The Poker Lab Rat

July 26, 2007

Pro Tip: How to Bluff Against a Solid Player

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 11:14 pm

Ross is a member of the Hendon Mob and plays online at FullTiltPoker.com

When trying to steal pots in No-Limit Hold’em, you have to ask yourself questions like: “How likely is it that my opponent has a hand?” and “Does my bet (bluff) make sense in the context of the way the hand played out?”

Asking these questions is important. Answering them accurately is critical.

A recent example of a bluff and counter-bluff came up at the $5K No-Limit Hold’em event at the World Series of Poker. I was down to the final two tables and had 6-2 off-suit in the big blind. The small blind called and I checked. The flop came down J-T-6 with two diamonds. My opponent checked and I thought, “I’ll take one shot at this.” I had a pair and position, and I was going to try to take the pot right there. When my opponent called, I pretty much gave up on the pot.

The next card came a diamond, making a possible flush, and my opponent checked again. I also checked, giving him a pretty good idea that I didn’t have the flush. The river card was a blank and he came out betting.

I knew I didn’t have a hand, but my read made me pretty sure he didn’t have one either. I didn’t think he’d hit a flush, and I knew I could make it look like I was trapping on the turn with a flush myself so, after he bet $16,000, I raised to $50,000. After about a minute, he let go of the hand.

Now, let’s take another look at the action here. When my opponent checked the flop, I saw the opportunity to make a play and tried to steal the pot. He obviously called with some kind of hand. We both checked the turn when the possible flush came and he led out after the river brought no obvious help to either of us. He could have been trying to trap me with the flush, but I just didn’t read it that way. When he tried to steal the pot, I couldn’t just call even though he almost surely had my 6 beat. Still, I was pretty sure I could make him lay down his hand with a raise.

For these types of plays to be successful, you have to think ahead of the bet you’re making and ask yourself how likely it is that the player has a made hand. He had to have a flush to call my raise on the river unless he thought I was making a play.

Any bluff or counter-bluff you make has to be calculated. Any play should be based on some information from the betting, the player, or from some any reads that you’re able to make. This one wasn’t so much a read on the player, but a read on the situation. Even though it was possible he had made his flush, I wasn’t convinced. That’s why I thought I could make him believe I had connected by raising on the river. To him, the action made sense. It looked like I’d made a semi-bluff on the flop, betting with a draw. I’d checked on the turn in order for him to bet on the river so I could raise him with a made hand. He was an intelligent player and I think that’s the way he read it back to himself.

You always have to try and gather as much information as you can before you make those kinds of plays. You need to know that the player you’re up against is intelligent enough to read the situation. You don’t want to be making an advanced play like that on somebody who’s not going to be able to make sense of it.

By making smart reads and taking advantage of these opportunities over the course of a tournament, you can help build your chip stack and put yourself in contention for the final table.
Ross Boatman

tickyNicknamed “Rocky”, Ross Boatman is a member of The Hendon Mob. He is an accomplished actor with numerous television and stage appearances.

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July 24, 2007

Poker Smarts: Hand odds – check those table stats!

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 4:56 am

Poker Hand OddsThanks to Kenny Rogers we all know “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” – but it actually summarizes a key skill you must master as a poker player: knowing when you’re holding a winning hand.

This decision making process is a skill that comes with experience and great poker players can calculate their chances and the quality of their hand, as soon as their first cards are dealt, pre-flop.

In seconds these players can assess their chances of winning – the pot odds – by considering a range of fixed numbers (e.g. the number of suits and card values in a deck) and variable numbers (e.g. the number of players dealt in). They’ll also factor in what they know of their opponents: Is Jon a chronic bluffer? Is Paul tight? Is Marc a novice who will play anything?

Some poker players are great mathematicians. Others have a more instinctive feel for numbers and human nature. But even if you don’t fall into or even aspire to either group, it’s easy to appreciate the lure of poker: it’s an exciting combination of luck, skill and psychology that has potential to earn you some great payouts!

Some poker basics:

1. Unless a hand is at least marginal, you shouldn’t bother playing it. Even if it is marginal, it’s still worth considering carefully. Sure, it’s a bit deflating to fold right out of the gate, only to see the dealer lay out the cards you needed for that full house in the flop. But that doesn’t happen too often, does it? The most common problem with new players is that they want to play too many hands, forever hoping that the card they need will turn up. Make no mistake: the odds are against them. Instead, the best strategy is to play only those hands that have a chance of winning from the start.

2. Check out the table stats:
– Tables with “high-flop player percentages” are the ones where more players are staying in to see if their cards will improve with the flop. High percentages here are a good sign that there are a lot of new players at the table. Potential fishing…

– A low “average pot size” means that many of the players are folding to bets on the flop; this can be good or bad. You can probably get away with betting on a relatively weak hand, scaring off many of the players. The downside, though, is that the players with genuinely good hands will stay in. Pay close attention to the Turn (or Fourth Street) and River (Fifth Street) bettors in this case.

– The opposite of this are the tables with a low “flop percentage”, meaning the players are tight and playing only the hands that are smart bets. This is a good place to try to scare away players by betting pre-flop, and take the antes and blinds. However, if they do stay in and play out the hand, because of their tight playing style, you can be pretty sure that they’ve got a great hand.

– Tables you should avoid are those with high “pre-flop percentages” and large “average pot sizes”: these are tables where the players stay in a long time, raise wildly and generally cannot be bluffed. It’s tough to make hands work at tables like these, even good hands, without a lot of luck.

Good luck at the tables!
Mike

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July 15, 2007

Poker: A game of incomplete information

Filed under: pro tips — webmaster @ 9:01 pm

Evelyn Ng - pro poker player and member of team BodogPoker is a game of incomplete information. The more information you have, the better your decisions will be. Where you are sitting in relation to the blinds and the button dictates your “position” at the table. In early position, you will be forced to act first, without knowing what your opponents will do behind you.

While in late position, you have the advantage of knowing what each of your opponents has chosen to do before you make your decision. This is why position is perhaps the most important factor to take into consideration when devising your strategy in any given hand.

In a perfect world, you’d get to have the button on every single hand. But, since poker is an egalitarian sport, the button moves forward every hand one seat at a time, so that everyone gets their turn to be in the blinds and to also be in late position.

In a typical full 10 handed table, before the flop, you might consider early position to be the first 4 seats (the blinds and the two seats to their left). Middle position would be the 5, 6 & 7 seats, and late position would be the 8, 9 & 10 (10 being the button). Position determines the order in which you are to act, not the actual seat you are sitting in. The closer you are to being the button, the more likely you are to be last to act. For instance; you might be in the big blind, but you would be last to act should you find yourself up against only the small blind.

In early position, you really only have the strength of your cards to base your decisions on. You have no idea what the subsequent actions of your opponents will be, so it is much more dangerous territory to find yourself in. It is best to play significantly tighter in early position, and avoid finding yourself in marginal or tricky situations.

Middle position gives you a little more information than early position, so you can broaden your spectrum of hands slightly, but if you are still the first to enter the pot, you are still in unknown waters as to what those behind you will do. I consider middle and mid-late position to be good at disguising what type of hand you might hold, because your position is more undetermined than if you were clearly in early position, or steal position. However, this might make it even trickier to play for a beginner, so novices should still play somewhat cautiously.

Late position is where you have the biggest edge. You can be far more ‘creative’ when you know that you are going to be last to act in subsequent betting rounds. This is the best spot to play in, so you can be much more liberal with the kinds of hands that you play. When you find yourself last to act, you will be able to maximize your winnings more effectively by value betting more often. You’ll also be better at cutting your losses when you miss by not bluffing in a hopeless situation.

-Evelyn Ng

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July 14, 2007

Playing a Short Stack in Multi-Table Tournaments

Filed under: pro tips — webmaster @ 6:06 am

Full Tilt Poker pro POKER BABE Erica Schoenberg

The key to succeeding in tournament play is being able to handle the ups and downs, because it’s not always going to go perfectly. Your chip stack is not always going to shoot upwards, which means you’ll often need to make good decisions when you don’t have a lot of chips.

Many players get frustrated when they have a short stack. They look down and see Ace-rag, King-Queen, King-Jack or some similar hand and they just focus on their own cards instead of seeing the whole picture. That kind of short-sightedness can quickly make a short stack even smaller and put the player on the rail.

Successfully playing a short stack takes a lot of determination. I believe it’s like a mental war when you have the short stack because it isn’t fun when you look around and everyone has all those chips. They’re getting to play fun hands like 9-10 suited and Jack-10 suited and you don’t have enough chips to play those hands, so you’re just sitting there watching while everyone else is playing poker.

I was playing in a $1,500 No-Limit tournament at the World Series of Poker* when I raised under the gun with pocket Kings. It was Day Two of the tournament and it was the first hand I’d played after about 90 minutes of folding. Another player went all-in behind me and it was one of those situations where she didn’t take her time to properly evaluate what had transpired so far. After not playing a single hand, I had raised with 40% of my stack in the earliest pre-flop position, which usually signals a monster. She pushed anyway with KJ and I think if she’d taken her time, she might have made a different decision.

You need to have patience when you’re short stacked. You can’t let poor results from previous hands affect you. Instead, I think it’s really good to tighten up after losing a pot so that you can regroup. To recover from being short stacked, you really have to take your time and evaluate every situation. Who cares if you’re taking longer than anyone else at the table?

Before the words “all-in” escape your mouth, take a couple of deep breaths, take 20 seconds and take a look at where the raise is coming from, how much it is for, and how much the person has behind. So many times I see people coming over the top of other players and not realizing their opponent is already committed and that their chips are going in the pot. Before you push all of your chips into the middle on a call with a short stack, look at the person you’re playing, re-evaluate your hand, the raise, and what position it’s coming from at the table. You have to remember that as long as you have chips you have a chance to climb from the bottom of the ladder to the chip lead.

That brings up another key point: I don’t care what anyone else has in the tournament because when I start worrying about how many chips other people have, I’m not focused on the task at hand, which is increasing my chip stack. Short stacked or not, I own my chips until I push them into the middle; it’s up to my best judgment to determine the best time to commit them to a pot.

Being on the short stack demands that you make the right decision every time you play a pot because making the wrong one will bust you. Don’t be in such a hurry to shove those chips in. Find the right spot. Don’t get frustrated by a string of poor starting hands. At some point, you might have to take a gamble and push if you can open the pot, but until that time, you control your own destiny. Effectively reading the table and the situation before you act will help you survive and, quite possibly, even win.

Erica Schoenberg

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July 8, 2007

Playing Heads Up

Filed under: pro tips — Mike @ 12:02 am

Paul Wasicka professional poker player

Position is crucial in heads-up play. So is aggression and reading your opponent. In fact, playing aggressively in position can often be the deciding factor in whether or not you win the pot. You can have a much worse hand, but if you trust your reads, you can often take the pot with the right board.

PLAYING POSITION
I don’t recommend playing that many raised pots out of position – in other words, don’t call a lot of raises from the big blind. Hands like two face cards, A-8 and up, and pairs are worth re-raising with. Hands like 8-7 suited are fairly worthless because suited connectors like these can be easily dominated by larger hands and lose a lot of their value heads up.

In general, I’m looking for big cards like K-10. Even though these cards are easily dominated in ring games, they play much stronger heads up. If I hit a big pair with cards like these I can feel comfortable going with it, which is something that’s hard to do with middle cards like 6-5.

I’m usually going to do one of two things in the big blind when I’m heads up; fold or re-raise. My standard re-raise is between three and four times my opponent’s bet, and by pumping up the pot pre-flop, I’m making it difficult for my opponent to call me with marginal hands. If he does call, I can always make a post-flop continuation bet or lay down my hand if I’ve missed and my opponent leads out at the pot.

The only time I call out of position is when my opponent plays back at me by moving in a lot. My decision here comes back to paying attention to my opponent’s tendencies and going with my reads.

READING IS FUNDAMENTAL
Reading your opponent becomes even more important in heads-up play. Because your opponent is likely to raise with a much larger range of hands heads up, making reads is much more difficult. Learning to gauge your opponent’s hand requires paying close attention to their patterns. Do they always raise the button? How often do they call your button raises? Do they ever re-raise from the big blind? Asking questions like these helps to narrow down their possibilities.

You have to trust your reads enough to act on them. If you sense strength, are you willing to lay down the second-best hand? If you sense weakness, will you apply the pressure it takes to win the pot?

In my experience in both ring games and heads up, many players try to accumulate chips too quickly. If you just sit back and wait for your opponents to make mistakes, you’ll end up with all of the chips in the end. For instance, you should avoid making pot-sized bets when smaller bets will usually accomplish the same goals with less risk. Sometimes half-pot bets are even too high and betting the minimum is enough to gather the information you need about your opponent’s hand.

This becomes especially true when your opponent becomes short-stacked. In these cases, I will usually limp on the button once they are around the 10 big blind range. If I do raise, I must have a hand I’m willing to go with because my opponent’s only options are folding or pushing. Some people think it’s weak to limp on the button, but I don’t want to keep folding semi-decent hands in this situation. By limping when my opponent is short, they have to decide if they want to gamble with a high-risk/low-reward all-in move to win one of my blinds.

In heads-up tournaments you want to play in position, trust your reads, and play small pots to build a lead. Once you have a 3-1 lead, then you’re looking for hands to gamble with against your opponent’s short stack.

I’ve had a lot of success using these principles in heads-up play; they were instrumental in helping me win the 2007 National Heads-Up Championship. Put these ideas into practice and you may find the extra edge you need the next time you’re playing heads up.

Paul Wasicka

Paul Wasicka finished 2nd in the 2006 WSOP Main Event (and scored a cool $6.1 million for his second-place finish), won the 2007 National Heads-Up Championship and finished 12th in the 2007 Aussie Millions.

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July 7, 2007

Pro tips: Know your poker style

Filed under: pro tips — webmaster @ 12:26 am

Jamie is on the pro team at Bodog PokerHere’s a pro tip from Jamie Gold – 2006 WSOP Champion.

Poker is as much an internal game as it is external competition, and like most sports, it takes more practice and knowing yourself than it does actually playing the game in a professional environment. Before I decided to make the leap to the Bodog Team, I actually played around 40 hours a week all in hopes of learning more about the game, my opponents, but most importantly, myself.

Something that I learned through the many online and actual tables I’ve played at is my own style of play, and I think this has been one of the most important components of being a successful poker player.

Before I even tried to start reading other players and figuring out how everyone else played, I needed to know my own style and how I could benefit from how I play as opposed to playing off everyone else. Poker is a game of control and whoever has the most control throughout the game will usually come out on top. I know there are a lot of other factors in gaining control, but knowing how you play is a great foundation you can build off of.

Generally there are two types of poker styles people play with, that being Tight and Loose. I would define a loose player as someone who is willing to play almost anything just to see the flop. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because what you are doing is paying to see more cards that could potentially help you. But it also gives the other players at the table an opportunity to figure out how you play. If you play loose and basically buy more cards, you could land something really big, and from there, it’s a completely different game. The consequence of playing loose is that it gets expensive fast.

The other style of play would be Tight, where you would wait for something quite high and then start playing. If you’re a tight player in a game like Texas Holdem, you would usually wait until you are dealt a monster hand, and then make a move. If you aren’t dealt anything worth playing, you would usually just toss the hand and wait for something better. This style can keep you in the game for a long time, but if you don’t make a move eventually, it can hurt you in the long run.

It really doesn’t matter what style you play, but it’s very important that you know how you play. If you aren’t conscious of your own style, it leaves the door wide open for your opponents to figure you out. Probably the biggest benefit of knowing your own style is that you can start to mix it up after a while. Think of it as bluffing your own style, it lessons the chances of your opponents getting a good read on how you play.

  • Jamie Gold

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July 5, 2007

Josh Arieh Poker Bullshit: The Art of Bluffing

Filed under: Josh Arieh,pro tips — webmaster @ 12:04 am

Josh is a member of Team Bodog - pro tour pokerIn order to really understand the competitive beauty of poker, you need to accept the fact that a good liar can make a great poker player. Acting like you’ve got something – or pretending like you don’t – can take you a long way in a poker tournament, so becoming an expert in bluffing can almost guarantee at least mild success. Personally I love to bluff; it stirs the pot and keeps people from getting a pinpoint idea of the cards you are playing. If you win a hand or two with a solid bluff and your opponent knows this, you’re letting your opponent know that you are not afraid of losing and that “you won’t be pushed around”.

So what is a bluff? Bluffing is representing what you don’t have, hoping to win a pot you have no business winning. But remember, your bluffs have to make sense. I like to think of bluffing as telling a nice fictional story. As a kid, I’m sure most of you told a little lie or two to avoid a bad situation, and poker essentially works the same way. But also like as a kid, if you bluff too much, you can get yourself in some serious trouble, so be careful.

There are a couple different kinds of bluffs you can use as the game unfolds. There is the obvious cold bluff where you’ve got nothing and you continue to raise the pot to scare everyone else into folding. This type of bluff only works on rank amateurs that don’t understand the finer points of the game. I wouldn’t suggest you try this if you’re sitting with Jamie, Evelyn, David or myself; we will most likely pick you apart.

Bluffing also works well in the complete opposite situation. This is when you’ve got a good hand, but you play as though you’ve got nothing and you’re just waiting for the right cards to come up. Again, this won’t work unless you’ve set up your opponent(s). In this case you want to give your opponent(s) as much confidence as they can handle. This can prompt them into burying themselves by raising you.

The other type of bluff is a semi-bluff. Semi-bluffing is when you represent as if you’ve got something good, when in reality your hand isn’t complete. Most of the time when you semi-bluff, you’ve probably got 8-12 cards that you can definitely win the pot with if you get lucky fishing, but at the moment you’ve got nothing. Hands like these are the ones that make the top aggressive pros so deadly. Yeah, you might get the cards in time, but your opponents are going to put tons of pressure on you, trying to convince you to fold your hand.

Even if you do call with the best hand, you’re only a small favorite to win the pot. This play is extremely strong for a couple reasons. One, your opponent may fold his/her superior hand; or two, you could make your draw and complete your hand. I would typically use this type of bluff when I know my opponent has the ability of laying down a good hand.

Now, I’m not going to get into every single scenario of when you should and shouldn’t bluff, but there are a few things I always keep in mind when bluffing becomes an option. If I have a good read on my opponents and I’ve been playing at the table long enough to recognize that they are conservative, I will bluff a ton because I know my opponents are looking for good hands, not good situations. You have to keep one thing in mind when you bluff. Remember to ask yourself this question, “Does this make sense?” Remember that you are telling a fictional story and if it’s not a good one, it won’t sell. The more believable your bluff is, the more often you will win the pot.

Bluffing these days is much harder than it used to be, so I would suggest keeping your bluffs to a minimum and try to make hands. Players enjoy making the “great call” and, if you develop any kind of loose image, you’re going to get called down in most situations. Good luck at the tables and just make sure that the story you are telling makes sense.

  • Josh Arieh

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July 3, 2007

Q & A with Poker Pro, David Williams

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 12:40 am

David Williams is a damned good poker player. Despite being only 26-year-old, David has earned over $5.5 million in tournament poker winnings. He’s the type of player who has advice worth listening to and in this blog posting he answers some Qs.

David Williams is a Bodog Poker Pro

What type of approach do you take to big stack poker tournaments do you play a lot of hands?

In big stack tournaments I try to see many flops cheap early on (when the blinds are still very low in relation to the stack size). I don’t try and outplay my opponents as most of them are very weak and I just wait for them to make a mistake.

Let’s say someone bought into 20 tournaments, how many cash finishes out of that number would you consider doing well? Also, what is the usual ratio for you?

The number of cashes is not what I aim for. My style, and the style of many other top tournament poker pros, is “go big or go home”. I take a lot more chances and try and win the tournament instead of hang around and try and cash. I don’t have very many cashes, but when I do cash, it’s big. So my ratio is low, but my payouts are high.

As one of the world’s best poker players when you go places like to the store, mall or even out of state – has poker brought you fame?

I get a medium level of recognition. Most of the time I notice someone giving me a weird look, usually meaning they recognize me but they aren’t sure where from. Living in Vegas does increase the amount of recognition, because there are lots of gamblers in this city.

How do you handle a maniac to your right who repeatedly raises into you?

I sit patiently and wait for premium hands and punish them with position. This is a great situation to be in, because most of the time when you reraise them with a big hand they can’t call and you pick up valuable chips.

Sometimes the pros can misread the other players at the table. On T.V. they just show the good reads, I was wondering at a typical tourney, what is the percent of good reads vs. bad reads?

It is hard to put a quantity on something like this because it’s not a stat I keep track of, but I would guess most of the world class pros are correct about 90% of the time. They may miss some big ones but there are many small reads going on in most hands being played.

I know I’m a good poker player but one of my biggest fears of playing in a live tournament (like the WSOP or WPT, etc.) is first of course the money and secondly is that I actually play in one and not walk away with any cash to pay my bills or anything else. So how did you start out? Did you have anyone help you out? Maybe you have some pointers or advice for me?

I started out eight years ago playing small limit hold’em games. I grinded it out daily and slowly until I felt I had the confidence to play in big tournaments. Then I didn’t directly buy in. I played in satellites with a small percentage of my bank roll to keep me from going broke. The best way to get in the large live tournaments is to play small satellites online like the ones on Bodog.com. They are also a good way to gauge your tournament strength. Usually, if you can’t win a seat in a satellite, you aren’t ready for the big leagues. It takes time and patience.

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