Archive for the ‘Poker Strategy’ Category

27 Questions to Ask Yourself During a Poker Hand

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Good players don’t just randomly make decisions throughout a hand, they have a methodical process for coming up with the best decision possible.

The underlying key is being able to ask the right questions, at the right time.

In this post, I’m going to go over the most important questions you should ask yourself during a hand.

I strongly suggest that you compile your own list (which may or may not include these), print it out, and keep it next to you while playing. After a while, you’ll have the process memorized and you’ll do it subconsciously.

Pre-Flop

Don’t make the mistake of waiting until there are big bets to start critically thinking about the hand. Here are some questions you should ask at this point:

  • Does the original raiser have a strong range?

  • Are there any limpers?

  • Are there any loose players in the blinds?

  • How many players flatted the opening raise before action got to you?

  • Can you steal the pot?

  • Are your hand and position strong enough to play?

  • Should you just call, or should you 3-bet?

The Flop

After you get to the flop, the hand gets a lot clearer. You now know 5 of your 7 cards, and you know who your opponent(s) will be for the rest of your hand. At this point, consider the following questions:

  • Who is the aggressor (original pre-flop raiser)?

  • What are you expected to do?

  • What do you expect your opponents to do with different parts of their range?

  • If you have a strong made hand, are there any draws that you should be aware of?

  • If you have a draw, what odds do you need to continue?

  • Can you steal the pot?

  • How do your opponents typically play the flop?

The Turn

The pot odds for drawing decline dramatically on a turn blank, which can influence your decisions significantly. Similarly, some turns can add unexpected draws to decrease the value of your made hand. Ask these questions to sort out the situation:

  • What hands does this card help? (if any)

  • Who currently is the aggressor in this hand?

  • What are your odds of having the best hand?

  • What are your odds of getting stronger on the river?

  • Do you have a strong enough hand to value bet?

  • Do you have a weak enough hand that you fold to further aggression?

  • Would a bluff be profitable?

  • How deep are all of our stacks? (useful for bet-sizing)

The River

With everyone’s final handmade, it comes down to putting everything together. Hopefully at this point, you have a good idea of your opponents range and can make a near-optimal decision:

  • With a made hand, how do you extract the most value?

  • With a busted hand, what is the likelihood you can bluff successfully?

  • Will your opponent(s) give up if they missed a draw?

  • Will your opponent(s) bet a mediocre hand?

  • What can you learn about your opponent from the result?

While you don’t want to get overwhelmed there are many questions you can ask throughout a poker hand. Start wit the ones you feel are most important, then expand over time. You will find that your decision making becomes much better and more consistent over time once you can articulate why you are doing things.

How to Deal With Annoying Donk Bets

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Have you ever been at a table where it seems like a horrible player is all over you the entire session? Facing donk bet after donk bet can get frustrating over time and can cause you to go on tilt and make major mistakes. If you just face donk bets once in a while, they can catch you off guard and confuse you, leaving you to make an unconfident decision.

You and I both know that good players almost never donk bet, so it’s really hard to get into the mind of a player who does. We’re about to walk through the thought process you should adopt when facing donk bets in future sessions.

Is this player a good player?

Sometimes, a good player might donk bet, especially if you’re playing heads up. There are 2 reasons a decent player might do this:

1. He thinks you have a weak range and likely missed a dry, unconnected flop (or turn). Donking out is a cheap way of trying to steal the pot when the stack sizes aren’t right for a check/raise and fold.

2. He thinks you will either raise or fold, which many players will if they’re the standard tight-aggressive player. He will donk in order to induce a bluff on a wet board that you might check back on, or donk to try to steal on a dry board.

Overall, a good player will be trying to make you uncomfortable. So if you’re normally going to bet when checked to, he’s trying to disrupt that action, which means he is probably weak. If you’re likely not to bet, because it’s a wet board that you’ll only make a continuation bet when you connect in some way, he likely has a good hand and is looking to get money into the pot.

Is this player a bad player?

It’s much more common to see donk bets from bad players. It’s often a main part of their game. The most important thing to realize is that their decision has nothing to do with you. They are solely making the decision based on their hand and the board.

So what does a donk mean? It means different things for different players. The most common mindset is that they have a weak hand that justifies a bet, or that they are scared of a big bet. Some will donk as a pure bluff, but in my experience it is rare.

What should you do? It’s up to you to decide what type of player the fish is. Some will donk, but call any raise. They want to see a cheap showdown, but it’s more important for them to see a showdown at any cost. Against these guys, you want to play your strong hands fast, let go of your weakest hands, and look to draw with usually good odds with the rest.

Other fish will fold if they get raised after making a donk bet the majority of the time. You can start picking away these donk bets and stealing the pots. Be relentless, but don’t do it every time or they may get frustrated and play back unpredictably, or simply stop donking. Of course you can adjust, but it’s much easier to effortlessly pick up the pot once in a while inconspicuously.

That’s all there is to it really. Try to get in your opponents head, like any other decision, break it down, and then disappoint your opponent. Don’t let donk bets frustrate you; be patient, figure them out, and then you’ll have a lot of fun exploiting them.

A New and Improved Form of Poker Training That You Need to Try

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Big money stakes are nothing new in the world of poker. They are also nothing new in the world of business.

Amazon is a mammoth of a company that spends hundreds of millions on a regular basis to acquire promising up-and-coming companies. In late August of 2014, Amazon spent about $1 billion on a streaming site called Twitch.

What is Twitch and Why Does it Matter?

The people who are most familiar with the Twitch streaming service are video games. There are over 100 million users on Twitch, and the majority of them have signed up to watch other players stream gameplay. People usually watch if the streamer is particular entertaining or skillful.

Some streamers have so many followers that the actually make a living playing and commenting on video games.

Could Twitch Cause a Revolution in Poker?

Most recently, Twitch has announced that they wanted to start streaming live online poker. While making up a small percentage of overall Twitch viewers, several poker streamers have already attracted more than a million views. Considering this is still an extremely young platform, it is a promising sign.

If you head over to Twitch and search for poker, you’ll see a wide variety of players streaming their live play. The best players typically attract the biggest crowds, so start with the most popular channels.

How Does This Help You as a Player?

Live coaching sessions are incredibly expensive, especially if you’re a player at the micro stakes games. With these free Twitch streams, you can get a similar experience.

On top of the streamer typically commenting on his thought process, you can also interact with other viewers and the streamer in the chat box. This gives you a great chance to ask questions when you are confused or curious in real-time and get immediate feedback.

In this sense, Twitch streams could be considered as completely free group coaching sessions. It’s a great idea to add them to your plan to improve as a player. Streamers (the coaches) get paid when users click ads surrounding the video and chat.

Since poker streaming is still in its infancy, you have a unique opportunity to learn from good players in relatively small groups, which allows you to get more help before the best streams become flooded with players.

3 Useful Strategies to Deal With Variance

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

The variance in poker is extreme; it’s common for good winning players to go on 30 or 40 buyin downswings. This can amount to a loss of anywhere from $3,000 or more.

On top of the financial loss, players also suffer on the mental side of the equation. After losing so many sessions in a row, it’s tough to still have confidence that you are a winning player and are making the right decisions. You start to question everything you do, which can lead to a poker-esque case of the yips.

1. Create a Separate Poker Bankroll

To deal with the financial suffering from variance, it’s always a good idea to keep your poker bankroll separate from the money you need to live.

When you think of your bankroll as part of your current liquid assets, you add a lot of additional pressure to your play. You’re likely to worry that the money could be used for your family, friends, or to pay bills.

Instead, create a separate poker bankroll with money that you can afford to lose. Create a separate bank account if needed. While losing still sucks, every losing session won’t feel like such a stress-inducing catastrophe.

2. Find a Mentor or Study Group

When you’re losing your mind after yet another losing session, an outside perspective of another good player you trust is priceless.

It’s hard to objectively review your play when you’re close to punching a hole in the wall or to tears. If you have a friend who will be brutally honest, you’ll not only get feedback on if you are making uncharacteristic mistakes, but you will also improve regardless.

You should be able to find a mentor or study group through any online poker forum. If you’re not already a member of any, start at Two plus Two and get to know some players.

3. Take a Break

If you feel that you are getting inside your own head and second guessing yourself, you need to stop playing. There’s no way to play profitably if you can’t play decisively.

Additionally, it usually gets worse the longer you play, so not taking a break could actually hurt you more, both in terms of confidence and your bankroll.

For some, taking a break of an hour is fine to cool down and clear their head. For other, they might need to take a break of a day…a few days…maybe even a week. Take as long as you need until you can open up a table and sit down confidently.

Extreme variance is a part of the game; possibly the most unpleasant. Those that deal with variance proactively will have shorter and smaller downswings, and an overall better results and a more enjoyable playing experience.

The Most Common Tournament Mentality Mistake – Playing Not to Lose

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Tournaments are a strange beast; one that most beginner poker players get their start in.

While there are many mistakes that beginners make, the most common mistake (even for more experienced players) is playing not to lose.

Why Playing Not to Lose is a Sure-Fire Way to Lose

Let me make this very clear, playing “not to lose” is not the same as playing “to win”.

Playing not to lose is the strategy of pure survival, whether you have 10 big blinds or 100 in your stack. The real goal of this strategy is to make it into the money, so that you at least win something, and then try to survive as long as you can and advance up the pay ranks.

While you may make it to the prize money a decent amount of the time, you will likely limp in as one of the short stacks. Unless you get incredibly lucky, you won’t make it up the prize money much further.

It is very tough to become a winning tournament player if you are only winning the smallest cash prizes. Even if you make it into-the-money (ITM) 30 percent of the time, if you bow out soon after, those prizes won’t even cover your buy-ins.

The Fundamental Problem with This Approach

The biggest problem with this approach lies in how a tournament is structured. They are very top heavy, which means that almost all the prize money is paid out to the top few players.

With a playing not to lose strategy, it will take a miracle to ever make a big cash. But the big wins are what are necessary to become a profitable tournament poker player.

Winning is the Objective

So what’s the solution? It’s not playing not to lose, or playing to lose, but playing to win.

This means making the correct decision even if you have to risk your tournament life. This means not letting your stack dwindle, but making moves with a calculated risk to try and put yourself in a strong position.

This also means that when everyone else is terrified of being knocked out before the bubble, that you are smartly picking spots and bullying other players in order to put yourself in a position with a large stack.

Sometimes you might find yourself knocked out of the tournament early, but when you get into the money, you have a real chance of winning.

Ask any professional and they’ll say that they’d rather be knocked out on the first hand unless they were going to make a very deep run. The return on your time and buy-in just isn’t there unless you play to win.

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.

Turning a Snowball into an Avalanche: Don’t Compound Mistakes

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Compound interest is one of the most important fundamental concepts of personal finance and business. Invest money in a vehicle that earns 10% a year (as an example), and keep re-investing the earnings, and the account will grow at an exponential rate.

You earn 10% of your original amount, plus 10% of that 10% of earnings, for a total of 11% the next year (compared to the original amount). It doesn’t take long before you’re doubling your original amount with no extra effort.

Mistakes in Poker

Most mistakes in poker are small. They’ll end up costing you a fraction of a big blind every hundred hands or so. However, if it’s a situation that comes up often, it can cost you more than a big blind every 100 hands, which is going to have a massive impact on your winrate.

Many of these are simply playing the wrong hands at the wrong times. As you improve as a player, these mistakes have less of an effect due to better decision making both pre-flop and post-flop. Regardless, they are still mistakes.

How Mistakes Compound

Maybe you make a loose call pre-flop with a small pair or suited connectors in a bad position. Unless you’re playing against awful players, it’s going to be hard to play either profitably out of position in most situations. This means that it was a mistake, but a small one.

Now the flop comes and you hit a draw or still have your low pair. This is where mistakes start to snowball. It’s really easy to convince yourself that you have implied odds to try and hit your draw, even when it’s not true. In reality, you likely don’t have the right odds to simply call a continuation bet (ignore for the sake of example that raising might be an option). This is another mistake, and a mistake that is going to cost you a significant amount more than pre-flop, because now the pot is much larger. In other words, you’ve compounded your mistake.

Now we’re at the turn and you’ve missed your draw. Again, you convince yourself that if this player fires two rounds, there’s a good chance they’ll fire three if you hit. You call another large bet, which is also a mistake. This bet is now somewhere in the range of 6 times larger than the pre-flop raise. Your snowball is now much bigger, you’ve compounded your mistake again.

Finally, the river comes. The first situation is that you hit your draw, but now you check hoping to shove all-in over a bet, but the player is scared of the potential draw that completed and checks back. Oops, your implied odds may have been way over-estimated. This confirms your previous mistakes.

The second option is that you whiff on your draw, but now feel an inkling of fancy play syndrome creeping into your clicking finger as you realize how much money you’ve already committed. You start to reason that he could also have a missed draw or weak pair and make an untimely large bet that seemingly came from nowhere. You’ve created an avalanche. What started as a very small mistake, costing you a fraction of a big blind over time has cost you most of your stack. Making an avalanche like this once in a while can turn a solid player into a losing player.

The Takeaway

If you haven’t figured it out yet, you cannot under any circumstance compound your mistakes. Pots get exponentially larger in poker, especially in no-limit, which can turn small mistakes into huge ones.

Treat every decision independently of any previous decisions in a hand. Don’t worry if you’ve already made a mistake, just don’t compound those previous mistakes.

4 Reasons You Should Start Playing Poker (or Taking it More Seriously)

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Poker is an intimidating game when you are first introduced to it. Remembering the hand rankings and rules of the game takes longer than might be expected, and if you had any idea of the thought process behind strategies of the professionals, you might be discouraged. Luckily, you don’t have to play against professionals right away, and if you have the right personality and ability, poker might be a game that you could excel at if you take it seriously. Time and time again, beginner players with the right aptitude have risen through the levels quickly and competed with some of the best in the game. 

Think about if the following reasons resonate with you. If one or more do, you might be suited to take a real shot at being a (significantly) winning player.

1. You Naturally Think Logically

People that see the world in an organized manner are fairly rare. If you are the kind of person that makes rational decisions on a regular basis in your life, regarding purchases, relationships or career moves, you will likely excell at poker.

2. You Enjoy Problem Solving

Poker is the ultimate puzzle to be solved. Every hand starts with limited information, but a chance to learn more about other players and put the pieces together to make the optimal decision. Decomposing a hand and figuring out what an opponent’s hand range is based on their actions in the hand and overall session takes immense concentration and an enjoyment of problem solving.

3. You Can Control Your Emotions

Somewhat related to #1, controlling your emotions is one of the most important abilities a winning player can have. Just a single bad session on occasion can take from a winning player to a losing player. Take an honest look at yourself while playing poker and determine how well you can not only notice negative emotions, but also control them. While this can be learned, it takes a lot of time and is difficult.

4. You Enjoy Simple Math

Were you one of those kids that enjoyed math? I know I was. It’s not a surprise that many top poker players have strong math backgrounds. While you don’t need a PhD to be a great player, ideally you should have at least a basic aptitude for statistics and basic algebra. It’ll help you at the table as well as off the table when you are analyzing the game.