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ROY COOKE POKER

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August 2015

Growing Your Game

Are you constantly working on your poker game, both at and away from the table? If you’re not those that are, are going to get you!
The learning process for poker is a never-ending one. You need to make the commitment to take the actions required to learn the game. There is plenty of material by talented players to provide you all the information you need to play well.
Acquire a poker library and study it!
Learning from others experiences will prevent you from making the costly mistakes that they made.
That said, there are many additional aspects that you can only pick up on at the table. Things like player tendencies, exploitive strategies to their lines of play, their emotional reactions to events, etc.
In order to do that effectively you need to keep your mind on the game. It’s the only way to play your “A” game. Think through what has transpired. How did your opponents’ think to make the plays they made? How can you exploit their thoughts? What plays take advantage of your newfound knowledge?
Assess your own game.
 What are your weaknesses? What areas do you need to develop? Discipline? Emotional control? Play Knowledge? Additionally, continuously assess how you’re playing. Are you focused? Are you emotionally affected? Are you mentally tired?
Grow your game a little bit every day you play. Over time, you’ll grow into a much better player.
And when you play well, the chips will follow!
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Follow Your Instincts

“Ya got me” my opponent stated as he slid the chips in to call my river bet. And he was right; he wanted to “see it”. And it’s amazing how often those looking to “see it are right, they are beat. A lot  of poker decisions come down to instincts. And if you want to play well, you better hone those instincts.
 
 I constantly see players ignore their own instincts and make plays counter to them to their own detriment. I’m not saying you should never include your propensity to be in error into your poker decisions, but you need to both develop and trust your reads, particularly if the price is close. Those “see it “calls add up over time. So, have faith in yourself and act on your reads. I’ll bet your game will improve… 
 
Do you have the psychological strength to act on your reads? What other psychological inhibitions do you bring to the poker table with you?
 

Playing with Fish-Vary Your Play

Fish are weak, unknowledgeable opponents that require a different strategy than knowledgeable opponents.
They’re the source of most of your profit, so you must locate them, get in their game and preferably put them on your right. Many players fear getting into games with great players, but they are approaching the “game selection” calculation from the wrong perspective. Assuming you play reasonably well, the good players will take little in edge from you, but a fish will likely over-compensate for any edge loss in a big way by providing a large edge in numerous situations.
 
Once you have him in your game, you need to size up his tendencies. Is he a passive fish, an aggressive fish, is he intimidated by the game and folding too much, or is he an uncertain soul that is paying everybody off? Once you determine his tendencies, determine what counter-strategies to apply. Do you want to bluff more, bet more, bet larger, etc? Think about how each fish’s weaknesses can be exploited.
Because your edge is larger when fish are in the pot, you can widen your range against the fish. That said, don’t overcompensate and become a fish yourself. Keep in mind the other players in the pot and those yet to act. You don’t want to put yourself in significant negative equity situations to our other opponents.
Most importantly, don’t tap the aquarium, it scares the fish. I constantly see players belittle poor play. It’s no way to treat your customers!! It’s both bad for business and classless manners, also.

The Gap Concept, How it Plays and How to Use It

 
Conventional wisdom states that you need a better hand to call a raise than to raise yourself. It’s called the “Gap Theory”. The theory is that to profitably call the raise, your hand must play well against the range of hands which your opponent may hold. And many of the hands you’d raise with don’t perform well against a standard raising range.
 
Additionally, calling creates an assumption of risk from players yet to act, further weakening your holding. So,all else being equal, it’s generally true that you must have a better hand to call a raise with than you would raise with yourself.
 
For example, a tight player raises upfront, indicating a strong range and you hold KJ in the cutoff, a fold is in order. But had it passed to you, you would have an easy raise.
 
But your holding isn’t the only edge you can hold over an opponent. Your ability to play your hand, the strength of your opponent’s range, the texture of players yet to  act and position are also very important factors. You must incorporate all those elements into your decision.
 
So, while it often does take a stronger hand to call a raise than raise with yourself, consider all elements of the situation. Is there a way to increase your equity? Are there features of your opponent’s play that you can exploit? Are you considering all the risks?
 
Don’t just play by set guidelines; make sure you think through all the possibilities.
And make your best decision.

Implied Odds/Reverse Odds

Implied Odds/Reverse Implied Odds
 
The term is often used, but many don’t understand its meaning. Implied odds are the positive expectation you can get from a hand’s future action.
 
If you hold a small wired pair, you can pre-flop without getting the current pot odds of approximately 7-1 odds of flopping a set because you know that if you flop a set, you are likely to have additional positive equity bets on future streets, making your call profitable. How short of a price you can effectively take depends upon your ability to acquire future positive equity action to make up for the current shortfall.
 
Reverse implied odds is the reverse. They generally occur when you hold a mediocre hand that has greater propensity to acquire negative equity rather than positive equity in the future. Examples of reverse implied odds might be when your hand has little chance of improving, an you read your opponent to be liable to have a hand that’s more likely to extract equity from you than the converse. You might be already beat, not be able to obtain action when your hand is good, drawing to a loser, against an opponent who will extract action when his hand is good though not when he is beat, etc.
 
When you hold a drawing hand with implied odds, you benefit from your potential future action. When your holdings overall edge is more likely to be disadvantaged by future action, you’re in a reverse odds situation.
 
So don’t quantify your hand by the odds that is currently good. Quantify it by the blended average of what you should win/lose should you play your hand forward. Obviously, there are unknowns as you can never be sure what your opponent will do. But by repeatedly doing these calculations, even when you’re not in a pot, you’ll get a good feel for the approximate odds.
An when the odds aren’t right, don’t continue.

Stack Size Explained

Effective Stack Sizes Explained
 
Your effective stack size, the amount of the smaller stack in a heads-up pot, dictates what strategy you should pursue.
An example is : If you have $1,000 and your opponent has $600, your effective stack size is $600, the amount both you and your opponent(s) can legitimately bet on any given hand. Knowing how you should adjust your strategy based on stack sizes is an important component of no-limit poker.
If the effective stack sizes are short (40BB or less), the strength of your hand increases in importance, and the opportunities to “outplay” your opponent decrease. That’s because a player can push in for a small amount and not face the threat of future large bets. So, when possessing, or your opponent possesses a short stack, you generally need to play stronger hands pre-flop, and select high equity opportunities post-flop.
Conversely, large effective stack sizes allow for playing weaker hands and making more bluffs. That’s because the “implied odds” of making a large hand and getting a hefty payoff increase the value of your hand.

How to Bet

How to Bet-Size your Bluffs?
 
Trying to make a better hand fold?
 
If so, what portion of his range will he fold to what size bet? Having a good feel of this situation will prevent you from taking on any unnecessary risks that will cost you money.
 
It takes a different size bet to fold his top pair range than his “air” range. And the risk of betting a larger amount to fold his better hands may not be worth the extra money wagered if it doesn’t fold enough of range to make it EV positive.
However, it may still be correct to bet a smaller amount to fold his “air” range. This can be the case when a lot of draws are present, you hold a hand with little to no showdown value and a small bet will fold his “air.”
When you’re considering a bluff, think about what hands in your opponents range he will fold? What amount bet will it take him to fold? Compare your opponents folding range. Is “air” a large portion of that range? Is it worth risking the extra money to fold the few additional hands that he may call with?
And don’t forget to keep a straight face!

Good Times Equals Good Money

“Time equals money” goes the old saying. And it’s true that we exchange our time for money. But with poker our “hourly rate” isn’t a constant. Games have varying degrees of value, both in limit size and quality of opponents.  Additionally, our edge varies with our current abilities.  

  It’s crucial to realize how much these differences affect our bottom line. We play in bad games because we’re stuck. We leave good games because we don’t feel good about blowing back wins. We play when we’re tired, unfocused or emotionally unbalanced for all sorts of reasons. And that time doesn’t equal money; that time equals a waste of time at best. At worst, it’s a quick way to vacationing in Tap City.

So, when you’re playing, continuously evaluate how you’re performing, and how the game is comparative to that performance. If you’ve got a big edge, extend your play. If you don’t, can you improve the situation by moving to a better game, or executing a mental makeover? Or, are you better off leaving and coming back to fight another time?

How you treat these situations may very well determine how you’ll do over time in poker. I’ve seen many a great player, playing two days straight, thinking they can still perform, and losing equity with every minute of play. Furthermore, these types of players tend to burn out, further decreasing their propensity to survive the “test of time.”

So, when you’re playing, make sure you’re putting in “good time.” Time in which you’re playing your best, against inferior competition. If you do that, the “good money” will come!

Choosing Your Ground

It’s not about how well you play the game, or even about how well your opponents play the game. It’s about the spread of ability between you and your opponents.
 
Poker’s soul is founded on the principle that one decision has a mathematical advantage over other alternatives. It’s called “edge”. It’s an critically important concept to keep in mind for your entire poker career. When you have an edge over the field larger than your playing costs, you’ll win over time. If you don’t, you’ll continually be digging into your pockets. 
 
The reason you can win over time at poker is that you can select the times to gamble. Hands that have an edge you can push to their maximum potential. Hands that have the worst of it, you can fold. The larger your edge, the greater the equity of your holding. It’s a relative thing!
 
The same concept applies to the game as a whole. You can select your opposition. You can choose not to play when your edge is not up to your standards. And you can choose to push your edges to their maximum when the situation is ripe. 
 
In my Card Player columns I’ve often written that the recurring sum of volume times net edge equals expectation, and over time your expectation will equal your nominal earn. What that means is that the expectation from each independent bet wagered, either positive or negative, added into a recurring field will equal your win or loss rate over the course of time. This is an important concept to understand, and is the essence of the game.
 
Yes, with larger games you wager more money, but is your edge as high as in the lower game? Does the increased amount wagered make up for the loss in edge of a tougher and higher game? Is the increased variance, the greater required effort, the higher stress, worth the extra money? If it is, play. If not, pass. 
 
Choose your ground. Select games in which you have an edge. Be real now. Are you really as good as you like to think you are? Is the edge large enough to make playing worth your while? Yes, this is all predatory, but that’s the nature of poker. And those who play the game understand that upfront. So, no need to feel bad about it. Nobody is forcing anyone to play.
 
It’s the most important concept in poker!

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