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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: