Archive for January, 2015

How to Deal With a Poker Bully at the Table

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Everyone has played against many poker bullies.

Not the kind of bullies who call you names, but the type that push everyone at the table out of pots by relentless aggression.

These players will bet and raise you until you feel you have no choice but to fight fire with fire. You start betting and raising back, but ultimately this only favors the bully.

“Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” – George Carlin

The whole point of the bully’s strategy is to rile up other players and cause them to play out of their comfort zone. This inevitably leads to massive mistakes that the bully can capitalize on.

Fight Fire With Water

Water is the element most closely associated with tranquility. Just like water beats fire in real life, patience beats aggression in poker. But how much is too much?

Most players realize that the bully is not playing a profitable range of hands, and then they make their biggest mistake – they tighten up…too much.

The result that can be observed time and time again is that a player will wait for ages for a good hand, finally call or raise the bully after being so patient, and the bully completely withdraws from the hand, either by checking or folding.

Why does the bully do so? Because he’s not stupid. He know’s that you think he’s an idiot and that you are just waiting for a good hand. So once you perk up and get involved, he’s done.

Then either two things happen:

  1. You return to being patient and keep folding bad hands and the pattern repeats itself

  2. You get frustrated from waiting all that time and getting nothing out of it, which leads to tilt and bad decisions

Neither of these are winning strategies. However, there is a third.

Play Your Regular Solid Game and Crush the Bully

Wait, isn’t this obvious? It should be, but because of the reasons we already looked at above, it isn’t intuitive for most players.

Here are the facts:

  • You play a solid tight-aggressive (or similar) game with good hand selection

  • The bully plays an extremely wide range of hands, many poor ones

If you just play your regular game, you will typically win over time.

The Right Adjustments and the Wrong Adjustments

Adjustments are very important at the table, but many players either make the wrong changes, or over-correct.

The wrong adjustments are to play too tight and try to trap the bully. This only works against the most careless bullies. The right adjustment is to play your standard pre-flop range, but to keep his range in mind post-flop.

Since you are getting involved in a decent amount of hands, he’s not going to automatically shut down if you play back.

Remember that his range is significant weaker than your average opponent. Here are the adjustments you should make:

  • Call less often with draws; either fold with weak draws or raise and commit with semi-strong draws

  • Call more with top pair and similar medium-strength hands: These hands act as bluff catchers against a bully

You will have to fine-tune these two adjustments to the specific bully, but as general principles they remain effective.

Overcoming the Fear of Losing

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Fear is everywhere in life, including at the poker tables. Fear of losing can cause great players to be afraid of even playing, which results in procrastination and a habitually low hand volume.

Fear of losing can also force you to make bad decisions while you play. Loss aversion is a very powerful phenomenon which proves that people will make suboptimal decisions in order not to lose.

Ever been near the end of a session, with a stack just over where you began? I bet you noticed that you really did not want to go below that original stack, and may have made some cautious decisions because of that.

There are also other less common ways that fear of losing can affect you. Bottom line, it’s something that you should continually work on and try to reduce. We’re going to look at the process you should follow to do this.

Realize that Having a Losing Session is No Big Deal

Poker is a game of variance, even the best players have frequent losing sessions, some of which are large. If you haven’t yet, run a few simulations on a poker variance calculator. With a great winrate and low standard deviation, you’ll still lose in at least 30-40 percent of your sessions over the long-term.

Now really think of why you don’t like losing. Are you really that disappointed that you didn’t play perfectly? Or that you just didn’t make any big hands? Probably not.

At some point you’ll realize, you’re not afraid of losing, you are afraid of the consequences – losing money.

Now that you know what you’re afraid of, let’s look at how you can address it.

Have the Right Bankroll

Do you think when Warren Buffett invests in a company he’s worried that he might not get his money back? No, of course not. He fully expects that only a certain percentage of his investments will be good ones, but he has so much capital that one bad investment doesn’t even matter to him.

Whatever your bankroll is right now, pretend you’re sitting at a table 1/200th the size of it. For example, if you had a $1000 bankroll, pretend you’re at a 5NL table. Even if you had a horrible session, losing 3 buy-ins, or $15, would it really bother you? Unlikely.

While having a bankroll that large isn’t always feasible or practical, different players require different sized bankrolls. If you notice that you feel stressed by losing a certain percentage of your bankroll, simply drop down to a lower level or add more money to it. All of a sudden, you’ve eliminated a great deal of your fear.

Focus on Playing Well

This is perhaps the most difficult mentality-switch to make as a player, but the most important as well.

When you focus on the monetary gains or losses, you’re subject to the loss aversion phenomenon we touched upon earlier. The only solution is to focus upon something else.

The best thing to focus on in poker is decision making. You know that in the long run, if you make better decisions than your opponents as a whole, you will win money. Quite logically, your focus should be on making the best decisions you can, and money will be the result, not the cause of your decisions.

Making this switch isn’t always easy. Start by not checking how much you’ve won or lost in a session, just make a note of it once in a while after a session or time period (days or weeks even). If you have a tracking software, see if you can’t hide any display that tracks your winnings/losses for a session.

Next, take satisfaction and pride in making great decisions. When you review your sessions, don’t just go over the hands that you made mistakes in, go over hands where you made solid decisions (which may or may not be your largest winning pots). A good fold is just as important as a good bet. Learn to equate a good decision with long-term results and you will make a habit of focusing on making correct decisions.

How to Stay Motivated on the Grind

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

When you’re on a winning streak, motivation isn’t hard to come by, but when things start plateauing or going against you, you might find that finding motivation to play is more difficult.

Even though poker is a phenomenally fun game, it’s extremely mentally and emotionally taxing, which makes it very easy to burn out. But when you’re trying to improve as fast as possible, or make a certain amount, putting in a significant amount of quality playing hours is crucial.

Here are some ways to stay motivated on a regular basis.

1. Create a Hand Bet

Competition often breeds hard work. What many players do is bet with other players, either individually or in a small group, to play a certain amount of hands in a month. Everyone puts up their share of the bet before hand, which should be a significant, but not huge amount. Everyone that hits their target for hands played splits the pot, while those who do not make it get nothing back.

You can decide before hand how many hands you want to play. Sometimes everyone in the group aims for the same amount, other times everyone can choose their own. The bet gives you that little extra motivation to gear up and play when you could easily just slack off.

Do this for a few months in a row and you will have developed the habit of playing a serious amount of hands on a regular basis, which will lead to long-term success.

2. Base Expectations Off Limits, Not Desires

Every player has done it. Thinking, “If I have a winrate of 3BB/100 and can play 500 hands/hour, I can make $X/hour. Then if I play X hours/day, I can make $X,XXX a month!”

The amount that you need to play in that situation is typically dependent on how much you would like to make. The problems come when you determine that you would need to play 30 hours a week on a consistent basis, and you’ve never played over 20 before. It’s a lot easier to say you’re going to do something tough, than actually do it.

What generally happens is that a player realizes they need to take a break or they can’t play their A-game. As you get behind your “schedule”, it becomes even more daunting and can cause even experienced players to seize up.

Instead, start with a low goal of quality time at the table, say 5 to 10 hours a week. Do this consistently for a month and re-evaluate. If you feel you can play more, bump it up slightly, an extra few hours a week. Each month re-evaluate until you get to the point where you feel like you’re playing the right amount on a personal basis.

3. Play for the Game, Not the Money

I’ve yet to meet a good player who didn’t enjoy the game when they first started playing. At some point, instead of just playing for enjoyment, the game turns into a job where money is the goal. Once you start playing for money, every bad beat and downswing hurts even more and takes an emotional toll. You set yourself up for a lack of motivation.

Instead, focus on playing well and enjoying the game. If you do that, you’ll improve faster, and the monetary results will come as a by-product. Realizing this is one of the keys that all winning players make in one way or another during their career.