Monday, January 31, 2005

Sage Advice

"Dude, you do NOT have what it takes to play poker for a living. Everyone who reads this blog knows that."

That's a line from the comments to the previous post. Along with other advice there, it strongly encourages me to get a job here rather than move out west with my last few dollars.

If I were anyone else, that would be the sensible option. But I truly don't see getting yet another stupid job here, as a real option for me. If working the counter at McDonalds is all my life has amounted to at age 35, then I might as well just say that I failed at life and end it all right now. In fact, that sounds a lot more appealing than, "Do you want fries with that?"

If I've ruled out a job here, I don't see any other options at this point. It would take an incredible run to get my poker bankroll to a livable point, and it's unreasonable to expect such a run. Could happen, but not likely, and the better play is not to try. The military was suggested, but even if I'm not too old (I'm not sure) I don't think I have a chance of passing a physical; I'm surprised I've lived this long with my dodgy heart and sedentary lifestyle.

In the late stages of a tournament, short-stacked, you've got to pick a hand and shove all your chips in the middle. Even if the odds aren't very good, you do it, and you either double up or you're done. The odds are even longer that you'll be able to do it several times in a row to get a chance to finish high, but you do it because it's the best chance you've got. And sometimes it works.

On the way back from Manistee I was trying to come up with options. This is the best I could come up with; shove all of my metaphorical chips into the metaphorical middle and hope for the best.

You know what? The commentor may be right: I don't have what it takes to make a living at poker. But I don't have what it takes to make a living at anything else, either. I've held at least eighteen different jobs in the last twenty years, and been fired from about half of them. Poker has so far come closest to allowing me to live a "normal" life. And that wasn't very close.

I appreciate the advice; I don't want it to sound as if I don't. The likelihood that I'll actually take my last few bucks and head west is smaller today than it was yesterday, but it's still probably 50%; I simply don't see any other options.

  Sunday, January 30, 2005

A Full Weekend of Poker

I mentioned last time that I had entered the Little River Casino's biggest tournament to date, 90 people at (essentially) $150 each plus juice. It ended up being a full weekend of poker.

To many people, the most interesting thing in this whole part of this post may be that I found Super/System 2 at Barnes & Noble on the way up; apparently it's in stores now. I'm about 250 pages in; the first 200 pages seem mostly to be filler, but then it gets into the individual games. Jennifer Harman's chapter on limit holdem seems pretty good from the once-over I gave it; I haven't got further into the book.

There was a reception Friday night for the poker players, but I intended to come in fashionably late. I succeeded, arriving just as everyone was filtering out. It didn't seem that I missed much; there was crackers and cheese and some pastries, and a cash bar, and apparently a speech or two on how the tourney would actually work. I bought in, got on the list for a cash game (which understandably took a while; they invited up twice as many poker players as they had seats in their room). Finally I got a seat in $100max $1/$2 NL holdem.

My experience in this game was pretty much the same as it was when I sat it last Monday; by looking at the chips as just chips I managed to book a $210 win. It was a wild game when I left, with a couple of players doing some odd things, which put at least one other player on royal screaming tilt, but I left anyway. I write this now and it seems foolish that I left, especially since I had trouble sleeping anyway, but I left. Oh, well, it's past now.

I was in the first half of the day-one crowd, so I took my seat Saturday morning in the tournament. Decent cards, plus some well-timed bluffs, ran me up to probably the chip leader of the morning session. The biggest hand was when I flopped a set of Queens, and came over the top all-in to what turned out to be a set of Fives. He called, I doubled up, he rebought. (The $150 buyin was $100 plus one $50 rebuy/addon for T$3500 total.) I considered slow-playing the Queens, but a third player in the hand said that he had flopped an open-ended straight (presumably with Jack-Ten), and if I didn't raise he'd have called and caught. I was more worried about the two-flush on the board than the straight, but my all-in raise was the right move.

I'm not sure I lost a showdown the first session; I ran pretty well. While I never definitely heard of a stack larger than mine, one person said "he heard" that there was a T$16,000 stack, so I may only have been in second place. In any case, after the second session, I was indeed in second; they posted the top ten stacks on Sunday morning.

After Saturday's portion of the tournament, I went to have lunch (with my new SS2 under my arm), then took my book out to the lobby area where there are a number of comfortable chairs. Once the pages started blurring together before my eyes, I stood up and returned to the poker table to find out how soon I could get into a cash game. It was probably another hour.

I sat first on a $4/$8 limit game, and won a couple of pots in the half-hour or so I was there. One of those, I ran down Aces; his failure to protect his hand (probably "I always lose with Aces") enabled me to catch a third Nine on the river to indeed beat his Aces. I misread him for a Nine with a weaker kicker, though, so if I hadn't got the third Nine on the river I'd still be cursing a blue streak, no doubt.

When they called me for no-limit, I moved instantly, but the texture of the no-limit game was odd to me. The only preflop raise that seemed to work right was $15. If you raised to $10, you'd get called in five places, and if you raised to $20, you'd just take the blinds. But $15 would get one, maybe two callers. Most of my night, particularly early on, was getting decent starting hands but failing to hit flops, coupled with an inability to take pots nobody seemed to want: If I bet the pot in late position after the flop, I'd get called in three places. That happened four or five times during the night.

I did hit a huge pot on the river, which got me almost even, but then I continued my bleed slowly until I reached the point that I called an all-in bet when I probably didn't have the best hand (and I didn't), and decided not to rebuy. With the $210 on Friday I won, and the $80 in the $4/$8 game, the $300 I lost at the no-limit game on Saturday gave me a net loss for the weekend of $10 in the cash games.

Sunday I found myself at the table which is traditionally the first to be broken during their tournaments. With so many short stacks in the tournament, we were trying to guess how many hands our table would last before we were broken up. I guessed eleven, and it was actually ten. I'm glad, because the table we started on was a Stud table, which doesn't seat the ten people we started with very comfortably at all.

Before we broke, I attempted a late-position steal with T8, which worked, before trying one with K4♣. I was called by both blinds, and they checked to me after the flop (which missed me). When they both called my reasonable bet again, I was done with the hand, but I had spent about half my stack on the steal attempt. Bleah.

On the new table, I didn't enter any pots until I was in late position again, and went for the steal with A♠4♣. The small blind raised me all-in, which I called, and I lost. (I was behind from the beginning, but he flopped a flush.)

Thinking about this in the car, I realized that the same situation happened twice: I was faced with an all-in raise with a hand that I should have known was inferior, but I called anyway. Thinking further, I remembered situations where I'd done the same thing in no-limit tournaments in the past, so maybe a big leak in my no-limit game was brought to my attention this weekend. It cost me some money, but if I've learned the lesson then the money it cost was cheap.

Pulling a Johnny Chan

I started the trip back pretty much in despair, not from my play over the weekend, or even really my results: I was even in cash games and busted out of a tournament. No biggie. But between buying into the tournament, and paying for hotel rooms, I'm down something like $250 for the weekend, which is about a third of my entire bankroll. And in this case, when I say "bankroll," I'm really saying "life savings." I'm a whisker away from broke.

I knew when the hotel let me go that I'd be riding the rims for a while, and when you're riding the rims you usually crash. To continue the analogy, I haven't actually crashed yet, but the car is headed right for a telephone pole. I spent two hours in the car on the way back trying to figure out what the hell to do.

The easy answer is to get another job, but that's not so easy. Partially, it's simply logistically difficult; getting a new job isn't easy in the best of times. But mostly it's me: I can't conceive of me getting another job that I hate, I'm unsuited for, I don't fit in, and I get fired in three months. That's been my employment history for twenty years, and in all that time I haven't figured out a way to adapt to the nine-to-five treadmill. If I could, I'd have a house, a wife, two kids, two cars, and a dog. But I don't seem to be able to adapt to what the rest of society calls a "normal" lifestyle.

The best answer I came up with in the car was to take the advice of more than one person from about six months ago when I was in about the same position, take my last $500 and my travellin' bag, and head to Vegas. Johnny Chan, I am reminded, washed dishes for two years while he worked on his game, and now he takes millions from tourists like ... well, like me. For some reason, that doesn't sound so bad.

I was asked why a shit job in Vegas is any different than a shit job here. I have to answer that mainly, it's a change; it's in Vegas, so it's not exactly the same as the last fifteen years of my life. One of the reasons the hotel job wasn't so bad is that the odd schedule gave me a lot of time to play poker. My sessions might be shorter, but that'd be true out in Vegas, clearly. I'd have a shit job, but my time off would be the important thing. I think maybe I could handle that. For a while.

I have some logistical issues to work out, but I've 75% made up my mind that I'm going to do it, probably this week. I'll have another post before I leave, if I do go, but posts might be a bit sporadic after that for a while, while I get my shit together out there.

Well, that'd be different: I'm not so sure I have my shit together here.

  Friday, January 28, 2005

Does a Cash in a Poorly-Structured Tourney Still Count?

The Michigan readers among the throng already know, and I've mentioned before, but the Little River Casino in Manistee, Mich., deals 50-man limit holdem tournaments every Monday and Tuesday. I've sat this tournament in the past, and probably I wrote it up, but I don't feel like looking for the old article; suffice it to say I wasn't impressed.

It's a rebuy tourney, which in itself is fine, except that the structure is such that the player has two choices: (1) Get lucky. (2) Rebuy. Players start with only T$300 in chips, which is fine (barely) when the stakes are T$10/$20 but woefully inadequate forty minutes later when the stakes are T$25/T$50. The addon at the one-hour mark, $15 for T$1000, is virtually mandatory, since the stakes are T$50/T$100 when you come back from the break. In other words, I don't care much for the structure of this tournament. A player starts with too few chips and the blinds increase too rapidly for a limit tournament.

Nonetheless, I've sat this tournament around four times. The first time, I can be forgiven, because the tournament was new and I was attempting to form my opinions of it. Other times, I've mostly been up at the casino to play the cash games after the tournament, particularly after the casino's license was modified to allow them to deal no-limit games. One of those times, though, only served to convince me that I didn't know as much as I thought about no-limit.

But Gil had a gig not far from the casino on Monday, so we drove up to play in the tournament and the post-tournament cash games. After we registered and had lunch, the luck of the draw sat Gil on my immediate right (tho' the dealer's box intervened). This only became important once.

I was dealt A5o, either on one of the blinds or maybe on the button (as I reconstruct the hand now). The flop was Axx, so I checked, hoping to check-raise a late-position bettor and force most of the field to call two bets cold. A middle-position player bet out, and Gil raised. Now, Gil and I have been discussing the new small-stakes 2+2 book a lot, so I know that Gil might raise here in late position with as little as bottom pair. So I reraise, partly for value and partly to define the hands of both of my opponents. I continue betting, and tho' we lose the mid-position player Gil continues calling until he turns over ... A5o. We laughed, but since we both figured we'd lose the hand to a higher kicker, we were both perfectly satisfied with a split.

During the tournament I got above-average cards, which mostly held up, and so after the first hour I found myself with about T$1700. This is huge when one starts with only T$300, and is typically one's stack size at the break after the add-on. I considered not adding on the T$1000, given my stack, but decided that letting everyone else catch up at once probably was a bad move. I'm still not convinced I was right.

Although I did get a set of Aces cracked shortly after the first break, the remainder of the tournament was still mostly about getting above-average cards and having them hold up. Finally, I found myself at the final table, which is the money in this tournament. But even though my chip stack was only about the mean at this point, fully half the table was on the ropes, so it made little sense to play in any way other than to lay back and let people bust out. Once we were down to four or five, I could open my game up and take some pots.

This is all a great plan, and in fact the first part worked. Half the table busted out while my chip stack went from T$9K to, say, T$11K. Meanwhile, the blinds have increased to T$2K/T$4K, and although we're at no-limit betting, there's only about T$90K in play in the whole game. So any play at the blinds pretty much has to be all-in. I do this out of the small blind, and it works, but when I do it from the button, with K7o, the small blind calls with pocket sixes, and I don't catch, and I'm out.

I think I played the tournament well, but I stand by my original thought about the tournament: It's a crapshoot. I got decent cards. I've expressed my reservations about the tournament to a number of the regular players of the tournament, and it's like I'm shouting into the wind. One player said, "How slow should the blinds increase? The tournament already takes four hours." Another said, "Well, I'd agree with you, except for the rebuys, which means you start with however many chips you want." That last is a gross mischaracterization of the rebuys; it's not like you can say "I'd like eight rebuys, please!"

No-Limit ReReRedux

When the tournament broke, there were two cash games going, a $4/$8 game and a $100max NL game. I had a wait for either, because they won't add your name to the cash-game lists until you are out of the tournament. But, it was the NL game that first had room for me. Gil was already into this game for two buyins before he left for his gig, and the seat I filled was previously the demesne of one of the room's regulars, another good player, who had just busted out of the game.

Nonetheless, this proved to be a decent game. I didn't figure any of the players had me seriously outclassed, including the two people who each took more than $800 out of the game. I think my cards actually ran a little below average in the game, but my stack still fluctuated between +$250 and −$250 during the evening, to finish around +$100 at the time Gil busted out for the fifth time and was ready to go track down a hotel room.

I think the biggest difference between my play in the cash game this time, and my play in the same game several months ago, was not the quality of the players, but my own willingness to see the chips in front of me as chips instead of as actual cash, which (except in one case) prevented me from being run over. My mom would say that it's a bad thing to see the chips that way, but, well, she wasn't there. A $125 all-in semibluff, in this game, didn't seem like a big deal to me, where it would have in the earlier game. Maybe the tournament I played right before this got me in the appropriate mood, or maybe the $250 I made for placing fourth helped, or maybe I just learned to play right. Whatever it was, I like this game now.

I Am the Ghost of Tourney Yet to Come

I had known for several weeks that Little River was going to have a bigger-buyin, "invitational" tournament for their frequent tournament players. I wasn't invited, but I'm not a frequent tournament player, and so I was OK with that. One of the floormen in the room, mentioning something about the blind structure of the tournament, asked a question that required me to be in this invitational tournament to answer. When I mentioned that I wasn't invited, she asked if I wanted to be; apparently there were still about ten seats left unfilled.

Unlike their usual tournaments, this tourney is no-limit; unlike their usual tournaments, players start with adequate chip stacks; unlike their usual tournaments, the blind structure is flatter; unlike their usual tournaments, there should be about a hundred entrants. Everything is a positive about this tournament except that it essentially requires that I spend the weekend in Manistee. This isn't actually a huge hardship—this is the off-season "up north" and rooms can be had cheaply—but that much cash-game play leaves wide the possibility that I may bust myself out of action with a day or more left in Manistee, simply due to natural variance. So, fear does operate here.

Home, Home on the Strange

Cactus Dave was here yesterday, and while he was monkeying with his computer we pulled out a deck of cards and played a little fake-money holdem. Fake-money is usually no fun, but since we played as if it was a normal low-stakes game, it actually became rather enjoyable, especially when Gil sat down with us. After a while, we switched to 7-card stud, mostly for variety but partly because this was the best venue of all to experiment with different ways of adjusting our minimal repertoires of stud strategy. I think the main reason that the game stayed fun is that we never really got silly with our betting, like in most fake-money games, and when we did get silly we ended the game. (Unfortunately for Gil, he happened to have rolled-up sixes at the time.)

We played a single hand of deuce-to-seven lowball, while Dave was in the bathroom or something, and I tried an interesting play that may have been brilliant and may have been stupid; I don't know about lowball to be sure. I was dealt a hand that included three high cards but wasn't paired, and when Gil took three cards I stood pat. I figured Gil would likely pair when he drew three, and my no-pair hand would win the pot. He didn't pair, and the Jack low he drew beat my Ace low for the pot. Assuming I wasn't going to fold, should I have drawn?

I invited Cactus Dave back next Wednesday for a game similar to what we were playing but for real money; the 5¢/5¢ blinds shouldn't break even Dave. My hope is that this may form the nucleus of a regular game to which we can invite other people, although I'd prefer the blinds settle at around $1/$2. Of course, I'm looking too far into the future. I tend to do that; I remember once when I was editing a political newsletter that I had delusions that it would eventually surpass the Grand Rapids Press. It didn't.

  Saturday, January 22, 2005

Reload Bonus

For those who care about such things, PartyPoker has made a 20% to $200 reload offer: Here is the link. It's good from January 21 to 26, and makes me wish I had $1000 sitting in my checking account.

Not So Much “Soaring” As “Plummeting”

Despite the good things I said about Motor City Casino, it's still twice as far away as the closest casino, Mt. Pleasant's Soaring Eagle. They added more tables recently, bringing the total to fourteen, and is turning into a decent poker room with a number of caveats, that I'll probably talk about another time.

Mainly I play $3/$6 and $6/$12 holdem, although I've been known to sit $3/$6 stud or $3/$6 Omaha/8 when there's a spot there but a long wait for a holdem seat. I also took a shot at their $10/$20 game once, but my cards ran so poorly that I don't think I have an accurate handle on how I stack up against that game.

My last several trips there, I was up $100 in each of two $3/$6 sessions, and then down $200 in a $6/$12 rock garden (where my cards also ran poorly), and then was up yesterday to play some $3/$6. Despite a pretty good game, especially at the beginning, I went card-dead after the first hour and bled off my winnings and $100 besides. Then, not having played O/8 live, I sat that game, and was up a little and down a little but basically broke even, despite what I think were poor starting hands—it's so hard to tell in a game you don't know well.

I'm still riding pretty close to the wire; it's time to pay myself this weekend out of my online winnings, but they haven't been as great as they should have been, either. I'll still pay myself, but that will put me against the wall earnings-wise for next week; I'll be in a must-perform situation. Well, I knew my back was to the wall this time; all I can do is charge ahead.

I still wish I could deposit the $1000 I'd need to take full advantage of the reload bonus. I'd work off the bonus in two days at most, and a free $200 is nothing to sneeze at.)

  Thursday, January 20, 2005

Black in Action

Thanks to any readers who are left after the site took a two-month hiatus. It was kind of the final step of the crashing-and-burning that began last summer and is so well documented on this site. The debit card my ISP was billing was frozen while my checking account was overdrawn, and during that period of frozenness, the card expired anyway. But now, they have the new card, there's money in the account, and the site is back. There might be some art problems though, depending on whether I have to re-FTP everything to the site. I think probably I will.

There is much news over the last two months. Probably the most important is that I'm back playing poker, pretty much every day, and I have been for most of the hiatus period. I don't remember if this happened before the hiatus or not (I'm writing this before the site is actually reactivated), but PartyPoker fronted me $100 in a "please come back!" promotion, that I could keep if I played 1000 raked hands by X date. X date turned out to be the date I actually read the Email, so I had a lot of hands to churn out. 1000 raked hands turned out to be about 1400 dealt hands of 50¢/$1 poker, but I made it through and once again had a stake.

At about the same time, I was finally hired on at a local hotel, to do the overnight shift. The pay wasn't much, but I assumed I could augment my meager pay with poker winnings, and it was so. I also assumed that I could play poker during the dead of night whilst at work, but this turned out not to be so. Overall, though, this turned out not to be a bad job.

And so, I spent my time working my way out of the hole I'd dug, keeping a roof over my head, saving my car from the repo man (barely), working, sleeping, and playing poker. If it wasn't my ideal life, at least it didn't suck.

An Involuntary Poker Pro

I ended 2004 on a great note. Not only were the cards running good, but I'd discovered a new-to-me casino (the Motor City Casino) which featured absolutely amazing $5/$10 games, with worse players than in most $3/$6 games. I've been there three times, now, and the games were great all three times. That said, all three times were over the extended holiday period; it's possible these players weren't the regulars. The room has a big downside, too: It's three hours away.

I began 2005 on a bad note. I had three or four losing live-play sessions in a row that essentially put me out of action until payday. One of those was at Motor City, where I was the favorite most of the day but I kept getting run over. At the same time, my online play turned to crap, where I couldn't put together two winning sessions in a row to save my life, essentially just breaking even for about two weeks.

One thing that helped, though, is that we had a couple of young guys staying at the hotel, who noticed my diet of poker books and got to talking poker. From these conversations, my impression was that they knew the game but weren't actually any good. I got a chance to test that theory in the waning days of 2004, as I sat down with them during my dead time for a 25¢/50¢ no-limit cash game. Three-handed, their preflop hand selection was accidentally correct, seeing a flop almost with any two cards. But their postflop play was atrocious, and the night mostly thus saw my stack increase slowly. But once each night that we did this, someone (actually the same someone) made a colossal error that resulted in his stack ending up in front of me. Both times, his play revealed level one thinking, that is, "I have a good hand, so I'm going all-in." Unfortunately for him, his good hand wasn't the stony nuts, and mine was. I took about $100 from those two; it wasn't my biggest score, but it was one of the sweetest.

If I mentioned the hotel job before the hiatus, I mentioned that the schedule was a week on, a week off, alternating with someone else to work the overnights at the hotel. During my week off to begin 2005, I was called by the hotel manager (who is usually offsite and actually is at the hotel only about once a week), and asked to come talk to him at such-and-such time. This could have been a lot of things, and what actually happened was indeed one of the possibilities I had in mind.

After we exchanged pleasantries, the manager said, "It looks like you want to do something other than work here." Well, there are a couple of ways to take that, but I didn't actually say the obvious response, which is of course, "Who doesn't?" In any case, the long and the short of it is that I was fired, couched in terms of "Your first 90 days is your probationary period and at the end of your probationary period we've decided not to keep you." Playing poker in the lobby did come up, but I don't think that was the primary reason I was fired. Instead, I think it was the same sort of mish-mash of stuff as other times I've been fired, leaving me not really understanding what I've done that's got me fired. Since this isn't the first time I've been fired in this way, I'm left with the conclusion that I must simply be unemployable.

The short version of all this is, "I was fired for playing poker on the job," since that's almost true and it makes a really funny story.

The timing was horrible, though, since this came when I was having card troubles and was essentially tapped out. Mostly I was able to keep the despair away by not thinking about it, something I've become pretty good at. I've had to, because I truly did not knowe what I was going to do.

Then, I figured out what the problem was with my game (below). I was running so well that I started seeing myself moving to Vegas by the end of the summer ... heck, the end of the month ... hmm, I wonder if I can still get there tonight?

I know this is unrealistic because the good run has ended; I'm getting my ass kicked at the moment. Even more, if this is what I'm going to do, then I'm working with even less of a net than I was when I turned pro (voluntarily) a year ago, and the odds against me are long. I have to trust that I'm a little bit wiser this time, a little more willing to actually work at this game, and most important, that I'm a better card player. Because if I fail, I have no backup plan; I'll have to conclude that the world simply has no place for me.

Fixing my Game

My game made a marked improvement a month or two ago, which I attribute to reading Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth's new small-stakes book. It probably wasn't all their book; I had to also be ready to hear what they said, and apparently I was.

Suddenly, my $2/$4 BBJ results leapt up to over 4 BB/c, over more than 10,000 hands. Several times now, I've effectively been called a maniac by other players at the table. Whether that's true or not, at the end of the night, I'm the one with the chips.

Then, as I mentioned, at the beginning of 2005 I hit a wall that took me seemingly forever to figure out. Fortunately, this wall wasn't actually one of losing, at least not online, but I couldn't get my winning edge back.

Finally I figured it out: My old style, my $3/$6 style from nearly a year ago, was to play totally ABC poker. If I don't have a hand, check; if I have a hand, raise; if I have a great hand, check-raise. ABC. The amazing thing to me now is that that worked for as long as it did; it doesn't work at these $2/$4 BBJ tables. You also need to look for opportunities to create pots for yourself and win without the best hand. And you can't do that on autopilot.

Autopilot is exactly how I was playing online for those two weeks. You may remember that early in my "first" pro career I bought a second monitor, with the stated purpose that it was for reading Email etc. while I was playing online. I could do that as long as my game was on autopilot, which it was. But last week I decided that I wasn't able, without having both eyes on the game(s), to find the opportunities to create pots for myself.

I've come up with a way of putting this, namely, that I can't just play ABC poker. ABC poker might be 90% of my game, but it isn't enough; I need to be playing ABCD poker, because that last 10% is the reason I'm a winning player.

And it helps if the cards run my way, too.