PokerStars 25th Billion Hand Countdown

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It was a long and sleepless night as I played at PokerStars the last two days. I watched bonuses being handed out to players at tables in which the hand number being dealt to them ended in 000,000.  Every  even million numbered hand was given a special  bonus ranging from $350 to $3000 for the player with the winning hand and a smaller bonus ranging from $250 to $750 for the rest of the losing players at that table.

It was unbelievable just how excited everybody was. At the tables that received the bonuses, they sometimes went a little wild. Everyone at the No Limit table would go all-in regardless of what their cards were, knowing that they would at least share in the smaller prizes and that the winner would take all the money in the pot and the big prize.  Some higher stake table players actually lost more than they got in bonuses because they were not thinking or they were hoping to just suck out and win everything in the pot.

The final hand for the grand prize, the 25 billionth hand, took place around 5:00 am Eastern Time and the game being played was Omaha High/Low No Limit.  The two players having the winning hand each got $50,000 and a tournament package. Three of the remaining three split $100,000 three ways or $33,333 each – one got nothing, not sure why though.

I wonder what the next promotion there will be?

Did any of you get caught up in the excitement? There were extremely long waiting lists at each of the tables in most all of the games. Even empty tables filled up so fast you could not get seated. I tried at least 5 times at empty tables to get a seat and they were gone before I could click on the seat. It was a feeding frenzy during the last hour before the major prizes were awarded. Unbeleivable!

Did you lose $$$ in the process?  I lost $9 overall – during the last two nights. I had been up in money but let my guard down in a triple draw game. I had a 12348 but my opponent kept raising and I kept calling – I should have known that meant that he had the nuts – 23457 and won the hand and I lost about $8 in that hand. Live and learn as they say. Hopefully I did learn from all this.

Nine dollars was a very low price to pay for all of the excitement I shared in during the last two days.  Just watching the news feed screen showing how many hands would be dealt before the next payout was exciting.  With more than 150,000 people playing, the stats changed quickly.  Interestingly, a 1 cent 2 cent table was one of the winners proving that everyone had a chance.  The stakes and type of cash games played did not influence the winning table except that the “head up” tables were closed because they were getting too many wins. The reason for this is that they play many hands quickly and could more easily catch a “bonus” numbered hand.

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Powerplay versus Power Loss – Some thoughts

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The weekly Twitter Poker Tour Tournament is played every Thursday Night at 9 PM Eastern Time on either the FullTiltPoker or the PokerStars site online. I was looking forward to this evenings tourney. I had already pre-registered days before. But this evening turned out to be a little different than the one I had envisioned.

I live in Southern New Hampshire in a small town. My wife and I just moved here from the Boston MA area last September. As I like to say, we went from the frying pan to the freezer.  And something that has happened over five times so far including today are power losses.

The latest power loss happened at just about 8:00 PM Eastern Time, just an hour away from the start of the TPT Stars Event #8. I called the local power company and the automated message said that I was eighth in line, please wait for the next available agent. Fifteen minutes and two power bars less on the cell phone later, I was able to report the outage.

Based on past power losses, I knew that power could be out for at least 1 to 2 hours or more. So I used Twitter to alert the TPT gang about what had happened and apologized if I could not get to the table on time. What would usually happen is that my online player would be timed out and would be put into a “Sitting Out” state until I was able to reconnect.  This would be a little annoying to the other players as they would have to wait for me to time out, which could take up to 90 seconds. Even that amount of time can seem like an eternity when you are waiting to play your hand, even if only to fold it.

Power was finally restored arount 9:30 PM Eastern Time and I was able to log in to PokerStars and start playing at 9:40 PM. By this time my online player, having no guidance from me, was down in chips from the starting amount of 1500  to about 1,200 and the blinds were 50/25 for the big/small blinds.

My first hand reentering the tourney was KK and I decided to shove all-in. I needed to build up my chips fast or lose fast. Everyone folded and I won a small pot of 125. The next three hands I folded.

Then I got AJ suited and again went all in. This time I won 225 in chips.  The next twelve hands, I basically folded to raises if I was in the blind as my holdings were nothing that might win a hand. Then I caught pocket queens. And I went all in again only to be staring at pocket aces held by “AcesFull_369”. This time I lost 875 of my chips bringing me down to 445.

Six hands later I caught AA and again went all-in, putting the pressure on the others. No callers, so I got only 150 in chips.

Four hands later, I was staring at AQ suited and again went all-in. I was called by Panndy623 who held a 54 sutied and my Ace paired, giving me the pot and 695 more chips. I continued to push and shove my way around, picking up a few more chips. But by now I was losing my blinds, having poor hands.

I still had a workable amount of chips, roughly 1600 or enough to last about 10 full circuits. So I would have to take my chances and try to get more chips fast.

My last and 45th hand was a disater waiting to happen. I only had 5 3 unsuited and I was in the big blind and NickRedford was the small blind. He called, I checked and we saw flop. It came out 4 A A. Nick checked so I thought, hmm, maybe I could push him away from this pot, having done so a few times earlier this evening. I shoved all in and he called.

I was trapped as his starting hand held the dreaded Ace. I still had four outs, if any of the four 2’s hit, I would have a straight. But that was not to be. On the turn a 4 hit, given the board  4 A A 4 and Nick a full house. I was drawing dead and ending up finishing in 20th place. The river card was a queen.

Powerplay versus powerloss. Perhaps a smaller probe bet and a fold if I was re-raised or a check down if I was called was in order. I could have waited for a better hand. But…

The power loss however is another concern. We do not have backup power. Even if I had a laptop, I would have needed an expensive cell phone card to connect to the internet. This power loss  lets me know that playing online tournaments is risky for me.. Had the entry fee been higher, like the $100 or $1000 tourneys that are played everyday online, this would have hurt.

At least in a cash limit game you might lose what was in the pot at the time of the power loss but you would be timed out and not lose any more blinds and antes. So unless I had a backup generator that was reliable, I am not too interested in participating in larger tourneys, risking my entry fees to power losses versus poor power plays. Just my thoughts. What do you think?

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Small Stakes Hold'em by Ed Miller, David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth – A review

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I started playing Texas Holdem online about three years ago. I think that my interest in the game took hold as the result of watching the “World Poker Tour” TV shows on the Travel Channel. I would be mesmerized for hours watching the likes of  Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivy, Gus Hansen, David “the Devilfish” Ulliott, Jennifer Harman, Howard “The Professor” Lederer. The game seemed so simple back then … you could see each of the players hole cards and just about knew what was going to happen.

When I started playing, it turned out that it was not as easy as it looked on TV.  It took about 10 sessions of losing my entire stack at each session to realize that if I wanted to continue to play, I needed some help.  I already had a few books on the rules of Texas Holdem but it appeared that I needed to know more. So I started my search for more advanced poker books and I came across one written by a trio of authors; Ed Miller, David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth, titled “Small Stakes Hold’em”.

Some of the earlier books I’ve read said that poker was not gambling, it was a skill, like a sport, etc. But right up front this powerhouse of authors stated that “Poker is Gambling” in no uncertain terms. But the line that really caught my attention was the following: “As long as you understand fundamental gambling concepts and make correct decisions, winning will be inevitable.”  Well, I liked that phrase a whole lot. So I started reading the book and I found out that the book is geared especially for the Limit Holdem player, which I had not played before.

This book covers everything you need to know, from poker theory, poker odds, starting hands based on position, preflop play, post flop play, and river play. There are discussions about pot odds, implied odds, reverse implied odds, pot equity and more.

I believe that the most helpful part of the book is that they have a very defined table of starting hand selections for both the tight tables and loose tables that you might play at.  There are also hand quizzes and answers to many of the types of hands you are likely to run into. Whenever I get into a rut and realize that I am not making good decisions in Limit Holdem, I always come back to this book for a refresher course. This is one book that I heartily recommend that you have in your poker book collection.

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Preliminary Review – PokerTracker3

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I have downloaded and installed a 60 day free trial version of Poker Tracker 3 software. At first glance, this appears to offer me the ability to have my “cake” and eat it too.

This program is advertised as being able to do many things for the fledgling pro poker player including some of the following:

Basic booking:
Keeping track of sessions played, number of hands, wins, losses, rake taken from pot, and more for each session.

Card play:
Track your starting hands, ending hands
Track your wins and losses based on position, value of cards held, highest single win, highest single loss

“HUD” or Heads Up Display of your opponents and your own playing tendencies

And much, much more…

I have barely touched the surface of what it can do.

The best part about the program, if used properly, it can help you find the holes in your playing. You can apply that knowledge to correct these deficiencies. (Of course, you must be open to the fact that you have them).

While the data that is collected is not surprising; it did show that I perhaps have played too many hands of poor value and also out of position. PokerTracker3 showed me that I lost the most when I only had one pair or just the high card, which shows that I did not know when to fold them.

Positionally, I tended to lose the most when I was in the big blind, the small blind and “UTG” or under the gun, the first to act after the cards were dealt. I was an overall winner in all the remaining positions. But the losses as the Big Blind, the Small Blind, and the UTP player were costly enough to practically eat away at all the gains I made at all the other positions.

Record keeping alone is a good enough reason to consider  purchasing PokerTracker3. The I R S can be very picky. Just being given the ability to review my card play, session results, and hand analysis is an added plus that could make my game more enjoyable and profitable at the same time.

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Tournaments versus Cash Games? Which is best for you?

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Poker Tournaments versus Poker Cash Games.

This question usually brings up some interesting answers. Some of this boils down to personal likes and dislikes. For me it comes down to costs versus benefits. I prefer cash games because I can control my destiny and profitability. I don’t have to take unnecessary risks with my stack.

As a Limit Holdem player, I don’t usually risk my entire buy-in at one time during the course of play. I might loose it in one session, but overall the risks of playing in a cash game are not as great as the risk of playing in a tournament.

I might buy-in at a $1/2 limit holdem game for S20.00. Playing tight and aggressive, I might be able to earn about $6 to $10 per hour playing at that level.  If I take the same buy-in at a tournament, I might play for up to four or six hours, come in fourth place and get no hourly rate at all. In a cash game, the blinds and antes remain the same for the entire time you play. At a tournament, the blinds and antes escalate at prescribed times during the tourney. If you do not have enough chips by the middle of the tourney, it is going to be an uphill battle just to get paid off. For me, perhaps the best reason to play primarily cash games is that I usually do not do well in tournaments.

Having said all that, I have really enjoyed playing the tourneys with the Twitter group known as the “Twitter Poker Tour“.  The stakes were reasonable with a buy-in of $5.50 and I have profited by coming in first in one out of the three tourneys that I have been involved in so far.  I am currently in second place overall and hope to regain my lead with a good finish this Thursday night at 9:00 PM Eastern Time.

What has your experience been? What are your choices? Do you play well in both cash games and tourneys or are you better at tourneys? Is a cash game your specialty?

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Lessons learned, Lessons to Apply

Palace - Gambling Keno Poker
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Ever since I decided that this was the year to try my hand at becoming a professional poker player and playing up to 20 hours a week either online or at a casino or poker room, I knew that the journey was not going to be easy.  I currently own over 29 different types of poker books. Some are specific about playing cash games or tournaments; some are about playing Limit Holdem; some are about playing No Limit Hodem. Some are about poker math and poker theory. I have read many of these books twice  and will probably read them again as the need arises. Even now, I have added to my shopping list 13 more poker titles that I need in order to complete my junior and senior years of poker playing before I graduate this year.

Whenever I am having a tough time at the tables or have had a significant loss, I turn inward to myself and to my poker reference books for answers.

Last Saturday night I had one of those tough times. I went to the local Seabrook Poker Room, located inside of the Seabrook Greyhound Racetrack in Seabrook NH. I played $2/4 limit poker from 6:30pm to 9:30pm and had a losing evening, for a total loss of $106.00. My original buy-in was $60, and I reloaded for another $60 when I was down to $12 in chips.

So far, losing deeply had not been a problem here. I have been here a total of five times to far, and up until this evening, I had won a total of $128. Most of those prior evenings, I would have large chip fluctuations before ending up on the plus side. The reason for these large fluctuations is due to the type of players at the table.

At a table of nine there might be one or two tight players and two loose players and then the remaining ones would be  extremely loose, playing almost every hand to the river regardless of their holdings or how dangerous the board may have looked. This type of table can provide a very profitable experience if you are a good tight aggressive player and play your premium hands to the end. Because of the looseness of the table you are going to take a bad beat from time to time.

In a prior evening, I had pocket Kings and this hand was the best hand right up to the river. My opponent had a pair of pocket sixes and caught a 6 at the river to bust my hand. He called everyone of my raises;  the board had over cards to his holding, yet he kept on calling in the hopes of making his two outer ( a two outer meaning there were only two cards left in the deck that could help his hand).  After he scooped up the pot, I just said nice hand and cleared my head to get ready for the next hand. By playing tight and aggressive I grew my original $100 to $228 over the prior four games despite the occasional bad beat.

This Saturday night however was slightly different. I was what is known as card dead. I was not catching anything that could take down the pot. Over the course of the evening I was dealt over 120 hands and only had about 10 hands that were barely playable.  I had pocket 10’s once, pocket 8’s once, and pocket 3’s once (which I folded “UTG”). The other playable cards that I did were A J, A 10, and I even played A 9 on the button. I did have a couple of small suited connectors such as 7 8’s, but even these holdings were limited.  I won a couple of small pots but basically I would get a hand and the flop hit me so badly I would have to fold to heavy betting. Because the table was extremely loose, I would have needed a better hand to get to the river and survive. Tonight I was not catching cards. Luck was not on my side. The table was so loose that I could not even try to bluff now and again.  Now I don’t really believe in luck, but in the randomness of the cards. It is said that the cards have no memory, but after having been dealt a 7 3, three times in a row, you have to start questioning that saying too. My original plan of action was to play for three hours and at 9:30pm, it was time for me to leave. I had lost a total of $106 that night, but was still up $22 overall over the last five sessions. Had I been playing poorly or was tired, then my course of action would have been to just get up and leave and not stay until 9:30 pm.

Since last Saturday night I have had time to think about what I could have or should have done. I have re-read a few chapters of some of my favorite books and decided that my playing was sound. The only thing I could have done differently was to change tables. This might not have helped what hands I received but it would have given me a chance to change my table image. At my current table, I was appearing to be a good natured loser who was getting chipped away at (the big and the small blinds every nine hands were eating away my chips, especially if I called to see a flop before having to fold).

By moving to a new table, I could have started out with  a fresh table image. I could play the players regardless of the cards I held because these players would have no prior knowledge of what had just happened to me. They would not know if I had a hand or not. Moving to a new table might have been one way I could have turned my “luck” around. Of course, I trust that my next outings are not similar to this one and that the cards truly have no memory and that I don’t see a pile of 7 3 or 7 2 cards in front of me most of the evening.

Be careful on the felts. You could get rug burned.

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Omaha High/Low Explained

Beispiel für eine Omaha Hold'em Hi-Lo Hand ein...
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Omaha Poker High/Low is like Texas Holdem except that each player gets four cards for his hand as his hole cards. In Texas Holdem the player gets only two hole cards.

Unlike Holdem, the player must use two cards from his hand with three cards from the five common cards to make his best high hand. The player can also use any two cards from his hand to make his best low hand. The two cards that the player users for either the high or the low do not have to be the same two cards.

As in Texas Holdem, hand selection and player position are important. The big difference in Omaha High/Low is that your major object should be to win both the high and low portions of the pot. This is known as scooping. Anything less might cause you to lose money in the long run. This is because it is possible to have each pot split up by as much as 2 or more players per pot. You can bet $100 and win back $25 as your share of the split pot.

Playing Omaha High/Low requires you to have very good drawing hands. Generally  you should never enter a pot with out an Ace in your hand. And that Ace should be accompanied by no higher that a 2 or a three in the same suit.

You need hands like:

AA23  AA34 A234 A345 AK23 AKQJ KKJ10.

There are a lot of other playable hands, but mostly the Ace should be suited with another card, giving you chance to have the best flush and the A with low cards, the best low.

This game takes a lot of patience and if you start chasing with hands like 2345 3456 you can get into a lot of trouble. But, I find this game fun and challenging and a change of pace from Texas Holdem Limit and No-Limit.

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Steve takes a bad beat by Doyle Brunson (actually it was by Doyle’s Room and not Doyle directly)

Doyle Brunson in 2006 World Series of Poker - ...
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Doyles Poker Room used to be a favorite site of mine back about three years ago until they stopped letting US players on their site. Last year I found out that they were accepting US players again.  I signed up again, deposited some money and starting playing.  I later found out that some players were blocked by the request of various states in the US.

Doyles Room blocked players by using the IP addresses of that player’s states. This has happened to a couple of my “buddies” at Doyles Poker Room.

Now Doyles Poker has upgraded their software as a result of joining the Cake Poker network. This site also accepts US players.

The transition did not go smoothly for me. I lost my $15.62 balance during the transfer and Dolyes Room was not very helpful in resolving the issue. It is the principal and not the the amount of money.

From January 30th until February 2nd, I sent them four emails requesting that they resolve the issue. They  answered me twice and both times with the same answer. “Log in and you will see your balance”.  Well, I have logged in at least 10 times since then and each time I see a zero balance. So much for service and dependability. I can take a hint.

Several years ago when Doyles Room blocked US players, they locked me out and took away my balance. I never got it back.
I don’t know why I thought things would be different this time. In spite of having Doyles backing, they have done it again.

What was I thinking?

Even Doyle Brunson said in a book about internet poker, that you should be very careful about the sites that you join. He further said that a player should make a modest deposit and then in a few days, request a modest withdrawal to see how the sites respond. This way, he said, you could protect your mini bankroll at that site.

Well, I bought and read the book a few years ago. A lot of good that did me. It did not cover what can happen when a site joins another poker network.

But from now on, when signing up on a new online site and before depositing any large amounts, I will take the time to make a test deposit of say $50 and a test withdrawal of $25.

In any case, my plan is to maintain no more than three sessions worth of money in any one site at any time. When I earn more than that amount, I will withdraw it to protect myself from these types of challenges. Also, whenever I learn that there is a major change such as what happened to Doyles Room, I have decided that I should request a nearly total withdrawal, leaving $1 just in case. This is a case of do as “Doyle says” and not what I did.

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Quick thinking can be costly

The poker tables in the Trump Taj Mahal
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Quick thinking can be costly especially when playing No-Limit Omaha High/Low Poker.

I was involved in a game with 9 other players. This was a fairly active group with players going all-in many times during the session. As long as you did not make a single mistake and thought things out, you would be okay.

Folding unless you had AAKK, AA22, AA23 was usually a good idea with this group. You also wanted to make sure that your AAKK or AA22 was double suited as well, meaning that the AAKK should be AK of one suit with the other AK another suit. While this might seem to be unreasonable, you get hands like this more often then you might imagine. Playing Omaha High/Low, these hands are  definitely worth waiting for because they can win you the entire pot. The actual number of good starting hands is much more than just the two examples but I will save that for another day.

When playing Omaha High/Low, your object should be to win both halves of the pot, the highest hand pot and the lowest hand pot. If your hand is not strong enough to win both, you should fold. It can get quite costly trying to win only the high end or the low end of the pot. The reason it can get costly just trying to win one side of the pot only is due to the fact that the pot can be split up between two or more individuals;  two or more could share the high hand and two or more the low hand.

The tricky part about Omaha High/Low is that you can misread your hand and cost yourself a lot of money. Since you have four hole cards and can only use two of the hold cards with three of the five common cards, it is easy to mistake what you have for a hand. You might quickly think that you have a full house and instead have three of a kind or worse, two pair. It gets even worse when you get three queens as part of your hole cards and a queen flops giving you only three of a kind while you might thinking – wow – four of a kind.

Typically in Omaha High/Low, the winning high hand is usually a full house or better. At the minimum a flush. Only occasionally will top pair win the high end of the pot.

So anyway, what this is boiling down to is that I had a hand that gave me a low straight and a low hand, with the possibility of the best high and best low hand. I was thinking scooping. And without thinking what my opponent had, I called my opponent’s all-in bet with just one click, in just one second.

And guess what, that quick thinking cost me $20.00 as I had the second best high hand and the second best low hand. The second best hands however don’t pay anything and that cost me my entire $20 stack that I had brought to the table with me. Lesson learned the hard way. Think before you click.

If I had taken the time allowed, which is 10 seconds, and then requested additional time, which is 60 seconds more, I could figured out that my hand was not the best possible high and best possible low. Then I would have made the appropriate decision and folded.

Moral to the story:  Take the time to think about what you have for a hand before committing any or all of your chips to any hand.

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Limit, Pot Limit, No Limit Betting in Texas Holdem

Picture of hole cards in a game of texas hold 'em
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Limit, Pot Limit and No Limit betting are quite different from each other. Each type of “betting limits” can dictate how you play your hands in Texas Holdem.

For all of the following examples, I will use a small blind amount of $1 and big blind amount of $2 and a table with 9 players.

Limit-Holdem, as the name implies, is a limited bet size. The way this works is that the small blind is required to bet $1 and the big blind $2.
Once the cards are dealt, the pre-flop betting amount is $2.00 or the size of the big blind. Pre-flop betting is usually limited to a maximum of four bets before the flop is dealt. This means that the total that one person might put in the pot is $8 (4 x $2) before the flop. After the flop, the betting amount is still $2 per bet with a limit of up to four bets for a total of up to $8 in bets per person staying in the hand. After the forth card, the turn card, the bet amount doubles to $4 with a limit of four bets maximum for a maximum total of $16 for this round of betting. After the fifth card, the river card, the betting amount is $4 with a limit of four bets for a maximum total of $16. Even with limits, you may have to put in the maximum pre-flop, flop, turn, and river. That can amount to quite a pot, totalling up to $48 dollars per person.

Pot-Limit means that any player can bet an amount up to the limit equal to the total of the pot. As this changes with each bet, it can easily become enough to require you to put in all your chips while you are just calling someone else’s raise. This game is quite tricky in that the betting can escalate quickly and is not to be played by the faint of heart.

No-Limit means just that. There is no limit to the amount that can be bet. The minimum bet is the amount of the big blind and the maximum amount is the total of the chips that you have. If the all in bet was made before you and you have less chips then the amount bet, you can still call with all of your chips. This level of play is also not for the faint of heart but if played well, can be quite profitable, or costly if badly played.

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