Current Bankroll: $5.25 - 2.1M Play Chips

It's been a real tough past couple days. I've been having trouble moving between the cash games and the tournaments and despite doing alright at the cash tables my tournament play has been awful. After analyzing my play a bit I decided I was being too aggressive at the wrong times and not really working the situations like you are supposed to in tournaments.

Tonight I decided to settle down and just focus on situation, not my cards. It seemed to work really well, as I kept making really good plays hitting up AK against A9, QQ against KJ, and other really nice situations that you just dream for in a tournament. But despite continuously putting myself in good odds I couldn't seem to outlive a showdown. I played 16 10K Play Chip tournaments today and only managed to cash in one of them for a measly $27K and a total loss for the day of 133K putting me in the red for the first time since I started tracking these tourneys over the weekend. I really can't find where I was screwing up though, despite the awful results. In the few tournaments where I managed to be able to build up a stack it always ended with a bad beat that put me back in the push-or-die mode. Aside from the one game where I cashed, my best finish was 18th, and my overall average for these tourneys is a pathetic 33 out of 90.

Somehow I managed to keep it all together in time for the nightly 500K Play Chip $40 Freeroll at Full Tilt, and despite hitting the same bricks there, I was able to wait it out each time long enough to get a hand to pull me back into it. I dropped down as far as 2BB at one point, but each time I decided to wait for the right situation and each time it ended up presenting itself in time. I don't know if that was just luck or if I managed to maximize my odds as best I could, but either way it felt good to finally be able to see some results.

After the bubble broke and the chase from 18th to 2nd (where the next payout jump is) began I made sure to be the biggest donk at the table moving all-in each time I got a decent heads-up hand and it made for an exciting rollercoaster ride. I somehow snuck myself into the final table in 7th place, and from there worked my way into 2nd place overall with 6 to go. At that point I had a decent lead over the other 4 so decided to play it real conservative and only go in with premium hands and let the other guy take them out. I figured I could fold myself into 2nd place even if it meant having no chance at 1st. As it turned out I got enough hands to take out some of the other guys without too much risk and ended up just below the other guy when we went heads-up.

Despite having not played heads-up in way too long my feel for the game was as good as it has ever been, and I had soon managed to trap him in a big hand by slowplaying top-pair/top-kicker after the flop. After that it was just a matter of a couple all-ins to take down 1st place, my first ever in these 500K Play Chip $40 Freerolls.

It's really great to see that despite my poor performance over the last couple days I was able to pull myself back together and play the game that was necessary to cash in tonights tourney. Making the final table was a bit of a treat, but I can't claim that there is much skill involved in surviving the donkfest that begins after the 18th place bubble bursts. It was really nice to see that my final table play is still there though, and taking down the extra $3 for my biggest freeroll cash-in ever was a big confidence booster.

Perhaps it is all just due to the inevitable variance in poker, but I really felt like I overcame some tough situations with discipline and patience. Even if I couldn't have controlled getting the necessary hands to pull me out of those situations, at least I was able to play well enough to put myself in the position to benifit from them. And that's really the key in poker. You can never control the cards, but if you put yourself in the right place at the right time, good things will happen and that is what I have been missing over the past couple days, constantly busting out before anything good can happen.

Anyway, I'm going to hold out until I break $6.25 before taking another shot at the $1 tourneys so that I can play 5 of them in a row before busting out. Hopefully that will give me a chance to adjust to the different playing style in those tournaments before it's too late.

Current Bankroll: $0.25 - 2.8M Play Chips

I've decided to start playing more of the play chip tournaments at Full Tilt Poker to get more tournament practice. I'd stopped playing them since the largest buy-in for the SNGs is 10K with a 1st place prize of 292K which is pretty insignificant considering I can make that much more easily at the 1K/2K tables. But I think my lack of tournament play lately has left my tournament skills a bit dull. I played in a few of the 10K play chip tourneys tonight and was actually quite surprised at how poorly I did. I did cash in 2 out of 7, but it felt a lot worse than that. My ROI was almost 120% though so it couldn't have been too bad.

I'll keep playing these whenever I have the time to keep my tournament skills sharp so that I am ready for the 500K Play Chip $40 Freeroll and the $1 real money tournaments on the other side. Even if I can make a much higher hourly profit at the 1K/2K cash game tables, I think the tournament practice should do me good.

Getting Back Up

I have quickly learned that one of the toughest things in poker is overcoming the bad times. Since poker is a game of odds you will inevitably face times when things just aren't going in your favor and no matter how well you play you will struggle just to break even. And the tougher things get the harder it becomes to play well. Sometimes you can lose a lot of money fast and if you don't have the discipline to step away and reassess things you can drown many hours of hard work in a few minutes.

Phil Hellmuth wrote an excellent article back in May about dealing with the worst loss of his life and how he managed to turn it around into something positive rather than letting it destroy him. I've never really been a fan of Hellmuth because he always seems like such an arrogant asshole on TV, but you can't help but respect the guy. I always knew that I had to respect him for his unbelievable record, but after reading this article I can see just how smart and disciplined he is, and exactly why he has been able to be so successful for so long.

There are a lot of guys out there who can play good poker and win some big games, but the ones who are able to brush off the losses and get back up stronger than before are the ones who will be the most successful in the long run. But knowing this and actually sticking to it when the times get tough are two different things. Here's to hoping I can be like Phil and have the strength and discipline to overcome those times with such fortitude.

Current Bankroll: $0.25 - 2.6M Play Chips

It's been nearly a week since I've been in a real money game and I'm starting to wonder if I should start waiting until I have enough to play 5 $1 tourneys in a row before entering any at all. I'm worried that next time I get back on the cash side I'll just keep busting out real quick since it's taking me so long to get back over each time. I've found that one of the hardest things in poker is switching levels, and maybe the best way to offset that is to make sure I am able to take several shots at a new level before moving up.

I'm feeling really confident at the 1K/2K play chip tables and having no trouble making my daily 500K in play chips to buy-in to the 500K Play Chip $40 Freeroll, but switching gears heading into that freeroll has proven to be tougher than usual over the past two days. It's often easy to identify poor playing, but it's much harder to identify what needs to be done to correct it. Perhaps this new rule will enable me to adjust my game for the $1 tourneys before busting out again next time, but I'll have to figure out a different way to help me focus in the 500K Play Chip $40 Freeroll because that only happens once a day and I can't afford to not play anything else while waiting for that to happen.

It'll probably be a couple days before I can take another shot at the 500K Play Chip $40 Freeroll, so I'll do some more thinking on how to best approach that next time, but for now I'll add this new rule to the list because I think it is something that will prove useful in the long run.

Current Bankroll: $0.25 - 2.6M Play Chips

It's an easy thing to say, but it's got to be one of the hardest things for an aspiring poker player to do. You go and study all these strategies and set out rules for yourself, and yet in the most critical of situations you let your focus down and make the dumbest decisions, often from acting on impulse and not thinking the situation through fully before acting. Other times you just start playing like a donk and despite recognizing it can't seem to pull your head out of places it shouldn't be.

Tonight I was playing in Full Tilt's nightly $40 500K Play Chip Freeroll after playing for an hour in one of the donkfest freerolls that have no entry fee. Because you have to play to take so many chances in the regular freeroll, I was in the total wrong mindset for the tight play of the 500K Play Chip freeroll. I started playing too aggressively and while it bought me a lot of small pots I of course gave it all right back in others.

Now cashing in this 500K Play Chip freeroll is not very hard thing to do, and it's been a while since I've missed the bubble, but tonight I just had the completely wrong mentality going in and I couldn't fix myself. The worst part is that I ended up busting right on the bubble when I wasn't even in blinds trouble. I shouldn't have even been playing anything except the absolute best hands at that point, but I decided to shove with QJs on the BB for no good reason and got busted by a straight on the flop. It's pretty obvious how stupid of a play that was, and how dumb my play was for the whole tourney.

But what can I do to avoid these kinds of things? There wasn't anything that was keeping me from focusing or distracting me from my goals. Perhaps it's just a result of getting too overconfident and not taking each hand, each table and each tournament as seriously as if they were the WSOP. There is no point in playing if you aren't going to practice the strategies you set out for yourself and attempt to improve on your gameplay. If you let your play degenerate to the level of the worst players around you are only enforcing bad habits and actually slowing your progress towards becoming a better player.

I guess the hardest thing about the Chris Ferguson Challenge is that you are constantly playing with really poor players at other levels and you have to rise above that and avoid letting the poor play around you affect your strategy. If you stick to your gameplan and adjust your strategies to take advantage of your opponents weaknesses you can do quite well at these low limits, but if you let yourself stoop to their level, to quote an old saying, they will only drag you down and beat you up with experience.

On the bright side, I have been doing really well at the 1K/2K Play Chip tables and reached a new personal record of 3M chips. It helped that I haven't been able to play the 500K Play Chip freeroll for a couple nights in a row now, but I have really been making a killing there after adjusting my play for the level.

I also reached a new PR in the $100 Hold 'Em Freeroll tonight, placing 75th, but that was a bit depressing at the same time because I busted out after shoving at the wrong time when I wasn't even in a situation where I really had to. Ugh... I've really got to work on my discipline to make sure I can avoid these kinds of things. There is no point in trying to play well if you aren't going to do it 100% of the time. One big mistake can ruin hours of hard work in a tournament or even a cash game, and so the key to profitability in the long run starts with avoiding those big mistakes and allowing your good game slowly bring home the goods.

Current Bankroll: $0.25 - 2.35M Play Chips

I know a lot of bloggers like to keep a list on their blog of all the other blogs that they read. It's a nice way to promote the bloggers that you like and it creates a nice sense of community in the blogosphere as different people link to each other creating large networks of people sharing the same interests.

As your list grows though, and old bloggers disappear, it can become a bit of a pain to keep that list updated, and sometimes feels like just one more thing that you have to do during your busy day.

A lot of people like to use feed readers to keep up with their favorite blogs. That way they don't have to check every blog on the list every day to see who has updated since you can read all the latest posts in one place in the reader.

I use Google Reader which I find particularly useful since it is online and therefore I can read my subscriptions on any computer. Coming back to blogrolls though, I just discovered a really cool feature on Google Reader that allows you to produce a public version of your subscriptions that can easily be displayed on your blog so that you never have to update it as it simply displays whatever blogs your are subscribed to in Google Reader. You can even show a select list of blogs in case you have others that you read that aren't related.

To activate this feature and synchronize your blogroll with your Google Reader subscriptions, follow the following steps:

  1. Put all the subscriptions that you want to list in your blogroll into one folder.

  2. Click on Settings in the top right of the screen and then select the Tags subsection.

  3. Put a check next to the folder name that holds the subscriptions you want to publish and then select Public from the drop down at the top of the list that says "Change Sharing..."

  4. This should cause a couple links to show up next to the folder that you selected. Copy the link that says View Public Page and paste it in the following box below

  5. Copy the code that is generated in the box below that and paste it into your blog where you want your blogroll to display.




For example, if you wanted to add this blogroll on a Blogger blog, you could add a new HTML/Javascript element and just paste the above code into it. You can see a live example of this titled "What I'm Reading" on the right side of this page.

Current Bankroll: $1.50 - 1.5M Play Chips

Cashed in on tonight's 500K Play Chip $40 Freeroll at Full Tilt Poker and then bought into one of the $1+$0.25 90 Player SnG's. Played a really tight game because I wasn't getting anything. Finally picked up a pair of queens and pushed with them only to hit a spade flop and another spade on the river so I had to fold. That cut my stack in half and after another dry spell I was facing blind extinction already half-way through the tourney. Was forced to push all-in preflop with pocket 88's and doubled up nicely when 3 aces came down on the board and gave me a full house. Another dry spell put me right back in the same position a little bit later and this time a pair of tens bailed me out. Still couldn't get a hand to save my life though and tried to hold on as long as possible until I found myself sitting on the bubble with 1 blind left and way behind the next guy so I had to push with KTo and ended up busting on the bubble. I considered waiting another round of the blinds, but my odds weren't very good on improving over KTo so I'm pretty happy with the decision. It really sucks to bust on the bubble, but since I was so far behind the next player I had a long uphill battle anyway and it wasn't as if I could have waited it out.

I'll have to analyze my play some more to figure out if I was really experiencing an awful dry spell or if I could have worked with my cards a bit better. I seem to be doing a lot more folding than usual in these tourneys lately and the "dry-spell" excuse is starting to feel less and less credible. Perhaps I'm playing too tight, but I really don't think so.

Current Bankroll: $0.75 - 2M Play Chips

One of the hardest parts about this $0-$20k challenge is transitioning back and forth between the play chip and real money tables before you are able to move your real money bankroll out of the risk zone. I've been struggling with this quite a bit lately, and while most of the trouble comes at the real money tables since I've spent so much time working in my play chip strategy, it can actually be just as tough moving back to the play chip tables after a brief stint on the real money side if you are not careful. Just last night I spent a couple hours on the 1K/2K play chip tables after bankrupting my real money stack on the weekend, and in less than 2 hours I had lost close to 500K. This was really frustrating for me because I rarely lose at the play chip tables and especially not consistently enough to sustain an overall loss for a session. So rather than continuing the trend I pulled myself away from the tables and spent some time analyzing what I was doing differently so that I could try to figure out what was going wrong.

The key to success at the play money tables is tightening up severely and only playing premium hands or calling with good drawing hands. Don't try to bluff pots or force action because people are completely unpredictable when there is nothing at stake so chances are you are going to be outdrawn by some donkey. After analyzing my play during my 500K losing streak I saw that I wasn't being patient enough and I was calling large bets without the hands to back them up. You should probably avoid big hands without the premium cards in any low-limit game, but especially so in the play chip games because while they could be raising with anything, the raises are likely going to be so big that it just isn't worth the risk unless you've got a 90-100% chance of winning. If you simply sit back and wait for the premium cards and then play them hard when you hit, you won't have to worry about your tight reputation because most people won't notice it at the play chip tables and will call or reraise you big with hands that are just below yours. Since these big pots happen so often you can simply wait for the best hands and only see them out when you are sure to have the winning hand at showdown. I've played tables where I'm only seeing 8% of the flops and still have people calling me when I raise big with the nuts.

For example, I was just in a hand where I reraised preflop with KJs. I hit two-pair on the flop (KJ7 rainbow) and checked it. The other guy raised the size of the pot and I immediately reraised him. At this point I was putting him on AK or KQ, or likely even some weaker king hand since he didn't reraise my reraise preflop. I was pretty confident he wasn't holding KK since he would have definitely pushed harder preflop. The only thing I was really worried about was pocket 7's, but I didn't think he would have been pushing as hard with pocket 7's preflop. We both checked a harmless turn card, and after a harmless river I raised him half his stack and he came back over the top all in. My two pair took down his AK for a 400K pot and I doubled up in one hand leaving me plenty of time to sit back and wait for another solid hand to push with.

Now it's important to note the aggressiveness of the play in this hand and how I still put him on a hand that was weaker than my two-pair. Normally I would be very afraid of playing two-pair against such aggressiveness, but since that kind of aggressiveness is so common with a simple top pair / top kicker, you have to fight back aggressively with anything as good or better since the majority of the time you will be on top.

Money changes hands quickly at the play chip tables and in large amounts, so if you restrict yourself to the best hands you can build your play chip stack quite quickly and safely to earn yourself a spot in the nightly 500K play chip freeroll at Full Tilt Poker and move yourself into the green on the real money side. I've already moved myself back from 1.5M to over 2M in less than an hour this evening applying this strategy so I'll be taking another shot at that freeroll tonight.

Current Bankroll: $0.75 - 1.5M Play Chips

I haden't had a chance to play much over the past couple days, and when I finally sat down for a bit tonight at the 1k/2k play chip tables things didn't go too well. I lost nearly 500k in a couple hours as one big pot after another seemed to be getting stolen away from me. I definitely started to play much more poorly as things spiraled down, so I took a break from it for a bit and after I came back I was able to start building up again. Still have a ways to go to get back to 2M though.

On a more exciting note, I've gone ahead and purchased an actual domain for this blog, so you can link to it at www.runningwithspades.com rather than the old blogspot address. I've also built a little bankroll graph so that you can all follow my bankroll more easily as it progresses upwards :)

I've also added a list of some of my favorite poker players and bloggers. If you want a mention in the list give me a shout in the comments.

Current Bankroll: $0.75 - 1.65M Play Chips

The key to success in any poker tournament is knowing how to pick your battles and avoid situations that can put you at risk. More than simple calculations of odds and profit in the long run, a skilled tournament player must be ready to fold even the biggest hands when they just aren't worth the risk to play, and especially being able to push in just the right situation regardless of cards in the hole in order to avoid being placed at the mercy of the blinds.

Katitude has an excellent article about just how frustrating it can be to make those tough folds and then end up flopping the nuts. Folding AKs is not an easy thing to do, but if you consider the situation, facing a 5*BB raise amounting to almost a third of your total stack, you're much better off in the long run waiting for a situation where you can build your stack with much less risk.

The basic rule of thumb is that if calling a raise and losing puts you close to blinds risk whereas folding outright leaves you still sitting pretty, your best option is to fold. Just about the only hand I'd want to play in such a situation would be AA since I know that I would have a big advantage going to the flop, and just about every other hand you'd have to worry about being behind and would be forced to hit something on the flop.

But even with these rules laid out clearly, it's not always easy to just walk away from those big hands after hours of sitting around waiting for them. Just last night I started getting anxious near the end of a $1 90-player tournament and decided to push with pocket 10's. A big stack behind me reraised me putting me nearly all-in. If I had just folded the hand outright I still would have had plenty of time to wait for a better hand to push all-in with, but instead I was stuck going all-in with a pair of tens which easily busted out when the big stack showed jacks and ended up hitting trips on the flop.

I guess part of experience is simply having the discipline to act on the rules that you set for yourself. No matter how well you know how to play, it doesn't help if you can't stay strong all the way through a tournament because one moment of weakness like that can bust you out quite quickly.

I'll just have to keep playing and keep learning from my mistakes. I'm back down to .75 now so I'll have to wait for another shot at the 500k play chip freeroll before I can hit the real money tourneys again. I really like the 90-player one better than the 45 player one. You start double-stacked which givese you a lot more time to wait for a hand, and the prize-pool is spread out over 18 spots rather than just 6, so you have much better odds to cash. The next few days won't leave me with much time to hit the tables, but I'll try to build my play chip stack back up until I have time to take another shot at the 500k.

A Good Night

Current Bankroll: $2 - 1.69M Play Chips

Played a really solid night of poker tonight. Started out building my play chip bankroll back up over the 2M limit so that I could buy in to the 500K freeroll. Then played a great game in the freeroll avoiding any risky situations and even building my stack up large enough to not have to worry about the bubble when everyone just folds around the table waiting for someone else to make a move. Was in 4th place when the 19th player busted out and everyone else started the free-for-all donk fest. Soon I found myself in last place at the final table and so far behind the top stacks that I had to play their game to have a chance to make an extra buck or two by gunning for 1st and 2nd place since those were the next money increases. Ended up busting out on my first all-in, but can't complain because I played an excellent game and met my goal. It feels good to be back in the green with another chance at the cash side.

I also played a great game in the 7:40 No-Limit freeroll increasing my personal record to 159th place. The best part was folding every single hand for the first hour, a total of 56 hands, and then finally hitting some decent situations where I could safely build up my stack. Still couldn't catch a break though and the dry streaks put me back into blind trouble where my first all-in busted me out. It was really cool to place so high despite seeing such a dry streak of cards through the whole tourney. It just goes to show that patience almost always pays off in the end, and so it is always worth it to wait until you are really forced to push all-in.

Current Bankroll: $0 - 1.9M Play Chips

This post outlines my rules for my version of the Chris Ferguson Challenge. To skip directly to the rules, click here.

I've been on a mission over the last couple weeks. Some call it the Chris Ferguson Challenge, but for me it's simply chasing a dream. Namely, the dream of becoming a Poker Pro. Since I don't have a large enough bank account to start my own poker bankroll, and I'm definitely not good enough yet to do it with a tiny bankroll like Chris did a while back starting with just $1, without busting out a hundred times first, I've decided that the only way to do it without risking any of my own hard-earned money is to do Chris Ferguson style and start with nothing.

But how do you turn $0 into a real bankroll? Many poker rooms have multiple daily freerolls in which you can go up against hundreds of other players for a chance to cash in a couple dollars. While I do try to take part in these freerolls as often as I can, I have decided to put my main focus instead on a different route.

Due to the crazy nature of these freerolls, it is really quite difficult to place anywhere near the bubble without a good amount of luck. My highest finish is 185th in a 2700 player tourney where the top 27 cash in. Fortunately FullTiltPoker has another freeroll option that has a much better game pace. Every night at 8:40PM EST, FTP hosts a 500k Play Chip No-Limit Hold Em tournament with a $40 real money cash pool, with the top 18 cashing in. There are usually around 35 players every night, and while the play is quite tight, it's not too tough to make the top 18 pretty consistently.

While it can take some time to build up your play chip stack from the 1K that you start with to the 500K needed to enter this tourney, once you get up into higher limits, it's not too hard to consistenly make 500K in play chips daily to keep up with your entry fees for this tourney.

It took me about a week to build my play chip stack up to 1M before I decided to take a shot at this 500K tourney. I've actually cashed in on it quite a few times already, but I still haven't managed to maintain my real money bankroll once on the other side.

As such I've decided to lay out the rules for myself in much more concrete terms to maximize my chances of moving out of bankruptcy danger, and to avoid getting back into danger once out.

Rules



  1. Can't buy-in to the 500K Play Chip $40 Freeroll at Full Tilt Poker unless I have at least 2M in the bank so that I'll still have 1.5M left to build it back up before the next night without risking dropping below the 1M mark which would force me down a level from the 1K/2K tables which are the perfect limit for making back my 500K quickly.

  2. Only buy-in to cash games for 1/5th or less of my total bankroll (buy-in is 100 times BB), and tournaments for %5 or less.

  3. If I haven't played a specific tournament level in more than 3 days, don't buy-in to that level until I've got enough for 5 tournaments in a row without being forced to level down. This makes it easier to overcome the variations in play when moving up in levels and to avoid losing unnecessary buy-ins by playing levels I'm not comfortable with yet without a chance to adjust to those levels before being forced to level down.

  4. Never break any of these rules under any circumstance. This may sound a little silly at first, but it is actually the most important one. Having the rules set out makes it much easier to maintain good discipline since it is so clear-cut what you have to do, but they are still worthless if they aren't followed to the teeth.


This basically means that whenever I reach the cash side I will be playing the $1 tourneys until I build up to $50. Last time I went bankrupt it was because I was losing more money at the cash tables than my tourney winnings could sustain, and despite doing quite well at the $1 45-player tourneys, even reaching up to $17.85 at one point, my poor cash-game play bankrupted me after two days in the green.

Now I'm back to zero with 1.9M play chips so I'm going to be focusing on building up my play chip stack and getting ready for tomorrow night's 500K freeroll. Hopefully I'll be taking another shot at the real money side after that.

I'll be posting updates whenever I play, which is almost every day, so stay tuned to follow along. I'll also be discussing different strategies in the games that I play, as I work out the intracacies of this complex game. I am far from being an expert yet, but hopefully by sharing my experiences on this blog, other people can learn from them as much as I can, and who knows, maybe one day I'll be staring Chris down after building a bankroll with his methods.