Friday, December 29, 2006

Geocaching again, briefly

Caches are a lot easier to find when you've already been there three times. More at Kelly's blog.

Catching up

Poker balance since October; click to enlarge It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, mainly, I guess, because my poker confidence has been pretty low, and I haven't had much to crow about. Back in late October, when I moved from PartyPoker to PokerStars, the word online was that the fishiest players from Party were moving to PokerStars and FullTilt. I signed up at PokerStars to catch the fish (or maybe I was one of the school of fish leaving Party?), and did well for a few weeks. Then FullTilt offered a 100% matching bonus, so I moved my funds there in early November, continuing to win until about Thanksgiving. But since then, it's been a downward trend.

Maybe all the fish got fished out. The percentage of players seeing the flop in the 50¢/$1 games was almost always around 30-33%, sometimes as low as 25-27%. As a point of reference, a table with 35-40% begins to get juicy enough that its waiting list will begin to grow rapidly. However, unlike the other poker rooms, FullTilt only has 9 players per table instead of 10, which means these numbers are an even greater indication of the tightness of the tables.

Should I have played looser, knowing that the tables were so tight? Maybe, but that's not my style, and not something I've had a lot of practice at.

On Boxing Day, after losing another $12 at FullTilt, I pulled my money out, and went in search of easier pickings. In the end, even though FullTilt had paid me $45 in bonuses, I ended up down about $21 from my initial FullTilt buyin.

I'd dug through PokerTracker's hand history, found mistakes (overplaying overcards), and worked to fix them. I'd re-tightened my starting hand requirements. No luck. I was being beat like a wet noodle. (That's not a good thing, if you're the noodle.)

I dug through my quasi-spam emailbox at Yahoo, looking for any poker offers from casinos I hadn't tried yet, and found an offer for $20 free from Bodog Casino. Casino games only, and $500 playthru restriction.

Sure. Why not.

I turned the $20 into a real $16, withdrew it, and sat down at the cheap no-limit poker tables at Bodog... and lost a quarter of it the first day, trying to push pocket 8s through a flop with a K showing. Not smart.

So last night, feeling that I needed to get some real perspective on my game, I went to Happy Days to play in their midnight tournament.* (Well, first I went to Palace with a match play coupon I found in the News Tribune a few weeks ago. It was kind of strange to walk up to the cage, exchange the coupon for a match play ticket, bet $10 on the blackjack table, hit a 20 against the dealers 17, then walk back to the cage and cash out for $30. A quick three minutes work.)

(Oh, and I hit blackjack on my first two hands at Happy Days, too, on match play; nice start to a good evening. Remind me to write up something about tonight, the night I took insurance by mistake.)

When the tournament started, the alternate list was 16 players deep. I played good, tight, aggressive poker, helped by the fact that the two players to my left would telegraph when they planned to fold, and made it as deep as 12th place. Maybe I shouldn't have pushed all in with AQs and 77 on consecutive hands (lost both), but if either of those would have hit, I'd have been in a great spot to go deep into the money instead of just getting my buyin back.

I felt like I was playing some of the best poker I've played in a long time, in spite of getting few good hands. KJo in early position, close to the bubble but with a good sized stack? Folded it. No sense in taking a risk there... but I think I would have pushed with it online.

Maybe that's the difference. I need to push myself to realize that the online chips are just as real as the clay chips in the casino. Perhaps I've forgotten that.

At lunch today, I played a $4+$0.40 tourney at Bodog. Finished in first place. Is my funk cured? Or will I go back to chasing with suited face overcards?

* As of December 1, Happy Days has midnight tournaments on M-T-W-Th only, but noon and 7 pm tournaments every day.

Edit: Added graph

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Back to basics: Learn your starting hands

As I mentioned a few days ago, it's been a crappy month of online poker, down about $100 from my November high point. PokerTracker helped me realize that I was overplaying overcards, and I spent most of lunch Thursday re-reading Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth's "playing overcards" section in Small Stakes Hold 'Em. I also read some of my older posts, and realized that I've really loosened my starting hand requirements too much.

I used to have a cheat-sheet on my desk that I'd refer to as a reminder of what hands to call with, which to raise with, and which to re-raise with, from early, middle, late, and blind positions. I don't know what happened to it, and I'd forgotten I used to have it, until I created a new one (again, based on Small Stakes), and used it on Friday.

It felt good; I wasn't waiting on flops and crossing my fingers for a check-around any more. I ended up +$9.55, but more significantly, I played three simultaneous tables, and ended up ahead at all of them.

Has my flat/downward trend started to improve? Maybe. Time will tell.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Best night in a month, and that's not saying a lot

Last night, I ended up +$11.60. Sad to say, that's the best poker result I've achieved since November 16, when I was up $23. I've had nine losing days (including a frighteningly bad -$52.95 when I tried to play at the $1/$2 table) and five winning days (the best a +$9.75 in spite of losing a $7.75 in tournament play). The $30 in bonuses collected from Full Tilt offset it a bit, but I'm down about $70 from my high point just before Thanksgiving.

I attribute this tough streak to three things: 1) The level of play has gotten tougher. I don't know what to attribute this to, but play has gotten really, really tight. My "voluntarily put money in pot %" stat was at a respectable 23-25%. Experts say that it should be at about that level; higher than that, you're playing too many hands; less than that, you're playing too tight and leaving money on the table.

At PartyPoker, at PokerStars, and (after Party shut down in October) at Full Tilt, at a 9 or 10 person table, I was usually the second or third tightest; seven people played looser, and I could usually end up with some of their money. In the last month at Full Tilt, my stat has been the same, but I've generally been one of the three loosest people at the table. The opposition has tightened up. 2) I failed to adjust to the tighter play, and plays that would have won money in the past -- strong bluffs -- either won a minimum, or lost big. Holding AQ on a flop of 479, I could ram and jam, and would win a big pot against someone wishing with another couple overcards when they folded on the river. Now, I either don't get past the flop, or lose to someone who stayed in with a flopped set.

3) Related to #2, I failed to respect strong betting. Before, there was always one or more players who seemed to raise preflop with any single face card. Someone was always drawing to the flush, and it made sense to make them pay. With the stronger players, you can't profit from these mistakes as often.

I took a full evening this weekend and instead of playing, I used PokerTracker to analyze my stats over the last three weeks. Mistakes I saw in my own game, which I made repeatedly or which cost me a good sized chunk of change:

1) Holding two overcards (e.g., KJ) and a flop comes paired (e.g., 3-5-5), I bet to try and win, and it's raised. Instead of respecting the raise and folding, I doubt the other player's skill, and re-raise. Lost a lot of money doing that.

2) When I'm holding top-pair-top-kicker, and I'm check raised, I should fold more often. There were at least a dozen times I ran into someone who'd flopped a set, and I just bolted blindly along through the river.

3) When I hit trips, and the board has two suited cards (e.g., I have J J, and the board is J 3 7), don't slowplay. Someone who is staying in is trying to hit their flush card, and will do so to beat you 40% of the time. Don't give them a free chance to do it.

Yes. PokerTracker is worth picking up.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Satiating the Mouse: Day 5, The final day: divorces, toads, and sake

As day 4 drew to a close, we had a late night snack in the hotel's Pop Century cafeteria, then brought it over to the bar, sitting down next to a couple who were alternatively watching Monday Night Football and loudly discussing the future of their relationship, which didn't seem to be going very well.

"This is how Monday Night Football should be watched," said Kevin, referring to the game ending at about midnight instead of 9:00 as it does on the west coast. He nursed his beer, while I checked the fantasy football scores on my Blackberry. To our left, the couple was arguing over how much effort each of them had put into their relationship. Married? I don't know, but I assume so.

Kim and Krys joined us (unlike Washington's archaic laws, kids can sit in the bar, but obviously can't order alcohol). And we watched the game, discussed the next 24 hours, and ate. The couple continued shouting (not too loudly), we watched the middle of the fourth quarter, and Kim, Krys, and I headed back to the hotel room.

Kevin showed up about half an hour later. For want of a clarifying verb, the couple's marriage was coming to an end. Apparently, the husband said, "I'm more interested in the game than you" to the wife. Kevin understood what he meant: "I'm more interested in the game than you are", but that's not the way she took it. Eep.

The previous day, I'd made day 5 reservations for breakfast at the Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom. We seem to always have a breakfast with Pooh and Piglet at Disneyland, and this trip would be no different. Bland, buffet, breakfast food -- as expected -- and I tried grits for the first time in my life. Bleaugh. After breakfast, we wandered into Tomorrowland, and Kevin accurately pointed out that at 9:00 on a November Tuesday morning, the Tomorrowland Plaza looked as empty as Seattle Center does on a typical day. We rode Stitch, and Space Mountain, then tried to track down the entrance to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (we finally had to ask). Krys got into a conversation with the remote-control robotic garbage can that I had talked to on Day 2 (it had told me that my Trogdor shirt was cool, but Homestar Runner was cooler), and it sang her a birthday song and asked her for a hug -- then taunted her for hugging a trash can.

We rode Haunted Mansion, and Krys had on the way out, we stopped to take a close look at the pet cemetery that we couldn't see in the dark of our previous visit. Way in the back left corner was a statue of Mr. Toad. Apparently, when the new Winnie the Pooh ride was installed, kicking out Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Disney decided to memorialize the old ride here. Pretty cool.

At lunch time, we headed over to Epcot by taking the ferry from the Magic Kindom to the transportation hub, then a monorail the rest of the way. Having ridden Washington State ferries several times, the ride was nothing special, except that the lake had no tide to worry about. On the other end, as we departed, the skipper pulled Krys aside, and required the hordes of people waiting to board to sing her "Happy Birthday" before he would allow them to board. Pretty special.

We briefly wandered over to the beach at The Polynesian resort, and poked at the white sand, then waited for the monorail. I'd heard a rumor, and confirmed it. By asking, we were able to sit in the front car of the monorail, with the driver, and see out forwards, instead of just out the sides. Pretty cool.

At Epcot, we got our Test Track fastpasses, then rode Mission Space again. It seemed much more intense, and we were much more goofy, now that I didn't have a liter of beer in my system. I was starting to get a headache, though.

We then wandered over to The Seas with Nemo et al., where we rode the recently opened Nemo ride. It was OK, nothing special, but kind of cool I guess. The ride projects the Finding Nemo characters into the Epcot aquarium, so it looks like they're interacting with the real fish. At the end, the shell-buggies opened, we stepped out, and Kim saw them:

"DOLPHEEEEEENS!!!" she squealed, bolting for the stairs to get a better look. I swear, if she was two years old, she'd have run out into traffic or needed a kid-leash or something. Krys tears off after her, and Kevin and I look at each other shaking our heads, no comprehension of how cool dolphins must be to females.

We wander around the aquarium, and queue up for Turtle Talk with Crush. I had low expectations of this, and was rally amazed at how interactive the computer animated show was. Crush takes questions from kids in the audience, says the kids names when he answers, comments on what they're wearing, and plays with the audience in a way that you know it's really interactive. Must be a camera, a booth with someone who's voice is a dead ringer for Crush, and some method of matching the mouth movements with the speech.

We then slowly made our way to Japan for dinner, stopping at Test Track (fun ride, but GM is really getting their money's worth with the marketing. Most rides at Disney World end in a gift shop; this one ends in a car showroom.

We shopped our way towards Japan, stopping in China for the Circlevision 360° show. Krys bought a Chinese parasol that she had her eye on earlier in the week, and we looked at the museum's show of several hundred ancient Chinese garden warrior spirits that had been unearthed in an archeological dig. Maybe I'll offend a good size chunk of the world's population here, but aren't these just old dirty garden gnomes?

We had dinner at Teppanyaki, a typical but nice Japanese steak house, very Benihana like. I was feeling sicker than I had all week, and merely picked at my food, but the rest of us really liked it. Krys had never been to a cook-in-front-of-you show place, other than Mongolian Grill, and was quite impressed. Kevin had warm sake, which he declared to be excellent. I tried it... feh.

Sick as a dog, I left the group early and headed back to the hotel. Rumor is that they shopped their way through the rest of the world. I packed for the next day's trip home -- I was taking an 8:00 a.m. flight out; the rest of them were leaving at 6:00 a.m., which means early to bed and gawdawful early to rise. They arrived as I was finishing packing, they packed, and we headed to bed. They awoke dark and early and headed out; I tried to go back to sleep for two hours, but was unsuccessful. An hour later, I got up, showered, and caught the bus to the airport.

At the airport, I was early enough, and security was fast enough, that I got to see the Kim, Kevin, and Krys off at the gate. That's unusual to be able to do these days. Their route took them home via Houston; mine was via Dallas. We both hit weather, and were delayed three hours in getting home. From Dallas, I arranged for the three of them to be met by a town car, which took them home (cheaper than a cab!). Otherwise, pretty uneventful trip back.

Good times.