Occasionally, I like to sit down with some poker friends and discussion different aspects of the game. I always have a ton of questions and the answers usually surprise me. I do this because I write an article based on my opinions and experiences. It is very easy for me to do, but my game doesn’t always equate to success in your game. It works for me, but there are as many different ways to play this game as there are possible hands you can be dealt.
So this weekend I gathered a bunch of them together at the table before a game and hit them with 5 questions for this week’s article. Here are my participants in the Q & A. I made sure to get a good mix of skill levels, and threw in two ladies to make sure I got their perspective too. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Spike: One of the most feared local players I play with. He has WSOP experience and isn’t afraid to mix it up for the big bucks.
Trixie: Top notch player who will clean out your pockets if you aren’t paying attention.
Fester: Frequent casher at all levels of the game. Well rounded play, regardless of whether it’s a $20 buy in sit-n-go, or a big money game in Vegas.
Moses: Home game player without big game experience. But does well enough in the home games that I think he should try stepping it up a level.
Shooter: One of the best unlucky players I know. Always has the best hand when he gets it all in, but he knows the river is coming. Trust me though; I don’t like getting involved in hands with him. He cashes more than most. Also, he’s one of the most verbose people I know, and I know a million selling writer.
Lucky: He earned his nickname when he got married, but he’s earned it ever since in live and online play. He is also ready to step up to bigger games. The money is out there waiting for him.
Ginger: Another local lady who has seen her results improve every month for the last year or so. Used to be an easy mark at the table, but she’s not anymore. If she’s raising or calling, you better have the goods, because she can’t be bluffed.
And with that, let the conversation begin.
JP: My article last week was about online play. I received several responses concerning the safety of play online, and the quality of the competition. One of my friends, Gary Reed, the head of the Colorado Chapter of the Poker Player Alliance, provided some interesting insight as to why we needed legalization here in the USA so that the companies could base their operation in this country, and therefore allow strong oversight. I added his response to last week’s article:
With all that in mind, do you play online? If so, where? And why that site? If not, why not?
Spike: Yes, Full Tilt, That’s where my money is
Ginger: Very little. Play for fun, no cash games. Poker Stars, Full Tilt and Zygna. Why not? It spoiled my live game. I used to play free on-line a lot; but there are just too many donkeys. It just isn’t an accurate depiction of live play.
Lucky: I play on-line at Full Tilt also, although I prefer to play live games. I like Full Tilt but I’ve only been playing there for a few months. It seems that more Americans play there vice the previous site I played (Poker Stars), and I like that because the action seems quicker (very often much less lag), and often times less aggressive.
Fester: I used to play on Full Tilt, but I found myself playing until all hours of the night on a work night, going deep in tournaments. I have been thinking about putting some money back into my account to start playing again but I still prefer live over online.
Bruce: Seems like we’re all Full Tilt players. I like the software and the ease of playing, depositing, cashing out, etc.
Trixie: No sir, not me. I do not play online. I like to see my victims, err…opponents, in person. I also think playing online can encourage bad play—players seem to do things in online play that they wouldn’t do at a live table.
Moses: I’m with you Trix. I used to play at Poker Stars and Full Tilt (the free games). I used those sites mainly to improve my game, but the sheer numbers of bad players made it impossible to even enjoy it in the least so I stopped. Hard to tell if you actually made the right play or not when people will call you all the way to the river with nothing.
Shooter: I don’t. Well, sometimes. I don’t believe it helps my game. Online play is about the game of the game. Even online tournaments generate too many transaction situations until you get in pretty deep and then the “better” quality of play (as those remaining tend to be seeking true craft) emerges. As a result I find myself “gambling” far too often in the early stages to keep up with the prevalent conditions. That doesn’t help my overall game. A good indicator for me is that you’ll notice in the first round of almost every tournament, a good percentage of the table is all-in with almost anything. They’re seeking to double-up so they can play, or, move on to the next tournament. While I am readily aware of the value of doubling-up early, I can’t condone the recklessness. That’s just not my version of poker. My strengths are my powers of observation, my ability to process information rapidly and my mental stamina that allows me to be able to stay clear-headed in “battle” over a long period of time. I don’t believe those are strengths that will help me beat the averages online.
JP: OK then, let’s move on to a new topic…favorite hands. Do you have a favorite starting hand (other than Aces or Kings)? What is it and why? How attached are you to it? Will you play it all the time, or you just like it?
Shooter: I haven’t looked at stats lately to see where Sklansky ranks hands, but I am one of those people that think AK is the third best hand in poker. You can argue that any hand played like AA becomes AA, until the showdown. AK will hold its ground if you wind up in a showdown. That being said, I am a much stronger believer that every hand and every decision with that hand is 100% situational. Pick up 3-5 off on the button with 5 limpers at a scared table and any raise is a good raise. Pick up QQ with a raise and a re-raise in front of you by 2 players who haven’t raised in 2 hours and any fold is a good fold. I will note here that I have won 2 100+ person live tournaments with 4-4. Once against AK and once against JJ. I’m not attached to 4-4 more than any other hand when I see it, but it does bring back good memories.
Spike: The only hand I could possible love is A-A. Everything else is situational or trash.
Trixie: I don’t have a favorite hand either. My decision to play two cards depends on relative chip stacks, time in tournament, who is left in the hand, position, the phase of the lunar cycle, and so on.
Fester: I hear ya dude, but everybody has something they favor. I actually have 2 starting hands that I like to play. This doesn’t mean that I stay married to them if I totally whiff on the flop or another player is making it too expensive to make my hand, but I really do like the possibilities of these starting hands. I really like Q-10 suited and J-10 suited because they are both drawing hands that can draw to a flush or a straight and you always need a 10 or a 5 to make a straight. I like having 5-10 outs left to make a big hand rather than top pair and nothing left to draw at.
Moses: I like Q/J for the same reasons. I’ve won many tournaments with that starting hand short-handed. I won’t always play it, it all depends on many other factors (position, round, bets already made etc).
Lucky: I’m kind of the same way. My favorite starting hand is K/Q suited. There is something about the potential hands it offers, AND I particularly enjoy connecting on the open ended straight while someone paired or tripped up on rockets. I play them often, but not every time.
Bruce: Gotta love AK suited. I think I have finally learned not to overplay it. Sometimes re-raise with it, sometimes call. It’s a drawing hand, and when it misses, it’s still pretty but usually beat.
Ginger: Favorite starting hand? Depending on position…K3. Really like playing it in the blinds. I might play it under the gun if it is suited. Why? The combination can hit high or low to pair up and sometimes both….and just seems to hit for me. Can I throw it away? You betcha!
JP: I knew this would be interesting. I especially like the fact that several successful players still have their favorite hands. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with a favorite hand, as long as you know how to play it. How about the games you play? Do you prefer tournament or cash games?
Bruce: I prefer the strategy of tournaments. Cash games are ok, but the gigantic swings when you lose a second nut hand are no fun.
Moses: I’m a tournament player too, where one call can knock you out. Makes you have to be more on your game (and lucky) to win.
Spike: Really depends on where my head is at that night. I like them both.
Trixie: I prefer cash because I like the immediate gratification. You can make money immediately. In a tourney, you can play 6 hours, be the bubble, and get nothing. I appreciate the differences though and like playing both cash and tournament.
Fester: I’m just the opposite. I like both tournaments and cash games but I prefer to play tournaments. I like the idea of being able to put someone at risk for all of their chips (or tournament life) to make a call. It puts more pressure on other players because if you lose, you are eliminated from the tournament. In a cash game if you lose and get felted, you can just buy back in.
Shooter: The cash game is transaction; it’s about that one big hand where your well-disguised weaker hand can crack a giant hand or bust an overly-aggressive player. I come to poker from a card-playing background and not from a gambling background. I dislike losing money. Playing cash requires quite a bit of gamble and the willingness to reload once you’ve been felted as you seek your big “transaction.” Tournament play rewards consistently good decisions over a period of time. Tourney play is more about the craft of the game than the “game” of the game. I enjoy poker and consider myself a very good tournament player and a marginal cash player.
Ginger: At home tournaments locally because we have all gotten to know just how expensive our home cash games can get. Playing cash games locally can be good too, because players just play differently when playing cash. There aren’t so many foolish calls and running it down to the river, thus getting better play in cash games. Playing cash in Colorado casinos is just plain stupid because of the “locals” who hatch at the tables.
Lucky: I prefer tournament games for several reasons. One, there exists the stronger potential to permanently eliminate the overly aggressive player. Two, see number 1 🙂 Three, it’s what I play on a routine basis so I understand it more than I do cash game ops. Four, well, I am inexperienced in the cash game due to reason number three.
JP: I’m really surprised at the number of players that don’t try the cash games. It’s all about risk vs. reward for me. In the professional player world, there are very few successful “professional tournament players”. It’s just too hard to win consistently enough to live on it. The real pros play cash for a reason. And that invented segue, let’s talk about the pros. Who is your favorite professional player?
Ginger: Honestly, I Don’t have a favorite….just get a kick out of watching antics now and then. Do like seeing how the betting goes and thought processes that they may have had.
Spike: Phil Ivey and Phil Helmuth, simply because they are the best.
Trixie: Who cares about “the best”? I love Gus Hansen. First of all, he’s one sexy muthah! Secondly, he has such a range of starting hands that he is unpredictable. Lastly, he’s a gentleman and good sport, and I really appreciate his positive presence. Plus, he shaves his head!
Fester: Daniel Negreanu is my favorite pro because he is always upbeat and friendly at the table and he loves to play golf. I also like his ability to call out players hole cards even though he puts the other player on the hand that will beat him and still makes the call to lose the pot.
Bruce: I’m a Negreanu fan too. It frustrates me when he reads a player and a board and a hand so well that he knows he’s beat, then calls to prove it. But he seems like such a nice guy and has so much fun playing that I watch any game he’s in. And in my opinion he’s in the top few percent of thinking players (along with Ivy, Lederer, Greenstein, et al).
Moses: Put me on that Negreanu bandwagon too.
Lucky: Well I’m old school. My favorite poker player – hands down – is Mike Sexton. He’s been doing this for awhile and is smart, patient, calm, cool and collected. All around good guy who routinely donates much of his winnings (also is co-founder of Pokergives.org).
Shooter: (Reader warning, verbosity coming up). Ivey said once that he will re-raise from the cut-off or button any early raise from the first half of the table. That’s very special. Chris Ferguson trained himself to take the same amount of time every time, with the exact same expression, on every decision. That’s quite special. Daniel Negreanu can read anyone’s cards with uncanny precision. That’s a very special skill. Gavin Smith calls with lots of junk and keeps smooth-calling when it hits, successfully trapping any and every great player he’s faced, which is a special brand of play. TJ Cloutier advises to raise or fold, don’t call; especially wise counsel.
This reminds me of a story. I did some acting in HS and college and took some classes in my 20’s from a fairly well-known guy. Now, all acting coaches, with 2 notable exceptions, are failed stars in their own minds and crave much more attention than their career provides, so, the class becomes the audience and the schoolroom the stage. Once someone in class asked, “Who’s the greatest actor ever?” The teacher roamed and stormed the stage spitting out his monologue over the next 40 minutes: “Of all the talent that has ever gifted us, of all the actors who have plied the boards, reflected the lights, filled the seats…” and so on. At the end of class, and his performance, he said. “Probably Brando.”
JP: OK then, let’s move on. I ran in to nearly every pro you’ve mentioned back in July when we went out to Las Vegas for the WSOP. It’s pretty rare to see all of them in the same building, given the incredible number of choices you have to play out there. Makes me wonder, When you are in Las Vegas , where/what do you mostly play and why?
Moses: Count me out. I’ve never been to Vegas.
Lucky: Ha, I should be so fortunate. I’ve only played the $1/$2 games in Vegas, and only on two occasions. I go to Vegas 3 to 4 times a year…BUT I go only to drink beer and play Let it Ride (slow death…I know) with my wife. I drink too many beers to play Hold Em effectively, so I opt out when in Vegas.
Bruce: I love the Venetian deep stack tournaments. Nice room, good structure, and I’ve been successful there. The Wynn is also a nice room, but crowded. The Bellagio is a little dark for me, but there’s sure plenty of action there. Always a wait though.
Spike: Yeah, give me the Venetian too. They have a very comfortable room with lots of action.
Fester: I like the Venetian for tournaments myself, because the starting stacks are big enough to allow you to play. I also like playing cash there, but there seems to be more good players playing there than in other poker rooms on the strip. I also like the poker room at the Hard Rock casino because of the layout and feel to it. They just need to figure out how to have better tournaments that will attract more players than 20. And if I’m being perfectly honest, there is nothing like sitting at the first cash game table at the Hard Rock watching all of the scantily clad people coming and going to the pool for the Sunday Rehab party.
Trixie: I play mostly at the Venetian since they spread so many games, but I also have enjoyed Caesar’s, Hard Rock (with their straddle), and Planet Hollywood (good tourneys).
Ginger: For cash games, Harrah’s. It is a small room and I feel that players are not so “out to impress” each other like some characters at the “prestigious name” casinos. But all in all; many of the bigger, better “fish” are those that are “out to impress” other players for the obvious reasons. For tournament play, it really doesn’t matter as long as they are well-run.
JP: Ya know, I’m ignoring the obvious question for this group. With two ladies at the table, I’m wondering how you all feel about female players? Seriously, I’m not trying to be sexist, I’m just looking for input as to what you think when a woman is at the table. And I’m not looking for the politically correct answer here. I want honesty (and I’m betting I get it from the girls).
Ginger: Love them…adds another dimension to the chatter. Also believe that women are more thoughtful about their card playing. They are not about to shove as often as men. Perhaps it is that “nesting” instinct that causes us to want to feather our nest and not risk it all…future thinking….saving chips for the next hand if need be. How do I like playing against women? There again, because I am one, I might have greater insight as to what their thought process is. Some women are not “out for the kill” like men. They are the “gatherers”, slowly building their stack (nest) up, so they’re as noticeable to the table as the “flashy” male bird! lol! The cautious play can be both a hindrance and an asset playing against them.
Lucky: Well, let’s face it; ESPN has done a great job ensuring the world knows that no female has ever made the final table of the Main event. Of course this has a lot to do with the fact there are far fewer female players, but it doesn’t matter because the focus is never on that fact. I cannot answer whether or not they are better or worse than male players…I will, however, say that I NEVER underestimate a female’s poker skills…ever.
Fester: I don’t think female players are any worse. There are plenty of male players that are bad. I do feel that in general, females play pretty straight forward conservative poker and tend to over value an Ace with a medium kicker. It is generally easier to push a female out of a pot with big bets and they hardly ever bluff. So when you actually encounter a female player that bluffs, traps or check-raises you, it will shock the **** out of you.
Bruce: I don’t see a difference. I play against some women whose games I respect and against some others who are as big of fishes as some of the men I play against. It depends on the person, and I don’t think it has to do with gender.
Spike: I enjoy having females at the table so in my opinion better. You’re not gonna trick me into anything other than a politically correct answer.
Moses: I have no problems with female players. I use the same standards for anyone I play with – as long as they have a freakin clue, they are more than welcome at my table. They can be bad players (same with the men) but as long as we do not have to remind them when it’s their turn, what the bet is etc, anyone can play. My wife plays all the time and she generally ends up in the money more often than I do (she’s a very conservative player so, even though she doesn’t win as many tourneys, she cashes more, while I’m more of a balanced player between aggression and being tight).
Shooter: As long as she’s hot, I don’t care how she plays. (OK, he didn’t say this, but he didn’t answer me, so I get to write whatever I want here).
Trixie: Female players generally are worse. When they are weak, it’s obvious. They are reluctant to bluff. They limp into pots waaayyyyy too often. They don’t bet position enough. They take “moves” personally, like “you keep raising my blind….whine!” When they are strong, it’s obvious, and they chase money away. And lastly they stick with top pair, bad kicker, way too often. However, note that I said “generally”. There are women players who are exceptions, and I hope to become one someday.
JP: I knew I saved you to last for a reason. So there you have it for this week. I hope to do this frequently, and feel free to submit questions for the guests. I think it is important that you get more than just my side of any discussion. In fact, I don’t think I even answered the above questions. So to keep the theme going of my ego writing my articles, here are my answers, short and sweet:
– Favorite starting hand: Don’t have one. I’ll play any two cards depending on the circumstances.
-Tournament or cash games: I prefer cash, but I’m a better tournament player.
-Favorite pro: Doyle Brunson.
-Where do I play in Vegas: Venetian, almost 95% of the time.
-Women at the table: Most are fish, but the good ones are awesome.
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