Monday, May 22, 2006

Welcome to the Working Week

Managed to play six hours today, which was satisfying. I only won $36, but that’s pretty much average for $4/2. A quiet, enjoyable day at the office.

BTW, for anyone in the UK with satellite TV, the Challenge Channel are currently showing “High Stakes Poker” at 10.30pm, Mon-Fri. Basically, it’s a high-stakes ($100,000 buy-in) no limit Holdem cash game played by the poker heavyweights.

I know tournaments have a higher profile right now, but, for me, cash games are where it’s at. That’s pure poker; players putting their own cash into the pot – not chips with some notional value, six-handed at the end of a tournament where everyone’s already in the money, so it’s hardly the end of the world if a big hand goes south.

My only complaint about the program is that it’s only an hour long. I could watch that action all day long.

This Week's Figures

Time: 16hrs
Win: $192
Hourly rate: $11.95

The win is pleasing (would've been even more, but I managed to lose $75 yesterday during a rather crappy three-hour sesh) and the hourly rate is excellent for 4/2, but 16 hours is still pathetic. I've been a bit poker-shy since my four weeks in Bad Beat Hell but, really, I've got to put in at least thirty hours a week or else what's the point?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Cards aren't People

It’s shaping up to be another lazy week, but a profitable one at least. I’ve been distracted lately by music projects (well, “projects” is a bit too grand; “messing about” would be a better term) and, of course, blogging. I guess I’m still in my honeymoon period at Myspace – another week or so and it’ll just be another tepid diversion along with Spider Solitaire and old re-runs of Angel (I’m a huge Buffy fan, but I could never stick Angel – far too much moping and angst).

Lost $50 on Wednesday, but it didn’t bother me at all. It was the sort of losing session most poker players can take in their stride: I simply didn’t get any decent cards. Three hours of posting and folding, thanks, see you later.

A much harder session to take is the one where you get a run of cold cards and then lose with three or four strong hands in a row. That’s the one that gets you muttering at your screen and smoking three cigarettes at once. More importantly, that’s the one that gets you feeling the cards owe you. “You treated me bad, now treat me right – it’s only fair”.

It’s a dangerous mind-set, and it’s an easy one to fall into. Most of a human’s circumstances are determined by other human beings. Our family, friends, colleagues and enemies – they’re what we spend most of our time dealing with, talking about, thinking about. Being able to cope socially is so important to us that, I think, it spills over into other parts of our lives. It’s why children can so easily treat a stuffed piece of material as a friend, it’s why we shout at our cars when they don’t start or lash out at the tree we’ve just bumped into. We are very prone to treating things like people.

Most of the time that’s pretty harmless. But at the poker table it can cost you money. Unlike people, cards aren’t fair or unfair. They can’t be reasoned with, charmed or bullied. They have no sense of justice or malice. And they absolutely do not owe you anything at all.

They just fall as they do, and it’s up to the poker player to deal with that. And it’s a surprisingly difficult thing to deal with. Look: everyone already knows what I’m saying about the cards being random. But does that mean nobody ever gets upset at the poker table? Ha ha, just go to a game and see.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Things Are on the Up

I’ve been back at Paradise four days now and I’ve won $318 in a little under 11 hours (hourly rate: $30!). Oddly enough, this has helped allay my fear that Party was not quite straight – I’ve been hitting flops and having my good hands hold up with such regularity that it feels like the rush you often get after a spell in the poker wilderness. If my luck hadn’t been legitimately bad back then, it would be unusual for it to be so good now (especially as I’d been doing very well at Paradise before I spent a couple of weeks playing solely at Party).

More on whether online poker is legit can be found here:

Also, for a couple of reasons, I suspect I play better at Paradise. First, having played at Paradise for years, I feel comfortable there and am totally confident that the site is on the up and up. Secondly, I prefer Paradise’s interface which is much calmer and less cluttered than Party’s. At Party it’s all primary colours and alarms blipping if you don’t make a move within five seconds. And Party’s use of avatars makes the table seem crowded. It may sound odd, but I often felt a bit claustrophobic at Party.

Anyhoo, good to get a few wins under my belt – I was beginning to think I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

This Week's Figures

Time: 19hr 45min
Win: $20
Hourly rate: $1.01

The only reason I'm in profit for the week is that I played three sessions @ Paradise over the weekend and won $75, $32 and $72. You see? As soon as I return to Paradise the wins start coming consistently.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

It's a Swizz!

If you play poker online you’ll often hear people accusing the game of being fixed. A couple of bad beats is often all it takes for a player to start impugning the site’s integrity. Personally, I’ve never subscribed to this theory for one simple reason: running a popular online poker site is such a cash cow what do you have to gain by cheating?

Here are some back-of-an-envelope figures. When I was playing at Paradise this evening (won $75) there were 11,100 people playing poker. Saturday evening (UK time) is busy but not peak time, so let’s assume that number to be average. Let’s also assume that half the people were at play-money tables and therefore generating no income for the site. That leaves 5,500 people, or 550 tables.

Next, let’s assume that each table gets through 60 hands an hour (that’s about average online) and that the average rake per hand is $1. (This is tricky, because a lot of players will be in tourneys where you pay a flat entrance fee rather than a regular rake, but I don’t think an average of $1 is too wild.)

So 550x$1x60 gives an hourly income of $33,000. That’s per hour, folks. Tables run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the yearly income using my assumptions comes to (deep breath) $289,080,000. Even if my estimates are 60% too high, Paradise is still pulling in nearly a hundred million dollars a year. Party Poker, by the way, attracts far more players than Paradise. There ain’t enough “zeros” in existence to write down what they must be earning.

Why on earth would you jeopardise that by running a crooked game? (A crooked game, btw, would produce lots of “action flops” and reward players who stuck around in hands, thereby increasing the average pot and bumping up the site’s profits.) If word got out that you were rigging things your annual billion-dollar income would be up in smoke.

I suppose the obvious answer is: greed. Sure, you’re earning a hundred million a year but if you can cut a few corners to make it two or three hundred million, why not? And, after all, it’d hardly be the first time that unimaginably rich people cheated in order to earn still more.

Nonetheless, I’ve always been sceptical. The big sites all have their shuffle mechanisms audited by independent consultants, and many of them are listed on the London Stock Exchange. Plus, the US Congress is extremely uneasy about these sites and is just itching for a reason to ban Americans from playing on them – that would be an absolute disaster for online poker. As a result, sites are doing their utmost to reassure everybody that they’re on the level.

But this last month at Party Poker has made me wonder. Here are some more figures: since the start of April I’ve played 43 hours at Paradise and won $395 (an hourly rate of $9). At Party I’ve played 140 hours and lost $421 (an hourly rate of $-3).

That’s quite a shocking discrepancy, but it’s not enough to call the cops. For one thing, I’ve played over three times longer at Party, so perhaps my Paradise figures are unrepresentative (against this, I’ve played at Paradise for years and usually had good results there – these last six weeks have been my first, and probably last, experience of playing at Party). And, in any case, 183 hours of poker probably doesn’t represent a statistically significant sample.

Also, I’ll admit that the standard of play at Party seemed slightly higher than at Paradise; opponents were generally more aggressive and tricky. But they were still making plenty of mistakes – “any-ace” players, “flush monkeys”, all-purpose buffoons: the tables were crowded with ‘em. There’s no way they were good enough to stuff me consistently for $3 an hour.

So I was unlucky. Or the game was rigged. I’m still siding with the former – standard deviation in poker is much bigger than most players realise. The fact that all my bad runs happened at one site could just be coincidence. I suppose. But I’ll tell you this: I won’t be going back in a hurry.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Busted out at Party tonight. I won $20 early in the day, which got my bankroll up to $148 but in the evening lost $60 and, later that night, my last $88. Moaning about bad luck is for suckers but, really, these past four weeks at Party have been quite something. Tonight, for example, I lost with a set to a straight, a set to an over-set, a straight to a flush and trip jacks to a full house (I had KJ, he had QJ). Then (after a run of cold cards) I got QQ and was called by 56 off-suit. The guy flopped nothing but an inside straight-draw but then hit runner-runner 5,5 to win. That left me with $3.50. I put it in with a pair of sevens – not exactly a premium hand, but there wasn’t much else I could do. Fittingly, I was beaten by a guy who called with a pair of fours (ie, a 4-1 underdog) and hit his set on the flop.

To be honest, yesterday was hardly the worst of it. There was the session when I suffered ten genuine bad beats in a row and the time when I lost with AK six times out of six. And lots and lots of others. My opponents only seemed to stay in a hand if they were going to outdraw me – if the magic cards weren’t coming, they’d get out of the way. That’s not really true, of course, but it’s certainly seemed like I’ve won a few small pots and lost lots and lots of big ones.

Am I just making an excuse for my own bad play? I honestly think not. My play’s far from perfect, but most of the time I’ve been up against fools. And they’ve been kicking my teeth in for a whole month.

Well, well. Fuck Party Poker. Tomorrow it’s back to Paradise.

Reasons Not to Play Poker

  • It’s a sunny day; who wants to spend it in front of a computer screen with the curtains drawn?
  • The cricket’s on the telly and England are beating the crap out of Sri Lanka.
  • I won $20 this morning so playing now would put my “winning day” at risk.
  • The cooker needs cleaning (mind you, “poker needs playing” counts as a reason not to clean the cooker – it’s self-supporting inertia!).
  • Maybe I'm not right mentally at the moment - I feel right, but you can't be too careful.
  • I’ll get down to playing right after I’ve mucked about with my “Myspace” profile.
  • Oh, and then there’s the song I’ve been fiddling with for the last couple of days.
  • Better check my email…
  • Coffee break!
  • Futurama will be on soon.
  • And Eggheads after that.
  • Nearly teatime now.
  • My poker blog needs updating.
  • I’ll put in some serious hours tomorrow.
  • Honest.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Start the Week

I got down to work at 8.30am. A few bad beats early on annoyed me, but after that I got into the swing of things and felt calm and focused. It was pleasant: drinking tea, listening to the Phill Jupitas breakfast show, glancing up occasionally to see the rain sheet down and, of course, the synthetic flick and rattle of online cards and chips.

For some reason I like playing during the quiet of weekday mornings, though it occurs to me this might be a poor time – better to be there at weekends and late at night when the drunks and occasional gamblers are at the table. That sounds logical, but I can’t say I’ve ever found the game any softer when I have played at those times. After all, it’s always the cocktail hour somewhere in the world and although net poker is still substantially dominated by the American clock, idiots or drunks seem to turn up pretty randomly.

Anyway, good cards cost me early on, I pulled back to level, trod water for a while and then had several big aces crushed (I’ve been doing horribly with AK lately) leaving me $50 down at lunch time. I took a couple of hours off and then played form 4.30pm-6.30pm, ending up exactly where I started. So, -$50 for the day. Great start to the week...

Last Week's Figures

Time Played: 11hrs 5 mins
Won: $97
Hourly rate: $8.75

Eleven hours in a week! Still, a win's a win...