There are times when you know that you are losing?

Jack of clubs.
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Last night at the #TPT, Twitter Poker Tour, I lasted only 40 minutes finishing in 25th place out of 33 players. It just was not my night.

Of the 53 hands I was dealt, I had pocket pairs four times.  66, 44, 77, JJ. My pocket sixes did not improve on the flop and I folded to a raise on a board that had two cards higher than my sixes.

With my pocket 4’s, I opened the pot for a raise, was re-raised by a good player and just called. Again the flop, did not help me with all three cards being higher than my fours. With small pocket pairs I am looking to hit a set,  three of a kind. Facing a raise and having only two outs, I folded.

With my pockets sevens, I re-raised a bet and saw the flop which was 8, K, 10. While all of these cards were higher than my 7’s, I called a raise on the flop and got to see the turn which was a 3. We checked again and the river was a 3, making a pair of threes on the board. My opponent turned over his 9’s and I mucked my 7’s. He later told me that he would have folded if I had raised on either the turn or the river. Oh well. The reason I had hung on to my 7’s was that I had seen him make similar raises with pocket 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s.

My last and final hand of the night had me all in preflop as the result of aggressive raising by three players including myself. I was heads up against a pair of pocket Queens and my Jacks did not improve. I am told there are only three ways to play Jacks:  call, raise, or fold. And all these ways are wrong.

Getting back to my title for today – you know that you are beaten when at least one person calls your all-in bet and another is still considering it. There are times when you want to be called but I would have been happy to just take what was in the pot and have the rest of the players fold.

It was fun while it lasted. Congratulations to the winners:

Widmayer
Street 3
GoofyRooster

How did you do in your last tourney? Are there hands you wished you could have played over? How do you play small pocket pairs?

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Balance – life is not always simple

An old two pan balance.
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Off topic today. Life is a balancing act. There is family and friends, chores and poker. There are a lot of things that I need to integrate in my life of becoming a poker professional.

I need to tend to my family; my wife Diane, my sons, Chris and Thom and their families. I need to tend to chores around the house. Painting the shed before the deep freeze settles in. Raking the leaves before they freeze to the ground. Grouting the stones on our walk before the snow hits and it becomes impossible to shovel.

I need to exercise on a regular basis. I need to plan my poker playing so that I get a good mix of cash games and tourney like games. I need to continue to take the opportunity to play satellites in the hopes of advancing to a major poker event.

Right now our new kittens, five months old, require more attention as they have just returned back from surgery. They are in-door cats and were de-clawed in order to protect us and allow them more freedom around us. They need to be cuddled and held. They both try to sleep on my lap at the same time. They each weigh over 7 pounds and are growing each day.

How do you coordinate your life style? How does poker fit into your life? Is it a pastime? A hobby? An avocation?

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Thinking thoughts versus saying them out loud

hellmuth at wsop 2006
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In my short poker career, I play mostly online games at various sites throughout the poker domain. I vary from Limit Hold “Em to No Limit Hold ‘Em. I even try Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Lo and on occasion will play 2-7 Triple Draw.  I even have played some live, face to face poker at the local poker room in Seabrook NH.

In the thousands of hands that I have seen or have been involved in, I have seen the plays of a poker donk. These are the types that will limp in with very weak holdings or call big bets in the hopes of hitting their hand either at the flop, the turn or the river. It might be a flush draw or two connected cards like 87 suited or even the dreaded 7 2 suited.

You know the scenario, you have made a 6 big blind bet pre-flop with AA, KK or QQ. You get called. The flop does not improve your hand and does not improve your opponents hand.  You lead out and bet the pot. You get called and a 7 hits the turn. You bet 2/3 of the current pot and get called and the river is a 2. You either check it down as the opponent has been calling all your raises or you pop up the pot with another raise only to find out you are beaten by someone who called all of your raises with a 7 2.

You know the drill. If you are online, you type “nh” and move on. Face to face, you fix a smile on your face and say Nice Hand” in the most pleasant voice that you can muster.

Internally, you are seething. If this is an online game, you are probably ranting and raving until the next hand is dealt. You begin to appreciate the rants and raves of Phil Hellmuth whenever he suffers a bad beat by someone who should have folded his hand instead of playing poker bingo.

It is like all your hundreds or thousands of hours of playing, studying, learning, and discussing of poker is all for not. After all, the opponent (donk) won didn’t he. Therefore he was not wrong to play wasn’t he. He was supposed to play poorly (in your eyes) but hit his hand once in awhile. That does not make him a bad player does it?

How do you handle situations like this? Do you ever make donk plays? After all, isn’t this just a game?

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How does one get ready for a major tournament?

Antonio Esfandiari & Phil Laak - World Series ...
Image by Kaloozer via Flickr

I am starting to wonder just how do the professional poker players get ready for a tournament? I have read a lot books about playing in a tournament. I also have read a lot of blogs written by professionals on how they played in a tournament. I have even read the tweets (messages sent via Twitter.Com) of the pros as they get ready to play or are playing in a tourney.

Not all of what I have read says what you should do to get ready before playing in a tourney. So I am going to attempt to break down a list of what I think I should do prior to entering a major event — just in case I do.

A. Prepare physically: I have heard that some tourneys have very grueling schedules, sometimes players will sit at the tables for over 20 hours at a stretch with just a lunch and a dinner break. Prior to the event, I would have an  exercise routine that would build up my strength and endurance. During the event, I would take advantage of what ever breaks I was given to stretch to move around to get my blood circulation. If healthy food was not being served, I would make sure to take a small cooler with the foods that I require so that I would not have to go off my diet by eating improperly.

B. Prepare mentally: I have heard that the physiological aspects of the tourney are very tough. You have to be prepared to handle set backs and bad calls and keep on going for as long as you have chips in front of you. Just because you lose half  a stack or more does not mean you do not have a chance unless of course you lose all of your chips. You need a certain mental toughness and confidence that is needed to play and win in a major tourney. Reading inspirational books could be helpful.

C. Prepare strategically: You need a plan and a goal other than just an overall goal of wanting to win. You should know before you get your cards just how you want to play your hands.  Try reading books about playing in tournaments that have been written by successful professionals and by amateurs that have won big and have proved that they are not one day wonders. Talk with your successful poker friends and listen to what they have to say. Playing with a plan will take a lot of the stress off what to do.

How would you prepare for tourney?

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What if win my way to the WPT event via a satellite?

The Cart Before the Horse
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I realize that I have a ways to go before I can even think about going to a WPT event but I can still dream can’t I? What would it be like playing against a field of 300 or 600 players vying for a spot at the final table under the lights of the WPT cameras. Having Mike Sexton or Vince Van Patton talking about me and how I got here via the satellite route at DoylesRoom.com.

Getting to the final table and having Daniel Negreanu to my left and Texas Dolly to my right. Image that Gavin Smith and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson  are directly across the table and finishing the table of six is David “the Devil Fish” Ulliott.  That would be pretty heady for a New England born boy.

The grand prize being played for is a life changing 1.5 million dollars for first place and a seat to the WPT Final Event that may be worth many millions more.

Of  course there are the realities to think about. There are tax consequences that would result from just getting to the WPT as the prize package is valued at $17,000 plus.

Or course, winning the top prize would solve that problem.  I could afford the tax consultants and accountants to help with the financial end of this. But if I were to make it to Vegas and lose or not make it to the cash, I would probably owe the IRS at least three or four thousand just from winning the satellites.

But all that is putting the cart before the horse.  I have to win steps, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 before this dream can become a reality.

Do you ever dream about making the WPT or WSOP final table? Are you prepared to win? Can you handle the loss? What are your poker dreams?

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One step closer to the "WPT Doyle Brunson 5 Diamond Poker Classic"

World Poker Tour
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I mentioned in my last post that DoylesRoom.Com currently has a promotion going, “WPT Doyle Brunson 5 Diamond Poker Classic”, in which you play for the chance to win a first class Vegas Experience worth $17,000.00 and a chance to win a seat at the final table of a WPT event. You can buy in directly to the event or try to win a satellite game.

There are ten steps that you can move up the ladder in order to win the grand prize. Level 1 costs .22c, level 2 is .62c, level 3 is $1.82, and all the way up to level 10, which costs $3,750.00 to buy in. But if you are lucky enough to win at each level, you could turn .22c into a $17,000.00 package.

My first few attempts to climb the steps to a higher level were filled with some frustration as many of the players in the starting steps would go all in with just about any hand they had. Although I had not seen anyone with a 7 2 suited going all in, I would not have been surprised.

Last night I successfully finished step 2 and entered into step 3. While I had won my buy in for step three, you could just play the $1.82 plus .18c fee or $2.00 and buy in directly instead of winning an entry through a satellite.  The format for these games is a single table sit n go, with blinds and antes increasing every ten minutes.The players are given a starting stack of 1,500 chips. Nine players compete for five available prizes. These are two tickets to the next step, 4, two tickets to the current level 3 and a ticket back to step 2.

This game was played far better that the previous steps I had been involved in. For the most part, the players were tighter and slightly more aggressive. This step lasted almost 1 1/2 hours with no breaks. There were 92 hands played, and I won in 18 of them. I folded 63 hands either pre-flop or post flop if I was in the big blind. By playing tight yet aggressive and by attempting just a few steals, I finished in second place and won an entry to step 4, which is worth $5.85. I am looking forward to playing the next level and writing about it as well.

Do you play satellites to enter larger tourneys? Do you buy in at a higher level to avoid the challenges of the lower levels? Have you ever played in a WPT tourney?

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Thoughts while playing a Level 1 Step tourney

Doyle Brunson in 2006 World Series of Poker - ...
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DoylesRoom.Com currently has a promotion going, “WPT Doyle Brunson 5 Diamond Poker Classic”, in which you play for the chance to win a first class Vegas Experience worth $17,000.00 and a chance to win a seat at the final table of a WPT event. You can buy in directly to the event or try to win a satellite game.

There are ten steps that you could move up the ladder in order to win the grand prize. Level 1 costs .22c, level 2 is .62c, level 3 is $1.82, and all the way up to level 10, which costs $3,750.00 to buy in. But if you are lucky enough to win at each level, you could turn .22c into a $17,000.00 package.

I am trying the steps currently and have gotten only as high as level 2 in my attempt to reach level 3. But I did win an entry for level 1, so I can try again. I am not sure how successful I am going to be because of the play that I see around me.

It seems that at the lower entries, a lot of the players have made up their minds that going all in with any pocket pair or any Ace or two suited cards is the way to win these early levels. This puts the game into a sort of “No Limit Hold ‘Em” lottery and may the luckiest player win.

In one of these games, I saw a player go all in on the very first hand dealt. The all in player had a pair of fives and he was called by a player having a J 10 unsuited. I don’t know what books or poker school they came from or what they might have been smoking but this is not the way to win a tourney.  As luck would have it, neither player hit any cards on the flop and the player with the pair of 5’s lost to the player with the J 10.  Because the flop, turn and river contained two pair higher than the pocket fives, the hand went to the player with the J 10 because he held a higher kicker.  So far, I have only played on the first two levels so I don’t know if the playing gets better as you advance to the higher levels. I might just buy into a step 4 or step 5 and save myself some frustration with these lower lottery events.

Do you play your way to a larger event through satellites? If there are multiple steps, do you buy into a higher level to avoid the donkaments? Are you the type that just buys into the main event directly?

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Playing No Limit Hold 'Em is different than Limit

All In
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I am alternating my card playing between No Limit and Limit Hold ‘Em cash games lately. I am pretty much aware of the differences between the two games.

In Limit, you can control the betting on marginal hands by calling or folding. In No Limit, you need to be careful what you call because you could be reaching a point of no return by calling raises that will eventually put you all in for your entire stack. By just calling a 3/4 pot size bet pre-flop, flop, turn and river you are basically all in.  If you have more than 1/2 your stack in the middle, it is almost always the right thing to move all in or call an all in raise in the hopes you will win the hand. Your pot odds are so great that even a bad hand should call based on the math. And if you are wrong, poof goes your stack.

According to the latest book I am reading, you should constantly be evaluating what you think your opponents hands are, even if you have already folded. Now, the book did not say how many hands you should see, but based on experience of late, I am thinking that you should see a couple of dozen hands played by an opponent before you can even start to know how and what your opponent might play.

In one session, I thought I noticed an opponent make plays and show down just high cards to win a pot against another player who had lower high cards. Neither one of them had a pair or even made a pair after the flop, turn and river. Armed with that knowledge, I opened the pot for four BB (big blinds), which was a pretty standard bet at this table. I had an AQ suited. All but the loose opponent folded and he re-raised me by four BB and I called. The flop was 7 J 3 with one heart to my flush draw. Now at this point in the hand I already had more than 1/3 of my chips in the middle. I checked and he bet half the pot. I still had nothing but two higher cards than the flop but I thought that I knew my opponents range and I called. The turn was a 2. At this point most of my stack was in the pot and I shoved with nothing or air as it is called and he called and turned over two Jacks for three of a kind. I was drawing dead as they say.

Because I had not played long enough to really know this player, I had made some terrible judgment calls.

1. I really did not know the range of cards that this opponent would play.
2. I really did not have a hand strong enough to enter the pot with a raise.
3. I committed more to the pot than I should have after the flop when even a pair of twos might beat me.
4. I did not have any pot equity after the flop.

So I bought in again. This time I played extremely tight, playing premium pairs in position, limping and folding to raises on draws or small pocket pairs. This second session was more successful. I was able to increase my stack by 50% before leaving the table. When I committed my chips to the pot, I actually had a hand that I could  play.

Hopefully the lessons learned will carry forward.

Have you played No Limit cash games and totally misread your opponent? Did you let the loss effect your subsequent play? Were you able to learn from the experience and move forward?

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Observations made while sitting at a Limit Hold 'Em cash table at FTP

Day 362/365 - Poker Star
Image by Tiago Rïbeiro via Flickr

Yesterday evening I had decided to take a break from playing No Limit and I went back to Limit Hold ‘Em. This time I picked a table at FullTiltPoker and bought in to a .25/50 Limit game with $7.50, while the minimum buy-in was 2.50 and the maximum buy was $1,000,000.00.

In Limit Hold ‘Em, the size of the stack does not  really matter as much as they do in No Limit. This is because the size of the bets are limited to .25 per betting round pre-flop and flop and .50 per betting round for the turn and the river. There is no all in. In theory, the most you could bet in one hand is 6.00, unlike No Limit where your whole stack could go in at any time.

Bringing more than $20.00 to a .25/.50 Limit table seems to me to be a little bit like bragging about the size of your bankroll. Now there are occasions when you move from one table to another, where you must bring in what you had at the previous table, so it is possible a winning player will bring to a Limit table a stack of $20 or more.  Even though the stack size does not really matter, it does indicate to me one of two things. One is that the player is a good one and has been accumulating money fairly regularly or two, that the player is trying to send a message. That message could be when he bets or raises you should get out of his way.

So the first thing I do when sitting down at a table is to assess the stack sizes. This is a good practice to get into, especially if you are considering playing No Limit, where the stack size can matter.  I usually wait until I am the “big blind” before playing. This way I can observe the players and how they enter pots. Do they just call or do they raise? Do they re-raise or fold if someone raises them? What cards did they start with, if the hand is played to a show down of hands. All this information helps me to determine how I might play various hands that I am dealt.

If there is a lot of action, a lot of betting at every round, then I am going to limit myself to playing just the best starting hands such as AA, KK QQ, and AK. If the table is passive with very little or no pre-flop raising, I will play suited connectors such as J 10 or one or two gappers such as K J or Q 9 along with the premium hands. Watching the table prior to actually playing is a great help to me.

This evening I observed one player who entered almost every hand and would raise every other time he entered a hand.  When this player had to show down a hand, his starting selections were amazing to me. He would enter a pot with a raise with 8 3 off suit or 3 5 suited. He would do this with poor position and he would win the pot most of the time. Luck was running with him … for a while. He had build his stack to almost $20.00. But it appeared that the rest of us had started to play tighter. Within 20 hands we had taken his entire stack away from him, causing him to rebuy. While he lost two more buy-ins during this session, he did tighten down his play a bit. His biggest problem was that there was not a pair of cards that he was dealt that he did not like. He played almost 70% of all hands dealt to him. I played less than 24% and I saw a few at my table that played perhaps 10% or less.

Do you study a poker table prior to playing? Are you watching the action around you when you are not playing a hand? Do you wait until the big blind comes to you before playing?

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Professional No-Limit Hold 'Em Volume 1 – a preliminary review

Poker night - Who's gonna win?
Image by Philofoto via Flickr

In my never ending quest to learn how to play the many forms of poker that are available, I am currently reading a recently published book, Professional No-Limit Hold ’em: Volume I, written by Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta, and Ed Miller.

While I have finished only half of the book so far, this one fixes a lot of the holes that I have in my No-Limit cash game. The book is divided into five sections:  “The Basics”, “The Fundamentals”, “The REM Process”, “Planning Hands Around Commitment”, and “Planning in Practice”.

Each chapter is well thought out, containing an introduction, explanation of the concepts being discussed. Examples of how to use the concepts and a summary or wrap up.

Even though I have not finished this book, I found it to be of value already. Just some of the basic and fundamental concepts were enough to help me focus better on my game of No Limit and has been of great value.

I hope to include in my final review of this fine addition to my poker library how this book has improved my overall results at poker.

Have you ever started reading a book and found that it made an immediate impact? What poker books have help you in your game?

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