I received a lot of feedback from last week’s article, so I want to start this week with a clarification on the sunglasses issue. While I did find this (http://tinyurl.com/nkujgy) to support my idea, the article said that I do play with 2-3 people who regularly wore sunglasses, and my words weren’t intended for them. What I was trying to say was, if you wear them, and understand the purpose and limitations of them, by all means continue to wear them. If you believe they help, and they give you more confidence, then who am I to judge?
The article was meant for the newer or less experienced players who seem to be wearing them simply because they saw someone on TV wearing them. That is an entirely different subject. A serious player wears them because they feel it gives them an edge. And in the game of poker, even the slightest edge can mean the difference between winning and losing. As for me, I am a winning poker player, and sunglasses actually hurt my game. I have tried them, and found my results to be lacking when they are on. In a nutshell, if wearing them helps you to become even better, put them on. If you are still in the learning stages, I recommend not wearing them until you’ve mastered the basics of the game and you are ready to take the next step.
My friend Mike (not his real name) is a perfect example. He didn’t wear sunglasses for the first two years I knew him. He continued to improve his play, and then one day he was wearing glasses. Not because they were cool, or because someone else that was successful was wearing them; he wore them because he thought they took him to the next level. Then on a recent trip to Vegas he picked up a pair of glasses that are designed for poker play, in that they fully cover his eyes and they let in more light rather than reducing light. I have no doubt that these glasses will help him even more with his game.
If you must wear sunglasses, I highly recommend Blue Shark Optics.
I have a friend that markets them, and he can probably get you a deal if you’re interested. Just message me below
With that, I’ll move on to this week’s article.
I’ve received a lot of reader mail discussing the actual purpose of my articles. Most discuss the fact that it is written below their playing level. I won’t argue this point. I intentionally write to the home game player level. Most poker books out there are written to a level far exceeding the talents of the average player out there. The average home game player could pick up a copy of Sklansky’s “Theory of Poker”, and it would be like reading the ancient Greek version of the Bible. I try to help get you to the level where you are confident to sit down and play against most other players, regardless of the actual results of your play. If I can help you get to the point where you are no longer first out of a tournament, or possibly in the money, then I would deem my writing to be successful.
What I am NOT trying to do is make you into a professional poker player. If you think you are ready to take that step, then you need to be talking to players with far more ability than I have. I am a successful home game player, and I have had a great deal of success in low money cash games in Vegas and Connecticut. If this is the results you want, then this weekly article is for you. But I will try and quote a friend from here in Colorado who is very successful player in his own right, and the Director of the Colorado Chapter of the Poker Player Alliance. He said that what he reads here each week is something that every experienced player should already know, but that being reminded of it anyway is certainly important.
“How Often Should You Play?”
A lot of people are genuinely surprised when I tell them I play live poker, either tournament or cash, on an average of 4 nights a week. I also play cash and tournaments on FullTilt and SpadeClub when I am at home. This means that I routinely play in one form or another nearly every day. If I was going to become a professional accountant, I would go to school five days a week and learn my craft. I would then take a job in the accounting arena, and work there five days a week, while spending my weekends and nights studying to improve my craft. For me, poker is no different. If I want to improve my game, I must play more often.
Additionally, I ensure that I am continually increasing the talent of my competition. If you are regularly crushing your home game, it is probably because you are playing with people that you are simply better than that. All fun, I’m sure, but your game simply won’t improve if that is where you continue to play.
For example, a new person on FullTilt would traditionally begin playing in the “change games”. Perhaps 1 cent/2 cent blinds cash games, and $1 or $2 buy in sit-n-go’s. After showing some success at those low levels, then it would be time to move up to the 25 cent/50 cent blinds cash games, and $5 or $10 sit-n-go’s. The reason for the progressive movement upwards in the money risked is two-fold. First, you should have built your online bankroll up during the process, which means you have more available money to risk. Second, and possibly more important, the players in the higher limits are obviously more skilled. A person who has never played poker, who chooses to play in a $500 sit-n-go, will surely realize very quickly that they are in over their head.
My suggestions to you then for how to improve at a much quicker pace follow below.
Not only play frequently, but play a larger variety of places and people. My regular Monday night game has almost the same 22 people every week. It is fun, and I love playing it, but it isn’t helping anyone improve their game. When Roy gets below 10,000 chips, he moves all in with any Ace if he is the first to act. Evan will bet or call any draw, especially a flush draw, regardless of how strong his two cards are. If Ginger is the small blind, or the action is checked to her elsewhere on the table, she will bet out on the flop no matter what cards are revealed. I don’t say these things to give away their secrets. I say these things to demonstrate how predictable my Monday night game has become. And I’m not hurting their feelings, because they all three are frequently in the money, and everyone knows these “secrets” about them. (All names changed to protect identity)
Play different games. Omaha has twice as many cards dealt to you as Texas Hold Em (4 vs 2), but has 100 times the excitement. Razz is a game that is not meant for the faint of heart. And nothing beats a rousing game of Follow the Queen Seven Card Stud when the night has turned to morning and everyone’s bored to tears with Texas Hold Em.
Play different styles of the same game. If you insist on being solely a Texas Hold Em player, then switch up and try limit or pot-limit, instead of no-limit. Trust me; they only look the same from the outside. Once you play them, you’ll see just how different they are. For example, one of my regular cash games is a mix of No-Limit Texas Hold Em and Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Low. Guess which one has the largest pots on the river? You’d think No Limit Texas Hold Em. I mean, there’s no limit! But you’d be wrong. The Omaha game gets pots with five or six players and over $500 all the time. The No Limit games rarely reach a $100 pot.
Play against people you don’t know. The easiest way to do this is in a casino, of course. You’ll never know how good or bad your game is any more clearly than when you sit down to a table with 10 strangers and try to take their money. But you can also do this by utilizing the connection tree of poker players that you are hopefully building. Believe me, it is far more interesting to sit down with your friends to discuss poker and talk about how much each of you won in different games, than it is to discuss with them why you made the call you made to knock them out of a game you were playing in together. I have discussed before how we do it in Las Vegas. The Venetian has dozens of tables, and we all try to avoid sitting at the same one, even to the extent of some of us going to other casinos. I don’t travel to Las Vegas to win my friends’ money. I can do that back home.
Risk more. When you are ready, and financially able, take a shot at some higher buy-in cash and tournament games. I used to be afraid to play in the cash games with my friends, because I didn’t want to risk $200 or more to do so. Then one day I realized that when I risked more, I won more. Scared money is easy to take away from someone. Just raise them above a level you think they are comfortable losing. They’ll fold nearly every time. I once shoved all in against a scared money player with 2-7, and he folded K-K face up. He said he thought I had Aces. In reality he simply wasn’t willing to risk $200, regardless of how strong of a hand he had. I normally play in $1/$2 (buy in of $200) cash games at the Colorado casinos. Recently I moved up to the $2/$5 game (buy in of $500), thinking that it wouldn’t be that different. Boy was I in for a shock. But I learned some valuable lessons that have since helped my cash game in a serious way. My results in cash games in recent weeks are a testament to what I learned in that one five-hour ($100 an hour!) lesson at the $2/$5 level.
Read. I just can’t stress enough how important it is for you to constantly be reading a quality poker book. Start with Phil Gordon’s Little Blue, Little Green and Little Black books. You can buy them as a complete set at Amazon.com. If your game doesn’t improve by simply reading these books I’ll personally refund your purchase price (but you’ll have to give me the books). Then read Doyle Brunson’s Super System and Super System II. And then finally move on to Harrington on Hold Em, volume’s 1 and 2. Once you read these, you’ll be hooked on reading.
Form an association with other players who are willing to sit down and discuss poker with you. Napoleon Hill wrote years ago about the principle of The Mastermind. A group of like-minded individuals committed to help each other succeed. Ensure these people are all committed to the growth of the entire group, and not to just themselves. And don’t forget, these individuals should all be somewhat skilled in the game of poker. Discuss hands, strategies, or just poker in general.
Have fun. Poker is a competitive game where money is on the line. Tensions can run high. Nobody knows this more than me. I can let out a stream of obscenities to rival any Quinton Tarantino movie when someone does something totally ridiculous and wins a hand against me. The only purpose that serves is to make myself look foolish. If someone calls you to the river with 7-2, and hits the 2 on the river to beat your complete bluff…oh well. They risked, and they were rewarded, no matter how silly it was. Besides, you’ll beat them 100 times for every one time they suck out like that. So take your loss in stride, smile, shake their hand, and say “nice hand”, and move on to the next game.
Try to play an “acceptable” game. Constantly chasing with bad cards will cost you a fortune, and completely upset your fellow players when you hit. I have no problem with a gutsy call occasionally, but make sure it is for the right reason. If you suspect I have trips, and you call to the river chasing a 1 out draw, and hit it, you shouldn’t celebrate. If you suspect I’m bluffing, and draw the same to the river, you’ve done well. Learning when to go for it is critical to your future success. That being said, it is also critical to getting invites to games. Most players are trying to play poker. If you are someone that just wants to call everything and pray you hit, you won’t be welcome at most games, even though you are probably giving up a ton of money.
Lastly, manage your money. Most occasional players just go to the ATM and get out enough money for the buy-in. No problem there. But if you are going to be playing as much as I do, you need a pot of money set aside that is strictly for poker. My wife only plays 2-3 times per month, but she has her bankroll locked up in the safe, and she only uses it for poker games. I do the same with my bankroll, as does most every successful player I know. The basic rule of a poker bankroll is to never risk more than 10% of it on any one session. For example, if I am going to a house game where the buy-in is $200, and I want to ensure I have at least one backup buy-in just in case I lose the first one, then my bankroll should be at least $4,000. If it isn’t, then I probably shouldn’t be playing in that game. Same goes for online play. I keep the two bankrolls separate, and my online bankroll is strictly for online play. I intentionally keep my online account small because I know I can go crazy playing multiple tables and insane cash games. So if I keep my online account below $500, I know I can never get in too much trouble. This means that the biggest game I am willing to play online is a $50 buy-in. I only get in trouble when I violate that rule.
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