Continue reading Thinking Like a Poker Player

Thinking Like a Poker Player

When playing Texas Holdem poker, we must understand that we make decisions based on partial, incomplete information. We cannot know which card will hit the board next, or what exactly our opponents are holding as their hole cards. As true poker players, we must gather as much information as possible and then try to formulate the best course of action based on the conclusions we reach. Poker players who are successful engage in a thorough thought process to gather as much information as possible, narrowing down hand ranges, focusing on betting patterns and tells in an attempt to determine what the opponent is thinking.

Far too often, poker players think about the wrong things during a hand. Many amateur poker players focus on trivial things such as wishing for an ace-free flop when holding pocket jacks. A successful poker player focuses more on his opposition’s holding than his own hand. He concerns himself with how the board might have helped or hurt his opposition, worrying less about “getting there” himself.

Thinking Before the Cards Come Out

Understanding first whom you are sitting with is the first thing a poker player should think about. You should know if you are playing against a table full of poker players, or are facing table full of donkeys. You should have in mind who you wish to get involved against with marginal hands, as well as determine who you should avoid without “having it”. This way, you know before hand whom you wish to get involved with in big pots and whom you do not want to mix it up with regularly. Determining this before the cards are dealt really helps when playing poker. It allows you to focus on important factors such as your reads and isolating or outplaying your opposition once everyone has cards.

Against strong opponents, you are often wise to proceed in a conservative manner, being careful not to get into trouble with your marginal hands. Against week opponents, however, you should be pushing the envelope, seeing several flops, with the belief you will make prudent decisions as the hands progress.

Thinking about your situations

Profitable poker players think about things such as “how does my stack size up to the average stack in this tournament”, or “where do I need to get before the end of this level”. We also ask ourselves what we need to do to win the tournament, and try to determine how not to lose. We know before a hand gets out of control as to whether or not we are able to make a “situational fold”. Additional awareness as to where we are within the tournament is a key concept to focus on, understanding where the blinds are, where they are going, how many players remain, as well as how each player tends to play in various situations. Fortunately, much of this information is available in the tournament lobby on Full Tilt Poker.

Instead, many amateur poker players think about things such as “I could really use pocket aces right about now” or they focus on how they have not had a playable hand in what seems like days. The thinking poker player spends their mental energy thinking about where they are and how they can best get to their destination. We want to know what the most effective, efficient path to victory is, and we draft a map or game plan as to whom we shall run over to get there. We know whom we want to play against, and how we plan to play against them, while remaining flexible to shift gears and adjust on the fly.

Understanding How Others are Thinking

Another important detail to grasp is insight as to how the other players at your table might be thinking. If you are near the bubble in a big tournament at Full Tilt Poker, you can be certain that many of your opponents are trying to survive past the bubble. They are clearly looking for a reason to fold at the first sign of defeat. Other players are trying to exploit this tendency to maximize their profits. Understanding what everyone around you is thinking is key to planning your strategy. The profitable player is keen on this, and pays attention to know who is playing scared, and who is playing reckless. He then plans his strategy accordingly.

What about my cards?

Wait, what about my own cards? You never mentioned profitable players thinking about their own cards! Well, that would be because a profitable poker player understands that situations, table conditions, the thinking , as well as the tendencies of their opposition is far more important to their bankroll’s bottom line than that of his own personal holdings.

Thinking about your opponents at the poker table, rather than worrying about what cards we are getting is key to the long-term profit margins of good poker players. If you begin thinking like a poker player, you will end up playing like a solid, profitable poker player.

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Continue reading How to Gauge Players in Multi-Player Poker

How to Gauge Players in Multi-Player Poker

Being able to evaluate players at your poker table – as accurately as possible – is a skill that plays a crucial role in helping you play more effectively against them. Typically, in a game of poker, whether it is online or in land-based casinos, you will be allowed to make notes of your observation of your opponents. The notes serve to annotate the players’ game.

When you are playing online and cannot see your opponent, you can use two elements for making your assessment of him. First is a chat window (live) and second is his betting pattern. The options offered for online assessment are those that are applicable to live play too, however, the difference is that the online chat is substituted with conversations at the table. Here are the different aspects that will help you assess your opponents:

Experienced players

Experienced players can be relatively inactive in online chat, and even if they communicate, using this medium, very little about the player may be revealed this way. A sign that indicates that a player is skilled and experienced (relatively accurately) is multi-tabling. If a player is able to manage games at different tables, it is unlikely that he plays with marginal hands. You will have to play cautiously when faced with such an opponent. Another indicator of skill at poker is the style of playing. If a player is considerably tight at the table, chances are that he is an experienced player. In addition, an opponent can be assumed to be strong if he has a sizeable stack at the table.

Novices – online

On the other hand, novices may show their lack of experience and betting tendencies in the game more clearly – whether it be to overplaying their big hands or tilt. This may be revealed through either their chats or their conversations. Sometimes, players new to the game may discuss their recent game plays with other new players. This can be a reasonably accurate indicator of their inexperience in the game. In addition, the player may be considerably loose and may lay down his draws when he sees a bet. This is largely owing to the fact that he considers pocket aces as the real winners in the game. Also, the novice could still be developing his understanding of concepts like pot odds and stack odds.

Volunteering into the pot

The concept of volunteering into the pot is based solely on the frequency with which a player puts money into the pot. This can be represented as a simple percentage indicating the number of times a player puts money in. For instance, if a player puts money 6 times, then the percentage will be represented as 60%. On an average, in most games majority of players fall in the 2 and 5 category. This number will have to be altered as the game proceeds. This is because in the short run, a tight player will have the chance to put in a number of top starting hands, and a loose player may place numerous hands successively.

If you are playing online, the easiest way to do this is by employing a spreadsheet. You can also choose from a few effective software Heads Up Displays. The software is capable of reading the poker client automatically and displays information on the monitor in an easily useable format.

Read more How to Gauge Players in Multi-Player Poker
Continue reading How Reading Your Opponents’ Hand Range Can Benefit

How Reading Your Opponents’ Hand Range Can Benefit

A crucial aspect to develop when playing poker is, how to read an opponents’ hand range effectively. This will help you make effective decisions at the table. So, as an experienced player, you should be able to establish your opponent’s tendencies and interpret his actions. Doing this will help you establish the opponent’s hand range relatively accurately.

One aspect that can help you determine this is his betting pattern. Each time you witness a showdown, it is essential to look back through the bets that your opponent has placed through the various rounds in the game. Here are other aspects that you should take into consideration when establishing your opponents’ hand range.

Determining the starting hands

The first step in reading the hand range that your opponent holds is to determine the criteria for his starting hands. His hands can range from being tight to having 2 cards (almost all). Most often, players have the tendency to play more hands when they are in position than if they were at the big blind. However, others may not change their starting hands in relation to their position. So, assess the number of hands played by your opponent and compare it with starting hand charts. This will provide you with sufficient information on the possible holding that the range points towards.

Tendency to raise and call

The second step that can help you determine the range of hands your opponent has is to analyze his tendency to raise and call. Assess the type of starting hands that he opts to raise with and the ones that he has a tendency to call. Some players may even check the blind with their hands. A type of hand that you should pay attention to, is that which an opponent may be likely to re-raise at the pre-flop. Ensure that you note the hand types that you make observations on, as it can help enhance your game.

Behavior post-flop

The next aspect to be taken into consideration is your opponent’s behaviour post flop. Some players may establish a predictable pattern during the game. For instance, the player may bet when he hits the flop or calls or checks when he misses the flop. Other players may bet irrespective of whether they have hit or missed the flop. This behaviour however, may be shown only when the player is in position. By assessing the player’s over all tendencies post-flop will help you bring down the hand range possibilities. Ideally, you should bet when you are checked by a tight opponent. This is because, such players have the tendency to raise a strong hand. However, an aggressive opponent’s behaviour should be assessed more carefully, especially when you determine that he has a strong hand. For instance, such a player may unexpectedly check to you at a flop if he has a strong hand.

Bet sizes

Another crucial aspect to be considered when analyzing your opponents’ betting tendencies, is the size of the bet. When players have a draw, strong or weak hand, they may be likely to bet a specific amount. This amount is typically related to the pot size. So, it is important that after a showdown, you work backwards through the opponents’ hand. Another aspect in relation to this that can be used to determine an opponent’s hand range is the frequency with which he bets.

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Continue reading Double barreling, an introduction and implementation

Double barreling, an introduction and implementation

Double barreling is when you make a bet on the flop that gets called and then make another bet on the turn in a second attempt to take a pot away. It is called a barrel because you are firing away with nothing hoping to take the pot down with pure aggression. Double barrels are seen more frequently as you move up in limits. The reason that you don’t see many players double barreling at lower limits is the inability of other players to make a fold. Not much point in making bluffs that are only going to get called anyway.

So what is a good spot to double barrel?

The absolute first step in determining whether you are in a good spot to double barrel is deciding whether your opponents are able to locate the fold button. Many players simply despise folding, particularly at the lower limits. These players should never be double barreled. Trying to double barrel a calling station is the equivalent of burning money.

The second step is to analyze what has changed between the flop and the turn that you can now take another shot and be successful.

An example of a good spot to double barrel

  • You have 10c Qc in late position and raise 3x BB, we will say you are playing .50/1, so $3.
  • The big blind calls your raise and the pot is $6.50.
  • The flop comes Jc 8s 7d.
  • He checks, you bet $4 and are called.
  • The pot is now $14.50.
  • The turn comes Ac.
  • He checks again.

This is a fantastic spot to double barrel. He may have called your flop bet with an 8, 9, T, or J, all of which are scared by the ace on the turn. You can represent a pair of aces, a hand that beats anything he had before. He folds some pairs and most draws.

An example of a bad spot to double barrel

Using the same example as above, pretend that the turn is 4c. Now, if you bet the turn you might fold some draws out, but if he called the flop with any pair why would he now want to fold the turn when a harmless card comes? Sure, he will fold a small pair sometimes, but we need to determine what the best choice is in the long run. The majority of the time he will realize that the 4c did not improve your hand and will stick around to at least see what the river brings. You can’t try to represent 44 there and expect many people to fall for it. This is in complete contrast to when the Ac came as you could legitimately represent a random ace after having made a pre-flop raise.

Taking the example of a good spot to double barrel, how much should we bet?

When the ace comes and allows us an opportunity to fire a double barrel we need to decide how much to bet. The pot is $14.50 and our mission is to push our opponent out. We need to make a strong bet, but we don’t want to bet more than necessary. A bet of $11 would be sufficient in this hand. It is not quite a pot bet but it is well over half the pot. He will call small bets to see another card but he will fold larger bets out of fear of being beat. The reason you don’t want to bomb the turn is in case he has improved his hand or flopped a very strong hand. If he has AJ and raises us we saved money by betting $11 instead of $17.

Summary of double barreling

It is more important to consider what the board is in relation to the action in the hand than it is to consider your hand. It is even more important to consider what types of hands your opponent likely has. Once you are able to put your opponents on ranges of hands and know what types of cards hurt that range you will be able to successfully execute double barrels.

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Continue reading Triple Barreling, An Advanced Tutorial

Triple Barreling, An Advanced Tutorial

Once you are able to master the art of the double barrel you will be one step closer to the triple barrel. While it was extremely important to put your opponent on a tight range of hands when double barreling, it is even more important when attempting a triple barrel. There is more money at stake and there are fewer hands that you will be able to force out. Triple barreling should not be a regular weapon in your arsenal and should only be used under certain circumstances.

Your opponents are extremely important

If the other player did not fold to your double barrel you need to first decide whether he is capable of folding to your triple barrel. A call on the turn is often indicative of pretty good hand strength, and this should be taken into account when deciding whether to triple barrel. You can eliminate hands from your opponent’s range that he might have floated with. Weaker hands like this usually give up when you fire again on the turn, so if he is still with you on the river it is much more likely that he actually has a made hand, or at least a strong draw.

An example of a good spot to triple barrel

  • You are dealt Kc 10c in middle position and raise to $4 at .50/1.
  • The button calls your raise and the pot is now $9.50.
  • The flop comes Qs 8s 7c.
  • You bet $7 on the flop and are called.
  • The pot is now $16.50 and the turn is a harmless 4d.
  • You bet $13 and he again calls, the pot is now $42.50.
  • The river brings second 4, the 4h.

This is a great spot to fire a third barrel. This is a spot where you can make a very cost effective third barrel. So why is this a good spot and what will allow you to make the triple barrel cost effective? As mentioned earlier we need to put the player on a tight range of hands in order to fire a triple barrel. The board was very draw heavy, so we can put him on one of many drawing hands, such as 9T, As Ts, or any other combination of two spades. Since we are aiming to push out draws that missed we can make a moderately sized bet. The bet should look like it is for value, but be big enough that he won’t come over the top. Since the pot is $42.50, a bet of $26 will be sufficient. He will fold all of his draws that missed and might even fold jacks or a weak queen. If he happened to have a strong hand, making a bet of $26 instead of $40 will save you money when he shoves his remaining stack or calls you.

An example of a bad spot to triple barrel

If the river was a spade, six, or jack I would not triple barrel. All of the draws hit in addition to a possible two pair combination, JQ. This is a time where you are better off giving up on the pot and moving on to the next one. If you did try to triple barrel when a spade, six or jack came you would also have to make the bet closer to $38 to force out hands like AQ.

Summary of triple barreling

The main things to consider when triple barreling are exactly what hands you are trying to get a fold out of and the likelihood that they will make the fold. If you are good at hand reading and can properly analyze the action in a hand in relation to the board you will be able to successfully execute triple barrels.

Read more Triple Barreling, An Advanced Tutorial
Continue reading When To Consider Floating in Poker

When To Consider Floating in Poker

Floating is when you call a bet with the intention to take down the pot later on in the hand. It is assumed that you have a hand with little to no showdown value when you float. The intent is to allow a player to fire a c-bet on the flop but then take the pot away if he slows down on the turn. Floating is an extremely effective method for winning hands post-flop without going to showdown. There are times where floats will be made but never develop into a situation where the pot can be taken away and there will be times where you lose more money than you would have by just raising their flop bet. The successful execution of a float relies on the ability to put your opponent on a hand and use the cards on the board to your advantage.

When is floating a bad idea?

Usually you should not float when you are out of position. Being out of position allows the other player to remain in control and makes everything more difficult than it would be if you were in position. You should not float against overly aggressive players either. If you float the flop but then they bet the turn anyway you will not be given the opportunity to take away the pot cheaply.

When is floating a good idea?

You could probably deduce through a process of elimination that floating is better when you are in position as opposed to out of position. The reason is quite simple. You can’t wait for the other player to slow up and then bet if you are out of position, but when you are in position the other player acts first. Their first action will allow you to go ahead with the float or abandon it. If they check the turn after betting the flop you are in the ideal situation for a bet. If they bet the flop and the turn you should be more hesitant, though you might still make a raise. Either way, being in position allows you to gain more information and it lets you use that information to your advantage.

What types of boards are good to float on

If you are looking to float your opponent you should feel that they have missed the flop and are betting with nothing. If they bet the flop and there is a good chance they made their hand, it is not a good time to float. The ultimate goal is to force the opponent out on a later street for a small price. The goal is not to force your opponent out at all costs. This is the key to the float and why, when done correctly, it is an extremely valuable tool.

Your hand will be XX in this example, you are not told your hand because your focus should be on what the other player might have, not what you have.

The pre-flop action consists of a raise by the villain and a call by you. They are a somewhat tight player and would open with a small range of hands. For the sake of this example we will say his open raising range is all pocket pairs and AT+.

The flop is A 8 K.

He bets the flop. Now, do you float this hand?

Yes, it is very possible that he has a pocket pair and is continuation betting.

The turn is a Q and he checks. Now you can make a ¾ pot sized bet, if not a bit smaller. If he indeed has a pocket pair he will usually fold for fear of being beaten by a Q, K, or A. If he calls or raises you can put him on an ace or better hand.

If the flop was 3 4 7 it would not be as good of a board to float on. He beats the board a large portion of the time or knows that you likely missed. He will make a turn bet regardless of his hand enough times that you won’t have the opportunity to take it away.

Summary of floating

Float against players who can put the brakes on their aggression and against players whom you can assign a reasonable range of hands to. If a player has shown relentless aggression or you have no read on their style you are better of not floating them.

Read more When To Consider Floating in Poker
Continue reading Aggressive Strategy for Shorthanded Texas Holdem Poker

Aggressive Strategy for Shorthanded Texas Holdem Poker

Cash game poker is all about controlled aggression and making the right decision. See what that says? Controlled aggression, not just aggression! If you play enough poker you will inevitably encounter the player who thinks they are playing loose-aggressive, but in reality they are just spewing chips all over the table. This is not controlled aggression, and if you are doing this, you are raising just to raise, which is a bad idea. You always want to have a plan.

Short handed 6-max cash games have become very popular, and in these games aggression can often be the difference between having a winning session and a losing one.

As stated earlier, you need to have a plan of action when you raise, a goal that you are trying to achieve by raising, whether its to take down a small pot pre-flop with a mediocre hand, or to build the pot with your monster holding. When playing 6-max games at different level, you will of course see a difference in the flow of the game and how it is played, but having a general set of guidelines to build off of is always a good idea!

Raise To Gain Position In The Hand

You always want to have the best position possible in a hand, and raising essentially gives you that. When you are the original raiser, you then get to see how everybody will act. While not actual position, having this better point of view can certainly help later on in the hand. You always want the most information possible, and raising will give that to you.

Raise To Narrow The Competition

When you make a pre-flop raise, you are weeding out the players with marginal hands, and will have a better idea of what you are up against. You always want to play against as few opponents as possible, and get heads up if you can. Playing heads up in a pot against someone will give you a lot of information as to how thy play, and you need to be able to remember that. You can also use your raise when in specific positions at the table to isolate yourself against someone you may think is a particularly weak player, or someone you have a great read on and can put them on a hand easily if they call.

Raise To Force Mistakes From Your Opponents

When a player can limp into a pot before the flop, their chip risk is very low, and they can do this with a wide range, which can make it difficult to put them on a hand. By raising, you increase the risk they must take, along with the pot size. Players who are new to the game get easily intimidated by raises, and will often make mistakes in big pots. The bigger you can make the pot, the more likely they are to make a mistake that results in a profit for you.

Raise To Put Your Opponents On Tilt

A lot of times players get into a comfort zone with the way the table is playing. They are able to limp in a lot and see a lot of flops. If you come to the table with a high level of aggression, you will find that you can tilt these players. They are expecting to be able to play a number of cheap hands, and will get frustrated with having to limp-fold. Poker is a game of adjustments, and when people can not make them, they go on tilt, that is your goal here. Again, do not raise aimlessly, make sure you have a good handle on what is going on at your table.

A player can really control a table with aggression, especially in the 6-max game where you are facing far less opponents in each hand. Practice controlled aggression, and watch your bankroll climb.

Read more Aggressive Strategy for Shorthanded Texas Holdem Poker