Blaze Poker – A Few Thoughts (Part 2)

October 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Stereotypes

Players tend to treat Blaze Poker almost as an academic exercise, causing them to overdo their strategic adjustments in some way. This is based on the very reasonable assumption that most players – whether new to the format or happy with their approach – will adopt a more conservative methodology than in ‘normal’ games. Consequently, as in life, we yet again need to find a level of compromise. We should obviously take advantage of the facility to start a new hand immediately when we’ve been dealt garbage, but we don’t want to get into the habit of automatically folding anything but premium hands, or giving up too easily after the flop  – passive play the loose aggressive players will feed on. Nor do we want to obligingly call against the rocks. We should find a balance across the board, from a not-too-tight starting hand range to flexibility post-flop.

Concentrate!

Of course we should be fully concentrated anyway, regardless of what kind of game we’re playing. But we rarely practise what we preach, and Blaze Poker requires us to devote all our attention to the game. Compared to a normal cash game, when there’s often an opportunity to sit back and recharge the batteries a little during hands in which we have folded early (although we should then be observing what’s going on), in this format we’re constantly called upon to play. To think. It’s easy to slip into autopilot mode, insta-folding hand after hand and perhaps not being fully tuned in when the time comes to get involved.

It can also be draining when we play a series of consecutive pots, especially when sitting at two or more tables. Even one table can be difficult to handle.

But if the increased volume of hands played is one of the main attractions in terms of getting more out of 32Red’s 30% rakeback deal, we should at least put things in perspective when starting to tire or when we feel that the game is drifting away from us. As soon as this happens it’s time for a break – the tables will still be there when we are refreshed and ready to play at maximum capacity once again.

Blaze Poker - Frequently Asked Questions

Blaze Poker – Frequently Asked Questions

Blaze Poker as a Learning Tool

It can be difficult sometimes to both recognise and fully acknowledge our weaknesses, and Blaze Poker can be a good servicing tool in that it can throw an uncomfortable spotlight on to our play. Whatever leaks and holes we might have failed or been unwilling to identify before will be all the more conspicuous in this format, where the timescale we’re used to goes into overdrive. Moreover, if we’re doing badly when given the luxury of the instant fold, then we’re running out of excuses, and something is clearly fundamentally wrong with our game.

Aggression is good

Because there’s going to be lots of folding – both through the use of the ‘instant’ fold facility as well as after a little more thought – we shouldn’t be afraid to incorporate into our strategy open raising, regardless of position, with considerably more than just the premium hands. Small pairs (see Part 3) and suited connectors are fine, and when we don’t steal the blinds we’re assuming the initiative with tricky, potentially monster hands. Of course against a couple or more callers it’s subsequently a rather risky tactic to bluff a missed flop, but when heads-up a decent frequency of continuation bets is feasible.

Should we run into aggression ourselves, then it’s generally a play backed up by a strong hand (particularly a check-raise). That’s not to say we should automatically give up without a fight every time we come under pressure, and not properly take into account any relevant factors that might be available, but aggression in Blaze Poker is more likely to be ‘honest’ than is the case in standard cash games.

All-in Blues

Given that the majority of players can be expected to be more patient, as well as the fact that we’re playing considerably more hands than on normal tables, we should note that in all-in situations we’re going to find ourselves facing bigger hands more frequently. It’s less of a surprise in Blaze Poker for KK to lose to AA because those who usually might have been tempted to shove with KQ, for example (or simply gamble), will now be trashing those hands in eager anticipation of aces coming along.

Consequently, with this in mind, not only must we be prepared for such eventualities, but this should be factored into our bankroll considerations, too. Any swings are going to be happening over a shorter period of time.

In Part 3 we will consider the implications in Blaze Poker of certain starting hands.

Good luck at the Blaze Poker tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

What’s in a bet? (Part 2)

August 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

In Part 1 I mentioned that we can bet or raise in order to obtain information. Of course there tends to be a price for everything, but it’s equally important not to take this too far because we can often learn enough without having to part with much, or, indeed, anything at all. Moreover, our opponent’s bet in itself can be information enough, of course.

Here’s an example that helps differentiate between stereotypically wasting money ‘to see where we stand’ and making a genuinely purposeful bet.

Let’s say we’re dealt 9d 9c, for instance, raise on the button and are called by only the Small Blind. When our opponent then opens with a ¾ pot bet on a flop of Kh 8s 7h we have a typical teaser of a situation, with a decent pair, an overcard showing and an opponent willing to call our pre-flop raise out of position. Are we up against a bluff, and therefore well ahead? Is our opponent aggressively playing out a draw (perhaps with a suited Ace)? Were we called by A8? Or AK? It’s quite a conundrum, but not at all necessarily one that should justify our raising here for the sake of buying information. It’s true that doing so might result in us picking up the pot, but anything else is going to provide us with no more knowledge about the hand than the realisation that 99 isn’t looking too good, and that we didn’t get much for our money. In fact our subsequent folding in the face of a hefty reraise doesn’t seem to have been a worthwhile venture on our part.

Other than folding to the flop bet (a reasonably sensible option), simply calling allows us to remain in the hand while still giving us something by way of information in the form of whatever action (or otherwise) our out-of-position opponent comes up with on the Turn. Another bet on, for example, a Turn of Jd, and there is nothing wrong with stepping down, although we could still attempt a bluff if we so wished.

However, a check certainly piques our interest, and this is quite different in terms of decision making from the Flop scenario. If we invest money here then our bet has far more purpose in that it does more than seek to fill in a few potentially key pieces of the information jigsaw, and makes sense regardless of whether we think we’re ahead or behind. If it’s the former, we’re betting for value, while if we believe we could be behind but sense weakness, we’re trying to steal the pot – either way, it’s not purely for information. Moreover, the information part of the ‘aims’ is almost a secondary – albeit important – issue. Of course we could be walking into a big check-raise, but if that happens and we have to fold, at least this is a preferable (and cheaper) way to make use of bets (not only our own, remember!) than raising the Flop. We have also learned, of course, more about how this particular player thinks and acts.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

Expected Value in Poker (Part 2)

July 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, Featured, News, Poker School

In Part 1 we were introduced to Expected Value and looked at it in the context of a Heads/Tails coin flip game. Now we can have a taste of how EV works in poker practice.

Obviously we have to be simplistic and strip the process down somewhat, so remember that various factors come into play that we pick up with experience, not least the opposition’s style, range and so on and a good idea of how we and what we’re doing are being perceived, too.

Here’s a typical example. We’re playing NL €0.50/1.00 and it’s folded round to us on the Button with 5h 6h. As befits our reasonably aggressive table image, we raise to €4 and, after calling the Small Blind’s reraise to €8, have a two-player €17 pot with a flop of 3s 4s 9c. The SB bets €16.50 (bear with me…) and we call. The 6s turn is checked, and on the arrival of the Kd our opponent checks into the €50 pot. Our opponent has for quite a while been rather solid and hasn’t been up to any funny business on the river. With AK we would have expected a bet here. Given the betting we could well be up against 10-10 to QQ, KQ-K10 suited, 9-10 suited but not a hand that would justify a raise in the face of a bet (nor a flush, given the lack of value betting).

Meanwhile, turning to our own hand, we’re not looking too healthy in terms of showdown prospects with our pair of sixes, but can be fairly confident after the assessment above that – for simplicity’s sake – our opponent, when faced with a decent sized bet, will call half the time (in which case we will lose) and fold the other half.

Let’s see what happens if we respond to the check with a ¾ pot bet. If we pick up the pot to a fold we win €50, while if we’re called we lose our bet (€37.50). Using the calculation from the coin-toss example in Part 1 we have the following assuming the possible 50-50 outcomes:

(-€37.50 x 0.5) + (€50 x 0.5)
= (-€18.75) + (€25)
= €6.25

In other words, assuming we have made an accurate assessment of this particular situation, this play has a positive EV of €6.25. The aim, of course, is to accumulate overall profit in the long run by engineering positive and thus profitable EV situations.

Of course these calculations are applicable in all sorts of scenarios – not just when we are checked to (for example we could set up a check-raise), so it’s a case of weighing up pot odds, the implications of drawing hands and so on with a view to determining whether or not we make +EV plays regularly enough to emerge long-term winners. It takes experience, study and no small amount of work but, ultimately, it’s well worth familiarising ourselves with the practicalities of Expected Value.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

The Crafty Re-Steal (Part 2)

June 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Given that the subject of the re-steal involves bluffing (we wouldn’t really be stealing if we had a better hand), getting acquainted with typical situations and features related to the re-steal is imperative. Another scenario that tends to be more difficult than we think it should is making the most from a pot when we’re strong, but at least then we have the advantage of ‘knowing’ that we will pick up chips. But with the re-steal being a bluff this certainly isn’t the case, and we obviously need our opponent to fold their hand in order for us to win the pot.

In Part 1 I mentioned that our table image is a factor as our action needs to be believable, but of course it pays to closely observe the opposition, too (remember we should anyway be doing this at all times, as a matter of course). Clearly, the best players from whom to re-steal are those who we believe are stealing in the first place. It takes one to know one, as they say. And, often, those who we will spot as thieves tend to be the better players who are indeed better because part of their overall, successful strategy is accumulating chips through helping themselves with well-timed but deceivingly ‘regular’ pre-flop raises.

Note that we need also to be able to make the distinction between this kind of player – whose prudence and practical superiority leads them to fold when we strike – and others who are prone to raise pre-flop. Wilder players may well react to our three-bet by putting us all-in, for example, and if we find ourselves in this position a couple of times (and folding, of course) it’s time for us to take a step back and perhaps pull something different out of our bag of tricks.

Meanwhile, as regular readers are well aware, poker is closely related to chess in that in both we need to get used to thinking ahead. There’s no point trying to re-steal if we’re lost for a plan when we’re called. Which brings us to both our cards and our position.

Rather than being in the unenviable position of fighting for the hand with a mediocre ace, for example, when we could well be dominated and simply not know where we stand, we’re better off with a small pair or 67s, for instance, which are both potential monsters and easier to handle.

As for position, we will usually be in the blinds representing considerable strength against a late position raise. But of course should we be on the button and the opportunity to re-steal arises, then it’s time to step up the pace, our move being more likely to work – especially against better players – thanks to our being in position.

Good luck re-stealing!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

Punishing Tight(er) Players (Part 2: In for the Kill)

February 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Having covered general bullying in Part One, now we turn to digging a hole big enough to catch these players for the maximum payout. After continued bullying, raising both their limps and their attempts at pre-flop raising, we should be succeeding as time goes by in ruffling their feathers. Note that sometimes this strategy results in intimidating a player to such an extent that they withdraw into severe passivity or even stop playing altogether – this is by no means a disaster because we’ve managed to steal their money along the way.

At some point, most likely after venturing as far as the flop (and paying for the privilege by calling our [re]raise) and being bet into, they will be really struggling with the fact that we can’t have caught enough of the flop every time. It’s only human nature for the constant bullying to have a cumulatively negative effect and, inevitably, there comes a point at which they’ll snap or, quite feasibly, decide to punish us.

As we gain experience we learn to recognise this tipping point, and at this stage we need to adjust our strategy so that at the next opportunity (and subsequent spots thereafter, should they not bite – during which time we’re still collecting their money) we raise with a big hand. In the meantime it’s worth stepping back a little when they limp and raise so as to add to the tension while narrowing down our range…

Ultimately we’re hoping that the two worlds that are the opposition’s frustration (and consequent poor decision making) and our finding strong hole cards collide in an all-in situation. This might arise via our reraising pre-flop, betting to their check and them pushing all-in, or a raising war pre-flop.

Of course this won’t always work – and there’s no guarantee we’ll win the big pot – but such a strategy against the right kind of player can be profitable over time regardless of whether it reaps maximum reward.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

Decision Making on the Turn (Part 2: Decent hands and Draws)

January 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Part 2: Decent hands and Draws

Having considered how we should treat both poor and less than average marginal hands with a healthy dose of caution when contemplating the potential efficacy of a battle plan from the flop to the turn/river, we can now put our minds to dealing with genuinely good hands on the flop (for strong hands see Part 3).

Remember the fact that we have connected with the flop to the extent that further action looks justified means being careful to not get too carried away, so interpreting actions with a degree of accuracy is imperative.

Typical hands that fall into this category of essentially being too good to routinely surrender without a fight, but not big enough to throw the kitchen sink in with are, for example, top pair with a good kicker, bottom two pair and as yet unmade but potential winners in the form of strong flush and straight draws. Of course we should automatically take into account such things as stack sizes and position (very important!), while flop texture is obviously going to have an influence on our actions depending on what kind of hand we have. With a made hand and possible draws in play we need to accordingly hike up the price for others to stay in contention.

It gets a little more complex when we have the draw as position assumes maximum significance. The more information the better because, as well as being better able to determine the right pot odds for the draw, having good position affords us semi-bluffing possibilities under the right circumstances. Typically situational, much will depend on others’ actions (including previous history) because such a tactic can backfire. Has the opposition shown signs of being more than just an unimaginative ABC type player? Are they likely to be slowplaying a monster? Without overcards we might well have only eight outs, and so on. With poor position it’s essential to tread very carefully indeed but there is still room for manoeuvre. For example if we raised preflop and now have a strong draw, a bet that represents a made hand both gives us a chance of remaining in the driving seat and sets us up perfectly in the case of hitting (especially against those players prone to bluffing).

With these hands we need to plan constructively but realistically, with a view to maintaining a level of pot control. Position is often crucial, which should serve as a reminder to generally respect this would-be golden rule, especially when we don’t hold strong hands, which will be the subject of Part 3.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

Playing small pocket pairs against different styles (Part 2)

October 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Part 2: Versus Tight Passive Opponents

In the context of our getting busy with small pocket pairs, we’re probably not going to have a fun, exciting time against Tight Passive players due to the rather unadventurous, timid nature of their approach. But that isn’t to say we shouldn’t bother being aggressive when we are dealt holdings like 55 and they will be our likely opponents in the hand. Moreover, this actually fits in nicely with our general strategy against so-called weak-tight players because they tend anyway to be easier to exploit and, consequently, we should be looking to take advantage of their overly cautious strategy whenever opportunities present themselves.

Essentially, these players put so much emphasis on being tight that when they do commit it’s indicative of a monster hand. Note that they will also be playing small pairs, but only by limping or calling a manageable raise. When the flop brings them nothing concrete they have a habit of just giving up in the face of aggression, which is why raising pre-flop with small pocket pairs against Tight Passive opposition is a profitable play. Apart from helping in isolating them, raising is also preferable to limping because by assuming the initiative we are defining the respective roles in anticipation of making our continuation bet on the flop a more credible move. Unless they have hit we will pick up the pot regardless of whether we improved. Remember, too, that position is not a very significant factor here – these players base their decisions on hand strength. Nor will they try bluffing or bullying tactics. When they do seem happy to commit we should take their action seriously, even when we have hit a set and they have voluntarily put themselves all-in.

Our strategy with small pocket pairs against Tight Passive players is to take the initiative with a view to pushing them off the pot after they have failed to connect with the flop, being prepared to occasionally continue with the aggression on subsequent streets. Ideally, we want to raise enough just to tempt them in, and then step up a gear once the flop arrives with a bet big enough to help them stick to their game plan.

Our own holding is usually going to be less relevant than against other styles where we should have greater implied odds. It’s nice to have a pair (and the potential to hit big) but the theme here is exploiting our considerable fold equity which, over time, can make up for what we are having to give up in implied odds, thanks in no small part to the fact that by raising with our modest pairs the initiative helps us pick up the pots in which we’re behind.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador,

Bluffs: To show, or not to show (Part 2)

July 26, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Continuing from where we left off in Part 1, showing bluffs is a powerful tool when it sows the seeds of doubt in the opposition’s mind. Everyone is susceptible to being paranoid, and even a single reveal can be enough to unbalance a player, make them overly suspicious in scenarios they’ve thus far been handling well.

Delving a little further into the psychology of showing bluffs, a particularly effective (and amusing) tactic is to throw in a series of bluffs and shows and then suddenly stop (showing, not bluffing!).

Note that we can ‘randomly’ show (to advertise generally), or single out just one opponent as the target of the strategy. Either way, the whole table gets to see, of course, and we need to keep in mind that not everyone will share the same interpretation of our behaviour and, consequently, different players will respond in different ways. Furthermore, others will also be scrutinising how a player we might be targeting reacts to our actions and adjust accordingly. These factors can then prevent us from achieving our aim.

Given the dangers inherent in overdoing the virtual flipping of our cards after a bluff, we should also try to be aware of situations where showing tends not to be a good policy. For example at a table that we’ve been managing to boss we don’t want to suddenly draw attention to our stealing because the well will dry up as we wait to pounce.

Essentially, if the bluffs we’re showing don’t logically fit in with our overall table image the inconsistency will be conspicuous enough to render our strategy practically useless. Rather than succeeding in sending the opposition down a route of our choosing and setting up traps for the future, being impossible to read and a master of disguise, we run the risk of being the most transparent player at the table.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador 

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No – it’s Blaze Poker! (Part 2)

July 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Here are a few more thoughts to consider when playing 32Red’s exciting new Blaze Poker:

Position

The ‘Position! Position! Position!’ poker mantra should never be forgotten, but with the Blaze format it is even more significant than usual. Information being paramount at standard NL tables, we’re not going to have as much to go on here because, despite getting to know some of the players as we occasionally bump into them during our random table assignations, in many hands we’ll find ourselves up against players about whom we know very little or even nothing. Consequently, without any useful history and playing habits to work with, it would be too much of an edge to give away were we to voluntarily enter the fray with sub-optimal holdings out of position. Moreover, given the nature of the game, whose Quick Fold facility essentially embarrasses people into concentrating so heavily on premium hands, we have to take into consideration the fact that many more players who get involved will have considerably stronger hands than usual, in turn increasing the importance of position. Once the hand gets going we need – particularly post-flop – as much in our armoury as possible.

Look out for the Small Blind Thieves!

Stealing the blinds is part of the game but there is a different kind of dynamic to the psychology in Blaze Poker due to the collective (early, out of position) auto-folding that induces the SB to think a steal could be on the cards if the BB, too, isn’t prepared to invest any more in a hand. When in the BB, rather than blindly (ahem) joining in the fold-fest (thoughtlessly using the ‘check-fold’ button, for example), I would recommend waiting to see what’s happening – we’re already going to be able to fit many more hands into a session with Blaze Poker, so there’s no need to go overboard at the cost of potentially exploitable, profitable opportunities.

Following on from what we touched upon in Part 1, an effective play might well be to 3-bet the SB’s aggression when heads-up, regardless of our holding. We will be raised very rarely (and will anyway have position after calling), will pick up the pot quite often, and be in position – with the initiative – the rest of the time.

Call pre-flop all-ins only with a monster

Again, Blaze Poker is going to affect different people in numerous ways as some seek to exploit how they perceive others will approach the format, some will tweak their game slightly, some won’t change at all, some will take an unorthodox stance, and so on. Remember also that at these popular (lower) blind levels there will be players who are simply enjoying the change of scene.

Nevertheless, when it comes to straight shoves pre-flop, it’s risky calling with anything less than premium, and I’m not even sure that KK merits a place alongside AA as a premium all-in calling hand in the Blaze format; certainly QQ, JJ and AK are just asking for trouble.

Perhaps suggesting we stand down with KK in this situation could be considered a little too cautious, but at least the fact that we’re being dealt so many hands at such a comparatively rapid rate means we should not be impatient as AA will come around sooner than on a standard table.

Of course there are numerous practical (and psychological) implications and considerations to keep in mind when switching to Blaze Poker but, for the time being, at least, I hope these tips help make a session easier to handle!

Good luck at the Blaze tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

Tournaments: Short-handed versus Full-table (Part 2)

May 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

While patience is less of a factor in short-handed tournaments compared with a full table, information is even more important than usual. Given that here we’re having to pay more for each orbit (and thus actually play more), it’s obviously imperative that we know as much as possible about how our opponents play.

We should try to glean maximum information as quickly as possible without – of course – investing much of our own stack in the process. It makes sense, then, to sit back a little during the first level or two, perhaps avoiding speculative plays for the moment. This has a couple of advantages, one being that we get to learn about others’ playing habits at someone else’s expense. Significantly, this approach also prevents the opposition from learning about us, while this fact-finding period also gives us extra time during which we can actually better gauge both how we might tackle this or that player and what table image we want to generate.

Note that, rather than diving into a tournament all guns blazing because it’s short-handed and we feel we must fight fire with fire from the off, so much can be gained by initially taking a back seat. The advantages offered by a slow start are potentially immense, but meaningless tricks, unjustified involvement and failing to establish a table image that we (not our opponents) can subsequently exploit are ways to irrevocably damage our tournament prospects.

Once we have amassed enough useful information about our opponents we can then adjust accordingly. For example, against genuinely passive opponents (as opposed to those who have also been craftily observing) we should of course be looking to isolate and then put them under pressure with (over)bets and raises (remembering to make these look believable). Some players are clearly new to short-handed games and are unwilling/unable to shake off the shackles that restrict their freedom to remain involved in difficult pots. It’s surprising how easy it is to scare them away during the latter stages of a hand by putting their tournament life to the test; this tactic can reap sizeable rewards when a pot has been building up, but we need to engineer it properly to avoid it backfiring.

Aggressive, bullying players can be dealt with in numerous ways depending on circumstances, our own table and so on, but essentially we need to let them know that we’re both unpredictable and not to be messed with, even if this means (re)raising with nothing and showing our trash when we’ve won the pot (this cheeky play also serves to confuse everyone else at the table).

Obviously there’s a lot to learn about the rich tapestry that makes up short-handed tournaments, but if we start slowly, learn about the opposition during the first couple of levels and remember to be deliberate about our own plays in order to create an effective table image, then already we will have a considerable edge.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

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