Like many people, poker is a passion. I love to play poker and, of course, I find myself thinking about poker. Anyone who has read my articles knows I particularly like to think about how we think about poker – the psychological aspect of the game fascinates me. While there’s more psychology in online poker than people might consider, the ‘live’ format presents us with a different set of questions and situations because we can both see and hear our opponents (and, don’t forget, we’re also exposed).
Not surprisingly I always look forward to poker festivals which, fortunately, also tend to take place in some interesting parts of the world. Tallinn was no exception, the pleasant-on-the-eye Estonian capital being the perfect setting, and the Olympic Casino Olümpia, part of the luxury hotel, Radisson Blu Olümpia, where our players were staying, the perfect venue.
After an enjoyable evening with my fellow 32Red Poker players and indefatigable 32Red Poker Manager, Nick Diaz, the evening before the Main Event, I sat down at my table the following afternoon and had a look at my opponents, who all hailed from Estonia and a couple of other former Soviet countries, with the exception of a Scandinavian and an empty chair. As it happened this chair proved decisive, because while it remained empty I couldn’t have been happier. However, the late arrival of a talkative, dominating Swede, seated to my left, seriously cramped my style. The dynamic of the table changed completely due to a combination of his endeavours to steer it his way and the table’s apparent willingness to let him, despite what seemed to be almost cliched behaviour on his part. His big river bluffs were believed and his big river bets with the nuts were called, and he gleefully engineered a mountain of chips.
I sat there trying not to get too frustrated. A couple of attempts to get involved with my potential benefactor/nemesis backfired. In one particular hand with the Swede and one other I had Ac, 6c and the flop brought Ad, 6s, 7c… There was no point my being aggressive as previously the table bully had backed off completely at the sniff of trouble, so I let him build the pot as the Turn delivered the very welcome 2c, and the third player stayed in. My two pair and a nut flush draw, conveniently out of position, was looking very promising whether or not I hit the flush. I wasn’t thinking about the other player too much; I simply put him on a decent hand – AK, for example, which he should have been raising with, but perhaps he was concentrating his efforts on trapping the Swede rather than scaring him off. The River was the 8d, and I again checked. The bet inevitably came – not all-in this time – and was met a call from the third player. I smelled a rat and called with my two pair. I was right about the other player – he had effectively misplayed AK. Alas the Swede had been sitting there with 9d, 5d and had filled his gutshot on the river. He got lucky but, to be fair, he had also made his own luck for much of the day and had been reading players well.
But in a poker story reminiscent of Icarus (who flew too close to the sun, remember), after building up loads of chips and putting himself well in contention, our ‘hero’ saw his stack(s) dwindle as poor river bluffs contrived to secure a fairly rapid demise, thus demonstrating that a failure to adjust can have serious consequences. Having said that, copious amounts of alcohol won’t have helped him, either, and therein lies another lesson.
I was eventually eliminated just before the end of Day 1 when, finding Aces for the first time, I managed to get all-in against a big stack, but his pair of fives found a third playmate on the Flop.
And that, as they say, was that.
I went out of a side event with another good hand, this time my Q-high straight running into a K-high straight. C’est la vie.
A nice festival, in a nice place, with a good bunch of 32Red Poker players.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
One of the auto-options available to us at 32Red Poker tables is the facility to Muck Winning Hands and, nearly all of the time, this is the correct thing to do because we don’t want to be giving our opponents undoubtedly useful information for free if it can be avoided. Indeed, with this in mind, if we were to decide never to show a winning hand we could simply get on with the game, not having the ‘inconvenience’ and potential confusion – or, worse, the serious implications – caused by voluntarily making a poor decision. It sounds sensible to sacrifice possible gains in order to rule out the very real risk of losses and the additional advertising afforded the opposition. Read more
Ever had a dream where you’re sitting in a peaceful Zen garden, playing poker… and you’re an alien? No? Well, now you don’t have to because it’s possible to do just that – at least in the virtual sense – at 32Red Poker, thanks to our new look Fun View tables. Poker should, after all, be a fun pastime. Winning money would be a nice bonus, and practise and experience tend to make profit a reality but, as is the case with any hobby, the whole point is to derive enjoyment from our time at the tables. Read more
While even one-table Sit & Go tournaments have a multi-table flavour, a key difference is that we’re effectively being fast-forwarded straight into final table mode as soon as we sit down. Thanks to the more rapidly increasing blind levels than we experience during the much, much longer course of a MTT, much of the strategy specific to S&G poker is related to both the blinds and the limited number of prizes. Read more
We don’t need years of experience to appreciate a couple of the implications of playing small pairs pre-flop (for the purposes of this article we’ll define small pairs as 22-77). On the upside, when the flop promotes the pair to a set it’s great news, particularly in view of the fact that such a hand can be so well disguised that the ‘reveal’ might come only at the conclusion. However, what happens far more often is that, not only does the small pocket pair remain a small pocket pair but, invariably, the arrival on the flop of at least one overcard immediately starts to sow the seeds of doubt – our pair might already be beaten and we’re effectively sitting in the dark armed with a pretty toothless pair. Read more
It’s strange how some of the most logical, rational people are prone to superstition. Even during my days as a pro chess player it was not so unusual, in a vast hall full of people engrossed in arguably the most testing game around in terms of there being no luck element, to see superstitious types. Lucky shirts are common (despite causing certain sartorial challenges), as are pre-game rituals and even placing (and moving) the pieces in a very specific manner, and without exception. A Dutch International Master, for example – also a fan of loud shirts, funnily enough – deliberately positions knights facing backwards which, from the opponent’s point of view, can be quite disconcerting… Read more
Poker, of course, is a rich, complex game that comes in many guises and formats. We all have a particular favourite ‘perfect’ poker game which, ideally, we both feel comfortable with and can achieve a level of success from. The potential problem with this, like all manner of favourite things, is that not only could we be missing out on something equally rewarding, but sticking with the same recipe week in, week out also runs the risk of restricting our growth and consequently stifling our game.
A fun, action-packed, psychologically demanding NL poker variant is the adventure known as heads up play. Stripping down poker to 1 v 1 leads to obvious comparisons with chess, where strategy and the need for ceaseless mental agility are paramount. These factors are no less important in poker, which also has more by the way of bluff and brinkmanship than chess.
For those who have not tried heads up there are two quite different types, namely the Sit & Go (SnG) and cash. These are clearly two independent animals, the former featuring blind levels that increase over time (with a frequency depending on structure), while cash games continue ad infinitum with the same blinds. Consequently the two formats share some skills but not others. A SnG typically starts the protagonists without too much of a healthy stack/blinds ratio which, in turn, makes for a more urgent approach than we might be used to. Moreover, before we know it, the tension increases along with the blinds, and we soon find ourselves making more critical decisions, hands being characterised by their not exactly having a great deal of play. Pre-flop all-ins become a key part of the game, as is stealing and re-stealing and so on.
Moving on to heads up cash poker, the constant cadence of the game provided by the almost reassuring fixed blinds affords players the opportunity to experience the most that their stack can offer. If deep-stacked play is your thing you could do worse than use heads up cash as a fascinating training ground.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
How far do you think ahead? Indeed, do you bother considering how a hand could pan out from street to street or – more to the point – your potential influence on the direction it might take? Poker obviously has a luck element in the form of the ‘unknowns’ but, crucially, there’s far more to the game than waiting for each new card to appear and making adjustments and decisions based rather simplistically on how each new arrival relates to our holding.
We need to experience a level of control as a hand progresses (if we don’t we can be sure someone else will) and this clearly requires some serious aforethought. Moreover, with one of the chief characteristics of online poker being the limited thinking time that keeps the game fluid, it’s imperative we try to think ahead in order to facilitate the decision making process as the temperature inevitably hots up. Note that there is a distinction between thinking and planning – the former means taking into account what might lie ahead and what our actions could be, while the latter is perhaps too specific and elusive.
Some hands are easier to weigh up – and their futures easier to anticipate – than others. Hitting a set, for example, affords us some flexibility but brings with it a rather simple choice of strategy. The common scenario of being dealt AK, on the other hand, is well worth investing time in before we even sit down at the virtual table. If we are in c, for instance, and throw in a raise, then we already know that we will bet a number of flops, regardless of whether we hit. Of course the better our position the wider our range, so we also need to think about the trickier and potentially very profitable hands with which we can win big pots by bypassing the opposition’s radar, a perfect example being calling late with suited connectors. The obvious train of thought revolves around how best to engineer a situation, when we hit big, to get the most out of the pot. But what do we do when our holding has no relation whatsoever with the flop? The ‘automatic’ response for most players is to put the brakes on, and herein lies the problem with not thinking sufficiently about the game because, in this particular scenario, part of our deliberate thinking should include our readiness to react to it being checked round to us by putting in a steal bet when we fail to hit. Adhering too closely to ABC-type poker by effectively limiting our options in advance due to a lack of proper consideration, rather than actively anticipating how we might most positively act as a hand evolves, is a considerable, cumulative error.
The more we grow used to thinking ahead, the better we can approach pre-flop decisions, with our range and pre-flop criteria eventually becoming a natural part of our post-flop thinking and overall strategy. Some holdings clearly have more post-flop mileage than others, and we learn to incorporate certain hands – and certain types of hands – into lines of thought that can subsequently be adjusted, as well as associate this or that hand with situations that can to some extent be confidently anticipated.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador
I once read that Sebastian Coe, one of the greatest ever distance runners, had the advantage of having legs of equal length (you may be surprised to know that most of us are not so lucky) and, in turn, the additional bonus of symmetry that is required to transform ‘normal’ running into a smooth, economical glide. If this is indeed true, as it will be for some amongst elite athletes, then Coe was – quite literally – born to run.
Regardless of factors such as dedication and the four-letter word that is work, it certainly helps to be naturally disposed to poker. After all, with so much literature, strategy advice and number-crunching statistical software around nowadays we’ll more than welcome a potentially key edge that DNA affords us if it means we’re more likely to pick up an extra pot or two here and there.
Who, then, possesses the natural attributes that are, typically, most conducive to a successful poker quest? And is having the natural skills that enhance our game necessarily more significant than not being weighed down by equally natural bad habits and permanently undiscovered misconceptions? Not everyone at the table was destined for profit, so it follows that some players are simply more genetically wired up for the game than others.
Of course this subject is absolutely specific to the individual and, as such, necessitates a potentially brutal level of honest introspection, but it’s well worth the effort. In poker – as in life – understanding our strengths is imperative if we are to make the most of them, while appreciating and addressing our weaknesses and their implications is no less crucial. Just one ostensibly irrelevant personality trait could have a major influence on how we play.
I have been told recently, for example, that I am prone to passively going with the flow rather than making decisions. In my defence I should point out that this ‘analysis’ stems from my being a gentleman and subscribing to the theory that the lady should decide certain matters. Yet she swept aside my protestations that I am, in fact, the epitome of assertiveness and, given that her legs are – allegedly – exactly the same length, placing her alongside Lord Coe and thus appearing to lend her assessment added gravitas, I was forced to entertain the possibility. Can I be passive when I should be pro-active? Do I allow opponents to dictate the course of a hand instead of finding ways to assume the initiative? When I think I’m being clever and tricky by merely calling bets, am I really achieving no more than being a passive calling station?
Regardless of the answers, the point is I’m now asking the right questions – prompted by something as far removed from poker as the theoretical (in)significance of my companion’s leg measurements.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
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)