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Adjusting Play in Mid-Game


I have recently had the opportunity to play in a series of freeroll tournaments, and it has really helped me practice my skills at changing my playing style in the middle of a game, or “on the fly.” The ability to adjust your play quickly to changing circumstances is very important to your long-term profit in any form of poker, as your opponents may change the way they are playing and new players will replace the ones who leave, often creating an entirely different game.

Using poker freerolls as an example, the play in the early rounds tends to be very loose and borderline maniacal at times, while reverting to tight and aggressive in the later rounds. There are different theories about how to play in these situations, but the best way is whatever works best for you. You need to find the best strategy that complements your overall playing style in every situation. Just because one strategy works best for a player does not mean that it will work well for you. The strategy that works best for me is to play very tight in the early rounds and a little looser in the later rounds.

When the game is very loose, the likelihood of receiving a bad beat goes up, so my goal is to only enter hands with a large advantage. Even hands as strong as QQ, KK and AA often get beat against three or more opponents, so if four or more people are seeing every flop, I am very careful about what I enter the pot with and what I will continue playing after the flop.

After all of the maniacs have been eliminated, and especially when it is close to the bubble, I tend to loosen up a bit because many players tighten up to attempt to slip into the money. Often playing aggressively at this point can get many opponents to fold better hands.

Work on adjusting your play mid-game, and you will improve your overall game. One of the best places to do this is in a freeroll, so jump into one today and try it out. Until next week, good luck at the tables!

The Drunk, Obnoxious Opponent


If you have played in live poker rooms much at all, you have undoubtedly played against opponents that had too much to drink and opponents who were rude and/or obnoxious. The majority of opponents who appear to be drunk are highly profitable to play against, and if you can emotionally handle the rude players, most of them tend to be poor players as well.

However, it is very important to realize that every poker player that appears to be drunk may not actually be, and that some of the best poker players in the world tend to be obnoxious at times. Two that come to mind are Mike The Mouth Matusow and Phil Hellmuth. Some players use these appearances to gain an advantage over their opponents.

It is easy to let ourselves play differently against an opponent who we don’t like or against one who appears to be drunk, but to do so makes us do things that aren’t best for our poker game. So how do we deal with obnoxious players? You can either not play in the same game with them, or you can learn to deal with them.

I don’t let them bother me anymore, but when I was younger they did sometimes. This has just come with age and experience, but now I will at times use their obnoxiousness against them, especially when they lose a big hand or get sucked out on. A simple well-timed Nice hand in my most sarcastic voice can work wonders for their attitude. They usually start berating me endlessly.

This is made even better if I am the one who beats them in a hand. I have seen players get so worked up at insulting me that they start making terrible decisions, all from two little words. It is a very satisfying experience to turn the person who is trying to put everyone else on tilt, on tilt himself. You must be prepared to create a life-long fan if you do this, but I still feel it is worth it at times.

What about the apparent drunk player? The only thing you can do is concentrate on playing your best game, but there are a few clues you can look for when a player may just be acting. Players who act drunk to get action tend to play a large percentage of hands, often betting and raising before the flop, but tend to play exceptionally good strategy after the flop. If you see a player like this that is raking in a large number of pots, start watching their post flop play. You may very well be surprised at how good they really are.

Until next week, watch out for the troublemakers above, and good luck at the tables!

Satellite Tournaments


As the World Series of Poker has become more popular, the internet based poker rooms have started running satellite tournaments for entry into the main event almost as soon as the previous years series is completed.

These satellite tournaments come in many different shapes and sizes, with buy-ins starting as low as a few cents at some rooms to over $1,000 for the finals at others. These satellite tournaments require a slightly different strategy than normal tournaments, as the goal is not to win, but to finish high enough to advance.

In most of the multi table satellites, more than one finisher will advance to the next round. For example, if the top ten advance, finishing eleventh is no better than last. So if you find yourself with one of the larger stacks when the tournament gets down to twelve or thirteen players, the best thing to do may be fold your way into the top ten. In a normal multi table tournament, this would not be correct, as it wouldn’t give you the best chance to win.

To illustrate this example in more detail, suppose the average chip stack is 50,000, you have 125,000, there are twelve players left, only ten advance to the next round and there are 6 players with less than 50,000. You should fold every single hand even pocket Aces. Though the pocket Aces are a large favorite against any other hand, there are always situations where they will lose. You have a much higher percentage chance of finishing in the top ten by folding them than by playing them. If your goal were to finish first, you would play them because of the same percentages.

If you are playing a single table satellite, often only the top one or two finishers will advance. In this case it is important to realize that a normal money finish of third place is not good enough and you will want to push smaller advantages for the chance to greatly increase your chip stack. If the top two advance, you will need to accumulate roughly half the chips in play, so any small edge that you can find to help you get there will be worth taking advantage of.

Realize what your goal is before starting in any tournament so you can make the correct decisions throughout the tournament. Understanding what is important can make the difference between tenth and eleventh, and as you can see in the example above, this difference can be huge.

Until next week, good luck in the satellites!

Triple Draw


If you have read many of my past columns you know that I am an advocate of learning to play a wide range of poker variations. This past week I took a little of my own advice and sat down in a Triple Draw game for the first time. It was fun, but painful at times as well.

Triple Draw is played in two different forms, two to seven (2-7) and Ace to five (A-5). The object is to have the best possible low hand. It is a 5-card draw variation, where you can draw three times. In A-5, the best hand is A 2 3 4 5 and straights and flushes are ignored. In 2  7, the best hand is 2 3 4 5 7, and straights and flushes do count against you, and Aces are high. There are betting rounds after the initial deal and after each round or draw. You do not have to draw any cards on any round.

Often, when you have four cards to a good low, like 2 3 4 5, and draw one card on the final round, you will pair one of your cards, which makes your hand just about worthless. However, you can try to use the way your opponents play against them. For example, you have a decent low like 2 3 4 7 T and don’t draw any cards on the last round, and your opponent draws one. You can bet into them and if they paired one of their cards or got a high card, they will often fold, assuming you have a strong hand.

Though I am far from an expert, much like every variation of poker, your starting hand goes a long way in determining your chances to win. Once I started folding any hand that didn’t have at least two cards 5 and below, my results improved. I am pretty sure that if you went as far as to fold any starting hand that didn’t have at least three cards 6 and below you would do very well, especially at the lower limits.

Of course the only way to improve is practice, but if you have an opportunity to play Triple Draw, you should give it a try. You will see that you must look at the value of a hand in a much different way than in Texas holdem, but I believe there is a good chance it will improve your overall game. Until next week, good luck at the tables!

A Little Poker Trivia


I decided to play in a small tournament the other night and the following hand played out. I was amazed at many things within the hand, but the main one brought up a sort of trivia question, which I’ll get to after I tell you about the hand.

A short time after the first break, the average chip stack was 2500, an early position player limped in, a middle position player moved all in for about 1000, the big blind went all in for about 2300 and the limper called. Here comes the strange part. When the cards were flipped over, the middle position aggressor had 78s and both other players had AKo. My first thought was the person with 78s had to be a favorite in this hand, but I wasn’t sure, and when I asked another player who they thought was favored, they said the two players with AK. Hence, the trivia question: Who is the favorite in the above hand?

As it turns out, I was incorrect in my thought that the 78s was the favorite, but not by much. The AK hands tie almost 50% of the time and the 78s wins just under 46% of the time. So my next question is: If you were the player holding the 78s, would you play this hand the same way as the player above? Of course many of you are saying that this is an easy fold pre-flop, and I can’t argue with that line of reasoning, because you would have no way of knowing that you would be getting 2 to 1 on your money.

However, when I am in a position to get 2 to 1 on my money and I am only slightly less than a 1 to 1 favorite, I will put my money in the pot every time. Of course to be willing to do this, you have to accept the fact that you will be out of the tournament over 50% of the time, but when you do win, (remember that you will about 46% of the time) you have put yourself in a very strong position by tripling your chip stack.

Of course if there had been only one caller and he or she had any pocket pair eight or above, the odds would have been much worse than above. However, once you factor in the possibility that everyone will fold to the all in bet, it still wasn’t a terrible play for a player on a short stack.

In summary, the answers to the two questions above deserve some in depth thought, especially the second one. Decide if you would risk your tournament life on the situation, and you will have another piece of the puzzle solved on your way to greatness. Until next week, good luck at the tables! (And may all of your 46% draws hit this week.

Fold equity


Though I have mentioned it in passing before, I wanted to discuss the concept of fold equity in more detail, as it is an important concept in no limit Texas holdem play. Fold equity is when your chip stack gets low in a tournament; it reaches a point that you don’t have enough chips to force an opponent into a difficult decision on whether to call your all in bet.

I was watching a friend of mine play in a tournament the other night and he had some unfortunate luck early and was getting a little low on chips. We were chatting between hands a little and he stated that he was going to have to make a move soon to keep the blinds from becoming too large in comparison to his chip stack. He was talking about surviving in the tournament, but I mentioned that he would also lose his fold equity.

A short time later he raised all in from late position and the blinds folded, was able to hit a few good hands and he was quickly back into the middle of the pack, chip wise.

The exact amount of chips in comparison to your opponents where you lose fold equity is not exact, but here are a few examples. If you have 500 chips and your opponent has 10,000, you don’t have any fold equity. He or she will not be hurt much if they lose to you, so they can call with a wide range of hands to take a chance to knock you out of the tournament. If they only had 2,000 chips, the range of hands they can call with is much narrower, because they will be risking 25% of their stack.

One thing that you must realize though is that the strongest hands will call you, regardless of your chip stack. Hands like AA KK QQ JJ and AK are going to call anyway. However, by being able to get weaker hands to fold and stealing the blinds for a few rounds, you can survive until you find a good enough hand to double up with.

You can use fold equity to your advantage though, even when you lose it. Usually when you land a big hand like AA or KK, you make a standard raise to keep an opponent in the hand for the chance to win a big pot. When your chips are low enough, you can just move all in and get a call with hands as weak as KJ and small pairs sometimes.

The next time you are in a tournament, try to determine at what amount fold equity would be lost as you move deeper into the tournament and use it to your advantage.

Until next week, good luck at the tables!

Tournaments or ring games?


Are you a tournament or ring game player?

This is such an interesting question to me that I felt it was necessary to write a column about it. Like the great majority of players, especially newer players to the game of poker, I used to say Both. However, over the past few years I have come to the understanding that I am far from both. I still play tournaments, and even do well occasionally in them, but I am a ring game player.

This is not to say that many players aren’t both. Many professional players are certainly equally good at both tournament and ring game poker. Here is the big difference. I am not a professional poker player. I may be one some day, but until that time, I have stopped answering the question in the title with Both.

I can hear it now from many of you. What’s the difference? A good poker player is a good poker player no matter what they are playing. While this is true, the point I am making is this: Beyond the basics, the skills necessary to be a consistent winner in tournaments and ring games are different. As you are learning to play poker and improving with experience, you should concentrate on one form or the other.

Poker is easy to play, but so hard to master, that all of your work should be concentrated early in your career on improving a certain area of your game. Once you master one area, then you should expand your selection and try to become a solid overall player.

I firmly believe that my growth as a poker player was stunted to some degree by jumping from format to format. When I started playing online, I would play ring games, sit-n-gos and multi table tournaments, often at the same time. I would even go so far as to play both Texas holdem and Omaha/8 at the same time. Talk about setting yourself up to struggle.

Of course my long-term goal of being a solid well-rounded player eventually was accomplished, it took a long time and was not as profitable as it could have been. By concentrating on one area, you will become more profitable and you will enter the next area with much more confidence in your abilities.

Give yourself an honest evaluation when you think about the above question and decide what type of player you are. Once you can give an honest answer, you will be able to work towards mastering your best area of play and then expanding your game.

Until next week, good luck at the tables.

Disregarding stakes


I have written in the past a little advice about progressing from a recreational poker player to the professional ranks, but I only touched on what is probably the most important aspect of the professional players play beyond their ability. The best players are able to completely disregard the stakes, or amount of money in play. This may seem like an easy thing to do, but it is not.

One of the most ingenious things that casinos have ever done is mandate the use of chips at the tables instead of actual cash. This entices players to play more and not view it as real money like cash. However, the great majority of players do have a limit where the amount becomes too big for this disregard.

The best professional poker players on the other hand, don’t view chips as anything beyond tools to place bets with until they actually convert them to cash at the cage. Reportedly, the largest stakes game ever played was a $100,000 / $200,000 limit Texas holdem game between Andy Beal, a Texas banker, and Todd Brunson, Doyle Brunson’s son.

Now I can’t accurately judge how much money you make, but it takes me a couple years to make enough for the small bet, and a lifetime to make enough to actually play at that level. Rumor has it that Brunson won a little over 1 million in that game, which means they were pretty evenly matched, as that is only a little over five big bets. Obviously the amount didn’t have any effect on either player.

If you want to become a professional player, you must learn what amounts are in your comfort level and try to expand them. Perhaps more importantly, you have to be honest with yourself. If you ignore the facts instead of working through them, you will only be hurting yourself.

This process takes time. I used to be uncomfortable at anything above 1/2 and now can play 10/20 without being bothered. The mechanics of the game don’t change and the chips are just bets. By looking at them as just parts of a big bet instead of their actual value, you won’t worry about it. Top-level poker is such a mental game that anything that interferes with your mental state will hurt your game.

In the game mentioned above between Beal and Brunson, obviously they both had the proper mindset. I am smart enough to realize that I will never be able to play for those stakes without it bothering me, but I would like to be able to play 50/100 or 100/200 someday without it mentally changing my game.

Evaluate your personal feelings about the limits you play and set a goal to expand them. There is no shame to be concerned about the stakes. The shame is not learning from the experience and improving you game and mental abilities.

Until next week, good luck at the tables!

Overplaying small pairs


I entered a small no limit Texas holdem tournament the other night and on the very first hand the following situation came up.

I was in middle position with a suited A2 and limped into the pot. The next two players also limped as well as the blinds, so five of us saw the flop. It came 3 5 5, with two of my suit. It was checked to me and I bet. The next player called and the second player raised. The two blinds folded and I moved all in and the raiser called. He / she flipped over pocket sixes and I hit a four on the river giving me a straight and an early double up. Now you could definitely say that I played my hand poorly, but I want to talk about the player with pocket sixes.

The way the hand played out, the best he / she could have hoped for was a toss up, like what happened, but it was very likely that he / she was dominated. The range of my possible hands included any pocket pair, which the only ones that sixes could beat were twos and fours, any four to a flush, two over cards, a hand with a five or a combination hand like I had. Now they did make a good read that I wasn’t very strong, as I probably would have tried milking the pot instead of pushing, but gambling all of your chips on the first hand of a tournament on a 50 / 50 shot is not the best way to win.

Of course I encourage aggressive play, but calling an all in is not aggressive, where moving all in is. There are a few different options on how to play the sixes in the above situation. If he / she was willing to go all in with them on that flop, they should have pushed to put the pressure on me. The other good option would be to call the bet on the flop to see what the turn brought.

If the turn completed a possible flush or was a high card, it may have been easier to get away from the hand. The last option is a very difficult one for many players to do, but in a no limit tournament, when you enter the pot with a small pair and don’t hit a set on the flop, the best play is to get away from the hand, so they could have folded the sixes to my bet on the flop.

I would have called the bet to see the turn, but that doesn’t mean that it would have been the best play, and I still may have lost all of my chips, but I believe I could have gotten away from the hand.

Until next week, be careful with those small pairs in tournaments and good luck at the tables!

Dominating a table


When I watch poker tournaments on television, I often see a player that is dominating a table. All of the action at the table appears to involve their decisions within a hand. Even when they fold, they have controlled the hand to some degree. Every decision made by their opponents takes into account if they have acted, if they still have a chance to act and what they have already done in the hand.

This usually occurs when a seasoned professional is at a table with quite a few less experienced players, but there are a few professionals that can exert this type of control even on a table full of veterans. Though there are others, the two that jump to mind are Gus Hansen and Phil Laak. There are a few characteristics that these players share, such as a very aggressive playing style; very unpredictable play and they both play very well after the flop.

The position of forcing your opponents to act through you is a very powerful one.Sadly, most of us just aren’t good enough to make this happen for long stretches of time. It is easy to master some of the traits important to this style like aggressive and unpredictable play, but it is difficult to master the whole package. These players seem to play more hands than normal solid players, which if you have read anything about being a great poker player, you have been told that playing tight is the path to good play.

The key word seems. They may play a few more hands than normal, but with the focus of the entire table on them, it doesn’t always mean that they are playing too many hands. This brings us to the areas where these players excel while we struggle. Their play after the flop is world class, they have a thorough understanding of betting patterns and pot odds, both actual and implied, and they are totally fearless.

So to recap, here are the areas where we want to emulate the professionals:

  • Aggressive play
  • Unpredictable play
  • Strong post flop play
  • Understanding of betting patterns
  • Understanding of pot odds, both actual and implied

Fearlessness at the table

Join me in making a goal for the upcoming year to improve our game in everything on the list, and hopefully we will be able to dominate a table soon.

Until next week, good luck at the tables!