Monday, July 30, 2007

Good News and Bad News

I feel like most of my posts have been bad news lately so that's what I'll start with. I'm continuing to struggle and the more and more time that goes by without any progress in the winning department the more I'm starting to panic. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, but I'm sure it doesn't help that my confidence is approaching an all time low.

Taking emotion out of the picture is critical for playing your best and I'm doing a terrible job of controlling mine. Every time something significantly bad happens to me I'm getting upset and believe me, you can't play a few thousand hands a day without a boatload of bad stuff happening.

I tried shifting gears a little today and played a combination of about a dozen SNG's and multitable tournaments in addition to some cash games. I lost at everything.

I think the stress of these past few weeks along with the anticipation of having a baby any day now is really catching up with me. I'm starting to feel tense all the time. I've been pretty good about exercising and I think that's helping a little, but I'm really just not feeling great.

Now for the good news which requires a little background! One of the major effects of the anti gambling legislation from last September was the end of Neteller in the US. Neteller was the main intermediary between the banks and the gambling websites. With Neteller not only could you move money from your bank to the websites and vice versa electronically, but it also made it easy to move money between various websites. Also once you had your bank account verified you could make instant (I'm talking 60 seconds) deposits to any and every gambling website, even if you'd never used that site before. To my recollection in 2006 they processed over 5 billion dollars in transactions, 80% of which were for US customers.

Even though the law passed in September of 2006, the shit didn't hit the fan until January of this year. Pending legal action against the top Neteller executives (who had been charged with money laundering) somehow the US government froze most of their assets even though they are an international company. With no warning the company instantly stopped serving US customers and put all deposits, withdrawals, and transfers on hold indefinitely.

I had about $3,700 in my Neteller account when all of this happened. At the time I wasn't upset or worried at all, because they weren't really forthcoming about what was going on. I knew they fired about 3/4 of their workforce in one day so I figured there was going to be some delay in the processing. As the days turned into weeks I sent a few e-mails and basically got the reply that they still had my money and didn't know how long it was going to be before I got it. As the weeks turned into months I pretty much forgot about that money and figured if I ever got it back I'd be happy, but if I didn't it wouldn't be the end of the world.

Today, seemingly out of nowhere, I got the following e-mail:

The NETELLER Plc Group has announced that the distribution of funds to its US members will begin on July 30, 2007.

You are receiving this e-mail because our records reflect that you are a US member who may request funds from NETELLER. As of July 30, you will be able to make a request for funds on NETELLER’s website by signing in to your account. In the meantime, you should visit our online FAQs for more information about the distribution plan.

Please note that US members will not be able to request funds from the NETELLER website after January 26.

I caught this e-mail about 60 seconds after it had been sent and figuring that everyone and their mother would soon be logging on to their account to request their money I instantly signed on (luckily I knew where I'd written my log in info - you need a 12 digit account number, a 6 digit ID, and a password to log in so there was no way I could have remembered it) and requested my withdrawal. I'm hoping that they're going to process the requests in the order that they were received.

I got a little conflicting info on how long it will be before I actually get my money. At one point they said three business days, but they also said they'd be sending 94 million dollars to an untold number of US customers and there might be delays. Regardless it looks like I've got $3,700 coming to me in the next week or two. The timing couldn't be better!

I think I'm going to take a few days off. I just feel totally lost at the tables and I'm hoping a short break will allow me to cool off a little and somehow straighten myself out.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good News for Online Poker

Usually I like to write about whatever topic I've come up with for my entry and then tell you about my recent results. Today I'm going to lead with results. I finally had a reasonable winning day and picked up a little over $600 over the course of 2,500 hands. Normally this would be nothing more than a par for the course win, but since I've really had my ass handed to me over the past few weeks, it felt a little sweeter.

Now on to the good news for online poker. I'd read here and there recently that there were a few bills in the house having to do with online poker. More specifically, having to do with licensing and regulating online poker so it would be legal to own and operate a poker site based in the U.S. I didn't know too much about them, other than the fact that the first was introduced in April and that no matter what they said they were a potential massive blessing for all of Huffland.

Today I got an e-mail from 2004 World Champion Greg Raymer (actually it was from Pokerstars, but it had his name on it) which said the following:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) because we need your help. Congress is currently considering a bill which would clarify the legality of online poker in the United States by creating a regulatory and licensing framework. Please join me in supporting the "Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act".

The early support of many Congressional Representatives is crucial to the success of this bill. Please call your Representative Fortney Stark today in his Washington, D.C office 202-225-5065. Ask him to cosponsor H.R. 2046 before the August Congressional recess.

Your support is vital. Please take a moment and call today. If you wish to read more about this bill, or to get more information about the Poker Players Alliance, please visit www.pokerplayersalliance.org Thank you for your time, and your support of poker in the United States.

Sincerely,

Greg Raymer PPA Board of Directors WSOP 2004 World Champion and Member of Team PokerStars

I also got a similar e-mail from someone at full tilt and I wouldn't be surprised if I get a few more from other websites. The best news is that there's a chance that the bill could be making it's way through congress before the August recess!!! I thought it would be closer to a year before anything at all would happen so this is great news.

More good news is that the Poker Players Alliance is gaining strength everyday. About a year ago there were fewer than 100,000 members and currently there are over 615,000. I'm hoping that this group (of which I am a member) is going to become a significant lobbying force (former senator Al D'Amato is the chairman).

If you're interested in doing me a favor you can go to the PPA website and right in the middle they have a button you can click on to write your congressperson. If you click on it you'll find three links: one for each of two house resolutions and one where you can thank your congressperson for protecting your rights. Click on one or both of the links regarding the HR's and it will prompt you to enter your zip code so they can have the letter sent to your specific congressperson. Once you enter your zip code you can read over the letter that will be sent in your name, enter your address and e-mail and through the magic of the internet this message will zip off to a congressperson who represents you! For those of you without scruples (Cough, Brain Ridgeway, Cough) you might want to see about sending a pie or some other kind of bribe to add a little weight to your message.

I'm not sure what impact this might have, but it couldn't hurt and if you're anything but a total dunce (Cough, Ridgeway, Cough) it should take you about 3 minutes. I've heard in the past that for every letter that Time magazine gets they assume that 10,000 people have the same thoughts as the letter writer. Of course an electronically generated form letter is going to have about 1% of the impact of a snail mail letter, but I figured I'd ask for your help anyway.

Why would it be such a big deal for there to be fully licensed, legal and regulated poker in the US, you ask? Well let me tell you. First and foremost it would pump literally BILLIONS of dollars into play. The vast majority of people aren't willing to trust a company based in some country they've barely heard of with their money. They think (correctly) that if they website wanted to screw them over and take their money they'd have no recourse. If all of a sudden the MGM corporation opens a poker site they know that their money is safe.

Maybe more importantly the websites could advertise and tell people how awesome it is to be able to play poker in their own home for any amount of money from pennies to hundreds of thousands of dollars 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year.

The number of new players will skyrocket. People love to gamble, they love to compete and they love to think that they are better than other people at something that matters. Online poker gives people the chance to do all of those things. Of course all of these new players, no matter how smart or how good they think they are, will have 7 years less experience than I do. It will be like a bunch of dudes with swords charging at me when I'm holding one of those machine guns with the six spinning barrels that former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura used in Predator and current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used in Terminator 2.

Another benefit will be increased competition between the poker sites. Right now there are only a few big websites and while they have some level of competition it's not anything close to what we'd see if the American floodgates opened. Dozens of websites would offer crazy promotions as they clawed for market share and I would take advantage of all of them.

At a minimum it would be worth an extra $5,000 a month to me for these bills to go through congress. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Still Struggling

Yesterday I was determined to have a winning day. I dropped down a limit where playing for half the stakes I was hoping to run over the weaker players. I lost a few significant hands as soon as I sat down and spent the entire day playing from behind. Normally in a full day I try to play 3,000 hands. When that mark came and I found myself losing about $100 I decided to keep playing to try to book any kind of win. Around hand 4200 I found myself ahead $7 (yep, seven dollars) and I was prepared to quit. But I got a few good hands which I had to play right after. I lost them as well as a few others and by the time hand 4500 rolled around I was behind about $300 with nothing left in the tank. At that point I'd been playing a new hand (which might require a half dozen decisions or more) every 8.8 seconds for 11 hours (It actually took 12 hours because I took an hour for lunch). That's a real mental workout.

4,500 hands is a ton of hands. To put it in perspective, imagine that you had a fairly serious home game with your friends. Every Saturday you get together and play for 5 hours and since you're all paying attention, but you don't have a professional dealer it takes 3 minutes on average to play each hand. Remember someone has to shuffle and deal the cards every time in addition to playing out the hand. In this scenario you're looking at 20 hands an hour (if you played like they do on TV or in the movies it would be more like 10 hands an hour). If you never missed a Saturday (or a hand) it would take you more than 10 months to play 4,500 hands.

In the main event of the WSOP the winner of the main event played around 3,000 hands by my estimation after a week and a half of starting at noon and going until after 2 am on a daily basis.

The point is 4,500 hands is a long time in the poker world and as someone who had been a poker pro for 4 years now, I should be able to beat a bunch of second rate players over the course of 4,500 hands with any run of cards that isn't totally fucked. With the exception of maybe the first or second time I ever lost $300 in a day (6+ years ago), this was the most disappointing $300 loss I can remember. Even though it wasn't a major amount of money it still felt like a crushing defeat.

I played at the lower limit again today and after about 2,500 hands I managed to win $17. The good news is at least I broke my losing streak. The bad news is at that rate it's going to take me 82 days (with no days off) to get back what I lost in the preceding two days.

Actually the best news is that one of my strengths in bounce back. While I might be really feeling it after a big loss (or a string of losses), by the next morning I'm almost always back in a good frame of mind. That's probably because despite any complaining I might do about bad luck I have about as good a life and any reasonable person could ever hope for.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What It's Like

Imagine that you have a normal office job (this won't be so hard for some of you). You like your job and you feel like you do it pretty well (this will be more of a stretch for a few of you :). When you show your boss (Mr. Bossy) your work he tells you what a great job you've been doing. You are proud of your work.

Then one day you come into work and for no reason at all things have drastically changed. You feel like your work is the same, but when you show it to your boss he tells you it's crap. You are surprised, but are willing to accept that maybe you had an off day. So you work harder. But, still your Mr. Bossy isn't happy at all with your work. You try even harder, but if anything the results are even worse. To add insult to injury you notice that one of your coworkers Mick Moron who you were sure would be fired any day is getting loads of praise from Mr. Bossy. The company is going to give him a big raise and a promotion even though you know for a fact that your work is much better than his.

"Well," you think. "This is hard to put up with, but at least I'm still getting paid." WRONG! When you look at your check you discover that the company claims they've over paid you so not only are you not getting paid for the past two weeks, you now owe them $5,000! It sure seems like it would be hard to go back to work the next day when you have no idea if it's going to be fine and you're going to get paid or if it's going to be miserable and it's going to cost you even more.

In March 2006 I lost just over $11,000. I had one day where I actually won $10,000 and somehow I lost $21,000 over the other 30 days. That was by far the worst run of my poker career and certainly not a month I'd like to relive. These past two weeks have been the second worst run of my career. I sat down today after taking a few days off to try to regroup, feeling like I'd be fine with a break even day. Instead I lost $1,100. I can't remember the last time I was this frustrated.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Comment Response

My friend Mike left an interesting comment after my last post which read:

Hey Dave,

I think you probably know more about this than I do, but I'm pretty sure that it's statistically valid for "luck" to clump into cycles. Regardless of skill I think it would be impossible for any professional to play full time without slipping into the occasional slump. Even the top players in the world.

So, hopefully you can stay focused on your long term results. As long as you are able to reach your overall goals, I assume it's part of any up and down profession to save up during the feast and draw on that during the famine.

In the meantime, I wonder if any pros consider it a good idea to switch gears a little during apparent downturns? Maybe play some limit so that bad beats aren't so costly? Or play some tournaments which limit your risk to a fixed amount while offering you better payoffs for hitting? Maybe not big MTTs but a two or three table SnG? Even just for a day or two to break the rhythm a little, to a layman like me it seems worth considering. Is there a prevailing wisdom about that?

It's certainly true that every poker pro goes into slumps and part of the job is peaks and valleys. What's interesting is the people who we think of as "The best players in the world" have enormous swings in their fortunes because they're playing big multi table tournaments. These guys will probably have 9 or 10 losing months every year, but their wining months in most years will be so big that they more than make up for all the losing. I've had 3 losing months in my 48 as a poker pro and all of them have come on the heals of some major winning months. In every case I took some extra chances and more drastic risks in an effort to hit it big and it ended up costing me. I don't feel the least bit bad about it though, because part of improving is testing your limits.

As far as feast and famine goes, I feel like I've done a good, but not great job of putting away my winnings for a rainy day. It's hard to not spend a little more when you've been winning like crazy because it feels like it's going to continue that way forever. But I have been smart enough to never make any major purchases just because I had a big win (with the exception of my wife's engagement ring).

As far as switching gears goes, I think whenever you've been losing it's important to go back to whatever it is that you do best. I'm sure some people would wonder why wouldn't a pro always play what he was best at. The issue there is, the form of poker that's makes you the most money isn't always the one that's the most fun. The problem I'm having is I'm not sure what my best bet is anymore. I used to think it was SNG's, but my results over my last few thousand SNG's aren't great. On the other hand my NL cash game numbers over the past 4 months are very good, but I just can't seem to make it work lately. I can say for sure that I need to avoid the fluctuations with multi table tournaments (even though that's what I enjoy the most) and I have no business playing limit cash games for any serious amount of money online.

What's interesting is other good players go through phases where they play different games at different limits as well. If other pros decide that they're going to play 8-10 $2/$4 blind NL cash games every day at the same times as me for a month, even though I'll end up playing against well over a hundred opponents every day, having those two or three guys in all of my games (you can't dodge them if they're in every game!) can severely impact my bottom line. On the other hand if they all decide for whatever reason to all of a sudden start playing tournaments or bigger or smaller games, instantly my expectation goes up.

I decided to take today off to relax and regroup. Happily, since I've had a few nice months recently the immediate reserves we're topped off so even if I break even or lose a little bit for the rest of the month we won't have to dip in the major back up reserves which are all in the stock market.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Totally Stalled

I won about $200 yesterday, but I managed to lose $500 today. I was ahead $300 when I took my lunch break (about 2/3 of the way through my work day) and feeling like I'd turned the corner and was back on track. Then I came back and all of a sudden I couldn't win a hand. At one point I had $400 evaporate in the span of literally 45 seconds when I lost three significant hands on three different tables simultaneously. On one of them I was an 11 to 1 favorite when all the money when in on the turn, in another I was a 5 to 1 favorite on the flop and on the third there was only one card in the deck that would complete my flush draw and make my opponent a full house and that's the one that came on the river (if any other card comes at least I wouldn't lose all my chips and there were 8 that would have made me a winner).

It sounds like terrible luck, and it is, but at this point I'm starting to think that I'm doing something horribly wrong. I just can't seem to win. Like I mentioned in my previous post it makes no sense! I've been winning steadily since the middle of March when I switched to cash games, but for some reason I just can't make it happen lately. I'm trying to have a good attitude and tell myself that it's going to turn around. But after ten days of punishment it's hard to feel anything but frustrated and upset.

I'm sure part of the problem is I'm losing my composure much more quickly than I normally would. I do my best to not let it impact my play and for the most part I feel like I'm doing a good job, but there's no doubt that my emotions are not helping. Another downside is it sucks to end my workday feeling really pissed.

My goal tomorrow is to win $1. We'll start with that and see what happens.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Step Forward, two steps back

In the immortal words of Will Ferrel in the movie Zoolander, "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!" After winning $5,300 in the first 9 days of July without a losing day, all of a sudden I'm getting smoked every time I pick up the mouse. In the last 8 days I've dropped $3,300 playing the same way in the same games. It makes no sense!

The only explanation I have is I'm in the midst of a massive run of bad luck. Either that or on July 10th someone stole my brain and replaced it with a bowl of oatmeal. What I could really use (in addition to a stiff drink) is a total no brainer good day tomorrow. A day where I'm faced with almost no tough decisions, my cards are so good that I couldn't possibly screw it up and my opponents do a bunch of stupid shit that works to my advantage. I've had plenty of days like that in my career and what I really want is one of those days tomorrow. Not the next day, not on Saturday, but tomorrow! Because I'm getting really frustrated and not only is this bad run getting expensive, but it also makes working a miserable chore.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The World Championship of Onine Poker (WCOOP)

The WCOOP is the largest and most prestigious set of poker tournaments in online poker. Much like the WSOP the, WCOOP grows a little bit every year. When they started running the WCOOP in 2002 there were only a handful of events and first place in the main event was only $65,000. Two years ago, the first year that I played, there were 15 events and last year there were 18 with a main event first prize of over $600,000. This year there will be 23 tournaments (starting on September 14th) with buy ins ranging from $215 on up to $5,200. Here is a link to the full schedule of events.

I'm not sure how much I'm going to invest in this years WCOOP or how many events I'm going to play. Some of it will depend on how my results are between now and the middle of September and we'll have to see how having a new baby around impacts our finances. If someone dropped $100,000 in my lap right now, I'd play 15 events with buy ins totaling about $8,000. If I don't have anyone investing, I'll probably play 7 events with buy ins totaling around $2,000.

I expect that other people will have some interest in betting on me, even though I haven't exactly brought home the bacon for my backers in the past. Since I'm interested in playing as many events as possible, I'll gladly except backing from anyone for pretty much any amount. If you're someone out there like Tom (Hey Tom) and you want to take a $100 shot so that reading this blog is more interesting for a few weeks in September, send me an e-mail (wesdave1279@yahoo.com) and you can join the team of people with financial interest my 2007 WCOOP.

Unlike the WSOP where I've pretty much gotten my ass handed to me, I've done pretty well in the WCOOP in the past. I've made the money in about 20% of the events I've entered and I've had a few where I was knocking on the door of the big money when I got eliminated. It's important for my long term career to keep trying with these big tournaments and if I keep trying eventually I'll have another really big hit like I did in August 2005. It would also be nice to win some money for the poor saps who've been striking out along with me for the past few sets of big tournaments. I'll have more on the WCOOP and my plan when the time gets a little closer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thinking Long Term

I am terrible at thinking long term. When I'm having a losing day (or sometimes even a losing hour) it gives me almost no comfort to think back on all the success I've had in the past and all the money I've won in my lifetime. I want to win now and as soon as the dollars hit my account I feel like that's where they should stay. Lately, I've been avoiding looking at my account balance as I play during the day so while I usually have a sense of how I've been doing, I don't know exactly how much I'm winning or losing. This seems to keep me in a better frame of mind and stops me from sweating every dollar. Even though I know I shouldn't look, it's almost impossible to stave off curiosity for more than a few hours.

Today, I had a somewhat shocking and perplexing day. After starting the month off with 7 straight good winning days (and two days off), I had my worst day of the year today. Where the hell did this run of terrible luck come from? I don't feel like I played any different today although I'm sure I made my share of mistakes. For the most part it just seemed like every time I made a good hand, someone else made a great one. Unfortunately, making big lay downs isn't one of my strengths and I really got punished my making second best hands.

At the start of July if you told me I'd be winning as much as I am for the month at this point, I gladly would have taken it. But, since I had so much more 8 hours ago it really doesn't make me feel much better to think about the fact that I'm still having a very good month so far. It's critical that I book a win tomorrow even if it's a small one otherwise my morale is going to start suffering and when that happens it becomes really difficult to play all day and play well. It seems like whenever I go into a day thinking that I lose 2 or 3 big hands in the first 10 minutes of my day. Hopefully, tomorrow will be the start of new streak.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

This and That

One of the things that sucks about my job is I don't get holidays off. I read an article in the paper the other day that said that most people in France get 20 f-ing holidays a year on top of whatever other vacation they get. Lucky bastards! With the exception of the major holidays, I usually discover that I'm in the midst of a holiday at 1:00 p.m. when I check to see how our stocks did and I see that the market was closed.

Today it took me a few minutes to figure out why there were twice as many games running as there would be on a normal Wednesday. Of course, almost everyone was home from work and what better way to kill some time than with a little online poker. I've learned over the past few years that the 4th of July is one of the days when the total nut balls come flying out of the wood work. With the exception of the day after Thanksgiving, you'll find more people who don't have a clue what the hell they are doing playing poker on the 4th. While it makes the games a little better, it also makes them more volatile and a little more stressful. At the very least I hope the other regular players got their bankrolls beefed up today with a bit of extra dough so they can slowly lose it back to me in the coming weeks.

In online poker ban news, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a huge article that took up 3/4 of the front of the technology section a few days ago. What was great about it was based on how the article read it seemed like the paper was in favor of fully legal online gambling and that anyone who opposed it was a freedom hating idiot. It wasn't until close to the end of the article that they even mentioned the reasoning behind the ban and they did it in a lackluster way. I've discovered that the most recent rallying cry of the Poker Players Alliance as other opponents of the ban as well as the congressmen who've written bills to repeal the ban is "Adult Americans should be able to spend their money however they want." Makes perfect sense to me. Apparently the first bill (I think there are actually a few) to repeal the ban and make online poker totally legal and regulated in the U.S. was submitted in April and is in committee , but there wasn't any mention of when the house will vote on it.

I don't want to get too riled up and go on and on, but I will mention one more thing about the ban. One of the main things that the opponents of online poker say over and over is that young people are the real victims. They're damaging their financial future and losing what little money they have gambling and the government needs to save them. I've read this a few places and I always think that credit cards are 10 times worse than gambling. How many people do you know who've lost any significant amount of money gambling? Probably not too many. Now how many people do you know (especially young people) who have bought a ton of shit they can't afford using their credit card and spent thousands of dollars on interest in the following years? Almost everyone falls into that trap at some point, but I don't see the government trying to save us all from ourselves by making it hard to get a credit card.

Now that I have my little rant out of the way I can tell you I actually had a pretty nice day today winning just under $500. What makes it all the sweeter is I was losing over $700 at one point early in the day. So far July is looking nice.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Strong Poker Day

The system I've been using over the past few months is pretty simple. I've made a few adjustments here and there and found that my best bet seems to be playing in $2/$4 blinds games, buying in for $125 (the max buy in is $400 and that's what the majority of the other players do), and leaving if I get my stack up over $200. There are usually 10-15 games running at the $2/$4 limit and after being out of a game for 30 minutes you can rejoin a game you've already played in and buy in for any amount (If you wand to return earlier than 30 minutes you're forced to buy in for at least the amount you left with).

Normally there are plenty of games going, but to make sure I don't end up on a waiting list for a game I've just been in I make a note on my dry erase board of the time and the table name every time I leave a game. Usually I've got two or three names on my board and sometimes if things are going really well I'll have 4 or 5 tables that I've left within 30 minutes. Today I looked over at my board during a crazy hot stretch and saw that I'd left TEN tables in a twenty minute span and even more amazingly I had at least $250 in all of them when I got up.

When I stopped for lunch today I'd played 1,800 hands and I was up about $50. I played another 1,200 hands and finished the day ahead $1,700. It was a sweet run and a great day overall. Also if you look at the post below you can read an article I wrote for Cardschat.com (it's not up yet) which explains a little more of the logic behind buying in short.

How Much Should I Buy in for in a No Limit Cash Game?

The vast majority of online no limit cash games have a maximum buy in, a minimum buy in and what amounts to a suggested buy in. When you sit down there are usually two check boxes: one that conveniently allows you to buy in for the maximum (usually 100 times the big blind) and one where you can type in another amount. The “other amount” area usually has a number that’s equal to 60 big blinds pre-entered which the websites have put in as a suggested amount that you buy in for. Of course if you try to buy in for a minuscule amount you’ll be kindly informed that you are below the minimum which is almost always 20 times the big blind.

So which amount is right and additionally should you leave if you hit a certain amount? The answer is the same as the answer to many other poker questions; it depends. Some players will have the best results buying in for the maximum and others will have better results buying in for less. Some players should hit the road when they reach a certain amount and others should never get up because they’ve accumulated a given number of chips. The important part is to do some critical thinking about what your strengths and weaknesses are and decide what works best for you.

Conventional wisdom says that you should buy in for the maximum and accumulate as many chips as you can in an effort to have every other player covered. The thinking here is that when you get that big hand that you’ve been dreaming about and someone else makes a slightly worse hand (or tries an ill-advised bluff) you’ll make the most you could possibly make. The main disadvantage is sometimes you’ll be the one with the second best hand that’s tough or impossible to fold and you’ll end up losing more than if you had fewer chips. The questions is, will there be more times that you double up or take an opponents entire stack than times that you lose all of your chips or allow an opponent to double up?

There are other advantages to having a huge pile of chips in front of you. While it’s nice to have people bluff at you when you’ve got a great hand, in general it’s easier to beat opponents who straightforwardly bet their good hands and check their weak ones. When you have a ton of chips your opponents will be less likely to bluff at you because they’ll think you can afford to call them down. On the other side of the coin, your bluffs will be more effective on earlier betting rounds because even if you’re betting relatively small amounts, your opponents know that in order to call you all the way down they might have to put in more chips than they want to. Frequently they’ll decide it’s not worth it and give up when they may have called you down if you had fewer chips.

Another strategy is to buy in for a smaller amount to limit your risk. In the old days before online poker, if you were winning you’d be stuck with whatever amount you had in front of you since you couldn’t take chips off the table. Now there are so many games that if you want to, you can leave one game if you’re ahead and immediately buy into another for a lesser amount. For example, if you decide that it makes sense for you to always have between 40 and 70 big blinds, you can buy in for 40 and if you find yourself with more than 70 you can leave that game and buy into another for 40. The main advantage of this strategy is limiting your fluctuations. No one terrible hand is going to wipe out an entire great day’s worth of profit or put you in a huge hole.

Of course there are other advantages for buying in small. You’ll find that it’s easier to get paid off on your good hands. Since your opponents will know they’re only liable for the amount you have in front of you, often times they’ll take ill-advised risks. Furthermore, many players have the perception that if you haven’t bought in for the maximum then you must be a weak player. Anytime your opponents have misconceptions about your abilities, it works to your advantage. It can be less stressful when you have less on the line and it can make those small pots and blind steals seem more significant.

Deciding how much to buy in for requires that you look at your strengths and weaknesses. If one of your strengths is making big lay downs, then having more chips is less dangerous than if you’re a player who’s never folded top pair in your life. Maybe chopping out a bunch of small pots with well timed bluffs is what you do best. In that case there’s no reason to open yourself up to more risk by having a big stack. If you go on tilt every time you lose a huge pot, you’ll be better off having fewer chips and keeping the pots smaller. While half the players in every game think they’re the best player in the game, actually being the best player in the game means you’ll be better off with more chips. Another factor in this decision is the size of your bankroll in relation to what size games you find interesting. You can play in bigger games with a smaller bankroll if you buy in small.

If you buy in for the maximum is it still possible to have so many chips that you should get up? Sure it is. Most players have a range in which they feel comfortable. Maybe that range is 100 to 200 times the big blind for you or maybe it’s anything up to 500 times the big blind. When you start playing hands differently than you would strictly because you’re worried about losing all of the chips in front of you than it’s best to get up and jump into another game for a lesser amount. For example, if you’ve decided that raising to 3 times the big blind when you’re first in with pocket aces is the best way to play them and all of a sudden you decide to open raise to 6 times the big blind because you’re worried about taking a bad beat, you’ve got a problem. You don’t want to give up equity because having so many chips is making you nervous.

When you look at a typical online no limit game you’ll find that most players buy in for the maximum, but many of them would be better off buying in for less. Don’t let your ego get the best of you and buy in for more than the optimal amount just because you feel like you have to. On the other hand, if you’re used to buying in for less, maybe you’d be better off buying in for the maximum. The important thing is to think about why you’re buying in for the amount you do. If you’re not sure how much is right for you (and probably even if think you’re sure) try experimenting with various amounts and let your results dictate what you should do in the future.

Monday, July 02, 2007

June Recap and July Goals

June turned out to be a pretty good month. I effectively won the same amount that I did in May (which was my best month so far this year) but I took the first 5 days off for my trip to the WSOP and another 3 days for our baby shower weekend extravaganza. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that making the same amount of money while working 3/4 the time is a good thing. I ended up falling a little short of my goals, but ended up playing about 45,000 hands for the month.

In July, I'll once again try to hit 60,000 hands in a month. My wife Jen and I are due to have our first baby on August 2nd so there's a fair chance that I'll get derailed by an early baby arrival. If the baby comes in early August I should be able to hit my target without too much trouble. I'm a little disappointed in myself that I can't seem to quite hit the hand goals that I've been setting for myself, but I'm pleased that I've been doing better than I thought I might be able to do in terms of dollars per hand. Hopefully I can continue to improve on both an knock out a $10,000 month.