Thursday, June 9, 2011

Putting in the Work

How sad is it that my work leading up to the WSOP is simple addition and time spent with the multiplication tables? Sad as it is, it's the truth. But that's what I get for being lazy and playing online poker with a calculator at my fingertips.  All I can say is - I've got a lot of work to do to make sure I can sit at a live table and understand pot and hand odds without every hand taking an hour to complete. If you have any tips to help me with that part of my game, I'd sure appreciate hearing them. Suffice it to say that I'm going old school and working with flash cards.  Don't hate.

I tweeted last night that I came home empty handed from my cash game...and looking back, I really should've skipped it.  My daughter's out of school, but between swimming all day and shuttling to/from summer day camp events, she's come down with a summer cold that she graciously passed on to me. I thought twice about heading to the game, but I figured I could overcome the headache and play good poker.  It didn't work out that way and I lost my buy-in. That wasn't fun and I learned a lesson about listening to my instincts and recognizing that it's best to skip playing if I'm really not going to be at my best. (Why is it that, in poker, lessons always have to be so expensive? I guess it's a lot like life.)

I'm getting excited about my Vegas trip, which is coming up at the end of this month. It's been a blast railing players via Twitter and I dug seeing @MariaHo score a second place finish in Event #4.

I loved her comment during a post-game interview: 
On being female and playing in a competition largely dominated by men:  I think in terms of my ability as a poker player and when people talk about great poker players, I hope someday to be in there in a gender-neutral way.  But if my finish, and how I do, and any success in poker I have had is something that other females can share and enjoy and that will perhaps bring them into the game, then I feel happy to say I contributed to that.  But at the end of the day, I want to be one of the best, male or female.

(you can find the entire article here, by Nolan Dolla for

Her taking runner-up in this open field event was inspiring and I hope she runs as deep in the rest of her WSOP events.

I also got a kick out of @AllenBari's comments. Love him or hate him, I appreciated his comments about variance:
I would say if you play 150 tournaments over eight years, you are going to win a bracelet.  The variance is absurd.  I have come close to winning a million dollars four times in the past year.  So, to get this is the best feeling in the world.

Barry Greenstein has commented on this subject before, too (from his book, Ace On the River, which he initially drafted in 2003, published in 2005):
Why do many of the same players do well in tournaments year after year? The main reason is that they are the ones playing in the most tournaments. If a record of entries was kept and a "batting average" were computed, the results would be more reflective of skill levels.  Using a baseball analogy, let's say that finishing in the money is a single, finishing at the final table is a double, finishing in second place or third place is a triple, and winning is a home run.  It is hard for a person with 20 at bats for the year to get as many total bases as someone who has 150 at bats.
I wrote about this a bit after my trip to Vegas in February:
The poker media highlights these young, online phenoms and often makes it seem as though they plopped $5 into a Stars or Tilt account and ginned it up overnight to a kajillion dollar bankroll from which they've never gone busto. The truth is - the people you see online and live consistently running deep are people, generally young men, who are deliberately studying the game and using every tool available to them, working with a coach and/or crew of like-minded people when they’re not playing, and playing ungodly amounts of volume online, all day, every day, 365 days a year.  To make a profit, there’s no other way to play this game – especially tournament poker due to the variance (I mean, look at the payouts - if you’re not scoring in the top three, “congratudolences” as @BJNemeth says…). and, on average, you’re going to bust 98+% of the tournaments you enter.
One of the things I struggle with (and maybe you do, too) is helping my loved ones understand this concept. I don't *want* to go to Vegas and having nothing to show for it at the end of my trip...but what is the real likelihood of me cashing, final tabling, getting heads up, winning?  It's a game of edges, isn't it?  And while I won't be playing any WSOP events and therefore will probably not be up against the likes of Allen Bari and Maria Ho, the fact is, there will be many a good player in the fields I do choose to enter.

The only way I know to defend against the variance battle is to play as many events as I can, to the best of my ability. And that's why, pre-trip, I'm studying, playing on-line where I can, talking poker with my buddy @txcardslinger (who's started her own blog at All Things Texas), reviewing hands, and, of course, working with the flashcards, baby.

It may not be pretty, but nothing easy ever is.

In the meantime, I hope you're running great and I hope to see you in Vegas. Good luck at the tables!


  1. ought plus ought is ought. and ought times ought is ought. as is ought minus ought...ought. since you are studying. xoxo

  2. Son, I am disappoint. "The one about Variance" is a pep talk that the fish give themselves after they lose a tournament. If this is what you are telling yourself now before the cards are even in the air, you are being self defeating. Small-ball up a decent stack. Stay away from bigger stacks. Push your edges. Be in it to win it. Be the ball. Pay attention. Fire bullets; don't be afraid to push when villain obviously can't call (and make sure, which is why you paid attention!).

    Math? Know the two-four rule that's about it. (There's the, um, 10/20 rule (?) about calling pre too.) If you don't know how much of a villain's range intersects the board, then flash cards aren't gonna teach you that son!

  3. Utg opens 8x, gets five callers, and the bb shoves 94bb in the 25-50 level.

    Yee haw!

    FT recipe: Play tight, aggressive, in position and most importantly win flips.

    I think tournament selection is going to be very important to try to minimize variance as much as possible. There will be plenty to choose from. I am itching! I don’t think I know someone who works as hard as you do in improving your game.

    I truly wish you the VERY best and hope you run beyond good.

  4. Generally for pot odds I just use the 4/2 approximation method. Thus on the flop you multiply your outs on the flop by 4 to get your approximate equity ( i.e If you have 8 outs on the flop you would multiply 8X4=32. So you have 32% equity approximately. If you think in odds instead of % you would divide 100 by 32 and subtract 1 (you always subtract 1) which in this case would be 2-1) The same method would be employed on the turn only you would multiply by 2.

    (As an aside, the best description of properly figuring out your outs I ever seen in print can be found in Ed Miller's Limit hold'em book - "Small Stakes Hold 'em: Winning Big With Expert Play" from 2004)

    If combinatorics is your issue I basically memorized this chart:

    6 combinations of a pair (i.e. 7's)

    16 combinations of AK

    a set has 3 combos

    pair plus kicker has 12 combos

    suited cards have 4 combos

    2 pair has 9 combos

    6 % of all starting hands are pocket pairs (78/1326)

    a set has 35% equity against made hand on flop, 22% on turn

    having blocker removes half of pair combos and leaves 12 combos AK like hand

  5. Wow, some good info...I have flash card Power Point ready, call me, we Mikogo and study.

  6. I love you guys!

    Mom, it's "aught" btw...please join me in a game of Words with Friends immediatamente so I can beat you soundly.  xoxoxoxo

    Conan - right on, son! I'm definitely in it to win it. As a refresher, I'm reviewing the Rule of 4 and 2 that Kara Scott did for Party Poker. Video here for those interested.

    Edgar - you work just as hard as I do, I read your blog so I know! ;-) Wouldn't it be awesome if we could final table together? Let's do it!

    Laoch - thank you very much for that info, I appreciate it. I'll definitely review Ed Miller's book. 

    Terry - omg, this ROCK!! Look forward to working with you on it tonight. 

  7. No disrespect to any of your readers, but it continually amazes (and encourages) me that people underestimate the importance of math in poker.

    3 bet and 4 bet dynamics = math. All bet sizing = math. Raising = math. Calling = math. Semi-bluffing = math. Bluffing = math. Bluff catching = math.

    Poker is the interaction of your cards, your opponents' range, your perceived range, the chips you and your opponents have, and your opponents likely reaction to the options available to you. Even in the classic non-math example, having a 100% accurate tell on someone, unless stacks are uber shallow, you still need math to figure out how to maximize value.

    In MTTs especially, with evolving stack sizes, blinds, antes, prize pool structures, value for being on TV, etc, the players with the best mathematical base will get the money in the long run.

    Of course there are a lot of human elements to poker. But edges are small these days, and if you are not better than your opponents mathematically, you will not maximize your EV.

    Happy studying.

  8. So Larry - what do you think the best way to study would be? Seriously, I am remedial, finger-counting math...

  9. I'm going to be studying MTT and sit n go math this weekend, because I'm really rusty on push/fold and ICM stuff. Whenever I get around deciding what I'm going to study, I'll let you know. But as far as overall poker math goes:

    Constantly think about your opponent's range, his equity with that range, and your equity versus his range.

    Constantly think about what odds the pot is laying you when you call and how often you have to be good -- plus the obvious parallel to that, when you bet and raise think about what odds the pot is laying your opponent, and how those odds interact with the equity of the most likely parts of his range.

    Think about your fold equity whenever you bet/raise, and how that interacts with the equity of your hand. (Note: you may not always want a fold, or want a call, but the most interesting situations mathematically are when your fold equity interacts with your pot equity to create a profitable spot.)

    Think about what your bet sizing (or your opponent's) is going to do to the next street, and the street after that. For example, my decisions whether to raise/3bet/4bet preflop have a lot to do with the size of the pot I want on the flop, turn, river, which in turn depends on my opponents, their ranges, my position, etc.

    In live poker, many players lose track of pot size, which leads to awful bet sizing mistakes. Knowing pot size, the price you're getting on different streets, how pot size interacts with stack size, etc, has to be second nature. I still make myself keep track of pots that I am not involved in at least a couple times an hour to make sure I can do it instantaneously, and that it's completely second nature.

    When I say think about these things, I mean not just when you're playing, but away from the table -- A LOT -- so that, for example, when a maniac shoves 790 into a 410 pot on a board of 2d6h7hAh board, and you have 2h2c, you've got most of the math in your head already. Trust me, in those spots, with as much adrenaline as you've got going, the last thing you want to do is re-create the math from scratch. Make Poker Stove, or if you have an iPhone, Poker Cruncher, your friend.

    That's the tip of the iceberg. Hope this helps.

  10. One correction (sorry, I'm anal) -- when I talked about whether to raise preflop, I should have said whether and how much, because in live poker especially you can get away with obvious manipulations of pot size and very few people will punish you for it.

  11. Hi!
    I really like your blog and would like to get in contact with you concerning an opportunity.
    If you are interested please feel free to contact me via email.

  12. Thanks Larry...sigh, I've got so much to learn.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...