Learning poker from the professionals

Elite Poker Professional Gus Hansen shares an amazing hand from his Aussie Millions play.  How would you have played this one? An interesting read.

Gus Hansen - photo courtesy of FullTiltPoker.comHand 133 – Crucial hand 7 – Biggest Hand So Far – Busting the Defending Champ

Blinds: 4000/8000/1000, My position: SB, My hand: Ac Qs, My Chip Stack: 389,000

Defending champ Lee Nelson has been moved to the table. He opens in middle position for 24,000 and I decide to just call with my Ac Qs in the SB. The BB folds. The flop comes:

Qh Qc 4c

I think it is fair to call it an above average flop!

I check and as expected Lee bets 44,000 into a 64,000 pot. Having flopped three Queens with top kicker, or as some would say “a Monster”, I have a couple of different options:

Calling, trying to trap Mr. Nelson would be more tempting with no flush draw on the board. Another draw-back is that calling simply fails to put more money in the pot. For it to be a real trap, I would have to check the turn as well and could thereby easily give Mr. Nelson two free cards. I don’t like it!
The mini-raise – doubling his 44,000 bet to about 100,000. Trying to keep Lee in the loop but forcing him to put a little more money in the pot. It might also be interpreted as a cheap steal-attempt thereby inducing Mr. Nelson to make a move. I like it!
Standard raise – to about 150,000. Put even more money in the pot but might force Lee out of some marginal hands. Has some merit!
As you can see I prefer the mini-raise.

After some deliberation I make it 100k. Now it is Lee’s turn to think. Surprisingly fast he goes all-in putting a total of 326,000 towards the middle. Pretty happy about the development I don’t hesitate to call. After all – I am holding the third nuts – or more likely “the nuts” since Lee would have played it a little slower if he was holding either Q4 or 44.

There is now 716,000 in the pot, so the next two cards are very crucial for the outcome of this tournament. The defending champ is all-in and I am left with less than 50,000 in front of me. Whoever wins this pot will be well on the way to the final table and the other guy headed – or more or less headed – to the sideline.

Lee: Kc 9c
Me: Ac Qs

Winning percentage before the turn:
Lee: 23.1 %
Me: 76.9 %

Turn: Jh

No club but now he has a gut-shot as well. His winning percentage stays the same.

River: 3h

Nice – I win the 700,000+ pot.

So what really happened here? How did we get 700k in the middle at this stage at the tournament?
Let us take it from the top:
Lee’s opening raise from middle position with Kc 9c – a play that has my utmost sympathy.
My call in the blind with AQo is definitely not mandatory and I would generally lean towards the re-raise. Being out of position, facing a tough opponent with a big chip-stack, I opted for the more conservative call.
Checking the flop – Very straight forward as Lee will most likely take a stab with any two cards.
Flop bet by Lee – Good solid play! Continuation bets is a big part of winning tournament strategy and should be performed a very high percentage of the time – especially this time where he actually has a flush draw to back it up!
My mini-raise – described earlier in the hand.
Lee’s all-in move – OOPS. I do not agree with this play.

A much better option would be to just call and see what develops. Lee is in position and has the luxury of awaiting my next move. If I had an air ball there is a very good chance that I would give up and he would be able to take it away with a medium-sized bet on the turn. On the other hand if I had a Queen I would probably move all in on the turn and Lee would be able to get away from the hand without losing all his money. Not to forget, if a club comes on the turn we would get all the money in with me having the drawing hand.

As you can see Lee would have gained a lot of information by flat-calling. Not only would he have a better idea about the strength of my hand but he would also get to see whether a club showed up or not!

Furthermore, contrary to what people think I am actually a very tight player :-). At least in some situations… Very rarely do I check-raise a big stack on the flop with absolutely nothing. I was in a comfortable position and not especially looking for a spot to pull off a big bluff. Analyzing the hand again and again I have come to the conclusion that my most likely holding is a random Queen, with the Ace high flush draw next in line. None of which the Kc 9c fare well against.

I am not quite sure why Lee opted to move all-in but I have a strong feeling that my reputation played a big part in his decision-making.

tickyHere’s a link to the latest Online Poker Room Review Directory from the crew down the road at Gooners Guide to Gambling. (PS: A Gooner is an Arsenal Football Club supporter… derived from “Gunner”, but these guys are really just online gambling fans with a minor bias towards the red and white).


Pro Poker Tip: Being A Bully

Gus Hansen is a member of Team FullTilt

Many players understand the concepts involved in building a large chip stack during a tournament. What they don’t understand, however, is how to use their chips effectively once they’ve gotten them. Once they’ve accumulated a lot of chips, many players want to control the action, but they haven’t thought through how to take command of the table.

When I’m the big stack in a tournament, being the bully is always my first consideration. I want to eliminate players, continue to build my stack, and avoid dangerous situations. If I can create a scenario where I’m the table captain – meaning I dictate the size of the pots – the rest of the action becomes easier to read. I can frequently steal the blinds and antes, and if someone else re-raises, it’s pretty easy to put them on a hand because I know they can only play back at me with really strong cards.

One of the first keys to becoming an effective big-stack bully is to stay aware of your fellow players and the size of their stacks. Don’t give short stacks easy access to all-in moves with any Ace. If you raise with a hand like 9-8 suited and a short stack comes over the top and pushes all-in, then you’ve created a bad situation. Even if you’re getting the right odds to call, you don’t want to double anybody up.

You also have to recognize those players that won’t stand for your bullying or who are just trying to survive and make the money, but are so low in chips that they have no choice but to push. At some point every player reaches their breaking point. You should be conscious of that moment so that you don’t needlessly hand over chips to someone who is ready to play back by pushing all-in and putting you to a tough decision you don’t want to face.

Sometimes, being the bully means that you’ll have to make a crying call even when you don’t want to. For example, if I feel like the short stack is pushing with any Ace, I’ll sometimes gamble even if I think I may be behind before the flop. If I’m holding something like K-Q suited, I’m going to try to knock the player out of the tournament. I’ll basically play with anything down to K-8 suited, because if he has something like pocket 6s or a naked Ace, it’s a choice I can live with.

Of course, being a bully doesn’t mean you should let your aggression outweigh good sense. Playing smart poker – raising at the right times against the right opponents – is always something to keep in mind. For example, if you’re raising on the button with a weak hand like 10-6 against two small stacks in the blinds and one of them pushes, you’ve created a bad situation that you really could have avoided.

If I’m raising in these spots with hands like K-9, J-10, A-9, I’m not worrying too much about getting called or re-raised by a short stack. But with 10-6 off-suit, you have to think – maybe I don’t need to lose a bunch of chips with this hand and double someone up. A good rule of thumb here is to ask yourself if your opponent would push with 10-6 themselves. The answer is, probably not. They would have folded with 10-6, so you created a bad situation by raising with it in the first place.

When you’re trying to be a bully, try to think about what your opponent would do if they were holding your cards. Put yourself in their position and reverse the hands. If you think they would push all-in with the same hand you’re holding, then your hand is strong and you should be a bully and push. If they would have folded your hand, then you should probably let it go too.

There are some hands you’re going to play no matter what, and if you’re behind, you can’t worry about losing. Just say to yourself – that time I was unlucky, next time it will be different. If you raise with A-8 on the button and the blind pushes with A-10 – well, it happened. Put the hand behind you and move on.

To be a successful bully, you have to be willing to take some risks and to lose some chips. Remember, it’s OK to lose the occasional battle in order to win the war.
Gus Hansen

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Texas Holdem: Betting out of Position

Professional Poker tip

Every Hold ’em strategy guide talks about the importance of positional advantage. The standard thinking is that the player who acts last has more information than his opponents, so he’ll have a better sense of where he stands in a hand and can, therefore, make better decisions. There’s no doubt that this is true, but it’s important to understand that the power that comes with position is often granted to the late-position player by the early-position player.

To see what I mean, consider a pretty typical No-Limit hold ’em hand. Say that I’m in the big blind with 7s-8s – a nice, flop-worthy hand. The player on the button raises to three times the big blind and I decide to call. Many players would check the flop under almost any circumstances. But, by checking, you give control to the late-position player. He can bet whether or not he has a hand, putting you in a tough spot if you don’t get a piece of the flop.

In a hand like this, I believe it’s best to look at the flop and ask, “Is it likely that these cards helped my opponent?” Once I have an answer to that question, I can decide how to proceed.

If the flop is Ah-Kd-9c, I’d probably just check and fold to a bet, as my opponent was likely raising with big cards and caught a piece of the flop. However, if the flop is 9c-5h-2d, I’d probably be more skeptical. I know that in Hold ’em, two unpaired hole cards will fail to make a pair on the flop about 66 percent of the time, and this seems to be a flop that the pre-flop raiser might have missed.

If I suspect my opponent didn’t connect, I’m going to take the initiative and bet out about half the size of the pot. Betting here with my gutshot draw offers several advantages. First, I might take the pot down right here, and I’m always happy when a semi-bluff forces a fold. But even if I get a call from my opponent, I’ve forced him to react. That gives me a chance to pick up a read. If my opponent seems uneasy, I might continue with my semi-bluff on the turn and try again to pick up the pot. Or, if I feel my opponent is strong, I can check and fold to any bet on the turn if I fail to make my hand.

Stabbing at pots when out of position can be very lucrative. In tournaments, I’ll open-raise out of position fairly frequently because I think there’s a lot of power in being the first one to fire at the pot on the flop. I pick up a lot of small pots that way.

As you work on your Hold ’em game, remember that you don’t have to give the advantage in the hand to the player in late position. Look for opportunities to bet out and seize the initiative.

Gus Hansen

tickyTwo sites we all rate and recommend are UK’s bet365 Poker (top site on the iPoker network – Europe’s busiest and best) and Bookmaker Poker, a savvy Costa Rica based poker room on the WPN Network.