Professional Poker Tips: Poker is a game of choices

Poker is a game of choices. Some of these choices are fairly straight forward and simple while others take a lot of thought. The thing is that when all is said and done, there may not be just one correct path to winning a given hand; it’s all up to you to decide what road to travel.

With that in mind, we asked Team Full Tilt’s Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson to share their thoughts on one of poker’s trickiest decisions – the coin flip. Should players be willing to put everything on the line in a coin flip situation? Here are two different sides to the coin flip question:Professional Poker tips






Chris Says:

For the most part, coin flips are something that I tend to avoid. You never want to take on a negative EV proposition, so you can pretty easily fold a hand like A-K when you’re certain your opponent is holding a high pocket pair like Jacks or Queens. Some players are willing to take a negative EV coin flip early on in a big tournament in order to accumulate chips, but this is an incorrect decision (unless you’re trying to catch an early flight or make like Ivey to the golf course).

Of course, there are a couple of situations where pressing a coin flip can be the right move. For example, if you think your opponents are better players than you, then it might be correct to take a coin flip. When you’re outclassed in a game and are certain that you’ll be outplayed after the flop, taking a coin flip can help even the playing field.

By that same token, you should be willing to press a coin flip situation every chance you get against a player who thinks he’s better than you. Make him avoid taking the coin flip by raising and putting a lot of pressure on him to make that decision. If he really thinks of himself as the superior player, he’ll want to avoid that situation and keep folding until he gets the chance to try and outplay you after the flop. He may think he’s the better player, but if you put a lot of pressure on him, you may end up outplaying him.

Howard Says:

I think people try to avoid them too much, especially after they’ve already committed chips to the pot. If the pot has 1,000 in it and you have to put your last 500 chips in to make the call, you’re getting 2-1 on your money – yet people dodge this situation all the time. It’s just wrong; you should love to take 2-1 on a coin flip even if you only have a 48% chance of winning.

When you have a hand like A-K and you could be running into Aces or Kings, committing chips to a coin flip is obviously not something you should be looking to do. But at the same time, when you’re getting 2-1 on your money in a likely coin flip situation, I think its right to take the flip. It’s a pretty big disaster if you’re holding Jacks and don’t want to flip against something like A-K, but it turns out your opponent has pocket 9s.

The whole point of a coin flip is that yes, sometimes you have the classic A-K versus Queens race. But what about all the times you have A-K and the other player has A-Q. When you have a hand where you aren’t in a coin flip, you likely have your opponent dominated, and you should take that proposition every time.

With that said, there are obviously times when you should not be looking to take a coin flip. When you’re in a situation where you have a lot more chips than your opponent, this is a good time not to take that flip. The more of an advantage you have over the other player, the less willing you should be to take the coin flip. Avoid that situation by not committing too many chips to the pot and waiting until after the flop to outplay the competition.

As you can see, there’s no one right way to approach a coin flip situation. There are always two sides to every coin.


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Chris Ferguson now living ‘running bad’!

Chris Ferguson poker professional

In my last tip I wrote about running bad and the effect it can have on your mental state. Now I’m living it. If you’ve been following my $0 to $10K Challenge, you know it took me about nine months to turn $0 into $100 and another nine months to turn that $100 into $10,000. Even though I hit my goal, I decided to keep playing and rapidly built up to $28,000. Three months later I was down to $9K.

Obviously, I was on a very bad losing streak, but it wasn’t due to bad beats. I just kept getting my money in bad; every time I had Queens, my opponent would have Aces – every time I had AQ, they would have AK. That’s just how it goes sometimes, but getting your money in badly doesn’t always mean that you’ve done something wrong.

For example, if my opponent gets all his money in pre-flop when he’s got Kings and I’ve got Aces, does that mean he’s a bad player because he got his money in poorly? Or that I’m a great poker player because I got my money in well? Obviously the answer is no – if our roles were reversed I’d be the one going broke. We both played the hand correctly; the fact that he was behind doesn’t mean that he played it wrong. He was simply unlucky to get dealt Kings when I was dealt Aces.

Focusing too much on getting your money in good can actually be a part of playing badly overall. I hear a lot of people complain, “I always get my money in good, but I keep losing… I can’t believe it!” Most of these players just don’t remember the times they’ve gotten lucky with the worst hand. But some people actually do get their money in well a majority of the time. It may be hard to believe, but these people are experiencing the right percentage of hands they’re going to lose – it’s just that these losses result in the players getting knocked out of tournaments because they are playing too tight.

Suppose I’m playing heads up and I’m only going to go all-in with Aces, Kings or Queens. My opponent is pushing me around by raising every single hand and moving in on me with any two cards. Finally, I get a pair of Aces and he moves in again. Even if I win the hand, just think about all the chips he’s taken away from me while I was waiting for my high pocket pair.

If I’ve lost 1,000 chips to him before I put my last 1,000 in the pot – even though I have my money in good – I’m only going to win 1,000 chips back. So, I’m actually employing a poor strategy by waiting for hands that don’t come around often enough because even if I win this hand, I’m only going to break even – and there’s no guarantee that I’m going to win. Plus, the chips my opponent is putting into the pot have been accumulated from all the folding I’ve been doing, so he’s now freerolling even though he’s behind in the hand.

Great players are going to get their money in bad once in awhile, especially if they’re playing against someone who’s playing way too tight. However, they’re actually going to make money over the long run because of all the small pots they win when their opponents are unwilling to challenge their raises without a strong hand. What this means is that if you try too hard to get your money in good all of the time, you’re susceptible to being bluffed and are going to lose more often over a long period of time.

Losing stings, especially when it seems like you’re getting your chips in badly with every hand you play. Still, if you keep your calm and avoid going on tilt, it’s possible to weather a rough patch without making drastic changes to your game. Keep your focus on playing well. Even if you do find yourself “getting your money in bad” from time to time, you’ll end up a winner in the long run.
Chris Ferguson



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Pro Tip: Chris Ferguson’s first for 2008

Chris Ferguson plays poker online exclusively at

In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart tried to define what may or may not be considered obscene under US law. In the end, he determined that no definition existed, but that when it comes to obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

The same holds true when you’re talking about running badly at the poker table. You may not be able to identify what’s going wrong, but you know its happening. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no single definition or criteria for “running bad” because it means something different to everyone. For some players, it’s posting 10 or 12 losing sessions in a row. For others, it’s losing a dozen coin-flips during a single session. “Running badly” depends on the individual and on the metrics they’re using to judge their performance.

Whatever the definition is, the fact remains that everyone runs bad at one time or another. What separates successful players from those who go bust is how they handle themselves and their bankrolls when their cards go dead. For me, running bad doesn’t mean having a few losing nights or taking a few bad beats over the course of a session. That’s variance and it’s an inevitable part of the game. In my mind, running bad is something bigger that happens over the long term.

If you’re not sure whether you’re really running bad or not, start by stepping back and analyzing your results over a statistically significant timeframe. If you see a consistent pattern of losing sessions over a matter of weeks or months, then it’s likely that you’re having some real problems with your game. The key to getting back on track is figure out what’s actually going wrong.

For many players, running badly is a vicious circle; they suffer a few losing sessions and begin to tilt, which leads them to alter their playing styles in order to change things up. Soon, they do actually start playing badly, which leads to more losing sessions, and a continuation of their downward spiral. They lose because they’re running badly and they’re running badly because they’re losing.

If you look at your game and believe that you’re actually playing well but are just getting unlucky, then maybe you are. Aces get cracked by lower pairs. Sets get beaten by flushes, and hands get drowned on the river more often than you might think. My advice in these situations is to walk away from the game for a while. Take a break, regroup, and come back when you’re mentally refreshed and are ready to start playing again. Don’t, however, begin changing your game to compensate for bad luck. Focus on the fundamentals, look for good starting hands, and try to play the most solid poker you can. In time, your luck will change.

Whatever you do, however, don’t try to step up in levels in order to try and recoup your losses. I’ve seen many players go bust at times like these because they’re too focused on trying to rebuild their bankrolls by gambling rather than by playing smart poker and moving down to play at a lower level. Think about it; if you’ve been losing, chances are that you’re playing on a smaller bankroll than normal, which means that you’ll be risking a higher percentage of your remaining funds by playing at higher stakes. With a smaller cushion behind you and more of your bankroll at risk, it doesn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse and for you to lose everything you had left.

On the other hand, by moving down a level or two, you’ll be risking less in the short term while you try to rebuild your bankroll. Sure, the pots you win may not be as big as those you win at higher levels, but weighed against the odds of going broke, it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. What’s more, by moving down, I may only have to play at a lower level for a month or two to recover my losses whereas if I go broke after moving up, it could take me a year or more until I’ve recovered. That’s a pretty persuasive argument if you really value your time.

While I can’t tell you whether you’re really running badly or not, I can tell you that your mental state does impact your game. If you’re feeling good, chances are you’ll play well and, if you’re not, chances are you won’t. Rough patches are part of the game and learning how to handle short-term adversity without losing your confidence or your bankroll will make you a better player in the long run.

Chris Ferguson

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Exorcising bad beats

Poker wouldn’t be poker if players didn’t get to exorcise their bad beats in public afterwards. Here are some examples of bad beats – those unlikely little twists of fate – from WSOP play.

Doyle Brunson versus Jesse Alto (1976)
Brunson won a big pot, he called a raise from the steaming Alto with 10s-2s to see a Ah-Js-10h flop and called a bet on the flop. When the 2s fell on the turn, Brunson moved all-in with two-pair, but Alto already had that on the flop with A-J in the hole, and it took the 10d on the river to seal it for Brunson (he also won a year later with the 10-2, making two pair on the turn to beat his opponent’s flopped two pair).

The board that won Doyle Brunson the WSOP with 10-2





Hal Fowler versus Bobby Hoff (1979)
Hoff raised with A-A and Fowler called. When the flop came J-3-5 rainbow, Hoff bet half of his remaining chips and Fowler called again. The turn fell a seemingly innocuous 4 and Hoff bet the rest, only to be called by Fowler who had stayed the whole way with 7-6 off-suit and got a lucky straight!

Chris Ferguson versus TJ Cloutier (2000)
When the two great players got heads up, Ferguson had a 10-1 chip lead, but Cloutier chipped away, and eventually managed to take the lead away from Ferguson, who went slightly on tilt after suffering such an onslaught.

Cloutier sensed it was time to go for gold, and moved all-in with A-Q after a raise from Ferguson. The move paid off, as Ferguson made a slip and called with A-9. A flop of 2-K-4 was no help, nor was the turn, (another K). However the river came a fateful 9 to seal the victory for Ferguson.

TJ Cloutier was philosophical afterwards: “He thought he had to beat me in a major pot, so he just decided to go with the hand. Obviously, Chris thought that if he caught the Ace, he’d have a hand, but he was in horrible position…and you know what? O saw that nine coming before the dealer even peeled it off. It was as though I was looking right through the deck”.


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Goin’ Pro

Chris Ferguson won his first Main Event in 2000 and is still going strong“Should I quit my job and play professionally?”

“Should I drop out of school and just play poker full time?”

I get these questions all the time and I always give the same answer: “Unequivocally, absolutely not. No way.”

Clear enough?

If you want to explore being a professional poker player, you have to start out doing it part time. Spend your off hours thinking about poker and studying the game. Read and play and learn.

Before you even think about quitting your job to play full time, you should be making more money at poker than you are in your current employment. Don’t think that one big tournament win provides all the evidence you need that you’re ready to play professionally. You should be showing consistent profit over a period of at least six- months. Only at that point should you even entertain the idea of becoming a full-time pro.

Even then, you should be wary about taking such a step. Poker is a great pastime, and playing it casually is a lot of fun when you love the game. But when you become a pro, you have to play poker five or six days a week. In time, playing cards will start to feel a lot like a job. I happen to love every occasion I get to play, but for many people, it can become a grind.

On the tournament circuit, you can play well and still go months – or even years – without a big cash. In ring games, the hours can be brutal. When you’re a cash-game pro, you want to be playing when the other players are off their game. This means you should start late, when people are getting tired and gambling a little more than they should. So you might play from 11PM through the morning, and sleep most of the afternoon. Keeping these kinds of hours can be difficult for those who want to maintain a more traditional social life.

Another risk is that you may not play enough. It can take a lot of self-discipline to put in enough hours at the table. With no boss on your tail, you might find it tough to put in the hours that you need at the times that are most profitable.

Before you make drastic changes to your life – before you even ask the questions posed at the start of this article – you should know that poker will work for you. You should have long, profitable periods that serve as evidence of your abilities. You should have put in enough hours to know that you can really enjoy the game, even when it becomes the center of your professional life. You should know that you can endure some long, tough, unlucky stretches.

If you’re really sure you’ve got what it takes and poker does become your career, I look forward to meeting you at the table.

Chris Ferguson

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From Zero to Hero

“I had a losing streak there and had to go down to $5/$10. That was tough.”


Chris Ferguson - poker pro

I’m almost a year into an experiment . I’m attempting to turn $0 into a $10,000 bankroll. With no money to start with, I had no choice but to start out playing Freerolls. Starting out, I’d often manage to win a dollar or two, but I’d quickly get busted and have to start over again. It took some time but, after awhile, I was eventually able to graduate to games that required an actual buy-in.

Even today, people don’t believe it’s really me when I sit down at small stakes games. They ask what I’m doing down here, and often tell me stories about how they turned $5 into $500 or $100 into $1,000. Usually, these stories end with the person telling me that they went broke. There’s no surprise there. These folks tried to quickly build a bankroll by gambling. They’d play in a game that was beyond their bankroll and, if they happened to win, they’d move up to a higher limit and risk it all one more time. Inevitably, they’d lose a few big hands and go broke.

For me, this experiment isn’t about the money. It’s about showing how, with proper bankroll management, you can start from nothing and move up to the point where you’re playing in some pretty big games. I know it’s possible because I did it once before, turning $1 into $20,000.

To ensure that I keep my bankroll intact, I’ve adopted some key rules:

  • I’ll never buy into a cash game or a Sit & Go with more than 5 percent of my total bankroll (there is an exception for the lowest limits: I’m allowed to buy into any game with a buy-in of $2.50 or less).
  • I won’t buy into a multi-table tournament for more than 2 percent of my total bankroll and I’m allowed to buy into any multi-table tournament that costs $1.
  • If at any time during a No-Limit or Pot-Limit cash-game session the money on the table represents more than 10 percent of my total bankroll, I must leave the game when the blinds reach me.

I think a lot of players would do well to apply these rules. One great benefit from this approach to bankroll management is that it ensures you’ll be playing in games you can afford. You’ll never play for very long in a game that’s over your head because, when you’re losing, you’ll have no choice but to drop down to a smaller game. You can continue to sharpen your game at that lower limit until your bankroll allows you to move up and take another shot. These rules also prevent you from being completely decimated by a bad run of cards.

Dropping down and playing lower limits is difficult for a lot of players. They view it as a failure and their egos get in the way. Many want to remain at the level they’d been playing and win back their losses. But this can lead to some pretty severe tilt – and that can go through a bankroll in a hurry. I know that dropping down was difficult for me in my run from $1 to $20,000. When I first played in the $25/$50 game, I lost. Sticking to my rules, I dropped down to the $10/$25 game. I had a losing streak there and had to go down to $5/$10. That was tough. After playing $25/$50, a $5/$10 game was boring to me.

But I had the discipline to stick to my rules, and that motivated me to play better at the lower levels. I really didn’t want to lose any more because I knew the consequences: I’d have to play even lower and work even harder to get back to where I’d been, which could take as long as a month. If you ever find yourself bored or frustrated playing at the lower limits, you’re obviously not playing well. Take a break from the game. Often, stepping away can give you a fresh perspective and heightened motivation to play well when you return.

There are a couple of more tips I’d like to share regarding bankroll management. First, you should never play in a game that is beyond your bankroll simply because the game seems to be soft that day. It’s never soft enough to risk money that puts your bankroll in jeopardy. The other point is that you should avoid playing in games that are at the top of your bankroll limits, when a lower game offers more opportunity for profit.

I’m confident that by sticking to these sound bankroll management rules, I’ll make it to my $10,000 goal. These rules are sure to help you as well, as you pursue your own poker ambitions.

Chris Ferguson

USOK_1If you’re USA-based, like Chris, you can play some great online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

Chris Ferguson and his Toolbox…

“One essential element of playing winning poker is forcing your opponents to make difficult decisions.”

Chris Ferguson - excellent to watch on tv - even better to play online!

I often get asked about my playing style. Rather than answer the question myself, I’m more interested in what my opponents say. And I’ve heard it all: “You’re too tight.” “You’re too loose.” “You’re tight aggressive.” “You’re too passive.”

Actually, I never hear that last one, but I’ve heard all the others, which makes me believe I must be doing something right. Loose, tight, aggressive – my style is that I’m all of the above, depending upon the circumstances.

One essential element of playing winning poker is forcing your opponents to make difficult decisions. That’s why raising is almost always better than calling – because it forces an extra decision on your opponents. To take this a step further – you’ll win more money by forcing your opponents to make decisions when they are out of their comfort zones.

Here are some examples:

Your opponent is on your left, playing too tight before the flop. You want to punish him for this. The best way to do that is to raise more often, and be more aggressive. Either you end up stealing a lot of blinds, or he adjusts his play.

If you get the blinds? Great! If he adjusts? Better! It’s the best outcome you can hope for. If he starts playing more hands pre-flop, you now have a real edge. Anytime your opponent changes his pre-flop playing style, he’s going to run into trouble later in the hand. A guy who usually plays nothing but very strong hands isn’t going to know what to do with weaker holdings on the turn and river.

If a tight opponent raises in front of you, wait for a stronger hand to call. By playing tight when you are acting behind your opponent, you avoid losing money to his stronger hands. Again, if your opponent catches on, you’re forcing him to play more hands up front, and you can outplay him after the flop.

What about the guy who plays too many hands? If you’re acting first, you want better starting hands than normal. Most of the value of a marginal hand comes from the chance that your opponent will fold immediately. If your opponent has never seen suited cards he doesn’t like, the value of your marginal hand decreases because it’s unlikely he’s going to lay his hand down. He may win more pots preflop, but this is more than offset by the extra money you’re going to make when you do see a flop with your stronger hands.

If a loose opponent raises you, you can call — or even raise — with weaker hands, and raise with hands you’d ordinarily just call with. By taking control of the hand, you can pick up more pots later. Again, you are daring him to change his style. If he doesn’t, you’re getting the best of it. If he does, he’s a fish out of water, prone to making mistakes later in the hand.

It’s important to have a lot of tools in your arsenal. First, it’s helpful in being able to adjust to your opponents and force them out of their comfort zones. Additionally, it will enable you to take advantage of your own table image when you have already been labeled as a tight or loose player, and to adjust accordingly.

For example, Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey are known as extremely aggressive players. The only way they have been able to survive with that image is by being able to adjust to different opponents and to slow down occasionally, when appropriate. I have seen this happen sometimes just before an opponent starts reacting to their aggression. They are somehow able to sense what is happening, and change their games accordingly. Other times, they won’t adjust much, and force their opponents to try and beat them at an unfamiliar game.

To best take advantage of this, pay attention! To everything. All the time. Not just when you’re in the hand, but especially when you’re not in the hand. Every hand your opponent plays gives you valuable information about how he thinks, and how he’s likely to play hands in the future.

If there’s an expert at your table, watch how he plays. See what hands he expects to work, think about how he plays them, then try incorporating it yourself. See how he pushes weaker players out of their comfort zone. Paying attention is one of the best ways to learn, and a great way to move up the poker food chain.

Chris Ferguson

USOK_1If you’re USA-based, like Chris, you can play some great online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

Poker pro: sizing up your opening bet

Chris ferguson - professional poker player

“Poker is like real estate. The three most important factors in deciding how much to raise are: Location, location, location.”

I never get tired of saying it: If you’re the first to enter the pot in a No-Limit Hold ’em game, never call. If you aren’t prepared to raise, throw your hand away.

Why, you ask? Simple. By raising, you put pressure on the blinds and the other players at the table, making them consider just how strong their hands really are. Chances are that by raising, you’ll force marginal hands to fold before you even see the flop, limiting the number of players you have to beat through the rest of the hand.

OK, with that out of the way, the next obvious question becomes: How much should I raise?

To that, I say; it depends. First off, you shouldn’t allow the strength of your to hand affect the size of your raise. A tough poker game is like real estate. The three most important factors in deciding how much to raise are: Location, location, location.

You always want to make your opponents’ decisions as difficult as possible. In choosing the size of your raise, you want to give the big blind a tough decision between calling or folding if the rest of the table folds around to him.

Raising from early position is to advertise a very strong hand – one that can beat the seven or more other players who still have to act. Since you are representing such strength, it doesn’t take much of a raise to convince the big blind to fold. Also, since your hand is so strong, you actually don’t mind a call from the big blind anyway. The real reason for a small raise is that you have so many players acting after you, any of whom might wake up with a monster and re-raise you.

When you raise in late position, you’re representing a hand that can beat the two or three remaining hands. This gives you a lot more freedom to raise with marginal hands, but your raise must be bigger or the big blind can call too easily. Another reason to raise more from late position is that you’re trying to put pressure on the big blind to fold, not call and, more importantly, you don’t have as many remaining opponents who can re-raise you.

One of the most common mistakes in No-Limit Hold ’em is coming in for a raise that’s too big. In early position, you want to keep your raises at about two times the big blind. With four to six players to act behind you when you’re in middle position, raise to about two and a half big blinds, and raise to about three times the big blind from late position.

If you’re representing a big hand by raising from early position, it stands to reason that you’ll only get played with by huge hands. Why risk four, five or more bets to win only one and a half bets in the blinds when you’re often going to be running into monsters along the way? If you’re holding A-Q rather than A-A and a player comes over the top, you can lay it down without having risked much.

Some beginners raise more with their strongest hands to build a bigger pot or raise less with these monsters to get more action. Instead, I recommend that you play your starting hands the same way no matter what you have. With A-A or A-J, raise the same amount so you’re not telegraphing the strength of your hand to watchful opponents. An exception would be if you know your opponents aren’t paying attention and you feel sure that you can manipulate them.

These numbers need to be modified if there are antes. You should generally add about half the total antes to any raise. Your early position raise should be two big blinds plus half the total antes, and three big blinds plus half the antes for your late-position raises.

There are many loose live games these days. If you find yourself in one of these games and you can’t steal the blinds with a normal raise, tighten up your starting requirements slightly and make larger raises. If this raise still can’t take the blinds, don’t tighten up anymore, but choose to raise an amount that you expect to get called once or twice behind you. Since your opponents are playing too loose, take advantage of it by building bigger pots when you think you’re getting the best of it.

The last exception is when you’re short-stacked. If making your typical raise means putting over a quarter of your stack in the pot, just go ahead and move all in instead. Betting a quarter of your stack before the flop commits you to calling just about any re-raise or, at the very least, it gives you a very tough decision. Moving all in here instead of raising less forces the tough decision on your opponents and eliminates one of your tough calling decisions. All of which brings us back to my first principle: Avoid being the one to just call.

Chris Ferguson

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Playing a Big Draw in Limit Hold em

5 WSOP Bracelets, 2 WSOP Rings, WSOP Main Event Champion 2000
“Playing big draws aggressively against multiple opponents can create very profitable situations. ”

In Limit Hold ’em, it is not uncommon to see pots that are contested by four, five, or even six players. This happens with some frequency at lower limits, especially when playing with those who haven’t learned the virtues of a tight-aggressive style of play.

In multi-way pots, draws become especially powerful, and playing big draws aggressively against multiple opponents can create very profitable situations. For example, say that you’re dealt As-8s on the button. Three players limp before the action gets to you, and you decide to limp as well. Both blinds call, so a total of six players see the flop of 4s-7s-Jc. You have no hand at the moment, but you do have the nut flush draw.

On the flop, the small blind bets and three players call. What’s your best action?

Clearly, folding would be wrong. With two cards to come and nine outs, you’ll make the nut flush roughly 35 percent of the time, making you only a 2:1 dog. With six small bets going in the pot pre-flop and four going in on the flop, you’re getting pot odds of 10:1.

You might be tempted to just call and see what the turn brings but, in fact, raising in this situation gives you better value. The pot is getting large and it’s likely that all your opponents are going to call. Even those who have nothing more than second pair or a gutshot straight draw may feel that their pot odds are favorable enough to justify calling the second bet. If your raise gets called by four people, you’ll be getting great value. You’d be getting 4:1 on your money when you’re only a 2:1 underdog – a clear win for you.

The raise might also work well for you on the turn and river. By acting after the flop, there’s a chance that the other players will check to you on the turn. This gives you the option of checking and taking a free card if you don’t make your flush.

The level of aggression that you show with a draw will largely depend on your position. To show how your play might change with position, imagine you’re in a hand with the same hole cards (As-8s), the same number of players (six), and the same flop (4s-7s-Jc). This time, however, you’re not on the button but are in the big blind instead when the small blind bets out. Here, you want to encourage the other players in the hand to put as much money in the pot as possible. If you raise, you’re probably going to force players with second pair or a gutshot to fold, so your best option is to call. Give your opponents every opportunity to throw money in the pot.

Finally, let’s look at how you might play the same cards when you’re the first to act. If you have a nut flush draw in the small blind and there are six players in the pot, go ahead and bet. It’s a favorable situation for you, so you want to make sure that some money goes in the pot. When out of position, I’ll usually follow-up my flop bet with another bet on the turn no matter what card hits. Then, if I miss again on the river, I can decide whether or not I want to bluff at the pot. If I’m against only one or two players on the river, I’ll usually bluff. If there are five players left in the hand, I won’t bother. It’s too likely that someone will call.

You can make a lot of money playing draws in low-limit Hold ’em. Just remember that you want as many people contributing to the pot as is possible, which means that in different positions, you’ll need to do different things to get the most out of your draws.

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson

a5_wSince he started playing in the World Series, Chris Ferguson has won more bracelets (5), made more final tables (25), and had more money finishes (42) than any other player. He has earned more than $4,000,000 playing poker in the WSOP and WSOP circuit alone.

2h_wIf you’re USA-based, like Chris, you can play some great online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

Poker: When Passive Pays

Chris Ferguson - aka Jesus - a top poker pro
“Ideally I want to get one decent sized bet in over the course of this hand and by checking, I prevent my opponent from giving me more action than my hand can handle.”

There’s no question that aggressive poker is winning poker. If the world’s top players have only one thing in common, it’s that they take control of the hands they play with bets and raises. Usually, among the world’s poker elite, calling is the least attractive option.

For this tip, however, I thought I’d talk about a couple of instances when playing passively – just checking and calling bets – may be the preferred option.

Top Pair, Favorable Board

Say I’m in the early stages of a tournament and I have an ample stack. I find Ace-Jack in middle position and raise to three times the big blind. A player in late position, who I know to be solid but fairly aggressive, calls my raise, and everyone else folds. The flop comes As-4d-8h. I’ve got top-pair, with a decent kicker.

First, I want to think about the hands my opponent might hold. It’s likely he called my raise with an Ace or a pocket pair, maybe in the range of 66-99. He may have also called with two high cards like KQ, KJ or QJ.

In this situation, I’m likely very far ahead or hopelessly behind if my opponent hit a set or has a bigger Ace. If he’s got an Ace with a worse kicker, he’s drawing to only three outs. If he’s got a pocket pair like 77, he has only two outs. With just two face cards, he’s almost drawing dead. And on this board (As-4d-8h), I don’t need to be especially worried about straight or flush draws. Because of this, I don’t mind giving my opponent a free card.

If I bet my top pair and my opponent holds a pocket pair, he’s likely to fold, and I’ll have failed to get any additional value out of my hand. If I check, however, I give this player the chance to bluff or bet his lesser Ace, and I can then call.

Ideally, I want to get one decent-sized bet in over the course of this hand and by checking, I prevent my opponent from giving me more action than my hand can handle.

Say the turn is 3c. The situation hasn’t changed much. I’m still either way ahead or very far behind. I can check again, and allow my opponent to bluff.

On most river cards, if we have checked the hand down, I will generally bet. If we’ve put one bet in, I’ll probably check-call, and if we’ve put in two, I’ll likely check and fold. Playing the hand in this manner provides three advantages. It allows me to get good value out of a strong hand, and it also keeps me from losing more than I need to against a hand that has mine beat without too much risk. Additionally, playing this way gives my opponent the opportunity to bluff, which is the only way to get any money out of him if he holds a hand like QJ.

Decent Hand, Scary Board

Here’s another early tournament situation where my opponents and I have relatively deep stacks. Say I’m holding pocket 8s in middle position and a player has raised pre-flop from early position. I call the raise and a player in late position calls as well. The three of us see a flop of Jd-Jc-4s.

There’s a decent chance that my 8s are good, but I want to proceed cautiously, as either of the other players in the hand could hold a Jack.

Say that all three of us check this flop. I really haven’t learned too much, because someone could be slow playing trip Jacks.

The turn comes 6h. This doesn’t look like it would have helped anyone’s hand, but the pre-flop raiser bets from early position. This is a spot where I’d likely just call. There are a couple of advantages to just calling in this situation. First, it doesn’t over-commit me to the pot. If the player in late position raises, I can muck having lost a minimum number of chips. Secondly, the call is going to look very scary to my opponents. They might be thinking that I’m the one slow playing trip Jacks. So, even if the early position player holds a higher pocket pair, he’s likely to check on the river no matter what card hits. At that point, I can show down my 8s and see if they are in fact the best hand.

The problem with this play relative to the last one is that I am probably giving my opponent six outs to catch up and beat my hand if he has two over-cards, as opposed to two or three outs in the previous example.

I don’t play passively often, but under the right circumstances, just calling bets can provide good value while minimizing risk.
Chris Ferguson

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