Sit & Go Strategy: Changing Gears – Be the Bully

January 21, 2015 by  
Filed under News

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

No Limit Poker: Heads Up Fun

October 14, 2014 by  
Filed under News

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

No Limit: The Probe Bet

March 14, 2013 by  
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In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. On the (virtual) poker baize, it would be ideal to be able to see everything but, of course, this isn’t possible and information is limited. While much of the game is based on experienced guesswork (indeed second-guessing opponents is a useful skill) we should anyway be trying to garner as much information as we can, and we should be prepared to pay for it, too.

A (dual-purpose) way of doing this is with a so-called probe bet – typically up to a third of the pot or, feasibly in some circumstances, half the pot  (betting too little isn’t going to trouble anyone and therefore won’t induce a ‘serious’ response). An added bonus in getting used to making probe bets (within reason, obviously, like lots of things in poker) is that these can also become indistinguishable from stealing the pot and, ideally, in some circumstances such a bet can simultaneously play each role.

Some players find it difficult to make a ‘sacrifice’ and hope instead to find out useful info for free. Apart from this being too optimistic an approach, by holding back we deny ourselves the possibility of assuming the initiative, and generally we risk creating a table image that is too passive and susceptible to being exploited.

Furthermore, taking into account the fact that the pots we win as a result of probe bets should heavily outweigh the investment, and it should become easier to incorporate this tactic into our overall strategy.

Remember that betting only the minimum, for example, isn’t enough to do the job and can lead to confusion (and invite bets that put us on the back foot). A half-pot bet, on the other hand, tends to achieve more because we’re going to put the opposition under enough pressure to either commit them into making a meaningful declaration of intent, or to give up the fight (perhaps with a stronger hand than ours). Importantly, the former response might provide sufficient information to save us money, as even this way of doing things is cheaper than cumulative smaller bets that lead to our losing the showdown.

Good luck at the tables!

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

Playing small pocket pairs against different styles (Part 5)

November 5, 2012 by  
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Part 5: Versus Tight Aggressive Opponents

We’ve saved the best players – and thus the worst environment – until last. As has already been mentioned, not only can it be difficult to win big pots against aggressive players, but even giving our small pairs a value ticket into a pot tends to be awkward.

Whereas there are readily exploitable weaknesses when facing the Loose Aggressive style, Tight Aggressive players are the ultimate party poopers. Of course we’d be better off taking our small pair strategy to an ‘easier’ table populated by more amenable opposition, but it’s inevitable we’ll come across these tough players from time to time.

We can learn a lot from battling it out with strong players, so let’s give them some thought in this context for when opportunities arise to tackle them armed with our small pairs.

Hopefully what follows will also help in terms of appreciating the bigger picture.

Not surprisingly, considering both the lack of implied odds and the expected aggression from the opposition, pocket pairs at the low end of the spectrum are going to fare less well the earlier our position. What we can do depends on how we tend to approach the game. The simplest ‘solution’ would be to fold these hands nearly all the time, but we could also incorporate them into a broader, more flexible and deceptive strategy in order to undermine our Tight Aggressive opponents’ game plan. For example instead of automatically folding the likes of 22 or 55 we could combine limping with additional occasional limping with kings and aces. This serves to make our post flop action difficult to read, while also enabling us to trap when faced with the inevitable steals.

Our fold equity against Tight Passive players (***link***) allows us to fire away with a continuation bet at random flops to pick up countless pots but, unfortunately, we absolutely don’t have the same luxury against Tight Aggressives. Quite the opposite, in fact. Not only will these players refuse to go away when in position, but with all kinds of flops that don’t connect to our small pair, we’re very often going to find ourselves under too much pressure come the turn when they bet. And they will bet; even if they don’t, we can expect to have to make a very difficult decision when they bet the river. Given that poker is a mass of circumstances and situations which range from easy and desirable to difficult, hazardous nightmares we should avoid potential problems whenever we can, and raising out of position with small pairs against Tight Aggressive players comes under the ‘avoid’ category.

Nevertheless, when factoring in our need to have an element of balance and deception in our game, we should be happy to occasionally throw in an early position raise with our baby pairs. Widening our pre-flop raising range in this way boosts the earning power of our monster hands when raised in the same circumstances. Note that suited connectors would also play a role in any such range. Furthermore, stack sizes are significant (again, it is assume in these articles that stacks are big enough to allow for flexibility in terms of plays and all-ins).

Essentially, what our considerations suggest when contemplating using small pocket pairs against Tight Aggressive players is that we’re not going to have anywhere near as much joy as we will against all other player types. Of course good outcomes will arise from time to time but, importantly, we need to appreciate that these hands and related situations should form part of a flexible overall strategy that maximises our prospects of profitability while simultaneously enabling us to defend and stand our ground.

Good luck at the tables!

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

The Legacy of Online Poker

August 9, 2012 by  
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In the early days of online poker, purists with a vast experience of bricks & mortar poker looked down on the new format as the poor relative of their crucially visual game. The argument was that the facility to read players – an element of the battle of wits upon which great emphasis was placed (and still is) – had been eliminated, and with it too much of the old-style skill factor.

But the last decade or so has seen what veterans interpreted as a backward step in fact revolutionise the game to such an extent that a new generation of players has changed the way the ‘live’ game is played. Looking for tells obviously remains important, albeit less so, and the ‘safety first’ approach in tournaments, for instance, is by no means the only strategy today. Seemingly fearless aggression and brinkmanship is another tactic, while the mathematical side has advanced to number-crunching levels.

This final characteristic is a direct result of online poker forcing players to address the reduced reliance on (physical) tells by concentrating more on mathematically oriented, correct play. If we can learn what is right and – more importantly – what is wrong in this or that situation and use this knowledge as a sound foundation on to which we can then add deception and other aspects, then we can be confident in being winning players over time.

Significantly, the psychological part of the game is most certainly an area that is worth investigating. There’s far more to poker psychology than what we can see in someone’s face or body language. Indeed because the online game has advanced and the level of play is so high – online players will typically find ‘live’ games at their usual blind levels considerably easier than what they’re used to – psychology can be fascinating. The usual elements are there, but much revolves around a more sophisticated form of misinformation – if we can’t trick the opposition  with our physicality, then it all comes down to our actions on the virtual baize in the form of bet sizing, betting patterns, the actual timing of our plays, previous experience and so on.

Many players make the mistake of adopting the habit of playing online poker like a computer game, but it is essential we remember that we’re up against real people who, to make up for not being able to see us, are constantly trying second guess us and are consequently at the mercy of their ability to interpret what they see as a hand progresses.

There’s much more to online poker than meets the eye…

Good luck at the tables!

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

Heads Up Sit & Go Strategy

December 2, 2011 by  
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While Sit & Go tournaments offer an exciting, one-table competitive experience that don’t take too much time (meaning we can play a number of them in one session), it’s possible to step up a gear or three for the even more thrilling ride of the heads up S&G.

These differ significantly from HU cash, remember, in that the blinds increase – and at quite a pace when we consider that hands just whiz by, and we’re involved in every single one of them. The trick, in an ideal world, is to bamboozle the opposition in every department. We need to be crafty, tricky, manipulative and pretty fearless (as opposed to reckless!).

With only the one opponent it follows that this format can be rather rewarding if we are fortunate enough to be up against opponents who don’t perform as well as we do and, with this in mind, the more we think about strategy and the more experience we rack up the more successful we’ll become. Variance can obviously be cruel in this particular game but that shouldn’t put anyone off making the effort if they feel more suited to this gladiatorial battle than its less cut-throat relations.

‘Mastering’ post-flop play is absolutely essential as we need to exploit players’ passivity and be prepared to bluff much more than is called for in other games. Indeed approaching a HU S&G with too conservative a strategy just won’t do. We will get our fingers burnt but, in the long-run, the key to being a winning player will be determined by our ability to play the critical hands well with a view to at least gaining a decisive lead.

Loose-aggressive is the way to go, in terms of both style and attitude, but we also need to be able to adapt quickly to what’s coming from the other side of the table while simultaneously trying deny the opposition useful reads on our own play.

Against tight players the way to gain the initiative is to raise pre-flop and post-flop (not being afraid to get busy out of position), double/triple-barrel and generally apply constant pressure – at least for as long as we can get away with it. It’s not unusual to get our own way and emerge with the much bigger stack, which in turn affords us the opportunity to widen our range and thus increase the likelihood of hitting a well disguised monster.

Conversely, against loose players it’s necessary to tighten up, letting go of unpromising hands and being aggressive with decent aces, pairs and suited connectors, mixing in opening aggression post-flop with check-raises.

Position is at least as important here as other formats as being in position affords us a continual advantage in 50% of all hands. Remember that continuation bets need succeed only a third of the time to break even. We should raise a lot pre-flop in position to deny the opposition value limps and build juicy pots that we are perfectly placed (in position!) to steal on the turn or river.

There is obviously a great deal more to heads up Sit & Go play but the points here form the foundations on which an effective strategy is based.

Good luck at the tables!

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

No Limit: The curse of JJ?

November 7, 2011 by  
Filed under News

As we have all experienced, even QQ seems to be a trouble hand more often than we might expect, so JJ – which can quite reasonably be categorised as a medium pair in order for us to keep our feet on the ground – should perhaps come with a “warning”.

As always, the best play in this or that scenario tends to boil down to situational factors as well as any knowledge we have picked up and our style, image, strategy and so on. But, generally, with JJ (and TT) we ideally want to be raising enough to deny small(er) pairs correct odds in the search for flopping a set, for example, but not too much of our stack to leave us too committed. Obviously we aren’t absolutely limited to a single type of play, but while we don’t want to overdo it, nor should we get into the habit of raising too little.

Not surprisingly, as well as table dynamics, specific habits of certain players, stack sizes (including our own) and other useful factors, positional consideration remains a constant in determining how we act.

In early position it is prudent to open with a raise (even with tens), and something akin to a sin to merely limp. The former sets out our stall, lets the opposition know that we mean business (assuming we don’t have a loose and wacky image, and that we’re playing on a reasonably ‘normal’ table), forces them to pay for the privilege of seeing the flop and earns respect in anticipiation of our continued aggression. Limping works out wonderfully should a magic card show up on the flop, but otherwise leaves us in the dark and invites someone else to assume the initiative.

While middle position gives us a little more information, we need to take appropriate action based on what has happened thus far. If we are still first to act, then again raising is sensible, and limping deserves to be exploited. Note also that limping helps opponents narrow down our range to ‘good’ but not great hands.

After limpers we might raise to narrow down the field, or sometimes call, perhaps against particularly tight players (with a view to giving them ‘control’ of the hand post-flop should we hit a monster). We can also consider calling a lone, tight pre-flop raiser for the same reason, but reraise loose players to get them heads-up.

In late position we are expected to be playing a much wider range anyway, so open-raising is standard. If a few players have limped, then we can do the same and try to exploit our position in a potentially enormous pot in the event of hitting, or simply put in a hefty raise to force out the weak limpers (with the bonus of their ‘extra’ contribution to the pot) and strip down the field. The raise facilitates taking the pot with consistent aggression on the flop.

Meanwhile, if the pot has been raised already, what we do depends on relative stack sizes, how many players remain in contention and the habits of the players in the blinds. Are we willing to put the short stack raiser all-in? Do we want to get into a war with the big-stack raiser, is it preferable to call? If we/they are short-stacked we can’t justify calling a decent raise and then folding the flop, so it’s a matter of whether or not we’re prepared to commit everything.

Remember we aslo have the option to fold Jacks pre-flop if the action suggests someone holds a big pair. For example if we are in late position and there has been a raise and a reraise, while it is possible that both could be up to funny business, unless they are proven jokers, there’s nothing wrong in interpreting the raises for what they appear to be and keeping our gunpowder dry (and stack intact).

Good luck,

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

No Limit Tournaments: Final Table Strategy

November 1, 2011 by  
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Following our feature about cutting a path through freeroll (and general) multi-table tournaments, here are a few reminders about how we might – should we survive that far – handle the final table.

Obviously, as the tournament progresses, what will have started as a patient approach during which we concentrated on good hands and position will have gradually stepped up in pace (along with growing blinds and a decrease in players), so that we were willing to get involved with a wider ranger of hands, and not necessarily limiting our aggression to late position.

Ideally we also made a point of exploiting other players’ fear of missing out on the paid places as the bubble approached, while at the same time avoiding big, unnecessary confrontations against anyone who could knock us out of the tournament.

The problem for inexperienced players (indeed most players) who find themselves sitting at a final table is having to readjust to the dynamics and come up with a new strategy to cope with the changed situation. One mistake – unless we have a stack so tiny that the only option is to take our chance rather than passively give in by being blinded away – is that, guaranteed a decent prize but behind six or seven players on what is left of the leaderboard, we almost immediately throw caution to the wind and gamble in an effort to have one of the bigger stacks. Every final table sees this happen, usually with this player exiting with a far from strong hand when, in fact, it would have been possible to sit tight for a while and wait for genuinely favourable opportunities, only pushing all-in if it becomes absolutely necessary. Moreover, with other players – even those above us – gambling away their survival, it is not unusual to be promoted from 8th/10 to 6th or 7th/9 within an orbit or two of the final table getting under way – patience, even at this stage, remains a key part of the game.

Often such an elimination will be thanks to someone with a huge stack taking it upon themselves to go head-to-head with gambling short(er) stacks, sometimes with random, mediocre hands. It’s important – for now, at least – to forget about runaway chip leaders rather than have a go with, say, KJ after seeing them risk a few thousand of their enormous stack with 89 – unless circumstances dictate it, there’s no point being around a 60-40 favourite (KcJs v 8h9h is roughly a 60:40 match-up) if we’re healthy enough to pick our spots.

Nevertheless, as usual, we need some kind of happy medium, ideal situations being when we get involved with premium hands while someone is trying to steal, a player goes with a lesser hand or someone has reached (what they perceive to be) a critical, desperate stage.

It is imperative to keep in mind our position relative to the other players in terms of where the different size stacks are. This makes certain players safer/riskier than others, which we should factor in to the decision making process.

Throw in the occasional steals against passive players – which are easier to make if we have started the final table patiently and thus earned ourselves a solid, not-to-be-messed-with image – and it becomes much easier to pick our way through the minefield while others self-destruct around us.

By employing a patient, solid (not passive) and ultimately aggressive strategy we should be able to remain in contention until there are a handful of players and, consequently, win a bigger prize than had we initially lacked discipline. If we do manage this and find ourselves lagging so far behind the rest then, far better now to take our chances all-in and finish 5th, for example, than do the same with all ten players still in the game.

Good luck at the tables!

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

More great software features at 32Red Poker!

October 20, 2011 by  
Filed under News

Recently there have been yet more new and improved features at 32Red Poker, and it’s well worth taking the time to check them out as the point is to both make our playing experience more convenient as well as streamline typical practicalities in order to increase our thinking time at the tables.

I have already written about the usefulness of the Pocket Card Manager – especially to beginners and lesser experienced players. This is a great tool that allows us to set out which hands – in each table position from Small Blind around to the Button – we never wish to get involved with so that these holdings are automatically folded pre-flop (even with random timings for the actual play!). For anyone interested in multi-tabling this is a great piece of software. We can access this feature via the Global Table Options menu from Preferences in the Lobby.

There is also a handy Multi Table Launcher that does what it says on the tin. Once seated, the icon appears at the bottom right-hand side of the table, accompanied by a speech bubble. Clicking this icon lets us automatically open further similar tables without the inconvenience of having to go the Lobby and look out for them while we’re busy playing.

Another tool that is appreciated more once we actually begin to use it, particularly when combined with the Multi Table Launcher, is the Auto Buy-in feature. This enables us to set up a pre-determined buy-in amount so that, when enabled, as soon as we choose a table we skip the usual buy-in procedure and are instead immediately seated with whatever buy-in we pre-selected (anything from the minimum to the maximum), and consequently ready to get involved in the next hand.

As well as being accessed via the Global Table Options menu from Preferences in the Lobby, this feature is also available when first sitting down at a table in the Bring Money to Table box by clicking on the ‘Seat me then set up Auto Buy-in’ button.

Tournament fans can make use of the Auto Rebuy function with which we can opt to rebuy in tournaments automatically – note that it is possible to use Redbacks as well as money. This option is available when clicking ‘Join’ when registering for a rebuy tournament.

To set up, simply click ‘Configure Auto Rebuys and Add-ons’ for the options. Of course it is convenient to be able to select how many automatic rebuys we want for a tournament, but we must remember not to get carried away!

Good luck at the tables!

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

No Limit: The semi-bluff

October 12, 2011 by  
Filed under News

The problem with bluffing, of course, is when we keep getting called. Combined blows to the bankroll, ego and table image are far from pleasant, and what often happens is that because we continue to see our strategy fail we decide to stop bluffing altogether, instead putting money into the pot only when we have strong hands. But any approach that means playing with fewer weapons than the opposition is a losing one as we simply can’t afford to miss long-term profitable opportunities that don’t require us to be holding ‘winning’ hands.

One such important part of the game is the semi-bluff. This is a bluff in the form of a bet or raise with a hand that, with help from future cards, can improve to become the best. For anyone who has little experience or is lacking in confidence when it comes to bluffing, the semi-bluff is a great and ultimately necessary addition to how we play the game with distinct advantages over the pure bluff.

That isn’t to say we should scrap the standard bluff altogether because, as we should be increasingly aware the more we play, we need to balance out our plays in order to avoid being predictable and, in turn, get the most out of juicy opportunities when they present themselves.

Thus we should still make the occasional bluff when appropriate, but the frequency of our semi-bluffs should be greater. A pure bluff obviously tends to have very, very little chance of actually winning the hand when called, whereas a semi-bluff brings with it definite winning chances.

Both bluffs have fold equity (that’s the point!), but in terms of equity when called, a bluff has virtually none while a semi-bluff is guaranteed some level of value due to its winning chances, depending on its potential strength.

Note that bluffs are in the main made with the intention of winning the pot there and then, so if our read on a player suggests that they are unlikely to fold we shouldn’t be bluffing, because this high expectation of a call renders the fold equity of the play meaningless.

Clearly, the more equity, the more desirable the semi-bluff. Therefore a big flush draw is going to have good equity against a pair, for example, as is an open-ended straight draw. A flush draw and open-ended straight draw combo has a hefty chunk of equity and is ripe for a semi-bluff. ‘Weak’ flush draws and gutshot straight draws, on the other hand, offer considerably less justification, although this lesser equity would make a semi-bluff preferable to a pure bluff.

Semi-bluffs also have an added bonus in the form of the initiative, putting opponents on the back foot so that we can exploit their passivity later in the hand (and indeed during the game). Finally, semi-bluffing allows us to disguise our hands, especially when we become more adept in mixing up our play.

Good luck at the tables!

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

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