The Poker Lab Rat

March 17, 2010

Phil Gordon: Poker Hands You Want To Play … But Shouldn’t

Filed under: Phil Gordon,pro tips — Mike @ 11:40 pm

Phil Gordon Professional Poker PlayerEven the best poker players in the world make mistakes, and when these mistakes are not corrected, they can develop into “leaks” that can easily sink your game. There are two leaks in particular that I see all the time with regard to Hold ’em starting hands that people play but would be better off folding.

The first of these two leaks involves playing easily dominated hands. Domination in Texas Hold ’em is death, so you must make an effort to fold potentially dominated hands pre-flop if another player has voluntarily entered the pot.

This concept spins off of David Sklansky’s “Gap Principle”, which essentially says that the range of hands you’re willing to raise with should be wider than the range of hands you’re willing to call with.

For instance, if everyone folds to me and I have K-Q off-suit on the button, I’m going to raise. It’s likely the best hand, and I give myself a chance to steal the blinds. However, if a middle position player raises before the flop, I’m going to throw that K-Q away quickly. That K-Q is very easily dominated by the hands my opponent is likely to raise with in middle position, such as A-K, pocket Kings, pocket Aces, pocket Queens, and A-Q. These are hands that K-Q will have a very difficult time beating, and if we both flop a pair, I could be in severe trouble and lose my entire stack.

To further illustrate this point, here’s a mathematical look at why a theoretically powerful hand, if dominated, is worse than playing random rags. Say my opponent raises in first position with A-K and it folds around to me on the button with 7-2 off-suit, the worst hand in poker. If I call there, I’m about a 65-35 underdog.

Now let’s say I have A-Q on the button facing that same raise from A-K. Now my hand is about a 75-25 underdog, which is significantly worse than if I had 7-2.

It’s not easy to fold A-Q to a single raise pre-flop, but if the raise is coming from early position and you have reason to believe your opponent has a premium hand, A-Q could easily be dominated. More to the point, that next tier of starting hands—K-Q, Q-J, Q-10, K-10, K-J—those are hands you should just throw away if your opponent opens the pot for a raise.

The other leak involving starting hands that I see frequently is overvaluing suited hands. I see players with A-5 suited or 8-7 suited and they play the hands because they think they might flop a flush. In reality, when you’re suited you will only flop a flush about one out of 121 times. That’s about 0.84 percent of the time. It does not happen very often. And even when it does happen, you’re not likely to win a big pot.

If you take a hand like A-5 suited and compare it to A-5 off-suit, in reality, against the range of hands your opponent might be playing, it only adds about two to three percent to your expectation of making the best hand.

So don’t be fooled by being suited. Just because the hand is suited does not mean that it is playable. The ranks of the cards are much more important than whether or not your hand is suited.

When making your pre-flop decisions, if you can resist the urge to play hands that are likely dominated and resist the urge to play mediocre suited cards, I think you’ll find yourself playing a more profitable brand of poker in the long run.

ABOUT PHIL:

American players are also welcome at Full Tilt PokerPhil Gordon won the 2003 World Poker Tour (WPT) and has made five WSOP final tables. He has banked over $2.1 million in career tournament earnings and is the author of 3 popular poker books.  Phil Gordon, like many of the top pros, plays poker online at BetOnline Poker and Bookmaker Poker. Join him at a table sometime!

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December 15, 2008

Simplifying Poker Decisions: Pro Phil Gordon

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 6:27 pm

An oldie but a goodie? This poker tip from professional player Phil Gordon was originally published way back in 2005.

Phil Gordon professional poker player

In an effort to simplify my decisions, every single time it’s my turn to act, I try to run through the same script in my head:

Are my opponents playing conservatively? Aggressively? Tentatively?

What are some of the hands my opponents are likely to hold?

What do my opponents think I have?

Once I have the answer to the first question, and feel confident about my range of answers for the second and third questions, I move on to the most important question:

Should I bet or raise?

If I think I have the best hand, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I bet or raise.

If I think I can force weak opponents out of the pot with this bet or with future bets, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I bet or raise.

If I don’t think betting or raising is the right decision, I move on to the last question:

Should I check (or fold)?

If I think I have the worst hand, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I check or fold. If I think my opponents are strong, I nearly always answer “Yes” and check or fold. After a careful analysis, if I’m not sure if I should raise and I’m not sure I should fold, I feel confident that calling a bet (or checking) is correct.

I find that even in straight-forward and obvious situations, by running through the script I often find opportunities that other players might miss. And by asking the “raise” question before the “fold” and “call” question, I ensure that I am playing aggressive, winning poker.

Try using this script next time you sit down at the table, and see if simplifying your inner dialog forces your opponents into making more complicated decisions.

 

ticky

Here’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).

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December 14, 2007

Dangerous Hands: Suited Connectors and Small Pocket Pairs

Filed under: Phil Gordon,pro tips — Mike @ 8:46 pm

Click for more pro poker tips from Phil Gordon

We’ve all seen situations unfold on TV where a hand like 7-8 suited or pocket 5s manages to crack some big pocket pair like Aces or Kings. We sit back in the comfort of our living rooms and say, “Well, if they can do it, so can I!”

While it is true that these hands can sometimes take down monster pots, the fact is, playing these kinds of marginal hands can often lead many players – especially newer ones – into a big trap. They start playing suited connectors and small pocket pairs much too frequently and, eventually, find themselves in situations where they’re forced to make tough decisions for lots of chips.

I suggest that you stay away from suited connectors altogether – especially if you’re a newer player – as I truly believe these are overvalued holdings. But if you do feel the need to play these kinds of hands, the first rule to remember is to always play them when you have position. If you limp or raise from early position with suited connectors, it’s simply a bad play.

Another point to consider is that you’re going to be investing a lot of chips after the flop if you’ve got a flush or straight draw. You’re not playing hands like 7-8 to fold when the flop comes 5-6-T, but you will only make your hand about a third of the time. When you don’t complete your draw, you might be able to push an opponent with a moderate holding out of the pot, but someone with a strong hand or a better draw isn’t going anywhere.

One especially dangerous hand to be wary of is 9-8, both suited and unsuited. Why? Well, let’s say you see a flop and it comes 10-J-Q. You’ve hit a straight and someone bets into your made hand. Many players are going to push all-in here, but that can be a costly mistake because there’s a good chance that someone else in the pot is holding a hand like A-K and will walk away with all of your chips.

Personally, I think you’re better off making a hand with something like 5-6 or even 4-5, because you’re less likely to be putting a lot of chips into a pot with the second-best hand. Playing 9-8 is simply a recipe for going broke.

When it comes to small pocket pairs, you have even less wiggle room. Basically, your only option is to get lucky and hit a set on the flop. I see a lot of players raising pre-flop with these hands because they think they have the best hand at the moment – and maybe they do. But this can sometimes be a huge mistake. You’re draining all the value out of these hands, because they pay off most when you flop a set and are able to bust someone.

If you are going to play a hand like pocket 5s, my suggestion is to once again only play when you have position – limping or raising from early position is bound to get you in a heap of trouble. Try to get in cheap and hit your set. If you don’t connect with the flop, do your best to keep control of the betting and force people out of the pot if it doesn’t look like they hit their hand either.

Suited connectors and small pocket pairs are just dangerous hands to be playing, no doubt about it. You might look like a genius when you flop the nuts and somebody pays you off, but the odds say that’s just not going to happen too often. The more likely scenario is that if you play these kinds of purely speculative hands more than you should, it’s going to lead to nothing but a huge drain on your bankroll.

PHIL GORDON

 

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October 30, 2007

Don’t Tap on the Aquarium

Filed under: Phil Gordon,pro tips — Mike @ 1:01 am

Poker Fishing - great opportunities to build bankroll at CarbonPoker.comOriginally coined by poker pro Phil Gordon, this much-quoted phrase should be considered poker law!

Players have a tendency to express their contempt of poor play, but doing so is a major mistake. It’s totally counter-productive. You want people to make mistakes at the poker table. If nobody ever screwed up, all the skill would be taken out of the game – and the winner would just be decided by the cards.

If a player is making bad calls at your table (online or in-the-flesh), it is almost guaranteed he will suck out on you, or someone else, at some point during the game. When it happens, don’t try to embarrass him or make him feel bad. Why would you want to do that? You want him to stay at the table for as long as possible. If you berate him for making a bad call, it will put and end to his good time, and he may walk away from the game. That is the worst thing that can happen. Instead, do the opposite. Joke around with him, and make him feel as comfortable as possible. This greatly increases the chance that he will stay in the game until he goes broke. If you’ve made him feel especially welcome – he might even buy back in!

For good game fishing, we play and recommend bet365 Poker or, if you are USA-based BetOnline Poker.

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October 7, 2007

Phil Gordon on sleepless nights and his thing about John Juanda.

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views — Mike @ 12:08 am

Phil Gordon is a member of team FullTiltWhat’s the mistake that you spent the most time thinking about afterward?

Phil Gordon: A-6 of diamonds at the World Series of Poker. It was 2001, the championship event. There were only four players left: me, Stan Shrier, Dewey Tomko and Carlos Mortensen.
I was second in chips with 1.2 million, Stan and Dewey both had 500,000 or so, and Carlos had the rest, about three-point-something million. I was under the gun, Stan was in the small blind, Dewey was in the big blind, and the blinds were like 25,000 and 50,000, and I moved all-in for 1.2 million, which was a very big mistake. Carlos had pocket queens and called me in a shot, knocked me out in fourth. It still bothers me. I literally dream about the hand at least once a week.

Who’s the player you just can’t get a read on?

Phil Gordon: John Juanda. For some reason, he is the toughest player I play against on a regular basis. He’s capable of changing speeds at any moment. He just has my telephone number. I just don’t understand it. Every time we’re in a pot and I call him, he turns over the nuts. And every time we’re in a pot and I fold, he turns over a complete bluff. I just don’t get it. I just want to pull my hair out, what little I have left.

For entertainment value, which player do you most look forward to having at your table?

Phil Gordon: In terms of someone from Hollywood, Kevin Nealson from Saturday Night Live. He’s one of the funniest guys in the world. I’ve played with him a couple of times, and he’s just incredibly, incredibly funny. And a decent player to boot.

In the world of professional poker, I’d probably want to have Mike The Mouth (Matusow) at the table. Though he is loud and obnoxious, he’s loud and obnoxious in an endearing way. The first time that I was at a table with Mike was the 2001 World Series – he busted out sixth in that tournament – and we’ve been good friends ever since. He was just as talkative and just as obnoxious at the final table as he has been at all the other ones he’s been at, but for some reason I don’t find what he does nearly as offensive or tiring as Phil Hellmuth’s act.

Why are people named Phil so darned good at poker?

Phil Gordon: Well, “Phillip” is Greek for “lover of horses”. A love of horses naturally leads you to the track at an early age, you learn to gamble at the track, and as soon as you learn to gamble it’s a very quick transition from gambling at the track to gambling around the poker table.

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

 

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September 28, 2007

Phil Gordon: Pre-flop Raising Strategies

Filed under: Phil Gordon,pro tips — Mike @ 10:31 pm

Phil Gordon is a member of Team FullTilt

To limp or not to limp – that is the question. I’m not going to name any names here, but there are some big-time pros who will argue that it’s OK to limp into a pot before the flop. They reason that the more flops they see, the more likely they are to hit something big. If not, well, then they’re pros and they can outplay their opponents after the flop.

I tend to land on the other side of the fence in this debate. My pre-flop strategy is this – its raise or its fold, there’s no in between. I’m not injured – I don’t have a sprained ankle or a broken leg – so why would I limp? There’s nothing wrong with seeing flops, but why let your opponents get in cheap with an inferior hand?

I like to size my pre-flop raises based on my position. A lot of inexperienced players raise based on the strength of their hands, but good players will pick up on this play before too long. If you always raise four times the big blind with pocket Aces, Kings, and Queens, but only three times with everything else, skilled opponents will notice these patterns and exploit them later on.

If, on the other hand, you always raise a predetermined amount based on your position, your holdings will be much better disguised. By adopting this strategy, it doesn’t matter if you’re holding pocket Aces or 7-8 off-suit (which is the kind of junk I highly recommend you don’t play), your opponents will have a much harder time putting you on a hand after the flop. Cards aside, here’s how I like to play before the flop:

  • From early position – including the blinds – raise two-and-a-half times the big blind. You are more susceptible to a re-raise from this position, so it’s best not to risk too many chips. Still, this raise lets everyone know that you mean business.
  • From middle position, raise three times the big blind. Hopefully a couple of people will already have folded to you, so there’s less chance of being re-raised. Hence, you can afford to make a stronger push and possibly steal the blinds.
  • From middle/late position, raise three-and-a-half times the big blind. You really want to encourage those last couple of players to fold so you can go heads up with the blinds or just steal them outright.
  • From the button, raise four times the big blind. You either want to steal the blinds or make it really expensive for them to re-raise you.

Now, obviously when you play this raise or fold style before the flop, you can’t be afraid of action. A lot of players – especially when they raise with a hand that they’d rather not see called – get that internal dialogue going that says “Please fold, please fold, please fold.” But here’s the thing; you should want action and welcome a call.

The fact is your opponent is going to miss the flop such a high percentage of the time that it shouldn’t matter whether you hit or not. You’re the one who raised and you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Every chip that your opponent put into the pot before the flop is, in all likelihood, coming over to your chip stack. Even if your opponent does hit the flop, chances are they might not hit it very hard. If your opponent has A-8 and the flop comes K-8-4, the pot can still be yours. Steel those nerves and fire off a continuation bet – you’re going to get them to lay down their hand a good amount of the time.

At the end of the day, it’s all about how many chips are coming back to your stack. The more you put in pre-flop, the more you should get out of the pot when it’s all said and done. Forget about limping, it’s time to go full speed ahead.

 

 

US residents welcome at FullTiltPoker.com

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

 

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September 2, 2007

Recalculating the Average Stack

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips,WSOP — Mike @ 9:14 pm

Phil Gordon Full Tilt Poker Pro

In a recent World Series of Poker circuit event that I played in, the nine-handed final table started with blinds of $10K – $20K, and there were roughly 3.5 million chips in play. Some quick division would tell you that the average stack was more than 350K, or about 18 big blinds. This simple calculation could lead you to some bad conclusions, however, because in fact most stacks were much shorter.

Phil Gordon professional poker playerWhen the final table started I had a chip stack of about 1.2 million or almost one-third of the chips in play. So the average among the rest of the table was a little over 250K, or approximately 13 big blinds.

As the chip leader, I would have played aggressively if most of the stacks had 18 or 20 big blinds. Players with those sort of stacks can afford to fold and wait for a decent spot, so I’d do well to raise frequently pre-flop while attempting to steal the blinds and antes. Against players who have 13 or fewer big blinds, however, that strategy won’t work.

Players with short stacks need to gamble and, if they pick up any kind of decent hand, they’re going to shove all in and hope to double up. Playing aggressively, I could find myself in some tough spots. For example, if I were to raise to 70K with some marginal stealing hand like A-10 or K-J, and then a short stack came over the top for 210K, I’d be getting two-to-one on my money to make the call. It would be tough to fold and I could end up doubling up a short stack with a hand I didn’t love.

At this final table, where the average stack among the other eight players was so short, my best strategy was to play extremely tight. I decided to play only top-quality starting hands while I waited for the short stacks to gamble with one another. Eventually the stacks would consolidate and we’d be left with five or six players who had decent stacks. At that point, I could get more aggressive and begin stealing from players who could afford to fold.

In the end, I got some big hands that didn’t hold up and I didn’t win the event. Still, by understanding that the true average stack was shorter than a quick calculation would initially have me believe, I was able to apply a strategy that gave me the best chance of coming out on top.

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

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April 22, 2007

Phil Gordon: Scripted Poker Play

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — webmaster @ 10:19 pm

“In an effort to simplify my decisions, every single time it’s my turn to act, I try to run through the same script in my head”

Phil Gordon professional poker player

The questions I always ask myself are:

  • Are my opponents playing conservatively?
  • Aggressively? Tentatively?
  • What are some of the hands my opponents are likely to hold?
  • What do my opponents think I have?

Once I have the answer to the first question, and feel confident about my range of answers for the second and third questions, I move on to the most important question:

SHOULD I BET OR RAISE?

  • If I think I have the best hand, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I bet or raise.
  • If I think I can force weak opponents out of the pot with this bet or with future bets, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I bet or raise.

If I don’t think betting or raising is the right decision, I move on to the last question:

SHOULD I CHECK (OR FOLD)?

  • If I think I have the worst hand, I nearly always answer “Yes” and I check or fold.
  • If I think my opponents are strong, I nearly always answer “Yes” and check or fold.

After a careful analysis, if I’m not sure if I should raise and I’m not sure I should fold, I feel confident that calling a bet (or checking) is correct.

I find that even in straight-forward and obvious situations, by running through the script I often find opportunities that other players might miss.

And by asking the “raise” question before the “fold” and “call” question, I ensure that I am playing aggressive, winning poker.

Try using this script next time you sit down at the table, and see if simplifying your inner dialog forces your opponents into making more complicated decisions.
Phil Gordon

tickyThere’s lots of choice when it comes to poker networks including the iPoker Network, Microgaming Poker, Chico Poker and WPN Poker Networks. Check out the latest poker room reviews or the poker room showdown before you decide where to play your next hand of poker.

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April 13, 2007

Poker Pro: Not Playing By The Book

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 12:30 am

Click to visit FullTiltPoker where YOU can play Phil online

“Poker is not a game that is best played by the numbers. Poker is a game of situations.”

Once I am involved in a hand, many of the actions I take after the flop are automatic, or nearly automatic. Therefore, the most important decision I have to make in No Limit Hold ’em takes place before the flop:

Should I play the two cards I’ve been dealt?

When I first started learning how to play, I reviewed the standard charts that suggest which two cards to play from each position. But while they provided useful guidelines, the charts don’t tell the whole story.

Poker is not a game that is best played by the numbers. Poker is a game of situations.

In blackjack, there is always a correct decision to be made – a “perfect strategy.” Once you have compared the strength of your hand against the dealer’s “up” card, the odds will — or at least should — dictate whether you should hit, stand, split, etc.

Poker, however, is a game of incomplete information. There are many factors to consider that go above and beyond what “the book” tells you to do. Some of them include:

– My opponents’ tendencies
– My state of mind
– My opponent’s state of mind
– Our respective stack sizes
– My image at the table

Computer programs can look up hands in a chart. Real poker players analyze situations and make their own decisions after processing all of the available information. I might raise with A-J from early position in one game, and fold the same hand from the same position in another.

A good chart can help give a very specific set of circumstances, namely:

– You are the first person to voluntarily put money into the pot and are going to come in for a raise of about three times the big blind
– You don’t know much about your opponents
– All the players at the table have an average-size stack
– The blinds are relatively small in relation to the size of the stacks

When the above things aren’t true, you’ll want to look beyond the charts.

If you’re a new player, these tables are a great place to start. The more poker you play, however, the more comfortable you will feel letting your experience and your instincts serve as your guide.

Phil Gordon

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March 30, 2007

Poker Pro: Texture Is not Just For Fabric

Filed under: Phil Gordon,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Elle @ 6:24 am

Phil Gordon - top poker professional
“If my hand is unlikely to improve, I tend to bet more than 2/3 of the pot. I want to take this pot now.”

When I’m thinking about my actions after the flop or turn, I look to the “texture” of the board – i.e., what cards are in play, and how might they interact with my opponent’s likely starting hands – to help determine if and how much I will bet.

My normal post-flop betting range is one third of the pot to the full size of the pot. The texture of the board dictates where in that range I choose to bet, and I determine that based on the following four factors:

1. How strong is my hand with respect to all of the likely hands for my opponent?

If I have a very strong hand with respect to all of the likely starting hands for my opponent, I’ll usually go for the lower end of the spectrum, betting around 1/3 of the pot. I want my opponent to call.

If I have a moderate strength hand with respect to all of the likely starting hands for my opponent, I’ll likely bet 2/3 of the pot. I want my opponents to fold some hands that are better than my hand and call with some hands that are worse than my hand.

If I have a weak hand with respect to all of the likely starting hands for my opponent and I want to bet, I’ll bet the pot. I want my opponents to fold hands that are better than my hand.
2. How likely is my hand to improve?

If my hand is unlikely to improve, I tend to bet more than 2/3 of the pot. I want to take this pot now.

If my hand is somewhat likely to improve, say about 15% to 20% of the time, I am more apt to bet 2/3 of the pot.

If my hand is very likely to improve (about 34% of the time or more), I am more apt to bet 1/2 of the pot.

3. How likely is my opponent to have “hit the flop” and have a pair or better?

If my opponent is unlikely to have hit the flop and have top pair or better, I tend to bet 1/3 of the pot whether I think I have the best hand or not.

If my opponent is likely to have flopped exactly one pair, and I think I have the best hand, I tend to bet 2/3 of the pot.

If my opponent is likely to have flopped two pair or better and I think I have the best hand, I tend to bet the size of the pot. If I don’t think I have the best hand, I’ll almost never bet.

4. How likely is my opponent to have a primary draw? (That is, a draw to the best possible hand on the board, like a straight or a flush.)

If I think my opponent is likely to have a primary draw and I think I have the best hand, I’m likely to bet the size of the pot.

If I think my opponent has a primary draw and there is a good chance I don’t have the best hand, I’ll almost never bet.

When the four factors above lead to different conclusions about how much to bet, I average the recommendations and bet that amount. Over time, you’ll develop a more immediate sense of the “texture” of the board, and the amount to bet based on that will become almost automatic. Then, you can spend less time calculating your actions and more time observing your opponents.

Phil Gordon

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