Archive for July, 2009

Tip: Put your opponent to the test early in the hand

In no limit hold em, it’s cheaper to put your opponent to the test early in a hand, rather than passively calling along. This is because as you get further into a hand, your opponent will be making larger bets. The bet size is a percentage of the pot, and as the pot keeps growing, it costs more and more to call on each of the later streets. It may seem cheaper to call with a marginal hand on the flop and “see what develops.” But you’ll save money and improve your chances of winning the pot by raising early. Not many opponents are capable of a strong re-raise with air. And if your opponent is capable of a big move like that, you’ll have a chance to pick him off the next time you flop big.

An example of putting your opponent to the test early comes to mind from a recent SNG hand I played. It was eight-handed, $15/$30 blinds (some idiot managed to get himself eliminated at $10/$20 blinds, as usual). The player UTG+1 (second to act) made a standard raise to $90. Everyone folded around to me in the big blind, and I had T9 of diamonds. I had ~$1600 in chips and my opponent had about ~$1500. A suited connector is certainly worth a call out of the big blind in the early going. I’d even call with this hand at or near the button vs. an early position raiser in the early stages of a tournament.

The flop comes Q92 with two hearts, and I check. I’m out of position, and I want to see what my opponent will do. When I call a raise from the blinds, I almost always check, whether I have a hand or not. Leading out from the blinds is often a sign of great strength vs. multiple opponents. Against a single opponent, it can look a bit weak (if I really had a hand, why wouldn’t I go for a check-raise and earn an extra bet?). Plus, it’s just too easy for my opponent to raise me on the flop if I lead out, with or without a hand. But if I raise him, a check-raise no less, he probably won’t make a move without a real hand.

I check, and my opponent makes a standard half-pot continuation bet. Since the half-pot continuation bet was popularized by Harrington as being a “cheap bluff,” the currency of this bet has really gone down. In fact, if you are making a continuation bet, I’d suggest betting no less than 2/3 of the pot. No one takes a half-pot bet seriously anymore. Anyway, this bet confirms my thinking: my opponent probably has AK or AJ and is just taking a stab at the pot. If the fellow really had AQ, KQ, or trip queens he’d bet more to protect against a variety of draws I might have.

Too many passive players will think to themselves, well I only have second-pair, and my opponent has shown strength pre-flop and on the flop: maybe I should just call here and see what happens on the turn. On some boards that may be a prudent approach. But my opponent either has a queen or he doesn’t. If the flop was KQ9 or AQ9 I’d rarely raise here — I probably wouldn’t even call. But Q92 and holding second-pair, I’m afraid of exactly one card: a queen. There aren’t a whole lot of strong raising hands with a queen, and he’s either holding one of those hands or not. Plus, my opponent might not even re-raise me with weaker queens, like KQ, QJ, or QT after getting check-raised.

I check-raise, and quickly scoop the pot. If I’d passively called along, who knows what might have happened on the turn? Perhaps my opponent would have hit that ace he was looking for, or decided to make a large bet. I’d have no idea where I was at in the hand. In the end, it was cheaper and more profitable to define the hand with an aggressive move early.

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Tip: Not all draws should be played aggressively… read the board before pushing

Drawing hands in no limit hold em are prime opportunities to make what’s known as a semi-bluff: a bet with a hand that, while currently trailing, has a lot of outs to improve to the best hand. Most players learning the game quickly realize that aggressive poker is winning poker, and they quickly latch onto the semi-bluff. In fact, many players will routinely abuse the semi-bluff, betting aggressively even where an opponent is likely to call them. The result is not aggressive, winning poker: it’s putting your entire stack on the line as a 2:1 underdog (or worse).

To be clear, a semi-bluff is still a bluff, and therefore useful only when your opponent is weak. You should semi-bluff when you think your opponent has either no hand, or some sort of mediocre hand like a weak top pair, second pair or worse. If your opponent has shown strength pre-flop and on the flop and/or the board is coordinated with straight and flush draw potential, you should be very hesitant to push your draw aggressively.

An example: Your opponent raises pre-flop in early position and you call on the button with JT of diamonds. The flop comes KQ5 with two spades. Yes, you’ve flopped an open-ended straight draw and will complete your hand 32% of the time by the river. But your opponent could have AK, AQ or KQ, trip kings or trip queens and be unwilling to release the hand. [As pointed out by Derek below, if your opponent holds aces this could eliminate two of your outs as well]. In this situation, it rarely makes sense to push your draw aggressively. You may not fold right on the flop, but you should tread carefully.

On top of that, although your hand has great potential, it’s what’s known as a pure draw. If you don’t make your straight you basically have nothing. If you had a pair and a straight draw, a straight and a flush draw, or a draw with overcards, you could have even money or better potential against your opponent. In that case, you can afford to play the hand more aggressively because your hand has so much potential.

But when you only have a pure draw, you’re a solid dog to any made hand your opponent might have. Pure draws are rarely good for semi-bluffing unless the flop is likely to have missed your opponent.

In short, don’t mindlessly push all draws you flop merely for the sake of being aggressive. Instead, read the board and consider the likely strength of your opponent’s hand before deciding whether to play passively or aggressively. If the board is dangerous and coordinated and your opponent has shown strength pre-flop and on the flop, it rarely makes sense to push a pure draw.

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Busting out of tournaments with the best hand? Could you have earned more chips earlier and survived?

It’s the most repeated gripe across Internet message boards dedicated to discussing poker. It’s the source of countless accusations of online collusion, poker site fixing, killer poker robots and rampant cheating. It’s the bad beat that ends a player’s tournament life. Usually the player even had the best hand: maybe he had kings and was called down by a big stack with AQ or AJ, and his hand didn’t hold up. Maybe he had aces but so few chips when he moved in he was called by a player with a pair of threes who caught a lucky set. “How could that guy have called me with that?!!” they ask, and instantly their thoughts to turn to cheating and the cruelty of the Fates.

But usually the problem isn’t with their play, and it’s not with the other player’s “loose” call (which may or may not have been justified given the pot odds as he perceived them). Usually these players are called down on their premium hands by players with sub-par hands that have one advantage that makes all the difference in no limit hold em: a big stack.

A big stack is power, it’s immunity from elimination, it’s a license to gamble and steal and bully and cajole. It’s the difference between offensive, winning poker, and defensive, reactive poker. Much as in the Cold War, the only way to ensure your safety at the poker table is to have the most weapons. At the poker table, your chips are your intercontinental ballistic cruise missiles. When you’re lacking in chips, you won’t be taken seriously, and one missed gamble can spell the end of your tournament life.

For this reason, you often have to lie, steal and cheat your way to a big stack earlier in the tournament in order to avoid desperation all-in moves later on. If all else fails, you may need to gamble a bit with some short stacks or push draws more aggressively than you’d otherwise need to or aggressively re-steal. Basically, you need to do whatever it takes to build your stack and keep it larger than most of the rest of the table. Otherwise, you’re no longer a predator, you’re the prey. You can afford to be behind the curve while the blinds are still low. But when things escalate you’ve either got that big stack and a fighting chance to steal and gamble your way into contention, or else you’re going to be complaining about the “bad beat” that ended your tournament life.

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Tip: Pay attention to escalating bets; a small mistake speculating pre-flop can be a huge mistake later

When the blinds are still relatively low, it’s only a small mistake speculating pre-flop. Sometimes you can afford to splash around with a marginal hand, hoping to hit an unlikely flop or to steal the pot away from a tight opponent. As long as you don’t do this consistently, you add variety to your game, make yourself more difficult for your opponents to read, and can win a huge pot from an unsuspecting opponent if you flop lucky.

But the further into the betting you go, the more expensive the betting gets. Texas hold em has four betting rounds, and the betting gets more and more expensive the further you go with the hand. In fact, for the mathematicians out there, the betting in no limit hold em can expand geometrically. This means that it’s only a small mistake to splash into a pot, but it can become a huge mistake to stick around with a marginal hand.

This is how loose players can profit from their play: by speculating with weak hands, hoping the implied odds if they make a big hand will allow them to get paid off by the river. As a tight player, you need to try to deny them those implied odds. Or if you’re playing loose, you need to extract maximum value with aggressive betting on the turn and river. You’ll make the most money by pushing your hands hard on the final two betting rounds. Just remember: you’ll also lose the most money sticking around for the final two, most expensive betting rounds. The turn and the river are the most important parts of a hand, and usually define whether the hand is profitable or a loss.

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Want to go heads-up with a pro for a chance at $1 million? Now you can!

NBC is debuting a new poker show called “Face the Ace” August 1. The show pits amateur poker players heads-up against top poker pros for a shot at up to $1 million. I’d expect the amateur players to do quite well against the professionals in a heads-up poker tournament. With a level one-on-one playing field, there’s less room for the pros to use their skills to build up a big chip lead against a weak field. And heads-up play is usually a matter of well-timed aggression. It’ll be interesting to see how these matches play out. Read more about “Face the Ace” here: Face the Ace to Debut on NBC.

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Winning Poker Play – Playing the River in No Limit Hold em

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section

There are four betting rounds in Texas Hold em. If there’s no limit betting, that’s four opportunities to earn an opponent’s entire stack. The fact that there are so many opportunities for high-stakes betting is why Doyle Brunson called no limit hold em the “Cadillac of poker” in his original Super System. With so many opportunities to extract value from your hand, a talented poker player can make a lot of money playing this game vs. traditional draw poker with only two betting rounds (one before and one after drawing).

To be a winning poker player you need to have a unique strategy for each of the betting rounds: pre-flop, on the flop, on the turn, and finally on the river. Your bets should tell a consistent story: either representing strength or weakness as the cards continue to fall. Sometimes you’ll want to represent a strong hand as weak, or a weak hand as being strong. But either way, by the time the river rolls around you need to have a clear goal in mind for your hand. You need to judge the strength of your hand, the likely strength of your opponent’s hand, and the size of the pot, and then determine how you want to play the river.

After the river card has fallen, you and your opponent will have one of three types of hands. Playing the river in no limit hold em effectively is a matter of categorizing your own hand strength and matching it up to that of your opponent:

  • A weak hand, like a busted draw – If you’ve missed your draw and have nothing (except possibly ace-high), it’s bluff or check-fold time. You can’t bluff by calling, and you probably can’t win a showdown unless your opponent has also missed some type of draw. You now need to judge how likely a bluff is to work on the river, and whether it’s worth taking a chance. This is where most inexperienced players make their biggest mistake: novice players bluff too much on the river when their opponent has shown clear interest in the pot. The river is not a good time for a last-minute bluff, especially if you’ve shown strength earlier in the hand. An opponent that has invested in three prior rounds of betting is looking for a showdown. He likes his cards and isn’t going to fold to a random, last-minute show of strength. This is especially true if he called a healthy bet on the turn. Most players are not chasing a draw after a healthy bet on the turn, since they aren’t getting the express pot odds to continue drawing. Tricky (or incompetent) players may be hoping the implied odds of catching a miracle card on the river will more than make up for overpaying on the turn, but this is usually unlikely.

    Summary: If you have a weak hand and your opponent also has a weak hand, you should bluff. But note that your opponent is only likely to be weak if he’s shown no interest in the pot (i.e. he hasn’t bet or called on earlier rounds of betting). You should also avoid bluffing unless the river card could have plausibly given you some kind of hand. A big bluff on the river after passively checking earlier streets isn’t very believable if a card like the deuce of diamonds comes on the river.

    If you have a weak hand on the river and your opponent has a medium-strength hand (one-pair, perhaps not even top pair), you should bluff only if the board is very frightening and a scare card has come on the river. Scary boards include boards with likely straights, flushes, or if a card like an ace falls on the river. If you’re going to bluff on a scary board hoping your opponent can lay his hand down, make sure you bluff a healthy amount: 2/3 of the pot or more. The stronger your opponent is, the more you’ll need to bet to force a laydown. You also need to make sure you’re up against a tight player that can actually lay a hand down: you should never try to bluff loose, calling stations.

    If you have a weak hand and your opponent has a strong hand, you check-fold. You were probably chasing with some kind of draw, and your opponent has been consistently aggressive throughout the hand. You cut your losses and fold, even if your opponent doesn’t have the nuts. It’s too risky to bluff if your opponent is likely to have a hand like two-pair or better.

  • A medium-strength hand, like a pair – One of the key rules to playing the river in no limit hold em is this: don’t bet a medium-strength hand on the river. If you have a hand that could win a showdown, but there are a lot of hands that could beat you, you don’t want to invest any more money in the pot than you have to. Your objective with a hand like one pair (even if it’s top pair, depending on how threatening the board is) is to see a showdown as cheaply as possible. Now, if you’re out of position against a loose, aggressive player, it might be cheaper to lead out with a bet, trying to cut off a larger bet from your opponent (which could be a bluff). So you might bet a medium-strength hand on the river defensively, to head off a larger bet. But the goal remains the same: you want to see if your hand is any good by going to the showdown. You don’t want to risk a big raise on the river that will keep you from seeing the showdown if you can help it.

    Summary: If you have a medium-strength hand on the river it doesn’t matter what your opponent holds. Playing the river with a medium-strength hand means limiting the size of the pot and seeing the showdown as cheaply as possible. Usually this means checking and calling any reasonable bet from your opponent if you’re out of position, or checking behind your opponent in position. If your opponent puts you to the test with a very large bet, you’re faced with one of the toughest decisions in no limit hold em. You have to have some sort of read on your opponent to know how to play in this spot.

  • A strong hand, two-pair or better – If you have a strong hand relative to the board (not necessarily the nuts, but cards that are probably better than any hand your opponent is likely to hold), you want to extract maximum value from your hand. A lot of novice players think that winning poker play is mainly a matter of bluffing. The truth is that winning poker play is more a matter of effective value betting than aggressive bluffing. One or two extra value bets over the course of a session — especially on the river where the bets are largest — can make the difference between a winning and a losing session. So if you find yourself with a strong hand on the river, you need to try to get an extra value bet in.

    Summary: If you have a strong hand on the river and your opponent has a weak hand, you should check to your opponent to allow him to bluff. Very few players will try a huge check-raise bluff on the river (it’s simply too expensive and unlikely to work), so if you bet into your opponent and he’s weak, he’ll fold without paying you off. If you have a strong hand on the river and your opponent has any kind of hand, you should bet right into him for value, perhaps even hoping for a raise. The risk is simply too great that your opponent will check-behind you with a medium-strength hand, fearing exactly the type of strong hand that you have.


This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section

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Greg Raymer (Fossilman) 2004 WSOP Champion Washington Post Interview

As part of the Poker Players Alliance’s National Poker Week campaign urging Congress to lift restrictions on online poker, Greg Raymer – the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion – made the rounds on Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers’ staff. He also sat down with reporters from the Washington Post to answer reader’s questions. Raymer discusses the PPA, making the transition from amateur to professional player, his ongoing tournament poker book project (it hasn’t gotten very far, apparently), game selection, and other issues. You can read the Greg Raymer interview here.

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Save $10 on Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em

Save $10 on my new best-selling poker book, Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, when you buy direct from my CreateSpace eStore and use discount code H8J8TAH9

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Daniel Negreanu vs. Gus Hansen on Playing Small and Medium Pairs

Mitchell Cogert over at his “How to Win a Poker Tournament” blog has put together a couple of excellent summaries of Daniel Negreanu and Gus Hansen’s approach to playing small and medium pairs. You can read Gus’ advice here: Gus Hansen on playing small and medium pairs and Daniel’s advice here: Daniel Negreanu on playing small and medium pairs. It won’t surprise you to hear that Hansen advocates a more aggressive style of play than Daniel.

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Poker Stars Bests Full Tilt Poker for Guinness Book of World Records

Full Tilt Poker’s attempt to seize Poker Stars place in the Guinness Book of World Records for largest online poker tournament has failed. Full Tilt managed to round up the 50,000 players they hoped to for their $5 “Record Breaker Tourney”, which would have broken Poker Stars previous record of 35,000 players in a poker tournament they hosted last year. Not to be outdone, Poker Stars promptly organized its own $1 Record Breaker tourney which signed up 65,000 players. It looks like this rivalry is just starting to heat up… perhaps Bodog will get in on the action by organizing a $.01 record breaking tourney?

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