10 Steps to Improve Your Poker Game
After two and a half years of intense hours at the table (anywhere from 20 to 100 hours a week spent playing poker), I have figured a few things out. I am not an expert at poker, by any means, but I would believe my own results have shown I am a very advanced full-time player.
Coupled with the hours I have spent with Brett Jungblut on poker since the beginning of the year is more up your street?(watching him and him watching me, etc.), I can say that there are a few things that I have mastered. For instance, it took me a good few thousand hours at the table before I finally figured out position and what it really means. I don't think there's ever a question at the table now in my mind about what hands I should be playing from certain positions. It is all instinctual now.
So, I decided I could make a list of ten simple rules for the aspiring player to read. I figure they are the ten cardinal rules I have learned to live by at the table.
1. Table image is everything. You should always be considering exactly what everyone is thinking of you and what you think they are thinking you are thinking of them, etc. You have to be constantly reevaluating where you stand in everyone's mind. If you think the guy to your left thinks you are a loose cannon, then don't go stealing his big blind. Rather, do it enough times early enough that he knows you're aggressive, then show him the nuts the 3rd time you raise. Always be thinking one step ahead of everyone else.
2. Bankroll management is the key to survival. This is especially important for those of you playing for a living. There are too many professional players that are extraordinary poker minds who can't balance a checkbook, let alone prevent their roll from disappearing. You must always be willing to lower your level if you're not winning. If you're a cash game player who is playing $5-10 holdem with 300 big bets (a $3,000 roll, the bare minimum for $5-10), and you go on a bad streak and are down to $2,000 after a few weeks, then drop back down to $3-6 or $4-8. Not only will you build your confidence back up (another important thing to consider), you're bankroll will grown even fatter.
3. Avoiding tilting is exceedingly important. Anytime you suffer a rash of bad beats and the likes, take some time off. However long it takes you to get over it (as for myself, I can get over it in a split second, but that's because I've seen so many beats it doesn't phase me) is fine, just don't come back before you are truly over it. During a tournament, this isn't easily achievable. But anytime your confidence is lacking at all, don't hesitate lowering your stakes, taking time off, or taking a break from poker for a short while if need be. There is nothing worse than losing aces back-to-back and then losing your whole stack.
5. Quit calling with marginal hands. In no-limit, if your opponent raises under-the-gun and you're on the button, strongly consider folding even something as strong as AQs. It all depends on the player, but generally speaking, anyone who raises in first position will have AQ and worse beat. If you're in early position and you have AJs, fold. Don't get tied to hands out of position you can't play very well. AJs is very tough to play in a full ring game, and being in the worst position of all makes it ten times tougher. Get away from hands when you aren't in late position that you don't need to be playing!
6. Start opening up with marginal hands. Yes, I said that! You can start opening in marginal situations more often when you become a better player. When it folds to you in the cutoff or the button, in no-limit tournaments you can open your game up and start raising with a lot of hands. In other games this translates as well. Say in seven card stud, you have split 10's with maybe a face card or two between you and the bring-in. If you suspect the three remaining players will fold all but premium pairs here, there's no reason not to raise. Cautious players might limp, but there's no reason to. If you get re-raised, if you play good poker, you can get away from the hand. In limit holdem, this means you can open on the button against tight blinds with almost any two cards. Tight players will not given action in LHE without premium hands out of position.
7. Study as much as you can on your way up the ranks. If you're a novice tournament player, I recommend reading Sklansky's Tournament Poker For Advanced Players. It also wouldn't hurt to watch every poker tournament broadcast on TV. I have watched about 90% of the material broadcast in the past two years, and have a pretty decent history of players in my mind. It will help when I have to face them at the table later. As for others, you can learn a lot by the play of these players. Don't necessarily watch the hands they do play, because a professional will play any two cards if the circumstances are right. Rather, the best thing to watch is the hands they don't play! Watch as players routinely fold hands you go broke with?
8. It's not about winning the pot, it's about making the right decision. Anytime you are disappointed with the outcome of a hand, analyze your play. If it was a sound play, then you did nothing wrong. Just hope next time your hand holds up. Poker isn't about winning all your 4-1 shots. It's about putting your money in with the best of it and hoping it holds up. It's a gamble, and you have to realize that. There's no 'luck,' just variance.
9. Don't overestimate or underestimate other players. Until you have reason to read them otherwise, assume they're playing near the median of all players and on an average skill level. Don't assume that the girl across from you is a bad player because she is a girl, or assume the guy with flashy jewelry is any good at all. At the same time, don't assume that the real professional who comes across as tight is actually playing really tight. You must always be changing your analysis of everyone, and you should never give someone too much or not enough credit. Don't be upset when the big blind calls your all-in with ace-rag and cracks your kings. Be happy he is making that bad of a call. Don't be upset when he makes the same call and you have even worse than he does. Don't overestimate that he can fold that kind of hand! Know your opponents tendencies'
10. You still have more to learn-admit it. Hey, this is true to every poker player, so don't be ashamed. Even Doyle probably learns something every day. Maybe not so often as others, but he still progresses even today as a player. If you want proof, watch how Doyle won the Legends of Poker on the World Poker Tour this season. Ten years ago, Doyle would have never won that tournament. But now that he's figured out how to beat these large fields and loose players, he can win these big events again.
note by gank: Jon Eaton is a very talented poker player who has had a lot of recent success both in real life and online in No Limit Holdem.
A continuation bet is when the pre-flop raiser continues to act strong by making a follow up bet on the flop. This follow up bet, or continuation bet, is a common tactic used in poker and is especially effective heads up against one opponent. That lone opponent will usually fold if they missed the flop so the continuation bet wins the pre-flop raiser the pot even when he or she has also missed the flop. C-bets should be about 1/2 the pot, so if the opponent calls out of a blind it would be slightly less then if they limp called etc. Usually 3.5x-4x does the trick.
The Continuation Bet is a strong play because your opponent will more often then not miss the flop and be willing to fold to any aggressive bet. Some more sophisticated players may recognize a continuation bet and decide to call despite missing the flop with the plan to bet you off your hand on the turn if you check to them. This sort of counter play to the continuation bet is an effective move, but it is a bit risky if the continuation better really does have a strong hand and was in the process of check-raising you on the turn.
Poker Deal Making
If you read 'My Trail To Victory'' series of columns, you remember I battled through a late-night no-limit tournament on PokerStars to come out on top. Once we were three or four-handed, I had the chip lead and was asked about making a deal.
Normally I don't like deals. I don't like taking away from my winning potential. If I have a mountain of chips and a good shot at the title, why take away some of my money'
Obviously, deals are good if you want to lower your variance, and if you really need the money. If you're at the final table of a big buy-in event, and the money is life-changing, a deal is probably worthwhile. You don't want a coin toss to decide the fate of a few hundred thousand dollars, or possibly more.
At the same time, deal making can kind of detract from the game of poker. Imagine deal making on television. It would be so boring to watch three pros with different chip stacks, chop up a huge prize pool and not even play it out!
Obviously, I don't think that people at home should have to see that kind of thing, nor should professionals do such a thing when it's for a major title. I think all major titles as such should have a strict no deal-making policy, as I think that people might see it in the wrong light and think poker isn't as competitive of a game as it really is.
That's not to say it's a bad thing, but that for big events, in front of an audience, we should play it out and make it worthwhile. With that said, I can say that I saw some very, very ill-advised deals being proposed at the final table of the $350k tournament on PokerStars.
The situation was as follows. Player A had about 70% of the chips in play, and was obviously the most experienced and better player of the final three. Player B was a little less experienced, with a moderate to small stack. Player C was on the respirators and a long shot to win.
Player A had enough chips to wait it out with 20k-40k blinds. Both other players were going to have to pick up the slack. Player C had maybe ten or more big blinds, and B had at most twenty big blinds. Obviously, A was at a huge advantage.
In Tournament Poker For Advanced Players, David Sklansky states that your chip count in comparison to the number of chips in play is your chances of winning. With 70% of the chips, obviously, Player A should take first about 70% of the time. He also states that deal-making is a little more clouded with more than just two-handed.
The reason being is that heads-up, your chip count directly corresponds with your chances of winning. You have 70% of the chips heads up, but three-handed, the odds are a little less easy to calculate. Say players B and C are so inexperienced that it was a miracle for them to get to the final table. It's obvious that his 70% of the chips number should entitle him to a large percentage of wins in this situation.
But what if he was outclassed' What if players B and C were world-class, world champion poker players' Obviously, even with less chips, it's difficult to calculate their winning percentages.
However, the one thing that is constant is chips run close to the chances of victory. It might not tell the whole story, but if you have 70% of the chips, you obviously have a good chance of winning.
Hence, a straight chip-count deal is not always best three-handed. Generally speaking, when playing online where anonymity is abundant, it's tough to tell who really is good and who is lucky. If you knew that the player to your left was a world champ, you'd give him a little leeway in a chip-count chop.
But these players this week on PokerStars were offering ridiculous numbers. First prize was $98k, second was $58k, and third was $37k. A chip count deal would have Player A getting about $82k, B was to receive $62k, and $47k would go to C (rough counts, obviously).
Player C vehemently said he would settle for no less than $55k. B offered 60k-60k-60k with the winner taking the difference, then later other absurd numbers that didn't take chip counts into account at all. Player B later went on to state 'a chip count deal should take into account that one hand can change everything' and later 'you just want to seal up a victory (in reference to player A wanting $82k) and it's not even over yet.'
First, obviously, a deal when in a tournament is specifically as a result of the one hand changing the tournament around possibility. If Player B would think for one second, he is trying to seal up well over second place money himself-not taking into account his own chip stack could still give him even third place money if he busted out in one pot to player A.
Player C was requesting way too much money for his stack. He was guaranteed a whole extra $10,000 just by taking the deal, instead, he rejected any deal and ended up with just $37k for third place when he busted.
Still not grasping these concepts, Player B requested a bit of overkill in the heads-up deal. Player A still had a lead and didn't want to give much money up, and rightfully so. However, B finally made him agree to a fairly even chop, with the winner taking a small piece of extra cash up. Player B actually ended up winning the event, so they both made roughly the same amount of money.
However, we should analyze exactly what went down. Player C busted out of the tournament, not getting anything extra that a deal could have given him. He wanted an extra $18,000 that he shouldn't have been entitled to as the short stack, when they offered a whole extra $10k to him. Obviously, he got the raw end of this argument and wasn't smart enough to realize what an opportunity he was getting. All he could think of was the fact that he wasn't getting $98k for first, which he was a long shot to win anyway.
Player B still held out initially because he felt that Player A was being unfair. What he failed to realize was that he was still playing poker and at any given time, even pocket aces could bust him out immediately. If he busted third, he would lose a whole $25k! So, obviously, these players were very mistaken in not taking a good deal when they got one. Don't let this happen to you.
On Another note, Kudos to PokerStars, on their policy of helping out deals at final tables. They will crunch the numbers for you and give you accurate numbers on chip-count chops like this. If you want more information about deals, I recommend reading Tournament Poker For Advanced Players.
note by gank: Jon Eaton is an extremely talented online and real life poker pro living in Las Vegas. He has really come into his own the last couple years after I mentored him.