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Live Poker Series in the USA: November, December 2014

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Welcome to the PocketFives Tournament Preview presented by Poker Update. Every month, we will preview tournament series that are of interest to players in the United States, looking for good values, big fields, and the best venues for any size bankroll anywhere in the country.

PocketFives Live Tournament Preview: May

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Welcome to the PocketFives May Live Tournament Preview presented by TourneyTracks.com. In the past, May was a month off for traveling tournament pros, as everyone spent a little time at home with their families and prepared for the World Series of Poker, but those days are gone.

PocketFives Live Poker Tournament Preview: April

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Welcome to the inaugural PocketFives Tournament Preview presented by TourneyTracks.com. Every month, we’ll be previewing live events and discussing the upcoming month in tournament poker. We’ll cover the best values, most unique events, and options for the traveling tournament pro. If there is any event you would like to see included in future months, let us know at tourneytracks@gmail.com.

Transitioning to Live Poker: Part 2

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This is Part 2 of our discussion on transitioning from online poker to live poker, a situation many pros have faced in the post-Black Friday era. If you haven’t already checked it out, be sure to read Part 1, which focuses on physical tells and learning to read appearances. Your bankroll will thank you.

Transitioning to Live Poker: Part 1

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Since Black Friday, I’ve seen some incredible changes in the way poker players make a living. When the rug was swept out from under us, many poker pros were left hanging with very little source of income. Players who lived far from traditional card rooms and weren’t able to move were left with some tough choices, compounded by the loss of bankroll on Full Tilt, UB, and Absolute Poker.

Learn Poker by Doing

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When I first started working on poker seminars with Dr. Al Schoonmaker, he said to me, “Fox, most people don’t learn by reading or watching, they learn by doing, by being an active participant.”

Preview: The Fundamentals of No Limit Hold’em

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The following is an excerpt from Fox’s new book, No Limits: The Fundamentals of No Limit Hold’em, which can be pre-ordered at the book site.

You can beat any opponent. No matter what style your opponents are playing, it can be beaten. The only players you should have trouble beating are very strong players who play like you do. Which is to say without any style at all. Using the information provided in this book you can adjust to any opponent foolish enough to sit down with you. Here are some example problems that I often hear from my students and the simple solutions to them. You may notice that solving these problems is really all about seeing everything as an opportunity rather than a road block.

The Complaint – “They never fold.”

The Solution – Stop bluffing.

If they are loose preflop, you should play speculative hands that can flop a monster, and when you make the nuts, those calling stations will pay you off. When you get a big hand preflop, make a big raise to ruin their implied odds and punish them for calling, and when you have a good speculative hand, just limp along in position and try to make the nuts cheaply. If you happen to flop a medium strength hand try to keep the pot small since there is no chance of chasing your opponents out of the pot. Against players who don’t fold hands you can usually be in charge of how large the pot is going to be and make sure that it is a reasonable size for your hand.

The Complaint – “They are bluffing me out of every pot. At the first sign of weakness they move all-in”

The Solution – Find their trigger and use it against them.

If your opponents are truly putting all of their chips in the pot any time you check or make a small bet then you need to be more willing to put all your chips in with them, and you need to identify the exact triggers that cause them to put their chips in pot. If you have an opponent who puts all his chips in the middle every time you check twice then make sure to check twice when you have any reasonably strong hand and take his whole stack. Be patient and when you make a big hand, this guy will pay you off.

The Complaint – “This guy bets out at every flop”

The Solution – Raise more.

If you are folding too often, then your opponent is simply playing correctly and he will take all of your money if you don’t adjust. You need to fold when you have nothing and make a solid raise when you think you are ahead. When I say a big raise I mean about the size of the pot. Anything from middle pair to a good draw may be worth a big raise if you think your opponent is likely to be behind. Then you are winning pots that have extra money from your opponent in each pot you win and he is taking the pot without extra money when you have nothing. You can’t lose if you win the big pots and he wins the smaller ones.

The Complaint – “He constantly raises my blind”

The Solution – Don’t defend your blinds with a call. Reraise!

If someone is stealing your blind too often, you need to make a good sized reraise rather than just calling. You will be out of position for the rest of the hand, so if you have a hand worth defending when it looks like your opponent is stealing, you want to make a big enough raise to end the hand now if possible. If you are in a full ring game, you simply give up your blind and steal a blind from the guy to your left. Over time it all evens out. The blinds are not a position where you will be able to show a profit in most cases anyway, so it might be best to just consider it the cost of playing poker.

The Complaint -“They call my preflop raises and then bet out at every flop.”

The Solution – Be selective and float.

Be a little more selective with your preflop raising hands for a start. If you start with a big hand you can just move all-in on the flop after they bet and make a nice profit over the long run. As a second solution, you may want to call a few of those bets when you are in position (sometimes called “floating”) and see how they react on the turn. If they check to you and fold when you bet, then you have your solution. If they are just constantly going to try to push you out of pots I suggest you take Layne Flack’s words to heart: “Why push when the donkey is pulling?” When you make a big hand, let them keep betting it for you until the end and you’ll be able to win a huge pot every time you hit the flop hard.

The Complaint – “Every time I make a hand everyone folds.”

The Solution – Use your tight image: Start bluffing and semi-bluffing.

Bet your draws and your mediocre holdings, even those as weak as two over cards. If everyone keeps folding you can make a ton of money buying pots, and if they adjust to how often you are betting then you will finally get paid off on your big hands.

The Complaint -“They keep calling my bets and making hands on the river.”

The Solution – Punish them harder.

Make bigger bets on the flop and the turn. If there is an obvious draw out and your opponent probably has that draw then bet two-thirds of the pot on the flop and the turn if the draw misses. This will punish them badly if they choose to see the river with their draw.

Remember that many of these problems can be merely problems of perception. Are they really folding every time you have a big hand, or just the last two times? Do they really always call your bets, or have you been bluffing a lot, even after you were caught and your table image was ruined? Make certain the problem is real before you adjust to it or you can end up chasing ghosts all night.

Any time you have a problem with a table or a certain player, stop and think very clearly about the problem. Write it down. Think about the correct response to the situation and implement it. Don’t be stressed about short term results, just implement your solution to their playing style and play well. If they call too much, and happen to hit a big hand and take your stack when you try to punish them, just rebuy and get back to it. They’ll keep calling you and you will keep punishing them and you’ll get that money back.

Make sure to think about things from your opponent’s perspective as well. If you are having a problem, you may very well be playing incorrectly in some way and your opponent has either adjusted to it or his style is already defeating it. What is he doing to adjust to your style? How is he defeating you? What do you look like to him and what mistakes might he be seeing in your play?

Every problem has an in-game solution except one: if your opponent is simply a very strong player then get up and leave. There are too many games these days to bother with playing someone who is playing very well. I have personally run into this situation many times in online games where the table gets down to two handed and my opponent and/or I decide that there is just better money elsewhere. There is no shame in quitting and finding a better table. We don’t play this game for pride; we play it for money, and if there is more money at another table or against a different opponent then go get it.

The key to thinking about frustrating opponents is being able to adjust to anything they do. A good understanding of the math and theory involved is important. Once you understand how to play correctly against strong opponents, you can easily see how the source of your frustration deviates from that correct play and you can adjust to it. Knowing that the opponent is willing to put in all his chips at any time, and will often do so, should not be a problem (he always chases me out of pots), it should be an opportunity (when I hit a good hand he will give me all of his chips).

Likewise with the opponent who never folds. “I can’t get him to fold” should really be rephrased as “He will always pay me off and I can value bet against him.” Regardless of what your opponent is doing that is causing you a problem, you must see it simply as a deviation from correct play, and find a way to punish him for his mistakes rather than stick with a style that isn’t working against him.

Approaching things this way will make every frustrating opponent start to look like a source of riches, and each of them will be a learning experience as well. Once you have figured out how to beat certain mistakes you will never forget it, and players who make those mistakes in the future against you will find themselves on the rail very quickly. It won’t be long before you have most of the common mistakes figured out and your only worry is improving your reading skills so that you notice those mistakes faster.

There will be situations where a terrible player just hits the right cards against you over and over. As long as you are certain that he is making large mistakes (and not doing something like chasing when you are giving him huge implied odds to do so) then it’s fine to stay in a game where a bad player is beating you. Simply take a minute or two to think clearly about the situation, remember how to beat this type of player, and go on with your game plan without fear. Sometimes it just isn’t your day, but a few good hands against a weak player can turn it all around. Now let’s get in to the gritty stuff with a chapter on bet sizing…

I’ll see you at the final table,

Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace

Pre-order this book by clicking on the following link:

No Limits: The Fundamentals of No Limit Hold’em

Do You Have What it Takes to Play Poker for a Living?

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Do you have what it takes to go pro? Are you really sure you want to know? You might not like the answer, but I can give you a pretty good idea what it takes. If you’re happy with poker now and you’re enjoying playing poker, stop reading now and don’t worry about it.

How would we know if you have what it takes?

The first way we could tell if you have “it” is if you became successful in the poker world very quickly. Since you are reading this, you probably did not have that experience. Those twenty year old whiz kids

Competing Against Big Name Players in Live Poker Tournaments

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Even the best of the best make mistakes. They are fallible and they are flawed and most importantly, they are beatable. If you are going to play a large buy-in tournament any time soon, read on and learn how to treat the Stars as equals. I knew they were human after playing cash games with so many of them online, but I was still a little intimidated by some of the big names in live tournaments. I no longer have that problem. Day 1A of the Shooting Star event on the World Poker Tour cured me of any fears I had about playing with big names.

After the nightmare of Day 1A, I can't imagine I'll be intimidated by anyone at the tables in the future. For most of the day, our table included:

Gavin Smith – Very aggressive pro seated two to my left. Not a good start.

Steve Brecher – To Gavin's immediate left. Last year's Shooting Star winner. Very nice guy.

Mike Matusow – The Mouth needs no introduction. Dude can play.

Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson – Game theory expert, WSOP Main Event winner, un-tilt-able poker machine.

We also had Gavin Griffin at the table for awhile, and there just aren't that many seats left for weak players with so many sharks at the table. A number of people stopped by the table to offer their condolences, and Mike Matusow even offered tournament director Matt Savage a $5,000 chip from the Venetian to break our table. He was joking… mostly. Day 1A was the toughest poker I have ever played, and the hardest I have ever worked during a day of poker.

The best way to deal with a spot where you are uncomfortable at a table is to play tight for a little while and sit back and watch. I've read advice from Mike Caro, Annie Duke, and Dan Harrington advocating caution when you first arrive at a new table, and that advice served me well. I spent the first hour or two playing very few hands and studying my opponents. I leaned back in my chair and watched them, looking for tells, trying to spot weakness, and getting a feel for who they were.

My patience paid off when I saw that they weren't dominating the table or destroying opponents at will. The big names were playing tight and solid poker like everyone else, and if they didn't catch any hands they weren't going to be able to do anything. They are at the mercy of the cards just like the rest of us.

The first thing I discovered was that the notoriously aggressive Gavin Smith wasn't going to be 3-betting every pre-flop raise. In fact, he didn't three-bet once during the first hour. And Steve Brecher only played one hand during the first hour. With these two on my left I was actually able to steal the blinds a few times, and three-bet an aggressive player to my right a few times, taking down the pots without seeing a flop. Just being able to rake a few pots without a contest took down the stress level a little bit.

It wasn't long before Matusow and Ferguson were moved to the table and seeing how unhappy they were about the table made it a little easier. Neither of them tried to take over the table, and seeing everyone slow down and feel out the table when they arrived was a good sign that they were taking the same approach I had used to start the day.

It's also a big help to do your homework and know that your game is solid. Learning at the tables is fine, and we all learn from experience, but you'll learn more from your first big live tournament experience if your basic strategy is already solid. Playing tournaments online is a big help in learning basic strategy, and playing some live tournaments is important to help you get comfortable with the live playing environment.

If you go in to a tournament with a solid understanding of what the correct plays are, it's easier to make them even under stress. If you read Kill Everyone and both volumes of Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time, you can develop a strong foundation and really know that you are making the right play instead of suspecting or hoping. You won't doubt yourself if you are certain what the correct play is. If you aren't sure about a play it's too easy to doubt yourself. This is doubly true when you are facing a re-raise from a player you have only seen on TV. Do your homework so that you know the right play in most spots and make the game as easy for yourself.

It's also important not to let yourself be drawn in to too much conversation. I love to talk, and many of the pros are the same way, but if I spend all day talking to them I won't be able to watch the table and learn about my opponents. The big name pros are already comfortable in this environment. Until you are comfortable it's best to spend more time paying attention and less time talking. If it's important for you to befriend these guys you might as well be a member of their fan club and save yourself ten grand because you aren't going to make the money if you spend the whole tournament trying to chat with the pros and handing them chips.

I won't name any names, but I saw significant mistakes from a number of big names over the course of the tournament that ensured I will never be intimidated by them again. I saw one pro call with a weak hand against a semi-short stack that was an obvious mathematical mistake. Another pro had a significant tell that I was able to exploit to re-steal from him when I really needed chips. Mistakes in strategy were common among the pros I played with over the course of nearly 20 hours of poker, and I even saw a lesser known pro tighten up on the bubble with obvious concern for the minimum payout when he should have been attacking a tight table.

Knowing that the pros make the same mistakes we all make on occasion is the best way to handle playing with them. If you are a strong player then you are chopping up the weak players chips with the pros instead of losing your chips to them. And there were weak players, even in a very tough field like the Shooting Star where we had 40 serious pros playing as bounties in a field of only 331.

By the end of the first day Smith, Griffin and Ferguson had been busted, Brecher was short stacked, and Matusow was mad at me. And somehow I was the table chip leader. It was a lot of work, but with a combination of good play and a few good hands, I made the money. With 28 players left, knowing that one of us was going to win $880k, the hardest thing I dealt with in the tournament was leaving with a miserable $17,600. Next time I'll be playing even better and I'll start the tournament with the knowledge that I can play with these guys. Any of them.

I'll see you at the final table,
Chris 'Fox' Wallace

P.S. Join me at the tables by downloading the Poker Pros Network.

*Opinions expressed in this article and other user-submitted content do not necessarily reflect the views of PocketFives.com as an organization.

More Articles by Fox

Rush Poker – A Game Changer for Online Poker Jan 20, 2010
Playing the Bubble Correctly in Online Poker Tournaments Dec 02, 2009
Stay Sharp at the Poker Tables Part 2 Nov 10, 2009
Stay Sharp at the Poker Tables Part 1 Oct 28, 2009
Double or Nothing ICM Calculations Sep 23, 2009
Why Aren't More People Playing Omaha Poker? Sep 07, 2009
Poker College (Part 4) Aug 24, 2009
Poker College (Part 3) Aug 17, 2009
Poker College (Part 2) Aug 10, 2009
Poker College (Part 1) Aug 03, 2009
Taking the Plunge Jun 23, 2005
Wax On, Wax Off Jun 14, 2005
A Damn Fine Week for the Fox Jun 06, 2005
A Quick Update Jun 02, 2005
Thanks to Beanie and Annie May 27, 2005
Killing the Single Tables May 17, 2005
Playing Multiple Tables May 12, 2005
Meeting Beanie and Feldliss May 09, 2005
Still Chasing Bonus Dollars May 06, 2005
A Frantic Week May 02, 2005
Party Bonus This Week Apr 22, 2005
I Learned Something Today Apr 16, 2005
Put On Your Tin Foil Hat… Apr 12, 2005
Whipping the Entire Field Apr 08, 2005
Introduction to Fox Apr 05, 2005

Protecting Players’ Rights in Live Poker Events

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When I heard about the NAPT, I was excited about the possibility of a tournament series in the U.S. with fair player treatment, good rules and lots of different buy-ins. The NAPT was described to me by another player at a poker table as "competition for the WPT with favorable rules for players and none of the bullshit." This statement got me interested, but I should have remembered to do my own research before putting my faith in anyone having any concern for the players in a poker tournament.

The simple economics make the players the last thing anyone worries about while running a poker tournament series. If possible they want to make the players happy, but when it comes right down to it, the players are last on the list because they will show up anyway. They are either poker pros who have to play to make a living, gambling addicts who will play no matter what, or recreational players who are just excited to be there and don't know that they are being sold up the river to the wolves on both banks.

There have been a few pros in the past who have fought with the World Poker Tour over the rules of their release and whether they would be allowed to use the player's likeness forever in their ads and promotions, but it didn't appear to hurt the WPT terribly and the tournaments went on without them.

Today I was considering a trip to play in a few NAPT events in the spring, and before booking them I decided to have a look at the rules and the waiver I would have to sign. I knew I wouldn't be terribly excited about some of the things in these legal papers, after all it's not like the old days when you paid money to buy in and you got paid out at the end. This is big business for the casinos and the magazines and the online poker sites and television producers. If you don't allow these people to use your image, likeness, film of you, and everything about you, you can't play. Sign the form or you don't get your chips.

You would expect them to compensate the players for this right? After all, the players are basically part of a big poker based reality show, and they should be paid if they are featured. But as I noted above, the players are the last thing the tournament organizers have to worry about. So the players give everything away, agree to rules they know nothing about and sign forms they haven't read. Even those players who do look at the forms, and don't like the rules, are going to sign anyway. They may have driven hours to play the tournament and they stand ready, cash in hand, to take a shot at winning a huge prize. A few disagreeable rules aren't going to get in their way now.

Luckily for me, I checked out the rules online before I booked a flight to go to an NAPT event, where I discovered that this is not just a poker tournament series taking place in North American Cities, it is a misnamed PokerStars Poker Tour, sponsored by PokerStars. My first indication of this was the fact that no more than 10% of the field can wear logos from any site except PokerStars. Yes, if you don't have a ton of experience in bigger live tournaments it may be a surprise, they can and will tell you what to wear.

At the NAPT this concept has been taken farther than ever before. In addition to limiting the number of players who can wear non-Poker Stars apparel, the rules state the following:

1. You can wear one breast pocket path and one logo patch on each sleeve, but that is the only branded gear allowed.

2. You can wear a baseball hat with a logo, or use a card protector with a logo, but they may not be visible at the TV table.

3. If you are going to wear approved logo patches, you must sign a form that you are a sponsored player before the tournament begins and you can not change your mind during the tournament.

4. If you have not registered as a sponsored player before the tournament begins, you won't be able to wear any logos at any time. This means that if you hit the final table and get a ton of television exposure, you can't sign any deals before the final table starts (as so many players have done in the past) to score a nice extra payday.

5. No more than 2 players from any brand can display logos at the final table. If your favorite site already has a ton of players in the tournament they aren't likely to have any interest in you because of this rule.

This all adds up to the rich getting richer and the poor staying that way. The people who run the tournament are going to make their money, and if something really great happens they can show it over and over forever. Meanwhile the no-name player who is trying to get his foot in the door is going to have trouble getting a sponsorship deal before the tournament starts because the major sites will already have 10% of the field sponsored and who would want to take a risk on him anyway without a track record of previous big wins. And once he starts the tournament with no sponsor, he can't change in the middle. In fact he can't even wear his lucky shirt if it has a poker logo on it and he doesn't want to sign a form to officially endorse the site for the rest of the tournament.

When he wins the tournament, our lucky underdog won't make any extra cash from sponsorship deals, but he will still have to pay a large chunk of that money in taxes, and they'll still expect him to leave a percentage as a tip for the dealers. His appearance on television won't earn him any money, he signed away those rights when he entered the tournament, and the tournament series won't pay him anything to use his name and his face no matter how charming he might be, because he signed those rights away too. Take your 60% of the first place money and go home pal, there's still a lot of money to be made on this poker tournament, but you aren't getting another nickel of it.

Meanwhile, on the internet…

Someone just won $100,000 from their armchair while watching a football game, and they are subject only to the tax rules of wherever they live. If that is Canada or Costa Rica or a host of other countries, they pay no taxes at all, and even if they live in the U.S., they can write off other tournament entries and expenses against it before the tax man gets his share. No one uses their likeness for anything, and if they end up as a ranked online player, they can choose to endorse any site they like at any time. They won't be asked to help pay the staff by tipping at the end of the tournament, and the tournament fees will almost always be lower than they would be in a live tournament.

So I'll stay home this time. I can wear any shirt I like, sport my lucky hat all the way through the tournament, and no one can walk up and take my picture while I'm playing and put it on posters in every poker room in the country without my consent. I can still play hundreds of poker tournaments online, I just have a lot more freedom and make a lot more money doing it online from a very comfortable chair in my home office. I want to get out and play more live tournaments this year, but until I find a major series with better rules for the players, I'll be fine playing from home.

I'll see you at the final table,
Chris 'Fox' Wallace

P.S. Join me at the tables by downloading the Poker Pros Network.

*Opinions expressed in this article and other user-submitted content do not necessarily reflect the views of PocketFives.com as an organization.

More Articles by Fox

Rush Poker – A Game Changer for Online Poker Jan 20, 2010
Playing the Bubble Correctly in Online Poker Tournaments Dec 02, 2009
Stay Sharp at the Poker Tables Part 2 Nov 10, 2009
Stay Sharp at the Poker Tables Part 1 Oct 28, 2009
Double or Nothing ICM Calculations Sep 23, 2009
Why Aren't More People Playing Omaha Poker? Sep 07, 2009
Poker College (Part 4) Aug 24, 2009
Poker College (Part 3) Aug 17, 2009
Poker College (Part 2) Aug 10, 2009
Poker College (Part 1) Aug 03, 2009
Taking the Plunge Jun 23, 2005
Wax On, Wax Off Jun 14, 2005
A Damn Fine Week for the Fox Jun 06, 2005
A Quick Update Jun 02, 2005
Thanks to Beanie and Annie May 27, 2005
Killing the Single Tables May 17, 2005
Playing Multiple Tables May 12, 2005
Meeting Beanie and Feldliss May 09, 2005
Still Chasing Bonus Dollars May 06, 2005
A Frantic Week May 02, 2005
Party Bonus This Week Apr 22, 2005
I Learned Something Today Apr 16, 2005
Put On Your Tin Foil Hat… Apr 12, 2005
Whipping the Entire Field Apr 08, 2005
Introduction to Fox Apr 05, 2005

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