Archive for November, 2009

Improving Your Poker Skills

Monday, November 30th, 2009

There is a lot of information out there intended to help the aspiring poker shark, and no one has the time to read it all. In this article I will tell you what you should check out and what is basically a waste of time.

The by far most important location for information are poker forums. They let you get the answers to questions you can’t find with a simple Google-search. Perhaps more importantly, you also learn stuff you didn’t know you were looking for by reading threads you aren’t even involved in. Don’t get too carried away, though. Reading every single post, taking part in every hand analysis and taking too much part in non-poker discussions is not optimal for your skill-improvement.

The PokerTips strategy section is very helpful as a starting point for improving your skills, and its free. The Beginner and Intermediate sub-sections teach you the fundamentals of Texas Hold’em and serve as a foundation to build further information upon. You can take a sneak-peak at the Advanced and Expert sub-sections too, but they are called what they are called for a reason.

The strategy section contains a lot of Fixed Limit Holdem articles, but that’s ok because starting out playing FL is an effective way of learning the basics of No Limit. No offense FL-players. Nah, who am I kidding, offense is intended.

There is a sea of poker books out there, but many are crap, and if you have read a couple of books you have read most of the content of all the books because they are so similar. I would recommend “Winning Low Limit Holdem” by Lee Jones for the beginner. It is a book about FL, and the most important thing you will learn from it is which hands to play when and how preflop.

Then I would recommend “Theory of Poker” by David Sklansky. This one will teach you how to think as a good player for all situations in all poker forms.

Those are basically all the books you need. Sure you can buy other books you think will be helpful to you, and they probably will help you in some ways, but not nearly as much as the two books I have mentioned, especially the Lee Jones book.

Magazines are of little help, you can get the information in those for free on poker forums. Blogs are usually of little help as well (this one is an exception of course), even if it is written by great players (this one is an…, nah not even you would buy that one). Players complaining about bad beats (losing hands, which were favorites to win), bragging about how much they made last month or informing you that they got a dog last week is of little use to you.

Learning from professionals on TV is dangerous. The situations they are in are very different from the ones you are in (the skills of their opponents being the most important difference), so their moves for their situation would often be wrong for similar situations you are in. Poker on TV is also almost always edited, so it gives an incorrect image of how the play actually was on that table.

If you are good enough that you have started making some money on poker, you may wanna consider using online poker coaches. The standard rate for coaches is about $50/hour, but the price can vary a lot. Be careful who you give your money to, there is no point paying that kind of money to someone who doesn’t have much to offer you. I think is a good place to search for coaches, although I have never used them myself.

Joe Cada on Letterman

Friday, November 20th, 2009

If you haven’t heard (or seen) already, Joe Cada was on the Late Show with David Letterman earlier this week to discuss his win at the 2009 WSOP Main Event. You can watch the video here:

I thought Cada did a good job and seemed pretty composed and relaxed for a 21 year old. It’s unfortunate that Letterman was too busy joking about poker being shady business to give Cada more opportunities to speak. But I suppose mediocre mainstream poker exposure is better than no mainstream poker exposure.

Nice work, Joe!

Moving Up Levels

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Figuring out when your are ready to move up to the next buy-in is one of many challenges poker players face. The advice on this area can vary a lot, but here is how I think it should be handled.

First of all, you have to believe you would be more profitable at the next buy-in. Some players move up whenever they think they are profitable at their current buy-in, but that strategy will lead to being break-even at best. To move up, your winrate, whether it be ROI (Return On Investment) in tournaments or BB/100 (“Big Bets” per hundred hands) in cash-games, has to be big enough that the inevitable decrease in winrate due to tougher competition on the higher buy-in still results in a higher hourly rate (in terms of dollars). It is, for example, profitable to move up if the buy-in is twice as high, and the ROI or BB/100 is expected to be reduced by less than 50%.

How much of the ROI and BB/100 do you lose from moving up a level? It depends on a lot of things, but I would say the ROI drops on average 2-3 percentage-points in Single-Table Tournaments per buy-in. You would have to ask other people for figures for cash-games and Multi-Table Tournaments, as I don’t have much experience with those.

The problem is knowing how profitable you are at your current buy-in, though, because without knowing that you can’t know how you would do on the next buy-in. Some say you need to have played thousands of STTs or MTTs and tens of thousands of hands in cash-games for the luck to have evened out, and the results to be representative of your true edge in these games. And they are right, but if you were to play that many hours per buy-in you would never get anywhere. You just have to make a qualified guess as to what your winrate is, and this can be hard to do since many players tend to overestimate how good they are.

Then there is the matter of how big of a bankroll (the amount of money you have set aside to play poker with divided by the size of the buy-in) you need to play at a certain buy-in. You can be the best player in the world, but if you move up so many levels that you are playing STTs with a 5 buy-in bankroll, there is a big chance you will lose it all from a little bad luck.

A rule of thumb is that you need 30 buy-ins to play STTs, 100 buy-ins to play MTTs and 20 buy-ins to play NL cash-games. These figures are considered big enough to ride out bad luck spells, so you can keep on playing on that buy-in because the luck will at some time change. A very scary scenario using this bankroll strategy is in cases where you have overestimated your skills, and you are in fact a losing player at this buy-in. If that is the case, you will slowly but steadily lose your entire buy-in.

I think it is wiser to have less strict bankroll-requirements and a more flexible approach. Say buy-ins of 20, 50 and 12, and instead drop down if it sinks below say 12, 30 and 8. This lets you move up in buy-ins faster early in your poker-career where it often is the bankroll and not the skills which limits how high buy-in you can play.

The Advantages of a Small Stack

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

You hear all the time how nice it is to have a large stack in tournaments. Many also say that when you play cash-games you should always buy in for the maximum because then your stack-size isnt as limiting in how big pots you can take part of, and the bigger the pots are, the more you can win.

And to some extent this is true. Most cash-game players should play with a full buy-in, but the reason for this would be that they are good at making the tactical changes you need to make when your stack is big. If the reason for playing with a full buy-in was just in order to make the pots big, you could just have moved up a level, where the pots are much bigger (in terms of dollars) and the competition only slightly tougher.

There is actually a good argument for keeping your stack small as well, but you don´t hear about it much. On a table of only small stacks, the optimal preflop strategy is to play hands which have a high chance of winning on a showdown. Medium and high pairs and high cards do well against other hands on a showdown.

On a table of only big stacks, on the other hand, the chance a hand has of winning on a showdown is still important, but it is also important to consider if that hand could easily be dominated (KT for example could easily be dominated by hands like AT or KQ). KT could be just as easily dominated on a small stack table of course, but on a big stack table you could lose much more because the pot can get bigger. If you hit top pair on the flop, and someone has the same pair with a better kicker, you could easily lose 100 big blinds, as opposed to say 30 big blinds on a small stack table.

Just like you can lose a lot from having a good, but not good enough, hand on a big stack table, you can also win a lot when an opponent has a good hand and yours is better. That´s why players around a big stack table should replace the weakest of the “high chance of winning at showdown” hands with speculative hands. Speculative hands are hands, which don´t win too often on showdown, but make great hands more frequently than other hands. Pocket pairs often become a set or better, connected cards (like 98 or 54) often becomes a straight and suited cards often become a flush. When you hit a set, straight or flush (or better), and an opponent has a good, but not that good hand, it is gonna be more than worth it for the times when those pocket cards didn’t hit the board well.

Now imagine a table where half the players are small stacks and half the players are big stacks. What type of hands should the small stacks play? Their stacks still limit how much they can lose when they get a good, but not good enough hand, even when involved in pots against big stacks. So they should play as if they table was all small stacks.

The big stacks, however, have a problem. A big stack wants to play “showdown-hands” against small stacks, because the pot will be limited against small stacks. And he wants to play speculative hands to a greater extent against big stacks. So what he has to do is play something in between. He has to play some of the risky “showdown-hands” and some of the speculative hands.

Imagine yourself being a small stack playing on a table where some of the players have that strategy. You have a big advantage. Your pure, clean-cut and dare I say a little sadistic “showdown-hands”-strategy is superior to the wishy-washy “neither here nor there”-strategy of those players because your weakest high-cards have a higher chance of winning on a showdown than speculative hands. If your opponents were as good as you, you would still do better because of your strategic decision to play with a small stack.

There are problems with playing with a small stack, though. Whenever your stack gets big, you have to switch to another table in order to buy in with a small stack again. Small stack play is also very boring to play. But some take advantage of this tactical advantage. They are called ratholers or “short-stackers”, and they are unsurprisingly hated among big stack sharks.

Listening to the WSOP Final Table Live

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

For anyone interested, Bluff Magazine is hosting live audio commentary of the WSOP. They’ve had kind of a rotating group of commentators except for David “TheMaven” Chicotsky who seems to be always in the booth. He’s a little bit on the self-absorbed side which can be annoying since he keeps talking about himself, but otherwise it’s a hell of a lot better than reading live updates.

Other commentators have been Annie Duke (surprisingly good), Phil Hellmuth (always entertaining to listen to), Justin Bonomo (nerdy and overly-technical, but not terrible to listen to), and quite a few others.

Play is down to 7 at the moment after Akenhead and Schaffel busted. Odds are it will take several more hours before they’re down to heads-up.