Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sunday Qualifying

The way ESPN has the WPT promotion set up is this - you play in tournaments throughout the week to amass tournament points. If you manage to grab at least 60 tournament points in a given week, you can register and play in the Sunday Qualifier tournament.

Each SQ has about 1200 people in it, starting at tables of 10, so 120 tables to begin. The last 50 remaining folks in the tournament qualify for the big final tournament at the end of the whole mess. That tournament will involve around 400 people.

What this means is that by placing in the top 50 on Sunday, you give yourself a 400:1 shot at a free seat at the WPT in Atlantic City (worth $10,000.)

I played one previous Sunday and found the whole thing to be rather bizarre - because there is little difference between 50th place and 1st place (there are actual prizes for the SQ winner, but they are pretty lame), once you get down to about 70 people, everything slows to a crawl as people try to just stall their way into the top 50.

This whole approach struck me as kind of chincy, so I was determined to continue to play aggressively. I figured this would give me an advantage against the people who were trying to stall. I wound up with about 15,000 in chips with 60 people left in the tournament and the blinds at 2,000/4,000, meaning I could have survived at least a couple more trips around the table without getting blinded out of the game.

Thinking back on it, I could really kick myself for what happened next. I was dealt JT suited (spades) in late position, which is a great drawing hand, actually the best draw hand in the deck, because it makes four different nut straights plus a pretty good flush, and if you wind up with top pair you probably have the best hand.

Trouble is, when you only have 14,000 in chips with the blinds at 2,000/4,000, you simply cannot afford to play any draw hands. You basically are sitting and waiting for some huge pair, or at the very least an AK or something that has some shot at holding up without hitting on the flop.

Instead, I stubbornly chose to call with JT, and when the small blind raised behind me I compounded the error by calling again. What came down was Ac 9c 5d, leaving me with no straight draw, no flush draw, and beaten by anybody holding an ace.

So I had to fold, and suddenly I was in danger of getting blinded out quickly because I only had 6,000 in chips.

Eventually I finished 57th. It was a tough way to learn the lesson that whatever you have to do to win within the rules is the right strategy. Don't get caught up trying to play some kind of honorable style to the detriment of your chances to take home the prize.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I am the Greatest

Won my second multi-table tournament today, besting 89 other competitors to qualify for my second "Sunday Qualifier" in the ESPN WPT promotion. Normally you don't learn much from winning, because winning happens when you stay within yourself and do what you already know works. Losing is what teaches you.

This tournament was a little different because I was experimenting with a new style, a more aggressive style that is more like what is played by the majority of good players today. What was interesting to me about this experience was how hard it was for me to accept the huge swings in stack size that come with the territory of being a hyperaggressive player.

What I began to see as the tournament wore on was that the swings of a hyper-aggressive player's stack almost act in the opposite fashion as those of a normal conservative player's stack (which is the style I normally play.)

When nothing is really happening, your stack is growing slowly because when nobody makes a hand, you take down the pot. Then your stack will decrease sharply because somebody makes a hand and calls or raises your bet and you wind up having to fold and cut your losses (or you lose a showdown.)

As long as you maintain, equilibrium, though, you are doing well, because of two things. One, in a tournament the blinds increase regularly. For a conservative player this is a problem, because the rate of decline of your stack as you wait to make a hand keeps increasing. For an aggressive player, your steady rise in chips will keep pace with the blinds (as will the losses.)

What's more, when you finally do make a real hand, you are more likely to get some action because it will be harder for other players to tell the difference between when you are betting with little or no hand, and when you are betting with a big hand.

Don't have much more to say than that. But it was a fun and interesting day. No more poker now til Sunday (the MTT's aren't good practice for the Sunday Qualifier, for reasons I'll discuss tomorrow.)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Return of the Groom

Due to overwhelming popular demand, I have unretired. The political stuff is being ably handled by my IRL avatar, freeing me up to talk about what really makes Raul Groom tick - gambling. Or, in this case, fake gambling.

For the last few weeks I have been cultivating a mild poker addiction on the ESPN website, where they will allow you to play for free. There you have a good shot at winning a massive array of crappy prizes and a crappy shot at winning three or four good prizes. So far I have cashed in my shot at a crappy prize (poker flash cards) without getting even a sniff of any of the good prizes.

If Chris Moneymaker (the amateur guy with the bad sunglasses who won the WPT a couple of years back) taught us anything, it's that one thing the Internet is good for is that it allows you to play a ridiculous number of poker hands in your spare time. And playing a ridiculous number of poker hands is really the only way to improve at poker.

What's kind of fascinating is that I'm pretty sure, based on my experience at ESPN, that you could program a poker bot with an extremely simple algorithm that would be able to consistently beat at least half of the poker players out there. Now again, at ESPN the money is fake. At pay sites the ratio of fish to actual players is probably lower. But I would bet that a poker bot could still break even against most people.

Now, that's not actually what fascinates me. What fascinates me is that at least at this point in my poker career, I think I would be one of those people that my hypothetical bot could beat. The reason I think that is because when I make a mistake, I usually know at the moment I'm acting that I'm making the mistake.

The other day I was playing some No Limit Hold 'em and I was holding a pair of sevens, which is usually a pretty good money hand for me. I had called pre-flop and three other players limped in as well. The flop came K J 7 with two hearts.

For the non hold-em players out there, such a flop is very dangerous because while I almost certainly have the best hand at this moment, if I let these three opponents see any more cards, somebody is likely to draw out on me. At this point the only cards that help me are the remaining seven, the remaining three kings, and the remaining three jacks. The cards that hurt me are so numerous it's almost impossible to list them all, but they include all the hearts in the deck and basically every remaining card above a seven that I didn't mention before.

So obviously what I need to do here is make a bet so big that it will knock out anyone who hasn't already made a hand. And this is what I normally would have done, but for some reason here I got greedy and decided to wait and see what came on the turn, so I just called some small bet from the first guy to act.

The turn card was the ten of hearts. This is a monumentally bad card, probably the worst card in the deck actually, because now anybody holding pocket hearts has me beat, anybody holding AQ has me beat, and anybody holding 89 has me beat. Meanwhile it's reasonable that someone could have AQ of hearts, meaning they are holding the absolute nuts and even if I make my full house I can't beat them.

But I'm in late position, and my opponents check around to me, so I decide to make a big bet to bluff them off the pot.

Let's revisit my earlier decision, shall we? I didn't make a big bet when I almost definitely had the best hand. Now I'm betting when I have no reason to believe I have the best hand. Sure enough, now the guy in first position raises, and I have to fold.

Except I don't fold. Why? Well, I guess I figured I came this far...

Anyway, he had indeed made the nut flush with A6 of hearts or something like that. So in a hand when I could have taken down a small pot, I instead lost all my money.

Guh.