, and have cashed a few times, I haven't been able to go really deep (my best finish has been 7th).

What I need to do is work at overcoming this psychological barrier and be willing to put my healthy stack on the line late in the tourney, even if it means the risk of busting out. What I need to do is learn to adopt the attitude that my objective in a MTT is to accumulate as many chips as possible, regardless of how healthy my stack is at any point in time. The only times that would warrant a less aggressive attitude would be at the final table and perhaps right at the bubble.

So if that's my goal, the question is how to train myself to change my mindset. What I've decided to do is to find some really cheap tournies to use as a training ground, where I can work on this aspect of my game and not feel the sting of busting out. Unfortunately there are no Rush tournies below $4.40 on Tilt, so I've decided to use the dime, 360 turbos and $1.10, 90-turbos on Stars as my training ground.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A 3-betting experiment

So there I was, playing some $1.10 45-turbos, and after busting out of the first two I decided to play a little 10NL Rush while I was finishing up my 3rd tourney. While I was playing Rush I noticed something that I had picked up on in the past but never gave it too much consideration: 3-betting seems to be very profitable. In particular, I was noticing how often people would fold to my 3-bets after raising. It was a bit frustrating because I was only 3-betting for value but never getting value from my 3-bets because the raisers seemed to always fold. Hmm, I thought to myself, I wonder just how profitable 3-betting can be in micro stakes Rush?

Time to test it out. The objective would be to 3-bet a very high percentage of the time in situations where the original raise was more likely to be a steal than a value raise and see whether I could make money doing that. The idea is to test whether a high 3-bet resteal strategy could be profitable on its own. Obviously this would never work in regular cash games because opponents would quickly pick up on my high 3-bet percentage, but Rush is the ideal environment to attempt such a strategy. To minimize the risk associated with my little experiment, I decided I would drop down to 5NL Rush and put in at least 10,000 hands before I analyzed the results.

The parameters of the experiment are as such. If the following conditions hold:
1) I'm either in one of the blinds or on the Button;
2) The original raise is an open-raise coming from a typical steal position (Button, CO, HJ, or an open-raise from the SB when I'm in the BB); and
3) The original raise is not coming from a <40BB shortstacker (more likely to be value raises);

I will 3-bet with any two cards. That's right, any two cards. My hypothesis is that this will boost my overall winrate in large part because a high percentage of the time the original raiser will fold. Of the times I do get called, I will win some pots through uncontested CB's and the times I actually hit a hand and the rest I will lose. I think the pots I win will more than make up for the pots I lose.

We'll see what happens...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why do I keep making the same mistake?

I can't seem to escape from this self-destructive pattern when it comes to poker. I inevitably get bored playing NLHE, or an irresistible bonus offer comes along, and I get pulled out of my comfort zone into games that hurt my bankroll. I've been playing Rush PLO for a little while now, experimenting with shortstack play after I got off to a rough start with playing fullstacked, and it hasn't gone well at all. I actually got off to a good start with the shortstacking, but then the variance of PLO started rearing its ugly head and I've been in a bit of a nosedive. I don't think I'm terrible at the game but I have a very hard time dealing with the variance. I start to feel uncomfortable with the game and panic at the hit to my bankroll. Since I started playing Rush PLO, I've eaten through about 13% of my Full Tilt bankroll.

So, I'm cutting my losses and hopefully this time I'll learn my lesson. No more screwing around with non-NLHE cash games until both my psyche and bankroll are at a point where I can handle the variance. I'm going to return to 10NLHE, starting with Rush again, to get back in the swing of things and recoup my PLO losses.

At least things have been going decently over at Stars with the 45 turbos. I don't have any stats to post yet, but I know I've been slightly profitable since I started playing them again. Oh, and I do still have a single Step 1 ticket left so my WSOP dream isn't quite dead yet...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

OMG, Rush PLO!!!

My poker ADHD is acting up again. Just as I had started settling back into playing the $1.10, 45-turbos I discovered that Full Tilt has been offering 6-max Rush PLO, at .05-.10 stakes. PLO has always been one of my favourite games in terms of pure enjoyment but I never had the nads to put up with the variance for a long period of time.

If you've never played PLO, the reason why the variance is so high (probably higher than any other mainstream form of poker) is that starting with 4-cards greatly increases the average value of the postflop hands when compared to Holdem. Hands like sets, flushes, straights, and full houses are far more common when you get to start with four cards rather than just two. This also means that the frequency and size of flopped draws is greatly increased. In Holdem a typical draw is an OESD or FD, with a combo straight+flush draw fairly rare. In Omaha, however, an OESD is basically worthless because 13- and 17-out straight draws are far more common. The end result is that Omaha often involves confrontations between big made hands or combo made hands plus draws and big draws, which means you're often putting money into the pot with small edges over your opposition. People who understand the nature of the game also understand that you should pretty much always be betting pot (to charge drawing hands, and to get full value from hands when you have an equity edge), which, when combined with the fact that people love to see flops in Omaha, results in much larger average pots than in NLHE.

Although the variance is high in PLO, there is big money-making potential at the micro stakes because there is a huge gap between the players who understand the game and know what they're doing, and those who don't. The same is true in NLHE, obviously, but the impact of this gap is emphasized in PLO because of the aforementioned factors. The two major mistakes that micro fish make in PLO are: (1) playing way too many hands; and (2) overvaluing marginal hands postflop (sound familiar?). What this means is that if you understand (1) hand selection strategy; (2) how the hand values differ compared to NLHE; and (3) the value of big draws, you can make money off the people who don't understand these concepts. In micro PLO most of your money will come from players who chase baby flushes and stack off to your nut flush, or get their money in postflop with Holdem hands like a bare AA overpair or straight with no redraws, or slowplay bottom set, or whatever.

So, I'm still going to be playing my 45-turbos but I am going to play around with some Rush PLO for a bit. Might also be a good way to accumulate some FTPs for my next run at the WSOP steps...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Back to tourney poker...for now

I'm still barely alive in the Steps, currently playing my last remaining ticket (Step 2). I should have been back up to Step 3 last night but I suffered a bad beat with 4 left to stay at Step 2. Anyway, while I've been playing my steps one at a time I've also been playing some $1.10, 45-turbos in the background and the combination of the two has rekindled my love for tourney poker. Right now I shudder at the thought of going back to grinding 10NL cash. Unfortunately this is a pattern of mine. I just can't stay interested in any form of poker for an extended period of time, so I tend to bounce back and forth.

So since I'm down to a single ticket and don't plan to buy more in the very near future, I figure I might as well get back into my Grade 3 studies with a focus on tourney play (in particular the 45-turbos). My hope is that eventually I'll be able to move up to the $3.25's, though with my current Stars bankroll at just about $180 it will be a while before I get there.

In any case, the one major thing I have to work on in my MTT game is taking advantages of opportunities to chip-up in the mid stages. I feel I have a pretty comfortable handle on early stage play and late stage/shortstacked play, but where I tend to falter a bit is in my ability to chip-up in the mid stages when I have a stack in the range of 12-20BB. It's about getting over the psychological block of "I have a relatively healthy stack, no need to put it at risk," thinking that prevents me from pulling the trigger on moves during this stage. One move in particular that I'd like to work on is the resteal. In the context of 45-turbos, I can't be afraid to bust out in 15th-20th to put myself in better position to finish deep.

*Edit: And I'm out of the step system. Here's the final hand:

Full Tilt No-Limit Hold'em Tournament, 50/100 Blinds (6 handed) - Full-Tilt Converter Tool from

CO (t1302)
Button (t3480)
Hero (SB) (t1848)
BB (t3145)
UTG (t2230)
MP (t1495)

Hero's M: 12.32

Preflop: Hero is SB with K♠, A♣

UTG bets t300, 3 folds, Hero raises to t1848 (All-In), 1 fold, UTG calls t1548

Flop: (t3796) 7♣, J♣, 3♣ (2 players, 1 all-in)

Turn: (t3796) 4♦ (2 players, 1 all-in)

River: (t3796) 8♥ (2 players, 1 all-in)

Total pot: t3796

Hero had K♠, A♣ (high card, Ace).
UTG had 9♥, 9♣ (one pair, nines).
Outcome: UTG won t3796

In hindsight it was a bit careless. The raiser had been a fairly tight raiser thus far in the SnG and this was the bubble, so getting it in here w/ AK when the blinds are still relatively low and the preflop pot fairly small probably wasn't worth the risk. Probably a sign that I was growing a bit tired of grinding away at the bottom steps, so a break will be a good thing. I'll probably try once more a bit later in the WSOP satty season.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stage 2 of Steps Journey: Stay Alive!

I've been at the steps for about a week now and it's been one heck of a journey. I was trucking along just fine and had accumulated several step 2 tickets, but then the deck turned cold and the tickets started to vanish. I've spent almost all my FTPs buying step 1 tickets but have managed to find myself now with one step 3 ticket and one step 2 ticket. I haven't built up the courage yet to play the step 3 with the deck being as cold as it has been, so I'm currently working on the step 2. Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stage 1 of Steps Journey: Accumulate Tickets

So here's what I've been up to in the steps department. I decided that I wanted to give myself a reasonable shot at winning a seat but I didn't want to blow my bankroll in the process, so I figured I would use some of my Full Tilt Points to purchase some step 1 tickets and play a bunch of them to hopefully accumulate a handful of step 2 tickets. Then I would buckle down and get as far as I could with those tickets without purchasing more.

I tried a few different step 1's, including the 9-man turbo STTs, 9-man super-turbos, and the 4-man HU shootouts. In terms of my skill edge over the competition, I'd probably rank them in that order too. In fact, I don't think I'm a very good HU player at all - I'm fine in HU play at the end of tournies or SnGs, when stacks tend to be much shallower, but I feel completely out of my element in deepstack HU play. I seem to have a really hard time judging relative hand strength in deepstack HU play. But I do find them fun so I figured why not play a few with some FTPs to see if I could score a ticket or two out of them.

In any case, the end result is that I now have 4 step 2 tickets to play with. Depending on how things go I might decide to use some more FTPs to purchase another couple of step 1 tickets, but right now I'm focused on seeing what I can do with these step 2's. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sabbatical: Stepping my way to the Main Event

So I've decided to take a bit of a break from my regular studies to take my shot at the step SnGs on Full Tilt in the hopes of earning a seat at the WSOP Main Event. I'm still playing some of my regular 10NL cash in the background, but my main focus is on the steps. So for the next little while I'll be chronicling my journey (hopefully) to the Main Event.

Tilt offers a wide range of steps but I decided to start with my comfort zone at Step 1, the $3.30 9-man turbos. First and second place get a ticket to Step 2, while 3rd-5th get to replay Step 1. The first attempt was a failure. I was completely card dead and ended up bubbling in 6th when I shoved 87o on the button with about 3.5BB and the fairly loose BB called off half his stack w/ QJo and busted me. He wasn't that loose by normal SnG standards, but was playing far too loosely for a step satty. The right approach in these is to play very tight and take advantage of everyone else's tightness during the middle stages by stealing some blinds.

Thankfully my second attempt was a success. I was able to cruise through the bubble thanks to a nice triple-up when I got all in w/ AA against two villains, both with JJ. That's a fantastic feeling, getting all in w/ AA against two villains and seeing them both flip over the same hand, killing a good number of their outs. I played very tight after that, coming out of my shell every now and then to raise for value (usually taking down the blinds), and then once we got to 3-way (the bubble for the step 2 ticket) the bigstack knocked out the shortie and the step 2 ticket was mine.

On to step 2!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Grade 2 Report Card

I have another 10k hands at 10NL Rush under my belt so it's time to grade myself on how I've accomplished the goals I set for myself after the first 10k hands. To review, those goals were the following:
1) Improve my stealing success
2) Improve my SB loss rate
3) Increase my postflop aggression

1) Improve my stealing success
What I discovered after my first 10k hands was that my Button steal winrate, which should be very positive, was actually -16.12 BB/100. I attributed this to problematic hand selection and poor postflop play when called. I'm happy to say things have improved dramatically. Over the last 10k hands, my Button first-in raises have resulted in a winrate of 126.07 BB/100. This has also led to a significant improvement in my overall Button winrate, which was previously lower than at several other positions. Over the last 10k hands, the Button has been my 2nd most profitable position. Although 10k hands is still a small sample (see my previous blog post on variance), the results do at least indicate that I've improved my play in this area.

2) Improve my SB loss rate
I had some serious problems in the SB over my first 10k hands. My winrate was -30 BB/100, and it should be better than -25 BB/100. I discovered that I was playing too loosely in the SB (VPIP = 14.95) and I was running into major problems when my SB steals got called. What that happened, my winrate was -47.06 BB/100. I'm happy to say that I've made improvements here too. Over the last 10k hands my SB winrate has improved significantly to -10.97 BB/100. This is no doubt unsustainable over the long term, but clearly the changes I've implemented have been for the better. I successfully tightened up a bit, bringing my VPIP down to 12.98. When I filter by steals that saw a flop, my winrate in the SB was strongly positive (though the sample is very small due to my increased selectivity with my steals).

3) Increase postflop aggression
So during my first 10k hands I had become a rather weak postflop player, with a low W$WSF (36.67), low overall AF (2.48), a big drop in my flop AF to turn AF (3.25 to 1.81), and a huge gap between my flop CB and turn CB rates (73.32 and 38.30 respectively). Here again I have made significant improvements. My W$WSF over the last 10k hands increased to 40.81, which is a much more appropriately aggressive number. I increased my overall AF to 3.28, and brought my flop and turn AF much closer together (3.62 and 3.14). Finally, I successfully closed the gap between my flop and turn CB (69.38 and 50.57). Interestingly, my WTSD has dropped to 22.24 and my W$SD has increased to 59.82, which indicates that I am going to showdown with even stronger hands than before. There are probably a number of factors at play here. First, it makes sense that my increased postflop aggressiveness has resulted in fewer hands going to showdown because I'm pushing people off hands more than before. This isn't necessarily a good thing, though, as it may mean I'm not getting full value from weaker hands. It may also be a result of running good over a small sample, so that when I do get to showdown I tend to have the winning hand more often. This is precisely what I have experienced over the last 3000 hands or so when I have been running hot: when I get the money in good before the river my hands have been consistently holding up and not getting outdrawn. It's also possible that this is an effect specifically of playing Rush because my opponents don't really know how aggressively I'm playing. As a result, they're not going to adjust by calling me down lighter, which is what would happen in normal cash games and would lead to higher WTSD and lower W$SD (except when I'm running hot, in which case the WTSD would increase but the W$SD would remain high).

Overall, the last 10k hands have been very successful. Even though my results were marginally positive for the first ~7500 hands (my graph jumped up early but then tailed off), I've felt good about the way I've been playing. I still have a lot to learn, especially about how to adjust to regular cash games, but I think I've successfully closed a number of leaks in my game and I've been playing with more confidence than ever before. My hot run over the most recent ~3000 hands isn't attributable to just luck - I haven't been sucking out on people and hitting longshot hands. I think the big differences have been: (1) the improvements I've made to my game have finally started paying off; and (2) when I have hit hands, like flopped sets for example, they've been holding up and I've been able to stack people more often. That can make a huge difference in one's winrate, compared to flopping sets and having everyone fold or getting outdrawn.

So I've aced Grade 2 and I'm ready for the next stage. Since I no longer have any Full Tilt bonuses to worry about, and my confidence is at an all-time high, it may be time to take a shot at transitioning to regular 10NL cash games. The one major adjustment I'm going to have to make is getting used to tailoring my play to my opponents and breaking free from the robotic play of Rush. I can't really develop any specific goals until I have some hands under my belt and can identify some leaks, so for the time being I'll just set myself the rather vague goal of playing well at 10NL.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Variance is a bitch

I'm just about to start the analysis of my 2nd 10k hands at 10NL Rush but before I get to that I wanted to talk a bit about variance. This will be of particular interest to beginner players who are struggling with the ups-and-downs of poker, especially if you're a low volume player like myself.

What is variance?
If you're not familiar with the concept, variance is actually a fairly complex mathematical concept that, in layperson's terms, essentially refers to divergence from the statistical average. The simplest way to explain it is to use coin-flipping as an example. We know that each flip of a coin has a 50% chance of coming up heads but we also know that if we flip a coin 10 times, we will get a range of results. Each group of 10 flips won't result in a 50/50 heads/tails split. That range of results is the variance that occurs in a small sample. Over a large enough sample, however, the range of results would narrow towards 50%.

Since poker is a game of probability, just like coin-flipping, variance is a natural part of the game. We know that pocket Aces have an 80% chance of winning against any random hand, but we also know that we will sometimes go through bad runs where we get it all in with AA and lose more often than we should. For the developing poker player there are two aspects of variance in poker that are very important to understand: (1) the simple fact that variance is a part of the game; and (2) you actually need a very large sample of hands to reduce the impact of variance and actually get a clear picture of your ability as a poker player. Understanding this can help you stay calm and avoid frustration and tilt on your poker journey.

An Illustration
To illustrate the phenomenon of variance, I'm going to show you a series of graphs from my 20k hands at 10NL Rush.

The first graph is from my first ~5000 hands:

Not surprisingly, I was getting a bit frustrated and discouraged over my first 5000 hands. I thought to myself, 5000 hands seems like a lot and I'm barely a winning player. Maybe I suck at poker. But I kept at it.

Another 5000 hands later:

Not much better overall. I went on a bit of a nice run but then dropped back and ended up only slightly ahead of where I was at 5000 hands. Am I destined to be a mediocre poker player?

Another 5000 hands:

Okay, making a bit of progress but still...not a whole lot of return on my time investment. I've played 15,000 hands and I'm still only marginally profitable, running at just over 1BB/100 hands. Maybe I should quit.

But then look what happens:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Grade 2 goals

Now that I've finished analyzing my play over my first 10k hands at 10NL Rush, I'm going to set a few goals for grade 2, the next stage in my poker education. Although my bonus period is about to end, and that was the main reason for focusing on Rush over the last little while, I'm going to continue playing it for another 10k hands because it is a good training ground. It allows me to put up good volume and develop my basic skills before working on the more advanced skills of learning to read players and apply my skills to specific player tendencies.

Goal 1: Improve my stealing, especially on the Button and in the SB
I plan to achieve this goal by continuing to improve my stealing hand selection (not just stealing with ATC when the opportunity presents itself) and by working on my postflop play. More specifically, I need to pull back when appropriate and not just keep firing bets because I raised preflop. This is particularly important in the SB where I'll be playing OOP when my steal attempt gets called.

Goal 2: Improve my SB loss rate
I plan to achieve this goal by tightening up in the SB and improving my SB stealing.

Goal 3: Increase my postflop aggression
I plan to achieve this goal by firing more 2nd bullets in the right situations and to keep value betting in the right situations. I need to cut down on how often I go into check-fold mode. I'm going to work on closing the gap between my flop and turn CB rates.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Progress report: Part 2

So I've spent some time studying my stats through my first ~10k hands of 10NL Rush and I think I've identified some definite leaks.

1) My loss rate in the SB is too high
I've read that one's loss rate in the SB should be better than -25 BB/100 and mine came out to a hare over -30 BB/100. When I dig deeper into the stats I find 2 problems. First, I've been playing too loosely in the SB in general. My VPIP in the SB during this stretch was 14.95, and when I filter by hands that I didn't raise to identify when I limped or called raises in the SB, my winrate is -8.72 BB/100. The biggest problem, however, seems to be failed steals in the SB. When I filter by steal or raise first-in, I actually have a positive winrate of 9.18 BB/100. But when I filter by steals that saw a flop to identify what happens when my steals get called, I find a winrate of -47.06 BB/100. One caveat here is that we're talking about a fairly small sample once you start filtering this deeply, but I did find one example of a problem hand in which I attempted a steal with 87s and overplayed it when it missed postflop, firing 2 bullets on a very wet board. I clearly need to be more careful about how I play failed SB steals postflop, for example giving up early if my speculative hand steals miss completely on wet flops.

2) Low W$WSF
My W$WSF stat over this stretch was only 36.67, which is definitely on the low side. It should be in the 'hood of 40. A low stat here suggests weakness postflop, usually a result of getting pushed off hands. This could be caused by playing fit-or-fold too much, which actually isn't necessarily an inappropriate strategy in Rush when you don't have reads on players to help identify floating opportunities. This is confirmed by my combined low WTSD (24.19) and high W$SD (57.60), which taken together indicate that I'm only going to showdown with strong hands. All these stats give a good picture of someone who plays weak-tight postflop poker.

However, it may also indicate that I'm not firing enough 2nd bullets and/or going into check-fold mode too often. Some other stats confirm this concern. My overall AF is on the low side at 2.48 (should be closer to 3), and my street-by-street AF drops from 3.25 on the flop to 1.81 on the turn. Another very telling stat is the difference between my flop CB rate of 73.72 and turn CB rate of 38.30. Thus, it would seem that I pull back on the turn too often and don't fire enough 2nd bullets.

3) Running into trouble with failed steals
When I first started looking at my steal stats I noticed a big problem with my Button steals. Over this stretch raising first-in from the Button resulted in a winrate of -16.12 BB/100. However, when I looked at the actual hands I discovered that this was due almost entirely to one hand w/ AKo, in which I stupidly overplayed TPTK by shove check-raising on the turn and ran into a big hand. That said, I still should have a stronger winrate on the Button even without that one hand, so there might still be a problem there. No doubt this has something to do with my aggression problems noted above, and my hand selection (which I noted in a previous post). Also relevant here is my discussion of failed SB steals in section 1 above.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Progress report: Part 1

Now that I've played my first 10,000 hands at 10NL Rush, I figure this would be a good time for a progress report. I've been focused solely on Rush while I clear my new Full Tilt bonus, so I'm putting aside my 45-turbo goals for the time being. This progress report will occur in two parts: in part 1 I'm going to review the goals I set in my earlier post and give myself a report card based on my performance. In step 2 I'm going to examine my Poker Tracker stats more closely to identify leaks and areas for improvement. I'll use this information to set my goals for the next stage of my studies.

Goal 1: 3-bet more from the Button and Blinds
When I made the goals post on Feb. 21 I was a very nitty 3-bettor. My 3-bet stats preflop were 1.28 overall, 2.63 from the Button, 1.26 from the BB and 1.72 from the SB (through 3600+ hands). In the period since that post (~6700 hands) I've increased my 3-betting frequency quite a bit, to 3.04 overall, 4.17 from the Button, 4.55 from the BB and 2.89 from the SB. Of course an important question is whether that actually makes a positive difference in my results. If I filter my stats by preflop 3-betting, I earned 227 BB/100 in a very small sample of only 15 hands in the earlier period, while I earned 282.5 BB/100 in 64 hands during the later period. The sample size is obviously way too small to draw any real conclusions about the success of my 3-betting, but I have at least accomplished my goal of increasing my 3-betting frequency (overall and on the Button and in the Blinds) without hurting my results. Since this is in Rush where I'm 3-betting without reads, I'll have to learn to become more selective about my 3-betting when I move back to regular cash NLHE (which doesn't mean 3-bet less, only tailor my 3-betting based on my reads).

Goal 2: Stop getting involved in big pots with marginal holdings
This is a tough goal to evaluate, both because it would require some deep digging into my stats to see what kinds of hands I've been playing in big pots but also because the more I learn from my fellow NLHE players in discussion fora the more I have come to appreciate that the important skill to develop is not how to avoid big pots with marginal holdings, but how to effectively and successfully play marginal spots. It is, after all, impossible to completely avoid big pots with marginal hands. That being said, I do feel that I am becoming a bit more comfortable in marginal spots, learning when to check-call, check-fold, or bet, and when to make big calls. My postflop play with marginal holdings is probably the one area of my game I need the most work on going forward.

Goal 3: Tighten up considerably in early and middle positions
Here is a comparison of my VPIP stats from various early/middle positions, pre- and post-Feb. 21:
SB - 17.12/13.79
UTG - 12.24/7.22
UTG+1 - 9.4/6.78
MP1 - 13.77/9.72
MP2 - 18.14/14.23
The change is pretty significant, having reduced my VPIP by 3-5% in all positions. I think I still have some work to do in the SB, however.

Goal 4: Stop raising in late position purely to steal or set up a continuation bet - focus more on raising with hands that have good potential to hit big and are easy to play postflop
This is another goal that might require a bit of digging in my PT stats but I do know that I have made a concerted effort to be a bit more selective about my steals. I might be able to tell something from the changes in PFR stats and BB/hand winnings. Below is a comparison of my PFR and BB/hand stats, with the pre-Feb.21 stats and analysis posted first followed by the post-Feb.21 period.

Button: 9.42/0.15
CO: 10.30/-0.02
HJ: 11.64/0.01
The PFR stats are a bit odd as they indicate a wider stealing range from HJ, getting a bit tighter toward the Button. It should really be the other way around. This may be a result of compensating for the fact that most players identify Button steals as raises more than raises from other positions, so I was already being a bit more selective about my Button steals. The BB/hand numbers indicate that my raises from Button were profitable but I was running into trouble in CO and HJ. Now for the post-Feb.21 stats:

Button: 12.75/-0.01
CO: 12.31/0.26
HJ: 16.20/0.31
Well this is interesting. My LP raising game has opened up considerably, most notably on the Button and in the HJ. This isn't exactly consistent with the goal of being more selective with my steals. The $ results show that my performance on the Button has diminished considerably, so there is clearly a problem there. However, I've become quite profitable on my LP raises in the CO and HJ positions. Without looking deeper into the stats it's hard to tell whether the profitability is due to taking down more pots preflop with the higher steal rate, or improved postflop play. Clearly there is some more analysis needed with respect to my LP raises, especially the Button issue.
GRADE: C+ (though this one is hard to judge)

In Part 2 of my progress report I'm going to delve deeper into some of my stats to further understand some of the above issues and to identify other leaks as well.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reasoning through a hand

So here's a hand I'm particularly proud of from the end of last night's 10NL Rush session (I moved back up to 10NL while I clear a new bonus). The hand isn't the most exciting hand in the world but I am proud of how I reasoned through it. That's actually one of my weaknesses as a poker player. I have a terrible habit of playing hands almost reflexively, until I run into a tough decision - and then I start to think back through the hand to put my opponent on a range. That's not the most effective way to make poker decisions. What I have to work on is thinking through the hand at each step along the way, so that I'm prepared when the big decision comes my way. I felt I did that pretty well in this hand, which is why I'm posting it. After the hand I discuss my reasoning process.

Full Tilt No-Limit Hold'em, $0.10 BB (9 handed) - Full-Tilt Converter Tool from

Button ($8.92)
SB ($16.42)
BB ($5.58)
UTG ($16.88)
UTG+1 ($10.94)
MP1 ($3.65)
MP2 ($5.77)
Hero (MP3) ($10.24)
CO ($11.46)

Preflop: Hero is MP3 with K, K
4 folds, Hero bets $0.30, 1 fold, Button raises to $0.90, 2 folds, Hero calls $0.60

Flop: ($1.95) 6, A, 8 (2 players)
Hero checks, Button bets $1.20, Hero calls $1.20

Turn: ($4.35) 5 (2 players)
Hero checks, Button checks

River: ($4.35) 9 (2 players)
Hero bets $1.80, Button calls $1.80

Total pot: $7.95 | Rake: $0.53

Reasoning process

Preflop: Standard raise w/ KK. Villain 3-bets from the Button, so what is his range? 3-bets at regular 10NL are rare but in Rush they are much more common. The fact that his 3-bet is from the Button against my raise from the Hijack means his range is fairly wide for a 3-bet. In regular 10NL a 3-bet is usually AA/KK/AK, absent a read to the contrary, with QQ sometimes thrown in. In this situation we can safely include QQ, JJ, perhaps TT, maybe even as low as 99. Possibly also hands like AQs, but 10NL players who are willing to 3-bet aren't usually as comfortable 3-betting overcards besides AK as they are 3-betting pairs and speculative hands. I'd even go lower on his PP range here before I included hands like AQ/AJ. So I decide to call the 3-bet since a 4-bet is likely to fold out much of the weaker part of his range, while getting 5-bet from AA.

Flop: Raising KK and seeing an Ace fall on the flop is incredibly frustrating, and now I'm out of position against the 3-bettor. If I CB here and get raised, what then? This is clearly a way ahead/way behind situation: I'm either way behind a pair of Aces or a set, or way ahead of the rest of his range. So I opt to check to see what he does and he fires a ~2/3 pot bet. Decision time. I realized that his preflop 3-bet actually helps me in this situation because his range is far more narrow than if he had just flat-called. The Ace on the flop reduces the odds of him holding AA, and the fact that I have KK also greatly reduces the combinations of AK he could be holding. It's possible he could have AQ but there are actually more hands in his range that I beat here: QQ, JJ, TT, and 99. So I opt to call, planning to check again on the turn to see if he fires again.

Turn: Turn is a trash card and I check. He opts to check behind, which is a big show of weakness. If he had flopped a big hand, such as a set, why would he bet 2/3 pot on the flop but pull back on the turn? Most players in that situation would slowplay the flop, or bet smaller to entice a call. Similarly, why would he check behind with AK or AQ after firing the flop? Sure, he could be trying to entice me to bet the river (I often do that myself), but isn't it more likely he has one of his lower pairs and has been scared by my flop call?

River: River bets are actually one of the weaker parts of my game but I felt confident about this one. One of the golden rules of betting is that if your bet will only fold weaker hands but get called/raised by better hands, there is no point in betting. So why did I bet this river, and why so small? Based on my reasoning process thus far, I felt he had a hand with value but one that he didn't feel all that confident about with the Ace on the board and my play thus far. So I wasn't too concerned about getting raised but I knew he would also have a tough time folding one of his better pairs (QQ, JJ, even TT). I didn't want to bet too large, because a large bet might just fold out these hands.

Result: Villain flipped over TT.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Looking at hands in the light of day

An important part of becoming a better poker player is having the willingness and openness to look back critically at hands you've played and see if there is anything you should have done differently. The most obvious time to do this is when you've lost a big pot. One of the great things about playing poker on the internet is that you have at your disposal both the technology and the audience to enable you to get almost instant feedback from other poker players on a hand you've played.

I did this with hand 3 from my terrible Rush session last night, the hand where I called all in on the turn w/ TPTK and lost to a turned nut flush. I converted the hand using the Flop Turn River hand converter ( and posted it for discussion in my two favourite discussion forums, Full Contact Poker ( and 2+2 ( What I came to realize thanks to the feedback on the hand was that my call in that hand was stupid. My thought process at the time was, "There are lots of hands besides the flush he could have," but completely overlooked the fact that many of the other hands in his likely range also had me beat: QQ-AA, 33, KQ, AK with a diamond. The reality is that there were very few hands he would play that way that I beat (since I had no read to suggest he was a laggy maniac).

This brings me to an interesting article I came across today when looking on the internet for articles on poker psychology: Smith G, Levere M and Kurtzman R (2009). Poker player behavior after big wins and big losses. Management Science 55(9): 1547-1555. In the article the authors examined millions of hands from three levels of NLHE cash play online: 50NL, 200NL, and 1000NL (if I recall correctly). Their conclusion was that at all levels of play, single large pots lost had a significant impact on the players, causing them to become both looser and more aggressive immediately following the loss. The theory supporting this finding is called the "break-even" model, whereby when gamblers suffer a big loss they adopt a strategy designed to get them back to even as quickly as possible. In poker this translates to playing more hands in the hopes of getting lucky and flopping big, and getting more aggressive in the hopes of pushing opponents off pots. This is likely a key component of what we know as "tilt" in poker.

Although I wasn't playing loosely in that particular hand, it is certainly possible that I subconsciously slipped into break-even thinking after getting stacked on the previous two unlucky hands. Instead of slowing down, thinking through the hand carefully, and making a difficult but disciplined decision to fold to the turn push, I rushed (no pun intended) into making a bad call. The result speaks for itself.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Maybe I should stay away from Rush altogether...

Time for my first venting post. I two-tabled 5NL Rush tonight and got slaughtered. Got stacked three times tonight, which has never happened to me playing cash NLHE. Here's the breakdown:

Hand 1:
Doing fine, up half a buy-in on one table. Call a raise w/ 88, flop a set, get villain in on the flop (he had me covered). He flips over KK (perfect) and of course turns one of his two K outs.

Hand 2:
Limp behind several w/ 66, flop comes Q44. Checked around, turn is a 6 (perfect). A bit of money goes in on the turn and then the rest goes in on a river 2. Villain flips over QQ for the limped big pair and slowplayed flopped overfull. Nice.

Hand 3:
Call a raise w/ AK in position, we go to the flop heads-up. Flop comes KQ6 with 2 diamonds (I have none). Raiser CB's pot, I call w/ TPTK, turn is a 3rd diamond. Raiser pushes. Since there is plenty in his range besides a flush I make the call for the rest of my stack. He turns over A7dd. This is the only hand I possibly could have played differently. Are there enough hands in his range on the turn besides ones that beat me, or am I rationalizing a bad decision?

On the bright side, I earned $1.26 toward my new FullTilt bonus offer!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Grade 1 poker goals

So what do I need to do to pass Grade 1? Quite simply, I need to be profitable at both my games ($1.10 45-turbos and 5NL Rush) over an acceptable sample to graduate to the next grade. More specifically, I need to increase my Stars bankroll so that I can afford to play the next level of 45-turbos ($3.25). In order to do that I need to work on a few aspects of my game.

For the 45-turbos I have one main goal:
  1. Pull the trigger on late stage pushes more often. Tourney poker, especially MTTs, requires the willingness to put your stack on the line in some pretty marginal spots. Even when you have a stack that seems somewhat healthy, sitting back on your laurels can result in getting blinded down and ending up desperately short. The most important time to pull the trigger in 45-turbos is when you get down to 12-15 players, where a key double-up can put you in great shape going into the final table.
At this point that's the one identifiable weakness of my tourney game. I'm doing pretty well in the 45-turbos and feel pretty comfortable with my MTT game at this level.

As for 5NL Rush, I have a few goals as I'm not in the zone at all when it comes to this game:
  1. 3-bet more often from the Button and blinds
  2. Stop getting involved in big pots with marginal holdings
  3. Tighten up considerably in early and middle positions
  4. Stop raising in late position purely to steal or set up a continuation bet - focus more on raising with hands that have good potential to hit big and are easy to play postflop
Why these goals? Several of them stem from the fact that Rush poker is in general a much taggier game than regular NLHE. The ability to quick-fold weak hands and immediately be dealt another hand means that players can afford to be more patient and throw away weak hands. That means when players enter a pot they are likely to have a stronger hand than you would typically see in micro stakes, which results in less open-limping and more open-raising. I have found that many players have picked up on this and try to take advantage of it by stealing frequently in late position. An effective way to combat late position steals is to 3-bet, particularly with speculative hands that can flop big and are easy to play postflop (like small pairs and small suited connectors). However, many players have also picked up on this strategy, meaning that your steals are more likely to face a 3-bet from the Button or blinds - much more likely than in regular micro NLHE, where 3-bets are quite rare. Thus the rationale for goal 4.

As for goal 2 (and 4 as well), the great thing about Rush poker is that because you see so many more hands in a session than you do playing regular NLHE, you can afford to be patient. You simply don't have to get mixed up in pots with marginal holdings - you can pick your spots and wait for more situations that are more clearly +ev.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What have I been playing during Kindergarden?

My first two years of online poker have been an interesting journey. I started with a deposit of ~$170 US (I'm Canadian, and my initial deposit was $200 CDN - my how the exchange rate has changed) on PokerStars, and decided to start out grinding the $1.20 NLHE SnGs. I tried a bit of cash NLHE but felt more comfortable playing tourney poker. So I grinded those for a while, made a bit of money (despite the ridiculous 20% rake), and then got bored. So I tried some other games, like Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo. Didn't do very well and moved back to SnGs. Took a crack at the $5.50's but it was such a jump from $1.20 that I didn't feel comfortable, so I moved back down. Then I discovered turbo SnGs and tried playing some of the MTT versions. I did pretty well at the $1.10 45-turbos but found them mind-numbing after a while.

Eventually I decided to move some money over to FullTilt to clear bonus and get rakeback. Trying to clear bonus when you're a micro stakes player is a fool's game. I tried a bunch of different games at higher stakes (the only way to really clear bonus) and even though I cleared about $80 in bonus, I ended up breaking even by losing so much at the tables. So there I was with my small bankroll split between two poker sites.

To make a long story short, I bounced around quite a bit, in part because I tend to get bored focusing on a single game. And it's really hurt my development. I think it's important as a new player to find a game and really work at learning that game. Only after you've become comfortable (and profitable) at that game should you start learning others. Anyway, I recently settled into two games and have decided to focus my efforts there:
1) 45-turbo SnGs on Stars, starting again at $1.10
2) Micro stakes Rush NLHE on Tilt (have been playing .05/.10, but I think I'll drop down to .02-.05 for a bit now that they have those tables)

I'm focusing primarily on the 45-turbos because those seem to be my reliable money-maker, with some Rush thrown in for variety. I am still more comfortable in tourney poker but I want to develop my cash game. I like the new Rush Poker on Tilt for a few reasons: 1) since I don't have much time to play, it allows me to play greater volume in a brief session; 2) rakeback is fantastic; 3) it's a good training ground for developing my basic cash game skills.

In the next post I'll start setting my goals for Grade 1.

Starting my studies


I'm a somewhat ordinary, average guy. I'm in my mid-30's, I work full time, I'm married with two young children, and my hobby is online poker. I don't aspire to be a professional poker player, nor do I have unrealistic aspirations to win the WSOP Main Event (though I would love to play in it some day). I simply enjoy the game and would like to get better at it. My goal is to eventually be able to rely on poker as a way to supplement my half-decent income with a little extra spending money. If you're in a similar boat, or maybe you do aspire to be a pro or semi-pro player but are just starting out playing online, then this blog might be of interest to you.

The purpose is to chronicle my journey to obtain my poker PhD. What do I mean by that? Many poker players like to set goals for themselves to help them develop their skills. I decided an interesting way to do this might be to imagine myself working my way through poker "school," all the way up from the early grades, through high school, university, and eventually to my "PhD." I will set goals for myself and grade myself on how well I achieve my goals, moving up grades when I feel I've accomplished my goals and I'm ready to move on to the next level.

First I need to establish my starting point. I have been playing online for a couple of years now, probably putting in an average of maybe 6-8 hours per week. So why am I starting this journey now? Well, I feel like I've been floundering. I've made some progress along the way - I've made a bit of profit, I've never had to reload, and I have moved beyond the penny tables. But not much beyond. So I thought this process might help me move forward. Along the way we'll discuss strategy, stats, different games, and various other topics.

I would probably put myself around Grade 1 to start. I'm not a newbie, and I do think I have some basic skills, so I'm not a kindergardener. But I don't want to give myself too much credit. So let's start the journey in Grade 1.

(To be continued...)