Sponsors Not Over the Moon with Darvin

I’m sorry; I couldn’t resist the title of this post. But I love the fact that the chip leader going into this year’s WSOP final, Darvin Moon, has so far spurned any sponsorship deals from the major online poker rooms, such as Poker Stars and Full Tilt. Apart from Phil Ivey, who of course is already sponsored by Full Tilt, the other players have all been snapped up – and will be showing off their well placed logos in November’s final. I mean, who wouldn’t wear a logo for a reported $100k? Darvin Moon – that’s who!

Poker Stars have benefited enormously from the WSOP, ever since Moneymaker’s 2003 win. On the back of that they had Raymer and Hachem taking it down in 2004 and 2005 with their Poker Stars apparel on full display. They know the value to be had from getting their brand associated with the winner of the WSOP Main Event. These days it doesn’t even matter if the player qualified via their site, they just want to sign them up – and will pay big bucks for it.

It seems that Darvin Moon is just an ordinary kind of guy, and very likeable. He knows that he’s guaranteed a huge wedge anyway and just doesn’t want to be tied down or associated with anything.

What I also really like about Darvin Moon is how honest he’s been about why he has reached the final table as the chip leader. Most poker players complain about being card dead or plain unlucky when they get busted out, yet when they win they put it down to superior skill. Darvin Moon just said it like it is; he got extremely lucky, and was dealt unbelievable hands when his opponents were holding very good hands. His words, not mine.

I’m hoping that Phil Ivey wins the WSOP Main Event in November, but my second choice will be for Darvin Moon.

Pot Limit Cash Games

Recently I’ve been playing more pot limit cash games in place of no limit hold’em. On many online poker sites there just isn’t the choice of playing pot limit hold’em, so it’s really just limited to the two big sites; Full Tilt and Poker Stars. My preferred choice at the moment is Full Tilt, simply because it’s the best site for cash games due to offering rakeback.

The reason I like pot limit games rather than no limit is quite simple. I find it more skilful and there’s less players who are willing to make huge pre-flop bets – which I like to avoid. Usually players who make pre-flop bets that are 20x the big blind, usually fall into one single category; maniacs. Don’t get me wrong it’s good to play these donkeys, but I prefer to commit chips post-flop, rather than pre-flop. Calling huge bets pre-flop without premium hands is far too risky. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had QQ and faced someone holding AA or KK, who made massive oversized bets pre-flop. This just doesn’t happen in pot limit.

Now you might be thinking the players must be better at pot limit. But this isn’t what I’ve discovered at Full Tilt. There are a lot of players “playing scared” so it’s easy to win. I am finding a better win rate at pot limit than I have been with no limit.

If you’re used to playing no limit hold’em then you’ll have to learn to adjust to pot limit play. Obviously you are constrained and can only bet the size of the pot. Slow playing monster hands down to the river is a poor strategy. Because once you get to the river pot may be so small that it barely becomes worth winning. But as with any successful cash game strategy – you should be building big pots for the big hands, and keeping pots small for the not so big hands. So pot limit hold’em suits players who like to play the correct cash game strategy.

The Changing Landscape of Online Poker

I first started playing online poker almost 10 years ago. It was very different then; there was no Poker Stars or Full Tilt Poker, and there were fewer players. After all this was before Chris Moneymaker turned a $40 punt into millions at the WSOP, and thereby starting the online poker boom – for which he is credited. Indeed, many of today’s online poker players fall into two camps “pre-Moneymaker” and “post-Moneymaker”. I’m in the pre-camp and I know I’m outnumbered – but that’s fine with me.

How has the online poker landscape changed in the last decade? Well for a start Planet Poker is no longer in business, and Paradise poker, once the biggest online poker site, is now a pathetic shadow of its former self – as a skin site on the Boss Poker Network. The whole concept of poker skins and networks is something that poker players are now very familiar with, but this is only a fairly recent change. I actually think there are some really excellent networks (and some really poor ones too), but the big boys are still independents – just like they used to be. It’s almost impossible now to launch a fully independent online poker room without being part of a network. There’s just too much competition.

Is online poker as much fun? This is something I’m not so sure about. I’m probably looking back through rose tinted glasses, and remembering the good stuff…like typing “doh” in the Planet Poker chat box made a sound similar to Homer Simpson (oh what laughter!). Nobody talks these days as there too busy multi-tabling. I’m forgetting the frequent crashes and software problems of course. Indeed, it was the software problems that led to the demise of planet poker. RIP Planet Poker – it was fun while it lasted.

There have been huge improvements in the gameplay, the software, and the security of online poker rooms over the past few years. And let’s not forget third party software is now in abundance too, and there’s widespread use of data mining software. I’m not a fan of this though – I preferred it how it was, but I’m resigned to the fact that data mining is here to stay, sadly.

Along with the quantity, the quality of players has definitely increased over the last few years, and I think it’s fair to credit sites like Cardrunners for this. The games are tougher, there’s no doubt about that. Of course I prefer softer games, but cannot complain – since the people who take the time to learn how to play poker and dedicate themselves to the game will always improve, compared with a lazy players who are unwilling to change and adapt to the new landscape.

Oh, and 10 years ago there was no UIGEA – but that’s too depressing to talk about. Another time!

Lunkin and the Red Army of Russia

Apart from High Stakes Poker, my favourite poker TV shows are ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker. Actually, I say TV – but I should have said YouTube, since this is where I watch 90% of all poker shows. Recently a ton of WSOP 2009 videos have appeared on YouTube, and I started by watching the $40k NL Hold’em event, which was the opening event of this year’s WSOP. I really enjoyed watching it; I recommend you do the same. If you’ve not seen it yet, and don’t know the result already, then stop reading.

Even though I knew the final outcome, I was still rooting for Greg Raymer – the fossilman. Of course we only get to see selective hands, the action hands, so we can’t really make a completely fair judgement on their play. But apart from a dubious call with A8 vs. Justin Bonomo’s AJ, I thought Raymer played a good aggressive game. He’s definitely one of my favorite poker players, and seems like an all-round decent guy. He was playing for his indoor bowling alley (his winnings would pay for it), but unfortunately he didn’t quite strike it lucky (pun intended).

The eventual winner was Vitaly Lunkin, and what a deserving winner he was. I was very glad that he won over Haxton, who would have been a very lucky winner in my opinion. When heads up, and when all the money went in, Linkin was ahead almost every time. Haxton sucked out quite a few times, and I think he was trying to be just a little too aggressive. This might explain why Lunkin slow played Aces twice. Of course, we only get to see selective hands, and you’ve got to admire Haxton’s aggressive heads-up play, which I’m sure serves him well, and maybe the editing by ESPN didn’t do him any favors. But overall the best player won the WSOP bracelet.

You might be wondering why I prefer a Russian to win over an American, but I like to see good poker, that’s all. However, I have noticed that Russians are now becoming very successful in the poker world, and have some fine players. With the online poker restrictions facing ordinary Americans, courtesy of the UIGEA, the red Army of Russia will surely continue in their march towards poker success. They are free to play poker, while ordinary, law-abiding Americans, are being made to feel like criminals for wanting to play the game they love. Poker has always been symbolic to America, so this is a good enough reason on its own, why the powers that be in American politics, should overturn this ridiculous legislation.

Phil Ivey – The Greatest?

A few months ago I made a post about whether Tom Dwann is the greatest poker player in the world. Maybe I was getting carried away after watching a lot of High Stakes Poker, since I’m now left wondering whether Phil Ivey is the greatest player. Does it matter? Am I being fickle? No and yes are the answers to those questions. I mean, there are many world class poker players and picking out the best is a waste of time – but I’m here to waste time, so what the hell. Let’s put forward the case for Phil Ivey…

Of course I’m only talking about Phil Ivey because of his amazing run at this year’s WSOP – where he bagged two Bracelets, taking his total WSOP bracelet collection to an impressive seven! Of course winning two WSOP bracelets in any series is a fine achievement, even if there are too many WSOP events these days. I’m sure Ivey would have been more than satisfied with his WSOP 2009 performance if failed to make an impact in “the Big One” – but he makes the final table and will be back in November, as one of the November Nine. Amazing!

I love the fact that a poker superstar of Ivey’s calibre has reached the final table. Of course the WSOP Main Event turns ordinary poker players into recognized names, but it’s been a few years since a top name pro has reached the final, and I can’t wait. Even though he could do with a few more chips, you have to put him as one of the favorites – he is used to the pressure, and of course he has the game.

I’ve been a Phil Ivey fan for a few years now, and I’m sure many of you have seen this clip before, but it’s a great example of why he’s a poker icon:


 

To be fair, Jackson shows some real class in this hand too. They both display huge balls, and it’s one of my favorites. I include this clip since I was over at Pokerology.com, where they have a “Masterclass” feature and this video is used, along with some really insightful hand analysis. Check out the Phil Ivey Masterclass over at Pokerology.com.

 

Would Julius Caesar Slow Play Aces?

Phil Hellmuth made quite an entrance to this years WSOP Main Event. He came dressed as the former Roman emperor, Julius Caesar, surrounded by a string of beautiful women in white toga-like dresses, and rose pettles were thrown at his feet. It was ridiculous, absurd, and comical! He was clearly embarrassed by the publicity stunt – and if you missed it, here it is:

It’s unlike Phil Hellmuth to play up for the cameras (cough!), but he was here with a purpose. “I came here to conquer like Caesar!” said Hellmuth as he entered the Rio. “I’m here to win my 12th bracelet.” Well he didn’t really conquer did he…finishing 400th of somewhere (I’m not 100% on the exact placing). To be fair, he made the money, but I wonder how the models who accompanied him in his entrance took the news – “400th? I thought he was the emperor of poker”. Of course they probably don’t know about variance.

Phil got busted slow playing Aces, by just flat calling an early position raiser, and allowing two more players to see a flop. All his chips went into middle on the flop, when he was behind (see official WSOP site for more details) to two pair, then a straight. Basically he tried playing too cute and I often here professional poker players say the biggest mistake amatuers make is slow playing big hands. Well I can’t wait to see the ESPN WSOP shows, especially when Hellmuth gets his balls busted. Can’t wait!

Are there too many WSOP events?

The $10k Main Event kicks off today, over a month after the first WSOP event of this year’s series. I must admit that I’ve got a bit bored with the coverage and I believe there are far too many events – particularly hold’em events. Here’s a list of the hold’em events at this year’s WSOP, not including the main event:

No-Limit Hold’em (Event 4) $1,000
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 7) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 9) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 11) $2,000
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 13) $2,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 15) $5,000
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 19) $2,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 22) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 24) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 28) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 32) $2,000
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 34) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 36) $2,000
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 39) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 41) $5,000
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 51) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 52) $3,000
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 54) $1,500
No-Limit Hold’em (Event 56) $5,000

http://www.worldseriesofpoker.com/tourney/tourneydetails.asp?groupID=607

Note: One of these (event 52) is a triple chance, two are shootouts (22 & 41) and three are six handed max (9, 19, 56).

I know the lower buy-in events are very popular, but do we really need so many of them? Do we need them at all? Personally I think its ridiculous having so many WSOP hold’em events. It devalues the series, which should be more exclusive in my opinion. If it was like this in the 1970’s then Doyle Brunson would probably have a lot more than 10 WSOP Bracelets.

But anyway, now the warm ups have finished – it’s time for the BIG ONE! Good luck to all the players lucky enough to have a seat!

The Misrepresentation of Poker in TV Shows

I’m not talking poker TV shows, but TV shows with poker in them – such as soap operas, dramas and the like. I was watching a serial drama last night (which I won’t name for fear of embarrassment) and when they talked of having a game of poker, I just smiled and waiting with anticipation for the laughs that were sure to follow. Yep you guessed it, it was Four of a Kind vs. a Royal flush, turned over as if these two monsters of poker clash on a regular basis. I often hear people talk about poker TV shows giving the wrong impression of poker by just showing the action hands, but it’s nothing compared with the action you get in non-poker TV shows.

Actually the Four of a Kind vs. a Royal Flush is not an extreme example. I remember once seeing a drama show with four people playing poker, and the hands were; Four Kings vs. Four Aces vs. Royal Flush vs…wait for it… FIVE QUEENS (they used wild cards). Oh how I laughed.

I know it’s all about entertainment but here’s a few tips for TV researchers:

  • Play Texas Hold’em – it’s the most popular version, so why not use it rather than strip poker or 5 card draw (usually with no draws due to time constraints). The only exception should be if there are hot chicks playing, in which case strip poker is perfectly acceptable.
  • “I see your…and” – When someone says “I see your bet” then it’s a call, end of story. There should be no further raising. This will get a lot of would-be poker players in trouble at a proper poker game, particularly if there’s a long pause between the words “I see” and “I raise you”. It may result in a smack in the mouth. The same goes for slow rolling!
  • Betting Limits – There are 3 main betting structures in poker; Fixed Limit, Pot Limit, and No Limit – and No Limit is still limited to what’s at the table at the start of a hand. Betting your house, car, or entire business empire is not a common situation for poker players. There is no such betting limit as Net Worth Limit.

I do hope any TV researchers reading this take onboard these constructive criticisms and I look forward to not seeing the great game of poker duly mis-represented next time I watch TV. Right must go, the World Poker Tours on telly.

$30 Million Poker Winnings Frozen

This week it emerged that $30 million of poker player’s funds has been frozen by the Federal Government. This has affected thousands of US player’s wanting to cash out from sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, something already harder to achieve since the UIGEA bullshit. What surprises me most is that PokerStars and Full Tilt don’t use multiple backup payment processors, and spread the load around a bit more. Maybe they do have alternatives, but they’ve been hit by this to the tune of 30 big ones, which has gotta hurt.

At this time it seems the online poker rooms are covering the money, so don’t worry poker players! Let’s not be scared by this act of aggression, though it’s not a good sign for the future. Just remember that online poker is not illegal, even if we’re made to think it’s a crime by people who want to suppress our freedoms. Let’s just hope that Barney Frank’s regulation bill gets somewhere, which seems unlikely (even if Obama likes poker).

Today I got an interesting email from Party Poker today, which read:

You may have seen the news about the freezing of payment processor funds in the United States and its effect on certain competitor online operators. PartyGaming Plc, the parent company of PartyPartners, withdrew immediately from the United States following the change in the law that took place back in October 2006. As a result, we are completely unaffected by these recent events in the US and your account with us will not be subject to any payment issues or lost revenue streams.

I guess you can’t blame them for this mailer, but it’s a bit of a cheap shot. If they weren’t listed on the London Stock Exchange then you could bet your house that they still be in the US market. Let’s not forget how much money Party Poker made in the days when they accepted US players, and how their share price and player numbers has plummeted since their withdrawal. But yeah, if you can play at Party then they are “completely unaffected by these recent events” – go figure!

Poker and Data Mining Software

I use Poker Tracker, and I love it. The main reason why I love it, is because I can keep track of my wins and losses, right down to each session, starting hand, and so much more. It’s a useful tool for learning what mistakes I might be making and how to improve my game. Every once in a while I’ll look deep into the statistics and see where I can plug a hole or two in my game.

The other major advantage of using Poker Tracker is the HUD. For those unfamiliar with this, it basically overlays vital information about your opponents onto the table. The basic stats are; hands played, voluntary $ put into pot (not including blinds), preflop raise percentage, and overall aggression factor. Some people argue that such software is cheating or is unfair as in the real world of poker (live casino play) you have to find this information through observation, and so should be the case for online poker. However my main argument against this is that many online poker players will just be there to grind away on multiple tables, playing virtually nothing other than premium hands, and while it’s their right to do so, it wouldn’t happen in live play (people would notice and they’d get no action). Without a HUD it would be very hard to notice the players who play in this way, and they’d probably end up winning my money.

While I think a HUD is fair game, I don’t think it’s right that people’s data can be bought. There are many sites that will sell hand histories, and you can import this data into your software. I think this is wrong and is cheating. It’s not right and is bad for online poker in general. I also think sites like Sharkscope, which mines data from the sites and displays it publicly is also wrong. It’s a matter of privacy and if a player wants to win or lose then it should be their right to do so in private. I know many online poker rooms are very much against this type of data mining, and Poker Stars has banned the use of Sharkscope on their site. I think this is the right thing to do, but they are probably facing a losing battle, as there are now so many data mining sites. My fear is that one day online poker will just turn into a battle of who has the best software.

Oh and before I go, just to update on my previous post. Unfortunately I’ve not won a WSOP seat just yet. I’ll keep trying though – you just never know!