Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blackjack Reminders…and a Funny

I thought I’d take a week off of poker…at least, writing about poker…and talk a bit about Blackjack.  One reason is that my Blackjack strategy book, “The ABC’s of 21” is flying off the shelves (well, better than the other two books, and I even sold a “Nook” version).  Another is something that reminded me of something that reminded me to remind players about something.  And then I came across the “funny” from a Facebook friend, and that settled it.

So, the reminder is this – since you’re not playing blackjack every day (are you?), and the skills you need to play blackjack should always be razor sharp, you need to practice. There are plenty of good programs out there that allow you to set the scene – number of decks, Las Vegas or Reno or AC rules, etc.  Some are free, and others aren’t, but as always, you get what you pay for (in that the free programs have fewer features). 

Being cheap, I always look for free, and since I spend some time online…I practice at sites that aren’t really like the real thing, but they are great for ONLY dealing with Basic Strategy (as card counting is counter-productive, no pun intended).  I’ve been playing a Facebook app called MyVegas (from the MGM/Mirage folks) that has a blackjack game as one of their options (the others are all slots, but you can win points usable at their properties, and since I usually stay at Luxor, an MGM/Mirage property…it makes sense).  The game is fast, you can play three hands at once, and although they use a “perpetual digital deck” (continually reshuffled multi-deck, so counting cards is non-existent), it’s great for practicing Basic Strategy, which by now everyone kn ows because you bought my book.  Or something.  Anyway, if you’re interested in joining the site, it’s free and I can send you chips to get you started.  Just ask here on the blog, or on Facebook, or contact me somehow.

Now, the funny.  A posting from FB friend Judy went like this:

Playing blackjack and got on a run when someone at the table wanted to split pictures. The guy next to me was laughing so hard I had to ask what was so funny. He said he went to split pictures one time and an 80 year old woman said to him, "If you had a 12 inch cock would you cut it in half?" He said he nearly fell off the chair, never split pictures again and gets a good laugh every time someone else does.

That was funny enough (and good advice), but one of the comments that followed was even better:

What do you think the woman would have used for a metaphor if it was a woman splitting pictures?  Then again, a woman wouldn't be so dumb.

Can’t say I disagree.

So remember – practice, don’t split picture cards, and guys…don’t hack your weenie, no matter what.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The State of the (Poker) Union

Hey, it’s that time of year.  I’ve bee thinking about the current state of poker in the union (the US of A), and recent events made me think and opine.  First, the news:

ITEM:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoes an online poker bill which was his way of saying “make these changes and I’ll sign.”  According to the PPA (Poker Players Alliance), “The governor’s conditional veto openly declared support for licensed online poker and merely seeks specific modifications on its implementation.”

ITEM:  Delaware, Iowa, and Washington are also moving forward with their own in-state online poker legislation.  Nevada is currently the only state with laws on the books and licensed vendors, though no sites are yet up and running, although several are expected to begin operation this year.

ITEM:  Zynga launches a new multi-table tournament module for their Facebook poker users, and it quickly gains traction.  Although only a social gaming site, Zynga has shown interest in making the jump to real-money games.

ITEM:  PokerStars launches a Zynga-like social poker game on Facebook.

ITEM:  Two companies that would benefit from NJ online gaming, Zynga and Boyd Gaming, have seen stock prices rise dramatically in the last few weeks. 

ITEM:  PokerStars is looking to buy a casino, the Atlantic Club, in Atlantic City, NJ.

ITEM:  Hollywood Casino in Columbus, OH, is adding 6 poker tables…and removing 500 slot machines to make room.

So does this mean that we still have a seeming insatiable appetite for poker?  I would say yes.  And are all the players involved doing everything they can to help feed that appetite?  Yes, all but one…the Federal Government.  
The fact that the PPA has moved away from any federal lobbying and has concentrated their efforts to the states should be enough evidence that no one in Washington is paying attention (I realize that this is said a lot in a variety of issues).  I still think it will be difficult to have an effective poker presence in the U.S. going state-by-state, but it could be that the Feds will wash their hands in order to let some progress be made (see horse racing and simulcasting).

I am very hopeful that online poker will become “legal” in the U.S. once again (of course, it’s not currently illegal, but the moving of money in order to do so is the crux of the issue – see UIGEA).

I’d love to see more progress sooner than later, but that’s wishful thinking.  But a boy can dream, can’t he?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Re: Re-raising. Patience Works Unless You Don’t Have Enough

Something that I don’t see enough of at the lower levels is smart re-raising.  Heck, I don’t see much re-raising at all except for the asinine all-in from the bingo players.  The re-raise is a valuable weapon in your arsenal, and it’s also something to be careful of if it’s tossed back at you.

When a re-raise is made, it should signify a strong statement – even though another player has committed chips to the pot, the re-raise stipulates that more are needed, because whatever hand the first player thinks he has, the re-raiser thinks his hand is better.  At least, that’s what a re-raise SHOULD signify.

Obviously, this is a good bluff, or semi-bluff, in the right spot.  If this occurs on the flop, and the flop contains “scary” cards (all of one suit or three-in-a-row) so that a re-raise could mean a straight or flush – that could be scary.  It’s also a case where there are two like cards (9-9-4) which could give the re-raiser trips.

In any case, it’s a situation where I like to think there are only two possibilities:
  • I’m way ahead, as he’s bluffing, or
  • I’m way behind.
This also holds true if I’m the one doing the re-raising.  In 70-80% of these situations I have a great hand – two pair, trips, or a made straight or flush.  I have the nuts or damn close to it.  In 10-15% of hands I am semi-bluffing – I am one card away from the nuts.  In the other cases I have air. 

Of course, the goal is to not tip off when I have what.

Last week I was on the other end of a great re-raise.  I was up and down all tournament, and was trying to knock out one of two really good (and aggressive) players at my table.  I don’t usually go after the strong players, but the weak players were not very active, I was the chip leader at the table by a good margin, and I saw a couple of opportunities to deliver punishing blows.  One player was on the ropes until a river 9 gave him trips, and two hands later he doubled up again through me having pocket aces to my pocket queens.  So two re-raises from me in a row, and neither worked.  I then set my sights on the other strong player, and tried a couple more re-raises on scary flops, and he conceded two in a row.  And then, he re-raised me on a 10-7-5 flop where I had top pair, top kicker, and I pushed all in.  He called again…and flipped over pocket Kings.  He waited a complete round before he continually re-raised me whenever I made a bet.  I tossed two mediocre hands away, and finally pushed holding pocket Tens…and damned if he didn’t have the Kings again.

I lost the ability to gain respect for my re-raises and never got it back.  And I should have been more patient and waited until I had a monster hand before challenging him again.  But…frustration + lack of patience + moderate cards = rail.

More on this later in the month.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Big Stack vs. Patience. Guess Who Won?

This is the follow-up to my last post, a few days later than I planned.  I gave this a little extra time as I only had a couple of responses on the Blog, and I asked a few of my online buddies the same question…and I guess few responded because they thought it was kind of a dumb question, which maybe it was.

If you recall, I asked the following:

Situation:  It’s a 10-player 1 table Sit ‘n’ Go, top three get paid, and there are 6 players left.  You’re one of them – IF YOU COULD ONLY HAVE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO OPTIONS, WHICH WOULD YOU PREFER?
  1.     A big stack to punish the other five players, or
  2.     Absolute patience to pick your spots in order to get to be one of the Top 3.

I reminded posters that they could not have both patience and a big stack.  I also asked them to explain why they chose as they did.

To little surprise (except me, I guess), everyone said “Big Stack.”

Those that did explain themselves usually said something akin to “It’s easier to punish people with a big stack” and “you can take more chances.”  I get that.

The thing is, poker isn’t (necessarily) about taking chances.  It’s about making the best of what you do get.  It’s about making fewer mistakes than the other guys, and pushing them into making mistakes that pay (you) off.  You can do that with a big stack, and for some, I would think it would be easier based on not skill, but luck and bullying.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen players get a big win by luck (their suited 8-9 makes a four-flusher in spades to two red Aces, for example), and then plunge in to try to re-double their luck with pretty much any two cards, thinking they can beat their opponents senseless merely by the size of their bets.  Push, push, push…until someone gets a hand and breaks them, and their big stack is whittled in half.  So whatever advantage they had is gone.  This is hardly using a big stack effectively.

And yet, I see it over and over and over.

If only they had the patience to wait, take chances when they had the best of it, and lure opponents into a trap rather than use blunt force.  If only they used their muscle (their big stack) like a knife, cutting pieces of their opponents bit by bit, rather than all at once as a nuclear device.

Tell me if I’m wrong in what I see,

I am a strong believer in patience.  Not that I don’t like a big stack – it is the overall object of the game, after all.  But there is a reason we say “building a stack” instead of “having a stack (magically appear).”  Skyscrapers aren’t put up all at once – they’re built.  One doesn’t obtain an automobile from a 3-D printer (not yet, anyway) – it’s built with craftsman-like skill.

So should your poker playing be like the craftsman – you can’t conjure up a big stack, you have to create it.  Luck is based on statistics, and if you’re playing hands that only give you a 1-in-6 chance of winning, in the long run, that’s what’s gonna happen.  

In the next few posts I will dive further into how patience can get you the big stack you want. 


But you’ll have to be patient….