Beware the "isolation play", it can backfire if not executed properly…

Basement Isolation Booth
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In Texas No Limit Hold ‘Em the “isolation play” can be used in an attempt to get all other players to fold so that you are just heads up with one opponent.  When you think or know that someone has raised with a worse hand than yours and you want to play against him only, you try raising an amount that will cause the remaining opponents to fold.  There is an art to this and I ended up finding that out the hard way.

I was just two positions to the left of the big blind or UTG-1, “under the gun” minus one. I was dealt KsKc, a very good starting hand and I raised to $2 or twice the big blind, 2BB. Four other players folded and it was up to the short stacked player in the cutoff position to play.  As was the case most of the evening, he raised to $8 or 8xBB which he had been doing all night. I took this as an attempt to steal the blinds and my raise. The big blind called his raise. I knew that the short stack had been making moves all night and I decided that this was the time to put him to the test.

Generally, the isolation play requires that you make a pot sized or double the pot size re-raise in order to get other players to fold, but I got a little to0 fancy, and shoved all in. I expected that the short stack would call as he probably had a small pocket pair, but I failed to take into account the fact that the big blind had already called the $8 raise.  The short stack called as I expected he would.

My shoving in $98 into the pot was not such as good idea. The only reason I did not lose all of it was because the big blind called me with his remaining $40, leaving me with $50. I had started the evening with $75.

The short stack turned over a pair of eights, as I expected. But the big blind was an altogether different story as he turned over a pair of Aces, one of them being a spade.

The flop was 7d 2s 5s with two spades on the board. The turn was a 10 of spades. The river was a 9 of spades, giving both the big blind and myself a flush, mine King high and his Ace high, the best hand to win the pot. The short stack was busted and left the table, perhaps in search of other opportunities to double up with a pocket pair.

As for myself, I had not given myself a chance to fold pre-flop. I should have put in a pot sized bet and then if the big blind raised or called,  I would have been able to decide what to do next. As he was a fairly tight player, I could have folded to a raise and saved some of my dollars.

You can be sure that I will pay more attention to what the players are doing when I find myself in similar circumstances in the future.

Do you ever try to execute the “isolation play”? How do  you do it? What has been your success with this play?

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Texas Hold 'Em – the game that takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master!

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The title of this post says it all. Truer words were never spoken. I have spent the last five years playing Texas Hold ‘Em and I still have not mastered all of the idiosyncrasies of the game.

The most difficult part of the game for me has been to tell when I have the best hand possible at the river. There are many times in a game when I have committed all my chips pre-flop or post-flop and my opponent has caught a miracle card at the river to beat my hand. That is the nature of the game.

There are other occasions when I reach the river and I can see all five common cards that I can use with my hole cards. Even then, I am not sure that I have the best hand. In some of those cases, I have called all-in raises only to find out the hard way that my hand was not the best possible one.

This has caused me to lose chips in tourneys or dollars in cash games. It is the one aspect of the game that I need to improve on if I expect to continue to play poker.

Texas Hold ‘Em is tough enough, but figuring out the best hand is not all that hard, if you take the time to think it over. This is where a snap judgement can be fatal. So, going forward, I will have to work harder at that aspect of my game.

Because I was not doing as well as I liked at Texas Hold Em, I decided to play some Pot Limit Omaha High. For a couple of days I was doing quite well, slowing building up my bankroll. In just three sessions, I had increased my bank roll by $60.00. But I gave that all back in just one hand.

I was dealt A-Q-10-9, double suited, meaning that the A-Q was the same suit, hearts and the 10-9 was also of the same suit, clubs. The flop was Q-Q-A, giving me a full house of Queens over Aces. My opponent and I raised at the flop, the turn and the river. My opponent was all-in but I still had some cash left in my stack. She turned over A-A-10-10, giving her Aces over Queens, for the best hand.

This was one of those instances  where I should have considered what hands could beat my hand and I would have arrived at the conclusion that she must have A-A to beat me or A-Q to tie. So needless to say, that is definitely one facet of the game I am going to work on if I continue to play No Limit and Pot Limit cash games.  Knowing when you have the best hand is also helpful on Limit games as well.

When you are not sure if you have the best hand, do you slow up and check or call instead of raising or re-raising? How do you evaluate your hand against your opponents? Do you take into account betting patterns? How do you make your decisions?

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Aces cracked, stacked again!

...a girl's best friend.
Image by Chris Blakeley via Flickr

Last night I went back to playing No Limit Hold ‘Em  cash games at DoylesRoom.com, (I am now an affiliate member of Doyle’s Room) at the .25/.50 cash tables. I bought in for my usual amount of $30 and waited until my turn as the big blind, BB, before playing. Usually this gives me a chance to see what the other players are doing at the table. Some like to try stealing the blinds in position, which is a good idea. I do it whenever I get the chance. Stealing the blinds helps to keep my stack level in those times when I am not drawing any good cards to play.

I played over 143 hands and my stack was dwindling down to about $21 wen I was dealt pocket aces, rockets, bullets, American Airlines, the best starting hand. Lately, whenever I have been dealt these beauties, I have won small pots and lost large pots.

The last session I played them normal, raising and seeing the flop when I was called. This time I raised to the pot size and bet $1.75. My opponent raised to $5.50 and the rest of the players folded until it was my turn to bet. Rather than wait until the turn, I re-raised all in for my remaining $15.45. My opponent called and turned over QQ to my AA.

Once again, this was going to be a case of my hand being the best hand pre-flop. The flop was 4c,3d,6s with no flush draw possible for either of us. The turn card was a 6d, pairing the board. And the river card was ….. a queen, giving my opponent three queens to my two aces.. Once again I had been rivered, as they say in the poker world.

Would I make that play again? Probably. I know that I would rather go all in with Aces versus Queens anytime. I would have been more concerned if I was up against 87 suited as that type of hand could easily make two pair or a flush or even a straight. At least playing a higher pair against a lower pair, there are less outs for your opponent to hit. Catching one of the two remaining queens was a long shot. There was only one chance in eight of my opponent’s hand improving and beating my pocket aces.

Pre-flop, I was an 81% favorite to win the hand. Post flop, I was an 88% favorite. After the turn, my chances of winning went up to 95%. The river reduced my odds to 0%. Once again, my opponent cracked my aces and won my stack. Poker Odds calculator was courtesy of PokerNews.com.

Overall, I had a winning night, leaving the table with $10 more than I started in spite of losing $21 in just one hand.

No questions about the hand this time as I think we have beaten this topic to death in previous posts and discussions.

Where do you play poker? Do you have winning sessions? Are you running good? Or do you play just for the fun of it?

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Pocket Aces in a cash game – there are many blogs talking about them!

Ace of spades
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It turns out that the discussion about how to play pocket Aces in a cash game is a very common one and a well discussed topic. I used Google Search and turned up over 43,00o hits on the topic. I have since read over a dozen of them and have digested what I have read to the point where I now know that I did in fact play the hand incorrectly.

The following paragraph was from my original post titled “Aces cracked on my first hand of the session!”

When it was my turn to be the big blind, I was dealt a pair of pocket Aces, the best starting hand possible before the flop. Two players to my left folded but the aggressive player raised by betting the pot, $1.75.  Everyone folded to him and when it was my turn to bet,  I raised the pot to $5.00 and the aggressive player called for $3.25. The flop was 8s,Tc,6h and I bet the size of the pot or $10.25 and the aggressive player called. The turn card was a king of hearts. Again I bet as much as I could, less than half of the pot, which put me all in for my remaining $14.75. The aggressive player called. He turned over an A6 off suit. He had only a pair of sixes against my pair of aces. The river card was a 6, giving him three sixes or the best hand and the aggressive player won the pot containing $57.25 which included my entire stack and whatever he bet, less the rake that DoylesRoom took from the pot.

According to the articles I read, where I went wrong was to continue to bet out as it appeared that my opponent was calling with some kind of draw regardless of the size of my bets. The rule of thumb about pocket aces is that you can win small pots with them or lose big pots with them. Even though I had the best hand right up to the turn, I failed to limit the amount of money I could lose if he hit his magic card on the river, which he did. That said, I had position on him and I had a good read on him and I hit a bit of bad luck when he hit the river card for three of a kind.

If I played hard only when I had the nuts, the best possible hand, I probably would not play many hands at all. In fact, for the most part, I fold almost 93% of  my hands. I even fold the small blinds if I have junk cards most of the time. I do not defend the big blinds often without good cards but on occasion will re-raise a cut-off or button raise as they often try to steal the blinds.

The following are just a few of the links that I found regarding this topic and the articles that I have read on this topic.

http://www.rakebackriches.com/unfoldable-aces.htm

http://poker-info.com/tips/playing-pocket-aces.html

http://www.hollywoodpoker.com/green-room/poker-lifestyle/poker-stories/poker-coach-pocket-aces.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_2256053_play-pocket-aces.html

http://www.towergaming.com/online-poker/school/strategy/pocket-aces-howto.html

http://stonecoldbluff.co.uk/articles/how-to-play-pocket-aces/

And these are just online resources. I am sure there are poker articles about playing pocket aces out there as well.

Where do you go to learn about playing pocket aces? What has you success been with the approach you take?

Cracked Aces post drew some very good comments – thank you!

Ace of Spades (Langford Style)
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My last post was about having my pocket Aces beaten at the river when my opponent made three of a kind. Right up to the turn, I was in the lead with the un-improved pocket Aces.

Three of the four comments were positive. Some suggested that perhaps raising all-in earlier would have made my opponent fold. One commenter wondered why I even stayed in the hand as it appeared that the caller might have had a stronger hand than mine after the flop.

Getting him to fold was not my intent, as I did not want to fold if I had the best hand. I wanted to get as much of his chips in the pot in order to maximize my win if my pocket Aces held up.  Pocket Aces will lose about 20% of the time, so I wanted to win as much as I could to make up for those times when my Aces got beaten.

This was not a tournament where I had to worry about losing and not being able to play any more. Of course, this assumed that I could afford to risk my buy-in and if I lost it, to re-buy in and continue to play.

Well, as it turned out, I lost my buy-in when my opponent hit his magic card at the river. I re-bought into the game and continued to play without letting my defeat get in the way of solid card playing.

I appreciated all of the comments and suggestions given to me on how to play the hand or what to watch out for as well. It is this give and take that helps me to grow as a player.

Do you have a sounding board where you discuss your poker hands and results? Do you have a way of getting feedback about your game? Did you know that there are all kind of resources available for you to have these kind of discussion?

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Aces cracked on my first hand of the session!

Pocket Aces
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Last night I decided to play for a couple of hours at a cash game at DoylesRoom.Com at the .25/.50 No Limit Hold ‘Em tables. The average buy-in is $50, while some bring $100 and others $10. I bought in at $30.

The advantage of buying in as a small or medium stack is that you can limit your initial losses to whatever you pick as your buy-in. Of course, this also means that you limit the amount that you can win to multiples of your buy-in as well.

The advantage of a large stack is that you can be more aggressive and steal pots from others that don’t want to challenge you when you put in large raises or bets.  It is all a matter of deciding what style suits you and what works well at the table you choose to play at.

I had played with four of the other eight players at my table before and I had notes about their tendencies. When I sat down at the table, (this is online of course, so my avatar is shown as sitting down), I did not immediately start playing but instead waited until I was the big blind, BB, to start. The advantage of waiting until being the BB is that I can observe the action occurring at the table and plan my strategy accordingly.

I noticed a very aggressive big stack, $80 plus, just three seats to my left who almost always played every hand and always came in with a pot sized bet which caused most of the players to fold to him. This allowed him to win the blinds and limped in calls uncontested most of the time. If someone did call him, the aggressive player would usually bet about 1 1/2 to 2 times the pot size after the flop and take the pot without any further challenge to him.

When it was my turn to be the big blind, I was dealt a pair of pocket Aces, the best starting hand possible before the flop. Two players to my left folded but the aggressive player raised by betting the pot, $1.75.  Everyone folded to him and when it was my turn to bet,  I raised the pot to $5.00 and the aggressive player called for $3.25. The flop was 8s,Tc,6h and I bet the size of the pot or $10.25 and the aggressive player called. The turn card was a king of hearts. Again I bet as much as I could, less than half of the pot, which put me all in for my remaining $14.75. The aggressive player called. He turned over an A6 off suit. He had only a pair of sixes against my pair of aces. The river card was a 6, giving him three sixes or the best hand and the aggressive player won the pot containing $57.25 which included my entire stack and whatever he bet, less the rake that DoylesRoom took from the pot.

I bought in again for $30 and continued to play. I tried not to let the fact that I was called by a pair of sixes and my opponent got lucky and won in-spite of the poor starting cards he started the hand with. Sometimes large stack players will take risks thinking that the small stacks are trying to bluff them out of their winnings.

Overall, I played 122 more hands before leaving the table and session. I was able to win back most of the $30 I had lost from the aggressive player that initially had won my buy-in stack from me. I was not trying to beat him in particular but it just worked out that way. I left the table with $63.80 or $3.80 more than I started with. Considering what had happened in the first hand, I was satisfied to leave with more than I started with.

By the end of the session, I was able to tag him as a LAG or Loose and Aggressive player who would play just about any two cards, including pocket aces. He had pocket rockets in a three way pot in which all three players went all in. The aggressive player had AA, a small stack player had AK and a TAG or Tight and Aggressive player had Q5. The flop was Qd,Kd,5c. The turn card was an 8c and the river card was a 7s.The TAG player ended up having two pairs, queens and fives against the AA and KK and won a hugh pot of $112.

Do you play No Limit Hold ‘Em? Are you willing to risk your stack when you have a good hand but you have not seen the rest of the board cards? Do you move all in pre-flop? Post flop? Or at the turn or River? Do you only move all in when you know for certain that you cannot be beaten? How do you play No Limit?

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The usual suspects at the cash game table!

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After taking a week off from online poker and from blogging, I decided I was ready to go back to the cash games.

Lately, when ever I play at DoylesRoom.com, I study the table statistics prior to choosing which table I want to play at.  I look for the tables with the highest average pots per hand.

I believe that this gives me a chance to play at a table that has the loosest players, players that make bad decisions and are willing to give me their money. There is a danger that they may be too loose and will suck out with a poor hand and still beat me. But that is the risk I take for the rewards that I am after.

Last night’s table choice gave me 5 players that I have seen before and had notes about their style of play. I have been recently adding information if they play more than one table at a time. I call those type of players “MTP” or multiple table players.  There were a few of those at the table as well. We had the super stack players, those with more than $50, the medium stack players, those with $30 or so. The ones with $15 or less, I call the short stacks or “hit and run” players.

Most of the short stack players seem to play at the table for one reason only and that is to hit a pocket pair, shove their stack all in, hopefully win and then leave with their winnings. They seem to go from table to table with this plan. Most of these players are on more than one table until they hit their magic cards. I am not sure if this is even a profitable play, but they seem to do it like clockwork.

The super stack players seem to come in two types, the bully and the tight but passive player. Both  types were at my table last night. One even seemed to have read Doyle Brunson’s chapter on playing power poker from both of his super system books as the moves she made were right out of his book.

At tables with these type of players I try to play tight but aggressive. About two thirds of the time when I entered the pot with a hand, I would bet out with a pot sized bet.  About one third of the time I would try to limp in. Limping at this table did not work very well as the aggressive super stack player would raise about 3 times the pot size making it hard to call with anything other than pocket aces or kings. If the super stack was in the big blind, she would defend her blinds with bets of 3 to 5 times the pot size or even go all in, daring you to call her.

I started the session with a buy in of $30 and played  more than 200 hands during the course of the evening.  I had pocket aces twice during that session, winning only $6.00 with them. My most profitable hand was a pair of jacks that I slow played preflop and hit my set post flop. The super stack player raised to $5.50 or a pot size bet after the flop, the next player, a short stack, re-raised all in for 8.70 and I re-raised all in for my remaining 29. The aggressive super stack folded and I was heads up against the short stack player who turned over a pair of kings. The turn and the river improved my hand to a full house of jacks over fours, increaseing my stack by $16.00.

Overall, I left the table with $11 more than I started. It was such an active table that it was not easy to hang on to my chips. Overall, I was satisfied with my level of play but left knowing that I have to work on dealing with the aggressive super stack players. I suppose that one way to combat that is to enter the table with a larger stack.

Do you play No Limit Hold ‘Em cash games? Do you buy in at the  maximum allowed? Or the minimum? What is your cash game strategy?

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