Archive for the ‘Poker Strategy’ Category
Im about to make the most obvious statement ever but during the last few days it has never been emphasized more for me. When you get dealt Aces in a tournament, when the hand is over, you will either be really happy or really mad. You’re gonna lose with them or get no action with them, or win with them. And anytime you lose with them preflop, it’s pretty disheartening.
In last sunday’s 200k, the 3rd hand of the tournament I get dealt AA, and manage to somehow have my 5 bet shove called by AK at 300 Big Blinds deep. The flop was 10JQ and I couldnt hit my chop outs. I was left with 320 chips. I grinded for 4 hours to get deep in the money, down to 50 players and was dealt AA again. The money gets in preflop and I’m against K8. Again I lose and Im out of the tournament. Im not here to wine about bad beats. But I almost dread getting aces. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best hand in poker and I love getting them, but getting them late in tournaments you will often be putting your whole stack in the middle and risking your tournament life. I know, I know, I am a huge favorite and I’ll take them any day. It’s just there is really something to be said about not being all in and at risk of being knocked out. Think back to the times you have won tournaments or done really well in them. I can guarantee you, you somehow found a way to avoid as many showdowns as possible, while winning uncontested pots. Of course running well at the same time:)
Getting AA early in tournaments is also a tricky situation in my opinion. You start with 300 bbs in UB tournaments. 3k starting stack and 5-10 blinds. Say you raise to 30 and get called once out of the BB and the flop comes 1062. How much do you love your aces? I like them, but about 10x less than I liked them preflop. How many times can you justify getting 300bbs in, on a flop with 1 pair? Again, its safer to find a way to get the money in preflop, in turn making you play pots for your tournament life.
Aces are a great thing, but you win huge pots or loose huge pots with them and sometimes they happen at the worst times. I can still remember some of my bad beats with AA for huge amounts of equity that happened 5 years ago. Here is to better luck with AA for everyone!!
I recently traveled to San Jose for the Bay 101 Shooting Star WPT. For those of you that don’t know it’s a bounty tournament featuring the top 50 poker stars. Players get $ 5,000 for every shooting star they eliminate which adds a pretty interesting dynamic throughout the entire tournament. More so unlike other stops on the WPT this one has tons and tons of people on the rail from the get go. San Jose has the largest poker fan base in the country, and people really come out to rail this tourney, which makes it a cool experience each year.
When I got to my table at the start of day one, my shooting star had not shown up yet. I did have some other well regarded pros at my table such as Shane Schleger and Shawn Buchanan but neither were shooting stars so we started speculating who the shooting star would be. We were told via Twitter it would be Phil Ivey, but the floor guy said it would actually be Yevgeniy Timoshenko or Todd Brunson. Even though Phil Ivey is the best player in the world I was feeling disappointed that I didn’t get to play with him. Even if it might be bad for my tournament, it’s always cool to play with a player of his caliber. Later on we were told we would be the feature table for the day. An hour goes by, no shooting star pro. Another hour goes by and still the seat remains empty. At this point there were only a few stars that hadn’t shown up. Towards the end of level 4 about 3 1/2 hours into the day, Matt Savage, the tournament director, rolls by our table and puts the Phil Ivey bounty shirt on the table and that’s when we realized it actually was Phil Ivey we’d be playing with. With 10 minutes left in the level the great one Phil Ivey shows up and luckily he sits directly to the right of me giving me position on him.
Maybe I shouldnt have felt disappointed when I thought I wouldn’t be playing with him because it ended up leading to my demise. At 150/300 25 online player KingDan raises to 900 from 4th position. A tight player I didn’t recognize flats from the hijack and Phil Ivey flats from the cutoff. I look down to Jacks on the button. Literally the previous hand I had just lost an 18k pot with Jacks and I was visibly frustrated -not tilted but frustrated. I have 18k and I make a reraise to 3800. KingDan deliberates for a little bit and eventually folds. The tight guy folds as well and the action is on Phil Ivey who starts thinking. After a little bit he calls which was definitely surprising to me because it seemed like he had the weakest hand of all the players because he was the second caller of a raise. I wasn’t exactly sure what range to put him on but I was more than confident I had the best hand. The flop comes K93 rainbow and he checks. I probably normally bet here but considering it was Phil Ivey I didn’t. I didn’t feel very comfortable in this particular spot and was hoping he would check the turn so I could get to a showdown rather than put myself in a really tough spot if he check raises all in. The turn comes a K bricking any flush draws. He bets 5500 and in my head I had already decided I was calling the turn and most rivers. This was a very good card for me because now there’s only 2 Kings in the deck that I lose to. The river is a 9 so now the board is K92K9 and Ivey puts me all in. I start thinking about what he could have and he could have a lot of stuff. Then I realize it’s Phil Ivey. He could easily be bluffing here and obviously he could still have a King or a Nine but I had 3-1 odds to call. I called and he flipped over K8dd and just like that, instead of getting his bounty he knocked me out of the tourney. Not really sure why he called me with K8dd out of position when I only have 2 times pot left. That definitely can’t be a correct call but whatever. Ivey’s gonna Ivey.
Oh well. Hopefully next time I play with Ivey I actually win a hand against him!
The Calm Before The Storm
It’s been a slow start for me poker-wise in 2011. Although there is tons of luck and variance in poker, I’ve never been one to attribute a downswing to either of these. I just don’t see how that can be productive. Instead, I try to be honest with myself about if I’m truly playing my “A” game, and if I’m letting outside factors leak into my poker game. I recently caught myself not being focused at the table, and not having the feeling of inner peace that I have in the past. I decided it was time to take a step back and revisit some of the lessons that helped me get to where I am today.
In college, my main focus was on baseball. It took up a ton of my time, and after mixing in schoolwork and a social life, there really wasn’t time for much else. The majority of my goals centered on the sport. When my eligibility ran out, I found myself with a huge void in my life. I had 40-50 extra hours of time on my hand per week, and had no real goal or focus to put them towards. I’d always done a lot of thinking, being interested in subjects like Philosophy and Psychology. Well, having a ton of extra time on your hands can be pretty self-destructive if you tend to overanalyze things. I found myself falling into a nasty cycle of negative thoughts. I would think about thinking, try to solve life’s big questions, and convince myself that something was wrong with me. I would sit in Psychology class, and just because I had one of many symptoms of some disorder we were covering, I would say, “oh no! I’ve got x disorder!” It was a really vicious cycle, as I would then try to solve my problems by thinking even more about them. I would spend most of my time in my head, oblivious to the present moment and reality. My body’s reaction was to feel a lot of fear and anxiety.
One day, I was wandering aimlessly about a bookstore. For whatever reason, I picked up a book titled “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. The cover claimed it as “A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment”. This was not the type of book I would ever read. It’s about as far away from science or sports as you can get, but I guess I was so lost at the time I decided to open it. Upon reading the introduction, I saw that the author had gone through a lot of the things I currently was, so I skeptically decided to buy it and give it a shot. I’m glad I did. I won’t go into many details of the book, but I will tell you it taught me to find the ‘off button’ to my rambling thoughts and to find a priceless sense of inner peace. This was the most valuable book to my poker career and I highly doubt the author has ever played a hand. I highly recommend it. It’s not light reading, and I’ve given it to friends that weren’t able to get much out of it, but worst case scenario you’re out $ 7 and can think I’m a quack. Here’s a link to Amazon:
Back to 2011, I’ve had a lot of personal stuff going on that has been clouding my mind. Throw in the fact that I’ve made enough money the past couple years where I no longer need to immediately win to be financially secure, and it’s easy to fall into cruise control at the poker table. This isn’t who I want to be. I just started rereading “The Power of Now” and it’s apparent I’ve drifted pretty far from where I was when I was happiest and playing my best poker. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be working to get back to where I want to be. Look out for me come April, as there are tons of tournaments going on in my backyard of Las Vegas, my favorite place to play. I had a similar start to 2009, and that year ended up pretty damn good!
I believe one of the most overlooked, underrated factors in poker is preparation.
I’m sure the majority of players have fell victim to this more than once in their poker life. After all some of the places we play are exciting, fun and full of distractions. Take for example the Aruba Poker Classic, or the current tournament I am at in Nuevo Vallarta Mexico. The night before a main event, I always plan on getting a full nights sleep.
Doing this for several years now, I have developed a bit of a routine that helps me to be prepared to take on the multi day tournaments that lie ahead. First off I always try to arrive at the venue at least 2 days before the main event starts. I like to have some fun, check out the sites and hopefully have a full day to do nothing before the tournament starts. I have arrived to several tournaments the day of, or the night before and find I don’t seem to play well. I have been prey to the “night before parties” and ended up feeling bad the next day wishing I were still in bed. These are hard to resist, but I recommend attending with the idea of not staying out too late and keeping the drinking down as much as possible.
Rest is obviously the biggest factor in preparation, but what are some others? I’m sure it’s different for each player, but here are some of my routines.
• Make sure the ipod is fully charged.
• Get my seat assignment the night before.
• Research the players at my table if possible. Usually you can only do this before day 2.
• Have a good meal a few hours before I sit
• Go for a long walk an hour or so before I play.
I know a lot of people that like to play poker the night before a big event. I am not one of those people. Mostly because I feel I am a lot fresher the next day if I don’t. Many of the tournaments hold a super satellite the night before the main event. Many times I have played these for lack of something better to do. There is nothing worse than grinding in one of these until late in the night only to come up a few spots short. It makes coming out focused the next day tough for me. I normally try to avoid any kind of poker the night before.
Of course a lot of poker players are superstitious by nature and do a lot of the same things in preparation. I would say I fall somewhere in the middle of that group. If I find I’m doing well I usually try to keep the same routine. For instance I ate the exact same breakfast in the same restaurant 4 days in a row this year in Aruba. I don’t think this thrilled my wife too much, but she understands to a degree and humors me.
I would recommend doing anything that makes you relax and feel good about putting in a battle that could and hopefully will last several days.
Around the Holidays each year, Phil comes back to his hometown of Madison, WI. His family still lives here so he frequently visits. After all the Holiday stuff is done, He rounds up all the old guys and we get a game going. Most of the time we hold it at a good friend of Phil’s, Jon Green’s house, but due to the fact one of the players in this years game owns 2 of the nicest strip clubs in Wisconsin, we are going to move it there instead:) I mean if playing with Phil isnt enough, we get to have strippers massaging and bartending for us.
The game is 5-5 pot limit holdem and what a game it is. The players range from 27 to 70, and great to inexperienced. Im not kidding when I say you could write a movie about everysingle person in this game. Some would be more interesting than others, but Ebert and Ropert would give at least 2 thumbs up for anyone. From “Jimmy Pizza” to “Jimmy Duece”. From “Bald Headed Gary” to Concrete Larry”. From “Ladies and Gentlemen Mr. Jon Green” to “Ladies and Gentlemen the Great P0ker H0″, the list goes on and on. Wayne “Tilly” Tyler, Tim Belstner, Paul Clements are a few others to name. These people have been playing in this home game since Phil won his first bracelet. The youngest player that plays in our game is Mike “Wisco” Murray. He has really come along way since I have met him, and im proud to say he definitely deserves to play in this game.
Every year there is a hand that is unforgettable, and im sure this year will be no different. To prove to you im not lying, read this hand from last year.
In this game it is typical to straddle and in this hand it was straddled 3 times. Phil is first to act and bumps it up large. it fold around to the button. We will refer to the Button player as “SpaMan”. SpaMan reraises and Phil calls. Its only these 2 in the hand and the pot has around 900 in it before the flop comes out. 962 FLOP. BAMMMMMM!!! Spaman flips over his hand. he has J9. but wait? you are asking why he flipped over his hand on the flop? Well in this game it is common for people to try and outplay phil just to say they did it. Anyway, Phil bets the pot knowing this guy has top pair. Spaman thinks and calls. now there is 3kish in the pot and now the board is 962K. Phil checks, and spaman bets out 2600. Phil reraises 4kish, and this is where the fun begins. Spaman really thinks he has the best hand and is talking trash to phil the whole time telling him hes gonna beat him in a hand with his cards exposed. Well, Spaman calls the turn bet. WOW. Now there is 10k plus in the pot. the river comes an absolute blank. I believe it was 962K3. Phil leads out for 8kish and Spaman folds? Phil shows a complete bluff and the place goes nuts.
So many things are crazy about this hand. If Spaman thought he was good on the turn, why not think hes good on the river. Whats amazing on phils end is he knows this guy has 2nd pair and bad kicker, and because he check raised the turn, he could have a king. Phil basically found a way to represent the only card that Spaman would be afraid of. But than you can go back to if he thought he was good on turn, why not river. Its a crazy hand, and was a 17kish pot on a complete bluff if a 5-5 pl holdem game. Just crazy. Phil was just hoping Spaman couldnt possibly think he was bluffing if he could see his cards, and Spaman was thinking this is what phil was thinking. Called him down on every street, and folded the river? It made no sense, but was one of the craziest hands ive seen.
Sometimes, I get asked for help by my friends who are just getting into poker, whether it’s online at UB or the live games that are taking place in rec rooms, dens, and even in actual casinos across America. I had an interesting experience with one of them the other day. Doug (I’ll call him that, anyway) wanted me to watch him play in some low-staked online games and help him analyze his game after. He’s got a beer fridge that’s usually stocked pretty nicely, so of course I agreed to help out.
Doug is actually pretty sharp and picks up on patterns in betting and the like quickly. He’s really good at knowing when to slowplay and when to just go bezerk. He’s got a real knack for bluffing. I complimented him as I watched him play and learned that he really didn’t have a lot to hear from me, or so I thought. He was on this fourth table of the night when I saw him betting heavily when he had what I’d consider nothing: three-six off-suit. The flop was 7 9 K.
If you’ve never had to watch a friend chase a straight without saying a word until it’s all said and done, I can’t recommend the experience at all. After he lost way, way too many chips, I made him log out and demand to know what the hell he was thinking.
“Well, I was already in because I was the Small Blind and when the Flop hit, I thought I had a chance,” he says sort of meekly.
“You didn’t have a five or a ten in that weak hand, so why didn’t you just take the lumps on the blind and wait until the next hand?”
“Wait, why a five or a ten?”
“Well, those are two cards where at least one of them is in every straight. If you’re going to pin your hopes on a chasing a straight like that, you might as well have your ducks in a row first.”
“I never knew that!”
This guy, who had shown a natural knack for the finer points in the game, never had thought about one of the most basic elements, and this sort of thing happens to all of us at one time or another. When was the last time you looked at the rules or watched a friend play? Even seasoned players like myself learn something new when we review and observe.
You ever have one of those friends who loves to make sure that you know they’ve read more than their share when it comes to poker books, poker websites, poker news, etc? Not that I’m not guilty of it myself, but I generally assume that my associates know that I am a hyperintelligent poker oracle and I don’t really need to show it off by spouting off knowledge when we could be talking about something else, like how I shouldn’t be buying any more rounds because I paid for the first two or three. (This strategy, by the way, is one of my favorites. When your first few friends arrive at the pub, cover them. By the time the group reaches critical mass, you’re out of the rounds loop because you covered the first few.)
Anyway. This hanger-on in my circle of pals is Jimmy. Jimmy is one of those guys. He’s always using the slang, to the point where a conversation with him requires a translator. Someone wanted to know how the tables were treating me and I told them fine and we all moved on, until Jimmy suddenly pipes up with “Hey, John! I was in a game at the Wynn a couple of weeks ago and punched out at the best time. When I was up by $ 3,000, I got a Doyle Brunson and saw it was a sign.”
This grinds the entire rest of the conversation (which I think was about Blu-Ray players and how I’m not going to buy one) to a halt. I ask Jimmy which Doyle Brunson and he lets me know it was Ace/Queen, a hand that “the man never plays.”
At this, I rolled my eyes. “Brunson plays that hand all the time. He even changed the wording in his SuperSystem book a while back to say he tries not to play it.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jimmy responds.
Don’t you love it when you can wipe a smile off a schmuck’s face when they’re being extra schmucky?
“I know I’ve seen him play it on at least two of those poker shows, plus he got bumped from the WSOP main event in 07 while holding it.”
Jimmy still didn’t believe. He was willing to wager some single-malt on his sureness. Well, then it got interesting for me. I pulled out my Blackberry, fired up Google, and had him at the bar within 60 seconds. While I do think there’s a lot of pocket cards you shouldn’t play, or hands that look stronger than they really are, there’s very few hands that you’ll never play.
Plenty of history and prestige were at stake at the World Poker Tour’s no-limit Hold’em Championship at the Bellagio in December 2004, not to mention a first-place prize of $ 1.8 million dollars. On the third day of the five-day marathon tournament, the following hand came up between Player X (an amateur) and me.
Everyone had been randomly reshuffled to new tables at the $ 15,000 buy-in event, with 45 players remaining (out of 400 entrants). With the blinds (required bets) at $ 3,000-$ 6,000 and a $ 500 a man ante, Player X (with $ 164,500 in chips) opened for $ 15,000 in the 7-seat, and, sitting in the 3-seat, I looked down at K-K (holding $ 285,000 in chips).
What to do? Although I loved having pocket kings, I couldn’t decide how to play them. Should I “smooth call” (underbid) the bet and hope to extract a lot of chips from my opponent later on in the hand? Or should I re-raise the bet before the flop and give the amateur a chance to re-raise me?
On the one hand, smooth calling entailed merely calling the current $ 15,000 bet in order to disguise the strength of my hand and make it seem much weaker than it was. Later on in the hand, I would try to draw another $ 40,000 to $ 120,000 into the pot when everyone would assume my hand was weak. However, a re-raise before the flop would alert my opponent to the strength of my hand and likely cause him to fold before the flop. The benefit of the re-raise was that it might cause my opponent to move all-in with a hand like J-J, Q-Q, A-K, or worse; thus causing me to be a huge favorite for a ton of chips.
Finally, I chose an extremely safe play. I would make a huge re-raise before the flop for two reasons. First, I wanted to protect my hand from being beat (in case players with weak yet still potentially winning hands decide to wait for the extra cards given the relatively low stakes). Second, I wanted to simply move all-in for the rest of my chips on the flop, in the event Player X called the massive re-raise, and a non-ace flop hit (such as Q-9-4 or 2-2-7) — thus protecting my hand from losing one more time. So I raised the bet up to $ 80,000, making a relatively huge $ 65,000 re-raise into the $ 40,000 pot.
One minute later my opponent moved all-in for $ 164,500. “I call” I immediately announced and turned my K-K face up. My opponent’s face looked ashen as he showed me Ad-Jd (I was a now a 2.5-to-1 statistical favorite). Then the flop came down K-Q-J, and I was about to take the chip lead with $ 460,000 — the $ 340,000 in the pot plus the $ 120,000 I still had in my pile — when the turn card came in as a 10 for him to make straight (K-Q-J-10). I still thought that I would win the hand with a king, queen, jack, or 10, but alas, the last card was an eight.
Oh well, that’s poker!
RAISE OR FOLD
The benefit of re-raising with K-K before the flop is:
a) You take a big chance
b) Risky plays work well
c) You protect your hand from losing
d) All of the above
When the dust settled after the preliminary four tables, there were twenty-one contestants left on the show. Now it was up to Phil and Annie to draft nine players each for their team. Standing there for the draft in front of the cameras and bright lights was pretty intense. Plus, I was having flashbacks to last season when a number of contestants were called by name, jumped for joy, and then later found out that they were in the group being cut. Did it make good TV? Yes. Was it cruel? Maybe. Did it have me on edge? Definitely. So I stood there keen to spot any “Survivor” twists that might be coming.
Starting off the draft, one player was singled out as having played the best in the prelims. This player received all kinds of gushing comments, but neither Phil nor Annie said the player’s name for a while. I’m sure each of the contestants, myself included, was hoping deep inside that they would be that player. But because “being the best” wasn’t really my strategy for round one, I knew it wasn’t me. Finally, Annie Duke revealed the identity of this player with her first pick – Darryl.
Phil made his first pick next. I really wasn’t expecting Phil to pick me high in the draft for one reason. The day before the prelims started PokerH0 came to me with an odd proposition: basically he wanted me to be a sleeper agent for Team Hellmuth. He proposed that I play “mediocre” or even outright bad so that Annie wouldn’t draft me. Meanwhile, Phil could draft me lower and use his upper picks to take players from Annie’s top tier. Because he had played with me a lot before, H0 said that I would be a near lock to make Phil’s final three. Very sneaky. It also gives you an idea of just how bad these two coaching teams wanted to win. Annie and I had never played together live or online, but Shawn Rice and I had several hours together during a WPT event and knew each other a little from online. Because Rice knew me, I doubted whether the plan would work and I told H0 that I just couldn’t go out on national TV and intentionally make myself look like a donkey (looking like a donkey unintentionally was still a very viable option of course!). In any event, Phil chose “ShipItMuppet,” a long-time UB grinder as his top pick.
When Shaundle and Jason were the number two picks for Annie and Phil respectively, I can honestly say I was getting nervous. Unless I went to Phil’s team, I figured I needed a reasonably high draft pick to make the final table. For her third pick, Annie started off by saying she was going with a player who she thought was probably an “unrecognized talent” and that it was very close between this pick and Shaundle. To me, this sounded like the Darryl build up all over again. And I was mentally prepared not to hear my name. So, when she picked me third I was pretty friggin’ psyched. You can see my excitement on the show. It was such a relief to go in the top three because I now felt like the spot on the final table was mine to lose. But as the first semifinal match would show, I had no reason to feel so safe.
The structure for the semifinals was the same as the prelims – 10k in chips, one player from each team would be eliminated and the table winner had immunity. On top of that, we were playing for team points that would affect starting stacks at the final table. The final table starting stack was going to be 100k. But whichever team won the semis would get 10k off the losing teams stack (so the starting stacks would be 90k vs 110k). This was huge. And just to make it more cutthroat, each semifinal table winner would also get $ 1000 cash.
The first semi table was full of surprises. Annie’s team consisted of Darryl, Niago and Patrick. Darryl lost a race early to Muppet. Patrick played great poker but couldn’t outlast Niago, who won the table. So the first shocker of the show came when Annie was faced with the decision of whether to cut Darryl (who probably was the most experienced player at the table with the most lifetime winnings) or Patrick (who played a solid error-free table). I think in Annie’s mind, fairness ultimately won out and Darryl was cut. This was both good news and bad news for me. First, it effectively meant I moved up to the number two spot on Team Duke. Second, the Niago-Patrick one-two finish staked us to a healthy point lead. The bad part was that it showed me just how easy it would be to take a “bad beat” here and be off the show.
The second semi table was a disaster for Team Duke. My teammates were the first three busted. Now it was Team Duke that faced the huge point deficit going into the third and last semifinal table. Specifically, we needed to bust two of Phil’s players in 6th and 5th or else Team Hellmuth was guaranteed the chip lead on the final table. Even if we busted two of Phil’s players first, Team Hellmuth would still get the chip lead if his remaining player won the table. The table lineup was like this:
Seat 1 – Me (Team Duke)
Seat 2 – David (Team Hellmuth) – a very talented and successful on-line cash player. Perhaps his most impressive claim to fame is being a lifetime winner in heads up cash games against Tom “drrrrr” Dwan.
Seat 3 – SassyTexan (Team Duke) – Tight, aggressive and solid. Sassy was at my prelim table and when Annie gave me my choice for a table mate, Sassy was my first pick. I knew her solid play would keep the two of us from getting mixed up in any needless confrontations.
Seat 4 – Brad (Team Hellmuth) – my first impression was that he could be pretty wild.
Seat 5 – Jon (Team Duke) – probably the most inexperienced player in the field. Like Brad, I expected him to be unpredictable.
Seat 6 – Jason (Team Hellmuth) – another talented young on-line phenom. Jason is routinely ranked in the top 100 for on-line multi-table tournaments. He would be aggressive and the most dangerous. Fortunately, I would have position on him.
The first hand of the table really affected my strategy for the whole tournament. Brad raised from the button, Jon min raised from the blind and Brad put in a fourth bet that was just barely above a min raise. Jon called. The flop came down three baby cards with two diamonds. Jon check folded to a half-pot cbet from Brad. From the outside, it looked like Jon had a weak ace, maybe AJ to A8, that missed and Brad probably had a reasonable overpair or a big ace. As it turns out, Jon had the AQ of diamonds and Brad had tens. I probably wouldn’t have thought about the hand again, but I got called into the coach’s booth before the button orbited the table again.
The hand before I got summoned to the booth, I flopped bottom two pair in a multi-way pot between Jason, myself and Brad. Jason had top pair (queen) with a weak kicker and we went to war on the turn. Jason made three queens on the river and checked to me. Being counterfeited on the river, I knew the only way to win was to bet. Jason made the easy call and I tabled my “busted monster” and read the hand out loud as “queens and eights.” I congratulated Jason on his nice suckout and he got defensive, insisting that his queen on the flop was ahead of my eights. He missed the fact that I had flopped two pair. This started a lot of sarcasm and ball busting from me. I had just asked Jason if a pair of queens beats two pair in his home game when I was summoned to the coach’s booth.
In the coach’s booth Annie asked me to go back to the table and talk about a hand from the prelims where Jason got all in with two over cards and a flush draw versus a pair. She wasn’t allowed to tell me what cards other players had during the semi table. But as we had only played a few hands, only one of which had significant action. I was able to deduce that Jon had a hand like AK or AQ of diamonds on the first hand. This revelation was edited out of the show as aired. But knowing this fact changed my approach to the game. Jon had clearly made a huge error. Barring a brain fart by Sassy or myself, Jon would probably be Annie’s choice for elimination. Combine this with the elimination of Darryl in the first match and the performance of Team Duke’s players on the second table and I figured that my spot on the final table was nearly assured. This pushed my strategy back toward the style I employed during the preliminaries, but Annie also told me to take some more risks because Phil’s players were “playing scared.”
Throughout the semifinal table I never held a pair – not even deuces. Nevertheless, I cultivated a tight image, won a lot of pots with well timed bluffs and reraises and only had to show down two more hands during the whole match.
The first elimination of the match came when Jason raised from early position. I held KQ in the cutoff. Normally I would consider playing here, but David was on my left (on the button) and had checked his hole cards already. When he checked them, his posture changed ever so slightly. He leaned forward a bit, which I interpreted as he had a hand. I didn’t want to get caught between two of Phil’s players in a situation where I might be dominated so I bowed out. As it turns out, David’s suited Ace-Ten caught top pair, but got busted by Jason’s top two pair.
The big hand that made the show for me was when Jon opened in early position with KK five-handed and I had AK in the blind. I had a stack size of about 15 big blinds. This is a good size stack to reraise with. With that in mind, had this been a regular online SNG, I would have moved all in 100% of the time. And after sitting there for over an hour without a pair, AK looked like the nuts to me. But two things made me go with a different line. The first was my read on Jon. As soon as he checked his hole cards his demeanor changed. On the show that aired you can see his head rolling around on his shoulders like a Stevie Wonder bobble head doll. He was suddenly very relaxed and excited, but trying to hide it. Everything pointed to him having a HUGE hand. Based on my read, he had QQ at a minimum. The second thing that made a reraise my less favored move was that, this being team play, I didn’t want to bust Jon at this point, or worse, get busted by him. I couldn’t be sure that he would fold 99 in this spot.
Taking all that into account, I almost folded preflop. And based solely on my read, had Phil and Annie NOT been watching my hole cards, I probably would have folded. Ultimately I decided that the problem with folding was that if my read was wrong, I would have played AK like a total rube and Annie might cut me based solely on this play. Also, I felt like there was little chance of Jon bluffing me on the flop if he had a hand like AJ or AQ and if an ace hit, I could just open-shove – thereby letting him know that I’ve got a real hand. As it turned out, I blanked the flop and checked folded to Jon’s all-in bet.
But this hand also highlights two of my strategies for any poker game, particularly hold ‘em. The first is when to look at your hole cards. There are a lot of theories out there. Some very good players like Chris Ferguson suggest waiting until it is your turn to act. I used to do this, but think it is probably not the best plan. By waiting until the action is on you to look at your cards, you not only slow down the game, but you also ensure that almost everyone is looking at you when you do check your cards. That’s bad. Most players give up tells (1) when they first look at their cards (2) when they make a bet and (3) when they face action from an opponent. You can’t avoid all eyes being on you when you bet. And if you are heads up, your opponent, if she’s good, will certainly be watching you in the third scenario. So why draw attention to yourself in the one scenario you control: when you look at your hole cards for the first time?
Therefore, one of the things I like to do is look at my hole cards when no one is looking at me. Even when I’m under the gun I usually look at my first card before my second even arrives because players are usually watching the dealer pitch cards to them instead. Just knowing the rank of my first card under the gun vastly narrows my probable plays. Preferably, I look at my cards while the action is at the opposite end of the table. If timed right, I only miss one player checking his cards while I check mine. All things being equal, I’ll try to time my peek with the tightest player at the table. If he raises, I don’t need any tells. I know he has a hand. Besides hiding inadvertent tells from opponents, this has the added benefit of allowing me to prepare myself for how I want to act when the action is on me.
I will often recheck my hole cards when the action comes to me. But I will never show genuine surprise or excitement when I look down at AA or KK. The reason is I checked my cards earlier and I’ve been preparing myself for several seconds for how I want to look when I check the second time. So now I can try to give a false tell if I want to.
Case in point, on the show when I had the AK, the action was on me but I was staring at Jason for some time while I thought about what line to take. Once I knew I was going to call, I pretended to ask the dealer if the action was on me. Then I acted sheepish, like I just realized the table had been waiting on me, checked my hole cards (for a second time) and nonchalantly called Jon’s raise. If you watch the show closely, you can pick up on it.
The second strategy this hand highlights is that you have to constantly reevaluate your options. When I first saw I had AK, no one had acted yet. Like I said, given my drought of hands and my stack size, I was hoping someone would raise just so I could autoshove. When Jon raised, I had to reevaluate based on my read. And even after that, I had to reevaluate the whole scenario based on the team aspect of the game. After each evaluation, my plan changed. I went from shove, to fold, to call.
Ultimately, Brad went out 5th. Jason would later lose a heads up battle with Jon when Jon’s AQ sucked out on Jason’s AK all in preflop. The end result was a final table where each player would start with 100k in chips. Without giving too much away, the final table was crazy. There was some great poker. Some amusing hi jinks. And some bold bluffs that really blew up. So be sure to tune in!
Hi Annie: My question is when I get a good hand on the flop, and I want to slow play. What is the correct bet in this situation? For example: I have an Ace High Straight.
This seems like a simple question but, as with everything in poker, it is actually quite complex. What it comes down to is the question of when it is appropriate to slow play a hand. There are several factors that go into the slow play. Let me touch on a couple.
1) What is the texture of the board? Is it coordinated or uncoordinated? If the flop is coordinated (like there is two of a suit on the board) then you should not slowplay. First, if you slowplay and you opponent hits the flush on the turn you have only yourself to blame because you did not make your opponent pay to hit his or her flush. With one to come, a flush is slightly over a 4 to 1 dog to hit. As long as you bet at least half the pot then you opponent is only getting 3 to 1 at best. That is bad math for your opponent and good math for you.
Second, If you slowplay a coordinated board then when the texture completes, like the flush card hits, you now make your decisions very difficult for yourself. This concept is blind to whether or not your opponent actually hit the flush. The problem is that regardless of what your opponent is actually holding, if he bets you now have a tough decision that you did not need to open yourself up to. By slowplaying the flop you have done nothing to define your opponent’s hand and now, when the flush card hits, you have no idea what he has or whether your hand is good or not. That means you are more likely to make mistakes on the hand.
2) How many people are in the pot? If there a many people in the pot it is almost never correct to slowplay because you can think of almost every board as coordinated. In a heads up pot if the board has flush and straight possibilities there are usually over 15 scary cards for you. But in a multiway pot, even if each individual opponent only has a few outs, when you add them all together it can come to the same number of cards out against you as on a board that looks very coordinated. For example, let’s say you have a hand like A6s and the board comes A62. Your opponents are holding AQ, AK and JJ. While each of them individually is in very bad shape against you, as a group they have 8 outs, basically the same as a flush draw. So it is very important to generally play faster in multiway pot.
3) The last piece of the puzzle to look at is to ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t have such a big hand? For example, if you have a hand like JJ, you raised preflop and someone in the big blind called. The board comes KJ3 rainbow. Your opponent checks to you. This is a bad time to slowplay the JJ because you would be betting here pretty much every time you get checked to in this heads up pot. By checking you are alerting you opponent that there is something weird about your hand.
Let’s say you opponent holds KQ. If you just bet the pot, which looks like a continuation bet, you are probably going to get a lot of money out of him. But if you check, the KQ now becomes suspicious of your hand and he is likely to slow down drastically, maybe even getting to fold on the turn. By slowplaying, which you thought was to extract money out of your opponent, you actually can cost yourself money against someone who has an okay hand but not a great one (which is what people usually have in hold’em). Against a great hand it works out the same anyway because you are getting that guy’s money anyway.
So, it turns out, slowplaying is usually not correct.