Wednesday, April 20, 2011

U.S. Department of Justice indicts major poker sites

Friday April 15 is certain to become a legendary date in online poker history, as the United States Department of Justice issued a scathing indictment against three major poker sites: Pokerstars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute/Ultimate Bet.

With the apparent removal of 20bb tables from Party Poker, Pokerstars and Full Tilt are rapidly becoming not only the best places to play, but the o
nly places, if you're a short stack player. If you're an American, then it's no choice at all.

I wish there was more that could be said on the topic, but for now it's all questions and no answers. It's unclear as to when (if) American players will be able to access their bankrolls on these sites, and these poker giants are currently blasted with epic volumes of customer e-mail, and hesitant to change customer addresses (I suspect their suspicions may be aroused by the thousands who allegedly managed to relocate outside the U.S. mere days after the announcement.)

For the record, my next blog post wasn't going to be about this at all. It was going to be about the importance of taking time off from your regular poker play. I guess I jinxed us all, because we're all getting a bit of time off. Even if you're not an American player, game quantity is shrinking and shifting considerably.

For those of you that don't know, I currently live in South Korea. My wife and I went on vacation to the port city of Busan, famed for its beautiful beaches. Yep, that means Asian swimsuit girl post-savers.

Thanks a lot, Department of Justice.

So for now, we wait.

I'm one of the "lucky" few, planning on moving to Canada in the next few months anyway to rebuild. How to rebuild is still a big question. It's a question that will likely remain unanswered in the coming weeks, as the dust on this won't settle anytime soon.

Good luck everyone, no matter how your poker is (or isn't) going. If the poker community can use their collective "one time" to find a strong way through this, I'd submit now is the time to bust it out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When I started shortstacking, it was at NL50 (.25/.50, $10 buy in) on Pokerstars, the 20-50bb and CAP tables. I have no illusions about this time. I was terrible at it.

Still, I played. A lot. At first my rakeback kept me afloat. I got some excellent coaching from a full-stack player named Barry Clark, and he helped me fix the worst of my bad poker habits. He didnt shortstack so I only had a few sessions, but those sessions were enough to drag me from loser to marginal winner at NL50.
So, my 40,000 hand per week playing regimen began, and my bankroll and experience grew. I wanted to take a shot at the next level up. There was one thing no one told me: If you short stack, NL100 ($20 buyins) is specifically designed to kill you.

The first thing to understand is that rake is a monster when it comes to poker, and shortstackers feel it the most. Just checking my stats for the month, over 60% of my winnings have gone to the rake. If I could play rake free, Id make more than double the amount of money. Online poker sites make more per month from me playing poker than I do, and I make enough to do this professionally. Its no fluke thats how it works every month.

Never forget which side of the hustle you are on.
Also, I'll lay you five to one odds you can't tell me which one is the UNO Draw Four.

So, one way to get more is to pay less rake.

The other way, of course, is to find softer competition. The dumber the players in your game, the more money you are going to take home. In online poker, $60 is typically the magic number. The sites take 5% rake up to $3, so any pot larger than $60 has a portion of it that is rake free. So once you are at 1/2 and above (40 dollar stacks) you start getting discounts on the rake. NL100 and below, you are at the mercy of the poker site, because it is very rare that any pot will exceed $60.

But wait if you start to short stack a .01/.02 game, youll make a killing. But the site is hosing you on rake, isnt it? Yes, but the more you move down, the worse the competition gets, so the more money you make to compensate. This makes NL100 the worst of all worlds. It has the toughest possible completion before you start getting discounts on the rake. You are getting hosed by the site for the maximum while also playing the best opponents (relative to the other stakes with a functionally uncapped rake).

When I tried NL100, I started losing. A lot. I figured I was bad, and started looking for a winning shortstacker to study and learn from. I only had one problem: There werent any.

You read that right. I looked at all the regs in my game, and all of them were either losers or totally breakeven. Thats right the big winners in my game were walking away with pennies.

Dont panic yet, though. There is life beyond $20 buyins, and you dont have to be stuck at $10 buyins forever. Basically, to survive this as a shortstacker, you need to change your long term plans to spend as little time as possible sacrificing to NL100.

- When playing at .25/.50, be particularly conservative with your shot taking. Get comfortable. Make some money. Theres no shame in that. Enjoy the profits.

- When you do move up to .50/1.00, be very aggressive with your shot taking at 1/2. .50/.100 is not a place you want to be. It is not where you want to spend your time. At best, its a stepping stone to 1/2.

- If you can handle it, just skip the level entirely. Yes, this means spending a long time before your shot taking sticks. I couldnt do this when I was playing the jump from shoving $10 to shoving $40 was just too much. But if I could go back and do it again, Id know this was the most profitable way.

Additionally, there are some strategic changes you need to make.

- Pay extra attention to the amount of fish at the table. Id recommend not sitting unless you can identify three other players (in a six max game) that are going to be donating to you.

- Avoid aggressive flipping regs as much as possible. When youre at 1/2 and higher and you flip, you can the guy you flip against should be giving each other high fives you both stand to make a marginal amount of money off the play. At .50/1.00, however, that flipping guy is not your friend. Every time you flip, you come away with less money, thanks to the rake. The flipping guy is taking you down with him.

Before hacking his starfleet command test, Kirk was banned
on Pokerstars in a similar incident.

However, its not like you can just start folding everything when he raises you. Youre quickly in a situation where youre forced into a loss no matter what you do. If he forces you to flip just four times in 100 hands, youre losing the equivalent of 3bb/100 (more, if one of you is in the blinds for the flip). Can your winrate take that kind of hit? Mine cant.

Its possible to move from the micro stakes to the big time. Just dont get stuck in the quicksand of .50/1.00, and you can make it work.

Lucky for him, Global Thermal Nuclear War has fewer
consequences than paying that much rake.

This entry is cross posted at the poker blog Short Stack Hero, where I contribute.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Ongoing War Against Caffeine

So, I noticed it this morning. I had a good nights sleep, but I just couldn't get going. I propped myself up with a can of Dr. Pepper with breakfast, but by 9 a.m. I felt myself craving a Mountain Dew. I gave in, and now it's lunch time and I am seriously going out of my mind wishing I could grab some more.

If it had actual cocaine in it, it might be easier to quit.

It always runs the same way with me. I am off the caffeine, and it feels great. Then, I remember how delicious soda is (I hate coffee, always have, can't stand the stuff) and decide to have just a little bit.

I actually wanted a picture of an exaggerated smile here,
then google gave me too many pictures of actual,
real photos and I got creeped out.

But after the initial buzz, I end up totally hooked on the stuff, slowly needing more and more to function. I don't notice it at first, just drinking soda more often with meals, or having a bit more when I do.

Finally, I'm blowing all my extra cash on anything with caffeine in it and wondering if anyone will notice if I skip work to find more. I think of reasons to tell my wife I'm not home because I'm out buying more soda. I consider stocking my desk with it.

and then, we're back at the beginning. I swear off caffeine, and the process repeats itself.

In early 1999, I convinced Google to send me a penny whenever
someone breaks a resolution they blogged about.
Three more weeks and I'll have enough to purchase a majority share of the company.

Well, whether this is me repeating the cycle or actually making a decent lifestyle change, I'm not sure, but I think it's worthwhile to find out. Trying and failing is better than giving up.

Maybe I should just switch to beer.

Introduction of a Poker Player, Part 2

Serious question time. Are you losing at this game?

Check your gut response (of course Im not!) at the door and ponder it. How much do you make?How much time does it take you to get it? How do you feel when youre done?

Keep in mind that in poker, the only reason anyone makes any money at all (and they do) is because there are hordes of people who dont realize they are losing. If they did, theyd quit.

If you run far enough, there's a $20,000 bonus at the end!
Just don't overthink it.

Poker players are notorious for not being able to assess their own skill level. Well, finally in December 2010, after pushing myself to the absolute limit for three months, I was ready to really look at my poker game in the mirror, and I did not like what I saw. I was, without a doubt, a losing player. I had plenty of justifications for it (some legitimate, some... less so), but there it was. At the end of the day, it was costing me money to play poker.

A poker friend of mine told me about someone he knew, a guy named Lorin. He claimed that Lorins shortstack class was not only useful, it was a hell of a bargain. My first thought? Fuck that.

Id already spent hundreds of dollars on poker related stuff. Holdem Manager, Table Ninja, Leak Buster, coaching time, the list goes on. (Sometime, Ill do a product review of all the crap I bought.) Any winnings I may have made were long gone to these investments. I was thoroughly convinced there were more people making money selling stuff to poker players, than their were poker players making money.

No matter which way I sliced it, I needed help. My winrate sucked, and I wasnt really improving, despite all my study. So I made a deal with myself. Id take a chunk of my quickly dwindling bankroll and spend it on Lorins training. Then, Id dedicate the rest of my roll into learning his system. If I start winning, great. If I go broke, fine. I quit.

My first impression of Lorin was that he was a professional. A good thing, too. If Im paying for a service, I'm looking for someone who takes the job seriously. A good poker player isn't necessarily a good coach.

With Lorin, it was clear he knew what he was doing. He had a clear system, a simple presentation method, and a no-nonsense attitude.

Every mentor is different, but despite my repeated begging,
Lorin refuses to teach me the secret to bitchin' abs or a date with
Helena Bonham Carter.

His repeated request was simple: If you want to make money from my system, just do everything I tell you to do. Fair enough. I figured, I paid him the money, no sense only going half way.

So off I went. I stopped playing at Pokerstars. I stopped mass-tabling. I started shoving more and calling less. I stopped playing at fishless tables. As each new video came out, I watched it like a religion and committed it to memory.

I can overlook the rest of it Judas,
but if you flat call with Q9o one more time,
we are going to have a fucking problem.

At first, it wasnt easy. I immediately hit a severe downswing where my EV line made modest gains, but my actual profit line dropped like a stone. But something was happening. My EV line was heading somewhere Im quite sure it was very confused and disoriented to be: up.

The downswing ended as they always do, and I started making money. Compared to where I was, I feel comfortable saying it was a lot of money. I moved from the .25/.50 game on Pokerstars, to the .25/.50 game on Full Tilt, and then very quickly to .50/1.00 and into 1/2. The best part was, because I was following Lorins system of table selection, the games didnt really get much harder as I moved up. There became fewer games to play (not playing fishless tables meant more and more ineligible games as I moved up), but the games were still good.

Today, just two months later, I have the bankroll to play at 2/4 (NL400) with consistency, and Im a winner in that game. Best of all, most of my profit comes from kicking ass (winning), not kissing it (rakeback).

Im still learning. Im not there yet. Right now Im transitioning from working guy to full time pro. I expect that in the future of this blog, a lot of my posts will be about how I made and am still making that transition. But I can say with certainty thats the direction Im heading, and I wouldnt be there without Lorins help.

Thanks man. I owe you one.

Note: This entry is cross posted at Short Stack Hero, the excellent poker blog where I contribute.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Introduction of a Poker Player, Part 1

I wish this was a story I could have told from the beginning. It's an interesting one, all told - one guys journey from a casual tournament player, to a fish on a heater, to a mass tabling low stakes grinder, until finally getting it together and finding myself short-stacking for high stakes, with enough money on the line to make my parents and most of my friends feel a bit nauseous just hearing about it.

When it comes down to it though, there's an underpinning of consistency, logic, and hard, hard work that - for all the highs and lows - lets me make a living doing something I love: playing poker.

(Trust me, if you want to win, you better really love poker, because there are plenty of days when poker does not love you back.)

So, like most trendy stories these days, let's go ahead and start from the middle.

In November of 2010, I had had enough. I knew I was a winning poker player, or at least, I had it in me to become one. I just wasn't working hard enough.

Contrary to popular belief, desire and hard work are
not always a guarantee for success.

Nevermind that I was already playing five hours a day, studying when I wasn't at the table, and just generally driving myself insane. I was playing .25/.50 and .50/1.00 20bb games on Pokerstars, about 20 tables at once, about 200,000 hands a month. I got coaching. I played better, faster, harder and smarter than I ever had.

The month sucked. I posted something like a -2bb/100 loss rate, kept afloat by the rakeback I had generated.

Okay, bad luck. Still getting my feet wet. It happens. So December rolled in, I started with a clean slate, moved back down to .25/.50, and hit the tables harder than ever.

An artists rendition of trying to play on
Pokerstars in December.

On December 22, I was still losing. Badly. (Okay, not that badly, about the same as before. All I knew is that I had a goal - to play full time - and unless I planned on playing roughly 37 hours a day, I was never going to make enough money to do that.) Again, the Pokerstars bonuses were the only money I made, and had to use them to offset the losses, too.

It was time. I'd played literally hundreds of thousands of hands of poker. Sample sizes were not an issue. Nor was tilt, lack of discipline, or any other excuse I could come up with.

I was a loser. Not the funny, good natured hollywood loser who gets the hot emo girl with his fumbling charm, either. The kind destined to leave his money behind on the poker table.

Something needed to change and soon, or my poker career would be busto before it even took off.

Note: This entry was cross posted at Short Stack Hero, the poker blog where I contribute.