Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Want to Win at Poker? Learn to be Afraid!

One of the best things I ever did for my Texas Hold'em game was to learn Pot Limit Omaha (PLO). The reason is that it taught me to be afraid--really, really afraid--of big river bets. Let me explain.


For a long period in my poker career/education, I refused to believe the other guy really had the big hand. No, that's not quite right. Rather, I refused to believe my own reads. I just had to see that the villain had the hand he was representing. I'd bet into the river with KK on a 9-8-7-5-2 two-tone board, but then would face a large re-shove for all my chips. There are lots of ways I could have been beaten here, and nowadays this is an easy fold, but back then I just couldn't pull the "muck trigger."

So I'd call. And then literally not be surprised when the villain turned over a straight, or a flush, or a set. Instead, I'd kick myself and mutter something like, "Damn it! I knew he had it! Why did I call!? When will I ever learn? Arghghg!"

For a long, long time, it seemed I was incapable of learning this particular lesson. But then one day I happened to overhear a discussion between a couple of players discussing a hand at a local tournament I occasionally play in. One guy was lamenting the fact that he had just called a big river shove because he thought the villain had been bluffing.

"The idiot turns over 5-4 for the wheel!" said the victim. "How the hell does he get to the river with that crap?"

"Doesn't matter," said the victim's friend. "He got there. And you called his bet. What did you put him on?"

"Well obviously the straight," the victim continued to whine. "But come one! Guy shoves and I can't believe it isn't a bluff. He's usually bluffing there, right? Repping the straight. Right?"

"Really?" the friend replied. "Just how often do you bluff the river for all your chips?"

"We're not talking about me," the victim said.

"Okay, but he bet big on the river," the friend said. "You clearly had a strong hand, and yet he still bets big. What does that say about his hand?"

"Dammit!"

"I rest my case," said the friend.

This conversation lodged itself in my brain like an ear worm. It kept playing itself over and over. The villain clearly had to know the hero had a strong hand, yet he shoved anyway. So what should that tell us about the villain's hands strength? Would I bluff in a situation like that when I thought my opponent had a big hand and wasn't likely to fold? Uh, no. I'm only betting with big hands, and only for value. So why would my opponent think any differently?

Like a cartoon bubble thought, a tiny 50 Watt "A-ha!" light began to flicker itself on over my head. How often do people actually bluff big on rivers? Answer: not very.

Yet I continued to call in those situations. Sigh. It was like I needed actual, physical proof that the bad guy actually had the monster hand, regardless of what his bet was telling me he had. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but this continued to be a big leak in my game for way longer than it should have been. Who knows how many stacks I lost because I didn't believe those big river bets from the bad guys and wanted proof.

The good news is I started to learn. The bad news is that it was slow and costly. In fact, it actually took learning another type of poker to really absorb the lesson. See, I got interested in PLO around that time and quickly discovered that it was exactly as advertised: a game of the nuts. Holy crap, was PLO fun. But expensive. You don't last long playing PLO unless you embrace the idea of monsters.

See, it turns out that people very frequently have the nuts in Omaha. If there's river action on a board of 8-8-6-7-2, someone at least has trips, more likely a straight or a boat, and often enough they have quads. Yes, freaking quads. If you're going to play PLO, you better adjust your mindset PDQ, or you're gonna go broke even PDQ'er....

Ah, but I digress. All the villains turning over their nuts on me in PLO began to sink in. I learned that at the small stakes tables, people essentially never bluff in PLO on turns and rivers. As a collective whole, they're terrified of the nuts themselves, so they only get it in the middle when they think their hand is a stone-cold lock. Especially in multi-way pots. This means they have the nuts, or at least the near nuts. Said another way:

If a PLO villain is a-rammin'-and-a-jammin' the river, they've got a monster.

That's when the 50W bulb brightened to around 75W. Hey, I thought, maybe this is the same in Hold'em games. Hmmm. Well okay, maybe not to the same near-total extent, but for practical purposes, it's probably a good, conservative way to assume when facing big, for-all-the-marbles bets on fifth street. If I get bet large into on the river, maybe I should fold all but my strongest hands? Hmmm...

Serendipitously around that same time period in my poker education, I also heard a podcast episode by Bart Hanson in which he extolled the virtues of bet-folding and raise-folding rivers. His comment that "most players aren't capable of bluffing big on rivers" solidified this for me. I vowed to fold, bet-fold, and raise-fold all my medium strength and worse hands in river situations for the next month or so of play and see where it took me.

And the rest is history.  Profitable history, that is. And I ain't never looked back. In fact, I now have a 1000 Watt halogen bulb spotlighting all my river folds.

The bottom line is this: at the stakes most of us play ($50NL and below online, $2/$5 live), people are incapable of big bluffs on the later streets-- and this is truly a great thing. It literally makes winning poker easier. Bluffing is limited to almost exclusively the best players. And there ain't many of those guys playing at those stakes. In contrast, the rest of the player pool is dead easy to read. If they're not betting, they don't have big hands. If they are betting, they do-- and you should be afraid. Very afraid.

I rest my case.

All-in for now...
-Bug

Like this post? Hate it? Have a suggestion, addition, or comment to make? Think I'm wrong about something? Please comment below and/or send me an email. I read everything sent my way, and I honestly look forward to hearing all feedback, good or bad. This blog gets better with comments from informed and involved readers like yourself. Don't be shy! Tell me what you think!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Spotting Suckers: 10 Ways to Identify the Bad Players at Your Poker Table

There's usually a sucker at a poker table. This can be one or more other players-- or it could be you. If it's the former, you're in luck-- it means fish for dinner. If it's the latter-- well, it's probably time to move on, lest you become the main course caught in someone else's gill net.  Life's too short to be the worst player at a poker table. I assume you're smart enough to get up and move on...

...which means you will find your way to a better table, which in turn means it has fish to exploit... ah, but this assumes you know how to spot fishy behavior in the first place. Identifying bad players is the first step to exploiting them. In this post, I'm going to tell you some of the standard means by which I spot the suckers whenever I sit down to play.



In my last post, I talked about general, macroscopic methods for fish identification using lobby statistics. Today I want to delve a little more deeply into specific identifiable traits that bad low-stakes players frequently exhibit. These are some of the most common leaks, mistakes, and habits that I see many of the fish (which shouldn't include you!) do at the poker tables. In no particular order, here's a list of ten very common fish-like behavior to be on the lookout for when you sit down at any new poker table:
  • Playing Out of Position (OOP). After just a few orbits of a poker table, you usually can tell which players don't understand position. They're the guppies playing JTs and AX from UTG. Your job is to isolate them and take their money. 'Nuff said.
  • Defending Their Blinds Too Much. "You're attacking my blinds!" you will hear them say, or: "I've already got $X invested in this pot. I'm not going anywhere!"  News flash for the fish: they're not your blinds, nor have you invested anything. Posting blinds and antes is simply a sunk cost of doing business at the poker table. Pound these players when they're in the blinds-- they don't want to fold, even when they know they have a bad hand, and by definition you're going to have position on them.
  • Playing Suited Cards. Ten-deuce is a terrible hand, right? "Not if they're suited!" exclaim the bad players. Yeah, right, keep telling yourself that and come sit next to me. Besides suited cards, these players also like any two Broadways, non-suited gappers, Ace-anything.. you name it, these players have a reason for playing it. Listen when they turn over some bizarre hand and tell the table that they always play it because it's their "favorite hand." Suh-weet. It's also my favorite hand-- when you're the one playing it, that is.
  • Open Limping and Cold Calling Preflop. Let's repeat for the 999th time: there are two ways to win at poker: show down the best hand, or get everyone else to fold. When you're chronically passive preflop, you're actively choosing to forgo the latter method of winning. Instead, you're solely employing the "I hope I hit my hand!" approach to poker. Said another way: you suck. Look for big gaps between VPIP and PFR if you're playing online with a tracking program to spot the loose-passives. Otherwise, just watch for the folks that rarely if ever raise. Hint: they're the ones giving away their chips.
  • Under-Betting Postflop. When I see a no-limit player betting like he's in a limit game, I know I'm at a profitable table. These guys are often older gentlemen, weaned on $2/$4 limit hold'em and/or stud, played at the local casino before the early-bird tourney. Their sole purpose in life is to dribble their money away to you, one min-bet at a time. Their tiny postflop bets accomplish nothing. They don't build their owner a pot when they do have a good hand. They don't price you out from calling when you're on a draw. And they apply essentially no pressure to get you to fold. I love these players sitting at my table.
  • Getting Married to TPTK. These are the guys who overvalue big one-pair hands and won't fold to any amount of aggression on even the wettest of boards. Aces only come around once every 220 hands, they think, and By God they're going to go to the river, come hell or high water. I love stacking these players, because in addition to getting paid off the first time, they often re-buy and then go on tilt after getting their Aces or Kings "cracked." Can you say ATM? I can.
  • Buying-In With Weird/Small Stack Size. I was sitting at a $50NL table the other day and a player sat down with a starting stack of $18.48, which screamed that this was his entire online bankroll. Within 30 minutes of spew, he busted out, typing into the chat box that "Bovada is rigged! I quit this [bleeped] game!"  Yep, it's rigged-- rigged in favor of the skilled players, that is, and yes, I'm very sad to see you go. Please reconsider.
  • Posting Late Blinds OOP When They Sit Down. These are the players who are itching to play. They literally cannot wait the two minutes it's going to take for the blinds to come around to their seat. They want to play, and they want to play now!  In other words, they can't wait to get involved with far too many hands-- and give all their money to you. Loose fish alert!
  • Explaining Why They Lost.  When a player turns over a losing hand and then spends the next five minutes telling anyone who will listen why his play was the correct one, you know you've got a live one at your table. Yes, they're a semi-educated fish, and they're trying, but they're still a fish. Listen closely, and over the next hour or so this player is literally going to tell you their entire poker strategy, skill level, and point out their leaks, free of charge. No, let me correct that: it's better than free of charge; they're going to pay you for the pleasure. 
  • Showing Their Losing Hands. When a player repeatedly shows the table what cards he's lost with, he's ultimately trying to get validation that he's playing correctly. Uh, he's not playing correctly. Instead, the only thing he's validating is that he's the sucker at the table. Attack him relentlessly.
In the world of engineering, we often say you can't solve a technical problem until you've identified and isolated it. Poker is no different-- spotting the fish at a poker table is the first step to isolating and exploiting their weaknesses. Hopefully you're not doing any of the fishy things listed above (and if you are, just stop!) Just as hopefully, you're actively looking for--and attacking--the suckers at your poker tables. You can drop a line into any old pond and hope you get lucky, or you can use fish-finding sonar and go after them directly. The choice is yours.

All-in for now...
-Bug

Like this post? Hate it? Have a suggestion, addition, or comment to make? Think I'm wrong about something? Please comment below and/or send me an email. I read everything sent my way, and I honestly look forward to hearing all feedback, good or bad. This blog gets better with comments from informed and involved readers like yourself. Don't be shy! Tell me what you think!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How I Table Select-- And How You Should, Too.


Received the following email question from reader Drew P., following my last post on when to leave a bad table

"Welcome back to the US. Nothing but good things to say about the post - only thing I wish you would have gone into more detail about is any criteria you have regarding table selection. Do you just pick a table and play until you're sure it's a bad seat? Do you use software like Tableninja in tandem with a HUD? What about the lobby table stats (% players to flop and avg. pot)? Just some thoughts I had while reading. I tend to pick the table that has the highest avg. pot. I pay almost no attention to % players to flop, and I am not using any software."  -DP 

The quick answer I sent Drew is that I used Table Ninja with good success back when I played on Full Tilt and Poker Stars, but since moving to Bovada a few years ago I don't use it anymore. Now, instead, when I'm going to sit at "regular" tables (read: non-Zoom tables) I primarily look at the % of players seeing flops, not the average pot size. The chief reason is that the percentage number tells me the average table VPIP, which is a significant indicator of the number of fish. The bigger the number, the more players there are seeing flops— which by definition means there are more crappy hands in play. You can also infer that many of these folks are not playing positionally aware poker, simply because there are so many players seeing flops and they can't all be on the button. Said another way: bad players with bad cards and bad position. Said yet another way: a fish-rich environment.

The other lobby stat that Drew mentioned (average pot size) can be helpful, but you have to be more cautious with interpreting what it actually means. The problem with it is that large pot sizes can be due to lots of players seeing flops (a good thing), or it can be due to undue aggression from one or more players seated at the table (not such a good thing). If you sit down at one of these tables you have to take the time to figure out what is the root cause of the big average sized pots, then proceed accordingly. Stay if the pot sizes are due to lots of players limping in and bloating the pot, but leave if it's due to aggressive players bullying the table with raises and re-raises.

The bottom line is Table-VPIP is the main stat I use, whether I'm sitting down by myself or whether I'm working with a student. I've had good success table selecting based on this number, and I suspect you will too.


***

In non-poker news, I just finished reading a really excellent book: The Martian, by Andy Weir. Rarely do I finish a novel as quickly as I did this one; I literally read it in two long sittings. Really fun, exciting read, excellent writing, fascinating space-travel facts throughout, pulse-pounding adventure, edge-of-your-seat how's-he-gonna-get-out-of-this-one scenes, etc. The book has been--and continues to be--a national best seller, and has now been made into a major motion picture (starring Matt Damon) that will be coming out in a few months. Bottom line is I highly recommend picking up this book if you have a few bucks, a couple of days, and want to be engrossed in an exciting story. Over the past few months, three separate friends of mine, plus my wife, have each read the book and independently recommended it to me. They were each right-- it's a really, really good book. I'd definitely consider reading it before the movie comes out, too.

All-in for now...
-Bug

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Simplest Fool-Proof Tactic You Can Do To Increase Your Poker Profit. Seriously.


Okay, so you’ve spotted the sucker at the table--and it’s you. Now what? Answer: Move!

Being able to identify the good and bad players at a table is great— but what you actually do with that information is paramount. There are a ton of specific tools and tactics at your disposal to exploit those identified bad players (and also to avoid trouble situations with the identified good players), but there is one really powerful thing that anyone—even the most absolute beginner—can employ: table and seat changes.

I was working with a beginning poker student online a few months ago. I was in hands-off-and-observe mode, and this student was getting beat up pretty badly by the opposition at the $50NL table. We took a break and I asked what he thought was going wrong. “I’m getting killed by these other players," he said, "They’re reading me perfectly, and I can’t do anything about it!” So I asked if he thought he was the so-called sucker at the table. “Well, yes, obviously!” So then I asked why he was still sitting at that table. “Uh…."

There’s an old poker saw that says if you’re the 10th best player in the world, you’re still screwed if you sit down at a table with the 9 better players. Poker is a game that is played against other people, and if those people are more skilled than you, over time you’re going to lose all your money to them. So why would you even try? Yes, there are times when you just want to test yourself against the best, etc., but the majority of time you should be looking for, well, incompetent players to sit with.

This sounds kind of harsh and unsporting, but hey, poker is fundamentally a game of making fewer mistakes than your opponents, while exploiting the mistakes they make. Perhaps more important, it’s a game played for money. The other players at your table won’t hesitate to attack your weaknesses to get at your money, so why should you hesitate to exploit their weaknesses? Sit with the bad players and beat them up. And, conversely, get up and leave if you find yourself on the ropes getting hit in the mouth over and over by better players.

There are two key tactics to employ at the poker tables when you find yourself in a less than profitable situation: table and seat changes. The first (table changing) is pretty obvious; if you’re the 10th best player, just get up and leave. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent of the time, online and live, there are better opportunities, tables, and situations on which to spend your limited playing time. Why sit at a hard table that’s kicking your butt when you can be the butt kicker at another one? There’s absolutely no shame in picking a better battlefield on which to wage war. I do it regularly, and so should you.

The second tactic (seat changing at your table) can be very effective and highly profitable if you identify a fishy, exploitable player. If you’re seated to their right, it’s going to be much harder to abuse their mistakes and/or isolate them then if you're on their left. If a seat opens up 1-4 seats immediately to their left, you should try to move to it. Get on their left, isolate, exploit, and profit. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Someone else to take that money seat?

The same holds true against the good players at your table, but for different reasons; if your table has a very good reg sitting there raking chips, but you still want to stay at the table (e.g., because there are enough bad players to make it profitable to hang around), you should endeavor to move to a seat to the pro's left. This helps minimize the damage he or she can do to you when you enter a pot. It also allows you to employ advanced techniques like re-isolating if/when they raise a bad player.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Position is power at the poker table. Just like location is to real estate, the three most important things at a poker table are position, position, and POSITION. So you should move, move, MOVE! Money flows clockwise at a poker table, and the best players set their table clocks accordingly.

So back to our student. After the "Uh...." comment when I asked why he hadn't left the table, we took a break, talked about the mistakes he was making, and then we found a better game to sit at. I’d like to report that we crushed the new table, but on our fourth hand of the new session our 5-bet all-in-preflop with Aces got called by Kings and we were promptly coolered for a 100bb buy-in. My student began to tilt, so we did the ultimate table change: we stopped playing altogether for the afternoon. The good news is the lesson was still ultimately learned, and in a follow-up session a few weeks later, we did crush it for a couple of buy-ins in an hour— after carefully selecting a soft, juicy table to exploit, that is.

The bottom line is this: When faced with bad table or seat positions: move, move, MOVE! When you’re struggling at a table, pause for a moment and reflect on your abilities versus those of the other players. Ego is your enemy here; you have to be as honest and objective as possible. If you can’t spot the sucker, it probably is you— so move, move, MOVE!  And if you can spot the sucker, then move, move, MOVE to their left. Your bankroll will thank you.

***

Okay to briefly change the subject, I have a question: did you like this post? Hate it? Want to read more like it? Have ideas for improvement? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below, or directly via email. Click here to email me a quick note with suggestions— or just to say howdy. I look forward to it.

All-in for now...
-Bug

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bug's Back... some random thoughts and miscellaneous ramblings



Three weeks in Europe is a tough thing to recover from. I went from hiking 12+ miles a day on average there to about 1 mile a day here. Went from eating like a schwein to, well... that hasn't changed. Went from cool weather (literally got caught in a blizzard in Berchtesgaden) to HOT here in Tucson. Went from slow, restful days with the wife, to holy-crap-there's-a-lot-of-stuff-to-catchup-on mode. Went from not a care in the world, to work, kids, house, vehicles, yada yada yada.

***

Came home... and my new 27-inch Retina iMac was waiting for me to unbox and get running. Gorgeous display. Two days later I'm wrapping up all the software installs and updates, reorganizing the home office, yada yada yada. I'm now 100% an Apple guy (iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone 6). God help me.

***

I'm REALLY jealous of all the WSOP players who made the trek to Vegas this year. Overall, the vacation in Germany was better-- but maybe just marginally!

***

Looking forward to the Main Event coverage. I'm seriously rooting for a girl to make the final table this year. Annette and Vanessa, heads-up in November, would be perfect.

***

One thing a vacation always does for me is refocus and reenergize. As a result, I've got a few online projects that are going to see some re-invigoration. For this blog, the plan is to get more regular with posts. Tied to this of course is with getting more focused on the ABC Poker Training lessons with Le Monsieur and getting the alpha version up and running. I've been offline and carefree for essentially a full month, and now it's time for this re-energized Bug to get busy.

***

Jet lag sucks.

***

All-in for now....
-Bug

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bug's on Vacation

For those of you writing me emails, wondering where I've gone-- I'm in Germany for a few weeks of much needed vacation. Thus far I've been eating too much at breakfasts, getting lost on hikes in the wald (forest), driving deeper and deeper into the Bavarian Alps, buying all manner of touristy things, eating ice cream for lunches, sleeping in late, ignoring blogs, work, email, and pretty much everything else. In other words, having a great time.

I'm silently rooting for Memphis Mojo, et al who are at or headed to the WSOP. Wish I was there-- but being here is a pretty good consolation prize.

I'll be back online and posting more regularly in a couple of weeks. Until then... auf wiedersehen!

All-in for now...
-Bug

Monday, June 1, 2015

What is Bug Reading? May 2015 Edition.

Too many books, too little time...
Often I get contacted by blog readers looking for book recommendations. Most of these queries (obviously) are related to poker training materials, but not always. Sometimes people are just curious what I'm reading, even if it's non-poker fiction. Ergo, in today's inaugural end-of-month post, I present what's currently on my iPad, Kindle, bedside table, easy chair, and (gasp) in the bathroom (and no, I won't tell which book is where!):

First up is Charley Swayne's Advanced Degree in Hold'em. I've skimmed this book in the past and found it thought-provoking. As Le Monsieur and I work our way through the ABC poker lessons, I keep finding myself picking it up frequently to clarify a point here and there. It was especially useful when I wrote a recent monster two-part ABC lesson on a) Classifying Villain Types; and b) Exploiting Villain Types. Swayne's book is kind of weirdly written (a cross between a textbook, a scientific journal paper, and 1980's-era computer graphic output) but there's gold nuggets buried therein if you're up to the task of wading through it.

During this past couple of weeks, I've also had Ed Miller's excellent Playing the Player open in various electronic and paper copy versions throughout the house. As I've stated before, I'm a big fan of Miller, and this one has some really good, solid, practical advice on dealing with common villain types you face at medium and low-stakes games. Not a cheap book, but well worth the money. If you literally can't earn back the cover price during a week of employing its advice at the micro-tables, you're doing something seriously wrong.

Semi-related to poker (actually, more related to the eventual online training site Le Monsieur and I are creating) is Michael Hyatt's Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. I'm a huge fan of Hyatt; I subscribe to both his podcast and his blog, and I can honestly say that through the years his advice on work, leadership, and family has made me a better man, manager, and husband. This particular book is very "sales" specific, but it's still recommended. I've picked up a number of things in it that are directly applicable to the training material development effort we're in the midst of. Good stuff.

And whilst on the self-help and business theme, I also recently picked up Kate Erickson's The Fire Path, which purports to lay out the sequential steps necessary to begin a successful online business. I found this book via another podcast that I'm a big fan of: John Lee Dumas' Entrepreneur on Fire. Kate Erickson is Dumas' wife, and while I'm only a little ways into the book, and while it is a little simple-minded at times, the fact that JLD had a hand in the book's creation makes it worth the price of admission all by itself. I really like JLD's business insights, and there are some good, very practical--and actionable--steps to address that his wife has captured in the book. Really simple but powerful concepts like creating a Venn diagram of your passions and proficiencies, and then layering on another Ven circle set of Profitability to find your possible calling was an "a-ha" moment for me. Lots of these kinds of interesting things in the book, and I'm only about a third of the way through it.

Totally unrelated to poker and/or business is Michael Connelly's The Gods of Guilt. Dunno if you saw The Lincoln Lawyer on the big screen or not, but it was based on Connelly's first installment in this particular novel series of his. Connelly's books aren't incredibly deep or meaningful, but they are always fun and fast moving. He also affords an interesting look behind the curtain of the justice system. I have most of Connelly's books, and when this one came out a year or so ago, my wife bought it for me as a gift. I'm just now getting around to reading it and am enjoying it immensely. Yes, it's a guilty pleasure, but it's also a very diverting bed-time read to relax to and turn off all the other non-fiction stuff going on in my head.

Finally, I'm working my way through an older out-of-print book by Hal Roth called Two On A Big Ocean: The Personal Account of a Man and Woman Who Circumnavigated the Pacific--Alone In A 35-foot Sailboat. This was written decades before GPS, Loran, solar systems, digital electronics, reliable radios, etc., so it's a great glimpse back into the, well, courage it took to do something audacious like sail out into the wild blue ocean and try to hit tiny islands thousands of miles away. Despite living in the desert, sea-going tales like this have always held sway with me. As a kid I read Robin Lee Graham's Dove and have been hooked ever since on this kind of story. Roth does a good job mixing the at-sea "this is how you use a sextant" stuff, with the on-land "here's the interesting stuff that happened to us ashore" tales. A fun read. I often see it available on Amazon for pennies.

****

I'm always looking for book recommendations, so please drop me a line if you have a good idea or a favorite read you think I'd enjoy. My tastes are very varied and extra eclectic (or, as Mr. Multi likes to opine: maybe I just have no taste to begin with). Anyway, I'm jetting off on a big 3-week sojourn to Europe starting next Saturday, and I'll be loading up the iPad with a number of tomes to read whilst gone; if you have a good suggestion, I'm all ears (or is that eyes?). Too bad I can't/won't take the unfinished bathroom book with me-- it will have to wait for my return from Germany.

All-in for now...
-Bug