Monday, January 31, 2005

Your Game: Position

In full ring games position is very important, in heads up it is almost as important as your cards. For some reason, people have a hard time truly understanding this concept, don’t be that guy.
Let me give you an example of the importance of position. Let’s say you are on the button, you raise, and your opponent calls. The flop comes and your opponent checks, which he will usually do if he is raised pre-flop. You then bet half to seventy five percent of the pot. Now what options does your out of position opponent have?
1) Check-fold
Many times your opponent won’t hit and will you have him beat. Depending on your opponent this is the move that a lot of players will make since a player will only hit the flop around 33% of the time. This means that on roughly 2/3 of the hands you raise, you have a good shot of picking up the pot on the flop since your opponent does not have a good enough hand to play.
2) Check-calling hoping for the best hand
Your opponent will also call and pray for the winning hand. This is a situation like Taylor wrote about in “Playing the blinds in NLHE,” where the out of position player hits something like an ace with a weak kicker and doesn’t want to build a big pot by raising. A lot of players will even start calling with bottom pair out of position if they feel like the button is playing very aggressive. However a call here usually means the player will check on the turn. This give the button 2 free cards to hit a hand or 2 scare cards to bluff on the river. Both of these are profitable options for the button.
3) Check-calling to bluff later
If your opponent knows you often bluff, he might call here and see what you do later. This is an advanced risky play that some players will use. However you need to see your opponent make this play before you start calling his big or river bet holding only second pair.
4) Check-raising min
If your opponent is not sure what you have or has you beat, sometimes he will check-raise you min. This gives the button pot odds to call with almost any draw. It also turns the out of position player into the aggressor so if the button does have a strong hand, he can expect to be bet into on the turn. This is a good option for the button because being the aggressor out of position is tricky to do. If your opponent check raises min out of position and then checks on the turn, this can be a pretty huge tell if you know your opponent. Also check raising min if done too often smells of a weak hand which of course can be bluffed out on a later street.
5) Check-raising pot
If a player hits a hand he might check-raise you pot. Now we are talking. If you can get your opponent to consistently check raise pot out of position when he hits top pair, you are setting yourself up for a big hand. After you have been check raised pot, you can obviously get away from bad hands or a bluff. However, if you do have that monster you are in a DOMINATING situation. There are so many ways to extract money here. You can call knowing there will be a huge bet on the turn, re-raise min which will either pot commit your opponent or get him to slide all-in, or go all-in yourself. Finally you can even call to bluff later if obvious the flush or straight comes. So many options when your opponent has put that money in the middle. This situation is what a heads up player lives for.

This is the first post in the Heads Up Doctrine under “Your Game.” Next time I will discuss how you procedurally use position to set up a big hand. I chose to talk about position first because if you don’t know why you are doing something, you won’t know when or how to adjust your game.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Playing the blinds in NLHE

One of the most important keys to success in no-limit holdem is knowing how to play when you are in the blinds. The primary reason that this spot is tricky is that the small blind and the big blind are the two worst positions at the table. You need to be able to make decisions about the strength of your hand, and how to play your hand, when you are the first person to act after the flop. This is not easy to do. Today I just wanted to go over a few things that I have learned in my experience of playing the blinds. These ideas will be particularly useful short-handed cash games, as you are constantly involved in playing the blinds.

The first type of situation comes when you are in the small blind. You hold something like A3 or A4. The guy on the button raises, and there is no one else in the hand. He has been raising every un-opened pot and you know he could hold any two cards. Every part of you believes that A4 is truly the best hand here. However, in my experience this just isn't the type of hand you want to call a raise with. When you call a raise with this hand, you basically need the Ace to come on the flop for you to have any type of hand. Thats 3 cards that help you on the flop. If this players is aggressive, you know he will bet on the flop regardless of what he has. If you don't flop an Ace, you really can't call him unless the flop was like 422 and you had the A4. Ok, say you get 'lucky' and the ace flops. Now you probably have the best hand, right? Well, you check the flop and as expected he bets. You like your hand so you call. Now the turn brings another card that doesn't hit your hand. You check again, and he bets even bigger. Well, what do you do now? You still 'probably' have the best hand. But it is very possible he could have an Ace and a higher kicker, made 2 pair, made a set, or could be bluffing. You want to call him here but it is very tough to continue with 1 pair, no kicker. This is why calling with a 'weak ace' preflop here is not a good play (if you think he is stealing, you are better off re-raising, and then betting big regardless of the flop). When you are playing the small blind/big blind to a late position raiser who is probably stealing, you want to call with hands that when you make your hand, you will be quite certain that it is the best hand. An example would be: any pocket pair, suited connectors (if you make a straight or flush it's pretty easy to know it's the best hand), Ace/Face card, or other hands like this. I would even rather play something like 9T or 9J than A2. Ax and Kx (when x is a small card) are just not good hands to be defending your blinds to late position raises.

The next situation I'd like to talk about is playing the big blind when it is just you and the small blind in the pot. This doesn't happen too often in a full ring game, but it happens in shorthand a lot. When everyone else folds and the small blind simply calls, you have to feel almost like 'you have the button now.' You get to act last on every street in this hand, including preflop. This is a HUGE advantage. You do not need a big hand to make the following play. If the SB just limps in, try raising 3x the blind. There is probably a 75% chance he will fold to this bet. On the flop he will probably check, and you should make a pot sized bet regardless. Unless this flop hit him hard, he will fold now. This play works great, and it also sets him up for when you pick up a monster on the BB. If you never made this play, what do you think he would do the first time you picked up AA in this situation? He would fold to your big raise. This would force you to limp in with AA here which would most likely just get you in trouble. So again, this play works well to steal a pot here and there, but also sets your opponent up for when you have a big hand. You should note that you should only do this about 1/3 of the time this situation comes up, as your opponents will start to realize it. But if you have a pocket pair, two high cards, two medium suited cards, or once in awhile two connected low cards, go ahead and make this play. You will be surprised at how well it works.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Flame out in Tunica

Wow. Disaster. I busted out of the main event in less than three hours in Tunica. It's been so painful that only now can I write about it. The worst part is that there is no one to blame but myself. The month leading up to this event all I did was play limit hold 'em. What the hell was I thinking? Do you play ping pong or racquetball before Wimbledon? This is not to insinuate that I think limit hold 'em is inferior to no limit but rather to point out that my preperation for this trip was lackluster at best. Of course, I ran into a road block no more than 5 hands into the tournament. At my first table were Josh Arieh, Hans 'Tuna' Lund, and Terrance Chan of RPG fame (super nice guy by the way). I haven't been too shy in the past about how I felt about Josh Arieh. At the WSOP the TV cameras picked up him giving me a hard time and he made some comments directed at me that the cameras didn't pick up. I've been the first to say on different forums that I thought Arieh was the best player at the final table (it would've been interesting if he would've won some coin flips towards the end). But, I wasn't planning on becoming buddies with him to say the least. Josh, though, was very nice as we exchanged pleasantries before the tournament. As far as I'm concerned the way he acted at the WSOP is water under the bridge. Oh yeah, back to the tournament. Somewhere around hand 5 Arieh raised my big blind of $50 to $125. I looked down at 3d 4d and decided to call. Arieh pretty much bullied me around at the WSOP so I decided to show him a new Matt Dean. The flop came out K 3 4 rainbow. Ship it! I checked, Arieh bet ($300?), and I raised him to $800. He called. The river was a 9 which I think put two clubs on the board (I should know this but I don't). I led out this time for $1000 which now seems smallish with only bottom two pair. Arieh calls. Of course, the river puts a king on the board and I can only imagine what my face looked like. I wasn't wearing my sunglasses so I'm sure I looked white as a ghost. I check-folded to a $1500 bet by Arieh. As I went to turn my cards over Arieh said, "3, 4?". Well...yeah, Josh....3 4. I wonder if Arieh was up to his old tricks calling for a miracle gutshot with A2 or A5? Oh well, we'll never know. Especially, since I looked as though I saw a ghost and it never, ever crossed my mind to bet the river. I must have gone on tilt because I didn't play very well from there on. I got involved in one pot about an hour into the tournament with 77. The board of JJJ45 was nice but JQ liked it better taking another chunk out of my stack. With blinds so low I shouldn't have been desparate with $4500 in chips but when you are on tilt you want to chase your losses. That's probably why I thought TT was the nuts and ran it straight into AA to end my tournament in about 460th place out of 512. I'm not very proud of my effort. But, I am going to work even harder to improve my game. Results don't just come to you because you think you deserve them.

Heads Up Doctrine

Heads up no limit hold em might be the most profitable type of game found in online poker rooms today. Heads up is also arguably the most exciting form of poker played today. If you have played heads up once, you know what I mean. The reason for this is that you play every single hand, and if you don’t, new cards are immediately dealt. Going from a ten person table in a casino to heads up online, a player can see as much as 20 times as many hands. Traversing from the live ring game where the strategy is to fold and wait for premium hands, to heads up where the play is almost opposite, can be like going from jumping on a trampoline to base jumping off an 80 story building. The games require two different plans of attack and most players do not truly realize this difference. This is why the most important aspect of heads up, the long term expected value, is a reality. If you have a sound game plan and are open to adjusting your play based on your opponent, you can consistently have an edge against most heads up players you come across.
My posts on this site will break down heads up in a logical way thus teaching solid hold em players to be winning heads up players. First I will write posts about “Your Game,” which will be an in-depth model of the tendencies and thought process of a successful heads up player. These posts will cover pre-flop, post flop, turn, and river action. This segment will also talk about overall goals and present a philosophy behind every move and decision made at the table. After mastering this information, you should be able to critically analyze every decision you make playing heads up as well as relate that decision to your overall strategy.
My next series of posts, “Adapting to Others” is the counterpart to the first section. An example of which can be found by reading my “Heads up Profile: Tight Passive” post. In heads up, almost as important as how you play, is the image you have of your opponent and how you change your game accordingly. This section dissects some of the most common heads up player types and gives you a strategy to beat them as well as reasoning behind this strategy. Never will you be able to learn a player’s tendencies so quickly as in heads up, and this section gives you a name to put behind those tendencies and then a way to beat them. At the conclusion of this topic, there will even be examples that will quiz you by giving game situations using everything presented by they posts thus far. After this segment you should be able to put players in categories based on the player profiles and adapt “Your Game” according to those profiles.
The third segment entitled “Logistics” is the most underrated topic in poker because it discusses many of the unseen parts of poker that have a huge impact at the table. These parts include the amount of your bankroll, the game you choose, what tables to sit at and when to leave, as well as how to handle tilt or the emotional swings of heads up. While this topic will be posted after the substantive part of heads up, it should be taken just as seriously. Many great poker players have lost bankrolls because of problems with logistics.
The final posts on heads up will wrap up the previous three segments in a conclusion that will help you remember the important themes and give you final instructions for implementing them in your game.
If you can understand and master these topics on heads up, as well as handle all the intangibles such as handling bad beats, managing a bankroll, and knowing your limits; you can easily beat heads up games of almost all levels found online today. The information in these posts was forged from hard earned lessons and countless hours of study and debate. However they also come from great success. I hope you will join me in the study of heads up no limit hold em and please don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

$2000 Tourney in Tunica

Well, I just recently got knocked out in 70th place at the $2000 no-limit event at the WPO in Tunica, MS. I'm now 0 for 4 in tournaments on the trip with only the $3000 no-limit event and the $10,000 main event to go. Everyone started the tournament with $2000 in chips and blinds started at $25-$25. 369 people entered and 36 got paid. I didn't play a pot for a while and was blinded down to $1850 when I got a free look at a flop from the BB with 10 3 offsuit. The flop came 10 5 3 rainbow and I slowplayed it enough to extract about $500 from one player. He said a couple hours later that he had KK so possibly I could have gotten more out of the hand but my stack was at $2300 about a half-hour into the tournament and I was feeling good. Later I got TT, raised in middle position to $125 (blinds still $25-$25) and got one caller on the button. I led out for $225 on a flop of 9 5 3 rainbow and was quickly called. I figured the guy would raise with a hand that could beat me like JJ, QQ, KK, or AA and that if he had flopped a set he would have taken a little more time calling me if he was going to slowplay. I put him on a hand like 66, 77, 88, or maybe A9. I checked when a 7 came on the turn to see what he would do. He led out of $400 and I decided then and there that I had the best hand. Sometimes you can't put a finger on it exactly but it didn't feel like he had a set right there so I raised to $1000 total. He called the extra $600 fairly quickly and I started to second guess myself. When a 2 hit the river I couldn't believe it. Not a bad board for a guy holding TT huh? This is where I made a huge mistake though! I was totally committed to the hand (my opponent had only $800 left) but I only bet $500 on the river into a huge pot. My opponent again called quickly and tapped the table when I showed my tens. He turned a 9 face up and tossed his cards in the muck. But, I left him with $300 in chips and that would come back to haunt! Why not just push him all-in? Well, to be honest I wasn't paying close enough attention to how much he had left. I definitely wanted him to call me on the river but if he was going to call $500 he almost certainly would have put his last $800 in also. Nevermind that for now, I had doubled up and was feeling pretty good. I played very tight for the next hour or two and didn't make a move at one pot, of course, I wasn't getting any cards. A very aggresive kid at my table on my right who had been raising a lot of pots came in for another raise midway throught the third round and I looked down to see Ah 10h. Since I hadn't done a thing for a long time I figured the table would let me have a hand so I reraised to $1000. Oops, the table folded to the kid on my left who moved all-in for another $925. So, I had to put $925 into a pot that would contain $4000 ($100 BB, $50 SB, my $1000, his $1000, his $925 more, and my $925 more if I called). $925/$4000 is 23.125% (which I literally calculated while making my decision). So I would have to win the hand 23.125% of the time to make this a profitable call. It seems like an easy call when I put it that way but I wasn't so sure. There was a great chance that the kid had an Ace with a better kicker which would put me in bad shape. But, I'm still going to win 30% of the time vs. AK offsuit whether or not he has the King of hearts. He could easily have a hand like JJ, QQ, or KK, but even then I still have about a 30% change of winning. Of course, if he has AA then it's time to cry. But, the thing that caused me the most torment is the fact that in a tournament every chip is precious. Did I want to throw away another $925 when I knew I was behind (he re-re-raises one of the tightest players at the table!)? I finally decided that although it was almost certain I was behind that I just had to call with that much in the pot. I wasn't surprised when he showed me JJ, just a little sad. But, low and behold a beautiful Ace appeared on the turn and I was up to $6000! Ship it! I lost about half of my stack later, though, when I pushed my JJ up against QQ on a flop of 752 with two diamonds. Shock of all shocks it was the guy who I could have eliminated who had come back from the dead to cripple me! Well, I wasn't exactly crippled but I didn't see many hands after that and was forced to play a short stack the rest of the tournament. The end finally came when I moved all-in from the cut-off for my last $2600 with A9 offsuit. The button thought and thought and then called with KJ of spades (leaving him with about $500 chips left). I couldn't believe he called off almost his whole stack off with only King high but just as I was patting myself on the back for my good fortune a King hit the flop and sent me packing. Oh well, there's always tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Hand at the Mirage

Recently I played a hand at the Mirage in Las Vegas that I want to share. I was playing in the $2/$5 no-limit game and had approximately $600 in front of me. Under the gun I was dealt As Kd and raised to $40. The game had been pretty loose and pre-flop raises had ranged anywhere from $25-$50 usually. A very tight player across the table from me called the raise as did the BB who was a calling station. The flop came Qd Jd Td which was a pretty good flop for me but also very dangerous. The calling station led out for $75 from the BB and I decided it was best to just call with my straight and see what the tight player across from me did. The tight player thought for a moment, called time, and then raised it to $225 ($150 more). The calling station disgustedly folded while muttering to himself and that left me with a huge decision. Whenever anyone calls time there is usually big trouble. The raiser only had $75 left in front of him and I had him covered. The raiser was obviously going to put in his last $75 unless it was a complete bluff so I was going to have to invest another $225 if I wanted any chance of winning the pot. If we both got our money in there would be $800 in the pot ($40 preflop + $40 preflop + $40 proflop + $5 SB + $75 on the flop + $75 on the flop + $225 on the flop + $75 the raiser's remaining chips + $225 I would have to invest to stay in the hand). So I had to put $225 into a $800 pot. I'd need an expected value of at least 28% to stay in the hand. Most people at the table thought I should fold the hand since the player was very tight and unlikely to raise without a flush. I approached the hand from a slightly different angle though. The player across from me was very tight. So, what hands could he be calling me with preflop that would give him a flush? The Kd was in my hand and the Qd, Jd, and Td were on the board. For him to have the nut flush he would have to have Ad xd. This guy seemed too tight to be calling $40 raises with Ad xd. 9d 8d was a possibility also but I had put this guy on a bigger hand. The hand that came to my head was Ad with a K offsuit. With that hand he knew I couldn't have the nut flush because he held the Ad and he knew I was a solid player who raised under the gun. He knew I wouldn't raise UTG with Kd xd. Now that I put him on Ad Ko what do I do? The best I could do is split the pot unless I caught my miracle 9d. I quickly figured that he had 7 outs to win the hand, while I had 1 out to win the hand. 7 outs twice is approximately 28%. I figured 28% of the time I'd win nothing. About 68% of the time I'd win $400 (half the pot) and 4% of the time I'd win $800. Without doing the math I knew the expected value was much more than what I needed to call (It's actually $304 when I only have to put in $225). I then pushed him all-in for his last $75 because I figured that money was going to get in the middle anyways. He actually laughed at me as he flipped up Ad 2d. My read was dead wrong! I was dead to one out. For me the story ends happily as the turn brought the beautiful 9d. Ship it! The other player kicked a chair on his way out of the poker room saying that the game must be rigged. I really did feel a little sorry for him but not enough to give him his money back. I mean who calls my raise with Ad 2d? Just kidding. Some would say the lesson is not to overthink the hand (I mean the guy did raise into a very dangerous board after calling 'Time') but I'm happy with my decisions. What do you think?

Heads Up Player Profile

The following post deals with heads up play. While every heads up player in nl hold em is different, most fall into some type of general category. While it is important to realize that players can change gears for various reasons, knowing a player's style and category will lead to a strong feel of a players tendencies and capabilities. Beating a player heads up is all about minimizing strengths and attacking weaknesses. After all, everyone gets the same cards in the long run.

Name: Tight Passive

Playing Style: This player only raises with strong starting hands. Even though all good hands are even more powerful heads up, this player will only raise pot preflop with AA-TT or AK-AJ(s). This player does not like to be raised and usually won’t call raises preflop unless you start raising consistently and he feels run over. If this player had it his way, he would play an opponent where 50 percent of the hands were checked to the river and high card won.

: This player’s strength is in his patience and hand selectivity. This player can get into the habit of folding but makes his money back and more on one big pot. His bread and butter is the big pots where he has a monster and the aggressor has a decent/good hand.

Weakness: This player gets run over by an aggressive player. He is constantly leaking money from stolen blinds. He will not call a bet unless he has a hand either pairs or drawing. He is also poor at deception. If he raises a raise or even bets, he has a hand. This player also typically gets tired of being run over and starts playing poorly by calling raises out of position. Then he might start to believe that everything is a bluff and overplay pairs. However, still be very wary of a re-raise or large bet.

Plan of Attack: Although overstated, this player can be beat by raising preflop on the button 60-80% of the time and then betting the amount of the preflop raise on the flop. Do not call re-raises without a monster. Beat him without showing down. If you feel like he is starting to get rattled and starts calling more hands preflop out of position, start under-betting when you have a huge hand to induce the bluff. In this case he might raise with a middle pair or drawing hand. However, bottom line, patiently raise and steal small pots and don’t call his bets to win. This is a great player to consistently win money off of.

Notes: When you identify this type of player notice what he does with his monsters. Most of these players like to raise with them but some like to check/call and induce your bluff. If you see him doing this, only fire one bullet in a hand when it is called. That is of course unless you have a hand.


Hi, my name is Lloyd McGuire and thanks for checking us out. This site has three posters: Matt Dean(7th WSOP), Taylor Caby(highly successful online cash player), and myself(funding law school from online poker). We will be posting about many aspects about texas hold em from heads up play to WSOP final table stories. Not much has been written about heads up play in nl texas hold em but it can be very profitable. Not only are most hands heads up after the flop but tournaments always come down to heads up. So whether you are playing .10/.25 nl heads up at Ultimate Bet or trying to win the WSOP, the info you learn here will give you an edge.