Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Number Crunching (4 of 4)

Without really planning to, I’ve been playing a lot of these 100-hand sessions here lately. I tend to be much more successful when playing short sessions (one of these days I’ll scan through my stats to confirm, but intuitively I know this to be the case). I generally two-table, so 100 hands takes around 35-40 minutes. About the length of two sides of Miles or Dolphy or Coltrane or whatever else I happen to spin while I play. (Can you tell I’m an old LP guy?)

Was involved in yet another two-outer during this most recent session, losing a small pot this time. Was in the BB with 4sTs. The cutoff limped, the SB called, and I checked my option. The flop came 4c3sTh and I checked. The cutoff bet, the SB called, and I check-raised. Both players called. The turn was the Qh and both players called my bet. The river was the Ks and I decided this time just to check, worried now that a better two pair was out there. The cutoff checked behind me, then showed KcKd. I only lost $2.50 on the hand, primarily because of how the cutoff butchered playing his or her kings (I see at least two obvious errors, perhaps more). People wonder about the online suckouts, but the fact is two-outer miracles are always gonna come more often when you have players misplaying hands like this.

In any event, having achieved some success at $0.50/$1.00 limit games, is it time to make the move to $1.00/$2.00? What factors need I consider when making my decision? Building on what has been discussed to this point, I see three primary questions I need to answer here. (1) How certain can I be that I am a winning player at my present limit? (2) If I decide to move up a limit, what sort of bankroll should I carry with me? (3) What other factors should I be on the lookout for when competing at the higher level?

To answer all three questions I am going to turn to Barry Tanenbaum, a regular columnist for CardPlayer magazine. Tanenbaum’s articles on limit hold ’em are always useful reading -- indeed, he is one of the few writers for the magazine whose articles I find myself going back to time and again. They are all archived over at the CardPlayer website -- if you’re a limit player you might go check ’em out. He has a book due out next spring (tentatively titled Advanced Strategies for Limit Hold ’em) that will collect some of his articles as well as incorporate new material. I’ll certainly be seeking out a copy when it appears.

To the questions:

(1) How certain can I be that I am a winning player at my present limit?

Tanenbaum also hosts an informative website of his own where he regularly posts a “Thought of the Week.” Last week’s thought (11/26/06) actually addresses my first question. According to Tanenbaum, 75,000 to 80,000 hands gives one “a good beginning” toward figuring out if one is a winning player, “but is not nearly enough to be definitive.” Even 100,000 hands, says Tanenbaum, isn’t really enough to know for sure.

He does confirm that making one big bet per hour (which for him -- being primarily a brick-and-mortar guy -- translates into 35-40 hands) is a good rate. In other words, my 2.5 BB/100 hands is not bad; indeed, is certainly enough to say I’m a “winning player” (taking into account, of course, that my sample size -- though large -- still isn’t large enough to make this claim definitively).

So the answer to my first question is “reasonably certain, though not definitively.” Assuming that’s enough for me to consider making the move, I proceed to the next question.

(2) If I decide to move up a limit, what sort of bankroll should I carry with me?

I could refer to the standard advice here regarding bankrolling for limit games and carry 300-500 BB with me to the tables (i.e., $600-$1,000 for the $1/$2 game). Or I could consult the bankroll calculator I used in my last post. The problem is, in order to use the calculator, I have to assume both what my win rate will be as well as what my standard deviation will be. Let’s just say (for the sake of argument) that I expect to earn 1.25 BB/100 hands (netting me the same profit I am currently enjoying), will experience a similar standard deviation (18 BB/100 hands), and will only stand a 5% “risk of ruin.” According to the calculator, with these stats I’ll need 388.25 big bets -- or $776.50 -- in order to endure the swings and ensure I won’t bust out.

The topic of bankroll came up on a thread over on the forum hosted on Tanenbaum’s website. Tanenbaum himself chimed in (as “pokerbear”) with this to say about maintaining one’s bankroll: “Establish a minimum bankroll. Every month when you win, pay yourself 50% of the total over the bankroll. If you fall below the bankroll minimum, you do not get paid (or you drop down in limits so the bankroll requirement gets lower). At the end of the year, reassess . . . .” The idea is always to keep for yourself a cushion above the minimum. Thus, if I do take, say, $800 to go play with at the $1/$2 limit tables, I should only cash out half of what I earn there, leaving behind enough to stay comfortable. (Again, I’ve intuitively followed this rule in the past, only cashing out when I can leave enough behind to play with comfortably.)

Of course, if I win more I’ll need less. (And if I win less I’ll need more.) But that’s putting the cart ahead of the horse, isn’t it? Can I expect to win at the same clip -- or even half the same clip -- at the higher stakes table? Not unless I adjust, that’s for certain. Mr. Tanenbaum . . . can you help me here . . . ?

(3) What other factors should I be on the lookout for when competing at the higher level?

Tanenbaum is on my mind not just because I’m a fan of his articles, but because I heard him recently on Keep Flopping Aces, a new poker podcast that I just found a week or so ago. The show -- one of several broadcast on the web audio network Hold ’em Radio -- is hosted by Lou Krieger and Amy Calistri. I’ve only heard a few episodes, but I like what I’ve heard thus far. Tanenbaum appeared on the 10/26 show. On last week’s show, Iggy (of Guinness and Poker and, now, IGGY at Pokerworks) appeared as a guest.

Anyhow, when on the show Tanenbaum made an observation about the challenge faced by players who, having been successful at one level, wish to move up and try higher stakes. He pointed out how people usually start out learning to play tight and thus place special emphasis on their own cards. Tanenbaum here echoes a much-cited refrain regarding the difference between limit and no limit hold ’em, neatly articulated by Barry Greenstein: “Play limit according to the strength of your hand, and no limit according to the strength of your opponent’s hands.” Like most, I started out playing limit this way, as a tight player primarily concerned with things like starting hand selection and whether or not my hand connected with the board.

Tanenbaum agrees that this strategy is a good way to play and win, especially when first starting out. However, as one moves up in stakes, one encounters more and more players who also know how to play a solid, tight-aggressive game. It therefore becomes imperative to expand one’s game a bit and become aware of other factors such as position, other players’ tendencies, the value of aggression, and the value of creating dead money. (Go listen to the podcast for further explanation of this idea -- an idea that sounds as though it may well form the primary thesis for Tanenbaum’s forthcoming book.)

I have taken shots at $1/$2 (indeed, I’ve written about some of those hands here before). However I’ve never stuck around there for very long, and every time I’ve tried it I’ve ended up with mixed (usually negative) results. The longest stint was for about two weeks where I went up, then down, then up a little, then down a lot, then said the heck with it and went back to my comfort zone. So I know from (some) experience that one encounters a higher percentage of players who have a clue. Indeed, I wrote a post about the subject several months back. In other words, there surely ain’t as many examples of folks butchering kings there as one tends to find at $0.50/$1.00, to be sure.

I’ll likely try to build up my online roll a bit here (closer to that $800 mark) and then make the move again. When I do, I’ll take it slow, playing 100-hand sessions (or thereabouts) and trying to spend some time assessing my play after each go.

Meanwhile, go check out Tanenbaum’s articles, his website, and Keep Flopping Aces. Good stuff all around.

Photo: Albert Einstein, 1931 (adapted), public domain.



Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't know what the rake is like at $1 + $2 but on stars I have played 5000 hands and the rake is almost $130 and with no rake back at stars thats pretty sick really.

I'm 1 BB/100 to the good at the moment i.e $40 up and I mostly 4 tabling so in other words I can sit at my pc for hourly sessions playing 300 hands and end up anywhere in the range of + or - $1-30.

Like I said before, If you think that you will be okay then i would go for it. For my first few sessions I was a little out of sorts at the $0.50 & $1.00 and lost $50. I had a break, dusted myself down and have now turned that loss into a profit.

Good luck

12/07/2006 6:37 AM  
Anonymous Yorkshire Pudding said...


I've played $1/$2 FLHE and did so for a couple of months and had some decent success but beofre I moved to $2/$4 I discovered NL cash and SnG's etc and donked off a stack of cash! I hated $1/$2 and found it quite difficult to beat initially. The first hurdle to get over is the psychology of betting twice the amount you're used to at $0.50/$1. It may sound obvious that the pots are bigger but it can play on the back of your mind when you're used to playing for $10 pots and suddenly there are $25-$30 being passed around the table! I also found that the good players were better (seems obv again) but the weak players were actually worse than the previous stakes. Maybe this is because they didn't want to start lower than $1/$2, I'm not sure, but there are fish aplenty at $1/$2 for sure.

If I were you I'd take the odd shot at the next stakes up and see how you fair. If it goes horribly wrong or you don't feel comfortable drop back down to your comfort zone, review and go again. 300BB is enough for $1/$2 definitely but maybe move up with 320-350 and then if you have a non-winning start you won't have to drop down right away. I used to use a 300/250 strategy meaning I'd start $1/$2 when I had $600 but drop down to $0.50/$1 if this dropped below $500, leaving me 500BB for the stakes below.

Re-read Small Stakes Holdem by Miller etc and go for it. You seem skilled enough to succeed and intelligent enough to drop down and not kid yourself. What ever you decide I'll be following from the sidelines!

Good luck sir!

12/07/2006 9:06 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, guys -- great advice. What yr describin' there yorkshire sounds a lot like my exp. there. I've actually taken shots at $1/$2 off and on for the last 6-8 months or more, but never stuck.

Yr completely on target w/your point about the psychological hurdle of dealing w/the bigger pots, bigger wins, bigger losses, etc. I recall losing a $75 pot there once -- easily the largest pot w/which I've ever been involved -- when I turned a boat while two other players turned a flush & one turned a bigger boat. Crushing, it was.

Yea I'll probably be mixing in a session of $1/$2 now and then & try to assess as I go. Thx again.

12/07/2006 9:44 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Hey Shamus,

I'm a little late on this one but I've just recently got back from holidays and am just catching up with my blog reading.

Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this series of posts there's some really useful stuff here and I'll definitely be re-reading it and checking out some of the sites you've referenced. Great work!

Good luck with moving up the levels, my advice is to take a bankroll that allows you to play your normal game without causing you more grief than is necessary when those 50-100+ BB downswings come along. For me this number is 400-500BB although I'm actually playing with a much bigger bankroll than that while I perfect my 6-Max game. For you it might be less but either way you've obviously got a good head for poker and given your record to date I suspect you'll do well moving to the higher limit. Let us know how it goes (I'm sure you will!).

Catch you later,

12/20/2006 12:08 AM  

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