The Poker Lab Rat

July 16, 2010

Part II: How Mike Caro Got Eliminated From The World Series Of Poker

Mike Caro professional poker playerTournament complaint three.

Rebuy tournaments. I don’t like that whole concept. I won’t revisit the reasons today, but it comes down to the inequality of opportunity between those who can afford to rebuy and those who can’t. Furthermore, those – like myself – who are interested primarily in winning the first-place trophy will usually rebuy or add-on, given the opportunity, even when the decision is not merited in terms of profit.
I believe that in a tournament, anything you do correctly to increase your chances of winning first place should not be punished. But that’s not the case with poker tournaments today. The ones that work, in my mind, are winner-take-all in which the table champion gets immediate compensation and advances to the next winner-take-all table. Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said before, I have nothing against “rebuy events,” just don’t call them “tournaments.”

Having now sounded my tournament dissent, I’ll tell you that this year I entered the main event at Binion’s World Series of Poker for the first time. Before this year I was content to say that, although I’d never won the event, I’d never lost it, either. Now I can’t say that anymore.

The hand.

Those of you who follow this column and take an interest in the Internet know that I frequently recommend the discussion group rec.gambling.poker. You’ll need a newsreader to access it. Anyway, in May, I left a message about how I got eliminated from the tournament. I’d like to share it with you now. Then, next column, I provide some of the responses and my subsequent comments. Here it is (although it has been edited slightly to conform to my follow-up post revising the seating positions)…
Subject: How Mike Caro got eliminated — an interesting hand From: (Mike Caro) Date: 1998/05/12 Newsgroup: rec.gambling.poker

How would y’all have played this hand? I got eliminated with it, and possibly should have played it differently. Here’s the situation…

We are three hours into the final $10,000 buy-in event at the World Series of Poker. I’m at table two, which is outside the main room in the satellite area. My table consists of no players that I am very familiar with, but five of my eight opponents have talked about my books and introduced themselves. Surrealistically, there are two separate discussions about my philosophy of tells while the action is going on — neither of which I participate in. Everyone is friendly. Opponents all seem experienced and capable, but no super stars that I can spot. All male. Action is marginally loose compared to what I expected in this main event at the early stages (I’ve never entered before).

After about three hours, I’ve built to $13,500 in chips. I have Ad-Qd Two seats to the right of the button (dealer position), nine handed. Blinds are $50 and $100. Everyone passes to the player on my right (6th position). He makes a routine attack raise of $300 ($400 total). He has far fewer chips than I do, probably about $7,000. Here’s my first decision.

I can pass, call, raise marginally, or raise big. You could make an argument for any of those four tactics, since nobody behind me has more chips than I do, although the button has almost as many.

I call. Button also calls. Time for the flop.

It’s Kd-Kc-6d giving me an ace-high flush draw with my Ad-Qd. Sixth seat bets $1,400. I debate. A good argument can be made for throwing the hand away here. Actually, I would if the off card were a nine or higher, because this would greatly increase the chances of a full house. Pot is now $4,100 and it costs me $1,400 to call. In a ring game, I would occasionally raise here (not usually, though) — perhaps $3,000 or $4,000 more.

Again, there are valid arguments for passing, calling, and raising. I decide to call, but I think I would have folded a good percent of the time in similar situations. Button also calls.

Turn card is 7d. I make my flush. Check to me. There is danger here, but I need to weigh the chances of an opponent holding K-K, 6-6, K-6, or K-7 (not likely to be 7-7) to beat me against the chances of an opponent holding K-anything else — or even, less likely, two diamonds or another pair to lose to me. If I bet big, K-J, K-10, K-9 or K-smaller (except K-7 or K-6) may fold. If those hands call, I’m not as happy (because of the tournament danger), but I have the best of it.

There are valid arguments for checking along, making a small bet, or making a large bet. I move all-in.

Player on the button calls instantly with 6-6 (a full house), leaving me with only $300 in chips that last another 10 minutes.

I thought that since this was a hand with so many options, it would be fitting for r.g.p discussion. Of course, some readers will look at it and conclude that it is obvious that the hand should be played a particular way. But I don’t think so. Let me know what you think.

Build your poker bankroll at DoylesRoom.com pokerStraight Flushes, Mike Caro

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July 11, 2010

Part I: How Mike Caro Got Eliminated From The World Series Of Poker

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 7:42 pm

Mike CaroI’m going to share a hand with you. It is an actual hand I played in the main event at this years World Series of Poker. You need to know that poker tournaments are not my favorite things. I don’t play many. My reasons are these:

Tournament complaint one.

There are just too many people to beat. The popularity of tournaments in recent years has meant that a great many have fields of competitors exceeding 300. Some have fields exceeding 500.
What does this mean to us? If you’re much better than your typical opponents, aren’t you going to win often regardless of the number of competitors? That depends on what you mean by often.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I’m an egomaniac. I know it and you know it. I think I’m the best player in the world, but you’re welcome to doubt, snicker, or scoff and assert that it’s really someone else. Maybe it’s you. Fine. The point is this: A good estimate is that against a typical field of mostly experienced opponents, the BPITW will win no more than three times his or her “fair share” of tournaments, through infinity.

Don’t panic. I’m going to explain what I mean. If there are 300 players in a tournament and everyone is equally skilled, then pure dumb luck will determine the winner. Skill is not a factor, because everyone has the same skill, so it all cancels out. In that case, each player would have exactly one chance in 300 of winning. But I’m saying that, in reality, skill does matter in a tournament. It matters a lot, and the very best players can expect to win three times that one-in-300 share. That’s a genuine Mad Genius estimate, and it means one win in 100 tournaments.

That’s profitable, and it suggests – assuming other factors break down equally, for simplicity – that you will have a 300 percent return on investment. In other words, if you enter a no-rebuy tournament for $500, your theoretical cash-out value is $1,500, and you’ve earned a $1,000 profit.

What’s wrong with that? I didn’t say anything actually was wrong with it, and I enjoy tournaments. That’s why I play them occasionally. It’s just that, even if I entered 10 times as many tournaments in a year as I do now, I wouldn’t be able to prove my skills to anyone’s satisfaction. I would need to be very lucky to win enough tournaments to sound any alarms in the heads of opponents.

Some players enter 250 events a year. Depending on the size of the fields, an experienced player of average skills, devoting full time to tournaments and forsaking all else, can expect to win anywhere from zero to four times in a year. The average will be about one win, but many years could pass without a single trophy. Think about that.

Yet, we know somebody is going to get lucky, and you’ll see that name much more often than you’d expect to over a period of a year or two, or even longer. Because poker is a game of skill, those stand-out names are much more likely to belong to the better players. But sometimes, due to random luck fluctuations, the repeat winners are just average players, or sometimes worse than average.

Put simply, if you’re planning to compete on the tournament circuit, willing to forego all else in your travels and in your pursuit of trophies, hope to get lucky. Otherwise, the drought may seem like forever.

Tournament complaint two.

But here’s the real reason I am unhappy with tournaments. In a winner-take-all tournament, your strategy is pretty simple: Play your best regular game. That’s the very same game you’d play if you were not in a tournament. While there may be a few minor adjustments you’ll make, most of these will be because of how your opponent’s play tournaments. No adjustments will be monumental, and playing your best regular game gives you the greatest chance at the trophy.
OK, but what about proportional prize pools? These are the norm in tournaments today, and this means that first place will earn a certain percent of all the buy-ins, typically 40 percent or less. Second place may get 20 or 25 percent, and so on.

Well, a semi-terrible thing happens in these proportional-payoff tournaments. Namely, a strategy designed to take first place is not the most profitable. This amazes folks who haven’t thought about, but is obvious upon examination. In order to win the tournament, you need to gather everyone’s chips. You need to win them all.

Fine. But then what? Then you have to give most of them back so that the close finishers who you just conquered can be happy. Of course, you don’t really give them the chips, but you do give them the largest share of the prize pool. Same thing.

When this happens, your best strategy is to decline to play some of your profitable, but risky, hands and opt not to make some of your profitable, but risky, raises. That’s because that stretch-it-to-the-limit “profit” isn’t really worth the risk, when you have to give most of it back if you win first place.

OK, so we’ve determined that the best tournament strategy is not to play your best everyday game in a proportional payoff tournament. But, it’s still fair to everyone, right? Wrong! It’s not fair to the people who prize winning first place more than anything else. After all, originally tournaments were about winning the trophy. And the best strategy designed to win the trophy is often a losing strategy in terms of long-range tournament profits. That’s why I have mixed feelings about most tournaments. I want the trophy; and I want to play for it. Why should I have to take the worst of it financially to pursue the trophy?

Players from around the World incl USA are safe and welcomePart II of this poker rant from Mike Caro will be posted soon….
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July 10, 2010

Improve your poker knowledge – learn the language of poker!

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views — Mike @ 8:47 pm

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The following are examples from the Poker Glossary. We recommend that if even one of these definitions isn’t familiar to you that you take a few minutes to check out the full Glossary of Poker terms.  Learn terms that help you win online poker games.

BOAT: A full house. Also known as a full boat

EXPECTED VALUE: EV In probability theory, the overall expected payoff of a particular event, calculated by multiplying the probability of each possible outcome by the payoff from each.  For example, if there are two possible outcomes from an event (say, flipping a coin), one of which pays $2 and the other of which pays nothing, your EV for the event is $1 (in the long run, if this event happened many times, you would average $1 per event.  In poker, one generally associates an EV with a particular action. One’s EV from calling a bet, for example, is the sum of all possible outcomes from calling the bet multiplied by the probability of each.  Note that since a bet costs money to make, the payoff of some outcomes – and therefore the EV itself – may be negative.

FAMILY POT:A pot in which all (or almost all) of the players call before the flop.

GUTSHOT: An inside straight draw chance. Ie a player is holding 6,7,8,10 for a straight and need a 9.

MUCK: The pile of folded and burn cards. Or to fold and add your cards to the pile.

OPEN ENDED STRAIGHT DRAW: When a player has 4 out of the 5 cards needed to make a straight and the cards that they have are the middle ones ie 6,7,8,9. Where they need a 10 or a 5 to complete it.

RAINBOW: Usually a reference to the flop when its all different suits.

SUCK OUT: When a player has a losing hand when they a call and then get the card they needed on the river to make a winning hand.

UNDER THE GUN: The position of the player who acts first on a betting round.

WHEEL: A 5-high straight. A,2,3,4,5

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July 6, 2010

Professional Poker Tips: Fold Equity

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 11:03 pm

Poker Play tips and adviceDuring the final table of Event #1 at the 2008 WSOP, the $10K Pot-Limit Hold ‘em Championship, I encountered a hand where I had a very tough decision to make. We were about midway through the final table with the blinds at $20K/$40K. I had about $2.2 million in chips when I picked up pocket 10s in middle position. I raised the pot to $110K and was called from one of the blinds by Mike Sexton, who had about $100K less in chips than I did.

The flop came 8-6-2 rainbow, Mike checked and I bet $125K with my over-pair and gut-shot straight-draw. He called, and the turn brought a 7. After thinking for a moment, Mike bet out $365K, and I was left with a very difficult choice. He could have me beat with a bigger over-pair like pocket Jacks or two pair even, or he could just have a draw or something like pocket 9s. So what should I do in this situation? Do I just call now and be faced with another big decision on the river if he bets out again? Do I get away from the hand altogether and fold? The real question is this: if I raise, is there any chance he’ll fold his hand?

All of which brings me to the concept of fold equity. For our purposes, equity can be defined as your chance of winning the pot, or how much you expect to make out of the pot. Therefore, fold equity is the chance you could win the pot because your opponent will fold.

A classic example of fold equity is really any time you attempt a semi-bluff. Say you have a flush draw and one over-card on the flop. Your opponent might not call you without top pair or better, but there’s a good chance that you’re nothing more than a coin flip against almost anything he’s holding. In this case, moving all-in gives you fold equity because you know that your opponent is only going to call you part of the time. Semi-bluffs are so powerful because of fold equity.

You also have a lot of fold equity when you play aggressively pre-flop. Some novice players don’t like to raise pre-flop with a hand that they won’t call a re-raise with, but an expert player will be raising (and sometimes re-raising) with many hands that aren’t a favorite to be best when re-raised. The fold equity can make these marginal hands profitable. Keep in mind, there will be situations where you should fold some of these same hands if there’s little chance that you can steal the pot.

Fold equity is also an extremely important concept in tournament play, especially as you approach the bubble. A lot of players tend to play way too tight as they wait for the bubble to burst; many will just try to fold their way into the money. At this point, there may be enough fold equity to play any two cards because your opponents are going to fold such a high percentage of their hands. This concept also applies once you’re in the money (though to a lesser extent), and people are playing tight as they try to make their way up the money ladder to a bigger payday.

This brings us back to my hand against Mike Sexton at the final table of Event #1. Do I call, fold, or raise? Calling will most likely lead me to the same tough spot on the river if he bets out again, especially if an over-card hits. Folding doesn’t seem like the best option because there’s a good chance that I’m actually ahead in the hand (Mike could have a pair with a straight-draw), and even if I’m not ahead I have a decent number of outs and I’m getting better than 2-1 pot odds to make the call. I’m only in really bad shape if I’m up against a straight. If I’m against an over-pair or set, I have 6 outs. If I’m against two-pair, I have 12 outs. So because this is a tournament, because he probably doesn’t want to go broke in this spot, because it’s a very aggressive play with a good amount of fold equity, I decided to move all in. And it worked. After thinking about it for a long while, Mike decided to fold his hand.

Mike made it sound afterwards like he had my hand beat, and I found out later that he did indeed make two pair on the turn with his 7-6. I knew I couldn’t make that play if there was no chance he would fold. If that were the case, I probably would’ve just called or folded. But this bet had a lot of fold equity, so it was a move I just couldn’t pass up.

Fold equity is a very important concept in both ring games and tournaments, but especially in tournament situations like the one I just described. When you consider the fold equity you have in any given hand, you can really start to play some power poker.

Andy Bloch

Andy has over $4.1 Million in Career Tournament Earnings . He has reached nine World Series of Poker (WSOP) final tables and is a former member of the (now infamous) M.I.T. Blackjack Club.

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July 3, 2010

Professional Poker: I Would Rather Be a Raiser than a Caller

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 4:07 pm

Professional poker play tipsUnless you have a monster draw or are slow playing a big hand, calling is often the wrong play at the table. In fact, it often times takes a stronger hand to make a call than it does to make a raise.

“You raised with that?” is a question I hear a lot after showing down a hand. You can make a raise with any two cards (sometimes less than that), but it takes a real hand to make a call.

When I’m in late position in an unopened pot and someone in front of me puts in a raise, I’ll always say to myself, “Hey, I was going to do that!” The fact is opening a pot with a raise is a good idea because it puts you in control, while cold-calling a raise is not a great option for a variety of reasons.

First of all is the realization that I am probably behind. I have lost the ability to take the lead and be the aggressor, and perhaps represent a wide range of hands. Re-raising in position is always an option. However, if the initial raiser was pretty strong, I could wind up facing a re-raise, which could mean a decision for a lot of chips. I have now put myself in a bad position and made the first of perhaps many mistakes in the hand.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t hands I like to call with pre-flop. For instance, I’ll limp with hands like ace-rag suited (because you can make the nuts), small pocket pairs (looking to flop a set), sometimes big pocket pairs (to camouflage the strength of my hand) and suited connectors in position. But, making a bad call is almost always worse than making a bad fold.

When in doubt, listen to that little voice in your head saying “fold, fold, fold.” Even if it turns out you were ahead in the hand when you folded, it’s still better than making a bad call and losing even more chips.

It takes a great player to make great lay-downs; you have to occasionally fold a winning hand. If you’re not sure what to do with a hand, ask yourself whether or not this is a good place to get your chips in the pot.

A combination of smart and aggressive play will help you to improve your results. And personally, I’d rather be a raiser than a caller…

Roy ‘the Oracle’ Winston
a5_wA medical doctor from Rancho Mirage, California, Roy has earned over $2.5 million since starting out as a poker pro in 2006. He’s only been full time since 2008.

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