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-showdown poker against opponents you should be raising, and you know perfectly well this is costing you.
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.
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.