Defense

OSU is coached by Eddie Sutton who teaches defense. Pressure defense to be exact. My high school coach patterned himself after Coach Sutton, and Sutton’s law can be translated into poker just as almost anything a person can sense.

            Sutton’s idea is that a good defense can stop a good offense. Okay, maybe he’s right. I won’t debate that; it does seem to be an adage in the sports realm. But Sutton’s other thought is that defense is not dependent on luck. Funny thing to say for a man who isn’t coaching a team in a game of chance. But basketball has a luck factor the same as poker. Calls that can go either way go the other way. Rebounds keeping falling just out of your reach, a ball rattles out, the timekeeper lets an extra second eek away and you can’t get the shot off before the buzzer. Good shooters will tell there is no luck. Sure they understand a good roll, but the ones that are nothing but net were intended to go exactly there.           

            But there are some days when nothing seems to fall. On those days, when Sutton’s offense in slumping for a few minutes, the defense isn’t under the control of streaky play. There is no luck factor in defense. You smother the opponent and force them to make mistakes. Even if an individual gets beaten by a player, a good defense can come to the rescue without weakening the team as a whole. If you add pressure to this kind of defense, well there are more mistakes to capitalize on.

            Sitting at a felt table hour after hour is going to require more defense than offense. Every hand I don’t play is me guarding my chip stack, my payroll for the day, week, month. I can see the potential in every hand that passes because the saying is true “Any hand can win.” Some of the hands I fold (actually it seems like all of them) get hit hard on the flop. No good play goes unpunished, as they say. Winning a pot means protecting those chips. At the casino, I might net 25 off of one pot, but that can be gone in seconds if I’m not careful. So I play defense.

            As for pressure defense, it can frustrate your opponents. It’s happened so many times I’ve lost count that someone has remarked that I haven’t lost a hand that day or that they’ve never seen me down. It’s the best thing they could say. It’s free advertising. Of course it isn’t true, but no one needs to know that. If a stranger comments to its validity, I say something that feels like a denial but can be read as me trying to hide it. “Oh, I’ve lost before.” “You weren’t here the other day.” “I’m just having a good day.” But something sparks in the hunters. They want to beat me. They will overplay hands to get at my chips, which makes the pressure higher, but the read easier. Then if the cards have been kind enough to let me dole out some beatings, and they came down in such a way that I could play them in sneaky ways, I usually can bluff a few pots. My pressure D has them rattled.

            Of course this is the same game as playing tight, not gambling with hands that might already be beaten, but just another way I like to think about it when the cards are cold.

A Couple of Pot Limit Hands

Doug’s game has been the most consistently difficult game I’ve played in. I don’t feel outmatched talentwise, but there are a few factors that make this game tougher than most. Doug, for one, used to be a semi-pro. In the early-80s, he was out of a job, had a mortgage and a newborn and played poker for a little over a year to pay the bills. He said his goal was to make $100 a night, and I think he played four nights a week. Doug didn’t have any cardrooms or casinos to frequent, so he had to grind it out in home games and country clubs. The biggest credit to his play is that no one knew he was doing it. So Doug is about the most solid player I’ve ever played against. I modeled my low-limit play after him.

            My friend Joel plays in this and he’s very good, an excellent numbers man, one of only two people, besides my wife, that I would share a bankroll with. Like most good players, Joel plays even better in this game than others.

            My friend Larry plays in this, and he plays for the most money of anyone in our group. He has had more big wins for bigger money than anyone in the game. He also has the same credits with losses. Larry’s not afraid, and he’s not afraid to play reckless.

            There are another two guys who don’t know what they are doing: Rick and Mike. Mike will be the star of the first hand I discuss, and I’ll let his play be the description for both Mike and Rick’s play.

            The other players in the game are pretty solid. They have read poker books and know what hands have good appeal and what hands don’t. They play a little too tight in that they may have the best hand, Aces full or something, but won’t raise you in fear of you having quads. These guys are up money for their lives but not much, and they nearly cry at every one of these games at the aggression and their stupidity for laying down the winner.

            The real reason anyone comes to Doug’s game is Kenny. Kenny is a multi-millionaire. He owns the biggest contracting company in Wyoming and he makes around 40 million a year. Kenny loves to raise the pot with nothing, without looking and continue to raise it until all your chips are in the middle or your cards are. He will bet the flop, flip over his cards and you’ll see you have him beat, and you’ll still be scared to call. Kenny has played pots from the bathroom and won. Once he left to go to piss and told the table to raise the pot every time. A guy actually had Aces on this hand. Kenny had 6-3 offsuit, and he didn’t even know it. He also asked us to flip his hand over so the other guy would know what he had. Two sixes hit the flop. There are parts of Kenny’s game that could not be worse, and parts of it that couldn’t be better. Typically, I bring 200 in there, though I have brought 400 when I thought 4 100 shots at it were worth the risk. Others have been in for 500 and the table quiets down as we are all feeling a little sorry for our friend trying to dig himself out of a 500 hole. Kenny regularly has 1200 in and has put 3300 in without batting an eyelash. He typically writes a 1000 check every time there.

            This sounds like an ideal game to be in. But with all the combining factors, having a pro, a maniac, two idiots and solid players in the pot, it’s hard to know what to do. The good thing is I can just wait for hands. The bad thing is, everyone at the table but me has a job that pays at least 50,000.

            The last hand I played on this night was with Larry and he broke me. I raised the pot out of position with KQ and Larry smooth called. Flop comes K-9-3. I check raised Larry and he put me all-in. He had 9-3. That was my first hundred. I wasn’t pissed or tilting, but I wasn’t happy. But Larry can do this to people, and I know that if I’m at the table long enough, I’ll be in the hand when he doesn’t hit his miracles.

            On the hand in question I was in middle position and there were several limpers, which is what I’m looking for in this game. I am known as a tight player in this game, I have lost only once there and am up almost a grand in my career there. In other games with Larry, Joel and some of the guys who are there, I’m known as just the opposite. Anyhow, because of the limpers I can put in a good-sized raise. I have 8s-8h. Because of my reputation, I run off almost everyone, I think Joel stays in and so does Mike. Mike is late and Joel is early.  Now Mike is a real idiot, he makes a lot of money doing something, but he’s not very fond of it at the poker table. I put Mike on something solid because I don’t know how else to go about my pre-flop mind. I forget about Joel. Flop comes Q-8-3, all clubs. Joel checks and he is not afraid to check-raise.

            I want to pause here to talk about a good play that I made and didn’t actually make at the same time. Usually after a hand is over guys will tell you exactly what they were thinking and why they are so smart. They are full of shit. In hindsight, I think my move with my reputation was solid. The problem it has is that anyone who calls you is going to have you beat. So the only thing to hope for is a 9-high flop with an eight. Check into the overpair or bet at them and you will get twice the amount of chips you started the hand with. Typically you are going to get called by a pair, maybe AK if it’s suited or even AQ, but every other non-paired holding will wait for a better situation and if they don’t and don’t flop to their hand, all their action is over. So this is a dangerous play, but in a game where tight players will call you with Aces instead of raise because they have seen A-A get beat too many times, and then they flop a 9-high and you raise them, they will fold half the time because they have talked themselves into seeing a better hand and folding. Try this play when you are up, proceed gamble.

            Back to the action, I think for a minute and maybe I’m tilting and maybe I’m not, but I’m going to make a run at it anyway. I don’t figure I can run out a made flush because they called a raise with it, so if it’s not the nuts then it’s big anyway, but if someone only has one club, they are going to have to pay to draw. I’m still not sure If I thought anyone had a flush or I didn’t care, but I made the hand I was looking to make with 8-8, and so what if it was a flush flop.

The pot had a little over 100 and I had 97 so I get it all in the middle. Mike calls and so I figure I’m going to have to pair the board to win, and I think Joel laid down a big club. I flip over the set, Mike flips over Q-5h. He doesn’t even have a club! Of course I’m happy that he’s an idiot. Joel whispered to me that he was surprised that I would do that with 8-8. So there was added bonus in that I got some street credit. Of course the lesser players just saw my set, my winning hand, and the savvier players realized I made a big move with a vulnerable hand. I got back all I lost to Larry on my original buy-in and then some, and cashed 220 that night.

The other hand was at Doug’s a few times before the Mike hand. Only 5 people showed up to this one: Doug, Larry, Joel, Me and my friend Brice. Brice is pretty good at home games and does well, but he’s pretty scared over at Doug’s and doesn’t usually do so well. But everyone there is solid. There is no dead money, which sucks, but there is also no live money. I figure this will be good practice but I don’t stand to win much at such a tight game without much money in it.

Brice raises the pot from the gun to I think 13. Because of being short-handed, I had come not to respect the opening raise. Maybe I was the only one. I had K-K and reraised the pot to I think 36. As I was raising, Brice said “Really” or something that let me know, he thought he was beat, but I was concentrating on my hand because Larry who was after me cold called before I could get my money in. Brice goes ahead and calls but he’s not happy. Flop comes K-J-10, two spades. Brice checks and I think I would have given my hand away to anyone paying attention because I felt like I was smiling pretty big with my top set. I bet 100. I could have bet more but I hate counting the pot and 100 was big enough. Larry calls as soon as I say it. Brice is frustrated, but calls off his last 54 (I had busted him earlier that night).

With Larry’s call, I have to figure him for AA or AQ. I’m hoping they are not spades. If he tripped up with Jacks or Tens then I’m in good shape as long as it’s not runner-runner spades, which I have none. The next card off is a 6 of spades, so if someone was drawing to it, they got there. I figure I’m not dead, but really I’m thinking I made the best hand I can make with this and I’m going to see it through. I think I had 46 or something in front of me and Larry has to call, and will call since the board hasn’t improved.

Larry flips over AK, no spade and Brice Q-Q no spade. We have talked about this hand a lot and figured that Larry made the worst call. Whatever hand he put me on, I had him bested except for Q-Q, and that was open-ended and also had half his outs to improve to Broadway. A-A had him dominated to a gutsot, Kings, Jacks and Tens outflopped him. But that’s Larry. He plays so many shit hands that he doesn’t know when good ones are beat.

Brice didn’t make a bad play. If I were him, I might have tossed Queens before the flop to a 36 reraise and a cold call, but we were 5-handed, how could he not think he was good. On the flop when he was getting 2:1 on the rest of his money to draw, well what can you do. If he had more money, maybe he would have laid it down.

This last hand is the example of paying people off. You hear a lot about it in Super System about just having to pay guys off. It seems stupid to put money into the pot when you feel you are beat, but have the hand you wanted to make from the time you entered the pot. There is no real percentage of chips per bet or whatever. In low limits, I only pay guys off on the end for one bet and the pot had to be enormous with half of my money in there. If for one second during the hand I thought I lost the lead, I can make it cheap to go the rest of the way. So I try to spot the payoff before it starts raising me.

But in Pot Limit and No limit, the chance that someone is bluffing is greater, and since the pots are bigger, people want to get them any way they can. The fact is, sometimes I have to put money in the pot when I’m a loser because of the size of the pot and the chance that someone is tilting, knows he’s beat and just wants to get all his chips in. The only way to avoid paying people off occasionally is to always have fewer chips than everyone at the table or never play a hand. Both hard ways to get ahead. Payoffs happen. I say nice hand and move on to the next investment.

Big Slick

The striking fact about AK it’s not a very big favorite over even 7-2, in the 2:1 range. It does have any other Ace dominated except a pair of them, which is a great situation to be all-in before the flop against any other nonpair holding. In low limits, AK is hard to maneuver. If you miss, there’s nothing much to do with it. If you hit your Ace and someone is still playing with you, depending on the player, you’ll never know if they paired their kicker or not. All you’ll know is that you didn’t pair yours. On top of that, when you lose to a lesser Ace, you are more upset because that would never happen in no limit and there is some electrochemical charge that makes you think it shouldn’t lose. Which makes it twice as bad.

            The hard facts about AK is that it can only make one straight, which is the nuts. But it will always be a draw to a gutshot. If it’s not suited, it really sucks. If it’s unsuited and three of Ace’s suit hit on the flop, then usually you can hang around, depending on the pot and how people are reacting, which is how I determine how many flush cards are still in play and the likelihood of another falling. So it has to be suited just to give it some added weapons.

            At the casino, I play this hand before the flop three different ways. If I’m in middle and especially late position and no one has come in, I’ll make it 5,6, or 7 to go, depending on my feeling of how many players will call that extra money having only 2 in the pot so far. Typically, if there’s a flop I can interpret as one that didn’t hit anyone too hard and missed me as well, I can fire at it if it’s checked to me. If someone shows strength or leads out, I’m done. If it hits me that’s another story.

            Most of the time I just limp in the 4-8 and at the casino. Not to be sneaky, though it is a side product, but to risk very little to see what I can make. Because so many people love and value AK, they won’t think you have them beat if they played A-9 or A-10. If the flop misses me I’m done. I don’t draw to gutshots, even if I’m priced in a lot of the times. If I limp and someone raises and a lot of players fold, then I fold. If someone raises and everyone stays, then I stay. There is a little more incentive to play AK at the casino since they have the bad beat, which is constantly at 40,000. And AK is a hand that can get beaten badly.

            If there is any heat in front of me, I usually throw it away. Even if the heat is from AQ or another AK. AK is just not a hand that can show a lot of profit at lower limits, which is not its problem. Its problem is that its stigma creates a sense that it should win, even when it improves, and it gets overvalued and overplayed. The problem is that most people lose money with it when it doesn’t hit and that people invest too much front money trying to make it work. If the theory is to play opposite of your opponents, then playing it cheaply and carefully is the way opposite. AK is a brilliant blind hand because everyone thinks if the blind doesn’t raise before the flop then leads out, that they have hit bottom two rags. And because most people raise with it from the blind, the fact that you didn’t makes it all the more deceptive.

Final Thought on Blind Play

Back when antes used to be the norm in home games and there were seven of you, it cost a buck a hand. Sometimes we would play where the dealer antes for everyone so that we didn’t spend all night barking at people and trying to remember who anted. In 4-8, with 2/4 blinds, as long as there are at least 7 players, I’m paying less than a buck for every card I see. Generally at a full table, I’m paying $.60 a hand or less. The blinds are always out there. Once a round they are yours. Once a round they are someone else’s. I think about them like condensed antes. Nothing to defend or get crazy about. Sometimes they present an opportunity to play with a hand I would never think of getting involved with, and I get to make something out of it. But I don’t try to make it happen at any cost just because it has worked once or twice in the past.

            The upper limits may be different, as blind stealing can be profitable with fewer players seeing the slop every round. But at 2-5 and 4-8, this is the way it is.

Good Card & Bad Cards in the Big Blind

Bad Cards

Of course this is the best opportunity to try to make a hand with something no one can see coming. But I’m not sticking my neck out any further than the amount of the blind. It’s terrible position. Even if you are certain that the only player in the hand, who raised, is trying to steal you blind and you call and don’t connect, you’re still out of position, still going to have to check-call all the way just to keep your end down to 28 for the hand and maybe he turns up something good anyway. I save my reading skills for another day. If no one raises, fine. I’ll take a peak. But it’s not really even my blind, it’s table tax. So why defend.

Good Cards

I play these in the same way as the Small Blind, with one exception: I never raise, ever. Not even with A-A. The only hope of raising with a lot of players in is to maybe get someone in early position to reraise and knockout some people and up your chances. But these games are erratic and predicting the play of 7 guys to the flop is a migraine waiting in the weeds. The best idea is to hope for a ragged flop so that you can bet at it like you hit a blind hand. If there happens to be JJ or 10-10 out there and they are an overpair, then you’ll have their money the whole way.

            The other way is to just check-call until you have found a good spot. The only hands I might do this with are solid suited-connectors: QJ, J-10, 10-9, 9-8. I would only be doing it to build a pot so I could draw. There would first have to be 4 or fewer players in and they would have to be tighter players who can fold to the heat, but will throw away gutshots and backdoor flushes and small pocket pairs when they don’t trip the flop. If savvier players are in I don’t try this shit.

            At the casino is a different story. If I have those solid suited connectors, I bet four. All 2 dollar limpers will call and if I get enough then I can’t get priced out unless I check the flop and someone bets 5 then gets raised. Still I’m right to draw, but may be beat if I get there. Same thing in the blind by raising it 2. Build the pot. Small investment for a good-sized pot.

Good cards from the Small Blind

The most important thing to remember is that you are in the worst position on the table. If five people see the flop without a raise, and you have KK and J-high flops and you lead out, the guy in last position is priced in for a gutshot with everyone calling. That’s not what I want. I want people making mathematical mistakes against me. I don’t want to give them the right numbers to call. So what do you do? AA and KK are great hands, not ideal in a low limit game, but for whatever reason I sit there wanting to see them every hand even though they break my heart quite a bit. But position is the game.

            So I don’t play hands like this slow, I play them carefully. I’m waiting until the turn to let anyone know I have any strength at all. If there is a late position bet and/or raise I will raise myself just to get guys out. If on the turn there are three of us still going and I check and the next guy checks and the last guy bets, I’m going to raise if I think I have the best of it. It’ll be awful hard to cold call 16 for the guy in the middle, but at least you’re giving him the wrong price.

            If before we get to the turn there is a lot of action, I just throw it away quietly. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m capable of doing what I do. They are great cards, but in awful position and better luck next time. It’s possible to turn a piece of paper into a swan, but it’s damned hard to do, and I don’t know origami. Wait until that situation calls for you to make a paper airplane, then scoop it.

            Now if it had been raised to me in the small blind I go ahead and raise. Since you have that springboard you might as well try to eliminate the big blind from getting a cheap shot with a random hand. I’m not afraid to cap it from the small blind. I can hit and still check and no one will think twice about it. That’s the only time to raise.

            As for AK, I won’t call a raise with it unless it’s suited, and I don’t spring board with it. Too costly.

Bad Cards in the Small Blind

If the plan is to maintain the same amount of chips when you’re not playing, this blind strategy is the way to protect your stack. 18 bucks an hour is not that much. If you never play your blinds and sit there for 3 hours, you’ve lost about fifty bucks just in the blinds. Of course, when you’ve won, someone else’s blinds are now sitting in front of you. 

            It’s easy to toss 7-2 away and Q-3 and J-4 and other hands like this. But what if something like Q-10 comes across in a five-way pot or 7-8 suited with one guy raising? Muck muck muck. This point is the money maker or money saver I should say. Table tax is 18/hour. If there has been no raise, which is fairly common, and it’s just two for you to call and you call with anything because of that half bet, then you’ve upped the seat charge from 18 to 24/hour. If you play 10 hours a week that’s 240 bucks for your chair, not to mention tips and rakes. And unless you flop quads there is not a shitty holding that isn’t vulnerable to getting run down by a bigger full house. If you hit quads, which is a super long shot and not worth calling every small blind to try and hit it 1 in 10,000 tries, then it’s hard to get paid because the only non-raising holdings that can be out there are small pocket pairs or player who hung around with overcards, and they won’t be raising and they sure won’t be betting on the flop, so even quads will not scoop a very big pot.

            Now if there is no raise and plenty of people in and I have cards that play well in big pots and will be getting correct odds the whole way like small suited connectors or one-gappers or small pocket pairs, then you can call as the enormous odds are there and correct for calling with the cards you have. I did this a few months ago with 2-2 and flopped quads. I checked, hoping to get some action since twos are about the best quad hand out there. It was capped before I got back around to me. I never made a bet that whole hand. Long shot though. It’ll never happen again.

            Here’s the real key to small blind play: know your big blind. Even when you have something playable and you call the big blind and he raises and by the time it’s back around it’s an extra bet or two or the big blind fires it up again and now your stuck, and a gutshot or backdoor flush is out there and you are getting the right money to call. Plus you have gotten suckered into 16 bucks with a weak hand. It can be a dangerous 2 dollar call, especially considering you will be first to act the whole way.

I play with a guy named Randy who is fairly solid and doesn’t scare easily, but he wins about as much as he loses. Several times he has sat to my left and raised with only KK, AA or AK out of the blind. This is almost good strategy, but not quite. I can’t say that everyone knows what he’s raising with but I sure do and as long as I’m certain of what he’s holding it makes it that much easier to figure out if my call from the small blind would be profitable to call his raise. The chances of getting AA, KK, AK are pretty slim. Catching them specifically in the big blind is pretty far. But if I’m there for 3 hours, the small blind will occur ten times.

Personally, I can usually sense what is going to happen with a guy like Randy and if I’m not in the mood to mess with a big hand, then I don’t. But if I’m up quite a bit and in the mood to gamble with my proceeds, I’ll give it a go.

Other times when I’m to the right of my friend Duke, I have no idea what he’ll do with his big blind. He comes there to play and he likes to raise. I have to play tighter from the small blind, and as a result of this I usually get better cards just for the punishment of it. It makes it tougher on me, but if I couldn’t handle the pressure I wouldn’t be playing this much.

The Blinds

Here’s a fundamental: blinds are not yours. It’s table tax. In a 4-8 game table tax is 6 bucks a round. At the cardroom where I play they average a little better than 30 hands an hour. So you owe 18 bucks an hour for your seat. Now it doesn’t mean that you can’t win a hand on your own blind, that you won’t chop with the other blind or that you can’t steal other people’s. Some novice tournament players want to steal blinds in a round so that they can fold for another round. It’s weak play, but it is a sort of natural strategy that comes to you when you start playing tournaments: fold and move into the money.

            The same sort of thing occurs with younger-minded players or even experienced plyers, when they develop a defensive strategy about how to protect their blinds. A funny thing happens when you have a small bet committed to a pot before you even see your cards. The immediate idea is that no matter what the bet or raise, you are getting a discount, better pot odds and the like. Not so. You are getting suckered. It’s difficult to have someone move on your blinds when they know you’re tight. A woman whom I used to play tournaments with quite often developed a sort of “mama bear” reputation when her blinds were in play. Even if you were new to the game, you could feel that if you fucked with a little bit of her money, it was going to cost you the rest of yours to get at it. I loved it. Loved watching her do it. To this day she’s the only one I’ve ever seen who has cultivated such an image for one particular position per round.

            Of course that was tournament play. In live action, at 4-8 anyway, things are different. I don’t doubt that this idea might be wrong for 10-20 or 30-60, but at 4-8 and definitely at 2-5 spread, this is the way to go.

Handling the Swings

I decided when I started writing this journal that I would only write in this section when I was losing, not having just lost, but on a skid. A skid as it’s used here is a run of losses that ends up seriously crippling your proceeds for the month or actually has you down, either financially, spiritually or mentally.

            Even though I think grinding is protected from short-term luck, I think it requires definition. I saw Annie Duke comment on short-term luck on TV once, and she said there is no long-term luck, only short term. I have great respect for Annie Duke, specifically her Omaha 8 play, and her opinions about poker, but I think, and actually have researched, the incompleteness of this idea.

            Anyone who has played in a tournament knows the effects of short-term luck. You play solid and smart, survive most of the field, get to the final table and the chip leader is playing like a chipleader: bullying, opening a lot of pots. And maybe he calls you with a half-way decent hand (again this is another notion of Schizophrenia, where the typical chip leader starts bullying with junk, then sees KJ or Q10 suited and thinks he has the mortal nuts. He hasn’t made the adjustment he should have. He starts playing off the power of his stack, forgets that, and thinks if bad cards are winning, then decent cards should crush. Remember to be able to break your mind from your aggression back into solid play when someone plays back at you), and you get busted. Even though you started the hand with the best of it, the short-term luck snapped you and now all of your work that day is for nothing because you finished out of the money and never made a mistake.

            What is incomplete about short-term luck is that the odds can get upended on just enough hands that you can go 3 months without a profit. There’s nothing short-term about a three month skid on solid play, no matter how often you’re sitting behind a hand of cards and a small (dwindling) stack of chips.

            Now if Annie and the rest of the big name pros consider long-term luck anything less than five years, then okay. But don’t be fooled when your solid play keeps showing a profit even after a few big losses and think it will never end. You lose some, you win a lot. Be prepared for the worst.

            I would imagine that there have been several people who have set out to grind just a little, maybe 500 a month for a little extra cash or vacation money or whatever. And these people have their bad runs right off the chalk, end up quitting and never playing much again save a small home game or two.

            Myself I started with a big month, $1500, had another month of $800 then $1200, then -$-700, which is where I’m writing from right now. 2 weeks ago there was $1500 folded in the drawer by my bed. Now there’s $200. I feel like killing someone. Something I realized driving to lunch today was that I don’t have anything good to think about. Usually, when I’m up I can think to myself what fundamental things I did, nothing fancy, and beat all the check-raisers, the guys in sunglasses, the too anxious suckers who are so excited to be playing cards that they can’t fold a hand. I just think of my solid play, maybe a good read I put on someone, the fact that the lady to me just said “I haven’t seen you lose a hand all day.” When I’m up I can think over the feeling of putting my arms around all those chips, tipping the dealer well, and taking three hands to get it all stacked up while the table goes silent, and in concert realizes that the most solid player at the table has all the chips. When I’m up I can not only think of those moments, but that at that point I can bully the table for about 10 minutes just based on the realization of my reputation and table image (that is until someone gets AJ or better and forgets everything that’s just happened in the last half hour, and then I go back into playing solid).

            When I’m down, my good play feels like a curse. Last night I played with my friends, Joel and his wife and some others players common to my poker camp. I raise in late position with AK offsuit to 15 after the gun raised to five and Joel called the five. They both call. Flop is K Q 9 rainbow. First position makes it 10, Joel thinks it through and his body is throbbing, something we all do. I figure Joel has me beat and the first to act raised into that strength. I put her on a set of Qs, which was stupid of me and Joel on J10 since he only called. I folded when it got to me. First position had a set of 9s and Joel had KQc.

            Everything they did revealed their hands and I could see it, but I couldn’t interpret it right. Yet, I did know I was beat and got away from the hand cheaply.  I made a good play. However, because I’m skidding right now all I can think about is that I get AK, which I’m typically not that fond of, in late position when another player gets KQ suited and another has nines and they both flop better than me, even though I improved and had one player dominated. On a typical day the same thing happens except the flop is K J 4 and I hurt Joel but get the initial bet from first to act.

            I just got back from the grocery not too long ago, and if you want to make yourself feels better, go to the grocery at 3pm on a Wednesday. There were mostly old people, staring listlessly, dressed in the same clothes they’ve been wearing all month, hooked to portable oxygen machines, befuddled at the prices nowadays. I thought about my health, that I am able-bodied, have an incredible wife and group of friends; an ever-growing group of people who respect my writing, my poker playing, piano playing, skiing, etc. That I love where I live and the life I have. I can see all this, but I am a Schizophrenic and can only zero in on how big of a loser I feel like when I’m down. It’s fucking sad, but this is how it is. It consumes you. Not poker necessarily but anything you do that you are passionate, compulsive or excited about.

            I think the worst thing about skids, well the second worst because the worst is losing money, is that inevitably, lesser players than you will be running good right then and the will be full of advice. I had a guy who recognized my patience at a table whisper to me, “You know if you’re running this bad, you really should move to another chair. I’m old I have lots of patience.” Point of fact he had been losing in the 5 all day, he moved to the 10 (I was in the 9), and the guy who sat in the five ran off 4 or 5 straight hands and was up 100 within 10 minutes of sitting down, and, you guessed it, wasn’t very good and was playing even worse.

            I bring that point up about moving chairs for a reason: I could give a shit about it. I don’t care one way or another. If you think this chair sucks, then move. If you think this chair sucks, but I don’t want to move and have someone else sit down and go on a heater, then stay. It makes very little difference. Sometimes the cards fall in waves, sometimes they trickle, sometimes they dry up, and if you can predict which seat is going to get the wettest, be my guest. But if you want to tell me your theory sometime about either side of the issue, just know that if I don’t tell you that you are a dumb son of bitch, then I’ll surely look at you like you are.

            I bring up the seat change to talk about where to draw the line with bad luck.

Currently, I am looking at two possible Prospecti from a friend who is a Ph. D student in Political Science at CU. He wants my opinion on which route he should take. If you’re not familiar with a Prospectus it is between a 30-70 page proposal on what you will write your dissertation on. After it gets accepted, my friend will take 12-24 months writing a book based on this.

            Now I don’t know much about political science or either topic and angle my friend has. I am not qualified to help him on this question. I’m not even smart. But he asked and I’m going to give my opinion as if it is valid.    

            As to where to draw the line with bad luck, I also have no answer. But I’ve had my share of it and this isn’t really a “How to” book so much as a “how I did” book, so I think my opinion counts. My honest opinion is that I don’t know. My other honest opinion is that no one else does either. Whatever their answer is, it’s some form of superstition. Whether they are saying not to be superstitious or to use some pattern of superstition, it is all based on superstition, which is just a way of coping with the unknown.

            Even after all this talk about short-term and long-term luck what I do and don’t believe, I think poker is a slot machine. It is impossible to win every time out. With that said, even if a computer learned to play perfectly it would still go broke on some days. On the other side of that, it holds true that no one can lose every time. Funny, I don’t believe it when I say it, probably because I am doing what I’m doing, but it has to be true. I’ve see too many idiots cash. Let’s just say it is true. Let’s also say, that someone who has an edge of any kind can win more and lose less, which is what I’m trying to, they still have those pulls on the slot machine that don’t pay.

            Here’s my slot machine take. For the sake of an easy polemic, let’s say a slot machine has 1 jackpot every 10,000 pulls; 10 smaller jackpots in that same 10,000 and 100 even smaller jackpots in the same; and 1000 that are even money payouts. So on average you get paid some amount on 1,111 times per 10,000 pulls. Looks pretty shitty. Quick note: never play slots. If you have any electricity sparking around in your head, don’t play. Not even to try and get a free Corona in Vegas. They’re bullshit. The people who play them pay for that casino to have lights and cards and dealers at your poker table, so there’s no reason to be mean to them, don’t even thank them, just let them quietly pay for your work. But treat them like Phil Hellmuth: sure they’re loud and obnoxious, but if you start to overlook them, they will cease to be.

            In a ten-handed game you will be playing in the vicinity of 10% of your hands, minus 1-2% for hands that never materialize, ones that get awful flops, ones that get run down. And then let’s say somehow you win the rest. This is an average, but it’s around 10% of the cards you see. And again, this is low-limit, risk little situations where you cannot use a chip lead, bluff much or put most people in a pot on a hand. So there’s our average, ten percent.

            Now you do well for a few months, nothing crazy. You comment to your wife that of all the nights you cashed that there was one pot each night and if you had won that, you would have had an extra hundred in your pocket, times playing 15 times a month. Well, babe, I’d have doubled my winnings. And it sure seems that other people are winning those fuckers so someone’s doing well. But anyway, if you’re up then you’re up. And you’re up so no complaints. Now here comes the 9,000 pulls that ain’t gonna pay. Try as you might, you can’t move slot machines. You can’t play for the minimum now that you’re running bad. Here’s where you define the true player. But other books just say what I just said: true players are defined by what they do when things go bad. I believe it, but so what? It’s goddamn hard to keep going everyday, keep watching bad cards come and your blinds go, and find it impossible to complete a hand, and when you do it’s second best. It’s hard to stomach, but it’s even harder to keep playing solid. We all know what we should do, but this is an emotional game and even though I’m better than most about not playing bad cards or bad position in bad situations. But don’t think I haven’t done it more than I’m proud of.

            The thing is you can’t stop pulling the one-armed bandit. You have to see it through. You feel stupid, agitated, like you don’t know anything about the game. If you’re like me you go around all day and wonder if you have just gotten lucky all these months, if you really can play or if you’re just like all those young kids who come in and lose a rack in a hour and shake their heads at the cards others turn over.

            It has been 9 times in a row now that I have gone to the games where I normally play and lost. A $900 straight skid. Sometimes I lost 220, sometimes 45. In every one of them except yesterday, I was good not to lose more. Yesterday, I was finally up, just a little. I think 65 at my highest point. I kept getting pocket jacks and was unable to get them to play. The last time I had them I was in later position and the JJ was on overpair. The flop was six high, then it brought a ten. My check-caller turned into a lead-better. I had seen him turn over 10-6 earlier in the day and when I called his last bet, then called out his hand before he flipped it over, that was it for me. I still had about 75 in front of me. I could have walked being down 25, which at this point is a fucking victory. But I did what most people, what I’ve never done, and I blow up. On the button I raise with 10-7s and I get a few callers. I don’t get anywhere close, but I’m still going to bet. I get one caller. There were a couple of clubs and 10-6 calls me. I figure I can run him out by continuing to bet if a club or some otherwise scarecard doesn’t come. I know this is a mistake, but I had come to the conclusion that I could not win by waiting on cards and then hoping they would hold up. Also I have chosen a decent time to bluff. There was nothing scary on the flop and I bet everyone out but one, so this bluff proved to be very timely. Of course a club hits on the end and 10-6 bets into me and I fold. I’m down to 19. Now I have KK in late position and I raise to five and get several callers, like a hundred or so. An Ace hits and I know I’m beat but I don’t care. I get everyone out but a guy who started lead betting but now he’s checking and calling. I normally would figure this guy for a weak Ace, but he’s flipped over only good cards all day so I’m thinking A-9 or 8 offsuit, since he was the blind. I think it was A-6, but it was good enough and I was on my way home.

            At the peak of my day, I hit two hands in a row. I had 99 and the board was 8833? And I think I got called on the end by an ace or something like pocket 44 or 55. The next hand I had KK. I flopped top set, turned a boat, and this time 10-6 had three nines and he starts betting into me. I have a player behind me so I don’t raise cause I want him drawing to his flush or straight or whatever. Unless he has AA, which he doesn’t, He can’t beat me, and unless that last nine falls, this pot is mine. I made a mistake not raising the 9, because I thought the guy after me would call. I knew better. I should have raised. Even if the last guy folds, the trip 9s would call. But I didn’t. I was up my 65 at that point, having been down 65 earlier in the day.

            When you consider that I pretty much lost 165 dollars straight, it’s hard not to think I’m one of the suckers. Sure I have a pretty good read on players in a game that makes it difficult to read others. I have no problem laying down a loser for 2 extra dollars. I am patient. I know by the texture of the board when I’m beat. I’m really good at calculating my odds/chances from any position. And I’m pretty brilliant at building a big pot cheaply when I have a drawing hand like QJ, J10, 109 suited. But I can’t win. The game just baffles me anymore.

            When I went on a skid last summer, I remember thinking “If I can just go in there and get lucky….” I also remember that thinking that way is about as bad as it can get on a poker player. We don’t believe in that. When you don’t have it, we know. When you’re drawing to it, we know. When you have AA, we know. When you’re trying to bluff just so you can show it, usually we know. Those things are not governed by luck. Has nothing to do with luck. That’s a skill, an edge gained from observation and experience. And when a poker player is more concerned about that cards that come out and not how to play the game, well that’s as bad as it gets.

            The last day of my skid this summer was the first day I played live action at my cardroom. I lost 163, coming off a brutal trip to Vegas with my sisters. The game was 4-8 and it literally made no sense to me. I came home and as soon as I saw my wife I started crying like a child. She hugged me and through my own embarrassing tears I kept saying “I’m such a loser.” She comforted me and was the great wife she always has been even when she doesn’t know what to say or how to fix it.

            That weekend I had to play in a $50 tournament back up in Fort Collins. I had already paid for my entry a few months before, so it almost felt like a free ride. Between my crying fit and this tournament I did a lot of thinking about the game, about luck, about how to approach both of them. I realized that I was making some fundamental mistakes in the 4-8 game, the kind of shit I’ve been talking about in here. But I remember thinking I had to make my own luck, play the game I want to play and if someone is going to play crap cards and beat me, then fine. I knew how to spot a hand when someone makes it. I’ll just play aggressive, steal blinds, not be afraid and see what happens. I won that tournament. Actually me and the last guy split first and second place. He had the chip lead, about 2:1, but it was late and he was tired. I brought home 415. It was my biggest take to that point. The next Tuesday I played in the 4-8 again, this time with my new strategy and mindset about blinds and loose calls and out of position plays. I won 420 that night. Then 503 in a Pot Limit game not long after, thus the 1500 for the month.

            But here I sit not being able to see my way out of this. I have around sixty bucks in the bankroll, which for me is not just for poker, we pay bills and everything with it. We try to pay cash for as much as we can while leaving me with enough money to play on. 1500 that used to be in here only had 900 taken out for poker losses. The rest is other junk. And still I’m up 2700 on the year, which isn’t bad considering I’ve only be playing about 10 hours a week, but I haven’t been to the ATM in almost 6 months. I can’t exactly walk into the 4-8 game with sixty and expect not to come home early and broke. So I’ll have to go to the buy-in machine before I hit the game.

            I don’t really have any specific images or details to describe how much this sucks. If you look at my records, there were losses every month, big ones at that. Ones I kicked myself about, wondering if I could have lost just a little less, 25 less on each time and I’m up 100 more for the month, which is almost 9% more than I had. But this is not fun. When the pros are on television talking about how they don’t wish this on anyone, right after some color man says they’re have won more money than anyone who has ever played poker ever, it does seem odd. But that should be the lesson. People who have made millions being good at this game, don’t wish the kind of ugliness that poker can force on you on anyone. That winning millions also means losing millions. And if you think winning a million is fun, think of the opposite feeling of losing that much. Well, when you play for millions and only come out of the game with 5000, you’re still making money, good money at that, and can pay some bills. If you’re playing for hundreds and you come home with 5 bucks, you can’t buy anything.

            Playing at bigger stakes is for another day. Today I’m just wallowing in my own misfortunes and trying to convince myself that it is because of bad circumstances and not that I have been lucky up to this point to be winning. But my experience and my records have taught me something.

            I just looked at my books and remembered back to the nights I played and how much money I had in those games. I usually buy-in for 100 at the casino and 100 in the 4-8 game. In the 4-8 I am a little underchipped, but it is the standard and plenty as far as I’m concerned. As I’ve stated, this is one of those things you may never figure out, but my records tell a different tale. Only two times that I have been down and had to buy back in have I ever come out ahead. I got 200 into a 4-8 game, somehow built it up to 265 and cashed 65. The other I got down to 50 at the casino and just repumped for another fifty. I cashed 277 and was up 127. Twice. 12 losses, two small victories. The casino victory was in my early stages of going up there and I didn’t have the tempo down just yet, and then I got put on a table of rookies and ran it over with A-anything. A specific situation that doesn’t happen very much. So let’s just say once since the casino was an odd thing and I was only in for another 50.

            So 1 in 12. At this point, playing in the 4-8 or the 2-5 is worse than chasing a gutshot. If the numbers were different, I would approach it differently. But for now. I’m only risking 100 to win an infinite amount. According to my records, the first month I would have won 100 more. The Second month, 200 more. Last month, I would be down 250 less. That’s 550 more in my bankroll that at current. These are my numbers. I am fairly streaky, when I’m on get out of the way. When I’m off, I can’t beat an egg. Players who win twice and then lose once might have a different take. From jan 21 2005 until I see other evidence, will be 100 in the lower limit games and that’s it.

Not only did I go out and break my own preset rules, I did it with style. I just walked into my 4-8 game at the club. Half the players I had played with before, the other half I hadn’t, but the game is such that it really makes little difference. We were 7-handed and when we started I was on the small blind. I think I paid the blinds twice. Inside of 15 hands I saw A-10 suited, raised and mucked on the flop. Then 8-8, raised, a ten fell and the small blind leads out. Now you think you’re running bad when someone beats you with a ten, but how about the three players in the hand other than me all had 10s. I mucked on the flop. Then K-K, raised from the middle and got several callers, which is fine, flop comes 10-10-7. This is scary to me because with that many hands out there someone has to have a 10. Point of fact no one does, but someone bets, 3 callers. The turn is a queen and everyone checks so I’m pretty certain I have the best of it at this point and that any queens can now call a bet on the end, and that the flop bet was just to test the waters. On the end is a nine; it’s checked to me and I bet. Guy behind me with a Q calls and the guy holding 99 raises with his full house and now I have to call.

            I don’t know if I’m steaming or not, but I am shaky, like when you get too close to the edge of a cliff. This is a new feeling for me at the poker table, not the usual bad beat feeling but something pretty strange. I am pretty low at this point, chipwise and otherwise, and feel like those monkeys who play up at the casino. I have become dead money. The next hand I play is KK and I’m in the small blind. I raise, against my own rules and a couple of guys already know what I have because I make and amateur move and they’re not afraid to tell me about it. Nothing special hits, I say that I have to bet now since I raised and I get two callers. I don’t notice the diamonds and of course another one falls and I lead into it and get raised. Of course I call because I’m dead money, and I figure the only way I can when is if another diamond falls, which it does, and I lead into it and get raised by the nuts.

            Against my own rules I buy another 45, which is all I have on me. I get 99 and limp, someone raises and I call. Nothing special on the flop and I muck. Blinds hit but I can’t play. I have 27 left. A-A is my next hand. I raise to 8, get raised and two callers back to me. I cap it and there are four of us in for 16 to the flop. A friend who deliberately plays junk in big pots in case junk hits announces that he’s sorry before the flop because he’s notorious for breaking hearts that way, so I know he has low cards. The other guys has to have JJ, QQ, or KK. There;s no othe possible hands to make it twelve with the call the last raise. People won’t do this with AK in this game. Flop is J-Q-K with two hearts. I check it hoping to get it all in right here so that I can go home because the’re no way this guy hasn’t made a set. And I’d say that when the turn came an 8 of hearts that I only went all in for my last 7 because I had the A of hearts, but the truth is I didn’t remember. I was beat and new it. River comes a Q to make the guy’s Jacks Full, and here I am writing about it.

New Personal Record: $145 in 15 hands, 25 minutes.

Managing the Grind with Household Services and Expenses

In a previous post, I talked about some of the bookkeeping tips for poker winnings and tax accounting. That got me thinking about another kind of bookkeeping resource for poker grinders. Admittedly, I was single and semi-slobbish when I was a pro player, but contrary to the stereotype, I knew quite a few pros who had families or otherwise ran a tight ship at home even while juggling the poker lifestyle. Naturally, some had spouses who took care of the house, but others would make use of domestic workers to keep the place tidy. Everything from maids to nannies to personal chefs. Some of the more successful and established players might employ butlers or gardeners.

Indeed, some poker players undoubtedly used these workers to meet their logistical needs, while others could more easily afford to add the convenience that these employees provide. But it also makes me think of a study I was reading about in the news recently that spending money on time-saving services tends to create more happiness and value than spending money on things. This, too, is a great poker lesson that applies to other aspects of life. You have to account for your winnings and losses, as well as the time you spend at the poker table.

 

Household Employee Bookkeeping

These types of workers create a niche need for bookkeeping services among professional poker players. Due to the odd hours and somewhat unpredictable nature of the grinder lifestyle, it may be impractical to integrate common housecleaning and babysitting services into your schedule. Finding someone you trust to watch the kids late into the night isn’t easy. Someone who can housesit for the weekend while taking care of the dogs and doing handyman projects isn’t available on every street corner. For the perfectionist, detail-oriented, slightly anal poker player, you can also give these workers more individualized care instructions whereas commercial services tend to use their own “packages” with a predetermined list of services.

But crucially, no matter your personal motivation, the IRS will likely count these household workers as employees with W-2 filings, payroll taxes, and income withholding. Here’s the good news: Unlike regular business employers, you don’t need to track, file, and pay the payroll taxes every month. 1040 Schedule H enables you to do this on an annual basis. I recently talked to someone from the old network, and they recommend AMS as their go-to for payroll software and just general 1099/W2 type stuff. Don’t know if they are the best or worst, but it has worked well for me and my friend who recommended them. If you know of something that is better or cheaper, I’m all ears.