Friday, July 4, 2008

The Turn - Where The "Truth" Is Normally Told In No Limit Holdem

Nothing is 100% in poker, but there are certain “poker truths” that you need to pay attention to. When I refer to “poker truths” I’m talking about something that’s true more than it is false. That’s as close as you can get in this game.

The “poker truth” I want to discuss today is this: "When a player shows aggression on the turn, they usually have a strong hand."

What this means is, more often than not, against an average player, you’ll know where you stand on the turn.

Let’s look at couple of typical situations where your hand is disguised:

Example 1: You get a strong hand, AKs, in LP and put in a 3xBB raise. You get two callers. The flop misses you, Q93 rainbow, it’s checked around and you put in a continuation bet of ½ the pot. How does this bet look to your opponents?

Example 2: Now let’s say that the flop hit you, K93, it’s checked around and you put in a bet of ½ the pot. How does this bet look to your opponents?

The answer is; these two bets look exactly the same. It is hard for your opponents to know what they’re up against. Now take example 1 and replace the AK with another monster, 72 off. Even though you really only have 72o, to your opponents the bet looks exactly the same.

My point here is not to raise with any two cards (though you can in the right situation), but is to point out that it is on the flop that hands are most easily disguised. This is where deception can be very useful. This is where you can often “represent” a hand and get away with it.

The Turn:
The turn is where things get clearer. Fewer players are willing to continue, at the risk of losing more chips, their bluff on the turn. Therefore, more often than not, if they bet, they have a legitimate hand. So move forward cautiously when faced with a turn bet.

An even bigger risk is calling a raise on the turn. A lot of players wait until the turn to raise their monster hands, hoping to get extra chips on the flop with a slow play. If you run into a turn raise after a relatively quiet flop you should be very cautious moving forward, there’s an extremely good chance you’ll need better than top pair to win this hand.

That pattern of smooth calling a flop bet or raise and raising the turn is almost always going to be trouble. Very few players make this move without a big hand.

According to some statistics I found that were compiled from the poker-tracker stats of several on-line players (100,000+ hands). A turn raiser goes on to win the hand 63% of the time. Even more glaring than that is 71% of turn check-raisers go on to win the hand! The data also shows that turn check-raises are generally playing 2 pair or better. So think hard before calling with just top pair.

That doesn’t mean you should automatically fold your top pair to a raiser. If you’re heads up against a loose raiser or someone who regularly bets their draws, then your top pair may very well be good for a call or re-raise. But, if you’re against a tight raiser or if someone raised after multiple players have called bets, you’re top pair is not good, so dump it.

Another problem with calling raises on the turn is that you often end up calling the river. A good rule of thumb when deciding whether to call a turn bet is to include a river bet in your odds calculation. So if you need to call 2 bets into a 10 bet pot (giving you 5-1 odds) you should also add a couple bets for the river (2.5-1 odds) which suddenly makes a lot of calling situations folding situations.

Because the turn is where the “truth” is generally told, it’s a good place for you to make some advanced plays at the pot. A turn raise or check raise bluff is very powerful in the right situations, mostly heads up. Just make sure you have a good read on your opponent and don’t get carried away. These are great moves in moderation.

In my opinion, the turn is the toughest street to play in Texas Holdem. Making the right moves here is what will ultimately make you a winning player. So going forward, before quickly calling turn bets and raises, ask yourself a few questions that may help you define your opponent’s hand.

What types of hands would he have where he would smooth call the flop and raise the turn? Two pair? A set? Does the board complete a draw?

What types of hands would he need to bet the flop and continue on the turn? Top pair? A big draw? Overs?

First and foremost you should trust your reads and knowledge of your opponents, but when that’s not enough, trust the turn.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Online Poker can be profitable, but be sure to choose the right table!


As a general rule, 6-8 players with a fairly large average pot size.

With most online poker sites you can see the average pot size and how many players are seeing the flop. Large pots are better as this generally means more loose players, playing no limit I'm looking to win big hands when I've got the nuts, not to grind down opponents by blind stealing and small pot stealing. I avoid most really tight games, rocks are boring and unprofitable typically. No limit is about getting paid off when you hit your monster, not stealing blinds all day.

A good table for me is one that is loose, but that is also not overly aggressive. I'm looking for a lot of players limping or calling small raises pre-flop.

2. The average number of players seeing the flop...

If you can see the average # of players seeing the flop, this is a hugely vital stat to use. Lower limits you can easily find something around 35-40%, which is pretty darn loose. Find this stat and then get one with a higher than average pot.

Sites like Bodog and will show you how many players are seeing the flop on average. I look for games with high averages seeing the flop, anything over 40% is usually good and very easy to find online.

The majority of times this makes for a good table as a tight aggressive player will play between 20% and 35% of any given hands on average, and in my opinion 35% is loooooose.

3. Watch the Button go around the table at least once - and pay attention!

Now that you've found a table with numbers that look pretty good its time to actually take a quick overhead view of the table and see what happens. Open up the table but do not sit down, or if you want you can sit down but not take your cards yet. If you are playing at Poker Stars, here is a screen shot of the table.

Take an open seat and pay attention! Watch the button go all the way around the table and take an initial assement of the table. Here are the things to look for:

A. Players limping and then calling a late position raise with weak holdings (hands like KQo, KJo, KTo, and other dominated hands like QJ (this is a good sign)

B. Look around the table at the current stack sizes - normally avoid tables where more than 3 players have 3 to 4 times the maximum buy in amount. These players can easily push me out of pots or have me committed early. They also might be solid players. (bad sign)

C. Take notice of the cards people are showing down. Look for weak holdings outside of the blinds offsuit small one gappers, Ace rag unsuited, and the plethora of other bad cards people play with. (more junk the better)

D. Take notice of who raises and who calls raises - are premium hands raised huge or limped with and are other players calling raises with weak holdings (good)

E. Any Maniacs at the table? - is there a crazy bettor or people who seem to be out to hit miracle cards by calling big bets? (good depending on seat) If you can get position on them (acting afterwards) you can get paid off when you hit a monster against them. The only problem is that you almost have to hit your hand to beat this player so you need to also feel confident that they will also pay you off when you do.

F. Who are the two worst players at the table? (can't tell? BAD) Pick out two players that are playing weak and have made mistakes. See who is playing really loose, who is playing really tight.

G. Look for players making small raises (1-2x the BB) with premium hands or even slow playing. (good, probably inexperienced players)


A. This means sitting directly to the left of the Maniacs and the other Big Stacks so you always act after them. If you have a big hand you have the option to disguise it by letting them bet it for you. If you have a weak hand you can let it go fairly easily.

B. Give up position to short stacks/tight players - no problem letting the act after you if they are only going to play strong hands or not get involved often.

If you find the right combination of table factors and good relative seat then snag it! Since you've been watching the action already you can post as soon as you sit down if you want. This helps portray a loose image. If the big blind is 4 seats or less away from me I'll wait and post as soon as I sit down, although I sometimes post right away to make people think I'm loose.


Nothing is worse than staying at a bad table. Many times you'll find yourself sitting at a table with a bunch of tight and aggressive players. Unless you are wanting to work on your game, get up and move and go make money. Don't think that you've got something to prove.


I logged on to Party Poker yesterday to play a tourney with some friends and there were over 70,000 players playing right then. You'll probably never see a player again but if you find anyone who is horrible, take a note and especially when you find the good players, make a note. It could save you your stack later.

I recommend reading through Full Tilt Poker Download Guide for a step by step tutorial on setting a your online poker account. This is a great resource for new players.

Thanks and we'll see you at the tables!


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

AK - The Misplayed Monster

Ace King – How To Play The Misplayed Monster

Tell me if this sounds familiar; “I can’t win with AK”, “I had big slick, I can’t believe you beat me with that!”, etc., etc. etc.

AK is a very strong hand, however it can and does get beginners in trouble. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that AK is the most misplayed hand in No-Limit Poker.

The Strength of AK
AK is a monster hand. According to Poker Room’s Expected Value (EV) calculator AK suited is the 5th strongest hand (behind AA, KK, QQ & JJ), and AK off-suit is the 7th strongest (behind TT).

There is absolutely no doubt that AK is a positive EV hand. That’s pretty much in line with what all the Poker books teach as well.

The strength of this hand is that when it hits, more often than not, you’re going to have the best hand. Of course there will be the suck outs even when it does hit, but that’s the nature of the game. Most of the time when you pair you’re Ace or King, you’ll go on to win the hand. The other thing that makes this hand strong is that when it doesn’t hit, it’s easy to get away from, or should be. I’ll touch on this more in a minute.

The Weakness of AK
AK is very pretty to look at, but it is still a drawing hand. If you don’t hit an Ace or King, you’ve just got Ace high. Unfortunately many new (and not so new) players get sucked in by its beauty and just can’t seem to let it go, even when it doesn’t hit. How many times have you seen a player call to the river and turn over and AK that didn’t hit?

Another weakness is that you’re mostly playing for top pair top kicker (TPTK). You can only make one straight and most of the time your flush draw won’t hit. Because of this, it’s not a hand that plays well against multiple players.

We’ve established the obvious, that AK is a big hand. We’ve also established that it’s lack of draws make it weaker against multiple players (but still strong enough to play). So this tells us that we need to raise with AK.

Until the game is heads up at the final table, see very few situations where limping with AK is justified. I understand the whole “mix up your game” theory, but save it for another hand. AK NEEDS to be raised or re-raised pre-flop.

With AK you will miss the flop 66% of the time (against 3 limpers), but on those hands where you hit, you want to be isolated as much as possible and you want the pot as big as possible. Let’s do the math.

I’m assuming equal bets to keep the math simple. If you limp with AK vs. three limpers you will win 4 Bets 33% of the time (ignoring post-flop). It costs you one bet each time, for a net 1 bet per 3 hands or 0.33 bets per hand.

By raising, 33% of the time you win 8 bets, costing you 2 bets each for a net of +2 bets per 3 hands or 0.66sb per hand. So, by not raising in this situation your EV per hand goes down by 0.33 bets.

This is obviously very simplistic and it doesn’t take into account the additional EV you get by folding your opponents, but it still illustrates the point. This is not a hand to limp with.

How to Play AK When It Hits
This is the easy part. BET IT! How much you bet is dependent on the texture of the flop of course. If there are draws that can hurt you, bet more. If there aren’t any obvious draws, bet what you need to and maximize your winnings. Easy, right?

How to Play AK When it Misses
I spent some time on pre-flop play, but frankly most of the problems players have with AK are not related to pre-flop play. They have a problem because when they miss the flop, they play it like they have a real hand instead of just Ace high. This is where players get into trouble.

So how should you play your AK if it misses? Well, it depends. (That’s the answer for most poker questions, isn’t it?) It depends on your position, number and type of opponents, and the exact texture of the flop, among other things. This is a fairly complex topic and there are no exact approaches, but there are some general rules that will save you some chips.

Please commit this to memory: Just because you raised pre-flop does not mean you are obligated to bet the flop.

A continuation bet (a flop bet following a pre-flop raise) is very powerful and should be used, but the situation has to be right. One thing to keep in mind is that you do not want to bet into a large field from early position.

With several players to act after you, generally the best approach is to check and either fold to a big bet or call a small bet if you have the odds to draw to your over cards and the texture of the flop is favorable. Mostly you’ll want to fold.

There are situations where you’ll want to bet. You want to bet your unimproved AK on the flop if any 2 of these conditions exist (#1 being the most important)

.1. You are up against 2 or less opponents (that are not calling stations!).

2. You are in late position and it is checked to you

3. The board is rainbow and uncoordinated

4. You have additional draws to go with your over cards

I’m sure there are other times when it would be smart to bet, but these are the general rules I follow (try to follow).

Don't get married to over cards. If they don’t hit on the flop, chances are, even if you hit, you’re going to be second best. Trying to push through several opponents with only over cards is a good way to lose a lot of chips. Remember, AK is profitable, in part, because it is easy to fold.