Lost, March Madness, and Negreanu's Preflop Bet-Sizing Mistake
No rant for today (it's been a while since I had a good one of those, I'll see if I can fire something up for one day next week. Quick...somebody piss me off!), but I do as usual have a lot to get to, both inside and outside the world of poker.
For starters, yes I was always planning to comment about this week's Lost, but it just didn't fit in with the plan yesterday and, despite what you all may believe, I actually do try to keep these things relatively short (for me, anyways). Anyways, I have to agree with the general consensus that Lost on Wednesday was great. I won't quite say it was the best episode ever, as I have heard and read many other viewers say over the past 24 hours or so, but no doubt I thoroughly enjoyed it. It seems that the writers are finally really back in their stride this year, and almost week in week out the show is back to its old formula of interesting flashbacks, good storylines with actual meaningful plots, and Lost's particular brand of answering questions but raising five more almost every week. For example, it was great to finally learn how Locke ended up in that wheelchair. And what a phucking asshole that dad is, huh? Unreal. And Locke destroying that submarine was certainly interesting to see, although to be honest I don't see why he would do that in reality. I mean fine, maybe he doesn't want to go back, but there's no reason why he couldn't stay there with the Others -- Ben already seems to kinda like and accept him to some degree -- and yet still allow his friends to return to civilization. But wtf was Ben talking about with all that stuff about the box that opens up to reveal whatever you want to be in it? Huh? And what on earth (if that's even the right question) is Locke's father doing in that room at the end? And another thing -- is Ben or is Ben not the leader of the Others? At first when they caught him he kept talking about the leader. Then we see him barking orders in flashbacks and in the present. Then someone suggests there might be another leader ahead of him, and there is this other guy recruiting Juliette for Porject Dharma in the flashbacks, and seemingly ordering the murder of her ex-husband. Then we see Ben's power in even getting that judge lady Isabelle or whatever her name was to stop the trial of Juliette by overrulling her just by writing some orders down on a piece of paper, and it seems like he might actually be the leader after all. Then Mikhail a couple of weeks ago laughs when they suggest to him that Ben is the leader, and is clear that he's talking about someone who is above Ben in the pecking order. Now this week, Ben once again appears to be in charge. What the fug is going on with those people?
This is what I mean about what makes Lost so great IMO. They are just so good at giving you just enough information in most episodes to whet your appetite -- enough to keep you going and make you not be able to wait for next Wednesday night. Personally, I'm basically counting down the hours to the next Lost starting usually around Sunday evening, when the kids are asleep and I'm starting to think about the beginning to another long week of my "other" job (other than playing poker) in the office. In many ways looking forward to Lost is one of the things that gets me through the first couple days of the week, in that I probably think about it almost every day at some point and look forward to my next daily dose of just-enough-information-to-get-by. I'll tell you one thing that jeciimd pointed out to me in the girly chat that I think is just about the most on-point comment I've heard this week about Lost -- remember back within the past couple of months, when all anybody ever wanted was for the damn writers to get back to the old island and give us all our old characters back that we know and love? How long ago was that? 4 weeks? 5 weeks? Well look at it now. When I see the scenes from next week and see Sawyer yelling at somebody, Sun slapping Sawyer, etc., I have to admit, I'm kinda bored by that. I wanna get me some more of the Others! That's the interesting shit nowadays on Lost, don't you think? Great job by the writers on making that transition since the show returned to air early in February. Awesome episode this week, and it seems like mostly everyone agrees.
Well it's Friday in late March, and that means we had another batch of March Madness games going down on Thursday night, as half of the Sweet 16 turned into the Elite 8, with the remaining 8 teams playing down to 4 more to round out the Elite 8 after Friday night. Thursday saw Ohio State try its best to lose once again, this time going down by 20 points just before the end of the first half (its largest deficit at any time to any team this entire season before Thursday had been 9 points), before finally deciding to be ballas in the second half, quickly pour it on early and often and basically tie the game up with about 12 minutes left, after which time the teams battled it out, seesawing back and forth in what ended up being a really great game. In the end OSU pulled it out, sending a very disappointed but I think overmatched Tennessee team to the rail after a hard-fought loss, so OSU moves on to face John Calipari's Memphis Tigers, victors over upstart Texas A&M last night in a game that a whole bunch of bloggers were picking to go A&M's way. That was another great game (what else is new for March Madness?), which saw two free throws with just seconds left ice the 1-point victory for Memphis, running its incredible winning streak now to 25 consecutive games as they head into one of the great matchups of the tournament with Ohio State and monstrous "freshman" Greg Oden. And I put the quotes around the word freshman there because, and let's be honest here, Oden looks old enough and scary enough to be my phuckin grandfather, let alone my father. I can only assume he was held back 5 or 10 times in grade school or something, because that guy grows a thicker beard than me in about a 5-hour timespan, he's obviously about a foot and a half taller than me, and he just has the look of someone who's been everywhere, done it all, and is ready to kick some serious ass. Most 17-year-olds I know don't quite have that look about them that Greg Oden has. And what a block to preserve the victory last night for his Buckeyes.
In the other bracket, UCLA eliminated Pittsburgh in a matchup of UCLA coach Ben Howland against his former team, and he was able to lead the Bruins to an early lead that they just never gave up throughout the entire game. Pitt played admirably I think against a UCLA team that was undefeated for a while and was the #1 team in the country for a good portion of the season before faltering a bit at the end there, and so departs the last Big East team left in the tournament other than my Georgetown Hoyas who will play tonight. UCLA's win sets up another awesome matchup on Saturday, this one against regional #1 seed Kansas who held on for dear life for a 3-point victory against the Salukis of Southern Illinois. The Salukis put up a great fight and really put a scare into Kansas on a couple of occasions when they looked like they might be ready to take a nice lead in both halves, but in the end the all-around talent and tremendous coaching of Bill Self enabled Kansas to hold on to round out Thursday's slate of winners and set up two much-anticipated matchups for Saturday afternoon / evening. That's one good thing about there being very few upsets of the high seeds so far this year -- lots of great matchups of #1 and #2 seeds like Ohio State - Memphis and UCLA-Kansas to look forward to on the second weekend of the Big Dance.
Moving to tonight's games, first you've got last year's national champion Florida favored by 10.5 over midmajor darling Butler. I definitely pick Florida to win this game -- I had them beating Old Dominion in this round in my bracket because I had identified the sub-bracket with ODU and Butler as weak because the high seed, #4 Maryland, is one of these overseeded bloated ACC suckjob teams -- and I think the switchup to Butler will make it perhaps a little harder for Florida. But in the end Florida has the talent, the coaching, and after last year the experience to win this game tonight. That line is kinda big to me so if I had to pick a side I would have to go with Butler, but in reality I would probably avoid betting this game at all if given the choice (hopefully you have the choice). For entertainment purposes only, of course.
Next is a little team I like to call the Georgetown Hoyas battling it out with #6 seeded Vanderbilt, and as I mentioned earlier this week, this matchup looks fairly lopsided to me on paper. Of course that's why you always play out the games, but with Vanderbilt not even starting a center, and with their tallest player standing at just 6-foot-9 (on his tip-toes even), 7-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert ought to have a field day against this team. And the Hoyas have been real tough in almost every game this year when Hibbert was able to get his game on in the inside early. My Hoyas are favored by 7.5 in this game, and again I do think that is a fairly good line but if I had to pick it for entertainment purposes only, I would pick Georgetown to slightly best that spread and be one of the few teams to avoid a close game in this round of the Big Dance.
Oregon is favored by 3 points over surprising #7 seeded UNLV tonight in the first of the two late games, and even though the line opened at 2.5 and has now risen to 3 points, it seems to me that most people I know are jumping on the UNLV bandwagon, including several blogger types. Me, I'm sticking with Oregon. UNLV had a good little season this year, but Oregon quietly had a great season, not only compiling a 26-7 regular season record, but winning the Pac-10 tournament and winning its last 6 games heading into the NCAA Tournament in the process. And, they showed they can beat good teams, both at home and on the road, including big wins at Georgetown, Arizona, Washington State and USC, at and home against UCLA, Arizona and Washington State to boot. I see Oregon, another very well-coached team, ending the quasi-Cinderella season for UNLV tonight in a mid-single-digit victory, so I would lean towards a slight cover of the spread for UNLV in tonight's game.
Last tonight is UNC favored by 8.5 over USC, and this one is another real mismatch the way I see it. I think Carolina is better both inside and outside than an overmatched USC team that I am surprised has even made it this far in the tournament. Even though it's a fairly big line, I'm thinking Carolina is likely to win the game and cover this spread by the time the final whistle blows. I've had the feeling that Carolina and Georgetown have been set on a crash course to meet in the Elite 8 ever since the brackets first came out, and I don't see either team losing tonight in their Sweet Sixteen game as I think both teams are clearly better, stronger, faster and better coached than their respective opponents. And did I mention that if Georgetown wins the game tonight, I am going to the Sunday game at the Meadowlands, hopefully to watch that power UNC-Georgetown matchup live and in the flesh? Bring it on Tarheels. We'll break you just like Jeff Capel when he hit that halfcourt shot off the backboard to send the Duke-Carolina game into triple overtime back in 1994-1995 when Duke was so awful while Coach K(issmyass) was in the hospital and recovering from back surgery.
So that's it. After going 1-1 with my two picks last Friday, tonight I am giving up Butler plus 10.5 points, Georgetown minus 7.5 points, Oregon minus 3 points, and UNC minus the 8.5 points. So three favorites and just the one dog -- Butler -- on the entertainment purposes only picks for tonight, and even that dog I do think will lose the game overall, as all four favorites look to me to be poised to advance just like we saw in last night's games.
OK I did want to make one interesting poker point today before I sign off. You may recall me mentioning earlier in the week that I had recently bought a whole new spate of poker books. One of those was Daniel Negreanu's Hold'em Wisdom For All Players, a book I was hoping would be chock full of secrets and little tidbits as to exactly how Daniel reads other players so well and does what he does best, taking cheap flops with less than premium hands, and then making the best when he thinks he is ahead or his opponent his weak, and knowing when to fold 'em otherwise when he's just not feeling it. Instead, sadly, what I've found here about halfway through the book is largely a watered-down, thinned-out skin-n-bones poker text that barely even scratches the surface of anything that any of us would consider "advanced" poker concepts. I can't believe it. Why on earth would Daniel Negreanu bother writing such a lowest-common-denominator book on holdem like this? Having of all people Daniel Negreanu write a poker book on this simple a level is a bit like hiring Frank Lloyd Wright to design your kid's diorama-in-a-shoebox project for his second-grade class. I just don't understand it.
Anyways, one point Daniel makes in the middle of his book really struck me as downright bad advice, and I'd love to get your thoughts on it. In Chapter 13, Daniel basically advocates using bets between a third and three-quarters of the pot on the flop, and suggests that betting more than that will not likely change your opponents' decisions as to whether or not to call/raise or fold, but will just drain more money from your stack when you do end up losing the hand. To me, Daniel could not be more wrong about this. Now, as Sklansky points out very intelligently in his recent no-limit holdem book, bets on the turn can very sensibly be less (in relation to the size of the pot) than your bets on the flop, because on the flop you have 2 cards to come, and thus your opponents will have higher chances of making their straights, flushes and other drawing hands because they still have two chances to make them. Thus, Sklansky argues, your bets ought generally to be of a sufficient size on the flop to deter those players from drawing to their hands, in consideration of the fact that they still have two cards to come. On the turn, however, Sklansky correctly argues that now, with just one card to come, a much smaller bet (in relation to the then current size of the pot) is often sufficient to effectively price your opponents out of their draws, because your opponents will be facing much longer odds to draw to whatever hand they might be sticking around to try to hit. By completely ignoring this entire analysis and any mention even of this distinction between bet-sizing on the flop and bet-sizing on the turn, I think Daniel misses a key point here in the book and ends up giving advice that is truly terrible when applied to the most important situations in most holdem games.
As an example, imagine I have K♣K♠ and raise it up 3x. Two opponents call my 3x raise, and we see a flop of T♥9♥4♣. I like my hand here, and I'm fairly sure it's the best hand out there right now. However, with the Ten and 9 out there, a straight draw of some kind is not just possible but probably downright likely. And with the two hearts as well on the flop, anyone with two hearts in their hand is going to be tempted to draw at that flush as well. Now why on earth would I ever only bet a third of the pot here, or anything close to it even? As Erick Lindgren points out in his book Making the Final Table, draw-heavy boards call for larger flop bets than boards with no draws on them, and this is a perfect example of why. Let's say there's 1000 chips in the pot when the above flop falls and I've got the two Kings in my hand. If a player is on a straight draw or a flush draw, with two cards to come both of those hands are basically around 33% to win. That means they are 2-to-1 against filling if the players stay in to see both cards. At 2-to-1, that means that even if I bet the full amount of the pot here (another 1000 chips), then they will each be faced with calling 1000 chips to win 2000 chips, or 2-to-1. So, even by betting the full amount of the pot, I'm really only able to make chasing the draws here marginally inadvisable for them (it still is somewhat inadvisable because I am counting their odds of filling the draws over two cards, even though in reality I have the ability to bet again on the turn if no draws are filled by the turn card, but still). Now why in the world would Negreanu be recommending that I only bet, say, between 300 and 700 chips on this flop? That recommendation makes no sense at all IMO, and I can't believe Negreanu has allowed his name to be attached to that kind of a statement.
Now, you tell me that on a flop of Q72 rainbow, with 1000 chips in the pot, a bet of 500 ought to be enough to take it down when I hold pocket Kings, and I won't really argue that (though even still, his recommendation of the low end of a third of the pot is still I think far too low given what the donkeys out there tend to draw at on a regular basis in my games, and this is in both live and online play). But half the pot on a totally ragged, unsuited flop, that makes some sense. But recommending in his book that people just keep all their bets on all streets between a third and 75% of the current pot is generally terrible advice to be giving as far as I'm concerned. The much better advice the way I see it is a combination of Erick Lindgren and David Sklansky's from their respective books. Lindgren on flop bets, that draw-heavy boards call for larger, closer to pot-sized bets, while boards with no likely draws can be closer to 40-60% of the pot and should accomplish the same goal of chasing others out with less risk. And then Sklansky on turn bets, where he correctly points out that at that point in the hand, with only one card to come and therefore when players are facing just 17-19% chances of those straights and flushes filling on the river, you can bet more like a third of the pot, which itself is already enough to make those bad calls for your drawing opponents to chase. Think about it -- if your opponents are facing draws of less than 20% with one card to come, then their chances of hitting on the river are slightly more than 4-to-1, call it 4.1 or 4.2-to-1 for most straight and flush draws. So, if there are 1000 chips in the pot after the turn card is out, a bet of even 300 chips -- just 30% of the pot -- means they will have to call 300 to win 1300, which already prices them out of making the call if they know what they're doing. So that's the advice I'm giving on bet sizing in the poker book that I'll never write -- close to the size of the pot on draw-heavy flops, and closer to half the pot on no-draw flops, and around a third to half the pot on most turns. And to me that is far, far better advice than the generalized drivel that Negreanu includes in chapter 13 of his book. Does anyone disagree with this thinking, or think that Negreanu is right when he goes on about how "real professionals and those who aspire to make their games better" play small-bet poker, but the amateurs are the ones who bet close to the size of the pot on the flop? I think that's redonkulous, and for a guy of the skills of Danny Boy to makes those statements in print for all to see for all of time, I think he should be embarrassed.
Friday night. That means I'll be watching my Hoyas stomp all over Vanderbilt, while I hopefully satellite my way into the midnight bracelet race on full tilt. Wish me luck, on both fronts!
Oh and don't forget the latest WPBT event, Event #3 (Razz) is on the slate for this Sunday evening. Columbo's blog says this event is scheduled for 9pm ET on Sunday, but as of last night the thing was listed on full tilt for 8pm ET. Either way, make the time, make sure you check to see if it is changed from the current 8pm ET setup, and either way go get a token and play in this $26 buyin (tier I token) tournament for bloggers only. Come on, you know you don't want to miss Razz, easily the most frustrating of all the poker variations. This is an event that I won last year in the WPBT, and I plan to be there to take the thing down again on Sunday. Now if you haven't bought in yet, go play one of those $13.75 buyin heads-up sngs on full tilt and win yourself a token for half-price. See you Sunday night for the WPBT Razz tournament!