Thursday, June 04, 2015

An interesting poker hand with a big draw

One thing I enjoy as much as playing poker, if not more, is performing post-mortem analysis on my game and analysing hands away from the table. I think that it’s crucial to do this if you want to improve your game. Yesterday I played 2-5 at the Horseshoe, and here is a discussion of my most interesting hand.

The Villain, V, is to my immediate right. Super aggressive and has been caught bluffing a few times in the last couple of orbits. In the 10 minutes I’ve been at the table, his stack went from over $3k to about $950. My image is pretty tight, as I’ve been completely card dead. I recently folded to a 4 bet after I 3 bet with TT on a 783 board. I didn’t show my cards, but it was clear that I made a big laydown, and V was paying attention. Table is very active with lots of raises and 3 bets pre-flop.

I have about $950, same as V.

EP raise to $20, and 2 callers, including V. I have 89 and call.

Flop: 586

Check, check, V bets $45

I think he is leading out here with an extremely wide range. Overpair is unlikely because he would have raised pre-flop. I have top pair and a straight-flush draw, which has to be way ahead of his range. I think he might re-raise me light if I raise, which is exactly what I want. I haven’t seen him bet and fold to a raise, and he’s been involved in many pots. He’s trying to bully the table.

I raise to $125. Fold, fold, and V re-raises to $350.

Okay, I guess this is what I expected, but I need to examine his range more carefully

Overpair: I think this is unlikely, but I need to reconsider it with this raise. If he has an TT-AA, then I have 9 flush outs, 3 straight outs (not double counting 7d), two 8s and three 9s. That’s 17 outs with two cards to come. So, I’m actually way ahead, and I should shove so that I see 2 cards if he calls. If he has 99, then that kills 3 of my outs, but it’s still a shove.

Set: If he has a set, then I have 12 outs, and I have to avoid the board pairing, unless I hit the 7. I definitely need to see both the turn and the river, so I need to shove or fold, and given the money already in the pot, it’s probably a wash.

Flush draw: I know he can’t have a pair and a flush draw, since I have the 8, and the other cards on the board are diamonds. So, if he has a flush draw, let’s put him on a flush draw and 2 overcards. In that case, he has 7 flush outs and 6 overcard outs, which is 13 outs twice. So we are about even, and with dead money in the pot, I can’t fold, so I have to shove. If he has a flush draw with a low card, like, A3, then I’m in even better shape and should shove for sure.

A straight: If he has 47, then a 7 gives me a higher straight, so I have 12 outs. If he has 79, then I have 9 outs and 3 chop outs, call it 10.5 full outs. I have to figure that if I miss the turn, he is betting big, and I won’t get to see the river, so if I’m going to play, I have to assume we’re playing for stacks. My plays are to shove or fold. This is pretty borderline. If 47 and 79 are equally likely, then on average, I have around 11 outs. That’s about 40% to hit, with plenty of dead money. Important to note that this scenario (that he hit a straight) is the most unlikely one.

Two pair: I have exactly the same outs as if he has an overpair, unless he has an 8. So I should shove. If he has 86 or 85, then the remaining 8 is not an out for me, but this is unlikely all around and only discounts me by 2 outs from the overpair scenario. Shove.

Bluff: I think a bluff is not unlikely here. This is the same betting pattern where he saw me fold to a couple of minutes earlier, and he may be trying to bully me. In this case a shove will take it down, but he probably wasn’t putting more in anyway. He could also be bluffing with overcards, so shoving protects my hand, which is highly vulnerable despite all my outs.

Before I make the final decision, is it worth thinking about what range he puts me on? I don’t think so. This guy seems to be a level one player, looking only at his own cards, and I doubt he did a range analysis before raising. He thought about his play for less than a second. Regardless, I can never fold here.

So, I shoved, and he insta called, which I wasn’t thrilled to hear. The board came J Q. I said, “I missed,” and turned over my hand. He turned over 7T, and I won a huge pot.

Let's look at the hand from his perspective. He flopped an open ender and a flush draw. That's a monster flop. His analysis (had he done any - he actually played with no thought or hesitation) would have been almost the same as mine. I think the way this played out was inevitable.

Many poker players that I know will think, "I have a straight-flush draw so I'm going all the way with this hand." That might work some of the time, but I think what makes you a better player is to go through the analysis, as much as possible at the table, and then more away from the table, to really understand why you make whatever play you make. Sometimes, you might find that the play you thought was obvious is actually wrong. That happens to me all the time.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

24 Hours with My New Apple Watch

If I were to say that I spent most of yesterday sitting by the window like an over-eager child, watching for the UPS delivery truck, it would only be a slight exaggeration. When my package finally arrived containing the watch I have been awaiting for the last three years, before Apple even announced this product, I could hardly contain myself.

I ordered mine on April 10, the first day the watch was available for pre-order. After my fitting appointment where I tried on various combinations of bands and styles, I opted for the 38 mm stainless steel with the link chain. It is absolutely gorgeous, and so far, I’ve only crashed it twice - more on that later.

In preparation for my new arrival, I had studied all of the instructional videos that Apple put out and read a multitude of blog postings and tips explaining how to use this gadget. I was particularly interested in the fitness and health applications, and also excited about notifications. Unlike other apple products, the watch interface is somewhat complex, and navigation is not always intuitive. However, the advanced preparation really paid off, and after about 45 minutes of fiddling with the watch, I felt I understood how to use it.

Pairing the watch was trivial, and once it automatically downloaded all of the built-in apps from my iPhone, I set about configuring the settings. It didn’t take long to realize that the Apple Watch is a proxy for the iPhone, sort of like the way a bluetooth headset supports phone calls, but does not do much on its own with a phone. In fact, most of the applications come with a “Mirror my iPhone” option in the Settings, that keep the phone and the watch in perfect sync. Here is what the Calendar settings screen looks like on the iPhone.

As I mentioned, one of the most exciting features for me was the activity tracker and the fitness capabilities of the watch. I wondered how it handled step counting  since my iPhone also counts my steps. If I walk with the watch on my wrist and the phone in my pocket, will it double count my steps? So, I performed a simple experiment. I walked around the house with just the watch on. Then I walked around the house with just the phone. Finally, I walked the same path with both of them. In all three cases, it counted my steps accurately. So, obviously, Apple thought of this and somehow reconciles the steps measured by both devices. I wonder what would happen if I wore the watch and had an accomplice walk around with my phone, and we walked at different paces and for different lengths of time. I suppose I can save that experiment for a very slow Saturday night.

This morning, I worked out on my exercise bike with the watch on. Interestingly, I noticed that the bike was counting calories much faster than the watch. In fact, when I was all done, after 50 minutes, the bike reported more than double the number of calories that the watch was giving me credit for. The bike registered 270 calories, while the Watch said it was only 118. Based on my experience, the bike was likely much more accurate, which was disturbing considering that health and fitness was a primary attraction for the watch. However, after a bit of digging, I discovered that the watch was only displaying “Active Calories”, and not accounting for 75 “Resting Calories” that we all burn off just for being alive for 50 minutes. Added together, the watch says I used 193 calories during my workout. This is still significantly less than 270, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

Tomorrow, I plan on running 3 miles with the watch, and I will see how useful the watch is as a running aid. It’s my understanding that I need to run with my phone as well the first time, so that the Apple system (combination of watch + phone) “learns” how I run, and then in future runs, I will be able to leave the phone behind.

Now let me talk about notifications. Apple was very clever in several ways. For example, when you are using your iPhone, the watch does not display any notification. The assumption is that you already received the notification on your phone, so you do not need it on the watch. A big disappointment for me is the way Apple handles mail. I use the Gmail app to read email on my phone. While Gmail notifications appear on the watch, you can only read actual emails if you receive those message in the Apple Mail app on the phone. I am not ready to switch to the Apple Mail client on my phone (although in the process last night, I discovered that the Outlook email iPhone app from Microsoft is much better than Gmail, and I have just switched to that).

I supposed that I can live with receiving only notifications on my watch. They provide enough information (subject and a couple of small lines of text) to help me decide whether I need to pull out my phone to deal with a message. And, with the Outlook app notifications, I am able to delete or reply to messages directly from the watch. Replies are done via Siri or with a few canned replies that can be set up on the phone. I think the ability to delete unneeded emails on the watch and then not ever see them again is going to prove quite useful. I am also confident that we will soon see watch apps that support different email clients the way the built-in Mail app is now supported. (For that matter, I am drooling over the prospects of a Tesla app that will let me control my car from my watch the way I can currently control it from my iPhone.)

Perhaps the most unexpected and useful feature that I discovered has been the integration of Siri into the watch. When I was BBQing last night, I said “Hey Siri Timer”, and the timer app on the watch came up, allowing me to set a timer indicating when to turn over the chicken. Then, this morning, I was curious about the Wizards playoff basketball game last night (not interested enough in NBA games to actually watch, but curious to see how we did), and I asked the watch, via Siri, what the score was, and it immediately responded with the results.

I mentioned that I had crashed the watch twice already. So, apparently the watch does not work as well when the iPhone has no network. This morning, I attended a Bat Mitzvah ceremony in our synagogue, which is a cellular dead zone (I’ve often suspected that they jam signals there so people will pay attention and pray), and I noticed that on the watch face, the outside temperature was not displaying in its normal spot. I assume that when the iPhone can’t reach the Internet, it cannot update the temperature information. I was curious to see what other impact the lack of a network had, so I scrolled through some of the “glances”, which are different Apple Watch apps that you can access quickly, and each time I tried to look at the Maps app, the watch crashed and rebooted. So, Apple, you have a bug - the built-in maps app does not like not having a network in a synagogue. Please fix!

Watch apps are coming fast and furious, but with the limited screen real estate, only a small number of them will be useful. One that I already have used, and which I think is terrific is the app. It lets me see the status of my home alarm, and I can set it for “stay” or “away” right from the watch. Of course, it is my phone that is doing the heavy lifting, but the software stub on the watch is simple and intuitive, and does exactly what I need.

I’ve only had the Apple Watch for about 24 hours, and yet, I already feel like I would miss it if I did not have it. The watch is sleek, beautiful, feature-rich, and almost like having a companion at all times. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to use it for the next week.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Data Breach Notification

I value our relationship and respect the privacy of your information, which is why, as a precautionary measure, I am writing to let you know about a data security incident that involves your personal information. This message is being sent in compliance with Maryland Code Com. Law §§ 14-3501 relating to PHI breach notification requirements.

I’m sorry to inform you that your private data has likely been compromised by a massive data breach, including, but not limited to, all of your personal health data, financial records, genetic codes, location data, exercise routines, and eating habits. It is likely that everything ever known about you is now in the hands of ruthless hackers from the tiny nation state of Seychelles.

I am ashamed and embarrassed that this happened, and I can offer no good explanation for this other than to say that it is an experiment gone bad. Over the last 15 years, I have been secretly collecting data about you and everyone else I know in an attempt to build a massive information trove which I figured would some day have some commercial value. I hacked into your doctor’s office computers, spied on your financial manager, downloaded data from your bank, and installed video cameras everywhere you go, with live feeds that were uploaded to my massive AI cluster where advanced big data analysis tools broke down every action, categorized it, and filed it in my database.

I should have known that a data repository such as this would represent a serious hacking target, but I did not employ even the most basic protection measures because I wanted to be consistent with industry norms and not draw any attention to my experiment with over the top security such as encryption and key management.

I am prepared to make reparations. In exchange for all the valuable data you’ve ever had about yourself, I am going to offer you 90 days of credit monitoring at no charge. Also, since you are extremely likely to have your identity stolen, I am willing to offer you a cover identity that you can rent for $50/month until said identity is also stolen, at which point a newer identity will be offered for a lump sum to be negotiated later.

Once again, I apologize, and I wish you a very nice day on this April 1, 2015.


Avi Rubin

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

FAQ about my solution for enhancing security of online poker

Since I went public with an idea for helping to protect online poker, I have received a tremendous amount of feedback. In the poker community, I have had the chance to discuss my idea with notables, including some well known pros. I am grateful to Nolan Dalla, Stephen McLaughlin, Vanessa Rousso, Tony Dunst, Ali Nejad, Christian Harder, Matt Savage, Gavin Smith, Greg Merson, Tom Schneider, Matt Glantz, and many friends who have reviewed my white paper and given me feedback and excellent introductions. Sorry for the shameless name dropping, but I think that’s part of getting traction for this. As a result of introductions by Gavin and Vanessa, I will have an article published in next month's All In Magazine.

The discussions have led to some frequent questions, so I’ve compiled the most common ones here for a short FAQ about my idea:

Q. There is no way to make this user friendly. People are going to hate this, and nobody will want to do something so inconvenient.

Thanks for the question. (not really a question!)

The way I envision this is as an enhancement  to existing online poker sites. Users who want to keep things as they were can do so. Users who want more security can check the “use secondary device for hole cards” option on their configuration screen. If they select this option, then they run through a registration process to register their smarphone or tablet, after which they can receive their hole cards on a second device. At any point, users can uncheck the box in their configuration and receive their hole cards the old fashioned way.

If you find security enhancement cumbersome, you can keep it off and only turn it on when you are playing higher stakes, or perhaps when you are on a network that you trust less (e.g. at Starbucks). The user decides how to balance security and convenience.

Q. How will multi-tabling work? Most poker pros like to play many tables at once. How would you support this?

I have put a lot of work into designing a solution for multi-tabling. I think it’s challenging, but doable. Here is one of my mock up pictures that shows what an iPhone screen might look like for someone multi-tabling. The highlighted hand corresponds to the one that has focus on the user’s computer screen.


You could easily fit 12 hands on a standard iPhone screen, and as you navigate the tables on your computer, the iPhone highlights the hole cards that correspond to the table with the current focus on the screen. I am working on a detailed design document that I plan to publish in the near future that explains how all of this works.

Q. How does your solution address collusion or cheating poker sites?

My solution does not address these problems. It is nothing more than an enhancement to existing online poker that gives users an option to receive their hole cards on a secondary device, such as a smartphone or a tablet.

Q. Are remote access tools a real threat?

I have discovered, to my surprise, that this question is often debated in the poker community. There are loud voices who seem to think that if they deny the prevalence of remote access tools, that somehow the problem will disappear. One of the things that I’ve discovered in my career is that whether I’m working on electronic voting security, electronic medical records security, or any other application area, there are always stakeholders who come out of the woodwork with pseudo-science theories, making a tremendous amount of noise, with nothing but their volume to rely on for credibility. I suppose I should not have been surprised to find the same in the poker community, especially given the amount of money in this industry.

Yes, remote access tools are real, they are widespread, and they will affect online poker, banking, and every other online application. I believe a great first step towards combatting RAT tools was two-factor authentication. My solution attempts to take the technology to the next level, offering persistent hiding of information from malware on users’ computers. I think the true debate should be whether this technique is effective, usable, and efficient enough, not whether RAT tools exist. You don’t fight wars by denying the existence of your enemy - you bring your best weapons to the fight.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trip Report: Third and final day of 2014 WSOP

Yesterday was my last day in Vegas. My plan to play in the afternoon $230 deep stack was preempted by the opportunity to pitch my ideas for protecting online poker to some of the industry leaders in the online poker world. I had an amazing meeting with Nolan Dala. He was genuinely interested in my solutions, and perhaps even more so in the fact that a security academic such as myself wants to devote time and energy to this. He called up some of the movers and shakers in the business of poker, and set up a meeting for me that evening. He also wrote a very nice article that he posted to his blog. The meeting was with Steven McLoughlin of PokerTracker fame, and with Matt Kaufman of z4, who fortuitously happened to be walking by. They gave me unbelievably useful advise, and besides, it was a blast to speak to people who were so knowledgeable about the poker industry, as well as the game. In fact, Steve had played in a Poker Night in America game, and we traded some stories. (Pretty cool too, that as we were speaking, Phil Ivy walked right by us, with an entourage in tow.)

Back to the beginning now. I got up early again and was too tired after my third consecutive night with only a few hours of sleep to go to the gym, so I grabbed some fruit at Starbucks and headed to the live poker tables at the WSOP. There were several tables of cash going, and I was the only one who hadn’t been there all night, a great spot! The table at first glance seemed intimidating. There were three stacks of over 3k in chips, and clearly these guys were grinders who had felted and outlasted many other players, while feasting on their chips. There was this old Asian guy with 1,500, a young guy with the believable claim, based on his appearance, that he had been playing for 2 days straight with over 5k, sporting and a dozen or so towers of red chips that went 30 high, along with towers of green, a few black chips, and a pile of $100 bills on the side. There was “Cadillac Frank” who was from New York, and I suppose his name was Frank, and that he drove a cadillac (both facts that I later verified). To my right was an aggresive Israeli who rebought for $1,000 three times in the first twenty minutes I was there, and in seat #7 was the Australian with over $4k in chips who was cursing loudly and had probably been drinking for the last 10 hours.

A great table!

I bought in for my usual $600, and decided to play very tight for a couple of orbits to get a feel for the table. It was a raise-fest. Typical pot started with a $25 raise, and usually was followed by an $80 3-bet and 4 people to the flop. Lots of squeezing too. If I was going to enter a pot, I had to be ready to put a significant amount of my stack in pre-flop. I have to say that I felt fortunate to have already played once in a bigger game, the 25-50 TV one at Maryland Live, so that rather than feel intimidated, I decided that I’m rarely going to get as juicy a table with overly aggressive players who play too many hands, and are too tired and, in one instance drunk, to play intelligently. On the other hand, this game would have high variance, so I had to be ready to take some bad beats and not let them get to me. Get it in good, and then let the math do the rest.

I don’t have any specific hands worth describing from that session, but it was fun and wild. Around 11:30, I texted Kenny that I was over $1,000, and he texted back that I should take my winnings and relax before we met for lunch at 12:30, but it was my last day, and I wasn’t ready to quit yet. Wouldn’t you know it, I lost $400 on the next hand, and  $200 on the one after that. Fortuntely, I picked up a huge hand a bit later and won it all back and then some. When the dust settled, it was one of my better cash sessions and covered another tournament buy-in.

After lunch, I played a couple of $275 buy-in sit and goes. First place would get $2,500 and second got $120 (huh?!?). I was told by the other players that typically top 2 or 3 places agree to a proportional chop, and I said I was game for that. Most of the players also did a $100 last longer, but I declined both times. There were other last longers in the same tournament among smaller groups of players. A bunch of piles of $100 bills. These guys all love to gamble.

Nothing too exciting to report about the sit and goes. In both tournaments I built up a pretty big stack size, and in both cases I got it in good against other stacks and got sucked out on. Very frustrating. Then, I played one more cash session before the meetings with the poker business people.

It wouldn’t be a poker trip report without at least one hand description, so here is the most interesting hand I played yesterday, from that last cash session.

I’m UTG and haven’t played any hands in a while. I have $675 in my stack. My table image is tight, and I decide to mix it up, so I raise to $25 with 5 6 . Crazy guy (CG) who has me covered on my immediate left raises to $60, and the SB (stack: $450) calls. I call. If I flop well, they will never see it coming. It’s a marginal call at best, but every once in a while you have to play unpredictably. It’s one of the few times all week that I raised in early position with a hand like this. I’ve won some of my biggest pots in poker playing these types of hands, in no small part due to how infrequently I try this.

I put CG on any two cards. SB has been playing pretty well, but liked to see flops, and I put him on a range consisting mostly of two high cards, a low or medium pair, a suited ace, or a hand like TJs.

Flop (185):  6 4 2

I have top pair, a flush draw, a gutshot, and a one-card straight-flush draw. Not too shabby. I doubt either of my opponents connected much with this flop. Against an overpair, I’m actually a favorite with 17 outs twice (if I get to see two cards), and if I bet a lot, I also have fold equity. I’m hoping to play a huge pot on the flop and plan on betting big. I really want to get it all in before the turn. I have 615 left in my stack with 185 in the pot.

The SB checks. I am about to bet when the dealer tells CG that it’s his action, and CG reaches for chips and starts to bet. I exclaim that I had not acted yet, and everyone confirms that to the dealer. He apologizes and says the action is on me. Well, I now know that CG is going to bet, so I check. CG bets $125. The SB calls. Perfect!! Now there is $435 in the pot, and I shove all in.

CG goes into the tank. He’s been a crazy, active player (which is why I call him Crazy Guy), and I’ve seen him make stupid calls with draws and weak hands, and I’m actually hoping he’ll call. I think I’m ahead of anything he could possibly have. But he folds. Then SB goes into the tank. He only has $265 left. Again, I’m hoping for a call, but I’ll also happy if he folds. He calls, and to my surprise turns over 9 9. The board runs out Q , A♠, and I lose a big pot.

Did his call make sense? If I’m in his spot, I’m thinking that the short guy in the Orioles hat has the following range: a set, a higher pair, or A K . Less likely, but also possible are combo draws or two pair. I’m discounting the combo draw or two pair because it’s unlikely this tight-playing guy (me) raised UTG pre-flop with low cards and then called 60. I’m really thinking set, over-pair, or A K.

Let’s look at his pot odds calculation. The pot has 825 in it (185+125*3+265). He has to call 265 to win 825, so he is getting 3-1. Let’s break down the possibilities from his perspective based on the possible hands that I have. I will assign percentages of the likelihood that I have each hand, based on the betting that he has seen and the image he has of me:

- an overpair:  he is a 4-1 dog, so he should fold. Likelihood: 50%
- A K or A Q:  I have 15 outs, so he is about a 1.6-1 dog and should call. Likelihood: 15%
- Two pair:  He has 8 outs, and some backdoor outs, so he’s about a 3-1 dog. A wash. Likelihood: 10%
- A set: He has 2 outs, and it’s a definite fold. Likelihood: 15%
- A bluff:  Likelihood: 10%

So, 65% of the time, he should fold, 25% of the time he should call, and 10% of the time, it doesn’t matter. So overall, that is clearly a fold.

But he called, and I lost.

Sad, but happily I won it all back a while later. What’s interesting about the hand is the flop decision and the dealer’s mistake. CG said he folded JJ. That’s believable. SB said that if I had bet, then CG would have raised (I am certain of that), and then he would have folded his nines. I definitely believe that. So, in fact, the dealer cost me the pot with his mistake because I would have shoved over CG’s raise, and he would have folded, most likely. So strange how hands can play out differently based on subtle changes to the action.

I ended the week up about even with almost $2,785 in tournament buy-ins (no cashes), and slightly more in cash game winnings. Basically a wash, except that I had a ton of fun, so I feel I came out ahead. Here are some notable facts about my trip:

  • In three full days of poker, I was never dealt AA. I think I had just about every other pair, and for some reason was dealt TT a lot. But no aces. On the plus side, I never had my aces cracked.
  • I was a 27 magnet. Felt like every other hand. Especially in the tournaments.
  • I got dealt KK three times in the first bracelet tournament that I played. All three times an A flopped, and I ended up losing the hand.
  • I never left the Rio. Saturday-Wednesday in Vegas, and I never went anywhere. It was around 109 degrees outside. No big loss. My favorite poker room is at the Aria, but not when the WSOP is in town.
  • All of the 2-5 cash tables where I played were action tables. I don’t recall more than a handful of limped pots, and almost no blind chops because every pot was raised.
  • If one more person flops a set of 3s against me, I think I will go crazy. It happened to me in two of the three tournaments, knocking me out both times, and once in the cash game, costing me a big pot.
  • There is no place like the WSOP. Unbelievable!!!!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trip Report: Second day of WSOP

Another incredible day at the WSOP is in the books. I played a bracelet event, the 1k turbo and a WSOP non-bracelet daily event with a $230 buy-in and a $270k prize pool. The tournament featured around 2,000 and 1,300 players respectively, which is kind of hard to wrap my brain around. Consider that most of these players, especially in the bracelet event, are anywhere from decent to great, getting through a field like this requires a great amount of talent, and an equal amount of luck.

It’s an ongoing debate in my house as to the amount of luck vs. skill in poker. First, I think you have to break it down into tournaments vs. cash games. In the latter, skill clearly dominates as the stacks are always deeper, and there is no difference between the early stages and the late stages of a cash game, except for one’s level of exhaustion.

However, on this trip, I’m starting to gain a deeper appreciation for the level of skill involved in tournaments. I spent some time observing final tables of the earlier bracelet events. It’s so cool here that you can walk around to the various rooms in the convention center and see the final tables. The tables are in a studio-like set with TVs and lights and seats where the public can just walk in and watch. It can’t be a coincidence that the big-name players seem to always rise to the top in these big bracelet events. I watched Phil Gelfand playing a final table, I saw Phil Helmuth in the final two tables of the 6 max (He came in 8th, which is technically not making the final table in that event), and many other recognizable players.

I think that while there is more luck involved in tournaments, especially to an observer, who watches race after race as the stacks get deep, there is clearly a science to tournaments that is unique to that format. Understanding inflection points, the need to steal, and short stack theory completely changes the fundamentals of hand reading, and those who win these big tourneys have a keen knack for how to read people based on their situation in the tournament. This is a dynamic that does not exist in cash games, and in fact, one could argue that tournament players need all of the skills of cash players, and many more additional abilities based on factors that do not exist in live games. I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the skill required in tournaments on this trip.

Perhaps the most striking thing to me is the difference in skill level when I moved from the bracelet event with a $1k buy-in to the $230 event. At the first event, I had 2 known pros at my table (Cousin Kenny knew them and had played with them at PARX), and a few other players who appeared to be regular grinders. Not a single donkey (which I guess means I was the one) to be found. I was eliminated in level 4, and I moved on to the $230 event. At that table, it was a complete donkey-fest. I seriously think I was the only one at the table who had ever read a poker book or who had any clue how to play. We had limped pots, a couple of guys who called every bet but never raised, and my favorite, one guy who always said, “well I’m sure you got me, but I’m curious,” as he called with third pair or worse and lost every time.

Anyone who wants to argue that tournament poker is all luck and little skill needs to come play in these two tournaments back to back. Sure, if all of the players have equal skill, then luck will determine the winner, but I think that if you mix up the top pros with the average players, the results will be like if the Ravens played a local high school football team.

Here is a picture of me in the bracelet event.

And here is Kenny playing in the $230 event. He went pretty deep, until about 9:30 pm, and had a serious run at cashing. If he had won his last all in hand, he would have been one of the chip leaders.

One of my goals coming to the WSOP this year was to promote an idea I had for how to make online poker more secure. Before coming out here, I filed a patent on the idea and wrote a white paper to distribute to the poker community.

When I played on Poker Night in America I got to meet some of the famous named players, and I got in touch with some of them before coming out here. At the WSOP, all of the famous players walk around and mix with everyone else. Every single one I have come across has been friendly, approachable and eager to help. I met with Tom Schneider, a former WPT player of the year and multiple bracelet winner. He seemed to like my idea, and said he would pass it along to some editors of a poker magazine. I also had meetings and chats about my solution with Gavin Smith and Greg Merson, both of whom said they would help connect me to people who can help publicize it and perhaps make it happen. Today, I’m meeting with Nolan Dalla, the media director of the WSOP, and the producer of Poker Night. I’ve also exchanged emails with Vanessa Rouseu, Matt Glantz, and Matt Savage, all of whom said they would forward my article to people who write about poker.

Star gazing at the WSOP is fun if you’re a big poker fan. So far, besides the people I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen Dan Harrington, Jason Somerville, whom I chatted with briefly, Barry Greenstein, Tony Dunst, Annette Obrestad, Maria Ho, Vanessa Selbst, Allen Cunningham, and lots of other players whose faces I recognized from TV and Bluff Magazine, but whose names I do not know.

As to interesting hands, I had a few, but unfortunately, all of them are bad beats, and I don’t have the stomach to re-live them. Interestingly, I got knocked out of both tournaments by opponents who flopped a set of 3s. In the bracelet event, I had flopped top two pair, and in the tournament I flopped top pair with KJ. In both cases, I think I was coolered.

I’m going to close out this blog with one detailed hand description from the cash game after the tournaments. I played cash for about 4 hours in the evening and made up for a good chunk of my tournament buy-ins, as my cash results have been very good on this trip. I chose this hand because I think it does a great job of illustrating the difference between playing against a weak amateur and playing against a pro. This hand would have played completely differently against someone whose skill I respected. It also shows the power of position.

It’s a 2-5 table, and I’m on the button with $855. UTG limps. UTG+2, the Villain in this hand, who has me covered, limps. He’s been playing loose, and I observed that he has a tendency to call in marginal situations on the river. I look down at A K and raise to 35. Only V calls. With 82 in the pot and 820 in my stack, I have an SPR of 10, which is horrible for AK. If I hit TPTK and all the money goes in, I will probably be behind. I realized that I should have bet more. With deep stacks, AK is a tricky hand. You need to flop more than one pair to want to play a big pot.

Flop (82):  A A Q

Can’t ask for much better than that. Only one had beats me (because he would have raised with QQ or AA), and given that I have an A, the chances that he has AQ are slim. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure he would have raised the original limper with AQ. V checks. I consider putting in a bet because I figure that he knows I would continuation bet on this flop if I missed it, and if he has a hand like 77 or 88, he will probably call. On the other hand, there are a lot of hands that I put in his range, like suited connectors and KJ type hands where he will just fold. Since I have position, I decide to check and see if I can induce a bluff on the turn, or perhaps he will hit a card and catch up a little. I check.

Turn (82):  J

I don’t love this card, as there are now three new hands that beat me, AJ and JJ (unlikely since he originally limped), and KT. However, most of the time, I have to be good here, and if I’m behind, I have outs. V bets $40. Now I have to decided whether to call or raise. I figure if he has a Q, a J or a weak ace, he might call a raise, but he would then probably check the river and might not call another bet on the river. There might be a few hands where he would call a bet with a hand worse than mine, but given the leverage of a river bet that is still to come, he’ll also fold a lot of hands that might call a bet on the river. So, I call.

River (162): 6

I don’t think he has a 6 in his hand, so the river shouldn’t change anything. V bets $50. My first thought is that this is a very small bet. Could it be a value bet? Does he think he is good? Or is it a cheap attempt to steal the pot with nothing? So, what does he think I have? I was the pre-flop raiser, and I checked the flop, both of which are consistent with having a decent A. He has to consider that I might have an A. So, if he is value betting, he can beat an A.

Do I raise or call?

Here is where it gets interesting. If he is a good player, then he would only value bet if he can beat an A. With a Q and a J on the board, if he has a kicker below a J, his kicker won’t play, so he loses to AK, AQ, and AJ no matter what if he has a naked A, and he chops with any other A that I might have. So, for a good player, a value bet has to mean that he either has KT for a straight or a boat. But, then I considered that maybe he’s a bad player. I had seen enough evidence of that. A bad player with a hand like A7 won’t ask himself what I have, he might just think. “I have an A. There are 2 aces on the board. I better bet.”

Now, do I raise? If I am up against a good player, there is no value to my raise because I’ve already determined that all of his value bets beat me. And, if I raise and he was bluffing he’ll fold. Furthermore, a tricky player could re-raise bluff me all in, and I’d have to fold the best hand. So, against a good player, there is absolutely no value in raising, and there is a risk that I could even be bluffed off my hand.

But if he is a bad player, which I suspect he is, then he could call a raise with a weak A, for the simple reason that he has an A and there are two aces on the board, and that could be the limit of his thinking.

So, I went over several of the previous hands that he played in the session. Several times he said that he had raised “to see where I’m at”, and also, he had made really silly river calls “to look you up”. He was an older guy who did not seem to be a thinking player. I went with my read and decided that he’s not the kind of player who is going to bluff me all in, so I don’t need to worry about that. If he shoves over my raise, I can easily fold knowing I am beaten. And, if he has an A, he might just call my raise. I raise to 150. He mutters under his breath. Takes some time to think, and then calls, showing A 8 and declaring “you know, I just can’t fold an A here.”

Chalk one more up for the good guys!