Mike Caro on Aces and Kings in Holdem Poker

Poker tips from professional playersThe Difference Between Aces And Kings In Hold’em
In hold ’em, you hear a lot of talk about aces and kings being the ultimate hands. That’s true, but don’t be too quick to put them in the same category, as many players do. A pair of aces before the flop logically belongs in a category all to itself.

Here’s how often each hand wins against nine opponents holding random hands when everyone stays to the river…

A-A = 31% (21 percentage points higher than a fair share)

K-K = 26% (16 percentage points higher than a fair share)

What really makes the difference is that, when you consider actual betting strategy, A-A is much more likely to gain extra bets and to stay out of trouble. For this reason, in the hands of a professional, A-A can be almost twice as profitable as K-K overall in a full-handed game.

That’s something to keep in mind.

Are Kings Almost As Profitable As Aces In Hold’em?
Kings are nowhere near as profitable as aces in hold ’em. Although the difference is much slighter between smaller adjacent pairs, such as eights and sevens, there’s a very large gap between aces and kings in terms of profit when played correctly. Averaging all situations together, figure aces to be worth about 40 percent more than kings.

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Professional Poker Tips: Varying Your Pre-Flop Raise Amounts

Paul Wasicka professional poker player

A lot of outstanding poker players will tell you the cornerstone of pre-flop play is consistency. That approach works for many top players, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory.

Particularly in short-handed play, I believe in mixing up my raise amounts. When playing at a 6-max table, sometimes I’ll min-raise, sometimes I’ll make it four times the big blind and sometimes I’ll limp. It all depends on who’s behind me and who’s already in the pot.

Here are a few examples from a recent $10/$20 No-Limit Hold ’em 6-max ring game that will illustrate what I’m talking about:

HAND ONE: I was sitting in the cutoff with about $2,000 in chips and holding A-J. The under-the-gun player had only $539 in front of him and limped in for $20. I’d normally raise the size of the pot there, but the thing about short-stackers is that they don’t usually put money in with the intention of folding. I didn’t want to raise to $90 and have him go all-in. So this was a situation that called for a limp. I limped in, the small blind folded and the big blind checked. The flop came Q-10-2, giving me a gut-shot straight draw and an over-card. The big blind checked, while the short-stack weakly bet $25 into a $67 pot. I raised to $75, and both the big blind and short-stacker folded.

HAND TWO: I had A-10 off-suit in the small blind. The same short-stacker, now down to $464, raised to $70 on the button. He could easily have been making a button steal, so I figured I was likely ahead of his hand range. I decided to re-raise him and go with the hand. The big blind had about $1,600 in front of him, and that was a crucial factor in my raise amount. After the short-stacker made it $70, I raised to $230, and both the big blind and the short-stacker folded, giving me the pot.

I see a lot of people making huge raises in that situation, making it $400 or so to isolate against the short-stacker. There’s really no reason to do that – if the big blind wakes up with a premium hand and re-raises me, I don’t want to play that A-10 for $1,600. I’m fine betting half the size of the short-stacker’s stack, which mathematically commits me against him, but still gives me the leeway to fold if the big blind puts in another raise. You don’t really need to throw in $400 in that spot, because betting $230 accomplishes the same thing and can save you $170.

HAND THREE: There was a new player at the table two seats to my left who was somewhat reckless and unpredictable. He’d already doubled up once and built his stack to more than $4,000. I had pocket eights on the button, but with this potentially frisky player in the big blind I had to be careful. I made my open-raise smaller than usual, only $50, for a very specific reason: if the big blind re-raised me, he would only make it $175 or so instead of $240.  This $65 savings definitely adds up over time. As it turned out, both blinds called, a King and a Queen hit on the flop, and I didn’t win the pot. And that’s okay. Even though my reduced pre-flop open may have invited the blinds to call, had I hit my set I could have potentially won a large pot off of the big blind.

HAND FOUR: Again, I was on the button against the same reckless player in the big blind, and it folded around to me with A-5 off-suit. I chose to min-raise to $40 because I didn’t feel like an extra $10 or $20 was going to change the big blind’s mind about whether to play the hand or not. Also, making this smaller open allows me to 4 bet without pot committing myself. The small blind called for $30 more, and then the big blind raised to $160. I wasn’t convinced he was raising with a big hand, but I decided to give him that one. The player in the small blind called, allowing me to watch the hand play out.

The flop came 2-5-6 rainbow, the small blind checked, and the big blind moved all-in. The small blind called and tabled 9-9, while the big blind showed 6-3 suited, good for top pair and a gut-shot. As it turned out, the big blind hit another six on the river and won the hand.

Depending on your opponents’ styles of play and the stack sizes at the table, there are times to raise big, there are times to raise small, and there are times to limp. Next time you’re at the table, consider mixing up your raises. Consistency has its place, but sometimes, consistency can cost you money.

Paul Wasicka

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Pro Poker Tips: The Call is a Weapon

Jay Greenspan professional poker playerAs a Poker Pro and trainer,  one of the great benefits of my job is being expected to keep a hand in the game and actually play some poker now and then. I need to apply the ideas and techniques that I learn every day while working with some of the best players in the world. At-the-table research is essential; that’s what I tell my wife and my boss, and so far they’re buying it.

This summer, the “research” went well. I won a $500 buy-in tournament at the Venetian and had a couple of other cashes. All-in-all, I think I played well. I’m happy to have successfully implemented some of what Allen Cunningham, Chris Ferguson and others taught me.

But that’s not to say my play was flawless. I was especially displeased with a crucial hand I played late in Day 1 of the tournament I won. I played it badly, but I think I learned from the mistake.

I was sitting with around 200,000 in my stack, and the blinds were 1,500/3,000 with a 500 ante. At the time the hand took place, I was on a downward trajectory. Two short-stacks to my left had moved in on me after a couple of steal attempts and, after 13 hours of play, I was getting tired.

Then, in early position, I saw Ah-Qs. I opened for a raise to 9,000 and was ready to call an all-in from either of the short stacks. But they folded, as did everyone else until the action reached the blinds.

The small blind had been on a heater, tripling his stack in the previous three orbits. My read on the big blind was that he was a quality player: tight, but smart and not weak. Both blinds called.

The flop was brutal: Ac-Jc-Th. I connected – no doubt about that. But it could have easily hit one of my opponents a whole lot harder. The small blind checked, and then the big blind bet out 18,000.

I tried to interpret the action: what would he bet with? I came up with a vast range. A big draw was a possibility—maybe even Kc-9c for an open-ended straight flush draw. Bottom set and two pair also seemed possible. I also thought there was a chance that he had flopped the nuts. It would be a great time bet out with the Broadway straight. That bet might force me to raise if I had two-pair or a set. I’d be committed to the pot quickly.

If I’d been thinking really clearly at the time, here’s the thought process that I might have come up with: Jay, you could be ahead here, but there are way more hands you’re losing to than beating. And even those that you are beating you’re not that far ahead of. Just fold. It’s okay to get semi-bluffed now and then.

A slightly worse, but still reasonable, way of thinking would have been something like this: Define your hand, Jay. You can raise, and then see what happens. Make a decision once you see how everyone reacts to your aggression, and use that information to make the best choice.

Sadly, however, my thinking had devolved, and this was the best I could do: Shoot. I dunno. Folding doesn’t feel right. I could be ahead. Raising sounds really dangerous, though. Hmm. Errr. “Call.”

And that’s pretty bad. All the systematic thinking I’d been employing for hours went out the window at a crucial moment. I called because I couldn’t think of anything better. Not surprisingly, the hand didn’t work out well, and I lost a lot of chips. I was lucky to rebound from an error of this magnitude.

As I looked back on the tournament in the days that followed, I realized that this wasn’t a unique misstep for me. I have the tendency to fall back on a call because I’m out of ideas. I can’t come up with a plan that I really like, so I settle on a call. In these cases, the call isn’t a strategic choice; it’s a sort of compromise between raise and fold that has none of the advantages of the more extreme actions.

The call, like every other action at the table, should be a weapon. Gavin Smith and Erick Lindgren are masters of purposeful calls – Gavin wrote a great tip on the subject.

Since that tournament, I’ve been more cognizant of my reasons for calling. If there’s a sound strategic advantage for calling, fine. But if not, I’ll look to other options.

Jay Greenspan


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