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

THE INFORMATION GAME … By Cardshark5

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!

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!

learning the game

Playing Small Pairs in LHE

Playing Small Pairs Before the Flop in Limit Hold’em Poker

Small pairs can be very tricky hands to play. In limit Hold Em games a case can be made for all of your pre-flop options calling raising and folding. As with most things in poker there is no right answer but understanding the specific situation you are in and the players at your table can help you make the right choice more often than not.  Note that small pairs in no limit hold em is different, and we recommend a different strategy.

For this article we are going to define small pairs as any pocket pair from 2’s through 6’s. When you look down at your hand and see a small pocket pair you need to ask yourself some questions to decide how to proceed. The first question I would ask myself is “What game am I playing and how is the game being played?” By that I mean am I sitting in a higher limit 15-30 game where the players tend to be more aggressive or am I in a 3-6 game with more passive opponents? Is the table full of action and large multi-way pots or is the game playing tight with only 2-4 people seeing every flop? In situations where the game is more tight and/or aggressive I would lean more towards either folding or raising/re-raising. Why?

A lot of this depends on your position as well. If the action has folded to you and you are on the button with pocket fives I think a raise is clearly in order. If only one person has entered the pot for a raise and you know that player as a blind stealer or someone that raises with many hands then consider putting in a re-raise. If you have those same pocket fives and are under the gun (first to act after the big blind also known as UTG) then I would advocate simply folding the hand and waiting for a better spot to get my money in the pot. Let’s look a bit closer as to why this may be advantageous for you.

In the first situation on the button raising puts pressure on the blinds. They may fold and let you take down the pot right there or they may call with a less than strong hand. Once the flop hits if they check to you and you bet you will likely win if they miss the flop regardless of whether or not you hit your pair. They will also often lay down their hand if an ace or king hits the flop as they will give you credit for having high cards.

In the second situation re-raising a loose player gives you a great deal of information and creates a lot of advantages for you as well. Everyone acting after your re-raise will be much less likely to enter the pot without a very strong holding (although be aware of the players in your game to ensure that this is the case). You will drive out medium strength hands that are a danger to your small pair like KQ, JT and weak aces (Ax) making it much more likely that you end up with the best hand. Your opponent will also give you credit for a strong hand unless they have seen otherwise from you and will likely fold if they miss the flop. You are in a great position to follow through with your aggression through the hand and win the pot. If you’re lucky you’ll flop a set your opponent will hit the flop and your hand will be well disguised.

In the third situation you might be thinking “Why would I just fold a pocket pair? I could hit a set and win a big pot!” While this may be the case the numbers just don’t justify it. First and foremost your position is terrible. You are first to act and there are many players after you who could end up having a big hand. The more players behind you the more likely this is the case. You also don’t know if someone will raise behind you doubling how much it costs to see the flop. Secondly many people could enter the pot meaning any flop that comes is most likely going to make someone a pair bigger than yours. Your only hope is to hit a set and even then there’s no guarantee that it will hold up. You flop a set with a pocket pair roughly once out of every 7.5 times. This essentially means that when the only realistic way of winning the hand is by going to showdown and having the best hand you need roughly 7.5 to 1 odds on your money to justify playing and show a profit. Sure you can win more on future bets in the hand and that is something to be considered but remember that you will not win every time you flop a set as well. I’m sure we can all remember countless times where we flopped sets and lost to straights flushes etc.

Clearly there is no “right” way to play small pocket pairs since every table and situation is different. Understanding what factors to look for and consider when making your decision on how to play your small pocket pair is critical to your success and becoming a better player. If you’re just looking to enjoy the action and the game is wild by all means call with that small pair in early position and hopefully take down that monster pot! If you’re looking to improve your play plug some leaks and become more of a winning player then folding these small pairs in early position is something you can do to lower your variance and improve your bottom line. Until next time good luck at the tables!

Player Tips

Seat selection in Poker

Seat selection in Poker – Why move?

Something to always consider when sitting down at a poker game is seat selection. The players who judiciously pick their spot all have their own individual theory or preference when it comes to where and why to change seats. When you enter a game at the California Grand unless there is more than one seat available you do not have a choice of where to sit; the open seat is your seat. But when a player leaves the game and a seat opens up you face a decision. Should I change seats or stay where I’m at?

The strategy for seat selection I hear the most is: “Get the fish or the action on your right.” With the action on your right you can raise to isolate yourself with the money/action player and when you do enter pots you will likely be in position acting last. While I agree with this concept and the reasons behind it I feel like there is a better and less talked about method to seat selection.

“Act last at all costs.” Most players understand that having the button is generally the best position. If you could have the button every single hand you’d do it in a heartbeat. What if I told you that by picking the right seat you could essentially have the button two three or even four times every round? By picking a seat where you have very tight players on your left that is exactly what you can get. If you pick up a good hand and raise to enter the pot tight players on your left will almost never enter the pot unless they have a very strong hand. Thus if you are one two or three hands away from the button and everyone folds in between you and the button the button is now essentially yours again! You are acting last on all of the remaining betting rounds which is the same thing as having the button. The next time a seat opens up ask yourself this: “Are there more tight players to my left in my current seat or if I take the newly opened seat?” Give it a try and see how it affects your play. This method may not be for everyone but it is definitely another aspect of seat selection to consider and one that I don’t hear very often.