Sunday, July 31, 2011

Down early but not out

So it's been the first week of my 180-player grind and it's been an indifferent start. It's not completely unexpected since I haven't been in full online grind mode for about nine months. Just like any specific discipline just knowing how to do something or having done it before doesn't make up for being active and in the routine.

Just to digress I am also experiencing the same rusty performance with my running at the moment. Due to my recent trip to Vegas and other commitments I haven't done The Bay Run (a 7km circuit around Iron Cove in Sydney) for about 5 weeks and needless to say I am very sore today after yesterday's run.

Back to the poker - I have been quite happy with my overall play this week and my discipline with no moments where I was affected by tilt. This was re-assuring as this was a very tough week even for any seasoned player in my shoes - the bad beats were frequent & horrific and a huge number of times when I either approached the bubble or was in the money I would see my over pair all in preflop lose to a smaller pair - that's poker! However as the week progressed my results got better as I made a couple of important adjustments.

As I outlined in my previous blog I aim to play four separate sessions over four nights a week with each session lasting 3-4 hours. Initially I focused too heavily on volume, six-tabling and reloading tables continuously. Over the first three night's I played a little too much in autopilot mode and found myself in the 10BBs zone far too often by passively blinding down. On the fourth night I focused on playing less games simultaneously moving down to four-tabling with continuous reloading.

The payout structure for the $2.50 ($2.28 + $0.22) 180-player SnGs is as follows:

1st: $123.19, 2nd: $82.08, 3rd: $32.83, 4th: $32.83, 5th: $26.67
6th: $20.52, 7th: $14.36, 8th: $10.67, 9th: $6.97, 10th-18th: $4.92

The payout structure suggests the requirement to play outright for 1st place in order to make a profit in the long term. This doesn't mean going crazy from the get go however its important to play big hands fast and not just sit back and try to survive in the mid stages. It is also important to not be afraid of coin flips in the later stages. Usually the difference in a good week vs bad week is the result of these late stage coin flips.

Here is the summary of my 180-player SnGs session this week:

Session 1: 14 played, Placed: 1 (11th), Prizes: $4.92
Session 2: 33 played, Placed: 1 (11th), Prizes: $4.92
Session 3: 30 played, Placed: 4 (6th, 9th, 11th, 11th), Prizes: $37.33 
Session 4: 18 played, Placed: 4 (9th, 11th, 15th, 18th), Prizes: $21.73

I was very happy with playing 95 tournaments for the week and although I finished 62 buy-ins down there is no substitue for playing as many hands of poker as possible. This is nothing to write home about but also nothing out of the ordinary as a downswing - after all there is a reason 200 buy-ins are recommended for 180 player tournaments.

The main take away for me over the week was to reduce my volume down to 4-tabling so I could focus more on critical decisions and attack much more aggressively and frequently with a 20BB stack. These two adjustments certainly attributed to the improving results and something I will need to continue through the coming weeks.

As a refresher to any player wishing to get a quick summary of how to handle stack sizes and the different MTT concepts I like to review from time to time Bond18's excellent guide Things it Took Me a While to Learn. I also like to review this when on a downswing or when I feel I am just not playing well.

So what's next? I might be down 62 buy-ins but I still have plenty left and if the trend of improvement continues I might have a better week coming up. Oh and of course I will also need to continue my running regime on the Bay Run...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bankroll management and volume

Since returning to Sydney five days ago the weather has not been very kind here - a complete contrast from the Vegas summer with constant very grey, raining and cold days. Luckily the weather turned around today as I travelled down to Sutherland and Cronulla to see the annual Sutherland to Surf fun run supporting my girlfriend who was participating.

It was interesting to see the different runners at different fitness levels and watching people constantly adjust their game plan as the race progressed over the 11km road course. This reminded me of my previous poker bankroll building endeavours and the ups and downs along the way throughout the years. Even as I became more experienced over the years I still had to adjust my approach as I discovered the need to move down levels or increase my study and game selection.

I am currently reading 'The Poker Mindset' by Taylor and Hilger. Although I am only part way through the book it is helping a lot in terms of trying to understand topics such as tilt, variance and goal setting in terms of making good poker decisions rather than monetary goals and milestones.

However I feel its also very important for recreational players such as myself to set realistic monetary goals based on ROI and volume. In terms of availability I only have at most four week nights a week to spend a few hours a night on the poker grind. This equates to only 12-15 hours a week and limits my choice of game type and volume.

Based on 4 hour sessions and my preference for SnGs/MTTs I will stick to 180 man turbo SnGs on PokerStars which usually finish within 2 hours. Assuming conservatively that I will 6-table simultaneously - and continuously load new tables as I get knocked out - I should be able to play around fifteen 180-player SnGs in a night. So I would be looking at a total of 60 180-player SnGs a week.

In terms of bankroll for the 180-man SnGs (or any 180+ player MTT) the general consensus is that one needs about 200 buy ins. In my last blog I talked about starting at the bottom and moving up. I will start with the $2.50 180-player which equates to a minimum $500 starting bankroll. The first goal will be to reach a bankroll of $880 which would allow me to move up to the $4.40 180-player SnGs.

Now lets talk about return on investment or ROI. Conservatively speaking I would hope that with my experience and MTT skill level I can beat the 180-player SnGs by 20%.

Based on considerations above what kind of return could I expect as a recreational player in the course of a week or month? Based on playing 60 games at the $2.50 level with an ROI of 20% my weekly expectation would be:

60 x ($2.50 x 0.2) =  $30/week (or $120/month)

This return at first doesn't seem like much but it is realistic. One of the biggest mistakes that many players starting out make is thinking that they can double their bankroll in no time at all. Based on the schedule and volume I have presented here (assuming I play a solid winning strategy) it would take me about 3 months to be able to move up to the $4.40 level. A very sobering thought indeed...yes - there are easier ways to make money than poker. This is why professional players play a much higher volume (and at much higher buy in level) in order to improve their bottom line.

I would encourage those starting out to carrying out some of these calculations with different values in the equation to get an idea of the volume and time required to realistically achieve specific bankroll building goals. Of course one thing I have not mentioned is that some time also needs to be put aside for review and study in order to increase ROI. 

I will also be playing on the Entraction network after being referred to it by close friend Dara O'Kearney. There I will focus on playing 6-player and 10-player SnGs with a 60 buy in bankroll. The volume on players on the Entraction network is much smaller than that on PokerStars however this might be offset by the softer level of play after my initial test of the site.

I won't cover off any similar calculations for the Entraction network but will leave that for subsequent posts. 

I will begin the grind on PokerStars and Entraction this week and track how things go.

For the record - today my girlfriend improved her time considerably on last years' run - hopefully I will also be inspired enough after watching her to score my own personal best over the year to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back in Oz - The roadmap ahead

Firstly I would like to congratulate Eoghan O'Dea for making the final nine in the this year's WSOP main event today. It was exciting to watch the live stream and it was only a few nights ago in Vegas that I had the pleasure of having dinner with Eoghan, Nick Newport and Peter Murphy before we wished Eoghan well to make the final table. I believe that Eoghan and his father, Donnacha O'Dea, have become the first father and son pair to make the WSOP main event final table.

I am now back in Oz and looking forward to planning the next twelve months of poker. This is always an interesting phase of the year because for me its not as simple as just logging onto 4-5 different poker sites throughout a day and playing every high stakes SnG and MTT available each day with a huge bankroll already behind me.

Being a full time IT manager and trying to balance work, life and poker means that my time is at a premium. I need to plan out the days every week because I will not be able to put in the volume online that the usual professional grinder can achieve nor will I be able to attend all the major live events each month. However given the choice I definitely have a preference for online poker. Many recreational players should be able to relate to my situation.

Another consideration I need to take into account is the current state of online poker since the events of Black Friday. I lost a minor part of my online bankroll due to the Full Tilt poker debacle. Luckily most of my bankroll sits on PokerStars which seems to be solid enough however its time to even review this policy. Once bitten, twice shy - it's probably risky now to keep too much of one's bankroll on a single poker site.

It interesting that since I have requested a large withdrawal from PokerStars today that I seem to be getting some 'routine resistance' from the poker site's security department on authorising my withdrawal. Although I have no doubt funds will be 'freed up' soon enough with my provided documentation I wonder if this is a damage control mechanism as result of current volume on player withdrawals?

Pending successful redistribution of funds I will primarily target my areas of strength in single-table SnGs, multi-table SnGs as well as MTTs. In terms of bankroll management I will be on the conservative side with 60 buy ins for single-table SnGs and 200 buy ins for the 180 man SnGs and MTTs.

It is most likely I will continue to play on PokerStars for the 180 man SnGs as they are the only ones with the likely volume to make the grind practical. As far as the single table SnGs are concerned I will look for a softer poker site which will also provide me a solid rakeback deal as well.

Taking everything into consideration I will start with amounts around $500-$600 exercising the bankroll management outlined above and try to build the bankroll. I will try to emphasise discipline with the aim to just continually make good decisions and review my play rather than just being results oriented in the short term. I will also only be able to play around 3-4 nights a week.

One area of exception to the standard bankroll management will be to take more one off 'shots' at satellites to major events. This is something I haven't done enough in the past but is worthwhile if I can budget for the right amount.

In the coming blogs I will try and cover the specific application of this game plan and some projected volume and ROI calculations. I will also try to track the leaks in my game and the adjustments that will be needed along the way through further study.

Hopefully the journey along the way will be an interesting account to recreational players such as myself as I go through the variance (and bad play?) swings. Wish me luck with this endeavour!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

WSOP 2011 main event aftermath

It's the day after my main event bust at the end of day 2a and I'm sitting here again in the Starbucks cafe at the Rio in contemplation of what could have been. On the bright side I managed to have a nice chat with WSOP senior tournament director Jack Effel - please bring some WSOP events to Aus Jack!

In my previous blog I was posing myself the question of whether I would do better at this WSOP and in particular the main event compared to last year...
Now that my 2011 WSOP campaign has come to an end the answer is 'yes and no'. 'Yes' in that I felt more in control of good overall decisions with respect to the specific tournament situations laid out before me. But a 'no' if you take a results oriented view compared to last year (which is not always the right way to look at things).

Last year I cashed in 2/5 bracelet events, cashed in a deep stack event and then went deep into day 3 in the main event. This year I cashed in 1/3 bracelet events and failed right at the end of day 2 in the main event. On paper 2010 was definitely a better series for me but I feel that this year I was a more complete overall tournament player.

So what went wrong in the main this year? Possibly a number of small factors that in the end all added up. As my girlfriend pointed out possibly choosing day 1c was not the best as that is generally the most popular day all the professionals prefer to start. In fact on day 1c I didn't find many soft spots on the tables that I could expose consistently and with the very strong John Tabatabai on his game seated a few spots to my left it was a difficult day for me to get going.

By the time our table was broken on day 1c I saw my starting stack of 30K dwindle down to 16K as all my continuation bets were being picked off and when I 're-adjusted' I lost the initiative in a lot of hands - basically had almost no spots all day where I could value bet. After a few words of encouragement from Dara O'Kearney I managed to hold tight and survive day 1 with a stack of just under 21K.

Start of day 2a the blinds are at 250/500/50 and I am looking for good spots to re-shove squeeze if the pot offers me enough to shoot for. After the first hour of play my open raises are consistently three bet by what I could only describe as a couple of young internet pros to my immediate left with huge stacks - I fold and wait for a spot. Eventually just after the first hour of play with 17K in chips I open raise AdQd from early position and I am three bet a 5th time in a row by one of the young guns - feeling I am way ahead of his range I re-shove my stack over the top and he snap calls with AKo!!! You know that sinking feeling when you think its all over? I had that feeling for a about 15 seconds but to my relief I flop a Queen and hold.

Back to about 35K in chips and I decide to be patient for a while as I can see the young guns not to happy about my suck out and a big target on my forehead. This was probably the worse thing I could have done as soon after I get too cute and slow play trips which cost me 5K instead of picking up 10K - then I overplay AA trying to have an old dude who three bet another open raiser. I won the 6K in the middle preflop but should have been able to get a lot more value in this micro session to where I feel I could have got to 50K. This is really where technically the tournament started going bad in terms of bet sizing and tournament value for me.

Along the way I play next to Andy Bloch (he was part of the original MIT blackjack team 'documented' in the movie '21' and a Full Tilt sponsored red pro) for the first time and we talk about the 'Team 1%' cancer prevention charity he is associated with but I refrained from asking about where all my Full Tilt money deposits have now gone...anyways back to the tournament...

For the following 2 sessions I go completely card dead and get down to 21K at the dinner break...which is where I started the day - oh the irony after trying so hard!!!

I spent the dinner break with Dara O'Kearney his son Paddy and Nick Newport just relaxing before the cut throat shoving begins for me after the dinner break. All the lads and I had been out ten pin bowling the night before with a small wager on the result - despite having the best bowling action I was no match for Dara's slow and steady 'finger-pinch' technique or Nick's 'my power will crush anything' bludgeoning style. For the record Nick won the wager...

After the dinner break at the start of level 4 for the day my table is immediately broken saving me any uncomfortable Full Tilt poker discussions with Mr MIT and amazingly I get moved to Nick Newport table where Nick had an OK stack of around 60K. After a few all ins that were rudely 'ignored' by everyone I eventually still managed to chip down to 16K after seeing rag after rag being dealt to me (92 suited was looking good at one point - you get the picture). I eventually find my best spot and re-shove on the button over a late

I was left surprised though when the open raiser didn't call but the caller called my shove and he turned over KQo and I was a 60/40 favourite - Nick sportingly wished me luck. The rest is now history as the villain flopped a Q  to go ahead and I flopped the nut flush draw for a good sweat which just blanked out on the turn and river - good game I have no complaints here with this result - that's poker.

It was another eventful experience at the WSOP and with my second main event under my belt and I feel I will only get better results here after my fourth straight WSOP. There are definite technical areas of improvement I need to make as well as certain mindset adjustments. I may need to reconsider playing on day 1c in future as well as look at options around trying harder to satellite in to make the burden of the $10K entry fee have the minimum impact on my decisions at the table. I am someone who doesn't lend money or ask for money and although that is a good life policy it can be a limiting one in the poker

Where to now? First things first - I have a few days left in Vegas to try and have a bit of a holiday and then I'm back off to Sydney where I am dying to see my family, friends and especially my girlfriend Fi.

Many thanks to Fi, Costa, Dara, Feargal and all my friends back home for you support during this WSOP.

After I have a week off when I get back home I will start to set up a schedule for balancing IT work, life and poker and set some bankroll building goals. And that's probably where my next set of blogs will continue...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A trip down memory lane

As I am sitting here typing away on my blog I am enjoying my rest day and contemplating day 2a of the WSOP main event tomorrow. This is my second WSOP main event and I recall disappointingly crashing out of last years main event mid way through day three when I started day 3 as the table chip leader with about 110,000 chips. A couple of questions came to mind this morning - Will I do better this year? How did I get to here for a guy that doesn't play poker full time? Let's take a trip down memory lane...

The year is 2008 and I had been playing some serious live cash games and online cash games for a couple of years up until this point with quite some success. I had a lot of annual leave time saved up at work and decided I was going to go to my first WSOP but with a very limited budget. My intention was to check out Vegas as a tourist and play in just one of the WSOP bracelet events. With a very limited ABC tournament strategy I manage to cash in my first event for 112th and about $4000 in prize money. This was nothing to write home about in terms of finances but the experience got me hooked on tournament poker and the WSOP for years to come.

During my 2008 bracelet event another important thing occurred - whilst my pocket aces were cracked by an unknowing Irishman's pocket eights (he was all in and this saved him!) I was about to make one of my best friends in the poker world. That Irishman is Feargal Nealon. Despite exchanging email addresses scratched on bits of paper we were not to talk to each other again until the following year at the WSOP where we 'accidentally' ran into each other again. But some things in this world are just meant to be!

Enter the 2009 WSOP - over the past year I play more tournaments online with a very basic strategy but I study and improve dramatically in Sit and Gos and they become my specialty. I was not prepared to put up the $10K entry out of my poker bankroll. I play in one bracelet event and busted out around midnight of day one after twelve hours of play. I then manage to fall ill in bed with a severe cold for several days and realised after I recovered that there was only the weekend left before the main event entries close. How was I going to try to make the money to play in my first main event?...

The answer is always to try the satellite tournaments - I attacked the single table satellites which are essentially a 10 player Sit and Go where the winner takes all ($5K). Normally however deals are cut by the last 2-3 people left as no one wants to play for a few hours and leave empty handed. After grinding the $500 satellites for the first day of the weekend I managed to get to a $6K profit - this is no mean feat when a deal is cut 95% of the time. Rather than going all through the night I decided to go back to my room and get some sleep and try to do the same the next day. The next day things weren't going so well - I battled all day and night to basically break even and end up in the same position - $6K to the good but no $10K main event entry needed.

That night Feargal talked me into entering one of the $550 mega satellite tournaments the following morning - there were about 200 entrants and the top 10 finishers won a seat to the main event. I battled hard but busted out in 18th where I recall losing my final two hands in a row where I was the 4-1 favourite on both occasions - a very bitter pill to swallow just missing out on a main event seat - I was also back down to only $5.5K of my $10K needed. I played a final $500 single table satellite and managed to chop it for $2.5K bringing me up to $8K in profit but alas the main event entries were about to close and I was far too tired now to play in it on the same day with any energy. I may not have played in the main event in 2009 but the experience in trying to do so and railing Feargal during his first main event (in which he cashed!) has helped me more than any study materials ever could at that time.

Despite the 2009 WSOP being my least successful year to date in terms of poker I still consider it one of my most successful years in life. To re-acquaint myself with Feargal and also meet one of his close friends Shaun Craig who has also become a friend of mine means a lot to me. I remember the three of us entering a guitar hero competition in Vegas and the best we could come up with for a band name was "An Englishman, an Irishman and an Australian walk into a bar..." - what were we thinking? But we won the competition and the multiple jugs of beer as prizes!

Enter WSOP 2010 - I play in 5 bracelet events and my first main event! I manage to have my most successful year to date with 2/6 WSOP cashes. My tournament game has come a long way with exchanging ideas with Feargal and I also meet Dara O'KearneyWSOP - they are all down to earth, funny and OK they also like to have a drink! They are welcoming and more than happy to help me with my game. Remembering drinks one evening last year at the Wynn with almost the who's who of Irish poker was great - and Marty Smith if you are reading this I owe you a few drinks mate!  

I remember returning to Sydney after the 2010 WSOP with a buzz of excitement that my tournament game was really starting to improve. Since then I have had good success online in small buying MTT events grinding up a bankroll and continued to work on exchanging poker theory with Feargal, Dara and Shaun. I also get involved in staking players on Chip Me Up.

Enter WSOP 2011 - I have now played in three events this year and cashed in my first event of the series which basically has allowed me to 'freeroll' the other events. My only disappointment is that Feargal could not make it to be here this year. I have spent a lot of time here this year with Dara and his calming and logical influence. I have now cashed in 4/11 WSOP overall which is a result I am very happy with although like everyone else I still yearn for my first 'big' result. My thoughts now loop back to those echoed at the beginning of this blog...I have answered how I got here for a guy that doesn't play poker full time - the other question about 'Will I do better this year?' will be answered in a future blog...

Hopefully this was an interesting read on my WSOP trip down memory lane...if nothing else I hope it was enlightening to non poker players (and maybe even poker players alike) on the ups and downs a player goes through as they learn to try and compete at the world's most prestigious poker event. Its not always what you see on TV...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why this Blog?

You may be asking - why a poker blog from a non poker professional...?

Well believe it or not my main motivation around this is to help me improve all round as a poker player. I hope that my writing and any feedback I receive from my friends and other players may help my overall game as well as possibly help anyone else just starting out in poker.

Although I am not a poker professional (i.e. I have a very demanding day job in IT) I have now competed at the last four World Series of Poker (WSOP) events with cash finishes and have played poker somewhat seriously for the last five years. To say that I enjoy playing poker is an understatement!

So what can we all expect? I hope to provide regular updates on my results, goals and challenges, study material I am reviewing, my opinions on the world poker scene and maybe even some non poker happenings in my general day to day life.

A little about me - I am a 37 year old IT professional living in Sydney, Australia. I have played a lot of sport from a young age up until my early 30s and I have also played some very serious tournament chess between from the age of 11 to 30 years old. I still have an interest in chess too however my serious playing days are more or less over in that endeavour. 

I currently play a majority of online poker but did start exclusively as a live player so I have experience and success in both of these poker disciplines. My main focus these days are no limit holdem multi table tournaments (MTTs) and multi-table sit and gos (MTTSnGs) however I also play cash games including no limit holdem, limit holdem and seven card stud hi-lo.

As I type - whilst in a coffee shop located in the Rio Casino in Las Vegas (thank you wireless technology!) - I am on the eve of playing in my second WSOP main event. I am quite excited but at the same time very nervous...could this year be the year?!

Things are made easier here in Vegas by spending time with my Irish Poker friends - most notably Feargal Nealon and Dara O'Kearney both of whom I have learnt a lot from over the past few years and have much respect for. In fact it was Dara who approved of and encouraged my idea to start a blog in order to help me improve my game.

Everyone is more than welcome to leave any comments or feedback to these blog posts whether positive, negative or indifferent - either way I am sure I will learn something new everyday.

So welcome to my blog! And with my first introduction post out of the way my next posts will surely be about my WSOP 2011 results so stay tuned...