Archive for the ‘Poker Tips and Tales’ category

Belated Thursday Poker Blog! The Streak Continues…

October 7, 2011

Good morning everyone!  We will have two posts for you today, including this late Thursday poker blog update!

Last week, we chronicled the ridiculous run of fortune (and some good play too ;-D) that has produced about $1300 in profit in a low-stakes home game in just over two months.  Our normal Wednesday game was shifted to Thursday last night and yes, the streak continued!

We had only seven players this week, meaning only 2 would make the money.  After a steady but under-the-radar effort in Game 1, I missed the money after getting crippled in an AQ v. A9 pre-flop all-in hand where a dirty 9 spiked the river to steal away all my winnings.  If the hand held up,  I would have had the 2nd largest stack and with 3 players left, a heavy favorite to at least make the money.  All you can do is get your money in at the right moment and hope the math works in your favor.  Not meant to be that time…

Game 2 featured a similar start, as I slowly chipped my stack up above average with some small pots early.  The key moment for me came on a large semi-bluff.  With the blinds still reasonably small (75/150 I believe), I decided to limp into a multi-way pot with 3-4 of hearts, some classic suited connectors as depicted above.  Now, most pros will say that 3-4 suited is too low when it comes to playing suited connectors.  I tend to disagree not just because a 4 high flush is just as valuable as a 7 high flush in my book, but also my table image really helps disguise my hand when something goofy like a flop of A-4-4 happens. 

To me the only mandate with baby suited connectors is having the discipline to disregard making one pair, realizing that you’re not playing the hand to make a pair of 4’s. 

So anyway, in a pot of about 4 players, the flop comes Q-6-2 with 2 hearts.  I have 12 cards that will either make a flush or straight for me (9 hearts and 3 non-heart 5’s).  My friend in the big blind bets out about 300, I raise, not call, to 800.  As we discussed early in the blog, the raise is a more effective play here for several reasons.  One, we’re disguising that we are on a draw, and are more likely to get paid off when we hit our hand than if we just call until the 3rd heart comes.  Second, why not try to win the pot here?  Betting is the too-often-forgotten second way of winning a pot aside from having the best cards. 

My friend does go ahead and call my raise.  The turn brings another 2, and not the heart I need.  My friend bets out AGAIN, this time approximately 800 chips.  This is an unorthodox move, somewhat thwarting yet a 3rd usual benefit of semi-bluffing in position, the free river card.  Normally when you raise in position on the flop, your calling opponent will check to you on the turn, giving you the option of checking the turn if you indeed miss your draw. 

My friend has denied me that opportunity by betting out.   At this point, I have about 2500 chips.  I can fold, declining to exhaust my entire stack on 3-4.  I still have the odds to call, but I hate dwindling my stack down to 1700 if my draw doesn’t hit.  Or, option 3, I raise him again ALL IN!   After a few moments, he shows a Queen (top pair) and mucks his hand. 

In poker, you can’t live unless you’re willing to die sometimes 🙂   

The cards were pretty friendly to me after that, and a sweet victory came about 40 minutes later!

We will be back with a Florida Law Update later today…

Thursday Poker Blog! “August and Everything After”

September 29, 2011

Welcome back to everyone’s favorite part of this blog — Poker Thursday!  Today’s title and photo has multiple meanings.  The album cover to the Counting Crows’ first album, “August and Everything After,” signifies a) an homage to my many Jewish friends celebrating their new year today (The CC’s singer Adam Duritz is a fellow enlightened one!); and b) signifies the rarified dominant air I have enjoyed in my poker home game since the beginning of August!

Interestingly, my good friend and biggest rival (another attorney btw, check him out at had similar runs in previous years where he let the field linger for the first half of the season and then, when August came around, Boom!  He was out of sight ahead of the field (and yes, btw, we know this because we keep detailed standings!). 

So, let’s review the bidding.  Our home game typically gets between 7-9 players a week, with occasional bigger games going up to 14-16 on rare occasions.  Our buy-in is $30 per game and we play two games per meeting.  On occasion, we will play one large game for $60 instead of 2.  We typically pay out 2-3 players per game depending on the number of players (in other words, it’s not “winner-take-all”).

So, since and including July 27th, my group has played 18 games.  I have made the money in 14 of them, winning or chopping in 11 of those (“chops” are when the remaining players agree to some equitable split of the prize money instead of playing the tournament out to the end).  It’s been probably the hottest string of poker in my life (over $1,300 in winnings in a low-stakes game).

The reasons?  Of course, luck has to work in your favor.  Your good hands have to consistently hold up, you must win the key races, and yes, I have had the fortune of overcoming the odds in multiple circumstances.

However, you cannot have a run like that without making some really good decisions.  For me, I would have to say that recent renewed interest in NBC’s “Poker After Dark” has been a big help.  The show is not perfect by any means, but watching top pros operate has really reinforced the basics:

1) Position is huge.  Don’t draw from out of position, don’t be afraid to see a flop with modest holdings when you have position. 

2) Having the best hand is great, but never count out the second way of winning a pot — betting

3)  Pot odds.  If there’s a raise with several callers and you’re in the big blind with a fatty cut of meat (a weak hand), don’t be afraid to see a flop

4) Don’t be afraid to call all-ins with middling hands when you know you’re opponent is in a position to shove with any two cards.

We can spend years going over neat little poker moves every Thursday, but never forget the basics. …

Thursday Poker Blog! Pot-Limit Omaha Part 3

August 25, 2011

Welcome back to Poker Thursday here at the blog.  It’s been a glorious time with my home game, as I’m ahead about 16 times the average buy-in for our game in the month of August alone!  The game seems so easy when you’re running well.  After our fantasy football draft on Saturday, we had a nice 10-person double-stacked, double-buyin game, and I took it down.  Hope the good run continues.

Today we are back with another tip from Pot Limit Omaha, which is the featured game on NBC’s Poker After Dark for a second straight week:

Slowplaying a big flop is a mistake.  Some things never change, right?  Just as we normally do not preach slowplaying in hold’em, we especially do not preach it in Omaha for several reasons:

1) Most of the time, the best hand on the flop in Omaha is extremely vulnerable.  A set can later run into a straight or flush.  A straight can run into a flush or full house.  A flush can run into a full house if the board pairs.  Flopped four of a kind is just about the only invulnerable hand.  Never slowplay a hand you can easily lose on the next street. 

2) It’s “pot limit,” so giving away free cards also forfeits an opportunity to massage the pot and give you a chance for a bigger payoff on later bets.  Also, for more vulnerable hands, increasing the pot on the flop gives you the chance to make a big bet on the turn to move your opponent(s) off of drawing hands (assuming the turn doesn’t fill up a drawing hand already). 

3) If your opponent does not have a hand worth calling you or raising you with on the flop, the chances of them making a hand worth playing hard on the turn are slim.  Consider the following example:

You hold QT66 double suited and the flop comes J98 rainbow.  You flopped the nut straight (Good fah yoo!!).  Your ideal opponent is one holding T7, J9, J8, or maybe a set of J’s, 9’s or 8’s.  This is someone that’s losing to you (for now) and will call (or raise) your bets.  The question is, what hand(s) will fold to a bet now, but make a LOSING hand to you on later streets AND call bets?  This of course is the only group of people with whom you want to slowplay.  JT if a 7 hits?  Pocket pair that turns a set?  67 if a 5 hits?  98 if they think your check on the flop means you can’t beat bottom two pair?  Not only are these scenarios less likely than those where your opponent hit the flop, their “improved” hands on the turn are not worth playing heavily on that board.  You’re better off tossing out a bet on the flop as if you have a hand like AJ, JK, JT, or maybe 98, and watch them call you down for 3 streets or better yet, raise your nut hand. 

Thursday Poker Blog!- Pot Limit Omaha on Poker After Dark

August 18, 2011

Welcome back to your favorite part of Thursday — loosening the tie to read up on some poker tips and tales!  Today your committee of one is riding high off a victory in an 11-person slugfest in my poker “home” game last night.  I put home in quotes because last night’s event was played online.  Now yes, I know, online poker in America is gone.  To which I say, not entirely, only paid online poker is banned in the U.S.  Free online poker where money is instead exchanged on the side is still perfectly legal!  If you have a group of friends that cannot always get together for live poker, consider checking out the website, where free online poker can be played, including setting up groups so that you can keep your game restricted to friends only.  A word of warning though — the software has given some of my friends fits, so play a test game or two before “making it interesting.” 

In other news, we have been blogging about the poker game “Omaha” over the last several posts and will continue to do so.  However, with a few days left in the week, I wanted to emphasize that NBC’s late night show “Poker After Dark” has featured, for the first time in 3 years of shows, a pot limit Omaha game instead of No Limit Texas Holdem.  Six of the top poker players in the world sat down with $100,000 of their own money for a high stakes Omaha cash game.  It’s been fascinating to watch (don’t worry, I DVR the shows.  I don’t stay up until 3:05 a.m. watching!).  I have learned a few new things and the game also has reinforced a few of the lessons I already knew. 

First, about the show, I like it, I don’t LOVE it.  My main gripe is that many of the recurring players (they typically rotate in a new cast every week but many players are frequent guests) are such gambling addicts that they often get more wrapped up in their pithy side bets than the poker game itself.  First, it sends a bad message for poker purists who attempt to distinguish poker from gambling.  Second, believe it or not, even the $100,00o buy-ins don’t seem high enough to get these guys’ full attention. 

I have watched the first two shows this week, and I would say that the biggest lesson has been the reinforcement of how weak high pocket pairs are in Omaha (especially if they do not connect into trips on the flop).  Before watching the shows, I already knew that the hands were highly vulnerable and thus are rarely the best hand post flop.  What I didn’t also factor in (but should have) is that they are also the most vulnerable to bluffs, because you can never have too much confidence in just one pair in Omaha.  Thus far in two shows I have seen several players fold the best hand (even post-flop) with an overpair like QQ, KK or AA. 

If you have ever considered taking up Omaha (either before or since reading about it in this blog), I highly recommend DVR’ing the final two shows this week.  It’s a great learning experience!

Thursday Poker Blog- Omaha Part 2

August 2, 2011

Hello all, and welcome back to our Omaha primer from the Thursday poker blog. 

A few weeks ago, we started discussing Omaha, a poker game with some similarities to Texas Hold’em.  We discussed the rules of the game and some fun reasons to take it up.  Today we will scratch the surface on some substantive tips.

One thing I did not mention last time is that the most common betting format of Omaha is “pot limit,” as opposed to “no limit” being the most common format of hold’em.  The presumed reason for this distinction is that, while things seemingly can change quickly in hold’em with the flip of the turn or river, the possibilities are exponentially wider with all players holding 4 hole cards. 

Without further ado, here are some pre-flop Omaha tips:

-Start with the End in Mind.  This is normally a huge tip for my legal practice, but it’s also applicable to Omaha.  The point here is to think about the types of hands that usually win in Omaha.  Many times, at a full table, a player holds the nut hand in Omaha, or one that cannot be beaten.  Accordingly, in an unpaired board with no flushes on board, the nut straight usually prevails.  In a board with a flush draw, someone often holds the nut flush or a high flush.  In a paired board, someone usually has a full house. 

Accordingly, my favorite hands are all double-suited, and preferably either double-connectors or double-pairs.  Of course, when you don’t flop a set, you know where you stand (in the muck!)

Don’t overvalue AA or KK.  Starting with the premise stated above, the first natural residual tip is not to overvalue AA or KK.  An overpair or top pair is often meaningless in Omaha.  Assuming you are playing pot limit, the only time to try to take this hand pre-flop is when there is a lot of action in front of you, meaning you can raise or re-raise the pot to a point where you can get everyone to fold or, at most, get the hand to heads-up.  In early position, I will often just call with a high pair in hopes of encouraging a lot of other calls and maybe a raise from behind, allowing me to re-raise a large amount.  A standard raise in early position with AA will often just draw multiple callers. 

You also don’t want to play AA or KK too aggressively unless your other cards add some value.  AA23 rainbow is not a strong hand (except in Omaha hi-lo, which we’ll discuss another time).  However, AATJ double suited is a very nice hand.  You have two nut flush draws, and whenever TJ forms a straight, it forms the nut straight. 

-Trips or quads are insta-folds 99% of the time.  Remember, you can only use 2 of your cards!  Even AAAx is dicey, as you have so little chance to improve your hand.


Belated Thursday Poker Blog! Fun Hands from Last Week

July 25, 2011

Hello all!  Instead of apologizing profusely for my pathetic blogging habits of late (i.e., being 3 posts behind), let’s just get right to work on catching up! 

We will return to our Omaha discussion soon, but last week there definitely some blogworthy hands from my poker homegame, so let’s talk through a few of them and see if we can learn something.

As I have mentioned previously, my home game usually has about 8-9 players per week.  In a typical week, we play 2 sit-n-go tournaments, with starting stacks of 2500 units.  We break occasional for single superstack games, but last week was a standard 2-game night. 

After a fast exit in Game 1, I had enough fortune to chip up to around 4000 units or so early in Game 2, when an interesting hand developed during Level 3 with the blinds at 75/150 and me in the big blind.  Interestingly, to start the hand before anyone had acted, an Ace and a three were exposed (can’t remember why or how except maybe someone folding out of turn to go to the fridge or the bathroom and accidentally flipping over the cards).  Anytime an ace is exposed, valuing hands becomes tricky.  Unsurprisingly, my good friend and most mathematically opportunistic aggressor at our table raises under the gun to my left up to 425.  It folds around to the small blind, who calls.  I look down at j9 suited, among my favorite hands.  With the ace not affecting me and a lot of dough in the pot, I call despite being out of position to one of my opponents.

The flop comes down J-T-9 rainbow.  This looks like a good flop but I know it’s dangerous.  I hold top and bottom pair, though against two opponents who have made and called raises with an ace exposed, this feels like their neighborhood as well.  Sure enough, the small blind comes right out with a 1700 unit bet, exactly 1.33X the pot.  This is a huge bet, and one which essentially tests me for my whole stack as well.  I should be ahead of this player with two pair, because why would he open so huge if he flopped the nuts with QK.  This looks like a bet with a good but not great hand like AJ, JK or JQ, one that is rightfully scared of this board and wants to end it here. 

Still, I’ve got the original raiser to my left.  Despite his aggressive style, he still opened under the gun with an ace exposed.  Sure, a hand like 66 or 77 whiffed on this flop, but KQ is very possible, as is JJ, TT, or 99, JT suited or other hands I’m still vulnerable against such as the aforementioned QJ or KJ or even 88.

Sometimes you just sense the perfect storm hand, and you make a tough fold, which is exactly what I do here.  The original raiser sure enough shoves all-in, is instantly called, and our breakdown proves to be spot on.  The original bettor has T-9, bottom two pair, but is way behind against the original raiser’s nut straight (QK).  The turn and river prove uneventful.  I was marked for death but survived, which sometimes feels even better than doubling up. 

One more hand before we get going.  Later in the tournament we’re down to about 5 players.  With the blinds around 200/400, my stack has dwindled to about 3000, putting me in short-stacked danger.  I find AQ and open shove for all of my chips.  My good friend in the blinds calls.  My friend shows AT offsuit.  Not a bad call as I get pretty aggressive late when I’m short-stacked. 

These situations have not been good to me lately.  I feel no better when a fellow player announces that he had a T in his hand.  I typically shade my eyes enough so I can only barely see the board as the cards come down.  After an uneventful flop and turn, I start moving my hands away as I feel pretty confident that I’m taking this pot down, when something very weird happens.  Something just looks wrong as the dealer (a 3rd player not involved in the hand) spikes down a 10 on the river, crushing my AQ.  After a split second, I realize why the river didn’t look right (aside from the obvious bad beat) and say “Wait, did you burn a card there?”  Of course, in hold’em, the dealer “burns” a card, or takes it a card from the deck out of play, before the flop, turn and river.  For whatever reason, I’m pretty sure my friend forgot to burn one.  Unfortunately, all the cards besides the unused part of the deck and the community cards are together in the muck.  However, my mathematically resourceful friend points out that there should be an odd number of cards in the muck (the three burn cards plus all the 2-card holdings of the players in the hand).  Sure enough, there are an even amount of cards in the muck, proving me right.  The ten should’ve been the burn card.  The REAL river card is a blank, and I double up.  The lesson —  PAY ATTENTION!!  😀

I wound up taking 2nd in this game, my first cash in awhile at the table.  Was nice to break out of a slump in semi-dramatic fashion! 

Thursday Poker Blog! Omaha Ain’t Just Another City You’ve Never Been To

July 14, 2011

Hello all, welcome to your Thursday Poker Blog!  With another crappy performance in my Wednesday home game under my belt, and absolutely nothing encouraging happening on poker’s legal front, it seems like a good time to shift gears!

For the next several weeks, unless something else poker-related inspires me, I will be posting some news and tips about Omaha, another version of poker (actually 2 versions if you separately count Omaha Hi-Lo) and probably the second most popular poker game in the world today next to Texas Hold’em.  Unfortunately, too many members if this generation of poker players think poker =’s No Limit Texas Holdem similarly to how Tennesseans think “barbecue” =’s a pan of pulled pork and a cellophane bag of yeast rolls.

No Limit Texas Hold’em is certainly the “Cadillac of Poker” without question, but Omaha is a fun game as well.  Today we will start with just the rules of the game and some fun reasons to take it up. 

With regard to the rules, Omaha is played similarly to hold’em except that each player is dealt 4 cards instead of 2.  There is still a dealer, a small blind, a big blind, and a five-card board of community cards dealt in three stages (Flop, turn and river).  The other key difference is that, unlike Hold’em where a player is unrestricted in making his best five-card hand among his two cards and the 5 community cards (i.e., if there are five hearts on the board and the player has no hearts, he still has a flush), IN OMAHA A PLAYER MUST USE EXACTLY TWO OF HIS HOLE CARDS.  This rule makes a world of difference and surprisingly, can even confuse seasoned players about what his or her best hand is. 

Now, before we get started with some tips in later entries, here is a top ten list of serious (and not so serious) reasons to take up Omaha:

10) A higher pct. of Omaha players really have no idea what they are doing, meaning if you’re good you’ll make more $$$

9) When has being diversified ever been a bad thing?

8) Remember how much fun Hold ’em was when it was new to you?  In the words of Vince Vaughan in Old School, now wouldn’t you want those good times to be repeated?

7) Phil Hellmuth is the ultimate one-trick pony –  All 11 of his World Series of Poker bracelets are in texas hold’em.  Seriously, you want anything in common with that jerk? 

6) Playing Omaha will help re-inforce lessons that you can apply to your Hold’em game.

5)  Unlike the Counting Crows song of the same name, the poker game “Omaha” will not put you to sleep.

4)  Being skillful in lesser known games gives you a certain street cred among other poker players (so you’ll have that going for you, which is nice)

3) Because you’ve always wanted to have pocket aces and pocket kings…. at the same time!

2) (or better yet)…  You’ve always known that pocket aces are overrated and now you have the game to prove it!

1)  Cause I’ve earned your trust by now!!


Thursday Poker Blog! Heads-Up Lessons Gone Terribly Wrong!

July 7, 2011

Hello all, and welcome back to Poker Blog Thursday!

First off, yesterday’s most interesting search engine quip goes to “jury duty embrace it.”  (Ya just wonder what someone was trying to accomplish when they entered that — maybe teaching a lesson to their 18 yr old son who is complaining about getting his jury duty summons!).

Ok, so for nearly a month now, I have been weaving a 6-lesson opus on how to succeed in heads up play.  Predictably, in my home game’s annual heads up tournament, in which College World Series double-elimination style competition was employed, I was the first one out!!  Two matches, two losses, in bed by 10:15!!  And no bad beats!

Time to re-tool the playbook?  Of course not! 

Here are some details of what happened, and how normally sound strategy didn’t pay off here. 

Match #1 was against a relative newcomer to our game, a guy who’s showed a relative tight playing style but clearly a thinker at the table.  Not afraid to fold a strong hand but also not afraid to make a move once he picks up a pattern.  Here are the key hands that led to my demise:

1) Top pair loses to flush.  About 5-6 hands into the match, I have a slim lead purely based on aggression.  On the button I have TJ unsuited, and make my standard small raise from the button, he calls.  The flop is T-8-6, all clubs.  I have no club.  After my opponent checks, I continuation bet, to which he makes a large re-raise.  I’m putting him on a high club draw here, or perhaps a draw and a pair.  I am NOT putting him on a flush; a flush is a huge hand in heads up play and more often calls for a slow-play, especially against an aggressive opponent.  I call.  The turn brings another 6, for a T-8-6-6 board, with 3 clubs.  He checks, I welcome the free river, which brings another 8.  On a T-8-8-6-6 board, he checks into me.  Suddenly, I start thinking my T is good here, and that my opponent either missed his draw or was just bluffing on the flop.  I bet out big for value, and he calls with the 9-4 of clubs for a winning flush.  Bad bet by me, as the pot was big enough.  A case of still getting to know my opponent.

2) All-in pre-flop and dominated.  After the hand above put me in approximately a 3-1 or 4-1 hole, I attempted to claw back.  However, a pattern developed where after my small raises from the button, my button re-raised me about 3 times out of 4 hands, forcing me to fold.  To me, clearly he had picked up on my betting pattern and decided that I was raising with modest hands (which was largely true).  Eventually, I picked up A-6 suited.  After my standard raise, his suddenly standard re-raise, I now push all-in, a layered strategy figuring that he is now pushing me back with modest hands like Q-T or K-9.  I’m confident that I’m ahead and/or that he will fold his hand.  My confidence is torn up, however, when he quickly calls and turns over A-Q.  Neither the miracle 6 nor the miracle flush arrive, and I find myself in the loser’s bracket.  So, my opponent apparently was getting hot cards when he suddenly began re-raising me, or just got a nice hand on that one unfortunate occasion.  Oh well, time to try and claw back.

Match 2 is against our game’s most erratic player, a guy who can play super-tight for stretches or who can simply get bored and start playing hyper-aggressively.  In a previous experience I found that trying to get him to put money into a pot was like trying to draw blood from a stone.  I’m hoping for a different experience, but wouldn’t get one.

After about 20 minutes of just betting at most every pot, I grind my way to about a 3:2 chip lead.  Ominously, I had pocket aces twice early in the match and could get no action with them.  Literally the only times my opponent played a hand is when he had a pretty large holding, either pre-flop or post-flop.  He’s starting to chirp about my aggressive style so I’m expecting a push back at any time.  Here are the two hands that ended my night:

1) 8-8 vs. QQ.  With the blinds starting to raise, I find 8-8 in the big blind.  My opponent raises, and, holding the 7th strongest hand pre-flop, I push all-in, happy to either get a fold or to be all-in pre-flop almost assuredly ahead.  No luck on either front, as my friend quickly calls and flips over a pair of queens.  No help to me and I’m suddenly crippled.  After another 15 minutes of stealing pots, I’m back to approximately a 2:3 deficit.  After a limped pot on the button with k-4 off,  (I started limping some with weak hands rather than folding as I felt confident in my ability to outplay my opponent post-flop), the flop comes A-K-Q.  My opponent bet out.  I call with my K, not sure if I’m ahead or not, but a little worried.  The turn brings my 4, which has me pretty convinced that I’m ahead, at worst facing an ace.  My opponents bets into me again, and I simply call instead of pushing.  Again, this is an opponent-specific strategy.  The blinds are going up, I need to double up here, and getting my opponent to put money in has been a challenge.  This may be my best shot despite 2-pair being a vulnerable hand.  The river brings a 5, he open shoves all-in, I call, and he reveals A-5 for the better two pair.   DANG IT!   So, I made a bad call on the flop, got lucky on the turn, and then really UNLUCKY on the river.  I probably would’ve folded to another strong bet on the turn if I hadn’t turned 2 pair, so this one gets chalked up to some bad luck.

I still stand by the heads-up strategies we have discussed over the past few weeks.  Like any strategy in poker, all these tips do is give you an edge.  Sometimes the math gets overcome in the short-term. 

Thursday Poker Blog! Heads up Play Part III

June 30, 2011

Hello all, and welcome to your Thursday Poker Blog!  Not much blogworthy poker hands were played at my weekly poker game last night.  Aside from finishing a disappointing 4th, I only recall a hand where two players had AA, and also that my female dog got abused by my friend’s male dog in a way that set the canine feminist movement back decades.

With that in mind, let’s finish our heads up poker tips.  Strategically, this part of the poker blog comes at a terrible time for me as my group will be having its annual heads up tournament possibly as soon as next week .  So my competitors, some of whom are avid followers of this weekly column, are no doubt scoping out my heads up strategy.  All I have to say is, “Be prepared for ANYTHING, folks!” 

But, in all seriousness, we have discussed four heads-up tips so far:  1) Don’t overestimate a chip advantage; 2) lowering your standards in terms of hand holdings; 3) adjusting your play given position; and 4) bluffing your brains out.  Today we have two final tips for ya:

5) Pre-flop button play:  75% raise, 25% fold, 0% call.  We have discussed the huge edge a player has in position after the flop.  Isn’t it smart to raise the stakes when you are at an advantage?  Raising pre-flop in heads up play is like doubling down in blackjack.  Sure,  you’re not gonna win every time, but it’s the right move.  As you see from my percentages above, I like to raise about 3/4 of the time, and throw away a few garbage hands.  To me, a garbage hand is two unsuited cards that cannot make a straight and are both lower than a king.  I raise everything else except two babies like 2-4.  Otherwise, I raise.  I even prefer hands like 5-7 offsuit to J-3 offsuit, as the straight possibilities strengthen the hand in heads up play. 

Raising almost constantly from the button also 1) disguises the strength of your occasional good hand; and 2) tends to irritate your opponent and ultimately push him into reckless aggression.  When these two trends come together, you can find pre-flop all-ins with large advantages in  your favor.   

6) Don’t be afraid of the big call.  We talked last week about the importance of bluffing in heads-up play.  Bluffing is prevalent in heads up play not just because it is critical to winning, but also participants in most heads up matches in tournaments are playing with “house money,” meaning they already have a profitable 1st or 2nd place cash locked up and are emboldened by the impossibility of losing.  So bluffing is happening for rational and irrational reasons!  With that in mind, don’t be afraid to make a big call when your analysis of the hand tells you that your opponent is full of it.  I have won many a heads up match with big calls holding bottom pair or even king high. 

Thursday Poker Blog! Heads Up Play Part 2

June 23, 2011

Hello all, and welcome back to Poker Thursday here at the blog!  After looking over my past posts, I noticed that in my euphoria over that perfect storm hand at my home game last week, I never came back to you with additional heads-up tips as promised the week before!  Sorry about that, and don’t be afraid to call me out with a comment when necessary!

So far, we have discussed the tips of 1) not overestimating the power of a lopsided chip count; and 2) recognizing premium hands in heads up play.  Let’s continue:

3) Position, position, position.  Position takes on a whole new meaning in heads up play.  Whereas at a full table, position dictates hand selection for about 10 different mediocre hands (i.e., QJ) and tweaks your post-flop play, position affects EVERYTHING in heads up play.  In heads-up play, the dealer is the small blind and the opponent is the big blind.  The dealer gets to open the action pre-flop, but then of course continues to act last after the flop.  Again, due to the blinds being typically high compared to the chipstacks at the end of matches, 1 or at most 2 missteps will totally turn the tables.  With all the bluffing that (rightly) takes place in heads-up play, being out of position is very dangerous.  You find yourself taking major stabs at pots for significant parts of your stack, hoping your opponent is not waiting to come over the top of you with top pair.  Because of the huge advantage of being in position, I employ completely different betting styles in heads up play, depending on position.  In position, I play small-ball.  Small raises pre-flop (a little over 2x the blinds) and generally small bets afterward.  Out of position, I typically go 4x the blind with pre-flop raises and continue to bet big after the flop.  Why?  Cause I want to end the hand rather than continue to play from this disadvantageous spot. 

4) Bluffing is Mandatory.  More than at any other point in the game, in heads-up play you play the opponent much more than the cards.  If you wait for a strong pre-flop hand or a hand that flops two pair, more often than  not you will be holding about 5% of the chips by the time that ever happens.  You need to focus on your opponent at this point, and if a pot there is out there for the taking, take it!  If you establish a tone of bullying and scooping all the little pots, your opponent will become easy to read, and eventually will have to resort to all-in mode as you cease a chip advantage. 

We will be back with some final heads-up tips next week!