Thursday, February 28, 2008

No really, it DOESN'T depend

Right here, right now, I would like to put to rest the worst piece of "advice" that people tend to give about poker. In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, here is how it goes: A person (typically a novice) poses a poker situation and the seasoned pro answers "it depends."

The reason- you have to know the player and his tendencies.

Of course it "depends", however, what the novice is usually asking is if there is a reasonable "default" play against an unknown opponent for the given situation. After all, if they knew the player well enough to know his tendencies, they probably would not have needed to ask the question in the first place.

Like it or not, in poker there is almost always a default play. Take the following scenario for instance:

$1/2 No Limit Hold'em

You: $200
Villain: $40

Everyone folds to you on the button, and you raise to $7 with KhQh. Only the BB calls and the flop is JhTd3c. The villain bets out $4 into the $15 pot.

What you know about the opponent is fairly irrelevant here, because you ALWAYS should raise. His bet is pretty much universally weak, and your hand is always live, so putting him all in will usually make him fold, but you don't really care because his stack size guarantees that you can never make a critical mistake.

Furthermore, the smaller the stack sizes, the more the poker math supersedes the art. In fact, given a small enough stack, certain plays become always correct or always incorrect, such as this...

$1/2 No Limit Hold'em

You: $6

You are dealt KK UTG in a 6 or more handed ring game.

Your opponents tendencies mean nothing as you are probably best at this point. Folding is obviously out of the question, but if you limp, you are now giving the small blind automatic odds to call you with a single ace in his hand. Ditto if you raise the minimum, only now the BB can make the same call. Therefore you always go all in.

This argument I am making is for far more than academic discourse. Knowing default plays and tendencies of strangers is of paramount importance to successful multi-tablers. You are constantly faced with a new line up and many of your opponents will go broke quickly and will never be seen from again. And if you are playing 6 tables or more, you will rarely get specific reads on these players and must make the mathematically correct play that is relevant to the given situation.

A simple run-down of these plays is listed below:

  • Raise and re-raise big pairs
  • Bet and raise strong hands on the flop
  • Don't make big folds with top pair/good kicker or better on safe boards
  • Don't make big calls on overbets on sequential boards or 4 flush boards
  • Pay attention to the odds
  • Don't respect small and min-bets
And MOST importantly.....

NEVER, EVER, EVER fold Kings before the flop!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Top Pair from the Blinds

Here is a consistent problem that I have which I have chosen to resolve by completely ignoring it. However, there is this constant nagging feeling that I am losing value by doing so, so I am going to throw this out and see what I can reel back in.

Example: You are dealt Kd7c in the BB at a full table. There are 4 limpers and you decide to check. The flop comes out Kc5d4d.

To the amateur, this would appear to be a good hand, especially considering the backdoor flush opportunity. But herein lies the problem: whenever I bet and get called, I am up against a better K, two pair or a set. If I get raised, naturally I will fold and I have wasted a bet. If I check and call, they will hit a 3 outer, make a flush or straight, or they will catch a runner-runner disaster. If I choose to check raise (even against the button who is most likely on a steal), I was behind to begin with. And then, of course, there are the times when I do actually have the best hand, but then get bluffed out when a scare card hits.

Does anyone have this same problem? Even when I am up against a single limper, the result tends to be the same. I am simply lucky to get what is already in the pot. Since this has caused me undying agony, I have chosen the simple line of checking it and folding to any bet larger than the minimum (the min-bettor always seems to draw out too, BTW) and then bet out and try to take it if it checks around.

And before anyone says anything to this point, this is NOT a matter of perception. This is the result of 4 months of observation of full table play and pretty much any time I stray from the check-fold line (even with good reason, such as facing an overly aggressive player) I get punished for doing so.

Any one have any suggestions?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Sophomore Post

In order that I start to get this little project off the ground, I am sitting down to write with nothing really particular in mind, so pardon me if this does not come across as being very inspired. I will try to jog my memory for a bit to pull out some past nuggets....

In light of the fact that I just recently overcame one of my worst losing streaks in about a year (over 4 days, I was down $1,800, mostly from $1/2 but some added satellites and small MTT's as well), I had to remind myself of a few tips that I came up with to help yourself along when you are running bad. So here they are (all examples are from a $1/2 game with a $200 max buy-in):

1) Avoid likely coin flips for large sums of money.

Example, there is an early limper with $100 in chips. You raise AKs from middle position and every folds around to the limper who now raises all in. His most likely holdings here are exactly JJ, QQ, or AK. With KK or AA, he almost certainly would have raised less, but yet again, these are not impossible as well.

The reason to fold here is simple: you can call and expect to get your "entitled" coin-flip to protect your $8 or so while risking $92 in the process, or you can get on and find a better spot. If he is bluffing, then you can expect him to do something stupid again shortly, but losing a pot this size without even holding a pair will tax you mentally more than it could ever be worth.

2) Fold AK or AKs to a large re-raise from a big stack who is less than all-in.

There is a certain quality about AK that most novices and professionals overlook. Against a hand like QQ, it is not even a coin flop- it's 43% to win. That's not the issue though. It's 43%....but ONLY if you are seeing all 5 cards! It's a nasty 2:1 to the flop, making it not even worth a call. And let's face it, the implied odds suck. The only way you are likely to get paid is if the re-raiser has AQ, in which case you will be getting bluffed off the better hand when your ace or king fail to hit, which is a majority of the time.

3) Avoid thin value bets.

A thin value bet in NL is far different from one in limit. In limit, you might even bet A high for value against some people, but in NL it can often be betting your AK on a river K659J. Even though you believe you are probably best here, it is often better to just check it down if things aren't going your way, especially if you believe that your opponent has nothing. If he really does have nothing, then trying to squeeze a few tiny drops out of A high or a pair of 5's or 6's really means little if it will encourage them to make a bold bluff or hit you hard with a hand you never saw coming, like a straight or a rivered set of jacks.

I will add a few more later, but that should be some food for thought for now.


Thursday, February 7, 2008


I decided to start this blog for two reasons: to connect with other poker players to discuss strategy and to analyze my own game in a meaningful way. I have been playing poker for almost 5 years now, mainly online, and have been playing professionally for the last 3 years. I started off playing limit hold'em, being that that was the game of choice of my father as he was the pioneer of the family to begin playing online poker. I had success as high as $10/20 and dabbled a bit in $20/40 while failing to make a profit at that level. Getting fed up with taking bad beats, I soon took to no-limit and have stayed there pretty much exclusively since the summer of 2005. Even though I have had success at this version of the game as high as $5/10, I have never had the bankroll to explore this limit full time.

After practicing and studying this game for the better part of 3 years, I have made my temporary home at the modest level of $1/2 NL, playing anywhere from 6 to 8 games simultaneously. Although I had originally hoped to be crushing the $25/50 games by now, I have been forced to find my way slowly by managing a small bankroll and finding the appropriate playing style for myself. Originally finding this stifling and somewhat demeaning, I am finally at peace with my place in the game. Even though I have consistently broken Rule #1 of being a professional poker player (Do NOT live out of your bankroll), it has taught me the merits of a basic, tight-aggressive strategy which I can use at any point in time to center myself and avoid tilt and playing small has also humbled myself. Furthermore, I have also learned how to bear down and focus on the strong winning principles and avoid creative, fancy play that often quickly spirals down the road to ruin.

Through this blog I hope to meet both up and coming players and those wiser than myself, so feel free to follow my progress and offer up your two cents. I look forward to meeting all of you!