The Poker Lab Rat

April 30, 2009

Pro Tips: Becoming a Complete Poker Player

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 8:56 pm

Steve Zolotow plays poker online at FullTiltPoker.com

If you want to become a complete poker player, you need to learn how to play all the variations of the game. You should do this because it’s no good being the world’s best Hold ’em player when the biggest sucker in town only wants to play Seven-Card Stud. Ideally, you want to be able to play whatever game looks to be the most profitable on any given day.

When I first started playing poker, Five-Card Stud and Five-Card Draw were two of the most popular games, but now they’re both almost completely dead. They got replaced by Seven-Card Stud, which has also decreased in popularity. For a while No-Limit Hold ’em looked like it might be dying out because in the high-stakes cash games the tightest players always won, but it proved to be the perfect game for television so now it’s the most popular game. Because of how prevalent Hold ’em has become, I would advise beginning poker players to start out by learning its many variations, including Limit, No-Limit, cash games, and tournaments.

After Hold ’em, you should learn how to play Omaha, particularly Pot-Limit. Limit Omaha doesn’t work very well because deciding whether or not to call a bet on the river when a third flush card hits and you make a Queen-high flush isn’t a very big decision if you only have to call one bet and there are twelve in the pot. But if you’re playing Pot-Limit and your opponent bets the size of the pot on the river, whether you should call with your Queen-high flush or not becomes a much more difficult decision. In general, Pot-Limit games require a bit more skill than No-Limit games. Because you don’t have the all-in move to fall back on, you have to be equally capable of playing before the flop and after the flop.

Next you should learn the Hi/Lo games, particularly Stud Hi/Lo and Omaha Hi/Lo. Another good game is 2-7 Triple Draw, a tremendous action game that’s catching on very quickly. Like the best card games, it has a lot of mathematical elements to it, but there’s also a lot of card reading and bluffing involved. In 2-7, a drawing hand with one card to come is almost always an underdog to a hand that stands pat, so if you have a 9 and you can force your opponent to break his 9 you’ve gained a big advantage.

Beginning poker players are lucky nowadays because they can learn and practice all these games online. When I was starting out, most poker games were private games and you had to pay your dues just to get invited to play. If you were a winning player and you wanted to get invited back, you needed to show up on time, be nice to the suckers, and you couldn’t quit when you were winning a little bit. Even then, there might not be a place at the table for you the following week.

Contrast that with today’s world where you can play on your computer at home any time you want. Playing online offers an unprecedented level of convenience. Let’s say you’re about to go the movies and your girlfriend’s just gotten out of the shower but she’s taking forever to dry her hair. You can actually play an entire Sit & Go while you’re waiting for her. Sit & Gos can be very profitable. They’re also an ideal way to test out new strategies. By studying your hand history afterwards, you can see what worked and what didn’t. You can make notes about how you fared with a big stack and how you did with a short stack, and you can develop new ideas to try out in the future.

I still enjoy playing live because one of my skills is the ability to read people, but there are little tricks you can pick up that will help you gather information about your opponents when you’re playing online. If you’re playing at a single table and one of your opponents is multi-tabling, you can bring up all the tables he’s sitting at and watch how he plays. If he suffers a bad beat on another table, it could affect the way he plays a hand at your table, and you can take advantage of it.

For beginning players, online poker offers a convenient way of gaining a ton of experience in a very short period of time. If you choose to go this route, I suggest you take the time to learn all the games available to you so you’ll never have to pass up an opportunity to play against a big sucker just because he wants to play a game you’re unfamiliar with.

a5_wABOUT STEVE ZOLOTOW: His Nicknames “Z” and “The Bald Eagle”, he has 2 WSOP Bracelets and is a renowned game theorist.

 

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April 25, 2009

Professional Poker Tip: Adjusting strategy mid-hand

Filed under: Poker News & Views,Poker Tournaments,pro tips — Mike @ 5:08 am

Professional Poker player John Storakers

Most of the time when you’re engaged in a poker hand, you’ll be thinking about what decisions you will make before you have to make them. For example, if you call a raise with K-Q, you’ll think to yourself: Okay, if I hit top pair, I’m going to play this hand. If I have a gut-shot and two over-cards, I’m going to play this hand. If I have an open-ender and two over-cards, I’m going to play this hand. Otherwise, I’m going to let it go.

However, there will often be times when something happens that causes you to change your strategy mid-hand. Maybe your opponent makes a weak bet that gives you information worth using to your advantage. Or maybe he makes a bet on the river that looks like a value bet and convinces you to fold a hand you were planning on calling with.

It’s always good to enter a hand with a plan, but it’s essential that you be willing to deviate from the plan if the situation calls for it. Every hand requires that you react to your cards and the cards on the board, but it’s equally important that you factor in your opponent and his tendencies.

Here’s a hand that I played recently at the 2009 EPT German Open in Dortmund, where I went on to finish in fourth place. It was late in Day Two, I had been fairly short-stacked for a while and occasionally shoving with decent hands, but I hadn’t yet made a serious bluff in the tournament. We were eight-handed, the player in second position made a very small raise to 8,500 with blinds at 2,000/4,000 and a 500-chip ante, and it folded around to me in the small blind with pocket fives. I had about 70,000 in chips, and all I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to fold a pocket pair in this situation.

I decided to call rather than raise, knowing the big blind would certainly be priced in to call as well, and he did. The flop came A-8-3. I was obviously looking to flop a set, or maybe something like 2-3-4 or 3-4-6, and this flop was not at all good for my hand, so I checked. The big blind also checked. And the initial raiser made what looked to me like a very weak bet, 12,000 into a 29,500 pot.

I was quite sure from the bet that he didn’t have an Ace, and probably he didn’t have a pair of any kind. It seemed to me that he had a hand like K-J, something in that range. So when he bet 12,000, I considered all of the factors – my read on him, my tight image, and my stack size. I decided to raise 21,000 more, representing that I had perhaps a weak Ace and had committed myself to the pot (even though, in reality, I wasn’t committed and would be willing to fold to a re-raise, leaving myself with about 30,000 in chips).

The big blind folded, and after thinking for a long time, the initial raiser folded also. He simply had to give me credit for a real hand that I wasn’t going to lay down to a re-raise.

This was a situation where I didn’t really intend to commit many chips if I didn’t hit a favorable flop, but I adjusted my decision making based on my opponent’s post-flop action, believing the stage had been set for me to make a move. Always be willing to adjust your plan, and every once in a while you’ll find yourself winning chips that otherwise would have been pushed toward someone else.

ABOUT JOHAN STORAKERS: Swedish player Johan Storakers is based in Stockholm and has won more than $2.4 Million in career tournament earnings…

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April 12, 2009

Poker Hand Coordination: Tips by the pros

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 3:12 am

Poker tips by Professional Poker Players

Hand coordination is the relative strength of your hand compared to your opponents’ hand, and it’s probably the single biggest factor determining whether you have a good or bad session playing poker. If it’s working in your favor, whenever you flop a monster, one of your opponents will also make a big hand, just not quite as big as yours. In this situation, playing your hand as fast as possible usually gives you the best chance to make the most money.

Say you’re playing Hold ‘em and you’re in a four-way pot, the board comes 9-9-4, and you have pocket fours. You want to play this hand fast for two reasons. The first is that you’re hoping one of your opponents has a 9. If so, he might raise you, allowing you to reraise him. Ideally, he’ll call, then call you again on the turn and the river, and you’ll make a lot of money.

The other reason you want to play this hand fast is that, if you check, it’s quite possible your opponents will also check. Then, if the turn brings a 6 and one of your opponents has pocket sixes and makes a bigger full house, you’re going to lose a huge amount of money. Giving a free card and losing an enormous pot when you could have won a small pot (if only you’d bet) is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in poker.

Now let’s say the flop comes K-J-J, and you have pocket kings. You’re not as likely to cost yourself your entire stack by slowplaying in this situation. It’s extremely unlikely that your opponent is going to be behind on the flop and yet make a hand on the turn that beats you, but I still think you should play it fast. You’ll win more money by betting the whole way because any player holding a jack is, at the very least, going to call you down, and he might even raise you. On the flop you just have to put out the line and hope that one of your opponents has a jack, or better yet, K-J.

If you play it slow in this situation, you’re giving away the strength of your hand. If you check on the flop with the idea of check-raising, then when you do put in the raise you’re telling your opponent you’ve made a huge hand and are giving him the opportunity to lay down a jack. You’ll make far more money by simply betting the whole way.

However, slowplaying a monster is occasionally the better play. Suppose you raise from middle position with A-Q of hearts, the button and the big blind both call, and the flop comes 6-7-2, all hearts. If the big blind checks, you should check too. If the button bets, you can then raise because he’s either buffing, in which case you’re not going to win any more money from him, or he’s also flopped a flush, in which case you want to get your money into the pot as quickly as possible in hopes of winning his entire stack, or he’s flopped a set, in which case he’ll call your check-raise on the flop and he’ll call a big bet on the turn and he might even call a big bet on the river.

If the board pairs on the turn, you should still bet. It’s such a draw heavy board that your opponent might think you only have the ace of hearts in your hand, or the ace of hearts and a pair, or the ace of hearts and another ace. There are a lot of hands he could put you on in this spot besides the nut flush so, even if the board pairs, you should keep betting for value, hoping to get called by a worse hand.

If you bet the turn and your opponent puts in a stiff raise, then you should reevaluate. If you bet the turn and he calls and you bet the river and he raises, then you should fold because you can credibly put him on a full house.

Because hand coordination plays such an important role in determining your long-term success, you need to make as much money as you possibly can when it’s working in your favor, and one of the best ways of doing that is playing fast after you flop a big hand.

About this poker professional:

Adams is a high-stakes poker player who has been on multiple television programs, including the 2005 Tournament of Champions and the 2007 World Series of Poker, where he finished sixth in the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event, earning more than $75,000. He’s written a novel (about poker of course!) Author of Broke: A Poker Novel and has one WSOP final appearance to his name.

 

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