Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Homework Answers on Expectations

My last post had a “homework” assignment of sorts - I gave you a set-up (four of them, actually) and I asked about your expectations, and whether or not what you expected your opponent to have (reading him for a hand, or a range) actually mattered.  Here was the set-up:

Six-handed table, you’re in the cutoff (one from the button).  First player folds, you raise, and are called by the button.  Everyone else folds.  Flop comes…well, this time it’s Ace-Ace-Jack, with all red cards (Ace-Jack of Hearts, Ace of Diamonds).  You check.  Button makes a big bet (twice the pot).

What do you EXPECT your opponent has when you have:
      • Ace-Nine (both spades).
      • K-Q Hearts (potential straight, flush, and straight flush).
      • Jack-Ten (both spades).
      • A pair of black sevens.

Bonus question…does your expectation matter?  Why or why not? 

Kind of a trick question.  What you hold is not relevant to what you can expect your opponent to hold EXCEPT for the fact that if YOU hold one (or both) of the cards you might expect him to have, the odds of him having those cards is actually LESS.  In other words, if you hold an Ace (and there are two on the board) the chance of him having the case Ace is drastically reduced.  Ditto two hearts if you think he’s holding two hearts, etc.

And…if you have a read on him, AND you have a good grasp of his tendencies, you might be able to piece two and two together and play the hand differently than if you just assumed that his big bet meant that he had a solid hand.

In my real-life situation, I held the KQ-hearts (the second example), and normally, his overbet would have told me that he had a Jack (for two pair), or maybe even an Ace (for trips).  But I had played with him enough at this table to know three things:
  1. He usually (90%+) made some kind of bet when it was checked to him on the button.
  2. He usually made a larger bet with smaller holdings (and made small, inviting bets when he had the nuts, to encourage play), and most importantly,
  3. He ALWAYS made a bet whenever a pair showed on the board.

It was this last bet that allowed me to dismiss any kind of a real hand and to consider a call or a raise.  The call seemed good enough to me at first (I figured I was ahead of whatever he had and had a chance to make a monster hand though pot odds were not quite right), but the raise would give me more information (and a bigger pot if I was correct in my assumption…and it held up), so I raised him by the same amount (twice the original pot).  To my surprise, he just called.

Now, I paused to reconsider his holdings.  He tended to be somewhat loose and aggressive, but I expected him to either fold (if he had air) or, if he had trips or the expected two-pair, to re-raise (probably all-in).  Even if he was on a flush draw like me, the expectation was that he’d re-raise. Of course, I had the higher flush draw…but he didn’t know that.  So what was he doing calling?

He either wanted to see the next card, like me, or he was planning to take the hand away on the turn regardless of what card fell, either because (a) he had the nuts, or (b) wanted to represent the nuts, regardless.  But which one?

The debate inside my head ceased the moment the third heart hit the board.  My flush was complete, but…did I lead out?  Or did I check again, allowing him to dictate the action?  I made a bet for half the sizable pot, and waited to see how he reacted.  If he had junk, he’d fold.  If he had the flush, too, he might call or re-raise.  But again, he just called.  I still put him on a J-x hand, though two smaller hearts was a possibility.

The river card was the 7 of diamonds, a real nothing card as far as I was concerned, and I made a pot size bet.  And then he raised all-in.

Back to my expectations…one of the hands I thought he might have had but dismissed on the turn was the holding of a small pair, like sixes, or…sevens.  If he did have the pocket sevens, he now held a boat that crushed my flush.  But would I expect him to play the hand this way if he had two pair that was likely to be the SMALLER of two pair if I held a Jack?

Actually, yes.  And a fold from me was in order.  Except…go back to #2.  He was the classic, “weak means strong, strong means weak” player (thank you, Mike Caro).  He had been strong all along, and his call on the turn despite there being a potential flush draw showed patience…as if he planned to go all-in on the river all along.  I had him covered, and he was basically all-in for his tournament life (we were the last six of a two-table 18-player tourney).  So I called.

I was right - he DID have a small pair - fives.  My flush held, and he exited in 5th place.  The win catapulted me to the lead, and I eventually won the tournament.  Not braggin’, just fact.

He erred not in being aggressive, but in failing to realize his own expectations of ME.  I had not made a re-raise at the final table with anything less than a solid hand (I was playing maybe 15% of all hands, and he was playing three times as much).  Yes, THIS time I was betting on the come (and made it), but my initial re-raise (and my bet on the turn) should have set off alarm bells.  My pot-size bet on the river was a call for a white flag, but instead, he decided to ram a lesser holding at me.

And I expected it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don’t Let Your Expectations Extinguish Your Profits

In my last post I talked about a bad review I received for my book of short stories about gambling entitled, “Let The Chips Fall.”  In my opinion, the bad review was prompted not because the book sucks, but because it didn’t meet the buyer’s erroneous expectations.  I then went on to explain why it’s such a great b…no, actually I explained how we can use the idea of missed expectations = dissatisfaction” equation in our playing of poker!

The first example I gave was about how one’s avatar and screen name might provide a false identity.  This is also true in live poker, and the irony here is that the VERY FIRST story in my book is about a guy who plays professional in Vegas, but acts like a tourist.  He drinks constantly from bottles of Bud (except they’re filled with water courtesy of a deal he has with the bartender), and is all dressed up in souvenir clothing.  I had him in a St. Louis Cardinals’ jacket (and a Branson, MO cap) - if it was the other way around some might have thought I was describing Dennis Phillips (and the story was published before Dennis and his cap made it big).  No matter…in the book, this character teaches our protagonist some lessons in poker and in life, explaining his dress and non-booze thusly:

"Booze ain't no good for your head when you're trying to think, son.  That's lesson number two.  Lesson number one is things ain't always what they seem to be."

Obviously expectations at the table are more than what players look like.  Or what they say and how they act.  Table talk and poker tells are notoriously misleading, and Mike Caro said it first and best - “weak means strong, strong means weak.”  But there are other misleading parts of the poker puzzle that can give you expectations that go wrong.

Take this scenario:  6-handed table, you’re in the cutoff (one from the button).  First player folds, you raise, and are called by the button.  Everyone else folds.  Flop comes rainbow blah (no face cards and three different suits), you check, and button bets a small amount (say, 1/3 to 1/2 the pot).  There are two possibilities:
  1. They have a “good” hand, and they want to encourage you to continue in the hand, thinking they have you beat.  More money in the pot means a larger win for them.
  2. They have nothing, and want to discourage you from the hand, thinking you also have nothing.  They’re willing to bet a little bit to win a little bit.

Your expectation is pretty much as described, and playing the hand from here follows your “normal” (for you) pattern.  Unless you’ve seen their play before this hand AND have made a determination as to what type of player they are (aggressive, passive, very good, very poor, etc.).  You can then better determine whether they are the type of player to make a stab at the pot regardless of what they hold, or would only bet if the flop hit/fit their hand.  You can either call or raise… or fold.  It depends on your expectations as to what they would normally do in this situation with a pair…or trips…or nothing.

Now, let’s make the bet very large, as in an overbet (say, two-to-three times the pot).  Your expectation changes.  Again, you have to know what this player is capable of.  Is he making a large bet to entice, or to get you out of the hand NOW?

That’s a helluva choice.  And unlike in the first scenario, the cost of being wrong is a whole lot more.

This is why reading your opponents and putting them on a range of hands is so vital to successful card play.  You need to understand what you opponent might be holding and why he is betting the way he is (given those cards) in order to make the best approach to the hand - raise, fold…or just call (the lesser desired option, usually).

Here’s another example, and we’ll make this one a story problem for you to respond to (as it really happened, and I’m not going to give the answer today):

Same set up as before…6-handed table, you’re in the cutoff (one from the button).  First player folds, you raise, and are called by the button.  Everyone else folds.  Flop comes…well, this time it’s Ace-Ace-Jack, with all red cards (Ace-Jack of Hearts, Ace of Diamonds).  You check.  Button makes a big bet (twice the pot).

What do you EXPECT your opponent has when you have:
  1. Ace-Nine (both spades)
  2. K-Q Hearts (potential straight, flush, and straight flush).
  3. Jack-Ten (both spades).
  4. A pair of black sevens.

Bonus question…does your expectation matter?  Why or why not?  Comment here or on my Facebook (as that seems easier for most everyone).  Next time I’ll tell you what happened…

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bad Review - What To Do? Learn From It!

When you interact with the public, everyone has the same goal - to be loved (or at least, liked a while lot).  In my “real job” our ice cream store is reviewed constantly on TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, etc., and we have the good fortune to usually garner 4 or 5 stars almost all of the time (partly because the spousal unit makes absolutely incredible ice cream).  As a writer, I look forward to reviews and always hope that they are favorable.  Until recently, that’s been the case, but I just received my first 1-star review.

I have to be careful here.  With the ice cream store, we do get the occasional lousy review, but because there are so many others that are 5-stars, I figure that one of two things happened:
  1. They got the wrong store (happened twice).
  2. Their expectations were out of whack with what we’re all about.
Now, let me explain #2 - we’re a small, simple ice cream shop, mostly cones and dishes.  Sometimes folks want something different, say, a banana split, or they want two half-scoops because they can’t decide on a flavor, or they want a flavor we don’t make (like Cookie Dough or Gramma’s Cake batter).  So when a potential customer comes in and asks for something we don’t have, they can either (a) go to one of the other shops in town, or (b) get pissed at us because they expect us to have it and dammit, that’s just not right and every other store in the world has it and why can’t you do this, and so on.  I am amazed just how upset people can get over ice cream, and I’ve learned that in the 21st Century, some people decide to get upset and “get even” by writing bad reviews.  The ultimate, online, “That’ll teach the son-of-a-bitch.”

Now, again, I have to be careful, because I really believe that the individual who purchased by book of gambling short stories is sincere in his opinions, and opinions are never wrong.  The fact behind them might be, but the opinion stands on its own.  However, I believe that like my ice cream 1-star reviewers, this individual’s expectations were out of whack.  Thing is, I don’t know how he got ‘em.

In his short review, he says, I expected detailed stories from the tables and got nothing. I have no idea how he got that expectation.  The write up for the book states, “This is a collection of short stories and articles that I have written over the years about poker, gambling, and the like.”  The book is actually… a collection of short stories and articles about poker, gambling, and the like.  The book has a “Look Inside” feature which displays the first 10% of the book, including the table of contents.  Only ONE of the stories is about poker, though, ironically, it’s the one in the sample.  The others cover slot machines, craps, horse racing, risk, and gambling in general.  The table Of Contents isn’t perfectly clear about this, but it also doesn’t say that all the stories are about the tables.  And since one can read SOME of the first story, one might get an indication as to how interesting (or not) the writing is.

One thought - perhaps he saw that I wrote other books on poker and blackjack, and just assumed…and you know what happened when you assume…

I don’t know if he’s purchased any of my other books - the other reviewer (who gave it 5-stars) did, and he loved the other two books, too.  Chances are the 1-star reviewer won’t buy any others.  No surprise.  Hopefully, the next eBook he buys he’ll use the “Look Inside” feature and get a better idea what he’s purchasing.

So what the “Learn From It” part of this post?  Well, obviously, I learned that I’m not headed for any book awards in the near future (but I knew that).  The real “learning” is another way to apply the “missed expectations = dissatisfaction” equation - to poker!

I’m still coming up with a bunch of examples as to how a player can make costly mistakes because of poor expectations at the table, but for now, here’s one:  When you play online, what’s the first thing you learn about your opponents? 

Let me re-phrase that - what’s the first bit of information you learn about your opponents?

Answer: Their screen name and (if they have one), their avatar.

Can you really “learn” something from this information?  Sometimes, but you usually ALWAYS develop an expectation from the info. What is your assumption about an opponent with these screen names and avatars?

Miss Kitty
Card Shark

Let’s just take the first one…chances are, you’re thinking this opponent is male, young, and aggressive, perhaps foolishly so (big bets, all-in, reckless).  You’d be surprised (and perhaps, a bit poorer) when you learn that he plays conservatively, smart, and the only time he goes all-in is when he has the nuts.  You get the idea.

BTW, I always assume that the second player shown above is also male and young, trying to pass himself off as a woman.  As for the third one…what do you think?  Drop me a comment. 

Or a bad review.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

More WSOP Thoughts

Well, it’s over, and like I said, the Michigan kid won (Ryan Riess is from there, a graduate of Michigan State University…oh well, can’t be perfect).  I thought he played very well, and his worthy opponent, Jay Farber, played OK, but did not have the depth to change his game.  He was aggressive, stayed aggressive, and that was his undoing as Riess kinda waited him out and let Farber bet on his no-so-great cards.

I made reference yesterday to a line from David “The Maven” Chicotsky’s column in PokerPlayer called Different Styles of Play in Tournaments.  Too bad Mr. Farber did not read that column.  I thought he did a nice job early in disguising his bluffs, and even when we came up short in that $58 million hand when Riess had pocket jacks, he fought back well.  But he couldn’t change his game sufficiently to pull completely even, and he pressed too much, too hard, and lost to superior holdings.  An entertaining evening, nonetheless.

Two thoughts – one related to last night’s action, and one to WSOP in general.

1.     I haven’t heard much clamor this year for a “shot clock” during tournament play.  That is, a clock that would limit the amount of time a player had to think about his action before being automatically folded – you know, like on EVERY online game.   Riess was the only one that seemed to tank much, a couple of times hitting the five-minute mark, but for the most part play moved along at a nice clip.  Interestingly, almost every time Riess took a long time to think about his actions, whatever he chose to do turned out to be the wrong thing.  So maybe don’t think so hard about it?  Hard to argue with his play overall, though.

2.     If you went to the WSOP website (www.wsop.com) you no doubt saw that they have an online game that folks can play, and, if you’ve been following the news, you know that their real-money site in Nevada (Caesar’s Entertainment, the folks who now own the World Series of Poker) is up and running.  If you lived in Nevada, you have been seeing their TV ads, encouraging players to make deposits and “play for real.” In fact, while in Vegas last month, I saw posters and ads INSIDE the Caesar’s Entertainment casinos encouraging online play.  I can’t help but wonder two things:

1)    Will the return of real-money poker to Nevada, New Jersey, and soon…Delaware (plus whatever state gets its collective shit together and legalizes online poker) build interest in the WSOP?  Ever since Black Friday live action tournaments like WSOP have seen declining  numbers of entrants, although not as drastic as many predicted.

2)    How long before the an online tournament grows in prize money to rival the WSOP (I know there are many such mega-events on PokerStars and FullTilt, but I mean the MAIN EVENT).

3)    OK, three things…will an online event ever capture the attention of “poker fans” like ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP?

I know I’ll never play in it, but it fun to watch (and dream about) the World Series of Poker as it is.  What do you think?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

WSOP Thoughts – and Advice

This is more “thoughts” than “advice,” as I am hardly in a position to give advice to either of the two remaining participants in this year’s WSOP Main Event (they play tonight at 6pm PST on ESPN for he $8million+ first prize, if you care).  I “watched” (live stream commentary) via the Internet and also watched “live” (15-minute delay on ESPN2) last night of the final table action, where the November Nine became two.  Interesting to watch, and the play offers some good lessons for us casual players.

First off – last night’s action made a comment in David “The Maven” Chicotsky’s column in PokerPlayer which, not so ironically, ran yesterday.  He spoke of Different Styles of Play in Tournaments (article name and topic – nice touch), and said:

My recommendation to you is as a general rule, if you don’t know what to do—re-raise or fold. Try to get out of the habit of calling as a last resort; many times it’s better to just fold your hand in these situations. 

This is something we see a lot of at the entry-level and small-fee tournaments – players call a raise “just to see the flop, just in case.”  This can be an expensive habit…usually, if the initial raise means something (justifying a raise), it still means something once the flop is displayed.  If you can with middling holdings, you might hit something on the flop, but…do you have a hand better than the original raiser?   If your hand was worthwhile in the first place, a re-raise was in order.  If it was semi-junk…folding was your call, because you might, or might not, be ahead now…and it might cost you dearly to find out which.

Watching last night’s play, we saw a lot of raises followed by a re-raise, which then saw the original raiser muck his hand.  Once the hole cards were displayed, we saw that often times the re-raise was justified (a pair of 9s re-raises A-6 offsuit, or A-K suited re-raises A-10).  What I took from this was that certain players were making the initial raise just to get action started (especially true when they were down to six players) in an attempt to steal the blinds and antes (especially lucrative in the latter stages, of course).  Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but most of the time they were easily able to toss away inferior holdings and live to play again.

Which is why it was kind of funny to see it go from nine players to two as quickly as it did, especially near the end (bang, pause, bang, BANG, just like that).  JC Tran was fairly aggressive for much of the night until he got short stacked, and it was strange to hear him (and others) talk about being card dead, as I thought he held mostly meat when he was active.  Yes, he got unlucky a few times, but there were a few others where he was too aggressive, and should have taken a slower tact.  But that’s his style, and it got him to the final table as the chip leader, so sometimes that’s just the way it goes.  The others who hit the rail – they too, played well until they didn’t, or luck caught up with them (I’m looking at YOU, Marc-Etienne McLaughlin), and face it – you would’ve loved your pocket Kings, too (unless you KNEW the chip leader had Aces).  So it goes.

What can we learn from this?  Stay aggressive.  Raise or fold, don’t just call.  Pick your spots to be aggressive and don’t be afraid to respect the other guy’s re-raise so that you can play on.

And as far as the final two…since Reiss is a Michigan boy, I guess I’m rooting for him (despite the fact that he’s an MSU grad…can’t hold anything like that against him this week).