Archive for the ‘Poker Strategy’ Category

10 Short and Sweet Poker Tips

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Here are ten poker tips to keep in mind for your upcoming poker sessions:

1. Don’t play while tired, sick, upset, or distracted. Poker requires smooth cognitive functioning to perform well. If you’re not feeling calm and focused you’re better off not playing.

2. Ask for advice. The most explosive growth in learning any poker player can go through comes from talking strategy with other poker players. Try to maintain a loosely-organized poker strategy discussion group to call upon when faced with a tricky situation.

3. Listen to the little voice in your head. Trust your instincts at the poker table. They exist for a reason.

4. Formulate a cashout strategy. Success is easier to attain when you have goals in mind. Decide upon a winnings checkpoint and reward yourself with a purchase when you grow your bankroll to the goal.

5. Pay attention. It can be tempting when playing poker to have a web browser open or be fidgeting with your mobile phone, but directing one’s focus in this manner can lead to missing out on key pieces of information unfolding in the poker game(s) before you.

6. Study one hour of poker for every eight hours you play. Starting off a session by watching thirty minutes of free poker videos can be a great way to get your mind in the right groove.

7. Do something that surprises yourself once in a while. If your play has gotten too predictable to yourself, your opponents may feel the same way. Keep thinking creatively.

8. Establish a crazy table image. Early in tournaments before splashing around chips becomes too costly, establishing a reckless table image can be a great way to help get paid off during subsequent levels.

9. Be fastidious about game selection. Part of the work of being a poker player is finding good games to sit in. For online poker, try some smaller sites where the competition is weaker. In live games, be prepared to get up and leave if you don’t like what you see. There will always be another game.

10. Share with us your favorite poker tip. If we like it, we’ll post it on our Twitter account. Submit entries in this forum thread.

Creating a Crazy Table Image for Cheap

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

People don’t play aggressive enough in the early stages of a poker tournament. There are a few benefits to playing aggressive while chip stacks are still deep enough so you’re never putting that much of your stack at risk. Those benefits are:

  • you’ll win chips against players unwilling to commit a large percentage of their stack with marginal holdings
  • you help set up an erratic table image when in truth you’re never risking that much of your stack
  • getting paid off in big pots is easier when you have the nuts since your opponents are tired of your shenanigans

So how do you go about being more aggressive in tournaments? Try the 15% rule: bluff often as long as never more than 15% of your chips are going into the pot.

Bluff, bluff, bluff, and bluff some more. The goal is to make your opponents’ lives a living hell while ripening them up to play a big pot against you when you actually have a hand.

Here are the three concrete example of hands where the 15% rule can be applied:

Hand #1

Blinds: 50/100
Stack: 8,000

It folds to your opponent in middle position who raises to 225. You are in the cutoff with Jack-Nine offsuit. The players yet to act all have at least 30 big blinds and have been playing tight. Re-raise! Re-raise your opponent to 550. Screw him. This is your pot. One of two things is likely to happen: he calls your raise or folds to your raise. If he calls, make a continuation bet of 650. Odds are in your favor that he will fold. If he calls or re-raises, now you re-evaluate your plan with the hand since you’ve already reached the 15% ceiling of how far you’re willing to go to win this pot while bluffing. But in a majority of cases, it won’t ever reach this point.

Hand #2

Blinds: 75/150
Stack: 13,500

Your opponent raises to 400 from the cutoff. You call in the big blind with Ace-Ten offsuit. The flop comes King-Seven-Three rainbow. You check and your opponent bets 500. Screw him. This is your pot. Raise! Raise to 1,200. That play looks super-strong. The only realistic holdings of your opponent that he will continue with are top pair or a set. Everything else he’s folding to a check-raise on a board this dry. That’s a lot of hands he’s continuation betting with and folding to a check-raise with.

If he calls, all hope is not lost. You’ve got a decent chance of seeing a free river after you check the turn. Aces are live outs for you if he checks behind the turn and even a Ten could give you the best hand. But when you consider that he might even fold two Queens to your flop check-raise, it becomes apparent what a strong play this can be.

Hand #3

Blinds: 200/400 ante: 50
Stack: 24,000

Oooh, antes. Now we’re having fun.

Your opponent raises to 900 in middle position. The two players in the blinds each have more than 25 big blinds and have played tight, so you call on the button with Seven-Six of hearts. The flop comes Ace-Nine-Five with one heart. Your opponent bets 1,150. You guessed it: screw him, raise! Raise to 2,400 and send a message to your opponent that if he wants to continue with this hand, it’s going to be an expensive pot for him. He’ll fold most holdings that aren’t a strong Ace and he’ll only raise with a set. That’s a lot of folds and very rarely a raise.

If he calls, you’ve still got outs and will likely get to see the river for free after you check-behind the turn. You’ll probably win this pot on the flop, but if you don’t, you will occasionally win a huge pot when you draw an Eight or run out hearts. Have fun showing that hand down and sending a message to your table that you’re capable of showing up with anything.

When Not to Bluff

Sometimes, bluffing is dumb. The bluffing we advocate with the 15% rule is not meant to be applied to any and every situation. You need the right scenario for it to be a smart play. Here are examples of when bluffing can be a mistake:

  • when you’re facing multiple opponents in a hand
  • on strong action-flops where even if your opponent doesn’t have a made hand he could have a strong draw
  • when your opponent simply never folds (don’t bluff these players, just wait till you have a nice hand and punish them with value bets)
  • when your table image is so crazy that no one is going to believe you actually have a hand
  • when players yet-to-act who remain in the hand are short stacked to the point that if they re-raised all-in you would be pot-committed to call with garbage

Use the 15% rule wisely and it’s unlikely to lead you astray. There will be tricky situations where you’re required to play some poker after your bluff turns into a showdown-able hand. Re-evaluate those situations and make solid decisions. There will also be situations where you’re forced to tuck your tail between your legs and give up on the hand.

But when the worst thing that can happen by playing a little creatively in a hand is that you lose 15% of your stack, big deal. The upsides counteract this potential “disaster” scenario. So loosen up a little and start bullying your opponents around!

Cashout Strategy – Bankroll Management

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Bankroll strategies generally take one of two forms. Either, “I have $200 to play poker with, I play poker with it for a while with no particular rhyme or reason and eventually I have no dollars” or, “I have $200 to play poker with, so I will start with $5 ring games. If my bankroll ever drops below 20 buyins at that level I will move down and rebuild, if it grows to the point that I can take a reasonable shot at $10 games I’ll move up and see how I get on. But if I do move up and my bankroll drops below 20 buyins, I’ll move back down and rebuild.”

The latter example is generally understood to be correct. Mathematically, it ensures an extremely low risk of ruin for any winning player. While this may be true, it is epiphenomenally identical to the former strategy; it can only end in the player having no dollars. Or dying.

The reason is obvious given the title of this article; at no point is consideration given to when to cash out. Instead we grew our roll, moved up, grew our roll, moved up, and so on. When we lose we have less “money” and perhaps we move down, when we win we have more “money” and perhaps we move up. At no time does the money go anywhere other than the poker table.

Of course, people do cash out, but not with any kind of strategy in mind. Rather, they will leave their bankroll to accumulate in their account until their wife (or husband – we aren’t sexist) decides they want a new kitchen (again, not sexist) or the car is in the shop (because they can’t fix it themself on account of the player being a woman – see, I have reversed the genders; not remotely sexist), or it’s time for a family holiday or the seasonal gifting festival is upon us, or their wife has kicked them out for being a patronising misogynistic asshole and they need to furnish their new one room apartment.

This is not a bankroll strategy. It is a buyin strategy. When and how much to cash out should be regarded with the same significance as when and how much to buy in.

There are two basic approaches one may take to this end. Apparently nobody has ever seen fit to write about this before, so I get to name them. The first we will call the percentage strategy, and the second we will call the disco dolphin tuna net fiasco strategy.

The percentage method is the simpler of the two. In essence, you are cashing out a percentage of your winrate. For example, if you are a NLHE player, earmark 75% of your winrate to cash out. If your winrate is 2 BB/100, earmark 1.5 BB for every 100 hands you play regardless of whether you happen to win or lose over those 100 hands. Cash out regularly, at least once per month. In between cash outs ensure you are aware of how much of the money in your account is bankroll and how much is pending cash out, and adjust stakes accordingly should you fall below the magic 20 buyins. Do not borrow from your pending cash outs to supplement your bankroll, and don’t wait until the end of the month to work out how much you should be withdrawing, do it on a session by session basis.

I have, incidentally, pulled the value of 75% of winrate from my lower alimentary tract. Some adjustment will be necessary depending on your winrate and circumstances, but it feels like a good place to start. If you aren’t sure of your winrate, work with an estimated winrate of no less than 1 BB/100; if your winrate is lower than this, you are probably more profitable at lower stakes anyway.

Similarly for tournament players, cashing out 3% of your buyin for single table tournaments, 5% for 45 and 90 man sit-’n'-goes, and 8% for anything with a larger field seems reasonable. For the sake of completeness, a reasonably conservative buyin strategy should look something like; no more than 1.5% of bankroll for stts (65 buyins), 0.8% of bankroll for 45 man sit-’n'-goes (125 buyins), 0.67% of bankroll for 90 man sit-’n'-goes (150 buyins) and 0.5% of bankroll for larger fields (200 buyins). The buyin side of bankroll strategy is well covered at this point, we need not belabour it.

For an established player, I would undoubtedly recommend the percentage strategy. However for a beginner, the disco dolphin tuna thing may be more appropriate. Here, we will cash out a lump sum every time our bankroll reaches a certain level. Thinking about it, I could call this the milestone strategy, but I didn’t think of that until now and I am fond of dolphins and feel it appropriate to draw attention to the dangers posed by tuna fishing. The overall strategy for an mtt player may look like this:

Starting bankroll: $250

Start out at $1 mtts. If you drop below $200, move down to $0.50 mtts until you get back to $250.
At $350 cash out $50. Do this three times.
At $500 move up to $2 mtts. If you drop below $400, move back to $1 mtts until you get back to $500.
At $700 cash out $100
At $800 cash out $100
At $900 cash out $100
At $1000 cash out $100
At $1250 move up to $5 mtts. If you drop below $1000, move back to $2 mtts until you get back to $1250.

And so on. For cash game players, begin with a bankroll of 3000 BB (30 buyins) and cash out 75BB the first time you hit 3100, 3125, 3150, etc, (cashing out 75 BB for every 100 BB you win). Should you find yourself moving up with a 3000 BB roll at the higher limit, reset and continue, cashing out at 3100, 3125, 3150, etc. Similarly if you must move down, 75 BB of every 100 BB still goes in the bank.

With the percentage system, we are adhering to the old addage of “play hours not results”. We are taking our cashouts based on the volume we play rather than the amounts we win. With the milestone system we are operating in direct opposition to this axiom. Nevertheless I believe it is a more appropriate way forward for a novice player, who likely has no idea of his winrate and doesn’t want to encumber himself with the more complex bookkeeping of the percentage method. Psychologically, the reinforcement of cashing out the win when reaching a milestone is also more satisfying, whereas the imagined pressure of “I have to make $x today because tomorrow is cashout day and I’m behind this month” can easily become a millstone for someone who is still developing his emotionally thickened poker skin. Once the player is experienced, has an idea of his winrate and is comfortable doing so, he should of course switch to the percentage system.

Beyond this, in the case of 90+ player sit-’n'-goes and mtts, some consideration should be given to big scores. Prize pools are usually spiked heavily towards the top 2 or 3 places, and while it is undoubtedly true that much of a tournament player’s ROI comes from those occasional big scores, winning $500 in a $10 tournament doesn’t mean it’s time to play $20 tournaments. Any time you make a big score, cash some of the win out. For a win between 25 and 40 buyins, cash out 25%. Between 40 and 60 buyins cash out 50%, and for a win bigger than 60 buyins, cash out 75%.

As with everything else I’ve said, a modicum of sense and a smattering of judgement is required. If you’re operating with a bankroll of 203 buyins and hit a 20 buyin score, then on this one very specific occasion you may prefer to leave that in your bankroll and simply take the buyin percentage as usual. On the other hand if you’re cruising along at 350 buyins gearing up for the jump to the next level and hit a 100 buyin score, you may prefer to cash the entire win out.

While this idea obviously applies more to large tournaments than any other form of poker, SNG and ring game players should also lend an ear. If you have a week where you win more than your fair share of flips, people insist on paying off your straights and flushes and you can’t pick up a hand except to see a big pair, you would be well advised to bank a portion of that fortunate run.

Having outlined the system, we should address the anticipated complaint; “This will take ages! Can’t I just keep building my bankroll until I get to high stakes games and start cashing out then?”

It might, and no you can’t.

This article is obviously intended for the novice or recreational player. It makes the assumption that he is playing regularly and working on his game with a view to becoming a stronger player. It should be recognised that for many such players, their bankroll invariably grows faster than their level of skill. Also that their perceived ability invariably grows faster than their actual ability.

Assuming modest talent and the capacity to learn, such players will quickly find themselves kicking the guts out of microstakes and eyeing up the bigger games, but those bigger games are infested with people who will eviscerate you. Yes, you; singular subjective. Do you see? By abruptly switching from the third to second person pronoun I create a stronger attachment with the reader. It’s a rhetorical device… I am also available for children’s parties, but for some reason I don’t get many bookings.

Regular cashouts have the useful side effect of ensuring that players do not move up too quickly, and that when they do find themselves moving up to a limit that they are not ready for, their exposure there is minimised. True, this will hold the more capable players back, but the more capable players should also have no difficulty smashing the teeth out of the smaller games they are “stuck” in.

A final thought on busting a bankroll. This will happen, and if you are using the percentage system it will obviously happen more often than if you are using the milestone strategy. This is a bit like a toothache. Your tooth hurts because it’s damaged and requires the attention of an expert. Of course it may be some kind of bizarre phantom pain, and you might have busted because of an extended run of extremely unfortunate cards, but this still seems like an opportune moment to examine your play. Or teeth. Of course you should be re-evaluating your play regularly, looking for mistakes and situations where you are bleeding money. Waiting until you have an abscess is by no means optimal, but when the abscess does come along, it’s definitely time to put down the delicious biscuits and seek the counsel of a dentist.

Let me close by saying this again: regular cash outs. Money in the bank, not in the bankroll.

Multi-Table Tournament Strategy Thoughts

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Poker is constantly evolving. What is a good strategy today might be easily exploited a year from now. You’ve got to constantly stay ahead of the curve with new and creative strategic approaches to out-think your opponents at the table.

Here are a few multi-table tournament strategy concepts that have been on my mind lately. With the WSOP Main Event right around the corner, I’m almost reluctant to give some of these thoughts away. Let’s hope my opponents aren’t savvy enough to Google my name and find this post. Or maybe I already know they will be and am using this post as deep-cover misinformation. Bwuhahaha!

Three-Betting Dark Should Happen

Something I’ve been working on lately is identifying spots where it appears profitable to three-bet dark without taking into consideration my hand. It’s a really challenging adjustment to make because typically your cards are the first thing you notice about any poker hand and all of your subsequent decisions are built on that information.

The key is to identify spots featuring certain favorable elements where your two cards don’t matter. So many hands in MTTs are taken down preflop that oftentimes your hand doesn’t really matter that much. It’s more about the situation.

Here are some favorable circumstances for three-betting preflop regardless of your two cards:

  • player who opened pot has been raising liberally
  • you have position on that player
  • original raiser, you, and everyone left to act behind you all have at least 25 big blinds or more
  • there are no circumstances which make it seem obvious you might be three-betting light

I want to elaborate on that final point a bit. In order for this strategy to be effective, your opponents need reasonable cause to believe you might have a real hand. It becomes harder for them to reach that conclusion if a.) you’ve been three-betting your ass off and/or b.) you are doing it from the button; players have a tendency to grant less respect to button three-bets so you need to be a little cautious about abusing this play from the button. (Flipside: definitely three-bet from the button when you have a good hand since it won’t get much respect, smooth-calling would be a disaster in that scenario).

Implementing this play in a timely manner can help you collect enough chips to keep your head above the water and survive deeper into the tournament before reaching the desperation of push-or-fold strategy.

It’s Okay to Raise-Fold Short Stacks

I used to think the idea of raise-folding a stack of 15 big blinds or less was criminal. I’ve gotten to be a lot more patient with these shorter stacks. There can be scenarios where I think it’s okay to raise-fold a short stack.

For example, in early position with a stack of 12 big blinds, any raise you make looks very strong to the rest of your opponents. Most players expect you to shove a stack that size so when you min-raise it looks like you’re trying to trap with Aces. (Flipside: shove when you have the Aces).

Assuming the rest of your table is sane and semi-competent, they should be folding all but their strongest holdings. It’s basically a gamble that none of your opponents were dealt a strong hand. The payoff is picking up a pot that gives you a free orbit on your short stack. If it doesn’t work, your situation isn’t really that much different than it was before (you’re still short and getting desperate).

There are other scenarios where raising a short stack with a willingness to fold can be okay. But I won’t spoil all the secrets just yet. Try to think creatively for yourself about a spot where it might be okay to do this.

Small Blind Sanity

One way in which I used to get exploited big time came from thinking that when it folded to me in the small blind it was time to party. I’ve reached a 180 degree reversal in this philosophy and now tend to think it’s smart to give a lot of walks from the small blind.

Open-raising into the big blind from the small blind is just suicide. Players are so willing to float that raise and punish you in later betting rounds to take the pot away. If you are raising liberally from the small blind, your opponent can profitably call those raises or re-raise you with any two cards. Why would you give your opponents a chance to print money off of you?

(Flipside: when you do have a strong hand from the small blind, punish your opponent with repeated healthy value-bets).

When I do try to play aggressively from the small blind, I like to raise quite a bit larger than normal to make it too expensive on my opponents to get cute and try to take the pot away. Which leads to one final thought…

It Can Be Okay to Overbet

Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a mentality that your bet-sizing must always be really standard. Open the pot to a min-raise, three-bet to about twice the original raise, continuation-bet for about 2/3rds of the pot, etc. However, it’s important to identify spots where following the bet-sizing status quo leaves you open to being exploited.

There are times where it’s more profitable to put more chips into the pot than seems normal. Think about getting paid off on the river. What’s better: betting 1,500 chips into a 3,000 chip pot expecting to be called 50% of the time or shoving 5,500 chips into a 3,000 chip pot expecting to be called 20% of the time? Do the math.

The same principal can be applied to three-betting light. If your opponent min-raises and you want to take the pot away right then and there, which bet size might be more effective: double his original raise or triple his original raise? Against opponents who love to see a lot of flops, sometimes you need to ramp up the bet-sizing to induce a fold. One way to look at it is that you’re packaging some of the chips from your eventual continuation bet into your preflop raise in order to avoid seeing a flop. Betting more preflop can sometimes save the total number of chips you’ll put at risk during the hand.

If you liked this advice, check out some of our free poker strategy videos. Players interested in more insight to improving their game can PM me at “Ozone” on our poker forums; I offer poker coaching at below-market rates.

Knowing When to Continuation Bet

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Continuation betting is the act of making a bet on the flop in a pot that you raised preflop. You are “continuing” your aggression in the hand by betting on the flop, hence the term ‘continuation bet’. By now, most players are pretty aware of the benefits of continuation betting and do so regularly even on flops that they missed. But it’s tricky for players, myself included, to always know when to continuation bet and when not to continuation bet. There are a few factors you’ll want to consider when making this decision.

1. Number of opponents

I’m much more willing to make a continuation bet versus just one opponent than two. And versus three or more opponents, I’ll almost never make a continuation bet with a hand that didn’t improve on the flop. You’re just spewing away money in that case because there’s a pretty good chance one of your opponents likes their hand on the flop and is going to give you resistance. Against two players, you can still continuation bet sometimes, but you want to cut out a sizable chunk of hands you’d make that play with facing just one opponent when you are facing two. For example, if I raised with Ace-Jack and one player in the blinds called, I would probably make a continuation bet on a flop of like King-Eight-Seven. Against two players, I might just check, especially if there is a flush draw on board as this makes the continuation bet even less likely to work.

2. Flop Texture

There will be plenty of times when your hand misses the flop but the flop is still perfectly suitable for a continuation bet. For example, if you raise with pocket Threes and face just one caller from the blinds, you should totally go for a continuation bet on a “dry” flop of Ten-Seven-Two. Even though that flop missed your hand, there’s such a high probability that it missed your opponent’s hand. Additionally, there are only two overcards on the board instead of three which is nice. You can go ahead and bet your pair with confidence. However, on a flop of like Queen-Jack-Nine with two of one suit, I feel like you’re kinda wasting money making a bet because such a high percentage of your opponent’s likely holdings are going to be interested in continuing with that flop.

When evaluating flop texture, you want to ask yourself, “how likely is it that this flop hit my opponent’s hand?” The drier, the better, assuming you are hoping to just win the pot with a bet on the flop. Some “action” flops like Ace-Ace-Nine are good to continuation bet even if you don’t have an Ace since the flop will dissuade your opponent from trying to do anything cute against you. The more poker you play, the better feel you’ll eventually have for knowing what flops are okay to continuation bet and what flops you should just swallow your pride and check-behind on. In general, I would say players have an overall tendency to continuation bet slightly too much. While it is true that you only need a pot-sized continuation bet to succeed one-third of the time or more in order to justify making the bet, I think continuation betting has become almost a little too standard and to be expected. For this reason, I like to mix in check-raising as a bluff sometimes when I call a raise preflop from the blinds. Basically, a good rule of thumb is that you never have to continuation bet and so don’t do it on flops that seem kinda bad just because you think you’re supposed to.

3. Your table image

It’s important to have some degree of awareness of your image at the table. If your opponents view you as some erratic, loose cannon, they will be less likely to fold to your continuation bets. Generally, continuation betting is more likely to work if your opponents perceive you as tight and solid.

4. Stack sizes

It’s important to observe stack sizes when determining whether or not to continuation bet. Continuation bets tend to work best when the players in the hand have medium sized stacks. By this, I mean stacks in the range of about 20-75 big blinds. Less than this and continuation betting can be a bad idea; you don’t want to make the bet if your standard sizing for it is half of your opponent’s stack. I prefer checking with the plan to fold if the turn does not improve your hand and your opponent bets. All too often, when you continuation bet against a short-stack, they will raise all-in leaving you pot committed to making the call with a hand that is clearly beat.

Players with deeper stacks have more maneuvering room to do things like check-raise on the flop as a bluff or call a bet with something marginal like bottom pair or a gutshot in order to see what happens on subsequent streets.

5. Your opponent’s tendencies

It’s good to know a little something about your opponent before continuation betting against them. Some players literally never fold so there’s no reason to continuation bet on flops that badly missed your hand since they’re probably going to call with whatever two pieces of paper they were dealt. It’s better to deal with these “calling station” type players by just waiting to make a hand against them and then punishing them with large value bet after large value bet.

Savvier, thinking players are, ironically, much easier to continuation bet against. The best player to make a continuation bet against are the ones that are only concerned with their own hand and nothing else whatsoever. Since most hold’em hands miss the flop more frequently than they hit the flop, it’s really easy to slowly siphon chips off of players like these due to their lack of creativity.

6. Bet sizing

One final note is to think about the size of your continuation bet. You want it to be large enough that your opponent will respect it as a “real” bet and not just call or raise you with anything. If the size of your continuation bet is equal to or less than the amount you raised to preflop, you can expect your success rate to be pretty low. Your opponent already called one bet larger than that, so why not call again? You want your continuation bet to be somewhere in the range of 20% larger than the size of your preflop raise up to the size of the pot. If you bet the pot or even more than the pot (which for some reason people basically never do in no-limit strangely enough), you can expect your opponent to fold everything but the hands that they legitimately like. Sometimes these larger-sized continuation bets are nice because they are really polarizing. You are sending a strong signal to your opponent that you like your hand, so if they continue with the hand, you can narrow their range down pretty good to only strong stuff and not a ton of speculative garbage. I would definitely recommend mixing in a full pot-sized continuation bet from time to time, certainly sometimes on flops that didn’t even improve your hand, just to keep your opponents off balance.

Stay Aware at the Poker Table

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

An often overlooked skill needed to thrive at the poker table is staying aware of what is happening to you and your emotions in the game. There are a few things you’ll want to be aware of at all times in your poker session:

1. Is the game good? What is a good game one minute can be a bad one the next. This is something you must constantly reassess. One hand might totally change the perception you have of an opponent. Allow this to happen. If the old man with a visor makes a great play, maybe your previous assumption of him as a poor player is incorrect. The work of profiling your opponents is never done. You cannot make up your mind about everyone at the table in the first 30 minutes and spend the next 6 hours operating under those assumptions. New information will unfold. Players’ moods will change. The players themselves will change! Think of your poker game like the tide; it is always changing. Notice when the game has changed for the better. Notice when the game has changed for the worse. Factor all of these observations into your decisions at the table, including your decision to stay or go.

2. Is your mind right? Sitting down to play poker in the right frame of mind is good. Continuing to play after your mind is no longer in the right frame is bad. Continually reassess your mental state in every poker session. How are you feeling right now. Are you in the flow of the game? Is your focus on what is happening immediately before you? Or is your mind wandering? Are your emotions fluctuating? What are you feeling? It is true that your decisions at the poker table will be more profitable when you are focused on the game and holding an objective, rational mind. When your mind begins to drift elsewhere or a negative mood sets in, that may be a good indicator of the conclusion of your session. If you are tired, go home and sleep. If you are sick, go home and rest. Poker is something that should only be done when you are feeling fresh and at your best.

The Importance of the Final Table

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Anytime you reach the final table in a large multi-table tournament, you are sitting in one of the most important poker games in your life. Unfortunately, this fact is lost on many players. For many players, and I used to be one of them, just reaching the final table is seen as the goal. You toil and grind for hours through a tournament filled with emotional highs and lows until finally… you’ve reached the final table! *Exhale!* High fives are given all around. All is well in the world. We can finally relax and have some fun playing poker!

This approach to tournaments is a leak. If anything, tournaments should be approached in the exact opposite fashion. Rather than sweating and pulling your hair out of your head about whether or not you’ll reach the final table, remain mostly disinterested in that stuff. Instead, focus on making the right decisions and on nothing but the other players at your table.

If you are fortunate enough to make the final table, then you can switch into the tense, competitive zone that many of your opponents have just abandoned now that they’ve reached their goal. Making the final table was never reason to exhale in your mind. Playing perfectly at the final table until there are no decisions left for you to be made is your reason to exhale.

The reason final tables are so important is because of the sums of money being played for. The difference between winning a tournament and finishing, say, sixth, can be the difference between being able to absorb an impending mega-downswing versus going broke. It can be the difference between finally moving up and playing higher stakes or continuing to toil at your current stakes while waiting for that “big break”. It can be the difference between driving a Mercedes or driving a Kia. There is so much at stake at final tables that playing with anything less than complete focus and intensity can be a huge financial leak.

For example, let’s take Bill the online poker pro. Bill grinds tournaments nearly every day. A very capable player, Bill has managed to make $40,000 playing poker over the past year. Bill reaches a final table where first place is $45,000. Six players remain in the tournament. Bill is towards the bottom of the pack but still has a comfortable-enough stack of 20 big blinds. Sixth place in the tournament pays $10,000.

The next hour of Bill’s life will be the most important hour of the year in determining his income. Anything can happen for Bill here. He can finish 6th and have an annual income of $50,000 or he could win the tournament and have an annual income of $95,000. And it will all be determined over the course of about the next hour!

Do you see how important final tables can be?

For Bill, it is nothing short of imperative that he remain completely focused on his final table. If he should be the victim of a bad beat or cooler, there’s nothing he could have done about that. “That’s poker,” as they say. But one thing Bill simply cannot afford to do at this final table is commit a mistake. He must play perfectly. Everything beyond that is out of his control.

When playing at a final table, be aware of the magnitude of your decisions on your overall financial picture. A final table is not the place to make speculative all-in calls or four-bet bluff all-in preflop. Early in a tournament, if you want to make a play that you regard as being slightly bonehead, that is somewhat forgivable. After all, you weren’t worth that much in the tournament to begin with. But at a final table, you are worth a lot relative to your original buy-in. Save the speculative, cute plays for another day when it won’t cost you as much if it backfires.

At the final table, you bring nothing short of your solid A-game doing everything you can to preserve your chip stack and build it when the right situations present themselves. Let your opponents be the ones making loose calls out of position preflop, getting into blind-versus-blind battles for huge pots with light holdings, and making overbets all-in when the only hands that are calling you are ones that have them beat.

A final table is the most important hour of your year in terms of poker income. Make it last.

Five Tips for Becoming a Pro Poker Player

Monday, February 14th, 2011

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the pro poker player’s paradox which outlined some of the reasons against the idea of trying to make a career out of poker. But lest we become branded eternal pessimists, here are five tips for becoming a pro poker player should anyone choose to ignore our earlier commentary:

Play a Lot… like… A LOT!

If you are going to play poker professionally, you have to treat it like a profession. There are a couple of good reasons to play a high volume as a poker pro. First, it makes upswings and downswings a lot less dramatic. If you’re not playing a particularly large amount of hands per day, a severe downswing can drag on for months and months. If you’re playing a high volume of hands, a severe downswing should only last for a few weeks (perhaps longer if you’re playing tournaments). Conversely, upswings cease to become a distraction if you’re playing a lot of hands. A professional who plays sporadically might start to become over confident during an upswing which can lead to bad spending habits and life choices. A player putting in a high volume will see his big upswings level out sooner and can therefore maintain a more proper mindset for playing poker professionally.

By playing a high volume of hands, you’re much more likely to have a strong understanding of your true win-rate. This understanding can be imperative for knowing how much you need to work on your game and estimating your approximate income. To give you a rough idea of what I mean when I say “high volume”, a decent rule of thumb for multi-table tournament players would be to play 100+ tournaments per week. SNG players should be striving for even more than that. Cash game players (and as a side note: cash games are probably the best thing to play if you want to play professionally) should strive to play 10,000+ hands per week.

Of course, in an effort to play a lot of hands, one should never compromise their optimal amount of simultaneous tables or play for so long in a single day that they begin to make sub-optimal decisions. So if the idea of playing 100+ tournaments or 10,000+ hands in cash games in a single week seems overwhelming to you, you may want to consider working on your game and ability to multi-table while holding down your day job for a while.

Your Bankroll is Your Boss

One of the nice things about playing poker professionally is that you have no boss. A professional poker player only answers to himself. However, I would suggest you view this as not being entirely true. You do have a boss. Your bankroll is your boss. Your bankroll tells you what you can and cannot do. Just like you wouldn’t get very far in a “real job” by disrespecting, ignoring, or mistreating your boss, you won’t get very far as a professional poker player doing those things to your bankroll. If you are good and respectful towards your bankroll, it will let you know when you get a promotion. It is impossible to succeed in the long run as a professional poker player if you do not practice solid bankroll management.

This is not an article on the specifics of bankroll management (such as how many buy-ins or big blinds you should have). If you want that type of information, you can check out our bankroll management article or pick the minds of a few successful pros. Some good ways to reduce variance are to swap action with another trusted, strong player. For example, you can work out an arrangement with another pro where you swap 10% in every tournament that you both register for. It’s a bit harder to make swaps in cash games, but it can still be done. You just need to be swapping with someone you trust completely.

If you’re looking to “take a shot” at a higher buy-in poker tournament or at a higher-stakes cash game level, consider selling action. There are enough online poker databases out there that if you are a winning player, you can sell pieces of your “shot” to other players who can verify for themselves that you are indeed a winner at your current stakes. Just don’t do anything stupid like insist that your backers should let you buy software that will improve your game on their money.

Conversely, buying small bits of action in other players looking to take a shot can be a nice way to reduce variance. Just be sure you’re getting a nice deal prior to investing in another player.

Join or Form a Crew

One of your best assets in the quest to become a professional poker player is having friends who are also playing professionally. Joining or forming a group of friends who are all on a quest to succeed in playing poker for a living is invaluable. You can lean on these individuals to provide input on tricky hands, help calm your emotions when you’re on tilt, and generally make the life of a pro poker player more fun and less isolated. This is probably the best kept secret of becoming a pro poker player. Virtually anyone who has managed to do it successfully is probably part of a strong group of friends that all help each other reach their goals as players.

Hedge Your Bets

This tip is somewhat in direct contrast with our first tip, but consider maintaining other revenue streams outside of poker. This could be done in a variety of ways. One way is to keep a part-time job doing something you enjoy. By working 10-20 hours a week doing work you don’t mind doing, you achieve a few things. First, you keep your poker career in perspective since it is not your sole source of income. Second, an outside job can be a great way to spend time around people, specifically people who are in no way connected to the game of poker. There’s a lot to be said for spending time around non-poker players. Finally, a part-time job allows you to keep something going on your resume. In case poker doesn’t work out, a job will allow you to avoid having a big hole on your resume. You’ll be grateful for this when it comes time to figure out your next step in life.

Following this advice requires a lot of foresight and discipline. When you’re making $30 an hour playing online poker, it can be really, really tough to drag yourself to a job for 10-20 hours a week where you only make $11 an hour. But try to keep your eye on the bigger picture. First of all, you may not be making as much playing poker were it not for the balance the non-poker job adds to your life. Secondly, understand that poker may not be around forever as a viable career choice. There is a lot of value in maintaining talents and interests not related to poker. This way, when the day comes where you admit to yourself that you can’t play poker forever, you’ll have a little something going for you to fall back on.

Along these lines, treat poker like a regular job. This means you work regular hours, take regular days off, and even take extended vacations away from the game. Giving yourself at least one day a week off from poker is imperative though two or even three is recommended. Keep other hobbies and interests going. Have a group of non-poker friends that you hang out with at least one day a week. Join a club or an intramural sports league. You can even do some of your daily grinding in a Starbucks to feel less isolated. Get creative and do whatever it takes to keep other things going in your life outside of poker.

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

One of the biggest temptations associated with the life of a pro poker player is to take up the lifestyle of a partier. While there’s plenty to be said for cutting loose and enjoying spurts of living carefree, your life and your mind will deteriorate quickly if every night is a party. When you don’t have an office to show up at the following morning, it can feel like you have carte blanche on drinking and doing drugs at night and waking up whenever you feel like it. You might be able to get away with this lifestyle for a while, but eventually it will catch up with you. Your mind will suffer and as a result, your poker earnings will suffer.

Don’t interpret this as “never drink” or “never try a drug,” just do those things rarely and in moderation. The rest of the time, get daily exercise, plenty of sleep, and spend the time it takes to nourish your body with real, whole foods, not processed crap you throw in a microwave or have delivered. This is probably the most common leak found among poker players. A friend of mine regularly makes fun of how all poker players look like pears: wimpy shoulders and chest, big round, squishy mid-sections, and legs that haven’t experienced the sensation of “running” in years. Don’t become one of those players that sacrifices everything else in their life just to make a living playing poker. In the end, it’s really no living at all.

Changing Playing Style

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Poker is a game that evolves on a second-by-second basis. A strategy that works one year might be archaic the next. Successful online grinders can share with you their observations on how optimal strategy in no-limit hold’em games regularly shifts between a loose style of play to a tight style of play, back to a loose style of play, etc. Note that I’m only speaking in generalizations here; just because one believes there’s a market for a tight style of play at the moment doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be appropriate to play with a loose style at one particular table or tournament.

To be a successful poker player that stands the test of time by generating a handsome profit year after year, one must possess a lot of attributes. One of these attributes is the ability to alter playing style in the face of changing game conditions. Several years ago, you could literally print money by playing a loose style of poker at no-limit tables. This is because everyone was playing ABC tag poker which is highly exploitable to anyone willing to think outside the box. Today, there might be more of a market for a tighter style since so many of today’s players are the winners of yesteryear when a loose strategy ruled supreme.

Being able to identify the evolution of your particular game and stakes and adapt to those changes in a profitable manner can be the difference between feast or famine in the poker world. When I hear players boasting about their style of play in a connotation that indicates they self-identify with that style to such an extent that changing it probably won’t enter the equation until it’s too late, I feel sorry for them. Many successful players get a reputation for their ingenious style of play and begin to self-identify with the fame and attention that they’ve received from playing this strategy. A great example of this is Gus Hansen. Years ago, when Hansen was on seemingly every World Poker Tour final table, he played with an incredibly erratic, loose strategy that, at the time, worked miraculously for him. He made millions of dollars with this crazy style of play and garnered a lot of fame as a result. However, Hansen’s opponents gradually started to adapt to his style of play. Once that began to happen, Hansen could have done one of two things:

  • Continue playing with his erratic style that earned him millions
  • Use his opponents’ perception of how he plays the game to his advantage

The latter such option would call for playing a tighter style that exploits his opponents’ tendency to believe that he is capable of showing up with any two cards. His days of three-betting with 64 would be over (temporarily, at least) in exchange for playing a tighter strategy that seeks to wait for strong hands and hope to get paid off big thanks to his loose image. And when the day comes where all anyone can talk about it is how tight Hansen is, then he can go back to popping it up with his 64s.

Whether or not Hansen made more money by adjusting to the image he generated from WPT TV appearances isn’t something I’m familar with. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I don’t follow the guy enough to know either way. He’s just an interesting example of how one can constantly be making changes to their style of play in accordinance with shifts in the strategies of the masses as well as the perceptions these masses have of your playing style in order to continue making money hand over fist at the table.

But the ability to make these shifts isn’t easy. Most players, top pros even, are unable to detach themselves with the familiar style of play that has made them so much money. There’s a reason Phil Ivey is the most successful all-around player in history: anytime he’s interviewed and asked to describe his style, he never has a cut-and-dry answer. His response is usually something along the lines of, “I just sit down and figure out what the best strategy is once I’m there.” Ivey is always thinking. He never goes on autopilot. That tremendous game-theory mindset of his has made him countless millions of dollars over the years. In that time, he’s been able to watch plenty of his old peers crumble away due to their inability to make the adjustments necessary to continue seizing a handsome portion of the poker economy.

Double Hold’em Strategy Article

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

We recently added an introductory Double Hold’em strategy article to our poker strategy section. Double Hold’em is a new poker variant that is available at Party Poker.

In Double Hold’em, players are dealt three cards instead of two. After the flop is dealt, each player remaining in the hand must designate one of their three cards as the “point” card. This card is then placed above the other two cards to form a triangle. The point card can be used in conjunction with each of the other two cards to form two different hold’em hands. In the event of a showdown, you play whichever of your two possible hands gives you the best five card poker hand. As in hold’em, both, one, or none of your hole cards can be played at showdown.

Check out our strategy article for more insight into how to play this interesting new game.