Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year In Review – ME Edition

It’s been about a year since I started this blog, and since I only have one more day left in this year, and since everyone else seems to be doing a “year in review” kind of thing, allow me to talk about this blog and me for 2012…

In short, it was a pretty good year.  I did not post as often as I expected I might, but I think most bloggers either do it (a) more or (b) less than they plan.  I knew that summer (tourist season) was a no-go, but I expected more of me in the shoulder season and the off-season, but life got in the way.

Speaking of the tourist season, we had a great year at the ice cream parlor (our best yet), so there are no financial worries (well, no major ones) going into 2013.  We have our five year plan in motion (work until “retirement”) and it’s coming along nicely.

The major purpose of the blog was to promote my writing, and in turn, to promote the poker eBook, which became “the eBooks” which is one reason blogging was less than optimal.  When poker remained “unauthorized” in the US in 2012, I quickly put out two other non-poker eBooks, fearing that there would be a very small market for a poker book than concentrated on online small-stakes tournaments.  I was half-right.

The poker book (buy it to your right, if you haven’t already) is still my best seller, and I have high hopes that, once the US actually has an online small-stakes tournament market, it will do better.  The short stories and the blackjack book are doing as well as I expected (the short story book was #1 on Amazon for gambling short stories for a while).  I never did get as many reviews as promised, though the ones I did get were complimentary.  More would have helped sales, too.

Oh, and for those of you who can’t decide among Kindle, Nook, and a tablet, here’s my report as far as what I’ve sold – Kindle is #1 partly because I’ve promoted it the most.  Apple iBooks takes the #2 spot, and Nook – in a word, “meh.”  Hell, I’ve sold more books in the UK via Amazon than I’ve sold in the US on Barnes and Noble. I’ve also sold books in Germany and France, for those of you keeping score.  Pretty happy about that (especially since I did not translate it, and never expected to sell anything there).  Canada and Australia, too (I hear they also speak pretty good English).  Irk irk.

What’s ahead for 2013?  I have two more eBooks planned (one, on the horses, and the other on craps).  I might not get the chance to write them, as I am also considering re-releasing the horse racing program I had back in the 90’s.  I’ve modernized it to work in Windows (yes, it was DOS-based using FoxPro, a so-much-better-than-Access language it’s not funny).  I had success in the BRISNET tournament (just missed the money – 16th out of 3000+), so I think I’ve got the formula down (it was more lines of code in FoxPro, but it worked so much better than Access queries and VB).  It still needs to be more user friendly.  We’ll see.  And of course, there’s this blog.  No promises, although I do want to continue the short exercises that we started in December. 

School will be back in session next week – see you then, and Happy New Year.

And go give the book a review (any of them) if you bought one in 2012.  And if you didn’t – well, you know what to do.

Friday, December 21, 2012

More Quick Exercises – Part Four

OK, I gave you a day off.  You probably needed it, not being able to see your hole cards (see Exercise #3).  Maybe you spent some extra time on that exercise, or, maybe you took the day off from poker entirely…did some last minute shopping, watched the awkwardly named SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl, maybe actually did some work around the office or house.

Today’s exercise will be the last for 2012, as I want to get into bet sizing, and that will be a lengthy discussion…I think.  And with all the holidays coming up (Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Years, Capital One Bowl Week), it’s probably a good idea to keep your learning (and poker) on the back burner.  So just this one, a simple exercise, really.

Here it is – play in a Sit n Go, and target ONE (weak) player, and make him your “poker bitch” until you break/bust him.

This is the ultimate in “playing the player.”  Your opponent might not even know he’s being targeted.  All he’ll know is that whenever it seems like he has a hand, and he gets involved, you’re right there to raise, call, re-raise…you’re a constant threat and pain in the ass.

Now, obviously, you can’t just go off willy-nilly at someone.  Find a fairly timid player, one who you recognize as a calling station or a tight-passive.  You’ll always have a pretty good idea as to his holdings, so the first few times you fire at/back at him, you really don’t need to have much in the way of cards; in fact, the lousier the better in case he retaliates, and you can get away from the hand without too much damage if he hits his holdings.

But if it’s obvious that’s he’s a “fit or fold” player, and he doesn’t fit the flop, wail away.

Eventually he’ll get frustrated and look you up, which is when you push him (and at this point you should have the near nuts).  Then, once you’ve eliminated him, go after the next fish.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

That’s how you win tournaments, but you knew that.  Try this exercise in a 6-max, then a full-table SnG.  Have some fun with it (and yes, now you can look at your hole cards, but you don’t have to).

And let me wish you all a Happy Holidays (remember, there are lots of ‘em this time of year).  Be with family.  Hug your kids (especially this season).  And be ready to play some poker in 2013, provided the Mayans are wrong.Happy Holidays (hhh

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More Quick Exercises – Part Three

Before we begin today’s little exercise, a recap – these exercises are designed to help you at tournament play, mostly Sit ‘n’ Gos.  And they involve play money instead of the real thing because you’re going to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do at a cash game, or a tournament for real money,  So far I’ve had you play games where you only raise or fold, never call.  Then I switched it around and had you call everything – no raises or folds. Today you can call, raise, fold…whatever.

You just can’t look at your hand is all.

That’s right – you know the saying “play the player, not the cards?”  Today you have no choice.  You can use a post-it note or some other cover so that your hole cards are unseen.  Then, play as “normal” except you’ll have to take your cues from everyone else as to what you might have and what they’ve got.  Fun!

You might want to play 6-max tables for a start (or 4-max if you can – PokerStars has ‘em) so it’s a bit easier to track the players.  You could also do a heads-up match, but eventually you’ll want to do this in a 9-player setting.  Another way to start is by covering one of your two cards at first until you get a bit more comfortable, then cover both of them.  Yes, you may never get completely comfortable…but that’s the idea, kinda.

You may have heard that Annette Obrestad won an online tournament this way, supposedly, by never looking at her hole cards the entire time.  She plays very aggressively, and yeah, I buy it.  If you have difficulty in playing the player, this exercise will get you “in the mood.”

Have fun with this.  Be aggressive.  Be bold.  Be a bit crazy.  Be surprised at the results, and be ready for exercise #4 tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Quick Exercises to Make You a Better Player – Part Two

Here’s another quick exercise to undertake with play money while you wait for legal online poker to resume in the USA (Washington has better things to do right now, and it’ll take the states a while to get rolling, and that’s limited, so…make good use of your time now).  A reminder – these exercises are designed to help you at tournament play, mostly Sit ‘n’ Gos.  And they involve play money instead of the real thing because you’re going to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do at a cash game, or a tournament for real money.  At least, I don’t think you would.

Today’s exercise:  you are to play in a tournament and ONLY call.  You can’t raise…and you can’t fold.  That’s right…call everything.

Yes, that’s stupid, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll make it far.  That’s to be expected.

So what can you get out of this exercise? 

What I’d like you to concentrate on is how long it takes before other players pick up on what you’re doing…and then, take advantage of it.  Note how many actually notice what you’re doing…and more importantly, how many DON’T.

Unlike the first exercise, calling all the time isn’t a good thing.  And yet, low level players/beginners call more often than anything…they don’t raise unless they have a monster (and then, everyone else knows about it), and they fold because they don’t like their cards, which to some players isn’t very often (I could make two pair with this, or catch a back-end straight, or some other nonsense). 

But calling all the time serves you no purpose.  You’re not dictating the action, just reacting, and reacting in a passive way.  That’s deadly.

And that’s what you need to learn about aggression.  It pays.  Reacting doesn’t.  Of course, in the course of a normal tournament you’d take a variety of action – call, fold, and raise.  That’s strategy, and it should be based on your cards, your position, your stack level, your opponents’ tendencies, their stack levels, etc. etc. etc.

So try this exercise just a couple of times.  Only call, never raise or fold, in a SnG or two, and see what happens.  You’ll get frustrated.  You’ll see how observant your opponents are (not very, I assume).  And you’ll never want to play this way again.  I hope.  And this exercise will make more sense when we do #3, next time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Quick Exercises to Make You a Better Player – Part One

These are the posts I wanted to write last week when life intervened.  I realize that if you’re like me, you’re getting itchy to play poker online again, but…you can’t.   It’s obviously not going to happen this year, but 2013 might see one or two states start some intra-state play, and maybe once the Feds get done pulling us off the fiscal cliff and enacting some sensible gun control, they’ll finally get around to scuttling the UIGEA and make internet poker available to all Americans.

I KID! It was very hard to write that last sentence without laughing out loud.  Or crapping my pants.

Ok, seriously, some of you might get to play poker online legally next year, so now Is a good time to get serious about your game.  And since you CAN play for free online now, you can use your play money for some learning exercises where you don’t have to worry about your bankroll in lieu of actually learning to play better.

So let’s get with it with today’s simple exercise.


A reminder – these exercises are designed to help you at tournament play, mostly Sit ‘n’ Gos.  And they involve play money instead of the real thing because you’re going to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do at a cash game, or a tournament for real money.  At least, I don’t think you would.

Today, you are to play in a tournament and never call.  You can only do one of two things – fold or raise.

I realize that good play suggests just this, mostly.  Either your hand is good enough to make a raise (especially true if you have position), or not good enough to raise (especially when it’s a re-raise and you don’t have position).  Fair enough.  But the purpose of this exercise is hand selection, and that’s why you can’t call, even though it might be strategic to do so.  Either fold it, or raise the stakes.

What you’ll get out of this exercise (and others to follow) is a sense of what cards are really worth the investment.  The pots you play for will be, simple to see, bigger.  Therefore your stack will either (a) get bigger quicker, or (b) get smaller faster.  Since (a) is usually the desired result, I am hoping that (a) becomes the rule here for you.

And I hope you see that there’s a couple of ways this can happen, which is the other part of the exercise.  One, when you raise (or re-raise) rather than just call, there will be times when no one plays back at you and you take the pot uncontested.  Not a bad outcome.  The other thing that can happen is that you gain more respect at the table.  Your raised indicate a strong hand, and, if your hand holds up, you win; plus, you gain more respect.  This means that more of your raises may go uncontested. See above as to whether that’s a good thing (hint: yes).  And again, when you raise and your hand hold up, you win.  Again, a good thing.

And finally, by playing good starting hands, you stay out of those times when you call with marginal holdings and then worry about whether to call a re-raise when your 8-7 offsuit hits a 10-7-2 rainbow board.  Decisions become a bit easier, and more correct decisions means more winning.  Again, a good thing.

So try this simple exercise a few times.  Only raise or fold in a SnG or two, and see what happens.  If nothing else, you’ll learn something about yourself.  And that’s a good thing, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Y'know, you CAN play the ponies online (even if you can't play poker...)

After a 4-year absence, I went back to playing the ponies (can't play poker online, so what the heck).  Revamped the old handicapping program, and played in BRISNET's annual handicapping competition.  Out of 2000-to-3000 participants, I finished 17th (bankroll of $117.40 after 10 races, $2 bets win/place on each - that's a profit of nearly $80).  Great, right?  Not so fast - prizes awarded to the top 15 players.  Now it’s time to second-guess my selections (4 winners, 1 second), as two alternate selections came in first.  If I had used them, I would've been 6th.  Shoot.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some things more important than Poker? Uh, yeah.

I had good intentions – I planned to get the last of my Christmas shopping out of the way this week, and then sit down to the keyboard and bang out a few short instructional posts for quick reading all next week, it being a holiday-ish week and all.  However…life got in the way.

First, we had some issues at the Post Office (as we have to mail everything back east…of course, everything is east of us, as we’re about 500 feet from the Pacific Ocean).  And there were a few other personal issues, and then there was a shooting at the Clackamas Mall in nearby Portland which put folks on edge and distracted from my writing mission, in that I found myself online checking for information and posting condolences to some friends who knew people who knew people who lived near people who worked at the mall and wasn’t that tragic and horrible and I also spent time arguing (not successfully, or course) with some people who certainly did NOT see this as the time to discuss gun control as everyone knows that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, etc.  The shooting, obviously, is more important as a discussion point, but the Post Office issue took more of my personal time.  Still, there was no blogging.

And so, on Friday, as most of Oregon learned the details of the mall shooting and the mall planned to reopen with extra security, I made revised plans to get back to the blog and write what I had planned to write…and then, some kids in Connecticut were cut down by another shooter, and here we are.

Yes, life goes on, provided you’re still alive, and if you’re reading this, we are.  We can thank our lucky stars, our deity, whomever we wish to thank, but here we are.  We’ll talk poker another day, but for now, we just might want to focus our attention on (a) the state of mental health care in this country, and, (b) we might finally have that discussion on guns that we always never get around to having.  This isn’t a call for control, or regulation, or new laws.  It’s a call for a discussion.  There is a reason some don’t want the discussion, let along control, regulation, or laws.  That can’t be allowed to continue.  We need to tal, and we need to talk now.

To borrow a popular phrase from the sixties – if not now, when?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Aggression, Motivation, and a Bluff…

Aggression, Motivation, and a Bluff all walk into a bar together.  Aggression orders a Chocolate Martini, Motivation asks for a Coors Light, and…wait a minute.  That’s the one about the Priest, the Rabbi, and the Gorilla.

Let’s try this again.  You all know that Aggression is what wins poker tournaments.  The meeky players might make cash, but it’s hard to win it all if you’re just calling bets and not making them.  Ditto for bluffing, making plays, 4-betting, and all that.  You also know that Motivation is a big factor in tournament Hold ‘em - the players who “get hot” and seemingly rake in pot after pot are feared.  No one wants to tangle with them, and so they keep on betting, and winning, and betting, and winning.  And so on.

Naturally, you want to be this player.  But what if you’re not?  What if you’ve been getting the dregs for hands, and someone else is the Table Captain?

At some point, it pays to throw out the poker equivalent of a spike strip to stop or slow down Mr. Aggression.  Today’s question is - when to do it?

My answer, somewhat ambiguous, is - sooner rather than later.

I was in two different 1 table sit-n-goes today where this very situation occurred.  In the first SNG I was one of five left (remember, three get paid) and I was nursing a mid-range stack when the cards went ice cold and the chip leader/guy on my right started raising and winning almost everything in sight.  I went almost two rounds without playing (his raises and my cards made this mandatory), and while he took out two players and allowed me to cash, I eventually got to the danger zone (less than 10 big blinds), and knew that action was needed.  On the button, I went all-in with a pair of deuces - hardly a great hand, but I was counting on fold equity.  I got it (everyone folded) and this bought me some time to the next time on the button (two hands later) where I went all in again with…3-8.  Mr. Aggression called me with QJ suited but I lucked out by catching a 3 on the turn and doubled up.  One hand later Mr. A knocked out the other player putting me in second place, where I wound up three hands later when my pocket 8’s lost to Mr. A’s KQ on a river King.  Oh well.

The second tournament was almost like the first.  We got down to three players with me in second position this time.  My stack was healthy, but then both opponents went at it with 3-betting and 4-betting galore, and with hands like 2-9 and 4-8 I sat and watched for a while, then, with a dwindling stack of slightly less than 9 BB I pushed all-in on the Big Blind when both players limped into a pot. They both folded, and I went all-in again the very next hand on the button, only to find the small blind with pocket Aces that held up.  Still, I felt I had to keep what little momentum I had kin order to get back into a winning position (it was easier to do this time because I already had cashed).

The key here is two-fold.  First, don’t wait too long so as to lose fold equity (if your push is too small you’re gonna get called, period).  Second, even though your cards continue to be trash, you’ve got to make a stand at some point, or else you’ll wind up in the short-stacked position I warned you about in #1 above.

Cards come and cards go, but you have to show aggressive players you’re not just waiting for cards, and you’re not afraid to push back.  If you want to put yourself in a position to win it all, act like a winner and be aggressive even when it’s not in the cards to do so.