Get It Quietly

Football, bollocks and a bit of poker if you're lucky.

Location: Enfield, London, United Kingdom

Friday, July 25, 2003


Last week the “European Championships” are ran at the Vic. They held two satellites on the Sunday and a huge one on Friday, the night before the main event. Was I there, chasing the big prize ? No way ! These satellites are a bad deal IMO. Here’s why :

· Tough fields. The satellites themselves are a bit of a mixture, but many of the best players do play. But winning a seat is only half the battle. Then you have to come back and play in a very tough line up. About as tough as it gets. Not good !

· Small chance of winning. Apparently on the Sunday there were 100 runners in the £2500 Satellite, with 10 seats given away. Satellite entrants had a 10% chance of winning a seat (less if not prepared to rebuy). If you qualify, 10% of the field usually get paid in the main event. That’s two 9-1 shots, a 99-1 double ! You have a 1% chance of making any money at all. Variance is off the scale.

· Even smaller chance of a big win. The majority of the money goes to the top three places (which is only right, I have no complaint with that). If your target comp has 150 runners, you have a 1 in 50 chance of finishing top 3. Parlay that up with your 10% chance of winning a seat – 500 to 1. And that’s assuming your skill level is around the average !

· Double rake. The Vic made £25 from every direct entrant, that’s all they’re allowed to. But with the satellites, 100 entrants at £10 each makes £1000 from 10 seats ! Plus the £250 they take off the satellite winners ! And if you do win a seat, your expenses (travelling, time off etc) are doubled as well.

· Time consuming. 4 hours in a satellite plus, if you win, 5 or 6 hours average in the comp, 14-16 hours or more to make the money ! Not a problem if you consider it as entertainment, but this is time you could be making money in better games.

· Satellites, IMO, aren’t entertaining at all. They are boring ! Survive, survive, survive. Repeat ad nauseam while waiting for someone else to be knocked out. Zzzzzzzz

· Collusion. I tend to downplay fears of collusion in normal tournaments. There isn’t a great deal someone can do to help a partner without hurting themselves almost as much. In other words it’s not easy for a partnership to gain a significant edge over the rest of the field by colluding. And because most colluders aren’t the sharpest tools in the box, they don’t know how to do it right anyway (and no, I’m not going to tell you). In a super-satellite, it’s a different story. Once you get close to the end, you often find that up to half the remaining players are virtually certain of qualifying. These players can help their mates out a lot without endangering themselves at all. And the correct strategy is pretty obvious – when your mate goes all-in, you fold ! I believe this goes on quite a lot. You even see people who won’t normally do anything out of order enter a super-sat with their partner, and if either one wins, the stronger player will take the seat. This amounts to the same thing. If you’re playing it straight, on your own, this can really hurt you sometimes.

Of course, as always in poker, there are upsides as well. You can learn from watching the good players around you ; it’s quite exciting, in a way, to play for big money ; and of course if you do get lucky you could net a big score (although I could say the same about the lottery). However, I do think you can learn a lot in £50 comps (try Saturday nights in Luton, lots of good players, too many for my liking). And you can play for quite a lot of money (surely enough to get excited about) in £100 and £200 comps without all this screwing around with satellites.

Anyway I’ll give them a miss. Just one more thing, in the style of Columbo, to think about. If you derive a lot of self-esteem from playing and being seen in the biggest games around, get a grip. You could get professional therapy for a fraction of the cost and a real, long-term benefit. I’m deadly serious.

Time and Money

Every now and then you see a post on one of the forums that goes something like this. “I played for 5 hours in the Luton Hold-Em comp on Wednesday night, finished 6th and only got £x it’s not fair the lower places should get more money”.

This is something I disagree with strongly. Look at it like this. During the rebuy phase you start with 500 chips, you buy some more depending on rebuys obviously. Say you have 3 rebuys and so have paid for 2000 chips. It doesn’t matter how many, what I’m saying is that you bought 2000 (or however many) chips. At the end of the game how many chips do you have ? If you finish 6th, none obviously. So, you’ve lost all your chips. You should be grateful to be given any money at all ! It’s the guy who wins who as a real cause for complaint. He has won ALL the chips. But he only gets paid 40% of their value. Bad beat ! And people want to make first prize even less !

I play to win. I adapt my play to the structure at hand. I’m not interested in £80 for finishing 9th when first is a grand, £1500 or more. I enjoy playing like this too. If you don’t like playing 5 hours for little reward then you are IN THE WRONG GAME. Why have you chosen to play on a Wednesday, when there are 100 runners ? When it takes all night to finish the game ? When only 5% of the field gets a decent return ?

You’ll have to ask yourself this question, but a lot of people play this game because of a misconception as to what value (or should that be valyoo) is. There is a lot more to selecting your tournaments than the size of first prize. Tournaments with fewer runners give you more chance of a decent return, more time to play (generally) and usually have weaker fields (on average). You can’t win £3000 in one night but so what ? One night isn’t how you should be thinking about it. Think about over the whole year. Or five years. Or a lifetime.

Play to win and think harder about which game you should be in instead of asking the world to change to suit you !

If only they had played poker - Number 2. The story of Queens Park Rangers

For many years, QPR played in the biggest game in town. They weren’t one of the major faces, but they were nobody’s fish. They made a decent living and were quietly respected by those who knew. Unfortunately, one year they ran bad. A number of poor decisions (trying to replace Les Ferdinand with the 88 year old Mark Hateley springs to mind) and they were forced out into the next game down. What did they do ? Accept what had happened, keep playing within their means and rebuild ? Did they arse ! They went on stone bonking raging tilt.

QPR gambled big to try to regain their former status. A lot of money was splashed around on some big bets. Some came off for a while (John Spencer), others were losers from the start (Mike Sheron). QPR started borrowing big, desperately trying to get back in the biggest game. That money went, but they wouldn’t slow down. Soon they were raising blind. Vinny Jones ? Eventually the inevitable happened. Rangers were forced out of the second-tier game and went broke.

The end for our brave boys ? Not at all. Rangers then did what every true poker player would do, stony broke with creditors queuing round the block. They stiffed everyone. In football this is called “going into administration”, but face it, they just knocked them all back. Not while we’re playing ! I don’t know how football clubs get away with it. All the nippers in the poker world could learn a lot from QPR and Leicester, Ipswich and Wimbledon.

Now Rangers are back in the 50 round of each, also known as Division Two. Newly humble, they are working hard, grinding it back up, and avoiding the eyes of those they nipped. You get all sorts in this game. Other sad cases with so many memories and stories of better times (Sheffield Wednesday) ; spotty kids in sunglasses who’ve only been in the game 5 minutes (Rushden and Diamonds) ; the Essex cab-drivers (Colchester), the streetwise Londoners (Brentford) and the dour northerners (Stockport) who have always played in this game, and always will, give or take.

Just recently Rangers went on a bit of a run, built up a decent stake and got it all in on a 50-50 shot which would have got them into a bigger game again – but Big Sam won the hand and took the seat himself. But at least they’re working hard, and still in action. And as long as you’re still in action, then you’ve got a chance.

Friday, July 18, 2003

What's with Hold-Em ? (Part 2)

What’s with Hold-Em anyway ? Why is Europe and particularly Britain obsessed with hold-em to the exclusion of all other tournament games ? I have a strong preference for both Stud and Omaha and feel that the good player has a much bigger edge in these games.

Let’s start with Hold-Em. That’s what they play on TV. NL Hold-em is invariably the game when the tournament stakes are highest. If you’re a wannabe Devilfish or Moneymaker it’s the only game to play. If you are a wannabe money maker though (aren’t I clever), I’m not so sure. Not so sure at all. Hold-em, especially No-Limit, is just too damn easy to play when the blinds get high. Wait for a hand you like and shove it in. Just one decision to make, and not a hard one. No one’s going to get it wrong with AA, KK, QQ and AK. No one’s going to get it wrong with 72, T4, 35 and 85% of all the hands in the deck. If anyone gets it wrong with the small number of inbetweeny hands like two pictures or a middle pair, they’re not going to get it very wrong. A good player, ducking and diving, playing the situations and the players, doing everything he can, is going to do better than the guy whose grasp of strategy amounts to “Me like cards go all in”. BUT NOT MUCH. Even if your simplistic opponent is calling instead of raising, he’s only in real trouble when you can find an overpair against him. And those hands just don’t come along very often. Notice I said an overpair, not AK. That’s because AK is only a 2-1 favourite over the worst hand in the deck, 72. And 2-1 shots come in quite a lot …

You could say the same about Omaha. When the blinds are high, a bit of a crap-shoot. Maybe, but not as much of one. There is a lot less pre-flop raising in Omaha tournaments. Good players know that they should keep the pot smaller until they see the flop. That’s where you outplay your weaker opponents in Omaha. And the weaker players just don’t know where they are pre-flop. It’s not as easy as “big pair or AK means raise”, like Hold-em. So more of them (not all) tend to just call as well. All this means you get much more play on the flop. More time, more decisions to be made, to sort the sheep from the goats. When the blinds are high, you have to put some raises in. But at least you don’t have your legs taken out from under you when the rock finds AA behind you. If you choose your hands properly, you are usually only a 2-1 dog against anything, even Aces in Omaha. And that’s the other thing. People mis-value their hands in short-stack situations. Hold-em players love pairs in their hand but any pair apart from Aces is an implied odds hand in Omaha. You want to take a flop cheap and try to hit a set. In an all-in or committal situation you would usually prefer to have 4 different cards to hit straights and two pair with. Especially against the main hand that’s going to call you – AAxx .

Pot-limit Stud is just about the best tournament game you can play against weak players. It’s a shame that it’s only regularly played in one card-room in the world. But it’s great that that card-room is 30 minutes from my flat ! Last year I won 7 out of 54 small stud tournaments I played in. Given the size of the field that’s about 5 times more often than average. If you can do that in Hold-em you have either found a fantastic game or you are a hell of a player, or both. Sometimes Ram Vaswani plays in the £50 Stud tournaments in Luton (thankfully for me, the £20 events are beneath him). I’d back him at 4-1 in a field of 50. Maybe less. I don’t want to give away too many trade secrets here. I don’t mind telling you how much I win or lose but exactly how I do it – coaches in the car park :-). A great deal of it is not because it’s Stud per se, but because the game is played with antes rather than blinds.

In conclusion, maybe I have answered my own question. Weak, inexperienced players don’t get ironed out in tournament Hold-em like they would in the other two games. They have a chance, they stay in action, they get a few results and so do their friends. That’s why Hold-Em tournaments sell out. Credit to Luton and the Vic though for putting at least one Omaha and one Stud comp in most of their festivals. If you see me at a festival between now and Christmas, it’s likely to be in one of those. If you see me at a festival at all, but that one’s for another day.

How to put me on tilt - Part 1

I do appreciate people coming on here to read my insane babbling so I am going to throw you a bone or two. Some useful hints as to how to put me on tilt. These are the things to do at a poker table which wind me up. You might get yourself beaten to a pulp if I see you in the car park and no one else is around (and you’re smaller than me) but them’s the breaks. Number 1 :

If there is one thing that gets on my tits in poker tournaments it’s the habit that some people have of endlessly analysing every hand. What did you have ? Was I right to call ? Would you play the hand like that ? Oh sorry, is it me, hang on while I fumble around with my cards a bit more, I call. Oh it’s been raised ? How much ? Oh, er, um. PAY ATTENTION. The next time someone asks me “Was I right to call” * I’m going to say “God No, that’s the worst call I’ve ever seen”. And if that doesn’t work we might end up having a real post mortem.

* Especially if they do it in the style of a Scottish great-aunt asking for just one wee piece of shortbread. You know who you are.

Exclusive - New World Poker Champion !

I don’t read the papers much but I was leafing through the Times last weekend and I saw Danny Baker’s column. I like Danny Baker (whatever anyone says) so I read it, and he was talking about meeting Jimmy White. The Bakemeister reported “He told me that, as well as still being in snooker’s top sixteen, he was also the world poker champion, which was something I didn’t know”. That’s something none of us knew ! I don’t remember the Poker Million 2 being upgraded to World Championship status J.

Whether the Whirlwind really said that or it was just a bit of journalistic license from the Crafty Cockney, who knows. Hey, I don’t care, it’s not as though he’s stolen the title from me. And I had £10 on him to win the thing anyway ! How did he do it ? How did I know he was going to do it ?

Of course I didn’t. I just had a fair idea that with a fast clock and a No-Limit structure, any aggressive player had a chance. 10-1 was good odds. Pot-Limit I would have needed 20-1 or more. And this simple fact blows all this crap about “No-Limit is the Cadillac of poker games” out of the window. Cash games where everyone has huge stacks and 3 days to set up their opponents, maybe. Tournaments, no. People win No-Limit tournaments who wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell playing PLHE or PLO. Because when you get lucky in No-Limit, you can get lucky for all someone’s chips. All in one go and that’s them fucked.

It must be said though that at times the better players push themselves out on a limb. Ready to be sawn off. Many players are so conditioned to playing aggressively they don’t know any other way. Classic example from the Poker Million heat, Roy Brindley and Steve Davis were heads up, fairly equal chips. All Brindley needed to do was sit tight, play poker, keep chipping away and not give Davis a chance to get lucky. What he did was blast it all in with some crap (ten high or something I can’t remember), Davis found AQ, thank you and goodnight. Then in the final Joe Beevers (who ought to know better, I’m not sure about Roy) went all in with an Ace, and Jimmy called with 64 suited. At least Joe was in front, but why shove it all in and give his weaker opponent a chance to get lucky ? Don’t ask me. I don’t know.

If you ask anyone what’s so great about No-Limit they say “well you can lose all your chips on one hand, one mistake and it’s over”. Well, one bad beat and it’s over too. A good player can normally manipulate a weaker opponent into getting the chips in as a 60-40 favourite (on average). If you can beat someone 60% of the time, which would you prefer, best of five or a one-off decider ? In Pot-Limit (to simplify) you get a best of five (or a better analogy might be that you play till someone gets a 3 point lead). In No-Limit it’s all or nothing. Is the Tennis World Championships played over one game ? Snooker over one frame ? Golf over one hole ? Of course not. So why is poker so often played over one hand ?

Friday, July 11, 2003

If only they had played poker (number 1 in a series of some)

Poker has so many parallels in real life. Poker is life, some would say ! Here is a tale of woe that a good poker player would have avoided. From the Enfield Advertiser, 2nd July 2003 :

“Jo-Ann Bowen-Griffith, who won the Hampstead Garden Suburb in Bloom competition in 2001, spotted some begonias being sold at a reduced price in Homebase … but when she went to pay for the plant, the checkout assistant accused her of swapping a £12 tag for a £1 tag … The matter probably could have been resolved peacefully had Miss Bowen-Griffith not spotted two of her biggest gardening rivals in a neighbouring queue. ‘When I saw them I became even more embarrassed and demanded an apology even more adamantly’, she told the jury … Miss Bowen-Griffith was seeking aggravated damages for defamation”

Leaving aside for the moment exactly how you can have a “gardening rival”, Miss B-G did not leave her ego at home like any good poker player would. She also risked a huge amount for a small payout, going “all-in” to a very small pot. How much ? She lost the case, and is now liable for £45,000 in legal fees. If only she had spent more time in smoky casinos and less out in the fresh air.

In closing, let us consider the words of that great sage Nelson Muntz. Ha Ha !

What's with Hold-Em ? (Part 1)

The other Saturday I played the £100 Hold-Em tournament in Luton . Before the start I bumped into that well known Internet reprobate “The Camel”. “Haven’t seen you at a Hold-Em comp for a while” he said, before we moved to the bar and started talking about QPR instead. He was right, I haven’t been playing a lot of Hold-Em lately. Here’s why :

In 2001, I played 53 £20 and £50 tournaments in Luton (mostly £50). I cleared almost exactly £100 per competition, £5,400. Last year I played 40 and cleared £230, at £5 a night barely enough to cover BFH as they used to say in Bullseye. Bus fare home ! This year I’m £1,050 down. In fact I have put together a spectacular run of 21 of these tournaments without making the money. Considering all Hold-Em tournaments the run is currently around 30. Needless to say I have given some thought to the question “what the hell is going on ?”. The possible reasons can be broken down into three categories :

1) The game has changed

There’s no doubt this is true. Games always change, they grow and shrink, evolve and devolve. Have the games changed in such a way to explain my results ? Maybe. In 2001, the Saturday night game was a very good game, and that was the game I played the most. There weren’t too many top players, and quite a few loosies chasing the biggest prize pot of the week. However, word got around, one way or the other. More and more good players started turning up to take advantage. Once certain players who spend 90% of their time in cash games at the Vic turn up to a weekly tournament, you know the party’s over. Not because they’re great players, but because this is a sign that the particular tournament was good value 3 months ago. But it isn’t any more.

Anyway, the weaker players didn’t win as often and I suspect many migrated to Wednesday night which has now become the biggest night of the week, often a full house. The fields on Saturdays are now much tougher. Play Wednesday then ? Not so fast. Wednesday is a £20 comp with 100 runners. For various reasons which I will discuss soon (but not today), the good player’s edge is cut dramatically. Plus it goes on till 3 am and more – not good on a school night !

In addition, the more perceptive of you might have remembered that add-ons were introduced in late 2001. I don’t think this has affected my earn, but it’s hard to tell. However, as a player who tends to the conservative in rebuying, I think the addons have increased my variance. I won’t win as often. But when I do I should win more. Not sure on this one. Addons certainly didn’t harm my Stud results.

2) I have changed

Am I playing as well as I did in 2001 ? Another tough one. There is no doubt that I’m not as confident, which must have some effect. But when you turn over AK and your opponent JJ, it really doesn’t matter how confident you are. It might feel a lot different, but it isn’t. As I haven’t been doing so well, I haven’t been playing as often. I have only played 12 of these comps in the first half of this year (compare to 55 in the whole of 2001). Maybe there is a corresponding loss of sharpness. I have been trying some different plans and theories – now is the time after all. Don’t screw with your game too much when you’re winning, that’s for sure. Some of these new plans might not be good ideas in the long run. And frankly I just haven’t been trying very hard lately. After about half an hour I’m bored and wish I was at home. So instead of rebuying, I hit the rail.

3) Them’s just the breaks

Even 55 tournaments isn’t very many. Think of the difference a win more or less can make – anything up to £3000 ! It’s human nature to assume that 2001 was the way things should be, and everything since has been caused by bad luck and buggeration factors. But there’s no logical reason why that should be so. I ran hot in 2001, and cold since. Overall I have cleared £4,700 in 105 comps. I’d certainly like that £ number to be higher, but it’s not bad. Most players would swap with me for sure.

So what’s the verdict ? Nothing is clear-cut in poker. A bit of all three but mostly the last I reckon. Fortunately (praise be) Luton run the softest tournaments in the world – the Stud comps. Since the start of 2002, while I have been struggling with the Hold-em, I have cleared £10,000 in 80 stud comps. Just running hot ? Maybe so. I’ll let you know in about 20 years when the fluctuations are covered. In the meantime, now you know why I’m not seen too often on the Hold-Em nights.

Finally a postscript .. I know 2 or 3 guys who are running great in Hold-em tournaments right now. They haven’t been playing too long, but they’re enjoying themselves, playing a lot, larging it up, giving lessons at the table, chirping with the chips. But we’ll see how good these boys are when they string together 20 without a win. We’ll see how they cope when that happens. And we’ll see how cocky they are then too J.

Why are we here ?

Why are we all here, but let’s not get all existential. I have decided to quit the well-known poker forums at least for the meantime, and post my thoughts here instead. Why ? Unfortunately the signal-to-noise ratio on all the European forums has deteriorated badly over the last few months. Mostly they are saturated with anonymous smart-arses who have nothing to contribute at all. When someone makes an effort to post something constructive and well thought-out, they are met with replies of “bollocks” and “you’re a wanker” and so on.

These are open forums and I have always said that censorship should be minimised in these forums, so what can I do. All I can do is decide that I can’t be bothered with it any more. Life’s too short ! However I do enjoy organising my thoughts and soliciting feedback from anyone who does want to be constructive, so here I am.

So I’m going to talk about anything I feel like. I will be quoting some numbers regarding my results in poker, which is not something that’s very common, but a lot of people are interested to hear I think. We’ll see how it goes.