The Poker Lab Rat

October 28, 2008

Poker tips: Know your bluffs in Texas Holdem

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 6:23 pm

Bluffing is a key part of successful Texas Holdem poker playBluffing is the act of making a bet with the worst hand, and hopefully forcing an opponent to fold a better one. Easy enough in principle, but when it comes to Texas Hold’em, you also need to know the various ways you can do this successfully. So here are some basic bluffs as well as a few counter tactics!

SEMI BLUFF:

When you’re bluffing with outs – that is, if you do get called, you still have ways to win, such as betting a flush draw in the knowledge that you may win with a bluff or still make the flush if you get called. This tactic is used frequently by the pros and all good players, and is often the deadliest, as it means your opponents will find it difficult to know if you have a strong hand or just a draw any time you put chips in the pot.

NAKED BLUFF:

When you’re bluffing with no outs, aware that the only way you can win is of you make the other player fold. Daring and audacious, this is a very high risk option that requires a precise read on your opponent and lots of guts. John Duthie put on a master class of naked bluffs to win $1.7 million at Britain’s inaugural Poker Million in 2001. However, one reason he got away with his bluffs is that he never had to show any of them, and the other players didn’t have a clue until afterwards – when the tournament aired on tv!

RE-BLUFF:

Sensing that someone else is making a move on a pot and fighting back to try to beat them at their own game. Often characterized as the strongest move in poker, this is an ultra-high risk, sophisticated play made by many top players mainly against other top players, all of whom understand intimately the levels-inside-levels approach that defines high stakes poker.

DELAYED BLUFF:

A less spectacular version of the re-bluff, the delayed bluff consists of calling a bet with nothing against a seemingly weak opponent – with the intention of taking the pot away on a later betting round. This tactic often works best with position; if you call a bet on the flop or turn last and then the other player fails to follow through with a bet at the next opportunity, it frequently means they were stealing. Moreover, if you either called and missed a draw or called with nothing just to bluff later, you’ve found a great low-risk opportunity to do so.

POSITIONAL BLUFF:

Using good table position to exert pressure on the opposition. You may be raising to steal the blinds in late position, or betting one of the subsequent rounds in the hope that you can make a player pass a better hand when they know you will be acting after them throughout, and could put them to some tough decisions.

CHECK-RAISE BLUFF:

Checking to let your opponent bet after you with position, and then re-raising. This is both high risk and a very powerful move, as the check raise almost always signifies strength, meaning you might force an opponent to fold. Equally though, if they call or re-raise, then you’ve created a big pot out of position and are left with the equally tough choices of giving up or making an even bigger and potentially fatal bluff on the next betting round.

TRAP:

Feigning weakness with a very strong hand in the hope that an opponent will make an ill-timed bluff. This might be through slow-play, in which you check and call other player’s bets, or make a small bet that is designed to communicate weakness and bring a raise or bluff from an opponent.

CHECK-CALL:

An antidote to very aggressive players and a way of minimizing your damage if you fear you’ve walked into a hand rather than a bluff, check-calling means simply calling down an opponent when you think they have nothing. If you’re right, then the other player has effectively given a lot of free chips to you, and if you’re wrong, at least you found out as cheaply as possible (as well as gaining a valuable insight into your opponent’s playing style).
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October 21, 2008

Why Play Sit and Go Poker?

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,Poker Tournaments — Mike @ 9:18 pm

Sit and Go poker tournaments are a fun and exciting way to get your poker fix in a hurry. Since you don’t usually have to pre-apply or find an open date to play, the Sit and Go (“SNG”) is a favorite amongst poker enthusiasts who want to play cards in their spare time.

Say you get home from work at 5:30 PM (I wish!) and, amazingly, have a night with nothing on the horizon. With the SNG, you can find a table with an open spot, wait for the pre-selected amounts to be filled and try to win yourself a nice dinner for tomorrow. Imagine covering the cost of that Porterhouse steak before eating it!

These SNG online poker tournaments are fast-paced, usually consisting of 10 players, and they’re the best way to build a bankroll with a minimal deposit. It’s important to note that they normally pay the top three finishers out of 10 players and are the only tournaments where you will find 30 percent of the field getting paid (in multi-table tournaments, generally only about 10 percent of the field is paid). SNGs definitely are the best “risk/reward” ratio in online poker.

A good way to play in these SNGs is to employ a “tight aggressive” mentality. While you do face the possibility of seeing some bad beats doing so, those losses can be mitigated if you stay the course. The blinds usually start quite low, so the conservative player will be rewarded down the road. Generally speaking, you can start out tight and then slowly become aggressive with premium hands. Chances are you’re sitting at a table with some causal players who want to make big splashes as well, so bide your time and wrangle them in. One of the staples of a SNG is that people will often pay any price to see a flop, regardless of what cards they’re holding.

Table position will play a big role in how you pull off this strategy, however. In early position, you should only play these strong hands. Later on, however, is your chance to occasionally loosen the reins. Middle-to-late positions are great because you can see what others players might be doing – maybe take a flyer on that low pocket pair or those suited connectors. Really, the middle-to-late positions are great for one thing: getting to see the action. You will get to see what kind of action your opponents take before you have to make a decision, and more importantly, what kind of pot odds you’ll be getting to see a flop.

All strategy aside, though, the real fun of a SNG is the spontaneity. If you’re into tournament-style poker but can’t handle a fixed schedule of events, the SNG is definitely the way to go. Blind structures encourage casual players and novices to get their feet wet in the world of online poker, which means anybody and everybody is truly welcome.

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October 16, 2008

Online Poker Tips: It’s All About Timing?

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 11:46 pm

At last we’re getting some focus on ONLINE POKER tips as opposed to Live play tips (there’s a bit difference guys!)

Taylor Caby - photo courtesy Full Tilt PokerWhen playing poker online, one of the most important pieces of information you can pick up on is the “timing tell.” Whenever one of your opponents gets involved in a big hand, you should always pay attention to how long it takes him to make his decision because it will often give you a clue about the strength of his hand.

Here’s an example of how important a timing tell can be. Let’s say you’re playing in a $1/$2 No-Limit Hold ’em cash game, and everyone folds to you on the button. You raise with A-8 suited, and the big blind calls. The flop comes 8-7-2, and your opponent quickly checks. You have top pair with top kicker, which is a very good hand heads up, so you check behind, hoping to get some value out of the hand on the turn and the river.

A 4 falls on the turn, and your opponent checks quickly once again. You bet $10 into the $14 pot. Previously your opponent has acted very quickly, calling and checking within a second or two, but now he takes his time making a decision. This should be like an alarm bell going off in your head, telling you that he has made a big hand.

After letting his time bank nearly run all the way down, your opponent decides to raise, but only for a small amount. This is another indication that he has a big hand and is hoping to get paid off, but it was the timing tell that should have tipped you off first. By taking so long to make a decision on the turn, he deviated from the normal timing of his actions. He was obviously thinking about much more than whether he should call, raise, or fold; he was trying to decide the best way to extract the most money from you. Now you know that your opponent has a big hand, most likely a set or a straight, and you’d be wise to fold.

Now let’s say you’re at the same table, and a player limps in under the gun. Everyone folds, and you have J-4 in the big blind. This isn’t much of a hand, but you should still take your time before checking. By acting like you are possibly considering putting in a raise, you are disguising the strength, or, in this case, the weakness of your hand.

The flop comes 9-6-3, completely missing your hand, but once again you should take your time before checking. If your opponent instantly fires a bet at the pot, that should tell you he was planning on betting no matter what the flop brought because he couldn’t possibly have had enough time to think about the flop and decide what he was going to do. Because of the speed of his bet and the nature of the flop, there’s a good chance your opponent failed to improve his hand, making this a good spot to put in a large raise. Even though you have nothing, there’s a good chance your opponent also has nothing and will fold.

Another timing tell you should be aware of has to do with the auto check/fold option. Players who use this option are giving their opponents information about the type of cards they’re likely to have and the way they play certain hands. By using the auto check/fold option, these players are telling you that they usually play their hands in a straightforward manner. Such players are more likely to play their hands based solely on the strength of the cards dealt to them, rather than taking into account all the other factors involved in a poker hand.

As important as it is to pick up on these timing tells when you’re playing online, it’s equally important to avoid giving off such tells yourself. Oftentimes you will know instantly whether you want to bet or call with a certain hand, but you should always wait a few seconds before acting. By doing this when you don’t have a hand you like, it will allow you in the future to take a little more time to consider the best way to play a hand you do like without tipping off your opponents.

It’s also important to note that some advanced online players will give off reverse timing tells in order to mislead their opponents. Therefore, before giving too much credence to an opponent’s timing tell, you should determine what kind of player he is, an inexperienced player who is genuinely perplexed by the decision he needs to make or a cagey professional trying to set a trap. (Note from Mike: Or he may just have an intermittantly cr*p Internet connection… it happens!)

ABOUT TAYLOR: Taylor Caby plays online as a High-stakes ring-game player. Taylor says he got serious about the playing poker in 2003 and immediately went to work building a bankroll by playing Sit & Gos. From there, he moved to low-limit ring games and, in less than two years, he was consistently winning at the 50/100 No-Limit Hold ‘em tables.

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October 4, 2008

Continuation Betting and Your Position at the Table

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 11:32 pm

Professional Poker player tipsWhen deciding whether or not to make a continuation bet on the flop, a critical factor is your position at the table.

Let’s say you raise before the flop from under the gun and get called by the big blind. You should make a continuation bet the vast majority of the time, whether the flop helped you or not, because your preflop raise from the worst position at the table suggests you have a very big hand. By the same token, your opponent’s call before the flop doesn’t signify nearly as much strength because he was getting a big discount to call from the big blind. If he checks to you on the flop, you should make a continuation bet at least 90 percent of the time, mixing in a few checks when you have a hand like A-J or A-Q and flop top pair with your ace.

Now let’s say you make a preflop raise on the button and get called by the big blind. You still have position on your opponent, but he’s probably not going to give you any credit for having a strong hand because stealing from this position is so common. There’s a chance he might check-raise you with absolutely nothing, so you should be much more inclined to check after your opponent checks, especially if you actually have a decent hand like pocket eights on a J-7-3 flop or A-K on a Q-J-5 flop.

In the latter situation, you would be better off checking and taking a free card with A-K because you’re likely drawing to ten outs and, even if you don’t improve, your hand is still strong enough to have showdown value on the river. If you do decide to make a continuation bet and get called, you can be sure your opponent has a better hand than yours. You should then take a free card on the turn, which will give you another shot at hitting one of your outs on the river.

Because most players view continuation bets as steal attempts in this situation, you should be prepared to go all the way with your hand whenever you’re short-stacked and connect with the flop. For example, if you only have 20 big blinds in your stack, you raise from the button with Q-10 suited and the flop comes Q-J-5, you need to be willing to get all your chips into the middle of the table. You should make a continuation bet most of the time, but occasionally you’re going to want to check behind in this spot in order to disguise the strength of your hand.

Now if you had 30 big blinds in your stack in the same situation, you might want to check behind because you’re a little too deep to entice an opponent who has a jack to want to put you all in. If you check, most of the cards that fall on the turn won’t hurt you. Only an ace, king, or jack would give you much concern. Having disguised the strength of your hand, you can then bet for value on the turn and the river. Your turn bet will get called by many hands worse than yours, including most small pocket pairs. If your opponent checks to you again on the river, you should continue to bet for value, but if he leads out with a bet you should just call. If you raise, you’re only going to get called by a better hand than yours.

Now let’s turn it around and say you’re out of position. You raise before the flop from middle position and get called by the button. Now you’re in much more of a bind if you make a continuation bet because, if your opponent calls, you’re going to have to act first on the turn and if you check the turn your opponent will often pounce on that perceived weakness and make a large bet.

However, there’s a great way to take advantage of this situation. If you actually have a strong hand on the flop, top pair or better, and make a continuation bet and get called, this is a great spot for you to check the turn. By doing this it will appear to your opponent that you’re conceding the pot, and oftentimes it will trick him into believing he has the better hand. If the flop is J-7-3 and you have Q-J and check on the turn, your opponent could try to put you all in with a hand like pocket nines, whereas if you bet the turn he would probably fold that hand.

If you want to succeed in tournaments, you should always consider your position at the table when deciding whether or not you should make a continuation bet on the flop.

Jon ‘Pearljammed’ Turner

Jon Turner - professional poker playerThis blog post is Part II of Jon’s pro tips on continuation betting – check out Continuation Betting Poker Tips Part I here.

Jon is one of the most successful online tournament players in the world with more than $1.6 Million in online winnings.

>>If you’re USA-based, like Jon, play online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

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October 3, 2008

Online Poker Tips: Be Selective on Which Tables Your Join!

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 12:56 am

Dont be a bunny - check out this poker tipHere’s a quick poker tip from the team at bet365 poker. It seems “uh duh, common sense”, but I personally suspect lots of players just join poker tables at random – and it probably reflects in their poker ROI!

One great advantage that online poker offers a poker player that live action casino play does not is the ability to lurk and watch tables for as long as you want before sitting down. How well would it go over in a casino if you went from table to table and watched a dozen hands or so before finally choosing one at which to play? Not very well, considering they probably make you choose a table or give you the boot long before you’ve finished making your rounds.

But with online poker it’s different. You can open as many tables as you want and watch the action without having to take a seat. The players at the table won’t even know you’re there, watching how they play and taking notes.

If you’re good at reading players and picking up betting patterns or other online tells, you’d be a fool not to lurk at a table before choosing to play there or not. Even if you’re horrible at picking up vital information from your opponents, watching a table for a few hands before sitting down can still give you some easy-to-find information. Who are the more aggressive players. The more passive players? Who likes to bluff? Who can be bluffed? Who’s a maniac, a call-box or a fish?

The next time you sit down for an online poker session, take an extra 10 minutes or so and scope out a few tables before making your choice. It may help you make better bets, and if you’re a true beginner it could save you from getting eaten by the real sharks.

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