Monday, 16 June 2008

Life, the universe, and everything

Much as I aspire to be as lazy as certain members of the Cardschat blogger community who will remain nameless, well, it's a slow morning at work.

My time in the past week or two has been largely taken up by an unusually busy period at work and, of course, what are commonly known as 'visits to the pub to watch Euro 2008'.

I haven't played any poker at all. And the beauty of that is that I don't care.

To meander a little, much like any other casual poker player I have harboured dreams of turning pro. I still recall with amusement me thinking about how I could easily just open up a dozen tables of $50NL and happily grind away. I had only very limited liabilities at the time (I still lived at home with the parents until about six months ago), so I would always figure I had nothing to lose in giving it a shot. I often mulled over taking a week's holiday from work and doing a 'trial run', but I always ended up talking myself out of it.

On reflection, how wise I was.

Poker is a soul-destroying game. When one turns pro, (s)he crosses the line between poker being 'fun' and being 'a job'. I, like most casual players, play poker mainly because I enjoy it. I enjoy the learning process, and applying the learning process in actual gameplay. If someone came up to me and absolutely guaranteed that I would make $0 in profit over the rest of my poker playing career (but not make any losses), I would still play every now and then. I believe that's the question you need to ask yourself if you're unsure exactly why you play poker.

The great thing about having a 'normal' job is I have a boss. Sure, it may not seem great when I'm getting yelled at for doing something wrong or making long-winded blog posts when I should be working, but ultimately it's great for me because I have someone to answer to. A professional poker player has nobody to answer to but themselves. While on the surface this sounds wonderful, unless you are very, very commited and are capable of very high levels of self-control, you will end up lagging behind in your poker playing 'duties'. When you play less, the downswings hurt more, you have less working capital available, you tilt, you lose more money because of said tilt, and eventually you end up having to either go back to your old boss with cap in hand and say "oops" or look for another job.

I don't have the level of discipline required for the above to not apply. I don't believe that that level of discipline can be taught, so I'm somewhat stuck. If I don't want to play poker, I don't have to. I like that luxury.

Anyway, the moral of the story is don't be too hasty in 'turning pro'. The ability to distinguish fantasy from reality is a key characteristic of those of sane mind. It's okay to occasionally daydream about winning the WSOP, or even daydream of 12-tabling $50NL for 8 hours a day if you're particularly sad, but don't cross the line without due care and attention.

As I mentioned at the start of this post I've been watching a lot of Euro 2008, and as always when a big football tournament starts I've taken to having the odd wager, gambler that I am. Italy are pretty much single-handedly the reason why I'm only £20 up as opposed to over £100 up (results in the next couple of days going as expected) as including them in my group winners accumulator was unwise in hindsight, and betting on them to beat Romania to nil was probably equally silly. I can't decide whether it's wise to be results-oriented while sports betting or not - the poker player in me wants to say it obviously isn't, but the business absolutely hinges on results.

After much pre-tournament deliberation I backed Spain to win the whole thing, and I'm content with that at the moment. The inevitable Dutch blowup is imminent, Germany look average, Italy and France look worse than average so far, and Portugal are flattering to deceive, and their loss to Switzerland, no matter how understrength their team was, is troubling. Scolari's mind is likely elsewhere at the moment too. Turkey might make a decent outside bet as their morale has to be sky-high at the moment.

I don't think there's a lot of value in Austria v Germany and Poland v Croatia tonight so I'm abstaining, but France to beat an Italy side who appear to be on the brink of civil war at 7-4 looks appetizing in a game where a draw is very unlikely. Holland v Romania is horribly sketchy - you can get 12-5 on a Holland win which normally would be ridiculously long odds, but as the Dutch are already through as group winners and a win for Romania would knock out two potentially dangerous opponents in Italy and France, it doesn't take a genius to see that Holland won't care as much as they usually do. Regardless, I'm tempted to punt on the Dutch, as even their second team should have too much for Romania, and Italy and France have looked so average I doubt the Dutch will be too concerned at the prospect of playing either of them in the semi-finals.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Cardschat Championships of Poker ("CCCOP") and Pot Limit Omaha ramblings

Only my third entry in this blasted thing and I'm already making brag posts? Damn right.

Apparently I won the leaderboard which Ian ran for the CCCOP. Mainly thanks to wins in everybody's favourite games, Pot Limit Omaha and Stud8, the former being a repeat victory as I won the PLO in the last series.

I recorded a live 'action' video of the PLO win which can be downloaded here. I also recorded last year's PLO win, which is up here. I should probably record more tournaments seeing as I appear to do well when I do. The educational value of these videos is somewhat spurious to say the least, but an absolute Omaha beginner may be able to pick up some things.

Of note is that both tournaments feature what I refer to as 'backwards' tournament strategy. Players who are clearly new to the game limping a lot early on, and tightening up as the blinds increase. For a new Omaha player, much like a new Holdem player, the best way to play preflop in general is tightly. The loose-aggressive strategy might benefit seasoned veterans who are exceptional postflop players, but new Omaha players are invariably terrible postflop players (largely as a consequence of (a) often not being sure exactly what they have, and (b) overvaluing weak draws, two pair, and even TPTK). The loose-passive strategy only benefits the other players at your table in the long run.

Another common mistake among newer PLO players is the tendency to limp rather than raise preflop. Their line of thinking is some variant of (and I know this because I've been there myself), "Well if I raise I'm only going to get called, and I won't be comfortable postflop unless I flop a really big hand". This is a fallacy. Anyone who has studied Holdem in any depth knows that we raise for three main reasons:

1) To reduce the number of players in the pot
2) To gain value with what we believe is the best hand
3) As a bluff to steal blinds or as a resteal.

Exactly the same applies in Omaha. Yes, hand rankings are much less 'spread' and closer in value than in Holdem simply because of the nature of the game (four holecards as opposed to two), but these three points still apply.

1) Just as in Holdem, some Omaha hands play a lot better heads-up than multiway, AAxx and other high paired hands being the obvious examples.

2) Although hand rankings are much closer in Omaha (for example there are no 'powerhouse' hands like AA/KK), some hands are still better than others. If you get money in with the better hand, you will profit in the long run, whether your edge is 51/49 or 70/30 (obviously you will profit more when it's 70/30, but that's why Omaha is oft described as a game of small edges).

3) Holdem tournament strategy still applies to Omaha. As blinds increase, you will find yourself having to steal blinds, as you can't always rely on being dealt good cards. Identifying who you can steal from and who will defend with anything is as crucial as it is in Holdem.

Upon reflecting on exactly how I was able to win back-to-back PLO events, three things came to mind.

1) I was lucky. Newsflash - you need luck to win tournaments.

2) I had more Omaha experience than most of the field.

3) I knew how a lot of the players would play Omaha before a hand had even been dealt.

To expand on point 3 above, I came up with a theorem as a result of a conversation with a fellow forum member a while back.

When regular Holdem players but inexperienced Omaha players play Omaha, they become exaggerated versions of their Holdem selves.

This probably doesn't make a lot of sense at the moment because I phrased it so terribly.

Essentially, the traits in a person's Holdem game are magnified when playing an unfamiliar poker game. Take a tight player, for example. Tight players, when met with what they believe to be marginal decisions, tend to fold. Put this tight player in an unfamiliar game, and they are invariably going to be met with more marginal decisions as a simple consequence of not knowing a great deal about the game they're playing. The inverse applies to looser players - they will get looser. Generally, when already tight players get tighter and already loose players get looser without any underlying reason behind it, their game suffers, and crucially they become far more predictable. All of a sudden it becomes evident who thinks they are value betting in PLO with AKxx on a KQ9 board and who will fold Q9xx to a single flop bet on the same board, or who will fold AQ77 when folded to in mid position because they're "not sure how good a hand it is".

This is all retrospective thought (which is why none of it is mentioned in the videos), but I believe that effective retrospective thought is a crucial weapon in the arsenal of a solid poker player.

On a side note, Party Poker have decided to drop me a $100 bonus so I almost feel obliged to clear it. You will probably catch me there over the next week or two under the name "Qhr1s0" if you look closely enough.

'Till next time!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The Ultimate Bet cheating scandal - four lies (and then some) don't make a truth

Anyone who follows the news in the online poker world will surely be aware of the ongoing scandal involving Ultimate Bet ("UB") and several alleged (and as of today confirmed) 'superuser' accounts - essentially accounts that can see other users holecards.

Well, today, UB put out an official press release. For anyone who's been following the saga, it's a highly questionable read.

Firstly, the amount of time it has taken for an official release to be made is absurdly long. The scandal originally broke at the turn of the year, and we are now almost six months on. Seeing as PokerStars, Full Tilt and I'm assuming even UB are able to conduct and conclude investigations into credit card fraudsters, chipdumpers and colluders within a few weeks, it seems bizarre that their investigation should have taken so long. Obviously I'm all for a thorough investigation, but does anything in UB's press release indicate that their investigations have been so thorough as to have taken six months? Their press release can essentially be summarised into, "these accounts cheated - it was nothing to do with us - have a nice day". Six months for that?

Secondly, this is not the only 'superuser' scandal to erupt in recent times. Absolute Poker ("AP") has also had a scandal of its own, the exploits of one 'POTRIPPER' and associates. Guess what? The same company and the same man, one Joe Norton of Tokwiro Enterprises owns both sites. But there's nothing suspicious about that because the AP superuser was a disgruntled employee trying to prove a point and the UB superuser was an employee of UB's previous owner. Neither had anything at all to do with Tokwiro, of course!

Thirdly, why have no actual names of the alleged criminals in the UB case been provided in the release? Why is there no mention of any forthcoming legal action? Why was no legal action apparently taken in the AP case? UB is suitably vague in its press release - stating that the culprits were related to UB's 'previous owners' and providing account names but not providing any names of people. Wouldn't be that they're fearful of the inevitable counter-lawsuit, would it?

Fourthly, 'the software code that enabled unfair play was removed from UltimateBet servers in February of 2008'. Right. This is a sign of really wonderful management! In light of the AP scandal, UB still, for months after everything related to AP had come out into the open, had 'software code that enabled unfair play'? Now I'm no businessman, but given the AP situation shouldn't UB's (and indeed every poker site's) prerogative be to remove these backdoors which could be used to facilitate cheating?

Not only that but the press release states that 'The investigation confirms that the fraudulent activity took place from March 7, 2006 to December 3, 2007'. That's twenty-one months! Are we really to believe that UB's management and investigations team didn't once in twenty-one months notice anything suspicious regarding these high-stakes playing accounts with abnormal winrates? At best they are utterly incompetent, at worst they are fraudsters.

The press release is a step forward in one sense - people who were cheated are being refunded. However, the release by no means represents a satisfactory solution to the issue, as it is clear that at best details are being held back, and at worst UB are still lying through their teeth.

I also find it amusing that online pro Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy signed up as a UB pro last weekend, apparently pending a satisfactory resolution the the cheating scandal. Why he didn't wait until a satisfactory resolution had been reached before signing up for anything one doesn't know (although as is inevitable the main motivating factor was most likely money), and I will be somewhat morbidly amused if he becomes UB's puppet in this scenario by trotting out to poker forums and stating how wonderful UB and their press release are and how they're dedicated to "moving forward" ("moving forward" appears to be some kind of catchphrase among the UB pros and representatives at the moment - I think UB have cancelled their usual pro and rep-paying policies and are now paying them per use of the phrase "moving forward"). From what I've heard he is apparently an astute businessman, but his decision to represent UB would suggest otherwise.

In the real world, gross fraudsters don't get the opportunity to move forward until they've served some jail time. It seems in the online world, this doesn't apply. If I mug an old lady in the street, when I get caught by the police I don't expect to be able to hand back her purse and say "No hard feelings dear - I'll be off now"! IF UB's upper management and/or owners did perpetrate this scandal they're essentially freerolling - get caught and they just say "oops we're sorry it wasn't our fault honest guv" and give the money back while suffering no consequences - don't get caught and they're laughing all the way to the bank.

While unlike some on several poker forums I am happy to let you make your own decisions, I would suggest that if you have any sense you avoid AP and UB like the plague.

'Till next time!

About me

Hello, good evening, and welcome!

You may not know who I am and I probably don't know who you are (such is the beauty of the internet), so let me introduce myself.

I am Chris, age 25 as of yesterday. I reside in the centre of Birmingham (that's the one in the middle of England, not the one in the middle of hillbilly county, USA or wherever it is). While I could bore you with a full biography, I'll save the long version for when I'm (in)famous enough to make money out of it.

In my spare time, I play a fair bit of online poker. I like to think I'm a good player, but the old poker adage of 'you're not as good as you think you are' almost certainly applies. I enjoy the background and the psychology of the game as much as the actual playing aspect - certainly more of my recent time has been spent keeping up with developments in the poker world and mulling over strategic questions posed in the poker forum I am a moderator of (I believe that's 'way of telling that you're an internet nerd' #3245), that being Cardschat. You will find the majority of my blog entries crossposted in the relevant forum there, if you wish to partake in further discussion or just generally poke fun at me.

Why make a blog and not just continue to post there? I honestly don't know for sure. Maybe it's because I feel more comfortable being overly opinionated and self-serving on my blog as opposed to a general forum. Maybe it's because I feel more comfortable incessantly rambling about things that might make me feel more comfortable posting on a blog. Maybe it's because all the 'cool' kids are doing it and I am trying to keep in with the young crowd having just turned 25 and had my first birthday where my overriding feeling was one of impending doom at how utterly past it I am rather than overwhelming joy and general WOO IT'S MY BIRTHDAY-ness. Maybe it's because this blog will provide me with a convenient vehicle for typing contentless drivel (like the preceding paragraph). Who knows? Even I don't know how my mind works sometimes (which makes me difficult to read at a poker table).

I intend to maintain a healthy mix between (poker-related) irreverent humour, strategy, news and views here. If you have any input, feel free to drop me a mail or contact me on Cardschat under the handle 'Dorkus Malorkus'.

Much love!