by Barbara Connors
For aggressive poker players who love to steamroll over the competition, nothing is quite so satisfying as a big bluff. Pushing a mountain of chips into the middle of the table, then watching with quiet satisfaction as your opponent agonizes over the decision, hems and haws, tries to work up the nerve to make the call—only to fold the best hand in the end. It’s a classic form of poker warfare that never gets old.
When the Nine meet at the Rio on November 5, poker’s ultimate final table will also be its ultimate feature table, watched by millions of viewers around the globe. Ever since the invention of the “holecard cam,” televised poker has been hugely popular, but what exactly are we seeing when we watch a televised poker game?
Is it just like any other sporting event on TV, with the camera as passive observer clinically recording each play but rarely having an effect on the players themselves? Or is it more like a sedentary, hoodie-drenched reality show, featuring a cast of characters who can’t help playing to the cameras—even if they’re not consciously aware of it?
by Barbara Connors
Poker players put up with a lot. Obnoxious opponents, unhealthful food, and the ever present threat of bad luck. No matter how skilled you are or how hard you work at making the correct decisions, you’re always at the mercy of cold cards and cruel suckouts. You can play your heart out and still go broke. But for all the slings and arrows we endure at the poker table, perhaps no single blow is more crushing than the cooler.
by Barbara Connors
Of all the excuses and justifications that poker players use to explain why they call and see flops with inferior hands, the most oft repeated has got to be, “But it was suited!” No matter how measly, raggedy, or uncoordinated two starting cards are, once both cards are sporting the same suit, they somehow begin to appear playable. Even something like 8-3—one of the ugliest of ugly duckling starting hands—can start looking like a swan to many players when those two cards are suited.
Now that live poker is coming back into vogue, this is probably a good time to remember one of the fundamental caveats of live play: Protect your hole cards at all times. There are two sides to this issue. At the start of the hand, as you gaze down in anticipation to find out whether you’ve been dealt a premium hand to raise with, a drawing hand to call with, or another in a long line of useless junk hands—you must be careful to view your cards in such a way that players sitting next to you can’t see what you have.
If you should inadvertently flash your hole cards to a neighbor, the player on the receiving end of this free information is under no obligation to let you know that you’ve just given him a gift. The usual poker etiquette is to warn the flasher once. If the hole card-flashing continues—well, all’s fair in love and poker. Many players won’t even warn you once. So peek with care.
Poker players are an eccentric lot. Whether we base our strategy decisions on mathematical expectation, a gut feeling, or the whim of the moment, we all have peculiarities. For example, take favorite hands. They can be on the junky side or they can be downright rubbish, but for some private reason—we’ve won a lot with that hand in the recent past, or the combination of the two numbers has some special meaning—we feel good whenever we look down to see those two particular cards.
Sadly, there will always be times when we have to play the short stack. In cash games, it’s not such a great handicap. If you run out of chips, you can always buy in for more—and if you don’t have enough money to buy in again, it’s a clue that you never should have been playing those stakes in the first place.
But playing short-stacked in tournaments, that’s another situation altogether. Now there’s no question that being low on chips is a major disadvantage. Escalating blinds put enormous pressure on those who are short of stack, and replenishment is not an option. Once you’re out of chips, you’re out, period. And yet, for anyone who plays regularly in no-limit tourneys, playing a short stack is inevitable. So learning how to deal with this situation is critical to becoming a good tournament player.
I love to draw. And I know I have a lot of company in that respect. Drawing hands have a sneaky, seductive kind of allure that can be almost impossible to resist. When your draw comes in, it’s one of the sweetest feelings in poker. But in spite of that wonderful feeling—or perhaps because of it—some drawing hands are often more trouble than they’re worth. Exhibit A: the one-card straight draw.
Picture this: You’re playing 5-10 no-limit hold’em. On the turn the pot is $120 and board reads 8-Q-5-10 rainbow. You got a free look at the flop with Q-7 off-suit in the big blind and now it’s down to you and one loose-aggressive opponent acting behind you. The river brings a jack, putting a potential straight on the board.
In poker, a raise can serve a multitude of purposes. By far the two most common motives for raising are to get more money in, and to drive opponents out. The first is a pretty straightforward proposition. Any time you believe that you have the best of it, whether in the form of the strongest hand or the most promising draw, you want to build up a nice juicy pot. You are raising for value.
The number two incentive for raising is to eliminate opponents. If you’re holding a good-but-not-great hand such as top pair, your odds of victory are still looking iffy, but they increase as your number of opponents decreases. So you’d prefer to push opponents out of the hand sooner rather than later, before they have the chance to make a better hand.