The Poker Lab Rat

December 24, 2008

Tips from Poker Professionals: Turbo MTTs

Filed under: Poker News & Views,Poker Tournaments,pro tips — Mike @ 2:14 am

Popular poker author Michael Craid plays online at FullTiltPoker.comWhen playing a turbo Multi-Table Tournament online, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is overcompensating for the fact that it’s a turbo by playing too fast and loose during the first several rounds. Because the levels are shorter and the starting stacks smaller, you’ll see players rushing to get all their chips into the pot with a hand like A-9 or pocket 5s. Since these tournaments actually play like normal tournaments during the first few levels, it’s important to remain patient and wait for big hands.

In the first 15 or 20 minutes of a turbo tournament you should play the same way you would in the first hour or hour and a half of a regular tournament. You should be looking to play quality hands aggressively from late position, but if you meet any resistance you need to pull back. At this point in the tournament it’s not worth losing all your chips with A-J offsuit or pocket 5s if an opponent comes over the top of your raise.

There’s also very little point in trying to steal the blinds in the early stages because they’re so small relative to the size of the starting chip stacks. Stealing the blinds becomes much more important in the later rounds after the antes have kicked in. The other argument against trying to steal the blinds early on is that you’re more likely than usual to get called because players tend to play faster in turbos. The big blind will be looking for a reason to call your raise from late position, and he might even make a move, pushing all in with a marginal hand. As a result, trying to steal the blinds becomes much less profitable than usual.

What you should be looking for in the early stages are opportunities to play small hands that could become big hands. When you’re in good position, you should be looking to see as many flops as possible with small pocket pairs and suited connectors because these are the types of hands that can win big pots. If I have a hand like pocket 6s, I’ll rarely fold to a raise before the flop because I know that one time in eight I’ll catch a 6 on the flop and double up off a player who can’t let go of his big pair.

If you do choose to call a raise before the flop with a small pocket pair, it’s important that you make sure your opponent has a large enough chip stack to justify the eight-to-one odds of you hitting a set. Ideally, you should be looking to make this call against a player who has at least twenty times the size of the preflop raise. If your opponent only has five times the size of the raise in his chip stack, you can’t win enough to make the call mathematically correct.

Another important difference between turbo and regular tournaments is that in a regular tournament I’ll be a little more aggressive in the early stages, trying to project a certain image. I’ll often raise with hands like J-9 suited or Q-8 suited in late position, but that tactic doesn’t work as well in turbo tournaments. In turbos I’ll often pass up opportunities to make an opening raise with these sorts of hands because I don’t want to put myself in the difficult position of having to play a big pot with such a weak hand.

Let your opponents be the ones to overplay their weak hands early on because they almost certainly will. They’ll raise or call raises before the flop with hands like pocket fours, and even if the flop comes Q-J-7 they’ll keep on pushing. Such players also tend to overplay strong hands like A-K. After raising before the flop with that hand, many players will refuse to let it go after getting check-raised on a flop like J-7-4. Even though they’re obviously behind, they’ll call a big bet, hoping to catch an Ace or King on the turn.

Some players will even push all their chips into the middle in this situation. All they have are two overcards, but I guess they figure that after raising before the flop and betting on the flop they’ve already invested a healthy chunk of their chip stack and they might as well go all the way with the hand. They’re impatient because of the nature of turbo tournaments − starting with smaller chip stacks and playing quicker levels − but this is obviously a huge mistake.

The most important thing to remember in the early stages of an online turbo tournament is stay patient and wait for big hands. Too many players overcompensate for the fact that it’s a turbo and make foolish moves that cost them half their stacks. Don’t be one of those players.

Michael Craig is a popular US-based poker writer/journo.

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December 20, 2008

Professional Poker Tips: Interpreting Three-Bets

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 10:24 pm

Poker Tips from Professional Players

We all know that a three-bet is supposed to mean strength. When a player three-bets before the flop, he’s saying that he believes he has the best hand. One of the keys to making money at the poker table, however, is being able to interpret when the three-bet means what it’s supposed to mean, and when a player is only representing a big hand and making a move.

The fact of the matter is that you’re not getting the right odds in most situations to call a three-bet with a small pocket pair. When there’s been a raise and a re-raise in front of you and you look down at a hand like pocket 6s, you normally want to fold it and move on. You can sometimes get away with making the call with a very deep stack, but you really have to have a strong read that you’re going to get paid if you make your hand. I might call with pocket 9s or 10s in the right spot against the right opponent, but hands like 8s or 7s just don’t play well enough, especially out of position.

One exception, of course, is if a particular player three-bets repeatedly. This suggests he isn’t always doing it with strong hands and it might be worth playing back at him. However, when I say “repeatedly,” I don’t just mean a couple of times early in a session. If a guy three-bets you twice early on, you might be inclined to think that he’s picking on you and doesn’t have a hand. But it could also be that the guy got dealt big hands twice. Until he has three-bet you relentlessly or shown down a weak holding after three-betting, you don’t want to try to make a play at him. Once he has done it several times, then it’s worth making a play at the pot if he puts in another three-bet, because he’s not going to have the premium hand that he’s representing that often.

Another thing to watch out for is the tiny three-bet. Say it’s a $1/$2 game, I raise to $6, and another player raises to $10 or $12 instead of something more standard like $15 or $18. When people make a tiny three-bet, I’ll usually call that. I don’t give a lot of respect to those plays. Sometimes they will be huge hands, but more often they’ll be very weak hands that you can take the pot from out of position.

A very small three-bet is not a tactic that I’ll use very often – there isn’t much reason for it. If you’re trying to steal a pot, you want to make it more difficult for your opponent to call. If you actually have a big hand, you want to get value for it when your opponent calls, so a bigger three-bet is a better idea.

Facing a three-bet can be a daunting prospect at times – be certain you have a good read on your opponent before making your next move.

Jordon

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December 19, 2008

Paying Tax on Poker Winnings II

Paying tax on poker winningsHere’s Part Two of an article on poker and taxation from the team at bet365 poker. In Part One they covered Paying tax on Poker Winnings for Americans and Canadians.

Poker Winnings and Taxes Part II: International Players
Disclaimer: The following is for informational purposes only. A tax professional should be consulted for official advice.

With the top two WSOP Main Event winners were from Denmark and Russia there have been a lot of discussions about how taxation works for international poker players who win big in an American poker tournament.

Although taxes are always a messy topic since so much is dependent on each individual’s situation, we have undertaken to shed a little light on the topic of poker winnings and taxes for international players.

Countries with Tax Treaties

The international poker community is broken into two groups in the eyes of the IRS. The first are those with which the United States has a Tax Treaty. This list includes: Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

If you are a resident of any of these countries then you get to avoid the 30% withholding tax but will still be subject to your own country’s taxation. In order to prevent the cash cage from keeping 30% on behalf of the U.S. government residents of the above countries you will need to fill out and hand in the IRS form W-8BEN and that will also require a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN number).

To get an ITIN you will first have to need one, which means that you can’t apply for it until you actually have a tax return to claim by winning something. So if you cash in an American poker tournament like the WSOP, you can apply for an ITIN in January of the following year. Then, once you have the ITIN, you can apply to get your 30% back from the Rio Hotel and Casino.

Find out more about the ITIN and how to apply for it at the IRS website.

Countries without Tax Treaties

This is a tough place to be. A poker player from somewhere like Kazakhstan will not only be subject to the United States’ 30% withholding tax, but also to the taxes of Kazakhstan itself (whatever those might be). The good news is that many countries will compensate the poker player with a credit for the 30%.

The Best and the Worst Places to Live

Based on the payouts from the 2008 WSOP Final Table, two countries pop out as being on either end of the poker taxation spectrum and they come from the top two finishers.

Peter Eastgate of Denmark who won $9.1 million will be subjected to a mind boggling 45% hit on his first $4 million and 75% on the rest of his winnings. This leaves him with around $2.5 million, even less than what second place Ivan Demidov will end up keeping. Demidov of Russia won $5,809,595 and will only be taxed 13% which means he’ll end up keeping $5,809,595 — $755,247 Russian tax (13.0% rate) $5,054,348!

Eastgate allegedly tried to become a resident of the United Kingdom during the months leading up to the final table so as to avoid Denmark’s brutal taxes, but experts have said that this is not likely to be accepted by the Danish government as a way to avoid the tax.

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December 18, 2008

Poker Winnings and Taxes

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 7:55 pm

Paying tax on poker winningsWe thought this was an interesting item from the team at bet365 poker. It’s Part one of two, and we’ll publish the second one tomorrow. (Part 2 covers tax on poker winnings in other international jurisdictions).

Poker Winnings and Taxes Part I: Americans and Canadians

Disclaimer: The following is for informational purposes only. A tax professional should be consulted for official advice.

Nothing feels better than winning a big poker tournament. The cheering of the railbirds, the awarding of the trophy, ring or bracelet and best of all, is getting the cash. That is until you get to the cash cage and find out that they are holding 30% of it for Uncle Sam. Or worse yet, you could be like WSOP Main Event winner Peter Eastgate who may have to give the Danish government $6.6 million of his $9.1 million.

With poker being an international game it’s not uncommon to see things like the WSOP, a Las Vegas based poker tournament, have a final table with one Dane, one Russian and two Canadians. That’s why it’s important to understand what various governments will take from you after you make a big cash. As you can see by the Eastgate example, sometimes the tax is so hefty that, if you’re a poker pro, it might make sense to just pack up and move.

AMERICANS

For Americans, taxes on poker winnings varies depending on what state you live in. You can also get all or a part of the taxes back if you file for a tax return with the IRS and all of your receipts are sent with it. That way you will only end up getting taxed on your net profit. You can also make deductions on losses and other expenses related to playing poker.

Professional players can report their poker tournament winnings as income. In order to be recognized as a professional poker player you will have to be able to prove that the majority of your income comes from poker.

Here are some examples of what the America 2008 WSOP Final Tablists will pay:
• Dennis Phillips of IL won $4,517,773 – $1,568,950 federal tax, $135,533 state tax (37.7% rate)
• Ylon Schwartz of NY won $3,774,974 – $1,396,304 federal tax, $387,966 state tax (47.3% rate)
• David Rheem of CA won $1,772,650 – $651,262 federal tax, $170,302 state tax (46.3% rate)
• Kelly Kim of CA won $1,288,217 – $470,995 federal tax, $121,074 state tax (46.0% rate)
• Craig Marquis of TX won $900,670 – $328,911 federal tax (36.5% rate)

CANADIANS

It seems that many Canadians are under the impression that they don’t have to pay any taxes on poker winnings. This is probably because they are exempt from paying on things like lottery and casino winnings. The problem is that Canadians are subject to an automatic 30% withholding tax from poker winnings made in the U.S.  However, Canadian residents who are taxed on their poker winnings can also deduct any losses they suffered in the U.S. while gambling that year.

Canadian residents should file Form 1040NR to get a refund of U.S. taxes withheld from their poker winnings.

Canadian poker pros are also technically required to pay taxes on their winnings because if you have a “reasonable expectation of profit” on your winnings then you have to pay on them. The upside is if you are considered a professional poker player you will be able to write off a lot of stuff including: hotels, travel, meals, etc.

 

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December 15, 2008

Simplifying Poker Decisions: Pro Phil Gordon

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 6:27 pm

An oldie but a goodie? This poker tip from professional player Phil Gordon was originally published way back in 2005.

Phil Gordon professional poker player

In an effort to simplify my decisions, every single time it’s my turn to act, I try to run through the same script in my head:

Are my opponents playing conservatively? Aggressively? Tentatively?

What are some of the hands my opponents are likely to hold?

What do my opponents think I have?

Once I have the answer to the first question, and feel confident about my range of answers for the second and third questions, I move on to the most important question:

Should I bet or raise?

If I think I have the best hand, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I bet or raise.

If I think I can force weak opponents out of the pot with this bet or with future bets, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I bet or raise.

If I don’t think betting or raising is the right decision, I move on to the last question:

Should I check (or fold)?

If I think I have the worst hand, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I check or fold. If I think my opponents are strong, I nearly always answer “Yes” and check or fold. After a careful analysis, if I’m not sure if I should raise and I’m not sure I should fold, I feel confident that calling a bet (or checking) is correct.

I find that even in straight-forward and obvious situations, by running through the script I often find opportunities that other players might miss. And by asking the “raise” question before the “fold” and “call” question, I ensure that I am playing aggressive, winning poker.

Try using this script next time you sit down at the table, and see if simplifying your inner dialog forces your opponents into making more complicated decisions.

 

ticky

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December 5, 2008

Pro Tips: Playing Aggressive Tournament Poker

Professional Poker tips and adviceUnless you’ve had your head in the sand for decades you know that most poker pros and poker commentators have been preaching the value of aggressive tournament play for a long time now.

With so many outstanding online poker tournaments happening online right now, we thought we’d take a look at some of the tournament poker advice that’s been offered by one of the top poker pros – Gus Hansen. Hansen is a highly aggressive player and a prime example of how to succeed by putting the pressure on when playing tournament poker.

Hansen has been categorized by some as a loose player. It’s a term that borders on insulting in that it implies a certain recklessness. But the proof is in the pudding, and Hansen’s pudding is his place in the World Poker Tour Hall of Fame, his four WPT titles and a first place finish at the 2007 Aussie Millions Main Event. He currently has total tournament winnings exceeding $7,200,000 – that’s a lot of pudding.

Hansen’s success as a tournament player is in direct contrast to hits he has taken in cash games. Despite his big tournament winnings he has struggled with money problems in the past partly because he has taken huge hits while playing in The Big Game that’s normally held in “Bobby’s Room” at the Bellagio. Hansen has admitted to losing a approximately a million dollars at couple of the games. Perhaps this is a good indicator of how an aggressive player might be best suited to tournament poker.

The success of the aggressive tournament player stems from the need to collect every last chip in the tournament and let’s face it, even if you make the final table, your chances are severely reduced if you’re the short stack. And it’s easy to think in terms of just trying to make it to the money but it’s more important to keep in mind what the payout structure is.

A good example can be seen in the WSOP Circuit Tournament at Caesars Palace last year. Chad Brown and Cory Carroll both made the final table; Brown as the short stack with $136K in chips and Carroll as chip leader with $713K. Not too surprisingly Brown went out first and Carroll won the whole thing using his chip lead to make plays that would be impossible if he were short stacked. Everyone knows the importance of getting a big chipstack but this should help illustrate how important it is in tournament play. Brown ended up walking away with $32,592 in cash. Not bad, but just eight spots ahead of him, Carroll made over half a million dollars. In other words Brown would have to finish ninth in the exact same tournament another 15.5 times in order to earn what Carroll did in one. That’s the value of a big chipstack and that’s why so many pros endorse a more aggressive tournament style.

It’s something to keep in mind the next time you get to the bubble and everyone at your table starts playing tighter than a tourniquet. It is probably worth the risk to get in there and steal some blinds. However, you’ll always want to keep in mind what the payout structure of your tournament is and gauge your aggression accordingly.

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December 2, 2008

Professional Online Poker Play: Recharge for Better Results

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 7:45 pm

Matt Vengrin up and coming professional poker player

One of the great things about poker, especially online poker, is that the game is always there when you’re ready to play. It’s not like being a baseball player, where you’re at the mercy of your team’s schedule, or like being a doctor, where you have to respond to emergency calls. With poker, you can walk away from the game for a little while, and it will be there when you get back. That’s why I strongly advocate taking breaks occasionally, especially if you pick up on signs that your play isn’t as sharp as it should be.

The main sign to look for is that your desire to play is waning. You should play poker when you want to play. It sounds obvious, but too many of us inexplicably keep playing even when we don’t want to.

I also find that when I’m experiencing a lot of negative feelings, that’s a good time for a break. If I’m feeling negative, not just from poker, but maybe from something else going on in my life, that’s going to affect my play, usually for the worse.

The other thing I keep an eye out for is when I’m gambling more than usual. If I’m playing tournaments and I’m finding that I’m too willing to get all my chips in on a coin flip, that’s a sign that I’m not playing my best and I need to walk away rather than let myself burn out.

Whatever your particular signs may be, the fact is that if you’re consistently losing, chances are there’s a reason for it. A lot of players will say, “Oh, I’m just running bad,” but it’s rare that that’s all there is to it.

And when I take a break, I really take a break − I totally distance myself from the game. I don’t play at all for a few days. That allows me to take a step back, get a different perspective, and come back hungry to play well.

At the 2008 World Series of Poker, a situation arose where I called upon my discipline to take a break even though a part of me really didn’t want to. My favorite event was coming up − Half Omaha/Half Hold ‘Em – but I could feel myself getting burned out. I hadn’t cashed yet and I’d finished on the bubble three times, so I was really demoralized.

Half Omaha/Half Hold ‘Em is my favorite tournament and even though I was really looking forward to it, I knew if I played, I wasn’t likely to do well and I would make myself tired for other upcoming events. So instead of playing, I headed to Malibu for a couple of days and visited a friend; I went to the beach and totally distanced myself from poker. And the first event I played when I got back was Event #29, $3,000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em, and I placed third for a payday of more than $165,000, my biggest live tournament cash to date.

Basically, I liken a poker player’s mental processing to a battery: when a battery’s life runs low, you need to recharge it. And the best way to recharge is to take a little break from the game. You’ll find that some of your best results come when your mind is fresh and when you’re playing because you truly want to be playing.

Up-and-coming pro Matt Vengrin plays online at BetOnline or Bookmaker Poker. He has more than $400K in career tournament earnings plus 2 WSOP final table appearances.
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