Sunday, September 25, 2011

Online Poker In The U.S.: Time To Do The Right Thing

Cover of "Do the Right Thing [Blu-ray]"Cover of Do the Right Thing [Blu-ray]Online Poker In The U.S.: Time To Do The Right Thing

Given the Full Tilt Poker disaster, I believe it will be more difficult than ever before to get the U.S. Congress to approve legalization. Never the less, I would love to see online poker be legal so millions of U.S. citizens can play poker anywhere and anytime via the internet.

I believe that the online poker companies should be aggressive in putting together a plan of what they will do to make sure that online poker is good for the U.S. economy, good for its citizens, is a fair game, prohibits underage gambling, and addresses problem gamblers.

Here are 11 areas that I would like online poker companies to promise to the U.S. Congress and poker players:

1. All companies must be headquartered in the U.S. to operate a legal online poker site in the U.S.

2. Jobs to operate online poker companies must include U.S. citizens in a similar percentage to the revenue anticipated from the U.S. poker players. If 70% of revenue is from U.S. poker players, then the online site must hire 70% of their total employees from the U.S.

3. No top executives, directors or major shareholders in online poker sites can have a criminal record.

4. Online poker companies must pay a U.S. tax rate that is similar to brick and mortar casinos.

5. Online poker companies must issue 1099's for all players that cash over $5,000.

6. The online poker industry must fund and create an independent agency to monitor their sites. This agency will have the power to penalize or shut down sites that do not adhere to the rules. The funding for the agency will come from an annual fee per online site based on total revenues.

7. The online poker sites must take adequate steps to prevent gambling by U.S. citizens under the age of 21.

8. There must be one universal poker dealing program that all sites use. This poker dealing program must be developed, tested and proven to replicate the randomness of live poker dealing. While each site will have its own design, format, promotions, etc., the dealing of poker hands must be fair and true to the game.

9. Online poker sites must identify the types of cheating that is possible by online players and agree to the best practices to try to prevent and stop these practices. Each poker site must have an internal group to audit the poker tables, investigate player complaints of cheating, and to act promptly.

Money lost by players due to cheating will be returned to players. The players caught cheating will be banned for life at all online poker sites. The names of these cheaters will be made public.

10. Online poker sites will not allow players to use online poker tools that provide data as to the betting habits and trends of individual poker players. This type of information is not available in a live poker game and will not be allowed online. Players caught using these online poker tools will be banned for life at all online poker sites.

11. Online poker sites must provide information to their players about responsible gambling and where to go if there is a problem. An online poker site can prohibit a player from continuing to participate on their site, if they perceive a player as a problem gambler.

I believe it is time for the online poker sites to take the initiative and go above and beyond what has been done in the past in order to get online poker legal in the U.S.

What do you think?
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How To Improve Your Poker Tournament Results

Mutual fundImage via WikipediaHow To Improve Your Poker Tournament Results

Let me share with you a way to improve your tournament poker results. It may change the way you think about your tournament game and how you play in your next event.

Here is a question for you:

Let's say you enter your local poker tournament. The event has 80 entrants. You start with 8,000 in chips. The blinds are 25-50. The rounds are 20 minutes. (This is a typical structure in SF Bay Area ). First place is $5,000.

It is the first hand. You have Kc-6s in the big blind. Everyone folds to the small blind. He picks up his cards to see what he holds. When he lifts his cards up, he holds them so high that you can see that he has 9h-8h.

He calls. You check.

The flop is Kd-4h-2h. You have top pair. Your opponent checks. You bet 100. Your opponent moves all-in with his flush draw. What should you do?

You state aloud. "I have to call."

You call as you are a big favorite with your top pair. The turn card is not a heart, but the river is a heart and you are eliminated. You shake your head, walk away from the table, and tell anyone who will listen about your "bad beat."

Does this sound familiar? Maybe this has happened to you?

I believe you made a mistake if you called this all-in bet. Let me explain why.

Risk in Poker: Don't Worry No Numbers Here!

When evaluating stocks in a portfolio, there are different kinds of risks that are measured to determine it's performance.

One kind of risk is market risk. This is the risk of the entire mutual fund compared to the market as a whole. Called Alpha.

A second kind of risk is specific stock risk. This is the risk that is specific to a given stock compared to the market as a whole. Called Beta.

I believe in poker, there is an analogy which will help you make the "right decision" at any point in time of an event.

Think of market risk as the "tournament risk" you are taking that uses your relative chip count and the number of chips you will win as it compares to your chances of winning the event.(Lets call this your PokerAlpha)

While specific stock risk is the "hand risk" you have or probability of winning a specific hand of poker. (Lets call this your Poker Beta).

How to Use These Risks in Poker

Lets take that poker hand where you flopped top pair and you knew your opponent was on a flush draw. Your probability of winning a specific hand of poker was very favorable--about a 66% favorite.

But, your market risk was extremely high: If you lost the hand, you are eliminated. And, you have only increased your chance of winning the event by a small margin if you win the hand.

Given this risk analysis, I believe the best decision is to fold.

Now, if you think your opponents are much better than you, you should forget about using the Poker Alpha. Just evaluate your odds of winning a specific hand and play accordingly. But, if you think you are as good or better than your opponents, consider both types of risk.

As you get deeper in a tournament, your risk assessment will change. In fact, that is why it is often best to move all-in when your stack is low relative to the big blind; for example, 10x's or less. Your tournament risk is such that it is better to make a move all-in now and take the hand risk to double-up.

Does this Poker Risk Concept Work?


I used this concept in making my poker decisions at the WSOP Main Event.

For example, on day 2, I was under the gun and raised pre-flop. Only the big blind called. I flopped top pair, and after I bet the flop, I was check raised all-in. Even though I was 90% sure my opponent was on a flush draw, I knew that losing this hand would cripple my stack. I folded.

I believed that I was one of the better players at my table and I would get these chips back. (It turned out that I won those chips back and more from that same opponent later that day.)

Does this Translate to Online Poker?


If you play online poker, your risk reward analysis is very different than a live event. Online, you may be playing multiple events and you know you can enter a new tournament in seconds. This means that the overall tournament risk is practically nil early in an online event.

I know others have written about risk in poker before, but I wanted to provide for a simpler and possibly a new way for players to understand them.

By the way, if you don't agree with this post, don't use it in your game.

Good luck!
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Monday, September 5, 2011

How to Win A Poker Tournament: 10 Concepts You Must Master

How to Win A Poker Tournament: 10 Concepts You Must Master

After doing well at the WSOP Main Event, I am getting more questions than usual from people about how to improve their tournament poker game. I have outlined 10 concepts below that should help your game.

1. Understand how the structure of a tournament influences your play.

The WSOP Main Event may be the most favorable structure in the world as it gives you 30,000 in chips, 2-hour rounds, and a slow increase in blinds. Your local event probably provides 5-10,000 in chips, 20 minute rounds, and a a level or two where the blinds jump up.

Adjust your game to the structure of your game.

2. Poker is about the players and not just about your cards.

Your cards are important, but knowing the players is just as or possibly more important. You need to figure out how your opponents play. Are they aggressive or passive? How do they play on each street as a pre-flop raiser or caller? Do they always make a c-bet? Do they 3-bet with a range of cards or does it only mean they have a premium hand?

Do not assume your opponents play like you.

3. Get out of your comfort zone.

When you started playing poker, you may have seen charts of which starting hands to play and from what position. If you follow these charts, I can promise you will never win a poker tournament. Why? You won't be dealt enough of these hands in the right position to make it to the end of an event.

You must learn to open up your game. The way to do this is test different moves or ideas, and to learn by watching or reading from others. For example, have you ever 3-bet an opponent pre-flop without a premium hand? If not, try it. In fact, if you are going to 3 bet an opponent in may be best to try it with a trash hand than a hand like K-J. (Do you know why?)

Now, if you've played a lot of poker, you may think you play good enough to win. But, you are not winning. Why? You may have a better understanding of the game, and a new comfort zone, but you need to continue to work at your game.

If you are not one of the November Nine, I can promise you that you have a lot more to learn. I know I do.

4. Know your own table image.

Players who are good at getting a read on their opponents, forget about how other players are viewing their style. If you know how an opponent will read your playing style, you can take advantage of that information.

And, you should realize that not all opponents will read you the same way. Oh yeah, there are even a few players who don't even care.

5. Chip Stacks

Always be aware of your stack size and those of your opponents. It is important in so many decisions you have to make at the table.

I will give you an obvious example that too many players still don't get it. Let's say the small blind has 1,000 and the blinds are 200-400. The big blind has 30,000. The small blinds moves all-in when everyone folds to him. What should the big blind do? Hint: The big blind peeks at his cards and finds 7-2 offsuit.

Call. It doesn't matter what the big blind is holding.

6. Variance

Simply, you want to manage your risk based on the stage of the tournament and your chip stack. Early in an event you want to reduce your risk, since you can't accumulate enough chips to win an event in early round. Later in the event, you can take on greater risk if your stack size declines too much or you see an opportunity to win a big pot.

7. Position

Position is always important. And, a back position is a favorable one since it allows you to risk less, and win. Some examples:

If you are in a back position, and everyone folds to you preflop, you should look to raise.
If you are on the button, and have a speculative hand, it may be a good play to call a pre-flop raise. Why? Because even if you miss the flop, if other players flop, your bet her may win.
If you want to squeeze players with a 3 bet, it is easier to do it in a back position.
You can also float an opponent by calling a raise from a back position.

Of course, if you are in the small or big blind, you will be out of position which will make it more difficult to play a hand.

8. Learn how to play with a short stack

I took one chip in a WSOP satellite and turned it into finishing 71st in the Main Event. Did I get lucky? Of course. But, I also have a good understanding of short stack play.

To me a short stack is when you have to decide to move all-in or fold. Here are some things to consider:

First, have an idea of what is a short stack in your game. Is it when you are 20x's the big blind ? 15x's? 10x's? This is the time, where you have to move all-in or fold?

Second, you need to have your own guidelines as to when to move all-in by your position at the table.

Third, you should determine if you need to adjust these guidelines if there is any action that happens in front of you.

Here is an example that I witnessed the other day. This event pays out 14 places. We are down to 20 players. The blinds are 400-800 with a 100 ante. The player under the gun has 6000 and raises to 2000. It is folded to the big blind who moves all-in (he has 10,000). The under the gun player folds! He shows K-Q, and the big blind shows J-J.

The under the gun player's mistake is that he had a short stack with less than 8x's the big blind and only raised. He has to move all-in or fold.

Too many players make raises pre-flop short stacked and then fold to an all-in move. This is a major leak.

9. Tells

If you know if your opponent is strong or weak, it would help your game immensely, right?Most poker players do things either consciously or subconsciously that give you this answer. You have to work at developing your skill. But, frankly, it can be a lot of fun and very profitable.

Caro and Navarro are two authors who have written excellent books on spotting tells. I have written a lot about how to spot tells, and how to get better at it.

Here is one simple exercise: Look at your opponent seated to your left. Find out what he does pre-flop to signal if he will or will not enter a hand. Now, you will find times where you can alter your play based on knowing his actions.

10. Play to win, and not just to cash.

The money in most events are in the first three spots. If you are playing to survive in order to cash, you are not understanding how payouts work. It may be why that player folded his K-Q in the example above (Note: he did not cash in that event).

The next time you play in a tournament, look at the payouts. Let's say you finish 10th, 10 times in a row. Now, look at how that compares to one win.

I hope this helps!

What's Your Poker IQ?