« Kevin Ngo

Poker Session Special - Recap and Vegas

24 Feb 2014

Ten posts and three months ago, I started a journey through the live poker ranks of Portland. I have come a long way in a short time. With the help of Harrington on Hold’em, I’m a different player than I was from my online days, and it is with great providence that today was the day Full Tilt released my funds of $85.51. As a way of the Poker Gods saying, from henceforth, you will begin anew, as a phoenix from the flames. To commemorate this multispecial day, I am taking the night off to recap my last ten poker session posts, to reflect on how far I have come (so far) from the online days, and to talk about the lost poker session of my time playing poker in Las Vegas.

Ten Posts, Twelve Sessions

A little d3.js chart of my recent poker earnings.

It’s the perfect time to do “administrative” work, meaning keep count of numbers and such. To do so, I programmed a little chart that feeds off a simple JSON array. I plan on extending this graph to include tooltips on each plot to describe what the poker venue was (i.e Encore, Bellagio), to note the buy-in and guarantee if it was a tournament, to show its profit, and to include a link to its respective Poker Sessions blog post. By the numbers:

Growth from Transitioning to Live Poker

Early graph of the good ol’ days (2009). Keeps going up through 75k hands.

The transition from online to live poker was a godsend for me. Although online poker was much more accessible, I believe it was a deterrent to my poker growth. I would play thousands of online hands in an hour whereas I might only play 50 live hands in the same amount of time. Although that sounds great for online, the problem was that each mistake I made online became lost in the sea of hands. When playing live, because the hands go by so slowly, I recall a larger number of hands. Each mistake I make becomes magnified live.

So when I go home and blog about a session, I delibrately analyze and look into each tough decision I face. This is an effective way to plug leaks. When I adjust my game in this reflective manner, I am able to easily assimilate these changes into my game for next session.

Online, I’d just play shitloads of hands and not review my hands afterwards. Although I’d watch poker training videos, read forums and books, I didn’t target or focus down on my mistakes like I do now.

Since I can only play one table, the hands go by slower, and it’s live, I now am much better at gaining reads and exploiting individual opponents’ tendencies. Online, I would use a HUD that would summarize every opponent in a series of numbers (e.g. voluntary-put-in-pot-%, preflop-raise-%, 3-bet-%, fold-to-cbet-%). Combine that with playing 4-6 tables at once, and I ended up playing on autopilot Although I did well in the microstakes (it was hard not to), I had always felt plateaued.

A Computer Science Education

The difference between now and then was not only the transition to live poker, but my college career in computer science. Back when I was a freshman computer science student, I was pretty addicted to online poker. I did well in my classes but brought my laptop to lectures to play poker (though not much different from playing games on my phone in junior year and skipping classes senior year). I was used to the high school life of not-having-to-study-and-still-get-As.

But my journey through computer science has changed the way I learn. Computer science is a concept-oriented subject. It is best learned through application (in most cases, programming) and not memorization. I would watch poker videos but not be able to effectively apply these concepts in practice. I would take in concepts superficially and let them sit.

Computer science also taught me to learn iteratively. Like a for-loop or an iterative-based software engineering model. Each session I find mistakes. Then each hand review session I analyze and patch those mistakes. Rinse and repeat.

I am improving each session by communicating and expressing my thought process in the form of these Poker Session blog posts. Not only do I mature, but I am able to look back, share, and also improve my writing.

Lost Vegas

As a bonus, there was one poker session that I have yet to share: my trip to Vegas during the winter break of 2013. Mozilla had given everyone time off for the holidays allowing me to go on a carefree road trip with my girlfriend. I had prepared by purchasing Harrington on Hold’em Vol. 1 from Powell’s City of Books that was across the street from the Mozilla office. I think this trip to Vegas triggered something; it rebirthed and renewed my interest in poker. To me, that book purchase was a PTSD flashback. I was a relapsing 4-year-clean junkie.

I played at four casinos in Vegas:

The Bellagio

Should have gotten one of those back massages.

Christmas Day. I had been reading my Harrington book in the van on the drive from LA. It was all coming back. Cbets, board textures, double barrels, ranges. But I was rusty.

We arrived at the Bellagio where I signed up for $1/$3 no-limit hold’em. There was a wait list so I picked up a Poker Player magazine and sat to read at a video poker machine. “Kevin!”, my name was called. I grabbed my $200 in chips and headed to a table. I sat to the left of an old Asian tourist and to the right of a Russian-looking baldie.

As a funny strategy, I had my girlfriend sitting behind me so I could like an Asian tourist fish.

After about half an hour of play, I was up about $30 largely due to a successful cbet and a successful double-barrel bluff on a paired turn. Hit and run.

The Luxor

The Luxor floor.

Later around midnight, my girlfriend and I went back to the Luxor, our Egyptian-themed pyramid hotel, to find her dad and uncle. They had been eyeing the poker table that morning but against my good advice, the uncle was sat at a poker table. He was free money if I ever saw it, and indeed he was stuck a buy-in.

They persuaded me to play so they could watch and learn, offering to stake for 50% of the earnings and 50% of the losses, though I didn’t need the stake. I didn’t want to play at midnight, but I sat at the Luxor tables anyways.

I had been enticed by two Chinese tourist girls sharing a seat and a couple of old Asian guys. My bumhunting targets are old people, Asians, and tourists. They matched all of the above. Unfortunately the girls were felted before I got to sit.

Whiel I played, the uncle was walking around the table, awkwardly standing crotch-to-back behind other players, to which someone remarked.

“can we get this guy a bit farther from me? He makes me uncomfortable. He’s a lurker, you know?”

Came in a couple of locals, and the table dried out pretty quickly. I managed to make about $25 after another half hour, mostly from one 3bet/cbet bluff. We exchanged Christmas presents in the hotel room and ended the day.

The Wynn

The Christmas-themed Wynn floor.

To put it short, I did not win at the Wynn. We were north the strip since my girlfriend had childhood connections to get us free tickets to the normally-$50 Wynn Christmas-time buffet. While we were there, I sat for some more.

Although it started off swell, it didn’t end as well. I paid off a guy with top pair and was rivered by another guy for a cooler. After an hour and a half, I was stuck a buy-in. But the night was young for redemption.

The Venetian

Dealer does not approve. But he was cool about it.

We were exploring the decor of the famous casinos and hotels as we walked our way back to the Luxor on the other end of the strip. I heard about Venice-themed Venetian, how it might have been soft. We walked past the indoor water canal with the sky-painted ceilings, down the stairs to have one final go on our last night of Vegas.

I doubled up with queens within the first few hands to recoup the buy-in. There were rich middle-eastern businessmen tourists on my left and right. Good seat for a good recovery.

About $40 up coming out of Vegas. Though the amount wasn’t important, it was the spur of my poker addiction for the next few months that became the takeaway from this experience. Though the money is sometimes nice too…

Not-so-humble brag.