Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pins and Needles

Destination, WSOPWho else is excited? Just a little over twenty-four hours to go, and the cards will be in the air for the first event of the 2007 World Series of Poker. (See the full schedule here.)

Have been enjoying reading the blogs of those relating their plans to relocate out west for the next seven weeks. I see that Amy Calistri (AimlesslyChasingAmy, Calistri’s Corner), Mean Gene, and the Poker Shrink (Keeping Your Head in the Game, Pokerblog) are all there. They are joining Dr. Pauly (Tao of Poker), B.J. Nemeth (BJ’s Poker Blog), Change100 (Pot Committed), and others as part of the PokerNews team covering the series.

Also noting how the authors of several of my other regular reads -- Gadzooks & Khanwoman (who will be there with ElSnarfoGrande and others), Waffles, Grubby, Falstaff, Otis, the Pokerati gang, the Ante Up! guys -- are similarly planning Vegas trips in the near future. (Looks like Michael of Counting My Outs is also heading out this weekend, though he says he ain’t playing.)

Hard not to catch a second-hand buzz from all that eager energy. Over and above the usual second-hand buzz one gets over at Pot Committed, of course. (About which, see the previous post.)

I should mention that PokerNews has also recruited me to help out from afar, and so I’ll likely find it impossible not to talk about WSOP events here over the next few weeks. Probably why I find myself looking forward to this year’s WSOP more than I have any previous one.

There are other reasons for my increased sense of anticipation as well. Poker-related interactions over the past year have gotten me more invested in the whole scene, for certain. I’m also intrigued by the many non-hold ’em and mixed-game events on the schedule, all of which have become particularly interesting to me here lately. Finally, I’m anxious like everyone else to discover how and to what degree the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act will impact this year’s series.

Deserved or not, the WSOP has tremendous symbolic value in the poker world, with otherwise arbitrary figures like the number of players registering for the Main Event taken as an unambiguous indicator of how “healthy” poker is (or whether the “boom” is passed). The 2007 WSOP may not break records for participants and/or prize pools, but it will undoubtedly be the most heavily scrutinized series in history. And affecting almost all of those commentaries will be the UIGEA.

Adding to everyone’s anxiety is that “270-day” deadline which is going to land somewhere during the Main Event. Remember that? The UIGEA was signed into law on October 13, 2007. The Act directs the Secretary and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, along with embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 270 days to send instructions to banks, credit card companies, and other “financial transaction providers” on how to obstruct their clients’ transactions with online gambling sites. Somewhere around July 10th, the UIGEA will have been law for 270 days.

In recognition of that upcoming deadline, CardPlayer’s resident legal expert Allyn Jaffrey Shulman posted an article yesterday with the misleading title “What Will Happen When the UIGE Act Goes into Effect.” I don’t know why commentators -- especially so-called “legal experts” -- see fit to keep repeating how the UIGEA “goes into effect” in July. It has been in effect since October 13, 2007! Anyone who has failed to comply with the law since October 13th is potentially subject to the penalties the law describes. For example, a bank who has allowed its client to conduct transactions with entities violating section 5363 (that is, online gambling sites), is technically violating the law as it is written. Bills become laws when the President signs them. Unless the feds’ regulations include some sort of “grace period” -- which they might -- the UIGEA is “in effect.”

Despite my objection to Shulman’s headline, I agree with her conclusion that for various reasons the feds probably aren’t going to be able to pull together regulations by mid-July. Thus do I also believe July 10 will come and go with little fanfare. Whether our government will ever be able to force “finanical transaction providers” to regulate their clients’ activities in this way -- in other words, whether the UIGEA represents an idea that can never really be put into practice -- remains to be seen.

We could be surprised, though. Not like we haven’t been taken off-guard here before.

In any case, lots to look forward to here. Can hardly wait.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Horseplay

Beyond the TableRegular listeners of Beyond the Table are well familiar with its usual format. The show takes the form of a studious, well-mannered, and thoughtful roundtable discussion, with co-hosts Tom Schneider (Oops! I Won too Much Money), Dan Michalski (Pokerati), and Karridy Askenasy routinely delivering insightful commentary on news of the day, high-level strategy tips, and other items of vital importance to poker players.

A couple of episodes back -- in the show entitled “Rolled-Up Aces” -- the trio departed from their usual modus operandi to discuss the dangers of drug use. The particular issue of imparting appropriate lessons to children about drugs was given special attention.

Latawyna, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say 'No' to DrugsWhile the advice conveyed during “Rolled-Up Aces” was certainly of value, I believe both children and parents would find it additionally useful to read a book recently recommended to me -- LATAWNYA, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say “No” to Drugs by Sylvia Scott Gibson.

The title LATAWNYA, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say “No” to Drugs says it all. The story tells of an especially impressionable young horse named Latawnya. One day Latawnya falls in with a crowd of unfamiliar horses who invite her to “play a smoking game and a drinking game.”

You can guess what happens next.



That’s right. “Latawnya started smoking drugs and drinking too.” Soon she “started feeling dizzy from the drug smoke and alcohol.”

“You should have said ‘No,’” her sister Daisy tells her. But Connie, one of the horses who had pressured Latawnya into drinking and smoking drugs, tells Daisy “You are square. You cannot be with us because you will not smoke or drink.”

What a difficult spot for Latawnya! Luckily for you, someone has posted the entire book here, so you can read the rest of the story yourself. Suffice it to say, Latawnya the naughty horse learned her lesson that day!

Meanwhile, be sure to tune into Beyond the Table. Also, if you have questions about poker -- or life -- you can now call them in to their new listener line (posted below the player).

Go ahead and ask those questions today. Otherwise, you’ll have no excuse later for having been naughty.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Burning It Up

FireballHad a memorable session of PLO at the end of last week, made especially intriguing by one particular player whom I’m going to name “Fireball.” The lesson that day seemed to be that while there are many different ways to win at poker, successfully reading your opponents’ patterns underlies most winning strategies.

I had been at Table Funhouse -- a six-handed $50 max. buy-in table (blinds $0.25/$0.50) -- for about 100 hands before Fireball took his seat. I had bought in for $30 and was up to $48.65. The other players had between $20 and $55 when Fireball bought in for $50. I don’t have Poker Tracker installed for Omaha, so I ended up printing out and studying the hand histories for the 69 hands I played with Fireball.

The guy made an impression on me immediately. It was Hand No. 5 and I was dealt 3cAdKdTc in middle position. I limped in, and Fireball (sitting to my left) made a minimum raise to one dollar. It was the second time he’d made the min. preflop raise already. Several of us called, and the flop came 9dJhQh, giving me the nut straight. I bet $3.50 (almost pot), Fireball instantly called, and everyone else folded. The turn was a harmless 6s, so I bet pot -- $10.95 -- and again Fireball called without a moment’s hesitation. The pot was up to $32 or so, and when I saw the 7h on the river my own heart sank. I checked and he surprised me by checking behind, turning over 9hJs9cJc. Even a third-pot bet and I’m likely letting go there. I gladly scooped the pot and sat back to watch the ensuing fun.

It became evident quite soon that Fireball was playing every single hand. In fact, by the end of our time together he’d see 69 out of 69 flops. He also put in a preflop raise about two-thirds of the time -- 48 of 69 times -- with about half of those preflop raises being minimum raises to $1.00. The rest of the table (myself included) weren’t nearly as aggressive, so Fireball’s style definitely made him the star of the table.

The preflop raise often got him heads-up or three-handed. On the flop, he’d usually play relatively conservatively, either making half-pot-sized bets or calling others’ bets. Then on the turn he’d either become bold -- betting pot -- or simply give up on the hand. Occasionally, as happened with me in Hand No. 5, he’d call down bets if he held something decent but beatable. The big turn bets were causing folks to fold, and thus he managed to take down 13 of the first 20 hands without having to show his cards more than a couple of times. After 20 hands he was up $23.05.

In some ways, Fireball reminded me of a player type I once wrote about and dubbed “Moose Malloy” (in a post called “A Tarantula on a Slice of Angel Food”). There I described a “Moose” as a reckless, unthinking player whose extreme aggression causes players to become unhinged from their regular games. The difference here, though, is that a “Moose” doesn’t really have a strategy other than to raise blindly and cause havoc at the table. He might win some, but he usually doesn’t. This Fireball, by contrast, though certainly not overly crafty, seemed to be following a certain methodology. And his preflop raising and selective aggression postflop was clearly starting to bug some of the other players.

On hand No. 25, one player, Mulehead, decided he’d seen enough. Having been dealt Kc3dKhJh, he called Fireball’s preflop min. raise, then got aggressive on the 3h9sJd flop. He pushed again when the turn card was the 2d. The river brought the Ks (giving Mulehead trips), but Fireball led out with an $8 bet into the $40 pot. Mulehead just called, and to his dismay saw that Fireball had 3cQcTdQs -- he’d rivered a straight.

A sketchy play, to be sure. Fireball had flopped an open-ended straight draw (and held an overpair), and pot-sized bets couldn’t make him let it go. The river value bet was smartly done, though, proving (to me) that Fireball was no Moose Malloy.

Hand No. 26 saw Mulehead implode completely, throwing away the rest of his stack to Fireball with T49J-single suited. Mulehead reloaded for $50 more, then on Hand no. 32 lost it all to Fireball again when his nemesis sucked out a full house versus Mulehead’s turned nut flush. “Lol again,” typed Mulehead.

Seeing Fireball showdown some questionable hands caused some at the table to start playing back at him, reraising his preflop raises and pushing him whenever they connected with the flop. After rivering another gutshot on Hand no. 37, Fireball’s stack had increased to $202 -- up $152 already! His success didn’t stop one player who’d taken a couple of pots off of Fireball to begin trash-talking, saying things like “ship it donk” and calling Fireball a “stupid f--king monkey.” Fireball never responded.

I should mention that I became very tight during this stretch, folding about 75% of hands preflop. During Fireball’s run, I was up about $10 for those same hands. And I do think Fireball noticed. In Hand No. 43 everyone folded around to me in the small blind where I completed with Td6sJcJh. Fireball just checked, ending a streak of 22 straight hands where he’d raised preflop. The flop came 3c8s 9h, giving me an open-ender, and I bet $0.85. Fireball made a min. raise to $1.70 and I just called. We ended up checking down the hand (my straight never came), and I won the pot when he showed nothing but a pair of eights.

I started to notice that despite Fireball’s aggressive image, he generally would only call or perhaps min. raise in spots where he knew he was probably behind. In other words, once we got postflop, he only appeared willing to bet aggressively when he was reasonably sure either (1) he was well ahead, or (2) his opponent was weak or drawing and would likely fold.

I watched as Mulehead got stacked off yet another time. Around Hand No. 60 another player typed “this guy is the luckiest worst player ever.” Players started to leave the table, having decided they were tired of giving Fireball chips. It got down to three-handed, and while I knew I should probably leave, too, a combination of inertia and blood simple fascination with Fireball kept me at the table. Finally, at Hand No. 67, we were down to heads-up.

I let Fireball push me out of the first two hands with his min. raises. Then came that momentous, session-defining Hand No. 69. Here’s the hand history, plus commentary:

Omaha Pot Limit ($0.25/$0.50)
Table ‘Funhouse’ 6-max Seat #6 is the button
Seat 1: Fireball ($193.35 in chips)
Seat 6: Short-Stacked Shamus ($54.55 in chips)
Short-Stacked Shamus: posts small blind $0.25
Fireball: posts big blind $0.50
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Short-Stacked Shamus [8c9cKsQd]
Short-Stacked Shamus: calls $0.25
Fireball: raises $1 to $1.50 <-- a pot-sized raise, though means very little
Short-Stacked Shamus: calls $1 <-- looking for a decent flop and to use position here
*** FLOP *** [4h8sQc] <-- gives me top two, no obvious draws out there
Fireball: bets $2.85 <-- a pot-sized bet; means he has at least a queen, perhaps more
Short-Stacked Shamus: raises $4.65 to $7.50 <-- let’s see if top two are good
Fireball: calls $4.65 <-- essentially tells me, yes, your top two are good

I am convinced here that Fireball hasn’t flopped a set. In 68 previous hands, I’d yet to see him slowplay the current nuts on the flop a single time. At this point, I have him on (1) nothing at all; (2) a queen only, or perhaps a worse two pair; or (3) a gutshot draw (most likely).

*** TURN *** [4h8sQc] [7s] <-- could well have given him his gutshot
Fireball: checks <-- he did not make a straight; I am 98% sure of it
Short-Stacked Shamus: bets $15 <-- a pot-sized bet
Fireball: calls $15 <-- now I’m 100% sure he doesn’t have a straight; also inclined not to give him credit for a set, either, although it is possible . . .

*** RIVER *** [4h8sQc7s] [3c]
Fireball: bets $47 <-- HOLY CRAP!

Wow. Now what? What would you do here?

I have $30.55 left, almost exactly my original buy-in at this table. So in reality Fireball is putting thirty bucks into a $50-ish pot. Now there’s $85 out there, so I’m looking at a little under 3-to-1 to call. I debated for ten seconds or so. I’d already ruled out him having the straight (and the 3c didn’t change that). The only holding I could imagine him having that would now have me beat would be a pair of threes in the hole. What to do . . . ?

I went for it.

Short-Stacked Shamus: calls $30.55 and is all-in
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Fireball: shows [Qs9h6cTd] (a pair of Queens)
Short-Stacked Shamus: shows [8c9cKsQd] (two pair, Queens and Eights)
Short-Stacked Shamus collected $108.10 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $109.10 | Rake $1
Board [4h8sQc7s3c]
Seat 1: Fireball (big blind) showed [Qs9h6cTd] and lost with a pair of Queens
Seat 6: Short-Stacked Shamus (button) (small blind) showed [8c9cKsQd] and won ($108.10) with two pair, Queens and Eights

He did flop top pair. And the gutshot -- but it was the higher one. Fireball’s river bet was inspired, really. He’d read me (correctly) as risk-averse, so knew the only way he could win what had become a decent-sized pot would be to push me off the hand. Like I said, I’d never seen him slowplay, but I had seen him bluff -- and when he did it was usually with similarly large, put-his-opponent-to-the-test bets. Fireball certainly enjoyed some good fortune during our session, but I credit him with being more than the “luckiest worst player ever.” He paid attention, and was often rewarded handsomely for doing so.

I think I also benefitted from having taken note of Fireball’s conspicuous betting patterns. Not saying my call was especially brilliant here, but it did “feel” right. Looking back, I probably should have waited for a better opportunity -- one where I was more clearly ahead -- where I could have taken a big chunk of his chips without as much fretting. Nonetheless, the reason why it felt right to call there was I had been watching him very closely for a good while.

That happened to be my biggest online pot ever. Might’ve been worthwhile to have stayed for further shenanigans, but I decided after Hand No. 69 it was time to stop playing with fire.

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