Money For Nothing, Flops for Free


“Don’t accept a gift in the big blind in hold ’em,” Kelly told me years ago. He was wrong.

In hold ’em there are no antes. Without antes or something to replace them, there’s nothing to fight over, and if you’re against wise opponents who are playing perfectly, you should sit hand after hand, badly bored and mumbling mantras about your cattle farm. Finally one hand you’ll find a pair of aces. Logically, only then can you play, because you can defend aces against other intelligent players with equally perfect patience. Against such players, you shouldn’t even start with the second-best hand – a pair of kings. The only time you’d get action would be against a pair of aces and you’d be a decided underdog. All other times, you’d win an empty pot and gain nothing.

That’s why the ante was invented: to give poker players a motive for war. Human nature being as it is, I believe that most players would find reasons to play inferior hands sometimes, even without incentive. They lack patience. But, poker would be a pretty pitiful game without something in the pot to fight over. Well, in hold ’em there isn’t an ante. So what motivates players to enter pots?


It’s the blind bets. There are two of them in the seats to the dealer’s left, a small one and a big one, usually twice as large. You must make these bets before seeing any cards. They aren’t optional.

In most hands, there’s going to be a raise before the action gets back to the big blind player. Whether to call or not will be a matter of judgment. But there’s a time when players, like Kelly, often misjudge. And that’s on those occasions when there’s no raise at all. If  opponents just call the big blind, there’s a special rule in hold ’em that can get you in all manner of trouble. Normally in poker, if you’re just called, then the betting ends. You move along. But in hold ’em if the player in the big blind isn’t raised, there’s a peculiar option. That player – who’s been merely called – can continue the wagering by doing the raising himself. It’s called the “live blind” rule.


Doyle Brunson poker professional eliteMy lesson today is that you should usually treat this situation as a gift when you’re in the big blind. You’re about to see the flop that happens next for free. Yes, it’s sometimes tempting to raise your opponents right out of their chairs, and that sort of aggression is in my nature. But usually, I decline. I accept the gift and see what happens at no cost.

Doyle Brunson poker legendIt’s often bad to try to bully the game when you’re in the big blind with the opportunity to see a free flop, because on all following betting rounds, you’re going to act first (unless it was the small blind who called you). That’s a big positional disadvantage, making it harder for you to take charge. Another caution is that players who just call are frequently laying traps. They’re hoping you’ll raise.

Put it all together and you’ll fare better ignoring Kelly’s advice and following mine. Unless you have a powerful hand in the big blind, whenever you’re merely called, think, “Thanks for the present, buddy,” unwrap the flop, and see how you like it.

Doyle Brunson

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Pro Poker Play: On confidence, game strategy and getting started

They said it – comments from some of poker’s elite professional players

Gaving Smith plays cash game poker online at - click to visit“Confidence is really important in tournaments, because it shows through to your opponents. If your opponents see you are confident, they are going to be less willing to make moves on you, and less willing to steal your blinds. Confidence will also allow you to be the aggressor at the table and take a little bit more control of the action.”

Josh Arieh plays online at Bodog Poker - click to visit“Right now I’m caught between a couple of strategies. I base my strategy on the table. If I find myself at a table of mediocre, inexperienced players, I tend to gamble a lot more in the early rounds. I try to utilize my edge over them to obtain a lot of chips so I can play a big stack. On the flip side, if I have a very tough opening table, I play a tight game and try to survive, so that when the table breaks, I am still in there with chips, and hopefully moving to a more profitable table. You need to be able to adjust your tournament strategy based on what your table is allowing you to do.”

Erick Lindgren plays online poker at - click to check it out!“I was just a small town guy that played sports his whole life = basketball, football, baseball – every game possible. I went on to college to try to play basketball seriously, but I wasn’t good enough; there were physical limitations, so I…er… wound up in a casino. I started playing the $3/$6 Hold’em game right away and was winning pretty good, so obviously I was intrigued and I took it very seriously from the beginning.”

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Quotes from the Pros on Online Poker

Cliff Josephy poker professionalAbout learning poker online:
“I think you learn a lot faster online than you do live. You see so many more hands and you can learn the game so quickly”
On being a great player online:
“Being a top online player is just like any other business. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and focus. You have to eat, sleep, and breathe whatever it is you are doing. You have to really focus on the game”.

PHIL (Unabomber) LAAK
Phil Laak professional poker playerOn the differences between live and online poker:
“It took me a long time to win online. I was a winning player on day one of playing live cash games, but it took me like, a year before I realized I had a positive winrate in online cash games. The difference between live and online is like night and day.”

More on online poker from a US player’s perspective:
“I do believe that the online poker universe is going through tough times. The player base won’t be expanding like it was because of the legislation. It’s hard when “Joe Poker” can’t just plug in another $800 in his account without any problems.”

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MIKE (TheMadGenius) CARO
Mike Caro the mad genius of pokerOn finding significant edge online vs live:
“Although it’s OK to occasionally hone your skills against tough opponents, this is a costly endeavour – even if you have a small advantage. Remember playing live that rakes, table rent, dealer tips, travel expenses and other costs will all factor against you – along with progressive income taxes. You don’t want to wager unless you can have a significant edge and you’re also wasting time that you could be using more profitably. You need to seek the best games online with the biggest edges if you want to succeed at poker.”

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Chips change value – so don’t get left out in the cold

Beware: failure to understand how chip values vary in a freezeout tournament vs a cash game could cost you dear.
AceKing2It sounds basic, but one of the hardest things to get to grips with for poker players moving from cash games into tournament play, is how the value of tournament chips is different.

When Greg (Fossilman) Raymer won the 2004 World Series of Poker he walked away with a cool $5,000,000, but he actually had over $25,000,000 in chips in front of him at end of play. The difference had, of course, gone to the other players who’d placed in the event – which perhaps illustrates why winning a tournament has jokingly been described as a bad beat in itself.

By contrast, if you make it into the money with only one chip left, that chip is worth much more that it’s cash value. Similarly, you might be familiar with the expression “a chip and a chair”, illustrated well by a famous story from the 1982 WSOP.

Jack (Treetops) Strauss moved in what he thought was his whole stack, only to be called and lose. But then as he was preparing to leave he found a chip concealed under a kink in the felt, from which he came back to win the entire event! [EDITOR’S comment: Really? The old kinky felt trick at WSOP level?]

In short then, because tournament players are paid by position, the more chips you have less each chip is worth individually, and the fewer you have, the more they are worth.

What this means in practice is that it’s actually correct to play very aggressively with a big stack to bully those players who are worries about getting knocked out (while you can’t be damaged too much), and to play extremely tightly with a short stack as your next hand could be your last, and you want to find something good to make a stand with.

Between these then are the middle stacks, who need to balance their play depending on what stack sizes they face, and try to build rather than be knocked down.

If you watch a poker tournament closely, you’ll be able to see these factors at work without much effort, and you’ll have learnt one of the principle dynamics of poker tournaments – good players play according to their stack size, as chips mean power!
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Poker Quiz: What Would You Do?

Here’s another quick poker quiz from the team at bet365 Poker for you to ponder.

In the first level of a multi table tournament, you open in first position with A-10 and are re-raised substantially by a solid player two seats down.

You have sunk down to eight big blinds and are in dire need of winning a hand. You get K-K in late position and an early-position player raises to three big blinds.

Close to the money, you’ve built up nicely after the K-K vs A-Q hand and are now a big stack. Everyone folds to you and you have K-9(s) in the cut-off seat. The other players have around 10-15 big blinds and there are antes in play.

…scroll down for answers…







FOLD  A-10 is a weak hand in early position, and can’t stand a re-raise. By raising, you have represented a bigger hand than you have, but you’ve still been re-raised in another early position, so it’s hard to imagine many favorable situations.

MOVE ALL-IN   Your opponent very likely has an Ace or a big pair – you’d usually expect him to call because of the odds and so you want to get all the money in while you’re a favorite.

RAISE   Your opponents have moderate stacks and are just thinking about survival. What’s more, if you raise and one goes all-in, they have enough so you won’t be forced to call for the odds. K-9(s) probably isn’t the best hand here, but given the stage of the game, the antes and stacks, it’s worth having a go.

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Poker has developed the web more than anything apart from pornography

I suggest you check out an online article in the Economist titled “Poker is getting younger, cleverer, duller and much, much richer“.

Its like, way long, but it’s a good read, compiling quotes from top pros over the years and portraying the good, bad (and ugly? nah!) side of poker. It covers but does not dwell on the US anti gambling luck vs skill debate (and irony), but is really all about the changing environment for poker.

Doyle Brunson Poker legend - click to visit his online poker site, Doyles Room (US OK from 39 States)The article compares still-going-strong legend, Doyle Brunson, with savvy Internet players like annette_15 (a 19 year old Norwegian, Annette Obrestad) plus has plenty of colourful input and comment on other pro poker players along the way.

(…modern-day poker luminaries as Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, a hirsute scholar of game theory, Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, a somewhat less cerebral but wily British professional who wears diamond-encrusted knuckledusters, and Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth, arguably the most celebrated (not least by himself) modern player…)

Here’s a few more quotes from the article:

Today poker is the third most watched sport on cable television in the United States, after car racing and American football, trumping even NBA basketball…while Britain has its own poker channel.

“It doesn’t take most young people long to realise they won’t be the next Michael Jordan. But they can all aspire to be the next Phil Hellmuth, and they don’t even have to work out,” says Mr Hellmuth, slurping a full-cream mocha.

After two weeks of poker, with daily sessions lasting up to 16 hours, Jerry Yang, a psychologist, went home $8.25m richer

Thomas Bihl, winner of a recent HORSE tournament, in which players have to show mastery of five different styles of poker, thinks the game has more in common with finance than it does with basic forms of gambling, because it requires the constant pricing and repricing of risk.

Ms Coren: “Cash is nothing more than chips, just the tools of the trade, like fishing rods to an angler. The game is all about money, and nothing to do with money.”

It blends with skill to produce a game that is “much like life, full of incomplete information and second-guessing,” says Mr Lederer. Poker is certainly more exciting to most than chess, a game of complete information and limited psychology where the better player always wins.

Ms Duke sees other ways in which poker teaches “life skills”. It taught her, for instance, how to be a good loser (“Even the best lose most of the hands they play. If you let that get to you, it will kill you”). She says she even uses poker theory when dealing with her children: “I always bet the minimum when making a threat. If you say no TV rather than no Disneyland, you can always raise later.”

A recommended read! Check it out here at The Economist.

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Pro Tip: Mix it Up!

Eddy Scharf is one of Germanys top professional poker players and a member of Team FullTilt

A group of my fellow poker pros and I recently completed a tour of Germany where we got to spend a lot of time interacting with a whole new generation of players from around the country. What I noticed along the way – aside from the incredible enthusiasm for the game – is that many of these players are very technically sound, but lack the real-life game experience to use their knowledge creatively.

To me, these players are like artists who learn by copying the works of past masters. They’ve studied the styles and understand the concepts, but their games lack originality. It’s paint-by-numbers poker.

For beginning players, reading poker books and strategy articles provide a great foundation for learning the basics of the game. These materials teach the importance of strong starting hands, position, and aggression. But, as Phil Ivey recently pointed out, relying too much on other’s people advice can actually stunt the growth of your game.

One of the most important pieces of advice I offer to new players is this; mix things up. There’s more than one way to become a winning player and it’s up to you to find the style – or combination of styles – that works best for you. Look at some of the game’s best known tournament pros like Gus Hansen, Gavin Smith, and Erick Lindgren. Each of these players is a master of mixing up their games and of playing “against the grain” of the competition.

If you’re normally a tight player, go a little bit crazy and loosen up for a while. You might be very surprised at the results you get. The same goes for those of you who usually play a very aggressive style. Rein it in at times and try out a tighter style of play. By switching gears like this, you’ll prevent your opponents from easily determining how you play and you’ll be able to take advantage of opponents who don’t make adjustments to their games. Sitting in a rock garden? Take advantage of your tight opponents by playing more hands. Surrounded by maniacs? Tighten up and pick off their bluffs by playing more premium hands.

Knowing when – and how – to make these changes comes with experience, so don’t be afraid to experiment, especially online. It’s very easy to sit down at a low-limit table – or even a play money table if you’re more comfortable with that – and try out some new tactics. Experiment with different starting hands, not just the ones recommended by the books. Try playing a hand like 8-6 suited from early position and see what happens. You might not win the pot, but it’s an experience you can learn from and draw on later in your poker career.

Another great way for players to start mixing up their game, especially newer ones who play No-Limit Hold ’em almost exclusively, is to try out some of the other forms of poker out there. Play some Limit Hold ’em, Pot-Limit Omaha, Stud, and Razz. Doing this will likely give you a fresh perspective on No-Limit Hold ’em and open up your mind to some new ways to approach the game.

Its one thing to read a book where the information presented is based on someone else’s experience. It’s entirely another to have that experience for yourself. Get online and experiment. Try different plays and different games and see how mixing things up can help make you a more successful poker player in the long run.
Eddy Scharf

a5_wEddy Scharf is one of Germany’s top poker players. Scharf came to the U.S. as a trainee pilot on jumbos. While in Arizona, he went on weekend trips to Las Vegas. A card player his whole life, Scharf always considered poker a game of luck. That changed when he noticed that the same guys kept winning. Upon realizing that poker is a skill game, Eddy set out to learn all he could about the game. He’s now a two-time WSOP bracelet winner in $1,500 Limit Omaha.

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Is There Really Any Luck in Poker?

This poker blog post is based on discussions between Annie Duke and her brother and poker mentor, Howard Lederer.

Annie Duke professional poker playerNow anyone who has sat in at a poker table knows there is skill in poker, but the general consensus has been that there is a preponderance of skill, not that poker is a game that is all skill. Arguments for this have centered on the fact that good players, in the long run will come out winners, but in the short run, anyone can win.

So the argument has been that poker is a game with a significant luck factor, but over the long run the law of large numbers will play out and the better players will win. But is this really true?  Howard has come up with a very compelling argument that the answer to this is actually NO!

Say we program a machine so it knows the rules of Texas Holdem Poker. It knows that you’re dealt 2 cards. It knows that a flop, a turn, and a river comprise the community cards. It knows that you can check, bet, call, or raise on any given street. It knows the rules and mechanics of the game. But let’s also say that we programme the machine to play with no skill at all. This means the machine will randomly choose an action at any given decision point. Now, remember that on any given street there are up to 5 possible decisions (a bet and four raises) and our machine will behave randomly – how do your think the machine would do? Terribly, obviously!

If you put our machine into a short even like a sit-n-go, against 8 skilled players, it would lose every time. The skilled players would quickly come up with the most effective strategy against the machine, which would be to raise the minimum against the machine every time. This would always put the decision back on the machine for the lowest risk; 1/3 of the time the machine will fold, 1/3 of the time it will call and 1/3 of the time it will raise. And the machine will do this regardless of its hand. It will be as likely to fold aces-full as it will to fold nine-high. It will be as likely to call with top pair as it will be to call with five-high. You can see pretty quickly that our unskilled machine would never win, even in the short run.

Howard’s argument shows that poker players tend to drastically overestimate the luck factor in poker, mainly because, in general, we are playing against very skilled players and whenever we close the skill gap between opponents in a skill game, it appears that there is more luck involved.

Take baseball as an example. No one argues baseball is not a game of skill. And the same thing happens in baseball when we narrow the skill gap. If we take the Yankees and pit them against a Little League team, then the Yankees will win every time. But pit them against an equally skilled major league team, say the Red Sox, now luck appears to play a much larger role. But it is actually factors like injuries and the weather that become a more important part in determining the outcome of a game. While the better team will win over a series of games, the outcomes of a single game will appear to be determined by luck, but is actually due to factors outside the direct control of the teams.

And poker is no different. Good poker players will overestimate the luck factor in poker because they forget exactly how skilled their opponents are. The fact is that most players are very skilled at hand selection and betting theory, even in the smallest games, compared to the totally unskilled player – like our machine.  As in baseball, the more skilled your opponents are, the more it appears that luck determines the outcome in the short run.

To take that baseball analogy further, if we stick the very best poker professional in a $0.50/$1 NL game, that player will crush the game just as the Yankees will crush the Little League team. If we pit that same player against other top pros, the best player will win in the long run, although the short run outcome may be determined largely by factors outside the player’s control.

The interesting thing is if we took the same unskilled machine and programmed it to know the rules of lottery, it would perform the same as a human being. This is because there is no skill to the lottery. Once you know to fill out the appropriate number of numbers on the slip, and pay the attendant – you’re good to go. There is nothing more to the game – and yet lotteries are excluded from the current [US] anti gambling legislation, and poker is at risk. Seems illogical to me.

pro poker tipsPoker is a game of skill. It is a game in which the outcome is determined by skill as much as baseball is. Once we understand this, it is clear that poker should be set aside from gambling legislation that deals with games of chance since it clearly is not a game of chance. It is just a matter of getting people to truly and deeply understand the difference between games of skill and games of luck.

Annie Duke

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Successful Bankroll Management

Professional poker tips

I play poker for a living, and I’ve had a system that I’ve been using for over 12 years. I play at a certain limit, and if I lose 3 sessions in a row, I go down to the level underneath that I’ve been playing. So if I’ve been playing $40/$80, I’ll go down to $30/$60. And I have to win 3 sessions in that game to get back up to $40/$80. And I’ve gotten all the way down to $3/$6, or even $2/$4, from as high as $200/$400, but it’s a system that works.

Some of it’s a silly superstitious thing; if you’re running bad, you want to play smaller. But also, it prevents you from really going on tilt, it teaches you discipline, and it improves your all round game because you end up playing with a wide range of players, from new to pro.

It’s really important to be organized and keep records. People kid themselves. Have you ever talked to anyone who admits that they lose online?  Only about 6% of all players come out ahead online, so you’ve got 94% of the people lying or in denial. You have to keep records, because then you can see our hourly win rate, you can see what games you’re winning at, what games you’re losing at, and you can improve your game by tracking these things. If more people kept track and kept organized, they would be much more successful at gambling – but at the same time, it goes against the whole grain of gambling and the gambler’s mentality to approach it that way.

One key aspect to money management, for me, is having a completely separate bankroll for poker, which you do not touch for anything else. I even have a separate bankroll for tournaments. With live play, I like to have a bankroll way above the usual amount required to play a certain limit. People say for $80/$40, you need a bankroll of $50,000 to $60,000. I think you should actually have double that amount to play that limit. You also need to be careful playing tournaments and be aware of how much you can afford in terms of entry fees. If you want to play all the big ones, it costs well over $250,000 a year. There’s such a short-term luck factor involved with tournaments, that if you’re playing too many, you’re always running the risk of going broke.

Successful bankroll management in pokerThe biggest problem I see among poker players in cash games is that, pardon the expression, they eat little, and s–t big. In other words, when they sit down at a session and they win, they quit right away instead of playing for a while, and that’s when you should play longer. And when they’re stuck, they play for two days.

In tournaments, there’s a problem in terms of people taking shots. People play the little tournaments, the nooners, the online tournaments, and they build up their money slowly until they have enough to get into a five-dome WPT event. And then, boom, all their money’s gone. Rather than trying to satellite in, they just take a shot. Taking shots is why most people go broke.

Ego is another major problem that gets people into trouble. People aren’t willing to step down to smaller games, because they’re afraid someone will see them. But you can’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. If the game is good, and you feel good, keep playing. But if you feel intimidated or overmatched, get out. You can always go back the next day. Don’t ever sit in a game where you’re on scared money. If you have to play $5/$10 forever, then that’s what you have to do.

Money management in poker isn’t sexy, but it’s essential to be successful at poker. I know a guy – one of the best players I know – he gets together $50,000, $60,000, $100,000 all the time playing $30/$60, and then he’ll hop into the $300/$600 game and just lose it all in one shot. That’s crazy – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t let the greed get to you!


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Chatter Chips

Some players, when they get a big stack in front of them, get what I call “chatter chips”. They suddenly want to talk, when before they weren’t talkative.

Is that a good thing to do? Well, if me talking is a little distracting or intimidating to my opponents, and I’ve got a big stack, well then that’s what I’m gonna do. However, if it’s making somebody mad and will cause them to attack back at me, I might be a little more quiet. The other downside of talking is that you can give information away about your hand.

I think, overall, it’s better to be humble about having a big stack, than saying, “I’m the best, I’m the best”. It’s OK to be conversational, but if you’re actually trying to put people on tilt, I think in the long run, over a life time, all you do is ensure that you don’t have many friends in this world.

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