Sunday, February 20, 2011

Beating the Loose-Passive Texas Hold'em Game

I played very aggressively in Friday Night Poker.  When I had a strong starting hand, I raised.  When the action checked to me, I raised.  I fired big bets pre-flop, at the turn, and at the river, sometimes even if I knew I had the worst hand.  This aggressive play worked in the first game and I came from behind once it was down to the final 3 and won the game.

As I've mentioned before, except for a couple of very strong players, this Friday night game is primarily a loose-passive game.  Of the 10 regulars, we have 3 that are mostly tight-aggressive, 1 that is mostly loose-aggressive, and 6 that are mostly loose-passive.  This means that we have a lot of river card chasers and a lot of checking and calling.

The key to winning the loose-passive game is understanding what your opponents are likely to do.  They are going to call most small to medium sized pre-flop bets with a very wide range of starting hand combinations, but they aren't likely to continue if they don't pair on the flop or have a draw of some kind.  After the flop, they will likely check, but call many bets.  If they don't fold, they have a pair, a draw, or in my game, an Ace.  Bluffing them is not effective because they like to call and many of them either don't understand the odds of hitting their card or they may not care about the odds because they have more fun when they're in the hand.

Playing in a loose-passive game can frustrate a stronger player because they get drawn out on fairly often.  If a game has just 2 loose-passives, drawing doesn't happen as often, but with 6 players, it can just be maddening.  So, how do you play in a game with so many players that make you want to run in front of traffic?

1.  Loosen up some yourself and play a wider range of starting hands.  2 face cards are not necessarily needed to win these games.  With so many players usually hanging in to see the flop, smaller connecting cards like 7-8, 7-9, 6-8, and even 5-7 can be strong hands.  If everyone else wants to play their face cards and many of them stay in the hand, it stands to reason that your smaller cards have a greater chance of hitting.

2.  Don't bluff too often against the loose-passive player.  They want to call because playing is more fun than folding.

3.  Bet your medium to strong hands.  If they don't pair or have a draw, they will fold.  If they call, you'll have a pretty good idea what you're up against.

4.  Check your weaker hands and they will usually check behind you to give you cheap or free turn and river cards to possibly win with.

5.  If you bet and they raise, get out if you don't have a clear winner.  The loose-passive only plays aggressively when they have a big hand.

6.  If the loose-passive is in a position to act before you and they bet, use caution because they probably hit their card and you may be behind.  Or they may be betting a draw with lots of outs.  Be careful.  You may not be able to bet them off of those hands.

7.  Value bet more often, especially when draws clearly missed.

8.  Try not to mix it up with more than 2 loose-passives at a time.  It's better to isolate against a single player to reduce your odds of getting out-drawn.

9.  Know when you're beaten and get out.  This was my big mistake Friday night.

10.  Keep a long-term perspective because the odds are going to be in your favor in the long-run.  Drawing for a flush after the turn gives at best a 1:3 odds against hitting.  Drawing for an open-ended straight gives at best a 1:6 odds against hitting.  Hanging in for the chance to hit the 1 miracle card left in the deck that could give you the win gives an overwhelming 1:50 odds against hitting.  Your tight-aggressive style will win most of the time in the long-run.  So, hang in there.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Statistical Improbabilities in Texas Hold'em

I played the $1-$2 last night at Winstar and lost my first $200 in my first 10 hands at the table.  My first big loss was with the AK of hearts in the hole (the 5th best starting hand in poker).  The flop was A Q 6 (2 clubs).  I get heads up with a guy that I figure likely was holding KQ or maybe even a flush draw.  He also could have AQ which seemed like the only hand that could beat me based on probabilities.  So, he went all-in and I called.  I had an Ace.  The board had an Ace.  He had Pocket Aces for a set on the flop.  It was so improbable that he would have Pocket Aces that I never considered it as a threat.

5 hands later I got pocket cowboys and decided not to see a flop, so I pushed all in pre-flop with my remaining $55.  I got called by another guy who was holding, of all things, pocket aces.  I lost with very strong hands twice in 10 hands to pocket aces.  That is a statistical improbability.

So, I re-loaded with another $100 and moved to center position at the table, directly across from the dealer.  That $100 played for the next 3 hours and I was up and down throughout the night until at one point, I was sitting at just over $50 and ready for a double-up.  I was dealt 9-10 and got to see a cheap flop that was 9-10-2, with 2 diamonds.  So, with top 2 pair and a possible flush draw, I pushed all in.  I didn't need to see the flush.  Everyone folded except for one fish who liked his 2 small diamonds and didn't know about the "rule of 4".  He called and the river was a diamond.  He had the 6 and the 8 and the river was. . . wait for it. . . the 7 of diamonds - he hit the straight-flush on the river - the most statistically improbable hand in poker.  And I was out again.

But I wasn't mad.  I wasn't on tilt.  Everyone suffers from bad luck from time to time.  I played strong and solid all night and lost some very big hands to the most statistically unlikely hands imaginable.  It was actually funny.  So, what did I do?  I found an ATM and a new table.

I played one more $100 stack and found the table with the largest stacks in the room.  One guy had about $1,200 in front of him and a couple of others had more than $500.  The table was loose and despite my bad beats, I felt like I was playing hot.  So, I sat down.

Unbelievably, I mixed it up with Mr. $1,200 2 hands in a row very early on.  The first time, I had AJ suited and pushed all in with a flush draw.  He had pocket K's and I was in trouble until I hit my magic Ace on the river.  So, I was back.  THE VERY NEXT HAND, I had K 10 and a K came on the flop.  The same guy had pocket K's again!  Back-to-back pocket K's!  Statistically improbable, and at that point, completely hilarious.  He got half of my stack with that hand.

Within the next half an hour I was dealt pocket A's (about time) and the house had an "Aces Cracked" thing running where if you lose with pocket Aces, the house pays you $100.  So, I slow played and ended up heads up with a guy who had KJ and a Jack on the flop.  I was way ahead until the river card came and it was another Jack.  I found out a few seconds later that another guy at the table folded a Jack.  That means that he hit the only jack left in the deck.  I lost the hand, but got the house's $100. 

30 minutes later, I had $218 in front of me and had to quit (but didn't really want to).   I was playing good all night long, but just taking some really bad, statistically-improbable beats.  I doubled my last $100 inside of an hour and felt like I could have gone on doing that for the rest of the night against these guys.  But, now I'll never know for sure.

2 weeks ago, I tripled up at these same tables.  I'm still up $200 in my last 2 trips up there despite the crazy night I had last night.  I guess these swings are going to happen, but if it's going to take the most statistically unlikely hands to beat me, I'll take them.

But like I said last time, "results not typical".  True.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Poker Psychology

Several years ago, I started reading books on Negotiating.  In fact, my boss made me read "Secrets of Power Persuasion for Salespeople," by Roger Dawson.  Since he read that book too, I figured I better read more books like it so I could have as much of an advantage as possible with him (he's a really smart guy).  So, I read just about everything I could find. 

I read over 100 professional journal articles about negotiating topics ranging from psychology to international negotiations in Japan and Korea.  I also read just about every negotiating book written in the last 10 years.  Since I loved this topic so much, I started digging deeper into influence psychology.  I wanted to learn how negotiations worked from the inside of people.  Then, I topped that off with books on body language (by far the most boring of everything I read).

All of this negotiation, psychology, and influence was very appealing to me.  For me, the key to it all sort of boiled down to many of my key characteristics anyways:  be nice to people, make people feel good, get them to like you, then get them to see things your way.  I just never connected the dots between that and all of that new information I read about until I read the books and practiced some.

Then, a few years ago, a good friend of mine invited me to play Texas Hold'em.  After a couple of months, I won my first tournament and had that big "holy cow" moment.  "Holy cow!  All of this stuff is related."  I started learning this stuff so I could work better with my genius boss.  Then, I realized how much more effective I could be professionally by using these principles and tactics.  But then came poker, and believe me - poker takes this stuff to another level that many business people never thought about.

In a business negotiation, 2 sides are working "together" to come to a mutually beneficial agreement.  At least that's Dawson's basic premise: win-win.  Of course, other less successful (in the long-term) negotiators only want a win-lose scenario.  That doesn't really work that well in business because you might get one deal done, but then that's it, and the word gets out that you're just an A-hole who's in it for yourself and the pool of people to negotiate future deals with gets small.

At a poker table, the negotiations are ongoing and, at times, cut throat.  You want to win this pot?  It's gonna cost you?  I'm all in.  I want those blinds.  I raise (How bad do you want them?).  I check.  Oh, you're gonna bet?  OK.  Then, I raise.

And psychology and influence are a huge factor in these moves.  Who do you want to lose to?  The A-hole or the nice guy at the table?  Well neither, but if you have to lose anyways, it may as well be to the nice guy.  Who do you have the most influence over in your daily lives?  That's easy.  You have the most influence with people you know that like you.  That doesn't at all mean that you abuse that influence ability.  But face it, it's there and it's reality.  So, at the poker table, being a nice guy can pay off over the long-run.  And being an A-hole won't work out for you.

What was my point?  I read that poker is a game of psychology played with cards.  I missed that way back when I first started reading about psychology, negotiation, and influence.  Otherwise, I probably would have started playing poker years earlier.  I love this stuff and I love poker and it works for me.

Disclaimer:  For all of you guys that I play with on Friday nights - I'm just kidding.  Don't pay any attention to me. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Full Tilt Poker: 50 to 1 Odds Against

I had the day off of work due to ice on the roads.  So, earlier today I jumped on Full Tilt Poker to play a 90-player free money no-limit Texas Hold'em tournament.  I didn't just decide to play - I decided to sit down and win.

Just like usual, I hung around the top 10 for most of the entire tournament.  I moved between 1st and 6th place for most of the time.  The decisions all seemed so clear and easy.  Odds were fairly easy to calculate and my mind-set was to make positive expected value moves 100% of the time, play the +EV odds, and win.

Let's skip ahead to the final table.  When it was down to the final 3 (me and 2 others), I felt that I had pretty good control over the action.  In spite of that, I found myself in 3rd place, with a queen high flush (clubs) on the turn, against 2nd place and his made flush at the flop, with 4-6 of clubs.  The clubs on the board were K, 3, 7, and 10.  The only card left in the deck that could beat me was the 5 of clubs which would give my opponent a straight-flush.  And, what are the odds of that? 

Well, it's good that you asked because the odds were 2% to hit the 5 of clubs and 98% to miss.  In other words, he had a 50 to 1 odds against hitting his card.  I had the best of it and I went all-in after the turn gave me a flush.  It was kind of funny because before I saw his cards, I knew that I only needed to avoid one card (the Ace of clubs).  It turned out that the Ace wouldn't have helped my opponent at all.  He needed the 5.

He got the 5.  The board was all clubs (and what are the odds of that too?).  So anyways, I ended my winning session in 3rd place with a 50:1 miracle for my opponent.  The math says that if that hand was played out 100 times, I would win 98 times.  If that was a real money tournament, I'm pretty sure that knowledge wouldn't make me feel better.

As it is, that makes 26 final tables in the last 52 weeks.  These are free-money practice tournaments, but that's 1 final table every other week against 90 other (relatively wreckless) people each time.  Also, my average final table ending position was 3.7 over that time.

But 50 to 1 in my favor?  That's one time I don't want to be #1.