Deja Vu With Neteller?

(Unfortunate thanks to Falstaff for bringing this issue to my attention first over at his blog.)

Neteller, we have a problem. And I'm not talking about the "I saw an ant on the kitchen floor" kind of problem, but rather more like the "I just saw every wall in the house fall in from termite destruction" kind of problem. Well, maybe it's not quite that serious. Yet. But it's damn close. And getting closer.

After reading all of Iggy's recent posts rehashing the whole Pokerspot debacle (fabulous reads btw, especially in light of what Neteller is now telling us), I cannot help but feel a strong (too strong) sense of deja vu as I read over the latest and greatest news from Neteller regarding how U.S. online gamblers can all get their deposits out of their now-useless Neteller accounts. Is it me, or do the following statements -- taken directly from Neteller's newly-updated homepage statement for U.S. poker players -- sound an awful lot like the statements made by one Russ "Dutch" Boyd a few years ago as the Pokerspot shizz was about to really hit the proverbial fan? Here is what Neteller has to say as of this weekend:

"How can I withdraw funds from my NETELLER account?

At this time, our ability to provide US members with withdrawals is significantly reduced. As a top priority, we are working to resolve all withdrawal issues, but in the meantime we continue to maintain these funds in trust on your behalf. Please check this page regularly for more updates.

Why can't I use my Gold NETELLER Card anymore?

The Gold NETELLER Card is not available as a withdrawal option at this time.

We are doing our best to restore our withdrawal options but don't know how long this will take. In the meantime your funds are safely maintained in trust accounts. We will communicate any updates as soon as possible.

Why can't I get a Gold NETELLER Card anymore?

We are temporarily not issuing Gold NETELLER Cards. The Gold NETELLER Card is not available as a withdrawal option at this time."

Both of these ideas are very troubling to me. Obviously, the inability to get any of our funds -- our funds -- out of Neteller in any way is angering to say the least. What's more, after a useless attempt at emailing Neteller support last week, and eventually having to call Neteller cusotmer service because of the ineptitude of the email I received, I was told by a nice English-speaking woman in Canada a few days ago that the Neteller card was the best and most reliable way for me to withdraw my funds as quickly as possible. Uh huh. Now, not three days later, no more Neteller cards are being issued (presumably including mine), and it wouldn't matter anyways because withdrawals are no longer being permitted via the Neteller card.

Where does this leave us? Nowhere. With nothing. And the worst part is, I swear if you change the name at the bottom of these announcements from "Neteller Support" to "Russ Boyd", I wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between the two sets of communications. Would you?

Reminder -- WPBT Tournament Series Re-Starts Sunday Jan. 28

This is just a quick reminder today for this weekend to all you poker blogger types out there. That's right -- the World Poker Bloggers Tour returns for its spectacular kickoff tournament to the 2007 WPBT season, coming this Sunday night at 9pm ET on full tilt. Come join everyone who's anyone in the poker blogging community as the group's best and the brightest come out to play and mix things up in what is, in this blogger's view anyways, without a doubt the best concentration of poker blogging skill and mettle anywhere on the Internets.

The WPBT, conceived of by Byron and now this year managed as well by Columbo, is a series of poker tournaments, limited only to poker bloggers or at least players with some actual semblance of an actual blog. The series first ran in 2006, and Byron has conceived of a brilliant scoring script (B recently explained to me what a script actually is, so now I get to use that word and put it in italics too!) that enables them to award Player of the Year (POY) points to the top half of finishers in each event, and to keep a running tally throughout the year of all the players' performances. The semiannual live WPBT poker tournaments held in Las Vegas each summer and winter also count towards the WPBT POY scoring, and generally the live tourneys have the heaviest weight as well due to the higher live-casino buyins, so this only adds to the excitement already generated by this fun and hotly-contest series of poker tournaments among our little group. And the end result is the WPBT Player of the Year leaderboard, which will be hosted and updated regularly on either Byron's and/or Columbo's blog, where anyone can view the list of the top points-winners thus far in the year's WPBT tournaments. Personally, I found this to be one of the most fun aspects of playing poker with the bloggers during 2006. But then, that might have had something to do with the fact that I ended the year in 4th place in POY overall points among the 150+ bloggers who showed up to play in one or more of these tournaments last year.

In any event, this coming Sunday night at 9pm ET marks the first new tournament of the 2007 WPBT season, so all of you bloggers out there will want to make sure you get in early so as not to fall behind in the POY race for the year. Especially you guys who did poorly early in 2006, and a great number of you who started blogging later during 2006 and thus did not have the chance to gain enough POY points to make the top of the list, this is your time to get in there and make an early splash. This Sunday's event will be no-limit holdem, and bears a $26 (tier 1 token) buyin on full tilt, so not only are there the first round of WPBT POY points at stake, but also a nice amount of cash to play for as well. So be sure to come on out and join the crowd this weekend, and support your fellow bloggers as well as make your mark and show your skills for all to see for 2007. I am already registered, so I am definitely looking forward to seeing you all there. Best of luck though, as I always seem to get it up for these WPBT tournaments, so you'll want to watch out for me if I pop onto your table at some point along the way.

Have a great weekend everyone, and I'll see you on Sunday for the WPBT on full tilt. Also, go stop by Miami Don's blog today for a nice post detailing the odds-on favorites to take down the 2007 WPBT POY race. Don can always be counted on for the Vegas odds spin on things, and the WPBT is no exception.

Mondays at the Hoy -- Results and 2007 Leaderboard

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!Mondays at the Hoy went off again last night at 10pm ET, at its regular home on pokerstars, and I showed up ready to play and to defend my current top spot on the 2007 money leader board for the MATH tournament. We got our usual 20 runners for this, the first of the weekly blogger tournaments every week, although the list of players last nght did include some new Hoy virgins in addition to many of the old standbys.

I started the Hoy off poorly, calling a preflop raise from steal position from Astin with a mediocre QTo myself, knowing Astin's tendency to bluff with nothing in these blogger tournaments (sorry to spoil your secret, Astin!). When Astin checkraised me on the turn on a board that missed my hand entirely, I had to fold, despite figuring that Astin had nothing, because I couldn't beat any pair, Ace-high or even King-high on this board. Luckily, I soon regained my chips and then some as I was able to make pocket Queens hold up (can you believe it?!) when my flop check induced an allin push from NewinNov with just A4o on a flop of 249 rainbow. This built my stack back over 2400 chips (starting stacks in the MATH are 1500), and on the very next hand I looked down to find pocket Aces.

Pocket Aces. How much do you love taking down a big pot in a no-limit holdem tournament, and then finding pocket Aces on the very next hand, when many of the players are apt to put you on an aggressive Doyle-esque attempt to raise with nothing just to try to make a rush for yourself? It's a rare opportunity, and while I pondered how best to milk as many chips as possible out of my tablemates, Fuel55 limped for the 50-chip big blind from UTG+1, and then relatively new poker blogger Julius Goat followed that up from UTG+2 with a 4x raise to 200. It's like McDonald's says: I'm Lovin' It!

No sooner had I raised this bet to 500 chips preflop with my pocket Aces from middle position, that Mattazuma quickly made it 1200 chips to go from right behind me in the cutoff. Yes! Could I have planned this one any better? Fuel and the Goat (wisely) folded their hands, and of course I moved in for my last 1680 chips. Mattazuma insta-called, and flipped up pocket Jacks. Probably a questionable play on his part, but as he explains on his blog this morning, he in fact thought that I was just making an over-aggro move on the hand following my pocket Queens and the big pot I was able to win with them. And he certainly did the right thing and re-reraised it up big with those Jacks, knocking out Fuel and the Goat, in support of what was basically a necessity to get the pot heads-up were he to have any realistic chance of winning such a high-action preflop pot with pocket Jacks. And he especially did the right thing when the board came Ten - Six - Eight - Five...

Jack on the river. IGH in 16th place out of 20 players. For the second time in the Mondays at the Hoy tournament, Mattazuma knocked me out of a hand from behind after making what I consider to be not such a great play preflop. That said, for the second time, Matt also managed to make great use of my chips, playing much smarter and more selectively aggressive poker from there on out, ending up busting on the bubble in 4th place for another strong showing for the guy who claims he is just donking off the rest of his money online in blogger tournaments due to the latest news from Neteller last week. So my night at the Hoy ended early, but I did stick around to watch most of the rest of the tournament, which was one of the better ones we've had recently on pokerstars.

In the end, after without a doubt the longest bubble period with 4 players left in any Hoy in several months, it was jeciimd ending in 3rd place for an $80 payout, and last week's winner VinNay finishing in 2nd for $120, bringing his 2-week Hoy money total to over $300. And winning the event was Fuel 55, using pocket Kings to call VinNay's pocket 5s preflop in the final hand to ice his first-ever Hoy title, and Fuel's second blogger tournament win in about a week's time. Congratulations to all three of our Hoy cashers this week, and following is the updated 2007 Chase for the Hoy leaderboard, including last night's results:

1. VinNay $310
2. Hoyazo $200
3. Fuel55 $200
4. Zeem $120
5. Ganton516 $114
6. PhinCity $80
7. jeciimd $80
8. Manik79 $76

You may note that three of the eight players who have cashed this year and found their way onto the early leaderboard in the Hoy tournament are non-bloggers, two of which are friends of friends of mine who have never blogged in their lives. So this should give some impetus to all of you out there who are not necessarily involved or even a part at all of the "blogger community" to come out and play next week and in future MATH tournaments, because as you know we always encourage new players to join and see what all the fun is about. I look forward to seeing you next week in the 2007 Chase for the Hoy, and thanks to everyone who came out to play last night as always.

Flopping a Straight Flush Draw -- Part II

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!Today I will conclude my earlier post on how to handle a flopped flush draw, specifically in this case (see screenshot at left) where I've got a minbet and a nice raise already in ahead of my action on the flop. We received a number of really excellent comments to the first straight flush draw post, which I will discuss briefly here.

For the most part, the readers were more or less in agreement as far as how to handle this play here. I guess I was just a tiny bit surprised (but not really) that no one suggested folding. I certainly would not fold here, but I do think it is important to remember that a big draw, even an open-ended straight flush draw, is still just that -- a draw -- and that right now at this time I technically have made nothing more than a pair of 5s. With the first player minbetting, he could easily be on a draw himself, but the second player's nice-sized raise I think makes it pretty clear that I am in fact behind here. Even with 15 outs twice, which does generally speaking make me the favorite to win the hand if I stay through to the river, it's important to remember that I'm only a little more than a 54% favorite. So, if you think about it from a glass-half-empty perspective, my odds situation here is not a whole lot better than when I have a medium pocket pair and my opponent has two overcards, one of the same suit as my cards, before the flop.

That said, the old OESFD is certainly the best individual draw that one can have at any point in a holdem hand, so this is not a hand where I would fold, and none of the commenters seemed to think so either which I think is a good thing. In fact, the only real debate among the comments seemed to be whether to push here or not. Almost no one recommended a smooth call here, another viable option in my mind. In the end it is not the option I chose, because my draw is in fact so big, but I do think for what it's worth that a smooth call here is a viable play given the first player's minbet, which smacks to me of a blocking bet or a weak-lead, typical of someone holding a draw of his own here. And if I'm up against another flush draw with the clubs, then my OESFD is really not nearly as good of a draw as I think it is. So I do think just smooth calling here would be a defensible play, check out what happens on the turn and then re-evalute things there.

All that being said, however, I am with the majority of the commenters who say a reraise is in order here. Seems like most of you ended up recommending the straight-out allin push here, which is a move I like because the relative chip stacks are such that this bet gives my two opponents a realistic and opportunistic chance to fold now, which deep down is what I'd really like most given the hand situation on the flop here. Because my draw is probably a greater than 50% favorite, I don't mind at all going to the river with the hand, but taking it down now is a perfectly happy outcome for me here, and one that I would aim for given the roughly 46% chance that I miss my draws entirely, and that nagging possibility (albeit unlikely) of a higher flush draw out there.

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!In the end, I looked at the relative chip stacks of myself and my opponent who put in the raise on the flop, and I determined that I had the ability to make a large enough bet that it put the pressure in the hand on him, and yet could still leave me with enough chips myself that I was not going to be bankrupt if I lost the hand (courtesy of poker author extraordinaire DoubleAs). I just didn't love the idea of putting everything in with a 54% favorite hand, on the assumption that my opponent was going to call no matter what I did since he had raised so much on the flop already. So, I went for a reraise to 1000 chips, which is basically the same thing as a push from my opponent's perspective. He in fact responded by pushing allin, which I clearly called, and we flipped 'em up.

Anybody want to guess what he was holding here? Rather than make you wait, I'll just post this link for your viewing pleasure. You will note that, as expected, I was behind there on the flop, and actually was facing a draw that could beat most of my outs already, so it was not exactly a great situation for me, which really illusrates again why I don't always necessarily want to get it all in on the flop even with an OESFD. But never fear, here is the final shot of the hand, where justice did, in the end, prevail.

Thanks again to everyone for the well-reasoned and insightful comments, as always. Have a great weekend, and maybe I'll run into you out on the virtual tables somewhere.

Flopping a Straight Flush Draw

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!Today I want to discuss one of the more fun (and yet still potentially perilous) situations in no-limit holdem -- when you flop a straight flush draw. Flopping the open-ended SF draw is always a fun thing for me, because I know that in most cases I have 2 cards to come, and 9 flush outs and 6 other straight-making outs to the nuts. And being the mathy guy that I am, I know that 15 outs twice actually makes me the favorite over any other made hand that is not a straight or flush, as is usually the case in these situations.

So today I'd like to solicit your opinions on how you like to handle a situation like this, because it happened to me last night in the nightly 30k guaranteed tournament on full tilt, which has a $109 buyin but which I satellited in to for $14 in the nightly turbo satellite at 8:45pm ET. As you can see from the screenshot above, I took a cheap flop with 6♣5♣, and the board came 7♣5♥4♣, giving me the open-ended straight flush draw. As I mentioned above, not even counting the other two 5s as outs to give me trips, I have to figure the 9 other clubs are going to give me the best hand, as well as any of six 3s or 8s which will make me a straight (I can't count the 3♣ or the 6♣ twice). 15 outs twice means I am a money favorite to win this hand, even though as of now I have nothing more than a measly pair of 5s in an unraised pot preflop.

As you can see from the action above, the first player minbet at this flop, moving in 40 chips into the 240-chip pot. One player in MP folded, and then the last player before me raised it up to 240 chips, basically betting the size of the pot, and indicating (I thought) some degree of strength, a good draw, something on this board. This faced me with an interesting decision: at least 15 outs twice, facing a 240-chip bet into a pot that now had 520 chips in it. As I pondered this decision (and took the screenshot, because I knew right away this hand would be up on CardSquad in the morning), I wondered how my fake internet poker friends would handle this flop in this situation.

Does anyone fold here? After all, you've got nothing but a pair of 5s made right now, and even though there are 15 outs, you still need to hit one of them in order to win this pot (most likely). Or, would you be tempted to flat call the 240 chips here, and see if the turn card completes your hand before committing more chips than that? Or, alternatively, do you raise aggressively with this big draw, try to chase everyone out of the pot now, and knowing that if you do get called, it's ok because you've got the 15 outs? How do you like to play this here, the open ended straight flush draw when you've got one minbettor and one raiser already in the pot on the flop ahead of you?

Please let me know your thoughts. I'll be back later with my approach in this situation, a discussion of the comments, and what actually happened in this hand.

Mondays at the Hoy Results

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!It was another fun night yesterday in Mondays at the Hoy, as 19 bloggers and non-bloggers alike came together in the Chase for the Hoy. As I've mentioned previously, last week (the first non-holiday Monday of the new year), we officially began keeping the leaderboard for the 2007 money leaders in the weekly Hoy tournament, with me actually grabbing the early lead after taking down the first official event of the new year. Although I did make the final table, in the end it was a big blind special that eliminated me, as my A6s on the button in an unopened pot proved not enough to best the big blind who found AKo and a single Ace on the flop, easily enough to convince me to move in the rest of my chips right into the open arms of my opponent.

Overall, last night at the Hoy was another hard-fought bout, with 19 runners setting out to make their mark on the year's money list, and in the end it was a trio of relatively new players in the blogger games that took down the cashish. Winning first place and the $190 first prize was VinNay, with whom I've only played on a few occasions so far but who I hope to see more of in the future. Finishing in second place for $114 was Ganton516, whose blog I could not find on the internets for the life of me, and rounding out the cash spots was Manik79 in third place, putting in his second strong performance in the Hoy in just the last few weeks and winning $76 for his efforts last night.

All this all leaves our 2007 Hoy moneyleader board as of now looking as follows:

1. Hoyazo (yes!) $200
2. VinNay $190
3. Zeem $120
4. Ganton516 $114
5. PhinCity $80
6. Manik79 $76

I look forward to seeing you next week in the 2007 Chase for the Hoy, and thanks to everyone who came out to play last night as always.

Mondays at the Hoy Tonight

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot

Don't forget, tonight is Mondays at the Hoy on pokerstars. Here are the details:

What: Mondays at the Hoy no-limit holdem tournament
Where: Pokerstars, "Private" tournament tab
When: Monday nights at 10pm ET
How Much: $20 + $2 buyin
Password: hammer

Although I've run Mondays at the Hoy every Monday since the Spring of 2006, this year we're starting something new as I will be keeping a running tally of the year's leading moneywinners at the MATH tournament. So far yours truly is in the lead, as I won last week's event in spectacular fashion for just my second career MATH title. I will definitely be looking for my first repeat tonight, so come on out and make a run at the yearly cash leaderboard, and try to dethrone me in the process. People love eliminating me from this tournament with just two crappy overcards, so why not come and give it a whirl in the battle for the $20 buyins? Last week we had 20 runners, and as always we're always looking for new Hoy players, and especially first-timers. So if you've never played a blogger tournament or just never played the MATH before, why not make tonight the night that all changes? Was one of your 2007 resolutions to play some poker with the bloggers? Then tonight is your night!

Also, I would like to congratulate Miami Don for taking down his own tournament, the blogger Big Game, last night on full tilt. Don put on quite a show, waiting it out when the action got fast and furious with many allins as soon as the 3 cash spots were reached, and then playing a smart and careful end game to capture all the chips in the end. Kajagugu won the second-place prize, and CC rounded out the cash spots with his third-place finish. I ended the event in 4th place, bubbling out of the primary cash spots, but not before securing a deal that got me back my $75 buyin from the top 3 cash finishers. In all, it was another fun night replete with lots of great poker players and great poker play. I'm looking forward to more of the same this evening, so I'll see you tonight at Mondays at the Hoy!!

Reminder: Big Game Tournament Tonight

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot

This is just a reminder that Sunday night at 9:30pm ET will be the latest Big Game tournament on Full Tilt, hosted by the one and only Miami Don. I cannot encourage enough everyone out there to play, if you have any interest in getting to know the bloggers, if you have a new blog that you are looking to get publicized, or even if you have no blog at all, or don't even know what blog is (or you just think blogs are ghey). As you can see from the banner at left, the game is tonight at 9:30pm ET on full tilt, under the "Tournaments" tab and then the "Private" tab. The password for all of the Big Game tournaments is "donkey", because that's what you are if you miss this event when you can and should have been playing.

Although there are a number of other blogger-hosted private tournaments out there, the Big Game truly has a unique niche among those other events, due mostly to its buyin amount. While mostly every other regular private game out there is for a $10 or at most $20 buyin, the Big Game features a Tier II token buyin on full tilt, or $75 cash from your account. This changes things for a few reasons. Not only does the larger buyin tend to attract the higher-bankroll players, but those higher rollers also tend to be more highly skilled in nlh tournaments. The result is typically a very well-played and hard-fought poker event, where the top finishers not only have to perform very well to get to that point, but also tend to be paid handsomely for their efforts.

Another great feature of the Big Game that Don has pushed hard to include is the Double Stacks. This means that each player in the tournament will start things off with 3000 chips, instead of full tilt's usual 1500 chip starting stacks. Again, this type of change tends to increase the likelihood of the skill players performing well, since double stacks provides the players with a lot more room to make some moves in the earlygoing, knowing that even if you are forced to fold your bluff, you've still got plenty of chips left to make some noise. Lord knows that I bluff early and often in almost any deep stacks event, so you might want to play just to try to pick me off and get off to a good start early thanks to some chips from your truly.

I cashed in 2nd place in the last of the Big Game tournaments that took place in December, and I will be there tonight again at 9:30pm ET to try to continue that run while I also play in the weekly 30k HORSE tournament at 9:30pm ET which I won a couple of weeks ago. I look forward to seeing you there at the Big Game tonight on full tilt!

Full Tilt's Daily Double

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot

Our friends at Full Tilt have taken a page out of Byron's WPBT schedule of poker tournaments from last year and started up a very interesting new tournament format this weekend. It is called the Full TIlt Daily Double, and it is actually two tournaments, both $10 + $2 buyin no-limit holdem events, each held nightly at 9pm ET starting on Friday night, January 12. Both events play just like normal nlh freezeout tournaments on full tilt, but for those players who are willing to buy into and play both tournaments simultaneously -- if you're not a notorious multitabler like myself then this event might not interest you so much -- there are a number of added bonuses and gimmicks to make this new dual-tournament event that much more alluring and enjoyable.

To support the extra payouts and bonuses for the Daily Double, full tilt has started up a new progressive jackpot just for the new tournaments, which they began yesterday at $10,000. One dollar from each player's entry fee into each night's tournaments will go towards the following day's progressive jackpot, so for example the jackpot already grew from $10,000 even on Friday to now $11,735 heading into Saturday night's Daily Double tournaments. The jackpot can be paid out in a number of ways to players who participate in both events:

* All players who cash in both tournaments -- using full tilt's regular mtt payout schedule -- will share equally in a prize pool that totals 3% of the current progressive jackpot level.

* The player(s) who average the highest finish in both tournaments each night will be awarded a prize pool totaling 2% of the current progressive jackpot level.

* All players who reach the final table of both tournaments in any night will share equally in a prize pool totaling 20% of the current progressive jackpot level.

* Any player who wins both tournaments in the same night will be awarded 75% of the current progressive jackpot level.

Just to give some examples to show how this works in practice, last night on the first night of the Daily Double experience, the best double finish won $200 (2% of the opening 10k jackpot), and 26 other players each received $11.54 for cashing in both events (a 26-way split of $300, or 3% of the opening 10k jackpot). Each tournament last night had over 1000 entrants, making the tournaments attractive in their own right as normal $10 buyin events, even if you're not interested in the Daily Double aspects. But, I can easily envision a night in the not-too-distant future when the progressive jackpot is up to, say, $30,000, and only 10 players cash in both events, meaning that each of those players would receive $90 for their dual efforts. And these payouts are in addition to the normal payouts the players receive for cashing in each respective event to begin with.

As an added bonus, full tilt plans each day to include the names of each dual finisher from the previous night's Daily Double tournaments on the Daily Double promotions page on the full tilt website. So, if you're a multi-tabling kind of guy or gal like me, why not enter these two tournaments one night soon at 9pm ET, and take a chance at not only some nice payouts, but also seeing your name in lights on the full tilt website for all your friends and family to know just how great of a player you really are?

Cultivating a Tight Image Early

One thing about me is that I am constantly reading poker books. I read a ton of books in general, but over the past few years there has literally not been a single time when I was not reading at least one poker book. Frankly, I attribute much of my online poker success to my voracious appetite for poker books, as I definitely read more of these things than anybody I know, and I have no doubt seen a marked improvement in my onine poker results since I began reading them so often. Anyways, one book I am reading right now (and really enjoying, btw) is Lou Krieger's and Sheree Bykofsky's Secrets the Pros Won't Tell You About Winning Holdem Poker, and I was a bit surprised to see in there this morning the same advice I saw in Phil Gordon's Little Green Book, that both authors advise cultivating a tight image very early in no-limit holdem tournaments. They advise that by playing tight early, #1 you avoid getting involved in pots with less than stellar holdings early on in the tournament, and thus being at risk for early elimination with other than top cards, and #2 that you will be able to run bluffs later in the tournament, when the chips are really important, because you played tight so early on in the event. Invariably, this advice comes in the context of blind stealing, which both authors advocate avoiding in the early rounds of nlh tournaments, even if the action is folded around to you in the cutoff or even on the button.

Although I acknowledge that this advice may work well for many holdem players out there, there are a few reasons why I actually choose not to follow this strategy for my own tournament play. First and foremost, I am confident in my ability to make reads of my opponents' holdings, and to lay down my own hand if it is not strong enough to continue in any pot. This is actually a very difficult skill to master, and a substantial majority of the eliminations I see from the big online tournaments seem to be players who can't lay down pocket Kings when an Ace flops, can't lay down a medium pair when two overcards hit the board, or can't lay down big cards like AK or AQ when rags flop and someone bets at them. This is something which is not a problem for me anymore as a rule. That's not to say that I never bet my AK on a raggy flop, but rather that as a rule, at this point in my poker career I am more than happy to lay down whatever hand I'm holding if it appears from the betting that I am beat. Since I am confident that I will not take poor hands too far for the most part, I am not nearly as afraid of putting in a steal-raise in the opening rounds of a tournament, even with no regard whatsoever to the actual cards I have in my hand.

There's another, more important reason why I like to try to steal pots with open-raises right from the getgo in tournaments. In stark contrast to the books' advice, I actually like to have other players think of me as a blind stealer, someone who will open-raise almost automatically from late position no matter what two cards I've got in my hand. In fact, if I am holding crap and I get reraised after a preflop steal-raise, I won't typically delay before folding, as if I have a decent hand. Rather, I will instafold to those reraises, because I don't care if my opponents know I was trying a steal. I want them to know I'm a stealer. Even though playing this way does land me in pots where I'm holding bad cards more often than many players, it also establishes a very easy way for me to get paid off big when I do hold a big hand in the blinds. I cannot count how many big pots I've won early on in large multi-table tournaments because I got dealt a big hand in late position. Think about it -- if I steal-raise the first three or four times the action is passed around to me in late position at my first table in a large mtt, then the fourth time I do it, somebody is likely to play back at me, in particular if they're holding a semi-strong hand themselves in one of the blinds, say something like QTo or K9s, etc. However, I find that I can make my own action by actively and openly blind-stealing, because that fourth time around, I may be sitting on pocket Kings. And when I get a big hand in late position, and I put in that same stealy-looking preflop raise, I am highly likely to get action. Many a tournament run of mine has begun in just this fashion, in particular in blogger tournaments but in the large multi-table jobs as well, with me getting a huge stack early by very virtue of the fact that I will steal blinds and play a little bit loose in late position.

So for me, I choose to go against many poker authors' common wisdom of avoiding blind stealing very early in tournaments. I'm not going to call a reraise if I have crappy cards, but I will go for the steal-raise early and often if presented with the opportunity, and I like to do so blatantly, making it as obvious as possible that I'm stealing with nothing. Even though this does tend to lead to me taking some flops with very subpar cards, I'm confident enough in my ability to get away from all but the best of those situations, and the upside is that I can make my own action early on in tournaments, in a way that the guy who always folds in unopened pots even in late position unless he's holding a very strong hand never has the opportunity to. As anyone who plays the regular blogger events with me will know, creating my own action in this way is something that has served me very well over time in my online poker tournament career, and it makes it very difficult for others to effectively play against me whenever I'm in a pot from late position.

FTOPS Here I Come

Kickass Cardsquad ScreenshotAs my fellow blogger Joanne reported earlier this week right here on CardSquad, Full Tilt is bringing back the Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS) in mid-February, marking the third FTOPS since last summer as Full Tilt continues to make inroads in the online poker space with this particular series of high-guarantee holdem and non-holdem poker tournaments. The FTOPS is really a great thing for a guy like me, because not only does it represent a nice group of large guaranteed tournaments over a short period of time in all the games I love to play, but many of the events occur at nighttime, which is the only time I ever play online poker.

Well, I am pleased to say that last night I took a big step in my quest to qualify for however many of the nighttime FTOPS events there are, which usually applies only to the weekday tournaments, as the weekend events tend to start in the late afternoon for the most part. I played a satellite tournament called an "FTOPS Holdem Avatar Race", which has been running starting this week every night at 9pm ET on full tilt, for which the buyin is $75, or a Tier II token. The great thing about this particular satellite is that the seat prizes for winning the satellite are grouped into $648 prize packages, representing three $216 buyins to each of FTOPS Event #1, Event #5 and Event #8. This is the perfect satellite for me to play in, since each of Events 1, 5 and 8 will occur during the week, starting at 9pm ET between February 9 and February 18. So, for $75 apiece last night, 57 players went at it in a no-limit holdem tournament format, with the top 6 finishers securing the buyins to each of these three no-limit holdem FTOPS events next month.

Long story short, I played aggressively and got off to a nice chip lead in what was actually my second run in this Avatar Race satellite this week, but I took a couple of bad ass beats that had my stack sitting in 12th place out of 14 players remaining, nearly 2 hours into the tournament. This was when I ended up calling an allin reraise before the flop, with me holding T9s and basically knowing I was well behind to the guy who had reraised me for most of his chips, but I also knew that folding at that point would leave me in a deep, deep hole, way in last place of the remaining players, and with almost no chance of coming back to win my seat. So, I made the call, and my T9s was well behind to my opponent's pocket Aces, until I spiked three miracle cards on the board to make a straight, stay alive, and eventually go on to survive to the end and win my three FTOPS seats, as per the graphic above. I have a full writeup of last night's tournament over on my blog, so if you're interested in reading about what I think is one of the best ways to get into a bunch of the FTOPS events for fairly cheap (relatively speaking), go take a gander at my writeup and see if this sounds like it's right for you.

This really is a great chance for many of you to play not only in the satellites for the other FTOPS events, but also in the actual FTOPS tournaments at a cheap price. There are one or two more events that I may try to qualify for in the coming days and weeks, so hopefully I will see some of you out on the virtual felt.

Mondays at the Hoy -- and the Early Money Leader Is....

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!Oh what a night! There really is something special about winning one's own tournament. Maybe Wil can comment on this as well as he has held the weekly WWdN tournament on Tuesday nights for well over a year now by my records. Actually I guess I don't specifically recall Wil ever winning the WWdN (unlike some people) -- I definitely remember more than one top-3 finish for him some time ago, but maybe Wil can fill us in on the details -- but last night I had the honor of winning my second Mondays at the Hoy tournament and my first of the new year. Even better, I managed to pull off the big victory in the very week that I announced on my blog that I will be keeping a weekly tally of 2007 Money Leaders for the Mondays at the Hoy tournament, which I will post here every week after that week's event.

So it is with great honor and pride that I present to you the first MATH Money Leader Board for 2007:

Hoyazo ... $200
Zeem ... $120
PhinCity ...$80

Really, last night's Hoy is just the latest notch in my belt after what has been a very hot streak for me at the virtual tables over the past couple of months. In fact, last night I also managed to cash in 32nd place out of 1585 entrants in the nightly 25k guaranteed no-limit holdem tournament, which bears the exact same start time of 10pm ET as Mondays at the Hoy, and I also final tabled the nightly HORSE mtt on full tilt, which runs at 10:15pm ET every night. Throw in some full-out donkery from me over a few hours at a blogger 1-2 nlh cash game, and I was a four-tabling machine last night, losing a bit in the cash but making nice scores in each of my other three tourneys that ran concurrently into the wee hours of the morning. I plan to have more of a writeup on those three tournament cashes on my blog later today, but suffice it to say, I am running hot hot hot and can't wait to log on every night to see what I'm going to dominate next.

Hopefully, my streak will continue for one more day, as I am really looking forward to tonight's Winner's Choice tournament on Full Tilt at 9pm ET, for which I won a qualifier this past Sunday as well. It's a $216 buyin no-limit holdem tournament, and the winner wins a $12,000 prize package, including 2k in travel expenses and a buyin to any $10,000 WPT or WSOP event of the winner's choice (hence the name). If I'm lucky I can get on in time to play Wil's WWdN tournament as well, which as always will run tonight at 8:30pm ET on Pokerstars -- password as always is "monkey". See you there!

Waiting for the Flush

Here's a move that I am finding myself using more and more as I am playing more and more pot-limit Omaha (high) games. I call it "waiting for the flush", but what it really is is a specific form of slow-play that has served me quite well lately in PLO tournaments. This move only applies in Omaha, only when I make a very strong hand on the flop (or, less often, on the turn) and only when the current board has two cards to a flush. This can also be done with two cards to a straight on board, but its chances of success are much lower because straights are not nearly as strong of hands in PLO as flushes, so opponents tend to be able to get away from them more easily.

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!Anyways, here's the move. As you can see at left, I've got two suited Aces in my hand, which I raised nearly the size of the pot before the flop, and I got four callers to see a flop. The flop nailed me hard, giving me the nut boat and making me the stone nuts for this hand other than the extremely unlikely flopped quads for one of my opponents, a holding made all the more unlikely by each opponent having called a nearly pot-sized raise before the flop. So I've got a basically unbeatable boat, but there are also two flush cards on the board, and with four opponents in here there is a reasonably good chance that someone has a nice piece of this flush draw. A flush draw that I would love to see hit, since I can beat it. Already.

So, the move here is to play it slow. Since I would love to get my opponents to call any sized bet I can here, I stand a much better chance of finding an opponent willing to put some chips in here if a third spade can fall. I want that flush to fill and the person(s) who makes the flush to think they are ahead. So when the first two opponents checked it to me here, I check it right along.

Making things even better, the fourth guy, sitting on the button, then put in a pot-sized bet of 830 chips. The first player then calls the 830-chip bet, and the second guy folds, facing me with the decision to call 830 chips into a now 2490-chip pot. The question here now becomes: call or raise? Again, I know I am best here. I know it is highly likely that at least one of these guys has a flush draw, hopefully a nut flush draw with the Ace already out on the board. If I move it allin now, maybe one guy will call, and most likely at least one of the two will fold. Why take that chance of losing one or both of these guys, when somebody almost surely has a flush draw with two cards to come, and I can already beat the flush if they make it? Why not just see the next card fairly cheap, having already built a very large pot for the flop round of betting, and hope a third spade falls, so I can really make some coin with my nut boat?

So that's exactly what I did, just smooth call the 830 chips here, netting 3320 chips in the pot and seeing the turn card with three players remaining. And then the turn brought a beautiful 10♠, completing the flush and putting me in great position to empty someone else's stack. The first player checked, either afraid of the flush or going for the check-raise. With the flush just having hit, and me fairly certain somebody's got a made flush now, I knew I didn't have to bet this thing. I figured I would just let the holder of the flush bet it out either here or on the river, and then I will get allin and take down a huge pot. So I check it.

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!And my friend on the button bet out 1800 chips, getting me nearly all in anyways myself. I move in my last 295 chips, making a trivially easy call for the button, and we flip our cards, and Boom! He's got just what I hoped he had -- the nut flush with the KJ of spades. Had I moved in on the flop, it's always possible that he might have called me anyways. But if he were smart, he could have folded what was essentially just a 2-card draw to a flush, which will fill only around 35% of the time. But since I waited for the flush to fill on the turn card before making any sudden moves at this pot, at this point he was totally committed to getting as many chips as possible into the hand with what was by that point a pat nut flush. And even in Omaha, a nut flush can be very difficult to get away from.

What's He Holding? (Part III)

Welcome back to the conclusion of the latest What's He Holding? post here at CardSquad.

To recap, this hand takes place in the limit holdem portion of the late stages of the Full Tilt weekly 30k guaranteed HORSE tournament. I had raised from UTG preflop with A8o, and one opponent (puyop) called this UTG raise from middle position. On a raggy, paired flop of 226, I checked to him, and he bet out. I checkraised puyop there on the flop with my hand, in the hopes of finding out for just one half-bet if I was ahead, and puyop just called my checkraise on the flop. Then when the scary Ace fell on the turn and I checked to him, he checked it right back to me and took a free river card. I asked in Part II what you think this player is likely holding, given all the action to that point in the hand.

Once again I generally agree with the comments I received to Part II of this post. The middle position smooth call of my UTG raise preflop, followed up leading out on the flop when I checked to him, and then the smooth call of my flop checkraise, all that is indicative to me of either a medium pocket pair, or a reasonably strong Ace, but not AK which would have likely reraised me preflop in my experience. When the Ace fell on the turn, and I checked it to him, I have got to figure that, with a lot of chips in the pot at this point relative to our respect stacks, he is going to be this turn card if he is holding any kind of reasonable Ace. Any Ace at all even, most likely, at that point, and he has to bet out on that turn card. But he checked it right back to me, and that told me all I needed to know. He did not have an Ace in his hand.

And if puyop is not sitting on an Ace, then of the range of hands I had put him on, we were left only with pocket 8s through pocket Jacks. And that means that I can make some good money in this hand, if my check on the turn makes puyop believe I do not have an Ace. Then, he will have to think his pocket pair is good here, and I stand to make some good chippage on the river. And speaking of the river, after puyop checked behind me on the turn with 2♠2♥6♣A♣ showing, the gorgeous A♥ slammed the river, giving me the boat and a nearly unbeatable hand.

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!So, given my read that my opponent was on a medium pair between 8s and Jacks, and given my check on the turn which I did intentionally for the purpose of suggesting that I also am not holding an Ace, I decided to really go for the gusto here and to check it back to him again. I figured if my check on the turn worked, puyop will have to bet here to get value for his pocket pair on a board with two pairs, one of them lower than his pocket pair. I checked, and he bet out, I pause-checkraised him here, and then he made his biggest mistake of the hand by re-raising me. Momentarily I considered that he could have an Ace after all, but that just didn't add up with the read I was laying on him here, so I capped it on the river, which he called.

He did not flip his cards, as I took down the hand and over 7000 chips in the process. But, since he mucked on the river but saw it through to the end, I was able to check out his hole cards and determine how correct my read was (although once the pot was pushed my way, I all but knew I was right on). If you're interested, you can click here to see what puyop was holding. In any event, this was an absolutely key hand for me in what turned out to be one of my biggest career tournament wins as an online poker player.

What's He Holding (Part II)

Kickass Cardsquad Screenshot!Welcome back everyone to Part II of the latest What's He Holding post, where we're playing limit holdem in the late stages of a HORSE tournament on Full Tilt. I raised it up UTG preflop with the marginal holding of A8o, one opponent called from middle position, and then on a flop of 226, I checked and he bet out for 300 chips into a 2250-chip pot. At the end of Part I, I asked what range of hands you would put this player on given his actions so far on the flop.

In general, I agree with most of the comments made on this post. The guy did not reraise me preflop, so he is not likely to have a premium pocket pair, and probably not AK which in my experience in limit holdem tends to be reraised even more often than Aces or Kings, as lots of people like to slow-raise with the biggest pairs to try to trap another player who also holds a big but not quite big enough hand. Yet, he did call a raise that came from UTG, normally indicative of a strong hand itself, so I'm not putting him on the weakest of the possible calling hands -- pocket pairs 2s through 7s or 8s, and weak Aces or Axs. Given his lead on the raggiest of raggy flops of 226, which also contains a pair which would make his high-card or middle-paired hand very likely the best here, I am feeling very comfortable with my read so far of probably pocket 8s through pocket Jacks, or AQ down through AT or maybe A9s. Of course you always have to be willing to adjust that read as soon as you get any more information about what your opponent may be holding, but for now I've got him on A9 through AQ, or pocket 8s through pocket Jacks. If you think about it, it's actually an amazing job of narrowing things down to just eight likely hands given that all he did was call a preflop raise and then bet out for a small bet on the flop. But that's where I've got this guy so far.

So what happened next? Well, I had raised preflop UTG, representing a very solid hand, so when puyop bet out after my flop check, given that I had him on a middle but not premium pair, or medium but not premium Ace, I figured I'd go ahead and raise it up. See, for me I like to make a lot of my moves in limit holdem on the flop, when the betting is still cheap, so it doesn't cost me too much if I have to give up on 4th street. This is kinda counter to what a lot of other players seem to do, but if I think a guy has a hand that is medium good but very beatable (like in this situation), and I know I've represented strength so far throughout the hand, I will sometimes go for one extra cheap bet if I think it might take down a pot, or set me up to take down a pot later by showing some strength early on in the hand. So I raised it up, which given this flop had to scream out "big pair!" to my opponent, and he just smooth called my raise.

That was when the Ace♣ fell on the turn. Interesting, this one is really going to put my read to the test here.

OK so this guy called my UTG raise from middle position before the flop, and he got check-raised by me on the flop of 226, which he also smooth called. The problem is, our kickers are still very much live on this board with one low pair and another low card, so if he is on any of those pocket 8s through pocket Jacks I put him on, I'm now in great shape, but if he has any of those A9-AQ hands I also have in his range, then I'm severely dominated. But, remember that my read is more than 50% balanced in favor of the high-Ace hands over the pocket pair hands (there are 16 ways to make an unpaired hand like AQ or AJ, and only 12 ways to make a paired hand like 88 or 99, so my total range here is 64 hands of Ace-high, and 48 hands of the medium pocket pairs. 64:48 means there is a 57% likelihood of him holding an Ace-high hand that beats my A8, if you look just at the range of hands I've got this guy on so far). So overall, on balance, I decided I had to check here. If he's got an Ace, I can hope that he will bet out here, and then I can consider folding my hand for a fairly minimal loss in the overall scheme of things.

My opponent checked right behind me after a few seconds of thought.

As we wait for the river card to fall, what now is my opponent's likely range of hands, given everything we now know from him? He called my UTG raise preflop from middle position. He called my checkraise on the uber-raggy flop. Then when the scary Ace fell and I checked to him, he checked it right back to me and took a free river card. What is he holding?

Please post your replies in the comments, and I will be back later with the conclusion to this hand.

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