Monday, December 27, 2010

Texas Holdem: Not Another Bad Beat Story

This is NOT another bad beat story.  Nobody wants to hear about that anyways.  Suck-outs on the river, a term I just came up with - "River Boats", chasers, miracle inside straights, and the list goes on.  These bad beats are a fact of life in Texas Hold'em that serious players just have to be able to live with in exchange for long-term profits. I've taken some seriously bad beats in the last few months, but during that time I've also learned something very valuable about the reason for those so-called bad beats.  The lesson?  It's my own damn fault!

That's right.  Nobody else is to blame for the bad beats I've taken. Not the old man who sucked out a flush on the river at Winstar.  Not the all-camo guy who bluffed me off of pocket kings at Winstar (with pocket 4's).  And not the kid who "River Boated" me on Sunday afternoon.  It's not the guy at Friday Night Poker that loves chasing river cards either (actually the 3 or 4 guys - affectionately).

Most people don't actively calculate the odds of hitting that miracle card.  Actually, lots of guys don't even know how to calculate the odds.  We're supposed to love playing with chasers because the odds are so bad against them hitting and in favor of us making a profit.  I can live with it because the odds are against hitting for chasers.  The "rule of 2" says that to hit the river, you have to multiply your outs by 2.  So, to hit a flush on the river, you have 9 possible outs.  Times 2, that's 18% that your flush card will hit.  Put another way, you have an 82% chance of failure.

What about an open-ended straight draw AND a flush draw on the river (and forget that someone else could have already hit their flush at the turn)?  Well, here you have 9 flush cards and 8 other cards for the straight (at the most).  Now you have 17 outs!  Congratulations - you still have a 2 out of 3 chance to fail.  That's almost as good as it gets.  Don' get me wrong.  That's the kind of river I'm probably going to chase too, especially if I have an A or K that I could also pair on the river which would give me 3 additional outs (which is very unlikely to begin with).

So, with those river odds, I guess I want to play with a few chasers.  And now back to my main point.  It's not their fault when they hit and I lose.  It's mine.  I think it was Alan Schoonmaker, PH.D. who said that "aggression is the ultimate equalizer" in poker.  What an enlightening statement!


The guy who hit his river flush did so because I didn't bet him off of it after the flop.  His stack was way bigger than mine.  $35 wasn't getting that done.  All in!  The pocket 4 bluffer?  Something inside of me said he didn't have it, but the devil on my shoulder got me to fold.  That's because the devil on the other shoulder wasn't asshole enough to push All in!  The "river boat" was absolutely my fault.  I checked to maximize profit and the miracle river card hit.  Checking is weakness in Texas Hold'em.  I deserved it.  I let the remaining 2 sixes in a 52-card deck become a factor and he hit one of them.

If aggression is the ultimate equalizer in poker, then I'll use it.  I have to use it and I can't worry about it upsetting guys at the table (especially the loose-aggressive / loose-passive table I play at every week).  Why would I worry about it upsetting someone at the table anyways?  I don't know, but there's an interesting true story about it.

A few weeks ago, I came to play a very different game that I usually play.  I raised all of my premium hands.  Checks to me led to raises of 3 or 4 times the BB or 3 times the previous bet.  My initial bets were 1/3 to 1/2 the pot.  I took full advantage of my good hands and my good position.  This style worked.  My chip stack was nearly double the person in 2nd place.  Aggression was the ultimate equalizer.  I wasn't bluffing (at least not more than anyone else).  I was just playing my hands, position, and my reads on the other guys.

So, here's the point.  One of the guys was noticeably irritated with me and I happen to really like and respect him a lot.  I got pocket 6's and checked them on the button with some callers ahead of me.  The flop came Q, 6, and something else.  After everyone else checked around to me, I bet my set with a healthy raise.  The SB (whom I like and respect) angrily shoved all in.  He was probably frustrated because I was raising him off of his hands most of the game.  Everyone else folded back around to me and I did something that I will never do again.  Want to guess what that was?

I "contemplated" my hand, appeard to "struggle" with my decision, and folded my set face down saying, "I can't beat your set."  He showed me his bluff (of course I knew he didn't have anything) and I patted him on the back and told him what a great move he made on me.


Since that night, I've won 2 out of 10 games.  At various times in almost all of those games, I've had nice sized chip stacks too that I should have eventually won with.  I'm going to Vegas in less than 3 weeks and this crap I'm throwing out is going to get me killed!  Yesterday, I suffered 4 straight losses. I didn't sleep well last night, to say the least.  Who loses sleep over low-stakes poker games?  Me!  Most of the guys I play with play for fun.  I want the fun too, along with being able to hang out with a lot of really great men.  But I play to win and I would play that way even if there was no money at stake.  I just want to win. 

I don't think I'm God's gift to poker and that I should win every game just by showing up.  That's crazy.  I'm still relatively new at this game.  Rob and Chris are great players that make me want to be better.  Prescott's maniac game can put an entire table badly off balance.  I've seen Charlie make some seriously disciplined lay downs that I've learned from.  Spain's loose-passive style can trap you and his big hands will shut you down.  Cody's unpredictable and not scared to bluff and chase the river.  Brandon's hard to push off of a hand.  Keith is the most improved player at the table who's really starting to put a serious game together.  Larry can push a big stack around as good as anyone (and plays Q 3 like champ) and George could literally have anything in any hand.

But this is not another bad beat story and I'm not whining about my recent losses.  I'm grateful for them.  They made me wake up and pull my head out.  I'm not having fun when I lose 8 out of 10 games.  Losing SUCKS!  I'm going to start playing my big hands big - period.  My style has to be Tight-Aggressive.  I'll either wait for cards or position, and then I'll get the best of it.  If I get "rivered", so be it.  That river won't be free.  I'll still get my butt handed to me from time to time, but it won't be because I didn't do my best to equalize.

That's it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Texas Holdem: 10,000 Hours to Achieve Greatness

I'm listening to the book by Malcolm Gladwell, called "Outliers".  In his book, Gladwell points out that throughout history, greatness has come from, among other things, 10,000 hours of practice.  He names several important historical figures that became great after 10,000 hours of working on their trade.  To this point, the most interesting 10,000 hour story that I've heard is Bill Gates of Microsoft, but plenty of others come to mind fairly easily:  Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre . . . . Doyle Brunson.

I've only been playing poker for about 3 years.  Gladwell says that it takes at least 10 years to hit 10,000 hours, but that's about 3 hours per day, 7 days per week.  3 hours per day isn't easy.  Most of us have very busy lives.  And 10 years?  I don't know if I can stand to wait 10 years for greatness.  Anyways, I haven't put in 3 hours per day.  Gosh!

I've played live and online probably about 12 hours per week and I've watched poker on TV about 2 hours per week.  That's just 2 hours per day.  And, now I'm reading books on Texas Hold'em.  For what it's worth, I think about poker probably about 16 hours per day, on and off.  I even dream about it sometimes, but not about winning or losing.  My dreams are usually about playing specific hands - kind of hard to explain.

Anyways, I'm pretty sure that thinking and dreaming about something doesn't count towards my 10,000 hours, so I probably have about 12 long years of consistent practice before I achieve greatness in poker.  Bummer - 12 years of playing poker.  : )

If anyone wants to put together a regular Texas Hold'em game, count me in.  I need the practice.