Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Poker Book Review: "Unfolding Poker"

James "Splitsuit" Sweeney has just published a new book, Unfolding Poker.  I think it's a worthy addition to your poker library.

First let me compliment Sweeney on the title.  I love the play on words, "Unfolding Poker."  And it's especially apt since one of the lessons I learned from the book as that I'm folding too much.  I really should be "unfolding" instead.

The book's subtitle is "Advanced answers to the most frequently-asked poker questions."  Sweeney is a poker coach, releases both articles and videos at an impressive rate, encourages readers/viewers to submit poker questions and hand histories to him.  As such, he has a pretty good idea of what the most common questions players looking to fix their leaks are.

As opposed to many poker books, it is not linear.  This is not a step-by-step primer on how to play poker at a particular level.  You don't have to learn everything from one chapter to go on to the next.  In fact, you can pretty much read the chapters in any order you like.  Each chapter stands on its own.  That makes it easy to get through the material at your own pace.

The book is aimed at the beginner-intermediate level.  I'd say closer to intermediate.  You won't learn about posting blinds or what a 3-bet is—but you will learn more about when to 3-bet (spoiler alert: a lot more often than I do).  But as Sweeney says in the preface, "The concepts in this book are not overly-advanced."  It is also aimed at cash games, not tournaments.

Among the most informative chapters for me were "Making money in tight games", "When do I fold or hold an overpair", "3-betting more against fish,", "Should you play looser?" and "When should I change my bet size."  Sweeney gives the answers clearly and in depth.  And always in a very entertaining manner.

That chapter on changing bet size was invaluable for me.  As readers of my blog know, I tend to open the same amount  preflop no matter what I have.  I was told this would make it difficult for anyone to figure out the strength of my hand.  But Sweeney makes the case for varying bet  sizes, and explains when and why to do it.  If I just master this one point, I think it will improve my game significantly.

Of course, everyone who reads my blog knows I should play looser so I will definitely try to take that chapter to heart!  There's also a chapter about the best way to study poker—no, it doesn't just say "read this book!"  There are really good suggestions on how to get the most out of the material you are using to improve your game.

Actually, one of the most fun chapters in the book is one that I might not ever need.  It's about "Running it twice," and when and why you should consider doing it.  I say I might not need this because honestly, I've never been in a game where that was even allowed.  I believe in Vegas, most rooms would only allow that at a 2/5 or higher game, not a 1/2 or 1/3 game.  So it's never been an option for me.  Nevertheless, I found the discussion of whether or not to do it fascinating.

There's a lot of bonus material available accompanying the book.  Most chapters have links to articles or videos or podcasts that Sweeney has produced that help amplify the material even more. All that bonus material is definitely +EV.

I mostly listened to the audio book version (although that does come with a Kindle version and I did actually read some of the chapters).  I recommend the audio for several reasons.  For one, the author reads it in those dulcet tones of his.  Sweeney has such a great voice, I'm thinking I could enjoy just hearing him read the phone book.  But listening to him you can hear his inflections and get a better idea of what are the most important points he's trying to make. 

But what will be great is having that audio version to listen to over and over again. I'm already thinking I will re-listen to it on my way to my next poker session—and even on my way to Vegas in a couple of weeks.  Perhaps if I listen often enough, the parts about playing looser and 3-betting more will eventually sink in fully.  Hey, you know, I could actually listen to it right at the poker table, couldn't I? 

So I can readily recommend Unfolding Poker.  If you want to purchase it, you can use the link at the bottom of this post, and then use the code "robvegas" and get a 10% discount.

Use this link to purchase:  Unfolding Poker.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

"I'm Trying to Save You From a Penalty!"

I finally got a chance to play in a tournament I've been looking forward to playing in for a long time last month. 

Back in July, 2016, the Venetian made some changes in their regular tournament schedule and changed the Saturday Noon tournament.  I was intrigued by this tournament as soon as I saw the structure sheet for it.

It's called the Doublestack and players start with a nice stack of 24K.  The levels are 40-minutes.  There's a $25K prize pool guarantee. And there's actually a 45-minute dinner break after the 9th level.

You readers must know how much I appreciate the fact that it had a dinner break.  For that reason alone, I wanted to try it.

The only issue was the buy-in.  It's $340.  That's a bit more than I'd like the pay for a regular tournament.  But I knew I had to try it at least once.

But because of medical issues, I was MIA for the rest of the year, until my Xmas trip.  And when I was there for the holidays, the Venetian had a special tournament series going for the occasion, so I couldn't try it then.

April was actually my first chance to give it a shot.  So on my first full day in town—which also happened to be birthday—I did indeed give it a shot.

My birthday wasn't the only big celebration going on.  It was also the day of David Wang's Bachelor Party.  

Anyway, I have to say that I was really impressed with the tournament.  I could easily get spoiled with the 40-minute levels. It's a wonderful thing. That, and the huge stack you start with, sure gives you a lot of play.  If you're a tournament player and that price is in your range, you should definitely consider giving this one a try.

Now, I have to say, the first weekend I was in town, Vegas was dead. The excuse given was that this was too close to April 15 when everyone's taxes are due.  I'm usually in Vegas on or around my birthday and although it is a slow time for Vegas, I don't ever recall it being quite this dead.  You could actually drive on the Strip on this weekend if you wanted to (I didn't).  Perhaps people are staying away because of parking fees?  BTW, the Venetian still offers free parking.


So, there were only 30 or so players when the tournament started.  That would have resulted in a huge overlay.  Of course there were six levels of entry and re-entry and they came pretty damn close to making the guarantee.  The final total was 80 players so they did have a $2,600 overlay.

There were a few interesting brouhahas early in the tournament while I was still at my original table. A new player came in, still late in the first level.  He had only been dealt a few hands when the small blind got to him. A guy on the other side of the table from him raised to $250 (the blinds were 50/100).  But this new guy didn't see the raise.  He put out two more green chips to call $100.  The dealer quickly explained that there had been a raise and pointed to the raiser's bet. So the guy said OK and took back all his chips and mucked his cards!  Or at least he tried to but the dealer didn't put them into the muck just yet.  She let them stay in front of him.

The dealer said he couldn't take back his bet, he had to leave the $100 out there.  "What are you talking about?  I didn't know there was a raise. You didn't say 'raise.'"

The dealer insisted he was responsible for the $100 and then called the floor.  The floor said that he had two options.  Muck his hand and forfeit the $100, or take his hand back and call the $250.  He was quite upset but he accepted the floor's decision.  He ended up forfeiting the hundred. Oh and yes, it was mentioned by a player that even if he been allowed to take back his call, he was still of course obligated for the $50 small blind.

After the floor left, the guy said he'd never seen that before. We discussed it.  I said that usually, at least in a cash game, they let you take back the bet if you don't see the raise.  At least that's been my experience.  I have seen it the other way a few times...where you're stuck for the extra money.  But in a cash game it's only a buck or two so no big deal.  I can't recall the hard line taken in tournaments for that matter....I just can't remember.  I'd have to guess that I've seen people allowed to take back money though.  But this house, they are apparently hard line on the rules.  As long as they are consistent, I think it's fine.

Then there was a very disgruntled guy who came to our table and apparently this was already his second or perhaps third buy-in (he showed up during the second or third level).  He spent the entire time bitching and moaning about some supposedly horrific bad beat he took to bust out.  A guy made a call he never should have made and caught his card—you know the story.  The thing was, he tried to explain it to us (not that anyone asked) and it didn't sound like a bad call to me.  But I probably just didn't hear the explanation properly.

Anyway, he was across the table from the guy in seat 1—who actually won the previous day's tournament.  In a hand I don't think the disgruntled guy was in, a flop came and there was a bet.  When the action came to Seat 1, he said something like "I played this all wrong....look at this." And he held up his cards so that only Seat 2, who had folded preflop, saw them.  I was in Seat 3 and could almost see them, but not quite (I too had folded preflop).  And then he mucked his hand. 

The disgruntled guy went nuts.  "You can't do that!  You cannot do that!  Don't show your cards!  You're not allowed to do that."  Seat 1 was taken aback but he said, "Sorry, ok, I won't do it again."

Now, I've played a lot of poker.  I've seen this happen a lot, the player shows his hand before folding to a player who is already out.  Sometimes it's an accident, sometimes it's hard to tell and sometimes it's clearly on purpose.  And yes, sometimes it has annoyed me that I didn't get to see the hand.  But I'd never  seen anyone complain about it before. And this guy was making a federal case out of it.          

That should have been the end of it but the disgruntled guy wouldn't let it go.  "I'm trying to save you from a penalty.  You could get a penalty for that.  I'm trying to help you."  But it wasn't exactly a friendly, avuncular tone he used. It was hostile.  He kept badgering him.

Seat 2 got pissed.  "What do you want from me?  I folded, I said I wasn't going to do it again."  The grouch said, "Well, I'm trying to save you from a penalty.  You should be grateful to me."

It go to the point where the dealer said, "OK, that's enough.  Let me call the floor."  The floor came over quickly.  He agreed with the disgruntled guy that it was wrong to show his hand like that.  He said that the first time, it's just a warning.  So he gave the guy a warning.  Next time there will be a one- round penalty But he also said that what the dealer is supposed to do is put the guy's mucked cards aside, and then after the hand is over show everyone the hand.  Makes sense.  I've just never seen that before.  I had to admit the disgruntled guy was right.  He was just incredibly obnoxious about it.

And there was a funny incident involving me.  I wanted to raise to $500 preflop.  Well aware of the single chip rule, I grabbed a $500 chip and said raise so it wasn't seen as just a call of the big blind.  I had already seen a few times dealers not hear players say raise and think it was a call in that situation.  The bachelor party tournament was getting started behind us and there was some noise from that, plus general casino/poker room noise.  So I took the chip, held it up in front of my face, and said, rather loudly, "Raise!"  Then I placed the chip out in front of me.

The player two to my left said, "Wow, that was a really loud 'raise.'  What is that?  Is that information about your hand?"  I laughed and said that I was just trying to make my action clear since I was using a single chip.  Another guy at the table actually said that too—that I was trying to be clear in my bet.  But I decided to have some fun.  So I added, "actually, yes....I've got quads."  That got a laugh, but not as big as the laugh the dealer got we she said, "Floor!"  But there was a smile on her face and she did immediately add, "just kidding."

Of course before the tournament started they had announced the rules and had emphasized that players were not allowed to talk about their hands.  And we had already seen how strict they were in enforcing the rule regarding not taking chips back when there was a raise that a player hadn't noticed.  Technically, I had violated the rule about talking about my hand!

The dealer was just joking but the floor actually heard her and came over. So even though she didn't think there was a problem with what I had said, she now had to explain to the floor what happened.  Naturally she made it clear that it was preflop and I was obviously joking. The floor said ok and moved along.  One of the players joked, "one-round penalty!"  You know, I did purposely say a hand I couldn't possibly have there.  If I had said, "I have Aces," I would have gotten in trouble (I actually had Ace-King). 

Well that's all for now.  I guess I will discuss some poker hands from this tourney at a future date.  Hint:  Pocket Kings played a key role.  That's not really a spoiler though because half the posts on this blog have the label "dreaded pocket Kings."  But I'm not sure if I'll get back to this tournament in my next post or do something else.  So I'm not calling this a part 1. Hopefully this post can stand on its own.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

So Long November 9, Hello July 9

You've probably heard by now that there's a big change at the WSOP this year—no more November Nine.  Instead of delaying the final table for four months as they've been doing for the past several years, they are going to keep going and finish the tournament in July.  Well, they'll be a slight delay.  There will be two days off after they reach the final table.

The two days is fine.  It's being done for television considerations (like the wacky ways they schedule playoff games in all the major sports), but it makes sense.  The final 9 players will have played an awful lot of poker when they reach the final table—7 days of 12-14 hour days almost all in a row.  Nothing wrong with a couple of days to decompress and rest up a bit.  And it will give the media plenty of time to introduce the final 9 to the poker fans who are following along. 

I've always hated the long delay—it just seems ridiculous.  Imagine if they delayed the Super Bowl for four months after the conference championship games.  Although, I have to admit, on a purely personal note, it worked to my advantage last year.  The November 9 took place during my convalescence from my triple by-pass surgery, and the coverage then helped entertain me for a few nights when I wasn't physically able to do much more than watch TV.  But that was just a fluke.  I'm hoping I won't be recovering from open heart surgery again this coming November.  Or any surgery, for that matter.

Also it sounds like there will be a lot of live, contemporaneous  coverage of the early rounds of the main event on TV, both on ESPN and via live stream from Poker Central.  That can only be a good thing.  In the past, poker fans had to follow along reading written reports online, then watch three-month old recordings leading up to the live final table.  This seems so much better.  Kudos to the WSOP for realizing the November Nine wasn't really working and coming up with a much better delivery system for their product.

Of course, this change won't affect me personally, except as someone who will be following along as a champion is crowned.  I'm not playing in the main event.

But there are some other changes that might affect me more directly.  I already mentioned one a few months back, the new tournament, The Giant (see here).  Another change is a rule involving calling clock on players.  Players will be encouraged to call the clock on players who are tanking too long.  And when the clock is called, the TD may run it for less than 60 seconds at his or her discretion.  You can read about it here

The other change that caught my eye, however, has to do with food.  The highly unpopular Poker Kitchen is being replaced with a "Grab & Go Poker Kitchenette."  They really haven't explained what that means, but I'm assuming it'll be chips, fruit and premade sandwiches and the like.  Hmmm.  I understand the thought—they want to make it a lot easier and faster to get food during those 10 to 20 minute breaks.  Whether this will actually work remains to be seen.  I mean the sheer volume of players looking for food at the same time will still be a challenge.

But the other thing that really caught my eye was this:  "Hot dog carts will also roam throughout the tournament rooms, to service players looking for a quick tableside bite."

Now you're talking!.  Although not exactly health food, at least it's a hot bite to eat that can be consumed obtained without leaving the table for any great length of time.  Of course there are some issues here.

Eating what is essentially finger food while playing cards isn't ideal.  Too easy for mustard or onions or relish (but never, ever mayonnaise) to get on the cards.  And of course, you really don't want to touch the food you're eating with your hands after you've touched those filthy poker chips.  Perhaps the hot dogs will be served so that you don't have to directly touch them?

And I'd like to get reviews of the quality of the hot dog when this rolls out.  A good hot dog (such as Nathan's) is a wonderful thing.  But a bad hot dog—no thanks.


The reason I'm mentioning this is that it has me possibly rethinking whether to play in the Deepstacks this year.  I've played a few in the past.  But last year they made a change and eliminated the 30-minute dinner break.  Considering how crowded the place is, 30-minutes isn't really enough, but at least it's something.  But now, the first two breaks are 20-minutes and then it's 15-minutes after that.  I had no interest in playing them last year.

I've written here about how I think a dinner break for these long tournaments is necessary.  And the good thing about the tournaments around town during the Series is that most of the long ones that start mid-day or earlier have dinner breaks.  So why don't they have them for the 2PM, $235 Deepstack at the Rio?  It doesn't make sense to me.  That tournament is likely to run until the wee hours of the morning the next day.  With no easy way to eat.

Well until now.  Maybe you can get something to "grab and go" fast at the new kitchenette.  And we'll have to see how often that hot dog cart comes around.  Maybe, just maybe, I might consider playing in a 2PM Deepstack or two this year.

Or maybe not.  I'm still not sure that's the best tournament option for me.  Yes, they are hugely popular and create huge prize pools.  But that means you have to survive among a huge field to get the money.  Instead of outlasting 300-400 people at an alternative tournament, you have to outlast maybe 2,000-3,000 players.  Those are tough odds.

True, the number of players means more players are in the money.  But from what I've heard, the pay distribution for those who aren't near the very top is pretty bad.  I always complain about that, but my understanding is it's even worse for the Deepstacks.  Playing 15 hours to get less than double your buy-in back isn't an appealing thought.

Another issue for these Deepstacks is that the Rio is famous for not cooperating with the players when they want to make a deal at the final table. The players are on their own.  I've heard more than one horror story about a player collecting the money, which was supposed to be redistributed to other players as part of the deal, and just running out of the Rio without paying everyone off.  It's a bit scary.

So I dunno.  I'll have to see.  Right now the alternative tournament for me that I like is the $150 1PM tourney at the Golden Nugget, same as I played a few times last year.  That has a $20K guarantee (most days) and will likely easily surpass that most of the time.  To be honest, the juice for that is a bit high, but I think I have a better chance of cashing (both a min-cash or bigger cash) in that than in the Deepstack at the Rio.  There's also one-day events at Planet Hollywood for $200 & $250 that I may consider.  Those have $20K and $50K guarantees respectively.

Well, I still have time to figure it out.  I can wait until I hear some feedback from players about the various venues and tournaments.

What kind of tournaments are you looking for when you're in Vegas for the WSOP?