Beginners Equity Guide to "Standard" Situations in No-Limit Hold’em

If you’re just getting started in No-Limit Hold’em you’ll soon find out that there are many “standard” situations you’ll keep finding yourself in.

They happen all the time so it’s important for you to know where you stand and how to play optimally in each of these situations.

If you can regularly make the correct decisions in these spots you’ll be a winner in the long run and you’ll be a superior player to those who get them wrong.

These are the most common standard situations you’ll encounter in No-Limit Texas Hold’em pre-flop, post-flop and on the turn with the key math explained along with the best approach for dealing with them.

NLHE Standard Situations Pre-Flop

1) The Coin Flip: One Pair vs Two Overcards

Examples: Q♠ Q♣ vs A♣ K♦; 8♦ 8♥ vs K♣ Q♥


This is probably the best known situation in NLHE. It’s generally called a coin flip with each player basically having a 50-50 chance of winning, although it really isn’t quite so clear.

In reality the pocket pair is significantly ahead most of the time. The winning percentage of QQ vs AKo is 57:43, for example.

But there are also instances when the pair is behind (for example any low pair against JTs).

Hint: Coin flips are the bread and butter of tournament poker. Put your chips in the middle and don’t think about them too much. Numbers will even out in the long run.

2) Ouch: Higher Pair vs Lower Pair

Examples: Q♠ Q♣ vs 7♦ 7♠; 8♦ 8♥ vs 5♣ 5♥

This is a really bad spot if you have the lower pair. The higher pair is always an 82% favorite. There’s nothing for you to do but pray.

Hint: The lower your pair, the higher the chances of being dominated. Eights are the pair that separates the small pairs from the big pairs.

3) Kicker issues: Not as Bad as You Think

Examples: A♦ K♣ vs A♣ Q♥; K♥ Q♦ vs K♠ T♥

“Being dominated,” which means having a weaker kicker to your high card than your opponent, is not as bad a situation as many players think.

The better hand has about 70% equity, which means that the weaker hand actually wins almost every third time.

The lower your kicker is, the lower also are the chances of it having any effect on the outcome as there will be more split pots.

Hint: With a bad kicker you always have to be aware that you might be dominated. However it’s a lot worse to run a pair into a higher pair.

Chips for Isolation Play Article

4) Not Good at All: Pocket Pair vs One Overcard

Examples: Q♠ Q♣ vs A♦ T♠; 8♥ 8♦ vs A♣ 5♥

Another situation where the player with the overcard is in a really bad spot with just 27-32% equity.

The good thing is that’s still more than every fourth time.

Hint: Be careful if you have a weak kicker. Chances are you’re not flipping but playing with only one live card.

Standard Situations in No-Limit Hold’em – Post-Flop

1) Top Pair vs Flush Draw or Straight Draw

Examples: A♥ 2♥ vs K♣ Q♠ on a flop of K♥ T♣ 8♥; K♣ Q♠ vs 8♦ 7♥ on a flop of K♦ 9♣ 6♥

This is comparable to the so-called “coin flip” pre-flop. It’s important to notice that there are still two cards to come so the draw has two chances of coming in.

The flush draw in the example above has a 45% chance to win while the straight draw in the second example only has 33%.

The reason is because there are still nine hearts to complete the flush draw while there are only six cards that complete the straight draw.

Hint: The chances for your draws are determined by the pot odds. If you’re getting the right pot odds you can continue profitably.


2) A Big Advantage: Top Pair vs Lower Pair

Example: K♣ Q♠ vs J♥ T♦ on a flop of K♥ J♠ 2♣

A situation like this is about as one-sided as a higher vs a lower pair on the flop. The better hand is going to win 80% of the time.

Hint: Play pairs lower than top pairs very carefully. They don’t have a lot of chances to improve and are often dominated.

3) Top Pair vs Top Pair – Kicker Issues

Example: K♣ Q♠ vs K♥ T♥ on a flop of K♦ 7♦ 6♣

Having a lower kicker is even worse than having a lower pair. This shows how important the kicker card is.

The dominating hand has an 83% chance of winning so it’s a clear favorite.

Hint: Be careful with a top pair, bad kicker hand. The lower your kicker the more often you’re behind.

4) Set vs Top Pair – Way Ahead

Example: 4♣ 4♠ vs A♥ K♥ on a flop of A♣ T♠ 4♦

You can’t be much more of a favorite. A set wins 96% of hands against top pair on the flop. It’s an almost unbeatable hand.

The higher the top pair is the harder it is to get rid of it. Many players “get married” to their top pair, which makes sets so incredibly profitable.

Hint: If you flop a set you’re pretty certain to be a winner. But watch out for possible draws!


5) Set vs Flush Draw or Straight Draw – a 3:1 Favorite

Examples: 4♣ 4♠ vs A♥ K♥ on a flop of 4♥ 9♥ 7♣; 4♣ 4♥ vs   Q♥ on a flop of T♦ J♦ 7♣

This is one of the situations that pretty much plays out automatically. The set is a 3-1 favorite but the pot odds and implied odds are often so good that the draw can call profitably.

But remember: The set is always ahead on the flop.

Hint: You’re always a favorite with a set on a rainbow board. Note that you always have re-draws to a paired board even if the draw comes in first.

6) Set vs Monster Draw (Combined Flush and Straight Draw) – Still Ahead

Example: 4♣ 4♠ vs J♥ T♥ on a flop of 9♥ 8♥ 4♦

Although the drawing hand is now drawing to both a flush and a straight the set is still a 58-42 favorite – quite remarkable, isn’t it?

Yet both hands have a good reason to bet in this situation as the pot odds will almost always be good enough.

Hint: With a flopped set you’re going to be a favorite on the flop even against the best possible draw.

Standard Situations in No Limit Hold’em – The Turn

The flop may have given you a pretty hand but if the turn is not what you’re looking for it can literally turn things around.


1) Top pair vs Flush Draw or Straight Draw

Examples: Flush draw A♥ 2♥ vs K♣ Q♠ on a board of K♥ T♣ 8♥ — 3♦

Straight draw: K♣ Q♠ vs 8♦ 7♥ on a board K♦ 9♣ 6♥ 3♦

The flush draw with one overcard now is down to 28% equity (aka chance of winning). The straight has even less than 20%.

It follows that you usually have to fold the draws in case your opponent bets big.

Hint: Generally speaking you’ll always want to see the river with a draw but sometimes the pot odds won’t be good enough. That means the amount of chips you have to pay to call might be too high to be justified by the slim chances of hitting.

2) Top Pair vs Lower Pair – Almost Done

Example: K♣ Q♠ vs J♥ T♦ on a board of K♥ J♠ 2♣ — 3♦

If the lower pair doesn’t find help on the turn you should rarely continue. In our example the pair of jacks has an 11% chance to win which doesn’t give you reason to bet.

Hint: Playing second pair is tricky as there are only a few ways for it to improve. They become even fewer on the turn.

3) Top Pair vs Top Pair – Domination Nation

Example: K♣ Q♠ vs K♥ T♥ on a board of K♦ 7♦ 6♥ — 2♠

Kicker issues often get worse on every street, i.e. with every new community card. The situation described above leaves the weaker hand only a 7% shot at winning – so little that it doesn’t justify any call.


Hint: If your pair is dominated, meaning your opponent has a higher second card (=kicker), you’re in dire straits. If you’re behind you’re only going to win one out of 10 times.

4) Set vs Top Pair – Decided

Example: 4♣ 4♠ vs A♥ K♥ on a board of A♣ T♠ 4♦ — 2♠

If the turn hasn’t helped your top pair hand the hand is already over. There is no way to overtake the set on the river.

Note that in the example above another ace on the board would give the player with pocket fours a full house.

Hint: With a set you’re dominating the hand on the turn. On the other side of the table, against a set you’re lost.

5) Set vs Flush Draw or Straight Draw – Almost Unstoppable

Example: 4♠ 4♣ vs A♥ K♥ on a board of 4♥ 9♥ 7♣ 2♠

If you’re playing a draw and you don’t hit the turn your chances are down to 16%.

However you might not notice it as your overcards look like outs, too.

Hint: Overcards can be deceptive as you lose even if you hit one of them. These can’t be considered “full” outs.

6) Set vs Combo Draw – Call

Example: 4♣ 4♠ vs J♥ T♥ on a board of 9♥ 8♥ 4♦ — 2♣

If you’re playing a draw that’s both a flush and a straight draw, and it doesn’t fill up on the turn, you’re down to 30%.

However this is usually enough to call as you can win even more money on the river if you still hit. In this example there is also a straight flush draw added.

Hint: With such a strong draw as this you should always try to get to the river. This kind of hand has too many outs to be folded.

The Rule of Four and Two – How to Calculate Your Equity

Equity, as mentioned before, is your winning chance in percent. The rule of four and two is a simple way to calculate the equity of your hand.

It’s not exact, but it’s close enough.

Chips 2

It’s one of the first rules players learn and if you’re not familiar with it yet you should memorize it quickly.

Rule of Four

Applies on the flop. If you have a flush draw that means there are nine cards in the deck that give you the winning hand.

Multiply the number of your outs by 4 and the result is your approximate equity – 36%.

Rule of Two

Applies on the turn. If the turn card hasn’t helped your flush draw you can now calculate your equity by multiplying the number of your outs by 2 and add 2.

Your chances to win are now approximately 20%.

One final note: These numbers vary slightly depending on what cards the opponent has.

If the opponent has a set, for example, some of the flush outs will give him a full house.



Poker Workshop: When (If Ever) is an Aggressive Turn Shove Worth It?

Adam ‘Roothlus’ Levy is one of the most respected online and live tournament players in the world.

He has earned over $2.3m in live tournaments, including World Poker Tour (WPT) and World Series of Poker (WSOP) final-table appearances, and over $4.5m playing online poker.

Sam Razavi is currently taking the Asia Pacific Tour (APT) by storm. He is the only player to win three successive APT Player of the Year (POY) titles, and only last month won four side events at APT Cebu.

Razavi is also a United Kingdom & Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT) winner and WSOP final tablist.

Both Adam and Sam kindly agreed to dissect an interesting hand from the WSOP. It’s worth noting that I chose this hand because I deliberately played it differently after receiving advice from Jason Wheeler through one of these poker workshops.

The Hand

World Series of Poker: Monster Stack Day 1

Level 10 Blinds 400/800 A100

Pre-Hand Information: Our villain is a fit-looking man in his late 40s/early 50s. He is the spitting image of Jason Statham. He once finished runner-up in a Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) Main Event and was playing tight aggressive.

I hadn’t seen him show down any hands but I did see him 4-bet the chip leader from the button and then fold to a five-bet the previous orbit to this one.

Visual facsimile of said player.

Chip Stacks

Hero – 50,000

Jason Statham – 40,000

I open to 1,800 from middle position holding Q♣ T♠. Jason Statham calls from the button and the blinds both fold.

Flop: K♣ J♦ 5♥

I bet 2,000; Statham calls.

Turn: K♠

I bet 3,750. Statham raises to 9,000. I move all-in and he snap folds.

Pre-Flop Analysis

Sam Razavi: “I think this is a great hand to showcase because it is demonstrative of how to take profitable advantage of an aggressive or over-active player.

“Before we discuss the play-out of the hand you mention that he is playing tight-aggressive, but we haven’t seen a hand go to showdown yet so we have no information on the actual strength of the hands he is playing. I would raise my hand and say he is actually playing SELECTIVELY aggressive; choosing what he feels are good spots to make a play for the pot.

“That’s a big factor, because if we are assuming he is playing strong hands fast, and not weak hands aggressively, then it makes our play much tougher to pull off. We also assume he is not a fish. So he’s a clever, thinking player picking what he feels are profitable spots to make a move.”

Razavi: Like letting a gazelle loose among the lions.

“My first note would be, results aside, with this active three/four-bettor sitting in prime position on the button – opening this hand is like sending a gazelle to play amongst a pack of lions.

“Unless you have a specific plan mapped out you must be fully aware that there is a good chance you are going to face a 3-bet and an even greater chance that, at best, you will be playing out of position against this hyper aggro player down the streets.

“Q-10 off is a semi-loose open from MP as it is. I particularly try to avoid trouble hands where we can flop top pair and be dominated in tournaments where the structures allow for tighter play.

“There are plenty of opportunities to pick up chips with much stronger hands; this is a prime example of the kind of hand that, played too often, we can lose a chunk and hamper our chances at a deep run.

“I would probably just fold pre-flop unless I’m running the table over and rarely, if ever, being 3-bet.”

Lee Davy: My thought process is not this complex when I play poker. I generally go by flow and how I am feeling in the moment. The table was very talkative, including Jason Statham, but now Sam mentions it he had three-bet me a couple of times before and I folded.

I didn’t take this into consideration when I made my loose open. I was winning pots at the time and just kept on playing, which eventually leads to trouble.

Post-Flop Analysis

Sam Razavi: “We find ourself on a pretty tasty rainbow board drawing to eight outs for the stone-cold nuts. A c-bet is of course in order. Given the information we have on the player and the relatively small c-bet size (assuming this is 9-handed we bet 2,000 into a 5,700 pot, so nearly 1/3rd pot bet), it would be silly to try assigning a solid range to his hand at this point.

“He has plenty of air and semi-air that he will be floating with, he could have any range of small pairs, A-10, QJ, J-10, K-10, K-9, backdoor nut-flush draws and so on. In position this type of player could very well be holding two red Jokers at this point.

“I think the key was in the bet sizing. Both on the flop and when the second king falls on the turn the bet is always slightly lacking half-pot, which can tend to translate as half-committed.

Jason Mercier2013 WSOP EuropeEV0710K NLH Main EventDay 1AGiron8JG1368
Inspired by Mercier to try the same.

“I think what is going through our opponent’s mind is that you are either nutted or virtually nutted (AK, KJ, JJ), and trying to really extract as much value as possible.

“Or your bet tells a different story: hands that could or could not be good (e.g. 8’s – 10’s, a weak J) or hands that you feel you don’t want to give up the lead on but you still have outs and could still be good (prime example AQ, A-10 or indeed any combo of ace high that is still ahead of draws).

“Our opponent either hopes for, or suspects, the latter and puts in a good-sized raise. It shows some strength (or a lot of heart!), discourages draws and sets up a nice chunky river bet that will be almost impossible to call without at least a very strong king.

“I’m not sure about the bet-shove on the turn but I certainly admire it. I remember first seeing a very similar televised hand like this play out long before I played tournament poker seriously. It was between Jason Mercier and (I think) another older gentleman, and it was perhaps an old EPT.

“Long and short on a non-paired turn of XXJQ the two got into a raising war before Mercier finally shoved K-10 and made AK fold. I stole the same move for the Estrellas Ibiza event a few years later where the board was pretty much the same and we got into a raise war on the turn.

“I shoved the K-10 and he folded, showing the AK. I felt quite proud of it but later thought back and wondered, did I really have to take such a (potentially) big risk for a relatively small return, in the big picture?

“What makes your shove all the more risky yet all the more brilliant is that the board is totally rainbow and the king is paired on the turn. Don’t be under the illusion that a weak king will fold here. This player hasn’t spent all day building up this manic image to fold trips against a shove that makes just as little sense as his turn raise does.

“He knows exactly what his perceived image is and he knows there are players at the table actively looking to take advantage of that.

“You have to remember, let’s imagine he is sitting with a hand, regardless of what it is. He has to wonder what are you shoving an (effective approximate) 50bbs more on the turn with? The only draws left are the Q-10 and the two gut shots (9-10/A-10), there is no flush draw.

How strong does our hand look?

“Are you leveling with 55 or JJ, trying to get called by a king? Probably not, because you expect him to bet trips 100% of the time on the river, so you are going to get that value on the river anyway by flatting while leaving his bluffs in too.

“The thing is you’ve come to the decision to shove because you know it is highly likely he’s up to mischief. When you zone in on that and are confident of your read of the situation, you need to take a step back and think: how do I make the most of this leveling war?

“Just as when we are holding the nuts we want to get maximum value from our hands; so when we see a situation like this we, too, need to think what is the best way to get more of our opponent’s chips in the middle?

“Could we opt to check the turn? We’ve seen our opponent happy to push the bar, not giving in easily when faced with a single raise, and too stubborn to give up on a hand. What if he bets 3.5k on the turn and we make it 8-9k?

“It gives him room to do what you did should he, by freak chance, be holding the exact same hand. So it could backfire in a bad way. But it also gives him a bit of rope to click it back to 15-16k, which is more likely; or if we’re lucky, a little more.

“Now when we shove, how strong does our hand look? Not only do we earn more dead money into the middle but now if there was ever a time he might consider laying down a weak king (on the off chance that he holds it) this would be a legitimate time to start thinking about it.

“Of course, taking this second route is risky. It relies on your read being spot on and the betting action going the way you want. Perhaps he elects to float your check-raise on the turn instead of re-raising you. Maybe this makes you give up the river. Maybe not?

“But if you were going to fire 50bbs into the abyss anyway at least go out in style and empty the clip on the river! I highly doubt, however, that this opponent will simply float with total air on the turn, but if it does get to the river, maybe you hit, then there comes another whole train of thought in how you are going to get paid.

“That’s a story for another day though.”

Adam Levy: “It’s hard for me to find much wrong with the hand as I think you played the hand pretty well. I would size bigger on the flop, and slightly bigger on the turn, as you guys are fairly deep. I also get the feeling this guy likes to float a fair amount.

Adam Levy
Roothlus: I dig it.

“This is a tricky turn as it usually shuts down most hands that aren’t a king and it’s a guessing game: Does he have the King? Does he think I have it?

“So when you bet again, that’s what he’s thinking. I like your bet on the turn as Q10, AQ, A10 and 10-9 are the perfect hands to bluff here with and it helps keeps your opponents from taking advantage of you in these spots.

“As for his raise, I honestly can’t remember the last time a thinking player raised this turn and had a hand. Why would you ever raise this turn for value? You want to keep their bluffs in for a possible third bullet and you also don’t want to scare away other one pair hands, possibly weaker trips.

“The problem is, as you previously stated, he 3-bets AK pre, Jacks probably too, maybe has 55, KQ or KJ. That’s basically what you are repping, the nuts, and it’s hard to have the nuts in No Limit Hold’em.

“This is definitely a play that I don’t make often but given the circumstances this guy seems like someone who wants to be aggressive and tangle so I dig it.”

Lee Davy: Both players are telling me that it’s a high-risk play and, whilst they admire it, is it really sensible? I believe, when I play online, I get eliminated from so many tournaments playing like this. Each time I am eliminated I say, “Why did I do that?”

This is a pattern that happens to me when I am deeper stacked. I seem to play patiently at -20bb but become too active and aggressive 40bb+. Sam is also correct when he states that my turn shove doesn’t really make sense. Jason Statham later told me that he didn’t think I had it.

This means he most likely had a drawing hand. This is what I thought he had – that or air – but it was high variance at a point when I could have played a lot more patiently.

Final Thoughts

Sam Razavi: “I like the move but I will rarely take that line in those specific circumstances. I think it is more effectively applied in higher pressure situations, like on the bubble, or on the final table where pay jumps are very significant. And most importantly where stack sizes are not so similar, and of course where you still have fold equity.

Sam Razavi by APT
Beware of humorous quip, too.

“If you shove and get called you want to be left with a playable stack and not on fumes. Of course, whether bubble or not, if you run into the nuts it’s irrelevant. But the point I’m making is with all those factors taken into account, the risk becomes worth the reward.

“In your situation you are sitting comfortably with 60bbs in a tournament with a great structure where there are many, many spots of value still left. And many other easier and far less risky ways to pick up chips.

“In summary, I love the play and the heart; it is exactly this kind of commitment that separates the min-cashers from the champions. But it could so easily have been the wrong play at the wrong time.

“One last note: you have to remember you are dealing with Jason Statham here. You’ve got more than your chips to worry about. If he folds and gives you a silent stare, I’d advise you double lock your doors that night.

“If he retaliates with a humorous quip along the lines of ‘Next time I call you it won’t be for a f*****g dinner date,’ you can probably get away with a cheeky high five and get on with your life as normal.”


1521109652_mqdefault.jpg 1521088391_CroppedImage_320_180__NWM-Optimized__NWM-chip-stack-34421.jpg

Find a Space and Tap: 6 Essential Poker Strategy Resolutions for 2016

What is fun? I don’t know the answer.

I’ve poked and prodded this question for the past 12 months and it’s a labyrinth. I keep getting lost.

I love going to the cinema, reading and getting embroiled in deep philosophical conversations. But are these things fun? Is fun conjoined with laughter?

Do you need to be laughing to experiencing fun?

I am more confused than ever. And this brings me nicely to the first change that I am going to make in my poker game throughout 2016 and beyond.

1. Have More Fun at The Table

Have fun first.

Poker used to be fun. Then it wasn’t.

Thinking back, it was fun because of the characters at the table. The fun came from listening to stories, or telling them.

In my home game each cast member had their little nuance. It belonged to them and them only. Watching these evolve was fun.

It’s different when you compete against strangers. But it doesn’t have to be. All I need to do to have more fun is to …

2. Talk More at the Table

Put me in the midst of a party of people and you can’t shut me up. Put me on a poker table and you can’t get a peep out of me.

I don’t talk at the poker table because I am trying to concentrate. Concentration is necessary if you want to be successful. Balance is also important.

If you have a face like thunder then you aren’t enjoying the game. Get into that funk and it will be tough to turn the tide.

The waves won’t spew the cash onto your shore.

Not only does talking to people create the foundation for fun but you also learn a lot of strategy from your opponents.

Who are they? What are their tendencies? Are they pros? Is this their first game? How important is the buy-in to them?

Is this a good spot?

Which leads me nicely to the next part of my improvement plan …

3. Find the Spots

Watch the top pros play the game. Each of them understands how to find a spot and apply leverage.

I would play my part in the hand and then switch off. I would play, record the hand details on my phone and then read a blog post or some other life-ebbing waste of time.

During 2015 I cut down on this dramatically. I started to pay keen interest to what everyone else was doing when I wasn’t playing.

I am going to build upon this during 2016. I am fortunate enough to have a lot of friends who play poker professionally. I can go through hands with them in minute detail.

Over time it became apparent that I wasn’t paying as much attention to the game as I should have been. My friends would ask me basic questions like player tendency and stack sizes, and I didn’t know the answer.

How can you choose your spots if you don’t understand the underlying trends of your table mates? All of which leads me to my next improvement …

4. Improve Hand Recording

If you love playing poker it’s a cardinal sin not to use the knowledge and experience of some of the game’s best if they are your friends.

Rast Cannuli Notes
Note taken.

I have been very guilty of this for many years but I got better in 2015 and will continue to progress in 2016.

Most of the top pros that I interview credit talking through hands with their peers as being one of the fundamental reasons they got so great at the game.

If it works for the sharks then it will work for the fish like me. You need to record as much information as possible.

I always maintain detailed records on my phone when I play in a hand. You should include blind levels, chip stacks of everyone involved, position and, most importantly, a little history of the personality and previous hand history of some of the players.

It’s why being happy and talking to people at the table is such a fundamentally important point. And that segues nicely into my next major learning point …

5. Slow Down

I do everything at breakneck speed. And I mean everything.

It’s not smart. It causes all sorts of health issues, communication problems and losses in poker.

I was listening to a podcast today. The teacher was talking about the times people ‘um’ and ‘ah’ because they are uncomfortable in the presence of space.

That’s me. And it damages my poker. When it’s my turn to act I feel an incredible amount of pressure to move quickly. I feel people staring at me.

I feel the clock ticking away like I am at some crazy Mad Hatters Tea Party. It’s all nonsense. Nobody is looking at me, but the story I create makes me make my play without taking in all of the information available to me.

Player 1034
Tap in and be free.

It’s not easy to slow down. It’s not easy to be in the moment. This helps …

6. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or tapping, is an excellent way to learn to slow down and check-in with the moment.

It’s a technique that requires the repetition of mantras while tapping certain meridian points on your body with your fingers.

If it sounds wacky, then it is. When you first begin tapping you feel like a Class A idiot. But it works.

If you are brave enough to start tapping at the table then kudos to you. For the rest of us, we need to be able to walk away from the table and take a break when we feel our emotions getting the better of us.

Find a space and tap. I tapped in the steam room today when I found myself feeling anxious about the size of my To Do List. I was ready to stop had someone walked in.

They didn’t. After 30 minutes of tapping away, all of my worries fluttered away with the steam. Had I done this during a difficult period in a poker tournament I would have returned with a renewed focus on the game.

joe mckeehen winner photo2
Success is yours in 2016.


Have more fun at the table. When you’re happy, significant matters such as luck seem to go your way.

Talk to more people at the table. It increases the likelihood for fun and you will learn some strategy along the way.

Keep focused on the game at all times and search for the spots. Make careful notes on the dynamics of the game and the characters that make it tick.

Improve your hand recording. Think about Gus Hansen. He recorded all of his hands during one Aussie Millions run, ended up winning it and used his hand analysis to write a best-selling book.

Slow down. Nobody is looking at you. Nobody cares. It’s important that you make the right play. Take your time.

If you find it difficult to slow down, then practice EFT. Tapping is a great way to remove angst and anxiety and replace it with nothing but air.

Now, there are my primary six poker improvement goals for 2016. What are yours?



5 Non-Poker Books That Will Elevate Your Poker Game

Nadine Artemis

How can I become a better poker player?

It’s true; I have friends who believe I play poker for a living. I haven’t lied to them.

I just fail to mention that when I am in Venice for the World Poker Tour (WPT) Main Event, I’m the one standing by the table notepad in hand and not sitting down earnings hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So I get asked that question a lot. Fortunately, I feel I am more than qualified to answer it because poker is a mirror for life. And I think I am quite good at this life thing.

When thinking about the task of choosing five non-poker books that can improve a poker player’s game I gave myself two challenges.

1. Choose different areas of life that, if improved, would affect game standards 2. Choose books that might surprise a few people

In dealing with the first point I decided that improving the following five areas of one’s life would have a tremendous impact on one’s poker game.

1. Ego 2. Service 3. Money 4. Spirituality 5. Health

And now for those surprises.

1. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle (Ego)

I know a lot of poker players who have read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. And why not? it makes perfect sense to learn to be present.


Rocky Balboa told baby Creed to take it “One step. One punch. One round at a time.” If Eckhart Tolle was a poker player I’m sure he would say to take it “One card. One hand. One Level at a time.”

I chose A New Earth — not only to be different but because I think his two chapters on Ego are essential reading for everyone.

Ego, or ‘Everyone has Got One’ as I like to say, is one of the main reasons players suffer from losses of emotional control or seemingly random acts of madness at the poker table.

Take complaining about a hand as an example:

“Resentment is the emotion that goes with complaining and the mental labeling of people and adds, even more, energy to the ego.”

When you ridicule a player for making the bad play, Tolle refers to a quote from Jesus Christ: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

The answer is: “When I criticize or condemn another it makes me feel bigger, superior.”

The reason you need to read this book spills from Tolle’s mouth when he says:

“I didn’t realize yet that thinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence.”

2. Start Something That Matters by Blake MyCoskie (Service)


I believe that it’s within service that we find happiness. I am an effective altruist. I am a member of Raising for Effective Giving (REG).

I considered suggesting a series of books by Peter Singer or William MacAskill, but it was MyCoskie – Chief Shoe Giver at TOMS – who first infiltrated my mind and made me want to give to others.

I think service is incredibly valuable in the poker industry. We take from people. That’s what we do.

I think it evens up the scales to use some of that money to improve the lives of others. If you think like that, then even the losers in the game are winners.

TOMS is much more than a shoe. It’s a story. This book was a New York Times Bestseller, and so it should be. It gets you thinking about helping others but at the same time also helping yourself.

The one-for-one model means you are running a for-profit organization instead of a non-profit organization and I think that might appeal to the poker-playing community.

3. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez (Money)


This beautiful book carries the subtitle 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship With Money And Achieving Financial Independence, and who in poker doesn’t want that to happen?

I have read a lot of books on personal finance. This is the best of the lot by some considerable margin.

I interview a dearth of poker players and the vast majority of them have no idea how much money they need to be financially free. They are enjoying themselves too much to care.

But they should care. Nothing this good ever lasts forever.

The most significant life-changing lesson I learned in this book was to relate your thoughts on money with life energy.

It’s all about spending your money more consciously and the authors teach you to do this by turning cash totals into the time left on earth.

It worked for me. I am sure it can work for you.

4. Transcendental Meditation by Jack Forem (Spirituality)


I honestly believe that the difference between two similarly skilled poker players lies in their spiritual practice.

Before I found Transcendental Meditation (TM) I was consumed by anger. I was like a volcano.

You wouldn’t know it; then BOOM. Lava still flows occasionally but nowhere near the veracity it once did.

It’s not just in life. In poker I am so much calmer. The bad beats don’t affect me like they used to. Players who used to wind me up can’t find the lever.

I have more compassion for those who deliver the game. It all stemmed from TM.

It costs too much money and there is an “airy fairy” ritual during your learning that involves cake, candles and a lot of chanting. But it’s the only form of meditation that has stuck with me.

I don’t have to remember to meditate anymore because I am a meditator.

5. Holistic Dental Care by Nadine Artemis (Health)

I didn’t just choose this book because poker players have bad breath and work in proximity to one another (although it’s a point worthy of the book entry on its own merit).


I chose this book because I never understood the importance of dental health and the relationship that it has to the rest of the body until I picked up this little beauty.

Artemis talks about the traditional form of dentistry and how they are always treating symptoms instead of working hard at discovering the causes.

“Treating the decay instead of correcting the sources may explain the statistic that 90% of 60-year olds have 63% of their teeth missing, filled or decayed.”

She also clues you in on the relationship between mouth hygiene and the rest of the body.

“80% of all illness is related to decay in the mouth.”

Did you know that there is a ‘constant microscopic flow of fluid in the teeth that originates near the intestinal area and flows upward and outward through the tooth?’

Nadine Artemis did. And don’t get me started on Mercury amalgam. Did you know that Mercury is the second-most toxic substance on earth after plutonium? And dentists tell us this is fine to put into our mouth?

Google “Mercury Vapor From Mouth” and you will be spending your next three-bet on a dentist who knows how to extract Mercury amalgams (which by the way go into a bag labeled “toxic waste.”)

Those talented Swedes won’t know what I am talking about. Mercury amalgams were banned in their country back in 2009.

Since reading this book I have created my own toothpaste from baking soda, coconut oil, salt and peppermint oil. I have also created my own mouthwash from tea tree oil, baking soda and salt.

Since using these new inventions my gums don’t bleed, my breath smells better and my teeth are whiter. According to Nadine Artemis, I will now be healthier.



Poker Workshop: Does He Have It? How to Play a Scary-Board Shove

Have you ever reached the river of a hand, with the run out producing a straight or flush, and then watched in agony as your opponent applied maximum pressure and shoved his chips into the middle?

Of course you have. But what do you do about it? What goes through your mind? Does he or she have it? Is he or she bluffing?

A similar thing happened to me in a Full Tilt Poker Media Tournament recently. There were only four prizes. There was no money involved. The winners would pick up electronic gadgetry.

We were down to the final two tables when I got involved in this hand:

Blinds: 25/50

The action folds around to a player called Benjamen who raises to 150 from early position. I call in the small blind with sevens. We go heads up to the flop. Benjamen started the hand with 3,907 chips; I had 2,145.

Flop: 7♠ 4♣ 3♣

We both check.

Turn: 6♣

I bet 200, Benjamen raises to 625; I call.

River: 5♥

I check, Benjamen puts me all-in, and I fold.

My Thought Process

There wasn’t much of one. His shove immediately triggered anger. I spent so much time complaining that the clock was running down. I didn’t have time to go through a detailed thought process over his range.

The one and only thought was: “If I call, and he has it, I am out.” So I folded.

Bryan Paris: No Need to Bluff Catch

Bryan Paris is one of the smartest poker minds in the business. Playing as ‘bparis’ he has accumulated over $8.8m playing online poker tournaments and he has also won over $700,000 in live tournaments.

Bryan Paris
Bryan Paris

Here are his thoughts on the hand.

“I play the hand the same way. When we lead the turn we have plenty of straights and flushes in our range, so his raise essentially turns our set into a drawing hand.


“By the river he could be turning 5x into a bluff to push you off a chop, but the upside is limited now (only half pot), and we both have enough flushes in our respective ranges that there’s no need to bluff catch with this hand.”

How would this hand have played out had the flush not come in on the turn?

“If there’s no flush on the board I would call as it’s very unlikely for him to have 8x for a higher straight. In this latter case it would be difficult enough for him to have an eight that wants to raise the turn that I’m happy risking my stack for a chop.


“However, the flush here changes the calculation considerably to the point where I think we can’t call river.”

Lessons Learned

I often forget to think about what my bet means to my opponent. When I led the turn and he raised, I didn’t consciously believe that my bet could have also signified that I had a straight or flush, making his raise much stronger.

I just bet, without any logical thought process backing it up. Bryan says he would call the river if the flush weren’t on board. His reasoning is sound. I don’t think I make the call because I am not thinking like Bryan is thinking.

My thought process is very one dimensional – if I call and he has it, then I’m out.

Justin Oliver: Having No Chips Disqualifies You

In 2013 Justin Oliver won a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet when he topped a field of 566 entrants to win the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em 4-Handed Event.

In 2014 he returned to Vegas and came within a fly’s thong of winning a second bracelet, finishing runner-up to Pierre Milan in the $2,500 NLHE event out of a field of 1,165 entrants.

Justin Oliver2
Justin Oliver

Here are Justin’s thoughts on the hand.

“The most important thing to think about, trumping everything else, is the spot in the tournament. If I call this river bet and am right, my stack is 2,300 instead of 1,500.


“However if I call, and he has me beat, I’m out, and that is catastrophic. The number one goal and most important thing – don’t get disqualified from the tournament. Having no chips disqualifies you.”

But he could be bluffing?

“He could, and if he is, good for him; fold the hand and move on. You need to start looking at all the possible hands our opponent can have.


“Would this type of villain ever check back a flush draw on the flop? Usually not, so flush is unlikely, although he will have it some non-zero percentage of the time. However, he can have an eight. You need to think of what possible 8x hands he could take this line with.”


“In these spots, in general, people need to look at what they are risking and what they can gain. So let’s just say it’s a cash game. In this one, we have to call around 1,500 to win around 700 or whatever it is.


“To make a call with those odds you had better be damn sure he’s very likely to be bluffing. If we are wrong once out of three trials, we lose 1,500, and the two trials we are right we only win 1,400 – so we need to be good like 80% of the time to show a nice profit margin here.”

Lessons Learned

I like Justin’s thought process on making the play that keeps you in a tournament. There is always another hand. However, just like Bryan, Justin would have also gone through a hand range thought process before making the play.

Never assume all scenarios have a perfect play.

I am not sure I am as conscious as this, and could apply more intense focus on this in the future.

Justin also talks about the mathematics behind the decision. It’s something I never do when I play poker.

It’s a big leak. It leaves me guessing a lot of the time. That will not produce a win rate over the long term.

The most important lesson I took from these two fantastic poker players is never to assume that all scenarios have a perfect play.

When I first approached them for help, I was wondering if there was a particular way of thinking for these types of hands.

Instead I learned that I should be thinking the same way during every hand. Going through a process of hand-range analysis after taking into consideration my opponent’s reaction to my action, his action and his previous action up to the point of play.

That’s the view of Bryan and Justin. What’s yours?



Go Get Francis: 5 Strikingly Relevant Poker Tips from Deadpool

After eight attempts the X-Men franchise has finally put out a film that won’t let you down.

Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, is a riot from start to finish. It’s playing at cinemas worldwide and you should get yourself a ticket.

The action scenes are great, the one-liners will crack ribs, and if that doesn’t get your juices flowing then how about a distressed Morena Baccarin in stockings and suspenders?

It occurred to me while laughing my ass off that Deadpool was handing out a few poker tips in between the slice and dice. So, like any good poker writer, I got my mobile phone out and started taking careful notes.

Here are five poker tips from “The Merc with the Mouth.”

1. Every Bullet Counts


The movie plunges your heart into the screen from the get go. Deadpool is heading for a fight with a bunch of villains when he forgets his bag full of weapons.

A quick check of weaponry reveals a pair of sharp-as-you-like katanas and a gun with only 12 bullets. Stranded in an overturned car with mercs closing in from every direction, our hero is in a spot.

It takes him less than 10 minutes and exactly 12 bullets to clear house, including a triple-barrel blast that shoots three people in the head and leaves him standing in the middle of the road, snorting cordite and declaring that he’s going to touch himself later that night.

Point being? Make every bullet count. Be deliberate. Be concise. Have a plan ahead of time. Don’t just go gung-ho hoping for the best.

Make sure you end up at the river inhaling the sweet stench of cordite and looking forward to some alone time.

2. Must Capture Francis


Former special forces hard man, Wade Winston Wilson, is transformed into Deadpool after a mercenary known as Ajax (played in the movie by Ed Skrien) tortures him until his hidden mutant gene emerges.

During the torture Wilson is placed in a chamber that does something nasty to him and leaves him with a face that ‘looks like a testicle with teeth.’

Wilson establishes that the real name of Ajax is Francis Freeman and once he frees himself from his chamber he only has one goal in his mind – capture Francis to reverse his condition.

Everything from that moment on focuses on that goal. If an action is not part of the goal then it doesn’t get done. The only thing that matters is Francis.

When starting out in poker you need that same laser-like focus. You need to select a goal and channel every effort into making it a success.

That goal could be big or small; it depends on your personal preference. However, I would make sure it’s challenging and stretches your capability.

Now go and get Francis.

3. Use Comedy to Control Tilt



What sets this movie apart from the rest of the dribble that came before it is its humor. Writing duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick line them up and Reynolds knocks each and every one of them out of the park.

As previously explained, Wilson is tortured for what seems like weeks, or even months, by Ajax and his partner in crime Angel Dust. During each scene Reynolds prevents himself from falling apart by acting like the comedy genius he is.

His view is a simple one. If they can’t break his humor, they can’t break him. There is also the bonus that his behavior gets deep under the skin of Ajax in particular.

Deadpool never lost control. Perhaps we can use humor to create the same effect at the poker table; after all, isn’t it anger and frustration that creates tilt in the first place?

Imagine, if we were able to keep the corners of our mouth facing north, how difficult it would be to lose control and how annoying that would that be for the player trying unsuccessfully to get a reaction from us?

Laugh. Smile. Tell jokes. It’s tough to lose it that way.

4. Comedy = Creativity = Confidence


After watching the movie I felt more creative than normal. I wanted to sing, to write and to paint. I felt in the zone. I felt the flow.

James Altucher is a great believer in the connection between comedy and creativity. He tells everyone who wants to listen that he watches an hour of stand-up comedy before he writes, speaks on stage, or pursues any other form of creativity.

“I have a lot of inhibitions when I meet people,” he explained on Quora. “I’m scared and somewhat introverted.

Stand-up comedians are the best public speakers in the world, and I think they are the most astute social commentators on the human condition.”

Watching Deadpool performing for 1h 48m is the same as watching a stand-up comedian, such is the pace of his rapier-like wit. I believe that something changes in you when you watch something like this.

You feel creative. You seem extroverted. Two bonuses when you settle down for a game of poker.

5. Love Your Cracks


There is a scene where Deadpool receives a tip that his girlfriend, Vanessa, is in danger. He has not seen her since being disfigured by Ajax.

He walks into the strip joint where she works so he can warn her of her impending doom. As he gets close to her, he bails out at the last minute and ducks into the men’s room.

Deadpool removes his hood, splashes cold water on his face, and heads back into the strip joint. Vanessa is gone. Ajax and Angel Dust have taken her.

He has blown it because of his ego. He didn’t want her to see his ugly face, judge him and leave him.

There are two points here relating to poker. The first is the presence of ego. If you care what other people think of you and your game, then your game will be adversely affected by it.

Stay focused. Have belief in yourself. Understand the power of wabi-sabi, the Japanese view of acceptance of transience and imperfection. Love your cracks, dents and leaks.

Secondly, go with your gut. Don’t second guess yourself. If you take too much time figuring out the perfect play, the girl may be gone.



The 5 Distractions: 5 Easy Ways to Stay Off Tilt at the Poker Table

I called him “selfish.”

To me it was just a word; one with meaning, but a word all the same.

My son didn’t see it that way. To him, that word was like a paper cut. There was a sharp intake of breath, and a loss of blood, followed by hours of irritability as the wound screamed at him.


We argued over the phone. As the parent, I controlled the flow. I felt calm considering the circumstances. My wife heard anger and a loss of control.

On the other end of the phone, I could sense frustration, defensiveness and anger. I ended the call. I was upset; he was angry. It was the first time we had argued like this for as long as I can remember.

A few minutes after the phones went dead he sent me a Facebook message. It was more like a tome. I read it. I wasn’t angry. I was disappointed. It was defensive, selfish and unbalanced.

Body as Weapon

A few hours later we hugged. I apologized. He apologized. Then I spoke to him about the response. It wasn’t a defensive delivery. It was a lesson in life.

female player 2 2015 bom
Let the anger settle.

I told him that in future, should he feel the need to respond in a moment of anger, to type out the Facebook message, e-mail or text, but not send it. I advised him to leave it alone for 24 hours.

I wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t going anywhere. Keep the powder dry.

At that moment the emotions of frustration, anger and despair had hijacked his mind and were using his body as a pretty efficient weapon.

That is not the time to act  — unless you are going to war. It’s always better to let things settle. To see things from the other person’s point of view.

To create empathy. To accept 100% responsibility. To consider the other person’s imperfections and seek acceptance. To search for gratitude.

Then, send the message. Although, more often than not, you will delete it. You will see it for the defensive posturing that it is and throw it in the trash.

A Lot of Room for Straw

It’s not often that my son and I fight. But we do act in ways that wind the other one up.

I try to raise him with a sense of autonomy but there are times I inadvertently use my authority to whittle him down. That can frustrate him.

Brandon Cantu2013 WSOP EuropeEV0710K NLH Main EventDay 1AGiron8JG1548
Pop. Fizzle. Blow.

We don’t live together. I am a different man than the one that raised him when I used to live with him. I have remarried. I am a straight x vegan, and that’s a different upbringing from the one my son had.

We clash. We are frustrated. We bottle in these frustrations. Then one day someone takes the top off.

Pop. Fizz. Bubble.

You’re not often faced with a monumental moment of angst or rage in life or at the poker table. Instead, what typically happens, is the anxiety and anger slowly creep up on you over a series of annoying little problems, nuances or interactions.

It’s what happened to me and my son. We both bottled up problems we had with each other’s behavior and didn’t deal with them.

In poker you make mistakes, become irritated by someone at the table; perhaps the dealer is slowly winding you up by picking his nose and flicking his mess into the muck.

It’s unusual for me to sit down at a poker table and explode. It’s gradual. There is a lot of room for straw on this humpy old camel.

Five Distractions

Here is some advice I gave my son on how to chill out and take the edge off those unwanted negative emotions. Believe me, they work equally as well in poker.

1. Meditation


Have you ever watched the movie Inside Out?

No? Man, you are missing something special. Rent it tonight.

I used to be the red dude called Anger. Things would get to me easily. My roof would explode. Flames would shoot out of my head. I would lose control. I would burn everyone around me.

Then I learned transcendental meditation (TM). I practice for 20-minutes per day, twice per day. Unless you wire up your brain, it’s difficult to measure success, but my wife reliably informs me that I am a changed man since I started meditating: calmer, wiser and holding more space.

2. Yoga


I don’t do as much yoga as I used to. I need to fix that. However, it’s one of the most meditative practices that I have in my arsenal.

It might be difficult to meditate during a poker session but it’s not that hard to break out into a few downward-facing dogs.

All you need is a little room away from the table and the confidence to not care two monkeys about what people think.

Yoga, even if you do it once a week, will chill you out.

3. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)


When I first read The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner, I thought it was hocus-pocus. But it works.

‘Tapping’ is the term used to describe Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a form of self-help based on tapping various meridian points on the body.

I used to ‘tap’ in the aftermath of an argument or disagreement. My wife used to advise me to tap when I was stuck on a problem, feeling stressed, or frustrated.

Today, I tap every day. I focus on the one problem that’s blocking my energy from flowing naturally and I tap away.

Is it hodgepodge? Who the hell cares? It works, and it’s free.

Once again, I don’t suggest you tap at the table, as it shows your opponents that you are frustrated and maybe going slightly mad. But you can break away from the table and tap away until you calm down enough to get back into the game.

4. Gratitude


I am so grateful I get to see my son once a fortnight. He is grateful he gets to see me.

I am 41. He is 15. How much time do we have left with this father/son bond before he grows up and things change?

I am always grateful when I play poker; billions can’t. I am grateful for my financial situation, the ability to buy food, and to argue with my son.

I am also grateful for that reconciliatory kiss, for the feel of my hand as it moves through his hairspray matted hair, and the drubbing I give him on FIFA16 after we kiss and make up.

When you start feeling anxious, look around. What are you grateful for?

5. Agape


One of the biggest influences in my life has been Dr. Michael Beckwith. He is the guy in The Secret with hair like The Predator.

When I was in Los Angeles during the summer my wife took me to his spiritual church called Agape. I was hesitant at first. I abhor religion. But she promised me that I wouldn’t experience anything of the sort.

She was right. I felt love, peace and a sense of community. I now watch his sermons every Monday and Thursday (Sunday and Wednesday for US residents). They are free and available online.

I like to listen to the songs from the special guests but most of all I listen to Beckwith’s sermon. His wisdom is second to none.


What I have learned is spiritual practice is just that – practice. You can’t read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and suddenly be in the now. It takes time and daily practice.

Meditate. Tap. Do yoga. Be grateful.

Regulate these things and your emotions will settle. You will be less angry, more relaxed and have greater reserves of empathy.

Before you know it you are refusing to send that angry e-mail, and you are refusing to play that bad hand.



March Madness for Beginners: What is the First Four?

The "First Four’ begins Tuesday, March 13th, but what is it? Is it part of the March Madness tournament? Who is playing in the First Four? Who will these teams face in the next round? Sasha Salinger will break it all down for you.
This post is sponsored by Global Poker. Speaking of MADNESS, with $200,000 in guaranteed cash prizes Global Poker Madness is the biggest stand-alone tournament in Global Poker History! Qualify today at GlobalPoker.com and see why Global Poker is the fastest growing poker site for US players! Global Poker is available to players in the United States and Canada.

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Poker Workshop: Think Your Way to Better Tournament Decisions

Rupert Elder, thinking.

I was there when Rupert Elder defeated Max Heinzelmann heads-up to win €930,000 at the European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event in San Remo.

I watched him for hours. Every facial movement, every glint, every stare, every hand played.

What did I learn? Obviously, by the way I played these four hands at the recent Unibet UK Poker Tour in Brighton, absolutely nothing.

Fortunately, Elder was on hand to put me straight.

Hand #1

Level 1 25/50. I have 25,000. There are no reads at the table as we are very early.

Five of us are involved in a limped pot. I hold Q♥ T♦ on the button. The big blind raises to 250 and we all call.

The flop is T♠ 4♦ 4♠. A female player in the cutoff bets 500 and I’m the only player to call.

The turn is the 2♠ and we both check. The river is the 6♠; she checks and I bet 1,025, trying to push her off a smaller club.

She calls holding 8♥ 8♠# for the flush.

Handy to have an EPT champ around.

Rupert Elder Says:

“I’d raise pre-flop to try and get the pot heads up or take it down pre. I’d play flop the same and probably bet the turn for value.

“I don’t see her checking a flush too often here and you’d probably have a good idea if she has a four from her demeanour. If not, she probably doesn’t have a four anyway as it likely bets.

“On the river, I’d check back. I don’t expect her to show up with a small spade. Literally, which holding can she have that contains a small spade in it that isn’t two spade cards?

“I don’t see any merit in trying to get her to fold a medium or big spade, and if you check back you sometimes win. So basically you don’t fold out anything better and you only get called by better hands.”

Lesson Learned

The biggest lesson that I learned with this hand is to take my time on the river and consider what small spade she has in her hand. If I did this – and I didn’t – then it’s an obvious check back.

I do this a lot. I don’t think I’m very likely to win the hand and so I bet without considering my opponent’s range and what they will do when I bet.

Hand #2

Level 2 50/100. I have 23,000. An aggressive player opens to 400 from under the gun and I call in the small blind with Q♦ Q♥.

Rupert Elder

The flop is J♠ 4♦ 2♣; I check, he bets 500 and I call. The turn is the J♦. I check, he bets 850 and I call.

The river is the 9♥. I check and he checks behind.

Rupert Elder Says:

“The call pre-flop is fine although my standard is to 3-bet and expect him to call with lots of hands.

“If he 4-bets I’m pretty happy to call depending on sizing. As played, flop, turn and river is fine.”

Hand #3

Level 4 100/200. I have 20,000. A tight guy opens to 500 in mid position and I call on the button with 6♠ 5♠.

The flop is 9♥ 7♠ 2♠ and we both check. The turn is the K♦. He checks, I bet 600 and he check-raises to 1,800.

I call. The river is the 4♣ and I fold when he bets 3,000. 

Rupert Elder Says:

“The call pre-flop is fine. You can also 3-bet and I am not a huge fan of folding. I’d certainly be betting this flop when he checks to you.

Rupert Elder
Keep thinking.

“Every hand he holds has equity against yours so by betting you protect against them winning the hand. For example getting AK to check fold on this flop is a pretty decent result for you. 

“On the turn I think you played it fine. His check raise is kind of weird; it could be something like 99, he could be doing some weird merge with AK, if for some reason he checked KK on the flop that’s possible.

“He could also just have QJ or JT or something, but they’re pretty rare and if he’s tight I’d expect him to have a value hand more often than not here. It costs 1,200 into 3,700 so we need around 24% to continue.

“If we assume he’s always good on the turn and ignore board-pairing flush outs (we are probably about break even on them, sometimes he has a boat and we call his river bet, sometimes he has AK or something) then we have 7 spades and 3 eights.

“That leaves us with 10/46 outs, if we say it is very probable he has either a K or a 9 in his hand then it’s 10/45 and we have 22% chance of hitting, plus we win a bit extra on the river when we hit (in particular on an 8). On the river I’d just fold.”

Lesson Learned

I was confused by the check-raise. I wasn’t expecting it, and given my image of him I was 100% sure he was doing this with a value hand.

My decision to continue with the hand wasn’t based on the mathematical logic that Rupert details here. I can’t think like that as don’t know the math, and don’t practice it. Instead, I know if I hit, I am likely to get his entire stack, hence the decision to see the river.

What I have learned here is I am well behind most players who practice their mathematical reasoning.

Hand #4

Level 8 400/800 a100. I have 25,600. A very tight lady opens to 2,400 from early position with well over 50bb. Another tight lady calls in the hijack with a similar stack.

I am sitting on the button with AQo. I look across at the big blind and he has 15-18bb stack and I decide to fold.

Rupert Elder
And then think again.

Rupert Elder Says:

“When you say very tight you have to define what hands you think she would 3x UTG with. Is she the kind of player that looks down at AJs and just folds it? Has she limped before from UTG?

“If so, what sort of hands do you think she’s limping (you can then take them out of her raising range)?

“The flatter could certainly be a bit more speculative, but it would be good to know what you think about her 3-betting range. For example would she re-raise with QQ or AK here? If not, then you are very likely in good shape vs the flatter so she adds dead money to the pot.

“If the UTG raiser is indeed very tight (let’s say for example she only opens 99+ AQ+ from UTG) then folding seems like the best option. Against very tight ranges I would probably only really consider flatting here; I don’t expect people to fold good hands pre-flop and so 3 betting is pretty fruitless.

“If I thought their ranges were wide enough, I would prefer calling over going all in over 3-bet then deciding if they go all in.”

Lesson Learned

I thought the original raiser had a range of 99+ and AK. I didn’t think she was even opening AQ here.

I didn’t think about the flatter’s range. I was only concerned about the opener’s range and that given my stack size I would be hamstrung if she would have four-bet pre flop.


As usual I am humbled by the detail professional players go into before making their decisions. From a beginner’s perspective, this level of information must seem incredible.

But it must be remembered that players like Rupert have put in incredible volume over the years and a lot of these spots become second nature to them.

It’s important to always play hands in the way Rupert describes. Think. If you have a particular troublesome hand, then record it and go through it in detail at a later date.

The math is also incredibly important. If you want to get better at the game then spend time learning the math. It’s something I haven’t done, and I am at a disadvantage as a result.

If you want to watch Rupert Elder in action, check him out at http://www.twitch.tv/ruperte. 


1520979544_mqdefault.jpg 1520957895_CroppedImage_320_180__NWM-Optimized__NWM-daredevil.jpg

Find Your Stick: 9 Things Daredevil Can Teach Amateur Poker Players

There are 26 hours of intense, pleasurable Daredevil action on Netflix right now.

I’ve loved every minute of it.

The Netflix Original Series has broken the old superhero mold and created a new one. Along the way, they’ve incidentally created a character who has everything it takes to succeed in the world of poker.

Before you go and mainline as much of Marvel’s new legend in the making, take a second to consider these nine attributes that suggest Daredevil could be a phenomenal poker player – or poker “mindset” coach. There’s a lot to admire and adapt to our own poker toolkit.

Living for the night.

1. He Has a Job

We’ve all been there; stuck in a nine to five, making a dying doing something we hate.

The alarm bell rings. We clock off. We head home. Kiss the wife. Kiss the kid. Eat food. Have a shower.

The we head to the local pub and play poker all night. And it’s bliss.

Daredevil isn’t a billionaire playboy like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. Matt Murdock has to hustle, and thus far (in the first two seasons) the way I see things, he is getting paid in bananas and pie.

He doesn’t care about the daytime. Like all great poker players, he can’t wait for the moon. He wants to rip off that shirt and howl. Bliss.

2. 10,000 hrs Kicking Ass

I always end my interviews by asking professional poker players what they would do if they had 10,000 hours to work on anything.

The theory being (thanks, Malcolm Gladwell) that if you work on anything solidly for 10,000 hours, you will achieve mastery.

Most poker players provide the same answer: “Play more poker.”

Daredevil isn’t Superman. He wasn’t born a bad ass. He became one by spending a lifetime refining his art. He worked. He bled. He worked. He bled. He spent 10,000 hours learning to kick ass. Think about that.

3. Find a Great Mentor

Daredevil wasn’t alone when he started those 10,000 hours of ass kicking. He had a mentor. The perfect guide.

Find your Stick.

Blinded by radioactive waste – an accident that led to highly attuned senses – Daredevil was taught how to kick ass by another blind man with highly attuned senses known as Stick.

If you want to get to the top of any profession, find the person at the top and figure out how he or she can haul you up there.

As a betting man I assume Stick is right up there when it comes to ‘blind men with highly attuned senses who can kick ass like Bruce Lee.’

Who’s at the top of your poker tree?

4. He’s Always in the Now

A magical ability to time travel can be deadly for a poker player. If they aren’t thinking about a bad beat that happened 10 hands ago, they’re likely thinking about potential bad beats 10 hands into the future.

The secret to successful poker is to take it one hand at a time. That mindset requires incredible presence.

Daredevil has that presence. Spiderman is always whining about Uncle Whatshisname getting shot. Batman is always having nightmares about bats.

Boom! Leak plugged.

Daredevil? The guy has beautiful women crawling all over him and he can’t even see them? Does he complain about the accident that robbed him of his misogynistic goggles?

Not on your nelly. He focuses on the NOW.

5. Leaks

Daredevil isn’t perfect. He is a man. He regularly gets a spanking. One thing I like about the savior of Hell’s Kitchen is he always plugs his leaks.

Take his suit as an example. In the first season, he was dodging bullets wearing nothing but a smelly stocking over his head.

Then he met Melvin Potter and hey, presto! Leak plugged. He now has a bulletproof suit.

We all have leaks in our game. The key is to recognize and plug them.

6. Dodging Bullets

Phil Hellmuth can do it. So can Daredevil. So can you. You just have to believe you can.

7. The Vigilante

I’m not calling poker players who give their money to Raising for Effective Giving (REG) vigilantes, but there is a thread of familiarity.

You don’t have to see to see. See?

Daredevil comes out at night and beats the crap out of people to bring stability to the world. REG members take other people’s money for the same purpose.

8. Perseverance

Daredevil gets his ass kicked. Regularly. But he keeps getting up.

He keeps fighting. All the best poker players have that in their blood.

9. The Annette Obrestad Factor

Annette Obrestad once won a 180-man Sit ‘n’ Go without looking at her cards.

Daredevil can’t see shit.

Sometimes you don’t have to see the cards to know the right move. Remember that.



Better Call: 4 Spots Where You’re Better Off Calling Than Raising

Should you call or raise?

The answer depends on the situation. And yet I seem to have the terrible habit of the ‘one size fits all’ mentality.

There was a time when I was quite a passive player who would call all of the time. I wanted to get to showdown without ruffling too many feathers.

Then I got some coaching. He taught me to be a lot more aggressive. I raised all of the time. I started plucking feathers out with my teeth.

It was a mess. I remember my coach telling me it was evident that I didn’t have a clue but, at the same time, I was a nightmare of an opponent.

These days I understand that the ‘one size fits all’ mentality is a terrible idea. Each hand contains an exciting mix of variables and you have to decipher them all before making your decision on a hand-for-hand basis.

So, should you raise or call? I don’t know. Maybe these lads do.

Pascal Lefrancois

Jonathan Duhamel once told me that Pascal Lefrancois was the greatest tournament player in the world. I wasn’t surprised when Marc-Andre Ladouceur drafted him for his Global Poker League (GPL) franchise, the Montreal Nationals.

Over to you, Pascal.

Pascal LeFrancois
Pascal Lefrancois

I played a spot this week at $10-$20 NL where I think my opponent made a mistake raising all-in on the turn when he should have called — at least most of the time (if not 100% of the time).

The villain raises the button to $45; I 3-bet Q♠ 8♠ to $175 in the small blind, the big blind folds and the button calls. Flop: [As] [9s] [2x]

I bet 1/3 pot and the villain calls. Turn: [8x]

I bet $440 into $620 and the villain jams for about $1,100 more; I call. Villain is holding K♠ T♠.

Clearly, this is a spot where you want to jam occasionally if you’re the villain, and your jamming range should naturally contain a couple of bluffs.

But [Ks] [Ts] flush draw is a pretty bad one to jam here and instead is a very profitable call on the turn. 

1. I don’t like jamming this spot with [Ks] [Ts] because this hand does extremely well against my bluffs (lower flush draws, straight draws, gutter with a spade, etc.) that you want to keep in my range.

2. Some of the villain’s bluffs have less showdown value. Even if [Ks] [Ts] high does not win very often at showdown it has more showdown value than certain bluffs that have more equity vs. my bet-calling range on the turn.

Some hands like 45, 56, 67 of spades, 7-10 of spades and J10 of spades are way better hands to jam on my bet for those reasons. Finally, I like calling here instead of raising because your odds combined to your implied odds make it a very profitable call.

Jonathan Little

Jonathan Little is an author of 16 poker books, a coach and a member of the GPL Las Vegas Moneymakers. He’s also a member of the World Poker Tour (WPT) Champions Club.

Over to you, Jonathan.

Jonathan Little
Jonathan Little

One of the main situations where calling is better than re-raising is when you have a hand that is likely ahead of your opponent’s range at the moment but will no longer be ahead if any significant money goes into the pot.

For example, if someone raises from first position at a nine-handed table and everyone folds around to you in middle position with T-T or A-Qs, you should almost always call, assuming the stacks are relatively deep.

Even though T-T and A-Qs may be ahead of your opponent at the moment, if you re-raise and your opponent either calls or 4-bets, you will usually be against a range that has you beat.

To clarify this point: suppose your opponent raises from first position with A-A – 6-6, A-K – A-J, A-Ts, K-Q, K-Js, and a few strong suited connectors. Against that range, A-Q and T-T have roughly 52% equity.

If your opponent calls or 4-bets your re-raise with A-A – T-T and A-K and A-Q, you have approximately 40% equity. So, would you rather play a small pot with 52% equity or either steal a tiny pot pre-flop or play a large pot with 40% equity?

Especially in tournaments, where it is important to minimize the chance you go broke, calling in this situation is almost always superior — perhaps even with hands as strong as Q-Q and A-K.

Do not fall into the habit of blindly re-raising with hands that are typically thought of as strong. Always reflect on how the hand will likely play out and take a line that leads to beneficial spots for you.

Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier

Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier is one of only five players who have won the coveted Triple Crown of Poker with victories in EPT, WPT, and WSOP events. He has won over $10.9m playing live poker tournaments and last week he won his first professional Hearthstone tournament for $1,000.

No, I am not missing a zero. Over to you ElkY.

Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier

It’s always a difficult topic to weight the advantages of calling over raising in a specific spot, just because in poker individual spots are relative to the playing style and history of the player you are facing. And, of course, yourself.

For example, raising the turn with the nuts might be good if you’re a very aggressive player who is semi-bluffing a lot. But if you are only raising the nuts, then calling is obviously better.

So keeping your ranges somewhat balanced is an important concept, although it is a little less important in tournaments.

That being said, I think a very common mistake is for people to raise just because they think they have the best hand, without even considering the opponent’s calling range. 

For example, let’s say you make a standard raise in late position with A♠ J♣ and the big blind defends. Flop comes down T96cc.

He check/calls your c-bet, you decide to check back the [Tc] turn and the river comes down the [7c]. Now your opponent bets out.

While there is no doubt you crush his betting range here, because he could have any cx, possibly ten and straight for value, and bluffs, it is a spot where it’s so unlikely for you to bluff that could he possibly call you with Kc or Qc?

Probably not often enough for it to be worth it for you, compared to the times where he has a full house or better.

Jeff Kimber

Jeff Kimber is a sponsored pro for Grosvenor and a former Grosvenor United Kingdom Poker Tour (GUKPT) Main Event champion. He has over $1.6m in live tournament earnings and is one of the most respected pros on the UK live tournament scene.

Over to you, Jeff.

Jeffrey Kimber
Jeff Kimber

Every poker player can be heard categorizing opponents when discussing hands and tables, yet so few seem aware of their image.

It’s hugely important to be aware of your image, how you’ve played previous hands, how active you’ve been, what holdings you’ve shown down and how you played them — especially in earlier hands against the current opponent.

So when we’re discussing good spots where calling is better than raising you have to make sure it fits with the way you’ve played, or the image you’ve portrayed.

If you’re sticky from the blinds, then calling when hitting a monster hand – particularly flopping a set – makes perfect sense for deception, especially against opponents you expect to keep barrelling.

Your flop-raising range is going to be very narrowly polarized between monsters and bluffs, so unless there’s an excellent reason to expose the strength of your hand while the pot is small, calling makes perfect sense.

Of course circumstances need to be right – you need to be against an opponent who barrels multi streets, who has seen you call flop bets and fold later in the hand or showdown weak holdings. And stacks need to be deep enough that you need to play deceptively.



11 Simple Tricks You Can Use to Crush Your Poker Home Game

Winchy was an Elvis impersonator. He was a lovely bloke.

It didn’t happen often – the horses took care of that – but now and then he would buff up his collar, slide those blue suede shoes underneath the poker table and let us take him to Heartbreak Hotel.

Winchy was one of those lads who thought poker and alcohol was a good combination. So here is my first trick for any budding amateur looking to get started in a local home game.

1. Don’t Drink Alcohol When You Play

The money will flow in your direction either because you got lucky, someone else got unlucky, or through your opponent’s mistakes.

Drinking alcohol reduces your ability to make rational, logical decisions. That’s a giant spanner in the works if you want to make some money.

Some people drink to be sociable. Others believe it gives them confidence. While that belief may be true, is it a good thing?

How many people have you seen playing uber-aggressive because they have had a drink?

It works for a while. They always seem to be the victor in those crazy spots, but over time the money flows back the most rational and logical route.

Pick your mark.

So don’t drink and look out for the people that do, which brings me to my next trick …

2. Identify Your Target

The great thing about competing in a home game is there are less of you. They will slowly become your friends.

You will grow to care for them more than the people you used to spend time with before you flopped your first four of a kind.

Each player will have a particular skill set. Recognizing this over time is important.

While it’s critical to play each hand optimally, I strongly suggest that you avoid playing pots with the strong players and instead focus on the weaker players.

There’s this guy who plays in my home game called Alan the Bookie. He is like a rock; very predictable, and painful to extract money from him.

Then you have Winchy; very often drunk and a fish in most of the games.

There was a time I would get involved with Alan the Bookie just as much as Winchy. That was a mistake. The Bookie was winning all the money so I started watching his game.

I noticed that he only played big hands against the fish. And that brings me to my next point.

3. Copy the Benchmark

Who is the benchmark in the game? Who is winning all the money?

Scrutinize their play. What do they do well? What aren’t they doing that you are?

Copy them. 

What does he feel?

4. Empathy Maps

I enrol in a lot of online training courses to advance my business acumen. One of the things I have learned over time is to understand who my customer is by creating an empathy map.

What are they thinking? What do they see? What do people think of them? What do they hear?

You should do the same in poker; especially in a home game with fewer players. You should have a file on every player in your home game. What are their strengths, what are their weaknesses?

Then you can create a plan to exploit them. I guarantee you will be the only person in the game doing this. But how do you gather all of this information?

5. Take Notes

Around a decade ago I made my first trip to Las Vegas. My mates and I were playing in a $1/$2 cash game downtown and there was this bloke with a notepad scribbling away each time he played a hand with us.

“What are you writing about me?” I asked.

“How bad you are,” he replied.

I couldn’t believe the gall of the man. He had balls the size of King Kong. Today, it’s more evident that people are taking notes on their digital devices.

You don’t need to get your balls out. However, in a home game this will be a rarity because, for most people, the game is a bit of fun.

Write down what you see.

Not for you. You want to make money.

So take notes after each hand. What were the stack sizes before the start of the hand? What was the action pre-flop, flop, turn, and river? How did people in the hand react? Were there any other points worth noting?

And then after each game you do two things …

6. Get a Second Opinion

Find someone who is a better poker player than you. Show them your notes. Talk through the hand. Be as specific as you can. Don’t leave any details out.

After interviewing the best poker players in the world, I can reliably inform you that this is the most common way of improving your game.

You seek out someone who is great at poker, you become their best mate and then you ask them to review your hands and give you feedback.

7. Create a Strategy

Secondly, take your notes, and the feedback from the player who is much better than you, and cross reference the information accumulated on your empathy map and then strategize.

These plans will become the primary foundation of your game. Then you experiment. You see what works and what doesn’t, and you rinse, repeat.

He’s gonna call.

You play, you pay attention, take notes, ask for feedback, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

One of the most valuable things I learned in my home game was to identify the marks.

Who were the weakest players at the table, and what were my plans to leverage my knowledge on this opponent to make the most money?

8. Don’t Bluff

I used to suffer from Fancy Play Syndrome. I would watch online training videos and talk strategy with professional poker players, sit down in my home game and completely level myself.

Don’t bluff. They always call.

Over the long run it makes much more sense just to bet it when you have it, and when you don’t, just….

Don’t be shy about folding.

9. Fold

A lot.

One of the biggest mistakes I made for years in my home game was competing for every pot. My hand ranking didn’t matter to me. I was in a home game, and it was almost customary to play every hand.

Once I dropped the ego and started to reduce my starting hand range, removing trash, my win-rate increased.

Sure, I was viewed as an annoying, solid player. But it didn’t stop me from getting action, because up until my change people thought I was nuts and so the image somewhat stuck.

Learning to fold, often, was a major moment for me. As was…

10. Learn a New Game

Learn a new poker game and then introduce it to the lads. Everyone likes variety in poker, especially in home games.

No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) is a great game but it gets boring over time.

If you’re playing Dealer’s Choice in your home game (and I strongly suggest you do), then depending on the rules you could end up choosing your game when on the button.

I have seen so many of my friends mix it up when it’s their choice. I’ve had so many friends complain that I choose the same game.

I not only pick my strongest game because I’m in the superior position, but I also remember the time I introduced Razz into my home game.

Nobody knew how to play Razz except me. I taught them. It gave me an edge that I exploited for several months until players started to catch on to what I was doing.

Be the Hellmuth of your home game.

Then it was back to the drawing board to introduce a new game. And finally…

11. Don’t Play Games You Don’t Understand

It’s far more cost-effective to learn the games in your own time rather than try to learn them during your home game.

I have seen players losing thousands as they get to grips with certain games. I have been guilty of this myself. Once again this is ego.

I remember the lads returning from a trip to Blackpool where they competed at the Grosvenor United Kingdom Poker Tour (GUKPT). They brought a game back called Maltese Cross – a derivative of double flop.

They loved it. I hated it. I lost a ton of money playing that game.

Then after a while, when people chose to play it, I would fold unless I had the nuts. It seems exploitable but this is a home game. People don’t adjust.

Just fold in games that you are weakest in and play the ones that you have an edge.

So there are my 11 tricks for amateurs to get a leg up in a home game. What are yours?



Poker Hand Rankings

Not sure what beats what in poker?

Check below for a list of all poker hands ranked from best to worst. These are standard for all poker sites.

Answers to some of the most frequently asked poker hand ranking questions can be found below the list.

Still confused after? Drop a question in the comments and someone will more than likely sort you out.

Want a copy of it next to you at the poker table while you play? Print out our handy PDF of all poker hands ranked in order.

If you’re in the middle of a hand and need to determine which poker hand wins the poker, try our Which Hand Wins Calculator right here.

Just plug in your cards and the board, hit the button and it’ll tell you exactly who has the winning hand!

Poker Hands Ranked from Highest to Lowest

Royal Flush       

A straight from a ten to an ace with all five cards of the same suit. In poker all suits are ranked equally.

Straight Flush       

Any straight with all five cards of the same suit.

Four of a Kind       

Any four cards of the same rank. If two players share the same Four of a Kind (on the board), the bigger fifth card (the “kicker”) decides who wins the pot.

Full House       

Any three cards of the same rank together with any two cards of the same rank. Our example shows “Aces full of Kings” and it is a bigger full house than “Kings full of Aces.”


Any five cards of the same suit (not consecutive). The highest card of the five determines the rank of the flush. Our example shows an Ace-high flush, which is the highest possible.


Any five consecutive cards of different suits. Aces can count as either a high or a low card. Our example shows a five-high straight, which is the lowest possible straight.

Three of a Kind       

Any three cards of the same rank. Our example shows three-of-a-kind Aces, with a King and a Queen as side cards – the best possible three of a kind.

Two Pair       

Any two cards of the same rank together with another two cards of the same rank. Our example shows the best possible two-pair, Aces and Kings. The highest pair of the two determines the rank of the two-pair.

One Pair       

Any two cards of the same rank. Our example shows the best possible one-pair hand.

High Card       

Any hand not in the above-mentioned hands. Our example shows the best possible high-card hand.

Poker Hands Rankings Explained

Poker Hand Rankings FAQ

Does a straight beat a flush?

No. This is one of the most common misconceptions in poker. In reality a flush (five cards of the same suit) always beats a straight (five cards in a numeric sequence). A straight-flush, which is five cards of the same suit in consecutive order, beats both hands.


What’s better — Two Pair or Three of a Kind?

Three-of-a-kind always beats two-pair. The only “made” poker hand that two-pair beats is one pair. 


Does “All Reds” or “All Blacks” beat a straight?

“All Reds” or “All Blacks” doesn’t beat/mean anything in poker. To make a flush in poker you have to have five cards of the same SUIT. That means five spades, hearts, clubs or diamonds. Having all one color is not a poker hand.


Does it matter if I have higher flush cards?

It does. In No-Limit Hold’em if you have a flush with an ace as the highest card and your opponent has a flush with a king as the high card, you win. The easiest way to understand who wins is to lay out your complete five-card hand and compare it with your opponent’s hand. If anyone has a higher card, that person wins (obviously you both share the cards on the board).


Which suit is ranked the highest?

In poker, suits don’t count. Spades aren’t better than hearts, clubs aren’t higher than diamonds, etc. If you have the same hand as your opponent but in different suits then you simply split the pot. This misconception is from other games where suits do matter.


What do I beat if I have 3 Pairs?

Absolutely nothing. You just use your two highest pairs. There is no such thing as “3-pair” in poker.


Is there a difference between Trips and a Set? Which is better?

Trips and a set are the same hand: Three-of-a-kind. The difference is how you acquire three-of-a-kind. A set is made when your pocket pair hits one card on the board.

Trips are made when you utilize two cards on the board and one in your hand to make three-of-a-kind. Because they are much easier to conceal when betting, sets are generally considered the better hand.


Play the Best Free-rolls to Build your Bankroll


What if there’s a straight on the board?

You chop the pot. That’s provided that no player has a better hand (flush or higher) or someone has a higher straight using the cards in their hand. 


What’s a Four-Flush?

A four-flush is when you use four cards of the same suit on the board and one from your hand to complete a flush. It’s worth noting this is one of the key differences between No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha. In PLO you have to use two of your cards so you can’t have a four-flush.


What if I have the same pair as my opponent?

Once again you chop the pot. Pocket aces versus pocket aces generally means you have a split pot (unless someone is fortunate enough to hit a four-flush on the board).


Can you make a Straight with 4-3-2-A-K?

No. While the ace can make both the lowest straight (A-2-3-4-5) and the highest straight (A-K-Q-J-10) it can’t wrap around.


Does my 3-3-3-A-A Full House beat my opponent’s 8-8-8-K-K?

Nope. When it comes to full houses the highest of the three-of-a-kinds determines the winner. In the example above the full house with three 8s tops the full house with three 3s.


Who wins with Four-of-a-Kind on the board?

The player with the highest kicker. For instance if the board is 8-8-8-8-5, you have A-K and your opponent has K-Q, you win. (Your best five-card hand is 8-8-8-8-A, his is 8-8-8-8-K). If the board was 8-8-8-8-A you’d split the pot as the best five-card hand for both of you is 8-8-8-8-A.


What’s the difference Between Four-of-a-Kind and “Quads”?

Nothing. They’re exactly the same hand.


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Let James Woods Be a Lesson: How to Avoid Poker's Table-Talk Tax

Knows when to shut them up.

Do you remember when James Woods beat Doug Polk?

It was one of the highlights of the 46th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP). The pair clashed in the second round of the $3,000 No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) Shootout.

Both players reached the heads-up phase with 60bb (big blind) stacks – that’s a lot of poker.

Doug Polk is one of the toughest heads-up players in the world. James Woods has a school named after him in Family Guy.

Despite being strung together with high-tension wire the match started off in jovial fashion. Both players radiated inquisitive smiles, joked and shared a few laughs.

They were tight. They were buddies. Then out of nowhere Woods drove a chasm between them when he said he was done talking.

Doug Polk
Polk: “It was a little cold, but he was just doing his thing.”

“It was a little cold, but he was just doing his thing,” said Polk.

The Courage to Say Shut Up

It was the smartest move in a game that wouldn’t stay still. It took Woods four hours to write the underdog story of the series.

And it wouldn’t have happened had he not found the courage to tell Polk to shut the f**k up.

It takes courage to tell someone to stop talking. The person on the end of the cease and desist can become perturbed.

If the words aren’t delivered right they can come off a little gaudy; rude even. So it’s not unusual for a poker player, especially an amateur, to allow words to fill their shell and throw them off their game.

Losing the match is more acceptable than the possibility of upsetting someone.

Applying Focus is a Different Proposition

From a physical perspective humans can do more than one thing at the same time. I can type this article and read. I can edit and eat a Kiwi fruit. I can scratch my balls and cough.

But applying focus on two different things is a different proposition. That we cannot do. When you stop watching the poker game and instead start communicating to other poker players, two things happen.

First, you start switching your attention, sub-consciously, between the people you’re holding court with and the game at hand. Secondly, you lose time when you switch between the two tasks.

Roberto Romanello
Knows when to chirp, when to clam up.

Chirping Chips

When focus is not required hopping between tasks is not a problem (think walking and talking). But when you need to apply focus the brain will separate the tasks and divide the brain power needed to ensure both tasks are completed.

This is why you would probably keep your mouth shut if you had to cross between mountains on a very rickety rope bridge.

One of the game’s greatest talkers is World Poker Tour (WPT) and European Poker Tour (EPT) champion Roberto Romanello. The Welshman believes his use of the vernacular is what gives him his edge.

But there are two important factors to take into consideration. If you watch Romanello nursing a stack with a low stack-to-pot ratio he is generally quiet. As that stack grows, so does the use of his mouth.

He calls a big stack ‘chirping chips’ and the more his opponent’s hand him the looser his tongue becomes.

“I don’t play the game with the top players,” said Romanello. “It doesn’t work on them. They are too experienced.”

Maintaining an Edge

I believe, despite talking being one of Romanello’s best tools, he still loses an edge because our brains are not able to focus on two tasks at the same time with equal efficiency.

This is why it’s vital that Romanello has (a) enough chips so his tournament is not affected should distraction become -EV, and (b) he uses his gift of the gab against weaker players to ensure he still maintains an edge when multi-tasking.

It was in Doug Polk’s interest to talk to James Woods. He had an edge and multi-tasking wouldn’t have created too much of a problem for Polk. There is also value in as much as continual talking would have created a lack of focus for Woods.

Six Degrees of Concentration

Remember your brain has a finite capacity.

If you want to reduce your poker table-talk tax then remember these critical points:

1. The brain has a finite capacity to take on board external stimuli. Each time you divide that capacity you weaken your intensity on the task at hand. That will cost you.

2. If you’re playing with someone who talks a lot, you can take advantage of him or her. He or she will not be as focused as you.

3. Learn when it’s good to talk and when it’s good to shut up. If you are extremely deep stacked, at the beginning of an event or playing with weaker players then feel free to socialize. If not you’re better off focusing on the game at hand.

4. If you’re much better than your opponents, talk to them to gain a stronger edge.

5. The more time you spend talking the more difficult it will be to find a high level of concentration towards the game.

6. When your focus moves between activities you will lose time. Experts say we lose 28% of an average workday to multi-tasking.

Let James Woods Be a Lesson

James Woods 1
Find your inner Woods.

It’s tough to tell someone to stop talking to you at the poker table. It feels awkward and uncomfortable.

But if you want to be successful when you play poker you have to learn to be comfortable with that uncomfortableness.

James Woods was and he went on to create one of the biggest upsets in modern poker.

All because he didn’t want to pay the table-talk tax — and neither should you.



16 Reasons Why You'll Never Win at Poker Pt. 1: An Expensive Lesson

The whorls on my feet and toes look grotesque.

“Are you getting out or not?” asks my wife as she wipes the bathroom mirror with a towel, hairbrush in hand.

I can’t seem to shift. I have that feeling in my gut. The one where you’re about to tell the truth and the devil keeps sticking his pitchfork in between your ribs and twanging them.

I open my mouth several times. Nothing comes out. I pour more hot water in the bath.

“I have something to tell you,” I whisper.

I blurt it out. There is no going back. I feel like I’m staring down the barrel of the end of my marriage and my bathroom is about to become an art gallery where the theme is blood.

“I have something to tell you.” 

My tone is stern enough for her to stop what she is doing and pay attention. She sits down on the shower step. Silence. There is a look of horror on her face. I think she thinks I am about to confess to an affair.

playground poker club
Into white space came poker.

“I have lost a lot of money gambling. And I don’t know what to do.”

The Vastness of the White Space

I quit gambling at the same time I quit alcohol. You can’t comprehend how much it consumes your life until you stop and feel the vastness of the white space.

It’s a dangerous time for alcoholics. If they don’t fill the white space with something, the mind fools you into believing life is boring, and alcohol is the only solution.

I filled my white space with poker.

I know how absurd that sounds. A man with a gambling problem fills his life with a gambling game when he quits alcohol, but I never viewed poker as a form of gambling.

I always saw it as a game of skill. There were times when I lost control — always in cash games — but it wasn’t the same as sports betting or the wheel.

Poker filled a hole in my life at the right time. I was playing online cash games and tournaments and competing in a local home game on a Tuesday night. It also helped my recovery because nobody drank that much during the game. It was perfect for me.

The Success Principles

It wasn’t enough. Suddenly, I was like a man possessed. I had a never ending compulsion to grow. It was as if the alcohol had prevented me from thinking for the past 20 years.

The door opened.

The Portcullis raised, the drawbridge lowered, and ideas came galloping through. I read a book called The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.

He told me that I could be or do anything that I wanted to be or do. It was an overwhelming moment. 

The sadness of realizing that I had wasted the past 20 years of my life hit me like an Ivan Drago jab.

I was bitter, angry and full of self-loathing. And then I decided to do something about it. There was a number in The Success Principles to ring to enquire about personal one-to-one coaching. 

I dialled. It was expensive. I had £30k in credit card debt. I had that feeling in my stomach again, the one from the bathtub. I went with my gut. I joined the course and added to my debt.

The $45k Goal

My coach was called Michelle. My first task was to figure out what my life purpose was. I couldn’t do it. To help me Michelle suggested writing a list of all the things in life that had brought me enjoyment.

Cash money
Cash was the goal.

It was a short list. Poker was on it, as was football and sex. I felt like a failure. I cried, and I cried.

“Think about your job,” she said. “I know you hate it, but what are the things you enjoy?”

My list grew exponentially.

“Now figure out how you can earn a living doing those things,” she said.

I decided that I wanted to help people quit alcohol. I also realized that my job (I had worked in the rail industry for the past 20 years) was making me sad.

The answer was staring me in the face. I could quit my job on the railway and help people quit alcohol. 

Easier said than done. I had a wife and a child. How would I support them financially?

And that’s when I had the brainwave to become a professional poker player and use that freedom to help people quit alcohol. Working with Michelle, I created a goal to earn $45,000 through poker in a year.

If I could do that, I would feel comfortable that I could pay the bills and wouldn’t have to return to the 9 to 5.

I Quit

At first, life was great. I built up the courage to quit. I had a year’s salary. I had a plan to join another firm if it all went tits up.

Then it came apart.

There was a lightness about me. The stress of the railway was never evident to me until I quit. The freedom of waking up on my terms is something I am grateful for every day.

And then it all started to fall apart. My wife couldn’t wrap her head around it. I was spending 12 hours a day playing a game. There were times when I would lose a lot of money.

The swings scared her. In a desperate bid to reassure her I tried to buy her confidence in me by giving her half of everything I won. It wasn’t the soundest bankroll strategy.

We started to fight. We drifted apart. Eleven months after my goal had begun, I quit. I felt like a failure.

The Epiphany

Then the strangest thing happened. As part of that goal to earn $45,000 through poker I sent an email to five editors of poker magazines.

WSOP Live Updaters
It’s writing about poker, but it’s working.

I asked them if they wanted me to write about my story of quitting my job and earning $45,000 though poker. One of them said yes. 

There was only one problem. I didn’t know how to write.

The editor was John Wenzel from Poker Pro Europe magazine and the Valleys to Vegas column was born. As I was busy losing money at the tables, more John Wenzel-types read my stories and offered me more work.

Twenty-four months after quitting my job and setting a goal to earn $45,000 through poker, I made £45,000 writing about poker.

I got to keep my freedom after all.

But why didn’t I make it as a professional poker player? What went wrong?

I asked dozens of professional poker players, who have succeeded where I failed, why?

Their answers follow in Part 2.

16 Reasons You’ll Never Win at Poker Pt. 2: Lies, Maths & Ego



The Building Blocks of Poker: A Beginner's Guide to Pot Odds

In 2007-08 the economic crisis affected us all in different ways.

I was working for a rail freight company and my responsibility was the movement of steel. Few people had money for a new car.

The steelworks reduced capacity. My trains ran lighter and lighter. The writing was on the wall. The entire management team was displaced.

We were sent to Cranfield University to undergo a series of tests. The company would reward the highest test scores with positions in the brave new world. The rest would be made redundant.

A few weeks after the tests I was called to HQ to see the Managing Director (MD).

“We have a problem with your Math test scores,” he told me with a worried look on his face.

“Oh,” I said, equally concerned.

“You failed, miserably.”

I wasn’t as surprised as the MD. I had always had a mental block when it came to Math. The complexity of it irritated me. I was a writer, a creator, a dreamer. I couldn’t do Math.

“But you are responsible for millions of pounds in revenue and operating expenditure budgets and we have no problem with your performance,” he said. “Please explain how you manage?”

It’s not as hard as it looks.

“I use a calculator. And when the Math gets too complicated I find someone smarter than me to figure it out,” I told him.

Let Go of Poker Math Anxiety

The MD sent me back to re-sit my Math tests. I scraped through, but I could have lost my job — all because of my inability to grasp Math.

Several years later I quit to become a professional poker player and my limited understanding of Math began to hurt my progress. I knew my rate of improvement lay in the review of my game.

I hired a coach, and he would ask me why I made certain plays in certain spots. I couldn’t provide satisfactory answers.

My “monkey mind crashing cymbals” way of dealing with equity and pot odds meant 100% of my difficult decisions were decided by intuition alone. I was guessing. I was gambling.

I knew, to become a long-term winner, I needed to understand how to make the right mathematical play when intuition alone would not provide me with the correct answer.

But there was a problem. I would look at pot odds and equity charts. I would set aside time to memorize them. But nothing would sink in. There was a mental block.

I would feel anxiety creeping in when I started to learn Math. The words on the page would blend into a pool of black death. My mind refused to learn Math. I never became a professional poker player. My weakness in this area was one of the reasons why.

When dealing with a mental block it’s important to figure out where the roots have taken hold. For me, it went all the way back to school. I was too scared to put my hand up and ask the Math teacher to explain concepts I didn’t understand.

I didn’t want to look uncool. I didn’t want to look stupid. Throughout my teenage years, fitting into the tribe was more important to me than learning about right angles. My inability to do Math was nothing more than a story I had created in my childhood that had formed into a belief and then a conviction.

Had they taught us Math in school by allowing us to play poker, then perhaps things would have been different. But they didn’t. We learned the old fashioned way. But today, I am not afraid of looking stupid or putting my hand up and ask for help.

“My Understanding of Pot Odds Gives Me an Edge”

Roberto Romanello
A huge edge over players who don’t get it.

Thinking back to my experience at Cranfield University I can learn a great deal from my conversation with my MD. Back then I told him that I would rely on smarter minds than mine to figure out Math.

I can do that in poker. I am in contact with some of the world’s greatest players. So I reached out to a few of them to seek opinion.

Roberto Romanello is Wales’ All Time Live Tournament money earner with over $3.3m in cashes. He is also a World Poker Tour (WPT) and European Poker Tour (EPT) champion and one of the most intuitive players on the live circuit.

“Pot odds are incredibly important in poker,” he told me, “and an understanding of them has played an important part in my career.

“One of the big mistakes I see players make is when they are short-stacked and seem to think it’s still correct to call off a portion of their stack and use the excuse that they were pot committed.

“It’s a critical juncture in their tournament because if they lose the hand, they end up short and struggle to stay in the game. In these circumstances it’s far more important to protect your stack and be ready to take advantage of excellent opportunities for a healthy double up and progress from there.

“I find my knowledge and understanding of pot odds gives me an edge when deep stacked and playing against players who don’t understand the theory as well. I become super alert at this point.”

Another Debt Owed to the Devilfish

Luke ‘LFMagic’ Fields is a Grosvenor United Kingdom Poker Tour (GUKPT) Main Event champion and online poker professional. Fields credits the late, great Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott as his pot odds mentor.

Luke Fields Winner1
Fields a winner thx to Devilfish

“The application of pot odds in poker is undoubtedly paramount to a beginner,” Fields says, “who needs to utilize everything ‘learnable’ as they build a better understanding of the nuances and game flow of poker; the parts that come with continued experience.

“For me, looking back at playing online poker simulations and freerolls when I first got bitten by the poker bug, I first heard of pot odds from a tutorial DVD accompanying a chipset and case by the late great Devilfish.

“He explained the importance of making sure you get a ‘good price’ for your investments in pots with drawing hands in relation to stack sizes and implied odds.

“In the DVD he gave the rough mathematics behind calculating pot odds on the flop of ‘number of outs multiplied by 4 and minus 2′ and then for the turn as ‘number of outs multiplied by 2 plus 2.’

“This crude and simple way of calculating approximate pot odds served me so well I still always pass it on to friends who ask.

“I used to play a lot of live cash starting out and being able to calculate pot odds instantly and put them in relation to the pot size was undoubtedly a big step in my progression as a poker player at first as you learn the difference between a profitable and a losing spot!

“Now that I primarily focus on MTTs and short-stacked HU PLO Hyper SnGs there are obviously other considerations that come into play especially with the increased addition of tournament variations such as SKOs etc. but a sound understanding of pot odds is still a built-in necessity for any poker player.”

Pot Odds = Cornerstone of the Game

World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner Jim Collopy has over $1.3m in live tournament earnings. The American calls pot odds the cornerstone of the game and expresses how important they are in all formats of poker.

Jim Collopy
“Pot odds influence every poker decision”

“Pot odds influence every poker decision as an elemental cornerstone to the game. The concept and application fundamentally shape each and every hand for every poker player,” he says.

“For Texas-Two tournaments antes are the catalyzing crux to the pot odds dilemma. With experience comes preference and particularity. Pot odds develop in complexity in unchartered waters.

“Delving into mixed games, rotation formats, Mississippi straddles, NLO8 vs. PLO8, super progressive knockouts, et al. is pivotal to the rounders’ repertoire. Traditional Texas two is training wheels on the spectrum of pot odds depth.”

Arguably the Most Important Concept

Paul ‘Action’ Jackson is one of the most popular pros on the UK scene and has won $1.5m in live tournaments. Here is the experienced pro talking about pot odds and naked emperors:

Paul Jackson
The basics of pot odds never change.

“Pot odds (often referred to as “equity” nowadays”) are vital and arguably the most important concept to grasp.

“Given that you have a decent understanding of poker then understanding the risk-reward of making individual plays, i.e., calling hoping to hit a card or indeed betting to ‘price out’ your opponent from hitting a card against you (so they make a mistake if they call) is exceptionally important.

“I used to find it easiest to work out pot odds using the 2 and 4 rule. You have about 2% per perceived out for each card to come. So on the turn if you feel you can only win by hitting a flush, and you have 9 outs, you have about 18% chance of winning.

“Therefore you have an 82% (100-18) chance of losing so the risk (the amount you have to call to try and hit) must get you the appropriate reward (the chips in the pot already and potentially any additional chips you think you might get (if not all in) on the river if you hit your card.

“If you are on the flop then you will have two lots of 2% (turn card plus river card). Potentially, though, you need to anticipate (if you are not all-in) how big the turn bet might be as you might need to hit on the turn if you think your opponent will bet so much as to price you out with a big turn bet.

“Pot odds have not changed and never will. If you toss a coin the odds of it landing heads or tails will never change no matter how intelligent a way someone can pretend to determine what is, in reality, a straightforward calculation.

“So no matter how clever someone might talk about it in words often designed to make them feel more intelligent than they are, the core maths is the same. And the emperor is, in fact, naked when he has no clothes on!!”

Don’t Be Afraid; Ballpark is Good Enough

So what have I learned? My block with Poker Math is purely mental.

Davy Chamorro
You can do this.

I have the ability to calculate pot odds, like anybody else does, and should make learning calculations a regular part of my day if I want to improve as a poker player.

Brain-training apps and Math test books are an excellent way of doing this, as is reviewing your hand histories and applying Math to see where you are making mistakes.

The term ‘pot committed’ is senseless unless there is a mathematical reasoning behind it. Don’t be in a rush to depart with your chips when running below 20 big blinds.

To be a great poker player you need to be great at the fundamentals of the game and pot odds are part of that framework.

Keep it simple: both Fields and Jackson offer simple to remember methods of calculating pot odds. You don’t need to be 100% accurate; a ballpark figure is good enough.

Use your knowledge and understanding of pot odds in two-card poker games to advance to more complicated mixed games where a sound understanding of pot odds is equally essential — especially Limit games that are very Math orientated.

Finally, don’t be afraid of Math and pot odds. You can learn how to apply these methods; you just need patience, understanding and a lot of hard work.



How to Not Suck at PLO: The Five Commandments

Thou shalt not lose emotional control.

OK. So you’ve read the articles in this series and, ideally, played some hands to get a feel for the game.

Where do you go from here? Omaha is a difficult game to master. It’s what makes the game so interesting and yet so profitable.

You can play thousands upon thousands of hands but if you’re not practicing correctly or you’re getting caught up in the gamble you may actually be doing yourself more harm than good.

It’s not the quantity of hands you play – it’s the quality.

Focus on the Fundamentals

It’s easy to watch PLO online or on TV, see crazy hands go down and get caught up emulating the pros.

Here’s the thing though: The pros have played enough Omaha to know when to break the rules and when to stick to them, when to go with their reads and when to gamble.

As a new Omaha player it’s not enough to just go with “feelings.” You have to stick to a very basic game plan and execute it.

When you’re a proven winner over hundreds of thousands of hands then you can start breaking the rules and advancing your game even further.

But until then you’ll likely get yourself into far more trouble than it’s worth.

1. Thou Shalt Always Play Within Thy Bankroll

Don’t chase bigger games because they look good unless you’re more than willing to go broke. You should have a bare minimum of 50 buy-ins for the level you’re playing.

Omaha is a swingy game and you don’t want to dump half your roll chasing some fish.

Jason Mercier WSOP 1
Fundamentals are essential in PLO.

2. Thou Shalt Always Play the Odds

It’s the odds that make poker a profitable game and what separates it from table games. Poker is a beatable game because you can choose when to put money into the pot.

If you always make +EV decisions and always avoid –EV decisions you’ll always make money in the long run. It’s easy to get caught up in the game and chase “feelings,” but that’s not a winning play.

The only winning play is math. Know your odds and play accordingly.


3. Thou Shalt Always Play Tight and Make the Nuts

When learning to play Pot-Limit Omaha it’s no use to open your game up because you see the pros do it.

There will be a time for that when you’re an established winner. Until then you’re just going to end up getting yourself into difficult spots where you leave yourself open to make mistakes and lose money.

Play tight and look to make the nuts with a back-up plan.


4. Thou Shalt Not Get Married to Aces

Aces are pretty. But if you can’t get committed preflop then it’s better to play them slow.

Omaha is a game where pairs rarely win at showdown. Even if your aces are the best hand, it’s often very difficult to get them to showdown to find out.

Gavin Griffin
Thou shalt play within your roll.

If you’re marking yourself with aces they better be very good aces like A♥ A♦ J♥ T♦ – in other words aces with something to go along with them.

Otherwise you’re going to allow your opponents to play perfect against you while you’re stuck in the dark.


5. Thou Shalt Always Stay in Emotional Control

Omaha, even more than Hold’em, is a swingy game. You have to be able to keep your cool in the face of extreme variance.

If you go on tilt easily it might not be the game for you. When you lose control of your emotions you lose control of your ability to make winning decisions.

If you take a few beats you have to be able to take a step back and realize that you may be tilting. If you’re not in control of your emotions you should close all your games and take a break.

If you don’t recognize the symptoms you can blow week’s worth of hard grinding in just a few orbits. Stay in control and play winning poker, that’s always your number one goal.

If you stick to these rules and study the game, Pot-Limit Omaha is no different than any other game when you’re learning. You just have to make more +EV bets than –EV ones.

It’s just about recognizing what’s profitable and what’s not. That’s the hard part. You have to analyze the players, the board, your hand, the odds, everything.

It takes time and practice. But if you’re able to do that, the game is very rewarding – both mentally and financially.


Check the Best Poker Sites to Play Omaha


More in the How to Not Suck at Pot-Limit Omaha series:

How to Not Suck at PLO: Play to the Nuts How to Not Suck at PLO: Play Tight, Play in Position How to Not Suck at PLO: Avoid Weak Rundowns How to Not Suck at PLO: Don’t Overvalue Aces How to Not Suck at PLO: Bad Hands Make PLO Impossible How to Not Suck at PLO: Hit the Flop Hard How to Not Suck at PLO: Start and End with a Plan



Poker Tips from Pros: Ring Rust & the Q-8 Rule

partypoker Ambassador Patrick Leonard

Ring rust.

Some poker players worry about keeping pace with poker’s strategic progress. I worry about keeping pace with the fundamentals of the game.

A hop, skip and a jump ago I was one of 2,104 entrants in the $109 buy-in, multi-starting flight online/offline/wherever you want to play $250,000 Guaranteed partypoker Grand Prix Poker Tour (GPPT) in Cardiff.

I hadn’t played poker for a year. It showed. I was out in the first two hours.

I reached out to partypoker ambassador, Patrick Leonard, to ask for some tips on ring rust, table talk and to go through the one or two hands I butchered along the way..

Lee Davy: Can you give some tips to recreational players who are going to play in an event like this suffering from ring rust? 

Phil Ivey5
The sharks are listening.

Patrick Leonard: “Don’t tell anybody it’s your first event. The Sharks will be listening quietly. It’s good to find out who the other guys are, learn which guys are pros, maybe they will be looking to rebuy and gamble with their first bullet.

“Find out who qualified via the satellite route, perhaps we can put a little bit more pressure on them. Some players will be looking to gamble; others will have a single bullet.

If the guy who looks nervous goes all in early, we can consider a hero fold. If he is wearing a sponsored patch and has been on Twitter for the whole of the first level, there’s a good chance he’s at it when he puts us all in.”

LD: The table is a quiet one without a single ‘natural’ talker. What advice would you give to recreational players who want to break the ice when nobody is talking?

PL: “A good ice breaker is to ask a question that people don’t usually hear; this will make people interested and they will start opening up and subconsciously give you a little bit more info than they should.

“Sometimes I ask questions like ‘how many people in this EPT main event field do you ever think has killed somebody before?’ Or ‘How many people in this field do you think are virgins?'” 


Virgins? I don’t think Patrick has ever been to Cardiff.

Patrick Leonard
Leonard: “People in live tournaments don’t fold much to 3-bets”

Butchered Hands

Hand #1

Blinds are 50/100. UTG opens to 300 and I flat with AK in mid-position. Two people call behind and I eventually fold to action on a 773 flop.

My View:

When I looked down at AK so early in the competition I instantly thought of a hand I saw a pro playing in an EPT event where he flatted AK early on and later told me that he had no reason to play a big pot with it at that stage.

That’s stuck, and I have been flatting my big hands like this early in a tournament ever since. In hindsight I think I should be raising to thin the field as AK doesn’t play well multi-way post flop.

Patrick Leonard’s View

“I completely disagree that we want to play a small pot with AK. Everybody intends to play a small pot so even if they have QQ it’s very likely they won’t four-bet vs. us.

“People in live tournaments don’t fold much to 3-bets; once they’re in, they’re in. By 3-betting we play a bigger pot with AK against a range we do very well against and with the initiative.

“When we both have AK and we have the initiative we will win very often. When we’re against 88, we win on the Queen- and Jack-high flops and on the Ace and King flops we have good implied odds. Post-flop seems fine multiway.”

Geert-Jan Potijk
Everybody loves a limped pot.

Hand #2

Blinds are 75/150. It’s a five-way limped pot, and I check in the big blind with 7♦ 6♦.

Flop: 9♥ 7♠ 3♠

It checks to the button who bets 300 and I call.

Turn: J♠

We both check. 

River: K♥ 

I bet 800; he raises to 2,500 and I fold.

My View

When he bets pre-flop I think he has hit some piece of the board but I call hoping my hand improves or some scare cards will turn up.

When he checks back the turn I don’t think he has a flush very often, so when the river is a king I bet, hoping I can push him off a weak nine.

But I don’t give any consideration to what range I am representing. When he raises, I don’t even think about his hand; I just fold.

patrick leonard
“He’s gonna stab wide.”

Patrick Leonard’s View

“I don’t think that because he bets the flop it means he has a piece. In his view everybody checks and probably has nothing, so he’s going to stab very wide.

“On the river I would check. The way the board has run out we have a lot of weak hands and not many strong hands. He has a lot of Kx hands for example that we don’t.

“I’d rather check and then evaluate. If he bets the river, we can either call because he’s representing only Kx and we look so weak that he’s likely to be over bluffing here with hands like AX, QT, etc.

“If we aren’t comfortable with calling, we can decide to raise, if his best hand here is KQ and we’re at the bottom of our range, it’s a good hand to take into our bluffing range and make a big raise. We can have all the flushes, sets and two pairs that he can’t have. Of course, folding is ok too; remember you can’t win if you fold, though.”

Card Stuff2
Throw away small pairs or limp?

Hand #3

Blinds 100/200. I limp with deuces UTG. Five people call and I fold on the flop.

My View

I should have folded this hand. What’s your opinion on playing small pocket pairs in early position at the start of an event?

Patrick Leonard’s View

“I like your limp pre-flop. I think you can win a very big pot if you hit a deuce, and it’s unlikely you will lose a big pot.”

Hand #4

Five people limp ahead of me and I raise to 800 holding pocket sevens in the small blind. The only player to call is an Asian lady in the big blind. Up until this point I have seen her turn over a bluff with 62o and she has been very active.

Flop: Q♦ T♥ 4♠

I bet 1,300. There is no thought process behind why; she calls.

Turn: A♣

I think this is a good card for my range so I bet 2,400 and plan to move all-in on the river as I don’t think her range is as strong as mine.

River: 7♥

I hit a set. I know I have the best hand. And now my thinking changes. Initially, I was going to move all-in to push her off a Qx, Tx type hand.

888player 1 2
Changing your mind OK.

Suddenly, I start telling myself that she may call if I move all-in because it’s re-entry and she seems a little active. She has a pot-sized bet left. So I move all-in and she folds Qx face up.

My View

A couple of things happened here, and they happen to me a lot. 

1. Despite playing poker for a decade I still don’t create ranges for my opponent or think about my perceived range street by street.

2. I change my mind in the middle of a hand regularly.

3. When I know I have an opponent beat, I am always too eager to get all of their chips and lose value.

4. I didn’t know what to do on the flop, or why, so I just bet.

Patrick Leonard’s View

“Flop is a pretty clear check-fold. Generally, with AK and 22-77 I will use the 8-Q rule and check-fold the flop if there are two cards between the queen and eight because they hit calling ranges so hard.

“Once we get to the turn barreling is potentially useful, but this is the problem with light 3-bets. To be profitable we often have to take ambitious multi-street bluffs with little to no equity that are going to get us in a lot of trouble and is definitely not the way to win in live tournaments against passive opponents.”

player 32533
Think it through.

Hand #5

Blinds 150/300 A25. The hijack opens to 650 and I flat from the button holding Q♠ J♠.

The small blind calls and a reg squeezes to 1,600 from the big blind. The hijack folds, I call, and the small blind folds.

Flop: K♦ Q♦ J♣

He bets 2,600 and I raise to 7,000. He thinks for a while and calls, leaving around 10,000 behind.

Turn: 5♣

I move all-in out of position. My opponent checks, my bet stands, and he calls. He shows AK.

River: [5x]

My View

I am not sure about my pre-flop call. I know his range dominates mine a lot of the time, but I feel I have the right odds to call (despite not doing the math).

On the flop I feel he has AK in his range a lot. I raise hoping to get it in. There is not much more thinking than that. When he calls, I am certain he has AK.

“Always take an extra 10-20 seconds”

Patrick Leonard’s View

“It’s important to take your time on every decision and understand the situations and think through previous streets and think about how your opponent will view your play.

“Always take an extra 10-20 seconds to make sure you’re understanding the situation and stack sizes correctly. 

“Pre-flop is ok, our hand plays well. We can also bluff a lot of boards like 876, etc. that our opponent won’t have good board coverage on. On the flop, I would likely call if he has AK or AA he won’t fold the turn or river if it’s a dry run out.

“It means when he does have AK or AA we never go broke, because if a ten or Ace comes we make an easy fold; we get to see a safe turn and river before putting our tournament at risk.

“Tournament survival is so crucial. We can’t win the tournament unless we stay alive. Generally, our range is weak here too. He has all the sets that we don’t, he has AK that we don’t.

“Often we’re going to have JT, AQ, KT, QT that will not want to raise. We have very few credible bluffs here so anybody remotely competent will have an incredibly easy fold with AK and then when we go all in we are going to be all in against a set and drawing dead.”

John Racener
Pretty hand; tough decision.

Hand #6

I have 20bb and a player raises in mid position. One person calls and I also call with A♦ 9♦ in the big blind. The flop is ace-high-rainbow and I get it in against AK.

My View

When I lost the big pot I told myself not to worry, that 20bb was plenty and to be patient. I reminded myself that I had made rash decisions in this position before.

Then, when I looked down at my lovely hand, I couldn’t fold. I knew I was beaten on the flop when the pre-flop raiser bet on the ace-high flop, but I still called.

Patrick Leonard’s View

“Generally, shoving pre flop will be good in live poker. Players will often call the pre-flop open very wide with hands like J7s, A5s, Qjo, etc. so we have a lot of fold equity.

“If there’s a guy who opens very wide pre-flop and someone who is passive and calling a lot, then there’s so much dead money and if we get it in, we have decent equity.

“Post-flop it can never be too bad to get it in, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. However, if you have a really strong intuitive read, then it’s important to trust and back yourself and make plays that don’t make sense in black and white.

“Sometimes you just look at the guy and know he has you beat.” 


Simplify and remember Q-8 rule.

My main takeaways from Patrick’s analysis:

1. Take Your Time

I will be writing a separate article on this, but contrary to popular opinion it’s important to take your time on each decision — especially if you are a recreational player or “ring rusty.”

2. The Q-8 Rule

I like the way Patrick injects a logical rule. For someone like me this is a great tip because it cuts down my thinking time and makes these ridiculously frequent spots easier to navigate.

3. My Exit Hand

Although I believed my opponent would go broke on the flop with AK because it was re-entry, I didn’t give any conscious thought to Patrick’s line of assessing what my opponent’s reaction would be once I had moved in.

I know I have also made similar plays against good players only to see them fold because I have played my hand face up.


You have the view of a ring rusty fish and a pro; now what’s your view? Let us know in the comments.



Don't Be a Worm: How to Stop Self-Sabotage at the Poker Table

I looked like the Elephant Man.

I had a swollen left eye. My lips were Jagger-esque. And my nose would have broken had a fly landed on the bridge.

It was a good punch. It found its mark. And he was a big boy – one of the biggest in the school. Here he was, arm outstretched in the form of an apology.

I grabbed it and headbutted him.I was a half-Chinese Englishman living in Wales. I was a tennis racket in a golf bag; mushy peas on a plate full of jelly.

I just didn’t fit in. It killed me. I needed to be one of the gang. The kids would punch me and my Dad would tell me to hit them back.

And all I wanted to be was a pea in a pod of other peas.

What About the Amateurs?

I was 10 years old when all of this madness was going on. 31 years later I’m at a poker table in Cardiff City Stadium competing in the partypoker Grand Prix Poker Tour (GPPT) and it seems nothing has changed.


As a former live reporter, one of the actions that made me want to down 15 bottles of aspirin with a bottle of absinthe was watching players like Byron Kaverman and Jordan Cristos.

It’s nothing personal. But when you’re looking at a game of poker, it’s like dipping your wick in a hole in an icy lake when this pair gets their game faces on.

And these two snails are not alone. Social media and poker media has taken out their fountain pens and written about the speed of poker killing the game verbatim.

Almost all of the major tours have experimented with a shot clock of some type and it’s a permanent fixture in made-for-TV tournaments.

It’s all good news for people who are paid to write about live tournaments. It’s also good news for the professional poker players who prefer the elevator-style game to the stairs. But what about the amateurs?

A Worm in Cardiff

I logged all of my hands during my brief encounter at GPPT Cardiff and partypoker pro, Patrick Leonard, was kind enough to analyze them for me.

I hadn’t played for about a year and I found myself rushing to make my decisions. Here is Leonard’s advice on the matter:

“It’s important to take your time on every decision and understand the situations and think through previous streets and think about how your opponent will view your play.

888poker player 2200

“Always take an extra 10-20 seconds to make sure you’re understanding the situation and stack sizes correctly.

Count to 20 seconds. It’s not a long time, is it?

Immanuel Kant once coined the term ‘servility.’ It means to serve or please others and I suffer from it more than I realize. I hazard a guess that I won’t be alone.

The German philosopher once described the man stuck in a world of servility as someone who ‘makes himself a worm’ and therefore ‘cannot complain afterwards if people step on him.’

I was a worm in Cardiff. And my table stepped all over me.

The Poker Table is One of Those Circumstances

But I’m not complaining about it; I’m learning about it.

888player gold headphones3

As a sufferer of servility I can tell you with cast-iron certainty that my need to conform to societal conditioning, under certain circumstances, is the norm for me.

The poker table is one of those circumstances. I don’t have the intellect or experience to make quick decisions and 20 seconds is not enough time. I need more.

However, as a poker writer, I know that people who take their time over the perceived ‘easier decisions’ will be ridiculed and mocked. And I don’t want to be in that gang.

In some ways I am a coward because I lack self-respect. Unlike the Hues Corporation, I don’t want to rock the boat.

I would much rather make a quick decision that makes little sense rather than incur the wrath of nine people I probably will never meet again and who probably don’t give a shit that I’m taking my time.

And all of this from a man who doesn’t drink alcohol, is vegan and doesn’t watch pornography. If there is a societal norm to break, I want to break it. Yet at the poker table, I become the worm.

I Am the Big I Am

I believe it stemmed from that punch in the face when I was 10. It’s the desire to fit in and it always seems to arise when I am playing poker.

Oceans 11 Poker Scene Home Game

I used to play in a local home game for years. I loved it. But I was always playing with money that I couldn’t afford to lose.

When I wised up I found it incredibly difficult to explain to the lads that my absence was due to a lack of funds.

I have high self-esteem. I am full of self-importance. I am a Billy Big Potato.

And this is part of the problem. I feel a need to protect my narcissism and it’s poker self-sabotage to a tee. I don’t want to tell the lads that I don’t have any money because ‘that’s not very manly now is it.’

I am degrading myself and losing self-respect in the process. But there is another way, and it’s to learn to embody self-compassion. But how do I do this?

Here is what I am working on and perhaps, if you are worm like me, you can do the same.

I am learning to embody forgiveness. I know that I am pushing aside my values to satisfy the agendas of others. I am also aware that my actions stem from an operating system created when I was too young to know better.

There is slack, and I am cutting it because I have self-awareness and that’s the Ginger Nuts right there.

Time the Worm Turned

I am always reminding myself that nobody cares about what I am doing. I have a two-week-old baby daughter and she can only see 15 inches from her face.

Byron Kaverman
Kaverman: Won’t rush for anyone.

It won’t change as she ages. People barely notice there is anyone else within eyeshot. The perception that people will think I am stupid if I take my time is a story — and a stupid one at that.

Byron Kaverman is a former Global Poker Index (GPI) Number 1, a member of the Global Poker League (GPL), and has earned over $7.8m playing live tournaments. He takes his time. He is not stupid.

Injecting this type of logic into my fantasies helps. I am learning the importance of choosing self-compassion over self-esteem. I practice positive self-talk and often talk aloud to myself as I believe I get more medicine that way.

I have a heightened awareness, and when a negative thought enters my mind I reframe it. Most importantly I am learning to love myself. Acceptance is an important thing because it fosters growth. And we should all want to grow.

Next time you feel pushed by an internal monologue to rush a decision at the poker table, stop and reflect on what you’ve learned here today. Take your time, play and practice often, and eventually, your game will speed up.

It’s time the worm turned.



How Home Court Advantage Works in Poker (& How to Get It)

It was December 2011 when I saw the switch move into the ‘on’ position inside the mind of Marvin Rettenmaier.

He was sitting in the Casino Di Venezia in Venice; not the elegant, oldest casino in the world but the crappy little one next to the airport.

He had just exited the €3,300 buy-in World Poker Tour (WPT) Main Event in eighth place and was staring into space like a mannequin.

“I thought this was the one,” he told me.


It wasn’t the one; that would come the following spring when he won the WPT World Championship in Las Vegas for $1.1m.

A few months later he became the first player in history to win back-to-back WPT Main Events when he won the WPT Merit Cyprus Classic.

Marvin Rettenmaier

He went on to make two more WPT Main Event final tables; won a WPT High Roller, and has run deep on several other occasions including an 18th-place finish at the recent WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble in Jacksonville.

All told he has earned over $6.2m playing live tournaments all over the world. At one time he was right up there with Dominik Nitsche as one of the hardest-traveling live tournament grinders in the business.

And yet the form he showed on the WPT circuit never followed him into the other tours with the same consistency. Why?

Is Home Court a Myth?

In 1996, while Huck Seed was becoming the sixth player to win a $1m prize at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the English Premier League side Manchester United lost 1-0 at home to Fenerbahce in the Champions League.

56 teams had arrived at Old Trafford, spanning a 40-year period, and not one of them could beat the mighty Reds in front of their home crowd in European competition until the Turks upset the applecart.

In 2002 researchers Nick Neave and Sandy Wolfson analyzed the statistics of international football matches in 30 different countries and found that 60% of home games were won. The number of home goals scored averaging 19.17 compared to 13.27 away.

It’s not a myth. If you’re playing at home, you have a distinct advantage.

Something’s Going On, Right?

Rettenmaier’s success on the WPT is by no means an isolated case. Cate Hall announced herself on the live tournament stage with a fifth-place finish at WPT Maryland Live! last year.

Hellmuth 2
Like he owns the place, right?

Since then she’s made two more WPT Main Event final tables including another final-table appearance this year in Maryland where she finished sixth.

The most recent final table in Maryland contained Benjamin Zamani and Darren Elias. Zamani was making his third WPT final table of the season; Elias was trying to win his third WPT Main Event title.

And it’s not just the WPT where people shine. Think about Steve O’Dwyer on the European Poker Tour (EPT) and Phil Hellmuth at the WSOP.

Something’s going on, right?

“I think this is just an example of sampling bias,” says multiple WSOP bracelet winner Dutch Boyd. “Maybe certain players do play differently, or more confidently, in certain venues.

“But I’m inclined to think it’s more likely we are just examining players who have done well and trying to explain why. It’s like how we have a multi-bracelet winner every Series.

“It’s the same thing as that birthday phenomenon, where you get 11 people in a room, and there is a 50% likelihood two of them share a birthday. It means absolutely nothing.” 

I don’t agree with Dutch. And I’m not alone.

Rolf Slotboom

Confidence, Pride, Fearlessness

“In my home country the Netherlands you can see this same phenomenon,” says poker pro Rolf Slotboom.

“People from the Rotterdam area win the vast majority of major tournaments in Rotterdam, yet they perform significantly less in Amsterdam. (And the other way around). It’s quite simple, actually: feeling well and feeling at home can boost a player’s confidence.”

Professional poker players don’t have a ‘home court’ but Slotboom makes a valid point. A player can feel at home anywhere, and it doesn’t have to be a brick and mortar venue.

Rettenmaier, Hall, Elias and Zamani feel at home on the WPT circuit playing at a wide variety of places. In Rettenmaier’s case, that’s all over the world.

Here’s Roberto Romanello‘s view on home court advantage:

“I don’t believe this phenomenon is inclusive to poker. I think having a big result in life –  for example getting a new job, bringing a new life into this world, or people achieving life goals in general – brings out something special in us as people.

“It inspires confidence, pride, fearlessness, and gives us that special shine and natural momentum. That’s why you often see players do well and go on a heater after a big result in poker or life.

Roberto Romanello

“And this is why you often see people do well at a certain venue in poker even a year later after they have had a big result. For sure this brings out something special in us and brings back good memory’s and makes us ravenous to recapture those special moments. That unique momentum naturally kicks in. 

“I think going back to a certain venue even up to a year later after your big win it just feels like it only happened yesterday. I would say I always play well and feel that extra little special in Prague.”

Former EPT Champion Zimnan Ziyard thinks something is going on but believes more research is necessary to figure it out.

We as poker players are always trying to connect dots and trying to correlate as many factors as possible. Sometimes we do end up applying it to a sample of data and measuring parameters within it without actually weighing it against the pool of data it lies within. 

“If we are to really to explore the significance of this correlation we should get some samples of people who have had at least one major success and start mapping out their other achievements in relation to the number of venues that person has competed at.

So for e.g. if an average pro has played at 30 different venues and has 3-4 major live scores during their career, chances of them having two major live scores in one venue is not improbable.”

How Can You Get Home Court Advantage?

After gathering up feedback from a variety of professional poker players and doing some research, here are a few tips you can use to help manufacture that poker home court advantage.

Crown Casino Poker Room
Find a home.

1. Find a Home Court

Find a home court close to you and dominate it. Make sure you play there regularly and do everything in your power to make it comfortable for you.

Then, don’t stray from the venue unless you have to.

“It’s all about comfort,” says Shane Schleger. “It contributes to being ‘present’ at the table.”

2. Be Friendly

Don’t be a dick at the tables. Part of feeling at home is that vibe that you are part of the furniture. Get to know the dealers and the floor staff.

Read their name tags and address them accordingly. Do the same with the players. Talk to them and get to know them. All this friendly juice will serve you well.

If you play in one place often you get to know the regs,” says Seth Berger, “and even the casual players that frequent that venue.

“Also, you get to know the staff and you have no stress about getting there on time and what to do on breaks because it’s second-hand nature.” 

Marvin Rettenmaier
Get to know everyone.

3. Get to Know Everyone

There was a time when Marvin Rettenmaier was a part of the WPT DNA and it showed through his performances on the felt.

He was a star. He knew the dealers, the floor staff, the tournament directors, the camera crew, the writers and the people who organized the event behind the scenes.

Most of all he was humble and approachable. He was one of the family, and I believe this helped him play with more ease and enjoyment at the tables.

“Comfort level and familiarity with opponents can be a factor,” says Thayer Rasmussen.

4. Prepare in Advance

What and where are you going to eat? Where are you going to sleep?

I think it’s vitally important to plan ahead so you feel more at ease when you start your tournament. Sports teams who play at home have these things nailed down more securely than they do when they play away.

Antonio Esfandiari
Mark your turf. But not like that.

I think this is especially important when it comes to food. 

5. Defend Your Turf

When Antonio Esfandiari was thrown out of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) for urinating at the table, perhaps he was marking his territory.

Researchers have shown that testosterone levels in players preparing for home games are higher than when they play away. They believe it has a lot to do with defending one’s territory against intruders.

Think about Phil Hellmuth at the WSOP. There’s no doubt he thinks he is the king of the WSOP jungle and his 14 bracelets go some way to showing the territorial theory has some legs.

“Players are more likely to be playing in events that they have previously done well in,” says former EPT Champion Zimnan Ziyard“so more results expected from those venues.

“Nostalgia and possibly a bit of a bias feeling that they are particularly good against that type of field the event attracts might be a couple of reasons why this happens.”

I know what you’re thinking. Cate Hall? Testosterone? I think if you look at all the top female poker players in the world a high level of aggression will be found in all of them.

Bring friends.

6. Bring a Crowd

If you get to a final table, do everything in your power to get your friends fired up on the rail.

It’s evident that the home crowd plays a huge role in the statistical advantage that home teams have, so create a home court feel through your self-made fans.

7. Be Friendly to Officials

In those football studies researchers found that referees handed out fewer penalties and yellow & red cards to the home sides than they did to the away sides.

The researchers also found that if you eliminated crowd noise under simulated conditions, the home bias was effectively ruled out.

With this in mind it’s equally important to get your rail screaming your name at the top of their lungs.

But don’t go too far; work hard at #2 and be friendly to the officials so they’re more likely to cut you some slack.


8. Spatial Awareness

There is evidence to suggest that familiarity with a home venue related to spatial awareness gives home teams an edge.

Knowledge of a football pitch’s size and surface helps players re-orientate quicker when they fall or need to turn quickly on the ball.

Does the same thing happen in poker? Do poker players who play well on the same tour do so because of spatial awareness advantages?

Are the tables more familiar? The seats more comfortable? Do they play better because of familiarity and don’t have to spare any brain power thinking where the toilets are?

9. Avoid Travel Fatigue

This is a big one for a professional or travelling poker player. 

I played in the Grand Prix Poker Tour (GPPT) in Cardiff a few weeks ago. I was able to drive to the venue in five minutes and nip home for lunch and a 20-minute power nap at dinner.

I was sitting at a table of Irishmen who were complaining about their hotel and had been up all night. It’s always sensible to get to the venue ahead of time and get into a routine to reduce travel fatigue.

“Travelling to a new place, on the other hand,” says Seth Berger, “requires more preparing and making sure you get to your seat on time giving you less time to do other things you may want to do help you feel at your mental best.” 


So there you go. Nine tips you can implement to manufacture a home court advantage. What works for you?

Thanks to Roberto Romanello, Thayer Rasmussen, Shane Schleger, Dutch Boyd, Rolf Slotboom, Zimnan Ziyard, Steven van Zadelhoff and Seth Berger for their help with this article.



Pick a Game & Master It: How Deliberate Practice Works in Poker

My son is a math wizard.

I hated math. I guess that gene got lost somewhere along the slippery slope.

I was talking to him about his math GCSE and he was so confident about getting an ‘A.’ Was he innately talented at Math or did he have to put in the hard graft?

This is what he told me: 

“I revise the things that I don’t understand. I don’t bother with everything else.” 

At that moment I understood why I never made it as a professional poker player.

The 10,000 Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-Hour Rule in his book Outliers.


The man who hits the New York Times Bestseller list with a greater accuracy than Apollo Creed hits Rocky sold an idea that to master ‘something’ you had to squeeze in 10,000 hours on that ‘something.’

When I interview professional poker players I always end with the question, “If I gave you 10,000 hours to master anything what would you choose and why?”

During an interview with Anton Wigg, the former European Poker Tour (EPT) Champion told me that the research that led to Gladwell’s now iconic assertion came from a Swedish psychologist called Anders Ericsson.

So, I looked the guy up. I learned more about him and started to understand why I had failed to become a professional poker player.

The key lay in something known as Deliberate Practice.

It Can’t Be Any Old Practice

According to my son, the only thing that’s stopping him from getting top marks in his math exam is his teacher.

There was a time that he loved math. And now?

“I don’t love it as much.” I asked him what had changed.

“We have a new teacher,” came his reply. My son loved his first teacher because he explained things clearly, took his time, and allowed his pupils to ask ample questions.

His latest teacher rushes through the work, doesn’t explain things clearly and makes the children feel stupid when they ask questions. My son has stumbled across one of the many roadblocks that prevent people from benefiting from Deliberate Practice.


There used to be a belief that talent was immutable and predetermined by your genes.

In a 1993 research paper titled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, Ericsson and his smart alec chums determined that this was a load of old codswallop.

Sure, if you wanted to be an NBA star or win the Grand National, then genetics are going to have an effect. But other than being born a giant or a midget everything else, even cognitive abilities, can be improved upon by practice.

But it can’t be any old practice. It needs to be deliberate practice, and the problem with my son’s math teacher is key.

The Mentor

When my son told me about his problems with his Math teacher I offered to hire him a tutor. He refused. I think he made the wrong call.

His current math teacher is trying to teach a way of math to an entire classroom. It’s one way of teaching and yet all of his classmates will react differently to various coaching methods and will have different strengths and weaknesses.

Alan Jackson

When I first started to play poker, I fell in love with the game. I wanted to excel because winning always felt better than losing.

I joined the very best online poker training sites but the lessons learned only took my game so far. And in some aspects the learning hindered my progress because it was too advanced for me. 

Then I hired a mentor. It was the most efficient decision I made. I had tried various coaches before I ended up with Alan Jackson from BlueFire Poker.

His analytical style suited me to the ground. Jackson would monitor my performances, both live and through review of my HUD, and he would create tailor made plans for my development.

All of these methods involved improving upon a weakness that I had that was holding my game back.

In Ericsson’s studies he found those that benefited from deliberate practice the most would work on core weaknesses, but it was the mentors who would identify the weaknesses in the early stages of development.

Only when the soon-to-be-expert had reached a certain stage of their development were they able to identify flaws and make adjustments without guidance.

If my son had an excellent math tutor, he or she would create a tailor-made plan for my son to improve upon his weaknesses until they became strengths. And it’s this modus operandi that forms the crux of deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice in Poker

I was crap at math in school because I didn’t apply the required grit and determination. I found the subject boring, tedious and too challenging.

anton wigg
A mentor matters.

Unless I found an activity enjoyable I wouldn’t put the hard work in to improve my chances of being a success. I got a ‘C’ grade in my GCSE results. It was your classic getting by with the IQ I had result.

Poker differs because if you’re playing the game then one assumes you enjoy it. We have cleared the first hurdle – turn what you want to master into something enjoyable.

To this effect many people believe that the more poker you play, the better you become. While this approach certainly helps, it’s nowhere near as efficient as deliberate practice.

Hiring a mentor in poker allows you to fast-track your learning process. The mentor, if chosen wisely, will spot your weaknesses long before you.

They can create a very specific training plan for you to focus on those particular weaknesses until they become strengths. If you choose to play continuously then you are not able to focus deliberately on the areas of your game that the mentor has highlighted.

Time Alone Curling Kicks Into Top Corner

Let’s say for example that you have a leak with your blind play. Sure, you can settle down to an eight-hour session, focusing intently on your blind play, but there are too many variables.

You won’t concentrate. It is not deliberate practice. 

Instead, a great mentor will set up a series of scenarios specifically focusing on your blind play while removing all other parts of the game. Then you work hard on these specific situations until they aren’t weaknesses no longer.


One of the reasons people struggle to implement deliberate practice into their regime is because it’s boring. Playing poker is fun. Working for hours at a time on blind play can be tedious.

One of my idols is David Beckham. I’m not interested in his pretty boy face, his relationship with his Spice Girl wife or even his performances on the pitch. What made Beckham an idol in my eyes was the time he spent alone on the training pitch curling free kicks into the top corner of the goal.

Playing football is fun. It’s not much fun spending hours as a child taking free kicks into an empty net and then running after your ball to rinse and repeat until your mum calls you in for dinner.

Learning to battle through the difficult parts of the skill in a consistent and deliberate way is an essential building block for deliberate practice.

A Long-Haul Game

We live in a world of instant gratification but deliberate practice is a long haul game and this is perfect for poker.

All poker players know that anyone can win in the short term but it’s the very best players who prove it’s a game of skill by consistently getting results over the long term.

One way of sabotaging your deliberate practice is to push too hard trying to get that instant gratification. Your bullseye lies somewhere between deliberate practice and avoidance of burnout.

Fortunately, if we’re working on parts of our game that are less stimulating, it helps to take our foot off the gas. All great mentors understand this.

Instead of making us practice something for hours on end they will create a tailor-made program with specific time parameters to avoid burnout and lack of interest. You have to learn to consistently step out of your comfort zones and work on the alien concepts.


It might feel more familiar and fun to sit down and play. You might feel like you are learning by watching RunItOnce videos until falling asleep but it’s not enough to make you a better player than the competition.

IQ will only get you so far. Everyone can learn to catch you up. It’s the deliberate practice that makes all the difference.

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure

Well-defined goals are a critical part of the deliberate practice process. Once again, it’s your mentor who will help define them.

You also need robust methods of measuring success criteria against these goals. You cannot manage what you cannot measure.

I told my son to make his breakfast this morning. It was the first time he had ever made scrambled eggs. As I worked on this article, he came rushing in with egg yolk dripping from his fingertips.

“I’ve broken one,” he said. “Clean it up then,” I replied.

“But I can’t do this.”

We will all break a few eggs during our sessions of deliberate practice. We learn from experiencing failure, identifying it (or our mentor will), and then making adjustments.

I asked my son to show me how he broke an egg. He was cracking the shell on the edge of the work surface. I suggested breaking it over the brink of the cup (a thinner edge) and explained how it would reduce the likelihood that he would drop the egg all over the floor.

He learned, and he won’t make the same mistake again. Although he may still drop a few eggs trying new methods.

2016 WSOP Phil Hellmuth

Pick a Game and Master It

His peers often belittle Phil Hellmuth for his lack of experience playing No-Limit Texas Hold’em cash games and mixed-games.

While his peers mocked him, he went along with his business winning 11 bracelets and mastering that format.

Over time the pressure to be the greatest led Hellmuth to delve into mixed games. Two of his last three World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets have come in Razz.

“I feel like the world’s greatest Razz player,” Hellmuth says now.

While that might not be true, I imagine if he practiced the game in the same way he has done with Hold’em over the years, he might be able to pick up that sigil.

There are a lot of games in poker. Pick one. Master it. Move on. 

“This is my life,” Hellmuth once blurted out to the ESPN cameras after a hand had gone awry at the WSOP.

Hellmuth is motivated to be the best and this is a critical area of deliberate practice. You must be driven to succeed. Otherwise, the effort to improve your performance will be found wanting. 

Some Thinking To Do

Do you apply deliberate practice?

I never did become a great poker player. I lacked deliberate practice. I was weak in math.

It meant I was making too many decisions based on nothing but a wet finger waved in the air. And I didn’t have the motivation or courage to create a specific plan to improve my knowledge.

This is why I know that poker will only ever be a hobby for me. If I wanted it to be more, I know what I have to do. Don’t make the same mistake.

Do you apply deliberate practice? Do you have a mentor? Are you in this for the long-term, or do you prefer the little bursts of joy that you get when you fire up four tables and click away with a beer in hand?

I think you have some thinking to do.



15 Tips for Improving Your Beat the Clock Win-Rate on PokerStars

It’s PokerStars newest poker variant and it’s strikingly different than anything else.

We’re referring to PokerStars’ Beat the Clock hyper turbo 48-player Sit & Go’s.

Beat the Clock ignores some pretty fundamental rules of poker by putting players on a 5-minute clock and simply paying out every one that survives those turbulent five minutes based on the chips they acquire.

It’s likely the fastest tournament variant ever created and it can be very addictive.

So are Beat the Clock tournaments actually beatable long-term?

That’s questionable (10% rake makes it difficult) but they are generally very soft. Beat the Clock tournaments are also fantastic for action junkies who don’t mind the high variance involved.

It’s not just a gambling game, however, and there are some simple steps you can take to dramatically increase your win-rate that we’ll take a look at below.

Standard $1 Beat the Clock Structure


Before we get started here’s some key information on the standard $1 Beat the Clock tournament:

Format: Zoom Poker No-Limit Hold’em Hyper-Turbo Sit & Go

Buy-in: $1 ($.90 + $.10 in rake)

Players: 48

Starting Stack: 5,000 (12.5 BB)

Blinds: 200/400 with a 80 ante

Blinds increase every minute. Here’s the complete structure:

Level 1 — 200/400 with a 80 ante
Level 2 — 250/500 with a 100 ante
Level 3 — 300/600 with a 120 ante
Level 4 — 400/800 with a 160 ante
Level 5 — 500/1000 with a 200 ante

15 Beat the Clock Tips

1) In case you haven’t figured it out: this is a shove/fold game. You shouldn’t be calling very often and you’re not going to see many flops.

2) Your chips have value similar to a cash game. Your 5,000 starting stack is worth exactly $.90. If you have 10,000 chips when play ends you’ll earn $1.80. Keep that in mind.

cash money
1. Survive 5 minutes. 2. Get paid.

3) Safe is dead. If you’re a tight player you’re going to have to loosen up exponentially in Beat the Clock. A 12.5bb stack and blinds that go up every minute mean it’s shove time.

4) Be aware that Beat the Clock is extremely swingy. You can brick 10 tournaments in 20 minutes easy. On the other hand you can quickly rattle off a couple big-stack wins to get even.

5) Playing more hands > bleeding antes. This is a tough balance because you can lose a ton of antes and blinds by jamming that fast-fold button but the ultimate goal is to find a good hand and double up. Simply surviving isn’t good enough.

6) Due to the speedy nature of Beat the Clock tournaments it’s easy to generate VPPs very quickly. Just make sure you don’t dust your bankroll in the process.

7) Are you familiar with Push/Fold strategy? Learn it. Love it.

8) Initiative is very important in Beat the Clock. You’ve got to be shoving a lot from UTG and the button. Be the aggressor.

9) Keep an eye on that clock in the bottom right at all times. When it reaches one minute you’re probably only going to get one or two hands in.

10) There is a bubble surrounding the end of play. Generally you want to pressure any players that are simply trying to limp into the money. You should also remember that if you limp into the money with a very small stack you’re still actually LOSING money so it’s not worth it.

Channel your inner Isildur1.

11) One good hand can get you into the money. Let’s say you double up on the first hand of the tournament from the button. That’s 10,000+ chips, which is equivalent to about $2 or roughly double your buy-in.

12) Sometimes you’ll bust out of these things on the first hand and it will absolutely be the right play. Forget it. On to the next one.

13) Most Zoom Poker strategy is still relevant to Beat the Clock. Keeping notes on players is very difficult because they change so frequently.

14) Prey on weakness. If you’ve got three limpers in a pot you should be shoving with a wide range of hands. It’s easy to underestimate just how valuable these pots are.

15) You should primarily focus on acquiring chips instead of your position in the tournament. Remember you’re paid out based on your chips, not whether you finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd.