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January 2016

Competitive Skills: Being a Good Gambler

Poker has two major components. One is strategic: the talent of possessing the knowledge of plays, odds, tells and ranges to make the optimum decision. But many highly knowledgeable players are losers because they lack good enough “competitive skills” to consistently play with an edge.

It’s not enough to know how to play well. To survive the test of time, you must play well consistently. Poker isn’t easy and takes consistent work. Those who take it for granted once they think they are good enough to play for a living usually get a rude awakening. This is a short list of fundamentals to become a good gambler. I’ll go more in depth on these subjects in future tips.
So, how do you become a good gambler? You must have the long-term vision to focus on the war, not the battles. We’re all programmed to want to win, but in poker your win-loss record is meaningless. Pokers winners are determined by how much they got the best of it over time. Understand that concept, and utilize it in your poker decisions.

Take care of your mind and body. Drugs, alcohol, poor sleep habits, and lack of exercise will all affect your mind’s performance. Keep your mind sharp!

Additionally, numb your emotions to poker swings. I know it sounds easy, but it’s tough to do! Poker is a logical game that requires rational thought, not emotional reactions.

Don’t burn yourself out. Players whose whole lives are totally wrapped up in poker don’t lead happy or successful lives. Take poker seriously, but get away from it too. Burnout and life’s problems take away your energy and focus. The best part of playing poker for living is the freedom it provides. Don’t let poker control you. Live your life!

Stay away from the hustlers and con men. Say “No” to loan requests. Keep in mind the borrower doesn’t just need the morals to pay you back, they also need the ability! Sometimes there is a lack of both! There’s a reason they need to borrow. I’ve NEVER met a long-term poker pro who thinks they erred by not loaning out enough money!

Surround yourself with solid and stable people. A good support group is important and will carry over to other aspects of your life!
Select good games. It’s not about just being better; it’s the spread of ability between you and your opponents. Stay within your element, and don’t stray to games and situations you are unfamiliar with.

Be REALLY real! Assess yourself accurately, your strengths and your weaknesses. Most people think they are better than they are. But, they don’t know what they don’t know and fall into others traps. Be brutally honest with yourself!

Only put in good hours. Play when the games are good, and you are performing well. I understand it’s not a perfect world, but keep in tune of when you have the best of it and when it’s not worth playing. Quit at the right time and don’t start at the wrong time!
Treat poker like a business. Work hard. Focus on the money. Manage your bankroll. Master plan your work schedule. Take vacations. It’s not only a business; it’s a damn tough one!
Consistently focus on and off the table. Develop your concentration. Constantly review your game. Go over hands in retrospect, both yours and others. Develop your grit, heart and courage. You’ll need it at some point in your poker career!
Play with class. Don’t drive your customers away. It’s both bad manners and bad business.

Play Well and Good Luck!

Maintaining your Brain


We all have days we’re much sounder intellectually than other times. Sometimes it’s just your internal chemistry or a lack of good sleep. Other times it’s just a stressful time. Maybe you’re fighting with your significant other, maybe you’ve been beaten up at the table several times in a row. Or maybe you’re drunk, or on drugs. Whatever the reason, at best it’s going to cause you to make mistakes and play less than your best. At worst, it’s going to create emotional issues that can spiral out of control.

Keeping your mind right is the key to surviving pokers’ test of time. Exercise and healthy living helps facilitate that goal. But you also have to keep it together mentally. Don’t over-react to negative events. Guide yourself with reason, not emotion.

Additionally, playing with confidence is the state of mind you need to be in when playing poker. Nourish that confidence; it’ll increase your chances of success. Be more inclined to quit winners or play a softer game after being on a losing streak, because a winner can put you back on the right mental track.

Playing drunk or high is going to affect your judgement. I’ve often heard from players that drinking doesn’t, but the medical evidence is overwhelming. Any significant amount of alcohol negatively affects all mental and physical actions. I’ve never seen a player survive the test of time that constantly drank at the table. I’ve often heard that smoking pot helps people think better because it lowers their stress. While that may be true in some instances, it will affect your energy level, and, even if you think they won’t influence your judgement, it will!

All that said, while it’s great to always be at your best when you’re playing poker to win, make sure your mind is prepared to intellectualize through the ryou play, it’s not realistic. On your slightly off days adjust your strategy to compensate. Tighten your game selection, play a little lower, and/or don’t make some of your more marginal plays. You can still have the best of it, even when you’re not at your best! Just be careful not to overrate your abilities when you’re slightly off.

Though basic, this issue is important and often overlooked. When iddles the game will provide.

And if it’s not, don’t play!

Levels of Thinking

Poker is a founded on judgements. You need to evaluate what your opponents hold and think, and then optimize your play based on that knowledge. Do that effectively, and you’ll own them! But, like many things in life, that sounds much easier than it is!
Reading hands is based mostly on your knowledge of your opponents’ knowledge and emotions. What do they know? How are they utilizing that knowledge? How controlled are they emotionally? And to what degree does it affect their thinking? Figure all that out, and you should own them!

I’m going to outline four levels of thought you need to actualize to play poker on a high level. Additionally, it’s important to recognize what level your opponents are thinking on. You should at least be able to think at the fourth level.

*What do I have?
*What do they have?
*What do they think I have?
*What do they think I think they have?

Beginning players tend to evaluate only the strength of their hand (What do I have?). Their thinking rises to another level when they start thinking about what their opponents hold (What do they have?). You can expand your thought process further by thinking about what your opponents think you have (What do they think I have?). On the next level, consider what they think you think they have (What do they think I think they have?).

If you can master these levels of thought, you will be able to design specific strategies based on your opponents’ holding and thoughts. You’ll make better timed bluffs, folds and value bets. That said, it’s important not to overthink specific situations. You can’t think about what an opponent thinks you have, if he doesn’t bother to consider your cards.

Multi-level thinking has been around since the inception of thought, but many poker players don’t utilize it. Habituate yourself to run through these four levels of thought on every decision.
And when the process comes naturally, you can move your thinking up to even higher levels!

Accessing Hand Combinations

There are many facets to reading hands. Two major ones being, you must know your opponent’s tendencies and get a line into their knowledge and thoughts. But even when you can do that effectively, you can seldom constrict your opponents range to a single holding. Instead you narrow it by relating each of his actions to his way of thinking.

Usually you end up with several different holdings your opponent may possess. And you can mathematically compare your opponent’s potential holdings against each other to determine the odds of each holding.

For example, if you can narrow your opponent’s pre-flop range to AA, KK or AK, there are 6 possible mathematical combinations of AA (AhAd-AhAs-AhAc-AdAs-AdAc-AsAc), 6 of KK and 16 of AK, of which 4 are suited. So in that case your opponent is 16-12 or 4-3 to have AK over a wired pair.

There are six combinations of every pair. If one of the rank hits the board, it reduces the combinations to three. In other words, if there is a 9 on the board, there are 3 possible combinations of 99 in your opponent’s hand. There are 16 combinations of every unpaired hand of which 4 are suited.

When one of the cards comes on the board, it reduces the combinations to 12. For example; when an ace hits on the board there are 12 combinations of AK still available to your opponent. If both an ace and a king come, there are 9 combinations of AK available to your opponent. If two Aces hit the board, there are 8 combinations of AK available. If you don’t understand this, write out the combinations available.

If you think the manner in which your opponent played a given hand leans more toward his possessing one holding over another, discount the lower propensity holding by the appropriate amount. If you think there is a 25% chance that your opponent would have played an AK differently, discount the combinations of AK in his range by 25%.

Those are the fundamentals to mathematically calculating your opponent’s ranges. Utilize it at the table and the numbers will eventually become second nature to you.

And your ability to read your opponent’s cards will dramatically improve

Making the Optimum Play


“There are many ways to play winning hold’em,” stated the self-proclaimed expert. And he’s right; there are many ways to play when all you’re concerned about is enjoying the game or booking a winner. But there is almost always only one optimum play, the play that provides you the best value. And if your goal is to win the most money, it’s not correct to make any other play!

Many players play a self-designed style to diminish fluctuation. Others design a style to book as many winners as they can. Many more play a style designed to provide them the most fun as possible.

Of course, it all depends on why you play. Is it for fun? For social reasons? To boost your ego? Or do you want to win as much money as possible? It will only be the most fun way to play if you enjoy the intellectual challenge. And it probably won’t make you the most popular person at the table while you’re playing. And if you quantify how you do at poker by your win/loss record, it won’t boost your ego. Optimal strategy will cause you to swing more and book more losers. All that said, winning is fun, people respect talent and money can boost your ego too!

If you want to maximize your win rate, you need to shed some of your inherent beliefs. It may be more emotionally comfortable not to greatly fluctuate, but is it worth the lost money at the end of the year? Optimal play tends to generate more risk, greater fluctuation and superior EV.

Booking winners is definitely more fun than booking losers. But winning money at poker isn’t about having the best won-lost record. It’s about getting the best EV over time. And when you quit good games to insure a win or conversely stay in bad games because you’re stuck and aspire to win, you’re costing yourself EV. EV that will transfer into money won at the end of the year. Additionally, styles that tend to have the best winning session percentage tend not to have the best overall EV.

It’s ok to play for fun or social reasons. But understand that it’s not the optimal mentality for winning. I often see players play carelessly early and then play their best when they’re down to the last of their bankroll. Some balance needs to be implemented between their respect for money and their desire for enjoyment. Going broke isn’t any fun!

So if you’re playing to win money, dismiss the emotions and rationalized thoughts. Think about which decision will make you the most money over time. Actualize that decision.
It will be fun stacking those chips.

Bluffing in Loose Games

“You can’t ever bluff the fish” boasted the wily old poker veteran. And that’s true if the “fish” called every bet, but that is a very rare breed of fish. Most “fish” at times fold, and are often prone to giving away information that they are about to. Tells abound with fish.

That said, with “fishy” players, you need to be much more situationally selective. A few fish are fishy because they fold too much, but that’s not typically true. In short, bluffing is doable, but the situations are generally few and far between.

Most fish call with a wide pre-flop range that will often whiff the flop. That creates value for pre-flop isolation plays and flop continuation bets. Of course, some flops are whiffier than others, and players have differing post-flop calling frequencies. The trick to being a successful bluffer in the “fish pond” is to compartmentalize. Put those that almost never fold in one compartment, those that call with overcards in another. Think about who plays ‘fit or fold” and learn which boards they can be moved off of. Are there any who seem like they are playing scared? You can develop your own compartments, simplify or complicate, the variations of opponents is immeasurable.
Rainbow boards that have a high card remove some/all of the overcard range from an opponent. Those with few legitimate straight/flush draws add still greater value to your bluffs. Consider the board texture, what will this particular opponent(s) call with? What percentage of their current range is a calling hand? What size bet will fold those hands? Is the pots size worth the bets risk?

Opportunities to bluff in loose games are fewer, but that doesn’t mean that a limited number of well selected bluffs can’t have positive value. If you select the right situations, not only will your bluffs have positive EV but when your often calling opponents know that you bluff, it will both widen their calling range and create better value betting situations because they are likely to call bigger wagers.

So, don’t just give up on bluffing because the game is loose. Find the right spots and it will add value to your game.

Wanna be a Poker Pro?


It appears much easier than it is. There is much to know to become a significant winner. And you need to have the fortitude to maintain a high level of play through the financial and emotional ups and downs. As the old saying goes ”It’s a hard way to make an easy living”.

Firstly, you need to possess the intellect to compete and substantially win in an academically challenging game against other smart people. Keep in mind, it’s not just you against them; it’s you against them and the costs of playing. And those costs add up considerably over time.

Plus there are the competitive skills required. It’s great to have control of your life and time, but accountabilities come with it. You need to be continuously motivated to play and work on your game. You need to structure your life around the game so you can play when the games are good. You need to have relationships that understand your poker needs and support you. You need to configure your life so that you are playing happy, because if you don’t play happy, your game will suffer. And happiness is what makes life worth living.

Along the same lines, you need to be mentally tough and stable enough to keep it all together when the cards aren’t running your way. It sounds much easier than it is. Pokers stresses tend to have a wearing effect on most players, both mentally and physically. Compensating for pokers effects is a necessary component in order to survive the “test of time”.

Poker appears to be a glamorous thrilling lifestyle. You live in a destination resort, eat great food, meet new and exciting people daily, have control over your life and for those that are successful a solid financial future. But the realities soon become apparent. Poker is a grind for all but a VERY select few.

It takes a unique level of intellect, knowledge and mental toughness to survive. And a significantly higher level of all three to thrive. If you think you have what it takes, go for your dreams. That said, research what it takes, and be honest with your self–evaluation.

And if you choose to take the plunge, good luck and play well!

Blocking Bets


A “blocking bet” is a smallish out of position bet made with the intention of setting a small price for that street. It can be made with either a weakish hand with showdown value or a draw that you would rather not call a sizable bet with. It can also serve the purpose of stopping a bluff.

Mostly, you’re looking to get to showdown or cheaply see the next card. If you checked, your opponent might well bet large and create a difficult situation or losing proposition for you. By betting small you force your opponent to raise in order to bet bigger and therefore reopen the betting, an assumption of risk many players generally don’t want to take. Additionally, you might get some thin value from betting some hands that your opponent would have checked behind you had you checked.

All that said, blocking bets have some issues. Some experienced players will read right through your sizing and raise-bluff, forcing you to pay an even higher price or fold. If you bet rather than check, you have effectively removed the bluffs from your opponents betting range and any value those bluffs would create for you.

Blocking bets work well against weak, uncreative, and nitty players who infrequently raise bluff. Confine the play to those situations, and blocking bets will be a valuable tool in your poker arsenal. But if you get too frisky with them, you’ll end up costing yourself money!

Inelastic (Not about your underwear)

The ability to vary your bet-sizes creates an opportunity to obtain an edge that you can’t acquire in limit. One important concept in determining your bet sizing is keeping certain hands you want your opponent to call in your opponent’s calling ranges without hurting your over EV. But with some opponent’s in certain situations there is no need to consider an in-depth bet sizing equation. They’re either calling or they’re not, and size doesn’t matter. It’s called an inelastic situation where your opponent doesn’t differentiate between your bet sizing when determining whether to call.

Say you have AK and raised pre-flop indicating a big hand. On an A-A-4-6-K board, the effective stack size is 1-1/2 pot. You know you’re against a weak opponent who won’t lay down any Ace or better as he is more focused on the strength of his hand and indifferent to the size of the bet or the odds the pot is offering him. Go ahead and shove all-in and get the optimum value out of your hand.

Most situations are elastic; your opponent(s) will call differing sized bets with different hands. And computing what percentage they will call with which hands and calculating the best option is a complicated process. But recognizing situations that are inelastic and actualizing a big bet can have enormous value.
So when you’re contemplating what bet-size to make, think about if your opponent(s) are inelastic with a significant portion of their calling range.

And if they are… Stick it in!

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