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Poker Strategy

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Game Selection

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Game selection is very important in poker and this is especially true as the number of players decreases at a table. At a full table if there is one really bad player the benefits of his lack of skill will be shared by the entire table. At the other end of the spectrum is heads up play where 100% of the equity an opponent gives up will go straight to you.

Additionally, at a full table it will take more time to reap the benefits of playing against a bad player because everyone plays so many fewer hands with more people at a table, and thus there are fewer occasions when you and the bad player are in the pot together where you are earning money because of his mistakes. Of course, the opposite is true and if you are the inferior player in a heads‐up match you will lose your money faster. Therefore, especially in heads‐up play, it is important to find the good tables and to leave the bad ones alone.

Just how important this is, is obscured by the idea of win rates. Take the amount of money won and divide by hours played and this is your hourly rate. It is helpful information but it is an aggregate of other information, and thus misrepresents what really happened. It can be used productively, but must also be used carefully. This is because the notion of “hourly rate” makes it look like for every hour played the expected value was the stated amount, and that for any given hour in the future the same expected win rate holds true.

Texas Hold'em Tournament Tips

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Avoid Drawing Hands
Suited cards and connected cards are less valuable in a tournament than they are in a ring game. In a tournament, if you lose all your chips you are eliminated. Your chance of winning becomes zero. Not so in a ring game where if you miss a few of your draws you simply reach into your pocket and get out more money. In a tournament, you want to have the best hand right now or you want to be bluffing. You do not want to turn into a calling station. In tournaments, bluff or have the best hand, but avoid drawing hands like the plague. It is not unusual to miss three or four drawing hands in a row. In a ring game this is OK, but in a tournament you are eliminated. Good drawing hands are high variance. This means that although they are profitable in the long run, they will result in big swings over the short term. If one of those down swings breaks you, then you are out of the tournament.

As the Tournament Progresses, Players Get Tighter
In the early stages of a tournament, players have a lot of chips relative to the size of the antes or blinds. Consequently, the fear of going broke and being eliminated is not all that immediate. Most players will be playing their usual ring game style. As the tournament progresses, the size of the blinds and antes gets bigger and bigger to the point at which they feel oppressive. The fear of going broke becomes very immediate. Players get scared. When they get scared, they tighten up. They play fewer hands.

Practical Tips for Tournament Play

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Protect your hand
It should go without saying that you must ensure that no one else can see your cards. Even at huge buy-in events, you see people who do not know how to look at their cards without showing them to their neighbors.

Practice protecting your cards by sitting around a table with a friend and taking turns looking at your hands. Have your friend sit on either side of you so he can tell you if there is any angle at which he can sit and see your hand. If he can see your hand, you aren't looking at it correctly. Practice different ways of looking at your hand until you get it right.

I should also talk about using card protectors to cover your cards once you look at them. Card protectors, when used by nonthinking opponents, can lead to hugely profitable tells. Some players always cover their hand when they plan on playing it and some only cover monster hands. I suggest not using a card protector. I never have and never will. As I mentioned before, anything extra you do can give away information.

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Poker Winners Focus on Power

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Poker is all about picking on the weak. It may be weak hands, weak players, or just weak play (Barry Shulman).

You may dislike Barry Shulman’s position because picking on the weak seems immoral, and it’s certainly not chivalrous. If it bothers you, poker may be the wrong game for you, but Barry accurately described its essential nature. It’s predatory, but so is life in general. The strong eat the weak everywhere, not just at the poker table. Winners recognize that reality, while losers deny, minimize, or ignore it.

Because they are so competitive and realistic, winners focus on power, not luck, justice, morality, personal relationships, or fairness. Poker and life are “unfair.” The best poker player doesn’t always win, nor does the one who “deserves” it for other reasons. Cancer, traffic accidents, and other tragedies happen to wonderful people, while drunken wife beaters win the lottery. That’s the way poker and life are, and you should accept and cope with that painful reality.

Winners constantly strive to increase their power, aka their edge. They want the best seat in the best game, and they wait until they have the right cards and situation. Your edge shifts constantly. You may have had an edge moments ago, but it can disappear immediately. Winners always want to know how strong their position is now.

All-in Odds

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Particularly if you are a no-limit hold 'em player, and especially for tournaments, you need to know the odds of many heads-up all-in confrontations.
Often in no-limit tournaments, you will be faced with a decision as to whether or not you should bet or call when doing so would either put you or your opponent all-in. Forget about implied odds or reverse implied odds, you usually know the exact pot odds you are facing. Now all you need to know is the hand you are facing. These confrontations often occur before the flop. Card combination odds are important to your analysis. But maybe the most important knowledge is how certain hole cards match up vs. other certain hole cards when they are going to be played all the way to the river.

Rebuy Tournaments

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So you might remember we mentioned earlier that the great thing about a tournament is that you know exactly how much money you’re risking up front, and that no matter how badly you play, you can’t lose more than your initial buy-in? Well that’s true for freezeouts, but there is another tournament format that gives you the opportunity to gamble a bit more, and potentially win – or lose – more money.

A rebuy tournament effectively gives you extra lives for more money. So, when you bust your initial chipstack – or dip to a pre-agreed amount, say 50% of your stack – you can buy back in for another stack. And another. And another. Some rebuys limit you to two or three stacks, but the most common format is where you’re allowed unlimited rebuys for a set period (generally the first hour) after which you get the option to add on another set amount of chips regardless of your stack size, before the tournament moves into a standard freezeout mode. Here, as in a standard tournament, once you’re out, you’re out for good.

SNG: Hand Odds

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A very common misunderstanding that most novices confuse is the power of aggression vs. playing passive. Aggression is good as long as there is fold equity. Fold equity is a way of saying that if you raise with a hand, there is a chance the opponent will fold. So your odds of winning a pot if you raise or make the first bet, is the fold equity + the chance you will actually win if you are called. This is very important for the SNG player. Remember, you need an edge. If everyone plays the same ABC poker, you will lose on average 1 buy-in per tourney played.

The second issue most players have is a misunderstanding of the decent strength of any 2 cards. What do I mean by this? Basically 72o vs AK is not that big of an underdog. This is a very important concept to understand to be a winner at SNG’s. I’m not saying its not an underdog – just that its not as big of an underdog as many players think. People think that if someone pushes all-in with 72o, and they get called by someone with AKo, that the AK is a guarunteed winner. Sure enough the 7/2 comes and the guy with AK is babbling about how online poker is rigged. AK has an edge but not that big of an edge. So – before you go raising all-in with 72o– remember that I’m not recommending this. In fact in our strategy there are occasions when this is ok – but these will be addressed. Don’t take this too the extreme and start playing super aggressive. That is dumb and you will lose in the long run. We only bring this up because many players would NEVER go all-in or call all-in with 72o. You must start to understand odds and how these affect your decisions. For starters, you must understand these initial odds for common drawing hands and allin type hands.

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