Pro View: Hardest Habits to Break in Online Poker

Online Poker TrapsHere are a couple of traps for online poker players from the team at bet365 poker

No. 1 – Watching TV

Being a winning poker player always comes down to how effectively you gather information about your opponents. For example, let’s say it’s down to heads-up on a single table Sit and Go tournament. You get dealt A-10 offsuit while on the button and your opponent pushes all-in. You have been watching a rerun of Friends (because you’re insane) and have no clue what kind of player this guy is. You think to yourself, “A-10 is a fantastic hand in heads-up! I’m king of the world!” And you call only to see your opponent was holding A-Q suited. Welcome to Domination Land; population: you.

If you’d been paying attention you’d have noticed that this guy had been playing tighter than a tourniquet the whole time and made all of his chips by pushing with big hands. Unfortunately for you the only information you gathered in the last 20 minutes was that Ross and Rachel had broken up again. How did that work out for you?

No. 2 – Multi-Tabling the Wrong Tables

You’ve been playing well and winning regularly and so you decide to quadruple your winnings by jumping up to four tables at once. Now this isn’t a bad idea but there are few caveats you should definitely be aware of.

The first problem that many novice online poker players make is to only multi-table single table Sit and Go poker tournaments. It’s an easy enough mistake to make since so many players build up their initial bankroll through these tournaments. The problem is that when you do well at more than one small table at a time and players are eliminated you are left with less and less time to make your decisions. This is fine with one or two tables at a time but if you ever find yourself in a heads-up situation at two tables, three-handed at another and five-handed at yet another, you’ll find yourself pretty rushed to make decisions; and God forbid that any of these tournaments be turbos.

So if you’re relatively new to multi-tabling or even if you are just finding that you’re feeling the heat as the tables shrink, you should definitely try mixing up the tables you play. Throw in some larger tournaments and double stacks that are more accommodating to patience and that allow you to fold everything but premium hands at the start so that you can focus on heads-up play when you need to.

No. 3 – Wild Betting

Wild betting is something that tends to happen to players who become too removed from the value of the chips they are betting because it’s happening online. Live poker doesn’t tend to have this problem because you can actually feel the chips in your hand. You’ve handed someone cash for them and you are keenly aware of what they are worth. With online poker all you need to do to deposit and get chips is click a few buttons. It’s easy to lose awareness of their value and push them around in ways you probably wouldn’t in a casino. This is likely part of the reason why online poker players have gained such a reputation for being highly aggressive when they take their game to a live poker room.

Pay attention to your betting and compare it with how you play in a live game. If there’s a big difference in your game, that’s probably not a good thing. Remember, aggression is good, but if you’re reckless, players will pick up on it and take advantage.

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Building That Poker Bankroll: Bubble Play Tips from Howard Lederer

Howard Lederer poker professional

In a typical nine-handed, one-table Sit & Go that pays out three places, the most critical juncture of the tournament comes when four players remain. Three of those players will turn a profit, and one of them will go home empty-handed. It goes without saying that there’s no more disappointing place to finish in a nine-handed Sit & Go than fourth.

It’s a volatile time when your stack is getting short, the blinds are getting high and everyone’s looking to cash. To get the most out of Sit & Gos, you’re going to have to learn how to master the bubble.

On most online poker sites, first place gets 50% of the prize pool, second place gets 30% and third place pockets 20%. But don’t let that 20% fool you. It’s not really 20% for third, because once you get down to three players, 60% of the prize money has been locked up and actually already paid out. Essentially, the last three players are only fighting over 40% of the prize pool as the other 60% has already been paid out. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you get into the money. You’re going to have to make some tough decisions and tight lay-downs to make sure that you get a piece of that 60%.

Here’s an example of a hand you would play very differently on the money bubble in a Sit & Go than in most other instances. You’re second in chips with 3,000, the blinds are 100/200, and you’re dealt Ad-7d in the big blind. The chip leader is on the button and raises to 600; the small blind folds and you call the extra 400. The flop comes Q-8-3 with two diamonds, which is a pretty attractive flop for your hand. You check, and your opponent does exactly what you didn’t want him to do: put you all in for about double the size of the pot. You’re getting slightly better than 3-to-2 pot odds on a call for your tournament life.

This is a situation in most tournaments where, if it was early in the Sit & Go or if the money bubble had already burst, you would call. But this is a special situation. You are on the bubble and 60% of the prize pool is about to be awarded. If you call here, you’re probably about 50/50 to be the player that finishes on the bubble and gets none of that 60%. This is one situation where you need to really let the structure of the Sit & Go influence your decision.

Once the bubble bursts, your approach should change dramatically. Look again at the payout structure: the last three players are fighting over the remaining 40% of the prize pool. If you move up from third to second, you get another 10%, but if you move up from third to first, that gets you an extra 30%. That’s three times more reward for winning than for just moving up a spot. So your goal now becomes to do what’s necessary to finish in first place and not be too concerned about going broke and finishing in third.

You should be willing to put your chips at risk to give yourself a stack that can lead to a win. If you pick up a hand like J-9 or Ace-rag and it looks like someone might be pushing you around, take a stand. Put your chips in the middle. You don’t want to be anteing off your chips, limping up into second and then not winning.

In these structures, the initial goal is always to cash. Once you’ve cashed, the goal is to go for the win.

tickyHere are the latest stats on Howard Lederer:
He holds 2 WSOP Bracelets and 2 WPT Titles, and was named 2003 WPT “Player of the Year”.

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Pro Poker Tips: Playing AK Out of Position

Jon Turner - Fulltilt Poker pro

Ace-King may be one of the strongest starting hands in poker, but you’ve got to play it right in each position to make it pay – especially in the early stages of a tournament. Being in early position adds another challenge to the situation. But if you’re betting consistently and keeping an eye on your opponents, you should be able to take more than a few pots when you’re holding Big Slick.

To start, let’s look at the early stages of tournament play. Suppose I have 3,000 chips, the blinds are 20/40, and I’m under the gun with AK. I’ll raise to 120 and assume that there are a couple of callers. Regardless of my position, this is a good situation. With just two callers, I’ve likely got the best hand.

Let’s say the flop comes A- or K-x-x. I’ve got to be careful not to overplay my hand. If I start out check-raising here it will be obvious that I’ve connected with the flop and I’ll likely drive out some of the weaker hands that I can probably get action from if I just check-call. A better move here, however, is to avoid slow playing this hand at all and to lead out at the pot with a continuation bet like I would at any other time. This not only helps to build the pot, but it also prevents my opponents from catching a free card that could somehow cost me more later on.

If I do get action from an opponent after I lead out, I’ll probably check on the turn. By doing this, I can control the pot size and induce my opponent to bluff into me with a weaker hand. If my opponent checks behind me, I can value bet on the river and try to induce a call if he’s holding a pocket pair like Js or Ts and he thinks his two-pair may be ahead. If my opponent is holding a weaker Ace, checking the turn and value betting the river is also a good way to keep them in the hand and to extract an extra call at the end of the hand.

If my opponent leads out and bets after I check the turn with my AK, I’ll usually just call his bet and head to the river. Again, check-raising here isn’t a good play because it’s likely to drive a weaker hand out of the pot or cost me more chips if I’m facing a stronger hand.

If I lead out after the flop and get raised by my opponent, I’ll usually just flat call and see the turn. I’ll seldom re-raise here because all that will do is drive weaker hands than mine that still might put money in the pot. One situation where I will re-raise, however, is when I’ve got an opponent who’s consistently overplayed his hands – especially when he’s holding an Ace. If I’m facing an opponent like this, I may re-raise all-in to induce a call when he’s way behind.

Assuming I’ve just flat-called a re-raise on the flop, I’ll check the turn just like I did in the earlier example. If my opponent checks behind me, I’ll value bet my AK on the river and hope for a call. If my opponent bets out after I check the turn, then I’ve got a tough decision. If he’s firing a second bet, I can be pretty sure he’s holding a strong hand like a set and that he has a good idea about what I’m holding. This is especially true if I’m up against an experienced opponent. I may lay down my AK here in order to save my chips for a better spot or I may call depending on the size of the bet and any history I have with this opponent. If I call and he bets strong again on the river, I’ll almost always fold as I have to assume that he’d very rarely bet here with a worse kicker or as a third bluff.

One situation where I won’t check the turn is if the flop comes K-x-x with two suited cards on the board. In this spot, I’m going to lead out if the flush card doesn’t hit on the turn in order to protect my hand from the potential flush coming on the river. If my opponent has a set or a hand that already has me beat, he’s probably going to re-raise to protect his hand as well. This complicates things even more, and I’m going to have to rely on my read of him at that point to determine what I should do. If I really think he has a hand or he’s proven to be a solid player, I’ll probably fold and look for a better spot.

AK is a very powerful hand, but it can also be dangerous – especially when you’re playing it from early position. By continuation betting after the flop, you can get a pretty good idea of how strong or weak your opponents may be, and plot your next moves accordingly. Depending on whether your opponent calls or raises, checking the turn can either set you up to pick up some extra chips by value betting the river, or save you some precious chips if you’re forced to lay down to a bigger a hand. Either way, you’re retaining control of the hand and giving yourself the best chance to make it to the money.

tickyJon “PearlJammed” Turner is one of the most successful online tournament players in the world with more than $1.6 Million in online winnings to date.  And, yes, you guessed it, his favorite band is Pearl Jam 🙂

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Poker Pro Tips: PLO

Barny Boatman - a member of the Hendon Mob who plays online poker at

If you don’t have much experience playing Pot-Limit Omaha, a good rule of thumb is to play hands that can make the nuts because at a full table the pot will usually end up going to the player holding the best possible hand. If there are three flush cards on the board, the winning player will often show an Ace-high flush, and if the board pairs, the winner will usually have a full house. While flopping the nuts is nice, it’s even more important that you have redraws to make the nuts when the board changes on later streets.

Because you have four cards in your hand instead of just two, the starting hands in Omaha are much closer together in value than they are in Texas Hold ‘em. Any four random cards not containing a pair are never going to be that far behind any other starting hand. The values start to diverge on the flop and at that point they change dramatically. In Omaha, the best hand changes from street to street. The nuts almost never stay the same and the best hand on the flop will rarely be good on the river; if you’re going to continue on in a hand, you need to have a redraw that gives you plenty of outs.

More than anything, Pot-Limit Omaha is about straights and straight possibilities. You should always be looking to play starting hands that have a 10 or a 5 in them because many straights contain one or the other. Tens are particularly important because they’re more likely to make the nut straight for you. If there’s a lot of action on the flop and the board hasn’t paired, you really want to have a redraw to make the nut straight. If your hand’s got flush potential as well, all the better.

Unless you have some sort of redraw, one of the worst hands you can have on the flop in Pot-Limit Omaha is a small set because chances are good that you’ll end up losing to a bigger set, a straight, or a flush. For this reason, beginning players should avoid starting hands that feature small pairs like 5s or 7s. It’s more likely that these hands will get you in trouble than make you money – you’d be smart to fold them before the flop.

Having a redraw to make the nuts is so important in Pot-Limit Omaha that folding the nuts on the flop is often the best play if the board is scary and your hand has no chance of improving. This might sound crazy to Texas Hold ‘em players, but this situation occurs all the time in Omaha. The best way to combat this is to play starting hands that have all four cards working together so that if you do make a hand on the flop you can play it aggressively, knowing that your hand has a chance to improve on the turn or the river.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Let’s say you’ve got J-10-3-2 and the flop comes 9-8-7. You’ve flopped the nut straight, but you can’t celebrate too much because if a Jack or a 10 falls on the turn or the river you won’t have the nut straight anymore. If there are two flush cards on the flop, you’re in even worse shape.

This is a very difficult situation to be in because any change that occurs on the board can ruin your hand. If the board pairs, you’re probably going to lose to a Full House. If another spade comes, you’re going to get beaten by a flush. Even if the straight you flopped somehow remains the nuts on the river, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to split the pot.

When you pick up a starting hand that has the potential to make a straight, it’s fine if the hand has a gap in it. Just remember that it’s far better to have a gap at the bottom of the hand than at the top. For example, J-10-9-7 is a better hand than J-9-8-7 because the first one allows for upward development. If the flop comes 8-6-5, you’ve made the nut straight with both hands, but if a 9 falls on the turn only the first hand allows you to make a higher straight. Ignorant of this concept, many players who are new to the game tend to overvalue a hand like 6-5-4-3. Even though the cards are perfectly connected, this hand is not as pretty as it looks because it doesn’t allow for much upward development.

As you can see, it’s not enough to flop the nuts in this game. You also need to have a redraw to make the nuts when the board changes; because in Pot-Limit Omaha, it always does.

a5_wAbout Barny:
In recent years, Barny has worked as a commentator for numerous televised poker tournaments, including Late Night Poker, The World Heads Up, The Poker Million, Poker Million the Masters, The Victor Cup, Celebrity Poker Club, The European Poker Tour, and The Poker Nations Cup. He has also recorded a television series called Barny’s Home Games, a show in which he visits and plays in home games all around Great Britain. He’d love to do the same thing in the U.S.A. some time.

Like most tournament players, Barny focuses mainly on No-Limit Hold ’em. He has been at the final table of many major events around the world, including the Master Classics, the European Open, the Irish Championships, the British Open, the Euro Finals of Poker, the Aussie Millions, and The Poker Million.

2h_wHere’s a link to the latest Online Poker Room Review Directory from the crew down the road at Gooners Guide to Gambling. (PS: A Gooner is an Arsenal Football Club supporter… derived from “Gunner”, but these guys are really just online gambling fans with a minor bias towards the red and white).

Poker Math: But They Were Suited!

Poker tips Ever wondered how you too can be a font of all poker knowledge and math wizardry? All you need is a calculator with a ‘combinations’ button (designated ‘nCr’ or similar).

Now imagine that ‘nCr’ stands for ‘choose’ and that you’ll be putting in numbers either side and hitting the combinations button in the middle. So, to calculate the number of possible starting hands enter ’52 choose 2’, and voila! The answer is 1,326.

Want to know how many ways someone can be dealt Aces? There are four Aces in the deck, so enter ‘4 choose 2’, which is 6. And the chances of being dealt a pair of them? Well 1,326 divided by 6 is 220-to-1. Not very good unfortunately!

But They Were Suited!  —  Don’t get dazzled by two of a kind. The odds just aren’t that good!

Starting hand requirements are one of the cornerstones of successful poker and one of the traps beginners often fall into is playing hands like Q(h), 5(h) or J(s), 3(s) “just because they’re suited”. Well, put the mechanics of poker math into action and you’ll soon see why this is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

Forgetting for a second that you might win by pairing your hole cards (or lose a lot on your kicker), what are the chances of actually making the flush? Say you hold two hearts – the chances of actually flopping it is ’11 choose 3’ (you need three of the eleven hearts remaining in the deck) divided by ’50 choose 3’ (the total combinations possible from the cards you haven’t seen), which is 0.84%. Eek!

As you can see, those flushes on the flop come along less than one in 100 times, so what if you’re only looking for a flush draw on the flop?

Now you want two hearts and one card of another suit to turn up. The equation here is ’11 choose 2’ (two of the remaining hearts) multiplied by ’39 choose 1’ (any of the remaining cards that aren’t hearts) divided by 19,600, which is still only 10.94%.

Consider these numbers and you can see why playing hole cards simply because they’re suited is a very bad idea.

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The Benefits of an Aggressive Image

Scott Montgomery - WSOP November Nine

One of the most important aspects of poker is establishing an individual image and using it to your advantage. By playing an extremely aggressive game, you’re likely to get paid off when you make a big hand because your opponents assume you have nothing; by consistently playing tight, you’ll get away with bluffs because they assume you’re strong. Either approach is fine, but it’s tremendously important to be aware of your table image so you can profit by playing against it.

Most of the time, players fall between these two extremes and that’s not a formula for success. One of the keys to succeeding in poker is consistently playing a different game than everyone else at the table. Developing a unique style and then varying your game allows you take advantage of opponents who don’t adjust their game.

Personally, I feel the style that works best is all-out aggression. One important reason for this is that it gives me a shot at becoming the chip leader and running away with the tournament. On the other hand, it can also lead to busting out early. For me, this is a risk worth taking; in the long run, I’m more interested in finishing tournaments in 1st place once in a while than just making the money most of the time.

Keep in mind that this type of aggression isn’t just a matter of bluffing to steal pots; my ultimate goal is to get paid off when I have a big hand. By getting involved in a lot of pots with mediocre hands while still keeping my stack close to even, I put myself in a position to profit from opponents who are convinced that I’m completely loose and taking shots with any two cards. I don’t have to be successful every time I bluff, just enough to stay alive and reinforce that wild image so that when I catch that hand, I’ll be sure to win a big pot.

Here’s a perfect illustration from Day Seven of the World Series of Poker Main Event – the day that determined who would reach the final table. I came into the day with about 4.5 million in chips, which was a little below the average. I knew that to make it to the final table and have a real shot at taking it down, I’d need about 15 million in chips. I had no intention of sneaking in short-stacked, so I knew I’d have to triple up over the course of the day.

I stayed pretty even throughout the whole day, except for two massive pots that were directly related. The first pot came early in the day, when I tried to bluff a player off a pot on the flop with nothing but Ace-high. I made this all-in move because I thought I could get the guy to fold. He ended up calling with top pair, but I spiked the Ace on the river to double up through him. I certainly got lucky there, but one other very important thing came out of it: I made the table aware that I wasn’t afraid to make a move for most or all of my stack.

Later in the day I was involved in a hand where I had the nuts – there were four spades on the board and I had the Ace of spades. My opponent had a smaller flush – with the nine of spades, I believe – but my image was so crazy that he called because he put me on another bluff. The earlier hand, when I pushed with the Ace-high, had to have been in the back of his mind. Poker players always want to call. They think: what hands can I possibly beat? This is magnified when you’re at a TV table, because no one wants to be that guy who laid down a good hand and lost a huge pot to a stone-cold bluff, especially when the whole nation is watching. Because of my loose image, I ended up winning an 18 million chip pot.

In a sense, it isn’t easy to play poker this aggressively. You have to be equipped to handle the emotional swings; you have to understand, deep down, that sometimes you’re going to lose huge pots – maybe even your whole stack – on a bluff. When it happens, you can’t collapse. You have to walk into the next tournament willing to make that same play again, because most of the time it will work. You can never be afraid at the table or preoccupied with the past. To play this aggressively, you have to believe that it’s the right way. If you can manage this, you’re going to be successful in the long run.

tickyWith $1.3 Million in Career Tournament Winnings including 4 WSOP Cash Finishes to date Scott Montgomery plays online at BetOnline and Bookmaker Poker. Join him at a table some day soon!

Poker Betting Strategy: When to Check

Online poker tips



Back to some poker basics:

Checking is one of the weakest moves you can make when playing poker because it is a passive move. Despite this, many beginner poker players check far too often.

There are only three reasons for a player to check.

1.    They have nothing in their hand
2.    They’re looking for information
3.    They want to trap their opponent

Reason No. 1 is by far the most common among beginners. If your first thought whenever you miss the flop is to check, then you’re not being aggressive. By checking repeatedly every time you miss the flop you’re falling into a pattern that is very easy for other players to read. It’s especially detrimental to your play because you’ll miss the flop more often than you will hit it.

Reason No. 2, to gather information, is used to try and figure out what your opponent might be holding. You’re using checking as a tool to try to gauge the strength of your opponent’s hand. You should expect a bet to follow your check here, and hopefully that bet will help you figure out whether or not you should continue in the hand or let it go.

Reason No. 3, trapping, is all about check-raising and slow-playing. You’re basically feigning weakness with a strong hand while hoping your opponent bets big so you can raise him. It can be a great strategy when used at the right time, but it can also backfire if your opponent doesn’t bet and you give away a free card. Only attempt a check-raise when you are sure that your opponent will make a bet and that your hand is good enough to hold up when they don’t bet and take a free card.

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Pro Poker Tip: Betting out to control pot size

Kelly Kim is in the final table of the November 2008 WSOP

Intuitively, it would seem that checking and calling is the best way to keep a pot small when you’re uncertain as to whether or not you have the best hand. And often, that’s the case. But believe it or not, betting out can sometimes allow you to get to the showdown cheaper than checking. If your goal is to control the size of the pot, sometimes voluntarily putting chips in will actually keep the pot smaller than passively putting chips in only after your opponent does.

Here’s an example from a hand that I played during this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event that will illustrate this tactic. The blinds were 12,000/24,000 and I opened for 60,000 on the button. Usually when you open for 2 1/2 big blinds like that, especially on the button, it portrays some strength. In this case, I only had Q-J of hearts. The small blind called and the big blind folded.

The flop came A-10-rag; he checked, I bet 65,000 and he called. The turn card was a Queen – making me second pair – and he checked. This was the key moment in the hand. I decided to bet 100,000. I did this for pot control: I didn’t want to call a bet of 150,000 or 200,000 on the river, so I made a smaller bet at that point expecting it to freeze him on the river with most hands.

Let’s say my opponent had A-3. My small bet on the turn made it look like I had a strong hand and was milking him, wanting him to call. There was no way he could bet on the river with an Ace and no kicker; he was just as happy as I was to see a free showdown at that point.

It’s also important to note our stack sizes. I started the hand with about 600,000 in chips and he was deep, with about 1.5 million. By betting 100,000 on the turn, meaning I had committed more than one-third of my stack, he couldn’t try a bluff raise because it was too likely that I was pot-committed. On top of this, I had established a tight image and he had to respect the likelihood that I had a real hand. If he had come over the top, I would have found out that I was beat for a relatively cheap price.

The main goal of the turn bet was to get me to the showdown for 100,000 instead of a larger amount. If I’d checked there, with about 280,000 in the pot, he could very well have had Ace-baby, and my check would have told him that I didn’t have an Ace. He then could have easily bet about 150,000-200,000 on the river to extract value from me. He was looking for an amount that I might have paid off with a Queen or what looked like a bluff. If he had Ace-baby and opted for the 200,000-chip bet, I would have saved 100,000 by betting out on the turn.

Obviously, he could have thrown a wrinkle into the plan by moving all in on the river. Again, this is a situation where you have to incorporate image, and I’d been playing real tight to that point – he was just as scared of me as I was of him.

What if I did have him beat with the Queen? Let’s say he had J-10 or K-10; he would have been priced in to call, and I wanted him to – I needed to pick up the extra 100,000 for my stack. I was willing to take the risk of seeing the river because he only had five or six outs.

Against other players who are capable of seeing the river card and just moving in, I might have tried a different strategy, like playing real small ball and checking the turn while being prepared to pay off 175,000 on the river. But against this guy, I knew for sure he was going to check the river unless he made trips or a straight.

As it turned out, I never saw his hand. He checked the river, I checked behind. He was disgusted when I showed him the Queen, so it was obvious that he had a 10 and I turned him. But he couldn’t have just had a 10. For him to have called with a 10 on the turn he needed to have a straight card there – he either had to be holding J-10 or K-10. And that was exactly the hand I wanted to be up against on the turn.

This situation was very circumstantial because it was based on stack size and image, which are very important in live tournaments. Because of the size of my chip stack, I was playing really tight and couldn’t afford to get out of line. I couldn’t see many flops. I played with this opponent for a while to set up this play, and I knew it was the perfect situation for it. I wanted to get to a showdown because I thought queens could have been the best hand, but didn’t want to pay 200,000 in the end to find out.


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