The Poker Lab Rat

April 29, 2008

Poker Pro: Make that Bet Size Work for You!

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 1:02 am

Greg Raymer aka Fossilman

Frequently tournament players bet an improper amount and often make the mistake of giving their opponents the correct odds to draw out on them. (In online poker, that’s about the time you get the banter in the chat box about calling with bottom pair…)

When was the last time you witnessed a bet of $300 into a pot of $2,000? I’d think your opponent was hoping to get action with his top pair, but as a seasoned poker player you know he’s making a big mistake. Even with bottom pair, your opponent is being given the right price to draw with five outs. If there’s a straight or a flush possibility, the bet size is way too low to expect a fold from anybody with one of those draws. You want to bet an amount that makes it a mistake for your opponent to call.

I also see inappropriate bets like $3,000 into a $600 pot. By making such a drastic overbet, this player is just guaranteeing that he will not get paid off by a worse hand, but instead get a call by a hand that is beating him. I often see this mistake from players who foolishly limp in with pocket aces. After they receive three or four callers and no one gives them the chance to re-raise pre-flop, they bet huge post-flop thinking “I need to get rid of my opponents now and win the pot before something bad happens”. Unfortunately, something bad has already happened. In this multi-way pot pocket aces aren’t much of a favourite, and after their opponent re-raises they’ll make the mathematically correct all-in call, yet often be behind.

Here’s an example – think what you would bet in this situation:

It’s the first level of a tournament and everyone has $10,000. You raise with KsQs to $300. One opponent makes the call from the button while both blinds fold. With a total of $675 in the pot, the flop comes Qd10s3s. How much would you bet?

Poker tipsTop pair with a good kicker and a flush draw – not a bad flop. I recommend that players bet a fixed percentage of the pot every time they bet. Players ought to have a fixed percentage because too many players tend to have one pattern or another based on the strength of their hand. That % needs to remain consistent to ensure you don’t give anything away based on the size of your bet. Being consistent is the only way to protect yourself in the long run. I’d bet $600.

Betting the pot or close to it is the correct amount to bet. However, if the correct bet is more than a third of either your stack or your opponent’s stack, perhaps going all-in is  better.

Early in a tournament if I flop a pair and flush draw and know that this pot might get very big, I’ll size my initial bet or raise so that I can make the last all-in push. If my opponent has A-Q, it’s a virtual coin flip; and rather than flipping a coin for all the chips, I’d rather get him to fold by re-raising. If he has a set, we aren’t going to get him to fold no matter what we do, but there are plenty of hands like A-Q or K-K where putting enough pressure on our opponents might persuade them to fold. Remember that if our opponent has a hand with which he is really willing to get all his chips in the pot, then he is the favourite in this case. But the majority of the time, our constant pressure will do the trick.

Using this example above, let’s try to incorporate the method I mentioned. There is $675 in the pot, and normally you might bet between $550 and $650, which is a good bet size right now. If your opponent re-raises to $1,500, instead of your normal re-raise to $4,500, you’d push all your chips into the pot (as $4,500 is almost half of your chips anyway). That doesn’t tell him what kind of hand you have, but if I’m you opponent and have A-Q, I’m not going to be happy. At this time I’d rationalize that my opponent should have one pair beat or is holding a big draw. If I’m either a small favourite or way behind, why would I want to call all my chips?

Adjusting the pot size in the example, imagine if there were $2,000 in the pot pre-flop. Remember that we’re trying to be the ones who make the last bet, so our typical $1,800 bet would not work in this case. If we made that bet, our opponents would probably re-raise all –in and we’d be stuck calling since we have too much equity to correctly fold.

Given that this is the case, you might want to make a smaller bet to keep with our goal of making the final push. An unusually small bet, like $500 or $1000, would be ideal since when they re-raise $2000 to $3000 you can push all-in.

In this scenario, you’re giving your opponent a chance to fold a hand like A-Q again. Even holding pocket aces, your opponent might contemplate a fold since the betting has told the story that you might have flopped a set. Your opponent will realize that you will have a strong made hand or a strong draw. He might call, but he isn’t correct to do so.

professional poker tipsIf you’re a solid player, your opponent is in a tough spot and this is the way good solid players will mix it up. They’ll force the action and jam the pot with strong draws in addition to strong made hands. Even if they get called by a strong hand, they’re in good shape, with lots of outs, to win the pot.

a5_wFor other poker tips from professional players check out the pro tips directory at PokerLabRat.com
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April 26, 2008

Poker Pro: Flat call the raise or re-raise with a hand like 10-10?

Filed under: Annie Duke,General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 2:16 am

Annie Duke Professional Poker Player

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is about how to play hands like middle pairs against a raise. This comes up when someone raises in front of you and you have the choice of flat calling the raise or re-raising with a hand like 10-10 (this comes up whether or not there are any callers in between you and the raiser).

There are arguments for playing it both slow and fast: Some players prefer the call and some prefer the raise. The justifications I hear have to do with risk and trapping and small-pot poker and the like; but in the end, the decision on whether to raise or not really comes down to math and decision making. I personally have no predetermined preference for either play. Instead I look at the specific situation I am in to determine which play is likely to be more profitable and give me fewer headaches – and that’s the choice I make.

Poker professionalSo, let’s look at how you make the most profitable mathematical and game-theoretical choice. Suppose you have a single raiser in front of you and you are playing $10/$20 blinds, the raiser makes it $60 to go and you look down at 10-10. You must analyse the math of the call versus the raise. Basically calling will create some problems. Assuming you are against a reasonably aggressive player, you can suppose the player is going to bet at nearly all the flops. Over 50% of the time, the flop is going to have an overcard in it. Now you have gotten yourself into a guessing situation: You aren’t sure whether your 10-10 is good in the face of the jack, queen, king or ace that just fell on the board.

Even worse, if the board does come all undercards to 10-10, you are still in a guessing situation if your opponent puts any amount of pressure on you. You are likely to end up committing a lot of chips in that kind of spot. The only card you can be really happy to see on the flop is a ten – and you are 7.5 to 1 dog to flop a set. Since you are only against one guy at this point, he is going to have to sail off to you for 7.5 times your initial call or $420 bucks just for you to break even to the original call, assuming you break even to all other boards – which might be stretching it since you don’t have the lead.

The take away is that in poker, it is generally a good idea to avoid situations that are likely to present you with headaches down the road. When the overcard flops to your 10-10, you are scratching your head wondering why you played the hand so soft. When the board comes up nine-high and your opponent puts pressure on you, you’re left wondering what on Earth you can beat besides a complete bluff and are in danger of either folding to the worst hand or losing your stack to the best one. Trouble.

But that does not mean that raising is always correct, because raising is not always the most profitable choice. When is it correct? When you believe that you will win the pot over 50% of the time from the moment of the raise. Why? Because in order to justify putting in the extra chips beyond the call, those chips have to be earning and serving a real and describable purpose. Let’s looks at the earn first.

You know that at a minimum you’re going to call with the 10-10. That means that the $60 call is already part of the pot. But now you are considering a raise, trying to decide whether putting the extra chips in the pot will do something good for you. The price you get on the raise will be about even money. With blinds of $10 and $20, the original raise of $60, and your call of $60, you should be raising the pot, which is $150. That means you will be putting in a total of $210 or so ($150 beyond the $60 call you were going to make anyway). So you are risking an extra $150 to win $150. That means your break even point on the raise is 50/50. If you think there is a greater than 50/50 chance that you will win the pot by raising, either right there or down the road, then you should go ahead and make the raise. Mathematically, 50/50 is going to be your break even point (this holds true even if there are other callers in the hand, since you will be raising the pot then as well).

But there are also compelling decision-making and game-theory reasons for choosing the raise instead of the call. First, you can knock out the rest of the field even if your original raiser doesn’t fold. And with a hand like 10-10, which you would really like to win without improvement, narrowing the field is super important. Second, you can take the lead away from the raiser so, when the overcards come, your decision becomes less difficult; since your opponent will check you, you can bet and find out right there where your hand is (you will usually just win it right there). Third, when the raiser does call, you can determine a very, very narrow range of hands he can have. You have much more information about his holdings and that will help you make better decisions after the flop.

Most importantly though, you are avoiding the tougher decisions you will be put to when you leave the lead to the other guy. This means that if you conclude the raise will be profitable, you should generally take that choice to make things easier on yourself. The reason I have no overall preference on the play is that there are lots of games where the raise doesn’t really buy you anything. It doesn’t increase your chances of winning enough. When your opponents are playing loose, they are going to call with too many hands, so you don’t really buy any information. And they are not laying down when they catch part of the flop, so you aren’t buying much of a lead. This kind of game comes up a lot in the early stages of online poker tournaments, for example. In those kinds of games I strongly lead towards the flat call.

Poker is totally situational. Once you understand the implications of the choice you make, like raising or calling, you can adjust your choices effortlessly to the type of game you are in.

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April 19, 2008

Poker: not a game for the mathematically challenged!

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 8:24 pm

Know your poker math?Justin Bonomo professional poker player

In my opinion the most under utilized form of learning in poker is simple algebra. I’m not talking about anything complicated like Bill Chen’s calculus in his “The Mathematics of Poker” book, but simple eighth grade algebra that you can use in all kinds of poker situations.

Here’s a quick example:
You have a draw. Your opponent bets on the flop, and you think calling is a bad option because you don’t think this particular opponent will pay you off if the draw hits, but he will put you all-in if it doesn’t. Your options are to raise all-in or to fold. There is $150 in the pot, and your opponent bets $100. If you were to move all-in, it would be an additional $200 for your opponent to call. You estimate that you would win approximately a third of the time when you are called.

Q. How often does your opponent need to fold for raising all-in to be better than folding?

Let’s split it up into two situations: x% of the time your opponent will fold, and you will win $250; y% of the time your opponent will call. Of that y%, 2/3 of the time, you will lose your entire stack of $300. The other 1/3 of the time, you will win $450 (your opponent’s stack + the pot).

Your raise equity is x(250) – 2/3(y)(300) + 1/3(y)(450) if you move all-in. That is the same as 250x – 200y + 150y = 250x – 50y. Since x and y add up to 100% of the time. (x = when he folds, y = when he calls), we can say that x+y = 1. That is the same as x=1-y.

So we now substitute for x: 250x-50y = 250(1-y)-50y = 250-250y-50y = 250-300y.

Re= 250-300y. Let’s set Re to 0 to find out when a raise is break even: 0=250-300y. 300y=250; y=250/300=5/6; x=1/6.

That means that if our opponent folds just 1/6th of the time, we have a break even play. Any more than that and we will show a profit. Let’s check our work to make sure it’s right.

So if 1/6 of the time we win 250 and 10/18 of the time [5/6 x 1/3] we lose 300; 5/18 [1/6 x 1/3] we win 450. Let’s see if that adds up to 0.

(1/6)(250) + (10/18)(-300) + (5/18)(450) = 41.667 – 166.667 + 125 = 0. That math is correct.

To some people, that answer may seem extreme. There is enough money in the pot that, with just a 33% chance of winning, our opponent has to fold only 1/6 for an all-in semi bluff to be the correct play.

Generally this math is too complicated to do at the table, but I like to do a simple calculation like this every now and then when I am curious about a situation. The math may seem hard if you haven’t done it in a while, but it’s straight out of your eighth or ninth grad algebra text book.

I figure that if a 14 year old is responsible for knowing this math, a successful professional poker player should be responsible for the same math if he wants to be able to claim that he knows the fundamentals.

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Justin was the unfortunate pro who got caught with multiple entries and publicly outed for cheating in major online poker tournaments, but he also can claim fame as the youngest player (at that time) to have ever made a televised final table at 19 years, 5 months, and 20 days at the French Open in Deavuille, France, where he finished 4th.

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April 14, 2008

Poker pro: the importance of table image – going wild!

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 5:23 am

Mike Caro professional poker player tips and advice

You should always adopt a poker table image that’s most comfortable for you. Fine. But I teach that in most games, a quiet conservative image doesn’t extract the most profit. That’s because the biggest mistake most opponents make is that they call too often. And the money that excellent players earn is directly related to this one overwhelming mistake by your opponents.

Sure, you can play against other solid opponents and still win sometimes, because you’ll find weaknesses in their games. Maybe they’re easily bluffable in key situations or maybe they don’t get maximum value from their hands. But when your try to earn a living from other players who are also trying their best to make rational decisions, you’d better be exceptionally talented. And even if you are, I believe you still won’t average as much profit as you would against non-analytical players who simply make too many calls.

That’s why I teach that the biggest secret to winning poker is to create a wild and playful image. You image can even be bizarre, one that encourages opponents to think you’re playing much worse than you really are. That way, they’ll be less likely to exact full advantage when they have you beat, because they’re worried about what you’re going to do next. And, at the same time, they’re going to reward you with even more weak calls than they give other opponents, because you’re fun and playful, and losing against you is less painful.

ONSTAGE
If you’re uncomfortable being onstage, this isn’t the right image for you. There are other demeanours you can bring to the poker table, and I teach these too. But the wild image remains my favourite. It’s a very dangerous image, and you can easily get caught up in the chaos and end up playing a losing game. I know: I’ve done that.

PROBLEM
The problem is something I call FPS (Fancy Play Syndrome). It’s the disease that presents itself when you believe you’re so superior to your opponents that you need to prove it. So, you choose the fanciest and most unusual play, rather than the one that is apt to earn the biggest profit. Beware of FPS! You’re not going to be able to prove you’re the best player in a single session. No matter how good you are, your opponents may never acknowledge that you’re the best. Now, it’s true that the best players might not win the most money. They may be capable of winning the most, but – instead – they choose to play exhibition poker, as I did. They become to poker what the Harlem Globetrotters were to basketball – playing for the show, rather than the points. The Globetrotters still won – and I still won – but not by the big margins I should have!

I’d rip up $100 bills at the table, and sometimes I’d burn them. I did this in bigger games, because it got attention. The first $100 bill burned may have been profitable advertising. It suggested to the opponents that I didn’t care about them money, and made them more likely to call and to make mistakes against me. But I overdid it. Sometimes I’d destroy many hundred dollar bills in one sitting. If you’re in the retail business, it often pays to advertise, but you can buy too many ads and not be able to sell enough merchandise to cover the cost. That’s what I did. Often I made too many bizarre plays and didn’t have enough legitimate hands to sell and overcome the expense.

I remember playing all my hands open heads up – showing them face up on the table – for half an hour. And I’d almost always play like a maniac the first 20 minutes I entered a game. I wanted to establish an early image and then tighten up and reap the profit. I’ve often joked that opponents could have gotten rich just following me around and sitting down for the first 20 minutes wherever I played.

Showmanship can win money. It’s the image I advise for those who have keen psychological skills. But too much showmanship can ruin your bankroll.

Why am I telling you this? Because I do not want other players who follow my advice about poker image to get caught up in the act. Remember, the object isn’t to get attention. Getting attention is only a tool for making money, which is the object.

So advertise, but be stingy with your budget.
MC

 

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April 8, 2008

Poker Pro: Big Stack Play – a lot of chips means a different game

Filed under: Poker News & Views,Poker Tournaments,pro tips — Mike @ 4:28 am

Professional Poker Player

It doesn’t get much better in poker than to reach the final table play as the big stack. However, there’s a big difference between coming to the final table with the chip lead and knowing how to use your stack to take control of the final stages of a tournament.

There are many players who don’t slow down once they reach the final table with a big stack – I’m not one of them. By the time I reach the final table I’ll have already played a number of hands against about half of the other remaining players. I’ll have developed reads on their games and they’ll have done the same with me, which makes this a good time to switch gears. If I’ve been hammering away aggressively before the final table, I’ll often slow things down and be much more selective as the final table begins. This way, players might bust themselves against me by over-committing their chips in a spot where they think I’m being a bully although I’ve really got a hand.

Even more important to my success here, however, is that I begin paying very close attention to the size of my opponents’ stacks. I want to know who’s likely to be playing conservatively in order to try and move up a few spots, and who is short stacked and looking to get chips in the middle with any two cards. I’m more likely to play against the conservative players and avoid the gamblers.

Let’s say the majority of the players are sitting on somewhere between 40 and 50 big blinds each, but the short stack only has about 15 big blinds in front of him. He’s going to be looking for any chance he can to double up, which means I’m not going to raise his blinds unless I’m holding a hand that allows me to comfortably call his all-in re-raise. While doubling up the short stack probably doesn’t hurt me in the long run, it’s simply not worth risking chips that I can put to better use against other opponents.

When there’s a logjam of players who all have about equal size stacks, I’m willing to play a fairly wide range of hands against them, so long as I’m in position. For example, say I’m chip leader with about 100 blinds, and a smaller stack with about 40 blinds open-raises for 3 times the big blind. I’ll call this raise from the button or from late position with hands like 4-5 suited, 7-9 suited or J-10 suited if I think I can pick up the pot after the flop.

I know that I’m not often going to flop anything better than a single pair – if I connect at all – when I call with these kinds of hands. Yet I’m still comfortable making this play because I know my opponent will miss often enough that I can steal the pot with a post-flop bet. This is especially true against players who completely shut down their games if they miss the flop, because I can use my big stack to force them to commit a sizeable portion of their stack if they want to contest the pot.

When I do decide to play against the short stacks on the final table, I’m looking to do so from position and with hands that aren’t going to be easily dominated. If I don’t have to worry about someone entering the pot behind me, I’ll play coin flips against the short stack all day long because I know I’ll win enough of these hands over the long run to be profitable.

The times I won’t make this play with my big stack are when I think someone else may try to squeeze me out of the pot by raising all-in behind me, or when doubling up the short stack could drop me from being the chip leader back down to an average sized chip stack. In these cases, I’ll look for better spots and let the shorter stacks fight it out among themselves.

While having a large chip stack is a weapon in itself, you’ll get better results if you know how and when to use your stack to your best advantage. Put your stack to good use and apply pressure in the correct situations, and you’ll turn your chips into something much more valuable when the tournament is over.

 

US Players welcome at FullTiltPoker real money games tooA US-based Professional Poker player, Jordan has over $1 million in career earnings including 2 WSOP Final Tables and 8 WSOP cash finishes. (So don’t get suckered in with the “lucky” bit in his online moniker!)

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