WSOP 2009 Online Satellites

Every poker player in the world wants to play the WSOP main event, but the only stumbling block is the $10k buy-in. Like most people I can’t find a spare $10k and even if I could I wouldn’t want to blow it on one tournament. So the only way is to try my luck in the online WSOP satellites. I’ve been playing online poker since the early days (Planet Poker) and although I’ve always wanted to play in the WSOP, I’ve never really tried to qualify before. This year is different – I want a seat and I want it bad!

I was ready to begin my quest for WSOP glory yesterday afternoon on PokerStars (who send more players to the WSOP than all other online poker rooms combined), but I was somewhat suprised at the lack of response from the sit & go’s, which required a minimum 100 or 216 runners, yet were stuck around 40-50 at the time. Yes it was a Friday afternoon, but doesn’t PokerStars have a ton of European traffic or people with nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon? Clearly not.

So today was my first foray into the world of WSOP Satelittes. I was psyched and ready to “do a Moneymaker”, and after scanning the lobby at PokerStars I liked the look of the $33 rebuy main event qualifier. Rather than pay the $33 I figured I’d earn it in one of the Super Satelittes – starting with a $2 rebuy. With no rebuys and just a top up (total spend $4) I was doing okay. At the break I was in 15th spot out of 80+ runners and guess what? 15 was the magic number of qualifiers. Sadly this was at the break and after being card dead and slipping down the pecking order I fizzled out. Oh well only $4 down so far.

Next I played a $4.40 single table SNG, with one seat for the $33. I got heads up with a chip lead but got well and truly out fished. The consolation for 2nd was $3! So now I was $5.40 down and still optimistic, but enough of these Super Satelittes – let’s go play the $33 rebuy. So I did – and had a great start but I bailed out after 40 minutes having had one rebuy. I didn’t see much value in this format since there was only one (possibly two seats) available for the WSOP main event.

Having played a few more games I think the best option is to try my luck at the shootouts for the $600 satelitte, as this gives a whopping 25+ seats. I’m done with the $33 rebuy unless I win a Super Satelitte, and while my hopes have been dented thus far, I will proceed. Wish me luck!

Anger Management and Poker

Online poker is such a relaxing game, where we can sit in the comfort of our own home and enjoy the ups and downs of this magnificent game – free from the stresses and strains of work. It is a game to pass time and if we’re lucky, pick up a coin of the realm or two. Of course this isn’t the case for everyone. Some people can’t deal with the bad beats that comes with online poker, and they just get hopping mad. Here’s a classic example:

What makes me laugh most about that guy, is that he called the hand before he saw it. But boy did his mood change once he realized this guy had called pre-flop with K2 suited.

Here’s the same player again, and this time he’s just tilting badly. But he is giving great entertainment:

Now here’s my favorite clip EVER, which has nothing to do with poker. It’s related to the theme of this post though, which is anger management. We all get annoyed by tele marketers, but I sense the frustration has been building up with this guy:

Love it! This is a few years old now so he’s probably died of a heart attack. Let’s just hope he hasn’t taken up playing online poker, as I’m not sure how he’d handle getting outdrawn.

Poker Survival II

I’ve been thinking again about my recent (and very long) post on equity vs. survival in MTTs – and by survival I don’t mean playing too tight-weak-passive, and as a result have no chance of making the money, let alone winning. This is of course not a long term winning poker strategy, and not what I was advocating.

Maybe an example is the way to explain it better. I read recently a report about Hellmuth playing in a big event. At one point he had the nut flush draw and two overcards, giving him 15 outs with two cards to come. The other guy had a pair and went all in. Hellmuth could have called for all his chips at a point where at worst he was likely to be around 50/50 to win, and he was getting much better pot odds that that. He folded rather than risk going out. Some of the other pros criticised the play saying he had the odds to call. But it isn’t so daft if you think you are the better player and if your priority is winning this particular tournament rather than, say, moving across to the cash game in the corner or signing up to an event online. Basically by calling you are agreeing to take a close gamble, and if the other guy is the weaker player that is exactly what he wants. Why give a poor player what he wants?

I remember Sklansky in Theory of Poker talking about the (few) times when you might give up +EV. He says that you are right to do this if by giving up a small edge now you will be alive to take a bigger edge later. That kind of fits with my thesis: if you see your current stack of tournament chips as a finite resource then you are right to wait for the best opportunity before committing them. This is because losing knocks you out of the game. But if you see this current tournament stack as just one buy in (because you can buy into another tournament in a few minutes if you lose) then you are right to take every edge. This is because if you lose, you are still in the game. It depends what you mean when you talk about ‘the game’.

As I said previously, when I first read Harrington I was shocked by the number of times he recommends calling with marginal hands in tournaments. What surprised me wasn’t the fact that he played the hands, but that he let somebody else go all in and then called for all his chips, even when he had a big stack and could have passed the gamble. So it was the (apparently) passive nature of his play that alarmed me.

Anyway, I hope this gives some of you food for thought!

High Stakes Poker

I love watching High Stakes Poker, and just finished watching episode 10 of season 5, which is the final episode involving the current group of players. Here’s a rundown on my thoughts of how they got on:

Antonius – In my opinion he was the best poker player at the table. He has great reads on others, and makes some brilliant moves. There is defintely a fear factor about him. It was good to see him lighten up a little in this final episode, as he often looks way too serious. Yeah I know it’s high stakes poker, but poker is a game after all. The final hand was great when he pushed Dwan out of the pot.

Dwan – Another strong showing from Dwan, and while I have championed him of late – he has been very lucky at times. His play is superb and he scares the hell out of the other players, particularly Esfandiari (did you see the look on his face when Dwan joined the game?). His introduction certainly helped pick this group of players up, as it was a little boring before he joined. He creates action and is great to watch.

Hachem – I was impressed with his play throughout. I had always seen him more as a tournament player and thought he might get owned in this cash game, but he held his own. A very solid performance.

Negreanu – Unlike Dwan, Negreanu doesn’t have much luck in this game does he? I think he did well not to lose more money in certain spots. At the start of this season he was a little on tilt at times, but he appeared more relaxed this time around. I’m sure when the cards fall good for him he’ll start turning it around. He’s one of my favorite players – also comes across as a really nice guy.

Laak – I’m not sure what to make of Laak. Overall I think he played well, though he did get a nice rub of the green. Talks a little to much crap for my liking, but entertaining nonetheless.

Esfandiari – While he’s obviously a good poker player, I don’t rate him nearly as highly as the others at the table. He made some donkey moves and talks even more crap than Laak. Maybe he should concentrate more on the game than making stupid side bets. I couldn’t care less how many press-ups he can do. Play poker man!

Lederer – I’m not sure why they invite him on the show, as he didn’t do anything. I know he plays a tight game, but it’s not interesting to watch. The only hand I remember him playing was against Dwan when he had AK, which he was unlucky to lose to Dwan’s junk. But he didn’t play it that well either, in my opinion.

Cassavetes – I don’t have much to say about him as he didn’t really play many hands, but he played quite steady. Nothing spectacular, but no mug either. He’s probably quite happy with his performance against some world class opponents.

I’m looking forward to the next group of players on High Stakes Poker. If you don’t watch the show then head on over to YouTube and watch it. It’s a really good show – probably the best poker TV show at the moment.

Equity vs Survival in MTTs

I used to be firmly in the ‘survival’ camp for MTTs, and one of the things I struggled with when I first read Dan Harrington’s books was his willingness to call with marginal hands – regardless of survival odds – if he thought he was getting the right pot odds. I guess my ‘survivalist’ thinking was based on books I read before I came to Harrington – in particular books by TJ Cloutier and David Sklansky. (In fact a lot of Cloutier’s published advice can be summed up as ‘take no chances, stick around and hope to get lucky at the end’ – the perfect survivalist creed!)

A lot of survival thinking is based on the assumption that once you are out of the tournament you are in some sense ‘finished’. That’s clearly true if you are a small-time player who has won a once-in-a-lifetime seat in a major event. This could be your only shot at playing in a big event, so early on you might choose to fold your JJ against your opponent’s massive all-in with AK even though you are getting the odds to make calling correct.

The idea that you are ‘finished’ if you bust is also true (to a lesser extent) if you are a big-time pro playing an event that means a lot to you (the WSOP main event, say). Although you can buy in again next year you only have a limited number of years left to play that particular event. This was even more true when people like Cloutier and Sklansky were learning their trade – for years the only tournaments were the WSOP events – but it also seems to influence younger players like Phil Hellmuth, who fold a lot of 50/50s quite deep into tournaments. Hellmuth seems to think he is so good that he will always find better spots to get his money in. But I wonder also if his desire for bracelets and prestige influences him. In his mind each opportunity to win an event is a one-off chance, so the tighter, more survivalist poker is a natural way for him to play.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the idea of being ‘finished’ once you bust out just doesn’t apply so much these days, which is why Harrington’s approach is probably more correct more of the time. This is especially true with day-to-day online MTTs. If I bust out of my 8pm MTT in the first hand I just buy into the 8.10 event on another site. My approach becomes more like that of a traditional cash game player – take all the value you can get, and reach into your bankroll when you need to buy back in.

To some extent, then, I feel that your personal priorities should dictate how you play. In my case, if the event is big, a rarity, prestigious, or if I travelled a long way to get there or was down to my last buy in then I would be right to play more in survival mode and turn down small EV edges in order to stay in the tourney. The same applies if the only game open if I bust out is a cash game. But if it was just another $50 MTT on Poker Stars or something I should be more inclined to take even small amounts of value, because at the end of the year that is what leads to the best return. And if I actually preferred cash games I would be right to take small edges in tournaments so that if I was going to bust out I could do it sooner rather than later and move over to my favourite game earlier.

Some might say that in turning down small edges in big tournaments I would be giving up too much. I think that’s probably right if you view all results at the end of the year as a whole, because by taking every small edge I can I will make more long term. However, I think I’m right too that a more cautious approach might increase my chance of doing well in this particular event.

Put another way, if I call with a good draw all-in against nine other players in the first hand of every MTT I play, and this situation repeats every day for a year, then at the end of the year I will have a ton of money because when I win that hand I will usually make the final table of the event. But if I need to survive this particular pot , because it is the only one this year that could get me a bracelet or a major cash finish, I might be right to fold the draw and wait for a situation where I am actually favourite to win the hand.

In all this I’m assuming that equity in tournaments is the same concept as in cash games – which seems to be Harrington’s point of view as well. This isn’t strictly true, because in a cash game every chip has the same cash value while in a tournament the more chips you win the less they are worth. (Malmuth explains this at length in every book he ever wrote. ) Despite this, most people now seem to agree that going for the win (as opposed to surviving into a slightly higher finish) is the best long-term approach to MTTs.

The Study of Poker

The internet is overloaded with websites teaching poker strategy. Heck, I even offer poker tips and throw in the odd piece of advice from time to time. The majority of what I read is fairly repetitive, and sites often have a mish mash of poker strategy articles and lessons, with varying degrees of quality, from the poorly written ‘why am I reading this crap’ to the truly excellent ‘holy cow, I’m gonna use this’ type stuff.

A site I recently came across certainly falls into the “great site – with huge potential” category, and it’s called Pokerology.com. The name grabbed my attention because it was quirky, and actual does what it says on the tin, since it’s about the study of poker. I’m not usually one for doing site reviews, but what I love about this site is the structure of their poker lessons and general setup. There’s nothing groundbreaking and they don’t have any videos, which has become the norm, but I would seriously recommend Pokerology.com to anyone wanting to learn how to play poker, since they start from the very beginning. I think even experienced players will get a refresher too, I know I have. Top marks!

Is Tom “Durrrr” Dwann the Best Poker Player in the World?

Tom Dwan has been on the poker scene for a while now, but I had never really paid too much attention to his offline exploits. I was familiar with his name and had seen reports of the online high stakes cash games for a while. But I’d not seen the guy on TV, so I couldn’t identify too much with him – unlike poker pros like Ivey, Negreanu, Hellmuth, etc, who I’ve watched and admired for many years.

This is the first time I saw a clip of Tom Dwan, at some point last year:

While Hellmuth doesn’t cover himself in glory with his usual antics, my first impression of Dwan wasn’t so great. He looked uncomfortable in the live poker environment, avoiding eye contact and so forth. He was also a bit too cocky for my liking. I thought to myself “stick to online poker kid”.

However, my opinion on Tom Dwan has totally changed since I watched that first clip on YouTube. He’s had a lot more publicity recently due to the Durrrr Challenge (which might finish before Christmas!), but my opinion has been shaped by his recent appearances on High Stakes Poker, Season 5. He has been a joy to watch, and has utterly owned the table.

Here’s a piece of truly world class play from Tom Dwan:

I’m not basing my thoughts on just one or two hands, but his overall play. He has been nothing short of magnificent. It’s funny to look back at the NBC Heads-Up Championship video and seeing a somewhat geeky guy, clearly uncomfortable with the surroundings, and then to see how he has evolved on High Stakes Poker – totally bossing the table. This kid can certainly play poker! I’m a big Tom Dwan fan, that’s for sure.

Characteristics of a Winning Poker Player

What are the characteristics of a winning poker player? Well, here’s some random thoughts I came up with:

Determined, Intuitive, Objective, Fearless, Studious, Patient, Analytical, Agressive, Competitive, Intelligent, Perceptive, Adaptable, Flamboyuant, Sneaky, Deceptive, Greedy, Obsessive, Compulsive, Addictive, Creative, Honest (to oneself, not opponents), and last but not least – High Boredom Threshold.

“Poker is not a card game – it’s a skilled wagering game that uses cards”. I don’t know who first said this quote, but it’s a good one – and so very true.  There’s not a single poker player who holds all the above characteristics / skillsets, but I bet the most successful have quite a few on this list! Which do you have?

Lady Gaga's Poker Face – a Poker Anthem?

A few months ago a friend of mine said “there’s this song called poker face by Lady Gaga- you should listen to it”. I probably replied “who the hell is Lady Gaga?” and left it at that, since I didn’t listen to it. That was until about a week ago, when I heard it for the first time and realized this is the song my friend had been talking about. Even though it’s a girlie chick song (so is my friend), I’ll admit that it’s quite catchy – not bad I thought. I listened to it a few times on YouTube and observed the lyrics to see what the song might reveal about Lady Gaga’s poker thoughts. Here’s a snippet from the chorus:

“Can’t read my, can’t read my
No he can’t read my poker face

Well, this is good to know. Lady Gaga clearly knows how to keep a good poker face. So far, so good.

“Cause I’m bluffin’ with my muffin”

Yes, Lady Gaga actually uses the line “cause I’m bluffin’ wth my muffin”. I’m not quite sure what to make of this line, other than it may be pure filth (lyrics also include “love – if it isn’t rough it’s not fun”) – dirty minx! Indeed I conclude that this song is nothing to do with poker, and this left me feeling hugely disappointed. What other songs can educate our youth of the joys of poker?

Well there aren’t too many songs I could actually think of, apart from a couple of classics. Let’s take a look at MotorHead’s “Ace of Spades”, which includes the line:

“I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is
The Ace of Spades”

Okay, so he’s going for a one-outer! Not good, not good at all.

“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby”

Ah, such a shame. I was expecting better from this classic rock anthem. While it’s a better song than Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, and is a slight improvement lyrcis wise – it still leaves me a little cold. This brings me to the legend that is Kenny Rogers. From his classis “The Gambler”:

“He said, son, Ive made a life out of readin peoples faces,
And knowin what their cards were by the way they held their eyes.”

At last, some good old, solid poker advice. Is it any wonder that poker players wear sunglasses? It’s all in the eyes baby! He follows this words of wisdom with more…

“Said, if youre gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.”

Unlike MotorHead, Kenny is an advocate of playing poker the right way. Good on ya Kenny! This is backed up with the famous chorus line:

“You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

This is great stuff from Kenny Rogers. He’s teaching the fundamentals of the game of poker, and I’m impressed. Unfortunately he makes a big mess of the last line in this section of the song:

“Now evry gambler knows that the secret to survivin
Is knowin what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
cause evry hands a winner and evry hands a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

I have to disagree Kenny. Most poker players hope for an WSOP bracelet, or a TV appearance, or a big fat winners check (preferably all three) – not to die in their sleep. But hey ho, a good job nonetheless. You put Lady Gaga to shame. Actually, going back to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face – those of you following High Stakes Poker will be aware that Barry Greenstein often has a bet to slip in certain phrases, such as his recent “math is idiotic” comment. Well here’s one for you Barry – say “bluffin’ with my muffin”. I dare you!