NL Hold’em: Small Pocket Pairs

January 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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.

And herein lies the problem – are we simply wasting money by investing (even modestly) in a small pair in the first place? When we do hit a set would an eventual big pay-off (not in itself in anyway guaranteed, of course) be enough to at least compensate for the cumulative losses incurred through trying our luck all the other times?

While it tends not to be quite as ‘black & white’ as that, this aspect of No Limit Hold’em can nevertheless be considered in, if not simplistic terms, at least a way that helps put the situation in perspective and thus makes the do-we-or-don’t-we decision making process easier to handle.

Here are a few factors to take into consideration when dealt a small pocket pair. Keep in mind when contemplating the following that a pocket pair will become a set on the flop less than 12% of the time:

Position – this generally important subject is going to make a difference here, too. The earlier we are in the pre-flop betting order the greater the chance, after we have limped in, for instance, that someone will throw in a raise or – worse – a reraise, thus putting us in the often unenviable position of having to face facts and cut our loss rather than unjustifiably call a big bet. Conversely, if we are last to act, we have the relative luxury of having seen all the preceding action and can approach the hand with much more confidence. Note that position is absolutely relevant post-flop, too, as being on the button extends this strategic advantage until the river. Were we to have called a (re)raise in early position, on the other hand, the problem would be compounded by being out of position for the rest of the hand.

The kind of game in which we’re playing has an effect on whether playing small pairs is or isn’t a viable option. If the nature of the game is generally quiet we can get away with seeing the flop cheaply but, when sitting with aggressive players, we can’t expect a smooth ride to the flop – thoughtlessly limping with a small pair in early position is often a mistake, while doing so in a clearly aggressive game is unforgivable…

In a particularly passive game we can also slot in an occasional raise – apart from picking up a pot uncontested here and there this also serves to both mix up our play and better disguise a set when we strike lucky.

The bigger our stack size the more justified we are in getting involved pre-flop with small pairs due to their high(er) implied value. This is another subject but, not surprisingly, it’s logical to be able to make the most of our chances when hitting a set – better to invest a modest amount of our stack with a view to a big win than to risk too high a percentage of our money for a payout limited by our (short) stack size.

Good luck with small pairs!

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

Poker Psychology: Superstitions, Rituals & Habits 

January 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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…

Poker players are no different. Anyone who plays ‘live’ for the first time might initially be surprised to see people around the table almost obsessively stacking and rearranging their chips in a particular fashion. Some like the sight of giant stacks, others multiple small stacks which, in turn, will be arranged according to a player’s taste – all ostensibly meaningless but, in reality, often providing the player with a confidence-boosting familiarity.

Lucky charms (usually as card protectors) abound, which might be more understandable when our fate can be cruelly determined by Lady Luck but, of course, has no influence on which cards will next appear. Some male players believe they’re ‘unlucky’ against women, others have one or more starting hands (not necessarily trash hands) that they simply never play. This last one perhaps best explains how we might succumb to superstitions, which are (in this context) essentially a subjective construct founded purely in hindsight, and emotionally driven. We might experience unusually good (or bad) results – or perform with a certain level of success – which we attribute to a change in circumstance and, subsequently, consciously endeavour to reproduce (or actively avoid). We see a pot ‘stolen’ from us two or three times after calling a pre-flop raise with this or that hand, and will be loathe to repeating the same play. Poor results against women, incidentally, might well be a genuine problem for lots of male players, but this is due to poor luck or – more likely – good old-fashioned chauvinism obscuring the decision-making process (or simply being an inferior player).

Of course results-led irrational thinking can also have its upside if it means scaring us away from poor strategy but, in the main, we are far better off having nothing to do with superstition and instead focusing on facts. Poker is, after all, a matter-of-fact game that continually delivers psychological blows, and if we were to succumb to the notion that all manner of circumstance and condition can contribute to our fate, then it would never end.

Ritual and habit, on the other hand, can be quite different if it means adhering to certain types of behaviour that are beneficial to our game, such as sleeping properly, good diet and the general aspects of health that aid concentration and help us maintain psychological stability. We’re going to have more luck in the long-term if we avoid alcohol before sitting down to play. Listening to ear-bursting thrash metal isn’t something we should associate with bad luck after noticeable losses – it’s a distraction we should associate with producing poor concentration.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington
32Red Poker Ambassador

No Limit Poker: Heads Up Fun

October 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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.

Check out both heads up SnG and cash in the poker lobby, and have fun as you broaden your poker horizons.

Good luck at the tables!

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

Thinking Poker

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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

Poker Personality: Are You Suited?

September 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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)

32Red Poker Ambassador

Dangers of Drawing on the Flop

August 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

NoLimitHoldem--Dangers-of-Drawing-on-the-Flop-588x300

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!

Angus Dunnington
32Red Poker Ambassador

Stealing Pots (It might as well be you)

August 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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!

Angus Dunnington

32Red Poker Ambassador

Let us know your best steal – our favourite gets a free €4+1 Flush Royale ticket…

Poker: Do We Help Ourselves?

June 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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 

Medium Pocket Pair with Overcard on the Flop

June 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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

Following Up a Continuation Bet (Part 2)

May 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

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

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