Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anyone want some coaching?

I miss poker! I would love to take on a student or two for some in-depth coaching.

I'm quite unusual as a coach, which I think makes me quite valuable; I'll bring a different point of view to your game both at and away from the table. Here's an example of the sort of coaching package I've offered in the past:

6 one-hour lessons for $900 ($150/hr)

Lesson 1: Getting to know you. This is not just a lesson for me to get to know you, but also for you to get to know yourself. We talk about what you are trying to get out of poker, what strengths you can play to, what weaknesses you can avoid, etc. We will also talk about ways to improve strengths or decrease weaknesses through cognition, meditation, diet, socializing, etc. etc. etc. I have played poker for a long time and read a lot of books, watched a lot of videos, written a lot of blog posts, reviewed a lot of hands. This is a chance for us to get to know each other by talking about how you are unique as a player and what we can think of that would be the best way to develop you to be better.

Lesson 2: The bare bones of poker game theory. In this lesson I go over a game where you can only have the nuts, a bluffcatcher, or a bluff, there is only one street to play, there is only one pot-sized bet left, and there is only one opponent who similarly only has the nuts, a bluffcatcher, or a bluff. Talking about this simple situation and comparing it to the more complicated game of NLHE easily fills an hour. All further lessons seek to apply the basic building-blocks learned here to different aspects of NLHE.

Lesson 3: Preflop math. We talk about how to work out [i]balanced[/i] three-betting, four-betting, and five-betting strategies, and how to play [i]balanced[/i] styles against shortstackers. We also talk about why this balanced style will beat an unbalanced style.

Lesson 4: Postflop math. We talk about how to play a balanced postflop style. This goes far beyond simple equations like when semi-bluffing is +EV, focusing on how balanced ranges change on each street, what hands you are used to bluff with, when a balanced game-plan calls for an overbet (or underbet), and so on.

Lesson 5: Exploitation. We talk about how to adjust away from our balanced game-plan to punish unbalanced opponents. Now that we've gone into great detail about what exactly balance is for our own game and why being balanced works we turn that inside-out and focus on recognizing how our opponents are not balanced and how we can make it so that their strategy doesn't. This lesson will cover questions like "what % 3bet do I start 4bet bluffing against?" and "how do I adjust against opponents with unusual cbet %s or sizings?"

Lesson 6: Practice and wind-down. We go back to retouch on the parts of the coaching that you had the most trouble with, look over some of your hands, maybe do a little sweating if you want it. This is basically an open space which we can decide the best use for as we get a feel for each other and how our coach-student relationship works.

As far as the general coaching philosophy/experience blurb, I've had four formal students in the past, but the vast majority of my experience as a coach comes from informal interactions with friends and forum members. Ironically, the last time I gave coaching was to my own coach, GoMukYaSelf, an extremely successful high-stakes cash game player who, as a much less math-based player, got a lot out of my quick overview of basic game theory and rigid balance, and out of the massive preflop equities graph that I sent him to accompany it.

As a poker player overall I do not consider myself especially remarkable, although I am certainly extremely successful and was playing as high as $10/20 online regularly while putting in massive midstakes volume earlier this year (see the videos earlier in this blog if you'd like to see more). As a student of practical application of poker game theory however I consider myself to likely be in the top 100 in the world, and as such I believe my coaching would be beneficial to players of all skill levels; even those who play higher stakes with higher winrates than me.

If you're interested please e-mail me at sflavall@gmail.com or contact me at s.flavall on skype. If you play lower stakes and the $150/hr is above your bankroll but you'd really like coaching get in touch anyway and we can try to work something out.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A little progress report

Here's a link to the manuscript as it currently stands. I actually haven't written anything for a few days. Right now it's a first try at a "narrative" form of writing, which is what I put in my last blog entry, and a first try at an "analysis" form of writing. Ultimately I expect the book to mix both, probably a lot more fluidly than it does as it stands currently.

It's also not going to end up being about poker nearly as much as it is right now. You'll start to see why as it develops; it will in fact be about what makes me win at poker, but the best way to talk about that is rarely, in my opinion, by talking about poker.

What I have been doing recently is reading a lot. Here's my current reading list:
The Poker Face of Wall Street
The Happiness Hypothesis
The Universe Next Door
Radical Evolution
Poker Winners are Different
Against the Gods
The Poker MBA

Some of these will relate more to the book than others.

Favorite thing I've learned so far:
"The Earl of Sandwich invented the snack that bears his name so that he could avoid leaving the gaming table in order to eat."

Peter L. Bernstein. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (p. 12). Kindle Edition.

Drop that one on the next person who tells you gamblers contribute nothing to society! :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A new project

Well, we've all heard about the US and online poker by now, and I'm sure anyone who wants to has heard every opinion they could possibly desire. I am frankly exhausted by the whole ordeal. I have a girlfriend here in the States and no desire to be anywhere but with her, so for now I am not going to be playing poker in the immediate future.

I spent about a month doing nothing. Played a lot of NBA 2k11, read some books about death (interest; not considering), had some long dinners with wine. Managed to miss a flight to Seattle, so I guess not being an active poker player anymore doesn't do much to help with that. Flirted with a bipolar breakdown, probably had one depending on who you ask.

I finally worked out what I wanted to do two days ago, and as is common with things I decide I want to do I am extremely extremely excited and motivated. I am going to write a book! It is going to involve poker, but not necessarily be about poker. I am so excited about this that at 4:40am I have been lying awake for four hours trying to make my brain stop writing the entire book right now, with little success.

A finished book is, I am expecting, going to be the result of an extreme amount of editing, rewriting, deleting, restarting, reading, researching, and eventually hopefully the whole publishing debacle. It seems hard to really make it work with a blog; I can't just write a chapter a day and post it and then paste all the blog posts together at the end like I was sort of doing with SNEME.

That said, I think when I am particularly excited about something I've written I'll throw it up here to get some feedback and give people something to read and maybe even get excited about. I'm just in the introductory stages, and it's very likely that what I've written so far will never make it into a final book (or be completely unrecognizable if it does), and also that dates are wrong, locations are wrong, facts are wrong, etc. Citations do not exist, which I'm very apologetic about. I just want to post it though!

Here's the first few pages as they currently stand:

I am the son of a scrawny programmer with a Masters in Computer Science and a university professor with an Economics PhD. If I lived three thousand years ago I imagine I would’ve been dead before my 18th birthday. Maybe the tonsils I had to have removed at eight would’ve gotten me. If not I would have spent the rest of my life crippled by incurable psoriasis for which there was not even palliative care, skin tone absolutely unsuited for the climate I lived in, bipolarity lurking in wait to remove my mind from reality at any moment while astigmatism slowly removed my sight, an almost complete lack of smell, and terrible foot odor. Born instead in 1987 I have thrived. Along with the foot odor.

As the Romans worshipped the Earth and the Greeks worshipped the sea, I worship my own world, mismatched and artificial though it may be. When I was three my parents took me (and a fair chunk of my immediate relatives; this was a big event in Auckland, New Zealand, back in 1990) to the computer store to buy our first home PC. I have a vivid memory of an instant fascination with a particular computer the store had set up so that prospective customers could play Captain Cosmic. I was so engrossed in the game that I didn’t even notice a store clerk trying to get me off the computer, or perhaps trying to show me how it worked. How na├»ve if so! My Great Aunt Christine (like I said, big event) recalls the story fondly: “I told him, 'sir, Stephen was born with a keyboard in his hands!'”.

Consider, if you can, that at the time there were probably fewer megabytes of data in the country than sheep.

But my parents did not only introduce me to computers. They steered me through an extremely complex world of religion, family dynamics, travel, food. I saw my mother meet with her midwife to plan a homebirth which ultimately ended in hospital, and remember my curiosity and concern seeing my first baby brother left alone in a blanket on my parents’ beds for just a few minutes after he returned from hospital. I don’t remember my exact thoughts. Did I want to ask him what God looked like, because I had begun to forget? Perhaps He was already entirely forgotten. Perhaps He never existed to begin with.

In the brazen new world of Western, industrialized society, I believe each of us is more unlike the other than ever before, but somewhere deep inside all of us we still cling to a prehistoric reverence for the same divine Mother that caught the imagination of so many before us. To you she might be hiking, baseball, painting, or American Idol reruns. She might manifest herself in the eyes of your children, the lips of your lover, or the lines of your grandfather’s skin, which seem to have left his face when he died and fled to decorate the arms of his favorite chair. Whoever she is for you, somewhere, I am confident, she is.

I remember enjoying one assignment so much that I stayed up until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, not even working on the assignment, per-se, but coloring it in. It was a math project in which I was graphing something. I do not remember what I was graphing. Definitely the important part is that there were graphs. I hated school so much as a kid that I would cry to myself in bed at night, hoping if I stayed up long enough I would not wake up in time to go. I would claim all sorts of imaginary illnesses to my mother when I did in fact wake up in the morning, and then cry all the way to school in the car. Or if feeling especially duplicitous I would pretend to have fallen asleep in the back seat. I refused to be subjected to schoolwork with such fierceness and consistency that I managed to convince my mother to let me stay home one day on which my name was called in assembly for me to be presented a graphing calculator as a prize for, as an eleven-year-old, placing second in a Mathematics Fair mandatory for almost all 11-16-year-olds in the Greater Auckland region for a statistical analysis I did on how stretchy each of the three major brands of bubble gum available to my peers was, using analysis typed up in Microsoft Excel, multiple graphs, statistically significant samples obtained by experiment which was, if not scientifically rigorous, at least resembling the scientific method, confidence intervals, and somehow even readability. I made the newspaper*. My mother says upon reading this paragraph that she’s not sure that how impressive this was is actually coming across yet. I don’t know what more to say though. I chewed the gum to stretch it myself?

My passion has always been chance. Risk. Analysis, especially in parallels. I favor understanding over certainty and usability over exactness. I really really like graphs. When I hear “five minutes spent on something you hate feels like an hour but an hour spent doing something you love feels like five minutes” the thought that it applies to my relationship with statistics takes backseat to my immediate impulse to quantify the phenomenon and measure its standard deviation. Did I mention I love graphs? I have a gigantic graph I made and spent $70 to have printed on my wall where normal people have pictures.

I am passionate about my world, and I want to share that passion. On a darker note I am afraid that we are hurting her. I hope though to focus less on not hurting my Mother, and more on what a great lady she could be if we were a little more gentlemanly while we courted her.


When I say that statistics is my mother I mean it more literally than it might at first appear. The jealousy which I remember feeling at a visiting friend stealing away my mother’s attention is bizarrely equaled by the excitement I felt whenever she would bring home the university’s plotter to make graphs and charts for one of her papers. I only realize now in writing this that the machine, nowadays almost completely obsoleted by far less archaic color laser printers, with its pen moving up and down frantically on the sheet of paper and yet progressing so slowly towards its final goal, was to me an extension of her. Not the progressing slowly part I guess, but definitely the cool looking pen making colorful charts.

As a child is in the womb he or she is able to sense a good amount of what is going on in the world outside. Light penetrates the skin to teach of the sun and its absence, and sound brings all manner of other knowledge. All the while, the child shares the chemical emotions of the mother, and over time begins to associate one circumstance with happiness, another with stress, another with sadness. I have noticed since an early age that I become extremely happy when I hear brass instruments playing in a certain range, and assume, beyond brass instruments simply being joyous, that this is explained by my mother’s happiness at my father arriving home from work, at which point he would often spend 30 minutes or so practicing for the brass band he was a part of. I guess there’s a pretty good chance I have a similar response to the sound of wrinkly old men making vague statements about economics.

Another extension of my mother was her paper for the Department of Transportation which I found, aged seven, lying innocently on the kitchen table. I approached it with a certain reverence, not brave enough to touch it to turn away from the current page, but guiltily desiring to learn the contents of my mother’s creation.

The page I happened to see was detailing to the government an analysis of the justified cost of road improvements which were expected to save a single life from a fatal car crash. I have only seen it once, seventeen years ago, but I remember it very well. As far as I could tell, my mother was saying that if you could save one life for $2,000 you should do it. This sent my mind spiraling. To speak candidly, this was very deep shit for a seven year old to be reading in his first academic analysis. Did this mean that if it cost $3,000 you shouldn’t do it? I was fascinated by these ideas.

To the credit of my mother and economists in general, I should disclose at this point that the paper actually said $200,000, and that I’m sure that the argument being made was extremely nuanced and counter-points thoroughly examined. As a seven-year-old, $200,000 understandably represented more bags of gummy bears than I could properly grasp, although perhaps not more than I could consume if left alone in a room for a long enough time. The business of putting a dollar value on preventing a death may be uncomfortable, but at least it is not cheap.

Later that night I broached the subject with my mother awkwardly. Feeling somehow in the wrong for stealing a glimpse at the paper, I avoided mentioning it, and simply asked her how much a life was worth. She asked for clarification and I said: “How many dollars?” With the enthusiasm of a parent getting to instill her child with a vital and momentous life lesson she told me gently that no amount of money could ever be worth a human life. I dropped the subject, and spent several years convinced that she had lied to me because the secret knowledge I had learned from her paper was out-of-bounds. Eventually I had the courage to bring the subject up again, this time mentioning the paper, which by this point she had forgotten. It took a few years, but I am pleased to say that we eventually managed to understand each other.

*A later opportunity to make the paper for an unrelated fundraising drive my mother was coordinating was flatly refused. I stayed in the car and attempted to program my prize calculator to act as a stopwatch by predicting the time elapsed by how many times it had cycled through an equation while my brother went and was photographed holding a sign about how kindergartens really needed your money.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So the sound didn't work for the first 30 seconds of this. All I was saying is that I've taken a week off poker and will have an update up for the last two weeks this weekend since there's a lot less footage with nothing much happening. In the meantime I've been playing a lot of chess, and this video is to show some of the cool chess things you can do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week Six

Man I feel so mediocre about that week. I guess I won at the tables and made more than SNE pace VPPs.

At this point unless tables miraculously improve to the point where I can find 24+ beatable midstakes games I'm just not going to try for three million VPPs.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Food Rant

My girlfriend claims that this is fairly coherent.

Going to go read a book. Noooooo poker today.