Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Some New Shadows Over Innsmouth

I'm sure that the author whose gothic novel inspired this webcomic would have been taken aback by this pastiche. After all, in 1931 even H.P. Lovecraft's zany imagination didn't conceive of stories featuring a protagonist who was a troubled young mother with supernatural powers who bore a child out of wedlock and who worked as an auto mechanic. But he would have recognized a lot of the other elements populating this homage.

If you're a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos, this comic is a must-read. And if you're not, you should still check it out.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Back to basics: minimizing your losses

I didn't manage that today. I could try to come up with original content, but why bother when someone else has already summarized what happens when you can't win a pot at a good LHE table? Like him, I won precisely one pot at showdown in approximately five hours, even though I flopped some very big made hands and draws. I made a couple of crying river calls, but I don't believe I made any significant errors all night.

Best decision of the night? Quitting when I hit my stop-loss (for only the second time in my poker career), rather than reach into my wallet (even though the game was still excellent). Rules are rules and I needed to get out of there and fight another day. The game will still be there tomorrow.

Piaf said it best: Non, je ne regrette rien!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back to basics: maximizing your wins

I've been working on incorporating thinner value bets on the river in my game during the past month or so in my regular LHE play at my local cardroom with the stated goal of maximizing my true winrate -- although, this increases your variance, which is a consequence one must learn to cope with. This guy's last couple of blog posts gave me a prod in posting a few thoughts about this concept, since optimal play on the big-bet streets in LHE is every bit as important as it is in PLO or NLHE. Delving into these psychological issues is, I think, a key improvement to make once you have reached a certain plateau and are looking for ways to grow one's poker game to a new, higher level. If your "A-Game" can become even better, and you master ways to play your best game more often, you should see better results in the long run.

Here is a recent example from my regular game where I think I clearly wussed out and missed out on significant value. After I raked in the pot, I forced myself to sit out for an orbit as I mulled over the mistakes I had made and refocussed for the remainder of my session.

I found myself on the button with AcKc. Naturally, I put in a re-raise to three bets when given the opportunity, as a player in late position had put in a raise over a couple of limpers. The small blind, a middle-aged Asian woman who was lighting money on fire that night, although she is probably a small long-term winner in the game from what I've seen, called three bets cold and five players saw the flop (with about 8 big bets already in the middle). The beauty of this situation is that I had well over my fair share of pot equity; with a lot of dead money involved, I was in a good spot with position and a premium hand.

The flop came down KQJ with two hearts (and one club, for a backdoor nut flush draw). It was checked to me, I bet, the small blind check-raised and the original preflop raiser called two bets cold. I overcalled. The three of us saw the turn, which was an offsuit jack. She led out, the other player called, and I overcalled, even though I strongly suspected (due to past experience with these players and some fairly reliable tells) that I had the best hand. Consequently, it follows that I missed a raise for value against the range of hands my two opponents were playing, and I failed to charge all the drawing hands and worse made hands to outdraw me. This was a major error, to my mind. If I had been re-raised, I could safely throw AK away (I don't think either of the two players I was tussling with was capable of 3-betting a worse hand than mine); if I trusted my read at the time, I should follow through and attempt to maximize my equity whilst making a strong play with the benefit of position.

The river blanked and it was checked around. Again, I arguably missed a value bet, even though the board was scary. Why should I expect these players to check better hands than mine in this situation? Answer: I shouldn't, so I should bet for value and strongly consider bet-folding if I were check-raised on the end.

As it turned out, the small blind showed KhTh for missed straight and flush draws and the other player mucked, claiming to have held KTo. I played the river horribly, I think - nearly as badly as I misplayed the turn. Heck, you could even argue that I should have 3bet the flop (although the small blind would have been justified in capping it against me).

Comments on the larger issues are welcome, as well as duly-earned criticisms on how I butchered this hand.

As an aside, happily my local cardroom is regularly getting a 10-20 LHE game going Fri-Sun. I should be regularly playing in this game very soon and hopefully will be able to report back with some interesting hands during the next few months. The 5/5 PLO game still goes regularly and is good but I don't feel the time is right to take shots at that game, mostly due to expected variance issues given the fact that I am not properly rolled for it yet and would prefer not to have to rebuild my BR if I went on a string of losing five buyins.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

March of the Queens

It's been a long time since I posted an interesting poker hand for discussion. I was involved in such a hand a week ago that might generate some good arguments ... not that many of you play live limit hold'em cash games, but here goes ...

Last Saturday night, I found myself at my regular live 4/8 LHE kill game -- in fact, this hand took place during the session I mentioned in my previous post. I am up for the session and have consistently shown down winners. I have noticed that some of the players have begun to realize that when I raise preflop, I usually have a premium hand. The table is the usual mix of loose players who will play any two cards preflop. Postflop the play becomes a bit more aggressive, but not significantly so.

In this particular hand, the UTG player limps in. He is an older player who is the epitome of the table. LAG preflop, TAG postflop, calling station when on the draw: very exploitable; I will always know where I stand. He pays off more than most with second best hands because he hates to be bluffed. I paid him off earlier with AA when he flopped a small set; I got my revenge soon afterwards by extracting maximum value in a kill pot with TPTK (where I held AQo in the big blind *with the kill* but I didn't re-raise preflop; the flop came queen-high with a flush draw and he called my turn check-raise and river value bet with worse). Four other players limp in and I look down at my cards and see QQ.

Because of my table image and innate dislike for being out of position, I check my option (there are sound arguments for raising here with a preflop equity edge, to be sure).

The flop comes down with a rainbow board of J98. The pot contains five small bets.

I check, looking for clues on how to proceed from the actions of my opponents. Depending what happens behind me, I was definitely planning to check-raise. Somewhat to my surprise given this dynamic flop, it is checked around. Before seeing the turn, I quickly formulate a plan of leading out almost 100% of the time.

The flop brings a very interesting card, a queen (no backdoor flush draws have materialized). So I've improved to top set in a very small pot, and it's reasonable to suppose that one of my four opponents might very well have improved to a straight. I decide to execute my plan and lead out, but this is a close decision. The UTG player immediately raises. I decide that if it's folded around to me I should reluctantly fold the river unimproved, because I think my opponent is never bluffing here (given my read of the situation, this is a fairly easy laydown but I'm not in the habit of regularly folding top set before seeing all five board cards). However, a third player calls two bets cold, throwing a new wrinkle into this situation, and I opt to close the action with a trivially easy call. The pot is now 8.5 big bets.

The river is a jack, giving me the overfull. I lead out hoping that I will get raised by my left-hand opponent, but the UTG player pauses for a few seconds and only calls, the third player folds, and I drag the 10.5 BB pot.

Comments on how this hand was played on every street are welcome. What, since folding is not a palatable decision at any point, would you do differently to maximize your positive expectation in this situation and others like it?