The Poker Lab Rat

June 27, 2010

Heads-Up PLO: The Choice of the Poker Professionals

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 7:58 pm

Professional poker tipsBecause Pot-Limit Omaha is a game where the nuts can – and often do – change on every street, many players can’t go too wrong by playing a super tight strategy at a full table. This means being highly selective before the flop and limiting your range to something like the top 15% of starting hands, and then only continuing after the flop if you have a very strong draw or a made hand.

When the game gets short-handed or heads up, however, this strategy simply won’t work. In these situations, you can go very wrong by playing too tight and giving your opponents too many easy opportunities to steal pots through pre-flop raises and post-flop continuation bets. In short, you’ve got to play more hands overall, more marginal hands, and play them more aggressively, in order to succeed in heads-up play.

Let’s look at a situation where someone may be holding a hand like 10-8-A-2 double suited and the flop comes 10-8-2. At a full PLO table, this is a spot where many inexperienced players are likely to go broke because their instinct is to put as many of their chips as possible into the pot with their “big hand”. The thing is, while top two pair may in fact be the best hand in this situation, it’s unlikely to hold up against multiple opponents because there are just too many ways to get beat from sets or big draws to straights, flushes and full houses.

Heads up, on the other hand, is a completely different situation. Say you’re holding the same hand and see the same flop described above. Because aggression is such an important part of heads-up play, getting your chips into the middle with what’s likely to be the best hand now makes sense. Because you’re playing Omaha, it’s likely that your opponent may still have a big draw so getting your chips in accomplishes two things – it pumps up the pot when you’re likely to be ahead and prevents your opponent from improving his hand for free.

Of course, there’s more to an aggressive heads-up style than just jamming when you’re holding a made hand. In Omaha, especially, you need to play a much more aggressive pre-flop game when you’re heads up than you would otherwise. Because of the size of the blinds when you’re heads up, experienced players will often raise relentlessly from the small blind (the button), simply because the pot odds are so good. This becomes especially true against opponents who don’t open up their games and who are just looking to peddle the nuts with premium hands.

If you’re willing to raise consistently from the small blind against a tight opponent and then back that up with a pot sized continuation bet after the flop – whether you connect or not – you can show a profit as long as your play works just half of the time.

If your opponent does play back at you before the flop, you can assume he’s got a big starting hand like Aces or something like 9-10-J-Q double suited, which helps you define the strength of your hand after the flop. If, on the other hand, he calls you before the flop and then calls or raises after the flop, you can again assume he’s holding a big hand and proceed with caution.

Against tight or scared opponents, it’s not very hard to succeed with an aggressive style once you’ve gotten comfortable with the concept of pushing the action with what, at many times, is likely to be a marginal hand. Against more experienced and aggressive opponents, however, this can be a more intimidating proposition. While these players are more likely to play back at you before the flop, this doesn’t mean that you need to give up your aggressive approach, though you should probably consider tightening up after the flop if you haven’t connected or haven’t connected very strongly.

Say you flop two pair on a board of A-4-7 with two clubs. Your opponent checks, you bet, and then get check-raised. What do you do? The answer really comes down to your read and your previous experience with your opponent throughout the course of the match. Do you think he’s drawing? Bluffing? Would he re-raise with nothing or is he looking to get you to make a bad call when you may already be drawing dead?

With nothing stronger than two pair here, the question becomes, “What hands can I beat that play this way?” Unless you put your opponent on nothing better than a draw, the answer is probably “Not much”, and the safest course of action is probably to fold and look for a better spot. Again, though, the decision here really comes down to your read of your opponent and how strong you really think he may be.

In short, the key to succeeding in heads-up PLO is to loosen up your game and play more hands both before and after the flop while also keeping track of how your opponent is playing in relation to you. Remember, tight is right at full tables, but aggression is what pays off when you’re short handed.

Brandon Adams

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June 24, 2010

Three Big Mistakes Poker Players Make When Reading Tells

Mike Caro professional poker player, coach, authorWe haven’t talked about poker tells for a long time. Recently I revised Caro’s Book of Tells — The Body Language of Poker, and put it back into print. While I was working on that revision, I thought, reasoned, pondered, and concentrated. Sometimes I did all four at once. Pretty soon it became clear to me that there were three central reasons why most serious players never master poker tells.

Before we survey that subject and discover those three central secrets for tell failure, let’s talk a little about the theory of tells. Poker tells are all around you, but you must learn to see them. If you don’t, you’ll consider them to be like the fairies of lore, magical manifestations of minds that meander — not real, not serious, not valuable, and not verifiable by photograph. But tells are real, serious, and valuable. And you can photograph them. In fact, I did exactly that for my Book of Tells.

Poker Tells Described Simply

Let’s make a bet. I’ll bet you that the majority of typical poker players haven’t discovered one measly tell in their lifetimes that they can reliably use over and over against more than one opponent. Sure, many have spotted tells now and then. When Jack is bluffing, he often reaches for his coffee cup, grabs the handle, and stops. Stops dead. Doesn’t bring the cup to his lips. Doesn’t even lift the cup. Fine. That’s a tell.

But it’s a tell in isolation. In order to use it, you have to be playing poker against Jack. He has to have coffee nearby. He has to make this one move. And this habit must remain from session to session. That’s a problem, because most peculiar tells are just short-term habits and will soon fade as repeated mannerisms, to be replaced by others.

So, wouldn’t it be better if you knew some reliable tells that apply to Jack all the time? And why stop there? Wouldn’t it be better still if you knew some reliable tells that apply to Jack and other opponents? Is that asking for too much? Nope.

Universal tells that are shared by many, many opponents are real. They are the basis of my 25-year investigation into the science of reading body language in poker. Is it really a “science”? Maybe not, but it feels like a science and I like to say it. It sells more books, too. Where was I? OK, I remember: A lot of your opponents share tells in common.

All of these common tells arise from a single fact. That fact is: Most of your weak and average opponents are forced into an arena where they feel uncomfortable. They feel uncomfortable because they are — in effect — forced to lie about their hands. They can’t just tell you the truth or you’d always know what they hold and be able to beat them for all of their money. (Because these tells are so powerful, their lies will speak the truth about their poker hands and you might beat them out of all of their money anyway. Oh, well.)

The “lies” are not usually stated. Instead, they typically are comprised of what your opponents try to imply through body language and tone of voice. We can’t get into the hundreds of tells today, but it comes down to this …
Your opponents usually will try to act as if they have weak hands when they have strong hands, and strong hands when they have weak hands. So, when an opponent sighs, shrugs as if bewildered, and says “I bet” in a sad tone of voice, you can be pretty sure that he holds a very strong hand. If you don’t hold one also, you usually should fold. Conversely, if an opponent makes a subtle extra movement to bolster his bet and make it seem a little stronger, there’s a good chance he’s weak.

More Tells That Most Players Don’t See

Beyond these tells from actors, there are involuntary tells of which your opponents are unaware. There are nonacted tells, like trembling hands, that are almost never a sign of true nervousness. Bluffers do not shake. They bolster themselves so as not to give you clues that they’re bluffing. They’re afraid to move for fear you will “read” them. Bluffers often are rigid, and sometimes they don’t breathe.

Players with real hands are more relaxed and animated. These are powerful clues. Also, players who have strong hands often pretend not to be interested. They’ll look away while the action approaches. They don’t want you to have any clues that they’re going to bet or raise, so they pretend to be focusing on something else. Sometimes they look as if they’re watching imaginary butterflies dance to their left as the players to their right decide what to do. Conversely, when their hands are weak, they’ll scrutinize the action as if interested. These are easy tells. They’re all around you.

But why doesn’t everyone see them? Good question. It’s not just that everyone doesn’t see them. It’s that most opponents don’t see them. And that’s even stranger. Worse yet, some players deny that tells exist or profess that they have little value. This is like the blind preaching to the sighted about what isn’t there.

I believe there are three major reasons why serious poker players fail to win significant extra profit through mastering tells.

Profitable poker playTell Failure No. 1: Looking All Around You

You’re never going to master tells if you look all around you to spot them. Yes, I’ve said that they are all around you, but if that’s where you look, you probably won’t see any. There are so many things happening at the poker table that interpretation becomes monumentally difficult. You’ve got to focus on just one player while you’re learning to spot tells. As you get more proficient, you will automatically spot other tells while still focusing mainly on just a single player. It’s magic. You’ll see.

But you’ll never see by trying to grasp every tell at once. I can’t do it, and neither can you. And don’t expect to see what you’re looking for immediately. Observe and be patient. Find an opponent who is likely to exhibit tells. Some aren’t. Eventually, you’ll pick up the opponent’s mannerisms. And what’s really exciting is that most of them will conform to my broad theory of tells — actors pretending to be weak when strong and vice versa.

Don’t expect to see a lot of tells, either. If I can pick up three powerful tells in an hour, I’m very happy. Some of them save me a whole pot. There may be many lesser tells, but these minor ones should be weighted and factored into your fold-call-raise and betting decisions, just like other things — such as the opponent’s wagering habits and deductions you make from betting sequences and faceup cards.

Profitable poker playTell Failure No. 2:

Looking For Tells That Make You Call

If you’re like most players, you have a bias toward calling. You didn’t drive to the casino hoping to throw hands away. This is when a rudimentary knowledge of tells can be dangerous. You need to fight the urge to only look for tells that indicate that you should call, and ignore those that indicate that you should throw your hand away.

The truth is, there are more tells that indicate that you should fold than there are those that indicate that you should call. And those should-fold tells are usually more blatant. They are the ones where opponents act weak — sigh, shrug, use sad voices, look away — and they’re often the most profitable. The problem is that profit is hard to measure directly. After all, each time you act in accordance with these tells, you’ve folded and won nothing stackable. However, you won something theoretically — the money you didn’t lose. And that adds up in a hurry.

Of course, if you only looked for tells that caused you to call, you’d still be ahead of where you’d be if you didn’t use any tells at all, right? Probably not. That’s because players tend to manufacture let-me-call tells in their minds and put too much emphasis on weak indications. I believe the result of this is that many players end up using tells as a justification for playing bad hands and making weak calls. Please don’t do that.

Profitable poker playTell Failure No. 3:

Showing Pride in Your Success With Tells

One of the worst things you can do is convey to your opponents how proud you are about having spotted a tell. This makes your foes aware that you’re scrutinizing them. It also makes the player you just profited from aware of the specific tell you spotted. This means that he’s probably going to correct the mannerism and not provide the same tell in the future.

I’ve actually seen supposedly smart professionals say something like, “I knew you were bluffing when …,” and then go on to describe a very profitable tell that could have been used again and again if the pro had let his ego float to the shallow side of the pool and kept his mouth shut.

I even go to the trouble of hesitating when I’m 100 percent certain that I’ve spotted a tell. I then pretend to act indecisively. That way, my opponent is much less likely to realize that he’s broadcast a tell, and I’m much more likely to profit from it many more times.

So, yes, tells are all around you. They’re worth mastering, because they — along with related psychology — can account for most of the additional profit you make in poker once you’ve mastered the fundamentals. But remember the three “tell failures” we’ve discussed today. Otherwise, you might be better off believing that tells, like fairies, really don’t exist.

a5_wIf you’re USA-based, play and chat with top professionals online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

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June 22, 2010

Professional Poker Play: Are You Lucky?

Mike Caro, professional poker player, coach and authorMost poker players, even logical ones, sometimes feel something has gone wrong with the law of averages. You know about the law of averages, right? Given enough time, the cards even out, and everyone’s luck is the same.

But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, and even the most scientific gamblers lose faith. Are there other factors controlling our luck? Something beyond the science we know now? Something mysterious and untoward? Who know? Probably not, but I can’t say definitely not. And neither should anyone.

What I do know is that you will make the most money if you play your cards as if the law of averages rules, even if there’s a haunting chance in your mind that it doesn’t. And you should never complain about your bad luck, because… well, because nobody cares about your bad luck. I was able to pull these concepts together in a column I wrote for the September, 1981 issue of Gambling Times magazine. The following is condensed from that long-forgotten column:

How I said it in 1981.

“The worst thing of all is I’m never lucky!” Having so stated, Adam took a huge gulp of hot coffee. It seemed to me that he was deliberately trying to scald his innards. “Damn!” he shouted. “Damn, that’s hot!” And he took another grimacing swallow, just to prove it.

“You wanna hear something really pathetic, M.J.C.?” he continued, using the initials that I’m known by around Gardena. Tears were bulging from his 29-year-old eyes. I guess it was because of the hot coffee, but who knows?

“Wanna hear something really pathetic?” he repeated.

Having just lost three important football bets, I could have handled sad, but not pathetic.

“This’ll just take a minute,” he said. “I’m in this 10 blind lowball game. Everybody passes. Gets around to me. I’m dealing. I look at my hand. What do you think I’ve got?”

“A pat seven?”

“No! A six! A goddamn pat six! Six, five, one, two, three! ” He tried another dramatic pause that didn’t seem very effective.

squirmed beside him, trying to determine my best strategy of escape.

“Did you hear what I said? A six! Pat!”

Obviously he wanted some sort of acknowledgement. ” Wow! Those are hard to get. I suppose you got it beat.” In all my years of hearing lowball stories told by sad losers, I can’t remember ever hearing about a pat six that won!

“You’re damn right I got it cracked! Listen to this, M.J.C. The blind calls. How many do you think he draws?”


“That’s right! Three cards! You heard about it from someone? ”

“No, just guessing.”

“Well, now guess what he made?”
A wheel,” I speculated.

“No! A six-four!” Damn! I thought. I’d started to say six-four.

Just at that instant my true friend Art Sathmary (known professionally as A.S.Q.) appeared.

Adam said, as I started to rise, “Just one more thing. Two hands later I get dealt-”

“Hi, A.S.Q.!” I greeted. I walked briskly away from Adam, muttering apologetically, “We’re going to be late.”

The Point.

Every experienced gambler hears this sort of thing all the time. The vocabulary of complaint, the language of misery, is universal. If you’re a regular poker player, you can hear echoes of similar tales right now.

Losers like to complain. Losing is a lonely experience. You suffer alone at a poker table. No one else seems aware of your tragedies. After the game, many humans need to share their agony.

Losers exaggerate. That’s because they’re not trying to convey what really happened so much as how bad they feel. You shouldn’t challenge their outrageous claims of misfortune. Merely do your duty as a human being and commiserate.

A woman in A.S.Q.’s game once complained of having missed “17 flush draws in a row!”

“What are you talking about?” he corrected. “You just made one against me five minutes ago.”

“Not in diamonds!” she raged.


Finally, after years and years of struggling to decipher what the world of poker complainers means by these bizarre assertions, I’m ready to announce my findings to the public. What follows is a sample of typical claims you’re apt to hear from gamblers, and the truth.

Statement #1: “I can’t believe it! I got 14 full houses beat in three hours playing draw poker! ” The truth: The speaker lost on one full house and on two flushes. Furthermore, he drew to two pair, sevens and fours, caught a seven and would hare had he caught a four, since the opener had sixes full. He’s counting this as a loss, anyway, since he didn’t hold three-of-a-kind in nearly an hour.

Statement #2: “I went to Vegas over the weekend. Must’ve played 21 for fifteen hours and never got a single blackjack!” The truth: This person got about 40 blackjacks, perhaps less than his mathematical share. However, he only remembers 10 of them clearly, and these are hardly worth mentioning since he dumped $2000 playing keno.

Statement #3: “I would’ve hit the daily double. I had it figured cold, but I got tied up at the office.” The truth: The guy’s second choice won the first half of the double. The horse that won the other race was a complete surprise. But now, looking back at the Racing Form, he can positively see why he might have picked it.

You see? It’s human nature to feel you’re running bad, even when you’re not. In the past, I showed that the fluctuations for a gambler can be a lot greater than most informed people suppose. There’s a lot of luck involved in games like gin rummy, poker and backgammon. That’s why it’s important to get as big an edge as possible.


There’s one subject that no self-respecting gambling authority will discuss. It’s the supernatural. Sure, it’s easy to say that we have all the answers.

There are two main types of people who are screwing up my world: those who claim to have discovered secret psychic answers; and those who blindly proclaim there can be no reality beyond that which they can fathom.

Both these groups, the fortune tellers and the tunnel-vision scientists, are suffering from the same insanity. They both need answers. The former makes them up; the latter shouts that luck is understood by equation.

Nothing is more important to a gambler than whether unexplored phenomena might be influencing his luck. Although I can’t prove to you conclusively that such forces don’t exist, here is my advice. Get a good grasp of probabilities and gamble accordingly. Maybe there are undiscovered forces that guide our luck. But our best shot of winning the money right now is to deal with concepts we comprehend.

If you mistakenly expect to get a pat full house every hour, you’re apt to feel miserable and cheated by fate. Your game will suffer. When you run bad, keep your luck secret. Getting sympathy from a fellow poker player is practically impossible.

This appropriate exchange of words happened two years ago in Reno. An elderly man slithered up to my friend and asked to borrow $20. “I lost my ass!” he explained.

My friend slapped him softly on the shoulders, whispered, “I hope you find it,” and walked away.


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June 20, 2010

Pro Poker Play: Aiming High in Omaha Hi/Lo

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 12:00 am

Omaha Hi/Lo professional pokerEveryone knows that in Omaha Hi/Lo, starting with low cards is your best bet. You want to play hands with two-way potential, hands that can scoop the pot. In any hi/lo game, scooping is the dream.

However, in certain situations, it’s advisable to play a high-only hand. I’m going to give you a specific example from a HORSE tournament where the circumstances were just right for me to not only play a high-only hand, but to raise with it pre-flop.

My hand was Ad-10d-Jc-Qc, and I was seated in the cutoff. We were playing at the 100/200 level in Omaha Hi/Lo, meaning the blinds were 50 and 100. The player in first position limped in, along with the next three players. So, each of the first four players to act had limped in. Here I was, double suited with big cards, and I was armed with a reputation as a solid player who typically raises with strong starting hands that have excellent low potential. If I’m raising in this spot, my opponents should all typically assume I have a hand that includes A-2. And that’s one of the reasons to play high-only hands occasionally, for the element of surprise.

Another reason is that with all of those limpers, chances were that many of the low cards were gone from the deck, since the majority of Omaha Hi/Lo players will only get involved with hands that contain low cards. The likelihood of three low cards hitting the board was greatly reduced. And that’s precisely why I raised the pot to 200. My opponents automatically put me on the A-2, and all of the limpers made the call, helping to confirm my suspicion that they all held baby cards.

The flop was just what I was hoping for: A-Q-J with two diamonds. So I had two pair (or three pair, if you wanted to look at it that way) with a royal flush draw. It was checked all the way around to me; I made a bet of 100 and got four callers.

The turn card was a deuce. This was potentially an excellent card for me because it meant that if someone else held A-2, they’d just made an inferior two pair and would have a hard time folding. Sure enough, the first player to act bet out, everybody called, and it came around to me. My only concern was whether someone had K-10, but I just couldn’t put anyone on K-10 the way the hand had been played to that point. So I raised, pretty confident that the player who led out had A-2, and everyone else had babies and was hoping to make the wheel or grab the low. That first player thought and thought, studied and studied, and finally just called, confirming for me that he didn’t have K-10. The rest of the players called as well.

The river was a beautiful card, another queen, giving me queens full of aces. The first player to act checked, the next player checked, the next player bet, and the next player raised! There was no straight-flush out there – the only hand that could beat me was pocket aces. The way the hand went down, it seemed unlikely that anyone had pocket aces, so I put in another raise. As it turned out, everyone folded, and I took down a massive pot of 4,950 chips.

The lesson to be learned here is that you want to keep your opponents on their toes. You don’t want to play your hands the same way every time; you must use the element of surprise to get the maximum equity on your money. The more people that play a hand in Omaha Hi/Lo, the less likely it is that the board will contain low cards. If you have a strong high hand with big, suited cards, then you want to play that hand because of its potential to scoop the entire pot.

Esther Rossi

Esther started playing poker in 1987 after moving to Las Vegas. She has over $300K in Career Tournament Earnings and placed 4th in the 2008 WSOP $1,500 HORSE Event.
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June 17, 2010

Poker: Old And Profitable Wisdom About Bluffing

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 8:51 pm

Mike Caro professional poker player and coachAll around us, everywhere in poker, survives those ancient adages. Like what? Well, like: “Don’t count your chips while you’re sitting at the table.” That one even made its way into Kenny Rogers’ song, The Gambler.

“You gotta know when to hold ’em; you gotta know when to fold ’em.” Same song. Frankly, Kenny, we need to talk about this. As an advocate of poker integrity, I sometimes worry about foes who know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. But, hey, I understand what you meant, brother.

Getting back to not counting your chips – Let’s all chant this out loud together: “Don’t count your chips while you’re sitting at the table.” And all you head football coaches out there, go paste that message on your refrigerator where you won’t forget. Put it right beside the one for that says, “Never check the scoreboard until after fourth quarter.”


What? Oh, you think it makes sense to check that football scoreboard? Me too. And I think it makes sense to count your chips at the table. It gives me an idea whether I’m winning or losing. Besides, if you don’t count your chips at the table, you might not get to count ’em at all “when the dealing’s done” – if you know what I mean, guy.

Sometimes, I adjust my strategy according to my chip count. If I’m winning more than two buy-ins, I figure players are intimidated and will fall victim to marginally aggressive bets and raises. The more I’m losing, the more likely I am to be restrictive in my hand selection. That’s because then opponents are not intimidated, but, rather, inspired; and they will tend to play better and less predictably against me. When that happens, I often cancel those borderline bets that win money when I have my opponents under my spell.

The more I’m losing, the fewer borderline plays I make. The more I’m winning, the more borderline plays I make. So, yeah, I count my chips. But this gets worse, Kenny. I often count everyone else’s chips while they’re sitting at the table. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m trying. Keep singing.


There’s another poker adage I know you’ve heard: “You can’t bluff a bluffer.” Familiar,right? And folks will argue about this one. Some think it makes sense, and some think you really can bluff a bluffer. Those who think it makes sense contend that bluffers believe others act the same way they do, so every bet is suspect. Those who think it doesn’t make sense contend that frequent bluffers are easy victims of bluffs, because they envision that their opponents are more timid than they actually are. Bluffers think opponents are afraid to call and afraid to bluff. This attitude makes them less likely to call, according to the argument.

What’s the truth here? Well, the truth is monumental – as is every truth I share with you, the way I see it. And this truth is doubly monumental. If you haven’t been abiding by what I’m about to tell you, you’re bankroll is about to bulge.

If you’re a break-even player now, and you haven’t been applying what follows, then… poof! … you’re suddenly a winner. If you were a marginal winner who hasn’t been applying my advice, then… poof! … you’re a big winner now. If you’re a small loser who hasn’t been abiding by the following advice, then… poof! … I just made you a winner. If you’re a huge loser who hasn’t been using the advice that follows, then… poof! … get a job.


OK, we’re ready. The adage is right. You usually should not bluff a bluffer. How come? Listen, here’s how come: Let’s say it’s just you and your opponent on the final bet. You have a very weak hand that will almost surely lose in a showdown; and you have no clear idea what the opponent is holding. He goes first; he checks.

This is the time, right now, that you must ask yourself one of the most profitable questions in poker: Is my opponent a frequent bluffer? Ask, because if he is, my friends, you must abandon all thoughts of bluffing. Here’s why.

Just to make it simple, we’ll say there were 10 possible hands your opponent could hold. Of these 10, two are very strong, which he would have bet, and three are very weak, which he would have bluffed with. Assuming, for the simplicity of this example, that he would never check-raise or bet the marginal hands, we can see that he would bet with legitimate strength twice, but would bluff three times. The other five times he would check.

It’s easy to see that, faced with a bet, you should always call with any hand strong enough to beat a bluff, because for every five bets, three of them – on average – your opponent will be bluffing. Fine. But in this case, your opponent didn’t bet; and you don’t hold a hand strong enough to guarantee a win against a bluff.

So, the question is, after your opponent checks, should you try to win the pot by bluffing. Using the same example, the answer is no, oh, no. You must never try to bluff. Because this opponent always bluffs, given the opportunity, all that remains after his check are hands he’ll feel comfortable calling with. Don’t make the mistake of thinking there are still 10 hands he could hold, two great, three terrible, and five in-between. You should figure that once the player checks, he holds a reasonably strong hand. If he’s like most frequent bluffers, having abandoned his opportunity to bluff, he now intends to call. That means, if you bluff, you WILL lose. This type of player cannot be holding a worse hand, simply because he would have bluffed with it. In this extreme example, you will get called and you will lose every time you try to bluff.

The strange thing is, this “extreme” example isn’t very extreme. This is precisely what happens in real life, in real games, against real opponents. Opponents who bluff too much should generally not be bet into after they check. Just check along and limit your loss.


But what if you’re first to act, instead of last? It turns out that you usually should still be reluctant to bet into a frequent bluffer for a very simple reason. This player bluffs too often. That’s his weakness. This means when he bets into you, you will usually call. If you had a strong enough hand, you would check and call if he bet, allowing him to destroy himself with too much bluffing.

But you don’t have a strong enough hand. You have a hopeless hand, and you’re first to act. My advice? Check. Just give up on the pot, unless you think your opponent is unusually likely to throw away his hand right now.

But what can you possibly gain by checking? You’ll lose the pot, sure. But you might accomplish something that is quite valuable to your long-range success. You might let his bluff succeed! Think about it. We’re talking about you holding a totally hopeless hand here, one that can’t win in a showdown. Let’s say that you figure it’s borderline at best whether a bluff is worthwhile. Given that definition, a bluff theoretically is worth nothing to you in the long-run (you’ll win a few times, you’ll lose many times, and overall you’ll show no profit).

Well, if you gain nothing long-term by bluffing, then wouldn’t you prefer a tactic that gains something? Good choice. This is where you can take advantage of your opponent and pad your purse or your wallet. Since you know he bluffs too often, you’re going to be calling him every chance you get with reasonable hands. That means he might wise up and stop over-bluffing. You don’t want that to happen. So, the best way to condition him to continue his bad habit is to reward him. We can do this for free, simply by checking and letting him have the pot. Why for free? It’s because we already estimated that bluffing would not be profitable and was break-even at best.

“Don’t bluff a bluffer” is excellent advice, but not for the reasons usually stated. Good-bye.
Players from around the world including America are welcome If you’re USA-based, play and chat with top professionals online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

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June 14, 2010

Running Bad: Professional Poker, How Bad is Bad?

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 9:08 pm

Play poker as a professionalWherever you go in poker, you hear plenty of poker stories, usually of the bad beat variety and various claims of individuals running bad. But what is running bad?

Most people say they are running bad when, for instance, their top sets are constantly beaten by straight and flush draws or when their pocket Aces get beat by pocket Kings when a King hits the flop. The stories are often accompanied by “he hit a gutshot”, “he hit his one-outer”, etc.

Did you know though, that there are actually two or more different ways of running bad? It is important to understand the differences.

You can also run bad with the cards you find – and this is relative. Finding Kings three times in an hour would be considered running good. But if every time that happened an opponent found Aces, then that would be running bad, right?

Getting it in with a set against a flush draw and losing is running bad, but making a flush against a better flush is running bad too. If you’re using a tracking system, your EV will show that you should be winning in the first instance but losing in the second over a lifetime.

It is situational. You can play perfect poker, find big hands and still lose because:

You get sucked out on.
You find someone with a better hand; this is not running bad, as getting outdrawn is situational.
There is also potentially a third “running bad”: besides the hole-cards you’re dealt and the river cards you hit, there are the cards your opponent has and the actions they take.

By contrast, running good can be that you find big hands and they win or it can be that you get it in with the worst of it and suckout on your opponent. It’s important to understand the difference. You can play perfect poker and make all the correct plays but still lose – that’s running bad.

You may have heard players talk of variance. This is the statistical measure of the dispersion of your results. Running good or running bad does affect your bank roll, but you should try and look at poker as a lifelong poker session and not look at sessions

individually. I realise this can be difficult; this is often because you are playing bigger than you should be and the result can hurt if it goes against you.

Try to think of it as a game – no more, no less – and try not to get emotional. What is important is that you continue to make the right decisions day in and day out, session after session.

Joe Beevers

a5_wABOUT JOE: Nicknamed “The Elegance”, Joe Beevers is a Member of the renowned UK based poker team, The Hendon Mob. He is actually the only person of The Hendon Mob who actually lives in Hendon and Joe plays online at bet365Poker.

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June 9, 2010

Professional Poker: Audit Your Game

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 9:26 pm

Professional poker tips and player adviceFor some, playing poker is an acceptable expense because they simply enjoy playing the game for fun. It’s fine to have that approach if you have it reconciled in your own mind that you are prepared to spend money in exchange for entertainment as you might do watching your favorite sports team, visiting the theatre, etc.

However, if your primary concern is showing profit rather than just splashing around in a few pots, then you need to be taking things much more seriously. If you have money continually passing in and out of your hands it pays to treat your whole operation as seriously as you would if you were running your own business. Successful businesses have regular meetings during which they review performance and explore new ideas to help drive the company forward. It helps if you have friends with whom you are able to talk poker; even if you don’t, it’s still worth taking the time to hold the equivalent of your own one-man board meeting and taking a look at how you’re doing.

There are plenty of ways to break down and examine your game. Are you overplaying AJ, or maybe leaking chips by calling out of the small blind too much? These types of questions will help you tighten up on areas that may be costing you money, but it’s more than just how you play your cards that you should be looking at. Maybe your stats show that when playing long cash game sessions you tend to blow off money towards the end due to loss of concentration or physical fatigue, in which case you should resolve to play shorter sessions and only return if you feel on top of your game after a break. Perhaps you show better online results when you have the house to yourself, and are only playing a break even game when you have the distraction of others around you. If that’s the case, you could either shut yourself away somewhere quiet if you are intent on playing or, alternatively, simply stop and cut those tedious hours of grinding away for no reward out of your day. By taking the time to identify what’s going right and what’s not going so well, you’ll be in a position to decide how you are going to improve things.

Another important factor to look at is game selection. As well as getting an idea of whether your optimum hourly rate can be achieved playing cash games or tournaments, 6-max or heads up, etc., another aspect which can often be overlooked is which variant of poker you are playing. Even accomplished pros will often be stronger in some variants than in others; if you are only playing Texas Hold ’em, how do you know if that would rank as one of your stronger or weaker games? By getting to grips with a new game you open up extra possibilities for yourself. If you like to have numerous tables on the go at once, you’d best hope it’s not Razz that turns out to be your best game; but at least once you are armed with that knowledge you can proceed from an informed position. There are probably large numbers of players who will just never know that they would have been more successful had they branched out a bit, and it’s got to be easier to find a profitable situation if you are able to pick from more than one game.

Going through this process of analysis might mean spending a little time away from the tables whilst you are doing it, but it should be considered a valuable investment of your time. Forgoing a couple of hours worth of hands in the short term can make a big difference in long term results once you have established how you want to run your poker business.

Adam Noone

a5_wWinner of Full Tilt Poker’s Million Pound Challenge, Adam comes from Broadstairs, England, and has been playing poker since 2003. He is mostly a tournament player who prefers No-Limit Hold ‘em or HORSE, and he built his bankroll by playing small stakes Sit & Gos and gradually moved up in stakes as his game improved.

Adam’s a keen fan of the Arsenal Football Club, so fellow “Gooners” should catch up with him playing online at bet365Poker

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June 6, 2010

Poker Play: Bluffing In Big Pots

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 10:26 pm

Poker players tipsThe ability to bluff big pots effectively is one of the key skills that separate good players from great players. It is no accident that the games played at the highest stakes feature some of the most daring bluffs: big bluffs are a central part of the game.

Most players mix up their play well for small bets – they’ll bet out or raise with nothing on the flop with about the right frequency – but most players don’t mix up their play well on big bets. Some players never mess around when they put in really big money on the turn or river. Other players can never resist the big bluff when they see a lot of money in the middle. Striking the right balance between value bets and bluffs when you are putting big money in the pot is crucial to playing top-level poker.

When you are playing against world-class competition, bluffing too often is a bigger mistake than not bluffing enough. You will get called very often and you will look to everyone like you are spewing chips. You will wonder why they are calling you so often, but the reason will be somewhat simple: your opponents will be getting 2:1 odds on a call (if you are betting the size of the pot) and they will infer based on your betting frequency that you’re bluffing more often than that.

How can they infer that you are bluffing too often? Roughly speaking, if you are balancing your big bluffs properly, you will be betting for value about two-thirds of the time and you will be betting as a bluff about one-third of the time. Hands that you will bet big for value on the turn or river come up quite rarely. It’s not often that you make a straight, a flush, a set, or some other huge hand that merits a big bet on the river for value. If you’re betting big on the turn and river very often, your opponents will correctly guess that you’re bluffing too often.

Bluffing too often can be a huge mistake, but I think that not bluffing often enough in the truly big spots is one thing that prevents great players from becoming world-class. You’ll never hear someone say of Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan or Patrik Antonius “he’s never messing around in that spot.” They can be bluffing in any spot. As the pot gets very big, their bluffs will be less frequent, as they will be trying to represent very thin ranges, but their bluffing frequency will never be zero in any spot (other than some trivial ones where it’s only appropriate to raise with the nuts).

Most of your big bluffs will occur when you have position on an opponent. This is especially true for big moves on the river. If an opponent checks to you on the river, it’s likely not a check of strength. With one pair hands, people will often call on the flop and turn, but not on the river. Their “check-call, check-call, check” line often tells you that they have a big pair but no better. Some inexperienced players will fold to a pot-sized bluff way too often in this spot, and will not adjust their behavior even when they begin to suspect that you are bluffing them often. Against these players, you are obligated to keep stealing until they adjust.

Once again, the ability to pull off a big bluff is a crucial element in poker. Do so with the correct frequency, and you’ll raise your game to the next level.

Brandon Adams

a5_wABOUT BRANDON: Brandon Adams plays poker online at BetOnline. He is a high-stakes poker player who has been on multiple television programs and to date has made it to 1 WSOP Final Table. He is the author of Broke: A Poker Novel. American players are safe and welcome at too

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