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Friday, March 31, 2006 

Putting Players First

I love poker. In fact, i see myself being involved with the game for maybe the rest of my life, not just as a player, but in all aspects of the game. Here in the RP, the game is relatively new, and i really believe that it is in these formative stages where we should focus on educating people about the game and making others aware of why poker is not just about gambling.

First of all, like the game of chess, poker is a game of skill. Poker involves mathematics, psychology, observation, and money management. In fact, numerous authors and academics have drawn analogies between poker and other endeavors that involve strategic thinking.

A good way to distinguish a game of skill from a game of chance is to answer the question: "Who are the top players of this game in the world?" Many people can easily name the top five or ten poker players in the world. But naming the best bingo or roulette players is a much greater challenge. This is because in bingo and roulette—games of chance—a skilled player and a non-skilled player have the exact same likelihood of winning.

I really believe that the first step towards gaining the respect and support of the community for the game is to make sure that players are always, always put first. I cannot stress this enough. The rights of the players should always be protected from unscrupulous individuals or groups that organize games that are unfair to players.

Another step towards getting legitimacy for the game of poker is to make sure that all players are educated in playing responsible poker. Your right to play the game should also limited to your ability to play responsibly. Poker game organizers should recognize anyone who is not playing responsibly, and refuse them from playing if they know that the game is severly affecting the players' self, family, or responsibilities.

Poker has the potential to come out from the underground and lose the negative image it has gotten from ignorance and prejudice. It is evolving into a sport, and also as a social game where bonds of friendship and camaraderie are formed. It has also become an option for excellent players to take it to the next level and make a good living out of playing poker professionally. No other game or sport is more democratic and has the ability to make a champion out of any ordinary joe. Physique, race, education, social status, all these things don't matter on the felt.

I believe there should be an organization, an alliance of poker players from all over the country, that makes sure that the rights of players are protected while at the same time helping each other play responsibly. It can also help educate the public, and especially the government, about the game of poker. It can be an authority in setting standards for game structures, rules, and policies regarding technicalities in the game. If we do this, we can at least ensure the future of the game here in the Philippines. This will also make sure that the players only play the best and the fairest games in a safe and friendly environment.

Poker should be done right, and it can only be done by putting players first.

Sunday, March 26, 2006 

Random Things

It's been a while since my last post (thanks to this lousy connection) and there hasnt been much going anyway. I havent been playing much due to the "purification process" (read: bankroll busting hehe) i went through the previous 2 months. After i went through that stage, i found myself playing better and having a better attitude towards how the game works and making better decisions at the felt. Everyone should go through something like that, even just a small one.


Yesterday i played at my uncles house, a family affair that used to be Pusoy Dos or Tong-its everytime there is an occasion or even just for the weekends. You see, i come from a family of gamblers. There are times where you'll see something like a family reuinion in the casino because they like going together and playing the slots or whatever together. Cards have always been a staple in any family gathering, that's why when we introduced the game of Hold'em, they instantly got hooked. It was a small game where the max buy-in was 500, but in the end kath and i managed to be the only winners at the table. Lucky cards, loose game, and some well timed bluffs helped, but i guess that just proves that skill and luck IS balanced in the game. Checkpoint was playing too, but when that guy is not in tournament mode, he just can't resist bluffing and would get his hands caught in the cookie jar. His stack goes up and down like a rollercoaster! He would have won too hadnt it been for the last few hands that busted his stack.

I cant forget one hand though, and no, it is not a bad beat. I was playing a 6h-5d on the button and flop had Q-2-x rainbow. Due to the loose nature of the game, i bet it with after the 2 people in the hand just checked. They both called, and the turn produced the 4 of hearts. Again i bet even more, one folded but the other called. I knew i was busted and she had something, so when the river was being dealt, i called out "three!" because i thought it was my only out, the gutshot. The river came another heart, and now she bet out on me. I felt really stupid and said "fold" while still holding my cards. Chekcpoint asked "can i see your cards?" and i said it was a stupid play ishould have even been in that hand. But when i lifted my cards for a last peek before mucking, i saw that it was SUITED with hearts, and that i had a flush! wow. it was the first time i ever made a blunder like that. In my head, that 5 was a diamond. What a stupid mistake, and it cost me a big pot too. I guess we all make mistakes like that. Never again!


The other day i played a 2-4 NL game (yes, two peso- four peso). I remember saying something like that last year, that one day we'll see a 1-2 or even a 2-4 game eventually. It was a fun game, no stress. My last hand of the night, i had JJ and raised and got re-raised, with a flop of Q-Q-9 i bet out after he checked, check-bet-call, check-check on the turn, then a huge bet on the river to push me all in so i just called anyway (2-4 game!). Turns out the guy flopped QUAD QUEENS. Ever been sucker punched? You never see it coming. I never put him on a Q since he was big stack and was being a bully all night. The overbet just made it look fishy, after the check-check on the turn. Quads. Great game.


Gotta go and get a damn haircut, my hair is taking on a life of it's own.

Till next time.

Monday, March 20, 2006 


The Party last weekend was a blast. Hats off to Neil and his awesome idea to have a poker party. Now THAT is the way poker parties should be done! I mean, can it get better than that? Great food, booze, great people, and of course an awesome tournament! Double the pot, bad beat jackpots, bubble and first-out prizes, all rake-free poker, and more.

The best thing about it though, was that it brought together a bunch of people who rarely get together under one roof anymore. It was a reunion of sorts, because i remember seeing those guys almost everyday just several months ago, playing poker, talking politics, discussing strategies, drinking, all until the wee hours of the morning. Neil's party made it possible for that group to play and get together again in one place. It was awesome.

The tournament itself was good. The structure was great, and this was evident in the final table, where there was a lot of raising and re-raising, and not just all-in-or-fold. The heads-up match even lasted a couple of levels, with great action from both guys. Congrats to Sam for winning it all, he took control early in the game, had a big stack, and never let it go. I had a good game, which lasted less than 60 minutes hehe. I had won a couple of pots but los a big one to Sam, and then peek to see pocket 10's on the button. Jericho raises to 300 on the 40-80 level, Sam calls, and action is to me. I think for about 15 seconds before deciding to make a move and push for a total of 800 (the pot is about 720) with the 10s. Jericho takes about 3 minutes to think hard, then decides to just call, so sam does the same with. Flop had Q-J-x, but they didnt check it down, and sam bet into jericho, forcing him to fold on the turn. Sam flips over a Ks-10s, and jericho mucks his A-K in disgust. Sam just has a draw, and i'm still ahead, ready to triple up! But running spades decided to give it to sam, and so my night was over hehe.

Had a blast. The lechon made me a bit dizzy, but the spaghetti rocked. (note to self: check your cholesterol levels.) Didnt drink much though, because everyone was too busy playing and it sucks if youre drinking by yourself hehe.

It was the best poker party. period. Can't wait for the next one! Who's next?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 

A Question of Structural Integrity

After the great game on friday, i thought i figured out the best formula for a tournament structure that will fit the "turbo" requirements of our small-stakes games but still make room for quality gameplay and outright bang-for-your-buck poker.

The present "super turbo" structures we have become accustomed to has started to become a bane to the poker players who, after learning the deeper aspects of the game, realize that NLHE isnt about going all-in pre-flop or jamming the pot with overbets. Pot odds, outs, post-flop play, and many other things tend to be thrown out the window because of the need to end a tournament faster along with other factors too. When you play a solid game and take small pots here and there, but suddenly find yourself with less than 10xBB after a certain level because of the abrupt jump in the blinds structure, you suddenly have to shift to the dreaded all-in-or-fold mentality, and put your hard earned buy-in and tournament life on the line on a coin toss.

Ok, one of the points to consider is time. We normally have 20 minute levels on the average, which will resctrict the average 3-4 table MTT to at most 4-5 hours. This is fine, since we are almost always under time constraints as most of us dont have all day to play poker and want to do it recreationally. So, 20 minute blind levels are fine, and wont be a factor to consider in finding the right mix for the perfect turbo structure.

The biggest factor to consider i believe is the blinds structure itself. Normally, we start with a 50xBB stack (Level 1- 10-20, starting stack is 1000) which is fairly normal. The inherent flaw in the structures is that the blind increase almost exponentially, sometimes almost doubling every level, or even skipping a level. Tournament organizers dont realize that every level counts, and if you take out one level, it completely disrupts the rhythm of the game. I believe another big factor to consider is how our chips are denominated. The smallest chip value is usually 10, so blinds cannot increase in increments of 5 in the early levels ( eg. 15-30 levels). So we find ourselves going from 10-20 to 20-40 to 40-80 in just one hour, then after we break the 50-100 levels, there is usually no room to add another level but go straight to 100-200. This is what forces us to go in an "all-in or fold" mode late in a tournament. Frankly, if you dont get ridiculuosly lucky in the early goings of a game, your chances of making a comeback is practically zilch.

Another important factor is the psychological aspect of the denominations itself. Say you get pocket queens in late position during the first level of a tourney (usually 10-20). You make it 5xBB or even 6xBB to go after it there was no raise to you. This is a very good raise, but since it is "ONLY" 100 or 120 in chips, it looks cheap to call with Ace-rag or even FACE-rag or any suited gappers or connectors. Let's say you get A-10 on the BB and decide not to raise, but hit your 10 on the flop for top pair, with a draw on the board. You now bet the size of the pot, or a little over the size of the pot to chase away any drawing hand (at the early stages, it is usually 100+ if there were about 5 limpers into the pot.) Youll find that anyone with even just a gutshot draw WILL chase, because 100+ is simply "small" and easy to call. This is where the phenomenon of the "massive overbet" was born, due to the fact that the only wasy to make someone fold is if you scare them away with the sheer value of you bet (500, 1000, etc.) No one will back down if you bet 120, even if it means that youre betting 6xBB already. You'll have to bet on the "value" of the hand (aces and Kings-500, queens-300, etc.) no matter what level you are in to get your fold equity.

To remedy this problem, i believe that we should make our denominations in the hundreds, with 50 being the smallest chip value. If we do this, the whole feel of the game changes. Raising to 1,200 with Q-Q on the first level of100-200 now has a bigger psychological impact to someone holding a rag hand than raising to 120 on a 10-20 level. Betting a pot sized bet of 1,800 on the flop with top pair will more likely make a drawing hand fold than betting 180, even though the dynamics are absolutely the same.

Lastly, there should be a point where the blinds are capped. If the Big Blind (or maybe even the small blind) is about the same as the starting stack, then it would be a good indication that the game should be ending soon.

So taking these things into consideration, here is the formula that i think will greatly improve our tournament structures and make the games more interesting and balance the luck-to-skill ratio.

- 20 minute blinds
- 50 bb starting stack, or 5,000 chips
- 50-100 first level
- increments of 100 increase in the BB in the first 5 or 6 levels
- a little faster (200 increase) in the middle stages to eliminate super tight small stacks
- Continuing the trend to the late stages, but the increases will be in 500's and 1000's (1500-3000, 2000-4000, etc), and stopping the increases when the BB is about the size of the starting stack, or one level higher.
- The worst tournament structures are the ones that start slow then end fast. Taking this into consideration, always be aware of the Blinds in relation to the average stack, and make sure that the ratio of the increase is the same as the early levels.

These are just suggestions, and they are loosely based on the friday game i played in last week. The game ended i think in just under 4 hours, and there was a lot of good poker going on too. When you raise and re-raise and still not feel pot commited to go all-in, you know the structure is right.

If you have suggestions and inputs, feel free to make them known.

till next time!

Sunday, March 12, 2006 

It's All About The Roll

It's all about the roll.

We always say that, but yesterday i realized how important that statement is to a serious player. I just realized how i busted mine through total mismanagement and improper use. It was not the bad beats, not the downswing, but really improper bankroll management. how? When i started off playing with the roll, i would buy the full (or at least 100X bb) and play with that. After starting off with two losing sessions, I started to became afraid to buy the full amount, thinking that if the downswing continues, i would bust this roll faster than you can say "nice hand moron!".

So i started to buy less than the max, sometimes even starting short-stacked. I started to play scared. And scared money is dead money. Buying in for less than the full amount is just inviting bad beats and suckouts. I would push with great hands, ahead all the way, but get sucked out, simply because my all-in bet was too small and was easy to call.

I've started a small upswing recently, winning several games in a row and playing a solid SnG game. My confidence is up and i see the game in a new light once again. Too bad that i dont have much of a bankroll now to maneouver with. Lesson learned, although the hard way. I've come out of this experience learning a lot, and improving a lot of aspects of my game. Everyone's probably tired of hearing about my laments and whining (hey, it is still MY blog, so i can write whatever i want hehe), but at least i'm honest. A lot of people dont wanna talk about losing, and always brag about how much they've won. I approach my experiences as a way to self-disovery and to becoming better, whether it be losing or winning.

The old Zen adage comes to mind. "The harder you try, the more difficult it becomes." If you want to become a better player, forget about winning or losing. A quote from Bruce Lee says it best. "The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement. Do not be concerned whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment."

Just use the edge, and when all is said and done, your results will speak for itself.


Great game the other day, a 2-table SnG full of seasoned players with just the right mix of "unknowns" to make it interesting. The structure was a perfect turbo game, with 20 minute blinds but incremental increases that made room for some great poker and not just the usual all-in or fold game.

I personally am really happy with how i played that game, although i didnt make it ITM. First off, i won the buy-in playing a couple of hours in a ring game the day before. I made the final table with an above average stack, without having once going all-in, and without ever being in danger of elimination. I started off the game winning a big pot with a 6-5 offsuit that i raised on the button, hit absolutely nothing all the way to the river, but making the two callers fold to my constant betting. I was picking small pots left and right, no big hands or monsters, just plain solid poker. I managed to get some great cards too early on, but during the mid levels i had a really dry spell but still managed to take advantage of certain situations and certain players. Sadly, at the final table i got J-J on the BB with two callers, raised it to about 5X the BB (the blinds were big at that level), then got re-raised all-in by one of the limpers with A-K, which i naturally called. King on the turn and it was bye bye for me. My first coin toss and it had to be with the chip leader hehe. Amazingly, i had no reaction whatsoever when that King fell on the turn. It was well played and there was no reason for me to feel bad about it. What a great game!

I have to give props to the way this game was structured. Yes the levels were fast, but it was well compensated by the fact that the blinds dont just jump to double the last level. It also proved that smaller increments in the increase of the blinds dont necessarily slow down the action, as the game lasted almost the same as other regular super turbo games. There was room to raise, re-raise, make a play, but not feel pot commited. There was more post-flop play, and less showdowns and all-ins. This time, your all-in actually meant something, not just that the blinds were going to catch up on you and force you to push. I hope this becomes more of the norm rather than the exception, because it will make the games more interesting and fun to play.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006 

The Next Level

Today i realized that, if you can compare Poker to a school, I am probably barely past the first grade, and that's being generous. Hell, maybe i'm even just in kindergarten. In comparison, players like Men "The Master"Nguyen or Dan Harrington have already achieved their Summa Cum Laudes and Doctorate degrees and can be considered Professors of the game.

At one point, all of us has probably thought that we might be actually better than we really are. It's normal, especially on a good run at the felt. But in reality, especially here in the RP, most players are just floundering about in Kindergarten, not even trying to pass but just comfortable in that level. I myself believe i am one of these people, but maybe what separates me and some others is that i have a yearning for something more. I want to know what the lessons are in the higher grades, i am curious to learn what they know, and someday maybe even be like them. I dont want to be stuck in kindergarten.

I have been questioning myself lately about my approach to the game. Maybe it is because i have been bombarded with too much information, too many styles and techniques, how-to's and what-should-be's. I find myself over analyzing the game, getting caught up in the odds and math, getting frustrated too often when things dont' go my way. All the thought processes and analysis of situations is making me cumbersome and slow to react, making me question my instincts and bypass my gut-feel. It's like the centipede that was happily walking along when someone asked him "how do you manage to walk with so many legs all at once?" He soon began to become conscious about this and started to stop and trip everytime he walked, since he kept on analyzing the process which he has been doing unconsciously in the first place.

I've had a bad run of poker these past couple of months, and i've never been more frustrated and doubtful about how i play the game, and even about the game itself. But then i realize, my "downswing" is nothing. It is insignificant, both in terms of the amount of money and the number of games and hands i've played. If you think about it, our live games play about 15 hands per hour. If i've been playing this "downswing" for the past 10 weeks, at about 3 games a week, at 4 hrs a game, thats 60 hands a day x 4/week x 10wks= 2400 hands. Include tournaments and that's just roughly 2500+ hands in 40 games in 3 months. Insignificant when it comes to having a realistic sampling in terms of poker success/failure. Online players dont even consider 1,000 sng's to be a really accurate sample! 40 games is not going to determine how succesful a player a person is going to be.

There are so many things to learn, and they can't be learned from books and lessons. Just like school, it isnt all about the lessons, the science, the math, the "book" knowledge, test scores, and whatnot. We also go to school to learn about how to interact with others, how to handle yourself in adversity, how to use your instincts, how to adapt to different situations, and a lot of other things that are not in the curriculum. If you get too caught up in doing things "by the book", you'll end up being stuck there, at that level. I noticed that most of the classmates i had in high school or college that were the "bookworms" or "studious" never end up as much of a success in the real world. They get "safe" jobs and prefer to live out unexciting lives of conformity to the "way things should be". It is often the noisy, witty, and "voted least likely to succeed" that end up as the movers and shakers of our society. They turn out to be successful entreprenuers or professionals, driven and passionate, and even end up being the bosses of the very same people they used to copy notes from in high school.

Poker should be approached in the same way. A good, solid, by-the-book foundation is of course needed, but in the end it is creativity, passion, and fearlessness that will make you a great poker player. I'm learning this the hard way too, enduring what, for me, is a painful swing of losses and beats. Only when you realize that losing in poker is not really losing that you can say that you understand the game. Losing is a part of the game, just like winning is part of the game, because one cannot exist without the other. I have never met a person with a 100% ITM rate, or a player who has never lost a single game. Michael Jordan, the greatest ball player of all time, had a career scoring average of more or less 50%. He missed half his shots! What made him great was that he made them go in when it counted most. That's difference.

The way cards fall is simply that. The way cards fall. It should not have any significance to the way you play the game. It is the one thing in the game that you cannot control, and trying to control it is an exercise in futility. In the end, that 2-outer on the river should no longer have any emotional impact to you and the way you play your game. It is simply the way cards fall.

Maybe, in the years to come, we too can also hope to achieve a certain level of mastery of the game we love. Right now, let's absorb as much as we can, learn from our experiences, and build up the confidence to take it to the next level.

Friday, March 03, 2006 

MTT dilemma and Hand Analysis

The past few days i've been playing tournaments, mostly the bar tour, some home game SnG's. I don't really know how i can gauge my performance in these things, especially the MTT's that have fast structures. The last two 2-table SnG's i've played in i placed 2nd and 3rd respectively (too bad they were small buy-ins so not much help to the bankroll there), but in the MTT's i just find myself playing tight and ending up with a short stack almost without having really played a hand the whole time. I try to make some plays to steal raise and take small pots, but there is rarely a hand that someone does not want to play in these tourneys, the limpers will call your raise anyway.

Most advice from the pros say that you should play tight, wait for the good hand, be patient, etc. It gets frustrating though that you see these limpers and calling stations hitting their flops and rivers and raking in the big pots while you sit there patiently waiting for the right hand or the right opportunity to make a play, but end up struggling to be alive in the middle stages and ending up in a push or fold situation in the late stages. Putting your tournament hopes on flopping a monster is not a winning proposition i think.

sometimes i feel tempted to play the K-4s and the A-6 off and limp in those KK and AA hands like they do!

Sometimes a bad run at the tables will really get your head spinning, making you question the sound fundamentals that you have been adhering to, the same concepts that are blatantly and ignorantly violated by the players who are stuck in the land of TV poker (and they seem to get rewarded for it).

But like the grouch said, poker success should be a long-term plan. You can't really expect sound fundamental play from limits and games like the ones we have. The level of variance especially in low-limit games is very high due to the fact that the stakes dont usually matter.
I mean, i've heard some players who win at their regular ring games that position doesn't matter, that they love playing rags, that they'll chase a flush draw no matter what the pot odds are, and other things like that. They consistently win in their regular home games too.

but like i've said before, winning does not mean that you are a good player. Most of these "winners", when faced with a full table of high caliber players, usually disintegrate and end up scratching their heads not knowing what hit them.


I love analyzing hands that i played after a good game of hold'em. There are some hands that just makes you smile and pat yourself on the back for their flawless execution and quality play. There are also some that makes you want to kick yourself in the butt for allowing yourself to be owned by your opponent, the kind that you just know that you were played for a fool.

I'd like to share such a hand, which i played in a friend's place. It's a 25-50 NLHE game and i'm playing pretty good, doubling up three hands into the game with JJ that hit a set, and a caller to my all-in. Playing really tight, i even folded another J-J pre-flop when someone pushed all-in and the guy on my right re-raised the all-in to about 3X the bet. Sure enough, one had Q-Q and one had A-x. Then this hand comes along.

I get 10d-8d in early position, a hand i love to play. I limp in and so do 5 other players. Flop is Ad-6d-7s or something. I have a flush draw and gutshot, but i decide to check, since i was first to act. Guy on my left bets over bets the pot and puts in 500. everyone folds to me and it takes a while for me to call, and it now seems obvious that i have a draw. I put him on an A-x hand, since it seems like he's protecting his hand against a flush draw. (he seems to be a good player by the way.) i reluctantly call. Turn is a 10. i now have 2nd highest pair and my big draw, but i decide to check, and the guy promptly bet 1000. i think for a long time, since my outs have just increased since i hit the 10. i dunno why but i reluctantly folded my hand. I know that odds were against me although i had about 15 outs because he bet the size of the pot. They chased the river and 9 hit, which would have given me a straight.

I dont know what the hell i was thinking not calling that hand, he probably didnt even have the ace and just sensed my weakness and went in for the kill. i called pot bet on the flop, but folded another pot bet on the turn with additonal outs in my favor! The psychological effect of calling a bet half your stack (i had 2000+) probably had something to do with it. Looking back, it started the downhill spiral for my game and i ended up playing with that hand in the back of my head all night, and it really affected my game and i ended up going home with a loss to make things worse.

There were so many things i did wrong in that hand. I shoud have bet on the turn when the 10 came out, since i could have represented the straight right there. I should have pushed and gotten additional fold equity on top of my 15 outs, leaving me with a good chance even if he calls. it doesnt really matter to me what the river was, my big mistake was checking the turn.

It's hands like those where you learn big lessons. It would be great to hear your opinion on this particular hand, and in my later posts i plan to have more hand analysis situations too.

Till next time..

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Quote of the Day

  • The best poker I've ever played has always entailed peace. A relaxed comfort. Eyes open, ears open, radar up. Absorbing my opponent's every message. Taking them as they come. Not mixing what those messages are with what I want them to be. It's like an aerial view. A view from above the myriad luck-dependent reactions of those many people who never gain such a peace. And when you gain that view, that peace - when you'd rather have the truth, no matter how disappointing, over a false hope, no matter how desirable - then you're a player. The hand you're on slips into a stream of thousands of other hands, no one of which, because of your lofty view, seems unduly important, no false fearful emotions rise within you. When you gain the peace of lofty perspective, you're a player, and when you're a player, you're free.- from "King of a Small World" by Rick Benett
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