Friday, October 8, 2010

Profit Graphs

I've decided to record my progress in graph form so that it is easy to track, the page can be found here. Things continue to go well in my second attempt at the $20 + $2 level and after blowing my bankroll I'm actually back in the green overall. Clicking on the graphs will take you to a full sized image.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Two Most Important Concepts in Texas Holdem Tournament Play

Everyone is looking for a silver bullet when it comes to playing poker, this isn't it. This is an explanation of the two most important concepts in no limit holdem tournament play.

1. The Raiser's Edge

It's no secret that aggression is one of the keys to success, but why? The answer is fold equity. When you raise there is a chance that you will take down the pot right there, that chance is your fold equity - fold equity in tournament play reaches a premium as you close in on the bubble. Some players will only play the top 5% of hands at this stage which gives you 95% fold equity. So why not just raise every hand? The reason you shouldn't raise every hand (unless you have a massive stack) is that your opponent's fold equity reduces every time you raise because your table image changes.

This is a very simple concept to grasp and apply - simply work out the fold equity you have against the opponents left in the hand, take the lowest value and adjust it for position by removing 5% per player to act behind you. Once you have this value worked out - let's call it X - you can then profitably raise with the top X percent of hands. If you don't win the hand right there you will get a chance to make a continuation bet on the flop which takes advantage of the extra fold equity you gained by raising preflop. Heck, there's even a chance that you might have the best hand.

2. The Non-Linear Value of Tournament Chips

This concept is slightly less intuitive than the last, but it is far more powerful - I can credit the dramatic change in my results to an understanding of this concept. In a cash game the value of your chips is always known and the value of a single chip is fixed. However, in a tournament chips do not come with a particular value; the expected equity of your chips can be determined by working out the probabilities that you will finish in a particular place, then multiplying these probabilities by the prize money for that place and adding these values together. For example, if there are 5 evenly skilled players left and each player has 1000 chips there is a 20% chance you will come 1st, a 20% chance you will come second and so on. Your current expected equity if the payout structure is $90/$54/$36 (.5/.3/.2) would be (.2 x 90)+(.2 x 54)+(.2 x 36) =$36. Simple when the chip stacks are even. Let's mix it up a bit by keeping 5 players but varying the chip stacks. Now it gets complex - with stacks of 2000, 1000, 750, 750 and 500, without going in to the math too deep the expected value for each stack is $58, $38.5, $30.9$30.9 and $22. The thing to note is that the second players chips haven't changed - he has 1000 chips in both examples yet the value of those chips did change.

Let me explain this concept further with another example:

9 man $20+$2 SnG
All players start with 1500 chips
All players are evenly skilled
The payout structure is 90/54/36
Your expected equity starts at $19.8

Suppose you win the first pot and now have 1600 chips. Your expected equity is now $21.17 - those extra 100 chips made your chip stack worth $1.37 more! Now suppose you win the next hand worth another 100 chips, your expected value is now $22.36 - only an extra $1.19 cents more.

You can clearly see that the expected value of your chips is not linear. The second 100 chips was worth 18 cents less than the first 100 chips. Each chip you earn will increase that expected equity by less than the last chip you earnt, in other words every chip you earn is worth less than the last. The flipside of this is that every chip you lose is worth more than the last.

Now, let's assume the game has progressed to the following situation:

4 players left
You have 1500 chips
All players have 3000 chips
Your expected equity is $24.93

Notice that even though you have the same sized chip stack as before, your expected equity has increased by over $5! The expected equity return from 1500 chips increases as the number of players gets lower.

One final consideration is this, you always stand to lose more than you can gain. Assume that there are 9 players, you have 2000, 7 players have 1500 and the last player has 1000. Your expected equity is $25.81, the small stack goes all in and you call; you stand to either gain 1000 chips or lose 1000 chips so you should be happy with a coin flip right? Wrong. Those 1000 chips you stand to lose are worth $12 in expected equity and the 1000 chips you stand to gain is only worth $10.7 in expected equity despite the fact that you one player closer to the money.

You're probably wondering how you are meant to perform these complex calculations at the poker table - the good news is you don't have to. Once you understand the concept of non-linear chip values you should be able to deduce the following guidelines to No-Limit Holdem Tournament play:
  • Because you always stand to lose more than you will gain you need to adjust your normal pot and implied odds calculations. Play tighter and chase less.
  • Call less and raise more. This is re-enforced by the Raiser's Edge concept discussed above. Most players will make calls with negative expected returns because they don't account for the non-linear value of tournament chips.
  • The players with the most to lose are medium stacks playing against big stacks, as a medium stack you should avoid this without premium holdings. As a big stack you should play aggressively.
  • If you believe you are more skilled than your opponents, your chips are worth even more in expected value. Treasure them.
  • As a big stack it can be beneficial to allow a small stack to hang around so you can beat up on the medium stacks for a longer period of time.
  • Never forget that you always stand to lose more than you gain when getting involved in a hand so you need even more of an edge than you normally would in a cash game. Only play from position, only play when the implied odds are worth it, only play when you think you have the best hand.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Downswing Pt. II

Previously I discussed mainly what a downswing was and how to handle bad beats, only briefly touching on the concept of tilt.

Now I want to discuss tilt in-depth as it is something that has been a factor in several of my recent losses, once we know what it is i'll discuss how to overcome it.

Tilt is a tricky concept, it has nothing to do with the cards themselves and everything to do with the mindset of the person playing the cards - a robot, unless programmed to, would never be on tilt. The difference between the human and the robot is of course emotion, so our definition of tilt can be when our emotions affect our ability to make sound decisions. It's important to note that both positive and negative emotions are equally likely to induce tilt.

So how do we overcome it? The easiest method of treatment is prevention. Don't let yourself tilt in the first place, Poker is a game of incomplete information and you need to learn to be aware of your own thought processes so you can recognize when your emotions are starting to take over from logic when it comes to filling in the blanks. Once you've identified this you need to ask yourself why your emotions are playing up and address the issue so that they are put back in check before too much damage is done to your bankroll. It might be a nasty suck out or a string of games where you fail to cash, the drunk guy next to you who just won't shut up or it could even be the fact that you've had a great session and you're feeling a little bit elated so start to loosen up.

If you've failed to recognise the signs that you're beginning to tilt and now you're emotions are running your game it's time to just stop. My recent downswing took me from $100 to -$200 which is a swing of about 15 buy-ins at the $20+$2 level. Towards the end of the swing I noticed that I was playing far more hands than I normally would and bleeding chips early on leaving myself in terrible positions for later in the tournament. I was being arrogant and thinking that I could out-play everyone at the table, I was tired of playing tight against players that were playing so badly but all I really ended up doing was lowering my game to their level.

Games Played - 64
ROI - -8.36%
Winnings - -$176 USD

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Know your enemy

To play Texas Hold'em well means consistently making the correct decision: Check, Fold, Call or Raise. To know which option to choose you need to take in to account the following:
  • Your hand strength
  • Your opponents hand strength
Yes, poker is that simple. I assume you already know how to calculate your own hand strength, if not - read this first. To calculate your opponents hand strength you need to take in to account the following variables:
  • Position
  • Previous betting patterns
  • Your table image (advanced)
  • Your opponents table image
  • Your stack size
  • Your opponents stack size
This post will focus on identifying your opponents table image and how to exploit that image.

There are four main types of players that you are likely to encounter in the average  low to mid stakes single table Sit and Go tournament:

The Tight Aggressive

The rock. The mouse. The A-B-C player. These are by far the most common opponents you will come up against. They play based solely on their hand strength and are unable to adapt their style to the situation. This is the easiest player to spot at the table - they don't play many hands but when they do, they play them aggressively. It's unlikely to see this player coming in to a pot with out raising or re-raising first. They often play from position and almost always have the hand that they are representing.

While this player might seem daunting, the truth is that they aren't difficult to play against at all. The fact that they play such a straight forward game makes them the easiest player to read because their hand range is always so narrow and they never bluff. Their tight play also makes them the perfect target for blind stealing. I've won many tournaments off the back of repeatedly stealing blinds from tight players, the one time they play back at you is easy to let go because you know they are holding the goods. In the most extreme cases I've seen a tight player fold himself right out of the game by folding until all he has left is enough to cover the big blind.

While this is a solid style of play and an effective method of cleaning up the donkeys early on in a tournament, a successful player needs to be able to change between styles as the situation requires.

The Tight Passive

This player is similar to the tight aggressive but has looser starting hand requirements and lesser aggression. You will find them often calling raises from Tight Aggressive players out of position with hands like QHeartsJSpades. Their post flop game isn't any better; they will check/fold with nothing, check/call with a draw or a pair and check/raise with a straight or two pair. Their weaknesses are essentially the same as the Tight aggressive except this player will lose chips to lose calls and is rarely ever around long enough to bother worrying about.

The Loose Passive

The loose passive players are the real donkeys at the table - the genuine fish who seem like they have no idea of how to play poker. They'll play more pots then they don't and can be hard to read due to their wide hand range. Often the only way to win a pot against such a player is to actually have the best hand, there's no bluffing these guys as their calling standards are so low that more often than not you'll be looked up by mid-pair and made to look foolish.

A Tight Aggressive style is extremely effective against Loose Passive players.

The Loose Aggressive

The maniac. By far the most dangerous player to be in a pot against. What makes these players dangerous is that their hand ranges are as wide as the Loose Passive players, making them hard to read, and they combine this with aggression making the pots they play large - one wrong move and your stack can take a large dent.

There is a fine line between genius and madness and it can often be hard (and costly) to tell which side of it the players in this category fall in to. More often than not they tend to self destruct at some stage over the course of a Sit and Go when they try one too many crazy bluffs, but on the odd occasion they can end up gathering a large stack and running the table - this style is extremely effective against the tighter styles - especially when the number of players gets low and the blinds get high.

The general composition of a 9 handed $20 + $2 SnG is on average this:

The Tight Aggressive - 6
The Tight Passive - 1
The Loose Passive - 1
The Loose Aggressive - 1

Games Played - 11
ROI - 33.88%
Winnings -
$82 USD

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Don't Bite the Hand That Feeds

If your bank mistakenly gave you money on a regular basis and then one day, also mistakenly, took a percentage of that money back; how would you react? Would you storm the bank, call the manager a stupid donkey and then stand out on the street screaming 'hee haw' at the top of your lungs after you were ejected? Or would you just keep your head down, smile, and keep collecting cheques?

The lesson is simple, don't berate the fish. They are your meal ticket and the game would be a lot tougher without their dead money on the table.

Berating a fish has several negative consequences, while it might make you feel a little bit better in the short term it lets the table know you are on tilt, it lets the table know that you are an ABC player with no imagination who can't read an opponents hand range and worst of all - it might even cause the fish swim away. A much more rewarding strategy is to smile and wait for him to make that same weak call again. Remember - Sharks don't argue with fish, they eat them.

After my time off I was hesitant to dive straight in to the $20 + $2 games, but decided I had to be confident or else I'd already lost. Only two games so far but the early signs are good with one first place.

$20+$2 - 9 man SnG:

Games Played - 2
Winnings - $46 USD

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Thanks to my ever reliable ISP i've been without internet for 3 weeks; consequently, i haven't been able to play poker for 3 weeks either.

What i have done is used my time off to quantify the goals that i've made and work out a plan to get me from where I am now to where i want to be. Using a 10% ROI as a guide, I can make 7.5 USD per hour by playing two $50 + $5 tables at a time (roughly adjusted for the fact that a single game actually takes about one hour and twenty minutes). My goal is to reach or exceed that level of income by April 28th 2012.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Money or the Bag?

After treading water for quite some time I finally hit a lucrative upswing running 1 - 1 - 1 - 2 - 6 - 6 - 1, I'm now in the following situation:

Games Played - 163 
ROI - 9.93%
Winnings - $196 USD

And I'm now faced with another tough decision - the money or the bag?

I could choose the money, cash some or all of my profit out and buy something nice. This is a good way to keep focussed and remind you of why you play; or I could go for the bag - reinvest my money at a higher buy-in with the hope of being able to produce a bigger return.

I choose the bag. From now on I'm going to be playing the $20+$2 9 man Sit and Go tournaments until such time as I need to drop back down to the $10+$1 level to rebuild my bankroll or I've built up enough profit to move up another rung in the ladder.