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poker in the past six months.

This past weekend i had a poker session rate of about $60/hr. The weekend before i had a poker session rate of roughly $130/hr - and i even made two notable passive mistakes that should have put my rate closer to $175/hr.

I thought that I had written a journal entry about this, but apparently I didn't. Over the summer of 2012, I was really busy with projects and travel that i felt like poker had to be put on the backburner to make deadlines, so i greatly reduced my poker play, particularly in the month of june. For some reason that break did wonders for my play. Even though I understood a lot of principles behind solid poker play and applied it some of the time, I think i had fallen into some sort of a rut - not willing to come out of the passive shell that was my general play style that only slowly eked towards tight aggression ever since i started playing poker around 2004. As a result, i didn't fare badly exactly, but i wasn't gaining maximum value out of my hands and ultimately my time at the casino.

When i started playing again on a regular basis in late august, something in me clicked. Without meaning to, I discovered that my play had undergone a reset - a breath of fresh air that took all of the things I knew about poker but didn't always apply and applied them fiercely. Fundamentally what I did was become more aggressive - prior to this change, my pre-flop raising range was incredibly narrow - pretty much AJ, AQ, AK, JJ, QQ, KK, and AA - and thus my play was very predictable, and my post-flop play was generally also very predictable and fell into certain kinds of common poker traps.

One of the primary things that shaped my play was finally understanding and adopting the principle of never open-limping. It's easy enough to understand: if no one has called or raised before you, never open with a call, always open with a raise. If the hand isn't strong enough to warrant a raise, fold the hand as opposed to limp. Easy enough, right? Yet there were many times when i knew of this that i ended up being gun-shy about raising, yet liked my hand too much to fold, so open-limp i did despite knowing better.

Choosing to finally adopt the never-open-limp principle has done two important things to my play. First, it's narrowed my overall playing range so that i'm less prone to playing stupid marginal hands in early position. Second, it's widened my pre-flop raising range drastically so that my play is much less predictable - i have a very confusing table image that ranges from anywhere from "super tight" to "what a bully", and that's given me more success in being able to bluff big pots and get paid well with huge hands.

Sometimes i'll still play marginal hands in early or mid position, but even a token raise of, say, 2.5-4x BB when a 6-8x BB raise is standard gives me initiative and an increased fold equity - and can also set up the huge pay off if i hit or even if i lose the hand and have to show, giving other players who aren't paying close attention a false sense of aggressive image that they want to catch. And that's the second part of my play that i've changed - being smarter and more adaptable with my post-flop play - in a situation where my flop c-bet percentage used to be probably 75% or higher (whether i hit it or not), i've made that less predictable, much more willing to give up small pots when i've hit air, but still c-betting sometimes when i think i have high fold equity, &c.

These days too i've been adopting a "strong means strong" betting strategy on monster hands. Something that i've discovered about many people's flop bet tendencies is that not a lot of people truly flop bet for value. If they PFR with AK and hit an A or K on the flop, they'll bet out, but their bet and the size of their bet is not made with the idea that they want to build a pot and extract maximum value for people making incorrect calls if they're dogs, but rather because they're scared that someone will catch up, typically by hitting their straight or flush draw. On the other hand, if they flop a monster - a set or a made straight or a flush - they try to be tricky and appear weak because they don't want to show aggression and win a small pot by making everyone fold when they feel like they have a guaranteed pot. This is a very common "weak means strong" tactic that goes along with "strong means weak" that permeates a lot of poker player mentality.

So the other side of me playing generally more aggressive is that i play enough "strong means weak" that people paying attention get that image of me, so that playing "strong means strong" when i hit a monster is off of their radar. "why would he bet the flop if he already has the nut flush? He probably only has one flush card or he has top pair or something and he wants to buy the pot." Sets are also great disguised hands where i tend to extract more value these days by betting aggressively because i'm more likely to get paid off, and also gives me greater bluffing potential.

So betting when i'm weak *and* when i'm strong usually gives me the hand initiative which i want, and it makes my play and range much less predictable which i also want.

These adjustments, in addition to other factors, made my profit in the last 3.5 months in 2012 about the same as the first 8.5 months in 2012, and makes me pretty confident that my profit and rate per hour in 2013 will improve drastically as I'm much more confident about my skills on the poker table and some of the decisions i've been making. The past two weekends in particular have been particularly profitable - i've bluffed huge pots with missed straights and flushes and felted other people multiple times when i've flopped a set - or felted other people when i bet on the come and then hit it.

and it feels pretty good. I know i still have a long way to go as a poker player if i want to truly maximize my profits, but i don't feel the need to rush to get there or necessarily get there at all since i always intend poker to be a side income. Still, i want to keep my eyes and ears open, keep on learning and honing my skills, particularly in omaha but also in hold 'em. There are aspects of the math that are not as instinctual for me as i'd like them to be, there are times when i can still play too passively in a situation where i could dominate the table with a more aggressive image. And we'll see how much i actually improve my profits in 2013 and my rate per hour. If it doesn't really improve all that much, well, i'll reevaluate then and see where my reality actually is.

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March 2017