Off Week

Encore Club $5,000 Guaranteed Friday Special Event

While I was parking, I ran into DM from my cash in the August Tournament of Champions and the most recent $25K Guarantee. We exchanged pleasantries but he didn’t seem to remember my propensity for calling, which proved to my advantage early on when he was sat down on the far end of the same table I was seated on.

I’d made a few chips on my first hand at the table (I’d missed the first couple of hands), then called DM down through bets that increased to 1,900 each by the turn with my 47 flush draw. I got the heart I needed on the river and called his all-in, killing his two pair and forcing him to rebuy. I could hear him muttering for a while.

Another flush draw with 9T cost me all I’d gained and then some, dropping me to 8,650, a few hundred below starting stack.

On my SB at 100/200, though, I was looking at A?A? and six calls ahead of me. I raised to 1,000, got re-raised to 2,500, four-bet to 5,000 (with just 3,800 behind) and got called. The K?5?K? flop was scary, but I pushed the rest in and got called by A?6? to double back up to 17,650.

9?9? and I re-raised after the 3?3?5? flop from 1,100 to 2,200, but laid down to am all-in of 5,600. He showed Q?Q?.

It was a pocket pairs kind of night for me (although they didn’t mostly pan out). I paid 1,000 with 5?5? to see a flop of 2?K?Q?, then lost another 1,400 fishing for a set with 3?3? when the board went 7?Q?7?Q?. Nothing I could do with that.

Before the add-on at the break I was still at 17,525.

I lost less than I might have with K4 on a 7?4?7?4?K? board when someone else’s pocket 7?7? came a’calling. I don’t know why they didn’t make their bet bigger, I’m fairly certain I might have gone all-in with a full house, but as it was I still had 16,775 in chips.

Q7 made top pair on the flop and won for me, then I finally made 3?3? work for me when I raised to 1,500 before a 9?9?Q? flop. WIth three clubs by the turn, a bet of 2,500 won the hand for me and I was up to 21,300.

I don’t remember if I called or shoved with J?J?, but I lost a race against A?K? and got knocked down to 3,000. I won a race of my own with the Mutant Jack AJ against 6?6? to put me back up to 8,400, but with just a little over 10bb I shoved with QT and got called by A?K?, which knocked me out finally.

Two hours and thirty minutes. -100% ROI. 69th of 98 players.

Inconceivable

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

—Inigo Montoya,  The Princess Bride

In an article about a legal case currently wending its way through the system that involves a decision about whether poker is a game of skill or luck, author Wendeen H. Eolis references an influential 2006 article from the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal by Bennett Liebman, the former executive director of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School who’s now deputy secretary for gaming and racing to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Eolis writes that Liebman lays out case history and terminology surrounding poker and gaming, then says:

Unmasked only at the very end of the article is Mr. Liebman’s apparent disposition toward poker as a game that requires a predominance of skill over chance and a game that should be removed from criminal prosecution and the clutches of gambling (as a matter of law).

She also reproduces the conclusion of Liebman’s paper:

It may be possible for poker in New York to reach the levels W. C. Fields suggested for it in the 1940 movie My Little Chickadee. Fields’ character, Cuthbert J. Twillie, is asked about a poker game by the prototypical rube Cousin Zeb, played by the actor Fuzzy Knight: “Uh, is this a game of chance?” Fields’ response is, “Not the way I play it, no.”

Eolis adds:

Mr. Bennett (sic) concluded in 2006, while at Albany School, “New York now has the potential to make Fields’ view of poker the correct one.”

 Now, I’m just a humble Poker Mutant, not a journalist or a hot-shot lawyer, and while I can imitate people I’ve heard imitating W.C. Fields, I’ve never actually watched My Little Chickadee, but I’m reasonably certain that what Cuthbert Twillie is referring to in the quote above is cheating, which is, indeed, a skill, but probably not one that people hoping to get it recognized as a “game of skill” are hoping to associate with it.

Size Does Matter

Hearkening back to the discussion of median return on investment (mROI) from a couple months back, what tournaments should you be playing to maintain profitability?

The big determining factor is your in-the-money percentage (ITM). If you’re some sort of poker god and cash in half the tournaments you enter, you should be profitable, assuming your mROI is above 200% (i.e. you aren’t always min-cashing). When you’re in the more mortal realm of 12% to 18% ITM, however, the math gets a bit murkier.

Let’s assume you have a solid but not outrageous ITM value of 14%. You’re cashing in about one out of every seven games, not just small games but across the board including games with more than 100 players. If you’re playing in casinos where tips are taken out of the total prize pool, your mROI needs to be +600% or better in order to be profitable. If you’re playing in something like Portland’s social gaming clubs where the winning players need to tip the dealers in order to keep the scene going, your mROI needs to be +440% or better to stay ahead. As an example of the latter, if you enter a tournament with a $25 buy-in, a $10 add-on, and a $10 door fee, your payout needs to be about $350; pay $35 as a tip and subtract $45 for other costs, and the remaining $270 buys you the six tournament entries you don’t cash in. Although the overall mROI for social clubs is lower, the tip means that the prize has to be a higher multiple of the other costs (buy-in, add-on, door) for a positive average return (+677% in the example above).

A $350 payout for a $25 entry tournament is a fairly decent-sized prize, though. Depending on the prize structure, that’s more or less the top prize of a $1,000 guarantee tournament with 25 or 26 players. The median payout in a tournament that size would be less than $300; unless you got the top spot, you’d be dragging down your mROI.

This is why the Poker Mutant is focusing on larger fields, these days. Aside from a preference for the blinds structures of deep stack games, larger fields are simply the only way to maintain profitability. A tournament like the Encore Club’s $25K Guarantee earlier this month paid 12 places with a scheduled median ROI of +490% (the 9-way chop actually made the median ROI +1150%). But that required a field of 150 players.

Small-field tournaments in Portland—i.e. those with 20-30 players—pay about 45-50% for the top prize, with three or four places total paying (before any bubble agreements), and with the median payout in the range of 20-30% of the pot. The pot to basic cost ratio varies considerably depending on the tournament structure and club. An 11am $250 guarantee freeroll tournament at Portland Players Club ($5 door, $5 pre-add-on, $10 add-on) with close to 30 players can generate a pot to cost ratio of nearly 25:1 with a third of the players re-buying (I don’t include re-buys in basic costs because as I’ve explained, rebuys are the death of ROI). That means the median payout in those tournaments is approximately 625% of your basic cost. If you tip your dealer 10% of your 625% prize ($125), your ROI for the game is +285%, which sounds great, but only if your ITM is better than 26%. Of course, if you win the top prize in that tournament you’re doing better, but then if you cash in third you’d better be cashing in almost every game you play.

Games that induce a lot of re-buys, like the afternoon Pot Limit Omaha Hi-Lo tournaments at The Final Table ($10 door, $20 buy-in, $10 add-on), can change the math a little. It’s not uncommon for there to be nearly as many re-buys as original entries, which can juice the pot a bit. One game late last year had 28 entries, 21 re-buys, and 22 add-ons, for a $1,200 pot (30:1). That’s still not a great number, though, with the median payout at just under 16% ($190), for a potential ROI of only +222%; more money but not as high a return as the median payout in the PPC game. Again, the top end does better—+450%—but that’s just keeping your head above water for someone with an ITM of 14% (and it means you need to take first place every time you cash).

Is there a sweet spot? Is there a magic number that makes it more likely that your tournament cashes will be profitable cashes? So much of that decision rests on variables like re-buy and payout structures, but in Poker Mutant’s humble opinion—in the world of Portland poker rooms, at least—you’re more likely to be profitable in events with 75 or more entrants. Apart from the opportunity of winning a big stake if you take down the top prize, which can have a pot to cost ratio of 20:1 or 30:1, the average cash in a field of that size is large enough to maintain profitability for most above-average players. You’ll still find Poker Mutant at the tables for smaller games, but our focus is on those bigger tournaments for the time being.

Anyone heading down to Reno for the World Poker Challenge?

Pulling the Trigger

A Saturday chop at Encore sent me into a scramble to catch the tail end of the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza I, in the hopes of chipping up my couple of thousand to something bigger. Obligations at home kept me from taking off until Wednesday night, so I missed the a couple of games I would have liked to play—like the $460 Big Bounty and $350 PLO/PLO8 game on Tuesday—but I caught an afternoon flight and made it down to Las Vegas, finally getting into the hotel about 9pm, then having to wait in line for half an hour to check in.

I was far too late for the last entry stage of the 7pm $175 daily tournament by the time I dumped my stuff off in my room at the Imperial Palace, but I figured I’d wander up to see where the tournament area had been moved, in The Palazzo, then figure out what to do. It was about a fifteen or twenty-minute walk from the IP, depending on how fast you were going and how many people were on the street. I briefly considered playing the 10pm, but figured I’d rather be rested for the noon $350, so I just bought my ticket and wandered back to The Venetian to see what I could find in the way of a cash game. Nothing open but Hold’em; I put my name on the board for the 1-2 PLO (I figured it would be practice for the Triple Barrel tournament) and 1-2 Big ‘O’, since the waits for Omaha8 were exceedingly long. Then I sat. And sat. Finally, just before midnight, I was called for Big ‘O’, which I’d played in tournaments but never for more than a single hand in a dealer’s choice cash game. Just after I sat down, my name came up for PLO and I stupidly gave it up, then proceeded to bust out of the Big ‘O’ game in about ten minutes. At least I got a few hands of poker in for the day. Went back to the IP and got a few hours of sleep after that.

Venetian 2012 Deep Stack Extravaganza I Event 27 $350 No Limit Hold’em

No surprise, but all of the DSE merchandise was gone by the middle of the last week. I got my food voucher and headed early to me seat.

We started off with 12,000 chips in this tournament. The players were pretty sparse in the first minutes, and most of the early birds looked like they were older than me. The “Internet kids” weren’t there yet. Are there still Internet kids in the post-Black Friday American poker scene?

Played Q4 on my second hand and made Broadway on the turn to take in a pot of nearly 5,000 chips, then lost ground on a flush draw that knocked me below 13,000.

A?Q?. Play it or not? According to PokerListings, Daniel Negreanu’s nickname for the hand was “1.4”, based on how many millions of dollars he’d lost on it. It didn’t cost me that much but it took pre-flop raises by A?K? and K?K? in close succession to get me bak as high as 10,000 chips. Just to show I hadn’t learned my lesson, I made top pair with A?Q? shortly after that, but my top pair didn’t look good in the face of four to a straight on the board.

With one exception (see later) my back always seems to be toward tournament clocks, no matter where I’m playing, and this time was no exception. Time wasn’t going to be on my side either way, with me going too far out on a limb with 9?9? and a board with two overs. I was right in figuring my opponent hadn’t hit the board with two over cards to my pair, but I was wrong about his hand strength: K?K?. THat took me down to 7,000 chips.

Another misstep with A2 dropped me down to 5,000 when A?A? came calling. Lost some more with what I’m calling the “mini-Butcher” (Q?9?) against 8?8?, then called a re-raise with Q?J? and found myself with just 2,650 about an hour and forty minutes in.

I raised with K?J? and found myself with a gutshot straight on the flop, hitting the queen I needed on the turn and going all-in to win a pot of 2,000 chips. That pushed me up to 3,600. Another K?J? cost me when I had to lay down or go all in after the turn with an up-and-down straight draw. Shortly before the break, I shoved with A6 and got a call from A?K? but pulled out a flush and doubled to 4,825.

After the break,the first hand I folded T?7? on BTN—usually something I’d play from that position as long as the cost of entry wasn’t too big—then I watched my 9?6?8? roll out on the flop. Fifteen minutes after the end of break, I was all-in with AT after a 9?A?9? flop and got one call, but it only made up ground I’d been losing, putting me just under 5,000 chips.

UTG with 4?4?, I called a raise to 800 and got a flop with all diamonds. I didn’t have one and folded to a post-flop bet. My last hand was against 4?4?. My A?J? went nowhere and I was out.

Two hours and forty-five minutes. -100% ROI. 220th of 278 players. $80,481 prize pool.

Venetian 2012 Deep Stack Extravaganza I Event 28 $350 Triple Barrel Pot Limit Omaha

The Triple Barrel format gives you 4,000 in chips and two lammers worth 4,000 chips each that can be put into play at any time prior to the end of the first break. I’d first seen the Triple Barrel format on television during the 2011 WSOP Heads-Up Championship match between Jake Cody and Yevgeniy Timoshenko. Between that and the fact that I only have limited experience in PLO, I was chalking this one up to a learning experience.

My neighbor to my right took the big stack strategy, electing to start off with 12,000 chips. I stuck with my small stack, although I think he may have had a better idea of what he was doing than me. Regardless of my inexperience, I was the first person at the table to win a pot after four straight take-downs by the woman in seat nine. On her first pot, the older guy on my left says something about her scooping the pot. I think he’s making a joke, but an hour into the game several of us are talking and he says it took a while for him to realize that we weren’t playing Hi-Lo, because there weren’t any qualifying lows on the board.

I lost my first stack about forty-five minutes in, with two pair and a straight draw against a lower straight draw who called my repot raise and caught his card on the river.

Fifteen minutes into the second barrel and it was down to 2,575 as well. Then I had nut flush and open-ended straight draws on the flop and three of us went all in. I tripled up to 8,150 chips, which combined with my remaining lammer put me ahead of the starting stack, slightly.

I folded out post-flop with an up-and-down draw with lots of action developing. The 3? on the river would have made my straight and won the pot for me. I was down a bit, but hit a set of sixes and bet the pot to win a hand. I still had 7,500 and a lammer. Once again, the tournament clock was behind me.

Just about two hours in and I had two pair on the flop, but running kings on the turn and river don’t make them look so good and I have to lay my chips down, which drops me to 2,400 and a bullet. I cash in my lammer at the break and have just 8,950 chips left.

During the break, one of the guys at my table mentions that a player at the other end is WSOP bracelet-winner Eric Baldwin. And Eli Elezra‘s at the next table over.

I’m starting to run on fumes, though. I have two pair and am good to the turn, but I can’t shake the big stack next to me and he sticks through to the river to catch a better two pair, leaving me with just 4,125.

Half-an-hour after the break, my doom awaits. I try to lay a trap holding the king-high flush on the flop and check, then call a raise from the big stack on my right that put me all-in against a full house. Before I left, I got confirmation from the big stack that his ideal strategy for Triple Barrel is to cash out at the beginning. And get great cards.

Three hours and thirty-five minutes. -100% ROI. 42nd of 66 players. $19,107 prize pool.

Venetian 2012 Deep Stack Extravaganza I Event 28 $120 Nightly No Limit Hold’em

I went and had dinner, then wandered back to the IP to lick my wounds and call Ms. Poker Mutant. I avoided the Venetian cash room after my Big ‘O’ drubbing of the night before, and made it back to The Palazzo in time for the 10pm $120 tournament. Half the field of 106 was gone already in the 7pm $175 tournament after just three hours.

The vibe at the night table was very different from the afternoon games. There’d been plenty of talking and jokes at both the earlier tournaments—everyone had a pretty good laugh with the guy who told everyone he’d started the PLO game thinking it was PLO8—but the woman who sat in seat 1 at my table called over to a friend at the next table that they were playing for “Strip club money, baby!” And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game. She was gone in relatively short order, but a friend of hers who I shall refer to as The Ape, got sat a spot from my left, then proceeded to shove all-in with K?2? over a couple of raises, only to bust out, buy back in, and sit down at the other table.

Meanwhile, I’d played 85 and made top pair on the flop but let a guy get to the river who was trying to bet me off. He caught his ace on the river and thirty-five minutes in I was down to 4,600 from the starting stack of 8,000.

Fifteen minutes later, I picked up Q?Q? on BTN and am hoping for some major action. Instead, everyone folds to me, I raise and one of the blinds comes along. Another queen shows on the flop and I make a small raise and the blind folds, gaining me only 500 chips.

A8 made middle pair and I kept betting, which eventually won me the hand and put my stack up to 6,450. A loss knocked me down to 5,125 by seventy-five minutes, then an attempt to protect my button but me down to 3,950.

At least I could see the tournament clock. The 10pm seems to be the bastard child of the Deep Stack Extravaganza, so we got a kitchen timer.

On the break, I checked around the other tournaments still running at 11:30pm. The Triple Barrel had 12 players left, there were only 29 of the 7pm players still in. And there were still 29 in from the noon $350 game.

The Ape had busted out of the game again and been moved back to the same seat he’d been in before. He actually accumulated some chips this time, but he seemed to have a beef with the guy on his left. He claimed to have a “last-longer” bet with one of his other friends in the tournament, the value of which started off at $2,000, then changed at some point to $1,000. Top prize was only about $950, and I was wishing that they’d take their strip club money and head out.

Once action was going again, middle pair and 48 worked for me, then I picked up a couple more hands, which put me in a position where I could fold a raise of 1,000 holding AQ to an all-in and still have 12,225 chips left. Then A7 making a flush on the flop after I raised to 800 pre-flop and got two calls. A 1,500 bet post-flop scared them away.

I’ve never called a clock on anyone in my life before, but The Ape got into a Phil Hellmuth-like tirade with the guy on his left, going on about how he’d promised to tell him “a story.” It went on and on, with everyone at the table seeming to be wishing they (or he) were anywhere else. The floor seemed to be very reluctant to actually put the clock in play; apparently The Ape is a regular player. A little later, when he was busted out, he just sat there for a couple minutes and the table was completely silent.

Two and a quarter hours in, I lost some ground with a suited J?T? when I missed an up-and-down straight and flush draw. I still had over 10,000 chips, but the blinds were getting large. Half and hour later, they’d chopped me down to 7,200.

I’d just gone through the blinds on table 2 when the final table was made and I got stuck just ahead of the blinds again. I had nothing playable, and was down to 5,100 chips when I was on the button again.

I was UTG and about to hit the blinds again at 800/1,600/100 when I looked down at Q?Q?. Naturally, I was all in, and just as naturally, not too many people were concerned about calling my stack of about 4,500 chips. Two callers: one with A?K? and the other with 4?4?. The ace hit on the flop and I was done for the day.

Three hours. -100% ROI. 8th of 24 players.

Venetian 2012 Deep Stack Extravaganza I Event 27 $560 No Limit Hold’em

I headed over to The Palazzo for breakfast Friday morning in my suit and tie, then wandered over the bridge to The Wynn to look around. Nothing but expensive shops. I tried to find an alternative route back, but the valet would have none of it, steering me back to the bridge.

Feeling a little thirsty after my excursion, I stepped into the Grand Lux Cafe to have a Diet Coke that was indeed “lux” at $3.51 for a 20 oz. bottle. As I was on my way out, one of the guys at the counter asked me where I’d gotten my shoes. I told him Portland was crawling with Nike outlets and mentioned that I’d gotten them because 2 and 3 were my favorite pair of cards, a little joke I’d thought of earlier in the morning.

I got the security guard near the dragon in the Palazzo gallery to take my picture in full regalia for the day, and when I sat down early for the $560 got to chatting with the dealer and told her my joke about playing that day because I was suited. She laughed and said that was an original one to her, which made me happy. Also, 15,000 in chips.

My first hand in the match, I had A2 UTG and folded after three clubs came on the flop. Another suited ace just a couple minutes later (A5) on the BB made the middle pair and I won with 5s and 7s and the ace kicker. Up to 18,050 less than 10 minutes in.

I lost some ground fishing for a flush with A[td,][then][played][A3 because of the joke about the shoes and caught a pair of threes and a flush draw. I re-raised post-flop by 4,000 chips and ended up beating K?J? with the pair.

Twenty minutes in, and I was up by nearly 6,000 chips.

Just past the half-hour mark, I have A?7? and see a 7?7?9? flop. There are two raises ahead of me and I pop it to 4,000. Seat 1 goes all-in, the players between us get out, and I call. He has 6?7?, I have him covered, and my kicker holds. He’s out.

Almost immediately, my K?J? makes a straight and I take another big pot. I’m up to 47,000 chips forty minutes into the match.

With K?Q?, I call a pre-flop three-bet of 2,400 and hit the up-and-down straight draw, then shove and take the pot. Then The Butcher (Q?T?) hits a flush draw and I semi-bluff everyone off that pot. Eighty minutes in and I’m over 54,000 chips.

I lose several thousand trying for an inside straight draw with 89. Down to 52,450 with the chip average at 17,250 at one hour and forty-five minutes.

I’d read a section in an article on the way down about amateur players who get big stacks in large tournaments having a tendency to rein in their play for fear of losing their chip advantage. And despite the fact that I’d read that just two days prior, it’s exactly what I did here and—more importantly—in another hand in this tournament. I’ve described what happened here to a couple of people who say that my actions don’t sound like me, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying they’re not what I would normally do.

I was on BTN with A5 and called a raise to 450 just past the two hour mark. SB went all in for 6,500, getting two callers. None of them had much more than the starting stack, but I folded, only to watch a straight to the six roll out on the flop. A pair won the hand; I could have potentially knocked out three players.

At the break, I had 48,775 chips. A few late comers put the number of entries up to 222, with a prize pool of $107,115 and a top prize of $25,709 with 27 paid.

I took down to hands in a row with spade flush draws and raises post-flop and was back over 50,000 fifteen minutes after the break was over.

My biggest mistake came at the three hour mark. The player who’d won the hand where I folded the straight was later pointed out to me as Randy Dorfman. I had 6?6? and got to the flop of 5?6?7?. I was pleased, but we checked it around to the A turn, which put two diamonds on the board. A player to my right raised, I re-raised to 7,000, then Dorfman shoved all-in for another 20,000 chips. The initial raiser went all-in for less, and in the face of a flush draw or a made straight, I folded, even though if I’d lost, I still would have had more than the average stack. Dorfman flipped over 5?5? for the lesser set and the other player shoed a couple of diamonds, but no diamond on the river meant Dorfman took the pot. It was a good bet, but the old Poker Mutant would never have folded that set.

I called a small all-in ten minutes later with KT, got two other callers, and hit trip kings by the river to make up some ground. 61,000 chips with the average at 21,000.

I stuck to another pair of sixes (66) that made a club flush on the turn. It wasn’t a great flush, but it was good enough to put me over 65,000.

Lost 5,000 with 6T and middle pair on the flop, but still had nearly three times the average stack of 22,000.

About an hour after he picked off my winning sixes, Dorfman got chopped down trying to get fancy with the player on my left, who I believe was this guy, making someone other than me the table chip leader for the first time in a couple of hours. Dorfman busted out almost immediately to another player on my end of the table.

With two large rival chip stacks on left, I didn’t have quite the free reign I’d had before. I lost 14,000 on a flush draw that cut me down to 50,000 before the second break. We had 102 players to go before the money.

I got very lucky in SB with J8 about four hours and forty-five minutes in. The flop hits 868. I check, a guy after me bets 1,800, and I shove way over his stack. He thinks for a bit then calls with 6?9? and just a couple of outs. I win and have about 90,000 chips.

I called an all-in by the player who knocked out Dorfman with Q?9? and a gutshot straight to the king. The hole in the straight fills in on the river, but the J also completes a flush for my opponent and he doubles.

My suited A?2? loses in a flush draw next when K?Q? makes a set. I’m down to 57,000.

The stack I doubled up is now larger than me. I have the bottom end of a four-card straight on the board and push, but he has the top end and knocks me out in 119th place.

Five hours and fifteen minutes. -100% ROI. 119th of 222 players.

I had another day before I was scheduled to return to Portland, but I decided to husband the last bit of my winnings from the Encore game and headed back to the IP, got my reservation bumped up a day, then hightailed it to the airport and home to start building up for the next attempt. If I can manage it, I want to hit The Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles for Winnin’ o’ the Green series mid-month, possibly with a trip to the WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s Rincon north of San Diego.

I Was Suited

A suited Poker Mutant at The Palazzo, Las Vegas for the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza I, 17 February 2012

I’d already been planning to write this article later this week. but then the great Mike Caro published a column in Poker Player, so I’m addressing it before I get to my second go-round at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza.

It’s the standard joke when a player—often on the short stack—busts out when they go all-in with mid-level suited connectors or gaps. I think I’ve heard it in almost every tournament I’ve played, the (sometimes) suppressed chortle from one player to another that: “They probably played it because it was suited.”

Now, I can’t claim to know what those people were thinking—and far be it from me to joust with someone like Caro over poker statistics—but I have my own rationale based on statistical analysis of hundreds of thousands of hands at various numbers of players.

Anyone around a poker table will be happy to tell you that suited cards are only a few percent more likely to win than unsuited cards. That’s absolutely true, but let’s look at what that means in real life before we get too dismissive. In a nine-handed showdown to the river, a hand like 8To loses 87.47% of the time. That means it either wins the pot or ties for and splits the pot 12.53%. The same combination suited loses 84.42%. It wins or ties 15.58%. Now, if you’re looking at raw numbers, you see that as a mere 3.05% difference.

What you need to take into account in hand selection pre-flop is the relative strength of the hand to other potential hands. And when you stack up 8Ts against 8To, what you get is a hand that’s 24% more likely to win or tie (15.58% divided by 12.53% = 124%). That’s what that 3% difference means. So if you’re going to play something like JT, wouldn’t you rather play it suited (wins/ties 19.32%) over unsuited (wins/ties 15.92%)? That’s a 20% differential in the strength of the hand you’re starting with, i.e. if you’re playing JT at all, you’re 20% better off playing it suited than unsuited.

Caro’s analysis of the unsuitability of suited cards relies heavily on how likely it is that the cards will make a flush, which is the presumed rationale for playing suited cards. My analysis isn’t based on relying on the chance of a flush, rather the chance of a flush is a modifier to the pre-flop starting strength of the hand, in the decision to play it.

As Caro points out: “there are two chances to make a flush when you hold unsuited cards. … You have about a 6.5 percent chance of ending up with a flush (including a straight flush) when you begin suited and stubbornly stay to see the river. You have a bit less than a two percent chance if your cards are of mixed suits.” Using Caro’s numbers, if you view this in relative terms, you’re 225% more likely to get a flush with suited cards than you are with unsuited cards. That’s in addition to whatever pair, set, straight, or full house possibilities you might have picked up on the flop and turn. The number’s still small, but every slight advantage can count in poker.

Another Round

Carbon Poker Super Bowl Pick-the-Winner $5,000 Freeroll

All you had to do to get an entry into this freeroll was to pick the winner of the Super Bowl, and since I know nothing about sports I figured I had a 50/50 chance of getting a ticket. The early buzz I’d heard had the Giants as the underdogs, so I picked them, figuring that the field might be smaller if more folks were choosing the likely winner. And New York won, so I got my ticket.

Amazingly enough, for a freeroll with a $1,300 first prize, the game wasn’t even half full. The four-times-daily $200 freerolls on Merge have fields of 5,000—even the HORSE tournament gets more than 2,000 every day—but this event was capped at 2,000 and only had 712 entries. Either it wasn’t advertised very well (although I saw it) or everybody picked the Patriots.

This game followed a typical trajectory for me: a zoom to the top, followed by a crashing defeat.

My first success (A on the graphic) came just five hands in, with the hand known here in Portland as “The Butcher”: TQ (not specifically those two cards, but any QT combo). I was in CO and raised to 50 after one limper. The BB and limper came along. The 94J flop gave me the open-ended straight draw, and after a bet of 160 from the limper I just called in position. BB folded. The 8 turn card made my nut straight. The limper bet into it for 480 and I shoved for 1,760, which he called leaving only 30 behind. He was drawing dead, with JK for just top pair. If he’d been suited in hearts, I would have been gone with the A on the river, but instead I picked up a pot of 4,000 chips, double the starting stack. I was tournament chip leader.

Two hands later as UTG3 (B), I snagged TT. UTG 2 raised to 70, I re-raised to 220. BTN called, the blinds folded, UTG2 shoved. Both UTG2 and BTN were below the starting stack value; if I lost with my pocket pair I’d just be at starting stack again. I went all-in and BTN was all-in, showing 9J. UTG2 had two overs to my pair: AQ, and was statistically slightly favored over me (41% v 38%) with the third player involved (who had a 21% chance). The flop was mercifully low: 574. Another 7 broke the possibility of a backdoor diamond flush, then a 3 on the river solidified my knockout of both players. At 7,680 chips, I was the tournament leader on hand seven.

It only lasted a short time. On hand 15 (C) I had KJ in HJ. Action folded to me, I raised to 75, CO re-raised to 240, the blinds got out of the way, and I called. The flop was perfect: 4KJ. I was ahead of aces. I checked to see how much he’d commit and he bet 393. I shoved way over the top for 7,710 and he called off the rest of his stack for a total of 2,210, showing that he did indeed have AA. I was 69% good. Until the A on the turn, of course. Then I was drawing dead. Still, I was in the top chip stacks in the tournament, with 5,500, nearly three times the start, just ten minutes in.

I lost a little ground for a while after that setback, going as low as 3,650 chips over the next thirty-five hands. Then I got 97 in UTG1 (D) and raised to 120. HJ called me and we were heads-up at the flop. 9T3 gave me middle pair and I bet 250, getting a call. 8 turn set me up for another straight draw and I bet 600 into the 830 pot. HJ shoved for 2,551. I really didn’t think he’d hit the board; I risked all but 1,300 chips to make the call and see his 55. He was drawing pretty thin. The river was 6, which actually made my straight, unnecessary as it was. I was back in contention, although not in the uppermost chip ranks.

Another fifty hands went by before I made another jump (E). It came in a series of three hands about an hour and fifteen minutes into the game. Blinds were 100/200, I was UTG1 with 57 and limped after a fold from UTG. HJ limped, but BTN pushed all-in for 1,880. The blinds folded. I had both the all-in and the other limper covered by about 4,000 chips. I didn’t figure the limper would enter the action after me, so I called. The limper folded and I was heads-up against JA. Isn’t the Mutant jack my hand? It appeared as if it was, because right away there was a flush draw on the board with 92T; I was actually slightly ahead. K for the turn gave him the Broadway draw and flipped the odds back to 65%/34% in his favor. Then I hit the second-to-the-least pair with 7 on the river and made another knockout.

A player who’d joined the table twenty hands earlier with under 1,500 chips had been hanging on despite the 100/200 blinds by going all-in. I hadn’t felt able to call, even when I’d raised pre-flop. Just after beating the Mutant Jack, I was SB with JT and finally called his all-in of 930. Another limper who was the only stack larger than me at the table called. The flop was QT9 giving me the open-ended straight draw and second pair. UTG2 and I both checked to the 9 turn and 6 river. UTG2 missed the flush with A8 and the best hand was the short stack’s QK. I’d come to regret not having called to see if I could have knocked that stack out earlier.

The next hand proved lucrative, however. On BTN with 6A and just over 8,000 chips, I limped in after the big stack (10,500+ in UTG1) and BB. I made middle pair on the 746 flop and after it was checked around to me, I shoved. He called with the nut flush draw A?3? but two spades showed up on the turn and river, so I doubled up to over 16,770 and was back in the top stacks in the tournament. Two pair with The Butcher on the next hand knocked out another player put me up to 19,000 chips, then I picked another 500 off the guy who’d doubled me up, leaving him with just over 2,000 chips. My attempt to take him out a few hands later would double him up when KJ missed against his 88.

I managed to climb (with ups and downs of 2,000 to 3,000 chips) to 22,600 before I hit a big snag (F). Both the stacks I’d doubled up above had managed to climb up to 11,000+ chips. The first-mentioned (who’d joined the table with 1,500 chips) shoved from UTG1 and I called him from UTG2. A short stack in CO called all-in, and it was AK (short stack) v 88 (doubled-up stack) v QJ (me). The board almost ran out a straight with 36742 that would have been topped with one of the eights. That loss just about cut me in half, and put the former short stack over 25,000.

I got back into the top thirty spots about 15 hands later with AJ on the button (G). Blinds were 250/500/50 and HJ shoved for 9,500 after all action folded to him. The stack I’d doubled up between us folded, SB had about 3,500 chips and BB had 15,500. I shoved and they both folded; HJ showed JJ and I was on the wrong end of a 70%/30%  showdown. The A showed up on the flop, though, and my opponent was down to hoping for that last jack to show up, which it didn’t. So I popped back up to where I’d been eight minutes before. A strong bet after I made second-nut flush not long after put me within spitting distance of 30,000 chips (H). That lasted all of two hands (I). I had AQ in UTG2 at 300/600/75. UTG folded. UTG1 was the short stack that had climbed back from under 1,000 to 25,000 now. He limped in and I raised to 2,000, which he was the only player to call. The flop was 926, I had position on him and he went all-in. I’d suspected him of shoving light on a lot of his road to recovery, so I followed along for all but 3,000 of my chips. Then he flipped over 9T and I had just a 22% chance of not being crippled. The 9 showed on the turn and I was doomed. He had 52,000 chips and the tournament lead. I didn’t last long after that (J), ending up seventy places out of the money after going all-in with TK. QA won that hand.

The tournament went on for another three hours. Both the small stack who’d risen to 50,000 and the player I’d knocked down to 2,000 with a double-up made the final table.

Two hours, 183 hands. 98th of 712 players.

Encore Club $10,000 Guarantee

I’ve really got to try to come up with some better way of recording what’s going on in live games. I don’t know if it was the lesson taught to me by the loss of the lead in the noon online game or what, but I somehow managed to once again make it to the end of a $10K at Encore. What I do remember is that one player—who looked sort of like a drunk Nathan Lane—kept shoving over my raises and that eventually, once we were at the point where the payouts were over $1,000, I called him with Q?8?. He showed A?4? but I hit the queen on the flop and sucked a couple hundred thousand in chips into my stack (the picture below is about 250,000).

He had a friend with him who kept trying to help stack his chips for him and who he kept kicking. I was tempted to ask that only players and staff be seated at the table, but I held my tongue. Around 3:30am, everyone was still within a range of a 200,000 chips, the blinds were 8,000/16,000/3,000 and a chop for a little over $2,400 each was proposed and accepted. And once again, I forgot to take a picture of the screen.

It’s off to The Palazzo for a couple days of the 2012 Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza I for me. I’ll be posting Twitter updates @pokermutant.

Here’s the official screen capture of the end of the tournament.

Eight-and-a-half hours. +465% ROI. Four-way chop with 69 entries.

He’s a Caller!

Encore Club $250 Freeroll

Wandered down for the freeroll since I’d already paid the door fee when I picked up my ticket for the $25K game. Don’t remember where I went wrong.

Two hours and thirty-five minutes. -100% ROI. 24th of 65 players.

Encore Club Freezeout

The 2pm freezeout game was already forty minutes in when I busted out of the freeroll, but I got into it anyway and managed to get through most of the fild. I was the short stack as it got short-handed and I called with two overs on my last hand. As usual, if I’d waited, I might have made more money, because the next player out was right behind me.

Three hours. +112% ROI. 4th of 24 players.

Encore Club $25,000 Guarantee

It was really a rogue’s gallery at my table. I’d taken a break to go home and grab something to eat after the 2pm game, so I missed the first couple of hands. DV from my home game was improbably seated at the same table. DTwho’d been at my first $10K final table–was a couple seats on my left. Regular winner JL was on my immediate right. The guy who’d taken first in the Tournament of Champions where I came in second, DM, was sitting on DV‘s right. And directly across the table from me in seat 1 was Angry Old Tattooed Guy, who’d been sooo much fun to play with at Final Table’s Santa Bounty game.

Things got off to a phenomenal start within the first orbit. I’d won a couple of small pots already when I picked up Q?Q?. I raised from late-middle position, DT re-raised and I eventually called an all-in. He just had 9?9? and my queens held through the river, breaking him down to practically nothing (he’d picked up a pot or two himself). Meanwhile, I had more than doubled my starting stack. DT kept repeating “You got my number” for a couple of minutes. After he eventually busted out, he kept coming back to check on his chips, which was both funny and a little distracting.

I wasn’t able to make much traction with the big stack, though. I got decent if not premium hands, but every pot I entered with a call or raise, got picked off, mostly by DM, either with a large-re-raise or a large bet after a flop that he seemed to have a good feel hadn’t connected. He seemed particularly adept at that. My stack dwindled back down to starting stack and below before the break.

Finally, I decided to call him on it. I bet large with A?Q? pre-flop and we went to the river before he pushed all-in. I hadn’t connected but I called and he put his cards on the table face-down. He was busted to less than 4,000 chips. AOTG picked this point in the game to go ballistic, berating DM for trying to bluff me, hoarsely yelling “You know he’s a caller!” across the table. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I could hardly resist the urge to (as PPC reg DL puts it “tap the fish tank”) and explained that DM had been picking off raises all through the game and that I’d figured it was time to test him. AOTG would have none of it (surprise!) and just talked over me. I could swear I heard JL on my right doing something like “la-la-la” with his headphones on.

Not too long after that, I pushed over 50,000 chips (about two times the average) by bluffing the heck out of 2?2? on a 9?A?9? flop.

My final hand was a doozy. I had AT and re-raised pre-flop to 10,000. A player on my left with a larger stack went all-in and got a call from a slightly smaller stack on my right. There was something like 120,000 chips in the middle, it was going to cost me 40,000 and the tournament to call, so I did. Both of the other players flipped over K?K?. I was actually in better shape than if I was up against just one pair of kings or even two different pocket pairs. A 1 in 3 chance to win it all. It just didn’t happen.

My name is Poker Mutant. I’m a caller.

Three hours and twenty minutes. -100% ROI. 107th of 150 players.

Hit the Road, Jacks

Portland Players Club $250 Freeroll

I’d barely sat down at table 2 when I was moved (before the first hand) to table 3 in the small blind. I was sitting between a dead stack in seat 2 and a woman on my left I hadn’t played against before.

On the button I raised with 2?3? to 150 and made bottom pair on the flop. I stayed with it until the river when I got a 3?, then took a few hundred more off my neighbor who’d hit top pair.

Just a couple hands later, I had a K?9? and raised to 200. The flop was K?4?4? and I pushed for another 700, ending up heads-up with the same player. K? on the turn and I was golden unless she had pocket fours. I bet 1,200 and she called. When the 6? came on the river, I figured she must have the other king, and it was a chop, so I didn’t bet it (a decision I would come to regret). I flipped over my full house and said I thought it would be a chop; she flipped over 8?8? and said she figured I had nothing.

I won a number of other pots simply by betting out, but made a big mistake with 6?6?. I pushed after an unassuming flop, thinking the player at the other end (one of the Encore dealers) was on an ace. He flipped J?J? and made a set on the flop, reducing my stack by over 3,000 chips.

A dry spell hit me as the break approached and I was down to just 600 chips when I called a raise to 700 with 85. Another player called the raise and three of us saw the flop with a split pot. The cards were J?5?4?. The last caller made a bet that pushed the original raiser out of the hand and it was heads-up for the main pot. He had QJ, but I got lucky with another five on the river for a set and tripled up.

After the break, I pulled in a few more small pots, then picked up T?T? in the SB. Only one player came into the hand with a raise, then I re-raised to 2,200, only to have BB raise me all-in. The original raiser dropped out and I had to call, only to be up against J?J? again. The flop put out another one, and by the turn I was drawing dead.

One hour and thirty-five minutes. -100% ROI. 22nd of 32 players.

Take the Hint

Portland Players Club $250 Guarantee

My first hand was a decent KJ and I bet it strong pre-flop, only to have the cards show up midd-of-the-road and black. I kept betting and one other player followed along, but I gave up after the turn put a spade draw on the board and there was nothing for my diamonds to stick to.

The next flop, on the other hand, came out K?J?J?, which would have been great with my first hand but was considerably less so with my K?6?. I stayed through to the turn 3? when the betting got very heavy, only to watch K? drop on the river to give me the nuts if I’d stayed in. The winner had 3?3? in her hand and had made her smaller house on the turn; the loser had Q?T? and missed a straight that would have lost anyway.

Still, T?T? looked pretty good for my third hand, and I bet it, going heads-up and all-in after the A?T?J? flop. My opponent showed A?J? for top two, then we both made full houses on the river with another A?. Lucky me. I re-bought as I was moved to another table, despite comments that perhaps I should listen to the poker gods and call it off for the day.

I really should have. I struggled for a while, then chipped up after the break a bit, then lost a big chunk to DL and was down to just 1,500 with blinds at 200/400. I managed to build back up to several thousand before the table broke, and grab a couple of sets of blinds (shoving with 79, for instance) once I got there. Kicked myself on one hand when I was on the verge of shoving with 24. I didn’t, I know I would have gotten called by the much bigger stacks that chose to get involved, and I would have hit a winning flush on the river. ATC. Instead, I went all-in with A?Q? a few hands later and was called by A?K? in the big blind. Got a king and a couple of tens on the board, but no jack.

Two hours. -100% ROI. 18th of 32 players.

What Has It Got In Its Pocketses?

Portland Players Club $250 Freeroll

I’ve been through a recent drought of pocket pairs, but the skies broke yesterday and rained them down on me to both good and bad effect. I started the day off at PPC and was sat at table 2, seat 4, a couple places to the right of DL. I struggled for a bit, then busted and re-bought, while DL began to amass a goodly stack of chips, over 20,000 by the first break. Seat 2 had a player I’d been up against once before who seemed to have been having some recent success at PPC; seat 9 was a tight player who kept exclaiming over the hands he’d laid down when he saw what people were raising (and winning) with.

The re-buy and add-on gave me a little breathing room, and then the cards started coming. I took a couple big chunks out of DL‘s stack, almost knocked out seat 2, and was stealing a lot of chips off the table. DL then lost the last of his pink 1,000 chips to me in a pot that had over 30,000 chips in it.

A PPC regular who can’t seem to hold his legs still—except for when he’s heads-up waiting for the cards to drop—was moved in-between DL and myself and started pushing all-in on my raises. We eventually got to a hand where I had 97 and hit my flush on the turn. The board paired on the river making a couple of likely full houses, though, and I raised big. He folded his J8 face up and said he couldn’t call. I flipped over my lower flush and he seemed to tilt a bit. I picked off his chips shortly thereafter.

One hundred minutes in, I was sitting pretty on over 50,000 chips, more than a fifth of the chips in play, with about 14 players left. Seat 8 went all-in after a raise from my A?A?, naturally I called, he flipped over K?K? and then hit a king on the flop. A much bigger axe hit my stack because of a stupid call on my part with KJ. The tight player in seat 9 shoved with 15,000 chips and I called. He showed aces. A club on the river would have made me a flush and probably unleashed a torrent of invective, but it was a bad risk on my part and I could have held onto the chip lead if I’d given it some more thought.

It was downhill after that, with my stack back in the average territory. Don’t even remember the hand I went out on.

Three hours. -100% ROI. 10th of 29 players.

2011/12 Puffmammy Poker Tour Event #16

This game got off to a very wacky start, not just for me. WA was dealing the first hand to me UTG and it was A?A?. Naturally, I raised. A couple folks came along, including DV. I eventually walked DV alone down to the river for close to half his stack. An ace hit the board, he had two pair, but my set crushed him.

On WA‘s next deal, he gave me aces again. Again, I got some significant chippage out of it. Not, however, anything close to the kind of windfall KB made. He felted both DV and WA in record time, and proceeded to begin the building of a chip wall.

Meanwhile, I picked up queens, I picked up nines, then queens again. KB busted three of the four players who re-bought; I busted the other. Then he took out four permanently while I took out two. I made one incredibly lucky boneheaded move with T8 and shoved all-in when I thought there were two clubs on the board. When I was called and we flipped for the showdown, people were scratching their heads since I didn’t have a pair and one of the “clubs” was a spade. Fortunately, I got running clubs on the turn and river to make the flush.

For most of the match, it looked like KB had an insurmountable chip lead. But even though he’d performed most of the knockouts, I’d been doing a lot of damage to players that set them up for those knockouts. When we got to heads-up play three hours into the game, it wasn’t as lop-sided as it might have looked half an hour earlier. With 25,000 chips in play and blinds still at 150/300/25, it looked like we might be in for a long night of it.

As always, luck and stupid mistakes are everything in poker. Early on, I picked up another pair of queens and was prepared to raise the heck out of the pot post-flop if it didn’t have anything scary. It was far from scary, it was: Q?Q?7?. Then KB decided to push me around and went all-in. I called and flipped my quads over. It wasn’t enough to knock him out, but he was hurting. I played it very cautious, dropping a lot of chips back into his hands against his all-ins. One call I did make with K?T?, he showed Q?J?. I made two pair but a nine on the river made his straight. Eventually, though, another queen took him down.

Three hours and fifteen minutes. +343% ROI. First of 8 players.

Aces Players Club Shootout

I went by Aces intending to play the 10pm game but half-an-hour past starting time I was the first person to show up for it. That isn’t the Aces I remember. There was a final table finishing up for what must have been the six o’clock game. No tables for the eight (unless that was the eight’s final), and a single shootout table. Against my better judgment, I got into the shootout. Had a J2 early on and raised with it, got a couple calls, had a gut-shot straight draw and folded to a big raise from he other end of the table. Then the straight came through and the guy who’d raised took it in with another jack. My last hand, I had 7?7? and the flop was Q?6?5? I raised big, got re-raised, and went all-in. He showed J?J? and I was out.

Twenty minutes. -50bb.