Monday, December 14, 2009

Add some EV

EV, or expected value, is a term that comes up a lot in gambling.  Your expected value for any bet is the amount you should make on average given the cost, odds, and payout of winning.  A bet with positive EV will make money in the long run while one with negative EV will lose.  In most casino games EV is easy to calculate.  There is always a fixed and known chance of winning or losing with a set payout that can be used to find the EV; which for games played against the house is always negative by design.

For poker finding your EV is a much more difficult task. You'll often read examples of easy calculations. You have a flush draw, the pot is now 200 and it costs 50 to call, is that plus or minus EV? It's usually assumed that your opponent is all in, has top pair and the flush is the only way to win. But the game of poker isn't designed to make decisions that simple.

Pre flop hand values are easy to caluclate.  You can study a hand chart and see where your hand ranks, but on the flop everything changes.  And because you don't know what your opponents hole cards are it's not possible to calculate your exact odds. If you have 2 overs and a flush draw you might have 15 outs to beat top pair. But if you share one of your over cards you're down to 12, and if they have a set or better you're down to the 9 flush outs. Then again, you may already be ahead in the hand up against a smaller flush draw.  There are also multiple streets of betting, further complicating things.  If you make your hand on the turn will you be able get action and increase the payoff? Or will you be sucked in to paying another bet if you miss?

But, with a little finesse you can use the dynamics of poker to your advantage.  It's possible to chose a line of action that will increase the value of your hands.  Take a hand like J-10 suited, for example.  If you limp in early position you are going to have a hard time making a profit off of the hand.  A good aggressive player on the button might raise you with almost any 2 cars, and if you miss the flop you will probably have to give up the hand and fold.  But if you switch positions instead be the raiser punishing the limpers your hand's power is multiplied.  Not only will you win when you hit the flop well, but you'll also win when your opponents miss and you conitnue to show strength.  You've used the action to change the equation in a way that benefits you.

There is a lot of extra value to be found at the table if you know where to look. Study your opponents and their playing styles.  Which players will limp and then call your raise only to fold on most flops?  Is there anyone who might call you from position and then float the flop with air?  Try to build pots whever possible when you have position on the weaker players while avoiding being out of position to the tougher players.  If you can control the sitiuations in this way you'll find yourself taking a lot more profit from the table than just the paper EV of your hands.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Knowing when to quit

I had small loser playing 6/12 Omaha last night. Nothing terrible, almost a break even session actually. But had I listened to my manager (aka the wife) I could've left a winner for the night.

I started out on the must move table which was loose enough for me to grind out a small profit, but when they changed me to the main game things started going downhill. The main game was much tighter. Pots were contested shorthanded and nobody was giving much action. My wife suggested we leave but I insisted that I still had an edge. And I might have, but things just didn't go my way. I really only got action on 2 hands at the table. I had top pair with the nut low and the nut flush draw on one hand, but got quartered by the nut low + nut straight when I whiffed on the flush. On the other hand I had the nut flush + gutshot broadway draw that turned a 21 card no bust low draw to go along with it, but caught a pair instead to get scooped by my op's set.

Those were big hands and that's just the way they go sometimes. I wouldn't change a thing about how I played them really, except for 1 thing. I would've loved to have had 3 or 4 callers stuck in between me and my ops. That's the typical scenario on a loose Omaha table, and I really shouldn't have settled for anything different. I stayed on the table to try to prove I had the skills to beat tougher players, but all I was really doing was allowing myself to play for a smaller edge. I chose this game because of all of the loose players who contribute dead money and I shouldn't settle for a table that provides anything else.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Stacking Racks Again

It's good to have the money flowing in the right direction again. It's funny how sensitive your results in poker are to the smallest of changes. A new player sits down at the table, another goes on tilt, or perhaps you do. The game changes and if you don't adjust you lose. In this case I had been making mistakes, and the results were affecting me psychologically which was causing me to make more mistakes.

I'm sure I'll never be immune these things. Rather than pretend that I can become the perfect player who always makes the right choice I think it's better to accept that I can't and do my best to recognize when I'm doing something wrong. As long as I can do that I believe that I can minimize my downswings and stay alive in this game.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Streak Broken

Tonight was a great night, with a session at Commerce that brought an end to my losing streak. It wasn't the largest profit I've ever made, nor was this the first winner since starting this downswing. It was smaller in fact than my previous win. What made this one feel so good was that I know that I have finally fixed my errors. I have spent a lot of time going over my hands and analyzing what I was doing wrong. I had been playing too loose in certain spots, both before the flop and after, and it was costing me a lot. But tonight I played well, not because I pulled off a winner, but because I played very disciplined. Despite a number of the typical bad beats that are so characteristic of Omaha H/L I still pulled off a winning session and I did it because I made very few mistakes.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Gotta love it. Watching a 2/3 NL game from the rail. 6 players just saw a flop for a raise of about $40, none of them more than $200 deep. Loose enough for you?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Legends of Poker

It's about a week late but I figure I'd follow up on a previous post. I decided to go ahead and play in the $300 + 35 event in the Legends of Poker series. Things went well at first, as I expected. There were a lot of loose players giving away way too much in the early rounds. I built my stack up early and secured a nice lead.
As the antes kicked in I picked up the aggression and kept the chips flowing into my stack. When we went to break I had 3 times what we started with. Things went downhill from there, though, as I fell into one of my usual traps. After coming back from the break the table started to play back at me and I didn't change gears. In just one round I got caught red handed trying to steal one pot, then another, got reraised, and then had a player shove all in over the top of another raise.
It happens to me sometimes, perhaps I'm not the only one. Things are going so well that you fail to notice that things aren't going so well. I lost over a quarter of my stack before I slowed down. I was still above average, but no where near as comfortable as I was the round before.
Now that I'm playing tighter the table has a new captain. People are shoving left and right to stay alive, their stacks not adequate for the blinds and antes due to their wreckless early play, and he is picking up the hands to call with. A few rounds go by before I pick up a hand to raise with. Definitely not the pace I started with.
From early position I look down and find 2 jacks. A player shoves over top, and our table captain thinks for a moment before flat calling. The action comes back to me and it's more than 75% of my stack to make the call. Right now my gut is telling me that the flat call isn't good. I've seen the first player all in a little more often than his share and I think I have his range beat. But the flat call, it's bugging me.
His stack is big enough to gamble here, monstrous in fact, and I believe he'd do it. But with a smaller pair I think he'd come over top and try to isolate the all in player. I smell a trap. At best I think I'm against 2 overs and it's a coin toss if I call. But somehow my brain takes over and starts to disagree. He's just had too many hands, how could he have another one. This is my inner calling station speaking, but I don't know it yet.
I have nowhere near enough chips to induce a fold, but I throw them all in anyway. He snap calls and it's the moment of truth. My instincts were spot on. 99 for the first player, QQ for the deep stack. No set for me and I'm on my way home.
Doyle Brunson once wrote that when you face a tough decision you should go with your first instinct. I'll have to remember that next time.

WPT Photo

Very cool. Hanging out on the rail right now watching the WPT event at the Bike. As I'm watching Negreanu play Scotty Nguyen walks by. Scotty was nice enough to stop and take a photo, but I didn't get a chance to catch Daniel before he left. Maybe next year I'll be at the table with these guys.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We are creatures of habit

This is a fact. Our lives are filled with mundane tasks we must complete every day. Our brains allow us to go into autodrive and handle these tasks without any effort. We put our pants on with the same leg first. We tie our shoes in the same way.


Even complex tasks are subject to this. Studies have shown that we learn to solve problems in set ways, and afterwards continue to attempt to reapply the solutions we have learned. It's referred to as the Einstellung Effect.


Poker is not exempt. If anything poker is the most susceptible to the affects of our habitual nature. It is a game of repeating situations. We will make similar choices again and again, and our success will depend on taking the correct actions. Every good habit that we have is a valuable asset. They will make money for us as we play the game. Every bad habit is an expense that will rob our profits. We literally pay to have them.


Consider this next time you find yourself tempted to take an action you know is wrong. Are you really making the call "just this one time"? Or are you reinforcing a habit that is costing you money?

Monday, August 10, 2009

I feel good. Ate, rode the bike to work, had coffee. Energy is high. I'm in a meeting right now and all I can think about is how I could kick the crap out of these people in a poker game.