learning the game

Progressive Jackpots

Progressive Jackpots – Your Chance at a HUGE Payday!

Welcome back readers! While the weather may be getting colder, the action is always hot inside the California Grand Casino! Many of you are familiar with our huge bad beat jackpots, which allow a person who loses a pot with a superior hand to make a large amount of money. With the recent addition of double jackpot hours from 2-4am and 8-10am daily, the total prize has the potential to swell to $200,000! There are a multitude of ways to claim your share of the many big cash prizes we have…here’s how it’s done.

High Hand Bonuses

On Mondays through Saturdays we offer $100 to the best poker hand made every four hour period across all of the Texas Hold’em games. It doesn’t matter if you play 3-6 limit hold ’em or $500 buy in no-limit, everyone is in the mix. If you make a hand that is aces full or better (AAA22, both of your cards must be used), and that is the highest hand so far in the time period, your name goes on the board! The person with the highest hand at the end of the four hour period wins $100, and then it resets and starts all over again! It gets even better on Sundays with our current extended summer/fall High Hand Explosion promotion! On Sundays during certain times the High Hand is awarded every hour and sometimes the prize doubles to $200! Considering our $500 added no limit hold ’em tournament Sunday mornings, dozens of flat screens and great football food specials, you don’t want to miss out on Sundays at the California Grand Casino.

Progressive Royal Flush Bonuses

There’s no limit to how much you can win by making the best hand in poker, the royal flush. For Texas Hold ’em the royal flush bonuses for each suit start at $50 and increase by $50 every day they are not hit. Earlier this week the diamond royal flush was approaching $1,000! Don’t worry Omaha players, we’ve got great bonuses for you too including progressive royal flush bonuses. When these get big the game catches fire! Be sure to check the monitors on the west wall when you come in to see how much the bonuses are worth.

Texas Hold’em Mini Bad Beat Jackpot

We also have a mini bad beat jackpot. To hit the jackpot, all you need is to make aces full of jacks or better (AAAJJ), and have it beat by four of a kind or better, and you win a share of $5,000! $3,000 goes to the losing hand and $2,000 gets split up among the remaining eligible players at the table. So, if you were dealt into the hand that qualifies you win a share of that cash prize, even if you folded!

Omaha Bad Beat Jackpot

Our Omaha game has a jackpot of its very own. Make get quad jacks or better (JJJJx) beat by anything and you win half of the $5,000 prize while the rest of the table splits the other half. Just like the other jackpots, if you are dealt into the jackpot hand, you share in the prize!

Texas Hold ‘Em Super Bad Beat Jackpot and Double Jackpot

This is the big one folks. California Grand has already paid over $15,000,000 to players! The jackpot starts at $70,000 and increases $200 every day it’s not hit. Between 2-4am and again from 8-10am, if you hit the super jackpot, your table will split the lion’s share of at least $140,000 and all it takes to win a $200 room share is to be an eligible player at any live poker game when the double jackpot is hit! We just had one player win $83,600 last month. Twenty-two players also won $200 each and the other 8 players at his table got $9,900 each! That’s a lot of happy winners! As I write this blog (10/24/14), our double jackpot is currently at $155,200! You too could be one of the many lucky winners at California Grand Casino The potential is there to score a $100,000 payday if lady luck happens to swing your way!

With all of the action and so many different ways to win, make sure you don’t get left out in the cold this fall and get in to the action at California Grand Casino! Until next time, see you at the tables!

Player Tips

A Poker Life – Part 1

A Poker Life at California Grand Casino-Part 1

I hope your summer has been full of fun, adventure and huge pots! Mine sure has been.

Some of you have been asking me what it’s like being in my line of work…what a loaded question! I took some time recently to reflect on my growth and experiences in poker, and open up a bit about how I got my start, how things progressed, and some of the skills it takes to move your game from casual hobby to serious financial pursuit. In part one of this series I’ll share with you my personal poker journey, from a baby faced 21 year old, all the way to a casino employee with a poker blog…with several large bumps along the way.

The very first time I played cards competitively was not in a smoke filled Nevada casino or a friendly California card-room. I played heads up gin rummy against the most skilled player and most ruthless competitor I knew at the time. I was about 5 years old and at the mercy of my wonderful grandmother. While no money changed hands, score was meticulously kept and no punches were pulled. She never took it easy on me and she taught me the basics, as well as how to keep score. I owe her a great deal of gratitude for always playing to win, as I was forced to learn and develop skills in order to compete and improve.

My introduction to poker didn’t come until my college days. My fraternity brothers had a weekly game that they would play, mostly small tournaments, that drew my attention. I wasn’t the best player in the house when we first started playing, but by the end of my college days I was winning a great deal of free beer! My 21st birthday led to my first authentic casino poker experience at the now defunct Frontier casino on the Vegas strip. They had a grand total of two poker tables and I had the choice between seven card stud, or…seven card stud. Not a lot of choices and not exactly an environment that I was familiar with. Keep in mind this was back in 2001, a few years before the softening of poker’s image and the widespread acceptance that came along with the poker explosion fueled by Chris Moneymaker, PokerStars, and a booming economy. I was staring at a table full of cigarette smoke and players at least twice my age. Nevertheless I was very intrigued and sat down to play my first hand. I picked up the game quickly but must have looked like a complete rookie handling my chips and placing my bets. I didn’t leave the table with chips that day, but what I did leave with was an inner desire to play again. At the time I couldn’t figure out why, but now I understand completely what kept drawing me back to the poker table.

It may sound a bit corny, but what really appealed to me (and still does!) about poker is equality. Sure I love the competition, the strategy, and of course winning money, but the fact that everyone that sits down at the poker table is an equal is what I really love. Everyone at the poker table shares a common interest and there is an instant camaraderie that is formed. It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, what native language you speak, how old you are…we’re all equals on the poker table. When you buy into a poker game, you’re instantly accepted. Obviously this should always be the case, but life doesn’t always work that way. Poker does.

It’s amazing how small events and accidental roads traveled can lead us down a certain path. Had my grandmother not introduced me to competitive card games at a young age, I may never have found my way to a game that has provided me with countless amazing experiences and a profession that I enjoy every day. Thank you grandma!

Part 2- Next time I’ll share how I went from novice player to semi-professional poker player (getting laid off from a job and blowing out a knee in a soccer match were big game changers!).

Until then, see you at the tables!

learning the game

Poker Table Etiquette – Part Two

Poker Table Etiquette – Part Two
I hope you have all been enjoying the summer and the hot weather that comes with it! It is by far my favorite season with all of the fun activities that can be done. When I need a break from the heat there’s nothing better than playing some poker in our nicely air conditioned cardroom here at the California Grand Casino. Relaxing. joking with familiar faces and dragging some pots always puts me in a great mood. You just can’t duplicate that feeling that you get at the poker table anywhere else; it’s why we play the game.

What doesn’t put me in a good mood is seeing players chastise and berate one another over perceived poor play. In my last blog posting Table Etiquette: The Flow Is Good For the Game we talked about appropriate etiquette at the tables,basic good manners and self-awareness. Today’s article takes that a step further.

It’s completely understandable to feel upset after suffering a bad beat but it’s not OK to verbally attack the player that put the beat on you. It makes that person uncomfortable and kills the mood at the table. We’re all here to have fun and win some pots but taking your frustrations out on another player accomplishes neither of those things. In fact it actually hurts your ability to do both. If you find yourself feeling the urge to let someone else know that they made a bad play at the poker table I have two techniques that will help you let go of that hostility and get your head back in the game where it belongs. I use these techniques all the time and have found them to be quite effective. Hopefully they will work for you too.

Inject Logic

Technique One: Inject logic. I use this phrase all the time. I use it at the poker table as well as in my everyday life outside the cardroom. There’s no hidden meaning here. The phrase means exactly what it says. When you encounter a situation at the table where your emotions seem to be getting the best of you use your mind to inject logic into the situation. Ask yourself What will I be accomplishing by giving this player a hard time? Don’t just stop at the question, answer it! One correct answer is you will be making the player feel bad and killing the mood at the table for everyone else. Another correct answer is that you are pointing out a mistake (or so you think) that your opponent made which may help him avoid making that same mistake in the future thereby improving his or her game and making it harder for you to win money off of them.

When you simply look at the facts it’s easy to see what the right decision is: Keep your thoughts to yourself and do your best to let it go. Not only does this help keep the game fun for everyone but it also keeps your head in the game and doesn’t help to improve your opponent’s play. I understand that this course of action is much easier said than done which brings me to my other point:

Know Thyself

Technique Two: Know Thyself. No one knows how you react at the poker table better than you. You know what triggers frustration and anger for you. You know how well or poorly you deal with it. You know what makes you tilt and play less than you’re A-game. I can give you all the advice in the world but it may not be perfect for you. Find out what is. If taking a break from the table for a bit helps you get back on track do it. If you feel you need to stay at the table and muscle through it do it. If you need to vent to feel better do it-but not AT the table!

The bottom line is: the only person that knows how you tick and what truly works for you is you. Understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie and manage them accordingly. By keeping your emotions in check everyone will have a friendlier game and your own poker game will improve.

Until next time see you at the tables!

learning the game

Poker Table Etiquette

Poker Table Etiquette: The Flow Is Good For The Game

I’m sure you’ve all experienced playing at a poker table where everyone is having a great time. People are in good spirits cracking jokes (okay not all are funny) and enjoying each other’s company (and money) all while playing the game that we love to play. Not every player gets dealt a winning hand on each draw but everyone is enjoying good times. The personalities the mutual enthusiasm and some good cards help make poker great for all involved. Yes ALL of us even the dealers enjoy Good Flow.

From the casual low limit player to the serious player looking to pay his or her rent a lively table full of good vibes is good for everyone and helps create the flow. It’s easy to see why a full table of players enjoying themselves is good for the recreational mindset. It may not be as apparent why it’s good for a serious player looking to make a profit. The serious and winning poker player relies on the flow to consistently achieve positive end-results. If players are getting nothing else out of the game won’t they eventually lose interest and look for better flow elsewhere? It’s a collective effort. Nobody is here to play solitaire. We all have it in us. With that in mind knowing and exercising good poker etiquette and bringing your best flow to the table is something everyone can strive to do. Here are a few common situations I’ve come across at the tables that relate. They may seem obvious to some but being aware of these situations and knowing how to act accordingly makes for Good Flow.

Pay Attention!

Be aware of the flow. If the dealer has to remind you that it’s your turn to act take that as a friendly reminder to pay closer attention. You’re not only missing critical information that can help you win the hand but you’re slowing down the flow for the other players at the table. Be considerate and keep your focus on the game while you’re in the hand. Post your blinds when it’s your turn to do so. Improve your odds of play by keeping your mind on the game in addition to keeping up with the flow.

Playing poker from seats 1 and 10

The seats on either side of the dealer are generally not the most comfortable as they tend to afford the player less physical space. It can be more difficult to see everyone at the table especially the person directly across the table from you. Pay extra careful attention when you’re playing in either of these seats. We see players fold out-of-turn when you can’t see around the dealer however the end seats have tremendous advantages of seeing more cards turned before your play. If you cannot see the player that acts immediately before you watch the dealer to know when it’s your turn. Dealers will often let you know it’s your turn simply by turning and looking in your direction. Not sure if it’s your turn? Simply ask. Playing from seats 1 and 10 has a perceived challenge but good advantages so be aware of that when you take one of those seats and make great flow a part of your game.

The Phone

Phones are a tricky topic since many people use phones for different purposes at the table and many card clubs have different rules on what is and is not allowed at the table. The first thing you need to know before sitting down in any poker game is exactly what the cell phone rules are (if any) at that specific card club. Secondly and perhaps most importantly respect the rules. You may or may not agree with the cell phone rule at whatever club you play at but you’ve chosen to play there. Everyone else is required to play by the rules and you’re no exception. Trying to bend or get around the rules of the club makes other players feel uneasy and forces employees to police you which I can promise you kills the good flow. Even if cell phone conversations are allowed at the table none of us likes to hear another person’s phone conversations. Been there. Excuse yourself from the table when you get a chance and finish your call away from the table. If you simply must stay at the table while you’re on the phone keep your volume to a minimum so the flow is not disrupted.


Table chat is a good part of the flow! The camaraderie and social aspects of poker are a big part of what makes it an enjoyable hobby and a large reason many people come to play regularly. That being said if you’re talking to your buddy a couple seats away and there’s a person in between the two of you that’s in a hand pause your conversation until he/she is done with their play. Poker is a challenging game and to play it well requires concentration. Be respectful of the other players around you and keep loud conversation to a minimum during play.

What constitutes a positive poker experience may vary from person to person but everyone wants to have an enjoyable experience when they take the seat at the table. Keeping some of these basic etiquette tips in mind will help to achieve Good Flow for everyone. Hopefully the next time you sit in a game it will be full of happy and respectful players looking to enjoy themselves!

Until next time see you at the tables and keep up the Good Flow.


Player Tips

The Information Game – Part Two

Welcome back poker fans! I’m hoping you enjoyed reading my last article on the Information Game. If not take a moment and read it now. Seriously it’s a keeper especially if you enjoy the game of poker.

All caught up? Good now we can address what we didn’t last time. In the previous article we talked about the information that we disclose to our opponents and why we shouldn’t do it. Now it’s time to look at the opposite end of the spectrum and how to take advantage of all the information our opponents give us. There is a vast amount of information available to us at the poker table. So pay attention observe” listen and focus. Every hand is an opportunity to learn something about our opponents and their game.

Here are three quick pointers to help you turn that knowledge into extra stacks of chips.

  1. Pay attention to the hands you’re not in! We all pay attention to the hands we play” but we’re often guilty of becoming distracted when we’re not in the hand. It’s easy to lose focus at the poker table. Sports on the screens chatting with friends at the table” and attractive waitresses are just a few examples of distractions that detract from you playing your best poker. Some of the best information can be gleaned from hands you’re not in.
  2. “Observe” listen and take note of other players at the table. Anytime there’s a showdown and cards are revealed at the end of a hand you should be monitoring the other players. Say at showdown your opponent reveals queen jack suited (QJs). You should immediately be asking yourself a few questions: What position was that person in when they played QJs? Did they open the pot with it? Did they raise or just call? Simply answering these three questions and making a mental note of your observations will give you a decent idea of your opponent’s style of play. Do this mental exercise with a few hands over the course of a session and you will have a much better sense of an opponent’s range and how they play” which allows you to make better decisions against them and ultimately make or save more money.
  3. Understand that your opponents will not play the same way throughout a session. So be aware of their moods” their actions their gestures and their demeanor. If you have an opponent at the table that is having a very unlucky session be aware of how that impacts their game and how it affects the other players. Keep in mind that players react differently to the same situation. Does this person tilt when they run bad? Do they play more or less hands when they are angry? Do they get more aggressive or tighter? If a person is doing well and getting lucky do they start to play more hands or get more aggressive? Being aware of these changing dynamics at the table will help you to strategically adjust your play against them

Taking advantage of all the information available to you at the poker table is a quick and simple way to improve your game. Notice that I didn’t say quick and easy because it most certainly isn’t easy. Most people are able to play their top game for the first hour or so at the poker table. After that they tend to fall back into their base game and go on autopilot for the rest of the session. Understand what your opponent’s autopilot game is while at the same time avoiding your own. This is an excellent way to improve your overall results and win the Information Game.

Until next time see you at the tables!

learning the game

Continuation Betting

Opening Pots and Continuation Betting

Something I’ve noticed while playing in our games here is the frequency of people opening pots by raising and continuation betting on the flop. I see a large number of people that make a continuation bet literally every time that they raise before the flop. Continuation betting is generally a good play but if you do not understand why you are making that bet or what situations call for a different decision then there”s a good chance you have a leak that you can plug.

If you are not familiar with the term a continuation (or C-bet for short) is when a person who raised before the flop makes the first bet after the flop either when the player is first to act or after everyone else checks to them. It is called a continuation bet because the player that is taking the aggressive action before the flop by raising continues that aggressive action on the flop by betting. The C-bet puts pressure on your opponent(s) and can cause tighter players to fold if they missed the flop allowing you to win the pot without having to actually make or have a good hand. Keep in mind that 65% of the time a player with a non-pair hand does not make a pair on the flop. At first glance it seems that you would always want to C-bet to get those players to fold but there are also situations where C-betting is virtually the same as taking money out of your pocket and handing it to the other players. Recognizing these situations will help you to improve your overall results.

One of the most common C-bet mistakes I see being made is when the preflop raiser gets many callers and the flop comes out very coordinated or what is known as a wet board. A dry or uncoordinated board is one that has no reasonable straight draws or flush draws. An example of this would be if the flop came queen seven deuce all different suits (rainbow). A board of Q72 with no flush draws is a very dry board with no apparent draws. Boards like these are great boards to C-bet as most drawing hands missed and will throw away their hands. A wet board would be something like 987 with a flush draw (two-tone) or even cards of all of the same suit (monotone). Those are boards that if you missed with your hand you do not want to C-bet into multiple opponents. I have seen players raise with AK or AQ and then C-bet wet boards such as 987 all of the same suit despite them not having even a flush draw. Against one opponent this might be worth a C-bet but if you have been called by more than one your C-bet is unlikely to win the pot and your opponents are very likely to be going all the way to the river. Situations like these call for some discretion as the negatives far outweigh the positives. With a wet board and multiple opponents it is unlikely that they will all fold. Making a C-bet in this situation is practically giving money away when you consider the following:
You are at risk of being outdrawn on the rare occasions that you still have the best hand. Even if making a pair will give you the best hand two of those cards that pair your hand also make a 4 card flush on the board. You’re basically drawing at 4 outs. There’s also the possibility that you’re already drawing dead. For you to win this hand all of your opponents need to have missed all their pairs and all their draws. I have seen people make the argument for C-betting the flop and then seeing how their opponents react to the bet and evaluating the situation again on the turn. While this might be a decent strategy against one opponent it simply does not work often enough in this type of situation against multiple opponents to be profitable. You are much better off checking and folding when faced with a bet.

If everyone checks the flop and the turn card is a brick or a scare card and if there are only a couple of other players you might choose to bet the turn. With only one card to come anyone without a made hand or with only a marginal hand may fold. Some of the draws may fold if the pot odds are wrong the scare card may discourage others (for example an Ace comes and they have KQ) and players with middle or under pairs may fold.

If you find yourself in a situation that is similar to the one I described take an extra few seconds to weigh the pros and cons of your options and don’t just keep betting because you raised earlier. You will see your bottom line improve and your opponents will take notice and give your C-bets more respect winning you more pots without going to a showdown! Be aware of the texture of the board and give some thought before you fire out your C-bet and I promise your game and bottom line will improve.

Until next time see you at the tables!

Player Tips

The Information Game


Happy New Year and welcome to 2014 everyone! I hope 2013 was a wonderful and prosperous year for you all. The New Year is a time when many people take the opportunity to make resolutions and fresh starts. I have never been one for resolutions myself but when it comes to poker and improving my game I make an exception. No matter how good we get and how much we learn as poker players we can always improve and we can always get better. People will naturally re-evaluate and analyze things when they are losing but you also can become complacent about your poker game when things are going well. A very good poker friend of mine once told me if you stop trying to improve your game the others that are working hard will surpass you. With that in mind one area that most everyone can improve across the board is what I like to call the Information Game.

Some players do it subconsciously and others do it with intention and purpose but I strongly believe that showing your hand as well as talking about your line of thinking after the conclusion of a hand is a huge mistake and a leak in one’s game. The most common times I see these mistakes are after winning pots. A player will bet on the flop or turn perhaps making what the rest of the table may perceive as a continuation bet causing their opponent(s) to fold. They will then flash or expose one card or both showing top pair or better as if to say to everyone: I had it! I’m not bluffing! I play solid! If you’re someone that finds yourself doing this ask yourself why. If it’s because you care what other players at the table think about you and your game you may want to adjust your priorities. You shouldn’t care how your opponents perceive your level of play; in fact you want them to think that you are worse than you actually are as that will earn you more money in the long run. I would much prefer to be known as the luckiest player at the table as opposed to the best player at the table…which one do you think is likely to get more action?

If on the other hand you’re showing cards with the intention of bluffing or playing a similar hand differently you’re still giving up more than you’re gaining. First of all the rest of the table gets to see your hand not just your opponents in that particular hand. They will all see what you played how you played it and in what position. Secondly the players that pay attention enough to take notice of what you played and how you played it will not be fooled by you when you attempt to mix it up and deviate from the style of play that you exposed. They know exactly what you are trying to do. The players that are not as sophisticated will not be changing how they play no matter what you do so it ends up being a waste of time on them as well. Not showing your cards is one of the easiest things you can correct to improve your game.

Another common mistake in the Information Game is someone at the table explaining their thought process of an entire hand or telling someone why they played something that at first glance appears that they should not. If you catch yourself doing this at the table again ask yourself why. If you’re looking to discuss lines of thinking and genuinely trying to solicit poker advice you shouldn’t do it at the table! Make a mental note of the hand and have one or two poker friends that you respect and trust talk with you about it away from the table. The players at the table are the people you are trying to beat; don’t share with them! Letting a good player know exactly how you think about a hand or a situation is one of the single worst things you can do. If you find yourself explaining why you played a certain hand or why you played it a certain way because you got lucky or are trying to save face you should stop. Maybe you made a mistake and got lucky maybe you didn’t. Maybe you were balancing your range or maybe you had a read on a situation. Whatever the reason is keep in mind that when your opponents think you play differently than you actually do it is profitable for you. They will be making decisions based on flawed or incomplete information which in turn means mistakes for them and more chips for you. This is another simple and quick fix for your poker game.

As I played my first session of 2014 I made the decision to eliminate these negative table behaviors from my poker game as I am just as guilty as anyone else of making these mistakes. In 2013 I would sometimes catch myself showing a card or discussing strategy at the table when I knew that I shouldn’t. I knew better and yet I still committed these poker sins occasionally. If you join me and adopt my poker resolutions you will become more self aware at the table and instantly become a better poker player. Until next time see you at the tables!

learning the game

Poker Lore ….The Nuts

Ever wonder why “the nuts” refers to the best possible hand? The phrase comes from the Old West when not only chips and cash were used at the poker table but any other good that could be valued. A player could end up betting his horse and wagon which were represented by the nuts and bolts of the wagon wheels. You wouldn’t want to put the wagon nuts in the pot with the second best hand. The stone cold nuts must have been the nuts taken off the wagon during a cold night or winter game. Walking home on a cold night was probably even more reason not to go all in with the second best hand.

Player Tips

Poker Tournament Tips

Happy holidays everyone! The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with family and friends and do the things you love. If you love poker like I do then the additional free time this time of year is a great opportunity to try your hand at tournaments! Some of you may be familiar with no limit hold’em poker tournaments already but for those that aren’t here’s a quick break down as well as some basic strategy tips to help you reach the final table.

In a typical no limit tournament everyone pays a fixed buy in amount and receives the same amount of tournament chips. The blinds increase at regular intervals thus driving the action. You have to win pots or the blinds will eat up your stack. Play continues until one person has all of the chips with players paid out based on their order of finish.

Navigating a tournament field is no easy task. At any time it only takes one bad decision or one bad beat to end your chances and send you to the rail. If you understand that then you already have a grasp on one of the most important differences between playing in cash games and playing in tournaments. Once you lose your chips you are out and the game is over. There are two basic ways to use this fact to alter and improve your tournament play.

Avoid chasing draws and taking unnecessary risks. When you call to chase draws or play marginal hands you’re risking valuable chips that could be saved and used in a much better situation. Chips you already have are usually more valuable than the chips you might gain. If you call chasing a draw and hit your card the card may scare your opponent and you won’t get paid off. Playing marginal hands usually leads to tough decisions and disadvantageous situations: you simply don’t have enough chips in a tournament to justify it unless you are short stacked. This leads me to my next tip.

Use aggression and the fear of going bust to your advantage! A player who understands the concept of going bust and being eliminated will play tighter and more cautiously and rightfully so. The savvy player will pick up on this and use this to their advantage. Chasing draws is often times a poor decision in most varieties of poker however if you flop a draw and play it aggressively your opponent is the one in the tough situation. Take the following example and see how the way you play it changes the entire makeup of the hand.

The blinds are at 20-40 and everyone at the table has roughly 750 in chips including you. You are in the big blind and are dealt 9h 8h. The play folds around to the button who raises to 100. The small blind folds and you call. There is 220 in the pot you and your opponent have about 650 in chips and the flop comes Kc 7h 6d. You check and your opponent bets 140. What should you do? If you decide to be passive and call the pot will swell to 500 you will have 510 left and you will be looking at a turn card out of position. If you miss your card on the turn you either have to bluff and lead with a bet into your opponent risking that he has a hand and is likely to eliminate you or you can check to your opponent who is likely to bet an amount that is close to your entire stack. You will be forced to fold or put your tournament life on the line with one card to come. You have just lost one third of your stack chasing a draw and you only got one card more! You didn’t even get to see the river before committing your chips!

Now consider playing this hand differently. Your opponent bets 140 on the flop and you raise him or her to 340. Your opponent now faces calling an additional 200 but he or she also knows that if they make the call they will likely have to call your remaining 310 putting them all in on the turn. With your small raise of 200 you have turned the tables on them and made them make a decision for their tournament life. Think of all the hands your opponent might raise with that would fold in this situation. Any pocket pair that isn’t aces and didn’t flop a set is in a very tough situation and would likely fold. AQ AJ AT Ax and any other raising hand that doesn’t contain a K is likely to fold as well. On the off chance they have top pair with a K they will still have to hold up against your open ended straight draw. More often than not they will fold and you will take down a nice pot without a showdown or a made hand. Occasionally they will call or go all in and you will still have a decent chance to win a bigger pot. It is a great situation to try and accumulate chips that will help you reach the final table.

No limit hold’em tournaments are great ways to play a different form of poker than cash games limit how much you can lose and still have a chance to make a big score. Understanding the differences between cash games and tournaments will help give you an edge on the competition and guide you to making better decisions at the table. Remember to avoid taking unnecessary risks and chasing draws. Use aggression and your opponents’ fear of going bust to your advantage. These basic tips will help you to get deeper into tournaments and hopefully reach that final table. Next time we’ll take a deeper look into final table tournament play and I’ll have a couple more key tips that can help get you that big score! Until next time see you at the tables!

Our Sunday morning tournament at the California Grand is a perfect way try out these tips. The buy in is only $55 and the California Grand adds additional prize money to the prize pool. The tournament starts at 10:30am but sign ups start at 8am for cash game players and 8:30am for all other entrants. The spots fill up fast so be sure to get here early!

learning the game

Playing Small Pairs NLHE

Playing Small Pairs Before the Flop in No Limit Hold’em Poker

The holiday season is the perfect time to take a step back and be thankful for all of the wonderful things in life. If you’re anything like me one of those wonderful things is taking all of someone’s chips with a well hidden hand. One of the best hands for accomplishing this is small pocket pairs. Just as we discussed last week when we were dealing with limit hold’em small pairs can be very tricky hands to play in no limit hold’em. The fact that we are now playing no limit does not change this fact one bit. As is true with virtually all poker decisions understanding the specific situation you are in and what factors to consider will help to guide you to the best decision.

We are going to define small pairs as any pocket pair from 2’s through 6’s. In no limit hold’em as opposed to limit the factors we are looking for change slightly. Position is important but no limit brings with it two new things to consider: stack sizes and bet sizing. It is incredibly important to take note of every player’s stack size before making your decision just as it is to bet the proper amount after you’ve made the decision to bet. Let’s examine how bet sizing and stack sizes may affect your pre-flop play.

You are in a no limit game where the big blind is $3 and the maximum buy in is $200. Everyone at the table has roughly a full buy in including you. You are on the button and look down at pocket 3’s. Three people limp into the pot for $3 and the action is now on you. What is your play? Clearly you’re never folding in this spot; you have a hand that has the potential to bust another player with the right board. This leaves you two options: call or raise.

By raising you increase the size of the pot before the flop which increases the size of the bets on every subsequent street. This is often overlooked but can have a drastic affect on the ending size of the pot and how much you stand to win. Let’s say that all the bets at the table are roughly two thirds of the pot. If you just call and five players go to the flop for $3 each the pot will be $15 on the flop. A 2/3 pot bet on the flop is $10. A 2/3 bet on the turn (assuming one player called the flop) will be 2/3 of $35 ($15+$20) or $22. Now we have a pot of $79 on the river leaving a 2/3 pot bet of about $52. But if you raise to $12 and all but one of the limpers calls the pot is now about $40 including blinds. A 2/3 pot bet on the flop is now roughly $25. Assuming one caller the turn bet will be $60 and the pot will be $210 going into the river. You would have about $100 left at this point meaning any bet should be the rest of your stack. One small pre-flop raise drastically changed the final size of the pot. Of course hands rarely play out this smoothly and a multitude of other things could occur in the hand but the concept and point remains the same.

Another small benefit to raising with position in pots and situations such as this is that you have the option to check behind on the turn if it is checked to you and see a free turn card. Few things feel better at the poker table than getting that free card hitting your set and having someone who is drawing dead betting into you on the turn.

There is a very major drawback to raising with your small pocket pair before the flop and that is causing people to fold. But wait! Don’t I want my opponents to fold? I’m more likely to win the pot against one or two opponents than I am against the whole field! This is true but you must ask yourself what your goal is in the hand. Are you trying to just win the most pots or do you want the pots that you win to be big ones? If you raise out opponents you’re eliminating people that could potentially pay you off big when you hit your set. It’s rare that you get to hit a set in no limit so you definitely want to increase the chances of getting paid off as much as possible. With four or more opponents you are way more likely to have someone else make top pair or connect with the flop in some way that enables you to get action with your set.

If you were to ask me how I like to play my small pocket pairs in this situation ideally I would want to build the pot without driving many people out. A smaller raise generally does the trick in these lower no limit games. Be careful though. An observant player will pick up on this quickly and know what type of hand you have.

Stack sizes also play in integral role in defining how you play your small pocket pairs before the flop. If the players left in the hand do not have much money in front of them the value of your small pocket pair goes down. If you hit your set no one has much money to pay you off with. A strong case can be made for simply folding the hand and waiting for a more lucrative spot. The same can be said if you have a short stack yourself. If you find yourself with only $50 in a $200 buy in no limit game (which I would NEVER recommend, that’s another whole article right there!) and get a small pocket pair dealt to you folding is likely the right play. You simply don’t hit a set often enough and won’t get paid enough when you do to make it a profitable play. You could try to raise more and win the pot against a single opponent but if you end up all in pre-flop you will rarely have your opponent in trouble. If you’re lucky you’ll be in a coin flip situation if not you’ll be dominated. Just letting the hand go and waiting for a better spot is the play here and all that changed was your stack size!

So there is no right way to play small pocket pairs pre-flop in no limit hold’em. Understanding the situation and all the factors that are important will lead you to making a solid and profitable decision. Remember to take stock of everything around you at the poker table just as we all take stock of the good things in our lives. I wish you all a wonderful start to your holiday season. Until next time good luck in the card rooms!