My Poker Beginnings, Part III: The Rounder Years

February 16th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Grundy

In Parts I and II of my poker history, you may think I just like to brag. I don’t, but it is necessary to give you an accurate account. I very rarely loss up to this point. But rest assured, I can’t be quite as high and mighty from here on out.

While I was winning in my out-of-town game, I started finding new places to play. Coincidentally, they were all on the city limits of Athens. It became known to my friends that if I didn’t answer the phone, I was out at a game. Not because I didn’t want to interrupt play as much as I never had reception.

I played at one house that had a decommissioned fraternity feel. The field was all college students or the recently graduated. I only knew a handful of the 30 to 40 usually in attendance, in addition to guy I traveled with. I still felt I was better than the majority, but there a few that, in retrospect, could out-play me. My difficulty winning here was also due to the wide range of styles played. There were some maniacs, some conservatives, and some solid and very aggressive players.

They played a five or more table tournament once a week. I usually went out near the bubble. I only remember placing in the money on one occasion, which is why my friend had a more profitable experience by going out early in the tournament before cleaning up at the subsequent ring games. There was nearly always more cash circling the ring tables than in the tournament pool itself.

At the Tables

It was an exciting time when we knew every game it a poker-addicted town. We would get knocked out of one game at 10:30 to jet across town to win another by two in the morning. Poker was at its highest popularity then, everyone played whether they knew how to or not.
The original crew I played with were never out of the picture. They would join me from time to time when they could afford a buy-in. Once the games I attended started to die-down in attendance, or shift to a crowd I wasn’t fond of, I decided to bring it back to basics. I started a home game.

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My Poker Beginnings, Part II: Out-of-Towners

February 14th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Grundy

Going to college in Athens, GA I found more bar games than in most cities. The place I frequented the most started out with prizes for first and second that may have been unrealistic for what they were taking in. The incentive for a bar is to get people in to buy food and drink…mostly drink. The players were buying, but the cheap prices of a college town plus the TVs and DVD player prizes equaled an unprofitable business. Most free games around town fizzled out.

I wasn’t in it for the free games, but they were good places to network with other players. Most of the cash games I found in town were through this network—everyone seemed to “know a guy.”

One of these guys agreed to meet with my friend and I at a local pub to approve us for his weekly game. It seemed a little cloak and dagger, but I suppose he was paranoid could be cops. After a few drinks with him, we were cleared.

The game was out of town and not with our usual opponents—meaning not college students. The one who met with us at the bar was regarded by all the others as the preimere poker player. Apparently, before we started attending, the same guy won all the time. Granted he was good, his style tight and aggressive with a minimum of bluffing and prided himself on his ability to read tells. I could tell all that after the first hour playing with him, which is probably why I usually beat him.

I didn’t win that first night. I was down $30 and my buddy about matched. We did leave knowing how we lost and confident that it would last. My major loss that night was a hand were I paired against someone who was betting against me the whole way with a straight draw. After the turn, I decided to raise his bet about three-quarters of the pot. He called and caught on the river. I lost, but my read was correct.


Long story short, we kept returning every week and barely ever left down again. It became the most profitable weekly ring game I was ever a part of and he was no longer the premiere poker player. I was able to invite one other friend to play in a tournament hosted there. After my two friends and I took first, second, and third; we weren’t invited back.


My Poker Beginnings, Part I: Dorm Days

February 11th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Grundy

Mr. PokerIn an effort to qualify me as a somewhat knowledgeable host, I give you Part I of my three-part poker autobiography.

Growing up I played more than my share of cards. I played Gin, Rummy, Gin Rummy and the like, but it wasn’t until I started drinking gin and rummy that I got into poker.

In college at the University of Georgia, my friends and I put together a poker night that evolved into a poker week. We would play cards almost every weeknight with a rotating cast of opponents from the dorm at which we played. It was easy to join into a game when you lived at the casino. The core members of our poker club were few, however, three guys and myself. As we practiced our skills improved to the point that the rest of the cast of gamblers didn’t stand much of a chance. Our profits were still small, in that our stakes were the very definition of micro. It was also one of the best times I’ve had with poker, playing crazy dealer’s-choice games mixed in with serious hold’em, omaha, stud and draw tournaments. A dollar buy-in became five, then the fish quit biting. My friends and I moved to a bigger pond.

The dorm days rarely left me without at least double my buy-in, and still my total bankroll was under $100. That is as much a testament to my skill as it is proof of the extremely low pots we were after. We migrated to the dorm across the quad and started playing $10 and $20 buy-in ring games. Occasionally, we organized into multi-table tournaments. I won two out of the three and scored my biggest payouts of the day.

The bankroll of my closest poker peer rose with mine and we had to move off campus for the bigger challenges and pots. That’s what I like to call the “Rounders Years.”

Dorm Days

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Casino Play

December 18th, 2012 / No Comments » / by Grundy

If you walk into a casino and start playing blackjack note that your opponent is the Casino Organization. Unlike poker, there’s no need to worry about how other players are playing, they will not affect your play. Your only concerns are the cards, dice, board, or screen in front of you. You live and die by the house.

Casinos offer a variety that poker cannot offer. There are only so many ways to reveal community cards, after all. Here we have everything from card games like blackjack to dice games like craps to little spinning ball games like roulette–each with their own odds and betting structures. A well-played game of 21 allows you close odds at doubling your money; a single number wager at roulette offers a much higher return at a much higher risk.

Your first trip to a casino can be a thrilling experience, but it is also intimidating. My advice to you is to look up buy-in costs beforehand, build up a bankroll that you can afford to lose and is sufficient enough to be at least an average stack at the table. Walk in with nothing to prove and play smart. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the games at OnlineCasinos,
which provide all the gambling fun without that pesky human interaction. Actually the online experience can be exactly like the brick and mortar casino experience with games like video poker and slots. If that’s your thing, you might be better off gambling the gas money you would have spent in travel.

You have to spend money to make money, but you also have to spend money to have fun. Hopefully you’ll achieve both of these goals, but if not, priority number one is entertainment. You’re bound to find a game to like. Let them know Grundy sent you…and watch as their eyes glaze over in confusion.

Hell’s Cold 5th Anniversary

November 22nd, 2012 / 1 Comment » / by Grundy

It was four years ago that I began my textual journey into the underbelly of the game we call poker. Thank you all for reading and joining the conversation. I have met a lot of funny, talented and insightful poker people along the way. You know who you are.

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Play money is no way to learn.

October 11th, 2012 / 2 Comments » / by Grundy

I know free poker sounds like a good idea, but it’s not.

Let’s say you know how to play cards, but you want to improve your game before you put any of your hard earned cash to risk on online poker sites. It’s a great idea, in theory, but playing without spending will certainly make your game worse. The yahoos in play money rooms will see every bet and raise randomly with any cards if they haven’t already gone all-in preflop. Bluffing is impossible, so improving is impossible. Not everyone at the table may go in with the intensions of making a mockery of poker, but everyone will start eventually just to keep up…including, probably, you.

Let’s say you never heard of texas hold’em before and want to learn the rules. Playing for free can’t hurt then, right? Wrong! You want to learn how to play, ask a friend to teach you. With absolutely no incentive to win you are not learning poker, you are picking up bad habits. These will stick with you for a long time. Learning right first is learning right best.

Let’s say you are a hold’em expert and you want to pick up omaha. You know how free poker works and are confident you can avoid the insanity. That may well be, but I still wouldn’t risk play money games. Switching back and forth from from cash poker and free poker is very confusing. You might forget who you are playing with.

If you want to learn how to play poker: make the investment. It doesn’t take much. .05/.10 cent blinds is how I started out. I was with college students who had to make five bucks last the whole week, so they valued their coins. You just have to find the sweet spot to keep out most maniacs. If you prefer tournament play, I recommend $10 buy-ins with no rebuys for solid learning. $5 is okay, but you get plenty online that don’t take five dollars seriously.

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Poker Friendly Macs

September 5th, 2012 / 3 Comments » / by Grundy

There was a time when if you wanted to play a computer game, you had to run Microsoft. This was true for all the gaming acronyms, everything from RPGs, to FPSs. It was even true for something as simple as Minesweeper. Macintosh ran Oregon Trail. That was about the extent of its gaming library. Thankfully, Steve Jobs was one who would follow the money, and there is a lot of money in gaming.

Gaming on Macs has become just a full-featured experience as on a PC. This is relevant to us as poker players because in the most basic sense, we are gamers. We are the most invested gamers—high-stakes gamers. I am only willing to play on a system that I can count on. When screens freeze and connections break it costs me my pride, sanity, and good old-fashioned money. On-line, I can only bluff as well as the software allows. Apple raised its game, so now I raise on a Mac.

Searching “poker” in the Mac App Store returns 55 results. Some apps are graphically rich card playing simulations, some are learning tools, some are odds calculators, and some are unique concepts I don’t quite know how to classify—and the App Store is just the tip of the iceberg. Apple’s public persona shies away from apps that are seen by some as vices, so gambling games are out. Luckily, there are plenty of big name sites that offer Mac software for real money play. I recommend taking them out for a trial run with “play money” before committing to a deposit, but I have yet to have trouble on my Mac.

Macs are no longer the minority machines in the gaming world. Even Apple’s touch interface, iOS, is seeing more innovation than the average PC today. Speaking of iOS, poker a growing scene on the iPad and iPhone. Getting into the Apple ecosystem by playing on a Mac seems like a no brainer. Oh, “and one more thing” the ability to share your screen to an Apple TV via AirPlay lets you play cards on television. You’ll feel like Daniel Negreanu. Only on the couch. Probably without pants.

Fellowship of the Chip

August 31st, 2012 / 1 Comment » / by Grundy

Women have this foreign ability to chat with their girlfriends (usually over the phone) and stay updated on weekly happenings. I can’t relate. Guys need to have a reason to be brought together. This is why I think playing a weekly poker game with friends is the best social outlet in the world. For men, it becomes the needed reason. For women, it provides a chance to interact with their brutish counterparts in a very real and open way. It is a fine balance of camaraderie and competition. Unfortunately, it isn’t great for improving your game.

The problem is that playing with the same friends becomes a rut. You know how to best play them, but forget how to best play in general. You stop improvising…you stop thinking. Bets and folds become reflex.

Breaking up the amigos is not a favorable option, but you can breath new life into the game by inviting an outsider. Have some players invite a friend outside the collective fellowship to play. Fresh blood is exciting and adds to your network of potential new friends. Oh, and fresh blood means fresh money. You were probably getting tired of passing around the same c-note anyhow.

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Extended Tilt Breaks Your Game. Fix It.

August 25th, 2012 / 2 Comments » / by Grundy

On question/answer site Quora, the question “What is the best way to overcome extended tilt?” was posed. Good question. Here are the answers: (mine’s at the bottom)

Kevin Ko says:

The short answer is you just need to develop the discipline to move on from the emotional residue of a previous hand. You can’t change past events, the best you can do is learn from them and move on. Most people still suffer from feeling tilty during the same session but it’s rare for this to carry on throughout a wider period of time. This may be the sign of weak emotional control.

A more thorough, long answer involves a deep understanding of what tilt really is, the dangers of tilt, and having the sensibility to understand how it affects your career if you’re a long-term playing professional.

Subtle Tilt – Being even mildly distracted from playing your absolute A game. These factors can be external or internal. E.g. You’re bored and want to start playing looser than your typical range, a player at your table starts talking trash and makes you want to “target” him in particular, or recent losses have made your upset and you don’t think clearly throughout your subsequent hands.

Monkey Tilt – Full-blown monkey tilt is that sort of tilt where you simply blow up and start open-shoving hands, playing without any modicum of thought or logic, and are just intent on burning money in a hopeless attempt at making some money back. In traditional media, this is depicted as the guy who keeps chasing losses and ends up losing his house.

In most cases, subtle tilt is the precursor to monkey tilt, although for the most emotionally undisciplined, entering monkey tilt phase can happen instantly. The key then is to limit subtle tilt, which in itself is still dangerous. What’s nice though is that if you limit your subtle tilting, you won’t tilt that much overall and throughout your sessions. Performing at your A-game at all times is a subject for a different time, but it involves extreme focus, emotional stability (and maintaining it), and the clear headed-ness to reason that tilting from a hand is both irrational because your tilt won’t change the result of the hand, and detrimental because all it means is that for the next x amount of hands, you will be in a phase of subtle tilt or monkey tilt.

The reason why subtle tilt is dangerous is because while the effects and detrimental results are negligible at first, they add up over the course of “the long run”. Due to subtle tilt, you played hands awkwardly, your bet sizing was less than optimal, you played “fun” hands, you tried to chase a quick win before the end of your session, you didn’t quit in time, etc. you end up losing quite a bit in these marginal losses, but consider that most online professionals play hundreds of thousands to even millions of hands per year.

Without going into specific dollar amounts, in one of my nascent years as a professional player, I estimated my losses from subtle tilt, mostly due to not quitting early enough (as part of a stop-loss I used to mitigate tilt effects), to be about 20% of the amount I actually won that year. With poker being so hard already at higher levels, a 20% edge by simply making positive emotional and mental adjustments internally is an absolute gold mine.

Nelson Denoon weights in:

The root cause of any sort of tilting at the poker table is an inability to embrace the moment as it is, that is, regretting what may have happened a minute or more ago or worrying about what is going to happen an minute or more from now.

To overcome tilt, one must cultivate the ability to fully accept what is. To not do so is counterproductive since, no matter how much emotional discharge you apply to this moment, this moment still is.

So if you lose a huge pot that you really wanted to win and you lose it because some guy you dislike caught a one outer on the river, it will hurt. If you embrace the pain and the fact that he is raking in what you wish were your chips and that you are at that moment irreversibly (since the suchness of the moment is indisputable), then your tendency to latch on to regret or ride the wave of worry will subside. Moreover, even if it is understandable and logical, your self-hatred will not get the best of you.

Moreover, although this may be sinister, an effective way to induce tilt behavior in an opponent is to underscore, through words or gestures, that opponent’s past hands, thereby often triggering regret and worry about the future in him, that is, inducing tilt in your opponent.

I think:

Timon and Pumbaa said it best: hakuna matata.

I don’t think this is something you can ever fix completely, some people are just more prone to tilt than others. However, here are two quick tips.

1. Live and play in the present. Take the raw information of the past with you, but only if you can let the emotions of the past go. If a guy made a statistically bad move chasing to the river, count on him doing it again and you’ll profit off him more often then he will profit off you. Don’t dwell on each invidiual loss, think about the big picture.

2. Don’t take things personal. A bad beat isn’t a personal attack.

3. Keep in mind that sometimes you are the one who gets lucky too. We tend to remember the times we are screwed over and forget the times we were touched by the poker gods.

4. After a long run of bad beats, EVERYONE goes on tilt to some degree. Just quit playing for a while in this case. Start fresh a day, week, or month later–whatever works for you.

Anyone else use Quora? This is how I roll. Comment below and I’ll check out your answers.

It’s All Odds

August 17th, 2012 / 1 Comment » / by Grundy

I came across this article about how we should think about all things in terms of odds, not just gambling. The premise is that very few things in life are certain, so we should consider our probability in being correct rather than assuming absolute knowledge or ignorance. The writer make a great case why we should think of these probabiliies as odds rather than the traditional percentages.

Here is a great refresher on odds from the article:

Let’s have a quick refresher on what “odds” are. We all know what a probability is (or at least, we’re familiar with the term!). Odds can be seen as ratios of probabilities. Just as we use P(A) for the “probability of A,” we may talk about O(A), the “odds of A” (where A is some apparently sensible proposition).
In terms of probabilities, O(A) = P(A)/P(~A). So for example, if there is a 66% probability of rain tomorrow, then O(rain) = 0.66/(1-0.66), or more easily 66:33, which finally reduces to 2:1 (usually read “two to one in favour”). The “:” is basically just a division sign, so O(rain) can be stated as “2 to 1” or as simply “2.” Although odds can be expressed as ratios of probabilities, they are best understood on their own terms altogether. In this case, “odds of 2 to 1 in favour of rain tomorrow” means something like “days like this are followed by twice as many rainy days as non-rainy days, to the best of my knowledge.”
Odds are even more familiar from the racetrack, where a bookie might give “10 to 1 on Longshot, to win.” What this means is that if the bookie is selling stakes for $5 each, then a single $5 stake will get you (10+1)*$5 = $55 if you win (i.e., a gain of $50 plus your $5 stake back), while a loss will simply lose you your $5 stake. (Of course, in order to make money, the bookie must think that the realodds on Longshot are even longer than 10 to 1.)
Obviously, this all applies to cards, but also life in general. Check out Rationally Speaking for more.