Patience Through Poker

Every time she emails me, my friend Wendie tells me how much she enjoys reading the blog – except when I write about poker! Wendie, go elsewhere today.

In real life, when I talk about my obsession for online poker (yes, I’ll admit it’s an obsession), the person on the other end of the conversation always brings up luck. There’s no doubt about it, poker is affected by luck – but only in the short term.

This is really important. Luck would be important if poker were just a card game. As played online and in casinos, it’s really more of a betting game – a very important distinction.

If you can quantify the odds of drawing a hand which will win, you can make educated decisions about when to hold ’em or fold ’em. Poker players talk about odds the pot is laying, an obtuse way of asking whether another bet is a good or bad idea.

I think that’s the part of my game which has improved the most. I understand the value of my bets and the value attached to the bets of others. It’s an imperfect system, because you really don’t know what cards your opponent is holding, but you can often tell by how he reacts to certain situations.

If you were to play against me, you’d see me be less aggressive when you’re a passive, though persistent opponents. Often times, passive play is a ploy to suck out bets from an inferior hand. Too often I’d bust out of a tournament by my own aggressive bet made against a superior hand held by someone playing possum.

Big talk for a guy who is not quite even after 2&#189 years of online play!

Actually, I was down to my last $20 a month or so ago. It upset me that I was going to bust out. I mustered whatever discipline I had and tightened my game.

All of a sudden, the swing began.

When I was down to my last $20, I was playing for very small stakes. I couldn’t afford to lose much at one sitting. I entered $3 + 40&#162 ‘turbo’ tournaments or $5 + 50&#162 ‘regular’ tournaments. The downside was small.. as was the upside.

As I began to play tonight, there was $165 in my bank. That leaves me $10 behind my starting point in August 2003&#185! Considering the tens of thousands of hands I’ve played (no exaggeration), and that the casino is pulling a small commission every time I sit down to play, I’m doing quite well.

I decided to play something a little higher risk tonight – a satellite tournament. For $5 + 50&#162, you enter a tournament to win a $530 entry in a much larger tournament (actually the main tournament will pay at least $1,000,000, shared among those ‘in the money’).

The $5 + 50&#162 amount is a little misleading, because you can rebuy for another $5 and then add-on for $5 more. I’m in for $15 + 50&#162, which bought me $5,000 tournament chips. Those paying the minimum got $1,500.

We started at midnight with 431 players. There were 824 re-buys and 217 add-ons. The $7,360 in the kitty means 13 players will cash out for $530. A 14th ‘only’ gets $470.

I played in a much cheaper version of this tournament last Saturday and missed the money by two positions. Ouch. One stupid bet at the end was the difference between something and nothing.

I’d like to do better tonight… obviously.

Nearly three hours in, there are 67 left. I’m in 4th. Obviously, that’s a good place to be, but not even close to a guarantee I’ll cash out.

If I’m not too depressed, I’ll let you know how I did later on.

Addendum – While I edited this entry, the game played on. Now only 50 are left. I’m in 7th place. No guarantees, but this is a good place to be.

Addendum II –

PokerStars Tournament #19966358, No Limit Hold’em

Super Satellite

Buy-In: $5.00

431 players

Total Prize Pool: $7360.00

Target Tournament #19571119 Buy-In: $530.00

13 tickets to the target tournament

Tournament started – 2006/02/22 – 23:59:00 (ET)

Dear ctwxman,

You finished the tournament in 1st place.

You qualified to play in Tournament #19571119 and are automatically registered for it.

See Tournament #19571119 Lobby for further details.

If you choose to unregister from this tournament your account will be credited

with $530.00 Tournament dollars. Tournament dollars can be used to buy into

any tournament.

Visit our web site at for more details.


Thank you for participating.

I guess I’m up now!

&#185 – I originally bought in for $250. Along the way, a friend asked if I’d put $75 in his account, since it’s a pain in the butt to get the money to Costa Rica. That leaves a net of $175.

Customer Service Redux

Just before we left for vacation, I wrote about the helpful customer service people at Southwest&#185. Friends of mine, frequent fliers, were surprised by this proper treatment.

I’ve got another story to tell. Last night after work, as usual, I sat in front of the TV (Boston Legal, Daily Show, Colbert Report) and played poker online. I’m a crazy multitasking fool.

I did well in my first little $5 tournament, so decided to step up to the $10 version. I played a few minutes and then… nothing.

The software attempted to contact the mothership, but to no avail. The rest of the Internet was fine. I just couldn’t get to the poker site, where my tournament chips were being blinded off.

There is a diagnostic tool within the Pokerstars directory and I ran it, keeping the log.

When I was, once again, able to hit the site, my tournament was over. My money was gone. I was out $11.

I wrote to Pokerstars, telling them what happened. When I woke this morning, there was an email reply (he used the word “whilst”). No one else was affected, just me. It probably wasn’t their fault. But, because I’m a good customer, they refunded my $11.

After I received the email, I revisited my diagnostic files and found the problem was in a router owned by Comcast. It had put my Pokerstars packets into a loop, going back and forth between two routers, never letting them out!

I re-wrote Pokerstars saying I had found the problem, it wasn’t them, and if they wanted their $11 back – please take it.

Another email reply (and another use of whilst) came quickly to say, it was nice of me to be so forthcoming, but as a good customer, they wanted me happy. The money was mine.

I am.

So, is there something to be learned here? I think there is. Both Southwest and Pokerstars treated me nicely. Neither really spent a lot of money to make me happy. For Southwest there was no incremental cost to move me to an earlier flight. For Pokerstars it was a drop in the bucket compared to what they make from my play (paid out of the losings of my opponents).

In both cases their employees had the ability to bend the rules. I sense that’s not often the case.

My opinion is, allowing your employees to bend the rules to help a customer is good for business. Customers appreciate it and are loyal because of it. Yet most companies seem to avoid anything that lets their employees divert from the ‘script.’

Do they need trust their own employees to do the right thing? How sad is that?

Are they that interested in each short term penny that they totally miss the long term? That would be sad too.

I was once a manager – not a very good one. I’m probably not the right person to question management style and policy. Yet as a consumer, the businesses that please me the most and have me as a loyal customer, are those where I feel my patronage trumps hard and fast policy.

When I look at the legacy airlines, cellphone companies, or other hard pressed businesses pinching every penny to stay alive, I seriously wonder they’re on the right track or just saving themselves right into bankruptcy?

Maybe I’m too innocent to understand big business?

&#185 – I don’t know if they’re all helpful – but these folks were.

My First Action – Poker In Vegas

We were up and at ’em before noon – a major accomplishment considering our cross country trip and fatigue.

My folks spent last night, unhappily, at the MGM Grand. Nothing went right. All that was left were smoking rooms. There was an ironing board and iron in the middle of the room. My mom couldn’t sleep.

They were coming to the Mirage Tuesday, but Helaine managed to get them in today. They are now safely ensconced here, along with my cousins Michael and Melissa and their son Max. My sister and brother-in-law get here Tuesday.

Helaine, Queen of Las Vegas, had arranged for line passes. These are worth their weight in gold. Getting to the head of the line can be very valuable when the line snakes forever! These aren’t comps – we’re paying – but it’s still worthwhile.

We went with Cousin Melissa and had breakfast in the Caribe Cafe. It’s a Vegas coffee shop and everything good that implies.

After breakfast, and moving my folks, I headed to the sports book to watch the Eagles. It was ugly. It was a win.

Michael and I headed out for a walk, but when it was his turn to watch Max, I headed to the poker room for my first tableside action.

I have been playing $10-$20 of late at Foxwoods. None of that here. I signed up for a $6-$12 table, but before I was called a “Sit ‘n Go” tournament opened.

In a “Sit ‘n Go,” 10 players ante up $100 plus $15 for the casino. Each then gets $1,000 in tournament chips (no value off this table). The 10 play until there are two left. First place gets $700, with the remaining $300 for second.

In the beginning I was incredibly nervous. My play was fine, but I was intimidated to be doing something live and in person I usually do at home, on the couch, in pajamas.

I took a quick lead, amassing $3,500 of the tables $10,000. It didn’t last. I stayed up, but was soon in third and probably fourth for a while. I played steady. I measured my bets, studied the pot, figured the odds.

I have been reading Dan Harrington’s poker book and used some of his advice.

The table leader was a man from Alabama who played very loose and had been lucky. I knew he would burn out.

Finally the table was down to three. The player to my right went all in against the player to my left. They were nearly even in chips. That meant there would be two… and one of them would be me!

We continued to play. The player to my right was up by a few thousand chips. With me holding King/Queen off suit, he made a bet. I decided to take a stand and go all in. He asked if I wanted to split the $1,000 cash 50/50?

I was a crap shoot. Who knew. But, right then, half the pot seemed good to me. We shook hands.

I’ve played once and so far, I’m up. I was pleased at my play and pleased at the quality of the others playing. They are beatable.

This doesn’t mean i will leave Las Vegas a winner. It does mean I have a fighting chance. Even if I lose a little or come out even, I will be a winner, because I enjoy the action.

Of course, I could lose a lot. I’ll try and limit that.

Poker Tournaments

I would be doing much better at poker if I didn’t play any multi table tournaments. Of course they’re very enticing because it’s possible to win a lot with very little at risk. On the other hand, it’s really tough to make it to the few who get paid. Even then, the payouts are heavily weighted to the first three finishers.

It doesn’t happen often… certainly not for me.

For the past three nights I’ve been playing in a $3 + rebuy tournament. It looks like it should only cost $3 – and it could. Realistically it costs $9. For many people it costs even more.

As long as you have the $1500 in tournament chips (what you’re given to start) you can rebuy another $1500 in chips for $3. So, as soon as I start, I rebuy. That way, if I should win the first hand, making me intelligible to rebuy, I’m already set.

At the end of the first hour you can ‘add-on’. That’s $2000 more in tournament chips for $3.

In tonight’s 11:59 PM tournament 646 entered. There were 1305 rebuys&#185 and 367 add-ons for a total prize pool of $6,954. That number is in real dollars, not tournament chips.

Unlike most tournaments, in this one the prize, which went to the top 32 finishers, was an entry into another tournament. The entry is valued at $215 in a weekly tournament guaranteed to pay out at least $350,000!

These tournaments are interesting because there are waves of different play as the field is whittled down. If you’re in 25th place with 35 players left, do you dare risk busting out… even with Aces? There’s really no advantage to finishing high once you’re in the money.

Tonight, I played for 4:31, squeaking in and winning one of the 32entries. It was tough play and I was tempted more than once toward the end to go in with a good hand. I resisted.

As exciting as the $350,000 tournament sounds – it’s a bit rich for me. I’ve already taken the $215 entry fee and put it back in my account where it will pay for a lot of much smaller games.

&#185 – If you bust during the first hour, you can rebuy. Because of that, a lot of people play recklessly in the first hour, hoping to double or triple their chips..

What’s the Opposite of I won?

My poker tournament experience has ended. I didn’t win. That’s not to say I didn’t have a god time or I didn’t play well. Except for one small move early on, which I now question, I was pretty happy with my play.

I got to bed early (for me) last night. Sleep was not very good and I was up just after 6:00 AM. I left the house around 8:00 and drove the 70 minute trip to Foxwoods.

Though the roads around the casino were reasonably busy, I realized as soon as I got to the valet parking area that Thursday morning was not prime time. Mine was the only car there and a nice young woman quickly walked up and gave me a parking ticket.

If you’ve never been to Foxwoods it is a world unto itself. The complex is immense. It was, and may still be, the world’s largest casino. As big and bold as Foxwoods is, the area surrounding it is the opposite. Surrounded by the town of Ledyard, there is still plenty of farmland and low density housing and businesses in the area. As you approach from the north, the high rise hotels dominate the rolling terrain of eastern Connecticut.

I got to the poker tournament desk at 9:26. I know this because it’s on my receipt. I said hello, paid my cash, chose between a hat, t-shirt and $10 in food coupons (food – though not used) and headed toward the tournament.

How fitting is this for a seniors poker tournament, we were in the Sunset Ballroom!

I walked into the ballroom. It was a breath of fresh air because I felt, I looked, I (probably) was the youngest person in the room. I’m used to being the oldest at work. This is more fun.

I scouted the room and didn’t see anyone I knew. Then I spied Jimmy Christina.

I have described Jimmy here before, so let me be brief. Jimmy is not tall, though he easily stands out in a crowd of people. His gray hair is pulled back in a ponytail. He has a Southern New England accent&#185 delivered in a voice reminiscent of a gravel road. Standing in his tuxedo, he is the absolute height of incongruity.

When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Christina.

There’s one more thing about Jimmy. If you watch him from afar, you will see a constant stream of people coming up to him, saying hello. All of them are smiling. Jimmy is smiling. He is charming.

I moved to my seat at table 30, seat 8. The room was filled with long, narrow, Texas Hold’em tables. Each was set to comfortably seat nine players. The dealer sat in what looked like an executive’s office chair. I am told they hate it because it has no back support.

This tournament was ‘sponsored’ by “Oklahoma” Johnny Hale. Johnny is old school poker, back when it was all guts and instinct. It was the era before mathematicians quantified the game’s nuances into a series of odds and ratios. Johnny introduced some other older players, shilled his own line of merchandise and books and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. He is everything you expect from someone who goes by the name Oklahoma Johnny.

In a poker tournament, you buy in for a fixed amount and then get tournament chips, in this case $1,500. They’re not good anywhere else, just in a tournament and can’t be turned into real cash. You keep playing poker, hoping to survive as more and more players bust out.

Today’s tournament had 295 players. The top 25 would win money, starting at $777 and going up to better than $40,000. The goal in tournament play is survival. Survivors are paid. Winning is of secondary importance. I hope that makes sense.

Since the game was No Limit Texas Hold’em, anyone could bet all of their chips on any card. It didn’t take long until someone did – and walked away the first loser. I was one player closer to the cash.

Compared to online play, live poker is very slow. And compared to online play, I’m not multitasking. The game at hand gets my undivided attention.

With forced bets and a few cheap peeks, I quickly turned my $1,500 to $1,350. I was somewhat uneasy, though it didn’t affect my play. I was very self conscious. I didn’t want to be out early. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.

At the far end of the room a big screen TV displayed the current stats. What were the blinds (forced bets for two players each round)? How much time was left at this limit? How many players were left?

Table 30 was one of the first to get broken up. As players leave, and some tables have empty seats, tables are combined to allow everyone to sit at tables with a similar number of players. I was sent to Table 8, Seat 1.

Around me, the room was alive with the sound of cards being riffled and chips clinking. It is a steady castanet sound which permeates the room. It is actually reassuring to hear. I looked down at the stacks of chips in front of each player. Already there were huge differences with some players close to busting out and others amassing fortunes.

Life at Table 8 didn’t go much better. Slowly, as if I had a leak, chips were disappearing from my stack. Before long I was down to $320.

With a forced bet of $75 and a number of players already calling in front of me, I went all in with a pair of 4s. Being dealt a pair is good – but 4s… well even a pair of them… is no bargain. If anyone else matches any card other than a two or three (unlikely they’d be played anyway) you’re dead meat.

On the fourth common card, ‘the turn,’ a third 4 was dealt. I had a set (three of a kind) and was now back to nearly the $1,500 I started with. A few more good hands had me up to $2,000.

Meanwhile, on the TV screen the numbers were changing. As tables were consolidated the player count went down – 225, 200, 175, 150. My chip count had me below the middle of the pack, but I was still playing.

And then, I drove into oncoming traffic at full speed.

The limits had gone up to $100/$75. A few players limped in with minimal bets when the action got to me. My cards – two red Aces. In Hold’em there is nothing better to have than a pair of Aces. I raised to $300.

A few players dropped out and then, across the table, another player pushed his chips toward the center. He was all in. In order to play my Aces, I’d need to match his chips.

I had Aces. There is nothing better.

I pushed my chips in as we both turned over our cards. He showed another Ace and a Jack. This was wonderful. Additional Aces wouldn’t help him. He needed two Jacks or some ridiculous out of the blue miraculous one in a million shot… and there would only be five common cards with which to accomplish this.

The dealer rolled three and then one and then one more. Of the five cards exposed, four were 7, 8, 9 and 10 (the 8 coming on the last card, know as the River).

I still had my Aces. He had a straight!

I was left with a few hundred dollars. It didn’t take long to lose that when my King, Queen was beaten by a Queen, Jack.

I had played four hours and fifteen minutes, finishing 102 of 295.

Good play can get beaten. It is, after all, gambling. Yes, there is skill, but skill tempered by chance.

I’m glad I played. I enjoyed the tournament. I wish I would have come home with some more money.

&#185 – Usually limited to far Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, this regionalism makes a Boston accent sound soft and gentle.

It’s Tournament Time

Though I had done well at casinos recently, my online poker playing had been pretty poor. In fact, since returning from Atlantic City I have only won $9 in a $5.50 ($3.50 net profit) tournament and then lost and lost and lost.

This afternoon while Steffie and Helaine were away, I decided to play in my favorite Pokerstars tournament. It is an $11 buy-in with a $10 rebuy and $10 add on.

OK – it’s obscure. I’ll explain.

In simple language, you buy in for $11 and get $1,500 in tournament chips. Then, as soon as you go below $1,500 (like after the first blind bet), you can buy in for $10 more and get $1,500 more tournament chips. After the first hour, if you’re still in, you can buy $2,000 more chips for $10 more. So, $31 gets you $5,000 in tournament chips.

Today 454 entered with 725 rebuys (you can rebuy more than once leading some players to be very aggressive during the first hour when rebuys are available) and 256 add ons. That’s $14,550 in prize money. The winner would get $3,637.50.

These tournaments pay off in a very non-linear fashion. The top 45 finishers get money, but the top three get as much as 4 through 45 combined!

I was up and down. At one point I was crippled when my Jacks over 4s full house was beaten by 4 – 4s! Still I managed to fight back. With around 120 players to go I was all in and nearly busted out. Then things turned.

The farther into the game I went, the more conservative I became. In a tournament the goal isn’t to win. The goal is to not lose.

I played over five hours, making it to the final table of nine. My last hand was an Ace King up against the player to my right who had two Aces. Oops.

Pokerstars Tournament #2157567, No Limit Hold’em

Buy-In: $10.00/$1.00

454 players

Total Prize Pool: $14550.00

Tournament started – 2004/07/31 – 16:30:00 (ET)

Dear ctwxman,

You finished the tournament in 6th place.

A $654.75 award has been credited to your Real Money account.

You earned 174.91 tournament leader points in this tournament.

For information about our tournament leader board, see our web site at


Thank you for participating.

We’re back around our high water mark and still winners since last August.

You’re Not Going to Believe This

I played poker tonight. This past week hadn’t been my best. A little up, a little down. Without Helaine, the week would have been a loss (both in poker and life in general).

I played a few small tournaments Saturday. In one that paid to 45th place, I was out at 47th! With another, I got tired around 2:30 AM and just played stupid (on purpose) to get it over with. It was a very small tournament – either $1 or $3 entry. I can’t remember.

Tonight, at 8:00 PM, I decided to play in another. It’s a tournament I try to catch every week, if I’m around. It’s only $3 to play, and though I seldom get my $3 back, it’s cheap entertainment. Since I hadn’t been doing well, the $3 seemed like the right investment.

I played fairly consistently – made a bad move in the first hour that hurt me dearly – and went to the bathroom break in the middle of the pack. By hour two, I was in the middle of those left. And then, I started to hit.

My cards tonight weren’t particularly good. I did have some nice hands, but wasn’t able to maximize them. I would characterize my night as grinding it out. Nothing fancy. No spectacular steals.

If you’ve never played in a tournament, here’s how it works. The house collects an entry fee and a fee for running the tournament. I guess these $3 tourneys are a way to entice new players, so with these the house takes nothing. All the $3’s are put in a pot. Tonight, that pot was $3,867.

With 1,289 players, the last 99 standing would win some cash. It wasn’t until 7th place that the $100 prize mark was reached. Then the numbers went up a little faster until $204.96, $251.36, $348.04, $541.39 and finally $966.76 for coming in first.

By 11:30 PM I was still rolling along. In fact, I had made it to 2nd place. There were still plenty of players. Going out there would have only won me $17.41. And, my grasp on 2nd was precarious to say the least. With $170k in my kitty, only $7,000 separated 2nd from 5th.

As the tournament progresses, the stakes increase. Those left playing end up with more money, but the price of playing goes up too. Players were dropping with regularity – tapped out. I played on.

At 12:16 AM, over 4 hours into the tournament I went into first place. Oh my God! I was coming to the realization I might bring home some real money (Actually, I was already home – but that’s another story).

There were 14 left. Tournaments become very volatile at this point. Pots are huge as players try to intimidate those with good, not great, hands out. I was guaranteed $35 on my $3 investment. I was a happy man.

Twenty minutes later, I had sunk to 4th, but then hit a big hand and was back to 1st. What had begun as 144 tables was now just 1 – and I was playing on it. I saved a screen capture of the game summary at this point.

I fell to 6th, then rebounded to 5th and 4th. Players had become more conservative. There was less bluster and bravado. Everyone was waiting for a quality hand.

By the time we were down to 3, I was back to 2nd. Then, I took down the third player and with his chips moved to first.

At 1:02 AM, five hours into the game, I was heads up, playing against Mo888 from Glenwood Springs, CO. I didn’t think about it at the time, but this series of hands was worth over $420 by itself – far more than I had ever played for before.

Even without that pressure, I was beginning to sweat. I wondered whether to wake Helaine, sleeping in the next room. I continued to play – and play conservatively.

I had over $1,200,000 in tournament chips out of the $1,933,500 on the table. Slowly I whittled away until I got dealt an Ace and small card. I called from the small blind position and he raised. It all went so quickly. He went all in, and I followed. When all the cards were dealt, I had a pair of Aces, he had less.

It only takes a few seconds to get the email from Pokerstars. I’ll let you read it, as I did. And, please remember, my entry fee was only $3!

PokerStars Tournament #1627931, No Limit Hold’em

Super Satellite

Buy-In: $3.00

1289 players

Total Prize Pool: $3867.00

Target Tournament #1626940

9 tickets to the target tournament

Tournament started – 2004/05/23 – 20:00:00 (ET)

Dear ctwxman,

You finished the tournament in 1st place.

You qualified to play in Tournament #1626940 and are automatically registered for it.

See Tournament #1626940 Lobby for further details.

In addition a $966.76 award has been credited to your Real Money account.

You earned 542.81 tournament leader points in this tournament.

For information about our tournament leader board, see our web site at


Thank you for participating.

At this moment, the $250 we deposited in August is $1,472,78.

I can’t believe it either.

Amazing Comeback

On December 13th I wrote about how bad our poker luck had gotten. From nearly even on December 1st we were down $150 only two weeks later.

It didn’t end there. Over the next week we continued sliding until we were $210+ down since our original buy-in.

At this point, let me put this into perspective. We deposited $250 at in the middle of August. Between the two of us, we’ve been playing multiple times every day. Even if we would have tapped out, it still would have been fair value in entertainment for our money.

Poker is a fun, strategic game with both skill and luck on every hand, and it’s a challenge to play right.

About a week ago, all of a sudden, out of the blue, our luck changed again.

I think I started winning consistently before Helaine, but it doesn’t make much difference, because we both started winning. In the little $5.50 and $11 tournaments we play in, it’s difficult to move in either direction at any more than a snail’s pace – but we did.

As I type this, having just held on for dear life and placed third in an $11 tournament ($18 – $11 = $7 net profit), we are now down $59.98 over our 4&#189 months of online play&#185.

Somehow, we managed to erase $150 in losses.

So, what are we doing differently? Probably nothing. Maybe some nuances… tough to say. Both of our games are mature, in that we’ve played hundreds of times and have established our strategies.

If there is one thing I can put my finger on, I now play tighter when I’m down late in the game, which has paid off. Tonight was a perfect example. With 4 players remaining, I had $280 of the $13,500 (these are tournament chips – not real face value) on the table. I held tight and didn’t bet mediocre cards just because I was running out of cash. When someone else did, he busted, letting me finish in 3rd place.

I think both Helaine and I would benefit from a better understanding of what to play when the table gets down to 3-5 players. With fewer competitors less becomes more, I suppose.

Meanwhile, we’re going to head to Foxwoods this weekend where I will try my luck face-to-face. Helaine prefers online play and will find other ways to fill her time.

&#185 – The pennies are from the few times I played in low stakes “live” games.