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.