Category Archives: Poker Strategies & Tips

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 🙂

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.

My Poker Education Tips

Playing more poker isn’t the only way to win more money at the tables. Education is just as important as every second you spend playing hands. Education will help you to make all the right decisions in nearly every situation. Just as you dedicate a certain amount of time a day to playing; you should be spending an equal amount of time bettering yourself at the game by all sorts of education. There are articles, videos, and forums that you can view to become better. All of these will help build your knowledge of poker, which will in turn make you money.

Poker Forums (Hand Histories):

When you are actually playing poker you are learning, but there is a lot of down time because you are folding a lot of hands. When you read forum posts, they are strictly the interesting hands that you would have questions about if you yourself came across them on the tables. Not only do you get to review the hand and see what yourself and others think about the situation, but you also have no risk of your own money involved! The best thing about education is that for the most part it doesn’t cost you anything. Posting your own hand histories is very important as well. This makes it possible for other people to see the approach you took in the hand and your reasoning, letting them give you feedback about what you did well and what you did poorly.

Poker Videos:

Another great form of education is watching pro videos. Watching a professional play can help show you the right plays to make and more importantly WHY. When you watch a video, you should be taking notes. This helps you to look for key things that you are doing wrong when you yourself play. If you are unsure about situations to re-raise then you can watch a few videos and look for that specifically. Having the ability to do this is extremely useful especially with monitoring your own play. If you see that you aren’t stealing the blinds enough then you can watch for how often a professional does it to help you get on track with your steal attempts. Taking notes will help the learning process a lot because it forces you to answer the question “Why am I taking this action in this situation?” which will ultimately help you to better understand the game as a whole.

Poker Strategy Articles:

Strategy articles are also a good source of information intake. You can find strategy articles on almost any element of the game. By reading strategy articles you can look at a certain aspect of the game and have it broken down for you. Taking notes on strategy articles is also a good idea. Again, understanding why you do certain things will help you in situations like it. If you read an article about loosening up on the button, you might not read about the exact situation that you will be in, but you will read about a situation much like it. Taking notes to help understand “why” will help you relate the situations with one another, increasing your ability to make the right play.

Education is the heart of bettering your skill level of poker. The more you know the better you are. The better you are the more money you make which is the ultimate goal. Reading articles, posting and responding on poker forums, and watching videos will all build your foundation of skill at poker. Taking notes will force you to understand the game more and ultimately win more money.

New Year (Poker) Resolutions

It’s that time of year when millions of people decide to stop smoking, start an exercise regime, or change one of endless other things in their life. For the 90% of the population who decide to do something different for the new year, it usually lasts until the 2nd week of January. Yes that’s very negative from me, but it’s pretty accurate. Good luck to all of you who do decide to make changes and let’s hope you’re in the 10% group.

Of course this is a poker blog, so let’s talk poker. The key to success at poker is improving your game, plugging leaks (don’t say you have none!), and doing it all over again. While you should always be studying poker, reading the latest poker strategy books, articles, analyzing your stats, etc – now is a good a time as any to reflect on your game and start afresh for the 2010. Here’s a brief list of what I’m going to do come January 1st 2010:

* Spend more time reviewing my hands after each session. I usually play 90 minute cash game sessions, and I might have a quick look at some hands. From January 1st I’m going to play 75 minute sessions and spend 15 minutes or more reviewing some poker hands – ones I played well, and ones I played badly.

* Controlling Tilt. I try my best to avoid tilting, but I know I could do better. I’m going to play much closer attention to this part of my game, and if I feel myself tilting I’ll leave the tables immediately. I think this one will have a massive impact on my bottom line.

* Table Selection. I’m going to be more selective in which tables I play at, and stop being lazy by sitting in a poker game with no fish. I’m going to leave and rejoin tables regardless of how well or badly I’m doing, but based on the quality of the table. I should do this anyway, but I often fail.

* Play at more online poker sites. I keep meaning to play at more online poker rooms, but I always seem to end up on Full Tilt. I might (haven’t decided on this yet) avoid playing on Full Tilt completely in January. You could say I’m going on a Full Tilt detox. Though I think this one will only last till the 2nd week of January.

* Blog more. I’ve been a little lazy updating the blog lately, so I’ll try harder with this.

Well that’ll do for me. If you’re making any plans for 2010 then good luck with them – see you at the tables!

Pot Limit Cash Games

Recently I’ve been playing more pot limit cash games in place of no limit hold’em. On many online poker sites there just isn’t the choice of playing pot limit hold’em, so it’s really just limited to the two big sites; Full Tilt and Poker Stars. My preferred choice at the moment is Full Tilt, simply because it’s the best site for cash games due to offering rakeback.

The reason I like pot limit games rather than no limit is quite simple. I find it more skilful and there’s less players who are willing to make huge pre-flop bets – which I like to avoid. Usually players who make pre-flop bets that are 20x the big blind, usually fall into one single category; maniacs. Don’t get me wrong it’s good to play these donkeys, but I prefer to commit chips post-flop, rather than pre-flop. Calling huge bets pre-flop without premium hands is far too risky. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had QQ and faced someone holding AA or KK, who made massive oversized bets pre-flop. This just doesn’t happen in pot limit.

Now you might be thinking the players must be better at pot limit. But this isn’t what I’ve discovered at Full Tilt. There are a lot of players “playing scared” so it’s easy to win. I am finding a better win rate at pot limit than I have been with no limit.

If you’re used to playing no limit hold’em then you’ll have to learn to adjust to pot limit play. Obviously you are constrained and can only bet the size of the pot. Slow playing monster hands down to the river is a poor strategy. Because once you get to the river pot may be so small that it barely becomes worth winning. But as with any successful cash game strategy – you should be building big pots for the big hands, and keeping pots small for the not so big hands. So pot limit hold’em suits players who like to play the correct cash game strategy.

Poker Survival II

I’ve been thinking again about my recent (and very long) post on equity vs. survival in MTTs – and by survival I don’t mean playing too tight-weak-passive, and as a result have no chance of making the money, let alone winning. This is of course not a long term winning poker strategy, and not what I was advocating.

Maybe an example is the way to explain it better. I read recently a report about Hellmuth playing in a big event. At one point he had the nut flush draw and two overcards, giving him 15 outs with two cards to come. The other guy had a pair and went all in. Hellmuth could have called for all his chips at a point where at worst he was likely to be around 50/50 to win, and he was getting much better pot odds that that. He folded rather than risk going out. Some of the other pros criticised the play saying he had the odds to call. But it isn’t so daft if you think you are the better player and if your priority is winning this particular tournament rather than, say, moving across to the cash game in the corner or signing up to an event online. Basically by calling you are agreeing to take a close gamble, and if the other guy is the weaker player that is exactly what he wants. Why give a poor player what he wants?

I remember Sklansky in Theory of Poker talking about the (few) times when you might give up +EV. He says that you are right to do this if by giving up a small edge now you will be alive to take a bigger edge later. That kind of fits with my thesis: if you see your current stack of tournament chips as a finite resource then you are right to wait for the best opportunity before committing them. This is because losing knocks you out of the game. But if you see this current tournament stack as just one buy in (because you can buy into another tournament in a few minutes if you lose) then you are right to take every edge. This is because if you lose, you are still in the game. It depends what you mean when you talk about ‘the game’.

As I said previously, when I first read Harrington I was shocked by the number of times he recommends calling with marginal hands in tournaments. What surprised me wasn’t the fact that he played the hands, but that he let somebody else go all in and then called for all his chips, even when he had a big stack and could have passed the gamble. So it was the (apparently) passive nature of his play that alarmed me.

Anyway, I hope this gives some of you food for thought!

Equity vs Survival in MTTs

I used to be firmly in the ‘survival’ camp for MTTs, and one of the things I struggled with when I first read Dan Harrington’s books was his willingness to call with marginal hands – regardless of survival odds – if he thought he was getting the right pot odds. I guess my ‘survivalist’ thinking was based on books I read before I came to Harrington – in particular books by TJ Cloutier and David Sklansky. (In fact a lot of Cloutier’s published advice can be summed up as ‘take no chances, stick around and hope to get lucky at the end’ – the perfect survivalist creed!)

A lot of survival thinking is based on the assumption that once you are out of the tournament you are in some sense ‘finished’. That’s clearly true if you are a small-time player who has won a once-in-a-lifetime seat in a major event. This could be your only shot at playing in a big event, so early on you might choose to fold your JJ against your opponent’s massive all-in with AK even though you are getting the odds to make calling correct.

The idea that you are ‘finished’ if you bust is also true (to a lesser extent) if you are a big-time pro playing an event that means a lot to you (the WSOP main event, say). Although you can buy in again next year you only have a limited number of years left to play that particular event. This was even more true when people like Cloutier and Sklansky were learning their trade – for years the only tournaments were the WSOP events – but it also seems to influence younger players like Phil Hellmuth, who fold a lot of 50/50s quite deep into tournaments. Hellmuth seems to think he is so good that he will always find better spots to get his money in. But I wonder also if his desire for bracelets and prestige influences him. In his mind each opportunity to win an event is a one-off chance, so the tighter, more survivalist poker is a natural way for him to play.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the idea of being ‘finished’ once you bust out just doesn’t apply so much these days, which is why Harrington’s approach is probably more correct more of the time. This is especially true with day-to-day online MTTs. If I bust out of my 8pm MTT in the first hand I just buy into the 8.10 event on another site. My approach becomes more like that of a traditional cash game player – take all the value you can get, and reach into your bankroll when you need to buy back in.

To some extent, then, I feel that your personal priorities should dictate how you play. In my case, if the event is big, a rarity, prestigious, or if I travelled a long way to get there or was down to my last buy in then I would be right to play more in survival mode and turn down small EV edges in order to stay in the tourney. The same applies if the only game open if I bust out is a cash game. But if it was just another $50 MTT on Poker Stars or something I should be more inclined to take even small amounts of value, because at the end of the year that is what leads to the best return. And if I actually preferred cash games I would be right to take small edges in tournaments so that if I was going to bust out I could do it sooner rather than later and move over to my favourite game earlier.

Some might say that in turning down small edges in big tournaments I would be giving up too much. I think that’s probably right if you view all results at the end of the year as a whole, because by taking every small edge I can I will make more long term. However, I think I’m right too that a more cautious approach might increase my chance of doing well in this particular event.

Put another way, if I call with a good draw all-in against nine other players in the first hand of every MTT I play, and this situation repeats every day for a year, then at the end of the year I will have a ton of money because when I win that hand I will usually make the final table of the event. But if I need to survive this particular pot , because it is the only one this year that could get me a bracelet or a major cash finish, I might be right to fold the draw and wait for a situation where I am actually favourite to win the hand.

In all this I’m assuming that equity in tournaments is the same concept as in cash games – which seems to be Harrington’s point of view as well. This isn’t strictly true, because in a cash game every chip has the same cash value while in a tournament the more chips you win the less they are worth. (Malmuth explains this at length in every book he ever wrote. ) Despite this, most people now seem to agree that going for the win (as opposed to surviving into a slightly higher finish) is the best long-term approach to MTTs.

The Study of Poker

The internet is overloaded with websites teaching poker strategy. Heck, I even offer poker tips and throw in the odd piece of advice from time to time. The majority of what I read is fairly repetitive, and sites often have a mish mash of poker strategy articles and lessons, with varying degrees of quality, from the poorly written ‘why am I reading this crap’ to the truly excellent ‘holy cow, I’m gonna use this’ type stuff.

A site I recently came across certainly falls into the “great site – with huge potential” category, and it’s called The name grabbed my attention because it was quirky, and actual does what it says on the tin, since it’s about the study of poker. I’m not usually one for doing site reviews, but what I love about this site is the structure of their poker lessons and general setup. There’s nothing groundbreaking and they don’t have any videos, which has become the norm, but I would seriously recommend to anyone wanting to learn how to play poker, since they start from the very beginning. I think even experienced players will get a refresher too, I know I have. Top marks!