Saturday, December 08, 2012

Open Faced Chinese Poker Strategy - 10 Tips

If you do a search for "open faced chinese poker payouts" you'll find my last post is the third hit on Google (it was second for a while). I consider it no small feat to show up on the first page of Google so I figured I'd shoot out another, more complete post about OFCP now that I've had a chance to play it a few times.

The Rules and Payouts

Here is a brief recap of how to play from cardplayer.com

Like regular Chinese (high), Open-Face Chinese is structured into three hands of descending value, 1. A five-card hand in the back (the strongest) 2. A five-card hand in the middle and 3. A three-card hand “up top.” If your middle is stronger than your back hand or your top is stronger than your middle, you “foul.” Open-Face Chinese can be played with two to four players and begins with five cards dealt to each player. The player left of the button places the five cards anywhere in the back, middle and top (not to be moved at any other point in the hand). Afterwards, each player is dealt one card at a time, starting from the left of the button, until 13 cards are dealt to each player. The goal is to make the strongest possible hand, accumulate as many royalties as possible without fouling.
The widespread royalty system gives 20 points in the back for a royal flush, 10 points for a straight flush, eight for quads, six for a full boat, four for a flush, and two for a straight. If any of those hands are achieved in the middle, the royalties are doubled. On top, you get one point in royalty for every pair over sixes up to nine points for aces.

The way we play you also get 10 for trip deuces up front adding one unit for each rank on up to 22 for trip aces.


Left out of this description are a couple of important points. First of all, you compare your front hand, middle hand and back hand to that of each of your opponents and if you beat an opponent in 2 of 3 spots you win 1 unit. If you win all 3 or the other person has a foul hand and you have a legit hand you win 6 units. Why 1 and 6 and not 2 and 4 or 1 and 2? It turns out there needs to be a strong disincentive you fouling.

Secondly, the player to the left of the button sets his (or her) 5 cards and exposes them, before the next player sets his cards and so on. This is important because as you see more cards exposed it gets easier and easier to decide which way to set your initial hand.

The third key point is the player to the left of the button resolves payment with the other players first and then the second player and so on. This is important because if the first player has a foul hand he pays everyone and then his hand is mucked. Imagine that all 4 players have a foul hand. The first player pays players 2, 3, and 4 while the second player would only pay players 3 and 4, and player 3 would only pay player 4. Player 4 pays no one and collects 18 units.

10 Strategy Tips!

So far the only strategy I've seen in print is "avoid fouling your hand." This game is very complex and I'm sure you could write a whole book about it, but here are a few tips that go beyond, don't foul.

#1 - Throw that basic advice out the window! You have to take some risks. If you're too afraid of fouling your hand, you'll never collect on the big payouts. As in many other forms of poker, in the long run playing it safe is not safe at all.

#2 - When you're in first position focus more on making a legit hand, and take more risks when you're in later position. If you foul in early position you have to pay everyone at least 6 units. In later position you'll collect from other players with foul hands in front of you even if you foul. Don't take this idea too far - you still have to go for it in early position if the situation warrants it, but if you have a decision to make, keep this in mind.

#3 - Rarely start with a pair up top even if it's one that pays. For smaller pairs the payouts are worth the risks and for larger pairs, it's just too hard to put together a fair hand when you start with a pair up top.

#4 - Straights underpay. It's usually not worth risking a foul hand to go for a straight in the back. Of course if you end up with 4 big cards to a straight, you want to get them in back, but don't risk paying everyone else 6 in an effort to collect a 2 unit royalty.

#5 - Even though you don't want to start with pairs up front, you're best chance of collecting a royalty over 6 is with a big pair up front. Don't be a pussy!

#6 - Realize that if you're playing four handed and.there is only 1 card left in the deck that makes your hand, you have a 25% chance of getting it (assuming all players have been dealt and even number of cards to that point). Someone has to get it right? It doesn't feel right to look at a stack of 32 cards with only one in there that helps you and think you're going to make your hand 1/4 of the time, but that's how it works.

#7 - The other math is more complicated. Let's say there are 3 cards left out of 12 that make your hand. What are the chances of hitting (playing 4 handed)? You'll get three of those cards. On the first card you have a 3/12 chance of hitting. On the second card you're chances are (3/11)*(1-3/12) and on the third card you're chances are (3/10)* (1-((3/11)*(1-3/12)+ 3/12)). Kind of a mess right? Add those three chances up and you get 61.8%. The point here is that the math is not super simple and it's not like hold'em where you can memorize a 8 or 10 sets of odds and have a mostly complete picture of the math. Maybe I'll do more math in a later post!

#8 - Be aware of situations where you can make a fair hand and still get scooped by everyone. There's no reason to focus on making a fair hand if you're just going to lose to everyone else anyway. Sometimes you have to do things that are very risky in order to give yourself any chance at all.

#9 - Be aware of situations where it looks like multiple other players are on the way to fouling. In these spots cancel your plans to go for the royalties and make a hand that is fair.

#10 - You're front hand is the garbage depot. If you're unsure how to set your first 5 cards, lean towards none up front or your lowest card up front.

Bonus! Take your time and be aware of the cards that are out before you make any decisions.

Comments

If you agree or disagree with any of these concepts, sound off in the comments. Some discussion will help us all improve!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Open Faced Chinese Poker

I've recently heard about a new game - Open Faced Chinese Poker - that sounds awesome. In regular Chinese Poker each player gets 13 cards and you split them into a 5 card back hand, 5 card middle hand and a 3 card front hand with the back needing to have a higher poker rank than the middle and the middle needing to have a higher value than the front. Win 2 of 3 for a win and 3 of 3 for a scoop which pays double.

My friends and I used to play this game as a way to kill time, but many of the big name poker pros have been known to play for big stakes. Another wrinkle is royalties. With royalties a player collects for meeting certain conditions like a flush in each of the three hands, or any quads or whatever.

In Open Face, 5 cards are dealt to each player and set. Then the other 8 to each player are dealt 1 at a time with a player choosing which hand gets which cards and tons of royalties - A straight or better pays in the back hand (2 units for a straight, 4 for a flush, 6 for a full house, 10 for quads, 15 for a straight flush, 20 for a royal flush) trips or better in the middle and a pair or better in the front with the top payouts (e.g. a Royal Flush in the middle or trip aces up front) paying 40 betting units.

Here is short video about the game http://www.cardplayer.com/cptv/channels/3-strategy/poker-videos/4917-poker-strategy-how-to-play-open-faced-chinese-poker

I have no fucking clue about the strategy, other than avoid fouling your hand at all costs. If you end up in a spot where you are down to the last card and can't place it legally, you get scooped by everyone (which is worth 6 units, not 2) and pay all royalties.

Tomorrow my poker savvy friends are coming over and we're going to play 4 handed. If I'm able to come up with any strategy tips I'll let you know.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Playing More than Just Hold'em

A few years ago I started player HORSE (a mix if Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, 7 card Stud and 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or better) when Pokerstars established a nightly $109 buy in tournament with a $5,000 guarantee. This tournament always went off with either 48 or 40 players meaning there was always $200 or $1,000 added to the prize pool by Pokerstars in order to meet the guarantee. This seemed too good to pass up. The first time I played this tournament I won and out of the first 5 times I played I had another 1st and a 2nd place finish (clearly there was some running hot involved here) as well.Eventually they dropped the guarantee to $3,000 but not before I personally punished them on it.

A couple of other big items on my poker resume came in HORSE tournaments as well: 1) My second biggest win ever was $37,500 for finishing 4th of 444 in a $1,000 HORSE tournament and 2) I was about 90 minutes from day 3 of the $3,000 HORSE event at the 2009 WSOP when I finished 28th of about 450 in the most loaded with big name pros field I've ever faced.

So I wasn't exactly out of my element when I sat down to play $6/$12 Omaha Hi-Lo at the Oaks last night (oh how times have changed!). Since my last post I had a nice win followed by a 4 figure loss and I was in the mood to play smaller stakes and book a win just to get the momentum back in the right direction. I discovered that my opponents all either knew the basics or knew nothing about how to play Omaha.

In Omaha you get 4 cards, which can go together in 6 possible combinations of two cards (you must use exactly two cards from your hand and exactly 3 from the board of community cards). This allows the really bad players to almost always find something they like about a hand and it also means that it's much more common to make a literally unbeatable hand. When you put these two together you get a lot of loose action where many people are calling often, but only raising when they have the nuts (and raising close to 100% of the time they have the nuts).

I seemed to be the only person at the table capable of pushing the 2nd or 3rd nuts when it was obvious that no one had the nuts or folding the 2nd or 3rd nuts when someone raised because it was one of the 5 people at the table would only raise the absolute nuts. It was a fabulous game.

I played for about 4 hours and with a very average run of cards booked a $200 win. But I also got a nice reminder that I have a lot of knowledge locked away that's still there and still has value. I can still get it done at the Omaha table and I'd bet I can still get it done playing HORSE or PLO or 2-7 triple draw or any game you'd find in a poker room...OK maybe not Badugi, but that hasn't really caught on yet.

My wife is sick, but if she recovers enough to handle the kids I just might play a $600 tournament at Lucky Chances tomorrow morning that has a first place of $40,000. If I play I'll let you know how it goes.








Sunday, October 28, 2012

Saturday Night No Limit

When I walked into The Oaks Club last night I found an open seat at the $15/$30 limit hold'em game and another at the "200 Max" game. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to sit down at the latter.

The 200 Max is technically not no limit because the maximum bet you can make is $200, but it plays effectively the same as no limit since a few $200 bets and raises will put just about any stack all in in short order. The blinds are $2/$4 and the maximum initial buy in is $400.

I bought in for $300 and had a very unusual hand come up almost right away. I got dealt QQ in middle position and after two players just called $4 I made it $25 to go. Everyone folded around to the first caller who immediately went all in for about $150 total. This felt like a small or medium pair to me. Every now and then someone will limp in with AA and then reraise, but even though I'd never played with this guy, I was almost positive that was not what was happening. When his money went in, I snap called him.

The board came down 2 3 4 5 6 meaning unless he had a 7 we'd both play the straight on the board and split the pot. Ugh! I rolled over my pocket queens and my opponent showed the player next to him 88 and then threw his cards in face down!

What's supposed to happen when someone throws their hand away - even if they're supposed to get half the pot no matter what they have - the dealer is supposed to take their hand, put it in the muck with the rest of the dead cards, and push the pot to the player who turned their hand face up. After a count of two that's exactly what happened. Just after the dealer had killed his hand, someone said something and the player who had mucked his hand sat back down expecting to get half the pot. But the rules are pretty clear on this and there was minimal protest after the rule was explained by the dealer.

Sometimes in this situation the winning player will say something like "Clearly you didn't see the straight, but you were entitled to half the pot - let's just split it and move on." Of course this is a lose translation - usually it's more like "You not see straight? Sheeeeeiiiiit. OK give him half pot. Sheeeeeeittt. God damn it." (God damn it is like a verbal period for many poker players). I considered this for about one second, but I'm not giving away $150+ to be a nice guy. If you're going to play you need to know the rules.

I had a couple of bluffs work out and I had $600 in front of me when the next big hand came up. Before the flop the player just after the big blind put in $8 before the cards came out to "Kill it," meaning instead of $4 to call pre flop it would now be $8 to go and the player who put in the $8 could raise if the action got back to him and no one had raised yet (think of it as putting in a super big blind). This is a stupid thing to do because you have to put in money before you've seen your cards, but it effectively doubles the stakes for that one hand.

On the hand in question, 7 of us put in $8 before the flop, I had 87 of hearts, and the flop came down T 7 2 with two hearts, giving me middle pair with a flush draw. It was checked to me and I bet $45. I had kind of a mediocre hand at the moment, but there were 14 cards that could come on the turn to make me a very strong hand and I might win the $51 ($5 comes out of every pot for the rake) in the pot without getting called.

One player behind me called the $45 and then the small blind check raised to $155. At this point I was almost positive I was behind, but there was no chance of me folding giving the strength of my draw. My first instinct was to hit it with a max raise, but I took my time, thought for about 10 seconds and considered just calling. At the end of that 10 seconds I decided "Fuck calling, I'm going to take this down right here" and I made it $355 to go.

In my mind I had won the pot as soon as I put my money in. I new this was a good spot to apply pressure and my read of the situation was that I was going to take it down without a fight. But after about 30 seconds my opponent counted out another $200 from his stack and pushed it into the pot. He'd also started with a little over $600 and we each had maybe $175 left in front of us. The turn paired the ten and my opponent checked it to me.

At this point as a matter of reflex I moved all in. I suppose I could have checked and tried to save that $175 if I didn't make my flush. In fact I easily could have been drawing dead at that point. But the years of training myself to think "you're never going to win if you play like a pussy" kicked in. If you added up the amount of time it took for the dealer to put our the turn card, my opponent to check and my chips making their way into the pot it was 2 or 3 seconds total. After another 2 or 3 seconds my opponent slammed his cards down on the table and they flipped over showing 72! He'd flopped two pair and hand his hand totally killed by the turn.

After winning that pot I had over $1,000 in front of me. Two hands later I raised to $25 with KK, got 4 callers, and stacked a guy with AQ for about $150 when the flop came down Q 2 3.

I had a cold stretch of about 90 minutes where I didn't make any real hands and lost a bluff or two, but I made up for it with another big pot. I raised with to $15 with 99, got called by the big blind and the flop came down J 9 8 with two diamonds. BINGO! She checked, I bet $25 and she raised it to $50. Double Bingo! I wasn't going to mess around on a board with so many draws so I made it $150 and she went all in for $350. Now I was worried that I might be up against QT, but never in a million years would I fold middle set heads up in a cash game. I called, the turn and river were both cards below 6 and my opponent showed J8! Sweet!

I played a few more rounds, but when I took my chips to the cage I had $1,356 for a profit of $1,056. I think my next session will have to be another visit to this exact same game.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Back on Track

After getting my ass beat at Bay 101 on Tuesday I wasn't sure what to play when I walked through the door at The Oaks on Thursday. I felt like it might make sense to play $6/$12 for a week or two and books some wins to get back on track. After my 2 hours at the $2/$3/$5 game in my previous session the idea of playing some no limit sounded like fun. And of course I've been doing well at the Oaks' $15/$30 game recently and I didn't think one bad session, no matter how bad, should throw me off from what has otherwise been working.

When I took a look at the $15/$30 it was an easy decision - only one semi tough player that I knew was in the game along with a few known soft spots, a couple of players who were new to me and one or two OK players. When they called my name I bought in for $1,000 and tried to focus on taking my time and making the best possible decision at opportunity.

I had two interesting hands come up over the course of the night where I wasn't really sure what to do. In the first hand I had K8 off in the big blind. With a few limpers the button raised to $30, I called along with the small blind and we took the flop 6 handed.

The flop came down K J 8 with two hearts making me two pair. Even though this was a pretty big pot and I might be able to check raise the button and thin the field, I figured it was better to fire out. This would prevent any chance of a free turn card for my opponents and probably no one would put my on a big hand. I bet $15 and got three callers before the button raised. I three bet it and four of us saw the turn.

The turn came down an off suit ten. Ugh. At least it wasn't a heart or a jack which would have meant certain doom, but now there were a few more hands that could beat me and a ton of danger cards could come on the river. I decided to be conservative and checked. When it got to the button he bet out. Part of me feels like I should have popped it here to punish the draws, but I didn't feel confident that I had the best hand, so I just called and we took the river 4 way.

A total brick came on the end and I checked again still unsure if I had the best hand. The button bet again and I was the only caller, He rolled over AA and I took down a nice pot. I won the pot, but I don't know if I should have bet the turn, check raised the turn, bet the river (that would have been an ultra confusing line for my opponents), or check raised the river. I'm still thinking about it...

A little while after that hand I was dealt AA and it held up. With those hands combined I was about $500 to the good and feeling fantastic. The World Series was on, there weren't any total dirt-bags at my table, and I was really in the mood to be playing.

Later in the session the second tricky hand came up. I raised from early position with KJ of diamonds and got called by a late position player, the small blind and the big blind. The flop came down J 5 3 with two clubs and the small blind bet out. Feeling no need to be tricky I raised. The other player called two cold and the small blind three bet it. I didn't love getting three bet but the small blind was a wacky player so I wasn't going anywhere and the other player came along too. The turn was a red 2, the small blind bet out and I raised it again planning to check the river if I got called and fold to a 3 bet. I was also hoping to unload the other player, but he called two bets cold - which I thought almost certainly meant a flush draw - and the small blind just called as well.

The river was the 10 of clubs completing the flush draw. After the small blind and I checked, the other player fired out immediately. Drat! I was looking at a pot with $480 in it only needing to call $30 to potentially win it. But I was also almost positive that I was behind. I couldn't think of a hand that could call two cold on the flop and two cold on the turn that I could beat. But I was getting 16 to 1 on a call so even if I was 90% sure I was toast I had to call. If I was 95% sure I couldn't win I should fold.

But then the small blind called in front of me. I was 50/50 on whether I had her beat so needing to have the best hand vs two opponents I quickly folded. When the cards got turned over the other player had AQ both black, but upon closer inspection only one was a club! Then the small blind showed J9! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Son of a bitch!

My first thought was that this was a hopeless bluff that had no chance of working against two players. But it almost worked so I think it was a good play. Calling the flop and turn were shitty plays made by a shitty player, but it was good bet on the river...made by a shitty player. Shit! This is one where I know folding was right, but it still didn't feel good losing that pot. Double shit!

Happily I had what felt like a pretty average run of cards the rest of the night and ended up booking a $450 win over the course of a 4 hour session.

I'll be back at the tables on Saturday night hoping for a run of 17 full houses.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bay 101 Beat Down

After work yesterday I made my way to Bay 101 hoping to have success similar to my previous visits (I'd grabbed north of $2,000 over my previous 4 sessions). I put myself up for $20/$40 at the end of a list that was 25 names long and thought about what else I wanted to play while I was waiting. I decided a $2/$3/$5 no limit hold'em game was a good way to kill some time.

During my most recent visit to Lucky Chances I discovered that what was once a poker room dominated by limit hold'em was shifting drastically to no limit. Instead of 20+ limit games and 2 or 3 no limit games it was a 50/50 split. I can't help but wonder of limit hold'em is going to go the way of 5 card draw, and 7 card stud which were at different times both the game that everyone played only to be relegated to home games. Look out for a more in depth look at this phenomenon in a future post.

The point is it's crossed my mind that my limit hold'em skills might not be worth much in 5 years. Luckily I've played a few hundred thousand hands of no limit cash games and over a million hands of no limit hold'em in tournaments so I wasn't exactly out of my element playing $2/$3/$5.

I bought in for $300 in a game where most of the other players had $500+ and two had $1,000+ in front of them. To my knowledge, I'd never played a single hand against any of these players (one of the reasons I wanted to buy in relatively small) so I was very focused on every detail of every hand in order to get a general sense of how they all played before I had to make any big decisions.

For the most part it was a weak tight game. There were a few hands where almost everyone would limp in, but for the most part it was a one raise and two or three people see the flop type of game. In two hours I only saw a handful or re-raises and they were all legit hands. Post flop anything other than a standard continuation bet meant that player had the goods.

For the most part I got a bunch of shitty cards, saw a lot of flops when I could get in for $5 and missed a lot. About an hour into the session I was in for $500 and had $300 left in front of me when I got dealt 97 of diamonds in the big blind. 6 players limped in front of me and I made it $35 to go. On 3 previous hands when someone had made a raise like this everyone had folded so I figured I'd give it a go risking $30 to pick up the $35 in the pot. I got 3 callers. Oops!

The flop came down 9 4 3 with one diamond and I bet out $60 into the $140 pot. I got one reluctant caller (the player who had limped in under the gun preflop) and another player went all in for $43. At this point I wasn't sure if I liked my hand or what I was going to do on the turn. But after the turn came a 5 of diamonds giving me a flush draw and a gut shot straight draw to add to my top pair, I only had one option - all in. The under the gun limper thought for 20 seconds and folded, the river came a ten, the all in player showed 66 and I took down a nice pot.

After that the rest of the night was a total shit fest.

A little later a player opened for $20 in early position and got called by 5 players. I had about $650 in front of me and looked down at AK off suit in the big blind. I made it $200 to go expecting to get no callers and pick up the $130 in the pot. But the initial raiser moved all in immediately for $300 total. Everyone else folded and after the board came down 6 7 8 9 10, I figured we'd chop the pot. Unfortunately my opponent rolled over JJ.

If I won that race (I was about a 55/45 underdog) I would have been up almost $600 for the day and instead I was stuck $150. I dropped another $200 through miscellaneous misses and miscues before my name got called for $20/$40. Drat!

Then my luck went from bad to worse. In the first 45 minutes I lost pocket aces, and two hands that made top pair on the flop (both pairs were also aces). In all three cases I was good on the flop and the turn, but lost to trips twice and a back door flush once. I also had JJ and AQ go down the toilet during this stretch and won a total of zero pots. The net result of this misfortune was a -$750 downswing right out of the gate.

Eventually I won a few pots here and there, but for the most part I kept getting a lot of barely playable hands like Q9 and KT in middle position or 87 off suit on the button. On the flop it seemed like I was catching just enough to call, but never enough to have the best hand - lot's of hands like middle pair or a gut shot with a nut backdoor flush draw in medium to big pots.

I wasn't happy about this, but I didn't have that gut wrenching stress that puts so many players on tilt. I actually felt pretty relaxed during the course of this entire beat down and I don't think my play was affected to any significant degree (Note: it's almost always total bullshit when someone says this, but I mean it!).

In the end I dropped $1,520 at the $20/$40 game, but luckily my good friend E.B. had half of my action so my personal liability was only -$760. All in all this was a -$1,100 night for me. By far the worst session of my recent return to the tables.

The good news is first and foremost I'm still $4,500 to the good over the past couple of months and secondly I don't feel that bad about this loss. The first time I lost $1,000+ in a day I was devastated. But that was 10 years ago and I've had 100+ days where I've has losses like that since then. I'm in some very strange, optimal state of mind right now where I can feel great about the wins - even the small ones - but when I lose I snap back into the frame of mind I had when I was at the peak of my poker career and losing was just part of the business.

Thirdly, those Bay 101 $20/$40 players are garbage. I'm going to fucking destroy them over the next few months.

My plan right now is to be back in action Friday night. I'll let you know how it goes.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Don't Call it a Comeback (Part 3)

When I last left off I was coming off a nice win at the Bay 101 $20/$40 which capped a 10 day run where I'd won a good pile of money for myself and about $1,700 for my good friend and frequent backer E.B. As a thank you he offered to buy me dinner at Ruth's Chris steakhouse.

I went into this dinner planning on getting my money's worth. Normally if someone is going to buy me dinner, I'm not going to go all out. But in this case since I'd just handed over seventeen $100 bills, I was going to do the opposite of holding back. I had crab cakes, steak and lobster, gnocci, two Manhattans and two glasses of wine. It was the best meal I've had in a long time.

After dinner we headed over to The California Grand to play some cards. There was a short handed $15/$30 going, but given that I was 4 drinks deep we decided to play $6/$12. While we were waiting for a couple of $6/$12 seats to open up E.B. sat down in the $15/$30, made a couple of hands and won $600 in about 30 minutes before they called us both for $6/$12.

When we sat down at $6/$12 E.B. said something about wanting to win enough at that game to pay for dinner. What?! The whole reason we went out was because we were celebrating a series of wins, and he just won enough to pay for dinner twice. Anyway we both played well and got some good cards. I won $316 (plus the cost of about 7 more Manhattans which had been paid for out of my stack) over the course of 4 or 5 hours, while E.B. won about another $250 and we both left feeling like the night had been a major success.

Three days later I took another $1,000 off the Bay 101 $20/$40 and two days after that I booked a $600 win at the Oaks $15/$30. The latter came on October 11th and at that point I hadn't had a losing session since my first time back at $15/$30 on September 15th. During this stretch I'd played 11 times and won every time.

I knew I was running hot. No matter how well you play, you can't expect to win 11 sessions in a row, especially if they are shortish 3-4 hour sessions. Normally, I'd be happy with 7 out of 10 under those conditions.

I finally took what felt like my first big loss on Tuesday dropping $1,100 at the Oaks $15/$30. I knew eventually I'd get dinged, and I was curious to see how I'd react emotionally. Happily I didn't feel that bad at all. I played well the entire session, didn't spew a bunch of chips when the deck turned against me, and when I crossed my $1,000 stop loss mark, I played to my blinds and racked up my remaining chips.

E.B. and I had so much fun at our last outing we decided to do it again last night, although we toned it down on dinner and this time we went to Lucky Chances. After a 6 hour alcohol fueled session of $6/$12 that ended about 3:30 a.m. (my wife and kids are away for the weekend visiting my sister in law so I really took advantage of the fact that I could make it a late night) I was up $500 plus the cost of a couple of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and about 5 long island iced teas.

All told I'm ahead $5,600 over the past 9 or 10 weeks after 114 hours of play. Coming in to this experiment I was thinking if I could make $10 an hour and enjoy myself while doing it it would be great. Instead I've been making closer to $50 an hour, not counting the $2,000 I've won for E.B. (who has now been relegated to taking a smaller piece of my action and will soon be getting none of it unless I'm playing $30/$60 or $40/$80).

I've spent a little of my winnings $20 here and $50 there, but for the most part I've been able to hang on to them. I have a shiny new bank account with $5,000 in it. My first goal is to have that balance up to a 5 digit number by the end of the year. My second goal is to hit +$15,000 sometime early next year at which point I'm going to pull $5,000 off the top and buy some hardwood floors for our house.

Of course I could get my ass handed to me over the next couple of weeks and be back playing $6/$12 with a $2,000 bankroll...but I like my chances. I'll let you know how it goes.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Don't Call It a Comeback (Part 2)

When I last left off the story of my non-comeback, I'd spent about a month playing 4 hour sessions 3 times a week, winning very steadily and had taken my starting bankroll (if you could call it that) of $500 and run it up to $2,000.

During this run it kept bubbling up in my consciousness  that for years I was playing against a pool of professional players from all over the world who played poker all day long 5 or 6 days a week, who were tracking my actions against them with software and using that data to tailor a strategy specifically to beat me. Of course eventually I started using tracking software too, but the point is I was able to win under those circumstances so it shouldn't be surprising that I was winning easily against a group that is 100% amateurs - some of whom are truly terrible.

After brushing off the rust at $6/$12 I knew it was a waste to not move up. But $2,000 isn't exactly a $15/$30 or $20/$40 bankroll. That could be gone in one bad session.

I was talking to my good friend E.B. about the fact that I was playing again regularly and he offered to take half my action at $15/$30. Instead of playing $6/$12 and paying $4 out of every pot to rake and $1 to a dealer tip, I'd now be playing $7.50/$15 with my end of the rake being $2 a hand and effectively tipping $50 cents. I figured this was worth about $10 an hour in rake savings. But of course I'd have to play against stiffer competition.

The Oaks $15/$30 is a very strange game. At times it is extremely soft and at other times, it's full of a players who really know what they're doing and could be winners in much larger games at other casinos. But I didn't mind so much if I had to play against those tougher opponents, because part of my wanting to move up was to get a sense of if I still had the skills locked away in my brain to beat tough competition.

My first time back at $15/$30 I felt nervous which really pissed me off. What did I have to be nervous about? If I played my best, I'd be hands down the best player in the game and I only had half the action. I way over thought things, called down too much, gave my opponents too much credit and lost $442.

After booking a couple more $6/$12 wins, and a $200 score playing $8/$16 at Bay 101 I gave the Oaks $15/$30 another shot. This time I didn't feel nervous at all. I'd spent a lot of time analyzing my previous session and the mistakes I made. I didn't repeat them. I came in confident and won $800 in a 3 hour session. A few days later I banked another $1,200.

Of course half of this money was going to E.B. so it wasn't as big as it sounds, but it felt great. Somewhere in the mix there was a $720 tournament win (4th of 75 in a $225 tournament) that we also split and after the $1,200 win I sent E.B. a text and said "a couple more of these and you're going to owe me a nice dinner." He said my math was off and one more would do it.

After my one visit to play $8/$16 at Bay 101 I decided I needed to check out their $20/$40. If the $8/$16 was any indication it would be a very soft game. And it was.

There was this one lady who was a Bay 101 dealer playing. She had about $700 in front of her when I sat down and ran it up to $2,000 while drinking heavily. She was playing crazy, hitting a lot of big hands and the table was responding by being very loose and aggressive.

I kept winning the small pots and losing the big ones, thinking "If I can make two 5 card hands or sets I'm going to be up $1,000." Instead I had 90 minutes fold, fold, fold, win a small one.

Finally I caught a break. Losing about $400 for the session, I limped in with J9, there was one raise and the flop came down J 9 3 with 6 of us in the pot. It was checked to me and I bet, there was a raise, I three bet and we took the turn 5 way. The turn was another 9 - BINGO! I bet and every body called. The river was a 10, I bet there was a call and now the crazy lady raised! "Ah ha" I thought, "Now I'm going to get paid!" Sadly that raise put her all in. She'd dumped all $2,000 in 90 minutes and I got her last chips. When she showed her hand she had T9 giving her a smaller full house! "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I thought. If she'd had more chips it would have been AT LEAST 3 bets on the turn and 4 on the river with other players tagging along.

A couple of hands later I saw a flop with 88 in a 6 way capped pot. The flop came down J82 with two diamonds. The small blind was the one who capped the preflop action and he fired out. 4 players called and I was last to act. With everyone in there, no way was I slow playing. I raised, the small blind three bet and I capped it hoping everyone would put me on a flush draw. Sure enough the small blind fired out after the turn came a black J, two players called, I raised again and they all called. The river was a beautiful black 3 and I got called by the small blind who had AA and some nut who had turned a pair of jacks. There was over $1,300 in that one pot!

I played a couple of more rounds and left with a $900 win in the $20/$40 (plus a free dinner). The story of that dinner, and the next few session leading up to the present will be along shortly in Part 3 of this very long recap.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Don't Call it a Comeback (Part 1)

After almost 2 years away from poker, I'm back!

I wasn't 100% away from poker all that time; I played a half dozen tournaments and another 4 or 5 sessions playing low stakes games mostly as something to do while a good friend of mine and I had a few drinks and caught up. But the door on making any kind of money or taking poker seriously in anyway was completely closed. I played fewer hands in those two years than I did on a typical Sunday during the prime of my career.

Black Friday came and went in April of 2011 and I was mostly unaffected. I was 4 months into my new job as Business Development Manager at HitFix.com and while I felt sad for a few of my friends who had been badly burned, the only immediate consequence for me was $500 I had languishing on Absolute Poker evaporating.

As time passed, I decompressed. I didn't realize how tightly I was wound until I had months away from the mania of playing 500+ hands an hour, day after day in a situation where I had to win to support my family.

I've read that how stressed you feel is not related to just things that have happened to you today or last week or last month, but events from the past two years. I'm not talking about major trauma, which of course can have permanent influence on your state of mind, but rather things like getting married, moving, the birth of a child or say a flood of two outters coming in against you that seems to never end.

It took 6 months of being totally away from the daily grind for me to feel totally relaxed and like my career was well behind me in the rear view mirror.

Having a standard job has some major benefits. I get paid the same amount every two weeks even if I have an off week. I can totally check out when the weekend arrives instead of feeling like I should always be working. I get paid holidays, sick leave, vacation pay, stock options, and when I have a really tough decision I ask my boss to make it for me.

But it's always that same amount of money coming in month after month. If I want to spend money on something I have to not spend money on something else. Once my life felt fully stabilized. I decided it was time to start adding to the cash flow.

I figured I could still beat the middle limit hold'em games in the bay area, but I didn't have a bankroll of any kind to start with. I was able to come up with $500 that if I lost wouldn't be a big deal and hoped that would be enough. More importantly for my state of mind, any amount of extra money I could bring in was all bonus money.

When my poker career was in full swing, a win or loss needed to be a few thousand dollars before it was at all noteworthy and anything less than plus or minus $500 felt almost like breaking even. Now I was thinking if I could go make $50 a session, it would be worth my time. I'd buy something with that $50 that otherwise I might not have instead of having it rolled into the pile that would pay for next months bills or be half a percent of the $10,000 budget I had for the next big series of tournaments. $50 or $100 was now an actual win in my mind and I was ready to give it everything I had to book this wins.

On August 8th I rolled into Oaks Club and took a very familiar seat at a $6/$12 limit hold'em game. It had been about 9 years since I played $6/$12 seriously - sober, well rested, focused, determined to win. I played 4 hours and won $5. Not exactly earth shattering. But over my next four sessions I had wins of $250, $160, $167 and $310 playing 3-4 hours each time. The old plays were coming back to me and I was started to get to know the new cast of Oaks $6/$12 players. I had a couple of losing sessions, but over the course of a month I ran my $500 up to a little over $2,000 playing three 4 hours sessions a week and sticking to $6/$12 exclusively.

My results got even better the following month, but that will have to wait for my next post which should be coming in the next day or two.

My plan is to return to blogging how I used to - sharing the ups and downs, talking about my results, specific hands, lessons learned and how I'm feeling about being back at the tables.

Add a comment if you're glad to hear I'm back.