Saturday, July 18, 2009

Articles on Online Tells

Well, for the last week or so, my poker game has ground to a halt in profitability. I do admit that I have a lot of personal and emotional baggage as of late. I know that plays into it. As such, I'm doing two things. First, as a piece of advice nearly every poker player gives, I'm taking a step away from poker for a bit (I'm not giving up by any stretch, just simply a break to clear the head). Actually I've been playing EA Sports NCAA Football '08. Second, and more importantly, I've taken this as a very humbling experience, and using it as an opportunity to learn and grow my game.

Upon game introspection, I realized one simple thing. My current issue is with how I play my game AFTER the flop. And in determining that, I keep hearing the phrase 'play the player, not the cards' ring in my head. And then suddenly, it was like a switch went off. Reading players. Specifically tells, which gives you that insight into what hand you're playing against.

The problem I've always had in the online world is trying to figure out the tells. At a live game, players can give many physical clues. I do find typically that in online poker, you're really disconnected from your opponents.

Enter my search results. Though I do not necessarily endorse any specific article linked to below, I have added the following links to at least give a good read and to get the ball rolling to improve reading, and responding to, tells in online poker.

Here are just some of the articles I stumbled upon:

Poker Tips - How to Bust Online Tells
Online Poker Tells - A guide to discerning your opponents poker tells
Poker Tells - How to Spot Online Tells
Common Tells in Online Poker

There are many more out there, but I do find a lot of parity. Most articles I've read to this point really highlight times to bet, auto call/check/fold boxes, analyzing bet amounts, fold/flop percentage, and chat boxes. My final to cents? I do find there are some subtle differences of opinion, but one message is clear. Take the time to study your opponents, especially in hands you are not playing. Using the criteria to analyze above, you should be able to make better, educated guesses as to your opponent's hand strength and improve your game after the flop.

Play Online Poker
Play Online Poker

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bankroll Management

Playing poker, that is, playing winning poker, is a business. The more I've read about becoming a winning (and one day professional) poker player, the more I hear about bankroll, about rate of return, expected gain, investment in pots, and so on. Poker really is a business, and requires a business-minded mentality to become successful at it.

Like any business, one needs start-up capital. I can't think of any really successful company in this day and age that does not have a healthy supply of liquid capital. To wit, I also cannot think of any successful poker player who does not have any capital, or a significant bankroll.

Continuing with the business principle, companies tend to invest capital into ventures based on a rate of return, and tend to avoid 'betting the bank', or simply put, invest a high percentage of their liquid assets in a single venture. Rather, they would tend to diversify their liquid resources, and would choose not to commit a high percentage to any such venture.

Poker does run on the same strain. Take this example. You have built a bankroll of $1000. Now bearing in mind that cashing in at Sit N Go tournaments is far from a 100% of the time prospect, it would be unwise to start playing $500+$50 buy ins. Two bad hands in two successive tournaments would eradicate your entire bankroll. The real key to poker bankroll management is to play within your means.

This has two beneficial effects. First, it greatly reduces the stress or importance of the money you have in the pot. For example, playing with half your rent money in a ring game will definitely introduce an additional high-stress factor into your game. Not only are you trying to focus on the game itself, you can very well (and I've been there before) worry greatly about losing your chips. This combination is a surefire way to lose all the chips you have on the table. Playing within your means, however, greatly alleviates this condition. It is true that we can even worry with the small stakes, but the amount of stress and frequency will be greatly reduced.

Second, it give flexibility for swings, notably the bad swings. In the example earlier, a swing of two bad hands would kill your entire bankroll. However, consider this. You have the same $1000 bankroll. You start playing $50+5 Sit N Go's. You can then last around 20 tourneys without cashing before your bankroll is dwindled away. And that's if you don't drop your buy-in level as your cash reserves drop.

As such, what I do recommend is to play with 5% of your bankroll at any one time. It does give you the flexibility to lose in the short term. We all have bad swings, runs of bad luck and bad beats. Playing within your means gives you the tools to build that bankroll effectively.

This brings me to one last piece of business. Rate of return. To really gauge yourself, you must keep track of your buy-ins and winnings. You'll get a much better sense of your progress after a large sample space, say 1000 tournaments. And in poker, like business, 10% return is a good mark to strive for. To bring it into the fold, if you played 1000x$50+$5 Sit N Go's, you should be up somewhere in the ballpark of a $5000 profit. Remember, that unlike conventional casino gambling, poker is not a quick cash fix, but rather a long process. Take time to enjoy it.

Start building your bankroll online at Full Tilt Poker, where you will get a 100% deposit bonus, up to $600.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

No-Limit Texas Hold'Em Strategy for Online Sit and Go's

Growing up, I had no exposure to the world of poker tournaments. My limited exposure to poker was (aside from reading rules from Hoyle and playing dummy hands by myself) my father's repeated and unsuccessful attempts in cash games. I only thought poker was a dark, back room kind of game. Well, I got a serious re-education of the game in university.

We did play a Tuesday cash game, but the real fun was on our Wednesday evenings. Our group played in a variety of what's now referred to as a Sit and Go tournament. In retrospect, the game we played was a quasi-H.O.R.S.E dealer's choice variation, but the buy ins and payouts, along with incremental blind structure was consistent. Since those early days, I have always favoured the tournament game over the ring game.

So enter the online Sit and Go (or Sit n Go, or several other spelling variations). I think the Sit and Go tournament really fulfills two purposes. First, it provides a fun tournament game which requires a small time investment over a regular tournament. Second, as one who has played both cash games and tournament games, there is definitely a difference in the types of hands and bets one will make between the two varieties, and Sit and Go's, in my experience, do provide a good reference to build skills applicable to MTT's (multi-table tournaments).

As I play most consistently on Full Tilt Poker, I will keep my examples confined within a normal, 9 handed Texas Hold'em Sit and Go. When all players have paid and the table starts, each player starts with 1,500 in chips, and the initial level of the blinds is 15/30. Blinds are raised each six minutes. Last person standing with all the chips is the winner, and the top three finishers receive a payout.

As such, it's moot to note that the Sit and Go is much more a game of survival than it is just winning chips. Chip value, stack size, opponent reads, blind increases will all tend to factor into your decision. In the early stages of a Sit and Go, I do tend to be very tight. I find in a good percentage of Sit and Go's, I find there are a few hyper-aggressive players who go all in very early. Even with strong hands I avoid these early all-in affairs. I've folded pocket tens, jacks, AQ and AK early on against these massively aggressive pushes. And I really look at it this way:

Even if you win the race, you may end up with around 3,000 chips. In the short term you could very well hold onto being chip leader. But as you progress to the later stages of the Sit and Go, you can very well find that 3,000 is average at best in terms of stack size, and is it really worth it to risk your tournament early in the game just for what could end up being an average sized stack? What I tend to do is play premium hands and some moderate strength hands, bearing in mind fold equity, and build up my stack until the table becomes about 5-6 handed.

I find it is in these stages the game becomes afoot. As the table becomes short-handed, the playing odds of hands pre-flop changes, making more hands playable. Now though I do tend to play more hands and a little looser, I don't make any committed stabs without a premium or traditional strong hand. Earlier I talked about being average stacked, and I do find in the majority of situations, I am. With 5 players I could be sitting with about 2,800 in chips, and the blinds are 200/400.

Keep in mind that making standard (2 to 3 times the big blind) raises pre-flop, it becomes very easy to commit close to half your stack on a good hand with an average chip stack. As such, a little aggression and luck are in order to make it past the bubble and get paid out. And this is where my 'tight is right' philosophy early in the game pays off. What I've done, asides from setting up my stack for the middle stages, is given myself a table image. Tight player, only plays premium hands. As such, the power of the bluff comes into play here. It becomes easy to buy the blinds from both the button and the small blind with a triple ante raise. I find this an effective tool as if you end up drawing dead for a number of pots, you definitely have a shot of getting your blinds back and not being blinded to the rail before the bubble bursts. I would like to add on that I do try to maintain the tight image, and do bluff sparingly.

To make it to the money, I find in most tournaments I'm in, does require a bit of risk. At some point, you will probably have to risk a great deal of your stack (or go all-in) in order to gain advantage or knock out an opponent. Knowing this and being able to read and play your opponents will guide you to the right situations to make these big calls. This is the point where chance plays a big factor in the game, but good knowledge of the odds and good play of the opponent (you should always play your opponent first) will see you in the money enough to turn a long term profit. Many of the pros do advocate a simple philosophy. 10% return on investment. Remember Sit and Go's are a long term prospect, not a quick cash grab.

Once in the money, I tend to find that 'all bets are off'. No pun intended. I get very aggressive and bet on a great deal more hands. By this point the goal is to win, and being conservative or incredibly tight can find you blinded all the way to the rail. This doesn't mean aggressive with reckless abandon, but aggressive tempered with some reason. By this point there are no guarantees, but I do find from experience at these stages, the conservative players tend not to win against the stronger, more aggressive players. By the time it's heads up it really becomes kill or be killed.

Now bear in mind that 10% return on investment. It's not only a good poker practice, but a good business practice. In progressing to professional poker, where poker is the primary source of income, we really do have to treat it as a business. We will go through bad losing streaks (I just came off of one where I lost half my bankroll on tilt). But poker is a long term business. Track your progress. If you dedicate yourself to learning, improving, and playing smart, you too will find your rate of return at 10% or better.

See you at the tables online...

Monday, July 6, 2009

When your opponent is on tilt

I had a pretty fun go of it tonight. Played in two sit and go tourneys tonight. First one I took a bad beat holding big slick against JT suited, which hit the flush on the river. I was short stacked enough that the next decent hand I went all-in on (AQ), but my opponent (99) hit quads on the flop. Yet another example that you never win them all no matter how well you play. Poker really is an averages game. If your game is consistently good, you'll make money in the long run. Poker is seriously not a game for those looking for an instant gratification win.

As such, I decide to continue my law of averages approach and play another SNG. I make a loose call early, and fall to being short stacked until there are five remaining after the nine. By the time I make it past the bubble, I'm the big stack. A good sign that the movement that happens early in a tournament in of small consequence to the overall flow of the game.

One of my two remaining opponents is right on tilt. And he (I'm assuming he's a he, you never quite know online) decided to target me. I admit, I called him with J6 suited vs. his all in with JT. My stack size was much bigger and I was willing to gamble that I'd hit just enough to knock him out. I didn't. That's poker though. However, this is when the onslaught started.

Earlier, when I had been entering pots, I had done consistently with consistent raises. A very standard move most pro's advocate to players wanting to learn to improve their game. My opponent noticed and commented on this earlier in the game, but I paid it no mind. Until he got a little verbally abusive after his beat of me on the all-in. In retrospect, I think I pushed him off of some decent hands that connected with my raising. Which, in all due respect, is the point. To push some marginal hands out of action.

So, the verbal insults to my game proceeded. How I'm the worst player he's ever played against. How my game will never amount to anything. Having been on a little bit of a losing streak, I've been forcing myself to stay positive as to not make careless mistakes. However, ignoring the taunts didn't work. It kept coming. So, having been a bully target as a child growing up, and having a vast education in dealing with bullies, I had to think of something. I considered shutting chat off, just to play out the hands. However, I needed to get things out of my system. I highly do not endorse engaging anyone, but this idea was too much fun.

I told my opponent to keep insulting me. I loved it and fed off of it. Sure enough, he took the bait. I cheered (well, in text) and thanked him for his insulting behavior. Sure enough, he stayed right on tilt, and soon found himself out in third.

Myself, I won. Woo hoo! My opponent who finished in second was much more sporting, and agreed that our 'friend' was neither sportsmanlike or a good poker player.

And he didn't even obey the simplest principle. Don't tap on the aquarium. It scares the fish. Mind you, by not ignoring chat, I might be guilty of the same.

But it wouldn't have made for a good story, now would it?

Welcome to Hydra Poker

I'm not a religious man. Not that I'm going to delve into that here, or at all in this blog. This is really about poker. Really. Honest. But in having said that, my current path, or at least part of it was inspired by Jesus. Not this Jesus, but this Jesus. Chris Ferguson. But before I get there, a little back story.

After being genetically cloned1 with a DNA from my 'father', I grew intellectually at an alarming rate. By the time I was age four, my Grandmother taught me the multiplication tables from 1x1 to 12x12. Yes, Grandma was a retired school teacher and principal, but as well a big card player. I quickly learned games such as grab, gin, hearts, euchre, and even bridge. Nobody was really into poker in our family. Except Dad. And he wasn't all that good. I remember playing with him and a few of his friends at some party in my early teens, and I cleaned the whole lot out. I tried to introduce poker to my high school friends, into euchre and hearts, but did so without any success. They weren't up for it.

In university, things changed. I met some friends who introduced me to tournament games, most notably Texas Hold'em and Omaha 8 or Better. All of a sudden something clicked. It's difficult to describe, but I really got into the game. Into poker. Especially the tournament set up.

Well, after university (1995+), life happened. Work, career, money, and the lot ate up a whole deal of my time. Poker was always relegated, though in all due honesty, I knew something was missing in my life, but I refused to look at it. It wasn't really until my wife and I packed up and drove across Canada to beautiful British Columbia before it all started again. I downloaded free software and started to play again. I could feel some of the old energy enter me again. So I played in small tournaments ($22+3 for example) tournaments, and saw some early success.

Then one night, I stumbled upon this posting. And then it hit me. I can use the same basic premise to build a bankroll. Poker tournaments are more and more saturated with players who have honed their skill and built a bankroll ONLINE. Having a mathematical and engineering background, it seemed like such a sure fit. I set a goal for myself. I too want to be a professional poker player, meaning it is my primary source of income.

This blog, as such, will serve a few functions. I will document my progress in building a significant bankroll and working towards playing in bigger tournaments. As well, I will post both articles of my own, along with links to various related articles with advice to improve one's game.

Let's get the cards in the air...

1 I'm not actually a genetic clone. However, the similarities between my father and I are quite scary. It's like we're twins or brothers really.