My #1 Online Poker Tip – Avoid Tilt

A poker player’s worst enemy is very often himself, not the other people at the table. Aside from poor poker strategy, a player is his own worst enemy when he lets emotions guide his decisions. The poker player is then said to be ‘on tilt’.

What does being on tilt mean?

Tilt is a state of mind that is feared by both new and experienced players for very good reasons. It usually occurs when a player repeatedly gets his premium holdings beaten by some dude who plays almost anything and always seems to get lucky. In frustration over his ridiculously unfair bad luck the player starts to play badly. Tilting also occurs when a player is tired or bored because he never gets any playable hands, or when some real life problem makes him astray. There are many factors which can be a cause of tilt in online poker.

The effects of tilt can cause various problems on the affected player. He may fold good hands just because he knows that he will be outdrawn anyway. He may play overly aggressive and try the most unlikely bluffs to win a pot. He might play starting hands that he normally would have folded without a thought. Whatever it is that the tilt causes the player to do it will definitely cost money. Even just a few hours of serious tilting can eat up the earnings from many days at the tables – and minutes at the online poker tables!

I’m not stupid so I won’t throw my money away!

You may think: “I’m smart and have a good portion of self control, I won’t be so stupid that I let my emotions take control over my play.” Yes you will! Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but sooner or later a series of losses will make you mad and you this will affect your decisions negatively. And this will cost you. And it will happen more than once. You have been warned!

That is some bad news, huh? Well, the good news is that since you know about this problem you can be prepared and therefore avoid any heavier losses caused by the dreaded tilt. You now know how important it is to control your temper at the table and by training this skill you’ll gradually be better at avoiding tilt, or at least identifying it earlier and quiting a session when you can see it’s negatively affecting your game.

Also, you now know that when you get that feeling of murderous rage after losing a pot that “should have been yours” the best thing to do, unless you can calm down quickly, is to stop playing immediately and come back some other time. Don’t play when you lose the most and enjoy it the least. Don’t play when you’re on tilt – and if you can do this then you’ll be streets ahead of the competition, because tilt is the biggest profit killer among online poker players.

The Importance of Reviewing Poker Hands

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been slacking! If I told you I’ve spent all this time reviewing my poker hands, I’d be lying. But I have recently spent some time looking over hands – and I found some massive leaks in my game. I’m aware that there are still a lot of poker players who don’t review their hands. So, my comeback post is going to focus on the importance of reviewing your poker hands.

In order to improve your poker game and gain an edge over your opponents it’s important to regularly analyse how you played hands and fix leaks or flawed logic. There are hand replaying tools out there if you prefer the more visual version, but even reading the raw hand history itself is also fine. The most obvious place to start is your losing hands. How many big blinds did you have left? What position did you get involved from? How did the betting go? (was it all-in pre-flop, or all-in on the flop with a hand, or chasing a draw, etc). Note down these details along with obviously the starting hand. As you go through more of your losing hands you will likely start to see trends that can indicate weaknesses. For example you might always find yourself pushing all-in from a short stack, or you might bust regularly with weak aces, getting dominating calls.

When you look at hands individually try not to be too results orientated. i.e. just because you lost the hand doesn’t necessarily mean you played it badly. Don’t try to fit a better line to all hands with the benefit of hindsight, some hands you can just write-off as unlucky. Take 5 minutes on the crucial hands to think through the betting line and if anything else could have been done better. And don’t just focus on hands you’ve lost, but pick out winning hands too. Yes, you might have won the hand, but was there a better way of playing it?

There are some great tools to help you analyze your poker hands, some are free, others are not. Some of the paid options include Poker Tracker and Hold’em Manager (I prefer Hold’em Manager – just a personal preference). These allow you to filter hand types or hand groups, so you can more easily see leaks. For example you may want to pull up the outcomes of all low pocket pairs. If these are showing as a loss then it could be that you’re over playing them.

If you find you’re regularly getting knocked out from a shortstack of around 12BBs or less, then you should go back over some of those whole tournaments and details. Are you passing up good chances to build a stack. Are you playing too cautiously and fearing your opponents have a decent hand too often? Sometimes it is better to take some more risks when your stack is more in the 20-30BB range rather than getting chipped down so often.

Another crucial anaylsis method is to use simulators. One of my favorite sites is Hold’em Resources, which is completely free. Use their tools to simulate the equity of your crucial hands. Pick out or note down hands where you had more than a 30% chip swing and got a showdown. Run the hands through a simulator at the points where the majority of chips went in. From this you will be able to simulate the EV of the hand, and compare the EV to the pot odds. So if it’s costing you 2000 chips to win a potential pot of 7000 then the pot odds are 2000/7000 or 26.6%. In ratios that is 2:7 or 1:3.5. Now if the simulated EV for your hand when those chips went in is greater than 26.6% then it was a good decision. There are some sites that take this process to a slighlty higher level such as Poker Stove (another free tool), where the simulation will be done against an opponent’s range of cards rather than their specific cards. Obviously whatever you use it is only really as good as the data you put in it, so if you are trying to work with ranges then take some time to think through what is most realistic.

It is also useful to discuss some hands with others and poker forums are ideal for this. You will usually get a very wide range of answers so the importance is to concentrate on the ones that make most sense to you. There are a lot of bad players out there and they will be offering opinions too. So use the forum replies to make you think more and consider different lines, or approaches, or elements, or factors. Never just blindly take the advice as gospel.

And remember, don’t rush to change a million things at once, but try to incorporate elements and see how they work out for you at your level.

Hot Tip For Poker Cash Games

Okay, this isn’t my hot cash game tip…. but one I recently read in an article by the excellent Victoria Coren, titled; How Do You Measure a Poker Player?  Here’s Victoria’s tip:

A great cash player gives the impression of playing far more loosely than he really does.

This might seem very obvious, but the greatest words of wisdom usually are. I couldn’t agree more with Victoria’s hot tip. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot more recently – my table image in live cash games.

When you play poker online you can sit for hours playing like a rock – and since players come and go with such frequency your table image doesn’t really matter too much. Of course online poker is a game of stats these days, and many people will be tracking your hand history – and the stats don’t usually lie. But when it comes to live poker you can foster an image of a loose aggressive, and there are no HUDs to counter the story you’re projecting.

In the past I would sit down at a cash game, one where I have no history with the players, and just patiently wait for the right cards. I might have folding everything for a good few laps before there was anything playable. By that time I was probably labelled as a rock. So when I did pick up a monster, guess what? Yeah that’s right…. no action. It’s amazing how quickly the other players will form an image of you as a player. That’s why now I take a different approach. I still play a very solid game, but I make a point of playing a few hands soon after sitting down – ideally the very first hand. It doesn’t have to mean big bets or even showing a bluff – in fact I prefer not to show my cards at all and keep my opponents guessing.

I find this new approach helps to dispel the notion that I might be a rock, which is what I am really. That first impression will last a long time – and can pay dividends. Now I just need to figure out if a flush beats a straight :)

Playing Poker Drunk

Conventional poker wisdom dictates that you shouldn’t drink alcohol whilst playing poker. There’s a good reason for not drinking alcohol and playing poker at the same time – alcohol effects your judgement and makes you do silly things, and at the poker table this can obviously have heavy financial consequences.

But I don’t agree with the idea of having to stay sober at the poker table. Over the years I’ve found that drinking can actually help me play better. I can relax and loosen up my game, which can sometimes be too tight. There does have to be a balance, and getting too drunk is not a wise move. In such cases I start thinking I’m invincible and become too aggressive – though let me stress; aggressive with the chips not with words or actions.

Scotty Nguyen won the $50k WSOP Player’s Championship in 2008 – and he was steaming drunk. He showed a complete lack of class (and has since apologized for his actions), although it did make good TV:

It’s clear that Scotty had a few too many beers. I believe it’s about striking the right balance. Some people don’t ever drink alcohol at the poker table. Good for them! I’m not saying I need to drink in order to relax – and I don’t drink every time I play, especially those times when I have to drive home (on such occasions I remain tee-total). But poker should be a fun game, and I find it more fun when I’ve had a few drinks – just not too many.

The best live poker games are when everyone is having a drink or two, whether it’s at home games or at the casino. The added bonus of drinking is to project the right table image – i.e. you’re there to have fun, not to try and take everyone’s money. Of course the goal is to win, but if by drinking a few beers you project an image of someone who doesn’t take poker too seriously, then you just might win a few extra dollars.

However, drinking alcohol and playing online poker is a different matter entirely. A few years ago I had a really bad habit of coming home late at night, under the influence, and I’d play online poker before going to bed. I nearly always lost, which isn’t surprising. These days I never consume alcohol and play online poker. It helps that I’m a social drinker and I don’t ever drink in the house. Online poker is much tougher than live poker, and although the results still sometimes make me want to turn to drink – it’s best avoided.

The Shrinking World of Online Poker

One of the best things about online poker is the fact that you can be sat on your computer playing against real people from all corners of the globe. I was just playing at Full Tilt Poker and as I sometimes do, I hovered over the avatars to see who I was up against. I was battling it out with players from the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Lithuania, and of course America. People from different time zones, different cultures, speaking different languages – all sharing one common goal; to play poker, with rakeback, and win money off one and other. Poker is a truly global game.

It’s quite sad that some countries are now effectively banning their citizens from playing online poker against the rest of the world. New laws have been (or are being) introduced by some countries to supposedly “protect the players” – but their real goal is to increase tax revenue.

Let’s look at France. The French can no longer play on many of the major online poker rooms. Okay, they weren’t supposed to be able to play at the sites legally anyway. To allow for the “opening up” of online poker, poker rooms such as PokerStars and PartyPoker have to apply for a French license if they wish to operate legally. First they have to close all existing accounts for those players. So if you live in France you can no longer player at PokerStars.com, you have to go via PokerStars.fr and play against your fellow Frenchmen. It’s a similar situation in Italy, and there’s talk of more new laws. I’m not sure how these laws will be ratified by the EU, but in the case of France, I’m sure what Mr Sarkozy wants, Mr Sarkozy gets.

I really hope that these changes don’t become commonplace. I fear this might be the future of online poker, particularly for countries that currently have an anti-online gambling stance. Regulation of online poker is the desire of many poker players, particuarly in the United States. But at what price? Do you want to play against only Americans? Or how about only players in your own state? That would suck.

Live Poker is Rigged!!!

Well that’s if you think online poker is rigged, which I don’t. But if ever proof were needed that live poker is rigged, then here it is:

Of course it’s not rigged! As Jarred, the YouTuber who posted this video said; it’s “An Amazing Sick Hand AA vs KK vs KK!!!”

But I chuckled when I scrolled down the comments on YouTube:

This had to be a PokerStars shuffle, no wait if it was PokerStars the 5th King would have shown up!

Did Full Tilt Poker shuffle this deck?

I’m sure there are a lot more comments like these, but I usually don’t read comments on YouTube because, a) it’s usually posted by some brain dead ignorant moron, or b) it’s spam.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh. They might have been joking about online poker being rigged. Or maybe the guys at Full Tilt/PokerStars actually did shuffle the deck for that hand. Oh man, I’m confused. Either way it’s an entertaining hand.

Fixing the Problem of Datamining in Online Poker

Datamining is the process of extracting patterns from data. There are various products and services which datamine online poker sites, the most popular of which is PTR. They are parasites that provide detailed information about players, for a fee. Online poker players can purchase hand histories to build up a profile of people they’ve never played with before. This is clearly a major unfair advantage and the process should be stopped.

I’m 100% against these services. Supporters of these services usually say “only losers complain about them”, but I’m a winning poker player. But regardless, saying “only losers complain” should be the primary reason why they are bad for the long term health of online poker. Do we want the bad players to leave? Some people say “losers don’t care”, and while some probably don’t, I bet there are many losers/break even players who do care. These types of players are what contribute to the profits of winners, so online poker sites have to do more to protect them.

I also think this is true of table scanning software which finds the “fish” at the cash game tables. You see long waiting lists at the tables where the fish reside, with sharks circling their prey. This is unhealthy for the good of the game. Everyone knows that online poker games are tougher to beat than they used to be back in 2006, and fish should be offered better protection. Automated tools that allow sharks to pick off the fish are not good for the game.

What can online poker sites do to help prevent this abuse? There are a couple of things that could be done to prevent this and stop the online poker industry from eating itself alive. Here are a few:

Allow users to change their screen names

I’m not a fan of this option. Firstly, I am not against online poker players using their own data to build profiles of their opponents, be it via software like Hold’em Manager or from the building up notes. Allowing screen name changes would be unfair to these players who play by the rules.

More importantly, it would create an environment that makes it easier for cheats to escape detection. Yes the online poker sites would still know who the players are – but do we really trust online poker sites to regulate themselves? I don’t, and if you do then go and read about the scandals at Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet.

Limit table observation

Limiting table observation is the answer, since this is how sites like PTR get “their” data. Critics of this approach might say “but we like to watch the pro players at Full Tilt”. Well, how hard can it be to work something into the software to allow the professionals to be observed? I don’t think it requires much effort.

In my email correspondence with PokerStars they said:

Allowing observers to view the games prior to play is a fundamental
feature of the software that cannot be removed. Players like being able to
tell their friends “hey, come sweat me on table so-and-so, I’m winning big!”

It is our goal to minimise datamining via software limitations, without
overly restricting real players who need to legitimately observe a table
at
which they are not playing. Since we’re unwilling to completely remove
such features (which would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater), we
will always be engaged in a game of cat and mouse with those people that
seek to break our rules.

They say that the feature cannot be removed, but it doesn’t have to be removed. I also agree that it’s nice to watch your buddies play online poker. But there’s a simple answer to this – allow people to have “buddy lists”, and if their buddy approves, they can view tables they’re playing on. The screen names of the other players can be kept anonymous (“player 1”, “player 2”, etc). This allows the online poker sites to keep the social aspect of the game, but eliminates the parasites like PTR.

What are the online poker sites doing about datamining?

Online poker sites have known about this problem for a long time now. They keep coming up with the same generic replies; such as “We’re very close to tackling this” – but they’ve been saying this for what seems like years. I have a feeling that maybe they don’t care, but have to be seen to care. How difficult is it to tweak their table observation feature? I’m sure it’s not simple, but they have the resources to be able to do it, so they should get their act together and fix it.

If you agree then email your favourite poker site and tell them what you want!

Why You Should Avoid The Cereus Poker Network

Would you play poker online for real money at an unsecure poker site? Well if you’re playing on the Cereus Poker Network (Absolute Poker / Ultimate Bet) then that’s exactly what you’re doing.

On May 6th 2010, PokerTableRatings published a report detailing the discovery of a critical flaw in the Cereus Poker software. They found out that it was possible to essentially hijack somebody’s poker account and display their hole cards in real time. Here’s a video they made and posted on YouTube.

Here is the synopsis of the report by PTR:

There is a critical vulnerability in the Cereus Network software which makes it possible for an attacker to hijack poker accounts and view hole cards. The only 100% protection is to stop playing on Cereus Network until they upgrade to using SSL. To our knowledge there are no cases of this vulnerability being used to exploit actual players. We created test accounts for all proof of concept testing done during the discovery of this vulnerability. We do not have passwords to any unauthorized user accounts. The Cereus Network has been notified of this vulnerability. We will continue to report on this as it develops.

The Cereus Poker Network has responded and says “we will not rest until it is fixed. We plan to have this issue resolved within a matter of hours”.

Despite some false reporting by poker news websites and other affiliates who earn money from promoting Ultimate Bet / Absolute Poker, it is NOT safe to play at Cereus at this moment in time. If you do play on these sites then this should make you think twice about it. In fact, there’s absolutely no reason to play at these sites anyway, because they are poor quality and run by very shady companies.

To say that the Cereus Poker Network has a troubled past is putting it mildly. Back in 2007 there was the “super user” scandal at Absolute Poker, in which millions of pounds was stolen from honest poker players. At the time the owners failed to properly investigate, told blatant lies, and basically covered everything up until evidence to the contrary (courtesy of diligent 2+2 forum posters) forced them to admit the scam. Its three years since that debacle and questions still remain as to exactly how much was stolen and who was involved.

This most recent security issue might not be insider cheating like before (although considering there shady history it could be another way to scam players) but it’s still a massive issue that needs fixing and questions need to be answered. In another industry, one that is regulated, these jokers would be put out of business. Instead we’ll just get more spin from their “regulators” the Kahawake Gambling Commission and the affiliate sites that profit from keeping the AP/UB brands alive and kicking.

Amazingly the Cereus Network is among the top 10 online poker sites/networks in terms of player traffic, according to Poker Scout. How much bad press does a company need to get before they crash and burn? Unfortunately you won’t find much truthful coverage of this incident on poker news and affiliate sites if they have a banner ad or two promoting these brands. It also won’t stop Phil Hellmuth or Annie Duke associating themselves with them – just as long as they money keeps pouring in.

If you want to play online poker at sites that are secure and value integrity then I recommend PokerStars.

The Importance of Note Taking in Online Poker

Most online poker rooms include a feature that allows you to take notes on your opponents. This is extremely useful. Even though many online card rooms have enormous user bases, you’ll be surprised to find yourself playing against some of the same players frequently. By taking notes on these players, you can categorize and remember their strategies, and you’ll be better prepared to play against them and beat them in the future.

Learning Abbreviations

When preparing to take notes on your opponents, your first step is to learn and use some basic abbreviations. The pace of play in online poker is often very fast compared to live poker, and you’ll need to be able to take notes quickly and efficiently. Some abbreviations deal with betting position; EP is early position, MP is middle position, LP is late position, BTN is button, SB is small blind, BB is big blind. Other abbreviations have to do with betting strategies; PFR is preflop raise, 3x is three times the size of the big blind, C-bet is continuation bet, Chk is check, VB is value bet.

Some abbreviations indicate the types of hands that players are pursuing; Fdrw is a flush Draw, SDrw is straight draw, Gut is a gutshot straight draw, Back is a backdoor flush draw, TP is top pair, MP is a mid pair, BP is a bottom pair. Other notes might be an indication of what to do (or what not to do) against a particular player. For example, DNB means Do Not Bluff. You can obviously change these abbreviations as you see fit. As long as the system is efficient and works for you, your note taking will be useful.

Taking Notes on Playing Styles

When you start to utilize note taking in online poker, you should begin by paying careful attention to your opponents’ playing styles. You can categorize your adversaries in one of four ways: Tight-aggressive, Tight-passive, Loose-aggressive, and Loose-passive. A tight player brings only premium hands to the flop, and only brings a hand to the showdown when it’s still strong. Looser players see more flops and often end up in the showdown with a garbage hand.

An aggressive player will bet aggressively, while a passive player won’t invest much money in the pot regardless of the strength of his hand. These qualities can be used in combination when you’re taking your notes. It is advisable to use the first few hands of a poker game to categorize each player into one of these playing styles.

Other Considerations for Note Taking in Online Poker

After you establish a note on your opponent’s general playing style, you can start asking yourself more specific questions in order to make your notes more complete. Is your opponent calling excessively? Are they pursuing draws too often? Are they paying too much to bring these draws to the flop? Do they place too much value on top pair? Are they making sure to bring a good kicker to the showdown? What is the average size of their bets, and do their betting amounts directly correlate with the strength of their hand?

Alternatively, they might be using uniform betting sizes to cover their tracks and prevent you from detecting a betting tell. These are all important things to take note of when playing online poker.

The Importance of Consistency in Note Taking in Online Poker

As you’re taking notes, you’ll be able to choose whatever format works best for you. You might decide that your note will be a description of their playing style, their average bet size, the types of hands their playing, and any other warnings to remember about that player. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re consistent. If you make a note of Do Not Bluff for one player, be sure to make the same note for every player who you’ve decided can’t be bluffed. Incomplete or inconsistent notes can be misleading when you see a player two weeks after your first encounter with him.

Why Poker Students Master the Game

Anyone who has watched the WPT will be familiar with Mike Sexton’s line “poker takes moments to learn, but a lifetime to master”. There are many new poker players who fail to grasp the last part of this great quote.

I was reminded of this recently when playing poker with a friend, who has been playing poker for less than 2 years. We played heads-up at PokerStars, and I beat him up pretty badly. He didn’t say “well done, you outplayed me”, rather “you got lucky!” This friend says the same thing on anything I beat him at. You could say he’s a bad loser!

I know the result of one heads-up session doesn’t mean I’m necessarily the better poker player. It’s the long game that counts, right? But I know for a fact I’m a better poker player than my friend. I’ve been playing poker much longer, have considerably more playing experience, and have a firmer grasp on poker strategy. This was apparent in some of the things he said during our heads-up battle, questioning my calls, and generally failing to recognize the beginner mistakes he was continually making.

It got to the point where I told him “you’ll never be a really good poker player – because you already think you are”. I think he was quite insulted by my comment, but it’s the truth. The reason – he is a poker fan, not a poker student. He watches poker on TV, talks about poker, and shares his bad beat stories with me. But he never ever questions his ability or asks what I think he could do to improve his game. Because he thinks he’s really good already (he isn’t), he’ll never improve without critical self-analysis. Put simply, he’ll reach a plateau – and his progress will be slow.

I’m not a great poker player, and know people who are far better than I’ll ever be. I also know of people who have overtaken me in terms of ability. I’ve played poker with the some of the same people for a number of years now. I can see great progress in some of them, and others have stagnated. The poker players who have improved are those who have recognized that they are not yet the greatest poker player to walk the earth, and have actively sought to improve their poker game.

Speaking of the world’s greatest poker players; let’s use Phil Hellmuth as an example. Everyone in the poker world knows about Phil and his huge ego. He is undoubtedly a great poker player, but is his uncontrollable ego damaging his current poker game, and his future success? Well, Daniel Negreanu of Team PokerStars, one of the biggest poker sites, seems to think so:

“Ivey, Durr [sic], and Patrik just play at another level. In order to compete with them you have to work very hard, play lots of hours, and study your weaknesses. I’m willing to admit they are far better than I am at no limit cash games, but I think Hellmuth actually believes he is the “best no limit hold’em player in the world by far. He’s either lying to the public when he makes those statements, or, he genuinely believes that. Either way, he’s either lying or completely delusional”.

This reminds me of my friend, who doesn’t study the game, yet thinks he’s great already. If you’re like my friend of share traits similar to Hellmuth (may god help you!), then let this be a lesson to you.