Monday, February 20, 2012

Zynga - add this

OK, so you now know I'm not crazy about Zynga as "real" poker.  And if you bought (and read) my book, you know I'm no fan of Phil Hellmuth.    So how perfect is this - in a recent article about Zynga, his lordship Poker Brat says that, should Zynga pursue real online (for $$$) poker, he and Zynga would be a perfect fit.

The king of "I hate luck" as spokeman for the site where luck rules.

Words fail me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Zynga? Seriously?

I contemplated writing about Zynga a while back, and easily dismissed it.  Zynga poker isn’t real poker any more than Farmville is real agriculture.  It’s a game - a social game.  The rules are “the same” (sort of) though you get more “points” (called money) by having “buds” and doing all that social networking crap than actually playing good poker.
With news that their COO contemplated a move to “real poker” I feel compelled to comment.  In a recent news article he said that Zynga is looking toward expanding into online gambling over the course of the coming year.  Yikes.  Right now they rely on Facebook to deliver their product.  A move to something more independent would make for a “real-er” game, but…jeebus.

If you’ve ever played Zynga poker (and in a bit of irony, it’s the LARGEST poker site in the world), you know that it doesn’t function like a poker site.  There’s no multi-tabling, no pop-up screens when it’s your turn, etc.  It’s a game, pure a simple (and the people who play are likewise - simple, that is).  Tournaments are known for at least 3 or more players going “all-in” on the first hand no matter what cards they hold (the so-called “Zynga effect”), and play is on a level of Ms. Madison’s third-grade class on extended recess.  And often, because it IS a social game, the players ARE third -graders.

And yet…I know many “real” poker players who hang out playing Zynga poker.  I do, too, when I am completely bored and have about 10 minutes to kill (that’s about as long as it takes to complete a single table SNG).  It’s fun to watch in a car-crash kind of way, but I have to think that it eventually destroys any integrity of skill one might have (which is why I limit my time to about 15 minutes).  I make a game of it - I don’t play a hand until there are 4 or fewer players, and then I try to make at least second place (winning is hard only because the lucky schmuck who went all-in with 8-3 offsuit when 5 other players called and got lucky and made two pair and hauled in $6,000 while you’re stuck with about $950 of your starting stake).  But that’s about as seriously as I take it.

So, can Zynga compete as an online “real” poker site?  I’d love to hear what you think, but I can tell you this - I will take them seriously when there’s a World Series of Balloono.  Or maybe “Superstore Shuffle.”  Seriously?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mega-Thinking When the Other Guy Isn’t

One crucial factor in separating good poker players from bad ones is the ability to put yourself into the other guy’s head, and try to see how he might be thinking about the hand.  Too often, at low stakes (where I play, and quite frankly, most of us play), players only consider their own cards.  If they think elsewhere at all, they might think about what the other guy holds, but rarely do they consider anything beyond that.

Despite the following example, it’s a good idea to try to look at how the other player might see the hand unfolding, and, if you can see it like he sees it, you have a better idea how to play your hand.  This hand occurred at the end of a pot-limit 6-handed Sit ‘n Go where I placed second behind the obviously Villain.

In this last hand, I found myself heads up with the Villain, behind in chips by about a 3-1 (roughly 6800 to 2200 before we posted blinds).  I had the button (and the small blind).  Blinds were still small (100-200) due to the fact that the Villain had knocked just about everyone else out quickly with some great River draws - two flushes and a straight.  He hadn’t played great, but hadn’t played poorly, either.  He just stuck around to try to catch something, and when he did he went all in and everyone called him as if he was bluffing (it was pretty obvious by the third time).  The only other hand he won was when he had ace-five and an ace flopped - he bet out and took the pot uncontested.  I had won three hands, two hands without showing, and the only other time I showed my hand - on a hand that I bet hard - I lost.  These two items are important - remember them.

So as I said, I was on the button, and was dealt a pair of pocket 5’s.  I raised the pot, and he called.  The flop was a disaster…Ace, King, and Jack, with two spades.  He checked.  I was either way ahead, or way behind, but as I was getting low on chips, I thought I could take a stab at it and see what the turn brought, and if it was a scary card I might go all-in on a bluff.  Or, he might not have anything and he could fold here, and I’d pick up some chips.  I had raised initially, and if he had a smaller pair (jacks, for example), he might fold to a pot-sized bet thinking I had the ace.  So I bet the pot, and he called.


I assumed he had something, and was waiting…not necessarily setting a trap, mind you, but just doing what he had done in previous hands…waiting for a fourth card to make a straight or a flush, or perhaps another jack to give him trips.  Granted, I could have the straight, or flush, but he’d have to see if and/or how I bet the turn, and besides, I was getting low on chips, so he might think I might be inclined to try to bluff him off. 

All of this was being considered when the turn brought the five of spades.  That gave me trips, but also made a flush possible.  And, of course, there was also the potential for that Ace-high straight.  I strongly considered going all-in regardless of what he did, and to no surprise, he checked.  I did not hesitate, and pushed all in.  He considered…waited almost until the end of his time limit…then called.

I was not terribly surprised that he called.  I figured he was holding one pair at least, and while unlikely he made a flush (he would have bet it), he might still have the straight.  He might also have a high spade hoping for a four-flush to take the pot, or maybe even trips.  I figured that I was in good shape - even if he had the straight or the flush, I could catch the last five, or one of the board cards could pair giving me a full house. 

He had to have something.  If I was bluffing, his pair could win, but if he had nothing, or, conceivably, if he was “waiting” again for the river to hit a four-flush or straight, he was getting the worst of it.  He was well ahead in chips, and by calling the turn, he was giving me a chance to catch up to even.  If he folds with nothing or almost-nothing, he saves himself chips to use for the next hand when he has the button.  He’d still have a substantial lead, and if I had any kind of a hand, he was in no position to spew chips needlessly.

Still, I was not terribly surprised that he called - until he showed his cards.  He had the two and three of hearts.  No straight.  No flush.  No pair, and…even if I was bluffing with absolutely nothing, HE COULD NOT BEAT A BLUFF.  The ONLY way he could win the hand was if a four fell on the river, giving him the A-5 straight.  And remember - before he saw what I had, there was already the potential for an ace HIGH straight, and a flush.  Both demote his possible straight to second best.

So here’s the lesson - it’s not enough to consider what hands you might have, but what your opponent might have, and, what he’s thinking.  He had to assume that I was running a bluff, but he was in no position to beat any kind of bluff unless he got incredibly lucky once again on the river. 

That is how you’re supposed to think, and that’s how you win.  You get the odds in your favor, think about how your opponent is playing the hand, and go for the gusto.

Oh, yeah, postscript.  The river was a four, and he beat my trips with his next-to-impossible straight.  You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I wasn’t going to say anything about it, and then, doing a random word search, I discovered something worth talking about, so…I’ll talk about it.

I wrote another book.

Actually, to be accurate, I wrote most of it “a while ago.”  “Let the Chips Fall” is a collection of old short storied I wrote back in the 90’s during my care-free freelancing days.  Most of them were published at one time or another (though I think I was only paid for one), and one (amazingly, not published) actually won an award.  From a casino.  For $1,000.

That’s not a misprint.

Anyway, I released it in eBook form last month, to no fanfare, just to see what would happen.  Today, in checking’s Kindle books, I did a search for “gambling short stories.”  Guess who was at the top?

C’mon, guess.

Here, try it:

Anyway, I’ve sold some books.  Here and in the UK.  It’s only $2.99.  And, I’m not telling which story won the $1,000 prize (from Cactus Pete’s Casino in Jackpot, NV).  Though if you buy the book and ask me, I’ll tell.

Anyway, exciting news for me.  Thought I would share.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nice review (via email)

A customer sent me an email about the book (Be the King!), and since her said I could, I am posting (most) of the review here.  Nice guy ('cuz he said nice things about the book).


Your book "Be the King (of Small-Stakes Tournaments) was recommended in the Iron Duke Forum and I want to thank you for writing it.
I haven't finished going through the entire book but so far it has been very helpful.  I especially like your Starting Hand chart. It makes it easy to find a starting hand to see if it is good enough to play.
I was also interested in Expected Value and did a search. I found a listing of Expected Value Poker Hand Rankings for Texas Hold'em on the Tight Poker web site. 
Most web sites show the starting hands in a line form of Category listing (Cat 1, Cat 2, Cat 3 etc.) and I am used to using those. I went through your Starting Hand chart and compared them to the EV listing from Tight Poker.
To make a long story short, I made a line chart using your catagories lined up by expected value from the listing from Tight Poker. I have both your chart and the line chart that I made on a spread sheet which I use to help me make decisions on starting hands if I have a doubt.

Bottom line is that I am trying to learn this game that I love to play in order to make it more enjoyable by making some money while doing what I love to do. Your book is helping me to do this and I greatly appreciate it.  -- Table Name: Ninja2042