by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
Many poker players approach tournaments the wrong way—not realizing that they will be essentially forced to “make plays” in order to keep up with the blind increases. Even if you are very successful and get away with murder at the table, you’re still going to get naturally shallowed out by the basic structure of the tournament. Tournaments, quite simply, revolve around stealing the blinds and antes. If you’re coming from a cash game background where you can sit around all night long peddling the nuts, this hard truth can work against you.
Some of the easiest and most obvious spots to steal from are on or around the button. Make sure you’re also going out of your way to re-steal from people raising in stealing position. It’s not enough to simply call from the big blind and hope you hit your hand. We’re forced to take an active role in defending the blinds by re-raising pre-flop as well as making moves against positional raisers and bettors postflop. The key is applying controlled aggression from many different positions with many types of pre-flop hands. Getting value out of marginal cards is critical—as we are only dealt premium and semi-premium hands very rarely.
Poker success means more than finding advantages. It means avoiding disadvantages. Sadly, most skillful players are in perpetual search of edges. They fail to weigh what will reward them against what will destroy them.
I teach that you should always be very vigilant about identifying disadvantages in poker. Many can seem invisible, if you don’t look hard. But once you see them, it’s usually easy to stay out of danger. So, here is a short selection of three poker disadvantages, chosen from over 100 candidates.
Disadvantage 1: Too many chips
Many players like to have the most chips at the table in no-limit poker games. Is that the right strategy? Maybe. Probably not.
by David Chicotsky
We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, in poker, in the vast majority of situations—you can. For the most part, players are very straightforward with their intentions, and when you have a read on someone (assuming you’re competent at gauging other players’ tendencies) you can usually use that info against your opponent in the future. In my previous articles I’ve highlighted how important it is to shift-gears, since playing the same way throughout a tournament makes us predictable. Despite this advice, be aware that the average player doesn’t shift gears enough.
As a good training exercise to work on shifting gears, play a tournament and alternate between playing loose and tight every other level. Obviously there is no other logic behind this exercise than to get you comfortable switching gears. Normally, you’d want to switch gears during opportune times of a tournament, but in this case it’s easy enough to go from tight to loose at the start of each level. In tournament poker there is a perceived need to reconfirm information to help substantiate our thoughts on various opponents. I caution you against this...and here’s what I mean. If you think someone is loose, and you’re correct let’s say 80% of the time, you’re better off treating him accordingly right away (by re-raising the player on our right in this example). If you reconfirm this information by not re-raising and deciding to wait until the player has made another loose open, you’ll be that much more sure the player is loose (let’s make up a number, say 90% sure). The problem is, now this player realizes you’ve seen him play loose and can adjust accordingly. So even though you’ve increased your hypothetical certainty percentage from 80 to 90, the effectiveness of using that information against your opponent drops drastically. Essentially, the longer you wait to counter-act your opponent, the easier it is for your opponent to be conscious of this and adjust accordingly.
by Barbara Connors
Everybody has to start somewhere. For poker players, just as for readers, the journey begins with ABC. Literally, of course in the case of readers, while aspiring poker players cut their teeth on a style of play known as ABC poker.
As the name implies, ABC poker is about building-block fundamentals. It’s poker played strictly by the book. But ABC poker can be best described by what it is not—it is not creative, it is not deceptive, it doesn’t make adjustments for your opponents’ playing styles, and it’s often not the most profitable way to play a given hand. And if all that’s not unappealing enough, because ABC poker dictates that you play by the book—following somebody else’ script— there’s little sense of personal satisfaction or accomplishment, even when you win.
So many misconceptions muddle poker that I sometimes make lists. Today, I’d like to share three favorites from my collection, hoping that your game will improve, once you understand the truth.
Where should we start? How about bluffs. Whenever I warn about the badness of bluffing, some players get confused and think I’m telling them never to bluff. I’m not. There are clearly profitable times to fire a bluff into the pot. And there are specific opponents who make the best targets.
Fine. But I’m warning you that most players lose money for their lifetimes by bluffing. In that sense, yes, it would be better for them if they never bluffed. Here’s the strange part. Among all those millions of players who lose money bluffing, most probably think they earn money. I’ll tell you why that is in a minute.
by George “The Engineer” Epstein
My column entitled, “How Do You Rule?” in the Feb. 10 issue of PPN, had so many great responses that we awarded seven valuable prizes (copies of the Hold’em Algorithm) instead of one as planned! All raised salient issues; many offered thoughtful suggestions. Some described personal experiences. I’ll summarize their comments and quote several in this and the next column (Part II). After studying the responses and consulting with others, I have drawn conclusions that I will share with you in Part III. (You may be surprised!)
When I was a kid, I was able to demolish local poker games in Denver just by entering pots with only my very best starting hands. We call that playing “tight.” It amazed me that opponents had so little patience. They were willing to sacrifice their chips to me night after night without me having to know much about poker to win. I just took advantage of their tendency to bet money on bad hands.
Of course, later I helped pioneer aggressive poker strategies that proved that the sit-and-wait era of winning was finally over. But it’s important to realize that playing tight often still wins by itself. It doesn’t win as much as my power poker tactics (a term I coined in 1978 for Doyle Brunson to use with his poker bible Super/System — A Course in Power Poker). But it wins marginally.
by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
Candy makers know that if they can get a person to like a certain type of candy as a kid, they’re much more likely to eat that brand of candy for the rest of their lives. Something similar occurs in poker - where players start out playing a certain style of poker and continue to play that style throughout their poker career. Just because something feels comfortable, doesn’t make it correct. In fact, in tournament poker, much of what initially seems correct is dead wrong.
The average poker player starts out overly tight, playing mostly semi-premium and premium hands. The sad truth is most of these players remain tight for years and years. It’s very important to be a chameleon at the table - adjusting to the table conditions (stack sizes, play of our opponents, time of the tournament, among other factors) on a constant basis. Other players start out loose (affectionately known as spewtards) and also follow along that path for far too long.
Playing poker is like driving a car; we go fast on the highway and slow in school zones. Just because we go fast on the highway, doesn’t mean we are a “fast” driver - it’s just part of the skill-set we need to efficiently get around town. Try not to mentally box yourself into a certain category of player. Let the game come to you and make the necessary adjustments along the way, since many other players won’t.
by Barbara Connors
“I had a feeling.” This seemingly innocuous phrase, usually spoken in defense of a loose call after the hand is over, ranks right up there with, “I had to make sure” and “I’ll just play a little while longer until I get back even again” as among the most costly utterances in poker. And yet what red-blooded poker player hasn’t been tempted to play a hunch now and then? Sticking to clinical, strategically-sound, mathematically correct play all the time may be the most surefire way to make money at this game, but we’re not robots. Playing hunches appeals to the frustrated artist in all of us. It’s flattering to believe that maybe we’re a little bit psychic and it’s just plain more fun.
But is it always a bad thing to play a hunch? Well, it depends. Anytime you feel yourself wanting to make some unorthodox play that you would never make otherwise, based purely on a gut feeling, the important question to ask yourself is—where did that gut feeling come from?
Many poker players lose for a single, simple reason. They don’t grasp the nature of the majority of their opponents. Because of this common and fundamental misunderstanding of opponents’ natural state at the poker table, players pour profit down the poker drain trying to accomplish things that are impossible. What does that mean? Listen, and I’ll tell you.
Why they play
In order to take advantage of your opponents’ greatest weaknesses, you first need to understand why they came to play poker. No, really. Let’s examine that. Imagine that you’re a regular guy or gal with a regular everyday job. Maybe it’s standing all day long behind a used tomato booth at a secret black market for fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s painting over minor scratches on the bottom of automobile mufflers. Just some common job. Okay. Now imagine that your job is only thrilling for the first seven hours each day and that, by the final hour, you’re bored and eager to get home. Fine. So, that’s where you are right now. Home.
Then a monumental thought bombs your brain: “Maybe I’ll drive to the casino and play poker.” Immediately, your pulse quickens. An adventure awaits.
So, now I want you to stop imagining and jump back out of the head of your pretend opponent. You’re you again, in your own head. And that’s the “you” to whom I’m posing this important question. Here it comes. Do you think, while driving to the casino, your opponent is thinking, “I hope I can just sit at the table and not have to play any hands,” or “I hope I get to play a lot of hands”?