by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
There is an old saying in sports handicapping circles which relates well to poker and to the stock market for that matter, “Bet smart, not with your heart.” In many ways this flies in the face of the notion of many players of always going with their gut and acting upon instinct, rather than methodical calculation. I’m not here to make the argument that there isn’t an advantage to using your instincts in judgment situations where it could go either way, but instincts shouldn’t be your first line of decision-making. After all, instincts come into play mainly in general situations or situations where you are split between multiple options. My point is that you should try to recognize your preferences and do your best to steer away from a route that feels good, rather than another path that is more profitable. Tournament poker is its own animal, and personal preferences (what I call comfort-zone plays) can often cloud the waters when we’re deciding what plays to make or not make.
The classic example of players betting (or not betting) with their heart, instead of making a smart play, happens when effective stacks have shallowed out towards the end of a tournament. If a situation arises where we’re able to re-raise all-in for 15 to 20 big blinds and get a fold from our opponent a very high percentage of the time, for the most part it’s necessary to go ahead and make the play. Many players will forgo this opportunity because they are scared and the play doesn’t “feel right.” To put it bluntly, when does it ever feel right to push your stack all-in into the middle without a premium hand? It’s really important in a general sense to undervalue your hand-strength and overvalue the other variables present in any given situation. This is partly due to the fact that when you go all-in, the vast majority of the time your opponent will simply fold.
by Barbara Connors
Everybody wants to be the hero, even in poker. And in this game, the only thing more heroic and attention-grabbing than successfully getting away with a bluff is successfully foiling one. This is what’s known as the hero call. It’s an extraordinary call made on the river, facing a large bet and holding a weak hand—maybe nothing more than ace-high—when math and common sense are telling you to fold but you go ahead and make the call anyway. And win.
Hero calls aren’t about equity or pot odds. It’s a feel play, not a math play. Some might say a hero call is about playing your hunch, listening to the gut feeling that tells you, “He doesn’t have it.” But more than anything, to be the hero you must know your villain. A winning hero call is about having a strong and very specific read on your opponent. That means taking into account all the information you possibly can about this particular player in this particular situation.
You’ve probably heard that you need to adjust to your opponents to win at poker. That’s wrong! In fact, you risk costing yourself money whenever you make an adjustment. And today, I’ll explain why. I’ve previously taught you about hundreds of adjustments that are profitable. Fine. Now I’m warning you that the practice can be dangerous. If you take poker seriously, it’s important to understand the theory behind this mysterious poker phenomenon. So, let’s talk about it.
Among the oldest common sense poker advice you’ll hear is that if the game is tight play loose, and if the game is loose, play tight. The advised trick is to take advantage of opposing weakness by veering in the opposite direction. Seems to make sense.
by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
Get in the habit of re-raising: One exercise I like to have my students do to get in the habit of re-raising is having them re-raise within the first round of the tournament. If they can squeeze in a re-raise during the first nine hands of the tournament, it gives them the opportunity to do so at the lowest blind-level, assuming a minimal amount of risk. I also strongly advise that students drop down in stakes - where they can experiment without being penalized financially for it. Don’t think that re-raising is only performed pre-flop; get in the habit of re-raising on the flop, turn and river. Also, don’t get into the habit of thinking you need the better hand to re-raise. Oftentimes re-raising is a great way to manipulate your opponent into a free card on the next street - or simply bluffing in order to win the pot at that moment. Also remember that you have a wide range of options as to the sizing when re-raising. You don’t have to just triple the amount your opponent bet - you can re-min raise, double their raise size or even make it bigger than three times their amount for special circumstances.
by Barbara Connors
Why do good, smart poker players make so many bad decisions at the table? I’m not talking about decisions where you made the wrong read, or the situation was complex and you didn’t take all the factors into account. I’m talking about a hand where you had the right read, you knew the right play—and then you went ahead did the wrong thing anyway. Knowing full well that it was against your best interest, -EV, and just plain dumb.
The too-loose call is probably the most common of these mistakes, followed by the way-too-loose raise and the uberloose reraise. Somehow our hands keep wanting to throw chips into the middle of the table even as our minds warn us against doing so. Whether it’s calling preflop with K-J offsuit from early position, calling after the flop with a one-card straight draw, or making an “I had to make sure” call on the river, the end result is the same. You are throwing away money, and you know it. At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you play passive, let’s-get-to-a-cheap-sho
by Diane McHaffie
I learned a new Mike Caro poker word the other day: teetering. I can hear you now, you think you know what he is referring to. I believe your definition is going to be way off. Teetering is described in the dictionary as wobbling or moving unsteadily. Those from the poker world might expect it to mean that you’re on the verge of going on tilt. Ah, but that’s not Mike’s definition. So, poker aficionados as well as the dictionary would be wrong. Mike says teetering is a decisionmaking concept.
Goaded. Now, a borderline decision is one in which your choice of whether to fold or call, call or raise, or check and bet is a real toss-up. Mike describes teetering as “a state in which near borderline decisions exist.” It seems the really vital part of the meaning is near! To qualify as a teetering choice does not mean that the decision is borderline, but instead that it has to be goaded, encouraged, shoved into teetering, otherwise it remains intact, just merely borderline.
I teach five levels of winning in poker. Together they define a path to success and, eventually, to world-class play. Today, we’ll examine those levels, so you can see where you are now and plan for future improvement. There’s nothing sacred about these levels. And five isn’t a magic number. An intelligent poker trainer could define different levels—maybe 2, maybe 30—and they could include other sets of conditions and goals. Still, I think my plan is superior, and I want you to understand it. I’ll share it today.
Remember, I said “five levels of winning.” These don’t cover the total poker experience, because—for most players—there are requirements that come before winning. Like what? Well, you need to know the rules. You need to be comfortable with acting in turn. You need to learn the common language of poker. Fine. Let’s say you’ve done that. Now it’s time to win.
Winning at level 1
You can be a lifelong winner as a Level 1 poker player. You really don’t need to do anything else. It’s just that you won’t win as much as you should.
This level requires you to play very conservatively and to choose opponents who are weak and who play too many pots. This is largely the arena of smalllimit home poker games.
Extremely tight is right at this level.
Why does it win? Even though you’re sacrificing many hands that can be proven to have an expectation of profit, you aren’t sure which they are. So, you stick to the obviously strong hands. By contrast, your opponents are dancing into pots with cards that are clearly unprofitable. If they aren’t, you’re in the wrong game. This is the level where you first learn the importance of always finding players who play worse than you do.
When you enter pots only with superior hands, you usually have such a great advantage that it overwhelms the disadvantages of not playing other facets of poker effectively. Find a weak, loose game. Play super tight. You’ll usually win, but not nearly as much as you could.
Winning at level 2
by Barbara Connors
Progress. It’s something we all strive for in life, in work, in relationships — and also at the poker table. Progress can mean many things to a poker player. It can mean mastering a new strategy, getting more accurate at reading opponents, graduating to a higher level of thinking, but for most of us progress boils down to one thing: moving up to higher limits.
Higher-limit games are more prestigious. The opponents are smarter and tougher, and in turn we feel smarter and tougher playing against them. The challenge is greater. The potential profits are more lucrative. And just being in the higher games imparts a certain stature. If micro-stakes games are Little League and middle limits are Triple-A, high stakes games are the Major Leagues: the elite stage most players can only dream about.
by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
There’s a big difference between passive and aggressive play, but it’s important to realize that very likely when playing tournaments you’ll need to come up with a mix of both styles to succeed. These two styles aren’t mutually exclusive; in fact, they tend to compliment each other. If you’re playing passively, you’re spring-loaded to make an aggressive play (possibly a bluff) with a higher chance of pulling the move off successfully. If you’re playing aggressively, you’re primed to be able to enter into pots cheaply and hit a hand. If you make a big hand, due to your previous aggressive streak, you’re more likely to get paid off on the hand now.
There’s no magic formula for what ratio of passive plays and aggressive plays are needed to make a final table or win a tournament. The main key to this entire discussion revolves around adapting to the table conditions present—as well as your table image (relative to your prior play and the hands you’ve shown down). Don’t define yourself as one type of player or another— simply approach each table with an open mind and be the chameleon; adapt to the situation.
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.