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The poker basics: outs and odds

Poker BasicsThe first step to becoming a profitable poker player is to get a handle on the basics.

And the most basic thing that you can learn in poker is how to calculate the number of outs you have and your pot odds. Once you pick these poker fundamentals up, you’ll quickly realize why chasing gut shot straight draws and runner-runner flushes is a bad idea.

How many outs do you have?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “outs,” here’s a quick definition:

Outs are the number of cards left in the deck that will improve your hand.

This is generally to a made hand, not an improved high card hand. And this does consider all made hands, although you may choose to discount outs to certain hands that you feel wouldn’t make the best hand at showdown.

Counting your outs

Figuring out the number of outs you have is simple.

Say for example that you have 4 cards to the nut flush on the flop. In a deck of cards you know that there are 52 cards in all, 13 of each suit. So if you have 4 cards of one suit, basic math tells us that there are 9 cards, or “outs,” that will improve your hand.

One thing to be careful of is counting outs twice. In some cases you might be drawing to two different hands, like a straight and a flush, and there is a card that will make both hands — this is still only one out. Don’t count it as two, as it’ll mess up your math.

Converting outs to odds

Once you know how many outs you have, it’s helpful to convert these outs to odds. That way you can take these odds and compare them to your pot odds (explained later) to determine how profitable it is for you to chase your draw.

To convert your outs to odds you want to take the number of outs you have and divide that by the number of cards that won’t help your hand. In other words, if you were drawing to a flush on the flop, you would take 9 outs and divide that by 38 (total number of cards). I got 38 by subtracting the 5 cards I can see (3 on the flop, 2 in my hand) and my outs.

This will give you .19, which we convert to a percentage (.19*100) 19 percent. You can also do it the other way and divide 38 by 9, and you’ll get 4.2 (to 1). When you do the math here (1 / 4.2) you get the same percentage.

Another good way to figure out your percentage is to use the 2/4 rule. To figure out how likely you are to improve over one street take your outs and multiply it by 2. Over 2 streets multiply your outs by 4. The number isn’t exact, but it’s close enough.

Are you getting good pot odds?

Outs are only one piece of the puzzle. You also need to know how good of pot odds you’re getting so that you can compare those odds to the number of outs you have. Your results will determine whether or not you can make an all-in call or chase your draw.

Calculating pot odds

Figuring out your pot odds is best explained through an example.

Say that you have your flush draw on the flop. You’re in the hand with one other person, there are 300 chips in the pot, and effective stacks are 3,500 chips. Your opponent is first to act and bets 200 chips into the pot, making the total pot 500 chips.

To calculate our pot odds, all we need to do is determine how much we stand to win, and how much risk we need to take in order to win it. In this case we stand to 500 chips, and our risk is 200. When you do the math (500/200 or 5/2), our odds are 2.5 to 1.

Just like when calculating our outs, it’s helpful to have our odds converted to a percentage. To do that, simple take 1 and divide it by 3.5 (this includes your money too) and you’ll get roughly 29 percent.

Can you make the call?

Once we have our odds/percentages, we can now determine if a call is profitable or not. All you need to do is compare the percentages. Your percentage to hit your hand needs to be bigger (more likely to happen) than that of your pot odds. So in our case:

Outs: 19%

Pot Odds: 29%

Calling isn’t profitable.

You can also compare odds instead of percentages, but I think that’s more confusing (everyone does odds a little different). But just know that your pot odds need to be bigger than your odds for hitting your hand in order to be profitable.

What table position in poker is and why it is important

dealer buttonThere are several poker fundamentals that would be in a player’s best interest to develop, such as poker bankroll management, bet sizing and figuring out outs and pot odds. You’ll struggle, if not outright fail, without these concepts as your strategic building blocks.

Another fundamental to add to the list is poker table position — where you sit in relation to the button, as well as to other players.

The idea behind position is very simple. The closer you sit to the left of the dealer button, the earlier your position, and the closer you sit to the right of the dealer button, the later your position.

The best position is late position, with the button being the best seat at the table. However, as long as you’re in later position than the people you’re involved in a hand with, then that’s all that matters. The worst position at the table is the small blind, although you can probably argue that preflop the player under-the-gun has the worse seat.

Why having position in poker is important

Being in late position, or having position on your opponent(s), is so important. There is a night and day difference between playing in and out of position, even with the same hand.

The reason why position is so important is because the later you act, the more leverage you have over everyone else. You will have more information and bluff equity. These things equate to an automatic edge for anyone in position.

Gathering information

Information is everything in poker. The more you have, the less in the dark you are, and the better the decisions you can make.

The more in position you are, the more information you’ll be able to collect before having to act. For example, say you’re in a heads up pot on the flop and first to act. It’d be awkward, right? You don’t know if your opponent caught a piece or not, or how he’ll react to what you do. So you make the best decision possible and cross your fingers.

However, flip the positions around and your decision becomes much easier. Since your opponent has to act first, you can use what he does (or doesn’t do) to make your decision. If he bets, maybe you decide you’re no good and fold. Or if he checks, you can take a tiny stab (bluff) to take the pot down. These are all things that would be harder, or riskier, to do out of position.

Bluff equity

Everyone who has played more than a couple of hands has seen this; in a multi-way pot the action folds around to the last guy who makes a tiny bet and collects the pot.

This is bluff equity. And that’s only one example of it.

The float play would be another. Being in position gives you the opportunity to call and float players over one street to try to slow them down, re-evaluate what they do and possibly make a (semi) bluff to take the pot down.

You can also steal the blinds. Being in later position means that you’ll have fewer players to go through. Fewer players means it’s less likely that you’re played back at, and even if you are, the chances are high that you’ll be in position on subsequent streets anyway (the blinds make up 50 percent or more of the players you’ll go through).

How table position affects your strategy

Your position at the table and the strategy you employ will go hand in hand.

The general rule of thumb is that the earlier your position, the fewer hands you play and the fewer risks you take. And the later your position, the more hands you can play and the more plays you can make.

For example, A9s probably isn’t the best hand to open up with from under-the-gun at a 9-handed table. It’s probable that you’ll be 3-betted, no doubt forcing you to fold and waste chips. Not only that, but given that players are generally tight under the gun, even if you’re flatted it’s likely that the player in position has a better hand. So you’ll be playing a crappy/dominated/weak hand from out of position.

However, the exact same hand is perfectly reasonable to open with from the cut-off. It’s probable that the players to follow don’t have a better hand, and you’ll pick up the blinds. Better yet, your range will be perceived as wide since most players in late position have wider hand ranges. So you might find that a player tries to defend his blinds light, potentially value-towning himself, not to mention giving you the edge of being in position.

Taking this thought a bit further, being in position with a strong hand is a great situation for you. For example, say a player in early position opens and you have AA, which you decide to 3-bet. Considering your position, it’s possible that you’re making a play at the pot. Because of this, the player who opens will perceive your range to be wider than just the nuts and will possibly give you action/value on your pocket pair.

Another good example of adjusting your strategy according to your position is playing from the blinds. Too many players get caught up in awkward situations from the blinds, merely because it’s cheap for them to get involved. This is a big mistake because playing from the blinds means that you’ll almost always be the first player to act on later streets.

This is an awkward situation to be in, and playing from out of position will cost you much more money than you’ll (ever) make, despite getting such a good price preflop.

How to master the art of bankroll management in poker

Poker BankrollTake a look around any poker forum and you’ll find that the most commonly asked questions have to do with bankroll management.

Players are worried about whether or not they have enough money to play their chosen games and if and when they should move up or down in stakes.

They have a right to be worried too, although I’m sure it’s more a matter of being impatient than fear of going broke. Either way, bankroll management is something that you should think about and put into practice if you’re haven’t already. Your ability to play poker depends on it.

Variables that determine how big a bankroll you need to play poker

When a player asks how big a bankroll they need to play a certain game or stakes, they almost always leave off the important details. It’s these details that will truly determine how big, or small, of a bankroll you need to play poker.

Are you a winning player? You can have all the money in the world and it still won’t be enough if you’re a losing poker player. Most players who stick with the game and work at it for long enough won’t stay losers though. But just know that if you’re not a consistent winner that you’ll want a bigger bankroll than someone who wins.

What kind of player are you? If you’re a tight aggressive player, you’ll need a smaller bankroll compared to someone who’s loose aggressive. That’s because a tight aggressive player won’t be in as many thin spots compared to a LAG, therefore not experiencing as big of swings.

What games do you play? Each game will have it’s own kinds of swings. For example, you can expect longer time frames between cashes with tournaments compared to sit and go’s. Moving up in stakes in any game will increase your variance too, so the higher up you plan on playing the bigger your bankroll should be.

How many tables do you play at once? Someone who plays two tables simultaneously will need a much smaller bankroll than someone who plays 20 tables at once. Keep in mind that you’ll need enough money to get started, plus be able to start new games or top off your stack as needed.

Are you playing professionally? As a professional player, you’ll have more responsibilities than someone who plays part time or for fun. If you’re a pro (or plan on becoming a pro player), then you’ll want a bankroll that can sustain you, your bills, traveling costs and buy-ins even if you don’t make money for months on end. Be sure to treat pro poker as a business, or a new startup.

Do you see what I mean? How much money you should have in your bankroll isn’t black or white. There are several things you need to consider in order to correctly determine how much money you need to play poker without fear of going broke.

General poker bankroll guidelines

Below are some general guidelines that you can use in addition to my variables listed above to figure out what kind of bankroll you should have. I really want to stress that you can’t take these numbers at face value. You really need to alter them to fit your needs, goals and lifestyle.

Bankroll for cash games: Cash games players should have a minimum of 20 buy-ins for the stakes that they want to play. So if you wanted to buy in for 100bbs at 50nl, you should have a bankroll of at least $1,000. Preferably you have closer to 40 buy-ins ($4,000). As you move up in stakes, you’ll want to increase your bankroll to as much as 100 buy-ins.

Sit and go’s: Sit and go’s will be touch and go since there are so many different kinds of games you can play. A different bankroll will be needed for single table games compared to multi table, or even normal speed compared to turbo or ultra turbo. Each game will have its own kind of variance you’ll have to deal with.

As a general rule of thumb 30 buy-ins is enough, but for small to middle stakes you’ll want closer to 50 buy-ins. Once you get to the higher limits ($100+), you should keep closer to 100 buy-ins in your bankroll.

Tournaments: Tournament players are the most prone to variance. It’s not uncommon to go months without a reasonable score. So tournament players will want a much bigger bankroll to ensure they still have money to play their stakes, not to mention cover other expenses.

100 buy-ins is the accepted rule of thumb for tournaments. So if you play $20 tournaments, $2,000 would be how much you want. You might be able to get away with less at lower stakes since you’ll face easier competition, but I wouldn’t take that too far. It’s always better to keep more than you think you need on hand, since having too much money in your bankroll is a smaller problem than not having enough.

Reading opponents’ hands in poker

reading-handsOn the surface hand reading looks difficult. But that’s because players think they need to put their opponents on two cards. Hand reading in poker doesn’t have to be that hard.

How to put players on a hand

Barring any extreme situation, or very transparent players, you won’t be able to put your opponents on an individual hand. Instead, you’ll want to put them on a range of hands, and then go through a process of elimination as the hand goes on using board texture and betting tells as clues.

So the first step is to put your opponent on a range. If you find that this is difficult to do, just think about what you’d play, and how, in his position.

As a rule of thumb, the earlier the position someone is in the narrower their hand range, and the later the position the wider their range. If they open raise, their hand shows strength and if they limp or limp/call, their hand shows weakness. If you have reads that state otherwise, be sure to adjust your ranges accordingly.

So, putting this to action, say you have a tight opponent that opens with a raise from early position and you call from the button. You both see a flop of 4-5-T.

Given his position, style and betting, we can assign him a range of something like all pairs, AJ+ and KQ+.

Say he c-bets this flop (more on c-bets below). What hands do you think he’d do this with?

  • Sets – Sets hit his range (all pocket pairs), but this board is dry. It’s possible I missed too, so if he wants action he should check back to let me catch up or induce bluffs.
  • Two pair – Doesn’t hit his range.
  • One pair – He didn’t hit the flop itself since there isn’t a 4, 5 or T in his range. So he would have to have a pocket pair. I think large pocket pairs check back for the same reason as sets. 8s or 9s probably don’t bet because they fold out the hands they beat, and only keep in the T (or better). Small pairs might bet this flop only because there are so many turn cards that are bad for his hand.
  • Hi-Card – I think ace high hands like AK check back too. They can easily turn a better hand, which would dominate many of our hands.
  • Draws – No draws to speak of in his range.

So based on the flop texture and our opponent’s perceived range, we can come to the conclusion that he probably has a small pair or air. Most hands worth betting would check back to let us catch up, or to give us the opportunity to bluff. So we could call him to float to see what he does on the turn, and possibly take the hand away if he checks.

Did that make sense? We simply break the hand down into pieces based on his range, the flop texture and his betting, and determine if what he did makes sense with the hands he is trying to represent.

Here’s another example. Say we open-raised from early position with KJs and a fishy loose player called from the button. We can assign him a range of any pair, any broadway hand, suited ace, suited connector, etc. The flop brings A-J-5 two-tone. We c-bet, and our opponent calls. The turn is a blank – non-flush 8. Same action, I bet and our opponent calls. The river is another blank – non-flush 3.

Our opponent’s range is pretty wide here, so we can bet again. Or we can induce worse to bluff. Say we checked back here and our opponent shoves. Could we call?

  • Sets – A set almost always raises the flop or the turn since there is a flush possible. Not only that, but if he had AA or JJ he’d raise preflop. JJ is also unlikely since we have one.
  • Two pair – Same as above.
  • One pair – A strong ace probably raises the flop, as well as before the flop. A J(ack), while unlikely, could play the hand the same way (from a fish). He probably doesn’t shove the river with it, though.
  • Draw – He has a lot of draws in his range, both straight and flush. The both missed on the river, and he wouldn’t want to showdown his hand.

Based on our reasoning, only a rivered set makes sense. He probably doesn’t have a J since we do, and he has showdown value anyway so there is no reason to shove the river — he could just check back. Everything else probably raises at some point to get value/protect his hand.

So we could definitely make an argument for making the call here.

I’m sure these are both over-simplified examples, but hopefully you at least see the process behind giving your opponent a range, and then figuring out what hands he could have by the river given his actions and board texture.

Once you’re able to break hands down like this, you can then figure out the best way to force mistakes (or avoid making mistakes). Like my example above, if I think the player is on a flush draw and may spaz out, you can set the entire thing up. If the flush draw got there, your strategy might be to check/call if the price was cheap enough, or check/fold.

How to improve your hand reading skills

If you’re putting in the effort while you play (not playing aimlessly or without thinking), your hand reading abilities will improve with time. However, I realize that only having a 30 second timer may be too small a window for those of you just starting out. So you might try one of these tips to practice further.

  • Analyze your hands in a replayer. Throw your hands in the replayer and go through them. Don’t show your opponent’s hands at the end, but instead try to figure out what he’s got (or could have) and why. This might work better if the hand histories are old enough to where you don’t remember what they have.
  • Cut back your tables. If you find that you don’t have enough time to break down your hands, you might cut back on the number of tables you play. That will give you more time to analyze situations.
  • Take notes and use stats. Taking notes on betting patterns, tells, ranges and whether a player is a reg or not will help you to be more accurate in your reads. You’ll be faster, too. Taking notes of unusual plays is a good idea too, like when a player open-limps AA from UTG.
  • Work with your peers. Post hands in forums or send them to your friends with your thought process and ask them if they’d do anything different, and if so, what and why.

Other than that, just know that hand reading will come to you in time. Don’t get discouraged, and definitely don’t take it the wrong way when your reads are wrong. All you can do is make an educated guess, and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you thought.

Just continue to practice and you’ll find that reading hands in poker gets easier with the more effort and time you put into it.

Bluffing in poker

Bluffing in PokerBluffing in poker is talked about often on other online poker sites and forums. This makes sense. Bluffing is a large part of the game. If you want to be successful in poker and make money, you need to be able to pull off the well-timed bluff.

But what’s the trick? How do you know when to pull off a bluff, and what can you do to ensure that your bluff has a high rate of success?

The best times to bluff in poker

It has been said that the best times to bluff are when you think you’ll induce folds. I couldn’t agree more.

I’d like to add that realizing when you have fold equity will go hand in hand with hand ranges, hand reading and flop textures. The more you develop these skill sets, the better your bluffing skill set will become.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Say you opened from early position with AQ and are called by the button. You guys see a flop of 3-5-7 rainbow. C-betting (bluffing) here doesn’t make a lot of sense. What hands are you opening with connect with this flop?

If you understand how your opponent views your range, absolutely nothing. It’s likely that you bricked. Furthermore, given your opponent’s position, it’s possible that he did connect with the flop. On top of that, you’re not folding out much of anything. Most pairs call here, and you’ll be floated with lots of other hands (or draws) as well.

Now take a flop like K-J-3. This hits your range. So you should be more inclined to (semi) bluff /continuation bet here. It’s more credible.

The point is that the best times to bluff are the ones that you think you can (legitimately) get away with. All other times you should consider a different strategy — like folding.

The hands you should bluff with

The hands you bluff with are irrelevant in most cases. Think about it like this.

If you’re going to fold your hand to any action, does it really make a difference if you’re holding AA or 82o? No, it doesn’t. If your bluff goes according to plan no one will see your hand anyway. That holds true for blind stealing strategies too. If you’re going to fold to a 3-bet or shove, what difference does it make what hand you use to steal with?

That said, you should prefer to have some kind of equity. If you can bluff, but still make a hand if you’re called, then that’s a good hand to bluff with.

Now, there are hands that aren’t great to bluff with. For example, hands that have showdown value. Say you saw a flop like 8-5-2 and you hold AK. I’d pass on c-betting here (in many cases). Why? Because you’re not going to fold out many pairs, and you will probably fold out most things you beat or dominate. Above all, you have showdown value — AK can, and will, hold up on the river if the board runs out low for you.

There’s no real reason to bluff here since you can win the pot anyway, so bluffing just risks more money than is necessary.

5 tips to help you bluff successfully

Here are a few tips to help you increase the chances your bluff is successful.

1. Make your bluffs believable. I’m sure everyone has seen this scenario (or done it themselves). A player check/calls the flop and turn, seemingly like they’re on a flush draw. On the river everything bricks, and this players shoves, showing a ton of strength.

Why would someone believe this? It looks painfully obvious that the person missed their draw and don’t want to be called. It makes more sense to fold or check/fold than it does to risk so much of your stack on a transparent bluff.

2. Pay attention to your opponents. You should known your opponents’ style of play, as well as strategies they like to use. Trying to bluff a calling station is the equivalent to lighting money on fire. Floating someone who likes to double barrel a high frequency of the time isn’t much better. Instead, you should bluff players who are capable of folding.

Tight-aggressive players or regs are prime targets.

3. Improve your other skill sets. One thing you might do to improve your bluffing skill set is to improve how well you read hands, analyze flops and assign ranges. These skills go hand in hand. If you know how to read hands, you’ll have a better understanding of how your opponent will view your bluff. The more it looks like a real hand, the higher the chances you induce a fold.

4. Bluff in position. Bluffing in position is better than out of position because in position you can see what your opponents do first. Barring any reads, if your opponent checks it’s probable that they’re weak. So you bet (bluff) and they fold. This is awkward out of position because if you make a bet, you have no idea if you’re going to get raised, much less called.

5. Above all, the key to bluffing successfully in poker is to practice. You can’t be afraid of being caught, because that happens to everyone. All you can do is identify the situation to the best of your ability, paying attention to things like your perceived range, table image, flop texture and your opponents, and then just pull the trigger.

Results oriented thinking in poker

poker-frustrationI’m sure most of us has folded a hand, no matter how bad it may have been, only to see on the flop that we would’ve flopped a monster like trips or a low flush. Jokingly (maybe), we think to ourselves or say to our friends, wow I guess I should’ve played my hand.

Whether you realize it or not, this is actually a form of results oriented thinking. You look at the results (flopping a monster) instead of the reasons behind your actions (folding a junk hand like 63o). And while many of us may only joke about playing garbage hands when they flop well, some players are very serious. So serious in fact, that results oriented thinking stands between them and success.

A real life example of results oriented thinking

I want to share a real example of results oriented thinking so that you can see how it affects the way an online poker player thinks.

A player that I knew posted in our private forums (we were privately staked) that he was going to change up his strategy for how he played pocket queens in his 45-man SNGs. Instead of open raising, or even 3-betting in some cases, he was going to open limp or overcall with them instead. His reasoning: he was tired of being out flopped by AK and running into pocket aces or kings.

You can’t come up with a better example of results oriented thinking than that. He’s not open limping or overcalling because he thought he could trap someone, or that maybe if he 3-bet he’d have fold to a 4-bet. No, there wasn’t anything logical like that. He was going to play pocket queens this way because he was tired of losing to a better hand, and thought that his queens stood a better chance if he set mined with them instead.

This is just one example of results oriented thinking that I’ve come across. There are many others that I’ve seen. You’ve probably seen (or have done) them too:

  • Someone posts a hand they lost in a forum, only to find that everyone else would’ve taken the same line he did.
  • You make a super standard shove as a short stack in a MTT or SNG, only to run into the top of someone’s range. You question whether your shove was right or not.
  • Someone calls you down with 63s and hits a flush on the river, and then tells you they saw Phil Ivey do it on TV.

You get the idea.

How results oriented thinking holds you back in poker

Results oriented thinking will do nothing but hold you back as a player. The reason why is because you’ll never develop a solid strategy or thought process for anything that you do.

You should be asking yourself questions like:

  • Why are you raising/calling/folding?
  • Why are you betting this much?
  • Why are you playing this hand?
  • What is my table image?
  • Who is my opponent? Is he/she good?

And not questions like:

  • How did this work last time?

Poker is situational, so your actions should be too. Always ask yourself what is the most optimal thing to do, and more importantly, why you’re doing it.

Improving your thought process

One way to get over results oriented thinking is to improve your thought process. Like I mentioned above, you want to ask yourself why you’re doing something.

Then once you come up with a reason, make your play. But don’t stop there.

Write the hand down (if it’s live) or paste it into notepad (online) and review it later on. Don’t stress over the results. Instead, take the time to think about what you did and why. Could you’ve done something different? Did you like your play (and reasons behind it)? You might find that your plays (and reasons) sucked, or maybe you’ll find that you wouldn’t change a thing.

Once you review your hand(s), post them to a forum or send it to your friends. Don’t provide the outcomes (so no one can be results oriented), only show everything leading up to the outcome. Be sure to tell them your thought process so they can understand what you did and why, and so that you can get feedback on that as well.

Taking the opposite approach, another way to improve your thought process is to review hands from other poker players. Don’t look at the outcome or the other players’ responses. Determine what you would do, why and post that. Then compare to see how your thought process stacks up to the other players.

If you follow this advice I’m sure you’ll find that you become a better player overall. Not only will you be less results oriented, but you’ll find that other areas of your game will improve as well, including hand reading and faster decision making.

Poker variance: how to keep sane during downswings

poker variancePoker is largely a mental game. Not just from a strategic or tactical point of view either, like hand reading or meta game. But how you feel and react to situations. Do you get mad when you lose a hand you should’ve won? Does the constant yo-yo-ing of your bankroll stress you out?

The most difficult mental aspect of online poker for me was dealing with variance. Not the upswings. I enjoyed those, of course. Most times I felt like I deserved the upswings because of the bad beats I’ve taken.

But the downswings were hard for me to deal with. I don’t imagine I’m alone either.

Understanding how variance works

Something that helped me not lose my head during a downswing is understanding how variance works.

Many players fail to realize that just because they have the best hand, it doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to win — in most cases at least. Even a player who has 90 percent equity in the hand is still destined to lose 10 percent of the time.

Furthermore, that 10 percent may come all at once, may come in a large 50 percent chunk or it can come in 1 percent increments. In other words, if you’re going to win 9 out of 10 times, you might win 11 times before losing once, or you might win once followed by 8 losses.

In the short term, anything can happen. You need to understand that these numbers are based on long term averages. There’s just a lot of short term (good/bad) luck in poker.

Is it variance….. or are you just playing bad?

Many players chalk up their losses to variance / running bad when in fact they’re playing poorly. This can be difficult to pinpoint since the problems began during a downswing.

For example, if you have some short term luck and experience a losing day, you might start feeling as if you’re on a downswing. This can go on for a couple more days, or even a week or two.

However, if you take a look at the way you’ve been playing a day or two after the start of your downswing, you might notice that you’ve made small adjustments to your strategy. In my case I would run bad and bubble a lot in SNGs, so if you were to look at the way I played following that session, you’d see that I tightened up significantly on the bubble. Of course, this only weakened my game, turning a good strategy into a bad one (why change up something that has been working for you except for maybe a session or two?).

I think we start to focus on what’s wrong and try to correct the problems as quickly as possible. In general (life) this may be a good thing. Poker, not so much. Because of variance, the short term can throw us for a loop mentally, forcing us to question everything we do and whether or not it’s the most optimal way. We start to correct things that don’t really need correcting, and if it goes on long enough, we turn these into leaks.

Of course, simply playing bad is a possibility too — maybe you’re over-adjusting or on tilt. You have a bad day and the next day you’re still steaming from it. So you go into your session thinking you’re going to win your money back or that you’re going to seek revenge from so and so. You don’t make optimal decisions (you play bad) and when you lose you think it’s just another day of bad variance.

The point is that in many cases a downswing isn’t a (major) downswing, and if it is, it doesn’t have to last that long. Downswings only last longer because we react negatively to a bad session, or we start to panic and attempt to correct our strategies when they’ve been working all along. We make a bad situation worse.

Tips to keep you sane during a downswing

I realize that no one wants to hear that they’re not running bad and are playing poorly, and for some of you, you’re not. So here are some tips to help keep you sane during a bad downswing.

Talk to a peer or mentor: Talking with another poker player, especially one who’s been through a downswing from before, can be especially helpful. They’ll know what you’re going through, and can help you to keep things in perspective. A mentor will also be able to tell you whether you’re playing well or not.

Take a break: Taking a break while on a downswing can keep you sane because taking bad beat after bad beat can be disheartening and depressing. Breaks will also keep your tilting to a minimum, which should also minimize how long you’re on your downswing. Take as long of a break as you need, and don’t come back until you’re 100 percent clear headed.

Review your hand histories: Going over your hand histories can be a big help because either you’ll find out that you’ve been playing well all along, and that you’re doing all that you can, or that your strategy is slowly changing as a result of running bad and you need to get back on track.

Drop down in stakes: This is a great tip to keep in mind. Running bad can make you question everything that you’ve done in poker — can you really beat your games, are you actually profitable, what am I doing wrong, etc? However, by dropping down in stakes you’ll face weaker competition that you should be able to crush. Crushing those guys will help to get your confidence back.

Get a coach: There are mental coaches out there that can help you with this aspect of your game. Seriously. The prices are comparable with regular poker coaching, and you can make/save just as much money as a result of the coaching.

Overall, the most important thing to do while in a downswing is to keep it all in perspective. You’re losing because it’s supposed to happen, and variances happens to everyone. As soon as you can come to terms with this, and start to roll with the punches, the better off you – and your poker game – will be.

Playing high stakes poker without the bankroll

high stakes pokerBankroll management is the most important fundamental you can learn as a poker player. The reasons should be obvious. If you’re impatient (or stupid) and play outside of your bankroll, it’s highly likely you’ll lose most, if not all, of your bankroll.

That said, many players have the ability to play higher stakes profitably, even if they don’t have the bankroll to do so. If you’re one of them (be honest), you shouldn’t let your bankroll keep you from moving up. You’re costing yourself a lot of money if you do.

So let’s get this straight: If you don’t have the bankroll to move up, you shouldn’t, so that you keep from going broke. However, if you have the skills to play higher, you should. Messed up advice, huh? Believe it or not, it is possible.

Two suggestions for moving up in stakes faster

From experience I can tell you that you have a couple of options for moving up in stakes faster than your bankroll can handle. Let’s look at both in more detail.

Option 1 – sell pieces of yourself

The easiest (and probably fastest) way to move up in stakes quickly in poker is to sell pieces of yourself. In other words, find a backer, or backers, that will give you money in exchange for a cut of the profits you earn.

I imagine at first glance that this will turn a lot of you off. Who wants to share their profits with others?

While understandable, this kind of thinking is naive and shortsighted. A decent player can get staking at a 50/50 cut, if not better, leaving plenty left over to keep for yourself.

For example, say you played $6 sit n go’s where you averaged a $.80 a game and wanted to move up to the $16s where you can average $2 a game. You’d be costing yourself money by not accepting staking to move up. If you average $2 a game and split it 50/50 with your backers, you’re still making $1 a game. This is $.20 more per game than you made at the $6s, plus you don’t have to play on your own money, allowing you to quickly save up a bankroll so you can support yourself at those stakes. It’s an easy decision.

There are a couple different ways to get staked. You can go public through a forum or you can find a private investor. There are pros and cons to each.

Public staking pros

  • You can generate a larger bankroll faster since there will be more potential investors to give you money. It’s much easier to find investors willing to give you one percent or five percent of your bankroll than 100 percent.
  • You can get away with shorter terms (number of games).

Public staking cons

  • Coaching won’t be available (assuming you even want or need it).

Private staking pros

  • Most private backers/stables offer coaching.
  • Easier to deal with one or two investors (regarding decisions) than a group.
  • It’s much easier to get new bankrolls.

Private staking cons

  • Deals are longer in length to offset risk.
  • Your bankrolls will be much smaller.

If I had to choose which option I’d go with, it’d be with public (group) staking. The reason being is that if I’m only trying to move up in stakes, then I don’t want to be tied down to an agreement for a long period of time.

However, if I wanted coaching or longer term bankroll support, then a private deal would be the best way to go.

Option 2 – blend stakes

The option that I went with, and recommend, is to blend the stakes that you currently play with the stakes you want to move up to. In other words, if you play the $6 games and want to move up to the $16s, you’d play both. This can be at the same time, or alternating. Just whatever is most comfortable to you.

The benefit to this method is huge. For example, if you wanted to move up to the $16 games, you would need a bankroll of at least $800, and preferably as much as $1,000 to $1,200. But say that you only have a $600 bankroll. Instead of taking a shot too soon, or holding off altogether, you can play a handful of $16s with a handful of $6s (or however many tables you play).

Even if you lose all the games, you only took an extra $50 risk, and you’ll still have a $500 bankroll, which is more than enough to play the $6s. It’s unlikely you’ll lose them all anyway, and winning a $16 game or two will take care of the cost of the buy-ins plus add a nice chunk to your bankroll so that you can maybe support yourself fully at the $16s.

Another benefit to blending stakes is that you’ll get a taste for the games you’ll soon move up to. You can see firsthand (if you’re playing both at the same time) the differences, if any, so that you can figure out where you’ll need to adjust when you make the move.

The one suggestion that I have if you go with this option is that you should wait until you have 60-80 percent of the bankroll needed for the stakes you want to move to before you blend them. Too small of a bankroll and a loss can still do damage, even if you’re only playing a handful of those games.

But by making sure you have 60-80 percent first, even if you brick all of your games, you’ll still have 50-75 buy-ins for your current stakes, so you can continue to crush those and rebuild, as opposed to having to move down in stakes. No one wants to have to do that, especially if you’re so close to being able to move up.

Adjusting strategy for antes

poker chip antesSwitching gears is nothing new to poker players. Every time a new player sits down, the blinds change or you’ve played several hands in a row, you’ve got to change up strategy.

Another reason why you might switch gears, and a reason many players fail to recognize, is when antes are added. Antes are similar to blinds where they add extra “dead” money to the pot. But unlike the blinds, every player has to pay them.

So for example, in a tournament at a poker site where the blinds are 100/200/25, every player including the blinds would have to pay 25 chips. At a 9 man table, this comes out to 225, over two thirds the total of the blinds, for a grand total of 525 chips.

Why you need to adjust your strategy for antes

The reason why you need to adjust your strategy for antes is because antes add so much to the pot, making the effective stack sizes smaller in comparison. In other words, the size of the pot with the antes included make up 10 percent to 30 percent (or more) of a player’s stack.

If you don’t understand why this matters, let me explain. The more money that is in the pot in comparison to your stack, the more profitable it is for you to try to steal it.

For example, say there are 10 chips in the pot and you have a 1,000 chip stack. The pot makes up 1 percent of your total stack — not very much. If you were to risk 1,000 chips for 10 chips, you would have to win 100 times for every 1 time you lost just to breakeven. That’s not a great risk vs. reward situation.

On the other hand, if there are 500 chips in the pot and you have 1,000 chips in your stack, then you only have to win two out of three times to break even. See the difference? You’re getting a much better price for the risk you’re taking. Your plays are more likely to be profitable.

This can be broken down further.

Using the same stack sizes, you might assume that you’re called one time out of three shoves. The one time you’re called you have 50 percent equity. So out of three shoves, you’re winning 2.5 times.

Since you only have to win two out of three to break even, you know that you’re profiting slightly, making the overall play profitable. Assigning percentages like this will give you a better idea of how thin a spot may or may not be, so that you can choose the best line for your situation.

How to adjust your strategy for antes

At its core, your strategy for antes is to become much looser. Let’s get more specific.

As a short stack, you’ll want to widen your shoving range. There are a couple of reasons for this.

For one thing, when antes are in play your effective stack is much shorter. So if you have 10 big blinds, with antes, you really have 7-8 big blinds. This is important to keep in mind since it will also affect how light players call your shoves (especially in the blinds) since they’ll have better odds to do so. Also, picking up the blinds and antes as a short stack will literally double you up (or more) in most cases.

Another strategy adjustment to make is to steal the blinds more often. Back before antes were added, the pot only consisted of 1 or 5 percent of your stack, so stealing the blinds didn’t make a lot of sense (too little reward for the risk). However, with antes added stealing the blinds becomes worthwhile and will often increase your stack by 10 percent or more.

For example, say you had 20 big blinds at 200/400/50 stage. With nine players anteing 50 chips and 600 chips in blinds, there are 1050 in the middle. If you steal the blinds, you’ll increase your stack from 8,000 to 9,000 — almost a 13 percent increase. Steal a handful of times and you’ll increase your stack by 50 percent or more.

Last, you’ll want to re-steal more frequently. Depending on how deep you are effectively, this will often be a shove. Using my example above, a player might open up to 1,000 chips, making the overall pot 2,050, which makes up 25 percent of your stack.

You can’t really 3-bet here, so it makes more sense to maximize your fold equity and shove. You’ll only have to get folds 4/5 times to breakeven, plus you’ll have equity when you’re called. If you think stealing the blinds will build you a stack, try a few re-steals. You’ll build a stack fast.

The important thing to remember is that when antes come into effect, you need to loosen up overall, and steal and re-steal as often as you can. Doing so can keep you from being short and desperate, not to mention build you a big stack (quickly), which are all massively important when playing SNGs and MTTs.

Continuation betting in poker

c-betThere are few strategies or tactics in poker that players can use to earn relatively easy money. Continuation betting happens to be one of those strategies. If the continuation bet is something you have yet to incorporate into your game, then you’re leaving money on the table.

What is the continuation bet?

Also referred to as the c-bet, the continuation bet is a bet made on the flop by the pre flop aggressor. For example, if you were to open raise pre flop and had one caller, when it was your turn to act you’d bet the flop, continuing your betting (aggression) from before the flop.

Continuation bets are generally thought of as bluffs, but they can also be used for semi-bluffs and value. In fact, mixing up your c-bets will make them more effective over time.

Why the c-bet works

The reason why the c-bet works is because players miss the flop two-thirds of the time. So the first player who bets often takes down the pot. Using my example above, if you were to check instead of c-bet, what do you think your opponent will do? My guess is that if he missed, he’d probably bet to try to pick up an easy pot. So since you took the initiative pre flop, you should take a stab at the pot first.

This strategy also works because the c-bet is continuing the strength you showed pre flop. You open raised, or 3-bet, stating to everyone that you have a moderately strong hand. Your c-bet will tell everyone that you still like your hand, despite of the flop.

C-betting will disguise your hand, too. It’d become painfully transparent if all you did was bet when you hit the flop, and check or check/fold when you missed. You’d be exploited terribly, not getting any value for your good hands and being forced to fold when you don’t have anything at all. Placing a c-bet whether you have a hand or not will mix things up for you so you’re not so easy to read.

Best opportunities to c-bet

Figuring out when to make a continuation bet is the hardest part for players to grasp. However, if you can figure out what kinds of hands your opponent may have, and consider your ranges too, then knowing when to c-bet becomes easier.

For example, say you open raised from late position, the big blind called and you saw a flop of T-T-2 rainbow. Think about what your opponent is calling with from the big blind?

Probably suited aces, broadway cards, suited connectors and pairs. This flop is only good for pocket pairs. Everything else missed. So this could be a good flop to c-bet. I say “might” only because some aggressive players may check/raise or float you with ace high hands. So you might need to double barrel the turn, or you could delay c-bet the turn instead (instead of c-betting the flop, you “delay” it until the turn).

Another example of a situation where you might c-bet is on an A-K-3 rainbow flop. Say you have pocket 8s in middle position and were called by the button. I’d make a c-bet here because this flops hits my range, and assuming I’m still ahead, there are a lot of bad turn cards for my hand (more over cards, J, 10, etc). Not to mention that if I check, the button will probably bet. If he doesn’t bet, then I’ll have to play the rest of the hand out of position.

As far as how big to make your bets, the general consensus is one half to three-quarters the size of the pot. Most of my experience is in sngs, and I’ve had great success betting three-eighths to half the pot.

The small bet sizing looks strong, almost as if I want a call, so my opponent folds instead. That said, you should only as much as you need to get a fold. It’ll vary based on things like stack sizes, how much is in the pot, board texture and your opponents. In other words, you can c-bet much less versus a tight player on a dry flop than you could versus a loose player on a wet board.

When to avoid continuation betting

Aside from the fact that c-betting 100 percent of the time is a bad idea (exploitable), there will be times where c-betting isn’t the best play.

For one thing, c-betting against certain opponents will be ineffective. Calling stations would be players to avoid c-betting against if you’re looking for a fold (because they don’t fold). The exception, of course, would be if the player calls a lot on the flop, only to give up on the turn. Then you could get away with c-betting 100 percent against this player and double barreling the turn.

Hyper-aggressive players would also be bad to c-bet against since you’ll have to deal with check/raises and floats frequently.

C-betting versus multiple opponents is generally a poor idea as well. The more players that are involved in the hand, the more likely someone has something they like. That said, I still c-bet into 3 players, but that will depend on board texture. The wetter the board, or the more paint cards there are, the more likely someone has caught a piece.

But from my experience c-betting into 2 other players on an A-9-4 flop (for example) is still effective.

I touched a little on flop textures above, but super wet or connected flops can be a bad to c-bet on. For example, I probably wouldn’t c-bet on a J-T-8 two-tone flop or an A-J-9 flop. There are just too many hand combinations that connect with these flops, either as made hands or draws. It’ll be difficult to induce folds.

Last, c-betting when you likely have the best hand isn’t a great idea (flop texture depending). For example, if you had pocket aces on a flop like K-8-6, c-betting here will probably induce folds most of the time and you won’t extract any value. You fold everything but a king. Instead, a better play would be to check back the flop. This gives your opponent the opportunity to make a hand, or bluff on later streets, so that you can get (more) value for your hand.

poker mistakesEveryone makes mistakes. The saying applies to everything — work, relationships, money and yes, even poker. It’s a reminder that no one is perfect, and that we won’t be at our best everyday.

That’s nice, but that doesn’t change the fact that some mistakes people tend to make are downright dumb. It’s certainly true in poker, regardless of whether you’re new to the game or a veteran. You can find 10 examples of exactly this below.

10 poker mistakes that make you look dumb

10. Quitting early to book a win

Instead of staying to win back your losses, some players quit early so that they can book a win. I’ve been guilty of this myself, and it falls in line with being results oriented. Your balance is what drives you to play, or not to play, which are bad reasons for playing. Not to mention that from a business standpoint, quitting early is dumb because it’s possible that you would’ve made more money had you stuck around longer.

You should view poker as a lifelong game, as well as a business. Set yourself up with a schedule and stick to that schedule until you hit the number of hands/hours/etc. you were supposed to, with the only exception being if you can’t play at your best anymore.

9. Trying to win your money back

While I can certainly appreciate a competitive drive and will to always win, sometimes it’s just not going to happen.

Players who try to win their money back don’t always do it with a clear head. It’s almost like being on tilt (if they’re not tilting already). And without a clear head, it’s unlikely that you’ll win your money back, and even more likely that you’ll lose more of it. Sometimes it’s just better to take a break, and come back later with a clean slate.

8. Becoming complacent

Similar to #6, sitting back and becoming comfortable with your accomplishments or skill level in poker is dumb. Even players like Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey constantly work on their games to improve.

Think of it this way: the games are constantly evolving. Players are getting smarter and play much better, all at a high rate of speed. If you sit still now, in a year or two you might not be able to play at your current stakes.

7. Showing your cards

There are debates about whether or not showing your cards gives you any strategic edge over your opponents. Some players think you can show a bluff and put your opponents on life tilt. I’m not sure about that.

What I do know is that showing your cards gives away a ton of information about how you play your hands, your betting and what hands you like to play. I don’t think the benefits of putting the other players on monkey tilt outweighs the disadvantages of showing them your cards.

6. Not listening to or accepting feedback

Taking the time to ask for feedback on a hand, but tossing it aside like it means nothing makes you look dumb, not to mention arrogant, ungrateful and quite frankly like an ass. And yes, that happens — I’ve seen it.

The sad part is that most players who excel have had peers or mentors to turn to for help. Having someone (or multiple people) who is willing to help you out, read through your hand histories and sweat you while you play should not be taken lightly. You should take every opportunity that comes your way.

5. Going on tilt

Tilt makes you look dumb because most players that tilt tend to throw temper tantrums just like your two year old. They throw their mice through their screens, pound the table and scream at their laptops. Taking this further, they then start to play horribly, making bad raises, calls, etc. Just not playing like themselves.

Tilt can be expensive too. You lose money while playing horribly, not to mention that someone has to replace all the things you’ve broken while freaking out.

4. Losing your money in the pits

If you’re someone who grinds all day, only to take your winnings and gamble it away on craps, blackjack, sports betting, etc, then saying you are look dumb is an understatement. I can’t imagine why someone would want to work hard all day and deal with the variance in poker, just to risk it all on a coin flip (or much worse).

Maybe you can ask T.J. Cloutier and Mike Matusow why they do it.

3. Playing outside of your bankroll

Playing too high for your bankroll is something you see more beginners do than intermediate or advanced players. Regardless, playing outside of your bankroll will make you look dumb a couple of ways:

  • It’s possible you’re playing outside of your skill level too, which means you’re going to get stomped by the competition. That’s embarrassing.
  • You put yourself at risk to go broke. If you do, you’ll have to borrow money (and maybe explain why you need it), or start all over from scratch.

Playing outside of your bankroll doesn’t just look dumb, it is dumb. Why would you risk all of your money and hard work on the short term risk of playing higher games?

2. Folding the winning hand

Although cheating may be the dumbest thing you can do in poker, folding the best hand has to be a close second. You would think that if someone was active in a hand that they’d be aware of whether or not they have a made hand. Isn’t that what the 4-color decks are for?

1. Cheating to win

Beginner or pro, I don’t think anything will make you look dumber than trying to cheat, other than maybe being caught cheating.

That’s really not the worst of it, either. If you’re caught cheating, you’ll lose the respect of your peers, friends and family. You’ll be banned from the site or casino you cheated at too, and it’s probable that this will carry over to other establishments as well. It’s not easy to make a comeback with a tarnished reputation either. Just ask Justin Bonomo or Sorel Mizzi.