Thursday, May 28, 2009

End Game Strategy Using "M"

The WSOP is starting...

What is M?

In Harrington on Hold'em Volume II, Harrington reviewed the concept of M and the strategies based on your M.

M is your chip stack divided by the total of the blinds and antes. It tells you the number of rounds of the table you can survive before getting blinded off.

Unlike simply comparing your stack to what is posted in the big blind, the M takes into account both blinds and antes. As a result, you push the action more often with a wider range of opening hands, using the edge of acting first pre-flop to your advantage.

As your M drops, your need for more chips becomes more desperate and you must be more aggressive.

It is also a good idea to know your opponents M, since they also may be pushing with a wider range of hands when there M is getting low.

My additional thought on M is that you may want to adjust your M based on the time remaining in a round. For example, if the round just began your M is a good formula. However, if there are only a few minutes left in a round, you may want to adjust your M for the next level of blinds.

The Zones based on your M and the strategies

In general, the M tends to come into play towards the end of a tournament. Of course, if you've taken a big hit on your stack, you may need to use it earlier. Also, the M comes into play earlier on many online one table satellites, especially those turbo events.

Here is a brief review of the strategies using M:

Green Zone: M is 20 or more. You can play your style as you have ample chips.

Yellow Zone: M is 10-20. You need to be somewhat more aggressive with high pairs and high card hands. With small pairs and small connectors be more conservative.

Orange Zone: M is 6-10. You need to open with more hands and try a small ball approach. Again, be more careful with those small pairs and suited connectors. However, if you are considering opening with an all-in move, the small pairs and suited connectors are playable.

Red Zone: M is 1-4. Move all-in with a wide range of cards, like two face cards, small pairs or better, suited connectors. Your position at the table doesn't matter.

Keep in mind the concept of first in vigorish; this means that when no one is in the pot, the player who makes the first pre-flop raise has the initiative. Therefore, when your M is 3, if there is a 50% chance your opponents will fold, move all-in first pre-flop with almost any two cards.

When your M is below 2, move all-in with anything....any Ace, King, Queen, medium strength hand, connectors, pairs, etc.

Additional points on M

Know your opponents M since these players will be pushing the action. And your positional advantage of acting last will decrease.

Effective M is a way to adjust for short tables. To calculate your M when the table is short simply take your M and multiply it by the number of players left/10. So, if your M is 8 and there are 5 players left, your effective M is really 8 multiplied by .5 or 4. The result is that you need to be taking more chances. Also at a short table, your weak cards plus good pot odds really equals a playable situation.


This is a solid concept since it forces you to play when your stack is low relative to your survival rate. It makes your decision making easier since it is math based.

UPDATE: I need to provide more information on this concept. This may be something that I have not used and should be using as an end game strategy. I will provide more information soon (added 6/23/09)...note: In Harrington's book he writes: "playing correctly around inflection points is the most important single skill of no-limit hold 'em tournaments." And he follows with his introduction of M.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tournament Poker: A Checklist for your next event

The countdown continues...

Here are some guidelines to help you win your next tournament.

1. You need to get lucky to win.

2. You need to avoid getting unlucky to win.

3. Play the player and not your cards.

4. Pre-flop it is usually better to raise or re-raise
than to call.

5. Pocket Aces are the nuts pre-flop. If you can get your
opponents all-in when you hold Aces pre-flop do it.

6. A-K is not the nuts pre-flop. Raise and re-raise
pre-flop with A-K. But be careful not to play this drawing
hand as the nuts.

7. Look for a reason to play a hand, and not fold a hand.

8. Learn which opponents you can float based on their betting

9. Identify the table image of your opponents and play against them.

10. Identify what your opponent's think your table image is, and do the

11. Play the flop, your opponents and not your cards.

12. Look to play steal flops.

1x. If you have superstitions, this number is missing.

14. Look to bluff on the turn when a scare card hits.

15. Take weak bets as weak hands on the flop, turn and raise.

16. Get out of your comfort zone--loosen up your starting hands, look for
ways to win with a bet on the flop, and/or a bluff on the turn.

17. Don't hesitate to put your opponent all-in on the turn if you know you
are ahead, and your opponent is drawing.

18. While expected value is a fine cash game strategy, avoid it in tournament
play. Instead, try the concept of unexpected value.

19. Know your pot odds and your implied odds pre-flop.

20. If your pot odds of winning is better than the pot odds you are getting,
you should lean toward calling or raising. However, make sure you know
what it will cost you if you are wrong.

21. Being an aggressive player will be a better strategy than trying to
outplay all your opponents, all the time.

22. Some players make the wrong move at the right time. Don't let it get you
on tilt.

23. Making the right move at the wrong time can also put you on tilt. Don't
let it.

24. If you feel like you are on tilt, take a break away from the table.

25. You don't want to be eliminated with one Queen in your hand.

26. A ten on the flop is an invitation for action.

27. All cards lower than a 9 on the flop is an invitation for a bluff.

28. It is easier to play against one opponent than multiple opponents.

29. When the antes come into the game, look to make your raises larger
than the standard 3x raise.

30 Stealing antes and blinds is a key strategy to winning tournament play.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How to Play Ace-King: From the Experts--Gus Hansen

The countdown continues...

Gus Hansen is my favorite no limit tournament player. I reviewed the hands where he played Ace-King from his book Every Hand Revealed.

Gus Hansen and A-K

Gus is not as aggressive as I expected with this hand. Of course, he will raise with A-K pre-flop. If he gets one caller, he will make a continuation bet even when he misses on the flop. If that player check-raises him, he will look at the situation and decide to call, fold or re-raise. If he thinks he is ahead, he is willing to push all-in and put this check-raiser to the test; especially, if the play will not hurt his stack if he is wrong.

If he gets re-raised pre-flop, he will be careful before deciding his next action.

If that re-raise is a player who moves all-in, he will call the opponent if the all-in raise will not hurt his staff (20% or less of his chips). If he gets an opponent whose all-in move will hurt his stack he is willing to fold. This is very important in tournament poker! If you think your opponent has a pocket pair, and you have a big stack and playing better than your opponents, you should fold and wait for a more favorable situation--even with A-K.

If an opponent re-raises him a small amount, he will call that small raise given the pot odds. If the flop misses him and his opponent bets, he will fold.

Another scenario is when a player raises pre-flop in front of him. If he senses weakness or it comes from a late position steal, he will re-raise. That re-raise will be bigger than normal, such as 5 times the initial raiser.

It's interesting that the best tournament players tend to use A-K to build their chips with raises and re-raises, but they also are careful not to overplay Ace-King and lose a lot of chips with this drawing hand.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How To Play Ace-King From the Expert---Negreanu

The Countdown Continues...

Here I will use Negreanu's take on how to play Ace-King using his book Power Hold'em Strategy page 299.

Negreanu on A-K

In deep stack events, this hand is not good at all.

You don't want to get all your money in pre-flop with A-K. The reason is that you will be on the wrong side of a coin flip; that is, if your opponent doesn't have A-A or K-K.

You want to raise pre-flop with A-K, but it doesn't play well after the flop. If the flop comes A-9-6, and you bet and get called, this can be trouble. Your opponent could have A-9, A-6, 9-9 or 6-6.

A-K is a hand you will win small pots, but it is generally a dog if there is any significant action.

(Note: I could not find an example in his book using A-K.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How to Play Ace-King..From the Experts--Harrington

The Countdown Continues...

Given the importance of knowing how to play A-K, I am going to review what some authors suggest. I will start with Harrington using his book Harrington on Hold'em Volume II pages 234-238.

Harrington on A-K

Example #1:
Middle stage of a major event.
60 players left. 30 players get paid.
Blinds at $150-$300 and $50 ante
You have $37,000...which puts you in the top 10.

You get A-K unsuited. Raise to $1,200. The player in the cutoff raises to $5,000, leaving him $6,200 behind. It is folded back to you. What should you do?

You want to move all-in or fold since you will see all 5 cards and get the most value out of your cards. This is especially important when you are out of position, your opponent is short-stacked and pot committed.

Fold. While you are getting a fair price on your bet, it will cost you 30% of your stack at a time when your chip situation is comfortable. Wait for a more favorable situation.

Example #2:
Same situation. Except your opponent has a bigger stack of $16,200 when he made the $5,000 re-raise.

Here either fold or call since you are taking the worst of it if your A-K is up against a pair.

Call. Against the super-tight player, it is right to fold.

Example #3:
Same situation. Except your opponent has a smaller stack of $8,200 when he made the $5,000 re-raise.

Move all-in. Your pot odds will be 1.5 to 1; which is good enough to go all the way with A-K and your stack is in better shape if you lose.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tournament Poker Strategy, Superstitions, Signs, Shorthanded and yes, I used the "F-bomb"

The Countdown continues...


I drove up to Reno to play in a tournament where the rounds are longer (40 minutes) and the blinds increase more evenly. It was a way to prepare for live play for the WSOP.

Strategy: I have learned a lot more about poker since the book and the blog, and I wanted to put that into action in a live game. I will share some more strategy in this post.

Superstitions: I am a very superstitious person, especially when it comes to poker. It may be stupid to you, but it is real to me. Superstitions are things that other people do that bring me an unfavorable or favorable outcome. For example, I believe some seats are lucky and others are unlucky. Other people say they play a hand like K-10 because it is their "lucky" hand, forgetting all the times this hand has knocked them out of a tournament.

My superstitions are not about my starting hands but everything else!

One last thing about these poker superstitions is that you can't purposely use them against a player, or it results in bad karma.

Signs: No, not the movie. Signs are things that occur that foreshadow what will happen next. Foreshadowing occurs in movies all the time, but most people don't notice them. The same is true in life and in poker. An example: Years ago, I was driving to the airport to take the flight from Oakland to Vegas to enter the WSOP. On the way I get a flat tire. As I'm repairing the tire, I know this is a sign of a bad showing in the WSOP--and not the tire needed replacing (it only had 28,000 miles on it.)

The "F-bomb:" I don't believe in cursing. I curse when I take another farking bad beat while playing online poker, but I've never used it at a live game...until the other night.

The Event

It was a $225 buy-in event and only 98 players entered. 1st place was only $6,000. I was confident since in my life I've played in 8 events in Reno and cashed in 3 of them. It's not because I'm that great a player, either.

For the first two hours, I did not get a hand. The best hands I was dealt was 6-6 and A-4. It was sick. However, I was able to stay even with some late position ante steals. The key was I got a sign. The player seated to my left was telling me if he would play a hand or not before I acted. He would place his card protector on his starting cards, if he had an interest in playing. If not, he was ready to fold. It's easy to steal in the small blind when you know your opponent in the big blind is going to fold.

Having an average stack was not going to win the event. I needed something else to help some good cards! And then something good happened for me...a player spotted a mark on the back of a card. The dealer asked for a new deck. Superstition: If I go card dead, a new deck will bring me luck.

Of course, the new deck gave me much better cards and I was able to build my stack above average. The one strategy which was costing me chips was making pot odds based calls on the big blind. If I was getting better than 2-1, I was calling raises on the big blind and losing.

Playing 7 Handed Poker
Next, to my surprise, the director allowed the tables to play 7 handed for a long length of time. This was a huge advantage to me since most players don't adjust their starting hands for the reduction in players. As Gus Hansen mentions, you should be playing about 30% of your hands in a 6 or 7 handed game.

With my tight image from not playing many pots, I started to raise with a wide range of starting hands. If it wasn't clear that I was stealing a lot, one opponent finally stated after another one of my raises, "The blaster raising it again." It didn't matter what he said, since players kept folding.

And when one opponent called, I would almost always bet the flop since the flops looked safe almost every time.

Another Sign
At the third break, I got a good sign. I received a free $5 to play the slots. I had forgotten about this offer until there were about 5 minutes in the break. I went over to a slot machine, getting ready to lose the free cash. I didn't even bother to sit down. The machine gave me a few small wins and a few more loses. There was about a minute left and I had one more pull left. It hits for a $40 win. I took the ticket and went back to the game. Winning at the slot machine was a good sign.

A good sign that allowed me to get lucky. I hit a set with pocket 10's and doubled up. I was getting some premium hands like A-K and pocket Kings twice. Even when the flop came A-10-10 with my K-K,I bet and won against my opponent with J-J.

I was now way above average as we got our dinner break.

I don't want to reveal my biggest superstition--because it always brings me bad results. I got a double dose of it, and I was not happy as I was going to have to fight off this bad superstition.

Final 3 Tables
I was up to $20,000 and the blinds were $400-$800. I raised with A-K suited, and a new opponent at the table moved all in on me. Uggh! It was going to cost me half my stack to call. I knew Gus would make this call, but I did not want to risk half my stack at this stage of the event. I tried to get a tell on my opponent, but I got a mixed message. I figured that he most likely had a pocket pair and I would be a 57/43 dog. I folded, thinking my "unexpected value" concept is a good one to follow here.

It appeared to be a good play. I quickly got over $24,000 and I was in charge of the table as we got down to 7 handed play.

I raised with A-9 and a new player seated to my left moved all-in. Uggh! It would cost me most of my chips to call. Plus, a few hands earlier I overheard him telling a friend he folded A-J pre-flop. I figured I was beat and folded.

I raised a few hands later with A-4, and again this guy moved all-in. I had to fold.

We were down to 6 handed play, when everyone folded to me in the small blind. I didn't want to deal with another all-in from my opponent so I moved all-in with A-9. He thought about his decision for a while. He had taken a few beats and was down to $8,000. He called with A-7. I was feeling pretty good until....

The player to my right gave me the jinx comment "I like your hand." Another superstition, another time I wanted to vomit....and yeah, the window card was a 7! For good measure so was the river card.

It was only the 2nd bad beat at the table all day (7 hours of play!), unlike what you experience at online poker. I was not a happy camper.

The Final Moments
I was down to $6,000 with the blinds at $500-$1,000 plus the $100 ante. Everyone folded to me again in the small blind. No need to look. I pushed all-in against Mr. A-7. After about 30 seconds, he called. He had 8-6 and I turned over 10-7. The 7 hit and I was given some life.

We were now down to the final two tables, and 17 players left. I was at $9,000 with the blinds about to go to $1,000-$1,500. Everyone folded to me on the button. The blinds were tight players. I just needed Q-6 or better--it was Q-6 and I pushed.

The small blind folded. The big blind asked for a count. This was the same player who I folded that A-K suited to a couple of hours earlier. He called my all-in and turned over A-K. I was covered. The flop was 6-7-8 giving me the lead. The turn was a 2.

Before the dealer turned over the river card, my opponent grunted up on his hand. River card...Ace. He shouted "yes!" I yelled "F-me." I left the casino.

I was so angry that I didn't bother playing the next day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Made A Mistake In Poker That Cost Me

The Countdown Continues....

Full Tilt-Rebuy/Add on Event

I entered a Full Tilt Tournament the other night. There were over 200 players. It was a rebuy and add-on event.

One of the things about online poker tournaments is that most players are too tight. Playing tight is not right! I know the books say to play tight aggressive poker, but really the books are wrong. The reason is that when you play tight aggressive you are simply telling your opponents what you have when you raise so infrequently; a premium hand.

I like to play loose aggressive pre-flop. I will open with a raise pre-flop with a wide range of hands, and make a continuation bet about 80-90% of the time. In fact, I am opening with just a 2 times big blind raise when my opponents are so quick to fold.

Of course, you can't mindlessly take this plan of action into the final stages of an event because your better opponents will beat you up. That happened to me.

I was building and building a nice chip stack, when two of my opponents (to my left) realized my game plan, and re-raised my min raises. It is difficult to call off a big percentage of your chips with 7-5 suited when someone re-raises you pre-flop.

As a result, I had to slow down and tighten up. I also wanted to set a trap since I knew what they were doing. In fact, I won a big pot when I made my standard min raise with K-K and one of these players re-raised me. I just called. The flop came Q high, and I check raised my opponent. He folded and I won a big pot.

My Mistake

The game continued and I went totally card dead. I wanted to put in those min raises but while I slowed one opponent down, the other player kept it up. My chip stack was down to $12,000 and the blinds were $250-$500. We were two players away from the money (27 got paid).

I hate when I make a mistake playing poker. I don't mind if I lay down the winning hand, but I don't like when I make the wrong play. Here is the hand....

I get dealt pocket 6's in middle position. The player under the gun raises to $1,500. Another opponent calls. I call. The big blind re-raises to $4,500.

What should I do?

I have $10,500 left, and I know I am beat, so I hit the fold button since I don't want to risk another 30% of my stack as a dog. And there are only two places to go before the money. To my surprise, the other two players insta-call. And before I can think through this situation, I am folded.

I hated my fold for three reasons:
1. The pot now had over $15,000 and I had great implied odds if I hit my set.
2. I selected to auto-fold without waiting for my turn because I was close to the money. Who wants to play 3 hours and not get paid off? But, the most important thing in poker is to play to win, not to cash!!!!
3. The 6 hit the flop and two players went all-in on the flop. I would have won a huge pot and given myself a great opportunity to wn.

The End Result

I was able to build my stack up to about $30,000 and we were down to 15 players. I was dealt pocket Aces and made a min raise. I got called in two places. The flop was
Q-8-4 with two clubs. I had the Ace of clubs. I bet the pot, and my opponent raised me. I moved all-in, and he turned over 8-8....doh!

I win $40 for 4 hours of play....awful!

The moral of the story: Play to win and not just to cash!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The New Trend in Poker: The Pre-Flop Re-Raise Without A Premium Hand

The Countdown continues...

A New Trend: The Re-Raise

There is a new trend in online poker: to re-raise preflop without a big hand.

If a player raises before the flop, he can have a range of hands. But, if a player re-raises before the flop, you would expect the re-raiser to have a hand like pocket Q's, K's, Aces, or A-K. The result is that the original raiser will usually fold unless he has a top premium pair.

The new trend among some players in online poker is to make that re-raise without a top starting hand since they can take down a big pot by either forcing an opponent to fold or winning the hand with a bet on the flop.

Let's review this play.

Let's say a player who has been making small pre-flop raises way too often does it again. You are on the button with nothing. Put in a big re-raise and you will probably force a fold and win a bigger sized pot.

But, let's say a player who is incredibly tight makes a three times raise pre-flop in front of you. In this case the re-raise is more likely to run into a top starting hand, however, the aggressive tournament players still may force a bad decision with a re-raise.

The best thing about this re-raise is that it allows you to win more chips pre-flop without having to see the flop. And, you can use it against players who are too timid to risk their chips since they always fear an opponent has the nuts.

What if you are up against this re-raising player?

You have to take a stand and play back at him.

For example, last night I was making frequent min raises since my opponents were playing so tight. If I got a call and the texture of the flop looked good, I would make a continuation bet and take down the pot almost every time. If I got re-raised pre-flop I would fold.

This new aggressive player was added to my table and had a big chip stack. It was evident that he was using the re-raise pre-flop to win and build his stack. I mean you don't get those premium hands that often to justify his continued re-raising. In fact, his re-raises worked so well that he built a bigger chip stack and also it made his re-raises more threatening as he could knock players out.

I figured that I was either going to double up against him or get knocked out by him. On this one hand, I put in a min raise with A-10 suited. Sure enough he re-raised me. I moved all-in. He insta-called with A-J. I got no help and I was out. Doh!

That is another advantage of this playing style. Sometimes the re-raiser will get a hand and take out his opponent--especially since he has built his stack to where he won't get hurt that much and/or feels invincible.

Give this play a try as well, and see how comfortable you are in using it. Think about how you feel when you get re-raised pre-flop. Because when you re-raise an opponent, that is likely how he is going to feel. It's a feeling that often leads to a fold.

UPDATE: Here is a great article on how to defend against this new trend on Poker Listings.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Answer to Yesterday's Tournament Poker Quiz Question

The Countdown to the WSOP continues...

Thanks for all your answers on my blog (previous post) and on Twitter. When you read what actually happened and the analysis, compare it to your thinking.

Question & Answer

This hand is taken from the final table of a $10,000 buy-in event at The Plaza in 2004.
The player with the 8c-5c was Layne Flack and his opponent was Daniel Negreanu. While everyone has seen Daniel's game on TV, few know much about Layne. Layne Flack is an aggressive player, and likes to raise pre-flop with a range of hands.

The hand was featured in a CardPlayer article and analyzed by Roy Winston and Michael Binger.

Main Event
$10,000 buy-in.
First place over $1 million.
You are one of the final 6 players.
You are Layne Flack.
I am Daniel Negreanu (without the cash wins, of course:))

Blinds are $1,500-$3,000 with a $500 ante

You have $110,000 and are under the gun. You find 8c-5c. You limp in for $3,000. Another player limps. I am in the small blind with $130,000 and call. The big blind also calls. There is $15,000 in the pot.

(Michael: Flack had 110,000 and the total of the blinds and antes was 10,500, which gave Flack an M of about 10. Either fold 8-5 suited or come in for a raise of about 8,000.)

(My comment: Six handed I like to raise with this suited connector hand because there is $10,500 in the pot to steal. Online a min raise can work to get your opponents to fold, while live play a 2.5 times the big blind raise has a better chance. Against top Pros, the reality is that you will be called when you come in with almost any raise.)

The flop is Ac-9c-6c. You hit your flush!

You bet $12,000. The first player calls and I call. The big blind folds. There is $51,000 in the pot.

(Michael: Likes the bet size as it may make your opponents think you are bluffing, betting top pair, or betting a monster. Betting 80 percent of the pot keeps them guessing.)

(Roy: Should have bet more on the flop.)

(My comment: I agree with Michael.)

The turn is a Kd. You bet $22,000 and only I call. The pot is $95,000.

(Michael: Bet half the pot, maybe $25,000-$30,000.)

(Roy: A $22,000 bet prices in your opponent. Bet more.)

(My comment: This is where I totally disagree. Here is why: there is $51,000 in the pot. You have $95,000 left. If you bet the pot and get called, you will have only $44,000 left which is not enough to make a pot sized bet on the river. After reading Gus Hansen's book, I would move all-in on the the turn. Gus will shut out action on the turn and not give his opponent the opportunity to draw out on him on the river.)

The river is a 10c. You check and I bet $14,000.

(Michael: You have to call with 8-1 odds.)

(Roy: If you know your beat, just fold.)

(My comment: I don't want to see the river.)

In the actual hand, Daniel revealed the Kc-10h for a bigger flush. Layne said that the only thing he would change is that he might not make the river call.

As you can tell, some Pros like to extract more value on the turn with smaller bets. However, given the chip stacks I would try to close things out on the turn and not give my opponent an opportunity to beat me.

For the full analysis go to the original article:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Poker Quiz: How To Play A Flush On The Flop

30 days to the WSOP...

Another Quiz
There continues to be a lot of interest in these one hand quizzes. What I am trying to do with these poker situations is to take a real hand, challenge your thinking, and show you how the Pro would approach the same situation. I also will provide my comments.

You will have a hand to play, and I will be playing against you. Good luck!

Main Event
$10,000 buy-in.
First place over $1 million.
You are one of the final 6 players.

Blinds are $1,500-$3,000 with a $500 ante

You have $110,000 and are under the gun. You find 8c-5c. You limp in for $3,000. Another player limps. I am in the small blind with $130,000 and call. The big blind also calls. There is $15,000 in the pot.

The flop is Ac-9c-6c. You hit your flush!

You bet $12,000. The first player calls and I call. The big blind folds. There is $51,000 in the pot.

The turn is a Kd. You bet $22,000 and only I call. The pot is $95,000.

The river is a 10c. You check and I bet $14,000.

What should you do?

Additional questions:

What hand do you put your opponent on?

Would you have played this hand any differently?

The answers will be posted tomorrow. I will provide what the pros think about this hand, and I will also provide another line of thinking.

What's Your Poker IQ?