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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...)