Friday, June 30, 2006

Freeroll Tournament

Last night on Stars, I decided I ought to try a tournament, if nothing else to confirm that I suck at them. Also to get a little practice at larger-field tournaments before heading out to Vegas next week. (Oh my god, that's next week!)

I was looking for a 100 or so player tournament, but a freeroll tournament was starting up in 20 minutes, so I signed up. Hey, free practice, right? No cash prize pool - the top 27 places received free entry into another tournament several days from now, that one with a $1000 prize pool.

There were 3600 people in. Not quite what I was looking for, but did I mention "free"?

I decided to look at it as an endurance test, since my usual problem in big tournaments is getting bored and then doing something stupid. A huge field would be good for that.

I don't think I fully anticipated how the "free" part would really work into it. Players started going all-in nearly immediately, trying for a quick doubleup. I stayed out of the way, waiting for good cards and picking up pots when I got them. About 300 players were gone in the first 10 minutes. 600 in the first 20. Holy crap.

I played reasonably well, I thought, picking my spots and betting aggressively. I doubled up a couple times by having a good hand when someone else went all-in with a marginal one. I made the second break, two hours in. We were down to a few hundred players by then, and although they weren't supid, my tablemates didn't strike me as particularly strong.

The problem was, it was after midnight and I was starting to doze off. Part of me wanted to tough it out and see how far I could get. But the prize was entry into a tournament that began at 1am Monday morning and already had 1000 entrants, so would likely be several hours long. Even if I won, I wasn't going to stay up all night before work to play in a huge tourney with a $1000 prize pool.

When we got down to about 150 players left, I decided enough was enough. I had made my point and lasted two hours and beaten out 3500 other players. So I made a very risky semi-bluff, getting called by a better hand... and then sucking out on the poor guy to make my straight and bust him. I had nearly doubled up, and with 100 players left, the "money" was in sight. But I was having trouble keeping my eyes open to see it.

I got moved to another table. If I could stay awake and alive for another 40 minutes or so I would probably make the money, but I was done. Time for a "go out in a blaze of glory" hand. I found AK suited shortly after, raised, got reraised by the table chipleader, rereraised him back, was rerereraised, and I pushed. He called with a trifling AA, and I nearly doubled up the guy, giving him a massive lead over the rest of the table.

I went to bed happy with my play. I had finished in 80th place of 3600, and could have gone further. I knew damn well I was beat when I played that last hand, and would have survived and continued if that's what I was after. And I found that there are a lot of stupid poker players out there, so maybe I don't have to be as worried about big tournaments as I have been.

On the other hand, any blogger game every blogger game I have played in has been Noam Chomsky compared to this Dick and Jane crap.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Do your homework

Ryan (of Micks Poker Pages up in Misawa) made a couple of comments to my last post with suggestions for improving.

I have to admit, my first reaction was a defensive one. Get PokerTracker and use it to find my leaks and plug them? Oh yeah, like I had not thought of that before!

The nagging feeling that followed was the admission to myself that although I am using PT for tracking and categorizing other players, I haven't been using it at all regularly to review my own play and look for problems.

So tonight after work instead of firing up some actual poker, I just sat down with PT and went through a bunch of hands from my most recent limit holdem sessions. You can probably guess what I found. At one point C stuck her head through the door to my computer room and asked, "Are you all right? What was that noise?"

The noise was a incredulous "huugh?!" from me as I watched a replay of me making a lousy, lousy call to a turn raise where I had no odds to continue, and should have known better. I know better, right? Maybe not.

I went through a slew of hands and found similar mistakes. "Well, yeah," I told myself, "but cut me some slack, I was four-tabling to try to finish up that Party bonus at the time!"

I could slap myself when I tell myself stupid shit like that.

Anyhow, time to suck it up, eat my humble pie, do my homework and review my play after every session.

Thanks Ryan.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Where am I?

Right now I feel a bit lost as a poker player. The real question is, am I any good or not? I haven't a clue, and with my trip to Vegas for the blogger gathering and WSOP gawking, it's been on my mind a lot. I've been playing for over a year now, shouldn't I be better than this by now?

Taking stock --

Cash games: I can grind a slight but steady profit at $50 buyin NLHE full ring. The few times recently I have tried $100 tables have lost me a good chunk of money and put doubts in my head. I still show a reasonable profit on the $2/$4 Bad Beat Jackpot tables on Party, but my overall stats for limit holdem, even at $1/$2, show me a losing player.

SNGs: My impression is that I have done all right in single-table SNGs. I haven't looked at my stats in PokerTracker to confirm this - I suppose that would be the next step. If I am doing well, I should play more of them and try buying into some larger ones to move up.

Tournaments: Awful. Anything larger than one or two table tournaments I have always busted out well before the money. I don't think I have the patience for it. In the local live tournaments, usually no more than 2-3 tables, I have won a few times. Over the course of a year of play, it's not enough to feel like more than rudimentary play and random chance.

I'm ready to be dead money at the blogger tournament in Vegas. My expectations are way low - if I can outlast, say, 20% of the field I will be happy.

But other games in Vegas have me a bit spooked. One of the JPPA players, who I believe goes by the handle "Shin", chatted with me for a while on Friday night about the WSOP. He's headed out to Vegas about the same period I'll be there, so was checking if I wanted to get into some of the same tournaments as he'd be playing in. One he's looking at is the Orleans Open, though he suggested some other small tournaments as well.

Me: "I don't know.... I don't do very well in tournaments..."

Shin looked momentarily surprised, which gave my ego a brief boost. "You should think about it. The level of players in these tournaments is pretty low. Definitely compared to here," he added, indicating the JPPA.

It was food for thought. Am I really that bad? Some of the players at the JPPA seem to be pretty damn good (though it is hard for me to tell how good), so it's a solid training ground. Maybe Shin is right.

On Friday night, as I mentioned, I made it to 6th place out of 28, hanging in there as a short stack from about 12th place. Not too bad. And a couple weeks ago at Duke I showed up late and played in their TTOS limit mixed game (two rounds of holdem, one round of Omaha-8 and one round of Stud-8) and finished 6th out of 20 players or so. Just out of the "money", so I was bubble boy. Still, not too bad considering that Omaha and Stud are games that I know the rules to and that's about it.

Celica-san was there that Friday night, so we talked for a bit before the TTOS game started up. She asked if I was going to play more of the Saturday "Straddle Cup" games at the JPPA. Me: "I don't know... I haven't been playing very well lately."

She also gave me a look, this time somewhere in between surprise and annoyance at my display of modesty. "You just won that Straddle Cup game, what, two weeks ago?"

Me: "Uh... yeah. I mean, since then, you know?"

Don't always believe the things you tell yourself.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Everest Friday

After probably a couple months away, I went to the Everest Cup game at JPPA on Friday night.

I'd heard from Bluejay that there were quite a few more foreigners coming out for the Everest games, but I wasn't quite expecting so many. I think about 8 other gaijin (other than myself) came out - all of them fairly young men. All of them seemed to know each other, and from snippets of conversation, it sounded like they mostly lived in gaijin houses, low cost monthly-rental apartments aimed at short-term residents, mostly foreigners. It's a bit like living in the YMCA.

Three or four of them were asian and spoke Japanese quite well, as well as English. A couple of them spoke something that sounded like it might be Danish. One of them had a bit of a Gus Hansen look going on.

Twenty-eight players entered. I lasted pretty long, going out in sixth place. I was reasonably pleased with my play - I don't think I made any glaring errors, which is pretty good for me. The blinds go up pretty quickly in the Everest Cup games, so that they can finish in a few hours on Friday nights, so I made it to the crap-shoot point where any raise I could make was all-in. I won the first one or two, then lost one, crippling me, and went out soon after.

The feel of the game was different with so many young male gaijin players - it was louder, more energetic, with more drinking and English tabletalk. A bit like a frat party.

Most of the Japanese players didn't seem to mind, but I worried. Japanese aren't as familiar with poker as Americans, have no kitchen-table games in their childhood or background poker stories or knowledge in their culture. It's new to them, and there's no guarantee it will catch on here. It helps to have someplace where they can learn and play the game in Japanese, with other Japanese, and not have to worry about dealing with English.

Was it just coincidence that there was only one female player there on Friday? I've been surprised by the number of young Japanese ladies who have taken an interest in the game - in this case, the lack of poker background and stereotypes in Japanese culture works in their favor. But if they're put off by loud Americans, they may not want to play anymore.

Hopefully I am just overreacting. But my first reaction is to skip the Everest games on Friday and just go to the Saturday games at the JPPA, which are more expensive (Everest Cup games are only 500yen). For cheap Friday night games, there's still Duke. And not overrun with gaijin.

Yes, I may well be a hypocrite.

Monday, June 19, 2006

If you prick me...

I had a bit of minor medical work done the other day, and they needed to take a blood sample ahead of time to ensure there would be no problems with the procedure. (I assume checking for allergies to the anaesthesia, etc.)

The last time I had to give blood for a medical checkup they had to stick me five times before they got enough blood to reluctantly ooze out of my arm for their tests. Aside from being unpleasant, it was embarassing and troubling. If my bloodflow is so sluggish, how the hell am I still alive?

This time as well, they tried first on my right and got a trickle. Then to my left and got nothing. Just nothing. The nurse grimaced and shifted the needle around a couple times trying to hit the vein and failing, which started to get unnerving if not overly painful. Flustered, she took a break and considered her options. My veins are apparently fairly thin and slippery to boot.

Third time was the charm, thankfully.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A bout on Saturday

I shuffled around my work schedule and decided to head up to the JPPA for the Saturday evening game. I'm still not too clear on the ramifications of the point-system games they have on Saturdays, but my 25 point win from before puts me in a pretty good position right out of the gate. The real question is, how long is the race?

I tried something different and rode my bike up to Ueno - this took longer than I expected, nearly an hour, and I arrived about 30 minutes after the game began. I could have made it in 20 minutes, but I gave myself some cooldown time before I went in - the last thing most of these guys would want is a gaijin sitting next to them still radiating heat and sweat. Besides, Phil Hellmuth does it and I model my life after that guy.

As I walked in, four full tables were going, 36 entrants this week! Busy day, compared to only 14 players last week for the limit-only tournament. I took another couple minutes to visit the cramped washroom in the back and splash some cool water on my face. I didn't feel stinky.

I had been blinded down a bit but nothing major. The first hand after I sit down, I am dealt pocket queens. We're still in the limit rounds, so I raise and get two callers. An ace and a queen flop, and they must have had an ace each, since I bet to the river and they kept after me, only to muck when they saw my trip queens. Nice. If we'd been in the no-limit rounds, I probably would have busted one or both of them on my first hand. Maybe the poker gods are giving me another subtle hint about limit versus no-limit?

I didn't last very long this week, got knocked out about 24th of 36. Blinds went up pretty quickly and although everyone had similar stack sizes at our table for quite a while, when the antes kicked in I saw my M drop from a workable 9 to a scary 4 in a single "dong" from the level timer. I had to move fast, but got nothing worth playing for a couple orbits and was running out of chances. Finally I got AK of clubs and pushed, and got one caller with AT of diamonds. A King came and I doubled up, but double short stack was still pretty short. The next hand I got pocket fives, now under the gun. I considered... a 3x raise would be about 1800 chips, and I only had about 2300 at the time. Push again? Would I be more likely to get a caller if I pushed, since they may put me on a steal. I fiddled with my chips and decided on only a raise of 1200, giving me half my stack left. My fiddling was not lost on Doyle, who saw right through me and put me all-in. I called, and this time he had Big Slick. He hit and I was done.

Maybe it was a bad decision to min-raise like that, but Doyle would have called my 3.5x all-in anyhow. A worse mistake was the fiddling while trying to decide how much to bet - I broadcast that I wanted to play but had a hand I wanted to be able to get away from. I gotta watch out for that.

I sat down at the live game afterwards, but was immediately bewildered. They were playing a stud hi-lo variant, but I couldn't follow their description of the rules so I just sat out and watched to try to figure it out. Each player was dealt three cards down, discarded one, and exposed one so they had one card hidden, one exposed. Three rounds of dealing an up-card to each followed by betting (pot-limit!). Then, I believe, you had the option of discarding your fourth up-card for a replacement. Then one more down card, and bet. Then, at the very end, there was some system of palming zero, one, or two chips to determine if you wanted to play your hand, then everyone exposed their chips and if there was no showdown, the players took their bets back. I was pretty lost.

Kugatsu-san eventually took down the tournament, which was nice to see. Kugatsu is another strong, dominating player. He's a bit older than I, thin, glasses, and a somehow laid back and intense simultaneously. I've seen him raise to take down pots six times in a row at the beginning of a tournament, before someone finally played back at him. If he raises, you take it seriously - even if he's shortstacked, you fear what he can do to you.

Oddly, he complains that he rarely wins these tournaments, often getting to the bubble but not to the final tables. I have wondered how that could be, because he would scare the hell out of me if I were sitting across from him in the WSOP, but it was nice to see him take down a solid win this week.

Afterwards, we headed out to an iizakaya for a bit of late night food, drink, and conversation. Celica-san congratulated me about my win from last week, so I asked her about the point system. She explained that anyone who made 60 points during the year qualified for the WSOP (or WPT) seat tournament at the end of the year. This year's winner, awk (a very strong, regular JPPA player) apparently chose a WPT seat over the main event because he didn't want to take a full two weeks off work to attend. Pretty smart.

Second and third place also get an entry to one of the smaller buyin WSOP events. Otonn took third this year, I heard, so he's headed out to the WSOP for the $1500 NL Holdem event on July 18-19. Which kinda sucks because I'll only be in Vegas until the 14th.

Celica-san is also attending the WSOP Ladies' event, I believe, so I'll have another Japanese player to cheer for. I'd love to see her (or Saeko or Mari from Duke) bust Shannon Elizabeth's ass. They'd probably ask me later, "Who was that woman, anyhow?"

That would be sweet.

Over our late dinner it came out that the weird live game that evening was a followup to the weird live game at the Friday night Everest Cup. That night, they explained, they were playing Omaha hi-lo, but with nines wild. There was still some discussion about how to break ties in that game, by rating a hand using the 9 as wild as "impure", so that a "pure" hand would beat an identical "impure" hand. Sheesh. I'll let them work out the details - I'm not ready for a funky variant yet.

Afterwards, I rode home through deserted post-midnight Tokyo streets. The wide, well-lit streets of Ginza were empty except for late-night workers cleaning windows and doing photo shoots, and the occasional homeless person setting up camp in cardboard boxes in a handy alcove. Nightshift cops loitering in a kouban waved me down and hassled me a while about not having a light on my bike, despite my bright safety yellow sports windbreaker and the everpresent city street lighting. After they checked my foreigner registration card and confirmed that I had a proper visa and job, they grumblingly let me off with a warning. Whiteface in Tokyo - don't leave home without it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Note to self

If you have arranged a week-long trip to Las Vegas and your girlfriend has decided not to go because she can't get the time off of work and is afraid that US Immigrations will harrass her more and more each time she shows up, do not casually mention it to her when you get your plane tickets, make your hotel reservation, etc.

Yes, I really was that insensitive.

I couldn't help myself. The plane ticket was considerably more expensive than I was expecting. And there was the refuelling fee, and a new one I don't remember seeing before -- a United States Entry Fee. Shit, they charge me $70 just to enter the country now? This xenophobia thing is starting to bother me. (Do the Canadians get hit up for this too?)