Sunday, August 4, 2013

Missing Value in MTT's

Last night was the latest installment of the monthly home league MTT (usually 35-45 players) that I've been doing fairly well in so far this year.  Going in to this month I had final tabled 6 out of the past 7 months with 3 cashes, including one win.  Despite having a very cold run of cards in the middle stages last night, I managed to finish 4th out of 36 players, making it 7/8 final tables and 4/8 cashes.  Not too shabby I guess, and this most recent finish should hopefully put me atop the leaderboard in points (which determine starting stacks for the final championship freeroll).

I still left this tournament mulling over a few hands.  The bustout hand was a no-brainer, though it did sting a little - with blinds at 4k/8k I shoved from the SB over a 20k button raise to 55k or so.  My AKo out-flopped his A2s, but a deuce on the turn ended my run.  The hands that I picked out for analysis are two main spots where I felt I missed a bet and did not get full value out of my hand on the river.  These were not spots where a big chunk of my stack were on the line, but when you think about the big picture of MTT play, little spots like these make a big difference in how you run.

Hand #1: AQo in a TPTK situation
2nd level of the tournament, blinds at 50/100 with 15k effective stacks.  There are 2 loose-passive limpers in front of me and I limp along with AQo in middle position.  Terrible player and complainer - we'll call him Mr. C - on my left joins in and so do the blinds.  5-way flop comes out Q65 rainbow.  Checks to me and I bet 225, hoping I'm in fairly good shape and didn't end up letting suckout hands in by only limping in.  I like my hand, but am willing to let it go in this spot if I get significant return fire.  Only Mr. C calls and the flop comes out a 2.  I lead again for 450 this time, Mr. C calls.  River is a 3, no flush draw on the board now of Q6532.  I figured Mr. C for a Queen here.  If he had better I would have likely heard about it before the river.  Q2, Q3, Q4, Q5, and Q6 are all within his range, as he is really bad, but more likely are probably hands like KQ, QJ, QT, or possibly also 87.  Chances are I'm still ahead by the river and that Mr. C has a hand he is going to call a decent sized bet with.  A bet of somewhere in the range of 800-1000 would've most likely gotten called.  Of course I didn't do that - I checked it down with him and my AQo was good against his KQs.

Perhaps it was an unconscious habit of usually getting 2 streets of value with TPTK hands and looking to check-call the river, as I might do in a cash game, that kept me from value betting the river.  In hindsight I think it was clear that I missed an easy bet here that cost me maybe 1k or so in chips.  On a wetter board, such as QJ949, I wouldn't be suggesting this.  Q6532 may look wet to some, and in some situations could be considered as such, but given the action I think Mr. C's range is mostly Queen-heavy.

Hand #2: 2nd pair against open-faced player
Much later on, we're down to 12 players or so with blinds at 1k/2k (can't remember what they were but there were antes as well).  6-handed and our villain, an older lady who tends to play her hands very face-up (min-raises pre with top pairs, 2 face cards, and big aces, then insta-shoves any stack size with TP and anything better), min-raises to 4k.  I'm in the BB with KQo and about 30k.  I contemplating re-raising or shoving, but the old lady has called down light before with hands like A5o, and I'm not looking to get it in as a slight dog.  I just flat call and decide to see a flop first.

The flop comes out AQ6 with two hearts.  I check and the old lady checks back.  This is a clear sign to me that she does not have an Ace, and probably not a Queen or flush draw either.  The turn is an off-suit 7.  I lead out for 2500 and she calls.  The river is another 6.  I check and she checks back, I show the Queen and she mucks, taking a harder look at the board as if she had no idea a Queen was out there.  My guess is that she had a middle pair like 88 - JJ and might have called a small-medium bet on the river.  I would have been very surprised if I was not ahead in this specific spot against this specific opponent, and although she might have folded to any river bet, I once again missed a clear spot to get value.

These may seem like minor missteps or missed opportunities, but think about it in this scenario.  Say you missed this extra value and find yourself short-stacked later on with a 15k stack.  You then go on a good run and double up twice through bigger stacks, putting your at 60k.

Now let's say that everything else is the same in our scenario, except that you picked up that extra value earlier on and were short-stacked at 20k instead of 15k.  Again you double up twice and work up to 80k instead of the 60k in our first scenario.  Those few extra chips that we missed in earlier stages can become compounded in their value later on when it really matters.  The extra 20k here could make the difference in whether or not we gamble with knocking out a short stack, how aggressive we can be in attacking the blinds, and whether or not we have to put our tournament life on the line in certain spots.

The key here is knowing your opponents, being able to read and analyze the board texture, and sizing your value bets precisely.  Look for the small leaks in your tournament play and the big picture of how you finish in the long run should hopefully begin to reveal itself.

Monday, July 29, 2013

MTT Survival Instincts, Part II

In my last post I revisited an early live tournament spot in which I may have shown a lack of survival instincts.  As a result of ignoring some obvious (in retrospect) warning signs I put my stack in way behind and was knocked out in last place.  This time around I'm going to share two hands from another tournament in which my poker senses were a bit more in tune and I was able to stay alive and look for a better spot.

This tournament took place two weeks after the whole KK vs. AA debacle, so I had plenty of time to mull over the previous knockout and rethink my strategy going in.  The tournament in question is part of another monthly league game that I play in less frequently, and it has a very quick blind structure with much fishier players that make it mostly a shove-or-fold game in the middle and late stages.  I generally look for good spots to see cheap flops early on, raise big with big hands, and try not to waste chips on c-bets with air.  It's the type of game where you can put half your stack in with an AK pre-flop raise and flop c-bet, only to be called down with the old guy with bottom pair.

There are two spots I found myself in fairly early that I felt were pretty crucial.  Each player starts with 2k in chips with blinds at 10/20, 15/30, 20/40, etc. for 20 minutes at each early level.  Once we get to the 50/100 level things really move quick (low M stacks), particularly since the levels drop to 15 minutes each.  Both of these hands took place during the third level with blinds at 20/40 with effective stacks of a little over 2k.

Hand #1: Questionable AK spot
A loose-passive fishy player limps for 40 in EP, Hero has AKo in MP and raises to 90 (pre-flop raises are kind of rare in this game, with mostly loose-passive pre-flop responses to even smallish raises).  Button player, who is fairly solid but can be a bit aggro at times, calls, SB and BB fold, EP fish calls and we take a 3-way flop.

The flop comes KQJ with two hearts (I have no hearts).  EP immediately leads out with a bet of 200 into a pot of 330.  Hero goes into a shallow tank to think about what could be a very critical spot...

First thought - what is villain representing?  There are definitely hands I should be worried about.  KQ, KJ, AT, and T9 all have me in bad shape, while there are all sorts of draws out there that top pair with a gutshot (my hand) will not fair great against.  Also hands like KT, QT, and JT are possible threats, while if my gutshot comes through there's no guarantee that I won't end up chopping.  Of course I still also have the Button player behind me to worry about.

If I call here, I'm giving a free card to any draws and basically hoping for mercy on further streets to get to a cheap  showdown.  A bet of 200 is about 10% of my stack, and on later streets I could end up in decision for half or more of my increasingly important chips.  Calling could also present the Button player with an ideal squeeze spot, which would make matters even worse.

If I raise, I'm essentially putting a large chunk of my stack at risk in order to get some expensive information.  I'm not sure I'll be thrilled about a call, and I might have to rethink my hand's strength against a shove.  Even if I raise to 500 and only get a call from EP, my next move would likely be for all my chips.

Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to give up TPTK, something I would probably rarely do in this spot in an online SNG, and wait for a better spot to put my chips at risk.  A fold might seem super weak here, but it only cost me 90 chips, and I can avoid being the guy who overplayed AK in a situation like this.

After I fold, Button calls EP's flop bet, and EP and Button end up checking it down.  EP's K2s ends up holding up against Button's 87s heart draw.  Turns out I was good all along, and a raise on the flop might have scared away both opponents.  Oh well, next hand.

Hand #2: Trip Kings no good?
A few hands later in the tournament, still with blinds at 20/40 and effective stacks around 2k.  Two players limp in, I complete in the SB with Kh6h and the BB checks.  The flop comes out KK8 rainbow and I decide to lead for 120 into the pot of 160.  The BB makes it 240, it folds back around to me and I decide to just call.  The turn is a Q, I check to the BB and he bets out 500 with about 1250 behind.

My read on the BB player was limited to the half hour or so that he'd been on my left, but thus far I had him seen him pretty much fold every hand.  He did not seem like the type of player that would be getting out of line here with anything other than a King or possibly 88.  He was in the BB and he checked his option, so AK is probably less likely, but everything from K2 to KQ is in his range.  I'd peg KQ as less likely given his large turn bet - it doesn't feel like he's trying to get extra value out of a made boat.  So here's the range that I'm legitimately concerned about:

88 - currently ahead and drawing to 6 outs (K, Q, or 6)
KJ, KT, K9 - currently ahead of me and drawing to either a chop or a 2-outer (6)
K8 - crushing me, drawing to 5-out chop (Q or 8)
K7, K6, K5, K4, K3, K2 - currently chopping, save a sick 3-outer on the river

Throw in AK and KQ just for good measure, and I figured I'm at best chopping, but most likely drawing very thin with one card to come.  If I call 500 on the turn I can only assume that BB is shoving the rest in on the river, and the sizing of the turn bet gives me little faith in having any fold equity.  With only 280 invested at this point and the blinds still relatively small I decided this was not a great spot to get it in.  I made a very nitty fold and lived on to fight another day.

After folding the BB player asked me if I folded an 8.  I told him I actually folded a King and he did acknowledge that he had one as well - KJ he claimed.  Oh well, next hand.

After making it through those iffy spots, things really picked up.  I chipped up a fair amount but was once again a little below average when we got down to the final table.  Luckily I picked up big hands, ran my big shoves into terrible calls (AK into A6, KK into JT, etc.) and went into heads-up play with a 2-1 chip lead.  A few hands later it was all over and I was the last one standing.

This is another deep run that I've had recently that, upon reflection, highlights the importance of making keen decisions early on.  Of course I've had my share of early bustouts that made me more aware of surviving the preliminary stages of tournaments.  There are definitely arguments to be made for different styles of play - some folks may prefer to gamble more early on to build a big stack.  When I played online it was a lot easier to take this approach since you could always fire up another game, but in live tournaments I suppose I like to make each trip worthwhile.

Friday, May 24, 2013

MTT Survival Instincts, Part I

I've played in a fair share of MTT's so far this year - definitely more so than at this point last year - and have been fairly satisfied with the results.  If you've been reading previous posts you should already know that I managed to final table four out of four of the local monthly league tournament that I play in, including one win and another cash.  These generally get 40-45 players - not bad for a friendly home game.  You might also be wondering what happened this past month and whether or not I'm still towards the top of the leaderboard.

Unfortunately a fifth final table was not in the cards in May.  Not only that, but I actually busted first, and believe me, it's been a hand that's perturbed me ever since.  Here's how it went down:

Level 4, blinds at 100/200.  Hero is off to a slow start and had to give up on a failed steal attempt or two, now sitting on about 13.5k or so from a 15k starting stack.  UTG, a fairly bad and straightforward player limps in, UTG+1 folds, Hero looks down at KK, and raises to 700.  A player on the button, who I have not played very often with but seems to be more on the loose-passive side so far, makes it 1400 to go.  It folds back around to me and I decide to raise to 3700, expecting either a reluctant fold or loose call.  Instead our villain ships it for what turned out to be only T25 less than my stack.  I make the call without much thought, find myself up against AA, fail to improve and am out.

At the time I thought nothing of getting my chips in preflop with the 2nd best starting hand, and I'm not sure I've ever been in a situation yet where I've folded Kings preflop (though most of my experience is at lower limits where doing so would be highly -EV without any sort of soul read).  In retrospect of course, my decision seems rushed, and there may have been a small chance that I could have laid down the 2nd best hand and lived to fight on another day, despite being a below average stack.  I didn't go through this at the time, only for a long time afterwards, but my thought process likely would have gone as follows:

Okay, I have the 2nd best starting hand, one I normally don't mind getting all-in preflop with.  What about my opponent though?  He seems somewhat loose-passive... has played a fair number of hands, including calling a number of raises, but has only raised preflop once himself - it was a min-raise - and he ended up showing AK.  I have a tight-aggressive image, which he may or may not be aware of, and have made a substantial early position raise, which he 3-bet the minimum amount.  He has position and he seems to want a call.  What is his likely range here?  He would probably just call with a hand like TT, JJ, or AQ, particularly this early on.  QQ+ or AK is more likely, though KK would be rare, and we'll also remove some of the AK combos since I have two Kings myself.  I don't have enough information to find a fold yet, but I also don't want to call and play this out of position.  A substantial raise should give me the info I need, and my opponent might opt to fold or call with hands like QQ, AK, or less.  If he shoves he could still have these hands, but more likely better.  What he does and how he does it could also give me more information to determine my next course of action.

After I raise and my opponent quickly announces all-in, I remember my guts being a little unsettled.  Unfortunately I didn't listen to my gut and I didn't rely on my tournament survival instincts.  Instead I acted on the general rule of thumb that with Aces or Kings you should always be fairly happy to get your whole stack in preflop, particularly in this sort of game.  My snap call was almost unconscious and involuntary, like a reflex that I'd rehearsed thousands of times before.

After going back and forth over this hand countless times in my head, I'm actually glad that it occurred.  Sure busting out in last place and getting nearly nothing towards my overall league points sucked, but it was a vital lesson in the importance of tournament survival instincts.  In Part II of this post I'll continue in showing how this hand enhanced my instincts in the most recent tournament I played - and happened to win - which is part of another league that I play less frequently.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tough KK Spot in Monthly League Tournament

Last night was the 4th monthly league tournament that I play in, and I'm happy to say that I final tabled for the 4th month in a row, though I busted in 9th out of 41 (pays top 5) and am not too happy about a few hands I played.  Before I get into any of the specifics I should note that the host decided to put a $20 bounty (buy-in is $50) on my head this month since 1) I've been running pretty hot, and 2) I knocked him out last month.  I went into this month's game expecting to get a bit more action than usual, especially in situations where my tournament life (and the $20 bounty) are on the line.  Because of this I was probably a bit more cautious with some of my marginal hands in spots where I might otherwise 3-bet or shove.  Early on in the game I found myself in one such situation where, in a different format, I probably would have played the hand much differently.  I've been going over it a fair amount and am still not sure what the best end decision should have been:

Background: It's early on in level 2 of the tournament, only one or two players have been knocked out thus far, and the very first player gets the chance to rebuy, which he did (and he currently sits on my left).  Villain made most of his chips from knocking out said rebought player on my left, KK > 88 all-in pre-flop where "el busto" made an interesting snap-call of Villain's shove... needless to say his second buy-in did not last long either.  Since building up a nice double-stack Villain has been running pretty hot and picking up other pots.  He's usually plays a fairly loose-aggressive game and seems even more active at the moment playing the big stack role well at an otherwise fairly passive 8-handed table.

Hero has chipped up a bit and has about 17k (15k starting stacks)
Villain dominates the table with about 35-40k
UTG+1 probably had about 10-12k at the time

Blinds are 50/100
UTG+1 raises to 300
Villain calls 300 on button
Folds to Hero in BB with KsKh, who raises to 1100
UTG+1 calls
Villain calls
Pot is 3350

Flop comes 9s8s2s
Hero bets 2250
UTG+1 folds
Villain announces all-in

Hero goes deep into the tank and eventually...

... folds... sadly and gently flicking his cards into the muck.

Villain says "I think you made a bad fold" and shows TT with the Ts.  So yes, it turns out I was more than a 90% favorite and did make a bad fold in this spot.  Actually what I think was worse was leading the flop instead of going for the check-raise and being able to apply the pressure myself, rather than being the one facing the pressure.  Once I bet the flop I should have realized that I was taking a step towards building a big pot with a big hand, and I should have welcomed Villain's assistance in building the pot for me, even if I had far from the nuts.  I got what I wanted but ended up shying away from it, and I'm not sure if my fold is justifiable given the thoughts that went through my head at the time:

1) If I call and win, I'll be well above average and the big stack at the table.  But if I call and lose, I'll be out in almost last place, accrue very few points towards my total league standing, and will probably have to wait another hour until the cash game table gets going.  Plus I'll have to give the $20 bounty to Villain and let's just say that some folks would be mad at me for letting him of all people bust me out.

2) If I fold, I still have about 14k in chips.  It's still very early and I have plenty of time to find better spots to chip up.  This is not exactly where I want to put my tournament life on the line.

3) Let's think about hand ranges for Villain.  He knows I'm pretty tight-aggressive and am representing a big hand here.  His shove then has an added element of strength to it and I don't think he's super light here, as he sometimes can be.  Worst case scenarios are 99, 88, and 22 for sets, all of which would make sense given his entire line from pre-flop on.  Also pretty bad for me are hands like A9, A8, AJ, AT, with the Ace of spades where I am only slightly ahead and would be hoping to dodge any spade, Ace, or runner-runner type hands. Also not out of Villain's realm of possibilities here are hands like 98-suited and maybe even baby flushes with hands like 6s5s.

In pretty much every scenario that went through my mind I could not see myself being a big favorite, and thus I chose to live on and fight another day.  I was honestly very surprised to see TT, since I figured he's 3-betting pre-flop in position there with Tens and higher.  I pretty much took out hands like TTs, JJs, QQs, as well as Ax-suited spade hands that he would be more likely to flat and slow-play.

If it were later in the tournament, or it was a tournament where I wasn't concerned about points, I'd have to say that I snap-call Villain here every time.  My hand was definitely big enough to stack off with in many other tournament situations, but I just did not like it a lot in this specific moment.  It's hard to look at it in retrospect after he showed his hand and be happy with the decision - it's definitely been on my mind as you can tell - but sometimes good poker demands making bad folds, and I think this might be an example of that principle.  Maybe not, and I'm just a super-nit, but who knows.

Regardless of what happens in poker you have to put it behind you and move on to the next hand.  The gal on my right asked me right after if I was steaming at all or about to go on tilt.  Before I could answer the Villain said all that needed to be said - "he's fine, he doesn't tilt."  Damn straight :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Monthly Tournament League Update

5th out of 41.  1st out of 45.  7th out of 44.  We are three months in to the tournament league now and I've managed 3 final tables and 2 cashes, the aforementioned 7th place finish from last night being the only non-cash.  Generally the final 6 players pitch in $10 each (tourney buy-in is $50) to go towards the bubble boy in 6th place, so I guess finishing in 7th makes me the double-bubble boy, and also $50 less rich.

Last night's tournament also had a key structure change - the addition of antes starting at level 5, which the host implemented to help speed the game up.  The previous month's tournament, which I won, took us to 2:30 in the morning.  Last night I busted out around 1:30 with 6 players remaining, so I'm not too certain just how much this changed the length of the game.  It did however make being completely card dead for the last hour or so extremely painful as my average stack of 55k or so dwindled down to only a few big blinds as the blinds went from 2k/4k/500 (ante) to 3k/6k/500 then 4k/8k/1k.  Ouch!  There were no decent cards coming to do anything with, and not even a good spot to squeeze or steal blinds.  It was a whimper of a finish when I had to open shove my J4s into the big blind, who called with A6o and dealt the final blow.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with my play, and I certainly can't complain about going 3 for 3 now with final tables.  I'm kind of hoping the host changes the structure back and gets rid of the antes though.  Not just because I can be a nitty player and like to conserve chips in the mid-late stages when I'm not catching cards, but because it did not seem to make that much of a difference in the length of the game.  Mostly, it seems to just make the final stages of the tournament, when maximizing your payout is critical, all about who catches cards and gets lucky.  Personally, I prefer the challenge of deeper stacks going at it rather than the majority of players at a table being in shove-or-fold mode.  I guess we'll see what happens next month.  Whatever the structure is though, let's hope I can keep the big finishes coming and stay on top of the leaderboard.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Taking One Down

One of the best feelings ever has to be entering a tournament and never experiencing the blow to the gut of being knocked out - taking it all the way to the end for the win.  As someone who used to run track in high school and college, I can only explain it as the same feeling as winning a race.  And just like with a race, the tougher the victory comes, the greater the sensation of pulling out the win.

This past Saturday I kept the run-good going in the monthly home game league tournament that I play in, finishing first after a heads-up chop was decided on in the wee hours of Sunday morning.  If you remember, last month I finished 5th out of 42 or so, and this month I was hoping to better most of the 45 other runners for at least another final table finish.  A big part of the league is accruing points each month, based on your finish and number of knockouts scored, and I have my sights set on building up a monster stack to start the big finale with at the end of the year.

Early on in the tournament things were not looking so great.  I was up a little, down a little, back up a little, etc.  The cards were pretty cold for the most part, so I had to make a few sneaky moves just to pick up a few blinds and small pots.  With players not dropping so fast and the blinds putting more and more pressure on the smaller stacks, I knew I was going to have to make some more aggressive plays to stay afloat.  After my first seat change I found my first big double up - all-in shove on the turn with top pair and a flush draw, snap called by an old guy with bottom pair and no draw.  I haven't played against this guy too much but apparently he's quite the calling station; so much so that bottom pair merits a snap call I suppose.

The next few hours were filled with pretty solid play, a fair amount of help from safe flops, and an AK vs. 88 coinflip win.  Before you knew it we were down to the final table, however the blinds went up right as the cards went cold again and other small stacks started shoving in front of me on almost every hand.  I remained patient and eventually was able to chip back up from a few big blinds left to a semi-healthy stack.  The big swing came when I was 2nd in chips out of three players remaining, but far off the big chipleader.  I raised on the button with AKo and got a call only from the big stack in the SB.  The flop came K34 rainbow, putting me in what I assumed was a way-ahead situation.  SB checked and I checked behind.  The turn was the 5 of spades, putting 2 spades out there, and the SB bet a little under the pot.  I came over the top for about twice as much and got a reluctant call from the weary chipleader, who showed AJ of spades.  The river was a blank and all of a sudden I had more chips than I knew what to do with.

The former chipleader didn't hang on for much longer and finally we were heads up.  It was 2:30 in the morning, I was in major need of a piss break and something to eat, and despite the dollar signs in my eyes I was also fighting just to keep them open.  Even though I had a 5-to-2 chip lead and felt confident that I could pretty easily take down my opponent, I could also see that the host and guy dealing were getting tired themselves and wanted to bring things to a close.  I agreed to a chop request from the other finalist and took home a nice payday, as well as the #1 spot so far in the league standings.

Though the cash game sessions have been going fairly well, the win was a big boost of confidence with my tournament game.  Not that I've been playing a lot of tournaments, but the ones I have have been pretty "meh" for the past year or so.  I'm obviously hoping the good run continues in this league so I can cap it off with a big cash in the championship event come December.  One month, and one hand, at a time though I suppose.

Best of luck at the tables for now,


Monday, January 28, 2013

WTF River Card of the Night, 3-Outer Style

Took a trip to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town, WV yesterday with a friend and fellow recreational grinder of mine.  First bit of bad luck was that we had to wait about 2 hours to get a seat at a $1/2 table.  We couldn't even see our names on the monitor until after we had killed about an hour and a half playing video poker on the nearby Game Kings.  Later on we found out that sadly one of their dealers had passed away recently and a lot of fellow staff members were at the funeral, at which point we both felt like massive assholes for being slightly salty over the wait.  Nevertheless, the whole upstairs room was closed because of the short-staffing, and given that a lot of people seem to have nothing else to do on a Sunday afternoon than play cards, we had to pay our dues to get an eventual seat.

At this point I had been playing for about an hour at a table that seemed semi-tight with not a lot of big pots being played.  I had taken down three solid pots myself - twice with TT that hit a set but didn't get paid off, and once with KQs.  On the latter hand I had raised UTG to $8, got 5-6 callers including the BB.  Flop was KKQ and I c-bet about half the pot, trying to look like a feeler and hoping someone else had a K, JT, or a flush draw.  Only the BB called, and then he led out the turn (off-suit 8) for $15.  I Hollywooded for just a bit and put out what I hoped would appear as a hesitant call.  River was a 9, giving JT the straight and filling the flush draw.  BB bet $20 this time and I cut out chips to raise to $90, trying to look like a bullyish steal.  BB starred me down, showed me a Q, asked if I would show, etc, trying to get some sort of read.  I guess I did a good job of looking scared because he eventually called and mucked AQo.

An hour or so goes by and we find ourselves at it again, this time he's in the SB and I'm the BB.  About 4 or 5 players limped in and the cutoff makes it $6 (ok?) to go.  Everyone and their mother calls, including me with ATo.  Flop is a beautiful TT5 with two spades (I have the Ace of spades).  SB (same guy as before) bets $5 (ok?) and I decide that's just way too small to build a pot that's already about $40 and raise to $25, expecting maybe a spade draw or another Ten to call.  Only the SB comes along and the turn brings another 5.  Not the ideal card if I'm up against the other Ten, and a spade draw is probably check-folding at this point.  SB checks, I bet another $25, SB calls.  River is the King of diamonds, and now all of a sudden SB leads out for $85.  I tell him that I'm assuming we're chopping and elect to just call.  He shows KTo for the lovely 6.82% (about 12% on the flop) river suckout.  Nice hand sir.

That hand put a sizable dent in my stack but I was able to chip back up over the next three hours or so, even after a pretty cold run that occurred at the worst possible time, when a super-LAG kid was donking off tons of chips and had the rest of the table getting quite donkey-ish at the same time just hoping to bust him.  Either way, up is up, and I had a good time overall.  Still can't wait for poker to come to Maryland to spend more hours playing and less hours driving back and forth and waiting for an open seat.

Until then, best of luck at the tables, and watch out for those 3-outers.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Learning to Love the Finer Things in Live Poker

As previously mentioned in a recent post, when I started getting back into poker I decided it was time to treat myself to a fancy set of new chips - sort of an engagement gift to myself.  With online poker virtually dead I was becoming more aware of the fact that if I really wanted to play more often I would need to branch out into nearby home games, start hosting some myself, and/or drive over an hour away whenever convenient to play in one of the poker rooms right over Maryland state lines.  If I was going to have any success hosting a game of my own I was definitely going to need the proper setup, and the first item on the list was new chips.

Venerati chips by Sidepot
After a quick Google search I stumbled into the world of poker chip obsession,, which is now one of the sites I check almost daily.  Turns out poker chips are a much more complicated product than most of the cheap "dice" chip manufacturers would have you believe.  Not only that, but there is a dedicated group of poker-loving folks out there who take their chips very seriously and have a wealth of knowledge on everything from mold options to edge-spot designs.  I spent a few days perusing old threads and boning up on all the lingo while discovering a wide range of poker chip options that I never knew existed.  Eventually I settled upon a set of ceramic chips that I found visually right up my alley - the Venerati chips by Sidepot.  I liked them so much I actually went back and put in two more supplemental orders over the next few months.  These chips continue to get compliments from both regulars and recreational players, and they're probably the only ceramic chips that I've ever found to be just as satisfying as the other alternatives that I next discovered...

A few months down the road I officially have the poker chip addiction and can't wait to see what's new on ChipTalk every day.  I've bought a few sample sets of other chips here and there and am beginning to amass a collection to go along with my Atlantic City mementos.  Then one day a thread pops up about a Halloween sale offered by this guy Jim  from The Chip Room, featuring used chips from a closed Missouri casino among other things.  Knowing what I know now, I probably should have just handed my whole bankroll over to Jim at the time, as my first purchase of a small set of used Paulson (the top hat and cane chip company) President Casino on the Admiral (PCA) chips was only the first in a long line of his great sales that I would take advantage of.  Hmm, or am I the one being taken advantage of?  Who cares, poker chips!

President Casino on the Admiral chips
The PCA's came complete with the grime and gunk of the former riverboat casino-goers, also known as "finger jelly."  They demanded quite the labor-intensive process of soaking, scrubbing, and oiling in order to get cleaned up real nice, and luckily all the details of how to go about this were already covered in the ChipTalk threads.  This set doesn't get much play anymore, though they still have a great feel and I love the color combos and shaped inlays of each denomination.  I will add that I play in a few home games with mint condition and lightly-used PCA's and the difference is remarkable.  Mint Paulson chips are the absolute nuts, but you'll have to pay a pretty penny for them.

A little further down the road I started thinking about getting a serious set.  And by serious, I mean that in the world of chip-talkers you're only serious about your chips when you get your own custom-designed set.  One of the main companies in the business of making custom clay chips for enthusiasts such as myself is Atlantic Standard Molding (ASM) now based out in Las Vegas.  You pick the color combinations, the edge-spots, the mold, and the inlay design of your own making, give them the preferred quantities needed, and they shop it up and ship it off in a few months time.  A few of the home games hosts I know have their own custom sets from ASM (some actually have two or three full sets) and they are awesome chips to play with.  After doing a little Q&A with some of these guys I started playing around with the color combos and inlay designs, using the ChipTalk Chip Factory and an old version of Photoshop, respectively.  The whole process took a matter of months to finally get things right, but as of now I have an order in and paid for and am hoping for a late February or early March delivery.  Putting a game together with quality chips is nice.  Having your own custom set to put in play is definitely extra baller!

Empress Casino chips
For a little while I thought the big order for ASM's would mark the end of my poker chip shopping sprees, or at least for a good while.  Unfortunately it was not long before another one of Jim's sales went up in the threads that had me rationalizing how NOT purchasing more chips clearly did not make any sense.  The prices were just too good to pass on as always, and thus I started putting together another set of used Paulson chips from the former Empress riverboat casino in Illinois.  This set is now my go-to for nickel-dime games with friends and family (we just move the decimal places on the $5, $25, and $100's), as well as for any potential tournaments.  The hundos ($100's) are by far some of my favorite chips that I've ever laid eyes on, and they look particularly nice in stacks and racks.  It's quite likely that this set will become secondary once I receive my custom babies, but I'll make sure they still see the table every now and then.

I'm hoping that at this point I'll settle down a little bit and be happy with the beautiful chip sets that I have.  One thing I'm sure of though is that the little things are insanely addicting.  There are quite a few chip-talkers out there that boast tens of thousands of chips across dozens of large sets... we're also talking tens of thousands of dollars worth of total investments here.  Some even put together live sets - sets of chips from casinos still in operation.  These are the folks who could have cashed in their chips before they left the casino for hundreds of dollars, but opted instead to keep them (some temporarily, some likely permanently) for playing at home.  Certainly I'll take a souvenir or two from the casino poker rooms I play in, but I can't see myself ever driving hours away to mine racks of mint chips from new casinos.  Then again, I probably never would have predicted that my fanaticism for poker chips would have ever reached the level that it's currently at.  Perhaps when you get into live poker you just start to appreciate the finer things that you never think of when sitting at a computer and playing online.

My new appreciation for live poker things has also extended to cards and tables, which I'll talk more about later.  Certainly it'd be a bit unfortunate to have great quality chips on a lousy table with old marked-up paper cards, and I definitely have plans for a future poker room / man-cave that brings the whole high-quality package together; think Ron Burgundy's leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany.  It will likely be a while before this project even begins, but the necessary pieces are already accumulating in various rooms of my house.  Rest assured that one of these days my fine poker chips will get to splash around and play surrounded by the classiest poker room amenities on the block.

For now, I'll just keep dreaming and trying not to spend all my money on more chips...


Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Decent Start to the Tournament Poker Season

Played in a big monthly home game tournament last night - about 45 runners squeezed into a basement with five tables and a fridge stocked full of beverages.  The host is an incredibly gracious guy just for allowing us all into his house, but he also puts together a great tournament structure (in the end-of-year championship format) with high-quality amenities (chips, cards, tables, etc.).  Having been to other home games that lack pretty much all of these, it's always a great relief to play at this game just for the fact that it's run by someone who actually knows their poker stuff.

Anyways, last night was the first monthly tournament of this year's season, and the buy-in was upped this year from $40 to $50 - $30 goes to the monthly prize pool, $10 to the end-of-year freeroll (with starting chipstacks based off of points accrued from monthly finishes), $5 bounty for each player, and $5 goes to the host for supplying all the beverages.  My plan is pretty much always to play my typical tight-aggressive style and be patient early on, since the starting stacks and blind levels allow for a more conservative approach.  If I do happen to bust earlier on it's no big deal, since a $.25/.50 cash table is usually forming by the 2nd hour of play, with at least 2 full tables by the end of the night.

Most of the night I was pushing around a less-than-average stack, but I managed to make a few key moves, got it in twice as a big favorite and doubled-up, and ran fairly deep to finish in 5th for a small profit.  There were two big hands at the final table that I can't stop thinking about, the latter of which did me in.  Here's the first:

Down to 6 players, blinds at 2500/5000.  I have 56k in chips and am probably 4th or 5th overall.  Hero is first to act and looks down at AhAc.  FYI - BB generally plays a very LAG style but makes solid reads and intimidates the hell out of a lot of other players.  He's the type of player that really gets his jollies by getting in your head and messing with you, but without all the Jamie Gold trash talk.

I decided to standard raise to 3xBB to 15k, and it folded around to the BB who quickly asked me how much I had left.  I counted out the 41k for him and went into blank stare mode as I felt him trying to get something out of me.  I sat there for at least a solid minute as he stared me down and likely contemplated shoving.  God I wanted him to shove, though the more I waited the more I felt it was unlikely that he was going to.  "How can I get you to shove," I thought.  "What do you want me to do to look weak?"  I tried to let out a hard swallow to feign concern, and also just because there was a ton of saliva swishing around in my mouth, possibly foaming with the prospect of doubling up again.

After giving me the intense staredown for what seemed like an eternity 
(keep in mind he was immediately on my right) he put out chips to call.  Flop was Q93 with two diamonds.  He checked, I pushed, not wanting to slowplay myself into a 2-outer or something, and he folded.  Certainly can't complain about adding a decent amount of chips to my stack in that situation, but I'm still thinking about what I could have possibly done to get him to push.

A little while later we're down to 5 players and it folds to me with Kh8d and about 80k in chips on the button.  With blinds at 3000/6000 I raised to 14k and got the giant stack BB (different guy) to call.  Beautiful flop for me - T88 with two hearts.  BB checks and I put out what I hope looks like a weak continuation bet of 18k.  BB calls and I assume he may have a weak hand that he feels is ahead... he certainly had the chips to make a thin call here.  Turn is the 2h.  BB checks and I opt to check behind and pretend to be giving up on the hand so that the BB will be more likely to take a stab at it on the river.  There aren't many river cards that I'm thinking I should be worried about, especially considering that any heart will give me the 2nd nut flush (or nut flush if it's the Ah).  River is a black 4 and the BB bets 30k.  I'm certainly not folding my trips, so I push the rest in and get a quick call.  BB shows J4 of hearts for the turned flush and my tournament experience is over.

Not sure what I could have done differently here to get away from this.  I think it's just one of those hands that you can't play much differently given the circumstances and limited information.  Folding preflop in the spot would be a bit too tight, even for me, though I suppose a larger raise would have got the blinds.  After the flop I don't think there's any escaping from it.

Either way I'm quite content with my run and the way I played throughout the tournament.  This is the 7th winning session in a row for me, beginning in late October (I know, things have been hectic), including this one tournament, one $1/2 game, three $.25/.50 games, and two nickel-dime games with friends and coworkers.  All-in-all it's been a nice little upswing of a few hundred dollars for the bankroll.

Here's hoping that the run good continues.  More to come later.  Best of luck for now,


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Story Behind my Poker Revival

Over the past four years or so I transitioned from a life of part-time micro-stakes online grinding, to virtually no poker at all, to live poker in nearby home games with the occasional casino trips.  The transition to live games happened in large part because of Black Friday and the demise of online poker options - something I'll write more about at a later date - but the actual spark that lit the fire of poker obsession in me again was really quite random.  As I look back through old posts and see scattered anecdotes of how work and romantic relationships were cutting into my poker time, I realize now that I very well could have gone on in life and completely forgot about the game that I once couldn't sleep without dreaming about.  Thank goodness for a trip I'll never forget, mostly for other reasons, for getting me back into the old swing of things.

It was early August in 2011.  Lord knows what I had been doing with my summer vacation, though I was definitely not achieving the level of productivity that my lady friend at the time was, as she had just finished law school and was studying madly for the bar exam.  We had decided to celebrate her assumed passing of the monster test (months later we found out she did indeed pass it) with a trip to Aruba.  Unbeknownst to her, I had other special plans in mind that involved expensive diamonds, a moonlit walk on the beach, and her not making the rest of our vacation incredibly awkward by saying "yes."  Of course I did my best to play it cool and not give away any hints.  Fortunate for me, it seemed the bar exam experience had left her mind in a state of numbness and made her completely incapable of picking up on any behavior that would otherwise be relatively suspicious.  At the same time I have to admit, I'm pretty damn good at keeping a secret.

As we had packed our bags for the flight I happened to throw in a deck of cards for potential entertainment.  On the plane my wife-to-be was going down a list of things to do at our resort (I entrusted her with all the planning and was too busy worrying about my little scheme to think about other things to do), and she mentioned that there was a nearby casino.  "Interesting," I thought out loud, "I wonder if they have poker there."  The little lady's curiosity was peaked as well.  She knew of my earlier life grinding and had always welcomed the occasional poker tangent with attentive and somewhat intrigued eyes and ears.  "That could be fun," she replied, "you'll have to teach me how to play."  And that's when my pants burst at the seems with overwhelming joy and we were forced to make an emergency landing.

Kidding aside, we made solid use of that handy deck of cards on the remainder of the flight, going through all the basics, simulating 6-handed play, and even getting a little into pot odds.  It was probably a little bit much to spoon her right off the bat, but nonetheless her interest in the game was sustained, and what's more, I came to realize that mine was making a full-blown comeback.  My heart was racing just thinking about big check-raise bluffs, flopping the nuts, and trapping fools into stacking off.  Safe to say that the resort casino had become one of the top priorities on our to-do list, right after eating, drinking, and a possible bowel movement, but only if absolutely necessary.

To make a long story a bit shorter, we were disappointed by the lack of poker at the nearby casino, but continued to play on our own by the pool, in the hotel, and on the trip back.  The rest of the vacation was awesome.  We chilled with flamingos, snorkeled with exotic fish, took in the local flavors, and ultimately got engaged on the last night in town.  In the days that followed I remembered what a recently engaged guy friend of ours had said on the topic of engagements.  "It's not fair that the girl gets a fancy ring and the guy get's nothing for engagements.  The guy should get something cool as well, just something manly though... like a sword to wear around.  Then all his friends could be like 'whoa awesome engagement sword man, congratulations!'"

I agreed with this assessment, though I'm not that into swords and am fairly certain that the open carry laws prohibit such showmanship.  Nonetheless feeling entitled to a small treat for myself, and still coming off my recent poker revival, I decided to splurge a little bit on a new set of poker chips.  This in turn led me into the world of poker chip enthusiasts, including a handful of home game hosts in my area, which in turn led me to appreciate all of the finer things in the alternate universe of live poker.

To be continued in my next post - the poker chip addiction and transitioning to live poker.  Best of luck for now,