Phil Gordon: Pre-flop Raising Strategies

Phil Gordon is a member of Team FullTilt

To limp or not to limp – that is the question. I’m not going to name any names here, but there are some big-time pros who will argue that it’s OK to limp into a pot before the flop. They reason that the more flops they see, the more likely they are to hit something big. If not, well, then they’re pros and they can outplay their opponents after the flop.

I tend to land on the other side of the fence in this debate. My pre-flop strategy is this – its raise or its fold, there’s no in between. I’m not injured – I don’t have a sprained ankle or a broken leg – so why would I limp? There’s nothing wrong with seeing flops, but why let your opponents get in cheap with an inferior hand?

I like to size my pre-flop raises based on my position. A lot of inexperienced players raise based on the strength of their hands, but good players will pick up on this play before too long. If you always raise four times the big blind with pocket Aces, Kings, and Queens, but only three times with everything else, skilled opponents will notice these patterns and exploit them later on.

If, on the other hand, you always raise a predetermined amount based on your position, your holdings will be much better disguised. By adopting this strategy, it doesn’t matter if you’re holding pocket Aces or 7-8 off-suit (which is the kind of junk I highly recommend you don’t play), your opponents will have a much harder time putting you on a hand after the flop. Cards aside, here’s how I like to play before the flop:

  • From early position – including the blinds – raise two-and-a-half times the big blind. You are more susceptible to a re-raise from this position, so it’s best not to risk too many chips. Still, this raise lets everyone know that you mean business.
  • From middle position, raise three times the big blind. Hopefully a couple of people will already have folded to you, so there’s less chance of being re-raised. Hence, you can afford to make a stronger push and possibly steal the blinds.
  • From middle/late position, raise three-and-a-half times the big blind. You really want to encourage those last couple of players to fold so you can go heads up with the blinds or just steal them outright.
  • From the button, raise four times the big blind. You either want to steal the blinds or make it really expensive for them to re-raise you.

Now, obviously when you play this raise or fold style before the flop, you can’t be afraid of action. A lot of players – especially when they raise with a hand that they’d rather not see called – get that internal dialogue going that says “Please fold, please fold, please fold.” But here’s the thing; you should want action and welcome a call.

The fact is your opponent is going to miss the flop such a high percentage of the time that it shouldn’t matter whether you hit or not. You’re the one who raised and you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Every chip that your opponent put into the pot before the flop is, in all likelihood, coming over to your chip stack. Even if your opponent does hit the flop, chances are they might not hit it very hard. If your opponent has A-8 and the flop comes K-8-4, the pot can still be yours. Steel those nerves and fire off a continuation bet – you’re going to get them to lay down their hand a good amount of the time.

At the end of the day, it’s all about how many chips are coming back to your stack. The more you put in pre-flop, the more you should get out of the pot when it’s all said and done. Forget about limping, it’s time to go full speed ahead.



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Playing From The Blinds: Part II

John Cernuto Full Tilt Poker ProAs I discussed last week, there are many factors that come into determining how you play from the blinds in tournaments, including your opponent’s position at the table. Of course, that’s not the only factor to take into consideration.

Throughout a tournament, everyone develops a table image that impacts how people play against them. Depending on your opponent’s style of play − and how your opponent perceives you − you might be able to play back at someone who is trying to steal your blinds from late position. As mentioned earlier, this is especially useful later in tournaments when the blinds are much bigger and antes come into play.

You always have the option of re-stealing at anytime in a tournament, but this isn’t a move you should make without some careful consideration. For example, if you’re worried about your opponent calling your re-steal attempt, I recommend not even attempting this play unless you’re holding a hand no worse than A-9. Preferably, you’re looking for something even stronger.

If, on the other hand, you think your opponent will fold to your re-raise, the cards in your hand shouldn’t affect your decision to make this play one way or the other. I’m not suggesting that you re-raise blind, but rather, that you shouldn’t let a weak hand deter you from playing back at an opponent you’re sure is going fold under pressure. If I know my opponent is going to fold if I re-raise, but I look down at 7-2, I might second guess myself and not make the move.

This concept may be a little difficult to pull off when you are playing online, so try to employ the “ATC Rule.” If you have a good handle on the situation and a strong read on your opponent, then Any Two Cards will do the trick. Make sure that you don’t try this too frequently because the success of a re-steal partially depends on your table image. If another player sees you making this move frequently, they might be willing to gamble with a hand they would normally let go.

For example, if there’s a kamikaze out there who just keeps firing away, I’m going to wait until I have position on them to pick them off. These types of players are too willing to gamble to make re-stealing a profitable play for me. There’s nothing worse than making a move with Q-4 and being called by Q-J. You should primarily be looking to re-steal against a relatively tight player who knows how to release a hand.

Sometimes, calling from the blinds can be a better option than re-raising. Again, the decision comes back to the criteria of your opponent’s position, playing style, and perception of you. In a recent tournament, I had a very aggressive player who not only raised a lot of pots, but continued to fire away at every street. When I was in the big blind, he made his standard raise and I looked down at pocket Kings. I chose to just flat-call because I knew I could get at least one more bet out of him. In fact, I check-called him all the way to the river because I knew he was hyper-aggressive and would read my flat calls as a sign of weakness rather than strength.

Remember, you have three options when you’re in the blinds and your default option should be to fold. However, players who win tournaments do so because they made the right moves at the right times. If you decide to either re-steal or flat-call from the blinds, it should be based on your opponent’s position and playing style. If you can learn to read these situations correctly, both your chip stack and your tournament success will grow.

John Cernuto

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Paul Wasicka: On The Future of Poker

The Future of Poker - by Paul WasickaPeople were surprised at the number of “amateurs” at the final table in the 2006 WSOP Main Event. This year they wondered if a pro would ever win the Main Event ever again! While the Main Event is far from a scientific analysis of how the poker world is doing, it’s a good jumping off point.

One year removed from my seat at the Main Event final table, people kept asking me what had changed in my life. But as I looked out at this year’s final table, I kept thinking about how poker had changed. More importantly, I kept asking “What will poker look like in the future?” This isn’t a “year in review” or anything like that, but it’s important to see what has affected poker this year in order to predict what might cause changes down the road. While poker has been around in some form or other since time began, in recent years it has become a much more volatile industry, subject to the whims of media executives, popular perception, and lawmakers worldwide. Up until now, this volatility has meant one thing: incredible growth. Five years ago, 630 sat down for the Main Event. This year, 621 people got paid!

It’s hard to look at numbers like that and feel anything but optimistic about poker’s future. But let’s look at a few other numbers. In 2006, there were 8773 players. This year there were 6358. That’s a drop of 27.5%. Does this spell doom for poker? Perhaps not immediately and perhaps not at all, but just as money quickly won can be quickly lost, so too can an industry flash in the pan and then sputter out.

Poker has seen dramatic changes in the past year, many of them for the good. We’ve witnessed the rise of non-profit organizations like the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) and the World Poker Association (WPA), among others. These organisations are fighting for the future of poker, working to legalize and legitimize this great game and to keep it professional. They are also standing up for players’ rights. For too long, casinos and sponsors have wielded all of the power and made the decisions upon which literally millions of dollars ride, often without even consulting players. While we are still far from the equilibrium that the players deserve, it has been great to see some recent measures adopted that make the game more “player friendly”.

One of these changes came when WSOP officials made the payouts less steep for the Main Event. While that results in fewer stacks of hundreds behind the bracelet this year, it also means that more people can afford to continue playing poker because “merely” cashing in an event still means something.

There are other positive changes too. Last month the WPT tried a new final table structure during the Bellagio Cup. The goal? Increased post-flop play, more creativity; in essence: more skill. This has a number of benefits. Due to certain legal nuances, if poker is to survive, it must be considered a game of skill, not merely one of chance. For that reason alone, this slower structure is a good one, but it’s also time to give an informed television audience the skilled play they’ve been denied. They can handle it! The ratings might dip at first, but once people realize that all-ins don’t happen every single hand, I think audiences will prefer watching players get out-played instead of out-flopped. I’m not sure I’d even call what is typically shown on TV these days poker. I hate to say it, but if the only poker I knew was what I’d seen on TV, I’d be inclined to agree with the [US] government and most of the “haters” out there that this is primarily a game of luck. It’s time to showcase skill and the WPT went a long way toward doing just that.

And who knows? Maybe it’s all a conspiracy. Maybe “the man” set up steep structures to send the message that “anyone can win”, thus encouraging the growth of the game. I mostly joke, but whatever the reason, with “Cinderella stories” like Chris Moneymaker’s, my own, and thousands of others, I think people have gotten the point. Now it’s time to tell the other side of the story. The harder you work, the more you put in, the more you get out.

The negative influence on the game this year has undoubtedly been the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). AT the time of the bill’s passing, ESPN had been airing poker tournaments for years and changing the public’s perception of “gambling” with each rerun. The UIGEA did much to wipe out these good feelings. Most of the non-poker playing public didn’t bother to learn that the UIGEA did nothing to make the playing of online poker any more or any less legal than it already was. Nevertheless, the result was a huge black eye for poker. I can’t even count the number of friends and family members who kept asking me what I would do “now that online poker was against the law”.

So where does all this leave us? Did poker get it’s moment in the sun only to return to shady, smoke-filled back rooms, or is it here to stay? Now that the public has whetted it’s appetite for this great game, there’s no way it will totally die. But the way I see it, if poker is to thrive, we as players need to unite and fight for our right to play.

Appeal the UIGEAThe first step is to repeal the UIGEA. Like the repeal of prohibition, as long as poker crosses the government’s palm with a little silver, there’s no reason why online poker has to be illegal. As it stands right now, people can watch poker on TV, and if their friend or a local charity has a game going, they can play a few hands; but other than that, without a sensible, user-friendly way to get money on and off poker sites, there’s no way for poker to attract new [American] people. Few people start playing poker at the $10,000 level (although I encourage this) and they need an easy, fun way to get started. Want another poker boom? Repeal the act, publicize the heck out of it, and make it easy for new people to play online poker.

The other way to keep poker booming is to go international. Fortunately, this is pretty much happening. Poker is taking the World by storm. The European Poker Tour has a solid following and last January’s Aussie Millions hosted the largest field that continent has ever seen.

Even more exciting is the prospect of new and potentially huge markets opening up in Asia. Singapore held its first poker tournament last year and news sources have recently announced that India will again hold the Asia Poker Classic. With ESPN airing World Series reruns in China now, over 1.3 billion people will be exposed to the game. Perhaps we’d better start learning how to say “all-in” in Chinese.

With these recent changes and possibilities of things to come, you ask, “What does the future of poker look like?” I think it looks really good. I believe we are seeing the rise of ethical, player-friendly tournaments featuring players from across the globe in venues worldwide. Ultimately it’s still too early to tell exactly what the future holds, but I like my chances.

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Playing from the Blinds in Tournaments Part 1

Paul Cernuto - professional poker player

If tournament poker is a game of situations, then it’s important to know how to play from the blinds. Poker comes down to three basic decisions: fold, call, or raise. When you’re facing a pre-flop raise, folding the blinds will usually be your best option. You have a significant disadvantage when you defend your blinds because you will be out of position for the remainder of the hand. However, there are times during the course of a tournament that you can pick up a key pot or two by making the right play from either the small or big blind.

One of the first things to realize is that you should never get too attached to your blinds early in a tournament. Being first to act leaves you at a clear disadvantage. The reward of winning a small pot simply isn’t worth the risk of playing out of position. Later in a tournament, when the blinds are more significant and antes come into play, you should think twice about automatically folding your blinds to a raise because there are so many more chips at stake before the flop.

In fact, these are the times in a tournament when you need to think about playing back at your opponents from the blinds. As I mentioned, tournament poker is a game of situations and it’s critical that you evaluate your situation properly throughout the event. When appropriate, you may want to just flat-call a late position raise or even think about re-raising from the blinds.

I’ll never defend my blind with marginal cards against an early-position raiser no matter what point of the tournament I’m in. When a player raises in early position, it’s often safer to assume he has a real hand as opposed to thinking that he’s just trying to pick up the blinds. Against strong players, I usually let the blinds go because I know there’s going to be a battle. I’m looking to pick up pots, not pick a fight.

As each player folds and action gets passed closer and closer to the button, the likelihood of a “blind-stealing” raise increases. These are the situations where you want to evaluate your opponent and determine if you think they’re vulnerable to a re-raise. If you sense weakness, this is a good time to play back in order to show that you’re not going to be bullied, and to build your stack.

Against a late-position raise from an opponent who I read as weak, I’m going to re-steal the blinds by putting in a re-raise. I don’t recommend re-raising all-in because it’s not wise to risk your tournament on a bluff. Instead, I think it’s best to determine your re-raise based on the size of both your own and your opponent’s chip stacks. You should put in enough of your stack to make it look like you’re pot-committed – even though you’re really not. Giving the appearance that you’re pot-committed displays your strength which makes it unlikely that your opponent will come back over the top unless he’s holding some kind of monster. By properly sizing your bet here, you can still get away from your hand and save yourself some chips by folding.

Be sure to check back for next week’s tip, when I discuss playing from the blinds in relation to your opponent’s style of play and table image.

John Cernuto

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Bubble Play In Tournaments

Paul Sexton shares some advice from his Dad - both are pros at FullTilt Poker

I had just bubbled in the $2,000 Seven-Card Stud Tournament at the World Series of Poker**. I had a drawing hand and I ended up losing all my chips, which was a big mistake. I was embarrassed. I was talking to my Dad – Full Tilt Poker pro, Keith Sexton – and I said, “I can’t believe how unlucky I got.” He disagreed, and said my play was just incredibly stupid in regard to money and chip management, based on where I stood in the tournament. He was right.

People say, “You’re not playing to get into the money – you’re playing to win,” but when you make the money, you go from zero dollars to double your buy-in. The biggest jump in money outside of making it to the final table is getting into the money. I didn’t really understand that. Winning the hand that I busted on wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things.

The next tournament I played was the $1,500 Mixed Limit/No-Limit event. I got so low on chips I had to decide whether to take a chance, with slim odds of winning the tournament, or just try to hang on and make it past the bubble and then call it a day. By staying patient and paying close attention to the field, I managed to cash before I busted.

There are a number of things you need to be aware of in these situations, including the status of everybody else around you. Knowing how many chips you have in relation to the field is crucial in terms of helping you decide at what point you have to make the painful decision that you’re just going to have to fold hands to get into the money. You’re basically sacrificing your tournament, the chance to get to the final table, and your chance to win. But sometimes you have to do it.

You need to know where other players are in the tournament, especially the smaller stacks and what their situation is. How many stacks are below you? Where are they in relation to the blinds? I had a real low stack, three off the money in the mixed event, but I knew there were a couple of short stacks that were going to be forced into the blinds before I was. One player was at a shorter table than I was and another was under-the-gun while I was on the button, so I knew that I could be patient because they were going to have to play a hand before I was. That’s really important because, if you’re sitting there and you know you’re next with a hand like Ace-10, you’re going to have to throw your chips in. But if you have Ace-10 and another guy is going to have to make a decision whether to go all-in or not before you, then you can lay it down. Other players’ situations have a huge bearing on what hands you’re going to play.

Short-stacked on the bubble, I’m folding everything, including big pairs. Looking around the room, I knew that one player was going to be all-in in the blinds and that I had four hands before the blinds were going hit me. I had almost nothing in front of me – maybe 1,300 chips – and the average chip stack was around 33,000. Still, I would have folded pocket Kings on that hand because what’s the difference? Even if I triple up, I’m still all -in when the blinds reach me. All I’m doing is risking my money there. That pot is insignificant. I’d rather take my chances and hope that the other player who has to go all-in gets knocked out before me.

It’s sickening to bubble out in a tournament. People talk about it all the time. You go over it with friends. You figure out what you did wrong and if you make an improvement from the last time, that’s great. The cost of my lesson was my $2,000 buy-in in the Stud event. You can make the same mistake at a final table where it costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars, so I got off pretty cheaply. You never want to be forced to fold into the money, or a bigger pay day, but sometimes it’s just smart poker.

Paul Sexton

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Building and Maintaining a Bankroll

Paul Wasicka - team fulltilt poker professional

For most players, the lure of playing in high-stakes ring games or tournaments is a sirens’ song that’s hard to resist. While there’s no doubt that these games can provide huge rewards, the sad truth is that many beginners often leap into the deep end before they look, destroying their self-confidence and leaving their bankrolls scattered on the shore.

My advice to these players is simple; stay in the shallows until you and your bankroll are ready to venture into deeper waters.

Chris Ferguson recently completed an amazing exercise where he created a bankroll from nothing by playing a combination of tournaments and ring games. His tip on his progress provides some solid fundamentals on how to create and grow a bankroll, and I wouldn’t want to presume that my advice is any better than his. Instead, consider this another point of view drawn from my personal experience and observations.

I started playing professional poker in January 2006 and though I had seen some success at local ring games, I didn’t have a huge bankroll behind me. Looking at the poker landscape, I believed the fastest way to remedy the situation would be to enter – and hopefully – cash in good-sized tournament. For me, that meant entering the WPT Reno event in March 2006.

I bought into the tournament for $5,000 – a significant expenditure – and promptly played my way to second in chips at the end of Day 1. When I busted out of the tournament on Day 2 without making the money, I was pretty devastated. While the outcome of that event wasn’t what I wanted, it taught me a valuable lesson about playing at limits I couldn’t afford and putting too much of my bankroll into play in a single event.

By taking my shot in such a large buy-in event, I put a huge dent in my bankroll that took months of hard work to repair. When I finally tried my hand at another large tournament, I hedged the potential damage to my bankroll by playing for my seat at the WPT World Championship in a satellite tournament.

Because I didn’t have as much of my bankroll invested in my tournament entry, I played the event without fear that I would be crippled again if I failed to cash. As it turned out, I took 15th place and walked away from the table with a sizable cushion for my future poker sessions. Limiting my downside by satelliting into the event let me concentrate on the poker and play a more solid and confident game than I could have if I had bought into the event directly.

While satellites are one of the most common and popular ways to secure your entry into a big buy-in event, they aren’t the only option. For players who don’t want to take their chances in satellites, securing backing from a friend, family member or event another player can be a viable way to play in bigger events than they can afford on their own. Before you go down this path, however, be sure to consider all aspects of the deal being offered and determine how much of your potential winning you’re willing to give away.

No matter what path you choose, I fully recommend that you never commit more than 10% of your bankroll to an individual event or ring game. To be truly safe, I’d follow Chris’ advice and limit your investment to between 2% and 5%. Remember, the more of your bankroll you risk at any one time, the bigger the blow you can take if you catch a run of bad cards or bad beats.

Remember, building up a bankroll represents more than just the funds you have at your disposal. It’s a constant reminder of the hours of work it took to build and, as such, it’s something that deserves protection. Treat your bankroll properly and it will pay you back many times over.

Paul Wasicka


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Establishing a Tight Table Image

Allen Cunningham Professional Poker Player

In poker, image matters. Throughout a tournament your table image will help determine how much action you’ll get and, ultimately, how you can manipulate your opponents into making big calls or big laydowns at the wrong times.

While establishing a loose, aggressive image early on can help build your potential chip stack, I believe it’s important to develop a tight table image in the later stages of a tournament because it gives you the ability to manoeuvre at the times when the chips matter most.

When the action is folded around, some players will always raise from the cutoff and the button. The problem with this play is that it’s predictable and can easily be exploited. If you always raise from the button, the players in the blinds catch on sooner or later and will put in a big re-raise with any 2 cards. You will also find players just calling you with a much wider range of hands from the blinds before putting in a big check-raise on the flop.

Why do they do this? Because you have been presenting a loose table image by raising any time the action is passed to you. During late-stage play, this image hampers your ability to manoeuvre because any time you try to make a move, it’s likely that someone will play back at you.

It doesn’t take long before your loose table image will make you a target for the experienced players at the table (or even the inexperienced players who get tired of being pushed around). The amount of chips you risk by being loose in these situations is usually not worth the reward of just picking up the blinds. Be careful though, because when you play too tight you end up missing many opportunities to slowly accumulate chips or even just stay afloat. Ideally, you want to project a very tight image while actually being somewhere in between the standard perceptions of “loose” and “tight”.

I have one very simple piece of advice to help you with this part of your game. It may sound so simple you’ll wonder why I bother mentioning it, but in fact, this is one of my most important rules: Always fold junk.

By always folding junk hands you accomplish a number of goals: you resist the temptation to attempt a blind steal just because action was passed to you. With the level of aggressiveness that characterises today’s play, it’s better to pass on bad hands, even in position.

You avoid pot-committing yourself with a hand that will usually be dominated in a race with a shortstack. For example, if you raise from the cutoff for 3x the big blind with J-3 attempting to steal the blinds, and a stack with 8x the big blind moves in behind you, you are in a bad spot. It’s better to just avoid these situations altogether.
Most importantly, you further cement your image as a tight player. Now when you raise with a hand like A-8, you can feel confident that your tight image will allow you to steal the blinds although you’re actually playing a bit looser.

Another temptation players face is to pick on someone’s blind just because they view that players as “weak”. I rarely pick on someone’s blinds without a decent opening hand. Opening from the cutoff with a hand like K-9 suited is about as low as I’m willing to go in attempt to pick up the blinds.

Using my tight table image enabled me to manoeuvre through a very tough field in the $5000 Pot Limit Hold’em event at the 2007 WSOP. After I doubled up early in Day 2, I used my table image in the late stages to steal blinds and to pick up a number of pots in key situations. I was able to carry this momentum to the final table, where I was fortunate enough to win the bracelet.

Remember, it takes more than good cards to be a winning poker player. By creating a solid table image in the late stages of a tournament, you may actually be able to play a wider variety of hands than your opponents expect and take down key pots at critical times.

a5_wNicknamed “Clever Piggy” (cringe), even when Allen Cunningham is not playing tournaments, you can usually find him at a US-friendly online poker table. He enjoys playing a variety of cash games, including Pot-Limit Omaha and mixed games like HORSE.

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Mike Caro: Detecting a Bluff

Mike Caro plays online poker at Doyles RoomIn some poker circles, I’m best known for my work with the body language of poker, usually known as tells. “Mike Caro’s Book of Tells” will celebrate its silver anniversary in 2009. That’s 25 years!

I kind of got pigeonholed when that book was published. I became better know for tells than anything else. And that annoys me, because, actually, most of my research has dealt with statistics and strategy, often backed by my own computer analysis. To put it simply, I’m a cross between a nerd and a geek who has been misconstrued to be a people-observing, prescient, kind-hearted guru. Oh, how that hurts!

Don’t misread me – I’m proud of my book, and those tells have stood the test of time. You don’t hear many people arguing with words like “Caro was wrong. A player isn’t holding a strong hand when he does that; he is bluffing.” And there’s a reason you don’t hear such quibbling. All those tells came from deep within me and deep within other players. When you learn about those tells you instantly realize that, hey, they really are universal tendencies – players really do act that way to disguise their hands, because you tend to do that yourself!

Today I’m going to talk about bluffing. Specifically, how to know through the use of tells when an opponent is bluffing. Here are some major things you need to know.

Bluffers are afraid to trigger your calling reflex. I’ve previously shared the secrets surrounding “calling reflex”. The concept is that nobody comes to a poker room hoping to throw away hands. Instead, players gather at the table hoping to play hands and make calls. This bias toward calling, rather than folding, means that players are more suspicious than they should be. Any erratic movement or speech coming from the bettor is apt to trigger their calling reflex or, at least, to make a call more likely.

Now, here’s the deal. You and I understand that intellectually. But others understand it unconsciously. Year of poker warfare have made them vaguely aware that their actions can cause suspicion in opponents. That’s why most bluffers refrain from taking actions that might cause suspicion and trigger calls.

In fact, sometimes bluffers barely breathe. On rare occasions, they don’t breathe at all. I carefully observe opponents breathing when they bet. Often bluffers tend to take unusually shallow breaths. They’re afraid that loud breathing will lead to suspicion and a resulting call. So they overcompensate. Watch carefully to see how an opponent breathes under normal circumstances. If that player’s breathing is significantly less pronounced following a bet, there’s a good chance you’re up against a weak hand or a bluff. This advice is especially valuable on final-round bets in Limit games and any time a large wager is made in No Limit games.
Bluffers are unusually still. You should always note how animated an opponent is after betting. There is often an obvious decrease in movement if an opponent is bluffing. Players who have wagered on strong hands are typically more relaxed and their movements appear natural. Bluffers are more rigid and restrained. Often they freeze. They try to appear invisible, fearing that the slightest motion will trigger your call. Think of a person hiking through the mountains and encountering a rattle snake. If they’re smart, they’ll freeze, wanting to do nothing that will encourage a strike. That’s how bluffers act. If bluffers move at all, it’s usually at the last moment in desperation when a call seems almost inevitable. But, even at that final, fateful moment, most tend to remain still.

Bluffers can’t carry on sensible conversations. If you’re not certain of your opponent is bluffing, try to initiate a chat. Those with significant hands are able to talk normally, and what they say makes sense. Bluffers will often sound stilted, instead. Their words – if they talk at all – will seem unfocused and unnatural.

Bluffers may look back at their cards when you begin to call. If you’re still not sure whether your opponent is bluffing, fake a call. Reach menacingly toward your chips. As a sign of panic, bluffers may look back at their cards, trying to convince you that they hold something monumental. This is a dead giveaway. Players who really have strong hands won’t take any action at that key instant to stop you from completing the desired call. They’ll simply stay still and let it happen.

Bluffers don’t show any change in mood whether you appear to be calling or raising. Here’s an advanced ploy I sometimes use to elicit clues about whether an opponent is bluffing. First, I’ll count out enough chips to call. Then, after a dramatic pause, I’ll add to the call amount suggesting I’m planning to raise instead. Players who hold strong hands often will react differently. A call and a raise are dissimilar to a player betting from legitimate strength. A call may be desired and a raise worrisome. So, if I see a change in reaction, it’s more likely that the bettor has genuine strength. But bluffers don’t care. A raise and a call spell the same doom, so their reaction is unlikely to change. If I see no modification in response, I give more credence to the conclusion that the opponent is bluffing.

Anyway, I hope that helps.

Mike Caro.

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Mike Caro: Your Image and Your Bankroll

Play poker with Mike Caro online at DoylesRoom.comWhat I’m about to share isn’t something I expect you to mimic. Over years and years of practice, I’ve developed a feel for the psychology that generates the biggest dollar return at the table. I take it to the edge of the cliff. You shouldn’t. But you’ll be able to earn extra money, too, without venturing beyond your level of comfort.

When I sit down in a poker game, my objective is to give away money. I just can’t wait to make silly seemingly unprofitable moves and giggle about how goofy I’m playing. I’ll say stuff like “I didn’t expect to come unglued so fast!” In return I hope to earn extra profit. Let me tell you how it works.

Play Mike Caro online - click to visit DoylesRoom.comYou need to make customers eager to buy. Now, I’m aware that some players and even some experts don’t think this aspect of poker is particularly important. But they’re wrong. Listen…

Suppose I stroll into your car showroom, affording you the opportunity to sell me a car. If you’re indifferent to me, I’ll be less motivated to buy one. If you were selling vacuum cleaners, I’ll be more likely to buy if you politely give me reasons. What if you, as a salesperson, took the position that it’s unnecessary to motivate me because, if I want the product, I’m going to buy it anyway? Well, you’d make the occasional sales, sure. But you would not reach the elite ranks among salespersons.

Poker’s no different. The main flaw that poker players exhibit is that they call too frequently. They’re like compulsive shoppers. They may be good for your business, but only if they shop in your store. Now here’s the key secret: Weak players do not call all their opponents equally. Not surprisingly, these poker shoppers don’t make every call. A lot of potential calls seem borderline to them. When you hold a big hand, you have a product to sell, and your image matters.

CLick to play online poker against Mike CaroThey’ll elect to play their very weakest hands against you specifically, because it’s more fun and less painful, than playing those same hands against someone else.

I take poker profit seriously, but I do everything I can to make opponents believe I am NOT playing seriously. In sales, you need an image that fits the product you’re selling. If you’re trying to sell funeral services, formal attire and a sombre demeanour work best. If you’re selling rock guitars in a music store, having long hair might work.

At poker I try to convey a wild image. This tells weak opponents that I’m frivolous and unpredictable. Ideally, they’ll call more often when I have them beat. And because they’re unsure of what I’m going to do next, they’re less likely to extract maximum value from me by betting and raising when they have me beat.

In order to make my images just right for the purpose of selling good hands at poker, I go to extremes. I even visit my hairdresser: Sibyl gives me a permanent every 3 months. She knows I want to result to be on the wild side. It’s money well spent, and it helps me win at poker.

So does burning a $100 bill at the table. This not only suggests to my opponents that I’, wild, but also that I do not care about money. The result, again, is that they call more when I have them beat and attack less when they have me beat. I “spend” that $100 to advertise, just as a business might spend many times that $100 for an effective ad in a local newspaper, to gain attention and lure future sales.

Similarly, I sometimes call a bet on the river in Hold’em when I can’t even beat the board. Maybe I was allowed in for free in the big blind with 3-2 suited and the final board shows K-Q-10-8-5 of mixed suits. Let’s say it’s No Limit heads up and there’s been no betting until the very last round. The pot is $500 on my opponent makes a small $200 bet. I call and, with all eyes focussed on the showdown, I lay my hand down face up on the table. Everyone is scratching his head as I say, “My Grandpa told me you can’t win if you don’t gamble.” Trust me when I tell you that the more they scratch, the more money I’m likely to earn in the hours that follow. It’s the equivalent of having a big sale at your hardware store and advertising “free hotdogs and soda!”

Mike Caro - professional poker tipWhen you convey a carefree image at poker, you do a magical thing: you give your opponents permission to play poorly, because that’s what they see you doing. They reason that their own bad plays won’t be subject to criticism. When you’re critical of others’ bad plays, you make them self-conscious and they play better. That’s a disaster.

And what’s my biggest secret regarding my goal of giving away money when I first sit down at the table? It’s that my generosity doesn’t continue very long. After advertising, I play selectively and rationally. But hardly anyone notices, because when I fold I continue to talk about having played crazy hands. And it’s believable, because they’ve seen weird stuff with their own eyes. Done correctly, your first advertising is cheap. And most of your subsequent advertising is merely talk, so it’s free.

Think about how important advertising and image are to selling everyday products. Why would poker be any different?


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Check Your Ego: You Can’t Play if You Don’t Know the Rules

Annie Duke professional poker player

I noticed a very interesting fact at this year’s WSOP. While the No Limit Hold’em tournaments have gotten much much tougher, the Limit tournaments seem much softer than they have been in the past. I have been at several starting tables where I wondered if some of the players had even played the game we were playing. My brother (Howard Lederer) was at a Stud 8 or Better table with someone who did not know the rules. This was a $2,500 buy-in tournament and that player did not even know the rules of the game!

I find it fascinating that people would be willing to pony up that much money to play a game they do not know. Now I have no doubt that many of the people are very good at another discipline of poker. I was at a Razz table where there were a couple of players who were very poor at Razz, but I was thinking that I would not want to be at a No Limit Hold’em table with them. The reason they were playing Razz poorly was because they were using the No Limit Hold’em strategies in the Razz game. Now they were applying those strategies very well, trying to put pressure on their opponents, making interesting later-street plays. The problem is that those strategies are inappropriate for Razz. So while I could see they would be very tough opponents in No Limit Hold’em, I was happy to have them at my Razz table.

Years ago when I was first starting out, I played Limit Hold’em as my cash game. I also played No Limit Hold’em, but that was only in tournament settings since it wasn’t spread much in live action. But the key here is that I was a Hold’em player and I was a good one, willing to sit in on the biggest Hold’em games that were spread, ones that could get as high as 400-800 during the WSOP. But my usual game was 75-150 Hold’em, which was the biggest Hold’em-only game that happened on a regular basis in Vegas.

At that point, the mixed games started getting really popular and those were soft games that played much bigger. The usual mixed game was 200-400, a much better opportunity to make money if you knew what you were doing… that is if you had good control of all the games in the mix. The problem for me was that I was a Hold’em player and didn’t have a grasp of the other games.

Professional poker tipsBut each game has subtleties that take practice and dedication to learn and master; and without mastery of those concepts you will play that game poorly even if you are an awesome player in another game. For example, since pots are often split in Eight or Better games, there are strategy consequences that just don’t apply to single-winner games like Hold’em and Stud. If you try to apply one-winner game strategies to split games, you will be a losing player in the long run. And even if you are the best Hold’em player in the world, you will be the big fish in the mixed games if you haven’t mastered the other games you are playing. To be a successful mixed player you can’t have a weak game.
So when I was eyeing these juicy mixed games years ago, my brother urged me to play low limit Stud before jumping into the mixed games. I had played a lot of Omaha Eight or Better by that point, but I had never played Stud before and he forbid me to get in those mixed games until I  understood Stud. So I started playing the $5-10 Stud games, and over the course of 6 months or so worked my way up till I was a winning 75-100 Stud Player. A lot of people made comments that I must have gone broke when they saw me playing $5-10 instead of the big Hold’em games. But I checked my ego at the door and just bore down to learn how to play so I could get into the mixed games. By the end of that year I was playing 200-400 HORSE and doing very well – because I understood all the games by then.

Poker tips and adviceIn actuality, stepping down in limits can be a decision that can keep players from going broke. I had my brother to guide me; otherwise I might have fallen into this trap as well.

So back  to the WSOP: I am seeing excellent players of one game, like Hold’em, jump into high buy-in tournaments for games they have no mastery of, thinking that it is all just poker. Well, that kind of thinking creates a big equity and bankroll mistake. Get each speciality under your belt. If you think about how long it took for you to become a truly good Hold’em player, you might realise that you can’t just sit down and play a game like Stud Eight or Better and assume you’ll know what you’re doing. Put in the work first!



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