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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. "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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. To play at or near your best in poker, you have to be hitting on all cylinders. Just last night, I made a big mistake in playing when I shouldn't have. The game is a good one and I almost never miss it, but on my way yesterday, my throat started hurting. I know a few people who have had a bug lately that kept them pent up for a few days feeling sick and it seemed likely I had caught the same thing and was just starting to show symptoms. At that point, I should have just turned around, called it an early night, and went home. But I'm stubborn, wanted to play, and hated to miss a game as good as the one I was heading to. So, on I went, thinking that even feeling bad, I could and would play plenty well enough to be a big favorite in the game. Instead, I got crushed. I put up my biggest losing session in over a year. Losing is part of the game and with my style, big wins and big losses are not uncommon, but chalking up a big loss on a night when I knew I wouldn't be at my best was a big mistake. I shouldn't have gone to begin with; once there, I should have set a small stop-loss and definitely shouldn't have gotten into the game as deep as I did. But I did, and five or six hours after sitting down to play, I wished I hadn't. I finally cut my losses and called it a night, but it left me driving home wondering why I had put myself in such a situation. Driving home while you are feeling bad is no fun, but doing it after getting destroyed in a card game is even less enjoyable. Knowing that you knew better ahead of time and did it to yourself anyway is even worse. Looking back at the major hands, I don't feel like I played especially poorly, but I knowI wasn't on top of my game and wasn't picking up on as many things as I usually do. Had I run well, I would likely have had a good night and went home thinking, "I'm glad I went even though I didn't feel well." Instead, I ran poorly and regretted making the decision to go. Upon more thought, I realize that no matter what, the results I put up were going to be sub-optimal. Were I to have run well and won a little, I would have felt good about it, but I wouldn't have won as much as I should have and then the result was the worst-case scenario. I combined running bad with playing when I shouldn't have and maximized my losses. On a normal night, I could have lost a few big hands and likely kept the losses to a minimum, but I was out of it enough last night that my losses compounded themselves and, in a short period of time, I had erased a few nice wins over the last couple of weeks. What is done is done and I can't go back in time, but I can learn from it. The next time I know ahead of time that I won't be able to be at my best, I am going to make the call to stay away until I am able to play at or near my best. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Most poker players, like most people, don't understand different. If it isn't what we are used to and comfortable with, then something must be wrong with it. With the boom of online poker and online poker communities, the evolution of the game has increased exponentially. Players can quickly and effectively improve in a very short period of time by studying, reading, discussing, questioning, and probably most importantly, playing a tremendous number of hands in a relatively short period of time. What has evolved is a generally accepted form of play and often it is easy to fall into this style without really understanding why you are doing it. It's even easier to assume that anyone who isn't playing like you is a bad player or making mistakes. A lot of times they are and sometimes they are not. If you want to be an average, breakeven player, then following the herd may work for you. But who really puts in the time and effort it takes to be good at poker just to be an average player? Phil Hellmuth just won his 13th bracelet by taking down the WSOP Europe Main Event. I am not a Hellmuth fan and don't care for his demeanor and attitude, which I often preach against in my articles and to any up-and-coming player who asks me for advice. Not only do I not care for his antics, I also question some of the play I see from him. Many others go beyond that, calling him horrible and saying the game has passed him by. Right now, of the thousands of players who entered WSOP events this year, Hellmuth is the leader in the Player of the Year race. So say what you want about him in other forms of poker, but in tournaments, he is, and has been, doing something right that almost none of us can understand or duplicate. It is a combination of image, personality, and timing that is baffling to many. I'm definitely not going to start acting like Hellmuth (pictured). I'm not even going to alter my playing style in any way to reflect his. What I am going to do is make sure I force myself to stop thinking that anyone who plays differently than I do is inherently a bad or less developed player. I'm going to stop attributing their success to luck. I'm not going to waste any of my time verbalizing or even thinking internally about beats they may put on me or someone else. What I am going to do is try to figure out how it is possible that what they are doing is working for them. Some level of understanding will improve my game and give me the information I need to be able to combat what this player is doing. And while I won't copycat a style of play without being able to explain why it would work, I will implement strategies and techniques once I have my head around the "what" and the "why." A key factor in the success of players whose styles that seem to buck up against the norm is their understanding that all of their opponents aren't playing like they are. Starting with a blank slate on your opponents allows you to adapt your game to them instead of starting from the assumption that there is a certain way you "should" play and developing your game to combat how you think someone ought to be playing. Successful players with out-of-the-ordinary styles have a knack for understanding and exploiting their opponents that is often lost on the average, by-the-book player. Read, study, and understand generally accepted strategies. At the same time, be open to constantly adapting your style to the game around you and don't get caught up in what other players are supposed to do. Instead, focus on what they are doing and find ways to be different that give you an even bigger edge over your opponents. 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 for poker media businesses. 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.
  21. A common mistake I have seen a lot of in low- and mid-stakes MTTs during my time playing them is shoving hands that rate to be best in situations where there are more profitable lines available. Knowing when to do one play rather than another requires some read on your opponents' calling ranges and the likelihood that they will re-raise or re-jam with worse hands. Your stack size also dictates when to do one move over another. Let's take a look at a hand like A-J on the button with 15 to 20 big blinds. Shoving is very likely to pick up the blinds and antes and a few worse ace-high hands or a hand like K-Q suited might call you. It is clearly an unexploitable play, but with aggressive opponents in the blinds, raising to your normal size is much more profitable. By just raising instead of shoving, you allow your opponent an opportunity to re-raise with worse hands that they would otherwise fold. An aggressive player's re-shove range will often include a lot of hands you are beating and a lot of hands you are dominating that you really want to keep in the pot. If a player looks at a hand like Q-J suited, J-10 suited, or suited connecters and re-jams against your standard open, then you are losing huge equity by making them fold pre-flop, so don't give them a chance to! There is some downside to this. You may get some players to fold small pairs that you are flipping against by shoving, but the hands you keep in their playing range far outnumber these small pairs. If you have to take a flip now and again in order keep hands that you are 70% or 60% to win against, then that is a small price to pay. As with anything in poker, when to shove and when to induce by making a normal opening raise are relative. With a hand like K-J, you can be so far ahead of your opponent's re-shoving range in blind-versus-blind situations. Some players will shove such a wide range on your opens in these types of spots that you want to let them put it in with suited connecters and hands like J-10 that you dominate. Shoving, although unexploitable, is not the best line to take. The key is to know your opponent and the situation. Ask yourself, "Will my opponent call with worse if I shove or will he try to make a re-steal with a very wide range if I just open?" If the answer is "No" to the first question and "Yes" to the second question, then opening the pot may be better than shoving. As a general rule, it is better to induce with big cards that will dominate more hands than try to induce a re-shove with a small pocket pair. A hand like 5-5 is better just to shove in most situations where you are likely to have the best hand because you are flipping against a majority of hands that might re-shove. Even a hand like 8-7 is a flip, so it is better to take the unexploitable route even though technically 5-5 is a better hand than a big ace. Paying attention to your tables even when you are not in a hand is +EV in general and will help you with decisions like this one. Watch for who is re-stealing against late position opens regularly. These players are going to be prime targets for inducing a jam when you get a solid hand that you want action from. Don't make the game easy on them by shoving all-in. Keep your eyes open, as passing on these chances to win big pots can be a huge mistake even if shoving all-in pre-flop is a profitable play. Don't settle for the second best line; always shoot for playing optimally. As always, good luck at the tables. Walter JLizardWright is a six-time PocketFives Triple Crown winner and a site instructor at PocketFives Training. If you are interested in lessons, please contact him via PocketFives PM or at JLizardTraining@gmail.com.
  22. Positionin No Limit Hold'em tournaments refers to where you are in the betting order. One of the most common mistakes made playing No Limit Hold'em is playing pots out of position. It is easy for a beginner to think that position doesn't matter much. After all, you can make the best hand at any time. Plus, since the betting is No Limit, you can double up or win your opponent's stack at any time, right? Even more advanced players will overestimate their abilities to outplay their opponents and thus play too many hands out of position. Let's look at some of the common mistakes that are made by playing out of position and the disadvantages they lead to. Some of these mistakes may seem very basic; however, you will still see them being made all the time. Mistake #1: Playing aces with bad kickers in early position I see this happen all the time, usually from inexperienced players: raising non-premium, ace-high hands from under the gun or the first two positions. Even A-J is a bad open from the first three positions at a full nine-handed table. It simply doesn't rate to be the best hand often enough to make it a value raise. When you hit your ace, your hand is very hard to get value from. I see a lot of low-stakes players flatting A-Q to a raise and there are a lot of passive players who will make this play with A-K. When you get action on an ace-high flop, most of the time you will be value betting into a better hand, be out-kicked, or be up against two pair or better. Mistake #2: Defending in the blinds too widely against a button raise It's very common to see people defending the blinds too widely. Since you already have money invested in the pot, your odds to call are improved. However, your odds are more dictated by what's in your and your opponents' stacks rather than what is in the pot. When playing out of position, you are much more likely to lose big pots and win small ones. Therefore, defending with a hand like 8-6 suited can lead to trouble, whereas raising with 8-6 suited on the button is usually a fine play. A hand like 8-6 makes a pair as often as any other non-paired hand does, but often it won't make top pair. When 8-6 does make top pair, it is very vulnerable to overcards coming on the turn and river. Leading out on the flop can help define your hand, but it leaves you very susceptible to raises that could be value or bluffs. The player in position has the option of just calling your lead with two overcards looking to reevaluate on the turn, which can very often be a scare card, allowing them to bluff you off the best hand or at least put you in a difficult spot to call. I recommend sticking with decent high card Broadway-type hands. I am looking to flop a draw with a pair or a big draw and then check-raise the flop. Avoid playing small cards unless you are very comfortable with board-reading. Mistake #3: Defending against 3bets out of position Let's say you are dealt 7-7 in the cutoff with 35 big blinds and raise to two times the big blind. You're then re-raised by the player on the button to 5.5 times the big blind. It is a very serious mistake to call and fold the flop if you don't hit your set every time. You're going to have to try to outplay your opponent, but being out of position, this is much easier said than done. The best course of action is to fold and wait for a better spot or 4bet to induce if you think your opponent's shoving range will include a few pairs under 7-7 and non-paired hands like Q-J or K-J. Simply put, I think in a spot like this, you need to decide if your opponent is tight and just fold the hand or loose and aggressive enough to gamble with. Simply put, playing out of position maximizes your loses and minimizes your profits. Staying away from trouble spots without premium hands is a good way to keep your decisions easy and your expected value positive. Walter JLizardWright is a six-time PocketFives Triple Crown winner and a site instructor at PocketFives Training. If you are interested in lessons, please contact him via PocketFives PM or at JLizardTraining@gmail.com.
  23. Most of my reading lately has been centered on small business and finance. Although neither of these topics directly relates to poker, I often find many correlations that get me thinking about my poker game. Recently, a weekly newsletter list I am on sent an article about looking at your business with critical eyes, or, as the author put it, with the eyes of a stranger. To me, this immediately made me think about poker. Often, a group of poker players will comment about how bad another player is or how collectively bad a group of players are. Rarely, though, can a player turn that same critical eye on himself. Often, it is simply a case of thinking a player is "bad" because you can't understand what he is doing. Many times though, our analysis of other players' poor play is accurate, but we are blinded to those same mistakes when we make them. In the articles I was reading, the author suggested using trusted friends to serve as mystery shoppers. In poker, we can do the same thing by having someone whose play we respect give an honest evaluation of our game and our mistakes. This is easier said than done for numerous reasons, but is still worth a shot. Keep in mind that if this person is someone you play against regularly, they have a vested interest in you continuing to make mistakes they can capitalize on. Also, people are often reluctant to be too harsh to your face even if they feel like you have major flaws in your game. Convincing them to be brutally honest can help you improve and start the ball rolling for an open dialogue that could be immensely valuable. I think the best piece of advice in the article is also the best one for poker players. Poker is a solitary game and, at the end of the day, your results as a player rest solely on your own shoulders. Forcing yourself to walk into your business like a customer instead of someone who is there every day is the same advice we should take every month or two in order to evaluate our own play. Pretend like you are looking at your play from the outside. Can you explain the theory and the reasons behind each move you make? "Just because" is not an answer. "That's just what you do in that spot" is not an answer. There should be thought-out reasons for every play in every hand. The mental exercise of thinking through every decision like you would if you had to explain it to an outsider is a great exercise to get a more accurate and clearer view of your game and quickly find some areas that can be shored up. Even when you are making solid plays, forcing yourself through the mental gymnastics of why those plays are the right ones can help expand your game into other areas and make you more confident. Poker is a constantly evolving game. Knowing what to do isn't as important as understanding why you are doing it. In the seven or so years I have been involved in serious poker games, I have seen many players find the right style at the right time, but be totally unable to adapt once the game changed. The game passed those players by because they just happened to be making the right moves at the right times without really understanding why. The truly great players with staying power are able to understand why they make the moves they do. When the game and situations changed, they were able to quickly adapt instead of stubbornly doing what they had always done without really understanding why. 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 for poker media businesses. 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.
  24. Tournament poker is a high-variance game. Getting into situations where you have to put all of your chips into the pot is inevitable if you want to win. Oftentimes, the results don't pan out the way we feel they should when we lose coin flip after coin flip or we get it all-in pre-flop with A-K, get called by a worse hand, and lose. In short, some days we just can't win. In the short-term, anything can happen in poker. The best players can lose and the worst players can win. Over the long-term, however, winning play should consistently pay off. Here's the thing, though: the short-term is often much longer than you think. Some of the best players in the world have had losing years only to hit a run that seems unreal and make it all back. In the poker world, time does not exist, just our perception of it. Poker doesn't know you've run badly all week and you're due. Poker just does what it does it doesn't feel or care. We, however, are human, and humans have emotions. So, it can be very hard to stay in the moment while playing when running badly and keep it from affecting our decisions. It's imperative to always tell yourself that as badly as you have been running, you can run just the opposite at any given time. Unfortunately, here's the rub. As poker players, we need to be confident in our decisions while we play, but overconfidence can be just as deadly as a lack of confidence. Chalking up downswings to bad luck is the easy way out. We always have to be reflective and look back objectively at our play. This isn't always the case, though. It's very easy to fall into a rhythm of complacency, thinking that we are playing okay when, in reality, downswings often lead to tilt that can last until we break out of a bad run. The thing about tilt is most of us don't know we are on it while it is happening. We might know we are a little angry or frustrated, but still think we are playing our A-game. Luckily, we have one really good tool to help us find out the truth, the hand history. Most poker sites have features to automatically save our hand histories. If you find yourself in the unfortunate spot of being in a downswing, take a day or two off to rest and regroup. While you're at it, find the file on your computer that has all of your hand histories and use your favorite poker tracking software to bring up your histories from the period in question. You might have a lot of hand histories, but don't let that stop you, as you can shorten this task by starting with your bust-out hands. If you're satisfied that the hands you busted from each MTT with are being played optimally, start to work backwards, looking for hands you lost a lot of chips on and hands that you won, but did not win a lot of chips. Most software has color-coding for all of the hands you play to help you see which hands you won and lost without having to look at each one individually. The Universal Replayer, which is free, uses shades of red and green to highlight all of the hands at the bottom of the replayer so you can jump to significant ones easily. In addition to reviewing, take a look at your playing process. Are you playing sessions that are too long, causing you to be tired at the end and affecting your decisions? Are you playing too many tables? Playing high volume can be a great way to maximize profits, but it usually comes with a drop in ROI. Cutting back the number of MTTs you play allows you to take more time with each choice you are faced with. I realized only recently that drinking large amounts of caffeine was degrading my play, making me jumpy and anxious in addition to leaving me feeling worn out at the end of sessions. As important as it is to keep your head up and stay confident when it feels like poker is kicking you in the family jewels, it is equally important to be honest with yourself and recognize the times when you aren't playing well in addition to running badly. Try to avoid the feeling that you need to press when things aren't going well and take some time to reflect on your game. It may be the best thing you can do to keep a small downswing from becoming a large one. As always, good luck at the tables. Walter JLizardWright is a six-time PocketFives Triple Crown winner and a site instructor at PocketFives Training. If you are interested in lessons, please contact him via PocketFives PM or at JLizardTraining@gmail.com.
  25. Money management is a huge issue for poker players. The first step toward appropriately managing your bankroll is to have a good idea of where you stand and keep good records. I have been surprised sometimes when I go back and look at my records sorted by which games I am doing the best in. Having this data available lets me make better decisions about when and where to play to maximize the time I have available for poker. How in-depth your records are can vary depending on what your goals are, but almost everyone should keep a basic tally of their sessions with what they buy in for and how much they cash out. Over the years, I have expanded my tracking to include more and more details to the point where I now have records of how many hours I play, both total and broken down individually by each game I play in, so I can see my overall hourly rate along with how much I am averaging per hour at each game. Keeping basic records will prevent you from lying to yourself about your results. We can remember big wins and big losses, but forget about all of the other sessions. The more knowledge you have, the better decisions you can make, both in poker and life in general. For live games, it can be as simple as using the notepad on your phone and putting in the date, what you buy in for, when you cash out, and the amount you cashed out for. I still do this to keep track of my data and then every week or two, I go back and add all of the information into a spreadsheet that I can sort in different ways and manipulate to get various views on my play. Just like having a budget in your day-to-day life can help dictate where your money goes, having accurate data about your poker play allows you to make informed decisions with your bankroll. Once you start keeping track of sessions, don't pick and choose which ones to enter into your database. If you sit down at a poker table with chips, put it into your records. Even if you sit at a small game that you usually wouldn't play, put it in. If you play in a one-off game that isn't going to run regularly, put it in. By tracking every session, you eliminate the chance of cherry-picking sessions to show the results you wish you had instead of your actual results. The whole purpose of keeping records is to be able to get a broad view of your overall results instead of being focused on each individual session. 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.
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