In my days as a pro chess player I never got around to playing in what was then the Soviet Union, despite being invited countless times. This was partly a mercenary attitude on my part, yet one I regretted upon retiring.
I didn’t want to make the same mistake since switching to poker, and although I would have found myself in the poker Mecca eventually it’s nice, when finally being able to play in Las Vegas, to have won my place in one of 32Red Poker’s qualifying tournaments.
My tournament, Event 33, started on Sunday, and looked set to be a minefield – as are they all, of course, to some extent. Meanwhile, it was only after two hours waiting at the airport (in the longest queue I have ever seen!) that the luxurious and – for Vegas – refreshingly tasteful Palazzo finally beckoned. The suite was on the 43rd floor, with a great view of the vista that stretches for miles into the hills beyond.
The first schoolboy error, at 6pm Vegas time (2am UK time), was to sleep after a long day crossing the Atlantic… so now – after waking up at 3am local time – I found myself writing these words.
A sensible Plan B would have been to get used to the time shift in readiness for Sunday…
Spent Friday 13th walking down the famous ‘Strip’… in and out of hotels (some were better than others, some rather disappointing) and shopping malls, and then back up again. The heat was relentless, and the accompanying breeze cruelly hot, so a key word in Vegas is, unsurprisingly, water!
One would expect to see a few strange sights in this city, and among today’s were a tiny boy breakdancing like Michael Jackson, a man in a Chewbacca suit standing around in the street posing for photos, comedian, film and TV star David Spade (Grown Ups, Rules of Engagement) coming out of the lift at the Palazzo… and American Football/Super Bowl legend Joe Montana at a book signing. I even managed to catch his eye when I was told – as I appeared rather craftily, I should point out, from behind shelves to take a photo – that I should stop and buy a signed photo instead (I say ‘catch’ his eye – the record-breaking star was kind enough to hide the ‘what a fool’ expression that my antics deserved).
Meanwhile, within minutes of seeing adverts for 12-inch long hotdogs at $1.99, everything from authentic guitars to clothes to scraps of paper of some (very) famous/significant people was on sale in a memorabilia shop for prices ranging from $1,000 to $180,000 (this for the signatures of those who signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776). It’s funny how money fills all manner of voids in Vegas…
Nothing much happened on Saturday as, having looked forward to watching England’s brand new football team make its effective debut in the World Cup, it was time to look for somewhere away from the drunken masses to watch the opener against Italy. This was the Palazzo’s fantastic ‘Lagasse’s Stadium’ which was by the far the best such venue, with a pleasant, people friendly environment.
Unfortunately the result was the wrong one, but I remained optimistic – after Uruguay losing to Costa Rica – that qualification was a realistic opportunity (so much for that wishful thinking…).
The highlight, incidentally, was my photo after the match with some cheerful England supporters who were prepared to wear all-over so-called morphsuits – 100% nylon body suits (quote: ‘I’m dying in here!’) for the cause (see photo).
I was equally upbeat regarding my giving Event 33 a good go as I collected my seat assignation at the Rio on Sunday. The playing areas are enormous, and the peacefulness an hour or so before the tournament began was in stark contrast to the noise once it got underway. I tend to sit with sunglasses on and earphones in, regardless of whether or not I’m listening to music. Even when that is the case, I’m always listening to everything that’s being said at the table as the information can be invaluable.
My table had more good players than I had expected, but the general level wasn’t too high. It’s difficult to assign it a definitive online equivalent, but it felt like a tournament with a buy-in only a fraction of the $1,000 people had forked out to enter. Of course this doesn’t necessarily translate to good news, but certain table characteristics were evident from the start. One such was universal limping, or global calling of a pre-flop raise, for example.
To cut a long story short – and thus bring you to the ultimately disappointing ending – here is a resume of my day that will nevertheless serve to encapsulate the tournament experience. I was dealt a total of two (yes – 2) pocket pairs – nines and fours. I was able to exploit most of the table’s approach to the tournament, which saw me progress from an initial stack of 3,000 to around 4,500. This was then cut down to just over 1,000 when I was dealt AQ and called a pre-flop raise from a player who was willing to take any Ace to the river. He’d already done so three times. Anyway, the flop came AQ3, I was hoping that his rag card for this hand was a 3, and I was partly right. Alas the bit I got wrong was that he was holding a pair of threes, and had struck gold on the flop, rendering my two pair an embarrassed bystander.
I managed to knuckle down and fold away for what seemed like eternity with my tiny stack (‘stack’ doesn’t accurately describe my sorry collection of chips), and was rewarded over a period of just 8 or 9 hands with a surge to just short of 5,000 – back in business with a stack that could balloon in this type of tournament.
I was moved tables (in fact, to another, cavernous room) and was lucky enough to be able to wait out a few hands, which allowed me to see that this table was slightly different to the other in terms of playing style, in that it seemed particularly loose, and with bigger stacks. My first hand was in the Big Blind, where I found KcQc. There was a raise to 500, three callers(!) and me. The flop came TcJc2h, giving me a (Royal) straight flush draw, open-ended straight draw and two overcards. The original raiser checked, the next player bet half the 2500 pot and the other two folded. I went all-in, the pre-flop raiser folded and the post-flop aggressor, just having me covered, called for a pot of over 11,000 chips. He had AdJd, which is the kind of hand I’d put him on – something that made me feel like I was destined to win the hand. Destiny shouldn’t play a part, of course, as I was anyway a 67% favourite to win. However, not a single club, 9, A, Q or K materialised (and just to add salt to the wounds, both Turn and River were black cards). And that was that. It’s a fine line.
… Of course I couldn’t travel well over 8000 kilometres from the UK to Las Vegas and not experience some good old-fashioned casino cash game poker. It’s not unusual in the city of sin to see people routinely walking up and down the Strip carrying alcoholic drinks, and my logic was to find a game during the witching hours when the opposition was more likely to be considerably worse for wear. With this in mind I set off at around 5am and settled for the famed Flamingo’s Poker Room, where a couple of $1-2 NL games were in full flow. I took advantage of the $300 max buy-in option and sat down, the lone non-USA player at the table. However, I wasn’t able to take advantage of anyone’s state of inebriation because everyone was stone cold sober.
My very first hand put me straight into action thanks to a pair and a straight draw which I opted to bet up to and including the bluff on the river after missing the desired cards. Alas I was (eventually) called down by a middle-aged man (he had a pair of aces) who then immediately left, followed a few hands later by four others. Fortunately the second table had places open up and the new companions made up an almost stereotypical cross-section of American society. Had social commentators been in my chair for the three hours or so I played they would have garnered a wealth of material. As it was, I was able – ‘listening’ to music and ostensibly oblivious to, but in fact closely following, their constant chatter – to cut a path through the ultimately exploitable, global style and leave for a well earned breakfast with over $400 profit. And, to be honest, I felt a little unlucky not to be cashing in considerably more.
Despite being primarily an online player, I’d seriously consider going to Las Vegas to concentrate on playing cash (and maybe tournaments) in the casinos for a while.
Indeed, I’ll certainly be going back…
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the 32Red Poker tables)
Potentially pot-winning draws on the flop provide some of the most exciting, tense situations in No Limit poker. Decent looking odds and the prospect of a big payout should we hit against an opponent we will be ahead of when the chips hit the virtual felt tend to make flush and open-ended straight draws look particularly attractive. We will, after all, be getting 2:1 pot odds to hit our draw by the river simply by calling a pot-sized bet on the flop – poker made easy…
If only it were that simple! We are indeed on a flop-to-river 2:1 draw but that’s in an ideal, convenient world where the next two streets cost us nothing to see. In reality, matters are often quite different and, unfortunately, sufficiently confusing to elicit mistakes. Let’s say that one of the cards we need to hit doesn’t materialise on the Turn, and our adversary again bets the pot. Doesn’t calling allow us to maintain the same conditions we had on the flop thanks to our continued 2:1 pot odds? Alas, no. Our pot odds might have remained the same, but failing to hit from Flop to Turn means we now have one less bite of the cherry than when we undertook this typical poker challenge – in fact our draw odds are now 4:1, rendering the call impossible to make. Moreover, not only should we fold here when faced with a pot-sized bet, but our initial call on the flop should also have been avoided! This is the problem when we focus too much on pot odds while not fully appreciating the actual odds of hitting our draw. In this example the 2:1 odds to hit are redundant as soon as a comfortable ride to the river becomes unlikely. A sizeable bet on the Turn is going to throw an enormous spanner in the works, effectively forcing us to abandon what was probably a doomed mission.
Of course other factors should be considered when contemplating the initial flop bet, such as whether our opponent is bluffing or making a continuation bet, perhaps, do we have overcards to the flop that would put us in front should we hit a big(ger) pair, are we up against a player who tends not to maintain the aggression come the Turn?
We always need to weigh up an assortment of situational properties when making these awkward decisions but, generally, it pays not to get into the habit of misinterpreting true ost-flop draw odds. A crue truism in poker is how one mistake can quite naturally form the ill-judged foundation for a subsequent, increasingly significant error and, before we know it, instead of the hoped for successful resolution of a pot that was ostensibly affording us attractive prospects on the Flop, we find ourselves dressed up with nowhere to go, a little bewildered at how easily our chip stack has dwindled.
Good luck at the tables!
32Red Poker Ambassador
Human nature is a fascinating thing, and poker is full of it. Intuition, habit, how we perceive both ourselves and others, projection, interpretation, wishful thinking, caution and countless other thoughts/thought processes and emotions play their part (often collectively) at some point or other.
What makes the game so rich is that these factors can have such vastly different significance from one hand to the next, and it’s a constant battle – the more we become involved in a session – as we strive to zone in on the various aspects of table dynamics.
However, some potentially profitable situations are easier to recognise than others and, just as much as players try to be flexible, they can be predictable. One such scenario is the pot to which nobody wants to commit for one reason or another. Often this is simply because a player’s cards and the board don’t match up as per desired, at which point any interest in continuing (i.e. parting with any more chips) ends. Some people are almost transparently predictable in this regard, but it is such a common element of the game that this particular opportunity crops up time and time again in online poker, where it is not unusual for a table to get through 100 hands per hour.
Indeed it is the speed of the game (where the potential for volume can mean quantity is given as much priority as quality) that helps create these ‘abandoned’ pots as players keep their powder dry for the next, soon-to-come hand. This is where we come in. Not untypically, we might have missed the flop but be in the same boat as our opponent, or they might have a pair of 4s or 5s, for example, with a couple of overcards showing. It’s imperative to be in ‘thief’ mode at all times so that we don’t slip into the same automatic (negative) frame of mind, and are thus ready to round up whatever chips are going unclaimed. Unless the opposition has a specific reason to stay in the hunt for a modest pot, it’s time to act with a purposeful but not enormous bet which, most of the time, will suffice to scoop up those chips. Note that it is ‘natural’ for people to view these chips as heading elsewhere as soon as it becomes apparent that they have no realistic chance of taking down a pot based on the strength of their hand.
Good luck (stealing) at the tables!
Let us know your best steal – our favourite gets a free €4+1 Flush Royale ticket…
Today’s poker enthusiasts have at their disposal a vast array of tools, information, books and various other means through which to improve their game. It’s tougher than it used to be but we have no excuses as far as fine-tuning our performance is concerned, especially when learning tends to be a fun exercise.
However, there is an area which – for just about all of us – leaves plenty of room for improvement, and it has nothing to do with statistics, pot odds, betting patterns or bluffs: life. Of course the way we live from day to day has far more significance in the real world than it does in terms of poker but, nevertheless, it really isn’t too difficult to address a few issues that would ultimately benefit our performance at the poker table.
From a practical perspective it’s worth reminding ourselves of a few home truths which we tend to either fool ourselves into believing we appreciate or – if we’re being honest – blithely disregard. We might study theory and put great effort into playing, but that’s essentially only half the battle. We tend not to adhere to other, important unwritten rules, and this consequently means – to borrow a term from elsewhere – that we’re essentially playing with a crooked bat.
For example we should get rid of outside noise and similar distractions when sitting down to play. Music – with lyrics that demand our (subconscious) attention – is a popular poker accompaniment but, alas, isn’t likely to be conducive to optimal concentration. Playing in a quiet environment might seem ‘boring’ but will lead to a greater level of performance.
Sleep. This is almost a dirty word nowadays as we are surrounded with so many forms of entertainment that we can feel like we’re somehow missing out on something if we go to sleep. But – of course (because we all know…) – if we don’t get enough sleep, we simply can’t expect to concentrate very well. It should come as no surprise that research proves time and again that people can’t function at full capacity on insufficient sleep. Concentration levels on too little sleep are on a par with those who have consumed too much alcohol, and we wouldn’t dream of playing poker while intoxicated (I hope). The recommended amount of sleep is eight hours, and if we could manage that consistently the beneficial results would be evident.
Another ‘awkward’ subject is that of exercise. Healthy body, healthy mind. Just because we’re sitting down to play, it doesn’t mean we should underestimate the importance of exercise. Enough said. The same goes for diet.
Play happy. There’s no point sitting down for a poker session if our minds are elsewhere. We should consider playing only when it’s fully justified, when it isn’t to the detriment of any other aspect of our life.
Poker, after all, is fun.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington, 32Red Poker Ambassador
With poker being a game that revolves around information, it follows that we (all too often) find ourselves in awkward situations that mean we have some but, crucially, insufficient facts at our disposal. Of course some scenarios are more puzzling and frustrating than others, but a typical poker conundrum that we experience every session is when we hold a medium pocket pair against a lone opponent and the flop brings along an over-card.
Hands can pan out in various ways, but let’s say we have 9d 9c in late position and it’s folded around to us. We put in a raise and the only caller is the Big Blind, after which the Flop brings the rather irritating Kh 8s 7h… Just as we’re contemplating whether or not to make a continuation bet the BB peppers the virtual poker table with a bet of around two-thirds the size of the pot. This is somewhat inconvenient, to say the least!
There was a time when raising would be considered tantamount to a ‘standard’ means of garnering information in the hope of getting a clearer picture as to where we stand, but this automatic reaction can achieve no more than wasting chips. If the response were, for example, a simple call – or, worse: a raise! – the only additional details in this particular picture would tell us pretty clearly that the Big Blind is happier with his/her hand than we are with ours! Is it really worth paying for such clarity?
It’s far better, given that – for the sake of this article – we don’t intend giving up on the hand, to simply call the flop bet, particularly in view of the fact that we have the advantage of position. Depending on the Big Blind’s next play on the Turn we can decide on a course of our own. Another hefty bet should either set off an alarm bell loud enough for us to keep our powder dry and look to pastures new or, if various factors combine to justify it, we might attempt a bluff-raise. The BB slowing down and checking presents us with a couple of choices, one being wresting back the initiative with a bet (note that we shouldn’t be afraid to bet if the Turn throws up another overcard, for instance), which, remember, could be a value bet or, indeed, a bluff based on our pre-flop aggression and calling the Flop bet. While checking is another possibility, we shouldn’t scare ourselves into doing so through fear of running into a check-raise, which is simply part of the game and, in this circumstance, unlikely after the play thus far.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington, 32Red Poker Ambassador
Having seen our continuation bet called on the flop, it can be problematic choosing the best path when the Turn card arrives. In Part 1 we touched on instances in which no further investment tends to be the appropriate play. This will save money when betting isn’t justified, but should be a decision based on the circumstances and the key factors specific to that hand, rather than the fear of losing. Too easily putting the brakes on after a continuation bet doesn’t take down the pot runs the risk of making us predictable and, consequently, vulnerable to a steal from those players who have picked up on such a weakness, as well as aggressive players.
Fortunately, instead of slamming on the brakes we will have opportunities to press down further on the accelerator pedal. And we don’t need to have hit to bet. Scare cards are thus named for a reason, and we need to learn to evaluate how the Turn might change the ‘strength’ of an opponent’s hand. A typical holding with which to apply the Continuation Bet strategy is AK, for example, which has the advantage of offering us the ‘luxury’ of equity on many boards in the shape of two overcards. It’s important to keep in mind that, when we’re not sitting with a hand like AK, the opposition is none the wiser. From their perspective our aggressive play is likely to represent either a made hand or a holding containing a couple of overcards. Consequently, on an unco-ordinated board such as Jd 7h 2c, we can pretty confidently bet when the Turn brings the Ks, for example. Overcards are good! Putting ourselves in our opponents shoes, after calling initially with, say, Jc Ts and hitting and subsequently calling our continuation bet, not only will the king be an unwelcome visitor, but the third consecutive bet that follows it gives the hand a new dynamic. It’s absolutely not unlikely that we could be on AK and, with another bet threatening to follow on the river, staying around – and paying heavily for the privilege – with JT no longer appears to be a decent prospect. Betting a scare card on the Turn in the shape of an overcard is always going to give us a chance of taking the pot, although in terms of our perceived range, the higher the better. Note that by adhering to this continuation bet/second barrel strategy means also betting when we do connect with the Turn – betting when we miss and checking when we hit is a leak we’d better avoid.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the 32Red Poker tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
The so-called continuation bet is practically standard procedure nowadays. We raise pre-flop and continue the aggression on all manner of flops, regardless of whether we’ve hit. Much of the time, against a lone opponent, factors such as the flop itself or our table image might be enough to bring about a fold and give us the pot there and then.
But poker isn’t as easy as it once was inasmuch as players are now sufficiently well acquainted with the C-bet to not automatically surrender. The result is the rather awkward, frustrating situation we tend to find ourselves in when, after carrying out this popular play (and not connecting with the flop) our continuation bet is called and, when the Turn card arrives, with no direct link to our hole cards, it’s decision time.
We know that – in an ideal world – the consistent follow-up to the play thus far would be to bet in order to keep our foot firmly pressed down on the accelerator that we assumed control of at the beginning of the hand when we raised pre-flop. Unfortunately, executing this (‘firing a second barrel’) is easier said than done and, as usual, we have to take into consideration that there is a time and place for such a move. (Let’s assume, by the way, that the continuation bet made sense and thus formed the foundations to approach the hand logically in this particular context).
Before looking at scenarios in which firing a second barrel is the appropriate play, it’s worth considering those times when the prudent option is simply to face facts and not stubbornly throw into the pot money that we are unlikely to see returning home to our stack by the end of the hand. Of course this is a situational game and there are no set rules or watertight guidelines but, while we shouldn’t fall into the habit of putting ourselves off betting in fear of ghosts, it does no harm to get used to properly weighing up the pros and cons of this or that play.
Clearly, when we have no hand, with no potential, having no discernible battle-plan and betting for the sake of it because we’ve bet twice already, is careless, thoughtless poker.
Also unwise in this case is betting against an out-and-out calling station, which achieves nothing more than redistributing money. They simply won’t fold. They enjoy calling with a modest hand, and refusing to take the hint by betting from start to finish with nothing merely justifies their ‘strategy’ and walks right into their hands (reading the opposition, then, is a must – it’s imperative we concentrate on what’s going on, even when not involved in a hand!).
In Part 2 we’ll take a look at following up the Continuation Bet strategy by maintaining the pressure and firing the second barrel.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the 32Red Poker tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
If you haven’t tried Blaze Poker yet, you’ve been missing out! The point behind this nifty format is the so-called ‘Quick Fold’ facility. Clicking on the Quick Fold button automatically folds your hand without waiting for the play to reach you, and then automatically sends you to a brand new table, with a new set of hole cards, and a new set of opponents. This means there’s no waiting for play to come around to you and, when you have a trash hand or simply don’t want any further involvement in a pot, you can get straight into a new hand immediately. Over the course of a typical session of poker, the Blaze version allows you to get the most out of your time.
Maximising your time at the tables means more hands per hour, and more hands per hour, of course (even without multi-tabling), means being able to fully take advantage of our excellent 30% Rakeback deal.
Add to this the fact that this format also helps maintain a higher level of solidity compared to the standard format where we tend to be less patient and thus a little looser than we’d like to admit, and Blaze Poker is a noteworthy alternative to the traditional online experience. Knowing that it’s possible to immediately start a new hand certainly makes it easier to get rid of bad habits!
Play on our Blaze Poker tables now and take advantage of the Blaze of Glory – we’re giving away €500 in cash prizes and an exclusive freeroll, every week! Check out the dedicated leaderboard that keeps track of the Redbacks you earn on Blaze tables from Monday to Sunday. If you manage to finish in the top 12 you’ll receive a share of €250, while simply making it on the leaderboard (minimum 100 Redbacks) is enough to earn free entry to our weekly €250 Blaze of Glory Freeroll.
We’ve gone Flippin’ Nuts at 32Red Poker!
There’s a massive €55,000 to give away in our fun Flip Festival, and it’s easy to get involved because all you have to do is play in our Real Money cash games. And the more hands you play the better your chances of winning a big prize. Flip Freerolls are so called because every player is all-in on every hand, the winner being the last player standing. Not surprisingly, with each new hand typically having only one winner, with the rest of the table losing, the entire tournament tends to be over rather quickly.
There will be five weekly Flip Freeroll tournaments during the promotional period, each with a whopping €11,000 in prizes and a top prize of €1,000!
However, we’ve added a little spice to the proceedings in that the more Real Money hands you play, the bigger your tournament starting stack, which can range from 100 to 500 chips, depending on the number of raked hands you manage to play in the 7 day period immediately before registering. A mere 100 raked hands is enough to qualify, but anything between 250-499 means you’ll start with 200 chips, between 500-999 raked hands earns 300 chips, 1000-2499 nets 400 and, if you notch up 2500 or more raked hands during the preceding week you’ll have the advantage of kicking off with 500 chips Given that you’ll be all-in from the off, the more chips the better.
The €55,000 Flip Festival gets underway on 16th May with the opening Freeroll, with the others taking place weekly: 23rd May, 30th May, 6th June and 13th June. The starting time for each Freeroll is 6pm (UK time) but, as long as you remember to register once you’ve completed the raked hands requirement, you don’t even have to be online to participate as the tournament will automatically play out. Nevertheless, it’s well worth logging on for the thrill…
To keep track of your raked hands tally simply click on ‘My Account’ in the poker lobby – for more information click here.
Good Flippin’ Luck!
We all have a favourite style of play, an approach that has proven more successful than others over time and is also best suited to our personality. However, flexibility is part of the game, and it’s imperative that we learn to both recognise the kind of players we’re up against and a table’s specific dynamic and so on and, subsequently, how to adapt in order to exploit others’ weaknesses.
One such example – especially in the modern game – presents itself when the table is populated exclusively by loose players. Many consider themselves loose-aggressive but, essentially, they tend simply to be much too loose because they get involved when they shouldn’t, constantly, and in so doing are losing players. Note that the psychological pitfall for these players is that when they win an enormous pot after filling a draw their mistaken logic supports the ill-fated notion that the ends justify the means when, in reality (in the long-run), the ends don’t come around sufficiently often to justify the accumulative investment in chasing big hands.
There’s a tendency when trying to profit from this common bad habit to revert to ultra-tight mode and get involved only when we find premium hands, but we don’t have to be so selective, and of course we must balance our game. But when we are in possession of a big hand we shouldn’t be afraid on a loose table to put in a big pre-flop raise – if the ‘standard’ is three big blinds, then doubling that with AA (and KK) won’t scare everyone off at this kind of table. We’re playing a bunch of loose players – they’re loose because they don’t worry about being tight and haven’t spent time contemplating ‘sensible’ bet sizes.
The key is strong bets with strong hands. If we raise with AK pre-flop and bring along two players for a flop containing an Ace and two suited cards, then we should remain aggressive and throw in a bet at least the size of the pot. Of course we could be pushing out of the hand a couple of opponents with lesser hands but there are worse things than picking up a three-way pot. However, habitually loose players can be more influenced by the promise of a draw than the fact they’re being asked to overpay for the privilege of chasing it and, while it might initially seem strange to practically announce our hand with a big bet, this is a good tactic on loose tables. What often happens against two players in this kind of situation is that one player will drop out and we will be left in a growing pot, with a significant lead, against a sole opponent erroneously committed to an over-priced cause.
We’ll see our big hands overtaken occasionally but that’s a mathematical characteristic of poker – as is the cast iron certainty that, over time, correct plays reward us with profit. Sets and other powerhouses should be bet big, with no mercy, the price we insist on the opposition paying being at least the size of the pot – otherwise we’re indulging loose players and justifying their poor play. Results in poker are determined by dealing with this or that scenario better than the opposition.
We should keep in mind, too, when contemplating value, that when we have small pairs or suited connectors, for example, we don’t catch the chasing bug by paying too much to see the flop. Position is yet again a major factor when looking to exploit the potential of speculative hands as cheaply as possible.
Good luck at the tables!