by George Epstein
Phil Hellmuth is admired by many poker players throughout the world for his accomplishments. In addition to his record 13 World Series of Poker bracelets, he won the Main Event of the 1989 World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the Main Event of the 2012 World Series of Poker Europe. He is a member of the WSOP’s Poker Hall of Fame, and is ranked among the top all-time money winners. (He has also earned a reputation for insulting other players).
Recently, a friend gave me a copy of Hellmuth’s book, Play Poker Like the Pros. I found several items that conflict with my teachings to my Seniors Poker Groups. For example, Hellmuth relates a hand he played at Foxwood’s Casino in Connecticut. It was a $2,500 buy-in limit Hold’em game during the “World Poker Finals.” Stakes were $300-$600. He was in the Big Blind holding 8-8. Three players called the blind ($300) preflop. He wrote, “because I had 8-8, I raised.” Note: In his book, Hellmuth lists 8-8 as one of his “Top Ten” Hands. He also recommends: “Always raise with these hands, no matter what it costs you to get involved.” With this, too, I disagree.
by Shari Geller
To talk or not to talk, that is the question. This Hamlet-inspired question has nearly the same life or death meaning if you are all-in with your tournament life at stake. A recent episode on ESPN of the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event brought to mind the Shakespeare quote as an all-in player decided whether to engage her opponent in table talk while he considered his move. She decided to talk, and had what she said been picked up, she would have died right then. But sometimes, when you talk, your opponent doesn’t listen and you are given a new lease on life.
Texas amateur Beverly Lange was one of four women left in the field of about 150 players remaining on Day 5. Her opponent, 2010 Main Event bubble boy Brandon Steven, had bet 167,000 into a pot of 385,000, holding top pair on a 4s-Ks-7s-2d-2h board. She snap-raised all-in for an additional 260,000. Steven leapt from his seat when she made that bet, clearly surprised and irritated. If he called, it would be for one-third of his stack. What he didn’t know was Lange only had pocket Jacks, and if he called, she’d be knocked out of the tournament.
by Ashley Adams
A lot of poker theorists, players, and writers talk about “range”—that is finding an opponent’s playing range. This refers to the range of hands that an opponent may be playing. It’s considered helpful in devising your playing strategy to consider what range of hands your opponent is likely to be playing. So, for example, if you have a tight opponent who raises from early position, you might not be able to pinpoint the exact hand he has, but you might put him on a “range” of hands—anywhere from AK, JJ, QQ, KK, or AA. This concept works for limit, no limit, hold’em, stud, Omaha, or indeed any type of poker.
I find this exercise of putting opponents on a range of hands to be useful. And, to be sure, I do it regularly—almost automatically—when I play. But I find another concept to be even more useful. I call it ANTI-RANGE. That is, figuring out the hands that my opponent is NOT likely to have. From my experience, I find that by deducing what my opponent doesn’t have, I can take advantage of many bluffing opportunities that I might not normally consider.
I teach that you usually should make your actions at the poker table swift and certain. Swift. And certain. I call this playing crisp—which is today’s word. Now I’ll explain why playing crisp can bring you mountains of profit. And I’ll point out some exceptions.
Let me ask you a question? What do you fear most about your poker opponents? That they’ll draw out and beat you when you have a great hand? That they’ll cheat you? That they’re superior to you? Sure, you should be concerned about that and more.
Fine. But psychologically, there are two thing players fear most about their opponents—good luck and strong confidence.
Fear of good luck
by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
One of the things I’ve always liked about poker is it’s a one-man team. I grew up playing competitive tennis in and around Texas. When things didn’t go my way, it was one person’s fault - mine. Don’t get me wrong, team sports have positive attributes as well. There’s just something beautiful about being in control of your own destiny.
If there’s one observation I’ve made over the more than half decade I’ve been knee-deep in poker - very few poker players treat poker like a job or a serious business. Bankroll management is one of the most widely used terms in the industry and one of the least implemented. Especially with the overall demise of online poker in the USA, many tournament poker players are forced to play live tournaments. Instead of being able to buy into 10 different $50 tournaments at once, the same player might be in one $500 tournament. Instead of being able to distribute their risk (similar to buying into a mutual fund that has many stocks in its portfolio), they end up essentially taking shot after shot in every tournament they play (akin to buying an individual stock) - exponentially increasing their risk of ruin.
by Barbara Connors
To play quality poker, you must get a good read on your opponents, and to read your opponents, you must be able to see them clearly. There’s the rub. Reading opponents requires objectivity, something which is frequently in short supply at the poker table. With so much at stake, with egos on the line and emotions running rampant, it’s often difficult, if not downright impossible, to keep an objective viewpoint in the middle of a poker session.
But there’s something else that can cloud our vision, something subtle and in a way, more insidious, because we’re usually not even aware of its influence on our thinking. It’s a psychological phenomenon known as the false consensus effect. This describes our natural tendency to assume that other people around us think and feel the same way that we do.
Thinking “outside the box” sometimes provides a great advantage. But it can also lead to poker disaster. Here’s why.
The concept of outside-the-box thinking means that you can stray from traditional step-by-step logic and find innovative solutions that aren’t otherwise apparent. Fine. I do that routinely. Many truly great advances have happened because someone thought “outside the box.”
Poker is no different. When you’re faced with a routine decision about calling or folding, you should often think, “Wait! What happens if I raise?” Raise? Well, you can’t raise. Nobody raises in this situation. Hmm… but what if I do?
by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
In many ways, poker is an investment game. We are investing with a certain strength of cards, from different positions, against opponents with various chip stacks. Each component in the equation will change how we approach and play each hand. Overall, we are looking to ride the tide of the tournament until the end - with only us left with all of the chips.
One of the finer points of successfully navigating the tournament trails is figuring out which players to go after and which to avoid. Think of it in terms of investing. Would you invest against an investor like Warren Buffett (let’s say, selling a stock that he just bought)? Likewise, would you want to play hands against Phil Ivey if you can help it? All of that said, given the cards we’re holding, we’re sometimes forced to enter pots, even if it is against a player we might not prefer playing against.
It’s important to prioritize who we want to enter pots against and who we don’t want to play against. If we create a sliding scale in our mind, it’s possible to gauge our chances of winning a given hand by increasing the perceived value or devaluing any given situation. For example, we can devalue an ace-ten or ace-nine suited type hand if we’re going up against a quality opponent. At the same time, a hand like 7-9 suited might be more than enough to raise into (or re-raise) a weaker player - taking control and willingly entering what we view as a positive expected value spot.
Thursday night. Another in a long history of horrible football decisions made by coaches. It’s time for me to speak about it, because it has much to do with poker.
Warning: Sometimes my moods fluctuate, causing me to project different personalities. If you’re expecting the Mike Caro who is patient, kind to everyone, diplomatic, and semi-modest, you probably shouldn’t read this one. It could destroy our relationship.
By Shari Geller
The television show Breaking Bad and its story of a milquetoast high school teacher’s transformation into a cold-blooded killer has become a cultural touchstone for a good segment of America. As the show wraps up its five-season run, many are looking at the main character’s arc in all its Shakespearean glory and ignominy. As with any great tragedy, there are lessons to be learned from the main character’s rise and fall, including some that can help you - not to build a meth empire, but to become a more successful poker player.