Monday, October 31, 2005

One Down, Lots to Go

As of yesterday, I have officially managed to stay married for a year without driving my wife absolutely bonkers. Amazing, that.

I'm not prone to general mushiness and sappiness and what-not, but it still constantly amazes me that I somehow managed to navigate assorted dangerous relationship waters and somehow lucked out and ended up in a very happy place. So thumbs up to that.

On the poker front, I got absolutely nothing. Not even a single card was flipped over the last three days.

Congrats to Donkey Hunter for taking down a Foxwoods Satellite. I've been tempted to take a few shots at PCA qualifiers at PokerStars but haven't quite been able to pull the trigger yet. As DoubleAs recently pointed out, it's pretty easy to sink a chunk of change in these, and despite the casual tone you see posted a lot "I took a crap the other day and accidentally won a satellite to the WSOP", the reality is that you have to have a perfect storm of conditions to take one of these down. And unless you go on to do well in the actual tournament you hypothetically win a satellite for, your actual ROI likely isn't going to be that great, especially if it takes multiple shots to win a seat. The potential ROI, though, is pretty enormous, thus the allure.

Hopefully I can get back into the swing of things this month and get more hands in. The final numbers are going to look pretty good for October but it's a little misleading, as almost all my play came in the first half of the month.

It doesn't help that I bought Civ. IV last week, which is sucking up its fair share of my free time. I've always been a sucker for that franchise and so far am really digging Civ. IV, as they managed to improve a lot of the small, annoying things without changng things up too dramatically, as sometimes is the case. So far I've just been doing single player campaigns, so I may be even for even more time sucking if the multiplayer mode is cool at all.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Continuation Bets with Overcards in Limit HE

One of the more difficult situations you're commonly faced with at the poker table is whether or not to follow through with a continuation bet after you raise pre-flop with big cards, but the flop completely misses you. (A continuation bet is when you show strength pre-flop, most often with overcards, hit nothing on the flop, but continue to show strength, as if you have a real hand.) The decision of whether or not to follow through with a continuation bet is especially tough to handle in limit poker, as you lose much of the ability you might have in no-limit to simply push people off hands with a show of brute strength, even when the flop misses you.

The problem in limit is that you've built a pot via your pre-flop raise and also shown strength, so it'll likely be checked to you on the flop, or, if in early position, you'll be forced to bet out with a continuation bet. You're only able to put your opponents in a position to call 1 SB, which they often have the correct odds to call. You can't apply much pressure and likely still need to improve your hand to win.

That said, it's a clear mistake not to follow through with a continuation bet a majority of the time. Why? For the very simple reason that your pre-flop raise will thin the herd to the point that you're often facing 1-3 opponents, and they often will simply call, indicating they have good but not great hands. With a limited number of people in the hand, it's not uncommon for the flop to miss everyone. If you continue to show strength on the flop, they'll often simply fold. This happens often enough that a continuation bet is correct a majority of the time.

One problem with a continuation bet, however, is that you expose yourself to check-raises from opponents who either have strong made hands or strong drawing hands. Because you show strength, and continue to show strength, your opponents can pretty safely bank on successfully getting in a check-raise on the turn, if they're so inclined. Good players can even make this move on you as a pure bluff, especially if the texture of the board is conducive to it. So a downside to continuation bets is that you expose yourself to occasionally having to make a pretty difficult turn decision when faced with a raise. Do they have a hand? Are they aggressively on a draw, if busted, that your overcards can beat at showdown? If you hit can you improve enough to beat whatever they have, if they have something?

Should you always follow through with a continuation bet? Absolutely not. Should you never follow through with a continuation bet? Absolutely not. The rub, then, is to try to find some basic guidelines that can help us determine when a continuation bet is correct and when it isn't.

There are usually three things I take into account when deciding on whether to make a continuation bet, usually in this order, with percentages for relative importance:

1) The number of opponents (50%)
2) Position (30%)
3) The texture of the board (20%)

The number of opponents is likely the most important consideration when it comes to continuation bets. If you raise pre-flop and only the BB calls, and then checks to you on the flop, you have to bet, 100% of the time. If it's heads up and you're the one showing strength, you have to follow through with a continuation bet. Every single damn time. No excuses.

You also have to fire another bullet on the turn. Every single damn time. Your opponent will fold often enough to make this the correct play no matter what your cards or what the board is showing. You'll also win more pots at showdowns with A high versus a single opponent, especially if they're incorrectly chasing a draw of some sort. If you only have a single opponent, a continuation bet on the flop and turn is always correct, regardless of your position or the texture of the flop.

If you have two opponents, you need to be slightly more careful. But only slightly. Even with two opponents, it's still almost always correct to follow through with a continuation bet on the flop. Ditto for the turn, especially if your flop bet caused it to be heads up. You can still run over two opponents often enough that a continuation bet is correct.

But you do need to consider your position and the texture of the flop, especially when debating whether to continue to fire on the turn. Let's look at a quick example:

You have on the button. The action folds around to you, you raise, and the SB and BB both call.

The flop is

Everyone checks to you on the flop. It's correct to bet here, despite the scary board. Remember, flops miss people more often than not, so even though the board is scary for your hand they may be in exactly the same spot, looking for any excuse to fold. All of the pots you take down when both fold more than make up for the times when someone pops you back with a check-raise. You bet, both SB and BB call.

Turn is , putting on the board.

It checks back to you. Do you continue to bet?

Nay. If it were heads up, yes. But with two opponents, both of whom called looking at the same scary board you are, betting is more often a mistake here than not. One of them has something and a bet isn't likely to drive them both out often enough to be profitable in this situation, especially if someone is waiting to check-raise you. Betting isn't a horrible play but simply checking is better, hoping for a free showdown. Yes, I know, you picked up a gutshot straight draw and you have an overcard but it's hard to find a bet here, even with that in mind, due to the texture of the board.

If you have 3 or more opponents, then you need to slow down even more. It's really hard to plow through 3 or more opponents, even if you have great position, both your cards are overcards to the board, and the board isn't scary. I'm not saying not to ever bet, if it's checked around to you on the flop, as you definitely should a certain percentage of the time, but you shouldn't automatically make a continuation bet in this situation.

Your position, too, becomes much more important. Let's say that you have in the SB. Four limpers, you raise, and everyone calls.

The flop comes

Just check. You're out of position and all you have are two overcards, facing 4 opponents yet to act and a coordinated board. If anyone bets, fold. Someone either has a hand or has a strong draw, so if you bet you'll likely be faced with a raise, which you have to fold to. So just save yourself a bet and check.

What if you have the exact hand above, with the same flop, but are on the button, instead? What do you do if everyone checks to you?

I still have a hard time finding a bet here. The problem is that lots of aggressive players will check-raise here with Ah x, as well as Kh Qx, or QJ, or any set, etc. If you're check-raised, you have to fold. The odds of getting check-raised with that board are greater than the odds of all 4 opponents folding to one bet on the flop. You also can't really improve your hand to one you feel comfortable re-raising with, so even if you hit on the turn or river you're not going to be able to extract full value from it, assuming you have the best hand.

That said, depending on the conditions, a bet on the flop might be correct in the above situation, given the pot size, as long as you're willing to not put any money into the pot if your single flop bet doesn't take it down.

While your position is obviously important, you also need to consider your opponents' position as well. If someone limps from UTG+1, you raise from the button with AhKd, and everyone folds, then you can likely put your opponent on overcards as well, or maybe a low or middle pocket pair. If the flop comes something like 7 5 10, rainbow, then you're going to fire continuation bets all the way to the river, even if you don't improve. Odds are that they're playing overcards as well (which you can outkick) based on their position, so your continuation bets are almost value bets. If you're opponents include the blinds, be more wary of continuing to fire away if the board puts an obvious possible straight out there, as the blinds can sometimes have literally any two cards, whereas opponents in early position (who just limped) are more likely to have overcards/low or middle pairs.

Another issue is what to do if someone wakes up (on the flop, turn, or river) and bets into you before you act. Again, it's too situation-specific to cover all details, but you should be more inclined to respect the bet than to ignore it, especially if players remain to act behind you. Does that mean you should always fold to a bet into your show of strength when you whiff on the flop? Of course not.

If it's heads up and someone bets into you on the flop, you likely want to raise if you have overcards to the board, as you could have the best hand, improve to the best hand, or force them to lay down bottom pair. If someone wakes up and bets and there are four players to act after you, it's usually correct to simply fold.

One additional thing to keep in mind is that the number of players that start the hand should be considered on the turn (if the hand gets to the turn), instead of just focusing on how many opponents you currently face. Against one opponent, fire, fire, fire. Against two, fire, and if it gets heads up, fire again on the turn.

If you start with three or four opponents, though, and your flop bet knocks out all but one of them, you need to be more careful on the turn, especially if the board is threatening. It's a much different situation than if you had one caller pre-flop, who called on the flop as well. If you start with four opponents, the odds are that the flop hit one of them (or that they started with a middle-biggish pair), as they called despite you showing strength. The person the flop hit is likely the one that calls, so you need to give them more credit for a hand and be less inclined to continue firing at them. If you start with one opponent, though, the odds are greater that the flop and turn missed them as well, so you should be more prone to applying further pressure via continuation bets.

That thinking extends to the river, which I've largely ignored so far. Detailing all of the considerations on the river is a bit beyond the scope of this, so we'll just stick to the basics. If someone hangs with you all the way to the river, and you don't improve, you're faced with a tough decision. The problem is obvious: the times you don't follow through with one more bet, when that single bet would win, are really, really costly mistakes. In many cases people incorrectly chase draws to the river and are aching to fold, so as not to showdown what a lemur they are, and one bet from you will cause them to fold, even if they have middle/bottom pair that beats you. Not betting in those situations is a huge mistake.

On the flip side, your single bet can't apply much pressure to someone with a pair of any sort, so if they've called this far, they're calling one more bet. Throwing more money away is hardly ever a good idea if they're going to call, regardless.

So how do you know when to bet and when to check? I really wish I knew.

In general, if its heads up, try to find a reason to bet, when you take position and the board texture into account. If they wake up and bet into you, try to find a reason to fold. Don't always fold, especially if they're prone to bluffing, but you want to fold more often than not if they wake up and bet into you, especially if you have any sort of stats or reads on them as far as being tight and/or reasonably decent. If you get check-raised, fold, unless they're a complete maniac who you've seen them check-raise the river on a complete bluff with a hand that A high beats.

If you have two or more opponents at the river, just check and hope for a free showdown. If faced with a bet and you're closing the action and no one else has called, try to find a call. This is pretty marginal but you should at least break even in the long run based on the small chance that your overcards are good and someone was bluffing with a s busted draw or smaller overcards. If you're faced with a bet and not closing the action, try to find a fold. While your overcards will win enough against one opponent to make finding a call for one more bet on the river correct in general, it's almost never correct to call with two or more opponents going to showdown, as someone almost always has a pair of some sort.

One last thing (I swear) is that you also have to account for situations in which you find yourself playing with complete maniac(s) and/or obvious calling stations. You really don't want to push the continuation bet game with these folks, as most of the value of continuation bets is getting everyone to fold, which they almost never will. There's nothing wrong with passively check-calling a maniac down, if you get it heads up and they don't fold to your flop bet. Let them be a maniac and bet out with nothing, as your goal should shift to always taking it to showdown with overcards, seeing as they're maniacs and can bet with trash the whole way. Ditto for calling stations. If you absolutely know that they fold when the flop misses them but call all the way to the end when they have any pair, then shut it down after the flop bet. Trust your read and don't fall into the trap of automatic continuation bets if they can't accomplish the end result of causing your opponent to fold.

Like many things poker-related, there's really no easy, stock answer, as far as when (or when not) to follow through with a continuation bet. Since aggression is usually rewarded, in general you should be looking for reasons to fire away, instead of looking for reasons to check.

That said, don't fall into the habit of automatically making continuation bets, just because you raised pre-flop. As the number of opponents goes up, be less inclined to follow through with continuation bets. As the scariness of the board increases, be less inclined to follow through with continuation bets.

Be aware of the situation and the potential risk/reward, as it's sometimes correctly to simply jump ship midstream, even after showing strength. Don't be stubborn and keep firing if the conditions aren't right. Successfully employing the continuation bet strategy sometimes involves checking and folding, not just firing away. Pick the spots where conditions are right and try to avoid the dangerous situations where continuation bets are likely to just be setting money afire, with little likelihood of success.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

You So Crazy, Normie

I have to admit, I find Norm's schtick fairly funny, but probably not for the reasons he'd wish. Something about the barely contained bitterness and angriness of the wee man makes me laugh, especially when he's going off on people who routinely play for pots > Norm's annual salary. In general, I think he does a decent job of bringing enough poker knowledge to the commentary so that he doesn't sound idiotic and/or talk over the head of an average, casual fan.

But what was he babbling about last night as far as defending blinds being a sure sign of an "amateur", and that pros know that once you post a blind it's in the pot, no longer your money, blah blah blah? Granted, I guess the context matters, but that's a pretty ignorant blanket statement to make. I don't remember how much Lederer raised in the actual hand, but it didn't seem a gigantic amount, as he only had a middle pair, and it folded to Danneman in the BB, who called the not-gigantic raise with K5h, which didn't seem all that out of line, especially with Lederer getting short and a potential chance to knock out an obviously dangerous player.

Not even going to comment on the Danneman phone call incident. I think I've reached the point where behavior like that doesn't even surprise me anymore. If anything, it's probably surprising that there's not more asshatery behavior like that, given that the asshat quotient is in general pretty high in the US these days, especially when money and ego are involved.

That dude that lost with the second nut heart flush needs to get out of the house more often. I know, it's the Main Event, yada yada yada, but you're still just flipping around cards in largely random fashion. More. Important. Things.

What little poker I've played lately seems to be riddled with the dreaded disease second-best-itis. At least I've mainly been playing 5/10 so the damage is somewhat limited, but still not much fun.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Blah Blah Blah, Busy Busy Busy

My apologies for being sort of light on the poker content the last week or so, but I just haven't had the time lately to get much actual poker playing in. Other than losing my monkey ass at 6 max $5/10 qualifying for the Caribbean Sun 200K freeroll, I haven't played all that much.

Harrah's just released the schedule for the 2006 WSOP, which can be found here. I actually sort of like that they pushed the schedule back a bit, especially since Event #4, $1500 LHE starts on June 29th, which is my birthday. Makes it quite a bit easier to justify in me head, as far as buying in to a couple of the events, if one of the buy ins is my "birthday present" and not just, you know, setting $1,500 afire. Depending on how my degenerate activities continue to roll, tentative plans are to play Event #2 and #4 for sure, and maybe #3.

One slightly complicating factor is that ScurvyWife and I have been talking pretty seriously of late about the possibility of moving. Like, moving moving. To Curacao or possibly Costa Rica or Antigua. Other than the obvious benefits of living in the Caribbean, we're both just ready to pick up and go somewhere, anywhere, and live for a for years, before we get too encumbered and tied down by earthly possession and careers and what-not. The original plan was to basically just go and see how long we could stay, without dipping too heavily into savings. Assuming I can maintain the average level of income I've maintained the last year or so from poker and my degenerate schemings, we actually wouldn't have to dip into savings at all, assuming we lived fairly frugally and didn't go nuts with the mai-tais.

Lately, though, I'm getting more and more curious about the possibility of landing a job with an online gambling operator based in that region, since so many of the online operators are in Costa Rica and Antigua (and Curacao, to a lesser extent). While on the one hand I have absolutely no professional experience in the field, I've got years and years of SEO and affiliate experience, mad content creation skillz, and, cough, lots of intimate, first-hand experience in the world o' gambling. It might take some persistent knocking on doors, but I'd have to think I could land a gig somewhere as a hybrid affiliate manager/content creator/SEO consultant/blogger/public shiller/poker representaive for someone.

But it's all still at the crazy talk stage, so who knows what'll happen, as far as picking up and moving. Pondering the mere possibility helps get me through the current drudgery of cubeland, which in and of itself is a very good thing. Realistically speaking, we're probably a year away from making the leap, even if we decide to leap, so who knows what'll happen in the meantime.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

PokerStars BlogFest

Still kicking in the PokerStars blogger tourney at the second break, but I'm getting pretty short at just over 4K. 263 left at the second break and bloggers (well, you know, real poker bloggers) seem to be doing pretty well. Scott's in 2nd, and BSN and PokerNerd are in the top 100. I'm sure I'm missing others I just don't recognize, too.

Edit: That was short lived. Out in 229 when SpaceMan took the rest of my paltry chips when the heart flush got there on the river.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Be Like the Gnat, Not the Elephant

Advantage gambling of any sort is an odd thing. You put yourself in a situation that is, for whavever reason, demonstrably +EV. You (hopefully) bankroll yourself to the point that you're sufficiently insulated against 99% of what Lady Variance can throw at you. Yet you still occasionally encounter that horrible, perfect storm that washes over you, again and again, and blows you completely out of the water, pockets empty, gasping for air.

And the correct thing to do is to reload and get right back in the water, as long as it's a +EV situation. Unlike many painful life lessons, it doesn't pay to dwell on the past, to some extent. Yes, definitely, learning from mistakes and holding them close to your bosom will make you a much, much better poker player (or hell, a much better human being). But gambling is still gambling, and sometimes you can do every single thing right, in a +EV situation, and still encounter an unbelievable run of negative results, that completely flatten you.

And the lesson there is that unless the game has changed or you're not playing your best, it's -EV not to buy more chips.

(No, I didn't go broke taking a shot at 100/200. This is mostly abstract rambling, partly precipitated by me dumping a couple of thousand dollars chasing a silly ass $100 blackjack bonus a few days ago, when I hit a -3 sigma or so event [about 0.3% likelihood] that completely wiped me out.)

Selective memory in general gets a well-deserved bad rap, but the ability to completely block out events that are statistically highly unlikely to ever occur isn't the worst tool to have, if you're a poker player. It's possible to go broke with a $10,000 bankroll, playing perfect poker at $1/2, but it's so highly unlikely and statistically freaky that, if it happens to you, you're better off simply ignoring it, reloading, and winning money, like you're supposed to.

The more practical application is if you have AA preflop and raise it up with some lemur, eventually capping it, and the flop comes 4 4 4. You and the lemur cap it again. Turn is an A. Capped again. River is a J. Capped again. Lemur flips over 49o and wins a huge pot.

The odds of him flopping quads are roughly 1 in 10,000. You're correct in ignoring that possibility, no matter how many times he raises. You're also correct in playing that hand that way every single time it occurs. Due to the unlikelihood that he flopped quads, it's a mistake to play the hand any other way, even if the last five times you've encountered this hand the lemur has had quads every single time. since it's so unlikely he flopped quads, you're right to simply ignore that possibility.

And yeah, I'm the first degenerate monkey to admit that what I'm talking about is a pretty narrow exception to the broader moral that applies when you lose a ton of money gambling and someone replies "I hope you learned your lesson." Because, by and large, they're exactly right to say that, as usually there are many valuable lessons to be learned when you gamble and your wallet ends up being much, much lighter in the end.

It's just interesting to me, in a theoretical sense, that one's gambling journey can be so schizophrenic at times, as far as playing very close attention to past results, absorbing them, analyzing them, embracing them, but also occasionally involving one saying "You know, that was simply complete ass randomness," and just completely and utterly ignoring it and marching forward, doing your best to completely block it out of your mind.

I know, 'tis a dangerous tightrope, and you have to be really careful to be sure you aren't missing some hidden lessons here or there, but still an interesting phenomenon.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


I swear, the gambling gods seem to be serious about not posting about positive results. Worst blackjack day ever yesterday. And that's saying a good bit, given some of my past degenerate experiences.

In an attempt to confuse the gambling gods, from now own I shall only openly refer to running well as "picking radishes in Mrs. Applebaum's parlor". So if you read "Knock on wood, but picking radishes in Mrs. Applebaum's parlor has gone very well this month," that means I'm winning.

So far the gambling gods don't seem to care when I post about getting kicked in the junk, so the code phrase for getting kicked in the junk shall remain "getting kicked in the junk."

Due to the fact that decorating for Halloween has taken precedence over everything else at the cube farm, I'm boycotting doing any work whatsoever. This decision was made easier by the fact that I was harassed 3 times in the span of eight minutes as to whether or not I'd taken the Winning Culture Survey yet.

Oh yes, kids, that's correct. Our annual survey in which employees are polled and questioned about working conditions and what-not is actually called the "Winning Culture Survey." Not "Employee Survey" or the "Annual How Much Do You really Hate Working Here Survey", but the "Winning Culture Survey". Or the WCS, as we like to call it. Because, you know, the more acronyms, the better.

What's especially neat is that none of the issues raised are ever directly addressed. Immediately after the completion of the survey they assemble WCATS (Winning Culture Action Teams), who analyze the results and make recommendations as to how future Winning Culture Surveys can more accurately address the concerns and issues of worker monkeys. They usually finish up right before the next year's WCS, with no time to, you know, actually take any action.

No one has ever really been able to explain exactly what "Winning" entails, when it comes to either culture or the survey process. The implied assumption is that being a loser isn't good, so therefore "Winning" is preferred. Any question as to what exactly is to be "won" when it comes to a company's culture, is met with a blank stare. Followed by repeated questioning as to whether or not you've completed the Winning Culture Survey.

I need to pick radishes in Mrs. Applebaum's parlor at a much greater pace and much more often, as the madness in the cube farm grows ever larger over time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Buying in for the Maximum at NL: Yay or Nay?

Been on a very nice little degenerate tear for the last few weeks or so. I mean, wait, no, shhh... I've been running horribly, gambling, gods, very horribly. Do not smite me down, do not smite me down...

All of you 7 Card Stud players have my undying respect these days. I've been slowly working my way through the S&M Boys' Seven-Card Stud for Advanced Players, mainly just for kicks, as I can't remember the last time I actually played Stud. While it makes perfect sense that Hold 'Em would fuel the poker craze, due to its more simplistic nature, it's a shame that Stud got shoved over into the dark corner, as it's definitely much more nuanced and difficult to play well.

Daniel Negreanu has an interesting post recently at his blog (scroll down a bit to get to the poker part) about buying in for a massive amount at a no maximum buy-in $1/2 NL table, and the advantage of doing so. His hypothetical example involves you, a good player, sitting down at the table and buying in for $200, while a horrible player sits down at the same time and and buys in for $1,000,000. It's not spelled out, but the implied situation is that it's a full table after the two of you sit down, not shorthanded, not headsup, and that the other players bought in for "normal" amounts.

Does the horrible player, due solely to the size of his buy-in (which easily covers the entire table) now have an overall advantage over you and your piddling little $200?

If you answered no, congratulations, here's a cookie.

I have to admit that my gut reaction was that yes, of course he has an advantage, and that you'd be insane to claim otherwise. If you only have $200 to work with he could absolutely run over you, putting you all-in constantly, coming over the top of any raise, and the size of his stack would eventually break you, no matter how poorly he played.

Your only concern when you sit down is that you get full value for your $200 in a +EV situation. That's it. The size of the horrible player's stack (or any other stack at the table) only affects your ability to get full value to the extent that it must be equal to or larger than your own.

You still retain every advantage you have, being a better player. Odds-wise, you're still a favorite to make more money than the horrible player while you sit at the table. Could you have increased your profitability and extracted more money by initially buying in for more than $200? Well, of course. But that's always true of any gambling situation, when viewed in hindsight after you catch a monster hand/hit a trifecta/get dealt blackjack, and isn't really the point.

The key here, which is fairly obvious yet a bit sneaky, is that you can simply get up and stop playing at any point you want. If this were a tournament or a sit and go, then yes, of course, the huge stack has a huge advantage. But in a cash game it's completely different, as your goal isn't to acquire every chip at the table but to get full value for your buy-in when you decide to put it at risk. All that matters is that your opponent has a stack of sufficient size to allow you to do that. Anything they have over and above the value of your stack is completely tangential. The fact that you can get up and leave at any point robs the big stack of much of its heft.

Daniel continues to the following conclusions:

"If you buy in for the minimum, it makes the correct strategy very simple. If you buy in for the most, it will force you to make more difficult decisions."

He goes on to give the following example:

"You raise to $30 with AA and get three callers. The flop comes 9c 6d 2s and you bet your last $50. That's a no brainer right? Well, what if you had $20,000 in front of you? You bet the $50 and a player raises you $200 more. Now what do you do? It's more difficult isn't it?

You aren't going to stick the whole $20,000 in are you? No, you might raise to $1000 or so. Say you do, and now your opponent raises you back $5000 more? Do you fold? Do you call? Tough isn't it?"

Which, again, is interesting, especially the first quoted part, as it flies a bit in the face of conventional wisdom. He does advocate that if you're the best player at the table (and you can do so), you should buy in for an amount that covers the table. Not because the huge stack carries any inherent advantage, but because it ensures that you likely won't ever have to go all-in. The more play there is in a hand (i.e. the more opportunity there is to raise or re-raise without shoving all-in), the better for you. If you're the best player, you prefer many decisions for lesser sums of money to be made, instead of fewer decisions for larger sums of money, as your skill exerts itself more insistently with each additional decision made.

It's the converse of the above that's interesting, as far as intentionally buying in for less than the maximum. Let's say you're a good NL player and you have $200 in your account at your favorite online poker site. You're ready to play some cards at the $.50/1 NL tables, which have a minimum buy-on of $50 and a maximum buy-in of $200.

General wisdom (I think) would have you finding the juiciest table and buying in for the maximum of $200, with the thinking being that you need to buy-in for the maximum in order to extract the most value from big hands that you patiently wait for, etc.

Following the above logic, though, you could make a very good argument that you should instead buy-in to two different tables, each for $100. You're still just as likely to get full value for your $200, and you're going to be presented with approximately twice the number of decisions to be made. Since you're a good player, this is a good thing, as the extra decisions give you more chances to shine. Because of the maximum buy-in limit, you can't cover the table anyway, so buying in for more than $100 doesn't greatly reduce the odds that you'll be all-in at some point.

What if you had $10,000 in the same account, though? Should you still play two tables, buying in at $100 each, or should you buy in for $200 at both tables?

That's where it gets truly interesting and speculative. If risk of ruin (essentially the percentage of the time that normal variance will wipe out your entire bankroll) isn't an issue, then yes, you should probably buy in for $200 at both tables. While buying in for less than the maximum may not put you at any real disadvantage, the only potential advantage that buying in for less gives is that it simplifies decision making at times. But even that's a paltry advantage, since if you're a good player you should be welcoming the opportunity to make tough decisions.

The more interesting extension, though, is the idea that instead of buying into two $.50/$1 tables for $200 each, you should instead use the same money ($400) to buy-in for less than maximum at a bigger game. If buying in for less than the maximum has no effect on your relative advantage/disadvantage at NL, you should therefore be much more willing to take shots at bigger games. Assuming, of course, that what was previously preventing you from doing so was the fact that you were waiting to be bankrolled to the point that you could comfortably buy in for the maximum. If other issues are holding you back then it's a whole other ball of wax.

Much of this may be very common-sensical to many of you, and my apologies for the extended babbling if so. I just thought it was pretty interesting and eye-opening, as I've always operated under the notion that buying in for less than the table maximum at NL/PL was a clear mistake, and now I'm not sure that's the case. I won't go so far as to claim there's any inherent advantage in doing so, other than freeing you up to take shots at bigger games, but there don't appear to be as many disadvantages as I'd previously thought.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The State of Party Rakeback

Many of you who played at Party/Party skins and had a rakeback deal are probably correctly wondering a couple of things:

1) Is Party currently allowing rakeback?
2) Can I get a rakeback deal at Party?

Like many things, there's no simple answer. By all accounts, Party was ready to give tentative approval for its largest affiliates to publicly offer rakeback deals, but backed out of that plan at the last minute. Their public stance at the moment is as follows:

" does not permit affiliates to promote rakeback (or any other discount schemes) to players. There are rumours that we are offering / endorsing rake back to affiliates. These are false claims and we are taking action against anyone who claims to have “special deals” with us."

Which actually is fairly ambibuous when you get done to nuts and bolts. They're careful to only mention "promoting" and "claiming to have special deals" as forbidden, and never really address the question of whether affiliates can offer rakeback, as long as they do so quietly and non-publicly.

Some affiliates have even been told this directly by their affiliate managers (many of whom get commission-type incentives and bonuses based on the results of the affiliates they work with) in a wink, wink, nudge, nudge fashion. As long as you do it discreetly, smartly, and privately (wink wink, nudge nudge), you can offer rakeback and no one will ever be the wiser.

Which brings us to the second point, as far as whether you can get rakeback on Party. And again, the answer isn't a simple one.

Despite no official support from Party to offer rakeback, there are ways that affiliates can track the play of players. The easiest is through one of the tools that Party currently offers, which is the ability to create trackers for different campaigns. That's where the bonus codes we all love come from, including the ubiquitous BONUS CODE IGGY. As an affiliate, you can create codes like that for different campaigns, including offline ones, where you might print business cards with your code on it, so that when people signup and type it in you, as an affiliate, get credit for it.

While Party has yanked the ability to create trackers for the sole intent of offering rakeback, they still allow you to create multiple bonus codes for marketing campaigns as mentioned above. So an obvious workaround for affiliates who want to offer rakeback is to create a code, say IWANTRAKEBACK, and to then have one person sign up using it. You would only create and use the code for that player, and would create and use a new one for the next player signing up through you for rakeback, use it only for that player, and so on and so forth.

There are obvious problems with this approach, though, mainly that it leaves a pretty glaring red flag in its wake, since all you have to do to ferret it out is to look for trackers/codes with only one player, and see whether that affiliate has many, many trackers, all with exactly one player attached to it. Even if they aren't looking for those trends currently and acting upon it when they find it (and they may or may not be), they can easily do so in the future, if they choose to.

So while this approach would work in theory, in practice it's not optimal. If you sign up with an affiliate to get rakeback at Party who employs this method, be sure you understand what's going on, and that it leaves obvious trails that may lead to your rakeback gravy train abruptly being cut off at some point in the future.

The other way to currently get rakeback at Party is a little simpler but involves a good deal of trust. Players sign up through an affiliate and use PokerTracker to track all of their play. At the end of the month, they send their monthly results (which includes total rake paid figures) to their affiliate. Their affiliate then pays them an agreed upon percentage of their rake back.

The advantage of that system is that even if Party officially bans rakeback, as long as the affiliate and player getting rakeback keep their mouths shut, there's no way Party will ever know that the affiliate is offering rakeback, as from their point of view it simply looks like a normal player referred by an affiliate. The obvious disadvantage, though, is that much trust is involved, as the affiliate has no way of knowing under that system that what the player claims they paid in rake (backed up by their PokerTracker results) is correct. Players could easily lie and fudge those stats to get more rakeback cash back, and the affiliate can't really disprove it. The affiliate has to trust the player to a large extent, since all the affiliate sees on their end is the total money they earn, without it being broken out by individual players.

(I wouldn't be surprised if at some point an affiliate improves that system, however, and invests in the ability to datamine 24/7, for every Party table. It's actually possible, if you're motivated enough, and as a result you'd have a record of every hand played at Party, each and every month. So you'd know exactly what players paid in rake each month, and could kick back an agreed upon percentage to players who sign up via your affiliate links.)

The other workaround is to have your "wife" or "husband" start a poker blog and sign up as an affiliate for Party, and for you to create a new account and sign up via their affiliate link. They'll get paid a percentage of your rake every month for your play, which basically works out to a rakeback deal, just one that doesn't involve an external affiliate. They don't actively serve as an affiliate or promote Party or anything, the purpose of their signing up as an affiliate is just to allow you to be able to sign up under them yourself, so that a percentage of your rake is returned to you by the affiliate payments. The only problem with this is that Party does eventually flag accounts that only have one player signed up through them, and you'll have to jump through assorted hoops to get your account unlocked, to get paid, etc.

For the moment, those are the only current workarounds I know of, as far as how to get rakeback at Party. And, for the record, I'm not endorsing or condoning any of them. I'm also not sneakily soliciting private emails from people looking fo rakeback at Party, as that's just about the last thing I'd want to get entangled in right now. Given Party's penchant for screwing all sorts of people over at the drop of a dime, it'd be far too easy to be left holding the bag, owing players large sums of money, with no chance of getting paid.

Just make sure that you watch your respective cornholes if you're thinking of going down any of the Party rakeback paths outlines above.

Crypto Tables Taketh Away and Giveth

I have to agree with Senor Wonka's assessment that the Crypto tables seem especially cracked out as of late. Spent most of yesterday at the 5/10 6 max tables at Caribbean Sun banging out more hands towards qualifying for the $200K freeroll. Net result: +$1,208. Of course a chunk of that goes towards wiping out earlier losses but still, I'll take it. Most of those profits came from a crazy half hour or so where I was hitting every flop and could do no wrong. Once you get your tin foil hat adjusted just right, watch out, the poker world is your oyster.

I have to confess that I'm one of those twisted souls that gets a wee bit of pleasure of rooting against the home team, when I move to an area that has geographical allegiances to teams. Except for the Texas Longhorns (where I actually went to grad school at), I pretty much root for whoever is playing the Spurs, Astros, Cowboys, or Rangers. I really don't know why. Because I'm an asshole like that.

But even I came around a little last night, and was actually rooting for the 'Stros. Mainly because the Cardinals have been there before and the 'Stros just seemed so damned happy and so excited, that even my blackened, shriveled Grinch heart couldn't root against them.

Note to Brad Lidge: you're a big boy pitcher and definitely don't need my advice when it comes to pitching, but, umm, I don't think grooving one down the middle to Albert Pujols is a good idea. He's a big boy, too. A bigger boy, even. Plunk him in the back if you have to and pitch to Reggie "I Fall Down and Hit My Head for No Good Reason" Sanders.

I'm not sure who Rams fans get to blame now. Martz makes a nice scapegoat but man, that game last night was fugly.

Watching Madden slip further into dementia is also becoming less funny and more disturbing as time goes by. I wouldn't be surprised if he eventually gets toppled by just finally coming out and saying "Boom! That's another great play from a white, genetically superior, vastly more intelligent, non-threatening-to-my-personal-beliefs-and-worldview, Republican quarterback!" And then when Al gently reminds him "John, you're not supposed to actually say things like that when you think them, remember?" and Madden will giggle and start chanting "Horsecollar, horsecollar, horsecollar, horsecollar, horsecollar..."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Of Statistical Significance

In lieu of poker strategizing, let's talk statistics.

(I hate statistics. Numbers ain't my thing. And I'm definitely guilty of what follows myself, so don't think I'm chunking rocks from my glass house.)

I'm not sure that everyone really grasps what "the long run" means exactly, when used to talk about poker results. One of the early mantras that we all absorb is that correct play is rewarded in the long run, and that over time the lemurs will pay for cold-calling with A7o from MP, while we will be rewarded for having the good sense to instantly muck that same hand as if it were riddled with smallpox.

And I'm not knocking the mantra. It's a good mantra. And it's true. If you put yourself in +EV situations more often than you put yourself in -EV situations, your final result will be +EV, given a large enough sample size.

It's that last bit that's the kicker, and the source of potential trouble.

As is the case with many things, there's no magic number, written in stone, that equates to "large enough sample size" when discussing poker results. Depending on your mathematical bent and how conservative or aggressive you might be, people toss out all sorts of numbers, as far as what sample size will give you an accurate measure of your true BB/100 or BB/hr.

What do you think a decent sample size is to get an accurate analysis of whether you're a winning or losing player, and what your estimated profit/loss should be? 1,000 hands? 10,000 hands? 50,000 hands?

The truth of the matter is that nearly every one of us underestimates the sample size needed to get a statistically accurate indication of how we're playing. Compiling threads from assorted forums and posts, the general consensus is that you need anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 hands at any given level to get a statistically accurate read on your actual performance.

For the sake of this argument, we'll be slightly generous and say you need to play 200,000 hands before you can get an accurate dipstick reading on your mad poker skillz.

Yeah, I know. That's an absolute shit-ton of hands. And therein lies the rub.

The vast majority of the poker addicted don't play full time. We won't even come close to playing the necessary 548 hands, each and every day, just to play 200,000 hands in a year. Even getting in "only" 100,000 hands per year is next to impossible for most people with jobs, lives, kids, etc. Generally speaking, none of us will play enough hands in any given year to give us an accurate idea of how well or how poorly we're actually playing. If we move up (or down) in levels, or focus on other games, the water gets even muddier.

Which isn't the most reassuring of conclusions, when followed to its logical end. From the point of view of the validity of large numbers, we'll never really know where we're at, if our positive or negative results are due more to variance and sheer randomness than our actual level of skill. Or, at best, it'll take most people four or five years of playing before they can truly gauge where they're at on the poker skill-o-meter.

But that's not really the point of this, as it's actually a pretty useless working conclusion. The only time where having an accurate gauge of your potential win rate is truly useful is if you're considering quitting a job that pays X dollars with the hopes of playing poker full time and making Y dollars, and Y must be greater than/equal to X. Otherwise knowing your actual expectation from playing poker is pretty useless.

Wait, what? How can knowing that you're a losing player be useless, since you'd know that it's not variance or fickle luck and that you actually need to work hard to improve your game, so that you can instead become a winning player?

Because, simply, you should never stop working on your game, winning or losing. There's no magic point where you say okay, that's it, I'm good enough, I'm playing at a level where I make the money I hope to make, that's it, no more thinking about poker or getting any better. Even if you wanted to do that, it's largely impossible. The experience itself of playing more hands and encountering more situations makes you a better player, even if you fight it tooth and nail.

Great players don't show a 2BB/100 win rate over 500,000 hands by being lucky; they post results such as that because they work hard at poker and play better than the majority of their opponents. You don't achieve that level of success by playing a lot of hands and then looking at your stats, feeling warm and fuzzy by the fact that the numbers back up the fact that you're a winning player, and not just a luckbox. You achieve that level of success by playing the best you can and always working to get better and to wring more expectation out of the system, bet by single bet.

That said, I do think there are practical applications of the above, beside always striving to get better. I may be in the pessimistic minority here, but I actually think the tried and true mantra of being performance oriented, not results oriented is actually somewhat dangerous advice. I completely agree with it if you interpret it as "always work to get better despite the results you encounter", but only if you add in "...and understand that until you play hundreds of thousands of hands that variance can and will skew your results all over the place."

Or, more simply, I hope people realize and compensate for the fact that in poker the "long run" can take years and years and years of playing to achieve, especially if you do it part-time as a hobby.

The danger (and I've fallen prey to it many times myself and still do) is to approach poker with a certain sense of entitlement, an expectation that your hard work and study will eventually pay off. If you're better than the other lemurs at the table and work hard, study hard, and think hard about poker, it naturally follows that you will, in the long run, be rewarded for making the correct plays. Because you will. That's exactly right. You just have to also understand how long the long run will take to achieve, and realize that variance can play a starring role in short term results.

I've tried to shift my thinking of late to a more hybrid mantra, to take all of the above into account. I still most emphatically subscribe to the larger mantra that consistently making the +EV play will, over time, produce positive results. It's metaphorically up there on the wall, in a really nice frame.

When I sit down to actually play, though, I don't view the situation in the same way. I definitely still strive to make skillful, +EV decisions, but I try to remove any sort of expectation or sense of entitlement. If a year of those sessions won't produce a stastistically sound sample size, then I feel like I have to approach it slightly differently, while retaining the need to strive to always make the best play.

What works for me is to treat it in my monkey brain exactly as if I were playing double deck blackjack, adequately bankrolled, and allowed by the house to count cards (and adjust my bet size accordingly) with impunity. In those conditions, you will encounter situations which are highly, highly +EV, where you will bet the table limit. Even under highly, highly +EV conditions, though, you'll still sometimes lose any individual hand due to the fickle nature of games that involve cards and chance. You'll also lose five hands in a row a some point, despite the absolute best conditions possible. So you'll often shove much money out there, with every expectation and right to win, the odds overwhelmingly on your side, and get soundly thumped, over and over and over.

Over time, however, you'll make tons of money, as all of the +EV situations add up, especially since you're allowed to adjust your bet when the count changes and you're faced with a -EV situation. But the chance for your skill to shine is limited, and often vetoed by that bastard variance. Because the nature of blackjack itself largely takes skill out of the equation (especially in the above scenario), I could play in those conditions until the end of time and never have a crisis of entitlement, as each action is straightforward and determined solely by the underpinning maths. Individual negative results occur at every point but in the end the results are overwhelmingly positive, and I would sit down at a blackjack table under those conditions with a large smile on my face each and every time. Losing weeks and losing months would occur but I'd never stop smiling, as I would know at every point in time, without a doubt, that I would absolutely crush the game over time.

In the end, it's really just silly psychological trickery. For me, treating the short run as if it's something other than poker helps, so that I don't get frustrated and shake my fists at the poker gods, screaming "Why won't you reward me for all of the blood, sweat, and tears I've put into poker? I'm better than these emus but somehow they keep sucking out on me, damnit!" That's not to say that I pretend to ignore the larger mantra of superior performance ultimately trumping all, as I definitely don't. In the long run (when I get there), I fully expect for the work I've put into poker to result in positive results. I just try to segregate the two phenomena in my head to make it easier to deal with on a day to day basis at the poker tables.

Poker is, obviously, much more complicated than counting cards at blackjack. Just to be clear, the last thing I'm advocating is to compare the two. All I'm really suggesting is that you be aware of what variance means in the short run, how long the long run really is, and explore different ways of dealing with the simple fact that your skill and hard work won't always be reflected in your short term results.

What is this Poker that You Speak of?

I actually played very, very little poker this weekend. I know, the horror. Gasp.

I've picked up a few more freelancing gigs of late and banged out some work for that, plus made some decent headway on a couple of other projects. Every now and then I get freaked out at the state of perpetual unfinishedness that the approximately 12,927 projects I have running at any one time, but lately I'm trying to be more Zen and accept my lot. If I'm going to be a monkey of perpetual scheming, such is the price of admission. As long as I can keep the mountain moving forward, even if the progress is imperceptible on a day by day basis, in the end it'll add up.

Also was busy finishing up 3Q paperwork for my side business endeavors. Finding a competent accountant who charges very reasonable rates = priceless.

Three words for you football fans in the great Northern wastelands. Fire. Mike. Tice. He seems like a decent guy and all and most definitely isn't the source of much of the trouble, but sweet Jebus, you're running out of other excuses, given the talent you have to work with.

It causes me physical pain to type this, but the Broncos are actually a good football team, even with Jake the Snake at the helm. Maybe "because of" even, and not "even with". Painful, that admission is.

Damn you, USC. I go against every fiber in my being and root for the freaking Irish and you find some freaking way to win that freaking game. College football is so rigged.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Okay, you win

Party Badbeat Jackpot, you are too strong for me. Nearly 10 consecutive hours of four tabling 2/4 is all my monkey brain can handle. Thank you for the $500 or so in profits, as I'll put it to good use, but you can keep your ginormous riches, you big tease.

This sounds kind of dumb, but I'd forgotten that people are much nicer at lower limits. It'd literally been weeks since I'd seen a conversation of any sort at the 15/30 tables, much less people actually chatting and, Jebus forbid, enjoying themselves and congratulating someone for playing a hand well.

Party Poker Badbeat Jackpot: $560K and rising

Somebody just go ahead and hit the Party Bad Beat jackpot, mmmkay?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Where Does the Time Go?

The one year anniversary of this here thing managed to slip by without me even noticing, as I started blogging here back in August 2004. I'm pretty amazed I've kept this thing rolling, which speaks more to the addictive, crack-like nature of poker than anything else.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with writing, despite the MFA in Creative Writing I have moldering in my desk drawer. Well, that's a lie, as my desk doesn't even have drawers and I have absolutely no idea where my official diploma type thing is at. I enjoy writing fiction but I would swallow hot, glowing coals before I'd ever call myself a writer. Hypothetically speaking, I'd love to write books for a living, yet, simultaneously, the idea of writing books for a living (and the attendent, necessary crippety-crap) makes me shiver with fear. Blogging is just about the gayest, most navel-gazingest thing I can imagine, yet here I am, blogging away nearly every day.

Damn you, poker. I blame it all on you, sucking me into the world of blogging, and keeping me there for so long.

It's pretty crazy to read old posts here, as far as the particular arc of my little fling with poker. While I'm feeling more than a bit burned out in general lately, there's something to be said for pulling back a bit and looking at the big picture. I don't think of myself as a particularly skilled poker player, more as a stubborn, competitive person who will keep grinding away at something until I get it right.

Have I gotten it right? Absolutely not.

But there is something to be said for the fact that after I raided the bankroll for wedding/honeymoon funds at the beginning of last November, I essentially sat back down after the honeymoon with $100 to work with, playing .50/1 limit. Now I'm sitting at 15/30 with a comfortable roll, taking an occasional stab at 30/60 (shh), and grinding out a sum of money each month that's typically 1.5-2x what my day job pays.

To be fair, fair lady poker isn't responsible for all of that, as casino bonus goodness has kicked in more than its fair share, especially at the beginning of the bankroll rebuilding process. But hell, it's all degenerate gambling, so lumped it shall be.

That's not a bad year, all things considered. Especially since it pales in comparison to the general overall +Happiness that the last year of married life has produced. I need to keep in mind the distance traveled more often, instead of feeling like a failure somehow because I'm not measuring up to some of the poker success stories you hear and read about, as far as people crushing 30/60, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, winning major tournaments, etc.

So yeah. That's all you get today. Self-congratulatory navel-gazing. Ha.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Trampled By Emus

I managed to get absolutely run over by the marauding emus last night at the 5/10 shorthanded tables at Caribbean Sun. I'd chipped up nicely there in the last week or two, had banged out most of the hands to qualify for the $200K freeroll they're running, then bam, emu kick in the junk. Catch my breath and wham, another emu arrives with a roundhouse kick to the junk. Suddenly they congregate and it's all over.

(Ok, so I exaggerate a bit. I ended up only dropping $500 or so, which isn't fun, but also not much fun. And to be fair it was more a case of second-best-itis, with second nut flushes and middle sets causing most of the woes.)

Degenerate activities in general are treating me very well, though. I'm still working on an uber guide to sportsbetting bonuses and should be finished soon. Let's just say that yes, indeed, there is much gold in them thar hills for the patient and well-bankrolled.

If any of you are tempted by that new little blackjack icon on Party, make sure you give all the other juicy blackjack bonuses a whirl first: A Complete Guide to Cashing in on Casino Bonuses.

If you possess the degenerate gene that leaves one prone to liking the blackjack and video poker, you might as well play with some free money provided by the house and under +EV conditions. Let's just say there's gold in them thar casino bonus hills, too, for the patient and savvy.

Not too much else exciting going on in my little world. Still plugging away on all sorts of projects, a couple of which should be presentable to see the light of day soon. My juggernaut of a FFL team has rolled to 5-0, looking to adminster yet another kick to the junk this week. My only worries is that all the early season junk kicking may lead to fatigue when the end of the season nears, but only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

7 Poker Lessons I Learned in Vegas

(Hey, look, a post not about Party.)

1) I need to play higher than 10/20 when playing limit live. The slower pace and still very emu-esque play frustrated me a good bit. It may partly be due to some of the bloom coming off the poker rose for me, but I definitely didn't feel like I was achieving anywhere near an equivalent ROI playing 4/8 and 10/20 live, and that the general play was still bad enough to negate some of the advantage of knowing what the hell I was doing. Yeah, I know, you get bad play at all levels, big hands get cracked by junk everywhere, etc., but if I have the bankroll and the time to play, I should play at the highest limit I can comfortably swing.

2) On a related note to #1, I have to get over the psychological gambling hump as far as playing with real dollars, in a live game. I don't have this hangup online when it's virtual money, but my sphincter tightens when it involves actual paper money exchanged for chips which are then (hopefully) exchanged for more paper money. I probably should go ahead and withdraw some cash from Neteller and keep a larger physical cash bankroll for live games. Yeah, I can hit the ATM, but that's psychologically destructive, not to mention a strain on marital bliss if chunks of money start disappearing from our joint checking account.

3) Reads are easier live. (Duh.) Which is nice, but it also includes an even greater obligation to follow through on your reads, no matter how painful. There were two different instances where I absolutely, positively knew I was beaten, even though it meant that someone was about to crack a set of mine with a junk hand like K8o or 59o. Yet I managed to concoct reasons to call it down both times, only to see exactly what I knew they had.

4) Quit when you're tired. I've mastered this as far as online play goes but one night I insisted on playing long past the point of sharpness, for no reason other than to maximize my chance to play poker live. Yes, granted, living in the midst of Texas kind of sucks as far as live play goes but Vegas isn't going anywhere, nor is Louisiana, and there'll be plenty of poker to play in the future.

5) I still need to play much more live poker. I'm not as aggressive live as I should be, as far as making moves or re-raising when I think I'm marginally good, for the very simple reason that I don't want to look foolish. Online, sure, what the hell, as I can hide behind lovely anonymity when exposed as being full of shit, but I'm still hesitant to make plays I know I should live.

6) I need to talk more. Quiet guy who pays close attention and plays very few hands = scary. Loud, obnoxious guy who keeps knocking over his drink, always raises when he plays, and never knows when the action is on him = action. I'm never going to be loud, obnoxious guy but I also don't have to be quiet, scary guy.

7) Table selection applies to live games just as much as onlnie games. Yeah, it's a pain to re-rack chips and find another game but that's what all those poker tables are for, especially if you're in a room with other available tables. Whether it's rocky conditions or one hell of an annoying frat boy WPT-wannabee, there's no reason to sit there if you know there's a better table somewhere else.

24 Hour Party People

One interesting thing to note in all the fallout from the recent actions by Party is the strange relationship that's developed between poker sites, players, and affiliates.

If you draw up a short list of things that enabled Party to become the poker behemoth that it is (keeping in mind that it wasn't long ago that Paradise was far and away top dog in the poker junkyard), you'll find the following differentiators pretty dang high on the list:

1) Aggressively investing in mainstream media advertising.
2) Embracing the affiliate model as a low-cost means of acquiring a player base.

The interesting thing is that #2 also included being an early enabler of rakeback deals by incorporating the ability of tracking individual player in its affiliate interface. Party realized early on that one of the most effective ways for it to build market share was to arm a legion of affiliates with all the tools they needed to acquire and retain players.

(It's a bit apples to oranges, but the average player acquisition costs for online casinos/sportsbooks are surpringingly high, often in the $400-$600/player range. That said, their profit margins are pretty sick, once players are acquired, often in the +$700-$1,000/player range. With that in mind, it's pretty easy to see why most sites offer affiliate programs, as it's a low cost way of acquiring new players.)

So Party sent out its legions of affiliates, many of whom were offering rakeback deals, and everything was copacetic. Affiliates made money, Party made money, players got some of their rake back, and all was well.

Until a year or so ago, when Party suddenly started waging war on rakeback, removing the ability to track individual players and aggressively cutting off any affiliate they discovered who was publicly offering rakeback at Party. At the time, Party's "official" stance was that it was merely looking out for the best interest of its affiliates, and that rakeback deals enabled a few high-volume rakeback affiliates to enormously prosper at the expense of many other "normal" affiliates who weren't offering rakeback. So removing it was ostensibly to level the playing field among Party affiliates, preventing the larger, profitable affiliates from essentially buying new players with the superior deals they could offer.

To be fair, there are many affiliates who agree with the above reasoning and oppose rakeback deals of all sorts. It does often reduce player acquisition to a bidding war, one which you're likely to lose unless you already have a large player base and can offer a higher percentage of rakeback. Again, more information than you likely care about, but most affiliate agreements pay a higher percentage out based on your gross; an affiliate that produces < $10,000 in total rake in a month gets 20%, while an affiliate with > $30,000/month gets 30%. So the latter can offer 27% rakeback and still make a decent profit, while the former can't even profitably offer 20%.

So no more official rakeback at Party. Obviously this upset many players and affiliates and much brouhaha resulted. End result? Tough luck, kid, Party makes the rules and can change its affiliate terms at any time, and retroactively apply them.

Wait, what's that? You mean they can sign an agreement with affiliates and, at their choosing, completely and utterly alter it? Yes, yes they can.

Party also made a few other less obvious changes to its affiliate agreements around the same time and shortly thereafter, including completely changing its terms in regards to lifetime acquisition of players. In the past, once you acquired an player via your affiliate code they were yours, for the lifetime of their account. Now, suddenly, Party changed that, instituting a policy where if the player is inactive for 60 days, they're suddenly fair game, and can sign up under any affiliate they wish.

Unlike the rakeback policy change, this new wrinkle was met with pretty widespread displeasure. It made very little sense to most affiliates, and, more importantly, it completely violated the original agreement they had signed with Party. Many affiliates had spent considerable sums of money on marketing and acquiring players, under the assumption that the terms of their contract would be honored and those players would remain theirs for life. Now, suddenly, this was no longer the case, and other affiliates could actively poach players you'd spent money on acquiring.

Again, the response from Party to complaints was pretty much silence, and the reiteration of the fact that the affiliate agreement every affiliate had signed also includes the little nugget that Party reserves the rights to change and modify that same agreement at any time.

So a year or so passed after the banning of rakeback and things pretty much settled out, with players and affiliates interested in rakeback moving to Party skins that allowed rakeback, etc. Then, suddenly, boom, Party pulled the rug out from under the skins and decoupled the player pools from each site.

By many reports, lo and behold, Party is now allowing rakeback again, and setting up selected affiliates with the trackers they need to track individual players again. Keep in mind, too, that the 60 day inactive policy is also still in effect, so not only is rakeback available at Party again, but inactive Party accounts are suddenly able to take part in rakeback without creating a new account. Since many high-volume players left for a skin that allowed rakeback, many of them currently have inactive Party accounts.

So what exactly did Party accomplish with all this wrangling? I won't go so far to say this was their plan all along, but if they do indeed allow rakeback, they've set themselves up to completely churn through much of their player base acquired through affiliates, and to effectively weed out less profitable affiliate relationships.

At a certain point, it's a good thing for Party to consolidate its affiliate relationships with a small number of high-volume affiliates, as opposed to maintaining agreements and making payments and providing support to thousands and thousands of affiliates, some of whom make less than $10/month. So now, suddenly, rakeback is on the table again, inactive accounts can be required by anyone, and the larger affiliates are able to offer rakeback deals at or greater than 25%. It's not hard to imagine that the end result will be a consolidation of players under the biggest affiliates offering the best rakeback deals.

That's really not the point of all this babbling, though. The point of this is to be careful out there when you deal with Party, whether you're an affiliate or a player.

If you have any lingering doubt in your mind that they care about the welfare of players or affiliates, erase it. They don't. They've eclipsed the point where projecting a warm, cuddly image does them any good and are entering the ruthless, boost profit margins at all costs phase. They've built critical mass so they're willing to do basically any and everything that will boost their profit margins, regardless of how it's perceived, regardless of who they step on.

If you're an affiliate and you depend on Party as a majority of your income, get at least some of your eggs into another basket as fast as you can. Rely on them at your own personal peril. Their interest is solely on their own bottom line, not in honoring any agreement you have with them. I'm not saying to not work with them, as you obviously should, but always have a plan in place for what you'd do if they simply ended all affiliate agreements tomorrow.

If you're a player and rakeback at Party/Party skins is a large portion of your profits each month, start playing better poker. Then make sure you have a backup plan if Party yanks rakeback tomorrow. Because even if they allow it now, they might not tomorrow, if they think they can make more money that way.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Much Ado about..Something?

So I go on vacation for a few days and Party goes and blows up everything.

Or, you know, not really. Party's decision to finally uncouple the player pool of each of its skins is obviously a pretty huge development in the world of online poker, but I can't really see it being the dramatic sea change that some people seem to be implying.

Until recently, Empire, MultiBet, Coral/Eurobet, and Intertops all licensed software from Party Gaming and shared the same pool of players. If you logged in at Eurobet your screen would likely slightly different from Party as far as colors and what-not, but you were playing in the same virtual cardroom as anyone on any other Party or Party licensee site. Basically it used to be like a bar with multiple entrances on different streets, all designed to superficially look unique on the outside but with each entrance leading to the same generic bar inside where everyone would drink up.

Now, though, if you come in through the Empire entrance, you only hang out with other Empire folk. There's a velvet rope keeping you from comingling with the Party hotties. Which sucks, as your available pool of companions is suddenly limited. It's even worse for the Multibet and Eurobet folks, as suddenly their side of the bar is a complete ghost town, with only a couple of Slovak grandmothers with three teeth betwen them.

The other piece of information you need to know is that in recent months Party had been pretty aggresive about eliminating rakeback deals at Party. Various reasons were floated for this, but the end result was that a lot of lucrative players (especially multitabling grinders at higher limits) simply created a Eurobet or Multibet account so that they could continue to get a rakeback deal. Since the rooms shared players, it didn't matter at all which skin you played from. The only real difference is that instead of their rake money going to Party, it went to Eurobet or Multibet or whoever.

So in many ways this is an obvious power play by Party to get those lucrative players back, working under the assumption that savvy players chasing the fish will have to move back to Party, since that's where all the fish are, now that the player pool is no longer shared. And that's a pretty smart move, as it's true, since Party is the site that's dropped tons of money on attracting new players and building a deserved reputation as where the most fish are.

What will be interesting to see is if Party now backs off it's anti-rakeback stance. And early signs point towards yes, as some prominent rakeback sites are already claiming they've received the go-ahead and should be offered the ability soon to create custom trackers for players they sign up.

(This is a litle more than you probably wanted to know, but that was how Party was previously combating rakeback. In the past, affilites had the ability to create custom trackers attached to unique players, so they could tell how much rake each had produced, what each was to be paid in a rakeback deal, etc. When they started officially banning rakeback, though, they removed the ability to creat trackers, which essentially killed rakeback. What's important to note in all that is that if they want to, they can simply flip a switch and roll it back to its previous state, if they suddenly decide to be pro rakeback.)

In the end, I can't really see this having a huge effect on the average player, especially if Party allows affiliates to again offer rakeback deals. If you're not already playing on the Party network, this doesn't affect you at all. If you're playing at Party, this doesn't affect you at all. If you're playing at a Party skin with no rakeback deal, this doesn't affect you at all. The only people affected are those playing on a Party skin specifically for a rakeback deal, as suddenly they don't have access to the full, fishy database. If that means the games decline in quality at their particular skin, then they have to choose to either play at Party with no rakeback deal, stay where they are with rakeback and reduced profits, or to play somewhere else, with or without rakeback. If Party allows rakeback, though, (and it looks like they might), then all those players simply move to Party and sign up for rakeback again.

It's a potentially severe blow to Party licensees as far as potential poker profits go, so you could argue that by extension players will suffer, since bonuses will be fewer or smaller. Honestly, though, most of the Party skins have been offering pretty crappy bonuses anyway lately, so even that's not a huge loss. You have to keep in mind, too, that Coral/Eurobet, Intertops, and Multibet all do much more business on the sportsbetting side anyway, and poker has never been their main focus.

As far as the effect on other unrelated sites, again, I can't see it really changing much. Probably a good thing for sites like PokerStars, Paradise, FullTilt, and the Cryptos, as turmoil within your main competiton is always good. I wouldn't be surprised at all, though, if Party ultimately acquires Empire (which is owned by Tradal, Ltd.), as SportingBet nearly acquired Empire, so they're definitely inclined to being purchased, and it makes much more sense for Party to do it, given the whole licensor/licensee relationship.

Probably the biggest upheaval will be in the affiliate world, especially with rakeback sites. Anyone with a rakeback site solely relying on Eurobet/Multibet/Intertops as a way to offer rakeback on the Party network is completely screwed, as they'll lose most of their player base they've spent time acquiring, since few people savvy enough to seek out a rakeback deal on those sites is going to continue playing there, now that the player pool isn't shared. If Party does open up rakeback again on its site, then all hell will break loose with rakeback sites scrambling to scoop up returning players. Which might ultimately result in players actually benefiting with slightly better deals than before.

Like anything, time will tell. But it's hard for me to see this as much of a dramatic shift for most players. If anything, it might end up being a positive thing, as far as making more players aware of rakeback and offering the chance to wipe the slate clean and get the best deal for Party rakeback.

Vegas Vegas

Where did you go, Vegas? Come baaacccckkkkkkk...

So, umm, yeah. Vegas > home.

But it is nice to be home. (That's my liver talking, not the rest of me.)

The gambling portion of the trip was a bit odd. I finished +$500 or so, which is always nice. $400 or so of that came from teh poker, where I ended up playing a mix of 4/8 half kill and 10/20. I only got in ten hours of poker or so, so I was more than happy with the results, especially since all my big starters got pretty much crushed across the board.

The odd part is that, for the first time, I was fairly bored playing live. Or, more accurately, found myself thinking for the first time that online poker > live poker, at least at lower limits. While it's nice to have a table with plenty of emus and leems, I almost felt like I was playing blackjack more than poker, as far as whether or not pots were pushed my way. And yes, absolutely, online play is exactly the same, but at least I can see a decent number of hands/hour and work on other things, etc. Folding for half an hour, then getting AA cracked by 38o, followed by not seeing a playable hand for another forty-five minutes = not so much fun.

But I'm sounding like a miserable grinch, and that's definitely not the case, as much fun was had playing poker. More than anything it confirmed by notion that a little of the pure joy of poker is lost upon me these days as I focus more on dollars and cents and profitability than enjoyment. I think it's hard, too, knowing that I only have a finite hours to play per trip, and trying to maximize the fun/cool/exciting factor, when sometimes you just sit at an uninteresting silent table and fold a bunch.

The highlight of the trip was definitely seeing the Corrales/Castillo rematch, as boxing was much more entertaining than I thought it'd be. The MGM is definitely > Stratosphere, although they definitely get dinged for managing to lose my wife's pillow that she's had since she was 5 (housekeeping took it, despite the fact that it looked nothing like the hotel pillows), and then displayed a complete lack of concern that anything whatsoever was missing from our room. Yes, granted, it's a pillow, but it's still our personal shit, which you took from the room, and should be able to locate if you spent fifteen minutes actually looking for it. Boo.

Watching Texas thump OU was nice, as well, especially on a screen the size of my house at the ESPN Zone. Winning $100 at the silly penny slots was nice, although video poker sucked some of it back.

ScurvyWife and I had much fun, did much walking around and sightseeing, and all that good stuff. She went with a friend to see Elton John *cough*, so I managed to dodge yet another bullet, as far as shows go.

All in all, Vegas is a pretty damn fun place. Highly recommended. Give it a try sometime.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wheels Up, Wheels Off, More Forward Thrust

Texas -13.5. Sorry, Sooners, but this one is going to get ugly early for you and stay ugly. And given the recent history of this series, the Longhorns are likely going to be more than happy to run the score up into the stratosphere. The times, they have changed.

My entire baseball playoff interests can be summed up as follows: anyone but the Yankees. Because I'll have to kill Joe Buck if they go very far in the playoffs, and I think I'd get shivved pretty quickly in jail after check-raising some fool one time too many.

I'd been getting drubbed at the Caribbean Sun 5/10 shorthanded tables, but went on a nice tear yesterday, pushing pretty solidly into positive numbers. Probably got a third of the hands done for their $200,000 freeroll, which is nice. I wish more sites would implement their structure with unlimited raises when it gets heads up, as yet another lemur stacked off his entire $300 wad into me last night with the second nuts. That's the third time that's happened to me on Crypto sites, and it still baffles me, as each time it's been boat over boat, and not even quads over whatever. Yeah, second nuts is a nice hand, but after the tenth or eleventh re-raise you might, umm, start slowing down a bit and consider the possibility of a bigger boat being out there.

Don't burn the place down. More on Sunday, post-Vegas.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Brain is Dumb

Have a few meatier poker-type posts floating around in the brain hopper but they'll likely have to wait until next week. I've been a damn busy monkey the last few weeks and my brain is feeling mush-like at the moment. So instead of any decent poker content, you just get babbling. Ha.

Go read Senor Rini's latest post if you're looking for decent poker content. That idea has been floating on the periphery of my thoughts for awhile, as far as what the "ideal" game is to be sitting in. While I generally subscribe to the notion that the higher the table VPIP, the better, I'm also realizing that my nature isn't always suited for some of the wild and wooly lemur play that sometimes results. While your potential BB/100 is pretty much directly proportional to the mean VPIP of all the other players at the table, that whore variance also tags along for the ride. There's got to be a certain tipping point for most of us with a finite bankroll and limited time where we're better off accepting less variance and a lessened upper threshold of return, for smoother, steadier profits.

It gets even trickier if you're aggressively rolling poker profits into other investment vehicles. You're not necessarily sacrificing EV by eschewing variance in favor of smoother, smaller returns at the tables if those reduced profits are generating compounded interest elsewhere. Especially if you're in it for the long haul.

Have I mentioned that I'm going to Vegas tomorrow?

Not really sure what my poker plans are, in the city with all the bright lights. Thankfully we're staying in a more poker-friendly casino this time, so hopefully I'll be able to get much more poker time in, likely later when the wifely one has gone to bed. I'll probably stick to 10/20, as most of my degenerate gambling roll is tied up online in sportsbooks at the moment (which is a pretty damn degenerate thing to type).

Longhorns, I'm not doubting you, whatsoever, as all signs point to goodness, but I am going to be one unhappy, tilting monkey in Vegas if you somehow manage to lose to the Sooners again this year.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Is It Thursday Yet? Is It Thursday Yet? Is It Thursday Yet?

Two days to Vegas. Woot.

Played a ton of poker yesterday. Ended up $-14.72. Bah.

Fantasy football team is 4-0 after dispensing another mighty junk kicking. Performify is next in line. Unfortunately half his team is on its bye week, including Priest. I'll probably show a little mercy and go for the fast and devastating junk kick this week, instead of dragging it out in slow, painful fashion.

I realize its my damn blog, but many thanks to all of you kind souls who have commented with encouraging words about my constant wrestling with day job malaise. Yes, I know, I've posted about 182 well-nigh exactly similar posts, all with the same obvious conclusions, yet here I still sit, perched atop the pot. But many thanks for listening to my constant whine, and yes, indeed, this too shall end. I promise.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Caribbean Sun: $200,000 Freeroll + $90 bonus for new players

'Tis apparently the season for freerolls. Lost in the hubbub over the bg PokerStars freeroll was the announcement that Caribbean Sun is offering a $200,000 freeroll for the 2005 Caribbean Poker Classic at St. Kitts. The freeroll is giving away 10 $10,000 trip packages, as well as 20 $5,000 packages. Everyone who accumulates over 2,500 in CPC Points (their point system for raked hands for this promotion) from October 1st through October 31st will qualify to play in the $200K CPC FREE ROLL on November 6th at 17:00 UK Time.

CPC Points are determined by using the Raked Hands formula - 1.00 point for a raked hand of 1.00 unit or more and 0.25 points for a raked hand of 0.25 to 0.99.

Not a bad deal, if you're willing to grind out lots and lots o' raked hands in October.

An additional side benefit is that you can double up and get a monthly bonus at Caribbean Sun while you're grinding. For new players, they offer a $50 signup bonus, plus a $40 monthly bonus. (If you already have an account, you just get the $40 monthly bonus). For new players, the bonus clears concurrently (i.e. your raked hands count simultaneously towards both the new player and monthly bonus).

To clear both bonuses, you have to get in 250 raked hands. (250 for the new player bonus and 200 for the monthly bonus). Here's their definition of a raked hand:

"In order for a Raked Hand to count toward releasing the bonus money, $1.00 or more in rake must be generated in the hand. *Beginning September 1, 2005, as a special feature for our smaller limit players, for each hand you participate in which generate at least 0.25 units ($/£/€), but less than 1.00 unit ($/£/€) of rake, will count as 1/4 (or one quarter) of a raked hand toward clearing your bonus."

All in all, a pretty sweet deal, and the field for the freeroll could end up being pretty dang small, as I don't imagine too many people play enough there on a regular basis to qualify. Even if you don't make it through all of the necessary hands to qualify for the freeroll, it's just 250 raked hands for a $90 bonus, which ain't shabby at all. Caribbean Sun is a Crypto site, which means it can be uber fishy at times, with yahoos wandering in from the casinos. One thing to note, though, is that the Crypto cashier system requires for you to have a PIN snail-mailed to you first before you can cashout, so be sure to put in your correct mailing address when signing up and be aware that you'll have to wait 5-7 business days before you get the PIN and can cash out any money.

I'm definitely going to grind this one out, as I loves me some freerolls and I've always pulled in a steady profit from playing at the Cryptos, aside from any of the bonus money they generously hand out every month.


So it appears that change may be brewing in the wind, as far as the monkey day job. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself and possibly making something out of what will in fact turn out to be nothing, but lately things there are trending in a bad direction, finally dipping into downright manipulative, petty waters.

Long story short, that place sucks. As much as I'd like to stick to the current plan and cruise through six more months there on autopilot, pick up my annual bonus, and run away, giggling, that may not be possible. I'm willing to whore myself out in all sorts of ways for a financial return, but there's a point where even I have to say no mas.

All of which I've been pondering this weekend. And it's interesting, as far as my reaction. From a financial standpoint, I don't have to worry about the impact of losing my monthly paycheck. To be completely honest, I really wouldn't have to sweat it for 6 months or so. Which is a very good thing, for which I'm very grateful.

On the flip side, though, is the fact that I've had a "real" job pretty much continuously since I was 15, with a paycheck guaranteed every month that is sufficient to pay for all of my earthly needs. At no point in the last 15 years or so have I ever had to worry about paying bills or making rent or being unemployed.

ScurvyWife and I have talked this over more than once, and the basic plan, if work becomes untenable, is for me to get the hell out of there, and to give being self-employed a test run for a month or two. Despite my protestations from time to time, part of me would regret at least not giving poker more of a shot, as far as a full-time activity, just to see what sort of results I might be able to produce. And yeah, I'm definitely aware of the fact that even a month or two of full-time play isn't guaranteed to provide a sample size indicative of anything.

If I can't replicate what I was making before, between poker and my other business ventures, then cool, I'll get another job. There's not much of a job market for the insanely narrow thing I'm currently doing, and I'll definitely end up taking a pay cut of sorts, but the job market has been picking up in Austin of late. And, honestly, serving coffee at Starbucks would be more rewarding than where I'm currently at.

The interesting part is how much the idea of not immediately getting another normal day job makes me nervous, more so than I'd have imagined. I can look at bank statements, at our savings account, and what I've squirreled away in IRAs and stocks, and a month of my current salary is a pretty paltry amount in comparison. But imagining having that cut off, even if it's paltry, makes me more nervous than I would have thought.

Not for any logical reason, but just because that's what people "do", they have day jobs and get regular checks. It's what I've always done. Yeah, I scheme endlessly, but it's always supplemental scheming, on top of a regular check from an employer of some sort. Despite the perks of potential liberation from the monkey cage, being out underneath all that open sky, with no guaranteed dinner of bananas, is more than a little scary.

On the other hand, screw that noise. You'd be the dumbest monkey in the world to remain in that situation, subject to the zookeep's fickle moods, if you had a pimped-out El Dorado waiting for you, complete with a couple of monkey hookers and a backseat full of bananas, waiting to whisk you away to much better climes.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

State of the Poker Union: September 2005

Total September Poker Results

Results for $15/30: +$506
Results for $5/10 and lower: +$296
Results for MTTs and SnGs: -$907

Total: -$105

Boo, negative numbers suck.

Poker-wise, it was sort of a glass half-empty, half-full sort of month. I really wasn't up or down all that much the entire month. I made a nice run towards the end but got slapped back on the 30th.

The half-empty side is pretty obvious, as I've been on a nice run the last few months, so it sort of sucks to be a donater. Especially when I felt like I played pretty well, all in all.

On the half-full side, I took some shots at larger buy-in MTTs, which were the main drag on profits. Zilch to show for it, and I wasn't ever really close to the money, but it's good for me to play more of those and get over the miserly reluctance to play in larger buy-in MTTs. I also didn't have a chance to play all that much, due to general busyness, and likely could have ground out some more dollars if I'd been able to get in more hands.

So yeah, fairly meh, but not all that bad, in the grander scheme of things.