Saturday, October 31, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 25

From No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 25: The button is the true bread and butter position in no limit. In many games you can play an extremely wide range of hands from the button, even for a raise.

Sklansky and Miller say that if effective stack sizes are at least 200 times the big blind, then, as long as you have at least one opponent who plays too loose after the flop, it is correct to limp on the button with over 50% of hands ("probably any two suited cards, any big offsuit cards, any ace, and any offsuit connector down to at least five-four"), and possibly with 100%. They also suggest that you call with over 30% of hands "if the raise represents only a few percent of the stacks (e.g., no more than maybe $50 with $1000 stacks)."

This is another one that is tough to analyze precisely, but in general, I think this advice is encouraging the reader to play too loosely. Unless you are much, much better than your opponents, this advice is probably -EV. I would be especially wary of the advice to call a raise to $50 with KTo in a $2-5 blind game, even if the stacks are over $1000. First of all, this advice completely neglects to consider whether the raise is coming from early or late position, which can have a drastic effect on your opponent's range. Even if the player is in late position and is rather aggressive, though, I would not be happy calling with KTo in this spot. You need to flop a straight or have the flop to contain KT or TT in order to be confident with your hand in there is a lot of action. Otherwise, a hand like this is going to have no implied odds, or worse, negative implied odds.

I do think the general idea that the button is a powerful position is correct, and indeed there are a lot more hands that can be played profitably from here than any other position (except the BB with no raise). However, in my humble opinion, S+M take the idea a bit to far here. If I were an online player, or if I took careful track of my results during poker sessions, such data might be helpful in coming to a well-informed conclusion. As it stands, all I (and also S+M, I suspect) can really do is guess.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 24

From No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 24: If you have a hand that you would limp with in a passive game, consider making a small raise (two to three times the big blind) in an aggressive game instead of limping.

The idea here is that by raising, you reduce the chances an aggressive player will put in a big raise because he will be afraid of you. As long as your raise is rather small, this should allow you to see a flop more cheaply than if you just limp.

In my experience, this doesn't really work. After I first read this concept, I tried this strategy a few times with no success. I found that if I was in a game that was so aggressive that I felt like trying this strategy, I very often found myself facing a large reraise. Players who are hyper-aggressive preflop tend to be interested in gambling, and they will not be satisfied with your 2-3x raise. They will reraise you. Some players will even (correctly) see your abnormally small raise as a sign of weakness and raise with hands with which they may otherwise have limped or folded. In fact, in such situations you might want to consider making these small raises when you have strong preflop hand in order to trap your aggressive opponents when they reraise you.

If you are in a game where the aggressive players are not maniacs, this "blocking raise" strategy could conceivably work, but this is rarely the case. As I said, I personally have never utilized the strategy successfully, but I've only tried it a few times. If you do find yourself in this situation and want to try this "blocking raise" strategy, it's probably a good idea to also make small raises with big hands like JJ+ in order to balance your range, as S+M suggest in the discussion of this concept. Without at least some balance, a strong, aggressive opponent won't take long to figure out that your small raises indicate weakness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 23

From No Limit Hold 'Em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 23: It's ok to limp in, planning to fold to a raise. It's sometimes ok even when you think a raise is likely.

This piece of advice is meant for limit players, who are used to automatically calling a raise after they limp in. I certainly agree with this advice; the only thing possibly controversial is that some would argue that you should never limp in, you should always open with a raise. I think limping is fine, though, and I do it often.

Sklansky and Miller give a good, simple example to support their stronger claim that limp-folding is "sometimes ok even when you think a raise is likely." Basically, the example says that if you think your limp for $2 will return $6 on average when nobody raises, then even if there is a 60% chance someone will make a raise and you fold, it's still profitable to limp. EV= (.6)*(-$2) + (.4)*($4) = $0.40. Although this ignores the possibility that raising could be even more profitable than limping, it proves their point that limping can be better than just folding even if you are likely going to fold anyway.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 22

Another installment in my analysis of the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'Em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 22: Ace-king is a powerful "move-in" hand and frequently moving in preflop is by far the best play with it.

I think this is a powerful idea that is underutilized by many of the good players I play with. Sklansky won me over to this idea when he introduced it in Tournament Poker for Advanced Players.

AK has a negative reputation as being kind of a "sucker" hand, since it is rarely the favorite if another player puts lots of chips in before the flop, because the other player usually has a pair or another AK. I think this reputation is undeserved. While it's true that AK has less than 50% chance against many other strong hands, it is only a big underdog against AA (6.5%-12%) and, to a lesser extent, KK (~30%). Against other pairs, AK has 43%-50%. There are three points that I think are misunderstood by players who think it's a sucker play to move all-in with AK preflop.

1. Players put way too much emphasis on having 50% equity when all-in. Whether a play is "correct" is determined by calculating (or guessing at) the play's expected value (EV). Actually heads-up winning percentage is only one factor in an EV calculation. When you are raising all-in, your EV depends only on the size of your raise, your pot equity (the amount in the pot after your raise is called times the probability you will win), and your fold equity (the amount in the pot before your raise times the probability your opponents will fold). Because fold equity is always positive, the required equity (when you are called) to make raising better than folding is always less than 50%. Having a higher probability of winning when you are all-in is nice, but it is only one factor to consider, and the difference between 50% equity and 43% equity is pretty small. Using the criterion of having a 50% or better chance against a certain hand or range of hands is wrong. It misleads people into thinking AK is worse than it really is because AK often falls just below this threshhold.

2. If you hold AK, this reduces the likelihood an opponent could hold AA or KK, which are really the only two hands you need to worry about. Players do understand this, but I think the effect is underrated. There are only half as many ways to make AA or KK when only three of each are left in the deck. If you hold AK and your opponent's range is AA-JJ, there is only a 1/3 chance he holds AA or KK, and your equity is about 35% (38% with AK suited). Note that when your opponent's range is this small, your fold equity is likely quite large.

3. Many players tend to view a big preflop raise by a good player as AA. They will often fold JJ or QQ, and some will even fold KK in certain situations. Although this means you are usually way behind when you are called, your fold equity is enormous.

Good players tend to play very tight ranges when there is a lot of action preflop and not much money left to play with after the flop. Players often fall into the habit of playing only AA or KK in these situations, sometimes QQ. AK is the perfect hand with which to balance your big-pot play before the flop. In some situations where your opponent's range is especially strong, it can certainly be correct to fold AK before the flop, but I think this is done way too often. Players are missing out on lots of situations where moving all-in with AK (and especially AK suited) is a +EV play.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Standard Work Week

Starting this coming week, I'll be working Monday-Friday for the first time since I started playing poker professionally. This isn't much of a shift; I was already working 11AM-7pm Tuesday-Friday and noon-8pm on Saturday. It used to be the case that poker games were juicier on the weekends, but for some reason, things have been slower recently on Saturdays than the rest of the week. Today, the $500+ NL game never even got started. This is not uncommon, which is the reason my supervisor decided to change my schedule.

I noticed last week that a local bar has poker every Saturday. I might check it out, but I doubt it will be worth my time. They have some sort of point system and at the end of the year someone gets a prize. I was also invited to a house game supposedly run by Koreans in downtown LA. I'm told it runs 8pm-4am on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that there are incredible amounts of money to be won. I don't think I'll go. Even if it felt safe to me, I have to work both those days, and I would find it difficult to play for 8 hours at the Bike and then head off to another game.

I've been seeing and meeting some actors and other entertainment industry types recently at the Bike. One of the producers of Zombieland plays the $500NL sometimes. Teri Hatcher came and played the $300-$500 NL game at least twice this month. Michael Muhney, who was in Veronica Mars and now stars in The Young and the Restless played $500NL with us for a few hours yesterday. There was a guy who claimed to have been a drummer for Parliament Funkadelic, but I forgot his name. He bragged of a patent he has for some denim jeans design. Bo Koster of the band My Morning Jacket plays quite often. He's a good guy and a good player. I've chatted with him quite a bit, but I haven't seen him at the Bike for the past couple weeks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 21

Here's my analysis of the next concept from No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 21: Sometimes you can try for a deep check-raise with the nuts (or close to it).

By "deep" the authors mean that you are in middle-late position in a large field. I have seen it recommended that you not try a check-raise in such a situation, because some of the reasons for a check-raise are diminished in a large field, while the risk of being outdrawn is greatly increased. Still, I think Sklansky and Miller are right about this, and I would actually say you often should try for a deep check-raise with the nuts. It's very difficult to do a proper EV analysis of this situation, but here's my subjective opinion, for what it's worth.

In a small field, check-raising with a strong hand is standard (although there are situations where you would want to bet out even with the nuts). One reason for this is that a late position player is more likely to bet behind you if he is facing a small field. It's very common for the player in last position to bet if the first player or two check, because he will often be able to take the pot with a bet in this situation. A second reason is that the downside risk of checking is not as great when there is a small field; even if nobody bets on the flop, it's very unlikely that anyone will outdraw you, because you only have one or two opponents. A third reason to check-raise with strong hands when there is a small field is that it disguises your checks when you miss a flop. If your opponent knows you might check-raise, he'll be slightly more likely to check the flop and let you see the turn for free.

These reasons for check-raising do not hold up as well when you are in middle-late position in a large field. You need a stronger hand to check-raise in this situation. Still, with hands that are nearly the nuts, I think it's often correct to try it. A flopped set or straight is only a little vulnerable to being outdrawn, and the reward for a successful check-raise can be quite huge if there are multiple callers. If nobody bets, often another player will make two pair or three of a kind on the turn, which is likely to result in a very big win.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 20

After this post, I'll be one third of the way through the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'Em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 20: Sometimes you should limp behind limpers with pocket aces.

I agree with this. It does sound a little like it's recommending that you "randomize" your play, which I've argued against previously. However, this one is a little different for two reasons.

First, Sklansky and Miller are not actually recommending that you apply this advice in a random manner. Instead, they say, "you'd do this if you have opponents yet to act who like to raise a series of limpers with weak hands." I agree, but I think there are also other situations where you may want to limp behind limpers with AA. Basically, any situation where you think it likely that someone behind you will raise is a good time to limp with AA. In fact, sometimes you should be limping with weaker hands, as well. This week I was sitting to the right of a maniac, and I literally stopped raising preflop with any hands because it was so likely that the maniac would reopen the betting for me if I just limped. This was a great situation because I got the best relative position before the flop, meaning I got to see how everyone else reacted to the maniac's raises before I had to decide how to proceed. This is an extreme situation, but even if the player to your left is only somewhat maniacal, limp-raising with JJ+ (or even weaker) may be correct.

Second, although randomizing your play is not usually a good idea, it can be theoretically correct to randomize your play in certain situations with the best possible hand. Before the flop, AA is the best possible hand, and it can be useful to include it in your limp-raising range. Even if you are never in a game with a maniac or with players that like to try to steal before the flop after several limpers, it still might be a good idea to limp randomly sometimes with AA behind other limpers. This play is probably only worthwhile if your opponents do not expect you would try such a thing. If they already do expect you'd try this play, it's probably not worth actually doing; its value is in its deceptiveness.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 19

Here is another in my series analyzing the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 19: Don't call in protected pots without a very good hand.

By "protected pot," Sklansky and Miller mean a pot where bluffing will obviously not work. The most common example is when one player is all-in. Then, there is no point in bluffing because the all-in player will probably win the pot even if you get the other player to fold.

I think this should be good advice in theory, but in practice, it is astonishing how often players will bluff into protected pots. I generally follow S+M's advice and fold my moderate hands in such situations, but, in so doing, I've been bluffed out of many pots. In fact, I've recently decided to relax my calling standards slightly except against thoughtful opponents.

Sklansky and Miller extend this advice to pots that are "protected" by a loose player in the field or by a player who is nearly all-in. Unless you know your opponent is an alert and logical player, I would not suggest taking this advice very seriously. Players still sometimes bluff in these situations. Many will fail to notice that these factors are in play, and many who do notice it will still fail to realize that this means the pot is protected and that they should not try bluffing. This is my personal experience, so take it with a grain of salt.

Surprisingly, the seemingly obvious idea that you should not bluff when a player is all-in (and there is no side-pot) is not supported by game theory. Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman show in Chapter 29 of The Mathematics of Poker that it actually can be theoretically advantageous to bluff into protected pots. This is basically because it forces your opponent to play much more loosely. In "theory," all players always know the strategy of their opponents. In practice, of course, this is not the case, and your opponent probably will not expect you to bluff into a protected pot. So, bluffing in these situations is probably never a good idea after all. Actually, if you can get your opponent to suspect that you might bluff into a protected pot, you can forgo ever actually making such bluffs and still gain the benefit of making your opponent play too loosely. I'm not sure how you convince your opponents of this. Maybe pretend to be very drunk?

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 18

Continuing my project of analyzing each of the sixty concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 18: Don't get trapped with a fourth street top pair in multiway checked pots.

Wow, Sklansky and Miller are really going out on a limb with this one! "Don't get trapped" is pretty hard to argue with. The question is whether this advice is likely to help anyone.

Actually, I think this is marginally good advice, but it's too specific. There are plenty of circumstances where you can get trapped by underestimating the chance that someone in a large field of opponents is lurking with a big hand. For example, top pair is also a treacherous hand to call with in multiways pots on the flop. Still, this doesn't invalidate the more specific point made in this concept.

It's true that you need a much stronger hand to call a bet when there are several players behind you than when you are heads-up, especially if there are various draws on the board. A top pair hand with a decent kicker is much weaker than it looks if you're used to having only one or two opponents on a flop, and thus it's pretty common for players to get trapped with such hands. In their discussion, Sklansky and Miller say "there's a decent chance you have the best hand, yet this isn't reason enough to call." This is a good point. This idea seems paradoxical at first, and it would make for a more interesting Concept topic, in my opinion.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 17

From No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 17: If your preflop raise is called behind you, check a lot of flops.

The standard play is to continuation-bet in these situations, in order to maintain the initiative and keep the pressure on your opponent(s). I think this standard c-bet is probably overused, so in this sense Sklansky and Miller's advice to check a lot of flops is good. Still, I disagree with the reasoning they offer in their discussion of this concept. They focus too much on your hand and on randomizing your play, and not enough on the texture of the flop. I think better advice would be, "... often check on certain types of flops." This is mostly based on my intuition, and I won't be presenting any quantitative evidence.

I often do like to continuation bet even if I miss a flop because many players like to call preflop raises with small pocket pairs or suited connectors, hoping to catch a set, two pair, or a big draw and win a big pot against the preflop raiser. Usually, these hands will miss the flop, and they will fold to a continuation bet. For example, if I have AT and the flop comes Q43, I have a decent chance to win with a continuation bet even though my opponents often have a small pair or a healthy six outs. On this flop it's also a good idea to bet with many of your other likely preflop raising hands for similar reasons. With a good hand like KK, you can bet for value to balance all your weaker hands. However, there are certain types of flops where the continuation bet seems counter-productive. Generally, the flops where you don't want to bet are ones where there's a good chance you have the best hand and not too much risk of being outdrawn. For example, I think KK on a board of A92 rainbow is often better off just checking. On this flop, you're probably okay checking lots of your other likely hands, too. This includes strong hands such as AT. By waiting until the turn to bet with these hands, you are probably more likely to get called by a small pocket pair.

There are also more extreme examples of flops that don't have many draws, such as AA6 rainbow, or, to a lesser extent, 66T. On paired flop such as these I will often make a small bet. If my opponent has something, they'll call or raise, and I can react according to the strength of my hand. Often, my opponents will have completely missed these flops and just fold.

This seems like it could make for a bigger project if I want to come back to it later and do more quantitative analysis. For example, I'd like to test whether it's better to just alter my bet-sizes based on the texture of a flop rather than changing my betting frequency.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 16

Okay, let's keep the ball rolling. Here's the next installment in my analysis of the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'Em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 16: Occasionally overbet with moderate hands to disguise your overbets with excellent hands.

No; this seems like terrible advice. By "occasionally," I think Sklansky and Miller mean something like "randomly," and I've already discussed in my Concept 3 analysis why I think this idea is vastly overrated. In their discussion, S+M say "as long as you don't do it too often, these overbets won't cost you too much, and they will support you those times you make big bets with excellent hands." I think this is wrong. If a play costs you anything in the long run, it should be considered "too much," because you can just fold and lose nothing more. If you determine that a certain play is +EV, you should do it every time, not just occasionally. If it's -EV, never do it (except maybe in some extremely rare instances if you really know what you're doing). Something I forgot to mention about randomizing your play in my Concept 3 analysis is that if you ever make mistakes when you play poker (ie, make a play that is -EV), you are already randomizing your play. Don't make matters worse by adding extra mistakes to your game! Of course, I assume everyone makes mistakes, so this advice should apply to everyone; to some extent, human error automatically disguises your hands.

There's another, more obvious, explanation for why this concept's advice is bad. If you want to "disguise your overbets with excellent hands," the best way to do this is by overbetting with draws as semibluffs. The example in the book suggests occasionally overbetting with KQ on a board of Ks9s7c. This is going to force your opponent to fold most of the hands you can beat. When you are behind, you will be called or raised and have only about three outs. I would suggest simply value-betting KQ while overbetting with hands like T8 or flush draws as well as with your monster hands. Semibluffs are great because your opponents are likely to fold better hands than yours, but you have lots of outs if you get called. Neither of these advantages exist when you overbet with mediocre hand like KQ on this flop. Moreover, semibluffs actually do a better job of "supporting" your overbets with excellent hands, because if your opponent has KJ or KT, he might think about calling if he suspects you are on a draw. If he thinks you have at worst KQ, he will fold right away.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 15

After this post, I'll be one quarter of the way through the sixty concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by Sklansky and Miller.

Concept No. 15: Bet more than usual when your opponent likely has a hand that he thinks might be good.

Taken literally, it seems to me that Concept 15 is useless. A recurring problem I'm having with these analyses is that the concepts are worded so vaguely or figuratively as to lose any clear meaning. In these cases, in order to do my analysis, I feel obliged to parse the concepts into something that both makes some sense and could plausibly be what Sklansky and Miller were trying to say.

Let's look closely at concept 15 to see if we can glean something from it. It starts out "Bet more than usual when..." Okay, so this suggests that in "usual" cases, Sklansky and Miller assume that we will bet within a certain range of amounts, but that in some unusual cases (to be revealed at the end of the concept's sentence) we should be betting more. So far, so good. Let's look at the end of the sentence to find out what these unusual cases are: "... when your opponent likely has a hand that he thinks might be good." Hmm. This doesn't seem like an unusual circumstance. In fact, since we almost never know what our opponent is holding or thinking, it seems to me that it's almost always the case that it's at least somewhat likely that he thinks his hand might be good. Sklansky and Miller's unusual circumstance is actually the norm.

As worded, I don't think the concept makes enough sense to be analyzed. Let's try to salvage it by giving it some plausible interpretation that can be analyzed. Using clues from S+M's analysis of this concept, I think they are trying to say something like: "If you hold the nuts and you somehow know your opponent has a made hand (as opposed to a drawing hand), bet more than you would if you knew he was on a draw." I think this must be what S+M are trying to say; I'm looking back at the book at the chapter on "bet sizing" (p54), and this is essentially the advice given.

The standard here is still too vague because not all draws are alike. If I know my opponent has 21 outs going to the river, he has a 21/44 chance of winning. Then, ignoring implied odds, the correct play is to bet over 10.5 times the size of the pot and hope he makes a bad call (if you don't have this much, just go all-in). On the other end of the spectrum, my opponent might have only 1 out. Here (again ignoring implied odds), you need only bet over 1/43 of the pot. Suppose the pot is $430. In the first case you should be betting over $4515. In the second case you should be betting over $10. So there isn't really a "usual" amount to bet if you somehow knew your opponent was on a draw unless you knew how many outs he had.

Let's refine the advice a little further and say, "If you hold the nuts and you somehow know your opponent has a made hand (as opposed to a drawing hand), make a big bet of around the size of the pot." In the book, one example of a "normal" bet against a draw is 1/3 of the pot, so a pot-sized bet seems like it should qualify as big.

I still don't think this advice is good in general. First of all, you almost never actually know what sort of hand your opponent is holding, so it makes the whole argument moot. Supposing you could know that your opponent didn't have a drawing hand hand, the correct bet size would still depend on your opponent's hand range and your opponent himself. Some players get very suspicious of very big bets because they suspect they are bluffs. Against such players, it really is a good idea to be big with the nuts, but not all players are like this. You also need to consider your opponent's hand range. The stronger his range, the more you should bet. In particular, if your opponent's range is very weak, you should usually be betting almost nothing. This invalidates the advice that you should generally be making a big bet. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 14

I'm offering analysis of each of the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 14: Raise less often than you would in limit, because raising reopens the betting, and that's riskier to do in no limit.

I think this is good advice, but not entirely for the reason given. The advice actually holds even if you know your opponent will not re-raise you, such as when you are raising all-in. This is because in no limit your raise is almost certainly going to be larger (in proportion to the pot size) than in a limit game, which means your opponent will need a stronger hand in order to call you. If your opponent is only calling with stronger hands, then you can only profitably bet with even stronger hands. Thus, you need to be raising less often. (You may protest that since your opponent is folding more often, you should be bluffing more often. In fact, you do need to be bluffing more often, but only as a proportion of your raises. Since you are value-raising less often, your bluffing proportion automatically increases. In order to achieve a reasonable bluffing rate when making big bets, it's probably not actually necessary to bluff more often.)

The reason Sklansky and Miller give, namely that it's riskier to reopen the betting in no-limit than in limit, is also true. If you hold a hand that has some outs against possible raising hands in your opponent's range, it's sometimes best to just call in no-limit even if it would be better to raise in a limit game. This is partly because it's simply more expensive to be caught raising with a second best hand in a no-limit game, but another reason is that if you are raised, you can often call a small bet (such as in a limit game) with a drawing hand for +EV, but if you're forced to fold to a larger raise (such as in a no-limit game), this is necessarily 0 EV (actually -EV if you count the loss of the amount you just raised). Even if you can profitably call a large raise, it will not be as profitable as it would be if you only had to call a smaller amount.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 13

Okay, time to get back in the saddle and analyze another one of the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by Sklansky and Miller.

Concept No. 13: If you're thinking about raising, but you wouldn't know how to respond to an all-in reraise, usually you should either move in yourself or raise a smaller amount (that would allow you to fold easily to a reraise).

Here in Concept 13, Sklansky and Miller advise that we should try to avoid situations where we would not know how to respond to a reraise. This is essentially the same as saying that we should avoid a situation if it forces us into a difficult decision. As I said at the end of my analysis of Concept 7, "I think conventional Sklansky-wisdom is overly concerned with playing hands in a way that avoids difficult decisions." I've often heard the advice on TV, in writing, and from other players that it's good to put the other player "to the test" by betting in such a way that you expect they have a difficult situation. I consider this advice to be pretty dubious (players will often pass this test!), and I think that Sklansky is applying a corollary: if it's good to force your opponent into a difficult decision, it must be bad to force yourself into one.

As poker players, our primary job is to make decisions that maximize our Expected Value at every point. Thus, we can define a "difficult decision" as one where we have two or more options (eg calling or folding) that have approximately equal EV, thus making it hard to choose which is best. Since folding always has EV=0, any difficult decision that includes folding as a candidate will have EV of approximately 0. We cannot make money in situations where we have EV=0, and I suppose this is why Sklansky advises to avoid them. However, I disagree with the notion that these situations should be avoided. We have to make our decisions with incomplete information, and when we initially bet, we do not know that we are going to be raised. When the raise comes, we must re-assess the situation, accounting for the fact that our opponent's range is now stronger than it was a moment ago, before we knew he would raise. Sure, it's unfortunate your opponent has a stronger hand than you realized, but that does not invalidate the decision to bet (except in hindsight).

To take an example from limit poker, if you bet and are raised and aren't sure how to respond, this implies that your hand fell solidly into your range of "betting hands." You should certainly not be checking with such hands just to avoid a difficult situation.

The situation described here in Concept 13 is a bit different. It may even be technically true. Sklansky and Miller use the term "usually," so it's hard to disprove unless I can show that it is never correct. In fact, S+M contrive a situation in the book in which the advice does indeed hold; my question is whether their example is representative of the "usual" situation. This involves making arguments about how our opponents are most likely to respond to different sized raises with particular hands, and so, really, it's just a matter of opinion. It is probably possible to find the game-theory answer (where we assume our opponent plays optimally). Even this will not give a definitive answer as to what is the best play against actual human opponents, but I might come back to this later if I feel like doing some more hard-core game theory.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Propping the $500 Minimum Buy-In 5-10 NL

I'm back from my honeymoon, and I started my new job propping the $500 NL game at the Bike. When I left three weeks ago, the game was seldom being played, so I had the impression that I wouldn't really have much to do. To the contrary, I've played almost 30 hours already in four days. The game is pretty good - most players are too loose preflop, as usual, but other than that they play mostly okay. Of course, there are also some very good players and one or two terrible ones.

I'm a little unused to playing deep-stack no-limit. My job for the past year and a half had me playing mostly limit games. When I did play no-limit, it was always at a small buy-in for short periods of time, meaning I rarely had time to build up a deep stack to play with. So, for this week at least, I've been buying in for less than $1000 every day. There are some built-in strategic advantages to having a short stack, and I think it's necessary to be much better than your opponents in order to overcome that. Plus, I think having a short stack significantly reduces volatility. (I recently read an article in a magazine suggesting that having a short stack actually increases volatility! The claim was unsubstantiated, and I don't see how it could be right.)

I've lost three out of the four days so far, but the losses were minimal. Overall, I'm up about $600, plus my table hit a jackpot on Thursday and I won a $950 table share. (Yes, even the $500+ buy-in game has a jackpot now, to my chagrin. This has been the case for at least six months now.) I think once I get over my jet lag and become more comfortable with the game, I will have a big enough advantage on most of my opponents that I can start buying in for $1000, maybe more. On the other hand, I sometimes have issues with concentration, and that is likely to get worse as I get more comfortable with a game. I also think I may get sloppy about giving off tells if I get too comfortable. I'll have to keep an eye on this.

I hope to write my analysis of Concept 13 tomorrow. I basically disagree with it, but the analysis is complicated.