I am fortunate to be one of the few players who are well known in both online and live circles and, as a result, I often have people from one camp asking me my opinion on the other. Usually the online players will ask me what are the biggest hurdles to overcome in playing live events. They tend to be players who have been playing for some time and have developed their skills to a level where they feel confident about their game. Then there are the brick and mortar players, who usually ask me what kind of style I use when playing online. I will try to answer both of these questions.
For a long time, especially during my college years (all five of them), I played almost exclusively online, as there was not a casino within eight hours of me. Looking back, I can see that this is where I developed a fundamentally strong understanding of the different forms of poker. I think the biggest advantage of playing online is the ability to see thousands of hands and situations that would take much longer to see in live play. I also think it is easier to concentrate on the fundamentals of the game you are playing online, because you are not as easily distracted by your surroundings, which includes the players seated at your table. It's a very different thing to be playing online against nine players represented solely by cartoon figures than it is to play against nine players wearing sunglasses and hats, with all kinds of gold and diamonds on their wrists. Basically, it is easier to focus on the game, as online poker takes out the visual psychology of the game, which can affect the subconscious of a player tremendously.
Aside from the psychological jump to live play, giving off tells tends to be a hurdle to overcome for online players. With so many bad beats being taken in the comfort of your own room, where no one hears you drop a few four letter words or throw your mouse clear across the room, it is easy to get into a habit of "acting up" when you take a bad beat. However, all you are doing is making it that much harder for you to act calm and collected when the same beat happens live. For this, I recommend acting like you are playing live when you take a bad beat online - pretend you have nine other players intently watching to see if you will explode after the most recent suck-out. Remember, online poker is like the Triple A of live poker, and you should be practicing as many different aspects as possible while you play.
After college, I moved to Los Angeles with my younger brother, Robert, and two of my best friends, Keith and Chris. This is where my live career really started. I knew the games, but I was far from comfortable at a real table. I felt young and intimidated and emotional. As I worked through those hurdles, the weaker parts of my live game, I could feel my game getting stronger because, even as a 23-year-old, I knew I had seen more hands than most of my opponents, thanks to the online world. Once I started getting respect from live players, they began approaching me about online play. They would tell me stories of how they could crush live games, but had trouble beating online games. This is what I tell them: Online is different than live play, and you have to approach it differently. Online play is much more mathematically oriented, since the psychological part is not a big part of the equation. Online, there are more inexperienced players, and it is also harder to tell which ones they are. This makes some plays that work well in live play obsolete in online play, as plays are less effective if your opponents do not comprehend them. Respect that you have earned over the years playing live goes out the window when you log on to an online game. In all the other players' eyes, you are just the new screen name in town, chasing the same dream.
All great players adjust to each game they sit down in. Hopefully these insights will help you approach any game you play in, regardless of whether it's online or live. Until next time, keep swinging!
Crafting Your Poker Image
I strongly advocate paying great attention to every minute detail while playing. Any advantage you have over the competition, no matter how small, over time, can benefit you a great deal. Anything can help, aside from your play itself.
Your poker reputation, along with some assumptions players make about you, can make a big difference. For example, I played in the main event of the World Poker Tour PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. Some people knew me from live play, and it was also common to have some people ask what your PokerStars screen name is since there were many online qualifiers. Some who knew me from live play, like Greg Raymer, Evelyn Ng and JC Tran, knew me as a solid, conservative player from previous encounters. I decided that in recent main events, I had been playing too tight. One hand in particular, I am sure now in retrospect that I laid down the best hand because I was being too cautious. I made a decision to be more loose and aggressive in the Bahamas. Using this as a tool helped me make it to the final two tables (until a runner runner flush sent me packing), as Raymer, Ng and others were laying down hands to my re-raises. Raymer, loves to play odd ball hands, play back at people, and seems to call when re-raised a bit too much with those odd ball hands. He even commented once that he knew me too well and showed me his tens before he mucked them against my all-in re-raise with eights, which I did not show. He simply 'knew' I wasn't the type to make that play with less than tens, so he mucked.
There was one similar kind of thing I noticed recently in tournaments in Reno, in terms of using people's assumptions to your advantage, and I thought I'd share it.
I have a lot of 'goodies' from the online sites I play, notably giveaway shirts, jackets and hats from PartyPoker and PokerStars from when I've won seats through the sites. Some of them I like, and I sometimes wear that merchandise while playing, particularly the jackets. I hadn't really thought about it. But now that I'm writing for Poker Trails, I try to reflect and analyze more.
An overt comment brought to the front of my brain what had been in the back previously. The tournaments had mostly locals, I was an outsider. Over and over, one guy was taking way too long to play and was agonizing over every hand, on a Negreanu like level. After looking around and not seeing Shana Hiatt or any TV cameras, I was eventually the bad guy and called for time. A woman at the table said, 'This isn't the internet where you only get 30 seconds, this is real poker.' This woman, seeing my jacket, obviously decided I was 'only' an online player. I had been thinking I was getting good action, and some very profitable call downs. Then it hit me. Some of the table had to be thinking I was one of those 'crazy' online players who play all kinds of oddball hands, as that is the reputation many online players carry, deserved or not. It seems they were calling me down more because they thought I was a crazy online player who would be playing odd hands and being overly aggressive.
I adjusted my game accordingly. I benefited from their assumptions about my play, and did well. Who would think what you wear can make a difference, but it clearly did.
For those of you who are mostly online players, I have one piece of image advice for you also. Your screen name choice can make a difference. Some names indicate someone who knows poker, like Negreanu's 'doublesuited,' or one like dblgutshot or ChaseDaNuts. This could be good or bad, depending on how you play. Wouldn't you rather have people thinking you are just one more chump they can just run over'
Conversely, a name like Redsoxfan23 or joe_n_amy88 doesn't give the opponent any information about the experience level you possess. A name like OmahaBob might make you under respected in Hold 'Em if they think you are mostly an Omaha player. If you see someone with a name making a somewhat vulgar reference to bodily functions or female body parts, don't you kind of suspect you're dealing with an immature young male' And wouldn't you tend not to respect them as much as a player'
Think about it before you pick a name to use, or if you're ready for a change. On most sites, any notes people have on you will follow you to your new name, so that shouldn't be your only motivation. I believe I have benefited by people playing timidly against me online, especially after big wins, so I choose not to change names.
If you do make a change, choose thoughtfully, and you might just give yourself a small advantage over the competition.
note by gank: Take Jeff Henry's advice, pay attention to the game and make adjustments as needed.
I tend to be fairly critical of most television coverage of poker. Obviously, we've come a long way with the advent of the hole-card cam. I've seen those old broadcasts on ESPN Classic, and they're kind of interesting to me as a poker nut. But without knowing what cards folks are holding, you're pretty much just watching fat guys smoke. The most interesting thing may be looking at the clothes and guessing it's a broadcast from 1986, only to discover that it's actually 1994 and yes, poker pros were still wearing Members Only jackets. If you've been hanging around Commerce lately, you'll realize some still are.
But the game has gotten younger, cooler, better, faster, hipper and is now being played for a lot more cash. All that, combined with the hole card cam, makes for a much nicer show.
That said, I still have my issues with the way poker is shown on television.
Watching ESPN's coverage of Day Two of the U.S. Poker Championship, there were a couple hands that really caught my attention. The hands were interesting because of what they showed about how some big-name pros play the game, but also because they highlighted what I believe is missing from much of the coverage.
Both hands featured lesser-known players going heads up against a name player. In both cases, the pro came in trailing and had to make a choice to stay with the hand. And in both cases, in my ever-so-less-than-humble opinion, Lon McEron and Norman Chad (ESPN's poker commentators) failed to really break down for the viewer exactly what was happening in the minds of our heroes and why they did what they did.
FLACK ON THE ATTACK
In the first hand, Layne Flack comes in for a raise with QTs. He's got a big stack, position, decent if not great cards, and he's the first one into the pot. Nothing ground-breaking there. One of the short stacks at the table, a guy I had never heard of named J.R. takes a long time thinking before moving in with his pocket nines.
Lon and Norm agree it's the right move-glad we're all on the same page here.
At this point, Flack goes into the tank and ESPN's duo begins speculating on what he'll do-will he call knowing he likely has the worst of it etc.-but they fail to really get at what Layne is working over.
He knows his opponent has something. Yes, Layne knows that his opponent recognizes that Layne will raise with less than premium cards, but Layne also knows his opponent has been patient up until this point looking for a spot to move in with his short stack. Layne also likely knows that his opponent is smart enough to know that Layne may just call an all-in raise with junk cards for the sheer pot odds since he has the chips to afford it.
Conclusion: Layne knows his opponent either has a pocket pair or two decent high cards.
Layne knows where he stands against each of these possibilities. He's on the slightly short side of a horse race against a pair 99 or lower, and he's in big trouble against TT or JJ and huge trouble versus QQ, KK or AA. Against two high cards he is in big (almost huge) trouble against any combo that includes his T or Q but has a higher kicker, and is in decent shape against two other high cards.
Conclusion: Based on stack size, Layne should call if he thinks he's up against the smaller pocket pair or non-dominating high cards. He should fold if he thinks he's dominated or against the bigger pocket pairs.
Norm and Lon don't really get into this-which bugs me. But there's the next level they don't even approach.
Namely, how does Layne know which of these hands he's up against' Basically, he doesn't. It comes down to educated guessing and weighted percentages. High cards are more likely than pairs, because there are more combinations of them. Small and medium pairs are more likely than the monsters, not only because there are more of them, but also because there is some chance J.R. would have flat called looking to trap with AA or KK.
Layne looks at the size of the pot and the size of his stack, then he figures out where he'll be if he loses and decides that while he knows he is not ahead, he also knows that the possible hands against which he is only a slight-to moderate underdog far outnumber the ones which have him practically dead to rights.
Layne calls and says 'show me Ace-Jack.' When he sees the nines he exalts' something like 'Oh Baby!' as he knows it's his best-case scenario, once he's ruled out the possibility that he is up against a pure bluff. Predictably, Norm and Lon fail to mention why Layne wanted to see AJ and why he was thrilled to see the small pocket pair.
Just as predictably, Layne flops both a Queen and a Ten, and despite facing a straight draw on the turn, wins with his two pair. A Textbook decision for an action pro playing a big stack.
TOTO: HOW DANGEROUS IS TOO DANGEROUS''
The next hand worth pontificating on starts as a multiple way pot with Toto Leonidas raising with Kh4h and getting action from two players with small pocket pairs as well as shorter-stacked, lesser-known Eric Haber, who is holding a suited ace (I think it was Ad8d) in one of the blinds.
Both Eric and Toto hit the flop as it contains the ace of hearts and one other low heart: Eric with top pair and Toto with the nut flush draw. Eric, on the shorter stack comes out betting and Toto with his mountain of chips and nut draw calls. By the turn, both small pairs are out, there are still only two hearts on the board, and Eric is all-in as Toto ponders a loose call.
Norm and Lon do a good job of pointing out that Toto is a very unpredictable player and keeps people very much off balance-this is the type of bizarre call he just might make. But let's be a little more specific.
How many outs does Toto think he has' We know he has nine hearts with one card to come, with 46 cards possible (assuming his opponent is not holding a heart). That makes him slightly worse than a five to one dog, and with Haber all-in, he is not getting proper odds to call. Does Toto think his king might be good, giving him three more outs' Probably not-he's smart enough to know Eric is betting the ace.
So why would he call' Basically, because Toto lives by different rules than the rest of us. Chris Ferguson, who was in the hand with one of those medium pocket pairs, would never make this call. Neither would Erik Seidel, Dan Harrington, Phil Hellmuth Jr. and a bunch of others, including myself. Does that make Toto wrong' Well, not when he rivers the flush to knock Eric Haber out.
Thing is, I believe in cerebral analysis, just as I believe results do not indicate whether a given decision was the correct one-winning the pot does not make Toto a genius and me an idiot (his bracelet does that). But while I am a brutally analytical player, I have to acknowledge that there are other factors, much less-quantifiable than pot odds, that can influence a great player's decisions. Toto has been watching Eric, saw him raise with QQ and then call Brian Haveson's all-in re-raise with KK, which cost Haber half his stack. Maybe Toto feels Haber's luck heading south and has a gut sense his heart is coming. Maybe Toto believes what he gains in winning all those chips is worth more than what he loses by calling off a sizable chunk of his stack without getting proper odds.
My guess is that over the long haul, Toto's unorthodox play yields more volatile results than other big-name pros. He might have longer droughts between wins, but since tournament prize structures are weighted so heavily to the top three places, he also might have a higher percentage of big wins even as he makes fewer money finishes. After all, he was the defending champ in this event!
Listening to other big-name pros talk about Toto, you might hear some grouse about him being a gambler who wins when he gets lucky, that others are better players. But if pushed, these same pros might admit that they would much rather see these 'better players' staring out at them from behind a condo of chips than have to sit and watch Toto methodically cut and restack his checks while he contemplates another move that leaves a player muttering to himself on the walk to the parking lot.
note by gank: Vaughn Sandman is an avid online poker player.
Online Poker Etiquette
I wrote once before about the phenomenon of the angry online poker player. It is quite common, and many people go there once in a while, even yours truly. I even had my chat privileges temporarily suspended after I wrote that column because I got frustrated by a horrible player talking trash at me after he got lucky in a huge suck out.
What can I say' Do as I say, not as I do' There may be some truth in that, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize instances of poor poker etiquette when I see them. I prefer to think I am basically a good guy who can't be good 100% of the time. I think its enough to care and pay attention to if you're doing the right thing and to try and do the right thing. But, enough about me. Let's talk a bit about some of this poor etiquette I see frequently.
There is a place, in my opinion, for trash talk at the poker table. It can be one of many tools. If you have a good read on someone and reraise them with nothing, then show, by all means talk trash if you like. You could put them on tilt or intimidate them into passivity. There is a difference, though, between that and being a jackass. You move quickly into jackass when you talk trash after bad beating someone.
If someone plays badly and wins a pot from you anyway because they get lucky, I understand a little anger and frustration. I get it, and I don't really say this is a major infraction , because it is somewhat understandable, but we would all do well to stifle the urge to spew.
On the other hand, when someone LOSES a pot, whether they played badly or not, why taunt them' I often see people play poorly and lose a pot, and sometimes that brings out comments like 'Nice hand, moron,' 'Haha, you're an idiot,' or simply 'lol.'
Now suppose you're in the grocery store and someone walking by bumps into a display and some cans fall to the floor. Would you go up to the person, laugh at them loudly, and tell them what a klutz they are' No one would. Well, almost no one I guess, except a true first-class jackass. And yet, this is exactly what some people do online when they tell a person what a loser they are. I understand why people do this online, because we all have been the victim of these bad players, and it drives you nuts. Whoever they are, one could assume they already feel bad that they played like a fool and threw their money away, do they not' They might even be among a great number of online players who are losing a lot more money than they can afford to lose. I'd also ask you this ' do you play well all the time' I am pretty successful at this online poker stuff, and I certainly don't play well all the time. When I play badly, I recognize it, usually right away, but occasionally later upon reflection. If you're the guy doing the taunting, it's no different than kicking a man when he's down. That just makes you mean, pathetic and weak. It's akin to the angry person who is mean to animals, women or children because they are 'easy' targets. If you're too frustrated to bite your lip, how about just asking something like 'What did you think I had'' That makes the point, I think, without being cruel about it. And why not be happy you won the pot and hope they continue to play badly, rather than chase them off or alert them to their inferior play'
It's even worse when the guy who is down hasn't done anything to YOU in the first place, like if you weren't even in the hand. I see it, from a special class of obnoxious jackass who seems to hate everyone who isn't just like him. Not everything is about you, stay out of it, and keep your neuroses to yourself. If you are one of these guys, you can be sure that many people at your table are thinking how pathetic YOU are for being so petty and mean, and wondering what is wrong with you that makes you act the way you do.
Going further, I definitely don't get why someone would taunt a person who played well and lost, which I also see. Sometimes it's the person who played poorly and won anyway, and sometimes it's just that annoying person who wasn't even involved in the hand.
Confucius said, 'Pride goes before destruction.' When you get outplayed and luck your way into winning the pot, the last thing you should be is arrogant or boastful. You should be humble and happy you won the pot you didn't deserve. You could feel apologetic, though I'd say that mostly is unnecessary, as these beats are a part of the game. I do occasionally apologize and say why I made the play, but I wouldn't say doing that is a right or wrong thing to do. It's up to you if you wish to handle it that way. Maybe the best response is no response at all - just keep your trap shut. I certainly hope Confucius was right, and that these obnoxious people end up going down in flames themselves, whether that is because of some bad karma they created for themselves (as Confucius might say) or because their inferior play catches up to them. Whatever the reason, there is some consolation in noting that some of the worst offenders I've seen in recent tournaments ended up busting before they reached the money.
As to a person who isn't even involved in a hand, but nonetheless offers taunting or negative commentary to a person who plays well and loses anyway, I have a question for you. Do you not remember what it feels like to play perfectly and get horribly unlucky' And would you like it if someone did that to you' The internet offers anonymity to where you can insult someone just because they are a loser, when you wouldn't do it elsewhere, like in my grocery store example. But is that really the kind of person you wish to be' Leave your own issues and neuroses where they belong, don't foist them on others. It isn't their fault if you hate your own miserable life and you can't keep your own negativity inside.
Don't be a jackass like this. That goes without saying, and few of us are that screwed up. But also don't be the guy next to him who laughs and encourages him to continue either, and it might not even be a bad idea to try and get him to move on somehow or change the subject. We all have a responsibility to do the best we can to clean up our little corner of the world, don't we?
note by gank: Jeff Henry is an extremely talented online poker pro specializing in cash games and online tournaments.
Stalling Poker Players
If you've played online in a multiple table tournament and done reasonably well, you've seen them stalling players. One thing that requires no debate is that they are annoying. You're close to the money, and some guy takes the maximum amount of time before he folds every hand. Invariably, there is someone else, sometimes more than one, who are telling Mr. Stall why he's an idiot or simply getting hot under the collar generally at the guy.
I feel bad for these guys, and I never get angry at them. They are only doing what is best for them. Here are two examples of why these guys aren't so dumb after all:
You're playing a turbo satellite into a bigger tournament on Pokerstars and the top 22 people win seats into the bigger tournament, regardless of whether they finish first or 22. There are 35 people left, you are in eighth place, and there are quite a few players who are very short stacked. Should you stall' Maybe, yes. The blind levels increase very quickly, to such an extent that you might have to put a large percentage of your big stack in as a big blind if the tournament goes on a long time. It's unlikely, but it does happen. And those blinds increase with the passage of time, so you might cause more of the short stacks to be forced all in in their blinds, or to push all-in if they see those growing blinds coming around to them soon. Again, you're Daddy Fat Stack, you can pay the bigger blinds no problem, but you can put pressure on the short stacks if you can stall enough to make the blinds go up. On Pokerstars, this is even more true, because they generally don't go hand for hand until you are a spot or two from the money, whereas some other sites like Party Poker will go hand for hand much earlier. The likelihood that stalling will help you is less when hand for hand, but it can help on some occasions.
Here's another example to show why that is true:
You're playing the Party Poker Super Tuesday No Limit Hold Em $150 buy-in multi-table tournament. Eighty spots get paid, it's down to 84 people left, blinds are 100-200 and you have 450 chips left. The tournament went hand for hand at 90 players left, which of course means you wait for all tables to finish their hands before your table's next hand is dealt. Should you stall' Maybe, yes. People will yell at you and say 'It's hand for hand now you idiot.' True. But suppose you have a time bank of 120 seconds, and the blinds are going up to 150-300 in just over a minute, and another table has a guy with 400 chips who will be the big blind next hand. The blinds go up based on time of levels, not based on a number of hands played per level like might be the case in a sit and go. If you fold immediately and the other tables finish quickly, that guy might post a big blind of 200, not 300, and he can survive past the blinds. You and your 400 chips will be all-in by posting your blinds when they get around to you in four hands at 150-300. If you stall and the blinds go up, that same guy will be all forced all-in when he posts his blinds in these next two hands as he posts the now higher 150 and 300 blinds. He might bust and you might sneak into the money. By stalling here, you improve your chances of making it into the money, and you can see why it matters even if you're hand for hand!
Conversely, I have seen people stalling way before the tournament is near the money. There isn't really any value in doing that, but I suppose some people just don't know any better or have heard stalling is generally a good idea, but don't know all the reasons behind it. And similarly, there isn't much reason to stall if there aren't particularly any really small stacks who will be forced all in soon by a modest blind increase.
So be smart about it, use the stall when it makes sense, and ignore the whiners.
note by gank: Jeff Henry plays multiple table tournaments at Pokerstars and Full Tilt poker.