Archive for category Poker Advice

Buyback Fever!

Now that the World Series of Poker is over (thank God) for the year, it’s time to head back to Minnesota and get away from the brutal desert heat of Las Vegas. We may stop for a few days in Black Hawk Colorado to play some cash games, but the real destination is the iNinja Ring Event at the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

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The event features a $100,000 guarantee for a $285 buy-in. The last time we were in Council Bluffs we set a state record and with six starting flights we should crush this guarantee for a huge prize pool. My favorite feature of this event, other than the gold ring for the winner, is the $1,000 stack buy back. Let’s talk about how it works.

You can play as many flights as you like. I will probably play at least four. If you get through to day two more than once, you get $1,000 for each time you make it to day two after the first time. Your largest stack will go forward to day two, so if you have a short stack it is incredibly profitable to play again. If you bag a big stack your first time through, you can play future flights as if they are cash satellites. This makes it easier to get a short stack through because your opponents are all trying to build a pile of chips while you are just grinding to get through the day and make $1,000.

The last time we went to Council Bluffs, team pro Aaron Johnson managed to bag all four flights and make $3,000 in buybacks for his efforts. Aaron even wrote an article on playing these events. With the right strategy these events can be very profitable. Read Aaron’s article HERE.

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Ladies Intro to Poker at Canterbury Park

I’ll be doing a presentation for a group of ladies this weekend at Canterbury Park. In addition to the hand out everyone will receive, I want to make this list available to them online permanently right here.

The Quick and Dirty Basics

Beating a home game, small buy-in tournament, or even the lowest level cash games in a casino, doesn’t require a complicated skill set or in-depth thought process. While those things can increase your win rate, the vast majority of your profit will come from playing solid poker while your opponents make mistakes. If you make less mistakes, you will win the money more often.

The following basic tips will help you avoid making big mistakes.

Raise or Fold – In many cases, especially before the flop, if your hand is not good enough to raise, you should fold. Calling should be your last option and used only when it obviously correct. For most new players, calling and checking, the passive plays, are the default. Passive plays should be the last option rather than the first.

Tight is Right – There are times to play a lot of hands and be loose and aggressive. They are not usually in very soft games and they are never when you are new to the game. Being patient and playing tight is the best default approach until you know when, why, and how to play more hands.

Be a Believer -When someone makes a play that indicates they have a big hand, your default should be to believe them. You can start making what we call “hero calls” when you are sure that you are right, have the knowledge to accurately assess their range of hands, and can accurately explain how often you will win the hand based on their range.

Position, Position, Position – I have worked with hundreds of students over the years. None of them have been positional enough. Not one. You should be playing at least five times as many hands on the button as you would play under the gun. Play Ace-Five suited under the gun only if you hate money.

Don’t Slow Play – If you have a monster, bet it like you would any hand. If they fold you weren’t going to make much anyway, but if you let them get away from their hand cheaply when you could have won a big pot by betting every chance you got, you have cost yourself a lot of money.

Don’t Bluff Constantly – The greatest players are very aggressive, but so are the worst players. Bluff when you have a good reason. Many soft games can be beaten without bluffing at all and sometimes you just can’t win a hand and have to let it go without bluffing off a stack of chips in a bad spot.

Don’t Get Married (to a hand) – Your hand is only strong in relation to what you think your opponent has. If you have two black aces, the flop is 567 with three diamonds, and you are facing a bet and a raise, just throw them away and move on to the next hand.

Feel free to contact me at blindstraddle@gmail.com or on twitter @foxpokerfox if you have questions or want more information.

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Tournament Coaching Package

After more than ten years of coaching and hundreds of students, I know which lessons are effective and help students improve their results. There is no quick fix, no great secret. This program still takes time to work through, but it is the fastest way I know of to cover all of the basics. Coaching can go well beyond this program analyzing hand histories and working on advanced concepts, but after these nine lessons you will have a good working knowledge of the important concepts involved in tournament poker.

Each lesson is 90 minutes long and many include extras like books, printed charts, a pair of Blue Shark Optics Glasses, and a signed copy of my book.

Total Cost of the Tournament Coaching Package: $1,650 

Tournament Theory There are some very important concepts that make tournament poker unique. We will cover ICM and ROI considerations, payout structures, chop negotiations, evaluating tournaments, rebuys and reentries, and other reasons why the payout structure of a tournament should effect your play. 

Zone 3 (above 28 big blinds) – At the beginning of a tournament the cash game players will be much more comfortable than those who only play tournaments because they are so used to playing with deep stacks. Post flop play, implied odds, speculative hands, and stack to pot ratio are all key concepts for this lesson. Three-betting, bet sizing, and playing speculative hands are all covered.

Zone 2 (12 to 28 big blinds) – This lesson is very important because you will have a 12 to 28 big blind stack so frequently in tournaments and this is where most players make the biggest mistakes. We will cover resteal theory, squeeze plays, rules for three betting, and the other weapons that are available in this zone.

Zone 1 (below 12 big blinds) – With less than twelve big blinds you only have one move, but when it is correct to put all your chips in may surprise you. This lesson comes with a laminated push fold chart that covers opening all-in ranges based on position. We will also discuss calling all-in against hand ranges, handling multiple opponents and isolation raises, and how to determine which players are most likely to fold their blinds when you are very short stacked. 

Making the Money – Finishing near the bubble is one of the most frustrating things in poker.  The best players in the world occasionally fall just short of the money, but they do it far less often than weaker players and they make final tables much more often. Learning to apply pressure on the bubble without taking big risks is key to making real money in poker tournaments.  this lesson will also cover the art of surviving once you get into the money and how to attack a final table. Heads up play finishes up the lesson and a heads up push/fold chart is included.

Extra Advantages – There is more to poker than math. You need information to put into those equations. In this lesson we will cover tells, appearance reads, verbals, and manipulating your opponents. We will also talk about covering up your own tells and making sure that you aren’t giving anything away yourself. This lesson will come with a pdf copy of my guide to poker tells. 

Playing Your Best Game – Once you know the right play it is not always easy to make it correctly every time. Sports psychology is an important part of being a winning player. We will cover tilt control, the mental game, and learning to stay focused and be a predator at the tables. 

Advanced Play – The basics we covered in the zones will prevent you from falling prey to better players, but to really take advantage of weaker opponents you need to be thinking on a higher level. Using tells, ranges, and combinatorics together can get you a very accurate read on your opponent’s likely holding. Then we will cover playing against ranges and how to analyze hands on your own using an equity calculator and my analysis spreadsheet. Hand relevance, polarization, slow playing, and some game theory will all be covered in this intense lesson.

Getting Serious – If you are going to get serious about tournament poker there are a few things you need to know beyond poker strategy. We will cover taxes, finding a backer, selling action, travel expenses, expected income, bankroll and variance issues. We will also touch on continuing education, training sites, books and further coaching options with myself or other strategy or mental game coaches and what will work best for you going forward.

 

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Poker Tells 101

I’ve been working on my skills at reading my opponents for many years now, and in my work with Blue Shark Optics and the Blue Shark Pro Team I have learned some very profitable things. While reading players is seen as an art, there is certainly some science there too. My hope with launching this new part of my site is to share some of that information with other serious students of the game and help people understand the basics of reading their opponents.

I’ll be adding updates approximately once a week until I have around two dozen lessons that I have already pre-planned. I will announce them on twitter (follow @foxpokerfox) as well as here on my main blog. The link will always be in the Friends links on the right sidebar, or you can find it HERE.

Please feel free to link to the page and tell all of your friends about it. The more traffic it gets, the more I will write on it. So far I’m working with the basic stuff, but I have some very advanced things written that I think will help almost anyone.

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The Basics for the Hard Rock

I’ll be doing a presentation for over 300 people at the Hard Rock in Punta Cana this weekend and in addition to the hand out everyone will receive, I want to make this list available to them online permanently.

The Quick and Dirty Basics

Beating a home game, small buy-in tournament, or even the lowest level cash games in a casino, doesn’t require a complicated skill set or in-depth thought process. While those things can increase your win rate, the vast majority of your winnings comes not from your brilliance, but from your opponent’s mistakes. If you don’t make those same mistakes and give that money back, you will be a winner in games where there is so much money being given away.

Raise or Fold – In many cases, especially before the flop, if your hand is not good enough to raise, you should fold. Calling should be your last option and used only when it obviously correct. For most new players, calling and checking, the passive plays, are the default. Passive plays should be the last option rather than the first.

Tight is Right – There are times to play a lot of hands and be loose and aggressive. They are not usually in very soft games and they are never when you are new to the game. Being patient and playing tight is the best default approach until you know when, why, and how to play more hands.

Be a Believer -When someone makes a play that indicates they have a big hand, your default should be to believe them. You can start making what we call “hero calls” when you are sure that you are right, have the knowledge to accurately assess their range of hands, and can accurately explain how often you will win the hand based on their range.

Position, Position, Position – I have worked with hundreds of students over the years. None of them have been positional enough. Not one. You should be playing at least five times as many hands on the button as you would play under the gun. Play Ace-Five suited under the gun only if you hate money.

Don’t Slow Play – If you have a monster, bet it like you would any hand. If they fold you weren’t going to make much anyway, but if you let them get away from their hand cheaply when you could have won a big pot by betting every chance you got, you have cost yourself a lot of money.

Don’t Bluff Constantly – The greatest players are very aggressive, but so are the worst players. Bluff when you have a good reason. Many soft games can be beaten without bluffing at all and sometimes you just can’t win a hand and have to let it go without bluffing off a stack of chips in a bad spot.

Don’t Get Married – Your hand is only strong in relation to what you think your opponent has. If you have two black aces, the flop is 567 with three diamonds, and you are facing a bet and a raise, just throw them away and move on to the next hand.

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Preparing for the WSoP

It’s almost time for the World Series of Poker and I’m getting fired up. Actually, I’m just getting ready. I’m too busy preparing to get too excited. You should be preparing too, making sure that you are firing on all cylinders before you go to Vegas to play for millions against the best players in the world.Here are some things to consider if you are getting ready to head to Vegas this summer.

It’s cold in The Rio and that can be distracting – Take a hoodie with you every day because some tables are much colder than others. There are some nice light hoodies over at the iNinja store and if you use my twitter handle @foxpokerfox, you get 20% off. You can also find some nice stuff at DoubleUp, RunGood, American Giant, or Blind Squirrel. All have great options for lightweight hooded sweatshirts.

You are also going to need to plan your trip – Here’s a link to the comprehensive tournament schedule of every venue in town.

Once you know when you are going, you need to book a flight – Google Flights is a pretty solid option. Spirit is usually the cheapest, but they also lead the industry in customer complaints. If you get the Sun Country or Delta credit cards, you can earn a bunch of free miles and also get your first checked bag free. Once you add in Spirit’s high bag fees, the prices are comparable, and the flights are much better on Delta or Sun Country. With the Sun Country and Delta credit cards I’ll be flying round trip to Vegas a total of five times this year for free.

Now that your flight is booked, you need a place to sleep – Trip Advisor is great for booking hotels and AirBNB can save you a ton of cash when you stay at someone’s home instead of a hotel. We used AirBNB for much of our huge vacation earlier this year and we loved every place we stayed.

If you are staying somewhere other than where you are playing, then you probably want a car. Vegas is a pretty easy city to drive in, just don’t drive down the strip during busy times, the parallel roads will be much faster. You can find the cheapest car rental prices HERE. Use the “smart book” option in the box on the right side of the page. Once you book your car, go back and check the smart book again every few days and if the price drops you can cancel your old reservation and rebook it at the lower price. This has saved me $350 so far since I booked my rental two months ago.

If Daniel Negreanu and Annie Duke want something banned from poker tournaments because it gives a competitive advantage, there is no doubt that it works. That is the best advertisement for Blue Sharks that I can imagine. If you are going to grind against the best players in the world and come out on top this summer, you need to order some Blue Shark Optics. The glasses are great because they block your opponent’s view of your eyes without blocking any incoming light. You can see them clearly, but they can’t see you, which is a huge advantage. If you use the discount code FOX2014, you will save 10% on your order.

Staying sharp over the course of a long tournament day is tough, and you need to be at your best all day long if you are going to beat the pros. When the blinds get high and the night gets late, playing your best is tough, but truBrain helps you play your best game all the time. I use it, and I have used similar products for twenty years. TruBrain is the best formulation I have ever tried.

You might also want to brush up on your game a little bit. Blue Sharks and truBrain can’t help you much if you just suck. Get better by signing up for a membership to Phil Ivey’s training site Ivey League for $10 a month with no sign up fee. I don’t know why they are so cheap when lesser competitiors charge three times as much, but it’s the best deal in poker training and you should take advantage of it while you can.

A few books to read on the plane will help your game too. I like this book and this book for tournament poker and of course MY BOOK for no-limit cash games.

If you plan on playing the events with huge fields, like the Millionaire Maker or Colossus, you should pre-register for them. The lines will be very long and some events will probably sell out, so skip all that and register ahead of time online HERE.

If you are going to be playing at the Rio for any significant amount of time, it is worth getting a box. Just go into the payouts room and ask about it and someone will help you. It allows you to skip lines and keep your cash somewhere a lot safer than a hotel room safe or your pocket. It costs $100 to rent a box for the entire series, and it’s one of the few bargains that The Rio offers.

Remember – Luck Favors the Prepared

 

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How I Stay Sharp

I am proud to announce that I have signed on with truBrain to promote their product to the poker world. You’ll hear more about truBrain on this blog over the coming months, but I wanted this blog post to talk about how I found the product and why I signed on to work with the company that created it.truBrain_logo

About a year ago I wrote an article about nootropics, supplements that increase brain function, that was published online. I was immediately contacted by a number of companies that sell nootropic “stacks”, combinations of ingredients that claim to work together to help your brain function at peak levels. They all wanted me to endorse their product, but most were simply vitamins and Ginkgo Biloba, and probably weren’t very effective. When I saw the list of ingredients in Tru Brain, I knew it was different.

I have studied nootropics for over twenty years, starting in the 90’s when I played blackjack for part of my living. Counting cards really makes your brain work hard and I found that after three or four hours I just wasn’t sharp. One mistake could erase hours of profits, so I couldn’t afford to be less than perfect, but I needed to work more than three or four hours a night. My solution was to take choline, carnitine, magnesium, and multivitamins. With this combination I saw a difference in the amount of time I could play without losing focus. Soon I was playing five or six hours without making a mistake, making more money, and as a side effect I even found that I was sleeping better. I was hooked!

Over the years I kept up with research on what are now called nootropics. These supplements and nutrients can help increase brain function, and often a combination of them works remarkably better than a larger dose of a single ingredient. For the last ten years I have been using various nootropic formulations before a big day at the poker tables, and at one point I even considered creating my own product. The product I considered creating was very much like truBrain.

While I know that many high level poker pros take Adderall at the tables, I’m not interested in taking a drug if I don’t have to. The side effects can be significant and possessing Adderall without a prescription is against the law, so if I can get a similar effect from taking safe nutrients and supplements, I’ll skip the drug.

I knew that I liked the ingredients listed on their website, but I wanted to test the product, so they sent me a three week trial for free. I did research on Oxiracetam and discovered that it was probably a better option for me than the Piracetam I had been taking, and more effective, though they are closely related. I looked at their research, the team that created the product and their credentials, and the reasons they chose each of the ingredients. The more I learned the more I was impressed, and after a few weeks of taking it I could tell that this was the real deal.

The difference was remarkable. My head was clear, my focus didn’t wander, and I made more money at the tables than ever before. It was like flying with the wind at my back all the time. At the end of a long tournament I was still sharp when my opponents were wearing down. Plays that I usually only make when I am really sharp were now standard. I told them I would love to endorse their product…. As long as they keep sending it to me!

In 2014, I won a world championship against one of the toughest fields in WSoP history. Who knows what I can do this year with Tru Brain on my side! Tru Brain really is the perfect Nootropic stack for poker. It keeps your mind clear helps you stay focused through a long grind. At midnight, when the blinds are getting high and every pot is critical, it helps me stay focused better than my opponents who are often running on fumes.

You don’t have to take my word for it. truBrain is is offering a free sample pack for my readers in the hope that the poker world will discover their product. You pay the shipping and they’ll send you three of their brain drinks for free! You have 14 days to try the free drinks and cancel at any time, but I would be shocked if you don’t notice a huge increase in focus and mental clarity. I don’t endorse products that I don’t believe in. This stuff is the real deal.

Click here for the free sample drinks

Click here for a free sample of the pills (my favorite)

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Hand Analysis Spreadsheet

In my most recent video for Ivey League, I use my hand analysis spreadsheet to analyze a hand and teach the viewer how to use it. I also promised the subscribers that I would make it available, so here it is (you may need to right click to download it) –

Poker Hand Analysis Spreadsheet

The preview of the video is HERE and you can view the entire video if you join Ivey League for $9 per month. That is the best deal in poker training, with tons of awesome content for one low price. I’ll be doing at lest two videos a month for Ivey League for the foreseeable future, and there are multiple videos every week from other coaches too.

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Stop Free Rolling Yourself

As I was getting on the elevator at The Rio today, a kid with a backpack came running up yelling at one of the other people on the elevator.

“Why don’t you give me my six grand back you scumbag! That’s right, cover your face. Everyone is gonna know you are a filthy thief now! I’m never gonna stop!”

My guess, which is right about 99% of the time in this situation, is that the supposed thief did in fact defraud the the angry shouting kid with the backpack. But it probably wasn’t your standard theft. At some point, backpack kid probably trusted the thief with six thousand dollars. They probably knew each other, had mutual friends, and backpack kid had never heard anything bad about the thief.

This scenario plays out daily in card rooms all over the country. There is so much cash floating around in poker that it is a perfect environment for con men and there are so many gambling addicts that it’s like a giant bad neighborhood full of junkies. If you loan out money, even if it’s only rarely, you will eventually get screwed. It will burn your ass and you’ll be so pissed that you’ll play bad for a week and every time you think about you will get angry again.

The downside is obvious, though most people ignore it because “Oh this guy will pay me, he’s cool.” But what about the upside to loaning out cash in a poker room? You know what? There isn’t one! You get nothing out of loaning out cash. You aren’t receiving interest payments, you aren’t garnering any significant good will that you can use later no matter how much you might think you are, and you have nothing but downside. You are free rolling yourself and eventually someone will free roll you out of your money.

It happened to me 18 months ago when Austin Monson got me for $1,100. As it turns out, a ton of people knew he was a worthless, scumbag, con man, but no one said anything because they all thought they might still get paid. If someone had said something it would have saved me $1,100, which was a lot of money to me at the time and screwed up some plans for me. It also pissed me off for months. Not worth the trouble. I had not been ripped off like that in twenty years, so it made me that much more angry.

When you loan money out in poker rooms you are not only enabling con men, and helping them rip you off and encouraging them to keep running their game because it’s profitable, but you are hurting gambling addicts and people who are bad with money. If you don’t have enough money to play poker, you shouldn’t be playing poker. And more importantly, if you don’t have enough money to play poker, but you are choosing to take out a loan to play poker, it’s not likely that you are going to have the money to pay me back any time soon.

I’m not sure I have ever borrowed money in a poker room more than a few hundred dollars to save time running to an ATM for something, and that has only been a few times in my life and I borrowed the money from people I knew very well. When someone asks me for a loan in a card room, I have a simple formula to decide if I will loan them the money.

Would I loan this person the money if I saw them on the street and they asked me for it? Do I know that this person is going to hunt me down and pay me the money within a few days? If the answers to both questions are yes, then I JustSayNo_NancyReganstill say no because I don’t loan out money in poker rooms. How’s that for a simple formula? Be Nancy Reagan. Just Say No. Tell them that you don’t loan out money in card rooms. Ever. Tell them it is just your policy. Don’t hedge at all. Just say no. If they continue to bug you, you can move on to things like –

“Stop bugging me, you are never getting  a nickel from me”

“Sorry, I don’t have it”

“Fuck you”

and the old favorite

“Security!”

I don’t want to hear any more of my friends whining about losing money because someone borrowed it and can’t pay it back. Don’t trust someone because they are a poker pro, don’t trust them because they have a nice watch, don’t trust them at all because you have no reason to. Just keep saying no. Stop free rolling yourself.

I don’t mean to say that I would never loan anyone money in a card room. But if I have to think about it, then the answer is no. But there are definitely people who I know are good for it. If Kou Vang walks up to me tomorrow and wants to borrow $5,000, I peel it off and hand it to him and I don’t think about it again until he finds me a few days later and pays me. But those people are very rare and until you have known someone a long time and know that they are very financially stable and trustworthy, just keep saying no.

And remember, this also includes buying action from players you don’t trust, swapping with players you don’t trust, or anything else that includes a possibility that someone ends up owing you money. The amount of money that is owed in this town is incredible and I hate seeing a guy win a tournament and ten people showing up and not getting all of their money because he owes more than the $100,000 he won. It’s disgusting.

 

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Running Aces Grinder Guide – Part 1

Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering the $2-100 cash games at Running Aces with guides on how to beat the games as well as bankroll management, expected win rates, and how to maintain your sanity. If you have specific questions about the games, please post them in the comments on this article so I can get a feel for what kinds of things people want to learn about the game. Let’s start with three basic steps.

Step 1 – Buy My Book

It’s the best book out there for beating small no-limit cash games, which is basically how I see the $2-100 games. It will serve as a good study guide and be a better overall strategy resource than the basic tips I’ll be posting here.

Step 2 – Make A Plan

I know you want to play poker. One of the reasons I can write this stuff is because most players who read this would rather play poker than study, plan, or learn anything. If you want to be one of the winners, you have to study and improve or you will just be another aspiring poker player. If you want to do this in November and be ready to get started within the first few days of the month to make sure that you get your hours in, then you need to get ready for it now.

Plan out your hours and be realistic about how much you can actually play. If you can get forty hours a week, then you will make the maximum bonus easily, but doing that in conjunction with a full time job will be very tough and you won’t have time to do anything but work, play poker, and sleep.

Set aside a real bankroll. For the $2-100 games, a winning player who is fairly tight can probably get by starting off with $5,000. You can still play if you don’t have that much expendable cash, but it is possible to go on a losing streak and go broke if you aren’t bankrolled for the game. Don’t play with money you can’t afford to lose, because there is a possibility that even the best player can have a losing month.

You will also need to track your hours and your results. If you don’t know how many hours you have played, you could easily miss your goal number and cost yourself hundreds of dollars. If you don’t track your results, you won’t ever know how much money you are making. I use a spreadsheet on my phone. If you have an Android phone you can just put a link on your home screen to a spreadsheet from your Google drive. I created a spreadsheet just for this promotion that you can download and use HERE. It tracks results, hours, and automatically calculates your current rakeback level. You don’t need to fill in anything except your hours played and money won or lost on each day for the month and the spreadsheet does the rest.

Step 3 – Play Poker

This would seem like the easy part, but you need to stick with your plan, and if you have a few rough sessions to start off it can be tough to keep at it every night. I’ve had rough patches where I absolutely dreaded going to the card room, but I kept going anyway and made it through the rough spots. If you are serious about playing poker for at least a portion of your living, you have to be able to get back on the horse every time you fall off.

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Quick Psychology Stuff

I’m playing tournaments like mad, and I have another starting tomorrow at noon, so I’ve been too busy to blog much, but here are a couple interesting psychology sites that will get you thinking. An understanding of your fellow humans will help your game a ton, and in studying people I have not only become a better player, but I understand the world around me better.

Real or Fake Smile

Click the above link and go take the test. Then come back and read the paragraph below

I got 16/20, but ten years ago I did a similar test and scored 6/20 when guessing the emotion expressed by pairs of eyes. Learning about how facial expressions work has helped a lot, and it’s very helpful at the tables. The biggest key for me is to look at the eyes. If the eyes don’t wrinkle at the edges, then the smile is bullshit. If the smile reaches their eyes, then they are genuinely happy. You can also look for head movement, breathing during the smile, and whether teeth show or not as solid indicators.

 

Some Psychology Studies

While the Stanford Prison Experiment is somewhat questionable and researchers have had trouble replicating it, the rest appear to be rock solid. And the Stanford Experiment has been born true in prisons around the world as well. Think Abu Ghraib, or the PoW abuses in Viet Nam, for good examples of that concept. Learning how people work with experiments like these really helps you figure out why people are doing the things they are doing. And even more important, they can help you figure out why you do what you do at the tables and how to stop making mistakes based on emotion.

I think each of these studies teaches us something that we can use at the tables. The lesson that runs through most of these studies is that there are factors at work that are hard to see from the outside. There is more going on in your head than you realize. Understanding these things helps you recognize them in yourself and deal with them rationally instead of letting them work on you like unseen magnets, drawing your decisions to one side or another for reasons you don’t understand.

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Rules, Rules, and More Rules

Everyone has a different interpretation of the rules of poker, both what they should be as well as how they should be enforced. Some people think “pure” or “real” poker has to have certain rules, but I disagree. If it’s played with cards and betting, it’s probably “real” poker to me. There are certainly rules I dislike, but if I know what the rules are I can make my own decision about whether I want to play. And I am well aware that it is my responsibility to know what the rules are. The standardized TDA rules are a big help for tournament players, but each house still has some of it’s own rules.

During the Fall Poker Classic I’ve been playing tournaments in a new environment for a week now and I’ve noticed the differences from playing at Running Aces. We get spoiled at Running Aces because Tristan is an expert on tournament rules and a frequent contributor to the TDA itself, but Canterbury has done a fine job running these tournaments too, as they usually do.

Overall, the Fall Poker Classic has been great. The free donuts and coffee in the mornings are nice, the buffet is solid every night, and the dealers are excellent. The floor staff and tournament directors are also very good, and the problems I’m going to talk about with rule enforcement are not limited to Canterbury. In fact they are less common at Canterbury than they are at most other venues. They are just the subject right now because they are the place I’ve been playing this week. A lot of other venues could improve in these areas, and most of them need a lot more improvement than Canterbury.

I think that a rule that is not consistently enforced is a bad rule. If the rule can not be consistently enforced, then it must be changed. Canterbury’s cursing rule applies to only one word. Their “F-bomb Rule” applies to only the one word. All other curse words are allowed, although abusive language directed at players and dealers is unacceptable as it should be in any card room. I know players who disagree with this rule, but I’m fine with it as long as I know what the rule is and it is consistently enforced.

The problem is that consistently enforcing a rule like this requires vigilance. You have to let all of your dealers know that they must call the floor any time the “F-bomb” is dropped at the table and make sure they call the floor any time it happens. I also think it’s a room’s responsibility to let players know when they have any sort of non-standard rule, rather than assuming that the players will all get a copy of the house rules and read them thoroughly. An announcement at the start of each tournament is a good way to do this.

In the case of the last week or so, this rule has not been enforced evenly, nor has it been announced to the players. Since this rule doesn’t exist in the TDA, and isn’t in force at major events like the World Series of Poker, I would consider it a non-standard rule, and I think it should be announced so that players are aware of it. I can assure you that many players are not aware of it because –

1. I counted the number of times I heard an F-bomb at the table today, and in four and a half hours I heard it used eleven times. The dealer heard at least eight or nine of these, and the floor was never called and the player was never warned by the dealer. It was never mentioned.

2. I was not aware of it myself and I usually try to pay attention.

3. My pal Jordan Handrich didn’t know about it when she used it after taking a beat in a tournament yesterday. People at her table were surprised when she received a one-round penalty because a tournament director was standing nearby. This was what caused me to keep track today. Eleven utterances, zero penalties, zero warnings. Not only did Jordan not get a warning, she got a full one-round penalty, and is the only person that I have heard of that has received such a penalty during this series. It was not directed at a player or in an abusive way, it was just a word.

4. I asked a number of players today, and none of them had heard that this was a penalty.

This rule is clearly not being enforced consistently, and I imagine it would be a hassle to do so for at least a month or two, but if they really want to ban the word they could certainly make it happen. Either make the effort to make sure that this rule is enforced evenly, or get rid of it. The middle ground is bad policy.

There are rules like this all over the country. The famous “Charlie Rule” at many WSoP events, the changing rules on discussing hands at the WSoP, and some truly odd rules in other parts of the country that show exactly how good we have it here in Minnesota.

I played at the Greek Town Casino in Detroit two years ago, and saw two of the weirdest rules I have ever seen. The first was that the front of your cards was in effect as a hard betting line, meaning any chips that were in front of your cards were in the pot. Multiple times I watched players pull their cards back to the rail to peel up the corners and look at them, only to be declared all-in because their cards had moved behind their stack. Every player this happened to left saying that they would never play in that #$%^#@!!!! card room ever again. Any policy that sends that many customers away is a bad one, no matter why it was implemented.

The second rule was the strangest rule I have ever seen in a professional card room. The show-one show-all rule was interpreted in this room to mean that if you showed your cards to any one, at any time, they must be saved and shown once the hand is complete. I first saw this when the older gentleman next to me showed his hand to me, and the dealer placed it in it’s very own little two-card muck pile and showed the table when the hand was over. I was baffled.

Before long, the old guy to my right, and the guy to his right were both talking about how bad they were running and betting $5 a hand on who had the worst hand. The hands were verified because they showed the player to their right each hand before they folded it, and the dealer saved each hand and showed them to the table. When the under the gun player showed someone his girlfriend his hand, and the two old guys showed their two hands as well, I figured I might as well join the party to see how many mucks the dealer could keep track of at once. The player to my left got in on the action and showed me his jack-five offsuit before he folded it.

This created a total of five muck piles, and I started to wish that I still had a hand so that I could zip it across all the muck piles and mix them up. Then I could claim that someone else’s cards were actually mine, start a big argument over who had which hand and make a terrible mockery of the whole process. I settled for claiming the hand of the guy to my left when the dealer flipped over his hand before mine, but he deftly sidestepped my attempt to make a mess of things by claiming my hand when it was flipped over next. The dealer who was sure that she had kept track of the hands correctly just shook her head and shot me a pleading look that I took as “Please don’t make my life harder today” and I quit messing around.

There were at least three different muck piles for the next two hours, through multiple dealers and I had my fun by watching each tourist who sat down learn about the two weird rules and then marvel at how they had never heard of rules like that before. Maybe the strangest thing was that the regulars acted like this insanity was perfectly normal. They probably watched ten people every night learn about these new rules and look baffled, but they just kept on playing. I think they knew that there was no way they were going to get these rules changed, so they just endured them. Odd.

I also saw an interesting angle-shoot a few weeks ago. I was playing a tournament and a player was wearing ear buds and obviously not hearing anything that was happening around him. Mr Oblivious was second to act on the flop in a heads up pot when his opponent, whom we will call Mr. Angleshooter, looked down so that Mr O couldn’t see his mouth behind his hat, grabbed a five hundred chip and a twenty-five chip, said “three twenty-five” and threw in the two chips. Mr. O thought he was facing a bet of 525 into a pot of 500, and called. Something happened that caused a discussion about the bet, and the tournament director was called over.

The tournament director backed up Mr. A, and to be honest he probably didn’t have a choice. He could have invoked rule #1 of the TDA if he was sure that it was an angle, but I have heard this tournament director say “I’m done with rule #1, just gets me in trouble.” so I knew this wasn’t going to happen. As long as TDs aren’t willing to invoke rule #1, there will be angles like this one. People will abuse the letter of the law because no one is willing to stick their neck out to enforce the spirit instead.

The real lesson in all this is that you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings, know about any non-standard rules in the room where you are playing, and stand up for yourself when you can. If Jordan had known about the F-Bomb rule at Canterbury, she wouldn’t have said it. If she had requested a warning, maybe even demanded one and bullied the TD, she may have received a warning instead of a costly penalty. Rooms aren’t always going to be perfect, so we need to be prepared and careful and I think we should police the tables ourselves a little bit too.

A player pulled off a dirty angle against me at the Venetian last year in a triple stud event. After he won a huge pot because of his angle, I managed to outlast him and finish one spot above him, while making his life hell for another five hours of play. I pointed him out to everyone, openly told the story of his angle, and refused his sad little offers of friendship. Some unsavory players won’t care that they are ostracized, but this guy did so I made sure that he was ostracized and I made sure the TD who allowed the angle knew that I was telling everyone about the situation on twitter, facebook, my blog, and standing in his card room, and that I was including his name in the conversation.

If we all policed things a little bit, the player and TD in this situation might behave differently in the future. The player certainly would, he was very uncomfortable playing with me. If I had been a little sharper I could have avoided the angle and then called him out for it after I won the pot, punishing him twice for his attempt to cheat me, and I have been much more careful ever since.

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I Suck at Poker

I’m actually a pretty good player. I don’t make big mistakes very often anymore, though I have a lot to work on and I try to get better every time I play. But I still make mistakes sometimes that are very frustrating. I made one tonight in the $550 buy-in event at the Fall Poker Classic that is really bugging me.

I won’t name the player directly, because I don’t want to teach people how to play against him. I like the guy and dissecting his game on a public blog just wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do. We’ll call him Ted.

Ted is a smart guy. He is middle aged and has been very successful in life because he’s smart and he applies himself to things. He plays well, and has had some success. I’m sure that Ted is a winning player. Ted plays fairly tight, and it’s not his standard game to reraise light preflop or open a ton of pots. Because he’s a smart guy, and always learning, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him open up his game somewhat in the right spots, but he is much more Ryan Hartmann than Kou Vang if you know what I mean.

I moved to a new table with about 75,000 chips, which was a little above average stack. Ted was on my left. Within one round I looked down at a pair of tens in early position, raised, and was unhappy to see Ted’s reraise. My raise was to 4,500 (1k and 2k blinds), and Ted went all-in for around 25,000. I thought about it, but I didn’t think Ted was going to reraise with a lower pair very often at all, and he probably wouldn’t reraise Ace-Queen here either. Against a range of Ace-King and tens or better, I’m in bad shape.

TT has 34% equity

vs

AK, TT+ which has 66% equity

I can’t call when there is less than 30,000 in the pot and I have to call 20,000. It’s close in a cash game if those are his ranges, though still a bad call, but in a tournament it’s a terrible call. Good fold by me. That’s one.

Within half an hour I looked down at a pair of jacks and raised again. I had raised a few hands in between and won the blinds. Ted had not played another hand. I raised to 5,100 this time because the blinds had gone up to 1,200/2,400, and Ted reraised me again. I was annoyed, but I really didn’t think Ted would try to push me around here, and he had more chips this time. It was irritating, but not a tough fold. Similar numbers to the first hand meant that I was making the right fold.

Fifteen minutes later I was dealt Ace-King second to act. I opened for 5,100, with 68,000 in my stack. Ted reraised me to around 14,000. He had also played a pot in between and had a stack only slightly smaller than mine. Could Ted be three-betting me without big hands? Was he really getting this many big hands in a row? I was about tired of it, but I still had to think. If Ted had a big hand here, I was throwing money away by going all-in. I had a perfectly reasonable stack if I folded, and we were getting fairly deep into the tournament.

On the other hand. I had folded to him twice already, and I had not let the irritation show, so an all-in from me would look like a big hand rather than looking like I was just fed up. There was a lot of money in the pot now, and we both had enough behind that I would have fold equity if he didn’t have a big hand. A hand like a pair of tens would fold here. I might even be up against another Ace-King, or I could be racing against queens or jacks.

Do you see the flaw in my logic here?

I was in early position. The table was full. Ted knew that there were still seven players left to act when he made his reraise. And he’s not a brash young kid who is would make a mistake by reraising light from early position against another early position raiser. His range is probably TT+ and AK. Again. And my Ace-King is a 41% to 59% underdog. I can fold and go on to the next hand, or I can get my chips in against a range of hands that is beating me, with almost no fold equity.

I thought I saw fold equity. I thought he might be reraising me light. I thought everything except the right thing. He has a big hand here, and I should make yet another fold. Against most players I would have called one of the first two times, and would definitely ship all-in here, but not against Ted. And Ted is a solid guy who doesn’t make big mistakes like reraising me without a hand from early position for a quarter of his stack.

I pushed all-in, he called with a pair of kings, and I was crippled. And very angry with myself. If he had flipped over queens, and I had won the race, I probably wouldn’t have even thought enough about the hand to know I had made a mistake, but that doesn’t matter. I did make a mistake, I made it deep in a tournament, and it cost me money. The game is already tough, and with house rake, the dealer percentage, tips, and taxes, I can’t make a lot of mistakes if I want to make money over the long term. I definitely can’t make mistakes like this one.

The good news is that I learned from it. I get a little stronger and a little smarter every tournament. If I keep that up, I think I’ll be pretty good at this game in another forty or fifty years. I also took 4th in the HORSE tournament, so I’m up for the series. And Running Aces has a great promo next month with tiered rakeback that can earn you up to $10 an hour if you play enough hours. I will definitely be grinding those games most days and should make some good money. At 180 hours for the month I’ll make $1,800 in rakeback, which helps quite a bit with the bills.

I’ll be back at it tomorrow, and hopefully I won’t waste nine hours of good poker with one stupid call. Because maybe I won’t suck tomorrow.

Don’t forget to vote for the Minnesota Poker Awards

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Buying and Selling Action

I’m back to my regular Monday updates, though I may not be super consistent until the Fall Poker Classic at Canterbury Park is over. I’m planning on playing pretty much every event other than the first weekend when my family will be in town, and I’m also selling some action in those events. My total spend for the series will probably be about $5,000. While I’m on the topic, let’s use this series as an example for selling action in tournaments.

First of all, I know some of you would love to be backed in a long term deal. For some players that works great, but being in make up was awful for me. I hated it. I don’t need the motivation of working for a backer, and the lack of steady income when I was in make up really drove me nuts. I’m not against long terms deals with make up, they just aren’t for me, and you should think about whether you want to be in a serious commitment like that. Remember, once you are in makeup you are stuck in the deal until you are out of makeup which can take a long time if you have a bad run.

I really prefer selling pieces of my action. It gives all my friends a sweat, smooths out the rough spots for me because I make some money any time I cash, and even a small mark up makes me some extra money. I sold action in some smaller events in Vegas this year, and one person bought all of it. That person invested $9,000 and I only played enough smaller tournaments to spend $5,800, but won over $20,000, and they nearly tripled their investment. The mark up in that deal was 35%.

Speaking of mark up, let’s talk about how it works and what is reasonable.

If a player is selling action in a $10,000 buy-in tournament with a mark up of 25%, then you pay a 25% premium on the action you are buying. In this case you could buy 10% of that player for $1,000 plus the mark up of $250 for a total of $1,250. This would be a very high markup for a single event with a $10,000 buy-in because the field is very tough and the variance is so high when there is only one event.

The more events the player will be playing in a series, the better things are for the investors. This is because they are essentially getting makeup from the player, even though it expires at the end of the series. Over a significant number of tournaments it is fairly rare for a good player to go without a single cash, so you will usually make some of your money back even if you don’t make a profit. Anything is possible, and you shouldn’t invest money that you can’t afford to lose, but an investment in a strong player over a long series, especially with small field sizes, is a pretty safe investment.

If a world class player, let’s say Jason Mercier, were to come to Minnesota to play the Fall Poker Classic events, and he was going to play as many events as possible, it would probably be profitable to pay a markup as high as 100%. A great player in small buy-in events over a long series makes Jason a great buy, and he is very likely to make a significant profit over the course of the series.

What about a player who is only a slight favorite? Let’s say your pal plays weekly tournaments, makes a small profit, and really wants to play all of the FPC events to work on his game and find out how good he is. In this case he might not even be profitable. Buying his action at even money with no markup is probably the only way to go.

One of the problems with selling action is that almost every player I know thinks they are better than they really are. If I sell at a 40% markup for the whole series, there are at least twenty people who think they should be selling at 50%. They may even fail to understand that a whole series is different than a single event, and try to charge a 50% markup just for the main event. If the deal was only for the main event, I wouldn’t pay a 50% markup for Jason Mercier, Phil Ivey, or any other player you can mention. The field is too tough and it’s only one tournament.

I might pay a 25% markup for the main event for a really great player, but even that number is probably too high. I sold a piece of my action in the main event at Running Aces with a 20% markup and was quite happy with the sale.

Finding a fair markup number can be determined two ways. If you factor in the length of the series and how much advantage the player has in that series, you can come up with a “fair” number. You can also charge whatever the market will bear, which is also a “fair” number. A player is not required to offer a number that he thinks will be profitable for his investors, they are responsible for their own decisions about whether an investment is profitable.

I like to offer a number that is profitable for the investors because I appreciate the fact that they are helping me out and I enjoy the sweat. My investors are often my friends and people I see every day, and I want them to be happy they put their faith (and their money) in me, so I always charge a number that I think is profitable. I also don’t want to have to spend a lot of time trying to sell my action, and if the number is too high then you will see players working very hard to try to get the package sold out, while a lower number sells out on it’s own.

As an example, at the beginning of this blog I sent a text to the friend who invested in me during the WSoP this year, and I got a text back in the middle of the fourth paragraph that read “I’ll get back to you tomorrow, but save at least 25%“. If you offer a good price, and have a good track record, selling action is easy.

Another problem that pops up is when players who are not proven winners try to sell action. Selling a few percentage points to your friends for a little sweat can be fun, but selling a significant portion of a tournament series can be really tough if you aren’t already a proven winner and it’s best not to waste your time.

If you want to move up, but can’t find a backer, then study the game, join a training site, read books, and keep getting better. Play small enough tournaments that you can build up a bankroll and some results to prove to potential investors that you are a good buy, and it won’t be long before you are selling out your action and have investors begging for more.

If you are looking to buy my action for the Fall Poker Classic, or have questions about buying or selling action, contact me on twitter @foxpokerfox

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Call Me Maybe?

I received my email recently from the Garden City Group today, the group that is in charge of Full Tilt claims processing. While I’m excited to finally get my money, they certainly could have done a better job, and I think I could help correct a lot of the problems they’re having. To that end, I submit a very informal job application below.

To: Garden City Group Inc.

Re: You Suck at Claims Administration

Sirs and Madams,

I believe I would be a valuable addition to your company because I can help with the following deficiencies –

1. The email I received from you a few days ago went to my spam folder instead of my inbox. Most of the players I know who received this email had the same problem. I know how to use services like Constant Contact and YMLP.com and could also find a way to get the emails sent from a certified server to ensure that they would very rarely end up in a spam folder. This is a very simple process, and there are tens of thousands of people with this knowledge,and any competent person could figure it out on their own. I can definitely handle this part of your operation.

2. The writing on your site is both terrible and overly technical. Is there a law that says you have to use legal-speak to provide information on claims remissions? Allow me to simplify all of the information on your front page –

“Welcome to the Full Tilt Poker Claims Administration web site. Players with account balances have until November 17th to submit a claim. Account balances will be paid in full unless there isn’t enough money in the fund. If there are not enough funds, players will be paid a prorated amount. If you haven’t received an email from us, and you believe you have an eligible balance, contact us at support@fulltiltclaims.com”

Notice how I turned 800 words of unreadable legalese and overly qualified bullshit into one paragraph? That’s because I’m a reasonably good writer. You should have a guy like me on staff. I’m not a great writer, but apparently I’m a great deal more concise than any of the paralegals that you have writing for the front page of your website. Given that you are administering hundreds of millions of dollars, you might want to spend a few bucks to get a guy like me.

3. Your company seems to have a problem sorting out priorities. First priority, get information to players. Second priority, get players paid as quickly as possible. There may have been conversations in your boardroom that went something like this –

Guy in a Suit – “When should we pay these Full Tilt Poker claims?”

Tech Guy – “I don’t know, maybe Sue would have an opinion on that.”

Sue from Customer Service – “I can’t imagine they are in a hurry, just get around to it in the next year or two and it should be fine.”

Guy in a Suit – “Makes sense to me, they probably don’t care how fast they get it or when they find out if they are going to get the money and how much they are going to get. Just do it eventually. I’m going golfing.”

If I was involved in that meeting as an employee of your company, the conversation would have been more like this –

Guy in a Suit – “When should we pay these Full Tilt Poker claims?”

Fox – “Sir, I think we should pay them as soon as possible. Think about it like your paycheck. If someone took your paycheck and then asked when you want it back, you would want it right away.”

Guy in a Suit – “That’s an interesting piece of insight Mr. Wallace, we had not factored that into our thoughts on the matter so far. Let’s pay these people as soon as we can.”

Fox – “Thank you sir. I also think we should let them know what the timeline will look like right away, possibly on the front page of the website.”

Guy in a Suit – “Good thinking! We were going to keep them in the dark,but I can see how that might bother me if it were my paycheck. Why don’t you guys make that happen while I go golfing.”

4. I’m not an expert web designer, but I can definitely build a better website than the clunky piece of crap that you have up now. Fulltiltpokerclaims.com looks like it was built by a 15 year old kid for their class project in 2001. And they got a C+. From a generous teacher. My blog looks significantly better than the website you put up to administer hundreds of millions of dollars, and I spent twenty minutes of my time and $0.00 designing it. I even know a solid web designer who could make a really good looking site for $1,000 in a day or two if you really wanted to spruce it up, but I could definitely do a better job in twenty minutes on my own.

5. It appears that the company has a customer relations problem. The lack of communication so far has been pretty impressive. No one seems to know how much money is in the fund, how much money is owed to players if everyone claims their funds, or how much you are being paid out of the fund to administer the claims. We could put this information up on the website in abotu two minutes. Icould handle that. I could also hadnle emailing players to let them know that their funds are safe and they will be paid soon, write some useful FAQs (I know you have FAQs on the site, but I stress the word USEFUL), and communicate with players and keep them up to date on the process. I can assure you that players would appreciate this and you wouldn’t have millions of poker players shredding your company on twitter and facebook.

6. I would expect a claims administration company to have a few “math guys” on staff, but your math guys must have left the company just before you got the Full Tilt Claims project. I own a computer, I know how to use a spreadsheet and a calculator, and I could teach members of your staff to use these tools as well. With a few simple calculations we could find out if there was enough money in the fund to pay everyone and let claimants know how much money to expect.

Conclusion –

I can help identify problems within the company and fix them. The problems above have not been acknowledged or dealt with, which leads me to assume that they were never recognized. I identified both the problems, and the solutions, without outside help. I’m a problem solver. Call me? Maybe? I can start tomorrow.

 

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Loving the Grind

OK, maybe I will never really enjoy the grind again. After a few years, and over a million hands of no-limit holdem online, it’s tough to really like playing no-limit cash games and I may never really love it again. I have admitted to being fairly burned out for the last few years, but poker is still the best job I’ve ever had and I really don’t have a tough lot in life. I’ve been to places where people have hard lives, and my house isn’t within a thousand miles of any of them so I don’t complain much.

I couldn’t get a job tomorrow that would pay me half of what poker will pay me this year. If I could just do something starting tomorrow that would pay me well, poker would go back to being a hobby, and then it would probably be a lot of fun. But I don’t have that option. I haven’t had a job in ten years, I don’t have a college degree, and my only marketable skill skill set is as a luthier (building guitars), which is not an option because of a serious allergy to a number of exotic hardwoods. Doing something else right away is not an option.

So what do I do about poker while I am working on finding something else to do at least part time?

I have been writing quite a lot in hopes of making the transition to a career as a full time writer, but I can’t make that leap until I have started making real money, which is tough as a writer. Writers don’t make a lot of money unless they are publishing best selling books or they are doing really well in e-publishing with their own stuff. I’m working on it, but I may not be there for a while. I have also been working on some web projects, but they are unpredictable and not paying the bills yet.

As for poker, I’m working on making it fun again.

The team battles at Running Aces the last few weeks really reminded how much fun poker can be and how entertaining it can be as a social game. I have been listening to books while I play, as well as some podcasts and occasional music, but that keeps me disengaged from the game, I’ll problem I’ll discuss in a paragraph or two. Avoiding interaction with other players definitely costs me money because I am not hearing them talk, learning about them, and picking up information that I can use to make more money later. I know my income suffers when I’m not at my best, especially in the tougher games in Minnesota. I can’t just sit and wait for the nuts or a big draw like I could in Vegas or California, making continuation bets and otherwise throwing my hand away if I encounter resistance without a big hand.

I have decided to start talking to my opponents. I stopped talking so much and using my ear buds more often because I was tired of the same lame ass bad beat stories and “I wish I had the nuts right here” or “Can I have my hand back” comments. Honestly I don’t know how dealers handle it. But I also miss the interesting conversations and learning about people’s lives. The poker table is one of the few places where people from all walks of life get together and talk, and that is one of the things that makes it interesting.

This summer I got to tell a convicted murderer to shut up, check raise a Methodist minister, lose a big pot to a stripper, and chop a trophy with my old mail man – all in the same tournament! The game would have been boring with headphones on. The problem is that I am so tired of no-limit holdem with the same people that it’s tough for me to grind out a living in the local games without listening to a book and checking my rss feed every five minutes.

During the team battles I had so much fun, and enjoyed the socializing so much, that I have decided to move more in that direction. Maybe I can find a way to have fun at the tables again, to laugh a little more and also be more engaged in the game so that I can make a few more dollars. Because more laughing and more money makes everything more fun.

3 Comments

It’s a Tough Game

Last weekend I played in the Tournament of Champions at Running Aces card room here in Minnesota. My table draw was awful, definitely the toughest table I have seen in the Midwest, and every time we busted someone another killer was brought in. Blake Bohn, Kou Vang, Dave Gonia, Erick Wright, myself, and a host of other very strong players, made for a very long day one. If I play with a strong player for a significant period of time, I almost always see a mistake or two, though usually less mistakes than I make myself.

This parade of inevitable mistakes sometimes makes me wonder if anyone is really any good at this game at all. It’s tough to make every adjustment correctly, constantly updating your knowledge of your opponents, tracking stack sizes, thinking three levels ahead to avoid being trapped by other strong players, all while keeping a reign on your emotions. The level of complication means that even the best players in the world make mistakes on a regular basis, though we don’t get to see most of them because they end up in the muck.

I think my career as a poker coach and the amount of study I have put into the game gives me a pretty good resume’ when it comes to assessing whether a play was correct or not. I’ve spent hundreds of hours looking for mistakes in my students play as well as tens of thousands of hours looking for mistakes in my own game and in my opponents’ games as well. In that time I’ve seen some of the best players in the world make tremendous mistakes, and I’ve won tournaments after making huge mistakes myself.

I played with Phil Hellmuth in the main event at the WSoP in 2012. There is no doubt that Phil is a world class tournament player, and the most accomplished tournament player in history. I’ve played other events with Phil and he has played very well, but he made big mistakes all day. A very loose and aggressive young player, who was raising a lot of hands, raised from the cutoff, and Phil folded Ace-Jack on the button with 15 big blinds in his stack. If you have studied tournament play, you are probably shaking your head right now. This is an automatic all-in. Shove your chips in the middle, run around the table for a round of high fives, and get ready to post your increased stack size on twitter. But Phil folded.

I’ve played with other great players, and seen tremendous mistakes from some of the best in the world, which leads me to the conclusion that the game is so tough that no one can play for a significant period of time without a few screw ups. We also don’t always see mistakes when they happen, and we also don’t always understand the method behind the madness either, which makes it tough to assess how well our opponents are really playing.

If it’s not possible to truly master the game, then how do we even measure our progress? How do I even know if I’m any good? Or if the guy across from me has any idea what he is doing?

There are a few things that we can be sure of. Game theory and simple pot odds and fold equity calculations can give us some plays that we know are correct. I used the 14 big blinds example with Phil Hellmuth because it’s as close to a certainty as we have in poker. We can prove that going all-in is the best play in that situation with reasonable certainty. That is where we start. Master the fundamentals and learn the plays that are correct almost every time you make them in certain situations, and learn to recognize when other players fail to make those plays. This will help you recognize weak opponents and it will prevent you from making some very basic mistakes.

The other way to know that you are improving is to watch your results and see how you fare against strong competition. Believe in yourself but assess your current skills fairly and be honest about how well you play. You can be confident that you will continue to learn and eventually be a great player without being cocky and believing that you are already great.

My friend Blake Bohn is a good example of a player who exploits weakness and believes that he can play a level above his opponents. He knows the fundamentals, but that isn’t why he plays well. Blake is incredibly confident at the table, and he constantly looks for situations where he can exploit the mistakes of bad players. He is willing to talk to you in the middle of a hand whether he is ahead or behind, and he believes that he can get the results he wants more often than he will give information away. Blake puts it all out there, his mind against yours, and his results seem to indicate that he’s right. That makes his huge success over the past year a disaster for the rest of us, because the more confident he becomes the harder it will be to beat him.

When you combine the two, willingness to mix it up and a perfect knowledge of the numbers and game theory, you get some of the best players in the world. Jason Mercier is a good example of this. I played with him all day a few years ago in the $10k buy-in HORSE event at the WSoP and I did not see a mistake. Not one. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any, or that Jason is perfect, but he makes very few mistakes and still wades into the fray and takes advantage of weak players when the time is right. That powerful combination of skills is why Jason has made millions and I’m still grinding out the mortgage every month.

All we can do is keep improving, because our opponents are going to keep getting better and if we don’t keep up, they will pass us by. It’s a tough game, and it’s not getting easier.

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Tournament Season

Tournament season is in full swing in Minnesota. Kicked off by the Tournament of Champions, tournament season runs through the middle of October with events nearly every weekend. Let’s break it down.

August 16th to 18th – MSPT event in Grand Falls, at one of my favorite properties. I don’t know if I’ll make it to this one, but I’ll definitely be at some upcoming MSPT events. Good luck if you are heading to Grand Falls this weekend!

August 23rd to 25th – The Twin Cities Poker Open at Canterbury Park. I’ve already got my seat, and if you are serious about poker, you need to get yours. An $1,100 event in the twin cities is too good an opportunity to miss, and the field should be pretty good.

August 30th to Sept 8th – The inaugural Keep It or Cash It MSPT event at Downstream in Oklahoma. I love the property, and the Keep It or Cash It idea is so good that I can’t miss it. Whoever came up with that idea is a genius. OK, it was Me, Mileski, and the poker room manager Dale at Downstream. We were drinking in a little dive bar in Joplin and in between terrible Karaoke songs, we came up with the idea. And it’s brilliant. So good that I’m driving to Oklahoma to play it.

August 18th and 25th – The $65 buy-in team battles at Running Aces, while the $230 team battle will happen on September 1st. These should be a ton of fun.

September 11th to 22nd – The Midwest Poker Classic at Running Aces. Awesome structure, a great schedule, and multiple events every day, make this series a can’t miss for me. Click the tab at the top of my site for a web version of the whole schedule. I’ll be chasing the player of the series points and grinding hard in every event.

September 30th to October 4th – The Ultimate Overlay at Canterbury Park with a $111,111 guaranteed prize pool. Hopefully next year we can get 20% of Blake Bohn’s winnings…

October 5th to 21st The legendary Fall Poker Classic at Canterbury Park. A great series with big fields.

October 24th to 27th – The HallowScream tournament at Running Aces was the best tournament of the year last year (hint, I can see the trophy from here). A lot of fun!

November 24th – The Big Turkey Tourney at Running Aces looks to be a great event! I’ll be representing Team Aces along with Erick Wright and Dave Gonia trying to take this one down. We have all committed to the event and we’ll be doing some fun giveaways as well.

December 6th to 8th – The MSPT at Canterbury Park will probably set an MSPT attendance record again. Another can’t miss event and first place might be over $100,000!

There are also MSPT events at FireKeepers, Ho Chunk, Meskwaki, and Canterbury Park by the end of the year, all great events within a reasonable driving distance!

That is a major tournament series every weekend and a lot of weekdays too, all the way until December 8th. Over 100 days of tournaments between now and the end of the year! I may not have to leave the state except to go to MSPT events until next year.

 

 

 

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A Shady Business

When I’m playing live poker, which is most of the time these days, I am often asked about online poker. Do I still play online? Where is the best place to play online? Is it safe? I don’t play online much these days, because I don’t trust any of the sites that are currently open to US players. Not one of them has shown that player accounts are segregated, that they are insured, or even that they can pay what is currently owed. This is not to say that they are all crooked or underfunded, just that none of them has proven that they are safe and solid.

Let’s look at the options

Bodog

Bodog is probably the safest and most well funded because their sports book is their primary business and it makes a lot of money. But the Department of Justice has been chasing them for years, and they have switched domain names so many times that I don’t even know where to find them any more. It could just be a matter of time before they run into serious legal trouble, which we all know can cause serious financial trouble.

I’m also concerned about the lack of accountability or security in the poker games at Bodog these days. With no player names visible and no player tracking possible, the site is really just begging for bots and collusion. And if there were a problem like Absolute and Ultimate Bet had with insider cheating, there would be no way for players to ever catch it. Being able to see who their opponents were an track win rates and hand histories is the only way a cheat has ever been caught online. The same is true with bots, it is nearly impossible to catch them on Bodog. Cheats are always looking for opportunity, so if an opportunity presents itself I have a hard time believing that the cheats aren’t taking advantage of it in big numbers.

I do know people who are making a little money, and cashing it out successfully at Bodog. The cash outs are fast and easy right now, but the other questionable things going on at Bodog prevent me from playing there. I also don’t know of a single case where someone received money that the security team had taken from someone else when they were cheated. This happened to me a number of times on Full Tilt and PokerStars, and I have to wonder if they are interested in catching cheats at all if I have never heard of a single case of cheating being uncovered by Bodog security.

Winning / Yatahay / Americas Cardroom / True Poker

The Winning Network is the only place I play online right now. The software is acceptable, the cashouts from America’s Cardroom are fast, and the games are fine. There is nothing spectacular about it, the games that are big enough to make real money are not soft enough, and they run the risk of being shut down by the Department of Justice too, so I don’t keep a lot of money on the site. The one deposit I made on the site awhile back when I got started was logged in my credit card statement as if I was buying clothing from China, which tells me that their domains could be seized at any time. Remember, this why Full Tilt and PokerStars were locked out of their domains by the DoJ, and a number of smaller sites have suffered the same fate.

Merge

The Merge Network has lost a number of skins recently and they seem to be forcing sins off their network so that their own site, Carbon, can have all the traffic. This is bad business, and indicative or some shady happenings behind the scenes. I had occasion to contact people at Merge about a serious issue some months ago and they were no help at all. When I started doing some digging, I found some disturbing things going on behind the scenes. It appears that people from FutureBet, which scammed players and skin owners out of millions of dollars, are the same people running the Merge Network. They deny this, but they also refuse to discuss it. There is zero accountability and zero transparency with this company, and everything I found looked suspicious.

I wouldn’t trust these guys to hold on to a free oil change coupon for me, and I sure don’t trust them with my money. Given that cashouts are taking months, even if you were guaranteed to get your payout and not lose your money, the extended wait would prevent me from playing there.

Revolution / Cake / Lock

The Cake network is now owned by Lock. Or not. Maybe it’s the Revolution Network using the Cake software and Lock owns part of it. No one really knows. Which is scary. Lock has been accused of questionable business practices in the past, and recently their reputation has fallen apart completely. Cash outs are taking many months, no updates are available, and support is nonexistent. Lock dollars are selling for $0.25 on the dollar on online forums, and many of their pros have left the network. Some pros left after they weren’t paid and some left after they were worried about their name being associated with a site that was not paying players. Either way, the whole thing is shady.

Player pools are also segregated on the network, making he games much less attractive for strong player trying to make money online. This was probably done by the network to avoid having players on Lock intentionally lose their money to players on other skins who could then cash out the money for them. Player to player transfers were also stopped, which usually signals the beginning of the end for an online poker site.

Chico/Tiger

The Chico Network, which includes Tiger Gaming, is either a scam, or is being run terribly and cashouts are incredibly slow. Do not play there.

VPN to Stars

It is certainly possible to get on to PokerStars and Full Tilt from the United States. I know people who are doing it every day. There are a few problems with using a remote server or VPN to get on to Stars, but you’ll have to make your own decision about whether it’s worthwhile for you. Let’s look at the potential problems.

1. It costs money. Any VPN that is any good will charge you at least $500 a month. It’s like paying extra rake, and you will have to play a lot, and win a lot, to make it worth playing when you lose your first $500 to $1,000 every month.

2. It’s risky. Some of the service providers who offer remotes or VPNs are very reputable, but what if something goes wrong in their life or they become suddenly very ill? Are you going to go to Romania or Yugoslavia or Panama to try to get your money back from them? And even if they appear solid now, things may change fast if you suddenly win a huge tournament.

3. You aren’t you. You can’t play satellites, get endorsement deals, or add your winnings to your lifetime earnings on online tracking sites. You have no proof that you have done anything.

4. It’s risky in more ways than one. If you win $90,000 from a remote controlled computer in the Czech Republic, do you think stars might want to check it out? If they do,they might bust the people who are providing the remote or VPN and take your money. If that happens, you have no recourse, you are just screwed.

Sooo…..

So, what should you do? My recommendation for most players is to play in real brick and mortar card rooms and hope that real online poker comes back to the United States before the brick and mortar card rooms start to disappear. The poker boom that online poker created is starting to slow down. A few more years without online poker and we will probably see live card rooms start to close. The micro-limit and play money games that got so many players started online were the perfect feeder for live card rooms, but new blood is rare these days, and without online poker I don’t expect to see many more new players.

Online poker also paid advertising dollars for televised poker, and without it we don’t have much new poker on TV, which was another source of new players. with no online poker, no poker on TV, and most of the fish from the original poker boom getting tired of losing, the tables in live card rooms are definitely getting tougher. I don’t have a solution for that problem, other than a little piece of advice that I ignored ten years ago.

“Don’t quit your day job.”

 

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Structure Adjustments

With the Tournament of Champions coming up at Running Aces, and the incredibly good structure that they offer for this event, I thought I would talk a little bit about adjusting to different structures. The structure is awesome, the juice is very reasonable, and if you are a serious player in Minnesota, you can not miss this tournament. There are qualifiers running all week, and more information available HERE.

I’ve been asked the question so many times that I developed a stock answer to it. The question?

“How do I need to adjust to a fast structure /turbo?”

My answer is usually –

“Not at all. The cards don’t know when the blinds go up next. You have X number of big blinds, and that doesn’t change because of the structure.”

I answer it this way most of the time because the people asking it are fairly basic players looking for a basic answer. They want a solution to their problem, not an in depth strategy lesson that they won’t remember two hands after it’s finished, and it wouldn’t do them any good. It’s also mostly true and it probably does them a lot of good because most beginning players feel way too much pressure when the blinds are going up fast and it helps them stay calm and just play the right way according to their stack and their hand. But it’s not really true, there is a little more to it.

If you read my blog with any regularity, then you probably know about my love for numbered lists. Want to see another one? Sure ya do. Here it is. Presented as a scientific paper because that’s the mood I’m in.

 

Adjustments for Varied Structure Speeds in Multi-Table Poker Tournaments

Chris Wallace, PHD: Poker Analysis, Grinder University

1. The primary differences between a fast and slow structure have to do with the amount of time you will spend with a specific set of opponents. In a faster structure it can be less profitable to establish a table image because players will be busting faster, tables will break sooner, and the subject or some of their opponents will be moved to another table or busted and replaced with others quickly. In a very slow structure, offering more opportunities for strong players, setting up a table image and paying close attention to opponents is of significantly more importance than it would be in a similar situation with a faster structure.

2. In a slow structure, the subject should worry less about their chip stack as it compares to average and concentrate on patience and making plays based on the number of big blinds in their stack. When the structure is faster it is appropriate to base one’s decision on stack size compared to average stack, though this adjustment is very small and should rarely be used as a deciding factor.

3. In a faster structure, some moves which the advanced player uses to take advantage of fold equity may not be as profitable. Players in a faster structure tend to be more desperate and feel more pressure to chip up, so they may be less willing to fold a hand. Conversely, some players will feel pressure to raise a large number of hands preflop and may fold to resteals more often. Taking note of how desperate an opponent may feel is of utmost importance in a fast structure, while in a slower structure it is more important to pay attention to the table and establish range assumptions which will help an expert player come up with accurate assumptions of fold equity.

4. In a faster structure, an expert player must remain poised with a shorter stack and be comfortable with the moves that are available with both push/fold and resteal stacks because more time will be spent in those zones. Looking for opportunities to use these plays will be important in a faster structure, while in the slower structure deep stacked play will be more important because stacks will remain deep throughout the tournament.

5. In events with a faster structure the strong player may have a lower ROI (Return On Investment), and higher variance, therefore requiring a higher bankroll for professional play, but these faster events can in fact yield a higher hourly rate because less hours will be spent in each event. Research has shown that most poker tournaments of $200 or more yield a similar hourly rate regardless of structure, though this can be heavily influenced by playing style.

6. Paying attention to table break order is important in both fast and slow structures. Time spent establishing a table image in a slow structure could be wasted in an event with a slow structure if the table will be breaking soon.

While most players will adjust far too much to different structures based on perceived pressure or lack thereof, there are clearly adjustments to be made and an expert player will benefit from a slightly higher ROI by implementing these and similar strategies.

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A Support System

I have had some success lately, more in terms of notoriety than in actual monetary profit, and I was reflecting on my way home tonight about how important it is to have the support of my family and friends. I have had many conversations with my students and other players at the tables about how their significant other, parents, or friends, aren’t supportive of their interest in poker. I can’t imagine how tough it would be to make a career out of playing poker if my friends and family were against it or thought it was a negative thing in my life.

The most important person for me is definitely my wife. She is amazing when it comes to dealing with the ups and downs of a poker career and the strange things that life as a poker pro bring into your life. Through swings in my bankroll, the nightmare of Black Friday, and the stress of long periods of running bad, she takes it all in stride. When I come home at 5 am night after night because we need the money, she doesn’t bat an eye.

Lisa Jaster

My wife is the nuts!

Last year during the Winter Freeze Out at Canterbury Park I hit the final table with the chip lead after having the chip lead for most of the day. I was running well, playing well, and felt good about my chances. My wife happened to call while we were on a break before starting the final table. I told her that I had the chip lead going in to the final table and that first place was $47,000. Her reply?

“Oh great. I’m going to bed, let me know how you did when you get home. Play well.”

Seriously? Who does that? If you had half of someone’s action in that spot, would you just drift off to sleep? I couldn’t do it. I might not get in my car and fly down to the card room, but I would at least be excited and interested, but it all rolls off her back like it’s nothing. When I’m running bad for a week or two and I get stressed about it, or I am worried about my bankroll, she just assures me that I’m a great poker player and that it will all be fine like it has every other time. She’s right, but it’s hard to just be confident of that when you are running bad and everything seems to be against you. When the whole world seems to be against me, it’s so nice to have someone who is on my side and believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself.

It would also be frustrating if my extended family thought it was a bad thing. Family gatherings would be tough if my family was anti-poker, but my parents, sister, grandparents, and cousins all seem to think it’s a perfectly fine way to make a living. It might be a little strange for some of them, but even my very Christian grandmother doesn’t seem to have any problem with it. Even my dogs are all for it. They think I’m the greatest thing ever when I come home late from the card room.

Many of my friends play poker themselves, and after playing for a living for ten years I have made so many friends who play for a living and understand how things are, that I don’t think I have any friends who disapprove. The friends I had when I started playing for a living are mostly still around, and none of them ever thought it was a bad thing. Some of that is a lifestyle and culture thing. If you grew up in a Catholic school and live in a conservative burb surrounded by doctors and lawyers, more of your friends and family might disapprove. My friends who hung out in Irish bars, accepted pretty much any lifestyle, and are cool with almost any way that you make a living other than politics, didn’t even find it strange.

If you have people in your life who don’t like poker, do everything you can to help them understand that it’s a contest of skill, that you are serious about it, and that you don’t have a gambling problem. Having their support will make your life so much easier.

I have seen the negative side of things from random people I meet who sometimes disapprove of what I do, but that is a nice filter to weed out people that I shouldn’t waste my time on. I had an apartment manager ask me what I do for a living, and when I told her that I played poker, she asked “So you have a gambling problem?”

Yes bitch, when I said professional poker player, I meant to say degenerate gambler. Thank you for correcting me when I misspoke. And I assume you have an apartment managing problem? And your husband the dentist, he just has an oral fixation? Your cousin the sanitation worker, do you just call him a dumpster bum? Does he love garbage? Grrr.

Luckily that attitude is rare these days, and poker has become a more respectable profession. I don’t get as much negative response these days, nor do I get the wide-eyed “Oh that’s so cool” response very often. Poker is a lot more normal than it used to be. Everyone knows someone who plays seriously, and even non-players mostly understand that it is a game of skill involving real money and that a legitimate living can be made from it. I hope that trend continues.

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Make the Game Great

I’ve been preaching game selection to my students for years, but sometimes it can be tough to find a good game. If you are in a small poker room there may not be many tables available, and even in fairly large rooms you may be playing a game where there simply isn’t a good game available at the moment. Table changes can take time too, and there is nothing more frustrating than getting a table change and ending up in the seat that was occupied by the donkey who was driving the action until five minutes ago. As an old friend once said –

“If you aren’t at a party, that’s your own fault. Everywhere I go there is a party. I bring the party. Sometimes I am the party.”

I’ve spent enough time playing with friends who tend to make a table great, that I have learned a little bit about how to make it happen. While I’ll never be as good at waking up a table as guys like Adam Stemple, Tom Hammers, or Mark Kroon, I can definitely wake up a bad table and at least get people talking and playing a few pots. If you are stuck at a bad table and moving just isn’t a great option, try whatever you can to get the table moving. Here are a few ideas.

1. Make people laugh. When people are laughing, they are friendly, they feel a sense of community, and they are enjoying themselves. They may start playing more pots, and the happy table may attract a genuine fish.

2. Buy them a drink. In poker rooms where you pay for your drinks, like we do here in Minnesota, buying just one player a drink can start a trend and your fellow players may start buying each other drinks. You can refrain yourself, just have one drink, or even have the waitress bring you a coke with a lime in it so that it looks like you are part of the party. I love to order a Bailey’s and coffee, which has very little real alcohol content, but smells great and lets me be part of the party instead of buying a few drinks and ordering a water for myself.

3. Show them a bluff. There have been times at a bad table where I will make a play with a slightly negative expectation just because showing off the bluff will wake the table up. This is good for two reasons. It may wake the table up for you, but it may not wake the table up for the other tight players. You will get action, while the tight players may be annoyed with your antics and leave or just be frustrated by the lack of action. When a good player leaves, it opens up a seat that may be a filled by a fish that brings the table back to life.

4. Bust somebody. When a table is bad, there is usually not a waiting list of strong players waiting to get on it. The sharks know that the table isn’t good, so they won’t be waiting to play on it, but the fish won’t know the table is tough so they will be more likely to be on the list. Tables tend to cycle, with bad tables either breaking or being refilled with fish as the sharks leave out of frustration and great tables developing long lists of smart players waiting to get in which turns it back into a bad table after a few hours. Getting this cycle moving faster when the table is bad will get you to the good part of the cycle faster.

5. Point it out. The average to strong players may leave if you point out how tough the table is. Fish don’t care if the table is tough, they think they play well and should have no problem beating good players, so if there is a fish or two at an otherwise bad table you don’t have to worry about scaring them off. You can be careful about when you complain about the table and how loudly too, just to make sure that the fish stick around.

6. Go home. If there really isn’t a good game, and you can’t wake up the game you are in, just take the night off. Get some work done, enjoy time with your family, or just get some sleep. The game will be better tomorrow.

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Scattered Mess

The title of this post refers to the blog in general. It’s a scattered mess. I would really like to make something out of it, maybe get a few advertisers or some sort of sponsorship deal that pays me a few bucks. I enjoy writing it, but I need to clean it up and find a little more focus if I’m going to get enough readers to make it worthwhile. I don’t know if I should be focused on entertaining stuff, funny links etc, or strategy and pearls of wisdom. Now that anyone can register and comment, maybe I’ll get some feedback from readers. Yes, I finally fixed it and you can register and comment. In fact I encourage it, a little discussion would be nice.

Speaking of a scattered mess, I can sense one coming now.

Congratulations to my pal Donna Lawton (@cure_mtm on twitter) on her fifth place finish in the Rio daily yesterday. $235 buy-in, $9k cashed out. Nice ROI!

I busted the WSoP Razz event yesterday late in level eleven. My day two table was super tough, with Max Pescatori, Peter Brownstein, David Singer, Perry Friedman, David Levi, and not a single fish unless you count me. Apparently PokerNews reporter Chad Holloway doesn’t count me as a fish in this event though, he did a great little write up about me an hour before I busted. There is no direct link to the article, but it’s about a third of the way down THIS PAGE. If Chad is going to put my blogs on PokerNews, I had better start doing a better job of writing them!

I busted the Razz event early enough to make it over to the Venetian for a $300 Survivor tournament. This was my first one of these, and I have been curious to see how well they work. A survivor tournament is basically a satellite for cash. The top ten percent get a little over eight buy-ins back. The rake is a little high for a satellite at $250+50, but the field is very soft. The structure is ok, but not great. Levels are fine, but starting with 12k and at 50/100 blinds makes it a little bit of a speed ball at the start. Profitable I’m sure, but not incredibly so. The slot machines and constant bad 80’s and 90’s music at high volumes are pretty irritating in the Palazzo room, but the staff was great and it’s comfortably spaced.

Pro Tip #1 – If you want something quick and cheap to eat at the Palazzo while you are on break, head over to The Coffee Bean and grab one of their egg and potato burritos. They’ll heat it up for you and while it will be a little bland on it’s own, the green salsa makes it a great little meal for $7. Finding food that cheap in the Palazzo is rare, so take note of it if you are trying to keep expenses down.

Pro Tip #2 – If you take my advice from pro tip #1, you may be tempted to try the egg sandwich instead. This is a huge mistake. I made this mistake for you, so that you won’t have to. Have you ever had an egg salad sandwich with a little dill mixed in? It’s a nice touch. Now picture  an egg sandwich with all of the dill you have seen in your lifetime somehow crammed into one sandwich. Now multiply it by a galaxy of dill. You are still two orders of magnitude below the amount of dill flavor that was in my egg salad sandwich.

You know when you get a strong mint and it feels like your whole head is full of mint and everything looks a little blue-green and cold through your mint tinged eyes? My whole world was dill. Everything looked green and I felt like someone had crammed dill directly into my brain through my nose. Did I mention the dill? Ugh.

I couldn’t be more pleased with having a rental car in the city. I have always taken cabs or walked in the past, but having a car is great. Every casino has a free valet, and the WSoP valet station is right at the back door of the Rio. Vegas is an easy city to drive in as long as you don’t try to cruise down the strip, and things like getting groceries, or hitting up a restaurant you heard about, are much easier with a car.

Pro Tip #3 – Get a rental car, but don’t get one from the airport. The shuttle from the airport, and then a shuttle from the shuttle stop, finally got me to the rental car place I had booked online as an “airport car rental” when in fact we were so far from the airport I could have booked a flight to a closer airport. Then they hit you with a big “airport fee” on top of your rental. This airport fee is significantly more than a cab ride to a better rental car company, and it would be fast too. And how the hell is there an airport fee when I had to take two shuttles from the airport just to get to the place. If it had been a shuttle fee it would have made more sense, there were more shuttles involved than airports.

I’m loving three things right now –

1. The My Stack app from PokerNews. Any time I am in an event you will be able to rail me just by watching the chip counts on PokerNews and I can update them from my phone. Now you don’t need to be a big deal and get coverage, because you can put yourself in the coverage by updating your own chip counts. Get it for Android or iphone in the app store.

2. The bottle of Glenfiddich 18 year that my pal Tom picked up for me. Damn that is good scotch, thanks buddy!

3. My new poker shades from Blue Shark. I didn’t wear them in the Razz event, but I have worn them any time I am playing no-limit holdem and they are great. I got the Hoyt Corkins model because they are light and easy to wear, and I’m really happy with them. If you stop by their booth at the WSoP, tell Kerry that you are a friend of mine and he’ll probably charge you extra. but he might give you a discount. It’s a gamble.

By the way, neither Poker News nor Blue Sharks is paying me to write about them. Not that I’m above that. If you want to pay me to write good stuff about your product, just shoot me an email. If I don’t hate your product, I’ll be happy to be bribed into writing wonderful things about it. I have a price, and at the moment it is not expensive. Not at all.

 

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Preparing for Vegas

I’m headed to Vegas on Sunday night, and staying for a month, so I’ve spent most of the week at home getting things done and hanging out with my wife and my dogs. I’ll be playing poker at least 12 ours a day for the next month, so taking some time off right now seems like the best choice. Other than spending time with the family and resting up, I’m also preparing for Vegas in other ways. If you read my blog often, you know I love numbered lists…

Things I’m doing to get ready for Vegas

1. Looking at the new Blue Shark Optics product line. I can’t say enough good things about Blue Sharks and how much they will help your game. I know the good folks at Blue Shark, and they give me a great deal on a pair every year at the WSoP where I can try on ten or twenty pairs to find out what I like. Once a year seems to be about the right replacement rate too, I either scratch or break them by the time the WSoP rolls back around. There are no other shades that are even close to Blue Sharks, and with the strong fields in Vegas during the summer I will be wearing them most of the time. If you buy some, tell them I said hi and you might get a discount.

2. Getting some new cargo shorts with big pockets so I can carry everything I need for a long tournament day. Two extra cell phone batteries, headphones or ear buds, cash, wallet, cell phone, Blue Sharks, business cards, an E-Cigarette, and who knows what else I might need on a given day. The pockets on a pair of jeans or board shorts just won’t carry enough stuff comfortably and backpacks are banned at The Rio this year so I’ll need big pockets.

3. I just bought a new laptop so that keeping up with this blog and other writing I will need to do will be simple and easy. I bought a chromebook, and I love it. It starts up in 6 seconds, doesn’t catch viruses, and it’s small, light weight, and inexpensive. Perfect for traveling light and working in lots of different environments.

4. Buying protein bars. I have a lot of weird food allergies that mostly involve fresh fruits and vegetables, so it’s very tough to eat healthy in a casino. I’m also allergic to spending $15 on a burrito at the Poker Kitchen twice a day, so some protein bars in my pockets will save me some money too. Your brain power and mental toughness are badly degraded when you get hungry, and with a short break every two hours you will sometimes find yourself playing hungry if you don’t have a snack with you.

Some News

Have you seen the ridiculous amounts of money that Minnesota players are winning in Vegas this summer? Over $700,000 so far, and we will almost certainly break the million dollar mark by the end of July. Check out this list of cashes at MNPokerMag.com.

I’ll probably be playing the PPotY satellite at Running Aces this Sunday before I fly out to Vegas. Great satellite, and I was planning to play that event at the Nugget anyway. And they are adding two seats!

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Do you suck at poker?

If you suck at poker, you need to buy my book.

I picked up a bunch of copies of my book a few weeks ago, and they are cluttering up my office. Boxes and boxes of books. My dogs have nowhere to sleep when they are in the office with me. I have to move books just to get to my book shelf full of poker books. It’s like having eight pounds of leftover turkey the day after Thanksgiving or harvesting your garden in the fall when you have too many tomatoes.

This is the last load from the warehouse, so when these are gone we’ll probably be done selling the book because it’s a hassle. We’ve made a nice profit on a self-published book, which is a rare and impressive feat, but this is probably the last printing. Maybe in 6 months or a year we’ll publish it for the Kindle and Nook, but we probably won’t print more.

Since this is the last bunch, and it’s a very big bunch cluttering up my office, I must urge you to buy a copy right now. Seriously. You’ll be very angry when they are all gone and everyone else is good at poker because they got a copy. You’ll be sitting there, a crap poker player with no understanding of the game, feeling guilty about not supporting a local author, while everyone who read the book is busy stacking your chips and calling you a fish behind your back.

Eventually, other poker players will shun you socially and your money will be gone. Your spouse will probably leave you, because who wants to be married to a broke ass with no friends? And when that happens, don’t come crying to me, because I wrote a great book that could have helped you learn about no-limit holdem and you ignored it. You probably bought Mileski’s stupid* book instead didn’t you? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Click here now to buy the book. Seriously. Go buy it. My office isn’t very big and this is too many boxes.

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Cash Games in Vegas

I’ve already covered where to play tournaments in Vegas, but I get a lot of questions about where to play cash games and most people flock to the least profitable spots to play cash games against other solid players, local pros, and ultra-tight bonus grinders. If you are playing poker for money, then go where the soft players are and get away from the strong players. If you just want to say that you played poker in a room that will make you sound cool, then tell everyone you played cash at The Rio or The Venetian and ignore the rest of this post.

You will probably be playing $1/2 or $1/3 no-limit holdem games, and the best places for those games are the less glamorous rooms at lower end hotels. The Venetian will be the toughest place for these lower limit games because so many local grinders will be playing there. They like the room because the rake is low and the tables are comfortable with a wide range of tables to choose from. If you are used to the room and know who the regulars are, then it’s probably just fine to play there, but for the rest of us it’s better to go where every table is soft and we don’t have to worry about table selection. The Aria is nearly as tough as the Venetian. While there will certainly be soft players in both rooms, they won’t be as soft as some of the lesser known rooms.

The Rio will have a huge number of games and lots of action, but the chairs are uncomfortable, the food is expensive, and the dealers are clueless. And last year there were many instances of extra cards in the deck and nothing was done about it. The cameras don’t work well in the Rio, and there are better places to play smaller no-limit games.

Caesars has good $1/3 games, and the slightly higher stake can increase your win rate, though the rake is slightly higher. You will find more annoying drunk idiots at Caesars, but if you can tolerate them you will find that they lose tremendous amounts of money. The room is nice, the food is good, and the chairs are above average.

The smaller rooms are where the real money is. Put in a few sessions at a place like Planet Hollywood or Harrahs and you will see why they are so profitable. Your opponents will be lost, and some of them will be playing in a casino for the first time. If there is a big sporting event, like the NBA finals happening right now, Planet Hollywood will be particularly good because the sports book is right next door and the gamblers will come play poker and pay more attention to the basketball game than the poker table.

If you are playing at a room with lots of table choices, look for a game where people are happy, drinking, and laughing. If they are having fun, then they are gambling, and that’s what you want. Big stacks aren’t necessarily good, they often mean that the players have been there a long time and the fish have all been busted. Shorter stacks will often indicate weak players, and it’s not like that is all the money you can win. Once they go broke they will rebuy or leave and another player will take their spot and you can bust them too. If your table is quiet and tight, get a table change right away – don’t waste any time on a bad table.

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Player of the Week Race at Running Aces

I’ve been very frustrated with online poker lately, so I’ve given it up almost completely. I’m also trying to cut down a little on the amount of time I’m spending on the road and make a little more money, so local live poker games are the only way to do that. The games in Minnesota are tougher than any other place that I’ve played, but there is still definitely money to be made here and we are lucky to have two high quality card rooms in the twin cities. With the low limits on cash games, making more than about $25 an hour is tough, and even that number is only achievable by the very best players who have spent a lot of time studying. I do play in some home games where my income is a little higher than that, but tournaments are probably the best solution long term and I really enjoy playing them.

This week I decided to play a bunch of tournaments at Running Aces and see how tough the Player of the Week race is. I’ve talked to a couple people who are regularly in the running for the PotW race and run some numbers on my own, and I think I have a pretty good feel for how much I can make playing just tournaments at Running Aces. It’s not enough money to make me really happy by itself, but adding in lots of local series in the spring and fall, MSPT events, and whatever else I can find locally, I don’t think I will have to be on the road when I don’t want to. As of today I’m in the lead for the PotW race by five points.

The Schedule

Monday – The $5k freeroll is really a $50 buy-in tournament if you are playing it right. You start with 27,000 in chips that way, and they add $2k to the prize pool. Of course the $50 is half rake, which is the only reason this isn’t the best tournament in town, but with the added money, huge field, and terrible players, it’s still worth playing. I would probably skip it some weeks when I had a lot of work to get done, but it’s worth playing.

Tuesday – The $50 tournament at 2 pm may not be worth it just because smaller buy-in tournaments have such a high rake percentage, but the 6 pm tournament is $150 buy-in and a great structure. The 6 pm will be on my schedule every week when I’m in town.

Wednesday – In the past I have always played the $235 weekly at Canterbury, but if I have a cash at Aces already that puts me in the points race then I’ll play the Wacky Wednesday at 6 pm. The $50 rebuy at 10:30 am is probably profitable as well, but I don’t play tournaments before noon. Gotta get my beauty sleep.

Thursday – The $150 at 6 pm is the same as the Tuesday event and I will play this almost every week when I am in town too.

Friday – There are two $70 tournaments on Friday, and they are small enough that I’ll skip them unless I am in the points race from some good results earlier in the week.

Saturday – The $70 tournament at 9:30 is too early for me, but the $150 bounty event at 6 pm will only be on my schedule most weeks, and if I’m in the points race I’ll play it for sure.

Sunday – The $250 Optimum is one of the best weekly tournaments I’ve ever seen, and I’ll play it whenever I’m in town. If I bust the Optimum, and I’m still looking for points, I can play the $70 event at 6pm.

What I Might Make

I think I would be playing an average of $800 in tournaments in a typical week at Aces, and my ROI in those tournaments is pretty good, so making $1,000 a week should be doable. With $200 a week in PotW money, I’m up to $1,200 a week. Given that I’m self employed and have to pay my own health insurance, social security, etc., I wouldn’t be happy with $1,200 a week long term, but to make that on my “off weeks” when I’m not playing bigger stuff is pretty reasonable. Adding that to the bigger events, MSPT, local series, and the WSoP in the summer, I could get myself up to a pretty reasonable income and I might not hate poker so much if I was just playing tournaments and putting in less hours than I have been in the past.

It ain’t Vegas, or Florida, or California, but there is money to be made in Minnesota if you study hard and learn to really crush the games. In some parts of the country it is impossible to make a living playing poker, so we’re lucky to have this option even if players in some places are making more money.

Quick News Update 

 

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Links Everywhere

I’ve always thought those blogs with links everywhere were neat. You know the ones where they insert words into the post just to us them as links? Like if I said “I was playing on Bodog the other day… blah blah blah.” Anyway, I thought I would try one of those just to see how it went. By the way, I will always be a smart ass with my anchor text for links. It’s just become a habit. If you hover over a link in my blog, the text that pops up to describe the link will often be something snarky, funny, or ironic. And while it will probably never be anything too hardcore or offensive, do be careful clicking at work, there could be a dirty word in there somewhere.

I took my second shot at the Mayhem in May tournament tonight at Running Aces, but I continue to run bad and couldn’t manage to fade Nate Fair‘s three outer. It was a great tournament though, especially for those that managed to run a little better than I do. You should also remember that if I say something bad about someone in the local poker scene, it’s probably a joke. For example, I like Nate Fair, even if he is a huge donkey, so I can kid around with him. Someone will eventually take offense to something I write, that’s just how it goes, but I will probably just mock them mercilessly.

In other news, Russ Hamilton, former WSoP Champion, online poker cheat, and dirtbag, admitted all the shady things he did in the Ultimate Bet scandal, and implicated Annie Duke and others, including a company that is involved in the only licensed only poker site in Nevada, Iovation. Not only is their name, Ultimate Poker, similar to Ultimate Bet, but they hired a company involved in the UB scandal to handle their verification services. I’m sure your money is safe there, no worries.

I’ve also noticed that these blogs with tons of links in them always sneak in a plug for the things they are selling or promoting. Not that I would do that, I just noticed that some of them do it. That’s it for me, but I’ll be back every few days with more bloggy goodness. Until then, you can follow me on twitter.

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Vegas Summer Schedule

While I’m not selling any action, a few people have asked about my summer schedule and asked advice about what they should be playing when they go out to the World Series of Poker. I set my own schedule a few weeks ago, covering as many mixed game events as possible in the 31 days I’ll be in Vegas, with some no-limit events at the Rio, mostly $1,500 bracelet events.

If you, like most players, won’t be in Vegas for more than a week or two, you’ll want to make the most of your time in town and you’ll be hoping to make some money. Be careful with your bankroll, and decide what your max buy-in will be. I definitely think some events are much softer than others. Here’s a quick guide to finding the softest fields.

Event Schedules

Venetian Deep stack Schedule

Wynn Classic Schedule

Caesars Mega Stacks Schedule

Binion’s Poker Classic

WSoP Schedule

Golden Nugget Grand Poker Series Schedule

Aria Classic Schedule

Where to Play with Buy-ins of Less than $500

There are so many good options at this buy-in size. The Golden Nugget and Caesars both have series right in this range, though the rake is fairly high in both. The Rio Daily Deepstacks are a good value too, with huge fields full of donkeys, but you may end up waiting an hour in line to register for them. That will never be a problem at The Nugget or Caesars, and you’ll be playing in a quiet and comfortable room with reasonably priced food and drink nearby at both locations, while you will be paying out the nose for those things at the Rio, as well as playing in the middle of the mess that is the WSoP. Even Binion’s has a good selection of smaller buy-in events.

The Venetian Deep Stacks are a good option too, though you may be seated close to some annoying slot machines and you may have a line to register, though it won’t compare to the ridiculous line at the Rio. The rake is pretty high at the Venetian too, but they have a great selection of events and the fields will be fairly large for the smaller buy-in events.

The Wynn has $400 and $500 buy-in events from June 7th to the 21st, with a good structure. I love playing at The Wynn, the tables are good, the service is good, and there is good, fast, within 50 feet of the tournament area.

Your best bet is probably to play whatever event is close to you, since cab fare would be much higher than the difference in rake. If you are downtown, The Nugget and Binion’s are the way to go, if you are at the Rio then play the deep stack events, and if you are on the strip, play wherever is closest to you with the buy-in you like on that day.

Where to Play with Buy-ins of More than $500

If you are playing buy-ins great than $500, you are primarily concerned with finding the softest fields, and there is a huge disparity. Venetian DS events with buy-ins over $600 have very tough fields and should probably be avoided. Special events like Binion’s and Caesars main events will be tough, but not as tough as the Venetian fields. The softest fields will be at the Rio, and don’t be afraid of the small number of starting chips, the structure is better than it seems. Half the fields in $1,000 or $1,500 or events will be clueless, just take advantage of them early while they still have chips.

Cash Games

There will be cash games everywhere, and a huge number of games at The Rio, but the best places to play most games will be away from the horde of grinders. The Venetian and Rio will be the toughest games, though there will still be a lot of soft spots. If you are playing $2/5, The Wynn will probably have the softest games, while smaller games will be best at places like Planet Hollywood where there won’t be any pros and most of your opponents will be sports bettors. As long as you get away from the few biggest rooms, the cash games will be fantastic.

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The Road Rules

I’ll be headed out to Running Aces to play the Sunday Optimum tournament today, and as always I checked the weather before leaving. Looks like it will be foggy by the time I leave tonight…

35E can be a lonely road at 4 am, which is usually when I leave Running Aces and head home. A foggy night on a lonely stretch of highway can be dangerous, but I’ve developed a set of rules to keep me safe on road trips and so far I haven’t had any problems. These rules were developed after years of reading horror novels and watching scary movies, and as long as you follow them you have nothing to worry about and can drive to Aces any time day or night.

1. If things look shady, get out.

This means that if we stop at a gas station, and Elvis (or a creepy clown) offers to pump our gas for us, and he has a gun on his hip, I’m out of there. If you aren’t in the car immediately, you’re screwed because I’m leaving. And if we stop at a country store and the owner has no teeth and a gorgeous daughter that’s flirting with me, I’m out of there too. Otherwise I end up killed or raped by her deformed brother in a creepy mask. Not my first rodeo folks, and I know better than to fall for the hot redneck girl in cutoff jean shorts when the situation is obviously crooked somehow. Nope, not the Fox.

2. It’s none of your business.

If you stop near a cornfield and a baby is crying in the corn, leave it alone. It’s not your baby. In fact it’s not a baby at all, it’s something or someone who is going to sacrifice you to the corn god. If you go investigate some weird sound in the middle of nowhere, I’m leaving. Good luck with devil baby in the corn field.

3. Finish off the killer.

If you find yourself in a bad spot, chased by a machete wielding killer, and score a few points on them, don’t leave them laying there and run off. They will wake up, and turn up when you least expect it. If you knock them down and stun them, take away their machete / chainsaw / scythe and cut their head off. Now burn the body and take the head with you. Keep it in your trunk until morning, buy a safe, and lock the head in the safe. Now dump the safe in a deep lake. No sequels, no coming back for you later, the bad guy stays dead.

4. Don’t go back.

Once you kill the bad guy, DO NOT go back to where it all started. This is a terrible idea. Move far away and never go back there for any reason. Let someone else deal with that shit. Whatever evil lives in that town, corn field, or old farmhouse, can stay there. Just stay away from it.

5. The cops can’t help.

If the police show up to help you, they are either in cahoots with the witches / inbred rednecks / corn worshipers, or the poor cop is going to get an ax in the back of his head pretty soon. Better you just leave them out of it and save either your life or his. The only exceptions to this are if you are in love with the cop, or it is dawn and they are coming to pick you up after the devastation is over.

6. Don’t get bitten.

Whether it’s a zombie or a wolf or a vampire, don’t let them bite you. If they get their teeth in you, it’s over, you are on your way to becoming one of them. If we hit a wolf on the highway, do not stop to check on it. While you are getting yourself bitten by a werewolf, I’ll be sliding into the driver’s seat and locking the doors. And driving away. Because you are an idiot and should have stayed in the car. Call the DNR if you want, but do not get out of the car to examine the injured creature unless you want to be stuck there with it as I drive away giving you the finger out the window.

7. Stay in the car.

How many times can I say this? If you get out of the car, the piece of shit won’t start when you get back in, and the crazed killing machine that is chasing you will have no problem smashing the window and dragging you out. When you wake up hanging from a meat hook in an old cellar or tied to an operating table in a barn in the middle of nowhere, remember that I warned you to keep driving.

8. Don’t be a jackass.

I can’t stress this one enough. If you are a guy who demeans women, a frat boy, or just a jerk, you have no chance. You will be one of the first to die. The same goes for women who are shallow, unlikable, or bitchy. You have to care about others, be strong, and have a troubled past, if you are going to stand a chance. And if you aren’t attractive, you’re screwed. The ugly ones never survive. If you put Joan Jett, Britney Spears, and an ugly girl in a horror movie, Joan Jett survives every time. The others die terribly. Be Joan Jett. A tough, troubled, dark haired, hero is the only one who stands a chance.

Be safe out there on the road in unfamiliar surroundings. Driving a foggy highway at night doesn’t have to be a death trap if you know the rules and exercise some reasonable safety precautions. I’ve driven through Iowa at night four or five times this year without incident, and I survived a trip through Wisconsin in thick fog a few months ago too. I’ll see you at Aces in a few hours. Unless you stop to help that girl on the highway half naked and covered in blood with no car anywhere nearby. If you do that then I’ll read about you on the news. Hopefully the scariest thing I see today is a three-bet from Erick Wright.

 

 

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The Toughest Game in Town

I played the Wednesday night $235 buy-in tournament tonight at Canterbury Park. I’ve mentioned this before on our podcast and probably in other spots, but that thing has got to be the toughest weekly tournament I’ve ever played. The Sunday Optimum at Running Aces is also probably pretty tough, though I’ve only played it a couple times.

They get between 70 and 90 runners on most nights for the Wednesday night tournament, and I know almost every one of them. And they all know each other. Because it’s the same damn people every night for years now. If you want to see how good you really are, or just play with some strong players to learn a few tricks, The Canterbury Wednesday is the place to do it.

Reasons why the field is so tough in this tournament –

1. It’s in Minnesota

I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I can guarantee you that the average player in Minnesota is much tougher than the average player in most other places. We have good schools, high literacy rates, and while there is some money here, there aren’t a lot of people with more money than sense like you might find in California, Vegas, or the East Coast. We’ve also had poker for a long time, so people have had time to learn. And to top it all off we have some serious poker coaches here.

Jason Senti worked for Blue Fire Poker, a top training site.

Mike Schneider is part owner of CardRunners, the net’s largest training site, and makes videos for them as well.

I work with PokerXFactor as well as running my own training site at GrinderU.com and wrote a book on no-limit holdem.

My business partner Adam Stemple makes training videos for PokerXFactor and Grinder U as well as coauthoring my book.

Bryan Mileski’s Minnesota Poker Magazine regularly has strategy articles in it, some of them from me. What other state, especially one this small, has a professional magazine dedicated to it’s poker scene with in-depth strategy articles?

We all combine to make Minnesota games tougher, and very few states have as many opportunities for players to improve by playing bigger buy-in events as often as we do. There are at least ten events a year with a buy-in over $1,000 that are full of strong players, which gives intermediate players a chance to learn quickly from the pros they play with.

2. The same tournament has been running for a long time.

This allows the same players to get used to it and adjust to the structure and learn how to play tournament poker. There are no antes in this event, and everyone who plays it is used to that fact. Raising with weak hands doesn’t do you much good in this thing with no antes to steal, and every one who plays it regularly has figured that out. Minnesotans also tend to be conservative with money, and conservative is a good approach in this tournament.

3. Re-entries end early.

Since the re-entry period doesn’t last long, neither do bad players. In many other events where the re-entry time is longer, the bad players re-enter more often and juice the prize pool. They also don’t get as discouraged by busting early, so they tend to come back more often. Very few people bust in the first two levels, so re-entries are rare.

I’ve done a lot of traveling, and talked to other players who travel as well, and we all agree that Minnesota poker is tougher than almost anywhere else, and this may be the toughest weekly tournament in the country. That doesn’t mean you should be afraid of it, it’s a lot of fun and the environment is friendly. You don’t improve if you don’t test yourself against tough competition, and if you are a strong enough player there is still money to be made. No matter how tough the field is, I’ll be there again next week, and almost every week when I’m in town because it keeps me sharp. Assuming that I’m sharp in the first place.

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An Amateur Move?

I’ll be posting hands pretty regularly here on my blog, and I thought this one was an interesting way to show how a play that some players see as amateurish, the turn check-raise, can be very effective. I feel like I bridge the gap between old school live players and the younger breed of new school players, many of whom learned the trade online, and both have value, so I’ll often be contrasting the two styles in my hand posts as well. This was definitely an old-school play.

In a recent $1,100 event at Running Aces card room here in Minnesota, a player at my table was very willing to go far with his hands, and was floating flop bets any time he had even the tiniest piece of the flop. He was also betting any time anyone checked to him. This can be a frustrating combination, because it is so often a profitable play and it threatens his opponent with high variance plays and big pots anytime they are in a hand with him. In this case, my opponent was also seeing way too many flops and had a small physical tell.

I started the hand with 35 big blinds about mid-day. We were nowhere near the money, but the blinds were getting big enough that most people were below 50 big blinds. My opponent had about 55 big blinds. I had Q8s (I know, a monster) in the hijack seat, and the blinds were tight, so I raised it up to 2.4 big blinds. My opponent called on the button, and the blinds folded. Playing a hand out of position was unexpected, but at least I had a predictable opponent.

The flop was Q93 rainbow, and I bet four big blinds, hoping that he would call. I got what I wanted as he called quickly. Against a very simple player, the quick call means that he has a draw or a medium strength hand. His decision is easy and he doesn’t have to think about raising or about folding. Good news for me, since he overvalued hands so much that he would have raised any top pair here, and since he wouldn’t have a monster when he acted so quickly, I am definitely ahead, and almost always facing middle pair. He was nuts, but won’t have a trey in his hand very often, so a 9 is definitely the most likely holding for him.

I knew exactly what my stack was on the flop, and thought it out. When he called my flop bet, I knew I had my double up.  The turn was a 5.

On the turn the pot held 14 big blinds, and I had 28 big blinds left in my stack. I checked. Yep, I checked it. An amateur move to be sure. But I got what I wanted. He bet 11 big blinds, and I went all-in for my remaining 28. He only thought for a second before calling, as I figured he would. I flipped over my top pair with no kicker, and he nodded his head as he rolled over T9o for middle pair. I had him drawing to five outs, and he missed them.

As I stacked the pot, I noticed a confused look from a few players at my table. One player looked like he couldn’t believe that we had just played a pot with 70 big blinds in it and showed down top pair no kicker and middle pair no kicker. Another looked impressed, like I must have had a magical mind-read on my opponent. And a few strong players at the table just nodded their heads, acknowledging that they would have played it the same way.

I felt pretty good about it.

I have had trouble taking risks and trusting my reads in the past, because I’m not inherently a risk-taker when it comes to money. I’ve done some crazy things in my life, but when it comes to poker I have been fairly risk averse for most of my career. While plays like this one have become standard, and they don’t feel like a big risk at all, five years ago it would have been tougher to make this play and be so comfortable with it.

I will definitely cover some more advanced plays in future posts, but in the last week or two this was the play that stuck in my mind as something people could learn from. Remember to look at the stack sizes and think about how the hand will play out. If I had 60 big blinds in my stack, I would have played this hand differently, probably betting small on the turn and checking the river if I didn’t improve. That would usually earn me a free showdown from a mid-pair kind of hand and keep the pot size under control.

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Grinder University Launches

I’m proud to announce that I’m part of a truly unique and powerful poker training site – Grinder University!

With long time grinder Adam Stemple and poker psychology expert Dr. Alan Schoonmaker, I will be hosting a seminar every week and helping members work their way through the college style courses on the site as well as contributing on the forums and creating podcasts.

The site covers everything from poker tells to bankroll management, and tilt control to in-depth strategy advice, and since we are geared at live play, both cash games and tournaments, I think we are covering a lot of ground that no other training site has touched. And for $24.95 a month with no sign up fee, the site is a steal right now. That price may go up soon, so sign up now and say hi on the forums. I’ll see you inside.

GrinderU.com

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Tournament HUD file for Holdem Manager

Here’s a screenshot of the HUD I use in tournaments lately. The auto-rate icon is first, and those auto rate rules are in the post below this one. The first actual number is the player’s tournament M, color coded to the Harrington system. The two numbers separated by a slash are VPIP / PFR and the last number is the number of hands to indicate sample size. I have used HUDs with more info in them, but I can get 3bet and fold to 3bet stats from clicking on the VP/PFR, and those are the only other stats I really use.  Stats like W$SD and AG% (which I use in my cash game HUD) just aren’t very useful in tournaments because the sample sizes are never big enough for them to be accurate. Between the autorate system and the few stats in this HUD I know enough to make most of my decisions pretty clear.

Right-Click HERE and select “Save link as” to download the exported file. If the download doesn’t work, you can copy the text below the picture, paste it into a blank text document and save it. Then rename the text document with a .xml extension and you can import that file into Holdem Manager.

To import the file –

Open Holdem Manager and from the very top of the program, select HUD Options and then Player Preferences. This will open up a window where you can control most of what goes on in your HUD. In the top middle of this new window you will see Import and Export buttons. If you click Import and select the file you just downloaded or created, it will import that layout. Then you can set the new layout to be active during tournaments and it should work fine.

MTT_HUD

HUD1

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
- <HUDexport>
<General />
- <config pos1="0.831,0.256,0.867,0.688,0.603,0.728,0.004,0.593,0.044,0.241,0.416,0.146,0.434,0.850,0.701,0.184,0.912,0.585,0.671,0.796,0.093,0.664,0.155,0.263,0.510,0.153, 0.580,0.148,0.807,0.289,0.832,0.575,0.656,0.765,0.279,0.850,0.176,0.763,-0.003,0.574,0.033,0.291,0.264,0.152,0.544,0.870,0.700,0.185,0.884,0.307,0.888,0.547,0.753,0.764,0.496,0.789,0.223,0.768,0.106,0.569,0.102,0.309,0.293,0.190, 0.900,0.500,0.278,0.164,0.000,0.000,0.900,0.500,0.100,0.500, 0.624,0.120,0.824,0.265,0.900,0.500,0.824,0.735,0.624,0.880,0.376,0.880,0.176,0.735,0.100,0.500,0.176,0.265,0.376,0.120,0.000,0.100,0.624,0.120,0.824,0.265,0.900,0.500,0.824,0.735,0.624,0.880,0.376,0.880,0.176,0.735,0.100,0.500,0.176,0.265,0.376,0.120, 0.316,0.100,0.409,0.377, 0,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5, 5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5, 5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5," pos2="mttone 3 1 0 -1 9 0.000 0.080 mttone 3 1 0 -1 6 0.010 0.090 mttone 3 1 0 4 6 -0.040 0.090 mttone 3 1 0 5 6 -0.040 0.090 mttone 3 1 0 3 6 -0.030 0.090" Default_Winrate="Name _T("") _T("Won") Winnings ----New Line---- Win rate _T("") _T("Hands") Hands newLine _T("5 min") Won_5_mins newLine _T("10 min") Won_10_mins newLine _T("20 min") Won_20_mins" Default_Preflop="Name _T("") _T("Won") Winnings ----New Line---- Win rate _T("") _T("Hands") Hands ----New Line---- ----New Line---- _T("") _T("\bTotal\b") _T("\bEP\b") _T("\bMP\b") _T("\bCO\b") _T("\bBtn\b") _T("\bSB\b") _T("\bBB\b") ----New Line---- _T("VP$IP") VP$IP.total VP$IP.EP VP$IP.MP VP$IP.CO VP$IP.BTN VP$IP.SB VP$IP.BB ----New Line---- _T("PFR") PFR.total PFR.EP PFR.MP PFR.CO PFR.BTN PFR.SB PFR.BB ----New Line---- _T("Call Open") Call Open.total Call Open.EP Call Open.MP Call Open.CO Call Open.BTN Call Open.SB Call Open.BB ----New Line---- _T("Raise 1st") Raise 1st.total Raise 1st.EP Raise 1st.MP Raise 1st.CO Raise 1st.BTN Raise 1st.SB Raise 1st.BB ----New Line---- _T("3-Bet") 3-Bet.total 3-Bet.EP 3-Bet.MP 3-Bet.CO 3-Bet.BTN 3-Bet.SB 3-Bet.BB ----New Line---- _T("Limp") Limp.total Limp.EP Limp.MP Limp.CO Limp.BTN Limp.SB Limp.BB ----New Line---- ----New Line---- _T("Fold to 3-bet") Fold to 3-bet _T("4-bet") 4-Bet ----New Line---- _T("Fold to 4-bet") Fold to 4-bet _T("4-B range") Four-bet Range _T("Squeeze") squeeze.total" Default_VsPre="_T("\b") _T("3-Bet") three-Bet.total _T("4-Bet") _T("") Four-bet newLine _T("Fold to 3-Bet") Fold_to_three-bet _T("Squeeze") _T("") squeeze.total newLine newLine _T("\b") _T("EP") _T("MP") _T("CO") _T("Btn") _T("SB\b") newLine _T("3b vs open from") Three_bet.open_from.EP.total Three_bet.open_from.MP.total Three_bet.open_from.CO.total Three_bet.open_from.BTN.total Three_bet.open_from.SB.total newLine _T("Fold to 3B") Fold_vs_3b.EP.total Fold_vs_3b.MP.total Fold_vs_3b.CO.total Fold_vs_3b.BTN.total Fold_vs_3b.SB.total">
- <mttone HU_NL="False" M6_NL="False" FR_NL="False" TT_NL="False" HU_FL="False" M6_FL="False" FR_FL="False" FR_TT="True" M6_TT="True" HU_TT="True" font_size="8" font_name="Verdana" font_attr="1" background="0" alt_background="1" text_color="7" show_abrev="True" main_popup="DEFAULT Main Popup" opacity="10" card_opacity="10" seperate_panels="True" pots="0" site_index="0" games="All games" avg_vpip="False" fix_my_stats="True" show_notes="True" disable_hero="True" scale_fonts="True" drop_shadow="False">
- <TrnyM dim_sample="False" abrev=" " villainHero="both" format="0" old_popup="False" min_samples="0" popup="Default_Winrate">
- <Ranges>
<Range color="1" upper_bound="6" />
<Range color="10" upper_bound="10" />
<Range color="16" upper_bound="20" />
<Range color="2" upper_bound="1000000" />
</Ranges>
</TrnyM>
- <VPIP.total dim_sample="False" abrev=" " villainHero="villain" format="0" old_popup="False" min_samples="0" popup="Default_Preflop">
- <Ranges>
<Range color="26" upper_bound="1000000" />
</Ranges>
</VPIP.total>
- <PFR.total dim_sample="False" abrev="/" villainHero="villain" format="0" old_popup="False" min_samples="0" popup="Default_VsPre">
- <Ranges>
<Range color="26" upper_bound="1000000" />
</Ranges>
</PFR.total>
- <Hands dim_sample="False" abrev=" " villainHero="villain" format="0" old_popup="True" min_samples="0" popup="Default_Winrate">
- <Ranges>
<Range color="19" upper_bound="1000000" />
</Ranges>
</Hands>
</mttone>
</config>
</HUDexport>

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The book is finally available!!!

My long awaited book on no-limit Holdem cash games is finally available for preorder and will be shipping within a month. The focus is learning how to think for yourself and handle any situation as they appear rather than trying to to learn what to think and memorize every possible situation.

You can buy it and read about the no-limit holdem book including a sample chapter and table of contents.

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Short Stack Charts

I ran some numbers today on when to call short stack shoves after you raise and they come over the top. With a simple spreadsheet and Poker Stove these things are easy to figure out. If I still played a lot of cash no-limit Holdem, I would make a bunch of these charts so that I was prepared for any possible short stack poker situation. Here are the two I put together for a couple of my students.

Assuming you have made a standard raise to three times the blind, the 20 BB short stack has come over the top all-in, and no one else is involved in the hand, you should be calling a hand that has about 42% equity against his range.  That gives you the following chart for that situation –

Opp Hand Range  =  Opp Percentage       Correct Calling Range

JJ+, AK                                 3 %                                      AKs, JJ+

99+, AK                                 4 %                                     AKo, JJ+

99+, AQo+                            5 %                                    AKo, TT+

88+, AJs, AQo                     6 %                                    AKo, 99+

77+, ATs, KQs, AQo          7%                                    AQs, 99+

77+, ATs, KQs, AJo           8%                                    AQo+, 88+

66+, ATs, KQo, AJo           9%                                    77+, AJs+, AQo+

44+, ATs, KQo, AJo           10%                                 66+, AJo+

44+, ATs, KQo, AJo           11%                                 66+, AJo+

If you get one caller before the short stack raises all-in for 20 BB, then you can call a little wider because of the extra money in the pot. In this spot you need to have around 39% equity against their range, and I dropped that in to a spreadsheet as well, with the following results.

Opp Hand Range  =  Opp Percentage       Correct Calling Range

JJ+, AK                                 3 %                                      AKs, JJ+

99+, AK                                 4 %                                     AKo, JJ+

99+, AQo+                            5 %                                    AQs, TT+

88+, AJs, AQo                     6 %                                    AQs, 99+

77+, ATs, KQs, AQo          7%                                    AQo, AJs, 88+

77+, ATs, KQs, AJo           8%                                    AQo+, AJs, 77+

66+, ATs, KQo, AJo           9%                                    77+, AJs+, AQo+

44+, ATs, KQo, AJo           10%                                 66+, AJo+

44+, ATs, KQo, AJo           11%                                 66+, AJo+

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