Wednesday, May 18, 2011


As we all know, for online poker players in the US the landscape has changed dramatically. The reaction has been diverse. Some people have panicked, some are making contingency plans, but no matter what, if you choose to remain a poker player to some degree, you need to learn to evolve. After all the game of poker evolves. Whether you realize it or not, it's evolving everyday.

Besides control of mental state (tilt, focus, etc.), knowledge of the game (stats, numbers, probability, ev, HUD, concepts), hand and people reading skills (including ranges), and a lack of ego, one must possess a good sense of awareness to succeed in poker. This awareness involves what's going on in the short term, e.g. what's happening on your table in the present moment but also awareness involving the long term. This is understanding how the landscape of poker is changing, how the general strategy and approach of poker is changing, and making necessary adjustments to stay ahead of the curve. Basically one must evolve as a poker player to succeed over the long run.

I'll share parts of my personal voyage through poker the past 13 years to illustrate how poker changed and how I did my part in keeping up with the times allowing me to stay successful. After all, 13 successful years in a profession that swallows people up and spits them out defeated in many ways should make me a guru of sorts (obviously somebody like Doyle Brunson is the godfather of poker). Some of these tidbits I've repeated in the past but I think it's a good time to summarize them in one to get to the point at hand.

In 1998 I made the choice to stay in Vancouver, Canada while waiting for my new wife's immigration papers so she can come down to the US (I covered this in detail in a previous post here...basically the start of my professional career... ). I made a decision to play poker full time. I ordered almost every poker book I can get my hands on (which wasn't much at the time) including every 2+2 book and Super System. I read every Cardplayer magazine, every article in it, as it was the only poker magazine around at the time (I think). I knew I needed to learn as much about this game as I could if I wanted to succeed. Back then the only games spread were limit hold'em games. The learning curve was there but because it was limit, it wasn't as tough as nl would turn out to be.

Well I was beating the limit hold'em games good and made enough to support my new wife. Eventually we had a baby and I kept on playing full time while along the way befriending other players and discussing poker w/ them, in turn improving them and me. My wife became a winning poker player from the start as well (I like to think she had an awesome teacher/ and we bounced off ideas and strategy with each other. Back then there were no internet poker forums (well, not necessarily true...there was but the info there was usually wrong when I reflect back on it), no training sites, and we had to rely on books and each other to get better.

During the turn of the century (sounds funny but it was the turn), internet poker was introduced. Again only limit hold'em games were spread so there really was no transitional period. Basically I applied what I knew about live limit games and did ok. Also since this was such a new realm, internet poker, people were cautious about it including me. I still maintained most of my hours playing live.

Well I maintained my 80/20 or so ratio of live/internet play for the next couple of years. Paradise Poker would change that. They seemed like they were the 1st reputable site and they spread a lot of games. Internet poker was starting to catch on like wildfire. I too decided I needed to start focusing more on internet poker because I saw the speed of hands being dealt and I knew that the more hands I play the more money I make. I knew being able to multitable would increase my hourly as well. I started off playing 2 tables then gradually increased the number of tables over the years. Yes years, for a couple of reasons...the early sites only allowed a maximum of 4 tables (I think) and I wanted to take my time in increasing the number of tables played as not to sacrifice my overall earning power (there is a point of diminishing returns when figuring the max # of tables to play). I focused on playing my A game even if I was seeing 2-5x the hands I was used to seeing (playing live).

Following Paradise Poker's success, other sites opened up including Party Poker. They introduced 6max limit games (maybe Paradise introduced them 1st) and I decided it would be wise of me to learn to play shorthanded. It would allow me to play more hands/hr (for a better hrly) and it would allow me to play more hands (which would make poker more fun). Around this time poker forums, notably 2+2, were popping up and I started frequenting those sites to read other people's thoughts on the game. I really didn't post but lurked and read as much as I could. This shortened my learning curve in playing shorthanded limit hold'em.

After this nl games were introduced, including cash games and tournaments. Up to this point I had never played a single hand of nl. I was intimidated at the thought of losing all the money I had in front of me in a single hand and chose to stick with limit hold'em (obviously this thought turned out fallacious in determining profitability in poker). I dabbled in some online nl tournaments because I could only lose the initial buyins in those. I had zero clue on what I was doing from a fundamental view, but I relied on my experience in hold'em in general and my hand reading skills to hold my own.

Well Chris Moneymaker would forever change the landscape of poker for good (or up to the present). I remember when he won and everybody was like "who is this guy w/ a cool sounding last name?!". A lot of new people got into poker because of him (everyday guy winning the WSOP main event and a million dollars) and a lot of limit hold'em players made the transition from limit to nl including myself. I realized nl was the future of poker and I needed to make the jump like everybody else.

I jumped into $5/$10 nl games from the start, as they were equivalent to the limit stakes I were playing at the time ($15/$30 to $30/$60 limit).

Tptk? no problem, get in 100bbs on the flop no matter the texture! Shove river? No way, that costs too much if I get called! Face a river shove? Fold because they must have it! AK preflop? Call the 3bet because it's only a drawing hand and I may not even flop a pair! Face a big turn bet w/ my fd? Call because I have a fd!

As you can see I was lacking in understanding the nuances of nl, not to mention the correct fundamentals. I was playing nl like I was playing limit!

I did well from the get go even though I really didn't know anything from a fundamental view. Again I relied on hand reading, not tilting, and just a general understanding of hold'em to do well. Slowly over time I began thinking about the game and how it differed from limit. Tbh I think coming from a full time limit hold'em background hindered me. Guys that were jumping directly into nl hold'em from scratch had a leg up on me because they had a clean slate to start with.

I was aware that this was the case and I made a conscientious effort to improve my nl game independent of my limit game. Along the way I increased the number of tables, going from four to eight, from eight to twelve. This caused a boon in my bankroll and I was making so much money that I started getting content. I started lowering my hours played. I went from grinding 40hrs/wk to 20hrs/wk which wasn't a bad thing for me because I had a wife and a kid and I wanted to spend more time with them. Also I pursued other interests, notably video games (it's the Asian in me).

Around this time we decided to buy a house because after all I was crushing the games and could make lots of money any time I wanted to (all I had to do was log in and start playing). I even won $250k in an online tournament around this time (which made the game seem easy for me). Fortunately I did a smart thing and paid off all our debts and invested most of that money for our future (although I've debated whether it might've been smarter to play higher stakes with it, probably so, but can't fault me for the path I chose).

Well now complacency set in...I blame that partially to the success I was having. I am sure this happens to a lot of poker players. I didn't spend much time learning the game because I was confident in my abilities and I was always doing well. I didn't move up in stakes because I was making plenty grinding 8-12 tables of $5/$10.

Come Oct. 2008 I was having my best year in poker, reaching close to half a million dollars in profits (mostly from cash games, almost all of it at $5/$10 nl 6max games, just playing 20 hrs/wk), and about this time I almost developed an ego (almost). Then I hit a 300k (maybe it was 400k) hands break even stretch over the next 4 months.

I mentioned I started getting complacent and my results started to show. I was complacent regarding my skill level. Cardrunners was introduced in 2005 and new players were flocking into the games armed with the knowledge they had acquired from training sites like CR and the new information being introduced in the forums. I was not one of the guys learning.

2009 rolled around and I was reeling from not making a penny the final 4 months of 2008 after doing so well the 1st 8 months. I decided to take a step back and look at the big picture. How were the games evolving? How did the players become so good? Better yet, what was I doing wrong and how can I get back on top? With a little push from some 2+2 regs that pointed out what I was doing wrong (some in a mocking fashion, others in a helpful manner), I decided I needed to reevaluate my game and figure out how to crush the games once again.

I hired a coach (turned out I didn't learn much...or maybe he wasn't as good as advertised), I started reading a lot on 2+2, and for once I started watching some videos on CR and other training sites. I really started thinking about the game when I wasn't playing (this was usually the most effective way I improved over the years). I needed to evolve because the games were changing (thanks Taylor Caby, and I don't mean that in a good way! ;) ).

I actually learned how to play nl after years of playing a limit style. After having a good 2009 I decided to set a very high monetary goal of a million dollars in 2010. I decided to start at $2/$4 nl and was the biggest winner at that limit across all sites in January (winning $40k, based on PTR). I was up $120k or so after the 1st 3 months and was crushing $5/$10 in March. In April I hit a nasty downswing where I started off winning $20k early on and was down $20k midway through the month.

Downswings are a great time to take a step back and reflect on your game. Again I really took improving my game to heart and figured out some things. A specific concept I realized was that it's sometimes better to take a passive line...sure it's simple, but after having been such an aggressive player for so many years (again limit hold'em teaches pure aggression and I guess that still lingered with me through the years), it was tough learning and applying that simple concept. Suddenly my game opened up and I felt like my eyes opened up as well. I could see things a lot more clearly in no limit. I could understand why certain players took certain lines and I had a much better understanding of what lines were optimal. I improved my nl game almost 2x.

Besides doing well in cash games I decided to enter the world of live tournaments with this new found knowledge. I had played in them sporadically in the past and have done ok, mostly WSOP events (a couple of $60k + cashes along w/ numerous smaller cashes). I entered 17 WSOP events last year and cashed in 5 of them showing a small profit (actually that's 4 of the past 6 years I've shown a profit at the WSOP from tournaments only).

I didn't win the million dollars as I had hoped but that's because again I decided to scale down my work to focus on my family and hobbies (golf and video games). I also decided to introduce myself to the poker world and started blogging, joined Cardrunners, joined PokerRoad as a cohost of a podcast, and started tweeting (check out Taylor Caby's recent blog about tweeting to find out useful ways to take advantage of Twitter... ). I decided to get to know my fellow opponents and the people that comprised the world of poker. Up to this time I had stayed behind a screen just focusing on making money, not caring about meeting others (it wasn't shyness or lack of social skills...I just chose to remain anonymous and focus on my family), and meeting up with a select group of Las Vegas friends from time to time.

I realized in order to improve my game even further I would have to start networking, to start meeting others, and talk poker with others, like I had when I 1st started playing poker back in my Vancouver days. Plus it's never bad to have more acquaintances and friends. I needed this to fully evolve into the best player I can be. Also this is the age of social networking so I wanted to take advantage of all my resources. I'm about as an easy going person as one can be and I'm very approachable so for anybody that reads this and ever runs into me, say hi and introduce yourself and I will do likewise :) . Just don't ask me for money!

Now this leads us into the present. With the occurrence of Black Friday Americans are very limited in playing online (the smaller sites that still cater to Americans are unstable at best) so one must make the choice of pursuing a new career or adapting to the new environment. Since poker is what I know best and I've been doing it for over a decade I am going to remain a poker player. I have the advantage of living in Las Vegas. I have plenty of experience playing live poker but it's been awhile since I played live poker full time. How will I cope with the new landscape of poker? How I've always coped whenever the landscape changed. I'll adapt, I'll keep figuring out ways to get better, and I'll keep crushing. I'll evolve.

*This post is geared for internet poker players but I think my general message is clear for everybody...the game is always evolving so keep getting better...evolve!

**I was going to split this post into 2 but decided the message is better served being read at once. Props to those that spent the time reading it, and thanks!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Live Poker Hands

So I've been playing some live poker lately and will talk about a few interesting hands I've played (including beats...because I can).

The 1st hand I want to talk about was a hand I played last month at Mohegan Sun. It's a $5/$10 nl game w/ a $3k cap. At the time I had about $4k and a guy opr to $40 in the hijack, button calls, I call w/ 44 from the sb, and old guy in bb calls.

Flop Ah6s4s

Checks to the preflop raiser, he bets $115, button folds, I c/r to $340, bb snap calls, pref raiser 3bets to $900, I shove, bb snap calls for $3500 (which worried me a little that 66 could be in his range, but so could a bunch of other hands), prefl raiser tanks and finally calls for $ I'm looking at a $10k pot at $5/$ happens online, and I tell the others lets roll our hands over and see who needs what...both guys refuse.

Turn Qd, River 8d

By this point I open my hand, preflop raiser shakes his head and shows AKo, and the old guy just erupts and starts yelling "I won the lottery!" and shows 75o. He goes on for 5 mins (I kid you not..I really wish I could've recorded it) telling his buddies to bring him 10 racks or something while yelling out of excitement. Now this was the biggest game in the room and everybody comes over to see what all the commotion is about. Well things settle down and being the pro I am, I kick the old dude's ass...jk...I just take it in stride and the guy on my right apologizes for the old guy telling me "sorry man, you shouldn't have to go through that after losing that big pot"...I reply "nah, it's cool, it's almost worth paying him $3500 to see him act like that!"

The next hand illustrates why you should never have an ego. Some guy sits down on my right in a $5/$10 game at the Aria (in Vegas) and starts firing it in every hand. He's raising every other hand trying to take control of every hand. I can tell he knew what he was doing though so he wasn't a total maniac. Rather he was a guy (mid to late 20's) that felt like he was the best player on the table and could run over the table.

Anyway I start 3betting him often since I'm on his direct left and he doesn't fold to my reraise one time for 8 hands or so (most I won on the flop, couple of times I lost at the river). This is obviously because he feels like he can outplay anybody, including me, even oop.

Prior to the final hand I stacked him for $3k w/ 44 vs his AA where almost all the money went in on the river when I made a straight.

Now he opens in the hijack to $40 (again) and I 3bet to $130 w/ AK (again) right behind and he flats (again)...flop...


Chk, I bet $140, he c/r to $440, I flat thinking I'm usually good here but hoping a straight card doesn't peel...turn...

4 bringing backdoor fd

He checks, now I'm thinking at this point the 4 is not a very good card because 86 and 45 get there and pondered checking it back, but I decided that he's aggro and capable of making a play here often w/ 1 pr + straight draws or worse and thought inducing + protection was more +ev than checking back the turn so I bet $600 with the intent to call a shove, and shove he did for $2500 total and I took a couple of seconds before I called (after all this was the plan, and if he had better, so be it).

He asks me how many times I want to run it and now I feel a lot more confident my hand is best, I say I don't care, he says how about twice, I say sure, but yet we don't open our hands...anyway dealer burns and turns for a river card...

Offsuit Q

2nd run...

Offsuit Q

and I'm feeling good about winning the pot and he just tells me he missed, and I open my hand and scoop the pot. He gets up and leaves, having given me about $6k in less than an hour. This was a good example of a guy having too big of an ego and thinking he could outplay everybody...I don't care how good you are but being oop w/o initiative is a tough spot to overcome over and over (especially vs. a competent player).

Now I like to think I play all my hands well but occasionally I'll slip up and I did so here...

I'm in a $10/$20 nl game at the Bellagio last week and we have some famous players in the game including Antonio Esfiandari, Phil Laak, Brian Rast, and Brad Booth. The 1st 3 were waiting for the $10/$20/$40 game. I'm sitting about $4500 deep and get dealt 99 in the sb.

A kid in ep opens to $60, mp guy calls, Brad calls, Antonio calls, I call, bb calls making it 6 way to the flop...

AT9 all clubs

Talk about a dicey situation w/ deep stacks! I elect to check to evaluate (leading is probably ok too), and it goes checked around...turn...

6 of spades

Now normally I would lead here and think it's best but at the time I just felt like there are tons of aggro and tricky players here so why not let them make a play at it and I can c/r...right after the hand I realized it's still best to lead because I probably have the best hand, I can call a raise and evaluate river, and getting 3bet if I c/r gets really expensive.

Anyway the action goes I check, bb leads $200, preflop raiser raises to $450, Brad reraises to $950, 2 other guys fold, and it's to I have to fold now, bb tank folds, preflop raiser calls...river

offsuit 4

It goes check check and the kid that raised the turn (not Brad) shows AK w/ nut club draw that missed and Brad just mucks! Well now the bb jumps out of his chair and says he folded the best hand with aces up and whines, while I roll my eyes knowing I folded an even better hand. Sure I misplayed the turn and it cost me but I can't understand what the heck Brad Booth is doing cold 3betting the turn and can't beat least bet the river and win the pot!

Finally I played this hand tonight at the Aria...$10/$20nl and I'm about $4500 deep. The game started 5 handed w/ King Dan (of the other training site), Ashton Griffin (or Ashman), Brent Roberts, another decent kid and me. Obviously it's about as bad as a live $10/$20 game can get (thanks DOJ) but I wanted to get bigger nl games going at the Aria and Dan and I said we would do so going forward (until online poker comes back).

Well Dan opens to $60, I 3bet to $180 w/ KK, sb cold calls, bb (a new player but a good aggro player) 4bets to $600, Dan folds, I elect to call to play ip and underrep my hand, sb now shoves for $5k, bb folds (what he said was AK after the hand), and now I need to decide if the sb can have other hands besides AA and after a couple of minutes I decide that his shoving range here is wider than AA so I call. He rolls over QQ and I roll over KK with no thought...I'll celebrate inside after I win the hand...flop...


turn and river brick out and I lose another $10k pot.

Now I can go on tilt and lose the rest of the $10k in my pocket but I decide they'll have to win it from me like the kid did w/ QQ...I wasn't going to give it away...and eventually I recovered everything and ended up winning $1500 for the night (a lesson in playing your A game no matter what).

Other than that I'm up a little bit since Black Friday (even though I should be up a lot but that's variance) and been busy working on a couple of side projects. The WSOP is right around the corner and I'm planning on playing a tournament heavy schedule so I'm trying to play as much cash games as I can. Hopefully I can run a little better, and if anybody wants to play some poker with me, look for me at the Aria (or Bellagio), and feel free to say hi...always cool to meet new people, something that I've missed out on hiding behind a computer screen for years.