Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Circuit

I listen to a lot of music.  I love music.  For some reason I don't care for poetry unless it's put to music.  Then I love it.  Go figure.

My taste in music is pretty eclectic.  Some of the best concerts I've attended have been The Eagles, Willie Nelson, Aerosmith, Neil Diamond, Three Dog Night, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The other day I heard an old classic:  "Amarillo By Morning" by George Strait.  There are quite a few songs out there about riding the rodeo circuit and that got me to thinking.  I've never followed the rodeo circuit but it sounds a lot like following the poker circuit.

Both involve chasing that ever elusive big score.  The odds are against you but you keep chasing the big gold belt buckle or, in the case of poker, the bracelet.  In both rodeos and poker tournaments we seem to be driven by the same adrenaline rush.  As Chris Ledoux says in "Hooked on an 8 Second Ride", "Hooked on a feeling, addicted to a natural high".  It's more than the thrill of victory--it's the chase.  Knowing you're almost surely behind with your one pair, an inside straight draw, and a back door flush draw but calling anyway to chase the dream.  Or believing your over pair is good and betting it while dreading that third club hitting the board.      

For the bronco rider or the bull rider it's surviving for that terrifying yet magical eight seconds.  For us it's surviving the grind of a fourteen hour session hoping to bag chips at the end of the ordeal.  And you're still not guaranteed to even make the money, much less take down the jewelry.  While the physical strain is of a different sort the strain is there nonetheless.  Anyone who hasn't done it needs to try sitting at that table and concentrating on everything that happens for fourteen hours.

Both sports (and yes poker IS a sport) involve living out of hotels, consuming a lot of fast food, traveling all over the country, being away from your family, and straining your marriage.  They're both hard on your family life and whatever social life you might have.  And they're both particularly tough on someone trying to hold down a regular job in their spare time.

In "Rodeo" Garth Brooks says "It's the white in the knuckles, the gold in the buckle.  He'll win the next go round".  You've just moved all in near the bubble with two pairs and the guy at the other end of the table is considering calling.  Does he have a set?  A bigger two pair?  An over pair only?  Is he going to call?  Are you about to double up and be set well for the push to the final table or are you about to be sent to the rail?  Your knuckles may be white and there may be a lump in your throat but you'd better not let it show.  Why did you risk your tournament life on two pairs?  Fourteen or fifteen hours of intense concentration down the drain?  Are you nuts?  You certainly don't have "the nuts".  All you have is three pairs:  two jacks, two tens, and a big brass pair.  Why do we do it?  To "win the next go round".

George keeps crooning "Amarillo by morning, up from San Antone".  Well, my next stop on the circuit is the Million Dollar Heater in Biloxi to start 2014 so I guess it's "Biloxi by morning, back from my day job".

See you there.  Let's chase that proverbial brass ring.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Grocery Money

I've always had a policy of never playing poker with grocery money.  In reality this means I have never and will never play poker with money that is needed for other things.  In other words I only play poker with money I can afford to lose.  Money that I can't afford to lose is what I call "grocery money".  While this may seem like a no-brainer for most of you it always amazes me how many people are gambling with money they can't afford to lose.

I ran into a guy one night that had "got broke" at the casino that very night.  The money he had lost had been set aside to pay the car note and now he didn't know what he was going to do.  His wife wasn't speaking to him and indications were that his marriage was on the rocks as a result of his ill advised adventures.

I had a good friend whose long standing marriage had withstood infidelity including an illegitimate child  but was destroyed by her gambling (not poker) addiction.

I have another friend who plays a lot of tournament poker and some cash games.  He tells me he budgets $5000 per month to play poker and $5000 for each tournament series he attends.  The difference here is that he can afford to lose $5000 each month and never even begin to touch grocery money.  He has a thriving business that can easily support his hobby.

My wife reads from time to time about some young guy that has just won a lot of money playing poker and sometimes wonders aloud why I haven't hit it big.  The reason is simple.  I don't play in big tournaments because my poker bankroll won't support the entry fees and I refuse to use grocery money to enter a tournament.  It's not that I don't consider myself a good gamble.  (At this writing I have won four of the last thirteen tournaments I've entered.  See my blog "To Chop Or Not To Chop" to fully understand what I mean when I say "won" a tournament.)  I just simply WILL NOT gamble with money I can't afford to lose.

You can't win the big tournament with the big payout if you don't enter the big tournament with the big entry fee.  Conversely, I will never go broke playing poker if I don't risk "grocery money".

There is another side to this philosophy.  The other day I stopped at a store to pick up a few groceries and the only money I had on me was my poker bankroll.  I used the credit card to buy the groceries.  You see, I won't play poker with grocery money and, conversely, won't buy groceries with poker money.  My poker money will readily revert to grocery money if and only if we run out of grocery money.

I realize that most of the people that may read this blog already have the same or a similar philosophy about not risking too much on poker but maybe someone will read this and, as a result, manage their money a little better and avoid "going broke" at the casino.

Never play poker with grocery money.

Until later.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Show A Little Class

Bad beats!!  We've all had them.  Sometimes it seems they come in bunches.  A couple of weeks ago I had aces cracked in an all-in situation two hands in a row.  I went from chipped up to rail sitting in a $350 tournament in two hands.  Beaten by a flush both times.  The first hand we got all in after the flop.  I was up against a made flush.  Bad read on my part.  The second time it happened, I was all in before the flop against A8 offsuit.  All this occurred in less than five minutes.

We all have it happen to us seemingly again and again.  The only way to stop it is to quit getting it all in ahead.  If you're always behind when you get it in, you'll never suffer a bad beat.  Doesn't sound like a very good plan does it?

Yet we all know the guy who (if you believe him) never loses a hand unless it's to a bad beat.  And he never actually lays a bad beat on anyone else.  He ALWAYS gets it in good.  I sure wish I were that good at poker.  Imagine what it's like to never make a bad read on the other guy.  To never make a mistake.

Now, if you'll admit it you actually lay a bad beat on somebody else from time to time.  I know I do.  And believe it or not, I actually feel bad about it when that happens.  I'm sure most people won't believe me but I'd rather take a bad beat than give one.  I'm not really saying I feel sympathy for the unlucky guy that just suffered the bad beat that I laid on him.  Nor am I saying that I am not happy that I'm still in the tournament as a result of the bad beat.  The reality is that I'm embarrassed that I moved on as a result of poor judgement on my part--that I benefited from my own mistake.  I'm feeling both embarrassed and guilty.  It feels a bit like I cheated.  The guy outplayed me and I'm the one still standing.

Now to be fair, the better you are at poker the less often you lay a bad beat on someone and the more often you suffer a bad beat.  I'm sure that's why the guy mentioned above makes it sound as though he is ALWAYS the victim of the bad beat.  He usually is the victim because he usually gets it in good.  Just remember that the opposite side of that equation is equally true---the poor player gives more bad beats than he receives because he usually gets it in bad.

Now here is the question:  Do you (we) want the poor player to keep playing?  Do we want him at our table?  I certainly do.  I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with me on this point.

Now, if he just put a bad beat on you and he's feeling a bit embarrassed (or possibly guilty) do you really think it's good long term strategy to add to his embarrassment or guilt?  To put him down?  To point out how you actually played better than him and were somehow cheated by the poker gods?  Think about it.  Not only is it poor long term strategy for all of us to put the guy down but it is classless on your part.

If the bad beat didn't eliminate you, say something like "nice hand, sir" and leave it at that.  If the bad beat eliminated you, pick up your belongings, wish the guys at the table "good luck" and move on.  You're the better player here.  Be the bigger man, too.

Show a little class.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My first WSOP adventure

Since I don't have any 8mm films to bore you with I'll just tell you about my first trip to the WSOP in Vegas this year.  As I've said, I'm not a professional poker player and this really was my first trip to the biggest poker event of the year.

Since I have a day job I only went for a week.  I stayed at Harrah's on the strip which was within walking distance of the Venetian and a quick (free) bus ride from the Rio.  Several quick observations of things that surprised me before I tell my tale:

1.  Harrah's did not impress me.  The building seemed old and musky and the room air conditioning didn't work properly.  It was equipped with a motion sensor so that it wouldn't run if you weren't in the room.  The only problem was that it also wouldn't run if you weren't moving about in the room.  It's difficult to get a good night's sleep while moving about enough to keep the air conditioning running--and air conditioning is an absolute must in Vegas.  Their poker room was also surprisingly small.
2.  As planned, I played several of the deep stack tournaments at The Venetion.  While advertised as being in the Venetian, about half of the tournaments are actually in their sister casino The Palazzo.  I was really impressed with both of these casinos.  Everything about them seemed to be first class.
3.  I had been to Vegas once before on vacation and stayed at the Bellagio.  I think most people would agree that the Bellagio is still the class of Vegas but I was impressed at the sheer size and scope of the casinos in Vegas.  Of course you have to remember that I spend most of my poker playing time in Biloxi and while I wouldn't trade Biloxi for Vegas for all the money in Vegas, Biloxi doesn't hold  a candle to Vegas as far as size and scope of facilities.
4.  I guess I'm about to show my ignorance here:  I didn't realize that there is a maximum buy-in at the small stakes cash games in Vegas.  In Biloxi it's not uncommon to see someone sit down at the 2-5 No Limit game with several thousand in front of them.  I was surprised when a player was told to pocket some of his chips when he sat down at our table in The Venetian.

Now to tell my tale:

One of the main reasons I was looking forward to playing at the WSOP Main Event Series was to play in the Single Table Tournaments.  For whatever reason I've always done pretty well at STT's and had heard that you could play in STT's to your heart's content at The Series.  That part was at least true.  Multiple STT's are running the whole time.  It looked like an STT player's fantasy.

The first day I won a couple of STT's and was up over $1k.  Even though the buy-in for these STT's was with real Ben Franklin's, the bulk of the payout for these tournaments was in $500 tournament entry chips.  I had two of them at the end of the first day and sold them without much fuss the next morning.

By the end of the second day I was up over $5k and had ten $500 chips to sell.  Here is where the problem started.  I positioned myself near the buy-in cage for tournament entry and started hawking my chips.  To my surprise most of the people that I tried to sell them to didn't know what I was trying to sell and treated me like some kind of scam artist.  At first I wrote this off to their inexperience and didn't think much about it.  Then one of these people went into the cage area and "reported" me to the security guard.  The guard came out and informed me that I couldn't sell the chips in the vicinity of the cage.  At first I took this as friendly advice and asked him where I should sell them.  I'm not sure what happened then---maybe he took my remark as being sarcastic??--but he proceeded to inform me that he was supposed to "confiscate your chips and have you arrested for panhandling" and advised me that he would do so if I persisted. 

So far I've avoided ever being incarcerated or even arrested and I've certainly never been accused of panhandling.  Here I was over a thousand miles from home and some guy with a badge was threatening to have me arrested.  I was also in a quandrie--I had to sell these chips.  They accounted for a large portion of my bankroll for the trip and I certainly didn't want to bring them back to Mississippi as souvenirs.

Fortunately, I met an acquaintance who knew some people and offered to sell the chips for me.  As it turned out, though, he then "borrowed" $500 from me.  I've seen him several times since then and he hasn't offered to pay me back so I guess I paid a 10% fee for his help.

The good folks at WSOP don't have to worry about my playing in any more of their Single Table Tournaments.

Just for the record, the above described ordeal put me on tilt.  It takes a lot to put me on tilt.  In fact, I believe this was the first time.  In the end, I blew my winnings and ended up almost exactly even for the trip.

Until later.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

To Chop or Not To Chop

A common practice at final tables of tournaments is to chop the remaining money when several people are left in the tournament.  In fact, to say this is common practice is probably an understatement.  Very few final tables actually play down with the remaining money at risk until there is a final winner.

Chops come in all shapes and sizes.  The final arrangement is whatever is agreed to by all parties.  Often the remaining money is simply split equally between the remaining participants.  Sometimes a massive chip leader will end up with a bigger share.  There is even what is called a "chip count chop" where the remaining money is divided in proportion to each person's chip stack at the time of the chop.  Sometimes the tournament director sanctions and assists with the distribution of the chop and at other times it is only a gentleman's agreement between the players because the tournament director won't officially recognize a chop.  Sometimes a chop is agreed to and the players go ahead and play out the table for the ring, the bracelet, the trophy, the points, the official photograph with the big stack of chips, or simply bragging rights.

The logic for chopping is sound.  At that point, the competitors have usually worked quite a long time to get to the final table, it's late at night or early the next morning, everybody is exhausted and nobody wants to go home with a relatively low pay day after all that time, stress and effort.  If the remaining money is chopped between the final four or five players everybody gets a pretty good chunk of money---somewhere in the neighborhood of second place money.  People will rightly point out that you would have to win the tournament outright to end up with more money and this is a classic case of "a bird in hand is better than two in the bush".

I understand all the rationale for chopping and actually agree with most of the logic and reasoning.  However, I won't chop.  Ever.  Don't even bother to ask.  At this point, I believe I've heard every argument that can be made to chop but I simply won't do it.  I have my reasons and they are delineated below:

1.  I enjoy playing poker.  That's why I do it.  I worked long and hard to get to this final table and refuse to go home at this point without playing it out.  After all, this is why I came in the first place.
2.  I particularly enjoy playing short handed.  As we all know, it is a different game when the table is short handed.  With each elimination the strategy changes.  Again, the challenge and the adrenalin rush are why I'm here in the first place.
3.  The learning experience:  How else are we to learn how to play short handed if we never actually play short handed?  If we always chop when there are several players left we'll never gain the experience of playing with only 2, 3, or 4 players at the table.  And playing the table out after agreeing to a chop is NOT the same thing.  If you believe poker players act the same when little or nothing is at risk, you're kidding yourself.
5.  Because I never chop and most everybody else does, I get more short handed experience than most players and it's hard to argue that this doesn't give me an advantage.  The more I refuse to chop and the more everybody else chops, the greater this advantage becomes for me.
6.  Amateur players like myself ( and I suspect quite a few professional players) dream of winning the big one.  When I finally get to that final table with a wheel barrel of $100 bills between the last two remaining competitors, I will have gained extensive experience at playing high stress, high stakes, short handed poker.

At some point in the future when you're watching ESPN and you see me sitting there at the final table with that big pile of bills rest assured that all that money is actually at risk because I didn't chop.

I never chop.

Until later.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cash or Tournaments?

Here's a question/discussion I hear quite often:  Is it better to play cash or tournaments?  Sometimes the question/assertion is stated in more concrete terms:  Either "tournaments take too long for a possible and unlikely eventual payout" or "cash games are a trap because you can't get the idiots to fold to your better hand", sometimes stated "they will chase you down to the river every time and, more often than not, catch you".

I don't actually "know" the answer to the above question.  I suspect there isn't an actual "correct" answer.  As with so many decisions in poker, "it depends".

If you're a beginner poker player I would suggest playing in some small tournaments first.  My reasoning for this is that the buy-in for some of the small tournaments is $40 or $50 as opposed to the $200 or $300 buy-in for a typical cash game at a casino.  In short, you will be risking less of your hard earned money.  And, let's face it, you're probably going to lose whatever you risk so you might as well make the learning process a little less expensive.  So, try to last as long as you can to enhance and lengthen your learning experience.  Fold a lot.  Only play premium hands.  Last as long as you can.  Watch every move by every person involved in every hand.  Learn as much as you can.

I personally play mostly tournaments myself.  My personal reasoning isn't based on some highly technical mathematical assessment of "return on investment" or "equity".  The reason I feel tournaments are best for me is pretty much the same as why I think tournaments are the best route for a beginner:  low risk.  The most I can lose in a tournament is the entry fee (and maybe a last longer bet).  That's it.  No matter how badly I play (and I sometimes do some pretty stupid things at the poker table) I can only lose what I invest up front.

I personally don't even like re-buy tournaments for pretty much the same reasoning.  I like to know what my risk or investment is going to be up front.

So far, one could easily and reasonably come to the conclusion that I am an extremely conservative person and poker player.  While that may be true about my personality, anyone who has played at the same poker table with me will tell you that I am anything but conservative when it comes to playing poker.  In fact, I'm a bit of a river boat gambler.  I hate folding.  I feel like it's admitting defeat--giving up.  I know that is the wrong attitude but fight it constantly.  I like winning.  I want to win each and every hand I play.  Sometimes at all costs.  I'm one of those people that would pull out the deed to the ranch and raise you with it.

That's why I stick mostly to tournaments--to limit how much I can lose.  I have promised myself that I will never gamble with grocery money and, at the same time, fear that I may actually pull out the grocery money to gamble with at the cash table.

Until next time.

Monday, September 9, 2013


River Poker by Davy Murrah

Let me introduce myself. 

Just to be clear I'm not a professional poker player--at least by my definition of "professional".  By my definition, a "professional poker player" derives the bulk of his/her income from poker.  I don't.  I have a day job that provides most of my income.  I am, however, a winning poker player.

I have been playing poker for a few years now and thoroughly enjoy our game.  How many hobbies actually pay for themselves? 

Poker is the only game I play in the casino.  As far as I know, poker is the only game in the casino not played against the casino.  I figure playing against the casino is a long range losing proposition almost by definition since the casino MUST win in the long run in order to stay in business.

I plan to blog occasionally with some insights for the casual player.  If you're looking for professional tips to take your game to the next level you will probably want to look elsewhere. 

Here goes:

You know the guy.  We all know the guy.  In fact, we all know several of the guys.  You know of whom I'm speaking.  The guy who never makes a mistake at the poker table.  Every time you talk to the guy he tells you how he got knocked out of the last tournament and it's always the same story with only slight variations:  "I raised with KK............idiot called me with J6 offsuit..........couldn't get him to fold........flopped a jack...........rivered a six."  The story has an infinite number of variations but the basic storyline never changes.

Just once wouldn't you like to hear "the guy" admit that he was knocked out of the tourney because he played poorly?   Because he made a mistake?  Or at least he misread an opponent's hand?

Rest assured, I make plenty of mistakes.  Sure, I get beat from time to time by the infamous "suck out" but I don't play perfect poker and probably never will.  All we can hope to do is continually improve by learning from our mistakes.  But how can we learn from our mistakes if we don't even admit that we make mistakes?

Until next time.