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Off the Green and On the Felt; or, The Object of the Game

A while back I was able to find a few free hours one weekend to go play golf with my father and brother. Like poker, golf can be an incredibly humbling game that can bring immense pleasure and cause tremendous frustration.

There are a lot of other parallels between golf and poker, including the fact that both games are played by people with a wide variety of experience and/or commitment. Most of us are “recreational” poker players, just like most of those traveling around the courses on a Saturday like we did are recreational golfers. Meanwhile we watch the pros play for higher stakes on television and sometimes compare ourselves to them — even sometimes learning certain things from them, too.

As a casual golfer, I recognize there are many aspects of my game where my skill level is well below where it would need to be for me to be competitive even with serious amateurs. I’m okay off the tee, and a lifetime of miniature golf experience has made me competent on the greens. But in between — the medium-length iron shots and trying to pitch onto the green — can be a problem for me.

Being able to hit decent tee shots is a little like knowing how to play preflop in hold’em, especially if you have a good idea of how starting hands compare and know that it is better to play fewer hands from early position and more hands from late position. With a little competence, you find there aren’t too many variables you need to consider, and the decision how to act is often not too terribly complicated.

Likewise being able to putt might be compared to having some idea how to play fifth street, should a hand get that far. You’re no longer thinking about completing a draw or improving your hand (or whether your opponent might be drawing or looking to improve), but rather have arrived at a point where you’re having to decide how your hands compare and what kind of action will produce the best result.

In other words, you might say there’s a lot more uniformity in the decision-making both off the tee (or preflop) and on the green (or on fifth street). That’s not to say the decisions are easy — it can be very hard sometimes to know what to do with certain hands before the flop or when deciding whether or not to call an opponent’s river shove. But the situations tend to resemble each other a lot and thus the decisions can seem familiar and thus relatively less daunting.

Meanwhile those strokes in between can be hard, just like the flop and turn often can be especially difficult streets to play in hold’em. I say that because in both cases we end up in unfamiliar territory a lot — sometimes literally on the golf course, sort of like when I found myself hitting out of the woods a couple of times during that round. The variables increase, producing less familiar spots and thus relatively greater challenges.

I also find that since I use the driver and putter frequently, I’m relatively comfortable with those clubs, and since I use the irons and wedges less often, I run into trouble sometimes with shots requiring those. For example, on the very first hole of our round, I found myself just off the green and needing to use the pitching wedge. I lined up my shot, took a few practice swings, then launched my ball up in the air with an arc that turned out to be much higher than I’d wanted.

Fan interference?

The ball dropped down out of the sky and incredibly found a small hole in the back of the large fan on the green’s edge positioned about ten feet high atop a pole. The hole was not much larger than the ball itself, in fact.

We were all stunned into silence for a moment, then burst out laughing. The chance of dropping my ball into the fan like that was probably less likely than my hitting a hole-in-one on a short par 3, I’d argue. Not that I’d persuade you with my argument — not after showing you this picture to the left.

Anyhow, since that was the very first hole, I had 17 more to work on trying to hit some better shots with that darn pitching wedge. As I found myself focusing more particularly on this one element of my game, I thought about a great piece of advice Tommy Angelo gives in his book The Elements of Poker in a section titled “The Object of the Game.”

There Angelo explains that while poker has a pretty obvious “object to the game” — namely, “to stand up with more money than you sat down with” — it is possible also to choose other “objects” to aim for as you play.

“What if you decided that for today’s session, the object of the game was not to tilt?” asks Angelo. “What would you do differently? What if the object of the game was to act last on the turn and river? What if it was to quit while you felt fresh?”

He concludes by pointing out that by giving yourself new, smaller, more narrowly-defined goals or “objects” while playing, you actually can improve your overall game and have a better chance of achieving that other object to make more money playing poker.

“By making up your own object of the game,” Angelo explains, “you sharpen the focus of your energy onto that objective.”

It’s smart advice, especially if as a poker player you find yourself having one particular trouble spot such as calling too many raises out of position or overplaying {A-}{Q-} or some other “sand trap” you find yourself landing in over and over. Make yourself a new, specific “object of the game” within the game, and give yourself a chance to improve upon that problem area.

I did manage to pitch some balls onto greens with more accuracy as the round wore on, and while my total score wasn’t anything to brag about, I came away feeling good about my play and that I’d improved. And we’d definitely achieved another important object of the game — both in poker and in golf — to have fun!

Honesty also compels me to admit that I lost a few balls along the way. But I didn’t count that one that went in the fan as lost. After all, it’s not lost… I know exactly where it is.

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2015 River Poker Series Main Event Day 1c: Barry Hutter Storms To the Top

Day 1c of the 2015 River Poker Series $2,500 Main Event attracted 484 entries and brought the total field size up to 1,164. This was the third and final starting flight of the tournament, and at the end there were 49 players remaining. Those survivors will now link up with the 27 from Day 1a and 42 from Day 1b for Day 2 action on Monday.

When the dust had settled in the early hours of the morning on Monday, Barry Hutter was the chip leader. He bagged up a whopping 1.066 million thanks to an impressive day on the felt. Hutter’s day was so amazing that he nearly doubled Aaron Clark’s second-place stack of 672,000. Toby Floyd also finished over 600,000 with 606,000 in his bag.

Day 1c Top 10 Chip Counts

RankPlayerPrize

1Barry Hutter1,066,000

2Aaron Clark672,000

3Toby Floyd606,000

4James Mordue566,000

5Adrian Garduno550,000

6Alex Keating466,000

7Nikola Mircetic462,000

8Jason Daly447,000

9Drew Dumanski395,000

10Marvin Rettenmaier385,000

Hutter built and built all day. Every time we checked in on him, there was a new chunk of chips added to his stack. In Level 17, though, Hutter really skyrocketed to the top when he clashed with Steve Buckner on the {10-Spades}{3-Hearts} flop. The two got all the money in, and it was Hutter’s {K-Hearts}{Q-Hearts} up against Buckner’s {A-Hearts}{7-Hearts}. The turn was a {4-}, and the river was the {Q-Diamonds}. Thanks to that river card, Hutter won the enormous pot of over 600,000 in chips and vaulted into the lead.

Others who had successful Day 1c performances were James Mordue (566,000), Alex Keating (466,000), Upeshka De Silva (368,000), and Matt Lapossie (255,000).

Plenty of players had to hit the rail en route to the finish line, though, including Aaron Massey, Dwyte Pilgrim, John Dolan, Allen Kessler, Andy Philachack, Bryan Campanello, and Steve Sung. Unfortunately for them, there will be no more entries allowed, so they’re stuck waiting until next year.

All told, the 118 returning players are in the money and will be back at it on Monday at 12 p.m. local time. That’s when our coverage will resume right here on PokerNews, so be sure to stay tuned.

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Four Things Not to Get Upset About at the Poker Table

Modern life gives us an endless supply of things to be upset about. There’s racism, terrorists, war, a shaky economy, politics, climate change, injustice, just to name a few. Indeed, some speak of the existence of an “outrage industry” — online, cable, and broadcast outlets whose lifeblood is people being angry about this or that, and willing to click, read, or tune in to have their outrage further fueled.

Poker is hardly immune to people getting upset. But rather than provoke your outrage, I’d like to put a little of the Balm of Gilead on it. Here, then, are four things in poker not to get upset about.

1. Bad beats

Here are two perspectives I try to keep in mind when I get spanked with a bad beat. The first comes from Mark Blade’s book, Professional Poker: The Essential Guide to Playing for a Living. The advice appears in a section titled “Bad Beats Are Your Best Friends.”

“So how should you react when you experience a so-called ‘bad beat’?” asks Blade. “You should shout inside your head, ‘Yippee!’ And do a little mental jig while you’re at it. I’m not kidding.”

He goes on to explain why bad beats should be taken as a good sign.

“Bad beats mean that there are still players out there who play badly,” writes Blade. “That means the games are still beatable. The day you stop having any more bad beats is the day when you should crawl into a fetal position in the corner of the casino and bawl like a baby. Your career is over. The worst case scenario… has just played out. Your competition all plays as well as you do and you are just passing money back and forth among yourself with only the casino take coming out ahead.”

The second comes from Antonio Esfandiari’s book, In the Money: Strategies for Winning Texas Hold ’em Cash Games.

“If you play poker, bad beats are the cost of doing business,” explains Esfandiari. “Take it in stride and move on. If you dwell on it or let it get to you, it can only have a negative impact on your game.”

2. New players

Yes, they’re slow. Yes, they act out of turn. Yes, they inadvertently violate norms of etiquette because nobody has told them what is considered polite and rude in poker. Yes, they ask questions that you think everybody should know the answers to. Yes, their play is so random and unpredictable that you’ll sometimes lose a big pot to a weird hand they should have folded three streets ago.

But think instead of the opportunities. First, there is the immediate and obvious opportunity to take their money right now, precisely because they don’t know what they’re doing, and they will make egregious mistakes.

More than that, though, you have the opportunity to help make their first poker experiences so much fun — even when they’re losing — that they’ll come back the next night, and the next, and the next just for the privilege of losing more money to you!

Of course, if you prefer, you can be impatient with their slowness, openly irritated at their “stupid” questions, arrogant about how much better you play, mocking of their mistakes, and whiny about the bad beats they put on you. That way you’ll help ensure that they have such a miserable time — even if they win — that on the next trip to the casino they’ll decide to stick to craps, because it’s more fun.

Is that really what you want?

3. House rules

When it comes to certain house rules, there are some stinkers out there.

You can’t use your phone even when you’re not in a hand. You have to show your cards to collect the pot, even when everybody else has folded. Your bet doesn’t count unless it’s across a line. We’re taking a rake so big that you can have a net loss on a pot that you win. The number of raises is capped even in a no-limit game. (For more on that last one — and some other odd rules — see my recent Casino Poker for Beginners entry on “Quirky House Rules.”)

But, y’know… so what? You’re playing poker, instead of being cooped up in your cubicle at work, or mowing the lawn when it’s 100 degrees and 200% humidity. Even the stupidest house rules don’t change that essential fact.

By all means, have a friendly chat with the poker room supervisor before you leave for the day, and explain how their bad rule causes problems. Maybe if enough do that, they’ll change it.

While you’re at the table, however, roll with the punches. Take the game as it is presented to you. Don’t let brooding resentment over a dumb rule impede your enjoyment or impair your profit.

4. Dealer errors

You can’t play poker in a casino for even a couple of hours without witnessing at least one dealer error.

For example, you get your first card — an ace. Your hopes rise a bit. The dealer pitches the second card, but it catches air and flips face up — and your second ace gets picked up, turned into what will be the first burn card, and replaced by, say, an offsuit six.

What are you gonna do? Get mad about it? Throw your cards at the dealer as his punishment? Throw a hissy fit? Complain to the manager? And just how will any of those things make you any better off?

The dealer already feels bad about it and has apologized, right? Dealers, like most people, take pride in doing their jobs well, plus they like the extra tips that come from excellent performance. Berating them for a mistake does nothing to improve their performance.

Moreover, what does getting mad about it do to you? It indulges your feelings of entitlement. It prolongs the hurt. It clouds your judgment. It ruins your fun. It draws the resentment of the other players who now see you as a childish loser who can’t deal with a minor incident like a mature adult.

Okay, you’re thinking — that’s true enough for the common dealer errors. But what about the big ones, the ones that cost me a lot of money? For example, there’s a big pot brewing. You have an open-ended straight-flush draw. The dealer burns and turns the river, and it’s one of the two cards you were praying for. You have the stone-cold nuts, and three other players are itching to get their chips in.

But wait — we discover that action wasn’t quite complete on fourth street. Under the supervision of the floor, your trump card gets shuffled back into the deck. A new river card is put out, leaving you with a broken draw, a worthless hand.

Now can you get upset?

Sure you can. But I ask again: What will it accomplish? They’re not going to go back for a do-over just because you liked the first river card better. No amount of protesting will get back the chips you had already invested. Nothing you say or do will change the outcome of this hand, nor will it change how the poker room handles this occurrence in the future, because it’s all completely standard, by the book.

So you have two choices. You can stew about it, feel sorry for yourself, drone on about how unlucky you are, and stew in your own miserable juices. This will make you even more unhappy than you already feel. You will make worse decisions and probably lose more money.

Or you can do as Taylor Swift urges, and shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off. Or if she doesn’t do it for you, how about Shakespeare? “Things without all remedy / Should be without regard: what’s done is done,” goes the line from Macbeth. Or perhaps your taste runs more for the proverbial. If so, then don’t cry over spilled milk.

Dealers are human, and they will make mistakes. It’s part of the game, just like occasional bad calls from umpires and referees are part of most sports. It’s better for your own mental health and that of everybody around you to accept that with equanimity and good humor. It’s over, and time to be thinking about the next hand instead of the last one.

Conclusion

The next time you feel an impulse to blow up about one of these four things, take a second and reflect on how you want to feel about it — because, believe it or not, you do have a choice about how you feel. You can choose to wallow in your misery and misfortune. Or you can choose to be unperturbed, with these unpleasant events bouncing off of you like bullets off of Superman.

I recommend the latter.

Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.

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Dan Goepel Wins MSPT Potawatomi Casino for $114,117

Dan Goepel has made a habit of cashing in Mid-States Poker Tour events in his home state of Wisconsin. On Sunday, he notched his fourth score on the tour and it was a big one. He took down the MSPT Potawatomi Main Event in Milwaukee, topping a field of 462 entries to pocket $114,117 in prize money.

"I’m a firm believer that when it gets heads up, the dealer does most of the work," Goepel said after his win.

Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize

1Dan Goepel$114,117

2Travis Lauson$65,889

3Kenneth Schetter$40,198

4Colin Eric Lovelock$32,381

5Yossi Azulay$25,458

6Rob Wazwaz$21,215

7Brian Smith$16,965

8Jon Lane$12,953

9Paul Elfelt$8,933

If that’s the case, the dealer did quite a job in propelling Goepel to victory. He entered heads-up play against Travis Lauson at about a 2:1 deficit, but that quickly turned into 6:1 as Lauson whittled him down. However, the two were playing extremely shallow with just over 9 million in play at Level 33 (100,000/200,000/30,000), so variance was Goepel’s friend.

First, he doubled up with the {k-Spades}{6-Diamonds} against the {q-Clubs}{10-Diamonds}. Then, Lauson hammered him back down to 1.1 million, but Goepel managed to spike a three-outer with the {k-Diamonds}{4-Hearts} against the {a-Hearts}{4-Diamonds}. Goepel then check-shipped a {3-Spades}{5-Spades}{3-Diamonds} flop in a raised pot and took it down, giving him an improbable lead.

In the end, it was decided in a classic race: Goepel’s {a-Diamonds}{k-Hearts} against Lauson’s {10-Diamonds}{10-Clubs}. Goepel flopped aces and kings and faded Lauson’s six outs on a {k-Diamonds}{j-Hearts}{a-Spades}{2-Spades}{7-Clubs} board, leaving Lauson devastated and frustrated at his poor luck.

When the final table began, Goepel was third in chips and he showcased his chops with a king-high calldown of Paul Elfelt. That left Elfelt short and he busted ninth after Matt Hauge went out 10th. Jon Lane went out eighth and then came a long period of seven-handed play, with short stacks doubling numerous times, including a three-outer by WSOP Circuit ring winner Yossi Azulay.

Finally, everyone was feeling the pinch with average stacks around 12 big blinds and players hit the exits in a hurry. Brian Smith busted seventh, followed by tour regular Rob Wazwaz in sixth. Azulay then got sevens in against the {a-Clubs}{6-Spades} of Goepel, but the latter hit Broadway. Lauson sent Colin Eric Lovelock packing in fourth and Kenneth Schetter in third to assume the role of favorite in heads-up play.

But as Goepel told it, the dealers worked their magic and he emerged the winner.

Thomas Peebles (35th), Jason Seitz (29th), Brett Reichard (27th), Howard Hankin (24th), Jim Boone (19th), and start-of-day leader David To (17th) were some of the runners cashing among the 45 places paid.

The MSPT returns in two weeks for an event in its home state of Minnesota at Running Aces, so come back for more coverage then here on PokerNews.

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2015 MSPT Potawatomi Casino Day 1b: Matt Hauge Rides Late Flip to Lead

Matt Hauge got hot late on Day 1b of Mid-States Poker Tour Potawatomi in Milwaukee to finish with 320,500, enough to lead a pack of 38 survivors by a narrow margin over Rick Syverud (312,000).

The second of two flights drew a total of 216 entries, pushing the total to 462. That created a prize pool of $462,000, and the latest MSPT champ will claim $114,117 when he or she conquers a Day 2 field of 80 players who’ll return on Sunday.

Top 10 Day 1b Chip Counts

PlacePlayerCount

1Matt Hauge320,500

2Rick Syverud312,000

3Louis Hoeflich225,000

4Brian Smith201,000

5Rob Wazwaz200,500

6Colin Eric Lovelock188,000

7Ken Komberec165,000

8Chris Roth158,500

9Phil Arrganello158,000

10Joe Iannello158,000

Hauge gambled it up and came out ahead in a big race during Level 14 (1,200/2,400/400), the final level of the night. He opened for a raise in middle position and saw Igor Hot make it 16,200 to go from the small blind. Hauge shipped all in, enough to put Hot at risk for about 100,000, and the latter called off.

Hot: {q-Clubs}

Hauge: {a-Spades}{k-Diamonds}

A board of {j-Diamonds}{2-Clubs}{7-Clubs}{k-Hearts}{j-Spades} meant Hauge’s kings overtook the queens on the turn and he dragged the massive pot. A short time later, his heater continued as he busted former MSPT champ "DQ" Dan Hendrickson with {q-}{8-} on an {8-}{2-}{8-}{2-} board when Hendrickson got it in with the {3-Diamonds}{2-Diamonds}.

Louis Hoeflich (225,000), Brian Smith (201,000), Rob Wazwaz (200,500), Jim Boone (132,000), Howard Hankin (91,500), Travis Lauson (86,500), and MSPT Team Pro Matt Alexander (67,000) also bagged and advanced.

Alexander couldn’t get a lot going for much of the day until he picked up the {a-Clubs}{k-Clubs} late and three-bet shoved from the blinds over a raise from Syverud, who doubled Alexander with the {a-Diamonds}{4-Diamonds} just before the night ended.

Alexander’s fellow team pros Blake Bohn and Matt Kirby weren’t so lucky as they hit the rail on Day 1b, along with Mark Hodge, Larry Ormson, Gennady Shimelfarb, Nicholas Revello, former champ Jason Mirza, and PokerNews’ own Chad Holloway.

Day 2 commences at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. A Day 2 seating assignment can be found here. You can follow action all day Sunday in our dedicated live blog.

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2015 MSPT Potawatomi Casino Day 1a: David To Bags Big Lead Among 42 Survivors

Mid-States Poker Tour Potawatomi kicked off Friday with the tour’s second stop of the year in Milwaukee, and David To bulldozed through Day 1a, the first of two starting flights, to bag 515,000. That’s by far enough to top the 42 surviving players out of the 246 who took part in the 14-level day.

Jerry Gumila (303,500), Jack Torcolese (249,500), and former MSPT runner-up Thomas Peebles (223,000) also bagged healthy stacks.

Top 10 Day 1a Chip Counts

PlacePlayerCount

1David To515,000

2Jerry Gumila303,500

3Jack Torcolese249,500

4Thomas Peebles223,000

5Allen Haupert193,500

6Paul Elfelt187,500

7Matt Medvecz167,500

8Andrew Stott156,000

9Byron Ziebell154,000

10Leonard Lewandowski146,000

To already had a solid stack in Level 13 (1,000/2,000/300) when a player moved all in for 34,400 in middle position and To shoved over that in the cutoff with a stack that covered the table. The big blind had about 50,000 and called off with the {j-Hearts}. To had it dominated with the {a-Diamonds}{q-Hearts} and the third player held the {10-Hearts}{10-Clubs}. To flopped a queen to score the double knockout and extend his chip lead.

Then, To finished the night strong in one of the last hands when three players saw a {k-Diamonds}{6-Diamonds}{a-Diamonds} flop. Action checked to Jason Seefus, who bet 10,000 on the button. To made it 27,000 in the big blind, and Seefus came back over the top with 80,000 after the third player folded. To put Seefus all in for 53,000 more and the latter called with the {a-Hearts}{q-Diamonds}. To had flopped a flush with {8-Diamonds}{7-Diamonds} and held.

Other players to punch Day 2 tickets included Brett Reichard (143,500), Rodger Johnson (98,000), Jason Seitz (69,000), and Yossi Azulay (39,500).

Notable runners to bust were Jonathan Dimatteo, Nick Kost, "DQ" Dan Hendrickson, Ravi Raghavan, Josh Reichard, Mark Kroon, Prince Gaspard, Mike Ross, last year’s champ Jason Mirza, and MSPT Team Pros Blake Bohn, Matt Alexander, and Matt Kirby.

Those players will have another shot on Day 1b, which kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday. You can follow action from that event in our dedicated live blog.

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2015 River Poker Series Main Event Day 1a: Ho, Busquet, and Baker Among 27 to Advance

Day 1a of the 2015 River Poker Series $2,500 Main Event from the beautiful WinStar World Casino came to a close in the early hours of Saturday morning. For us in the poker community, that’s still Friday night, but whatever you want to make of it, the surviving 27 players from a 262-entry starting field have advanced to Monday’s Day 2. Topping the pack was Maury Solano with 511,500 in chips, and he’s trailed closely by Keith Carter and his stack of 500,000.

Day 1a Top 10 Chip Counts

RankPlayerPrize

1Maury Solano511,500

2Keith Carter500,000

3Maxx Coleman463,500

4Bronson Tucker443,000

5Reuben Nixon438,000

6Zo Karim327,500

7Joseph Skinner275,000

8Jeff Gibraltar270,000

9Douglas Claybrook258,000

10Olivier Busquet246,000

Solano was active all day, and especially when he got hold of a big stack. He was constantly putting the pressure on his opponents and used his chips to his advantage. In one hand that he played, Solano three-bet to 8,100 after an opponent opened to 4,500 during Level 13 with the blinds at 1,000/2,000/300. The original raiser then reraised all in for just under 26,000, and Solano called with the {Q-Hearts}. He was dominating his opponent’s {A-Spades}{J-Diamonds} and held from there.

Along with Solano and Carter, other notables who advanced to Day 2 were WinStar poker ambassador Maria Ho, Olivier Busquet, Zo Karim, Joe Kuether, Clint Tolbert, David "ODB" Baker, and Allen Carter.

On the other side of the fence were many eliminated players, including Dwyte Pilgrim, Kevin Eyster, Wade Townsend, John Dolan, Ari Engel, Matt Stout, Shawn Rice, Allen Kessler, and Aaron Massy, just to name a handful. But, as this event features a reentry format, they’ll all be able to return for another chance at glory and a big payday here in Thackerville.

Saturday will see Day 1b kick off at 12 p.m. local time, and you can find continued coverage right here on PokerNews.com.

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Inside Gaming: WSOP.com Offers PayPal Payment Option; Tom Brady Reinstatement Moves Lines

This week “Inside Gaming” shares a couple of news items regarding Caesars Interactive Entertainment’s operations in Nevada, New Jersey, and now Delaware, a report on Macau’s continuing struggles, and some NFL betting news in anticipation of the start of a new season.

There is big breaking news in the gaming industry this morning as Bwin.party Digital Entertainment has chosen to accept GVC Holdings’ latest bid, thereby agreeing to a takeover deal that may be finalized by the end of the calendar year. For more on that developing story, see Giovanni Angioni’s report “The Bidding War Is Over: GVC Holdings to Buy bwin.party for $1.71 Billion.”

Meanwhile, read on for other industry news from the past week.

PayPal Among Payment Options for WSOP.com Players in Nevada

Yesterday came a report via iGamingBusiness that Caesars Interactive Entertainment has begun offering PayPal as a payment option for those playing on the Nevada WSOP.com site.

“The group launched the payment method in the state of Nevada this week,” reports iGaming Business, “and expects to roll out a full launch in New Jersey this week.” In New Jersey the payment option will be available through Caesars’ WSOP.com site as well as its CaesarsCasino.com and HarrahsCasino.com sites.

Caesars Interactive Entertainment provided no comment to iGaming Business when contacted.

PayPal has long prohibited transactions by merchants and account holders in the U.S. (and other jurisdictions) where gambling activities are illegal, reserving the right to block such activities and close accounts of those attempting them. However, among its policies PayPal has a provision to allow such transactions in jurisdictions where gambling activities are legal and in cases where the merchant has been approved by PayPal, as has happened this week with CIE.

WSOP.com players in Nevada are now able both to deposit and withdraw funds via PayPal, one of several money-moving methods including MasterCard, VISA, Neteller, among others. The news is intriguing not just with regard to the future prospects of Caesars’ online sites for which the additional option should be beneficial, but for other U.S.-based operators as well.

Here is the report from iGaming Business.

Regulators in New Jersey Approve CIE’s hosting online games for Delaware

There was more CIE-related news yesterday as New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement announced it has approved Caesars Interactive Entertainment’s request to provide gambling content from its server in Atlantic City to the Delaware state lottery.

According to Fox Business, the “agreement announced Thursday will permit SG Interactive, a division of Scientific Games, to provide game content from servers located in Caesars’ data center in Atlantic City to the Delaware Lottery’s online gambling platform.”

The slot games being offered are only accessible to online gamblers in Delaware, and in fact have been live since Monday even though the announcement of the approval was only made yesterday. The DGE’s statement describes the arrangement as “the first such agreement regarding casino game content between states with authorized Internet gaming.”

David Rebuck, director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement, described the approval as the product of “a great collaborative effort between the Delaware Lottery, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, Scientific Games, and Caesars Interactive Entertainment.”

The Fox Business report notes a study by the investement firm Morgan Stanley predicting that by the year 2020 there will be 15 states with legalized online gambling. The same study predicts revenue of $2.7 billion from online gambling in 2020, the figure reduced from an earlier estimate of $5 billion. Last year the three states currently offering online gambling — Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware — together accumulated about $135 million in revenue.

For more on the approval, visit Fox Business.

Macau Down Again, Sands Still On Top

For a 15th-straight month, Macau’s gaming revenue endured a decline, again falling sharply with 35.5% less revenue for August year-over-year.

According to Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, the Special Administrative Region’s casinos took in 18.623 billion pacatas in August in “Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune,” the equivalent of about $2.33 billion USD. In August 2014, Macau’s gaming revenue was 28.876 billion pacatas (over $3.61 billion).

As Bloomberg Business reports, the decline followed the recent opening of two new casinos by the Galaxy Entertainment Group. Industry analyst Richard Huang of Nomura Holdings, Inc. commented that following “the opening of Galaxy phase two in May, the downward trend of gaming revenue has been remaining steady, which means incremental revenu brought by the new opening is basically zero.”

Overall gross gaming revenue in Macau has slipped 36.5% for the first eight months of 2015. On Tuesday a government statement in response to the latest revenue figures announced it will be cutting public spending for the coming fiscal year, including “reducing costs in areas such as the purchase of daily supplies and third-party services,” reports Bloomberg Business.

Meanwhile according to GGRAsia, the Macau operations unit of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation moved up to a 25.3% share of the market in August, a gain from its 23.8% share in July.

That gain kept the Sands ahead of SJM Holdings, who moved up into second position with 21.9%, passing the Galaxy Entertainment Group who slipped to third with 21.3%, still ahead of Melco Crown Entertainment (13.6%), Wynn Macau (9.5%), and MGM China Holdings (8.4%).

For more on the continued slide of Macau gaming and its effects, head to Bloomberg Business.

Lifting of Brady Suspension Affects Game Lines, Super Bowl Odds

Finally, sports bettors are gearing up for another season of the National Football League, with the season opener coming next Thursday when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Tom Brady

While the Patriots had been listed a favorite in that game by most Las Vegas sports books over recent weeks, the line had fallen to as low as a single point in anticipation of the Pats’ starting quarterback Tom Brady missing the game as a result of a four-game suspension levied for his involvement in the so-called “Deflategate” controversy from last year’s playoffs.

However, a ruling from a U.S. District Court Judge on Thursday nullified the suspension as unfair and suffering from “legal deficiencies,” meaning Brady will be in uniform next Thursday for the start of the season. Lines immediately reflected the news, with the Pats now around a -6.5 favorite versus Pittsburgh.

As David Purdum reports for ESPN, the news has affected futures betting as well, including the odds being offered to those considering betting on the Pats to repeat as champions.

“Before Thursday’s news, the Patriots were listed at 10-1 to win the Super Bowl behind five teams, at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook,” writes Purdum. “After the news, the Patriots moved to 8-1, co-favorites in the AFC with the Indiapolis Colts, and behind only the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl race.”

For more on the “Brady effect” on betting lines, go to ESPN.

Photo: “Tom Brady,” Jeffrey Beall. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

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World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) Begins This Weekend on PokerStars

Poker players around the world are gearing up for what promises to be the most exciting online poker festival of the year, the 2015 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) on PokerStars from September 6-27.

The year’s WCOOP marks the 14th edition of the poker series and promises to be the biggest in history featuring 70 events with a combined $45 million in guaranteed prize pools. This represents a sizable increase from 2014, when the WCOOP schedule consisted of 66 events with a combined $40 million in guaranteed prizes.

The highlight of this year’s schedule is the $5,200 buy-in Main Event on September 27, where thousands of players will compete for a piece of the advertised $10 million guaranteed prize pool. Last year, Germany’s Fedor "CrownUpGuy" Holz etched his name into the history books after shipping the WCOOP Main Event for a life-changing $1.3 million.

Over the years, we have witnessed many players become overnight millionaires by shipping the WCOOP Main Event. American poker pro Tyson "POTTERPOKER" Marks holds the record for largest first-place prize after winning the 2010 WCOOP Main Event for a whopping $2,278,097.50. Marks’ record should be safe this year and in years to come, as when he shipped the Main Event, it was the last WCOOP before Black Friday rocked the poker world.

Other household names to win the WCOOP Main Event include high-stakes poker pros JC “area23JC” Tran, winning $670,000 in 2006, and Yevgeniy “Jovial Gent” Timoshenko, who won $1,715,200 in 2009.

While the first events don’t start until Sunday, many players have already begun their journey to the WCOOP by playing in the many satellites, including the Mega Path satellites. In fact, records are already being broken thanks to Czech Republic’s "DomMarty" qualifying for this year’s WCOOP Main Event for just 12 FPPs, the fewest ever spent in the WCOOP’s history.

Additionally, many players have begun to earn their seat to the two-day flighted WCOOP-01: $109 NL Hold’em, with the first flight starting last Sunday and continuing throughout the week until the second day begins on September 6 at 13:30 ET.

I think it only makes sense that the world’s largest poker site is also the host of the largest buy-in online poker tournament ever.

This year’s WCOOP schedule also features a bit of new excitement for many players with a few new events added to the schedule. Many high-stakes poker pros are thrilled about the addition of the new $51,000 buy-in Super High Roller event with a $1 million guaranteed prize pool.

Daniel Negreanu shared his excitement on the PokerStars Blog in a post titled WCOOP to Host Its First $51,000 Super High Roller.

"Over the last few years we have seen the emergence of Super High Roller events at live events across the globe," said Negreanu. "I think it only makes sense that the world’s largest poker site is also the host of the largest buy-in online poker tournament ever. I’m excited to test my skills against the best of the best, online."

Also new to the WCOOP schedule are three different three-day events. In addition, 15 designated Championship events are now on the schedule for the first time. The Championship events include some of the bigger buy-ins events, incorporating many different types of poker games including hold’em, Omaha, stud, and draw poker variants.

Besides these big changes, the schedule includes what poker players have grown to expect from the WCOOP with a wide variety of poker variants and tournament formats. Here’s a complete look at the entire 2015 WCOOP schedule:

Event #Buy-inNameDate & Time (ET)GuaranteePrize Pool

1$215.00WCOOP-02: $215 NL Hold’em [6-Max, Sunday Warm-Up SE]06 Sep @ 11:00$1,000,000 

2$10,300.00WCOOP-03: $10,300 NLHE [High-Roller, Heads-Up]06 Sep @ 12:30$300,000 

3$109.00WCOOP-01: $109 NL Hold’em [WCOOP Kickoff, Phase 2]06 Sep @ 13:30$1,500,000 

4$215.00WCOOP-04: $215 NL Hold’em [Sunday Million SE]06 Sep @ 14:30$1,500,000 

5$215.00WCOOP-05: $215+R NL Hold’em [6-Max]07 Sep @ 11:00$500,000 

6$700.00WCOOP-06: $700 PL Omaha [6-Max, Monday PLO SE]07 Sep @ 14:00$300,000 

7$700.00WCOOP-07: $700 NL Hold’em [Progressive Super-Knockout]07 Sep @ 17:00$750,000 

8$700.00WCOOP-08: $700 NL Single Draw 2-7 Championship08 Sep @ 11:00$50,000 

9$1,050.00WCOOP-09: $1,050 NL Hold’em [Super Tuesday SE]08 Sep @ 14:00$1,000,000 

10$215.00WCOOP-10: $215 FL Hold’em [6-Max]08 Sep @ 17:00$75,000 

11$215.00WCOOP-11: $215 NL Hold’em [Progressive Super-Knockout]09 Sep @ 08:00$400,000 

12$700.00WCOOP-12: $700 NL Draw Championship09 Sep @ 11:00$50,000 

13$320.00WCOOP-13: $320 NL Hold’em [Heads-Up]09 Sep @ 14:00$300,000 

14$215.00WCOOP-14: $215 NL Hold’em [Big Antes, Optional Re-Entry]10 Sep @ 08:00$200,000 

15$215.00WCOOP-15: $215 PL Omaha [1R1A]10 Sep @ 11:00$200,000 

16$1,050.00WCOOP-16: $1,050 NL Hold’em [Progressive Super-Knockout, Thursday Thrill SE]10 Sep @ 14:00$1,000,000 

17$700.00WCOOP-17: $700 NL Hold’em [6-Max,3-Stack]11 Sep @ 11:00$200,000 

18$1,050.00WCOOP-18: $1,050 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo Championship11 Sep @ 14:00$50,000 

19$320.00WCOOP-19: $320 NL Hold’em [Turbo, Zoom]11 Sep @ 17:00$400,000 

20$109.00WCOOP-20: $109 NL Hold’em [Optional Re-Entry]12 Sep @ 11:00$500,000 

21$530.00WCOOP-21: $530 NL Hold’em [Progressive Super-Knockout]12 Sep @ 14:00$750,000 

22$1,050.00WCOOP-22: $1,050 NL Omaha Hi/Lo Championship [6-Max]12 Sep @ 17:00$75,000 

23$215.00WCOOP-23: $215 PL Omaha [Knockout]13 Sep @ 08:00$250,000 

24$215.00WCOOP-24: $215 NL Hold’em [Sunday Warm-Up SE]13 Sep @ 11:00$1,000,000 

25$10,300.00WCOOP-25: $10,300 NL Hold’em [8-Max, Optional Re-Entry, High-Roller]13 Sep @ 12:30$2,000,000 

26$700.00WCOOP-26: $700 NL Hold’em13 Sep @ 14:30$1,500,000 

27$215.00WCOOP-27: $215 PL Omaha [6-Max, Progressive Super-Knockout]14 Sep @ 11:00$200,000 

28$320.00WCOOP-28: $320 NL Hold’em [6-Max]14 Sep @ 14:00$200,000 

29$700.00WCOOP-29: $700 7-Card Stud Championship14 Sep @ 17:00$50,000 

30$215.00WCOOP-30: $215 PL 5-Card Omaha H/L [6-Max,2R1A]15 Sep @ 11:00$100,000 

31$1,050.00WCOOP-31: $1,050 NL Hold’em [Super Tuesday SE]15 Sep @ 14:00$1,000,000 

32$1,050.00WCOOP-32: $1,050 FL Omaha Hi/Lo Championship [8-Max]15 Sep @ 17:00$75,000 

33$700.00WCOOP-33: $700 FL Badugi Championship, $50K Guaranteed16 Sep @ 08:00$50,000 

34$320.00WCOOP-34: $320 NL Hold’em [6-Max, Optional Re-Entry]16 Sep @ 11:00$200,000 

35$320.00WCOOP-35: $320+R PL Omaha [6-Max]16 Sep @ 14:00$250,000 

36$215.00WCOOP-36: $215 NL Hold’em [1R1A]17 Sep @ 08:00$300,000 

37$320.00WCOOP-37: $320 8-Game17 Sep @ 11:00$100,000 

38$1,050.00WCOOP-38: $1,050 NL Hold’em [Progressive Super-Knockout, Thursday Thrill SE]17 Sep @ 14:00$1,000,000 

39$700.00WCOOP-39: $700 Triple Draw 2-7 Championship18 Sep @ 11:00$50,000 

40$530.00WCOOP-40: $530 NL Hold’em [6-Max, Shootout]18 Sep @ 14:00$250,000 

41$320.00WCOOP-41: $320 NL Hold’em [Ante Up]18 Sep @ 17:00$150,000 

42$215.00WCOOP-42: $215+R NL Hold’em19 Sep @ 11:00$400,000 

43$320.00WCOOP-43: $320 HORSE19 Sep @ 14:00$75,000 

44$215.00WCOOP-44: $215 NL Hold’em [4-Max]19 Sep @ 17:00$400,000 

45$1,050.00WCOOP-45: $1,050 NL Hold’em [6-Max, Ultra-Deep]20 Sep @ 08:00$500,000 

46$215.00WCOOP-46: $215 NL Hold’em [Sunday Warm-Up SE]20 Sep @ 11:00$1,000,000 

47$51,000.00WCOOP-47: $51,000 NL Hold’em [8-Max, Super High-Roller]20 Sep @ 12:30$1,000,000 

48$2,100.00WCOOP-48: $2,100 NL Hold’em20 Sep @ 14:30$2,000,000 

49$530.00WCOOP-49: $530 NL Hold’em [Optional Re-Entry]21 Sep @ 11:00$500,000 

50$215.00WCOOP-50: $215 NL Hold’em [Knockout]21 Sep @ 14:00$500,000 

51$1,050.00WCOOP-51: $1,050 PL Omaha Hi/Lo Championship [6-Max]21 Sep @ 17:00$50,000 

52$530.00WCOOP-52: $530 PL Omaha [6-Max,3-Stack]22 Sep @ 11:00$100,000 

53$2,100.00WCOOP-53: $2,100 NL Hold’em [Super Tuesday SE]22 Sep @ 14:00$1,500,000 

54$1,050.00WCOOP-54: $1,050 Razz Championship22 Sep @ 17:00$50,000 

55$320.00WCOOP-55: $320 PL 5-Card Omaha [6-Max,1R1A]23 Sep @ 08:00$150,000 

56$530.00WCOOP-56: $530+R NL Hold’em23 Sep @ 11:00$500,000 

57$2,100.00WCOOP-57: $2,100 PL Omaha Championship [6-Max]23 Sep @ 14:00$150,000 

58$530.00WCOOP-58: $530 NL Hold’em [Ultra-Deep]24 Sep @ 08:00$150,000 

59$215.00WCOOP-59: $215 NL Omaha Hi/Lo [6-Max]24 Sep @ 11:00$100,000 

60$2,100.00WCOOP-60: $2,100 NL Hold’em [Progressive Super-Knockout, Thursday Thrill SE]24 Sep @ 14:00$1,500,000 

61$700.00WCOOP-61: $700 NL Hold’em [1R1A]25 Sep @ 11:00$500,000 

62$320.00WCOOP-62: $320 PL Omaha H/L [6-Max]25 Sep @ 14:00$100,000 

63$1,050.00WCOOP-63: $1,050 FL Hold’em Championship [6-Max]25 Sep @ 17:00$100,000 

64$700.00WCOOP-64: $700 PL Omaha [Heads-Up]26 Sep @ 11:00$150,000 

65$700.00WCOOP-65: $700 NL Hold’em [6-Max, Progressive Super-Knockout]26 Sep @ 14:00$1,000,000 

66$2,100.00WCOOP-66: $2,100 HORSE Championship26 Sep @ 17:00$200,000 

67$215.00WCOOP-67: $215 NL Hold’em [8-Max, Optional Re-Entry, Sunday Warm-Up SE]27 Sep @ 11:00$1,000,000 

68$10,300.00WCOOP-68: $10,300 8-Game Championship27 Sep @ 12:30$500,000 

69$5,200.00WCOOP: $5,200 NL Hold’em Main Event27 Sep @ 14:30$10,000,000 

70$1,050.00WCOOP-70: $1,050 NL Hold’em [Turbo, Optional Re-Entry]27 Sep @ 18:30$1,000,000 

If you don’t have a PokerStars account, there is no better time to get one than right now. Simply download PokerStars via PokerNews and enter the marketing code PNEWS to ensure you’re eligible for our exclusive PokerStars promotions. When you’re ready to make your first deposit, do so using our special bonus code STARS600 and be rewarded with a huge 100% match up to $600 welcome bonus.

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3 Rules For Maximizing Your Success in Loose Low Stakes Cash Games

Often these days we spend too much time trying to figure out how to achieve a small win rate in tight, aggressive low stakes cash games. I personally try to avoid these games at all costs.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get involved in poker to battle for small amounts of money with people who take the game seriously. I got involved with poker to go get the easy money from recreational players. The truth is most live low stakes games and even low stakes cash games on smaller online sites still have plenty of loose action.

However, many people today make a few key errors which hurt their win rate in these games. In this article I am going to discuss three rules for maximizing your success in loose low stakes cash games.

1. Play a Lot of Hands Versus the Recreational Players

Many people do not maximize their win rate versus the bad players because they simply fold too much preflop. You should be going out of your way to get involved in pots with them. If you have position on the rec player, I would suggest playing as much as the top 50% of hands against them.

This means that when they do their limp thing, you raise it up with a huge range of hands in order to try and get heads up against them going to the flop. This is also known as “isolating.”

A lot of people are afraid that if they don’t have a good hand themselves, they won’t know what to do after the flop. The truth is that these recreational players are playing a huge amount of hands as well. And since you have position on a player who often will make colossal mistakes after the flop, you could very easily win a big pot with a hand like {8-}-suited or even {8-}{5-}-suited.

The bottom line is that you can’t win big against these players if you don’t get involved against them. There is also a process at work here of getting in their head and developing a dynamic with them. This will pay off later when you finally have the big hand.

2. Don’t Slow Play Versus Loose-Passive Players

Another rule for success against this category of players is never to slow play versus them. A lot of people make the mistake of not wanting to scare their opponent off by betting too much. But the truth is we call these players “passive” for a reason. They are not going to build the pot for you. If you choose to try and trap them with your big hands, then you can often look forward to winning a tiny pot.

You have to build the pot versus passive players. It is true that they will fold sometimes, but that is just because they didn’t have anything. You can’t force somebody to call you if they have nothing.

The vast majority of the time a big pot gets played in hold’em, it is because both players involved have good hands. This is just a simple fact of the game and it is not something that is under your control.

However, making them pay when they do happen to have something is under your control. Save the trapping for the aggressive regulars who might actually help build the pot for you.

3. Don’t Bluff the Bad Players (Most of the Time)

Another common piece of advice for low stakes cash games is never to bluff the bad players. Again, this isn’t quite optimal. I certainly agree that running big bluffs against them is often a recipe for disaster. However, you definitely should be betting frequently with nothing against them, especially on the flop.

As I said before, you should be isolating these recreational players with a wide range preflop. And you should also be following this up with a continuation bet on the flop most of the time. This is how you start building that dynamic with them I was talking about before.

They are only going to have a pair on the flop about one-third of the time when they do their limp/call thing. Therefore, more often than not they will have to face another bet when they have nothing.

When you are constantly isolating them with a wide range and sticking the c-bet in their face each time, they will start to view you as abusing them. This will pay big dividends for you in the future when you finally make your big hand and they have some piece of the board as well.

The great thing about this strategy is that it doesn’t cost you much either. If they call you on the flop and you still have ten-high on the turn, then yes, you should give up. But most of the time, under normal conditions, you will be taking down a majority of these pots on an earlier street. You are also prepping them for the big blow-up hand where they give you their entire stack.

Final Thoughts

The biggest keys to success for loose low stakes cash games all have to do with keeping things simple — and I mean brutally simple. Do not get tricky in any way. When you make a big hand, you need to bet big on every street for value.

But furthermore, make sure that you are constantly playing this annoying style of “small ball” (as some might call it) against the recreational players. Try to get involved in as many hands as possible versus them and be aggressive consistently on the flop no matter what you have.

You have to remember that sometimes it simply won’t be your day. You won’t be able to make a hand to save your life and they will seem to hit the flop every time in some way. It is really important not to lose your cool during these sessions and simply trust in the process.

This is because on most days this loose-aggressive style of play in position versus the recreational players will pay off in a big way. This approach also tilts them very easily if you are running good or even just normally. This can lead to a windfall situation where they are just handing you stack after stack.

Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books, Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.

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Road to the 2016 WSOP: Struggling With Volume

Strategy contributor Matthew Pitt continues his series chronicling his 300-day journey toward building a bankroll to play at the 2016 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

Counting today, this is the 30th day of my 300-day challenge in which I’m trying to build a bankroll of at least $10,000 while playing low-stakes poker tournaments and cash games. While I am in profit thus far, the first month has been plagued by my inability to log anything near the volume required to move up stakes and push this challenge to the next level.

A large portion of the blame rests at my feet because, for the most part, I’m the one responsible for sitting down, logging onto the various poker sites, and playing this crazy game that we all love. There are some other factors that we’ll get to later, but I have to hold my hand up and admit to not playing as much as I could have.

One of the reasons for the lack of volume is the fact I ran horrifically at the start of the challenge, which put me off playing when really I should have been playing more to help push through the rocky spell.

After 100 tournaments, I found myself in a $600 hole, which equates to around 59 of my average buy-ins at the time. I found it so difficult to motivate myself to play while I had such a negative mindset that I neglected to play. To date, from 30 available days I’ve played on only 12 of those.

I decided to reread The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler and Barry Carter, because I knew my mental game was letting me down. I wasn’t tilting in the traditional sense of the word — I wasn’t spewing chips off left, right, and center — but I realized that I was essentially on perma-tilt by playing poker expecting to lose and being so negative.

Perhaps it was coincidence that the day after I read the first few chapters of the book I went on to win a $5.50 buy-in tournament at partypoker. It was a win that netted me $1,204.50 (which included a $500 cash bonus thanks to a special promotion that was running), and got me out of the hole.

After the win I went through a lot of my hand histories and saw that I was playing good poker and that the poor results were largely out of my control. In a parallel universe, my alter-ego was probably preparing an article bragging about being halfway to his monetary goal — at least that’s what I like to think.

This leads me to my first tip: review your play on a regular basis. I’ve started jotting down hands that have given me trouble and then reviewing them as soon as I’ve finished playing that day. I then return to them a day or two later and have another look to see if I would have approached the hands differently.

Reviewing your play may be time consuming, but it is crucial to success. Doing so helped me to snap out of the negativity that was ruining my enjoyment of the game and causing procrastination. Neither of those things are what you need as a poker player.

My second tip stems from my rereading of The Mental Game of Poker: rate your play. At the end of each session, I give myself a mark out of 10 for how I played with 10 representing playing to the best of my ability (not Dan Colman-good). Each session I also give myself a mark out of 10 rating my mental game. Doing so has really helped me stop doing fishy things mentally and is allowing me to find patterns in when I play average or worse.

A third tip (I’m full of them today!) is to have a back-up internet connection. This is another major reason for my lack of volume to date. My usually super reliable internet connection has been flaky recently and I was even without it for a couple of days at the start of the challenge.

While I could tether my phone to my PC and use its connection, this is far from ideal when you have 10-15 buy-ins in play and are playing for a decent chunk of change. I’m not saying have a second line installed with a different provider (although I would do this if I were playing high stakes games regularly). Rather, I’m just recommending to ensure you always have a mobile internet option available to you regardless of the stakes you’re playing.

Let’s wrap this up with the playing statistics up to and including today:

Tournaments played: 145Total buy-ins (including rebuys & add-ons): $1,704.20Average buy-in: $11.75Cashes: 27ITM: 18.62%ROI: 33.39%Net winnings: $539.95

I’m down $129.90 in cash games ($0.15/$0.25 six-max) from 2,285 hands, so the total figure won so far is $410.05 or less than half of what I need per month to reach the $10,000 target.

September needs to be better. September will be better, you mark my words!

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The Cold Four-Bet: Time This Powerful Tool Correctly

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I’ll highlight hands I’ve seen at the tournaments I’ve covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

The scene is near and dear to my heart this week as our hand comes from the RunGood Poker Series Council Bluffs at the Horseshoe Casino. It’s the first place I ever played legal live poker and it’s still what I would consider my “home” casino.

The RunGood Poker Series Main Event is winding down. The first-place prize of $34,267 and a $2,000 Blaycation package to the RunGood Cup Championship in New Orleans is in sight as just 11 players remain. The next two eliminated players both will be paid $2,830, but it’s still a bubble of sorts as the final nine all receive Blaycation packages.

The Action

Level 19 (6,000/12,000/2,000) had just begun. Matt Sztamburski had raced out ahead of the field to accumulate a stack of about 900,000, dwarfing the players chasing him with the closest having about 550,000.

Sztamburski was putting his chip lead to use with an aggressive preflop opening strategy, and in this hand he continued that theme by making it 26,000 to go. Mike Henrich, who had a stack of just over 400,000 in the small blind, three-bet to 65,000. Big blind Tim Woodson (pictured above) then decided to shove all in with a stack of 277,000. That got Sztamburski to fold, and Henrich followed him into the muck after taking some thinking time.

As the pot was pushed his way, Woodson showed down his hand — {10-Hearts}.

Concept and Analysis

Nowadays, most everyone knows it’s best to come into the pot raising, giving yourself a chance to represent a strong hand and potentially steal the juicy blinds and antes rather than showing weakness and letting other players potentially put the pressure on you.

Of course, that’s created a raising culture of preflop wars that can sometimes dominate play and keep few flops from hitting the board late in tournaments. Many times, the initial raise doesn’t get much respect. It takes a three-bet or a four-bet before anyone believes someone has a hand.

In a preflop raising war from late positions, coming back over the top of a player who three-bets you with a four-bet bluff is a relatively common play. But what about cold four-betting after one player opens and a different one three-bets? Those raises tend to get much more respect, as people understand that such a raise is facing two players who have shown strength rather than one, so there’s a better chance of running into a big hand.

Woodson’s cold four-bet earned folds from Matt Sztamburski (left) and Mike Henrich (right)

In this hand, Woodson saw a golden opportunity to represent great strength in a situation where both of his opponents were ripe for making a move. Sztamburski had the chip lead and was opening with a very wide range. Henrich likely noticed this and was ready to come over the top with any solid holdings.

Additionally, Woodson’s stack, while not huge, would be enough to leave Henrich in a bad spot if he doubled through him. Even Sztamburski’s tournament-leading stack would be cut by about a third, an outcome he would certainly want to avoid.

Finally, there were no other live players in the pot who could wake up with a hand behind Woodson. Plus, in the event he did run into a big hand, Woodson at least had a reasonable holding that would have more of a fighting chance than pure garbage.

Woodson’s daring and perfectly timed use of the cold four-bet didn’t help him get too much further, although he did survive long enough to make the final table before busting in ninth. Even so, this expertly played hand is still one from which to learn.

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Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 43: The Value of a Reliable Poker Reputation

There’s nothing more important in poker than reputation, and a number of high-profile scams that have come to light recently seem to exemplify that point. Overselling action, reneging on backing deals, and refusing to pay out investors are a few of the things I’ve seen happen in recent months.

For example, back in July Ben Warrington was called out by Mark “dipthrong” Herm for scamming him by saying he fired two bullets in a Venetian $5,000 buy-in when he did not. This soon led to the discovery that Warrington had been overselling himself to numerous individuals. Warrington eventually came clean and apologized, but it was a huge black eye for a player who had previously been highly regarded.

More recently, World Series of Poker bracelet winner Paul Volpe took to to call out Craig Bateman, who finished 538th in this year’s Main Event for $19,500.

paul volpe @paulgees81

just a heads up @craigbateman23 str8 up robbed @MattGlantz and i after we invested in his wsop main, he cashed then told us to fk off.August 25, 2015

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Admittedly, when it comes to Bateman, I’ve never spoken to him, so his guilt merely stems from allegations (Warrington had admitted his guilt). It’s really beside the point, though. In both cases, well respected players made detrimental accusations, and in reality the damage was done.

Getting a bad reputation in poker is certainly -EV, especially if you’re an up-and-coming player looking to break through. The consequences of having a bad reputation vary, but among them is difficulty getting staked/backed, being blacklisted from games, and having to deal with the disdain of a community that is not quick to forget.

That said, the cards don’t care about a players’ reputation. Provided they haven’t been banned by a property, even the most deplorable person can sit down at the table if they’re willing to put up the buy-in. Heck, if Howard Lederer, perhaps the most reviled person in the poker industry, wanted to participate in the WSOP he could, though he’d no doubt have to deal with heckling and threats against his person.

You see, once a player’s reputation is tarnished, it’ll follow them forever. That said redemption is possible. There are plenty of examples of players who’ve overcome their pasts to establish themselves among poker’s elite. Not everyone has forgiven them, but it seems they’ve done enough to warrant a second chance.

I can’t stress the importance of managing your poker reputation as you rise through the ranks. Here are three tangible things you can do that will set you on the right path toward establishing and keeping a solid reputation.

Be as Transparent as Possible

Everyone has to hustle to win at poker, but you don’t want to develop a reputation as a hustler. Warrington hustled hard, but in the end his house of cards came crashing down.

Don’t try to hide things, don’t have ulterior motives, and don’t tell lies because you think you’re doing yourself a favor. I’ve always used (the original) Full Tilt Poker as a prime example of what not to do. After Black Friday they refused to communicate, tried to cover their tracks, and left a lot invested parties in the dark — look how that turned out for them.

Instead, do the opposite and try being upfront, honest, and kind. Do that in both poker (and life) and I guarantee it’ll get you a lot farther.

Offer/Keep Receipts

Poker deals are binding contracts, so it’s important to have proper documentation. Ideally, when you get staked/backed, both parties would sign a paper contract for their own protection. Realistically this rarely happens in poker as deals are usually made on the spot.

Still, there’s a simple solution. Whenever I find myself in such a situation, I immediately text the person confirmation that I have received their cash while reiterating the deal. For instance, I might text something as simple as: "Confirmed receipt of $500 from so-and-so for 5% of my 2015 WSOP Main Event action."

It’s not only for my own protection, but to put their mind at ease as well. Of course it’s not as good as signatures on paper, but it is better than nothing. What’s more, don’t wait for your backer to ask — it’s just awkward. Just take the initiative and send it, regardless of whether they’re a stranger or close friend. Better safe than sorry is my feeling on the matter.

To that end, don’t be afraid to send them a picture of your tournament receipt after you register. I make it a point to Tweet a photo of my registration slip once I sit down at the table just to show proof that I’m actually playing in the event. This is another example of being transparent.

Finally, keep your tournament receipts. Not only will they come in handy at tax time, but you can always fall back on them if your reputation is called into question.

Pay What You Owe

The first thing I do after cashing a poker tournament is pay my backers/investors. I do this for a number of reasons. First, I don’t like the temptation of having so much money laying about. Second, I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s money for an extended period of time. Finally, there’s nothing worse than having to track down someone to get paid back, so I know my backers/investors appreciate it when I make paying them out a priority.

Harkening back to temptation… over the years I’ve witnessed poker players get royally screwed over by people they had considered friends. For example, back in 2012 someone I know finished runner-up in a WSOP event. He had a backing arrangement to pay another player I knew more than half of the big six-figure score. He didn’t.

Large amounts of money do funny things to people. When deals are made, rarely does the person accepting the cash expect to win the whole thing, so when they defy the odds and are suddenly presented with life-changing money, greed often rears its ugly head.

Just do yourself a favor and do right by others.

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Chen-An Lin and Yaxi Zhu Become PokerStars Team Pros to Represent Asian Market

With the Macau Poker Cup 23 in full swing at PokerStars LIVE Macau, the world’s largest online poker site has announced the addition of two new players to its Team Pro roster.

Taiwan’s Chen-An Lin from and China’s Yaxi Zhu have been brought on to help grow the game in one of the world’s biggest emerging poker markets. Lin and Zhu join the likes of Bryan Huang, Celina Lin, Vivian Im, Aditya Agarwal, Kosei Ichinose and Naoya Kihara as Team PokerStars Pros from the Asian market.

"These players are highly respected in their local and national communities and will help to raise the profile of the game in their regions," said PokerStars’ Associate Director of Pro & Celebrity Marketing Kirsty Thompson.

According to PokerStars, Lin discovered poker in 2009 and immediately found success by taking down a Macau Poker Cup side event for nearly HK$15,000 in October of that year. Since then, Lin has amassed a total of $216,571 in lifetime earnings with largest cash to date coming in last year’s Macau Poker Cup when he won the HK$20,000 No-Limit Hold’em event for HK$380,700 (approx. USD $50,000).

Yaxi Zhu

More recently, Lin won two events in Las Vegas over the summer, which were his first cashes outside Asia. The first was a win in the WPT500 Aria Poker Classic $235 No-Limit Hold’em Event for $10,528, and the other a win in a $125 Aria Daily for $3,184.

According to Lin, who currently sits 12th on Taiwan’s all-time money list, he would like to use the sponsorship opportunity to promote the game in his home country of Taiwan.

As for Zhu, a former finance and business manager, she currently ranks 34th on China’s all-time money list with $252,280 in career earnings. Her biggest cash of $147,980 came after winning the EPT11 Event #32: €2,200 No-Limit Hold’em, while other highlights on her poker résumé include 12th in the 2014 APPT Asia Championship of Poker Main Event for $52.352, runner-up in the EPT10 Grand Final Women’s Event for $9,892, and 115th in the recently-completed EPT Barcelona Main Event for $15,338.

Both Lin and Zhu are currently playing at the MPC 23, which runs until September 13, with 16 Official Asia Player of the Year tournaments, including the HK$5,000,000 guaranteed Red Dragon event (September 5-11).

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The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "Turkeyleg" & Frank Molinari Win Big

New Jersey’s "Turkeyleg" was this week’s biggest winner in the Garden State, hauling in an even $10,000 after outlasting a field of 269 players in the partypoker NJ/BorgataPoker.com $50,000 Guarantee. The runner-up in that tournament was "grindharder629", who cashed for $6,585.

Meanwhile, three well-known New Jersey online poker players finished in the top three spots in the WSOP.com/888poker NJ Sunday $30,000 Guarantee. Frank "speedypete" Molinari shipped the tournament for a second time, banking $9,140 after being the last man standing out of the 183 players to pony up the $200 buy-in.

Molinari previously won the tournament when it had a $25,000 guarantee on June 22, 2014 for $7,125. Molinari has also had success on other sites, banking $10,000 on May 17, 2015 after winning the partypoker NJ/BorgataPoker.com $50,000 Guarantee.

Jeremy "OhNevermind" Danger snagged $5,332 for finishing in second place in the WSOP.com/888poker NJ Sunday $30,000 Guarantee. Danger had previously won the same event twice and finished second on another occasion.

On April 27, 2014, Danger shipped the tournament for $7,810 before winning it again on October 5, 2014 for $7,000. In between those two wins, Danger took second place for $4,050 on May 4, 2014. If Danger’s name sounds familiar, it is because just two weeks ago he banked $10,000 when he shipped the partypoker NJ/BorgataPoker.com $50,000 Guarantee.

Finishing just behind Molinari and Danger was Jason "LuckDuck" Lawhun, taking home $3,047 for his third-place finish. It was Lawhun’s best finish to date in that particular tournament, but he has had some success on BorgataPoker.com where he plays under the "Riverman" handle. Lawhun has final tabled the $50,000 Guarantee six times, including a win on December 14, 2014 when he banked $8,305.

In other news, 888poker NJ has discontinued the Big Sunday. Speculation suggests it’s due to many months of the tournament not meeting its posted $10,000 guarantee. Instead, the online poker room introduced a new Sunday tournament called the Sunday Express, which has a $55 buy-in and one rebuy. The tournament has a posted guarantee of $5,000, but we’ll begin to cover it in our weekly report if the prize pool begins to exceed $10,000.

Here’s a full look at the New Jersey weekend results on partypoker NJ, BorgataPoker.com, WSOP.com NJ, and 888poker NJ:




Daily $10K

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$91+9Aug. 2999$10,000

PlacePlayerPrize

1Kanish29$2,250

2pull420$1,545

3Steven "ChipsJammed" Edwards$1,220

4WhoopAss$1,010

5Jmoney21$870

6La_Flama_Blanca$740

7Nastronaut$610

8TimB3y_B33f$490

9Angel "Nutella" Soto$380




Daily $10K

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$91+9Aug. 30148$13,468

PlacePlayerPrize

1overthetop$2,868

2Beastro$1,952

3muckman$1,468

4Waldorf$1,212

5Ted "roystalin" Ely$1,037

6Jim "xICEx" Oriente$888

7JohnBluffins$740

8La_Flama_Blanca$606

9Ferrari$471




$50,000 Guarantee

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$185+15Aug. 30269$50,000

PlacePlayerPrize

1Turkeyleg$10,000

2grindharder629$6,585

3emmet03$4,750

4CoachD$4,000

5DuelFates$3,350

6Royalty$2,850

7mixedfish$2,350

8ISaidTopTop$1,850

9imBeaming$1,350




$10,000 GTD Nightly [R&A]

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$27.50+2.50Aug. 29146$10,565

PlacePlayerPrize

1pokerboy7788$2,905

2BIG_MONEY$1,690

3dondsquared$961

4primarymix$750

5GrumpyChumpy$644

6Daniel "RedsoxNets5" Sewnig$539

7bootup713$412

8geNet1x_$264

9gi0stas$190




$30,000 GTD Weekly Sunday

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$185+15Aug. 30183$33,185

PlacePlayerPrize

1Frank "speedypete" Molinari$9,140

2Jeremy "OhNevermind" Danger$5,332

3Jason "LuckDuck" Lawhun$3,047

4uniman$2,370

5groucho$2,031

6NJ_Grinder$1,693

74seventeen$1,287

8Ishmael$813

9Domin8r$576




$10,000 GTD Weekly Sunday

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$91+9Aug. 30137$12,467

PlacePlayerPrize

1KevDurant35$3,428

2Giulianno "bay1finest" Joulain$1,995

3bucknaked64$1,134

4Basile28$885

5BrennanHuff$760

6Alpha_King$636

7hellomcfly$486

8David "phatdaddy" Cheng$312

9dawonderboy7$224

If you play regulated online poker tournaments in New Jersey and would like your real name appearing in future articles, please contact this editor at [email protected].

*Special thanks to PocketFives.com for some of the data in this article.

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Note to Self: If You’re Gonna Lose A Flip, At Least Lose It Right

One of the most important considerations in poker is position. When you have position on your opponents, you have a distinct advantage over them. The players whom you will have position on most often are those on your right. Additionally, your positional advantage is enhanced as the stacks get deeper between you and these players.

The converse of these statements is true when you play pots with players on your left. Now, they are the ones who will most often have a positional advantage on you, and again, that advantage will increase as stacks get deeper.

Pondering this dynamic has led me to experiment with the following theory. When playing tournament poker, I should try to play more pots with the players on my right and avoid flipping in big pots with the players on my left when I have a big stack and they have shorter stacks. Winning chips from any of these players is great, but I obviously cannot win every pot. Since I am going to lose chips often when I flip, I’d rather lose them to the players on my right.

Here’s why.

Advantages of losing to the players on your right

The biggest advantage of losing chips to the players on your right is that you will have the best chance of winning chips back from these players in the future. This is because you have position on them and, as already noted, this positional advantage only becomes bigger when the effective stacks between the two of you become bigger.

Let’s say I have a stack of 100 big blinds and double up a player on my right with 25 BBs. This is not the end of the world because I still have position on him and, because the effective stack between us is now 50 BBs, I can better use that positional advantage with more room for plays like set mining and three-betting light.

Another advantage is that the players on your right are less able to use their chip stacks against you. If they are smart, positionally aware opponents, they will be more focused on getting chips from the players on their right and not from the savvy savant on their left. For this reason, I like to think of the players on my right as my pseudo-partners. I root for them to win pots against others and don’t mind it as much if they win pots against me. After all, I know I will have access to those chips in the future thanks to the position I have on them.

Disadvantages of losing to the players on your left

The biggest disadvantage of losing chips to short-stacked players on your left when you have a big stack is that they are the ones most able to use those chips against you in the future and prevent you from stealing pots light.

For example, let’s again say that I have a stack of 100 BBs, but this time, I double up a 25-BB stack on my left. Now that player is no longer “handcuffed,” meaning that the options like set mining and three-betting light are easier for her with her new 50-BB stack than they were before when she only had 25 BBs.

This also means I will not be able to steal as wide as I could before. If this is a smart, positionally aware player, she will be looking to use her newfound flexibility to attack the player on whom she has the biggest positional advantage, a.k.a. me.

Strategic Adjustments

This theory has lead me to experiment with some strategic adjustments to play more pots with the players on my right and to flip less often for big pots with those on my left.

First, I am much more likely to three-bet opens from players on my right. This allows me to isolate them and shut the players on my left out of the pot. If I win the pot, great! If not, at least I lose chips to players who are less able to use them against me and are more likely to lose them back to me in the future.

This adjustment assumes that the players on my left would rarely cold four-bet light or that the players on my right would rarely four-bet light in response to my high three-betting frequency. In the small stakes games I play, very few players cold four-bet light and most original raisers flat too many hands out of position. If the players around me ever readjust and pull the trigger on these plays like better players do at higher stakes, then I will have to revert back to a more balanced strategy.

Second, I am much less likely to play big pots out of position to players on my left without a big edge. For example, if I open and get three-bet by a player on my left, I am experimenting with a much tighter continuing range than many players. If I determine that the spot is only slightly better than break-even at best, I opt to pass. This is not to say I am folding in solidly +EV spots, but if I am going to risk playing a big pot with a guy on my left, I want a better than barely break-even chance at winning it.

Also, if a player on my left three-bet shoves, I am more likely to fold if the call is a break-even coin flip. I’ve heard people say that they have to call when getting 2-to-1 if they expect to win 33% of the time. I don’t believe that this is true. By definition, a break-even spot implies that there is no edge to be gained, so it does not matter what you do. If the best I can get on a call is break-even or only slightly better, I’d much rather concede the small pot than take a high chance of shipping a big pot to a currently handcuffed player with position on me.

Conclusion

Whenever we flip for big pots, by definition, we lose them about half the time. Understanding the importance of position gives us an opportunity to claim a small victory when we lose these pots to players who we have an advantage on in future pots. For this reason when I have a big stack, I welcome flips to my right and avoid flips to my left.

This is something I have been trying out with good results so far. Even if it turns out to be less than optimal, it has led me to play more pots in position, which is always a good thing.

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Aaron Mermelstein Battles Whirlwind of Adversity En Route To Becoming a WPT Champ

There’s no denying the World Poker Tour makes superstars. Jonathan Little, Faraz Jaka, Joe Serock, Matt Salsberg, and Anthony Zinno are just some of the players who made a name for themselves on the WPT. Another player who sprung to prominence on the tour was 28-year-old Aaron Mermelstein, who earlier this year won the WPT Borgata Winter Open for $712,305.

While he was previously unknown to the masses, Mermelstein developed a solid reputation up and down the East Coast, and those who knew him weren’t surprised to see him win. What’s more, Mermelstein capitalized on the win by pursuing opportunities that come after winning a major, such as traveling the circuit and playing on Poker Night in America. If ever there was a Cinderella story in today’s poker world, Mermelstein fit the mold.

More than 35 years ago, Mermelstein’s parents left the former USSR — what is now modern day Ukraine — for the United States. The couple eventually settled in Philadelphia, which is where Mermelstein was born on April 30, 1987. Interestingly, Mermelstein’s older sister, Anita, currently works as VIP Manager of Murmur inside Borgata.

As for poker, Mermelstein discovered the game a few years before he turned 18.

"So you hear a lot of poker players credit Chris Moneymaker for helping them to transition into poker, I actually got started after watching Robert Varkonyi win on ESPN the year before," explains Mermelstein. "It’s cliché now, but I couldn’t believe you could make that much playing a game. At the time I was playing Sega Genesis for hours a day, so I thought why not play a game you could actually make money in?"

Mermelstein continued: "I remember seeing an advertisement for partypoker and signing up that day. It seemed almost immediately I was able to have success. I won two $5 or $10 tourneys for $5,000 each, and it seemed like such an easy game for me."

Indeed, Mermelstein’s success continued when he wound up winning a 16,000-entry freeroll that awarded the winner a seat into the inaugural World Series of Poker $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship, and the other eight final table participants a seat into the WSOP Main Event. Mermelstein had a deal to sell the seat to another player at the table for $40,000, but much to his dismay it wasn’t transferable.

"Unfortunately, due to the terms of the freeroll I was not able to sell my seat, and I was not 21 so they were not able to compensate me at all," Mermelstein reflects. "This devastated me and then the UIGEA came along and got rid of poker not long after, so I kind of was out of poker for a little bit."

With his poker career cut short, Mermelstein attended Penn State University, where he ultimately graduated with a degree in Business Management. It was during his time in college that he got reacquainted with online poker.

Mermelstein in action

"I can’t remember exactly when I got back into the online poker scene, but I believe it was my junior year in college, so in about 2008," says Mermelstein. "I deposited onto Full Tilt and PokerStars. The game definitely advanced since the last time I played online, so I took time out to read some books and watch videos."

After a year of easing his way back in the game, Mermelstein broke through when he placed fourth in the Sunday Million for roughly $90,000, which got him back up and running with a workable bankroll. Then, in 2010, he finished runner-up in a WCOOP four-max event for $70,000.

Despite his success in multi-table tournaments, Mermelstein opted to shift gears and focus on heads-up cash and sit-and-gos (SNGs).

"I remember being pretty successful in those heads-up SNGs that were under $1K, but then kept on moving up in stakes and taking shots that didn’t support my bankroll," Mermelstein admits. "I can remember even playing a few $5K SNGs with Jonathan Jaffe, even though I maybe only had 30 buy-ins to my name at that level. It’s funny to think about it now, but none of my friends at that time came from poker, so I had no one around me preaching bankroll management."

It was around that time that Black Friday struck, which very well may have saved Mermelstein’s online bankroll.

"I was tired of the online grind and really want to challenge myself to see what I could do with my degree and how I would like to be in the workforce," says Mermelstein. "I withdrew my entire roll from PokerStars and decided I was going to go all in on the WSOP that year. This would be the first year of me being in a casino for the summer and I didn’t know anyone else out there. So I did what anyone does the first time they are out in Vegas for the first time — I partied and played in the pits and I did so until I completed depleted my roll and then some."

Fresh off a losing summer where he failed to notch even a single WSOP cash, Mermelstein worked for his father at a boarding home for the elderly before finding a job as an executive recruiter in Philadelphia then New York. That was Mermelstein’s life for the better part of three years before he was laid off in August of 2014 — he also played recreationally in home games and on unregulated online sites.

"At this point, I was having a lot of success in cash games and online, and I decided to focus more of my energy on live poker," says Mermelstein.

It immediately paid off, as in November of 2014 he shipped Event #11: $300 No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack at the Borgata Fall Poker Open for $39,663. But, it was another high for Mermelstein that would see him come crashing down.

"As part of a backing arrangement for all of the tourneys I played that series, I was left with around $20,000," explains Mermelstein. "I took the money in all cash and ended up at a friend’s place for a party. In another not-so-smart decision, I trusted this friend and left my bag full of money in his closet when we went out to the club. I didn’t make it back to my friend’s house until the next morning, and by that time the bag, and my bankroll, had been stolen from me. Obviously trusting friends with large sums of money is not something anyone should be doing, and I’ve learned my lesson."

With his back against the wall once again, Mermelstein turned to online poker and was fortunate enough to win an online tournament a few weeks later. With around a $30,000 bankroll, Mermelstein turned his attention to January’s WPT Borgata Winter Open, a tournament that ended up attracting 989 players and created a $3,165,789 prize pool.

Mermelstein plopped down the $3,500 buy-in, and amazingly he won the event for $712,305 by topping a tough final table that included Justin Liberto (6th – $140,878), Esther Taylor-Brady (5th – $174,118), Shawn Cunix (4th – $212,108), Randy Pfeifer (3rd – $253,263), and Eugene Todd (2nd – $419,467).

"My best memories from the WPT are having my parents and close friends in the crowd behind me," says Mermelstein. "There was something really special about being in my home casino and having all my people behind me. Winning a WPT is special enough, but to have them there is something I will always remember. I’m really happy that I was not only able to positively change my financial situation, but that of those who believed in me."

As for his winnings, Mermelstein plans to use some of it to purchase real estate in Philadelphia "when the timing is right." He also plans to pursue a few non-poker business ventures. Of course, playing more poker was also in the cards.

Since etching his name on the WPT Champions’ Cup, Mermelstein has amassed a slew of scores including $14,550 for a fifth-place finish in April’s Borgata Spring Poker Open Event #10: $1,000 Six-Max No-Limit Hold’em; $30,780 for a third-place finish in the Latin American Poker Tour Panama High Roller; and $31,150 for winning the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Event #4: $1,100 No-Limit Hold’em in early August.

"It felt great to book a win after a really tough summer," Mermelstein says of the SHRPO win. "From a $10K heads-up disaster to going from chip leader in the Main Event for a short time to busting 30 away from the money, it was a tough summer. I really wasn’t even going to play much and was just using SHRPO as a stopgap before my trip to Panama, so it was a nice bonus."

Aaron Mermelstein wins again (photo c/o SHRPO)

Indeed, Mermelstein traveled to Panama to play in a small poker series as well as cash games, an ideal plan for a single man flush with cash.

"I think it’s really difficult to be in a relationship if you’re going to be traveling from one place to another quite often," Mermelstein says of his relationship status. "Being in the right relationship is tough. It can potentially help your game, but a lot of times they work as a major distraction, so I choose to be single until I plan on staying in one place for a long time."

Right now, Mermelstein intends to stay on the East Coast for a bit in order to play upcoming WPT events at Maryland Live! and Borgata, which not surprisingly is his favorite place to play.

"I believe Borgata has been the best poker room in the Northeast for a long time now," he says. "Great tournaments run there all the time, and the cash-game action has always been solid. The Director of Poker Operations, Tab Duchateau, does an excellent job at listening to what the players want working hard at making the right adjustments."

Few players experience the whirlwind success that Mermelstein has in the last year, but if there’s one takeaway from his story it’s that good things take time. Mermelstein’s ascension to poker stardom seemingly came overnight, but in reality his road to becoming a WPT champion was a decade in the making.

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Local Pro Ting Xiao Wins WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Baltimore for $147,699

The 2015/2016 World Series of Poker Circuit Horseshoe Baltimore – the second stop of the tour’s 12th season – attracted 458 entrants to the $1,675 Main Event, which created a prize pool of $687,000. That was distributed to the top 54 finishers, with a healthy $147,699 reserved for the winner.

That man ended up being local pro Ting Xiao, who rallied from a short stack at the final table to capture his first gold ring at his home casino and secure a seat in the 2016 WSOP Global Championship.

"I’ve always wanted a ring," Xiao said after the win. "I wanted a ring really badly. I play cash games for money and tournaments for the glory. That’s what the ring is about."

Prior to the win, Xiao had a little more than $30,000 in live tournament earnings, which included $5,387 for finishing 28th in the WSOP Circuit’s last stop at the Horseshoe Baltimore and a 21st-place finish in a 2010 WSOP $1,500 event for $15,222.

Interestingly, defending champion Chris Csik finished in 10th place for $11,054, while Phil Hernz of Plantation, Florida earned the title of Casino Champion at Horseshoe Baltimore after winning Event #7 — the Circuit’s first-ever Big O event – and making two other final table to bank a grand total of $11,531. As a reward, Hernz received a coveted seat into the 2016 WSOP Global Casino Championship.

Final Table Results

PlacePlayerHometownPrize

1Ting XiaoFrederick, MD$147,699

2Sandeep PatelParsippany, NJ$91,323

3Russ HeadLindale, GA$66,715

4John GorsuchWoodbridge, VA$49,457

5DJ MackinnonEast Amherst, NY$37,194

6Tommy VuCary, NC$28,373

7Peter LeeReston, VA$21,950

8Brian WaltersEldersburg, MD$17,223

9John KostelacNew Cumberland$13,706

Notable Finishes: Chris Csik (10th – $11,054), Asher Conniff (26th – $4,603), Daniel Gilmer (32nd – $3,552), Jesse Cohen (35th – $3,181), Gordon Shackelford (45th – $2,879), and Clarence Senter (54th – $2,638)

The tournament featured two starting flights (Flight A drew 187 entries and advanced 56; Flight B drew 260 and advanced 84; and 11 players registered before the start of Day 2), but only 151 players advanced to Day 2. At that point, Xiao was among the leaders with 184,000 in chips, but by the time Day 2 came to an end, he was short; in fact, when the final table of nine began he was the third-shortest stack.

According to updates from the event, Xiao got things started on Hand #40 of the final table when Peter Lee opened for 100,000 under the gun and Xiao called. Brian Walters then three-bet all in for 375,000 from the button, both his opponents called, and the flop came down {q-Clubs}{4-Clubs}. Lee checked and ended up folding after Xiao shoved all in for 1.035 million.

Xiao: {4-Hearts}{4-Diamonds}

Walters: {a-Spades}{j-Clubs}

Xiao flopped a set, but Walters was drawing live to a club flush. Unfortunately for him, the {7-Spades} blanked on the turn followed by the {J-Spades} on the river. Walters took home $17,223 for his eighth-place finish.

With five players remaining, Xiao scored another knock out in WSOP ring winner DJ MacKinnon, who got it in preflop holding the {j-Spades}{j-Hearts}. Xiao was racing with the {a-Diamonds}{k-Diamonds}, and ended up with the best hand after the board ran out {k-Clubs}{q-Clubs}{6-Diamonds}{8-Clubs}{3-Spades}.

After Xiao sent Russ Head home in third place – the result of his {10-Clubs}{7-Spades} besting {a-Hearts}{8-Spades} after the board ran out {10-Hearts}{8-Clubs}{4-Hearts}{3-Clubs}{5-Spades} – he began heads-up play against Sandeeb Patel, an IT salesman, holding a slight chip lead.

In what would ultimately be the final hand of the tournament, which happened on Hand #150 of the final table, Patel raised to 200,000 and called after Xiao three-bet to 575,000, which brought about a flop of {j-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{10-Clubs}. Xiao bet 675,000 and then snap-called after Patel moved all in for 2.4 million.

Patel: {j-Spades}{3-Spades}

Xiao: {a-Diamonds}{j-Clubs}

Both players had flopped top pair, but Xiao’s kicker had him well out in front. The {K-Spades} turn was no help to Patel, and neither was the {9-Diamonds} river. Patel took home $91,323 for his runner-up finish, while Xiao became the WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Baltimore champ!

Here is the full list of gold ring winners from Horseshoe Baltimore:

EventTournamentEntriesChampionPrize

#1$365 No-Limit Hold’em239Sara Hall$17,925

#2$365 NLHE Re-entry1,649Greg Himmelbrand$82,864

#3$365 No-Limit Hold’em132Scott Billups$13,998

#4$365 No-Limit Hold’em130Stephen Miller$10,919

#5$365 Pot-Limit Omaha125Sridhar Chebrolu$10,500

#6$365 NLHE Six-Handed123Brian Breen$10,515

#7$365 Big O82Phil Hernz$7,873

#8$365 NLHE Mega Stack356Eric Rivkin$24,569

#9$365 NLHE Turbo112John Ford$10,079

#10$1,675 Main Event458Ting Xiao$147,699

#11$580 No-Limit Hold’em95Viet Vo$14,997

#12$365 NLHE Turbo102Warren Wiggins$9,180

The WSOP Circuit continues September 16-30 at Casino De Campione in Italy andfrom September 17-28 at the Palm Beach Kennel Club in Florida.

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Game Theory Optimal Solutions and Poker: A Few Thoughts

GTO stands for “game theory optimal.” In poker, this term gets thrown around to signal a few different concepts. It refers to thoughts about opponent modeling, and thinking about poker situations in terms of ranges and probabilities, as opposed to being strictly results oriented.

Sometimes those ideas gets reduced to young pros shouting across a poker room (or the sphere) about whether a given play is “GTO” — or even “the opposite of GTO,” as I recently saw in a discussion thread. But what does this really mean? And does it apply to your game?

Seeking an Unexploitable Strategy

A game theory optimal solution to a game has precise mathematical definitions. It is interesting to consider what this means to a poker player, as well as how this concept has become a dominant framework for looking at ideal poker strategy. Since most of my time these days is spent building computer AIs that play strong poker, I’m often thinking about how computers look to GTO strategies for playing unexploitable poker.

GTO — especially in the context of modern poker — is largely about pursing a strategy that makes it impossible for you to get pushed around. Think Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Or Bruce Willis in any Bruce Willis movie.

Outside of poker, GTO is usually introduced with the “prisoner’s dilemma.” In this hypothetical situation, the two of us are arrested for jointly committing a crime. If neither of us talks, we both get off with light sentences. However, if one of us snitches on the other, the snitch will get off with no punishment at all, while the person who doesn’t talk gets a harsh sentence. If we both snitch, we both get a harsh sentence, since each person’s testimony can be used against the other.

Even though we would be best off with the first scenario (nobody talks), each individual is better off from collaborating with the authorities, regardless of what the other does (if I don’t snitch, you should snitch to get off free, and if I do snitch, you should definitely snitch as well). In an environment where players are rewarded for taking advantage of each other, it may not be worth acting cooperatively, even if all sides would be better off by doing so.

Another dilemma: a tournament bubble

The poker equivalent would be two players fighting it out on the bubble of a tournament. Except for the super-deep stacks who can chip up on the bubble with no risk of busting, the remaining players benefit from any confrontation that leads to an elimination. Thus the two players in the hand are only hurting themselves, by trying to bust each other. And yet, it’s not possible for them to collaborate toward a mutually beneficial solution.

Reacting to an opponent’s attempts to run you over is so natural to a thinking poker player, framing it in terms of GTO can seem almost superfluous. Of course your opponent has a strategy. You have some idea of what that strategy would be with various hands, and your job is to take that into account when executing your own strategy.

In other words, play the player. This is what GTO is all about.

The Quest to “Solve” Hold’em (and Other Games)

As you adjust your strategy to an opponent’s strategy, he or she will adjust to yours, and so forth. For heads-up limit hold’em, the University of Alberta team took this process to its logical conclusion, publishing their results earlier this year in Science magazine. Using a network of computers, they set two strategies loose, repeatedly adjusting to each others’ play. Eventually, they reached a state where neither player could gain even a 1% advantage against the other in any specific situation.

This sounds complicated, and I’m simplifying what they did slightly. But in essence, they reached a strategy which an opponent cannot exploit — or at least cannot exploit beyond a 1% edge — with any other possible strategy. Somewhat confusingly, the University of Alberta team claims both to have “solved” heads up limit hold’em, and also that they found just one GTO equilibrium for heads-up limit hold’em, and that there are likely to be other equilibria for the game, left to be discovered.

The U. of Alberta team (via The Verge)

According to the paper, their “near perfect” heads-up limit hold’em bot raises 90%+ of hands on the button, but doesn’t four-bet when it gets three-bet from the BB almost at all, even with {A-}{A-}. This seems to imply that four-betting {A-}{A-} on the button is wrong, or at least not as profitable as is disguising the hand by flat-calling the three-bet. The first time I read their paper, that’s certainly what I thought they meant.

However, the Alberta folks are quick to point out that calling a three-bet with {A-}{A-} on the button 100% of the time is only optimal in the GTO equilibrium that they found. Given the rest of their strategy, it would be worse to four-bet with pocket aces. You probably could four-bet with aces, but then the rest of the strategy would need to adjust. At the very least, you’d need to four-bet other hands, too, so as not to give it away that you had aces. If they fixed {A-}{A-} as a four-bet and ran the rest of the process until it stabilized, would it reach a different GTO equilibrium? That would be an interesting experiment.

In practice, if you know that your opponent will call off with one-pair hands against aces, and not react as though he knows your very tight four-betting range, then you’re just missing a bet. In a recent episode of The Thinking Poker Podcast, Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis explain this point well. Game theory uses a strong definition of optimal play, where you’re supposed to consider every play you would ever make with any hand as part of the equilibrium. However in real cases, 95% of that is optimizing for what you would do in this spot, given the range of hands that you could be playing, and what your opponents’ hands might be.

In a hand discussed on the show, a listener in a limit hold’em game held {K-}{K-} out of position on an ace-high flop. Heads-up, this is still a plus-EV hand, but there isn’t much value in betting. You’re not getting an ace to fold, and by checking, you’ll get more value from a bluff, as well as from a value bet with middle pair.

Let’s thinks about this situation as a computer AI might. Say you’re playing $100/$200 limit hold’em. The pot is $400, and you raised preflop with {K-}{K-}. Your hand’s value might be something like +$700 at this point (including the odds of winning the pot, and the value of future bets). Now the ace flops, and your value drops to +$300 or so. More importantly, the value of check-calling might drop by less than then value of betting out. Estimating the value of your hand, assuming that both players play well and about even in the long run, is just another way of approximating GTO.

When Everyone Knows What Everyone Else Is Doing

Once you’re in three-handed (or more) games, there is no game theory optimal solution, strictly speaking. This is because there is no stable equilibrium (or too many equilibria to count, depending on whom you ask). The players can always adjust to each other, or take advantage of a player trying to execute a GTO strategy and not adjusting to them, through a process that Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman call “implicit collusion” in their 2006 book The Mathematics of Poker. Thus there is no unexploitable strategy.

"The Mathematics of Poker" (2006)

Let’s dig into this for a second. When playing heads up, if you (or a bot) follows a GTO strategy, an opponent can’t beat you in the long run, no matter what he or she does. This does not mean that you are winning the most against this opponent, but you are locking in a long-term tie, while still benefitting from some of your opponent’s mistakes.

For example, the limit hold’em GTO bot will pay off on the river with bottom pair often enough so you can’t bluff it effectively. If you never bluff in this spot, the bot will still pay you off at the same rate. An exploitative player would stop paying you off after a while, and win even more. Doug Polk spoke on the TwoPlusTwo Pokercast about this situation coming up during the man-vs.-machine NLH match last spring. It was such a relief to the players, once they realized that while the computer played well (“4 out of 10,” compared to his regular opponents, according to Polk), it did not attempt to exploit their betting patterns. If when you flop the nuts you bet 1.5x the pot or crumble a cookie, the AI doesn’t know or care. It just plays GTO.

In an idealized 3+ player game where everyone adjusts to everyone, GTO should not work. But in practice, if the players don’t change their strategies too much from hand to hand (and they don’t), a lot of the heads-up GTO principles apply.

A friend of mine went to graduate school with one of the best online players in the world, and had a chance to watch him play. He was surprised that his classmate did not make any unusual plays, or really any “moves” at all. According to the pro:

everybody knows who I ameverybody knows how I playthere’s no reason to get out of line

If you take Chen and Ankenman’s ideas about “implicit collusion” to heart, one could also add that if the players were ganging up on him instead of trying to beat each other, the pro would just quit the game. This is a non-issue in the nosebleed games, since everyone knows everyone else, and playing anonymously or collusively isn’t really possible.

The point is, the best player in online poker last year (on a per-hand basis) plays GTO. He must be really good at knowing when to bet 80% of the time and to call 20%, and when to call 20% and to fold 80%. And then he actually does it. There’s a lot to be said for good execution. (I tend to find that 20% call button a little bit too often.)

It’s also easy to see why Doug Polk in the same interview is pessimistic about humans’ chances, once the bots learn all the right bet frequencies. Our silicon friends will always have that edge in execution, and they don’t need room, food, or beverage.

Conclusion: GTO is the Baseline

In the short term, the humans are converging on GTO more quickly. When I sat in the stands in the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino for the final table of the $1 Million Big One for One Drop, it shocked me how loose-passive the play became after getting down to three-handed.

Three-handed in The Big One for One Drop

I took some flack on for comparing the small-bet, check-down game happening between Daniel Negreanu, Dan Colman and Christoph Vogelsang to a nightly satellite at a local casino. Folks fired back that these guys are the best in the world, and I’m clearly an idiot. But it sure did look like none of the players were trying to pressure the others. And why should they? With payouts of $15M, $8M, $4M, there was a lot less upside in winning chips than was the downside to chipping down or busting.

On other hand, if one guy pushed, he knew the others knew how to fight back. So nobody pushed. For about two hours, three of the best shorthanded NLH players in the world checked or small-bet every hand, until Vogelsang, the short stack, busted.

Do you need to play GTO in order to win? Or rather, how close do you need to get to GTO in order to hold your own against a strong set of opponents? Let’s let Professor Tuomos Sandholm, head of Carnegie Mellon’s Claudico no-limit hold’em team, answer that question.

In a recent article in Cigar Aficianado interviewing academics and enthusiasts at the Annual Computer Poker Championship, Sandholm was asked about his colleagues at the University of Alberta solving limit hold’em.

“They say it is essentially solved. I think that counts,” responded Sandholm. “My question though is: Was it essentially solved three years ago?”

Near-optimal GTO play is just the first step. Once your baseline strategy can’t be easily exploited, you can spend the rest of your time studying opponents’ tendencies and adjusting to their weaknesses. There will be plenty of opponents who don’t think about ranges, who don’t adjust to some of the game information, or who are just playing their own way. Adjusting to them is what GTO, and poker, is really all about.

For a good, accessible exploration of how to use GTO in your game, check out Ed Miller’s book Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top . Meanwhile for examples of how players use hand ranges to adjust to their opponents’ strategies, check out any of Alec Torelli’s “Hand of the Day” analyses here on PokerNews, or the recent interview with Vegas $2/$5 NL pro Sangni Zhao.

Nikolai Yakovenko is a professional poker player and software developer residing in Brooklyn, New York who helped create the ABC Open-Face Chinese Poker iPhone App.

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Home Game Heroes: Strategy for Flop Games with Different Board Arrays

In my last column on home games, I looked at the many different variations there can be in the layout or “array” of board cards in a home game.

When people invent home games they frequently like to toy with how the community cards are laid out. How do you, as a skilled poker player, take advantage of these variants by exploiting those aspects of these games that other, less skillful players, may not consider? Specifically, what strategy considerations go into your play when you see community cards that are not set up in the familiar three cards of a flop, followed by one turn and one river?

Let’s look at a specific variant, in this case the home game 2-1-3, to see how you might think through a hand differently than you would in a “typical” poker game. We’ll do this not so much to develop a complete strategy for this oddball game, but so you can see how to reason through game variations, adopting your strategy to suit these twists and turns appropriately.

2-1-3 is a home poker variant you may recall from my last column, that plays in most respects like Omaha Hi-Low 8-or-Better, but with a different board. Instead of five cards in a row, in 2-1-3 the board is deal with two cards across, then a single card underneath those two cards, then a final flop of three cards underneath those two rows. The resulting board looks like this:

The hand-making rules in 2-1-3 require that the player use cards from his hand with the number of cards from just one of the horizontal or vertical rows, adding up to a five-card hand.

For example, going first with the horizontal rows from top to bottom, a player may take three cards from his hand and add them to the top row of two cards, four cards from his hand and add them to the one card in the second row, or two cards in his hand and add them to the three cards from the board; then going with the vertical columns from left to right, he may take two cards from his hand and add them to the three cards in the first column, three cards from his hand and add them to the two in the second column, or four cards from his hand and add them to the single card in the third column.

As in Omaha Hi-Low, he may make a separate high hand and a low hand, using separate combinations of cards for the high and the low hand as described above.

The first difference between 2-1-3 and regular Omaha Hi-Low — something that you should always consider when playing any non-standard board game — is the “front-loadedness” of the betting rounds. In Omaha, for example, before the second of the four betting rounds, you see three-fifths of the community cards, accounting for three-fifths of your potential hand by the flop. In this game, to the contrary, you see only two of the six cards that will eventually be revealed on the board – accounting for only one sixth of the combinations that the full board will eventually reveal. Accordingly, the early information in this game is far more limited than what you are used to in Omaha hi-low or hold’em in the first two betting rounds.

That being said, your preflop hand is much more important in 2-1-3 than it is in Omaha Hi-Low, potentially making up much more of your final hand.

In Omaha Hi-Low, you must use two and only two of your hole cards. Similarly, you only have the potential to make a qualifying low hand if at least two of your cards are {8-} or less. For example, if you have {K-Spades}{K-Diamonds}{A-Clubs}{2-Spades} you can make a low provided the board has at least three low cards in it.

But in 2-1-3, because of your ability to combine three or even all four of your hole cards with community cards to make a hand, your entire holding of hole cards becomes more important. Put another way, you may use a much larger combination of your low cards in 2-1-3 in making your low hand than you can in Omaha Hi-Low, creating a vastly different value from your worst holdings to your best holdings.

Do you see why this is so? With just two low cards you can only make a low with two of the six rows and columns on the board. With the other two thirds of the rows and columns, you cannot do so unless you have at least three or four low cards in your hand. Hence, your ideal starting hand, for purposes of making a low hand, contains four low cards. And, since in four of the six rows and columns, your five-card hand will consist of at least three of your hole cards, the lower those hole cards the better.

You must also consider the high hand, of course. In 2-1-3, unlike in Omaha Hi-Low, a full house or quads are possible even if the board does not pair, as a strong three or four card holding may be combined with a seemingly benign board, containing no pair, to make a full house. Consider the following board:

If you hold {A-Diamonds}{A-Clubs}{6-Spades}{2-Diamonds}, even though none of the rows and columns contain a pair, you can make a full house going across on the top row. Similarly, you can imagine how a full house or better is possible in the second row of one card (if an individual has trips in his hand for example), or in the two columns with one or two cards in them.

Since your individual holding in this game allows for you to use so many additional combination of cards than in Omaha Hi-Low, the preflop value of some starting cards goes way up in a way that does not happen in Omaha Hi-Low. A player with the very rare holding of quads, for example, has an extremely powerful hand in this game. Similarly, a player with trips has a hand whose preflop value relative to his opponent’s likely preflop holding is much greater than in an Omaha Hi-Low game — where preflop holdings are much closer in value to each other.

It should probably go without saying that it’s also critically important to pay attention to how information is revealed in this game. As mentioned above, and even more so than in Omaha Hi/Low, the first four cards are critically important. Though a vast number of hands are extremely close in value, given the huge number of hand combinations that will be sequentially revealed as the three different rows are exposed, there are very high-valued outliers that don’t exist in Omaha Hi-Low.

Also significant is that in this game, unlike in Omaha Hi-Low, the final row to be revealed contains a much higher percentage of information. Accordingly, if you can get to see it inexpensively, it’s usually worth doing so. Similarly, if you have a made hand on the first or second row, you want to make it as expensive as you can to keep your opponents from seeing that last row cheaply.

Here is a list of questions that you should ask yourself when faced with a home game that is new to you.

How do the community cards get revealed?How does your hand get made by combining the board and your hole cards?Given the nature of the game, what is likely to be a very strong final hand?What would be a strong initial holding in this particular game? And, specifically, what hand is the best possible hand at the moment and by the time all of the cards are revealed?How important, relative to the final hand, are your hole cards?When is it most important, within the structure of the game, to exert pressure on opponents to prevent them from seeing cards that will be revealed?When is it most important, within the structure of the game, for you to attempt to see cards cheaply?

The purpose of this exercise hasn’t been to give you a perfect basic strategy for the game of 2-1-3. That would take far more space and analysis than a short article like this can supply. Rather, it’s to get you to think strategically about any homemade game you might encounter.

Photo: “In the game,” Adrian Sampson. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold’em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.

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Poker Workshop: Two Views on Flopping a Set in a Multi-Way Pot

Ben Wilinofsky is a former European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event champion and World Poker Tour (WPT) final tablist.

He has earned close to $1.4m playing live tournaments and close to $5m playing online tournaments under the alias NeverScaredB.

In 2013 Albert Daher was runner-up to Alexey Rybin at the WPT Merit Cyprus Classic; he has also won an EPT side event and cataloged a series of impressive six-figure scores at the Merit Crystal Cove Casino in Kyrenia.

He has earned closed to $1m in live tournament earnings but makes most of his money playing live cash games.

Both players kindly agreed to dissect a hand I played in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Monster Stack event where I flopped a set in a multi-way pot. Here are the two views of Ben Wilinofsky and Albert Daher.

The Hand

WSOP Monster Stack Day 1

Level 5 Blinds 100/200 a25

Stack Sizes

Hero – 19,000

Elderly Gentlemen – 20,000

Cutoff – 15,000

Elderly Lady – 19,000

An elderly gentleman limped in early position. I limped in mid position with pocket treys. The cutoff limped before a tight elderly lady made it 600 on the button; the blinds folded and everyone else called.

Flop:      

The elderly gentleman led for 1,200. I called, the cutoff folded and the elderly lady raised to 2,500. The player in early position called. I made it 7,200 and only the elderly lady called.

Turn:  

I moved all-in for 11k and she called with 76o.

Pre-Flop Analysis

Benjamin Wilinofsky
Ben Wilinofsky

Ben Wilinofsky: Raising or folding pre are both bad with pocket threes. I assume most pots are going multi-way, threes don’t make particularly good semi-bluffs and you rarely make hands you want to value bet.

So raising doesn’t make sense. You’re going to end up mostly check-folding or stabbing once, getting called and not having a profitable way to continue from that point forward.

Albert Daher: I would probably isolate the first limper since it’s an older guy and I’m going to win the pot most of the time with a c-bet. Saying that I think limping behind 100bb deep is more than fine since you are going to cooler someone if you go multi-way to the flop and flop a set.

So I think you should mix it up pre-flop. Sometimes limping is the right play and other times isolating the weaker player is the right play.

My Thoughts: When playing this deep, and in middle position, I always limp with small pocket pairs. This is part of my problem. I seem to have a default line for most of my plays.

On one hand this is good because it allows me to make the play without thinking about it, but those benefits need to be balanced with due cognizance given to the type of player I am making these plays against.

Post-Flop Analysis

Ben Wilinofsky: On the flop, raising the lead is bad. It looks super strong four-ways with the pre-flop raiser who has shown down the goods still behind you. You might get her to hero-fold jacks when you raise flop.

Daher
Albert Daher (Photo: Neil Stoddart, PokerStars)

When you call she can raise one pair for value and players behind can overcall drawing dead. And sometimes people bluff. So many bad things happen and so few good things happen when we raise vs. the limper. He can’t even really stack off with worse, except 76.

Once she makes the tiny raise we have to evaluate what the other player is leading and calling a small raise with. I think in general you should 3-bet here because letting him peel another card with 55 or 44 is pretty disastrous and letting the old lady get scared of a 3-way pot and check back a turn is also disastrous.

It cuts us off from our best-case-scenario tree (where we get another bet out of the other player), but the parlay that needs to happen for us to go three ways to the turn and get a card that doesn’t scare the old lady, and get her to bet, and get the other guy to call, is just way too thin.

So I think you played this hand perfect on the flop. If I had to nitpick anything it’s that I would probably make it 6,500 instead of 7.200; it’s easier for people to call when they put fewer chips in and it also looks small enough to be a silly bluff.

The turn is inconsequential. Once we get three bets in on the flop it’s going to be hard not to get the rest in. Make an evaluation based on the other hands you’ve seen her play, whether to bet or check and how much, but it’s going to be hard to screw this one up.

Albert Daher: After the first guy donk-bets I would always flat expecting the tight lady to raise. So that was played perfectly. But when you flat then 3-bet the old lady’s raise I think you are always nutted.

A pro will figure this out and could easily fold a hand as strong as an overpair. I think a very good pro would even fold top two since you can only have sets or better in that spot.

Now, against weaker players, I would play the same, wanting to get as much money in as fast as possible since your opponent might get scared by some turns, like a 4 or a 5, which puts one-card straights out there.

Patriotic player
Is it a weak player or a pro?

So basically against pros I would slow play and probably check-shove the turn. Against weaker players I would play the exact same way as you.

My Thoughts: I was fortunate in as much as both players had played incredibly straight forward up until this point. If they raised they were strong, and if they limped they were weak. I only had eyes for the elderly lady because since she raised pre-flop I pegged her on a strong hand.

I called the flop lead because I expected the PFR to raise. Like Albert said I didn’t want to her to fold a semi-strong hand because of my raise. I was prepared to 3-bet should she raise and was ready to get it in at any point during the hand.

Regarding Ben’s point with respect to making the flop 3-bet smaller, I made it bigger in the hope that he would fold and I would be heads up with the elderly lady. At no time during this stage of the hand was I thinking of keeping him in the hand by making the 3-bet smaller.

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Two-Time WSOPC Ring Winner Brandon Fish Wins RunGood Poker Series Council Bluffs

Things were desperate early for Brandon Fish at RunGood Poker Series Horseshoe Council Bluffs. The two-time World Series of Poker Circuit ring winner came into the final day with a solid stack but found himself all in and at risk for about 12 big blinds just 45 minutes into Day 2. His {q-Spades} hit two pair against {10-Hearts}{10-Spades} and he survived. A bit later, with just over eight big blinds, he got {3-Clubs}{3-Diamonds} in against {a-Spades}{6-Spades} and again watched his opponent brick out.

Fish made those early strokes of good luck count as he went on to win the 283-player tournament for $34,267 and a $2,000 Blaycation package to the RunGood Cup Championship, which will be held in New Orleans this December. It’s the second-biggest score in the live poker career of the Kearney, Nebraska native, pushing his lifetime winnings past $200,000.

Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize

1Brandon Fish$34,267

2Thaddeus Wolff$21,690

3Steve Bell$14,525

4Josh Reichard$10,130

5Ryan Tepen$7,597

6Michael Sanders$5,959

7Matt Sztamburski$5,035

8Mike Henrich$4,171

9Tim Woodson$3,590

Forty-nine players began the day with chips at noon, with 36 places slated to get paid. Clint Lilienthal, Nick Manganaro, Ryan Phan, Jeff Banghart, and 2001 WSOP Main Event final table participant Stan Schrier – who was recently featured in PokerNews Where Are They Now series — were among the notable players busting en route to the unofficial final table.

What would normally have been a tense bubble spot – the final nine runners all received identical $2,000 Blaycation packages to the season-ending championship – had the drama drained. Start-of-day leader Shawn Meyer had less than two big blinds after running his queens into Tim Woodson’s aces, while at the same time Scott Lodes busted at the other table.

Woodson entered the final table with the lead, but play slowed immensely as nobody busted for three hours while the blinds continued to climb. Fish was at risk relatively early on with {a-Hearts}{k-Hearts} but managed to spike a king against the jacks of Matt Sztamburski.

Woodson, who lost most of his stack with ace-king against the kings of Sztamburski, ended up being first to go after picking up jacks when RunGood Pro Ryan Tepen had kings. That sparked a flurry of eliminations with Mike Henrich (eighth), Sztamburski (seventh), and RunGood Pro Michael Sanders (sixth) all hitting the rail in a wild 10-minute stretch.

Tepen looked like the favorite with the chip lead and a résumé to match, but a turn of bad luck sent him out in fifth. First, he lost a race to Thaddeus Wolff. Then, Josh Reichard opened for a raise during Level 23 (15,000/30,000/5,000), Tepen three-bet to about 170,000 in the small blind, and Wolff shoved all in from the big. Tepen called off for around 1.1 million, and his {a-Clubs}{k-Clubs} failed to improve against {j-Clubs}{j-Hearts}.

Reichard then shipped 650,000 over an open from Wolff, only to have Wolff snap him off with queens and hold against {a-Diamonds}{8-Spades} despite a {3-Diamonds}{4-Spades}{2-Hearts} flop. Wolff had about half the chips in play three-handed, and the short-stacked Steve Bell ultimately busted out in third place.

Fish started the heads-up duel with fellow Nebraskan at about a 3:2 disadvantage, and Wolff stretched his lead to nearly 4:1. The two were fairly deep though with almost 120 big blinds in play, and Fish waited for his spot. He found it with a four-bet shove holding {8-Clubs}{8-Hearts}. Wolff called with sixes and Fish turned a set to leave his opponent dead on fourth.

That pot gave Fish the lead and he finished it moments later on a {6-Clubs}{6-Spades}{5-Spades} flop. Fish had bet 120,000 after Wolff checked and Wolff made it 425,000. Fish shoved and Wolff called off his stack of about 2 million with the {k-Spades}{8-Spades}. Fish was elated as he held {a-Spades}{2-Spades} for a superior flush draw, and the board bricked out to give Fish the win.

The RunGood series will continue at Tulsa Hard Rock on September 16, and of course the PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be on hand to capture all the action.

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2015 RunGood Poker Series Council Bluffs Main Event Day 1b/c: Big Lead for Shawn Meyer

RunGood Poker Series Council Bluffs continued on Saturday with the second and third Day 1 flights at the Horseshoe, which drew 125 and 78 runners, respectively, pushing the total to 283 after registration ended. Day 1b chip leader Shawn Meyer finished with 350,000 after his 13-level flight played out. That put him well in the lead ahead of Day 1c leader Ryan Phan (243,000).

Top 10 Chip Counts

RankPlayerChips

1Shawn Meyer350,000

2Ryan Phan243,000

3Scott Lodes230,500

4Jim Devaney215,000

5Ellen Soret198,500

6Tim Killday196,500

7Kelly Vandemheen178,000

8Greg Dailey168,000

9Stan Schrier146,000

10Duster Ellis138,500

A classic aces-over-kings confrontation with fellow big stack Jeff Epstein in Level 13 (1,500/3,000/500) enabled Meyer to rocket to the lead. We didn’t see when the money went in, but both players flopped sets and turned boats on a {3-Hearts}{a-Clubs}{3-Diamonds}{5-Spades} board. Epstein was forced to send Meyer 130,800.

Epstein found himself on the wrong end of the cooler after initially dragging a monstrous pot at his previous table when he opened aces under the gun and saw Joel Wahlert three-bet from the small blind. Colin Perry shoved for 82,000 from the big blind, Epstein moved all in as well, and Wahlert called off with jacks. Perry tabled kings and nobody improved from there.

Epstein still managed to put 130,000 in the bag despite the late setback to Meyer.

Other players surviving Day 1b included former World Series of Poker Main Event final table finisher Stan Schrier (146,000), Jeff "mrrain" Banghart (124,500), Brandon Fish (103,000), and Matt Sztamburski (67,500).

Phan, meanwhile, found the third bullet to be the charm on Day 1c after busting both Day 1a and Day 1b. He was joined by Jim Devaney (215,000), Tim Killday (196,500), and Kelly Vandemheen (178,000) atop the Day 1c counts.

Notable players who took shots and failed to advance included Ross Bybee, Justin Gardenhire, Jose Montes, Jeff Bryan, Mike Lang, Mark Fink, Dustin Dirksen, Bernard Lee, and former RunGood Council Bluffs champ Henry Gingerich.

In total between the two flights, 34 players advanced to Sunday’s Day 2. They’ll join the 15 survivors of Day 1a to create a 49-player field, of which 36 will be paid a minimum of $1,117. The final day of the tournament will see a winner crowned who will take home $34,267 and a $2,000 Blaycation package to the season-ending RunGood Championship Cup. All players who advance to the final table will also receive a package.

Cards are scheduled to be in the air noon local time, and since Day 1c reached a hard stop at 12 players, the clock will roll back to 11 minutes and 25 seconds left in Level 13 for everyone.

Be sure to return to PokerNews to see who emerges as champion as this event plays down to a winner.

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2015 EPT Barcelona Main Event Day 5: Denys Shafikov Rules the Final Nine

Day 5 of the 2015 PokerStars.com European Poker Tour Barcelona €5,300 Main Event started out with 36 players, but right off the bat the chips were flying. Action was fast and furious, and like the bad guys in the movies, players were knocked out left and right.

Mikalai Vaskaboinikau was the first player to get eliminated when his eights couldn’t hold against Steve Warburton’s {J-}, but he certainly wouldn’t be the only one. Jude Ainsworth was found on the rail early on as well after he fell victim to Frederik Jensen. Jensen would eventually make the final table, and so would Rainer Kempe, who was responsible for Andre Akkari’s elimination. Akkari found himself all in holding {A-}{10-} and trailing Kempe’s {A-}{K-}.

It wasn’t meant to be for one-time chip leader Daniel Dvoress. either. He lost his chips with {A-}{J-} to World Series of Poker gold bracelet winner Pascal LeFrancois’ pocket kings.

Jonathan Abdellatif ran into aces with {K-}{J-}, Shyam Srinivasan lost with sixes against tens, and Team PokerStars Pro Matthias De Meulder found his dream crushed when LeFrancois hit an ace with {A-}{K-} against his kings.

Bad beats and suck outs were everywhere to be seen, as well as hero calls and big celebrations after coin flips won. Mario Sanchez busted Philipp Kober with jacks to {A-}{6-}, Delgado lost to Kempe with {K-}{J-} to {J-}{8-} (eight on the flop), and Jonas Palsgaard lost with {10-}{7-} after being knocked down to just an ante the hand before.

Before anyone knew it, the tournament was down to two tables and the action didn’t stop there. Despite players asking the floor to start hand-for-hand play because of a difference in pace, players got knocked out really fast and most of them fell on the feature table.

Meanwhile, Denys Shafikov was dominating the feature table. On the outer table, John Juanda and Jensen reigned.

Dominykas Karmazinas had been knocked down to just a few chips and made a remarkable comeback, only to bust in 14th when he ran jacks into queens. EPT Vienna champion Oleksii Khoroshenin first lost a big pot to Shafikov with {A-}{K-}, and he fell not much later against that very same Shafikov with fives to eights to bust in 13th place.

Lefrancois fell in 12th place when he shoved his last 25 big blinds over an open raise by Juanda. Juanda called with queens and beat out Lefrancois’ eights.

Joao Brito was another victim of Shafikov’s tear, as he lost with {A-}{2-} to {A-}{9-}. Then, Peter Eichhardt would be Shafikov’s last victim of the day. Eichhardt, the start-of-day chip leader, got it in with {K-}{9-} to Shafikov’s deuces and couldn’t hit.

With Eichhardt’s departure in 10th place, the final nine players were redrawn and took their seats at the unofficial final table. Play continued for another few levels, but no one wanted to go home. Kempe was down to just a couple of big blinds, but turned those into 31 "bigs" a couple hands later to back in the game; he ended play with 21 big blinds. Amir Touma also was very short, but got two shoves through to at least have somewhat of a fighting chance tomorrow.

The goal at the beginning of the day was to play down to six, or at least to the official final table of eight. At last-minute’s notice, the tournament organizers decided to halt play with nine left at 12:40 a.m. With that, the following nine will return to Casino Barcelona tomorrow at 12 p.m. local time.

SeatPlayerCountryChipsBig Blinds

1Denys ShafikovUkraine17,515,000109

2Amir ToumaLebanon1,180,0007

3Rainer KempeGermany3,775,00021

4Steven WarburtonUnited Kingdom7,180,00045

5Victor BogdanovRussia1,415,0009

6John JuandaIndonesia4,040,00025

7Mario SanchezSpain2,885,00018

8Frederik JensenDenmark5,580,00035

9Andreas SamuelssonSweden7,005,00039

Live coverage will begin at 1 p.m. with cards-up coverage right here on PokerNews.

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