Sunday, January 27, 2013

Your Input is Needed ... Please?

I have a post coming up in the next week that I am working on, and I’m kinda stuck.  I thought it might be a good idea to ask for input from readers, then craft the post around what kind of feedback I get.  Lazy?  Sure, but it’ll be more effective.  I hope.  Read on…

The idea is based around playing styles.  Remember, we’re talking about small-stakes tournament play, usually 1-table Sit ‘n’ Gos (although multi-table tournaments apply in this idea as well).  Specifically, there are those who try to build a big stack right off the bat, being hyper aggressive in order to get lucky and build a stack to bully others later when blinds are bigger and the antes kick in.  There are others who remain patient, pick their spots as they come, and try to play conservatively and smart (with some aggression when needed).  This group plays well, but not reckless, in order to make the money or the final table, and if they get lucky, then maybe win it all.  The first group sees no difference in finishing eighth or fourth – both of them have a return of zero, so one might as well get it in early to get big fast.

Situation:  It’s a 10-player 1 table Sit ‘n’ Go, top three get paid, and there are 6 players left.  You’re one of them – IF YOU COULD ONLY HAVE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO OPTIONS, WHICH WOULD YOU PREFER?

1.     A big stack to punish the other five players, or

2.     Absolute patience to pick your spots in order to get to be one of the Top 3.

Remember – you can’t have both.  If you have patience, your stack is average at best (in this scenario).  If you have the big stack, you have little patience, as you plan to continue to be hyper-aggressive.

Which would you choose, and why?

More later in the week…

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fewer Limps, More Folds, More Wins

This is another in the “More Bang for Your Buck” series, although few players think that saving money is equivalent to making money…but it is.  I don’t know you, I don’t know how you play, but if you’re not a consistent winner at small-stakes tournament poker, there are two things I do k now about you:
  • You play too many hands, and
  • You limp in far too often.
You’ve been told this before, by others, but I want to do a quick math study as to why you should play fewer hands but play them harder, and leave the limping to others.  I’m not saying NEVER limp, but this should be the exception, not the rule.

Here’s the math…say you only want to play your top 10% hands.  Well, you only get only of those every ten hands or so, and you know as well as I do that you can’t just sit back and wait for the goods, because when you do get a great hand, no one else is going to play with you.  So, you want to play your top 20% hands, but there’s always the fear that if two or more players call your raise that your hand might not be the best once the hand is over.  So you raise more so that you can take your good hands head up and avoid bad beats or whatever you’d like to call them.  But that still won’t get you the top prize, so…

Play your top 35-45% hands as if they are top 10% hands.  In other words, play all the hands you play as if they’re gold, reduce the size of the competition as much as possible, and crush them when you have the goods.

You can’t do that by limping, limping, limping.

And if you don’t have the goods, and it’s obvious that you’re beat, save your money for the next hand.  Folding is OK when you’re beat, and sure, you might get lucky, but chasing good money with bad money leaves you with less (or no) money.  Make your bets when the getting is good and get good.

Which leads us to bluffing.  If you’re playing a bunch of hands as if they’re all great, and you show noting but great hands (or you never show because they always fold), you might as well keep doing it until someone calls you down…and you lose.  Finally, they (might) catch on that your hands are always stellar, and they might challenge you the next time…which is why the next time is when you have a monster and you get our your crushing apparatus.

Poker tournaments are won by aggressive play.  Limping isn’t aggressive.  Folding with the worst of it isn’t aggressive either, but it IS smart.  Do these two things and what your win rate soar.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

More Bang for Your Buck, Part 2

When playing hold ‘em in small stakes tournaments, the goal is to win all the chips.  So we don’t want to invest chips willy-nilly; unless we can obtain a fair return as compared to the risk involved, we shouldn’t be committing chips to the pot.

Really, if that’s all you remember, you’ll do OK at the tables.  Too many players let chips drift off chasing poor risks, limping when they should be raising, calling when they should be folding, and in general, doing dumb stuff.  But there are some specific spots where you can pick up chips by being slightly aggressive.

You probably already know about “Orphan Pots.”  This is a small pot that two or three players have limped into, no one shows aggression, the flop comes ragged, no one bets it, the turn is another dud or maybe a Broadway card, and everyone checks it around again…to you.  You make a small bet, and everyone folds.  It’s not terrible important what cards you hold – you’re representing a made hand of something, and if the other players have nothing or weak hands, they’ll get out of your way.  Your bet should be somewhere around a third to half the pot, depending on the situation – no sense sending out more than you need to, to get the job done.  If you’re called or raised, you know you’re done with the hand.

But there’s another spot very similar to this where you should be putting chips into the pot.  It’s not quite an “orphan” pot; more like a “Foster Child.”  Here’s the scenario:

Position isn’t that important, but it’s easier to do when you act last.  You’re NOT the aggressive one; in fact, this can be a time when, like our orphan pot, there are limpers indicating no one has much of a holding.  The flop fits you nicely – you either have four to a flush or a straight (preferably the nuts), or you hit bottom two pair, but the flop may have fit someone else as well.  That’s what you’re hoping for.  If someone bets, you raise.  If you’re first to act, you bet half the pot, just like the orphan.

There are many who play this differently, or “tricky” – they sit back and try to “hide” their good (but not made) hand.  If they hit their flush or straight, then they made a big bet (sometimes going all-in) and no one challenges them and they pick up a small pot.  If more big cards come on the turn, they may even fold their two-pair to scary overcards; if no such cards hit (or they turn two-pair into a boat), they make the big bet and chase everyone away again.

Prime the pump.  Put some chips in there, and hope others…well, hope they do likewise and you make your big hand (you ARE ahead at this point).  They may fold now, saving you the trouble of making your hand and allowing you to win the pot right then.  Remember, opponents aren’t going to commit chips if they don’t have something worthwhile; if you give them “free cards” to make a better hand, you don’t deserve their chips.  Make them pay for the privilege of continuing the hand.

You don’t win tournaments by winning the most hands; you win by winning the most money.  Invest wisely.

Monday, January 14, 2013

More Bang for Your Buck, Part 1

This isn’t exactly what I planned to post here when it comes to getting more “bang for your buck,” but it does address the issue, AND I can answer the comment from the previous post (see The C-Bet Follies below).  So I guess I am getting more “bang for my buck.”  LOL.

I guess I’ve been playing too much 6-max to remember that at some full tables with weaker players, you can find a lot of “action” after your initial raise pre-flop.  In some games it’s not unusual to find more than one or two callers…if there are some players with large stacks who want to “see the flop” and a few maniacs and a couple of players holding small to medium pairs…yeah, this can happen.  If you’re in a situation like this with five callers, and the flop comes out and everyone folds to you and you have a weak to nothing hand, ask yourself – what are you trying to accomplish here with a bet?

The old “seeking information” canard just doesn’t cut it for me.  If there’s a substantial amount in the pot, six players (five of them and you) and NO ONE has fired a bet yet, it’s pretty obvious that someone is waiting for a contribution from you prior to a raise (and maybe a re-raise if there is more than one player who likes whatever flopped).  Save your money for a better hand and a better chance.

As for making an all-in bluff…see “save your money” above.  Chances are you’re going to get called by at least one other player (they got this far, didn’t they?) and if it’s one of the big stacks, you could go from “aggressive” to “spectator” in a blink of an eye.

If you find that your raises are constantly being called by half the table, you may consider (a) limping, not raising, and/or (b) making your raises bigger to derail the merely curious.  One of the great things about having a big stack is being on the other end of this – if entry to seeing a flop is kept small, you can call small raises to see flops with a variety of holdings, and if you get lucky, then stomp.  If you’ve been the stompee too often, then charge a larger price of admission (and change your raising requirements to tighten up so that the large stack gets lucky less often).

Remember, your bets are investments, and you need to make wise investments.  Adding money to a pot with a slim chance of winning it is not smart.

More on this subject later in the week…

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The C-Bet Follies

The continuation bet (or C-Bet) might be the most debated type of bet there is in tournament poker.  The beginning poker player quickly learns the “standard” C-Bet move:   if you’re the original raiser before the flop, and it’s checked around to you after the flop, you’re supposed to make a bet.  And that’s where the debate begins…
  • Do you bet every time?
  • How much do you bet?
  • Do you bet the same amount every time?
  • Do you bet the same if you hit the flop vs. not hitting it?
  • Do you bet at all if you miss the flop?
  • What if someone else bets first…do you raise, call, fold…does it depend on your holding?  Other factors?
And yes, there are some who C-Bet every time, no matter what.  Just like I never say never, I never say always, but I USUALLY follow through on a C-Bet.  You should, usually, too, and here’s why:  Your initial raise is makes the statement, “I believe I have the best hand.” 
  • Your C-Bet says, “I believe I still do.”
  • If you don’t bet, you say the opposite.
  • If you bet and your opponent raises, THEN you can concede that you might not have the best hand.  Or you can re-raise to insist that you do.
Of course, you know what your action is going to be before you even make your C-Bet, and it’s all dependent on your position, how well you know your opponent, etc.  All the usual stuff.  I do have a couple of standard always/never plays:
  • If I am up against a weak player, or a player who has fewer chips than I, and I miss the flop, I will always make my C-Bet unless I hit a monster (trips, straight, nut flush), in which case I check, planning to make a bet on the turn.  Weak players don’t think about the monster, but whether they can take the hand away from you, and, if they have something by the turn, they’ll bet for you.  I have no idea why this is, but it’s been my experience that this happens.
  • If there is someone yet to play behind me (in other words, I made my initial raise and I was not last to act), I will C-Bet only if the flop fits.  I just have a thing about being squeezed is all (yes, it’s a leak).
As for how much to bet – this has been well discussed elsewhere.  It used to be that a pot-sized bet was “standard” and nowadays something less than that is the play, like one-half to two-thirds of the pot.  Frankly, I feel as if ANY bet is going to do the job (make your opponent fold), keep the C-Bet a reasonable size (smaller is better).

Remember, in our previous post we called betting an “investment” and you must always remember that you’re trying to increase your stack by taking chips from your opponents.  You do so by investing some of your chips to get more back.  Use them wisely, and make certain you get the most out of your investment.

And that’s what we will discuss next time…more bang for your buck.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bet Sizing Madness

There’s been a lot written about proper bet sizing in tournament poker, perhaps more so than any other topic.  And rightly so, since it is one of the most important skills one can appreciate.  Notice I said “appreciate” and not “master,” as there is much conflicting advice, and the fact is that no one is exactly 100% right, nor 100% wrong.  Many different “tools” work for different people.

As in so much of poker, the correct answer, if there is one at all, is “it depends.” How much to bet depends on:
  • The stage of the tournament (just beginning, antes, near the bubble, final table)
  • Stack sizes (yours, theirs)
  • Playing styles (yours, theirs, obvious and not so much)
  • Your position at the table
And hey, we haven’t even mentioned the cards! (yours, their potential holding, and what cards are on the table).

Nevertheless, there are some simple guidelines to think about whenever you wish to “commit chips to the pot.”  OK, we need a simpler way of saying that…let’s say INVEST, because that’s what you really are doing – investing some of your stack in order to increase your stack, with the idea that eventually, you’ll have ALL the chips (we call that “winning”).
  • You must have a reason for investing (making a bet), whether you’re initiating action, calling action, or raising the stakes.  “Obtaining information” isn’t a great reason, by the way.
  • You must think about what may happen when you invest – will you be called, raised, or will everyone fold?
  • You must already have a plan to deal with all of the potential scenarios.  Decide on how you will react in “part two” of your plan BEFORE you initiate “part one.”
  • You should use investing (betting) smartly, but not predictably, so that your actions may obtain the maximum advantage.
Before we go on to any examples, let’s talk about that last item.  One reason you may not fully appreciate gains on your investments is that your opponents know what your bets mean.  If you always raise it up 3-times with aces, eventually even the donk in the corner will catch on.  Your continuation bets, when you miss with your ace, stand a good chance of being raised, putting you in a predicament.  Worse yet, when you DO hit, you won’t get much on your investment.

Therefore, perhaps the most important aspect of bet sizing isn’t the amount of the investment, but “what message does the investment convey to my opponents?” If they can’t figure it out – that’s a GOOD thing.  You want to be able to read your opponents, but you don’t want them to read you. 

Until we play the game face up, the most information out there is related to betting patterns.

Ergo, how much to invest must have purpose, yet that purpose must not be easily discernible.  Wow, no wonder bet sizing is a difficult problem.

Next time, we’ll talk about the simplest bet in this regard – one that many players make without thinking – the continuation bet.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Finishing – Poker Lessons from the Gridiron

Now that you’ve gotten your fill of football, it’s back to poker, and I’m going to delay our discussion of bet-sizing to talk about something I heard over and over during the games yesterday – finishing.

Jon Gruden said it a lot during the Michigan-South Carolina game (he does tend to get stuck on themes that way).  Michigan was able to move the ball up and down the field, but had trouble finishing, settling for field goals.  Of course, their defense went home early and they lost, but that’s another story.

Finishing is important in poker, too.  Many times players play well, make money, make the final table, and then can’t seem to seal the deal and win it all.  Different football coaches have different strategies in order to score once they’re in the red zone – how can you score once you’ve made your poker table’s red zone?

If you follow those teams who do seem to score at will, you’ll note that they DON’T change what’s working.  They don’t get cute, they don’t get tricky, and they don’t change what they’re doing since it’s succeeding.  Steady, consistent, aggressive play makes all the difference between winning and second or third place.

Of course, a lot will depend on how you arrive at the final table.  If you’ve barely made it and are the short stack, you’ll want to pick your spots, be aggressive when you do play (use your all-in move for fold equity), and try to move up as you can.  Patience is the key.

And if you’re the chip leader?  Pretty much the same thing – patience and aggression are the keys.  You don’t want to let up and let other players get back into the hunt.  Keep the pressure on, make THEM make the tough decisions, and don’t panic.  You got to be the chip leader for a reason, so keep on keepin’ on.  How often have you seen teams go into a "prevent defense" and give up a quick score or two?  How often do you see fast-break basketball squads go into a stall and then watch their 13 point lead dwindle to 2?  If it ain't broke...

Smart play works whether it’s the first hand or the last.  If you have trouble finishing, finding yourself always second or third (or worse), review your play, your hands, and your strategy, and find ways to make things happen.

And if you’re on the football field, for cryin’ out loud, TACKLE.

A new - LOCAL - place to buy my ebooks

There has been much written lately about the decline and fall of local bookstores (as they battle Amazon and Wal-Mart...and, of course, ebooks).  There was an article posted online today from our local Business Journal about 5 stores that closed up in the NW region this year.

However, the GOOD NEWS in the article was about those stores that continue to thrive, including Seaside's own Beach Books.  Not only are they expanding their store to new, larger digs, they are also stocking ebooks through Kobo.  And, as luck would have it, all three of my tomes are available via Kobo.  Therefore, to shop local, go here:  You can do a search on my name (EXINGER) and buy like crazy.  I get less this way, but...we do keep some $$$ locally, and that's ALWAYS a good thing.