Friday, February 27, 2009

36 Poker Why's To Improve Your Game

36 Poker Why's To Improve Your Game

I wrote this list to help everyone realize that it takes a lot of knowledge to become a winning tournament poker player. When you read each "why" statement, ask yourself if you agree or disagree, understand what it means, and/or if you need to learn more. Hey, if you need help, please ask. If it gets you thinking more about your game, that is a good thing. Perhaps this list will help you get out of your comfort zone so you can take your game up to the next level.

Of course, if I've missed anything, please let me know.

I have broken the list into categories: Overall Philosophy, Chips & Bets, Odds, Cards, and Players.

Overall Philosophy

1. Why the stage of the tournament matters

2. Why the blind levels matter

3. Why the time left in a round matters

4. Why playing tight early in a tournament is wrong

5. Why you may have to make the wrong play at the right time to win a tournament

6. Why being aggressive is the mindset of a winning tournament poker player

7. Why you have to get lucky to win a poker tournament

Chips & Bets

8. Why chip stacks matter

9. Why raising pre-flop first in the pot is usually right

10. Why managing the size of the pot is so important

11. Why linking the strength of your hand with the size of your pre-flop raise is so wrong

12. Why knowing a continuation bet is so important

13. Why knowing when to make or not make a continuation bet is so important

14. Why bet sizing is so important

15. Why moving all-in on the turn is so important


16. Why pot odds are so important

17. Why implied odds are even more important


18. Why suited connectors can win big pots

19. Why pocket pairs can win big pots

20. Why pocket Jacks are so difficult to play

21. Why always calling with A-K is wrong

22. Why always moving all in with A-K is wrong

23. Why always raising with pocket Aces pre-flop is wrong

24. Why adjusting the range of your starting hands based on the number of your opponents is so important

25. Why making tough lay-downs is a good move to learn

26. Why being able to identify that you are beat on the flop even though you have top pair is so important

27. Why it's important to learn how to read your opponent's hand

28. Why it's important to learn when are the best times to bluff


29. Why betting patterns of your opponents are so important

30. Why your table image is so important

31. Why the table image of your opponents is so important

32. Why taking your opponent at his word when he "checks" is so important

33. Why knowing how many players are at your table is so important

34. Why knowing how many opponents you have on the flop, turn and river is so important

35. Why finding tells in your opponents is not that important to winning

36. Why knowing what to do after a bad beat in order to avoid going on tilt is so important

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Would You Do?

Poker Stars NL event
Too many players

Early on the software gave me pocket Aces which turned into 4 Aces. How many times have I had 4 Aces in a card room--I think maybe once, probably never. But this is online poker, which is not really all that random.

I also knew from playing online that usually when the software gives a big hand like that early on, it will punish you later.

I was the chip leader at my table early on with $7,000.

With $30-$60 blinds. I raised under the gun with Q-J to $150.

Another player re-raised to $370.

The BB called, as did I.

There was $1,040 in the pot.

The flop was A-K-10 with 2 spades. I didn't have a spade.

I checked my straight, the re-raiser bet $700.

The BB called.

What would you do?

Question 1: What did my opponents have?

The re-raiser either had two pair A-K, or a set of Aces or Kings.

The quick call from the BB probably meant he had a flush draw.

The pot was about $2,440.

Question #2: Do you want to see the turn?

I wanted to get at least the flush draw out of the hand.

I moved all-in--which was a huge over-sized bet.

Two quick calls....

The raiser had A-A.

The BB spade flush draw.

The turn was another spade, and he won with the flush.

Question 3: Would you do anything different?

I would not change a thing except for the outcome. I don't mind getting all-in with the best hand on the flop.

Oh--the player with the pocket Aces, he called me an idiot for calling his pre-flop re-raise.

How I Won a PokerStars event for $1,080

From Full Tilt to Poker Stars

Since I closed my account with Full Tilt Poker, I deposited money into Poker Stars. Frankly, I like the Full Tilt game choices better and the overall feel of the program, but I don't like feeling cheated by Full Tilt.

One of my main problems with Poker Stars is that there are no 45 player, mid-buy-in no limit events. The smallest thing I could find on PS was a 180 player, $22 buy-in no limit event. I reluctantly entered this event, because I don't like spending 5 hours or more in front of computer screen playing poker.

The Tournament Begins

The starting chip stack is $1,500. I was down to $1,000 when I got dealt K-K. The player under the gun raised 3x's the BB. I was next and called. This is a move I write about in my poker book--it's called 2nd hand low. I am hoping that another player re-raises pre-flop, so I can move all-in. It didn't happen. It was heads-up on the flop.

The flop came Q high. My opponent bet 1/3rd the pot, and I raised to match the pot. He moved all-in, and I called. He had A-Q and I doubled up.

I continued to win small pots with small pre-flop raises. I limped with pocket Aces and one player raised. I called. Again, I won a big pot when he flopped top pair with his K-Q.

Down to 40 Players

When the game got to 40 players, I was in the middle of the pack. Unfortunately, I went card dead. I was moving to a dangerous stage--9 times the BB in chips.

I knew I had to look for aggressive plays to accumulate chips--exactly what my prior blog posts were all about...I mean if I write about this stuff, I should follow my own advice!

I got aggressive when other players indicated weakness. The result was that I was able to build up my stack to be above the middle of the pack.

Down to 2 Tables

It was down to 14 players and I raised first in, with K-J. The big blind moved all-in. It would cost me 40% of my stack to call. I decided to fold. I figured I was either behind a lot or it was a coin flip. I didn't want to lose in this situation.

It was down to 12 players...there was 6 players at my table and I raised pre-flop with pocket Jacks. The player to my left moved all-in. Oh no!

He had about the same chip stack as I did. I was in the middle chip position, and if I won I would be near the top. I don't like pocket Jacks--heck, no one does. I figured he had A-K or pocket 9's-A's.

Like I said in my previous post, sometimes you have to make the wrong move at the right time. I called the all-in bet. He turned over pocket Kings.

I turned off the light on my desk lamp and got up ready to turn off the computer. The flop missed me, but the turn was a Jack!

I doubled up!

With 11 players left. I raised first in with K-Q on the small blind. The big blind moved all-in. I called as it was only 30% of my stack. He had pocket 6's. The flop had a 6 and I thought it was over. But, the board showed a straight on the river and we split the pot.

The Final Table

I got moved to a new table as we started playing the final table. I had one of the bigger stacks. I won a few more hands, and hit a big pot when a player raised 3x's the BB, and I found pocket Aces! He had raised to about $5,000, and he had $50,000. I had slightly more chips. What to do?

If I won all his chips, I would be a big chip leader. He had been playing tight, so I put him on a big hand. I moved all-in to make it look like A-K. He insta-called with pocket Queens. A cooler for him.

Now I had $100,000 and I was the chip leader.

Three Handed Play

I have a very difficult time playing three handed poker. And I was getting beaten up by the player to my left when I was in the SB and he was in the BB. If I limped, he would raise, and I'd fold. When I raised, if he called, I would miss the flop and he would win with a bet. I was being played.

I was down to $45,000, the player to my left had $80,000, and the other player had $145,000. I decided to try to trap the BB if I got a decent hand.

On cue, I limped with A-J. He moved all-in. I called. He had A-4, and I doubled up!

A few hands later my nemesis was out, and now it was heads-up.

Heads-Up Play

When it comes to heads-up play, I am not going to lose. I've written before about how I approach heads-up play. My edge is that most players don't have a lot of experience heads-up and get into betting patterns that are easy to figure out.

Unfortunately, in this situation I was down to my opponent about 2-1 in chips. He had about $180,000 and I had $90,000.

Yes, I still liked my chances of winning!

On one of the first hands, I called my opponent down with top pair. He showed a busted flush draw. But, the computer gave him the pot! What!! I looked at the previous hand. It showed that I read the suit wrong on one of the cards! Oh no. He hit the flush on the river.

This was unsettling. It brought back a bad memory. I had entered the main Sunday event on Bodog a few years back. First place was $25,000. When it was heads-up I knew I would win. I was even in chips.

I misread my opponent's bet on a pre-flop raise. It turned out to be a raise for about 95% of his chips, and I called thinking it was a small raise. I read the numbers wrong--Bodog bets go to the pennies. And, for some reason, I misread it.

I finished 2nd, and promptly had my eyes checked! Really!

Now because of this mistake, I was way down again. I was down 4-1. I had $45,000 to his $225,000.

I could have given up here, but I still believed I could win this heads-up battle. I knew his patterns and I played against it.

I slowly but surely started taking down pots. It took a while but I was able to get even.

One of the plays I was making, which I knew was getting him annoyed, was raising pre-flop on the button about 80% of the time. He would fold, and if he called my bet. I would bet on the flop no matter what. I kept winning over and over again.

Finally, I had a slight chip lead. He raised from the button and I called with K-3. The flop came K-8-4, and I check called. The turn was a 4 and I checked called again. The river was an Ace. We both checked. I won a big pot when he only had 2nd pair.

Soon, I had the 2-1 chip lead. My guess was that my opponent was emotionally upset, and felt like he was going to lose.

A couple of hands later, I got a big hand on the button and raised pre-flop with A-Q suited. My opponent moved all-in. I called. He had K-Q.

It was over. I won!

The win paid $1,080.

So why haven't you bought my poker book yet? :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

3 Tips To Win Your Next Poker Tournament

What It Takes To Win

Do you know why you haven't been a winner at tournament poker?

Is it bad cards?

Is it bad luck?

Is it bad beats?

Probably not.

It's probably because you think that the right strategy is all about those two words: "It depends."

Nonsense. Just like "Depends" is an adult diaper for leaking problems, in poker "Depends" is an adult excuse for leaking problems in your game.

This is poker. There is the right play for every situation. There is the right time to gamble. Hey, you may even make the wrong move at the right time, and take down a huge pot!

3 Tips To Win Your Next Poker Tournament

1. Embrace the risk.

In a poker tournament every hand is a battle for the blinds and antes. You must act to accumulate chips. If you don't act you will bleed out chips...slowly and surely...until you die a painful, slow death at the poker table. (Sort of like those dead bodies in Law & Order episodes who "bled out.")

Embrace the risk in the game. The Poker Pros win for a reason. And the reason is that they do not sit back and wait for premium hands. The reason is that they take action, take risks, and gamble. So get out of your comfort zone and gamble.

2. Get involved in more hands with pre-flop raises.

What do the Poker Pros do in tournaments? They get involved with a wide range of hands. They do not think "Oh, it's early in the event, I need to play tight." They may write that nonsense in their books to keep you down. Don't be fooled!

At the start of the event and in every hand of the event, you should be looking at opportunities to win the battle for the blinds with pre-flop raises.

If you are first in the pot, makes those small raises. The raises can be two times or two and one-half the blinds. Act. You will be surprised how few times you get called.

3. Play suited connectors when your opponent's chip stack is deep.

If you are dealt suited connectors and you are first in the pot, what should you do? If you've been raising pre-flop more often than your opponents, keep up the pressure and raise again.

If there is a pre-flop raise in front of you, look at how deep your opponent's chip stack is and call to see the flop cheap. Any two cards can win.

You've seen Negreanu and Hansen win big pots with small cards. When is the last time that happened for you?

Get out of your comfort zone. Play to win. If you get knocked out in your first hand because you flop two small pair, and your opponent called you all-in with pocket Aces and the board paired, so what? It may be the best thing to happen in your tournament poker game in a long time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Take A Poker IQ Quiz

If you put 100 poker players in a room, how many would say they are in the top 10? How about the top 20 players?

Often poker players believe they are better than their opponents. In fact, I would guess that 80% of the players think they are in the top 20% in terms of poker skill. Of course that's impossible.

The next time you enter a poker tournament look around and evaluate where your level of play is compared to your opponents. Where would you rank yourself? Where would your opponents rank you?

To determine your Poker IQ I have developed a Poker IQ quiz for no limit poker tournaments.

The objective of this quiz is to determine if there are any holes in your no limit poker tournament game. And if so, where those holes exist.

The poker IQ includes 15 questions that will test your tournament poker knowledge. But unlike a simple quiz that provides the right answers, this test will actually provide an evaluation of what it means about your game when you select a wrong answer. You need to fix the leaks in your game. And you need to be able to identify and take advantage of your opponents' mistakes.

Take the Poker IQ quiz and see how you do. Of course, you can always disagree with the answers. That's poker...

How Do You Overcome Going Card Dead?

Sunday at the Oaks

At the Sunday tournament, I was on the big blind for $160. A player in early position raised to $500. A player on the button called. I looked down and found 6-7 offsuit. What would you do?

The pot had $1,240, and it was going to cost me $340 to call. Not bad pot odds.

I looked at the stacks. I had $5,000, the raiser only had about $2,000, and the player on the button had $7,000. Since the stack of the caller was deep, and the pot odds were good I called.

The flop 7-6-3 with a flush draw. The raised moved all-in. The caller just called. There was now about $5,240. I moved all in, and the caller folded. I won a big pot.

My opponents told me I was wrong to call with 7-6. Of course, they are wrong.

I won a few more hands and was up to about $11,000.

Moved To A New Table

We were down from 140 to 70 players. I got moved to a new table.

Players were moving all-in every hand since the blinds were increasing and they only had $3,000-$4,000 in chips. I never had a hand. I went card dead.

I never had a shot at just a pre-flop raise since players in front of me were pushing all the time. It was a bummer.

As the game got down to 50 players, I was down to $4,000 and the blinds were $800-$1,600. A desperate player moved all-in. A tight player moved all-in. I found K-Q suited.

My thinking: Maybe this is the time to make a bad play at the right time? The first player I put on any Ace, and the second player I figured for pocket Jacks or 10's, maybe Aces, since I had a K and Q.

I called. The first player had A-7, but the second player had pocket Kings. I was out.

Your Suggestions:

My question:

What do you do when you go card dead in a poker tournament?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How To Become A Better Poker Player

Hand Reading

No, this is not about reading palms to predict the future. It is about reading your opponent and the strength of his hole cards.

Hand reading is about narrowing down the range of hands an opponent may be holding against you. If you can improve your hand reading ability, you will become a better poker player.

And not for just the obvious reason--if he has a better hand than me, I fold. If not, I raise.

Why Hand Reading Is So Important

If you've ever watched Daniel Negreanu on TV, you'll notice that he always is thinking about what cards his opponent holds. Now, this is very important! He is not simply doing that to compare the strength of his hand against his opponent. He is doing that because on the flop he plays his opponent's hand.

Daniel wins more than his fair share of tournaments because on the flop he is thinking about his opponent's cards. And if he has a good idea of what his opponent is holding, he can use the community cards to take away the pot.

For example:

If his opponent raises under the gun with a standard 3x big blind raise, and that player is tight, Daniel will be thinking "big hand." Daniel is on the button with 5-4 suited. He looks at his opponent and sees he has a big stack. Daniel wants to win that stack. He calls not because he has a better hand. He calls because of the implied odds.

Now, the flop comes 7-9-10 with 2 suited cards, but not of Daniel's suit. His opponent bets 3/4ths of the pot. What should Daniel do?

Daniel has nothing but air. He figures his opponent has a big pocket pair or A-K. But he calls!


He calls the bet because if the flush card, a 6,8 or J hits the turn, he can take away the pot with the right sized bet on the turn. Especially if his opponent is weak, tight. He will actually win this pot with 5 high!

Oh yeah, sometimes Daniel flops to his suited connectors and wins with the best hand.

Hand Reading Exercises

The purpose of these exercises is to become a better poker player. If you haven't been winning or getting to the final table in MTT's, it is time to get out of your comfort zone.

Note: You will lose your money in some of these exercises, so select lower limits. However, don't let the blind levels be so low that no one ever folds to a raise pre-flop.

1. Play a low blind, limit poker cash game and raise every hand pre-flop. This will put you in a situation where the action and play revolves around you. You will feel the power of being in charge. It will also put you in the position of having to make difficult decisions.

2. Play in a small no-limit poker tournament, and raise pre-flop once out of every three hands. Again, you will see how players respond to you. You will learn to be creative and build your hand reading skills.

3. Watch a table of limit or no-limit poker for an hour and try to identify betting patterns and put players on hands. Think about how you would have played against players, or what you would have done. This is easier to do online. When was the last time you went to an online poker site, and watched the action trying to figure out what hands players were holding?

4. Do some player mapping. The next time you play in a tournament, actually write down notes about your opponents, especially their betting patterns. See if they hold true, and if it helps you to play better. Again, this is easier to do online.

As you get better at putting your opponents on hands, your poker results will also improve. You will become a better poker player.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2/19-Won the Twitter Poker Tournament #tpt

I know this isn't much of a cash win since it's only $5.50 buy-in with 40+ players, but I thought I would get down my thoughts of how I played before I forgot. Also, I hope that it helps you to improve your poker game.

Stage 1-Early Stages

At the start of an event I put aside about 20% for speculative hands. Tonight, I ended being down almost $500 from my original stack of $1,500--down 33% is not good.

A few hands later I was on the button and was the first in the pot. I was going for a blind steal--so I put in a small raise. Both the small and big blind called.

The flop came down 7 high with 2 cards for a flush draw. The small blind checked, and the big blind bet about half the pot. I had nothing. The way I used to play poker is to just fold. But, I don't play poker that way anymore. When I miss on the flop, I am thinking:

1. Play my opponent's hand. What does my opponent have?
2. Given my opponent's hand and looking at the flop, can I steal this pot on the turn?

I figured the big blind either had top or 2nd pair. Therefore, I thought with an overcard or third card to a flush, I could steal the pot. It sounds crazy but I really believed given my position, I was going to win this hand! I called. To my surprise the small blind also called.

The turn was a Q--not of the same suit as the other two cards, but it was an overcard.

Both blinds checked and I bet 3/4th of the pot. Both blinds folded.

I was now back to around $1,500. Did I get lucky? Maybe.

I slowly continued to accumulate chips by winning small pots uncontested. Either a small raise pre-flop and everyone folded, or a continuation bet on the flop if the flop looked harmless. I don't always make a continuation bet on the flop.

Middle Stages

I called a 3x pre-flop raise on the button with 3-4 suited. I know it's a lousy hand, but I was looking at the implied odds. My opponent had about $2,500 and I had about the same. Maybe I'd get lucky. After I called, the big blind also called.

The flop came A high--with a flush draw. I did not have the cards of the same suit, and I had the worse hand. The big blind checked, and the pre-flop raiser bet half the pot. Hmmm...I have air but that's irrelevant to me..(see above thinking).

This is a weak flop bet to me. If I call here and he doesn't have an Ace, he will check the turn and I will win with a bet. And if he does have an Ace and a 3rd card to a flush hits the turn, I believe I can take the pot away.

What about the big blind? Based on the prior hands, I was sure he would bet out if he had an Ace. So...yes, I called...and the big blind folded.

On the turn the flush card came. My opponent checked, and I bet half the pot. He folded quickly. It was a nice pot.

Then, I went card dead for a while..

At the $50-$100 blind level, the player under the gun raised to $350, another player called for $350, and I found K-K. The pot was $850. I wanted to win a big pot. What to do?

I decided that one of these players had to have a big pair; hopefully, the first raiser didn't have Aces. But, if he did..that's poker. I moved all-in to make it look like I had A-K. I typed in the chat box "fold, fold, fold" not expecting to see it appear--I thought when I player is all-in the chat box is disabled (am I wrong?).

Once I saw that players could read it, I typed it in a few more times as the first raiser couldn't decide his play. He did make the call and had J-J. The other opponent folded. I doubled up.

Later Stages

At one point my table was short-handed for a while. I raised pre-flop with a wide range of hands winning without any callers. It was strange how often I was stealing so late in the tournament. My stack kept growing.

If I got resistance, I would decide what to do based on the flop. But this was rare.

Final Table

I entered the final table with around $9,000-$10,000 in chips. It was one of the bigger stacks, I believe. But it was not the biggest stack.

I went card dead for a while at the final table. This wasn't too bad since other players were getting knocked out.

I did get a hand or two to build my stack. But, no hand comes to mind now.

When I believe it was 6 or 5 handed. I had A-7, and called a pre-flop raise from @zonetrap, and I believe there was one other player behind me who called. The flop came A high, and zonetrap bet very small relative to the pot. I thought I was ahead, and moved all-in. The other player folded and zonetrap had trapped me--as he had A-10.
Excellent play on his part!

I got lucky when my 7 hit the river. It was also a big jump in chips.


Heads-Up I was playing @ffcowboy76. I believe he had a lead of about $40,000 to $25,000.

There were two things I was thinking playing heads-up against him.

1. ffcowboy had been beating me when we played blind against blind at this final table. I was the small blind and he was the big blind. One time I even called him down with K high because I couldn't believe he was hitting his hand. I was wrong as he had a big hand--and I lost a decent sized pot at the time.

2. I love heads-up poker. And there is no way I will lose heads-up. Why do I think this?

When I play heads-up poker, I find that players betting patterns become more obvious. The key for me is to figure out the betting pattern, and play against it. Also, if the player is strong and aggressive, you have a better opportunity to win big pots. Believe me, ffcowboy is a strong and aggressive player.

The problem with finding out betting patterns though is that almost every heads-up match I play, I end up being behind at the start. The reason is that I like to play very passive and observe betting patterns.

The match began. And he was beating me. Over and over again.

Once I had a sense for how my opponent was playing, I changed.

I changed my betting pattern to counter my opponent.

I took a lead, and decided to get passive again hoping to hit something ugly. I was going for a trap. Unfortunately, it wasn't happening and ffcowboy was clearly outplaying me with his bets on the flop and turn.

Now ffcowboy had the lead, and he really was showing himself to be a better player than me.

I once again changed my play to reflect his betting patterns on the flop and turn. It meant being more aggressive with raises and check-raises--not all of the time, of course. But, when my opponent bet size seemed off or weak to me.

I picked my spots and I was slowly making my way back. ffcowboy was too good a player to let me just walk away with a win.

I had K-7, and called the pre-flop raise. The flop came down with two Kings and a rag, and a possible flush draw. I knew that if I check-called the flop, my opponent would slow down on the turn. Instead, I wanted to win a big pot. I figured he had something like A high or a pair given his pre-flop raise. So I moved all in.

After I moved all-in, ffcowboy thought for a while and finally called. He had pocket 4's. I now had a big lead...

But, he didn't go away and he started to win back his chips in the next few hands.

Finally, I had 9-3 and we both called pre-flop. The flop came K-9-6 with 2 spades.

I bet the flop and my opponent raised. Now, he didn't move all-in which most players would do here. Instead, he left about $1,500 behind. What does this mean?

Funny, but I've written about this play in my book! It is one of my favorite plays. In this situation moving all-in makes it look like you are weak and trying to hit your flush draw. Leaving a few chips behind makes it seem that you want the action, and have top pair or better.

I was about to move ffcowboy all in, when I was wondering if he may really have the King. No, I thought, he is an excellent player. This is a great bet.

I moved him in for his remaining stack. He called, of course.

He had a 6 for the third pair on the board and the other card he had didn't help...I was way ahead.

The turn was a 6! Unreal...he hits the miracle card...putting him back in the..

The river was a 9! Talk about suck and re-suck...

I win the #tpt event.

Anyway, I hope this analysis helps everyone who plays. I apologize if I am off on the specifics of the above hands, or forgetting other hands. I also apologize if I offended anyone. Frankly, I thought ffcowboy played better than me most of the time we competed heads-up. I just got luckier than him at the right time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How To Take Advantage of Your Position in Poker

What Is Position?

Think of position as simply where you are seated at the poker table relative to the big blind. If you are in the first three positions after the big blind, you are in an early position. If you are in the last three positions before the small blind, you are in a late position.

Why Position Is Important

Here are some reasons why your position at the poker table is important both pre-flop after the flop:

1. If you are acting in the first three positions after the big blind you are at a disadvantage since there are so many players who act after you do. These players can find a premium hand and force you to either fold or call a raise with the worst hand.

2. If you are acting from the button or the cut-off position, you are at an advantage since you know the action that took place in front of you, and you will have position throughout the hand. As a result, you can make better decisions and make plays to put pressure on your earlier opponents or try to steal the blinds.

3. If you are in the small blind, you are in the worst position since you must act first from the flop on.

4. If you are the pre-flop raiser, it is to your advantage to have position on your opponents. Again, you want the action in front of you since it gives you additional information which can help your decision-making. And, if you flop a big hand, it is easier to build a bigger pot when you have position on your opponent.

5. Overall, when having position on your opponents, you have more options on how to get the most chips in the pot. Of course, you can also use a bad position relative to your opponent to your advantage.

How To Take Advantage of Your Position

1. Let's say you are on the button and two players have limped into the hand. You find Q-J offsuit. While players tend to call with this hand to see a flop, you can make a raise to try to get your opponents to fold. This play is more effective when you have not entered a pot in a long time, and your opponents tend to fold to pre-flop raises.

2. Now, continuing with the above example, let's say you get one limper to call your raise. Even if the flop misses your hand, since you have position on your opponent you can make a continuation bet to try to get him to fold.

3. Another classic example of using position to your advantage is a squeeze play. A simple example of a squeeze play is when one player raises pre-flop, another one calls that bet, and a third player makes a big re-raise. This bet squeezes the first player--as he not only has to decide if his hand is better than the re-raiser, but he also has to worry about the caller. This is a great play to use in no limit tournaments to win a big pot.

4. Of course, the most common plays to use position to your advantage is when no one has entered the pot, and you are in a late position or the small blind. Acting first allows you to attack the blinds and try to steal them with a pre-flop raise. Every hand starts as a battle for the blinds--so try to win the battle with a position pre-flop raise.

5. You can also turn your bad position to your advantage. Let's say that three players have limped into the pot, and you check on the big blind with Q-J offsuit. The flop is 2-2-6. You check, but the last player to act bets. If you call, it will look like you may have caught the deuce. Being in the blind gives your opponent pause that you have a "big blind special." A lousy starting hand that got just the right flop to end up with a monster.

6. Another example where acting first is an advantage is when you are on the big blind and there are three callers. The flop comes Q-8-2 rainbow. Everyone checks. The turn card is a 5. This pot is ripe for stealing as no one has shown strength on the flop, and you act first. A bet here will usually take down the pot.


There are many ways to take advantage of your position in a no limit poker tournament. Look to use your position as a key tool in accumulating chips. As you recognize more opportunities to use your position, you will find that it can be more important than your hole cards.

Learn to use position to your advantage in no limit poker tournaments.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How To Use The Isolation Play In Poker

What Is The Isolation Play?

The isolation play is simply that: a poker moves that isolates your hand against just one opponent. When you make a bet so big (usually moving all-in) after at least one other play is pot committed (or all-in), your bet is attempting to get other players to fold and gets you heads-up or "isolated" against that one pot committed opponent.

When To Use The Isolation Play

An isolation play is best when you have a hand that does better heads up, like pocket pairs. When you raise as an isolation play you need to make a large enough bet to force other players to fold.

An isolation play can be also be used to isolate a bluffer, a maniac, or a player on a draw.

Examples of Isolation Plays

In the middle to late stages of a tournament, use the isolation play with small to middle pocket pairs.


You have pocket 8's in middle position. It is late in the tournament. The blinds are $3,000-$6,000. You have $100,000. A player in early position with $20,000 moves all-in. A second player, with $120,000, calls this raise. What should you do?

You don't want to call since you would have to beat both players with your medium pocket pair. Since the second player did not re-raise, you can assume that his hand is not strong. The isolation play will get you heads-up against the all-in player...unless the caller is trying a trap with pocket Aces.

Move all-in.


You have pocket 3's. It is the middle of the tournament. The blinds are $500-$1,000. You have $22,000, and are in the big blind. Everyone folds to the button. The player on the button only has $2,000, and moves all-in. The small blind, with $18,000, calls for half a bet. What should you do?

Again, calling is not a good play since you have to beat two players with a small pair. You want to isolate yourself against the all-in player.

Move all-in.


The isolation play is an excellent play since it shows strength and usually forces other opponents to fold. By competing against one opponent with a hand increases your chances of taking down the pot significantly. It can be a risky play, but winners take smart risks.

I Won Every Hand I Played!

I entered a $20 NL sit'n go on Full Tilt.

I won every hand I played. It was sick. It can only happen online!

The software was helping me win for sure. No way that happens in real life. No way I get that lucky. Maybe it's because I hadn't played a sit n go in like two years?

Some hands:

Early on, I was raised on the big blind and called with J-8 offsuit. The flop came A-J-4. I checked, opponent checked. Then came a queen. Check-check. Then came a 6...for runner runner flush possible. I checked and called the river bet. My opponent had a small pocket pair, and I won. I was off to the races...

I stole a couple of times in position with 2 1/2x raises of the BB.

Later on with around 5 players left:

I called a small raise on the big blind with 6-6. Opponent hit top pair, but I hit a set. I went all in on the turn, and was called to win a big pot.

Key hand I raised under the gun 2 1/2 times the BB with J-J. My opponent who was in 2nd or 3rd place in chips called my raise from the button. The flop came Q-10-8. I checked, and my opponent checked. The 9 hit on the turn giving me a straight. I checked. My opponent bet the flop, and I moved all in. I got an insta-call. My opponent had Q-Q. The river was a 2.

Now I was way ahead. I raised on the button with 3-5 suited. The small blind moved all-in. It was not enough for me to fold. Opponent A-J. I hit a 3 on the river to win.

Down to 3 players. I had $10,000 in the SB. The BB only had $850. I moved all in with two rags. My rule is 10x's or more your opponent's stack, just move all-in. Opponent called. I hit my rag card and won.

Down to 2 way I will lose heads-up.

1st hand on the button. I raised with pocket 6's. Opponent folded.
2md hand. My opponent raised 2 1/2x's, and I called with 3-6 offsuit. I figured I was so hot, why not see the flop.

The flop was 5-5-4. Check-check.

The turn was a 7. Check-bet-and I moved all in. My opponent called with 7-8. River was a 9.

I was only $90...but I thank the non-RNG for making me look like a poker pro tonight. It only took 32 minutes.

I tried to play heads-up cash again, but every time I sat down my opponent would leave either right away or after a few hands. I finally got a couple of games. I ended up even, and decided I wasn't focused on being aggressive. I was getting into FPS-fancy play syndrome, so I left.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday results: Tourney and Heads-up

$225 buy-in
131 players NL poker

I took the first round off to get some lunch. The next two rounds went well, and I was up to about $8,000 from the starting $5,000. I wasn't getting premium hands but finding opportunities to play--you know--maybe I should call them "Negreanu" hands--since they are two cards which might end up being something. You know 5-3, 9-8, etc. The implied odds were good and yes, I even was willing to call small raises.

For the fourth round, a new dealer sat down and proceeded to give me A-K twice, A-Q, J-J--and all turned out to be losers. The pocket Jacks hand was tough. A tight player in early position put in a three time raise. I had position and called. My stack was still big enough, not to have to push. The flop came all rags. My opponent pushed all-in, slightly over-betting the flop.

Here we go again...this reminded me of the day before. I studied my opponent for some clue. He looked up at me and did not quickly look away. I find that if players look at you, and quickly look away in that situation, they have A-K. This guy did not, so I put him on a premium pair. Given that tell and his being so tight for the past 90 minutes, I folded.

He proudly showed pocket Aces.

I was back down to $4,000.

As the blinds increased and my stack slowly declined, I was planning to move all-in with my no-look blind steal. However, the problem was that other players were getting desperate and pushing in before me.

I was now down to $2,400 and we were down to 60 players. The blinds were $150-$300 plus $75 ante, and they about to double. I was on the button. The player under the gun moved all-in for $8,000. I found A-6. In this situation, I have to move all-in and play the weak Ace. After I moved all-in, so did the small blind. The first opponent had Kings, and the next one had K-Q. I hit the Ace on the turn.

With about $8,000, and on the next hand I was dealt pocket 10's. A player with about $2,000 moved all-in, and the next guy called--the guy with pocket Aces from earlier. This player had been hitting so many big pairs--he had already been dealt pocket Aces twice, pocket Kings twice, and pocket Queens once--and had about $15,000.

Again, he is a tight player who had been getting great cards way too often. I figured he either had a medium strength hand or setting a trap with pocket Aces. I dismissed the Aces since he had already been dealt that hand twice. I decided to get him off his hand by moving all in. To my surprise, the big blind called all-in. And, yeah, that same player had pocket Aces AGAIN!

We went to the flop. My 10's against 4's, A's and K-Q. The flop came with Ace and two rags--but they were all hearts! I was the only one with a heart! But, no hearts after the flop, and I was on my home.

Full Tilt Heads-up
I bought into the $1-$2 NL cash game--heads-up again--for $150.

It's amazing how many tables there are with just one player. And each one of those players is at multiple heads-up games. Anyway, I sat down to play some guy with an aggressive name. I can''t recall it now.

The first hand he raised, and I folded.
The next hand, I raised, he re-raised, and I folded.
The next hand, he raised and I folded.
The next hand, I called and he raised, and I folded.
The next hand he raised, and I was not going to fold again! Yes, I had awful cards but at some point, you have to take a stand. And, this time I had something....

I had A-5 and I called. The flop came Ace high. I check called his 3/4th size bet.
The turn was another rag. I check raised all-in his 3/4 high size bet. He insta-called and showed A-K. Oh, well...the river was a 5! The spoils of playing online poker:)

We played another 5 minutes--and it was normal play--maybe he did have a few strong hands from the start. I left ahead $139.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How would you play this poker hand?

All this talk about online poker, I decided to play this am.

I hadn't played for a while, so I figured the software might help me--you know, to keep me hooked. (Yeah, I know, you think I'm crazy/stupid about online poker.)

Since I didn't have time for a tournament--I have my Sunday event in about an hour--and there is no collusion with a heads-up game, I played in a $1-$2 cash HU game. I bought in for $150.

Situation: Heads-Up cash. I have $150. My opponent has $200. (Also, my opponent is sitting and waiting for opponents at other HU tables so he probably has a lot of experience.)

Hand one: I'm in the big blind for $2.

My opponent raises to $6.

I have K-2 offsuit. I call. (Note: No, it's not a bad play on my part.)

The flop comes down A-K-2 with two spades.

My opponent bets $10.

What to do?

a) Call
b) Raise to $20-$40.
c) Move all-in.

Since this was the first hand, and it's online poker, my opponent has no clue about me as a player. I am hoping he has A-Q and not A-K...but flopping two pair ain't easy.

Of course, there are two cards to a flush draw.

My thinking:

If I call, there are few if any cards on the turn that are going to build the pot for me...or add to my comfort level.

If I raise, I might just slow down his betting, and again, what will I do on the turn since I have bottom two pair and not top two pair?

if a push all-in here, he may think a)I'm some crazy online poker player and 2)I'm on a flush draw. I want a call since I'm willing to is poker, and not a science.

I move all-in. He insta-calls.

The turn is a 2...and I win $150.

Since I hate people who win a big hand and leave right away, I played for 15 more minutes. Nothing exciting happened. I ended up +$142.

8 Poker Tells That Work (Usually)

Since OhCaptain just posted about tells on his poker blog, I thought I would follow up on some tells as well.

What is a Poker Tell?

A poker "tell" is any behavior or habit that your opponent does that can signal the strength or weakness of his hand. By watching for a tell you will be in a better position to make the right decisions at the poker table.

First, you need to be thinking about looking for tells before you sit down at the table and when you sit down at the table.

Yes, you need a plan. Looking for tells is difficult. You need to commit to learning this skill. It is not easy.

Second, select one player at the table that you'll end up playing the most against, and focus on his play. The most likely candidates are the player to your immediate left and/or right since you'll be heads up in the blinds against them.

Example: At a poker tournament in Reno, the woman to my left would reveal if she would play her hand or not on where she placed her card protector. If it was on the cards, after she looked at her hole cards, she was folding. If it was off the cards, she was playing. After I peeked at my cards, I always waited for her to look at her cards, and where she was going to place that protector, before deciding what action to take.

8 Poker Tells That Work (Usually)

1. Players who act strong are weak, and players who act weak are strong.

I know you've read this idea a million times, but it still works. Today, when that experienced player moved all-in on the flop, and I had an overpair I took a long time to decide what to do. I had pocket 10's and the flop was all rags. My opponent was acting so weak, I knew he had to be strong so I folded. He showed pocket Queens.

2. Players who talk after they bet will often have something to talk about.

They just can't hold back their excitement about having a strong hand. I will fold if a player who has been quiet for a long time, bets and starts talking to me.

3. Players who peek at their cards after a flop comes with three suited cards, do not have two cards of that suit.

If they had the flush, they wouldn't need to look. Next time you do hit the flush on the flop, look at your cards and make sure your opponent notices. You will take down a big pot.

4. Players who make a bet, and then are motionless and hold their breath, are often bluffing.

This is not set in stone. But, this player doesn't want to give away their bluff, so they just sit still.

5. Players who bet too fast when a scare card hits, don't have the made hand that scare card would provide.

Again, this is not always the case. Trust but verify based on prior observations.

6. A player who calls a flop bet without thinking is usually on the draw.

The reason this tends to be true is because if he had top pair, two pair, or a set, he would stop and think about what to do after the bet was made. Wouldn't you? A draw is just a simple call. Not much to think about in that situation.

7. Players who jump out of their seat after they move all-in pre-flop, have not made a play for a long time, and then stay to hover at the table, are strong.

Again, they are excited, or they want the action. In either case, lean toward folding.

8. Players who make a pre-flop raise and then watch the action around the table like a hawk, may have pocket Aces.

You will notice these players since they want the action. They will often try to hide that they are looking at the action after their bet, but they can't wait to jump if someone who raises.


These poker tells are a guide. Trust but verify is a good rule.

But once you find a reliable tell on your opponent, your results will improve significantly when you play against him.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why I Almost Never Play Online Poker

Clearly, online poker should be regulated to make sure kids don't play, the software is legit, and the tax money.

I believe that online poker Random Number Generators have been altered to allow for more interesting hand confrontations and bigger pots. The bigger pots generate a bigger rake for the online companies. Yes, they have an incentive to jiggle the software--it means a lot more money.

There are simply too many bad beats online--and big hand versus big hand confrontation--compared to B&M.

The excuse has been that you see more hands online. That is nonsense. Play online poker for 15 minutes, and you can't doubt the bs in the game.

The one thing people point out is that the sites have no incentive to do that for tournament play. Yes, these people are right that the sites take the same buy-in fee from everyone. But, they miss something very important.

If the RNG is adjusted for cash play, they are not about to re-adjust them for tournament play. There is no incentive needed. The program is already rigged for bigger showdowns and more bad beats. There is no reason to make it more accurate for tournament play.

I admit that sometimes I do play online poker. And I admit that I tend to play heads-up games rather than any other forms of poker. The reason is that while the software is still rigged, it eliminates collusion and I feel I have an edge against many players who plays heads-up like they do at a full table.

Only 4% of the people prefer to play online. My guess is that these people probably like the convenience and/or muulti-tabling.

Frankly, if they actually regulated online poker it would be a boost for everyone in the poker business. More players would participate in poker overall, and more players mean more games and bigger prize pools.

Saturday Poker at the Oaks: Doh!

Special $330 buy-in at Oaks.

Played well. Got some luck.

6-7 on the big blind. 5 callers.

Flop A-5-8. One player bet the pot of $600. The small blind called. I called. The turn was a This time the guy bet $1,200. The small blind moved all in. I looked at the board a second time. Yeah, I have a straight. I moved all-in. The small blind had A-10.

I called a big cut-off raise on the small blind with A-J. Flop came J high. My opponent bet on flop, turn, and river. River completed both flush and straight. I called. He had pocket 5's.

I also slowed played top pairs with weak kicker three times, and someone always tried to steal the pot on the river. I called the river bet each time and won. I wanted to keep the pot small.

Another hand...player raised pre-flop to $1,900. Big blind $600. I called with pocket 10's. Flop came 5-3-2. He moved all-in. It would cost me $7,000. I thought a long while. He seemed to be trying very hard to get me to call, so I folded. He flipped over pocket Queens. Phew!!

Built up to $27,000..from $6,000.

After break, they moved an older guy to the table. He had more chips than me. But he was making all-in moves. One time he showed nothing when he had K-5. I figure I would trap him.

It was $400-$800, with $100 ante. I had K-J in middle position. Not a hand I want to go broke on. I raised to $2,100. Yes, this is a small ball bet size. Only the older guy in the big blind called.

Flop K-9-2. He checked and I checked. I knew he would bet big on the turn, so I would trap him and move all in.

The turn was a 4. He grabbed a bunch of chips and bet $7,000 into the pot of about $5,000. I moved all-in. He asked for a count. It would cost him $9,000 to call.

He called. He turned over K-Q. Doh!

Finished in 26th place.

Poll Results: 62% prefer Bellagio

Poll: You have AA. Opponent has KK. Both all-in preflop to win $1 million. Would you prefer to see the outcome dealt by:

An online poker site like PokerStars: 4%
A dealer at Bellagio that uses an automatic shuffler: 62%
No preference: 34%

Total replies: 134.

The Book Winner is Mike From Canada

And, the best bad beat story goes to ryanarneson19

I was playing in a 5/10 limit game on pokerstars and got dealt KK. I raised from middle position and the button 3-bet, everyone folded to me and I capped, he calls. Flop came down K76 with the K and 6 being spades, I bet out, he raised, I reraised, he capped and I called. Turn came an offsuit 5, again we capped the pot. River falls 7 of spades, completing the flush draw but giving me kings full! We capped again and I turn over my kings full only to have my opponent show 77 for quads :(

Since Ryan's bad beat story was best/worst he will also get a copy of one of my books.

Thanks everyone for entering the contest!

Friday, February 13, 2009

11 Steps From Poker Beginner to Poker Winner (2)

Here are steps 6-11

Step 6: Know these 4 most common probabilities in hold’em poker.

•If your starting hand is not a pair, the probability of hitting one pair on the flop is about 32%. That's right, you (and your opponent) will not improve on the flop 2 out of 3 times.
•If your starting hand is a pair, the probability of hitting three of a kind on the flop is 12%.
•If your starting hand is two suited cards and 2 cards of the same suit flop, called a flush draw, the probability of making a flush is 36%.
•If you flop a straight draw, 4 cards to a straight, the probability of making a straight is 36%.

Step 7: Knowing the probabilities helps you decide how or if you should play your hand. All you need to do is compare the probability versus the pot odds.

The pot odds are the amount of your bet compared to the amount of money in the pot. For example, let’s say the pot has $50, and your opponent bets $50. To call that bet it will cost you $50 to win $100. That means you are getting 2-1 on your bet (the pot odds).

Now, let’s assume that your opponent made that bet on the flop, and you have a flush draw. You believe that if you make a flush you will win the pot. So, your probability is 36%, which is about 2-1. Since the pot odds are right, you should make the call.

Step 8: A trick in making the correct decision is to know not just the pot odds, but to know the implied odds.

Implied odds simply includes how much additional money you will win if you make your desired hand. Using the above example, if you and your opponent both had $1,000, and you hit your flush, your implied odds may actually be the $50 to win over $1,000! That means your implied odds are 20-1!

But wait. Your implied odds are really much less, since if you make your flush (let’s say on the next community card or turn), your opponent will see that you made your hand, and he will just fold to your bet. So, you end up with winning just the $100 in the pot for your $50 call.

That is why if the hand you are trying to make to win a pot is hidden from your opponent, you will usually win a lot more money. Your implied odds are higher, since he will not know that he is beat and will call your bets.

Step 9: In a poker tournament since the bets increase each round, you must learn to accumulate chips.

This is one of the most important things to learn in tournament play. You can’t sit back and wait for the best starting two hands. You must steal the blinds, especially as they increase each round. As a result, you need to learn the different ways to steal blinds, pots and accumulate chips.

Here are some tips:
•Blinds steals: When you are one of the last players to act pre-flop, and no one has entered the pot, raise with any two cards. Specifically, if you are on the button (the player to the right of the blinds), or the cut-off (The player two to the right of the blinds), just raise. You only have to beat a few players to win the pot.
•Power steals: Raise pre-flop when other players just call. When a player calls the blind, he has a good but not a great hand. When he raises the blind, he is telling everyone he has a strong hand. If other players call, raise them and tell them to fold since your hand is better.
•Continuation bets: If you do raise pre-flop and a player calls your raise, don’t give up. On the flop, your opponent will not improve his hand 2 out of 3 times, so make a continuation bet; that is, make a bet on the flop as if you made your hand. It will often force your opponent to fold.

Step 10: Play your opponent’s hand and not your hand. This is the most important tip in poker and most players don’t even know it.

Since your opponent can’t see your hole cards, you can always hold the winning hand. If you know when your opponent is weak, you can play your cards like you have the winning hand.

Example: Let’s say your opponent raises pre-flop with pocket Aces. You call his raise with pocket 2’s hoping. The flop comes down 8-7-6 all of hearts. This is a bad flop for you. But, forget about your hand.

Unless your opponent has an Ace of hearts, he can’t be feeling too comfortable. When he bets on the flop, think about what you can do to win the pot. If you call his bet, and a heart, 4, 5, 9 or 10 hit on the turn (21 cards), what’s your opponent going to do since it looks like you may have made a flush or straight.

If he checks the turn and you bet, what will he do? If he bets the turn, and you raise him, what will he do?

It’s important to know what your opponent will do in these situations and to play his hand not your hand. No limit tournament poker is about accumulating chips, stealing blinds and pots, and playing your opponent’s hand. Since most of the hand is revealed on the flop, figure out the range of hands your opponent is holding and play against these hands. Even if you don’t really have a better hand, you can win the pot because you are playing your opponent’s hand.

Step 11: Don’t go on tilt!

Poker is gambling. And even when you are a favorite to win a pot, you are not really that big of a favorite. If your opponent hits that one card to beat you on the river, don’t get so angry that you lose your composure. This is called going on tilt (If you want to laugh at a player who goes on tilt for all sorts of reasons, just visit YouTube and put in “Hellmuth.”)

When you go on tilt, you make bad decisions. If you do get angry at the poker table, before you play another pot and make a bad decision, walk away from the table. Take a break and calm down. They will deal you another hand when you return--I promise.

11 Steps From Poker Beginner to Poker Winner (Part 1)

These are the first 5 steps. Part 2 will have the final 6 steps.

Step 1: Learn the rules of poker, and how tournament poker is different.

You need to know the ranking of hands….from no pair to a royal flush. The basics (in ascending order): no pair, one pair, two pairs, three of a kind, a straight, flush, and full house. These are the most common hands.

A poker tournament is different than other forms of poker since everyone starts with the same number of chips, there are rounds that are timed, after each round the amount you bet increases, and you play until one player has all the chips.

Step 2: No limit hold’em poker is the game to learn since you can win millions--just like on TV.

This game is simple to play.
1. Each player gets dealt two cards down. Players call, raise or fold.
2. The dealer turns over three community cards, called the flop. Players still in the pot check, bet or fold.
3. The dealer turns over one community card, called the turn. Players still in the pot check, bet or fold.
4. The dealer turns over one last community card, called the river. Players still in the pot check, bet or fold.
5. The player with the best hand wins.

In a tournament, there are forced bets called the blinds (where you have to put money in the pot before seeing your cards). The blinds are important since everyone takes a turn in putting in those bets, and a poker tournament at it’s most basic level is a battle for these blinds.

Step 3: Know which are the best starting hands in a poker tournament.

After you get your first two down cards, you need to decide to play the hand or not. And if you play will you call or raise.

In general, the highest pairs are the best starting hands--pocket Queens, Kings, and Aces. Suited connectors are good starting hands--like 7-6, 8-7, 10-9, where both cards are the same suit (called suited)--since you can make flushes and straights. Ace-King is a strong hand since if you improve on the flop, you will often have top pair, top kicker (the highest ranking unpaired) card--like a pair of Kings with an Ace kicker.

Step 4: Practice, practice, practice

There is nothing more important than getting practice. Practice leads to experience. Experience will make it easier for you to improve.

The fastest way to get practice without it costing you a dime is to sign-up to play at an online poker site. The biggest is The .net is a free site--so they give you chips for free. The only downside to learning this way is that everyone is a big gambler--after all, it’s free!

Step 5: There are probabilities in poker you need to know; fortunately, there is a trick that makes this is easy.

First you need to know what an “out” is in poker. An out is the number of cards you need to complete your hand or to make a specific hand. Second, probabilities are the percentage of the time you will end up with a desired hand.

To figure out the probability of making a desired hand, you take the number of outs and multiply this number by 4 or 2. Multiply it by 4 if there are 2 cards left to see, and multiply it by 2 if there is one card to come.

Example: If you have two hearts as down cards, and the flop has 2 hearts, you have 9 cards to make a flush. 9 times 4 is equal to a 36% probability of making a flush if you see the next two cards.

Win A Poker Book Contest

In honor of Friday the 13th, I am holding a contest to win either my Tournament Poker or Razz Poker book.

Here is how to enter:

You can get up to 3 entries:

You get one entry just by submitting your Twitter name to me at "Mitchell1969" or my email address Just mention the contest in your tweet.

You get two entries by submitting your worst bad beat story. (Seems right for a Friday the 13th.)

Please email your bad beat story to me at I will post the worst/funniest bad beat stories on my blog.

The contest ends midnight Pacific Time on Friday the 13th. I will pull the winner's Twitter name out of a hat one minute past midnight, and immediately announce the winner.

Good luck! If you need to know more about the books, check the reviews on

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poker Domination-Does It Really Exist?

What is Domination in Poker?

I've had this bad run of luck. The streaks where I lose A-K versus A-Q, K-Q versus K-J, or A-K against A-x. Of course after I lose someone says, "Gee, your hand dominated."

Thanks. Now where did I park my car?

When you and your opponent hold the same highest-ranking card, but you have the better kicker, it's called domination.

A common example is in a no limit tournament when one player moves all-in pre-flop with A-Q and another player calls his all-in bet holding Ace-King. The player with the A-K is said to "dominate" since the King is a higher ranking card than the Queen.

The facts are that the player with the higher ranking kicker is better than a 2-1 favorite. In the example above, the Ace-King hand is 74%/26%.

Domination in Poker is Not All That Dominant

Domination means you have control or power over someone. In poker, you have squat.

Poker is gambling. You are going to lose almost one in every four heads-up battles when you "dominate" your opponent. These are great odds, of course, but...

for some reason, you lose these heads-up battles at the worst time in a tournament. It either means you are going to suffer a huge loss in chips or be knocked out.


The next time someone says your hand dominates, resist the urge to smack him:-)

Feel good about being in the lead, but don't get too comfortable. While being a big favorite is a great situation, the fact is you may end up walking away with car keys in hand.

Its those gods of poker who are really in control..

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

10 Mistakes To Avoid at Poker

The 10 Common Mistakes

Here are ten common mistakes that players make in a poker tournament. Don't make these errors and your probability of winning will improve.

Mistake #1. Playing a poker tournament not to lose or playing a poker tournament to survive.
Play a poker tournament to win by accumulating chips. Take chances. Risk is good.

Comment: Frankly this is my number one problem in tournaments. I get in the habit of thinking that I can just be patient and wait for the right situation. That is a mistake, since when I go card dead when the blinds are big, I'm stuck in a deep hole that is usually impossible to get out of.

Mistake #2. Not knowing the right time to move all-in as the first pre-flop raiser.
Move all-in when your chips are nine times or less the big blind.

Comment: How to remember this rule: Don't get behind the 8 ball.

Mistake #3. Not knowing when to move all-in after a pre-flop raiser.
Move all-in when your chips are eight times or less the initial raisers chip total and you have a medium pocket pairs, or A-J suited or better.

Comment: I get grief from players who disagree with this rule. Hey, I didn't make this one up, many pros use this rule.

Mistake #4. Not respecting raises from players in the first three positions after the big blind.

Upfront raises tend to mean premium hands. Be careful if you plan to be in the hand.

Comment: It's true that some players don't think about position, but adjust your play accordingly.

Mistake #5. Giving too much respect to players who raise on the cutoff (one right of the button) or on the button.
Raises from these positions are often based on position and not the strength of their hands.

Comment: The exception is if this is the first time the player has raised pre-flop since the Cubs won a World Series.

Mistake #6. Not understanding your table image or the table image of your opponents.
Get a read on how your opponents play their hands. Get a read on how they think you play your hands. Playing the opposite of your table image is a winning approach.

Comment: If you haven't entered a pot in a long time, and you are in position, look to steal. That is, if everyone folds to you on the cut-off, just raise. Your cards don't matter as you have such a tight table image.

Mistake #7. Catching the FPS poker disease. FPS=Fancy Play Syndrome.
Don't get fancy and try to show how smart you are by playing the opposite. Play straight forward poker.

Comment: This is one of the mistakes I made when I first started playing poker. I guess I wanted to show how clever/smart I was at the game. But sometimes being clever allowed my opponent to hit his two outer on the river and beat me.

Mistake #8. Not knowing how to semi-bluff.
A semi-bluff is a bet where you think your opponent will fold to your bet but if he does call you have outs to win. If you know he won't fold, it is not a semi-bluff. It is simply a bad play.

Comment: In reality it is often the right play to bet your draws. However, make that play only if you expect your opponent to fold to your bet or your bet will let you see the next card for less than if you checked your hand.

Mistake #9. Pre-flop, never re-raising a player who raises unless you have pocket King or pocket Aces.
If you are not willing to re-raise a pre-flop raiser without having the nuts (pocket Aces), you will never win.

Comment: If you re-raise your opponent, he will put you on those hands anyway. Also, check out the squeeze play--it is a very effective play to build up your chips in one pot.

Mistake #10. Pre-flop when everyone folds to you, raising on the button with a good hand, and then calling an all-in move by one of the players in the blinds.
If you are going to call the all-in move by a player in the blind, you should move all-in on the button. It puts the pressure on your opponents.

Comment: Often the player on the button agonizes over what to do before he makes the call of an all-in move. Hey, just push all-in first and let your opponent agonize over his decision.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Poker: When to Move All-in

Your Chips Are Bleeding Out

You are playing a no limit hold'em poker tournament. Unfortunately things are not going well.

Your chip stack is low, and in order to get back in the hunt, you must make an all-in move. But when is the right time to move all-in?

You can't wait too long or your chip stack will get so low that any raise you make will be called. And you don't want to move all-in too soon or you are going to put at risk too many chips when a standard raise is the best move.

Don't Get Behind the 8 Ball

The time to move all-in is when your chip stack is nine times or less the big blind. But, you want to make this all-in move as the first pre-flop raiser.

Why nine times the big blind instead of ten times the big blind?

At nine times the big blind you are getting slightly better odds on your play. For example, if your pre-flop raise is three times the big blind, and an opponent moves you all-in, you will be getting roughly 2.25 to 1.

At ten times the big blind, you are getting odds of 2 to 1 in the same scenario.

And the reason why you move all-in and don't just raise three times the big blind is because you want to make it less attractive for your opponents to call your bet. Plus, you also need to accumulate chips and doubling up at this stage is crucial if you expect to win.

What about eight times the big blind? It's a close decision between moving all-in with nine times or eight times the big blind. Frankly when you get down to either situation, move all-in. You need chips to win. So push your chips in the middle of the table and hope for the best.


Moving all-in pre-flop is an important play in a no limit tournament. If you get low in chips, remember not too wait too long and get below nine times the big blind. Take action. Embrace the risk in the game.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Gap Concept Leads To Small Ball in Poker

What is the Gap Concept?

The Gap Concept is the pre-flop notion that you need a stronger hand to enter a pot after a player in front of you has already raised. This was a fairly popular idea many years ago as players wanted to avoid confrontations where an opponent indicated strength before you acted; unless, of course, you found yourself with a premium starting hand.

The positive coming from this concept was that it made opponents think twice before entering a raised pot. It allowed stronger players to open raise with a wider range of starting hands and steal pots.

This happens today in events, but much less often than in the past. The reason is that players are better as they get so much experience playing online.

The Gap Concept Today: It's Dead

As opponents got smarter, the stronger players were faced with more action. Now when these players raised pre-flop they would get one or two callers. It put their flop skills to the test.

So today, you will see more limping into the pot than in the past. And you will find that more players want to be involved in hands and see the flop. After all, if online poker has taught us anything, it is that any two starting cards can win a pot.

In fact, in limit cash games you will find that more players look at a flop with a wide range of starting hands. And in no limit games, you will find that players will call pre-flop raises with a wider range of hands due to the implied odds (that is, if I call this small raise and get lucky on the flop, I can win all those chips my opponent has in his stack).

Small Ball Strategy

If you follow Daniel Negreanu in CardPlayer columns from the early days, you will notice how his game has changed over the years. Today, he is an advocate of a small ball strategy as he understands that:

1. You are battling for the blinds and antes
2. You need to accumulate chips to win a poker tournament
3. You want to eliminate as many opponents as possible pre-flop
4. You want to see the flop cheap--no limit hold'em is a flop game
5. You want to outplay your opponents by playing his hand

As a result, Daniel will often raise pre-flop 2 or 2 1/2 times the big blind. If he gets callers, he will see what happens with the flop. If he gets a raise, he is willing to call and see the flop. And, of course, if he gets everyone to fold he wins the blinds and antes.

The other advantages to his strategy is that by entering a lot of pots:
1. He has an opportunity to trap those times he finds a premium hand.
2. He can steal pots with bluffs on the turn. So, if the flop comes down somewhat coordinated (J-7-5), his opponent has to be concerned that Daniel has hands like 6-8 or 9-10 or 8-9, etc. The result is that when Daniel calls his opponent's flop bet, if a card to make a straight appears, what is his opponent going to do? Daniel can steal the pot or maybe he has the straight.
3. He steals a lot of pots uncontested because opponents are afraid of being outplayed.

Do you recall Daniel's That's Not Poker comment at the WSOP? His opponent did not want to get involved with Daniel so he raised Daniel all-in pre-flop.

Can you blame the guy?


Give small ball a try at your next tournament. To learn more about small ball strategy, pick up his new book "Power Hold'em Strategy." I just bought my copy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What is Poker Table Image and Why it's Important.

What is Table Image?

A player's table image refers to a style of play. One common way to describe a player's table image is by how often they play a hand.

For example, if a player has not entered a pot for a long time, you should think of that player's image as being tight. He is tight since he seems to have a very narrow range of playing hands.

If a player has entered every other pot, you should think of that player's image as being loose. It is loose since he can not be getting that many top starting hands; that is, he has a wide range of starting hands to enter a pot.

Another way to describe a player's table image is by the action they take when they do play a hand.

For example, if that tight player only enters the pot with a pre-flop raise, he can be described as both tight and aggressive. He is aggressive because he enters every pot with a pre-flop raise.

However, if that tight player only enters the pot by calling the big blind, he can be described as passive. He is passive because he is a caller.

Why is Table Image So Important?

Identify your opponent's table image.

Watching your opponents and identifying their table image is an important skill and will help you improve your game considerably.

For example, I was playing at a limit tournament and there was one player who almost never entered a hand. When he did enter a hand he showed down hands like pocket Aces, pocket Kings, pocket Queens, and A-K. This player clearly was super tight.

When we got down to the final two tables. He was still in the event. His playing style had not changed. He was staying super tight. On this one hand I was on the big blind, and after one player raised pre-flop, this super tight opponent re-raised. I looked down to find A-Q. In a limit tournament, it is not expensive to call and see a flop. However, I folded since I knew the tight player probably had me beat. His table image improved my decision making. Or, so I thought...

When the flop was Q-6-2, I was feeling uneasy. Did I fold top pair, top kicker? When the action went to the river, the tight player won with pocket Aces, while his opponent had A-Q. Phew!

If your opponent is loose and aggressive, it can make your decision making more difficult. In the recent WSOP Europe, Daniel Negreanu was playing his small ball strategy for a no limit event. Daniel was entering many pots with small pre-flop raises. On this one hand, he raised small pre-flop with 9-10 suited. His opponent re-raised Daniel's bet a large amount with A-Q; it was a 5 times Daniel's bet. Daniel called.

The flop was J-J-7. Daniel checked, as did his opponent. The turn was an 8. Bingo! Daniel checked his straight, and his opponent lost all his chips when he moved in on the turn. It is difficult to put a player on a hand if he plays a small ball strategy.

Sometimes players change their table image based on the stage of the event or their relative stack sizes. This could be because they are becoming more passive at the time of the bubble, wanting to get paid something. Others may simply be desperate for chips and they become more aggressive.

Figure out your own table image.

It is important to think about the table image you have created to your opponents. Are you aggressive, loose, passive, aggressive? Do you need to change your style of play so you are more unpredictable? Also, you may find that your table image may differ depending on your opponent.

For example, at a WSOP event, in the first hour I was getting an incredible run of premium hands. Opponents were getting frustrated by my pre-flop raises and continuation bets, especially since I never had to show my hands. My table broke up, and I went card dead. When this table broke up, I was moved next to a player from my original table.

On the first hand at this new table I was dealt pocket Kings. I raised. My opponent probably perceived me as loose, aggressive, since he moved all-in. I called. He turned over 6-4. I was very happy, until he flopped a 6 and rivered a 4. Doh!


As a general rule, you want to play the opposite your table image. For example, if you are a tight passive player, and start entering a series of pots with pre-flop raises, your raises will get more respect from opponents. It allows you to steal more often and pick up blinds and antes.

If your opponent views you as a loose, aggressive player, your opponents are more likely to call you down or even raise your bets.

Identify your opponents table image and figure out the table image you are projecting. It will improve your game. It will improve your decision making. Sometimes you will find that while raising an aggressive opponent is a smart play, folding with the same hand may be the right move against a tight opponent.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Skill #4: Identifying Betting Patterns

What are betting patterns?

Every poker player tends to get into habits. Habits occur because a player sees so many hands of poker, it is easier to
simply react rather than to take time to make a decision.

For example, you raise pre-flop with A-K and one opponent calls. On the flop comes A-6-4 with two spades. You bet your top pair and your opponent insta-calls. What does your opponent have? The answer is derived from both observing a betting pattern and a tell.

An opponent who instantly calls a bet in this situation is more than likely to be on a flush draw. The reason this is the case is the following:

a) If he had also hit top pair, he would most likely pause to think if his hand was best or if you outkick him
b) If he he two pair or a set, he would most likely pause to think about how to play his hand to win the most chips from you.

Pre-flop betting patterns are often the easiest to identify

Common betting patterns often occurs pre-flop. Players think they have a simple decision pre-flop. They get two cards and decide the strength of their cards. The result: placing bets that are based on the strength of their starting hand. This is a mistake. But players get lazy. A couple of examples:

Big pre-flop raises compared to the size of the big blind usually indicates a player who doesn't want action. A raise five times the big blind may indicate a middle pocket pair like 9's, 10's or the dreaded pocket Jacks.

A player in early position makes a three times the big bling raise. Everyone fold to the player on the button who re-raises just double the original raise. Why would he make such a small bet knowing his opponent has the pot odds to call? Because he has pocket Aces, and wants to build a bigger pot or get action.

Actually I witnessed this exact play at the WSOP. Unfortunately, the raiser had pocket 9's and hit a set on the flop. When he checked, his opponent moved all-in with his pocket Aces and got knocked out. (By the way, I think this small re-raise is a poor play when you and your opponent have deep stacks. You will only win a slighly bigger pot, but you may get knocked out when your opponent hits a monster.)

Observe and Identify betting patterns

If you know when your opponent is weak, you "almost" can't lose. ("Almost," since there are those things called bad beats.) Therefore, one of the best ways to beat your opponent is to determine when he is strong, mediocre or weak by observing his betting patterns.

Watch his play and notice:
how often he raises pre-flop, and from what position.
how he plays when he is in the blinds.
how he plays on the flop, and the sizes of his continuation bets, probe bets, etc.
how he plays his monster hands and how often he bluffs.

Overall, determine if any of your opponents have a predictable betting pattern. If so, you need to use this information in making your decisions. Oh yeah, don't forget that your better opponents are watching you to find your betting patterns. Don't get lazy and get predictable.

(This is the 4th skill in my Tournament Poker series--let's all win a WSOP bracelet.)

What's Your Poker IQ?