Saturday, April 28, 2007

Table of Contents

Here's a table of contents for the book I'm trying to get finished

Table of Contents

01 Nature of the Game ……………………………. 1
02 Popular Wisdom ………………………………. 13
03 Strategic Thinking …………………………..… 23
04 Opponents …………………………………….. 32
05 Image …………………………………………. 35
06 Games ……………………………………. 43
07 Seats ………………………………………… 65
08 Chip Values ….. 51
09 Stack Sizes ……….. …………………………… 71
10 Deception and Tells …………… 73
11 Hand Value …………….. 86
12 Bluffing ……………….. 87
13 Catching a Bluff ………………… 90
14 Slow Playing and Trapping ………… 85
15 Bet Size
16 Position
17 Starting Hands
18 Outs
19 Texture of the Flop
20 Straddles
21 Aggression
22 Coin Flip
23 Bad Beats and Good Bets
24 One Table Sit and Goes
25 Fighting Fatigue
26 Common Mistakes
27 Bankroll and Rat Holes
28 Away From the Table
29 Perennial Question


Firing blanks

In Ed Wilson's ongoing series of 7 posts on no-limit hold'em, the 5th post is titled Pull the Trigger. With that title I expected it to be a post on aggression, but it's not. It's a post on bluffing. Of course bluffing is an aggressive act, but not really what I think about when I think about pulling the trigger.

The reason, I think, goes back to the difference in his attitude and mine in the importance of picking up pots. I talked about that in a previous post. He puts a lot more emphasis on the idea of winning pots than I do. I try to focus on the money, and that's not the same thing as trying to win pots.

He outlines some of the situations where you might be able to pick up a small pot with a bluff, but he seems to think that winning the pot is the objective. I also like to try to pick up a lot of small pots without a hand, but not because I care much about winning that small pot. I like to bet a lot, and by betting a lot you tend to condition your opponents with the idea that you bet a lot and they should tend to call more with medium strength hands. By betting at the small pots (with small bets) you tend to increase the chances that they'll call you later when you make a bigger bet into a big pot.

And the opposite it true also, by not betting at the small pots you set your opponents up with the idea you don't bluff much at all and later you're set up for a big bluff into a big pot where they won't call you with a medium strength hand.

So, there are reasons to bluff at small pots, but also reasons not to. And those reasons are about other pots, not about the current pot. That's what I mean by strategic thinking, the slant I'm using in the book I'm doing (and posting here in dribbles). Ed ignores all that in his bluffin post, focusing on each hand independently of the other hands. I think that's a mistake.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nature of the game

Strategic Thinking in No Limit Hold’Em

01 Nature of the Game

The popularity of no limit Hold’Em is exploding. With the exposure of no limit Hold’Em tournaments on TV, no limit Hold’Em games have gained wide popularity in cardrooms, kitchen tables, fraternity houses, and on the internet. Television defines and shapes American culture in amazing ways, and it can do so very quickly. The poker sub-culture is not immune from it. Television has recently had strong influences on the poker world. Poker has always been a popular game but until recently that popularity has been somewhat under the surface, and perhaps with a little of a naughty slant. The poker sub-culture had been something of a deviant sub-culture. No longer. Poker has become vary mainstream. When I was in college there were college bridge clubs. Today there are college poker clubs. There were campus poker games when I was in college, but they were in dorm rooms, not in the student union.

Social Interaction

Television brings the players. The huge influx of new players has changed the way the world looks at poker and has caused the nature of the typical no limit game to change dramatically. The nature of a poker game isn’t defined so much by the rules and procedures of the game as it is by the behavior of the players themselves. It’s a social game, not just in terms of the social interaction among players in games consisting of friends and family, but it’s social in the very way that the game is structured. Bets in poker are structured as a social interaction. A bet is a form of negotiation. When I make a bet it’s in the form of an offer. You have options in your response. You can reject the offer, closing off negotiations by folding. You can accept the offer by calling. Or you can counter offer by with a raise. The negotiation of a bet is a social act, even if there’s no verbal exchange, and it takes place in a social context.

The players and the way they interact make the game. Wild players make for a wild game. Passive, sedate players make for a tight and passive game. Some of the small blind, small buy in no limit games you can find today (both in brick & mortar and online cardrooms) can get a little wild at times. Although today’s new players are sometimes wild, mostly they tend to be loose. Today’s gambler came to play much more so than the gambler of yore. The image of the old, cigar chomping gamblers in the back room, carefully considering each bet, is gone. Players that are introduced to poker through edited TV shows, showing 30 minutes of highlights from a 10 hour day of poker, tend to have seen a lot of aggression and they bring it to the table with them. They don’t show 9 hours of folding on TV, they show the 1 hour of action.

Players make the game
Today’s games are very different from the way games used to be. That’s because the players are very different from what they used to be. When I was in the Navy, in the late ‘60’s, there were a lot of pot limit 7 card stud games on ships at sea. Those games where full of terrible players. But they were terrible in a very different way than are bad players today. The really bad players used to chase way, way too much. Calling when they had almost no chance of winning was the norm among bad players. To win at those games all you had to do was wait until you had an extremely good hand, bet it, and you’d be called by very poor players with hands that were almost hopeless in terms of chances of winning.

Today’s bad players don’t tend to be calling too much, they tend to be bluffing too much, inappropriately aggressive, or folding too much, inappropriately cautious. It takes more than sitting and waiting to get the money from either of these types of players. Sitting and waiting is still an important part of a winning strategy today, it’s just no longer all there is to it.

Online Games

Things are a little different online than live. There’s still a lot of inappropriate aggression, but the online games tend to be tighter than the live games. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is an online player has to actually do some work to get into the game. He has to register with an online site, download software, find some way to get money to the site (and that part can really be difficult right now in the United States), deposit some money, and then he can finally play. If a US resident wins it can be difficult to get paid in a form he can easily convert into US currency. Then he can finally play. He’s going to be a more serious player than the guy who just got off work and drove over to the casino to play poker because his girlfriend didn’t answer the phone and he couldn’t find anything else to do.

A second reason that online poker games tend to be tighter is that many players are playing more than one table online. They aren’t going to start playing marginal hands because they’re bored, they have more than one game going to keep their attention.

And of course the more effective ways of cheating cause tighter games. If two partner players are sharing information about their cards and playing “best hand” the game will be tighter.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A stragegic approach to no-limit hold'em

A little over a year ago I was pretty far along on a no-limit hold'em book when my laptop was stolen. The book was, of course, on the laptop. I got disgusted and depressed. I got sufficiently depressed that I went back to the VA and got back on some anti-depressants (I have a history of some pretty bad depression).

My work habits are such that I frequently print out paper copies of things and sit in a coffee shop someplace and do re-writes. So, I did have paper backups of most of the work. But, I was in the process of moving into a new house and the stack of paper got stuffed away someplace. The house was in bad shape when a bought it and I got involved with the work of making it livable and I got involved with a woman in Pittsburgh (I live in Oklahoma) and was just busy the last year working on the house and going back and forth to Pittsburgh.

Also I'd been dissatisfied with my relationship with my agent and was dreading the conversation with her about that which was going to have to happen if I got another book ready to go. So I expect I was unconsciously putting that off by not finishing the book. I recently went ahead and had that conversation (it was prompted by some problems with foreign rights).

The house is livable now, the agent situation has resolved itself, and the woman has decided she's not interested any longer, plus I'm not depressed at the moment, so I've got time to get back on that book.

About this book

Most poker how-to poker books are algorithmic recipe books. I try to avoid doing that. Since poker is very situational, and those situations can be very fluid and both tricky to define and to recognize, I don’t find such a recipe approach helpful at all. Some people do find that helpful, but I don’t. So, what I try to do is just give you some things to think about. If you’re thinking about the right things you don’t need anyone to tell you what action to take, doing the right thing will just tend to come naturally.

I’m a little different from a lot of poker players in that, to me, thinking about poker is as much fun as actually playing poker. The topics in this book, and the way I approach those topics, reflects that.

The material in the book will be kept current by an enclosed CD which will point to this website and other's such as

Some strategic considerations other than actual card playing that I’ll be covering in the next few chapters includes players, game selection, seat selection, and stack sizes The idea of strategic thinking is so important to no-limit hold’em that I devote a chapter to just talking about what strategic thinking is. But, first I’ll bust some generally believed myths about no-limit hold’em.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Just following along

I've been following a series of blog posts Ed Miller is doing. 7 Easy Steps to No-Limit Hold'em is what he calls the series.

I'm always suspect of anyone who claims things that aren't easy are easy. Too much snake oil, too much just telling people what they want to hear. But I'm not really all that good a marketer I guess. Because telling people what they want to hear seems to sell.

Anyway his first entry was the suggestion to play tight. I didn't really like that all that much. I like the idea of playing position, playing tight in front and much less so in back.

I guess Ed Miller was just reading my mind, because the very next installment covered position and he did it pretty well. I liked that one.

I was critical of his seeming lack of interest in how pot size effects the game. And golly, gee, in installment 3 he covers pot size. It's getting downright spooky how I know what he's going to cover next.
What’s in the pot and your opponents’ stacks is your potential reward, and what’s in your stack is what’s at risk. When the pot is tiny compared to what’s in the remaining stacks, like on the flop after two or three layers limp in, that’s a small pot. When the pot is relatively large compared to what’s in the remaining stacks, like on the river after there’s already been a lot of betting, that’s a big pot.

I don't understand why he wants to use stack sizes as a scale to measure pot size. Money works just fine as a measurement scale. If a pot has a lot of money in it then it has a lot of money in it, whether anybody has anything left in their stack or not.

Then he says something that really sets me off
There’s one guiding principle: Big hands deserve big pots, and small hands deserve small ones. If you have a super-strong hand like a set, then you want to get all the money in. If you have a weak or vulnerable hand, then you want to avoid a big confrontation. It sounds simple, but many no-limit players go wrong here again and again.

Deserves? Is this some kind of battle between good and evil. I've written before about the psychological danger of thinking in terms of just desserts.

Miller does think like that -- in a response to a comment on a thread at Poker Culture, I observed
I just opened it up to a random page and saw this sentence at the top of page 180. "The free card play punishes passivity".

That sentence is very atheoritical. It's based on a world view of "just desserts", not a rational world view at all.

The free card play exploits passive opponents. It doesn't punish. Poker isn't about punishment and reward. Winning isn't a reward given to you by the card god for doing things that please him, winning is a rational result from making good decisions.

Besides, the only meaningful definition of a big hand is one that wins a big pot. A royal flush that gets the antes is not a big hand. People who think like Miller seems to be thinking here are the reason wild card games are hugely profitable when played against idiots.

In episode 4 he continues the big hand/big pots and small hands/small pots meme. I reading it I realized something I hadn't realized when reading installment 3 --- Ed Miller is thinking in terms of controlling pot size based on hand strength, when I tend to think more in terms of using pot size to determine how strongly you play.

That's why he thinks in terms of a hand "deserving" a particular outcome. He starts his thinking with the hand and everything else follows. I tend to start my thinking with what the other's are doing. In some ways my way of thinking about it is more passive than his way of thinking about it.

He's not ignoring the other guy
Playing big hands well is an important no-limit skill. Remember the three basic principles:

1. Swing for the fences
2. Mentally divide up the stacks into bet-sized chunks
3. Think about how your opponent plays and choose the betting line most likely to build a monster pot.

But he doesn't really give them much thought until he's already made the decision to make the pot big.

I don't think that you should make the decision to make the pot big until they've done something to indicate they'll cooperate.

For example. I'll often limp under the gun with AA. Big hand. But I don't do anything to make the pot big, I just slip in and see what happens. If I get raised, now I'll do something to make the pot big. But if I don't get raised, rather than play an over-pair out of position in a multi-way pot I might just give it up. If the pot stays small I'm willing to just wait for another day. I don't move on the pot until someone else does something to make the pot big.

That doesn't seem to be what Ed Miller is suggesting.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Miller got one right

Ed Miller has another post up in a series of post he's planning on the nth most important steps in playing no limit hold'em. His first was playing tight, and I had argued that that was not the most important step, the most important step is playing position.

I guess he decided he agreed with me after all. Now he's saying that the number one mistake he sees people make is playing out of position.

I think I agree with that, that depends on what he means by number one. It's certainly the most frequent. It's probably not the most costly though, that would belong to making bad calls on later streets.

People playing out of position is the #1 mistake I see. I probably make more money from chronic out-of-position players than from anyone else.

If that's true I think Ed plays too passively against calling stations.

A lot of what no-limit is too me is letting them have the small pots and me taking the big ones. Miller and I disagree in a big way about the fundamental nature of playing no-limit. But it's still interesting to see how he's looking at the game.

Maybe he'll get to that one next.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Laying down a full house

I used to play a lot of no limit draw poker, with a bug. A bug is a wild card that's good for aces, straights, and flushes.

The bug creates 5 key cards when playing draw with a bug --- the aces and the bug itself.

For example, the two pair AA55x is not as strong as JokerA55x. Both are aces and fives, but having the joker makes it quite a bit less likely that someone else will make a straight or flush. Having a card that blocks other players hands can be pretty valuable.

Key cards don't come up as much in hold'em, but the concept of "if you have it he doesn't" is still something to keep in mind.

For example, if you have Ah and something else and an opponent is getting frisky on a flop with two hearts then he's less likely to be semi-bluffing a flush draw than if you don't have the Ah. That's because many players tend to not semi-bluff less than nut flush draws. That doesn't give you any definitive answers about his hand, but it does help you shift the balance at times.

But, that's not what this blog entry started out to be. I was just going to tell you about a laydown a friend of mine made pre-draw. He layed down a pat full house, before the draw.

It was a $1 blind, 10c ante game, with a $2 minimum opening bet and the stacks were all deep. Well over $100 stack for each player. For a game that starts at $2 and only has two betting rounds, that's pretty deep.

The betting went like this --- $5 open, raise to $10, call, raise to $20, my friend called, raise to $30, then back to the opener who called, then raise to $40, call, my friend flashed a 33355 to me and said, "that's no damn good" and folded.

He was right, he was beat in 4 places. There were 5 plaers with pat full houses in that hand.

How did he know? Well, in no limit games there's no limit on the number of raises (some online sites have limits on the number of raises, but I've never seen a live game with such a limit). But the idea of a bunch of little minimum size raises just was absurd on the face of it. Everybody seemed to want to be called. They must have some real hands.

If just one of them had a full house there was no way he could win with his small threes full.

That's a lesson that applies across all forms of poker. When they obviously want you to call, then don't.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Don't play tight, play position

Ed Miller has a blog post up about playing no-limit hold'em.
Playing tight is the easiest and most important step you can take to improve your game.

That's what he says. And, he's right if you're a losing player. Playing tight will improve your game a lot.

But if your goal is to win more rather than to loss less he's not right. Playing tight isn't nearly as important as playing position.

You should play very tight in early position, and to some degree in middle position. But not in late position. Play a lot of unraised pots from late position. That's where you'll make some money. Throwing away hands saves money, and throwing away hands in early position saves a lot of money. But play position.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Short stack advantage

In a blog entry on playing short stacks in no limit hold'em, Ed Miller makes the following amazing statement:
No-limit is about having a good hand when the money goes in. Having a short stack can be an advantage because your money goes in before your opponents (with deeper stacks) are ready.

I'm just stunned by that.
It's certainly a good idea to have the best of it when the money goes in, but that's far from a defining characteristic of what playing no-limit is all about. If fact, in some situations it's true that that kind of thinking is more important in limit than in no-limit.

That's not quite as much nonsense as the idea that you're better off playing a short stack than playing a deep stack, but it's close.

There are some situations where you're better off with a short stack. But there are also situations where you're better off with a big stack. And the potential payoff from having the big stack is huge compared to the payoff from having the short stack. Intentionally being short-stacked is more a risk reduction tactic than anything else.

Just giving a situational example of when you might do better being short-stacked does nothing towards establishing a benefit of being short-stacked.

I need to get some sleep, I'll get back to this later.