Ace Speaks Online 04: Making the transition from live to online

I analyzed some of the necessary adjustments for those who are used to playing online, and who now also want to become successful playing live. Today, I will discuss those who move into the opposite direction, the people who have quite a bit of experience in brick and mortar cardrooms, and who now want this same kind of success playing online. For them, the following things are very important:

Be aware of the technical possibilities

Those who are new to Internet play are unlikely to get the most out of it immediately. While almost all good online players know how to get the most out of the lobby (to search for the most profitable tables and / or the worst opposition), the notes possibility (meaning they can quickly analyze one’s strengths and weaknesses, and attach this analysis to this specific player for future use), and also of excellent programs like Poker Tracker, where you can not only analyze your own game, but also that of all players you have ever played against – while experienced online players know how to do all this, those who are new often fail to use these kinds of features properly. It should be clear that when the opposition is getting the most out of things while you are not, that you are at a distinct disadvantage, and for quite a few players who are new to playing on the Net, it may take a very long time to get accustomed to all of these possibilities.

Be aware of the limitations as well

While an important part of the good players’ edge in live games comes from finding a good seat and from having good reads based upon a “feel” or upon tells that their opponents may give away, online these possibilities do not exist – or not to the same degree. In order to become successful online, you will have to try to play your hands well in general, and only make adjustments when your notes on, or your knowledge of, any specific player tells you that deviating from the usually correct strategy may now be recommended. While in live poker you would almost always base your decisions on strength that you feel in your opponent based upon what you see, online your read on opponents is simply a lot less reliable, meaning that deviations from the ‘normal’ proper play (that are a large part of the good players’ profit in live games) are less likely to have a positive effect on your results here.

Learn to adjust to the speed

This is a related subject. While in live games, the good players have all the time to focus on their opponents’ habits and tendencies (because the pace of the game is much slower, because people move in and out of games not nearly as often, and because you receive far less hands per hour than online), online things go much quicker. You get to play many more hands, people move in and out of the game at rapid pace, and with the large player base at most poker sites, it is hard to get to know every one of them – like you would in almost all but the very largest B&M cardrooms. As a new player, it is best to get accustomed to this new situation by starting out with playing on one table only, in order to make the transition as smoothly as possible. Once you feel comfortable with the new situation and know how to get the most out of things, then it may be time to try to improve your total hourly rate by adding a second or even a third table. What you should do is try to still make the best possible decisions despite the high speed and the inevitable loss of information that you will experience. Of course, the best way to do this is exactly the same as in live poker: through focus, discipline and complete dedication.

Some final words

As some of you may know, I have been going through this exact same process during the past couple of months. Even though I used to write for a lot of sites, I did not actually play much online: My main strength used to be playing the relatively large cash games in regular casinos. In the winter of 2004, I decided it was time to try to become the best possible player online too. So, I did the exact same things mentioned above. I started out slowly by playing in some very small games to get used to the graphics, the technical possibilities and the large number of hands per hour. When I proved successful in these small games, I started moving up gradually, and when I proved successful there too, I slowly started adding a second table. I still think that there’s lots of room for improvement left, and I am certain that it will take me at least one or two years to get the same kind of edge online that I have live. Having said that, I am simply giving things my all to get everything out of it what’s there – basically the same as I have always done playing live. Now, if you do things the same way I do, you will probably find that the transition is not nearly as hard as you thought it would be.

The ‘Other’ Games of Poker: 5 Card Draw

Whether it was at your Grandma’s kitchen table, in your neighbor’s smoky, beer-drenched basement, or behind the bleachers at St. Patrick Junior High School, 5 card draw was the first poker game most of us learned to play. Back when Chris Moneymaker and Daniel Negreanu were still in diapers, draw poker was the game du jour and Southern California’s card rooms were its thriving epicenter. These days, one is more likely to hear the phrase “draw is dead.” However, with the addition of 5 card draw ring games on Poker Stars and other rooms, this old-fashioned form of poker is gaining new life online.

Rules

Online 5 card draw games are played six-handed with a button, a small blind, and a big blind. Limit, pot-limit and no-limit structures are all available. Each player is dealt five down cards to start and may call, raise, or fold their hand. After the first betting round’s action is complete, each player, beginning with the small blind, may draw from one to five new cards. There is another post-draw round of betting, followed by a showdown. The player with the best five card high hand wins the pot.

Simple enough, right? Kind of like video poker? Wrong.

Basic Strategy/Starting Hands

The number one mistake 5 card draw players make is playing too many hands. Tight is right in this game. Playing small pairs and drawing hands will only bleed your bankroll. If you’re looking to blow off steam or let your inner poker maniac out, consider 2-7 triple draw or pot-limit Omaha. 5 card draw rewards patient players. But don’t worry – there are plenty of people out there playing that don’t even understand the basics. With one or two of them at the table, 5 card draw can be a surprisingly profitable endeavor.

Always consider your position when deciding to enter the pot. Think limit hold’em in the pre-draw round– if you’re the first one in the pot, come in for a raise and represent strength early. Limping invites more limping. Raise instead and narrow the field. From early position (UTG and UTG+1) you’re looking for at least a pair of aces or kings to open. In the cutoff, with the action folded to you, Q-Q or J-J become viable starting hands. On the button, add T-T and 9-9 if they come with decent kickers (T-T-A-J-8= good. 9-9-4-5-6= not so good). Two pair or trips are worth an open- raise from any position. Four to a straight or flush are not– avoid these drawing hands unless you’re playing from the blinds. Drawing to straights and flushes is another huge mistake players make in 5 card draw. You are almost never getting the right price to speculate on these hands in a six-handed game. Think about it– with one card to come you’re a 4-1 dog at best to make your hand and your opponents are likely to hold some of your outs.

Blind defense in 5 card draw is both dicey and opponent-dependent. In the small blind, open-raise with anything you would come in with from any other position (9-9 or better) and limp with weaker hands like big aces (A-Q-T-J-8) or a small pair (6-6-K-9-5). 8-8 and 7-7 are worth an open-raise as well from the small blind. If your hand in the small blind looks more like a good deuce-to-seven starting hand (2-2-4-5-7), just fold it and move on. In the big blind facing a raise, pay close attention to your opponent’s tendencies. For example, if you’re in the big blind with 9-9-K-5-4 facing a raise from an opponent in the cutoff who typically opens with J-J or better, you can safely fold. Also consider the size of the pot. If an early position player opens for a raise and gets two callers, a pair of tens or jacks might be worth a call from the big blind, while hands like a strong two pair (J-J-9-9-4) are worth a raise. Use that “notes” feature and keep close tabs on what hands your opponents are willing to enter a pot with.

So, you have a pair and it’s time for the draw. What cards do you dump? With a pair hand like A-A-J-8-7, draw three. Don’t try anything fancy like keeping the J kicker and trying to represent a set. A shocking number of players will try this. One exception might be if you’re reading an opponent for two pair and you have a high pair with an ace kicker. Then it’s possibly worth a gamble to try and catch an ace for a better two pair. Draw two to your trips, and one to your two pair. Save the fancy plays for when you have more specific reads to work off of.

With a new generation of online draw players emerging online, grandma’s penny-ante game never looked so profitable. Get on Poker Stars, play tight, and avoid the lure of pretty drawing hands. Not only will it improve your reading skills in other games, but it should put a nice chunk of change in your pocket.

Fun Home Poker Game Rules – Guts

I played a lot of poker in high school. That was back in the mid-1970s. Poker for high school students wasn’t like it is today. There was no Internet, no televised poker tournaments, and surely no legal poker rooms in New York where I grew up. For high school kids especially, poker was strictly an underground game – illegal, forbidden, and compelling. For us it was like smoking cigarettes or drinking beer or smoking pot or getting laid. You wanted to do it because it was forbidden. And it was fun.

A favorite variety of the game back then was guts. We generally played it in the senior room of the high school – a private room set aside only for seniors where we got away with playing poker because faculty didn’t enter (unless they smelled cigarettes or pot). Small fortunes changed hands over this game. And we were all on very short bankrolls. So it produced some bad feelings. I think Bob Crumstein still owes Mark Casper $223. To this day I get a shiver of nervousness when I think about it. Here’s how it’s played – at least how we played it.

Many players played at one time. We usually had 10 or more at a long cafeteria table in the room. Everyone got dealt three cards face down. Everyone put in $.25 each. This was the initial pot. It would be matched by players losing the hand, as I’ll describe. When the pot was matched there was no ante.

Beginning to the immediate left of the dealer each player in turn declared “guts” or “no guts”. If he declared “guts” it meant that he was in the hand. If he had the highest three-card poker hand of all the players declaring “guts” – straights and flushes not counting – then he won the pot. If, on the other hand, he declared “guts” and was beaten by another hand held by a player who declared “guts” then he lost the hand. As a penalty for losing he had to put into the pot an amount equal to the pot at the start of the hand. He had to match the pot. If more than one person who declared guts lost then each had to match the pot.

The size of the pot could become very large. Here’s a typical run of hands for you to consider.

Imagine the game starting with ten players. Three players declare “guts”. The first player reveals two aces, a very strong hand in this game and usually a winner. The second player reveals two kings – also a very strong hand and usually a winner – but not this time. The third player who declared guts turns over three 6s. It is better than any pair. So he wins and the first player’s aces lose. After the player with trip 6s takes in the $2.50 pot, the two losers must match it by putting in $2.50 each, making the pot on the next hand $5.00.

On the next hand, an early decision maker figures he may steal the $5.00, hoping that other players will be too nervous about matching the relatively large $5.00 pot. So he declares “guts” as a bluff of sort, with only a pair of 7s. Unfortunately for him, the very next player has a pair of Queens – a hand that dictates a guts call for all but the most timid player. So he declares guts as well. And then, fantastically, the next three players and the dealer all declare guts as well. They have, in order, trip 9s, a pair of Kings, trip 5s and a pair of Jacks. The dealer, declaring guts with the pair of Jacks, made a bad move – even for this game. It might have made sense to make this call with one or two players already in the hand. But with all of the other folks declaring guts in front of him it was a very bad move. But most high school players back then were awful. .

The player with the trip 9s won the $5.00. Then the six losers put in $5.00, making the pot for the next hand the astronomical (by high school standards in the 1970s) $30.00.

The game continues. The next hand four players declare guts. Trip Kings beat out three other strong hands. Three players put in $30 each. That produced a pot of $90.

The next hand everyone declares “no guts” up until the player in front of the dealer. If he declares “no guts” then the hand is dead (we didn’t let the dealer win if no one else had called guts in front of him). So, effectively, the player right before the dealer is the last person to make a decision about whether to open the hand at all.

He looks down and sees A54 – an Ace high. Ace high is generally a borderline hand in late position like this. It’s a little better than 50:50 to beat a random hand. Still, it’s quite a risk. Since it loses to any pair. And the dealer will almost surely suspect weakness because of the late position and the huge pot.

The player in next to last position is generally aggressive. So he takes his chances and says “guts”. The dealer looks down and sees “229″ – normally not a hand to risk the princely sum of $90 on. But it is a pair, and he knows the other guy is pretty wild. So he reluctantly says “guts”.

He wins $90 and his opponent must match the pot.

We usually played without cash – both to make detection of our gambling more difficult and also because we often played for money we didn’t have on us. It was an easy game to keep track of on paper – since the bets we simple and only involved an ante or a pot-sized match. We developed convoluted IOU structures to keep track of who owed whom how much.

Unfortunately, because we played “on paper”, collection became a real problem. Ethical players like myself always paid up. But some didn’t. It became unfair, with many bad feelings. I stopped playing when someone announced that all debts were being reduced by one decimal place. Instead of Joe Tessatore owing me $107, he now owed me $10.70. I wouldn’t have minded except that I had just paid up my loss of $27 to someone. Instead of being more than $70 to the good I was going to be $17 in the hole.

But the game did produce a lot of action. It can be a great home game too I imagine. I’d tend to suggest that there be some limit on the size of the matched pot. But even so, my shivering memories of putting more money than I had in all the world on the line still causes me to decline when asked if I’d like to play at home. But who knows, maybe some day I’ll find the spine to play a few rounds of guts again.

‘Little Blue Book’ Solid Follow Up For Phil Gordon

Far beyond his already poker playing abilities, poker champion Phil Gordon has become one of the best poker teachers around. From his initial poker opus, “Poker: The Real Deal” to his “Little Green Book” (and the addition of his Expert Insight DVD “Final Table Poker”), Gordon has been able to rapidly accelerate the learning curve of any poker player at any level. Now comes the crowning achievement for his writing endeavors, “Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book” which nicely caps his instruction from his previous efforts.

“Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book” (available now in any bookstore or online outlet for around $21.00 U. S., $25 Canadian) basically is Phil’s demonstration of all of his teachings through his other outlets. He takes a variety of hands from his poker experiences (be they online or live) and ably shows the execution and thought processes that he used in each situation. Over the 379 pages that make up the book, any player or any experience can sit back and review critical decisions that show up for anyone at the poker tables, but what makes the “Little Blue Book” very exceptional is the demonstration of a process that, while Phil demonstrated on the “Final Table Poker” DVD, puts into print for the first time.

The process that he demonstrates is, as he states in the book, the method to the madness of the poker player that is Phil Gordon. He starts by determining what his potential actions are and the logic of why each action would be appropriate. At the end of this process, he then will make the resulting action and details out the final result. Whether it is good or bad, he then will follow up by demonstrating the merits of his actions and what, if differently, he could have done to change the outcomes.

These processes are the crux of the book and range across the board, from sit and goes and other online events (admittedly, it would be difficult to fully use Gordon’s methods in the lightning fast online world) to his professional highlights, including his World Poker Tour championship and his performances on the World Series of Poker stage. Most remarkable is his recounting of the 2001 World Series Main Event final table, where he was able to lay down pocket Kings to Phil Hellmuth’s pocket Aces at a critical moment (in the book, Phil G. accurately and thoroughly details how he came to the decision), which is worth the price of admission alone.

Other than the thorough poker information that made the “Little Blue Book” a powerful and useful part of my poker library, there were a few other things that made it palatable to any poker fan or player. It is written in a very easy to understand style; Phil doesn’t delve into a labyrinth of statistical and probability-based reasoning. He prefers a much more straight forward style which, for most players, is an excellent approach to take.

Secondly, the book actually had me chuckling at many points. For those who have seen that Phil has a sense of humor from his time on “Celebrity Poker Showdown”, the “Little Blue Book” has some demonstrations of that sense of humor. Even when you are studying his thoughts and decisions, it is still a good idea to entertain the reader, and Phil does that very well. It even sometimes seems as though he was reading your mind if you were playing the hands (as far as what your internal emotional reactions would be).

Finally, for those that want to see accurate demonstrations of his ideas from the “Little Green Book”, Phil provides a detailed section at the end of the “Blue” book that cross-references how the two connect. This was of critical importance; I found myself pulling out my copy of the “Green” book and using the two books together to get a full realization of the teachings. It opened up a variety of ideas that have been critical to increasing my knowledge of the game and, potentially, the bankroll for my game as well.

“Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book” would be an excellent addition to any poker player’s library and, at Christmas, it is a nice size to fit in a stocking. Besides the ability to pick into the mind of Phil Gordon, the book is entertaining and well written. There is more than enough information in it to be gleaned from several readings and, to be honest, is a great way for Phil Gordon, poker author and teacher, to cap off his triumvirate of books.

Why You Lose at Poker

They say in physics that each action has an equal and opposite reaction. The same is true in poker – for every dollar won, there must be a dollar lost (rake notwithstanding). I’m no physicist, but I am a poker player. As a poker player, I read books. Pretty much every book on poker I have ever read talks about only one side of the poker equation – the winning side. Finally, I have found a book that approaches things from the opposite side of the equation. Instead of telling you how to win, two authors have attempted to tell you why you lose.

In Why You Lose at Poker, Russ Fox and Scott Harker attempt to nail down the most common causes of losing. Most books seem to act as if you do what they say, you can fill your boat with gold. These guys attempt to say ‘hey – no matter how much gold you may have in your boat – if you don’t fill the holes…you’ll eventually sink’.

I have reviewed Fox & Harker’s books before, and in a sense I think this book is valuable for the same reason their last one is, which is the way they go about making the points they make. All the real life club examples feature a cast of characters who playing tendencies are described at the beginning of the book. This has been done before – Phil Hellmuth’s labeling of players by animal type comes to mind. But the characters in this book in my opinion are an excellent cross section of the people you seeing playing in the cards clubs of today, and that’s why I think some of their observations are so relevant.

Fox & Harker’s last book forced you to think about yourself, and I think this book forces you to think about your play. Sections like ‘losing because you make incorrect bets in big bet poker’ and ‘the money you lose with poor bluffing habits’ address many of the pitfalls of playing in the modern gladiator arenas known as today’s card clubs.

The advice is well thought out, but more importantly current and therefore relevant. Since the advice comes from the perspective of losing – rather than how to win, it forces the reader to think about the issues from a different perspective. It is this perspective change that I think makes the book worth the $20 you shell out for it. Much of the material has been said in one form or another in the countless number of strategy books that have come out in recent years, but sometimes when you look at things from a different perspective, you learn in a new and different way.

The hand analysis is solid, but at times I did find it hard to stay focused on, as I found the minutia sometimes overpowered the focal point of the analysis. You definitely get your money’s worth with the hand analysis – provided you can follow along.

If I could describe this book in one word, it would be the previously mentioned word relevant. These guys are clearly out in the trenches of the poker world, and they seem to have a good insight into how to survive those trenches. It is clear that these two have played a lot, and I find their language simple, and their message(s) to the point.

This probably isn’t the best book for those new to the game, but if you have been playing a while, and especially if you find yourself in the middle of a bad run, the book is probably worth the investment. Who knows, it may have an equal and opposite effect on your bankroll.

The ‘Other’ Games of Poker: Pineapple

Throw the structure of hold’em and the volatility of Omaha into a blender and you’ll end up with a cool, refreshing game of pineapple. With more action, bigger pots and even more thrilling suckouts, this flop game with the silly name might look a lot like your regular limit hold’em game with its button and blinds, but contains two key twists: (1) players receive not two, not four, but threei hole cards and (2) one of them will end up in the muck before the hand is over. Pineapple is not just for home games either. Its spread online at Ultimate Bet with every conceivable limit, and spread live in low and mid-limit mixed games at the Wynn, MGM Grand, and Treasure Island in Las Vegas as well as at a number of the larger Southern California card rooms including the Bicycle Casino and the Commerce Casino. Though pineapple is typically played as a limit game ($3-6, $5-10, etc.), it easily translates to a no-limit or pot-limit structure.

Rules

Pineapple poker has three different variations: pineapple, crazy pineapple, and crazy pineapple hi/lo 8 or better. In “regular” pineapple each player is dealt three hole cards to start, followed by a pre-flop round of betting. Each player must discard one of their hole cards before the flop is dealt. The flop, turn, and river betting rounds then proceed exactly as in Texas hold’em. In the more popular “crazy” pineapple variant, players wait until after the flop betting round is complete to discard one of their hole cards, creating a dramatic strategic adjustment. At this juncture, players usually face a decision whether or not to keep a made (but vulnerable) hand or to draw to an even stronger hand like a straight or a flush. Crazy pineapple is often, but not always played hi-lo split, where the best high hand and the best 8 or better low hand are each awarded half the pot. Any combination of a player’s hole cards and the board can be used to make their best five-card hand.

Basic Strategy/ Starting Hands

Pineapple is definitely an “action game” and pots are almost always contested multi-way. As the three hole cards create many more hand possibilities, even conservative players will tend to see a lot more flops. Like in Omaha, hand values increase significantly. While one or two pair is usually enough to take down a hold’em pot, one needs a much stronger hand to survive the showdown in pineapple—typically the nut straight or flush. Someone will almost always flop a flush draw in a multi-way pineapple pot, and the odds to chase it are usually there. Hands like top pair top kicker, or a pair slightly smaller than top pair (J-J-X on a K-8-9 flop) are therefore much more vulnerable than they would be in hold’em.

A quality starting hand in pineapple contains a big pair as well as a big suited draw. Ah-Ad-Qd, Jd-Jh-Kh, and Tc-Th-Jc are all excellent hole card combinations as they give players flush and straight possibilities to go along with the pair. Three suited connectors with a two-flush such as Jd-Qd-Kh are also valuable as well as suited aces with straight possibilities such as Ac-Jc-Td. Small pairs can be playable if they come with other draws (6c-6d-Ac), but do not fare well on their own (4s-4h-Qd). Big offsuit aces, like A-K, A-Q and A-J might be premium hands in hold’em, but they are marginal at best in pineapple without another draw for backup. Three cards from the same suit can also be a trouble hand, as one of your all-important flush outs is already gone.

A player’s biggest decision in crazy pineapple happens after the flop, when one hole card must be tossed away. For example, if I have the Kh-Kc-Qh on a flop of Tc-Jh-6h, I need to decide whether to keep my pair of kings intact and discard the Qh, or go for the possible straight or flush by discarding the Kc. In a heads-up pot, it might feel safer to keep the kings, but facing multi-way action, the combination draw holds much more value.

Sound crazy? It is! But it’s also a whole lot of fun and an instant cure for the hold’em doldrums. Start small on Ultimate Bet and get ready for some huge action. Or, the next time you’re at your local cardroom, ask the floor if they can spread pineapple or add it to a mixed game. It’s sure to add spice to any grinder’s day.