I am thrilled to announce I am re-launching JonathanLittlePoker.com!
Over the last five years, I have been super busy traveling the world playing high stakes poker tournaments, writing books (14 books total, at the moment!) and cultivating my training site, FloatTheTurn.com. I completely forgot about my personal site.
At my site, you can expect lots of FREE educational poker blogs as well as guest blog posts from some of the top poker players and mindset coaches in the game.
You can usually expect my blog posts to be longer than the articles I have produced in the past for various poker magazines, given they typically have a 900 word limit. There is only so much you can say in 900 words! My goal with this blog is to bring you fresh, enlightening content that you cannot find anywhere else in the world.
I also plan to post previews from my upcoming projects, especially when I need your opinion to help improve them. I probably won’t post too much about my day to day life unless you make it clear you want to hear about that. In general, my life is fairly mundane. I work a lot and play a little.
Given I now have lots of educational content to share with the poker world, I want to make the information as easily accessible to you as possible. Feel free to browse my books and video products using the tabs at the top of this page. If you want free poker training videos and exclusive new product information from me, I strongly suggest you sign up for my email list on the side of this page.
If you have any questions or comments at all, or if you find flaws with the site, PLEASE use the contact form. Your comments will help make this site the best it can be.
Thank you for checking out the site. I truly hope you enjoy what I bring to you. Be sure to follow me on twitter @JonathanLittle and check back often for updates.
Steve at the WSOP Final Table. Image © PokerNews
This is a “Retro Blog” from 11/8/2010 discussing the time I spent coaching 2009 WSOP Main Event final table member, Steven Begleiter.
Back when I initially made this post, I was a terrible writer. I decided to clean up the grammar and fix the typos. Believe it or not, but I used to be (and still am to some extent) a sloppy writer.
I have endless problems proofreading my own writing. I constantly struggle to not overlook countless minor, but obvious, mistakes in all forms of writing including books, blogs, twitter posts, emails, and text messages. Perhaps my brain is broken. Please know I try my best!
Getting the Job
Ylon Schwartz and I have never revealed that we spent three months coaching Steven Begleiter through his preparation for the final table of the 2009 WSOP Main Event.
I was initially introduced to Steve through a 2+2 forum member, Ben Lambert, who knew me from back in my sit n’ go days, where I had a considerable amount of success. Of course, my live success also got me on the radar. Given all final tables are essentially sit n’ go tournaments with funny payouts and stack sizes, he thought I would be an excellent candidate to transform Steve into a player with a better than average shot at taking home the bracelet.
It is worth noting that Steve won his way into the 2009 Main Event through a fairly high stakes local league. Ben also participates in this league, which is how he knows Steve.
Ylon Schwartz. Image © PokerNews
I should mention now that Steve is an extremely intelligent guy. I now look up to him as a mentor. He possesses an important life ability that many lack. He is aware that there are many things he doesn’t know and he isn’t afraid to seek help when he thinks he can improve.
Steve knew he wanted to hire a coach so he interviewed lots poker professionals to find the best fit. He narrowed his search down to me and Ylon Schwartz, a chess master who final tabled the WSOP Main Event in 2008. I had no experience with Ylon but shortly after meeting him, it became clear he had a solid grasp of poker.
I was fairly sure Steve was going to pick Ylon, mainly because both he and Ylon live in New York. At the time, I lived across the country in Vegas. I did some negotiating and succeeded in getting the job split between the two of us, which worked out quite well.
I ended up flying to New York three times, once for our initial interview and two other times to spend long weekends coaching Steve. During these weekends, we discussed and played poker constantly. Steve is a super busy guy with a hectic job and a full family life. Despite that, he always spent our time together working hard and quickly absorbed everything I taught him.
Most people, especially when it comes to poker, are stuck in their ways. They refuse to believe they might actually be bad at poker. Steve was the opposite, realizing that Ylon and I were on a different level than he was. He learned a lot from us because he had an open mind and wanted to learn.
Our First Trip
After our initial interview, we decided it would be a good idea for Steve to fly to Vegas and drive with me to Los Angeles to play the WPT event at the Bicycle Casino. We discussed poker during the entire car ride. I think we both learned a ton. I ended up cashing in the event but Steve ended up taking 9th place, which was really impressive considering the field was tough and we had just started working on his game.
Steve with fellow WSOP final tablist Kevin Schaffel at the Legends of Poker WPT event. Image © PokerListings
He claimed the advice I gave him allowed him to avoid going broke twice in the tournament whereas before our lessons, he would have busted early on the first day. That is a good thing! A lot of what I taught him was to control the size of the pot with his good, but not amazing hands, such as top pair with a marginal kicker. You will find it is quite difficult for your bets to get called on three streets by hands worse than top pair with a bad kicker. This means you need to check them at some point. You will find that checking often induces your opponent to either over value his worse made hand or try to bluff you off your “obvious” weak holding. By checking, you extract additional value you would normally miss by betting.
I learned from Steve that most amateur players simply do not pay attention to stack sizes. The concept that each stack size requires a vastly different strategy isn’t something they are aware of. Poker requires a very different strategy when you have 20 big blinds than when you have 100 big blinds. We worked hard on these two concepts and I think he became a much better poker player almost overnight. Steve was sad to take 9th place, but at the same time, he realized it was a great accomplishment.
Working Hard at Home
Back in New York, we ran numerous simulations where we would set up stacks according to the final table stack sizes and try to match up each stack with a player whose playing styles were similar to those of the actual final table players. Steve did reasonably well in most of these sessions, so that was encouraging.
After our first full NYC weekend, Steve decided to play the WSOP Europe. He was one of the chip leaders early in the first day but ran into a few unavoidable situations and was eliminated. While going broke is rarely a good thing, the fact that he is clearly capable of gathering chips means he always has a chance to win. You would much rather have large swings than break even in a poker tournament because in order to win, you have to get all of the chips. Hanging out, waiting for premium hands, is usually not a good idea, especially if your opponents play well.
Before meeting Steve, I assumed I would have to work hard on getting him in good physical shape, as most poker players are not in shape at all. Luckily, Steve was already in excellent shape. There is nothing worse than being technically sound at poker but crashing late in a session due to poor fitness. Once he made the final table, he was frequently in the gym and worked out much harder than I expected. I was, and still am, incredibly proud of his preparation, both on and off the felt.
I also made a point to ensure he was on the proper sleep schedule. If you get tired at midnight but you happen to be required to play until 4am, the wheels could easily fall off. I believe getting Steve on the proper sleep schedule also helped set him up for success.
That’s enough talk about the preparation. On to the final table!
Tackling the WSOP Main Event Final Table
Steve had one of the worst seats at the table, having Eric Buchman, the only other “known” world class player with a ton of chips, on his left. Also to Steve’s left was Joe Cada, who we assumed would play his short stack well, given that he had a ton of online experience. We assumed Antonie Saout, Jeff Schulman, Kevin Schaffel, and Darvin Moon would play fairly tight. We thought James Akenhead, Phil Ivey, and Joe Cada would look to mix it up a bit and try to double their short stacks. We assumed Buchman would try to go after Steve, due to his position, with numerous light calls and reraises.
You may be surprised that we did not assess Ivey as much of a threat, at least as the chips currently sat. Steve had position on Ivey, which automatically gave Steve a huge edge. Also, Ivey didn’t have many chips, meaning he would have to double up a few times before he got in contention. It is fairly difficult, even for Phil Ivey, to double up a few times. In all of the simulations we ran, I (playing in Phil Ivey’s seat) never really got too far off the ground. Starting with a small stack is a huge disadvantage.
It turned out we were generally correct in all of our assumptions except that Saout wasn’t too tight and Ivey was super tight. Early in the day, it looked like Schaffel was going to double through Buchman, which would have made the table much better for Steve because chips flow to the left and Steve had position on Schaffel, but his A-A couldn’t beat K-K.
This was the first crushing blow to our day that few people seemed to notice. It is really bad when a loose, aggressive player on your left gets lots of chips because he will use them to constantly apply pressure on you. That would have been fine if Steve could have made a strong trapping hand, but, if you have ever played poker, you will find you cannot rely on making strong hands.
A Few Minor Missteps
As for Steve’s play at the final table, I was completely satisfied with all of his decisions except two that came up near the end of the day.
In the first one, he raised with 8c-7c and Saout, who was certainly playing the best out of anyone else at the table, reraised from the big blind. Saout had been going after Steve a little, although not too much. I don’t recall the exact stack sizes but I think Steve had 44,000,000 and Saout had 23,000,000. The blinds were 250,000/500,000. Steve raised to 1,500,000 and Saout reraised to 4,500,000. Steve elected to call, which is fairly loose and likely bad given Saout’s relatively short effective stack size. Saout checked on the 9h-8h-3c flop and Steve bet 5,250,000. I really dislike this bet because if Saout decided to go all-in, Steve would be getting decent odds to call with a fairly marginal hand. In general, you do not want to bet an amount that makes your decision difficult. You want to set yourself up to have easy decisions. A smaller bet or a check from Steve would have been much better. Anyway, Saout did push all-in and Steve made what was likely a “correct” call. Saout turned over a flush draw and won when a heart came on the turn.
It worked out pretty well for Joe Cada. Image © PokerNews
If you watched the coverage of this event prior to the final table, you likely know that Steve loves calling reraises with suited connectors. We worked hard to cut that out of his game, especially against good players who will not blindly stack off to you or when you are not getting large implied odds, but he still decided to take a flop in this situation. Despite that “error”, he got his money in with about 50% equity, so I suppose it wasn’t too bad. It is rarely a bad thing to be in a flipping spot where if you lose, you will still have a decent stack and if you win, you will have a gigantic chip lead. Losing this hand was the second major thing that went wrong for Steve.
The next hand Steve lost may appear to be fairly minor, but it had huge consequences, as it helped determine the champion. Joe Cada raised to 2.5 big blinds out of his 20 big blind stack from first position and Steve called from the small blind with As-3s. The flop came Ah-Jc-2s. Steve elected to be bet into Joe, a move which I despise. Cada decided to call the lead. They checked down the turn and the river, giving Steve a tiny pot. I would have much preferred to see him check-call with the intention of inducing Cada to bluff off his stack. Instead of having a realistic chance of inducing Cada to bluff by showing weakness, Steve won almost nothing.
The final bad thing that happened to Steve was actually a standard bad beat. Steve raised to 2.5 big blinds out of his 35 big blind stack from middle position with Q-Q and Darvin Moon pushed all-in from one of the blinds with A-Q. Steve, of course, called instantly. The flop came X-X-X-X-A and Steve was out. He busted in 6th place, collecting $1,587,160.
Life Goes On
Steve giving an exit interview. Image © PokerNews
Steve took his loss exceptionally well and gave a few excellent exit interviews. I do not know if I would have maintained my composure after running fairly bad during the entire final table. He is a strong man.
Steve was an absolute joy to work with. I don’t think anyone else at the final table would have been a better student. Even though he made a few mistakes, none of which turned out to be too costly in terms of equity, I firmly believe he made significantly fewer mistakes than he would have without coaching. If Steve had a desire to make it on the professional poker circuit, I am confident he could. That being said, he has an awesome job and life, which he has no desire to leave, so he will remain a world class weekend warrior.
When I first got the job to coach Steve, I was happy simply to get the job but I am now honored to have a friend for life. Hopefully someone decides to take the plunge with me again next year. I loved the experience. Better yet, I will try to make the final table myself.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends. Thank you for reading.
That is a lot of people!© PokerNews
The 2014 WSOP introduced the concept of the “Monster Stack” tournament, which provides each player with a much larger starting stack than normal.
While it is a well-known fact among professionals that they have a larger edge with a larger stack compared to a smaller stack, the Monster Stack event was one of the largest of the series, attracting a whopping 7,862 players.
When I posted about my confusion on twitter, I was instantly faced with lots of people spewing blatant ignorance. Somehow over the last few years, amateurs got the idea stuck in their head that deep stacks are good for them!
In this blog post, I will explain why the Monster Stack event is bad for amateurs and what they can do to find events that give them the best chance for success.
Before I proceed, please know I am only trying to spread the truth. While it has become clear to me that countless people blindly believe incorrect concepts, if you are an amateur player who cares about money and you seek out deep stacked events consisting of a few professionals, you will quickly find your bankroll is gone.
Playing for Fun
The main reason most amateur players seem to favor deep stacked events is because they allow for “more play.” To them, this means they get to sit at the table for a longer period of time before going broke. This is, of course, correct, because they can lose more hands before becoming handcuffed by a short stack. Compared to normal $1,500 WSOP events, where you are often crippled after losing one marginally significant pot, having a larger stack in terms of big blinds will allow for longer periods of play at the table.
That isn’t a lot of chips!
I want to make it clear that sitting at the table for a long period of time should not be your goal when you enter a poker tournament, assuming you care about money. If you are only playing for entertainment, to complete a “bucket list” item, or for a story to tell your friends, this article is not for you. Those people value experience over money. There is nothing wrong with that at all. However, I try to help people who want to improve at poker, not those who blatantly do not care about knowledge and self-improvement.
In all aspects of life, you can usually find a way to trade money for experience. Most of the time for lunch, I have blended up spinach, kale, parsley, and other vegetables. Yum! However, on some days, I will go out to an overly expensive restaurant and eat fairly unhealthy (compared to raw veggies) food. When I go to a restaurant, I am voluntarily trading money, time, and health for a nice experience and pleasant tastes in my mouth. While I don’t do this too often, perhaps once per week, I enjoy it and will continue to do it.
This guy is clearly having fun. © PokerListings
I think most amateur poker players who are playing poker for the experience view the Monster Stack event similarly to how I view going out to a fancy restaurant for lunch. There is nothing at all wrong with that. Trying to teach me about nutrition and getting a good value when it comes to dining out at lunch is futile because both of those things are not my goals in the least bit, just like some amateurs’ goals are not to win money in the long run.
I am not on the same page as those players looking for an experience at the poker table because we have vastly different goals. If I want to save money, time, and health, I eat spinach. If I want to spend money, relax, and eat cake, I go to lunch. If you want to maximize your equity, especially if it is certain to be negative (the goal, perhaps, should be to lose less), you should play shallow stacked events. If you want to play poker with the pros, sit at a poker table for a long time, and not instantly go broke, you should play deep stacked events. However, you must realize that you are sacrificing monetary equity for experience equity.
Of course, it is possible to have the best of both worlds, playing deep stacked with an edge, which is what the pros do, but you must accept that you will have to spend tons of time away from the table studying and at the table practicing to develop your skills. Most amateurs refuse to study away from the table and do not have adequate time to spend at the table. If you care about money, you must be realistic with yourself about your goals and your commitment to the game.
My problem occurs when someone tells me “I am playing the monster stack because the deep stack gives me an edge” and also “I play one poker tournament per year.” It is almost impossible for that player to be good at the game. I am simply being honest and fighting ignorance. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Playing for Money
If you are playing with the intention of trying to not lose your buy-in, you must be perfectly fine with busting out at any point in a tournament. Some of my best days of the summer are when I bust out of within an hour because I get to take the rest of the day off. I would much rather bust one hour into a tournament than eight hours into it, assuming I am not in the money.
It is easy to make bad decisions with a huge stack. © PokerListings
Most amateur players use the extra time afforded to them by having numerous big blinds by waiting around for premium hands. The problem with this is that they often cultivate an overly tight image and fail to get action with their strong holdings. Waiting around for a nut hand is useless if you only win small pots. In order to succeed in deep stacked poker, you have to get at least a touch out of line and let your opponents know you aren’t playing with only the nuts. If they think you are capable of bluffing, you will get paid off much more often.
As an example, in the Monster Stack event, which I made a point to play due to my gigantic perceived edge, someone raised to 3 big blinds and a guy who had yet to reraise over the course of eight hours all of a sudden reraised to 12 big blinds from the button out of his 75 big blind stack. I looked down and found Q-Q. I folded it with little thought. If my opponent was even the least bit active, I would have happily doubled him up. Instead, I lost nothing. I was not surprised at all to see him turn up A-A. For the record, in tournaments with strong players who play at least marginally aggressively, I don’t think I have ever open folded Q-Q in my life. My opponent’s play cost him around $1,000 in equity and he didn’t even realize it. He was simply happy to win the pot.
Lots of other amateurs claimed they don’t like playing short stacked because they are forced to “flip”. While getting it all-in with around 50% equity is never ideal, you will find that if you can get all-in with around 55% equity or more you will crush the competition in the long run. Believe it or not, it is difficult to do once stacks get shallow.
I will demonstrate this concept using oversimplified, but hopefully enlightening, math. In these simulations, you are forced to go all-in every hand in a heads up match. Notice in an actual poker tournament, when you get all-in, it will frequently be against one player, which is a similar situation. You must recognize that if you are overly focused on getting your money in good, you will often be blinding off, making the math much worse for you because when you win, you will not bust your opponents. This gives them the opportunity to run their stack back up, occasionally busting you despite you initially winning almost all of their chips.
Hopefully you know that if everyone has a 50% chance of winning each all-in, in an eight-person heads-up tournament, everyone will win 12.5% of the time. However, if one guy has a 55% chance of winning his flips, meaning each of his opponents has 45% chance against him and 50% against everyone else, the player with 55% will win the tournament a 16.6% of the time, which provides a hefty 32% return on investment. This is because each of his opponents will only win 11.9% of the time.
If instead of only eight people, there were 64, the player with 55% will win 2.77% of the time, which might sound minuscule, but is huge compared to everyone else, who will only win 1.54% of the time. In that event, the player with 55% will have a 77% return on investment, which is more than most top tournament players expect to have in a tournament with many more people. Hopefully you immediately recognize that if you can consistently get your money in good, you will have a larger return on investment as the field size increases.
It is important to realize that when playing deep stacked, good players do not get all-in against an amateur without a hand that can reasonably beat good, but not amazing, postflop hands, such as A-A on 9-7-4-2. It might be hard to believe, but against someone who is a good poker player, you do not want to get all-in with most one pair hands in most situations when you have more than 150 big blinds.
To make matters worse for the amateurs, pros slowly grind up their stacks with minimal risk by stealing lots of pots that do not belong to them. This allows the pros to get all-in as a significant favorite with more chips than their opponents, killing the amateur’s chances in the long run. Notice in a 64 person flipping tournament, if a really good pro has 60% equity and everyone else is neutral, he will win 4.67% of the time with a gigantic 199% return on investment. If instead, all of the stacks are super short, perhaps the best a pro can hope for is to have around 53% equity on average, cutting his return on investment to 41%, giving the amateurs a realistic shot to win in the short run.
This is why deep stacks are devastating for amateurs, assuming they care about money. This is also why you see the same pros making deep runs in major deep stacked events on a consistent basis while they put up less than stellar results in short stacked events. The math is inexorable.
How Did the Amateurs Do in the Monster Stack Event?
If you look up all of the Monster Stack final table players on the Hendon Mob database, you will see that six of the nine players are what I would consider to be mediocre pros or complete pros in the $1,500 and smaller events. Two of the players, including the eventual winner, had almost no live results, but if you take a look at the events they were playing prior to this event, you will notice they were playing mostly high stakes European tournaments. This tells me they are almost certainly strong online players. If you are an online player who plays mostly on the internet and in Europe but you can find a way to come out to beautiful Las Vegas for the WSOP, you are probably excellent at poker. Only one of the players had relatively weak results and even then, he had some.
How did You Do in the Monster Stack Event?
I got lots of “hate tweets” when I lost, saying that if pros have such a large edge, why didn’t I win? There is a relatively large amount of variance in any poker tournament. How any individual pro fared in the event is entirely irrelevant. You must look at how we did as a whole. Considering that most likely eight out of the nine final table players were at least mediocre pros, we likely did better than average.
That being said, I doubled my 15,000 starting stack to 30,000 without going to a showdown within the first two hours. From there, I got all-in for a giant pot with A-K as an 85% favorite in a spot where I was fairly confident my opponent had A-K, A-Q, or A-J on an A-T-8 board. He had A-Q and got a Q on the river, putting me back to 15,000. I again ground up my stack with no showdown to get to 30,000, and then I lost with A-K versus A-J all-in before the flop to bust. Within a few short hours, I got my money in as an 85% favorite for a two starting stack pot, as a 73% favorite in a four starting stack pot, and I ground up two starting stacks.
I am entirely happy with my performance. The actual outcome (I lost) is irrelevant. Remember, if you are playing poker for a living, you only care about winning equity. Money will come in the long run.
Which Events Should Amateurs Play?
So, which WSOP events should amateurs play, if they are looking for good value for their tournament dollar? They should play events that have the highest variance because those lead to the most flips. This means the typical $1,000 and $1,500 events that have shallow stacks. The Millionaire Maker event is an excellent option for such amateurs looking to play a WSOP event because the stacks are short and the prize pool is huge. If you are looking to gamble hard with at least some equity, that is the event for you. Before buying in, realize you have around a .014% chance of winning, assuming you are a break-even player.
If they play a conservative strategy, they should play events that do not punish being tight with a deep stack. Since pot limit events do not have antes, those are the ideal events for amateurs. Despite this fact, pot limit events attract some of the smallest fields of the series. This is another example of blatant ignorance at work.
My books are a good place to start!
Notice that the WSOP Main Event, which is a giant $10,000 buy-in event, attracts loads of players, and proudly boasts the deepest structure of all events played around the world. This is the one event amateurs should not even consider playing. Instead, they show up in droves.
Of course, the amateurs could spend their time learning the game well before tackling fairly large buy-in events, whatever stack size they provide. That would certainly be a much wiser use of their time and money. Luckily for me, most people find studying to be boring. Poker is alive and well.
Once professionals stop being short-sighted and accept that whatever is good for the amateurs, whether they know it or not, is good for the game, they will fight hard to spread the truth. Sometimes you have to ruffle a few feathers and viciously attack ignorance along the way. I am willing to fight the fight.
Thank you for reading. If you have any comments at all, feel free to share them.
I constantly hear immature poker players talk about how they hate poker and how they think it is intrinsically a bad game. In reality, poker is an outstanding game for numerous reasons.
I read very few weekly columns, but one I never miss is Mark Rosewater’s “Making Magic”. Although his articles are about Magic: the Gathering, a card game that is somewhat a mix between poker and chess, if you have any interest in game design, I strongly suggest you check it out as he is the premier game designer in the world.
One of his articles, “Ten Things Every Game Needs”, discussing the 10 aspects of a successful game, really hit home because, while there are aspects of poker I do not particularly enjoy, such as getting unlucky for huge amounts of money, I realize they are necessary for the game to thrive and survive in the long run.
In this blog post, I am going to go through his list and outline why I think poker is a superb game. My hope is that you see the game in a new light and appreciate it for the various nuances that make it amazing.
Before I get started, it is worth noting that Rosewater initially had 10 aspects of a successful game in his article. I will only be discussing nine of them because one of his aspects deals with selling a game to consumers. Seeing how poker is not sold in the traditional sense, I do not think it is worth discussion. Also, Rosewater mentions that in order to be successful, a game can be missing one of the 10 aspects. Interestingly enough, poker, in my mind, seems to be blatantly missing one of them although I bet quite a few people, particularly amateurs, would disagree.
I am going to briefly discuss a tic-tac-toe at the end of each section to contrast how poker, a good game, and tic-tac-toe, a bad game, differ. It is important to be able to look at all games and see why they work or why they do not. While those points will have nothing to do with poker, I think they are worth considering.
All good games must have a goal. If the players have nothing to work towards, they will lose interest and stop playing. The goal of poker is to win money. Tournaments are a particularly engaging form of poker because you often have multiple goals, such as getting your first double up, getting in the money, making the final table, getting heads up and winning the whole thing. Poker also allows for other non-game related goals, such as socializing with your friends or getting a gambling high. Poker definitely succeeds in this category.
The goal of tic-tac-toe is to get three of your symbol in a row. This is clearly defined and concise.
A Clear Set of Rules
The basic rules to poker are easy to learn and understand. Pretty much everyone who plays even small stakes poker understands 95% of the rules. The learning of the basic, and even advanced, rules is not a terribly difficult task. If the rules to a game are too difficult, people will not want to learn to play. I believe one of the reasons Texas Hold’em is the most popular variant of poker is due to its simple rules. If you compare Hold’em to other poker variants, you will see the rules of the other games are much more complicated. While I do not think the rules of any poker game are enough to stop a hardcore gamer from playing, I can see how a novice would not want to learn Pot Limit Omaha 8 or Baducey.
Quite a few players do not know around 5% of the rules of poker, such as the “oversize chip rule” and the somewhat new “first card off the deck” rule. There are various rules in place to deal with a player who acts out of turn or slow the game down. The Tournament Directors Association has done an excellent job in outlining these rules and implementing a progressive series of penalties for breaking the rules. They actually have a rules booklet that is 15 pages long. You can download it here.
When something happens at the table that is not covered in the rule book, which is extraordinarily infrequent, the floor man, who oversees each game, is given permission to use his judgment and make a rational ruling. While some less experienced floor men get some of these tricky decisions wrong, the best floor men in the world are almost always 100% correct and fair with their decisions. I think poker succeeds wonderfully in the “Rules” section.
The rules of tic-tac-toe take around 30 seconds to learn, allowing anyone to play with no prior experience. While having simple rules can be a good thing, the rules are so simple that the game quickly becomes stale.
For contrast, Chess and Magic: the Gathering both have fairly difficult rules to understand and master. Despite this, both games have a huge following because the price you pay by spending time learning the rules is more than paid back in the form of a lifetime of enjoyment. For example, the Magic rule book is currently a whopping 207 pages long. You can download it here.
That being said, almost no one actually “knows” all of the rules of Magic. The game is designed in a way such at most of the tricky rules are explained as the game progresses, allowing for clean, progressive accumulation of knowledge.
Poker is filled with interaction. Since both players have the same goal in poker, winning each other’s money, both players must fight hard to make sure they have a reasonable chance to win. You must adjust your strategy to beat whatever strategy your opponent is currently or expected to be implementing. When you have the nuts, you have to figure out how to make your opponent put in his money with a lesser holding. When you have nothing, you have to either fold or figure out how to make your opponent fold a superior hand. This can be done in numerous ways, such as talking to your opponent, throwing your chips into the pot in a particular way, or simply remaining stoic, using your overall game plan and bet sizing to force your opponent to make an error. Poker clearly succeeds in this category.
There is very little interaction in tic-tac-toe. There is nothing you can say or do to influence your opponent’s decision to play fundamentally sound. You simply make your move and hope your opponent makes an error. That being said, you usually converse with your opponent, mostly due to the game being so boring, which I suppose is a minor redeeming factor.
A Catch-Up Feature
Anyone who has been brutally bad beat can attest to the fact that poker has an excellent catch-up feature build into it. A game will quickly become unplayable when weak players think they have no chance to win. The saying “a chip and a chair” has become famous because you always have some equity as long as you have some money in front of you at the poker table. I have personally watched a guy go from one ante chip with 18 players left in a WPT event to taking home the title. I have gone from having half of the chips at a final table to out in 7th place. Anything can happen in poker, which is one of the reasons people keep coming back to play.
Tic-tac-toe has no catch up feature. If you somehow find yourself behind, you will quickly lose unless your opponent makes an error.
Inertia refers to something that drives a game towards completion. In tournaments, the constantly rising blinds ensure the game will end at a scheduled time. While everyone may start deep stacked and be able to play lots of hands after the flop, as the blinds increase, the game eventually evolves into a short stacked game dominated by preflop poker. Interestingly enough, deep stacked poker and short stacked poker require vastly different strategies.
Cash games are a bit different because they never end, assuming you are not playing fairly high stakes or at a casino that closes each night. High stakes games often break when the weak players quit. This unique dynamic often induces the good players to play way too many hands, hoping to win the weak player’s money before he quits for the day. Some players sit at the cash game tables until they are too tired to stay awake.
The best players are able to find a balance between always playing with weak players and playing while alert and focused. Sometimes the game is simply too good to pass up, forcing good players to play when they are overly tired and not playing their “A” game. This is a sacrifice they are willing to make. I think the total lack of completion is something that drives hardcore gamers to cash games because they can play as long as they want.
I think tournaments do an excellent job of bringing the game to a halt whereas cash games do a fairly poor job of it. For this reason, some poker players play exclusively cash games or exclusively tournaments. I believe this is a smart decision for the vast majority of amateurs as the games are totally different and appeal to different player types. There is no point in playing one variant of poker you don’t like as much as another, especially if you think you will have the same win (or loss) rate in both games.
Tic-tac-toe ends when someone gets three symbols in a row or there is a tie. This usually takes around one minute per game. Tic-tac-toe does a good job of ending the game quickly, although it likely ends the game too quickly.
Believe it or not, people enjoy not knowing what is going to happen next. Why do you think poker television shows spend time displaying how the flop, turn and river run out after two players get all-in? Most people want to see who wins. You will find very few professionals actually care who wins once the money gets all-in. They simply care about who has the most equity and if both players played their hands in a fundamentally sound manner.
Poker offers a huge level of surprise to someone who thinks they lost a huge pot only to find out they won. On numerous occasions, I have witnessed someone get up from a table, thinking they lost a huge pot, cursing and screaming, only to be told they actually won the hand. Poker makes some people lose their minds.
I personally enjoy the surprise of playing a hand and getting an unexpected turn or river card when playing deep stacked. It is extremely exciting to me to have a well thought out plan for a hand that is forced to change because I did not factor something into my thought process. This forces me to rethink my plan and reminds me to think of all possible outcomes on future betting rounds, which is quite difficult to do all of the time. Poker excels in the surprise category.
The only surprising thing that can occur in tic-tac-toe is when your opponent makes a huge blunder.
While there seems to always be a “luck vs. skill” debate raging in the government, I think everyone who has ever played poker for more than an hour realizes there is a huge amount of strategy involved. There must be a built in feature of a game that allows players to define and redefine their strategy as they become more experienced at the game. You must be able to use your experience from the past to learn to play better in the future. Poker allows for this perfectly.
When someone first starts playing poker, they typically learn some basic strategy, such as “only put money in the pot when you have a strong hand.” Clearly, this does not require much actual strategy or thought. Later, those same players have their eyes opened to the fact that they can bluff, which leads them to think about what cards their opponent is holding. From there, they start thinking about how their hand appears to their opponent. This proceeds until the player learns a somewhat game theory optimal strategy. From there, they learn to think one level ahead of their opponents, adjusting their strategy as they see fit. The layers of strategy built into the game are limitless.
There are mounds of tools available on the internet that you can use to improve your game. There are lots of articles and books available on all subjects pertaining to poker that can help you improve. Some of the best players in the world produce training videos, exposing the plays they make that weaker players do not. If you cannot find excellent poker training material, you are not trying hard enough.
Poker is an engaging game because, at the table, you have to figure out your opponent’s strategy then adjust your strategy to beat their strategy. This means you cannot have a default strategy that will win a huge amount all of the time. The best you can do is develop some sort of game theory optimal strategy, but this will always win significantly less than if you varied your play based on your specific opponent’s tendencies. While you can spend as much time as you want to study the game away from the table, you must be able to think soundly and implement your flexible strategy at the table if you want to make money in the long run. Poker is dense. Dense games require a huge amount of strategy.
Tic-tac-toe has an easily discoverable basic strategy that requires only a few brain cells to figure out. Once you master this strategy, you will be unbeatable.
“Fun” is a difficult thing to define because different people enjoy different things. While some people enjoy wild fluctuations of the money in front of them, others have no desire to have any swings at all. Some people despise losing money. Some people love even the opportunity to win money. According to Rosewater, the real way to figure out if a game is fun is to ask the players at the end of a game if they would play again. I have seen numerous players play marathon sessions of poker because they thoroughly enjoy it. I have seen players show up to their local casino at the same time every day to play a small, almost inconsequential, tournament. People love the act of playing poker.
Poker offers numerous avenues of enjoyment besides the act of playing poker. Some players enjoy conversing with other players at the table. Others like to get away from their “real” life and use poker to relax. Some people love to gamble and use poker as their game of choice. Others like to develop strategies and plays that allow them to push the boundaries of what is thought to be possible in the game, figuring out ways to run insane bluffs and make huge folds. While people use poker in different ways to have fun, they all keep coming back, at least until they are broke.
When you play tic-tac-toe, you frequently play for around five minutes then stop. This is because it is not a fun game.
Flavor refers to the theme or story of a game. Candy Land, for example, is a race between players to find King Kandy. In reality, players are rolling random dice and moving through a grid of squares with no skill involved whatsoever, but kids love the game. The flavor of Candy Land is sweet!
In my opinion, poker completely lacks flavor although I think most amateurs would disagree. I do not think many people think in terms of the pocket cowboys drowning the two red Aces when their brother rides into town to save them at the river. However, in the past, poker was played in the backs of bars and pool halls. Poker games would frequently get robbed or raided by the police. Fights would break out over bad beats.
While this is not the case in today’s casinos, some players think they are doing something risky by playing poker. Other players associate poker with the Wild West, thinking they are like the old cowboys who could win or lose the farm, given the right amount of luck. I think these people associate poker with being macho. Lots of kids watch their dads go off to play poker and think that if you play poker, you must be a real man.
For those who did not know, the best poker players are overly intelligent people who spend countless hours studying the intricacies of the game, not the guys who show up in muscle shirts and try to beat people up. In my eyes, poker is a math game where you have to make adjustments based on the mistakes you think your opponents are likely to make. I do not think of back rooms, cowboys, or proving my masculinity while playing. I simply show up and do my best to make the best decisions possible. However, I realize I see the game much differently than most people because I have played it for so long. Overall, I think poker fails in this category once players become the least bit seasoned but initially, the game has gushes with flavor.
To continue hating on tic-tac-toe, it has no flavor at all.
As you can see, I think poker passes these nine criteria with flying colors. While cash games may have a bit of problem with inertia and I believe the game lacks flavor, the other aspects of the game more than make up for these minuscule flaws. Seeing how poker continues to grow at a staggering rate, especially in locations where the game has recently been officially and legally introduced, you can bet on it being around for a very long time.
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Time and time again, I see people play overly tight, hoping to get paid off whenever they pick up a strong hand. While everyone probably knows to simply fold whenever a tight player enters the pot, it seems like the tight player often finds a way to get all-in before the flop with A-A. The easiest way to avoid set-up situations against the tight players is to simply never give them action.
Suppose a player who looks, acts and plays tight opens to 500 out of his 10,000 stack from second position in the second level of a large buy-in event. So far, he has only played one hand, which happened to be K-K. Everyone folds to you on the button. With almost your entire playable range besides A-A and K-K, you should call, not because you’re scared of your opponent or his hand, but because you want to play a pot in position against someone who will virtually turn his hand face-up on most flops.
The flop comes Ks-7d-4c. Your opponent bets 600 and you elect to call. If your opponent bets again on the turn, unless you have A-K or better, you should fold. If your opponent checks the turn, unless you know he’s capable of check-calling with a hand such as A-A or A-K, you should bet the turn and the river to try to get him off marginal hands such as Q-Q and 9-9. This should be your default line against weak, tight, straightforward opponents. If you think your opponent would bet most turns and some rivers with Q-Q, or if you think he would never fold Q-Q on a K-x-x board, you should probably try to flop a strong hand while simply getting out of the way if you miss.
While this seems easy enough, I constantly see players call the tight player’s raise with a hand such as Kd-Qd, flop top pair, then call down when the tight player fires three sizable bets. Suppose the same action as before happened and you have Kd-Qd. If your opponent fires on any turn besides a K or a Q, you have a fairly easy fold. Even though you have top pair, second kicker, you have to realize most tight players will have a range of squarely A-A, A-K, and possibly sets when they fire twice, making K-Q an easy fold.
As stacks get shallow, look to fold to the tight players’ initial raises. Suppose you have As-9s on the button with 18 big blinds. If a player who hasn’t played a pot in an hour opens to 2.2 big blinds from early or middle position, you have an easy fold even though As-9s is normally an easy push against most active opponents. It’s important to always think about your opponent’s range and how your hand does when called. If your opponent’s opening range is the same as the range he plans on calling your all-in with, you need a strong hand to push.
Another situation that often occurs is when you raise to 2 big blinds out of your 18 big blind stack and a tight player goes all-in for around 18 big blinds. Say you’re playing 500/1,000-100, you have 20,000 and raise to 2,000 from middle position with As-Jd. A super tight player in the big blind goes all-in for 19,000. Some players would assume this is an easy call, but against someone who is only going all-in with a range of big pairs, A-K and A-Q, you have an easy fold because you only have 32% equity against this range.
What this all means is that you should rarely give a tight player action when you have low implied odds. If you can accurately pinpoint your opponent’s range and realize it has your normally strong hand crushed, you have to fold. It’s important to always compare your hand to your opponent’s range, not the range you, or anyone else, would play in a similar situation. As long as you know how your opponent will play in most situations, you will be able to make excellent folds, saving countless chips in the long run. Just make sure you don’t mistake a loose player for a tight player.
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In this blog post, I will list and explain 10 things you can start doing today that will improve your poker game. Even if you only apply one of the tips listed below, you will increase your win rate. There is never a better time to start improving than today.
1. Start reraising with a polarized range.
Before the flop, the vast majority of amateur poker players reraise with one of two ranges.
Most amateurs simply reraise with their premium hands. This is an awful strategy because it turns all of their premium hands face up, allowing their opponents to call when getting the proper implied odds or fold when they are not getting the proper implied odds. If you turn your hand face up, you allow your opponents to make perfect decisions, costing you a ton of money.
Once someone becomes aware that reraising with only premium hands is a losing strategy, they usually shift to reraising with a linear range, meaning they reraise with both their premium hands and hands they perceive as strong, such as A-J and 7-7. While this can be a great strategy against players who call reraises with hands that are easily dominated, such as A-9 or K-T, it is not a good strategy against players who only call reraises with premium hands and hands that do well against a linear range, such as 2-2 or 6s-5s. You will find very few thinking players opt to call reraises before the flop with hands that do poorly against a linear range because they recognize how detrimental it is to be dominated on a regular basis.
Most of the time, the ideal reraising range will be polarized. This means the range consists of the best hands, such as A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, and A-K, as well as hands that are not quite good enough to call a raise with, such as Ac-9d, Kd-5d, and 9s-6s. Notice that by calling instead of reraising with most of your good, but not amazing, hands, such as A-J, K-Q, and Ts-9s, you get to see if you flop well before investing a significant amount of money.
Reraising before the flop with a polarized range also allows you to play a wider range in an aggressive manner, drastically increasing the profitability of your premium hands. If your opponents are unsure if you have the nuts or nothing, they will have a terribly difficult time playing against you, forcing them to make costly mistakes.
2. Start continuation betting more in heads up pots.
While most amateur players know to continuation bet on the flop when their hand improves, they often fail to continuation bet when they totally miss the flop. When against only one opponent, especially on flops that should be good for your range and bad for your opponent’s range, you should continuation bet almost every time.
For example, if you make a preflop raise from early position and only the big blind calls, if the flop comes A-7-3, K-Q-2, or 8-4-2, you should continuation bet every time. Flops you should consider checking behind on include 8d-7d-2s and 6c-5c-4c because, on average, those should be much better for your opponent’s range than for yours. That being said, if you raise from all positions with a decently wide range, as I suggest in my books, you can get away with continuation betting on almost all boards a high percentage of the time because any flop could conceivably connect with your hand. Notice if you only raise with a tight range from a specific position, you should continuation bet less often on certain flops because it will occasionally be clear that the flop is terrible for your range.
3. Start two barreling more.
While many players have become somewhat comfortable with continuation betting on most flops, they have yet to realize that they should often be firing again on the turn, even when they have nothing. As the continuation bet has become more main stream, observant players have started calling or raising them with a wider range. To combat your opponents calling your continuation bets with a wide range, you should continue betting the turn with a wide range, at least until they make additional adjustments.
Also, make a point to almost always bet again on the turn when the board drastically changes, such as when an obvious draw completes, or when you pick up additional equity, such as when you turn a flush draw, assuming you do not expect to get check-raised. You will be surprised at how often a turn bet will steal the pot.
4. Start getting comfortable postflop.
As you move up to higher stakes, you will find that most of the large pots occur due to betting after the flop. The problem with this, at least for most amateurs, is that they only have experience playing before the flop. This is because most local casinos have a goal of getting tournaments over quickly so the players can hop into cash games.
If you want to move up in the tournament poker world, you must get comfortable with not getting all of your money in before the flop. While this creates more situations where you are uncertain about the relative strength of your hand, you will find that, with practice, the turn and river become where you want to invest most of your money.
5. Start putting your opponents on a range of hands.
If you are not putting your opponents on a range of hands during every hand of poker you witness, you are not playing correctly. If you only pay attention when you are involved in a pot, you will fail to develop vital reads on your opponents, costing you a ton of equity whenever you enter a pot. By failing to pay attention, you also miss out on time spent learning how to put players on ranges. If you make a point to mindfully practice whenever you are at the poker table, your skills will improve. If you don’t pay attention, expect to lose in the long run.
6. Start practicing other forms of poker.
Especially if you want to play poker tournaments, I strongly suggest you learn to play both short handed and heads up. The vast majority of amateur poker players are deathly afraid of playing against only a few opponents because they are forced to play hands they view as weak. In reality, they don’t understand how hand values change. This causes them to either over adjust or under adjust, leading to huge errors.
While this lack of understanding is not much of a problem if you constantly play at a full table, in tournaments you are forced to play short handed when most of the money is on the line. If you don’t know how to play short handed, you will be at a huge disadvantage.
Cash game players are not exempt from this concept. The most profitable opportunities in cash games often arise when you can start a game with only a few other players or late at night when the table is about to break. This allows you to play many more hands than normal against the weakest players at the table, allowing you to have a huge win rate. If you refuse to play short handed, you will miss out on these prime earning opportunities.
I also suggest you learn to play other games besides no-limit hold’em. Learning other games will force you to break free from any sort of default thinking you may have about standard poker strategy. That being said, don’t spend too much time on the other games because most of your time should be focused on the game you expect to be the most profitable in the long run.
This is not me, but it is close enough.
7. Start getting in shape.
Most amateur poker players think poker is only played on the felt. Most players at the very top of the game perform the technical aspects of poker amazingly well. What separates them is their mental and physical conditioning. If one player can play well for 8 hours and another can play well for 12 hours, the player who can play well for 12 hours will almost certainly win more money in the long run. Being in excellent physical shape will allow you to play longer hours without losing mental focus or emotional control.
The most obvious way to get in better shape is to exercise regularly. If you are just starting to work out, don’t push yourself too hard. There is nothing wrong with starting slowly and gradually progressing to a more strenuous routine. If you are clueless about where to start, hire a trainer or study the subject online. I suggest you work out moderately before each of your poker sessions. This will help you get in the zone, allowing you to think more clearly.
While working out is obvious to most people, eating right is often ignored. You must become aware that what you put into your mouth will directly alter your physical condition and mindset. If you constantly eat pasta and ice cream, you should expect to have cloudy judgment and be overweight. If you eat lean meat and vegetables, you will think clearly and be in shape. Going from eating total crap to eating a healthy diet has changed my life. I strongly suggest you look into it.
8. Start sleeping right.
I know that if I do not sleep for at least 7 hours per night, I will not play my best poker the next day. It is as simple as that. I make getting at least 7 hours of sleep my highest priority when I know I will play poker the next day. If my friends want to hang out late at night or there is a business issue that demands my attention, I ignore them and go to sleep. I much prefer thinking with a clear mind. If I am tired at the poker table, it means I made a severe error the previous night.
9. Start writing down and reviewing your hands.
If you do not review your play at the end of most of your sessions, you are missing out on lots of valuable educational time. I suggest you carry a notebook with you and write down every significant hand of poker you play for the rest of your life. You will be shocked how your memory will fail you if you try to remember all of your hands. I have created a free video explaining exactly how I have recorded all of my hands at the poker table for the last few years.
Once you have your hands recorded, you can then discuss them with your friends and poker coach. You can also review them at the end of the day to see if you made any clear errors. On most days, I am usually unhappy with a few hands I played. I make a point to figure out where I went wrong and adjust accordingly. Over time, you should hopefully see your errors decrease and your win rate increase.
10. Start studying poker.
If you spend most of your time dedicated to poker actually sitting at the poker table, you are not studying enough. Before I ever played a hand of poker for real money, I diligently read over 10 poker books. By studying before I played, I had a huge advantage over my competition who learned primarily through experience. Once I started playing, I became excellent at the game by spending around half of my time studying and the other half playing.
Today, you can easily learn by watching training videos and reading books from the best players in the world. I have published a number of books as well as a training site, FloatTheTurn.com where I post poker training videos on a regular basis. Of course, I suggest you study from other world class players as well. I am a member of several training sites and I study poker training videos on a regular basis.
Check out my training videos
I have discovered that live webinars are a much better learning tool than either books or standard training videos because they allow for a high amount of interaction between the audience and the instructor. Interaction is the key. I host a monthly Q&A webinar for all FloatTheTurn.com members and I also produce a webinar about once per month where I discuss a specific subject in great detail. Going into a high amount of detail on a specific subject is an excellent way to learn, especially for advanced players who have already mastered the basic fundamentals of the game. For information on my past webinars, check out my product page. For information about my future live webinars, sign up for my email list.
If you have the resources, I strongly suggest you hire a poker coach. You will find that the most cost-effective way to do this is usually to hire someone who plays slightly higher stakes than you play. If you normally play $2/$5 at your local casino, hire someone who beats the $5/$10 games. If you play $1,000 tournaments, hire someone who does well in the $3,500 tournaments on a regular basis. If you find you do not work well with a particular coach, find someone else. As the customer, you should make a point to get everything you desire from a poker training experience.
I hope you have enjoyed these 10 tips to help you improve your poker game.
If you have any suggestions or comments, please let me know. Thank you for reading!
In this blog post I am going to reveal to you a flaw I currently have in my game. I am also going to explain the actions I am taking to fix it. I hope you enjoy this candid look into my mind.
I recently had the pleasure of playing the $3,500 Borgata Poker Open World Poker Tour event. I must admit, Borgata has done an excellent job of cultivating their poker community and constantly growing their games. They were one of the first casinos to lower the buy-in of their main events to $3,500, which made it much easier weak players satellite into the main event, making the event quite profitable for professional poker players, despite the decreased buy-in.
(As a brief aside for those who do not know, Expected Profit = ((Return on Investment x Buy-in) – Rake))
On both Day 1a and 1b, I got lots of money in good and only a bit in bad, so I am happy with that. Believe it or not, I somehow got all-in with a set on BOTH days and lost to a draw. Fun times!
I think this event was one of my best tournament showings to date. I focused well and generally made accurate reads. However, there is one hand I butchered, which I will discuss later in this posts.
I have been focusing hard on trusting my reads. In a recent webinar I hosted with perhaps the best people-reader in poker, Phil Hellmuth, he discussed how he trusts his reads entirely. In the past, I have been a bit afraid to blindly trust my reads, especially when they didn’t make logical sense. Below are two hands where I had overly strong reads. On the first, I trusted them and on the second, I let my analytical brain control my actions, leading to devastating results.
A Big Call
I raised to 525 at 100/200 from 2nd position with As-Kc out of my 61,000 chip stack. A 40 year old guy who was perhaps on tilt reraised to 1,500 out of his 21,000 chip stack from the lojack seat. I reraised to 3,500 and he instantly called.
The flop came 7c-5c-4s. I bet 4,000 and he instantly went all-in for 13,500 more. I didn’t think too long before calling. I had his Ad-Td in bad shape. He failed to improve and I scooped a nice pot.
Math is fun!
Everyone at the table told me what an amazing call it was, but in my mind, it was fairly easy. I needed to win around 32% of the time to break even based on the pot odds. If my opponent had a strong hand, such as Q-Q or 6-6, I have somewhere between 23% and 30% equity, making my call a small loser. If he had a set, I am drawing nearly dead, which would be a disaster. However, I thought he would tend to slow play a set most of the time. If he had any unpaired draw, I have between 45% and 60%, meaning I should call. If he was losing his mind with a random unpaired hand, I have between 75% and 85% equity.
Of course, you cannot simply average these numbers and see where you stand. You have to figure out how much of his range is made up of each type of hand. For example, if he only has overpairs in his range, I have an easy fold. If he has overpairs and draws, I have to reluctantly call. If he is running a lot of bluffs, I have an easy call. That being said, it is difficult to know if your opponent is capable of running an insane bluff for all of his chips for no good reason.
Luckily for me, I had developed fairly strong reads on my opponent. First off, he was clearly tilty. He seemed like someone who was capable of thinking, meaning I thought he at least somewhat knew what he looked like to me. After I continuation bet the flop, he instantly went all-in. This made me think he either had a premium hand, a draw, or nothing. Since I am in fine shape against both nothing and a draw and it is very difficult for him to actually have a premium hand on this board, his quick all-in made me think my hand was in at least marginal shape.
I am sure I also picked up on some subconscious tells I am not even aware of. You will find that after you play poker every day for around five years, you simply “know”. This is one of those spots where I was about as confident as I could be that he was bluffing.
(Almost) A Big Fold
This next hand was my bust-out hand from the tournament.
Despite a nice start to the day, getting to 100,000 chips, I found myself back with a short stack after making trips and losing to a full house then losing with 5-5 versus A-K.
In this hand, I raised to 2,200 out of my 23,000 stack at 500/1,000+100 with Kh-9c from the hijack seat. A super splashy LAG 40 year old called from the small blind and a kid who was clearly an amateur who played a relatively tight, passive style called from the big blind.
The flop came Ks-Qd-4c. The Small Blind checked. The Big Blind thought for a few seconds before checking. I got the drift that he wanted to bet but elected to check instead. I decided to bet 2,600 to hopefully induce the Small Blind to lose his mind and raise me with air, which he was certainly capable of. The Small Blind quickly folded and the Big Blind thought for around a minute before saying “Raise” and putting in a 5,000 chip. He was told he had to put in 5,200, which he did. I elected to call.
The turn was the (Ks-Qd-4c)-8c. My opponent thought for a while before asking me how much I had left in my stack. After that, he went all-in. I called and lost to his Kd-Qc.
Where Did I Go Wrong?
While checking back the flop would have saved the most money, I think betting the flop for value, protection, and perhaps to get the Small Blind to spaz out is mandatory. However, once the tight passive amateur in the big blind check-raised, I think I should have found an easy fold.
His weird flop check plus his misclick min-raise should have made it blatantly clear to me that he was not messing around. If you are unaware, when someone tries to raise and is so excited that he cannot figure out 2,600 x 2 in his head, he usually has a premium hand.
I somehow convinced myself that he might take this line with A-Q, Q-J, J-T, or perhaps and K. Obviously my thought process was awful. This specific opponent was simply NEVER messing around in this spot.
Given my flop call, I do think calling off on the river is somewhat mandatory. I don’t like it, but I think it is the only play that makes sense as I expected him to go all-in with his entire flop check-raising range, which I thought contained some worse made hands that I beat. It is worth mentioning that when someone asks you how much you have left before going all-in, he usually has a premium hand. K-9 loses to all premium hands. Maybe I could have saved my last 13 big blinds.
Before I conclude this post, I want to mention that it takes an incredibly high amount of skill at any game to accurately figure out the difference between bad luck and bad play. While my bust-out hand could be simply viewed as a cooler where most players go broke every time, I do not see it that way. I view my bust-out hand as a purely avoidable situation. Although folding the flop would have only saved me a paltry 18 big blind stack, I should have folded and tried to run up my stub.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not looking back at this hand and thinking “I clearly played it wrong because I lost.” I do not care in the least bit whether or not I lose a poker hand, regardless of the stakes. All I care about is making good decisions that win equity in the long run. While I feel like I do a good job of that most of the time, the K-9 hand was a clear mistake. I have to make a point to not commit the same error twice.
What can I learn from this?
Throughout this tournament I made numerous good calls and what I believe to be a few good folds. However, it is obvious to me that, especially when stacks start to shrink, I become much more inclined to make decisions based purely on the math I learned many years ago as an online player. When you have almost no reads on your opponent, all you have to rely on is math. That is not the case with live poker.
When you have a 23 big blind stack, you should rarely be looking to fold top pair. Since I knew my opponent was not messing around, I should have made the disciplined fold. Online, except in the rarest circumstances, knowing my opponent was not messing around would be impossible. Live, it should have been crystal clear.
Given I have worked hard to develop fairly strong reading abilities which seem to be accurate way more often than they are not, I should rely more heavily on them.
In the future, I will work harder on making big folds. The problem with being good at folding is that you usually need your folds to be right a huge percentage of the time whereas your calls rarely need to be correct in order for them to be profit, due to pod odds. This problem leads me to often call off a bit too wide, especially against reasonably active players.
There you have it! I need to put more trust in my reads, especially when it comes to folding.
Now that I have put this out there for everyone to read, expect me to never fold again!
If you enjoyed this type of hand analysis and want more, I strongly suggest you check out my book The Main Event with Jonathan Little.
Thank you for reading. Good luck in your games.
[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]After tons of requests from my students, I thrilled to announce that two of my books are now available in the audiobook format on Audible.com.
My first book, Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker, Volume 1, which is a must-read for all aspiring tournament poker players, gives a detailed outline of my tournament poker strategy and also strives to teach the readers (and now listeners!) how to learn to think for themselves, allowing them to profitably navigate any situation they encounter at the poker table.
I actually read the entire book myself while sitting in the super high-tech sound studio in the image to the right. It was a long process but I am thoroughly happy with the final results.
Positive Poker, which I co-wrote with Dr. Patricia Cardner, has been called the definitive book on poker psychology. Even though the book is relatively new, it is already making waves in the poker community, with many top professionals adopting the strategies it outlines in order to improve their mental game.
Personally, I love audiobooks. When I used to spend a ton of time training for the NYC marathon, audiobooks kept my mind occupied. I also listen to them when I am driving in a car, flying on a plane, or running errands around town. I find that audiobooks allow me to spend lots of time learning that I used to simply waste.
Amazon is working hard to promote the use of audiobooks and is willing to give you a two free books just to get you to try them. Please be aware that this is a one-time offer. If you have already signed up for a free 30-day trial through another audiobook, you will not be able to get my books for free.
You can get both of the books for FREE by following these four simple steps:
For Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker, Volume 1, go to the audiobook page on Audible. For Positive Poker, go to the audiobook page on Audible.
You will be asked to sign up for a FREE 30-day trial.
After signing up, you will be prompted to download the book to your device, either your computer, tablet, or phone.
After you listen to the book, feel free to cancel your account if you don’t want to listen to any additional audiobooks. You will not be charged if you cancel your account within 30 days. There aren’t too many poker books on Audible yet, but I am doing my best to change that! Amazon is willing to give you the first book for free because they think you will love the format and will want to listen to many more books.
If you enjoy my books, in any format, please submit your honest feedback. That will (hopefully) let other people know that the products are of excellent quality and worth studying. Thank you![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][image_with_animation image_url=”4188″ alignment=”right” animation=”Fade In” img_link_target=”_self” img_link=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NIZ5810/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00NIZ5810&linkCode=as2&tag=floa05-20&linkId=VHORCWJAMJYBGIFC”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][image_with_animation image_url=”4189″ animation=”Fade In” img_link_target=”_self” img_link=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NUHZ7IA/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00NUHZ7IA&linkCode=as2&tag=floa05-20&linkId=6IE5LMYB5YF5M5VM”][/vc_column][/vc_row]
“Leveling up” refers to when you make a breakthrough in your thought process about poker that allows you to take your game to the next level.
Poker is awesome because every player has the capability to get better, assuming he is willing to put in the requisite time and energy, studying the game diligently both at and away from the table.
In this article, I am going to list a few of the concepts I have learned during different stages of my career that propelled me from being a weak tight nit who was scared to put money into the pot to a top professional.
When I first started playing poker, I thought I was supposed to look at my cards and put money in the pot when I had a strong hand, as all of the 20 year old books suggest. I was sadly mistaken.
You must be able to pay attention and figure out why your opponents are making specific actions. There are many spots where you have to fold top pair because it is clearly beat. There are also times when you have a marginal hand, such as A high or bottom pair, and should not fold. The only way you will ever learn to recognize these situations is to stop worrying about exactly your own two cards and start thinking about the numerous other aspects of the game, such as hand ranges, your opponents’ tendencies and stack sizes. While poker is a very dense game, if you refuse to get the least bit out of your standard poker routine, you are almost guaranteed to be a consistent loser.
After a while, I became a small winning player. Eventually, I made it to the top of the online sit n’ go world by playing a robust strategy based purely on game theory, which works decently well as long as you are playing with short stacks. As I ventured into deep stacked tournaments and cash games, I quickly realized playing a predetermined strategy will leave you broke.
One of the biggest realizations I made was that my opponents do not have the same thought processes that I have. I frequently hear mediocre players discuss hands as if their opponents have the exact same strategy as they do. In order to win at poker, you have to figure out what your opponents are doing incorrectly. While they have some of the same flaws as you, they likely make mistakes you could never dream of. You have to pinpoint exactly what they do incorrectly then adjust your strategy drastically to take full advantage of their errors.
Once I become a professional, supporting myself financially entirely from my poker winnings, I quickly realized I had to work on my life away from the poker table. In order to succeed at poker in the long run, you must be well rested, clear-minded and ready to play your best poker whenever you step up to the table. This means not partying too hard, getting adequate sleep and maintaining a balanced life. If you spend all your time playing poker, you will quickly burn out. If you spend all your time spending your winnings, you will find you have no winnings left.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do is maintain the hunger for poker. It is easy to stay motivated when you are constantly learning new skills and playing only a few hours per week, but all of that will change when your learning plateaus and you start putting in 60 hours per week at the table.
I have found that playing poker “full time” around three weeks per month and taking the other week off works best for me. Other professionals tend to put in 30 hour weeks all of the time with no problem. I have found very few professional poker players who play at a high level and play more than 40 hours per week, every week. In order to figure out what works best for you, you must experiment with various routines and see which works best.
In order to continue improving both as a person and as a poker player, you must keep your eyes and ears open, especially when spending time with enlightened people. I am constantly on the lookout for new ideas to better my poker and my life. If you never think outside of the box and only learn what is spoon-fed to you, you will constantly remain behind the curve. In order to be an innovator, you must work hard to see things other people do not see. Once you learn to truly observe the world around you, you will be better able to figure out ways to improve, allowing you to continue to learn and progress.
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In poker, and most other games, there tend to be three types of players. In this article, I am going to tell you how to give each of them what they want so they will eventually give you what you want.
One type plays mostly because they enjoy the social interactions. The second type likes to test the boundaries of the game. In poker, these players enjoy running insane bluffs or making huge folds that most players would never consider. The third player type loves to win. While you are almost certainly a blend of the three player types, it is important to realize who you are playing against in order to extract the maximum amount of profit in the long run.
The first type of player, who plays the game mostly for the social interactions, makes up the majority of the player pool, especially at the small and middle stake games. While these players say they care about winning, they actually do not care if they win or lose, as long as they don’t lose too much. They tend to develop a simple strategy and follow it religiously. While most of these players lose relatively small amounts, they provide much of the money that eventually trickles up to the high stake games.
(As a side note, it is important to understand that players who beat the small stakes occasionally move up, only to get crushed at the middle stakes before returning back to the small stake games. That process repeats itself at all levels until most of the money ends up either in the hands of the casinos, which they take in the form of rake, or in the hands of the best players in the world.)
When you encounter the players who crave entertainment, make a point to show them a good time at the table. Feel free to chat with them and be sure to congratulate them on their winning hands. It is mandatory that you do not sit like a statue and ignore them. Ideally, you want to make these players as happy as possible while they play in a game they can’t beat.
The second type of player gets a thrill out of pushing the boundaries of the game. While these players can be either loose or tight, they are usually polarized to one extreme or the other. Some of these players take great pride in folding powerful hands when they suspect they are beat. On the other end of the spectrum, some of these players frequently run insane bluffs whenever they think their opponent does not have the nuts. While most of these players study the game and try their best to win, they get so far out of line that they become greatly unprofitable.
These players are fairly easy to play against once you figure out their tendencies. If they fold when you apply a lot of pressure, apply pressure. If they bluff off their stack any time they sense weakness, try to look as weak as possible when you have a strong hand and don’t fold. All you have to do is set a trap and let them fall in. When one of these players shows their “amazing” play, make sure you congratulate them and reconfirm that they should be looking to make these ridiculous plays as often as possible. These players tend to make up the majority of the middle stake players because they are thinking enough to beat a player using a simple system but are not capable of playing a fundamentally sound game that is required to crush the high stakes.
The third type of player plays purely to win. They are not looking for social interactions and tend to not get excited over the outcome of any individual hand. They make a point to play their best every day. They go home happy whenever they play well, regardless of the outcome. These players make up the vast majority of the high stake players, even though they make up only a tiny percentage of the entire player pool. You will find most of these players are thinking at a high level and generally don’t make too many mistakes. Obviously these are the players you want to avoid whenever possible.
I am the third type of player. I am not looking to hang out and have a good time at the poker table and I certainly do not get a thrill out of bluffing someone out of their seat. Unfortunately, there have been times where I was overly quiet at the table, providing little to no interaction. This flaw is something I have to work on. It is important to recognize what you do incorrectly so you can work to improve it.
In general, you will find most excellent players are primarily the third player type with a little bit of the second player type mixed in. Very rarely will you find someone who is playing purely for social reasons in the high stake games and for that reason, I have relatively little experience playing against that type of player. Most of the negative expectation players at the high stake games are the second player type.
In order to keep your game profitable, you must be nice and make the experience of playing poker enjoyable for the other players at the table. While you may not want to talk at the table or be congratulated when you run a wild bluff, you must recognize that your opponents crave those things. If you give your opponents what they want, they will continue to play the game and eventually give you what you want.
So, what type of player are you? Did this article help you understand the motivations of some of your opponents? Let me know in the comments section.
Thank you for reading!