Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Poker Momentum

In Poker, momentum can be a killer - to you or to your opponents.  It's hard to explain how you get momentum or how you keep it, but losing it seems so easy.  You win a hand.  Then, you win another and another until you're almost not even playing the cards in your hand as much as you're just playing the other players and reading their bets and other playing styles.  Sure, the cards dealt to you can cause your momentum, but keeping it often is completely independent of cards.  The other players may "sense" that you just keep somehow getting cards, so they fold.  Or, they start measuring the size of their hands compared to yours, and that makes them fold.  But, then you lose it.  You get out of rhythm or you don't notice the "zone" that you're in.  Maybe someone else starts picking up hands and you don't have enough good sense to fold a few and you lose too much to ever get momentum back.  Sometimes when you lose it, you have to get really patient, hang on, and wait for a really good hand, then get it back.  Then, wait for another really good hand.  Next thing you know, you're back on a role.  A huge chip stack can do wonders for momentum.  You have more to risk than other players have in front of them all together.  You might get called a bully, but when you're winning, it's OK.

Last night, I was watching the opening WSOP event of 2010 and it came down to 2 final players:  a Russian named Vladimir Shchemelev, who said in an interview that he never loses in poker and that Russians can win at anything if they just want to take it seriously, and an American named Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi.  It started out really bad for Mizrachi.  He badly lost his momentum, one hand after another.  He just kept betting and raising and calling - with the worst hands, until finally he got a huge hand  (Ace high flush) and the Russian over-played his momentum right into an all-in bet that crippled his chip stack.  It was beautiful!  From there, "The Grinder" chipped away at his opponent until he won over $1 Million for first place.

Momentum was on display in a big way last night.  Mizrachi lost it.  The Russian over-played it.  Mizrachi got it back and finished with it. Momentum can be awesome, but it can be a killer.  Use it or lose it (or until you lose it).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Son Aaron - Future WSOP Winner

I'm sitting here watching a re-run of the 2009 World Series of Poker final table with my 9 year-old son Aaron.  He's talking strategy and rooting for his favorite player, Phil Ivey.  It makes me think about how much my son likes poker and how good he is and how much better he's going to be. 

I walked into my living room a few months ago and he was at the coffee table with some poker chips and a deck of cards.  He was playing 8 hands of Texas Holdem by himself.  He was the dealer and all of the players, and he knew which hands were winning and which hands were folding.

I set him up to play online at one of the major online poker sites where he can play poker for fun (and for free).  You're supposed to be 18 to play on those sites, but I'm over 18 and I'm letting him play.  Usually, he gets on there, starts with $1,000 and ends with anywhere from $11,000 to over $30,000.  He's playing against adults and he's handing them their butts and making them say thank you.

One day, he was home sick from school and I stayed home with him. I just got finished watching the movie, "21" a couple of days earlier and I thought I would learn how to count cards in Blackjack.  I eventually figured it out, then I decided to teach Aaron to do it.  He has a huge brain and I wasn't surprised that he learned how to count cards in Blackjack in about 30 minutes.  After I taught him, he counted a whole deck of cards 5 times with zero errors.

Anyways, with all of that said, here we are watching the 2009 World Series of Poker and I asked him how much money he was going to win in Poker when he grows up.  His answer was, "$10 Million".  I believe him.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

WSOP Final 9 - Really?

I L-O-V-E to watch poker on TV, especially the World Series of Poker.  It's so much fun to see the big name players go at it.  Ivey, Hellmuth (who hasn't made a November 9 since I started watching), Brunson, Negreanu, Phillips, Mercier, Cada, Tran, Eastgate, and the list goes on.  In the WSOP 2010 Main Event though, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS?  Here's the final 9, along with their chip counts, for the 2010 WSOP Main Event.

Seat 1: Jason Senti (7,625,000)

Seat 2: Joseph Cheong (23,525,000)

Seat 3: John Dolan (46,250,000)

Seat 4: Jonathan Duhamel (65,975,000)

Seat 5: Michael Mizrachi (14,450,000) - happens to be #1 in 2010 WSOP earnings.

Seat 6: Matthew Jarvis (16,700,000)

Seat 7: John Racener (19,050,000)

Seat 8: Filippo Candio (16,400,000)

Seat 9: Soi Nguyen (9,650,000)

Don't get me wrong - one day, I hope to be one of these guys that nobody has heard of yet, but seriously - where are the big names?  The cost of entry into this No-Limit Texas Holdem is $10,000 and in 2009, over 6,500 entered into the Tournament.  That's 10 times the number of entrants just a few short years ago!  I don't yet know how many entered the tournament this year, but I'd be willing to be that it's more.  The field is getting younger.  More "youngest players ever to win" are winning.  In the world today, the poker cream is definitely rising to the top.

But, with player volume, comes watered-down names, and famous players sell.  They sell me for sure.  I just hope that the 2010 final 9 doesn't disappoint.  The winner will take home over $8 Million.  2nd place - over $5 Million.  Nobody at the final table gets less than a million.  What?  Everyone gets to become millionaires?  OK nevermind.  Let's just watch some poker.

PS:  For anyone who wants to tell me that any of these final 9 could beat me.  Maybe.  The cards sometimes fall funny ways.  Just ask Ivey, Hellmuth, Negreanu, and the others.  You just never know.

Top 10 Starting Hands in Texas Holdem

I researched this topic using Google and found 10 web sites with articles about the 10 Best Starting Hands in Texas Holdem.  You would think that the mathematical odds to this topic would determine what the 10 best hands are, but then you'd be wrong.

Everyone agrees on the best 3 starting hands:  AA, KK, QQ.  But that's about it.  Here's my breakdown of hands 4 thru 10.

4th Best Hand - 6 people said AK suited.  4 said JJ.

5th Best Hand - 4 said AQ suited.  4 AK suited.  2 JJ.

6th Best Hand - 4 said JJ.  3 10-10.  3 AQ suited.

7th Best Hand - 6 said KQ suited.  3 AQ suited.  1 said 10-10.

8th Best Hand - 8 said AJ suited.  2 said AK off suit.


9th Best Hand - 4 said AK off suit.  2 AJ suited.  3 KJ suited.  1 KQ suited.

10th Best Hand - 3 said AK off suit.  3 said 10-10, 1 said 9-9, 2 KQ suited.  1 A-10 suited.

So, with all of that, here is my Top 10 Starting Hands in Texas Holdem.

1.  AA
2.  KK
3.  QQ
4.  AK Suited
5.  JJ
6.  AQ Suited
7.  KQ Suited
8.  10-10
9.  AK Off Suit
10. AJ Suited

I also like:  KJ suited, A-10 suited, 9-9, but this is a Top 10 List.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lessons From Friday Night Poker

I've learned over the last couple of years that poker is a marathon, not a sprint.  When you play on Full Tilt Poker, hundreds (if not thousands) of people are going all-in every second (because they're playing for free).  However, when you add money into a game, you have to leave that mind-set behind.  I can't imagine going all-in on the first hand when my money's up for grabs.  Of course, that happened 2 weeks-in-a-row just a few months ago.  One week, I got a full house and a friend of mine got a smaller full house and I knocked him out ON THE FIRST HAND.  We both thought we had the best hand, but I was lucky.  THE VERY NEXT WEEK, I had an Ace high flush and got beat by a full house.  I was all-in ON THE FIRST HAND!  What goes around comes around I guess.

So, I've learned to play steady and in control.  Minimize stupid moves.  Recognize when I'm probably beat.  Understand my opponents.  Make smart plays.  I'm usually good for 1 or 2 really dumb moves each Friday night, but an overall steady approach is paying off big for me. 

Five Fridays ago, I left my house and my poker box had just $30 left in it (I took $45 with me).  I knew that if I didn't break my 6-week losing streak, I would only have enough money for one more poker night before having to hit the ATM again.  I hadn't been back to the ATM since December (I withdrew $20).  After that, I went on a hellacious winning streak. 

That streak went cold for 6 weeks though and I was on the verge of busting.  So, now back to 5 weeks ago.  In the last 5 weeks, I have gotten 1st or 2nd place 12 out of 15 games.  The cold streak has been over and I'm on fire.  My secret in all of this is steady, controlled poker.  I fold a lot, never go down with sunken chips, and wait for my spots.  Result:  My $30 money box now has $400 in it.

I play with some really good and interesting men.  When I win, it's not just from showing up and taking down pots.  These guys have been playing for 10+ years in most cases.  One of them is 85 years old.  He's been playing for over 50 years.  The man is good.  Another guy (also named Chris) is the model I use for how to play poker.  He's the smartest poker player I know.  He keeps me and everyone else on their toes.  There's a funny story to each of the other guys at that table, but they all play poker well.  Winning against them requires a steady, controlled approach to the game.  Then, add about 20% luck.

Poker Lesson #1:  Slow and Controlled
Poker Lesson #2:  Never Go Down with Sunken Chips

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Phil Ivey is a Scary Poker Player

Take a look at this video.  I would have laid my hand down too.

You have to hand it to his opponents.  They made smart lay downs, difficult and wrong as they were.  He only needed a Queen to have a straight.  That beats Trip K's and 2 Pairs (A-K).

Monday, July 19, 2010

10 Worst Texas Holdem Starting Hands - Don't Play Them!

Like I've said, I've only been playing for a little over 2 years consistently.  In that time, I've stupidly played many of the hands that I'm about to tell you not to play.  It's funny looking back on it because the other experienced players I played with must have been over-come with anxious anticipation to play against me and take my money.  Now - I know exactly how they felt.  Here's the Top 10 List of Starting Hands that you should avoid (note that all of these hand combinations are off-suit meaning they are of 2 different suits).

1.  2-7 - This is the WORST starting hand in poker.  (I actually got this 6 times last Friday night, but still managed to win the game.)  Don't play stupid is the lesson here.

2.  2-8 - Not a whole lot better obviously.

3.  3-8 & 3-7 - They both basically are equally terrible.

4.  2-6 - You could MAYBE make a straight with these, but the odds aren't great and it would be easy for someone else to make a bigger straight.  Fold.

5.  2-9, 3-9, 4-9 - The 9 is a better-than-average card, but the kicker sucks.  Fold it.

6.  2-10 - Poker Legend Doyle Brunson won a couple of WSOP's with this, but you're not a legend.  Fold it.

7.  5-9 - I was just telling a friend, "I sometimes still almost get sucked into playing hands with catchy names like Dolly Parton".  You know. . . 9 to 5.  Don't do that.  It's just silly.  Fold.

8.  4-7, 4-8, 5-8, 3-6 - All of the high cards are low and all of the kickers are worthless.  All you can do with these hands is lose unless you want to depend solely on luck.  If that's the case, I play every Friday night and you're invited.

9.  K,Q,J + 2,3,4 - So many people get drawn in by the face card, but then someone else has the same one you have or bigger, along with a real kicker.  Then, you donate.  Instead, why don't you fold?

10. A + Any Low Card - "But I had an Ace. . ."  And - you lost.  Don't play stupid.  An Ace high with a low card can get beat by a pair of 2's if you don't pair your cards.  Also, someone else might be playing their Ace with a real card.  Why would you want to put yourself thru that?  Just fold.

I play on Full Tilt Poker a lot and the people on that site love their Aces, but I get all of their chips.  When you play these starting hands, the odds are heavily against you.  It's better to fold and wait patiently for a real hand.  ***The only exception to any of this is if you're in the big blind and nobody raises you out of the hand.  In that case - CHECK.  You might be able to make a ridiculous raise that nobody else calls - maybe.  Or, someone might just be holding pocket K's and you just stepped right off into it.

Game Over.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What are the Odds of Getting a Royal Flush in Texas Holdem?

What exactly are the odds of getting a royal flush in Texas Holdem?  I read in several places that the odds are about 1 in 649,740.  So, that would mean that if you were to play 649,740 hands, you would get a Royal flush just once.  With those odds, my guess is that if you're reading this, you've probably never gotten a royal flush.

I play poker every Friday night with a group of guys.  Usually, there's anywhere from 7 to 10 guys that play.  I guess you can say that I've defied the odds when it comes to getting a Royal Flush because I've done it twice in the past month!  I'm no math whiz, but I'm guessing that nobody has figured out what the odds of hitting it twice in such a small window of time would be.  The first time I hit it, I stopped to take a picture with my cell phone (shown below).

As you can see, it's the 10 thru Ace of clubs.  So, are you ready for the really mind-blowing part of this story?  My 2nd Royal Flush was also the 10 thru Ace of Clubs.  I've been very lucky to say the least.

In the same game as my 1st Royal Flush, I flopped Quad 8's as well.  I can't make this stuff up.  Has anyone ever seen anything like this before because I think my luck has been 1 in 649,740,000,000,000.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Texas Hold'em: The New 4th Sport

I watch a lot of sports on TV and I follow very closely to what's happening in the sports world.  It's nothing for me to get in 20+ hours of college and professional football (especially Notre Dame and the Dallas Cowboys) on the weekends during football season and I keep up with all 82 games of the NBA season.  I follow baseball closely too as I attend as many Rangers games as I can with my sons at the ballpark.  It's pretty clear that these are the "Big 3" sports (football, basketball, and baseball).

So, who's #4?  Hockey wants to be, but when your games are primarily televised on local networks and ESPN 2, that's a pretty clear sign that you're not getting it done.  I would say that with the very rapidly rising popularity of UFC fighting and other mixed martial arts, that there's a race for 4th place, but Poker is winning in a squeaker. 

UFC's popularity is evident in the high number of pay-per-viewers.  No longer is it grouped in with professional wrestling.  I'd like to see the top pro wrestler take on the top MMA fighter.  Now, I'd pay for that!  Even boxing can't keep up with MMA, but that's another story.

So, you have poker, and more specifically - Texas Hold'em.  You want to watch Texas Hold'em on TV?  No problem.  You have head's up poker being nationally televised on NBC.  You can turn on all-night poker every week to 2 weeks on ESPN.  FSN regularly plays the World Poker Tour (WPT) final tables and who can miss re-runs of the World Series of Poker (WSOP).  They're on all the time.  The 2010 WSOP is right around the corner too.  And finally, we have GSN - the Game Show Network, to play High Stakes Poker with all of our favorite poker pros.

As poker fans, we don't have to wait for our game to be in-season (sorry hockey).  And we don't need to pay for expensive pay per view tournaments (although if you're like me, many of you would).  Poker's in season all year long and available to everyone who has a working TV.

Football, Basketball, and Baseball:  You're on notice.  How long before we're watching a WPT final table with Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Gus Hansen instead of whatever you have to offer?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WPT Hole Card Outcomes

I watched the final table of a recently televised World Poker Tour tournament that consisted of 6 final players.  I wanted to see how often the best starting hand won the pot.  The result was some fairly interesting outcomes.

I watched 38 hands in just under 2 hours.

There were 17 All-Ins in 38 hands.  That's 45%, showing a very aggressive final table.

Out of 17 All-Ins, the player going all-in won 11 times (65% success rate).

8 of the all-ins (72%) were by the same player who incidentally made it to the final-2 and lost on his final all-in bet.

At least 2 players saw the flop 79% of the time.  21% of the time the winner was decided before the flop.  In other words the hand was decided pre-flop 1 out of every 5 hands.

Out of the 30 hands that saw the flop, the players remaining (who hadn't folded yet) with the best starting hole cards won the pot 17 times (57% of the time).

And finally. . . .

Most interesting to me - I ranked all of the winning hole cards to find out the average winning hole cards.  To do this, I ranked the cards from 1 to 13 (2=1, A=13).  The average winning hole cards were. . . . .

J   8

How many times would a J 8 hold up in your home game?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Poker Hand Nicknames

I've only been playing poker for a little over 2 years and it took most of that time for me to figure out what all of those poker hands were called.  As I've learned these, it's made the game more enjoyable because I feel like I can speak the language like the rest of my friends who play.  These lists are everything that I've learned and remembered so far. 

Starting Hands / Hole Cards

AA - Pocket Rockets / Bullets
KK - Cowboys
QQ - Ladies
JJ - Hooks
AK - Big Slick
AQ - Little Slick
AJ - Ajax (2 black cards are called blackjack)
KJ - Kojak
JA - Jack Ass
K9 - Canine
J5 - Motown / Jackson Five
10-2 - Doyle Brunson
9-8 - Oldsmobile
9-5 - Dolly Parton
8-8 - Snowmen
7-7 - Walking Sticks
6-6 - Route 66
6-9 - The Dirty
5-5 - Speed Limit
5-7 - Heinz
4-4 - Colt 44
4-9 - 49ers
2-2 - Ducks
2-3 - Jordan
9-9 - Gretzky
3-3 - Treys

And here are yet some others. . .

A K Q J 10 - Broadway
A 2 3 4 5 - The Wheel
K K K - 3 Wise Men
4 of a Kind - Quads
3 of a Kind - Trips or a Set
Full House - Boat

And finally. . .

"The Nuts" - This is an unbeatable hand.

If you "Flopped the Nuts", you made an unbeatable hand with your 2 hole cards plus the 1st 3 cards on "the flop".

Which reminds me - The "Flop" is the 1st 3 cards the dealer turns over.  The "Turn" is the 4th card and the "River" is the 5th and final card.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Top 10 Favorite Poker Stars

1. Phil Ivey - Such an intimidating force, even among the best players.

2. Daniel Negreanu - Seems like the nicest guy at the table.

3. Gus Hansen - Unpredictable.  He might play anything.

4. Vanessa Rousso - The best and most intimidating female player.

5. Doyle Brunson - He's all-time.

6. Jason Mercier - Young and aggressive.

7. Phil Hellmuth - Easy to hate, but not for me.  I love his antics.

8. Annie Duke - Such a cool and collected player.

9. Scotty Nguyen - He's good and he knows it "baby".

10. Chris Ferguson - How can "Jesus" not make your top 10 list?