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”?
by George “The Engineer” Epstein
Hear Ye... Hear Ye... The Players’ Poker Court of Law is now in session.
You are the Judge. I am the key witness. I have been sworn in. During a low-limit game at a local casino, James raised before the flop in middle position, and was called by several opponents. The flop was rather uninteresting:
There was no card higher than a nine, no pairs, no connectors, and it contained three different suits. A player in early position bet out. There was one limper before James raised again. One player behind him—Bill—and the two limpers called James’ raise. The turn was not very exciting either. There were no pairs on the board, but there were possible long-shot draws to a straight or flush.
By Barbara Connors
Few things can match the anticipation of sitting down in a new poker game. Every game we enter offers the chance to challenge ourselves, to test out new strategies or fine-tune old ones, and most of all, the possibility of a big win. So much thought and care goes into the start of each new poker session—where to play, when to play, what stakes, how much to buy in for— and yet a decision that is at least as important, when to leave the game, often seems to get made on a whim. Choosing when to exit a cash game can be tricky. Everyone, it seems, has a different opinion, but conventional poker wisdom holds that you should keep on playing as long as the game is good and you’re able to keep playing well. The first criterion, good playing conditions, is easy enough to identify. It’s that second requirement, confidence that you are still playing well, that gets so many players into trouble.
by Ashley Adams
We all know that correctly folding a losing hand can save you money. The better you are at reading your opponents, and thus the better you are at assessing when you are beaten or significantly behind, the greater will be your savings from folding correctly. I’d like to look at another advantage that accrues from folding. It is an advantage that stems from how folding affects your image in the minds of your opponents.
In the old fashioned home game, where buddies play poker regularly with each other, images are fashioned over time. Reputations for betting styles, long developed, are not soon to change no matter what the actual betting may be in one series of hands or even over the course of a few regular poker nights. But in public poker rooms and on line the image that your opponents will have of you is created quickly. In a casino, your image depends predominantly on what you have done recently at the poker table. Exposed as players are to so many opponents, few will actually keep a book on you. Unlike online poker, where note taking is easy (and with the help of some software automatic), public poker room opponents will decide what kind of a player you are, and how to play against you, based on how you’ve played at their table over the session you’re in.
Are you ready for a poker test? Fine. This one won’t always be what you expect. It probes your knowledge of my Mike Caro methodology for winning at poker. That means, the correct answer to some questions may seem like opinions to you.
They aren’t opinions, though. When my correct answers differ from what you’ve heard elsewhere, then what you’ve heard is wrong. If that makes me an egomaniac in your mind, good.
I’ve done the research for decades, so you can decline to take this test and dispute the answers at your own risk. If you do, I’ll still love you, but I’ll be sad. Let’s get started with today’s two questions.
Question 1: Which statement below about the role of psychology in poker is most true?
(A) Psychology is overrated, because correct poker strategy is based on proven mathematical formulae.
(B) Once you have a solid foundation in normal poker strategy, most of your profit comes from psychology.
(C) Most serious poker players ignore opponents’ efforts to use psychology against them.
(D) It’s easier to determine how opponents play by watching for patterns than by trying to determine current moods.
by Ashley Adams
I have found that as my opponents play more “correctly”—that is to say as they cease to be bad calling stations, my old tight aggressive, “ABC” poker is less profitable. I don’t make as much money off of bad calls, which was the main part of my profit, because my opponents aren’t calling as readily as they used to with second best hands. Accordingly, it’s critical for those of us who care about winning to regularly assess what we’re doing and how it’s working and then redesign what we do to take advantage of the changed circumstance. I’ve been doing exactly that over the last couple of years and especially over the last six months. During that time I’ve worked on two things, chiefly: aggression and image. I’ve addressed the subject of aggression in previous articles, and I’ll address it more in the future. So let’s look at how you can make more money by changing your image.
George “The Engineer” Epstein
You see the flop with a big pair in the hole. You are (almost) certain that you have the best hand. Now the flop... Oops! An overcard falls. How good is your hand now? If an opponent has connected with a bigger pair, you have only two outs to improve your hand. So what is the best way to play a big pair in the hole before the flop?
A Typical Example. In a medium-limit hold’em game at a full table of nine players, you are in a middle position, and have been dealt J-J; that’s a premium drawing hand. If no overcards fall on the board, your pocket Jacks could hold up to the showdown; but, quite often, it must improve to take the pot (more so, of course, with smaller pocket pairs).
Could an opponent have been dealt a higher pair? With J-J in the hole, the odds are about 8-to-1 in your favor that none of your eight opponents has a higher pair. Most likely you hold the best hand preflop. This often is confirmed when no opponent raises preflop. (Discount a raise by a “maniac” who could raise with almost anything in the hole—even without looking at his holecards!) You figure that your pocket Jacks is the best hand so far... Preflop, you properly decide to raise, hoping to force out any players behind you who happen to hold A-rag, K-rag, or Q-rag, thereby protecting your J-J, and gaining a better chance to win the pot if an Ace, King, or Queen should be dealt out on the board. Note: If you were one of the blinds, raising likely would not force out an opponent who already had made one bet to see the flop; so, in that case, just call and avoid giving information about the strength of your hand.
by Barbara Connors
Poker is a game of decisions and some of those decisions are going to be tough. If I raise, what are the chances I’ll get called? If I call, will a player behind me raise? What is likely to happen on the next betting round? And perhaps the most important question of all—what cards does my opponent have? Is he betting with the best hand, or is he weak, or is he betting at me with complete air?
And then of course there is position, pot odds, potential outs to improve, stack size, table image, and more to consider. Given all this, it’s no wonder that poker players faced with a difficult decision will sometimes feel the need to take an extra minute. Or two. Or three, or four, or five… When a player takes an extra-long time to act on his hand, that’s known as going into the tank, or more commonly, tanking. For better or worse, tanking is becoming more common in poker games of late. Whether the player in question legitimately needs the extra time to think through a challenging decision, or is not-so-legitimately wasting everyone’s time depends entirely on the context.
Sadly, I must report on a poker epidemic. It’s destroying the profit of millions of serious hold ’em players. And it’s happening before our very eyes.
I’m talking about the epidemic of raising too often before the flop. Many players are doing this to command the table and to reduce risk when they hold hands that have an advantage right now, but are vulnerable to the flop.
So, what’s wrong with that? After all, you see modern players doing it on TV and winning. It must be right. Don’t old-time strategies fall victim to this trending new pre-flop aggression? It seems like it.
But, wait! It’s an illusion When players are overly aggressive, they win a lot of pots. As they accomplish this, they seem superior to other players, but their profits diminish. It’s the only thing that can possibly happen.