Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 10 Poker Hands of the Decade

Top 10 Poker Hands of the Decade

Here is my list of the top 10 poker hands of the decade (excluding online poker). Even if you've seen these poker hands before, they are a joy to watch again...and again.

#10. I bet he wished he overslept for the WSOP.

#9. "It was suited!"

#8. Admit it. You've made a mistake like this, right?

#7. Would you have made this call?

#6. Is this the worst play in the history of poker?

#5. Agree or disagree? Poker is a game of skill.

#4. Can you do this?

#3. Or this?

#2. You no longer have the right to bitch about a bad beat, ever again.

#1. This may be the one hand of poker that changed poker forever.

Let me know what you think of my list? Thanks!

Guest Blog Post: The "Only" Call-A Good or Bad Play?

The “Only” Call-A Good or Bad Play?

at CostCoImage by numberstumper via Flickr

The following is a post from Mark who runs the Poker Bankroll Blog and the PokerBRB.com freeroll and tournament league. It was written and submitted to his blog by McTap03, who has his own poker blog, Big Pond, Little Fish and who is an admitted Poker-holic.

At the end of this post, I have added my thoughts. See what you think.

Written by McTap03:

Have you ever called a bet (tournament or cash game) where you had a good feeling you were behind but the amount was “only” a little bit and well worth it to see another card to maybe hit your miracle card to win?

Before I go on about this topic, let me give you a little insight into where I started thinking about this.

My wife went shopping yesterday and I knew before hand that this was going to be an expensive day. This morning I wake up and see all the items she purchased. There is plenty but I brush it off as I have only a short time to get ready before commuting (1 hr) to work. As I’m leaving, she wakes up and asks if I like the purchases. I make a comment about item X that I felt was really not necessary, which she replies with “it was ‘only’ X dollars” and heads back to bed. So while collecting my thoughts during my commute, I come to this conclusion: I say the same thing when it comes to poker and totally feel it to be justified.

So getting back to my original question, ask yourself the following: Have you ever called a bet (tournament or cash game) where you didn’t like your situation but the amount was “only” a little bit and well worth it to see another card to maybe hit your miracle card to win?

If the answer is yes, then how many times have you actually hit your miracle card? And did you win the pot? My guess is that you hit your card far less than the ‘good’ odds you were given to see the card. And then, depending on what the card was, you probably didn’t get paid off for it. The reason I say this is that, if the card made a flush or straight, most observant opponents would put you on it and then either not bet before you, or not call your value bet. So unless the card made you trips or top 2 pr (which are easier to disguise), then you won’t get much value on your river bet. Plus you still might lose if your opponent has you ‘out kicked’. So what do you do? Poker is at times a gamble, so you can’t stop calling the smallish bet on the turn/river, but you can minimize when you do, therefore controlling your ‘leak.’

Too many players, especially at the lower limit games, like to chase cards as they figure they will win a big pot if they hit, but in reality this is a HUGE flaw in their game. They are throwing away money/chips for a chance to hit it big. This is where outs and odds really make a difference. If you are chasing a flush draw/OESD then you might be getting good odds to call the “only” bet, but if the draw is to trips, 2 pr, or even worse top pair, then your odds are probably not in your favour to call. The good players know their odds and outs, while the ‘fish’ don’t, or don’t care about them. The good players have a better understanding of when to call the ‘only’ bet and when to let it go. So if you want to become a better player, really start focusing on this aspect of your game (mostly odds and outs), control your leaks (especially if you hear yourself say “it is only X more to call”, then don’t do it), and over time you should become better.

Good luck at the tables.

My response:

In a no limit tournament it is often correct to make a call of "only" a small bet. In fact, if I am drawing to a set or two pair to beat an opponent with a completed flush or straight, and I will win a big pot, the pot odds and even the implied odds will often make it the right play.

There are other reasons as well to make this call:

a. Your opponent may be bluffing.
b. Your call may induce your opponent to check the river and fold when you bet.
c. You both may check down the river and even if you don't have the better hand, you will learn how he plays his cards and his betting pattern--which puts you in an excellent spot to beating him for a bigger pot later.
d. You may raise his small bet on the turn and discover your opponent is the one who folds his draw.

In a limit cash game, the pots at the lower levels are often big enough to make that call and still get callers on the river.

Overall, calling that small bet is often the right play in poker just as that purchase McTap03's wife made. His wife's purchase not only has utility "value" but also the added emotional rewards she gets; which in turn, can also be beneficial to him. Just as in life, you never know what can happen when you make that "only" call.

What do you think?

My thanks to Mark for submitting this post and McTap03 for writing it!

Tomorrow: My Top 10 Poker Hands of the Decade

Monday, December 28, 2009

How To Pick Up a Poker Tell and Use It To Your Advantage

How To Pick Up a Poker Tell and Use It To Your Advantage

Are You Looking at Me?Image by TomStardust via Flickr

A player asked me to describe how I notice a poker tell and use it during the game. Here is an example that may help you in your next tournament.

I entered a tournament at Lucky Chances where the starting chips were $6,000.

Step 1. Observe your opponent while you are in a hand.

The blinds were $25-$50. I was in a middle position with A-Q and I called an early position raiser. The player on the button, call him Ben, also called.

The flop comes A-rag-rag. The pre-flop raiser bets $400. I call as does Ben.

The turn comes another rag but this time the pre-flop raiser checks. I check and Ben bets out $800. I call. The other player folds.

Ben looks up at me--this is a new action. I am thinking, "Maybe this is a tell? What can I associate this glance at me to mean?"

The river is a blank. I check and Ben bets. I call. He also has A-Q and we split the pot. I am thinking now, "Ok, if he looks at a player, it means he has a good hand. Does that mean if he doesn't look at a player, he is weak?"

Step 2. Observe the same player when you are not in a hand.

A few hands later, Ben is against the same pre-flop raiser. Both players check the flop. Ben bets the turn and gets called. Ben never looks up at his opponent. Now, I'm thinking, "What does this mean? Is Ben weak here?"

Ben bets the river and his opponent calls. Ben is on a total bluff and loses. He folds his cards showing he had a draw.

I am now thinking that Ben has a tell. I don't think this player is good enough to be aware he is even doing it, so I am around 90% confident in my read.

Step 3. Use the tell, even if it looks like you may be beat.

The next level is $50-$100. I am down to $5,500.

In back position, I raise pre-flop with J-10. Ben calls on the big blind for $300.

The flop is A-10-3. Ben bets $600. I call knowing that if Ben looks up at me, I am beat if I don't improve. Ben doesn't look up at me. I am thinking he is weak.

The turn is a blank. Ben bets $1,500. If I call this bet my stack will be almost cut in half. This is an important play early on in the event. I trust my tell and I call.

Ben still does not look up. I am not fairly certain Ben is weak here.

The river is a blank. Ben checks. I reach for chips and start counting out how much to bet, hoping Ben does not have a weak Ace. Before I complete my bet, Ben mucks.

That tell increases my stack almost 50%--it is a nice start.

I hope this helps.

Poker Book Review--Tournament Poker: 101 Winning Moves

Poker Book Review: Tournament Poker 101 Winning Moves

I just discovered a new review of my book on Amazon UK.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Harrington for the short of time
By K. M. MacLean (UK)

While Harrington on Hold'em will probably remain the ultimate guide to tounament play for many years to come, the books are chunky tomes which are hard on the hands (IMO) and require a substantial investment of time to digest. This little beauty, on the other hand, can be read easily in an evening and feasibly slipped into a travel bag (or possibly a large pocket) for some pre-tournament mental preparation.

The 101 moves is probably more like 91 since a few of them are repeated to fit into the book's structure of following the action, i.e. pre-flop, post-flop, turn and river, but I guess 101 sounds better and there's still plenty here to chew over.

For those who emphasize the importance of hand examples, each suggested play is backed up by case studies and there's a sprinkling of anectodes too, which add to the book's easy-to-read feel.

As it says on the back "If you take a way just one winning play from this book, it will pay for itself many times over". That may be something of an exageration, however it is fair to say that this book should get you thinking about the different ways you can play a hand and that can only improve your play and your profits.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More Poker Tournament Tips as I Get To Another Final Table

More Poker Tournament Tips as I Get To Another Final Table

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, half-length po...Image via Wikipedia

On Wednesday, I decided to go to the evening event at the Oaks. I have not entered this event in many years. It is a $100 buy-in with an $80 rebuy.

After the learning which I posted in my last blog post: How to play against yourself in a poker tournament--I was going to make sure not to finish on the bubble.

The Early Stages

The starting chips are $2,500 and the blinds begin at $25-$50.

At the start of the tournament (and when I get moved to a new table) I like to figure out the following:
1. The betting patterns of my opponents
2. Identify basic table images--who are the ABC players, the tricky ones, the overly aggressive ones, the super tight ones, etc.
3. The tells of the most aggressive player at the table
4 If the player to my immediate left looks at his cards early, and how to connect his actions to whether he will play a hand or not.
5. Any other tells by players

Ideally, I prefer to wait until one round of play has completed before finalizing my opinions of the above.

But after the first five hands, I had already gotten a sense that the players at this table were just limping with any two cards. I was in the small blind and 4 players limped. I turned up A-Q. I usually just limp here since it's early in a rebuy event. But thinking I could make everyone fold, I made a big raise to $350. One player called.

The flop was J-8-4. My opponent moved all-in. I folded. Oh well....I guess I outsmarted myself.

After a while, it was clear the players at this table were very passive and tight. I decided to open up my game a lot. I would call on the button with almost any two cards. I decided to raise pre-flop in a back position.

If there were callers pre-flop and everyone checked to me, I bet and won. If I raised pre-flop and got one or two callers, I made a c-bet.

At the $100-$200 blinds, I got my first premium hand A-K suited. The player who beat me earlier, raised in an early position to $600. It was his first raise of the game, so I knew he had a big hand. However, it was a rebuy event and I needed chips, so I moved all-in. He called with Q-Q. I hit the Ace on the flop.

My most aggressive opponent had two tells; one of which I used for a nice win as well. When he was the pre-flop raiser, his flop bet would give away his hand. That is, if he slid his chips in as a bet, he was weak. If he stacked them, he had a strong hand.

Oh, yeah, his other tell is a very common one: If a player stacks his chips and one or more chips fall off messing up his stack, watch what happens next. In most cases, if a player goes back to fix the stack, he is not that strong. If a player doesn't fix the stack, he is most likely very strong.

Anyway, in this hand my opponent raised pre-flop and I called with J-10 suited on the button. We took the flop heads up. It was A-7-4 rainbow. He slid his chips into the pot as a c-bet. Clearly, if my tell was right, and I raised him, he could only call if he had an Ace. I re-raised. To my chagrin, he did not fold right away. He thought for a while. I guess he had a pocket pair higher than 7's. He mucked and flashed his pocket 9's. Phew!

Overall, though, I was picking up a lot of small pots at this table and I was happy that we would not be breaking up the table for a long time....no! The director came over and decided to break up our table first....what's up with that!

I got moved to a new table, where there were two opponents I played against before. I sat back and waited for a round to get a read on the other players.

The blinds were up to $100-$200. The players at this table were very different than the first one. For some reason, a few players here liked to limp with premium hands. The player with the big stack was one of these players and he sat to my left. And no one would bet the flop unless their hand improved.

I decided to raise pre-flop and never limp. I wanted to clear out the pretenders before the flop. I started to win decent sized pots as I would raise a few limpers, and get one caller. Follow-up with a c-bet and win. My stack just kept growing. It was nice. I would even bet into a pre-flop raiser if the flop was a picture-rag-rag, since I represented top pair.

A key hand: I was dealt pocket 4's in middle position. One player raised, I called, as did the player to my left, and one other opponent. The flop was A-7-4. The first player checked. I thought one of my opponents must have an Ace, so I bet 2/3rds of the pot with my set. The player to my left moved all-in. I called. He had A-7. How he calls a pre-flop raise with A-7 unsuited is beyond me..

I was now up to about $15,000 in chips. I was dealt A-J suited, and a tight player moved all-in. It was only $1,500 more to me, so I called. He had pocket Kings and I lost.

I was up to over $13,000 and decided against the rebuy.

Middle Stages

Not too long after the rebuy period, I was moved to a new table. The players here were aggressive and much better. Again, I sat back to get a read on my opponents. It was interesting. The players to my right were aggressive, but the three players to my left were tight.

Given the image of my opponents, and my image of being tight as well (not having played a hand) I started to play against my image. I was able to win with pre-flop raises first in a hand as my opponents on the left were so tight.

I wasn't getting any cards. I was just playing the guys to my left so I could stay alive. I raised with K-5 suited, I raised with A-2, and I raised with Q-8. I won all of them uncontested.

Everything was going well, until the guy to my left got knocked out and a new player took his seat. The new guy was the chip leader and very aggressive. He was a little crazy as well:

Example: He limped in an early position (the first time he limped). A player on the button moved all-in for $12,000. The limper insta-called. I thought he would show pocket Aces. Instead, he showed 5-4 suited. The button had A-10. The flop came with a 4 and this gut won even more chips.

Yeah, I had to tighten up my play. And my image was clearly of a very tight player now.

In fact, the player to my right--who thought he was a genius--would move all-in on me as the small blind whenever everyone folded to him. He did this 3 times and I folded each time since my cards were so bad.

Late Stages

We were down to 3 tables. I was in survival mode. I was waiting to be the first in a hand in a late position or to call the small blind all-in move.

Since I had a tight image, I knew that making a rare pre-flop raise would allow me to win uncontested, unless someone had a big hand.

Example: I raised with pocket 2's. Everyone folded as I expected...except the big blind called me. Uh oh. The flop may have an overcard. The flop was 10-9-5. We both checked. The turn was a J. The big blind checked, so I had to bet. He folded.

As we got down to 7 players at the table, players were pushing all-in and/or raising. I was card dead and would just have to be patient.

The blinds were now up to $400-$800 and I was down to $3,200 in the big blind. Everyone folded to the small blind and for the fourth time he moved all-in on me. I found the K-J and beat his 5-3, doubling up.

The next hand, he made the same move from the button. I found A-Q and called. He had 10-8 and I doubled through him again.

The next hand, he tried again and I called with K-J--taking him out of the event.

Now, I was up to almost $30,000 in chips...it was a big turnaround.

It was down to 2 tables of 6 players each. Only the final table would get paid.

I was in the big blind and a player moved all-in for $12,000. I called with A-Q. He had K-10 and won when the flop came K-10-x and no Jack appeared.

Final Table

With the loss holding the A-Q, I went from being one of the middle stacks to one of the low stacks. We were down to the final table. Players were aggressive and I was card dead. I would only last about 2 rounds.

Two players got knocked out, and the blinds were so high, I had 2x's the big blind--as I took the big blind. I was going to be all-in with any two cards.

A player moved all-in, I called. I had A-2. He had A-6. It looked like a chop until the 2 hit the flop! The turn was nothing. The river was a 6! Ouch.

I finished 8th and won $300.

Looking back, there was just one hand I misplayed. When we were down to 2 tables, I threw away pocket 4's since both players in the blinds were so low in chips, they would be forced to call my raise. Sure enough, they both moved all-in--but a 4 flopped....oh well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How To Play Against Yourself at a Poker Tournament

How To Play Against Yourself at a Poker Tournament

The Klimaszewski Twins at the 2004 Glamourcon ...Image via Wikipedia

I have had the time recently to play a few live, poker tournaments. While I've had one nice cash of $3,000, there have been three times where I ended up just out of the money finishing 21st and 24th twice.

I have been so intent on playing ABC poker with a few moves thrown in, I have forgotten the need to play against myself as well.

What does it mean to "Play against the player and not your cards?"

As you know, I believe one of the most important keys in winning poker is to play against the player rather than just playing your cards.

One way to simply define "playing against the player" is to evaluate what range of hands you think your opponent holds and playing in a way to beat him by using his bets, his table image and the board against him--that is, representing a hand that can get your opponent to fold.

A simple example: A player who raises pre-flop way too often and always follows with a c-bet when his hand doesn't improve on the flop. You call this player in position, take the flop heads-up, and when he bets the flop, you raise.

It's easier said then done. And I think it's easier when you are playing live and the stacks are deep.

What does it mean to "Play against yourself?"

I think all poker players get in a habit of how to play good poker. I would say that players are better at pre-flop play than ever before. They know the "right" cards to play pre-flop in position and bet sizing. However, these same players often end up waiting forever for a big hand.

These players need to play against themselves. That is, they need to mix it up and play poker in a style that is counter to their table image.

For example: If you've been sitting and waiting forever for a big starting, you are viewed as a tight player. It's time to make a move and raise pre-flop with any two cards or re-raise a frequent raiser. You won't get action unless a player finds a big hand--which doesn't happen often.

The same is true of those players who come in too often with pre-flop raises. Change your game and slow down once in a while--maybe even fold, so the next time you come into the pot, your opponents will fear your raises.


I think most players are still thinking "Tight, aggressive" is the way to play a poker tournament. Survival is the key.

That thinking is fine as a starting point.

In addition, though, consider adding in one more element to your game. If you have not been entering any pots for a long time in a tournament, mix up your game, and play "Loose, aggressive." That is, if you find that you have suited connectors like 6-5 in an early position, raise like you have pocket Aces. If you find, that the small blind limps against your big blind, raise him even though you only have 7-2 offsuit.

Once you believe your image has changed, you can always switch back to your "Tight, aggressive" style.

The result is going to be that you will mix things up and make it more difficult for your opponents.

Frankly, I have been making the mistake of waiting too long to mix things up. The result has been that I have had to move all-in with good or mediocre hands and hope for the best. I need to open up my game more--and mix things up.

It seems being away from playing these events has resulted in my thinking I can outplay my opponents. While I tend to outplay opponents in the first two rounds, I have forgotten that "Risk is Good."

Good luck!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

3 Mistakes I Made at the Sunday Poker Tournament

3 Mistakes I Made at the Sunday Poker Tournament

Flop ShowImage via Wikipedia

I made 3 mistakes at the Sunday poker tournament at Lucky Chances.

#1. Oops, I bet more than I wanted on that street.

The blinds are $100-$200. I have about $6,000. A new player had just been seated at our table. The player raised to $500. Everyone folded to me on the button. I had Ah-7h. I called.

The flop came A-8-4 rainbow. My opponent checked. I checked.

The turn was a K. My opponent checked. There was $1,300 in the pot. I wanted to bet $800, but when I tossed the chips onto the table it was $1,300....oops. How could I grab three $100 chips and two $500 chips instead of just three $100 chips and one $500 chip?

The river was a 10. My opponent bet into me for $2,000! I was surprised by that move. Although, I was going to check the river. I looked for a tell.

In general, when your heads-up at the end and your opponent looks at you quickly and then looks away, it tends to mean he is not that strong. In this case, I waited a long time hoping to see that tell so I could call. Instead, though, my opponent looked comfortable and did not look up at me at any time. I was sure I was beat. I folded.

It only cost me $500, but I was annoyed that I made that mistake. I think my opponent hit two pair on the turn or possible had a set on the flop.

(Note: Later on in the event this same player moved all-in on the flop. When he glanced at his opponent and quickly looked away, I knew he was not that strong. He got called. He had the nut flush draw and lost most of his stack.)

2. Oops, I forgot to bet.

I was down to $4,000 and I was in the $400 big blind. Everyone folded to the player in the small blind. He is a straight forward player most of the time. He called. I had 9-6. I called. The flop came A-Q-5 with two spades. He checked. I checked. The turn was another Ace. He checked. I checked. I should have bet! The river was a 2. He checked and I checked. He won with 10 high. I should have bet!

Two checks in position to you, heads-up--always bet. It doesn't need to be a pot sized bet (see #1 above), but bet half or more the size of the pot and most times, it is a winning play.

3. Oops, I decided to go card dead.

Okay, I didn't choose to go card dead. It just happened. Again, for hours I got nothing to play. It was sick. Was I playing too tight?

Well, here are the hands I played or could have played during those hours and hours (usually it was a full table of 10 players). It was a time where the luck-fest begins; that is, the antes are so high that it is usually all-in or fold.

I got dealt pocket 6's under the gun. I moved all-in. I got called in two spots. I was against A-J and A-K. I hit the 6 on the turn and it allowed me to be a little more patient.

I was dealt K-J under the gun and limped. Sucker cards in that position. Two players moved all-in. I folded. I would have lost to the pocket Queens and been a big dog to A-K

I was dealt K-J in middle position. I moved all-in. No one called.

I was dealt A-5 offsuit under the gun. I folded. One player moved all-in. He was not called. He said he had A-J. I don't like to move all in in the first 3 positions (at a full table), unless I have a pair or K-Q or better.

I was dealt 7-2 on the button. One player moved all-in and got called. I folded. The flop was 7-7-8....I should have known:0)

I moved all-in on the small blind with K-5 when everyone folded to me. My opponent folded and showed A-J!! Wow. He had three times as many chips as me. Bad play on his part.

My plan of attack when I am low on chips is the following:
I want to be the first in the pot with an all-in move. It gives me two chances to win.
I will play any pair from any position and even call an all-in bet.
In the power position, cut-off, button or small blind, and if I am first-in the pot, I will move-in with a hand that totals 19 or better or any hand Ace-x, King-x, Queen-x or Jack-x hand.
I want to play the right cards given my position at the table.
If the table is tight, I will make a move with suited connectors--although, in general, I don't like to get knocked out holding a hand that is just a 9 or 6 high.

The result of all these rules: I was bleeding out thanks to the blinds and antes.

Finally, I was down to where I could not even make a raise. I was under the gun and moved-in, for what it was worth, with Q-10. The next player moved all-in with pocket Jacks.

I got knocked out in 24th place...again.

I don't use the Harrington guidelines on short-stack play in these situation since I believe you can come back in games when there are antes and you have only one chip. I have been down to my last chip and come back to finish in the money or as high as 3rd place.

Guest Post: Don’t Get Married to a Hand

Don’t Get Married to a Hand

Tiger's Christmas Card 2009Image by char1iej via Flickr

The following is a post from Mark who runs the Poker Bankroll Blog and the PokerBRB.com freeroll and tournament league. It was written and submitted to his blog by Vic Porcelli, who hosts the All In Radio Poker Show.

Pocket Aces

How many times have you folded pocket Aces after the flop? Sounds absurd I know, but what if the flop is K K J? Or if the flop came 10 J Q? Depending on the post flop betting you may be a big underdog. So can you lay them down?

Dennis Phillips finished third in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event. Dennis is from my hometown of St. Louis. He won a $200 double shootout satellite at Harrah’s Casino in St. Louis and parlayed that into a $4.3 Million payoff for his third place finish. During that main event, Dennis folded pockets Aces, twice!

Pockets Aces are at worst a 4-1 favorite pre-flop, however I’ve mentioned in previous columns that hand strengths can change with every street. If you are holding pocket Aces and the flop is K K J. You make a bet on the flop and your opponent comes over the top of your bet, you can be assured he is holding a K and a strong one at that. Guess what? You have to throw away your Aces.

I can speak from personal experience on this one. I was in the big blind, with A A. By the time the action comes to me, there are four limpers including the small blind. The blinds were still low relative to stacksize, just 25/50. There was $250 in the pot including my big blind. I raised it up to $300. Everyone folded but the cutoff seat called. I put him a range of A K to A J. I did not put him on KK because he would have surely re-raised me with K K. The flop came J 6 3. (suits didn’t factor into this hand) I bet the pot. The cutoff called. Now I knew he had A J. The turn was another Jack. He pushed all in. I did not want to let go of those Aces. But facts were facts. I was beat. I laid down the Aces and showed the hand before I threw them into the muck. He showed me A J and took down the pot.

By the way, I cashed in that tournament, finishing 4th. If I got married to that hand and called his all in bet, I would have busted out and gone home very mad that I couldn’t lay down Aces. Instead I threw the Aces away, played my normal game, made a few well timed bluffs and ended going deep in the tournament and walking away with some decent money.

Getting married to a hand is one of the biggest mistake poker players make. It can be a fatal mistake. If you are ever fortunate enough to play in a World Series of Poker tournament you will have to play 12 to 16 hours a day for at least 3 days, maybe even a week. You can play flawless poker but that one time you have been dealt a monster and you get married to it, you may be on the rail.

The Nut Straight

Flopping a nut straight is a moment of glory. As Vince Van Patten overstates on the World Poker Tour telecasts; “…show tunes are going off your head.” But wait! There are two suited cards on the flop. You raise your opponent’s bet and he calls. You have a gut feeling that he is on a flush draw. The turn brings a third card of the same of the same suit. Your opponent doesn’t call your raise this time. This time he re-raises all in. Now what?

Your nut straight is a losing hand.

There is of course a chance he is bluffing. But there also a chance he has you beat and your tournament may be over, if you make the call.

Poker is a game of variables, wildly aggressive opponents and decision making. If you make that one mistake, you’re on the rail and threw your buy-in away. If you were bluffed then so be it. Making a bad fold can’t knock you out of a tournament. A bad call can send you to the rail, which is the topic of my next column; “A Bad Call is Not a Bad Mistake.”

Thanks again for submitting this post, Mark! It reminds me of two expressions: A good fold is a good thing and Sometimes you have to fold the winning hand. Phillips may have folded the winning hand both times--but he ended up with a nice result.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Two Key Tips To Becoming Great at Finding Poker Tells of Your Opponents

Two Key Tips To Becoming Great at Finding Poker Tells of Your Opponents

Liar, Liar (song)Image via Wikipedia

There is a lot of excellent information about poker tells, like a player who acts strong is weak, etc. But how do you identify the specific poker tells of the players at your table?

First, you have to sit down at the table and make a concerted effort to find poker tells. I can not tell you how many times I notice a poker tell of a player and no one else at the table is paying attention. Instead, the players at the table are watching TV, eating their food, talking to friends, etc. I do all of these things at the poker table--but I do them between hands or after I know my opponents well.

Second, the biggest mistake you can make is to try to watch every player at the table like a hawk. Looking for specific poker tells is not like identifying the table image of your opponents. There's just too much information being hidden from you.

Third, the key to becoming excellent at finding poker tells is to focus on the two players who can improve your results the most.

Therefore, my two key tips to becoming great at finding poker tells are the following:

1. Study the actions of the player to your immediate left.

When it is your turn to act, sneak a peek at this player. Does the player look at his cards before or while you are looking at your starting hand?

If he does, start making mental notes of any moves he takes when he folds and when he bets. Often the tells are simply patterns you spot from these moves. For example, determine if these moves are a reliable indicator of a fold or bet:
  • Where a card protector is placed
  • When a player grabs for chips while you are still checking out your cards
  • How a player subtly moves his cards after he peeks at them
Knowing if the player to your immediate left will play or not play a hand is a big advantage, especially during button and blind play. Of course, if the player to your immediate left does not look at his cards early, then move your attention to the player to his left.

2. Study the moves of the player who is most active, that is, the player who enters the most pots pre-flop with raises.

This is an important player for you to watch since he is going to be the player you are most likely going to face. Study his moves carefully. Note his betting patterns.
Determine what he does when he is strong and when he is weak. Does he speak when he is strong? What about his facial expressions? How does he place his bets on the table? What does it mean when he says "raise" as compared to when he just raises without saying a word?

If you believe you have identified something, take a mental picture. Next, you want to confirm this possible poker tell with one more hand. If you think you have identified a poker tell, use it!

I hope this helps. Once you are an expert at studying these two players, you can try to add in one more player. But, it's not critical because by knowing the specific tells of these two key players will improve your results. Heck, this is something I can guarantee!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How I cashed for $3,000 in Sunday's Poker Tournament

How I cashed for $3,000 in Sunday's Poker Tournament

I've recently started playing the Sunday poker tournaments at the local card room in Colma, CA, called Lucky Chances. I pretty much stopped playing there since the structure was really bad. With buy-ins of $225 and more, I'd like a little play for my money.

However, when I visited last month, I found that the club was now using automatic shufflers which sped up the game and the luck-fest wouldn't start until the final 4 tables of the 10 plus tables they usually get for these events.

Sunday's Event

The tournament on Sunday was a $330 Re-enter buy-in event with a $20,000 1st place guarantee. Everyone received $5,000 in chips and the rounds were 20 minutes. The starting level was $25-$50.

What is a re-enter event? In the first 4 rounds (one hour of play), if you get knocked out you can re-enter by buying back in. Bizarre. Who would do that?

Well, there were almost 150 players who entered the event and 47 of them re-entered--oh my, over $600 invested to play in this one local event.

The Early Rounds

In the first hour, I was not getting any cards. I made three loose calls in the big blind since I was getting over 2-1 odds and my hands were playable, sort of. In all three cases, I folded on the flop.

I did pick up a tell on the player to my right--which was not worth anything. And I did pick up the betting pattern of the most aggressive player at the table which would come into play later on.

I was down to $3,200 in chips and in the $200 big blind. The player under the gun limped and there were three callers. I found A-8 and checked it.

The flop was A-8-6. I checked expecting someone to bet, so I could check raise. Everyone checked.

The turn was a 5. I checked again. The limper bet half the pot, and the next player moved all-in for $2,500. It was folded to me. What did this player have? I figured he had A-5. I moved all-in. The under the gun player folded. My opponent had 6-5 and my top 2 pair held up.

In the second hour, the blinds start at $200-$400. I loosen up since the blinds are bigger and most players tend to be uncomfortable with a stack at 10-15 times the big blinds.

Everyone folded to me on the cut-off and I raised to $1,200. The player in the big blind called. He was a tight player. I had raised with A-5 suited. The flop came Q-J-7. He checked and I checked. No, I don't automatically follow up with a c-bet all of the time. I want to see if the coast is clear.

The turn is a 2. He checked and I bet 75% of the pot. Two checks is a sign of weakness. He folded.

I raised in late position a lot and one time the small blind went over the top. I folded since I was trying to steal the blinds.

Middle Stages of Play

The blinds were getting up there and I had been blinded and anted off to where I was back down to $5,000. I was on the cut-off at a new table and found Q-10. With the blinds at $500-$1000 I moved all in. The small blind insta-called. He turned over A-4. Huh? He only had one more chip than me. I hit the 10 on the flop and doubled up.

The Q-10 was actually the best hand I had been dealt after about 4 hours of play. It was sickening.

I got moved to a new table.

I suddenly had this "feeling" that I was going to finish 3rd. And if you read my blog, you know I believe in these feelings.

Unfortunately, I continued to be card dead. It was down to 5 tables and I needed to make a move soon. I was in the small blind. I had about 7 times the big blind. Everyone folded to me. I found K-9. Hey, that's a monster! I moved all-in.

This new player in the big blind is a very tight player, and he started to hem and haw. I wanted a fold. He finally called. He turned over A-10. I hit my 9 on the turn and more than doubled up--when including the antes.

Late stages of the Event

We were down to 3 tables. I believe we were in the 6th hour of play. I had about 9x's the big blind in chips. Everyone folded to me on the button. I found my first premium hand of the day--pocket Kings. I moved all-in. The small blind insta-called with pocket Queens. He was out and now we were soon down to the final 2 tables.

I was in the button again and found pocket 8's--a monster. I raised and won another pot. I added some more chips when I was in the big blind and the small blind limped. I moved all-in since I knew he was weak.

However, when we got to the final table I was low in chips and I knew I had to make a move soon.

Final Table

When the final table started, that aggressive player at my first table had the chip lead. I was surprised to see him since he got knocked out in the 4th round. But, he must have re-entered. He had the chip lead and was seated next to me, on my right.

The first hand I was under the gun and folded. The next hand I was in the big blind. Everyone folded to the aggressive player in the small bling and he raised me. I had K-5 and folded. I was at about 6 times the big blind in chips. The next hand I was in the small blind. Everyone folded to me. I had J-10 and moved all-in. The big blind insta-called. He had K-J...uh oh....

The flop was J-9-9, but the turn was a 10 and I doubled up. Now I had some chips and could wait for a big hand.

I didn't have to wait too long. A few hands later, I got dealt pocket 10's and raised 3x's the big blind. Everyone folded.

We were down to 8 players. I limped with pocket 3's on the button because the small blind was going to be all-in. I won the hand and now my stack was almost to $200,000...yes, the blinds were now at the $8,000-$16,000 level. Even though I did not have more than 12 times the big blind in chips, I was the chip leader.

I was under the gun with Kd-Qd. It was now 8 handed and as soon as I said raise, I had a bad feeling about this hand. I raised to $48,000. The tightest player at the table took forever to make a decision. He moved all in for $120,000. I folded.

I turned to the aggressive guy to my right and told him I folded since this guy either had pocket Aces or pocket Kings. He replied by telling me that my opponent flashed pocket Kinds before sending them back to the dealer.

I was now down to $150,000.

It got down to 5 handed. I was in the big blind for $16,000. Everyone folded and the aggressive player called. I had Q-3 and checked. The flop came 8-2-2. We both checked. The turn was an Ace. My opponent bet $24,000. I had seen him make this play before, so I called. The river was a King. He thought for a long time and checked. I had Q high so I checked. He had 5 high.

I was now back up to $200,000. I got blinded and anted off for a while. I was back down to $150,000.

We were down to 4 players. It was interesting since the 2 players in the chip lead were clearly the worse players. The player to my right was much better, but he had the lowest stack. I was in 3rd place, but frankly, everyone had 10 or less times the big blind of $30,000.

I was now in the big blind. The player under the gun folded. The player on the button called. Huh? You don't call in this situation unless you have pocket Aces. The small blind folded and yeah, I checked my Q-5.

The flop came Q-8-4. I checked and my opponent moved all-in. Yeah, he had the Aces. I was going to fold when I had this feeling I was going to hit my 5. I called.

My opponent showed pocket Kings. The dealer showed the turn card, a 5! Yes!!!

My opponent groaned softly. But his friends behind him started shouting, "4! 4! 4!"

The dealer turned over the river card...4!

Ugh...I should have said "one time."

I got lucky and unlucky, but that's poker. Finished 4th and won $3,000.

Since I started playing this Sunday event, I got knocked out with a bad beat early and finished 21st and 24th...a few players out of the money.


The aggressive player seated to my right, actually did win the event and took home $20,000.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

3 Funniest Ads of 2009

3 Funniest Ads of 2009

Since every poker player goes on tilt once in a while, here are my 3 funniest ads of 2009 that you can recall to interrupt your feelings of hostility at another bad beat.

Warning: I have a sick sense of humor.

Disclaimer: I don't know if all of these ads went on air for the first time in 2009. It's simply the first time I viewed them. And if you decide to buy any of these products, well, you really should spend more time reading poker books instead.

#!. Pfizer's Chantix: I'd Rather Die Than Smoke

This ad starts normally enough as this very nice looking woman tells her story about how she has struggled with trying to stop smoking. This drug Chantix and "support" helped her to quit. The next 90 seconds of this 150 second ad is about all the side effects...it seems to go on forever...and these are not just your every day side effects. This drug can cause you to "suicidal actions" while taking the drug or even after you stop using it.

So, let me understand Pfizer's thinking. You want to help people to stop smoking, so let's give them a drug where they can kill themselves. That works. That must have been one hell of a test study! Let's see, 100 people were tested and 100% of the people reported it worked. Oh, only 2 people of the 100 reported in, because the other 98 are being restrained in a mental ward (The "support") or are no longer with us.

Gee, I hope the woman in the ad is still alive.

Now, this ad is on youtube but Pfizer won't let anyone post it on their website.
Here is the link to the Funniest Ad of 2009.

#2. Enzte's Smiling Bob as Santa: A Big Rip Off For Your Small Package

Enzyte ads are just plain funny. But, there is a shortened version of their infomercial ads, that is just too funny. I couldn't find the ad on youtube, but it is about Bob smiling big as he is dressed as Santa and a long line of women can't wait to sit on his lap.

It seems they took the last few seconds of the ad below and yes, they made it longer.

Postscript: It seems that the owner of Enzyte is going away to jail for 25 years and has to pay a $500 million fine. Even his Mom got 2 years (I'm not going there). I guess he was a user and he failed the pre/post side-by-side test in court.

You mean this product doesn't work?! I want a refund...lol!

Here's the news story about his arrest. I wonder what his life will be like behind bars.

#3. HeatSurge: The Amish Do It Better

This was a 30 minute infomercial that starts off simply enough. The ads shows customers using a faux fireplace that is a space heater with a fireplace effect. But now the secret to why you should buy it--because the Amish make it!

Next, the presenters are in an Amish barn so we can see that it's true. The Amish work on building your heaters--old men, young men and women. But wait there's more! To prove that some big company is not taking advantage of the Amish, the spot interviews one of the Amish workers. Here he is below--it is a 30 second section--of the 30 minute infomercial.

I started to think that the creators of South Park wrote this ad as a joke. I half expected Eric Cartman to walk into the ad dressed as an Amish worker.

I sure hope this product isn't real successful because if it is you know the Chinese are going to replicate it, charge a few dollars for it, and put the Amish out of work.

In summary, if you do buy all three products, I guess the police will find you in your home dead. You will be hanging from a rope, warmed by your HeatSurge fireplace, with a big smile on your face, and rigor mortis in your lap.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A new poker book you should check out!

Excerpt from Poker Woman- How to Win at Love, life and, business using the principles of poker. Written by Ellen Leikind Forward written by Kathy Liebert

While the book is written for women, when I read this excerpt I think Ellen's book may help me and other male poker players. For example, I often make the mistake of the third type of male poker player--Mr. Romeo.

Poker Woman looks like a great stocking stuffer or Holiday gift. It's available to pre-order now at www.PokerDivas.com and on amazon. You can also follow Ellen on Twitter at @ellsky.

From Chapter Breaking into the boys club

Most businesses are still clubhouses for the boys. Regardless of the profession or how well you may get along with the men in your industry, there is a distinction between the way men and women do business. One woman we spoke to works for an organization heavily populated by men at the more senior levels. As a senior executive, she spends a lot of time with them, unlike the other women in the office, who tend to have the more administrative jobs. While she has no doubt that the men within her group respect her, she also knows that there are times that she is excluded from either a lunch or social outing because she is not “one of the boys.” Typically, she’ll joke about it, just so that they know that she is aware. And they are aware, but the bottom line is that there is still a boys’ club to which she has been denied admission.

The dilemma is plain: How do you get access? Denying a woman access to a board meeting on the basis of her gender might be ridiculous—not to mention legally actionable—but a social occasion is another matter altogether. Whether it’s a round of golf, a night at a club, or a game of poker, there are social spaces where women are either totally excluded or made to feel unwelcome. Your presence is cramping their style! You’re making it impossible for them to do whatever is the male equivalent of “letting their hair down.”

Poker is probably one of the last legitimized boys’ clubs. If you walk into the poker room, you’ll find that it is 85 percent to 90 percent male dominated. While there are a lot of poker players who work well with women and play well with them, there are also those who aren’t used to having them in the room and resent their presence.

Well, that’s their problem. You have every right to be in that room. Don’t hold your breath waiting to be invited. Ask to be included and be persistent. Even if you get a reluctant invitation to be the token female, take it. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re going to put you at ease when you first get there. You’re going to have to make yourself comfortable. There are some women who are absolutely fearless and have no problem walking into a situation where they’re not welcome. But for the rest of us, here are a few tips:

First, walk in with confidence. You must seem fearless, whether or not you actually are. It can be very unnerving to walk into a poker room with 500 men and twenty-five women. Perhaps it’s even worse when you’re the only woman in a group of ten. The first time you walk into that situation, it’s extraordinarily intimidating, but you can do it. It may not feel comfortable at first, but it will get better each time. It’s just like your first dance, your first job interview, your first business meeting, or your first public speaking engagement. Even if you’re a nervous wreck, put on a brave face. It’s okay to fake your confidence. One day you won’t have to.

The other technique that’s helpful is to just watch and listen for a while. Don’t walk in and try to make your mark instantly. Feel out the table. See what the different personalities are. Who is potentially your ally? Who do you think is going to be your biggest problem? After you’ve analyzed the room, you can find your comfort zone. This is an example of how “acting last” can be a good strategic play. Don’t throw that advantage away by sitting down at the table, concentrating solely on the cards, and getting into the action too fast; you’ll miss an opportunity to understand the players. It’s very important to understand who’s aggressive, who’s passive, who wants to be your friend, and who’s already against you.

Watching and learning is a key component, just as it would be in a business situation. Did you ever work with someone who, after being on the job for only a day, walks into a meeting and starts talking about her own agenda without having any idea of the players or protocol? It’s fine to be assertive, but if you look before you leap you will be more effective.

While you observe, keep in mind that you’re not the only one in the room who is likely to feel uncomfortable. It can be unsettling for men to have you on their turf. It’s very interesting to see the responses this trespass can provoke. And at the poker table, when confronted with a female opponent, men will typically revert to one of three iconic characters.

One is going to be a bully. You’re a female, you shouldn’t be there, he’s angry that you’re there, and he’s going to make every effort to try to put you in your place. He may attempt to intimidate you by playing very aggressively against you, by betting back very hard at you, trying to make you fold every hand, and making you fearful. He’ll persist in these tactics until either you push him back or you start taking his money. But the good news about the bully is if, in fact, you’re getting very good cards at the table, you’re going to make a lot of money. That’s because he’s not going to want to lose to a woman. He is not going to want to fold to you, so as you’re betting, he’s either raising you or he’s betting back, and you stand to win a good amount of cash. Just remember that when playing against a bully, you cannot bluff. He’s always coming back at you.

The second type of man at the table is the one who sees you as his mother or sister, the Madonna complex. He is going to be very respectful toward you. He may just check or will call all of your bets but he’s not going to raise you. He’s going to get out of your way when you’re raising. He doesn’t really want much to do with you, but he’s polite and pleasant. In life, this is your typical “nice guy.”

And then, of course, there’s the guy who is looking for a date, Mr. Romeo. I don’t think I’m saying anything shocking or new here, but whether it’s on a supermarket checkout line, a flight to Chicago, or even at a funeral, there are guys for whom any interaction with a woman is an opportunity to score. Speaking from a purely tactical standpoint (we’ll leave ethics to another book), women can use this to their advantage. This is the kind of guy who will fold when he should be raising you. He may flirt openly with you. He may tell you not to call his raises, because he has a good hand. For Mr. Romeo, now that you’re at the table, it’s ceased to be a game of poker. As far as he’s concerned, the two of you are on a date and the poker game is background noise. If maintaining that fiction means losing an extra $50 or $100 to you or not making some money off of somebody else, he’s going to do it. The way he sees it, it’s a form of passive dating rather than taking you out for dinner or a drink. He doesn’t mind losing a couple of bucks to you at the table.

About the Author- Ellen Leikind

After 15 years as a successful marketing executive working for Fortune 500 companies, Leikind took a one year hiatus from her career and rediscovered poker, a game she had learned as a teenager. It was at that time she first made the connections explored in her book. "The more she played poker, the more she saw the similarities between the card game and the larger 'game' of business and personal fulfillment. Ellen Leikind founded POKERprimaDIVAS, www.pokerdivas.com a company that provides corporate programs and entertainment to teach women to use the principles acquired at the poker table to enhance their business skills. She has an MBA in marketing from Fordham University and is a devoted native New Yorker.

The book is available at www.PokerDivas.com and on amazon.
You can also follow Ellen on Twitter at @ellsky.

What's Your Poker IQ?