Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hand of the Day

I have been spending some time studying and analyzing hand histories. Here is one from heads-up play at the final table of the Aussie Millions Main Event:

Hand #411: James Keys opened to 225,000 and David Gorr three-bet to 750,000 from the big blind. Keys shuffled chips in his right hand for roughly a minute before moving all in as Gorr quickly called for his 4,140,000 total.

Keys: {K-Hearts}{Q-Hearts}
Gorr: {A-Diamonds}{Q-Clubs}

With Gorr dominating his heads-up opponent, the {J-Clubs}{3-Hearts}{9-Hearts} flop gave Keys the second best flop without taking the lead (with a standard up and down with a flush draw being the best).

The {2-Clubs} on the turn changed little, and as both players stayed seated, the {6-Diamonds} spiked on the river to send Gorr soaring back into the lead with 8,280,000 as Keys slips to 6,190,000 in chips.


Before I saw the flop, I said to myself that I would have just called if I was Keys. Gorr is an "old man" literally and in the sense that he seems to play pretty straightforward poker, generally waiting for good hands and not making many big moves. It's not to say that he's not a skilled player, but studying the hand histories, he wasn't reraising with the same frequency of the average younger player. Gorr's betsizing also indicates a strong hand (though probably not a big pair).

I think KQ suited is a great hand to play in position in a reraised pot, particularly with these stack sizes. Keys had the ideal stack to shove over a Gorr continuation bet on the flop. If Keys flopped a flush draw or straight draw, he would have fold equity to get Gorr off marginal holdings postflop. Say Gorr had ace-ten, and elected to c-bet a JT4 flop. Keys shoves, and Gorr is put in a bad spot.

The obvious example, of course, is what actually happened. If Keys flatcalls this bet, Gorr is hung out to dry. When Gorr c-bets that flop, Keys shoves, and Gorr is forced to fold or make an outlandish call. If Gorr checks, Keys can just shove all-in, or make a pot-committing bet if he feels that is more likely to chase away Gorr.

Hindsight is always 20/20 of course, and Gorr won the tournament four hands later (albeit on a bad beat) on a hand that never would have happened if Keys had played that KQ of hearts differently.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My 100 Favorite Songs: #5

Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone

When I was a junior in college, I took a bus to the Mall of America one Friday night. From there I hopped onto a shuttle to a casino, then took a cab ride from that casino to the Canterbury Card Club. I played $3-6 limit hold em all night and lost everything I came with along with a big chunk of my checking account. I wasn't going to pay $50 for a cab ride at that point, so I began a long trek back to the connector casino. I stopped at a Subway and called a couple friends from a payphone, but no one had a car available. I hiked alongside the interstate for about half an hour, then cut across into the woods. I fell asleep in the woods for an unknown period of time and woke up hungry and thirsty under the September sun. I got up and headed back to the highway, which I walked alongside for another half hour. At that point I felt like I had nothing in the world, except for this song, which I kept singing to myself as the cars whizzed by.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Championship Picks

If forced to choose:

STEELERS -3.5 over Jets
Packers -3.5 over BEARS

Lock season record: 1-0
Really like season record: 2-1
Also like season record: 38-25-1
If forced to choose season record: 98-89-2
All games season record: 139-115-3

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lessons Learned From the Baltimore Ravens

Behind rookie head coach and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, the 2008 Baltimore Ravens exceeded everyone’s expectations en route to the AFC Championship. The Ravens lost that championship game to the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, but the season was still considered an overwhelming success. No team starting a rookie quarterback has ever made it to the Super Bowl, and the Ravens were coming off a 5-11 season.

The 2008 team was spearheaded by an electric, bone-crushing defense featuring veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed along with young stars Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. On offense the Ravens played it safe, nurturing Flacco with a diet of handoffs and simplistic throws. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron devised a punishing three-tiered running attack that sprinkled in the occasional throw to keep the defense honest. Flacco was efficient for a rookie quarterback, throwing more touchdowns than interceptions, but never recorded a 300-yard passing game.The Ravens lost three times to the Steelers that season. They just couldn’t get over the hump against the hated Steelers, a similar defensive-minded team with a quarterback a few years further along in his development than Flacco.

Baltimore’s record slipped to 9-7 the next season, but that was enough to get the Ravens back to the playoffs. They hammered the Patriots in round one before a punchless 20-3 loss to the Super Bowl-bound Indianapolis Colts.

In an effort to become more dynamic in the passing game, to be able to match scores with the Steelers and Colts, the Ravens traded for wide receiver Anquan Boldin in March and then added T.J. Houshmandzadeh right before the season. Flacco posted career highs in yards, touchdowns, and QB rating. The Ravens went 12-4, but once again lost a heartbreaker to the Steelers which relegated them to wild card status. The playoffs found them in Pittsburgh once again, and again the Ravens came up short. Flacco threw for just 125 yards and both Boldin and Houshmandzadeh dropped critical passes.

Flacco is a solid young quarterback. He finished the season 7th in QB rating. But Flacco isn’t one of the best. He’s not a guy who you can trust in the clutch. He doesn’t seem to play his best in big games. He doesn’t make plays with his feet. He turns the ball over at inopportune times. And he seems to lack the panache, the leadership of QBs like Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman.

The Ravens have also lost their identity. That 2008 team knew what it was – an overtly physical, intimidating squad that relied on a top defense and a creative offense. Since then the defense has declined slightly. While Flacco and the offense have improved overall, there isn’t a word that describes their style. “Straightforward”, “mainstream”, “vanilla”, and “slow” are the best descriptors. The Ravens may go for more yards these days, but there isn’t anything they do that scares opposing defenses.

Baltimore is now at a crossroads. For three years the Ravens have crushed the weaker competition but have struggled against the powerhouses. Hall of Famers Lewis and Reed don’t have much time left in the league. Their windows are closing. The team needs to decide whether the current offense, quarterbacked by Flacco and coached by Cameron, has what it takes for the Ravens to compete with the likes of Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. The NFL is so brutally competitive right now. A quarterback who is merely good is not enough. It could be a trying offseason in Baltimore, haunted by visions of Troy Polamalu sacking Flacco and jarring a fumble loose, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropping passes onto a frosty Heinz Field.

As they have for the Ravens, things have been going pretty well for me. I can’t really complain about anything, and life has been on a general uptick for a while now. But I have no identity. I don’t know how to describe myself anymore. I’m not really a professional poker player, not really a writer. I wish I could be a professional board game player, and I am sort of looking into designing board games. I’m just sort of drifting without a sail right now, though the seas are calm.

The PCA was a humbling experience for me. It’s clear that my poker game has become decrepit. Repairing it won’t be a matter of shaking off the rust. There are large holes to fill. I have fallen behind the curve. If I want to get better, I am going to have to put in a lot of work. I am fortunate to have plenty of educational resources at my disposal, and I still believe that I have what it takes to compete at the highest levels of tournament poker. But I’m certainly not at that level presently.

I have to make a decision. Get in or get out. Push all-in or fold. If I want to be a successful poker player, I can’t half-ass it (which is what I’ve been doing for the last six months) anymore. At the moment I am squarely on the fence. It's not easy to just turn my back on what I've been doing the last six years, especially since I feel like the mission was never accomplished.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My 100 Favorite Songs: #6

Green Day - Basket Case

When I hit the sixth grade, this was the #1 song in school. Basket Case was the first modern rock song I really ever considered. Little did I know how apropos its lyrics would be fifteen years later. Except for the stuff about the transvestite prostitute.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Divisional Picks

If forced to choose:

Packers +2.5 over FALCONS
BEARS -10 over Seahawks
PATRIOTS -8.5 over Jets
STEELERS -3.5 over Ravens

Lock season record: 1-0
Really like season record: 2-1
Also like season record: 38-25-1
If forced to choose season record: 95-88-2
All games season record: 136-114-3

PCA $1k 6-max Day Two

I reshipped jack-ten suited smack into a pair of aces about half an hour into play. Though I turned an openended straight draw and a flush draw, I missed the river and was eliminated with about fifty players left paying forty.

PCA $1k 6-max

This was a much better effort on my part, and I will be returning tomorrow with half an average stack. 59 players are left and 40 will be paid.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

PCA Bounty Shootout

This was not a strong performance. I hemorrhaged chips like a punctured piñata before losing a race for an inconsequential stack and went to get some conch salad.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

PCA Main Event

Play got off to a smooth start before I lost a big pot with J9 against KK on a J9766 board. After that I bled chips like a wounded animal until getting it in with Td8d against 73 on a 763 two diamond flop. This pot would have gotten me back close to the starting stack at a pretty reasonable table but it was not to be and I was eliminated before the dinner break.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

I Thread The Needle Through, You Beat The Devil's Tattoo: 2010 Recap

At this time last year I was sitting around the house, coughing up pleghm, listening to Love is Hell, basically just waiting and praying for something good to happen. I formulated a plan of attack for 2010 and got straight to work by heading down to the Bahamas for the PCA. In January hopes were modest: I just wanted to feel like myself again,

to know that life was worth fighting for.

In the Bahamas several close friends helped me remember that it was, and I started to see the light.

I traveled the tournament circuit throughout the winter, making stops in Biloxi, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose, Tempe, and Albuquerque. The highlight was a final table at the North American Poker Tour’s inaugural event at the Venetian. Though that final table did not go well, it was enough to make 2010 my seventh profitable year out of seven playing poker for a living. As I travelled, my heart soared. It was an amazing geographical, social and psychological journey through America.

In April I went to St. Louis for a WSOP Circuit event and stayed with PiMaster and his young family. St. Louis was delirious with sunshine. Winter was officially over.

A while back my friend Shane sent me a song called “To Beat the Devil” which really resonated.

In April one of my favorite groups, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, echoed Kristofferson with “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”, a dismal album with a rousing title track.

Beat the Devil’s Tattoo became the mantra for the next several months. In 2010 I waged war on the Devil’s icy grip, and I emerged victorious.

I have always known how blessed I am, but had never managed to translate this good fortune into happiness. The grass has always been greener on the other side. I’ve always been haunted by my perceived shortcomings. Fixating on what is lacking has trumped satisfaction with what isn’t. In 2010 I stopped obsessing over failure and imperfection and found contentment in simple pleasures: NFL Sunday. Ripping one over the incompetent right fielder's head. Opening placement in a Settlers of Catan game. The feel of a perfectly struck golf ball. The last piece of yellowtail.

I don’t think it could have happened without the miserable stretch that ended 2009. The world is a prettier place after staring into Apollyon’s eyes.

The World Series of Poker was my third straight losing one, but I had about as much fun as one can have while losing money in the desert in the summer. I am getting better at disassociating poker tournaments with self-worth. You have to if you want to keep your sanity.

In August I met a captivating young woman, and this one turned out to be more than an exciting pursuit, but a vivacious foil who accepts me for who I am. I have never made an attempt to act like someone else in her company. I am grateful that she enjoys the basic version of me.

I’d like to think I could have gotten to this place without her, that my self-worth is no longer tied up in who I am or am not dating. Disassociating the two, along with poker success, was the key to converting pessimism to optimism.

I went to the British Isles in the fall. I went for poker, I went for leisure, I went for beer, I went cause a couple friends were heading through Ireland at the same time, and I went cause I had to go see about a girl.

I'm glad I went.

Fall was dominated by football. My partner and I were able to make some money on the game we love so much. I no longer have any notions of sportsbetting as a primary or reliable source of income, but it was nice to win a little (along with a fantasy football championship).

December included a terrifying journey to a yurt as nightfall and a blizzard simultaneously descended upon our group at 12,000 feet. I was concerned that lives could be in danger, but everybody pulled through. It was another chance for me to thank my lucky stars, though they were obscured by clouds and sideways snowfall.

I learned a lot through it all, so much that in 2011 my only goal is to write a book about everything I learned. My inability to write this book in 2010 was the year's one obvious failure, but I now have a story to tell and I think I know how to tell it. Some of the one-line lessons I learned in 2010:

  • Social mobility is more satisfying than high social standing.
  • Never evaluate a relationship while having sex.
  • Never evaluate a relationship five minutes after having sex.
  • Sex might not be the most important thing in the world. This is quite a revelation, cause for the past thirteen years, I was pretty sure it was.
  • Hanging out with people you know to be smarter than you can be challenging and deflating, but it's usually worth it.
  • Never bet on a football team missing two starting offensive linemen.
  • If I have any talent handicapping NFL games, it seems to be in evaluating matchups of the league’s worst teams.
  • Making decisions on a purely financial basis is foolish.

On a related note, I will be playing day 1a of the PCA Saturday on Paradise Island.

Wild Card Picks

Power Rankings:

12. Seattle
11. Kansas City
10. New York Jets
9. Indianapolis
8. Chicago
7. New Orleans
6. Baltimore
5. Philadelphia
4. Atlanta
3. Green Bay
2. Pittsburgh
1. New England

Wild Card Picks

If forced to choose:

COLTS -2.5 over Jets
SEAHAWKS +10.5 over Saints
Packers +2.5 over EAGLES
Ravens -3 over CHIEFS

Lock season record: 1-0
Really like season record: 2-1
Also like season record: 38-25-1
If forced to choose season record: 92-87-2
All games season record: 133-113-3

Monday, January 03, 2011

December Top 15

15. Tracy Bonham - The One
14. Broken Bells - The High Road
13. Paul Simon - 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
11. Fleet Foxes - Sun It Rises
12. Broken Bells - The Ghost Inside

10. Kanye West - Power
9. Islands - Creeper
8. Kanye West - Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)
7. Gin Wigmore - Oh My
6. Goo Goo Dolls - Let Love In

5. Carolina Liar - Show Me What I'm Looking For
4. Chemical Brothers - Dissolve
3. Ween - Cold Blows The Wind
2. River City Extension - Something Salty, Something Sweet

Song of the Month: The Decemberists - Down By The Water

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Week Seventeen Picks

Also like:

NINERS -6.5 over Cardinals
CHIEFS -3.5 over Raiders

If forced to choose:

TEXANS -3 over Jaguars
Chargers -3.5 over BRONCOS
PACKERS -9.5 over Bears
COLTS -9.5 over Titans
LIONS -3.5 over Vikings
Cowboys +11 over EAGLES
Steelers -5.5 over BROWNS
Rams -3 over SEAHAWKS
Dolphins +4.5 over PATRIOTS
REDSKINS +3.5 over Giants
Panthers +14.5 over FALCONS
Bengals +9.5 over RAVENS
SAINTS -7.5 over Bucs

Lock season record: 1-0
Really like season record: 2-1
Also like season record: 37-24-1
If forced to choose season record: 86-81-2
All games season record: 126-106-3