Friday, October 26, 2012

Win More by Losing Less

This point is not often stressed – you can win more (overall) by playing hands where you control the pot so that (a) if you win, you win a goodly sum, but (b) if you lose, you only lose a modest amount.

There are lots of ways to do this, and it’s easier if you’re last to act (or first to act in multi-way action).  It’s also easier if you’ve been the aggressor in this or previous pots.

Too often players will get their money in “good” – and then lose to a drawing hand or a hand that was behind but caught on the river.  Especially at the lower stakes levels, players often think of money as strength – the more money bet, the better the hand (or so it seems).  Too often an overbet signals weakness, and smart players will pounce.

OK, here’s a simple example.  On a non-threatening flop (no potential straights, flushes, etc.), most players who raised before the flop will make a continuation bet.  That’s normal (although you know you shouldn’t do it ALL the time, right?).  But how much to bet?  Let’s say there are two other players in the hand, and you’re last to act having raise to twice the blind and you got two callers…

If you hit the flop, of course you’ll bet.  If you bet big and they don’t have anything, they’ll fold, and you win a little.  If they’re on a draw, they might consider pot odds (remember, at lower stakes players don’t often do that) and either call (normal) or raise (not as common, though it can be a good play).  If your hand holds up, you win, but if you lose, you’ll lose big.  Heck, maybe they’re not on a draw, but were slow playing a low pocket pair and hit trips, and buddy, YOU’RE behind.  Not a good scenario.

It would be better to bet, but why bet 250 in a 120 pot when 80 or 100 might accomplish the same thing?  By controlling the size of the pot, you can make easier decisions down the road.

Another example: If the flop missed you the chances are that it hit one of them, and you’re behind.  Of course, tradition and common sense says you should make your C-bet.  But by putting ANY money in the pot, you’re fishing for information…did it hit one of them?  Which one?  How strong?  Again, a small bet will give you the same information as a big overbet.  If no one calls, you win.  If someone calls, you’re likely in trouble unless you improve in a hurry.  And if they raise?  Consider bailing now.

Remember, money not lost can be as good as money won, because no matter how you get it, at the end of the game it’s all YOUR money.  Make it so.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Well, That Was Quick – The Answer

I mentioned (just yesterday) that I would post an update to my post on “Can Poker Keep You Young?” once I heard back from Dr. Alan Schoonmaker, who wrote the original article that I based my post on.  Well, I heard back from the good doctor, and…I can’t tell you a thing.

The reason is that his NEXT column for Card Player magazine is Part Two of this topic, and it goes into great detail on this subject.  He let me have a sneak peak, and I loved it, partly because it’s somewhat similar to things I mention in my book, which isn’t necessarily geared to old folks like me, but to any poker player (in the small stakes venues).  Yeah, it’s ALL good advice, and even though I can’t comment on it here, you’ll want to read about it in the next issue.  Plug, plug, plug.  Seriously, it’s that good.

A second plug would be for any of Dr. Al’s five poker psychology books or the one he co-authored with David Sklansky's, DUCY?(Do You See Why?).  His Amazon’s page is right here.  Mine are over to the right, should you have any money left.

Thanks, Dr. Al!  I now have a new Amazon Wish List started!

And once Part Two is published, I will add some comments here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Can Poker Keep You Young?

A recent article in Card Player magazine by Dr. Alan Schoonmaker asks, and then answers (mostly) this very question.  Titled, “Stay Young, Play Poker,” the good doctor suggests that besides eating right and  getting physical exercise (something we all need), older folk also need to keep the ol’ gray cells active, and what better way than playing poker?  In fact, Dr. Al points to research showing that mental activity does in fact keep brains (and their owners) healthy, and certainly poker is a cerebral activity of the highest order.  Since I’m now in the “can take the AARP discount, thank you” category myself, I find this news of great comfort.

Except…he also says that one should not play poker “on auto pilot.”  Now, I’d argue that no one, young or old, should do this (except for those multi-tablers who feel they must grind it out at 24 seats at a time, playing by rote to make a meager existence).  But what does this mean, exactly?

I confess I didn’t get a clear idea from the article, so I wrote to Dr. Schoonmaker for clarification.  Once I hear back, I will update this blog.

For now, I consider the info good news, and I have taken the advice to heart, somewhat.  I have long considered getting into mixed games, including Stud, Omaha, and the various HORSE/HOSE options, if for nothing else than to break the tedium of no limit Hold ‘em.  Not that I’ve mastered NLHE of course, but to continue my education.  But I do worry that by trying to learn multiple games it might affect my Hold ‘em performance.  So, I think I might have another way to ”mix it up.”

Since I’m in the USA, I can’t play for real money.  It doesn’t matter if I win or lose play money; it won’t break me or cause my wife to divorce me if I lose all $2.7M of it.  But I can test new “theories” and “playing styles” in these free games to see how well they work.  Yes, I know I’m playing other freebies, and it’s “not the same” as playing for keep, but…in this testing mode I can try new things, stimulate my brain, and, hopefully, learn something.

That’s the plan.  I will keep you posted as to what I learn and how I do.  For now, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time (tourist season) when I couldn’t play poker for weeks on end.  That’s one reason blogging has been light - playing too much poker!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Hell with Morality?

The hell with morality.  As an argument against online gambling, anyway.

Even though gambling in some form has been with the human race since…well, since the human race began, and even though there is some form of gambling that’s legal almost everywhere in the U.S. (only Utah and Hawaii have no form of legal gambling), there are some who object to gambling, and specifically poker, on “moral grounds.”  Now I am taking a bit of liberty in using that term in this post, but I can’t think of another term to use other than morality.  But I think it’s not moral to do so, because it’s a misuse of the term.

OK, let’s start with the ol’ dictionary definition:  Morality - conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.   OK, keep this in mind.

My ire today was redirected at the current political platforms as spelled out in this year’s national conventions.  The GOP went so far as to title part of their platform “making the Internet Family-Friendly” (that’s a moral statement, isn’t it?).  It calls for a reversal of a recent DOJ decision on the 1961 Interstate Wire Act, and says,

"Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and call for reversal of the Justice Department's decision distorting the formerly accepted meaning of the Wire Act that could open the door to Internet betting."

So what’s wrong with this?

Well, the “door” to “Internet betting” has been open for so long it’s hard to remember when it was closed.  I’ve been able to make horse race wagers (ain’t that gambling?) on the Internet since the middle 90s. Why say one form of gambling is legal online, and another isn’t?  Better yet, why say one form of gambling is legal one way (live) but illegal another (online)?  Conformity is missing here.

And if some Americans suffer from problem gambling, why eliminate it for everyone?  Taking this same argument further - many Americans are overweight, so we should eliminate takeout food and delivery service.  Or we should shut down all restaurants that serve fattening foods (uh-oh, I’m out of work).

Many Americans can’t hold their liquor, and drunk driving is a problem.  Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are on the rise, so, let’s prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages.  Oh, wait…tried that.

What is so virtuous about not allowing people to do something they enjoy when it doesn’t hurt anyone?  I don’t get that.

I always tend to see conformity as consistency, and that’s my problem with many people who try to hold onto a position.  They’re not consistent.  I really don’t mean to make the comparison of poker to abortion, but I’ll tell you a story that illustrates the lack of consistency and let you draw conclusions.

A number of years ago I argued with a co-worker about abortion.  She felt very strongly about this, and felt that abortion was wrong, a sin, evil, you name it - abortion had no place in a civil society.

“So you’re against all abortions, no matter what.” I said.  “Even in cases of rape or if the mother is endangered?”

“Well, no, I don’t think a young girl who’s been raped should have to have the baby,” she replied.

“What about the endangerment of the mother?”

“Well, I’m not sure about that.  I guess it depends.  But I am pro-life.  All life is precious.”

“Are you against the death penalty, too?”

“No, I’m not.  That’s different, and don’t try to change the subject.  I only want to stop seeing so many abortions.  They’re so wrong, and I feel so bad for all those innocent…”

“So reducing the number of abortions is your goal.  Is that right?” I asked.


“So you’re in favor of sex education in the schools so more kids don’t get pregnant in the first place, right.”

“Absolutely NOT.”

See?  Consistency.  Or lack thereof.

If you’re going to argue against online gambling, find another approach other than the weaker-than-hell morality angle.  That dog will not hunt worth a damn.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Details Do Matter

If you’re a teacher, you know that if you had a nickel every time a student asked, “Does spelling and/or grammar count?” you’d have a small fortune.  Of course, every teacher (save for one I had in college) responds in the affirmative, because, as we all know, “DETAILS MATTER.”  I have a great story from my teaching days that illustrates this, but I’ll save it for the end.

This being a poker/gambling blog, you’ve no doubt guessed that this somehow relates.  Of course it does.  Anyone can play poker, but to be better than the other players, you have to mind the details.  And there’s a lot to mind - playing tendencies, bet sizing, tells, meta-game, stack sizes…the list goes on.  Every time I pick up a poker magazine or read some online site, there’s information to digest, to process, to utilize.  Some of it is refresher, some of it is new to me. But the more I can use the better.  Like money.  And that’s how we get more money, by minding the details.

Too many players play as if on auto-pilot.  They always make the same moves, interpret opponents the same way, and often don’t put their full mind to the game.  Like the book report where proper spelling goes out the window,  playing with less than full concentration is not the way to win.

You say you don’t have time to keep proper records, to categorize your opponents, to play will the full concentration you need to mind all the details?  Fine, then play that way, but if you still expect to come out a winner, you’re only kidding yourself.

Or, as someone wrote earlier this week: “your only kidding yourself.”

That’s not quite what was said, but the Facebook post in question (which I naturally criticized) they used the wrong word, writing “your” instead of “you’re” (for you are).  When I pointed out the error, I was reprimanded thusly: “man i sure wish i could be a grammar troll and spend all day looking on facebook to correct small errors... my life would be great.  What’s sad about this is that the post was from a college radio station (my alma mater) and yes, this person is going to major in communications.  And I had a sad.  And my story as to why spelling counts comes from the same field. 
When students asked me if “spelling counts”, I told them this tale: 

I was teaching a radio management course, and one project had the students write a policy and procedures manual for their fictitious radio stations.  One group wrote about the basic requirements for on-air personnel, and was doing quite well until the part about work beyond their regular weekday shift

“All Full-time on-air personnel will be required to do voice work for commercials and station promos as needed.  In addition, each disc jockey will be required to take a four hour shit on weekends, on either Saturday or Sunday as per the discretion of the Program Director.”

I would have hated to go the pizza buffet on Friday night only to find out I was working on Sunday rather than Saturday…