Apropos of nothing, really

I have long loved card games and have played a wide variety of them over the years. Some games are really good for large groups, not so much for small groups...such as I Doubt It, though I have seen probably a dozen names for this, most of them rather crude, perhaps referring to fecal matter. Great with a group, not so good with 2 people...

Cribbage, on the other hand, is an excellent 2 player game. It provides a fair amount of strategy yet there is enough luck involved that even the most incompetent player will occasionally win a game. I have had stretches where I had 5 consecutive hands of deadwood and no matter how I had played them the nobs did not help me. I have had other games where my toughest decision was choosing between throwing the J/5 in my crib and keeping the 7778 or being an idiot for 4 or 5 hands in a row. Still, overall there is enough strategy to allow the superior player to win 70-80% of the time.

500 Rummy is another very fun 2 player game. We typically dealt 11 cards and ruled you could not lay off on your opponent's scores until you had melded and to claim the discard pile you had to play the lowest card you were taking before you could take the others into your hand. I spent a lot of time playing this with an girlfriend in my younger days and have played a few times with Emily. This is a better strategy game as you have to consider what to discard and when, balancing your needs for keeping cards in your hand with their probable hands. If you have a good recall of the discard pile, by combining your knowledge of what they have taken with knowing what has been melded you often have a fairly specific knowledge of their hand. Woe betide the person who must choose between giving their opponent an Ace or a face card knowing either one will give your opponent a good scoring meld, but your own hand forces that discard. It is another game where skill plays heavily in the outcome.

At one point I played 2 handed Spades. Yes, there are rules for, they are not as good as 3 or 4 handed. In fact, though this game is one that requires a great deal of skill as you strive to win the correct tricks to build your hand for the 13 counting tricks, it is not one of the best games. I did not like it much as, while there was a high skill factor, there was a low fun factor.

I have played Texas Hold 'Em heads up and find I do not care for it all that much. The nature of heads up means essentially every 2 cards are playable. As a result, too often it becomes "who is more willing to bluff" as there is really no effective means to consistently value where your hand stands in regard to your opponent. Good game multiple player, boring game once it gets down to about 4 players.

War is a classic but one I don't think all that highly of. It is the epitome of a skill-less game. As long as you can turn a card over and see which one is higher you have mastered the strategy. I am not a huge fan of games that revolve purely around luck.

Oddly, some of my favorite 2 player games I have not played in over 20 years. Way back when, in our house we were not allowed to have playing cards. However, because they were not associated with tarot as regular playing cards long were, we could use the Rook cards invented by George Parker. There were two separate games from that set I absolutely adored; Tennessee Over the Top and Kentucky something or other. It is amazing I remember that much of the name because I seriously have not played them since before Mom died. In fact, Mom was the only person I recall ever playing either game against.

And as good as I have always been at games, at those she was better. I would estimate I have won 75% or better of the cribbage games I have played and probably better than 90% of the rummy games I have played. For a long time I had a score book that I kept all the scores of all the games and it was pretty crazy. I would sometimes go weeks without a loss even when playing 4 - 5 games or more a night when we were babysitting the Allen kids.

Yet when it came to the Rook games, Mom was the master. I lost 80 - 90% of those games. Oh, she was good. On the last hand, no matter how many points she needed...if I bid 70, she bid 80...she could coerce me into overbidding, but I seldom could set her. She had a fine tuned sense of how much to bid. If she ever overbid she would inevitably get the cards she needed to make her bid from the middle. Oh, she was good. Her ability to bid exactly the right amount...she seldom went under but just as seldom went over...was so superior to mine...I seldom hit my bid exactly and left a lot of points on the table that way...was the difference between our records.

But I loved that game. I miss it still. Someday I am going to purchase a deck, find a group of friends and play some Rook. It just might be the best 2 player game around. Or maybe I just remember it that way.


C-List Celebrities

So a couple friends had been after me to put together another basketball team and we elected to go co-ed since it is less intense. So I put it together, needed some people, posted on Craigslist, filled out the team, 10 people. The games are 2 twenty minute running time halves. As a result, you expend a LOT of energy. Most teams run 7-8 players, I like to run 10. 5 people start, play 10 minutes, come out, the other 5 finish the half, then do the same thing in the second half. Equal playing time for all, everyone gets rest.

Well, Friday 1 person said they had a new job and could not play, another one was out of town, another caught a bug, and I ended up thinking I would have just me and the Kyles. I posted again on c-list and had 4 people say they would show. Only one did but Jess, one of our early sign-ups I thought would not be there also showed so we had 5 people.

Now, when I was younger and...well, I have never been "in shape" but I could, when younger, play basketball for hours without a problem. Now I can play 6 - 8 minutes and the excess 50 - 70 pounds really wears on my wind, my knees, my ankles, and the sole of my left foot. I was not liking having just 5....

We started out okay. Jess is a little studette. I had 7 of our first 11, she had the other points. Took the Kyles a while to get going and C.T. never did get into the offensive flow. Meanwhile, the other team was really abusing the co-ed rule. See, a guy can't block a girls shot so they would work the girls inside then crash the boards with their guys. It did not help that their shortest guy had about 3" on our tallest guy who is about 4" taller than me. So we had height issues, personnel shortage issues, and had never played together while they were running set plays. This was not good.

Well, Kyle C started crashing the boards, creating some possessions, Kyle F took a few shots so we now had 4 people they had to defend. We were playing good initial defense but giving up too many 3rd and 4th shots. They were getting good rebounding position as we were A) playing man to man and B) a couple of our guys have never really been coached on boxing out. So we gave up a lot of points. Fortunately, 3 of us were scoring pretty well with Jess and I leading the way. But I ran out of gas about 8 minutes in and started resting at the defensive end for 2 and 3 possession stretches. When you run 4 on 5 offense and one of the guys won't shoot, that puts on a lot of pressure.

We were down 7 at the half. To slow their rebounding we switched to a zone for the second half. I took the foul circle, the Kyle's took the blocks and Jess and CT were out front. The idea was to prevent the girls penetrating for their short shots and simultaneously make the guys shoot from further out. Only problem was we were too tired to deny the entries and the girls just did not miss. We did essentially stop the rebound problems and in the last three or four minutes we picked off a few entry passes but Kyle C was really struggling with his shot, I started to miss and Kyle F was scoring better but not a lot. Jess could not carry us alone, though she was certainly our offensive star. We ended up getting crushed by 20+.

Overall I played pretty well. I am still able to get my shot off. I was getting hammered pretty would have been helpful if it were getting called. In one stretch I took 4 shots in 8 trips down the floor, which was only not excessive because Kyle C got gun shy and would not shoot, Kyle F was only shooting intermittently, and CT was not shooting at all. Well, I made 2 and was hammered pretty good on both. I was hammered harder on two others and missed those. Not one of those did I get a foul call.

For the night from a scoring standpoint I did all right. I hit 2 threes in 4 tries, missed both of my favorite drive left, stop, pop from the inside free throw circle, had 4 put backs off of offensive rebounds, and a slashing reverse lay-up to go with a baseline jumper.

My passing was pretty crisp and I was finding the open people...they just seldom put up the shots.

Defensively I was not good. When we were in man I held my guy in check but I was not able to help on the boards. In zone I was too tired to make the moves I needed to deny the girls entry into the lane. With more energy I can use my still-fast hands to knock loose a lot of balls but this time I was a step too late and too many times was relegated to standing there with hands straight up just hoping they would miss. I should have made a couple of "purpose goal-tends" where I planted the ball back out to mid-court but I was too fatigued to get off my feet.

For the game I feel disappointed with my play. I scored well and shot okay but I did not make my team better and scoring is just a small part of the game. Oh, well, next week we should have more players so that will help with the fatigue. Additionally, I know more what we have in Jess (stud), I already knew Kyle C is a good board-crasher, and I know I have a little game left. Fischer will be in China which will hurt us because he is good at both driving and the little 12-15 foot baseline jumper. But we have the potential to improve.


9 minute man

I did not realize Bob was taking over the Lydias game, though I am ecstatic he has done so. I ran a few games, it was okay...but I am over it now. I imagine for the course of this year I will play 20 - 30 times or so and that makes it easier and more pleasant to do. Well, there were I think 15 people. I had my lap top in the car and was intending to write, being a bit non-plussed by the loss of my phone. But I figured I would write and use the lap-top to keep time. Instead, I was merely a player. I figured to play a few hands and be out early.

Starting with 2000 instead of 3000 is a huge change in philosophy. Smaller bets take a larger percentage of the stack so are harder to pull off. Also, you cannot really play chase hands because they are too costly. The table I was at loves to limp and then play post-flop. I don't. The very first hand would determine my evening.

I was about 4th to act and picked up A/Q. 2 or 3 people had limped, I thought I should raise to 200 since that drives people out and 150 doesn't. Instead I raised to just 150. Got 4 callers. Flop brought 2 diamonds, a heart, and a king. I raised 200, Dick called. Right there I put him on the King. Turn was another diamond, this one a king, I checked, he bet, I folded. I figured he had trip kings but he did not show.

Fold. Fold. Fold. Thought, "this is boring. I don't want to sit here folding." In the big blind checked a 2/9. Flop came 6,7,8. I thought, "Uh-oh. I am going broke on this hand. I should fold." Called a bet of about 200 since I was getting more than 3-1 real and HUGE implied odds. Turn was an 8. He bet again and I put him on trip 8s. I should have folded. I knew I should. But when he bet 300 I called anyway. And even when I did it I knew it was stupid. River was a 10, giving me a straight. He was so eager to put his bet out I put him on either a boat or a 9/j. Really nothing else explained his eagerness. He bet 500. That fit perfectly with either hand...both of which had me beat. So I did what any idiot would do and went all in. I cannot explain it. I put him on hands that beat me from beginning to end of hand and did it anyway. "Just a straight" I said and flipped it up. "Boat," he said and flipped up his cards. Fully explaining my disinterest, I did not even look at his cards and have no clue if it was 8/6, 8/7 or 8/10. I believed him and had my coat on almost before I said, "Figured. Told you I would be out early tonight."

I have no explanation for what happened there. I am too good a player to throw away 1950 chips when I know I am beat. Or maybe I am not since I did it. I never got my head in the game, admitting to boredom and playing a hand like that because I am bored is tilt, I knew it, and did it anyway. I never got my head in the game and paid for it. Of course, on the bright side I finished playing in 9 minutes and 2 hands, so...I guess there is something. I was able to go home and do some stuff I needed to do and that was definitely good for me.

On the dark side, I have finished 5th out of 7 and 15th out of 15. That is going to stop immediately.


Starting 2008

My first time playing for the year...just 7 people. Let's take a look at each one as they .

Christine: Tight-passive. Seldom raises, she likes to limp, check, and call. However, she does so with better cards than most of the locals so if she is calling you, be careful, if she is RAISING you...get out. On the bright side, this is an EXCELLENT formula for going deep into tournaments and she regularly makes the final table. Unfortunately, unless she is hitting a lot of hands it is a terrible formula for actually WINNING tournaments because she will get blinded down to where she is basically all-in every time the blinds come around.

John: Tight-passive aggressive. Likes to limp, slow-plays a lot, occasional raises. Like Christine he limps but does so with better cards than the average player there. However, because he then raises for value and consistently raises the correct amount to price people in he consistently amasses enough chips to be a factor and with patience and skill is a threat to win every tournament.

Barbara: Tight-loose. Limps with literally any 2 cards...and will chase long-shot draws all the way to the river. When she is hitting the flop, very, very dangerous. When her long-shot draws hit she takes down huge pots because they are well disguised. They are also mathematically improbable. Even if she acquires a pile of chips you can always get them back. Get a medium to strong hand, raise every step, and raise again on the river if no draws hit. Boom, instant rebate.

Gary: Getting better. Actually bluffs on occasion now, though he lies about it. Has not been caught yet. Also getting better at getting out of the way when he is beat. Has perhaps even more tells than I do. He is a cautious-aggressive player. One of his biggest tells is when he has bottom or middle pair and thinks it is the best: if he is last to act, it is checked to him and he has middle or bottom pair he will say, "Oh, no. No checking here" and bet either the minimum or about double the minimum. On occasion he will make a desperation raise of more if he thinks he is beat but can make someone lay it down. Always trying to build an image of playing only the best hands by saying, "Good lay down" when he wins a hand this way.

Marykae: She got better when she was gone. The other day I actually saw her complete a straight without counting. She is also pretty easy to read. When she has a big hand she will grab her chips so she can bet as soon as it is her turn. If she has a monster she will just go ahead and bet out of turn. But she is more patient and plays better cards, too.

Danny: Very nice guy. He is a strange player. He will take any two over cards to the river even with flush and straight draws on the board. He will make bizarre calls on the river with hands like queen high. He gives away lots of chips but somehow seems to make them back. I have not yet figured out how he gets them back. His game has very little deception to it so pretty much everyone should know when he has something. He and Marykae both pretty much always let you know where their hand is.

Me: A virtual chameleon. If I want to win I am, that is not true. Once I build a chip stack I remain aggressive but I become loose-aggressive, raising with some speculative hands. When the situation is right I will raise with any two cards...3/9 off, k/9, doesn't matter, I know I can win the hand whether I have anything or not. But that is only on nights where I set out to win. I establish the right image early, then go to work on people. If I just want to hang around for a while I will limp with good cards, then raise when I hit stuff. If I don't care I will limp with about any 2 cards and may or may not play them to the river.

So last night I was planning on the tight-aggressive, I would either raise or fold. If I raised it would be 3 times the blind + 1 blind per person who entered before me. I would put on pressure after the flop and make plays at a lot of pots.

While everyone was getting settled in there was quite a bit of talk. There is a lot of dissatisfaction with both the new people from the new league and also how some incidents were handled in my absence. The collective psyche is very delicate. Interestingly enough, at this point this post delves a bit into an arena that perhaps belongs on my main blog rather than here.

I used to be a hyper-competitive individual. I wanted to win. Badly. I played hard but fair. Anything legal I could do to win I would. I have been known to play basketball for hours on a sprained ankle because I was not willing to forfeit a game. That would be a game of 2 on 3 with my closest friends, not a game that meant anything. But it illustrates the depths of the competitive fire I have within. I hated to lose. When it came to chess I studied the game relentlessly. I acquired books detailing the games played by the masters, investigated their strategies, adapted them, and became one of the very best players ever to come through St. Helens...for the record, I lost not one local tournament game and only lost one game in State tournaments. There were more talented players naturally, but none who had the drive to study the game and become good at it.

That is true of any strategy game. Even pseudo-strategy. I have never lost a game of Diplomacy, perhaps the only game I have ever seen where luck plays no part whatsoever in the outcome. I have seldom lost Axis & Allies and can count on one hand the number of games of Risk I lost. These things all feed back into my competitiveness.

In other words, for many years the idea of letting people win was not a concept I ever considered. Nor would I play less than my best. If they could beat my best, nice work. If they couldn't...well, that is how it was. I was really too competitive.

As I have grown older I have mellowed quite a bit. I have learned to control that side of me. I have been known to let people beat me. I have even been known to play less than my best at various endeavors as I have developed into a person who takes into account other people's feelings "even" in games. How does all this apply?

Well, I took inventory of their mood. This group just wanted a relaxed game where the cards...not how they were played...just the cards themselves determined the outcome. They needed for poker to be fun for them. And if I came out firing, raising at will, making moves...well, since it is me they would not mind but they would not enjoy themselves as much as they would otherwise. So I made a decision. I was still going to try to win or at least do well...but I was going to do it their way.

That means I was going to limp into pots, raise very little, just let the cards determine things. Now, I know good and well this is not my best game. But it is the game that was needed. I would be tested early.

About the second hand I picked up A/K. That is a raising hand. And a strong raising hand. I was relatively late to act. I started to reach for 300 chips to raise out some of the limpers. I stopped...and limped. Score one for the nice guy side of my personality. I lost the pot to some low pair.

Right there I was sort of on tilt but sort of not. I knew I should have won the hand. Because I limped I lost it to a hand that would not have been there had I raised properly. On the other hand, I also knew it was good for the group as a whole to be able to play their it was still the correct play as a person even if it was the wrong play as a poker player.

So a couple hands later I picked up K/10. Normally from early position that would find the muck. I might play it if I could enter with a raise from middle position and would definitely play it with the right image. But in this game I would never build an image so it becomes a trash hand. If a King hits I am afraid of their kicker and if a 10 hits there are lost of times they will hit a higher pair. Be that as it may I flopped 2 pair, though there were 2 spades on it as well. I decided to see if anyone was on a draw and made a pot-sized bet. Everyone folded so I showed. At least by showing I had bet a strong hand I could build a little image as someone they would need a hand to call. Then I killed that image with one hand.

I limped with pocket 3s from the button. Flop of course was ugly...a King, a 9, some other over card, I think a queen. Everyone checked to me. I raised it up pretty strong. Christine just could not let her hand go and called. John quietly folded. Gary whined for a while about the size of the raise, John pointed out it was just 3 times the blinds. Well, I had Chris on either middle pair or a couple overs. I bet again on the turn after she checked and she stayed with me. The river was I think a 9 or 6. She checked but I thought it might have hit her. With a King and Queen out there, a pair of 9s and a 6 on the board as well and a hand she would not let go I decided I had put enough chips in the pot and meekly checked behind her. She turned up an Ace/ten and my 3s dragged the pot.

That just about put Gary on tilt that I would bet 3s. He would have hit some nice hand, John claimed to have folded 9/6 (a full house by the river), and Gary just wouldn't let it go until finally I said, "What I am hearing is I made a great bet since without it I would have lost the hand."

That changed his tack to "Well why did you just check on the river?" Great question. And the answer was I think great as well. "Because there was no hand I could beat she would call with. I made as much off the hand as I could. If I bet and she-re-raised I would have to fold. If I bet and she didn't have me beat she would fold. So a bet could only hurt me."

Sadly, I think he learned from the experience because I saw some subtle adjustments to his play where he was going to bet the river and then didn't. Interesting.

I checked from the big blind with K/6. Flop came 6/9/10, 2 clubs. Checked to Gary who did his, "Oh, no, no checking" routine. I initially put him on the 10 but the bet was small and the more I thought about it the more I thought he had a vulnerable hand. I revised my estimate to him having maybe the 9 or 10 but more likely the 6 with a worse kicker. I thought about re-raising but decided to do it on the turn instead. Turn was a blank, according to plan I checked, and then...well, he checked. My plan was blown. River was an Ace putting a spade flush, an over card, and his reaction to it in favor of a fold. I checked, he raised 500...and inexplicably I called. I could justify folding or re-raising here...not so much calling. I thought he would fold to a big re-raise as I knew he had at best a marginal hand. By now I had put him firmly on something like J/6, so I would have him beat even if he called. His raise smelled like someone disgusted they had led all the way to the river only to be busted by an Ace. I am positive he would have laid it down. But I called...and I was wrong about the 6. He had a pair of 9s. Still, with a couple overs out there...I was pretty surprised by his play. very aggressive for Gary. And knowing what he had I am even more positive that a river raise or a check-raise would have won the hand, particularly after my exposition after the 3s hand.

Well, that took me down about 1/3rd of my stack. I went back into passive mode. Hit a couple hands to get up to about 3700. Then came a hand that really, really shocked me. I picked up pocket 10s, blinds were 1/200. Folded to Danny...who raised. What? So I instantly put him on Kings or Aces. There is no other hand I have EVER seen him raise with. I almost folded right there. But I thought I would try to take a cheap flop, see if I could luck into a set. I called. Christine, behind me, re-raised. WHAT? Danny called and I made the crying call. Flop had an Ace on it. Danny bet, I folded, Christine called. At the showdown Danny had A/J and Christine had A/Q.

Now, I do not feel bad about either of my calls nor my lay down. If I hit my set my implied odds are through the roof. I could easily have taken one or both out.

I DO, however, feel bad about my reads. Both of them acted out of character and I over-estimated the strength of their hands. I still was correct about the strength of their hands as compared to mine post-flop but they were weaker than I thought pre-flop. I was correct to call all the way around looking at it mathematically speaking when I retroactively apply the odds...but I was unable to put them on the hands they held because I was so shocked they would raise with those hands.

Well, after that I was thinking about raising but instead limped a couple times...hands like A/J. Took down a couple pots, lost a couple, was staying between 2 & 3K until the blinds hit 2/400. Took a couple losses where I limped with good hands and got beat by bad hands. Hit about 1400 in chips.

One reason playing a sub-optimal style is a bad idea is because poor play begets poor play. From early position I picked up A/4 clubs. That hand should hit the muck as fast as I see the cards in that position. First off, that is at best a speculative hand. If I hit my Ace I have kicker issues...I will end up playing the board for my kicker. If I hit my 4 I am afraid of the over cards that will be on the board by the river. So really I am playing for the nut flush (1 in 16 hands I will get a flush DRAW...and about 1/3rd of the time that will turn into a flush, so basically I want the 1 in 48 tries hand to hit) or a miracle flop...A/A/4, 4/4/anything, something like that. I am an idiot. If I were not limping with my good hands I would not limp with this one.

Well, sure enough the flop comes out with 2 clubs and 4 high. I was not a big fan of the 2/3/4 flop...but I liked the top pair/top kicker/straight flush draw. I went all in. Nobody called so I got away with it. Bad, bad play though...who wants to go out on a pair of 4s?

Well, the other problem with bad play begetting bad play is sometimes it works. So a few hands later I pick up A/10 off. I limp in. Flop comes pretty good for me, 10/6/2 rainbow. No straight draws, no flush draws. I pretty much ignored everyone else at the table. I was first to act, I decided to put pressure on. I was going to raise. However, any reasonable raise would be more than half my chips so I just went all-in. And Marykae got out her calling chips. Oops. She had pocket 6s...she flopped her set and I was basically drawing dead.

For the night I played horribly and finished poorly, 5th out of 7 people. Hardly an auspicious beginning. Yet the evening was a success. I think by choosing to allow them to play their preferred style I allowed them a long, relaxed evening where they could just enjoy poker again. Sure, my results are not so good...but that is a byproduct of choosing to play that way.

It also through poor John way off. He spent about 1-1/2 blind levels trying to figure out what I was doing. So I added deception to my may look like (and have the results of) incompetence...but hey, whatchya gonna do?


An interesting situation

A friend was playing in his league's end-of-month tournament. On the line was free entry into a tournament at Chinook Winds. They started with I believe 20 people and were down to the final 6. He had 46K and the blinds were 3/6K. On the button, everyone folded to him. He picked up A/Q off suit.What do you do here?

I will argue there are several "correct" plays and they depend on personality.

1) Fold

This is for the "rock", the player who plays nothing except the absolute top hands. It is way too conservative. The person who would do this will seldom...most likely never... win a tournament. When it is folded to you on the button, A/Q figures to be a big favorite over the 2 random hands behind it. You have to do SOMETHING with it.

2) Call

This is a very conservative play, and probably correct for people with risk-aversion type personalities. I actually have one friend whom I consider a stronger player than myself who uses this strategy almost exclusively and has had excellent results with it. It has the positive aspect of disguising your hand. If you hit it on the flop you are likely going to pick up a nice bundle of chips because very few people will believe you limped with a strong Ace in that situation.

On the dark side, it opens you up to a bluff if the small or big blind is an aggressive player. I think A/Q is a good raising hand, not so good as a calling hand. If you raise with it and someone calls you can assume they have some sort of hand. Conversely, if you limp and the small blind raises they might have a real hand...including the disastrous A/K or pocket Aces or even pocket Queens...or they might have a 2/6 and sense weakness and just be trying to pick up a weak pot. Obviously, they might have that hand even if you limp...but you are more likely to know about it if you raise. In other words, one advantage of raising is it protects you against a trap. Sure, they will be out of position...but if the flop comes K/7/4 rainbow and they raise out of the gate, can you call with A/Q? So you are risking your chips (if you call) to find out nothing. So it works well against people whom you know whether they are bluffing or not...or people whom you are pretty certain won't bluff even in perfect circumstances...but carries a certain amount of risk.

3) Standard Raise

For people who habitually enter a pot with a raise, let's say the standard raise is 3 times the blind. I might argue that 4 times is a little better since it gives them a pot odds disincentive to call unless they have a real hand, but that is personal taste. This can win a couple ways. First off, it might win the pot outright. Picking up 9K adds almost 15% to your stack, a very nice pick-up and you will win with this raise often enough to make it worthwhile. However, what if you are re-raised? In this case, that would be 18K leaving him M of just over three and if you get a re-raise all in, now you would be offered some nice pot odds: at the least you are calling 28K to win 67K, or 2.4-1 and A/Q is certainly strong enough to make that call. And that is if it is the small blind that re-raises you. Your odds are slightly better if it is the big blind. You have to be ready for this move because people are always suspicious of button raises in unopened pots.

But what if one or both simply call? Then you have options. You can play the pot, raising if it hits you (or if it looks like it missed your opponent) or even completing the oft-deadly stop & go where you raise regardless of the flop. Many players will call the all-in pre-flop but once they see the flop will fold if they miss even though their pot odds...and probably outs... are the same. So a raise lets you win one of three ways: they fold pre-flop, they call and the flop hits you, or they call, the flop misses you but you raise them out on the flop. This can backfire if you miss the flop, they hit it and that leads to their call where you are drawing thin. So you risk losing all your chips.

Of course, any time you enter a pot you risk losing all your chips. Is A/Q a hand you feel comfortable busting out on? In my case...yes. But I am a loose aggressive player when my M reaches that point.

3) Raise all-in pre-flop

This has the advantage of taking maximum advantage of your fold equity. If you raised, you probably aren't getting away from A/Q anyway pre-flop and if you will call a bet, my theory is you are (almost) always better off MAKING the bet. Put the tough decisions on your opponent.

It has the downside of allowing your opponent to call with a wider range of hands in this case if they have an awareness of tournament play. With 46K and blinds of 3/6, you have barely over M5 and blinds are going to go up. Therefore you are real close to the danger zone and good players will make moves from the buttons. They still aren't calling you with 3/9...but you might get a call with a dry Ace or something like K/10. You are actually hoping for the Dry Ace call since you have it dominated. But they can call with so many more hands because they KNOW your situation that if they are astute players you have an excellent chance of getting called by a weaker hand. That is a pretty strong argument in favor of the all-in...but the huge negative is they are also locked into the hand and if they miss the flop you can't get rid of them...and sometimes those hands river you.

If you have A/Q, they have something like a 7/8 suited...that is the type hand a lot of people will call with...if the flop misses you both they would probably fold to a bet. However, if the chips are all in the center they aren't going anywhere. Let's say the turn is also a blank...yes, they are way behind, about 6-1...but they do have those 6 outs so about 12 - 15% of the time they are still sending you home. That is the downside to going all-in pre-flop...sure, you get your double-up when you win but the flip side is you can't get rid of them before the river. Pros and cons each way.

Well, he elected to go all-in. I cannot fault his choice. I probably would do they same things because I am an aggressive player, I know I am very likely to have the best hand and only be called by hands I am at worst in a race with and more likely dominating. I expect to see an Ace in the hand of anyone who calls in that situation.

The small blind went into the tank for a long time before she eventually called. Personally, I think she made a huge mistake. She should have gone all-in herself rather than just a call. Her hand, as we will see, is the type of hand you really do not want to see multiple players. If the Big Blind has any hand at all he is now getting a nice price, about 2-1, to make the call...calling 46 to win 92. Essentially he is getting 3-1 on his chips and there are a lot of hands you could call with that. However, if she raises all-in his odds go down. If your hand is worth calling an all-in, it better be worth calling a re-raise behind you...and once one player is all-in, if you have a marginal hand you really want to isolate. I really dislike her play here.

The Big Blind folded rather quickly. Our hero flipped up his A/Q and she flipped up A/6 suited. He was almost a 3-1 favorite to double up. Personally, I like those odds and would take them every time. Of course, when you are a 3-1 favorite, 25% of the time they hit a 6 or, in this case, a flush and he was gone.

Later he said that looking back he should have folded the hand. I disagree. With his chip stack, position, and hand the very least he should have done was raise. He got in with a big advantage. The only other thing he might have done here was the stop-and-go, but that would leave the door open for the big blind to call based on pot odds if the small blind called, so then he would need to beat 2 hands instead of one. I will argue he played this hand correctly and simply ran into a mathematical problem...and one reason Hold 'Em is fascinating. If the better hand won every time people would play a lot fewer hands...and I would rake in a lot less chips from the people who often call me with trash hands like A/6 suited.

Of course, not being upset depends on being happy with playing better. If you are results oriented and think that someone sucking out on you when they should not be in the hand or should not have called then this is probably the wrong game anyway. The player who consistently gets in with the best of it will, in the long run, have more success, though there are certainly times when it seems like you should play incorrectly as you see K/3 beat A/K or some such brutality. But that is short term and over the course of several hours of play you will see the guy playing K/3 give his chips to the guy playing the A/K. Unless, of course, the guy playing the A/K lets the K/3 in cheap....


2007 the Year in Review

So just over a year ago I stumbled on Texas Hold 'Em. From just a tiny tike I had long longed to play poker. I loved the concept of gauging where I stood without seeing their cards. Of course, I never got to play. So when I found a place to play for free (poker stars) I went nuts. It was awesome. Not too long after I started playing in live tournaments.

Over the course of the year I ended up playing in over 70 tournaments. They ranged in numbers from as few as 5 to as many as 90 people. My finishes ranged from win to 2nd person out.

Early in the year I played way too many hands and, as is normal for people who play too many hands...I hit a lot of them. Late in the year I played way too many hands...but this time I knew I was playing too many hands and gave up a lot of winning hands between the time I should have folded them...i.e. pre-flop...and the time they would have won...the river...because I only hit part of them in between and someone bet.

In the middle of the year I hit my best playing style which involves a sliding scale number of hands. In that stretch I won tournaments left and right, my reads were awesome and I felt I could win whenever I wanted. Then, for whatever reason, I started screwing around with it, got worse, and never got it back. Worse, my reads got lazy to the point where as often as not I don't bother with them at all anymore.

With that said, looking back, here are some numbers to crunch:

I won 12 tournaments.
I finished second 7 times.
I finished third 8 times.
I finished fourth 10 times.
I finished fifth 7 times.
I finished 6th 2 times.
I finished 7th 4 times.
I finished 8th 7 times.
I finished 9th twice.
I finished 11th once (the first major tournament I played).
I finished worse than that about 10 is not completely clear the exact number because there were several times I did not finish the tournament because I was running it, a few times where my results book was not clear.

So of 70 tournaments I KNOW the results for, I finished as follows:
First 17% of the time
Second 10% of the time
In other words, I reached heads up over 25% of the tournaments, and that includes an awful lot of tournaments I did not take very seriously

Third 11%
Fourth 14% of the time

Or, in other words, over 52% of the time I was top 4.
Of course, 14%+ of the time, I finished lower than final table.

In the two largest tournaments, one of 88 and the other just over 90, I finished 11th and 8th. The 11th place I had only been playing for a month or two and do not believe I could have done much better. I played pretty much over my head in that one. Ironically, Emily, who I had taught less than a month prior, outlasted me and could have done even better than she did. She keyed in on the key good cards, play them strong, don't get involved in big hands unless you are relatively sure...and did awesome.

The second tournament I could have done better. I had the chip lead not too long before final table, but for reasons that will not be discussed here, I wished to finish worse than 8th. I was unable to meet my objective, though I did bleed off almost all my chips before that point. I think I could have finished anywhere from 1st to 4th if I had continued playing my best game. So big fields (relatively speaking) do not drastically alter my finishes.

Here is the scary part: despite being in the final 2 over half the time, I actually believe I am a better player than my results show. There were a lot of tournaments where I wanted to "see where I was at", would build a chip lead, then would give it all away intentionally since I knew where I was...on top of my game, able to play with anyone.

There are only two tournaments I was disappointed with my performance. They were both Oregon Trail Poker related, the first at Lydias, the second at West Linn. Both times my day was crushed by donkeys.

The Lydias one, I was a prohibitive favorite (21-2) to double up. However, he hit his 2-outer on the river and I was the second player out. I do not regret my play. I had a strong hand, played it aggressively, and someone made a superstitious call that paid off. I got in far and away with the best of it, the wrong card flipped, and that is why it is not completely a game of skill. The inferior player ended up with the chips and I do not apologize for so saying. I have played that individual many times since then and the numbers pretty clearly show which of us knows what they are doing and which of us just gets lucky sometimes...though, to be honest, I never see him get far at the final table, so even saying he gets lucky is stretching a point.

At the second one, the hand that must still have me on tilt or something, my flopped set got run down after heavy, heavy betting by a hand that needed runner-runner to hit the ignorant end of a straight. While my read was so on that I laid down my set on a flop where the only hand he could have held that beat me was a ridiculous 7/9 on a flop of A/Q/8, it crippled me and kept me from ever being able to play during the entire tournament. It was all-in or fold, and that is just "get lucky" poker, no skill required. So though I outlasted the guy who donkeyed my chips to him, I never had a chance in that tournament and that disappointed me.

I say I regret my performance...but I do not know what else I could have done. I raised strong pre-flop, I raised and De re-raised the flop, I raised the turn...and not until the turn did he have a gut shot straight I do not know how I could have gotten him off the hand...and, to be honest, I am not sure I should have. I was value betting him up to that point, even though I was pricing people on draws off of the hand if they understood pot odds...though I suppose one could argue they had implied odds in their favor, though neither had the chips to play based on I will argue I also played this hand correctly...much to my detriment.

Be that as it may, looking back I am pleased with my development. As with most things, once I reach a point where I have essentially mastered it, I am pretty much done with the game. I will still play from time to time, but much like my movie regimen...the numbers will be in serious decline. It was a pretty good poker year. Now I am ready for the next project.