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  1. After last week's column, "Act Like You've Been There Before," there was enough feedback from readers who thought I wasn't accurately giving credit to different financial situations of players. The part in particular they took issue with was when I opened the piece with an example of a player excessively celebrating in the first level of a $300 buy-in tournament. My point wasn't about the buy-in amount of the tournament. Instead, it was about the stage of the tournament. In the first level of any large-field tournament, if an entrant is running around celebrating, hooting, hollering, and generally making a scene, he or she is doing it as a cry for attention. Alternately, that player's emotional state isn't suited for the ups and downs of poker. I have always been a player who played well within my bankroll and have a lot of respect for other players who have done the same. Through discipline and hard work, they have limited their risk of ruin tremendously, while at the same time, they are successful poker players. Part of the emotional control I suggested in the previous article comes from playing at a level you are financially comfortable with. If you are playing a $300 tournament with the last $300 to your name, the pressure is tremendous and it is unlikely you can play anything close to your best. The same would be true for someone in a $10,000 event with no bankroll left. There is a fine line to determining the level where you should be playing. If the number is too big, your odds of going broke go up significantly, even if you are a long-term winning player. The stress of constantly being on the verge of broke makes it difficult for most people to play well and focus on the things they need to be focusing on. For many, if they play too small, it is hard to stay motivated. I have seen solid winning $5/$10 NL players sit down at a $1/$2 game and bleed off buy-ins because they can't get themselves mentally into the game enough to play well. I have never worked off of any hard and fast bankroll rules. Being financially conservative by nature, I was never drawn to play too big too soon and when I have decided to move up to bigger games, I was comfortable from a financial standpoint. I know there are some great players out there who thrive on the stress and pressure of having a large portion of their bankroll in play. There are no hard numbers to prove it, but my guess is the number of players who get by like this is a very small percentage of the number who have attempted it, went broke, and fell off the map. Even for recreational players who sit down at a game knowing, at least in some part of their mind, that over the long-run they will lose, it is important to play within a level you can handle. There is nothing wrong with playing at a negative expectation, and there are many reasons players do so. For many, it is simply paying for entertainment, but it is important to experience that entertainment at a level that is sustainable so you can continue playing and give yourself a chance to improve. Looking back, one of my most memorable moments in tournament poker, and one of the times I have been most excited in poker, was when I won a $100 tournament. At the time, it was the largest tournament I had played that was hosted at a country club. There were fewer than 100 entrants, but for someone very new to the game, making the final table and ultimately winning was a big deal to me. Even then, as a novice to the game, I didn't do much celebrating. And I certainly didn't make a fool of myself after winning a pot during the first few levels. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  2. Sitting around a poker game last week, the conversation turned to NCAA brackets and strategies for filling them out. Like anything else, there are a lot of elements to take into consideration and significant game theory behind how and why you make the picks you do. For most people, it is a very base-level process: pick your favorite team to win it all and then fill in the rest of the spots by haphazardly choosing teams, most of which you know nothing about. What caught my interest in the discussion, though, were not the parts about which team matched up well with whom or who had an injured player, but the more broad-scope considerations that go into picking brackets. For example, picking upsets in the first round is great, but you miss out on the value of having the better teams that are more likely to win in the later rounds where the points are much more significant. That quickly leads to the scoring of the league you happen to be in and another aspect most entrants never consider, the size of the pool. If you and eight guys from work are doing a pool, then you don't need to get too far out on a limb to have a shot, but in a national pool with thousands and thousands of entrants, going chalk isn't going to give you much of a shot at coming out on top. It is likely more prudent to take a few more risks than you would in a smaller pool. While we talked about it, I didn't really get too far into thinking about the theory behind bracket-picking, but I did start thinking a lot about the type of people who tend to view all events and situations in a strategic, game theory light. I grew up playing strategy games and, from an early age, was always analyzing and doing things to give myself what I thought was the best shot at victory with an understanding that just because in a particular instance my strategy didn't work out didn't mean my strategy was wrong. In a nutshell, being a strategic thinker should help insulate you from being overly results-orientedin individual cases. People who are analytical and strategic in real life are people I expect to be "naturals" at the poker table. They bring an approach to the game early on in their poker career that most players take years to develop, and many never do. Understanding the "why" behind what you are doing makes picking up new things easier. A lot of players have learned to play No Limit Hold'em reasonably well. A significant number of them know what to do in many situations, but lack any real perspective on why they are taking the actions they are. So, when they try to switch over to Omaha or another game, it is a tough transition in which they almost have to go back to the start and memorize what to do in each individual circumstance. In contrast, the more game theory-based players can adjust and adapt using the "whys" from their other experiences to help them figure out the "whats" in their new endeavors. I am always looking for ways to be better and more efficient in almost everything I do in life. If pressed, I would have probably said it was just my nature, but upon more thought, I think it is at least somewhat a result of me being involved in strategic thinking from an early age and participating in game theory long before I had ever heard the term. As I write this, the first of the Thursday games are just finishing up and I am two-for-two so far in my bracket (along with almost everyone else). Enjoy the games and spend a little time thinking about how you might fill out a bracket differently in a 30-man pool versus a 30,000-man pool. Then, you can justify watching basketball as a way to improve your poker game. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  3. Wanting to do something and actually doing it are two different things. After last week's column about taking a leap and learning a new game, I received a few e-mails from players saying they wanted to learn a new game, but were unsure how to go about it. Some of the common questions were along the lines of, "How experienced should I be at No Limit Hold'em before I try a new game?" and "What stakes should I play when I try a different game?" The good thing about poker is there are very few, if any, hard and fast rules. Everything is fluid, changing, and situational. As far as learning a new game, it is all about you and what fits well with your style and situation. If you play for profit and a significant portion of your income, then limiting your exposure and making sure to not kill your earn rate are important and have to be factored in. If you play recreationally for profit and don't really count on your poker winnings, then you are in a different situation. If you play to win, but can handle regular poker losses, then you can take another approach all together. For the person playing to pay his or her bills, branching out into a new game is dangerous. I would suggest that this type of player stick to their regular routine and budget some of their entertainment money to play new variations of poker. You will be putting in more hours at the table and not getting to do some of your normal away-from-the-grind activities, but this way you can maintain your regular monthly schedule without any added risk to your income on top of an already volatile profession. Dropping down to lower stakes may be necessary, but push yourself to play at a level where you care enough about the money involved to play your best and make good decisions. For the part-time profitable player that doesn't count on poker money for day-to-day bills, time is a more precious resource than money and I would suggest allocating some of your poker time to playing a new game and mentally accepting that you may go from being a winning or breakeven player to a losing player for a month or two until you start to reap the benefits of learning the new game. For this type of player, playing in similar or slightly smaller stakes games should be fine at first. If you feel like you are bleeding money early on, you can quickly drop down to lower stakes, but playing at a level you are familiar with will help you adjust and pick up the game as quickly as possible. For the purely recreational player that has no expectation of winning, picking up a new game is simply a matter of deciding to play. You are already budgeting money to play poker, so just take some of this and put it towards a new game. Depending on the limitations of your budget, you may want to drop stakes to minimize your losses so you can continue to play as much as you normally do. The key here is to continue to enjoy yourself and play at a level such that when you win, you are excited to win and when you lose, it hurts a little, but not too much. As far as your experience in your game of choice before you branch out to new games, there is no set level at which you are ready. If you are a total novice and just learning the game, you may want to focus your efforts on one game at a time, but once you are comfortable at the table and understand the mechanics and some basic strategy, there is no harm in starting to pick up new games. If I were forced to pick the optimal time, I would say when your learning curve starts to level off a little bit would be the perfect time to add in new games. When you first start to play Hold'em, you improve quickly and regularly, but then at some point your game starts to level off and while you may still be improving, the increments are much smaller. At this point, adding a new game can give you a different perspective and jumpstart you back into regular and noticeable improvement in all of the games you are playing. Learning a new game is more than just playing hands, so make sure you are spending some time reading material about the game, discussing hands and theory with other players whose games you respect, and spending some time thinking about the game and why you are doing the things you do. As you get the mental juices flowing, you will start to see all poker games in a little different light, and the increased perspective on the game will make you a better player across the board. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  4. During the first level of a $300 buy-in tournament, a guy wins an all-in and celebrates like he just doubled up with four people left in the WSOP Main Event. It seems all too common in poker, and many other competitive activities, for massive overreaction to events that don't warrant that sort of emotion. During an episode of PokerRoad Radio a few years back, Gavin Smith made the point that in poker, one person's good luck is always someone else's bad luck. Everyone should keep that in mind and be a little bit considerate of their opponents. He was correct, and the point goes even deeper to doing things that can make you a better player. If your emotions run high on every little swing, how can you ever expect to consistently make well thought-out decisions from a calm and collected state of mind? I was always taught to handle situations like I had been there before, meaning to carry myself with a level of calm and dignity and not act like I had no experience in all-in the situation I found myself in. From shooting free throws late in big games to walking out to the pitcher's mound with a one-run lead in the bottom of the last inning to sitting down to take the SAT exam to my first job interview, the ability to calm myself and not be overwhelmed by emotions has allowed me to perform at a higher level than I would have been able to otherwise. If my emotions ran as wild as many of the other players I see around the tables, I would have no chance of being successful as a player. How can you focus when you are lambasting your opponent for calling when you thought he should have folded? How can you focus when you are high-fiving strangers and yelling like you just won the lottery when you hit a jack on the river to double through a guy's aces in the first level of a tournament? Around poker rooms, it has become all too common for excessive and ridiculous celebrations at inappropriate times. You'll also see the ever-too-standard willingness to act like Phil Hellmuth and berate opponents at every turn of a card that doesn't go your way. For some, it is simply a cry for attention. For others, it is a copycat effect of seeing it so often that they come to feel like it is how they are supposed to act in certain situations. Not only should you act like you have been in a situation before even if you haven't, in most instances in poker, you have been in a very similar situation many times over. A-K against Q-Q is nothing uncommon. K-K losing to A-K happens all the time. Controlling your emotions, not crying out for attention at every chance, and handling yourself like an experienced pro will allow you to focus on making good decisions and staying off tilt. In contrast, many of your opponents will do the opposite and set themselves up to go from playing their A-game to spewing chips by letting their emotions run rampant. If you are at or near the final table of a major buy-in tournament where life-changing money is at stake, some level of emotion is warranted. If you are just starting a $20 home game with 15 of your buddies, jumping out of your chair and running around the couch when you double your starting stack is excessive and unnecessary. Act like you have been there before and you can get to the high-profile, high-pressure situations more often. At the same time, you will not be overwhelmed by emotion when you get into those not-so-common situations. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  5. A few years back, I had the opportunity to be an instructor for one of the two-day poker seminars. I took the job thinking I would be able to make a few bucks and have a new experience. At the time, I didn't expect the largest benefit would be how much it would improve my poker game. At the seminar, the coaching was pretty basic and along the lines of what I expected, but the kicker for me was meeting an individual who later approached me about doing some private lessons with him. He was a nice guy and I could tell he had a natural ability for the game, but he definitely had some major leaks and flaws in his thought processes. I agreed to do an informal coaching deal with him, mostly because I liked him more than anything and thought I could learn enough about business from him to make it more than worth the time I would spend teaching him about poker. I was right in that I have been able to learn a ton about business from him, but I have also learned more about poker by teaching and explaining than I ever thought I would. We focused on getting ready to play the World Series of Poker Main Event, which was perfect for me. We were both planning to play the event anyway, so we laid out a list of topics and spent 30 minutes to an hour a couple times a week talking about everything from early level strategy to when to 3-bet to what to do between days to research your table draw. As we started talking, I quickly realized that having to explain why I do almost everything I do and having someone question me and push me forced me to evaluate and examine my thought process. That in-depth look at the whys of what I was doing made me start to see things more clearly and gave me a much better grasp on the underlying reasons for the decisions I was making instead of relying on rote memorization in a lot of instances. The better understanding of the why almost immediately led to me making better decisions. As we continued our lessons and discussions, my own game kept getting better and better. The more we dug into topics and theories, the more refined and polished my game became and I broke through a plateau in my play that I hadn't even realized I had hit. When I first started playing, my learning curve was steep, but then, as happens to everyone, it leveled off. While I was improving, it was in small margins instead of large chunks, and the average skill of players as a whole was probably increasing at roughly the same rate I was, so I wasn't actually realizing any advantage. That changed after just a few weeks of coaching and I felt myself jump ahead and started seeing the results in almost every session I played. I would suggest coaching as a solid learning tool for anyone out there who has reached a comfort level with their game, but wants to push through and go to the next level. Find someone you enjoy working with that is a few steps behind you in their poker development and see if they would be interested in getting some coaching from you. Then, as you are teaching them, never shy away from the question of "Why?" Give it your all to answer as fully as you can and you will push through some of your own barriers and expand your own game. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  6. 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. Chris Wallace is the founder of TourneyTracks.com, which lists every major upcoming tournament in North America. Attack If you are serious about maximizing your win rate at live tables, you need to get used to taking every advantage that your opponents give you. I would never advocate cheating. I'm talking about using every advantage you can within the rules of the game. If you make friends with the players near you, they may play softer against you. I've made thousands over my career from players who have checked behind on the river with strong hands because they didn't want to take my money, told me to go ahead and bet because they had nothing, or surrendered their blinds to me because they respected my game. To online players, poker doesn't seem to be a social game at all. But live players will tell you that most of your opponents are at the tables for a social experience and many of them lack the heart to take your money if they like you. Some players use fear instead of friendship, but being abusive and intimidating for a living sounds awful to me. Deal with the Environment Live tournament play requires you to sit in a chair at a specific starting time. For online players who are used to waking up whenever they feel like it, sitting in a comfortable computer chair, and behaving any way they like, it can be tough to play well consistently in a new environment. The chair won't be comfortable, the food won't usually be any good, and you'll have to do things on a schedule that you didn't choose. There aren't enough live tournaments to skip a series because you don't like the start time, the chairs, or the food. You'll get used to some of these things, tough it out through others, and nullify the rest with good preparation. I bring a few protein bars to every tournament in case I get hungry. Usually, I'll bring a healthy supply of Ibuprofen on the road with me and try to eat as well as I can before a tournament. Comfortable clothes, an iPod, and whatever else you need to be comfortable so that you can play well are just as important as making strategy adjustments. You won't play well if you aren't prepared and comfortable. And get some sleep - it helps. Avoid Good Players and Learn to Identify Them Winning players in live tournaments come from a multitude of backgrounds and use a wide variety of strategies, so you'll need an open mind and some experience to identify them. That old-timer who plays tight and solid may be a bigger winner than you think. The kid who seems like a maniac may be an online beast. The guy with the huge gold rings spouting cliches about gambling may be a lot smarter than you think. They may not be playing perfectly, but a few mistakes won't stop a player from beating live tournaments if they are playing well otherwise, so you have to pay close attention and keep an open mind. Look for players who usually get their money in behind, don't show a lot of tells, show no mercy, and have a lot of experience. Then, watch for mistakes. When you see a player go a few hours without a significant mistake, it's very likely that he is a winning tournament player, even if he isn't brilliant or doesn't have a style you respect. Once you identify strong players, stay away from them. With so many weak players in live tournament fields, you can avoid strong players who may be better than you think they are and may be able to read your tells or know more about your game than you know about theirs. Playing a weak hand against a strong player is pushing a very tiny edge, if you have any edge at all, and we have already talked about how that's a bad idea. Watch Your Expenses Being on the road can be expensive and a lack of planning, inability to resist temptation, and free spending can eat up the profits you get from those wonderfully soft tournament fields. Plan ahead, find a cheap hotel, and don't party your bankroll away. Plan Ahead One of the best ways to practice game selection and plan ahead is to use our new site, TourneyTracks.com. As its target customer - a traveling tournament player on a budget - I can tell you that the site gives me all of the information I need. The site has full tournament schedules, structure sheets, and everything sorted by state, province, tournament series, and month. TourneyTracks.com has complete tournament information and can help you find the right tournaments for your game, allowing you to plan ahead as far as possible. TourneyTracks.com lists every major upcoming tournament and series in North America, with a fully interactive map page, and is always up-to-date on TDA rules. Speaking of that... Know the Rules Any experienced live tournament player can tell you how common it is for new players to make costly mistakes because they don't know the rules or aren't familiar with typical procedures. The "one chip rule," betting and calling mistakes, and a host of other issues that don't exist in online games can really hurt you if you aren't careful. I highly recommend reading the up-to-date TDA rules and using caution when you indicate your action. Until you are very comfortable in live tournaments, simply state the size of your raise, say "call," or throw your hand into the muck face down. Don't talk about your hand and never comment on a hand in progress if you aren't involved. Table your hand at showdown and call the floor if you think the dealer has made a mistake. Keeping it simple, acting in turn, and using proper care at all times will save you money by preventing mistakes that new players make. Final Words Live tournament play doesn't need to be intimidating. With preparation, a winning online player should be a winning live player because of a significant advantage in understanding strategy compared to most live players. Most dealers and tournament personnel will be friendly and helpful. They want you to come back and their job is to make sure things are run fairly and smoothly. If you are well prepared and play small tournaments at first, you may find, as I did, that live tournament play is both fun and profitable. Online play stopped being fun for me years ago, but live tournament play has helped me enjoy poker again and has been quite profitable for me even without a single big score. To me, and many others, live tournament play is the most exciting and challenging form of poker. With so many things to think about and the blinds always increasing, live tournament play never gets boring. Don't be intimidated, just be prepared, and I'll see you at the final table.
  7. "How can you call there," one player said to another incredulously. "Don't you know my reputation?" The speaker in this case is a very tight player and in a group where everyone plays together on a weekly basis and his reputation is known by all. Why did he get called then? Did he pick a bad time to bluff, give off a tell, or just run into a monster hand? Nope. He ran into a player that knew his reputation and just didn't care. So, the next day, he will be telling the story of the horrible call that the loose player made and his fellow tight buddies will lament his bad luck at the hands of a bad player. Admittedly, in this scenario, the loose player's call against the tight player is a bad call in the long-run, but not nearly as bad as the tight player's bluff. The tight player fell into the trap of focusing on himself and projecting his thought processes onto another player. The tight player thought, "I have a reputation of only playing the nuts. I'm pretty sure the loose player doesn't have the nuts on this board, so I should be able to get him to fold almost any hand here. I should bet." That is a good line of thinking if he were playing against himself, but he wasn't. He was playing against a notoriously loose player that has a reputation for playing almost any starting hand and getting to showdown with some bizarre and weak holdings. So, our loose player's thinking didn't look anything like, "Hey, Mr. Squeaky Tight is betting, so he must have a great hand. I should fold middle pair here every time since the only thing I can beat from him is a bluff." Instead, the thinking was more along the lines of, "I have a pair, and I could make a flush (runner-runner) or a straight (runner-runner). Pair, flush draw, and a straight draw - no way I can fold that. I call." Where our tight player went wrong was projecting his thought processes onto his opponents, and it is actually a little deeper than that. What he actually did was find a way to rationalize what he wanted to happen and then assumed the characters in the story would act in the way he played it out in his head. Have you ever known you were going to get into an argument or discussion with someone and thought it out ahead of time? Has it ever played out the way you thought it would in your mind? Of course not. People are complex and often irrational, or at least unpredictable, and after the opening foray, it is all about adapting and reacting. In poker, we have a more controlled situation with fewer variables that is played out over and over, so we are given the chance to fairly accurately predict the actions of our opponents. But to do so, we have to get away from assuming they will think like we do or think like we want them to and get to the next level where we are actually thinking like they do. In the scenario above, the tight player should have realized that he couldn't bluff in this spot because he was up against a player that almost never folds once he is involved in a pot. Against this player, the right play is to value bet your good hands and get paid off, not try to get through a sliding glass door by smashing your head into it repeatedly. The games I play in are imminently beatable, but a few talented players have come through and just can't figure out why they never win. They understand the game better, have a grasp of starting hand values, and do a lot of things right. The ones that have come and gone have all had the same flaw of not being able to get out of their own head and into the head of their opponent. Any time you hear a player say, "I do better against good players than I do against bad ones," or some variation of this ludicrous statement, you know you are up against someone that is always viewing everything through their own personal filter instead of adapting to the actions and thoughts of each of their opponents. If everyone thought the same, poker wouldn't be much of a game. The games themselves are simple, but people are so complex that poker is a game that keeps us coming back time and again. Understand that, embrace it, and actually work to put yourself in your opponent's head instead of trying to cram your thoughts into theirs. Not only will you become a much more successful player, but you will also get rid of a lot of the frustration that players carry around. When a player is playing poorly, don't try to change him so he plays how you wanted him to play in that situation. Realize what he is doing and adjust your actions to capitalize on his mistakes. Win-win. You get to cash in at the tables and a losing player gets to play and enjoy without getting criticized (at least by you) on how he plays. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  8. Although I got my start online, a vast majority of my play has been live poker. Other than in tournaments, I think I have only played live poker heads-up on one occasion, and never really sought out heads-up games online. However, I recently ended up playing a decent amount of heads-up $5/$10 cash games online. I played heads-up mostly because there was nobody else that wanted to play those stakes and I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to improve my game and put myself in a good spot at the same time. Learning any new variation of poker will always get you out of your comfort zone and force you to expand your horizons, but playing heads-up really reinforced and cemented something in my mind that I had known on some level from early on. When you play full ring, often the correct play, especially in the looser live games I frequent, is to be patient and wait for premium starting hands. When it takes a while for those hands to come along, we often find ourselves emotionally attached to them because they look attractive. Whether it is A-Q suited or pocket aces, we have waited forever to get a hand, and when we end up in a spot where that hand isn't really all that strong anymore, we are emotionally attached to it and have trouble letting it go. In heads-up play where ranges are exceptionally wide, you are playing all sorts of hands, and the value of each one has very little to do with what it looked like pre-flop. Everyone has heard the old saying, "With aces, you either win a small pot or lose a big one." In deep-stacked heads-up play, you are forced to gain a perspective on hand strength that is harder to acquire when playing full ring games. Obviously, being able to more accurately assess the value and strength of your hand will correlate to your bottom line, and between adding PLO8 to my repertoire and playing Heads-Up No Limit Hold'em, I quickly started looking at hands differently. The way I view hands now makes me look back at many of the mistakes I was making before. I was overvaluing some hands and undervaluing others. Had I stayed in my comfort zone of Full Ring No Limit Hold'em, I would still be looking at hands like I was a few years ago, losing a lot of value, and definitely giving away bets with hands that I can now easily get away from. There are a lot of ways that playing heads-up can improve your game, but for me the most obvious was how it changed my personal view of hand strength. Now when I sit down and play, I rarely feel emotionally attached to any particular starting hand. I am able to better assess situations without the starting hand having an inordinately large role in my decisions. Doing that not only helps you play better in each individual hand, but also keeps you in a better mental state where frustration and tilt are much less likely to slip in. When you get so attached to A-A that you call when a neutral analysis of the situation would dictate that you fold, you not only lose the hand, but you also find yourself in the types of situations that commonly lead to tilt and continued bad play. If you have never given heads-up poker a shot, you should. If you can't get much play in heads-up, then start thinking more critically about hand values and actively working to not let yourself get attached to hands. The more analytical and less emotional you are while playing, the better you will end up in the long-run. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  9. You just can't make a hand. Your nut flush draw never connects. An open-ender and the board pairs. Lots of small pairs that you get to see a flop with and not a set in hours. You bought into a $2/$5 blind No Limit Hold'em game for $500 and are down to your last $220 without ever really winning a hand. Frustration level: high. Quality of your play: probably not nearly as high as your frustration. What next? There are really two viable options for most players, and often neither is chosen. Option #1: Cash up, take your small loss of around half-a-buy-in, and call it a night. Option #2: Buy back up to an amount you are comfortable having in front of you, regroup, and play your best. Now, let's see what usually happens. We have all been there, sitting with fewer chips in front of us than we usually have and not really wanting to buy any more into a game we aren't doing well in. So what happens? That last $220 goes down the tubes, sometimes as a bad beat or in a good spot that didn't work out, but more often in a situation where the money would not have gone in had we had more in front of us and could have played more appropriately. And a fair amount of the time, it just gets spewed off. This is a huge leak for most players. Winning players can add to their win rates significantly by minimizing their losing sessions, while losing and breakeven players can keep more of their cash in their pockets by avoiding dusting off of the last of their chips in cash games. If you aren't willing to buy back into a game, that's a prudent decision, but the unwillingness to take the chips you still have home with you is a big mistake. In the live cash games I frequent, I see this all the time, and it gets compounded time and again. Say a player buys in for $500 in a $5/$10 No Limit game, which is a fairly short buy-in, but somewhat standard. He gets down to $180 and instead of adding on and getting back to playing his style, he is playing with under 20 big blinds and has made little to no adjustment to his strategy. Say the guy goes a few orbits calling to see a few flops and is down to $140. Then, he ends up all-in in a pot where he knows he is in bad shape, but "doesn't have enough to fold." Busto, just like he thought. End of the line, right? Nope, he might get another $500 out. Wash, rinse, and repeat, except now the game is a little bigger and the stacks start to grow over time. Now, our player is stuck in the game, not playing great and pressing a little bit. He calls a few raises pre-flop and tries to buy a pot here and there, but never really gets anything going and finds himself in the same spot yet again. Over the course of the night, it is not uncommon to see four or five players run through this scenario several times each. Every now and then, one of them will hit a hot streak and run his stack up, but more often than not, they just keep dusting them off and their play gets continually worse as they get more and more frustrated with their situation. When I catch myself doing this, I have made a personal rule: as soon as I feel short, I tell myself, "buy chips or cash up." Then, I quickly analyze my play and the game, and if I am not feeling good about getting deeper in the game, then it is time to go home. Most of the time, I am willing to get in deeper and a funny thing happens: just having more chips in front of me often causes me to get back to playing my best and be a little more upbeat about the game. If I bought in for $1,000 and get down to $600, I feel like I am on my way to losing a buy-in. If I add on another $1,000, I am sitting with $1,600 and the $400 that is missing just doesn't seem like all that much. I also have the chips to continue putting pressure on my opponents. Money you don't lose is just the same as money you win. It spends the same and counts towards your bottom line the same. Mentally, it feels different, but if you can prevent yourself from ending your losing sessions by getting felted, you will find it adds up over time. It can also keep you from bleeding buy-ins one at a time into a game that, had you just stacked up a little sooner, could have turned out differently. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays regularly in cash games and the occasional tournament. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  10. The topic for last week's columnwas by request, but writing it got my mind turning and led to a lot of other ideas. Some of those will pop up down the road, but I closed my previous column with my two-word strategy tip for beginners: "Don't Limp." There is a lot of value in that little tidbit, but in poker, you should always understand why you are doing something instead of taking certain actions because you read somewhere that was what you should do. There are no hard and fast rules in a situational game like poker. Of all the little rules I have for myself when playing, though, this is probably the one I follow the most. And for me, not limping is defined precisely as this: "If I am the first player to voluntarily enter a pot, it will be for a raise." If another player limps, I will sometimes limp along, but I can't remember the last time I open-limped into a pot. For beginners, I would suggest an even more extreme version of this strategy where pre-flop you never limp under any circumstances. If you want to enter the pot, raise. If you aren't comfortable enough with your hand or the situation, fold. There are flaws in this approach, but for a beginning player, using this approach for a short period of time lays the groundwork for being aggressive and applying pressure, which are traits almost all winning players have. While there are situations where calling would be a better play, most beginning players fall into the trap of limping and calling too often, and playing like this will prevent forming the habit of limping into pots. If combined with a tight hand selection early on, it can also limit a player's exposure, as he is getting experience at the tables. Playing this way, a lot of pots will be won pre-flop when everyone folds. Even if a player or two calls, you will be playing most of your hands heads-up where you still have a good chance at winning the pot. Limping or even calling raises can lead to a waterfall effect where everyone at the table is in to see the flop. Winning these big multi-way pots can bring in a lot of chips, but it's harder to win the hand since you are up against a larger number of opponents. For each player in the pot, the number of variables to consider when making decisions grows exponentially. Once you get comfortable playing pots heads-up, there may be situations where you are willing to take on multi-way pots, but early on, it is better to limit your number of opponents and simplify your decisions. A few years back, I was talking to a person who had started playing and asked me for some advice. We talked about a few things and I mentioned not limping. As we discussed it, he was very resistant and I knew I wasn't getting through to him, so I took a different tactic and came across something that got through to him. Any time you just limp in or just call a bet at any stage of the hand, you are only giving yourself one way to win: make the best hand. When you raise, you give yourself two ways to win. You can still make the best hand, but you can also get your opponent to fold. The player I was speaking with, at a very early stage in his poker life, couldn't really grasp all the other things we had talked about, but he quickly latched onto the multiple ways to win reasoning. That gave him enough confidence and understanding about not limping to try it out. He came back later and said he saw an immediate difference in his results. He also thanked me for helping kick-start his growth as a poker player. The biggest mistake I see players making on a regular basis in cash games and tournaments is limping pre-flop. And once a player has done it for years, it becomes very hard for them to break the habit. There are times to call in poker. In fact, with a few of my regular opponents, check-calling has become my weapon of choice. But early on, the benefits of being the aggressor and putting in raises almost every time you put chips in the pot will help get you going in the right direction. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy and privately, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at Court@CourtHarrington.com.
  11. The growth and explosion of online poker mirrored my own growth in the game. I came into poker as the online boom was beginning and although I started playing in small live games with friends, I quickly added online play to my routine. I was, at first, playing many more hands and hours online than I was live. I would rush home from work to try to get registered for the $40 and $100 tournaments that went off at 6:00pm ET on Paradise Poker and can remember a few times that I drove way too fast on the way home, busted through the door, and ran up the steps only to miss the end of registration by a few seconds. Once my learning curve slowed down a bit, the initial rush of the game started to wear off. I began to enjoy playing online less and less over the years, but part of that was because I was able to find a few local games that played decent stakes. Once I got in with a group of gamblers that liked to play and they became comfortable with me, I had access to a variety of games and limits that I never knew existed. Over the seven years that I have been playing regularly and seriously, online was a big part of it for two or three years. I had pretty much quit playing online long before Black Friday. I can look back now and while I have a few fond memories of playing online, they are few and far between compared to the stories and memories I have from the live games I play in. There is a distinction to be made between live casino games and live local games. In 2006, I started traveling for PocketFives to major poker tournaments, mostly the WPT and WSOP. While I was traveling, I would sometimes be able to get in some cash sessions at whatever casino was hosting the tournament. Those games treated me well and I enjoyed them, but even there, the lasting memories are nothing like what I have gotten from the local games. My current favorite game is a Wednesday night get-together that has been running every week for over three years. In 2011, my travel schedule had slowed down significantly and other than a trip to the PCA and spending almost a month in Vegas for the WSOP, I wasn't gone very much. Pretty much every week I was in town, I was at the game. It has a small, private, consistent group of players, all of whom I like and enjoy being around and who collectively have taught me more about life and business than I could ever have gotten out of any sort of Masters program. The game is fun. The people are fun. They laugh and joke. They give each other a hard time. Every once in a while, a slowroll between the right two people isn't bad etiquette and the whole table can get a laugh (even the guy on the losing end). Occasionally, they get mad at each other, but when the next week rolls around, they are all buddies again. They support each other's businesses, hunt, fish, golf, and vacation together. The game usually runs for eight to 10 hours. When you spend that many hours with the same people week after week, year after year, you really get to know them and form lasting relationships. For me, online and casino games have never been able to offer anything close and I feel blessed to have been able to play a game I love regularly, while at the same time, I have access to a social environment that would be almost impossible to duplicate. The convenience of online poker and the consistency and variety of games at casinos definitely have their benefits, but for me, online and casino play will always be complimentary to the regular local games I play in. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  12. Three years ago, I was a Hold'em player only, a No Limit Hold'em player only. And honestly, I couldn't really get my head around the fascination people had with learning new games. Everyone else was getting into HORSE, and Pot Limit Omaha was gaining in popularity, but I felt like I had developed a strong Hold'em game, was doing well in the games I was playing, and was happy enough to keep chugging along playing the game I was the most comfortable with. From the financial side of the game, I could have made a strong argument that Hold'em was the place to be anyway. No single game was really taking off. It was more of a mix of all of them, with PLO being the leader of the pack, but nothing like NLHE. Maybe my best argument for not branching out was that not only was Hold'em my best game that I had thousands of hours of practice at, it was also, and will continue to be, the entry-level game for a vast majority of players - especially the recreational, happy-to-lose-as-long-as-they-get-to-play type of player that makes games so good for those of us looking to play for profit. I was wrong. I was just comfortable playing Hold'em, happy to be booking wins in soft games, and not wanting to go through any growing pains or have to deal with any losses as I learned a new game. I got lucky though. Through a series of unforeseen circumstances, I ended up at a game that was going to be all Hold'em, but ended up being a round of Hold'em and a round of Pot Limit Omaha 8 or Better. I didn't want to play PLO8, tried my best to convince them to just play Hold'em, and am very thankful now that I wasn't able to. That first night, we played maybe five or six laps of Hold'em before everyone was tired of it and wanted to play just PLO8. The Hold'em round seemed very tame, with almost no action in comparison to the PLO8 round, which was off the hook with every pot being a multi-way all-in and side pots galore going to showdown. Strategy wasn't an issue that first night. I was just trying to figure out the rules, how to read the board, and what in the world was going on. I played extremely tight in a game that was extremely loose and ended up booking a small win, but more importantly, I had my eyes opened to what is now my favorite game. More importantly, I got to where I am now, willing to learn almost any game people want to play. As I started playing PLO8, I quickly noticed that my Hold'em game was getting better too. I was seeing the games from new angles, gaining a better appreciation for situational hand values, and just generally becoming a more well-rounded player instead of someone that just played better starting hands and played aggressively, which was all it really took to be a winning Hold'em player in the games I was frequenting. There were some growing pains as I opened my game up, and a few nights I drove home with my head spinning wondering how I had dusted off five buy-ins in a game I didn't even like. But early on, I knew that the game was beatable, that the players I wanted to be playing with were going to be playing that game whether I was in it or not, and that it was time for me to buckle down, get out of my comfort zone, and focus on learning to be a better all-around player. I'd now take my PLO8 game over my Hold'em game, but would take my Hold'em game now over my Hold'em game of three years ago in a heartbeat. I've also played a little bit of 2-7 No Limit Single Draw Lowball,A-5 Pot Limit Triple Draw Lowball, and assorted Limit Stud games that I would have never been willing to sit down in before. While I am by no means good at those games, as long as I am playing against the right crowd, I'm probably still at least a slight favorite. Even if I am a slight dog, it's not a bad idea to give a little action to players that give me action on a regular basis and let them have the best of me for a session or two every now and then while I continue to expand my game and grow as a player. For the Hold'em-only guys out there, I'd suggest you give something new a shot. I was where you were a few years back and thought I was just fine. I'm glad I got knocked out of my shell. It has made me a better player, made me much more money than I would have made just playing Hold'em, and has made the game stay fresh and interesting for me while others that have been around for about as long as I have been are starting to get burned out. Get out there and try something new, and if you aren't sure which game you want to jump into next, my vote is PLO8. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  13. Live games are much more enjoyable to me than online games. Driving to games, getting there early, having to wait, getting into a game that is full and not being able to get a seat for hours, and the sometimes brutally slow pace of play are all among the negatives of playing live poker. For me, that is all made up for by the social aspect of the game that is lost online. Playing with the same people every week has benefits for my bottom line as I continue to learn others' tendencies and ways to play better against them, but more than that, the real value I get out of playing live is what I am table to learn from the players at the table, and not about poker. Most of the games I play in are $5/$10 or bigger and have a very steady lineup of players. While there is a little turnover at each game, there is a core group of 12 to 15 players that has pretty much been the same for years. While there are a few winning or breakeven players, most of the players in the game are long-term losing players, and they are smart enough to know it. For them, playing poker is a way to relax and get away from their job, just like going to a movie might be to someone else. And they are happy to pay for the entertainment. Just because these players are losing to me at poker doesn't mean I am smarter than them, and it surely doesn't mean I am more successful. What it really means is that they have been so successful that they can afford to spend on entertainment what I will bust my tail to have a shot at making in a card game. Over the last five years, I have put in a lot of hours playing live poker. I have won some money and, on the surface, that is the reason I go to every game I can get to, even when I don't really want to make the drive or have something else going on that I would rather be doing. In the long-run, the money I win will pale in comparison to what I will have learned from the people I am playing with and the networks I have built. From scrap metal yards to restaurants to surveying to logging, I have learned a lot about small- and medium-sized businesses and how they are run. I have learned about local politics, real estate investing, tax planning, and all sorts of other topics. The education I have gotten from card games over the last few years has been exponentially more valuable than what I learned at the University of North Carolina (and I think I gained a lot of knowledge and life experience there as well). When I do travel and sit at games in casinos, I am often left thinking about what some of the winning players are missing out on by focusing so hard on the poker. When the table talk turns to 4betting and polarizing ranges, most of the guys I have been learning so much from tune out. Instead of talking poker, I spend my time at the table trying to learn from them by guiding the natural flow of conversation to topics they are experts in and away from poker. I've never really learned much from poker talk at the table anyway. Away from the table, I have people I talk poker with and am constantly thinking about, discussing, and analyzing how I play and how I adapt to situations. At the table, though, I have found more value in taking the discussion away from poker to almost any other topic I can. Not only will you learn from the players you are sitting with, but you will also build relationships with them. As they talk about things they know, a personal bond can start to form, and with social networking, making a lasting contact is much easier than it has ever been before. Looking at refinancing your house? Maybe the loan officer at your table can tell you what the rate would be for your situation and cut you a deal on closing costs, something that could save you tons of money, but you would never have even considered had you been talking about whether the guy should have called your 3bet. People playing poker like poker and the talk at the table will often be poker-related, but it doesn't always have to be. Let the other people be the ones driving the poker talk and see if you can find a way to learn about the things your opponents are doing away from the table. You never know what gem of knowledge you might pick up or lifelong contact you might make. Or even more simply, you may make the conversation interesting enough to keep a guy with money to lose at the table instead of headed down the hall to roll craps where he doesn't have to listen to a bunch of 22-year-old poker know-it-alls tell him how bad he is. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  14. What follows is a unique conversation between PocketFives Traininginstructor Alex AssassinatoFitzgerald (pictured) and Andres andressopranoPereyra about a hand that came up at a No Limit Hold'em tournament table. You can learn from pros like Fitzgerald by visiting PocketFives Training. Top-level MTT training starts at just $30 per month. The hand: Tourney Hand NL Texas Hold'em - Monday, March 26, 12:24:25 ET 2012 Seat 9 is the button Seat 1: Dieyoung ( $1079104.00 USD ) Seat 2: ToMP73 ( $1106253.00 USD ) Seat 3: skyboyPT ( $1560211.00 USD ) Seat 4: IgoDEEP ( $341480.00 USD ) Seat 5: virtual9 ( $876445.00 USD ) Seat 8: poonaniboy ( $900125.00 USD ) Seat 9: whompadpg ( $535512.00 USD ) Dieyoung posts ante of [$2000.00 USD]. ToMP73 posts ante of [$2000.00 USD]. skyboyPT posts ante of [$2000.00 USD]. IgoDEEP posts ante of [$2000.00 USD]. virtual9 posts ante of [$2000.00 USD]. poonaniboy posts ante of [$2000.00 USD]. whompadpg posts ante of [$2000.00 USD]. Dieyoung posts small blind [$10000.00 USD]. ToMP73 posts big blind [$20000.00 USD]. ** Dealing down cards ** Dealt to Dieyoung [ Ad Kd ] skyboyPT folds IgoDEEP folds virtual9 folds poonaniboy raises [$41500.00 USD] whompadpg folds Dieyoung raises [$110000.00 USD] ToMP73 folds poonaniboy calls [$78500.00 USD] ** Dealing Flop ** [ 8s, Jc, 4s ] Dieyoung bets [$157000.00 USD] poonaniboy calls [$157000.00 USD] ** Dealing Turn ** [ Qc ] Dieyoung checks poonaniboy checks ** Dealing River ** [ Jd ] Dieyoung checks poonaniboy checks Dieyoung shows [Ad, Kd ] poonaniboy shows [9d, 9h ] poonaniboy wins $588000.00 USD from main pot Andres Pereyra: Let me introduce this hand to you. Zero reads and it's the second hand of the villain at the table. 16 to 17 players left, $67,000 on top, and I'm top five in chips. Pre-Flop: In retrospect, I prefer a smaller 3bet to keep more dominated hands in his range and induce some light 4bets, etc. My sizing is too nutted and forces him to 4bet larger with fewer bluffs, if any at all. Flatting is also an option of course, but at the moment, I didn't give that thought too much consideration. Flop: A couple of cash game friends of mine advocate check/folding the flop, as we should expect very few bluffs in an inflated pot, especially from a random who is going to be afraid of facing a check/raise. If we bet, most people consider it should be in the 100,000 to 110,000 range. Turn: I check with intentions of folding. A really highly ranked MTTer says he'd shove, as the villain shouldn't have too many queens in his range and I can rep a number of strong hands. I don't like it, however, with no reads. Others say to bet 300,000, but I think we're folding very, very few hands, probably only 99-TT, and this is if the villain is not a stubborn fish that always puts you on A-K. Alex Fitzgerald: I like 3betting a little more out of position. 110,000 is fine, but considering you're going to be out of position for the rest of the hand, you'd like it if your continuation bet threatened your opponent's stack a little more. Also, if a person feels they don't have the right implied odds to flat your larger 3bet size in position, they might turn their hand into a 4bet bluff. You can then 5bet and completely neutralize your positional disadvantage. In addition, if a player is flatting with A-X suited or A-To+, if he were calling 110,000, he is calling 120,000 to 130,000 most of the time. Increasing the pot size versus dominated hands gives me more chances to break them if we both hit the flop. For these reasons, I would tend to 3bet to 120,000 or 130,000 here. Andres Pereyra (pictured): Yes, we can agree that making larger 3bets OOP accomplishes more. I considered what I first said regarding my sizing and think that unless we have an aggro, dynamic with villain and expect him to 4bet with a high frequency (in which case our 3bet can be smaller), a larger bet is closer to optimal. Since we are without reads, there are no assumptions to be made. Alex Fitzgerald: I think you have a point about 3betting smaller, that it might induce a few more 4bets. Still, in general, I prefer a larger 3bet for the reasons I've described. People seem to 4bet lighter a little more when they can't flat profitably. I'd rather someone 4bet/fold a T-7 suited here than flat me since in position he's not going to be at a huge disadvantage. I don't know whether continuation betting this flop is bad because we have no detailed records of how often he folds to a continuation bet on the flop or turn. One way we can find this out is searching for his profile on PocketFives, pulling up his screen name on PokerStars, and then looking that up in our Hold'em Manager database. Andres Pereyra: I am more interested on looking at their graphs than overall profits or biggest scores. When a sample size is not big enough, I search for them on PocketFives. If they have an account with more screen names listed, I search them all. Alex Fitzgerald: I like to get whatever info I can find. Lately, to be honest, I haven't been doing as much research as I should. Reading this hand is reminding me how important this is. Since we don't have specific data, let's envision some typical scenarios. If the person folds to the flop 55%+ of the time, or in other words he is pretty honest, I will often continuation bet this flop and give up on the turn. I give up on the turn because the fold to c-bet percentage indicates real honesty; the person might fold a hand like 9-9 to the flop bet. That is the exact kind of hand we're usually hoping to fold out when we double-barrel the turn. Their range simply gets too strong on that street. If the person folds 45% of the time or lower to a continuation bet, I will only continuation bet the flop if I'm prepared to barrel an overcard like this since hands as weak as 7-7 and 6-6 will be flatting me on the flop. Since you know nothing about this opponent and we assume he knows nothing about us, I don't mind taking the lower variance play you described of continuation betting larger on the flop. He hasn't played with you enough to know you don't do that with real hands, so continuation betting bigger is our cheapest and least complicated chance of folding out many medium pairs. It's maybe not the best option, but it's a solid option. I think if you're not willing to double-barrel this turn card regularly, you should be betting larger on the flop because this smallish bet will often induce a call from even the weaker portions of his range. In general, I almost always double-barrel this turn versus an unknown. Everything described thus far has been pretty high-variance and unlikely to be super-profitable. I prefer barreling and believe it to be the better option, but if you recognize players at this table as weak and want to preserve your stack to exploit them, then check/folding out of position when you brick to a complete unknown is forgivable. If you have no possibilities of exploiting the rest of the table by retaining your stack after this hand, then you absolutely should be double-barreling. After it goes check/check on the turn, I think you could really represent a queen that checked the turn hoping the villain would barrel all floats, but no one ever thinks that way. Every time I bet this river, a villain holding 9-9 high-fives their cat and dances as they get their chips in. Andres Pereyra: Regarding the whole post-flop part, the more I discuss this hand and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am about check/folding the flop. Whether the villain believes we have a big hand or thinks we don't, very rarely will he bet this flop with what we can consider the middle of his range: 22-77, 78s, 89s, 9Ts (except 9T of spades). People don't like to be check/raised in spots where they'd probably have to fold. Hence, they tend to give themselves the free card. Hands that now become the bottom of his range, he will also check back in hopes of pairing on the turn, completing a gutshot, or developing an open-ended straight draw on the turn: Q9, QT, K9-KT-KQ, A9-AT. Against those hands, we are large favorites. Unless the villain has huge floating tendencies, we lose these hands with a continuation bet. Probably the only hands he'd bet versus our flop check are at the top of his range: 44-88-JJ-AJ, KJ (especially KJss), QJss, 9Tspades. We are practically dead against most of those holdings. Therefore, if betting doesn't extract value from worse (unless it's a huge draw like his T-9 spades+ hands), what do we accomplish by betting? I understand that sometimes we can fold out 22-99, but I think you will agree with me when I say that in most cases, we have to at least double-barrel in order to get that fold we're looking for, which brings us back to my original concern. We are not deep enough to double-barrel in spots like this, especially considering that we'll only fold a very small percentage of the villain's hands that have us beat. Alex Fitzgerald: I think you have a point. He does check back a lot of hands we have real equity against and I'm not sure we get those hands to fold anyway with a flop bet. In my original analysis, I was assuming we were check/folding on the flop more than we probably really are. If we're not seriously considering a double-barrel or we don't think it's the most logical line to take with our stack size at this stage in the tournament, then your line is an interesting alternative What do you think? Weigh in by leaving a comment here.
  15. Even players who are naturals at poker had a steep learning curve early on in their careers. The growth and improvement that can be experienced in the first few months of serious play is tremendous for players who dedicate themselves to improving and have some natural ability for strategy, mathematics, and psychology. While we all have to make, and learn from, our mistakes, there is no harm in doing what we can to streamline and expedite the learning process while minimizing the bumps along the way. Poker strategy is endless and constantly changing, but there are many areas that stay constant. The thoughts below are just a few things that come to mind when I think about what suggestions and advice I have given to people who have asked me for help early on in their poker careers. A lot of the time, my advice varies greatly from individual to individual depending on my knowledge of their life situation, tendencies, and expectations for the game. One of the most common things I have found myself telling the younger crowd that asks me about getting into poker is that they need to do it for the right reasons. Poker is a fun, stimulating, and challenging game with great social aspects and networking opportunities, but many of the younger individuals asking me about it were really just looking for a cop-out to avoid getting their lives on track as they came into being adults. There is nothing wrong with playing poker and nothing wrong with doing it for a living, but playing poker for a living should not be a goal when you are first learning and experiencing the game. Play for fun first. Play hard and try to improve as quickly as you can, but don't expect to go from being a novice to living the glamorous life as a professional player right away. If you are smart enough, talented enough, and dedicated enough, then put those same skills into other aspects of your life instead of just focusing on poker early on. Playing for fun allows you the time to grow and learn without added pressure and stress. You can play poker for play money all you want, but the game doesn't become real until cold hard cash is on the line. The amounts don't have to be huge and everyone should play within their comfort level, but having real money on the line is a key element to making poker the complex and exciting game it is. When you first start playing, be prepared to lose. Don't expect to lose, but be prepared to handle it both emotionally and financially. Winning at poker is difficult, but the best way to learn and improve is to play, get time in at the tables, and be able to handle losses along the way. If you are playing for fun within limits you can handle, then losing should not be a financial issue as much as a competitive one. When I first started playing, our game was a single-table sit and go where we put up $10 each and played around a pool table. Losing the $10 never mattered to me in the grand scheme of things, but playing well and winning were important from the get-go. And picking up $50 for winning was a nice little bonus. When you are just getting started, read everything you can. Grab some poker books, search the internet for strategy articles, become a regular on the forums here at PocketFives, and take the game seriously. But, have fun while you are doing it, and don't limp. If your hand is good enough to enter the pot, then raise. If not, fold and go on to the next hand. Next week, I'll give a few more thoughts for beginners. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy and privately, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.
  16. 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. Chris Wallace is the founder of TourneyTracks.com, which lists every major upcoming tournament in North America. I know a number of players who have moved to Costa Rica and at least as many who have gone to Canada. The choice of Canada may seem strange when there are so many poker-friendly countries in the tropics, but some players are actually commuting to Canada for a few weeks each month to play online before returning home. What an odd profession we have chosen that many of its best practitioners leave home to work in another country because the nation that started it all has made it nearly impossible for us to practice our trade. When relocation is out of the question because of family ties, felony records, fear of the third world, prior commitments, or a multitude of other reasons, many players have found a way to make things work at home. A few are scratching out a living online at smaller sites where it can take months to get your money, game selection is limited, software is miserable, and your money may not be safe. If moving or playing online poker won't work, going back to a previous career may be an option, although this is rarely attractive to a player who has been free from the nine-to-five world. A resume with a multi-year hole that says "Professional Poker Player" will read to many uneducated potential employers as "Unemployed - Gambling Problem." Even more enlightened human resources personnel may be wary of hiring someone who has been out of the field for a few years, making a tough job market even tougher. The solution for many players has been to travel. I've put a lot of miles on my car and racked up some frequent flier miles since Black Friday. Attendance at the larger tournament series is soaring upward, with huge fields and prize pools for major events. I recently played in a $1,600 Main Event on the WSOP Circuit that had over 1,600 players and a top prize of nearly $400,000, the kind of money that was unheard of outside of the summer WSOP events until this year. There is money to be made, but making the transition from online to live play can be tough. Since I started out as a live player, and have always played quite a bit at local card rooms in Minnesota, the transition was a little easier for me. In working with players who are making the switch, I've come up with a list of things for online tournament players to work on when they play in live tournaments. The first thing to know, and it's good news, is that your advantage can be much larger. Online tournament players are used to pushing tiny edges and making up for a very small advantage over their opponents by playing a huge number of tournaments. Pushing those tiny edges makes sense when you have such a small overall advantage, but when your ROI could be three times the norm in live events, risking all of your chips on a 2% edge can be a big mistake. Once you learn to pick up tells on opponents, read their appearances, and take advantage of typically weaker fields, it is a big mistake to push a 2% edge. The best live tournament players tend to be a little more conservative than their online counterparts. They are not weak or passive by any means, just a little less willing to risk all of their chips for a tiny profit. It may help to remember that you can't play ten more tournaments if you bust this one and you are likely to find a better spot to get your chips in than making that questionable re-steal or shoving a short-stack all-in at the bottom of the Nash push/fold range. Now, let's talk about how to achieve that big advantage over your opponents in brick-and-mortar tournament fields. Physical Tells Yes, we've all seen "Rounders." Sadly, very few of your opponents will be eating Oreos. If that scene is all you know about reading your opponents' tells, then you will be amazed by how much information you can get and how rarely your opponents will be aware of the wealth of information they are giving away. The next time you play at a live table, watch your opponents watch the flop. Unless it's a big game full of Vegas pros, you will probably see everyone watching the cards when they are revealed and no one watching you. The best way to train yourself to read opponents is to watch them constantly. You should never see a flop happen again. You can look at the flop in a minute, but you can only see the reaction from the fish across the table from you right when the flop happens. After you watch them watch the flop, you can take a look at it yourself; it will still be there. To learn to read opponents, and cover up many of your own tells, try Joe Navarro's book "Read 'em and Reap." As the best book on getting started reading your opponents, it will give you a solid foundation on what to look for. Learn to Read Appearances While appearances can be deceiving, they usually aren't, and when a player first arrives at the table, appearance and behavior are the only things you have to assess an opponent. That old grandmother who just 3bet you may be loose and aggressive, but I'll lay money that she has a big hand. Everything about your opponent can tell you something about them and how they will likely play. No one has written a book on reading appearances yet, although books on body language certainly help. The best way to learn about your opponents from the way they look is to pay close attention and think about what each piece of information means. Study every person who sits down, and keep at it. You may not learn much at first, but keep at it and you'll find yourself learning more and more about players before they even reach their seat.
  17. Poker is a game that's inviting to anyone who wants to play and has been around a long time. I would imagine that a huge percentage of society has played poker at one time or another. Poker is also a game that welcomes any player: male or female, big or small, old or young. Everyone has an equal opportunity to win. MacroPokerprovides filterable news services, a free poker odds calculator, the ability to watch and share interesting hands, and a free statistic service for SNG and MTT results from the largest online poker rooms. Visit MacroPokerfor details. I remember when I first started playing poker in home games about 20 years ago, I hadn't been around poker nor did I know much about it, but as I started to learn the games, I realized that when you get the money in good, you usually win. Maybe I was fortunate to be around a bunch of average players at best, but from the time I started playing, I remember feeling like I had a decent shot to win. I also remember being able to spot the fish, but had no clue how to exploit them. I played poker spastically over the years until 2004, when I heard about online poker. I started playing online, but was just clicking buttons. In 2005, poker was legalized in Oklahoma and I started working at a casino in the poker department. At first, I was all about work, but after being around poker every day, several of us began to get the bug to play. We couldn't play where we worked at first, so we would travel an hour to play. It was during a drive to the casino when, for the first time ever, I met someone who had read books and tried to improve at poker. Unluckily for me, I still felt I was good and never asked enough questions. I am sure it was mostly ego, but it wasn't until 2010, after four years of losing online, that I finally decided I had to figure out what I was missing. In 2010, I started a poker chat group and a player referred me to a training site. After hearing good things, I joined the training site and remember my jaw dropping during the first video I watched. I was amazed when I realized how much time I had spent playing poker with false thoughts of being good. I began to watch lots of videos, play a ton of volume, and discuss as many hands as possible. I was also fortunate to meet a couple of good players who let me watch them play, which helped me begin to understand more and more about the game. I am sure we all have different stories of how we started at poker, but for any of you who are still stuck in the ego rut I was in for so long, I want to offer a few thoughts to help you improve. The last few weeks, I have been playing more live than online and have been amazed at some of the mistakes I've seen players make. Here are two poker staples that everyone should be familiar with. The first is one of the most common mistakes I see players making. I have seen way too much limping from all positions, calling most small raises, and then check-folding the flop. I think this mostly comes from people wanting to play and trying to hit the flop. In my opinion, we would be better off selecting better starting hands and opening for a raise instead of limping. Let's start with a baseline for opening hands. Obviously, depending on the table and your opponents, this can vary, but here is a baseline range for opening hands. HJ+4: AQo+, AJs+, 88+. HJ+3: AJo+, ATs+, 77+. HJ+2: ATo+, A9s+, KQo+, 66+. As you can tell, at HJ+4, also known as UTG at a nine-handed table, the opening range is AQo+, AJs+, 88+ and then drops one hand in each column for the next two positions. When reaching HJ+1, HJ, CO, and BU, the opening range can depend on many factors, but should slowly widen and be the widest on the BU. These opening hand guidelines will help players avoid getting in too many pots out of position with marginal holdings and help players learn more about position. Another mistake I see often is players calling off huge percentages of their stack with a speculative hand that requires them to hit to be any good, for example set-mining or suited connectors. When calling with a speculative hand where we feel we need to hit a set, flop two pair, flop trips, flop a straight, or flop a flush, we should not be paying much more than 5% of the effective stack without a good reason. For example, let's say we are playing $1/$2 NL with a $200 stack. We open for $6 from the HJ with 55, the CO folds, and the BU makes it $24 with $250 behind. The blinds fold and now it's on us to call $18, raise, or fold. The general thought on set-mining is that we shouldn't pay more than 5% of the effective stack. The effective stack is the shorter stack in the hand. In this case, its us with $200, so 5% would be $10. For us to call, it's $18, so truly we do not have the right price to call and so should fold. We are also out of position and unless we hit a five on the flop, it's unlikely that we can call any c-bet on the flop. If we were in position and felt we could win the pot with position, the decision could be different. Just remember that any time, especially out of position, picking the spots to play when we have the correct price is very important. I know this information will be common knowledge for several players, but I hope to help any new players, or players who have been held back by ego like I was. I want you to know that poker is a deeper game than some people realize and we can all improve. I see so many players going through the motions and playing lots of hours, but never doing much to improve. Why keep making the same mistakes over and over? If you're playing live, start reading as many articles in the poker magazines as possible and try to apply what you read. If you have any trouble understanding any of it, find someone to start talking poker with and improve together. Talking poker is a great learning tool. If playing online, players should try to join a poker chat and a training site and be active in the forums. The great thing about poker is you get back out of it what you put into it, so get to work! This article was written by John cracker9ballReynolds, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you are interested in taking poker lessons or would like any information, contact him at variance101@gmail.com or visit Variance101.com. Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook. You can also subscribe to our RSS feed.
  18. One of the more satisfying feelings in poker is when you work out every possibility in a hand. Anticipating and preparing for when an opponent errs is almost a high for me and certainly entertaining enough to examine for a strategy article here on PocketFives. In this piece, I thought we'd peer into a hand I played in a $109 tournament on PokerStars. The villain was a decently tight reg running 15/13 with a 6.2% 3bet. He had 102 BBs and was UTG+1. His early position raising range was usually 13%, but in this session, he'd been opening up due to his larger stack size. He was a solid all-around player. He's the type of player I've heard has saturated the games now. Many people complain that these generic regs are not great, but they all take just a little money out of the game and they're difficult to draw money from. However, if you know what to look for, you can get money from a tough regular too. I was sitting next to the villain with 7d-5d and 70 BBs. I thought he would not adjust well since it's not in his normal game to open from early position much. I looked at his Fold to 3bet. He had folded four times out of the eight times he'd been 3bet. If I was thinking of purely bluffing with something like 9-2, this was a horrible situation for that. I still had five people to act behind me. His Fold to 3bet was not high enough for me to really want to do it with any two cards. Most of the stacks behind me are around 40 BBs. They can't flat and their stack is a little too big to jam. Clicking on their session statistics showed that everyone was playing pretty tight. This was in the middle of a WCOOP Sunday and people were pretty occupied. I figured no one would go after my 3bet. Still, I can't just 3bet him without more information. If he's decent post-flop, he's not opening with enough hands to really isolate him here. I eyeballed his Fold to Continuation Bet statistic, a very important factor here since our opponent will be checking to us out of position quite a bit. Wow, he folds 74% of the time to continuation bets over a huge sample. That is a huge Fold to Continuation Bet percentage. A normal, honest, tight-aggressive regular, the kind of guy who really only continues with a decent pair or a good draw, has a Fold to Continuation Bet of about 60%. If you think about it, this makes sense. About one time out of three you hit the board and a small percentage more than that you hit some mediocre draws. A 74% Fold to Continuation Bet means I can rely on this opponent check-folding some decent middle pairs. 7-5 suited will flop two pair, an open-ended straight draw, a flush draw, or any of those draws with a pair 25% of the time. We're in position. When we continuation bet this flop, he is folding too much. If he calls us, we can just check back when he checks the turn and take a free card. If we're blessed with a goofy two pair or another hand worth double-barreling with, then we can apply pressure. It's all up to us when we're in position. An examination of his Check-Raise statistic shows it's 3%. That's akin to middle sets+. He's not going to be check-raise/bluffing ever. I've been playing pretty snugly for a while. We seem to have a mutual respect for each other. His Vs. Hero statistics with me are pretty tame. 3betting in this spot isn't generally a steal. I think this is a good time to throw a change-up. He opens to 800 at 200/400 with an ante of 50. I make it 2,000. The pot is now 3,800. I'm risking 2,000 to win what's in there. 2,000/3,800 = 0.52631. I need him and everyone else to fold more than 52.63% of the time here in order to 3bet without cards. If he is opening more than normal, I would assume he's raise/folding enough hands to make the 3bet profitable versus solely him, but with five players to act, I don't think 52.63% of the time everyone is folding. For this reason, I wouldn't 3bet with just a blocker here. We need something we can't flat like 7-5s, but still has a ton of post-flop semi-bluff potential. Everyone folds around to him and he flats 1,200 fairly quickly out of position. The board comes Ad-10h-7s. This is normally one of the worst boards I could continuation bet into. He will have more A-X combinations than anything in his range. However, he is a special opponent. He will not be calling with a number of gutshot straight draws, middle pairs, and he could even possibly fold a weak ace. He checks to me. I bet 2,000. I do not need to bet more because of my position and this opponent's direct way of playing the flop. I am risking 2,000 and the pot I will win when he folds is 7,000. 2,000/7,000 = 0.28571, so we need him to fold 28.57% of his hands in order to make this continuation bet profitable with any two cards. He normally folds 73% of the time on the flop. He's out of position, so normally that number should be higher given the situation. You see why this is such a great spot? If our opponent called us with a very tight range pre-flop, say 66+, AJs+, AJo+, KQo, KJs+, QJs+, J10s+ with no AA or KK (we assume he 4bet those hands), he still has absolutely no hand 24.2% of the time. Even if you strengthen that range by including AA and KK, he still has nothing 22.2% of the time. An additional 16.7% of the time he has a pair under middle pair, which you know he's never calling with. The next 12.1% is made up of QQ and JJ combinations, which this opponent could possibly fold, although it's not likely. He doesn't have a hand that can beat top pair 57.6% of the time. He doesn't have a hand that beats middle pair 42.4% of the time. Assuming he plays the exact same way he's played over thousands of hands, we have a profitable continuation bet. Not to mention, when he calls, we still have two sevens, three fives, and backdoor diamonds we could hit. It's our choice in position whether we want to pot control and see a free card or charge the man. He time banks for a while and then calls my small continuation bet. I don't believe he's going to the turn with a very wide range. I don't see as much value in double-barreling even if the turn is a diamond. I'd rather take a free card because he has mostly A-X combinations that aren't folding to undercards. The turn is the five of spades, giving me a small two pair. The great thing with a player like this is if you hit a hand, you have massive implied odds. He will not fold top pair once he's called on the flop. The flop is where he decides to continue until the river and he doesn't do much calling with a plan to reevaluate the turn. That's why his Fold to Continuation Bet is so high. If he check-raises, you can fold knowing there's no chance in hell he is bluffing. He always has a hand that beats bottom two pair. Admittedly, I did something stupid here. I was multi-tabling and mashed a normal bet I do to keep in middle pairs. I bet 4,400 into a pot of 9,000. In retrospect, his range on the turn is heavily weighted toward A-X combinations. Guys who always fold on the flop hold on for dear life when they call. They've waited so long to continue to a turn that it usually makes them sick to give up at any point afterward. I think I should have bet 6,000 to 7,000. He calls. The river is the four of clubs. It's a beautiful card. There was little chance he flatted with A-4s pre-flop, so that card doesn't make a superior two pair possible. There is 17,800 in the pot and I bet 9,400. I think not going for a five-digit number here makes the bet look smaller than it is. It sounds stupid, but there's a reason every car dealership on Earth sells things for $19,999 and not $20,000. He ended up time banking for a long while on the river, so maybe it was better to bet smaller on the turn and river. Eventually, he called with As-Qs and I collected a 45 BB pot. Alexander AssassinatoFitzgerald has been a professional poker player since he was 18. A large winner in cash games, SNGs, and tournaments, Alex has amassed $3,000,000+ in tournament earnings alone. Alex is an instructor at PocketFives Trainingand can be reached for private lessons at Assassinatocoaching@gmail.com. You can also follow his Twitter @TheAssassinato or his blog at Pokerheadrush.com. He currently resides in his suburban home in Costa Rica with his girlfriend and poodle.
  19. Early in MTTs, there is a general thought process to play solid. For the most part, I think most people believe that over-playing hands early will often result in winning small pots and losing big pots. The structure also plays a part in these decisions because early in MTTs, there is usually no ante, which offers a smaller reward for picking up pots pre-flop. In my opinion, a lot of players who play several tournaments at once go into autopilot. This gear is commonly used when playing the first few levels of MTTs and when mass multi-tabling. In this gear, I think most players are playing an ABC style of poker where they are not really getting out of line or trying to bluff often. I think while auto-piloting, most players fall into an outdated style of play where they are waiting for a hand and then evaluating their play. During this time, most people are usually not watching the action closely enough to do anything different, whether it's due to playing to many tables or playing distracted. One problem that could come with playing lots of poker on autopilot is engraining that style of play as a habit. Any action an individual practices over and over could slowly turn into a habit. The last thing a poker player needs is to build a habit of autopiloting with little focus. I think some players could get to the point where playing on autopilot will feel normal. Even when the tables get reduced to a point where all of the action could be followed, they are likely to stay on autopilot and use their extra time to search the web and chat with friends. If this happens to you, know that you are basically burning money and losing EV. Obviously, playing on autopilot is less optimal than observing how the table and your opponents are playing and countering that with an effective strategy to gain EV. One thing we have going for us today is poker software. With a poker HUD, players can add volume and use the HUD for information instead of having to watch every hand at every table. But in my opinion, a HUD isn't enough. We still should take notes and make sure we are aware of our image. A poker HUD is a valuable tool, but we have to make sure we are still thinking and paying attention. When using a HUD when the sample size is small, we have no way to tell if a stretch of activity or inactivity from a player is their style or a run of cards. When the sample gets larger, the HUD stats are more helpful, but can still be skewed if you have no thoughts on how the villain perceives you. Watching showdowns and taking notes can be very helpful. Taking effective notes takes practice and can be very beneficial. It's very easy to take a note that will turn out to be unhelpful in the future. When taking notes, I try to put down relevant information that can help in the future. One of the most common things I include is their poker statistics from OPR or Sharkscope. I also have my own icon system. Understanding whether a player is a winning regular, a breakeven player, or a losing player can help you range them. For example, if a winning regular shoves 14 big blinds from the cutoff, you can expect them to have an idea of what a shove chart is and be shoving optimally. And if a losing random shoves the same 14 big blinds from the cutoff, there is a greater chance they have been waiting for a hand and are likely to be stronger. Sometimes I will note a whole hand the villain played to give myself the ability to go over it later and remember what the villain is capable of. I also like to note how I think the villain perceives me. Also, there are a few plays I look out for and if I see a player make one of them, I try to make a note immediately. These plays consist of things like a stop-and-go, a donk lead, or opening and folding a stack that should have been a shove or a fold. Avoiding the autopilot and taking notes is by far the most optimal way to play, but like anything it takes work, but the payoff is worth it. In closing, I just want to say that to truly play up to our potential, we need to avoid too much autopilot and make sure we are focusing, giving it our all, and taking notes. If you catch yourself playing on autopilot, dig a little deeper and try harder. A lack of focus will only cost us EV in the long-run. This article was written by John cracker9ball Reynolds, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you are interested in taking poker lessons or would like any information, contact him at variance101@gmail.com and visit Variance101.com.
  20. When making a bet, we need to ask ourselves two very important questions, the first being, "Am I betting for value or as a bluff?" Once we have the first answer, we must then ask ourselves one of two other questions: "If I am betting for value, what worse hands can I get to call?" and "If I am betting as a bluff, what better hands can I get to fold?" Asking these questions greatly improves the reasons behind our actions. And if you ask me, the biggest difference between good players and great players is the reasons behind their actions. To be a solid thinking poker player, we must practice thinking; asking ourselves these questions is the first step. Lots of our bets in poker seem very standard. We get an opening hand, so we open. Since we've opened, if no one raised, we generally c-bet most flops. Usually, whether we hit the flop or not, we do about the same thing. We are the aggressor, and the aggressive action will work a decent percentage of the time. But for the times we smack the flop or when we get board textures that we know smack a villain's range, we should ask these questions and come up with an appropriate plan of action. Let me give a couple of examples. Let's say we have Td-Tc and the flop comes Th-6c-2s. Sometimes with these dry boards that should miss the villain's calling range often, we should check instead of c-bet. We are trying to let the villain catch up. We know that if we bet, we would be betting for value, but we also know by asking ourselves, "What worse hands can call" that it is hard for the villain to continue when we have most of the tens and there are not many sensible draws. Check/calling this flop with a plan to either make a delayed c-bet on the turn or possibly check once more and bet the river will allow your opponent room to catch up or bluff. When holding top set on a dry board, allowing the villain to catch up or bluff may be the only way to extract value. Here is another example. Let's say we have As-Kh, we open, and one player flats. The flop comes 9h-Ts-Js. Here, we have a wet connected board that will hit a flatter's range often. I think in this situation with two overs, a gutshot straight draw, and a backdoor runner-runner flush draw, if we bet and get raised, we will be in an awkward spot trying to decide if we have enough equity to continue. I think some players will c-bet here even with this board texture expecting the c-bet to work often enough to be profitable, but it will be stack and villain dependent. Sometimes in spots like this, I will check/call on the flop instead of making a standard c-bet. My hand has value and I do not want to be forced to fold. I also don't want to have to make a decision for my whole stack with overs and draws. So, in order to avoid this tricky spot, we ask ourselves, "If I c-bet, which would be a bluff unless we were willing to stack off, what better hands will fold?" On this type of board, I don't think many hands that connect with it will fold. Most flush and straight draws will be continuing and possibly trying to get stacks in on the flop. One option would be to check/call. If we check/call, we can get to the turn for about the same price as if we would have c-bet and we don't lose the value of our hand. This is what I mean by so much of poker can be standard, but when we are facing tough spots, we need to be able to think through the situation by asking ourselves the right questions to help us come up with an optimal decision. Now, I would like to talk about a common mistake I see every day: when players bet the river when only hands that have them beat can call. I know we have all been in that spot and after we bet and the villain raises, we are like, "Doh." If we were to ask, "Am I betting for value or as a bluff," and then follow that with the either "If I am betting for value, what worse hands can I get to call" or "If I am betting as a bluff, what better hands can I get to fold" before we bet the river, we can determine if we need to bet. Once we have determined if we are betting, we should have a plan. There is no reason to bet, get raised, and then be confused. Before making any bet, we should have a plan for all players left in the hand. In this spot, facing one villain on the river, we should determine if we have showdown value. If we have showdown value, but don't want to call a raise, we should check/call. If we have no showdown value, we need to decide if we should bluff or not. When deciding whether to bluff, we simply ask ourselves if any better hands will fold and then make our decision. There will be some times when just check/folding is the best option, but whatever we decide, we should have reasons behind our actions. To expand on having a plan, I would like to add a few points. If it is folded to us and we are deciding whether to open, we should look at these things. First, we look to see if any of the villains have a shove stack. If any of them do, we simply decide if we would call if they shoved over our open. If any of the villains has a large stack, we need to decide how we would react to a 3bet over our open. Now, make sure when you make these plans, know they are not set in stone. We are more setting an outline for the events that we think could take place. If we are thrown a curveball, then we need to make sure to take the new information into consideration and adjust our plan accordingly. For example, say we had a plan to call the shove stacks after opening because of their size, but we were going to fold to any 3bets by the bigger stacks. Then, we bet, a big stack flats, and then two short stacks shove. Obviously, a lot more happened than originally anticipated, so we take the new information into account and make an appropriate decision. It's not often we would continue to call the short stacks' shoves when two of them shoved and there is still a big stack with a decision left. Often in this spot, I think we will be finding a fold. Poker is a game of skill and requires lots of thinking. The better we get at applying the right questions to the right situations, the better we will be playing. We should be asking ourselves these questions every time we bet until they become second nature. Let's all strive to be solid thinking players and see how far this game can take us. If you are interested in taking lessons or need any information, please contact me at variance101@gmail.com and/or visit variance101.comor variance101.blogspot.com.
  21. The game was our normal $5/$10 blind Pot Limit Omaha game and started around 1:00pm. Around 10:00am the next morning, the game was still going strong and players had been in and out all day. The game was still good, or great actually, but I knew fatigue was starting to set in. If I were going to keep playing, I would have to focus just to stay at a reasonable level of play and not make a huge mistake. Luckily, I had my bag in the truck with a change of clothes and the place we were playing had a shower I could use. I was able to miss a few hands and freshen up enough to feel rejuvenated to keep playing. The game ended up running until 9:00pm that night for a total of 32 hours played, with a handful of players being there the vast majority of the time. I ended up okay in the game and although I was exhausted when we finished, I enjoyed playing a long session like that. I wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis, but a few times a year, I would be up for playing long sessions like that if the circumstances worked out. The next day, I got to thinking about the game, my play, and how fatigue impacted my decisions as well as the decisions of everyone else. The fun of poker is that the circumstances and information available to you are constantly changing and never complete. After playing for 24+ hours, there are all sorts of new elements to consider. Many of the players were stuck and chasing. Some of them had been playing for many hours, while others had played for a little bit, went home and slept, and came back. The fine line comes in being able to accurately self-evaluate while being sleep-deprived and very tired. Not only do you have to factor in how much your tiredness is impacting your play, you also have to make that determination while you are not at your best mentally due to lack of sleep. It's a bit of a circular situation, but if the game is good and you want to keep playing, these are decisions that have to be made. As long as you feel like you are still playing with an advantage, keep playing, but know that you have to constantly reevaluate the situation. If your play starts to deteriorate, it is time to call it quits. Even one more round could be a disaster once you reach the point of no return and lose the ability to make good decisions. Long sessions at a casino are often unnecessary since the games are going all the time, but in local games, it often takes a long session for the game to get really good and the stacks to get exceptionally deep. With that in mind, I was in for the long haul unless I really got to the point of not being able to concentrate. As fresh players started coming back into the game, I had to be even more careful, knowing they were playing at an advantage coming in rested. But, I still felt like the general makeup of the game fit my style well and that my experience playing deep-stacked gave me a decent advantage. For now, I'm going to try to catch up on rest and don't want to jump back into a long game any time soon. But, if the opportunity comes up, I'm sure I'll be glad to hop in and play for many hours in a row again. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy and privately, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at Court@CourtHarrington.com.
  22. When I go to the World Series of Poker, I plan out a schedule of events and know ahead of time that those are the tournaments I will be entering. I often buy in early to avoid waiting in lines. But just because I am playing the events doesn't mean I don't take advantage of the opportunities available in the satellitesthat are constantly going on around the WSOP. This year, I played four satellites and was fortunate enough to win two of them. I played a $550 2-7 NL Single Draw satellite and a $550 No Limit Hold'em satellite that I did not cash in. The first one I won was a large-field $1,000 buy-in satellite the day before the Main Event's Day 1A. Out of the 700+ players, there were 70 seats being given away. Those tournaments are perfect for me, allowing me to often do well without ever really having to make a hand or take many chances. Early on, they play much like normal tournaments, as you try to accumulate chips, but you don't have to have all the chips to win. Finishing with one chip left gets you the same result as being a monster chip leader. I was able to pick up a few chips early, but never had a big stack and was content to hang in there picking up pots nobody seemed to want and taking advantage of good situations. The next thing I knew, I looked up at the board and we were down to 160 players with 70 seats being awarded. At this point, it was all about survival. At one table, I had to be patient because the player on my left had a pile of chips and even though he shouldn't have been willing to gamble, he was. At one point, he risked about half of his stack calling off with pocket tens against a player's A-K. Luckily for me, he held and busted another player, getting me one spot closer to a seat, but the risk he took was not worth the reward. He may have been to a point where he could fold to a seat, but short of that, he could definitely have found better spots to pick up small pots, take the blinds and antes, force players with mid-stacks to fold almost any hand, and win pots without seeing a flop, much less an all-in showdown where anything could happen. That table was going to break soon and when it did, I found myself in a better spot with two mid-stacks to my left that were willing to fold most hands and not get too involved. The short stacks on my right missed a lot of chances to move in and get chips and instead, they let themselves blind down to a point where they were going to get called. In one orbit, I had some interesting hands come up in terms of satellite strategy. In middle position, I picked up pocket sixes and with 25 big blinds, open-folded. Then, a hand or two later, I had pocket eights and also open-folded. Under the gun, I picked up pocket nines and continued with the strategy of open-folding. I had too many chips to just move in hoping not to get called and with a few erratic players at the table, I was somewhat concerned that they may call even with hands like J-J or A-Q. That, combined with being able to pick up the blinds without much contest, made folding mid-pairs a pretty easy decision with my stack size and the table dynamic. Raising and giving one of the big stacks the chance to move in and make me fold would have been a mistake, while just moving all-in was too much risk from middle or early position with the other dynamics at the table. In one hand, the button player raised and the big blind called. Both had been more active than their stacks warranted and both were in spots where they should have been moving in or folding in most circumstances, but that was not how they were playing. The hand between them played out with some betting, but neither got all-in. At showdown, both players had 10-7 offsuit for the same hand, middle pair with a bad kicker. They chopped the pot up and we went on to the next hand. The way that hand played out, along with my other observations, made me confident that the button player was opening and then passively playing too many hands by a large margin. The big blind player was calling with almost anything, but was not willing to get too committed after the flop. The next hand, I was the big blind and the first 10-7 player from the previous hand raised. The other 10-7 player just called and it got to me. Before looking at my cards, I was pretty sure I was going to move in for my 20 to 25 big blind stack. Unless the initial raiser had A-A or K-K, I thought he was folding, and felt like my image along with his play and table talk made it likely he would fold hands as strong as Q-Q and A-K and would definitely fold all other holdings. I also had a bit of a read on him that any hand he was willing to get all-in with, he would have moved all-in with to begin. When he raised, he wasn't willing to put all of his chips at risk. The second player in the pot I was certain would fold based on his actions and the feel I got for his understanding and thoughts on satellite strategy. So, in the middle my chips went and after briefly thinking, the first player folded and the second couldn't wait to get rid of his cards. After picking up that pot, I was much more comfortable and had the chips to put myself in a great spot to win a seat without having to take on hardly any risk for the rest of the satellite. The other satellite I won was a $1,000 single-table winner-take-all tournament. It was nothing special, just a standard sit and go with all of the money going to first place. I played near the end of the night on the last night for satellites before the Main Event. Other players were tired, frustrated, and making last-ditch efforts to win their way in. Luckily for me, the one really good player at the table busted. After that, I was in a good spot to play solid sit and go strategy to give myself a big edge over the field. I was able to chip up without showdown enough to gamble with the shorter stacks without ever putting myself at risk for my tournament or even for a large percentage of my stack. This year, the WSOP satellites are over, but as I do every year, I find myself heading home from the WSOP thinking I should spend more time playing satellites next year to take advantage of the value that's available. Some of the massive value there is limited to certain times, but satellite strategy is not something that many of the players around the WSOP are well versed in. Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy and privately, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at Court@CourtHarrington.com.
  23. On Saturday, July 7, the World Series of Poker Main Event kicks off with the first of three starting days. Poker players from around the world, each with varying skill sets and experience levels, will descend upon the Rio in Las Vegas for the $10,000 buy-in contest. Among those who will be on-hand this year is Chris FoxWallace (pictured), the founder of TourneyTracks.com, a longtime poker instructor, and a member of PocketFives since 2005. We caught up with Wallace to relive his Main Event experience and discuss his mindset in it. We hope you can take a little bit away from this article if you're playing in this year's WSOP Main Event. PocketFives: Tell us about your first time playing in the Main Event. We understand you had a short stay. Chris Wallace: My first time playing it was 45 minutes long. There was nothing I could do, either. I got it in as an 8:1 favorite on the flop. When you realize $10,000 is gone, you're pretty irritated. PocketFives: Ugh. What advice do you have for first time Main Event entrants? Chris Wallace: For people playing the Main Event for the first time, it's important because it's such a unique event to spend a little time at the table relaxing. You're not going to make 50,000 or 100,000 in chips in the first hour. You're not going to win the tournament in the first hour. If someone doubles up in the first level, the likelihood they're going to make the money doesn't increase that much. Even if you double up during the first hour, it doesn't matter that much for you in terms of equity. Instead, get used to the table and the environment. The money is great for a lot of people, but for other people, it's an experience, so think about what your goals are. If it's an experience for you, then don't take a bunch of stupid risks the first day. You can fold your way through the first day - I'm not advocating that, by the way, but it's possible. You can be cautious and focus on low-variance plays if you want to. If it's really about winning the thing, then you're probably prepared for that already because you're playing poker for a living and playing the game seriously. In any tournament I play, I take time to assess the table and try not to be too rash. If I start to play too many hands, it could cost me a ton of equity. Even when it's all about the money, I'm still very cautious, especially in a field that big. You won't know more than one or two people at the table, so it takes time to get used to how people are playing. PocketFives: What kind of turnout are you expecting in the Main Event this year? Chris Wallace: I think it will be smaller this year. The fields have been down this year overall. The fields in the bigger buy-in events have been down and with so many fewer qualifiers, all of that money is going out of the poker economy. You had people making money online last year who decided to go play poker in the WSOP to see what happened. Now, they've had a whole year to figure out what to do. You have fewer people this year. You have people playing smaller events in other series in town as well. That said, the Main Event is always filled with fish. However, I think you'll see fewer recreational players come take a shot this year. PocketFives: With what could be around $9 million for first place, is it best not to think about the money? Chris Wallace: Yeah, and some of that comes with experience. You start thinking about the money less with experience. If the $9 million affects your game, then it's a form of tilt. And with any form of tilt, I've learned to make the right play regardless of how I feel. With enough experience, you can focus on making the right play at the right time even if you're frustrated or elated about the potential of winning $9 million. You learn to make the right play regardless of how you're feeling. PocketFives: How did you bust from the Main Event in 45 minutes, by the way? Chris Wallace: It was aces against kings on a J-8-3 board with two clubs and my opponent hit a runner-runner flush. I was very disappointed. That was the only year my wife came with me to Vegas. I called her 45 minutes into it and she said, "You can't possibly be calling me right now." She asked me what I needed and I said, "A beer." We had a fun night and the Main Event was over. PocketFives: How are you going to buy into the Main Event? Do you have backing? Chris Wallace: I have backing in anything $1,000 and bigger. My backer is really easy to deal with. I get my own action below $1,000 and can make money and pay my bills. It works out really well. Backing hasn't changed how I play, though, and I probably wouldn't let it. I've been backed since the day after Black Friday. I can understand how backing would change how you play. Say you're $50,000 in make-up and you're at the final table. If $100,000 is first place and $50,000 is second place and you're an average stack, you'd play crazy and go for the win because that's the only way you make money. People who have make-up in their deals will tend to play bigger with bigger feels to try to get ahead of it rather than grind it down. That said, you really want to cash in the Main Event. And once you cash, you really want to keep playing and move up and win the thing. Even if you're $100,000 in make-up, it's nothing compared to the money at the top of the Main Event. I know players who have traded a bunch of pieces of each other as they got to 50 people left and 100 people left. That happens so much as you run deep in the Main Event and might affect some people's play too. PocketFives: Would you consider swapping pieces with someone? How can you hold the other person to the agreement? Chris Wallace: I would never swap pieces with someone I didn't know well enough to do it with a handshake agreement, but I know a lot of people who do anyway. I would recommend a text message or e-mail that says, "We're swapping 5% of our profits in the Main Event of the WSOP in 2012." That's a legally binding agreement. A judge can read English and you don't need a lawyer to write that up. Almost every deal I do is in a simple e-mail and judges can read that. You can tell people you only do it that way and they will largely be fine with that. If it's remotely a hassle for someone to do it, then just forget it. Swapping is fun, though. Having 20 people backed in the Main Event is just like having a bunch of horses you bet on. It's like having money on every NBA game one night. Some of the backers are like that - they love having all of those people in it. You can get the same thrill by swapping action with other players. What Main Event tips do you have? Let us know by leaving a comment here. HogWild Poker, a free, U.S.-friendly online poker site, makes PocketFives' WSOP coverage possible. The site is staking 10 players with $500 buy-ins to live events at casino tournaments of their choice every month. On top of that, each month, HogWild is throwing in a $2,000 staking package to a WSOP Circuit Main Event. Sign up for HogWild Poker for free today by clicking here. U.S. players are welcome.
  24. To achieve success in poker, understanding bankroll management, variance, and emotion is key. Lacking knowledge about any of these could be enough to keep any player from succeeding. In this article, my plan is to explain how bankroll management, variance, and emotion go hand-in-hand and can affect each other. Note that this article is intended for beginners, so keep that in mind when reading and commenting. ---------- MacroPokeris the presenter of PocketFives' strategy articles and provides filterable news services, a free poker odds calculator, the ability to watch and share interesting hands, and a free statistics service for SNG and MTT results from the largest online poker rooms. Visit MacroPokerfor details. ---------- Let's start with a simple explanation of each. Bankroll management is a system by which a player manages his available poker capital by deciding which limits to play to reduce the risk of going broke. The exact number of buy-ins can vary based upon a few factors, including game type and stakes. Variance is the difference between a player's short-term results and long-term expectation. For example, a winning player can make an optimal decision and still lose. A correct play in poker may be to get the money in as a 60% favorite, but that still means there is a 40% chance of losing. Even if a player gets his money in as a 90% favorite, they'll still lose 10% of the time. Emotion is a natural, instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others. It's also defined as any of the particular feelings that characterize such a state of mind as joy, anger, love, and hate. Everyone has emotion, but not everyone can control it. For a poker player, the ability to control your emotions is very important. There are two sides of the brain: emotional and analytical. If we are experiencing emotion while making a decision, we are making our decision from the wrong side of our brain. I think it's obvious that an analytical decision would be best in poker. It's important that poker players understand how to control their emotions and make decisions analytically. A simple tip to help switch from the emotional side to the analytical side is to count to ten. Numbers and counting require analytical thought and will help switch to the analytical side. Now, I want to explain how these three things work together. Let's start by thinking about a player going to play $1/$2 No Limit with two or three buy-ins. I am sure this is not all that uncommon, but two or three buy-ins is a far cry from the 20 to 40 buy-ins suggested for a cash game bankroll. When playing on two to three buy-ins, every decision is magnified because every loss is much more painful. The time we get it all-in on the flop with top pair and a flush draw versus second pair and the villain spikes two pair on the river, it's hard to keep our emotions in check and understand the variance we are experiencing. If we are playing with plenty of buy-ins, a loss like this is a minimal setback and we could easily rebuy and get our money in good again. But, when we play short, every decision is magnified and the fear of going broke is always lingering close by. By playing without bankroll management, we increase the chances of making emotional decisions by not having the funds to fade the variance. Let's say we have plenty of buy-ins, but lack an understanding of variance and emotion. In my opinion, playing without adequate knowledge of variance and emotion is an easy way to make your bankroll disappear. Without an understanding of variance, it is very easy to play higher stakes than necessary. It is also way more likely that a player will become emotional when they get it in good and then get drawn out on. Variance and emotion go hand-in-hand, as it takes an understanding of each to achieve success in poker. When trying to learn how to control emotion, the first thing to understand is variance. It takes an understanding that no matter how good a player gets it in, there is usually a chance they could still lose. Knowing this helps us control our emotions when it happens. It's far easier to control our emotions when we understand variance and realize our goal is long-term. Remember, any one hand doesn't matter. This article was written by John cracker9ballReynolds, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you are interested in taking poker lessons or would like any information, contact him at variance101@gmail.com or visit Variance101.com.
  25. It's time to play a session, so we grab the laptop, sit in our favorite chair, and turn on the television. We start registering for tournaments and selecting the channel of the show we want to watch. As we start playing, it's early in all of the MTTs, so there is plenty of time to watch television. When the table beeps to let us know it's our turn, we glance away from the television and act. The table beeps, we see what our hand is, and generally fold. When we have a decent hand, we quickly try to figure out who is in the hand, what is going on, and then make a decision. If any of this sounds familiar, I am here to tell you that you can do better and you can give more. I know several players may play on a desktop instead of a laptop, and several might play in an office instead of the living room, but if you can relate to any of the things I mentioned, you can do better. The first few years I played online, I had bad playing habits. I would often play on my laptop in front of the television. I actually did this almost every time I played online from 2005 to 2010. And, oddly enough, I used to wonder why I would win live, but lose online. Obviously, I still felt that I could focus when necessary, but I believeI was missing way too much important information. I would usually end up acting after I heard the beep alerting me it was my turn. To help with my focus, I eventually moved to the dining room table to remove some of the distractions from the equation. Now, I play all my sessions at the table with the television in the other room. When playing a poker session, we need to be at our best and focus distraction-free. I doubt relaxing in a recliner and watching television while we play could possibly be considered our best or distraction-free. All poker players should try to have a good environment to grind. Some things to think about when building a good environment are minimal distractions, proper lighting, a comfortable chair, the right equipment, and the right software. As I began to take poker more seriously in 2010, I started trying to improve everything. I was trying to improve my poker game, my software, my equipment, my chair, the lighting, and anything poker- or session-related. In my opinion, the best thing to do if you're thinking about improving any of these things is talk to experienced players to get their advice. The first thing I did when I wanted to improve was organize a poker chat group. Once the group was going, I was informed that I should join a training site, so I did. As I started to watch training videos, I instantly realized and said to myself, "I am not as good as I think I am." Discovering that we are not as good as we think we are is a painful but eye-opening experience. As soon as we get an idea of how we truly play, we can begin to move forward and improve. As a poker player, if we think we are better than we are, we will not try to work on the right things or possibly not try to improve at all. Thinking we are better than we are can be one of surest ways to slow our growth and stall our improvement. I'll be honest and say that before 2010, I thought I was way better than I was. I was sure that I could hold my own with anyone at a poker table and felt I could comfortably play Hold'em, Stud, and Omaha. But, the truth of the matter is I had never worked on my game, never watched a training video, and hardly ever talked any poker with anyone. The only reason I thought I was good is because at every poker table I had ever been at, I felt there were always a couple of players that I had an edge on. I also had several winning sessions playing live poker. I guess I failed to realize that it takes more than beating some weak competition to be a good player. I got caught up in the fact that I had some minor success and never gave a thought to trying to improve. Looking back, it amazes me that I was so naive. In 2010 when I started taking all of the necessary steps to improve, I was amazed at how much information was out there. Watching training videos was an eye-opening experience. When the pros started talking about their plan for every stack left in the hand, my mouth dropped. It was at that exact moment that I knew I had been slacking. It was around this time that I finally had an idea of how I played and began to improve a lot. I would watch training videos, grind, and talk lots of poker in the chat and in the forums. It wasn't long before I felt I was taking big strides and improving quickly. I kept watching videos, grinding, and talking poker for a few months and then decided to take some lessons. The lessons were very helpful and to put it simply, I believe there are things in poker that are hard to learn until we are taught. As you can imagine, between the training site, poker chat, and lessons, I just kept improving. I was playing a lot, improving daily, and had just moved up to high-stakes games when Black Friday hit. At that point, I was devastated and just gave up on online poker. I started grinding live every day and traveling to all of the MTT series in my area. I felt good and was confident at every table I played at. I knew I had been working hard on my game, but as time went on, all I did was play. I was grinding live daily, but that was it. There was no live training site and I couldn't review live hand histories. I think I got complacent, slowly picked up a bad habit or two, and my game suffered. I wasn't able to truly realize this until I started playing online poker again in May 2012. Once I started playing online again, watching training videos, and talking poker,I was able to quickly notice that I had picked up some bad habits and started fixing them. The last two months, I have been talking more poker than ever, and the more poker I talk, the better I get. I truly believe we will get back out of poker what we put into it, so I plan on giving it my all. I hope you enjoyed this article about session habits and knowing how we play. Look for my poker strategy articles right here at PocketFives. This article was written by John cracker9ballReynolds, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you are interested in taking poker lessons or would like any information, contact him at variance101@gmail.com and/or visit Variance101.com.

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