Saturday, August 28, 2010

God's Gift to Poker

I was playing on Full Tilt Poker tonight and there was this guy there that was criticizing the other players at the table.  Some people were making stupid bets and calls, but there was no money at stake, so what do you expect.  This guy came out swinging on the chat telling the table what bad players they were.  I looked over and I had more chips than he did and I just sat down at the table.  IDIOT! 

Anyways, it reminds me of the time I was at the Bellagio and the guy sitting to my left thought he was God's gift to poker.  Every time someone beat him, he was talking trash.  Every time he won, he was talking trash.  This guy must have thought that it was his God given right to win at poker.  I don't personally have that right so I have to work at it, but this guy was tuned in with God.  Lucky bastard!

If you're reading this, let me tell you the truth:  it is not your God given right to win every hand in poker.  I highly recommend that you play smart, play the odds, and know yourself and your opponents.  I mean seriously, do you really think you should win every hand?  The odds aren't in your favor for being a 100% winner.  Did you know that?

I love the comment, "keep playing like that and you won't win very much."  My thought is that if you keep thinking like that, neither will you.  Luck happens at a poker table.  Like it or not, you were not born to win in poker.  I know that's a big shock to you, but you should really consider your position as God's gifted poker champion.  I have news for you man:  you are going to get beat.  Then what? 

I sat next to this guy at the Bellagio and I enjoyed taking his chips from him.   Tonight at Full Tilt Poker, I felt the same, except there was no money involved.  If you're reading this, you are not God's gift to poker.  You were not born with a destiny to win every hand you play.  Sometimes you're going to lose.  My advice to you is simple and sound:  shut the hell up and keep your head in the game.   Everyone loses hands from time to time.  Stop believing your own hype.

If you're truly better than the other guys at the table, then play like it.  Understand the other players at the table.  Play accordingly.  Don't be a jerk.

Friday Night Poker: Respect the Streak

To be honest with you, I'm a little embarrassed to be writing this.  I've either gotten 1st or 2nd in 6 of the last 7 games I've played in at Friday Night Poker.  I've actually gotten 1 or 2 in about 80% of the games I've played over the last 3 months.  I really quit keeping score because I wanted to respect the streak and I've been in an incredible poker zone.  You have to respect the streak, but I really like the guys I play with and at some point, I hope some of them win a game or 2, or at least get 2nd place and get a piece of the chop.  That did happen tonight for my buddy Chris.  He's been playing in the exact opposite direction as me over the last several weeks and tonight he got in the money twice out of 3 games, so for him, the losing is officially over.  He's a great player so I'm pretty sure he's not getting back on the losing streak anytime soon.  God help the rest of us.

But tonight - wow.  In the first game, I literally ended up with ALL OF THE CHIPS.  Chris said he's never seen that before and I hadn't either.  So, there was no chop because I knocked out both of the last 2 players with a straight on the flop (from the small blind).  It was pure brutality.  Prior to that however, I was down to a very small stack just like I have so many times before.  I lost a huge hand and donated a ton of chips, leaving me crippled (a position I have come to enjoy).  So, I told that guy that I would be coming back to get them.  I did.  I got 'em all - every last one of them.  I wanted to say I was sorry, but I wasn't.  He was 1 of those final 2 players.  I wasn't mad for losing my chips to him.  That's not why I went back in after them.  It was just a challenge that I made with myself.  What a thing that was!

The 2nd game started like the 1st one ended.  I got an early huge chip lead and ended up getting 2nd behind Chris who finally ended his losing streak against me.  Game 3 was forgettable, but to be completely honest, I was glad to lose.  I don't want to believe the hype.  The game 3 reality check was a good one too.  I played wild and stupid and deserved to lose, but stupid's gone now.  We'll see what happens next week.

To be continued. . .

1.  Don't play stupid!
2.  Don't believe your own hype.
3.  Respect the streak.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Avoid Mis-Played Poker Hands

I just finished watching some of day 2 of the WSOP on ESPN.  The broadcast really highlighted Daniel Negreanu who was bleeding chips.  One thing that I love about the WSOP is that over 6,000 people pay $10,000 to play for a chance to win nearly $9 Million, and this means that lots of amateurs are playing along side serious pros.  What other game / sport does that happen in?  I'm never getting subbed in for Marion Barber and I won't soon be dishing it off to LeBron, but I could find myself sitting next to Negreanu at a poker table.  If that ever happens, as much as I like Negreanu's playing style, I hope he plays like I just saw him playing tonight.

He mis-read his opponents' hands and mis-judged at least one guy's stomach for calling his large bets.  I've said this before, but it applies here as well.  KNOW YOUR OPPONENTS.  If you can do this, you can anticipate what they MIGHT do, especially in response to your moves.  Why bet $6,000 at a pot when you have NOTHING, NOT EVEN A PAIR, when your opponent is showing a propensity to call?  Sometimes your beat, even by an amateur, but at least it can be a beat from laying down your cards and not your chips.

And when you're hemorrhaging chips, know yourself.  A little self-awareness comes in handy.  Know when you're pushing it too much.  Know when you're making bets that don't make sense.  Know when you're out of rhythm.  A lack of self-awareness will cause you to miss-play hands.

Finally, when in doubt, understand the basic odds of poker.  What are the best and worst starting hands?  What is the likelihood that someone has a bigger pair than you do?  What's the likelihood that someone has a better starting hand than you?  Flush draw?  Straight draw?  What are the odds of hitting?

So, that's the lesson.  To avoid mis-played hands:

1. Know your opponents.
2  Know yourself.
3. Understand the odds.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Texas Holdem: How to Beat a Losing Streak

A couple of months ago, I ended a 6-week losing streak in Friday Night Poker that I was more than happy to see go.  Prior to that streak starting, I had built some positive momentum of winning quite a bit more than I was losing.  Chronic winning and chronic losing create very different psychological game play.  It is my opinion that winning streaks are built by, quite literally, a winning attitude.  Conversely, losing streaks are worsened and continued by a losing attitude.  Until you realize you're playing with a losing attitude, you're going to just keep losing.

What is a losing attitude in poker?

1.  You're easily frustrated.
2.  You get upset, or even angry, more often than usual when other players suck out on the river.
3.  You've lost your momentum and you no longer play hands like you were when you were winning.
4.  You don't play the people as much as you play your cards, and you mis-play those.
5.  You are irritated when you folded your hand (smartly) and realize that your hand would have won.
6.  Your betting doesn't make any sense.
7.  You literally think about all of the losing you've been doing more than you focus on winning this hand and this game.
8.  All the talk at the table has you distracted and frustrated.

What is a winning attitude in poker?

1.  You play relaxed and in control.
2.  You play patiently, allowing yourself to fold smartly without looking back in regret.
3.  You don't get angry when players suck out on the river because you are already aware of player tendencies at the table and you adjust your game accordingly.
4.  You play the people at least as much as you play your cards, watching for trends, habits, and tells.
5.  Because you understand how your opponents are playing, your betting makes perfect sense.  You know for example that some people just won't be raised out of their card chase, so you don't make any critical errors.
6.  You certainly don't think about losing, maybe not even winning because you are only thinking about this hand, building momentum, and not allowing your opponents to gain momentum.
7.  You are not distracted by anything that is going on at the table.  It's almost as if you have blocked that nonsense out and you're in a zone.
8.  You never believe your out of it as long as you have a chip in front of you.

I love poker so much because of the psychology-factor.  Sometimes it doesn't even matter which 2 cards you hold in your hand.  When you've got it, you can win very often regardless of the strength of your hand.  When you've lost it however, you MUST have a good hand to have a prayer for success.  So, in my opinion, if you want long-term success in really anything, including poker, you need to think like a dominant champion.  Believe you will win.  Do everything just like you do when you're winning.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ride the Poker Rush

After last night's Friday Night Poker, I feel like I might be back in my zone.  Last week, I got 1st place in a 90-person full tilt poker tournament and then last night, I played 3 games and got 1st, 2nd, 1st.  Last Friday night I won the 3rd game too.  In the last 4 tournament games I played in, I got 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st.

Prior to last Friday night, I took a week off from playing poker and very nearly lost my poker "mojo".  I showed up and donated the 1st 2 games I played, but finally I got back on track and won game #3.  This was a very important lesson - don't jack with a poker rush.  When you're on fire, don't put it out by taking time off.  Respect the rush.

Once you're on it, the other players at the table will often recognize it as well and that will push you through pots that you have no business winning.  You start betting bottom pairs like their top pairs and watching other players fold.  The river all of a sudden gets very kind to you like last night when I unintentionally rivered a straight.  Getting bad cards doesn't hurt so bad when you're on a rush and neither does getting down to a very low chip count.

Last night was a different kind of rush though.  I successfully played pocket jacks 4 times.  Who even gets pocket jacks 4 times in one night?  I also won with pocket 9's, pocket 8's and very nearly pocket 7's.  I won with pocket A's and pocket K's as well.  An inexperienced or unconfident player could mis-play these hands, but I was feeling it and that's the big lesson here.  Recognize when you're on a rush and respect it.  Play the rush.  Play the momentum.

One of the other players last night (once we were down to the final 3) started to build some momentum of his own and he was chipping away at me, but I was in the middle of this thing and I just kept looking for a place to take advantage of his momentum and I did.  You can't hit every time.  Busting his momentum was a game changer.  I ended up edging him out and winning by a single $100 chip.

But he gave away his momentum by not recognizing where he was.  Don't do that.  When you have it, keep it.  Recognize where you are in the game and keep your mojo going.  Ride the poker rush.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Texas Holdem Lessons: 1st Place in Full Tilt Poker

I just finished a tournament with 90 players on Full Tilt  I play the free tournaments for practice.  In the last 6 months, I've made it to the final table 17 times.  I've gotten 1st, 2nd, or 3rd eight times during that time (1st place three times).

I finished 1st place today and knocked out 11 players on the way to that win.  With 11 KO's, this was probably the best practice tournament I have ever played.  In fact, by the time I KO'd the 4th person, I was in 5th place and I never left the top 5 from there.

I remembered some valuable lessons in this tournament that helped me win.

1.  Never play a high card with a low kicker unless you're in the blind and not raised out of it.

2.  Don't play hands just because they have funny names.  I often fight the urge to do this, but not tonight.

3.  Play your rush.  I won several hands in a row in a couple of points during the tournament.  My larger-sized bets made guys fold that might have otherwise beaten me, but I was on a rush and the other players seemed to respect it.

4.  Don't chase stupid all-in bets early on in tournaments.  If you don't have a killer hand, let the other idiots fight it out.

5.  When you're getting down to the last 15 or fewer players, understand that bigger stacks will either bully the table or get ultra-conservative.  Recognize what's happening and use it to your advantage.  During this time, other players, especially the smaller stacks are folding for their tournament lives.  Understand this as well.

6.  Don't play stupid - especially when you're getting close to the final table.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lesson From Friday Night Poker: Play With Patience

Last night, I was reminded of an important lesson in Texas Hold'em, and that is to play with patience.  I took last week off and upon returning last night, I lost the 1st 2 games badly.  I was getting really bad cards, but that happens.  The problem was that I kept playing them.  Face it:  folding is not fun.  After folding a few hands in a row, I start thinking about how late into the game, I'm going to have a serious chip deficit if I don't win some hands.  What an idiot!  Instead of folding, I played bad hands and lost even more chips.  So, the 1st game was a total disaster.

The 2nd game was worse.  I went out in less than 5 hands and I didn't exactly lose to the best player at the table.  Through those 1st 2 games, I tried bluffing.  That didn't work.  I chased river cards.  That almost never works.  I did everything but play smart.  I was second-guessing myself, feeling irritated with my game, doing negative self-talk.  Shoot!  I was in my own head.

So, of course that bled over into the 3rd game, but by that point I was mentally beaten.  The way my head was, I probably shouldn't even have played the game.  As the game started, the bad play continued.  I just kept donating my chips until we were down the the final 4 and I was unbelievably still in the game.  I had the lowest chip stack of the remaining 4 and in fact, it was the lowest chip stack I had ever had before losing everything.

Then something clicked.  I had been in that position before.  I've won lots of times after having a depleted chip stack.  I started talking to myself.  Don't play stupid.  Be patient.  Fold for God's sake!  I waited for my spots, picked up some decent cards and things started turning around.  I made it to the final 3 and still had the lowest chip stack.  The other 2 guys were really playing for 1st and 2nd.  Then, each of them started chipping away at each other, and I took turns taking down pots from each of them little by little.  A strategically placed all-in here and a big raise there and 3 sets of pocket 9's inside of a 10-hand stretch didn't hurt either.  I completely turned it around to where I finally made a bet large enough to call BOTH of them all-in.  One guy called and the other folded so he could guarantee himself 2nd place.  I won, taking me from worst to first in what was turning out to be my worst night of poker in 2 months.

At the point, in game 3, when I had a sick little stack of chips, I could have just thrown in the towel and made one last stupid bet to put myself out of my misery, but instead I got out of my own head and started playing with patience.  It isn't over until all of your chips are gone.  When you're down, even almost out - you're still not out yet.  Play your game.  Play with patience.  Don't beat yourself.  Give yourself a chance to come back and win it all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bad Hand? Get Over It!

In a typical poker tournament, players will see hundreds of hands (or thousands if they make it deep into the tournament).  In your home game, you can easily see hundreds of hands.  In my weekly Friday Night Poker games, we always see the turn and river cards, even if everyone folds after the flop.  If you've already folded, but others are still in the hand, you're always going to see the next cards.  Very often, you made a smart fold and then cards that would have improved your hand will come on the turn or the river.  Does that make you mad?  Get over it.  What about when you think you should have won a hand, but then someone chased the river card and sucked out a win?  Does that make you mad?  Get over it.

When stuff like this happens, you really do just have to get over it.  You need a terrible memory.  Forget the last hand.  That hand is over.  The next hand is coming.  If you're still angry over the previous hand, how do you think you're going to feel after this hand?  You're going to make "pissed off" bets.  You'll go down with "sunken chips".  You'll make a stupid bet or a bad raise and you'll get called.  Then, you're sitting around waiting for the next game to start.

If you feel yourself getting upset over hands, stand up and walk away from the table.  Lose your blinds, but don't lose your mind.  Just get over it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Texas Holdem: Chasing the River

I am generally against what I call "chasing the river".  This happens when someone has a straight-draw, inside-straight-draw, flush draw, and even and open-ended straight-draw, and keeps calling bets all the way to the river card.  The odds just aren't usually there, but people do it all the time.  You're sitting there with just the river card to go and you need one card to make your straight - let's say you need a 10.  There are only four 10's in a deck.  4 out of 52 cards is only 7.7%.  Another way to look at it is that by chasing a river 10, you have a 92.3% chance of missing, and maybe it's worse than that because someone else already folded a 10. 

Maybe your chasing a flush on the river.  In this case, you have 4 cards to a flush and you need just 1 more.  4 of the 13 cards of that suit are already accounted for, so just 9 possible cards remain that could help you make that flush.  9 out of 52 cards is 17.3%.  That means that you've got a 82.7% chance of missing your flush IF nobody else already folded cards of that same suit and IF your remaining opponents aren't holding any.  Those are big IF's. 

Maybe you have an open-ended straight-draw where you could make a straight with a card on either end of the 4 consecutive cards you already have (including the board).  Let's say you have 8, 9, 10, J.  In this case, you could make a straight with either a 7 or a Q.  So, you chase the river.  Your odds are going to be a little less than the flush draw above since there are 8 possible cards in the deck that cold make your straight.  8 out of 52 cards is 15.4% .  As long as some of those cards weren't already folded or someone else isn't still holding them, you have an 84.6% chance of missing.

When you hit your cards, your thrilled and your opponents cuss you, but usually you miss and you donate.  The odds just aren't in your favor to chase the river.  As with many other aspects of poker, there are exceptions to not chasing the river.  I'm not getting into those exceptions here.  For now, just understand that the odds are against you and your buddies at the table are going to cuss you when you hit.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Friday Night Poker - Quads, Quads, Quads

I play poker with 8 to 12 other guys every Friday night.  We play tournament style poker with low stakes of $10 per game, plus a $5 knockout.  I've never heard of a game that has gotten as many 4-of-a-kinds as ours has.  It seems to happen a couple of times each Friday.  This past Friday, Prescott got quad 3's and I got quad A's.  In fact, I've actually gotten quads lots of times.  I've had:

Quad A's 2 times
Quad J's once
Quad 8's (on the flop!)
Quad 2's once

And, that's all that I can remember, but at our table, there have probably been others.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I also got a Royal Flush (of clubs) twice in a single month.  Has that ever happened before to anyone else?  But, that's a little off-point.

On Friday, I had trip 6's and I knew I was up against a probable Ace high flush.  In a moment that I like to call "my stupid move of the night", I went all-in and got called by 2 players.  Honestly, I was blinded by the possibility of getting quads again (I said it was a stupid move).  On the outside, I knew I still had a chance at pairing another card on the board to get the "boat".  And you know what?  It happened.  I ended up with 6's and K's - a full house.  It was so freakin' lucky that I was actually embarrassed to have won the pot.  I knocked 2 guys out (including the Ace high flush - what a bad beat for him!) and won 2 $5 knockouts on my way to a decided game 2 victory.  My chip stack was so high that I was ashamed to keep winning. . . .

But at that point, it would have been an embarrassment to lose, so I won anyways.