Tuesday, March 27, 2007

$400 NL at Hollywood Park

In Las Vegas, nobody ever bought into a 5-10 NL game for less than $500, and rarely less than $1000. At Hollywood Park and the Commerce here in LA, most of the 5-10 NL games have a mandatory $400 buy-in. Sometimes Hollywood Park has a "$500 NL" game as well. This also uses 5-10 blinds, but the $500 is only a minimum buy-in. There is no maximum. This format is very similar to the 5-10NL game at the Wynn or Bellagio.

I played mostly 2-5 NL in Vegas and 3-5 NL here in LA. The thing is, the game is a lot smaller in LA because the buyin is fixed at $200. The Bellagio was the same way when I first moved the Vegas, but after I few months I was playing mostly in 2-5 NL games that allowed players to buy in for $500 or more. Thus the 2-5 games in Las Vegas are quite a bit bigger than the 3-5 games in LA.

However, I've found that the 5-10, $400 NL games here play quite a bit bigger than the $2-5, $500 games in Vegas. The double-sized blinds really drive the action. With preflop raised of $35-$45 rather than $20, players run through their $400 stacks rather quickly, and what ends up happening is that while a few players still have $400 stacks, most of the table is up over $1000. (This necessitates constant awareness of my opponents' stack sizes. Hands need to be played differently against a $400 stack from against a $1000, and another way if I'm playing against one of each.) As some players gain larger stacks and the other players fade away or keep contributing, the game becomes quite large.

For whatever reason, I've been crushing this game in the past couple of weeks. Although there are still a few fish, the players in this game are generally quite good. Certainly, my success so far certainly has a lot to do with luck in a small sample of hands, but I also feel that I have a stronger grasp on how to deal with various stack sizes than do most of my opponents. With a short stack, speculative hands lose much of their value, since you can't keep getting paid off on the turn and river if you flop a big hand. This seems obvious, but even the good players in this 5-10 game try to get creative with $400 stacks as if they had $1500. This just doesn't work. No matter how hard you try, you can't make J8s win enough money if you have to pay $40 to see the flop and you only have $400. The same goes if you have $2000 but most of your opponents have only $400.

One particularly profitable day included the following hand. This is one of three or four hands where I called an all-in bet due to pot odds, despite not knowing if I had a better than 50% shot at winning, and I won all but one of these hands. When I win 6 large pots when I would normally only win 3, it makes for a big day.

On one particular hand I was three off the button, and there were two limpers in front of me. I looked down at 2h2c and limped for $10. I had everyone covered, with most players around $1000. A loose player to my left limped, and the button, a somewhat new player who had shown considerable skill in one previous hand, raised to $25. A raise this small is very unusual and can only really hope to knock out the two blinds. Nobody is going to fold a hand they limped with. Sklansky and Miller recommend doing this occassionally with speculative hands like Axs in order to "sweeten the pot." This is a strategy I'm quite skeptical of, but it could be what the raiser had in mind here. I also see it a lot with AA because the raiser doesn't want to lose anybody from the pot (another mistake in my view - much better to get as much money in as possible while you are still sure you hold the best hand. Somebody will almost always call a raise to $60 here, probably even $125). The only time I ever make such a small raise pre-flop is when I'm first in and there is a player who likes to raise a lot preflop but won't reraise without a big hand. Raising to $25 with A9s here allows me to see the flop rather than having to face a likely raise to $45. This idea clearly doesn't apply to the button raiser in this hand. I had no clear idea of what he had except that he clearly was not bluffing. I thought his most likely hands were non-face pairs (2-10 or AA). Maybe a suited ace.

Everyone but the small blind called the raise to $25. Minus the $5 rake the pot was $125.

Flop: 2d 7c 9c. Checks around to me. I checked as well, planning to check-raise after drawing a few people in. If there was no bet behind me I may have to fold my hand if one of the many draws hit the board, but I thought the risk was worth it. The next player checked and the button bet $50, another oddly small bet. The next two players folded, so I just called. The two folds made raising less important because I didn't need to worry so much about drawing hands, and just calling might draw in another $50 from the player to my right. He folded. Pot: $225. My opponent has $1025 left.

Turn: Ah. I bet $200. No point in fooling around anymore. If he's afraid of the ace I won't get any more money out of him no matter what I do. Betting is the most efficient way to get the money in. My opponent pushes all-in for another $825. Our two $200 bets plus the $225 pot means my pot odds here are $(825+625) to $825, or about 1.8 to 1. I thought he must have 77, 99, or AA. The only other hand I could imagine were nut club draws or club draws with an inside straight draw. These hands have a lot of outs against me. I have but one out against I higher set. There's also the possibility of A9s or A7s but I didn't think these hands were likely to begin with, and the board blocks half the suited possibilities. (He can only have these 2-pair hands if they're suited in diamonds or spades now.) And of course there's the possibility that he has something much worse that I didn't think of. I considered folding here. My image at the table had to be as a strong player willing to gamble. My opponent seemed good enough to have noticed this, so it's unlikely he is expecting me to fold. The higher sets seemed extremely likely, and the draws had many outs against me. Even the two-pair hands have 4 outs. Despite this, I eventually decided I probably had a good enough chance to justify the call. Although I thought I was very likely beaten, 1.75 to 1 odds is a lot better than 1 to 1. I called, thinking I had about a 45-50% chance to win. My opponent had Ad9d, and he missed his 4 outs on the river.

The other players were astonished that it took me more than a few seconds to make the call. Some of them even told me they lost respect for me just because I had to think about it. One of them was even shouting at me. In retrospect I think they were all a bit frustrated that I had won yet another big pot. Only two other players agreed it was a tough call (one of them was the guy who had just lost his stack to me). It's interesting when other players give their opinions on strategy, but it's pretty rare to have almost everyone at the table offer up their thoughts unsolicited. I can't really think of another example that produced quite so much heated discussion among players who were not even involved in the hand.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Strangeness at Hollywood Park

Every hour or so at Hollywood Park, an employee goes around to each table and scans the "Players Cards" for comp points. As a cue for players to get their cards ready, the scanner will usually announce "player's card!" as they approach. In a ridiculous amalgamation of Asian and Mexican accents, one day one of the Asian card-scanners exuberantly rolled the "L" in "Players Card" as he approached each table, which should not even be conceivable unless you are accustomed to pronouncing L's like R's.

There's another guy I have seen several times standing and chatting with people in the poker room while wearing a chrome bowl on his head as a helmet, complete with straps under his chin. The man himself looks somewhat like Flavor Flav. I hesitate to comment on this due to the possibility he wears it for some medical purpose, but either way, it is ridiculous-looking. I laugh inside every time I see him.

Monday, March 12, 2007


I thought this week I'd update some things I'd written about in previous posts.

Last week I wrote about applying for a job with the A's. Haven't heard back from them yet.

I'm happy with my decision to play mostly at Hollywood Park. I've been playing during the day, during the five hour period from 2:30 to 7:30 when the traffic is at its worst. While most of the drawbacks to Hollywood Park still hold, I was wrong about a couple of things. Some of the tables do have automatic shufflers, which I like. The bathrooms are much cleaner than at the Commerce. There's actually an easy way to avoid walking up the hill to get inside, and it's never smelled of horses there after that one time. Also, some how I only just realized that there is another whole section of tournament tables. I had thought the other side of the casino was all table games, but half of that side is for poker as well. Supposedly there are tournaments every day around 11:30am ($30 w/ rebuys yesterday) and 7pm ($300 with one rebuy yesterday). Those aren't ideal times for me, but I'll probably find my way into one or two in the next month. I haven't played in a single tournament since moving here (unless you count private games).

I've also heard good things about the customer service at the Bike and the Hustler casinos. The Bike is just past the Commerce, and the Hustler is just past Hollywood Park, so I've always stopped at the closer casinos and never made it to either the Bike or the Hustler. Well I was actually at the Bike once or twice.

Another interesting thing at Hollywood Park is that next to the cashier they have small signs posted warning about low-quality counterfeit $100 bills. This is pretty much all I expected from the Wynn. Instead I got treated like a criminal for trying to let them know that they should be on the lookout for counterfeits.

Before heading out to play each day I've been reading a section of No Limit Holdem: Theory and Practice. I like this approach because it gives me time to absorb each section while actually playing for several hours. Most of the material is not new to me. Some of it is, though, and the rest is worthwhile as reinforcement of some fundamentals. Also, unlike Harrington on Holdem, Sklansky and Miller include footnotes explaining themselves whenever they feel the need to simplify strategic discussions. I'm only half way through but I'd say the book is worthwhile. I'm looking forward to the second section of the book, "Concepts and Weapons."

Sunday, March 04, 2007


For the first time since quitting my old job to play poker, I've applied for a new one. This decision was based much more on the attractiveness of the particular job than a desire to quit poker. The job in question is almost precisely what I was looking for when I graduated college: statistical analysis for the baseball operations department on a major league team. A friend alerted me to a posting on the Oakland A's website about an opening for the position of "Baseball Operations Intern." It looks like mostly number crunching and programming, but I actually kind of like doing that. Also, as I learned three years ago, it's incredibly difficult to get your foot in the door of the baseball industry, so even a somewhat attractive position would be worthwhile. This baseball operations position is much more attractive than any that I saw posted three years ago when I was looking for such jobs. The fact that it's with the A's is a plus, since it's at least in the state where I currently live, and the A's are known as the pioneers of objective statistical analysis in baseball operations. Also, there are some poker casinos in the area, but I would likely take a hiatus from poker if I got the job.

Applying for this position also gave me occasion to update my resume. Here's what I had to say about my past two years:

Professional Poker Player. Las Vegas, NV and Los Angeles, CA.
Played tournaments and cash games in various casinos. Requires consistent, efficient, and accurate application of analytical skills encompassing the fields of psychology, game theory, statistics, mathematics, and economics. Particularly important is an understanding of risk management, rational decision-making, and statistical inference. Independently researched these topics and retrospectively analyzed my play in order to improve playing ability and expected winning rates. (2005-present)

I'm pretty happy with this description for my resume, but I'd certainly be open to any advice or criticism. I realize that having this on my resume is probably a negative for certain jobs, but then so would an empty period of time since 2005. For the baseball job, I think my poker background is likely to help me.