Monday, February 28, 2005

Going Through the Motions

It's odd how it happens. You can't pinpoint a defining moment. It may be a culmination of things or it could be as cliche as a light bulb blinking on inside your head. For me it was a combination of both.

My trial by fire began several weeks ago when I documented a massive slide down the food chain in one night. With a sigh of resignation I dropped back to the 1/2 level and began to seek out the best in bonuses. I really felt I didn't belong there. Playing at a level I had beaten soundly in the past wasn't where I deserved to be. To further pummel my already bloodied ego I still couldn't win. Sure I would post a winning session but it was always followed by three or four losing ones. I was spiraling downward and was in danger of not even having a bankroll to support playing at 1/2 anymore.

Why was it happening? I hadn't changed my play, had I? I still had the same starting requirements that I had developed when I came up through the ranks. These weren't exactly by the book starting hands but they had worked for me in the past and damnit, they should be now as well. Was it my post flop play? Naw couldn't be that either. I was being dealt bad beat after bad beat, that had to be it.

We have a new employee at work that joined our regular work home game about two months ago. He had never played before but was eager to learn and after we corrupted him on that first night he had the poker bug in a bad way. He downloaded a version to his phone, a laptop, and watched it on TV at every opportunity. Now two weeks ago we had our last poker night. The new guy showed up and I was impressed by how fast he had progressed. He displayed some selective aggression and was capable of making some advanced plays that I thought were beyond the people I played with. When the night was coming to a close the new guy was up and I was down. I began to see something in him that I didn't have. I had it at one time, but the realization that I no longer possessed it was troubling to me. I'm not sure when it happened but my passion for the game was gone. I played every night and went through the motions but that's what all I was doing. Going through the motions. I desperately wanted to rekindle this missing part of me and I invited him to stay after the night had come to a close for some heads up play. He accepted my invitation and we continued to play for another two hours. Being able to concentrate on the action I began to enjoy myself. With experience on my side I was able to out maneuver him and managed to reclaim some of my earlier losses. My heads up game vastly improved due to this exercise but I was still losing the ring games.

A few days later while perusing the PSO forum I came across a post on the hands that win or lose you the most money. I knew I hadn't checked that data in quite some time so I fired up Poker Tracker and had a look. I was shocked at what I was finding. I keep separate databases for each level I play and wanting to get the most data possible I loaded a combined database for 2004. I lost money on hands that I believed were the staple of my game. My complete disregard for the study techniques and data tracking that had started my poker journey were no longer part of my regimen. This was the 2004 data which I was profitable at. I shuddered to look at the 2005 data since I had been losing all year. I wasn't playing bad starting hands. I just wasn't playing them correctly. Whether it was position, calling raises, or not raising myself, I was playing them all wrong and often to far after the flop. My game had truly disintegrated. In fact it wasn't that good before.

It wasn't the light bulb moment. It was a combination of realization and revitalization. I'm calling it an increase in strength of character. I'm winning again. Comparing my current win rate to the win rate I had in 2004 at the 1/2 level. They are close to identical. The big difference is I'm winning differently than before. I have strung together nine winning sessions as of last night. I've never done that before. In the past I've gone 4 or 5 and then had a loser thrown in. My variance is also down by a large margin.

The one thing about this that is cliche is that you never stop learning. I thought I was on top of my game yet it took a slap in the face from reality to push me to that next level. My hope is that it doesn't take the rest of you this kind of gut check. It really is a miserable experience but I'm a better player for it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Kansas Qualifier - World Poker Cup

"Hello and welcome everyone to this edition of the World Poker Cup Qualifiers. I'm Jack Hearts and as always I'm joined by professional analyst Chip Rack. Our lady on the floor Stacks O'Plenty will be bringing us player reactions and relaying what it's like to be in the trenches. Chip why don't you bring us up to speed on whats happened so far."

"Thank you Jack. We are witnessing a stunning display of poker today as our tournament format is a heads-up elimination event. With 67 entrants populating the field we began with only six players seeing action on three tables. Once the winners from these matches were determined we began a bracket style event with a field of 64. We are now down to the final two players in this heads up match and it's been pretty intense so far as the chip lead has floated back and forth with no one player being able to mount a distinct advantage."

"That's right Chip, we are in the presence of poker greatness and I wouldn't be surprised to see the winner of todays event go on to represent the USA in the World Poker Cup Tournament. Why don't you let us in on who these final two players are and give us an update as to the chip counts."

"Near as I can tell theres only one Chip and that's me. But seriously we have lifesagrind representing Overland Park, Kansas with a chip count of 72,960 and our chip leader at the moment is siznow who hails from Topeka. Siznow's chip count is 116,160 and we have blinds of 960/1920. Lets go right into a segment on this show we call "Play Along with an Amatuer". This time around were going to only reveal lifesagrind's hole cards and discuss the play as it's happening."

"Lifesagrind is on the button which means during a heads up match he is the small blind and first to act. I see he has pocket 10's and that's a monster heads up."

"That's right Jack. A pair of tens as your down cards can always be powerful but in this situation I wouldn't be surprised to see him try to take away some of the advantage siznow holds. He's reached into his stack and has raised it 5,760 which is a standard 3x the big blind raise. Lifesagrind has been pretty religious about using this raise no matter what he holds during most of the tournament so siznow is likely to call with lesser holdings. Sure enough siznow calls and says "Let's see a flop".

The flop comes Jack Seven Jack with two clubs and this is either going to be very good or very bad for lifesagrind. Siznow checks and lifesagrind wastes no time betting 7,680 into an 11,520 pot. I'm pretty sure lifesagrind does not want a call here and is just trying to end this with a nice profit. Siznow calls though and the dealer flips an A of spades onto the felt. This is a very bad card for the pair of tens especially since siznow was willing to call the large bet on the flop. Sure enough siznow appears to be reaching for some chips. Siznow is counting out a large stack and is pushing 11,520 in. This really is putting pressure on those 10's. I think I would fold up camp and take a loss here but it doesn't look like that's what lifesagrind is going to do."

"I just don't understand this play Chip. Siznow was willing to call a big bet on the flop with the board paired and now with an Ace on the turn the player comes alive with a big bet. Lifesagrind has to think he's beat here yet he's stacking up chips for a re-raise. Either he has a great read on his opponent or he's putting his whole tournament in jeopardy."

"It could also just be a stall tactic and he has no intention of playing this hand any further. Either way we'll get back to the action in a moment. First lets check in with Stacks and see how lifesagrind got this far."

"Thanks guys. Lifesagrind has been a machine throughout this tournament and has wasted little time in mowing down the competition. He was seated at his first table when the field was at 64 players and within 8 hands had eliminated his first opponent. The second match went much the same way as his opponent decided to bluff all in at a flop of J33. Little did he know lifesagrind held A3 and another player was sent to the rails. The next heads up match proved to be the most challenging as shortly after it began lifesagrind disappeared from the table. Upon his return quite some time later he told us that he was having "Technical Difficulties" but I'm not quite sure what that means. He was outchipped at this point by about 3 to 1 but managed to mount an incredible comeback. After almost 40 minutes of play lifesagrind had secured his spot in the round of 8 when his pocket K's held up against chef29's pocket J's.

The next two rounds seemed relatively easy and he managed to build a chip lead early in each match and never gave it up. This brings us to the finals and what has been a long four and a half hours of play. Lifesagrind had to be the favorite going into this final table but the cards always have there say."

"That was the every charming Stacks O'Plenty and Chip, lets see how this plays out."

"Well Jack, lifesagrind had decided to make a stand and has come over the top of siznow making it 23,040 to go. Wow Jack! Siznow wastes no time declaring "All In" and has pushed the remaining chips out onto the table. Since siznow has more chips than lifesagrind this will also put him all in if he decides to call. Lifesagrind has gone deep into the tank now. The clock is about to expire and it looks like... yes... he has decided to cave to the pressure and lay down his hand. The chip count now is horribly skewed as siznow has 154,560 to lifesagrind's 37,440."

"It looks like he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar Chip. I don't see how he can come back from such a loss but as they say, All it takes is a chip and a chair."

"The ladies say all it takes is a Chip and a Bed, Jack."

"I'm sure they do Chip, I'm sure they do. Why don't we head back to the table for some more action."

"Were three hands later Jack and lifeagrind has managed to take the last two pots. This has added about 10,000 to his stack but he has a long ways to go. Both players have been dealt their cards and the action is on siznow on the button. He has A9 off suit and calls the big blind. Lifesagrind looks down and see's a beautiful blackjack. With that AJ he has raised it up to 8,640 and he has siznow dominated at this point with a 76% chance to win the pot. Siznow doesn't know what he's stepped into and makes the call.

Oh! A disastrous flop for lifesagrind as it comes 393. This gives siznow a pair and since they both share an A siznow now has an 87% advantage. Lifesagrind takes no time declaring all in and I'm sure siznow will call. Yep, sure enough there both in this and lifesagrind appears devastated now that the hands have been turned over. He's going to need to catch a J to win this. The turn is a Q and lifesagrind is now up and pacing around. The river is a five and that's it! We have a winner! Siznow will represent Kansas in the US qualifiers. Stacks is with lifesagrind down at the table."

"Obviously you didn't see that coming. How do you feel?"

"You're right I didn't see that coming. And I feel like crap. I've worked so hard all day and it ends with a mental mistake as I overplayed those 10's a few hands ago. My hat's off to siznow because I wasn't really able to get a good read on him all match. The other matches throughout the day seemed easy, like I was in the zone, but this one was truly difficult. I might have put to much pressure on myself, I'm just not sure. I just hope siznow had that third Jack earlier, or else I'm going to look like a big idiot when this airs."

"There you go guys, is he a big idiot, we may never know."

Thanks Stacks, that does it for this edition. For Chip Rack and Stacks O'Plenty, I'm Jack Hearts, remember any two cards can win, and those cards might be the ones your holding right now."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Please Sir, May I Have Some More

We've all seen it. Four players see the flop in an unraised pot. The turn appears to help no one but it hasn't helped you either. Everyone checks around again and there you sit in late position. No one seems to want this pot but it's going to cost you a big bet just to win two. Is it worth it? Maybe someone is scared to bet that bottom pair and has you beat. Maybe someone is slowplaying a big pocket pair. Maybe a lot of things.

The orphan pot can be a nice way to win some money, or a sad way to lose some. The pots are so small that you will have to take them down 40% of the time to be profitable. That's a pretty high win percentage but these pots are a unique sort of beast. Win that 40% and you will make your 2BB/100. lose it and you'll slowly bleed your bankroll.

As with most plays the more you know about your opponents the better your odds of success. If it's to early to have a read on the players and your in late position when this situation arises. Take a stab at it. If you get a call be prepared to fold the river and if your raised just let it go. It may have cost you a big bet but you've gained some insight into that particular player.

The only time that it really doesn't make any sense to even try this play is when you have a player who almost infallibly slow plays his big pocket pair. This player usually waits for someone to bet into a pot and then check-raises. Just check it around against this type of player. If he/she still checks the river then you may want to try it. I emphasize may because just about any player with an A will call you in this situation. You should have an A with a big kicker before even considering this play on the river.

All this may seem elementary to you but just think back at all the times you've seen this come up and nobody bets till the river, if they bet it at all. The orphan pot is called that for a reason and often the first player willing to adopt it gets to take it home.

Sending Out An S.O.S.

Sadly, I did not win the trip to the WSOP on Saturday night. If I had I would have updated yesterday with an over abundance of enthusiasm. As it turns out I didn't make it past the first break. Recent tournament history has not been kind to me and I lost holding AK. An early position player raised and when it got to me in middle position I was going to be pot committed if I re-raised. The best thing to do in that situation is to go ahead and push it in if your going to play, so that's what I did.

My read on the player ahead of me was that he was holding a middle pair. We had similar chip stacks but he had me covered with about 200 chips left over. I really didn't believe that he would risk a coin flip this early in the tourney with so much at stake. When I pushed it all into the middle the rest of the field folded. With the decision back on my opponent he went into the tank. Having used up almost all his time before making the call I was shocked to see him flip over pocket 3's.

There is no logic to this move. I figured him for a middle pair but with this holding he had to figure he was dominated. Even if I was pushing with the hammer I'd have an overcard to him. He obviously knew more than me though and I never got the help I needed to double up.

With the tournament behind me I went ahead and made the plunge into Full Tilt Poker. The $600 bonus was to much of a lure and I eagerly took the bait. Having been hooked I realized too late that it was going to take an eon to be reeled in. I have never encountered a bonus that releases so slowly. After six hours of two tabling 1/2 I have only managed to clear about $11 in bonus.

I'm sending out an S.O.S. to anyone who has managed to clear the Full Tilt bonus. Any suggestions on what to play to clear the bonus most efficiently will be greatly appreciated. I know O8 is usually a good game for bonus clearing but the only game I've seen going is .10/.25 pot limit. I played it for a half hour and even though it was a profitable table the pots only averaged about $3. And that folks, isn't enough to help clear the bonus.

I'm going to keep at the Tilt bonus but Absolute is offering a 20% reload until midnight tonight. I'm going to hit that one before going back to Tilt. Absolute bonuses clear slowly as well but not at the excruciating pace I've been enduring the last two nights. I'll get Absolute knocked out over the next week and then with a little bankroll cushion I'll head back.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Here We Go Again

After sulking over my meltdown last week I've begun the arduous task of rebuiling the bankroll. If you read the post detailing the debacle you know I was left debating whether to play 1/2 or 2/4. The master plan I finally decided upon was to begin bonus whoring again and multi-table 1/2 so I could clear the hands quicker.
With Paradise offering the superbowl weekend 20% bonus I was in business. The sportsbook end of Pokerstars was also offering a free $50 to play with so I made bets on New England and Philadelphia so I could have the cash. A free $10 prop bet on the coin toss was also included in the deal. I unfortunately couldn't hit my 50/50 chance. I completely blame the 10 year old who did the toss as he flatly dropped the coin to the ground instead of actually flipping it in the air. They should never give a child that much responsibility.
Switching back to poker I've been a cumulative disaster. I cleared the Paradise bonus with a profit, but it was a smaller profit than the bonus. So in essence that was just a nice way of saying I lost. I started out witha big win, then a modest win, then a big loss followed by another big loss, ending with a modest win. Overall I ended down about $50 in five sessions but with the bonus cleared the bankroll still grew.
I'm going to have to search for where the next worthwhile bonus is at. I'm considering the 100% up to $600 bonus at full tilt if it's still available. I've heard it takes a long time to clear though. $600 is a lot of scratch at this point so that may be worth it.
Over the next few days I'll be playing at Absolute. I've got a $10 bonus that needs to be dusted off there and I've got two tournaments to play in. The Pokersourceonline poker league, USA vs. Canada will be in it's second round on Friday and on Saturday I will be playing for a seat at the WSOP. is sponsoring that tournament as well so I encourage everyone to go check them out. They have the best signup deals on the net. If you sign up for one of their promos I'd appreciate you using referral code "lifesagrind". They will be giving away several seats to the WSOP this year.
If you want to stop in and offer some encouragement I play under the name "hotlead" at Absolute. The tourney is on Saturday at 8pm central.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Strategy Shmategy

Today I want to talk about something that's been swirling around the back of my cavernous cranium. (the preceding sentence was written in honor of the big human head who seems to be one of my regular seventeen readers) That is writing about strategy.

The problem with writing a strategy article, at least for me, is that everyone knows when talking poker, it always "depends". I can think of a concept, work it out and then come up with countless scenarios that would rebuff what I was just thinking.

I assigned a database project to one of my employees and she came to me today with plans that went way beyond the scope of the original vision. I threw out some corrections and to help her get back on track I told her "Don't overthink things." She looked at me sideways for a moment and then replied, "Yeah, that's probably what I'm doing."

Well, that's what I do too when it comes to writing. I've tossed countless ideas out because I overanalyzed to the point where the original thought had lost all meaning. No one can account for every eventuality. Trying to do so will only stall you in a quagmire of self doubt and disillusionment.

It's not easy to think of something to write about and when you place undo pressure on yourself it only helps lead to that dreaded blogger burnout. What I have decided to do for myself, and this may help others, is taking my thought process only to the point where I would in a game situation. With the online clock counting you down you can only run through so many probabilities before being folded. If you take this approach to writing about strategy you will avoid the pressure and the pain that comes from firing to many neural pathways.

Tackle a subject, narrow your scope, and go with it. Will you cover everything? No. Should you? Absolutely not. If you do you'll only lose your reader and any hopes of passing on your hard won knowledge. Obviously I haven't written a great tritest on strategy writing but maybe this tip will help those of you that struggle, just like me.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Question

You hear it every day. Those you like, those you even dislike will throw it out there. They don't want an honest answer and you really don't want to give one. It's innocent and never means anything. But never is not the case this time. This time it means everything. You have to answer it honestly. It is more than just the answer. It is the questions that follow...the questions that must follow if you are ever to make sense of it.

Only two hours have passed. You knew it could happen and you've planned for it. Considered all the possibilities and installed safeguards. Others have planned as well. Hundreds, even thousands have succumed to the pressure but not you. Your infallible. Beyond reproach. When the realization washes over you no explanation is evident. What could have happened? What feasibility was not assessed? You are in control, nothing should have gone wrong. Perhaps nothing is wrong. Yeah, your on course. This ship will be righted and your the one to do it.

"How are you doing?"

There it is, the trigger. The one question that should mean so little, yet carries every implication.

"I'm down."
"You've been down that much before, right?"
"No, not this much."
"You should quit then."
"I'm just going to finish this table."
"OK, I'm going to bed."
"I'll be up in a few minutes."

"Liar! You lying rat bastard!"

That's what she should have said instead of walking up the stairs. Hell, somebody should have said it. You should have even said it to yourself. This wouldn't be the last table. Not even the one after that. It would be a third and several hours before shock would take hold. The realization that the one thing you never really had control of was yourself. The only eventuality you couldn't account for was the human condition. The ability for a human to self delude themselves in such a manner that they are unaware of what is transpiring. They say trauma can cause blackouts and this is one trauma you wish you could forget. But you can't forget. You musn't forget. To forget would be foolish and foolish you are not. You are not a God, you are a mortal and have succumb to mortal weakness.

Numbers don't lie. They aren't bound by emotional attachment and feel no regret. When you thought you were tightening up and only playing when you had the best of it the numbers wouldn't support you. You managed to push the tide back into that vast ocean of loss for a period of time. That was all you needed to conciously believe you were in control. Doing the right things. The reversal of fortune was welcoming you like the warm embrace of a lover. You were in control. When the table turned to a rock garden and they began stoning you from all sides it was just bad luck. When the table was finally shorthanded you were playing scared and the sharks could smell blood. You were folding when you should be pushing, and pushing when you should be folding. But to you they were getting lucky. You have control, and as they say, "control is an illusion".

You had a plan. It was a good plan. After playing for a year and a half you were now in position. It was now time for all those months and hours to pay off. Now that you've left the kiddie pool behind you could start using the money and skill to pay off some of that debt. The plan was to be rid of all revolving debt by the end of the year. That would make you free. Free to enjoy life just that little bit more. That plan was freedom, the plan was the catalyst. You wanted it so bad that defeat was no longer an option. You had finally reached the summit and nothing was pushing you off. Control, yeah it is an illusion. Some call it tilt. I call it stupidity.

It would be nice to say this whole tale was just an exercise in fiction. A little story to entertain the reader. It's not, It's the truth in the guise of a cautionary tale. A tale I lived through just last night. I managed to lose one third of my entire bankroll in five hours. It's left me with some hard decisions. Fortunately my bankroll is completely separate from my living expenses so I'll be able to continue playing but I'm at a crossroads. "The plan" is no longer an option at this point. Play at 3/6 is also no longer viable. In fact my bankroll now falls between the 1/2 and 2/4 levels. The conservative in me says to just drop back down to 1/2 and build back up slowly. The not so conservative says to drop to 2/4 for a few weeks, get the bankroll back up to the 3/6 level and resume the plan. Both are reasonable I'm just not sure which one is correct for me at this point. At any rate I'm taking a few days away from the tables. I'll still play Wednesday in the WPBT but that's just for fun anyway. Shakespeare was right, "To Thine Own Self Be True."