Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stud Eight-or-Better

I've been holding my own in the 20-40 limit holdem game and crushing the no-limit games, but I'm still pretty lost when it comes to Stud eight-or-better. Through pure luck, I'm actually still up at this game after playing for 15 hours or so, but it takes all my concentration just to avoid making bonehead plays. There are a ton of things to think about and keep track of during the hands, and the skills and instincts I've developed for holdem have not translated as easily as I'd hoped. Here's a list of some things that are second nature for experienced stud8 players that I need to train myself to do better:

1. Keep track of several boards (one for each player) rather than just one community board.
2. Remember which cards have been folded. Part of this is identifying early which cards will be important to remember.
3. Calculate approximate odds for 3-card starting hands with 4 cards to come, and for 4-card hands with 3 cards to come. These odds need to be approximated for both the low and the high half.
4. Understand the meaning of other player's bets.
5. Keep track of who has to bet first (it's whoever has the best high hand showing, but this can change with each card) so that I know what my position will likely be in future rounds.
6. Immediately identify which players have caught good cards and are likely to bet, which is necessary to know in order to make effective check-raises.
7. Identify situations where I want to try to push certain players out of the hand. Often this means trying to check-raise in order to force another player going the same way I am to put in two bets at once. Lots of players will automatically call a single bet, but if I can force them to call two at once there's a much better chance they will fold. For example, if the player to my left and I are the only two players going low in a 5-way pot, getting him to fold should often be my primary focus. I need to be able to identify when I'm in this situation and can count on one of the high hands to bet behind him so I can check raise. Too often I miss opportunities like this because I'm still trying to do points 1-6.
8. Recognizing situations where I will be caught in a raising war between other players, forcing me to put in many bets to see the next card. These situations demand that I fold to the first bet, but if I'm too slow to recognize that this is going to happen, I will call a bet before either having to fold or calling $160 worth of bets (only 4 bets allowed on each round, $40 each).
9. Keep track of what my own board looks like to the other players.

There are certainly some other things I haven't thought of and some others that I've never even considered. For the time being, I think I need to prioritize a few of these things to focus on. At this point, it's too overwhelming for me to keep track of all this. Maybe just studying the odds away from the table would be a good first step.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My First Full Work Week as a Prop

So far I like it. Last week I mentioned that I didn't understand how there could be so much downtime, but the past couple of days I did spend a lot of time sitting and doing almost nothing. The floormen will occasionally ask me to leave a game if a wait list has formed. Fortunately, there were some football games going on on Sunday. So, for several hours, I was being paid while I sat around, watched sports on TV, and chatted with other props and service people who were also bored. It seems like this sort of downtime will constitute at least 10% of my work week.

Most of the time, though, I have been playing. After a slow start, I'm back in the swing of things with my limit holdem, which is what they have me play the most (20-40). They've also been putting me in no-limit games quite a bit, often as low as $100 buy-in, and these are reasonably soft. I've played high-low split stud 8-or-better for a total of 15 minutes and won $9. I'm not confident that I'd be able to beat that game yet, so I've been avoiding it when given the choice.

I've made a good enough impression on one of the servers that she now stops by while I'm playing just to give me an iced tea or bottle of water. I've usually been eating two free meals a day at the casino, but sometimes one is just a fruit plate or soup. I've also gotten two milkshakes and two slices of pie, all on the house. They were good.

On Sunday, in the 20-40 holdem game, I was playing 6-handed with 5 other prop players for at least 20 minutes before another player showed up. This other player happened to be the most offensively angry and vulgar woman I think I've ever encountered. It took me quite a while to memorize her name, which was on her casino comp card, but it was worth it - "Spomenka Zeljkovic." She's overweight, around 50 years old, and speaks with something like a Russian accent. Supposedly she is a semi-regular player, but I can't understand how she has managed to avoid being kicked out of the casino. If you're curious what sorts of comments she was making, you'll have to ask me later. I'm not prepared to write the full extent of it here on my blog, but I will say that she was spewing a nearly nonstop stream of filth, and occasionally it was impressively creative. One less creatively vulgar incident was when another player got upset about being called a "fucking idiot," to which she responded "I don't mean you in particular." Later, a dealer complained to the floorman about her at one point, and so the floorman told Spomenka that "it's not nice to say those things." Actually, she did settle down quite a bit after that.

Now begins my Tuesday-Wednesday weekend.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Schedule

I went to the Bike on Monday for my first day as a prop, and they switched up the schedule on me. I'll be working 1-9 pm Thursday-Monday, which I actually like quite a bit better than 3-11 pm. I figure I can get lunch when I first get there, and then dinner before I go (meals are free). On Monday I played 20-40 limit from 2-9 pm. I lost more in the game than I made in salary, but I found it relatively easy to sit and play that long. I didn't get tired until about 8. However, by the time I left at 9 I was rather tired, and in my diminished mental state I forgot to bring home my employee handbook (I did remember to sign out at least). This means I still don't really know what my health benefits and vacation time are like or anything like that. Hopefully, I'll be able to find the employee parking lot tomorrow.

Supposedly there is usually a lot of downtime as a prop player, and I was warned that I should bring a book. I'm not accustomed to bringing things with me to the casino (hence my forgetting my handbook on Monday). Also, I don't understand when this downtime would happen. On Monday I was put in a game almost immediately when I arrived, and unless the game breaks I'm not really sure how I could have any downtime whatsoever. I was a little unsure of whether I was supposed to keep playing after the game filled up, but there were some other props playing the same game at another table, and they didn't leave, so I figured I probably shouldn't either. (Actually, one moved from my table to the other 20-40 limit game, but I have no idea why.) I guess tomorrow I'll need to ask the floorman to clarify the protocol a little more for me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Back to Work

I'm starting my new job on Monday. Meanwhile, I've read the entire High-Low Split Stud book by Ray Zee already (it's rather short) and am nearly through Todd Brunson's chapter in Super System 2 (also short). Hopefully I'll be competent at this game when I dive in at 20-40. I don't actually have much of an idea of how much I'll be asked to play it, though. Maybe I should brush up on my limit holdem, as well. The $200 no-limit game, on the other hand, will be old hat for me. That's what I used to play about 80% of the time back in Vegas.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Prop Job Soon

I seem to be close to getting the job as a 20-40 prop player at the Bike. On Tuesday, I'm scheduled for a physical (not sure why they need this), and I assume I'll be starting soon after that. I'd be working Friday-Tuesday, 3pm-11pm. Including the commute it will probably be more like 1:45-11:45, so the job will consume about 50 hours a week. This is quite a bit more than I've been playing up until now, and I'm not very optimistic about how much I'm going to like giving up some of my free time. For the past few months I've been getting rather tired after playing for about 6 hours, and it's usually not worth sticking around when fatigue sets in except in the increasingly rare event that the game is extremely soft. I've been playing poker on my own schedule for two and a half years now, and I've become accustomed to having plenty of time during the week for everything I want to do. On the other hand, I've also spent more time at unproductive activities such as watching TV than I would have liked, and I know from experience that when my time is more structured I tend to get more done. Fortunately, as far as making the decision whether to take the prop job, it's not necessary for me to know ahead of time whether I'll like being a prop: if I don't, I can always quit and immediately return to my old job with no difficulty whatsoever.

Meanwhile, I need to learn to play stud eight-or-better without losing all my money. My brother got me Ray Zee's book High-Low-Split Poker for Advanced Players, which also covers Omaha. It actually seems like it would be nearly useless for an advanced player at these games, but for me it's been quite helpful. It gives an idea of what starting hands are worthwhile and what to expect from other players. I read Sklansky's section in the original Super System, but that is so outdated that the rules have changed too significantly since it was written for it to be useful (most significantly, there was no requirement of an 8-qualifier for the low). Supposedly, Todd Brunson wrote a chapter on stud-8 in Super System 2 that is much more worthwhile. I think I may go ahead and order that one. Phil Hellmuth has the only other published stud-8 advice that I could find, but I would never purchase anything published by him unless it were the absolute best source on a particular game. Even then, I would probably just avoid playing that game.